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Trump, Kim fail to reach agreement

HANOI, Feb 28: The nuclear summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un in Hanoi ended abruptly Thursday as they cut short their discussions and failed to reach an agreement.

The second meeting between the two leaders was supposed to build on their historic first summit in Singapore but they failed to bridge their differences and did not sign a joint statement as initially scheduled.

“Sometimes you have to walk and this was just one of those times,” Trump told reporters.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that it wasn't a "good time" to strike a denuclearisaton deal after talks with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un broke down in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi.

Trump said that the sanctions imposed on Pyongyang over its nuclear programme had been the sticking point.

“Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that,” he said.

But he insisted he was “optimistic that the progress we made” before and at the summit left them “in position to have a really good outcome” in the future.

“I’d much rather do it right than do it fast,” he added.

The outcome fell far short of the pre-meeting expectations and hopes, after critics said their initial historic meeting in Singapore was more style over substance.

“This is a major failure,” tweeted Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund peace foundation.

It showed the limit of summitry, he added, with “not enough time or staff” to work out a deal.

In the original White House programme, a “Joint Agreement Signing Ceremony” had been scheduled in Hanoi as well as a working lunch for the two leaders.

In the event, both men left the summit venue without signing anything and Trump moved up his news conference by two hours.

Ankit Panda, from the Federation of American Scientists, warned on Twitter that the White House’s expectation of further talks “does not have to be a perception shared in North Korea. Kim may have left irate, for all we know. He may have no intention of continuing this.”

Trump flew around the world for the meeting and Kim undertook a mammoth two-and-a-half-day trek through China in his olive green train, travelling 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles).

At first the smiles and bonhomie from Singapore ran on into their second date in Hanoi as Trump touted the “special relationship” between the two, although concrete statements were vague.

The US president frequently dangled the prospect of a brighter economic future for a nuclear-free North Korea, at one point saying there was “Awesome” potential.

From the outset, he had appeared to downplay expectations of an immediate breakthrough in nuclear talks, saying he was in “no rush” to clinch a rapid deal and was content if a pause in missile testing continued.

But Harry Kazianis, Director of Korean Studies at the Centre for the National Interest, said that no agreement was better than a bad one.

There would be “nothing worse than signing a deal just to get something”, he said.

“The challenge is North Korea’s nuclear weapons are already a reality,” he added. “Getting a deal that does little to nothing to remove that threat would be far worse than a flawed deal.”

In Singapore the two signed a vague document in which Kim pledged to “work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

Progress subsequently stalled with the two sides disagreeing on what that means, as the North sought relief from sanctions and Washington pressed for concrete steps towards it giving up its weapons.

As in Singapore, the two men put on a show of bonhomie in Vietnam, appearing to share jokes in front of reporters.

Looking relaxed but appearing to say little, they indulged in a poolside stroll Thursday around the gardens of the luxury Metropole Hotel, a colonial-era building that has played host to stars ranging from Charlie Chaplin to Brad Pitt.

It echoed a garden walkabout in Singapore, where the two men bonded over Trump’s hulking car -- the “Beast” -- with the US president allowing the younger man a glimpse inside.

It was a far cry from the height of missile-testing tensions in 2017 when Trump slammed Kim as “rocket man” and the younger man branded the American president a “mentally deranged US dotard”.

In apparently unprecedented scenes, Kim answered unscripted questions from foreign reporters, saying that he would welcome the establishment of a US liaison office in Pyongyang, which would be a step on the way to diplomatic normalisation.

Before the summit, there was talk that there could be a political declaration ending the 1950-53 Korean War which finished technically with an armistice rather than a peace treaty.

There were also hopes Kim could pledge to destroy North Korea’s decades-old Yongbyon nuclear complex, which has long been at the heart of Pyongyang’s atomic development but remains shrouded in secrecy -- and North Korea has promised to mothball it twice before.

A patent distraction from the summit was a scandal back home in Washington with Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen calling him a “racist” and a “conman” during a congressional hearing.

The president already showed he had the testimony at the back of his mind when he tweeted about it before his first meeting with Kim, saying Cohen -- who has been sentenced to three years in jail -- was “lying in order to reduce his prison time”.

US asks India-Pak to de-escalate tension

WASHINGTON, Feb 28: The US has asked Pakistan to abide by its UN Security Council commitments to deny terrorists safe haven and block their access to funds.

This US statement came after India on Wednesday handed over to Pakistan a dossier on specific details”of involvement of the Jaish-e-Muhammed (JeM) in the Pulwama terror attack on Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) as also the presence of camps of the UN-proscribed terror outfit in that country.

Forty CRPF personnel were killed in a suicide attack by Pakistan-based JeM in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district on February 14, sparking outrage in the country.

“Cross-border terrorism, such as the recent attack on India’s CRPF on February 14, poses a grave threat to the security of the region. We reiterate our call for Pakistan to abide by its United Nations Security Council commitments to deny terrorists safe haven and block their access to funds,” a State Department spokesperson said.

The Ministry of External Affairs handed over the dossier Pakistan’s Acting High Commissioner on Wednesday.

It was conveyed that India expects Pakistan to “take immediate and verifiable action” against terrorism emanating from territories under its control.

