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Trump-Kim Summit Could Still Happen in Singapore

WASHINGTON, May 25: Twenty-four hours after President Donald Trump dictated a dejected letter to Kim Jong Un canceling their June 12 meeting, he appeared to reverse course, telling reporters Friday the diplomatic encounter could still occur on the same date if conditions keep improving.

Trump suggested the two sides were again speaking after an abrupt silence from North Korea prompted US officials to worry. White House aides were not halting some of the summit's planning, which was already underway in Singapore.

And in a tweet on Friday evening, Trump said the US is "having very productive talks with North Korea" about reinstating the summit, likely on the same date.

"We are having very productive talks with North Korea about reinstating the Summit which, if it does happen, will likely remain in Singapore on the same date, June 12th, and, if necessary, will be extended beyond that date," Trump wrote.

It was a sign the President hasn't lost hope in the audacious foreign policy accomplishment he is eager to secure. Even as his aides express doubt the summit can be arranged in the next 18 days, Trump has told confidants and advisers he believes the original date may still hold. And he's grasped at glimmers of hope, in this case a conciliatory statement from Pyongyang that expressed continued openness to talks.

"It was a very nice statement they put out," Trump said on the South Lawn before departing in his helicopter for the US Naval Academy in Maryland, where he was delivering a commencement address. "We'll see what happens. It could even be the 12th. We're talking to them now."

"They very much want to do it," he continued. "We'd like to do it."

While far from a sure thing, Trump's remarks reflect new openness to reviving the talks, or at least rescheduling them. In his letter and during remarks on Thursday, Trump made clear the summit was off. But in conversations Thursday afternoon and Friday morning, Trump did not rule out restoring the meeting, according to people familiar with the conversations.

A planned trip by US officials to survey summit sites, which the White House formally announced on Wednesday, was not canceled, according to a person familiar with the matter. During a briefing with reporters on Thursday, a senior administration official refused to comment on the logistics trip, which is led by deputy chief of staff Joe Hagin.

But the official downplayed the likelihood of the summit proceeding on course.

"The ball is in North Korea's court right now, and there's really not a lot of time. We've lost quite a bit of time that we would need," the official said. "But there's a certain amount of actual dialogue that needs to take place at the working level with your counterparts to ensure that the agenda is clear in the minds of those two leaders when they sit down."

"June 12th," the official said, "is in 10 minutes."

That caution was absent in public remarks from US officials on Friday, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, who told reporters the summit may be "back on."

"We have got some -- possibly some good news on the Korea summit, where it may, if our diplomats can pull it off, may have it back on, even," Mattis said before meeting with his Danish counterpart on Friday. He added that efforts to revive the June 12 summit are now in the hands of diplomats.

"I'll let them talk all they want, and then we'll all hope and pray the diplomats pull it off," he said.

Sarah Sanders, the White House press secretary, told reporters in the White House driveway a June 12 summit was "certainly a possibility."

"The President wants to have a meeting if it can provide real results and that's what he's said all along. It's going to be great for the world and certainly be good for North Korea," Sanders said. "We're always going to be prepared and if the meeting takes place on June 12 we'll be ready. If it takes place on July 12 we'll be ready. We're going to do whatever is necessary to prepare for that on that front."

North Korean reaction

Overnight, North Korea released a statement reiterating its interest in talks, even as it acknowledged the relationship between Washington and Pyongyang had deteriorated.

"We would like to make known to the US side once again that we have the intent to sit with the US side to solve problem(s) regardless of ways at any time," said North Korea's first vice minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kim Kye Gwan, in comments published Friday by the country's state-run news agency KCNA.

Kim also said Trump's decision was "not consistent with the desire of humankind for peace and stability in the world, to say nothing of those in the Korean Peninsula."

Trump awoke on Friday and welcomed the warmer language, which stood in sharp contrast to harsh statements over the past week that personally targeted US officials, including Vice President Mike Pence.

"Very good news to receive the warm and productive statement from North Korea," Trump wrote Friday morning on Twitter. "We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully to long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!"

