Putin: U.S. in position to deploy new cruise missile in Europe

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto in the Presidental Palace in Helsinki, Finland, August 21, 2019. Markku Ulander/Lehtikuva/via REUTERS

HELSINKI (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that the United States was in a position to deploy a new land-based cruise missile in Romania and Poland and that Russia considered that a threat which it would have to respond to.

The Pentagon said on Monday it had tested a conventionally-configured cruise missile that hit its target after more than 500 km (310 miles) of flight, its first such test since the demise of a landmark nuclear pact this month.

Putin, who was speaking during a visit to Helsinki, said that Washington could potentially use its launch systems in Romania and Poland to fire the missile and that Russia would have to respond in an appropriate and reciprocal manner.

(Reporting by Olesya Astakhova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)

Explainer: Does Islamic State still pose a threat?

FILE PHOTO: Islamic state members walk in the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria February 18, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Islamic State looks about to lose its last foothold on the banks of the Euphrates in Syria, but though its era of territorial rule may have been expunged for now, there is near universal agreement that the group remains a threat.

WHAT HAS ITS TERRITORIAL DEFEAT ACCOMPLISHED?

Islamic State’s possession of land in Iraq and Syria set it apart from other like-minded groups such as al Qaeda and became central to its mission when it declared a caliphate in 2014, claiming sovereignty over all Muslim lands and peoples.

Destroying the quasi-state it built there denies the group its most potent propaganda and recruiting tool as well as a logistical base from which it could train fighters and plan coordinated attacks overseas.

It also freed its former subjects from summary executions and draconian punishment for breaking its strict laws or, for some minorities, sexual slavery and slaughter.

Warfare wiped out thousands of its fighters. And, financially, its defeat deprives it of greater resources than any modern jihadist movement has enjoyed, including taxes on its inhabitants and the proceeds of oil sales.

WHAT THREAT DOES ISLAMIC STATE STILL POSE IN IRAQ AND SYRIA?

In its previous guise as an al Qaeda offshoot in Iraq a decade ago, it navigated adversity by going underground, biding its time to rise suddenly again.

Since suffering devastating territorial losses in 2017, IS has steadily turned again to such tactics. Sleeper cells in Iraq have staged a scatter-gun campaign of kidnappings and killings to undermine the Baghdad government.

The group has also carried out many bombings in northeast Syria, which is controlled by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces, including one that killed four Americans in January. Kurdish and U.S. officials say its threat there persists.

In Syria, its fighters still hold out in the remote desert area near the road from Damascus to Deir al-Zor.

WHAT HAS HAPPENED TO ITS LEADERS, FIGHTERS AND FOLLOWERS?

The fate of its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, remains a mystery. The U.S. government’s top experts strongly believe he is alive and possibly hiding in Iraq, U.S. sources recently said. Other top-echelon leaders have been killed in air strikes.

Thousands of its fighters and civilian followers have also been killed and thousands more captured. An unknown number remain at large in both Syria and Iraq.

Iraq is putting on trial, imprisoning and often executing Islamic State detainees. The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) holds around 800 foreign fighters. More than 2,000 Islamic State wives and children are in its hands too. Many low-level local operatives have been released in Syria.

The SDF complains that Western states are reluctant to take back the foreign fighters, who are widely seen as a security threat at home but who might be hard to legally prosecute.

CAN IT STILL ORGANIZE OR INSPIRE ATTACKS OVERSEAS?

As Islamic State clung to its last scrap of land, the head of Britain’s spy agency MI6 warned that the group would return to “asymmetric” attacks.

Even after it began losing ground militarily, the group still claimed responsibility for attacks made in different countries, though often these have been blamed on “lone wolves” without its direction.

It started years ago to call on followers abroad to plan their own attacks, rather than focusing purely on ones staged by trained operatives supported by the group’s hierarchy.

In early 2018 the head of U.S. military central command said Islamic State was resilient and remained capable of “inspiring attacks throughout the region and outside of the Middle East”.

WHAT DOES ITS FALL MEAN FOR THE FUTURE OF GLOBAL JIHAD?

Although Islamic State’s core territory was in Iraq and Syria, jihadists fighting in other countries, notably Nigeria, Yemen and Afghanistan, pledged their allegiance to it.

