Trump Meets Kim at DMZ, Crosses Into North Korea

Donald Trump became the first sitting U.S. president to visit North Korea, stepping across the border during a meeting at the demilitarized zone with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

After shaking hands with Kim at the Panmunjom border village, Trump walked across the military demarcation line separating the two Koreas. Kim and Trump then crossed the border back into South Korea. 

“Good to see you again,” Kim told Trump. “I never expected to see you in this place.” 

“Stepping across that line was a great honor,” said Trump, who invited Kim to the United States for another meeting.

Trump on Saturday had said the meeting would only last two minutes. However, Trump’s private talks with Kim lasted about 50 minutes, turning into an impromptu summit.

When Trump emerged from the meeting, he announced he and Kim had agreed to form teams to restart working level talks. 

“They will meet over the next few weeks and they’re going to start a process and we’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “Speed is not the object…we want a really comprehensive, good deal.” 

Leaving South Korea after a wonderful meeting with Chairman Kim Jong Un. Stood on the soil of North Korea, an important statement for all, and a great honor!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 30, 2019

It is the third meeting between Kim and Trump, following meetings in Singapore last June and in Vietnam in February. Though the DMZ summit raises hopes of revived nuclear talks, it’s not clear how much progress was made.

President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone, South Korea, Sunday, June 30, 2019.

Nuclear progress?

Trump announced his negotiating team would continue to be led by Steve Biegun, the U.S. special envoy for North Korea. He said that North Korea “was also putting someone in charge who we know and who we like,” though he didn’t elaborate.

After the Singapore summit, Trump also announced his deputies would soon start working level negotiations. But those talks soon broke down over disagreements about how to pace sanctions relief with North Korea’s steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons. 

“It’s where we were about 15 months ago,” says Vipin Narang, a nuclear expert and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “One step forward, two steps back. But this is one step forward.” 

“Given where we were last week, it’s not nothing,” he added. 

The disagreements between the U.S. and North Korea remain vast. Not only has North Korea not provided a list of its nuclear sites, Washington and Pyongyang have not even agreed on what the idea of denuclearization means. 

In recent weeks, North Korea expressed increasing levels of anger at the U.S. refusal to relax sanctions. Trump prefers a “big deal” under which North Korea commits to completely abandoning his nuclear weapons before relaxing any sanctions.

In their public comments Sunday, neither Trump nor Kim gave any indication of softening their stances.

“There was no sign that the two sides were prepared to address the underlying substantive problems, like differences over sanctions relief, that have made diplomacy so difficult,” says Mintaro Oba, a former State Department official and Korea specialist.  

“Unless the working-level negotiators have a mandate to try new, more constructive approaches to these problems, it’s hard to see what they can achieve,” he adds.

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un stand on the North Korean side in the Demilitarized Zone, Sunday, June 30, 2019 at Panmunjom.

U.S. officials have given mixed signals about whether they are open to an incremental approach, whereby Pyongyang would give up its nuclear program in stages in exchange for reciprocal steps by Washington.

Building trust or theatrics?

Trump visited the DMZ with South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Though the three leaders did not make any public statement together, they briefly appeared together before Trump and Kim met for private talks.

At an earlier military briefing with Moon at a DMZ lookout point, Trump said the demilitarized zone used to be “very, very dangerous…but after our first summit, all the danger went away.” 

Trump also defended his North Korea policy and blasted media that have questioned whether he should meet with Kim, given that talks with North Korea are stalled.  

“I say that for the press, they have no appreciation for what we’ve done,” Trump said.

While many warn the latest summit risked normalizing friendly relations with a brutal dictator, South Korea’s President Moon said the meeting was an important step toward building trust with North Korea.

“We have taken one big step forward,” Moon said. “The…Korean people have been given hope thanks to today.”

But Bonnie Glaser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies said that for Trump, stepping inside North Korea might not signify any change in policy.

Trump, she said, delights in doing things no president has done before.”

