DPRK starts dismantling rocket site
North Korea appears to have started dismantling facilities at a rocket launch test site known as Sohae, according to new satellite imagery. Pyongyang has maintained that the facility, which sits on North Korea’s north-western coast, is a satellite launching station. It remains unclear whether Pyongyang plans to raze the whole site, which US President Donald J. Trump said North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had told him he would dismantle.
While analysts say the move may signal North Korea is taking steps to build confidence and fulfil commitments made at a June summit between the North Korean and US leaders in Singapore, they also caution that the dismantlement work at the Sohae site is reversible. Additionally, Pyongyang has not taken steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons.
‘Since these facilities are believed to have played an important role in the development of technologies for the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile program, these efforts represent a significant confidence building measure on the part of North Korea,’ opines Joseph S. Bermudez Jr. in his article for 38 North.
‘Sohae’s engine test stand is moot at this point, and DPRK could easily build another if they decide to test new designs. Instead, we should be looking for DPRK locations where more missiles and the means to launch them (TELs) are being assembled. We ignored North Korea too long, and now it’s about managing how many nuclear weapons and delivery systems they have, not if they have them,’ says Melissa Hanham of the James Martin Centre for Non-proliferation Studies in his recent tweet.
Middle East & North Africa
US President Donald J. Trump threatened Iran with ‘consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered’ in an all-caps tweet Sunday evening after the Iranian president warned the US not to incite Iranians against their government.
President Hassan Rouhani’s remarks, reported by state news yesterday, came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Iran’s leadership of corruption and human rights abuses, saying the government ‘resembles a mafia.’ The escalation in heated rhetoric follows the US decision to withdraw from the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement and re-impose sanctions; the first round of banking sanctions suspended under the deal is set to come back into effect in several weeks.
‘Iran’s regional adventurism in conflicts such as those in Syria and Yemen, mismanagement of the economy, and rampant corruption have cost the regime between $7 billion and $15 billion at a time when the country’s needs are becoming ever more pressing,’ writes Ray Takeyh for the Council of Foreign Relations.
‘For Trump to deride Tehran as a mafia state while courting the leaders of Russia and North Korea is bit rich,’ Simon Jenkins states in his analysis for the Guardian.
Sub Saharan Africa
South Sudan’s warring leaders agree to share power again
South Sudan’s warring leaders have agreed to share power once again in the latest effort to end a five-year civil war, officials announced on Wednesday. This came just days after the US said that it was ‘sceptical’ the two men whose rivalry has killed tens of thousands could lead the way to peace.
South Sudan’s information minister, Michael Makuei Lueth, announced the agreement between President Salva Kiir and armed opposition leader Riek Machar to reporters in Sudan’s capital, Khartoum. The agreement initialled Wednesday will be signed on 5th of August.
Ethiopian Prime Minister calls for multiparty democracy
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has said his country must seek a path to greater democracy through strong institutions that ‘respect the rule of law.’ Although Ethiopia allows competing parties, the country has been ruled by a single coalition, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front, since it rose to power in 1991.
Abiy’s favorable comment on multiparty democracy in Ethiopia follows the government’s decision to lift a ban on opposition groups that were considered terrorist groups. These efforts to strengthen the country’s democracy could make the 2020 elections much more competitive and could mean a profound change in Africa’s second most populous nation.
US and EU ease trade tensions
The US and the European Union appeared to walk back from the brink of a costly trade battle yesterday, with both sides agreeing to hold off on imposing more tariffs as they work through various differences.
At a White House press conference, President Donald J. Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker pledged a new round of discussions aimed at removing tariffs and other barriers to transatlantic trade. In addition, the leaders said the European Union will buy more US natural gas and soybeans. ‘This was a very big day for free and fair trade,’ said President Trump. The meeting was expected to lay the groundwork for months of trade talks.
‘If all the threatened Trump tariffs take effect, and the targeted countries respond with the expected retaliatory tariffs on American exports, everyone will lose. Fortunately, the global financial markets will act as a safety net,’ states Roger C. Altman in an article for the Wall Street Journal.
‘The international trading order is confronting its deepest crisis to date. The threat of a global trade war is looming over us. Some now believe it is time to pull the plug on 70 years of trade diplomacy and pursue trade goals by other means. There is no doubt that if this happens, it will be the public that takes the hit,’ opines EU Trade Chief Cecilia Malmstrom in a piece for the Financial Times.
‘Given Trump’s mercurial nature, it is not yet clear that this rapprochement will last. But there is reason for cautious optimism. The Trump administration has expressed openness to lifting its recent tariff hikes on imported European steel and aluminium, and this small gesture appears to have yielded dividends,’ states Reihan Salam in his analysis for the Atlantic.
New Zealand urges Australia to find a new flag
New Zealand’s acting prime minister has called on Australia to create a new flag after accusing the neighbouring country of copying theirs. Winston Peters, who is the acting Prime Minister while Jacinda Arden is on leave of absence, brought up the point while speaking to TVNZ on Tuesday.
Peter was of the opinion that, ‘we had a flag that we have had for a long time, copied by Australia, and they should actually change their flag and honour the fact that we got there first with this design.’
Tensions have already run high between the two countries after Australia began deporting New Zealand nationals who were convicted of crimes. ‘When you’re in a foreign country, you’re expected to obey their laws, but someone should be tried before they are evicted from a country,’ Peter was quoted as saying.
US receives remains from the Korean War
North Korea returned what it said were the remains of 55 Americans killed during the 1950–53 Korean War to the US. The White House said the move is signalling positive change in Pyongyang and could serve as momentum for diplomacy over North Korean denuclearization.
The remains were taken on a US transport plane to South Korea before being moved to Hawaii for analysis. Some 7,700 US soldiers who fought in the Korean War are still officially missing, and the remains of more than five thousand of them are believed to be in North Korea.
‘Although POW/MIA (prisoners of war/missing-in-action) remains recovery would appear to be an easy humanitarian confidence building step completely unrelated to American denuclearization demands, working-level communication regarding the handover has become an example of the depth of distrust between the two sides,’ writes Scott A. Snyder for the Council of Foreign Relations.
‘The end state on the Korean Peninsula and the path followed to get to that end state must leave the US in a stronger position in the region vis-à-vis China, without turning a rising China into an adversary,’ Ferial Saeed opines for War on the Rocks.
‘The scale of the problem faced by [nuclear weapons] inspectors is immense and unprecedented. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has 300 inspectors. The large number of facilities poses a daunting challenge let alone all barriers and impediments North Koreans are likely to put up,’ Kim Chong Woo and Ham Geon Hee state in their piece for the Asian Institute for Policy Studies.