US-South Korea Summit Could Expose Strains in Alliance

FILE - South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea.

 

When South Korean President Moon Jae-in and U.S. President Donald Trump meet for the first time next week (June 28), they will almost certainly emphasize the common threat posed by the repressive and nuclear Kim Jong Un regime, but increasing differences over security and trade could undermine the show of unity.

The summit will occur in the wake of the tragic death of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student who had been held prisoner in North Korea while in a coma for over 15 months, and finally released last week with serious and ultimately terminal brain damage.

Both leaders have cited Warmbier’s brutal treatment by the North Korean government as further reason to halt Pyongyang’s rapidly advancing nuclear and ballistic missile program.

But the two allies seem at odds on how to make that happen.

Get tough approach

The Trump administration has prioritized the short term - preventing North Korea from developing a nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can strike the U.S. mainland.

Washington has stressed the threat of military force and increased economic pressure from China, Pyongyang’s key trading partner.

After meeting Chinese President Xi Jinping in April, there were indications that a deal had been reached in which Beijing would exert a constraining influence over Pyongyang in exchange for Washington’s less critical treatment of Chinese trade practices.

However on Tuesday, Trump expressed disappointment that China’s increased efforts, which reportedly included a ban of the import of North Korean coal, had failed to restrain Pyongyang from continuing to conduct ballistic missile tests.

"While I greatly appreciate the efforts of President Xi & China to help with North Korea, it has not worked out. At least I know China tried!" Trump wrote on Twitter.

For some time now, experts who analyze satellite images say North Korea is prepared to conduct a sixth nuclear test to further its progress toward a reliable ICBM capability.

FILE - American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2016.
FILE - American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, March 16, 2016.

 

Outreach

The progressive South Korean leader wants to balance strong military deterrence and sanctions with dialogue and engagement to ease tensions over time.

"I believe what Kim Jong Un would want the most is to have a security guarantee for his regime. So there is a possibility that Kim Jong Un will continue to make the bluff with his nuclear weapons programs. But deep inside he is actually yearning or wanting dialogue. But in the end, the only way to find out is to have a dialogue with North Korea," said Moon.

Moon has expressed concern over talk of a possible U.S. military strike to take out the North’s nuclear and ballistic missiles sites, which would almost certainly trigger an immediate deadly retaliation against millions living in South Korea.

The president’s special envoy for security and diplomacy, Moon Chung-in, recently suggested that South Korea would be willing to scale back or suspend joint military exercises with the U.S. in exchange for Pyongyang’s agreement to freeze its nuclear program.

However on Wednesday the special envoy said his views do not represent official policy.

"What I do for the president is giving advice. Whether the president accepts my advices or not is his decision," he said.

Still President Moon’s more progressive proposals may not be well received in Washington, especially after Trump’s hardline policies have been endorsed by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“It would almost invite a type of reaction from President Trump that would look more at why South Korea is not towing a certain type of line that they are already seeing vis-à-vis the U.S.-Japan relationship,” said John Park, Director of the Korea Working Group at Harvard Kennedy School of Government.

There is also concern in Washington over Moon’s decision to delay the full deployment of the U.S. THAAD missile defense system, citing the need to conduct an environmental study. The deployment delay is seen by many as a move to accommodate China’s opposition to an American military build up in the region and THAAD’s powerful radar that can be used to monitor the entire region.

A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency.
A Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) interceptor is launched during a successful intercept test, in this undated handout photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense, Missile Defense Agency.

 

Trade deficit

Trump has also threatened to terminate the U.S.-South Korea free trade agreement that produced a bilateral U.S. trade deficit of over $27 billion last year.

Moon will likely emphasize that South Korean companies like Hyundai have built factories in the U.S. that employ 45,000 people and contributed $138 billion to the U.S. economy.

Business leaders in Seoul advise the South Korean president to propose a $10 billion dollar “buy American” fund to boost imports of U.S. oil and other products that Trump can boast about on Twitter.

“As we know Mr. Trump loves to Tweet and his Tweets form an important part of the policy directives and the overall environment of the U.S. political and economic scene. So President Moon should plan in advance what he wants Mr. Trump to Tweet,” said Jeffrey Jones, the former chairman of the American Chamber in Korea.

Also in Asia it is being noticed as a troubling sign that the summit will happen at the White House, and not at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, where he met with the leaders of Japan and China.

Youmi Kim contributed to this report.

Saudi King Elevates Son to Crown Prince

FILE - Saudi Defense Minister and new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Saudi Defense Minister and new Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

 

Saudi Arabia's King Salman has promoted his 31-year-old son Mohammed bin Salman to crown prince, making him next in line to the throne while also serving as defense minister and overseeing an effort to overhaul the country's economy.

