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‘Little to No’ Progress in North Korea’s Military Capabilities, Says US General

Trump and Kim are set to hold a second summit in Vietnam later this month.

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FILE - Gen. Robert Abrams looks to the dais as he testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Sept. 25, 2018. VOA

North Korea’s nuclear and other military capabilities remain unchanged and still pose a threat to the United States and its allies, the top U.S. military commander in South Korea told a Senate hearing Tuesday.

“Little to no verifiable change has occurred in North Korea’s military capabilities,” despite Pyongyang’s public statements about denuclearization, General Robert Abrams, head of U.S. Forces Korea, told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

The comments underscore the stalled diplomacy between the U.S. and North Korea since President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un agreed last June in Singapore to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

Trump and Kim are set to hold a second summit in Vietnam later this month. U.S. officials have said they expect “significant and verifiable” progress there.

“My personal opinion is the announcement of a second summit…is a positive sign of continued dialogue,” Abrams said. “It certainly beats the alternative of what we were living with in 2017.”

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FILE – A TV shows a photo of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, left, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 1, 2019. VOA

It has been 440 days since North Korea last conducted a nuclear or missile flight test, Abrams noted. “The reduction in tension on the peninsula, it’s palpable,” he said.

“Having said all that though, we have not observed activity that’s consistent with a full-court press on denuclearization,” he added.

Military drills

Meanwhile, North Korea is continuing its annual winter military exercises, Abrams said.

“We have observed no significant changes to the size, scope, or timing of their ongoing exercises,” Abrams said, putting particular emphasis on the word “their.”

At last year’s Singapore summit, Trump announced the cancellation of several major military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, saying they were expensive and needlessly provocative.

North Korea has for decades said the exercises amount to preparation to invade the North — a notion the U.S. strongly denies.

Some U.S. lawmakers and others have expressed concern about U.S. military readiness, should the exercises be postponed much longer.

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FILE – U.S. Army and South Korean soldiers take their positions during a demonstration of the combined arms live-fire exercises at the Rodriquez Multi-Purpose Range Complex in Pocheon, north of Seoul, South Korea, March 25, 2015. VOA

Troop levels

Many have also expressed worry that Trump may use the upcoming summit to announce a withdrawal or reduction of U.S. troops in South Korea.

Asked by Senator Jack Reed whether the U.S. can afford to reduce its troop presence, Abrams responded that the current posture “is appropriate in terms of providing an adequate deterrent” against North Korea.

The U.S. currently has over 28,000 troops in South Korea.

Trump has for years complained U.S. troops in Korea are too expensive and do not adequately advance U.S. interests. However the U.S. president, along with the top U.S. envoy to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, have said they are not discussing a troop withdrawal or reduction in the peninsula.

Earlier this week, the U.S. and South Korea signed an agreement that will increase by 8 percent the amount Seoul pays for the U.S. troop presence. Trump had reportedly demanded an increase of 50 percent.

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The deal, which is subject to South Korean parliamentary approval, is only valid for one year, unlike the previous agreement, which lasted five years. (VOA)

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We Got Trump Elected, Shouldn’t Stop Him in 2020; Says Facebook Executive

Instead, the Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public for example by hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day

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FILE - President Donald Trump departs after speaking with reporters on the South Lawn of the White House July 17, 2019, in Washington. VOA

Facebook Vice President Andrew ‘Boz’ Bosworth has claimed that it was the social networking giant that got Donald Trump elected as the US President in 2016 because “he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser”.

In a memo obtained by The New York Times, the key Facebook executive in the same vein suggested that the platform with over 2.45 billion monthly active users should not use its enormous reach to block Trump’s reelection in 2020.

Was Facebook responsible for Donald Trump getting elected?

“I think the answer is yes, but not for the reasons anyone thinks. He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period”, said Bosworth who runs Facebook’s hardware group.

“Trump just did unbelievable work,” Bosworth wrote.

“They weren’t running misinformation or hoaxes. They weren’t micro-targeting or saying different things to different people. They just used the tools we had to show the right creative to each persona.

He continued: “I find myself desperately wanting to pull any lever at my disposal to avoid the same result. So what stays my hand? I find myself thinking of the Lord of the Rings at this moment”.

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Official portrait of President Donald J. Trump. Wikimedia Commons

“Specifically when Frodo offers the ring to Galadrial (Galadriel) and she imagines using the power righteously, at first, but knows it will eventually corrupt her,” he wrote.

“As tempting as it is to use the tools available to us to change the outcome, I am confident we must never do that or we will become that which we fear.”

“To be clear, I’m no fan of Trump. I donated the max to Hillary,” he tried to clarify his stand.

Bosworth said that it is worth reminding everyone that Russian interference was real but it was mostly not done through advertising.

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“$100,000 in ads on Facebook can be a powerful tool but it can’t buy you an American election, especially when the candidates themselves are putting up several orders of magnitude more money on the same platform (not to mention other platforms),” he wrote.

Instead, the Russians worked to exploit existing divisions in the American public for example by hosting Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter protest events in the same city on the same day.

“Misinformation was also real and related but not the same as Russian interference,” Bosworth mentioned, admitting that Cambridge Analytica was one of the more acute cases where the details were almost all wrong. (IANS)