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Trump asks Pak to stop terror; Seeks bigger role for India in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON, Aug 22: Unveiling a new strategy for South Asia on Monday that has many elements of continuity from the past, President Donald Trump said the U.S troops would stay in Afghanistan for an open-ended period of time and America would no longer tolerate Pakistan’s policy of harbouring terrorists.

Trump said America’s strategic partnership with India will deepen in South Asia and the Indo-Pacfic and demanded that India make more financial contribution for the stabilisation of Afghanistan. The President linked this demand to India’s trade surplus with America saying, India makes “billions and billions of dollars” in trade.

In agreeing to continue with American engagement in Afghanistan, Trump deferred to the advise of conventional military planners in his administration. “My original instinct was to pull out, and historically I like following my instincts,” the President said, adding that once he studied the Afghanistan situation, he changed his mind.

He did not announce any increase in troops, but said the military will have more operational autonomy to pursue terrorists, and commanders have been given authority to attack whenever they chose to. “…we will also expand authority for American armed forces to target the terrorist and criminal networks that sow violence and chaos throughout Afghanistan. These killers need to know they have nowhere to hide – that no place is beyond the reach of American arms,” the President said, indicating willingness for a new wave of American offensive against Islamist groups in South Asia.

Trump sought to differentiate his policy from those of his predecessors - he is the third U.S President to oversee the country’s longest war which has entered its 16th year - by saying American involvement in Afghanistan is not for nation building but is limited to “killing terrorists.” He called this policy “Principled Realism.”

He blamed his predecessor Barack Obama, without naming him, for the mess in Afghanistan and Iraq, and said the policy “will change dramatically.” “A core pillar of our new strategy is a shift from a time-based approach to one based on conditions. I’ve said many times how counterproductive it is for the United States to announce in advance the dates we intend to begin, or end, military operations. We will not talk about numbers of troops or our plans for further military activities,” he said.

He said American would open to a negotiated political settlement with Taliban, if the situation moves in that direction.

However, what he described as “three fundamental conclusions about America’s core interests in Afghanistan” echo his predecessors George W Bush and Obama. “First: Our nation must seek an honorable and enduring outcome worthy of the tremendous sacrifices that have been made…Second: The consequences of a rapid exit are both predictable and unacceptable… A hasty withdrawal would create a vacuum that terrorists – including ISIS and Al Qaeda – would instantly fill, just as happened before September Eleventh…Third and finally, I concluded that the security threats we face in Afghanistan and the broader region are immense.”

Coming down heavily on Pakistan, Trump said twenty U.S. designated foreign terrorist organizations were active in Afghanistan and Pakistan: “the highest concentration in any region of the world. For its part, Pakistan often gives safe haven to agents of chaos, violence and terror,” Mr. Trump said, adding that the current practice of Pakistan receiving American aid and giving shelter to terrorists that target American soldiers cannot go on any longer.

“We can no longer be silent about Pakistan’s safe havens for terrorist organizations, the Taliban, and other groups that pose a threat to the region and beyond. Pakistan has much to gain from partnering with our effort in Afghanistan. It has much to lose by continuing to harbor terrorists,” he said. The Obama administration had issued similar warnings to Pakistan, and how Trump could get Pakistan to fall in line remains an open question.

“The threat is worse because Pakistan and India are two nuclear-armed states whose tense relations threaten to spiral into conflict,” the President said. “…and we must prevent nuclear weapons and materials from coming into the hands of terrorists and being used against us,” he said. In both these positions, Trump signaled continuity with the previous Obama administration.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson explained the new U.S policy as an effort to force the Taliban to negotiation. “Our new strategy breaks from previous approaches that set artificial calendar-based deadlines. We are making clear to the Taliban that they will not win on the battlefield. The Taliban has a path to peace and political legitimacy through a negotiated political settlement to end the war,” he said in a statement after the President’s speech.

North Korea delays Guam missile firing; U.S. says dialogue up to Kim Jong Un

SEOUL, Aug 16: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has delayed a decision on firing missiles towards Guam while he waits to see what the United States does, the North’s state media reported on Tuesday as the United States said any dialogue was up to Kim. The United States and South Korea have prepared for more joint military drills, which has infuriated the North, and experts warned Pyongyang could still go ahead with a provocative plan.

In his first public appearance in about two weeks, Kim inspected the command of the North’s army on Monday, examining a plan to fire four missiles aimed at landing near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, the official KCNA news agency reported.