The move was announced Wednesday through decrees issued by the state-run SPA news agency.

The former crown prince and nephew of King Salman, Mohammed bin Nayef, was relieved of all of his positions including the role of interior minister, the decrees said.

Mohammed bin Salman, who had been the deputy crown prince, will also now be Saudi Arabia's deputy prime minister.

The 31-year-old has been in charge of the Saudi-led coalition fighting on behalf of Yemen's government in a war against Iran-backed Houthi rebels.

Saudi state media said Wednesday's changes were approved by 31 of the 34 members of the royal family who make up what is known as the Allegiance Council.

King Salman came to power in 2015 following the death of his half-brother, King Abdullah.

British Police Probing Attack Outside Mosque as Terrorist Act

A forensic tent and police are seen on Seven Sisters Road looking to Finsbury Park Mosque after a vehicle struck pedestrians in north London, June 19, 2017.

A forensic tent and police are seen on Seven Sisters Road looking to Finsbury Park Mosque after a vehicle struck pedestrians in north London, June 19, 2017.

 

Authorities said officers arrested the 48-year-old driver of the van, who had been detained by members of the public at the scene.

Basu said it appeared the man was the sole attacker. He praised those who detained him, calling their restraint "commendable."

Finsbury Park Mosque, London
Finsbury Park Mosque, London

"What it proves to me is that Londoners will act together to protect themselves, but they will do so in a way that doesn't feed into terrorists' and extremists' hands," Basu said.

He added that the 10 people injured were from the Muslim community, and that investigators are "keeping an open mind" about the motive for the attack.

Prime Minister Theresa May said what happened Monday was "an attack on Muslims near their place of worship," and that "hatred and evil of this kind will never succeed."

Harun Khan, secretary-general of the Muslim Council of Britain, said that based on accounts from witnesses the driver was "motivated by Islamophobia."

Police officers man on Fonthill road near Finsbury Park station after a vehicle struck pedestrians in north London, June 19, 2017.
Police officers man on Fonthill road near Finsbury Park station after a vehicle struck pedestrians in north London, June 19, 2017.

"Given we are approaching the end of the month of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid with many Muslims going to local mosques, we expect the authorities to increase security outside mosques as a matter of urgency," Khan said in a statement.

A Metropolitan Police statement said that due to the nature of the attack, "extra policing resources have been deployed in order to reassure communities, especially those observing Ramadan."

Britain, especially London, has been on edge over several recent incidents, including last month's terror bombing in Manchester and the recent vehicle attack and stabbings near London Bridge.

Birmingham latest to snuff out fireworks

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Birmingham called off its fireworks show in response to growth, traffic congestion and safety worries.

 

After 30 years, the City of Birmingham has canceled its annual Fourth of July Fireworks due to public safety concerns over its continued growth.

Birmingham City Manager Joe Valentine said the longtime tradition at Lincoln Hills Golf Course has placed increasing demand on the venue in recent years and its adjoining streets, exceeding the city’s ability to successfully manage the event.

“Ultimately, we want all of our city events to be a fun and safe environment for all that attend, but with the increasing crowds that are packed into the golf course and adjoining streets, our ability to effectively provide this environment has become significantly hampered,” said Valentine, who said the event isn’t ticketed so he could not cite an attendance count.

Birmingham is the latest Metro Detroit community to call off its fireworks show in recent years in response to overwhelming growth, traffic congestion and public safety worries. In March, Plymouth Township decided to scrap its show.

Birmingham and Beverly Hills have co-hosted a combined celebration in previous years, but due to the cancellation, patrons will have to drive farther. The closest public displays would be Detroit’s Ford Fireworks or Dearborn’s Salute to America at Greenfield Village.

In Plymouth Township, an annual fireworks show had been tradition since its start in 2008. But Plymouth Township Fire Chief Daniel Phillips said the community has outgrown McClumpha Park, which is in a residential area and putting homes at risk.

The crowd, Phillips said, started getting out of control over the past five years, and the department had to start devoting resources toward it.

“The traffic, congestion, and cleanup after as well as many thousands of guests coming from all over the Metro Detroit area we cannot accommodate,” Phillips said. “There were other concerns with homeowners competing with the firework show and illegally launching non-consumer fireworks surrounding the event.”

Last year, a small tree caught fire during the show and to meet safety needs, the fire and police departments would have to double their daily staffing, Phillips added.

“The Plymouth Township Police Department must devote all their resources to the event and do not have enough officers to patrol the community during the event,” he said. “If an emergency happened we would be hard-pressed to respond immediately.”

