North Korea leader visits China after warning of alternate path to US talks

In this June 19, 2018, file photo provided by China's Xinhua News Agency, Chinese President Xi Jinping, right, shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, during a welcome ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. (AP)
Updated 08 January 2019
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North Korea leader visits China after warning of alternate path to US talks

  • Kim said last week in a New Year address he is ready to meet Trump again anytime to achieve their common goal of denuclearising the Korean Peninsula

SHANGHAI/SEOUL: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is visiting China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, only days after warning he may take an alternative path if the United States does not ease sanctions and pressure on his isolated country.
The visit, confirmed by North Korean and Chinese state media, will likely lead to Kim’s fourth summit with Xi in the last year and comes amid plans for a second summit with Trump aimed at denuclearising the Korean peninsula.
Kim held three summits last year with Xi, his most important ally, before and after summits with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.
“Kim is eager to remind the Trump administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer,” Harry J. Kazianis, Director of Defense Studies at US-based Center for the National Interest said in an emailed statement.
“In fact, during his New Year’s Days speech, Kim’s ‘new way’ that he referred to may well have been a veiled threat to move closer to Beijing. That should make America quite concerned.”
Kim left for China on a private train on Monday afternoon accompanied by his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and senior North Korean officials, including Kim Yong Chol and Ri Yong Ho, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said. China’s official Xinhua news agency also confirmed that Kim is visiting from Monday to Thursday at Xi’s invitation.
The visit coincided with what South Korean officials say is Kim’s 35th birthday on January 8.
“He was warmly seen off by leading officials of the Party, government and armed forces organs at the railway station,” KCNA said in its report.
Kim’s visit to North Korea’s most important economic and diplomatic ally, which was first reported by South Korean media, comes amid reports of advanced negotiations for a second summit between Washington and Pyongyang aimed at resolving the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.
Kim said in a New Year speech last week he is ready to meet Trump anytime to achieve their common goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. But he warned that he may seek an alternative path to a summit with Trump if US sanctions and pressure against the country continues.

“GOOD PARTNER“
In an interview with CNBC on Monday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised China’s support for resolving the North Korean crisis and said he did not think the US trade dispute with Beijing would affect this.
“The Chinese have been very clear to us that these are separate issues,” Pompeo said.
“Their behavior has demonstrated that as well and we appreciate that. China has actually been a good partner in our efforts to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea’s nuclear capability; I expect they will continue to do so.”
South Korea’s foreign ministry said it was aware of Kim’s planned visit and hopes Kim’s latest visit and summit with Xi would contribute to the shared “strategic goal” of achieving complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.
While there were no details released about the possible agenda in China, Kim has been seeking relief from international sanctions, a peace declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War, and more economic investment.
Ties between China and North Korea, which had frayed as Pyongyang stepped up its provocations through a series of missile and nuclear tests, warmed over the last year as Kim engaged with Beijing as well as Seoul and Washington.
Neither KCNA nor Xinhua provided further information on Kim’s itinerary, though South Korea’s Hankyoreh newspaper said on Monday that he will meet with China’s Xi for a fourth summit.


Taliban under attack in Badghis province

In this file photo, Afghan National Army soldiers carry out an exercise during a live firing at the Afghan Military Academy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Afghan officials say around 100 soldiers fled their posts and tried to cross into neighboring Turkmenistan during a weeklong battle with the Taliban, in the latest setback for the country's battered security forces. (AP)
Updated 52 min 6 sec ago
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Taliban under attack in Badghis province

  • Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan
  • In a statement, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed

KABUL: Afghanistan’s government launched a ground and air offensive on Monday to flush out Taliban insurgents from a key area in the northwestern province of Badghis, which is close to the border with Turkmenistan, officials said.

The focal point of the operation was the Bala Murghab district where, a few days ago, the Taliban had captured dozens of government forces in addition to overrunning several parts of the district, which serves as a gateway to the northern areas for the insurgents.

Several government troops fleeing the Taliban rampage crossed into neighboring Turkmenistan, officials said. 

One provincial official and a lawmaker from the province, who requested anonymity as they were not authorized to speak to the media, said that Turkmenistan was due to hand over the troops to Afghanistan on Monday.

Sayed Mohmmad Musa, a lawmaker from the province, said that hundreds of government troops have taken part in the operation, which had resulted in the deaths of several of the Taliban’s top commanders.

“Through the operation, the government wants to not only regain the control of the district, but is also trying to free those forces who either had to join the Taliban or were captured by them several days ago,” he said by phone.

“There is heavy fighting there and the government wants to end the Taliban threat because it is a strategic location,” he said.

Meanwhile, spokesmen for the defense and interior ministries did not answer repeated calls for comment about the government’s operation and about the Taliban’s rampage days ago.

In a statement released earlier, the ministry had said that 50 Taliban combatants had been killed.

There were conflicting reports about the number of troops who were captured by the Taliban and those who had fled to Turkmenistan, while the Taliban said 90 soldiers had surrendered.

The development comes amid continuing efforts in recent months by US diplomats and Taliban delegates for finding a peaceful settlement to the war. 

Both the Taliban and government forces, backed by the US military, have stepped up their attacks in a number of areas in the country.

Ahmad Saeedi, an analyst from Badghis, said the remoteness of the province, changes in the leadership of the ministry and confusion among troops about the peace process were some of the factors for the Taliban’s gains in Badghis.

“The time of US and Taliban formally announcing a deal has become closer; this has disheartened some troops in some parts of the country to keep on fighting,” Saeedi told Arab News.

Mirza Mohammed Yarmand, a military analyst and retired general, agreed. He told Arab News: “Unfortunately, the schism and differences among the political leaders of the country have caused disruption and slowness in the conduct of responsibilities of officers in the battlefield.”

He added: “Logistical shortcomings, the amount of attacks conducted by the enemy, (the government’s) failure to transport on time the war casualties from the battle ground and the amount of time officers spend in war zone, are among the reasons for incidents such as Bala Murghab.”

“When there is difference among the leaders that certainly impacts the moral of troops,” he said.