Red Cross pulls 71 foreign staff out of Yemen due to insecurity

People walk past a building one day after air strikes destroyed it in Sanaa, Yemen June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah

GENEVA (Reuters) – The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Thursday it had pulled 71 international staff out of Yemen because of security incidents and threats, moving them to Djibouti.

The aid agency called on all parties to Yemen’s three-year conflict to provide security guarantees so it can keep running its surgical, water and food assistance programs there. Some 450 ICRC staff remain in Yemen, a spokeswoman said.

An ICRC employee, a Lebanese national, was killed on April 21 by an unknown gunmen who opened fire on his car in the southwestern Yemeni city of Taiz as he was on his way to visit a prison, it said at the time.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Larry King)

Cyberwarfare, populism top ‘black swan’ events at Milken conference

Thomas Barrack, Executive Chairman, Colony Northstar, speaks at the Milken Institute's 21st Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

By Anna Irrera

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Reuters) -Cyberwarfare and populism are some of the top risks that could threaten global stability and financial markets in the years ahead, investors and policymakers warned at the annual Milken Institute Global Conference this week, as they characterized them as black swan events.

Thomas Barrack, founder and executive chairman of Colony Northstar, said cybersecurity was his greatest concern because “if the system itself is hacked or breaks or causes trauma, I am not sure what happens.”

Representative Ed Royce, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, echoed the sentiment, saying that “Russian weaponization of information” has been one of his main concerns.

“The impact that is having in terms of the effect on the democratic process there (in Eastern Europe) is very concerning,” Royce said. “Indeed, worldwide Russian efforts in this regard need to be effectively countered, and it’s been many years since we’ve done anything effective.”

Royce, who also expressed concerns about the proliferation of nuclear weapons, called for more aggressive action.

“We need on social media and with respects to our sanctions push-back and make them (Russia) feel the price for doing this,” Royce said.

American intelligence agencies have said that Russia interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential race to try to help Donald Trump win the presidency. Trump has repeatedly denied receiving help from Moscow for his election campaign, and Russian has denied meddling in the election.

While government and business leaders worldwide have become more aware of cybersecurity risks, the threat may still be underappreciated, some speakers said.

“The cyberwarfare in this world is completely unknown, uncontemplated and has to be grasped as we think about where we are going,” Mary Callahan Erdoes, chief executive officer of JPMorgan Asset Management, said on Monday.

Others cited rising populism in the West as one of the biggest risks for the global economy and market stability.

“My black swan is politics, politics in the West which is getting bust,” said Peter Mandelson, a former European trade commissioner and British first secretary of state. “And bust politics has two effects. It generates populist nationalist pressures on government and regulators, draws them more into the economy, onto the backs of businesses and makes decision-making by investors and businesses much more difficult.”

Although speakers did share what might keep them up at night in the coming months, the outlook was generally upbeat at the event, with Citigroup Inc <C.N> CEO Michael Corbat describing the current state of affairs as being “OK.”

Ironically, the mood was so positive that some speakers worried about excessive optimism.

“I am really concerned regarding the overwhelming optimism, which we observed over the past two days,” said Hiro Mizuno, chief investment officer for Japan’s Government Pension Investment Fund. “People say nothing matters to the capital markets, so that is scary.”

Chris Stadler, managing partner at CVC Capital, added: “When you sit here and…you talk about all these things hitting on all cylinders and you don’t know what could change it, you’re coming close to an event.”

(Reporting by Anna Irrera; Additional reporting by Liana Baker; Editing by Jennifer Ablan and Leslie Adler)

China warns of more action after military drills near Taiwan

FILE PHOTO - China's aircraft carrier Liaoning (C) takes part in a military drill of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy in the western Pacific Ocean, April 18, 2018. Picture taken April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

By Ben Blanchard and Jess Macy Yu

BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – A series of Chinese drills near Taiwan were designed to send a clear message to the island and China will take further steps if Taiwan independence forces persist in doing as they please, Beijing said on Wednesday, as Taiwan denounced threats of force.

Over the past year or so, China has ramped up military drills around democratic Taiwan, including flying bombers and other military aircraft around the self-ruled island. Last week China drilled in the sensitive Taiwan Strait.

China claims Taiwan as its sacred territory, and its hostility towards the island has grown since the 2016 election as president of Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

China has been issuing increasingly strident calls for Taiwan to toe the line, even as Tsai has pledged to maintain the status quo and keep the peace.

