United Nations, Sep 26 (AP/UNB) — As Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un stand on the brink of a widely expected Summit No. 2 to unstick deadlocked nuclear diplomacy, a crucial but often overlooked question looms: Is North Korea actually a nuclear power?
Kim and his well-amplified propaganda specialists certainly say it is. And most casual observers, after watching last year's run of increasingly powerful weapons tests, would probably agree.
But Washington has always refused to accept that as fact. It is wary that doing so would allow Pyongyang to follow the path of India and Pakistan and a handful of other outliers who have built illicit nuclear programs outside the global Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aims to stop the spread of nuclear weapons.
Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president whose tireless shuttle diplomacy has made Trump-Kim Part II possible, is working this week to explain the results of his own recent summit with Kim to Trump and other world leaders gathered at U.N. General Assembly meetings.
At the same time, the debate over whether to treat North Korea as a de facto nuclear power could influence whether fragile diplomacy continues or Northeast Asia returns to the threats of nuclear strikes that had many fearing war just last year.
The AP takes a look:
The technical state of North Korea's closely guarded nuclear program is unclear, but experts believe that Pyongyang can probably arm its short and midrange missiles with nuclear warheads. However, its ability to accurately fire longer range nuclear missiles at targets on the U.S. mainland — the benchmark for any viable nuclear arsenal — is probably not perfected.
Despite the uncertainties, some argue, North Korea is a nuclear power that will never relinquish its bombs.
These experts have studied the U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and watched the fate of late Libyan leader Muammar al-Qaddafi, who was lauded by U.S. officials for giving up his nuclear development program in 2003 before being killed in 2011 during a revolution. They say the North will never relinquish the weapons that are the only way to make to make sure the Kim family dynasty lives on.
Kim "presumes that no great power would risk attacking a nuclear state or sticking a hand into its internal strife," according to Andrei Lankov, a North Korea specialist at Kookmin University in Seoul.
"And so North Korean leaders are determined to stick to their nuclear development, and see nuclear weapons as the major guarantee of their security. There is no form of pressure that can convince them to budge on this, no promise that will seduce them into compliance. They believe that without nuclear weapons, they are as good as dead."
Accepting North Korea for what it is could then allow negotiators to push for a freeze or a scale-back or a permanent test ban.
But the old dream that had guided so many U.S. negotiators intent on getting the North to abandon all its nukes? Not going to happen, at least not in the current scenario.
"It is possible to manage the nuclear program and put some cap on its further development, provided the Kim family still feels it has the deterrent value it needs," Lankov wrote, though he added that North Korea "will expect generous concessions for any freeze, and might not stick to it even then."
At the next expected summit between Trump and Kim they'll likely focus on North Korea's demand for a declaration formally ending the Korean War, which still technically continues. Washington wants Pyongyang to list the contents of its nuclear program — widely seen as the first step in showing a true willingness to disarm — before the Korean War declaration.
Even within the Trump administration, however, there's "a profoundly skeptical view of the possibility of achieving 'final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,'" the stated U.S. goal. That's what Daniel Sneider, a specialist in international policy at Stanford University who recently met with senior administration officials dealing with North Korea, wrote last month.
"The only possible exception," he wrote, "is the president himself."
Washington has always refused to give North Korea the title of nuclear power. Any diplomacy, multiple U.S. administrations have said, must have as its endgame the total abandonment of all North Korean bombs. That means treating the North's nuclear program as temporary, not permanent.
Trump should declare that Washington won't sign a peace treaty with a nuclear-armed North Korea and won't support an end of Korean War declaration until Pyongyang takes significant disarmament steps, according to Evans Revere, a former State Department Asia specialist.
"The president should state publicly that the U.S. goal is and will remain nothing less than the end of North Korea's nuclear weapons program," Revere wrote, and not fall into North Korea's trap of trying to "draw Washington into an endless arms control negotiation, thereby legitimizing Pyongyang's possession of nuclear weapons."
North Korea's acceptance as a nuclear state could also rattle the decades-long Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty and trigger a nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia by leading many in Seoul and Tokyo to question the American guarantee to protect its allies.
South Korea may find it politically impossible to accept North Korea as a nuclear state after decades of animosity and occasional bloodshed, said Cheon Seong-whun, a presidential secretary during Seoul's previous conservative government.
If the current round of nuclear diplomacy derails, Seoul and Washington must develop strategies to manage the threat while pursuing denuclearization as a long-term goal, Cheon said.
Those include strengthened sanctions and stronger South Korean efforts to undermine Kim's leadership, such as increasing the North Korean people's access to outside information.
The allies should also consider bringing back the tactical nuclear weapons that the United States withdrew from South Korea in the 1990s to increase pressure on the North and create conditions for mutual nuclear disarmament, Cheon said.
"South Korea can't wage a war with North Korea to eliminate its nuclear weapons. It can't surrender its statehood to the North either," Cheon said. "We will have to learn to confront and manage the threat of North Korea's nuclear weapons over a long period of time."
