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Foreign Policy

Pompeo Returning From North Korea With Prisoners, Trump Says



North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un shakes hands with then-CIA Director (now Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo during his Easter 2018 visit to Pyongyang. (White House Photo)

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2018 — Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on his way back from North Korea with the three Americans who’d been held captive in that country’s forced labor camps until recently, President Trump announced in a Wednesday morning tweet.

“I am pleased to inform you that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is in the air and on his way back from North Korea with the 3 wonderful gentlemen that everyone is looking so forward to meeting,” Trump wrote. “They seem to be in good health.” 

He added that he plans to meet the three Americans — Kim Hak-Song, Tony Kim and Kim Dong-Chul — on the Joint Base Andrews tarmac when Pompeo’s plane arrives there, which Trump said will happen around 2:00 am Thursday. He also noted that Pompeo had a “good meeting” with Kim, and again noted that a date and location for their upcoming summit had been set.

Trump “appreciates leader Kim Jong Un’s action to release these American citizens, and views this as a positive gesture of goodwill,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday in a statement. All three “appear to be in good condition and were all able to walk on the plane without assistance,” she added.

North Korean authorities arrested Dong-Chul in October 2015 and accused him of espionage against the Kim government, later sentencing him to a decade behind bars. The regime imprisoned Kim (no relation to the North Korean leader) and Hak-Song  last year after accusing them of “hostile acts.”

Trump has made false claims about Obama’s failure to secure their release

Trump has repeatedly claimed — falsely — that the Obama administration had failed to successfully negotiate for their release. But Kim and Hak-Song were both arrested during Trump’s presidency.

Another American prisoner wasn’t so lucky

The Kim regime often releases foreign prisoners ahead of major events as a strategy of garnering goodwill. But the last American released from captivity there wasn’t so lucky.

Last June North Korea released 22-year-old Otto Warmbier after holding him for 17 months. The University of Virginia student had been sentenced to 15 years of hard labor in March 2016 after authorities arrested him for attempting to steal a propaganda poster from a hotel, where he had been staying as part of a commercial tour. 

But Warmbier arrived home in a medical transport plane in a vegetative state — which Pyongyang attributed to botulism poisoning — and died shortly thereafter. 

However, Hamilton County Coroner Dr. Lakshmi Sammarco said Warmbier suffered extensive brain damage due to a lack of oxygen, but could not say how his injuries had occurred. 

“All we can do is theorize, and we hate to theorize without science backing us up,” Sammarco said in an interview with The New York Times.

(Last updated Wednesday, May 9 at 9:42 am with the addition of a statement from White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders)


Andrew Feinberg is the Managing Editor and lead Washington Correspondent for Breakfast Media, and covers the White House, Capitol Hill, courts and regulatory agencies for BeltwayBreakfast and He has written about policy and politics in the nation's capital since 2007.

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Foreign Policy

US Ambassador To UK Says Trump ‘Aware’ Of Giant Baby Blimp, Will Discuss Second Novichok Incident With May



Volunteers check over the 'Trump Baby' balloon in advance of his planned maiden flight during President Trump's inaugural visit to London

WASHINGTON, July 6, 2018 — The United States’ Ambassador to the United Kingdom says President Donald Trump is aware of the numerous protests set to greet him when he arrives in London next week, including the large balloon depicting him as a phone-toting baby set to fly over Parliament for the duration of his visit.

“I think we’re all aware [of the protests],” Ambassador Robert “Woody” Johnson said Friday during a conference call with reporters.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan initially denied permission for the “Trump Baby” balloon — the brainchild of a U.K.-based crowdfunding campaign — to fly over Parliament but reversed course after more than 100,000 people signed an online petition.

The balloon is six meters in height and depicts the president as a diaper-clad infant holding a smartphone.

President Trump, Johnson said, appreciates the value of free speech as “one of the things that bind us together” in both the U.S. and U.K., but will be “very focused” on making sure the relationship between the two countries is improved and that American prosperity and security are enhanced by this trip.

