US, South Korea and Japan urge stronger international push to curb North Korean nuclear program

US, South Korea and Japan urge stronger international push to curb North Korean nuclear program
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (L) earlier inspected a nuclear weaponisation project at an unknown location in North Korea. (File/AFP)
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Updated 09 December 2023
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US, South Korea and Japan urge stronger international push to curb North Korean nuclear program

US, South Korea and Japan urge stronger international push to curb North Korean nuclear program
  • North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has lately been accelerating the expansion of his nuclear and missile program
  • US and its Asian allies have responded by increasing the visibility of their trilateral security cooperation in the region

SEOUL, South Korea: The national security advisers of the United States, South Korea and Japan called on Saturday for a stronger international push to suppress North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles and its military cooperation with other countries amid concerns about its alleged arms transfers to Russia.
The meeting in Seoul came as tensions on the Korean Peninsula are at their highest in years, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un accelerating the expansion of his nuclear and missile program and flaunting an escalatory nuclear doctrine that authorizes the preemptive use of nuclear weapons.
The United States and its Asian allies have responded by increasing the visibility of their trilateral security cooperation in the region and strengthening their combined military exercises, which Kim condemns as invasion rehearsals.
In a joint news conference after the meeting, Cho said the three security advisers reaffirmed North Korea’s obligations under multiple UN Security Council resolutions that call for its denuclearization and bans any weapons trade with other countries.
“We agreed to strengthen a coordination among the three countries to secure the international community’s strict implementation” of the UN Security Council resolutions, Cho said.
Cho said the three also highly praised South Korea, the US, Japan and Australia announcing their own sanctions on North Korea over its spy satellite launch last month. North Korea argues it the right to launch spy satellites to monitor US and South Korean military activities and enhance the threat of its nuclear-capable missiles.
Washington, Seoul and Tokyo have also expressed concerns about a potential arms alignment between North Korea and Russia. They worry Kim is providing badly needed munitions to help Russian President Vladimir Putin wage war in Ukraine in exchange for Russian technology assistance to upgrade his nuclear-armed military.
Following the meeting, US national security adviser Jake Sullivan said Washington is working with Seoul and Tokyo to strengthen defense cooperation. He said they also seek to improve response to North Korean missile testing and space launch activities, including a real-time information sharing arrangement on North Korean missile launches that the countries plan to start in December.
Sullivan said the countries will also respond to North Korean cybercrimes, cryptocurrency money laundering and other efforts to bypass US-led international sanctions aimed at choking off funds going to its nuclear weapons and missile program.
“When it comes to the DPRK, we are keeping our eye on the ball, because it continues to represent a threat to international peace and security and regional peace and security,” Sullivan said, using the initials of North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Sullivan held separate bilateral talks Friday with South Korea’s national security office director, Cho Tae-yong, and Japan’s national security secretariat secretary general, Takeo Akiba.
Sullivan also met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.
At a dinner reception for Sullivan and Akiba on Friday, Yoon said it is critical the three countries continue to build on his August summit with US President Joe Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at Camp David, where they vowed to deepen security and economic cooperation.
South Korea’s presidential office said Sullivan expressed support for the South’s recent decision to partially suspend a 2018 inter-Korean military agreement on reducing border tensions, which had established border buffers and no-fly zones, to strengthen front-line surveillance of the North.
At their one-on-one meeting Friday, Cho and Akiba discussed building broader “international solidarity” in dealing with North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. They said it poses a threat “not only to the Korean Peninsula, but also to the regional and international community as a whole,” Seoul said.
The US, South Korean and Japanese national security advisers last held a trilateral meeting in June in Tokyo.
The discussions between the national security advisers in Seoul came after the US, South Korean and Japanese nuclear envoys met in Tokyo for separate talks on North Korea.
The nuclear envoys shared their assessments about North Korea’s recent satellite launch and weapons development and discussed ways to more effectively respond to North Korea’s cyber theft activities and other illicit efforts to evade US-led international sanctions and finance its weapons program, the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministries said.
South Korean intelligence officials have said the Russians likely provided technology support for North Korea’s successful satellite launch in November, which followed two failed launches.
North Korea has said its spy satellite transmitted imagery with space views of key sites in the US and South Korea, including the White House and the Pentagon. But it hasn’t released any of those satellite photos. Many outside experts question whether the North’s satellite is sophisticated enough to send militarily useful high-resolution imagery.
Kim has vowed to launch more satellites, saying his military needs to acquire space-based reconnaissance capabilities.
South Korean intelligence and military officials have said North Korea may have shipped more than a million artillery shells to Russia beginning in August, weeks before Kim traveled to Russia’s Far East for a rare summit with Putin that sparked international concerns about a potential arms deal. Both Moscow and Pyongyang have denied US and South Korean claims about the alleged arms transfers.


