N. Korea Denuclearization Could Cost $20 Billion

Arms control experts estimate that the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear program could take a decade to complete, and cost $20 billion, if a nuclear agreement is reached between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un when they meet in Singapore on June 12.

“The hard work has not yet begun, and it is gong to take sustained energy on the part of the United States, South Korea, Japan, China and North Korea. It’s going to be a multiyear long process,” said Daryl Kimball, the executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington.

President Trump has said he expects a “very positive result” from the North Korea nuclear summit, but he also said it will likely be the beginning of a process to resolve differences over the extent of the North’s denuclearization, and the specifics regarding what sanctions relief, economic aid and security guarantees would be offered in return.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said on Sunday that North Korea would only receive sanctions relief after it takes “verifiable and irreversible steps to denuclearization.”

This position aligns closer to the Kim government’s stance that denuclearization measures and concessions be matched action for action. And it backs away from demands made by some in the president’s national security team that Pyongyang quickly and unilaterally dismantle all its weapons of mass destruction before any concessions would be offered.

Nuclear costs

North Korea is estimated to have 20 to 80 nuclear warheads, both known and covert nuclear research and processing sites, and thousands of ballistic missiles that can be launched from mobile vehicles, and submarine based launchers have been tested in recent years.

With such an extensive nuclear arsenal it could cost $20 billion to achieve the U.S. goal of complete, irreversible, and verifiable nuclear dismantlement (CVID), according to a recent study conducted by Kwon Hyuk-chul, a Kookmin University professor of security strategy.

Kwon based his assessment in part on past nuclear deals with North Korea and Ukraine’s experience in dismantling its nuclear arsenal after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. 

“In the process of the nuclear dismantlement of Ukraine, all of the strategic nuclear warheads that Ukraine possessed were transferred to Russia and were dismantled there. In doing so, the United States provided large-scale containers and technical support to assist with safe dismantling,” said Kwon.

The Kookmin University study estimates it would costs $5 billion to dismantle the North’s nuclear arsenal and supporting facilities. Another $5 billion, Kwon said, would be needed to fulfill a U.S. pledge, made as part of a 1994 nuclear agreement with North Korea, to build two light water reactors to generate electrical power.

Another $10 billion in economic aid would be needed both as incentives to convince the leadership to give up its nuclear deterrent and to help transition the over 3,000 to 10,000 nuclear workers into peacetime professions.

President Trump recently said he does not expect the U.S. to provide any government aid but could offer American private investment if North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons. Instead he said the Kim government should look to South Korea and China for any direct economic assistance.

Denuclearization roadmap

A recent Stanford University report estimates it would take over 10 years to permanently dismantle the North’s nuclear program.

Stanford nuclear scientist Siegfried Hecker, who visited North Korea in the past to assess the country’s plutonium program, Robert Carlin, a former CIA Korea analyst, and researcher Elliot Serbin, conducted the detailed study of the North’s nuclear program.

The researchers listed specific categories that must be verified by outside inspectors including; nuclear fissile material of plutonium, tritium for fusion Hydrogen bombs, enriched uranium, nuclear reactors, centrifuge facilities, long and medium and short range missiles, test engines, and space launch vehicles.

The authors proposed a three-phase denuclearization process that would halt or limit further activity in the first year, roll back or dismantle over five years, and permanently eliminate North Korea’s nuclear capabilities in 10 years.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.

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McConnell Cancels Most of Senate’s August Recess 

Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is canceling all but one week of the Senate’s traditional August recess, apparently to keep Democrats off the campaign trail.

Blaming what he called “historic obstruction” by Democrats, McConnell said Tuesday that “senators should expect to remain in session in August to pass legislation, including appropriations bills, and to make additional progress on the president’s nominees.”

The lawmakers will get a vacation for the first week of August and will be expected to work the rest of the month.

Many of his fellow Republicans pressured McConnell to cancel the recess, accusing Democrats of dragging their feet on spending bills and votes on Trump judicial nominees.

But by keeping senators working, the Kentucky senator will keep Democrats from campaigning this summer. August is prime time for political candidates and a chance to meet voters at outdoor rallies, picnics, barbecues and county fairs.