Speaking at a regular news briefing, Ma Xiaoguang, spokesman for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said the message the People’s Liberation Army was sending with its exercises was “extremely clear”.

“We have the resolute will, full confidence and sufficient ability to foil any form of Taiwan independence separatist plots and moves and to defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Ma said.

“If Taiwan independence forces continue to do as they please, we will take further steps,” he added, without giving details.

The military’s drills were aimed at protecting peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and the interests of people on both sides of it, Ma said.

In Taipei, the government’s China policy-making Mainland Affairs Council said the people of Taiwan could not accept China’s military pressure and threats which it said had damaged peace in the Taiwan Strait.

“The mainland side should not attribute the consequences of misjudgment to Taiwan. This is an extremely irresponsible act,” it added.

The Republic of China is a sovereign state, the council said, using Taiwan’s formal name, and will brook no slander or criticism from China.

“We sternly warn the other side, do not create incidents again. Only by abandoning armed intimidation, facing up to the reality of the separate control on the two sides of the Taiwan Strait, and having pragmatic communication and dialogue can the differences be resolved.”

Amid the growing tension with China, Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Tuesday it will simulate repelling an invading force, emergency repairs of a major air base and using civilian-operated drones as part of military exercises starting next week.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry)

Twitter to put warnings before swastikas, other hate images

People holding mobile phones are silhouetted against a backdrop projected with the Twitter logo in this illustration picture taken in Warsaw September 27, 2013.

By David Ingram

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) – Twitter Inc said on Monday it would begin putting a warning in front of pictures that show Nazi swastikas and other items it determines are hateful imagery, as well as ban their use in any profile photos on the social media network.

The step is one of several that Twitter said it would take to crack down on white nationalists and other violent or hateful groups, which have become unwelcome on a service that once took an absolutist view of free speech.

Twitter said in a statement it would shut down accounts affiliated with non-government organizations that promote violence against civilians, and ban user names that constitute a violent threat or racial slur.

It said it would also remove tweets that it determined celebrate violence or glorify people who commit violence.

Twitter, a San Francisco company founded in 2006, had called itself “the free speech wing of the free speech party” and tried to stay out of battles among users. But that has changed as persistent harassers have driven some women and minorities off Twitter, limiting their ability to express themselves.

A rise in white nationalism in the United States has also changed tech industry standards. In August, social media networks began removing white nationalists after hundreds gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, and one of them was charged with murdering a 32-year-old woman by running her down in a car.

In October, Twitter vowed to toughen rules on online sexual harassment, bullying and other forms of misconduct.

Tweets can still include hate imagery, but users will have to click through a warning to see them, the company said. Hate images will be banned from profile photos, and further restricted where national laws require, as in Germany.

The Nazi swastika was the only specific example of a hateful image that Twitter gave, but the company said it would try to give warnings for all symbols historically associated with hate groups or which depict people as less than human.

Twitter said it had decided not to categorize the U.S. Confederate flag as hateful imagery, citing its place in history.

(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Richard Chang)

North Korea says U.S. threats make war unavoidable as China urges calm

North Korea says U.S. threats make war unavoidable as China urges calm

By Soyoung Kim and Heekyong Yang

SEOUL (Reuters) – Two American B-1B heavy bombers joined large-scale combat drills over South Korea on Thursday amid warnings from North Korea that the exercises and U.S. threats have made the outbreak of war “an established fact”.

The annual U.S.-South Korean “Vigilant Ace” exercises feature 230 aircraft, including a range of the U.S. military’s most advanced stealth warplanes, and come a week after North Korea tested its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to date which it says can reach the mainland United States.

A spokesman for the North’s foreign ministry blamed the drills and “confrontational warmongering” by U.S. officials for making war inevitable.

“The remaining question now is: when will the war break out?” the spokesman said late on Wednesday in a statement carried by North Korea’s official KCNA news agency.

“We do not wish for a war but shall not hide from it.”

China, North Korea’s neighbor and lone major ally, again urged calm and said war was not the answer.

“We hope all relevant parties can maintain calm and restraint and take steps to alleviate tensions and not provoke each other,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a statement.

“The outbreak of war is not in any side’s interest. The ones that will suffer the most are ordinary people.”

Tensions on the Korean peninsula have risen markedly in recent months after North Korea’s latest missile and nuclear tests, conducted in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions and international condemnation.

STRATEGIC BOMBERS

On Wednesday, a U.S. B-1B bomber flew from the Pacific U.S.-administered territory of Guam to join the exercises, which will run until Friday.

