South Korea questions six rescued North Koreans as it eyes engagement

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

South Korea questions six rescued North Koreans as it eyes engagement

South Korean authorities were questioning on Monday six North Koreans rescued on the weekend as they drifted in the sea off the east coast and will send them home if they want to go, the South’s Unification Ministry said.

The rescue comes as South Korea’s new liberal government has pledged a more moderate approach to North Korea including engagement and reopening a communication channel that has been severed amid tension over its arms programs.

The six are believed to have been on two fishing vessels, one of which was overturned, when they were rescued by the South Korean coastguard and the navy on Saturday, the coastguard said.

The six were being questioned by a South Korean team, and would be asked if they wished to be repatriated to the North, Unification Ministry spokesman Lee Duk-haeng told a briefing.

If so, they would be sent home, said the ministry, which handles ties with the North.

Such questioning by South Korean authorities is routine when North Koreans are rescued at sea.

The South returned eight North Koreans and their vessels in December after rescuing them off the east coast, in line with their wishes.

Lee said incidents such as the rescue and the repatriation of the crew were examples of why an open line of communication between the two Koreas was needed.

South Korea imposed unilateral sanctions against the North after its fourth nuclear test and a long-range rocket launch last year, in addition to sanctions applied in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean navy ship that Seoul blamed on the North.

North Korea denied involvement in the sinking.

The sanctions cut off almost all exchange between the rival states that had been set up since 2000, when South Korea’s “sunshine policy” brought a period of cautious rapprochement.

(Reporting by Heekyong Yang; Editing by Jack Kim)

US to Test First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Interceptor

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

US to Test First Intercontinental Ballistic Missile

US

At a time when North Korea is trying to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the United States announced that it will test an existing missile defense system to try to intercept an ICBM.

The test, scheduled for Tuesday, is the first time the United States will try to intercept an ICBM, announced US officials.

The goal is to more closely simulate a North Korean ICBM aimed at the US homeland. The test had been planned well in advance and was not in reaction to any specific event. they explained.

The United States has used the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, managed by Boeing Co. and in place to counter attacks from rogue states such as North Korea, to intercept other types of missiles but never an ICBM.

While US officials believe Pyongyang is some years away from mastering re-entry expertise for perfecting an ICBM, it is making advances.

This week the head of the US Defense Intelligence Agency said that if left unchecked, North Korea is on an “inevitable” path to obtaining a nuclear-armed missile capable of striking the United States.

The remarks are the latest indication of mounting US concern about Pyongyang’s advancing missile and nuclear weapons programs, which the North says are needed for self-defense.

The Missile Defense Agency said an interceptor based out of Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, one of 36 in California and Alaska, will be used in the test to shoot down a target similar to an ICBM over the Pacific Ocean.

The system has carried out successful intercepts in nine out of 17 attempts dating back to 1999. The most recent test was in 2014. Last year a science advocacy group said the system has no proven capability to protect the United States.

The American interceptor has a spotty track record, succeeding in nine of 17 attempts against missiles of less-than-intercontinental range since 1999. The most recent test, in June 2014, was a success, but that followed three straight failures. The system has evolved from the multibillion-dollar effort triggered by President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 push for a “Star Wars” solution to ballistic missile threats during the Cold War — when the Soviet Union was the only major worry.

North Korea is now the focus of US efforts because its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to field a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching American territory. He has yet to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, but Pentagon officials believe he is speeding in that direction.

The Pentagon has a variety of missile defense systems, but the one designed with a potential North Korean ICBM in mind is perhaps the most technologically challenging. Critics say it also is the least reliable.

The basic defensive idea is to fire a rocket into space upon warning of a hostile missile launch. The rocket releases a 5-foot-long device called a “kill vehicle” that uses internal guidance systems to steer into the path of the oncoming missile’s warhead, destroying it by force of impact. Officially known as the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, the Pentagon likens it to hitting a bullet with a bullet.

An interceptor is to be launched from an underground silo at Vandenberg and soar toward the target, which will be fired from a test range on Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific. If all goes as planned, the “kill vehicle” will slam into the ICBM-like target’s mock warhead high over the Pacific Ocean.

The target will be a custom-made missile meant to simulate an ICBM, meaning it will fly faster than missiles used in previous intercept tests, according to Christopher Johnson, spokesman for the Missile Defense Agency. The target is not a mock-up of an actual North Korean ICBM.

“We conduct increasingly complex test scenarios as the program matures and advances,” Johnson said Friday. “Testing against an ICBM-type threat is the next step in that process.”

Officials say this is not a make-or-break test.

The interceptor system has been in place since 2004, but it has never been used in combat or fully tested. There currently are 32 interceptors in silos at Fort Greely in Alaska and four at Vandenberg, north of Los Angeles. The Pentagon says it will have eight more, for a total of 44, by the end of this year.

In its 2018 budget presented to Congress this week, the Pentagon proposed spending $7.9 billion on missile defense, including $1.5 billion for the ground-based midcourse defense program. Other elements of that effort include the Patriot designed to shoot down short-range ballistic missiles and the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, which the US has installed in South Korea as defense against medium-range North Korean missiles.

The Trump administration has yet to announce its intentions on missile defense.

President Donald Trump recently ordered the Pentagon to undertake a ballistic missile defense review. Some experts argue the current strategy for shooting down ICBM-range missiles, focused on the silo-based interceptors, is overly expensive and inadequate. They say a more fruitful approach would be to destroy or disable such missiles before they can be launched, possibly by cyberattack.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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China tightens border controls with N. Korea: U.S. diplomat

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWSPAPER)

China tightens border controls with N. Korea: U.S. diplomat

BEIJING – Chinese officials have told the U.S. that they’ve tightened inspections and policing along the border with North Korea as part of U.N. sanctions aimed at halting Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile activities, the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia said Friday.

Beijing’s action reflects a growing awareness about the urgent need for China to pressure North Korea into halting its testing of missiles and nuclear bombs, Acting Assistant Secretary of State Susan Thornton told reporters in Beijing. President Donald Trump’s administration has made a renewed push to enlist Beijing’s help in those efforts following a meeting between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping last month.

Touching on other areas of the relationship, Thornton said the new administration has not changed its commitment to greater engagement with countries in the Asia-Pacific region or its approach to naval operations in the disputed South China Sea.

On North Korea, the U.S. has seen a “shift in emphasis” in China’s approach to its fellow communist neighbor, Thornton said.

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“They’ve said that they have stepped up border inspections, beefed up sort of the policing function on the border, stepped up customs inspections,” she said. Beijing has also done “a number of other things on companies” that have dealings with North Korea, Thornton said, without giving details.

