Trump Overrules Own Experts on Sanctions, in Favor to North Korea

President Trump undercut his own Treasury Department on Friday with a sudden announcement that he had rolled back newly imposed North Korea sanctions, appearing to overrule national security experts as a favor to Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader.

The move, announced on Twitter, was a remarkable display of dissension within the Trump administration. It created confusion at the highest levels of the federal government, just as the president’s aides were seeking to pressure North Korea into returning to negotiations over dismantling its nuclear weapons program.

“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”

The Treasury Department announced new sanctions on Friday against Iran and Venezuela, but not North Korea.

However, economic penalties were imposed on Thursday on two Chinese shipping companies suspected of helping North Korea evade international sanctions. Those penalties, announced with news releases and a White House briefing, were the first imposed against North Korea since late last year and came less than a month after a summit meeting between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim collapsed in Hanoi, Vietnam, without a deal.

It was initially believed that Mr. Trump had confused the day that the North Korea sanctions were announced, and officials said they were caught off guard by the president’s tweet. Asked for clarification, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, declined to give specifics.

“President Trump likes Chairman Kim, and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” she said.

Hours later, two officials familiar with Mr. Trump’s thinking said the president was actually referring to additional North Korea sanctions that are under consideration but not yet formally issued.

That statement sought to soften the blow that Mr. Trump’s tweet had dealt to his most loyal aides. Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary, personally signed off on the sanctions that were issued on Thursday and hailed the decision in an accompanying statement.

“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea,” Mr. Mnuchin said in the statement. He described the sanctions as part of an international campaign against North Korea that “is crucial to a successful outcome.”

Sanctions are one of America’s most powerful tools for pressuring rogue nations. Mr. Mnuchin has taken great pride in bolstering Treasury’s sanctions capacity and often says that he spends half of his time working on sanctions matters.

Tony Sayegh, a Treasury Department spokesman, referred questions about Friday’s sanctions confusion to the White House.

John R. Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, had also hailed the earlier action against North Korea in a tweet on Thursday: “Everyone should take notice and review their own activities to ensure they are not involved in North Korea’s sanctions evasion.”

Mr. Trump has been eager to strike a deal for North Korea to surrender its nuclear weapons arsenal and, in turn, hand him a signature foreign policy achievement that has eluded his predecessors. Hawks in the administration, such as Mr. Bolton, have been wary of trusting Mr. Kim despite Mr. Trump’s professed strong personal connection to the North Korean leader.

Last month, Mr. Trump was criticized for defending Mr. Kim over the death of Otto F. Warmbier, an American college student who died in 2017 after being imprisoned in North Korea. Mr. Trump said he believed Mr. Kim’s claim that he was not aware of Mr. Warmbier’s medical condition.

But in recent weeks there have been increasing signs that the thawing relations between the two countries could again turn frosty.

This month, a vice foreign minister of North Korea, Choe Son-hui, accused Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Mr. Bolton of creating an “atmosphere of hostility and mistrust” despite the chemistry between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim.

In another sign of hardening on Friday, North Korea withdrew its stafffrom the joint liaison office it has operated with South Korea since September. The office was viewed as a potential first step toward the Koreas establishing diplomatic missions in each other’s capitals. But North Korea has expressed frustration with how South Korea has been handling its role as a mediator with the United States.

The talks between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim broke down because North Korea wanted the United States to roll back some of its most economically painful sanctions without the North immediately dismantling its nuclear program.

As the linchpin of the global financial system, the United States relies on sanctions as one of its most powerful tools for international diplomacy. Officials at the Treasury and State Departments, including career staff members and political appointees, spend months carefully drafting sanctions based on intensive intelligence gathering and legal research.

The North Korea sanctions were no different, and the White House held a formal briefing on Thursday afternoon to explain the rationale behind the actions.

During the briefing, senior administration officials pushed back on the idea that the sanctions sought to increase pressure on North Korea. Instead, they said, the new measures were meant to maintain the strength of existing sanctions.

