Washington, Feb 25 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump will head into his second meeting with North Korea's Kim Jong Un having reframed what would make a successful summit, lowering expectations for Pyongyang's denuclearization while eager to declare a flashy victory to offset the political turmoil he faces at home.
Trump was the driving force behind this week's Vietnam summit, aiming to re-create the global spectacle of his first meeting with Kim, although that initial summit yielded few concrete results and the months that followed have produced little optimism about what will be achieved in the sequel. He once warned that North Korea's arsenal posed such a threat to humanity that he may have no choice but to rain "fire and fury" on the rogue nation, yet on Sunday declared that he was in no hurry for Pyongyang to prove it was abandoning its weapons.
"I'm not in a rush. I don't want to rush anybody, I just don't want testing. As long as there's no testing, we're happy," Trump told a gathering of governors at the White House. Hours earlier, he ended a tweet about the summit by posing the key question that looms over their meeting in Vietnam: "Denuclearization?"
He did not provide an answer.
Though worries abound across world capitals about what Trump might be willing to give up in the name of a win, the president was ready to write himself into the history books before he and Kim even shake hands in Hanoi.
"If I were not elected president, you would have been in a war with North Korea," Trump said last week. "We now have a situation where the relationships are good — where there has been no nuclear testing, no missiles, no rockets."
Whatever the North Koreans have done so far, the survival of the Kim regime is always the primary concern.
Kim inherited a nascent, incomplete nuclear program from his father, and after years of accelerated effort and fighting through crippling sanctions, he built an arsenal that demonstrates the potential capability to deliver a thermonuclear weapon to the mainland United States. That is the fundamental reason Washington now sits at the negotiating table.
Kim, his world standing elevated after receiving an audience with a U.S. president, has yet to show a convincing sign that he is willing to deal away an arsenal that might provide a stronger guarantee of survival than whatever security assurance the United States could provide. The North Koreans have largely eschewed staff-level talks, pushing for discussions between Trump and Kim.
Trump will arrive in Hanoi on Tuesday on Air Force One while his counterpart, lacking a modern aircraft fleet, travels via armored train. Though details of the summit remain closely held, the two leaders are expected to meet at some point one-on-one, joined only by translators.
The easing of tension between the two nations, Trump and his allies believe, stems from the U.S. president's own unorthodox and unpredictable style of diplomacy. Often prizing personal rapport over long-held strategic interests, Trump has pointed to his budding relationship with the young and reclusive leader, frequently showing visitors to the Oval Office his flattering letters from Kim.
Trump, who has long declared that North Korea represented the gravest foreign threat of his presidency, told reporters recently that his efforts to defang Pyongyang had moved Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize, something Abe would not confirm or deny. And, always with an eye on his media coverage, Trump had delighted in the round-the-clock phenomenon created by the first Kim summit, held last June in Singapore. He urged reluctant aides as early as last fall to begin preparations for a second meeting.
The images of the first face-to-face meeting between a U.S. president and his North Korean counterpart resonated across the globe. Four main goals emerged: establishing new relations between the nations, building a new peace on the Korean Peninsula, completing denuclearization of the peninsula and recovering U.S. POW/MIA remains from the Korean War.
While some remains have been returned to the United States, little has been achieved on the other points. Korean and American negotiators have not settled on either the parameters of denuclearization or the timetable for the removal of both Korean weapons and American sanctions.
"The key lessons of Singapore are that President Trump sees tremendous value in the imagery of diplomacy and wants to be seen as a bold leader, even if the substance of the diplomacy is far behind the pageantry," said Abraham Denmark, director of the Asia Program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.
U.S. intelligence officials testified before Congress last month that it remains unlikely Kim would fully dismantle his arsenal. And many voices in the Trump administration, including national security adviser John Bolton, have expressed skepticism that North Korea would ever live up to a deal.
