White House will see if North Korea is serious about talks

Vice chairman of the North Korean ruling party's central committee Kim Yong Chol and Ri Son-kwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, arrive at their hotel in Seoul, South Korea, on Sunday. (REUTERS)
Updated 26 February 2018
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White House will see if North Korea is serious about talks

WASHINGTON: The White House said Sunday it would wait and see whether a new overture by North Korea for talks with the United States means it is serious about disarming, a step President Donald Trump and other world leaders agree must be the outcome of any future dialogue.
“We will see,” was the response from White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was on the Korean peninsula Sunday as a member of the US delegation attending the Olympic games in South Korea. The delegation was led by Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter.
Sanders said President Trump remains committed to achieving the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” of the peninsula and that his “maximum pressure campaign” against North Korea must continue until it abandons its nuclear and missile programs.
Trump imposed fresh sanctions against North Korea late last week as part of the pressure effort.
During Sunday’s closing ceremony for the games, the office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced that a North Korean delegate to the Olympics said his country is willing to hold talks with the US The move comes after decades of tensions between the two countries, which have no formal diplomatic relations, and a year of escalating rhetoric, including threats of war, between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
The North has “ample intentions of holding talks with the United States,” Moon’s office said. The North’s delegation also agreed that “South-North relations and US-North Korean relations should be improved together,” the statement said.
Sanders said the US, South Korea and the international community “broadly agree” that denuclearization must be the outcome of any dialogue with North Korea. She said North Korea has a bright path ahead of it if it chooses denuclearization.
“We will see if Pyongyang’s message today, that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” she said in a written statement. “In the meantime, the United States and the world must continue to make clear that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs are a dead end.”
Trump once scolded Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who favors diplomacy with North Korea over military confrontation, for “wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” which is Trump’s derisive nickname for North Korea’s leader.
At the Olympics opening ceremony earlier this month, the North Korean leader’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, shared a VIP box with Moon and Vice President Mike Pence, who led a separate US delegation, creating some awkward moments. Though Pence stood to cheer the entrance of the US team, he remained seated when athletes from North and South Korea marched together behind a “unification” flag, leaving Moon to instinctively turn around and shake Kim’s sister’s hand.
Pence and Kim Yo Jong did not speak. Pence’s office claimed afterward that the North pulled out of a planned meeting at the last minute.
During her visit, Ivanka Trump sat in the same box with Kim Yong Choi, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Worker’s Party Central Committee. They did not appear to interact when Jae-in shook hands with dignitaries at the beginning of Sunday’s closing ceremony.
Trump stepped up the pressure campaign against North Korea on Friday by slapping sanctions on scores of companies and ships accused of illicit trading with the pariah nation. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the US has now blacklisted virtually all ships being used by the North.
Trump has vowed to use force if necessary to prevent North Korea from acquiring a nuclear-tipped missile that could strike the US mainland. At a White House news conference on Friday, he warned that the US would move to “phase two” in its pressure campaign if sanctions don’t work. Trump said such a step could be “very rough” and “very unfortunate for the world.” He did not elaborate.
“If we can make a deal it will be a great thing. If we can’t, something will have to happen,” Trump said.


Relief as Maldives strongman concedes defeat

Updated 27 min 50 sec ago
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Relief as Maldives strongman concedes defeat

  • The Maldivian people have decided what they want,” President Abdulla Yameen said
  • He said he would hand over power when his term ends on November 17 and ensure a smooth transition

COLOMBO: The strongman leader of the Maldives on Monday conceded defeat in the presidential election, easing fears of a fresh political crisis in the archipelago at the center of a battle for influence between India and China.
“The Maldivian people have decided what they want. I have accepted the results from yesterday,” President Abdulla Yameen said in a televised address to the Indian Ocean nation a day after the joint opposition candidate unexpectedly triumphed.
“Earlier today, I met with Ibrahim Mohamed Solih, who the Maldivian electorate has chosen to be their next president. I have congratulated him,” Yameen said.
He said he would hand over power when his term ends on November 17 and ensure a smooth transition in the 1,200-island nation, popular with foreign tourists for its white sands and blue lagoons.
Solih’s victory was a major surprise, with Yameen’s main political rivals either in prison or in exile, media coverage of the opposition sparse and monitors and the opposition predicting vote-rigging.
There had been concerns Yameen might not accept the result given what happened after the last election in 2013.
The Supreme Court annulled that result after Yameen trailed former president Mohamed Nasheed — giving Yameen time to forge alliances and win a second round of voting that was postponed twice.
Results released by the electoral commission showed Yameen on 41.7 percent of the vote, well behind Solih on 58.3 percent — the only other name on ballot papers.
The final official result will take up to a week to be published.
Yameen stayed quiet overnight after the outcome became clear. But signs grew Monday that he would throw in the towel, with a foreign ministry statement saying Solih had won and state media showing him claiming victory.
Nearly 90 percent of the 262,000 electorate turned out to vote, with some waiting in line for more than five hours.
Celebrations broke out across the archipelago on Sunday night, with opposition supporters waving yellow flags of Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP) and dancing in the streets.
On Monday the situation was calm.
The US State Department, which had warned of “appropriate measures” if the vote was not free and fair, had called on Yameen to “respect the will of the people.”
Regional superpower India said the result marked “the triumph of democratic forces.” But China was yet to comment, with Monday being a public holiday there.
Beijing loaned Yameen’s government hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure projects like the new “China-Maldives Friendship Bridge” from the airport to the capital Male, which opened in August.
The loans stoked fears among Western countries and India about China’s growing influence under its “Belt and Road Initiative” stretching from Asia into Africa and Europe.
Solih had the backing of a united opposition trying to oust Yameen but struggled for visibility. The local media was fearful of falling foul of heavy-handed decrees and reporting restrictions.
In February Yameen imposed a 45-day state of emergency, alarming the international community, in what was seen as an attempt to block a push by his opponents in parliament to impeach him.
A crackdown saw former president Maumoon Abdul Gayoom — Yameen’s half-brother — jailed along with the Chief Justice and another Supreme Court justice.
Independent international monitors were barred from Sunday’s election and only a handful of foreign media were allowed in to cover the poll.
The government had used “vaguely worded laws to silence dissent and to intimidate and imprison critics,” some of whom had been assaulted and even murdered, according to Human Rights Watch.
Solih pledged on Twitter before the election that he would open investigations into the disappearance of journalist Ahmed Rilwan, missing since 2014, and the fatal stabbing of blogger Yameen Rasheed in 2017.
He promised also to repeal anti-defamation legislation and “ensure press freedom.”
Foreign monitors said Yameen’s supporters failed to carry out any large-scale fraud thanks to intense international and local scrutiny from civil society groups.
“In the face of massive pressure, they had to abandon their plans,” Rohana Hettiarachchi of the Asian Network for Free Elections told AFP.