The U.S. has been talking to Beijing about taking action against specific firms and is waiting to see what sort of action China will take, she said.

China has signed on to U.N. sanctions and suspended coal imports from North Korea through the rest of the year, but has been generally reticent about what other steps it may be taking to use its leverage as Pyongyang’s most important trading and diplomatic partner.

Lu also reiterated China’s call for a renewal of six-nation denuclearization talks that have been on ice since 2009, saying the parties should “be flexible, meet each other halfway, and return to the negotiating table as soon as possible.”

Thornton said the U.S., China and others were also in talks on a future U.N. resolution on North Korea in order to cut the time needed to take action following another nuclear or missile test.

“So we’re looking at trying to get going on the next set of major measures that would be taken in the wake of another provocation,” Thornton said. Such measures could include ratcheting up economic pressure on the North by targeting trade in consumer goods, possibly including textiles, she said.

Despite Lu’s comments later in the day, Thornton said Beijing officials now realize more pressure is needed before dialogue can be restored.

“And so they know now that they don’t have, I think, as much time to try to bring the North Koreans to the table, get their calculus changed and get them to the negotiating table as they may have previously thought,” she said.

Adding to that, Beijing also seems to have recognized that North Korea’s actions were “undermining China’s own security in pretty major ways,” Thornton said.

“They do recognize that it’s going to be pretty hard to have a dialogue while the North Koreans are shooting off missiles,” she said.

North Korea exploded two nuclear devices last year, one of which it claimed was a hydrogen bomb. Satellite imagery suggests it could be ready to conduct its next test — its sixth — at any time.

On Monday, Pyongyang said it is ready to start mass-producing a new medium-range missile after a weekend test-launch confirmed its combat readiness. The regime’s oft-stated goal is to perfect a nuclear warhead that it can put on a missile capable of hitting Washington or other U.S. cities.

Some outside the administration have been less sanguine about China’s willingness to work with the U.S. on North Korea, while Beijing officials say their influence with Pyongyang has been exaggerated. China maintains that while it wants to neutralize North Korea as a threat, it opposes harsh sanctions or other measures that could bring down young leader Kim Jong Un’s regime, leading to a potential outflow of refugees and South Korean and American troops on the Chinese border.

China continues to pay lip service to cracking down on North Korea but there’s been “little evidence of actual pressure,” said Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington.

Cheng also criticized China for pressuring South Korea not to deploy a sophisticated U.S. anti-missile system aimed at countering North Korea. Beijing says the system threatens its own security with its ability to peer deep into northeastern China.

“In short, China has made clear that Seoul, even in the face of North Korean missile tests, should place Chinese concerns above the security of their own people,” Cheng said.

While there have been reports that the Trump administration was reconsidering Barack Obama’s “pivot” to Asia, Thornton said Washington has made no substantial changes.

That followed the U.S. Navy’s sailing a destroyer near a Chinese man-made island in the South China Sea on Thursday in a “freedom of navigation” operation aimed at challenging what the U.S. considers excessive territorial claims in the strategic waterway that Beijing claims virtually in its entirety.

Washington’s approach is “engagement with Asia to show that we’re still present in the region, that we’re going to keep our security commitments in the region, certainly support for our allies and with North Korea as a focal point on the security front,” Thornton said.

North Korea’s Insane Little Fat Boy Gives The ‘Bird’ To The World, Fires Another Missile

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

By Ju-min Park | SEOUL

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into waters off its east coast on Sunday, its second missile test in a week, which South Korea said dashed the hopes of the South’s new liberal government for peace between the neighbors.

A South Korean military official said the missile appeared to be an upgraded, extended-range version of the North’s solid-fuel submarine-launched missile. The missile fired a week ago flew was liquid-fueled, and flew further.

North Korea has defied all calls to rein in its nuclear and missile programs, even from China, its lone major ally, saying the weapons are needed for legitimate self-defense.

The reclusive state has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of striking the U.S. mainland. On Saturday, it said it had developed the capability to strike the U.S. mainland, although Western missile experts say the claim is exaggerated.

The United Nations Security Council is due to meet on Tuesday behind closed doors to discuss the latest test at the request of the United States, Japan and South Korea, diplomats said on Sunday.

An official traveling with U.S. President Donald Trump in Saudi Arabia said the White House was aware of the latest launch and noted that the missile had a shorter range than the three previous missiles that North Korea had tested.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said economic and diplomatic pressure would continue to be applied to North Korea.

left
right
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves to North Korean scientists and technicians, who developed missile ‘Hwasong-12’ in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) May 20, 2017. KCNA/via REUTERS

“The ongoing testing is disappointing, disturbing and we ask that they cease that,” he said in an interview with “Fox News Sunday”.

The two missile tests in a week complicate plans by South Korea’s new President Moon Jae-in to seek ways to reduce tension on the peninsula. Moon took office eleven days ago after winning an election on a platform of a more moderate approach to the North, with which the South is still technically at war since no peace treaty was signed at the end of their 1950-1953 conflict.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said the tests were “reckless and irresponsible actions throwing cold water over the hopes and desires of this new government and the international community for denuclearization and peace on the Korean peninsula”.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the latest missile test by the reclusive North was “a snub and a challenge to international efforts for a peaceful resolution”.

Abe told reporters after a meeting of Japan’s National Security Council that he wanted to raise the issue of North Korean missile launches at the Group of Seven leaders’ summit in Italy this month. China had no immediate comment.

RIVAL TEAMS

Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said the North appeared to be testing and perfecting both solid and liquid-fueled missiles, which might help explain why the pace of its tests had increased.

“I think the team to develop liquid fuel missiles are being pitted against the solid fuel team,” Kim said. “The liquid fuel team succeeded on May 14 so the solid fuel team went for another round to achieve success. That is why the speed of North Korea’s missile development is going beyond imagination.”

Sunday’s missile was launched at 0759 GMT (3:59 a.m. ET) from a location near Pukchang, 60 km (36 miles) northeast of the capital Pyongyang, an area where North Korea attempted to test-launch another missile last month but failed, South Korea’s Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

The missile flew about 500 km (310 miles), it said. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and no damage to ships or airplanes was reported.

