Armed US Drones to Start Flying Over Niger

The United States and Niger have reached an agreement permitting armed American military drones for use against jihadist terror groups in the African nation, a U.S. official told VOA.

The agreement, finalized this week, is a major expansion of U.S. military’s efforts to counter terrorism in Africa. It is unclear whether the drones will be used to carry out targeted strikes or solely as a defensive measure.

Until now, the U.S. has only been conducting airstrikes against terrorists on the continent operating inside Libya and Somalia. Officials say that arming drones based in Niger would expand the military’s ability to go after extremists in West Africa, where Nigeria-based Boko Haram, Algeria-based al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and Islamic State fighters operate.

Pentagon spokeswoman Army Major Audricia Harris would not comment on the new permissions.

“The government of Niger and the U.S. stand firm in working together to prevent terrorist organizations from using the region as a safe haven. For operational security reasons, I will not comment on specific military authorities,” Harris told VOA.

The Pentagon has been trying to get the permission from the Nigerien government to arm drones long before a militant attack near the village of Tongo Tongo on October 4 killed four American soldiers, four Nigerien soldiers and a Nigerien interpreter.

A formal investigation into the deadly ambush in Niger is not expected to be completed until January, according to the U.S. military.

The military’s investigation team, led by Army Major Gen. Roger Cloutier, will travel to the U.S., Africa and Europe to collect information needed to determine what happened during the October 4 attack.

A group of 12 members of a U.S. Special Operations Task Force accompanied 30 Nigerien forces on a reconnaissance mission from the capital, Niamey, to an area near Tongo Tongo.

Members of the team had just completed a meeting with local leaders and were walking back to their vehicles when they were attacked, U.S. officials told VOA.

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Troika: Warring Parties Must End Hostilities Ahead of Revitalization Forum

Members of the “Troika” (Norway, United Kingdom and United States) released a statement Thursday saying all parties in South Sudan must end hostilities as a sign of their commitment to the High Level Revitalization Forum (HLRF), which is aimed at implementing a 2015 peace deal that has all but collapsed.

The forum, organized by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), is set to begin in two weeks in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Klem Ryan, the coordinator for the U.N. Panel of Experts on South Sudan, says amid the ongoing fighting is a “deep disagreement among parties” on the high-level revitalization forum (HLRF), which he calls “a last chance” to achieve peace in South Sudan.

“The neutral observers are engaging with this as a last chance. Most people have mentioned that to us; some have said it formally on record but many are talking about it behind the scenes as the last chance for an agreed settlement but there isn’t at this point as it was communicated to us a very clear sense of what would happen if the HLRF fails,” said Ryan. “So I think there is a lot of anxiety and anticipation come December or January if the targets haven’t been met.”

U.N. discusses South Sudan situation

The U.N. Security council met last Tuesday in New York to discuss the situation in South Sudan.

In its statement, the Troika said it remains “appalled by the dire economic, security, human rights and humanitarian crisis being inflicted” on the South Sudanese people as a result of the nearly four-year conflict, which it blames on the political leaders of South Sudan.


The Troika, which recently traveled to South Sudan, Sudan, Ethiopia, Uganda, and Kenya to try to drum up support for the upcoming forum, said all parties have a responsibility to the citizens of South Sudan “to participate constructively and to be open to real compromise.”

The Troika’s statement called on the government “in particular” to end its pursuit of “military victory” and make good on its promise to end obstruction to humanitarian assistance. It also called on the armed opposition to do the same.

Changes should include new timeline


Policy analyst Abraham Awolich with the Juba-based Sudd Institute said in a new report the forum should address factors that led to the collapse of the original deal if there’s ever going to be peace in South Sudan.

“You cannot say that you need to revitalize the peace agreement without renegotiating the agreement itself because there are provisions that are absolute and there are provisions that do not make sense anymore,” Awolich told South Sudan in Focus.

Those changes include a realistic timeline for implementing the peace deal, and altering security arrangements and transitional justice mechanisms, which Awolich said may have “negatively affected” efforts to restore stability in the country.

Renegotiation rejected

The administration of President Salva Kiir rejected any renegotiation of the peace agreement in recent talks with the heads of IGAD, which mediated previous peace talks between the warring parties.

A recent document circulated by IGAD offers a roadmap for the revitalization process, but it does not mention renegotiation of the agreement.

Awolich criticized the peace deal for not being citizen-based. The Troika said it “strongly supports” calls by South Sudanese citizens for the forum to be inclusive, reflecting the interests of all parties, “including young people and women.”

Awolich told VOA that measures must be put in place to popularize the agreement among the people so they will embrace it.

“The national dialogue becomes very important here as an area where people of South Sudan will have to search their souls on how to move their country forward in an environment of peace and cease-fire,” said Awolich.

‘Clear political will’ needed

He said the revitalization process should focus on security arrangements, power sharing and transitional justice, the same three areas the Troika mentions in its statement that are in need of amendments since the agreement no longer reflects “the reality of conditions in South Sudan.”

“What is needed here is a clear political will from the side of the government to say our interest here is to bring peace to our country and we are willing to take every measure to make sure there is peace and stability in the country,” said Awolich.

“Without that,” he added, not much can be achieved.

Awolich said the government is going to have to make “a lot of sacrifices.”

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More Than 400 US Marines Leaving Syria

More than 400 U.S. Marines who helped recapture the Syrian city of Raqqa from Islamic State are leaving the country, according to the U.S.-led coalition that is fighting the militant group.

“We’re drawing down combat forces where it makes sense, but still continuing our efforts to help Syrian and Iraqi partners maintain security,” U.S. Brigadier General Jonathan Braga said in a coalition statement.

Working with ‘partner forces’

“Our remaining forces will continue to work by, with, and through partner forces to defeat remaining ISIS, prevent a re-emergence of ISIS, and set conditions for international governments and NGOs (Non-governmental organizations) to help local citizens recover from the horrors of ISIS’ short-lived rule,” Braga added, using an alternative name for Islamic State.

The Pentagon has said officially there are 503 troops in Syria but U.S. officials said, as of last week, the number was closer to 2,000.

The Marines and their artillery were deployed to Syria in March, joining an alliance of Kurdish and Arab troops and the Syrian Democratic Forces. They recaptured Raqqa from IS in October after an intense offensive that was bolstered by coalition artillery and aerial attacks.

