DC Roundup: North Korea, Nuclear Arsenal, FBI Raid, Climate Change

Developments in Washington, D.C., in recent days include North Korea threatening to take military action against U.S. territory Guam by mid-August, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis saying North Korea risks annihilation if it starts a war, and the FBI saying it raided former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s home last month as part of the Russia probe.

North Korea Threatens Attack Plan for Guam by Mid-August — North Korean state media on Wednesday quoted General Kim Rak Gyom as saying Pyongyang was “about to take” military action targeting the U.S. western Pacific territory of Guam, home to sizable U.S. Air Force and Navy facilities. Kim, who commands the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army, said the North would finalize a plan by mid-August to fire four mid-range missiles known as Hwasong-12 rockets toward the island. After passing over Japan, they would be expected to land in waters 30 to 40 kilometers off the shores of Guam.

US Defense Chief: North Korea Risks Destruction If It Starts War — U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Wednesday that North Korea risks annihilation if it starts a war, and he told Pyongyang it must end its pursuit of nuclear weaponry. Mattis said North Korea “should cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.” The reclusive communist nation, he added, “must choose to stop isolating itself and stand down its pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

Trump: US Nuclear Arsenal ‘More Powerful than Ever Before’ —  President Donald Trump, in the midst of an exchange of bellicose threats with North Korea, declared Wednesday that the United States’ nuclear arsenal “is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.” In an early morning Twitter comment, Trump said that his first order as president when he took office in January “was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal.”He said that “hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”

Guam: Small But Important Piece of US Territory in Pacific — North Korea’s threat against Guam spotlights a western Pacific U.S. territory that looms large as a military asset, despite being smaller than Singapore. Guam serves as a major military base for the United States, with U.S. Air Force and Navy installations occupying some 29 percent of the island’s total land area. It is also a major hub for submarine communications cables between the western United States, Hawaii, Australia, and Asia.

US-North Korea Showdown Comes With Catastrophic Risk — In the best case scenario, a limited U.S. pre-emptive strike on a North Korean missile launch site or nuclear facility would not seriously degrade its capabilities, but may convince the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, to seek dialogue rather than risk a war he knows he cannot win, analysts say.

North Korea ‘Examining Plans’ to Launch Missile Strikes Against US bases on Guam — Elected officials in Guam are reassuring constituents that the U.S. territory is safe following North Korea’s claim that it is examining its plan for “making an enveloping fire” around the strategically important Pacific island. In the statement issued early Wednesday in Asia, the North’s Korean Central News Agency said its armed forces were “carefully examining” a plan for missile strikes on Guam. American military bases on the U.S. Pacific island territory are believed to hold the largest U.S. arsenal of nuclear weapons outside the continental United States.

North Korea Tops Trump’s ‘Working Vacation’ Agenda — Trump received his intelligence briefing at his golf club in New Jersey Monday and held an hour-long telephone call to discuss North Korea with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and get an update on his trip to Southeast Asia. White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters provided details on Trump’s “working vacation.” The president’s chief of staff, General John Kelly, and other aides also are close at hand in New Jersey.

Report: US Concludes North Korea Has Miniaturized a Nuclear Warhead — The U.S. is reported to have concluded that North Korea has successfully built a miniaturized nuclear warhead it could fit inside its missiles in what could be a major weapons breakthrough for the reclusive communist nation. Two U.S. media outlets, The Washington Post and NBC News, said Tuesday that the Defense Intelligence Agency reached the conclusion in the last month, advancing the timetable for Pyongyang’s efforts to become the world’s ninth full-fledged nuclear power.

FBI Raided Trump Campaign Chief’s Home Last Month — U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation agents raided the home of Trump’s former campaign chief in the predawn hours late last month, intensifying their probe of Russian interference in last year’s presidential election. The raid on the home of Paul Manafort, a long-time Republican political operative who has had deep financial ties to Russia and Ukraine, occurred just outside Washington in suburban Virginia and without warning.

US Diplomats Advised to Give Generalized Answers to Paris Climate Deal Questions — The U.S. State Department is advising its diplomats to sidestep questions from foreign governments about the Trump administration’s stance on the Paris climate deal. The Reuters news agency reported Tuesday that a cable sent Friday to U.S. embassies by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson provided prospective questions foreign government officials could ask diplomats and suggested answers.

