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Trump teeters on the edge of a familiar North Korean trap



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Trump touts 'positive' Korea talks but wants action

But as a thaw takes hold ahead of the first North Korea-South Korea summit in a decade[1], Trump could be about to be dragged down the same frustrating, illusory and inconclusive diplomatic path as his predecessors.
As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un skillfully maneuvers to split Washington and Seoul, and plays out an intricate strategic dance that could draw in crucial powers Russia and China, Trump has little option but to watch.
To do anything else would splinter the US-South Korean alliance — which will be crucial to solving the nuclear crisis — and could fracture global pressure on Pyongyang and put the US on a glide path toward a horrendous war.

But by allowing the diplomacy to unfold, Trump risks being played in the same old game of North Korean brinkmanship and provocations followed by offers of dialogue and trawls for concessions that have tripped up past presidents.
“This should have been handled over many years by many different administrations — not now. This was not the right time to handle it,” Trump said. “But these are the cards we were dealt. We’re handling it properly.”

History repeats?

The President is keenly aware of the challenge he faces, and the risk that he, for all his bluster and warnings that this time it will be different, could fall into a familiar trap.
“I think that their statement and the statements coming out of South Korea and North Korea have been very positive,” Trump said Tuesday, after Pyongyang conveyed a message through the South that it was ready to talk about denuclearization, the key US demand.
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Trump also said the sanctions his administration had put in place in conjunction with China had been “very, very strong and very biting,” but offered an unusually hopeful assessment of the North Korean attitude.
“I think that they are sincere. … I hope they’re sincere. We’re going to soon find out,” he said.
Trump’s circumspection contrasted with his inflammatory rhetoric threatening “fire and fury” over North Korea and demeaning putdowns of Kim as “Little Rocket Man,” which put the world on edge last year.

Shifting gears

His approach Tuesday was nuanced and tempered, clearly calibrated to send messages to North and South Korea and China in particular. He welcomed the recent opening and apparent North Korean shifts, while registering appropriate skepticism, but was careful to avoid killing off all hope.
His rhetoric was also noticeably lacking in the brash triumphalism and grasping for credit that are a familiar part of his political style — after all the White House could justifiably argue that its policy of imposing the most rigorous sanctions in history on North Korea, along with more buy-in from China than ever before, has directly led to the diplomatic breakthrough.
His critics hope that even Trump, no respecter of presidential convention or protocol, is starting to be sobered by the awful prospect of a war on the Korean Peninsula that could mean death for hundreds of thousands of civilians and thousands of US troops and would send a shock wave through the world’s geopolitical system.

What does Trump want?

While the President was conciliatory, senior US officials worked behind the scenes to convey that there had been no moderation of the hardline US position.
A senior official told reporters that the US wants “credible moves” toward denuclearization from North Korea before agreeing to direct talks. The official also said that planned joint military exercises between the US and South Korea would go ahead.
The comment on the North’s nuclear program was in effect a response to a message conveyed by Seoul’s national security chief, Chung Eui-yong, after talks with Kim that Pyongyang was willing to talk to the US about giving up its nuclear weapons.
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The White House strategy appears to be an attempt to give South Korean President Moon Jae-in space to work his initiative, But if he fails, US deference and encouragement at the outset could spare the Trump administration from being blamed, and so preserve the loose international coalition against the North.

