Trump’s bellicosity secures a diplomatic coup — for now

People watch a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, left, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea. (Ahn Young-Joon/AP)
 March 8 at 10:52 PM 
For the moment, at least, it appears to be a clear-cut victory — the biggest foreign policy win of his young administration. President Trump has brought his arch-nemesis, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a.k.a. “Little Rocket Man,” to the table to negotiate away his nuclear arsenal.

Optimists declared a major breakthrough. Even pessimists acknowledged that Trump’s hard line against Pyongyang, after decades of less forceful U.S. effort, played a significant role in moving one of the world’s most vexing and threatening problems in a potentially positive direction.

But in the afterglow of the surprise announcement — hinted by Trump in a teasing visit to the White House press room and soon confirmed by South Korea’s national security adviser, standing in the West Wing driveway — questions were fast and furious.

Were direct talks between Kim and Trump, two notably volatile leaders who have traded public insults for more than a year, the best way to start what are sure to be complicated negotiations? Was the administration, whose thin bench of experienced experts seems to be growing slimmer by the day, ready to face those wily and untrustworthy North Koreans? The talks, U.S. and South Korean officials said, would take place before the end of May.

Trump meeting with Kim Jong Un would be huge, but not the first effort at diplomacy

President Trump agreed March 8 to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “by May.” Here are three other big events in North Korean diplomacy. 

By some assessments, this is really a victory for Kim, who for years has sought proof of his status and North Korea’s power by dangling the offer of leader-to-leader talks with the United States.

Some analysts said it remains unclear what Trump is prepared to put on the table opposite Kim’s apparent offer to stop testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and discuss denuclearization. “Sanctions? Normalization? Peace treaty?” tweeted Victor Cha, the expert who was once Trump’s choice as ambassador to South Korea, before he voiced concern that the White House was contemplating a pre-emptive military strike against Pyongyang.

According to a senior administration official, who briefed reporters on the condition of anonymity, the answer is not very much.

There would be no reward for talks themselves, the official said. Trump would expect a dismantled nuclear weapons program, with complete “verification,” and “will settle for nothing less.”

But “President Trump has a reputation for making deals,” the official added. “Kim Jong Un is the one person able to make decisions in their uniquely totalitarian system and so it made sense to accept the invitation with the one person who can make decisions instead of repeating the long slog of the past.”

Trump has a vibrant track record of surprise announcements that have distracted attention, at least temporarily, from concern over tariffs and border walls and the growing threat to his presidency posed by the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

At the same time, he has claimed a long string of successes over the past 14 months that others have challenged as lacking a strategy for long-term sustainability, from the currently robust economy to the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Tillerson: ‘We’re a long ways from negotiations’ with North Korea

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the U.S. is “a long ways from negotiations” with North Korea, hours before President Trump agreed to meet Kim Jong Un. 

The North Korea gambit may be his highest-wire act of all.

“A Trump-Kim summit is a major diplomatic gamble,” tweeted Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for New American Security. “But let’s see if it actually comes off. Recall that yesterday, we were set to impose steel tariffs on Canada.”

Among experts, there were widely divergent views of what had happened, and why, and what the risks were.

“Beyond the initial shock value of the invitation from Kim Jong Un to Trump,” and Trump’s acceptance, “I think the real underlying questions are still what are they going to negotiate,” said Lisa Collins, a fellow with the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Two months doesn’t give working-level officials much time to pull things together.”

“It’s certainly the start of talks. Whether or not it’s a true breakthrough in terms of change in North Korea’s calculus, I’m still a little skeptical,” she said. “I tend to be more of a pessimist.

Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, said it was “absolutely right to extend the nuclear and missile test pause” declared by Pyongyang during talks last week with the Seoul government. “It will help repair ties with South Korea and keeps us back from the brink of war.”

“Unfortunately,” Mount said, “denuclearization is a distant fantasy.” The administration “has not equipped itself for success. They have not laid the groundwork for credibility in talks [and] lack leadership with experience in international negotiation. . . . In accepting the invitation outright, Trump has already lost much of his leverage over the terms and agenda of the talks.”

The “better play,” he said, “is to start by offering a credible plan to stabilize the peninsula and halt nuclear and missile tests sustainably, and then build out to a more ambitious agreement.”

Others were less skeptical. Robert Carlin, who led numerous U.S. delegations to North Korea and served in various senior intelligence and diplomatic roles during previous outreaches to Pyongyang, cited North Korean statements over the years that indicated its nuclear weapons program was largely developed as leverage to gain economic stability.

