The US special envoy for North Korea laid out an extensive list of demands for North Korean denuclearisation on Thursday that was likely to anger Pyongyang, even as President Donald Trump said the date and place for a second summit was set and hailed “tremendous progress” in his dealings with the country.
In a speech at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, envoy Stephen Biegun called for North Korea to declare all its nuclear and missile programmes and warned that Washington had “contingencies” if the diplomatic process failed.
Biegun said Washington would have to have expert access and monitoring mechanisms of the key nuclear and missile sites and “ultimately ensure removal or destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers and other weapons of mass destruction”.
Pyongyang has rejected declaring its weapons programmes for decades.
Biegun also said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed during an October visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the dismantlement and destruction of North Korea’s plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities.
The information from Biegun goes much further than Pompeo himself did after his trip and further than any public statement by Pyongyang.
Trump appeared upbeat about the prospects for his second summit with Kim, telling reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday that a time and location had been agreed upon and would be announced next week.
He said he was making “tremendous progress” with North Korea. “They very much want the meeting. And I think they really want to do something, and we’ll see.”
Pompeo said on Wednesday that North Korea had agreed that the summit would be held at the end of February and that it would be “some place in Asia”.
Trump and Kim met in Singapore last June in the first summit between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, an event that produced a vague commitment by Kim to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula, where US troops have been stationed in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.
The State Department said Biegun will travel to South Korea on February 3 for talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol “to discuss next steps to advance our objective of the final fully verified denuclearisation of North Korea and steps to make further progress on all the commitments the two leaders made in Singapore”.
North Korea has complained that the United States has done little to reciprocate for the actions it has taken so far to dismantle some weapons facilities. It has repeatedly demanded a lifting of punishing US-led sanctions and has also sought a formal end to the war.
Trump contradicts spy chiefs’ assessment
Trump’s optimism comes despite his own intelligence chiefs’ assessments that said there is little likelihood Kim will voluntarily give up his nuclear weapons or missiles capable of carrying them.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress on Tuesday that the government’s spy assessment does not support the idea that Kim will eliminate his nuclear weapons or the capacity for building more.
Private analysts, in several reports in the past four months, have also drawn on commercial satellite imagery to determine that the North is continuing to develop its nuclear and missile technology despite the test suspension.
In his speech, Biegun said the United States had told North Korea it was prepared to pursue commitments made in Singapore “simultaneously and in parallel” and had already eased rules on delivery of humanitarian aid to North Korea.
He said he planned to discuss “corresponding measures” Washington was willing to take in return for the dismantlement of North Korea’s enrichment capabilities when he holds talks with his counterpart next week.He was blunt about US expectations and said Trump had made clear he expected “significant and verifiable progress on denuclearization” to emerge from the next summit.
“Before the process of denuclearisation can be final, we must have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean WMD and missile programmes through a comprehensive declaration,” he said.
“We must reach agreement on expert access and monitoring mechanisms of key sites to international standards, and ultimately ensure the removal or destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers and other weapons of mass destruction,” he said.
Biegun said all these details would have to be addressed in working-level negotiations if the conditions were to be put in place “to fundamentally transform the US-North Korean relations and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
He pledged that once North Korea was denuclearised the United States was prepared to explore with North Korea and other countries the best way to mobilise investment in the country.
Biegun said the past 25 years of talks had shown that the possibility of failure was great, and stressed, “We need to have contingencies if the diplomatic process fails – which we do.”
Kuwait Democratic Forum hopes for efforts to end political stalemate
KUWAIT: Members of the Kuwait Democratic Forum meet with National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem. KUWAIT: Members of the liberal Kuwait Democratic Forum met with heads of the government and parliament yesterday to present an initiative that they hope would resolve a political stalemate that has gripped the country’s political scene for years. The initiative includes…
KUWAIT: Members of the Kuwait Democratic Forum meet with National Assembly Speaker Marzouq Al-Ghanem.
KUWAIT: Members of the liberal Kuwait Democratic Forum met with heads of the government and parliament yesterday to present an initiative that they hope would resolve a political stalemate that has gripped the country’s political scene for years. The initiative includes several items that the group says the government and parliament need to address in order to reach a successful resolution.