UN Receives US’ Intent to Formally Withdraw From Paris Climate Agreement —

The United Nations confirms it has received notification from the United States about its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, “unless it identifies suitable terms for re-engagement.” Stephane Dujarric, a spokesman for Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said in a statement that the secretary general “welcomes any effort to re-engage in the Paris Agreement by the United States.”

Trump Hits McConnell for Senate Crash of Obama Health Repeal — Trump scolded his own party’s Senate leader on Wednesday for the crash of the Republican drive to repeal and rewrite the Obama health care law, using Twitter to demand of Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, “Why not done?” Trump fired back at the Kentucky Republican for telling a home-state audience this week that the president had “not been in this line of work before, and I think had excessive expectations about how quickly things happen in the democratic process.”

Trump Promises to ‘Win’ Fight Against Opioid Abuse in US — Trump vowed Tuesday that the U.S. would “win” the battle against the heroin and opioid plague, but he stopped short of declaring a national emergency as his handpicked commission had recommended. Trump spoke at an event he had billed as a “major briefing” on the opioid crisis during a two-week “working vacation” at his private golf club in New Jersey. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, senior counselor Kellyanne Conway, senior adviser Jared Kushner and first lady Melania Trump were among the attendees.

Trump Retweets News Story Based on Anonymous US Intel Sources — Trump has assailed the leaks of intelligence documents from his White House, but on Tuesday he sent a news story to millions of followers on his social media account about North Korean missiles that was based on reports from anonymous U.S. intelligence sources.

Pentagon: British Firm Billed US $50M for Iffy Expenses — A British company hired to train Afghan intelligence officers billed the U.S. government for high-end cars, including Porsches and an Aston Martin, and paid the “significant others” of the firm’s top executives six-figure salaries even though there’s no proof they did any work, according to a Pentagon audit made public Wednesday.

Democrats Want to Know More About Federal Payments to Trump Businesses — As Trump spends much of August at his New Jersey golf club, Democratic lawmakers are making a new push for information about how much money the federal government is spending at his for-profit properties. Democrats on the House Oversight Committee on Tuesday asked departments to hand over information about their Trump-related spending by August 25.

US Push for Freer NAFTA e-commerce Meets Growing Resistance — A U.S. proposal for Mexico and Canada to vastly raise the value of online purchases that can be imported duty-free from stores like Amazon.com and eBay is emerging as a flashpoint in an upcoming renegotiation of the NAFTA trade deal.

Philippine’s Leader on Human Rights: ‘Don’t Go There’ — Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte met Monday with America’s top diplomat, where he voiced solidarity with the U.S. amid global concerns over North Korea’s nuclear program and angrily dismissed media questions about human rights abuses by his government.

Trump Administration Sides with Ohio on Purging Voter Rolls — The Trump administration has reversed an Obama administration stance and will support Ohio in its bid at the U.S. Supreme Court to revive a state policy of purging people from voter-registration lists if they do not regularly cast ballots. The Justice Department filed legal papers with the high court on Monday staking out the new position in the voting rights case, backing the Republican-led state’s policy to purge inactive voters.

Keystone XL Pipeline Fate in Balance as Nebraska Opens Hearings — Nebraska regulators opened a final hearing on TransCanada Corp’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline on Monday, a week-long proceeding that marks the last big hurdle for the long-delayed project after Trump approved it in March. The proposed 1,179-mile (1,897-km) pipeline linking Canada’s Alberta oil sands to U.S. refineries has been a lightning rod of controversy for nearly a decade, pitting environmentalists worried about spills and global warming against business advocates who say the project will lower fuel prices, shore up national security and bring jobs.

Interior Department Scraps Obama-era Rule on Coal Royalties — The Interior Department on Monday scrapped an Obama-era rule on coal royalties that mining companies had criticized as burdensome and costly. The Trump administration put the royalty valuation rule on hold in February after mining companies challenged it in federal court. Officials later announced plans to repeal the rule entirely. The final repeal notice was published Monday in the Federal Register and takes effect Sept. 6.

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