The abrupt cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang reflects growing concern in the Trump administration about North Korea’s unwillingness to denuclearize, experts said.
President Donald Trump on Friday called off Pompeo’s visit to North Korea, days before it was set to begin, because of what the president felt was a lack of progress in denuclearization talks.
“I don’t think the North Koreans were prepared to do what we needed to do. which was to have some kind of declaration [on their nuclear program] or some tangible sign that they were moving ahead,” said Christopher Hill, a chief negotiator with North Korea during the George W. Bush administration.
“They were not moving ahead, so I think rather than having the secretary of state come back empty-handed, the president canceled it,” Hill said.
North Korea is believed to be demanding an official end to the Korean War before taking steps toward denuclearization. The U.S., however, wants North Korea to make concrete steps toward denuclearization, starting with a declaration of its nuclear weapons arsenal, before signing an official peace treaty to end the Korean War. An armistice signed on July 27, 1953, by Chinese, North Korean and United Nationsforces ended fighting and established the Demilitarized Zone, which has since separated the two Koreas.
The Washington Post reported Monday that two U.S. officials said Trump canceled Pompeo’s trip after receiving a hostile letter from Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee. He had met previously with Pompeo in New York Cityand in Pyongyang.
The letter stated Pyongyang could not move forward with denuclearization because the U.S. was not ready to step toward a peace treaty, according to a CNN report Tuesday citing people familiar with the matter.
No ‘meaningful steps’ seen
Rob Rapson, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, said, “The secretary stands ready to go, but only when the other side is ready.” But for now, Rapson said, North Korea is “not yet prepared to take meaningful steps toward denuclearization.”
Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang would have been the fourth this year and the second since Trump’s June summit in Singapore with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which has been criticized as having produced no framework for a denuclearization process.
Experts said the lack of movement in the talks resultedfrom the contrasting expectations that Washington and Pyongyang have about denuclearization.
Ken Gause, director of the International Affairs Group at the Center for Naval Analyses, said North Korea would not relent on its demand for a peace treaty before moving toward denuclearization.
He said Pyongyang would not give up nuclear weapons “within the framework of denuclearization,” and the only way to have North Korea denuclearize was to “couch it in terms of confidence-building measures toward a peace regime.”
Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for arms control and weapons of mass destruction in the Obama administration, said, “It’s not clear … that the Trump administration has been able to come up with new proposals.”
He continued, “As you know, the whole question of issuing a peace declaration is very controversial in Washington.”
When announcing the cancellation of Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang, Trump said China was not helping with denuclearization because of its trade disputes with the U.S.
Although Hill said he thought the canceled trip was not particularly related to China’s stance, he said the U.S. should focus on applying pressure to enforce full implementation of sanctions.
“I think it’s an issue where the U.S. lost a lot of its leverage by focusing on the negotiating track to the exclusion of the sanctions track,” said Hill, stressing, “I think it’s time to work full time on ramping up the pressures. I think they lost too much [leverage] because of Singapore.”
Resumption of trade seen
William Tobey, who participated in the Six Party Talks with North Korea, said calling for sanctions relief was a sign that China will start trading with North Korea.
“Beijing has mostly coddled its ally, and responded to the Singapore summit by calling for an ease of sanctions, which was probably code for, ‘We are going to resume trade with North Korea.’ “
Because of “huge, gaping holes” in sanctions enforcement, Gause believes Trump’s maximum pressure policy will not work in denuclearizing the North, and because denuclearization is “not a primary issue for China, he said, expecting China to help solve the denuclearization issue is a “non-starter.”
“They have no incentive even … in normal times to put that much pressure on North Korea. And given the trade war that we have now, they’re going to have even less incentiveto play ball on sanctions,” said Gause.
Robert Manning, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank in Washington, said he thought Beijing, which has quietly eased sanctions and reduced U.S. leverage over Pyongyang, “will not deliver North Korea.”
In a signal of a reversion to its stance before detente with Pyongyang, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis told reporters on Tuesday that there were “no plans, at this time, to suspend any more exercises” on the Korean Peninsula. The Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises that usually take place in August were halted as a goodwill gesture toward Pyongyang after the summit in Singapore.
Lee Yeon-cheol and Kim Young-nam of VOA’s Korean service contributed to this report.
This article is from Voice Of America and has been republished with permission.
Judge Rejects Anti-Vaxxer Lawsuit Against New York City’s Vaccine Mandate
A state judge on Thursday rejected a lawsuit filed by anti-vaccination parents who sought to lift New York City’s new measles vaccination mandate, as parts of the metropolis continue to face an outbreak.