Responding to reporters questions over the current situation between India and Pakistan, the spokesperson joined the White House and the Pentagon in urging the two countries to de-escalate their tension and avoid military to resolve their differences.

“The United States calls on India and Pakistan to cease all cross-border military activity and for a return to stability,” the spokesperson said.

“We urge both sides to take immediate steps to de-escalate the situation, including through direct communication. Further military activity will exacerbate the situation,” the spokesperson said.

America should not give aid to Pakistan until it stops harbouring terrorists

By Nikki Haley

WASHINGTON, Feb 26: In December 2017, President Trump courageously announced that the United States would officially recognize the truth that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel, and that we would move our embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

Shortly afterward, the United Nations General Assembly gathered to give its opinion on this sovereign U.S. decision. Before the vote, as America’s UN Ambassador, I warned that the American people would “take names” of who was with us and who was against us. A large majority of countries voted against America that day. There was no immediate consequence for doing so. But that doesn’t mean we didn’t take names. For countries who consistently trash America at the United Nations, there must be consequences, or there will be no changes in their behavior.

In fact, I did more than take names. My team at the U.S. Mission to the UN compiled an exhaustive research book on every country. We looked at how much foreign aid we give to each country, and how often they vote against us in the UN. The results were eye-opening.

I presented the findings to President Trump and he was shocked. So much so that in last year’s State of the Union Address, he referred to this huge gap between what we give to countries and how they treat us in return, saying, “That is why, tonight, I am asking Congress to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign assistance dollars always serve American interests, and only go to America’s friends.

I could not agree more. Let’s look at two examples.

In 2017, Pakistan received nearly $1 billion in U.S. foreign aid, the sixth most of any country. Much of the aid went to the Pakistani military. Some went for road, highway, and energy projects to assist the Pakistani people.

It is more than fair to ask what the U.S. gets in return for our generosity. On all key votes at the UN, Pakistan opposed the American position 76% of the time. Much more troubling, Pakistan also has a long history of harboring terrorists who have killed U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

That same year, U.S. taxpayers provided over half a billion dollars to the people and government of South Africa. That’s more than what the entire UN system provided to South Africa that year.

Most of our funds go to a great program for preventing HIV/AIDS. Over the years, we have literally saved the lives of millions of South African citizens. Americans do this because we are a big-hearted nation and it is the right thing to do, not because we expect something in return.

Still, you would think a government that received such life-saving assistance would show some gratitude for our generosity. You would be wrong. South Africa voted against the U.S. position at the United Nations 82% of the time – among the worst in the world. What’s more, it is an extremely hostile voice against many critical U.S. interests.

There are many other similar examples.

Congress failed to pass the legislation the President asked for last year, but the Administration went ahead with its own full-scale review of U.S. foreign assistance policies. That review, which I participated in before leaving office in January, is long overdue. The Administration has already wisely restricted assistance to Pakistan, but there is much more to be done.

Our foreign aid policies are stuck in the past and often operate on auto-pilot without considering the conduct of the countries who receive our aid. The national security bureaucracy is also very dug-in defending the foreign aid programs they administer. But the Administration is proceeding. I hope it comes out with its changes soon and strongly.

UN votes should not be the only factor we consider in our foreign aid decisions. We have many humanitarian, economic, diplomatic, and military interests that must be weighed. But UN votes should be one factor. If they are not, then we will consistently underperform what we are capable of at the UN.

None other than former Secretary of State John Kerry said this about foreign aid: “Foreign assistance is not a giveaway. It’s not charity. It is an investment in a strong America and in a free world. Foreign assistance lifts other people up and then reinforces their willingness to link arms with us in common endeavors.”

I agree. And when foreign aid goes to countries that take our generosity and bite our hand rather than link up arms with us, it’s time to stop it.

@ Nikki R. Haley is the former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Before serving as a member of President Donald Trump's Cabinet, she was South Carolina's 116th Governor

Trump and Kim may strike tentative deal in Vietnam

By Alex Ward

Feb 26: A tentative deal between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to be finalized over the next two days at their summit in Vietnam has emerged — and while it may still change, the current agreement looks like a huge win for Kim.

For the US? Not so much.

Under the current iteration of the agreement, described to me by three people familiar with the negotiations who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive diplomatic issues, the US would agree to lift some sanctions on North Korea and improve ties between the two countries in exchange for a commitment from Kim Jong Un to close down a key nuclear facility.

Here’s the outline of the tentative deal as described to me:

Both countries will sign a peace declaration to symbolically end the Korean War. That conflict ended in an armistice (basically a truce), not an actual peace treaty, in 1953, which means the war is technically still ongoing. The agreement would effectively, although not officially, end hostilities between the two countries and dramatically improve their relations.
North Korea will agree to return more remains of US troops who died during the Korean War, although it’s unclear how many of the thousands will come home and when. Last year, following the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore, North Korea returned the remains of 55 American service members.

The US and North Korea will establish liaison offices — which are quasi-embassies with minimal authorities — in each other’s nations. That will be the first concrete step toward normalizing diplomatic ties between the two longtime enemies.

North Korea will agree to stop producing materials for nuclear bombs at its Yongbyon facility. In exchange, the US will push to lift some UN sanctions on Pyongyang so it can pursue joint economic projects with South Korea. It’s also possible the deal will include some other nuclear facilities, one source said.

