The World Today for February 22, 2019

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Second Time’s a Charm

When US intelligence reports said North Korea had launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in July 2017, President Donald Trump was skeptical.

“He thought that North Korea did not have the capability to launch such missiles,” wrote former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe in his new memoir, “The Threat.” “He said he knew this because Vladimir Putin had told him so.”

The Washington Post’s review of the book took McCabe’s claims seriously.

That’s food for thought for the White House and Americans as Trump prepares to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for a second summit in Vietnam on Feb. 27 and 28.

The first summit in Singapore last year was historic. But critics like Oxford University scholar Edward Howell, a Korea expert who recently wrote an opinion piece in the South China Morning Post, said it yielded little in terms of concrete gains.

Tensions with North Korea have eased but the Hermit Kingdom has demonstrated “little to no verifiable change” in its military capabilities, the top American general in South Korea told the Senate recently, CNN reported.

The United Nations similarly sounded alarms recently over North Korea working hard to protect its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities from future military strikes, reported Reuters.

Japan has accused North Korea of dodging sanctions by transferring fuel and other contraband via ships at sea, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation wrote. The illegal imports reflect how North Korean trade with China has stalled, raising the possibility that North Korea might be part of a final deal to end the trade war between the US and China.

American, Chinese and North Korean diplomats are now engaged in tricky trade negotiations that Nikkei Asian Review likened to a three-way chess game. Chinese and American officials want to open up North Korea’s markets, after all. Maybe Kim will see how Vietnam has flourished after securing good relations with the US, argued the Atlantic magazine. The Associated Press recently showed that North Korean pop culture, remarkably, has developed in recent years, too, heralding a population who might be open to a more consumerist economy.

The coming summit, in other words, is a remarkable opportunity if Trump and Kim can succeed beyond smiles and photo opportunities. “The Vietnam summit this month will determine whether real denuclearization of North Korea is possible ever, and how much Washington is willing to pay for it,” wrote Foreign Policy.

Trump is a businessman. He’s met his partner face-to-face once before. Now it’s time to seal a deal.   



The Enemy of My Enemy…

The two strongest foes of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming election have joined forces, increasing the likelihood that Israel could see a centrist candidate unseat the right-wing leader.

Netanyahu’s Likud party trailed for the first time in the polls after the announcement Thursday of an alliance between the parties of former military chief Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid, Reuters reported.

If their new Blue and White party manages to form the next government, Gantz and Lapid have agreed they would each serve as prime minister in turn. Polls showed Blue and White winning 36 seats in the 120-member parliament, with Likud getting 26 in one survey and 30 in another, in the April 9 election.

But Netanyahu also helped facilitate a merger of two far-right parties, Jewish Home and Jewish Power, that could aid him in forming a coalition government despite facing possible indictment in three corruption investigations.


A Ban By Any Other Name

Germany’s parliament voted to relax restrictions that previously banned doctors from “advertising” abortions.

The decision was a compromise between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union and her junior coalition partners, the center-left Social Democrats, the Associated Press reported.

The Social Democrats wanted the ban eliminated altogether, while Merkel’s conservatives wanted it to remain. In the end, the ban will remain formally in place but hospitals will be able to say on their websites that they perform abortions, without providing additional details about the related services.

Abortion is legal in Germany through the first trimester but the ban on publicizing the service was instituted during the 1930s, when the Nazis wanted to boost the birth rate, the UK’s Guardian newspaper noted.

Changing the provision came under discussion last year after physician Kristina Hänel was fined €6,000 (around $6,800) for listing abortion services on her website and providing information about the procedure.

The compromise comes as other clashes over abortion rights heat up around the world.


Pinpricks, and Light

While China and the US are still far from an agreement in their trade dispute, they’ve begun to outline the bones of an agreement, marking the most significant progress so far toward ending their seven-month trade war, Reuters reported.

Negotiators are drafting memorandums of understanding on six issues: forced technology transfer and cyber theft, intellectual property rights, services, currency, agriculture, and non-tariff barriers to trade, sources familiar with the talks told the news agency.

Several Chinese government sources said the two sides have effectively reached a deal on easing trade imbalances, but they’re still ironing out differences on each other’s “core demands.” For the US, that most likely means forced technology transfers and intellectual property violations primarily, but also non-tariff barriers ranging from government subsidies to Chinese firms to licensing procedures that give local companies the upper hand.

Optimism aside, time is running out before the March 1 deadline when US tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods will otherwise increase from 10 percent to 25 percent.


No Wall, Yet

Officials of Novaya Zemlya declared a state of emergency after an invasion of hungry creatures flooded their cold archipelago in northern Russia.

Polar bears had arrived in force, CBS News reported.

Since December, more than 50 bears have entered the town of Belushya Guba, pop. 3,000, chasing locals and breaking into homes while looking for food.

Russian federal authorities refused to give residents permission to shoot them as the animals are officially endangered. Nonviolent methods – such as vehicle and dog patrols – failed at shooing the animals away.

“People are scared, they are afraid to leave their homes. … Parents are frightened to let their children go to schools and kindergartens,” said local official Alexander Minayev.

While it is not possible to wall off the region, 24-hour patrols, a “human wall,” were able to keep the bears away in the past few days.

In fact, environmental officials declared the invasion over, Agence France-Presse reported.

Some scientists believe that global warming might be the cause of the “invasion.” The melting Arctic ice is forcing the bears to move to land in search of food, consequently leading to more encounters with humans.

Authorities, on the other hand, said that a garbage pit had attracted the hungry creatures.

They are now taking measures to clean up the area. Still, many believe the bears will come back.

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