Drone crashes into building in Russia's St Petersburg, no casualties - national guard

Drone crashes into building in Russia's St Petersburg, no casualties - national guard
Updated 12 sec ago
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Drone crashes into building in Russia's St Petersburg, no casualties - national guard

Drone crashes into building in Russia's St Petersburg, no casualties - national guard
ST PETERSBURG, Russia: A drone crashed into a five-storey residential building in St Petersburg on Saturday and 100 people were evacuated with no casualties, Russia's Rosgvardiya national guard said.
St Petersburg Governor Alexander Beglov said earlier that two buildings were damaged and residents had been evacuated after what he called an "incident" with no casualties.
Beglov did not explain the cause or nature of the incident, but local residents told Reuters that they had heard a strange sound followed by a blast and a fire on Saturday morning.
"I first heard a whistle, because I had just opened the window, then a pop, a blaze and a full apartment of smoke, the window flew out," local resident Elena told Reuters. She said this happened after 0700 local time (0400 GMT).
Reuters video taken at the scene showed a damaged facade of a building with blown-out windows, damaged balconies and shattered glass and debris on the ground.
Russian media outlets reported that the incident could have been caused by a downed Ukrainian drone, which was heading towards a nearby fuel depot.
Ukraine's defence ministry said it "did not possess information about the indicated situation".

Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands

Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands
Updated 02 March 2024
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Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands

Malaysian anti-Israel boycott rocks incomes of Western brands
  • After five months of boycott, Starbucks Malaysia says that it does not support Israel’s army
  • McDonald’s sues the Malaysian chapter of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement

Kuala Lumpur: Leading brands in Malaysia accused of Israeli links have been reeling from falling revenues amid a local boycott of their goods, with the movement behind it vowing to continue over Israel’s war on Gaza.

Israeli airstrikes have since October killed more than 30,000 in the densely populated Palestinian enclave — a large majority women and children. More than 70,000 have been injured, while thousands of others remain missing under the rubble.

Since the outbreak of the attacks, many Malaysian citizens have backed a growing refusal to buy products from Western companies that they say are aiding Israel or facilitating its invasion of Gaza.

The latest of the brands to publicly admit the pinch in the Muslim-majority Southeast Asian country was the US-origin coffee chain Starbucks, with its Malaysian parent company Berjaya Foods blaming a near 40 percent drop in revenue on the boycott.

In a mid-February filing on the Malaysian stock exchange, it reported a revenue of 182.55 million ringgit ($38.47 million) for its second quarter ending Dec. 31, down from 295.32 million ringgit ($62.23 million) for the same period the year before.

In an Instagram post a week later, Starbucks Malaysia said that the boycott had led to “acts of violence and vandalism” in some of its 400 stores with some of its staff assaulted. It did not, however, give any examples or evidence.

This week, the chain issued a statement saying it has no stores in Israel and it does not provide financial support to the Israeli government or army.

“Despite false statements spreading through social media, we have no political agenda. We do not use our profits to fund any government or military operations anywhere — and never have,” the company said.

But the denial of links with Israel did not seem to satisfy Malaysian anger on social media, with users demanding that the company show a more unequivocal stand.

