The National Today

North Korea wants guarantee of security in return for 'complete denuclearization'

A closer look at the day's most notable stories with The National's Jonathon Gatehouse.

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

U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are negotiating a potential face-to-face meeting. North and South Korean leaders plan to meet for peace talks on April 27. (Evan Vucci/Associated Press, Korean Central News Agency/Reuters)

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  • North Korea is saying it would consider "complete denuclearization" in pursuit of a peace deal with the U.S., according to South Korean President Moon Jae-in
  • Prosecutors in Minnesota have determined that singer Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose, likely by ingesting a counterfeit pain pill
  • Ikea's new CEO says the company's future is in small stores, online shopping and home delivery
  • Missed The National last night? Watch it here

Peace with North Korea?

In advance of a possible face-to-face meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea's Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un, the Hermit Kingdom suddenly seems willing to make a deal.

"North Korea is expressing a will for a complete denuclearization," South Korean President Moon Jae-in told reporters in Seoul today.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects a Hwasong-12 long-range strategic ballistic rocket in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on May 15, 2017. (Korean Central News Agency via Reuters)
"They have not attached any conditions that the U.S. cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. All they are expressing is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security."

The North and South will hold a summit on April 27, inside the demilitarized zone that separates the two countries, with plans afoot for a live TV broadcast of the discussions.

And speculation is running high that the two sides might soon sign a deal bringing an official end to the 1950-53 war, which concluded in a truce rather than a treaty.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in says North Korea is 'expressing a will for a complete denuclearization.' (Kham/Pool/Reuters)
The two sides have remained on a war footing for 68 years, with North Korea's one-million strong army staring down the South's 600,000 military personnel — backed up by 24,000 U.S. troops.

Even if peace does come to the Korean peninsula, it will be an awfully long time before the soldiers disappear.

South Korea is now the U.S. military's third-largest foreign deployment, behind Japan's 39,000 and the 35,000 in Germany. (Afghanistan now ranks fourth with 15,000 and Iraq's 5,500 is well down the list, behind Italy, the U.K. and Kuwait.)

For decades, U.S. forces were scattered across South Korea, guarding 174 bases as recently as 2003. But the Pentagon has been steadily consolidating its operations, with a goal of having just 96 installations by 2020.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, right, shakes hands with a member of the special delegation of South Korea's president on March 6, 2018. The two countries will hold a summit on April 27, inside the demilitarized zone that separates them. (KCNA/via Reuters)
That doesn't mean the U.S. military footprint is getting smaller, however.

Camp Humphreys, the headquarters of Eighth United States Army located 80 kilometres south of Seoul, is currently undergoing a massive $11 billion US expansion. (The old Army base at Yongsan in Seoul was problematic — located in the heart of a sprawling city, and within North Korean artillery range.)

It will provide space for up to 42,000 military personnel and their families. Airstrips, pads for Apache attack helicopters, high-tech communications facilities and barracks have all been added — almost entirely paid for by the South Korean government.

A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber flies over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea. (Chung Sung-Jun/EPA)
And few comforts have been spared. There are six schools on base, as well as several churches, a golf course, water park, vet clinic, football stadium and American fast-food outlets.

In addition, the U.S. Air Force operates two major air bases in South Korea — Osan with about 8,000 personnel, and Kunsan. And there's a Navy port in Chinhae.

Broader American strategic interests in the region — like countering China — suggest that those installations aren't going anywhere, even if many South Koreans doubt their utility. Just ask the Japanese, who are still hosting 112 U.S. bases 73 years after the end of the Second World War.

The Osan U.S. Air Base in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, has about 8,000 personnel. It's one of the largest of the more than 100 U.S. bases in the country, with South Korea hosting a total of 24,000 U.S. troops. (Hong Gi-won/Associated Press)
And then there's the odd fact that South Korea can't technically make peace with the North.

The Korean War was a United Nations "Police Action" and the armistice was between China, North Korea and the UN Command.

A new peace treaty will legally require all of those parties to sign off.  