“He said that if the Yankees persist in their extremely dangerous reckless actions on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity, testing the self-restraint of the DPRK, the latter will make an important decision as it already declared,” KCNA said.

The DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In photos released with the KCNA report, Kim was seen holding a baton and pointing at a map showing a flight path for the missiles appearing to start from North Korea’s east coast, flying over Japan toward Guam. North Korea has often threatened to attack the United States and its bases and released similar photos in the past but never followed through.

Pyongyang’s latest threat prompted a surge in tensions in the region last week, with U.S. President Donald Trump saying the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” if North Korea acted unwisely. But U.S. officials have taken a gentler tone in recent days.
Asked by reporters on Tuesday about the North Korean delay, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said it was up to Kim to decide if he wants to talk to the United States. “We continue to be interested in finding a way to get to dialogue but that’s up to him,” Tillerson told reporters.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said North Korea’s decision to hold off was not enough and Pyongyang would have to show it was “intent on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.” “I think they would have to do quite a bit more,” Nauert said, adding, “They know what they need to do to get us to come to the negotiating table."

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Tuesday his government would prevent war by all means. “Military action on the Korean peninsula can only be decided by South Korea and no one else can decide to take military action without the consent of South Korea,” Moon said in a speech to commemorate the anniversary of the nation’s liberation from Japanese military rule in 1945. “The government, putting everything on the line, will block war by all means,” Moon said.

The Liberation Day holiday, celebrated by both North and South, will be followed next week by joint U.S.-South Korean military drills. Asian shares rose for a second day on Tuesday after Kim’s comments. The U.S. dollar and Treasury yields climbed after solid U.S. retail data and the easing in U.S.-North Korean rhetoric.

North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear and missile programmes to ward off perceived U.S. hostility, in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions and sanctions. A new study by a London-based think tank and an article in the New York Times that cited it said North Korea had obtained rocket engines probably from a Ukrainian factory via illicit networks.

But U.S. intelligence officials said on Tuesday that North Korea has the ability to produce its own missile engines and intelligence suggests the country does not need to rely on imports. Japan will seek further reassurance from Washington in meetings between Japan’s defence chief and foreign minister and their U.S. counterparts on Thursday.

“The strategic environment is becoming harsher and we need to discuss how we will respond to that,” a Japanese foreign ministry official said in a briefing in Tokyo. “We will look for the U.S. to reaffirm its defence commitment, including the nuclear deterrent.” China, North Korea’s main ally and trading partner, has repeatedly urged Pyongyang to halt its weapons programme and at the same time urged South Korea and the United States to stop military drills to lower tensions.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in a telephone conversation with Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s minister for foreign affairs, said tensions on the Korean peninsula were showing some signs of easing but had not passed. The parties involved should “make a correct judgment and wise choice by taking a responsible attitude toward history and people,” Wang said, according to a statement on the Chinese foreign ministry’s website.

U.S. Senator Edward Markey, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s panel on East Asia, announced on Tuesday he would lead a delegation to Korea, Japan and China, “The unity of purpose between the United States and our allies in South Korea, Japan, and China is critical in the face of Pyongyang’s increasing nuclear threat,” Markey said in a statement.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor and military expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute of Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, urged caution in assuming North Korea was bluffing with its missile threats. “There is no stepping back for North Korea. Those who don’t know the North very well fall into this trap every time (thinking they are easing threats) but we’ve seen this before.”

The United States and South Korea remain technically at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with a truce, not a peace treaty. North Korea is currently holding three U.S. citizens it accuses of espionage or hostile acts, but now is not the right time to discuss them, KCNA reported, citing a foreign ministry spokesman. Pyongyang has used detainees to extract concessions, including high-profile visitors from the United States, which has no formal diplomatic relations with North Korea.

US adds Kashmir’s Hizbul Mujahideen to terrorism blacklist, slaps sanctions

WASHINGTON, Aug 16: The United States designated Kashmiri militant outfit Hizbul Mujahideen as a “foreign terrorist organisation” on Wednesday, nearly two months after declaring the group’s Pakistan-based chief Syed Salahuddin as a global terrorist.

The designation, which slaps a series of US sanctions on the outfit, came against the backdrop of upsurge in the terror activities of the militant group in Kashmir in recent months.