Whether those groups will still wear its mantle, especially if Baghdadi is captured or killed, is an open question, but there seems little chance they will soon end their campaigns.

Al-Qaeda also retains numerous franchises around the world and other militant Islamist groups operate in countries where normal governance has broken down.

Jihadist ideology has long proven itself able to mutate as circumstances change, and there is no shortage of warfare, injustice, oppression, poverty, sectarianism and naked religious hatred for it to exploit.

(Reporting By Angus McDowall; Editing by Tom Perry and Gareth Jones)

If Iran can’t export oil from Gulf, no other country can, Iran’s president says

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani gives a public speech during a trip to the northern Iranian city of Shahroud, Iran, December 4, 2018. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS

GENEVA (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani made an apparent threat on Tuesday to disrupt other countries’ oil shipments through the Gulf if Washington presses ahead with efforts to halt Iranian oil exports.

The United States has imposed sanctions on Iran and U.S. officials say they aim to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero in a bid to curb the Islamic Republic’s missile program and regional influence.

“America should know that we are selling our oil and will continue to sell our oil and they are not able to stop our oil exports,” Rouhani said in a televised speech during a trip to the northern Iranian city of Shahroud.

“If one day they want to prevent the export of Iran’s oil, then no oil will be exported from the Persian Gulf,” he said.

Rouhani made similar comments in July.

Also in July, an Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander, Ismail Kowsari, was quoted as saying that Tehran would block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz if the United States banned Iranian oil sales.

Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral nuclear deal in May and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.

Rouhani said the United States would not succeed in cutting Iran’s economic ties with the region and the world.

“The most hostile group in America, with relation to Iran, has taken power,” Rouhani said, according to the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA). “Of course they never had a friendship with the people of Iran and we never trusted America or others 100 percent.”

Earlier, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif denied a Reuters report that said a European mechanism to set up an account to trade with Iran and beat the newly reimposed U.S. sanctions may not cover oil sales, the Iranian foreign ministry website reported.

“Based on the information we have, it’s not so. Because if Iran’s oil money is not deposited into the account, it’s not clear that there would be any funds for trade, because oil is a major part of Iran’s exports,” Zarif said, according to the website.

“This appears to be propaganda aimed at discouraging people,” Zarif added.

France and Germany are to take joint responsibility for the EU-Iran trade mechanism, Reuters reported.

But the agency quoted diplomats as saying that, with U.S. threats of retribution for sanctions-busting unrelenting, the goals of the nascent trade mechanism could be scaled back to encompass only less sensitive items such as humanitarian and food products.

Iranian Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri said on Tuesday that U.S. sanctions were hitting vulnerable people in Iran.

“When (Americans) say their target is the Iranian government and there won’t be pressure on the sick, the elderly and the weak in society, it’s a lie,” Jahangiri said, according to IRNA.

(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh, additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Adrian Croft and David Evans)

Iran special forces chief tells Trump Tehran will respond to any hostile action

FILE PHOTO: Iranian Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani (L) stands at the frontline during offensive operations against Islamic State militants in the town of Tal Ksaiba in Salahuddin province March 8, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer

By Parisa Hafezi

ANKARA (Reuters) – An Iranian military commander said on Thursday that Donald Trump should address any threats against Tehran directly to him, and mocked the U.S. president as using the language of “nightclubs and gambling halls”.

The comments by Major-General Qassem Soleimani, who heads the Quds Force of Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, were the latest salvo in a war of words between the two countries.

“As a soldier, it is my duty to respond to Trump’s threats. If he wants to use the language of threat, he should talk to me, not to the president (Hassan Rouhani),” Soleimani was quoted as saying by the Iranian Young Journalists’ Club.

Soleimani’s message was, in essence, a warning to the United States to stop threatening Iran with war or risk exposing itself to an Iranian response.

“We are near you, where you can’t even imagine…Come. We are ready. If you begin the war, we will end the war,” Tasnim news agency quoted Soleimani as saying.

On Sunday night, Trump said in a tweet directed at Rouhani: “Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death. Be cautious!”

A day earlier, Rouhani had addressed Trump in a speech, saying that hostile U.S. policies could lead to “the mother of all wars”.

Fanning the heightened tensions, U.S. national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement on Monday: “President Trump told me that if Iran does anything at all to the negative, they will pay a price like few countries have ever paid before.”