Again, it’s entirely possible that this tentative deal will change — perhaps even dramatically — between now and when Trump and Kim meet on February 27 in Vietnam. But the deal as it currently stands comports with what many expected heading into the summit.

In other words, it isn’t a major surprise that this is the deal on offer. The problem, though, is that Trump may be giving more than he’s getting.

Why this deal is both good and bad for Trump

If agreed to, the most controversial part of this deal will be the promise from Kim to shutter the Yongbyon facility in exchange for some modest sanctions relief.

Here’s why: The people familiar with the current deal say there are no specific details and no timetable for how North Korea will end nuclear fuel production at the Yongbyon facility. Instead, Trump and Kim will agree in principle to the closure and working-level staff will finalize the details in future talks.

That’s likely to pique some North Korea experts.

The Yongbyon nuclear facility is “the heart of [North Korea’s] nuclear program,” a top expert told the Washington Post last week. It’s the only place (that we know of) where the country can make plutonium for nuclear bombs. If it shuts down, Pyongyang’s ability to make plutonium-fueled nuclear weapons will be severely curtailed.

That wouldn’t mean the end of its nuclear program — not by a long shot — but it would be a concrete gesture that would help signal that Kim may actually be serious about dismantling the program eventually.

That said, it’s one thing for Kim to say he’ll close the facility, and another thing entirely for him to actually do so.

Rebecca Hersman, a nuclear expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told me that for this to be a real concession, Kim would have to let international inspectors into the facility to verify that nuclear material production had really ended. Without those inspections, there’s no way to know if Kim has followed through on his promise.

That’s a move the leader may be reluctant to take. And even if he did so, he could always just restart the shuttered facility once the inspectors left — as his father, Kim Jong Il, did twice before, after deals with the US collapsed.

That, in part, is why experts want any deal on closing Yongbyon to be extremely detailed. “An agreement on the dismantlement of such a site has to be worded deliberately and concisely so technical experts can watch and verify each step in the process,” said Grace Liu of the Middlebury Institute of International Studies.

But if Trump moves to lift sanctions before Kim actually ends all production at Yongbyon, he will have offered a major concession without getting anything substantive in return.

The rest of the deal, however, looks pretty good.

By signing a peace declaration, both sides will reduce tensions with one another by saying they are no longer warring enemies. By establishing liaison offices, Washington and Pyongyang will take an important step toward normalizing their relations. And by returning more troop remains to the US — something people close to the negotiations tell me is personally very important to Trump — North Korea will show it’s serious about staying in America’s good graces.

So there’s a lot to like in this potential deal. But it doesn’t really move the needle much on the fundamental goal of denuclearizing North Korea, and mostly just rewards Kim with much-needed sanctions relief for doing little more than continuing to show up for talks and making some vague promises. It that sense, the deal isn’t great for Trump but is a pretty big win for the North Korean leader.

But if this serves as a building block to more deals down the line — leading North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program in the long run — then it’s possible we’ll all look back on Hanoi fondly in a few years’ time.

Trump-Kim Summit in Vietnam: End the Korean War with a Peace Declaration

By Harry J. Kazianis

HANOI, Feb 26: In our quest to convince North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, Washington seems to have once again lost sight of one of the most important aspects of the seventy-year-old Korean challenge: the plight of South Korea and our collective security as allies.

There’s no shocker there. U.S. foreign policy is crafted—as are all nations—from our own national historical experience, tragic events and our identity that we project out upon the world. And since the early 1990s, Washington’s obsession with eliminating Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons first—a viewpoint I shared until last year—blinded it from almost alternatives to reduce the danger to Northeast Asia, the Korean Peninsula and the U.S. homeland from North Korea. Especially since the days of 2017, when ICBMs were tested and turned America into a potential North Korean nuclear target, all Washington cared about was ensuring its own security from atomic attack. It’s to be expected, sure, but such a singular focus also doesn’t consider other pathways to at least mitigate, if not eliminate, the nuclear threat posed by North Korea.

There might be no better example than the collective Washington yawn over the possibility that President Trump may sign a peace deceleration ending the Korean War—something clearly in both Washington’s and Seoul’s collective national interest. Scholars around the beltway decry such an action as a concession, appeasement and a complete waste of America’s time. Go on social media and say the words peace, North Korea and Trump in the same tweet and watch the hawks swoop in. I know this all too well.

That’s disturbing, but not surprising. When did not ending a war that technically has been going for over seven decades seem like a good idea? The last time I checked, I don’t see the Korean People’s Army battling Republic of Korea or U.S. forces along the demilitarized zone. And let’s thank God for that, as such a war fought with today’s modern weapons would likely mean a death sentence for millions of people.

Why is the overwhelming consensus here in Washington, D.C. among the so-called foreign policy elites so against a simple piece of paper that says a war that ended in 1953 is over, an act that would bring a sense of closure to millions of South Korean and American families still haunted by this seemingly forgotten conflict?

I have a one-word answer, and it’s not what you expect: vulnerability.

