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No proof Russian hacking influenced U.S. election: Trump spokesman

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017

Chief Strategist & Communications Director for the Republican National Committee Sean Spicer arrives in the lobby of Republican president-elect Donald Trump’s Trump Tower in New York, New York, U.S. November 14, 2016. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

No evidence has emerged to suggest Russian hacking influenced the outcome of the U.S. presidential election and it would be irresponsible to jump to conclusions before receiving a final intelligence report, Donald Trump’s spokesman said on Monday.

“There is zero evidence that they influenced the election,” Sean Spicer told Fox News.

Due to become White House press secretary when Trump enters the White House on Jan. 20, Spicer told CNN the president-elect would see the intelligence report once it was completed later this week. On Saturday, Trump warned against being quick to pin the blame on Russia for the hacking of U.S. emails.

“The idea that we’re jumping to conclusions before we have a final report is irresponsible,” Spicer told CNN.

President Barack Obama expelled 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies last week for alleged Kremlin involvement in hacking that intelligence officials said aimed to help the Republican Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 election.

Leading lawmakers from both parties have voiced alarm at the suggestion of Russian interference, whether or not it made a difference in the outcome.

Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has scheduled a Thursday hearing on foreign cyber threats. The new Congress, elected on Nov. 8, takes office on Tuesday.

Calling for closer ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump has repeatedly played down the hacking affair.

Over the weekend Trump said he knew “things that other people don’t know” and would disclose some information on the issue on Tuesday or Wednesday. He gave no further detail.

“He’s going to talk about his conclusions and where he thinks things stand,” Spicer told CNN. “He’s not going to reveal anything that was privileged or shared with him classified.”

On Sunday Spicer said the White House may have disproportionately punished Russia.

“It’s baffling,” U.S. Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told MSNBC on Monday. “President-elect Trump does not have any better information than President Obama.”

A Gallup Poll released on Monday showed less than half of Americans were confident in Trump’s ability to handle an international crisis, to use military force wisely or to prevent major scandals in his administration.

The poll said at least seven in 10 Americans were confident in presidents Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in those areas before they took office.

(Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Howard Goller)

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China’s Xi tells Trump hard-earned easing of tensions on Korean peninsula must continue

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Tuesday, January 16th, 2018

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Donald Trump in a phone call on Tuesday that the hard-earned easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula must continue, Chinese state media reported.

Unity on the issue was extremely important, Xi said, according to Chinese state broadcaster CCTV.

Senior officials from 20 nations will gather in Vancouver on Tuesday for a summit on curbing North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, in a bid to increase diplomatic and financial pressure on Pyongyang to scrap its missile and nuclear programs.

Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Paul Tait

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Trump denies saying he probably had good relationship with Kim

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Monday, January 15th, 2018

A combination photo shows U.S. President Donald Trump in New York, U.S. September 21, 2017 and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang, September 4, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque, KCNA/Handout via REUTERS/File Photos

PALM BEACH, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Sunday disputed a newspaper’s account of an interview with him last week in which he was quoted as saying he probably has a very good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Trump said in tweets that in the Wall Street Journal interview on Thursday, he said “I’d probably” have a good relationship with Kim, using a conditional tense.

The White House released a portion of the audio from the interview that it said showed Trump said “I‘d.” The Wall Street Journal released its own audio that it said backed up its version of the events.

The Trump comment was key because it suggested he feels he has a good relationship with Kim, who has resisted global pressure to stand down from a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

Trump has derided the North Korean leader as a “maniac” and referred to him as “little rocket man.” Kim has responded by calling the U.S. president a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”

Kim has warned the United States that he intends to build a nuclear arsenal capable of hitting the United States, prompting threats of military action by Washington.

In the Wall Street Journal interview, Trump was asked whether he has spoken with the North Korean leader.

“I don’t want to comment on it. I‘m not saying I have or haven‘t. I just don’t want to comment,” he had said.

Trump is spending a long weekend at his oceanfront Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

“Obviously I didn’t say that,” tweeted Trump. “I said ‘I’d have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un,’ a big difference. Fortunately we now record conversations with reporters … and they knew exactly what I said and meant. They just wanted a story. FAKE NEWS!”

A White House official said the delay in publicly disputing the Journal’s account was the result of a failed attempt to get the paper to correct the record.

“The reason there was a delay is because we had several calls and emails with WSJ, starting Friday morning, asking them to issue a correction. They refused and so we pushed out our own clarification,” the official said.

Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe

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

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Friday, January 12th, 2018

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.

A new dawn: tmsnrt.rs/2Ar8lUu

‘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.

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