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NASA authorities step down under Donald Trump administration

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Donald Trump. Wikimedia

Washington, Jan 23, 2017: With Donald Trump promising to “unlock the mysteries of space” in his time as US President during his inaugural address, NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot has taken over as its acting administrator.

Lightfoot takes over from Charles Bolden and Dava Newman who stepped down as Administrator and Deputy Administrator, respectively, at the end of Barack Obama’s term, Space.com reported on Monday.

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“To be entrusted with this incredible agency, no matter how long, is an honour, and I commit to serving this team to the best of my ability so we can accomplish our ambitious missions and make this nation proud,” Lightfoot said in an internal memo to employees.

The Trump administration is yet to announce a name for the NASA Administrator.

Lightfoot said that the administration has appointed Erik Noble to serve as White House senior advisor and Greg Autry to be White House liaison.

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“The two are the first members of the so-called ‘beachhead team’ of administration staffers assigned to NASA, at least on a short-term basis,” the report added.

“There will be other new and familiar faces arriving at Headquarters, and we will communicate with you as often as possible to keep you apprised of those developments,” Lightfoot wrote in the statement.

Earlier, during a rally just two weeks before the election, Trump reiterated he would look to focus on exploring deep space.

“I will free NASA from the restriction of serving primarily as a logistics agency for low-Earth orbit activity – big deal. Instead, we will refocus its mission on space exploration. Under a Trump Administration, Florida and America will lead the way into the stars,” he told a rally in Florida in October.

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In what could herald a new era for NASA, Trump is also set to cut the US space agency’s budget for climate change and let it focus on sending humans on deep space exploration missions like Mars, including another “giant leap” to the Moon.

“NASA has been reduced to a logistics agency concentrating on space station resupply and politically correct environmental monitoring. We would start by having a stretch goal of exploring the entire solar system by the end of the century,” Bob Walker, who has advised Trump on space policy, told the Telegraph in November.

NASA is already working to get humans to the surface of the Red Planet by the first half of the 2030s, as instructed by Obama. But things may change under Trump.

The US space agency is already developing a capsule called Orion and a huge rocket known as the Space Launch System (SLS) to get astronauts to distant destinations such as Mars. (IANS)

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Hanoi Summit Can Progress North Korea’s Objectives

North Korea was able to establish this framework with the United States that it is more urgent to establish the confidence-building relationship between these two countries and then we can start nuclear dismantlement.

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U.S and North Korean flags are on sale at a flag shop in Hanoi, Vietnam, Jan. 29, 2019. VOA

With the second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un one week away, final preparations are underway in Vietnam for the February 27-28 talks in Hanoi. It remains unclear what the outcome between the two leaders will yield, but former North Korean Deputy Ambassador to Britain, Thae Yong Ho, told reporters Tuesday that Pyongyang’s long term goal was to remove the U.S. and United Nations presence from the Korean peninsula.

During Kim Jong Un’s New Year’s speech, he said Pyongyang called for a “staged approach” for the creation of a “peace regime” on the Korean Peninsula, said Thae.

He explained that Kim suggested a buffer zone be created that would reduce the possibility of military conflict between the two Koreas and for it to be gradually expanded from the border between the two Koreas throughout the whole peninsula as one way of achieving peace.

Thae said if President Trump issues an end of war declaration at the Hanoi summit, which many analysts say is possible, then North Korea could assert there is no reason for the U.N. Command to remain on the peninsula, because the “reason for the U.N. Command is to prevent any possible military confrontations between the two Koreas.”

Speaking at the Chey Institute for Advanced Studies in Seoul last week, Bruce Bennett, senior defense researcher at the RAND Corporation, also identified possible long-term objectives for Kim Jong Un.

“I think he wants to see U.S. disengagement from the peninsula, I think he wants to be in a position where he can put significant pressure on South Korea, and I think he needs to solidify his internal support,” said Bennett.

Regardless of the analysis by intelligence agencies and experts, Bennett said Kim’s objectives are not governed by what “we” think is possible for North Korea to achieve.

“What matters for him (Kim Jong Un), that’s what he thinks he can accomplish, because that’s going to drive those actions,” said Bennett.

Denuclearization

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office Tuesday, President Trump expects “a lot of things will come out” of the second summit with Kim Jong Un.

He called the upcoming meeting “very exciting,” but said Washington’s ultimate goal is North Korea’s denuclearization.

“I think we will see that ultimately. I have no pressing time schedule,” the president said, adding, “As long as there’s no testing, I’m in no rush. If there’s testing, that’s another deal.”

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Instead, the former diplomat suggested that North Korea’s rhetoric was aimed at Washington’s role of establishing a deterrent for conflict in the region and that President Trump “fell into his trap.” Pixabay

During President Trump’s State of the Union address, he claimed, “If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed.”

However, on Tuesday, he said the relationship was “far less dangerous and there’s a lot of sanity, a lot of really sane thinking.”

But Thae said there never really was a threat of war to the United States posed by North Korea.

Instead, the former diplomat suggested that North Korea’s rhetoric was aimed at Washington’s role of establishing a deterrent for conflict in the region and that President Trump “fell into his trap.”

“The fact that President Trump spoke at the General Assembly of the United Nations and proclaimed that there is a real possibility of a war, [was] a major strategic mistake,” said Thae.

He went on further to say the belief that the United States and North Korea were on a nuclear “collision course” was a result of North Korean manipulation.

Thae stated Kim Jong Un had successfully shifted the focus on North Korea to the strengthening of relations and establishing peace for nuclear disarmament.

“North Korea was able to establish this framework with the United States that it is more urgent to establish the confidence-building relationship between these two countries and then we can start nuclear dismantlement,” he said.

Bennett was unsure Kim would agree to fully abandon his nuclear weapons program, even if an end of war declaration is made.

If President Trump makes the declaration, Bennett said, “It’s got to end the broader war and lead to a real condition of peace as opposed to the appearance of peace.”

U.S.
Moon said South Korea was “determined to take up that role if President Trump asks, if that’s the way to lessen the U.S. burden,” according to Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom. (Pixabay)

Hanoi preparations

The State Department announced Tuesday that U.S. Special Representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, was en route to Hanoi in preparation for the summit.

“A lot of things are being discussed and we are very much looking forward to next week,” said deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino.

Kim Hyok-chol, Biegun’s North Korean counterpart, was also spotted in Beijing Tuesday, and it has been assumed he would be traveling to Vietnam as well.

In a phone call with President Trump Tuesday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke about the upcoming second U.S.-North Korea summit.

A statement from South Korea’s presidential office said Moon offered his country’s assistance to President Trump as a “concession” to Pyongyang in order to expedite North Korea’s denuclearization.

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That could include anything from reconnecting rail and road links between the two Koreas to other inter-Korean economic cooperation.

Moon said South Korea was “determined to take up that role if President Trump asks, if that’s the way to lessen the U.S. burden,” according to Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom. (VOA)