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Russia Eyes Restrictions on US Imports in Response to Tariffs

Russia will likely prepare a list of restrictions on imported products from the United States in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum, Moscow’s trade ministry said on Friday, according to Interfax news agency.

The announcement came after China threatened to retaliate to U.S. President Donald Trump’s measures, stoking fears of a looming global trade war.

“We will prepare our position, submit it to the Economy Ministry and apply to the WTO [the World Trade Organization],” Russia’s Deputy Trade Minister, Viktor Yevtukhov, said, according to Interfax.

“We will probably prepare proposals on the response measures. Restrictions against the American goods. I think that all countries will follow this path,” Yevtukhov added.

The United States has said the tariffs are needed to protect its national security and therefore do not need to be cleared by the WTO. Many trade experts disagree saying they fall under the jurisdiction of the Geneva-based global trade body.

Russian steel and aluminum producers have been playing down the potential impact of the U.S. tariffs. But Russia’s Trade Ministry said there would be an impact.

Russian steel and aluminum producers may lose $2 billion and $1 billion, respectively, from the U.S. tariffs introduction, Yevtukhov said, citing preliminary estimates for the Trade Ministry. It was not clear whether he was referring to annual losses.

China’s commerce ministry said on Friday that the country was planning measures against up to $3 billion of U.S. imports to balance the steel and aluminum tariffs, with a list of 128 U.S. products that could be targeted.

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McCain’s Absence Weighs on US Senate Colleagues

At a time when the norms of American political discourse are being rewritten and some democratic institutions are undergoing a stress test, Republican Senator John McCain’s absence is keenly felt on Capitol Hill and beyond, fellow senators across the political spectrum told VOA.

“We miss him terribly,” independent Angus King of Maine said. “His voice is so clear and so well-grounded. He’s the conscience of the nation right now.”

“We miss his leadership,” North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis said. “If you think about Senator McCain — his independence, his historic maverick stance — he stretches everybody’s thinking.”

“He is a force of conviction and conscience,” Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said, adding that McCain is particularly needed on matters pertaining to Russia.

“The president’s [Donald Trump’s] abject failure to defend our national security interests against the Russians — John McCain’s voice would carry such weight. He is just a force of nature when it comes to our national defense and security,” Blumenthal said.

​Longtime senator

McCain, who has represented Arizona in the Senate since 1987, has been absent since December while receiving treatment for brain cancer. His office is not predicting when or whether he might return.

Known for fiery floor speeches, McCain’s public communication in recent months has come via Twitter. He recently defended Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia probe, and blasted Trump’s outreach to his Russian counterpart.

“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election,” McCain tweeted.

Such statements earn particular praise from Senate Democrats.

“We’re grappling with whether we cozy up to a foreign adversary,” Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine said. “He has a gravitas that is in short supply. The Senate could use more John McCains, not fewer.”

Republicans are more apt to laud McCain’s leadership on national defense as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“During Senate debates, like earlier this week on our role in Yemen, he ordinarily would be in the thick of that,” the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said. “These days it seems like the loudest voice is the one people listen to. John McCain has credibility because of his experience and his passion for national security that very few people can compete with.”

Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe has led the Armed Services Committee in McCain’s absence and is the first to acknowledge he has big shoes to fill, taking over from a man who fought in the Vietnam War, endured more than five years as a prisoner of war, and rose to become his party’s presidential nominee in 2008.

“There is no one [currently serving in the Senate] who has a background like he has,” Inhofe said. “There is something about the sacrifices he has made that sets him apart and beyond the rest of us. I know the things he went through that I didn’t go through.”

Senate votes

Without McCain, the Republican Party’s 51-seat Senate majority has effectively been reduced to 50 in the 100-member chamber. But sources close to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky noted that missing a member has not altered the outcome of any major vote so far this year.

“One senator’s absence on our side is not affecting our workload on any of the issues,” a McConnell aide said.

McCain’s votes have been but one element of his impact on Capitol Hill, according to senators of both parties.

“It goes beyond his vote,” Tillis said. “If you listen to him, sometimes you change your mind. Every once in a while, you try to change his, but I think he’s got a higher score [in changing minds].”

“John McCain calls it the way he sees it. He has a strong moral compass and a real love for this country,” Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin said. “We disagree on a lot of issues, and we agree on a lot of issues. Great leader and a person you could always rely upon to stand by what’s right for our country. Not what’s popular, but what’s right.”