It wasn't clear on Friday at what level US officials were speaking with their North Korean counterparts, or whether they were discussing the possibility of putting a meeting between Trump and Kim back on the schedule. The White House on Thursday cited a prolonged period of silence as one of the factors in scrapping the June 12 date.

"We got a lot of dial tones," said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Capitol Hill.
Another US official told reporters that North Korean officials failed to show up to a planned meeting with US aides to discuss the summit's logistics.

"The North Koreans didn't tell us anything, they simply stood us up," the official said.
Political waves

After news the summit was called off, some Democrats criticized Trump for the decision.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told reporters Thursday on Capitol Hill that the canceled summit was "a good thing for Kim Jong Un."

Pelosi said the meeting "takes knowledge, this takes judgment and clearly it takes preparation, which the President didn't make."

"It's clear he didn't know what he was getting into," the California Democrat said. "And now he's walking away from it in this very chummy, palsy-walsy letter to Kim Jong Un. He, Kim Jong Un, is the big winner."

Trump on Friday claimed Democrats were "rooting" against his administration in its negotiations with North Korea.

"Democrats are so obviously rooting against us in our negotiations with North Korea," the President wrote on Twitter. "Just like they are coming to the defense of MS 13 thugs, saying that they are individuals & must be nurtured, or asking to end your big Tax Cuts & raise your taxes instead. Dems have lost touch!"

On a White House-led conference call with political surrogates on Thursday, officials were "defensive" about the cancellation of the summit, according to a person familiar with the conversation.

"They were a little defensive about suggestions that we got ahead of ourselves on the summit," the person said, who described the administration's representatives on the call "genuinely hopeful" the summit would eventually happen.

Asked on Friday whether the North Koreans were playing him, Trump acknowledged they were -- and suggested he was, too.

"Everybody plays games. You know that," he told reporters when asked about the ongoing talks. "You know that better than anybody."

Trump scraps North Korea summit

WASHINGTON, May 24: US President Donald Trump on Thursday called off a historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un scheduled for next month, citing Pyongyang’s “open hostility,” and warned that the U.S. military was ready in the event of any reckless acts by North Korea.

Trump announced his abrupt withdrawal from what would have been a first-ever meeting between a serving U.S. president and a North Korean leader in Singapore on June 12 in a letter to Kim.

“Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it would be inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote. “Please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.”

In a later statement at the White House, Trump said he had spoken to Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and warned North Korea against any “reckless act,” saying, “Our military is the most powerful in the world.

“We are more ready than we have ever been before,” Trump said.

He said South Korea and Japan were also ready to shoulder much of the financial burden “if an unfortunate situation is forced upon us” by North Korea.

Two hours after releasing his letter to Kim, Trump said the summit could be held later.

US will put ‘unprecedented financial pressure’ on Iran: Pompeo

WASHINGTON, May 21: The United States will increase the financial pressure on Iran with the “strongest sanctions in history,” after Washington pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday.

“We will apply unprecedented financial pressure on the Iranian regime. The leaders in Tehran will have no doubt about our seriousness,” Pompeo said in his first major foreign policy address since moving to the State Department from the CIA.

“The sting of sanctions will only grow more painful if the regime does not change course from the unacceptable and unproductive path it has chosen for itself and the people of Iran,” he added in the speech at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank.

“Iran will never again have carte blanche to dominate the Middle East,” he said in outlining the new US strategy on handling the Islamic regime, including 12 tough conditions from Washington for any “new deal” with Tehran.

Pompeo said if Iran were to abide by the stricter terms, including ending its ballistic missile program and its interventions in regional conflicts from Yemen to Syria, the United States would lift its sanctions.

“We will track down Iranian operatives and their Hezbollah proxies operating around the world and crush them,” Pompeo said.

“Iran will be forced to make a choice: either fight to keep its economy off life support at home or keep squandering precious wealth on fights abroad. It will not have the resources to do both.”

President Donald Trump has long said the original 2015 deal with Iran -- also signed by Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia -- did not go far enough, and now wants the Europeans and others to support his hardline strategy.

“In the strategy we are announcing today, we want the support of our most important allies and partners in the region and around the globe. I don’t just mean our friends in Europe,” Pompeo said.

