Korea talks ease war fears in Washington, but for how long?

UNTV News   •   January 12, 2018   •   2743

A man watches a TV broadcasting a news report on a high-level talks between the two Koreas at the truce village of Panmunjom, in Seoul, South Korea, January 9, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Talks between North and South Korea ahead of next month’s Winter Olympics have eased fears of war over Pyongyang’s development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States – at least for now.

But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown no sign of willingness to give in to U.S. demands and negotiate away a weapons program he sees as vital to his survival, so any reduction in tensions could prove shortlived.

Rhetoric on all sides may have moderated as a result of the first round of intra-Korean talks in more than two years on Tuesday, but U.S. officials say hawks in President Donald Trump’s administration, up to and including Trump himself, remain pessimistic that they will lead anywhere.

In recent days, in a series of media leaks, U.S. officials have spoken of the president’s willingness to consider a limited preemptive strike on North Korea to change Kim’s mindset, despite the risk of touching off a war.

But there are divisions within the administration.

National security adviser H.R. McMaster has been the most vocal of Trump’s aides arguing for a more active military approach, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and the military leadership have urged caution, stressing the need to exhaust diplomatic options, according to five officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

A White House National Security Council official said the administration was “constantly developing a range of options, both military and non-military” but declined to address any differences between senior aides.

The Pentagon declined comment on internal discussions, though one spokesman said Mattis had stressed in public that the effort to confront the North Korean crisis was diplomatically led. The State Department referred to Tillerson’s statements on the need to pursue diplomacy backed by strong military options.

According to the narrative put forth by those advocating a tougher response, a strike could be limited to a single target with the aim of making Kim see reason, not to topple his government, something North Korea’s neighbor and only major ally, China, would not countenance, the officials said.

“Trump is convinced the only thing Kim understands and respects is a punch in the face, which he thinks no previous administration has had the guts to do,” one U.S. official said.

“At a minimum, he thinks that warning the Chinese about a preemptive strike would motivate Beijing to force Kim to shut down the programs that threaten the U.S.,” the official said.

It remains unclear whether these disclosures by people close to the internal deliberations were simply psychological warfare aimed at sowing strategy-changing fear within the North Korean leadership or reflected Trump’s serious intent.However, the administration’s debate on whether to put greater emphasis on strike plans has slowed because of the North-South contacts and February’s Winter Olympics to be hosted by South Korea. Pyongyang said it would send a delegation.

Some U.S. officials have suggested that North Korea was using diplomatic overtures to try to drive a wedge between Washington and ally Seoul and did not intend to engage seriously. The South and the United States are technically still at war with the North because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.

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‘WHO KNOWS WHERE IT LEADS?’

Trump’s public response to the intra-Korean meeting has been mostly positive though at times tinged with skepticism.

“Who knows where it leads?” he told reporters on Wednesday after discussing the talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a long-time advocate of dialogue with Pyongyang and whose capital Seoul could be devastated in any major conflict.

Trump, who has exchanged insults and threats with Kim in recent months, was quoted on Thursday as telling the Wall Street Journal in an interview: “I probably have a very good relationship with Kim Jong Un.” Trump offered no details and asked whether he had spoken with Kim, said: “I don’t want to comment on it. I‘m not saying I have or I haven‘t.”

The administration had been due to hold a Cabinet-level meeting this week to sharpen its economic and military options for dealing with North Korea.

But officials say this discussion has been postponed until after the Paralympic Games, which follow the Olympics and end in March, given the intra-Korean talks and a planned 20-country meeting on North Korea hosted by Canada next week.

The Vancouver meeting, aimed at increasing the U.S.-led pressure campaign against Pyongyang, was announced by Washington just after North Korea’s last intercontinental ballistic missile test in late November.

One U.S. official said one option would be to bomb a North Korean missile or nuclear facility based on a “high confidence” intelligence assessment that North Korea planned another test. Such a strike could be triggered by evidence that North Korea was fueling an ICBM, the official said. Another option would be a retaliatory strike on an ICBM or nuclear site after a test, another official said.

The officials said McMaster has argued that if China were assured that a strike would be limited to one target and not the beginning of a campaign to overthrow Kim, an all-out war could be avoided.