Medical experts say the prognosis is grim for the aggressive form of brain cancer McCain is battling — something many of his colleagues in the Senate find difficult to acknowledge.

“I just wish he were here. I’m still counting on seeing him again here,” Blumenthal said.

“He’s a fighter. I hold out hope that he’ll be back strong as ever,” Cardin said.

On March 18, McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, tweeted what appears to be the most recent photo of her father.

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McCain’s Absence Weighs on US Senate Colleagues

At a time when the norms of American political discourse are being rewritten and some democratic institutions are undergoing a stress test, Republican Senator John McCain’s absence is keenly felt on Capitol Hill and beyond, fellow senators across the political spectrum told VOA.

“We miss him terribly,” independent Angus King of Maine said. “His voice is so clear and so well-grounded. He’s the conscience of the nation right now.”

“We miss his leadership,” North Carolina Republican Thom Tillis said. “If you think about Senator McCain — his independence, his historic maverick stance — he stretches everybody’s thinking.”

“He is a force of conviction and conscience,” Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut said, adding that McCain is particularly needed on matters pertaining to Russia.

“The president’s [Donald Trump’s] abject failure to defend our national security interests against the Russians — John McCain’s voice would carry such weight. He is just a force of nature when it comes to our national defense and security,” Blumenthal said.

​Longtime senator

McCain, who has represented Arizona in the Senate since 1987, has been absent since December while receiving treatment for brain cancer. His office is not predicting when or whether he might return.

Known for fiery floor speeches, McCain’s public communication in recent months has come via Twitter. He recently defended Robert Mueller, the special counsel in the Russia probe, and blasted Trump’s outreach to his Russian counterpart.

“An American president does not lead the Free World by congratulating dictators on winning sham elections. And by doing so with [Russian President] Vladimir Putin, President Trump insulted every Russian citizen who was denied the right to vote in a free and fair election,” McCain tweeted.

Such statements earn particular praise from Senate Democrats.

“We’re grappling with whether we cozy up to a foreign adversary,” Virginia Democrat Tim Kaine said. “He has a gravitas that is in short supply. The Senate could use more John McCains, not fewer.”

Republicans are more apt to laud McCain’s leadership on national defense as chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“During Senate debates, like earlier this week on our role in Yemen, he ordinarily would be in the thick of that,” the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, John Cornyn of Texas, said. “These days it seems like the loudest voice is the one people listen to. John McCain has credibility because of his experience and his passion for national security that very few people can compete with.”

Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe has led the Armed Services Committee in McCain’s absence and is the first to acknowledge he has big shoes to fill, taking over from a man who fought in the Vietnam War, endured more than five years as a prisoner of war, and rose to become his party’s presidential nominee in 2008.

“There is no one [currently serving in the Senate] who has a background like he has,” Inhofe said. “There is something about the sacrifices he has made that sets him apart and beyond the rest of us. I know the things he went through that I didn’t go through.”

Senate votes

Without McCain, the Republican Party’s 51-seat Senate majority has effectively been reduced to 50 in the 100-member chamber. But sources close to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky noted that missing a member has not altered the outcome of any major vote so far this year.

“One senator’s absence on our side is not affecting our workload on any of the issues,” a McConnell aide said.

McCain’s votes have been but one element of his impact on Capitol Hill, according to senators of both parties.

“It goes beyond his vote,” Tillis said. “If you listen to him, sometimes you change your mind. Every once in a while, you try to change his, but I think he’s got a higher score [in changing minds].”

“John McCain calls it the way he sees it. He has a strong moral compass and a real love for this country,” Maryland Democrat Ben Cardin said. “We disagree on a lot of issues, and we agree on a lot of issues. Great leader and a person you could always rely upon to stand by what’s right for our country. Not what’s popular, but what’s right.”

Medical experts say the prognosis is grim for the aggressive form of brain cancer McCain is battling — something many of his colleagues in the Senate find difficult to acknowledge.

“I just wish he were here. I’m still counting on seeing him again here,” Blumenthal said.

“He’s a fighter. I hold out hope that he’ll be back strong as ever,” Cardin said.

On March 18, McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, tweeted what appears to be the most recent photo of her father.

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Conservative Bolton Has Long Been a Trump Favorite

John Bolton, chosen by President Donald Trump late Thursday to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, is a career lawyer and diplomat who has long been on the president’s short list to join the administration.