The president’s reliance on helicopters to get to and from various locations around London and the UK is not out of any desire to avoid his seeing protesters, Johnson explained.

While Johnson acknowledged that getting Trump to and from some of the various sites he will visit “requires being in the air,” he said that the president will “use various modes of transportation.”

Johnson says Trump and May ‘are on the same page’ concerning Russian malfeasance despite Trump’s history of downplaying it

Johnson also said he thinks that Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May “are on the same page” when it comes to Russia’s malign activities, including Russia’s use of the chemical agent Novichok to poison an ex-spy and his daughter earlier this year. Residual poison left over from that attack is thought to have been what caused a British couple to be similarly stricken this past week.

Trump “was very receptive to what happened” to Sergei and Yulia Skripal — the Russian father and daughter who were poisoned — and “expelled 60 spies or people or whatever you want to call them very rapidly,” he said, adding that he knew that Trump and May would be discussing the matter when they meet at Chequers, the British Prime Minister’s country retreat.

However, Johnson did not address the numerous media reports which indicated that Trump was displeased with having to expel more Russian diplomats than other countries in retaliation for the poisoning or the statements made by Trump in which he downplayed Russia’s involvement or cast doubt on whether Vladimir Putin’s government was involved in the incident at all.

Trump has consistently refused to criticize Russia or its president and consistently downplays the extent of its malign activities

Trump has a history of downplaying or minimizing Russian malign activities dating back to his 2016 campaign for the presidency, during which he responded to a TV interview question about Putin’s history of murdering journalists by suggesting the U.S. “has a lot of killers” as well.

Since taking office, Trump has repeatedly denied that Russia interfered on his behalf in the 2016 election despite reports affirming such a conclusion having been issued by the U.S. intelligence community and the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Russia’s international malfeasance also extends to its 2014 invasion of Ukraine. During an impromptu press conference last month, Trump suggested that the invasion — which was ordered by Putin — was actually the fault of then-President Barack Obama.

His reluctance to criticize Russia or Putin has continued through this month. During a July 5 campaign-style rally in Montana, Trump mocked critics who suggested that he should be wary of meeting with Putin, a former KGB officer, without any advisors or note takers.

“Putin’s fine,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s fine. We’re all fine. We’re people. Will I be prepared? Totally prepared. I’ve been preparing for this stuff my whole life.”

“Getting along with Russia, and getting along with China and getting along with other countries is a good thing,” he added, “not a bad thing.”

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Foreign Policy

Conway Tells Reporters ‘No Evidence’ Of Trump Plans To Withdraw US Troops From Germany Despite Reports That Pentagon Is Conducting Cost Analysis Of Withdrawal



Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway speaks at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2018 — Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway told reporters Friday that “there’s no evidence” of President Donald Trump wanting to pull American troops out of Germany despite a Washington Post report indicating that the Pentagon is examining the cost of doing just that.

“There’s no evidence of that,” Conway said after telling reporters “I will let you know” if there is any policy change regarding the military presence the United States has maintained in Germany since the end of the second world war.

On Friday, the Washington Post reported that the Pentagon began examining the cost of pulling American troops from bases in Germany after Trump expressed interest in doing so during a meeting with White House and Pentagon officials earlier this year.

Trump has often spoken negatively of the American military presence in Europe, which he says costs the U.S. millions of dollars and provides a security umbrella for which America’s European allies should be paying more.

An American withdrawal from Germany would be a boost to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ambitions to regain Russia’s Soviet-era sphere of influence.

Nevertheless, Trump has repeatedly invoked North Atlantic Treaty Organization members’ failure to spend two percent on their national defense as evidence that NATO members “owe” the United States for the cost of their protection, and incorrectly described NATO as an organization to which member states pay “dues.”