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Schumer: ATF Should Investigate Dominican Republic Deaths

The Senate’s top Democrat called on the U.S. government Sunday to step up its efforts to investigate the deaths of Americans who traveled to the Dominican Republic and is asking the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to get involved.

Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said the agency should step in to lend investigative support to the FBI and local law enforcement officials after at least eight Americans died in the Dominican Republic this year. Family members of the tourists have called on authorities to investigate whether there’s any connection between the deaths and have raised the possibility the deaths may have been caused by adulterated alcohol or misused pesticides.

The ATF – the agency primarily investigates firearms-related crimes but is also charged with regulating alcohol and tobacco – is uniquely positioned to provide technical and forensic expertise in the investigation, Schumer said. The agency also has offices in the Caribbean.

“Given that we still have a whole lot of questions and very few answers into just what, if anything, is cause for the recent spate of sicknesses and several deaths of Americans in the Dominican Republic, the feds should double their efforts on helping get to the bottom of things,” Schumer said in a statement to The Associated Press.

An ATF spokeswoman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Francisco Javier Garcia, the tourism minister in the Dominican Republic, said earlier this month that the deaths are not part of any mysterious wave of fatalities but instead are a statistically normal phenomenon that has been lumped together by the U.S. media. He said autopsies show the tourists died of natural causes.

Five of the autopsies were complete as of last week, while three were undergoing further toxicological analysis with the help from the FBI because of the circumstances of the deaths.

 

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Israeli PM: Palestinians Are Determined to Continue Conflict

Israel’s prime minister says the Palestinians are “determined to continue the conflict at any price.”

Speaking at his weekly Cabinet meeting Sunday, Benjamin Netanyahu was referring to the Palestinian leadership’s rejection of last week’s Mideast peace conference in Bahrain aimed at providing economic assistance.

Netanyahu says while Israel welcomed the U.S.’s $50 billion Palestinian development plan, the Palestinians themselves denounced it and even arrested a Palestinian businessman who participated in it.

Netanyahu says, “This is not how those who want to promote peace act.”

Palestinian forces have since released businessman Saleh Abu Mayala.

The Palestinian Authority accuses the Trump administration of being biased toward Israel and has boycotted it since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017. They accuse the U.S. of trying to replace Palestinian statehood with money.

 

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9/11 First Responder Advocate Dies at 53

A leader in the fight for health benefits for emergency personnel who responded to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the U.S. has died.

Former New York City Police detective Luis Alvarez died from colorectal cancer Saturday, his family announced in a post On Facebook.

The 53-year-old Alvarez appeared with American comedian and political activist Jon Stewart before a House Judiciary subcommittee on June 11 to appeal for an extension of the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund.

A frail Alvarez told the panel, “This fund is not a ticket to paradise, it’s to provide our families with care.” He went on to say “You all said you would never forget. Well, I’m here to make sure that you don’t.”

Alvarez was diagnosed with cancer in 2016. His illness was traced to the three months he spent searching for survivors in the toxic rubble of the World Trade Center’s twin towers that were destroyed in the terrorist attacks.

He was admitted to a hospice on Long Island, New York within a few days of his testimony in Washington.

Legislation to replenish the $7.3 billion compensation fund that provides health benefits to police officers, firefighters and other emergency responders passed the full committee unanimously.

The federal government opened the fund in 2011 to compensate responders and their families for deaths and illnesses that were linked to exposure to toxins. Current projections indicate the fund will be depleted at the end of 2020.

Other responders who spent weeks at the site have also been diagnosed with A variety of cancers and other illnesses.

The World Trade Center Health Program, a separate program associated with a fund run by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said more than 12,000 related cases of cancer had also been diagnosed as of May.

 

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Trump Vows Appeal After Judge Blocks Use of Border Wall Funds

U.S. President Donald Trump on Saturday vowed to appeal a U.S. judge’s ruling blocking his administration from using $2.5 billion in funds intended for anti-drug activities to construct a wall along the southern border with Mexico.