The secretary of state also warned European businesses who work with Iran in violation of US sanctions that they will be held “to account.”

The re-establishment of the US sanctions will force European companies to choose between investing in Iran or trading with the United States.

In reality, there is no choice -- European companies cannot afford to forsake the US market.

For now, the European Union is trying to persuade Iran to stay in the 2015 agreement, even without Washington’s participation.

Trump seeks to placate North Korea’s Kim over uncertain summit

WASHINGTON, May 17: US President Donald Trump sought on Thursday to placate North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un after Pyongyang threatened to scrap an unprecedented summit, saying Kim’s security would be guaranteed in any deal and his country would not suffer the fate of Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, unless that could not be reached.

In rambling remarks in the White House’s Oval Office in which he also sharply criticized China over trade, Trump said that as far as he knew the meeting with Kim was still on track, but that the North Korean leader was possibly being influenced by Beijing after two recent visits he made there.

Trump distanced himself from comments by his national security adviser John Bolton that North Korea angrily denounced when casting doubt on the summit, which is planned for June 12 in Singapore.

“North Korea is actually talking to us about times and everything else as though nothing happened,” Trump told reporters at the start of a meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

Trump said he was not pursuing the “Libya model” in getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program. Bolton has repeatedly suggested the Libya model of unilateral disarmament for North Korea, most recently on Sunday.

Gaddafi was deposed and killed after Libyans joined the 2011 Arab Spring protests, aided by NATO allies who had encouraged him to give up his banned weapons of mass destruction under a 2003 deal.

In a statement on Wednesday that threatened withdrawal from the summit, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs, Kim Kye Gwan, derided as “absurd” Bolton’s suggestion of a deal similar to that under which components of Libya’s nuclear program were shipped to the United States.

“(The) world knows too well that our country is neither Libya nor Iraq which have met miserable fate,” he said in apparent reference to the demises of Gaddafi and Iraq’s former president Saddam Hussein.

Trump said the deal he was looking at would give Kim - a hereditary ruler who presides over a state widely criticized for serious human rights abuses - “protections that will be very strong.”

“He would be there, he would be running his country, his country would be very rich,” Trump said.

“The Libya model was a much different model. We decimated that country,” he said, adding that it would only come into play “most likely” if a deal could not be reached with North Korea.

Trump stressed that North Korea would have to abandon its nuclear weapons.

“We cannot let that country have nukes. We just can’t do it,” he said of North Korea, which has been working on missiles capable of hitting the United States.

The United States has demanded the “complete, verifiable, and irreversible” dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang has rejected unilateral disarmament and given no indication that it is willing to go beyond statements of broad support for the concept of universal denuclearisation.

It has said in previous, failed talks that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States provided security guarantees by removing its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

Trump told reporters that if the meeting with Kim happens then “it happens” and if not the United States will go on to the next step. Again he did not elaborate.

Cancellation of the summit, the first between US and North Korean leaders, would deal a major blow to what could be the biggest diplomatic achievement of Trump’s presidency, one his supporters have suggested would be worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.

The current uncertainty comes at a time when Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has drawn criticism internationally and moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem has fuelled deadly violence on the Israel-Gaza border.

On Wednesday, Bolton brushed aside the North Korean remarks against him and said odds were still in favour of the summit going ahead.

“We are going to do everything we can to come to a successful meeting, but we are not going to back away from the objective of that meeting which is complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation of North Korea,” he said.

The North Korean statements on Wednesday marked a dramatic reversal in tone from recent months and took US officials off guard after months of easing tensions.

North Korea also called off a round of talks with South Korea, whose president, Moon Jae-in, is due to meet Trump on Washington next Tuesday, citing joint US-South Korean military exercises, which both allies have said will go ahead as planned.

North Korea’s chief negotiator with the South called the South Korean government “ignorant and incompetent” on Thursday and threatened to halt all talks with Seoul unless its demands are met.

The drastic change in tone came after months of easing tension and just days after North Korea had announced it would publicly shut its nuclear test site next week and improved the mood for a US summit by releasing the three detained Americans last week.