Mark Chinoy, senior fellow at U.S.-China Institute at the University of Southern California, made clear that after generations of hostility, the convivial atmosphere of Singapore "can't be discounted." But Chinoy noted that Trump had agreed to North Korean's "formulation of 'denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,' which Pyongyang has long made clear meant an end to the US security alliance with South Korea and an end to the US nuclear umbrella intended to defend South Korea and Japan."
After the last summit, Trump unilaterally suspended some military drills with South Korea, alarming some in Seoul and at the Pentagon. But he was insistent this week that he would not drawdown U.S. troops from South Korea. And American officials, even as they hint at a relaxed timetable for Pyongyang to account for its full arsenal, have continued to publicly insist they would not ease punishing sanctions on North Korea until denuclearization is complete.
A year ago, North Korea suspended its nuclear and long-range missile tests and said it dismantled its nuclear testing ground but those measures were not perceived as meaningful reductions. Experts believe Kim, who is enjoying warmer relations with South Korea and the easing of pressure from Russia and China, will seek a U.S. commitment for improved bilateral relations and partial sanctions relief while trying to minimize any concessions on his nuclear facilities and weapons.
"Kim is doing pretty well as it is," said Scott Seaman of the Eurasia Group. "The threat of a U.S. military strike is essentially zero, Kim's diplomatic charm offensive has made him into a bigger player on the world stage, and he continues to whittle away at international commitment to sanctions."
The Hanoi summit comes at a politically perilous time for Trump.
His potential 2020 foes have begun unleashing their attacks. The newly elected Democratic House has begun its onslaught of investigations into the president, calling his former fixer, Michael Cohen, to appear before Congress while the president is in Vietnam. And special counsel Robert Mueller, who has investigated possible ties between Trump's campaign Russian election interference, may finalize his report within days of the president's return to the United States.
Trump may be eager to change the subject and some foreign policy experts fear that could prompt the president to make a significant concession or strike an attention-grabbing deal — such as a declaration to formally end the Korean War, which has been suspended in an armistice since 1953 — without extracting much in return from Kim. North Korea's long history of human rights abuses is also unlikely to be on the agenda.
"Clearly, the president is looking for a win," said Denmark. "The North Koreans know this and will likely expect President Trump to be looking to make an agreement with limited regard for its content."
Washington, Feb 25 (AP/UNB) — A group of former U.S. national security officials is set to release a statement arguing there is no justification for President Donald Trump to use a national emergency declaration to fund a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
The statement, which was reviewed by The Associated Press, has 58 signatures from prominent former officials, including former Secretaries of State Madeline Albright and John Kerry, former Defense Secretaries Chuck Hagel and Leon Panetta and former Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.
The statement is set to be released Monday, a day before the Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote to block Trump from using the declaration. The measure is sure to pass, and the GOP-run Senate may adopt it as well, though Trump has already promised a veto.
"There is no factual basis for the declaration of a national emergency," says the statement, which argues that border crossings are near a 40-year low and that there is no terrorist emergency at the border.
Trump declared an emergency to obtain wall funding beyond the $1.4 billion Congress approved for border security. The move allows the president to bypass Congress to use money from the Pentagon and other budgets.
Trump's edict is also being challenged in the federal courts, where a host of Democratic-led states such as California are among those that have sued to overturn Trump's order.
Hanoi, Feb 25 (AP/UNB) — The nightmare scenario heading into the second summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un isn't so much "fire and fury" and millions dead. Rather, some experts fear the meeting could result in an ill-considered deal that allows North Korea to get everything it wants while giving up very little, even as the mercurial leaders trumpet a blockbuster nuclear success.
There's little argument that just sitting down together again in the same room this week in Hanoi is a positive sign for two men who seemed to be flirting with a second Korean War in 2017, and there is, as the White House trumpeted ahead of the summit, "a tremendous opportunity" here to address a monumental problem that's flummoxed generations of policymakers.
But with the stakes so high, a growing chorus of experts highlight a particular risk: that Trump, burned by criticism that the results of his June meeting with Kim in Singapore were vague at best and an outright failure at worst, will ignore his more cautious aides and try to strike a deal that's cobbled together on the fly with little preparatory work.
