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Trump’s Korea hopes thrown into turmoil

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An unexpected series of threats from the enclosed Stalinist state threatened to nix next month’s planned summit in Singapore between Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un and sink White House hopes of a spectacular foreign policy success.

The warning delivered a jolt of reality, underscoring that despite weeks of positive steps by North Korea and Trump’s gusher of praise for Kim, the process of negotiating with the inscrutable state remains as treacherous as ever.

First, North Korea shocked Washington by lashing out at US-South Korea military drills, saying they could lead to the summit being scrapped. Then in a more ominous development, it warned that if the White House required the dismantling of its nuclear arsenal up front, there was little point in talking.

“If the Trump Administration is genuinely committed to improving NK-US relations and come out to the NK-US summit, they will receive a deserving response,” Kim Kye-gwan, First Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was quoted as saying by the official KCNA news agency.

But if they try to push us into the corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and will have to reconsider whether we will accept the upcoming NK-US summit.”

The comments appeared to be a direct repudiation of statements by top Trump administration officials that North Korea must accept the total and irrevocable elimination of its nuclear arsenal before it could accept tangible benefits from the US as part of any peace drive.

Kim was clearly signaling he’s not done yet with the classic North Korean strategy of provocations and demands. And the President and supporters might want to put that talk about the Nobel Peace Prize on ice, at least for now.

On the other hand, as strong as they were, Kim’s protests came on paper, and not in the form of missile launches or a nuclear test — a potential sign of progress in that he registered anger but did not take a step that would immediately sink the summit.

The North’s sharp messages came just a week after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo returned home from a friendly meeting with Kim with three US prisoners, prompting Trump to stage a middle-of-the-night welcoming ceremony.

It left the White House scrambling to decipher Pyongyang’s motives and analysts handicapping the prospects for the summit.
“I have to say, this is a little bit out of the blue,” said Harry Kazianis, a Korea expert at the Center for the National Interest.

“The North Korean pattern is to do provocations whether it is tests of missiles or nukes, ask for negotiations then string us along for months and years,” he said. “But this time, they are not even getting to that point, they are already causing problems before we have the negotiation.”

North Korea’s closed political system and the difficulty of getting reliable intelligence from inside Kim’s inner circle mean that explaining Tuesday’s bombshell is guesswork.

It’s possible Kim wanted to send a shot across America’s bow, and feels he has not got much in return for meeting South Korean leader Moon Jae-in, agreeing to see Trump, sending US prisoners home and offering to dismantle a nuclear test site.

He may also be balking at emerging details of America’s goal for the summit — an agreement for full and irreversible denuclearization by North Korea in return for security guarantees and the promise of future investment by US firms in the impoverished nation.

Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton — a skeptic who would have been unsurprised by Kim’s Tuesday broadside — told CNN’s Jake Tapper over the weekend, “I wouldn’t look for economic aid from us,” and said the Singapore summit would test whether Kim had made a strategic decision to get rid of his nuclear arsenal.

The KCNA dispatch took direct aim at Bolton and rejected his view that North Korea should follow Libya’s model and unilaterally give up all its nuclear weapons program without phased concessions from the US.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Wednesday, however, that the administration was not working on any specific model for disarmament.

This is the President Trump model. He’s going to run this the way he sees fit,” she said.

“We’re 100% confident, as we’ve said many times before, as I’m sure you’re all aware, he’s the best negotiator and we’re very confident on that front.”

It’s possible that North Korea’s threats may indicate that the ambition and speed of the US approach — which implies invasive inspections of the North’s nuclear, missile and chemical and biological weapons programs and the confiscation of its arsenals — has spooked Kim.

Pompeo has said Washington would not follow its traditional and failed strategy of offering the North concessions like the lifting of sanctions and financial aid in return for proportional steps by Pyongyang to decommission its weapons.
“We’re hoping this will be bigger, different, faster,” Pompeo told CBS “Face the Nation.”

Last week, Chinese state media reported that Kim wanted “phased and synchronous measures” to defuse the nuclear showdown, a possible sign of dissent with the US approach.

