US has ‘wrong’ expectation for dialogue with North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s sister

US has ‘wrong’ expectation for dialogue with North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s sister
Kim Yo Jong, right, is a key adviser his brother North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AFP)
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Updated 22 June 2021

US has ‘wrong’ expectation for dialogue with North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s sister

US has ‘wrong’ expectation for dialogue with North Korea: Kim Jong Un’s sister
  • The Biden administration has promised a practical, calibrated approach to North Korea
  • Kim Yo Jong – a key adviser to her brother – appeared to dismiss the prospects for an early resumption of negotiations

SEOUL: The influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Tuesday that Washington had “wrong” expectations for dialogue with Pyongyang and was facing “greater disappointment,” state media reported.
Kim Yo Jong’s comments came after US national security adviser Jake Sullivan described her brother’s first reaction to Washington’s recent review of its approach to the North as an “interesting signal.”
The Biden administration has promised a practical, calibrated approach, including diplomatic efforts, to persuade the impoverished North to give up its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
In response, the North’s leader Kim last week said Pyongyang must prepare for both dialogue and confrontation.
Washington considered his comments as interesting, Sullivan told ABC News, adding the administration “will wait to see whether they are followed up with any kind of more direct communication to us about a potential path forward.”
But Kim Yo Jong — a key adviser to her brother — appeared to dismiss the prospects for an early resumption of negotiations.
The US seemed to be seeking “comfort for itself,” she said in a statement reported by Pyongyang’s official KCNA news agency.
It harbored expectations “the wrong way,” she added, which would “plunge them into a greater disappointment.”
Kim’s comments came with the top US diplomat in charge of North Korea negotiations on a five-day visit to Seoul, where he said Monday that Washington was ready to meet with Pyongyang “anywhere, anytime, without preconditions.”
Just hours before Pyongyang released Kim’s statement, US envoy Sung Kim met with the South’s unification minister, reiterating Washington’s willingness to talk with the North.
The North at the weekend admitted it was tackling a food crisis, sounding the alarm in a country with a moribund agricultural sector that has long struggled to feed itself.
It is now under self-imposed isolation to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic, and as a result trade with Beijing — its economic lifeline — has slowed to a trickle while all international aid work faces tight restrictions.


EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity
Updated 33 min 47 sec ago

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity

EU court strips ex-Catalan leader of MEP immunity
  • Puigdemont and two former ministers are wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition
  • The European Parliament voted to strip them of immunity, but the trio appealed to the court

LUXEMBOURG: The EU’s General Court on Friday upheld a decision by the European Parliament to lift the immunity of former Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont and two fellow pro-independence allies.
The move overturned a ruling in June that had seen the separatist politicians provisionally regain the legal protections afforded to members of the parliament.
Puigdemont, along with that of former Catalan regional ministers Toni Comin and Clara Ponsati, are wanted in Spain on allegations of sedition following an attempt by the Catalan region to gain independence through a referendum that Madrid ruled was unconstitutional.
In March, the European Parliament voted to strip them of immunity, but the trio appealed to the court arguing that they ran the risk of jail which would prevent them from exercising their mandate as elected European lawmakers.
The latest ruling on Friday rejected the claim that Puigdemont — based in Brussels since fleeing Spain in 2017 — and his colleagues face imminent arrest.
“There is no reason to consider that the Belgian judicial authorities or that the authorities of another Member State could execute the European arrest warrants issued against the deputies and could hand them over to the Spanish authorities,” the court said.
But it added that the three lawmakers — elected to the European Parliament in 2019 — could still reintroduce their demand to have their immunity reinstalled if authorities moved to arrest them and it became “sufficiently probable” they would be sent to Spain.
Madrid last month pardoned nine other jailed Catalan separatists behind the failed 2017 independence bid and released them from long prison sentences.