“A fireman need not obtain the informed consent of the owner before extinguishing a house fire,” Judge Lawrence Knipel wrote in his ruling. “Vaccination is known to extinguish the fire of contagion.”
Five anonymous parents in Brooklyn filed the lawsuit earlier this week against the city health department for ordering the mandatory vaccinations in parts of the borough amid a growing outbreak of the measles virus concentrated in the Williamsburg area. The lawsuit said the city’s response is “irrational,” and that the spread of the virus does not pose a clear danger to public health.
Knipel ruled that the city’s decision to require measles vaccinations during the outbreak is supported by “largely uncontroverted” evidence.
New York City Health Commissioner Oxiris Barbot issued the emergency order on April 9, requiring everyone who lives and works within four Brooklyn ZIP codes to receive the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine if they hadn’t already gotten it. Failure to comply with the mandate could result in misdemeanor punishments, including criminal fines or imprisonment.
The city has already issued summons to three people who refused the mandate and face $1,000 in fines.
As of Wednesday, the measles outbreak has infected at least 329 people since October, mostly children from Orthodox Jewish communities in Brooklyn, according to Barbot. Many Orthodox Jewish people believe vaccinations go against Jewish or Talmudic law, resulting in low vaccination rates for some communities.
Barbot praised the decision to dismiss the lawsuit, saying in a statement to HuffPost that it “will protect New Yorkers from a very dangerous infection with potentially fatal consequences.”
She added that officials “do not want to issue violations but will continue and hope that New Yorkers make the best choice for their families, their neighbors and their own health ― to get vaccinated.”
(Reporting by HuffPost)
Federal Appeals Court Backs California Laws To Protect Immigrants
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A federal appeals court on Thursday kept in place three California laws intended to protect immigrants, continuing the state’s efforts to be a national leader in opposing Trump administration policies.
The court upheld lower court rulings denying the Trump administration’s request to block law enforcement from providing release dates and personal information of people in jail, as well as to throw out a law barring employers from allowing immigration officials on their premises unless the officials have a warrant.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected U.S. District Judge John Mendez’s reasoning last year for denying a portion of the third law, which requires the state to review detention facilities where immigrants are held. It ruled that the section requiring the state to review circumstances surrounding the apprehension and transfer of detainees puts an impermissible burden on the federal government.
But the appellate panel said Mendez can consider rejecting a preliminary injunction for that section on other legal grounds.
The U.S. Justice Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, who has repeatedly sued the Trump administration mostly over immigration and environmental decisions, said the ruling shows that states’ rights “continue to thrive.”
“We continue to prove in California that the rule of law not only stands for something but that people cannot act outside of it,” Becerra said in a statement.
California officials have said the immigration laws promote trust between immigrant communities and law enforcement, while the administration argued the state is allowing dangerous criminals on the streets.
Trump Attempted To Choke Russian Probe, Oust Mueller, Redacted Report States
WASHINGTON (AP) — Public at last, special counsel Robert Mueller’s report revealed to a waiting nation Thursday that President Donald Trump tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president. Trump was largely thwarted by those around him.
Mueller laid out multiple episodes in which Trump directed others to influence or curtail the Russia investigation after the special counsel’s appointment in May 2017. Those efforts “were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the President declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests,” Mueller wrote.
After nearly two years, the two-volume, 448-page redacted report made for riveting reading.
In one particularly dramatic moment, Mueller reported that Trump was so agitated at the special counsel’s appointment on May 17, 2017, that he slumped back in his chair and declared: “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m f—ed.”
With that, Trump set out to save himself.
In June of that year, Mueller wrote, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who oversaw the probe, and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest. McGahn refused — deciding he would rather resign than trigger a potential crisis akin to the Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate firings fame.
Two days later, the president made another attempt to alter the course of the investigation, meeting with former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and dictating a message for him to relay to then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The message: Sessions would publicly call the investigation “very unfair” to the president, declare Trump did nothing wrong and say that Mueller should limit his probe to “investigating election meddling for future elections.” The message was never delivered.
The report’s bottom line largely tracked the findings revealed in Attorney General William Barr’s four-page memo released a month ago — no collusion with Russia, no clear verdict on obstruction — but it added troubling layers of detailabout Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation. Looking ahead, both sides were already using the findings to amplify well-rehearsed arguments about Trump’s conduct, Republicans casting him as a victim of harassment and Democrats depicting the president as stepping far over the line to derail the investigation.