The lifelong conservative has taken hawkish public stances on such issues as North Korea’s nuclear program. In February, he told VOA’s Korean service that Pyongyang’s recent overtures aimed at renewing talks on the issue were “simply a continuation of their propaganda strategy. I mean, we’ve been down that road several times before, and it’s failed every time.”

Bolton has also been critical of South Korea’s “sunshine policy” regarding the North.

“I think we’ve run out of time” in the effort to prevent Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons that could hit the United States, he told VOA. But rather than the U.S. taking defensive action, he said, he hoped the U.S. could persuade China “to do something that might eliminate the need for it.”

When questioned about a possible role in the Trump administration, however, Bolton kept mum. “I never comment on those kinds of questions,” he said.

At present, Bolton is a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a senior adviser for a capital management firm, and a Fox News commentator. He is involved with several conservative policy institutes and lobbying groups, including the National Rifle Association, and he serves on the board of directors for EMS Technologies, a Georgia wireless company that has been a subcontractor on Department of Defense projects.

Bolton served in the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and held roles in the Justice and State departments, making use of his legal and security expertise.

Most recently, he served as the 25th U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under the George W. Bush administration.

​Critical of U.N.

Although he was a U.N. ambassador, Bolton has openly criticized the international organization as ineffective. His tenure at the United Nations lasted from August 2005 to December 2006. His was a recess appointment, meaning he did not have to undergo a Senate confirmation process. Bolton left his position when the appointment ended; he was seen as unlikely to win confirmation by the Democratic-majority Senate that took office in January 2007.

A public figure since the 1980s, Bolton is known for arguing against enforcement of a U.N. biological weapons convention in 2001, saying the agreement would put U.S. national security at risk by opening suspected U.S. weapons sites to inspections.

In a 2003 speech while serving in an arms control and international security post in the State Department, Bolton described North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a “tyrannical dictator” and added that for North Koreans under Kim’s leadership, “life is a hellish nightmare.”

Bolton has said in a memoir that his “happiest moment” at the State Department was removing U.S. support from the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court.

In 2009, Bolton proposed a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Gaza would be placed under Egyptian control and the West Bank would become part of Jordan.

Bolton has publicly considered running for president but has never actively campaigned. He has long been a Trump favorite and was considered for the position of national security adviser before it went to H.R. McMaster in February 2017. The national security adviser’s position does not require Senate confirmation.

VOA’s Korean service contributed to this report.

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Conservative Bolton Has Long Been a Trump Favorite

John Bolton, chosen by President Donald Trump late Thursday to replace H.R. McMaster as national security adviser, is a career lawyer and diplomat who has long been on the president’s short list to join the administration.

The lifelong conservative has taken hawkish public stances on such issues as North Korea’s nuclear program. In February, he told VOA’s Korean service that Pyongyang’s recent overtures aimed at renewing talks on the issue were “simply a continuation of their propaganda strategy. I mean, we’ve been down that road several times before, and it’s failed every time.”

Bolton has also been critical of South Korea’s “sunshine policy” regarding the North.

“I think we’ve run out of time” in the effort to prevent Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons that could hit the United States, he told VOA. But rather than the U.S. taking defensive action, he said, he hoped the U.S. could persuade China “to do something that might eliminate the need for it.”

When questioned about a possible role in the Trump administration, however, Bolton kept mum. “I never comment on those kinds of questions,” he said.

At present, Bolton is a senior fellow at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, a senior adviser for a capital management firm, and a Fox News commentator. He is involved with several conservative policy institutes and lobbying groups, including the National Rifle Association, and he serves on the board of directors for EMS Technologies, a Georgia wireless company that has been a subcontractor on Department of Defense projects.

Bolton served in the presidential administrations of Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and held roles in the Justice and State departments, making use of his legal and security expertise.

Most recently, he served as the 25th U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under the George W. Bush administration.

​Critical of U.N.

Although he was a U.N. ambassador, Bolton has openly criticized the international organization as ineffective. His tenure at the United Nations lasted from August 2005 to December 2006. His was a recess appointment, meaning he did not have to undergo a Senate confirmation process. Bolton left his position when the appointment ended; he was seen as unlikely to win confirmation by the Democratic-majority Senate that took office in January 2007.