Twenty-six Senate seats currently held by Democrats are on the ballot in November, with just nine for the Republicans.

Despite what appears to be McConnell’s cynical ploy, some Democrats welcomed the chance to stay in Washington.

“Working through August gives us the perfect opportunity to tackle this pressing issue of health care,” Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Tuesday.

McConnell may restore some of the recess if there is progress on passing bills and approving nominees.

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US House Members Near Forcing ‘Dreamer’ Immigration Debate

An effort in the U.S. House of Representatives aimed at forcing a debate on bipartisan legislation protecting young “Dreamer” immigrants from deportation edged closer to success Tuesday when two more Democrats signed on.

A petition was launched last month by centrist Republicans who say they are tired of inaction on immigration in the Republican-controlled Congress.

They want the House to debate and vote on several bills including a bipartisan one to protect immigrants brought illegally as children to the United States.

The issue has bitterly divided Republicans, but nearly all Democrats favor holding the debate and had signed the petition as of late last month. But there were three Democratic holdouts from the Texas border region who are worried an immigration deal might lead to the building of a U.S.-Mexico border wall that Republican President Donald Trump wants and that they oppose.

On Tuesday, two of the holdouts, Representatives Vicente Gonzalez and Filemon Vela, said they would sign the petition, leaving the effort just three names short of the 218 required to force a debate and votes on the House floor.

The sponsors have said they expect to have enough signatures, but House Republican leaders oppose the effort and have called a party meeting for Thursday to discuss the issue.

Gonzalez said in a statement that he was signing with the intent of helping immigrants, but added: “I will not accept” a fix “that includes funding for a border wall.” Vela wrote a similar statement on Twitter.

Several House Republicans also oppose the construction of a wall and instead favor more high-tech solutions to border security.

One other Texas Democrat, Representative Henry Cuellar, still has not signed the petition, as well as many Republicans.

Cuellar said on Tuesday he needed a commitment from Democratic leadership “saying that they will not support a border wall in exchange for [helping] Dreamers” before he could sign.

“The construction of a physical wall is an expensive and inefficient use of our taxpayers’ hard-earned dollars,” he said in a statement.

The No. 2 House Democrat, Steny Hoyer, said the goal was to have all 193 Democratic lawmakers sign the petition. It calls for debate and votes on four different bills to replace the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, program, which Trump ended on March 5.

Several Republicans who favor allowing the young immigrants to get on a path to citizenship represent districts with large Hispanic populations, and fear a backlash if Congress fails to act.

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Leading House Democrat to Run for State Attorney General

U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, deputy chairman of the Democratic National Committee and the first Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress, has announced his run for Minnesota attorney general.

He officially filed the paperwork for his candidacy Tuesday afternoon, just hours before the deadline.

The six-term lawmaker, regarded as one of the most liberal members of Congress, was lured to the race after incumbent Lori Swanson jumped into the governor’s race on Monday.

“It was attorney generals who led the fight against the Muslim ban,” Ellison said after filing to run for the office, referring to U.S. President Donald Trump’s ban on travel to the United States by visitors from several Muslim-majority countries. “I want to be a part of that fight.”

Ellison, who represents a solidly Democratic district in and around Minneapolis, is in for a tough statewide fight. He will be challenged by the state party’s endorsed candidate, Matt Pelikan, and former Minnesota Attorney General Mike Hatch.

Ellison said he was determined to win.

“No one — not even a president — is above the law,” he said in a statement. “From immigration reform to protecting our air and water, it has never been more important to have a leader as attorney general who can stand up against threats to our neighbors’ health and freedoms.”

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New Apple Software Helps Limit Smartphone Use

For Apple users worried about how much time they and their children spend posting photos and videos to their devices, help is on the way.

Apple has announced new controls that will allow parents to remotely limit the amount of time their offspring spend on iPhones and iPads, as well as hold up a mirror to their own online habits. The feature will be available in the next software update.

The move comes as the tech industry faces criticism that it has successfully made its smartphones and apps addictive with little thought for how people’s lives may be negatively affected by the distraction of constantly checking their devices.

