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The US should accept China’s proposal and talk to North Korea. Here’s why.

All the facts are consistent with North Korea’s statements that its nuclear programme is purely defensive, in which case it may agree to suspend it if it is reassured it will not be attacked by the US.

Alexander Mercouris

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One of the difficulties in discussing North Korea is that knowledge of the so-called ‘hermit kingdom’ is so limited.

No Western leader has ever met with Kim Jong-un, and nor at the highest level have the Chinese and Russian leaderships.  There is scarcely any knowledge of the institutional frame-work within which he works.  We do not know who his top advisers are and how he consults them.  We do not know how well-informed he is about the world or even about North Korea itself.  We do not know how intelligent he is, or if there is any institution like a Politburo or a cabinet or a Security Council which he consults.  We do not know what his exact relationship with his top civilian and military officials is.

The West’s extraordinary ignorance of the most basic facts about North Korea is shown by the fact that there is even uncertainty about the identity of the institution or institutions which control North Korea’s secret police.  Consider for example these astonishing comments in the Wikipedia article on the subject

Some defectors and sources have suggested that unlike its Eastern Bloc Counterparts, State Security functions are actually conducted by several larger and different security bodies that operate under the Party or the Army, each with its own unique responsibilities and classified names that are referred to by code (i.e. Room 39), and that the Agency is little more than a hollow shell used by the elite to coordinate their activities and provide cover for them…..

Various U.S. expert authorities on the North Korean government appear to disagree on the name and place of the force within the North Korean government. The CIA World Factbook refers to the organization as the civil security forces, and says it is part of the Korean People’s Army. However, this may be a misreading of the Factbook, as it does not appear to refer to a specific force, merely the numerous civilian security bodies.

The Library of CongressCountry Studies, the Federation of American Scientists, Globalsecurity.org, and Joseph Bermudez, in his book The Armed Forces of North Korea all refer to the organization as the State Security Department. They further say that it is not part of the Korean People’s Army (the North Korean armed forces), and instead reports directly to the Supreme Leader.

It is clear however that the North Korean government, however it is organised, is efficient or at least effective, that it is in complete control of the country, and that it both makes decisions regularly and is able to enforce them across the whole country.

Just as we know next to nothing about North Korea’s government, we are similarly profoundly ill-informed about North Korea’s economy.

North Korea’s success in pursuing a ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme shows North Korea must have a significant industrial and technology base, which must encompass fields like advanced chemistry and nuclear physics.  North Korea’s success in making its own smart phones and tablets and in developing its own apparently extensive intranet (the “Kwangmyong“) suggests it must have a reasonably sophisticated computer and IT industry it can draw upon.  Pictures of Pyongyang, which appear from time to time in the Western media, show it to be a highly modern even futuristic city, a significant fact in itself even if Pyongyang is a show-case which is not representative of the whole country.

Nonetheless despite these obvious signs of industrial and technological strength and modernity there remains a widespread view that North Korea is a primitive basket-case of a country, with its people struggling in conditions barely above subsistence.

Frankly that doesn’t seem fully consistent with the known facts.

Lastly, we remain supremely ignorant of North Korea’s actual military capabilities.  Though North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests no-one outside North Korea knows how many nuclear weapons it has, or whether it possesses the means to deliver those nuclear weapons it does have.

However despite our ignorance what we know about North Korea shows that however bizarre and outlandish North Korea may appear to us to be, it is a functioning state with a real government, not a cartoon country, and the decisions it makes must therefore have some purpose to them.

What purpose then does the North Korean nuclear weapons programme have?

An obvious starting point in any discussion of this issue ought to be what the North Korean government itself says.

There is a difficulty here because the political language North Korea uses comes across to a foreign ear as so rhetorically inflated and bombastic that it is sometimes difficult to take it seriously.  However this commentary in Rodong Sinmun, the official newspaper of North Korea’s Workers Party, explains the motivation behind North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme clearly enough

Recently, the U.S. representative to the UN, faulting the DPRK’s just measure for bolstering the nuclear deterrence, said that it may pose threat to the U.S. and several other countries and that “countries doing bad acts” like the DPRK would not sign the convention on banning nuclear weapons nor would be willing to implement it.