You see, as human beings, no one wants to be the first person to make a concession, show weakness or take a risk that could end up in utter failure—that’s where fear takes over. Take such an attitude and apply it to the hard knocks arena of international politics, and well, no one can ever show anything but strength and take any real risks, even if the risk might be small. Courage, as we can all see in our own domestic politics, seems in short supply these days.

Now is the time to think differently. It is time for America to show some foreign policy vulnerability and offer to sign a peace declaration to North Korea. It is time to take a small risk that could advance our interests and those of South Korea. Now is the time to be bold. We have tried carrots, sticks, so-called “strategic patience” and nothing has reduced tensions or the potential threat coming from Pyongyang. A peace declaration might just do that.

Therefore, it’s time to do what should have been done so long ago—and not to ask for any concessions, because such a declaration is the right thing to do. And, in fact, the upside could be huge. If America is going to have any hope in convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons—which is America’s top priority for the summit—Washington needs to find a way to convince Pyongyang that it is serious about forging a new relationship and that decades of tension can finally end. There is only one way to do that: the signing of a peace declaration ending the Korean War once and for all.

If Washington was to sign with Pyongyang a simple political declaration ending the war, Kim may have the proof he needs to not only trust America’s intentions but to go back to his own people—especially the military of political elites—with evidence that America no longer has any hostile intent. Then he can begin denuclearization. That would be historic and is our only real chance at ending the endless ups and downs in U.S.-North Korea relations that nearly started a war back in 2017. For if we were to begin again a cycle of missile tests and nuclear threats, we have no guarantees that we will be as lucky as were last time. I, for one, think a conflict would be a real possibility.

There is no downside to this at all—except perhaps allowing pride or national ego to get in the way. Some will say America will be made a fool if North Korea still won’t give up its nuclear weapons or cheats on a future agreement after a peace declaration is signed. That’s just silly, and admitting reality only makes common sense and has no downside whatsoever. In fact, having such a declaration can only go to prove to Chairman Kim Jong-un that U.S. efforts toward détente are not only sincere, but backed by deeds and not just words.

If North Korea is willing, I say to President Trump it is time to make history. And let us never, ever, label the cause of advancing peace as weakness. History would never forgive us if such a label were to stick.

@ Harry J. Kazianis is Director of Korea Studies at the Center for the National Interest

Very, very bad situation between India and Pakistan: Trump

WASHINGTON, Feb 22: Describing the current situation between India and Pakistan as “very, very bad”, US President Donald Trump Friday said his administration was in contact with both sides and hoped hostilities would soon end in the Valley.

“Right now between Pakistan and India, there is a very, very bad situation. A very dangerous situation. We would like to see it (hostilities) stop. A lot of people were just killed. We want to see it just stop. We are very much involved in that (process),” Trump told reporters at the Oval Office.

The US president was responding to questions on last week’s terrorist attack in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir in which 40 Indian security personnel were killed. Pakistan-based terror outfit Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) has claimed responsibility for the attack.

“India is looking at something very strong. India just lost almost 50 people in the attack. I can understand that too,” Trump said, adding that his administration was talking to authorities in both countries.

The president said the US has improved ties with Pakistan and works are on for meetings with Pakistan leaders and officials.

“I stopped paying Pakistan the USD 1.3-billion that we used to pay them. In the meantime, we may set up some meetings with Pakistan. Pakistan was taking very strong advantage of the United States under other presidents. We were paying Pakistan USD 1.3 billion a year. I ended that payment, because they were not helping us in the way they should have,” Trump said.

We support India’s right to self-defense: US NSA John Bolton

WASHINGTON, Feb 16: US National Security Adviser John Bolton told his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Friday that America supports India’s right to self-defense.

Bolton telephoned Doval Friday morning to express his condolences for the terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir and offered the US’ full support to India in confronting terrorism.

“I told Ajit Doval today that we support India’s right to self-defense. I have spoken to him twice, including this morning... and expressed the US’ condolences over the terrorist attack,” he told PTI.

Bolton said the US has been very clear to Pakistan on ending support to terrorist safe havens. “We have been very clear on that score... And, we are continuing to be in discussions we are going to have with the Pakistanis,” he said. Earlier, the White House and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo asked Pakistan to end its support to terrorist safe havens inside the country.

“We stand with #India as it confronts terrorism. Pakistan must not provide safe haven for terrorists to threaten international security,” Pompeo said on Twitter.

In a stern message to Pakistan, the White House asked Islamabad to “immediately end” its “support” to all terror groups and not to provide “safe haven” to them, as the US condemned the brutal Pulwama terror attack claimed the lives of at least 40 CRPF soldiers.

Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) has claimed responsibility for the terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district on Thursday that left at least 40 CRPF soldiers dead and five others critically wounded.

“The United States calls on Pakistan to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil, whose only goal is to sow chaos, violence, and terror in the region,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a late night statement on Thursday.

2 US warships sail close to disputed island chain in South China Sea

WASHINGTON/ BEIJING, Feb 11: The US sailed two guided-missile destroyers close to the disputed islands in the South China Sea on Monday to challenge China’s excessive maritime claim, drawing the ire of Beijing which accused Washington of trying to “stir up trouble”.

The USS Spruance and USS Preble sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly Islands as part of what the US Navy calls a “freedom of navigation operation,” CNN reported.