Smartphone addiction

Apple CEO Tim Cook spoke about his own habits at an Apple developers conference this week. After trying out Apple’s new controls, he saw his usage in a new light.

“I thought I was fairly disciplined about this, and I was wrong,” he told CNN.

Earlier this year, major Apple shareholders wrote the company asking that it do more to help parents by providing tools to limit children’s screen time, while looking at how being online constantly affects customers’ mental health.

Apple appears to have listened to some of these concerns. It is introducing “Screen Time,” an app that will give users a weekly report about how much time they spend on their devices and on specific apps, as well as new ways to curb the habit.

Parents can give their children screen time allowances — a specific amount of time they can play a video game or check in with friends on apps such as Snapchat. Once they hit the limit, children will have to ask parents to increase the time allotment.

“We’re empowering people with the facts that will allow them to decide for themselves how they want to cut back,” said Cook.

Apple’s changes will be part of a software update typically released in September.

Apple isn’t the only company creating a digital baby sitter of sorts. Last month, Google announced it, too, was giving parents more tools to monitor their and their children’s usage. 

Customer privacy

In addition, Apple revealed new ways it would limit the sharing of customer information, perhaps in response to the firestorm directed at Facebook over how the social media giant mishandled customer data. It has long been part of Apple’s message that compared with fellow Silicon Valley companies, Apple cares the most about users’ privacy.

Apple customers might not notice some of the changes. They include limiting “fingerprinting,” which gives data collectors the ability to tell one Apple computer from another. Others will allow customers to actively decide whether to allow websites that track them on the Safari browser.

“We believe your private data should remain private,” said Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering, Craig Federighi.

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Aiming at Trump Strongholds, Mexico Hits Back With Trade Tariffs

Mexico put tariffs on American products ranging from steel to pork and bourbon on Tuesday, retaliating against import duties on metals imposed by

President Donald Trump and taking aim at Republican strongholds ahead of U.S. congressional elections in November.

Mexico’s response further raises trade tensions between the two countries and adds a new complication to efforts to renegotiate the NAFTA trade deal between Canada, the United States and Mexico.

American pork producers, for whom Mexico is the largest export market, were dismayed by the move.

Trump last week rattled some of the closest U.S. allies by removing an exemption to tariffs on imported steel and aluminum that his administration had granted to Mexico, Canada and the European Union.

Meanwhile, Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow revived the possibility on Tuesday that the president will seek to replace the trillion dollar North American Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with bilateral deals with Canada and Mexico, something both countries say they oppose.

Following news of the new Mexican tariffs, which take effect immediately, the peso tumbled to its weakest level since February 2017, making it one of the worst performers among major currencies.

Mexico’s retaliatory list, published in the government’s official gazette, included a 20 percent tariff on U.S. pork legs and shoulders, apples and potatoes and 20 to 25 percent duties on types of cheeses and bourbon.

A net importer of U.S. steel, Mexico is also putting 25 percent duties on a range of U.S. steel products.

Mexico’s trade negotiators designed the list, in part, to include products exported by top Republican leaders’ states, including Indiana where Vice President Mike Pence was formerly governor, according to a trade source familiar with the matter.

Bourbon-producing Kentucky is the home state of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican.

The new tariffs could also have political implications in some hotly contested races as the Republicans seek to maintain control of both chambers in Congress in November’s election, illustrating the potential perils of Trump’s aggressive efforts to set right what he sees as unfair trade balances with allies and rivals.

Midwestern worries

Iowa, where one incumbent Republican representative, Rod Blum, is seen as vulnerable, is an example of a place where Trump’s party could be hurt. The state is the top pork producing state in the United States and Mexico is its main export market by volume.

“We need trade and one of the things we’re concerned about is long-term implications that these trade issues will have on our partnerships with Mexico and Canada and other markets,” said Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Mike Naig, a Republican.

“Our customers around the world start going to other parts of the world for their supplies, that is a serious problem,” he said.

Chicago Mercantile Exchange hog futures at one point fell more than 2 percent following the Mexico pork tariff announcement.

