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Trump Defends Kim, Downplays Concern About North Korea

U.S. President Donald Trump and his national security adviser are publicly at odds about the seriousness of the threat

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Trump, Kim, North Korea, Defends
Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe welcomes U.S. President Donald Trump upon his arrival at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, Chiba prefecture, Japan, May 26, 2019. VOA

U.S. President Donald Trump and his national security adviser are publicly at odds about the seriousness of the threat currently posed by North Korea.

In a Sunday morning tweet from Tokyo, Trump issued a retort to John Bolton who the previous day here had told reporters that there was “no doubt” North Korea’s recent test firing of short-range ballistic missiles violated a United Nations resolution.

Bolton’s remark was the first by a U.S. official describing the North Korean launches as a violation of U.N. resolutions.

“North Korea fired off some small weapons which disturbed some of my people and others, but not me,” said Trump in his tweet.

Trump, Kim, North Korea, Defends
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un meet during the second U.S.-North Korea summit at the Sofitel Legend Metropole hotel in Hanoi, Feb. 28, 2019. VOA

But some analysts say the missile launches are indeed a concern.

“It’s pretty clear the missile launch was a violation of U.N. sanctions, whatever the range. The reality is that U.S. forces and civilians in South Korea and Japan are already in range of North Koreans missiles, so accepting shorter or mid-range missiles puts the United States at risk, not to mention our allies Japan and the Republic of Korea,” Kevin Maher, a Washington security consultant and a former head of the State Department’s Office of Japan Affairs, told VOA. “These realities are inconvenient if the objective is to show a personal relationship with the dictator Kim Jong Un will stop North Korea’s continuing nuclear and missile programs.”

The U.S. president also expressed confidence the North Korean leader “will keep his promise to me” in moving toward denuclearization.

In the tweet, Trump also said he smiled when Kim called former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden “a low IQ individual.”

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The initial presidential tweet misspelled the Democratic Party presidential contender’s name as “Bidan” and was later replaced. And it was not Kim who made the disparaging remark about Biden, rather an unsigned commentary carried by North Korea’s central news agency, which referred to the American politician as a “fool of low IQ” and an “imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being.”

Trump concluded his tweet by stating that perhaps Kim was trying “to send me a signal” — apparently a reference that the leader in Pyongyang prefers to negotiate with the current American president over the opposition party’s top-polling contender.

Trump and Kim have held two summits, in Singapore and Hanoi. Neither has led to any significant breakthroughs, although the meetings were seen as reducing tensions between the two countries, which have no diplomatic relations and whose leaders had never met before.

The United States and North Korea were belligerents in a three-year war in the early 1950s that devastated the Korean Peninsula. It ended with an armistice, but no peace treaty has ever been signed.

Bolton comment

Bolton, who 13 months ago replaced retired Army General H.R. McMaster as the president’s national security adviser, is known as a hardliner who distrusts Pyongyang’s intentions.

Trump, Kim, North Korea, Defends
U.S. President Donald Trump and Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe play golf at Mobara Country Club in Mobara, Chiba prefecture, Japan May 26, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. VOA

North Korea has a long track record of violating international agreements and has repeatedly defied U.N. sanctions against its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.

Trump fired off his tweet shortly before taking a helicopter from Tokyo to the Mobara Country Club in nearby Chiba prefecture.

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Japanese Prime Minister Abe, dressed in a blue blazer and white pants, rolled up in a golf cart to meet Trump, who was wearing a red jacket and carrying a red hat in his hand.

After some hours on the golf course, the two leaders viewed bouts of sumo before the U.S. president awarded the large and heavy President’s Cup (quickly nicknamed the Trump Cup’) to champion Asanoyama, a 177-kilogram (390-pound) wrestler who clinched the Summer Grand Tournament the previous day.

Trump, Kim, North Korea, Defends
U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to present the President’s Cup to wrestler Asanoyama, the winner of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokigikan Sumo Hall in Tokyo, May 26, 2019.U.S. President Donald Trump prepares to present the President’s Cup to wrestler Asanoyama, the winner of the Summer Grand Sumo Tournament at Ryogoku Kokigikan Sumo Hall in Tokyo, May 26, 2019. VOA

“That was an incredible evening at sumo,” Trump told reporters as he and first lady Melania Trump joined Prime Minister and Mrs. Abe for dinner at a Tokyo restaurant where the food is served on long paddles. Trump said he personally “bought that beautiful trophy, which you’ll have hopefully for many hundreds of years.”

Trump on Monday meets Japan’s new emperor, Naruhito, who hosts a state dinner for the visiting president that evening. In between, Trump holds a formal meeting with Abe in which they are expected to discuss trade and defense matters.

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No quick breakthrough on trade is expected, although both leaders have expressed a desire for a bilateral trade pact after Trump pulled the United States out of the comprehensive 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership, which Tokyo had spearheaded with Washington under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama.

Following the golf outing, Trump tweeted that no trade deal would be made until after July’s elections for some of the seats in the upper house of Japan’s Diet (parliament).

Trump, Kim, North Korea, Defends
U.S. President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania Trump, receives a plate of food from a chef as they and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his wife Akie Abe have dinner in Tokyo, May 26, 2019. VOA

Later at dinner, the president said, “the prime minister and I talked a lot today about trade and military and various others things. I think we had a very productive day.”

