VP Pence jets into Seoul as Korea tensions ratchet up; British officials are told Washington is considering a preemptive attack
In this image made from video provided by North Korean broadcaster KRT, missiles are displayed during a parade at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, Saturday, April 15, 2017. (KRT via AP) US: North Korean missile explodes on test launch
US Vice President Mike Pence will arrive in Seoul Sunday, flying into a geopolitical maelstrom amid a possible North Korean nuclear test and harsh US warnings about a military response.
Pence’s first visit to South Korea — part of an Asia swing that also includes stops in Japan, Indonesia and Australia — was conceived months ago, but could hardly come at a time of higher tension.
On Sunday, the UK’s Sunday Times reported that top military advisers to US President Donald Trump have told their British counterparts that Washington was considering a preemptive strike against North Korea’s nuclear program, and believed it had the firepower to neutralize it.
Citing “senior sources” in the British government, the paper said the US believed it would be able to “utterly destroy” the key installations required to remove the threat the program posed to North Korea’s neighbors and the US.
According to the paper, US Defense Secretary James Mattis discussed a US strike on North Korea with his British counterpart, Michael Fallon, some two weeks ago, and similar conversations have been held between British officials and Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster.
“They’ll do anything it takes. Nothing is off the table. They think they’ve got the capabilities to target things and utterly destroy them. They are confident they know where everything is and can target it efficiently,” one British official was quoted as saying.
Another source told The Sunday Times that US officials “are getting to the point where they think they may have to take out the facilities preemptively…. They are much closer to taking military action than they were a year ago.”
In the last week, geo-spatial imaging showed North Korea possibly preparing a nuclear test to coincide with the 105th anniversary of the birth of founder Kim Il-Sung.
Trump has warned that North Korea will be dealt with and officials have confirmed that military action is being considered, although it has not been approved.
That issue will be top of the agenda when Pence begins talks with South Korea’s interim Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-Ahn on Monday, and in Tokyo during talks with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Both Japan and South Korea are firmly in the firing line and will want to caution against any US military action that could prompt a broader conflagration.
Away from immediate security matters, Pence will try to reassure allies concerned about Trump’s commitment to decades-old security guarantees and protectionist rhetoric.
US officials acknowledge Trump’s message of “America first” has at times been read by allies as meaning “everyone else last.”
Pence’s message will be that America’s security and economic commitments are enduring and “ironclad,” according to a senior White House foreign policy adviser.
Participants perform in a mass dance event on Kim Il-Sung square marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. (Ed Jones/AFP)
That commitment, aides say, will be underscored by Pence’s very personal ties to South Korea.
Sixty-four years ago to the day, his father, Lieutenant Edward Pence, was awarded the Bronze Star for valor in the Korean War.
In Seoul, Pence will try to steer clear of South Korea’s tumultuous domestic politics ahead of elections next month. He is not expected to sit down with opposition leaders who could take the reins next month.
But he will no doubt address worries in Washington that any new government may slow-walk the deployment of THAAD — a system designed to shoot down missiles from North Korea or elsewhere.
The United States has almost 30,000 troops in South Korea and is keen to see the project fully deployed.
The issue has been complicated by China’s furious opposition to the prospect of having a high-tech radar system on its doorstep, fearing it could partially neutralize its nuclear deterrent.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un waves from a balcony of the Grand People’s Study house following a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ED JONES)
Beijing has responded though diplomatic pressure and economic coercion, souring relations with Seoul.
But Pence, whose public message at times seems at odds with Trump’s, will have plenty of work to do to reassure South Korea that the United States is a reliable partner.
Trump has repeatedly complained that the United States shoulders too much of the burden for other countries’ defense and has suffered under bilateral and regional trade agreements.
An agreement on who pays for US troops in South Korea is due to expire next year, and South Korea — where anti-US sentiment is high — could be asked to pay more.
Korean People’s Army (KPA) tanks are displayed during a military parade marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung, in Pyongyang on April 15, 2017. (Ed Jones/AFP)
Trump has also called for a review of all bilateral trade agreements, including the five-year-old US-South Korea deal — or KORUS.
The new US president’s relentless focus on trade deficits has some of the deal’s supporters dismayed.
“There is not a valid reason to be concerned about KORUS,” former US diplomat and trade negotiator Wendy Cuttler, who helped negotiate the deal, told a Korea Society event this week.
