North Korea, US clash at disarmament forum over nuclear arms

Foreign Ministers from twenty countries from North and South America, Asia, and Europe pose for a family photo at the Vancouver Foreign Ministers Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula, in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada on January 16, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 24 January 2018
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North Korea, US clash at disarmament forum over nuclear arms

GENEVA: North Korea said on Tuesday it had a “powerful and reliable” nuclear deterrent to thwart any attack and accused the United States of deploying military assets nearby under the pretext of ensuring security at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
Han Tae Song, North Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, called on the United States to permanently halt its joint military drills with South Korea, suspended ahead of the Games that open on Feb. 9 amid an easing of tensions.
Han said contrary to the trend toward “detente,” US forces were engaging in a “precarious military maneuver” by bringing their strategic assets near the divided Korean peninsula ahead of the competition.
“This is a dangerous act of throwing a wet blanket over the current positive atmosphere of inter-Korean relations, which could drive the situation again into an extreme phase of confrontation,” Han told the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Monday a thaw in relations between the two Koreas ahead of the Winter Olympics presented a “precious chance” for the United States and North Korea to discuss the North’s weapons programs.
North Korea is developing missile and nuclear technology amid regular threats to destroy the United States and Japan and in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions.
’GRAVE AND IMMINENT THREAT’
Japan’s envoy Nobushige Takamizawa said North Korea’s nuclear and missile deployment constituted “a grave and imminent threat to the international community” and pressure must be increased on Pyongyang.
Han said nuclear tests last year had allowed his country to “perfect a national nuclear force” in a safe and transparent manner.
“Thus the DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) at last came to possess a powerful and reliable war deterrent, which no force and nothing can reverse,” he told the Geneva forum.
“I am proudly saying that DPRK’s nuclear force is capable of frustrating and countering any nuclear threats from the US and it constitutes a powerful deterrent that prevents the US from starting an adventurous war.”
Han said as a “responsible nuclear power” North Korea could not resort to using the weapons unless hostile forces violate its sovereignty or interests.
US disarmament ambassador Robert Wood said: “The United States will not recognize North Korea as a nuclear weapon state.
“If the North wishes to return and be in the good graces of the international community, it knows what it has to do, it has to take steps toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
“The international pressure on North Korea is profound, it is intense and it will continue,” he added.
Wood, asked whether the inter-Korean dialogue was due to pressure on Pyongyang, later told reporters: “Absolutely, I think it very clear that the pressure the international community has put upon North Korea has got it to take a much softer tone with regard to the Republic of Korea and its desire now to participate in the upcoming Olympics.”


Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

A dentist at a medical camp set up by volunteers in Caracas on Sunday. (Reuters)
Updated 45 min 48 sec ago
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Europe lawmakers expelled as aid showdown intensifies

  • Volunteer groups have begun meeting in ‘humanitarian camps’

CARACAS: Venezuela has expelled five visiting European lawmakers, an act opposition leader Juan Guaido branded “irrational” as his showdown with President Nicolas Maduro over the arrival of international aid intensifies.
The members of the European Parliament were being tossed out with no explanation, said Spanish MEP Esteban Gonzalez Pons, who led the group.
“We are being expelled from Venezuela. Our passports have been seized. They have not informed us of the reason for the expulsion,” Pons said.
The incident on Sunday is the latest point of tension between the international community and Maduro, who is in the grip of a power struggle with Guaido, the head of the National Assembly who proclaimed himself interim president last month.
Guaido has the backing of more than 50 countries including 30 in Europe.
Pons’ fellow Spaniards Jose Ignacio Salafranca and Gabriel Mato Adrover, as well as Esther de Lange of the Netherlands and Paulo Rangel of Portugal, were also expelled. All are members of the conservative European People’s Party (PPE).
Writing on Twitter, Guaido said the MEPs were being “deported by an isolated and increasingly irrational regime.”
Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said the Europeans had “conspiratorial aims” and were sent back from the country’s main Maiquetia airport.
Earlier Sunday, Guaido set a goal of enlisting a million volunteers within a week to confront a government blockade that has kept tons of humanitarian aid, most of it from the US, from flowing into the country where residents can’t get enough food and say they are dying because of a shortage of medicines.
Guaido has given next Saturday — one month to the day after he proclaimed himself acting president — as the date for a showdown with Maduro over the aid.
Food supplies, hygiene kits and nutritional supplements have been stockpiled near the Venezuelan border in Cucuta, Colombia.
Additional storage centers are supposed to open this week in Brazil and Curacao, a Dutch island off Venezuela’s northern Caribbean coast.
“Our principal task is to reach a million volunteers by February 23,” Guaido said in a message to the 600,000 supporters who have signed up so far for the push to bring aid in.
Caravans of buses are being planned to carry volunteers to border entry points to meet and transport arriving cargo. Guaido has kept to himself how he plans to overcome the border barriers put up by the Venezuelan military, on Maduro’s orders.
Volunteer groups have begun meeting in “humanitarian camps” in several Venezuelan states to organize and prepare for the aid arrival.
They have started to identify the most vulnerable and have begun caring for the needy in accordance with Guaido’s promises.
Sometimes working under awnings or tents, doctors, nurses, dentists and pediatricians have attended to local residents who can receive donated medications.
Patients arrive with respiratory, skin or other ailments, and suffering from malnutrition.
An imploding economy has driven an estimated 2.3 million Venezuelans to migrate from the oil-rich country. Those who remain have been punished by hyperinflation that has put scarce food and medicine out of reach for many.
Andrea Hernandez, a physical therapy student whose mother is a pediatric nurse, is among those offering her help. Hernandez said her mother often “cried from seeing her patients die from lack of medicine.”
Yorger Maita, a helper from the aid group Rescate Venezuela, said that if foreign aid does not enter “other people will continue to die.”
Maduro, who denies the existence of a humanitarian crisis, dismisses the opposition moves as a “political show” and a cover for a US invasion.
US Senator Marco Rubio arrived Sunday in Cucuta for a first-hand look at the aid operations.
“Whoever prevents the entry of humanitarian aid is condemned to spend the rest of their lives fleeing international justice, because that is an international crime,” Rubio said in Spanish.
Three US military cargo planes delivered several dozen more tons of food assistance to Cucuta on Saturday.
Another US aircraft is due in Curacao from Miami on Tuesday, and a collection center for Brazilian aid will open Monday on the border, Guaido’s team said.
Venezuelans based in Miami held their own drive, putting together 1,000 crates of food to send to their homeland.
On Friday, Maduro instructed his army to prepare a “special deployment plan” for the 2,200-kilometer (1,370-mile) border with Colombia.
Guaido appealed for the military to let the aid pass.
Maduro has dismissed the humanitarian assistance as “crumbs” and “rotten and contaminated food” while blaming shortages of food and medicine on US sanctions.