“[W]e’re immediately appealing it, and we think we’ll win the appeal,” Trump said during a press conference on Saturday at a summit of leaders of the Group of 20 (G20) major economies in Osaka, western Japan.

“There was no reason that that should’ve happened,” Trump said.

Trump has sought to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, but has so far proven unsuccessful at receiving congressional approval to do so.

A U.S. Customs and Border Protection vehicle sits near the wall as President Donald Trump visits a new section of the border wall with Mexico in Calexico, Calif., April 5, 2019.
Judge Blocks Plans to Build Part of Southern Border Wall
A federal judge blocked on Friday President Donald Trump from building sections of his long-sought border wall with money secured under his declaration of a national emergency.

U.S. District Judge Haywood Gilliam, Jr., immediately halted the administration’s efforts to redirect military-designated funds for wall construction. His order applies to two high-priority projects to replace 51 miles (82 kilometers) of fence in two areas on the Mexican border.

Gilliam issued the ruling after hearing arguments last week in two cases.

In February, the Trump administration declared a national emergency to reprogram $6.7 billion in funds that Congress had allocated for other purposes to build the wall, which groups and states including California had challenged.

U.S. District Court Judge Haywood Gilliam in Oakland, California said in a pair of court decisions on Friday that the Trump administration’s proposal to transfer Defense Department funds intended for anti-drug activities was unlawful.

One of Gilliam’s rulings was in a lawsuit filed by California on behalf of 20 states, while the other was in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in coordination with the Sierra Club and the Southern Border Communities Coalition.

“These rulings critically stop President Trump’s illegal money grab to divert $2.5 billion of unauthorized funding for his pet project,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement. “All President Trump has succeeded in building is a constitutional crisis, threatening immediate harm to our state.”

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Hong Kong Protests Stir Questions in Macau

Since Portugal’s colony of Macau reverted to Chinese control in 1999, it has become known for operating the world’s most profitable gaming industry and a go-along, get-along attitude toward Beijing.

However, the continuing protests in Hong Kong over a controversial extradition bill may be triggering some small change of political attitudes in Macau, 65 kilometers (40.4 miles) away by ferry. Hong Kong businesses closed to support protests, so did some Macau shops, for example.

FILE – Macau lawmaker and member of the election committee, Jose Coutinho, speaks to the media, July 26, 2009.

Jose Pereira Coutinho, president of the pro-democracy New Hope party in Macau, and one of the most influential members of its legislative assembly, told VOA that despite the different legal systems in Macau and Hong Kong, the two Special Administrative Regions of China “are highly similar in the ways of life and their societies in general. We always reflect on what happens in Hong Kong. The recent protests there … are a lesson for the Macau government to not step into a wrong decision, so that the mistakes would not happen … in Macau.”

His is not the only voice hinting at change.

‘One citizen, one photo’ protest

Macau Concealers, a pro-democracy newspaper, organized a “one citizen, one photo” event that asked people to submit photos of themselves holding protest signs.

Jia Lu, a Macanese journalist, said in his commentary on the Hong Kong protest: “Liberty is never free bread to be taken for granted. Today, as long as you are a human, there is no reason to be silent.”

Some Macau activists traveled across the Pearl River estuary to join the Hong Kong protests.

FILE – Police officers use pepper spray during a rally against a proposed extradition law at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, June 10, 2019.

Macanese reporter Jiajun Chen posted on Facebook during the first week of protests that he was injured by the hot chili spray the Hong Kong police used to control protesters as he covered the crowds. Then, while receiving first aid at the scene, he received another stinging dose from the Hong Kong police. Chen said his press pass was visible during both sprays.

“We are just so used to complaining, often in private, but rarely take action,” Di Ng, 27, a Macanese independent filmmaker, told VOA in a phone interview.

“Macau is a very traditional society largely controlled by different she tuan,” he said. She tuan are foundations and associations organized according to industries, interests, family ties and social identities.

