Seoul, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — South Korea said Tuesday that it will hold military talks with North Korea this week to discuss ways to ease tensions along their border ahead of a summit between their leaders.
The talks scheduled for Thursday at the border village of Panmunjom will come just days before the leaders of the two countries meet for the third time this year. South Korea's Defense Ministry said the talks will deal with disarming a jointly controlled area at Panmunjom, removing front-line guard posts and conducting joint searches for soldiers missing from the Korean War.
In military talks in late July, generals from the Koreas said they had a meaningful discussion on those issues but they didn't reach any accord. Experts say any breakthrough agreement on lowering down inter-Korean military tensions in the near future is largely linked to progress in North Korea's nuclear disarmament.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un recently told vising South Korean officials that he remains committed to a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula and said he still has faith in U.S. President Donald Trump. The White House said Monday that Trump received Kim's request to schedule a second meeting between the two and that planning is in motion to make it happen.
During his earlier landmark summits with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim pledged to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But nuclear diplomacy later stalled as U.S. officials demanded North Korea take serious disarmament steps first before receiving major outside concessions.
When Kim met South Korean envoys last week, the sides agreed that next week's summit with Moon will discuss practical steps toward achieving denuclearization and peace. They also agreed to try to find ways to build up mutual trust and prevent armed clashes between their militaries, according to South Korean officials.
Washington, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — America's long-running reluctant relationship with the International Criminal Court came to a crashing halt on Monday as decades of U.S. suspicions about the tribunal and its global jurisdiction spilled into open hostility, amid threats of sanctions if it investigates U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
National security adviser John Bolton denounced the legitimacy of The Hague-based court, which was created in 2002 to prosecute war crimes and crimes of humanity and genocide in areas where perpetrators might not otherwise face justice. It has 123 state parties that recognize its jurisdiction.
Bolton's speech, on the eve of the anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, came as an ICC judge was expected to soon announce a decision on a request from prosecutors to formally open an investigation into allegations of war crimes committed by Afghan national security forces, Taliban and Haqqani network militants, and U.S. forces and intelligence in Afghanistan since May 2003. The accusations against U.S. personnel include torture and illegal imprisonment.
"The International Criminal Court unacceptably threatens American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests," Bolton told the Federalist Society, a conservative Washington-based think tank. Bolton also took aim at Palestinian efforts to press war crime charges against Israel for its policies in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza.
He said the U.S. would use "any means necessary" to protect Americans and citizens of allied countries, like Israel, "from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court." The White House said that to the extent permitted by U.S. law, the Trump administration would ban ICC judges and prosecutors from entering the United States, sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system and prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system.
"We will not cooperate with the ICC," Bolton said, adding that "for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."
It was an extraordinary rebuke decried by human rights groups who complained it was another Trump administration rollback of U.S. leadership in demanding accountability for gross abuses.
"Any U.S. action to scuttle ICC inquiries on Afghanistan and Palestine would demonstrate that the administration was more concerned with coddling serial rights abusers — and deflecting scrutiny of U.S. conduct in Afghanistan — than supporting impartial justice," said Human Rights Watch.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represents several people who claim they were detained and tortured in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2008 and could be victims or witnesses in any ICC prosecution, said Bolton's threats were "straight out of an authoritarian playbook."
"This misguided and harmful policy will only further isolate the United States from its closest allies and give solace to war criminals and authoritarian regimes seeking to evade international accountability," the ACLU said.
The ICC did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Since its creation, the court has filed charges against dozens of suspects including former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, who was killed by rebels before he could be arrested, and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is accused of charges including genocide in Darfur. Al-Bashir remains at large, as does Ugandan warlord Joseph Kony, who was among the first rebels charged by the court in 2005. The court has convicted just eight defendants.
The court has been hobbled by the refusal of the U.S., Russia, China and other major nations to join. Others have quit: Burundi and the Philippines, whose departure, announced earlier this year, takes effect next March.
The Clinton administration in 2000 signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC but had serious reservations about the scope of the court's jurisdiction and never submitted it for ratification to the Senate, where there was broad bipartisan opposition to what lawmakers saw as a threat to U.S. sovereignty.
