Washington, Jan 19 (AP/UNB) — President Donald Trump will hold a second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to try to broker a deal to coax the North to give up its nuclear weapons, the White House announced Friday.
News of a second meeting with the reclusive North Korean leader came after Trump's 90-minute meeting in the Oval Office with a North Korean envoy, Kim Yong Chol, who traveled to Washington to discuss denuclearization talks. Trump and Kim Jong Un are to meet near the end of February at a place to be announced later, said White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
"The United States is going to continue to keep pressure and sanctions on North Korea until we see fully and verified denuclearization," Sanders said. "We've had very good steps and good faith from the North Koreans in releasing the hostages and other moves. And so we're going to continue those conversations and the president looks forward to the next meeting."
In May, North Korea released three American detainees and sent them home with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after his meeting with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang.
The second summit signals stepped-up efforts by both countries to continue talks. Trump has exchanged letters with the North Korean leader amid little tangible progress on the vague denuclearization agreement reached at their first meeting last June in Singapore.
On Friday, Pompeo met with the North Korean envoy at a Washington hotel before the White House meeting, and the two had lunch together afterward.
Trump has spoken several times of having a second summit early this year. Vietnam has been considered as a possible summit venue, along with Thailand, Hawaii and Singapore.
Since their Singapore sit-down in June, several private analysts have published reports detailing continuing North Korean development of nuclear and missile technology. A planned meeting between Pompeo and the envoy, who is North Korea's former spy chief, in New York last November was abruptly canceled. U.S. officials said at the time that North Korea had called off the session.
The special U.S. envoy for North Korea negotiations, Steve Biegun, is set to travel to Sweden for further talks over the weekend.
The talks have stalled over North Korea's refusal to provide a detailed accounting of its nuclear and missile facilities that would be used by inspectors to verify any deal to dismantle them. The North also has demanded that the U.S. end harsh economic penalties and provide security guarantees before it takes any steps beyond its initial suspension of nuclear and missile tests.
Harry Kazianis, a North Korea expert at the Center for National Interest, said any talks between the two nations are a positive development, but the hard work of negotiating an agreement has only begun.
"Both nations must now show at least some tangible benefits from their diplomatic efforts during a second summit, or risk their efforts being panned as nothing more than reality TV," Kazianis said.
As a possible first step, Kazianis said, North Korea could agree to close its nuclear centrifuge facility at Yongbyon in exchange for some relief from U.S. sanctions or a peace declaration ending the Korean War. The three-year war between North and South Korea ended in 1953 with an armistice, not a peace treaty.
"Such a deal allows both sides to come away with a much-needed win that can breathe new life into negotiations," he said.
South Korea said it expects the second summit between Trump and Kim to be "a turning point in firmly establishing a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula."
Kim expressed frustration in an annual New Year's address over the lack of progress in negotiations. But on a visit to Beijing last week, he said North Korea would pursue a second summit "to achieve results that will be welcomed by the international community," according to China's official Xinhua News Agency.
Kim's latest trip to China, his fourth since last year, came as the North's strongest ally has encouraged negotiations with the U.S. while at the same time arguing in favor of an immediate easing of sanctions.
The U.S. and North Korea seemed close to war at points during 2017. The North staged a series of weapons tests that brought it closer to its nuclear goal of one day being able to target anywhere on the U.S. mainland. The two sides then turned to insulting each other: Trump called Kim "Little Rocket Man" and North Korea said Trump was a "dotard."
Independent analysts are highly skeptical that North Korea will easily abandon a nuclear arsenal constructed in the face of deep poverty and probably seen by Kim as his only guarantee of his government's survival. But Retired Gen. Vincent Brooks, former U.S. commander of American and allied forces in South Korea, told "PBS Newshour" that he believes Kim is serious about getting rid of his nuclear weapons.
"I do. I think that the dance is going to be very important here, though, as we think about how we go from where we were to where we all want to be," Brooks said. "First, we ought to take him (Kim) at his word. And it's not an easy thing to accept, especially given the track record of North Korea.
"But this is a new leader in North Korea ... and, indeed, there's evidence that he's serious about committing to what he said. For example, we've now gone 415 days without a strategic provocation, test or demonstration. I think that's a signal by itself that Kim Jong Un has moved in a different direction."
Mexico City, Jan 19 (AP/UNB) — A huge fire exploded at a pipeline leaking fuel in central Mexico on Friday, killing at least 21 people and badly burning 71 others as locals were collecting the spilling gasoline in buckets and garbage cans, officials said.