“The elderly get to organize the social order, and they are usually pro-[Beijing]. Even youngsters who want to speak out are discouraged by this social structure.”

“Only after coming to Taiwan did I realize that the definition of a modern society should include democracy, not just fancy mega-casinos and free cash from the government,” said Ng, who is now doing graduate work in film at Taipei’s National Taiwan University of Arts.

FILE – Protesters march along a road demonstrating against a proposed extradition bill in Hong Kong, China, June 12, 2019.

Macau vs Hong Kong

Meng U Ieong, an assistant professor from the department of government and public administration in University of Macau, cautioned that the values of modern Western democracies are less popular in Macau than they are in Hong Kong, even though Macau was a Portuguese colony for 442 years, or 286 longer years than Hong Kong was under British rule.

“The social mobilization mechanism is very different between Hong Kong and Macau,” he told VOA in an email.

He pointed to the large-scale protest in Macau in 2014 that halted a controversial pension plan for retired officials as the kind of event used as evidence that Macanese will take to the streets only for pocketbook issues.

Abstract “social issues which do not relate to very specific and tangible interests,” such as the extradition bill upsetting Hong Kong, are unlikely to generate protests in Macau, according to Ieong. 

Since 2008, Macau’s government has given an annual cash handout to residents. For 2018, all local permanent residents received a cash handout of 10,000 patacas, or about $1,245. Nonpermanent residents received 6,000 patacas.

FILE – A croupier counts the chips at a baccarat gaming table inside a casino during the opening day of Sheraton Macao Hotel at the Sands Cotai Central in Macau.

This largesse is because of Macau’s gaming industry. Its revenues overtook those from the Las Vegas Strip in 2007, according to Reuters.

In 2018, the “Vegas of China” tallied $38 billion, according to the Center for Gaming Research at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. In Las Vegas, the haul was $6.6 billion in 2018, according to the Nevada Gaming Control Board.

For both Hong Kong, a British colony until 1997, and Macau, the changeover from European colony to Chinese territory came with the concept of “one country, two systems.” Communist Party reformer Deng Xiaoping designed the concept as a way to gather Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan into China, while preserving their political and economic systems. 

Taiwan remains independent. Hong Kong has met Beijing’s tightening controls with protests, including the most recent, and largest, ones over a proposed law that would allow extradition for trial in China. The law is backed by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who is closely aligned with Beijing and who has apologized for the current controversy.

In 2014, Beijing’s interference with the selection of candidates for the chief executive position spawned the Occupy Central or Umbrella Movement. It focused on demands for universal suffrage, which is a long-term goal of Hong Kong’s Basic Law.

Success story

Macau, however, emerged as the “one country, two systems” success story. Unlike Hong Kong, with its global reputation as a business center bound by the rule of law, Macau largely depends on gaming and has shown little resistance to Beijing’s influence, according to a recent Foreign Policy article.

“There is stronger Chinese influence [in Macau]. Plus, we usually just see things in economic terms, unlike Hong Kongers who uphold the value of democracy that they inherited from the British,” said a 17-year-old Macanese student. A freshman at a Los Angeles area college, she asked to remain anonymous because she was in Hong Kong attending orientation for non-U.S. students when the protests erupted.

Eilo Yu, an associate professor in the department of government and public administration at University of Macau, expects the Hong Kong protests to influence Macau’s August vote for its chief executive.

“If Mr. Ho Iat Seng, whom I believe will be the only candidate, cannot manage well in responding [to the protest], this will hurt his legitimacy in ruling when he becomes the CE,” Yu said to VOA in an email. “The current situation may be good to his campaign [in] that he need not make a firm statement for a possible extradition between Mainland and Macao. However, if Carrie Lam is going to resign during the Macau election, Ho will be questioned and pressured on his possible resignation when his performance” disappoints Macao citizens.

“We were known for being silent,” said Ng, the filmmaker. “But with the Hong Kongers setting the example, things might be different in the future.”

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