Before Trump departs Japan on Tuesday, he is to visit the naval base at Yokosuka to tour a Japanese helicopter carrier and address American service personnel in conjunction with the U.S. Memorial Day holiday (observed Monday). (VOA)

Next Story

Trump’s Withdrawal from West Asia Synchronizing with his “Pivot to Asia”

This, when Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping will also be circling around that issue and addressing a host of others

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Trump, Asia, Dore Gold
Surely, Imran Khan will carry the peace message, but he will also unfurl his Jammu and Kashmir agenda before the Iranian leadership. Pixabay

When Dore Gold, one of the most powerful voices in Israel’s strategic community, raises his hands, skywards, and exclaims, “Today I feel as vulnerable as the Kurds”, who have been abandoned by Donald Trump, one fact can be cast in stone: West Asia has changed. A panic war cannot be ruled out. But war with whom? Situated in a comparable circumstance, Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammad bin Salman, on his knees in Yemen and the Aramco compound, is flourishing the flag of peace at Tehran. But then who hit the Iranian tanker outside Jeddah? These regional conflicts will not tamely wind down; they will zig-zag their way out.

The Saudi “messenger” to Tehran, happens to be Pakistan’s Prime Minister. Surely, Imran Khan will carry the peace message, but he will also unfurl his Jammu and Kashmir agenda before the Iranian leadership. This, when Narendra Modi and Xi Jinping will also be circling around that issue and addressing a host of others. It must be clear as daylight to New Delhi that Trump’s withdrawal from West Asia is synchronizing with his “pivot to Asia”, which means expanded conflict with China. Western media’s dedicated coverage of the disturbances in Hong Kong, human rights in Xinxiang, all signal a long-term Sino-US standoff. Since the days of Manmohan Singh as Prime Minister, India has been active in the “Quard” with Japan, Australia and the US. Ambiguities in the international system made it possible to play both the options – quard and bilateral relations with Beijing. But Trump is likely to be more jealous as US-China tensions rise? New Delhi will have to toss up a coin with the same image on both sides.

It is exactly 33 years ago that President Ronald Reagan and the General Secretary of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev mooted such innovative arms control ideas at Reykjavik, Iceland, that even strategist like Henry Kissinger found them unacceptably radical. And yet, when sense sank in, the intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed the next year paving the way to a changed world order. Change is in air, but of a different order.

Trump has been characteristically blunt. “The United States has spent $ eight trillion fighting in and policing the Middle East (West Asia). Thousands of our great soldiers have died or been badly wounded. Millions of people have died on the other side.”

Trump, Asia, Dore Gold
The Saudi “messenger” to Tehran, happens to be Pakistan’s Prime Minister. Pixabay

“Going into the Middle East is the worst decision ever made in the history of our country. We went to war under a false and now disproven premise: weapons of mass destruction. There were none.” This is Trump’s rationale for “slowly and carefully bringing our great soldiers and military home”. He says his focus is on the Big Picture. “USA is now greater than ever before.” That is his line for the 2020 elections.

Trump has been making allegations against his predecessors even before. Watch his interview to Jake Tapper of the CNN on the eve of the 2016 elections. He was vehement that Obama and Hillary Clinton spent millions “in Syria which, in fact, went to terrorists”. Soon after this allegation, Obama’s Defence Secretary, Ashton Carter, told a Congressional hearing before live TV cameras that a $500 million project to train militants had to be terminated because the “Jihadis” so trained had walked away with all the expensive equipment and joined some other group.

This was quite as mysterious as the origins of the Islamic State. The sudden establishment of the Islamic state in Mosul remains an uninvestigated whodunit. When the IS charged towards Baghdad in 2014, wielding the latest arms mounted on Humvees straight from the showroom, sources in Baghdad and Najaf were quite convinced that the IS was a US project.

What Erdogan has been offered is a poisoned chalice. This is clear as daylight in Trump’s own words. The tone is of malicious glee: “Turkey, Europe, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Russia and the Kurds will now have to figure the situation out.”

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The recipe for the countries listed above to stew in their own juices is available possibly unknowingly even in Turkish statements. The Kurdish forces Erdogan is bombing had in their custody thousands of Islamic State detainees, many of them foreigners. State Department spokesmen are on record: “The US has pressed France, Germany and other European nations to take back captured IS fighters, but they refused.” In fact Turkish sources have amplified this statement. Some 12,000 IS fighters are distributed over seven prisons in north-east Syria. Of these, 4,000 are “foreigners”, which means neither Syrian nor Iraqi. List of IS members and their families taken back by western countries is almost comical: France (18 children), US (16 adults and children), Germany (fewer than 10), Australia (8 children), Sweden (7 children) and Norway (5 children). It is in the nature of groups like the IS to slip through even well laid nets. How many IS fighters are lying low in Syria’s north is anybody’s guess. But the Kurds along the Syria-Turkey border, who kept a steady gaze on the IS will now be hopelessly distracted by the Turkish offensive. Until the other day, the US was with the Kurds. What if these IS jihadis are let loose, say, across the border into Turkey? Erdogan will have to cope with trouble makers of a more lethal make than the Syrian Kurds.

Pundits like New York Times, Thomas Friedman, see West Asia exposed to a different kind of danger as a result of US withdrawal. Ever since the Iraq-Syria border was opened, the Iranians have an easy land bridge from Tehran, Iraq, Syria to Lebanon. Friedman’s anxiety is that this “tightening of the noose around Israel” will now go unchecked because that was one of the roles the US played in the region. “This brings the Iran-Israel shadow war into the open.” By the act of pulling out, Trump has set several cats among several flocks of pigeons all over the place. (IANS)