Bolton is a proponent of interventionist foreign policy and was U.S. ambassador to the United Nations in the administration of George W. Bush during the Iraq war.

“You (Trump) threaten us with paying a price like few countries have ever paid. Trump, this is the language of nightclubs and gambling halls,” said Soleimani, who as Quds Force commander is in charge of the Revolutionary Guards’ overseas operations.

WAR OF WORDS

Since Trump’s decision in May to withdraw the United States from a 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and world powers, Tehran’s clerical establishment has been under increasing U.S. pressure and the prospect of possible sanctions.

Washington aims to force Tehran to end its nuclear program and its support of militant groups in the Middle East, where Iran is involved in proxy wars from Yemen to Syria.

Despite the bellicose rhetoric, there is limited appetite in Washington for a conflict with Iran, not least because of the difficulties the U.S. military faced in Iraq after its 2003 invasion but also because of the impact on the global economy if conflict raised oil prices.

Mounting U.S. economic pressure, a faltering economy, sliding currency and state corruption are rattling Iran’s clerical rulers, but analysts and insiders rule out any chance of a seismic shift in Iran’s political landscape.

“This is a war of words. Neither side want a military confrontation. But of course, if America attacks Iran, our response will be crushing,” a senior Iranian official, who asked not to be named, told Reuters.

Trump suggested on Tuesday that talks with Iran were an option, saying “we’re ready to make a real deal”. But Iran rejected it.

While the United States is pushing countries to cut all imports of Iranian oil from November, Iran has warned of counter-measures and has threatened to block Gulf oil exports if its own exports are halted.

“The Red Sea which was secure is no longer secure today with the presence of American forces,” Soleimani said.

Saudi Arabia said on Thursday it was temporarily halting all oil shipments through the Red Sea shipping lane of Bab al-Mandeb after an attack on two oil tankers by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Angus MacSwan)

U.N. chief warns of nightmare scenario if Israel, Hezbollah clash

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres gives a speech during a ceremony at Lisbon University where Guterres received his honoris causa degree, Portugal February 19, 2018. REUTERS/Rafael Marchante

LISBON (Reuters) – United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday he was worried about the possibility of a direct confrontation between Israel and Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement.

Guterres said the latest signals from Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah showed the will to not let this happen but “sometimes a spark is enough to unleash this kind of a conflict”.

Hezbollah said last week it could act against Israeli oil facilities if necessary in an Lebanon-Israel offshore energy dispute. U.S. diplomats have been mediating between the two countries after a rise in tensions also involving a dispute over a border wall and Hezbollah’s growing arsenal.

“I am deeply worried about hard-to-foresee escalations in the whole region,” Guterres told reporters in his native Lisbon, also referring to Israel’s concerns about various militia groups in Syria approaching its borders.

“The worst nightmare would be if there is a direct confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah…the level of destruction in Lebanon would be absolutely devastating, so there are major points of concern around this situation.”

The powerful Shi’ite movement is part of Lebanon’s coalition government. Israel sees Hezbollah as the biggest security threat on its borders.

Hezbollah was formed in the 1980s as a resistance movement against Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. The two remain bitter enemies but there has been no major conflict between them since a month-long war in 2006.

(Reporting By Andrei Khalip; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Netanyahu says Israel, India both face threat from radical Islam

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks as his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi looks on during a signing of agreements ceremony at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India January 15, 2018.

By Sanjeev Miglani

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday he was discussing with India ways to strengthen security cooperation against the menace of from Islamist extremism that both democracies faced.

Netanyahu spoke while on a six-day tour of India, the first by an Israeli premier for 15 years, and is being feted by Indian counterpart Narendra Modi, whose Hindu nationalist party has long admired Israel for its tough posture against terrorism.

India, wary of upsetting Arab nations on which it was dependent for oil, and heeding the sentiments of its own large Muslim minority, kept a distance from Israel for decades. But under Modi, the two sides have embraced a closer relationship based on security and economics.

The right-wing Netanyahu told a security conference that India and Israel were two democracies with a natural affinity, but their open and liberal societies faced risks.

“Our way of life is being challenged, most notably, the quest for modernity, the quest for innovation (are) being challenged by radical Islam and its terrorist offshoots from a variety of corners,” he said.

