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North Korea says it could reconsider Trump summit after cancelling Seoul talks

  • State news agency warns US over ‘provocative’ military exercises
  • Official says North Korea has no interest in ‘one-sided’ talks with US

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Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “North Korea threatens to cancel Trump summit over nuclear demands” was written by Julian Borger in Washington and Justin McCurry in Tokyo, for The Guardian on Wednesday 16th May 2018 07.51 UTC

North Korea has abruptly cancelled high-level talks with Seoul and threatened to pull out of a planned summit with Donald Trump if the US continues to insist on the regime giving up all of its nuclear weapons.

A North Korean official said the country had no interest in a summit with US if it was based on “one-sided” demands to give up nuclear weapons, according to state media.

Citing first vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s central news agency also said the fate of the US summit as well as bilateral relations “would be clear” if Washington speaks of a Libya-style denuclearisation for the North.

The statement added Trump would remain as a “failed president” if he followed in the steps of his predecessors.

“We will appropriately respond to the Trump administration if it approaches the North Korea-US summit meeting with a truthful intent to improve relations,” Kim said.

He added: “But we are no longer interested in a negotiation that will be all about driving us into a corner and making a one-sided demand for us to give up our nukes and this would force us to reconsider whether we would accept the North Korea-US summit meeting.”

The statement came after North Korea cancelled a meeting with South Korean officials just two hours before it was due to start on Wednesday, in protest at joint US-South Korean military exercises, codenamed Max Thunder.

The drills, which began on Friday, involve about 100 warplanes from the US and South Korea, including eight F-22 stealth fighters and an unspecified number of B-52 bombers.

Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed source as saying that a B-52 bomber, which has yet to join the drills, may not participate, in what could be interpreted as a concession to Pyongyang.

But South Korea’s defence ministry said exercises will continue, saying they were strictly defensive in nature and designed to help pilots improve their skills.

Max Thunder is one of several annual exercises involving the US and South Korean military that are routinely condemned by the North as preparation for an invasion.

South Korea’s defence minister, Song Young-moo, was to hold an emergency meeting with Gen Vincent Brooks, the commander of US Forces Korea, to discuss the allies’ response to the North’s protest.

For North Korea, the presence of bombers in joint US-South Korea drills triggers painful memories of the 1950-53 Korean war.

According to US air force estimates, bombing raids by US B-29s caused more damage to North Korea’s urban centres during that conflict than that seen in Germany or Japan during the second world war, with the US dumping 635,000 tons of bombs on Korea compared with 503,000 tons during the entire Pacific war.

Baik Tae-hyun, a spokesman for South Korea’s unification ministry, described Pyongyang’s decision as “regrettable” and said it ran counter to the “spirit and purpose” of the Panmunjom declaration agreed by Kim and the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, last month.

Baik urged the North to swiftly return to the talks but would not speculate on whether the North’s move would affect next month’s planned meeting between Kim and Trump.

KCNA said the manoeuvres represented a “flagrant challenge” to the joint declaration by Kim and Moon at a summit at the “truce village” of Panmunjom on the dividing line between their countries in April.

The two leaders agreed to completely “cease all hostile acts against each other in every domain, including land, air and sea, that are the source of military tension and conflict”.

The state department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, said the US had not heard directly from North Korea about any second thoughts.

“What we have to go on is what Kim Jong-un has said before, that he understands and appreciates the importance to the United States of having these joint exercises,” Nauert said. “We have had no formal or informal notification of anything.”

“We will continue to plan the meeting.”

Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea national diplomatic academy in Seoul, said: “North Korea knows that cancelling the (Trump-Kim) summit would not be good for its own interests, and not good for US interests either. But the North Korean regime cannot accept US demands for denuclearisation without first receiving guarantees about its security. Let’s see what Trump does about this.”

In its complaint about the exercises, the Pyongyang regime described them as offensive war games targeting North Korea. A Pentagon spokesman, Col Rob Manning, said they were defensive.

US and South Korean officials had previously said that North Korea would accept joint military exercises in the run-up to the Trump summit.

The Panmunjom summit was supposed to have been followed by a meeting of senior officials from the two Koreas on Wednesday to implement a declaration agreed by Moon and Kim. The agenda included issues such as a formal end to the Korean war, denuclearisation and reunions of families separated by the 1950-53 conflict.

“The North Koreans know how to make an explicit threat. By their standards, this is pretty circumspect,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists. “It could very well be a play for additional leverage or to see how the Trump team reacts.”