The move angered Beijing at a time when the US and China ton are locked in a trade war and are negotiating a deal ahead of a March 1 deadline when US tariffs on $ 200 billion worth of Chinese imports are expected to increase to 25 per cent from 10 per cent.

Reacting to the US’ move, China accused Washington of trespassing in its territorial waters.

The US is “determined to stir up trouble in the South China Sea, create tension and undermine peace”, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a press briefing.

She urged the US to cease the “provocative actions”.

The Spratly Islands are a disputed group of islands, islets and cays and more than 100 reefs, sometimes grouped in submerged old atolls, in the South China Sea. The archipelago lies off the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, and southern Vietnam.

China claims nearly all of the South China Sea, though Taiwan, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia and Vietnam all claim parts of it.

Monday’s operation was carried out “to challenge excessive maritime claims and preserve access to the waterways as governed by international law,” Commander Clay Doss, a spokesman for the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, said.

“All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows,” Doss said, adding “that is true in the South China Sea as in other places around the globe.” The operation was the second in the South China Sea reported by the US Navy this year. In January, the destroyer USS McCampbell sailed within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Islands.

Shortly after that operation, China accused the US of trespassing in its territorial waters -- and said it had deployed missiles “capable of targeting medium and large ships.” In late September, the USS Decatur also sailed within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson reefs in the Spratly Islands as part of a similar freedom of navigation operation.

During that operation, a Chinese destroyer came within 45 yards of the US warship, forcing it to maneuver to avoid a collision. The US labelled the Chinese warship’s actions unsafe and unprofessional, while Beijing said the US was threatening the safety and sovereignty of China.

The two countries have traded barbs over what US said was Beijing’s military installation building on artificial islands and reefs.

Over the last five years China has rapidly built artificial islands housing significant military infrastructure on what had been low-lying reefs. The United States has criticised China for militarising the islands by constructing long runways used by jet fighters and deploying anti-aircraft missiles.

China says the construction is necessary for defence, and it was the US that was responsible for tensions by sending warships and military planes close to islands Beijing claims.

Trump says summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to take place in Hanoi

WASHINGTON, Feb 9: US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will meet for a second much-anticipated summit in Hanoi, as preparations kick into high gear for the peace talks. Trump announced the exact location on Twitter -- only the country, Vietnam, was previously known -- for the follow-on to the leaders' summit in Singapore last year as he hailed "very productive" preparatory talks between diplomats from the two countries.

"My representatives have just left North Korea after a very productive meeting and an agreed upon time and date for the second Summit with Kim Jong Un," Trump said. "It will take place in Hanoi, Vietnam, on February 27 & 28. I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim & advancing the cause of peace!"

The US State Department said the special US envoy for North Korea will meet again with Pyongyang officials ahead of the Trump-Kim talks -- hours after he returned to Seoul from talks in the North on the summit's agenda.

In a statement, the State Department said talks during Stephen Biegun's three-day trip explored Trump and Kim's "commitments of complete denuclearization, transforming US-DPRK relations and building a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula."

Biegun landed at Osan US Air Base late Friday, foreign ministry spokesman Noh Kyu-duk told AFP. The State Department confirmed Biegun agreed to meet his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol again before the leaders' talks.

North Korea has yet to provide any official confirmation of the summit and Kim Jong Un appeared to make no mention of it during a meeting earlier with the top brass of the Korean People's Army. As reported by state media, the meeting focused on the need to modernize the military while maintaining party discipline in the ranks.

Biegun is expected to share details of his Pyongyang meetings with his South Korean counterpart Lee Do-hoon and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Saturday. Attention will focus on whether the US team have offered to lift some economic sanctions in return for Pyongyang taking concrete steps toward denuclearization.

Discussions on declaring an end to the 1950-53 Korean War could also have been on the table, with Biegun last week saying Trump was "ready to end this war."

The three-year conflict ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas still technically at war, with the US keeping 28,500 troops in the South The US envoy was also likely to have discussed with his counterpart protocol and security matters for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit.

At their landmark summit in Singapore last year, the mercurial US and North Korean leaders produced a vaguely worded document in which Kim pledged to work towards "the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." But progress has since stalled, with the two sides disagreeing over what that means.

Experts say tangible progress on Pyongyang's nuclear weapons will be needed for the second summit if it is to avoid being dismissed as "reality TV."

Trump calls for unity in State of Union address

WASHINGTON, Feb 6: US president Donald Trump called for unity, as had been previewed by his aides, in his State of the Union address on Tuesday but also pitched hard his immigration agenda that includes the divisive border wall, differences over which caused the longest government shutdown in history.

On Afghanistan, a key take-away from the speech for India, Trump said his administration has accelerated the negotiations for a political solution, talking to all, including the Taliban. He said as talks progress the United States will be “able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism”. He did not mention either a drawdown timeline or number.

The US president also announced he would be meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for their second summit on February 27 and 28 in Vietnam.

And about trade war with China, President Trump said that while the two countries are working on a “new trade deal”, the US will not accept anything that does not include “real, structural change to end unfair trade practices, reduce our chronic trade deficit, and protect American jobs”.

