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Is North Korea putting a nuclear-tipped bargaining chip on the table?

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As the leaders of China and the United States sit down for a summit on Thursday, North Korea has made sure it also has something on the negotiating table: A nuclear-tipped bargaining chip.

North Korea launched a projectile on Wednesday, which U.S. officials said appeared to be a liquid-fueled, extended-range Scud missile that only traveled a fraction of its range before spinning out of control and crashing into the sea.

The launch was North Korea’s latest in a long series of missile and nuclear tests that have accelerated in their variation and intensity over the last two years.

As the leaders of China and the United States sit down for a summit on Thursday, North Korea has made sure it also has something on the negotiating table: A nuclear-tipped bargaining chip.

And now, experts agree, North Korea is closing in on the ability to hit the United States with a missile, a goal that for decades has been the subject of Pyongyang’s vivid propaganda posters.

“They’ve been able to put a nuke on a missile for a while now,” said Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

“The stated purpose of the last test was to validate the nuclear weapon design that would arm all of North Korea’s missiles,” Lewis said of North Korea’s September 2016 nuclear test – its fifth and largest to date.

Since then, North Korea has further ramped up its tests and rhetoric, emphasizing a consistent message: To create a nuclear device small enough to mount on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and fire it at the United States.

“If we push the button, the bombs will be fired and reduce the U.S. to ashes,” an editorial in the ruling Workers’ Party newspaper the Rodong Sinmun said on Wednesday.

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un.    KCNA/via REUTERS

North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un. KCNA/via REUTERS

North Korea now has the strength to “wipe out” the United States “in a moment” with an H-bomb, the editorial said.

“This is again our warning”.

BARGAINING CHIP

From last year, North Korea took the rare step of publicizing images of its missile equipment tests, convincing analysts that Pyongyang’s banned program was further along toward successfully testing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) than first thought.

“The first few tests might fail, but that’s not good news because they’ll learn,” said Lewis. “How long it takes to make it work is anyone’s guess. Maybe a couple of years, maybe the first time”.

North Korea has been pursuing its nuclear and missile programs at an unprecedented pace since last year, with an aim to expand its deterrence against Washington and diversify its line-up of nuclear-equipped missiles, another expert said.

“They have been doing so many test launches last year and this year to develop systems to transport nuclear warheads,” said Kim Dong-yub, a professor at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.

“The whole thing is about expanding their deterrence and continuing to keep upgrading their missiles to deliver nuclear warheads,” said Kim.

It was not clear if Wednesday’s launch was deliberately timed to coincide with Thursday’s summit between China’s President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump in Florida, where North Korea is expected to be a prime topic of discussions.

Some experts think North Korea has tried to make sure the two world leaders are aware Pyongyang has a bargaining chip in any forthcoming moves to clam down on its weapons programs.

Cheong Seong-chang, a senior research fellow at Sejong Institute outside Seoul, said that could come in the form of another nuclear or ICBM test after the summit. Perhaps first with a low-level show of force – enough not to upset China – followed by a period of intensified weapons testing.

“Then, next month when a new (South Korean) government gets under way, North Korea is expected to try to turn the situation around into a phase of appeasement and, use its moratorium of nuclear and ballistic missile tests to find middle ground with South Korea and the United States,” Cheong said.

This year, North Korea officials, including young leader Kim Jong Un, have repeatedly indicated an ICBM test, or something similar, could be coming, possibly as soon as April 15, the 105th birthday of North Korea’s founding president and celebrated annually as “the Day of the Sun”.

Source : Reuters

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Confusion over Trump’s Ashram visit

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Gandhinagar, Feb 20 : Two Tweets, one from the Ministry of External Affairs and the other from Ajay Tomar (Special Commissioner of Police, Crime Branch Ahmedabad) contradicting each other on Thursday created confusion about the possibility of the US President Donald Trump’s visit to the Gandhi Ashram at Sabarmati.