Mintaro Oba, a former state department expert on Korea, said in a tweet:

“The question is whether they’re willing to go so far as to go through with it, or whether they’re mainly trying to gain some leverage [and] test how much we want the summit.”

Meanwhile, satellite photos suggest that the North Korean leadership is so far following through on its promise to dismantle its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri.

Pictures published by 38 North, a website analysing Korean issues, several buildings around the mountain site have been razed in recent days.

guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010

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Prince Philip, husband of Queen Elizabeth II, has died

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Buckingham Palace has announced that The Duke of Edinburgh has died.

Philip Mountbatten, the rakish naval officer who captured the heart of a young Elizabeth Windsor and became the lifelong consort to the British queen, has died aged 99.

The death ends the longest marriage of a reigning monarch in British history, an enduring alliance that outlasted the Cold War, war and peace in Northern Ireland and the painful divorces of three of their four children.

Reacting to the death, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said;

“Prince Philip earned the affection of generations here in the UK, across the Commonwealth & around the world.

He was the longest serving consort in history & one of the last surviving people in this country to have served in WW2.”

Prince Philip never held the official title of Prince Consort, but he was Queen Elizabeth II’s closest confidant, most reliable political advisor and the undisputed master of the royal household for more than six decades.

Philip was known equally as a curmudgeon and a charmer who could quickly put nervous guests at ease with an easy one­liner.

The Queen, on the event of their golden wedding anniversary in 1997, said of her husband: “He has, quite simply, been my strength and stay all these years.”

The Duke is survived by his wife, Queen Elizabeth II, and his children Charles, Prince of Wales; Anne, Princess Royal; Prince Andrew, Duke of York and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.

While Elizabeth presided over affairs of state, Philip championed dozens of charities, including the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award, which has promoted self­reliance, physical development and other personal accomplishment for more than 6 million youths all over the world.

(more…)
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Biden Expected To Repeal Military Trans Ban Tomorrow

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The Biden administration is expected to repeal the ban on transgender Americans from serving in the military, multiple people informed of the decision told CBS News. The announcement is expected as soon as Monday, one senior Defense official and four outside advocates of repealing the ban told CBS News.

The senior Defense official told CBS News the repeal will be through executive order signed by President Joe Biden. The announcement is expected to take place at a ceremony with newly-confirmed Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who will order the Pentagon to go back to the policy enacted in 2016 by former Defense Secretary Ash Carter that allowed transgender Americans to serve openly.

The White House did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The new order will direct the branches of the military to outline an implementation plan. 

The ban was announced by former President Trump via a tweet in July 2017. The ban took effect in April 2019 and barred transgender Americans from enlisting in the military.

In 2014, it was estimated there were around 15,500 transgender military members serving, according to a study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

Biden frequently repeated on the campaign trail his promise to repeal the ban.

Austin said at his Senate confirmation hearing last week that he planned to repeal the ban.

“I support the president’s plan or plan to overturn the ban,” Austin said on Tuesday when asked by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, “I truly believe, Senator, that as I said in my opening statement, that if you’re fit and you’re qualified to serve and you can maintain the standards, you should be allowed to serve. And, you can expect that I will support that throughout.”

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Trump Pardons Steve Bannon In One of His Final Acts As 45th President

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(CNN)— President Donald Trump has decided to pardon his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, in a last-minute decision made only hours before he is scheduled to depart the White House for a final time.

Officials cautioned CNN that Trump’s decision was not final until he signed the paperwork. Trump told people that after much deliberation, he had decided to pardon Bannon as one of his final acts in office.

Bannon’s pardon would follow a frantic scramble during the President’s final hours in office as attorneys and top aides debated his inclusion on Trump’s outgoing clemency list. Despite their falling out in recent years, Trump was eager to pardon his former aide after recently reconnecting with him as he helped fan Trump’s conspiracy theories about the election.

It was a far cry from when Trump exiled Bannon from his inner circle after he was quoted in a book trashing the President’s children, claiming that Donald Trump Jr. had been “treasonous” by meeting with a Russian attorney and labeling Ivanka Trump “dumb as a brick.” Those statements from Bannon drove Trump to issue a lengthy statement saying he had “lost his mind.”

“Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my presidency,” Trump said at the time.Things shifted in recent months as Bannon attempted to breach Trump’s inner circle once again by offering advice before the election and pushing his false theories after Trump had lost.

Since Trump’s election defeat, the President has leaned further into his expansive pardon powers — granting pardons to his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, longtime ally Roger Stone and former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, among others.

Among Trump’s pardons earlier in his term were those for former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, right-wing commentator Dinesh D’Souza and financier Michael Milken.

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