WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea’s top three military officials have been removed from their posts, a senior U.S. official said on Sunday, as U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un prepare to meet on June 12 in Singapore.
The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, was commenting on a report by South Korea’s Yonhap news agency that all three of the North’s top military officials were believed to have been replaced.
Trump on Friday revived the summit after canceling it a week earlier. The United States is seeking a negotiated end to North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
U.S. officials believe there was some dissension in the military about Kim’s approaches to South Korea and the United States.
The U.S. official did not identify the three military officials. Yonhap identified them as defense chief Pak Yong Sik; Ri Myong Su, chief of the Korean People’s Army’s (KPA) general staff; and Kim Jong Gak, director of the KPA’s General Political Bureau.
Trump wants North Korea to “denuclearize,” meaning to get rid of its nuclear arsenal, in return for relief from economic sanctions. North Korea’s leadership is believed to regard nuclear weapons as crucial to its survival.
Citing an unnamed intelligence official, Yonhap said No Kwang Chol, first vice minister of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces, had replaced Pak Yong Sik as defense chief, while Ri Myong Su was replaced by his deputy, Ri Yong Gil.
The White House, State Department, CIA and Office of the Director of National Intelligence did not immediately respond to requests for official comment.
South Korea’s unification and defense ministries declined to confirm the report, while an official at the Unification Ministry said the government was watching the leadership situation in the North very closely.
All of the newly promoted officials are younger than their predecessors, according to Yonhap, especially Ri Yong Gil, 63, who is 21 years younger than Ri Myong Su.
“This points to two things: the consolidation of Kim Jong Un’s power as the sole leader of North Korea and strengthened cooperation between the North’s party and military as the country works towards further economic development,” said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
“They’re all young but capable people,” Yang added.
Army General Kim Su Gil’s replacement of Kim Jong Gak as director of the KPA’s General Political Bureau was confirmed in a North Korean state media report last month when Kim Su Gil accompanied North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on a field guidance trip to a beach tourist zone with other officials.
Lower-level U.S.-North Korean talks to prepare for the summit are continuing but have made only “halting progress,” according to a second U.S. official briefed on the discussions.
That official said U.S. negotiators’ efforts to press for definitions of immediate, comprehensive, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization by North Korea had run into opposition from the White House.
In a remarkable shift in tone eight days after canceling the summit, citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility,” Trump welcomed North Korea’s former intelligence chief, Kim Yong Chol, to the White House on Friday, afterward exchanging smiles and handshakes.
(This version of the story has been refiled to fix typographical error in spelling of analyst’s name in paragraph 11)
(Reporting by John Walcott in Washington; Additional reporting by Christine Kim in Seoul; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Peter Cooney)
Trump May Pardon Military Men Accused Or Convicted Of War Crimes
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has asked for files to be prepared on pardoning several U.S. military members accused of or convicted of war crimes, including one slated to stand trial on charges of shooting unarmed civilians while in Iraq, the New York Times reported on Saturday.
Trump requested the immediate preparation of paperwork needed, indicating he is considering pardons for the men around Memorial Day on May 27, the report said, citing two unnamed U.S. officials. Assembling pardon files normally takes months, but the Justice Department has pressed for the work to be completed before that holiday weekend, one of the officials said.
One request is for Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher of the Navy SEALs, scheduled to stand trial in coming weeks on charges of shooting unarmed civilians and killing an enemy captive with a knife while deployed in Iraq.
Also believed to be included is the case of Major Mathew Golsteyn, an Army Green Beret accused of killing an unarmed Afghan in 2010, the Times said.
Reuters could not immediately identify a way to contact Gallagher and Golsteyn.
The newspaper reported that the cases of other men are believed to be included in the paperwork, without naming them.
The Department of Justice declined to comment on the report, while the White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Legal experts cited in the report said that pardoning several accused and convicted war criminals, including some who have not yet gone to trial, has not been done in recent history, and some worried such pardons could erode the legitimacy of military law.
Trump Administration Considers Flying Migrants Across Country to Relieve Border Crowding
The Trump administration may begin flying asylum-seeking families at the southern U.S. border across the country to have their initial claims processed, a Customs and Border Protection official said Friday.
For months, immigration authorities have been shuttling newly arrested migrants—mostly families and children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador—between border stations as facilities have become overwhelmed. Migrants have routinely been bussed hundreds of miles from the border in Southern California or El Paso, Texas, to as far away as Tucson, Ariz., before authorities process and then release them to aid groups.
Now, plans are being laid for the air transportation of parents and children out of overcrowded stations to other locations in the U.S., including northern and coastal states with Border Patrol offices that have capacity, if the flow of families doesn’t diminish, the CBP official said.
“This is an emergency. The entire system is overwhelmed,” the official said. “We are just trying to safely get them out of our facilities as quickly as possible.”
Border Patrol officials have flown nearly 1,000 migrants from overcrowded processing centers and stations in the Rio Grande Valley to nearby Del Rio, Texas, and San Diego since last Friday, another U.S. official said Friday.
The private, contracted flights have cost between $21,000 and $65,000 each and can carry a maximum of 135 people, that official said.
Mark Bogen, the mayor of Broward County in South Florida said Friday that he was told by local law-enforcement to expect as many as 135 migrants to be flown to the area and released by the Border Patrol after their asylum claims are processed.
Mr. Bogen said Broward County doesn’t have the resources to manage such an influx and that its shelters are already crowded with homeless local residents.
“We don’t know if these are seniors or kids,” he said of the potential migrant arrivals. “We were provided one thing: the number 135.”
The CBP official said no migrants were currently being flown to Florida. “We are in preliminary planning stages,” the official said.
The Trump administration contends that the record number of adults with children presenting themselves for asylum has brought the border infrastructure to a breaking point. CBP said on Friday that the agency had averaged 4,500 apprehensions per day over the preceding week. Some 248,000 migrants travelling as families illegally entered the U.S. between October, the start of the federal fiscal year, and April—more than in any prior full year.
Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have blamed President Trump for exacerbating the flood of families to the southern border by cutting aid to Central America and threatening to close the border altogether.
The White House is seeking $4.5 billion in emergency border funding from Congress along with changes to asylum laws that the Trump administration says would make it easier to detain families longer, process applications more quickly, and deter more people from making the journey to the U.S.
Democratic lawmakers have refused to fund asylum policies they consider inhumane, but indicated late Thursday that they would consider funding some of the administration’s requests, making a counteroffer that excludes funding for detention beds, a Congressional aide said.
(Reporting by Wall Street Journal)
Trump Administration Rejects Subpoena For Tax Returns
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration is missing another deadline to produce President Donald Trump’s tax returns. A top House Democrat says he expects to take the administration to court as early as next week over the matter.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin (mih-NOO’-shin) says in a letter Friday that he will not comply with the subpoena from the House Ways and Means Committee for six years of Trump’s tax returns because the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
Mnuchin’s rejection of the subpoena had been expected. Earlier Friday, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal had said, “We will likely proceed to court as quickly as next week.”
Democrats are seeking Trump’s tax returns under a 1924 law that directs the IRS to furnish such information to the chairs of Congress’ tax-writing committees.
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