Donald Trump’s tweet taunting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un over the size of his “nuclear button” was meant to “keep Kim on his toes”, the US ambassador to the United Nations said on Sunday.
Rare progress has recently been made over the Korean standoff, with North and South agreeing to begin their first talks for two years on Tuesday in the South Korean side of the village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone.
The forthcoming Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang will dominate the agenda but officials have indicated other issues may also be discussed.
Trump, however, showed a characteristic disregard for diplomatic niceties when he wrote on Tuesday: “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the ‘Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times’.
“Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”
The tweet was written the day before the Guardian published extracts of a book in which White House staffers question the president’s mental capacity for his job, setting off a political firestorm.
In an opinion piece for the Guardian on Sunday, Bandy Lee, an assistant clinical professor at the Yale School of Medicine who has briefed members of Congress on the risks associated with the president’s behaviour, wrote: “Trump views violence as a solution when he is stressed and desires to re-establish his power.
“Paranoia and overwhelming feelings of weakness and inadequacy make violence very attractive, and powerful weapons very tempting to use – all the more so for their power.
“His contest with the North Korean leader about the size of their nuclear buttons is an example of that and points to the possibility of great danger by virtue of the power of his position.”
Asked on ABC’s This Week if Trump’s tweet was a good idea at a time of high tension between the US and Pyongyang, Haley said: “I think [Trump] always has to keep Kim on his toes. It’s very important that we don’t ever let [Kim] get so arrogant that he doesn’t realise the reality of what would happen if he started a nuclear war.”
Host George Stephanopoulos countered that even senior Senate Republicans Corey Gardner and John Cornyn said Trump’s tweet was reckless.
“You know, everyone’s going to have their opinion,” Haley said. “What I can tell you is I’m dealing with the diplomats on the ground, I’m dealing with all the actors in this situation.
“It is a serious situation and [Kim] can’t sit there and imply that he’s going to destroy the United States without us reminding him of the facts and the reality that if you go there, it’s not us that’s going to be destroyed, it’s you.”
The CIA director, Mike Pompeo, also defended Trump, telling CBS’s Face the Nation the tweet was “consistent with US policy”, which seeks the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula.
Pompeo also said he believed North Korea was months away from being able to put a US city at risk of nuclear attack. He declined to be more precise.
Trump has regularly taunted Kim on social media and in speeches with the name “Rocket Man” or “Little Rocket Man”. He has also consistently implied that only military action will work.
In August, he said threats from Pyongyang would “be met with fire and the fury like the world has never seen”, a statement that gave Michael Wolff’s book its title.
In October, the president said talking to the North Koreans would be a “waste of time” for his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson.
On Saturday, though, Trump told a press conference at Camp David he would be open to phone talks with Kim.
“There is no turnaround,” Haley told ABC. ‘What [Trump] has basically said is ‘Yes, there could be a time when we talk to North Korea but a lot of things have to happen before that actually takes place. They have to be willing to talk about banning their nuclear weapons.’”
That would mean Pyongyang suspending its tests of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, an unlikely step.
At Camp David, Trump also appeared to take credit for the scheduled talks between North and South.
The president said: “A lot of people have said and a lot of people have written that without my rhetoric and without my tough stance – and it’s not just a stance, I mean this is what has to be done – that they wouldn’t be talking about Olympics, they wouldn’t be talking right now.”
Haley said it was not her “understanding” North and South Korea would “talk about anything further” than the Olympics.
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Keir Starmer elected as UK opposition Labour leader
The UK’s main opposition Labour Party has elected Keir Starmer as its new leader, the party announced Saturday.
The change in leadership comes as the country battles its own coronavirus crisis and amid calls to improve public services, such as the National Health Service currently under strain.
Starmer is a former crown prosecutor who has promised to pursue policies aimed at improving social equality, including an increase to the top tax rate and a boost to social services, as well as take stronger action on climate change.
In a video posted to his Twitter account, Starmer said he would work with the Conservative government led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to tackle the coronavirus crisis, while also pointing out “mistakes or faltering government.”
“In times like this, we need good government. A government that saves lives and protects our country,” he said.
“It’s a huge responsibility. And whether we voted for this government or not, we all rely on it to get this right,” he said.
Starmer rose to prominence as a young activist lawyer before his career in politics. He more recently raised his public profile as Labour’s shadow Brexit spokesperson. In the UK, the main opposition party has “shadow” ministers who hold political portfolios.
Starmer won more than 56% of the party vote, beating fellow MPs Lisa Nandy and Rebecca Long-Bailey in one round.
The new leader has pitched himself as a unity candidate amid continued divisions in the Labour Party.
The Labour Party has been mired in criticism over anti-Semtic remarks by several MPs in the past. Corbyn was widely criticized for his lax response to the problem within the party.
Starmer said in his video that the party needs to face up to the issue with honesty and apologized to Jewish communities.
“On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry.
“And I will tear out this poison by its roots and judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.”
GOP Candidate in Disputed U.S. House Race Not Running Again
Raleigh, N.C. (AP) — The Republican candidate whose narrow lead in a North Carolina congressional race was thrown out because of suspicions of ballot fraud announced Tuesday he will not run in the newly ordered do-over election, saying he needs surgery late next month.
The withdrawal of Mark Harris, a candidate hobbled by links to alleged ballot fraud, could help Republicans in their effort to keep the competitive seat in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District.
Harris announced his decision in a statement that focused on his health problems. He did not mention the alleged ballot fraud scandal.
Harris had led Democrat Dan McCready by just 905 votes after November’s election, but the outcome was never certified. State election officials grew concerned about reports that an operative working for Harris was illegally tampering with absentee ballots.