New Delhi, Sep 26 (AP/UNB) — India's top court has upheld the government's policy of issuing a 12-digit identification number to every Indian, but says it can't be made mandatory for services such as bank accounts, cellphone connections or school admissions.
The Supreme Court says the government can use it for tax purposes and providing benefits under welfare schemes like subsidized food items and cooking gas.
However, the court said Wednesday that private organizations can't ask for it because of privacy concerns.
The Indian government has enrolled more than 90 percent of the country's 1.3 billion people since it launched the scheme in 2010 linking fingerprints, iris scans and photos of citizens to the unique 12-digit number.
Banks, mobile operators and the government itself started to require identification numbers to access various services.
New York, Sep 26 (AP/UNB)— South Korean President Moon Jae-in pushed back Tuesday against widespread skepticism about the sincerity of Kim Jong Un's vows to give up his nuclear bombs, saying that the current round of diplomacy with North Korea is "completely different" than the many failed deals that have frustrated past negotiators.
Moon, fresh off a dramatic summit in Pyongyang last week with Kim that saw more promises from the North Korean leader to dismantle his weapons programs, is at the U.N. General Assembly this week, meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and other world leaders to explain and, to some extent, defend his efforts to bring peace to the famously hostile Korean Peninsula.
He told an audience at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York that it was "only natural that we have plenty of suspicions regarding the true motivations" of Kim. It was, after all, only last year that a series of increasingly powerful North Korean weapons tests, including the nation's sixth nuclear test explosion, and the tough reaction by Trump had many worrying about war. Some critics believe that tough sanctions and pressure, rather than engagement and concessions, stand a better chance of ridding the North of its nukes.
"It's completely different this time around," Moon said, speaking through an interpreter. What's changed this time is that, unlike past efforts that collapsed when the countries tried to implement deals that had been made at the working level, this one has Trump and Kim making the decisions and then driving their lieutenants to follow through.
"This was a promise made in front of the whole world" by Trump and Kim, Moon said. "For this reason, I believe the promise will be kept."
Moon says North Korea will eventually give up its nuclear weapons in return for security guarantees from the United States, which the North has always claimed is intent on destroying the ruling Kim family's grip on power. Pyongyang also wants an end to what it calls U.S. hostility and normalized ties between Washington and Pyongyang.
Kim claims that since he has completed his nuclear arsenal, an assertion that analysts say is probably not yet true, he will now turn to boosting the conditions of his impoverished people. Skeptics say that North Korea wants to engage in long-running disarmament talks so it can offer up a series of small gestures in return for a stream of aid and concessions from outsiders.
Despite Moon's assertion that a leader-driven process will make this round of diplomacy different from the past, there has been more deadlock than progress since a Singapore summit in June between Trump and Kim.
At the time, North Korea demanded that Washington agree to a declaration on the formal end of the Korean War, which was stopped in 1953 with a ceasefire, not a peace treaty, before it makes significant disarmament moves. These would include providing a list of the contents of its nuclear arsenal. The United States wants that list before it will sign off on the war declaration.
Trump and Kim have both said they want to meet again soon, and Moon has been pushing for such a meeting as a way to unstick the diplomacy. There will be high expectations if such a summit comes off.
Moon said he understands the doubt about Kim's purported sincerity since the North Korean leader halted weapons tests in November and began reaching out to the South and Washington. For that reason he pushed to have large portions of the Pyongyang summit streamed live so that the world could see Kim and Moon together and "decide for themselves what kind of person Chairman Kim is."
"The Chairman Kim I experienced ... is young, but he is also candid," Moon said, with "great aspirations to achieve economic development" and a willingness to abandon his nuclear programs to achieve that goal.
London, Sep 26 (AP/UNB) — Britain's main opposition Labour Party announced Tuesday it will reject Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May's proposed divorce deal with the European Union if it comes to a vote in Parliament and might even support a new Brexit referendum.
The party's chief Brexit spokesman accused May's government of offering the country a choice between "really bad and even worse."
If Britain and the EU agree on a deal, it must be approved by the British and European parliaments before Britain leaves. The math on the U.K. vote looks ominous for May's government, because it lacks an overall majority.
Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer told Labour's annual conference that the party would vote against a Brexit deal along the lines that May is proposing because it does not meet "six tests" it has set, including protecting workers' rights and retaining access to European markets.
"We do not accept that the choice is between whatever the prime minister manages to cobble together and no deal ... between really bad and even worse," Starmer said.
Starmer said if the British Parliament rejected the deal, there should be a national election.
"If that is not possible, we must have other options," he said. "Our options must include campaigning for a public vote — and nobody is ruling out 'remain' as an option."
Starmer's suggestion that a new referendum could reverse Britain's 2016 decision to leave the EU — which wasn't in the advanced printed text of his speech — drew a standing ovation from many delegates in the conference hall.
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has long opposed the idea of a new Brexit referendum, saying the party must respect voters' decision to leave.
Most of the party's 500,000 members voted in 2016 to remain in the EU, but many of its 257 lawmakers represent areas that supported Brexit. Brendan Chilton of the pro-Brexit group Labour Leave argued Tuesday that the party would "hemorrhage votes" if it tried to stop Britain from leaving the 28-nation bloc.