This is a gross distortion of the situation.

The U.S. is deliberately distorting and hyping up the situation in a bid to turn the table in its favor. The aim is to brand the DPRK as a harasser of peace, cover up its true colors as a hideous nuclear criminal and justify its moves for stifling the DPRK.

It has neither qualifications nor rights to fault the DPRK’s measures for bolstering the nuclear deterrence.It is also not entitled to trumpet about the convention on banning the nuclear weapons.

The U.S. is trying to convince the public that the world denuclearization has not been realized because of the DPRK. This is senseless rubbish shunning the historical course of why the DPRK was compelled to opt for having access to nuclear weapons and bolstering them qualitatively and quantitatively and why it became necessary for the world to have the convention on banning nuclear weapons.

It is none other than the U.S. which compelled the DPRK to have access to nuclear weapons and it is again the U.S. which persistently forced the DPRK to bolster them qualitatively and quantitatively.

The DPRK’s nuclear deterrence is not to threaten others but it is a means for self-defence to defend the sovereignty of the country from the U.S. nuclear war provocation in every aspect.

The DPRK will continue to exercise this right with dignity no matter what others may say.

(bold italics added)

In other words North Korea decided to acquire nuclear weapons not out of some fanatical desire to attack the US, or because it wants to use its nuclear weapons to conquer South Korea or to hold the entire world hostage – all of them suicidal acts of no conceivable benefit to itself – but because it feels threatened by the US.

This is both clear and logical and is in line with what is known of the recent historical record.

Before the 1990s North Korea – because of its alliance with the USSR – was able to maintain a rough parity in its conventional military forces against those of South Korea.  It also had a security guarantee from the USSR to prevent it being attacked by the US.

After the USSR collapsed North Korea lost its former superpower ally, losing access to sophisticated equipment for its army, and also losing the Soviet guarantee against attack by the US.

As a result North Korea’s army, though large and – apparently – highly motivated and disciplined, has stagnated technologically, and has fallen ever farther behind that of South Korea, which now has a significant conventional military superiority over it.  This has happened at exactly the same time that North Korea has felt increasingly exposed to possible attack by the US.

As to the last, in the 1990s – at a time when North Korea was struggling with an existential economic crisis caused by the cut-off of Soviet aid – the US openly gloated that the North Korean regime was about to collapse, and in the late 1990s it also embraced a policy of regime change around the world, which was first and foremost targeted at a group of countries lumped together by the George W. Bush administration as the so-called “Axis of Evil” which included North Korea.

It is completely understandable therefore that the North Korean government felt threatened by the US, and that in the absence of a reliable superpower protector like the USSR it should have sought to protect itself from the US and South Korea by developing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

The commentary in the Rodong Sinmun which I have just quoted therefore makes complete sense, and since it makes sense, it is almost certainly the truth.

What this means is that it is the US, not North Korea, whose actions are propelling the crisis in the Korean Peninsula.

What that means in turn is that the approach proposed by China – an ending of US joint exercises with South Korea in return for a suspension of further North Korean nuclear tests – also makes complete sense.

If North Korea were to cease feeling threatened by the US it would have no further reason to continue with its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme.  At that point it would refocus its energies towards developing its economy, whilst possibly also working towards some sort of long term reconciliation with South Korea, presumably relying on the help of the two great regional powers traditionally allied to it: China and Russia.

This is not a guess.  Some years ago, when tensions in the Korean Peninsula appeared to have gone into remission, North Korean officials toured Beijing and Moscow to talk up prospects of a $180 billion programme to refurbish North Korea’s economic infrastructure.  There was also talk at about that time of road and rail links and a gas pipeline being built to link South Korea to Russia and China via North Korea.  There was even talk of road and rail links being built from South Korea and extending across North Korea, China and Russia all the way to western Europe.