“The flight range was 500 km and South Korea and the United States are closely analyzing additional information,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

On Saturday, North Korea’s KCNA state news agency said in a commentary: “The U.S. mainland and the Pacific operational theater are within the strike range of the DPRK and the DPRK has all kinds of powerful means for annihilating retaliatory strike.” North Korea’s full name is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

For a graphic on North Korea missile launch, click here

(Additional reporting by Tetsushi Kajimoto and Tim Kelly in Tokyo, Jeff Mason in Riyadh and Michele Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Raju Gopalakrishnan; Editing by Peter Graff and Sandra Maler)

North Korea launched a ballistic missile from the northwestern part of the country early Sunday, the South Korean Joints Chief of Staff said.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

(CNN) North Korea launched a ballistic missile from the northwestern part of the country early Sunday, the South Korean Joints Chief of Staff said.

“Our military is closely monitoring for provocative movements by North Korea and is maintaining all readiness postures,” a statement from the military said.
The missile, launched near the city of Kusong, flew 700 kilometers (435 miles), the South Korean military said. A US defense official confirmed that it flew that far, but said the US is still assessing what type of missile it was.
This is the first provocative move from North Korea since South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office. Moon has advocated dialogue with North Korea to denuclearize.
The firing of the missile could also be seen as an insult to Beijing. China remains one of North Korea’s only allies and is responsible for much of the heavily-sanctioned nation’s economy.
On Saturday, Chinese leader Xi Jinping launched a major trade and infrastructure project with multiple world leaders in Beijing. A North Korean delegation attended the conference.

Condemnation from Japan

The missile landed in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to a statement from the Japanese government.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the launch in a quick doorstep interview with reporters.
“Despite strong warning from the international community, North Korea launched a ballistic missile again,” Abe said. “This is totally unacceptable and we strongly protest it. North Korea’s missile launch is a serious threat to Japan and clearly violate against the UN resolution.”
The projectile launch comes two weeks after a ballistic missile test that South Korean and US officials said failed.
That missile, launched April 29, blew up over land in North Korean territory, according to a spokesman for the US Pacific Command.

Prior launches

North Korea has previously attempted at least nine missile launches on six occasions since US President Donald Trump was inaugurated in January. Some of those missiles reached the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea. Sunday’s launch, however, was near the west coast.
Though tensions between the United States and North Korea have been higher than usual over the past few months, a senior North Korean diplomat told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency on Saturday that Pyongyang is open to talks with Washington “under the right conditions.”
Earlier this month Trump said he would be willing to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “under the right circumstances.”
No sitting US president has ever met with the leader of North Korea while in power, and the idea is extremely controversial.
Kim’s regime has sought to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The Trump administration has made a show of force in the region to deter those programs’ development.

On First Day In office, South Korean President Talks About Going To North

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

On first day in office, South Korean president talks about going to North

Will South Korea have a new approach toward North Korea, U.S.?
 
South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, is wary of America’s role in his country and has signaled he is open to warmer ties with North Korea. This has raised concerns in Washington(The Washington Post)
May 10 at 10:13 AM
South Korea’s new president said Wednesday that he would be willing to hold talks in Washington and Pyongyang in efforts to ease the North Korean nuclear crisis, wasting no time in embarking on a new approach to dealing with Kim Jong Un’s regime.The offer of shuttle diplomacy by Moon Jae-in came shortly after he was sworn in as president after winning a snap election triggered by the impeachment of former conservative leader Park Geun-hye.Moon had vowed on the campaign trail to resume engagement with North Korea, a sharp change from the hard-line approach taken by South Korea’s past two governments — and by the international community — in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches.

“I will endeavor to address the security crisis promptly,” Moon said at the National Assembly in Seoul. “If needed, I will immediately fly to Washington. I will also visit Beijing and Tokyo and even Pyongyang under the right circumstances.”

Reinforcing his stance, Moon appointed two top aides with experience in dealing with North Korea.

He nominated Suh Hoon, a former intelligence official who arranged the two inter-Korean presidential summits held in the 2000s, to lead the National Intelligence Service.

Suh lived in North Korea for two years beginning in 1997 to run an energy project that was part of a 1994 denuclearization deal with North Korea. He met the North’s leader at the time, Kim Jong Il, during North-South summits in 2000 and 2007.

Moon also appointed as his chief of staff a former lawmaker who, as a student, went to North Korea to meet the state’s founder, Kim Il Sung.

Moon’s first words and actions as president show his determination to revive the South Korean “sunshine policy” of engaging North Korea rather than isolating it.

But this would put South Korea at odds with the United States, where President Trump has vowed to use “maximum pressure” to force the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, and with an international community that is largely supportive of tougher sanctions.

The sunshine policy was started in 1998 by Kim Dae-jung, a former pro-democracy activist who became South Korea’s first liberal president.

The policy got its name from an Aesop fable in which the wind and the sun compete to make a traveler take off his coat. The sun gently warms the traveler and succeeds, the moral of the fable being that gentle persuasion works better than force.

Kim Dae-jung engaged Pyongyang by laying the groundwork for a tourism project at mountain on the North Korean side of the border that South Koreans were allowed to visit. After his summit with Kim Jong Il, families separated when the peninsula was divided were allowed to meet for reunions. Kim won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2000 for his efforts.

His successor, Roh Moo-hyun, continued the policy, opening a joint industrial park near the inter-Korean border where North Koreans would work in South Korean-owned factories, helping both sides. Roh went to Pyongyang for his own summit with Kim Jong Il near the end of his tenure in 2007.

Moon, who had started a law firm with Roh, served as his chief of staff in the presidential Blue House and was involved in North Korea policy during this time.

But the two conservative presidents who succeeded Kim and Roh abandoned the sunshine policy, instead promoting direct and multilateral sanctions to punish North Korea for its nuclear ambitions.

After North Korea’s fourth nuclear test last year, Park closed the joint industrial park, declaring that the money was going directly to the North Korean regime. In the 12 years that the complex was in operation, North Korea had made a total of about $560 million from the site, her government said.

During his campaign, Moon said he would seek to reopen the industrial park and tourism projects, and would be willing to met Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang if necessary.

Returning to an engagement approach would “increase of predictability and permanence of inter-Korean policies” and help the South Korean economy, Moon said.

But reviving such inter-Korean cooperation will be difficult, analysts say.

For starters, the world is a very different place now than it was in 1997.

Then, North Korea did not have a proven nuclear weapons program. Now, it has conducted five nuclear tests, and Kim Jong Un seems hellbent on developing missiles that can deliver nuclear warheads to the United States.

Plus, North Korean attacks on South Korea — including the sinking of the Cheonan naval corvette in 2010 and the shelling of a South Korean island, which together claimed 50 lives — have sapped South Korean goodwill toward North Korea.

Increasingly strict sanctions have been imposed through the United Nations in response to North Korea’s nuclear tests and missile launches, and both the United States and South Korea have also imposed direct prohibitions on dealing with North Korea.

