US, North Korea to hold talks this week after nuclear standoff

Trump also said this month he had received a “great” letter from Kim and would probably meet him again in the not-too-distant future. (File/AFP)
Updated 15 January 2019
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US, North Korea to hold talks this week after nuclear standoff

  • The meeting, led by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol, would happen on Thursday or Friday
  • Ahead of the possible meetings, a letter Trump sent to Kim Jong Un was flown to Pyongyang and hand delivered over the weekend

SEOUL: The United States and North Korea plan to hold high-level talks in Washington as soon as this week to discuss a second summit of their leaders, following a prolonged stalemate in nuclear talks, South Korean media said on Tuesday.
The meeting, led by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol, would happen on Thursday or Friday, the Chosun Ilbo said, citing an unnamed diplomatic source familiar with the talks.
Both sides are expected to finalize the date and location of a second summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the North’s envoy is likely to meet Trump, the paper said.
South Korean news agency Yonhap also quoted an unnamed diplomatic source as saying Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol could meet this week.
The North Korean delegation could visit the United States “as soon as this week” but plans have not been finalized, a CNN reporter, citing an unnamed source, said on Twitter.
Ahead of the possible meetings, a letter Trump sent to Kim Jong Un was flown to Pyongyang and hand delivered over the weekend, the CNN reporter added, citing the source.
The US embassy in Seoul did not immediately comment on the reports. While the White House had offered no immediate comment on the earlier South Korean newspaper report, a State Department official responded, “We don’t have any meetings to announce.”
If confirmed, this week’s meeting could mean the two sides are nearing a compromise after a months-long standoff over how to move forward in ending North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
Pompeo, who made several trips to Pyongyang last year, sought to meet his counterpart last November, but the talks were called off at the last minute.
Contact was resumed after Kim’s New Year’s speech, in which he said he was willing to meet Trump “at any time,” South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Cho Yoon-je, told reporters last week.
Interim measures
Washington and Seoul have been discussing potential US measures to reciprocate North Korea’s possible steps toward denuclearization, such as dismantling the Yongbyon main nuclear complex or intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) aimed at the United States, South Korean officials told Reuters.
The United States is considering partially easing sanctions in exchange for the North’s discarding and sending abroad its ICBMs, in addition to a freeze in its nuclear program, the Chosun Ilbo said, citing the source.
Potential US corresponding action also includes exemptions from sanctions for inter-Korean business and tour ventures and opening a liaison office as a prelude to a formal launch of diplomatic relations, Seoul officials said.
“Those ideas are being discussed as interim measures, not as an end state, in order to expedite the denuclearization process because the North wouldn’t respond to any demand for a declaration of facilities and weapons,” a senior South Korean official said, requesting anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“The end goal remains unchanged, whether it be complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, or final, fully verified denuclearization.”
The official said a second summit between Trump and Kim might happen in late February or early March, though “No one knows what Trump is thinking.”
Kim reiterated his resolve to meet Trump again during a meeting last week with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Trump also said this month he had received a “great” letter from Kim and would probably meet him again in the not-too-distant future.
“At the second summit, they’ll probably focus on reaching a possible interim deal, rather than a comprehensive roadmap for denuclearization,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea’s Sejong Institute.
“Whether Pyongyang is willing to abolish ICBMs, in addition to disabling the Yongbyon complex, would be key, and if so, the North will likely demand sanctions relief in return.”


Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

Updated 22 February 2019
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Police slam US actor, say he staged racist attack to boost career

  • Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama ‘Empire,’ went from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month
  • Smollett accused of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions

CHICAGO: An American TV actor was criminally charged Thursday for allegedly masterminding an elaborate “publicity stunt” that sought to exploit the “pain and anger of racism” with a staged assault on the streets of Chicago.

It was the latest twist in a weeks-long saga that has seen 36-year-old Jussie Smollett, the African-American actor who stars on Fox music industry drama “Empire,” go from victim to suspect after he reported an assault late last month.

An incredulous Chicago police chief accused Smollett of first sending himself a fake threatening letter and then staging an attack to tap into Americans’ anxieties over political and racial divisions, because he was allegedly “dissatisfied with his salary.”

In a sign of the national attention the case has drawn, President Donald Trump weighed in Thursday, taking issue with the fact Smollett claimed his assailants invoked the president’s “Make America Great Again” slogan along with racist slurs during the purported attack.

“‘Empire’ actor Jussie Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career,” Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson told an emotionally-charged news conference — during which he lashed out angrily at the actor for sullying the city’s image.

“Smollett paid $3,500 to stage this attack and drag Chicago’s reputation through the mud in the process,” he said. “This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn and certainly didn’t deserve.”

Smollett turned himself in early Thursday morning, was arrested and charged with a felony count of disorderly conduct for filing a false police report, and was granted $100,000 bond.

He was freed from jail late in the afternoon, and said nothing to the throng of media. If convicted, he faces up to three years in prison.

His legal team pushed back hard later Thursday, claiming the police press conference had been prejudicial and “the presumption of innocence, a bedrock in the search for justice, was trampled upon.”

“Today we witnessed an organized law enforcement spectacle that has no place in the American legal system,” attorney Jack Prior told AFP in a statement.

“Mr. Smollett is a young man of impeccable character and integrity who fiercely and solemnly maintains his innocence and feels betrayed by a system that apparently wants to skip due process and proceed directly to sentencing.”

Smollett had claimed that two masked men beat him late at night in downtown Chicago, poured bleach on him and tied a rope around his neck — but police grew suspicious of his account after they failed to corroborate it.

Trump took aim at the actor for having tarnished his supporters, tweeting: “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?“

Meanwhile, Fox Entertainment and 20th Century Fox Television, which produce “Empire” and had stood by the actor, said “we understand the seriousness of this matter” and “are considering our options.”

Authorities said the two men who staged the attack with Smollett were brothers Ola and Abel Osundairo, who have both previously worked on “Empire,” and were acquaintances of the actor — while one provided him with drugs.

The brothers have cooperated with police since their arrest late last week and have not been charged with a crime.

Smollett allegedly first concocted a false threatening letter he had sent to himself — which is under a separate FBI investigation — and when that did not get enough attention, paid the brothers to have the assault staged.

Prosecutor Risa Lanier detailed an elaborate plot that Smollett allegedly orchestrated with exacting detail — telling the brothers when and how to attack him, including pointing out a street camera he assumed would capture the event, but was in fact pointing in a different direction.

The allegations were backed by a mountain of evidence, including a cashed check that Smollett wrote to pay for the stunt, authorities said.

Initial news of Smollett’s claims led to widespread condemnation and shock, and an outpouring of support from celebrities and politicians alike, including Democratic 2020 presidential candidates Cory Booker and Kamala Harris who denounced “an attempted modern day lynching.”

Trump initially described the alleged attack as “horrible.”

Since then, Smollett’s story has become a cautionary tale in an era where incomplete information is quickly spread via social media.

Opinion writers have complained about a rush to judgment, and politicians, celebrities and nonprofit groups have felt pressure to explain their initial reactions.

The president of the LGBT advocacy group Human Rights Campaign said the Smollett news was “both devastating and frustrating.”

“I want to ask everyone feeling angry, hurt and disappointed to channel that into productive activism — because there are thousands targeted by hate violence each year who need our help,” Chad Griffin tweeted.