The flights by the B-1B, one of America’s largest strike aircraft, have played a leading role in Washington’s attempts to increase pressure on North Korea to abandon its weapons program.

In September, B-1Bs were among a formation of U.S. military aircraft that flew further north up North Korea’s coast than at any time in the past 17 years, according to the U.S. Pacific Command.

That prompted North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, to warn that the North could shoot down the U.S. bombers even if they did not enter North Korean airspace.

“B1-B bombers have been regularly dispatched to the Korean peninsula over the past years; however, it seems that the U.S. Air Force might have enhanced its training to better prepare for actual warfare,” said Yang Uk, a senior fellow at the Korea Defence and Security Forum.

While B-1Bs are no longer equipped to carry nuclear weapons of their own, they would be key to any strike targeting major North Korean facilities, he said.

“That’s why North Korea has been making such a big deal when B1-B bombers are flying overhead.”

ESCALATING TENSIONS

Both sides insist they don’t want war, but blame each other for provocations while saying they will act to defend themselves.

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said over the weekend that the possibility of war with North Korea was “increasing every day”.

U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham urged the Pentagon on Sunday to start moving U.S. military dependants, such as spouses and children, out of South Korea, saying conflict with North Korea was getting close.

The Pentagon said it has “no intent” to move any dependants out of the country.

North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea and the United States and says its weapons program are necessary to counter U.S. aggression. The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

“Recently, as the U.S. is conducting the largest-ever joint aerial drill on the Korean peninsula targeting the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, its high-level politicians are showing alarming signs by making bellicose remarks one after another,” the North’s foreign ministry spokesman said, using North Korea’s official name.

“These confrontational war-mongering remarks cannot be interpreted in any other way but as a warning to us to be prepared for a war on the Korean peninsula,” he said.

North Korea’s latest missile test prompted a warning from the United States that North Korea’s leadership would be “utterly destroyed” if war were to break out, a statement that drew sharp criticism from Russia.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said the whole of North Korea would be destroyed in the event of war.

The rising tensions coincide with a rare visit to the isolated North by United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman this week, the highest-level U.N. official to visit North Korea since 2012.

Feltman met North Korean Foreign Minister Ri on Thursday, following his meeting with the vice foreign minister a day earlier, KCNA said.

(Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith in Seoul and Christian Shepherd in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Trump warns ‘rogue regime’ North Korea of grave danger

Trump warns 'rogue regime' North Korea of grave danger

By Steve Holland

BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in China on Wednesday seeking help to rein in North Korea after warning the North’s leader that the nuclear weapons he is developing “are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger.”

Trump used some of his toughest language yet against North Korea in a wide-ranging address in Seoul that lodged specific accusations of chilling human rights abuses. He called on countries around the world to isolate Pyongyang by denying it “any form of support, supply or acceptance.”

“Do not underestimate us and do not try us,” Trump told North Korea as he wrapped up a visit to South Korea with a speech to the National Assembly before heading to Beijing, where he was making his first official visit.

Trump painted a dystopian picture of the reclusive North, saying people were suffering in “gulags” and some bribed government officials to work as “slaves” overseas rather than live under the government at home. He offered no evidence to support those accusations.

Trump’s return to harsh, uncompromising language came a day after he appeared to dial back the bellicose rhetoric that had fueled fears across east Asia of the risk of military conflict. On Tuesday, Trump had even offered a diplomatic opening to Pyongyang to “make a deal.”

He went mostly on the attack in Wednesday’s speech but did promise a “path to a much better future” if North Korea stopped developing ballistic missiles and agreed to “complete, verifiable and total denuclearization” – something Pyongyang has vowed never to do.

“We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction. We will not be intimidated,” he told South Korean lawmakers. “And we will not let the worst atrocities in history be repeated here, on this ground we fought and died to secure.”

The North defends its nuclear weapons and missile programs as a necessary defense against what it says are 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.

“The world cannot tolerate the menace of a rogue regime that threatens it with nuclear devastation,” Trump said, speaking as three U.S. aircraft carrier groups sailed to the Western Pacific for exercises – a rare show of such U.S. naval force in the region.

‘STATE VISIT-PLUS’

In Beijing, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping resumed their “bromance” struck in April at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, making small talk as they toured the Forbidden City – which was shut down to tourists – with their wives before taking in a Chinese opera performance.

While the sprawling palace complex in the political and cultural heart of Beijing is a regular stop for visiting dignitaries, it is rare for a Chinese leader to act as a personal escort, confirmation of the “state visit-plus” treatment that China had promised for Trump.

