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

UNTV News   •   January 12, 2018   •   2826

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.

PH returns last batch of hazardous waste to South Korea

Robie de Guzman   •   August 5, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The remaining shipment containing 6,000 metric tons of household hazardous waste was finally sent back to South Korea from the Port of Cagayan de Oro, the Bureau of Customs (BOC) said Wednesday.

In a statement, the BOC said the shipment, comprised of 80 containers and loaded on MV Mahia, was re-exported to its origin in Pyeongtaek City on August 4.

There-exportation of the wastes resumed on Tuesday after being halted for some time due to the restrictions imposed amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, it added.

The re-exportation of 251 containers of wastes from South Korea was initiated by the BOC in January but got delayed due to the pandemic, and the failure of the consignee to secure prior import permit from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR).

The bureau said that waste shipments arrived in the country in 2018 at the Port of Cagayan on two separate occasions. It was consigned to Verde Soko Philippines Industrial Corporation.

The shipments were both declared plastic synthetic flakes but an inspection conducted by the DENR-Environmental Management Bureau revealed that these contained household hazardous wastes.

The bureau ordered the immediate return of the shipments pursuant to Customs Modernization and Tariff Act, Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, and the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their disposal.

Trump to give TikTok’s Chinese owner 45 days to reach deal to sell — sources

UNTV News   •   August 3, 2020

U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to give China’s ByteDance 45 days to negotiate a sale of popular short-video app TikTok to Microsoft Corp, two people familiar with the matter said on Sunday (August 2).

U.S. officials have said TikTok under its Chinese parent poses a national risk because of the personal data it handles. Trump said on Friday (July 31) he was planning to ban TikTok in the United States after dismissing the idea of a sale to Microsoft.

But following a discussion between Trump and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the Redwood, Washington-based company said in a statement on Sunday that it would continue negotiations to acquire TikTok from ByteDance, and that it aimed to reach a deal by Sept. 15.

It was not immediately clear what changed Trump’s mind. Banning TikTok would alienate many of its young users ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, and would likely trigger a wave of legal challenges. Several prominent Republican lawmakers put out statements in the last two days urging Trump to back a sale of TikTok to Microsoft.

The negotiations between ByteDance and Microsoft will be overseen by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a U.S. government panel that has the right to block any agreement, according to the sources, who requested anonymity ahead of a White House announcement. Microsoft cautioned in its statement that there is no certainty a deal will be reached. (Reuters)

(Production: Bob Mezan)

Pyongyang disinfects the city after North Korea introduced tougher curbs against coronavirus

UNTV News   •   July 29, 2020

North Korea’s state-run television on Tuesday (July 28) released a video of Pyongyang workers disinfecting the city as the state introduced tougher curbs against the coronavirus, after it locked down the town Kaesong, on the border with the South, to tackle what could be its first publicly confirmed infection.

Strict quarantine measures and the screening of districts were in progress and test kits, protective clothing and medical equipment were being supplied, the North’s KCNA state news agency said.

The measures come after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared an emergency on Sunday (July 26) after a person who defected to South Korea three years ago returned across the highly fortified demilitarised zone (DMZ) to Kaesong this month with symptoms of COVID-19, KCNA reported.

Reclusive North Korea had reported testing 1,211 people for the virus as of July 16 with all returning negative results, the World Health Organisation said in a statement sent to Reuters. The report said 696 nationals were under quarantine. (Reuters)

(Production: Minwoo Park)

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