A public figure since the 1980s, Bolton is known for arguing against enforcement of a U.N. biological weapons convention in 2001, saying the agreement would put U.S. national security at risk by opening suspected U.S. weapons sites to inspections.

In a 2003 speech while serving in an arms control and international security post in the State Department, Bolton described North Korean leader Kim Jong Il as a “tyrannical dictator” and added that for North Koreans under Kim’s leadership, “life is a hellish nightmare.”

Bolton has said in a memoir that his “happiest moment” at the State Department was removing U.S. support from the Rome Statute that set up the International Criminal Court.

In 2009, Bolton proposed a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in which Gaza would be placed under Egyptian control and the West Bank would become part of Jordan.

Bolton has publicly considered running for president but has never actively campaigned. He has long been a Trump favorite and was considered for the position of national security adviser before it went to H.R. McMaster in February 2017. The national security adviser’s position does not require Senate confirmation.

VOA’s Korean service contributed to this report.

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Trump Issued Summons for Lawsuit on Possible Constitutional Violation

U.S. President Donald Trump has been issued a summons by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and the neighboring state of Maryland, alleging his business activities are violating a clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The summons issued earlier this week is addressed to Trump in both “his official capacity and his individual capacity.”

The lawsuit alleges that representatives from foreign governments who stay at Trump’s hotels constitute a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution because the money they pay for lodging constitutes a gift to the president from a foreign government. Such gifts to the president are prohibited unless they are approved by Congress.

It also alleges that local businesses suffer because important foreign visitors may opt to stay at a Trump property as a means of currying favor with the president.

The president’s legal representatives have three weeks to respond.

A New York court dismissed a similar case in December, saying the issue brought by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics was something Congress ought to address, rather than the courts.

That case was appealed in February.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told the Associated Press in February that this is the first time anyone has tried to sue a president as an individual for violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

When Trump took office, he failed to divest himself completely from his business interests, but handed over control of the businesses to his adult children.

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Trump Issued Summons for Lawsuit on Possible Constitutional Violation

U.S. President Donald Trump has been issued a summons by the attorneys general of the District of Columbia and the neighboring state of Maryland, alleging his business activities are violating a clause of the U.S. Constitution.

The summons issued earlier this week is addressed to Trump in both “his official capacity and his individual capacity.”

The lawsuit alleges that representatives from foreign governments who stay at Trump’s hotels constitute a violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution because the money they pay for lodging constitutes a gift to the president from a foreign government. Such gifts to the president are prohibited unless they are approved by Congress.

It also alleges that local businesses suffer because important foreign visitors may opt to stay at a Trump property as a means of currying favor with the president.

The president’s legal representatives have three weeks to respond.

A New York court dismissed a similar case in December, saying the issue brought by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics was something Congress ought to address, rather than the courts.

That case was appealed in February.

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh told the Associated Press in February that this is the first time anyone has tried to sue a president as an individual for violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

When Trump took office, he failed to divest himself completely from his business interests, but handed over control of the businesses to his adult children.

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Toys R Us Founder Charles Lazarus Dies at 94

Just a week after the empire he started announced it is shutting down, Toys R Us founder Charles Lazarus died at 94.

“There have been many sad moments for Toys R Us in recent weeks and none more heartbreaking than today’s news about the passing of our beloved founder,” the company said Thursday.

No cause of death was given.

Lazarus, a World War II veteran, started Toys R Us in 1948 as a single store in Washington, D.C., selling baby furniture.

At customer requests, he soon expanded his line to include toys and began opening large stores the size of supermarkets, devoted to toys and bicycles.

Toys R Us and its massive selection became a favorite of suburban American families.

Toys R Us opened stores all over the world before Lazarus stepped down as the head of the company in 1994.

In recent years, Toys R Us found itself struggling to compete with other large stores, especially with the onslaught of such online retailers as Amazon.

It declared bankruptcy last year, and announced last week it was shutting down its remaining stores.

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Toys R Us Founder Charles Lazarus Dies at 94

Just a week after the empire he started announced it is shutting down, Toys R Us founder Charles Lazarus died at 94.

“There have been many sad moments for Toys R Us in recent weeks and none more heartbreaking than today’s news about the passing of our beloved founder,” the company said Thursday.

No cause of death was given.

Lazarus, a World War II veteran, started Toys R Us in 1948 as a single store in Washington, D.C., selling baby furniture.

