The United States and South Korea are preparing for several days of joint military drills on the Korean Peninsula beginning Monday, an occasion that prompted North Korea on Sunday to label President Trump a "war merchant and strangler of peace" who has pushed "the situation on the peninsula to the brink of war." Trump is due to visit Asia, including South Korea, in early November.
South Korean media outlets report North Korea may also conduct another weapons test during the drills, as missile transporters reportedly "kept appearing and disappearing" near Pyongyang and elsewhere in North Korea. On Friday, Pyongyang again threatened to launch missiles toward the U.S. territory of Guam. Bonnie Kristian
The United States announced its intention Thursday to withdraw from UNESCO, citing concerns about the organization's "continuing anti-Israel bias." The U.S. helped found the organization, which promotes education, culture, and science worldwide, after World War II. America will stay on as a UNESCO observer, a State Department announcement said:
— Matt Lee (@APDiploWriter) October 12, 2017
It is not the first time the U.S. has withdrawn. "The Reagan administration decided to withdraw from the organization in 1984, at the height of the Cold War, citing corruption and what it considered an ideological tilt towards the Soviet Union against the West," Foreign Policy writes. "President George W. Bush rejoined the organization in 2002, claiming it had gotten its books in order and expunged some of its most virulent anti-Western and anti-Israel biases."
In 2011, the Obama administration cut $80 million a year from its UNESCO budget in response to the organization's inclusion of Palestine as a member. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson additionally wants to save money with the withdrawal, avoiding the $500 million owed to the agency due to American funding cuts.
"For us, it is important to have the United States on board, including at UNESCO at this critical juncture," said France's U.N. ambassador, Francois Delattre, prior to America's announcement. "We consider the U.S. must stay committed to world affairs." Read more about the decision at Foreign Policy. Jeva Lange
The United Nations Security Council is scheduled to vote Saturday afternoon on punitive sanctions against North Korea in response to Pyongyang's two tests of intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) technology that could potentially execute a nuclear strike on the U.S. mainland. If approved, the sanctions package will cut North Korean export incomes — currently about $3 billion annually — by one third.
The sanctions target North Korean exports of commodities including coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore, and seafood. The measure would "also prohibit countries from increasing the current numbers of North Korean laborers working abroad, ban new joint ventures with North Korea and any new investment in current joint ventures," Reuters reports.
North Korean allies Russia and China are expected to support the vote, which makes passage highly likely. The measure condemns Pyongyang's nuclear program "in the strongest terms" and demands it be ended "in a complete, verifiable, and irreversible manner."
Speaking directly to North Korea, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that the United States is "not your enemy, we are not your threat, but you are presenting an unacceptable threat to us and we have to respond."
Tillerson made his remarks during a press briefing at the State Department. He also said the U.S. "would like to sit and have a dialogue about the future. Our other options are not attractive." Pyongyang must stop trying to develop nuclear weapons and testing intercontinental ballistic missiles, he said, but it's important the government knows the U.S. is not asking for a regime change and will not send military "north of the 38th parallel" dividing North and South Korea.
While countries that have ties to North Korea need to pressure them to give up their nuclear dreams, what is happening in North Korea isn't their fault. "We certainly don't blame the Chinese for the situation in North Korea," Tillerson said. "But we do believe China has a unique and special relationship. We continue to call upon them to use that influence with North Korea to create the conditions where we can have a productive dialogue." Catherine Garcia
House and Senate negotiators reached an agreement Saturday to place new punitive sanctions on Russia, overriding President Trump's objections. The deal will also sanction North Korea and Russia's ally Iran, targeting the countries for their "destabilizing actions around the world," said a statement from House Minority Whip Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.).
Trump intended to ease some sanctions on Russia to foster more positive relations between Moscow and Washington, a plan that raised alarm among congressional Democrats and some Republicans. A Kremlin representative said in a statement to CNN Moscow views the deal "quite negatively."
White House lobbying against the Russian sanctions portion of the bill was unsuccessful, and the legislation could arrive on Trump's desk as soon as the end of the month. Neither chamber has voted on the bill yet, but it is expected to pass both houses with veto-proof majorities. Bonnie Kristian
Vice President Mike Pence arrived in South Korea on Sunday for a 10-day trip to Asia, and on Monday morning he went to a military post near the Korean Demilitarized Zone. He is scheduled to join a motorcade to the DMZ with the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, Army Gen. Vincent Brooks.
Tensions are high, especially after North Korea conducted a missile test on Sunday that failed moments after launch. Pence called the unsuccessful test a "provocation." Pence's father was a soldier in the Korean War, receiving the Bronze Star for his service. On Sunday, Pence spent the day laying a wreath at the Seoul National Cemetery and speaking with troops stationed in the country. Catherine Garcia
If necessary, President Trump is willing to find a way to deal with the threat of a nuclear North Korea on his own, he told the Financial Times on Sunday.
"If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will," he said. "That is all I am telling you." Chinese President Xi Jinping is scheduled to visit the United States on Thursday, and Trump is expected to pressure him to do more about North Korea, which experts fear could soon develop a long-range nuclear missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. "China has great influence over North Korea," Trump said. "And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won't. And if they do that will be very good for China, and if they don't it won't be good for anyone." He also told the Financial Times he could "totally" succeed if forced to take on Pyongyang solo, but did not elaborate on any possible actions.
Analysts have said China likely is North Korea's only international ally because it is fearful that if there is a unified Korea, U.S. troops will be based in a country it shares a border with, and the government is also worried about an influx of millions of North Korean refugees, the BBC reports. After North Korea conducted several missile tests in February, China banned coal imports from the country until the end of the year. Catherine Garcia
China on Saturday lodged its expected objections to President-elect Donald Trump's acceptance of a phone call from Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen in a sharp break with diplomatic habit. American and Taiwanese leaders are last known to have spoken directly in 1979 as the United States does not formally recognize Taiwan as an independent nation, separate from China.
"We have noticed relevant reports and lodged solemn representation with the relevant side in the United States," said a representative from China's Foreign Ministry. "The 'one China' principle is the political foundation of China-U.S. relations." Earlier comments from Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi place the blame squarely on "petty" Taiwan.
Trump on Twitter defended the call, noting that he did not initiate it and suggesting it is hypocritical to avoid normal diplomatic relations with Taiwan given American weapon sales to the island. "Interesting how the U.S. sells Taiwan billions of dollars of military equipment," he said, "but I should not accept a congratulatory call." Bonnie Kristian