Chinese political experts said China was opposed to even limited strikes.

However, Zhao Tong, a North Korea expert at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center in Beijing, said China’s attitude might change if North Korea launched a nuclear-tipped ICBM into the Pacific Ocean or fired missiles toward Guam.

China sees the Trump administration’s discussion of military options as a psychological game to force Beijing and Moscow to maintain pressure on Pyongyang, but they were making crisis preparations just in case, Zhao said.

“Even if Trump is not really serious about a military strike, there is always the risk of miscalculation or an over-reaction from North Korea,” Zhao said.

A South Korean official said Seoul believed the chance of a U.S. strike was still low. “President Trump is aware of the consequences. He’s been advised by a lot of agencies and departments of the damage it would cause and the number of victims,” the official said.

The prevailing view at the State Department is that military action is not worth the huge risk, a senior U.S. official said.

However, the official said, “there are military options that could achieve benefits we consider in our national interest at a cost we are willing to bear.”

The consensus among U.S. intelligence agencies is Kim is convinced Washington seeks to overthrow him and only a nuclear arsenal can deter that.

A Japanese ruling party lawmaker said he did not believe the Korean talks could narrow the gap between North Korea’s demand for recognition as a nuclear-armed state and the U.S. refusal to accept that.

“It may be dangerous after the Olympics,” the lawmaker said.

Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Matt Spetalnick, John Walcott and Phil Stewart in Washington,; Josh Smith, Hyonghee Shin and Soyoung Kim in Seoul, Christian Shepherd in Beijing and Nobohiro Kubo and Linda Sieg in Tokyo; editing by Grant McCool

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Seoul mayor bans rallies amid virus outbreak

UNTV News   •   February 21, 2020

South Korea’s capital Seoul is banning rallies and shutting down branches of the Shincheonji Church amid the country’s spike in cases of coronavirus, the city’s mayor said on Friday (February 21).

“We have decided that special measures need to be taken against spaces which induce close contact between people,” Seoul mayor Park Won-soon said at a news conference.

“Seoul will ban the use of Seoul City Hall square, Cheonggye plaza, and Gwanghwamun square, where many citizens gather,” Mayor Park added.

South Korea has 156 cases of the virus, out of which 111 patients are from or nearby Daegu, a city 237 kilometers (147 miles) southeast of the capital.

Most have been traced to an infected 61-year-old woman who attended services at a Daegu branch of the said church in recent weeks.

As of Friday, more than 400 members of the Shincheonji Church are showing symptoms of the disease and tests were still ongoing, according to Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin. — Channel A via Reuters Connect

Fears grow in Seoul as South Korea confirms first death from coronavirus

UNTV News   •   February 20, 2020

Seoul residents said they were worried after South Korea reported on Wednesday (February 19) the first death in the country of a person infected with coronavirus.

The country has recorded 22 new cases, bringing the total to 104.

The exact cause of death is being investigated, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

Some residents called the government for proper response and measures to contain the virus.

Most of the new cases confirmed are in the city of Daegu where a person who was infected with the virus had attended church services and visited a hospital before testing positive.

(Production: Dogyun Kim, Hyunyoung Yi)

Trump takes a limousine lap before Daytona 500 auto race

UNTV News   •   February 17, 2020

President Donald Trump took a loop around the Daytona 500 racetrack on Sunday (February 16) in the presidential limousine known as “The Beast,” drawing cheers from fans at NASCAR’S most prestigious race.

Ramping up his nationwide re-election effort after his acquittal in the U.S. Senate impeachment trial, Trump served as the grand marshal at the annual National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing event, which takes place in the electoral swing state of Florida.

After his motorcade made its way around part of the track, Trump took a break to take pictures with supporters.

After being driven a full lap in the limo before the race began, Trump delivered the opening line: “Gentlemen, start your engines” at the Daytona International Speedway before a crowd of 100,000.

Previous presidents who attended NASCAR events at the speedway include Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush.

Florida is one of a handful of U.S. states that swing between Democrats and Republicans in presidential elections.

Trump won the state, where he has golf courses and a home that is now considered his primary residence, in his race against Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016. (Reuters)

(Production: Pavithra George)

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