Six months after his historic summit with Kim Jong-un in Singapore, US President Donald Trump has still not succeeded in his goal of getting the North Korean leader to relinquish his nuclear weapons.
But after both leaders used the New Year’s holiday to declare their willingness to meet again, a second summit may be in the works that could deliver real results – though they may look different from what Trump initially promised.
There was something different about Kim’s New Year’s address this year. Delivered from a leather armchair in what looked to be his library, it seemed designed to cast away old images of North Korea as a pariah state with an authoritarian leader at the helm. Instead of addressing a large crowd from a podium, a suited Kim spoke directly to the camera from a book-lined room.
The speech had more white doves than fire and fury, with Kim renewing his commitment to denuclearise the Korean Peninsula and saying that he was ready to meet Trump again “anytime” – even as he warned that Pyongyang may take an alternative path if US sanctions and pressure continued. In response, the US president welcomed on Twitter Kim’s promise not to make, use, test or sell any more nuclear weapons, expressing that he was also ready for a second meeting.
But missing from Trump’s tweet and embedded in Kim’s address were the same demands that have left both countries at a deadlock in nuclear negotiations – that the US lift sanctions, cease all joint military drills with South Korea and agree to an official end to the 1950-1953 Korean War – reminding the world that real progress on denuclearisation is still an elusive goal.
“Remember, despite all the meetings and negotiations since the beginning of 2018, North Korea has not yet made a single meaningful step toward denuclearisation,” said Ryu Yongwook, a professor of International Relations at the National University of Singapore.
WATCH: Kim ready to meet Trump but asks US not to test North Korea (2:18)
North Korea’s long-term goals
A second summit is also unlikely to bring the results Trump once hoped for, since his original goal of removing all nuclear weapons from North Korea no longer seems to be on the table.
“[Kim’s] New Year’s Day address suggests that he is posturing for arms control talks, and not denuclearisation talks with Washington,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security and columnist for Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
A more realistic expectation, according to Duyeon Kim, is that a second summit will produce a “real nuclear deal” whereas Singapore generate little more than photos and good feelings. Both countries need a roadmap outlining the “quid pro quo, with timetables” of denuclearisation, he added. This would give some accountability to both sides and make sure the signposts of progress are clearly marked, so either side will know when the other is holding up their end of the bargain.
But it’s doubtful another meeting would rid the peninsula of nuclear weapons. Analysts say it’s likely that North Korea’s long-term goals, which extend past any one US administration, are to be recognised as a responsible nuclear-weapons state that will promise not to use or sell their arms.
And they may be willing to walk away from any talks that don’t offer this.
“If the US doesn’t give the North what they ultimately want and under their terms, then I imagine Pyongyang will continue perfecting its nuclear weapons technology and developing its economy,” said Duyeon Kim.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un meet three times in 2018 [File: Pyongyang Press Corps Pool via AP]
The Moon factor
The question then is what North Korea wants, and whether the US feels it’s in their interest to deliver.
Pyongyang’s “wish list” seems to include some form of sanctions relief, according to Professor Tai Wei Lim, a research fellow at Singapore’s East Asia Institute.
Kim is eager to improve the North’s ailing economy, which is suffering under US sanctions and shrank by 3.5 per cent in 2017. One way Kim hopes to fix that is by “kickstarting” the country’s economy through cooperation and joint projects with South Korea.
Kim likely realises the need to act fast on this, while South Korean President Moon Jae-in is still in power. Moon has made a goliath effort to bring North Korea out of its shell and into the international community, risking his own reputation to keep diplomacy alive. In September, Moon took South Korea’s top business moguls with him to Pyongyang, a carrot to show Kim what’s possible if he cuts his nuclear programme. If a less sympathetic, more conservative South Korean president is elected in 2022, that door might close for another five years.
But North Korea has proven before that it is willing to throw away talks and take the hard road. In 2008, six-party talks involving China, the two Koreas, Japan, Russia and the US fell apart when North Korea declined to allow inspectors into the country.
With Beijing’s support, North Korea could be prepared to sit tight until the potency of US sanctions erodes over time.
INSIDE STORY: Is North Korea’s timeline denuclearise for real? (25:25)
Will they compromise?
For his part, Trump could be more interested in a compromise than he once was. A professor of international studies at Yonsei University in Seoul, who asked not to be named for his connection to the issue, believes the US is less concerned about North Korea’s nuclear weapons than some experts imagine.
“What they care about is missiles that can reach the US mainland,” the professor said. “If they remove the intercontinental launching abilities but [North Korea] keeps some of the weapons, I think that will be enough.”
Kim’s New Year’s speech appeared to show North Korea’s willingness to shed its image as a rogue state and join the international community. Under Moon’s guidance, Kim is eager to reform his country and its outdated economy – but only on his terms. For his part, Trump is equally keen to produce a tangible outcome with a second summit – but there seems to be little public appetite for a repeat of Singapore.
With Trump promising full denuclearisation and Kim clinging to a nuclear weapons programme long seen as a means to guarantee his country’s security, real progress will rely on both leaders’ willingness to compromise.