The initiative calls for the government to withdraw its request for parliament to postpone future interpellations to the head of government, while ministers should comply with answering parliamentary questions to enable members of parliament to exercise their supervisory role within a constitutional framework. Moreover, it calls on the government to bring forward a suite of agreed upon legislative proposals to be approved by parliament which support social justice within its national and democratic context.
Meanwhile, the initiative calls upon the legislative authority to return to operating parliamentary sessions, ensuring positive government participation and parliament’s supervision, in addition to cooperation with the government to adopt important and necessary legislation. In addition, the initiative calls for consensus between both branches to put forward a legislative agenda that tackles main issues with a defined timeline.
Also, the initiative outlines a series of issues that require cooperation between both branches, such as amnesty for all political activists and opinion leaders, abolition of all freedom repressing laws and legislation, amending Kuwait’s one-man-one-vote electoral law, ensuring political and parliamentarian equity, and tackling the economic situation without compromising the middle and lower class’s income and wealth.
“Furthermore, there are other issues such as education, health, employment, housing, amending the population structure and issues related to youth such as culture and sports, that require expansive attention,” KFD said in a statement yesterday. “This initiative, we hope will create an environment of cooperation to achieve with the help of society’s backing whether from political organizations, public figures or civil society.”
Members of the Kuwait Democratic Forum meet with His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah.
Crippling stalemate“Since the last election held on December 5, 2020 and what preceded and followed it, the Kuwaiti Democratic Forum observed the recent political developments in the public sphere, and what it ensued of intentional and unintentional crippling of parliamentary performance built on oversight and legislation, in addition to the executive branch’s ability to apply its programs and plans, what called for the national movement to return to political life in its constitutional framework,” the KFD statement reads.
“The KDF’s moves come from the feeling of the importance of getting in between warring parties to find a unique initiative which all stakeholders can back, starting from holding a series of talks with public figures and political organizations, in addition to members of parliament and ministers, and most importantly both the heads of the legislative and executive branches,” KFD said. “These talks had a positive response from their respective parties that stress the importance of providing a positive political climate to work for the public good.”
According to KFD, the initiative, entitled “A Democratic and Safe Homeland,” emphasizes the paramount importance of operating within the constitution that organizes the relationship between the National Assembly and the Government to achieve the society’s hopes of progress and prosperity and fix issues that are stalled for years.
“To comply with our national and democratic role as a political organization, and away from any arrangements that could be viewed as lopsided, a Democratic Forum delegation met on Monday with both Marzouq Al-Ghanem, Speaker of Kuwait’s National Assembly, and His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled Al-Sabah, the Prime Minister, to deliver a copy of this initiative that holds the results of our talks, hoping that each party shoulders their national and political responsibility to ensure the application of this initiative for parliamentary and government life gets back to normality,” the statement notes.
Kuwait Times September 28, 2021
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In Malaysia, young people find their voice amid a pandemic
At the end of June, when Malaysians were grappling with a drastically worsening pandemic, pictures of black flags, and people waving them from their cars or their homes, appeared on social media. Hashtagged #lawan, which means “fight” in the Malay language, the flags became a rallying cry against the government’s failures in handling the coronavirus.…
At the end of June, when Malaysians were grappling with a drastically worsening pandemic, pictures of black flags, and people waving them from their cars or their homes, appeared on social media.
Hashtagged #lawan, which means “fight” in the Malay language, the flags became a rallying cry against the government’s failures in handling the coronavirus. The discontent spilled onto the streets in a series of largely peaceful protests in July.
By that time, the toll of COVID-19 had hit a new peak, with more than 20,000 new infections and 200 deaths daily, and the protesters demanded that then Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin resign. Throughout the protests, at least 47 participants were investigated by the police.
The black flag movement was initiated by a loose coalition of about 40 youth activist groups calling itself Sekretariat Solidariti Rakyat (SSR), which first came together in March to protest against the delay in implementing the lowering of the voting age from 21 to 18, which was passed in parliament in July 2019.