“It certainly casts a negative pall over the market,” said CME livestock futures trader Dan Norcini.

The president of the U.S. National Pork Producers Council, Jim Heimerl, said Mexico accounted for nearly 25 percent of all pork shipments last year, adding that “a 20 percent tariff eliminates our ability to compete effectively in Mexico.”

“This is devastating to my family and pork producing families across the United States,” said Heimerl, a pork producer from Johnstown, Ohio.

In Minnesota, about 14 percent of the state’s $7.1 billion of annual agricultural exports goes to Mexico, one of the state’s top export markets, said Matthew Wohlman, Minnesota Department of Agriculture deputy commissioner.

The Mexican tariffs will hit its pork, dairy and potato exports, Minnesota state officials said.

U.S. Senator Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia, called the new tariffs a “gut punch” to farmers in his state, who he said exported more than $68 million in pork to Mexico last year.

“The President’s trade war is going to cost Virginia ag jobs,” he wrote in a tweet.

America first

Mexico announced its response to Trump’s move last week but it did not provide details of tariff levels or a full list of products at the time.

The United States and Mexico do $600 billion in annual trade and about 16 percent of U.S. goods exports go to its southern neighbor. However, the Mexican economy relies more on trade than does the U.S. economy, with about 80 percent of its exports sold to America.

The trade fights with Mexico and Canada are part of the Trump administration’s “America First” economic agenda, which has also put Washington on a collision course with China over trade.

Washington and Beijing have threatened tit-for-tat tariffs on goods worth up to $150 billion each, as Trump has pushed Beijing to open its economy further and address the United States’ large trade deficit with China.

The United States imposed tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on aluminum in March, citing national security grounds. Last week Washington said it was ending a two-month exemption it had granted to imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union.

The dispute with Mexico over tariffs makes it more difficult to conclude talks on renegotiating NAFTA between the three countries, discussions that began last year because Trump said the deal needed to be reworked to better serve the United States. Canada has also strongly objected to the metals tariffs.

The U.S. side has linked lifting its tariffs to a successful outcome of the NAFTA negotiations.

Separately, Mexico took steps on Tuesday to make it more attractive for other countries to send it pork by opening a tariff-free quota for some pork imports. Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo said his country would now “surely” look to Europe for pork products, used in many traditional dishes in Mexico.

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Trump Wants Separate Trade Talks With Canada, Mexico

U.S. President Donald Trump is “seriously contemplating” trying to reach separate trade deals with Canada and Mexico instead of reshaping the more than two-decade-old North American Free Trade Agreement with both neighbors, a White House economic adviser said Tuesday.

Trump economic adviser Larry Kudlow told Fox News, “He prefers bilateral negotiations, and he is looking at two much different countries.”

The U.S., Canada and Mexico have for months engaged in talks to revise NAFTA, which has been in force since 1994. But Kudlow said separate deals “might be able to happen more rapidly.”

However, Kudlow said Trump does not plan to withdraw from the three-nation agreement.

“He is seriously contemplating a shift in the NAFTA negotiations … [and] he asked me to convey this,” Kudlow said. The adviser said Trump “believed bilateral is always better. He hates large treaties.”

Trump has long assailed multinational trade deals and within days of assuming power last year, withdrew the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 11 other Pacific rim nations.

On Monday, he said on Twitter, “The U.S. has made such bad trade deals over so many years that we can only WIN!”

He declared, “China already charges a tax of 16% on soybeans. Canada has all sorts of trade barriers on our Agricultural products. Not acceptable!”

Trump contended, “Farmers have not been doing well for 15 years. Mexico, Canada, China and others have treated them unfairly. By the time I finish trade talks, that will change. Big trade barriers against U.S. farmers, and other businesses, will finally be broken. Massive trade deficits no longer!”

The NAFTA talks have stalled on U.S. demands to increase American components in duty-free NAFTA autos, as well as its argument that any new agreement end after five years.

Kudlow said he told top Canadian officials Monday about Trump’s hope for bilateral trade talks and is awaiting for reaction from Ottawa.

