North Korea’s Kim Jong Un orders border hotline with Seoul reopened

Above, a South Korean soldier stands guard at the truce village of Panmunjom. South Korea proposed high-level discussions with North Korea following Kim Jong Un’s earlier New Year’s address. (Reuters)
Updated 03 January 2018
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North Korea’s Kim Jong Un orders border hotline with Seoul reopened

SEOUL: North and South Korea on Wednesday reopened a cross-border hotline which had been shut down since 2016, forging ahead with peace overtures despite taunts from US President Donald Trump who said he has a “much bigger” nuclear button than Kim Jong-Un.
The hotline was restored at 0630 GMT after Seoul proposed high-level talks in response to an olive branch from the North’s leader, who has offered to send a team to next month’s Winter Olympics in the South.
“The phone conversation lasted 20 minutes,” a South Korean Unification Ministry official said, adding details were not known immediately.
Kim’s overtures to the South marked a rare softening in tone. Tensions have surged in recent months following a flurry of North Korean missile launches and its most powerful nuclear test yet.
Seoul responded with an offer to hold talks on January 9 — the first since 2015 — to discuss “matters of mutual interest” including the North’s Olympic participation.
But Kim’s New Year address also included a warning to the US that he has a “nuclear button” on his table, prompting a furious response from Trump via Twitter.
“North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.’
“Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” he said.
The tweet generated Twitter responses largely of scorn and alarm.
“This borders on presidential malpractice,” said Democratic Senator Ed Markey.
“Our President is a child. ‘Mine is bigger than yours’ may sound tough on the playground, but this is no juvenile affair. Literally millions of lives are at stake,” tweeted Colin Kahl, a former national security adviser to then Vice President Joe Biden.
But Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley maintained the tough line, playing down Seoul’s offer to hold talks. These would be a “band-aid” unless denuclearization was also up for discussion, she said.
US State Department spokesman Heather Nauert also warned that Kim “may be trying to drive a wedge of some sort between the two nations — between our nation and the Republic of Korea (South Korea).”
But the tentative rapprochement seemed to be moving ahead on Wednesday, with Kim welcoming Seoul’s support for his overtures, according to Ri Son-gwon, the head of North Korea’s agency handling inter-Korean affairs.
The two countries, divided by a Demilitarized Zone since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, last held high-level talks in 2015 to try to ease tensions.
The hotline in the border truce village of Panmunjom remained operational until February 2016. It was shut down when relations worsened over a dispute involving the jointly operated and now closed Kaesong industrial complex.
Seoul welcomed Pyongyang’s decision to reopen the hotline as “very significant.”
Its President Moon Jae-In has long favored engagement with the North, but the Trump administration insists the regime must give up its weapons drive before any negotiations can take place.
North Korea has shrugged off a series of tougher sanctions and heightened rhetoric from Washington as it drives forward with its weapons program.
It says it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself from a hostile Washington and has striven to create a warhead capable of targeting the US mainland with an atomic warhead.
Moon on Tuesday welcomed Kim’s olive branch as a “positive response” to Seoul’s hopes that the Pyeongchang Olympics would be a “groundbreaking opportunity for peace.”
But any rapprochement between the two countries would take place against a backdrop of suspicion, if not outright hostility, by Washington. Trump and Kim have exchanged angry insults since the US leader took office a year ago.
Trump has mocked Kim as “fat” and a “little rocket man.” Kim, for his part has described Trump as a “mentally deranged US dotard.”
Twitter reaction to Trump’s “button” remark was largely scornful.
Go Myong-Hyun, of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, said North Korea was using the South as a “shield” as it tries to fend off sanctions and pressure from the US.
“If the South becomes the North’s dialogue partner, the US-South Korea alliance will face difficulties,” he said.


Malaysia opposition leader arrested for corruption

Updated 1 min 11 sec ago
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Malaysia opposition leader arrested for corruption

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s opposition leader was arrested Thursday on suspicion of corruption, a fresh blow to his party which was ousted at elections this year after six decades in power.
Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, a former deputy premier and ally of scandal-mired ex-leader Najib Razak, was detained after being questioned by anti-corruption authorities. He will be charged Friday.
He is head of the United Malays National Organization (UMNO), the lynchpin in a coalition of parties that ruled Malaysia from independence in 1957 until their shock defeat in May polls.
The UMNO has been on the ropes since, with many coalition partners abandoning a party that had become synonymous with widespread graft, divisive racial politics and a rotten ruling elite.
Najib has also been arrested and charged over allegations he oversaw the plundering of state fund 1MDB, a scandal that played a major part in the election defeat.
Ahmad Zahid was arrested in “relation to an investigation into abuse of power, criminal breach of trust and money laundering,” the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission said.
It gave no further details but local media reported that he was accused of misappropriating 800,000 ringgit ($190,000) from a foundation he chairs to settle credit card payments in 2014 and 2015.
“I urge UMNO members to remain calm and follow the rule of law,” Ahmad Zahid told AFP before his arrest.
The UMNO quickly came to the defense of Ahmad Zahid, who was elected as party chief after May’s polls, and said the arrest was politically motived.
“This action is a strategy to portray Zahid as an untrustworthy and unqualified leader,” said Jalaluddin Alias, a member of the party’s supreme council.
Ahmad Zahid, who also served as interior minister in the last government, stuck by Najib even as other senior figures abandoned him over the 1MDB graft scandal.
US authorities say more than $4.5 billion was misappropriated from the fund, with nearly $700 million diverted into Najib’s personal bank accounts. The ex-leader has denied any wrongdoing.