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WASHINGTON, June 21, 2018 (Reuters) - The missile engine test site that President Donald Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had committed to destroy is a major facility in the western part of the country that has been used for testing engines for long-range missiles, according to a US official.

Trump told reporters after their June 12 summit that Kim had pledged to dismantle one of his missile installations, which would be North Korea’s most concrete concession at the landmark meeting in Singapore.

However, the president at the time did not name the site.

A US official identified it on Wednesday as the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, saying North Korea “has used this site to test liquid-propellant engines for its long-range ballistic missiles.”

Pyongyang has said its missiles can reach the United States.

“Chairman Kim promised that North Korea would destroy a missile engine test stand soon,” the official told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

There was no immediate word on the exact timetable, and North Korea has not publicly confirmed that Kim made such a commitment.

CBS News was the first to identify the site, which is the newest of North Korea’s known major missile testing facilities.

Although Trump has hailed the Singapore summit as a success, skeptics have questioned whether he achieved anything, given that Pyongyang, which has rejected unilateral nuclear disarmament, appeared to make no new tangible commitments in a joint written declaration.

The US-based North Korea monitoring group 38 North said in an analysis at the end of last week there had been no sign of any activity toward dismantling Sohae or any other missile test site.

The US official said: “The United States will continue to monitor this site closely as we move forward in our negotiations.”

What little is known about the Sohae site, located in Tongchang-ri, has been pieced together from analysts’ assessments and the North Korean state news agency KCNA.

It was reported to have been established in 2008 and has research facilities nearby for missile development as well as a tower that can support ballistic missiles. The site is mainly used to test large Paektusan engines built for long-range missiles such as the Hwasong-15.

North Korea has spent considerable effort and resources to develop the site as a “civilian space programme” facility, denying that it has a military application, said Jenny Town, a research analyst at the 38 North.

“Presumably, if North Korea does destroy the Sohae facility, they are also signaling that they are willing to stop satellite/rocket launches this time around as well, a point that has derailed negotiations in the past and is a significant new development,” she said.

North Korea has other missile testing facilities but the shutdown, if it happens, would be significant, analysts said.

“The missile testing is not just done in Tongchang-ri so it does not necessarily mean all ICBMs (intercontinental ballistic missiles) will be disabled. But the most well-known one is this, so there is a great symbolic meaning if this is shut down,” said Moon Hong-sik, a research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy in South Korea.

North Korea announced ahead of the Singapore summit the suspension of its ICBM testing and also closed its nuclear bomb test site. US officials, however, have cautioned that such actions are reversible.

Asked on Wednesday whether North Korea has done anything toward denuclearisation since the summit, US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters: “No, I’m not aware of that. I mean, obviously, it’s the very front end of a process. The detailed negotiations have not begun. I wouldn’t expect that at this point.”

Yang Uk, senior research fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum, agreed that a shutdown of the Sohae testing site would be a symbolic gesture rather than a move to technically disable its missile capabilities.

By the Gazette Editorial Board

SINCE adopting the motto of “America First,” US President Donald Trump has raised world concern over his policies towards other countries, including the US’s closest allies.

 

This policy surfaced in his withdrawal from the Paris Climate Treaty and the Iranian nuclear deal and before the latter in his unilateral decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

 

During his election campaign, Trump promised to restore US's greatness and strength in the world. Unlike his predecessors, he decided not to rely on US's military power to achieve this goal. The businessman turned politician chose the trade approach to impose US's will on the world. He resorted to protectionist policies to lessen the import of certain products, mainly aluminium and steel, for the benefit of US industries.

 

To start with, his target seemed to be China whose trade balance tilted dramatically in its favour at a cost to the US. The Quebec G7 summit held in Canada earlier this month, however, showed that his target was  much  broader. Trump is ready to impose his America First policy even against his closest allies in North America as well as Europe.

 

At the G7, he asked his partners in Europe and Canada to lift their trade barriers against US commodities while he insisted on imposing tariffs on steel and aluminium imported from those countries. He even threatened to impose a tariff on European-made vehicles.

 

Trump, as a president who promised his people to promote the industrial sector and create more  jobs for  Americans, could have the right to impose some protective measures on some foreign imports to protect the local industries. But as head of the biggest capitalist country that continues to force the world to follow a free market economy, it is unacceptable to take such exceptional measures as to cause serious harm to its trade partners.

 

Even before the creation of the World Trade Organisation in January 1995, the US was among the leading countries to work within the former GATT treaty to force a liberalisation of trade on countries worldwide. Apparently, the aim was to open the markets wide to commodities exported from the developed world. So, these organisations worked for the lifting of all customs duties and tariffs on the exports of the developed industrial countries to the rest of the world.

 

Apparently, such policies have negatively affected the industries of many developing countries including Egypt. Most of these countries, however, were eager to join the WTO when it was created in the 90's so that their exports of raw materials and agricultural crops would have access to the markets of the developed countries.

 

Now that the tide has turned against the US market and more countries have managed to produce high quality goods  more cheaply than the US equivalent, Trump has chosen to resort to the exceptional procedure of imposing tariffs on some foreign commodities, such as steel and aluminium to protect US industry. 

 

These policies can only have a negative effect on trade and political ties across the Atlantic as the US import of steel from Canada, Mexico and the European Union is valued at some $23 billion. Cutting it  would cause serious economic harm to those countries and might lead to a trade war between Washington and its allies who have threatened to take similar measures against US exports to their markets.

 

So, will Trump continue with his measures that risk the entire free market economic system, or will he drive the world into cornering the US and isolating it from the entire international community?

