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Trump praises Putin for holding back in U.S.-Russia spy dispute

by UNTV News   |   Posted on Saturday, December 31st, 2016

FILE PHOTOS: Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin (REUTERS)

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Friday praised Russian President Vladimir Putin for refraining from retaliation in a dispute over spying and cyber attacks, in another sign that the Republican plans to patch up badly frayed relations with Moscow.

Putin earlier on Friday said he would not hit back for the U.S. expulsion of 35 suspected Russian spies by President Barack Obama, at least until Trump takes office on Jan. 20.

“Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!” Trump wrote on Twitter from Florida, where he is on vacation.

Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of the Russians and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking political groups in the Nov. 8 U.S. presidential election.

“We will not expel anyone,” Putin said in a statement, adding that Russia reserved the right to retaliate.

“Further steps towards the restoration of Russian-American relations will be built on the basis of the policy which the administration of President D. Trump will carry out,” he said.

In a separate development, a code associated with the Russian hacking operation dubbed Grizzly Steppe by the Obama administration has been detected within the system of a Vermont electric utility, the Washington Post reported on Friday, citing unnamed U.S. officials.

The Russians did not actively use the code to disrupt operations of the utility, the officials told the Post, but penetration of the nation’s electrical grid is significant because it represents a potentially serious vulnerability.

Trump has repeatedly praised Putin and nominated people seen as friendly toward Moscow to senior administration posts, but it is unclear whether he would seek to roll back Obama’s actions, which mark a post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties.

Trump has brushed aside allegations from the CIA and other intelligence agencies that Russia was behind the cyber attacks.” It’s time for our country to move on to bigger and better things,” Trump said on Thursday, though he said he would meet with intelligence officials next week.

U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia was behind hacks into Democratic Party organizations and operatives before the presidential election. Moscow denies this. U.S. intelligence officials say the Russian cyber attacks aimed to help Trump defeat Democrat Hillary Clinton.

Russian officials have portrayed the sanctions as a last act of a lame-duck president and suggested Trump could reverse them when he takes over from Obama, a Democrat.

A senior U.S. official on Thursday said that Trump could reverse Obama’s executive order, but doing so would be inadvisable.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the Obama administration “a group of embittered and dimwitted foreign policy losers.”

REPUBLICAN OPPOSITION

Should Trump seek to heal the rift with Russia, he might encounter opposition in Congress, including from fellow Republicans.

Republican John McCain, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said on Friday that Russia must face a penalty for the cyber attacks.

“When you attack a country, it’s an act of war,” McCain said in an interview with the Ukrainian TV channel “1+1” while on a visit to Kiev.

“And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy,” added McCain, who has scheduled a hearing for Thursday on foreign cyber threats.

Other senior Republicans, as well as Democrats, have urged a tough response to Moscow.

A total of 96 Russians are expected to leave the United States including expelled diplomats and their families.

Trump will find it very difficult to reverse the expulsions and lift the sanctions given that they were based on a unanimous conclusion by U.S. intelligence agencies, said Eugene Rumer, who was the top U.S. intelligence analyst for Russia from 2010 until 2014.

But that might not prevent Trump from improving ties to Russia, said Rumer, now director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a policy institute. “If Mr. Trump wants to start the relationship anew, I don’t think he needs to walk these sanctions back. He can just say this was Obama’s decision,” said Rumer.

As part of the sanctions, Obama told Russia to close two compounds in the United States that the administration said were used by Russian personnel for “intelligence-related purposes.”

Convoys of trucks, buses and black sedans with diplomatic license plates left the countryside vacation retreats outside Washington and New York City without fanfare on Friday.

A former Russian Foreign Ministry employee told Reuters that the facility in Maryland was a dacha used by diplomatic staff and their children. The 45-acre complex includes a Georgian-style brick mansion, swimming pool, tennis courts and cottages for embassy staff.

Neighbors said the Russians were a lively bunch, seen water-skiing in summer and known for throwing a large, annual Labor Day party.

The Russian consulate in San Francisco said on its Facebook page, “We hate to have to say goodbye to close to a dozen of our colleagues, our friends.” Among those expelled was the consulate chef.

Obama had promised consequences after U.S. intelligence officials blamed Russia for hacks intended to influence the 2016 election. Officials accused Putin of personally directing the efforts and primarily targeting Democrats.

Washington also put sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies, the GRU and the FSB, four GRU officers and three companies that Obama said “provided material support to the GRU’s cyber operations.”

(Additional reporting by Ginger Gibson, Jonathan Landay and Yara Bayoumy in Washington, Yeganeh Torbati and Joel Schectman in Centreville, Md., David Ingram at the United Nations, Katya Golubkova and Svetlana Reiter in Moscow and Sergei Karazy and Matthias Williams in Kiev; Writing by Alistair Bell; Editing by Howard Goller and Leslie Adler)

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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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