Trump: North Korea’s Kim ‘Very Honorable’

President Donald Trump says he expects to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “very soon” and praised Kim as being “very open” and “very honorable.”

“We have been told directly that they would like to have the meeting as soon as possible. We think that’s a great thing for the world,” Trump said Tuesday after talks with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron.

“We’ll see where that will all go,” Trump added. He repeated that he was willing to walk away from talks with North Korea but stressed “I think we have the chance to do something very special.”

The White House has said the ultimate goal of any negotiations between Trump and Kim denuclearization, adding the United States’ “maximum pressure” campaign on Pyongyang will continue and sanctions on the isolated country will not be lifted until concrete actions are taken towards complete and total denuclearization.

When asked what complete denuclearization means, Trump said “It means they get rid of their nukes, very simple.”

“We’re not going to take the North Koreans simply at their word,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday in response to a question from VOA News about recent declarations by Pyongyang.

“We’re not naïve in this process,” added she said. “We’ve seen some steps in the right direction, but we have a long way to go.”

Kim has announced a freeze of nuclear weapons tests and intercontinental ballistic missile launches.

Trump on Sunday appeared to infer that the North Korean leader had already agreed to give up his nuclear arsenal, despite such no such announcement from Pyongyang.

The president said on Twitter, “We haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”

Although South Korea has said the North has expressed interest in doing away with its nuclear weapons, Kim, however, in Saturday’s testing freeze statement, indicated North Korea’s nuclear arsenal would remain intact, calling it a “powerful treasured sword” that would firmly guarantee “our descendants can enjoy the most dignified and happiest life in the world”.

Experts skeptical

Nuclear and missile proliferation scholar Joshua Pollack of the Monterey Institute of International Studies says: “I’m not at all convinced Kim Jong Un has any interest in discussing his nuclear arsenal with anyone else. He’s made his move and we can take it or leave it.”

Sung-Yoon Lee, assistant professor in Korean Studies at Tufts University, said it is only a matter of time before Kim demands the complete withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea.

“But for now, Kim is creating the illusion of coming across as a reasonable guy who is willing to make some major concessions when in fact no concession has been made at all,” he said.

Before the planned summit with Trump, for which no location or date has been determined, Kim is set to meet Friday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in at a Korean border village.

South Korean on Monday stopped its broadcasts of propaganda messages and pop music across the border. South Korea’s defense ministry said in a statement it hopes the move will help contribute to creating peace between the two countries.

 

Neither South Korea nor the United States has diplomatic relations with North Korea.

 

A state of war technically persists on the peninsula. Active combat in the 37-month long Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953. South Korea was not a signatory.

 

Moon’s government says Seoul hopes to resolve the 65-year impasse.

 

“The signing of a peace treaty must be pursued after an end to the war is declared,” Moon, last Thursday, told media representatives at the presidential Blue House.

Pollack, who is also editor of the The Nonproliferation Review, tells VOA that if Washington’s position remains that there cannot be sanctions relief “without complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program,” then the South Koreans will be left with a stark choice: “Either break from the U.S. or leave both of these issues alone. They can focus instead on a peace treaty.”

 

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New NASA Boss Gets ‘Hearty Congratulations’ From Space

NASA’s new boss is already getting cheers from space.

 

Immediately after being sworn into office Monday by Vice President Mike Pence, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine took a call from the three U.S. astronauts at the International Space Station who offered “hearty congratulations.” The Oklahoma congressman became the 13th administrator of NASA, filling a position that had been vacant for more than a year.

 

“America loves what you guys are doing,” Bridenstine, a former naval aviator, told the astronauts. He promised to do his best “as we reach for new heights and reveal the unknown for the benefit of humankind.”

 

This is the 60th anniversary year for NASA .

 

Bridenstine is the first elected official to lead NASA, something that had bogged down his nomination last year by President Donald Trump. The Senate approved his nomination last week by a narrow vote of 50-49. Monday’s swearing-in ceremony took place at NASA headquarters in Washington.

 

Pence noted that the space agency, under Bridenstine’s direction, will work to get astronauts back to the moon and then, with help from commercial space and international partners, on to Mars.

 

“NASA will lead the way,” said Pence, who heads the newly resurrected National Space Council.

 

Charles Bolden Jr., a former space shuttle commander and major general in the Marines, was NASA’s last official administrator. The space agency was led by Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot in the interim. Lightfoot retires from NASA at the end of this month.

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Pence Picks Kellogg to Serve as National Security Adviser

Vice President Mike Pence has chosen retired Army Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg, a top official with the National Security Council, to serve as his national security adviser.

 

Pence selected Kellogg, a national security aide to President Donald Trump, to fill the role after his top choice, Jon Lerner, withdrew his name from consideration.

