International

U.S. readying more Turkey sanctions unless detained American pastor is released

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin said Thursday that the United States is preparing more sanctions against Turkey if American pastor Andrew Brunson is not released from custody. “We have more that we’re planning to do if they don’t release him quickly,” he said. Mr. Mnuchin gave the update at a Cabinet meeting, where President Trump said Turkey is not turning out to be a great friend of the U.S. Mr. Trump said of the pastor, “He’s a very innocent man.” The administration sanctioned two top Turkish officials last week over the imprisonment of Mr. Brunson, who was released from jail last month but is still being detained on house arrest. Turkey has accused him of fomenting an attempted coup, but the U.S. says the charges are phony. Turkey is also seeking the extradition from the U.S. of a Muslim cleric whom it accuses of inciting the coup attempt.

North Korea Walks Out of Talks with South over Joint Drills with U.S.

North Korean state media reported on Wednesday local time that the nation’s senior diplomats would cancel scheduled high-level talks with South Korean counterparts, reportedly due to military drills Seoul had planned to execute with the United States. Pyongyang deployed high-level officials to both Seoul and Beijing this week. Ri Son-kwon, chairman of the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Country, was scheduled to meet with South Korean officials on Tuesday. Another group of unnamed senior officials reportedly landed in Beijing on Monday to continue discussions in anticipation of a planned meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, scheduled for June 12 in Singapore. On Wednesday local time (Tuesday afternoon in most of the United States), the South Korean outlet Yonhap reported that the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the government news outlet of the Kim regime, had published a report announcing that the inter-Korean talks would no longer occur. The report specifically cited the “Max Thunder” military drills being held jointly between South Korea and the United States as the reason for their backing out of the meeting. “This exercise targeting us, which is being carried out across South Korea and targeting us, is a flagrant challenge to the Panmunjom Declaration and an intentional military provocation running counter to the positive political development on the Korean Peninsula,” Yonhap quoted KCNA as saying. “The United States will also have to undertake careful deliberations about the fate of the planned North Korea-U.S. summit in light of this provocative military ruckus jointly conducted with the South Korean authorities.” Yonhap added that KCNA’s brief went on to call “into question whether next month’s summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump can go ahead as planned.” The meeting between Kim and Trump is expected to address “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” which Kim expressed a desire to see during his meeting with Moon on the border of their two countries. American officials have stated that they will not pursue regime change in North Korea and are open to giving financial incentives to the Kim regime to abandon its illegal nuclear weapons program, which it uses to threaten nuclear strikes on South Korea, the United States, and Japan on a regular basis. A report using satellite images on the website 38 North Monday found that North Korea has made significant moves towards shutting down its Punggye-ri Nuclear Test Site, the only such site in the country. Several buildings have been dismantled, and a new platform, perhaps to accommodate journalists, has been assembled at the site. KCNA announced Saturday it will invite international journalists to watch the shutdown of the site; skeptics believe the site is inoperable and a symbolic “shutdown” would cost Pyongyang little. Adding to confusion on Tuesday was the publication of a report by South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo revealing that North Korea has maintained a secret uranium enrichment facility independent of the supplies found at Punggye-ri. Joongang Ilbo reports that American intelligence sources are aware of the site and will demand that its contents be part of any deal to denuclearize the country, not simply the supplies currently known to exist. “Max Thunder” is the name given to two-week-long air drills by both militaries, which is typically a drill practiced as part of the larger Foal Eagle joint exercise but was removed from the schedule reportedly as a response to Kim Jong-un’s being open to meeting with both Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Both militaries openly stated they will hold this exercise in May, as they do every year. Yonhap reported on March 21 that the “Max Thunder drill will be held for two weeks from May 11, involving more than 100 Air Force jets of the allies,” leaving significant time between then and the Panmunjom summit with Moon Jae-in for Kim Jong-un to raise objections over these exercises. Yet this is the first major step North Korea has made to object to the exercises. Update: State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters during her regular press briefing on Tuesday that the KCNA report did not correspond to any private messages American officials have received: “We have not heard anything from that government or the government of South Korea to indicate that we would not continue conducting these exercises or that we would not continue planning for our meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un next month.”

We believe this is just posturing on the part of North Korea..  But, we’ll continue to monitor this developing story…

Anti-immigration SVP wins Swiss election in swing to right

The anti-immigration Swiss People’s Party (SVP) won the biggest share of the vote in Sunday’s national parliamentary election, projections showed, keeping pressure on Bern to introduce quotas on people moving from the European Union. Success for the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), coupled with gains made by the pro-business Liberal Party (FDP), led political commentators to talk of a “Rechtsrutsch” – a “slide to the right” – in Swiss politics. Immigration was the central topic for voters amid a rush of asylum seekers from the Middle East and North Africa to Europe. “The vote was clear,” SVP leader Toni Brunner told Swiss television. “The people are worried about mass migration to Europe.” Sunday’s result cements the SVP’s position as the dominant force in Swiss politics. The SVP won 29.5 percent of the vote, according to projections from Swiss broadcaster SRF, up from 26.6 percent in the 2011 vote and far exceeding expectations. This would translate into an extra 11 seats, bringing their total tally in the 200-member lower house to 65, the best result for any party in at least a century. The election gains for the SVP, which was already Switzerland’s biggest single party, come 20 months after the Swiss in a referendum backed limits on foreigners living in the Alpine nation. The SVP had strongly supported the restrictions. Lawmakers have until 2017 to reconcile this referendum result with an EU pact that guarantees the free movement of workers, otherwise the Swiss government must write quotas into law regardless of any compromise with the EU. The Swiss system of direct democracy means citizens decide most major issues in referenda regardless of parliament’s makeup. But the latest right-wing gains should keep pressure on Bern to take a hard line with Brussels as it seeks to implement the immigration referendum.

Normally we don’t cover internal political stories from other countries.  But, with the political disaster that just occurred with our friends to the north in Canada, and PM Harper being voted out of office…it’s interesting to see, by contrast, what is happening across the pond in Europe…especially with respect to the issue of immigration.  Immigration has taken center stage in Switzerland where the SVP has made immigration it’s #1 platform issue.  And, not so ironically, the SVP is now the largest single party in Swiss politics in over a CENTURY; before WWI!  The good people of Switzerland are seeing the disaster in Germany with their taking in hundreds of thousands of people from middle eastern countries (and the consequences that brings) all at once, and they don’t want any of that nonsense. Certainly can’t blame them!  So, wisely, the Swiss people want to see immigration controlled and/or halted altogether.  Here in America, we could follow Switzerland’s lead and try to dig ourselves out of the mess we’re in, or follow the current fate of Germany.  We’ll be keeping an eye on both..