But one of the senior administration officials strongly rebutted any suggestion that the administration would ease some sanctions as confidence building, or in return for smaller steps by North Korea.

“It would be a mistake to interpret the policy as being one of a step by step approach, where we release some sanctions in return for piecemeal steps toward denuclearization” said the administration official, who spoke to reporters on the condition of anonymity. “That is not a winning formula and it is not the president’s strategy.”

While it is not unusual for the White House to have comment and even final approval of major sanctions, both Republican and Democratic lawmakers have expressed doubts about Mr. Trump’s ability to execute sanctions policy responsibly.

In 2017, Congress passed legislation imposing sanctions on Russia and limiting the president’s authority to lift them. Under pressure from his own party, Mr. Trump reluctantly signed the bill.

The reversal on the North Korea sanctions drew swift condemnation on Friday from Democrats, who accused the president of being reckless with national security.

“Career experts at the Treasury Department undertake a painstaking process before imposing sanctions,” said Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the top Democrat on the Finance Committee. “For Donald Trump to overturn their decision via tweet because he has an inexplicable fondness for one of the world’s most brutal dictators is appalling.”

He added, “Without a well-conceived diplomatic strategy, Trump is simply undermining our national security by making clear that the United States is not a trusted foreign policy partner.”

Some Republicans also pushed back against the president, with Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado saying that North Korea sanctions should be imposed. “Strategic Patience failed,” he tweeted. “Don’t repeat it.”

Mr. Trump’s decision stunned current and former Treasury Department officials, some of whom wondered if the move was planned in advance as a gesture to Mr. Kim. Others feared that America’s vaunted sanctions regime had been compromised.

“For an administration that continues to surprise, this is another first — the president of the United States undercutting his own sanctions agency for imposing sanctions on Chinese actors supporting North Korea,” said John E. Smith, the former director of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, who left the department last year. “It’s a win for North Korea and China and a loss for U.S. credibility.”

Sarah Bloom Raskin, who was deputy Treasury secretary under President Barack Obama, said the sudden backtracking on a decision that would normally be made with comment from intelligence agencies and the National Security Council was perplexing.

“Reversing sanctions decisions within hours of making the announcement that you would impose them in the first place is a head-spinner,” she said. “This reversal signals the injection of some peripheral consideration or factor that only the president seems to know about and that may have nothing to do with national security.”

The Trump administration did issue some new sanctions on Friday. The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Iran, targeting a research and development unit that it believes could be used to restart the country’s nuclear weapons program. It also imposed sanctions on Bandes, Venezuela’s national development bank, and its subsidiaries, as part of its effort to topple the government of President Nicolás Maduro.

[The New York Times]

Trump sent a love note to Kim Jong Un through South Korean president saying that he likes the dictator

According to a statement, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that President Donald Trump asked him to pass a note to North Korea’s dictator.

According to CNN’s Manu Raju, the note said, “President Trump has a very amicable view of Chairman Kim and that he likes Chairman Kim… As much that he wishes to implement the rest of the agreement with Chairman Kim and that he will make true what Chairman Kim wishes.”

Trump hasn’t managed to get Kim Jong Un to agree

During a Minnesota rally in June, Trump told the audience, their agreement outlines denuclearization.

“Sentence one says ‘a total denuclearization of North Korea,’” Trump said. “There will be denuclearization. So that’s the real story.”

While it may have been a huge applause line for Trump, it isn’t true.

“President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018,” the first sentence actually reads.

While it does deal with denuclearization, it doesn’t commit North Korea to anything.

“Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the official statement said.

Not long after, however, it gives the true mandate: “[T]he DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

In April, Kim agreed to suspend nuclear tests, though he said it was because they didn’t need them anymore.

In August, however, it revealed North Korea was still developing nuclear weapons, despite the agreement to “work” on things.

Trump announced that he and Kim would be meeting in 2019 to continue their “talks.” It’s unclear the point of the note for the dictator, but at least it reaffirmed his feelings for the so-called “Chairman.”