Given that the summit will likely hinge on a mano-a-mano test of wills, Kim may also have been trying to demonstrate his own personal leverage over Trump.

After all, Kim is not the first to threaten not to show up — Trump has done so repeatedly.

“If I think that it is a meeting that is not going to be fruitful, we are not going to go,” Trump said on April 18.

Some experts speculated whether the North Korean statement, which also suspended planned high-level talks with South Korea due to begin Wednesday, could be a sign of internal political pressure on Kim. It’s not out of the question that he was signaling to military officers worried that he may be about to overturn decades of political dogma by dealing with the US.
Such is the opacity of his regime, no will ever know for sure.

Kim may also be testing just how much Trump wants the summit — given his predictions of success — and whether that will make him more likely to offer Pyongyang a good deal.

Or he may be laying groundwork for a face-saving exit if Trump comes in too hard.

Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul said that he hoped that Kim’s threat was just a manifestation of his long-held resentment over US-South Korean military exercises, even though the South Koreans had told Washington he was now unperturbed by such drills.

“Overall, I am still optimistic,” Paul said on “The Situation Room” on CNN. “There is a great deal of hope and optimism that with this high-level meeting with Kim Jong Un and the President that we will find peace.”

The North Korean curveball left the White House with a dilemma about how to respond.

As Washington tries to work out what is going on, the contacts and goodwill built up in Pyongyang by Pompeo during two recent trips into reclusive North Korea will be crucial.

The blip in the run-up to the summit will also test Trump’s restraint, at a time when a misfired Twitter blast aimed at “Little Rocket Man” could exacerbate tensions and threaten the meeting further.

On Tuesday night, he stonewalled reporters shouting questions on the South Lawn of the White House.

Possibly, now that he has got the prisoners home, and Pyongyang remains under stringent “maximum pressure” sanctions, Trump has the luxury of time. He could wait it out and see whether North Korea is really ready to pass up the chance for a summit that offers Kim the long-sought legitimacy of standing side-by-side with the US

On the other hand, Tuesday’s developments make the face-to-face summit more crucial than ever — as it will give the President the chance to size up Kim’s sincerity.

In that sense, Trump can claim validation for his shock decision to meet Kim, even though it turned diplomatic conventions upside down and led some experts to worry he was offering too many concessions too early.

Dampened expectations might be a good thing

North Korea’s warning might also be valuable in another way if it tones down the crescendo of expectations in Washington about the summit.

Trump has fired off a string of tweets in recent weeks touting progress, and supporters at a recent political rally chanted “Nobel, Nobel” at the President.
Last week, as he welcomed the prisoners back to Joint Base Andrews, Trump said Kim had been “excellent” to the three men, despite imprisoning them and the fact he has one of the world’s worst human rights records.

On April 24, Trump said Kim had been “very open and I think very honorable.”
Source: CNN

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It’s hard to see” part of us burn”: Macron weeps as French history goes up in flames

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After the ‘worst case scenario’ was avoided and firefighters managed to save the Notre Dame’s structure from total destruction, President Emmanuel Macron has vowed to restore the historic cathedral to its former glory.
“This cathedral, we will all rebuild together,” Macron promised while visiting the heartbreaking scene at the center of Paris. “We will appeal to the greatest talents… and we will rebuild… Because that’s what the French expect, because that’s what our history deserves, because it’s our deep destiny.”
The chief architect in charge of the works at Notre-Dame, Philippe Villeneuve, also pledged to rebuild the national symbol.

“We have rebuilt the cathedral of Reims after the bombing by the Germans during the First World War and today we still see in its splendor,” he said.

While Macron promised to launch an international fundraising campaign, the Heritage Foundation said it will launch a “national collection” of funds for the reconstruction of Notre-Dame de Paris on Tuesday, after the tragic incident raised a wave of condolences around the world.
The French president in his earlier tweet said watching the Notre dame burnt is like watching part of us burn.
But rebuilding the cathedral will take “years of work,” said Eric de Moulins-Beaufort, president of the Conference of Bishops of France (CEF).