Some analysts and US officials believe it may have been testing Trump’s willingness to soften the US demand for complete denuclearisation. North Korea could also be trying to capitalize on an apparent gap in messaging between Bolton and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Pompeo, who returned from his second visit to Pyongyang last week with the freed Americans, has taken a softer line than Bolton, stressing the economic benefits, possibly including US investment, that could flow to North Korea if it agrees to denuclearize.

Kim Kye Gwan said North Korea would never give up its nuclear program in exchange for trade with the United States.

Trump ready for summit with Kim but will exert ‘maximum pressure’ if N Korea backs out

WASHINGTON, May 16: The US on Wednesday said it was not surprised by North Korea’s new conditions for talks but reiterated that President Donald Trump is ready to meet Kim Jong Un for their scheduled summit on June 12.

“The president is ready if the meeting takes place. And if it doesn’t, we will continue the maximum pressure campaign that’s been ongoing,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said, referring to the sanctions that the US believes forced North Korea to call for talks.

The White House also sought to address a concern raised by the North Koreans with regards to the Libyan model of denuclearisation as has been indicated by national security adviser John Bolton. When asked about the Libyan model, she said: “I haven’t seen that as part of any discussions so I’m not aware that that’s a model that we’re using.”

In 2003, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi had agreed to discard his country’s nuclear weapons programme to gain relief from sanctions. Eight years later, in 2011, his government was toppled during the Arab Spring movement, which was supported by Nato bombing.

North Korea, in an angrily-worded statement, had warned that it may back out of the high-level summit if the US pressures it to give up its nuclear arsenal, specifically targeting Bolton. An earlier report by the country’s official news agency had criticised ongoing US-South Korea military exercises as “provocative”.

But the White House said the Trump administration “fully expected” these demands from North Korea.

However, the timing of the salvo from Pyongyang seemed to catch the US offguard. State department spokesperson Heather Nauert was barely able to conceal her surprise, given that Kim had “previously said he understands the need and the utility of the United States and the Republic of Korea (South Korea) continuing in its joint exercises”.

North Korea threatens to pull out of Trump-Kim talks if forced into ‘unilateral’ denuclearisation

May 16: North Korea has cast serious doubts on the fate of the upcoming June summit between Chairman Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, saying it will not engage in the dialogue if it was forced into “unilateral nuclear abandonment” – a likely reference to denuclearisation as a key US goal.

This blunt warning came on Tuesday as the United States was still grappling with the implications of an earlier report in North Korea’s official news agency that called the ongoing US-South Korean air force exercises in the region a “provocation” that could have consequences for the talks.

The new warning came in a statement from First Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Gwan, who is also North Korea’s main disarmament negotiator. “If the Trump administration is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-US summit,” he said. The statement was carried by the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Earlier in the day, KCNA had criticised the Max Thunder exercise. “This exercise targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” it said.

The reference was to a joint statement from a North-South summit last month.

“The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-US summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities,” the news agency added.


In meeting with Kim, Trump to seek ‘complete’ denuclearisation of Korean Peninsula

May 12: US President Donald Trump would seek a “complete, irreversible and verifiable” denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula during his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore on June 12, the White House has said.

Hours after Trump announced the location and date of what is being billed as the historic US-North Korea summit, the White House cautioned against any new provocative behaviour by Pyongyang. Such a move might force the US to halt the meeting, a presidential spokesperson said on Thursday.

“Our policy is to ensure the complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. And that’s what he’s going to be seeking,” White House deputy press secretary Raj Shah told reporters aboard the Air Force One travelling to Indiana.

“We have a month and several days. And there are a number of things -- provocative actions, for example, from North Korea would not be received well. All I’ll say is that the meeting has been agreed to, but obviously it could be halted for any number of reasons,” Shah said with a note of caution to the North Koreans.

The main issue under discussion at the Trump-Kim summit will be North Korea’s nuclear weapons, which the US is demanding Pyongyang give up.

Shah added that Singapore was selected as the venue for the historic meeting because it had political ties with both the countries.

“Singapore has a relationship with both the United States and North Korea. They can ensure both the President’s and Kim Jong-un’s security, as well as provide neutrality,” he added.