Airlift begins for Afghans who worked for US during long military campaign

Airlift begins for Afghans who worked for US during long military campaign
Updated 30 July 2021

Airlift begins for Afghans who worked for US during long military campaign

Airlift begins for Afghans who worked for US during long military campaign
WASHINGTON: Some 200 Afghans were set to begin new lives in the United States on Friday as an airlift got under way for translators and others who risk Taliban retaliation because they worked for the US government during its 20-year war in Afghanistan, US officials said.
The operation to evacuate US-affiliated Afghans and family members comes as the US troop pullout nears completion and government forces struggle to repulse Taliban advances.
The first planeload of some 200 evacuees were expected to be bused to Fort Lee, a US military base in Virginia, for final paperwork processing and medical examinations.
The Afghans who worked for the United States are being granted Special Immigrant Visas (SIV) entitling them to bring their families. As many as 50,000 or more people ultimately could be evacuated in “Operation Allies Refuge.”
The first group is among some 2,500 SIV applicants and family members who have almost completed the process, clearing them for evacuation, said Russ Travers, President Joe Biden’s deputy homeland security adviser.
The Afghans were expected to remain at Fort Lee for up to seven days before joining relatives or host families across the country.
The evacuees underwent “rigorous background checks” and COVID-19 tests, Travers added. Some were already vaccinated, and the rest will be offered jabs at Fort Lee.
The surging violence in Afghanistan has created serious problems for many SIV applicants whose paperwork is in the pipeline amid reports — denied by the Taliban — that some have been killed by vengeful insurgents.
Some applicants are unable to get to capital Kabul to complete required steps at the US embassy or reach their flights.
“We do lack the capacity to bring people to Kabul from other parts of the country or to house them in Kabul,” Tracey Jacobson, State Department coordinator of the operation, told reporters.
The SIV program has been plagued by long processing times and bureaucratic knots — which the Biden administration and Congress are working to undo — that led to a backlog of some 20,000 applications. The State Department has added staff to handle them.
“The US has had 20 years to anticipate what the withdrawal would look like,” said Adam Bates, policy counsel for the International Refugee Assistance Project, which provides legal aid to refugees. “It’s unconscionable that we are so late.”
Kim Staffieri, co-founder of the Association of Wartime Allies, which helps SIV applicants, said surveys the group has conducted over Facebook show that about half of SIV applicants cannot reach Kabul, including many approved for evacuation.
Congress created SIV programs in 2006 for Iraqi and Afghan interpreters who risked retaliation for working for the US government.

India reports most new COVID cases in three weeks

India reports most new COVID cases in three weeks
Updated 30 July 2021

India reports most new COVID cases in three weeks

India reports most new COVID cases in three weeks
  • The nationwide tally of infections has reached 31.57 million, according to health ministry data

NEW DELHI: India reported 44,230 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, the most in three weeks, the latest evidence of a worrying trend of rising cases that has forced one state to lock down amid fears of another wave of infections.
India was battered by the Delta variant of the virus in April and May but the rate of spread of infections later eased off. It has again been rising, with higher numbers in seven of the past eight days.
The nationwide tally of infections has reached 31.57 million, according to health ministry data. Deaths rose by 555 overnight, taking the overall toll to 423,217.
Medical experts polled by Reuters in late June said a third wave of coronavirus infections was likely to hit India by October, though it would be better controlled than the devastating April-May outbreak.
Health experts have called for faster vaccinations to stave off another big surge.
The government estimates that 67.6% of the 1.35 billion population already have antibodies against the coronavirus, with nearly 38% of the adult population of about 944 million people having received at least one vaccine dose.
The disease's estimated reproduction rate, or R value, has also inched up in the past week,
The R value hit 1 on July 24 - meaning on average, every 10 people infected will infect 10 other people - for the first time since May when daily infections were near a peak of 400,000.
The southern state of Kerala announced a new lockdown on Thursday while movement restrictions are in place in some northeastern states reporting a rise in infection rates.
Other places, including the capital New Delhi, have recently reopened most economic activities.