The leak was caused by an illegal tap that fuel thieves had drilled into the pipeline in a small town in the state of Hidalgo, about 62 miles (100 kilometers) north of Mexico City, according to state oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex.
Video footage showed dozens of residents near the town of Tlahuelilpan gathered to collect spilled fuel in buckets, garbage cans and other vessels. It appeared an almost festive atmosphere as whole families gathered in a field as a geyser of fuel spouted dozens of feet into the air from the tap.
Footage then showed flames shooting high into the air against a night sky and the pipeline ablaze. Screams could be heard.
Hidalgo Gov. Omar Fayad said 21 people were killed immediately and 71 suffered burns in the blast at the duct that carries fuel —apparently gasoline — from the Gulf coast to Tula, a city just north of Mexico City.
"Caring for the wounded is our top priority," Fayad said.
Pemex attributed the blaze to "the manipulation of an illegal tap."
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has declared an offensive against fuel theft and the blast will further focus attention on the $3 billion per-year illegal industry.
"I greatly lament the grave situation Tlahuelilpan is suffering because of the explosion of the duct," Lopez Obrador tweeted. He called on all branches of government to assist the victims.
Hidalgo state police said the leak was first reported at about 5:00 p.m. local time.
"There was a report that residents were on the scene trying to obtain fuel," according to a police report. Two hours later, the pipeline burst into flames.
And another pipeline burst into flames in the neighboring state of Queretaro, because of another illegal tap. Pemex said the fire near the city of San Juan del Rio "is in an unpopulated area and there is no risk to human beings."
It is not the first time such an accidents have occurred.
In December 2010, authorities blamed oil thieves for a pipeline explosion in a central Mexico near the capital that killed 28 people, including 13 children.
That blast burned people and scorched homes, affecting 5,000 residents in an area six miles (10 kilometers) wide in San Martin Texmelucan.
Lopez Obrador launched an offensive against fuel theft after taking office Dec. 1. Thieves drilled about 12,581 illegal taps in the first 10 months of 2018 and the country has deployed 3,200 marines to guard pipelines and refineries.
The new administration has also shut down pipelines to detect and deter illegal taps, relying more on delivering fuel by tanker truck. But there aren't enough trucks, and long lines at gas stations have plagued several states.
However, fuel theft gangs have been able to win the loyalty of whole neighborhoods, using free gas and getting local residents to act as lookouts and confront military patrols carrying out raids against the thefts.
It is unclear whether Friday's tragedy would turn the tide of opinion against the gangs in the impoverished villages that lie above the underground pipelines.
"I am calling on the entire population not to be accomplices to fuel theft," Fayad wrote. "What happened today in Tlahuelilpan must never happen again."
Sao Paulo, Jan 18 (AP/UNB) — A few days after being inaugurated, new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro announced a tax increase, only to have his chief-of-staff say hours later that the boss "had been wrong."
The former army captain also said he would be open to putting a U.S. base in his country, but military leaders quickly squashed the idea.
And the day after the nascent administration announced plans to abolish a land-reform program, officials said it would actually remain intact.
The far-right leader's first two weeks on the job have been filled with missteps and communication gaffes and little of his promised sweeping changes — underscoring a steep learning curve for a president elected on promises to overhaul much of daily life in Latin America's largest nation.
"He has never been in the executive, his party is totally new to high offices and few members of his cabinet have experience," said Carlos Melo, a political science professor at Insper University in Sao Paulo. "It seems they are paralyzed by how complex Brazil's state is and also by internal disagreements."
Bolsonaro ran on a platform that mixed pro-gun, anti-corruption and market-friendly ideas. Despite having two months after his October election to prepare for his Jan. 1 debut the administration has not hit the ground running.
The lack of a cohesive plan is raising questions about Bolsonaro's commitment and ability to deliver on promises ranging from a major overhaul of the pension system to moving Brazil's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
"We saw all that polarization in the elections, but now that Bolsonaro is in Brasilia it looks like business as usual," said Denis Carvalho, a 34-year-old Sao Paulo architect who voted for rival Fernando Haddad. "I haven't heard of anything relevant since he took office."
Joao Felisbino, a 64-year-old doorman, counters that Bolsonaro just needs more time.
"Brazil has been a mess for years. You can't solve all the problems in a month," he said, adding that Bolsonaro should not be judged until he has been in office a year.
Bolsonaro did issue several executive orders on Day One, including a plan to cease awarding any new land to indigenous groups, a campaign promise.
But in the days that followed little happened, and Bolsonaro shifted back to attacking the media and his adversaries.