Why is this potentially dangerous? Because when it comes to North Korean nuclear diplomacy, all deals are not created equal.
A look at some of the anxieties that are swirling ahead of the Hanoi summit:
WORRY NO. 1: A PIECEMEAL DEAL
South Korean papers have been filled with unidentified government sources suggesting that Trump and Kim might strike a deal that stops far short of the road map for the full denuclearization of the North that the United States has long insisted on.
Instead, Kim could agree to give up only part of his arsenal — his intercontinental missiles aimed at America, for instance, or his main nuclear reactor — in return for an easing of harsh sanctions. There's also fear that Trump will eventually orchestrate some sort of drawdown of U.S. troops from South Korea or an extended halt to U.S.-South Korean military drills.
For Trump, such a deal could generate a much-needed rush of "breakthrough" headlines to help distract from swirling investigations in Washington while helping assure his supporters that he's protecting the American mainland.
Kim, for his part, would be taking a huge step toward cementing the North as a nuclear weapons state and, as a bonus, driving a wedge in the U.S.-South Korea alliance that the North maintains is aimed at the overthrow of the Kim family — all without addressing the North's arsenal of short- and mid-range nuclear armed missiles aimed at Seoul, Tokyo and other parts of Asia.
Those in favor of this kind of piecemeal deal say it's simply a matter of accepting reality: North Korea won't give up nukes it sees as crucial to deterring what it calls U.S. hostility, so the wise move is to work to first limit or freeze the program's most worrisome aspects and then work toward total denuclearization.
Skeptics say this would give the North too much in return for too little. They want instead something that first forces Pyongyang to list the particulars of its nuclear program, then allows outsiders to verify the list and see the program demolished.
"Ad hoc deals or piecemeal negotiations absent an agreed-on road map would allow Pyongyang to dictate the terms, pace and duration of the diplomatic process without making a dent in North Korea's nuclear arsenal," Duyeon Kim, a Koreas expert at the Center for a New American Security, recently wrote.
"There is a serious risk of Trump ad-libbing his way into a bad deal, as he did in Singapore in June 2018, by relinquishing vital bargaining chips that disadvantage U.S. interests and Asian allies' security," she added.
WORRY NO. 2: KIM AND TRUMP ARE TOO ALIGNED
There's a joke being shared by some North Korea experts: Did you hear that Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump both want the same thing from their Hanoi summit? The United States out of South Korea.
Funny or not, the dark humor gets at serious doubts churned up by Trump's repeated public expressions of a deep wariness about the U.S.-South Korea alliance that many in Seoul and Washington see as a lynchpin of Northeast Asian security.
The best example may be Trump's stunning announcement in Singapore of the suspension of annual military drills by Seoul and Washington that North Korea rails against as "invasion preparation."
Trump called the drills "very provocative," mirroring North Korean language.
Although his lieutenants say the removal of American troops isn't on the agenda in Hanoi, Trump has said that he wants to eventually bring home the 28,500 troops stationed in the South. Just this month Trump said: "South Korea — we defend them and lose a tremendous amount of money. Billions of dollars a year defending them."
WORRY NO. 3: NORTH KOREA HASN'T CHANGED
There's also alarm that Trump and South Korea's dovish president are misreading North Korea.
"Kim is not going to unilaterally surrender his nuclear weapons," Vipin Narang, a North Korea nuclear expert at MIT, said in an interview. "It is now pretty clear that Trump doesn't care that Kim isn't going to unilaterally disarm, so long as he doesn't embarrass Trump by visibly flight testing missiles or openly testing nuclear weapons."
Despite the positive spin on North Korean intentions by the liberal government in Seoul, critics say, Pyongyang, as it has since the Korean War, still claims to be the sole legitimate Korean government, and is therefore working to split South Korea from its U.S. protector and enshrine its nuclear program, even if partially, as a way to eventually coerce Seoul into doing its bidding.
North Korea has famously called its nuclear arsenal a "treasured sword." And a senior North Korean official said last year that dialogue won't continue "if the U.S. is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment."