 

Lerner, an adviser to U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, pulled out of a proposed dual role after Trump learned of his planned hiring. Lerner is a longtime Republican strategist and pollster who previously worked with the Club for Growth, which aired ads critical of Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign.

 

Pence said in a statement that Kellogg “brings a wealth of experience in national security and foreign policy matters to this role and has already been an integral part of the President’s national security team.”

 

Kellogg has served as chief of staff at the National Security Council and is the latest NSC official to depart after the arrival of Trump national security adviser John Bolton. Also gone are spokesman Michael Anton, homeland security adviser Tom Bossert, and deputy national security advisers Ricky Waddell and Nadia Schadlow.

 

Kellogg served as acting national security adviser after Michael Flynn resigned in February 2017 as Trump’s first national security adviser. Flynn’s successor, H.R. McMaster, was recently replaced by Bolton.

 

Kellogg, who served in the U.S. Army for more than three decades, previously served as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division and as a top aide to Paul Bremer, who led the Coalition Provisional Authority during the reconstruction of Iraq.

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Former US President George H.W. Bush Admitted to Hospital

Former President George H. W. Bush, 93, has been admitted to the hospital for a blood infection, a spokesman for the family said Monday evening.

Bush was admitted to Houston Methodist Hospital Sunday morning. The former president’s hospitalization follows so closely on the death of his wife Barbara last Tuesday. The family had been worried about how he would deal with her death and such an emotional week, according to CNN.

He contracted an infection that spread to his blood, a statement read. He was responding to treatments and appeared to be recovering.

Bush, who served one term as president from 1989 to 1993, has been in and out of the hospital over the last couple of years.

In April 2017, he was released from a Houston hospital after treatment for pneumonia and chronic bronchitis.

A few months before that, he was hospitalized at Houston Methodist for 16 days for pneumonia. He was previously hospitalized in Maine in 2015, after he fell and broke a bone in his neck. In December 2014, he was hospitalized for about a week in Houston for shortness of breath.

The family’s spokesman said he would issue additional updates “as events warrant.”

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Anticipation Builds for Trump-Kim Meeting

Anticipation is building in Washington before an expected meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, the man Trump dispatched to North Korea for an initial meeting with Kim, CIA Director Mike Pompeo, faces a Senate confirmation vote this week for a new post, secretary of state.

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France’s Macron: US Role in Syria Vital

French President Emmanuel Macron is heading to the United States for a state visit with President Donald Trump, looking to convince him of the need to keep a U.S. presence in Syria even after the defeat of Islamic State terrorists.

Ahead of his arrival in Washington Monday, Macron told Fox News during an interview at the Elysee Palace in Paris, “We will have to build a new Syria after war. That’s why I think the U.S. role is very important.”

He described the U.S. as “a player of last resorts for peace and multilateralism.”

Trump has said he wants to pull the estimated 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria as soon as possible, even as a week ago he ordered the U.S. military to join France and Britain in launching a barrage of missiles targeting Syrian chemical weapons facilities in response to a suspected Syrian gas attack. Trump’s planned troop withdrawal comes after the fall of Raqqa, IS’s self-declared capital of its religious caliphate in northern Syria.

“I’m going to be very blunt,” Macron said in the interview. “If we leave … will we leave the floor to the Iranian regime and [Syrian President] Bashar al-Assad? They will prepare a new war.”

He said the U.S. and France are allied but that “even Russia and Turkey will have a very important role to play to create this new Syria and ensure the Syrian people decide for the future.”

Macron is set to arrive in Washington on Monday for three days of meetings, a speech in English to Congress, social events and Trump’s first state dinner.

His visit is occurring as an international chemical weapons monitoring group said its team of inspectors has collected samples at the site of the alleged gas attack two weeks ago in the Syrian town of Douma.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons said a report based on the findings and other information gathered by the team will be drafted after the samples are analyzed by designated laboratories.

The group added it will “evaluate the situation and consider future steps, including another possible visit to Douma.”

The fact-finding team’s attempts to enter the town were initially postponed for several days due to a series of security-related setbacks.

Emergency responders said at least 40 people were killed in the suspected April 7 gas attack, which the U.S. and its allies blamed on the Assad regime.

The Syrian government has denied using chemical weapons, a violation of international law, and invited inspectors to investigate.

They arrived in Syria on April 14, the same day the U.S., Britain and France launched missiles targeting three chemical weapons facilities in Syria.

Ken Ward, the U.S. ambassador to the OPCW, claimed on April 16 the Russians had already visited the site of the chemical weapons attack and “may have tampered with it,” a charge Moscow rejected.

On April 9, Moscow’s U.N. ambassador told the U.N. Security Council that Russian experts had visited the site, collected soil samples, interviewed witnesses and medical personnel, and determined no chemical weapons attack had taken place.