The MEAIndia tweet states that the US President and First Lady Melania Trump accompanied by Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be going to the Motera Stadium for the ‘Namaste Trump’ event directly from the Ahmedabad airport.

However, an official tweet from Ajay Tomar, the Special CP, Crime Branch Ahmedabad says that the US President will arrive at Ahmedabad on February 24 and to welcome him, PM Narendra Modi will be here. Both of them will go to Sabarmati Ashram first, then they will go to Motera Stadium to attend ‘Namaste Trump’ event.’

Following the expected visit four days from now, the preparations were underway at the famous Gandhi Ashram. Apart from turning the place into a fortress and getting all the security aspects covered, there were also some infrastructure changes put in place at the Ashram.

The Trump couple was expected to spend half an hour at the Ashram. A new parking space was being created at the place. To the rear side of the ashram, a platform was being built so that PM Modi could show the entire Sabarmati riverfront to the visiting dignitaries from one place.

A special room was also being prepared at the Ashram, where the dignitaries would be spending some time. Sources said all that ongoing work has been halted for now.

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2 die in Iran after testing positive for COVID-19

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Tehran, Iranian health authorities have confirmed that two men have died after testing positive for the deadly coronavirus (COVID-19), making it the first fatalities in the country and the second outside Asia.

An informed source said on Wednesday that the two old men died in a hospital in Qom city after being tested positive for coronavirus earlier in the day, reports Press TV.

The source said one of the two had been suffering from chemical weapons injuries sustained during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s. He described the other victim as a 65-old man, without elaborating.

The news of the deaths came hours after authorities confirmed first two cases for coronavirus in Iran. In response, Deputy Health Minister Qassem Janbabaei visited Qom on Wednesday to supervise preparations to curb the spread of the disease.

Janbabaei said the two men were from two separate neighbourhoods of Qom, a city of close to one million people, adding that they had never been out of the province let alone to any foreign country.

“How they contracted coronavirus is not clear and the issue is being probed,” he told the state-run IRNA news agency.

The development came nearly a month after authorities evacuated 57 Iranian students from the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak, reports Press TV.

The students were released from a 14-day quarantine in Tehran on Tuesday.Hong Kong (two), the Philippines (one), Japan (one) and France (one) have each reported deaths.

The overall death toll in China increased to 2,118 on Thursday, with a total of 74,576 confirmed cases.

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9 die in German bar shootings, suspect’s body found

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The body of the suspected perpetrator of the two shootings in the German city of Hanau that left at least nine people dead, has been found in his house along with another one, police said on Thursday.

In a tweet, police said the “alleged perpetrator” was found “lifeless” at his home in Hanau, and special police officers also found another body there, reports Efe news.

In a statement, the state police said they had received witness information about a fleeing vehicle.The home address was blocked off extensively and searched by special police forces… One of the dead people is most likely the culprit,” said the statement, which also confirmed the new shooting death toll as nine, bringing the total to 11 deaths.

“Investigations into the identity of the victims and the suspected perpetrator are ongoing,” it said, adding that “there are currently no indications of other perpetrators”.

The suspect is a German national with a hunting weapons license, in whose car ammunition was found, according to a report in the German Bild newspaper.

In the consecutive shootings on Wednesday night in two shisha bars, nine people were killed and at least five others were believed to have been seriously injured.

The first attack took place at around 10 p.m. in a bar called Midnight, followed by the second shooting at the Arena Bar & Cafe, a similar establishment in the city’s Kesselstadt neighbourhood.

The shots were allegedly fired from a car, according to regional public broadcaster Hessischer Rundfunk. Local police deployed a large search operation for the attacker over several hours.

Hanau MP Katja Leikert said it was a “horrific scenario for us all” and sent her “heartfelt condolences” to those close to the victims.

Several local media outlets also reported another alleged attack at a third location in the city, but police did not confirm this.The city of Hanau – home to some 100,000 people – is located 25 km east of Frankfurt.

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