WASHINGTON/UNITED NATIONS (News Wires) - The United States withdrew from a “hypocritical and self-serving” United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Tuesday over what it called chronic bias against Israel and a lack of reform, a move activists warned would make advancing human rights globally even more difficult.

Standing with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo at the State Department, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley slammed Russia, China, Cuba and Egypt for thwarting US efforts to reform the council. She also criticised countries which shared US values and encouraged Washington to remain, but “were unwilling to seriously challenge the status quo.”

Washington’s withdrawal is the latest US rejection of multilateral engagement after it pulled out of the Paris climate agreement and the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

It also comes as the United States faces intense criticism for detaining children separated from their immigrant parents at the US-Mexico border. UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein on Monday called on Washington to halt its “unconscionable” policy.

“Look at the council membership, and you see an appalling disrespect for the most basic rights,” said Haley, citing Venezuela, China, Cuba and Democratic Republic of Congo. She did not mention Saudi Arabia, which rights groups pushed to be suspended in 2016 over killings of civilians in the Yemen war.

Among reforms the United States had pushed for was to make it easier to kick out member states with egregious rights records. Currently a two-thirds majority vote by the 193-member UN General Assembly is needed to suspend a member state.

Haley also said the “disproportionate focus and unending hostility toward Israel is clear proof that the council is motivated by political bias, not by human rights.” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the US decision.

The United States has long shielded its ally Israel at the United Nations. In citing what it says is bias against Israel, the administration of President Donald Trump could further fuel Palestinian arguments that Washington cannot be a neutral mediator as it prepares to roll out a Middle East peace plan. Washington also relocated its embassy to Jerusalem after recognising it as the capital of Israel, reversing decades of US policy.

The United States is half-way through a three-year term on the 47-member Geneva-based body and the Trump administration had long threatened to quit if it was not overhauled.

Rights groups have criticised the Trump administration for not making human rights a priority in its foreign policy. Critics say this sends a message that the administration turns a blind eye to human rights abuses in some parts of the world.

“Given the state of human rights in today’s world, the US should be stepping up, not stepping back,” Zeid said after Haley announced the US withdrawal.


BEIRUT, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Syria said on Tuesday it rejected the presence of Turkish and US forces around the northern town of Manbij, a day after soldiers of the two countries began patrolling the area.

Turkish and US troops Monday began independent patrols along the line separating Turkish-controlled areas of northern Syria from the town of Manbij, which is controlled by a local militia affiliated to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is dominated by the Kurdish YPG militia.

"Syria expresses its strong condemnation and absolute rejection of the incursion of Turkish and American forces in the vicinity of Manbij, which comes in the context of continued Turkish and American aggression," state news agency SANA said, quoting a foreign ministry statement.

The statement also said the Syrian army is determined to "liberate all of Syria's territory".

 

 

WARSAW, Poland, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - Poland's prime minister says Tuesday that he sees a "middleman" role for his government in mending ties between President Donald Trump's administration and the European Union - despite Poland's tense relations with the bloc.

Mateusz Morawiecki spoke in Berlin Tuesday following talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that featured European and global security as well as trans-Atlantic ties that have been strained by Trump's protectionist policies.

Morawiecki said that Poland "would like to serve as coordinator, a middleman between the US and Europe, in the best sense" and help ease the tension.

He said that Poland and Germany can be allies in "stopping the trade war spiral, the mutual aversion," with the US, which is Europe's main security partner.

Poland is among Europe's closest allies of the Trump administration.

 

BEIJING, June 19, 2018 (News Wires) - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un began a two-day visit to Beijing on Tuesday in what analysts believe is a trip to brief his sole major ally on his unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump and seek consensus on negotiations with Washington.

The outing comes as China has sought to strengthen its role as a mediator between the US and North Korea, where Beijing claims compelling security and economic interests.

The North's leader, who is believed to have landed in the Chinese capital Tuesday morning, was expected to head to the Great Hall of the People to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, though no official agenda was released.

Dozens of security vans, police cars and armoured vehicles lined streets around Beijing's Diaoyutai State Guesthouse - where Kim had stayed in his previous visit.

A motorcade accompanying a black limousine was seen leaving the compound late Tuesday afternoon as police cleared the way.

The visit comes as the United States, which relies on China to enforce sanctions against Pyongyang, stands on the brink of a potential trade war with Beijing, adding an extra layer of uncertainty and a possible pressure point to be exploited by North Korea's powerful ally.

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that Kim would be in Beijing through Wednesday.

"We hope this visit will help deepen the China-DPRK relations and strengthen our strategic communication on major issues to promote regional peace and stability," foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular press briefing.

The visit is the North Korean autocrat's third to China since March, when he made his inaugural foreign trip as leader.

Previous trips had been kept secret until Kim returned home. It was not clear why Chinese state media broke with the precedent.

In addition to discussing last week's summit, Kim is expected to ask China for help in easing economic sanctions, in return for his pledge to denuclearise, according to Wang Dong, an international relations expert at Peking University.

"The Chinese and North Korean leaders are carrying out consultations on how to jointly move the Korean nuclear issue forward."

Following the historic US-North Korea summit in Singapore a week ago, China suggested the UN Security Council could consider easing the economic restrictions on its Cold War-era ally.

China may not have been at the table for the historic summit in Singapore but it retains strong influence behind the scenes, Dong said. The visit shows that China is "key" to the talks, Wang said.

"It reflects that China is indispensible to the entire Korean nuclear issue."

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