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.


Protests in Bangladesh after girl is burned to death

Updated 37 min 30 sec ago
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Protests in Bangladesh after girl is burned to death

  • Nusrat Jahan Rafi told her family she was lured to the roof of her rural school in the town of Feni on April 6 and asked to withdraw the charges by five people clad in burqas
  • The violence has shaken Bangladesh, triggering protests and raising concerns over the plight of women and girls in the conservative nation of 160 million people

DHAKA, Bangladesh: Dozens of protesters gathered in Bangladesh’s capital on Friday to demand justice for an 18-year-old woman who died after being set on fire for refusing to drop sexual harassment charges against her Islamic school’s principal.
Nusrat Jahan Rafi told her family she was lured to the roof of her rural school in the town of Feni on April 6 and asked to withdraw the charges by five people clad in burqas. When she refused, she said her hands were tied and she was doused in kerosene and set alight.
Rafi told the story to her brother in an ambulance on the way to the hospital and he recorded her testimony on his mobile phone. She died four days later in a Dhaka hospital with burns covering 80% of her body.
The violence has shaken Bangladesh, triggering protests and raising concerns over the plight of women and girls in the conservative Muslim-majority nation of 160 million people where sexual harassment and violence are often unreported, victims are intimidated and the legal process is often lengthy. Many avoid reporting to police because of social stigma.
“We want justice. Our girls must grow up safely and with dignity,” Alisha Pradhan, a model and actress, told The Associated Press during Friday’s demonstration. “We protest any forms of violence against women, and authorities must ensure justice.”
Tens of thousands of people attended Rafi’s funeral prayers in Feni, and Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina promised Rafi’s family when they met in Dhaka that those responsible would be punished.
At least 17 people, including students, have been arrested in connection with the case, said Banaj Kumar Majumder, the head of the Police Bureau of Investigation.
In late March, Rafi filed a complaint with police that the principal of her madrasa, or Islamic school, had called her into his office and touched her inappropriately and repeatedly. Her family agreed to help her to file the police complaint, which prompted police to arrest the principal, infuriating him and his supporters. Influential local politicians backed the principal, and ruling party members were also among the arrested.
Police said the arrested suspects told them during interrogations that the attack on Rafi was planned and ordered by the school’s principal from prison when his men went to see him. It was timed for daytime so that it would look like a suicide attempt, Majumder said.
Human Rights Watch said in a statement that Rafi’s family said that they had received death threats before the attack telling them to drop the case.
While Rafi’s case is now being treated with urgency, that wasn’t the case until her death.
A video taken on March 27 while Rafi reported the assault shows the local police chief registering her complaint but telling her that the incident was “not a big deal.” The chief was later removed from the police station for negligence in dealing with the case.
For Bangladeshi women, it is often not easy to file sensitive complaints with police. Victims often fear further harassment and bullying. Police also often show an unwillingness to investigate such cases and are often accused of being influenced by local politics or bribes.
But the call for dealing with violence against women, especially related to sexual harassment and assault, is also getting louder.
“The horrifying murder of a brave woman who sought justice shows how badly the Bangladesh government has failed victims of sexual assault,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Nusrat Jahan Rafi’s death highlights the need for the Bangladesh government to take survivors of sexual assault seriously and ensure that they can safely seek a legal remedy and be protected from retaliation.”