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US-North Korea: Why rapprochement is the only solution

US policy of isolating North Korea has led to the US consistently underestimating North Korea’s capabilities and the determination of its leadership. A change of approach is urgently necessary. The US should engage fully with North Korea and establish diplomatic relations with it.

Alexander Mercouris

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Though it is rarely reported in that way, the story of North Korea’s bomb provides another case study of how the US and the US media report claims about US adversaries that are simply wrong.

The US has in the past simultaneously exaggerated the threat from North Korea whilst underestimating North Korean capabilities. If that sounds contradictory, the answer is that it is, but it is what the historical record shows the US has done.

Rumours in the US of a North Korean nuclear weapons programme extend far back into the 1960s.   By the 1980s they were being reported in the US as a fact.  In fact already at that time reports would sometimes appear in the US and Western media claiming that North Korea was actually already in possession of nuclear bombs.

These reports were simply untrue.  North Korea did not have nuclear bombs before its first nuclear test in 2006.  It did ask the USSR and China for help to develop nuclear weapons in the 1960s after the US deployed nuclear weapons to South Korea. 

Both the USSR and China however refused, with the USSR however agreeing to help North Korea develop a civilian nuclear programme and offering North Korea a Soviet security guarantee, which North Korea accepted.

North Korea had no option but to accept the Soviet offers, which led to Soviet help in setting up the now infamous Yongbyon nuclear research facility, which was originally created with Soviet help in 1962.  Yongbyon’s first reactor – a Soviet IRT2000 research reactor – was supplied at around this time.

Not only did North Korea lack the capability in the 1960s to develop a nuclear weapons programme of its own, but until 1991 in was in all essentials a Soviet satellite state. 

The extent to which behind the facade of Kim Il-sung’s juche ideology North Korea was dependent on Soviet support only became fully clear in the 1990s when that Soviet support was withdrawn.  Quite simply, despite its odd displays of independence, before 1989 North Korea was tightly integrated into the Soviet economy and was heavily dependent upon the USSR for supplies of military goods, advanced technology and machinery, fertilisers for its farmlands, and above all for political support.  Soviet economic planners during this period apparently even set targets for specific North Korean factories. 

Before 1989 North Korea could not have pursued its own nuclear weapons programme because Moscow would not have allowed it to.

The North Korean nuclear programme in fact began in 1989 in response to the collapse of the Warsaw Pact, which understandably enough caused the North Korean leadership to lose faith in the USSR’s security guarantee.  

An important secondary factor in getting the North Korean nuclear weapons programme going after 1989 was however almost certainly and paradoxically the rumours in the West that it already possessed such weapons.

As the North Koreans were increasingly pressed by the US and Western diplomats after 1989 to give up a nuclear weapons capability which at that point they didn’t have, it would not have escaped their notice that US and NATO behaviour showed that by acquiring such weapons North Korea would not only increase its security but would acquire an importance and a status – and a degree of diplomatic leverage – which up to then it didn’t have.

In other words one effect of the false stories before 1989 of North Korea having the bomb was that it put into the North Koreans’ heads the idea of acquiring it.

In the 1990s the North Korean nuclear programme was however a fitful affair.  In the first few years following the collapse of the USSR the North Korean leadership had no option but to focus nearly all its energies on crisis management, as it struggled to cope with the massive disruption to its economy caused by the loss of Soviet economic support. This left little time or resources for an ambitious nuclear weapons programme, and there is little evidence of anything very much being achieved at this time.

In 1994, at a time when the economic crisis was at its peak, with tens of thousands of North Koreans dying every year of malnutrition, the North Koreans agreed to put their nuclear weapons programme – such it was – on ice as part of the so-called Agreed Framework agreement it agreed with the US.  This was in return for a US promise to provide North Korea with two modern pressurised water reactors.

This was a rational trade-off from the North Korean point of view: freezing a nuclear weapons programme which at the time North Korea lacked the resources to see through for a promise of economic support and normalisation of its relations with the West.