Harris last week stopped a special state elections board hearing by declaring he couldn’t continue to testify. He cited health problems caused by a blood infection that required hospitalization and led to two strokes. He also said he agreed that a new election should be called, despite his previous calls to be declared the winner.
Shortly after Harris spoke last week, the elections board ordered a new contest . A date for the new election has not been announced.
On Tuesday, Harris encouraged his supporters to rally around Stony Rushing, a commissioner in Union County. The local official from the Charlotte suburbs would “stand firm on so many of the issues that concern us, including the issue of life, our national security, and religious freedom,” Harris said.
Rushing, a firing range owner and licensed gun seller, has been a county commissioner off and on for more than eight years, first taking office in 2002. He didn’t return a phone call to his shooting range seeking comment on Tuesday.
Only one other GOP candidate — former state Sen. Tommy Tucker of Union County — has publicly expressed interest in running for the seat. In a phone interview, Tucker said he’s “95 percent sure” that he plans to run for the seat. He said he had no idea how Harris’ near-endorsement of Rushing would affect the campaign.
Former U.S. Rep. Robert Pittenger, whom Harris defeated in last May’s primary, told The Associated Press in an interview that it was “good for the country and the party” that Harris wasn’t running. When asked why, he said simply: “I think it’s just obvious.”
Pittenger again closed the door on seeking his old job, saying he’s involved in a series of conferences on counter-terrorism and security issues.
Former Gov. Pat McCrory said Monday he wouldn’t seek the seat. He was previously mayor of Charlotte, a part of which is in the congressional district.
McCready has been assembling a new campaign staff and raising money to run again in the district that stretches from Charlotte through several counties to the east along the South Carolina border. His campaign finance report showed McCready raised $487,000 during the final five weeks of 2018. His campaign sent out a campaign fundraising plea late Thursday, citing the state elections board’s decision.
McCready formally announced his intention to run Friday before several dozen supporters at a brewery in Waxhaw, near Charlotte.
“Folks, there’s a lot of people that have had their confidence shaken in recent weeks because of the fraud conducted by Mark Harris’s campaign,” McCready said. “There’s a lot of people right now in North Carolina that are disillusioned in our electoral process.”
He told the crowd that he and his team were going to “knock on every door” in the district to earn votes and to reassure constituents that he’s the type of politician who will do the right thing.
“We’re going to talk to people about doing what’s right instead of what’s wrong,” he said.
Harris struggled during testimony last week over why he prepared for his primary election last year by seeking out and signing up Bladen County political operative Leslie McCrae Dowless, a convicted felon who had been accused of ballot fraud in the 2016 elections. The state elections board turned over evidence of his actions in 2017 to federal prosecutors, who took no action.
According to testimony and other findings detailed at the hearing, Dowless conducted an illegal “ballot harvesting” operation: He and his assistants gathered up absentee ballots from voters by offering to put them in the mail.
Dowless’ workers in rural Bladen County testified that they were directed to collect blank or incomplete ballots, forge signatures on them and even fill in votes for local candidates.
It is generally against the law in North Carolina for anyone other than the voter or a family member to handle someone’s completed ballot.
No criminal charges have been filed in the case . Dowless declined to testify last week after the elections board refused to grant him immunity from prosecution based on what he might say.
North Carolina Election Board Unanimously Agrees To New House Election
Feb 21 (Reuters) – North Carolina’s elections board on Thursday unanimously ordered a new election for a U.S. House seat after officials said corruption surrounding absentee ballots tainted the results of last November’s vote.
The bipartisan board’s 5-0 decision came after Republican candidate Mark Harris requested a new vote, telling the panel that evidence of possible ballot fraud had undermined confidence in the election.
In the televised hearing, board members said “corruption” and the “absolute mess with the absentee ballots” had cast doubt on the fairness of the contest and voters deserved a fresh election.
Harris’ request for a new vote came as a surprise. For months, he had said he should be declared the victor in the 9th Congressional District after he led Democrat Dan McCready by 905 votes out of 282,717 ballots cast on Nov. 6. Elections officials, however, had refused to certify him as the winner due to allegations of irregularities in the vote.
“Through the testimony I’ve listened to over the past three days, I believe a new election should be called,” Harris said at a hearing in Raleigh. “It’s become clear to me that the public’s confidence in the 9th district seat general election has been undermined to an extent that a new election is warranted.”
Harris’ statement came on the fourth day of a hearing on whether his campaign benefited from what state investigators called illegal election manipulation by political consultant Leslie McCrae Dowless.
Earlier on Thursday, Harris said he had known Dowless was going door to door on the candidate’s behalf to help voters obtain absentee ballots, a process that is legal. Harris said Dowless assured him he would not collect the ballots from the voters, which would violate state law.
But residents of at least two counties in the district said Dowless and his paid workers collected incomplete absentee ballots and, in some instances, falsely signed as witnesses and filled in votes for contests left blank, according to testimony at the hearing.
Kim Strach, executive director of the state’s election board, earlier this week called the operation a “coordinated, unlawful and substantially resourced absentee ballot scheme.”
According to text messages Harris’ attorneys turned over to the board on Thursday, Harris sought a meeting with Dowless when he learned that Dowless had led a successful absentee ballot program for Republican candidate Todd Johnson during a 2016 congressional primary election.
In those messages to a Bladen County judge, Harris asked about “the guy whose absentee ballot project for Johnson could have put me in the US House this term, had I known, and he had been helping us.”
Harris campaign officials have said they did not pay Dowless to do anything illegal, and Dowless has maintained his innocence. (Editing by Colleen Jenkins, Dan Grebler and James Dalgleish)
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