“The international community has moved decisively toward a more sanctions and less engagement approach with North Korea, and even South Korea’s own domestic laws will make grandiose unaccountable inter-Korean engagement more difficult,” Marcus Noland and Kent Boydston of the Peterson Institute for International Economics wrote in an analysis.

If South Korea were to say that special considerations apply on the peninsula, the Moon administration would “bring South Korea into immediate diplomatic conflict with the U.S. and undercut China’s already tepid willingness to implement sanctions,” they wrote.

Even raising the specter of a sunshine-policy approach will complicate the international community’s efforts to make North Korea give up its nuclear program, said David Straub, a former official in the State Department who worked on North Korea.

“It’s a real challenge to the American-led effort to put maximum pressure on North Korea,” said Straub, who is now at the Sejong Institute, a think tank devoted to North Korea, outside Seoul.

Moon’s policy is much closer to China’s than to the United States’ policy, he noted.

“South Korea has tremendous influence in the international community on this issue, and that in itself is a challenge for President Trump,” Straub said, noting that Kim Dae-jung and Roh both bad-mouthed President George W. Bush’s approach at that time.

But Lee Jong-seok, who served as unification minister during the Roh administration, said a decade of sanctions has not worked.

“It’s now time for the U.S. to review its policy of imposing pressure on North Korea over its nuclear program. Has North Korea recognized its wrongdoings as a result of this policy of applying strong pressure?” Lee asked.

Moon realizes that pressure alone is not sufficient for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue and that the key is to pursue both dialogue and pressure, he said.

“President Moon will combine sanctions and dialogue, but which comes first will be decided after talking to relevant nations like the U.S. and China,” Lee said. “South Korea can’t unilaterally hold talks while everyone else is sanctioning North Korea.”

Yoonjung Seo contributed to this report.

China gets rare rebuke from North Korea for ‘betrayal’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NORTH KOREAN NEWS AGENCY ‘KCNA’ AND ‘CNBC’)

China gets rare rebuke from North Korea for ‘betrayal’

  • Pyongyang charged China has regularly “infringed upon the strategic interests” of North Korea
  • North Korea reiterated Wednesday it has no plans to end its nuclear program

39 Mins Ago 

Statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea.

Gavin Hellier | Getty Images
Statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il in Pyongyang, North Korea.

North Korea’s official news agency leapt into overdrive Wednesday, accusing Chinese politicians and journalists of fomenting trouble and outright “betrayal.”

“China should no longer recklessly try to test the limitations of our patience,” said the commentary released by the rogue state’s Korean Central News Agency.

The KCNA agency added, “We have so devotedly helped the Chinese revolution and suffered enormous damage.” It said China has regularly “infringed upon the strategic interests” in becoming closer to the U.S. and thus committed a “betrayal” in the process.

The rare rebuke from Pyongyang’s official mouthpiece follows President Donald Trump’s warming ties to Chinese President Xi Jinping. The Trump administration is hoping the Chinese can convince the North Koreans to abandon a nuclear weapons program and end development of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching North America.

Still, the North’s official news agency reiterated Wednesday it has no plans to end its nuclear program.

“For us, nuclear is an absolute symbol of dignity and power, and it is the highest interest,” said KCNA. “If we give up nuclear weapons, we will not only intensify economic sanctions, but also military intervention.”

Beijing indicated Wednesday that Pyongyang was taking a dangerous course and should reconsider.

“It is reasonable for the DPRK to pursue its own security, but its nuclear and missile ambitions have put itself and the whole region into dire peril,” People’s Daily, China’s communist party’s official newspaper said in a commentary. “The DPRK must not be obsessed in a wrong path of repeated nuclear tests and missile launches that resulted in rounds of sanctions.”

DPRK is a reference to North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Repubic of Korea.

Meantime, the U.S. early Wednesday announced it launched an unarmed ICBM missile from Vandenberg AFB in California. It was the second such test in a week and comes as the Air Force works to improve the Minuteman III missile’s reliability and demonstrate to North Korea the U.S. nuclear deterrent capability.

At the same time, the U.S. is beefing up its military resources in the Asian region as a show of force with tensions still remaining high over the North Korean threat.

The U.S. Pacific Command said Tuesday it sent the Los Angeles-class attack submarine USS Cheyenne to the U.S. Navy base at Sasebo, Japan. The U.S. also activated its THAAD anti-missile defense system in South Korea this week at a former golf course.

Last week, a carrier strike group led by the USS Carl Vinson held drills off the Korean Peninsula and there’s also been recent training in the Asia-Pacific region involving F-35 stealth fighters and bomber aircraft. The U.S. military confirmed Wednesday two B-1B bombers left Guam’s Andersen AFB on May 1 to hold training missions with forces from Japan and South Korea.

How The World Sees Trump, 100 Days In—(And It Isn’t Pretty)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

How the world sees Trump, 100 days in

Updated 4:53 PM ET, Sat April 29, 2017

(CNN) The world was dumbfounded by the election of Donald Trump, and his first 100 days in office have done little to alleviate a deep sense of uncertainty and unpredictability. Indeed, as one observer put it, the last few weeks alone have caused a severe case of global geostrategic whiplash.

The number of campaign promises that have morphed into presidential U-turns is staggering. Allies and adversaries alike are trying to figure out whether a Trump Doctrine is emerging, or whether, as former CIA Director Michael Hayden recently told me, a discernible doctrine does not exist in what resembles a family-run business of policy from the White House.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster “has hired a very bright woman to write the US National Security Strategy,” he said. “It’s a tough job. I did it twice for George H.W. Bush. But I was building on precedent and historic consensus. It’s really going to be interesting to see what an America First national security strategy looks like when you’ve got to write it down.”
Long-time American allies are comforted, though, knowing McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis make up an experienced national security team. NATO partners also welcomed Trump’s declaration that he no longer considers the transatlantic military alliance obsolete.
They, along with regional allies, supported Trump enforcing the previously declared US red line in Syria against the regime’s use of chemical weapons on its own people. After such an attack that the West attributed to the Syrian government earlier in the month, Trump launched retaliatory strikes.
But Asian allies, such as South Korea and Japan, are worried about US policy on North Korea. They welcome the tougher stance against Kim Jong Un’s ramped up nuclear missile program, but they were rattled by the USS Carl Vinson debacle, when for a time it was unclear if the aircraft carrier was steaming towards North Korea or not. It raised the question of whether the administration really has its deterrence policy in order, and South Korea was said to feel utter confusion, even betrayal, when the carrier was actually found to be steaming away from, not towards, the Korean Peninsula.
On Iran, signals are slightly harder to read. On the one hand, the State Department again certified Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Yet a day later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson strongly hinted the US could walk away from it, or try to link it to other issues it has with Iran. So far the deal remains in place and neither the EU nor the UN would agree to reimpose international sanctions on Tehran, which helped bring the country to the negotiating table.
On the Paris Climate Accord, Trump’s closest advisers seem to be having an almighty tussle about whether he should stay or stray from the historic deal. Big US companies like ExxonMobil are urging the US to abide by the deal and thereby have more say at the table.
Trump has also hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and seems to have reversed many of his pledges to play hardball with Beijing. But on trade, just recently a Financial Times newspaper headline blared: “Trump Fires First Protectionist Warning over steel Industry,” saying this paves the way for a global showdown on steel and possible sweeping tariffs on steel imports.
In his first 100 days, President Barack Obama visited nine countries. President George W. Bush visited two. Trump has visited none. But next month he visits Brussels for a NATO summit, and Sicily, for a meeting of the G7. Whether he can convince America’s allies that they have a trust-worthy friend with a strategic worldview as their most powerful ally remains to be seen, abroad and at home.
“I think I know what the policy is,” Hayden told me. “I have more difficulty, Christiane, putting this policy into a broader global view. And I think that’s causing unease with you, with me, and with a whole bunch of other folks who are trying to see, ‘Where are the Americans going globally?'”