Asked at a recent press briefing if the North was negotiating in good faith, a senior U.S. official who refused to give his name under White House rules said: "I don't know if North Korea has made the choice yet to denuclearize. But the reason why we're engaged in this is because we believe there's a possibility that North Korea can make the choice to fully denuclearize."
Trump tweeted Sunday that he and Kim "both expect a continuation of the progress made at first Summit in Singapore. Denuclearization?"
Still, there are big doubts about the North's intentions.
When the two leaders meet in Hanoi, Kim "will further ensnare Trump on his march toward full nuclearization, compelling Trump to make more concessions like a peace agreement and drawdown of military support for South Korea," said Sung-Yoon Lee, a Koreas expert at Tufts University. "'Peace' sounds very pleasant, even hypnotically alluring, but a peace agreement between the U.S. and North Korea and allowing Kim Jong Un to buy more time only increases the chance of war."
Anahuac, Feb 25 (AP/UNB) — A southeast Texas sheriff said Sunday that two bodies have been recovered at the site where a Boeing 767 cargo plane crashed into a coastal bay. All three people aboard the Flight 3591 died, according to the plane's owner.
Crews continued to search for the third body at Trinity Bay, about 35 miles (55 kilometers) east of Houston, Chambers County Sheriff Brian Hawthorne said at a Sunday afternoon news conference with officials from the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI.
The plane's owner, Atlas Air, issued a statement Sunday confirming the deaths, adding that its "primary focus is working to provide the families of those affected with care and support." Atlas was operating the flight for Amazon when it crashed Saturday afternoon near the small town of Anahuac.
NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said security video from a jail about a mile away from the crash site showed the plane heading toward the ground nose first. Sumwalt added that air traffic controllers reported rain in the area, and that the plane did not send out a distress call before the wreck.
Civilian volunteers in small boats helped search part of the bay, but Hawthorne told The Associated Press before the news conference that the volunteers will no longer be used.
Jason Campbell was among the civilian boaters who checked the debris on Saturday. What the boaters found was grim.
"Pieces of bodies, nothing bigger than ... you know," Campbell told KHOU-TV . "It's obvious it's human pieces but nothing bigger than you can hold in your hands."
Sumwalt said that finding the flight recorders remains a high priority for searchers.
The jumbo jet had departed from Miami and was likely moments from landing at Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston when it crashed. FBI Special Agent in Charge Perrye Turner asked that anyone with debris on their property contact authorities.
Dave Clark, senior vice president of Worldwide Operations at Amazon, said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with the flight crew, their families and friends along with the entire team at Atlas Air during this terrible tragedy. We appreciate the first responders who worked urgently to provide support."
Cucuta, Feb 25 (AP/UNB) — Opposition leader Juan Guaido has called on the international community to consider "all options" to resolve Venezuela's crisis, a dramatic escalation in rhetoric that echoes comments from the Trump administration hinting at potential U.S. military involvement.
Guaido's comments late Saturday came after a tumultuous day that saw President Nicolas Maduro's forces fire tear gas and buckshot on activists trying to deliver humanitarian aid in violent clashes that left two people dead and some 300 injured.
For weeks, the U.S. and regional allies had been amassing emergency food and medical kits on Venezuela's borders in anticipation of carrying out a "humanitarian avalanche" by land and sea to undermine Maduro's rule.
With activists failing to penetrate government blockades and deliver the aid, Guaido announced late Saturday that he would escalate his appeal to the international community — beginning with a meeting Monday in Colombia's capital with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence on the sidelines of an emergency summit of leaders of the so-called Lima Group to discuss Venezuela's crisis.
He said he would urge the international community to keep "all options open" in the fight to restore Venezuela's democracy, using identical language to that of President Donald Trump, who in his public statements has repeatedly refused to rule out force and reportedly even secretly pressed aides as early as 2017 about the possibility of a military incursion.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also stepped up the belligerent rhetoric, saying on CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday that Maduro's "days are numbered."