Skepticism in DC

It’s no surprise that skepticism is high in Washington over the offer. After all, the North agreed in 1994 and 2005 to give up its nuclear arsenal and cheated on the agreement both times.
“Maybe this is a breakthrough. I seriously doubt it,” Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said. “But like I said, hope springs eternal.”
Robert Gallucci, who negotiated President Bill Clinton’s 1994 Agreed Framework deal with North Korea, warned that Pyongyang’s word had proved to be worth little in the past.
“We made a deal with the North and they gave up the program. They then pursued secretly a program using highly enriched uranium with the Pakistanis,” he told CNN.
Christopher Hill, a former US North Korea negotiator who also served as ambassador to Seoul, was also loath to proclaim a breakthrough but said the opening was worth pursuing.
“I never combine optimism and North Korea in the same thought,” Hill told CNN International’s Robyn Curnow on Tuesday. “I think we also need to avoid … irrational exuberance but I think we also need to avoid sounding negative and churlish about it.”
Pessimism in Washington is rooted in suspicions that the North is simply playing for time, may be seeking some relief from sanctions without offering real concessions and is maneuvering to weaken Chinese resolve.
Its offer to halt nuclear and missile tests during the talks could simply signal that its program has advanced to such a stage that no current testing flights are necessary or planned. US experts are also waiting to see whether Pyongyang proposes steps that Washington has already ruled out, such as withdrawing US troops from the Korean Peninsula.

Empty seats at US table

The accelerating pace of the diplomacy between North and South Korea also risks catching Washington off-guard because it hardly has a crack team of negotiators steeped in Pyongyang’s strategy at the ready.
The administration has failed to appoint an ambassador to one of its most crucial posts — the embassy in Seoul — despite being in office for over a year.
One candidate for the post, Victor Cha, was told by the White House that he didn’t make the cut. In a subsequent Washington Post opinion piece[5], he expressed opposition to a reported White House study on the feasibility of a limited US military strike on North Korea.
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Last week, the administration’s North Korea negotiator, Joseph Yun, announced his retirement. The bench is thin in an administration that has often seemed to spurn the intricacies of diplomacy. The staffing shortages dampen any talk that shrewd US diplomatic strategy brought about the Korean thaw, though Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has tried to keep the door for dialogue open, despite being told last year by Trump that he was wasting his time.
As Trump risks falling into a familiar pattern when it comes to US presidents and North Korea, he is also going to come up against an equation that has confronted his predecessors, who concluded that the consequences of a war on the Korean Peninsula would be so horrific that even imperfect diplomacy turns into a default position.
“Dialogue is a good thing and any way to defuse tensions or miscommunication or miscalculation by the US or South Korea or North Korea are good things,” Jung H. Pak a former CIA analyst who’s now at the Brookings Institution, said on CNN’s “Amanpour.”
“But I think we are all clear that we want to go into this with wide eyes.”

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Houston Recalls Legacy of George Bush, Its Lone Star Yankee and Senior Booster



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HOUSTON — Inside the airport that bears his name, George Herbert Walker Bush looks, at a distance, as if he’s wearing a cape.

An 8-foot-tall bronze statue at the Houston airport shows Mr. Bush, who , Barbara Bush[4], who died in April at the age of 92. After Mr. Bush’s death on Friday, Houston lost its two most famous residents in the span of seven months.

“George H.W. Bush served with valor and integrity as the 41st president of the United States,” Houston’s mayor, Sylvester Turner, said in a statement. “But to Houstonians he was one of our most esteemed and relatable neighbors. He and his wife, Barbara Bush, were our sports teams’ biggest fans, and boosters for everything Houston.”

This was the man whose most memorable quote in years had to do with men’s hosiery. In 2012, as his fondness for wearing bright eye-catching socks was going strong, he explained that he simply “likes a good sock.” At his wife’s funeral at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Mr. Bush wore a pair of socks with a colorful stack-of-books design, a tribute to Mrs. Bush’s advocacy work for family literacy.

In Houston and its surrounding suburbs, Mr. Bush had not only an airport in his name but a park, a high school and a few more life-size statues. Above Buffalo Bayou, a bronze statue of Mr. Bush looks out into the distance with his hand in his pocket, gazing at, of all things, James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state and Mr. Bush’s tennis partner at the Houston Country Club. The statues of the two close friends face each other in the downtown park, separated by about 100 yards, in Houston’s oddest and longest-running staring contest.

“All I can do now,” Mr. Bush told The New York Times in 2011 about the statue, “is hope that the pigeons will be kind and gentle.”

