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‘He’s such a dreamer:’ Skepticism dogs U.S. envoy’s North Korean peace efforts

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Saddled with the toughest job in American diplomacy, the chief U.S. negotiator with North Korea stands between a U.S. president who insists he doesn’t want to talk and an enemy who shows no interest in listening.

While veteran State Department Asia hand Joseph Yun might be Washington’s best diplomatic hope for reducing the risk of a devastating war on the Korean peninsula, he serves an administration riven by divisions over how to handle Pyongyang.

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On the other side, North Korea’s young leader, Kim Jong Un, shows little interest in negotiating either, at least not until he has developed a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.

Despite the daunting obstacles, South Korean-born Yun has told colleagues and others he hopes his diplomatic efforts can lower the temperature in a dangerous nuclear stand-off, according to Reuters interviews with more than a dozen current and former U.S. officials and South Korean diplomats.

Most were deeply skeptical about his chances.

“He’s such a dreamer,” a White House official said, with a note of sarcasm.

“We don’t think this is going anywhere,” said another U.S. official, although he suggested it was still worthwhile to keep engaging at some level with the North Koreans as long as Yun does not appear to be undermining President Donald Trump’s public rejection of direct negotiations.

Trump has told aides that his military threats will drive North Korea to capitulate and rein in its nuclear and missile programs, four White House officials said, a view not shared among most U.S. intelligence agencies.

Yun, however, is quietly pursuing direct diplomacy with North Korean officials at the United Nations and has a mandate to discuss issues beyond the release of U.S. citizens, a senior State Department official told Reuters this week. In June, he secured the release of U.S. student Otto Warmbier, who returned to the United States in a coma and died days later.

‘RUNNING OUT OF TIME’

Trump headed to Asia on Friday as a senior aide warned the world is “running out of time” on the North Korea crisis. Behind the scenes, Yun is trying to keep open a fragile line of communication that could be used to prevent any miscalculation by one side or the other from spiraling into military conflict.

Further aggravating tensions, two U.S. strategic bombers conducted drills over South Korea on Thursday. That followed word from South Korea’s spy agency that North Korea may be preparing another missile launch.

U.S. officials have said privately that intercepting a test missile is among options under consideration, though there is disagreement within the administration about the risks.

In the midst of this is Yun, a soft-spoken, 32-year foreign service veteran who took on the job a year ago, near the end of the Obama administration.

He is grappling with Trump’s strident rhetoric as well as disagreement among the president’s top aides over whether saber-rattling will force Kim to capitulate and what the threshold for any military actions should be, according to several U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity.

Concern about Yun’s difficulties has surfaced in Seoul, where he visits regularly and where Trump will travel next week on the second stop of his Asian tour.

Several South Korean officials expressed worry that Yun’s diplomatic efforts with North Korea lack any real underpinning of support from the White House.

“Things are clearly not easy for him,” one South Korean diplomat said. “Yun is precisely that person (to talk to North Korea), but Trump is killing the whole process.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told reporters on Sept. 30 the United States was probing for a diplomatic opening, only to be slapped down by Trump, who told him via Twitter this was a waste of time.

At the same time, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, who regularly briefs Trump on intelligence matters and is considered one of the most hawkish voices on North Korea in the president’s inner circle, has apparently gained stature.

Several officials familiar with those discussions say Pompeo is feeding Trump assessments that U.S. military threats will force Kim to bow to U.S. demands for nuclear disarmament, a position that some U.S. intelligence officers privately contest.

The CIA declined comment.

NORTH KOREAN NEGOTIATOR ‘SHOCKED’

A U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity said Yun has become diplomatically “untethered,” not fully connected to a core U.S. approach that is emphasizing economic sanctions and the threat of military action rather than diplomacy.

The one tangible achievement of Yun’s diplomatic efforts in the past year was winning the release of 22-year-old Warmbier in secret talks with North Korean officials in Oslo and New York. Yun flew to Pyongyang in June to medically evacuate Warmbier.

When Choe Son Hui, head of the North Korean foreign ministry’s North America bureau, met Yun in Oslo, she was unaware of how serious Warmbier’s condition was, a source in Washington knowledgeable about the matter said.

But once she learned about it she was “shocked” and Yun was summoned urgently to meet a North Korean diplomat in New York, which quickly led to Warmbier’s return home, the source said.

Warmbier’s death complicated Yun’s efforts as it contributed to a chilling of U.S.-North Korean contacts around that time, the State Department official said.

STUMBLING IN THE DARK

Despite Trump’s threats of military action against Pyongyang, the State Department official said Yun’s view was “the less you engage diplomatically, the more likely you are in the dark.”

Even so, Trump’s rhetoric has raised questions among allies, and possibly even in North Korea, about how serious, if at all, his administration is about diplomacy and how much of a mandate Yun may have to pursue it.

Trump “personalized” the conflict – deriding Kim as “Little Rocket Man” – against the advice of his national security and intelligence experts, some of whom warned it could be counterproductive, a senior national security official said.

