US, North Korea to set agenda for Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un and US President Donald Trump. (AFP)
Updated 06 February 2019
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US, North Korea to set agenda for Trump-Kim summit in Vietnam

  • The summit is currently penciled in for Feb. 27-28

SEOUL: US and North Korean nuclear envoys are set to discuss the details of their stalled nuclear disarmament talks ahead of a second summit between the two nations in Vietnam, expected to be held later this month.

After a three-day visit to Seoul, US Special Representative Stephen Biegun flew to Pyongyang early Wednesday morning. The summit is currently penciled in for Feb. 27-28.

The visit is Biegun’s second since traveling to the North Korean capital with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last October. During his stay in Seoul, Biegun had a series of meetings with top South Korean envoys, including Chung Eui-yong, a presidential national security adviser, to discuss North Korea’s denuclearization.

Biegun is expected to hold talks with his counterpart, Kim Hyok-chol, a former North Korean ambassador to Spain, during his stay in Pyongyang.

“It is a positive signal for the North to invite the US nuclear envoy to Pyongyang,” said Yim Sung-joon, a former national security adviser to former President Kim Dae-jung. “It is highly possible that he could meet with higher-ranking North Korean officials, hopefully Kim Jong-un, should talks go smoothly.”

Shin Beom-cheol, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, anticipated the Biegun-Kim talks would be focused on setting the agenda items for the second Trump-Kim Summit in Vietnam.

“The two diplomats are expected to discuss agenda items on the summit table,” Shin said. “I don’t think, however, they would be able to agree on complete denuclearization, but they would be able to narrow a gap over the shutdown of the North Korean Yongbyon nuclear facility.”

The North would instead demand “corresponding measures” including the lifting of US economic sanctions against the regime and some form of security guarantee. “The two sides are expected to be engaged in a tug-of-war over the verification of the destruction of the Yongbyon nuclear reactor,” Shin added.

The North had alluded to the possibility of scrapping the Yongbyon complex during an Intra-Korean Summit in Pyongyang last September. 

The regime also suggested that it might allow inspections of the site if it received US concessions.

Yongbyon is North Korea’s key nuclear facility, where plutonium and highly enriched uranium, the primary materials for its nuclear weapons, are produced.

Before flying to Seoul, Biegun said: “We are prepared to discuss many actions that could help build trust between our two countries.” 

He also hinted the Trump administration was prepared to take action simultaneously and in parallel with North Korea.

“Chairman Kim also committed, in both the joint statement from the aforementioned Pyongyang Summit, as well as during (Pompeo’s) October meetings in Pyongyang, to the dismantlement and destruction of North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities,” he added.

Concerns are growing in some corners that offering such an exchange would lighten the pressure on the North, allowing it to slow denuclearization.

Conservative politicians are worried the upcoming Vietnam Summit could fall short of a moratorium on the activities of North Korea’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) program, which threatens the US mainland.

“We’re concerned that the Trump administration would try to eradicate the ICBM threat only for the sake of US national security,” said Yoon Young-seok, spokesman for the main opposition Liberty Korea Party. “If sanctions on the North are lifted without tangible progress of denuclearization, the North Korean nuclear problem will not be solved forever.”

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump reiterated that North Korea’s nuclear testing had stopped, and that there have been no further missile launches for 15 months.

That claim drew skepticism from Democrats and North Korea experts.

“Ok let’s be clear that North Korea’s successful acquisition of a nuclear ICBM is why there was no war with North Korea,” tweeted Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who studies North Korea and nuclear proliferation.

The last nuclear test by North Korea was conducted in September 2017. The regime also launched an ICBM in November 2017.


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

Updated 7 min 51 sec ago
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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.