Political analyst Bridget Welsh told Al Jazeera that the government’s delay in implementing the legislation after it was passed was the catalyst for the disaffection felt by many young people.
Other factors include the high unemployment rate among 15 to 30-year-olds – almost double the national average – stagnating wages, unaffordable housing, and the lack of any real social safety net in a pandemic.
Dressed in black, young Malaysians took to the streets of Kuala Lumpur on July 31 calling for the resignation of then Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin who had gotten the top job after a power grab within the ruling coalition that was elected in May 2018. He resigned the following month [File: FL Wong/AP Photo]All this has been exacerbated by Malaysia’s political upheavals since the 2018 general election, which have resulted in two changes in government since February last year, and the devastation wrought by the pandemic.
“There are young people who lost their family members. I know someone who, within a week, lost his grandparents, granduncles, and his uncles and aunts,” said Qyira Yusri, the 27-year-old co-founder of Undi18, an NGO which led the campaign to lower the voting age. “They’re just looking to our government and wondering what’s going on.”
While Malaysia coped with the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic relatively well – even after the power grab that brought Muhyiddin to power – the situation spiralled out of control after a snap election in the Borneo state of Sabah in September 2020.
In January this year, as politicians within his fragile coalition continued to jostle for power and coronavirus cases surged, Muhyiddin announced a state of emergency and suspended parliament. Then came an extended lockdown.
Much of Malaysia turned to social media and young people found themselves thrust onto the front line of political activism at a time when older generations were more vulnerable to COVID-19.
Welsh describes the movement as largely urban, but one that aims to be inclusive by traversing geographic, class, and racial divides.
A few days after SSR’s protest on July 31, attended by as many as 1,000 people, Muhyiddin resigned as prime minister.
“While I can’t say for sure that the protests made a difference, what’s important is that it provided an avenue for people to articulate their frustrations,” Qyira told Al Jazeera.
Since then, Ismail Sabri Yaakob of UMNO, a scandal-tainted party that dominated the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition that ruled Malaysia for decades and was voted out in 2018, has been named to the top job. Like Muhyiddin’s government, Ismail Sabri’s is not popularly elected.
Cultivating new youth leaders
The pandemic and the issues it has raised have pushed youth activism well beyond the vote.
Youth groups are now campaigning for an array of causes – from refugee rights to climate change and decriminalising suicide – dissecting legislation and policies into more understandable and shareable forms across Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter.
Young Malaysians held protests over the suspension of parliament during the coronavirus pandemic and defended the right to freedom of expression and assembly [File: Ahmad Yusni/EPA]But their activities have also brought the attention of the Malaysian authorities.
Two days before the July 31 protest, Sarah Irdina, a 20-year-old founder of youth group MISI: Solidariti, was arrested for alleged sedition and detained overnight by the police, purportedly for tweeting about the upcoming protest.
Participants of earlier July protests had also been previously investigated, so SSR was prepared.
It crowdfunded to pay off fines and cooperated with the Young Lawyers Movement (YLM) to ensure participants would have ready access to free legal representation should the need arise. YLM is itself advocating a minimum wage for legal trainees and a more effective mechanism for processing sexual harassment complaints within the profession.
Still, at a time when young people from Myanmar, Thailand and Hong Kong have taken to the streets to demand institutional reform, analysts say Malaysia’s young people have adopted a less confrontational approach.
“Their main aim is to give the youth a platform and make Malaysia a more inclusive place politically for them,” BowerGroup Asia analyst Darryl Tan told Al Jazeera. “What they believe in is that if you give the youth a political platform to air their views, you will also have other kinds of conversations happening.”
Undi18 recently announced a new umbrella initiative called UndiNegaraku, which aims to cultivate 10,000 youth leaders nationwide by 2023, when the next general election will be held.
Last year, it organised Parlimen Digital, a mock online session with youths playing the roles of the 222 members of parliament, to show that sessions could continue virtually in a pandemic after the physical one was suspended. For this too, some of its participants were reportedly called in for police questioning.
Undi18 also coordinates several policy initiatives, collectively run by around 200 volunteers, that range from conserving the environment to getting more women in parliament. “When you want to push for a cause you have to hyperfocus on issues, on certain legislation and reforms,” Qyira said.