“These designations seek to deny Hizbul Mujahideen the resources it needs to carry out terrorist attacks,” the State Department said in a statement.

Among other consequences, all of Hizbul Mujahideen’s property and interests in property subject to US jurisdiction are blocked, and US persons are generally prohibited from engaging in any transactions with the group.

The US decision marks a severe blow to Pakistan which has been projecting the militant group as a voice of Kashmiri people.

Pakistan’s powerful Army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa and ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif have repeatedly praised the militant group’s slain commander Burhan Wani who was killed in July last year in an encounter in Kashmir.

Formed in 1989, Hizbul Mujahideen is one of the largest and oldest militant groups operating in Kashmir.

Hizbul Mujahideen has claimed responsibility for several attacks in Jammu and Kashmir.

The State Department said terrorism designations expose and isolate organisations and individuals, and deny them access to the US financial system. Moreover, designations can assist the law enforcement activities of US agencies and other governments, it said.

Donald Trump says U.S. is ‘locked and loaded’ in North Korea confrontation

WASHINGTON, Aug 11: President Donald Trump issued a new threat to North Korea on Friday, saying the U.S. military was “locked and loaded” as Pyongyang accused him of driving the Korean peninsula to the brink of nuclear war and world powers expressed alarm. The Pentagon said the United States and South Korea would proceed as planned with a joint military exercise in 10 days, an action sure to further antagonize North Korea.

China, Russia and Germany voiced dismay at the escalating rhetoric from Pyongyang and Washington. Trump said he would speak to Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday night. Trump, vacationing at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf resort, kept up the war of words and again referenced North Korea’s leader in his latest bellicose remarks toward Pyongyang this week. “Military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded, should North Korea act unwisely,” he wrote on Twitter. “Hopefully Kim Jong Un will find another path!”

The term “locked and loaded,” popularized in the 1949 war film “Sands of Iwo Jima” starring American actor John Wayne, refers to preparations for shooting a gun. Asked later by reporters to explain the remark, Trump said: “Those words are very, very easy to understand.” Again referring to Kim, Trump added, “If he utters one threat … or if he does anything with respect to Guam or any place else that’s an American territory or an American ally, he will truly regret it, and he will regret it fast.”

In remarks to reporters after a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, Trump said the situation with North Korea was “very dangerous and it will not continue.” “We will see what happens. We think that lots of good things could happen, and we could also have a bad solution,” he said.

Friday’s tweet by the Republican president, a wealthy businessman and former reality television personality, came after the North Korean state news agency, KCNA, put out a statement saying “Trump is driving the situation on the Korean peninsula to the brink of a nuclear war.”

Guam, the Pacific island that is a U.S. territory, posted emergency guidelines on Friday to help residents prepare for any potential nuclear attack after a threat from North Korea to fire missiles in its vicinity. “Do not look at the flash or fireball – It can blind you,” the guidelines stated. “Take cover behind anything that might offer protection.”

Guam is home to a U.S. air base, a Navy installation, a Coast Guard group and roughly 6,000 U.S. military personnel. KCNA said on Thursday the North Korean army would complete plans in mid-August to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land in the sea 18 to 25 miles (30-40 km) from Guam.

The United States, which is technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended with only a truce, wants to stop Pyongyang from developing nuclear missiles that could hit the United States. North Korea, a reclusive nation with an underdeveloped economy and few allies aside from China, sees its nuclear arsenal as protection against the United States and its partners in Asia.

Trump said he was considering additional sanctions on North Korea, adding that they would be “very strong.” Last week, the U.N. Security Council voted unanimously to impose new sanctions on Pyongyang.

Trump said he did not want to talk about diplomatic “back channels” with North Korea after U.S. media reports that Joseph Yun, the U.S. envoy for North Korea policy, has engaged in diplomacy for several months with Pak Song Il, a senior diplomat at Pyongyang’s U.N. mission, on the deteriorating relations and the issue of Americans imprisoned in North Korea.

But Daniel Russel, the former top U.S. diplomat for East Asia until April, said this so-called New York channel had been a relatively commonplace means of communication with North Korea over the years, and it was not a forum for negotiation. “It’s never been a vehicle for negotiations and this doesn’t constitute substantive U.S.-DPRK dialogue,” he said, using the acronym for North Korea’s formal name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

In Moscow, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov urged Pyongyang and Washington to sign up to a previously unveiled joint Russian-Chinese plan under which North Korea would freeze missile tests and the United States and South Korea would impose a moratorium on large-scale military exercises. Neither the United States nor North Korea has embraced the plan. Lavrov said the risks of a military conflict over North Korea’s nuclear program are very high and Moscow is deeply worried by the threats from Washington and Pyongyang.

