US defense chief discusses N. Korea in Seoul visit

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper clasps hands with South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo during their meeting in Seoul. (Reuters)
Updated 10 August 2019

US defense chief discusses N. Korea in Seoul visit

  • US ‘remains resolute in enforcement of UN Security Council resolutions’

SEOUL: The new defense chief of the US held talks with South Korean diplomatic and military representatives on Friday to discuss North Korea and cost-sharing for the armed forces.

The visit by Secretary of Defense Mark Esper came after North Korea test-fired several short-range ballistic missiles and multiple-launch guided rockets toward the waters off the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula in recent weeks, an apparent move to defy US-South Korean joint military exercises that began on Aug. 5.
In a meeting with his South Korean counterpart Jeong Kyeong-doo, Esper made it clear that international sanctions against the North would remain intact before the communist state ended all of its nuclear weapons programs as agreed by the leaders of the US and North Korea in Singapore last year.
“(The US) will remain resolute in the enforcement of the UN Security Council resolutions until the North engages in the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” Esper, sworn in as the US defense chief on July 23, said at the start of talks with Jeong at Seoul’s Ministry of National Defense.
“As President Trump has made clear, the US is willing to engage diplomatically with North Korea to make progress on all commitments made in the Singapore joint statement for diplomacy,” the former defense industry lobbyist said.
Denuclearization talks have stalled after the Hanoi summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un collapsed in February.
The leaders held a surprise meeting in June at the truce village of Panmunjom within the demilitarized zone dividing the two Koreas when the US commander-in-chief was visiting South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul.
At the time, Trump and Kim agreed to resume working-level negotiations within a month, but the disarmament talks have yet to take place.
Instead, Pyongyang has fired newly developed missiles and rockets three times in less than two weeks, from July 25 to Aug. 2.
The projectiles have been confirmed to be short-range ballistic missiles similar to Russia’s Iskander, and a larger-caliber tactical guided multiple-launch rocket system.
Both are believed to be capable of hitting targets across the South, including US military bases and an air base of F-35 stealth fighter jets for the South Korean Air Force.
Trump, however, has played down the significance of the missile and rocket launches.
“The missiles tests are not a violation of our signed Singapore agreement, nor was the discussion of short-range missiles when we shook hands,” Trump tweeted following the Aug. 2 test-firing of two Iskander-class missiles designed to penetrate the missile defense shield in the South.

BACKGROUND

US President Donald Trump said on Friday he has received a ‘very beautiful letter’ on Thursday from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and added that he could have another meeting with him.

Esper described the alliance of the US and South Korea as “ironclad,” calling it “the linchpin of peace and security” in Northeast Asia as well as on the peninsula.
Minister Jeong underlined the importance of the alliance at a time when South Korea was dealing with difficulties including the simmering feud with Japan, which has restricted high-tech chip-making materials to South Korea amid a diplomatic confrontation over compensation for South Korean forced workers during Japan’s colonial rule between 1910 and 1945.
In retaliation, South Korea is considering severing a military information agreement with Japan, part of the trilateral alliance of the US, South Korea and Japan. 
“I hope South Korean and the US defense authorities continue to cooperate closely to overcome such difficulties while maintaining the strong combined defense posture,” the minister said.
Esper’s visit also coincides with Trump administration pressure over sharing the costs of keeping 28,500 American troops in South Korea.
“South Korea has agreed to pay substantially more money to the United States in order to defend itself from North Korea,” Trump wrote in a Twitter post on Wednesday. “South Korea is a very wealthy nation that now feels an obligation to contribute to the military defense provided by the United States of America.”
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry has denied the defense cost-sharing talks have started officially, but said that negotiations would proceed “in a reasonable and fair manner.”
This year, South Korea will contribute $924 million, an 8.2 percent rise from the previous year, to cover more than 50 percent of the costs of maintaining US forces there. Funds are mainly used to construct military facilities for US soldiers and pay for the salaries of South Korean civilians hired in US bases. The remainder is covered by the US government to pay for the salaries of American servicemen and women and costs for the deployment of weapons systems during training exercises.
At the order of Trump, White House national security adviser, John Bolton, is said to have asked Seoul to significantly ramp up its contribution to costs to $5 billion during his meeting with South Korean officials last month, according to diplomatic sources.  
“There was no mention by Secretary Esper regarding the sharing of the defense costs,” a foreign ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity after Esper met South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-hwa earlier in the day.
“Esper and Kang discussed their shared interests in a free and open Indo-Pacific.”


Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

Updated 15 December 2019

Fears of Islamophobia in the UK even as record number of Muslim MPs elected 

  • MCB warning comes after Johnson’s landslide election result
  • UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons   

LONDON: There is a “palpable sense of fear amongst Muslim communities” in the UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has warned, after Prime Minister Boris Johnson secured a crushing victory in the 2019 general election.
“We entered the election campaign period with longstanding concerns about bigotry in our politics and our governing party. Now we worry that Islamophobia is ‘oven-ready’ for government. Mr Johnson has been entrusted with huge power, and we pray it is exercised responsibly for all Britons,” the MCB’s Secretary-General Harun Khan said. 
The warning came as accusations of Islamophobia within the Conservative Party continue to plague it.
Despite concern that Islamophobia is “oven-ready” for government, a record number of Muslim MPs were elected on Thursday, with 19 winning seats in the general election; an increase of four from the last election in 2017.
Of these, 15 belong to the Labour Party and the other four, including Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid, are Conservatives. 
As the UK saw a record number of 220 women elected to the House of Commons, this trend was also seen in the number of Muslim women, with 10 winning seats. 
Despite this, Muslims are still not proportionally represented in parliament.
Only 3 percent of the UK’s 650 MPs are Muslim, whilst the country’s Muslim population stands at around 5 percent.
The MCB’s concerns about bigotry and Islamophobia were echoed on Thursday by ex-party chairwoman Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the first female Muslim cabinet member.
Warsi said the Conservative Party “must start healing its relationship with British Muslims,” and the fact that her colleagues in the party had retweeted comments from Islamophobes Tommy Robinson and Katie Hopkins was “deeply disturbing.” 
She added: “An independent inquiry into Islamophobia is a must — the battle to root out racism must now intensify.”
The Tory peer has repeatedly called for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and told BBC Radio 4’s Today program in November that the party had a “deep problem” with Islamophobia. 
“Remember, we’re now four years into these matters first being brought to the attention of the party … the fact that we’re still prevaricating about even having an inquiry, and the kind of inquiry we’re going to have, shows just how dismissive the party have been on the issue of Islamophobia.”

Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MP for Bolton South East Yasmin Qureshi (L) attend a general election campaign event in Bolton, Britain December 10, 2019. (Reuters)


Later in November, Johnson apologized for the “hurt and offence” that had been caused by Islamophobia in the Conservative Party, and said that an inquiry into “every manner of prejudice and discrimination” would begin by Christmas. 
Despite apologizing, he remained silent about his own comments on Muslim women wearing the niqab in his Daily Telegraph column in August 2018, when he wrote that Muslim women wearing it “look like letter boxes” or “bank robbers.”
Fourteen party members were suspended in March after posting Islamophobic or racist comments on social media, and a member who had previously been suspended in 2015 for comments on social media was due to stand in local elections this year. 
Peter Lamb was readmitted to the party after he had served a suspension and apologized for his comments.
Lamb, who has since quit the party, tweeted in 2015: “Islam (is) like alcoholism. The first step to recovery is admit you have a problem.”
Yasmin Qureshi, a female Muslim Labour MP, has held her Bolton South East seat since 2010 and was re-elected on Thursday for the fourth time.
Speaking to Arab News, Qureshi said many Muslims were “very fearful and very disappointed” at Johnson’s victory.
“Generally, you can say whatever you want about Muslims in this country now and nobody is really bothered, nobody challenges it, and if it is challenged, it is very mildly dealt with.
“Islamophobia is a big issue and although everybody rightly spoke about anti-semitism, there was not as much emphasis and talk about Islamophobia.
“Islamophobia is not just in the Conservative party, it is actually in the establishment. It is especially present in the media in this country; most of the newspapers of our country are very right-wing and anti-Muslim.
She added: “It doesn’t matter whether you malign Muslims, it’s essentially okay, you can get away with it. That is sadly a reflection of the current state of affairs in the UK.”