“Singaporeans have been gracious up until now and also in the past. In fact, on a historical note, the first meeting between the leaders of China and Taiwan took place in Singapore some years back,” Shah noted.

As of now, only one day has been kept for the meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un, he said, adding that planning was still in progress.

Shah told reporters that prior to the invitation being accepted, the North Koreans had agreed to halt their ballistic missile testing, their nuclear testing, and not publicly oppose joint US-South Korean military exercises.

“So those were the initial steps that the North Koreans took. We’ll hold them to those steps. And then, obviously, there have been subsequent conversations,” he said.

On being asked if anything else was to happen between now and the summit, Shah replied, “I’m not setting additional pre-conditions. It’s now been set.”

Victoria Coates, Senior Director for International Negotiations at the National Security Council, the White House, told reporters that the meeting could be scuttled if Kim Jong-un did something unacceptable to the US.

It is possible that leaders from South Korea and China could also be present in Singapore at that time, she added.

Meanwhile, US media commented that if Trump is successful in convincing Kim to agree to a verifiable eradication of his nuclear weapons program -- a huge if -- Trump will have achieved a breakthrough that has eluded previous presidents.

“If he can end the standoff that has prevailed since the 1950-53 Korean War, he will have won a place in history that may offer redemption in posterity even if his presidency ends in ignominy,” CNN commented.

A new CNN poll shows that after rattling the nation and the world last year by threatening to wipe North Korea off the map, his turn to diplomacy is winning increasing public approval.

Some 53% of Americans approve of his handling of North Korea policy and 77% back his decision to meet Kim at a summit in Singapore next month.

That means Trump’s stewardship of the nuclear crisis is now far more popular than the President himself, the network said.

But it also raises the possibility that a successful outcome to the summit and a dominant showing abroad could begin to lift the President’s overall approval rating a little ahead of midterm elections in November, it added.

Trump to meet Kim on June 12 in Singapore

WASHINGTON, May 10: US President Donald Trump on Thursday said he will meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore.

“The highly anticipated meeting between Kim Jong Un and myself will take place in Singapore on June 12th. We will both try to make it a very special moment for World Peace!” Trump said on Twitter.

The two leaders are expected to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons development and testing program, which has deepened long-seated tensions between Washington and Pyongyang.

Trump’s announcement came just hours after three Americans who had been held prisoner in North Korea arrived at a US military base outside Washington, having been released by Kim.

Trump said on their arrival that he believed Kim wanted to bring North Korea “into the real world” and had high hopes for their planned meeting, which would be the first between a serving US president and a North Korean leader.

“I think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful,” Trump said. “My proudest achievement will be - this is part of it - when we denuclearise that entire peninsula.”

US travel ban on Pak officials, families begins

WASHINGTON, May 11: As the proposed travel restrictions on Pakistani diplomats at its embassy here and other consulate offices across America come into force from today (Friday), the State Department has extended the ban on officials and has included their immediate members of the family as well.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry confirmed to The News that the travel restrictions cover two-tier officials station in the US bearing visa categories of A1, and A2 and also the members of their families, including children. "Over 250 Pakistani individuals altogether might get affected by this ban," he said.

The Trump administration communicated to the Pakistani government last month that its officials working in the US could face restrictions in their travel movement if similar limitations on American diplomats in Pakistan were not eased up. According to the warning sent by the State Department, the Pakistani diplomatic staff would need permission at least five days ahead from US authorities if they need to travel outside of the imposed 25 miles radius.

The warning also says if the officials do not hear back from the US authorities within five days, their request should be considered as denied.

The two sides discussed the proposal and its possible outcome, which delayed the imposition another 10 days. The peculiar regulations were to be implemented from May 1, but were postponed for another 10 days. Pakistan Embassy spokesperson had then said, that "the proposal from the US State Department was under discussion between the two governments."

Aizaz Chaudhry also confirmed that in this duration both countries debated a "mechanism to address the issue. The mechanism could not mature, according to which a point officer from each sides was to work closely to address any complaints." The talks apparently failed and both sides could not find a common ground, leaving the proposed mechanism in the air.