U.S. military officials have said the airstrikes were designed to send a powerful message to Syria and its backers, showing that the United States, Britain and France could slice through the nation’s air defense systems at will.

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Trump Cites Gains Ahead of Planned North Korea Summit

U.S. President Donald Trump said Sunday the United States has given up nothing ahead of his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, while Pyongyang has already curtailed its nuclear weapons development.

The U.S. leader said on Twitter, “We haven’t given up anything & they have agreed to denuclearization (so great for World), site closure, & no more testing!”

But Trump acknowledged that the eventual outcome of his talks with Kim, which could occur in late May or early June, is uncertain. Pyongyang yet to agree to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and, despite Trump’s claim, has not agreed to the permanent denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

South Korea has said that the North has expressed interest in doing away with its nuclear weapons.

Watch related video by VOA’s Michael Bowman:

“We are a long way from conclusion on North Korea, maybe things will work out, and maybe they won’t – only time will tell,” Trump said, “But the work I am doing now should have been done a long time ago!”

Trump, as is often the case, offered his thoughts after hearing television news commentary he didn’t like, this time from NBC News anchor Chuck Todd.

The president said, “Sleepy Eyes Chuck Todd of Fake News NBC just stated that we have given up so much in our negotiations with North Korea, and they have given up nothing.”

Todd said of Kim’s overtures ahead of the summit, “He seems to be giving very little but making it seem like he’s giving a lot.”

The television newsman said, “There’s not many pre-conditions the United States is asking for. So far in this potential summit, North Koreans have gotten a lot out of it. What has the United States gotten yet? We don’t have a release of any of those Americans that they held captive, we don’t have a pledge of denuclearization as the ultimate goal. There’s a lot of things they are not promising that is raising some red flags.”

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Nude Gunman Kills 3 at Tennessee Waffle House

A man who was naked but for a green jacket shot and killed three people and wounded four others at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee early Sunday, police said.

The gunman was armed with what was described as an AR-15 style assault rifle walked into the restaurant in Antioch, in suburban Nashville, shortly before 3:30 a.m. (0830 GMT).

The man “opened fire,” on the patrons, the Metro Nashville Police said in a statement on Twitter. “A patron wrestled away the gunman’s rifle,” the statement said.

Police told CNN the man shed his jacket before fleeing on foot.

At least one of the wounded was in critical condition at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, local media said.

Police were searching for the man early Sunday and it was unclear if he was armed with another weapon.

Local media reported that a second shooting nearby might be connected to this incident. The public was cautioned that the man is to be considered still armed and extremely dangerous.

 

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Macron to Give Trump Seedling From World War I Battle Site

French President Emmanuel Macron is bringing an environmentally friendly gift to the White House when he visits President Donald Trump this week: a tree sapling.

The young oak also has historical significance — it sprouted at a World War I battle site that became part of U.S. Marine Corps legend. Macron’s office said Sunday he hopes it will be planted in the White House gardens.

 

The oak sapling grew up near what’s known by the Marines as the Devil Dog fountain, in Belleau Wood. About 2,000 American troops died in the June 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood fighting the German spring offensive.

 

Macron arrives Monday in Washington for the Trump presidency’s first state visit. The two men have an unlikely friendship, despite strong differences on areas such as climate change.

 

 

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Statue Honors Firefighters Killed in Arizona Wildfire

A life-sized statue was unveiled Saturday honoring 19 members of a firefighting team known as the Granite Mountain Hotshots who died in a 2013 Arizona wildfire.

 

The statue was dedicated at a state memorial park established where all but one member of the team died in a canyon in mountains near Yarnell on June 30, 2013.

 

Matt Glenn of Provo, Utah-based Big Statues said Returning the Favor, a television show hosted by Mike Rowe, commissioned his team to make the bronze sculpture for the Wildland Firefighter Guardian Institute.

 

The institute, founded by survivors of two of the Hotshots, will formally turn over the 6-foot, 2-inch statue to the state during a May ceremony at the park 66 miles (106 kilometers) northwest of Phoenix. 

 

“They’re calling this a ‘soft unveil,’” Glenn said of the Saturday event.

 

The statue is in the parking area from which visitors can take a 3.5-mile trail to the site where the firefighters were trapped in a brush-choked canyon after shifting winds changed the direction of a lightning-sparked fire that burned 127 homes in Yarnell and two nearby communities.

 

The sole survivor of the team was a member stationed elsewhere as a lookout.

 

The statue is mounted on a pedestal with the names of the 19 firefighters and depicts a firefighter with a chain saw and other gear as he sizes up a wildfire, Glenn said during a telephone interview.

 

The design includes facial features of multiple fallen members of the Hotshots, Glenn said, explaining “I didn’t feel like it was proper to just represent one of the 19.”

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