Even then, it could take years for the sides to pull back. The last Russian troops left East Germany in September 1994, four years after reunification.

Purple pain

Prosecutors in Minnesota have determined that Prince died of an accidental fentanyl overdose, likely by ingesting a counterfeit pain pill.

No criminal charges will be filed in connection with the April 2016 death of the musician, Mark Metz, the Carver County Attorney, told a press conference this afternoon.

Authorities investigating the circumstances surrounding singer Prince's death on April 21, 2016, say he died of an accidental fentanyl overdose. (Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press)
"The bottom line is that we do not have sufficient evidence to charge anyone with a crime related to Prince's death," he said. "There is no reliable evidence showing how Prince obtained the counterfeit Vicodin pill containing fentanyl."

Authorities have been investigating the circumstances surrounding the singer's death since he was found unconscious and unresponsive inside an elevator at his Paisley Park estate outside Minneapolis on April 21, 2016.

An autopsy later determined that he died of a fentanyl overdose, with a toxicology report flagging "exceedingly high" concentrations of the drug in his blood, liver and stomach — more than enough to kill.

Prince performs at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif., in 1985. A toxicology report performed as part of his autopsy flagged 'exceedingly high' concentrations of the drug fentanyl in his blood, liver and stomach. (Liu Heung Shing/Associated Press)
Metz said that the 57-year-old had been experiencing severe pain and had sought a doctor's attention, receiving a prescription for oxycodone in the name of his bodyguard for "privacy reasons." But authorities are unclear as to how, or when, Prince turned to the fake Vicodin to deal with his symptoms. No fentanyl was ever prescribed.

(The family doctor, Michael Todd Schulenberg, has reached a settlement with the U.S. attorney's office, paying a $30,000 US fine but avoiding criminal prosecution.)

The two-year investigation was a thorough one, with police obtaining search warrants for the reclusive star's home and email, and the cellphone records of his associates. (Prince didn't have his own phone.)

Prince was found unconscious and unresponsive inside an elevator at his Paisley Park estate outside Minneapolis. Now run by the same company that oversees Elvis's Graceland, the property opened for tours and special events six months after his death. (Jeff Baenen/Associated Press)
Evidence showed that his friends and employees had become concerned that he might have developed a painkiller addiction and sought medical advice, going as far as to fly in an addiction specialist from California the night he died.

Six days earlier, Prince had passed out on his private plane while returning home from a concert, and had to be revived with two doses of Naloxone, following an emergency landing.

Prince left behind a vault full of unreleased audio and video recordings — he once told a guitar magazine that he taped everything, including informal jam sessions.

But he died without a will and his estate — estimated to be worth between $100 million and $300 million US —the subject of a legal tug-of-war, pitting his sister against five half-siblings. To date, no one but the lawyers has seen a penny of it.

Prince performs a concert in Antwerp Sportpaleis on November 8, 2010. He left behind a vault full of unreleased audio and video recordings, once telling a guitar magazine that he taped everything, including informal jam sessions. (Dirk Waem/AFP/Getty Images)
Paisley Park, now run by the same company that oversees Elvis's Graceland, opened for tours and special events six months after his death, and now features a gift shop, party space and vegetarian restaurant. As well as Prince's earthly remains —placed inside a miniature model of the sprawling property.

The singer's memoir, The Beautiful One, will be published later this year, although he had only submitted 50 handwritten pages to his publisher before his death.

Beyoncé has written the foreword.

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Ikea reassembles its business

Ikea has seen the future — and it's smaller and cheaper.

Jesper Brodin, the new CEO of the world's largest furniture retailer, has been laying out his vision for the company in a series of interviews this week. And it is focused on the explosive growth of the world's cities, where future consumers will have less space to fill and little time to shop.

As such, the company plans to move away from its traditional store and catalogue approach and put more focus on improving its online shopping experience, including home delivery.