“Unfortunately, the rhetoric in Washington and Pyongyang is now starting to go over the top,” Lavrov said on live state television at a forum for Russian students. “We still hope and believe that common sense will prevail.”

The annual joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise, called Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, is expected to proceed as scheduled starting on Aug. 21, said Lieutenant Colonel Christopher Logan, a Pentagon spokesman. Trump’s latest comments were a continuation of days of incendiary rhetoric, including his warning on Tuesday that the United States would unleash “fire and fury” on Pyongyang if it threatened the United States.

Amid the heated words, South Koreans are buying more ready-to-eat meals that could be used in an emergency and the government is planning to expand nationwide civil defense drills planned for Aug. 23. Hundreds of thousands of troops and huge arsenals are arrayed on both sides of the tense demilitarized zone between the two Koreas.

Tension in the region rose when North Korea staged two nuclear bomb tests last year and increased further when it launched two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests in July in defiance of world powers. The United Nations this month tightened sanctions on Pyongyang after it tested two ICBMs designed to carry nuclear warheads to the United States.

The damage inflicted on world stocks this week by the tensions topped $1 trillion by Friday, as investors again took cover in the yen, the Swiss franc, gold and government bonds. U.S. financial markets took the rhetorical escalation in stride on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.07 percent while the S&P 500 gained 0.13 percent and the Nasdaq Composite firmed 0.64 percent.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is no military solution to the dispute, adding that “an escalation of the rhetoric is the wrong answer.” “I see the need for enduring work at the U.N. Security Council … as well as tight cooperation between the countries involved, especially the U.S. and China,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin. Trump said hours later, “Let her speak for Germany.”

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has called a meeting of EU member states next week to discuss what action they will take regarding North Korea. There were no changes as of Friday morning in the U.S. military status in the continental United States or in the Pacific military command readiness or alert status, U.S. officials said.

China, North Korea’s most important ally and trading partner, hopes all sides can do more to help ease the crisis and increase mutual trust, rather than taking turns in shows of strength, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said. Trump on Thursday again urged China to do more to resolve the situation.

Trump threatens 'fire & fury' against N Korea

WASHINGTON, Aug 8: US President Donald Trump says North Korea "will be met with fire and fury" if it threatens the US.

His comments came after a Washington Post report, citing US intelligence officials, said Pyongyang had produced a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles.

This would mean the North is developing nuclear weapons capable of striking the US at a much faster rate than expected.

The UN recently approved further economic sanctions against the country.

The Security Council unanimously agreed to ban North Korean exports and limit investments, prompting fury from North Korea and a vow to make the "US pay a price".

The heated rhetoric between the two leaders intensified after Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July, claiming it now had the ability to hit the US.

Mr Trump told reporters on Tuesday: "North Korea best not make any more threats to the US. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen."

Trump signs Russia sanctions, likely to punish China on trade

WASHINGTON, Aug 3: US president Donald Trump on Wednesday signed a legislation that imposes new sanctions on Russia and severely limits his ability to roll them back amidst reports his administration was also mulling trade actions against China, which could escalate tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

The legislation was passed last week by both chambers of Congress with overwhelming support from both Republicans and Democrats, and Trump was expected to sign it despite his reservations, and that of his secretary of state Rex Tillerson, as it ran counter to their intention to work with Moscow, or give it a shot.

“While I favour tough measures to punish and deter aggressive and destabilising behaviour by Iran, North Korea, and Russia, this legislation is significantly flawed,” Trump said in a statement. “In its haste to pass this legislation, the Congress included a number of clearly unconstitutional provisions.”

The legislation covers sanctions against Russia, Iran and North Korea, but the part found most objectionable by President Trump was a provision that enjoins him to notify Congress and give it 30 days of advance notice to consider and block any move by him to roll back the Russia sanctions.

In another development, the Trump administration is mulling an investigation into China’s intellectual property rights regime and related market access requirements that could potentially trigger punitive trade measures, which, in turn, is bound to escalate tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

An announcement was expected this week but could be delayed because of continuing discussions about what will be the administration’s first trade action against China, marking a major shift for President Donald Trump who has sought engagement in sharp contrast to his campaign rhetoric.

