Top US envoy for North Korea retiring after Trump rejects talks without conditions

In this Dec. 15, 2017, file photo, US special envoy for North Korea policy Joseph Yun, speaks to media in Bangkok, Thailand. (AP)
Updated 28 February 2018
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Top US envoy for North Korea retiring after Trump rejects talks without conditions

WASHINGTON: The US special envoy for North Korea plans to retire on Friday, the State Department said just hours after US President Donald Trump again rejected talks to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis unless conditions are met.
South Korean-born Joseph Yun, a strong advocate for engagement with Pyongyang, has led the US outreach to North Korea, quietly pursuing direct diplomacy, since taking his post under former President Barack Obama in 2016.
His departure leaves the State Department without a point person for North Korea policy at a time Pyongyang has signalled it may be willing to talk to the United States after a period of diplomatic contacts with South Korea during the Winter Olympics.
Yun’s authority to engage with North Korea appeared to be undercut by a tug-of-war between the White House and State Department over North Korea policy under Trump.
Yun told US media his retirement was a personal decision and that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had tried to persuade him to stay.
“It is really my decision. The time, I thought, was right,” he told CBS News. “There is a bit of a lull in activity and I thought it would be a good (time) to get out.”
Yun noted that North Korea had “stopped nuclear and missile tests,” CBS said. Pyongyang conducted its biggest and most recent nuclear bomb test in September and its largest and latest missile test in late November.
Analysts called Yun’s departure a big blow to attempts to use diplomacy to resolve the crisis over North Korea’s development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States, which has raised fears of war.
“This is exceptionally bad news,” Frank Jannuzi, an East Asia expert who heads the Mansfield Foundation, said on Twitter. “Joe Yun is the only senior official left at State who has experience dealing with the complexities of North Korea policy.”
Former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia Abraham Denmark called Yun’s departure “a huge loss for the US government at a critical moment.”
CBS quoted Yun as saying there were no policy differences “per se,” but officials he has dealt with in South Korea told Reuters he had appeared increasingly frustrated with conflicting views within the administration on how to deal with the crisis.
Yun nevertheless appeared in step with recent administration positions when speaking to CBS.
“We need to get it right,” he was quoted as saying. “We need to make sure if there are talks it will lead to denuclearization. We need a whole of government approach.”
Yun, a 32-year foreign service veteran, did not respond to Reuters requests for comment.
The US State Department said Tillerson had “reluctantly accepted his decision.”

NO CHANGE IN POLICY
Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the denuclearization of North Korea remained the top US national security priority and Washington’s “maximum pressure” campaign to bring that about was succeeding.
“If someone chooses to retire, that does not change our policy,” Nauert told a regular news briefing. “I feel fully confident we have the appropriate people in place who can handle everything he did and more.”
South Korea this week urged Washington and Pyongyang to give ground to allow for talks.
Trump on Monday reiterated his willingness to talk, but only under the right conditions.
Washington has said repeatedly that any talks must be aimed at North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons, something North Korea has rejected.
Yun told South Korea’s Yonhap news agency he was “very hopeful about talks.”
“I hope there is a good dialogue, there is a peaceful resolution,” Yonhap quoted him as saying.
On Friday, Washington announced its largest package of sanctions yet on North Korea, and Trump warned of a “phase two” that could be “very, very unfortunate for the world” if the steps did not work — an apparent reference to military options his administration says remain on the table.
In another reference to the risk of war, Trump added on Monday: “We’re talking about tremendous potential loss of lives, numbers that nobody’s even contemplated, never thought of.”
In Geneva on Tuesday, North Korea’s envoy to the UN Conference on Disarmament Han Tae Song dismissed sanctions as ineffective and said plans by Seoul and Washington to resume joint military exercises would harm “the current positive process of improved inter-Korean relations.”
A senior State Department official told Reuters late last year that Yun had sought direct diplomacy with North Korean officials at the United Nations in the hope of lowering the temperature in a dangerous standoff.
Most were deeply skeptical about his chances.
“He’s such a dreamer,” a White House official said at the time, with a note of sarcasm.
Yun traveled to North Korea last June to help secure the release of comatose American student Otto Warmbier, whose detention and subsequent death further soured relations between Washington and Pyongyang.
Yun’s departure comes as Trump has yet to nominate an ambassador to South Korea, a post vacant for over a year. The administration’s failure to fill this and other key foreign policy positions has brought criticism in Congress and among former US officials and experts.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said it had been aware Yun planned to step down and that it had highly appreciated his work.


