In this week’s headlines…
Last week marked a significant step in United States-North Korea relations. The Washington Post reported that CIA director Mike Pompeo made a secret trip to meet with North Korean President Kim Jong-un in Pyongyang over Easter for preparatory talks about the coming summit between the United States and North Korea. According to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, North Korea agreed last week to drop its insistence that the United States pull its troops out of South Korea in exchange for talks on denuclearization. This demand had long been blocking any progress on the issue. North Korea has further agreed to stop conducting nuclear missile tests. South and North Korean leaders are meeting for a historic summit this week, while President Trump is planning on meeting with Kim Jong-un this May or June. This will be the first time the two presidents have met (CNN, “North Korea drops withdrawal of US forces as condition of denuclearization, Moon says,” 04.20.2018).
Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley announced last weekend that the U.S. will impose a new round of sanctions on Russia. However, the White House released a contradictory statement asserting that Trump is not considering any new sanctions. White
House Economic Advisor Larry Kudlow said, “There might have been some momentary confusion about that.” Haley replied, “I don’t get confused.” Kudlow later apologized to Haley, explaining the inconsistency by saying that there was a change in policy about which Haley was not informed (The Guardian, “‘I don’t get confused’: Nikki Haley hits back after White House contradicts her on Russia sanctions,” 04.17.2018).
On Friday, April 20, the Democratic National Committee filed a lawsuit against the Trump campaign, the Russian government and WikiLeaks, alleging a conspiracy to help Trump in the 2016 election, particularly by damaging Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Trump responded by tweeting, “Just heard the Campaign was sued by the Obstructionist Democrats.” While Special Counsel Robert Mueller is already investigating the matter, Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez clarified that the reason for the lawsuit is that the DNC believes there is an ongoing threat of election interference and that they do not know when Mueller’s investigation will conclude (CNN “Democrats file suit alleging Russia, Trump campaign,” “WikiLeaks conspired to interfere in 2016 campaign,” 04.21.2018; The New York Times, “Democratic Party Alleges Trump-Russia Conspiracy in New Lawsuit,” 04.20.2018).
After last week’s FBI raid on the office, home and hotel room of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, Judge Kimba Wood allowed Cohen to see the seized items that might be covered by attorney-client privilege. However, the judge has not yet made a decision on which evidence can be used by the prosecutors (CNN, “Co-hen can review seized docs but judge will decide who vets what investigators can see,” 04.17.2018).
Pompeo received a positive recommendation for Secretary of State from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Monday, April 23. The recommendation was up in the air for a while, but Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) flipped his vote at the last minute and voted in favor of Pompeo. A confirmation vote will soon be held before the full Senate (CNN, “Mike Pompeo advances out of committee with favorable recommendation, following Paul flipping his vote,” 04.17.2018).
On April 19, it was announced that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani is joining Trump’s legal team to help with defense in Mueller’s investigation. Giuliani and Mueller have known each other for years, having previously worked together in the Justice Department (CNN, “Giuliani says he is joining Trump’s legal team to help bring Mueller probe to a conclusion,” 04.20.2018).
This week, YouTube found itself caught in the crossfire regarding the advertisements it ran on its site in recent months. CNN found that YouTube ads purchased by more than 300 companies and organizations ran on channels that promote white nationalists, Nazis, pedophilia, conspiracy theories and North Korean propaganda. Many companies, including Amazon, Hershey and Netflix, have since come forward, clarifying that they did not know their ads were running on these channels (CNN, “Exclusive: YouTube ran ads from hundreds of brands on extremist channels,” 20.04.2018).
Around the World…
Albania and Macedonia are the first countries in five years that will potentially begin talks about joining the European Union. On Tuesday, April 17, the EU recommended that the conversation begin. Including the pair, there are currently five countries that are official candidates to join, including Serbia and Montenegro. Talks with Turkey, the fifth official candidate, broke down in 2016 as a result of a failed coup against President Erdogan (Euronews, “Explained: the Balkan battle to be the EU’s newest member,” 04.20.2018).
Cuba’s first Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel was sworn in as President on April 19, replacing Raul Castro. Castro is the brother of former President Fidel Castro, who took over as a head of state in 2008. Now 86 years old, Raul Castro is ensuring the continuation of the Castros’ legacy by leading the transition himself. Diaz-Canel, a technocrat, described his vision for the future as based on continuity (The Guardian, “The end of the Castro era? Raul’s exit likely to change little in Cuba,” 04.21.2018).
Chemical weapons inspections in Douma, Syria, have been further delayed. A team of experts from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has faced several challenges in the region, including having to turn back temporarily after coming under fire. There are serious worries in the international community that all of the physical evidence of April 7’s chemical attack will be gone by the time the team is able to reach the scene (CNN, “Gunfire at UN team in Syria stalls chemical weapons inspection,” 04.18.2018).
UNICEF successfully organized a laying down of arms ceremony in South Sudan, during which more than 200 child soldiers were freed. There has been a civil war in Sudan for over five years now, and an estimated 19,000 children serve in the army. This year, UNICEF has already freed 500 child soldiers (CNN, “More than 200 child soldiers freed in South Sudan,” 04.18.2018).
Keeping up with 2020 hopefuls…
Political pundits continue to speculate about the possibility of former Vice President Joe Biden running for president in 2020. In a speech at Vanderbilt University, part of Vanderbilt’s Chancellor’s Lecture series, he said he will not make his decision until January, explaining that his focus right now is helping Democrats in the midterms (CNN, “#2020Vision: Biden: 2020 decision by January; Harris raises $3 million for Senate Dems; Castro heads to Georgia,” 04.15.2018).
Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) raised some 2020 speculation by visiting Nevada, which is one of the first states to vote in primary elections. She has also raised more than $3 mil-lion combined for all of the Senate Democrats running in this year’s midterms (CNN).
Former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro sparked rumors about a possible 2020 run due to his travel schedule; he attended a fundraiser in Georgia on April 17 and will be flying to New Hampshire in May to give a commencement address at New England College (CNN).