The World Today for November 14, 2018

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Kimchi Diplomacy

Around 17,000 schoolchildren in North Korea recently held a gymnastics show called “Glorious Country.” The show didn’t include the usual militarism that marks such celebrations in the Hermit Kingdom, wrote the New York Times.

Instead, the spectacle alluded to talks between US President Donald Trump, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in to defuse military tensions on the peninsula.

In another sign of warming relations, North Korea recently sent its sweeter, lighter kimchi to a major food festival in Seoul. CNN said the inclusion of the cabbage dish was a sign of the rapprochement between the two countries.

The international community might not want to believe the hype, though.

The United States and North Korea recently postponed high-level talks without explanation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had been scheduled to meet with North Korean officials in New York on Nov. 8, but the meeting was called off at the last minute. The talks, which had been billed as preliminary to a second summit between Trump and Kim, “will now take place at a later date,” the State Department said.

The announcement was the latest worrying sign that Trump and Kim’s first summit, held in June, achieved less than either leader would like everyone to believe.

“Since then, little headway has been made and both sides appear to be hardening their negotiating positions,” NBC reported.

North Korea wants concessions from the US before it abandons its nuclear program, while the White House is demanding full denuclearization as a precondition for pulling its troops from the peninsula, according to the Washington Post.

At an impasse, both sides now show signs of backpedaling.

The US, for example, was supposed to cancel military exercises with South Korea. But the Pentagon still holds “unit-level training” with South Korea to maintain readiness, the Military Times wrote.

Russian leaders are also reportedly talking to Kim about a visit.

South Korea appears to be happy to keep an open mind about its northern neighbor. But South Korean leaders are also busy with other issues.

They recently apologized on behalf of their military for the rapes of women during a crackdown on pro-democracy activists in 1980, Agence France-Presse reported. Seoul is also tussling with Japan over forced labor during Japan’s colonial rule of Korea in the early 20th century.

In the National Interest, Korea expert Sung-Yoon Lee noted how today’s gridlock has historical precedents. Shifting alliances often left the Korean peninsula exposed to Chinese or Japanese aggression, he said, arguing that the US has helped break that cycle and preserved South Korea’s freedom and prosperity.

The question is whether the US can still play that role or whether the regional powers want to be left to their own potentially catastrophic devices.



Defending Democracy

Not long after the US invaded Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden and crush al Qaeda, the mission morphed into a fight to oust the Taliban, defend human rights and restore democracy. Nowadays, though, it appears it’s the Afghan government that’s fighting for elections.

This week, a spokesman for Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refuted a Wall Street Journal report that Afghanistan could push back the upcoming presidential elections to entice the Taliban into peace talks, ThinkProgress reported.

Afghanistan “is fully committed to hold the 2019 presidential elections as per the Afghan constitution,” spokesman Haroon Chakhansuri said via Twitter. “Continuity in a democratic process is a must and any other proposal than the will of Afghans which is outlined in our constitution is simply not acceptable.”

So far, there’s no official US proposal to amend plans for elections in April. But sources close to the situation told ThinkProgress that decision-makers had begun discussing a “post-Ghani” Afghanistan ruled by a “broad-based government” that would presumably include the Taliban without mentioning elections.


Delayed, Not Denied

Seven years after the ouster and killing of Muammar Gaddafi, no single group or leader is powerful enough to hold sway over all of Libya. Even so, this week the two strongest rivals met for the first time in more than five months and agreed to hold elections next year.

Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj met with military strongman Khalifa Hiftar in Italy Tuesday, following last week’s cancellation of a UN plan to hold elections next month, Reuters reported. Though no diplomatic breakthroughs were announced, negotiators said both leaders appeared to be committed to a constitutional conference and then elections in 2019.

There’s a tough road ahead. The UN blamed an uptick in violence for its decision to scrap plans for elections next month. And though it was encouraging that Hiftar showed up for the conference and shook hands with Serraj, Hiftar skipped the final summit photo.

Currently, Serraj’s weak government controls the capital Tripoli and the western part of the country, while Hiftar controls most of eastern Libya.


Exit This Way

Britain and the European Union finally agreed on a draft plan for Britain’s exit from the bloc, setting the stage for a new round of machinations and deliberations among Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet ministers.

May’s ministers will review the draft early Wednesday and meet to discuss it at 2 p.m. local time, the New York Times reported, noting that the as-yet-undisclosed plan for handling the Irish border is likely to be contentious. The stakes are particularly high for May. If hardliners in her cabinet reject the draft outright, she could well lose her position at the top of the Conservative party, the Times said.

According to the UK’s Guardian newspaper, the prime minister is braced for some resignations, and could probably survive the departure of one or two cabinet members. If she surmounts that hurdle, May will still have to go back to Brussels to cement the deal later this month and then convince parliament to approve it.

On the other hand, May’s supporters believe it will be harder to say no to an actual deal on the table than it has been to dither over a theoretical one.


Banking on Seeds

Plants worldwide are disappearing at a fast rate. One in five of the world’s species is believed to be at risk of extinction.

So researchers from Kew Gardens’ Millennium Seed Bank in the UK recently grew an oak tree in a test tube, the BBC reported.

It is one of the many procedures scientists are using to preserve seeds of wild plants that cannot be stored through conventional means.

“Not all the plant species can be banked in the way of dried seeds in the freezer like we do in the seed bank,” says Kew’s Daniel Ballesteros. “For example, we have the oaks and the chestnut that have desiccation-sensitive seeds. If we dry them, we kill them.”

Scientists are now looking at cryopreservation techniques to protect hard-to-store seeds of crops like coffee, chocolate and avocados, as well as oaks.

Through cryopreservation, they can extract the plant’s embryo from the seed and freeze it for later usage.

But more investment is needed for researchers to reach their goal of conserving about 75 percent of the world’s threatened plants by 2020.

Currently, the bank houses nearly 40,000 species in its vaults, kept at minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit. It wants to have tens of thousands more.

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