“I am completely dismayed because we were at the start of a major restoration program of the cathedral,” said Michel Picaud, president of the patronage foundation Friends of Notre-Dame de Paris. “Victor Hugo had sounded the alarm about the state of the cathedral resulting in twenty years of restoration work in the nineteenth century, and we will have to do the same.”

Meanwhile the Pinault family of the retail conglomerate Kering announced that it will donate €100 million for the reconstruction of the building.

Hundreds of firefighters are still working the scene of the terrible fire, trying to preserve whatever is left of the world art treasures. The Crown of Thorns, one of the major reliquaries of the church, was saved from the inferno along with many other treasures, Bishop Patrick Chauvet, rector of Notre-Dame de Paris noted earlier. The altar and the cross also survived the fire; local media reported citing the mayor’s office.

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Russian witches hold “circle of Power” in support of Vladmir Putin

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Enemies of Russia, beware. A group of Russian witches have gathered to hold a “Circle of Power” in support of President Vladimir Putin, casting spells they believe will increase Russia’s power and damn its foes.

The coven, which calls itself ‘The Empire of the Strongest Witches’ held the special ceremony in a Moscow mansion on Tuesday, after determining that Putin was in need of a little extra support against evil forces.

Wearing black cloaks and reading from spell books, the witches used their magic powers to instill new strength in Russia and help Putin cope with international problems.

He who hears and does not hear, who sees and does not see, who was and will be, will not forget my word: Rise the great power of Russia, direct the path of Vladimir Putin truly and righteously, through my word,” one incantation went.

The head witch and founder of the Empire, Alyona Polyn, told Russian media that the ceremony, which lasted about 20 minutes, was held in support of the state and the president, since he is the face of Russia.

Power – it is a kind of sorbent,” Polyn said, explaining that people should not “speak negatively” about any person who is tasked with leading the country.

Not only did the witches cast positive strength-enhancing spells for Russia and Putin, they also set curses on his foes:“Who comes to us with evil, who leaves us with evil, who hurts us or speaks evil – forever, eternally and endlessly – damned enemies, enemies damned!”

Asked exactly who Putin needed support and protection against, the witches did not provide specifics. One explained that the curses were against “all who attack him” and said that “spiteful critics” must be silenced.

Polyn said that everything about the ceremony, from the day, to the time and place it was held, were calculated carefully so that the “energy passed correctly” to Putin.

But don’t worry, the head witch clarified that the overall goal was “aimed at improving the quality of life on Earth through Russia” and that to do that, it was simply necessary to support the president through their witchcraft.

It’s not the first time politics crossed paths with forces of the occult.

Last year, a group of Brooklyn-based witches tried to prevent the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh by putting a “public hex”on the then-nominee. That prompted the apparently successful intervention of a Catholic exorcist and priest who vowed to protect Kavanaugh against their sorcery with a well-timed mass.

Witches worldwide planned a mass ritual against Trump and “all those who abet him” in 2017. They also use the hashtag #MagicResistance on Twitter, in case anyone was interested in joining.

It’s probably all just a witch hunt, though.

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Historic summit ends with historic agreement by Trump and Kim

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U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged on Tuesday to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula while Washington committed to provide security guarantees for its old enemy.

But a joint statement signed at the end of their historic summit in Singapore gave few details on how either goal would be achieved.

“President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” said the statement.

DPRK is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the formal name of North Korea.

Trump said he expected the denuclearization process to start “very, very quickly”. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean officials would hold follow-up negotiations “at the earliest possible date”, the statement said.

Political analysts said the summit had yielded only symbolic results and nothing tangible.

“It is unclear if further negotiations will lead to the end goal of denuclearization,” said Anthony Ruggiero, senior fellow of Washington’s Foundation for Defense of Democracies think tank. “This looks like a restatement of where we left negotiations more than 10 years ago and not a major step forward.”

The document also made no mention of the international sanctions that have crippled North Korea’s economy for pursuing its nuclear weapons program.