A close Guadio ally, Julio Borges, the exiled leader of congress who is Guaido's ambassador to the Lima Group, was even more explicit in urging a military option. "We are going to demand an escalation of diplomatic pressure ... and the use of force against Nicolas Maduro's dictatorship," he said Sunday.
It's a prospect that analysts warn risks fracturing a hard-won coalition of Latin American nations who've come together to pressure Maduro's socialist government. Most Latin American governments, even conservative ones like those in neighboring Colombia and Brazil, are on the record opposing a military solution and would face huge dissent should they back any military action led by the U.S., whose interventions in the region during the Cold War remain an open wound.
"These governments know they would face a huge tide of internal opinion greatly offended by a US-led invasion for historical and political reasons," said Ivan Briscoe, the Latin America director for the Crisis Group, a Belgium-based think tank.
At the same time, though polls say Venezuelans overwhelmingly want Maduro to resign, almost an equal number reject the possibility of a foreign invasion to resolve the political impasse.
Resting at the foot of the Simon Bolivar bridge as work crews in Colombia began removing debris left by the unrest, Claudia Aguilar said she would support a military invasion but worries it would lead to more bloodshed.
The 29-year-old pregnant mother of three said she crossed illegally into Colombia on Sunday to buy a bag of rice and pasta for her family after Maduro ordered a partial closure of the border two days earlier.
"We're with fear, dear God, of what will happen," she said standing near the dirt trail she took to sneak across the border. "More blood, more deaths. The president of Venezuela does whatever he wants."
In addition to weakening multilateral pressure against Maduro, analysts say the opposition saber rattling also risks undermining Guaido's goal of peeling off support from the military, the country's crucial powerbroker.
The 35-year-old Guaido has won the backing of more than 50 governments around the world since declaring himself interim president at a rally in January, arguing that Maduro's re-election last year was illegitimate because some popular opposition candidates were barred from running.
But he's so far been unable to cause a major rift inside the military, despite repeated appeals and the offer of amnesty to those joining the opposition's fight for power.
"How many of you national guardsmen have a sick mother? How many have kids in school without food," he implored Saturday night, standing next to a warehouse where 600 tons of food and medicine have been stockpiled on the Colombian border. "You don't owe any obedience to a sadist ... who celebrates the denial of humanitarian aid the country needs."
Maduro has deftly courted support from the military since becoming president in 2013, offering top commanders key posts in his cabinet, including the presidency of state-run oil giant PDVSA, the source of virtually all of Venezuela's dollar earnings.
More than 100 members of the security forces, most of them lower-rank soldiers, deserted and took refuge inside Colombia during Saturday's unrest, according to migration officials. But none of them was higher ranked than a National Guard major, and there's been little suggestion any battalion or division commanders are willing to defect despite almost daily calls by Guaido and the U.S.
To be sure, there's no indication the U.S. is planning a military invasion and Trump has made a habit of threatening friends and foes alike — China, North Korea and Canada among them — only to dial back the rhetoric down the road. Washington still has more diplomatic tools available, including extending oil sanctions to punish non-American entities that conduct business with Maduro's government in much the way such sanctions strangled communist Cuba for decades.
Still, as early as 2017, Trump reportedly raised the possibility of a U.S. military incursion in Venezuela similar to the 1989 invasion that led to the ouster of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, both in an Oval Office meeting with then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and other aides, as well as at a session with leaders of four Latin American allies on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, according to a senior administration official who has since left the White House.
In both cases Trump abandoned the war talk at the urging of his advisers and allies in the region. Prior to the current crisis, there was never any war planning by the military, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity in order to discuss the private conversations.
Still, momentum toward a confrontation seems to be building as hopes for a quick crumbling of Maduro's government fade.
"It acts like a magnet," said Briscoe of the possibility of a U.S.-led intervention. "As Plan A and B fail, it's where everyone seems to be going. But the further you move in that direction, you weaken the multilateral approach and reduce the possibility that large parts of the military will turn against Maduro."