But with Britain due to leave the EU on March 29 and negotiations at an impasse, Corbyn is under intense pressure from party members to support a new public vote.
With a show of hands, conference delegates voted Tuesday to back a compromise motion leaving the option of a second Brexit referendum open, but not calling for it directly.
EU leaders last week rejected the British government's blueprint for future trade ties at a fractious summit in the Austrian city of Salzburg.
May's plan seeks to keep the U.K. in the EU's vast single market for goods but not for services, in order to ensure free trade with the bloc and an open border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. But EU officials say that amounts to unacceptable "cherry-picking" of elements of membership in the bloc without accepting all the costs and responsibilities.
The Salzburg rebuff left May under siege from Brexit-supporting Conservatives, who want her to seek a looser relationship based on a bare-bones free trade agreement that would leave Britain free to strike new deals around the world.
But May is sticking by her proposal, saying the "hard Brexit" proposed by some Conservatives would be "a bad deal" because it would not resolve the Irish border problem.
"What we have put on the table is a good deal," she said Tuesday. "It's a deal which retains the union of the United Kingdom, our constitutional integrity, it's a deal that provides for no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, protects jobs and enables us to have a good trading relationship with Europe and also the rest of the world."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned that time is tight. An EU summit next month is seen as a make-or-break moment for a Brexit deal.
Speaking in Berlin, Merkel said there were "six to eight weeks of very hard work in front of us in which we must take the political decisions."
"Of course, to a significant extent, this also depends on what Britain really wants — the discussion isn't so clear here," she said.
Aboard The Papal Plane, Sep 26 (AP/UNB) — Pope Francis acknowledged Tuesday that his landmark deal with China over bishop nominations will cause suffering among the underground faithful. But he said that he takes full responsibility and that he — and not Beijing — will have the ultimate say over naming new bishops.
Francis provided the first details of the weekend agreement signed during an in-flight news conference coming home from the Baltics. The deal aims to end decades of tensions over bishop nominations that had contributed to dividing the Chinese church and hampered efforts at improving bilateral relations.
China's estimated 12 million Catholics are split between those belonging to the government-backed Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, which is outside the pope's authority, and an underground church loyal to the pope. Underground priests and parishioners are frequently detained and harassed.
Francis — and before him Pope Benedict XVI — had tried to unite the two communities, and years of negotiations kicked into high gear over a year ago.
Francis acknowledged that both sides lost something in the talks, and said members of the underground Chinese church "will suffer" as a result of the deal, the text of which has not been released.
"It's true, they will suffer. There is always suffering in an agreement," the pope said.
But he said he had already received messages attesting to the "martyr-like faith" of Chinese Catholics and their willingness to accept whatever was decided. He urged prayers "for the suffering for those who don't understand, or who have so many years behind them of living clandestinely."
It was a reference to the underground faithful who endured decades of persecution for refusing to join the Patriotic Association and staying loyal to the Holy See. Their cause has long been championed by Hong Kong Cardinal Joseph Zen, who has called Francis' deal a sell-out of the church to China's Communist rulers.
Francis said the deal calls for a process of dialogue over possible bishop candidates, but that ultimately the pope decides.
"It's not that they name. It's a dialogue on possible candidates," he said. "The thing is done in dialogue. But Rome names. The pope names. This is clear."
The issue of bishop nominations had been the main stumbling block to restoring diplomatic relations that were severed nearly seven decades ago when the Chinese communists came to power. The Holy See insisted on the pope's right to name bishops to preserve the apostolic succession that dates to Jesus' original apostles. China considered the Vatican's insistence as an infringement on its sovereignty.
Because of the dispute, China over the years named some bishops without papal consent, some of whom were then excommunicated by the church. The key part of the deal calls for the Vatican to recognize the seven living illegitimate bishops and regularize their status in the church, while also arranging for two legitimate ones to step aside.
Francis said he took personal responsibility for the deal, and signed each of the decrees reconciling with the seven bishops.
The Vatican announced the deal Saturday, saying that from now on all bishops in China are in communion with Rome. The Vatican said it was provisional in nature, suggesting it could be revisited periodically.
Zen has been the main figure in criticizing the deal, but Francis noted there is plenty of historic precedence for state authorities naming bishops, including in his native Latin America.
"Let's not forget that, thank God, we overcame this, but that for 350 years it was the kings of Portugal and Spain who named bishops and the pope gave his jurisdiction," Francis said. "Let's not forget that in the case of the Austro-Hungarian empire, Maria Therese got tired of signing the nominations of bishops and gave the jurisdiction to the Vatican."
While acknowledging the suffering of some underground faithful in China, Francis pointed to what he considered a good sign that the church is beginning to unify. He noted that in the weeks after a retired Vatican ambassador accused him of covering up the sexual misconduct of an American cardinal, bishops conferences around the world wrote to him voicing their support.
The Chinese faithful wrote to him as well, he said. Both an underground bishop and a bishop of the Patriotic Church signed the same letter.
"Together, both of them. And faithful, both of them. For me this is a signal," Francis said.