BY SHASHI MALLA
United States & North Korea
North Korea has accused the United States of using “gangster-like” tactics to push it towards nuclear disarmament after a fresh round of high-level talks in Pyongyang. It branded the US attitude at the meeting as “extremely troubling”. The statement by an unnamed foreign ministry official gave a sharply different version from the one given by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo previously. He said that progress had been made during his two-day visit. This was his third trip there and a follow-up to the so-called “historic” summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un in Singapore in June. The leaders’ meeting had ended with an undertaking from both to “work towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”, but details remain vague as to how and when this will be achieved, i.e. a detailed roadmap to disarmament remains elusive.
At the talks, Pompeo did not meet with Kim this time as expected, but instead with Kim Yong-chol, who is regarded as Kim’s powerful second-in-command, and like himself also a former intelligence chief. Afterwards, Pompeo revealed little, only to say that they had discussed at length a timetable for disarmament, including the destruction of a missile engine testing facility. “These are complicated issues, but we made progress on almost all of the central issues, some places a great deal of progress, other places there’s still more work to be done,” he said.
But judging by North Korea’s reaction after the bilateral negotiations, the talks did not go well, or at least, not that well as expected by the North. This was not that surprising given Trump’s haphazard ‘cart before the horse’ personal ‘instant’ diplomacy, with little or no previous painstaking preparation. Trump after all demonstrates an acute lack of appreciation for the complexity of global diplomacy [this assessment could be extended to virtually every field of human interaction, including domestic economics and international trade].
Pompeo’s principal aim during this visit was to shore up North Korea’s commitment to disarmament. It is very telling that the North Korean statement, carried by the official KCNA
news agency, said the US had gone against the spirit of the Singapore summit by putting unilateral pressure on the country to abandon its nuclear weapons [implying without an acceptable quid pro quo]. Thus, the North Korean statement: “We had anticipated the US side would come with a constructive idea, thinking we would take something in return”, warning its “resolve for denuclearization . . . may falter”. It added menacingly: “The US is fatally mistaken if it went to the extent of regarding that (North Korea) would be compelled to accept, out of its patience, demands reflecting its gangster-like mindset.”
At the Singapore summit , Trump had unilaterally and unnecessarily offered “security guarantees to North Korea and promised to end its military exercises or ‘war games’ with South Korea — which according to US, South Korean and Japanese military experts were mandatory to buttress military preparedness and singularly project ‘deterrence’. Kim had not expected these concessions so early and must have laughed up his sleeve. Trump then went on to foolishly claim — without rhyme or reason – that the North no longer posed a nuclear threat! How much more stupid could the ‘grandmaster of deals’ get?
The fact of the matter is that US intelligence agencies have revealed there is enough evidence that North Korea continues to upgrade the infrastructure for its nuclear and missile programmes. In addition, the vexed issue of economic sanctions on North Korea has not been addressed. It will be impossible to goad North Korea on ‘denuclearization’ without relaxing the sanctions which have crippled its economy. Kim has promised his people more prosperity, and for this sanctions must be eased. National security demands that he balance military spending and economic development. He can only proceed step by step. Trump has little inkling of the nexus between domestic and international politics. Thus, instead of finding ways and means to reduce the massive sanctions — even if in increment — he has renewed them!
Pompeo then was en route to brief his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in an upbeat frame of mind, citing some progress towards agreeing the “modalities” of North Korea’s destruction of a missile facility.
Pakistan: Elections Pick Up Steam
With regard to the ownership of Avenfield properties in London by the Sharif family, a anti-corruption court in Pakistan has sentenced former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to 10 years of imprisonment and a fine of 8 million pounds sterling last Friday. His daughter Maryam
was sentenced to 7 years in jail and fined 2 million pounds. With this ruling Maryam has been prohibited from contesting the forthcoming general elections. Her husband Captain Muhammad Safdar (retd.) was also sentenced to one year of imprisonment.