“He wrote me beautiful letters and we fell in love, OK?” Trump told a West Virginia audience. “No really. He wrote me beautiful letters.

[Raw Story]

Trump Claims Report on North Korea’s Secret Missile Program ‘Inaccurate’: I’ll ‘Let You Know if Things Go Bad!’

Taking again to Twitter to bash The New York Times, President Donald Trump claimed without evidence that the outlet’s report that North Korea is secretly beefing up its ballistic missile program was false.

“The story in the New York Times concerning North Korea developing missile bases is inaccurate,” he said Tuesday about the Monday article. “We fully know about the sites being discussed, nothing new – and nothing happening out of the normal. Just more Fake News. I will be the first to let you know if things go bad!”

In its article, the Times used satellite images to reveal that the regime appeared to be “engaged in a great deception.”

“It has offered to dismantle a major launching site — a step it began, then halted — while continuing to make improvements at more than a dozen others that would bolster launches of conventional and nuclear warheads,” the report read. “The existence of the ballistic missile bases, which North Korea has never acknowledged, contradicts Mr. Trump’s assertion that his landmark diplomacy is leading to the elimination of a nuclear and missile program that the North had warned could devastate the United States.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Snaps at Leslie Stahl After She Reads Resume of Kim Jong Un Atrocities: ‘I’m Not a Baby, I Know These Things’

In an interview that aired Sunday night on 60 Minutes, President Donald Trump snapped at CBS News’ Lesley Stahl after she read a resume of atrocities committed by North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

“He presides over a cruel kingdom of repression, gulags, starvation. Reports that he had his half-brother assassinated. Slave labor. Public executions. This is a guy you love?” Stahl asked.

“I’m not a baby. I know these things,” Trump snapped before going on to explain that he gets along with him and saying he loved him is just a “figure of speech.”

Then after Stahl pointed Kim was a “bad guy,” Trump said this:  “Let it be whatever it is. I get along with him really well. I have a good energy with him. I have a good chemistry with him. Look at the horrible threats that were made. No more threats. No more threats.”

In another part of the interview, he also called political people “babies.”

[Mediaite]

Trump Says He and Kim Jong Un ‘Fell in Love’

Donald Trump has been fawning, to some degree or other, over Kim Jong Un ever since he met with the North Korean dictator back in June: praising him for being such a “strong head” of his regime, bragging about their “very good relationship,” and gushing about how much they “like each other.”

But over the weekend, the president suggested their bond goes even deeper than that—which is to say that the two of them “fell in love.”

According to the Associated Press, Trump devoted a good chunk of his rally in West Virginia on Saturday to discussing his special connection with Kim, at one point screaming “I like him, he likes me!” before going on to explain just how close they’ve grown since their summit in Singapore.

“When I did it—and I was really being tough, and so was he, and we would go back and forth—and then we fell in love,” Trump said. “OK? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters. And they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

The comment seemed to be a reference to a note Kim sent Trump back in July, in which the despot addressed Trump as “Your Excellency”—a correspondence so nice, Trump ignored the fact that North Korea had reportedly begun developing an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the US. It’s just one example of how Kim hasn’t followed through on plans for nuclear deescalation, but Trump has kept on singing his praises anyway, moving right along with plans to meet with Kim for a second summit.

In his time as North Korea’s leader, Kim has reportedly executed hundreds of people, allegedly had his own half-brother assassinated, and detained tens of thousands of political dissidents in prison

—among many other atrocities. But somehow, that hasn’t stopped Trump from turning their bromance into a campaign talking point in the Heartland.

[Vice]

Trump Tweets ‘Thank You’ to Kim Jong Un After North Korean Military Para

President Donald Trump sent his thanks to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Sunday after the country made changes to its military parade in Pyongyang.

North Korea celebrated its 70-year anniversary on Sunday with a show of its military strength but strayed from the traditional display of the country’s intercontinental missiles. The parade instead featured floats and flowers as Kim chose to focus on building economic power.

Trump, who met with Kim for a denuclearization summit in Singapore in June, tweeted his gratitude to the North Korean dictator on Sunday.