Trump has threatened action over China’s wide trade surplus with the United States and called on Beijing to do more to rein in ally and neighbor North Korea, but has expressed admiration for Xi and held off on imposing trade measures.

During his two-day visit, Trump will ask China to abide by U.N. resolutions and cut financial links with North Korea, a senior White House official said on the plane from Seoul.

He also plans to discuss with Xi the long-contentious trade imbalance, U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said at a ceremony with U.S. business leaders where $9 billion worth of deals were signed.

Trump believes any talks with North Korea would require it to reduce threats, end provocations and move toward denuclearization, and that no deal can be achieved without denuclearization, the official added.

Trump and Xi were scheduled to hold formal talks on Thursday.

Before leaving for Beijing, Trump cited China as one of the countries that must fully enforce international sanctions against Pyongyang and downgrade diplomatic and commercial ties.

“To those nations that choose to ignore this threat or, worse still, to enable it, the weight of this crisis is on your conscience,” he said.

While Trump will try to convince Xi to squeeze North Korea further with steps such as limits on oil exports and financial transactions, it is not clear if Xi, who has just consolidated his power at a Communist Party congress, will agree to do more.

China has repeatedly said its leverage over Pyongyang is exaggerated by the West and that it is already doing all it can to enforce sanctions.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry said that China fully and strictly implements U.N. Security Council resolutions on North Korea, but will investigate if there have been any contraventions.

‘GRAVE DANGER’

During his speech in Seoul, Trump directed his words at North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“The weapons that you are acquiring are not making you safer, they are putting your regime in grave danger,” he said. “Every step you take down this dark path increases the peril you face.”

However Trump, whose strategy has stressed sanctions and military pressure instead of diplomacy, did not spell out any new approach.

North Korea has made clear it has little interest in negotiations at least until it develops a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, something U.S. intelligence officials say it may be just months away from achieving.

“North Korea is a country ruled by a cult,” Trump said in a speech that was interrupted several times by applause and ended with a standing ovation.

He stopped short of repeating the derisive nickname “little Rocket Man” that he has used to describe the young North Korean leader.

Kim, for his part, has called Trump “mentally deranged.”

The speech came after Trump’s attempt to make an unannounced visit to the heavily fortified border separating North and South Korea was aborted when dense fog prevented his helicopter from landing, officials said.

A visit to the DMZ, despite his aides’ earlier insistence he had no plans to go there, would have had the potential to further inflame tensions with North Korea.

Trump and his wife Melania were greeted at Beijing’s airport by a military band playing a festive tune and school children jumping up and down and waving American and Chinese flags.

They descended from a red-carpeted staircase rolled up to the main door of Air Force One. That was in contrast to a 2016 visit to China by his predecessor, Barack Obama, who was forced to exit his plane from a lower door in what was seen as a snub.

And while in China, Trump will not be deterred from using Twitter, his favored form of communication, despite its being banned there, according to an administration official.

“The president will tweet whatever he wants,” the official told reporters on Air Force One.

“I’m sure we’ve got the gear aboard this airplane to make it happen.”

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Christine Kim, Josh Smith and Soyoung Kim in SEOUL, Ben Blanchard, Benjamin Kang Lim and Tony Munroe in BEIJING, and Mike Stone in WASHINGTON; Editing by Paul Tait, Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)

Texas church shooter sent threatening messages to mother-in-law before rampage

Neighbours who live next to the site of a shooting at the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs are pictured, Texas, U.S. November 6, 2017.

By Jon Herskovitz and Lisa Maria Garcia

SUTHERLAND SPRINGS, Texas (Reuters) – A man court-martialed by the U.S. Air Force on charges of assaulting his wife and child sent threatening messages to his mother-in-law who sometimes attended the rural Texas church where he fatally shot 26 people, officials said on Monday.

Gunman Devin Patrick Kelley injured another 20 people when he opened fire in the white-steepled First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs on Sunday. The attack ranks among the five deadliest mass shootings carried out by a single gunman in U.S. history.

As he left the church, Kelley, 26 was confronted by an area resident who shot and wounded him, authorities said. Kelley fled and the resident waved down a passing motorist and they chased the suspect at high speeds.

“This good Samaritan, our Texas hero, flagged down a young man from Seguin, Texas, and they jumped in their vehicle and pursued the suspect,” said Freeman Martin, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Kelley called his father during the chase to say he had been shot and might not survive, officials said. He later crashed his vehicle, shot himself and died, they added. It was not clear if he died of the self-inflicted wound or those sustained in the gunfight, officials said.

