The World Today for May 07, 2018



A Nobel Idea

North and South Korean troops have removed loudspeakers that blared propaganda at each other from the opposing sides of the demilitarized zone on their border.

The moves were the first tangible goodwill gestures that arose from the historic meeting late last month between North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, wrote Al Jazeera last week.

Denuclearization and ending the technical state of war between the two countries were also on the two leaders’ agenda.

It’s hard to tell how North Koreans feel about the meeting. They live in a brutal dictatorship where public sentiment means little and speech is strictly controlled.

But Reuters reported that South Koreans are optimistic. More than 64 percent believe the North will end its nuclear program, according to a Realmeter poll taken on the day the two leaders met, compared to about 15 percent who responded that way before the summit.

North Korea’s neighbors – China, Japan and Russia – were also positive about the meeting.

But, as the New York Times noted, leaders in Beijing, Tokyo and Moscow also realized that the hard work to achieve a sustainable peace has just begun.

Some observers are cynical.

“Nice try, North Korea and South Korea, but your pledges are airy, empty confections,” read the headline of an opinion piece in the Los Angeles Times by Heritage Foundation fellow Bruce Klingner.

Leaders on the Korean peninsula have met before. Judging by Kim and Moon’s joint declaration after their April 27 summit, wrote Klingner, this recent summit will likely result in as much as the previous ones.

“Its boilerplate language and ideas have been lifted from previous agreements and joint statements, in 1972, 1992, 2000 and 2007,” he argued. “Can Moon and Kim be penalized for plagiarism?

In the Washington Post, the co-founder of the nonprofit Pacific Century Institute, Spencer Kim, opined that the peace train had already left the station. North Korea’s “Kim cannot now say, ‘Oops, I misread the situation – let’s go back to being poor but proud with nukes,’” wrote Spencer Kim.

Everyone agrees President Donald Trump will be crucial to finalizing a peace pact.

South Korean media reported that Trump is likely to meet Kim in the city-state of Singapore, though Trump, known for his spontaneous decisions, may stick with Panmunjom, the village where the April summit took place, according to the Daily Beast.

NBC News reported that Trump is open to removing troops from South Korea – an idea that one might describe as foolish or genius, depending on one’s perspective. (White House Chief of Staff John Kelly supposedly was in the former camp.)

Moon has said Trump should receive a Nobel Peace Prize if he helps end this decades-long standoff, said CNN. Maybe that’s why North Korea opted on Sunday to slam US moves to shift military assets into the region and bring up the Hermit Kingdom’s human rights violations, USA Today reported. A spokesman for the North’s foreign ministry said it wasn’t US threats that prompted the peace negotiations, and the recent deployment of eight US F-22 stealth fighter jets to an annual joint South Korea-US air training is “a dangerous attempt to ruin the hard-won atmosphere of dialogue and bring the situation back to square one.”

Still, lots of Trump loyalists are taking the “crazy” Nobel idea very seriously. Perhaps that’s not so loony. After all, if he does achieve real peace, the president would be raising the art of the deal to a whole new level.



Poll Power

Preliminary results show Hezbollah and its political allies winning more than half the seats in Lebanon’s first parliamentary election in nine years on Sunday, a sign of Iran’s growing influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.

If confirmed, the results would give the Tehran-backed Shi’ite group a simple majority, but make Western-backed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri the Sunni Islamic leader with the biggest bloc in the 128-seat parliament, Reuters reported.

That would likely position him to form the next government, the agency said. Under the country’s sectarian power-sharing system, the prime minister must be a Sunni. Like the present government, the next one will likely include all the major parties.

The final tally is expected later Monday morning.

An anti-Hezbollah alliance led by Hariri and backed by Saudi Arabia won a majority in parliament in 2009. No election was held in 2013 because leaders could not agree on a new parliamentary election law. The latest polls reflect the disintegration of Hariri’s alliance and a shift in the Saudis’ focus to Yemen.


Investigating Investigators

Nicaragua’s Congress set up a commission to look into the deaths of dozens of anti-government demonstrators. But student organizations and other critics have demanded an independent probe that includes international bodies, saying the congressional commission will be packed with pro-government voices.

Speaker Gustavo Porras said the five-member panel would be free to run the investigation without interference from the Congress, the BBC reported. The commission is expected to report on its findings within three months.

Rights groups say that at least 45 people were killed during a crackdown on anti-government protests over the last few weeks. The demonstrations began over President Daniel Ortega’s pension reforms but evolved into cries against Ortega’s alleged efforts to concentrate power in the hands of himself and his wife. The central question for the new commission: Did anyone order the killings?

By far the deadliest unrest in Nicaragua since nearly three decades of war ended in 1990, the crisis has become the most critical threat to Ortega’s presidency since he was re-elected in 2007, the New York Times said.


Breaking Free?

Zimbabwe’s new president has already shown signs he may deliver the democratic reforms he promised when he took over in November from longtime strongman Robert Mugabe. But not everybody is happy about the changes.

Some critics say President Emmerson Mnangagwa is going too far, while others say he’s just tinkering with fringe issues to burnish his image in the lead-up to elections this July, the Associated Press reported.

Last month, Zimbabwe welcomed a popular musician back from exile in the US to perform protest songs to huge crowds on the outskirts of Harare and allowed the capital’s annual arts festival to invite a South African band that had been banned for mocking Mugabe to headline the event.

The arrests of political activists and opposition officials have waned. And Zimbabweans are openly criticizing the government without fear of retribution.

Mnangagwa has mostly been lauded for those changes. But many decried his moves to legalize marijuana farming and allow commercial sex workers to exhibit at the Zimbabwe International Trade Fair as taking liberalization too far.


Energy on Ice

Traditional nuclear power plants often face ire from environmentalists – and a newly developed floating nuclear fortress out of Russia is shaping up to be no exception, NPR reported.

Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom recently launched what’s considered to be the first seafaring nuclear power plant, according to Russian officials.

Towed out of St. Petersburg last month, the plant will be floated to the northern port of Murmansk to load up on nuclear fuel and will eventually replace an existing nuclear facility in the Arctic port of Pevek.

Rosatom says that the mobile plant will help power remote areas and port cities, as well as offshore gas and oil platforms.

Critics, however, have dubbed the project “Chernobyl on ice” and fear what could happen in the event of a meltdown.

Such fears led Greenpeace to collect over 11,000 signatures against a proposal to fuel the plant near St. Petersburg, halting progress on that front, despite Rosatom’s assurances that the facility “exceeds all possible threats and makes nuclear reactors invincible for tsunamis and other natural disasters.”

While Greenpeace has called the floating plant a “senseless technological solution,” it’s not the first time such a project has been proposed.

A US power company also once planned to create offshore nuclear energy only 11 miles off the coast of Atlantic City, but scrapped the idea due to popular resistance, the New Yorker reported in 1975.

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