“I don’t think it’s correct to judge the success of a trade agreement on the basis of a bilateral trade deficit.”
According to Cuttler, the deficit has more to do with steady US economic growth that has raised demands for Korean imports.
Others point to tens of billions of dollars worth of South Korean investment into the United States, which is estimated to have created some 50,000 American jobs.
A Sa’ar 4.5-class Corvette of the Israeli Navy fires its canons during a naval exercise off the coast of Israel.
Israel’s Defense Ministry on Sunday announced a series of deals for the purchase of combat systems from local defense industries in the amount of $420 million by the end of this year. This is part of a project to acquire warships whose mission would to protect natural gas platforms within Israel’s “economic waters” in the Mediterranean against military threats.
An Israeli soldier training in Krav Maga.
Several dozen members of the Indian military are currently learning how to protect themselves using the Israeli martial art of Krav Maga, India Today reported this weekend.
“I brought Krav Maga to India in year 2002 after intensive training in Israel,” Vikram Kapoor — the head instructor at the International Krav Maga Federation — was quoted as saying. “This is the only self-defense technique that is being evolved every moment and that is why it is the best.”
Culminating a three-year process, delegates at the Mennonite Church USA assembly in Orlando on Thursday adopted a resolution titled “Seeking Peace in Israel and Palestine,” with approximately 98 percent voting in favor. The resolution calls on members to “avoid purchase of products associated with the occupation or produced in settlements in occupied territories.” It also establishes a process for the church to review its investments “for the purpose of withdrawing investments from companies that are profiting from the occupation.”
Rabbi Steven Wernick says Netanyahu recruited progressive Jews to find a compromise for the holy site; now that the PM has reneged, world Jewry won’t be silent
The fight for pluralistic prayer at the Western Wall is a battle already won by Jewry’s Conservative movement. For some 20 years, Conservative Jews have inhabited a spiritual home at Jerusalem’s contentious holy site, which they won through a series of Supreme Court cases — in a section allocated to the Davidson Archaeological
Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. (Photo credit: hebron.com)
In a secret ballot held at the World Heritage Committee’s 41st annual summit in Krakow Poland, on Friday, UNESCO voted twelve to three in favor declaring the Holy City of Hebron and the Cave of the Patriarchs “Palestinian world heritage sites”.
The resolution described a Muslim history of the city while blatantly ignoring the Biblical narrative describing 3,000 years of Jewish connection to the site. Six countries abstained from the controversial vote which, at the request of Poland, Croatia, and Jamaica, was a secret ballot; a first for such a vote.
During last month’s 2017 Chicago Dyke March, the true face of “inclusion” among “progressives” finally surfaced. According to the Chicago based newspaper Windy City Times, the march proceeded calmly with people “of all races, genders and gender identities” attending, until “the Dyke March Collective ejected three people carrying Jewish Pride flags (a rainbow flag with a Star of David in the center).”
Something is terribly broken in the relationship between American and Israeli Jews. I say this as an American Jew who has lived in Israel for almost half a century. But if anyone thinks this started with Women of the Wall or PM Netanyahu’s recent – and I believe unfortunate – backtracking on the agreement over egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, he is suffering from selective memory, if not total denial.
gentleman from times gone by. He was soft-spoken, courtly, and wore his pants hoisted high and held up by suspenders; clearly, a European who had personally endured horrors in the last century.
Indeed, he had personally survived the Holocaust in Poland. Therefore, I could not immediately understand why he now attends a very left-wing synagogue—but, totally incomprehensible, was his unexpected and rather passionate defense of Poland and of the Poles. He argued on their behalf as if his very life still depended upon it.
Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s decision to visit Jerusalem but not Ramallah has prompted much comment.
The expectation of equal treatment goes back to the Oslo Accords’ signing in Sep. 1993, when the prime minister of Israel, Yitzhak Rabin, represented his government in the handshake with Yasir Arafat, the much-despised chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization. No one found it strange or inappropriate at the time but things look differently nearly a quarter century later.
Matthew Healy at the Atlantic, one of the few remaining liberal anti-censorship magazines, offers a disingenuous counterpoint to the debate over political correctness.
The attempts to silence dissenting points of view are counter-speech, according to Healy. And counter-speech is an important form of free expression.