“This is a big and very positive statement from North Korea,” Trump tweeted. “Thank you To Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other! Much better than before I took office.”

Kim spent the parade with a special envoy from China and other foreign visitors, Reuters reported. The North Korean leader spoke to Chinese parliament chief Li Zhanshu about building economic growth and said he hopes to learn from China.

The parade came only two weeks after Trump announced that he was canceling Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s diplomatic trip to North Korea. The president tweeted the news on Aug. 24, explaining, “I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Kim said at the parade that he has taken steps toward denuclearization and planned to uphold the peace resolution, according to Reuters, which cited a Chinese state television report.

[Huffington Post]

Trump thanks North Korea’s Kim for ‘unwavering faith’ in him

President Trump on Thursday thanked North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for his “unwavering faith” in him amid ongoing negotiations to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

“Thank you to Chairman Kim. We will get it done together!” Trump tweeted, reacting to reports following a meeting between Kim and South Korean leaders.

CNN reported that South Korean officials said Kim voiced “unwavering trust for President Trump” during the meeting. The North Korean leader reportedly expressed an ongoing commitment to denuclearization, and wants to fully settle the issue by the end of Trump’s first-term.

“Chairman Kim Jong Un has made it clear several times that he is firmly committed to denuclearization, and he expressed frustration over skepticism in the international community over his commitment,” South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said, according to The Associated Press.

“He said he’s pre-emptively taken steps necessary for denuclearization and wants to see these goodwill measures being met with goodwill measures,” Chung added.

Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will reportedly hold a summit from Sept. 18-20 in Pyongyang as a next step in negotiations.

Kim’s reassurances, while issued through a South Korean government official, come as the U.S. has voiced skepticism over the North’s willingness to denuclearize.

Trump late last month called off Secretary of State Mike Pompeo‘s planned visit to North Korea, and accused Pyongyang of slow-walking efforts to dismantle its nuclear program.

Trump tweeted that a high-level visit is not appropriate at “this time, because I feel we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The decision marked a rare admission from Trump that North Korea’s denuclearization efforts were not going as well as hoped.

Trump proclaimed after his meeting in Singapore with Kim in mid-June that North Korea is “no longer a nuclear threat.”

The president is set to meet with Moon on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting later this month.

[The Hill]

Trump: ‘No reason’ for Korea war games right now

President Trump on Wednesday said there was “no reason” for joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises at the moment, citing ongoing discussions over North Korea’s nuclear program.

“The President believes that his relationship with Kim Jong Un is a very good and warm one, and there is no reason at this time to be spending large amounts of money on joint U.S.-South Korea war games,” the White House said in a statement that Trump himself issued on Twitter.

“Besides, the President can instantly start the joint exercises again with South Korea, and Japan, if he so chooses,” the statement added.

The Trump administration statement came one day after Defense Secretary James Mattis said there were no plans to suspend future military exercisesbetween the U.S. and South Korea.

Mattis later clarified, however, that there has been “no decision” about suspending more exercises following the three that were cancelled after Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this year.

“Our military posture has not changed since the conclusion of the Singapore summit and no decisions have been made about suspending any future exercises,” Mattis said in a statement Wednesday.

Following the summit between Trump and Kim in June, the Pentagon said it would indefinitely suspend the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercise and two Korean Marine Exchange Program training exercises with South Korea as part of diplomatic negotiations with the North.

The Trump administration has been engaged with North Korea for several months in an effort to scale back Pyongyang’s nuclear program, but those efforts have appeared to hit a roadblock in recent weeks.

Trump last week abruptly cancelled a planned trip for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to travel to Pyongyang to continue negotiations. The Washington Post reported that Trump nixed the trip after a North Korean official signaled in a letter that the meeting would not be successful.

On Wednesday, the White House argued that China was partially to blame for the stalled efforts, accusing Beijing of applying “tremendous pressure” to North Korea because of the ongoing trade dispute between the U.S. and China.

