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'Significant' North Korea, U.S. differences on denuclearization put revival of summit in doubt

A look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse: U.S., North Korean differences put revival of peace summit in doubt; Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko makes dramatic return from dead in Kyiv; low-tech criminals in St. John's take aim at parking meters.

Newsletter: A closer look at the day's most notable stories

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, left, and North Korea's Kim Jong-un, right, are still in talks, but it's looking more and more doubtful that a cancelled summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in June will be revived. (Kimimasa Mayama/Reuters, Mark Wilson/Getty Images, KCNA/Reuters)

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  • North Korea and the U.S. have "significant" differences when it comes to denuclearization, a top South Korean official concedes, casting doubts over efforts to revive a June peace summit meeting
  • Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, a well-known critic of the Russian president who was reportedly assassinated in Ukraine yesterday, made a dramatic return from the dead this morning
  • The city of St. John's is in the midst of a low-tech crime spree, and parking meters are the target
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Slow climb to a summit

North Korea and the United States are barely on the same page when it comes to denuclearization, a top South Korean official conceded today, casting doubts over efforts to revive a proposed June summit meeting between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump.

"I can say that the differences in stances between North Korea and the U.S. remain quite significant," Cho Myoung-gyon, Seoul's unification minister, told a gathering of European ambassadors today.

"It will not be easy to narrow the gap and find common ground, but I think it would not be impossible."

Cho said his government remains optimistic, but views the process of creating a lasting, nuke-free peace between the two Koreas as a long and difficult journey.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in shakes hands with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Saturday as they leave their summit at the truce village of Panmunjom, North Korea. (Reuters)
"I can say that we have just entered the gate of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula," he said. "There will be many challenges that need to be overcome."

The downbeat assessment highlights the vast gulf in the bargaining positions that must be bridged if the face-to-face meeting between the leaders is to take place as scheduled on June 12 in Singapore.

Trump is demanding a quick and complete abandonment of the North's nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. Kim wants a phased disarmament program tied to security guarantees.

American officials crossed into Korea's DMZ again today for talks with regime representatives about summit logistics. And Kim's right-hand man, Kim Yong-chol, is in New York for high-level discussion with Mike Pompeo, the U.S. secretary of state.

But the 70-something North Korean hardliner — a former spy chief who has served three generations of the Kim dynasty — seems an unlikely bringer of concessions. An immigration waiver had to be issued to permit him to enter the U.S., as he was on a no-entry list due to suspicions that he ordered the 2010 torpedoing of a South Korean naval vessel, killing 46 sailors.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un speaks with South Korea's President Moon Jae-in (unseen) in April as North Korean General Kim Yong Chol, who is in charge of inter-Korean affairs for North Korea's ruling Workers' Party, looks on. (AFP/Getty Images)
Trump is also facing pressure from Japan to maintain a tough stance with the North, and make even broader demands about human rights in exchange for any peace deal. The U.S. president and Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, have agreed to meet prior to the G7 in Charlevoix, Que., next week. The fate of Japanese citizens who are believed to have been abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and '80s will be at the top of the agenda.

Japan has been pushing for months to include the issue of its 17 missing citizens in the negotiations with Kim.

Trump himself has suggested that it is a high-priority concern. Last November, he met with the mother of Megumi Yokota, who was snatched from an isolated beach as a 13-year-old some four decades ago.  

Trump called it a "very, very sad" situation. "We'll work together and see if we can do something, now the spotlight is on," he promised.

"I think it would be a tremendous signal if Kim Jong-un would send them back," he added.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is greeted by senior North Korean official Kim Yong-chol in Pyongyang, North Korea, on May 9. Kim Yong-chol is travelling to the U.S. for further talks with American officials. (Matthew Lee/Associated Press)
There are no indications, as yet, of any such gesture of good faith.

But news has emerged that North Korea is ready to embrace something that is close to Trump's heart — fast food.

Last night, NBC News reported on a new American intelligence assessment that concluded that the Kim regime has no intention of giving up its nuclear weapons.

However, the briefing did include the tidbit that the North Korean leader is preparing to offer a North American hamburger chain the chance to set up restaurants in Pyongyang as a "show of goodwill."

Perhaps the clearest indication that Kim intends to have it his way.

Babchenko back from dead

It appears that Vladimir Putin just got punked.

Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, a well-known critic of the Russian president who was reported to have been assassinated in Ukraine yesterday, made a dramatic return from the dead at Kyiv news conference this morning.

Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko, right, and the head of the Ukrainian State Security Service Vasily Gritsak, attend a news conference in Kyiv on Wednesday. (Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters)
Vasyl Gritsak, the head of Ukraine's Security Service, was telling reporters that police had solved the slaying, when the 41-year-old entered the room and strode to the podium with a shy smile. There were audible gasps and then a smattering of applause.

"I'm still alive," Babchenko said, stating the obvious, before apologizing to his family and friends for the deception.

Russian journalist Arkady Babchenko is alive and well after Ukraine's security services said at a news conference today his death was faked to foil a murder plot 0:18

Babchenko, one of Russia's best-known war correspondents, has been living in exile in Kyiv since early 2017 after receiving death threats over his criticism of Russia's military interventions in Syria and Ukraine.

Yesterday, police said he had been discovered by his wife outside of their home, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to his back. They reported that he later died en route to the hospital.

The head of Ukraine's police force told the media that it appeared to be a targeted hit, and that investigators were considering two motives, Babchenko's "professional work and civil position." Police even went as far as to post a sketch of a possible suspect — a bearded man wearing a baseball cap.