Kelley was involved in a domestic dispute with the family of Danielle Shields, a woman he married in 2014, and the situation had flared up, according to officials and official records.

“There was a domestic situation going on within the family and the in-laws,” Martin told reporters outside the church on Monday. “The mother-in-law attended the church … she had received threatening text messages from him.”

Wilson County Sheriff Joe Tackitt said the family members were not in the church during Kelley’s attack.

“I heard that (the in-laws) attended church from time to time,” Tackitt said. “Not on a regular basis.”

Kelley at times had attended services at the church, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas told reporters at the scene.

“My understanding is that this depraved madman had worshipped at this church before,” Cruz said.

The attack came about a month after a gunman killed 58 people in Las Vegas in the deadliest shooting by a lone assailant in modern U.S. history.

The dead ranged in age from 18 months to 77 years.

Ten of the wounded in Texas remained in critical condition on Monday morning, officials said.

 

‘VIOLENT TENDENCIES’

Wearing a black bullet-proof vest and skull mask, Kelley used a Ruger AR-556 semi-automatic rifle in the attack, authorities said. They recovered two other weapons, both handguns, from his vehicle.

In rural Texas and in other states, gun ownership is a part of life and Republican leaders for years have balked at gun control, arguing that responsible gun owners can help deter crime.

Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott told CBS News there was evidence that Kelley had mental health problems and had been denied a state gun permit.

“It’s clear this is a person who had violent tendencies, who had some challenges,” Abbott said.

A sporting goods chain said Kelley passed background checks when he bought a firearm in 2016 and a second gun in 2017.

Abbott and other Republican politicians said the mass shooting did not influence their support of gun ownership by U.S. citizens – the right to bear arms protected under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

“This isn’t a guns situation. I mean we could go into it but it’s a little bit soon,” U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters while on a trip to Asia. “Fortunately somebody else had a gun that was shooting in the opposite direction, otherwise … it would have been much worse.”

Democrats renewed their call to restrict gun ownership.

“How many more people must die at churches or concerts or schools before we stop letting the @NRA control this country’s gun policies,” Democratic U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren said on Twitter.

Vice President Mike Pence said on Twitter that he will travel to Sutherland Springs on Wednesday to meet with victims’ families and law enforcement.

Kelley was court-martialed in 2012 on charges of assaulting his wife and child, and given a bad-conduct discharge, confinement for 12 months and a reduction in rank, Air Force spokeswoman Ann Stefanek said. He was discharged in 2014.

The attack stunned Sutherland Springs, a community of about 400 people with just one blinking yellow traffic light. One family, the Holcombes, lost eight people from three generations in the attack, including Bryan Holcombe, an assistant pastor who was leading the service, a relative said.

John Stiles, a 76-year-old retired U.S. Navy veteran, said he heard the shots from his home about 150 yards (137 m) away: “My wife and I were looking for a peaceful and quiet place when we moved here but now that hasn’t worked out.”

 

(Additional reporting by Jane Ross in Sutherland Springs, Texas; Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Peter Szekely in New York; Writing by Scott Malone; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker)

 

Trump: military option for North Korea not preferred, but would be ‘devastating’

Trump: military option for North Korea not preferred, but would be 'devastating'

By Steve Holland and Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump warned North Korea on Tuesday that any U.S. military option would be “devastating” for Pyongyang, but said the use of force was not Washington’s first option to deal with the country’s ballistic and nuclear weapons program.

“We are totally prepared for the second option, not a preferred option,” Trump said at a White House news conference, referring to military force. “But if we take that option, it will be devastating, I can tell you that, devastating for North Korea. That’s called the military option. If we have to take it, we will.”

Bellicose statements by Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in recent weeks have created fears that a miscalculation could lead to action with untold ramifications, particularly since Pyongyang conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3.

Despite the increased tension, the United States has not detected any change in North Korea’s military posture reflecting an increased threat, the top U.S. military officer said on Tuesday.

The assessment by Marine Corps General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, about Pyongyang’s military stance was in contrast to a South Korean lawmaker who said Pyongyang had boosted defenses on its east coast.

“While the political space is clearly very charged right now, we haven’t seen a change in the posture of North Korean forces, and we watch that very closely,” Dunford told a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on his reappointment to his post.

In terms of a sense of urgency, “North Korea certainly poses the greatest threat today,” Dunford testified.