If tensions in the Korean Peninsula were to end these projects would doubtless be revived, in which case it is not inconceivable that despite all the eccentricities of its political system North Korea, with its educated and disciplined workforce and its obviously significant industrial and technology base, would boom.

Indeed it is surely not inconceivable that it was precisely in order to prevent these things happening and to stop Russia, China and the two Koreas linking up together that tensions in the Korean Peninsula were revived and cranked up so spectacularly in the first place.

None of this is to suggest that the situation in the Korean Peninsula is not potentially extremely dangerous.  Another commentary in Rodong Sinmun makes it clear that North Korea is prepared to retaliate with nuclear weapons if there is a US or South Korean military strike against itself, and given North Korea’s possession of nuclear weapons that threat has to be taken seriously, even if no one outside North Korea knows how large or effective the North Korean nuclear arsenal is.

However since North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme is intended to be defensive and is not intended as a means of aggression, there is no cause or justification for the current hysteria and panic about it.  Provided North Korea is left alone there is no danger of an attack by North Korea on anyone.

Since North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme is defensive, a political settlement of the Korean crisis should in theory also be possible.  I have already discussed the outline of what such a settlement might be.

Given that it is fear of the US which is driving the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme, it is also obvious what the first step to defuse the Korean crisis should be.

This should not be more threats against North Korea, which can only make the crisis worse.  It should be an immediate start of a dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang as proposed by China following upon a suspension of the joint military exercises the US conducts regularly with South Korea.

Since the US would not want to appear to accept the linkage between these exercises and the North Korean nuclear programme that the Chinese and the Russians – because of the US’s own ham-fisted actions – are now making, it should announce their suspension unilaterally, relying on the Chinese and the Russians to ensure that the North Koreans suspend their nuclear tests in response, which they would almost certainly do.

Direct talks between Washington and Pyongyang could then follow, in which case a way might finally be found out of a crisis, which because of thoughtlessness and bombast, first and foremost in Washington, has over many years been driven into a dangerous impasse.

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Rod Rosenstein resigns from his post before President Trump can fire him

Rosenstein’s comments about secretly recording the President backfire, and resignation may throw the Mueller Russiagate probe into question.

Seraphim Hanisch

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The Washington Times broke the story that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein resigned from his post. He submitted his resignation to Chief of Staff John Kelly.  At present the breaking story says the following:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is out at the Department of Justice.

Axios reported that Mr. Rosenstein verbally resigned to White House Chief Of Staff John Kelly, but CNN said that he is expecting to be fired.

Sarah Isgur Flores, a Department of Justice spokeswoman, declined to comment on the reports.

Mr. Rosenstein’s departure immediately throws Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russian collusion probe into chaos.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the investigation, leaving Mr. Rosenstein in charge.

President Trump mulled firing the No. 2 at the Department of Justice over the weekend.

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This report came after Fox News reported that the Deputy AG was summoned to the White House. Fox reported a little more detail:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is heading to the White House expecting to be fired, sources tell Fox News, in the wake of a report that he suggested wearing a wire against President Trump and invoking the 25th Amendment to remove him from office last year.

This is a developing story, however one major factor that comes under consideration is the fate of Robert Mueller and his Russiagate investigation, which was authorized by Rosenstein. CNBC had this to say in their piece:

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is resigning Monday, according to Axios, which cited a source familiar with the matter.

NBC News’ Pete Williams, however, reported that Rosenstein would not resign of his own accord, and that he will only depart if the White House fired him. He will refuse to resign if asked to do so, Williams added.

Rosenstein was at the White House when Williams reported this on the air. However, President Donald Trump is in New York for the United Nations General Assembly.

Bloomberg later reported that the White House accepted Rosenstein’s resignation, citing a person familiar with the matter.

Rosenstein’s expected resignation will immediately raise questions about the fate of the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller, who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump.