He also declared victory in the battle against the Islamic State, saying it has been evicted from “virtually” all of the territories it had held when he came into office.

Trump’s speech, delivered to a packed joint sitting of US congress, lasted 82 minutes and was interrupted many times by applause, mostly partisan, from Republicans and his cabinet, but also by both sides a few times, especially on women issues.

A noticeably large group of Democrat women leaders dressed in white, in a nod to the movement for women’s right to vote, joined in for a bit with a standing ovation, on some women issues, when he spoke of job numbers for women.

Trump started with a lofty call for unity.

“Together, we can break decades of political stalemate. We can bridge old divisions, heal old wounds, build new coalitions, forge new solutions, and unlock the extraordinary promise of America’s future. The decision is ours to make,” he said.

“We must choose between greatness or gridlock, results or resistance, vision or vengeance, incredible progress or pointless destruction. Tonight, I ask you to choose greatness.”

Few minutes later, Trump plowed into immigration, asking once again for Democrats to join Republicans behind his plan. The president and congressional Democrats are stalemated on the funding of a border wall, the key element of Trump’s immigration agenda and also the most divisive, with a looming deadline of February 15 when funding runs out for government departments that opened recently after the unprecedented 35-day shutdown.

Trump proceeded to pitch his immigration plan talking about caravans of illegal immigrations marching towards the US border from central America, drugs, human traffickers, murders, rape, gang violence that he has used before portray a sense of crisis needing urgent attention.

“This is a moral issue,” he said, and proceeded to talk about victims of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants. “Not one more American life should be lost because our Nation failed to control its very dangerous border.”

The US president then sought support for a plan he sent the congress earlier but which has already been rejected. It includes $5.7 billion for a wall in exchange for temporary relief for undocumented immigrants brought to the US as children and more funds for hiring extra immigration judges and border agents.

The wall, he also called it a “physical barrier”, remains the cornerstone of his plan and promise. And he is not abandoning it. “Walls work and walls save lives,” the president pitched it, one more time. “So let’s work together, compromise, and reach a deal that will truly make America safe.”

Immigration was one of the five major areas he focussed on in his second the State of the Union address. The other four were infrastructure development; healthcare to bring down drug prices among other things; trade, that included talks with China and the pact with Canada and Mexico to replace an earlier agreement; and national security through military and diplomacy.

While speaking of the achievements of his administration earlier in the speech, the president took a shot at the ongoing Russia investigations, some of which are being conducted by congressional committees, separately from the one led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States -- and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.”

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way!”

Many Indian students at fake US university head home

WASHINGTON, Feb 4: Indian students of a fake university run by undercover US agents to expose immigration fraud have been leaving the country even as many, 129 by the last count made available by authorities, remain in custody. Some have been released reportedly with electronic monitors around their ankles.

The number of those who have left the United States on their own could not be immediately ascertained but Indian officials monitoring the situation said they have heard credibly from the Indian American community that students not in custody have been in leaving, sometimes in groups.

US immigration and customs enforcement, which is the agency that detects and deports undocumented foreigners, has said individuals not in custody — “administrative arrest” — and who have not been served with “Notice to Appear” before an immigration court do not have court proceedings.

A response was awaited from ICE to questions about electronic trackers, which is used to monitor the presence of those who law enforcement officers fear are flight-risks, and about the current number of Indians in custody and those that have been released.

Lawyers advising the students have said they have told them to leave as soon as can on their own. “Challenging their deportation is not going to go well, in my opinion,” said one Atlanta-based immigration attorney, who did not wish to be identified.

Indian embassy in DC and its consulates have been in touch the students, those in custody and free. It has started a telephone helpline, which has received more than 100 responses so far and has offered them legal help from a panel of its attorneys. The embassy is also in contact with the US department of homeland security, which has overarching control over immigration, and the state department and sought consular access to the students.

“We have so far either met or are scheduled to meet shortly a majority of students that are under detention,” said Harsh Vardhan Shringla, Indian ambassador to the US. “We have had our people go to each and every center — whether it’s in Salt Lake city, whether it’s in Seattle, whether it’s in Miami, or it’s in Phoenix … people have gone to different parts of the country to access our citizens and to ensure the students are okay, and what they have to say about this.”

“By Monday we will have access to almost all our students.”

India doesn’t have the total number of those in custody, as it changes because of releases and more arrests.

Eight persons, of Indian origin, were arrested and criminally charged, separately, for recruiting students for the University of Farmington in Michigan state — which was run by undercover US agents to expose a “pay-to-stay” immigration scam that allowed enrolled students to stay on foreign students visa and work for a fee that was much lower than what US universities charge usually. An estimated 600 students were enrolled at the time of the filing of indictments last week.

None of them had used the enrollment to enter the United States, according to lawyers, officials and Indian Americans in touch with the students. Most of them were students who were already in the US and had completed their studies and enrolled at Farmington to extend their stay while they looked for a job on H-1B visa for high skilled foreigners.

Others were students who were enrolled at other universities, and switched to Farmington because of its low fee and permission to work from Day 1 in school, under CPT (curricular practical training, temporary work authorization for international students).

“Some of them were genuine students who wanted to study and one of them had even reached out to US authorities to ascertain if the university was legitimate,” said a person who is closely involved with the process of helping the students. “That student was sent in return a link to a list of legitimate universities and Farmington was among them”.