When asked why the Pentagon would be examining the cost of withdrawing American troops from there after Trump had expressed interest in doing so, Conway replied that “nobody said those reports are accurate,” adding that Trump “is always examining our relationships across the globe — you’ve seen that.”

“He’s about to have his second big summit in five or six weeks time, first with the leader of North Korea, now with the leader of Russia,” Conway added, suggesting that President Trump was being more transparent than his predecessor, former President Barack Obama, because the summit was announced in advance.

Conway then negatively compared this week’s announcement to when Obama was caught on a hot microphone telling Putin that he’d have more flexibility to discuss US-Russia relations after the 2012 election when any actions dealing with US-Russia relations would not be used for election-related attacks.

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Foreign Policy

After Meeting With North Korean Official, Trump Says Kim Summit Will Happen But Lowers Expectations



President Trump with North Korean Vice Chairman Kim Young Chol outside the South Portico of the White House (CNN screengrab)

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2018 — President Trump’s on-again, off-again June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is back on.

Trump emerged onto the South Portico of the White House to announce the summit’s un-cancelation following what he called a “very good” two-hour meeting with Kim Young Chol — the 35-year-old North Korean dictator’s number two and head of North Korea’s security services — to announce the summit he’d abruptly canceled last week would, in fact, go on as planned.

“We’re going to have a relationship, and it will start on June 12,” Trump told reporters following a round of photographs with the North Korean official in which the two were joined by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Trump’s Friday afternoon meeting with Kim Young Chol marked the first time in nearly two decades that a representative from Pyongyang — with which Washington has never had diplomatic relations — had entered the White House.

Although Chol was only supposed to have delivered a letter from Kim Jong Un, the Oval Office meeting — the first by a North Korean official since the Clinton administration — went on and on until the two men came out to face the cameras.

The meeting was also closed to the press, though the White House later released official photos depicting the two men in the Oval Office. However, BeltwayBreakfast does not publish White House photos of an event from which the press was excluded.

Friday’s events capped a week of intense speculation, which kicked off last Friday when the White House released a letter Trump dispatched to Kim in which he called off the summit, ostensibly on account of a belligerent statement from the North which referred to Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy.”

Trump had reportedly grown anxious over the possibility that Kim, who was thought to be upset at American officials’ insistence that the North denuclearize in the same way as Libyan dictator Moammar Gadaffi, would embarrass him by being the first to pull out.

The decision appeared to stun both American and Korean officials, including South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has staked his political career on improving relations with the North.

But with Trump, no decision is final until it is final, and by Monday, the White House announced that advance teams had flown to Singapore and Pyongyang to see if the summit could be salvaged. Shortly after, Pyongyang announced that Kim Young Chol would travel to New York for another set of talks.

Although Kim Young Chol is normally forbidden to enter the U.S. under sanctions on account of his role in the North’s nuclear program and massive human rights abuses, the Trump administration granted him a waiver to enter — and to travel to Washington to deliver his leader’s letter to Trump.

While Trump appeared visibly pleased to announce that it was back on, he also appeared to lower expectations regarding whether it would result in any concrete progress, telling reporters that he and Kim would not be signing any kind of denuclearization agreement.

“I never said it goes in one meeting,” Trump said. “I think it’ll be a process, but the relationships are building and that’s a good thing. We’re not going to go in and sign something on June 12, and we never were.”

The declaration that the summit would not result in any agreement marked a significant change for Trump, who had repeatedly stated that a condition for the summit was the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.

He also claimed to have read the”very interesting” letter Kim Young Chol had delivered, but later admitted that he hadn’t yet seen it.

Shortly after he boarded Marine One for a weekend visit to Camp David, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters that he’d subsequently opened the letter.

“He has read the letter, and will give further details if he wants,” Sanders said.


Correction: Paragraphs 4 and 5 of this story have been updated to reflect the fact that Kim Young Chol’s visit to Washington was the first such visit by a North Korean official in 18 years, not the first visit overall. We regret the error.

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