Both Israel and India have long sought to counter militant Islamists – in Israel’s case, mainly from Gaza and Egypt’s Sinai region and, in India’s case, mainly from Pakistan. Away from the public eye, India and Israel have been cooperating against the threat through, in part, intelligence sharing, officials say.

“We’ve discussed in this visit how we can strengthen our two nations in the civilian areas, in security areas, in every area,” Netanyahu told the conference.

His trip to India comes just six months after Modi made the first trip by an Indian prime minister to Israel, during which he did not go to Ramallah, seat of the self-ruling Palestinian Authority and a customary stop for leaders visiting the region.

Netanyahu toured the Taj Mahal on Tuesday and will also visit Modi’s home state of Gujarat and India’s financial capital Mumbai.

He will join an 11-year-old Israeli boy, Moshe Holtzberg, whose parents were murdered by Pakistan-based militants in Mumbai in 2008, for a memorial event at the Indian financial hub’s Jewish center where the attack took place.

The boy, who lives with his grandparents in Israel, arrived on Tuesday as a guest of Modi.

(Additional reporting by Neha Dasgupta; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Trump’s Jerusalem move will hasten Israel’s destruction: Iran

Trump's Jerusalem move will hasten Israel's destruction: Iran

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital will hasten the country’s destruction, Iran’s defense minister said on Monday, while a top Revolutionary Guards commander phoned two Palestinian armed groups and pledged support for them.

Leaders of Iran, where opposition to Israel and support for the Palestinian cause has been central to foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution, have denounced last week’s announcement by the U.S. president, including a plan to move the U.S. embassy to the city.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

“(Trump’s) step will hasten the destruction of the Zionist regime and will double the unity of Muslims,” Iran’s defense minister, Brigadier General Amir Hatami, said on Monday, according to state media.

The army’s chief of staff, General Mohammad Baqeri, said Trump’s “foolish move” could be seen as the beginning of a new intifada, or Palestinian uprising.

Iran has long supported a number of anti-Israeli militant groups, including the military wing of Lebanon-based Hezbollah, which the deputy commander of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Brigadier General Hossein Salami, said was “stronger than the Zionist regime.”

Similarly, Qassem Soleimani, the head of the branch of the Guards that oversees operations outside of Iran’s borders pledged the Islamic Republic’s “complete support for Palestinian Islamic resistance movements” after phone calls with commanders from Islamic Jihad and the Izz al-Deen Qassam brigades, the armed wing of the Hamas movement, on Monday according to Sepah News, the news site of the Guards.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday stepped up efforts to rally Middle Eastern countries against U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which EU foreign ministers meanwhile declined to support.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by John Stonestreet)

North Korea says ‘breakthrough’ puts U.S. mainland within range of nuclear weapons

North Korea says 'breakthrough' puts U.S. mainland within range of nuclear weapons

By Christine Kim and Phil Stewart

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea said it successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile on Wednesday in a “breakthrough” that puts the U.S. mainland within range of its nuclear weapons whose warheads could withstand re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere.

North Korea’s first missile test since mid-September came a week after U.S. President Donald Trump put North Korea back on a U.S. list of countries it says support terrorism, allowing it to impose more sanctions.

North Korea, which also conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test in September, has tested dozens of ballistic missiles under its leader, Kim Jong Un, in defiance of international sanctions. The latest was the highest and longest any North Korean missile had flown, landing in the sea near Japan.

Graphic: Nuclear North Korea http://tmsnrt.rs/2lE5yjF

North Korea said the new missile reached an altitude of about 4,475 km (2,780 miles) – more than 10 times the height of the International Space Station – and flew 950 km (590 miles) during its 53-minute flight.

“After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong Un declared with pride that now we have finally realized the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power,” according to a statement read by a television presenter.

State media said the missile was launched from a newly developed vehicle and that the warhead could withstand the pressure of re-entering the atmosphere.

Kim personally guided the missile test and said the new launcher was “impeccable”, state media said. He described the new vehicle as a “breakthrough”.

North Korea also described itself as a “responsible nuclear power”, saying its strategic weapons were developed to defend itself from “the U.S. imperialists’ nuclear blackmail policy and nuclear threat”.