In a seminal statement in March 2013, Carlin recalled, Kim said that North Korea’s nuclear policy would proceed rapidly to “blunt the American threat and create a peaceful environment so that we can concentrate on the economy. This is his victory. It’s really important for him and they probably believe it.”

“We can’t push them around. They do have nuclear weapons,” Carlin said. But “they do have a leader who wants to pivot to the economy. Let’s test that. Let’s see if we can use [Kim’s] own momentum, like jujitsu, to help accomplish what we want.”

David Nakamura, Ashley Parker and Anne Gearan contributed to this report.

Courtesy: The Washington Post

US launches new sanctions against North Korea targeting dozens of shipping companies

President Donald Trump has called the new set of sanctions the “largest ever” targeting North Korea. The move comes as Trump’s daughter Ivanka is in South Korea for the end of the Winter Olympics.

A Hong Kong-flagged ship called the Lighthouse Winmore which allegedly violated UN sanctions by transferring oil to a North Korean vessel (picture-alliance/AP/Yonhap/H. Min-woo)

The US Treasury Department announced a new raft of sanctions on Friday in an attempt to target entities linked to North Korea’s shipping and trade sectors.

The latest sanctions are directed at one person, 27 shipping companies and 28 vessels, according to a statement posted by the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC).

Read moreNorth Korea earned $200 million from banned exports: UN

The sanctioned entities include companies with headquarters in North Korea, as well as ones based out of other countries, including China.

Watch video01:16

North Korea using Berlin to flout nuclear sanctions

Read moreUS claims North Korea canceled secret meeting at Winter Olympics with Mike Pence

US officials told the Reuters news agency that Washington had been speaking to partners in the Asia-Pacific region, such as Japan, South Korean and Singapore, over how to crack down on ships suspected of violating sanctions on the North.

The plan could see US Coast Guard ships deployed in the region to stop and search vessels.

Trump threatens phase two

South Korea welcomed the new round of sanctions.

“New US sanctions will alert those who are illegally trading with North Korea and therefore bolster the international community to carry out resolutions from the UN Security Council,” the South Korean Foreign Ministry said.

US President Donald Trump, who said the measures were “the heaviest sanctions ever imposed on a country,” appeared to threaten military action against North Korea if the sanctions failed.

“If the sanctions don’t work, we’ll have to go phase two,” Trump said. Without elaborating further, he added: “Phase two may be a very rough thing, may be very, very unfortunate for the world.”

Depriving the North

The sanctions are Washington’s latest attempt to cut off “illicit avenues used by North Korea to evade sanctions,” US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.

The UN Security Council has imposed three sets of sanctions on North Korea in the last year in order to deprive the reclusive state of funds for its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

The most significant recent international round of sanctions (despite Trump’s “largest ever” claims on Friday) targeted supplies of oil in particular, although shipping companies were suspected of helping Pyongyang defy the limitations. Oil is a particularly precious commodity in a country without a reliable electricity grid, with rural businesses often reliant on generators for power.

Ivanka Trump meeting with Moon Jae-in

The latest US sanctions come just days before the closing ceremony of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea, with North Korean officials set to attend.

Trump’s eldest daughter Ivanka, a senior adviser to the president, will also attend the closing ceremony. She held closed-door talks earlier on Friday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

Read moreNobel Peace Prize for Korean hockey team?

Trump said she would use her presence at the end of the Olympics to emphasize the US commitment to a “maximum pressure campaign to ensure that the Korean Peninsula is denuclearized.”

Watch video02:00

North Korea invites South Korean president to Pyongyang

In a possible attempt to reassure Washington, Moon said that South Korea was the “last” country that would be willing to acknowledge North Korea as a nuclear state. He added that any talks about improving relations between the two countries must also include talks on nuclear disarmament.

Read moreMajority of South Koreans favor North Korea ‘friendship’

Moon praised the Winter Olympics for helping to open up dialoguebetween the countries, which are still technically at war.

“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympic Games has served as an opportunity for us to engage in active discussions between the two Koreas and this has led to lowering of tensions on the peninsula and an improvement in inter-Korean relations,” Moon said.

South Korea’s Presidential Blue House said that there were no official opportunities for the US and North Korean officials to meet, suggesting that a run-in between Pyongyang’s delegation and Ivanka Trump was unlikely.

amp,dm,rs/sms (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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Former US ambassador: ‘Syrian situation extremely dangerous’

You would be forgiven for thinking that the state of world affairs is even more dire than usual. In an interview with DW, former US ambassador Victoria Nuland says the US and Russia need to get their act together.