At customer requests, he soon expanded his line to include toys and began opening large stores the size of supermarkets, devoted to toys and bicycles.

Toys R Us and its massive selection became a favorite of suburban American families.

Toys R Us opened stores all over the world before Lazarus stepped down as the head of the company in 1994.

In recent years, Toys R Us found itself struggling to compete with other large stores, especially with the onslaught of such online retailers as Amazon.

It declared bankruptcy last year, and announced last week it was shutting down its remaining stores.

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Son of US Professor Detained by North Korea Hopes Summit Will See Father Released

The son of a U.S. citizen detained in North Korea is hoping against hope that his father will be released in conjunction with the unexpected summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

“I’m thankful that President Trump is going to have this summit. I’m thankful for his work and what he’s doing. I’m hoping the issue of my dad and other detainees would be brought up,” said Sol Kim in an interview with Voice of America’s Korean Service on Wednesday.

His father, Kim Sang Duk, whose American name is Tony Kim, has been detained in North Korea since April 22, 2017 when he was arrested at Pyongyang International Airport. North Korean state media reported that Kim had been arrested for “committing criminal acts of hostility aimed to overturn” the country and he was held in custody pending a “detailed investigation into his crime.”

Last week’s surprise Stockholm meeting between North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and his Swedish counterpart, Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom, set off speculation that Sweden would be a possible location for the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.

The meeting also brought the issue of Tony Kim and two other Americans to the fore as Sweden is thought to be negotiating with North Korea for release of the U.S. detainees. Sweden has maintained relations with North Korea since 1973 and is one of the few Western countries with an embassy in Pyongyang. It provides consular services for the U.S. in North Korea.  

However, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Wednesday “there’s nothing under way” although seeking the detainees release is “a high priority for this administration.”   

Sol Kim said he has not heard anything from the State Department about his father’s possible return.

Sol Kim and his family members and friends have been sending letters to Tony Kim via the State Department, hoping that, somehow, the letters would wind up with the Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang for delivery.

“But I think the letters have not gone [to him] … We just don’t know,” Sol Kim said.

Accountant turned professor

Tony Kim, a former accountant turned professor, had been in North Korea teaching international finance and management to students at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology (PUST), the only private university in the country. 

He also taught at PUST’s affiliate institution in China, the Yanbian University of Science and Technology (YUST) in Yanji, for more than 15 years. While at the Yanbian University, the 59-year-old professor made numerous trips to North Korea to teach at PUST after it opened in 2010.

PUST was founded by an evangelical Christian and funded from outside North Korea after the regime authorized the Northeast Asia Foundation for Education and Culture to establish PUST. The school has more than sixty foreign faculty members from China, the U.S., Canada, the U.K., and other European countries, according to its website.

Sol Kim, a 27-year-old graduate student in Southern California, visited North Korea as his father”s teaching assistant.

“I got to see students study. … I got to spend time playing sports after class time. We’d eat and share meals together,” Sol Kim said. “They were very curious. They worked hard. It was a positive experience.”

The Olympics thaw

Sol Kim began speaking out about getting his dad released as tensions began thawing on the Korean Peninsula during the Winter Olympics.

When he heard about the summit between the U.S. and North Korea, Sol Kim ramped up his efforts to get his father released. He talks to the State Department every week. He’s posted on YouTube and launched #USA3.

“I think the response was good. I don’t know how many people read but people would repost or retweet, sharing with their friends,” said Sol Kim.

“They are encouraging for me. I’m not … doing this to get millions and millions of views,” he said. “But the fact that people took the time to share and hear the messages … was encouraging.”

Sol Kim has messages for his father, ones he hopes reach the elder Kim … somehow: “We miss him a lot. I love him. We want him to know that he’ll be becoming a grandpa soon. I look forward to seeing him again.”

The last time he had word of his father was when Joseph Yun, the U.S. special representative for North Korea policy who retired early this month, visited North Korea in June 2017 to secure the release of Otto Warmbier, an American college student who died shortly after his release in a comatose state. Warmbier’s death prompted Trump to issue a ban on U.S. citizens traveling to North Korea. 

Two other U.S. citizens, all ethnic Koreans  Kim Hak Song and Kim Dong Chul are also detained in North Korea on charges of conducting anti-state activities to overthrow the North Korean government.

Christy Lee contributed to this report which originated on VOA’s Korean Service.

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