Charles C. Foster, a Houston immigration lawyer and a longtime friend of the Bush family, came up with the idea for the George H.W. Bush Monument, which was unveiled in 2004. Mr. Foster recalled the day he sat in Mr. Bush’s office at 10000 Memorial Drive and asked for his blessing for the project.

Mr. Bush in 1970, when he was a congressman.CreditAssociated Press

“He looked at me and he sort of looked up at the ceiling,” Mr. Foster said. “He pointed to the ceiling and said, ‘Shouldn’t you wait until I’m up there?’ And then he said, pointing downward, ‘Or perhaps down there?’”

In 1990, Mr. Bush helped turn the eyes of the world to Houston.

As president, he brought thousands of reporters and foreign dignitaries to Houston that summer for the Economic Summit of Industrialized Nations, an annual gathering of the world’s economic powers. The summits had been held in a number of global cities — London, Tokyo, Paris, Venice — and Mr. Bush made the case that his adopted hometown belonged among such world-class company.

Houston was scrappier back then. The city was rebounding from an oil bust in the 1980s that crippled the economy, and it tried hard to present its best, and cleanest, face to the cameras and the visitors, picking up millions of pounds of trash, repaving roads and enlisting the aid of 12,000 volunteers.

“That was huge for Houston,” Mr. Foster said of the 1990 summit. “When the president had a chance, he could have picked some mountain retreat. But he picked his hometown. He was well aware of the chip on our shoulders that we didn’t feel like Houston got the recognition that it should.”

Now, with 2.3 million residents (compared with 1.6 million in 1990), Houston is the fourth-largest city in America, known as much for its diversity as its energy-capital status. George Bush High School, part of the Fort Bend school district, is 43 percent Hispanic, 38 percent black, 12 percent Asian and 4 percent white. More than 90 languages and dialects are spoken in the district.

Early Saturday morning in the upscale Tanglewood area, Houstonians paused at the gates at South Post Oak Lane and North West Oak Drive — the entrance to the gated community where Mr. Bush lived. Someone draped an American flag in the center of the gates, decorated for the holidays with Christmas wreaths.

Shirley Matthews, 66, a lifelong Houstonian who lives nearby, walked up and took a picture of the memorial for her mother. “He was just a good person,” she said. “He wasn’t perfect. But it’s family, and we love each other.”


  1. ^ died at his home here on Friday (
  2. ^ Read the obituary of George H.W. Bush. (
  3. ^ the funeral for his wife (
  4. ^ Barbara Bush (

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A Close Race, a Mysterious Ballot and Control of Alaska’s House at Stake



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With a crucial legislative seat in Alaska teetering toward a tie earlier this month, lawmakers in Juneau braced for the possibility of a coin toss deciding control of the state’s House of Representatives. Then a mysterious extra ballot emerged that threw the process into further disarray.

Amid several counts, the latest coming on Friday afternoon, a single ballot drew scrutiny across the state.

The state’s review board certified the race, between Kathryn Dodge, a Democrat, and Bart LeBon, a Republican, as a tie earlier this week, with exactly 2,661 votes going to each candidate. The extra ballot, for Ms. Dodge, could have settled the race for the Fairbanks-area district seat.

Later on Friday, the mystery appeared to have been solved — but the standoff over who won the election continued.

Samantha Miller, a spokeswoman for the state elections office, said that workers at Fairbanks’s No. 6 precinct told officials that a woman had come into the polling place to request a special needs ballot on behalf of her husband, who was outside in a vehicle.

The woman came back into the precinct. Her husband had made a mistake, she told the precinct worker, and needed a new ballot. She left behind the one he had already marked, thus making it a spoiled ballot.

The precinct chair told the worker who took the spoiled ballot to put it into a secrecy sleeve, “and that they would deal with it later in the day,” Ms. Miller said.

But instead, the spoiled ballot was put into a compartment with other questioned ballots.