The U.N. Security Council was scheduled to meet on Wednesday to discuss the launch.

Many nuclear experts say the North has yet to prove it has mastered all technical hurdles, including the ability to deliver a heavy nuclear warhead reliably atop an ICBM, but it was likely that it soon would.

“We don’t have to like it, but we’re going to have to learn to live with North Korea’s ability to target the United States with nuclear weapons,” said Jeffrey Lewis, head of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies.

‘THREATEN EVERYWHERE’

U.S., Japanese and South Korean officials all agreed the missile, which landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, was likely an ICBM. The test did not pose a threat to the United States, its territories or allies, the Pentagon said.

“It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken, a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world, basically,” U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters at the White House.

Trump spoke by phone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-In, with all three reaffirming their commitment to combat the North Korean threat.

“It is a situation that we will handle,” Trump told reporters.

Trump, who was briefed on the missile while it was in flight, said it did not change his administration’s approach to North Korea, which has included new curbs to hurt trade between China and North Korea.

Abe and Moon, in a separate telephone call, said they would “no longer tolerate” North Korea’s increasing threats and would tighten sanctions, the South’s presidential office said.

ALL OPTIONS

Washington has said repeatedly that all options, including military ones, are on the table in dealing with North Korea while stressing its desire for a peaceful solution.

“Diplomatic options remain viable and open, for now,” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said.

Other than enforcing existing U.N. sanctions, “the international community must take additional measures to enhance maritime security, including the right to interdict maritime traffic” traveling to North Korea, Tillerson said in a statement.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the launch.

“This is a clear violation of Security Council resolutions and shows complete disregard for the united view of the international community,” his spokesman said in a statement.

China, North Korea’s lone major ally, expressed “grave concern” at the test, while calling for all sides to act cautiously.

In Moscow, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also urged all sides to stay calm, saying this was necessary to avoid a worst-case scenario on the Korean peninsula.

U.S. EAST COAST IN RANGE?

The new Hwasong-15, named after the planet Mars, was a more advanced version of an ICBM tested twice in July, North Korea said. It was designed to carry a “super-large heavy warhead”.

Based on its trajectory and distance, the missile would have a range of more than 13,000 km (8,100 miles) – more than enough to reach Washington D.C. and the rest of the United States, the U.S.-based Union of Concerned Scientists said.

However, it was unclear how heavy a payload the missile was carrying, and it was uncertain if it could carry a large nuclear warhead that far, the nonprofit science advocacy group added.

Minutes after the North fired the missile, South Korea’s military said it conducted a missile-firing test in response.

Moon said the launch had been anticipated. There was no choice but for countries to keep applying pressure, he added.

“The situation could get out of control if North Korea perfects its ICBM technology,” Moon said after a national security council meeting.

“North Korea shouldn’t miscalculate the situation and threaten South Korea with a nuclear weapon, which could elicit a possible pre-emptive strike by the United States.”

The test comes less than three months before South Korea hosts the Winter Olympics at a resort just 80 km (50 miles) from the heavily fortified border with the North.

North Korea has said its weapons programs are a necessary defense against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, denies any such intention.

Last week, North Korea denounced Trump’s decision to relist it as a state sponsor of terrorism, calling it a “serious provocation and violent infringement”.

Trump has traded insults and threats with Kim and warned in September that the United States would have no choice but to “totally destroy” North Korea if forced to defend itself or its allies.

(Reporting by Christine Kim and Soyoung Kim in Seoul, Linda Sieg, William Mallard, Timothy Kelly in Tokyo, Mark Hosenball, John Walcott, Steve Holland and Tim Ahmann in Washington, Michelle Nichols at the United Nations, Michael Martina in Beijing and Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow; Writing by Yara Bayoumy, David Brunnstrom and Lincoln Feast; Editing by Nick Macfie)

South Korea fears further missile advances by North this year in threat to U.S.

A flag is pictured outside the Permanent Mission of North Korea in Geneva, Switzerland, November 17, 2017.

By Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea may conduct additional missile tests this year to polish up its long-range missile technology and ramp up the threat against the United States, South Korea’s spy agency said on Monday, adding that it was monitoring developments closely.

North Korea is pursuing nuclear weapons and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions and has made no secret of its plans to develop a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. It has fired two missiles over Japan.