The ambassador also hinted that such restrictions would not only suppress the relationship further but could also compel Pakistan to take reciprocal steps. "This method could muddy the water," he said adding that although the restrictions were reversible but both countries have to resolve their differences as early as possible.

This is the first time for Pakistani diplomats serving in America and their families face such travel regulations, whereas in the past US governments have practised such codes on Russian and Chinese officials.

‘We want to thank Kim Jong-un’, says Trump as he welcomes freed Korean-Americans’ return to US

Joint Base Andrews, May 10: Three Korean-Americans who were detained in North Korea for more than a year were greeted by President Donald Trump beneath a giant American flag after they returned to the mainland U.S. early Thursday.

Despite a middle-of-the-night landing, first lady Melania Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and a host of senior administration officials joined Trump to celebrate the occasion. The men, Kim Dong Chul, Kim Hak Song and Tony Kim, had been released Wednesday amid a warming of relations between the longtime adversaries.

The president and first lady boarded the medical plane on which the men travelled to take a private moment with them, then appeared at the top of the airplane stairway with the three and applauded as the men held up their arms in what appeared to be gestures of triumph.

“This is a special night for these three really great people,” Trump told reporters as he stood on the tarmac with the former detainees. On the U.S. relationship with North Korea, Trump said, “We’re starting off on a new footing.”

In thanking North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for releasing the three Americans, Trump said he believes Kim wants to reach an agreement on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula. “I really think he wants to do something,” the president said.

After Trump’s remarks, the three men boarded a bus for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center. The White House said earlier they would be evaluated and receive medical treatment at the Washington-area facility. Their families were not on hand for the ceremony.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had secured their release in Pyongyang after meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on final plans for a Trump-Kim summit. The Americans had boarded Pompeo’s plane out of North Korea without assistance and then transferred in Japan to a Boeing C-40 outfitted with medical facilities for the trip back to the U.S.

Shortly after they touched down on American soil in Alaska — for a refueling stop Wednesday afternoon — the State Department released a statement from the freed men.

“We would like to express our deep appreciation to the United States government, President Trump, Secretary Pompeo, and the people of the United States for bringing us home,” they said. “We thank God, and all our families and friends who prayed for us and for our return. God Bless America, the greatest nation in the world.”

Singapore has emerged as the likely summit site, late this month or in early June, as Trump seeks to negotiate denuclearization of the Korean peninsula in his highest-stakes foreign policy effort yet. Trump announced Wednesday that the demilitarized zone between the Koreas would not host the summit. Pompeo said the meeting would last one day and possibly a second.

Trump made a point of publicly thanking North Korea’s leader for the prisoners’ release — “I appreciate Kim Jong Un doing this” — and hailed it as a sign of cooling tensions and growing opportunity on the Korean peninsula. Kim decided to grant amnesty to the three Americans at the “official suggestion” of the U.S. president, said North Korea’s official news agency, KCNA.

North Korea had accused the three Korean-Americans of anti-state activities. Their arrests were widely seen as politically motivated and had compounded the dire state of relations over the isolated nation’s nuclear weapons.

Trump entered office as an emboldened North Korea developed new generations of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles capable of hitting the continental U.S. Those advances were the subject of President Barack Obama’s starkest warning shortly before Trump took office, and this is a crisis he’s convinced his negotiating skills can resolve.

Crediting himself for recent progress, Trump has pointed to Kim’s willingness to come to the negotiating table as validating U.S. moves to tighten sanctions — branded “maximum pressure” by the president. The wee-hours ceremony Thursday was to be an early celebration for an issue that has already put the prospect of a Nobel Peace Prize on Trump’s mind.

“Everyone thinks so, but I would never say it,” he said Wednesday when asked if the award was deserved.

The release capped a dramatic day of diplomacy in Pyongyang. After Pompeo’s 90-minute meeting with Kim Jong Un, he gave reporters a fingers-crossed sign when asked about the prisoners as he returned to his hotel. It was only after a North Korean emissary arrived a bit later to inform him that the release was confirmed.