Nor was there any reference to finally signing a peace treaty. North Korea and the United States were on opposite sides in the 1950-53 Korean War and are technically still at war, as the conflict, in which millions of people died, was concluded only with a truce.

But the joint statement did say the two sides had agreed to recovering the remains of prisoners of war and of those missing in action and repatriating them.

China, the third party to the truce, said it hoped North Korea and the United States could reach a basic consensus on denuclearization.

“At the same time, there needs to be a peace mechanism for the peninsula to resolve North Korea’s reasonable security concerns,” China’s top diplomat, State Councillor Wang Yi, told reporters in Beijing.

If the joint statement does lead to a lasting detente, it could fundamentally change the security landscape of Northeast Asia, just as former U.S. President Richard Nixon visit to Beijing in 1972 led to the transformation of China.

But Li Nan, senior researcher at Pangoal, a Beijing-based Chinese public policy think tank, said the meeting had only symbolic significance.

“It is too early to call it a turning point in North Korea-U.S. relations,” Li said.

‘LEAVING PAST BEHIND’

However, the dollar jumped to a 3-week top on Tuesday and Asian shares rose on news of the agreement.

Before signing what Trump described as a “comprehensive” document, Kim said the two leaders had a historic meeting “and decided to leave the past behind. The world will see a major change.”

Trump said he had formed a “very special bond” with Kim and that relationship with North Korea would be very different.

“People are going to be very impressed and people are going to be very happy and we are going to take care of a very dangerous problem for the world,” Trump said.

Asked whether he would invite Kim to the White House, Trump said: “Absolutely, I will.”

He called Kim “very smart” and a “very worthy, very hard negotiator.”

“I learned he’s a very talented man. I also learned that he loves his country very much.”

During a post-lunch stroll through the gardens of the Singapore hotel where the summit was held, Trump said the meeting had gone “better than anybody could have expected”.

Kim stood silently alongside, but the North Korean leader had earlier described their summit as a “a good prelude to peace”.

Both men walked to Trump’s bullet-proof limousine, nicknamed “The Beast”, and looked in at the rear seat, with Trump apparently showing Kim something inside. They then resumed their walk.

 

They had appeared cautious and serious when they first arrived for the summit at the Capella hotel on Singapore’s Sentosa, a resort island with luxury hotels, a casino, manmade beaches and a Universal Studios theme park.

But, with cameras of the world’s press trained on them, they displayed an initial atmosphere of bonhomie as they met on the verandah of the Capella, a refurbished 19th century British regimental officers’ mess.

Body language expert said both men tried to project command as they met, but also displayed signs of nerves.

‘LIKE A MOVIE’

After a handshake, they were soon smiling and holding each other by the arm, before Trump guided Kim to the library where they held a meeting with only their interpreters. Trump had said on Saturday he would know within a minute of meeting Kim whether he would reach a deal.

Inside, they sat alongside each other against a backdrop of North Korean and U.S. flags, with Kim beaming broadly as the U.S. president gave him a thumbs up.

After initial exchanges lasting around 40 minutes, Trump and Kim emerged, walking side-by-side through the colonnaded hotel before entering a meeting room, where they were joined by their most senior officials.

Kim was heard telling Trump through a translator: “I think the entire world is watching this moment. Many people in the world will think of this as a scene from a fantasy…science fiction movie.”

Trump was joined by Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton, and John Kelly, White House Chief of Staff, for the expanded talks, while Kim’s team included former military intelligence chief Kim Yong Chol, foreign minister Ri Yong Ho and Ri Su Yong, vice chairman of the ruling Workers’ Party.

As the two leaders met, Singapore navy vessels, and air force Apache helicopters patrolled, while fighter jets and an Gulfstream 550 early warning aircraft circled.

After the meetings, the two teams and other senior officials met for a working lunch, where beef short ribs, sweet and sour pork and “Daegu Jormin”, or Korean braised cod, were served for the main course, according to the menu. That was to be followed by dark chocolate tarts, pastries and vanilla ice cream for dessert. The North Korean leader’s sister and close confidante Kim Yo Jong was among the lunch party.

REUTERS

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