Get Task & Purpose in your inbox
North Korea stands up Trump administration once again
BANGKOK — The Trump administration was hoping to quietly resume nuclear-disarmament talks with North Koreans at a major Asian summit here this week. But Pyongyang's officials were a no-show, once again snubbing U.S. envoys and casting fresh doubts about President Trump's initiative to persuade Kim Jong Un to shed his ample nuclear arsenal.
Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo attended the annual meeting of a 10-nation bloc of Southeastern Asian countries, which concluded Saturday in Bangkok. And it was expected he would meet with his North Korean counterpart. But Pyongyang's foreign minister, Ri Yong-ho, canceled his trip to Bangkok at the last minute for undisclosed reasons.
"We stand ready to continue our diplomatic conversation with the North Koreans," Pompeo said after it became clear there was no one to meet with. "I regret that it looks like I'm not going to have an opportunity to do that while I'm here in Bangkok."
In addition to skipping the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations conference, or ASEAN, North Korea launched two ballistic missile tests during the summit. While such tests are not banned as part of any nuclear agreement, many observers assessed that the North Korean leader was reminding the world of his military capabilities.
Trump, following an unprecedented encounter with Kim in June in the demilitarized zone dividing North Korea and South Korea, said he was confident talks would resume soon. Trump began his courting of Kim in a historic summit between the two leaders in Singapore last year, but it seemed to fall apart in a contentious session in Hanoi.
The administration is still waiting for North Korea to name a working group to hold technical talks with a U.S. team led by special envoy Stephen Biegun. Biegun also attended the Bangkok conference in anticipation of talks with the North Koreans that did not materialize.
When not dealing directly with Trump, North Korean officials have often snubbed or attacked U.S. counterparts. They accused Pompeo of making "gangster-like" claims last year, and have failed to attend meetings or even answer the phone at times as Americans attempted to relaunch talks.
Attempting to make a deal with Kim is arguably Trump's largest foreign policy gamble. Despite his proclamations of an excellent relationship with Kim and a diminished nuclear threat from the country, North Korea has stuck to what veteran diplomats call its traditional playbook of missed meetings, broken pledges and feints for time.
Trump, however, seeks to portray his dealings with North Korea as a triumph as he heads into his reelection campaign. The most bellicose rhetoric from Kim's government, which Trump matched in kind, has indeed subsided. But no progress in significant denuclearization has been recorded. And, the Trump-Kim Hanoi summit earlier this year broke down, U.S. officials said, when Pyongyang demanded broad relief from economic sanctions imposed by the international community in exchange for a limited shut-down of a portion of its nuclear infrastructure.
Rather than acknowledge any failure in negotiating with North Korea, the Trump administration seems to have reduced its expectations. Officials recently said an interim arrangement of freezing North Korea's nuclear capabilities where they are, instead of eliminating them, might be an acceptable short-term position until a longer term agreement is reached. This would please Kim, whose primary goal, experts say, is to be recognized as a member of the club of global nuclear powers.
U.S. officials say that "communication" does continue between Washington and Pyongyang, though it is not clear at what level. The officials said North Korea's failure to attend the ASEAN conference was both telling and damaging for Kim's position.
It "didn't keep North Korea from being a major topic of discussion," a senior State Department official told a small group of reporters in Bangkok. "If anything, the absence of North Korea allowed for a more open and candid discussion on how to achieve the goals of diplomacy that President Trump has laid out."
The official, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss diplomatic matters, said North Korea's actions — including the missile tests — have galvanized international determination to rein in Kim.
"Unfortunately, the North Koreans missed this opportunity," the official said.
State Department officials acknowledged that the missile tests were a "provocation" that were "unwelcome." They insisted that Pyongyang was squandering any international support it might have.
"And those provocations, paired with a failure to follow through on their own commitments to engage in diplomacy, were noticed by virtually every country attending this summit meeting over the last three days," the official said.
"And there is a common view that this is a huge mistake and a self-inflicted damage on their own part."
Pompeo used the Bangkok meetings to solidify Chinese support for efforts with North Korea and to help resolve disputes between Japan and South Korea over trade and other issues. China wields considerable influence over North Korea as its main trading partner and has publicly supported sanctions against Pyongyang while at the same time, on occasion, subverting them. Japan and South Korea, also, are key to a united front putting pressure on North Korea.
In contrast to his diplomats, Trump, who ranks his perceived personal relationships with other world leaders over a clearly articulated policy, has downplayed North Korea's recalcitrance.
"Chairman Kim does not want to disappoint me," Trump said on Twitter Friday. "Chairman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country, and only the United States, with me as President, can make that vision come true. He will do the right thing because he is far too smart not to, and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump."
©2019 the Los Angeles Times. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Retired Army Master Sgt. Mark Allen has died 10 years after he was shot in the head while searching for deserter Pvt. Bowe Bergdahl in Afghanistan.
Allen died on Saturday at the age of 46, according to funeral information posted online.
For U.S. service members who have fought alongside the Kurds, President Donald Trump's decision to approve repositioning U.S. forces in Syria ahead of Turkey's invasion is a naked betrayal of valued allies.
"I am ashamed for the first time in my career," one unnamed special operator told Fox News Jennifer Griffin.
In a Twitter thread that went viral, Griffin wrote the soldier told her the Kurds were continuing to support the United States by guarding tens of thousands of ISIS prisoners even though Turkey had nullified an arrangement under which U.S. and Turkish troops were conducting joint patrols in northeastern Syria to allow the Kurdish People's Protection Units, or YPG, to withdraw.
"The Kurds are sticking by us," the soldier told Griffin. "No other partner I have ever dealt with would stand by us."
Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Sunday he and the Pentagon will comply with House Democrats' impeachment inquiry subpoena, but it'll be on their own schedule.
"We will do everything we can to cooperate with the Congress," Esper said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "Just in the last week or two, my general counsel sent out a note — as we typically do in these situations — to ensure documents are retained."
Most of the U.S. troops in Syria are being moved out of the country as Turkish forces and their Arab allies push further into Kurdish territory than originally expected, Task & Purpose has learned.
Roughly 1,000 U.S. troops are withdrawing from Syria, leaving a residual force of between 100 and 150 service members at the Al Tanf garrison, a U.S. official said.
"I spoke with the president last night after discussions with the rest of the national security team and he directed that we begin a deliberate withdrawal of forces from northern Syria," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Sunday's edition of CBS News' "Face the Nation."'
More than 700 women and children affiliated with ISIS escape Kurdish prison camp after Turkish shelling
BEIRUT/ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Women affiliated with Islamic State and their children fled en masse from a camp where they were being held in northern Syria on Sunday after shelling by Turkish forces in a five-day-old offensive, the region's Kurdish-led administration said.
Turkey's cross-border attack in northern Syria against Kurdish forces widened to target the town of Suluk which was hit by Ankara's Syrian rebel allies. There were conflicting accounts on the outcome of the fighting.
Turkey is facing threats of possible sanctions from the United States unless it calls off the incursion. Two of its NATO allies, Germany and France, have said they are halting weapons exports to Turkey. The Arab League has denounced the operation.