The three had been held for periods ranging from one to two years. They were the latest in a series of Americans who have been detained by North Korea in recent years for seemingly small offenses and typically freed when senior U.S. officials or statesmen personally visited to bail them out.

The highly public and politically tinged arrival ceremony for the former prisoners organized by the White House was in stark contrast to the low-key and very private reception that the State Department had envisioned and carried out from the moment they took custody of them.

Department officials took great pains on their release in North Korea, as well as on their flights to Japan and Alaska, to keep them sequestered not only from the two journalists traveling with Pompeo but also from staffers not immediately involved in their cases. The trio, along with medical personnel, including a psychiatrist, were cloistered in the middle of Pompeo’s plane in a small section of 12 business class-sized seats that was cordoned off by curtains on both ends.

State Department officials refused to discuss anything but the most basic details of their conditions, citing privacy concerns in keeping with the minimal amount of information they had released since the men were imprisoned.

The fact that Trump was going to Andrews to welcome them home in person was almost an afterthought to Pompeo, who, when briefing reporters on their release, noted it last of all.

“The only other thing I should mention is I did speak with the President,” Pompeo said. “I informed the President of this, and the President is planning to come out and meet the aircraft when we land.”

The last American to be released before this, college student Otto Warmbier, died in June 2017, days after he was repatriated to the U.S. with severe brain damage.

Warmbier was arrested by North Korean authorities in January 2016, accused of stealing a propaganda poster and sentenced to 15 years in prison with hard labor. His parents, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit, accusing the government of torturing and killing their son.

“We are happy for the hostages and their families,” the Warmbiers said in a statement Wednesday. “We miss Otto.”

Of the newly released detainees, Kim Dong Chul, a South Korean-born U.S. citizen, had been held the longest. The former Virginia resident was sentenced in April 2016 to 10 years in prison with hard labor after being convicted of espionage. He reportedly ran a trade and hotel service company in Rason, a special economic zone on North Korea’s border with Russia.

The other two detainees hadn’t been tried.

Kim Hak Song worked in agricultural development at an experimental farm run by the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, or PUST. The university is the only privately funded college in North Korea and was founded in 2010 with donations from Christian groups. He was detained last May for alleged anti-state activities.

Tony Kim, who also uses the name Kim Sang-duk, was detained in April 2017 at the Pyongyang airport. He taught accounting at PUST. He was accused of committing unspecified criminal acts intended to overthrow the government.

On Capitol Hill, Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer celebrated the detainees’ return but warned that “we’ll see many more hostages” if the administration provides an incentive for imprisoning Americans.

“We are happy they’ve returned, but North Korea shouldn’t gain by taking Americans and then releasing them,” he said.

North Korea’s state-run media explicitly mentioned plans for the summit for the first time. Pyongyang has been exceptionally cautious about its public framing of Kim’s recent diplomatic moves, which are a major shift from the more aggressive focus on missile launches and nuclear development that heated tensions to a boil last year.

Mike Pompeo in Pyongyang

PYONGYANG, May 9: America's top diplomat Mike Pompeo held meetings with senior North Korean officials in Pyongyang today, with speculation swirling around the fate of three US detainees ahead of a planned US-North Korea summit.

Pompeo was dispatched on an unannounced visit - his second in weeks, but first as secretary of state - to advance preparations for Donald Trump's unprecedented meeting with Kim Jong Un over North Korea's nuclear arsenal.

He told reporters that he hoped to agree a date and venue for the summit - even though Trump said they had already been chosen.

But optimism over the process was dealt a blow by Trump's pullout from a nuclear deal with Iran yesterday.

Pompeo's visit came with rumours flying over three US citizens being held in the North, fuelled by South Korea where the president's office said they expected the men to be freed.

The trio are a significant domestic political issue in the US and Trump hinted last week of imminent news after sources said they had been relocated.

In previous cases, detainees have been set free into the care of high-profile US visitors, but there was no immediate indication they would be released after Pompeo held talks with Kim Yong Chul, director of the North's United Front department, one of the organisations handling relations with the South.

