Trump says US 'made a lot of progress' with North Korea

This file combination of pictures made on August 10, 2017 shows an image (L) taken on April 15, 2017 of North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un on a balcony of the Grand People's Study House following a military parade in Pyongyang and an image (R) taken on July 19, 2017 of US President Donald Trump speaking during the first meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in Washington, DC. (AFP)
Updated 19 January 2019
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Trump says US 'made a lot of progress' with North Korea

  • Kim Jong Un and Trump first met in June in Singapore, where they signed a vaguely worded document in which Kim pledged to work toward the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula”
  • The latest flurry of diplomacy comes little more than a year after Trump was threatening to wipe North Korea off the map

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump said on Saturday he had a very good meeting with North Korea's nuclear envoy Kim Yong Chol and the two sides had made "a lot of progress."

Trump will meet for the second time with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un around the end of February, the White House said Friday, after Chol paid a rare visit to Washington.
Vice Chairman Kim Yong Chol, a right-hand man to the North Korean strongman, met the embattled president at the White House for an unusually long 90 minutes as the countries seek a denuclearization accord that could ease decades of hostility.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said that Trump — who has opined that he and Kim Jong Un fell “in love” after last year’s landmark first summit — would again meet the North Korean leader “near the end of February” at a location to be announced later.
The latest flurry of diplomacy comes little more than a year after Trump was threatening to wipe North Korea off the map, with Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests rattling nerves in East Asia.
Sanders praised North Korea’s efforts to reconcile but ruled out, for now, a key demand of Pyongyang — a lifting of sanctions.
“The United States is going to continue to keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea until we see fully and verified denuclearization,” Sanders told reporters.
“We’ve had very good steps in good faith from the North Koreans in releasing the hostages and other moves and so we’ll continue those conversations,” she said.
She was referring to Pyongyang’s quick deportation last year of an American. In 2017, a US student returned home comatose from North Korea and died within days after what a US judge said was torture.

Kim Jong Un and Trump first met in June in Singapore, where they signed a vaguely worded document in which Kim pledged to work toward the “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.”
But progress stalled soon afterward as Pyongyang and Washington — which stations 28,500 troops in South Korea — disagree over what that means.
Critics say that the Singapore summit was little more than a photo-op. The second round with the young and elusive North Korean leader will again offer a change of headlines for Trump amid a steady barrage of negative reports, including explosive allegations published Thursday by BuzzFeed that he pressured his lawyer to lie to Congress about a project in Russia.
“Let’s hope the second summit produces real results, but don’t hold your breath as we wait for episode two of the Trump-Kim show,” said Michael Fuchs, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Center for American Progress who worked closely with former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
Abe Denmark, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said the Singapore summit weakened the security of US allies with little in return.
“With another summit in the making, I hope for tangible progress and fear for a repeat: little movement from Kim, major concessions from Trump,” he said.
But Trump has pointed to the halt in missile launches by North Korea and recently said there would have been “a nice big fat war in Asia” if it were not for his efforts.
Kim Yong Chol is the first North Korean dignitary in nearly two decades to spend the night in Washington, staying at a fashionable hotel a short drive from the White House.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo welcomed Kim at the hotel, posing briefly for pictures near a shelf with a framed portrait of civil rights icon Martin Luther King Jr., and later invited the delegation to lunch.
The State Department said that Stephen Biegun, the US special representative on North Korea, would carry on discussions at a conference in Sweden starting on Saturday that will involve Pyongyang officials.

While no decision has been made on location, a Vietnamese government source told AFP that “logistical preparations” were under way to host the summit, most likely in the capital Hanoi or coastal city of Danang.
Vietnam’s cooperation with the United States has been growing for years as Hanoi — much unlike Pyongyang — sets aside memories of war.
US-North Korea tensions began to abate a year ago with the encouragement of South Korea’s dovish president, Moon Jae-in. The Singapore summit marked the first-ever meeting between sitting leaders of the United States and North Korea, which never formally ended the 1950-53 Korean War.
For Kim, whose family has ruled North Korea with an iron fist for three generations, the stakes are existential as he seeks guarantees of the survival of his regime.
The United States expects Pyongyang to give up its nuclear arsenal, doggedly built by the Kim dynasty despite sanctions and famines.
But North Korea sees the denuclearization goal more broadly, seeking an end to what it sees as US threats as well as strict sanctions on its economy.


How Zahran Hashim went from obscure extremist preacher to the alleged mastermind of the Sri Lanka bombings

Updated 16 min 39 sec ago
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How Zahran Hashim went from obscure extremist preacher to the alleged mastermind of the Sri Lanka bombings

  • He split from the National Thowheed Jamaath and formed his own faction, which experts say was the ‘main player’ in the attacks
  • Using social media, he spread pro-Daesh propaganda under the banner Al-Ghuraba Media

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan: Until last Sunday, the only thing Zahran Hashim was known for was being a member of a local Sri Lankan group accused of defacing Buddhist statues.