Another official pointed out, however, that Trump, who in May said he would be honored to meet Kim, had not hurled any fresh insults at Kim in recent days, raising hopes for an altered approach.

A South Korean official in Seoul said it was necessary for Washington to have someone in contact with North Korea to help spur future negotiations if they are ever to take hold.

But Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, told Japan’s NHK television this week: “What we cannot afford to do is enter into these long, drawn-out negotiations that allow North Korea to use these negotiations as cover for continuing their nuclear and missile programs.”

Former U.S. negotiators sympathize with Yun, whose authority to negotiate has been undercut by the tug-of-war between a White House breathing fire and a State Department pushing a peaceful solution.

“Nobody doubted my authority,” said Wendy Sherman, one of the lead U.S. negotiators who achieved the 2015 deal under which

Iran agreed to restrain its nuclear program in return for relief from economic sanctions. “All of this undermines our ability to do the job.”

Robert Gallucci, who was chief U.S. negotiator during the North Korean nuclear crisis of 1994 and has had recent contact with Yun, said the envoy is “realistic about the challenges of negotiating in the current atmosphere, including the tone set by the president, but he believes in the mission even as his approach is guided by realism.”

America

Trump announces White House counsel to quit in fall

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trump call

Washington, Aug 30 (IANS) US President Donald Trump announced on Wednesday on Twitter that White House counsel Don McGahn, who has played a key role in defending the President in the Russia probe, will leave his post in the fall.

McGahn, who began serving as White House counsel in January 2017, was questioned several times by the special prosecutor heading the Russia investigation, Robert Mueller, and his testimony could be key for determining if Trump tried to obstruct that investigation, Efe reported.

“White House Counsel Don McGahn will be leaving his position in the fall, shortly after the confirmation (hopefully) of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. I have worked with Don for a long time and truly appreciate his service!” tweeted Trump.

Although it had nothing to do with McGahn’s departure, Trump took advantage of the occasion to mention in his tweet the process of confirming Kavanaugh, his nominee for the vacant Supreme Court seat, who must receive the approval of the Senate.

Trump’s announcement comes a few hours after the Axios Web site, citing White House officials and sources close to McGahn, reported that the White House counsel was intending to leave his post as the administration’s top legal adviser sometime this autumn.

According to Axios, McGahn wants his successor to be veteran attorney Emmet T. Flood, who was one of the lawyers who represented former President Bill Clinton during his 1998 impeachment in Congress after lying to lawmakers about his relationship with intern Monica Lewinsky.

Trump hired Flood last May with the aim of making his legal strategy more “aggressive” in responding to the Mueller investigation of his 2016 presidential campaign’s potential connections with the Kremlin.

Since May 2017, May has been investigating the scope of the alleged Russian interference in the 2016 vote and whether there was any kind of coordination between Moscow and members of the Trump campaign.

According to The New York Times earlier this month, McGahn has been cooperating with Mueller’s investigation and during the past nine months has been questioned by the special counsel’s team three times.

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America

Trump once again compares Russia probe to McCarthyism

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Donald Trump

Washington, Aug 20 (IANS) President Donald Trump on Sunday once again, as he has regularly done, compared the Russia probe investigation to McCarthyism, the anti-communist campaign pursued by Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s.

“Study the late Joseph McCarthy, because we are now in period with Mueller and his gang that make Joseph McCarthy look like a baby! Rigged Witch Hunt!” said Trump on Twitter.

This kind of comparison has become a staple of Trump’s tweets, in which he regularly refers to the probe headed by Special Counsel Robert Mueller as McCarthyism and a “witch hunt,” Efe reported.

Since May 2017, Mueller has been tasked with heading an independent investigation of possible links between Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and the Kremlin.

US media reported Saturday that Mueller’s team of prosecutors have proposed up to six months in prison for George Papadopoulos, a former adviser to Trump, for having lied to the FBI during questioning of him for the Russia probe.

Papadopoulos is expected to be sentenced on Sept. 7.

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America

US sanctions Myanmar military personnel, units over human rights abuse

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Rohingya Muslims

Washington, Aug 18 (IANS) The US Treasury Department on Friday announced to sanction four commanders and two military units in Myanmar, accusing them of being related with human rights abuse cases in the country.

In a statement, the Treasury said the targeted commanders were from Burmese military and Border Guard Police (BGP), Xinhua reported.

Together with the 33rd Light Infantry Division (LID) and the 99th LID, the commanders were punished over the alleged involvement in ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State and “other widespread human rights abuses” in Kachin and Shan States.

These individuals and entities were designated according to the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act of 2016 that targeted “perpetrators of serious human rights abuse and corruption.”

Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, said in the statement that the US government “will continue to systematically expose and bring accountability to human rights abusers in this region.”

As a result of these actions, any property, or interest in property, of those designated within U.S. jurisdiction is blocked.

Additionally, US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in transactions with blocked persons, including entities 50 percent or more owned by designated persons.

Building upon the act, US President Donald Trump signed Executive Order (E.O.) 13818, or “Blocking the Property of Persons Involved in Serious Human Rights Abuse or Corruption.” To date, 84 individuals and entities have been sanctioned under the order.

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