The US reactors were never delivered and the Agreed Framework agreement collapsed amidst mutual recriminations in 2003, with North Korea openly targeted for regime change by the Bush II administration at the time of the invasion of Iraq as part of the “axis of evil”.  The North Korean nuclear weapons programme appears to have been restarted in earnest from around this time, which not coincidentally is around the time when North Korea appears to have finally got on top of its post-Soviet economic crisis.

If North Korea did not have a nuclear weapons programme before 1989, and did not – contrary to numerous claims – have nuclear weapons before or indeed for some time after its first nuclear test in 2006, it is quite clear that the US was taken completely by surprise by the speed with which North Korea developed nuclear weapons after the nuclear weapons programme resumed in 2003.

Within three years of the nuclear programme resuming in 2003 the North Koreans carried out their first test.  A succession of tests have followed, with the largest now suggesting that they not only have a serviceable bomb, but that they are close to developing warheads that can be placed on ballistic missiles.

Whilst the nuclear weapons programme has proceeded apace, North Korea’s ballistic missile programme has also moved forward rapidly.  Rocket technology is complicated and many ballistic missile tests have ended in failure, but North Korea has now demonstrated that it has the capability to place objects in space and to launch missiles from submarines.

Obviously we are not talking here of a capability that remotely approaches that of the great nuclear powers – the US and Russia – but it is an impressive capability nonetheless and one which is developing rapidly.

The North Koreans apparently obtained some of their nuclear weapons technology from Pakistan, which in turn seems to have originally sourced technology and equipment from the Netherlands, and they allegedly have used certain medium range Soviet ballistic missiles in their possession as a starting point in their own ballistic missile programme.

The fact nonetheless remains that the North Koreans could not have developed a nuclear weapons and ballistics missile capability of the sort they now have without a technological and industrial base of their own, and one which given the speed of both programmes is clearly bigger and more sophisticated than the US suspected.

This illustrates a further problem in the US’s whole approach to North Korea.  Since the US refuses to engage with North Korea it is profoundly ignorant about it.  It has little knowledge of the extent of North Korea’s industrial and technological capabilities, and no understanding of the thinking of its leadership.  North Korean leaders like Kim Jong-il and Kim Jong-un are treated in the US as comic strip villains.  Not only is remarkably little known about them, but there is almost no understanding of what sort of institutions or administrative structures they work within or who the important people they have around them and consult are.

In place of proper information obtained through regular contacts with North Korea and its leadership, far too much credence is given to stories which regularly circulate in the South Korean media, which look at times to be little more than ill-informed gossip. 

Thus Kim Jong-il during his lifetime was regularly and it seems inaccurately portrayed as an alcoholic sybarite, whilst lurid accounts which regularly appear in the South Korean media of murders and executions supposedly taking place in North Korea are not only unverified but on occasion demonstrably untrue.  A good recent example is the case of General Ri Yong Gil who the South Korean media claimed had been executed only for him to turn up alive and well and occupying an important post at the recent North Korean party congress.

The result of all this ignorance is that the US has consistently underestimated North Korean determination and capabilities, repeatedly getting North Korea wrong, and now finds itself in a nuclear arms race in the eastern Pacific against a country it knows almost nothing about.

This is a disastrous record by any measure, and it is time it was brought to an end. The time is long overdue for the US to engage properly with the North Koreans and to open an embassy in Pyongyang. 

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Republicans call Justice Department’s Bruce Ohr to testify, but where is British Spy Steele? (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 78.

Alex Christoforou

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Representative Mark Meadows tweeted Friday…

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+ contacts with dossier author Chris Steele, as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth.”

Lawmakers believe former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr is a central figure to finding out how the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid PR smear firm Fusion GPS and British spy Christopher Steele to fuel a conspiracy of Trump campaign collusion with Russians at the top levels of the Justice Department and the FBI.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) said Sunday to Fox News’ Maria Bartiromo…

So here you have information flowing from the Clinton campaign from the Russians, likely — I believe was handed directly from Russian propaganda arms to the Clinton campaign, fed into the top levels of the FBI and Department of Justice to open up a counter-intelligence investigation into a political campaign that has now polluted nearly every top official at the DOJ and FBI over the course of the last couple years. It is absolutely amazing,

According to Breitbart, during the 2016 election, Ohr served as associate deputy attorney general, and as an assistant to former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates and to then-Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. His office was four doors down from Rosenstein on the fourth floor. He was also dual-hatted as the director of the DOJ’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force.