The president indicated last week he might have reached the end of his patience with China, as regards its help in reining in North Korea, and complained in a tweet that China makes “hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk”.

The trade action being considered — as first reported by Axios news-site — was an investigation by the US trade representative under Section 301 of the Trade Act for alleged violation of the US intellectual property rights and for forcing foreign companies to transfer technology to their local partners and subsidiaries as a condition for entering China.

It’s a little known trade tool — rarely used since the setting up of the World Trade Organization to resolve trade disputes — that allows the administration to slap duties on imports from countries deemed by the United States to have deployed unfair trade practices.

As a candidate for the White House, Trump had railed against China accusing it of using cheating the US on trade — he went so far as to say it was “raping” the US — and had vowed tough actions against it if elected, including declaring it currency manipulator.

Once elected, however, he displayed a willingness to engage with Beijing and seemed to indicate he was willing to dial down his concerns on trade for cooperation on North Korea, and he had seemed content with Beijing’s response, conceding it had tried though without any success.

US flies bombers over N Korea; Successfully tests THAAD

WASHINGTON, July 30: Amid rising tensions over North Korea’s continued and provocative testing of missiles and the Chinese failure to rein it in, the United States flew bombers over the Korean peninsula on Sunday and followed it up with successfully testing its missile defence system.

After condemning North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, President Donald Trump zeroed in on Beijing on Saturday, saying, in a series of tweets, he was “very disappointed” in China for its failure to match its assurances with action. Its been “just talk”, he fumed.

Hours later, two supersonic B-1 bombers of the US air force flew low over the Korean peninsula on Sunday, escorted by fighters piloted by South Koreans, which, the Americans said in a statement, was a response to the Friday missile test and the one earlier in the month.

This was followed a few hours later by successful testing of THAAD —Terminal High Altitude Area Defense— which was conducted in the Pacific using a missile defence system based in Alaska. The US installed one such system in South Korea in January ignoring objections from China, which believes the system’s powerful radars can monitor its own missile systems.

Tensions between North Korea and the United States have been escalating with Pyongyang conducting a series of tests, with mixed results, since Trump took office, including and exacerbated by the death of American student Otto Warmbier who had been held in custody by North Korea for 17 months.

“I am very disappointed in China,” the president tweeted on Saturday, “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk.”

“We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”

Trump had sought Beijing’s help to force North Korea to comply with a UN-mandated ban against it testing missiles and advancing its nuclear weapons programme, hoping it will leverage its clout as Pyongyang’s largest trading partner and patron. At one stage, Trump seemed satisfied China had done its bit, even if it did not yield the desired results.

But the US president seems to have evolved since, and feels let down clearly. He threatened to put an end to Chinese prevarications on trade, which he indicated but did not spell out clearly.

And the White House had not followed up on his tweet with specific details on future actions.

The immediate cause of Trump’s irritation was North Korea successfully testing an ICBM that, according to defence experts, can hit the US mainland.

This was a second test of an intercontinental missile by North Korea in July.

The missile stayed on air for 47 minutes, and went 2,300 miles high across 621 miles. Taking a flatter trajectory, it could have potentially reached Los Angeles and Chicago, according to experts.

In a statement issued by the White House hours after the test on Friday, Trump had called it the “latest reckless and dangerous action” by North Korea, but had not blamed Chine for not doing enough.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson, however, had held not only China but also Russia responsible. “As the principal economic enablers of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development programme, China and Russia bear unique and special responsibility for this growing threat to regional and global stability,” he had said in a statement.

While Beijing condemned the test and said it “opposes North Korea’s violations” UN resolutions, it did not respond to Tillerson’s finger-pointing this time.

Earlier this month, it was less diplomatic. “Recently, certain people, talking about the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, have been exaggerating and giving prominence to the so-called ‘China responsibility theory’,” Geng Shuang, a foreign ministry spokesman, had said in Beijing.

“I think this either shows lack of a full, correct knowledge of the issue, or there are ulterior motives for it, trying to shift responsibility.”

‘If Trump asked, we'd Nuke China,' says US Navy Fleet Commander

SYDNEY, July 27: While swearing his loyalty to the commander-in-chief, the head of the largest fleet in the U.S. Navy, Admiral Scott Swift, has said he would hypothetically follow the president’s orders to launch a nuclear missile at China.