Afghanistan

Nick Paton Walsh
It was the mother of all statements, but he may have had nothing to do with it.
The MOAB (officially know as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast) wiped out an ISIS tunnel complex in the volatile eastern part of the country last week, killing around 90 militants.

Why did the US use the MOAB?

Why did the US use the MOAB?
It was the largest non-nuclear bomb used by the US in combat, but whether the new commander in chief personally approved its use is unclear.
The airstrike was immediately followed up by National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster visiting Kabul and assuring President Ashraf Ghani his country had a friend in the US and a strategic review was under way.
Yet outside of the huge bomb and its message of might, little has changed — as the new White House is inheriting the exhaustion of both resolve and policy options of the last.
A massive troop surge? Talks with the Taliban? A lighter footprint training Afghan security forces to secure the country? All have been tried, and all have failed to stop the insurgency controlling or contesting over half Afghanistan, and the heavy-handed rise of ISIS. Add to that the intense and escalating in-fighting in the Kabul political elite, and there is a very messy summer ahead, with few decent options.

China

David McKenzie
It’s arguably the world’s most important bilateral relationship.
But when President Donald Trump was inaugurated back in January, several Chinese policy experts told me there was a lot of nervousness about the incoming leader.

China's delicate balance with North Korea

China’s delicate balance with North Korea
After all, during the campaign Trump said he would name China a currency manipulator on Day One of his term and threatened a trade war.
As President-elect, he spoke to Taiwan’s president on the phone and openly questioned the ‘One China’ policy, a cornerstone of Washington-Beijing relations in which the US recognizes Taiwan as part of China. And Trump accused China of not doing enough to put pressure on North Korea.
100 days on? Well, it’s a 180-degree shift.
In his first phone call with President Xi Jinping, Trump reaffirmed the One China policy. He has praised Beijing for taking some positive steps on the North Korea issue and he recently said that China is not manipulating its currency.
Trump denies these positions represent a flip-flop; the businessman-turned-president is saying it’s all part of a deal.
“I actually told him (Xi Jinping), I said, ‘You’ll make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace or do something about the menace of North Korea.’ Because that’s what it is, it’s a menace right now,” Trump said last week.
Trump said he has developed a strong relationship with Xi Jinping and that their scheduled 15-minute meetings at the Mar-a-Lago summit stretched into “hours.”
But Yan Xuetong, a foreign policy expert at Tsinghua University, told me that the Chinese are skeptical. He said that if North Korea goes ahead with its nuclear program, then China will take the blame.
“Trump will use China as scapegoat to tell (the) American public that it is not his problem,” said Yan.
In Yan’s eyes, at least, the Chinese suspect more Trump policy turns.

Egypt

Ian Lee
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate President Donald Trump after he won the November 2016 presidential election. The two leaders had instantly hit it off when they met a few months earlier in New York.
Their views are more aligned than were those of President Barack Obama, which reacted coolly to the 2013 coup by Egypt’s military — led at the time by Sisi. When he became president soon afterward, he ushered in a new low between Washington and Cairo.

ISIS claims responsibility for church blasts

ISIS claims responsibility for church blasts
It was an open secret that Cairo wished for a Trump victory over Obama’s former secretary of state, Hilary Clinton. Trump was perceived by Cairo as a pragmatist who had little interest in human rights.
In his first days in office, Trump invited Sisi to visit him in Washington. The Egyptian president arrived with three main objectives: deepen military cooperation, strengthen the war against terror and revive Egypt’s economy. The invitation to the White House also gave the Egyptian president a legitimacy that the Obama administration had previously denied him.
Recently, in a gesture of good will and eagerness to cooperate, American Aya Hijazi was released from an Egyptian prison after Trump directly intervened to secure her release.
Expect relations to remain warm as long as Trump’s administration keeps the lid on any criticism of Sisi.

Germany

Nic Robertson
German Chancellor Angela Merkel took heat from Donald Trump even before he was sworn in as president.
He accused her of making a “catastrophic mistake” on migrants, only being as trustworthy as Vladimir Putin, and intentionally trying to take business from the US.

Pence reassures NATO allies in Munich speech

Pence reassures NATO allies in Munich speech
For Europeans, Trump’s attitude to Merkel is symptomatic of wider issues: his like of Brexit and his dislike of the EU’s single market and liberal trade values.
At the EU leaders summit in Malta this February, both French and German leaders said openly that Trump’s attitude was uniting Europe to stand on its own feet.
Since then, Trump has said the EU is “wonderful” and he is “totally in favor of it.” Yet he still supports Brexit and seems unaware of the instability and frustrations Europe feels because of it.
It’s not the only cross-Atlantic reversal he has had. Coming into office, he said NATO was “obsolete.” He told the alliance nations they need to pay their way, and has given them a deadline to promise they will.
In recent weeks Trump has changed his tune. NATO, he said, is “not obsolete” — but he still wants members’ money.
Merkel’s March visit to see Trump at the White House did little to quell European concerns over his attitude to Europe, and trade in particular.
That Merkel was ignored by Trump when asking for a handshake in the Oval Office, and embarrassed by him again at the news conference that followed with an awkward comment about being spied on, reveals this relationship has some way to go before it gets on an even keel.
Iran
Frederik Pleitgen
Iran’s leadership realized that Donald Trump was an unknown commodity, but many in the country’s senior leadership hoped they would be able to deal with the new man in the White House.
“We hope that he will have a pragmatic approach,” Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister, Amir Hossein Azamaninia, told me in an interview during the transition period shortly before Trump took office. He suggested that perhaps President Donald Trump would similar to the businessman Donald Trump — a shrewd dealmaker, whom the Islamic Republic with its oil wealth could possibly even strike deals with.