“At the same time, we also know that China is providing North Korea with considerable aid, including money, fuel, fertilizer and various other commodities,” the White House said. “This is not helpful!”

However, the White House added that the trade disputes with China will be “resolved” and described Trump’s relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping as “very strong.”

[The Hill]

Reality

Reminder: It was Vladimir Putin who suggested to Trump we cancel these military exercises.

Trump Tweets Glowing Post-Summit Letter From Kim Jong Un…Which Doesn’t Mention Denuclearization

So Donald Trump had some contentious dealings with allies during the NATO summit this week in Brussels. But as far as his relationship with North Korea is concerned, it looks like the president believes things are going along just peachy.

Trump, on Thursday afternoon, tweeted out a letter he received from Kim Jong Un, along with a translated version. The note appears to have been sent on July 5 — based on a line within which states 24 days have passed since the summit in Singapore. Let’s have a look, shall we?

Kim refers to Trump as “your excellency” five times, praises the “improvement of relations” between the U.S. and North Korea, and expresses hope for a new future. It does not, however, give any mention to the end of North Korea’s nuclear program, nor the end of the country’s regular human rights abuses.

Ever since Trump’s summit with Kim in Singapore, critics have slammed the president for not doing more to challenge Kim, elevating a dictator on the global stage, and touting a pact the two leaders signed which doesn’t provide any solid agreement for a denuclearization plan. Recent evidence actually suggests that the rogue nation continues to build up their nuclear infrastructure.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently travelled to Pyongyang to move things forward, though the North Koreans said the talks were “regrettable” afterwards, and U.S. officials were snubbed today when they were supposed to meet with Kim’s representatives on the DMZ.

Trump Tweets Glowing Post-Summit Letter From Kim Jong Un…Which Doesn’t Mention Denuclearization

Citing ‘our handshake,’ Trump says he remains confident in Kim Jong Un’s pledge to denuclearize North Korea

President Trump on Monday expressed confidence that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would make good on pledges to denuclearize, despite contentious rhetoric coming out of the country after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit over the weekend.

In a tweet, Trump cited an agreement that he and Kim signed during last month’s summit in Singapore and said “our handshake” was even more important to his assessment of Kim’s commitment.

“I have confidence that Kim Jong Un will honor the contract we signed &, even more importantly, our handshake,” Trump wrote. “We agreed to the denuclearization of North Korea.”

As Pompeo left the North Korean capital Saturday, he told reporters that the trip had been “productive” and that progress had been made on a number of issues that required follow-up after the June 12 meeting between Trump and Kim.

However, the North Korean Foreign Ministry later released a lengthy statement that criticized the U.S. focus on nuclear weapons. “The U.S. side came up only with its unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization,” the North Korean statement said.

On Sunday, Pompeo sharply disputed that, saying the regime’s criticism of U.S. negotiators during his two-day visit to Pyongyang was unfounded.

“If those requests were gangster-like, the world is a gangster,” said Pompeo, noting that U.S. demands for North Korea to denuclearize were supported by a consensus among U.N. Security Council members.

Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Pompeo insisted that Pyongyang did not have an issue with the idea of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization despite the North Korean Foreign Ministry singling out the phrase in its statement.

In his Monday tweet, Trump also raised concerns about China’s commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, suggesting it could have waned because of a trade war that has broken out between the United States and China.

“China, on the other hand, may be exerting negative pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade-Hope Not!” Trump wrote.

Trump has drawn criticism from Democrats and even some Republicans for declaring victory in the wake of a summit that produced only a brief declaration with a striking lack of detail about the path forward.

In tweets that began as he returned to the United States, Trump declared America’s “biggest and most dangerous problem” all but resolved. And he said the deal he struck with Kim meant there was “no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea,” and that “everybody can now feel much safer.”

Analysts have cautioned of a difficult road ahead given decades of hostility, unkept promises, and the widespread belief, shared by U.S. intelligence agencies, that North Korea would never give up the nuclear weapons it sought for so long.

[The Washington Post]

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