Ohr’s contacts with Steele, an ex-British spy, are said to date back more than a decade. Steele is a former FBI informant who had helped the FBI prosecute corruption by FIFA officials. But it is Ohr and Steele’s communications in 2016 that lawmakers are most interested in.

Emails handed over to Congress by the Justice Department show that Ohr, Steele, and Simpson communicated throughout 2016, as Steele and Simpson were being paid by the Clinton campaign and the DNC to dig up dirt on Trump.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris examine the role Bruce Ohr played in Hillary Clinton’s Deep State attack against the Presidency of Donald Trump, and why the most central of figures in the Trump-Russia collusion hoax, British spy for hire Christopher Steele, is not sitting before Congress, testifying to the real election collusion between the UK, the Obama White House, the FBI and the DOJ.

Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

Via The Washington Times

Republicans in a joint session of House committees are set to interview former Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr this month to gauge whether a complex conspiracy against Donald Trump existed among Hillary Clinton loyalists and the Justice Department.

“DOJ official Bruce Ohr will come before Congress on August 28 to answer why he had 60+contacts with dossier author Chris Steele as far back as January 2016. He owes the American public the full truth,” tweeted Rep. Mark Meadows, North Carolina Republican and member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

His panel and the House Judiciary Committee plan to hold a joint hearing to interview Mr. Ohr, according to The Daily Caller.

FBI documents show that the bureau bluntly told dossier writer Christopher Steele in November 2016 that it no longer wanted to hear about his collection of accusations against Mr. Trump.

But for months afterward, the FBI appeared to violate its own edict as agents continued to receive the former British spy’s scandalous charges centered on supposed TrumpRussia collusion.

 

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The US-Turkey Crisis: The NATO Alliance Forged in 1949 Is Today Largely Irrelevant

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Authored by Philip Giraldi via American Herald Tribune:


There has been some reporting in the United States mass media about the deteriorating relationship between Washington and Ankara and what it might mean. Such a falling out between NATO members has not been seen since France left the alliance in 1966 and observers note that the hostility emanating from both sides suggests that far worse is to come as neither party appears prepared to moderate its current position while diplomatic exchanges have been half-hearted and designed to lead nowhere.

The immediate cause of the breakdown is ostensibly President Donald Trump’s demand that an American Protestant minister who has lived in Turkey for twenty-three years be released from detention. Andrew Brunson was arrested 21 months ago and charged with being a supporter of the alleged conspiracy behind the military coup in 2016 that sought to kill or replace President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Erdogan has asserted that the coup was directed by former political associate Fetullah Gulen, who lives in exile in Pennsylvania, but has produced little credible evidence to support that claim. In the aftermath of the coup attempt, Erdogan has had himself voted extraordinary special powers to maintain public order and has arrested 160,000 people, including 20 Americans, who have been imprisoned. More than 170,000 civil servants, teachers, and military personnel have lost their jobs, the judiciary has been hobbled, and senior army officers have been replaced by loyalists.

Gulen is a religious leader who claims to promote a moderate brand of Islam that is compatible with western values. His power base consists of a large number of private schools that educate according to his curriculum, with particular emphasis on math and sciences. Many of the graduates become part of a loose affiliation that has sometimes been described as a cult. Gulen also owns and operates a number of media outlets, all of which have now been shut by Erdogan as part of his clamp down on the press. Turkey currently imprisons more journalists than any other country.

It is widely believed that Erdogan has been offering to release Brunson in exchange for Gulen, but President Donald Trump has instead offered only a Turkish banker currently in a U.S. prison while also turning the heat up in the belief that pressure on Turkey will force it to yield. Washington began the tit-for-tat by imposing sanctions on two cabinet-level officials in Erdogan’s government: Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu and Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul. Ankara has now also been on the receiving end of a Trump tweet and tariffs have been placed on a broad range of Turkish products, to include steel and aluminum.