The US hoped "we can work together to resolve this conflict, take away threats to the world and make your country have all the opportunities your people so richly deserve", Pompeo told him, but added: "There are many challenges along the way."

The rapid detente on the Korean peninsula triggered by the Winter Olympics is a marked contrast from last year, when Kim and Trump traded personal insults and threats of war over the North's nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

"We think relationships are building with North Korea," Trump said in televised comments from the White House. "We will see how it all works out. Maybe it won't. But it can be a great thing for North Korea, South Korea and the entire world."

Trump Pulls US From Iran Nuclear Deal

WASHINGTON, May 8: President Donald Trump on Tuesday pulled the United States out of an international agreement aimed at stopping Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb, and said he would reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran immediately.

The decision is likely to raise the risk of conflict in the Middle East, upset America's European allies and disrupt global oil supplies.

"This was a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made," Trump said at the White House. "It didn't bring calm. It didn't bring peace. And it never will."

The 2015 deal, worked out by the United States, five other international powers and Iran, eased sanctions on Iran in exchange for Tehran limiting its nuclear programme.

Trump says the agreement, the signature foreign policy achievement of Trump's predecessor Barack Obama, does not address Iran's ballistic missile programme, its nuclear activities beyond 2025 nor its role in conflicts in Yemen and Syria.

Trump said he was willing to negotiate a new deal with Iran, but Tehran has already ruled that out and threatened unspecified retaliation if Washington pulled out.

Iranian state television said on Tuesday that Trump's decision to withdraw was "illegal, illegitimate and undermines international agreements."

Renewing sanctions would make it much harder for Iran to sell its oil abroad or use the international banking system.

The Iran deal may remain partially intact, even without the United States. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani suggested on Monday that Iran could remain in the accord with the other signatories that stay committed to it.

Trump's move is a snub to European allies such as France, Britain and Germany who are also part of the Iran deal and tried hard to convince the U.S. president to preserve it. The Europeans must now scramble to decide their own course of action with Tehran.

China and Russia are also signatories to the Iran deal.

Oil prices dived as much as 4 percent on Tuesday as media reports rattled markets with doubts about whether Trump would withdraw Washington.

Trump did not provide details of what he described as the "highest level of economic sanctions" that he is reimposing on Iran.

But he implied that he was going beyond not renewing waivers on sanctions related to Iran's oil exports and its central bank that were due to expire on Saturday and reimpose all of the other U.S. sanctions that were suspended under the nuclear deal.

Iran's growing military and political power in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq worries the United States, Israel and U.S. Arab allies such as Saudi Arabia.

Israel has traded blows with Iranian forces in Syria since February, stirring concern that major escalation could be looming.

Singapore likely to host Trump-Kim summit in June

SEOUL, May 7: US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un are likely to meet in Singapore next month, reports said Monday, as anticipation builds for unprecedented talks between the mercurial leaders.

Trump said at the weekend that the two sides had settled on a date and location for the summit -- the first between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader -- without providing details.

“We’ll be announcing it soon,” Trump told reporters. The landmark summit will take place in “mid-June”, South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo daily reported Monday, citing diplomatic sources who quoted Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton.

The newspaper suggested that the possibility of Singapore hosting the landmark meeting had “increased greatly”, after a decision by Trump to host South Korean president Moon Jae-in at the White House later this month, without giving further explanation.

Bolton met his South Korean counterpart Chung Eui-yong in Washington late last week to discuss plans for both locations, according to local media reports.

A similar report on the weekend from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency also said Singapore was firming as the favoured location for the summit.

Trump had previously suggested that the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas -- the site of a recent summit between Kim and Moon -- could also be an appropriate venue for his meeting with the North’s leader.

Other possible sites reportedly included Mongolia and Switzerland.

Preparations for the landmark meeting have gained momentum since the Korean summit late last month, which saw Pyongyang and Seoul promise to pursue the complete denuclearisation of the peninsula and a formal peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean War.

North Korea has offered to close its nuclear test site this month -- and invited US experts to verify the move.

Other less dramatic but notable signs of rapprochement have emerged almost daily, including North Korea moving its clocks forward by 30 minutes early Saturday to match time with the South.




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