A boy cycling past a bombed out building in Eastern Ghouta (Reuters/B. Khabieh)

DW: Last August the US signed a bill into law called Countering America’s Adversaries. It targets Russia together with North Korea and Iran. What is your assessment of President Donald Trump’s policies toward Russia?

Victoria Nuland: On the one hand, the Trump administration — with strong pressure from the US Congress behind it — has maintained the sanctions that were put on Russia to incur costs for its incursion into Donbass, in Crimea, and also for its interference in the US election. I have to say that at the moment I don’t see a comprehensive Russia policy from the Trump administration towards Moscow. Maybe this is the effect of Russia now being in an election period, but we have a lot of problems and difficulties — whether it’s Syria or whether it’s Afghanistan or whether it’s with regard to nuclear problems and arms control — where we need to work together.

The so-called Kremlin sanctions list took many experts by surprise as it appeared to be fairly random in terms of the criteria used to pick out the intended targets.


Former US ambassador Victoria NulandFormer US ambassador Victoria Nuland

I don’t have any insight particularly into how the administration came up with this list, but I think you know that they were under pressure from the US Congress because Congress is concerned that the president himself is not taking the interference in the US election process as seriously as he needs to. So they wanted a list. And unfortunately the list that we got looks more like the phone book from the Russian government and the Forbes Fortune 500 from Russia than it does a serious effort to pinpoint those who might be supporting these policies that negatively affect our security.

Looking at Syria, you’ve spoken of the danger that the US and Russia are on a collision course there.

I think the situation in Syria is extremely dangerous right now. We now have great powers competing on the ground for influence with military forces: the US and Russia have been quite proud and positive about our de-escalation mechanism in Syria, our ability to have our military talk to each other so that we don’t have accidents. Obviously, it didn’t work in this case.

Watch video01:59

Shifting alliances in Syria’s protracted war

Read moreUS mission creep in Syria: Is it legal?

One of the reasons it appears not to have worked is, because of the Russians involved — if press reports are to be believed — who were not part of the regular military force. They were contractors according to the official statements. So, if true, these contractors were moving beyond the agreed space into territory that the US was responsible for securing. Were they under orders from Moscow? If so, why? Has the Russian government even acknowledged that they were paid from the Russian budget? We need to get back to a US-Russian understanding about how we’re going to keep the peace in Syria. More importantly I don’t think this situation is stable, where we’ve got military forces managed by different great powers — whether it’s Turkey, or US, or Russia, or Iran, or now Israel getting into it. We have to have a political solution, a political transformation to create a Syria where all Syrians can return and feel safe and where all of us can get out.

Read moreSyria conflict: What do the US, Russia, Turkey and Iran want?

Infographic on armed factions in Syria

Ambassador Victoria Nuland is Chief Executive Officer at the Center for a New American Security. She served as Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs from September 2013 until January 2017 under President Barack Obama and US Ambassador to NATO during President George W. Bush’s second term.


US Congress could clash with Trump administration on new Russia sanctions

As it made clear by its recent handling of the so-called “oligarch report,” the Trump administration is in no rush to impose new sanctions on Russia. But Congress might force its hand on the issue soon.

Wrench with US colors holding ruble coin (picture alliance/dpa)

When the US Treasury Department earlier this week published its required report on “oligarchs” considered to be closely linked to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin, the list of more than 200 officials and oligarchs was widely criticized as sloppy and inconsistent.

Read moreMoscow laughs off Washington’s ‘Kremlin Report’

A main charge was that the list omitted some key figures, while including some who should not have been named. The Trump administration also did not follow up the release of the public part of the report (a classified part was not published) with a recommendation of additional sanctions against Russia, as some had expected or hoped for.

This latest episode reveals that at the beginning of the second year of the Trump presidency, the current administration and Congress continue to hold very different views on the relationship with Russia in general and the sanctions regime against the country in particular. It could, experts note, also foreshadow a coming clash between Congress and the White House that sees lawmakers trying to push new Russia sanctions on a reluctant administration.

“If I had to bet money, I would say that a bill for new sanctions will be introduced in the Senate probably by Senator Ben Cardin or by others in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee within the month,” said Richard Nephew, who led US sanctions policy at the State Department during the Obama administration and is now a senior research scholar at Columbia University’s Center on Global Energy Policy.

