Tillerson: Trump is either going to fix Iran deal or cancel it

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and President Donald Trump. (AFP)
Updated 06 January 2018

Tillerson: Trump is either going to fix Iran deal or cancel it

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration is working with key lawmakers on a legislative fix that could enable the US to remain in the Iran nuclear deal, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in an interview with The Associated Press.
The changes to the US law codifying America’s participation in the 2015 agreement could come as early as next week or shortly thereafter, Tillerson said Friday. President Donald Trump faces a series of deadlines in the coming days about how to proceed with an accord he describes as terrible and too soft on Iran.
While the talks involving the White House, the State Department and Congress would not increase restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activity, as Trump also wants, they could strengthen the way the US enforces the agreement, perhaps persuading Trump that it is worthwhile for the US to stay in it.
“The president said he is either going to fix it or cancel it,” Tillerson told the AP as he sat in front of a fireplace in his State Department office suite. “We are in the process of trying to deliver on the promise he made to fix it.”
In a wide-ranging interview, Tillerson also chastised the EU for failing to voice support for protesters in Iran. On North Korea, the former Exxon Mobil CEO said rare talks next week between South Korea and the North about the Olympics could offer clues about Pyongyang’s willingness to discuss broader issues, including its nuclear weapons.
Trump has not made a decision about what he will do on Iran next week, when he must decide yet again whether to certify Tehran’s compliance with the nuclear pact and continue granting its economy relief from years-old US sanctions. In October, Trump refused to certify Iran’s compliance, saying the sanctions relief was disproportionate to Iran’s concessions and that the agreement was not in America’s national interests.
Nonetheless, Trump waived the sanctions for another three months. And he left the ultimate decision on staying in or quitting the deal for later while urging Congress to change the US law concerning the certification. Trump’s aides have said the president loathes having to give a thumbs-up to Iran every three months.
Tillerson said the administration was speaking with congressional leaders “on a very active basis” about a fix. He suggested Trump might be inclined to preserve the deal by waiving sanctions again on Jan. 12 if there were signs Congress would act in short order.
“I don’t want to suggest we’re across the finish line on anything yet,” Tillerson said.
Getting agreement in Congress on such a short timeline would be extremely challenging. A congressional aide confirmed there has been significant progress in discussions between key lawmakers and the administration, but the aide said negotiations haven’t started on a specific text.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker and Democratic Sen. Ben Cardin, the top lawmakers on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, visited the White House on Thursday to discuss the matter with national security adviser H.R. McMaster, an aide familiar with the meeting said. The aide was not authorized to speak publicly on the possible legislation and demanded anonymity.
One option lawmakers are discussing with the White House is removing the requirement that Trump certify Iranian compliance. Another possibility is changing the law so certification occurs far less often, officials said. Any changes would have to get significant support among Republicans, including many die-hard opponents of the nuclear deal, and some Democrats who largely support it.
It is unclear if changing the so-called Iran Nuclear Review Act will be enough to prevent Trump from tearing up the “worst deal ever,” as he has time and again threatened.
Tillerson said the administration’s approach has been to first fix the US law that governs how the US adheres to the deal, and then work with European allies that helped broker the accord to address its shortcomings. Those flaws, Trump says, include the fact that key nuclear restrictions on Iran expire after several years, and the lack of restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missile testing.
Trump’s next Iran deadlines come as his administration is showing support for protesters in Iran demonstrating against government mismanagement, economic problems and corruption. Some individual European countries have joined the US in backing the protesters, but Tillerson lamented a lack of similar support from the 28-nation EU.
“We’re a bit disappointed that the European Union has not taken a more definitive stance in supporting those voices in the country that are calling for reform,” he said.