Iranians worried about US-Iran relationship

Iranians worried about US-Iran relationship
But Iran soon learned that the new administration was going to take a harder line towards Tehran than President Barack Obama had. When Iran tested ballistic missiles in late January — which the US believes could strike targets in Israel — then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn came down hard and fast on Tehran, announcing there would be new sanctions. He also said the US was “putting Iran on notice,” without specifying what that meant.
This harsh reaction and subsequent statements by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and America’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley have sowed further uncertainty in Tehran about America’s strategy on Iran. The tough talk and action have put a severe damper on any notion the Rouhani administration had that its fairly constructive relations with Washington during the Obama years would continue.
At the same time, the Trump team’s hard line seems to be having an effect on Iran’s behavior.
There have so far been fewer reports of incidents and close encounters between US and Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf’s narrow Strait of Hormuz than during the end of the Obama administration. And during Iran’s National Revolution Day in February, the leadership did not display ballistic missiles as it usually has.
This has led some experts to believe that Tehran — for all its harsh rhetoric — is making an effort to not further antagonize an American president and Cabinet whom the Iranians view as erratic and very hostile towards the Islamic Republic.
If this was the Trump administrations intent, it could be working.

Iraq

Ben Wedeman
“I would bomb the s**t out of them,” declared candidate Donald Trump, summarizing his strategy to defeat ISIS. “I would bomb those suckers … and I’d take the oil.” The crowds loved it.
A decisive victory over ISIS, plus a grand prize of a lot of cheap oil, sounds great, but the real world just doesn’t work that way and slowly, perhaps, the new administration has learned this in its first 100 days.

Trump's son-in-law visits Iraq

Trump’s son-in-law visits Iraq
For one thing, the battle to liberate the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, Iraq — now into its seventh month — has underscored just how hard it is to defeat the extremists. Since the push in the western part of the city began in February, both the US-led coalition and Iraqi forces have been bombarding ISIS as promised, using much heavier firepower than during the battle for west Mosul in the waning months of the Obama administration.
But the tactic has come at a high cost in terms of civilian casualties, brought home by what US officials concede was probably a US-led airstrike on March 17 that mistakenly killed almost 150 civilians. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still in western Mosul, often exploited by ISIS as human shields.
But even with the heavy assault, the Trump administration is largely settling down and following the same slow, deliberate approach of the Obama administration.
The battle for Mosul has taken more than half a year and may take many more months. In neighboring Syria, there are nearly a thousand US boots on the ground, backing a mixed Kurdish-Arab force that aims at overrunning the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS. When this will happen is anyone’s guess.
And then there’s that other topic Trump has toyed with: taking Iraq’s oil. That was decisively shot down by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who flew to Baghdad in February and told reporters, “We’re not in Iraq to seize anyone’s oil.”

Israel

Oren Liebermann
Donald Trump’s fiery pro-Israel rhetoric during the campaign had the right and far right in Israel salivating at the prospects of a Trump administration, while Palestinians worried about an American government adopting a more hostile stance.
Trump pledged to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, “dismantle” the Iran deal, reduce funding to the United Nations and cut aid to the Palestinians. At the same time, Trump said he wanted to close “the ultimate deal” — a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump ties to Israeli settlements

Trump ties to Israeli settlements
Save for the last, Trump has moderated his stance and backed off his positions in his first 100 days in office. The Trump administration has said its still considering an embassy move, but has also called Israeli settlements in the West Bank unhelpful for peace and acknowledged that Iran is sticking by the terms of the nuclear deal. Some analysts in Israel have pointed out that Trump’s positions on the region are beginning to resemble Obama’s positions.
The Israeli right wing’s fervor over Trump has cooled somewhat, but it still expects him to be a friend in the White House. From Israel’s perspective, the big star of the Trump administration so far is US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has repeatedly criticized the United Nations for focusing disproportionately on Israel. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly praised Trump, refusing to suggest even the slightest hint of criticism, since he entered office.
Meanwhile, a recent visit by Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left Palestinians cautiously optimistic that prospects weren’t as grim as initially feared and that Trump was serious about attempting to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet Trump in Washington shortly after Trump hits the 100-day mark. The meeting could be a litmus test of how the dynamic between Trump, Netanyahu and Abbas develops.

Mexico

Leyla Santiago
President Trump still has yet to meet face-to-face with Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, after an awkward encounter during the 2016 campaign. According to Mexican government officials, no plans are in the works, signaling tensions remain between the two leaders.

Mixed messages as top U.S. diplomat visits Mexico

Mixed messages as top U.S. diplomat visits Mexico
Twitter exchanges, however, have cooled down since a public war of words in January between @EPN and @realDonaldTrump over payment for a wall along the US-Mexico border. Mexico still maintains it will not pay for Trump’s muro (wall).
Many Mexicans still fear Trump could cut off a portion of their income, if he imposes taxes on remittances as a form of payment for the wall.
The Mexican government says, though, that its No. 1 concern is human rights violations. It has invested $50 million to expand legal services at its consulates and embassies in the US in an effort to help Mexicans fearing deportation.
Major questions also loom over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump has called the 23-year-old deal that allows free trade between Mexico, Canada and the US a one-sided agreement.
If a good deal is not renegotiated, Mexico plans to walk away from the pact. The uncertainty in trade relations has led Mexico to strengthen ties with other countries and explore opportunities in Asian, European and South American markets instead of the US.
After Mexico featured repeatedly in the US elections, Trump himself is now playing a role in who will become Mexico’s next leader. Anti-Trump rhetoric has become a central part of Mexican campaigns heading toward the 2018 election. Leading candidates are hoping a stance against Trump will protect Mexico’s interests and win over voters.

North Korea

Will Ripley
When I ask ordinary North Koreans about the impact of President Donald Trump on their lives, they give strikingly similar answers. The response is usually something like this: “It doesn’t matter who the US president is. All that matters is that they discontinue America’s hostile policy against my country.”