US troop number unsure

The international coalition continues to provide support in nearby Deir Ezzor province while Syrian government forces, backed by the Russian military, conducts a separate campaign in the same region.

It was not immediately clear how many U.S. troops will remain in Syria. Most are special operations troops that are training and advising local partner forces and providing continued artillery support against IS. 

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AU: Between 400,000 and 700,000 African Migrants in Libya

Between 400,000 and 700,000 African migrants are living in camps in Libya, often under “inhuman” conditions, the chairman of the African Union Commission said Thursday at the close of a summit of European and African leaders.

Moussa Faki Mahamat stressed the urgency of removing the thousands of migrants, including women and children, from the camps as he addressed the summit where migration was a top issue after recent footage of a migrant slave auction in Libya drew global horror and condemnation.

At least 3,800 migrants in one camp in Tripoli need to be removed as soon as possible, Mahamat said. Most of them come from West Africa.

“That’s just one camp,” he said. “The Libyan government has told us there are 42,” and some contain an even larger number of migrants.

The International Organization for Migration says more than 423,000 migrants had been identified in the chaotic North African country as of last month. The majority are men from impoverished countries across sub-Saharan Africa.

In a communique Thursday, the European and African leaders agreed to “accelerate exponentially” efforts to repatriate the migrants and vowed to combat the crimes committed against them.

The leaders also pledged to do more to help the migrants stranded in squalid detention centers in Libya, the main jumping-off point for desperate people setting out in unseaworthy boats in search of better lives in Europe.

French President Emmanuel Macron said leaders from EU and African countries, including Libya, and the United Nations were discussing going after human traffickers with “concrete, military and police actions on the ground to trace back these networks.”

“These smugglers are deeply linked to many terrorist networks and feed, sometimes finance, sometimes are the same as those who make war with us and who kill people every day in much of northern Africa,” Macron told French broadcasters France 24 and RFI.

Some African nations are working to bring their citizens home.


Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said Wednesday that all Nigerians stranded in Libya and other parts of the world will be brought home and “rehabilitated,” calling it appalling that “some Nigerians were being sold like goats for few dollars in Libya.”

Nigeria’s government said on Twitter that 242 Nigerian migrants returned home from Libya on Tuesday and that more than 4,000 stranded there have “safely retuned home” this year.

Ivory Coast’s government in the past week repatriated 316 citizens stranded in Libya.

Europe has struggled to slow the flow of tens of thousands of Africans making the dangerous crossing of the Mediterranean. European countries are trying to discourage the stream of migrants with development aid and other means, including funds to tighten border controls. But many Africans feel pressured to make the journey, risking death and abuse, saying high unemployment and climate change leave them little choice.

At least 3,000 drown or go missing annually in attempts to cross the Mediterranean, but with Africa’s population forecast to rise significantly in coming decades many more are likely to take the risk.

To focus efforts, the EU, the African Union and the United Nations also announced that they would set up a special task force to help protect migrants, notably those detained in conflict-torn Libya.


Details of its work must be fleshed out, but the main aim is to “save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along the routes and in particular inside Libya.”

The task force, which will work closely with Libyan authorities, will also try to speed up the process of returning willing migrants to their home countries and finding new homes for those fleeing violence or conflict and who need international protection.

Associated Press writer Lorne Cook contributed.

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Tensions Rise in Turkey Over Syrian Refugees

Turkey hosts the largest number of refugees in the world, and three million of them are Syrians. Most live in towns and cities across the country. But this year, a series of clashes between Turks and Syrians could be a sign that for some Turks, patience is running out.


Earlier this year, Istanbul witnessed unprecedented violence against Syrian refugees after they were blamed for the death of a Turkish youth.


In Istanbul’s Esenler district, which is home to about a half million people, almost one-fifth are Syrian refugees. It is one of the poorest areas of the city. Local elected representatives like Mustafa Guven are on the front line of coping with the strains of a large refugee population. Guven says the recent clashes are a worrying sign.


“The people of the Republic of Turkey are not monsters. They help Syrians as much as they can; they share their bread with them. Those Syrians who don’t appreciate this are in the wrong. Of course, we see disputes and conflicts among the youth. But Syrians should be quieter. They are in a foreign country after all – a country that gave them refuge. They should keep a lower profile and be more grateful, but they don’t have this sensitivity,” said Guven.

In the Ali tea shop, it’s not hard to sense the growing unease among local Turks. Sipping his hot tea, Ozan, a hairdresser, who owns a salon, is quick to vent his frustrations.


“Our patience is running out and our point of view has changed. Over the last five years, a large number of people have migrated here, and their number is constantly growing. Our state has already spent over $30 billion on the Syrians. There is no financial contribution from Europe either,” said Ozan.

The Nasim barber shop is popular among Syrians. All but one who work here are from Syria. Esenler has been good to shop owner Mahmoud Al Aian. He arrived from Syria when he was 19. Five years later, he has three businesses: a barber shop, a restaurant, and a clothing company. Al Aian is keen to play down tensions.


Al Aian said, “The Turks won’t come to attack Syrians. I mean we haven’t seen anything like this where we are. No such things happen here. If anything happens, you call the police of the Turkish government and they immediately come and solve it.”


Turkish authorities appear to be increasingly concerned about the tensions. In some areas of Istanbul, as in other parts of the country, signs in Arabic touting businesses belonging to Syrians have been removed in a bid to lower their profile. The move comes as the Turkish media continue to devote a great deal of coverage to issues involving Syrian refugees. A recent study found that Syrians are the main targets of hate speech, second only to Jewish people, in the Turkish media.

Professor Ahmet Icduygu, an expert on migration and refugees at Istanbul’s Koc University, says Turkey is facing a growing problem over the presence of the refugees.


“There is a kind of tension growing in Turkey and there’s already debate, like in other Western countries, that they are taking our jobs, they are getting privileges such as, for instance, Syrian students can go directly to university, etc. I think we can hear more and more events of unfortunate kinds of attacks on the migrants, some tensions growing, increasing discrimination, xenophobia increasing, those kinds of things,” Icduygu said.     

Opposition parties are set to make the government’s Syria refugee policy a key issue in the months ahead.


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UN: Hundreds in Syria’s Ghouta Could Die for Lack of Medical Aid

A senior U.N. official warns many of the hundreds of critically wounded and ill people trapped in the besieged Syrian area of East Ghouta, a suburb of the capital, Damascus, could die without urgent medical treatment.