Canton resident Stefania Schroeder said the Plymouth fireworks have been a family tradition for over 10 years and she’s sad to see them go.

“(It’s) unfortunate because (Plymouth fireworks) was a great set to take our kids to locally,” said Schroeder, a mother of two. “It was and always is completely packed. Honestly, we probably won’t go to any other fireworks shows.”

Incidents at Fourth of July events are not uncommon. Last year, a pregnant woman was shot during a firework display in Pontiac and hospitalized.

In 2010, an 18-year-old woman stabbed another woman nine times at the St. Clair Shores fireworks and Grosse Pointe Woods canceled its fireworks show after at least 13 fights were reported among a large crowd of teens in 2014 that outnumbered police officers present. Since then, Grosse Pointe Farms has restricted its fireworks to residents only. This year, they will take place July 1 at Pier Park.

Last year, Trenton, Wyandotte and Ecorse all canceled scheduled firework shows for Fourth of July weekend due to safety issues regarding large crowds and the rising costs.

But in lieu of new sponsorship, Trenton is returning its show. The city will host a firework celebration in honor of Bob Beesley, owner of Flo-Aire Heating and Cooling Inc., who died in February.

Many community sponsors joined the cause and raised $35,000 to bring back the fireworks. The event will take place July 4 at Rotary Park.

While some smaller cities cancel from fear of large crowds, the Ford Fireworks in Detroit continue to grow.

Sgt. Adam Madera of the Detroit Police Department said there will be extra patrols at the Ford Fireworks, but wouldn’t specify how many, or what the attendance is expected to be this year.

“We look for large groups and anyone lighting off their own fireworks. Just anything that can cause a large disturbance,” Madera said. “There will be road closures and backups.”

Over 150 arrests occurred at the 2014 show, but since they increased security and placed a curfew for underage teens unaccompanied by an adult, DPD has not had any significant arrests the past two years, according to Detroit police.

This year’s curfew will be the same as last year for those 17 years old and younger, unless unaccompanied by an adult, according to City Council officials. The curfew is in effect on the night of the show from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. and enforced in the area bounded by Interstate 75, the Detroit River, the Lodge Freeway and Chene Street.

The 59th annual Ford Firework display is set for June 26 at 9:55 p.m. along the Detroit River.

Madalyn Knebel, 28, resident and native of Detroit, said she does not attempt to attend the fireworks in Hart Plaza because she hates the traffic, being around too many people and the commotion that can easily take place.

“I don’t go to Hart Plaza or Belle Isle,” she said. “I prefer the rooftop locations.”

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At least 59 Die in Portuguese Forest Fire

 

A forest fire is seen near Tojeira, Pedrogao Grande, in central Portugal, June 18, 2017.

A forest fire is seen near Tojeira, Pedrogao Grande, in central Portugal, June 18, 2017.

 

A massive forest fire in central Portugal has killed at least 62 people, many of them burned to death in their cars. At least 59 people are reported to have been injured in the fire that erupted amid an intense heat wave and rainless thunderstorms.

Three days of national mourning, starting Sunda,y was declared by Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

"Unfortunately, this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires," he said. "The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger."

Officials say hundreds of firefighters have been dispatched to battle the blaze in the mountainous area of Pedrogao Grande, about 150 kilometers northeast of Lisbon.

Spain and France are sending aircraft to assist in efforts to douse the flames, authorities say. The European Union is also mounting an emergency assistance campaign.

“Unfortunately this seems to be the greatest tragedy we have seen in recent years in terms of forest fires,” said Prime Minister Antonio Costa. The number of fatalities could rise, he added. “The priority now is to save those people who could still be in danger,” the prime minister said.

Portuguese National Republican Guard firefighters work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, June 18 2017. A number of people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as the fire swept over the road.
Portuguese National Republican Guard firefighters work to stop a forest fire from reaching the village of Avelar, central Portugal, June 18 2017. A number of people have been killed in forest fires in central Portugal, many of them trapped in their cars as the fire swept over the road.

“The smoke cloud is very low, which does not allow helicopters and fire planes to work efficiently ... but we’re doing everything possible and impossible to put out this fire,” Jorge Gomes, secretary of state for the Interior, told Reuters, adding that no villages were currently at risk.

He said it was difficult to determine whether the people who burned in their cars “were fleeing the flames or were taken by surprise.”

Local resident Isabel Brandao told The Associated Press that she had feared for her life.

“Yesterday we saw the fire but thought it was very far. I never thought it would come to this side,” she said. “At 3:30 a.m., my mother-in-law woke me up quickly and we never went to sleep again. We were afraid the fire would reach us.”

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