Is North Korea pushing back against peace talks with the United States?


North Korea becomes less friendly, the U.S. moves an embassy to Jerusalem, and the White House has another busy week in this week’s politics roundup.

U.S. Embassy moves to Jerusalem

As promised, the United States moved its embassy within Israel from Tel Aviv to the far more contested city of Jerusalem. Israel’s declaration of the city as its “eternal capital,” while not exactly historically accurate, is provocation enough for others. The move sparked protests from Palestinians, whose country has been at odds with Israel for generations.

Palestine is a de jure sovereign government, meaning that it is a government in law, but not necessarily over a given piece of land. Much of the land that is currently claimed by the Palestinian government has been under Israeli control since the 1960s.

The conflict between Palestine and Israel has been so contentious and with such little real progress that few dare to hope for a peaceful and speedy resolution. Support of Israel, such as the recent embassy move, has cemented the United States as an enemy in many Palestinian communities.

However, while some groups point to the embassy move as the motivating factor for the border storming and subsequent deaths, the picture is inevitably more complicated. The Palestinian protesters were apparently urged to the act via messages from Hamas, the militant fundamentalist Islamic group. Numerous countries, including the United States, label Hamas as a terrorist organization.

Large numbers of Palestinian people attempted to cross into Israel via the Gaza Strip in protest, resulting in at least 60 deaths. Meanwhile, an hour’s drive away from the disastrous crossing, presidential advisor and daughter Ivanka Trump helped to unveil the new Jerusalem embassy. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared it to be “a glorious day.”

Korea talks might be in peril

It all seemed so promising for a moment there, didn’t it? After months of escalating rhetoric about war and nuclear weapons, it looked as if the United States and North Korea were finally ready to sit down and talk it out. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un even stepped into South Korean territory to shake hands with President Moon Jae-in. That was the first time a North Korean leader had ventured south across the contested border in more than 50 years.

Then, on Wednesday, North Korea threatened to leave the talks if the U.S. continued to insist on “unilateral nuclear abandonment”. That is, North Korea will walk if U.S. officials demand that Kim Jong-un’s government dismantle all of their nuclear weapons and weapons manufacturing.

The seemingly abrupt change followed a similar suspension of talks between North and South Korea. The North put off those talks over recent joint military drills including the United States and South Korea. Spokespeople pointed to similar demands made on Libya 15 years ago, which Kim deemed a “miserable fate.”

While U.S. officials claim that the talks will eventually proceed as planned, the fantasy of an easy resolution has crashed. Competing personalities on the U.S. side — including the hawkish national security adviser John Bolton, and the more moderate Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — further complicate matters. Pompeo had previously met with North Korean leaders, including a trip before he was confirmed as Secretary of the State Department.

Sadr emerges as front-runner in Iraq election

It’s hard to blame Iraqi politicians for being wary of America, but Muqtada al-Sadr has made something of a name for himself thanks to his anti-American sentiment. Even after U.S. troops withdrew from Iraq in 2011, Sadr stayed true to his rhetoric. Now, it seems to have paid off. Sadr has emerged as a front-runner in the upcoming Iraqi national elections.

Obviously, this complicates things for American forces operating within the region. The U.S. military has been working with smaller militias and similar groups to disseminate intelligence and training. It’s all in an effort to keep the supremely violent and virulently anti-American Islamic State from making a return to the region.

This is not to say that Sadr, if elected, will open the floodgates and allow brutal terrorists into his country. He is a former militia leader himself who (directly or indirectly) encouraged reprisal against both American troops and Islamic State extremists.

Sadr himself cannot become prime minister of Iraq. However, with his party gaining power, there is a decent chance that Sadr will have a significant voice in the selection of the PM. If nothing else, the shifting political forces in the nation point towards a growing populist movement, with Sadr at its head.

Checking in with the White House

It’s been a busy week for the White House staff, to say the least. Or, given recent events, it’s becoming more and more of a normal, if a pretty stressful week.

In the past seven days, we’ve seen the Senate Judiciary Committee release interviews regarding that June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian representatives.

Also, the president’s 2017 financial disclosure became public via the Office of Government Ethics. It appears that the president definitely did make a $130,000 payment to attorney Michael Cohen. Cohen himself paid that same amount to actress Stormy Daniels for her silence on an affair with the president. It’s enough to make you go hide under the couch cushions for a few minutes.

Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani, appearing as a talking head on CNN, claimed that the Mueller investigation couldn’t indict a sitting president. He cited conversations with Robert S. Mueller III’s legal team, currently involved in the Russia investigation.

Can you indict a president?

If this is the case — and perhaps it is smart to take intel from Rudy Giuliani with a grain or two of salt — then Mueller has limited options. If he finds evidence of presidential wrongdoing, he could essentially write a report to Congress, which could then use the information for impeachment proceedings. He might also write up the president as an unindicted co-conspirator. Of course, he may also find that nothing quite deserves an indictment.

So, why wouldn’t Mueller want to indict a sitting president? The legal ground here is pretty shaky. A president under indictment might not be able to complete their duties and exercise presidential power. The Department of Justice drafted guidelines outlining this issue in 1974 (and reaffirmed them in 2000). However, guidelines are not legally binding laws. The Mueller team is not obligated to stick to the guidelines, though they likely will.

Still, other obstacles to indictment remain. Threatening the current president with indictment might also make him reluctant to sit down for an interview. Removing that threat could, therefore, make that meeting all the more likely. It also pushes back against the “witch hunt” allegations leveled against the investigation.

Senate votes in favor of net neutrality

Lest you think all political news this week is part of some grim metaphorical landslide, there are some brighter moments to enjoy. Take the Senate’s vote in favor of net neutrality on Wednesday.

Specifically, the Senate approved a resolution that would turn back deregulation measures championed by the Federal Communications Commision. Back in December, the FCC voted to repeal its net neutrality rules. Without the rules, said opponents of the FCC vote, the internet could be subject to corporate whims dictating things such as internet speeds and who gets access to certain websites. For instance, large providers such as Comcast and Verizon might theoretically offer up higher speeds for higher fees, or block the websites of competitors.

Now, the measure moves on to the House of Representatives. Though it enjoyed bipartisan support in the Senate, the measure’s fate is now less certain. Some Representatives are reportedly working on their own revamp of the FCC rules. Others fall in line with FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who has painted the net neutrality rules as an example of government meddling.

And, finally, your palate cleanser

Little Women, the novel by Louisa May Alcott that follows the domestic lives of the four March sisters, turns 150 this year. Alcott herself wrote the novel and its sequels in an ultimately successful bid to get cash. Apparently, Alcott really preferred to write dramatic and occasionally bloody Gothic tales.

Well, at least she preferred those stories if they made money. It turns out that Alcott was a little obsessed with earning money. But perhaps that is understandable. She was a single woman trying to make a living as a writer in 19th century America.

Despite any ambivalence that Alcott felt towards her word, Little Women has become a classic. It might even be a little more radical than you remember. Readers worldwide see it as the literary equivalent of comfort food.

Next: John Oliver on Venezuela and its presidential troubles

In that spirit, check out this reminiscence on Little Women over at LitHub. You might also be interested in the BBC’s latest adaptation, though reviews are frankly pretty mixed.

Still, it seems cozy enough that, if you were persuaded inside by a rainstorm, it’s a good option.