Read more: Trump administration refuses to impose new Russia sanctions despite law

USA Donald Trump (picture alliance/AP/E. Vucci)Trump campaigned on improving ties with Russia

New sanctions bill soon

Nephew added that the introduction of a new Russia sanctions bill in Congress did not necessarily mean it would be passed quickly, as the Senate was busy with many other issues, but, he said, “I am convinced that we will see the new sanctions drafting get to work very soon.”

Jeffrey Edmonds, a former director of Russia policy on the National Security Council under President Obama and now a fellow at the Wilson Center, would not bet money on Congress introducing a new sanctions bill within weeks. But he agrees that lawmakers view Russia through a very different lens than the Trump administration, led by a president who made better relations with Moscow a key campaign theme.

While President Trump, despite assessments by US intelligence agencies that Russia had interfered in the US election process, was hoping to quickly improve the deeply fraught relationship with the Kremlin after taking office, the Republican-led Congress was not having any of it.

It passed legislation last year that effectively thwarted Trump’s ability to conduct his desired Russia policy and lift sanctions as he had envisaged. And with various probes into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin only gaining steam as his first year in office wound down, any hope on Trump’s part for improved ties with Russia vanished.

Read moreAustralian diplomat’s tip led to Trump Russia probe: US paper

Robert Mueller (picture-alliance/AP/C. Dharapak)Ex-FBI head Robert Mueller is looking into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia

As a consequence, said Edmonds, “They are no longer calling for a withdrawal of sanctions or a reset with Russia, but they are certainly not looking to expand on them.”

“Both from Trump’s point of view and from the Russians point of view, the passing of sanctions by Congress confirmed for both that there was one large bureaucratic body here in the United States that is not very favorable when it comes to Russia.”

Polls show support for sanctions

Various opinion polls have shown that a solid majority of Americans support sanctions against Russia, thus appearing to indicate that on this issue people side with their lawmakers, but not their president.

“It’s hard to think of any constituencies that would be very happy for their representative being friendly towards Russia – especially not after meddling in our election”, said Edmonds. “It’s a very clear policy choice for most of them.”

And that assessment, which is underpinned by the commonly held view that Russia is at least hostile toward if not a threat to US interests, is unlikely to change anytime soon, experts say. It is also, to a certain degree, independent of the leaders in both countries.

Watch video01:08

Europe doesn’t want ‘permanent’ sanctions

No reset

Most of the current fissures between Washington and Moscow are simply the consequence of Russia trying to find its place in a post-Cold War world, said Nephew. “I think there was always going to be some degree of tension there, but I think that Putin, with his own kind of mindset, has made that all much worse.”

“I don’t see any positive trends in the relationship really regardless of how much Trump wanted to improve things,” said Edmonds. “It’s beyond Trump and Putin.”

That’s because there are fundamental differences in the way senior leaders in each country view the world and the way the world should be, he added.

“The Russians value stability over freedom in a certain sense,” said Edmonds, noting that he was using an oversimplification to make a basic point about how Americans and Russian view the world.  “You are not going to see a reset.” 


North Korea earned $200 million from banned exports: UN

A confidential memo has revealed Pyongyang flouted UN sanctions on exports of a wide range of goods. Germany has alleged that North Korea is using its Berlin embassy to buy equipment for its weapons program.

North Korean and Workers' Party flags flutter as a soldier walks by (picture-alliance/dpa/AP Photo/W. Maye-E)

North Korea earned nearly $200 million (€160 million) in 2017 by exporting a wide range of banned goods in violation of international sanctions, according to details of a confidential United Nations report seen Friday.

Pyongyang was able to sell coal, steel, iron and petroleum products between January and September to multiple countries, monitors said, despite UN sanctions barring their export.

North Korea has been developing nuclear weapons and sophisticated long-range missiles. Multiple sanctions dating back to 2006 have tried to choke off funding for the nuclear and missile programs.

Read more: UN chief calls for ‘peaceful denuclearization’ of Korean Peninsula

Watch video02:00

20 nations to increase pressure on N. Korea

‘Deceptive practices’

The 213-page report — seen by multiple news agencies — said North Korea used false paperwork to hide the origin of the coal it shipped to other countries, including Russia, China, South Korea, Malaysia and Vietnam.

UN monitors also said North Korea had flouted UN financial sanctions through “deceptive practices” and engaged in “widespread conventional arms deals and cyber operations to steal military secrets.”

The report said there was not enough “political will” and coordination to ensure sanctions were fully working.

Read more: Korean War allies consider further sanctions against North Korea

Sales to Syria, Myanmar

Pyongyang also appeared to have cooperated with Syria and Myanmar in ballistic missile development, according to monitors.

