US, South Korea scale back military exercise

The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan is welcomed as it arrives in Busan, South Korea in this April 25, 2017 photo. (AFP)
Updated 22 November 2018
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US, South Korea scale back military exercise

  • ‘Foal Eagle is being reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy’
  • Foal Eagle is the biggest of the regular joint exercises held by the allies, and has always infuriated Pyongyang

WASHINGTON: The United States and South Korea have scaled down an annual joint military exercise scheduled for the spring of 2019 to facilitate nuclear talks with North Korea, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday.
“Foal Eagle is being reorganized a bit to keep it at a level that will not be harmful to diplomacy,” Mattis said, adding that it would be “reduced in scope.”
Foal Eagle is the biggest of the regular joint exercises held by the allies, and has always infuriated Pyongyang, which condemned it as preparations for invasion.
But the drill — one of the world’s largest field exercises involving 200,000 South Korean and some 30,000 US soldiers — was delayed and scaled down last year as diplomatic detente took hold on the peninsula.
And following a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June, US President Donald Trump announced that the US would stop holding joint exercises with the South, calling them expensive and “very provocative.”
Since then the two allies have suspended most of their major joint exercises including the Ulchi Freedom Guardian in August and Vigilant Ace, slated for next month.
But more recently progress in talks with the North has stalled, with the US pushing to maintain sanctions against it until its “final, fully verified denuclearization” and Pyongyang condemning US demands as “gangster-like.”
Washington stations 28,500 troops in the South to defend it from its nuclear-armed neighbor, which invaded in 1950.
But differences are beginning to emerge between Seoul and Washington.
The South’s dovish president Moon Jae-in has long favored engagement with the North, which is subject to multiple UN Security Council sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
He has dangled large investment and joint cross-border projects as incentives for steps toward denuclearization, while the US has been adamant pressure should be maintained on Pyongyang until it fully dismantles its weapons programs.
Seoul’s defense ministry said Mattis’ comments were in line with their shared view on the need to back diplomacy — but a spokeswoman added that the question of whether the exercises will take place at all was “still under discussion.”
Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the South’s state-run Korea National Diplomatic Academy, said reducing the exercise was largely expected.
“The Trump administration claims Pyongyang’s suspension of nuclear and missile tests as the key achievement of its North Korea policy and the joint drills have been postponed as a kind of corresponding measure,” Kim said.
“As long as talks continue, postponing or reducing major US-South Korea joint exercises has become a fait accompli,” he said.
Earlier this month Pyongyang threatened to “seriously” consider returning to its weapons drive if Washington did not end its tough economic sanctions.
And last month, the North’s state media carried a near 1,700-word commentary accusing the US of playing a “double game,” implicitly criticizing Trump for comments aimed at barring Seoul from lifting sanctions against Pyongyang.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday defended Washington’s strategy on the peninsula, noting that North Korea had halted missile launches and had not conducted a nuclear test in over a year.
“And I do hope there’ll be a summit between the two leaders early in 2019,” he said in an interview with KCMO radio.
Pyongyang has declared its nuclear and missile development complete, saying it has no further need for testing.
Trump has also said he hopes to have a second meeting with Kim early next year, but talks between Pompeo and a top North Korean official, partly to prepare for the meeting, were canceled.
The US said the North axed the talks because they weren’t ready, and Trump insisted he was in “no rush.”


France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

Updated 19 May 2019
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France’s Macron forced to curb his ambitions for Europe