A U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity said satellite imagery had detected a small number of North Korean military aircraft moving to the North’s east coast. However the official said the activity did not change their assessment of Pyongyang’s military posture.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho on Monday accused Trump of declaring war on the North and threatened that Pyongyang would shoot down U.S. warplanes flying near the Korean Peninsula after American bombers flew close to it last Saturday. Ri was reacting to Trump’s Twitter comments that Kim and Ri “won’t be around much longer” if they acted on their threats toward the United States.

North Korea has been working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, which Trump has said he will never allow. Dunford said Pyongyang will have a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile “soon,” and it was only a matter of a “very short time”.

“We clearly have postured our forces to respond in the event of a provocation or a conflict,” the general said, adding that the United States has taken “all proper measures to protect our allies” including South Korean and Japan.

“It would be an incredibly provocative thing for them to conduct a nuclear test in the Pacific as they have suggested, and I think the North Korean people would have to realize how serious that would be, not only for the United States but for the international community,” Dunford said.

South Korean lawmaker Lee Cheol-uoo, briefed by the country’s spy agency, said North Korea was bolstering its defenses by moving aircraft to its east coast and taking other measures after the flight by U.S. bombers. Lee said the United States appeared to have disclosed the flight route intentionally because North Korea seemed to be unaware.

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers, escorted by fighter jets, flew east of North Korea in a show of force after the heated exchange of rhetoric between Trump and Kim.

The United States has imposed sanctions on 26 people as part of its non-proliferation designations for North Korea and nine banks, including some with ties to China, the U.S. Treasury Department’s Office Of Foreign Assets Control Sanctions said on Tuesday.

The U.S. sanctions target people in North Korea and some North Korean nationals in China, Russia, Libya and Dubai, according to a list posted on the agency’s website.

‘CAPABILITY TO DETER’

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit China from Thursday to Saturday for talks with senior officials that will include the crisis over North Korea and trade, the State Department said on Tuesday.

Evans Revere, a former senior diplomat who met with a North Korean delegation in Switzerland this month, said that Pyongyang had been reaching out to “organizations and individuals” to encourage talks with former U.S. officials to get a sense of the Trump administration’s thinking.

“They’ve also been accepting invitations to attend dialogues hosted by others, including the Swiss and the Russians,” he said.

Revere said his best guess for why the North Koreans were doing this was because they were “puzzled by the unconventional way that President Trump has been handling the North Korea issue” and were eager to use “informal and unofficial meetings to gain a better understanding of what is motivating Trump and his administration”.

During a visit to India, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said diplomatic efforts continued.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said war on the Korean Peninsula would have no winner.

“We hope the U.S. and North Korean politicians have sufficient political judgment to realize that resorting to military force will never be a viable way to resolve the peninsula issue and their own concerns,” Lu said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged Kim Jong Un to resume military talks and reunions of families split by the 1950-53 Korean War to ease tension.

“Like I’ve said multiple times before, if North Korea stops its reckless choices, the table for talks and negotiations always remains open,” Moon said.

In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was working behind the scenes to find a political solution and that it plans to hold talks with a representative of North Korea’s foreign ministry who is due to arrive in Moscow on Tuesday, the RIA news agency cited the North’s embassy to Russia as saying.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce and not a peace treaty.

(Additional reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL, Christian Shepherd in BEIJING Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS, Dmitry Solovyov in MOSCOW, Malini Menon in NEW DELHI and Doina Chiacu, David Alexander, Susan Heavey, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Grant McCool and James Dalgleish)

North Korea bolsters defenses after flight by U.S. bombers as rhetoric escalates

North Korea bolsters defenses after flight by U.S. bombers as rhetoric escalates

By Christine Kim and Christian Shepherd

SEOUL/BEIJING (Reuters) – North Korea has boosted defenses on its east coast, a South Korean lawmaker said on Tuesday, after the North said U.S. President Donald Trump had declared war and that it would shoot down U.S. bombers flying near the peninsula.

Tensions have escalated since North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, but the rhetoric has reached a new level in recent days with leaders on both sides exchanging threats and insults.

North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho said Trump’s Twitter comments, in which the U.S. leader said Ri and leader Kim Jong Un “won’t be around much longer” if they acted on their threats, amounted to a declaration of war and that Pyongyang had the right to take countermeasures.

South Korean lawmaker Lee Cheol-uoo, briefed by the country’s spy agency, said the reclusive North was in fact bolstering its defenses by moving aircraft to its east coast and taking other measures after U.S. bombers flew close to the Korean peninsula at the weekend.