The view that economic pressure will force the Turks to yield could be mistaken and demonstrates that the Administration does not include anyone who knows that Americans have been unpopular in Turkey since the Gulf War. The threats from Washington might actually rally skeptical and normally pro-western Turks around Erdogan but U.S. sanctions have already hit the Turkish economy hard, with the lira having lost 40% of its value this year and continuing to sink rapidly. Foreign investors, who fueled much of Turkey’s recent economic growth, have fled the market, suggesting that a collapse in credit might be on the way. Those European banks that hold Turkish debt are fearing a possible default.

It is a spectacle of one NATO member driving another NATO member’s economy into the ground over a political dispute. Erdogan has responded in his autocratic fashion by condemning “interest rates” and calling for an “economic war” against the U.S., telling his supporters to unload all their liquid valuables, gold and foreign to buy the plummeting lira, a certain recipe for disaster. If they do that, they will likely lose everything.

Other contentious issues involved in the badly damaged bilateral relationship are conflicting views on what to do about Syria, where the Turks have a legitimate interest due to potential Kurdish terrorism and are seeking a buffer zone, as well as Ankara’s interest in buying Russian air defense missile systems, which has prompted the U.S. to suspend sales of the new F-35 fighter. The Turks have also indicated that they have no interest in enforcing the sanctions on Iran that were re-imposed last week and they will continue to buy Iranian oil after the November 4th initiation of a U.S. ban on such purchases. The Trump Administration has warned that it will sanction any country that refuses to comply, setting the stage for a massive confrontation between Washington and Ankara involving the Turkish Central Bank.

In terms of U.S. interests, Turkey, which has the second largest army in NATO, is of strategic value because it is Muslim, countering arguments that the alliance is some kind of Christian club working to suppress Islam in the Middle East. And it is also important because of its geographic location close to hot spots where the American military is currently engaged. If the U.S. heeds Trump’s call to cut back on involvement in the region, Turkey will become less valuable, but currently, access to the Incirlik Airbase, near Adana and the Syrian border, is vital.

Indeed, Incirlik has become one of the flashpoints in the argument with Washington. Last week, a group of lawyers connected politically to Erdogan initiated legal action against U.S. officers at Incirlik over claimed ties to “terrorists” linked to Gulen. The “Association for Social Justice and Aid” has called for a temporary halt to all operations at the base to permit a search for evidence. The attorneys are asking for the detention of seven named American Colonels and Lieutenant Colonels. General Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command based in Germany is also cited. If the lawyers are successful in court, it will mean a major conflict as Washington asserts the rights of the officers under the Status of Forces Agreement, while Turkey will no doubt insist that the Americans are criminals and have no protection.

Another trial balloon being floated by Erdogan is even more frightening in terms of the demons that it could be unleashing. Abdurrahman Dilipak, an Islamist columnist writing in the pro-government newspaper Yeni Atik, has suggested that there might well be a second terrorist attack on the United States like 9/11. Dilipak threatened that if Trump does nothing to reduce tension “…some people will teach him [to do] that. It must be seen that if internal tensions with the United States continue like this that a September 11 is no unlikely possibility.” Dilipak also warned that presumed Gulenist “U.S. collaborators” inside Turkey would be severely punished if they dared to go out into the streets to protest in support of Washington.

If recent developments in Turkey deteriorate further it might well suggest that Donald Trump’s instinct to disengage from the Middle East was the right call, though it could equally be seen as a rejection of the tactic being employed, i.e. using heavy-handed sanctions and tariffs to compel obedience from governments disinclined to follow Washington’s leadership. Either way, the Turkish-American relationship is in trouble and increasingly a liability for both sides, yet another indication that the NATO alliance forged in 1949 against the Soviet Union is today largely irrelevant.

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Is This The Most Important Geopolitical Deal Of 2018?

After more than 20 years of fraught diplomatic efforts, the five littoral Caspian nations agreed upon a legal framework for sharing the world’s largest inland body of water.