Others had also said to have reached out to Farmington University about classes and course work, but had come up blank despite many attempts.

“This is a case of entrapment which is not acceptable in Indian courts,” said an official in India. The argument is that an individual cannot be made to commit an offense through an offer of inducements or other benefits and then be criminally charged for it.

US prosecutors have alleged the student knew what they were getting into. “Each of the foreign citizens who ‘enrolled’ and made ‘tuition’ payments to the University knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study- a “pay to stay’’ scheme,” they said in an indictment.

“Rather, their intent was to fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to obtain work authorization under the CPT.”

Tulsi Gabbard, first Hindu in US Congress, officially enters presidential race

WASHINGTON, Feb 4: Tulsi Gabbard, the first Hindu in US Congress, officially launched her White House bid with an anti-war message, denouncing US interventions abroad and slamming “powerful politicians” in both parties for seeking new wars to wage.

Gabbard has struggled to keep together her bid, marked already by the exit of her campaign manager and parting of ways with a consulting firm. She had to apologise for her past anti-LGBTQ activities.

On Saturday, the four-term Democratic Representative launched her campaign from her home state Hawaii’s best-known beach in Honolulu, Waikiki, which would give her a chance to reset her bid, which has excited Hindu Americans, most of whom are of Indian descent.

“When we raise our right hand and volunteer to serve, we set aside our own interests to serve our country, to fight for all Americans. We serve as one, indivisible, united, unbreakable, united by this bond of love for each other and love for our country,” said Gabbard, who served two tours of military duty in Iraq and is a major in the national guard. “It is in this spirit that today I announce my candidacy for president of the United States of America.”

“We must stand against powerful politicians from both parties who sit in ivory towers thinking up new wars to wage & new places for people to die,” she said. “Wasting trillions of dollars, hundreds of thousands of lives, undermining our economy and security, and destroying our middle class.”

“These powerful politicians dishonor the sacrifices made by every one of our service members, and their families - they are the ones who pay the price for these wars,” she added.

India issues démarche to U.S. on detained students, demands their release

NEW DELHI, Feb 2: The students, who had been charged with committing visa fraud by enrolling in the fictitious “University of Farmington” in Michigan State, along with eight recruiters in different U.S. States, were caught in a sting operation.

Worried about the condition of 129 Indian students arrested in the U.S. for alleged visa fraud, the Government of India issued a démarche to the U.S. Embassy in Delhi on February 2, demanding that the students be released from detention and are not summarily deported.

“Our concern over the dignity and well-being of the detained students and the need for immediate consular access for Indian officials to the detainees was reiterated,” a statement issued by the Ministry of External Affairs said, adding that it had urged the U.S. government to “release them from detention at the earliest and not to resort to deportation against their will”.

The arrested students, who had been charged with committing visa fraud by enrolling in the fictitious “University of Farmington” in Michigan State, along with eight recruiters in different U.S. States, were caught by the U.S. government’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in an elaborate sting operation. ICE officials had posed as employees of the fictitious university in order to expose unscrupulous recruiters who would enrol students, and the students themselves who signed up for the university knowing that they would not need to attend classes, and could “pay to stay” in the U.S. and maintain their F-1 student visa status.

“We underlined that students, who may have been duped into enrolling in the ‘University’ should be treated differently from those recruiters who have duped them,” the MEA said, adding that the welfare of the students was now its “highest priority”.

The MEA has set up helplines for all those being held in detention centres across several U.S. States. Indian consulate officials in Texas met the detainees in San Antonio, Conroe and Alvarado, the consulate announced, giving photographs of the detention facilities.

The MEA said that so far officials have contacted about 30 Indian students, and efforts were on to contact the others. But while consular access to all the students is expected to be completed in the next few days, acting on the government’s demands to release the students and not to deport them will be a tall task, given the new stricter regime for international students that has been brought in by the Donald Trump administration.

Educational consultants said the Farmington University case was a “straight case” of alleged fraud committed by students and recruiters accused, with some questions over whether the U.S. government’s “sting” operation on them amounted to entrapment. However, all agreed that the case would have a chilling effect on the visa process for legitimate students applying to American universities and for work experience after finishing their degrees.

According to U.S. State Department figures, F-1 student visas to Indian nationals had already decreased by more than 40% in the two-year period between 2015 and 2017 (from 74,831 to 44,741 issued).

“A case like this [Farmington University Fraud] will only increase the scrutiny of student applicants for visas from India,” an educational advisor, who preferred not to be identified, said.

129 Indians out of 130 ‘students’ arrested in US ‘pay-and-stay’ immigration scam

WASHINGTON, Feb 1: US authorities had arrested 129 Indians enrolled at a fake university ran by undercover agents in Detroit, Michigan to expose a “pay-to-stay” immigration fraud till Thursday and officials have said more apprehensions are expected.

The arrested Indians have been placed in “removal proceedings” — marked for deportation, in other words — and will remain in the custody of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) until the conclusion of their case by immigration courts.