“The answer would be: yes,” said Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, when asked a question during an Australian National University security conference in the Australian capital, Canberra, the AP reported.

Swift made no suggestion that any such order had been given, but seemed to make the remark in the context of underscoring the U.S. military’s oath of allegiance to whoever holds the office of the president of the United States.

“Every member of the U.S. military has sworn an oath to defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic and to obey the officers and the president of the United States as commander and chief appointed over us,” he said.

Swift added that loyalty to the president was an important principle of civilian control over the military, since the president was elected by the U.S. population. “This is core to the American democracy and any time you have a military that is moving away from a focus and an allegiance to civilian control, then we really have a significant problem,” said Swift.

A spokesman for the U.S. Pacific Fleet, Charlie Brown, later said that the premise of the question was “ridiculous.”

The U.S. Pacific Fleet comprises around 200 ships and submarines, almost 1,100 aircraft and more than 130,000 sailors, seamen and staff. It patrols a massive 100 million-square-mile area, stretching from the West Coast of the United States and into the Indian Ocean.

The fleet also represents the first line of U.S. defense against North Korea, the totalitarian regime that has vowed to target the American mainland with a nuclear missile. U.S. naval strike groups recently carried out joint exercises with Japanese warships in the Philippines as the war rhetoric between Washington and Pyongyang has continued to intensify.

After a positive meeting between the U.S. president and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago golf resort in April, relations between the two countries have soured. Trump has grown increasingly frustrated with Beijing’s purported reluctance to rein in North Korea, even following its first-ever test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on July 4.

Earlier in July, Trump tweeted that trade between China and North Korea had grown in the first quarter, and seemed to indicate disillusionment with Beijing.

U.S. prepared to use force on North Korea 'if we must': Nikki Haley

UNITED NATIONS, July 5: The United States cautioned on Wednesday it was ready to use force if need be to stop North Korea's nuclear missile program but said it preferred global diplomatic action against Pyongyang for defying world powers by test launching a ballistic missile that could hit Alaska.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council that North Korea's actions were "quickly closing off the possibility of a diplomatic solution" and the United States was prepared to defend itself and its allies.

"One of our capabilities lies with our considerable military forces. We will use them if we must, but we prefer not to have to go in that direction," Haley said. She urged China, North Korea's only major ally, to do more to rein in Pyongyang.

Speaking with his Japanese counterpart on Wednesday, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis underscored the "ironclad commitment" of the United States to defending Japan and providing "extended deterrence using the full range of U.S. capabilities," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

Mattis' assurances to Japanese Defense Minister Tomomi Inada came during a phone call to discuss the North Korean test, the statement said.

Taking a major step in its missile program, North Korea on Tuesday test launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that some experts believe has the range to reach the U.S. states of Alaska and Hawaii and perhaps the U.S. Pacific Northwest.

North Korea says the missile could carry a large nuclear warhead.

The missile test is a direct challenge to U.S. President Donald Trump, who has vowed to prevent North Korea from being able to hit the United States with a nuclear missile.

He has frequently urged China to press the isolated country's leadership to give up its nuclear program.

Haley said the United States would propose new U.N. sanctions on North Korea in coming days and warned that

if Russia and China did not support the move, then “we will go our own path.”

She did not give details on what sanctions would be proposed, but outlined possible options.

"The international community can cut off the major sources of hard currency to the North Korean regime. We can restrict the flow of oil to their military and their weapons programs. We can increase air and maritime restrictions. We can hold senior regime officials accountable," Haley said.

Diplomats say Beijing has not been fully enforcing existing international sanctions on its neighbor and has resisted tougher measures, such as an oil embargo, bans on the North Korean airline and guest workers, and measures against Chinese banks and other firms doing business with the North.

“Much of the burden of enforcing U.N. sanctions rests with China,” Haley said.

The United States might seek to take unilateral action and sanction more Chinese companies that do business with North Korea, especially banks, U.S. officials have said.

China's U.N. ambassador, Liu Jieyi, told the Security Council meeting that the missile launch was a "flagrant violation" of U.N. resolutions and "unacceptable."

"We call on all the parties concerned to exercise restraint, avoid provocative actions and belligerent rhetoric, demonstrate the will for unconditional dialogue and work actively together to defuse the tension," Liu said.

The United States has remained technically at war with North Korea since the 1950-53 Korean conflict ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty and the past six decades have been punctuated by periodic rises in antagonism and rhetoric that have always stopped short of a resumption of active hostilities.