The Justice Department released a redacted version of the report about 90 minutes after Attorney General William Barr offered his own final assessment of the findings at a testy Justice Department news conference. The nation, Congress and Trump’s White House consumed the report voraciously — online, via a compact disc delivered to legislators and in loose-leaf binders distributed to reporters.
The release represented a moment of closure nearly two years in the making but also the starting bell for a new round of partisan warfare.
A defiant Trump pronounced it “a good day” and tweeted a photo declaring “Game Over” in a typeface mimicking the “Game of Thrones” logo.
Top Republicans in Congress saw vindication, too.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said it was time to move on from Democrats’ effort to “vilify a political opponent.” The California lawmaker said the report failed to deliver the “imaginary evidence” incriminating Trump that Democrats had sought.
But Democrats cried foul over Barr’s preemptive press conference and said the report revealed troubling details about Trump’s conduct in the White House.
“Even in its incomplete form, the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler.
He sent a letter to the Justice Department requesting that Mueller himself testify before his panel “no later than May 23” and said he’d be issuing a subpoena for the full special counsel report and the underlying materials. Barr said he wouldn’t object to Mueller testifying.
Trump himself was never questioned in person, but the report’s appendix includes 12 pages of his written responses to queries from Mueller’s team.
Mueller deemed Trump’s written answers — rife with iterations of “I don’t recall” — to be “inadequate.” The team considered issuing a subpoena to force the president to appear in person, but decided against it after weighing the likelihood of a long legal battle.
In his written answers, Trump said his comment during a 2016 political rally asking Russian hackers to help find emails scrubbed from Clinton’s private server was made “in jest and sarcastically” and that he did not recall being told during the campaign of any Russian effort to infiltrate or hack computer systems.
But Mueller said that within five hours of Trump’s comment, Russian military intelligence officers targeted email accounts connected to Clinton’s office.
Mueller evaluated 10 episodes for possible obstruction of justice, and said he could not conclusively determine that Trump had committed criminal obstruction. The episodes included Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey, the president’s directive to subordinates to have Mueller fired and efforts to encourage witnesses not to cooperate.
The president’s lawyers have said Trump’s conduct fell within his constitutional powers, but Mueller’s team deemed the episodes deserving of scrutiny for potential criminal acts.
As for the question of whether the Trump campaign had colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign, Mueller wrote, “While the investigation identified numerous links between individuals with ties to the Russian government and individuals associated with the Trump Campaign, the evidence was not sufficient to support criminal charges.”
Workers at a Russian troll farm contacted Trump’s campaign, claiming to be political activists for conservative grassroots organizations, and asked for signs and other campaign materials to use at rallies. While volunteers provided some of those materials — and set aside a number of signs — investigators don’t believe any Trump campaign officials knew the requests were coming from foreign nationals, Mueller wrote.
Mueller also said there wasn’t sufficient evidence to charge any campaign official with working as an unregistered foreign agent of Russia or violating federal campaign finance laws.
Josh Blackman, a professor at the South Texas College of Law Houston, stressed that Mueller didn’t think the president’s obligations to run the executive branch entitled him to absolute immunity from prosecution. But to find that the president obstructed justice, he said, Mueller would have needed much clearer evidence that the president acted solely with “corrupt intent.”
“The evidence was sort of muddled,” Blackman said, adding that the president’s actions had multiple motivations.
Trump’s written responses addressed no questions about obstruction of justice, as was part of an agreement with Trump’s legal team.
He told Mueller he had “no recollection” of learning in advance about the much-scrutinized Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer. He also said he had no recollection of knowledge about emails setting up the meeting that promised dirt on Hillary Clinton’s campaign.
He broadly denied knowing of any foreign government trying to help his campaign, including the Russian government. He said he was aware of some reports that Russian President Vladimir Putin had made “complimentary statements” about him.
It wasn’t just Trump under the microscope. But Mueller wrote that he believed prosecutors would be unlikely to meet the burden of proof to show that Donald Trump Jr. and other participants in the Trump Tower meeting “had general knowledge that their conduct was unlawful.” Nor did Mueller’s probe develop evidence that they knew that foreign contributions to campaigns were illegal or other particulars of federal law.
Barr’s contention that the report contained only “limited redactions” applied more to the obstruction of justice section than its look at Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.
Nearly two-thirds of the Russia section —135 pages out of 199— had some form of color-coded redaction. Blocked sections appeared on 22 of 182 pages in the obstruction section, and even showed up in the report’s table of contents. Barr had said that he would redact grand jury information and material related to ongoing investigation, privacy and intelligence.
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