The Duran

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Authored by Olgu Okumus via Oilprice.com:


The two-decade-long dispute on the statute of the Caspian Sea, the world largest water reserve, came to an end last Sunday when five littoral states (Russia, Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan) agreed to give it a special legal status – it is now neither a sea, nor a lake. Before the final agreement became public, the BBC wrote that all littoral states will have the freedom of access beyond their territorial waters, but natural resources will be divided up. Russia, for its part, has guaranteed a military presence in the entire basin and won’t accept any NATO forces in the Caspian.

Russian energy companies can explore the Caspian’s 50 billion barrels of oil and its 8.4 trillion cubic meters of natural gas reserves, Turkmenistan can finally start considering linking its gas to the Turkish-Azeri joint project TANAP through a trans-Caspian pipeline, while Iran has gained increased energy supplies for its largest cities in the north of the country (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) – however, Iran has also put itself under the shadow of Russian ships. This controversy makes one wonder to what degree U.S. sanctions made Iran vulnerable enough to accept what it has always avoided – and how much these U.S. sanctions actually served NATO’s interests.

If the seabed, rich in oil and gas, is divided this means more wealth and energy for the region. From 1970 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union (USSR) in 1991, the Caspian Sea was divided into subsectors for Azerbaijan, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan – all constituent republics of the USSR. The division was implemented on the basis of the internationally-accepted median line.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the new order required new regulations. The question was over whether the Caspian was a sea or a lake? If it was treated as a sea, then it would have to be covered by international maritime law, namely the United Nations Law of the Sea. But if it is defined as a lake, then it could be divided equally between all five countries. The so-called “lake or sea” dispute revolved over the sovereignty of states, but also touched on some key global issues – exploiting oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Basin, freedom of access, the right to build beyond territorial waters, access to fishing and (last but not least) managing maritime pollution.

The IEA concluded in World Energy Outlook (WEO) 2017 that offshore energy has a promising future. More than a quarter of today’s oil and gas supply is produced offshore, and integrated offshore thinking will extend this beyond traditional sources onwards to renewables and more. Caspian offshore hydrocarbon reserves are around 50 billion barrels of oil equivalent (equivalent to one third of Iraq’s total oil reserves) and 8.4 trillion cubic meters of gas (almost equivalent to the U.S.’ entire proven gas reserves). As if these quantities were not themselves enough to rebalance Eurasian energy demand equations, the agreement will also allow Turkmenistan to build the Trans-Caspian pipeline, connecting Turkmenistan’s resources to the Azeri-Turkish joint project TANAP, and onwards to Europe – this could easily become a counter-balance factor to the growing LNG business in Europe.

Even though we still don’t have firm and total details on the agreement, Iran seems to have gained much less than its neighbors, as it has shortest border on the Caspian. From an energy perspective, Iran would be a natural market for the Caspian basin’s oil and gas, as Iran’s major cities (Tehran, Tabriz, and Mashhad) are closer to the Caspian than they are to Iran’s major oil and gas fields. Purchasing energy from the Caspian would also allow Iran to export more of its own oil and gas, making the country a transit route from the Caspian basin to world markets. For instance, for Turkmenistan (who would like to sell gas to Pakistan) Iran provides a convenient geography. Iran could earn fees for swap arrangements or for providing a transit route and justify its trade with Turkey and Turkmenistan as the swap deal is allowed under the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA, or the D’Amato Act).

If the surface water will be in common usage, all littoral states will have access beyond their territorial waters. In practical terms, this represents an increasingly engaged Russian presence in the Basin. It also reduces any room for a NATO presence, as it seems to be understood that only the five littoral states will have a right to military presence in the Caspian. Considering the fact that Russia has already used its warships in the Caspian to launch missile attacks on targets within Syria, this increased Russian presence could potentially turn into a security threat for Iran.

Many questions can now be asked on what Tehran might have received in the swap but one piece of evidence for what might have pushed Iran into agreement in its vulnerable position in the face of increased U.S. sanctions. Given that the result of those sanctions seems to be Iran agreeing to a Caspian deal that allows Russia to place warships on its borders, remove NATO from the Caspian basin equation, and increase non-Western based energy supplies (themselves either directly or indirectly within Russia’s sphere of geopolitical influence) it makes one wonder whose interests those sanctions actually served?

By Olgu Okumus for Oilprice.com

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