Tensions have risen sharply after North Korea conducted two nuclear weapons tests last year and carried out a steady stream of ballistic missile tests

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the ICBM test completed his country's strategic weapons capability that includes atomic and hydrogen bombs, the state KCNA news agency said.

Pyongyang will not negotiate with the United States to give up those weapons until Washington abandons its hostile policy against the North, KCNA quoted Kim as saying.

"He, with a broad smile on his face, told officials, scientists and technicians that the U.S. would be displeased ... as it was given a 'package of gifts' on its 'Independence Day,'" KCNA said, referring to the missile launch on July 4.

Trump and other leaders from the Group of 20 nations meeting in Germany this week are due to discuss steps to rein in North Korea's weapons program, which it has pursued in defiance of Security Council sanctions.

Russia's deputy U.N. envoy said on Wednesday that military force should not be considered against North Korea and called for a halt to the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea.

He also said that attempts to strangle North Korea economically were "unacceptable" and that sanctions would not resolve the issue.

The U.S. military assured Americans that it was capable of defending the United States against a North Korean ICBM.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis noted a successful test last month in which a U.S.-based missile interceptor knocked down a simulated incoming North Korean ICBM.

"So we do have confidence in our ability to defend against the limited threat, the nascent threat that is there," he told reporters. He acknowledged though that previous U.S. missile defense tests had shown "mixed results."

The North Korean launch this week was both earlier and "far more successful than expected," said U.S.-based missile expert John Schilling, a contributor to Washington-based North Korea monitoring project 38 North.

It would now probably only be a year or two before a North Korean ICBM achieved "minimal operational capability," he added.

Schilling said the U.S. national missile defense system was "only minimally operational" and would take more than two years to upgrade to provide more reliable defense.

U.S. missile shield not yet ready for North Korean nukes

WASHINGTON, July 5: Tens of billions of dollars spent over three decades have still left the Pentagon with no reliable way to shoot down nuclear-tipped missiles approaching the U.S. homeland — a vulnerability that has taken on sharp new urgency after North Korea’s Independence Day test of its first ICBM.

Instead, the missile defense system designed to shield the United States from an intercontinental ballistic missile — a diverse network of sensors, radars, and interceptor missiles based in Alaska and California — has failed three of its five tests, military leaders acknowledge. Even the two successful ones were heavily scripted.

"If the North Koreans fired everything they had at us, and we fired at all of the missiles, we’d probably get most of them," said Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia nonproliferation program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. "But is 'probably get most' a good day or a bad day?"

The Pentagon’s official stance on Wednesday was that the Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, designed by Boeing and a slew of other defense contractors, can knock out a missile whizzing through the atmosphere. But that view is in the minority.

Most current and former military officials and other experts argue that the chances of protecting U.S. territory from a surprise or short-notice ICBM attack would be slim at best. As recently as last month, the outgoing Navy admiral in charge of all the Pentagon's missile defense programs told Congress he has "reliability concerns" with the system.

According to the Pentagon, Congress has provided at least $189.7 billion for missile defenses of all kinds since 1985, the heyday of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative, which aimed to provide a space-based defense against a Soviet nuclear attack. Some of that investment has paid off — for example, on the Patriot missiles now widely used by the United States and its allies, along with other land- and sea-based systems designed to deflect shorter-range missiles in battle. But defenses against incoming ICBMs, falling from space at enormous speed, have proven far more elusive — and not for lack of trying.

The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system alone is estimated to ultimately cost at least $40 billion, according to a 2013 estimate from the Government Accountability Office.

“Partly we are failing because it is the hardest thing the Pentagon has tried to do,” said Phil Coyle, who served as the Pentagon's chief weapons tester in the Clinton administration and in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy in the Obama administration. “We’ve had more success with short-range and medium-range systems. But they are going more slowly, they are traveling in the atmosphere. That is different than traveling at 15,000 miles per hour in space. Especially when the enemy is trying to fool you," such as with countermeasures and decoys.

“Three of the previous four [tests] had failed — that is a 75 percent failure rate,” Coyle said of the system's recent tests. Even with its most recent success, “two of five is 40 percent. Forty percent is not a passing grade.”

The system has 36 ICBM interceptors — 32 in Alaska at Fort Greely and four in California at Vandenberg Air Force Base. The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency is expected to expand that number to 44 by the end of the year.