The COVID-19 pandemic, which led to more than 25,000 deaths in Malaysia, has fuelled young people’s interest in reforming Malaysia and getting involved in politics [File: Ahmad Yusni/EPA]She wants to provide a platform for youths that prioritises understanding the issues they want to champion as a starting point, not toe the line of any political ideology.
But that does not mean avoiding politics.
Qyira points out that Undi18 alumni have gone on to join different parties, from UMNO to Anwar Ibrahim’s Keadilan and MUDA (Malaysian United Democratic Alliance) – a new youth-centric party co-founded by Syed Saddiq, a 28-year-old member of parliament and former minister of youth and sports.
“We want to give them equal exposure to the political parties out there without undue influence from any of them,” Qyira said.
Some Undi18 alumni have also gone on to build their own activist groups.
Nineteen-year-old university students Rifqi Faisal and Izanna Azuddin founded MYER Movement in April to call for education reform – especially urgent in this pandemic, when many students lack resources for online learning.
The two activists say they have seen whole families share just one device to take turns attending classes, while the government’s promise to provide several thousand laptops to underprivileged students remains unfulfilled. They also point out the lack of mental health counselling for students studying in isolation at home, and the overlooking of students in rural areas and those with learning disabilities.
“I feel like our government looks at our education as a one-size-fits-all system,” Izanna said.
Other young Malaysians are also making their voices heard in other ways. Junior contract doctors, who make up the bulk of medical workers handling COVID-19, went on strike in July as part of their fight for greater job security.
Malaysian teenager Ain Husniza (right) with her parents. The 17-year-old began a campaign against sexual harassment in schools after a teacher joked about rape, She was questioned by police in August [File: Lim Huey Teng/Reuters]Ain Husniza, a 17-year-old student, is campaigning to make schools free from sexual harassment after one of her teachers made a rape joke in class. Heidi Quah, a 20-something refugee activist, is challenging the constitutional validity of a law that has been widely used to criminalise “offensive” comments after being charged for a Facebook post describing the ill-treatment of refugees in detention centres.
“Obviously, there are some people who are very against the idea of youths speaking out. It’s that whole top-down culture, especially in Malaysia, where you have to respect your elders, and older people don’t really respect youths,” Izanna said.
As such, young people have had to demand that their voices be heard. “The surge of youth organisations in the past year has created enormous space for young individuals to begin doing work about the issues that they care about,” Rifqi said.
A new activism and politics
Welsh describes the new activism as a grassroots movement.
“The youths do support young leaders like Syed Saddiq and MUDA, but there isn’t the direct involvement or leadership from political leaders,” Welsh said.
A former champion debater, Syed, the pro-tem president of MUDA, played a role in getting the Undi18 bill to the attention of lawmakers when it was first proposed. But he is not himself part of the SSR movement.
MUDA, too, is promising a new future: eschewing the race-based politics that has long dominated Malaysian discourse and focusing on the potential of youth leadership.
Amira Aisya, who is 25 years old and one of the party’s 13 co-founders, tells Al Jazeera that the proof is in the diversity of MUDA’s central executive committee – not just in terms of ethnicity but also in education and profession. It includes Dr Thanussha Francis Xavier, a medical practitioner; Lim Wei Jiet, a lawyer; and Shahrizal Denci, a farmer. Amira herself worked at an educational think tank.
Amira also emphasises MUDA’s aim to put young people on an equal footing to adults. Teenagers can join from the age of 15. “Unlike other parties, we don’t have separate youth or women’s wings. If you are capable of becoming a part of the leadership of MUDA, you will be,” she said.
As the youth movement grows, Qyira feels that political parties of all stripes are watching closely what young people are saying and feeling.
Junior doctors also walked off the job in July demanding fairer treatment. The placard reads “I am a contract doctor” [AP Photo]A court has ordered the government to implement the new minimum voting age by December 31, which could mean 7.8 million new voters for the next general election.
The government on Monday said it would follow through on the directive.
“I think young people are growing more and more cynical about political parties and politicians, but we’re still able to articulate our visions for policies,” Qyira said. “And we will hold politicians accountable to them.”