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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.”

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‘Shame on you,’ student tells US President Donald Trump at Florida anti-gun rally

Hundreds rally in Fort Lauderdale for more restrictions on firearms

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Florida students

As the national news media descended on Parkland, students shared their horrific stories of survival after Wednesday’s mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and increasingly they are turning to another message: Something needs to change.

Many survivors of mass shootings have gone on to become staunch gun control advocates months and years later in Parkland, the timeline has seemingly accelerated. In the days after the shooting, students have been active on social media and cable news channels, saying now is the time to talk about changing gun laws.

Senior David Hogg has appeared on cable news multiple times since the shooting, urging lawmakers to act and calling the shooting “unacceptable.”

He and hundreds of others rallied at the federal courthouse in Fort Lauderdale Saturday, calling for more legislation to regulate guns.

“Vote them out!” and protesters chanted repeatedly, referring to lawmakers who oppose restrictions on guns.

“People keep asking me, What about this (shooting) will be different?” junior Cameron Kasky said at the rally. “All of you are proof that this could be different.”

Wiping away tears, student Emma Gonzalez gave an impassioned speech, taking aim at President Donald Trump and other politicians who take money from the National Rifle Association.

“To every politician who is taking money from the NRA: Shame on you,” Gonzlez said.

Multiple speakers urged banning weapons like the A5-15 rifle that was used in the shooting.

“No one should own an AR-15, especially an 18-year-old,” said Stoneman Douglas teacher Melissa Falkowski, referring to gunman Nicholas Cruz.

On Saturday morning in Parkland, protesters lined the road to the school, which is still an active crime scene, with signs reading anti-gun messages like “broken system.”

“After every shooting, the NRA sends a memo saying ‘send your thoughts and prayers.’ This is the only country where this kind of thing happens,” Kasky told CNN. “This is the time to talk about guns.”

“But there’s much more that can be done, much more that needs to be done and much more that people like Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott are not doing,” he said. “It’s scary to think these are the people who are making our laws when our community just took 17 bullets to the heart. It feels like the only people who don’t care are the people making the laws.”

At a vigil for the victims, a crowd of more than 1,000 people, consisting largely of students, chanted “No more guns, no more guns.”

Students elsewhere have started joining the chorus from Parkland. On Friday, about 100 students from South Broward High School walked out of school to protest gun violence, carrying signs that said “Do Something” and “Protect our Kids, Not Your Guns.”

“We are angry! We are angry!” the students cried. “We want safety! We want safety!”

On Wednesday night, conservative commentator Tomi Lahren took to Twitter, saying it was too early to talk about gun control.

“Can the Left let the families grieve for even 24 hours before they push their anti-gun and anti-gunowner agenda? My goodness. This isn’t about a gun it’s about another lunatic,” she wrote.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Student Caryl Novell quickly responded.

“I was hiding in a closet for two hours. It was about guns. You weren’t there, you don’t know how it felt. Guns give these disgusting people the ability to kill other human beings,” Novell said. “This IS about guns and this is about all the people who had their life abruptly ended because of guns.”

Her message to Lahren has been retweeted more than 300,000 times.

“We are children. You guys are, like, the adults. Take action, work together, come over your politics, and get something done,” Hogg said.

Source : Local10

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17 killed in Florida school shooting, ex-student held

19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz into custody in connection with the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

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Parkland high school shooting

At least 17 people were killed Wednesday in a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, the Broward County Sheriff’s office said.

Authorities say they have taken 19-year-old former student Nikolas Cruz into custody in connection with the deadly shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday.

The school shooting suspect was arrested “without incident” an hour after allegedly leaving the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School grounds.

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Seventeen people were killed and more than 14 were injured in the Parkland, Florida school shooting.

Authorities believe the suspected shooter worked alone. More than 3,200 students attend ninth through 12th grade at the high school, which is staffed by approximately 130 teachers.

Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel confirmed in a evening news conference that Cruz is a former student of the high school who was expelled for disciplinary reasons, Fox News reports. Sen. Bill Nelson also told FOX that Cruz was wearing a gas mask during the shooting and may have been carrying smoke bombs.

In an interview Wednesday evening with CNN, Marjory Stoneman Douglas math teacher Jim Gard, who had Cruz as a student in 2016, was surprised to hear the news of his arrest. “He was a quiet kid in class, I never had any problems with Nick,” Gard said.

“Some of the girls in my class said that I guess he had some problems with some other girls, but that’s hearsay, and all that,” he added. “As far as my class goes, I remember an email or two from admin [expressing concern] but I can’t remember exactly what it said.”

However, Gard expanded on his account to the Miami Herald, telling the paper that he believed an email from the school administration circulated warning teachers that Cruz had made threats against other students. “We were told last year that he wasn’t allowed on campus with a backpack on him,” Gard said. “There were problems with him last year threatening students, and I guess he was asked to leave campus.”

Superintendent Robert Runcie of the Broward County School District told reporters outside the school they had received no concerns about Cruz. “We received no warnings,” he said. “Potentially there could have been signs out there. But we didn’t have any warning or phone calls or threats that were made.”

A student named Nicholas Coke interviewed on the scene by WSVN-7 described Cruz as a “loner.” Coke also recalled a time in middle school when Cruz kicked out a glass window before getting caught, according to the Miami Herald.

“He had a lot of problems in middle school,” Coke said.

“He’s been a troubled kid,” an unidentified student who said he knew Cruz told local media. “And he’s always had a certain amount of issues going on. He shot guns because he felt it gave him, I guess, an exhilarating feeling.”

“He always had guns on him,” another unidentified student told WFOR-TV, who said Cruz was never shy about showing off his guns. “The crazy stuff that he did was not right for school, and he got kicked out of school multiple times for that kind of stuff.”

Another unidentified student described the suspect to CBS News. “The kid was crazy,” the student said. “I had engineering with him a couple years ago and he wasn’t allowed to come to school with a backpack and he would threaten students and break glass and get into fights so he got kicked out of school.”

“All he would talk about is guns, knives and hunting,” former classmate Joshua Charo, 16, told the Miami Herald. “I can’t say I was shocked. From past experiences, he seemed like the kind of kid who would do something like this.”

Helen Pasciolla, a retired neighbor who lives in the Cruz family’s former neighborhood in Parkland, told the New York Times that Cruz and his brother, Zachary, who are both adopted, had regular behavioral problems.

Authorities have begun looking into Cruz’s social media profile, findings which Broward Sheriff Scott Israel described to reporters as “very, very disturbing.”

Unverified images on social media accounts cited by multiple media sources appear to show a man holding firearms, wielding knives like a claw, and a collection of guns on a bed.

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US intelligence chiefs say Russia still meddling, threatening 2018 elections

In strong language, Coats said Russia President Vladimir Putin has been emboldened by Russia’s successful interference in the 2016 elections and is targeting the 2018 election cycle.

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Dan Coats

WASHINGTON — Russia and other adversaries will continue to engage in cyber warfare to “degrade our democratic values and weaken our alliances,” the nation’s top intelligence official said Tuesday.

“Frankly, the United States is under attack,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee, adding that every facet of society is being targeted with cyber intrusions.

In strong language, Coats said Russia President Vladimir Putin has been emboldened by Russia’s successful interference in the 2016 elections and is targeting the 2018 election cycle.

“There should be no doubt that (Putin) views the past effort as successful,” Coats said.

The national intelligence director’s comments come against the backdrop of continuing congressional and criminal investigations into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and whether the Kremlin coordinated their activities with President Trump’s campaign.

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