Lee said the United States appeared to have disclosed the flight route of the bombers intentionally because North Korea seemed to be unaware.

Ri, the foreign minister, said on Monday the North’s right to countermeasures included shooting down U.S. bombers “even when they are not inside the airspace border of our country”. (Graphics on ‘Kim’s latest act of defiance’ – http://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/rngs/NORTHKOREA-MISSILES/010050KV1C3/index.html)

“The whole world should clearly remember it was the U.S. who first declared war on our country,” he told reporters in New York on Monday, where he had been attending the annual United Nations General Assembly.

“The question of who won’t be around much longer will be answered then,” he said.

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders denied on Monday that the United States had declared war, calling the suggestion “absurd”.

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said war on the Korean peninsula would have no winner.

“We hope the U.S. and North Korean politicians have sufficient political judgment to realize that resorting to military force will never be a viable way to resolve the peninsula issue and their own concerns,” Lu told a daily news briefing.

“We also hope that both sides can realize that being bent on assertiveness and provoking each other will only increase the risk of conflict and reduce room for policy maneuvers. War on the peninsula will have no winner.”

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, speaking on the sidelines of a U.N. meeting in New York, said the situation on the Korean peninsula was at a very dangerous stage, the foreign ministry said on Tuesday.

The urgent task was to prevent North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs progressing, to avoid a further escalation in tensions and to especially prevent resorting to arms, Wang added.

While repeatedly calling for dialogue to resolve the issue, China has also signed up for increasingly tough U.N. sanctions against North Korea.

China’s fuel exports to North Korea fell in August, along with iron ore imports from the isolated nation, as trade slowed after the latest U.N. sanctions, but coal shipments resumed after a five-month hiatus, customs data showed on Tuesday.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in urged Kim Jong Un to resume military talks and reunions of families split by the 1950-53 Korean War to ease tension.

“Like I’ve said multiple times before, if North Korea stops its reckless choices, the table for talks and negotiations always remains open,” said Moon.

He was speaking at a event to mark an Oct.4, 2007, summit declaration promoting goodwill signed between then-South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun and his North Korean counterpart, Kim Jong Il, Kim Jong Un’s father.

In Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said it was working behind the scenes to find a political solution and that using sanctions against North Korea was almost exhausted.

During a visit to India, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis said diplomatic efforts continued.

“You have seen unanimous United Nations Security Council resolutions passed that have increased the pressure, economic pressure and diplomatic pressure, on the North, and at the same time, we maintain the capability to deter North Korea’s most dangerous threats,” he told reporters in the Indian capital.

RISK OF MISCALCULATION

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers escorted by fighter jets flew east of North Korea in a show of force after a heated exchange of rhetoric between Trump and Kim.

North Korea has been working to develop nuclear-tipped missiles capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, which Trump has said he will never allow.

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with North Korea after the 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce and not a peace treaty.

The Sept. 3 nuclear test prompted a new round of sanctions on North Korea after the Security Council voted unanimously on a resolution condemning the test.

The North says it needs its weapons programs to guard against U.S. invasion and regularly threatens to destroy the United States, South Korea and Japan.

However, the rhetoric has been ratcheted up well beyond normal levels, raising fears that a miscalculation by either side could have massive repercussions.

Trump’s threat last week to totally destroy North Korea, a country of 26 million people, if it threatened the United States or its allies, prompted an unprecedented direct statement by Kim, calling Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and vowing to tame the U.S. threat with fire.

White House National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster defended Trump’s rhetoric and said on Monday he agreed that the risk was that Kim might fail to realize the danger he and his country faced.

However, McMaster also acknowledged the risks of escalation with any U.S. military option.

“We don’t think there’s an easy military solution to this problem,” said McMaster, who believed any solution would be an international effort.

“There’s not a precision strike that solves the problem. There’s not a military blockade that can solve the problem.”

(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS, Dmitry Solovyov in MOSCOW and Malini Menon in NEW DELHI; Writing by Paul Tait and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Nick Macfie and Clarence Fernandez)

U.S. challenged by rising North Korea tensions, Russia urges calm

U.S. challenged by rising North Korea tensions, Russia urges calm

By Michelle Nichols and David Brunnstrom

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia urged “hot heads” to calm down on Friday as the United States admitted it felt “challenged” by North Korea’s warning that it could test a hydrogen bomb over the Pacific and President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un traded more insults.