An investigation into 40 unreported North Korean shipments to the Syrian entity in charge of the country’s chemical weapons program showed “further evidence of arms embargo and other violations, including through the transfer of items with utility in ballistic missile and chemical weapons programs.”

The Syrian government allegedly used chemical weapons against civilians in 2013 and agreed to destroy its stockpile later that year.

The report said Pyongyang also shipped ballistic missiles, air-to-surface missiles and rocket launchers to Myanmar.

German intel chief: Pyongyang using Berlin embassy for procurement

Hans-Georg Maassen, the head of Berlin’s intelligence agency, claimed on Saturday that the North Korean regime had used its Berlin embassy to receive equipment intended for its ballistic missile and nuclear programs.

“We have seen that procurement activities took place from there, from our point of view with a view to the missile program and in part also the nuclear program,” Maassen told German broadcaster NDR, as part of a documentary due to air next week.

“If we see such things, we prevent them,” he added, but admitted that it wasn’t always possible to distinguish between goods intended for civilian or military purposes.

Read more: UN slaps new sanctions on North Korea in 15-0 vote

Watch video03:25

Korea: The history of a divided nation

dm, amp/ng (AP, AFP, Reuters)


U.S. Takes Aim at North Korea’s Shipping and Oil With New Sanctions

Kim Jong-Un speaks in Pyongyang in this picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 22, 2017.
Kim Jong-Un speaks in Pyongyang in this picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Sept. 22, 2017.
STR—AFP/Getty Images


11:17 PM EST

The U.S. unveiled a new raft of sanctions against North Korea Wednesday, targeting financial and other support for the country’s development of weapons of mass destruction.

Sixteen individuals, nine companies and six ships were designated as the administration of President Donald Trump piles pressure on Kim Jong Un to abandon his weapons program.

The sanctions primarily target Chinese and North Korean trade companies, shipping firms and vessels, as well as the Ministry of Crude Oil Industry.

Last month, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution targeting North Korea’s oil imports, shipping companies and foreign labor as efforts increase to disrupt the country’s energy supply.

Among the new designations are 10 individuals associated with the Korea Ryonbong General Corp., which Treasury said specializes in acquisitions for the defense industries and probable procurements supporting chemical weapons development.

The individuals included company representatives in Russia, Georgia and China.

The Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assetts Control (OFAC) said the new designations were a response to weapons development and violations of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement the U.S. would also target actors “that continue to provide a lifeline to North Korea,” calling on China and Russia to expel illicit actors.

The Trump administration has vowed to put “maximum pressure” on the Kim regime, which has in recent years accelerated progress toward developing nuclear-tipped intercontinental missiles capable of reaching the U.S.


UN Security Council to decide on new North Korea sanctions

The new proposed resolution targets oil exports and expatriate workers sent to make money for the regime of Kim Jong Un. The US-authored draft was reportedly negotiated on with China ahead of the vote.

Barbed wire in front of a North Korean flag (Getty Images/C. Chu)

The United Nations Security Council scheduled a vote for Friday over a new raft of sanctions on North Korea. The US-drafted proposal drastically caps oil exports to the isolated country in a bid to economically cripple Pyongyang into abandoning its missile program.

Watch video01:31

Rex Tillerson: China and Russia’s North Korea ties undermine peace efforts

The measures in the draft circulated to the Council’s 15 member states also included the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within the next year, according to Reuters news agency. Experts believe that tens of thousands of North Koreans are forced to carry out manual labor in foreign countries to make money for the regime of Kim Jong Un.

Read more: Where did North Korea get its missile technology?

The resolution also seeks to ban about 90 percent of refined petroleum products to North Korea, capping exports to Pyongyang at 500,000 barrels a year.

Washington has long been calling on Beijing to stop oil exports to Pyongyang, with China always stopping short of imposing what the US deems truly painful sanctions.

The proposed sanctions follow North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile at the end of November. The North Korean government said the missile was capable of hitting any part of the United States. It was the 20th time the North launched a ballistic missile this year.

Although it remained unclear how China would vote on the resolution, UN diplomats told reporters that China and the United States had negotiated the language of the draft last week.

If the sanctions pass, it would be the 10th such resolution against North Korea over its weapons program in the past 11 years. The last sanctions resolution was adopted in September after North Korea’s sixth and strongest nuclear test.

On Thursday, Kim Jong Un proclaimed in a speech that “nobody can deny” that his country “poses a substantial nuclear threat to the US.”

es/sms (AP, Reuters)


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