US, S. Korea begin military exercises

South Korean Army soldiers work on their K-9 self-propelled artillery vehicles during an exercise against possible attacks by North Korea near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea. (AP file)
Updated 21 August 2017
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US, S. Korea begin military exercises

SEOUL: South Korean and US forces began computer-simulated military exercises on Monday amid tension over North Korea’s weapons programs, while a report it has earned millions of dollars in exports is likely to raise doubt about the impact of sanctions.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said the joint drills, called Ulchi Freedom Guardian, were purely defensive and did not aim to increase tension on the peninsula.
“There is no intent at all to heighten military tension on the Korean peninsula as these drills are held annually and are of a defensive nature,” Moon told Cabinet ministers.
“North Korea should not exaggerate our efforts to keep peace nor should they engage in provocations that would worsen the situation, using (the exercise) as an excuse,” he said.
The joint US-South Korean drills last until Aug. 31 and involve computer simulations designed to prepare for war with a nuclear-capable North Korea.
The US also describes them as “defensive in nature,” a term North Korean state media has dismissed as a “deceptive mask.”
“It is to prepare if something big were to occur and we needed to protect RoK,” said Michelle Thomas, a US military spokeswoman, referring to South Korea by its official name, the Republic of Korea.
North Korea views such exercises as preparations for invasion and has fired missiles and taken other actions to show its anger over military drills in the past.
North and South Korea are technically still at war after the 1950-53 Korean War ended with a truce, not a peace treaty.
North Korea’s rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland has fueled a surge in regional tension and UN-led sanctions appear to have failed to bite deeply enough to change its behavior.
China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has urged the US and South Korea to scrap the exercises. Russia has also asked for the drills to stop but the US has not backed down.
Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said North and South Korea and the US all needed to make more effort to ease tension.
“We think that South Korea and the US holding joint drills is not beneficial to easing current tensions or efforts by all sides to promote talks,” she told a daily news briefing.
Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported that a confidential UN report found North Korea evaded UN sanctions by “deliberately using indirect channels” and had generated $270 million in banned exports since February.
The “lax enforcement” of existing sanctions and Pyongyang’s “evolving evasion techniques” were undermining the UN goal of getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Kyodo quoted the report as saying.
There will be no field training during the current exercise, according to US Forces Korea.
The US has about 28,000 troops in South Korea. About 17,500 US service members are participating in the exercise this month, down from 25,000 last year, according to the Pentagon.
Other South Korean allies are also joining this year, with troops from Australia, Britain, Canada, Colombia, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand taking part.


New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

Updated 5 min 27 sec ago
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New Chicago mayor gives Arabs hope

  • The election of Lori Lightfoot as mayor gives Chicago’s Arabs an opportunity to reverse the damage that Rahm Emanuel has caused
  • Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained against

Plagued by ongoing controversies and criticism that he tried to hide a video of Chicago police killing a black teenager in October 2014, Rahm Emanuel decided he had had enough as the city’s mayor and decided to retire.

Elected in 2011 with a big boost from his former boss, US President Barack Obama — also a Chicago native — Emanuel served two full terms.

But his hopes of reversing the city’s tumbling finances, improving its poorly performing schools, and reversing record gun-related violence and killings, all failed.

However, Emanuel did have one success. He managed to gut the involvement of Chicago’s Arab-American minority in city-sponsored events, responding favorably to its influential Jewish-American community leadership, which complained about Palestinian activists who advocated for statehood and challenged Israeli oppression.

Emanuel’s first acts as mayor included blocking the annual Arabesque Festival, which Jewish groups complained included photographs of Palestinians protesting against Israel. The festival had only been launched four years earlier by his predecessor in 2007.

Emanuel also disbanded the Advisory Commission on Arab Affairs, and ended Arab American Heritage Month, which had been held every November since it was recognized by Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor.

Emanuel refused to discuss his reasons for these decisions with leaders of Chicago’s Arab community.

He declined repeated requests by me to interview him, despite my having interviewed seven Chicago mayors. He declined similar requests from other Arab journalists.

While he hosted iftars for Muslims, he never hosted an Arab heritage celebration during his eight years in office.

His father was a leader of the Irgun, which was denounced as a terrorist organization in the 1940s by the British military.

The Irgun murdered British soldiers and thousands of Palestinian civilians, and orchestrated the bloody Deir Yassin massacre on April 9, 1948.

Before becoming mayor, Emanuel volunteered at an Israeli military base repairing damaged vehicles. His pro-Israel stance was never challenged by the mainstream US news media.

But with the election in February of Lori Lightfoot as mayor, Chicago’s Arabs have an opportunity to reverse the damage that Emanuel caused.

Lightfoot was sworn into office on Monday and serves for four years. She has already reached out to Arabs, appointing at least two Palestinians to her 400-person transition team, whose members often remain and assume government positions with new administrations.

The two Palestinians in her transition team are Rush Darwish and Rami Nashashibi. Darwish has organized several successful marathons in Chicago and Bethlehem to raise funds for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund. Nashashibi is involved with the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN).

As an African American, Lightfoot knows what it is like to be the victim of racism, stereotypes and discrimination. That makes her more sensitive to the concerns of Chicago’s Arabs.