Now, the obscure radical preacher is believed to be Daesh’s point person in Sri Lanka and the “mastermind” of the coordinated Easter Sunday attacks that have left 359 dead and more than 500 injured.

A video released by Daesh on Tuesday shows seven black-clad, masked men pledging allegiance to the organization, and an eighth man, whose face is visible, leading them. That man is Hashim. Security officials in Sri Lanka claim to have “credible information” that he was planning another attack targeting Muslim shrines that followed the mystical stream of Sufi Islam.

Sri Lanka has no history of Islamist extremism. The Sri Lankan government first named a local militant group, National Thowheed Jamath (NTJ), as the main suspect behind the attacks. It is one of the few Islamist radical groups operating in the country and was thus seen as the main contender for involvement with Daesh. Hashim is known to have been a member of the group until at least 2016 when security officials say he left and formed his own faction because the core group disapproved of his increasingly hard-line views.

Hashim was driven out of his hometown Kattankudy in eastern Sri Lanka by townspeople and moderate clerics because of his divisive teachings. Media reports say he received his early schooling in Kattankudy and then traveled to India to start a seven-year course on Islamic theology. He dropped out midway. Since then, he has reportedly traveled frequently between India and Sri Lanka.

Shunned by his hometown and the NTJ, Hashim found a small, but loyal, band of supporters online. Over the past two years, he gained thousands of followers for his impassioned sermons against non-Muslims on YouTube and a Sri Lankan Facebook account, which he called Al-Ghuraba Media and used to spread pro-Daesh propaganda.

According to Robert Postings, a researcher whose work focuses on Daesh, Hashim had been a supporter of the group at least since 2017, when he began posting pro-Daesh propaganda on Facebook. In many of Hashim’s videos, the backdrop is images of the burning Twin Towers after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks in the US.

Last year, Hashim appeared on intelligence officials’ radar after several of his students defaced three Buddhist statues in central Sri Lanka. The subsequent investigation led officers to a large weapons cache, including 100 kg of explosives and detonators, on the northwestern coast of Sri Lanka.

Experts say Daesh has been recruiting for years in Sri Lanka and other Asian countries. On the ground, the group seems to have received help from Hashim after he created the Al-Ghuraba group. “That is the Islamic State (Daesh) branch in Sri Lanka,” said Rohan Gunaratna, a Singapore-based expert on militancy in the region.

Experts with knowledge of the investigations said Hashim’s faction of the NTJ was the “main player” in the Easter attacks and that he worked with international support, given the sophistication of the bombings and the fact that foreigners were targeted.

“Most Sri Lankans have not heard about this (National Thowheed Jamath) group before,” said Jehan Perera, executive director of the National Peace Council of Sri Lanka. “There is someone behind them, a handler.”

Caption

As of Thursday, Daesh had not provided any further proof for its claim of responsibility for the attacks, and Sri Lanka’s Defense Minister Ruwan Wijewardene said investigators were trying to determine if it had directly provided training or financing to the bombers. There was no evidence to suggest the bombers had traveled to the Middle East to fight for Daesh, he said..

“There were many people who understandably doubt that the attacks were a purely domestic operation,” said Taylor Dibbert, a Sri Lanka expert and fellow at the Pacific Forum.

“The investigation surrounding intelligence failures and the bombings should be done with significant international assistance. The Sri Lankan government cannot be trusted with this type of thing on its own,” he said.

 

TIMELINE OF SRI LANKA BLASTS

 

April 11 

Sri Lanka’s police chief issues an intelligence alert, warning that suicide bombers from a group called National Thowheed Jamath plan to hit “prominent churches.”

April 21

8.45 a.m. Four bombs explode on Easter Sunday at the Shangri-La and Kingsbury hotels, and
St. Anthony’s church in Colombo; and St. Sebastian’s church in Negombo, north of the capital.

8.50 a.m. Explosion at Colombo’s Cinnamon Grand Hotel.

9.05 a.m. Blast hits the Zion Roman Catholic church in Batticaloa on Sri Lanka’s
east coast.

1.45 p.m. Explosion at the New Tropical Inn, Dehiwala.

2.15 p.m. Three police officers are killed in an explosion while raiding a house in Colombo.

8 p.m. Curfew begins in the capital; police say they have made their first arrests.

April 22

4 a.m. Evening curfew is lifted amid tight security. Police find 87 detonators at Colombo’s main bus stand.

8 p.m. Another night curfew begins.

April 23

Midnight State of emergency comes into effect.

Daesh releases a video that shows eight men, all but one with their faces covered, standing under the terror group’s flag and declaring their loyalty to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi. The man with his face uncovered is identified as Moulvi Zahran Hashim, a preacher known for his militant views.

April 24

Bomb squads carry out controlled explosions of suspicious packages; US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says there is “every indication” the bomb attacks were inspired by Daesh.

April 25

Sri Lanka’s Catholic churches suspend all public services over security fears.