U.N. Special Envoy Jan Egeland said the United Nations has been waiting for two months for the Syrian government to give the green light to an emergency medical evacuation from East Ghouta. Over that time, he said the list of serious cases requiring urgent treatment has grown to 500.

“Not a single one of these have we been able to evacuate over those two months. Not a single one,” he said. “So, men with power are sitting with lists of children that are in urgent need of being evacuated. If not, they will, many of them die and we still do not have the green light.”

About 440,000 civilians are trapped in East Ghouta, which has been under siege by the government of Bashar al-Assad since 2013. The rebel-held territory is just 15 kilometers from Damascus, where Egeland said hospitals are ready to receive patients.

“Hospitals that could be actually within 45 minutes-drive from where the wounded children are dying,” he said. “These hospitals have the beds, the doctors — everything available. We are not able to do it. It is heartbreaking. It is intolerable. It will be a stain on our conscience for a very, very long time unless it can happen very soon.”

Egeland said nine patients on the critical list already have died, and those most in need of emergency medical care are women and children.

The U.N. envoy is appealing to the United States, Russia and other big power players to put pressure on the Syrian government to allow the U.N. life-saving medical operation to go ahead.

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OPEC Agrees Oil Cut Extension to End of 2018

OPEC agreed on Thursday to extend oil output cuts until the end of 2018 as it tries to finish clearing a global glut of crude while signalling it could exit the deal earlier if the market overheats.

Non-OPEC Russia, which this year reduced production significantly with OPEC for the first time, has been pushing for a clear message on how to exit the cuts so the market doesn’t flip into a deficit too soon, prices don’t rally too fast and rival U.S. shale firms don’t boost output further.

The producers’ current deal, under which they are cutting supply by about 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) in an effort to boost oil prices, expires in March.

Two OPEC delegates told Reuters the group had agreed to extend the cuts by nine months until the end of 2018, as largely anticipated by the market.

OPEC also decided to cap the output of Nigeria at around 1.8 million bpd but had yet to agree a cap for Libya. Both countries have been previously exempt from cuts due to unrest and lower-than-normal production.

The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has yet to meet with non-OPEC producers led by Russia, with the meeting scheduled to begin after 1500 GMT.

Before the earlier, OPEC-only meeting started at the group’s headquarters in Vienna on Thursday, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said it was premature to talk about exiting the cuts at least for a couple of quarters and added that the group would examine progress at its next meeting in June.

“When we get to an exit, we are going to do it very gradually… to make sure we don’t shock the market,” he said.

The Iraqi, Iranian and Angolan oil ministers also said a review of the deal was possible in June in case the market became too tight.

International benchmark Brent crude rose more than 1 percent on Thursday to trade near $64 per barrel.

Capping Nigeria, Libya

With oil prices rising above $60, Russia has expressed concerns that such an extension could prompt a spike in crude production in the United States, which is not participating in the deal.

Russia needs much lower oil prices to balance its budget than OPEC’s leader Saudi Arabia, which is preparing a stock market listing for national energy champion Aramco next year and would hence benefit from pricier crude.

“Prices will be well supported in December with a large global stock draw. The market could surprise to the upside with even $70 per barrel for Brent not out of the question if there is an unexpected interruption in supply,” said Gary Ross, a veteran OPEC watcher and founder of Pira consultancy.

The production cuts have been in place since the start of 2017 and helped halve an excess of global oil stocks although those remain at 140 million barrels above the five-year average, according to OPEC.

Russia has signaled it wants to understand better how producers will exit from the cuts as it needs to provide guidance to its private and state energy companies.

“It is important… to work out a strategy which we will follow from April 2018,” Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Wednesday.

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British Fury as Trump Retweets Extreme Right Group’s Videos

British lawmakers have reacted with anger after U.S. President Donald Trump retweeted videos posted by an extreme right-wing anti-Muslim group. The tweets, originally posted by the deputy leader of the group Britain First, appear to show acts of violence carried out by Muslims, although doubt has been cast on the reliability of at least one of the videos. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

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Photo Exhibit Recaptures Bhutanese-Nepali Lost History

As refugees resettle in a new country, their identities are often lost in the transition. A photo exhibit in the U.S. Midwestern city of Columbus, Ohio, offers a small window into one local refugee community. VOA’s June Soh explored the exhibit that sheds light on the refugees’ brave journeys from Bhutan through refugee camps in Nepal before finally settling in central Ohio.

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House Panel Offers Overhaul to NSA Spy Program

The U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee said it had introduced a bill Wednesday to overhaul a National Security Agency surveillance program to better protect Americans’ privacy.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allows the NSA to collect vast amounts of digital communications from foreign suspects living outside the United States. The program incidentally gathers communications with Americans and the government can search them without a warrant.

Section 702

U.S. intelligence officials consider Section 702 among the most vital of tools at their disposal to thwart national security threats.

“This bill updates the rules on Section 702 and other collection by strengthening privacy protections and transparency without hindering the ability of our intelligence professionals to monitor terror suspects, analyze collected data and keep us safe,” the committee’s Republican chairman, Representative Devin Nunes, said in a statement introducing the bill.

The top Democrat on the panel, Representative Adam Schiff, said earlier Wednesday he had proposed a compromise that would let intelligence agencies query a database of information on Americans in national security cases without a warrant, but would require a warrant to use the information in other cases, such as those involving serious violent crime.

“This would prevent law enforcement from simply using the database as a vehicle to go fishing, but at the same time it would preserve the operational capabilities of the program,” Schiff told reporters.

Classified details of the program were exposed in 2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Congress must renew Section 702 in some form by Dec. 31 or the program will expire.

Deep divides

Schiff said he believed the compromise would be acceptable to many lawmakers, as well as the intelligence community and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. It is similar to legislation backed by the House Judiciary Committee.

However, there are still deep divides in both the Senate and the House over what to do about Section 702, as lawmakers balance demands for privacy protections with spy agencies’ desire to preserve what they see as a valuable tool. There are different renewal proposals in the House and Senate.

It was unclear whether lawmakers will vote on a standalone 702 bill or whether it would be part of a broader bill, such as a spending measure Congress must pass next month to keep the government open.

