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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

Bomb Threats Across United States – reports

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Law enforcement authorities around the United States were reponding to a wave of bomb threats, many of them sent by email NBC reported.

A spokesman for the Oklahoma City police told NBC News that individuals in and around that city have gotten 10 to 13 specific email bomb threats, with specific addresses.

Bronx Science said it evacuated its building at 11 a.m. after it received a bomb threat by phone. The school said students were “currently well supervised at neighboring schools.”

The New York police department confirmed it received a call about the threat and responded to the school. The department later tweeteed it was monitoring “multiple bomb threats that have been sent electronically to various locations throughout the city.”

Nearly a dozen threats were received at businesses throughout South Florida, including in Fort Lauderdale and Pompano Beach. At least three others were reported in Orlando.

Massachusetts State Police are investigating after multiple bombs threats were allegedly mailed to “numerous businesses in the state.” Authorities said the MSP Fusion Center is tracking the activity.

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Trump accuses Comey of lying in testimony to Congress

Trump criticised Comey’s testimony, the transcription of which was made public Saturday evening and was published on Sunday by several US media outlets.

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James Comey

Washington, Dec 10 : US President Donald Trump has accused former FBI Director James Comey of lying during his testimony before a congressional committee last week, when the ex-official revealed that the investigation into presumed Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was initially focused on four US citizens.

In two tweets, Trump criticised Comey’s testimony, the transcription of which was made public Saturday evening and was published on Sunday by several US media outlets, Efe reported on Sunday.

“Leakin’ James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day. His Friday testimony was so untruthful! This whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President. They are now exposed!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

The president added that during Comey’s appearance before the House Judiciary and Government Reform committees on Friday, the former FBI chief told lawmakers “on 245 occasions” that “he didn’t know, didn’t recall, or couldn’t remember things when asked. Opened investigations on 4 Americans (not 2) … All lies!”

Comey, who was abruptly fired by Trump in May 2017, was ordered to appear before Congress behind closed doors on Friday to respond to questions from lawmakers investigating the actions of the FBI and the Department of Justice during the scandal involving former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton regarding her use of a private e-mail server while she was secretary of state.

In July 2016, Comey closed the FBI investigation into Clinton’s use of her private server to send a number of e-mails while she was serving in the Barack Obama administration, but a few days before the election he reopened the probe to review new messages, something that Democrats say could have influenced the result of the election, which Clinton lost to Trump in what most regarded as a stunning upset.

In his appearance before the House committees, Comey defended the decisions he made in 2016 and revealed that the FBI investigation into possible links between Russia and the Trump campaign initially was focused on four Americans, according to the transcript.

Comey did not identify those four people, but he said that Trump was not one of them.

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America

Former US President George H.W. Bush dead at 94

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Herbert Walker Bush-

Washington, Dec 1: George H.W. Bush, the 41st President of the US who is best known for sanctioning the Gulf War, presiding over the fall of the Berlin Wall and steering America through the end of the Cold War, has died at the age of 94 in Houston.

The announcement of his passing on Friday night was made in a statement by his son and 43rd US President George W. Bush on Saturday. “Jeb, Neil, Marvin, Doro, and I are saddened to announce that after 94 remarkable years, our dear dad has died,” Bush said.

George Herbert Walker Bush served as a fighter pilot during the Second World War, a Congressman, Ambassador to the UN, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director and served two terms as Ronald Reagan’s Vice President between 1981 and 1989, before concluding his four-decade long political career by serving as the US President from 1989 to 1993.

During his stint in the White House, Bush Sr. saw the end of the Cold War, the first Gulf War and the invasion of Panama while the Soviet Union collapsed and Germany reunified.

Despite military and diplomatic successes, he was unable to secure re-election and handed over the reins of the White House to Bill Clinton and retired to his home in Boston, Texas, along with his wife Barbara Bush.

Bush Sr’s death came eight months after that of his spouse to whom he was married for 73 years. They had six children together. The cause of his death was not immediately known.

He was suffering from a form of Parkinson’s disease that left him on a wheelchair over the last few years. He was also frequently hospitalised especially for respiratory problems.

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump said Bush guided the nation and the world to a victorious end to the Cold War.

“With sound judgement, common sense and unflappable leadership, President Bush guided our nation and the world to a peaceful and victorious conclusion of the Cold War,” Trumps said.

Bush Sr. was also lauded by former President Barack Obama who called him “a patriot and humble servant”.

“His life was a testament to the notion that public service is a noble, joyous calling,” Obama said.

Grandson George P. Bush said: “He was a good man. His courage was matched by his compassion; and his dedication to country was equalled only by his devotion to his family.”

Tricia Nixon Cox and Julie Nixon Eisenhower, the daughters of former President Richard Nixon, said: “George H.W. Bush lived a life that was purposeful, and extraordinarily rewarding – for our nation, and for our world.”

IANS

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