Flowers lie under a picture of 41-year-old reporter Arkady Babchenko on the memorial wall of Moscow's journalists house on Wednesday before it was revealed that he was still alive. (Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images)
Today, Gritsak told a different tale: that the murder story was part of a sting to foil a real attempt on his life.

Police had been tipped off that Russian agents had allegedly paid a Ukrainian citizen $40,000 US to orchestrate Babchenko's death. The as-yet unidentified man then hired a former soldier to carry out the attack, said Gritsak.

Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, sent out a tweet a short time later promising that his country will protect Babchenko and his family from further assassination attempts.

"Ukrainian law enforcement agencies are becoming stronger every day in countering Russian aggression," he boasted.

Arkady Babchenko, a prominent war correspondent, poses for a photo in Tskhinvali, Georgia, in August 2008. (Wikimedia)
Kyiv has not been a safe space for Putin's critics. In July 2016, Pavel Sheremet, a Belarussian journalist and confidant of slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, was killed by a car bomb in the Ukrainian capital. Denis Voronenkov, an exiled Russian lawmaker, was gunned down at luxury hotel in March 2017.

The Kremlin denied any responsibility for those attacks.

Today, a spokeswoman for Russia's Foreign Ministry rejected Ukraine's claim that agents of the state had been plotting against Babchenko.

"The best news is that Babchenko is alive. Let it always happen," Maria Zakharova wrote in a Facebook post. "It is a pity that masquerade has failed in other cases. It is evident that the propagandistic effect was meant to make up the story."

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Blunt force drama

The city of St. John's is in the midst of a low-tech crime spree.

Earlier this week, the heads of 64 parking meters were found in a pile on a downtown street, separated from their posts — and emptied of their coins — by sledgehammer-wielding thieves.

Adding insult to the injury was the fact that these were brand new meters, installed only a couple of months ago after an identical strong-armed robbery.

All told, the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador has seen almost all of its 1,067 parking meters vandalized since the spring of 2015. The cost of repairing or replacing them has exceeded $1.4 million, in addition to hundreds of thousands more in lost parking revenue.

St. John's is not alone.

A damaged parking meter in St. John's. Almost all of the 1,067 parking meters in the capital of Newfoundland and Labrador have been vandalized since the spring of 2015. (Fred Hutton/CBC)
Just last week, the RCMP in Trail, B.C., issued a plea for public assistance in tracking down the culprits behind 30 parking meter decapitations since the beginning of May. The vandalism has caused more than $16,000 in damages.

In Vancouver, where bulkier machines make whack-and-go thefts harder, people have found ingenious ways to fish out the coins with magnets and chains, costing the city an estimated $600,000 a year.  

Smashed parking meters are a problem in Baton Rouge, La., Cincinnati, Ohio, and downtown Leeds, U.K. — mostly related to small-change thievery.

Although sometimes there appears to be a revenge motive. In the English town of Lewes, someone has been periodically stuffing the machines with fireworks and blowing them apart ever since street parking charges came into effect in 2004.

In Vancouver, people have found ingenious ways to fish the coins out of parking meters with magnets and chains. (David Horemans / CBC)
Washington, D.C., experienced an epidemic of missing meters in the late 1990s, costing the city almost half a million a month in lost revenue until police finally busted the ring of hammer-swingers, arresting 26 people.

The solution seems obvious enough —cashless parking machines that take bank or credit cards, and systems where people can pay via phone apps.

That's what many big cities have moved to in recent years, and it's the way St. John's is heading, too.  

The first cashless parking spaces will debut early next month. By 2023, all the coin meters in St. John's — and the heavy-hitting thieves — will be gone.

Quote of the moment

"People of all races, religions and nationalities work at Sanofi every day to improve the lives of people around the world. While all pharmaceutical treatments have side effects, racism is not a known side effect of any Sanofi medication."

- Sanofi, the makers of Ambien, take issue with Roseanne Barr's suggestion that her racist Twitter outburst had something to do with their sleep-aid.

Roseanne Barr's show was cancelled after her racist tweet about former Obama White House adviser Valerie Jarrett. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press)

What The National is reading

  • Ottawa orders independent review of Hassan Diab extradition case (CBC)
  • Riot police clear 1,000 migrants from makeshift Paris camp (Guardian)
  • Belgian authorities link Liège attacker to fourth murder (CBC)
  • Porn is 'root cause' of school shooting, says Tennessee lawmaker (CNN)
  • Spanish rapper flees to avoid jail sentence for lyrics that praise terrorism (El Pais)
  • Syria recognizes Georgia's breakaway regions in nod to Russia (Deutsche Welle)
  • Las Vegas bookies will lose big if the Golden Knights win Stanley Cup (Washington Post)
  • Scientists 3D print human corneas (Science Daily)
  • Shaolin monks swap temple for wrestling ring (South China Morning Post)

Today in history

May 30, 1967: Hippies flock to Vancover's Human Be-in

Helium balloons. Check. Trippy Music. Check. Long, lingering shots of people sleeping, a cat cleaning itself, and the shadow of a flute-playing man. Check, check, check. Fifteen minutes of televisual goodness on Vancouver's first Be-in at Stanley Park during the chilly Spring of Love.

Hippies get all decked out and pumped up for the party in Vancouver's Stanley Park. A whole lot of flowers, music, drumming, dancing and love, love, love. 14:45

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.