When George W. Bush took office in 2001, his administration promoted and passed the American Service Members Protection Act, which sought to immunize U.S. troops from potential prosecution by the ICC. In 2002, Bolton, then a State Department official, traveled to New York to ceremonially "unsign" the Rome Statute at the United Nations.
Bush's first administration then embarked on a diplomatic drive to get countries who were members of the ICC to sign so-called Article 98 agreements that would bar those nations from prosecuting Americans before the court under penalty of sanctions. The administration was largely successful in its effort, getting more than 100 countries to sign the agreements. Some of those, however, have not been formally ratified.
In Bush's second term, the U.S. attitude toward the ICC shifted slightly as the world looked on in horror at genocide being committed in Sudan's western Darfur region. The administration did not oppose and offered limited assistance to an ICC investigation in Darfur.
The Obama administration expanded that cooperation, offering additional support to the ICC as it investigated the then-Uganda-based Lord's Resistance Army and its top leadership, including Kony.
On Monday, Bolton effectively turned Washington's back on the court, accusing it of corruption and inefficiency. Above all, he took aim at the court's view that citizens of nonmember states are subject to its jurisdiction.
"The ICC is an unprecedented effort to vest power in a supranational body without the consent of either nation-states or the individuals over which it purports to exercise jurisdiction," Bolton said. "It certainly has no consent whatsoever from the United States."
Warri, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — A gas depot exploded in central Nigeria, killing 18 people and leaving some burned beyond recognition, a witness said Monday.
More than 40 other people had burns after the blast in Lafia, the capital of Nasarawa state, taxi driver Yakubu Charles told The Associated Press. He said he helped to evacuate victims after more than a dozen occupied vehicles were set on fire. Victims had to be taken to hospitals on motorbikes as no ambulances were available, he said.
Both the Nigeria Police Force and Federal Road Safety Corps confirmed the blast but declined to give a number of casualties.
Nigeria's Senate president, Bukola Saraki, in a Twitter post called the explosion "horrific" and said he met with survivors. He offered prayers for families who lost relatives.
Many gas dealers operate mini-depots in Nigerian cities with no strong measures to regulate their activities, leading to frequent explosions. In January, 10 people died in a blast in Magodo in Lagos state.
Washington, Sep 11 (AP/UNB) — The Trump administration ordered the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic mission in Washington on Monday and threatened sanctions against the International Criminal Court if it pursues investigations against the U.S., Israel, or other allies. The moves are likely to harden Palestinian resistance to the U.S. role as a peace broker.
The administration cited the refusal of Palestinian leaders to enter into peace talks with Israel as the reason for closing the Palestinian Liberation Organization office, although the U.S. has yet to present its plan to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict. The Palestinians accused the administration of dismantling decades of U.S. engagement with them.
Shortly after the State Department announcement, President Donald Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, launched a broadside against The Hague-based International Criminal Court. Bolton declared that the ICC "is already dead" to the U.S. He also threatened the court and its staff with sanctions if it proceeds with investigations into alleged war crimes by American troops in Afghanistan.
The closure of the PLO office — the latest in a series of moves targeting the Palestinians — was centered on the fact that no "direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel" are underway despite previous warnings, the State Department said. It said the decision was also in line with U.S. law, a reflection of congressional concerns and consistent with U.S. policy to oppose and punish Palestinian attempts to bring Israel before the ICC.
The administration had told the Palestinians last year that closure was a distinct possibility unless they agreed to sit to down with the Israelis. It has yet to release its own much-vaunted but largely unknown peace plan although it said it still intends to do so.
Instead of heeding the warning to resume talks, "PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. "As such, and reflecting congressional concerns, the administration has decided that the PLO office in Washington will close at this point."
Bolton followed up in his address to The Federalist Society, a conservative, Washington-based think tank.
"The Trump administration will not keep the office open when the Palestinians refuse to take steps to start direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," he said. "The United States supports a direct and robust peace process, and we will not allow the ICC, or any other organization, to constrain Israel's right to self-defense."