Typically, Ms. Miller said, spoiled ballots are destroyed once they are accounted for. So, because the mystery ballot was found to be spoiled, it will not be counted, she said.

Still, that left the question of what happens if the recount that began on Friday afternoon ends in a tie — again.

Ms. Miller said that both candidates had five days to file a legal challenge to the results. And if the court decided the recount went as it should have, and the race was still a tie?

The prevailing candidate would be determined “by lot,” Ms. Miller said. “It could be a coin toss or some other way of deciding, as long as it’s random.”

It would not be the first time an Alaska race was determined by coin toss.

In 2006, State Representative Bryce Edgmon[1], a Democrat from Dillingham, beat the incumbent, Carl Moses. Mr. Moses’s name was drawn, so he got to make the call: Heads.

The state’s elections director at the time flipped an Alaska Mint medallion — the side with a walrus being heads and the side with the state seal being tails. It landed state seal side up.

Ms. Miller would not speculate about when the recount would be complete, but said both candidates were present, along with observers and officials.

Mr. LeBon did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

Sara Harriger, a spokeswoman for Ms. Dodge, said in a statement that during Friday’s recount, one additional vote was found for Ms. Dodge and a challenged ballot was allowed for her opponent, Mr. LeBon, which meant that the tally stood at 2,662 apiece. Still tied.

Ms. Dodge said in a statement that she believed every legally cast ballot should be counted. “I just want everyone watching this process to take away a sense of confidence in our democratic system and a commitment to cast their votes in future races,” she said, “and knowing that their votes will matter.”

Ms. Dodge had said earlier on Friday that legal action “unfortunately” seemed probable.

“It’s certainly not what any of us expect when we set out to campaign, to find ourselves in a squeaker of this nature,” she said. “I hope we don’t have a coin toss. I don’t know quite what to say, but it doesn’t feel like it’s an appropriate way to settle an election.”

In Alaska, the repercussions of this race will be felt into the next legislative session, though party control of the House in Juneau will be far from clear-cut.

Political coalitions in Juneau do not always come down to party-line votes like in other state houses. Even if Ms. Dodge wins the race, Democrats would still not have an outright majority, and so members of the House will still be tasked with negotiating a coalition majority.


  1. ^ Bryce Edgmon (

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3 Killed After Pickup Truck Fleeing Border Patrol Hits Tire Spikes and Crashes



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Three people in a packed pickup truck were killed on Thursday afternoon after the driver ran over tire spikes and crashed on a Southern California highway while trying to flee Border Patrol officers, the authorities said.

The officers turned on their vehicle’s emergency lights and began chasing the pickup truck on Interstate 8, near Boulevard, Calif., at around 4:20 p.m., according to the United States Customs and Border Protection. The authorities said they believed that the pickup truck had been illegally driven over the southern border and had crashed through an “iron bar vehicle barrier.” They said they identified it by matching a piece that was missing from the truck to one agents had spotted on the ground near the border, though they did not elaborate.

The pickup truck reached speeds of over 100 miles per hour, weaving between cars and bypassing others on the side of the highway, before it drove over spikes that the Border Patrol had placed on the road, the California Highway Patrol said. About a mile later, the truck spun out of control and flipped over, ejecting the nine people who were riding in the truck’s bed, the authorities said.

A woman inside the truck, who was not wearing a seatbelt, was killed, as were two people riding in the bed, the police said. Seven people who had “multiple serious injuries” were taken to the hospital, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection said.

The driver, a United States citizen whose name was not released, was the only person wearing a seatbelt, the agency said. The California Highway Patrol took the man into custody, but it was not clear whether he had been charged. The identities of the passengers in the truck have not been released either.

“The investigation into the smuggling incident is ongoing,” the spokesman said in an email, “and the Border Patrol is fully cooperating with the CHP in their investigation of the collision.”

About an hour after the crash, the Border Patrol stopped another vehicle that officers believed had crossed over the border with the pickup truck, the agency said. The driver of that car was also arrested.

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