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Wall of Love Urges Breaking Down Barriers

A “Wall of Love” composed of hundreds of handmade flower bouquets was outside the U.S. Capitol Wednesday. Floral gifting service Teleflora, which placed the wall, invited people to take and share the bouquets with family, friends or strangers. Once all the flowers are removed, the wall — which symbolizes barriers — will “disappear,” leaving behind the message: LOVE OUT LOUD. The company says the wall serves as a call to action for all Americans to forge meaningful connections while tearing down the walls that stand between us.

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Chicago Congressman Hints He’ll Run for President

U.S. Democratic Representative Luis Gutierrez, who has announced he will not seek re-election to Congress in 2018, said Wednesday he wanted to concentrate his energies “on the national level” and indicated he might be interested in a presidential run in 2020.

Fox News reported earlier Wednesday that Gutierrez was weighing such a bid. When asked by Reuters if he planned to run, Gutierrez, who has represented Chicago in the U.S. House of Representatives for the past quarter century, said he wanted to spend the first six months of 2018 touring the country “talking with as many people as possible.”

“Does it mean going to Iowa? I certainly hope so,” Gutierrez said in an interview.

Iowa traditionally holds the first Democratic and Republican party nominating contests for president. Candidates weighing presidential candidacies typically pay visits to the state well before they formally enter the race.

“But it also means going to California and visiting farm workers there and visiting with farm workers in Florida … and in Oregon and in Washington (state) and visiting with immigrant communities,” Gutierrez said.

“I’m not retiring. I want to change my focus. I want to take my energy on a national level,” he said. “I can tell you that very, very clearly.”

Republican President Donald Trump has expressed his intention to seek re-election in 2020. While incumbent presidents often are favored to win, Democrats see Trump as particularly vulnerable given his low approval ratings in opinion polls. That has spurred speculation that many candidates could weigh challenging him.

Former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden, for example, has signaled he may run.

Gutierrez, a 63-year-old lawmaker of Puerto Rican descent, has made immigration reform a signature issue. In August, he was arrested outside the White House while taking part in a protest against Trump’s decision to end Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, the Obama-era program that protects young people brought to the United States illegally as children.

Gutierrez has sharply criticized the Trump administration’s response to the devastation in Puerto Rico from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

‘Not talking to DNC’

Gutierrez said he would explore possible campaign fundraising efforts. Although he would run as a Democrat, he would not seek the blessing of the Democratic Party establishment.

“I’m not talking to DNC (Democratic National Committee) officials. I’m not going to talk to anybody within the Democratic Party structures because what I want to do is create a party structure independent of the Democratic Party,” he said.

Regardless of whether he seeks the White House, Gutierrez said he wanted to play a big role in 2020 helping to encourage voting and political activism among Hispanics, a growing demographic group that leans strongly Democratic.

When it became known that he was retiring from Congress, there was speculation Gutierrez might be planning a run for governor of Puerto Rico.

On Wednesday, Gutierrez rejected the idea. 

“If it was president of the Republic of Puerto Rico, it would certainly be different,” said Gutierrez, who favors independence for the U.S. territory.

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France’s Macron to Give Saudi Arabia Extremist List

French President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday he would draw up a list of extremist organizations to convey to Saudi Arabia after its crown prince pledged to cut their funding.

Saudi Arabia finances groups overseen by the Mecca-based Muslim World League, which for decades was charged with spreading the strict Wahhabi school of Islam around the world.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is seeking to modernize the kingdom and cleave to a more open and tolerant interpretation of Islam.

“He never did it publicly, but when I went to Riyadh (this  month), he made a commitment, such that we could give him a list and he would cut the financing,” Macron said during an interview with France 24 television.

“I believe him, but I will follow up. Trust is built on results,” Macron added.

The crown prince has already taken some steps to loosen Saudi Arabia’s ultra-strict social restrictions, scaling back the role of religious morality police, permitting public concerts and announcing plans to allow women to drive next year.

The head of the Muslim World League told Reuters last week that his focus now was aimed at annihilating extremist ideology.

“We must wipe out this extremist thinking through the work we do. We need to annihilate religious severity and extremism which is the entry point to terrorism,” Mohammed al-Issa said in an interview.

Macron, speaking from Abidjan, said he had also sought commitments to cut financing of extremist groups from Qatar, Iran and Turkey.

The French leader will make a quick trip to Doha on Dec. 7, where he will discuss regional ties and could sign military and transport deals, including the sale of 12 more Rafale fighter jets.

Qatar has improved its ties with Iran since Saudi Arabia and other Arab states boycotted it over alleged ties to Islamist groups and its relations with Tehran.

Macron said he still intended to travel to Iran next year, but wanted to ensure there was a discussion and strategic accord over its ballistic missile program and its destabilization activities in several regional countries.


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Opposition Leader to Become Iceland’s Prime Minister

Iceland’s opposition leader Katrin Jakobsdóttir will become the country’s new prime minister, after her Left-Green Movement on Wednesday agreed to form a coalition government, state broadcaster RUV reported.

Her party, which emerged as the second biggest party in snap parliamentary elections Oct. 28, entered coalition talks with the Independence Party, the main partner in the current government coalition, and the Progressive Party two weeks ago.

Current Prime Minister Bjarni Benediktsson of the right-wing Independence Party called the snap election in September, after less than a year in government, as a scandal involving his father prompted a government ally to drop out of his ruling coalition.

Economic rebound

The Nordic island of 340,000 people, one of the countries hit hardest by the 2008 financial crisis, has staged a remarkable economic rebound spurred by a tourism boom.

The formation of a broad coalition government could bring an end to political instability triggered by a string of scandals.

The previous snap election took place late in 2016, after the Panama Papers revelations showed several government figures involved in an offshore tax haven scandal.

Coalition criticized

Still, some Left-Green members and voters have criticized the party’s plan to enter a coalition with Benediktsson and his Independence Party.

Two of Left-Green’s mandates did not support the new coalition, giving the three parties a total of 33 of parliament’s 63 seats.

Jakobsdóttir, 41, campaigned on a platform of restoring trust in government and leveraging an economic boom to increase public spending.

She failed to form a left-leaning government earlier this month, but said on election night she was open to forming a broad-based government.

While both the Left-Greens and the Independence Party parties agree that investment is needed in areas like welfare, infrastructure and tourism, they disagree over how it should be financed.

The Left-Greens want to finance spending by raising taxes on the wealthy, real estate and the powerful fishing industry, while the Independence Party has said it wants to fund infrastructure spending by taking money out of the banking sector.

Benediktsson will become finance minister in the new government.