"There is no end to the media lies that come 24 hours a day," Bolsonaro declared on Twitter.
On Tuesday, two weeks after being inaugurated, Bolsonaro issued a decree loosening gun laws, fulfilling a signature campaign promise.
As expected, opponents of the measure criticized Bolsonaro for changing the law to allow almost anybody over 25 years old without a criminal record to be able to get a gun. But even many hard-core supporters joined in the criticism, angry that the measure didn't go far enough. Stocks of gun manufacturer Taurus, which had steadily gone up in recent months on expectations of major changes, fell 22 percent.
Bolsonaro and his allies insist they are on a good path and that big changes are coming "soon."
"The problems are profound, mostly because of the abandonment of the previous governments," Bolsonaro tweeted Thursday. "We can barely solve everything in four years, much less in 15 days of this administration."
Still, there are more questions than answers about many of his signature pledges, and Bolsonaro is clearly getting a crash course in the magnification of gaffes that come from high office.
That happened on his third day on the job, during a military event in the capital, Brasilia.
Bolsonaro told journalists he had signed a decree to raise a tax on many common banking transactions like bank transfers, buying foreign currency and debit card purchases online. The move quickly brought a public outcry that it broke a campaign promise of no new taxes.
Hours later, the head of Brazil's tax agency said the president was wrong, as did Bolsonaro's chief of staff. Paulo Guedes, the economy minister, was reportedly infuriated, though he did not comment publicly.
In the end, there was no new tax.
Another flip-flop came Jan. 8, when the administration said it was freezing a land redistribution program that gave under-utilized state and private land to the poor. The next day, however, it was announced that the program would continue.
After the bank transfer gaffe, Bolsonaro has mostly avoided economic issues since being inaugurated. During the campaign, he often said he didn't understand the economy and instead deferred to Guedes, a University of Chicago graduate who has advocated steep budget cuts and widespread privatizations.
Bolsonaro's wavering on promised pension reforms has also raised concerns.
Four days after taking office, the president, who spent 28 years in Congress, spoke in favor of a minor reform he said had a chance of being passed. It would establish the minimum retirement age at 57 for women and 62 for men. A more comprehensive bill considered by Congress last year set the minimum age at 62 for women and 65 for men.
Days later, without addressing Bolsonaro's speech, Guedes insisted changes to the pension system "need to be more far-reaching."
Meanwhile, military leaders say the armed forces should be excluded from any pension reforms, which could bring more clashes between the president and his team.
Bolsonaro's administration appears to be paralyzed on a promise to move Brazil's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that thrilled evangelical voters, a key constituency of his election victory.
Despite claims by Bolsonaro that the decision "has been made," Minister Carlos Alberto Santos Cruz, who coordinates the administration with politicians and business leaders, told the BBC that the idea was "completely impractical."
Even before the inauguration, administration officials appeared to be curbing enthusiasm for the idea, which could have widespread impact on Brazil's meat exports to Muslim countries.
"Obviously, it's a question that will have to be well thought out," Vice-President Hamilton Mourao told the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper. "We have an important commercial relationship with the Arab world."
Not surprisingly, the far-right leader's stumbles have emboldened Brazil's opposition.
"If this continues, Bolsonaro's popularity will last six months," said defeated candidate Ciro Gomes, who finished third.
Leandro Colon, Brasilia editor of Folha de S. Paulo, said in a column that technical and bureaucratic reasons were at the heart of the slow start, which did not necessarily represent a bad omen for the far-right leader's administration.
"But the president needs to understand quickly what the chair he sits on actually means," Colon wrote.
Mexico, Jan 18 (AP/UNB) — Hundreds of mainly Honduran migrants began crossing peacefully into Mexico on Thursday without the confrontations that marked last fall's migrant caravans.
People simply showed identification bracelets given to them by Mexican officials and walked into the border town of Ciudad Hidalgo. They crossed over the same border bridge where another caravan clashed with Mexican police in October, when migrants tried to push through closed gates and ranks of riot police, leading authorities to fire pepper spray.
Mexico has promised to allow people through as long as they are orderly.
As in October, there are a lot of children in the latest caravan.
Yolanda Sanchez, 28, said she left Colon, Honduras, with her four children. She carried her youngest, a baby just shy of his first birthday. She is travelling with a cousin, her husband and their four children.
They hope to reach the United States, to escape poverty after her husband lost his job.
"We know that it is going to be difficult, but we just can't survive anymore" in Honduras, she said.