“The important thought is he may be moving quickly towards these bilateral discussions instead of as a whole,” Kudlow said.

Trump’s trade talks with China, Mexico, Canada and the European Union have proved contentious. The U.S. leader last week drew the ire of Canada, Mexico and the EU by imposing tariffs on their aluminum and steel exports.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the tariffs “insulting and unacceptable.” In a weekend television interview, Kudlow called the U.S.-Canada trade dispute a “family quarrel.”


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US Justice Dept. Appeals Ruling that Trump Can’t Block Twitter Followers

The U.S. Justice Department late on Monday said it would appeal a federal judge’s ruling that President Donald Trump may not legally block Twitter users from his account on the social media platform based on their political views, according to a court filing. 

A lawyer for seven plaintiffs who sued, Jameel Jaffer, said that the @realdonaldtrump account on Monday had unblocked the seven plaintiffs who filed suit.

The White House and the Justice Department did not immediately comment.

“We’re pleased that the White House unblocked our clients from the President’s Twitter account but disappointed that the government intends to appeal the district court’s thoughtful and well-supported ruling,” Jaffer said in an email. 

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Trump Disinvites Super Bowl Champs to White House

Less than 24 hours before he was to host the National Football League’s Philadelphia Eagles at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump disinvited the Super Bowl champions. 

“The Philadelphia Eagles are unable to come to the White House with their full team to celebrate tomorrow,” Trump said in a statement released Monday evening. “They disagree with their President because he insists that they proudly stand for the National Anthem, hand on heart, in honor of the great men and women of our military and the people of our country.”

He said the team wanted to send a smaller delegation, but “the 1,000 fans planning to attend the event deserve better.”

Instead, Trump said the fans were still welcome and that he would host “a different type of ceremony,” one that would “honor our great country, pay tribute to the heroes who fight to protect it, and loudly and proudly play the National Anthem.”

Trump has been at odds with NFL players who knelt during the playing of the American national anthem before their games in a protest of police brutality and racial inequality.

Trump has repeatedly denounced the players as unpatriotic and demanded an end to such protests.

It remains unclear exactly what prompted the change of plans. Neither the White House nor the Eagles commented on the turn of events.

But Eagles’ wide receiver Torrey Smith, who had said he would not visit the White House, took to Twitter in response. 

“So many lies,” he wrote, adding “Not many people were going to go'”

He also said, “No one refused to go simply because Trump `insists’ folks stand for the anthem. … The President continues to spread the false narrative that players are anti military.”

He went on: “It’s a cowardly act to cancel the celebration because the majority of the people don’t want to see you. To make it about the anthem is foolish.”

This is not the first time Trump has clashed with professional athletes.

Last year, the National Basketball Association champions, the Golden State Warriors, did not visit the White House after the president took issue when team star Stephen Curry said he would not attend.


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Manafort Attempted to Tamper with Potential Witnesses, Mueller Says

President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, who has been indicted by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, attempted to tamper with potential witnesses, Mueller said in a court filing Monday.

Mueller, who is investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, asked the judge overseeing the case in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to revoke or revise an order releasing Manafort ahead of his trial.

Manafort was released to home confinement after his arraignment in October.

Mueller has indicted Manafort in federal courts in Virginia and Washington, D.C., with an array of allegations from money laundering and failing to register as a foreign agent, to bank and tax fraud. Manafort has pleaded not guilty.

FBI Special Agent Brock Domin, in a declaration filed with Mueller’s motion, said Manafort had attempted to call, text and send encrypted messages in February to two people from “The Hapsburg Group,” a firm he worked with to promote the interests of Ukraine.

The FBI has documents and statements from the two people, as well as telephone records and documents recovered through a search of Manafort’s iCloud account showing that Trump’s former campaign manager attempted communication while he was out on bail, according to Domin.

The communications were “in an effort to influence their testimony and to otherwise conceal evidence,” Domin wrote. “The investigation into this matter is ongoing.”

Manafort is the most senior member of Trump’s campaign to be indicted, though the charges do not relate to campaign activities.

Trump has denied collusion with Russia and called Mueller’s investigation a “witch hunt.”

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