The coffee chain was not listed as one of the official targets by the Malaysian chapter of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which calls for economic and trade pressure in opposition to Israel.

But a few of BDS Malaysia’s Facebook posts have shared content related to the boycott of the company.

Starbucks’ developments in Malaysia followed a claimed loss of profits and job cuts by the McDonald’s franchise, with the fast-food chain seeking $1.26 million in damages from BDS Malaysia.

Some of the other popular brands BDS Malaysia has listed are Burger King, Puma, Airbnb, and McDonald’s.

While the movement’s representatives will meet McDonald’s in a Malaysian court on March 18, BDS chairman Mohd Nazari Ismail told Arab News they were not going to back down from the challenge by the business.

He said that the group was only going to end its campaign in line with the worldwide movement’s demands, which are to stop Israel’s colonization of Palestinian land, end discrimination against Palestinian citizens, and give Palestinian refugees the right to return to their homes.

“We don’t plan to stop our boycott campaign of McDonald’s because it has provided food to Israeli soldiers,” Nazari said.

“We will continue to call for the boycott of Israel and companies that are complicit with the atrocities and injustice committed by Israel.”

Malaysia has no formal relations with Israel, has long been supportive of the rights of Palestinians and their struggle for a sovereign statehood, and bars Israelis from entering its territory.

In December, the Southeast Asian nation barred Israeli and Israel-bound ships from docking at its ports.


Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night

Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night
Updated 02 March 2024
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Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night

Japan Moon lander put to sleep after surviving lunar night
  • The unmanned lander touched down in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong way
  • As the sun’s angle shifted, it came back to life and carried out observations of a crater with a high-spec camera

TOKYO: Japan’s Moon lander has been put back to sleep after it surprisingly survived the freezing, two-week lunar night, the country’s space agency said, with another operation attempt scheduled for later this month.

The unmanned Smart Lander for Investigating Moon (SLIM) touched down in January at a wonky angle that left its solar panels facing the wrong way.

As the sun’s angle shifted, it came back to life for two days and carried out scientific observations of a crater with a high-spec camera.

This week, the SLIM probe, which was “not designed for the harsh lunar nights,” when the temperature plunges to minus 133 degrees, produced another surprise by waking up after two weeks.

“SLIM has gone to sleep again as the sun set after 3 am (Japan Time) on March 1,” the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) said on X, formerly Twitter, on Friday, alongside an image of the rocky lunar surface captured by the probe.

“Although the likelihood of failure will increase due to the severe temperature cycles, we will attempt SLIM operation again when the sunlight comes back in late March,” JAXA said.

The announcement comes after the uncrewed American lander Odysseus became the first private spaceship on the Moon.

The lander sent its final image on Thursday before its power banks depleted.

SLIM, dubbed the “Moon Sniper” for its precision landing technology, touched down within its target landing zone on January 20.

The feat was a win for Japan’s space program after a string of recent failures, making the nation only the fifth to achieve a “soft landing” on the Moon, after the United States, the Soviet Union, China and India.

The aim of the mission is to examine a part of the Moon’s mantle — the usually deep inner layer beneath its crust — that is believed to be accessible.

NASA is planning to return astronauts to the Moon later this decade.

The US, along with international partners, wants to eventually develop long-term habitats in the region, harvesting polar ice for drinking water — and for rocket fuel for eventual onward voyages to Mars.


Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze

Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze
Updated 02 March 2024
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Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze

Grieving families await bodies after restaurant blaze
  • Among the dead was young university student MinHajj Khan, whose failure to escape the fire was witnessed by a friend with him at the restaurant and confirmed to AFP by his older cousin at the hospital

DHAKA: Anguished families kept vigil outside the morgue of Bangladesh’s largest hospital on Friday, waiting for the bodies of loved ones to be identified after a fire they say should never have happened.
At least 46 people were killed in Thursday night’s blaze in an upscale neighborhood of Dhaka, which broke out in a popular biryani restaurant and quickly engulfed a seven-floor commercial building.
Most of those who perished suffocated in the smoke, while the bodies of others were burned beyond recognition in the resulting inferno.
Among the dead was young university student MinHajj Khan, whose failure to escape the fire was witnessed by a friend with him at the restaurant and confirmed to AFP by his older cousin at the hospital.

