North Korea slams Pence remark, renews threat to quit summit

A man watches a television news screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at a railway station in Seoul on May 16, 2018. (AFP / Jung Yeon-je)
Updated 24 May 2018
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North Korea slams Pence remark, renews threat to quit summit

  • Pyongyang’s latest salvo follows recent comments by US Vice President Mike Pence suggesting the North may end up like Libya if it doesn’t move forward with denuclearization.
  • US President Donald Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday at the White House for consultations and suggested the summit could be delayed. But the US says it is still working on making it happen.

TOKYO: North Korea has renewed its threat to pull out of a summit next month with President Donald Trump, saying it is just as ready to meet in a nuclear confrontation as at the negotiating table.
Pyongyang’s latest salvo follows recent comments by US Vice President Mike Pence suggesting the North may end up like Libya if it doesn’t move forward with denuclearization.
Choe Son Hui, the vice minister of foreign affairs, was quoted Thursday by the North’s state-run news agency slamming as “ignorant” comments Pence made in an interview with Fox News that compared North Korea to Libya, saying they showed he does not understand North Korea’s situation.
She also questioned whether the summit, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore, would be worthwhile if the remarks reflect Washington’s position.
“We will neither beg the US for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us,” KCNA quoted her as saying. “Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States.”
The summit plan has hit a number of speed bumps recently as both sides have begun taking tougher positions and trading barbs. Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday at the White House for consultations and suggested the summit could be delayed. But the US says it is still working on making it happen.
Choe, a veteran diplomat and former head of the North America desk at the Foreign Ministry, was responding to comments Pence made to Fox News this week that it would be a “mistake” for the North Koreans to think they can “play” Trump. Pence said both the Clinton and Bush administrations had been “played” by the North Korean government.
“We offered concessions to the North Korean regime in exchange for promises to end their nuclear weapons program, only to see them break those promises and abandon them,” he said, adding that if Pyongyang does not go along with talks to give up its nuclear weapons, Washington could return to the “Libya model.”
That suggestion, which was made earlier this month by National Security Adviser John Bolton and also sparked an outraged response from the North, is especially inflammatory to Pyongyang.
The Libya model refers to negotiations in 2004 that led to the shipping of nuclear components to the US from Libya under Muammar Qaddafi. But in Pyongyang’s mind the most important part of the story is what came after that. Qaddafi was deposed after a 42-year reign and killed in 2011 — the year Kim assumed power in North Korea — while his country spiraled into chaos.
“In view of the remarks of the US high-ranking politicians who have not yet woken up to this stark reality and compare the DPRK to Libya that met a tragic fate, I come to think that they know too little about us,” she said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name.
She added: “To borrow their words, we can also make the US taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now.”
How seriously the North would really consider calling off the summit isn’t entirely clear, however.
Meeting with Trump as an equal on the world stage would be an important moment for Kim and Choe couched her statement carefully, noting that she would only recommend the North Korean leader withdraw from the meeting if Washington “clings to unlawful and outrageous acts.”
North Korea was also expected to go through with a major gesture of goodwill ahead of the summit by dismantling its nuclear test site. The North, which has vowed to stop all underground nuclear testing and intercontinental ballistic missile launches, has invited foreign media to the remote site to observe a ceremony to mark the closing.
The ceremony was expected to be held Thursday or Friday, depending on the weather.


Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

Updated 26 May 2019
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Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

  • Only the Afghans ‘can decide upon the future of their country’

KABUL, BERLIN: Germany, a leading donor and member of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, has been talking with the Taliban and the Afghan government in an effort to restart peace talks to end 18 years of conflict, officials said.

While the Taliban have been talking with US officials since October about withdrawal of international troops, they have so far refused formal talks with the Western-backed government, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime.

Berlin’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Markus Potzel, has visited Kabul for talks with the Afghan government and met Taliban officials in Doha at least twice this month.

“The current chance for a process toward a more peaceful Afghanistan should not be missed. If the friends of Afghanistan — and Germany is one of them — together can help in this effort, then we should do it,” Potzel said.

“In the end, only the Afghans themselves, including the Taliban, can decide upon the future of their country.”

The chief US negotiator in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in March said that a draft agreement had been reached on a withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a commitment by the Taliban to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda.

But there has been no agreement yet on a cease-fire or a start to talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, both seen as key conditions for a settlement.

An Afghan delegation had been due to meet Taliban officials in the Qatari capital Doha last month to build the basis for possible negotiations, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute after a dispute over the number of participants.

FASTFACT

 

● At least 3,804 Afghan civilians were killed in the war last year. ● 14,000 US troops are still stationed in Afghanistan.

“We realize that US-Taliban talks will gain momentum only if the insurgent leaders start engaging with the Afghan representatives,” a senior German official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said that Germany was one among several countries to have offered help to seek a peaceful resolution. 

The EU and Indonesia are among those to have offered help, another Taliban official said, declining to be named.

Discussions were held with Germany about an Afghan-Taliban meeting in Germany but no decision has been made, Shaheen told Reuters.

 

Captives subjected to abuse

Afghan captives held by the Taliban have been subjected to abuse, ill-treatment and actions that may amount to torture, the UN said on Sunday.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it interviewed 13 detainees from a group of 53 recently rescued from the Taliban, mainly members of Afghan forces but also civilians and government officials captured by the insurgents.

The group was freed on April 25 when Afghan troops raided a Taliban-run detention facility in the Khas Uruzgan district in southern Uruzgan province.

Most of the captives were held since 2018, with three since 2016, the UNAMA statement said, adding they were kept in poor conditions and subjected to forced labor. It cites the detainees as saying that the Taliban killed some of their captives.

“I am gravely concerned about these serious allegations of ill-treatment, torture and unlawful killing of civilians and security personnel, as well as the deplorable conditions of detention,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of UNAMA.

The detainees were shackled while in captivity and almost all said they were beaten. The Taliban told them it was punishment for supporting the government, working with the Americans or fighting the insurgents.