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Turkish Businessman Describes $50M Bribe at Sanctions Trial

A Turkish-Iranian gold trader testified at a New York trial Wednesday that he paid over $50 million in bribes to Turkey’s economy minister in 2012 to overcome a banker’s fears he was too well-known in Turkey to launder Iranian money in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Reza Zarrab calmly described his arrangement with one of Turkey’s most important public officials as he began what will be several days on the witness stand at the trial of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla, who is charged in a conspiracy that involved bribes and kickbacks to high-level officials.

In a conversation about shady transactions involving suitcases stuffed with gold, the economy minister, Zafer Caglayan, “asked about the profit margin,” Zarrab testified. “And he said, ‘I can broker this.’ ”

Zarrab’s decision to plead guilty and cooperate with U.S. investigators — revealed Tuesday on the trial’s first day — was a surprise twist in the trial. The prosecution seemed in jeopardy just months earlier after Zarrab tried to free himself by hiring prominent and politically connected American attorneys to try to arrange a prisoner transfer between Turkey and the United States. The effort by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani and former U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey failed.

Prisoner’s outfit

The government’s star witness appeared before jurors Wednesday in federal court in Manhattan wearing tan prisoner scrubs, even though he testified he was released from jail two weeks ago and into FBI custody. At the end of the day with the jury gone, the judge asked Zarrab why he was wearing the outfit, telling prosecutors he would sign an order allowing him to wear civilian clothes if he wanted.

Once Zarrab, 34, was on the stand, prosecutors wasted no time in getting him to name names and muddy reputations in the banking industry and in government.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Sidhardha Kamaraju elicited details of what the United States has said was a well-orchestrated conspiracy to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran and enable $1 billion in Iranian oil proceeds to move through international banking markets.

Zarrab said he ran into resistance from a Halkbank executive when he approached the Turkish government-owned bank in late 2011 or early 2012 to try to gain access to Iranian money through trades in gold. The executive, he said, feared that Zarrab’s marriage to Turkish pop star and TV personality Ebru Gundes made him “too popular” to make the trades.

“I was a person who was in the public eye all of the time,” he said.

Undeterred, Zarrab said he met with Caglayan, who was economy minister when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan was prime minister. Caglayan told him he would smooth the way for gold trades, but only if he got half the profits, which he said ended up totaling more than $50 million.

Diagrams drawn

At one point, Zarrab drew diagrams for the jury to illustrate the elaborate web of transactions used to beat the economic sanctions and make him a fortune as the middleman.

The tactics included using Iranian proceeds from gas and oil sales to Turkey to buy gold, having couriers carry the gold in suitcases to Dubai, converting it back into cash that was deposited in a front company account, and laundering the money with multiple bank transfers, including some through the United States.

Zarrab testified that the sanction-evasion scheme was done in consultation with Atilla, a 47-year-old former deputy CEO of Halkbank who has pleaded not guilty. A lawyer for Atilla attacked Zarrab’s credibility Tuesday during opening statements, saying the trial is about Zarrab’s crimes.

Caglayan is indicted in the U.S. case. The indictment describes his alleged role in the gold-transfer scheme and in another scheme in which he and other Turkish government officials supposedly approved of and directed the movement of Iranian oil proceeds by claiming they were connected to the sale of food and medicine to Iran from Dubai.

Erdogan has called on American authorities to “review” the decision to indict Caglayan, saying the former minister had not engaged in any wrongdoing because Turkey had not imposed sanctions on Iran, an important trade partner.

The prosecution of Zarrab has been major news in Turkey, where Erdogan has repeatedly asked the U.S. to release him and more recently portrayed the U.S. case as a sham.

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Russian Network RT Loses US Capitol Hill Credentials

Broadcast reporters for Russian state-funded TV channel RT will no longer be able to report daily from the U.S. Capitol.

A committee that governs Capitol Hill access for broadcast journalists has withdrawn credentials for RT after the company complied earlier this month with a U.S. demand that it register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The law applies to people or companies disseminating information in the U.S. on behalf of foreign governments, political parties and other “foreign principals.”

The action also comes just days after Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed legislation allowing Russia to register international media outlets as foreign agents, an act seen as the Kremlin’s retaliation for the Trump administration decision on RT. The new rules require disclosures to the Russian government and are seen as stigmatizing the news outlets as promoters of American propaganda.


In Washington, C-SPAN’s Craig Caplan informed RT that its credentials were being withdrawn after a unanimous vote of the executive committee of the Congressional Radio and Television Correspondents’ Galleries.

Caplan, the chairman of that committee, wrote that gallery rules “state clearly that news credentials may not be issued to any applicant employed by ‘any foreign government or representative thereof.’ ” He said the FARA registration made the network ineligible to hold news credentials, and their withdrawal is effective immediately.

Many news outlets with ties to foreign governments are required to similarly register. English-language newspaper China Daily is registered due to its affiliation with the Chinese government, for example. But the pressure on RT has angered Russian officials, who have said they will retaliate with restrictions on U.S. news outlets.

The letter was sent to Mikhail Solodovnikov of RT’s U.S.-based production company, T & R Productions. RT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

U.S. intelligence agencies have alleged RT served as a propaganda outlet for the Kremlin as part of a multi-pronged effort to interfere in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Russia denies interfering.


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Togo Opposition Parties Vow to Keep Up Pressure on President

Togo’s opposition parties pledged Wednesday to maintain the momentum of anti-government protests, as thousands took to the streets once more ahead of promised talks with the president.

The leader of the National Alliance for Change (ANC), Jean-Pierre Fabre, led the crowds in the capital but similar protests were banned on security grounds in the north.

“Mobilization will continue, even during talks. We are not going to give up the fight,” Fabre told AFP.

A source in Togo’s second-largest city of Sokode — the stronghold of Tikpi Atchadam, the Panafrican National Party leader behind the demonstrations — said the streets were calm.

Many young people who had fled into the countryside fearing repercussions have not yet returned home, the source said, adding that sporadic arrests were still occurring.

Wednesday’s march was the first of three planned for this week to put pressure on Togo’s President Faure Gnassingbe to resign.

Gnassingbe has been president of the West African nation since 2005, taking over after the death of his father, General Gnassingbe Eyadema, who ruled Togo for 38 years.

Fourteen opposition parties want two-term limits for presidents which would be applied retroactively to prevent Gnassingbe from contesting the 2020 and 2025 elections.