North Koreans celebrate 'Army day'

North Koreans celebrate ‘Army day’
Of course, they are only repeating the same message given to them by their state-controlled media, the only media North Koreans have access to. Because US politics are not a primary focus of North Korean propaganda, the vast majority of citizens are blissfully unaware of Trump’s twitter account or the cloud of controversy that has swirled around the first 100 days of his administration.
But they are aware of a few key facts. They know that Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian regime air base, viewed by many as an indirect threat to Pyongyang. They also know that Trump dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the waters off the Korean Peninsula, albeit by an indirect route.
The reason North Koreans know these things is simple: The actions of the Trump administration play right into their government’s long-standing narrative that they are under the imminent threat of attack by the ‘imperialist’ United States.
People have been told for their entire lives that America could drop a nuclear bomb at anytime. Citizens always voice their unanimous support of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. Of course, in an authoritarian country where political dissent is not tolerated, there are no opposing voices.
The North Korean government uses this ‘imminent threat’ to justify its substantial investment in weapons of mass destruction, even if this means citizens must sacrifice. And government officials in Pyongyang told me the policies of the Trump administration in its first 100 days only add to their sense of urgency to accelerate development of a viable intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the mainland US.
They say such a weapon is key to their survival as a nation, even as critics fear North Korea continuing down the nuclear road will only lead to further diplomatic isolation, economic hardship or worse.
There are signs that North Korea is monitoring and responding to the unpredictable rhetoric and actions of the Trump administration. After news broke that the USS Carl Vinson strike group was headed to the Korean Peninsula, I was hand-delivered a statement in Pyongyang saying, “The DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US.”
We’ve never seen dynamics like this before. An untested US President who tweets in real time and isn’t afraid to launch missiles to prove a point. And a North Korean leader who has consolidated his power by purging opponents (including his own uncle) and has launched more missiles than his father and grandfather combined.
This could be a recipe for disaster. Or a recipe for lasting peace. Or perhaps a recipe for the continuation of a decades-long stalemate. If Trump’s first 100 days provide any clues, it’s going to be a wild ride regardless.

Russia

Matthew Chance
President Donald Trump entered the White House on a promise of improving the strained relationship between Washington and Moscow.
He was full of praise for his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, suggesting he might recognize annexed Crimea as Russian, cooperate over international terrorism and join forces in Syria.

Lavrov to US: Respect Syrian sovereignty

Lavrov to US: Respect Syrian sovereignty
It was all music to the Kremlin’s ears and talk was of a pivotal moment, of the Trump administration transforming the way in which the United States and Russia saw each other.
But 100 days on, none of that has come to pass.
“One could say the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved,” said Putin on April 12, “but rather has deteriorated.”
US officials have criticized Russia for fueling conflict in Ukraine, castigated the Kremlin for its treatment of sexual minorities, even bombed Russia’s Syrian ally while implying Moscow might have been complicit in dozens of agonizing deaths there caused by chemical weapons.
Part of the reason is undoubtedly the toxic political atmosphere in Washington, where lingering allegations of Russian interference in the US presidential election are being investigated by Congress.
But there is also a growing sense that the Trump administration, at 100 days old, has finally encountered a stark reality: Russia and the United States simply have different geopolitical priorities — whether in Syria, Ukraine or elsewhere — that won’t be easily reconciled.

Syria

Clarissa Ward
When President Donald Trump first assumed office, his strategy on Syria, like much of his foreign policy, was opaque. On the campaign trail he had said that his priority was to eliminate ISIS — indeed, he promised to put together a plan to do so in his first 30 days. He attempted to place a ban on any Syrian refugees entering the US, calling them a security threat. But on the subject of Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, and the brutal civil war he has presided over that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, he was noticeably silent.

Syria, a war on children?

Syria, a war on children?
Trump’s strong admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and interesting in getting the relationship with Russia back on track led many to assume that he would do little to interfere in Syria, where Moscow is closely allied with Damascus. This was reinforced by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comment in March that it would be “up to the Syrian people” whether or not Assad would go, a demand long made by the Obama administration. Regime change, it seemed, was no longer desirable for the US.
Yet, within a few weeks, everything changed.
After seeing the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed dozens of children, Trump suddenly took action against the Assad regime. Two days later, dozens of American tomahawk missiles rained down on the regime’s Shayrat air base.
The Syrian people were stunned. Those who oppose Assad had dreamed of this moment for many years, but after President Barack Obama had chosen not to enforce his red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013, their dream had died. Suddenly, Trump was hailed as something of a hero. Some took to calling him by a new nom de guerre, Abu Ivanka al Amriki.
The strikes on Shayrat changed very little on the ground in Syria. The regime was continuing its daily bombardment within hours.
Still, after six years of standing on the sidelines, the shift in US policy (if it is a sustained shift) has given some cause for optimism. There is hope that perhaps Assad will think twice before using chemical weapons against his own people, that the US may now have more leverage at the negotiating table.
Yet the question still remains: What is the US’s policy on Syria? 100 days into the Trump presidency, we still don’t really know.

Turkey

Ian Lee
Relations with the Obama administration warmed under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when that suited him and then soured accordingly. They have yet to be really tested under President Donald Trump.
Since taking office, Trump has taken a softer tone in dealing with Turkey. Ankara responded positively to the United States’ missile strike on a Syrian air base. Trump congratulated the Turkish president for the success of his referendum, giving him significantly expanded powers, despite the process being deeply flawed according to international monitors, an opinion echoed by the State Department.

Turkish demonstrators protest vote result

Turkish demonstrators protest vote result
By the time President Barack Obama left office, US-Turkish relations had cooled. The two leaders had differing opinions regarding Syria. Where Obama wanted to focus on defeating ISIS while Erdogan wanted to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The United States saw Syrian Kurdish militants, the YPG, as an ally against ISIS, while the Turks viewed them as terrorists. And Obama criticized Turkey’s crackdown on the political opposition, intellectuals, activists and journalists and wouldn’t extradite spiritual leader Fetullah Gulen, on whom the Turkish blames July’s coup attempt. Elements of Erdogan’s party even accused the United States of supporting the failed effort.
There is optimism in Turkey among the government and its supporters that a new page can be turned, especially when both leaders plan to meet in Washington in May.
But Trump is likely to face similar tensions as Obama did. One of the toughest will be the upcoming operation against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. Turkey wants to take part but won’t fight along side the YPG. Trump will likely have to choose between a NATO ally and a proven fighting force.

The UK

Phil Black
President Donald Trump helped create what is so far the most iconic image of Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May — the American president holding May’s hand as they walked outside the White House in January.
May later said Trump was “being a gentleman.”