Rosenstein’s job security was called into question after The New York Times reported last week that the No. 2 DOJ official had discussed invoking the 25th amendment to remove Trump, and had also talked about surreptitiously recording the president.

Rosenstein oversees the special counsel investigation, and has appointed Mueller to run the Russia probe last year, after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the case.

The special counsel’s office declined to comment on the report.

The White House did not immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment on Axios’ report. The Justice Department did not immediately respond to CNBC’s inquiry.

Trump has repeatedly blasted Mueller’s inquiry, which also is focused on possible collusion with Russia by members of the Trump campaign.

He has called the investigation a “witch hunt,” and has repeatedly vented frustration about Sessions’ recusal, which directly led to Mueller’s appointment by Rosenstein.

Rosenstein’s expected departure comes on the heels of a guilty plea by Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort to conspiracy charges related to his consulting work in Ukraine, which predates his role on the campaign.

As part of the investigation, Mueller’s team has been locked in an ongoing back-and-forth with Trump’s legal team over an in-person interview with the president.

Trump’s lawyers, including former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, have signaled that Trump is unwilling to sit for an interview, calling it a “perjury trap” and setting up a potential challenge for Mueller to subpoena the president.

This story is developing. Please check back for updates.

 

 

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European Council crushes Theresa May’s soft Brexit dream (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 116.

Alex Christoforou

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UK Prime Minister Theresa May hoped that the European Council was ready to see things her way, in terms of proceeding with a soft Brexit, which was essentially no Brexit at all…at least not the hard Brexit that was voted on in a democratic referendum approximately two years ago.

Much to May’s surprise, European Council President Donald Tusk delivered a death blow verdict for May’s Brexit, noting that EU leaders are in full agreement that Chequers plan for Brexit “will not work” because “it risks undermining the single market.”

Without a miracle compromise springing up come during the October summit, the UK will drift into the March 29, 2019 deadline without a deal and out of the European Union…which was initially what was voted for way back in 2016, leaving everyone asking, what the hell was May doing wasting Britain’s time and resources for two years, so as to return back to the hard Brexit terms she was charged with carrying forward after the 2016 referendum?

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss what was a disastrous EU summit in Salzburg for UK PM Theresa May, in what looks to be the final nail in May’s tenure as UK Prime Minister, as a hard Brexit now seems all but certain.

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Via Zerohedge

Tusk was speaking at the end of an EU summit in Salzburg, where the leaders of the 27 remaining states in the bloc were discussing Brexit. He said that while there were “positive elements” in May’s Chequers plan, a deal that puts the single market at risk cannot be accepted.

“Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market,” Tusk said. He also said that he could not “exclude” the possibility that the UK could exit the EU in March with no deal.

May has been urging her European counterparts to accept her controversial Chequers plan which has split both the Conservative party and the broader UK population after it was thrashed out back in July. However, despite the painfully-slow negotiation process, which appears to have made little headway with just a few months left, the UK is set to leave the EU on March 29 2019 – with or without an exit deal.

The main sticking point that has emerged, and left May and the EU at loggerheads, has been how to avoid new checks on the Irish border. May has claimed that her proposals were the “only serious, credible” way to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. She said during a press conference after the Salzburg meeting that she would not accept the EU’s “backstop” plan to avoid a Northern Ireland hard border. She said the UK would shortly be bringing forward its own proposals.

May also said that there was “a lot of hard work to be done,” adding that the UK was also preparing for the eventuality of having to leave the EU without a deal. Tusk, meanwhile, said that the upcoming October summit would be the “moment of truth” for reaching a deal, and that “if the conditions are there” another summit would be held in November to “formalize” it.

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Russia makes HUGE strides in drone technology

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The US and Israel are universally recognized leaders in the development and use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones. Thousands of American and Israeli UAVs are operating across the world daily.