At least 16 people have been killed in three months of protests after opposition supporters clashed with police and security forces, especially in the north.

Gnassingbe — who left for an Africa-Europe summit in Ivory Coast on Wednesday morning — said last week that preparations were being made for talks with the opposition in the coming weeks.

But demonstrators said they wanted the issue addressed at the summit.

“I would like the heads of state and France in particular to get involved personally and speak face-to-face with Faure Gnassingbe,” said Abla, a student in Lome.

No meeting has been scheduled so far between Gnassingbe and President Emmanuel Macron, from Togo’s former colonial power, France.

Franck Paris, a spokesman for Macron’s office, said last week that “Togo will be an important subject of talks on the ground.”

Macron, in an interview Wednesday with France 24 television and Radio France Internationale (RFI), said he hoped Togo’s citizens “could express themselves freely.”

“I hope there can be an electoral process … which allows either a democratic confirmation or transition of power,” Macron said.

“Keeping power for a long period of time without any electoral processes, without a framework of pluralism, is not a good thing.”

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US, Britain, France Accused of Snubbing Anti-nuclear Nobel Prize

The anti-nuclear group which won the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize accused the United States, Britain and France on Wednesday of snubbing its disarmament work by

planning to send only second-rank diplomats to the award ceremony next month.

“It’s some kind of protest against the Nobel Peace Prize,” Beatrice Fihn, director of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), told Reuters of a plan by the three nations to send only deputy chiefs of mission.

“They like their nuclear weapons very much and don’t like it when we try to ban them,” she said, accusing the three of wrongly opposing ICAN’s work “when North Korea and the United States are exchanging threats to use nuclear weapons”.

The annual December 10 Nobel prize ceremony in Oslo, attended by King Harald and Queen Sonja, is the highlight of the diplomatic calendar in Norway. The prize comprises a diploma, a gold medal and a check for $1.1 million.

Olav Njoelstad, director of the Norwegian Nobel Institute, confirmed the three nations would send only deputies. He said the awards committee always preferred to see chiefs of mission.

“That being said, we are neither surprised nor offended by the fact that sometime foreign governments prefer to stay away from the ceremony in protest or, as in this case, because they prefer to be represented by their deputy chiefs of mission,” he told Reuters.

“The Nobel Peace Prize is, after all, a political prize. The Norwegian Nobel Committee takes notice of the joint decision of the British, French and U.S. embassies,” he said.

The British embassy confirmed it was sending a deputy ambassador and said in a statement “the U.K. is committed to the long-term goal of a world without nuclear weapons. We share this goal with our partners across the international community including U.S. and France.”

The U.S. and French embassies were not immediately available for comment. Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump nominated Kenneth Braithwaite to the post of ambassador in Oslo, currently held by an acting ambassador.

ICAN, a coalition of grassroots non-government organizations in more than 100 nations, campaigned successfully for a U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which was adopted by 122 nations in July this year.

But the agreement is not signed by – and would not apply to – any of the states that already have nuclear arms, which include the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France, as well as India, Pakistan and North Korea.

Israel neither confirms nor denies the widespread assumption that it controls the Middle East’s only nuclear arsenal.

It was not clear whether other nuclear powers would send Oslo ambassadors to the Nobel ceremony.

The absence of ambassadors from the United States, Britain and France “is disappointing but at the same time we are focused on getting a majority of states in the world to join this treaty,” Fihn said.

She said the three nuclear states were exerting pressure on other nations “not to engage in this treaty.”


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EU’s Tusk: Africa, EU Must Cooperate to End ‘Horrifying’ Migrant Abuses

Europe and Africa have joint responsibility for making migration more humane and orderly so they can end horrifying abuses being committed against African migrants by people smugglers, European Council President Donald Tusk said on Wednesday.

He was speaking at a two-day Africa-European Union summit that was meant to focus on development and investment in youth, but had inevitably been overshadowed by the migrant crisis.

Reports this month of white Libyan slave traders selling black African migrants at markets in Libya – a grim echo of the trans-Saharan slave trade in centuries past – have drawn worldwide horror.

The outcry threatened to put migration to the top of the summit agenda and shine a light on a thorny issue for European leaders faced with a surge in far-right, anti-immigration parties at home.

“It is clear that migration is a joint responsibility. It is in all our interests to have orderly migration that is more controlled, more humane and sustainable,” Tusk said in his opening remarks.

“The recent reports about the treatment of Africans – especially young people – by smugglers and traffickers are horrifying,” he said, adding that 5,000 migrants had drowned in the Mediterranean last year.

Soon after CNN aired grainy images from Libya this month appearing to show migrants being sold as slaves, African governments began recalling diplomats from Tripoli.

Protests erupted in France, Senegal and Benin. Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara called for Libyan slave traders to be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court.

“Let’s work together to bring more humane solutions to this migration crisis that taints relations between the North and the South,” said Guinea’s president, Alpha Conde, the chairman of the African Union.

Libya has promised to investigate the reports, but many African citizens also blame European policies for abuses along the migrant trail.

“The worst we can do is to start the blame game. What we need now are common solutions and stronger cooperation to save lives, protect people,” Tusk said. “Our common duty is to step up the fight against these unscrupulous criminals.”

But European leaders – including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who head the Franco-German axis at the heart of the EU – are hamstrung by electorates that are increasingly anti-immigration.

Despite pressure at home, Merkel on Wednesday highlighted the need to create legal avenues for migration.

However, Gunter Nooke, her special envoy for Africa, later  told Reuters that alone would not solve the problem. “There wetalk about thousands, tens of thousands. But with (illegal) migration we talk about millions.”

He added that no country is going to allow hundreds of thousands of students in from developing nations unless they can be sure most will go back within four years, which he said rarely happened.

In a joint statement, the United Nations, African Union and European Union announced the creation of a joint task force “to save and protect lives of migrants and refugees along the routes and in particular inside Libya,” and to speed up returning migrants to countries of origin.

European and African leaders met late on Wednesday to discuss the reports of slavery in Libya and the migrant crisis.

“We must not only denounce it, we must act, by collectively attacking these smuggling networks,” Macron, who has called the abuses in Libya a crime against humanity, said at the meeting.  “We are going to … to carry out targeted sanctions.”

