North Korea says ship seizure by US violates spirit of Trump-Kim summit
North Korea said on Tuesday the seizure of one of its cargo ships by the United States was an illegal act that violated the spirit of a summit between the two countries’ leaders, and demanded the return of the vessel without delay.
The North’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it rejected UN Security Council resolutions against it which the United States cited in impounding the vessel, as a violation of its sovereignty, Reuters reported.
“The United States committed an unlawful and outrageous act of dispossessing our cargo ship,” an unnamed ministry spokesman said in a statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency.
“The latest US act constitutes an extension of the American method of calculation for bringing the DPRK [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to its knees by means of ‘maximum pressure’ and an outright denial of the underlying spirit of the June 12 DPRK-US Joint Statement.”
It would be the “biggest miscalculation” if the United States believed it can control the North with force, the statement said, adding it will keep a sharp eye on future US behavior.
The US Justice Department last week said a North Korean cargo ship known as the “Wise Honest” was seized and impounded to American Samoa. The vessel was accused of illicit coal shipments in violation of sanctions and first detained by Indonesia in April 2018.
Tensions flare again
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump held an unprecedented summit on June 12 last year in Singapore and pledged to establish new relations and a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. They held a second summit in Vietnam in February which collapsed without agreement.
Tensions again have mounted since the failed summit in February over what the Americans saw as North Korean demands for sanctions relief in exchange for disarmament steps.
Kim blamed the collapse of the summit on what he described as unilateral demands by the United States, which he said raised questions over whether Washington has genuine willingness to improve relations.
The US announcement of the ship seizure came hours after the North fired two short-range missiles on Thursday.
The North Korean leader called for “full combat posture” following the US seizure of the North Korean cargo ship.
The test of two short-range missiles on Thursday and the firing of a series of projectiles on Saturday were the first missile launches by the North since it tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in November 2017.
A senior North Korean Foreign Ministry official on Saturday lashed out at last week’s statement by the US State Department that Pyongyang subjected its people to “egregious violations” of human rights including 100,000 in political prison camps.
But South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in called the recent weapons tests a calibrated protest against Washington in the wake of the summit’s breakdown and the North still wants to negotiate.
Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists said the North’s recent state media reports may signal an escalation of rhetoric, albeit relatively sedate.
“If so, they would become part of an ongoing trend in which the regime sends increasingly alarming signals in an attempt to force a breakthrough in negotiations,” Mount said.
Escalating Sri Lankan riots claim first life
Sri Lanka announced Tuesday a curfew for a second straight night after a man was killed by sword-wielding rioters in an escalating anti-Muslim backlash following the Easter terror attacks.
Violence broke out late Monday, three weeks after terrorist bombings killed 258 people, with rampaging mobs carrying out arson attacks and 2,000 people vandalizing a mosque, witnesses said, AFP reported.
Police announced another nationwide curfew for a second night to try and stop the violence.
The curfew had been in place all day in North-Western Province (NWP), where police said a 45-year-old Muslim man was slaughtered in his carpentry shop late Monday by a crowd carrying swords.
Fauzul Ameen was buried Tuesday at a Muslim cemetery in Nattandiya under tight security. Heavily armed troops and police backed by armored personnel carriers guarded a service attended by around 100 people.
Police said Tuesday that 13 people had been arrested including Amith Weerasinghe, a man from Sri Lanka’s majority Buddhist Sinhalese community on bail for his role in similar riots in March last year.
Elsewhere in NWP, north of Colombo, attackers outnumbering police and security forces set fire to Muslim-owned shops, vandalized homes and smashed windows, furniture and fittings inside several mosques.
In the adjoining Gampaha District, men on motorbikes led arson attacks in the town of Minuwangoda, 45 kilometers (30 miles) north of Colombo, local residents told AFP.
An owner of an electronic goods store said police and security forces appeared to be overwhelmed and that by the time troops fired in the air to disperse the mobs it was too late.
In the NWP, attackers have systematically targeted mosques for two days, local clerics told AFP. In the town of Kinyama, two mosques were smashed as outnumbered armed police and troops stood by.