The reclusive state appears to have carried out a recent missile engine test while brisk movements of vehicles were spotted near known missile facilities, Yi Wan-young, a member of South Korea’s parliamentary intelligence committee which was briefed by Seoul’s National Intelligence Service, said.

No sign of an imminent nuclear test had been detected, Yi noted. The third tunnel at the Punggye-ri complex remained ready for another detonation “at any time”, while construction had recently resumed at a fourth tunnel, making it out of use for the time being.

“The agency is closely following the developments because there is a possibility that North Korea could fire an array of ballistic missiles this year under the name of a satellite launch and peaceful development of space, but in fact to ratchet up its threats against the United States,” the lawmakers told reporters after a closed-door briefing by the spy agency.

North Korea defends its weapons programs as a necessary defense against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, denies any such intention.

Pyongyang is also carrying out a sweeping ideological scrutiny of the political unit of the military for the first time in 20 years, according to Kim Byung-kee, another lawmaker in the committee.

The probe was led by the ruling Workers’ Party’s Organisation and Guidance Department and orchestrated by Choe Ryong Hae, who once headed the General Political Bureau of the Korean People’s Army himself until he was replaced by Hwang Pyong So in May 2014.

As a result, Hwang and Kim Won Hong, who Seoul’s unification ministry said was removed from office in mid-January as minister of the Stasi-like secret police called “bowibu”, had been punished, the lawmaker said. He did not elaborate.

Choe, who was subjected to political “reeducation” himself in the past, appears to be gaining more influence since he was promoted in October to the party’s powerful Central Military Commission.

The National Intelligence Service indicated that Choe now heads the Organisation and Guidance Department, a secretive body that oversees appointments within North Korea’s leadership.

“Under Choe’s command, the Organisation and Guidance Department is undertaking an inspection of the military politburo for the first time in 20 years, taking issue with their impure attitude toward the party leadership,” the lawmaker, Kim, said.

Separately on Monday, South Korea approved a request by a South Korean to attend an event in the North marking the anniversary of the death of his mother who formerly led the Chondoist Chongu Party, a minor North Korean political party.

The son, identified only by his surname Choi, will be the first South Korean to visit the North since liberal President Moon Jae-in took office in May.

He is scheduled to arrive in Pyongyang via China on Wednesday and return on Saturday, according to Seoul’s unification ministry.

A senior Chinese official wrapped up a four-day visit to North Korea on Monday, apparently without meeting the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un.

Song Tao, head of the international department of the Chinese Communist Party, met senior officials from the Workers Party of Korea and “exchanged views on the Korean peninsula issue”, China’s official Xinhua news agency said.

“The ruling parties of China and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea on Monday pledged to strengthen inter-party exchanges and coordination, and push forward relations,” it added, using North Korea’s official name.

Song had been in Pyongyang to discuss the outcome of the recently concluded Chinese Communist Party Congress in Beijing.

 

(Additional reporting by Christine Kim, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

 

Man arrested after threatening to kill ‘all white police’ at White House

Man arrested after threatening to kill 'all white police' at White House

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A Texas man suspected of traveling to Washington to kill “all white police” at the White House was arrested on Monday by Secret Service agents near the executive mansion, the agency said.

Michael Arega of Dallas, whose age was not listed by authorities, was arrested Monday afternoon after police in suburban Montgomery County, Maryland, issued an alert for the suspect in the Washington area, the Secret Service said.

“Secret Service personnel at the White House immediately increased their posture of readiness and began searching for Arega,” the agency said in a statement.

A little more than an hour after receiving the bulletin, agents spotted Arega on the north side of Pennsylvania Avenue near Lafayette Square, a park across the street from the White House, and he was taken into custody without incident by uniformed Secret Service officers, the agency said.

Arega was not armed when he was arrested, and was under investigation for allegedly making felony threats, Secret Service spokesman Shawn Holtzclaw told Reuters by telephone.

U.S. President Donald Trump was on an overseas trip in Asia at the time.

Arega was handed over to the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, the Secret Service said.

In a report on the incident, police said Arega made threats on Facebook. It was not immediately known if Arega has an attorney.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Additional reporting and writing by Keith Coffman; Editing by Steve Gorman and Mary Milliken)