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Burning Chilies Drive Elephants Away from African Farmers’ Crops

Burning bricks made of dry chili, dung and water could stop endangered elephants raiding crops in Africa and Asia, reducing conflicts with farmers trying to secure harvests to feed their families, experts said Wednesday.

Resin from crushed dry chilies irritates elephants’ trunks, acting as a repellent, said a study in northern Botswana, published in the journal Oryx.

“This is an excellent non-lethal and low-cost opportunity for local farmers to keep elephants away from their crops,” Rocio Pozo, a researcher at the University of Oxford, said in a statement.

The findings could help to protect elephants, whose population in Africa has plummeted in the last decade due to ivory poaching.

Lines of chilies could be used to separate farms from elephant paths, teaching the animals which routes were safe to use, said Anna Songhurst, director of the Botswana-based Ecoexist and co-author of the study.

Botswana has the largest population of African elephants, and in the eastern Okavango Panhandle, where Ecoexist works, an equal number of animals and humans — 15,000 of each — compete over water, food and land.

“For an individual farmer, their whole year’s supply of food for the whole family could be destroyed in just one night,” Songhurst told Reuters by phone.

The study is part of a wider strategy to reduce human-elephant conflicts, including providing food security for the animals as well as humans, she added.

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Insecticide Resistance Spreads in Africa, Threatens Malaria Progress

The largest genetic study of mosquitoes has found their ability to resist insecticides is evolving rapidly and spreading across Africa, putting millions of people at higher risk of contracting malaria.

British scientists who led the work said mosquitoes’ growing resistance to control tools such as insecticide-treated bed nets and insecticide spraying, which have helped cut malaria cases since 2000, now threatens “to derail malaria control” in Africa.

“Our study highlights the severe challenges facing public efforts to control mosquitoes and to manage and limit insecticide resistance,” said Martin Donnelly of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, who worked on the study with a team from Britain’s Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute.

Latest World Health Organization (WHO) data show that 216 million people were infected last year with the malaria parasite, which is transmitted by blood-sucking Anopheles mosquitoes.

The disease killed 445,000 people in 2016, the majority of them children in sub-Saharan Africa.

To understand how mosquitoes are evolving, the researchers sequenced the DNA of 765 wild Anopheles mosquitoes taken from 15 locations across eight African countries. Their work, published in the journal Nature on Wednesday, created the largest data resource on natural genetic variation for any species of insect.

Analyzing the data, the scientists found that the Anopheles gambiae mosquitoes were extremely genetically diverse compared with most other animal species. This high genetic diversity enables rapid evolution, they said, and helps to explain how mosquitoes develop insecticide resistance so quickly.

The genome data also showed the rapid evolution insecticide resistance appeared to be due to many previously unknown genetic variants within certain genes. The scientists said these genetic variants for insecticide resistance were not only emerging independently in different parts of Africa, but were also being spread across the continent by mosquito migration.

Michael Chew, an infection and immunobiology expert at Britain’s Wellcome Trust global health charity which helped fund the research, said the findings underlined the importance of pushing scientific research ahead to tackle malaria.

“This species is a major transmitter of malaria and the unexpectedly high genetic diversity found by scientists poses fresh questions for those in malaria research and control programs,” he said in a statement.

“Global efforts to tackle malaria through effective vaccines, insecticides and the best drug combinations require urgent, united action by scientists, drug companies, governments and the WHO.”

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Trump Retweets Videos Critical of Muslims

President Donald Trump is retweeting a series of anti-Muslim videos posted by a far-right British politician.


Trump sent the Twitter messages Wednesday morning. The videos were first posted by Jayda Fransen, the deputy leader of the far-right group Britain First.


The descriptions read: “VIDEO: Islamist mob pushes teenage boy off roof and beats him to death!” and “VIDEO: Muslim Destroys a Statue of Virgin Mary!” and “VIDEO: Muslim migrant beats up Dutch boy on crutches!”




Trump has sought to ban immigrants from certain Muslim-majority nations.


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Pope Speaks of Need for ‘Forgiveness’ in 1st Myanmar Mass

Pope Francis spoke of the need for “forgiveness” and avoiding “revenge” at a mass attended by tens of thousands of people in Myanmar’s biggest city, Yangon, on Wednesday.

He skirted direct mention of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority for the second time in his four-day visit, after talking generally of religious tolerance at a meeting with diplomats Tuesday.

Some 150,000 Catholics from across the country gathered at Kyaikkasan sports ground for the service, some arriving the night before to ensure their places.

“Today I am very blessed — not only me but all of Myanmar,” said Sister Lucy, a 22-year-old nun from far-flung Chin state, who got to the area at 5 a.m.

“We never dreamed that we would see his Excellency, but today we can see him,” she said.

In his first public mass in the country, Francis spoke of the many people in Myanmar who “bear the wounds of violence, wounds both visible and invisible.

“We think that healing can come from anger or revenge. Yet the way of revenge is not the way of Jesus,” he said.

The pope, an outspoken advocate for refugees, has defied the expectations of many in the West, who anticipated he would make public remarks on the Rohingya crisis.

More than 620,000 Rohingya, members of a long-persecuted Muslim minority, have fled to Bangladesh since August following a massive army crackdown.

Myanmar dismisses their stories of mass rape and killings as exaggerated, and the army has cleared itself of any abuses.

Previously, Francis has been an advocate for the minority, referring to them on occasion as “our Rohingya brothers and sisters.”

But papal advisers have counseled him not to speak about the issue while in Myanmar, for fear of a backlash against the some 650,000 Catholics in the country.

“This is the first time the pope is coming,” said Robert Nathan, one of about 70 Catholics born in Myanmar who traveled back for the celebrations.

He said Francis was right not to raise the plight of the Rohingya. “The government needs to sort out that problem,” he said.

But human rights advocates have urged him to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya, who are widely reviled as illegal immigrants within Myanmar.

“If the pope doesn’t use the word Rohingya, racist nationalists will see it as a victory, if he does, they will be upset and may protest. Which is better?” Mark Farmaner, head of Burma Campaign UK, said on Twitter.

Many in the audience in Yangon were happy he chose not to reference the crisis. He has said his primary purpose for the visit was to support the Christian population. The country recently established diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

Sister Lucy, the nun from Chin state, said she was happy Francis endorsed the charity work of Catholics in the country in his speech on Wednesday.

“He’s encouraging and appreciating. It helps us to keep up our work,” she said.

