Kim Jong-un invites U.S. to table for Koreas summit
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- A strained dinner last night between North and South Korean officials in Pyongyang made history, marking the first public meeting between Kim Jong-un and the South's government
- A deal to return close to 700,000 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar seems farther away than ever, with a senior UN official declaring there has been no meaningful progress toward peace
- A former Russian intelligence officer is in a British hospital in critical condition after falling victim to an "unknown substance," and today Britain's Counter Terrorism Policing network took over the investigation
North Korea's charm offensive
It had the look of a rather uncomfortable wedding reception; a mirrored banquet hall, giant floral arrangements, pink chairs and table cloths, and all sorts of awkward body language.
But last night's strained dinner between North and South Korean officials in Pyongyang made history. It was the first time that Kim Jong-un, the North's dictator, had met publicly with representatives of the South's government.
And, most significantly, an offer of a North Korean moratorium on missile and nuclear tests if the United States will join them at the table.
Kim expressed his "firm will to vigorously advance the north-south relations and write a new history of national reunification by the concerted efforts of our nation to be proud of in the world," a spokesman for Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, told reporters.
The sudden thaw in relations between the two Koreas started a month before the Pyeongchang Olympics, when the North reversed policy and decided to send a team.
But Donald Trump remains leery of the early spring fling.
His first reaction —via social media, naturally -—was "we will see what happens."
Followed by a slightly more nuanced presidential tweet.
Possible progress being made in talks with North Korea. For the first time in many years, a serious effort is being made by all parties concerned. The World is watching and waiting! May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!—@realDonaldTrump
The world's most powerful man then moved on to criticizing the Democrats over the lack of a deal on so-called "dreamer" immigrants, and crowing about the "lowest rated Oscars in HISTORY."
Trump's stance on North Korea has evolved as well, however.
It was only last summer that the U.S. President was threatening to rain down "fire and fury" on Kim Jong-un, and just two months ago that he was bragging about the size of his nuclear button.
"I won't rule out direct talks with Kim Jong Un. I just won't. As far as the risk of dealing with a madman is concerned, that's his problem, not mine. It's his problem," the president said to laughter and applause.
In fact, Trump even suggested that preliminary discussions were already underway via phone, saying the North Koreans "called up a couple of days ago and said, 'We would like to talk.' And I said, 'So would we, but you have to de-nuke, you have to de-nuke.'"
Although, as it turns out, the U.S. president was referring to a call from Moon Jae-in, president of the non-nuclear south, as was clarified yesterday by a spokesman for his National Security Council.
But now, with Kim and Moon set for direct talks, the question will be whether America can afford not to be at the table.
And if they are, who will be doing the talking?
Joseph Yun, the U.S. State Department's top North Korea expert, resigned his job as special representative late last month.
Spy games and sporting threats
A former Russian intelligence officer who was once jailed as a Western spy is in a British hospital in critical condition after falling victim to an "unknown substance," and today Britain's Counter Terrorism Policing network officially took over the investigation.
Sergei Skripal, a 66-year-old former colonel with Russian military intelligence, was discovered slumped over and unresponsive on a bench outside of a shopping mall in Salisbury, U.K., late Sunday afternoon, alongside his unconscious 33-year-old daughter, Yulia.
Police in Wiltshire declared a "major incident" following the pair's discovery. They dispatched hazmat teams to hose down the area outside the shopping mall and decontaminate the emergency room at the local hospital.
In August 2006, a Russian court sentenced Skripal to 13 years in jail for "high treason," finding that he had been passing sensitive information to MI6, the British intelligence service, in exchange for cash since the early 1990s.
Skripal then moved on to the U.K., where he was debriefed for several weeks by British intelligence. It has since emerged that one of the agents involved in the questioning was Christopher Steele, the former MI6 spy who went on to work as a private investigator, compiling the infamous Donald Trump-Russia dossier.