  • His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent
  • In his country, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron sees himself as Europe’s savior and next week’s European Parliament elections as a make-or-break moment for the beleaguered European Union.
But Macron is no longer the fresh-faced force who marched into a surprising presidential victory to the rousing EU anthem two years ago. His pro-Europe vision has collided with populists and national interests across the continent. And at home, his political vision has given rise to France’s raucous yellow vest uprising over his government’s pro-business policies.
Macron wanted the May 23-26 European Parliament elections to be the key moment that he could push his ambitions for a stronger Europe — but instead, nationalists and populists who criticized the 28-nation bloc could achieve unprecedented success.
They argue that EU leaders have failed to manage migration into the continent and remain out of touch with ordinary workers’ concerns.
“We have a crisis of the European Union. This is a matter of fact. Everywhere in Europe, when you look at the past five to six years, in our country but in a lot of countries, all the extremes, extreme-rights, are increasing,” Macron said Thursday, making an unexpected appeal for European unity on the sidelines of a technology trade show.
“On currency, on digital, on climate action, we need more Europe,” he said. “I want the EU to be more protective of our borders regarding migration, terrorism and so on, but I think if you fragment Europe, there is no chance you have a stronger Europe.”
In person, the 41-year-old Macron comes across as strikingly, sincerely European. A political centrist, he’s at ease quoting Greek playwrights, German thinkers or British economists. France’s youngest president grew up with the EU and has been using the shared European euro currency his whole adult life, and sees it as Europe’s only chance to stay in the global economic game.
Macron has already visited 20 of the EU’s 28 countries in his two years in office, and while he acknowledges the EU’s problems, he wants to fix the bloc — not disassemble it.
Macron won the 2017 presidential election over France’s far-right, anti-immigration party leader Marine Le Pen on a pledge to make Europe stronger to face global competition against the Unites States and China. Since then, he’s had to make compromises with other EU leaders — and clashed with some nations where populist parties govern, from Poland to neighboring Italy.
Four months after his election, Macron outlined his vision for Europe in a sweeping speech at Paris’ Sorbonne university, calling for a joint EU budget, shared military forces and harmonized taxes.
But with Brexit looming and nationalism rising, Macron has had to reconsider his ambitions. He called his political tactics with other EU leaders a “productive confrontation.”
“In Europe, what is expected from France is to clearly say what it wants, its goals, its ambitions, and then be able to build a compromise with Germany to move forward” with other European countries, Macron said last week.
Macron stressed that despite her initial reluctance, German Chancellor Angela Merkel agreed last year to create a eurozone budget they hope will boost investment and provide a safety mechanism for the 19 nations using the euro currency.
In March, Macron sought to draw support for a Europe of “freedom, protection and progress” with a written call to voters in 28 countries to reject nationalist parties that “offer nothing.”
And he proposed to define a roadmap for the EU by the end of this year in a discussion with all member nations and a panel of European citizens.
“There will be disagreement, but is it better to have a static Europe or a Europe that advances, sometimes at different paces, and that is open to all?” he asked.
France and Germany are the two heavyweights in Europe, and Macron can also count on cooperation from pro-European governments of Belgium, The Netherlands, Spain, Portugal and others.
He has made a point, however, of not yet visiting Hungary or Poland, two nations led by populist leaders whom Macron accused last year of “lying” to their people about the EU.
France has also been entangled in a serious diplomatic crisis with Italy over migration into Europe. Italy’s anti-migrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini has repeatedly criticized Macron and is backing his rival Le Pen’s National Rally party in the election this week that aims to fill the European parliament’s 751 seats.
Macron has little chance to repeat Europe-wide what he did in France: rip up the political map by building a powerful centrist movement that weakened the traditional left and right.
The campaign for Macron’s Republic on the Move party is being led by former European Affairs Minister Nathalie Loiseau under a banner called “Renaissance.” The party wants to associate with the pro-market ALDE alliance to create new centrist group at the European Parliament.
But across the continent, the centrists are not expected to come out remotely on top but rank third or even lower behind the parliament’s traditional two biggest groups, the right-wing European People’s Party and the left-wing Socialists and Democrats group.
Even at home, Macron is far from certain of being able to claim victory in the European vote. Polls suggest his party will be among France’s top two vote-getters in the election, which takes place in France on May 26.
But its main rival, the far-right National Rally party, is determined to take revenge on Macron beating Le Pen so decisively in 2017.
Macron’s political opponents across the spectrum are calling on French voters to seize the European vote to reject his government’s policies.
While he won 64% of the presidential vote in 2017, French polls show that Macron’s popularity has been around half that for the past year.
It reached record lows when France’s yellow vest movement broke out last fall, demanding relief from high taxes and stagnant wages for French workers, then slightly rose as extensive violence during yellow vest protests, especially in Paris, dampened support for the movement’s cause.
Still, the yellow vests are not going away. New protests against Macron and his government are planned for the EU election day.