BACKGROUND

Firefighters said the blaze was accidentally sparked from an improperly stored cooking gas cylinder and made much worse by the quick chain-reaction explosions of other canisters stored haphazardly around the building.

Khan’s mother had traveled to the hospital insisting his companion was mistaken, angrily sending away doctors requesting a DNA swab to check against bodies brought to the morgue.
“I won’t listen to anyone. I don’t believe any of you. I only want my son. Nothing else,” she said, declining to give her name.
“He promised to take me to Makkah for the pilgrimage. How can I go to Mak without him?“
It took fire crews two hours to control the blaze, with members of the public stepping in to carry hoses and help guide those escaping from the building to safety.
Before they arrived, many inside had rushed upstairs to the rooftop to escape the quickly spreading inferno.
Kazi Taslim Uddin said his 20-year-old son was among the dozens being treated in hospital for injuries after being forced to clamber down the side of the building.
“He tried to go to the ground floor but failed as people were rushing up the opposite way,” he told AFP.
“He grabbed some cables and tried to climb down, but they weren’t long enough,” he added.
“He jumped and got injured. The smoke also scorched his lungs.”
Firefighters said the blaze was accidentally sparked from an improperly stored cooking gas cylinder and made much worse by the quick chain-reaction explosions of other canisters stored haphazardly around the building.
Bereaved family members at the Dhaka Medical College Hospital were furious that nothing had been done to alert the public to the fire risk at the restaurant beforehand.
“It could have saved many lives,” said one man waiting to retrieve the body of a cousin who perished in the blaze who declined to identify himself.
“All these buildings are ticking time bombs. The regulators wake up only after the disaster occurs.”

 


UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech
Updated 01 March 2024
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UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech

UK PM Sunak warns ‘democracy a target’ in major extremism speech
  • PM: ‘In recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality’

LONDON: Following weeks of simmering tension in the UK over the Gaza conflict, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak Friday said that the “time has come” to battle extremist forces as he warned “democracy itself is a target.”
In an unusual address from outside his Downing Street home, Sunak said that “in recent weeks and months, we have seen a shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.”
Regular marches protesting Israel’s military response to Hamas’ October 7th attacks have seen dozens arrested for anti-Semitic chanting and banners, inviting support for a proscribed organization and assaulting emergency workers.
Right wing conter-protesters were also arrested when they descended on London for Remembrance Day events in November.
“Islamist extremists and far-right groups are spreading a poison. That poison is extremism,” said Sunak.
Matters came to a head last week when the Speaker of the House of Commons said he bucked procedure during a debate due to concerns about the safety of MPs.
Sunak said that the protests, a regular occurence on Saturdays in the capital, “had descended into intimidation, threats and planned acts of violence.”
“Now our democracy itself is a target. Council meetings and local events have been stormed.
“MPs do not feel safe in their home. Long-standing parliamentary conventions have been upended because of safety concerns,” he added.
The prime minister said that “police have a tough job in policing the protests” but that “we must draw a line.”
“I say this to the police, we will back up when you take action,” he added.
Sunak’s speech came as left-wing firebrand George Galloway was elected to the UK parliament after tapping into anger over the Israel-Hamas war in a chaotic by-election marred by allegations of anti-Semitism.
Sunak said it was “beyond alarming” that voters had elected a candidate “who dismisses the horror of what happened on October 7th, and who glorifies Hezbollah.”
The government will soon unveil a “new, robust framework” to tackle extremism, which will include backing for the counter-radicalization Prevent program and a demand for universities to stop extremist activity on campus, he explained.
“It is not enough to live side-by-side, we must live together, united by shared values and a shared commitment to this country,” said Sunak.
“The time has now come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division,” he added.