US prosecutors announced Thursday the arrest of eight men of Indian descent for using the fake university, University of Farmington, to run a “pay-to-stay” for foreigners stay on a student visa and work. The institute, which touted itself as a “nationally accredited business and STEM institution”, had no instructors and ran no classes or educational activities. It has since been shut down and its website has been taken down.

It enrolled at least 600 students, officials have said.

“As of yesterday morning, ICE had administratively arrested 130 foreign nationals enrolled at the University of Farmington for civil immigration violations,” Carissa Cutrell, a spokesperson for ICE, wrote in an email.

Of the 130, she added, 129 were Indian nationals.

“These individuals have been placed in removal proceedings, and ICE will seek to maintain them in its custody pending the outcome of those proceedings.”

Cutrell also said more arrests were expected.

Indian embassy in Washington DC has been in touch with US officials and has sought consular access to the arrested students and officials have said they are doing all then can to help.

Most of the affected are from Telengana and Andhra Pradesh and are also receiving help from community associations. One of them, the American Telugu Association has launched a webpage to help the students and organized a webinar with immigration lawyers to guide them “to be watchful with fake agents who promise illegal ways to stay in USA with admissions in unaccredited colleges”.

Lawyers have argued many of the students enrolled believing the university was legal. Some of them were studying elsewhere and switched to Farmington when their course lost accreditation. Other were doing second masters as looked for speciality work under the B-1B programme, which grants 20,000 visas every year to holders of advanced degrees from US educational institutions.

“The government utilized very questionable and troubling methods to get these foreign students to join the institution,” Ravi Mannam, an immigration lawyer in Atlanta, told The New York Times.

Prosecutors, however, have argued the students knew what they were getting into. The indictments unsealed Thursday said the students knew the university’s programme was not approved by the government. “Each of the foreign citizens who ‘enrolled’ and made ‘tuition’ payments to the University knew that they would not attend any actual classes, earn credits, or make academic progress toward an actual degree in a particular field of study- a “pay to stay’’ scheme.

“Rather, their intent was to fraudulently maintain their student visa status and to obtain work authorization under the CPT (a course-related curricular training programme that allows off-campus work authorization for foreign students).”

Over 21 dead in United States polar vortex

NEW YORK, Feb 1: Tens of millions of Americans braved Arctic-like temperatures on Thursday as low as minus 56 degrees Fahrenheit (minus 49 Celsius) that paralysed the US Midwest and were blamed for at least 21 deaths.

Warmer-than-normal weather was on the way, but that offered little comfort to vulnerable populations such as the homeless and elderly enduring cold that caused frostbite in minutes and made being outside potentially deadly.

Officials across multiple states linked numerous deaths to the frigid air. The death toll rose from a previous 12 after at least nine more people in Chicago were reported to have died from cold-related injuries, according to Stathis Poulakidas, a doctor at the city’s John H. Stroger Jr. Hospital.

Poulakidas, a trauma specialist, said the hospital had seen about 25 frostbite victims this week. He said the most severe cases risked having fingers and toes amputated.

Among those believed to have died from the cold was University of Iowa student Gerard Belz. The 18-year-old was found unresponsive on campus early Wednesday morning just a short walk from his dorm, according to university officials. Police told a local television station they believed the cold played a factor in his death.

The wind chill at the time officers found Belz was minus 51 F (minus 46 C), according to the National Weather Service. Homeless and displaced people were particularly at risk, with Chicago and other cities setting up warming shelters.

But many toughed it out in camps or vacant buildings. A 60-year-old woman found dead in an abandoned house in Lorain, Ohio, was believed to have died of hypothermia, Lorain County Coroner Stephen Evans said.

“There’s just no way if you’re not near a heat source that you can survive for very long out in weather like this,” Evans told the Chronicle-Telegram newspaper.

It has been more than 20 years since a similar blast of frigid air covered a swath of the U.S. Midwest and Northeast, according to the National Weather Service. The bitter cold was caused by the mass of air known as the polar vortex drifting south from its usual position over the North Pole.

Homes and businesses used record amounts of natural gas to fight the cold, according to financial data provider Refinitiv. Utilities appealed to consumers to conserve energy to avoid power outages.

In Detroit, General Motors Co suspended operations at 11 Michigan plants to cut natural gas consumption. Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV canceled a shift on Thursday at two of its plants.

Snow and ice created treacherous travel conditions, with 26 road collisions reported within two hours on Thursday in eastern Iowa’s Johnson County, emergency communications center chief Tom Jones told the Iowa City Press-Citizen.

For the second day in a row, the intense cold and windy conditions forced U.S. airlines to cancel more than 2,000 flights. Chicago was hardest hit, with O’Hare International Airport experiencing over 700 cancellations, according to the FlightAware tracking site. Heavy snow hitting Chicago off the Great Lakes was set to begin winding down on Thursday night, the weather service said.

More than 30 record lows were shattered across the Midwest. Cotton, Minnesota, had the lowest national temperature recorded early on Thursday at minus 56 F (minus 48 C), before the weather warmed up, the weather service reported.

Temperatures in the Upper Midwest will rebound to well above zero F (minus 18 C) on Friday, with highs making it into the teens and low 20s F. By Saturday, highs will be in the 30s and even low 40s F, while the central Plains will be in the low 60s F, nearly 20 to 25 degrees above normal, the weather service said.

 

 

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