WATCH: Pope Francis in Myanmar

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North Korea Claims More Advanced ICBM Capable of Hitting US

North Korea’s test-firing of a new intercontinental ballistic missile, the first since September, has ratcheted up tensions as Pyongyang announced it can now hit the United States mainland with a warhead.

“The newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-15 has been successfully test-launched according to the political decision and strategic judgement of the Workers’ Party of Korea,” read an announcer Wednesday on North Korea’s state-run KRT television.

Following previous launches, the North has claimed its projectiles can hit any part of the continental United States, but this would be the first time it would be able to do so with this new type of upgraded missile, which both North Korean and U.S. officials said could fly higher than the ones the country has tested earlier.

North Korea “can hit US”

“The ICBM Hwasong-15 weapon system is an intercontinental ballistic rocket tipped with a super-large heavy warhead which is capable of striking the whole mainland of the U.S.,” said a statement carried by North Korea’s KCNA news agency.

The statement said North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watched the launch and then “declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power.”

It was not immediately clear if Pyongyang was claiming to have mastered the capability of miniaturizing and mounting a nuclear warhead on an ICBM, which South Korean officials have said could happen within a matter of months. 

Analysts also question North Korea’s technical mastery of ICBM re-entry, which plays a key role in targeting. In the event of a launch at the U.S. mainland, U.S. missile defense systems would be employed. 

Nonetheless, North Korea’s stepped-up threat was acknowledged by the United States and its allies, who vowed to increase pressure on Pyongyang.

“It went higher frankly than any previous shot they have taken,” said the U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis. “It’s a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world basically.”

Allies respond

Commenting on the North’s missile test, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters “we will take care of it.” 

Trump did not elaborate but said there would be no change in the U.S. approach, which consists of “maximizing pressure” on North Korea and keeping all options on the table. 

“Nothing changed. Nothing changed. We have a very serious approach. Nothing’s changed. We take it very seriously,” added Trump. 

South Korea responded to North Korea’s missile test within minutes, test-firing missiles of its own as a warning to Pyongyang of Seoul’s rapid and precision response capabilities. 

Moon issued a stark warning to Pyongyang. 

“We must prevent the possibility that North Korea may misjudge the situation and threaten us with its nukes or the United States may consider a preemptive strike,” Yonhap news quoted the president saying through his spokesman Moon Young-chan. 

Moon said Pyongyang’s action endangered international peace and security. 

“South Korea and the United States, along with the international community, have no other choice but to continue applying strong pressure and sanctions.” 

Trump spoke separately by phone with Moon and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to discuss Pyongyang’s ICBM test and how best to respond. 

Abe called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.

DPRK’s defiance

North Korea’s ICBM test came just a week after the U.S. tightened sanctions against Pyongyang and Trump returned it to the U.S.’s list of “state sponsors of terrorism,” which some analysts believe could explain the timing of the test.

“While it can be argued that the DPRK was likely to test an ICBM in any case, the timing of this launch was unusual,” said Frank Jannuzi, President and CEO of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation, in e-mailed comments to VOA. “DPRK missile testing is far more frequent in the spring than in the fall. I cannot help wondering whether Trump’s exquisitely poor timing on the terrorism list issue hasn’t squandered a chance to get dialogue started.”

Others argue Pyongyang wanted to demonstrate it would not bow to increased pressure. 

“Kim wants us to believe that the new pressure from the U.S. and China has not had an impact. At a minimum, it looks like it forced him to launch at night fearing a preemptive strike,” said Georgetown University Assistant Professor Dennis Wilder, who was National Security Council senior director for East Asian affairs during the George W. Bush administration.

“That he launched in the middle of the night was interesting – perhaps fear of pre-emption,” agreed Atlantic Council Senior Fellow Robert Manning. “But getting spun up every time he acts is dumb, counter-productive and helps Kim’s victim-threat narrative, boosting him internally.

Trump’s hysterical, ridiculous tweets and taunting of Kim were key instigators in creating this pseudo-crisis atmosphere,” Manning adds. 

“I would not blame or give credit to the president’s tweets,” countered David Maxwell, associate director of the Center for Security Studies at Georgetown University. “I do not think Kim Jong Un is ‘provoked’ by tweets. I think they conducted this test/strategic demonstration-not a provocation-for one or all of three reasons: A necessary test to advance the program, the regime believes it can gain some advantage in some way and domestic purposes in support of the military elite.” 

The key question, according to Maxwell, who is a retired special forces colonel with multiple tours on the Korean peninsula, is what advantage does Kim think he might be obtaining with a launch at this time or is he really responding to China’s actions, international and U.S. sanctions, a 60-day “moratorium,” or something else? And the second key question, he added, is how should the United States respond?

WATCH: How people reacted to Pyongyang’s latest missile launch

Nuclear deterrence

North Korea tested less powerful ICBMs in July and its sixth, and most powerful, nuclear device in September. Pyongyang says its nuclear and missile programs act as a strong deterrent to prevent an attack from the U.S., while analysts say the alleged U.S. threat is used by North Korea to maintain power over its people since fighting in the Korean War ended. 

Regardless of nuclear arms, all agree a return to war on the Korean peninsula would be devastating as the area around Seoul, which is within North Korea’s artillery range and home to half of South Korea’s population. South Korea and Japan have U.S. military bases while China and Russia share borders with North Korea. 

“I think that all actors are deterred and the constraints are robust and real,” says Troy University in Seoul analyst Daniel Pinkston. “And any unilateral military action by any actor in Northeast Asia to change the status quo militarily would fail miserably. That includes North Korea and all the other actors and stakeholders including the U.S. and China, Japan and South Korea, Russia. So, we’re kind of stuck in this sub-optimal equilibrium. Everyone is dissatisfied and doesn’t like it,” added Pinkston.

While tougher sanctions are on the horizon – raising the costs for Pyongyang’s defiance – many question whether it can be pressured into giving up its nuclear and missile programs. 

“These capabilities are not something that can be negotiated away,” says Pinkston. It’s part of their identity, it’s part of their national security policy. They view all of the U.N. Security Council resolutions prohibiting these activities as illegitimate and they will continue to challenge those U.N. Security Council resolutions and challenge the international community.”

But, Pinkston said the good news is that we have a lot of experience with deterrence. “We did it against a much more menacing adversary in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, we have much greater capabilities and resources and alliance partners and everything else. So, there’s no need to panic.” 

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