New Daesh leader was informant for US, says counter terrorism report
NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York. “Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s…
NEW YORK: The man widely believed to be the new leader of Daesh was once an informant for the US, according to a new report from the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC), a research body at the US military academy of West Point in New York.
“Stepping Out from the Shadows: The Interrogation of the Islamic State’s Future Caliph” is based on Tactical Interrogation Reports (TIRs) — the paper trail the US military creates when enemy fighters are detained and interrogated — from Al-Mawla’s time in captivity in the late 2000s.
Before his release in 2009, Al-Mawla named 88 extremists involved in terrorist activities, and the information he divulged during his interrogations led US forces in the region to successfully capture or kill dozens of Al-Qaeda fighters, the report claims.
The CTC said it is “highly confident” Al-Mawla became the new leader of Daesh after the previous leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, was killed in a US air raid in Syria in October 2019.
Although Daesh announced that a man called Abu Ibrahim Al-Hashimi Al-Qurashi was Baghdadi’s successor, US officials have also stated that Al-Qurashi’s true identity is actually Al-Mawla — also known as Hajj Abdullah.
Before joining Daesh, Al-Mawla is believed to have been the deputy leader of Al-Qaeda.
While details about the operation resulting in his capture are scarce, the TRIs reveal that he was captured on January 6, 2008.
The following day, US Central Command announced the capture of a wanted individual who “previously served as a judge of an illegal court system involved in ordering and approving abductions and executions.”
In his interrogations, Al-Mawla offered up details of terrorist plots to his interrogators, while minimizing his own involvement. He identified many jihadists by name and offered descriptions of their roles in the terrorist organization and details of their involvement in attacks on US-led coalition forces during the 2003 invasion of Iraq.
Al-Mawla — a former officer in Saddam Hussein’s army and once Baghdadi’s speechwriter — emerges from the TIRs as a mysterious personality with a vague past, whose ethnicity could not be determined with certainty. The statements in the reports are rife with contradictory elements and open to a wide range of interpretations. As the authors point out in their introduction: “It is incredibly difficult to ascertain whether what Al-Mawla divulges regarding himself or ISI (the forerunner of Daesh) as an organization is true.”
Details of the specific demographics of Al Mawla’s birthplace of Al-Muhalabiyyah in Iraq’s Tal Afar district are sketchy, but it is generally accepted to have a predominantly Turkmen population. The authors of the report point out that some sources have suggested “this could pose legitimacy problems for him because (Daesh) mostly has Arabs in its senior leadership echelons,” but add that at least two other senior members of the group were reported to have been Turkmen.
Al-Mawla also claimed to have avoided pledging allegiance to ISI because he was a Sufi. The report’s authors cast doubt on that claim, given his quick rise to prominence in the terrorist group and the fact that ISI and Daesh branded Sufism as heresy.
But the authors do believe the TRIs give some valuable insights into Al-Mawla’s personality.
“The fact that he detailed activities and gave testimony against (fellow jihadists) suggests a willingness to offer up fellow members of the group to suit his own ends,” they wrote. “The amount of detail and seeming willingness to share information about fellow organization members suggests either a degree of nonchalance, strategic calculation, or resignation on the part of Al-Mawla regarding operational security.
“He appears to have named individuals in some capacity across all levels of the organization, while describing some individuals in some detail,” they continued.
The US Department of Justice has offered a $10million reward for information about Al-Mawla’s identification or location.
The poisoning of Alexey Navalny: Five key things to know
What happened on the day Navalny fell ill? On August 20, a Thursday, Alexey Navalny, Russia’s leading Kremlin critic, had finished up campaigning for opposition politicians in Siberia for local elections, which were taking place from September 11 to 13. He left Xander Hotel and headed for the Tomsk Bogashevo airport. There, he drank a…
What happened on the day Navalny fell ill?
On August 20, a Thursday, Alexey Navalny, Russia’s leading Kremlin critic, had finished up campaigning for opposition politicians in Siberia for local elections, which were taking place from September 11 to 13.
He left Xander Hotel and headed for the Tomsk Bogashevo airport. There, he drank a cup of tea. He was on the way to Moscow.
In the first half-hour of the flight, he fell ill and witnesses said he screamed in pain. He was later in a coma.
He was airlifted to Germany’s capital, a six-hour flight, to the Berlin Charite hospital.The plane made an emergency landing at Omsk. He received treatment in the Russian city, where doctors said he was too unwell to be moved, but two days later on August 22, a Saturday, they said his life was not in danger.
Was he poisoned?
Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent, a claim several European countries support.
A laboratory in Germany said it had confirmation on September 2, followed by laboratories in France and Sweden on September 14.
Samples from Navalny have also been sent to the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague for testing.
Russia says there is no evidence to prove Navalny was poisoned, while its ally Belarus has also doubted the claim. The doctors in Omsk said they had not detected poisonous substances in Navalny’s body.
US President Donald Trump has been criticised for towing Russia’s line, saying on September 4 – two days after Germany’s claim to have “unequivocal evidence” – that “we have not had any proof yet”.
How is Navalny’s condition now?