Previous estimates put the caravan at about 1,800 people, including about 100 from El Salvador. But many of the migrants were still travelling through Guatemala, and it was difficult to say how big the caravan would be once it began making its way through southern Mexico.
Julia Escalon, 43, of the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, rested under the shade of a tree on the Guatemalan side, cradling her 2-year-old daughter in her arms. Escalon brought along a total of four daughters on the trip.
"In San Pedro, we have nowhere to live. We can't even afford to rent a place," Escalon said. "I'm going to fulfil my dream and get to the United States."
However, that may not be easy. The border city of Tijuana was saturated by the first caravan in November, testing the patience of the city's residents, and Mexico's new government has since agreed to house third-country migrants while their asylum claims are heard in the United States.
Paris, Jan 18 (AP/UNB) — One by one, European Union nations are spending millions, hiring thousands of workers and issuing emergency decrees to cope with the increasingly likely possibility that Britain will leave the bloc on March 29 without a plan.
A no-deal Brexit could shake up the rest of the continent in ways that many Europeans haven't yet fathomed, from snarled air traffic to paralyzed ports and millions of workers in legal limbo.
France is spending 50 million euros ($57 million) to beef up security at airports and the Eurotunnel, and hiring hundreds of extra customs officers.
Portugal is opening special airport lanes for British travelers, the nation's main source of tourists. The Netherlands is scouring for qualified veterinarians to carry out new checks on live imports. Germany is fast-tracking a debate on solving bureaucratic problems if there is no Brexit deal.
Governments from Europe's Atlantic Coast to the Black Sea are preparing rules for British citizens to live and work in their countries once they no longer enjoy EU residency rights — and hoping that Britain is doing the same for their citizens.
Britain, which would face by far the biggest disruption, has devoted thousands of civil servants and several billion pounds (dollars) on measures to mitigate the worst effect — although officials can only speculate about what will actually happen on March 30 if Brexit happens without a deal.
After the British parliament overwhelmingly rejected British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit divorce deal this week, other governments are bracing for chaos, too.
"We strongly believe" Britain will leave with no exit deal, French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced Thursday, unveiling a raft of emergency measures to cope with that prospect. "Under these conditions, our responsibility ... is to ensure that our country is ready, that the interests of our citizens are preserved and defended."
The French government will build new infrastructure and hire new staff at airports and ports — and the tunnel beneath the English Channel. The company that operates the Eurotunnel says a quarter of all U.K.-EU trade passes through the tunnel, which could be a major chokepoint in a no-deal Brexit.
France's emergency decrees will temporarily let British companies transport goods in France, and allow certain British insurance and other financial activities to continue in France despite Britain's loss of access to the EU financial market. The exceptional transfer of military equipment between the two countries will also be allowed.
In Berlin, German lawmakers debated a bill Thursday that aims to solve bureaucratic issues arising from Brexit.
"We want to keep the damage — and there will certainly be damage from Britain's departure — as small as possible," German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday. "That's why we will of course do everything to find an orderly solution, but we are also prepared if there is no orderly solution."
Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa said Thursday that 80 percent of British tourists arrive at airports in Faro, the Algarve and Funchal in the Madeira Islands, where dedicated lines for them will help prevent delays.
Dutch authorities say they are hoping for the best and preparing for the worst. The customs service is hiring some 900 new staff. The food and animal welfare authority is scouring southern and eastern Europe for qualified vets to carry out checks on live imports.
The government has set up an online Brexit counter and checklist for Dutch companies doing business with Britain — some 35,000 of which have no experience of dealing with countries outside the EU single market.
Romanian leaders have sought to reassure the estimated half a million Romanians living in Britain that they won't be left in the lurch — but haven't provided specifics. Romania currently holds the EU's rotating presidency.
The Czech Republic and Slovakia are working on legislation to deal with the short-term rights of British citizens in a no-deal Brexit, while the Dutch will let British citizens living in the country remain for 15 months and offer them the chance to apply for residency permits.
In Britain, the government announced Thursday it's putting military reservists on standby for permanent service in the event the country leaves without a divorce deal. It's also recruiting hundreds of extra customs officers and border staff and has passed laws to help cross-border trade continue to flow, such as permits for long-distance truckers. Many businesses are taking things into their own hands, and stockpiling goods .
Britain says EU citizens will be able to stay temporarily despite a no-deal Brexit.
A high-level EU official is now touring all the capitals of the 27 countries remaining in the bloc, to assess Brexit preparations and provide help where needed, EU Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas said Thursday.
The EU has produced 88 notices how specific sectors should deal with possible Brexit emergencies.
"We're not taking any chances," said Schinas.