Foreign affairs
February 11, 2019

Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan made his first-ever trip to Afghanistan on Monday, meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid. The unannounced visit included discussions of the framework for a peace deal U.S. negotiators said they have reached with the Taliban late last month.

So far, the Taliban has refused to include the Afghan government in those talks. Yet ultimately, "Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like," Shanahan told reporters Monday. "It's not about the U.S.; it's about Afghanistan."

Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a core feature of the deal framework, but Shanahan said he has "not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan." On the contrary, he argued "the U.S. military has strong security interests in the region" and suggested — in apparent disagreement with recent comments from U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States' lead negotiatior in the talks with the Taliban — that U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will "evolve" rather than end. Bonnie Kristian

February 10, 2019

American and South Korean officials on Sunday signed a new deal on how much Seoul will pay Washington for the upkeep of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

The agreement was renegotiated after President Trump demanded Seoul pay more. The payment for 2019 will be about $924 million, up from $830 million in 2018. Sunday's deal will only last for one year, far shorter than the five-year arrangements between the two nations in the past.

There are about 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the Korean War in the 1950s. Bonnie Kristian

February 9, 2019

President Trump announced the specific location of his upcoming second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a tweet Friday evening:

At the State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump mentioned Vietnam as the location of the meeting but did not offer further details. The first summit between the two leaders took place in Singapore in June of last year.

In a second tweet Friday, Trump predicted Kim's leadership would bring North Korea into a new era of prosperity:

He was similarly optimistic at the SOTU address, describing his work with Kim as part of a "historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula."

"Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months," Trump said. "If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed. Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one." Bonnie Kristian

February 4, 2019

President Trump revealed on CBS Sunday he wants to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq to "watch Iran" — and apparently he didn't bother to mention this to Iraq first.

"The [U.S.] troops ... in Iraq are operating based on the agreement between the government of Iraq and the United States for the specific mission of combating terrorism," Iraqi President Barham Salih said Monday. "Iraq's constitution does not allow our territory of our country to be used against our neighbors."

"Don't overburden Iraq with your own issues," Salih added. "The U.S. is a major power ... but do not pursue your own policy priorities. We live here. ... Iran is our neighbor ... We don't want to be part of any axis."

Trump's Sunday comments offered a mixed message of discontent with the United States' "endless" wars and intent to maintain long-term, if scaled down, American military commitments in the Middle East. Bonnie Kristian

January 19, 2019

"We have made a lot of progress as far as denuclearization is concerned and we are talking about a lot of different things. Things are going very well with North Korea," President Trump told reporters Saturday of his Friday conversation with North Korean negotiator Kim Yong Chol.

"That was an incredible meeting," Trump said. "We've agreed to [another summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un], probably the end of February. We've picked a country, but we'll be announcing it in the future. Kim Jong Un is looking very forward to it and so am I."

Vietnam, Thailand, and Singapore are thought to be under consideration for the summit's location. Read a "plausible roadmap to peace with North Korea" from The Week's Harry J. Kazianis here. Bonnie Kristian

January 15, 2019

A letter from President Trump was hand-delivered to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang this past weekend. The two leaders are reportedly due to meet in person for a second summit soon, and the letter may indicate the details of those talks are close to being finalized.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in suggested as much in an address last week. "The second North Korea-United States summit — to take place soon — and a reciprocal visit to Seoul by Chairman Kim Jong Un of North Korea will be other turning points that will firmly solidify peace on the Korean Peninsula," he said.

Trump has spoken enthusiastically of his correspondence with Kim in the past. "I like him. He likes me. I guess that's okay. Am I allowed to say that?" he rhapsodized in September. "He wrote me beautiful letters. And they are great letters. We fell in love." Bonnie Kristian

December 23, 2018

Canada on Saturday formally demanded China release two Canadians detained by Beijing in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of a Chinese tech executive on the United States' behalf.

"We are deeply concerned by the arbitrary detention by Chinese authorities of two Canadians earlier this month and call for their immediate release," said Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland. "We also believe this is not only a Canadian issue," she added. "It is an issue that concerns our allies."

The U.S., United Kingdom, and European Union issued supporting statements. A message from the U.S. State Department emphasized that Canada is abiding by its extradition agreements with the United States and expressed "deep concern" over the two Canadians' detention. Bonnie Kristian

December 16, 2018

The North Korean government on Sunday issued a typically dramatic statement condemning the United States' sanction regime and suggesting denuclearization plans are in jeopardy.

Pyongyang accused the U.S. State Department of being "bent on bringing [North Korea]-U.S. relations back to the status of last year which was marked by exchanges of fire," warning that additional U.S. sanctions would be America's "greatest miscalculation" and would "block the path to denuclearization on the Korean peninsula forever."

This comes as Pyongyang observes the seventh anniversary of the death of former leader Kim Jong Il and the rise to power of his son, current leader Kim Jong Un. Bonnie Kristian

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