On September 7, more than two weeks after falling ill on the plane, Navalny’s doctors in Germany said he was out of a coma and that his condition was improving. His spokeswoman said, “Gradually, he will be switched off from a ventilator.”
On September 15, Navalny posted on Instagram that he was breathing alone. He has said he plans to return to Russia.
If he was poisoned, who may have poisoned him and where?
Navalny’s team believes he was poisoned at the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin – a claim the Kremlin has strongly denied.
Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh had initially said she believed Navalny’s tea at the airport was poisoned, but on September 17, his team said the nerve agent was detected on an empty water bottle from his hotel room in the Tomsk, suggesting he was poisoned there and not at the airport.
What effect has the alleged poisoning had?
The alleged attack has widened a rift between Europe and Russia, with Germany and France leading calls for a full investigation but stopping short of outrightly blaming the Russian government.
MEPs have called for sanctions against Russia, saying on September 17, “The poison used, belonging to the ‘Novichok group’, can only be developed in state-owned military laboratories and cannot be acquired by private individuals, which strongly implies that Russian authorities were behind the attack.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has summoned Germany’s ambassador to Moscow, while the United Kingdom has summoned the Russian envoy over the incident.
For its part, Moscow rejects what it called the politicisation of the issue.
Significantly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is under pressure to halt the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which transfers Russian gas to Germany. Once again, the Kremlin has warned not to involve the Navalny case in any discussion about the pipeline, with Dmitry Peskov saying on September 16, “It should stop being mentioned in the context of any politicisation.”
A timeline of events surrounding the alleged poisoning attack on Navalny:
August 20 – Navalny falls ill on flight; plane makes emergency landing in Omsk; his spokeswoman says he was poisoned, perhaps by the tea he drank at the airport
August 22 – Navalny airlifted to Berlin Charite hospital
September 2 – Germany says it has ‘unequivocal evidence’ Navalny was poisoned, Russia responds by saying the claim is not backed by evidence
September 4 – US President Donald Trump says ‘we do not have any proof yet’
September 6 – Heiko Maas, German foreign minister, threatens action over gas pipeline project, saying, ‘I hope the Russians don’t force us to change our position on Nord Stream 2’
September 7 – German doctors say Navalny is out of an artificial coma
September 11-13 – Russia holds local elections; Navalny’s allies make gains in Siberian cities
September 15 – Navalny posts on Instagram that he is breathing alone
September 16 – Kremlin spokesman warns against politicising Navalny issue in discussions over the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Germany
September 17 – Navalny’s team now suspects he was poisoned in his hotel room, not the airport, citing traces of nerve agent on an empty water bottle
September 17 – MEPs call for sanctions against Russia
Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan to lend voice to Amazon’s Alexa
Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan will be the first Indian celebrity to lend his voice to Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant starting next year, as the Silicon Valley giant expands its presence in the significant market.The 77-year-old actor has been a household name in India for nearly half a century, and his deep baritone is instantly recognisable…
Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan will be the first Indian celebrity to lend his voice to Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant starting next year, as the Silicon Valley giant expands its presence in the significant market.The 77-year-old actor has been a household name in India for nearly half a century, and his deep baritone is instantly recognisable to listeners in the country of 1.3 billion.Foreign firms such as Amazon have spent tens of billions of dollars in India in recent years as they fight for a piece of the Asian giant’s burgeoning digital economy.In a blog post on Monday, Amazon India said Bachchan’s “voice experience” feature will become available for purchase on Alexa next year.”It will include popular offerings like jokes, weather, shayaris (poetry), motivational quotes, advice and more,” the firm said.Alexa first rolled out celebrity voice option last year with actor Samuel L Jackson, following a similar move by Google the year before, which gave users the option of hearing singer John Legend on the Google Assistant.”I am excited to create this voice experience,” the Bollywood megastar said on Amazon’s blog.”With voice technology, we are building something to engage more effectively with my audience and well-wishers.”His earlier foray into vocal blogging in 2010, Bachchan Bol-Bachchan Speak, allowed fans to listen to pre-recorded messages by the star at the push of a button.In addition to competing with voice-activated devices such as Apple’s Siri and Google Assistant for consumers, Amazon is battling Walmart-backed Flipkart and JioMart, owned by Asia’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, for a share of the online retail market.The tech giant, which is owned by Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest person, is also trying to win eyeballs with its streaming service that competes with Netflix and Disney+ Hotstar.Bachchan and his family have been among India’s highest-profile coronavirus patients. The superstar, his actor son Abhishek, actress daughter-in-law Aishwarya Rai, and granddaughter Aaradhya were all admitted to hospital in July. All four have since been released.The veteran star returned to work last month filming India’s version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? after authorities eased coronavirus curbs on movie and TV shoots.Nevertheless, with cases in India nearing five million, authorities in Mumbai – the home of Bollywood – have asked production houses to ensure that common facilities are regularly sanitised, masks worn and social distancing “followed as far as possible”.Bachchan’s last film, comedy-drama Gulabo Sitabo, went straight to Amazon’s streaming service in June, after theatres in India shut down in March due to pandemic fears.