Ikea CEO Jesper Brodin at a pop-up kitchen showroom downtown Stockholm, Sweden. Broden says the retailer, known for its massive warehouse stores, is looking at expansion through smaller locations, online ordering and home delivery. (Anna Ringstrom/Reuters)
The big box, suburban warehouse locations will remain, but new stores are more likely to be small and centrally located.

On Tuesday, Ikea announced that it will open a new, compact outlet in Paris' ritzy Madeleine neighbourhood in the summer of 2019, which will be about one-fifth the size of standard stores. It will stock some smaller items, but large furniture will be strictly order and delivery.

The company established its first downtown shop in Hamburg in 2014, followed by a bedroom showroom in Madrid, and now has plans for similar urban beachheads in London and Copenhagen.

There's even thought to making the whole experience virtual. A test program at one of its Swedish locations outside Stockholm lets shoppers don virtual reality goggles and walk around their future kitchen.

Ikea says the big box, suburban warehouse locations will remain, but new stores are more likely to be small and centrally located in cities. (Jonathan Nackstrand/AFP/Getty Images)
Ikea's business plans will also become slimmer, dropping to three years from five, with more short-term targets.

Brodin has been musing about leasing furniture, as well as selling it. Retail sales growth for the Ikea Group, which owns 362 stores worldwide, slowed to two per cent last year, down from a seven per cent average over the previous five years.

The shift, particularly to digital, is not without risk, however.

Yesterday, the company was forced to shut down an affiliated app and website due to an unspecified "cyber-security incident."

Ikea's CEO is musing about moving into the furniture-leasing business. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)
TaskRabbit is an online marketplace where people can hire someone to do odd jobs, like assembling furniture. Ikea bought the San Francisco-based company last year for an undisclosed amount. The company is urging people to take precautions if their TaskRabbit password is the same one they use for other apps or sites.

Meanwhile, there a sign that such services will soon be outdated themselves.

Engineers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore have released a video of robots building an Ikea 'Stefan' chair. Like humans, it took them a few goes, but the robotic arms, equipped with 3D cameras, eventually managed to put peg A in hole B.

Robots at Nanyang Technological University assemble an Ikea chair. (Nanyang Technological University/YouTube)
It took the two robots 20 minutes and 19 seconds to build the chair frame, versus the 10 to 15 minutes that is said to be the assembly time for a "typical human."

Or an hour-and-a-half for everyone else.

Quote of the moment

"Hans Asperger, who for a long time was seen as only having made valuable contributions to the field of pediatrics and child psychiatry, was, as Herwig Czech's newly unearthed evidence shows, also guilty of actively assisting the Nazis in their abhorrent eugenics and euthanasia policies ... Asperger was not just doing his best to survive in intolerable conditions but was also complicit with his Nazi superiors in targeting society's most vulnerable people."

- An editorial, published today in the Journal of Molecular Autism alongside an article on the war-time activities of Austrian doctor Hans Asperger, a pioneering autism researcher whose name has been given to a form of the developmental disorder.

Hans Asperger, circa 1940. (Molecular Autism)

What The National is reading

  • Two-year-old found dead in Quebec City park, mother harms self in custody (CBC)
  • Facebook moves 1.5 billion users out of reach of European privacy law (Guardian)
  • Why Billy Bragg is at the Bank of England (BBC)
  • Vietnam's socialist dream hits on hard times (Asia Times)
  • Leon vs Leon: Inside the feud tearing apart Canada's furniture family (Financial Post)
  • Measles infection rate triples in Germany (Deutsche Welle)
  • Nigerian police recover stolen Senate mace (AFP)
  • Why coffee is beginning to outsell booze at campus bars (CBC)

Today in history

April 19, 1982: Woman busted for selling carpet by the yard

Calgary retailer Zoritza Kasparian became the test case for Canada's new Metric Commission when she persisted in advertising and selling carpets by the yard instead of by metre. Fears of "enforced metrification" might have been overblown, however. You can still purchase imperially measured rugs today.

A store owner in Calgary is charged for selling carpets by the yard. 1:40

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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.