South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

Updated 45 min 10 sec ago

South Korean ‘cult’ blamed for spike in coronavirus cases

  • Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus
  • Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16

SEOUL: With the number of coronavirus cases skyrocketing in South Korea in the past week, a local fringe Christian sect has been blamed for the growing outbreak.
As of Wednesday, a total of 1,261 people had tested positive with 12 deaths reported. Just a week ago, the number of infected persons stood at 50. However, South Korea has seen by far the highest number of the Covid-19 cases outside China.
Health authorities believe the Shincheonji Church of Jesus is at the heart of the alarming spread of the pandemic, as more than half of the confirmed cases have been found to be linked to the religious sect, which is widely regarded as a cult.
“The mass infections came after Shincheonji followers took part in the Feb. 16 service and had frequent contacts around that time,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korean Center for Disease Control (KCDC), told reporters on Wednesday.
Most of the confirmed cases are in the city of Daegu, about 300 km southeast of Seoul, where large services for Shincheonji members were held on Feb. 16. Thousands of worshippers are believed to have attended, authorities said.
The other cluster of infections is a hospital in Cheongdo, a neighboring county of Daegu. Shincheonji members are also known to have visited the hospital, according to the KCDC officials.
Officially called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, the group was founded in 1984 and claims to have around 240,000 followers worldwide.
Shincheonji followers are taught to believe that Lee Man-hee, the founder of the organization, is the second coming or the returned Christ. The church claims the Bible is written in metaphors which only its founder can correctly interpret.
Critics say the group’s secretive nature and the manner in which it worships could have lead to the fast spread of the virus.
“They hold services sitting packed together on the floor and kneel very close to one another,” Shin Hyun-uk, director of the Guri Cult Counseling Center, said.
Shin was a member of the cult for 20 years until 2006 and has been leading a campaign to extract members from the church ever since he realized that “the group was not a normal religion.”
Shin said the Shincheonji churchgoers shout out “amen” at the top of their lungs “after every sentence the pastor utters.”
“While holding services, worshippers send respiratory droplets flying everywhere, causing the virus to be transmitted easily,” he said.
Most members of the church hide their membership, which means the virus goes undetected, Sin warned.
“Few families of the Shincheonji members know their sons, daughters, wives, husbands and parents were taken in the cult religion. I guess only 20 to 30 percent of the family members of the Shincheonji worshippers would recognize it,” he said. “That’s the key reason health officials have difficulty in tracking and curbing the virus being transmitted from worshippers to others.”
A 61-year-old female member of the sect tested positive for the virus last week, but initially refused to be transferred to a hospital so as not to reveal the fact that she had attended Shincheonji gatherings.
A Daegu health official responsible for quarantine also revealed he is a Shincheonji member after being tested positive.
Critics say uncovering the identities of Shincheonji members will be difficult since the group conceals the names of politicians, public officials and other celebrities.
Amid growing public anger at the sect, the group said at the weekend that it will fully cooperate with government investigations.
On Tuesday, officials broke into the group’s headquarters in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, to discover a full list of members for quarantine measures.
The government said it has secured a list of 212,000 Shincheonji worshippers and will begin conducting coronavirus tests on those who have respiratory symptoms.
Over 800,000 people have signed an online petition since Saturday after it was filed on the website of the presidential office of Cheong Wa Dae.
Authorities are looking into how the disease was first transmitted to the group. More than 9,000 Shincheonji worshippers have been put under quarantine.
The Seoul government has been scrambling to contain growing expressions of public anger.
As of Wednesday morning, over 400,000 South Koreans had signed an online petition calling for President Moon Jae-in to be impeached.
Petitioners say Moon failed to halt entry to visitors from all parts of China, only prohibiting the entry of foreigners from China’s Hubei province, where Wuhan, the center of the outbreak, is located.
Meanwhile, the US Forces Korea (USFK) reported on Tuesday that it had detected the first infection in one of its troops. The 23-year-old soldier is stationed at Camp Carroll, near Daegu, but has been quarantined at his home off base, according to the command. The development came a day after a widow of a retired US soldier living in Daegu contracted the virus.
“KCDC and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” the USFK said in a news release Feb. 25.
“USFK is implementing all appropriate control measures to help control the spread of Covid-19 and remains at risk level ‘high’ for USFK peninsula-wide as a prudent measure to protect the force,” it said.
More countries, including Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam and Singapore, have started to impose bans on South Korean travelers because of the virus outbreak.