Trump called the North Korean leader a “madman” on Friday, a day after Kim dubbed him a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” who would face the “highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history” in retaliation for Trump saying the U.S. would “totally destroy” North Korea if it threatened the U.S. or its allies.

“We have to calm down the hot heads,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters at the United Nations, where world leaders gathered this week for the annual U.N. General Assembly. “We continue to strive for the reasonable and not the emotional approach…of the kindergarten fight between children.”

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson expressed hope in an interview with ABC that sanctions and “voices from every corner of the world” could lead North Korea back to talks, but admitted intensifying rhetoric had left Washington “quite challenged.”

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, warned on Thursday that Kim could consider a hydrogen bomb test of an unprecedented scale over the Pacific. Ri, who is due to speak to the United Nations on Saturday, added that he did not know Kim’s exact thoughts.

In response, Tillerson said U.S. diplomatic efforts would continue but all military options were still on the table.

North Korea’s six nuclear tests to date have all been underground, and experts say an atmospheric test, which would be the first since one by China in 1980, would be proof of the success of its weapons program.

A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Washington was taking Kim’s threat seriously and added that any atmospheric test would be a “game-changer.”

But he said there were questions about North Korea’s technical capabilities and Washington did not give “too much credence” to Pyongyang taking such action. “There’s a certain amount of bluster that’s taken for granted when you’re dealing with North Korea,” the official told Reuters.

‘UNACCEPTABLE’

Pyongyang conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3 and has launched dozens of missiles this year as it accelerates a program aimed at enabling it to target the United States with a nuclear-tipped missile.

Lavrov on Friday again pushed a proposal by Moscow and Beijing for a dual suspension of North Korean weapons tests and the U.S.-South Korean military drills to kick-start talks. Lavrov suggested that a neutral European country could mediate.

He described the exchange of insults between the U.S. and North Korean leaders was “quite bad, unacceptable.”

U.S. Treasury and gold prices rose while the Japanese yen strengthened on Friday as the exchange of barbs fueled geopolitical jitters and drove investors into assets considered safer during times of turmoil.

The latest round of rhetoric began on Tuesday when Trump, in his first address to the United Nations, made the threat to destroy North Korea, a country of 26 million people. He also called Kim a “rocket man” on a suicide mission.

“His remarks … have convinced me, rather than frightening or stopping me, that the path I chose is correct and that it is the one I have to follow to the last,” Kim said in the statement carried by the North’s official KCNA news agency on Friday, promising to make Trump “pay dearly for his speech.”

South Korea said it was the first direct statement of its kind by a North Korean leader. Japan, the only country to suffer an atomic attack, called the North Korean threat to conduct an atmospheric test “totally unacceptable”.

‘MADMAN’

Trump on Friday tweeted: “Kim Jong Un of North Korea, who is obviously a madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people, will be tested like never before.”

The White House said on Friday that Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in had agreed to Seoul’s “acquisition and development of highly advanced military assets” and to increased deployment of U.S. strategic assets in and around South Korea on a rotational basis.” It did not name specific weapons systems.

On Thursday Trump announced new U.S. sanctions that he said allows the targeting of companies and institutions that finance and facilitate trade with North Korea. Then when asked if diplomacy was still a possible, he said: “Why not?”

The additional sanctions on Pyongyang, including on its shipping and trade networks, showed Trump was giving more time for economic pressure to weigh on North Korea. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said banks doing business in North Korea would not be allowed to operate in the United States.

KCNA also published rare criticism of official Chinese media, saying comments on North Korea’s nuclear program had damaged ties and suggested Beijing, its neighbor and only major ally, had sided with Washington.

KCNA said Chinese media was “openly resorting to interference in the internal affairs of another country” and driving a wedge between the two countries.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “All relevant sides should exercise restraint and dedicate themselves to easing the situation rather than irritating each other.”

The rhetoric has started to rattle some in other countries. French Sports Minister Laura Flessel said France’s team would not travel to the 2018 Winter Olympic Games in South Korea if its security could not be guaranteed.

The 2018 Games are to be staged in Pyeongchang, just 80 km (50 miles) from the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea, the world’s most heavily armed border.

(Corrects typographical error to ‘dual’ in paragraph 12.)

(Additional reporting by Linda Sieg in TOKYO, Michael Martina, Ben Blanchard and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING, David Brunnstrom, Arshad Mohammed, John Irish and Jeff Mason in NEW YORK, Doina Chaicu and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON, Soyoung Kim in SEOUL; Writing by Yara Bayoumy and Michelle Nichols; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Grant McCool)