Addressing a press conference in London hours after the pronouncement, Sharif asserted that he was being punished because he was changing the legacy of Pakistan’s 70-year-old history, the country’s leading newspaper “Dawn” reported. He said he was not a thief and would return to Pakistan soon after his wife, Begum Kulsoon Nawaz, in London undergoing medical treatment for cancer, was in better health. He also vowed to fight against injustice: “I will continue my struggle till the people of Pakistan are not freed of the slavery imposed on them by some generals and judges.” He asserted that if the punishment for “demanding respect for the vote is jail, I am coming to face it”, adding that he will “not be a slave to those who violate their oath to the Constitution of Pakistan.” He also added that because of the kinds of struggle he started, these types of verdicts were to be expected.
The three-time former prime minister did not give a specific date for returning to Pakistan. He expressed confidence that his party, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) would be highly successful, since it was leading in all opinion polls ahead of the general elections on July 25. He urged the citizens of the country to support the party in times of adversity. Sharif’s daughter Maryam Nawaz, vaunted as his political heir, was also present at the press conference. The verdict is a major blow as it ends her immediate chance of being elected from a safe seat in Lahore, the family stronghold. She had lately emerged as a fiery leader in defending her father’s quest for civilian supremacy over the all-powerful military. However, she has been castigated by the middle classes as a symbol of dynastic politics [as is the case in the politics of India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal].
Soon after, Imran Khan, chairman of the “Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf” (PTI) party said that “it is the beginning of a new Pakistan.” Addressing a rally in Swat as part of his party’s electoral campaign, Khan opined that it was the first time in the country’s history that “the powerful are being held accountable for the first time.” Launching a scathing attack on Sharif and “Pakistan People’s Party” (PPP) chief and former country president Asif Ali Zardari (husband of assassinated former PM Benazir Bhutto), Khan alleged that the two had destroyed state institutions, and appealed to the public to root out corruption from Pakistan.
So-called Immigrant Crisis in Germany
The massive immigrant crisis of 2015-16 in Germany and Europe has long ebbed, but it is having repercussions even today. In the last parliamentary (Bundestag) elections of 2017, the two mainstream political parties, the centre-left “Christian Democratic Union” (CDU) and
the centre-left “Social Democratic Party” (SPD) lost heavily to the right-wing, anti-immigrant “Alternative for Germany” party (AfD/Alternative fuer Deutschland). The AfD even made substantial gains in the southern state of Bavaria, where the CDU’s sister-party, the “Christian Social Union” (CSU) normally reigns supreme. As a result, the leaders of the CSU itself decided on a substantial shift to the right, overtaking the AfD on hard-line immigration policies.
After the elections, the acting chancellor Angela Merkel had a difficult time putting together a workable coalition. Her first attempt at a rainbow or ‘Jamaica’ coalition with the “Free Democratic Party” (FDP/Liberals) and the Green Party collapsed. As coalition negotiations dragged on, Merkel’s reputation, both domestic and international, suffered. Finally, there was no way out, besides fresh elections which no one wanted, except the AfD, as a new edition of the ‘grand coalition’ of CDU/CSU (restricted to Bavaria) and the SPD.
Since the CSU feels politically threatened by the AfD and state elections are fast approaching in October of this year, the CSU has been piling pressure on Chancellor to adopt a more hard-line policy regarding immigrants. It has even not hesitated to cozy up to the right-wing governments in neighboring Austria and Hungary. Very recently, CSU-chief Horst Seehofer undertook a personal and unilateral initiative [actually untoward interference, as it was beyond his responsibility and competence] to urge the European Commission to take a more conciliatory stance via-a-vis the UK. Rightly, he was rebuffed both by the Commission and the German federal cabinet!
However, the CSU-agitation seems to have backfired. A representative poll found that 69 percent of respondents were of the opinion that CSU-chief and federal interior minister Horst Seehofer had damaged ‘politics’ in general, and 48 percent wanted him to resign. Even if the CSU withdraws from the federal coalition — as it has threatened to do — it would be an unprecedented development, but not a threat to the political and economic stability of Germany. Merkel may have enough clout to bring together a workable majority. However, the CSU “revolt” has forced her to complete her U-turn immigration policy.
The columnist can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org