Massive blackout hits tens of millions in South America

A vendor waits for customers during a national blackout, in Buenos Aires, Argentina June 16, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 11 min 39 sec ago
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Massive blackout hits tens of millions in South America

  • The subsidies were a key part of the electricity policy of President Néstor Kirchner’s 2003-2007 administration and the presidency of Kirchner’s wife and successor, Cristina Fernández in 2007-2015

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina: A massive blackout left tens of millions of people without electricity in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay on Sunday in what the Argentine president called an “unprecedented” failure in the countries’ power grid.
Authorities were working frantically to restore power, and by the evening electricity had returned to 90 percent of the South American country, according to Argentine state news agency Telam. Power also had been restored to most of Uruguay’s 3 million people.
As the sun rose Sunday over the darkened country, Argentine voters were forced to cast ballots by the light of cell phones in gubernatorial elections. Public transportation was halted, shops closed and patients dependent on home medical equipment were urged to go to hospitals with generators.
“This is an unprecedented case that will be investigated thoroughly,” Argentine President Mauricio Macri said on Twitter.
Argentina’s power grid is generally known for being in a state of disrepair, with substations and cables that were insufficiently upgraded as power rates remained largely frozen for years.
The country’s energy secretary said the blackout occurred at about 7 a.m. local time when a key Argentine interconnection system collapsed. By mid-afternoon nearly half of Argentina’s 44 million people were still in the dark.
The Argentine energy company Edesur said on Twitter that the failure originated at an electricity transmission point between the power stations at the country’s Yacyretá dam and Salto Grande in the country’s northeast. But why it occurred was still unknown.
An Argentine independent energy expert said that systemic operational and design errors played a role in the power grid’s collapse.
“A localized failure like the one that occurred should be isolated by the same system,” said Raúl Bertero, president of the Center for the Study of Energy Regulatory Activity in Argentina. “The problem is known and technology and studies (exist) to avoid it.”
Energy Secretary Gustavo Lopetegui said workers were working to restore electricity nationwide by the end of the day.
“This is an extraordinary event that should have never happened,” he told a news conference. “It’s very serious.”
Uruguay’s energy company UTE said the failure in the Argentine system cut power to all of Uruguay for hours and blamed the collapse on a “flaw in the Argentine network.”
In Paraguay, power in rural communities in the south, near the border with Argentina and Uruguay, was also cut. The country’s National Energy Administration said service was restored by afternoon by redirecting energy from the Itaipu hydroelectric plant the country shares with neighboring Brazil.
In Argentina, only the southernmost province of Tierra del Fuego was unaffected by the outage because it is not connected to the main power grid.
Brazilian and Chilean officials said their countries had not been affected.
Many residents of Argentina and Uruguay said the size of the outage was unprecedented.
“I was just on my way to eat with a friend, but we had to cancel everything. There’s no subway, nothing is working,” said Lucas Acosta, a 24-year-old Buenos Aires resident. “What’s worse, today is Father’s Day. I’ve just talked to a neighbor and he told me his sons won’t be able to meet him.”
“I’ve never seen something like this,” said Silvio Ubermann, a taxi driver in the Argentine capital. “Never such a large blackout in the whole country.”
Several Argentine provinces had elections for governor on Sunday, which proceeded with voters using their phone screens and built-in flashlights to illuminate their ballots.
“This is the biggest blackout in history, I don’t remember anything like this in Uruguay,” said Valentina Giménez, a resident of the capital, Montevideo. She said her biggest concern was that electricity be restored in time to watch the national team play in the Copa America football tournament Sunday evening.
Since taking office, Argentine President Macri has said that gradual austerity measures were needed to revive the country’s struggling economy. He has cut red tape and tried to reduce the government’s budget deficit by ordering job cuts and reducing utility subsidies, which he maintained was necessary to recuperate lost revenue due to years-long mismanagement of the electricity sector.
According to the Argentine Institute for Social Development, an average family in Argentina still pays 20 times less for electricity than similar households in neighboring countries.
The subsidies were a key part of the electricity policy of President Néstor Kirchner’s 2003-2007 administration and the presidency of Kirchner’s wife and successor, Cristina Fernández in 2007-2015. Fernandez is now running for vice president in October elections.