Philippine leader recalls decision to void US security pact

Philippine leader recalls decision to void US security pact
Updated 30 July 2021

Philippine leader recalls decision to void US security pact

Philippine leader recalls decision to void US security pact
  • The 1998 agreement allows the entry of large numbers of American forces for joint combat training with Philippine troops
  • Duterte notified the US government in February 2020 that the Philippines intended to abrogate the agreement

MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte reversed his termination of a key defense pact with the United States that allows large-scale combat exercises between US and Philippine forces.
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana announced Duterte’s decision at a joint meeting with reporters Friday with his visiting US counterpart, Lloyd Austin, in Manila.
Another Philippine official earlier told The Associated Press that Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. would hand over a document to Austin about Duterte’s decision to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement in a separate meeting later Friday.
“The president decided to recall or retract the termination letter for the VFA,” Lorenzana said. “We are back on track.”
Austin welcomed Duterte’s decision, which he said would help bolster defense relations between the longtime allies.
Duterte notified the US government in February 2020 that the Philippines intended to abrogate the 1998 agreement, which allows the entry of large numbers of American forces for joint combat training with Philippine troops and sets legal terms for their temporary stay.
The maneuvers involved thousands of American and Philippine military personnel in land, sea and air drills that often included live-fire exercises in pre-pandemic times and sparked China’s concerns when they were held in the periphery of seas Beijing claims as its own.
The pact’s termination would have taken effect after 180 days, but Duterte has repeatedly delayed the effectivity of his decision.
The US military presence in the region has been seen as a counterbalance to China, which has aggressively asserted claims to vast areas of the disputed South China Sea despite a 2016 international arbitration ruling that invalidated their historic basis. China, the Philippines, Vietnam and three other governments have been locked in the territorial standoff for decades.


Malaysian PM digs in after royal rebuke sparks calls to quit

Malaysian PM digs in after royal rebuke sparks calls to quit
Updated 30 July 2021

Malaysian PM digs in after royal rebuke sparks calls to quit

Malaysian PM digs in after royal rebuke sparks calls to quit
  • It is unusual for Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, who is widely revered in the Muslim-majority country, to speak out so forcefully against the government

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s embattled leader defended his actions Thursday as he faced calls to quit after rare criticism from the king, who accused his government of misleading parliament over coronavirus laws.
Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin leads a scandal-plagued coalition that seized power last year without an election, but his government is on the verge of collapse after allies withdrew support.
Parliament convened this week after a months-long suspension under a state of emergency — ostensibly to fight the virus, but which critics said was a gambit by Muhyiddin to cling to power.
On Monday, the law minister told the legislature the emergency would end on August 1 and that several regulations enacted under it were being canceled.
But angry rival MPs claimed Muhyiddin was just seeking to dodge a vote that could test his support — and it was not clear the monarch had agreed to revoke the laws, as required under the constitution.
On Thursday the royal palace confirmed the king, Sultan Abdullah Sultan Ahmad Shah, had not given his consent, and said that he expressed his “great disappointment.”
The announcement about canceling the regulations was “inaccurate and confused the members of parliament,” said a statement from the palace.
It “did not just fail to respect the principles of the sovereignty of the law.... but it undermined the functions and powers of his majesty as head of state,” it said.
It is unusual for Malaysia’s constitutional monarch, who is widely revered in the Muslim-majority country, to speak out so forcefully against the government.
Muhyiddin was accused of treason and faced calls from the opposition and some members of his own coalition to quit.
But his office released a statement outlining discussions between the government and the monarch over the regulations, and insisted there had been no need for a parliamentary vote on the laws.
“The government is of the view that all these actions taken are in order and in accordance with the provisions of the law and the federal constitution,” it said, adding people should “remain calm.”
A key ally of Muhyiddin, Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yakoob, also said the government still enjoyed the support of more than 110 MPs in the 222-seat lower house.
Muhyiddin has faced mounting pressure in recent weeks with the biggest party in his coalition, the United Malays National Organization, withdrawing support.
The regulations enacted under the emergency give authorities extra powers to punish virus rule breakers, as well as some other tools to fight the pandemic.
Even when the emergency ends, the country will remain under a strict lockdown as it faces a worsening outbreak.