Scotland calls for independence referendum

Scotland calls for independence referendum
She provided the opportunity for his gallantry by swiftly moving to be the first world leader to visit the new president.
May has unashamedly pursued a close bond with Trump, believing “the special relationship” between the UK and US is especially important as Britain prepares for a future outside the European Union.
May has pushed for a quick post-Brexit trade deal while also trying to persuade Trump to align with Britain’s traditional positions on key foreign policy issues like NATO (crucial) and Russia (deserves suspicion).
The British Prime Minister also threw in a sweetener. She invited Trump to visit the UK with full state honors. That usually means time with the Queen, banquets, parades and gilded carriages.
Such invitations are rarely offered to new presidents and it’s proved to be hugely controversial in a country where many disagree with Trump’s policies, including his attempts to block immigration from select, majority-Muslim countries.
More than 1.8 million people signed a petition opposing a state visit “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.” Thousands protested on the streets and have promised to do so again when Trump arrives. That could create some awkward moments.
May’s efforts to stay close to Trump will likely be judged by whether she secures a free trade agreement with the United States. But they can’t even begin talking about that officially until after Brexit has taken place, so that’s at least two years away.

North Korea Snarls at Israel After Defense Chief Calls Pyongyang ‘Crazy’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE ISRAELI NEWS AGENCY HAARETZ)

North Korea Snarls at Israel After Defense Chief Calls Pyongyang ‘Crazy’
After Israel’s defense minister Lieberman says U.S.-North Korea tensions have implications for Israel, hermit kingdom lashes out at ‘only illegal possessor of nukes in the Middle East’

Haaretz Apr 29, 2017 6:07 PM
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Top IDF officer: U.S.-North Korea tensions could have effect on Israel’s security
Trump asserts major conflict with North Korea possible, but seeks diplomacy
North Korea unsuccessfully test-fires ballistic missile
North Korea lashed out at Israel on Saturday after Israel’s defense minister called the hermit kingdom’s regime a “crazy and radical group,” blamed it of being an ally of Syria’s Assad and the Lebanese group Hezbollah and said growing tensions between the U.S. and Pyongyang have “direct implications” for Israel.
A statement released by the North Korean Foreign Ministry called Avigdor Lieberman’s statement “reckless” and a form of “sordid and wicked behavior” that posed a “grave challenge to the DPRK.”

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman at a political event in 2016.
In the statement, North Korea blasted Israel as the “only illegal possessor of nukes in the Middle East under the patronage of the U.S.” It said Lieberman’s comments were part of a “cynical ploy” to escape criticism of the occupation “of the Arab territories” and “crimes against humanity.”
North Korea said it is “fully supporting the struggle of the Palestinian people… [of] establishing of an independent state with Kuds as its capital,” using the Arab name for Jerusalem.
In a warning to Israel, Pyongyang said “Israel would be well advised to think twice about the consequences [of] its smear campaign against the DPRK.”
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In an interview last week to the news site Walla, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said that tensions between the U.S. and North Korea “have direct implications for Israel.”
“Kim Jong-un is an ally of Assad. From North Korea, through Iran, to Syria and Hezbollah,” Lieberman said, adding that country’s sole goal was “undermining global stability,” and calling the country’s leadership “a crazy and radical group.”
According to foreign reports, North Korea was involved in helping Syria build a nuclear reactor, which was destroyed in an attack attributed to Israel in 2007.

Undated image of a covert nuclear reactor built in Syria’s eastern desert after its Sept. 6, 2007 destruction.AP
Tensions in the peninsula
North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.
U.S. and South Korean officials said the test appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March.
U.S. President Donald Trump, in an interview with Reuters on Thursday, praised Chinese leader Xi Jinping for “trying very hard” on North Korea but warned a “major, major conflict” was possible.
The North has been conducting missile and nuclear weapons related activities at an unprecedented rate and is believed to have made progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.

Haaretz
read more: http://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.786353

Malaysia agrees to send body of Kim Jong-nam to N. Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE KCNA AND YONHAP NORTH KOREAN NEWS AGENCIES)

(3rd LD) Malaysia agrees to send body of Kim Jong-nam to N. Korea

2017/03/31

(ATTN: UPDATES with body arriving in Beijing)

SEOUL/BEIJING, March 31 (Yonhap) — Malaysia released the body of the slain half brother of North Korea’s leader to the North, ending a diplomatic row between the two countries over Kim Jong-nam’s death.

“Malaysia agreed to facilitate the transfer of the body to the family of the deceased in North Korea,” according to a joint statement between North Korea and Malaysia carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The deceased refers to Kim Jong-nam, who was killed last month in Malaysia after two Asian women smeared the banned chemical weapon VX nerve agent on his face.

The agreement also called for lifting a travel ban imposed on citizens staying in each other’s countries, the KCNA said.

Under the deal, Kim’s body as well as those of two North Korean diplomats suspected of involvement in the killing left Kuala Lumpur on a Malaysia Airlines Flight 360 Thursday afternoon and arrived in Beijing around 2 a.m. Friday. The North Korean diplomats were seen leaving the airport in a black limousine.

The officials and Kim’s body are expected to leave for Pyongyang on an Air Koryo flight as early as on Saturday.

Malaysian police earlier said that eight North Koreans are suspected of being involved in the killing. North Korea claimed that Malaysia colluded with South Korea to manipulate the probe.

North Korea imposed a temporary exit ban on Malaysians staying in the North, saying that the move will be effective until the row over his death is resolved. In a tit-for-tat action, Malaysia banned North Korean diplomats from leaving the country.

“This would allow the nine Malaysians presently in Pyongyang to return to Malaysia and (North Korean) citizens in Kuala Lumpur to depart Malaysia,” the KCNA said.

Both countries decided to patch up their frayed ties as they reaffirmed the importance of their relations which were established in 1973, it added.

“In this connection, both countries agreed to positively discuss the re-introduction of the visa-free system and work towards bringing the relations to a higher level,” it said.

Malaysia canceled its visa-waiver program with North Korea and kicked out North Korean Ambassador to Malaysia Kang Chol in retaliation for North Korea’s “diplomatically rude” remarks.

Pyongyang claimed that the dead man is Kim Chol, the name on a passport held by Kim Jong-nam. It said that a North Korean citizen carrying a diplomatic passport fell into a state of “shock,” without making any references to his identity.

Seoul has claimed that North Korea is behind the killing, saying that the North’s leader has issued a standing order to kill his brother since he assumed power in 2011.

Out of the eight North Korean suspects, four fled Malaysia on the day of Kim’s death. Kim Jong-chol, who was earlier taken into custody, was released.

Malaysian police have been looking for three suspects including a diplomat believed to be hiding at the North Korean Embassy in Malaysia.

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