Palestinian official Saeb Erekat said the move was "yet another affirmation of the Trump administration's policy to collectively punish the Palestinian people, including by cutting financial support for humanitarian services including health and education."
The Palestine Liberation Organization, commonly known as the PLO, formally represents all Palestinians. Although the U.S. does not recognize Palestinian statehood, the PLO has maintained in Washington a general delegation office that facilitates Palestinian officials' interactions with the U.S. government.
The closure was just the latest move the administration has taken against the Palestinians and in favor of Israel.
Just last month, it canceled more than $200 million in aid for projects in the West Bank and Gaza as well as the remainder of its planned assistance for the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees around the Middle East. Over the weekend, it announced it would cut $25 million in assistance for hospitals in east Jerusalem that provide critical care to Palestinian patients.
Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel's capital and moved the U.S. Embassy there, from Tel Aviv, in May. That led Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to break off contact with U.S. officials for what he called pro-Israel bias, and the opening of the new embassy was met with large Palestinian protests in which dozens were killed.
"The United States continues to believe that direct negotiations between the two parties are the only way forward," spokeswoman Nauert said in her statement. "This action should not be exploited by those who seek to act as spoilers to distract from the imperative of reaching a peace agreement."
As for the ICC, Bolton questioned the legitimacy of the court and warned that the U.S. would thwart any attempt by its prosecutors to open investigations into Americans for alleged war crimes and other abuses in conflicts in Afghanistan or elsewhere. Bolton, a leading critic of the ICC said the Trump administration would impose sanctions on the court and take other measures to hamper its ability to function should it proceed with such probes.
"The United States will use any means necessary to protect our citizens and those of our allies from unjust prosecution by this illegitimate court," Bolton said. "We will not cooperate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."
Bolton said the U.S. would "not sit quietly" if the ICC came after it, Israel or other U.S. allies. He said ICC judges and prosecutors would be banned from coming to the U.S., their assets in U.S. jurisdictions would be frozen and they would face prosecution. Similar measures would be taken against any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans, he said.
"No committee of foreign nations will tell us how to govern ourselves and defend our freedom," he said.
The Clinton administration signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC but had serious concerns about the scope of the court's jurisdiction and never sought ratification by the Senate, where there was broad bipartisan opposition to what lawmakers saw as a threat to U.S. sovereignty.
When George W. Bush took office in 2001, Bolton sought and received permission to travel to New York to ceremonially "unsign" the document at the United Nations.
Moscow, Sep 10 (AP/UNB) — More than 1,000 people were detained at anti-government protests across the country in what the Kremlin on Monday called a legitimate response to unauthorized rallies.
The OVD-Info group, which tracks police detentions and posts the names of the detainees on its website, said that 1,018 people were detained during Sunday's demonstrations against a government plan to increase the ages at which Russians collect their state pension.
Nearly half of those detained were rounded up in St. Petersburg, according to the OVD-Info. Russia's second-largest city arguably saw the most robust response with riot police charging at protesters with batons. Minors and elderly people were among those arrested.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said the police acted in accordance with the law in response to unauthorized protests. He added that "hooligans and provocateurs" mixed up with protesters and assailed police.
In Moscow, authorities charged two men with assailing police.
On Monday, several activists tried to launch another protest in a tree-lined boulevard in central Moscow but they were quickly rounded up by police.
Sunday's rallies, which had been called by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, were held in dozens of towns and cities across Russia.
Navalny, the anti-corruption activist who is Putin's most visible foe, had called for protests against the government's pension proposal before he was sentenced to 30 days in jail for organizing an unsanctioned January protest over a different issue.
The government's plan calls for the eligibility age for retirement pensions to be raised by five years, to 65 for men and 60 for women.
It has irked both older Russians, who fear they won't live long enough to collect significant benefits, and younger generations worried that keeping people in the workforce longer will limit their own employment opportunities.
The government's proposal has dented Putin's popularity. The president responded by offering some concessions, but argued that the age hike is necessary because rising life expectancy in Russia could exhaust pension resources if the eligibility age remains the same.