The US military has recently successfully tested an air-to-air missile to turn its MQ-9 Reaper drone into an effective long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance unmanned spy aircraft capable of air-to-surface as well as air-to-air missions. This is a major breakthrough. It’s not a secret that Russia has been lagging behind in UAV development. Now its seems to be going to change with tangible progress made to narrow the gap.

Very few nations boast drones capable of high-altitude long endurance (HALE) missions. Russia is to enter the club of the chosen. In late 2017, the Russian Defense Ministry awarded a HALE UAV contract to the Kazan-based Simonov design bureau.

This month, Russian Zvezda military news TV channel showed a video (below) of Altair (Altius) heavy drone prototype aircraft number “03”, going through its first flight test.

Propelled by two RED A03/V12 500hp high fuel efficiency diesel engines, each producing a capacity of 500 hp on takeoff, the 5-ton heavy vehicle with a wingspan of 28.5 meters boasts a maximum altitude of 12km and a range of 10,000km at a cruising speed of 150-250km/h.

Wingspan: about 30 meters. Maximum speed: up to 950 km/h. Flight endurance: 48 hours. Payload: two tons, which allows the creation of a strike version. The vehicle is able to autonomously take off and land or be guided by an operator from the ground.

The UAV can carry the usual range of optical and thermal sensors as well as synthetic-aperture ground-surveillance radar with the resolution of .1 meter at the range of 35km and 1 meter at the range of 125km. The communications equipment allows real-time data exchange.

Russia’s UAV program currently underway includes the development of a range of large, small, and mid-sized drones. The Orion-E medium altitude long endurance (MALE) UAV was unveiled at the MAKS 2017 air show. Its developer, Kronstadt Technologies, claims it could be modified for strike missions. The one-ton drone is going through testing now. The Orion-E is capable of automatic takeoff and landing.

It can fly continuously for 24 hours, carrying a surveillance payload of up to 200 kg to include a forward looking infra-red (FLIR) turret, synthetic aperture radar and high resolution cameras. The drone can reach a maximum altitude of 7,500 m. Its range is 250 km.

The Sukhoi design bureau is currently developing the Okhotnik (Hunter) strike drone with a range of about 3,500km. The drone made its maiden flight this year. In its current capacity, it has an anti-radar coating, and will store missiles and precision-guided bombs internally to avoid radar detection.

The Kazan-based Eniks Design Bureau is working on the small T-16 weaponized aerial vehicle able to carry 6 kg of payload.

The new Russian Korsar (Corsair) tactical surveillance unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) will be upgraded to receive an electronic warfare system. Its operational range will be increased from 150km to 250km. The drone was revealed at Victory Day military parade along with the Korsar unmanned combat helicopter version.

The rotary wing drone lacks the speed and altitude of the fixed wing variant, but has a great advantage of being able to operate without landing strips and can be sea-based. Both drones can carry guided and unguided munitions. The fixed-wing version can be armed with Ataka 9M120 missiles.

The first Russian helicopter-type unmanned aerial vehicle powered by hydrogen fuel cells was presented at the Army-2018 international forum. With the horizontal cruising speed of the drone up to 60 kph, the unmanned chopper can stay in the air at least 2.5 hours to conduct reconnaissance operations. Its payload is up to 5 kg.

Last November, the Kalashnikov Concern reported that it would start production of heavy unmanned aerial vehicles capable of carrying up to several tons of cargo and operating for several days at a time without needing to recharge.

All in all, the Russian military operate 1,900 drones on a daily basis. The multi-purpose Orlan-10 with a range of 600km has become a working horse that no military operation, including combat actions in Syria, can be conducted without. Maj. Gen. Alexander Novikov,
the head of the Russian General Staff’s Office for UAV Development, Russian drones performed over 23,000 flights, lasting 140,000 hours in total.

Russia’s State Armament Program for 2018-2027 puts the creation of armed UAVs at the top of priorities’ list. Looks like the effort begins to pay off. Russia is well on the way to become second to none in UAV capability.

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Via Strategic Culture

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