The latest test of the system took place May 30, when an interceptor missile was fired from California at a target missile launched from the Reagan Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific.

The Pentagon hailed the test as a milestone, saying it resulted in a "direct collision." Then-Vice Adm. Jim Syring, director of the Missile Defense Agency, called it an "incredible achievement" and said it proved that the U.S. has “a capable, credible deterrent against a very real threat.”

Thomas Karako, director of the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the system's past couple of tests "suggest we're on a pretty good course."

"Nobody ever said that national missile defense is supposed to be a perfect shield off by itself. It's part of the larger suite of things we do against threats by North Korea," Karako said. "It doesn't exist in a vacuum. It should be understood in the larger deterrent and defense posture of the United States."

The Pentagon's chief weapons tester, David Duma, upgraded his office’s assessment of the system's capability after the most recent test.

The new confidence was on display at the Pentagon on Wednesday despite the latest North Korean missile test, which U.S. said involved a weapon not seen before. Its profile suggests it could travel more than 3,400 miles — enough to hit Alaska.

The test missile, which traveled for 37 minutes and splashed down off the coast of Japan, is not believed to be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead — a major technological hurdle requiring the miniaturization of the regime's relatively rudimentary nuclear bombs.

But experts in and out of the U.S. government remain deeply skeptical that the American missile defenses would be capable of shooting down such an ICBM.

Prior to upgrading its assessment, the Pentagon's own most recent testing report says the missile defense system "has demonstrated a limited capability to defend the U.S. homeland from small numbers of simple immediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran." It also said that making any final judgment at this stage is not possible "due to a lack of ground tests supported by accredited modeling and simulation" — a reference to what critics say is a lack of realistic testing conditions.

Even Syring, in testimony before Congress just a week after the recent test of the U.S. defense system, acknowledged that the system still has far to go before it can be counted on.

"We have been on a journey over the last, at least, five to six years to improve the reliability of the entire system," he told the House Armed Services Committee's Strategic Forces panel in early June, citing the need to improve the so-called "kill vehicle" that would destroy an incoming warhead. "We are not there yet."

Boeing deferred all requests about the system to the Missile Defense Agency, which did not respond to a request for comment. But one defense industry official involved with the effort, who was not authorized to speak publicly, insisted that the recent missile defense tests show that the likelihood of knocking down a North Korean missile is better than it was previously.

“But it is still an iffy proposition,” the executive acknowledged.

Many consider that to be an understatement.

Lewis, from the James Martin Center, said the May test did not succeed enough to let the Pentagon scale back its current strategy of firing five interceptors at each incoming missile.

“There’s not a tremendous amount of evidence that the system would be effective," he said.

Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, also called it “a big question mark” if the system would work in a real-world scenario instead of a controlled test.

Missile defense advocates on Capitol Hill, however, have recently called for boosting funding to an array of systems in response to North Korean provocations.

House Armed Services Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) called missile defense "a major focus" in the committee's annual National Defense Authorization Act, which would boost missile defense programs by $2.5 billion above the Trump administration's budget request.

"We put the foot to the gas pedal on missile defense, and I don't think that it would be a surprise as we see what's happening in North Korea but also Iran," Thornberry told reporters while previewing the annual defense policy bill.

But Coyle, the former Pentagon weapons tester, expressed doubt about the wisdom of two new programs that the Pentagon is proposing to fill the gaps. One would be a redesign of the so-called “kill vehicle” intended to destroy incoming missiles, and the other is a so-called “multi-object” kill vehicle that could handle numerous incoming targets — an effort that was shelved in the past.

“These will take years and years — they are talking 2030,” said Coyle, who now serves on the board of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. "And meanwhile, North Korea keeps getting better and better. The problem is technology is just not providing us the solutions. There is no technical solution. There really isn’t a military solution to North Korea. We’ve just got to engage with North Korea.”

At least 101 shot, 15 killed during violent Fourth of July weekend in Chicago

CHICAGO, July 5: The city of Chicago flooded the streets with 1,000 extra police officers during the Independence Day weekend. But they could not stop an eruption of gun violence.

The extra-long holiday weekend was the bloodiest in recent years. At least 101 people were shot, nearly half in the last 12 hours of July Fourth. To give you a sense of the enormity of that number, that's the amount of passengers that can fill most regional airplanes. At least 15 people were killed.

 

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