“Security forces are assisting police who have been ordered to use maximum force to contain the violence,” police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said.
Political commentator Victor Ivan suggested that the violence was politically orchestrated.
“The opposition feels that they can gain when there is instability and the government appears to be weak,” Ivan told AFP. “There is evidence of junior level opposition figures instigating communal violence.”
He said the political establishment, including the opposition, had failed to provide leadership and restore confidence after the April 21 attacks claimed by the Daesh terrorist group.
In an address to the nation on Monday night, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said the unrest would hinder investigations into the attacks that targeted three churches and three luxury hotels.
In a separate TV address, Police Chief Chandana Wickramaratne warned of stern action against rioters, and said that constables have been issued orders to use maximum force.
The attacks came during the Muslim holy fasting month of Ramadan. Muslims make up around 10 percent of Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka’s population, and Christians about 7.6 percent.
A state of emergency has been in place since the bombings and security forces have been given sweeping powers to detain suspects.
Internet service providers said the telecoms regulator on Tuesday extended a social media ban to Twitter. Earlier, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Instagram had been blocked to prevent the spread of messages inciting violence.
UN chief visits New Zealand, vows to combat growing hate speech
United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres aims to draw up a global plan to fight a rising tide of hate speech, he said on Tuesday, during a visit to a New Zealand mosque where dozens of worshippers were killed in a mass shooting in March.
Guterres visited the Al Noor Mosque in the southern city of Christchurch, where a gunman killed more than 40 people on March 15 in one of the attacks on two mosques that killed a total of 51 people, Reuters reported.
An Australian man, a suspected white supremacist, has been charged with multiple counts of murder and attempted murder over the attacks.
“Hate speech is spreading and public discourse is being coarsened,” Guterres said in a speech outside the mosque.
“Social media is being exploited as a platform for bigotry. We must all show solidarity in response to this dangerous upsurge in hatred.”
Guterres has asked the United Nations’ special advisor for the prevention of genocide to form a team to develop a global plan of action against hate speech, he added. The UN chief’s visit to the island nation came as its Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern prepared to co-host a meeting in France for global support to combat online expression of violence.
Guterres usually makes a “visit of solidarity” to a Muslim nation during the annual holy month of Ramadan, which began on May 5, but decided to visit New Zealand in light of the shootings, he added.
FM: Macron wants to meet Libya’s Haftar to push cease-fire
President Emmanuel Macron wants to meet Libyan eastern commander Khalifa Haftar to push a cease-fire and resume peace talks, France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.
Macron last week called for a cease-fire in the month-long battle for Libya’s capital Tripoli after meeting UN-backed Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj, Reuters reported.
Tripoli is home to the recognized administration but some European countries such as France have also supported eastern military commander Haftar as a way to fight militants in a country in chaos since the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. A day after meeting Macron, the internationally recognized government asked 40 foreign firms including French oil major Total to renew their licenses or have their operations suspended. “The situation in Libya is extremely worrying because the proposed UN roadmap to both parties ... has today failed on the one hand because of Field Marshal Haftar’s initiative and Serraj’s non-initiative,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers.
“It’s for this reason that the president wanted to meet one and the other to support the UN initiative.”
Pompeo’s remarks cause controversy, leaving transatlantic relations under ‘severe strain,’ experts warn
By Guy Davies
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip overseas has already caused a stir in some European capitals.
Last week he visited London and began talks with European leaders in Brussels, Belgium, before visiting Russia on May 14. But as the next phase of talks with European leaders begins, the perceived unpredictability of US foreign policy is now proving difficult to swallow for some of America’s closest European and British allies, according to diplomatic experts.
Pompeo has been highly critical of the European Union and the UK on his European tour.
In a speech described by the Financial Times as a “no-holds-barred attack,” Pompeo said the UK’s plans to allow Chinese technology company Huawei to expand aspects of its 5G network could amount to “open doors for Beijing’s spymasters.” The US claims Huawei has been doing business with Iran and could potentially leak data to the Chinese government.