Skripal was later granted U.K. residency and obtained a house in Salisbury, a sleepy cathedral town near the Stonehenge ruins, about two hours southwest of London. Although it's not clear if he ever changed his identity.
Neighbours in the town have described him as a pleasant and friendly man who lost his wife to cancer a few years ago. And British media is reporting that their 43-year-old son died in a car crash in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 2017.
Not so much for U.K. foreign minister Boris Johnson, who today warned Russia that it will face a "robust" response if its agents are somehow implicated in Skripal's sudden illness.
Johnson even mused about pulling England's team from soccer's World Cup, which is scheduled to kick off in Moscow on June 14.
"I think it will be very difficult to imagine that U.K. representation at that event could go ahead in the normal way, and will have to think on that," he told the House of Commons.
The British press have shown little hesitation in connecting the dots, drawing a parallel with the November 2006 death of Alexander Litvinenko. The former Russian spy turned Kremlin critic fell ill after going to tea with two other Russians at a central London hotel, dying 23 days later. Doctors concluded that he had been poisoned with highly radioactive and exceedingly rare Polonium 210.
There is a lengthy list of Putin critics who have died under mysterious circumstances, including businessman Boris Berezovsky, who was found dead in his Surrey mansion in 2013, hanging in a bathroom. The working theory was suicide, but a coroner's investigation deemed that there was insufficient proof. It later emerged that he had deep ties to both Litvinenko and Lugovoi.
But Skripal was not known as an outspoken Putin critic, and has been on the sidelines of the spy game for quite some time.
Last night, police were sweeping an Italian restaurant where Skripal and his daughter were believed to have eaten shortly before falling ill.
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No rest for the Rohingya
A deal to return close to 700,000 Rohingya refugees to Myanmar seems farther away than ever.
Members of the Muslim minority fled northern Rakhine state last summer after police and government troops responded to attacks by pro-independence guerrillas with a brutal campaign of rapes, arsons and murders.
"The ethnic cleansing of Rohingya from Myanmar continues," Andrew Gilmour, the UN's assistant secretary-general for human rights, told reporters after touring refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh struck an agreement to start repatriating the refugees in mid-January, but it quickly fell apart due to concerns over safety and logistics.
Gilmour said it is "inconceivable" that such a deal will go ahead.
Last week, Myanmar deployed troops and heavy weapons along its side of the border, drawing protests from the Bangladesh government.
It is estimated that more than 10,000 Rohingya have died in the violence, 1,000 of them under the age of five.
Quote of the moment
"The finder is requested to send the slip in the bottle to the German Naval Observatory in Hamburg or the nearest consulate for the return to the same agency after filling in the information on the back."
- The rather bureaucratic request inside a bottle found on a remote Australian beach 132 years after it was dropped off a German sailing ship. The message in a bottle was one of thousands deployed during a 69-year experiment to map global ocean currents.
What The National is reading
- Canada will meet climate targets despite emissions gap, feds say (CBC)
- Why Vietnam welcomes America's return (Asia Times)
- 'Pharma Bro' Shkreli ordered to forfeit assets; could include Wu Tang album (Fox News)
- More than 20 migrants presumed drowned in Libya to Italy crossing (CBC)
- U.K. military vets offered bursaries to retrain as teachers (Independent)
- SpaceX successfully launches 50th Falcon 9 mission (TechCrunch)
- WWE to host 'Greatest Royal Rumble' event in Saudi Arabia (Daily Mirror)
- Iceland is growing new forests for the first time in 1,000 years (National Geographic)
Today in history
March 6, 1994: Canadian companies scoop up U.S. competition
Cross-border trade wasn't always Trump, threats and tariffs. Back in 1994, Canadian businesses were actually gobbling up their U.S. counterparts at a pretty healthy clip. This Venture report looks into the post-Free Trade boom times and the would-be moguls, including a less bald, not nearly as well-dressed Kevin O'Leary.
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