Sanctions, peace deal on cards for new US-North Korea summit

When Kim met Trump, the first-ever summit between the two nations, North Korea was seen as seeking a treaty. (File/AFP)
Updated 27 January 2019
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Sanctions, peace deal on cards for new US-North Korea summit

  • North Korea watchers believe that Kim’s primary goal is relief from international sanctions and doubt he will suddenly give up his nuclear arsenal
  • The US is already preparing to ease restrictions on humanitarian aid and could offer to exchange liaison offices with Pyongyang

WASHINGTON: As Donald Trump seeks progress with North Korea at a second summit, the United States has a series of cards it can play including easing sanctions, signing a peace declaration or even pulling troops from South Korea.
After the historic handshake between the US president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore in June, Washington policymakers are adamant on the need for tangible concessions by Pyongyang on its nuclear program at the sequel meeting, which Trump says will take place around late February, with Vietnam the most likely venue.
But much depends on the mercurial Trump, who has declared his outreach to the longtime US adversary to be a diplomatic coup and angrily denounced criticism that his first summit was mere symbolism.
North Korea watchers believe that Kim’s primary goal is relief from international sanctions and doubt he will suddenly give up his nuclear arsenal, which his dynastic regime has built for decades even through famine.
The sanctions “are not strong enough to create serious economic problems in the country, but they are strong enough to make economic growth difficult or unachievable,” said Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul who studied in Pyongyang.
“In order to maintain stability in the country and to stay in power, the North Koreans know they will have to end or at least narrow the yawning gap between their economy and the economies of the neighboring countries, especially South Korea and China,” he said.
When Kim met Trump, the first-ever summit between the two nations, North Korea was seen as seeking a treaty or at least statement formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in an armistice.
But Victor Cha, the director of Asian studies at Georgetown University and former US negotiator with North Korea, said a peace declaration was ultimately symbolic.
“I don’t think they would say no to it. A peace declaration would be a sign of non-hostile intent. But they want tangible evidence of non-hostile intent, which would be removing some of the sanctions,” Cha said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has vowed no let-up in sanctions until North Korea denuclearizes. And many US sanctions involve human rights or corruption laws and cannot be lifted without intervention by Congress, which is unlikely to be sympathetic.
But Cha said the United States could offer relief indirectly through South Korea’s dovish government, working at the United Nations to remove sanctions that impede the restart of inter-Korean projects such as the Kaesong industrial complex.
The US is already preparing to ease restrictions on humanitarian aid and could offer to exchange liaison offices with Pyongyang, a step before diplomatic relations.
Trump points to North Korea’s halt of missile and nuclear tests as progress, two years after fears soared of war. US officials want a full accounting of all North Korean weapons sites as well as inspections.
But experts fear North Korea will agree only on dismantling outdated facilities while keeping its capacities. In 2008, North Korea invited international media to watch as it blew up a cooling tower at Yongbyon, which remains the regime’s main nuclear site.
South Korea and Japan have increasingly wondered if Trump — who has made “America First” his guiding worldview — would focus on ridding North Korea of its fast-moving program of intercontinental ballistic missiles, which threaten the mainland United States.
Pompeo in recent interviews has described North Korea diplomacy as a way to protect Americans.
“Fairly or unfairly, that’s being interpreted by our allies as a potential US willingness to cut a deal that only protects America and disregards the safety of our allies,” said Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank.
The summit also comes amid a prolonged impasse in negotiations on how much South Korea should pay the United States to maintain its 28,500 troops in the country.
“There are concerns that Trump may be so eager for a success that he may agree to signing a peace declaration, signing an ICBM-only agreement and even reducing US forces on the peninsula either in return for perhaps a freeze on Yongbyon production or in response to the ongoing stalemate in Seoul,” Klingner said.
Trump is a longstanding skeptic on the cost value of alliances and is demanding more from South Korea.
But any promise by Trump to Kim to pull out troops would likely meet wide opposition in Congress, fury from Japan’s conservative government and quiet unease from South Korea, where President Moon Jae-in is more supportive of the US presence than previous left-wing leaders.
And it is not even a given that North Korea would welcome a withdrawal. Lankov said that Pyongyang saw US forces on the peninsula as a counterweight to China — its closest ally, but which Pyongyang views as a longer-term concern.


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.