On Iran, Pompeo said that the UK government shares “our assessment of the threat, but they have taken a different approach when it comes to constraining Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”
Tellingly, the headline in The Daily Telegraph newspaper read: “Secretary of state warns UK over Iran amid strain on special relationship.”
And on Venezuela, Pompeo again made headlines by saying those that disagree with US policy in Venezuela were “disgusting.”
The socialist leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, who could well become the next UK prime minister, has gone on record a number of times to oppose US intervention in Venezuela and said the country’s future is “a matter for Venezuelans.”
“We oppose outside interference in Venezuela, whether from the US or anywhere else. There needs to be dialogue and a negotiated settlement to overcome the crisis.”
‘Visits are dreaded rather than welcomed’
The strong rhetoric from the Trump administration has come to be expected in European capitals. On issues such as NATO spending and China, European security interests are broadly aligned with the US position but the “public dressing downs” are having an impact, according to Richard Whitman, professor of politics and international relations at University of Kent.
“It isn’t necessarily that the administration is delivering a different message to that from other recent administrations on some issues (such as defense expenditure) but the tone and the public dressing downs are pretty brutal,” he told ABC News. “It does mean that the visits of major administration officials now have the feel of something to be dreaded rather than welcomed.”
Some of these criticisms are predictable and justified, according to Benjamin Rhode, research fellow for transatlantic affairs at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“I think the Trump administration is justified to complain about the failures of most of its European partners to pull their weight when it comes to military spending in NATO,” he told ABC News. “This has been a US complaint for many decades.”
Similarly, on the issue of China and the diplomatic fallout of the US approach to Huawei, European interests are largely aligned with Trump’s, said Whitman.
“Pompeo’s trip had the feel of a visit that was designed to rub Europeans up the wrong way and do more to expose transatlantic divisions than stressing areas of agreement,” he added.
The transatlantic relationship, historically one of the most important global alliances, is now under “severe strain,” according to Rhode.
The Iran nuclear deal is the main sticking point.
“This transcends traditional tensions such as squabbles over military burden-sharing,” Rhode said. “President Trump has described the EU as a ‘foe,’ at least concerning trade. The decision to withdraw from the JCPOA [the Iran nuclear deal] has put Washington on a potential collision course with Britain, France and Germany.”
“Europeans invested significantly in a process to manage Iran [with the US] which they see as being ripped up,” he continued. “There are pretty diametrically opposed views between the EU and US on how to handle Iran.”
This can be seen in recent statements from European leaders over the past week. UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told reporters in Brussels before talks with Pompeo on Monday that “we are very worried about a conflict, about the risk of a conflict ... of an escalation that is unintended,” according to Reuters.
The future of the special relationship?
In the short term, Pompeo’s trip is unlikely to sour the “special relationship” between the UK and the United States, according to Malcolm Chalmers, deputy director general of the Royal United Services Institute.
“Leaders are biting their lips at the latest humiliation from Washington,” he said. But there is another complicating factor in the “special relationship” between the UK and United States – the future of Prime Minister Theresa May.
There is a strong chance Jeremy Corbyn, a lifelong socialist, could be the next prime minister. He could potentially “have the power to bring about the dismantlement of the special relationship with America against which he has fought for his whole political career,” Chalmers said.
“All this would change if Jeremy Corbyn were to become premier, a scenario that is becoming ever more possible as the May government implodes,” Chalmers noted. “There is little doubt that Corbyn would take a markedly more anti-American stance than any previous postwar premier.”
Yet it is the unpredictability of the Trump administration’s foreign policy decisions that is threatening the relationship from the perspective of EU leaders, according to Whitman, and this could have significant ramifications.
“They feel constantly wrong-footed by Mr. Trump’s social media and public pronouncements and they are anxious about the ability of the transatlantic relationship to endure,” he said.
The above article by Guy Davis was first published by ABC News on May 13.
A shallow magnitude 7.5 earthquake struck close to the remote New Britain island of Papua New Guinea on Tuesday, the US Geological Survey said, triggering a tsunami warning for parts of the Pacific.