North Korea’s Latest Nuclear Test Updates

On Wednesday, November 29, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that’s allegedly able to reach the mainland United States. On the same day, the country declared itself to be a nuclear state. This came a few days after US President Donald Trump put North Korea back on Washington’s state sponsors of terrorism list. In the meantime, the US and South Korea have been continuing to hold joint air drills.

It was the first time that a missile was launched from Pyongsong, a province in South Pyongan, around 29 kilometers from the capital, Pyongyang. The missile is a Hwasong-15, which is able to contain a nuclear warhead and is reportedly more powerful than missiles that had been tested earlier. It ascended to over 4,000 km into space and landed by Japan’s west coast, 1000 km from Pyongsong.

David Wright, physicist and co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Global Security Program said the this latest ICBM flew longer than the ones recently launched. He also said that this missile could reach any part of mainland US. “This is significantly longer than North Korea’s previous long-range tests, which flew on lofted trajectories for 37 minutes (July 4) and 47 minutes (July 28). Such a missile would have more than enough range to reach Washington, D.C., and in fact any part of the continental United States.”

However Pentagon Spokesman Col. Robert Manning said that the missile was not a threat to American territories or their allies. “The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America, our territories or our allies.”

After the test-firing on November 29, President Trump tweeted that he had talked to the President of China, North Korea’s biggest trade partner and ally. He also said that North Korea would be given major sanctions. “Just spoke to President XI JINPING of China concerning the provocative actions of North Korea. Additional major sanctions will be imposed on North Korea today. This situation will be handled!”

On the same day, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley delivered remarks at an Emergency UN Security Council Meeting concerning North Korea. Haley also called for all nations to sever ties with North Korea. She ended her speech saying that if North Korea would choose war, they would face destruction.

“The nations of the world have it within their power to further isolate, diminish, and, God willing, reverse the dangerous course of the North Korean regime. We must all do our part to make that happen….We have never sought war with North Korea, and still today we do not seek it. If war does come, it will be because of continued acts of aggression like we witnessed yesterday. And if war comes, make no mistake, the North Korean regime will be utterly destroyed.”

National security adviser H.R. McMaster, who spoke at the Reagan National Defense Forum on December 2, said that with every test firing, North Korea was learning more about the missiles. “It will take some time to assess each of these missile launches but what is clear is that every time he conducts a missile launch and nuclear test he gets better. Whether it is a success or failure isn’t as important as understanding that over the years he’s been learning from failures, improving and thereby increasing his threat to all of us.” The full video of McMaster’s speech can be seen here

At the Council of Defense Ministers and the Security Council of the Collective Security Treaty Organization in Minsk, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said he believes Ambassador Haley’s call for all nations to cut ties is a mistake. He further said that the US’ actions may be a provocation for North Korea to retaliate, and urged for dialogue instead.

“We have a negative view of this idea…. All resolutions introducing sanctions contained a mandatory demand to resume the political process and talks. The US side completely ignores precisely this demand. I believe this is a big mistake. In addition, it appears that the latest US actions deliberately aim to provoke Pyongyang into taking further steps. This past September, our American colleagues hinted confidentially to us (I will make no secret out of this) that the next exercise was only scheduled for spring and that the DPRK could take advantage of this pause and not make any abrupt moves either. Why not try and launch some kind of dialogue in this situation?”

China, North Korea’s closest ally, commented on North Korea’s ICBM test firing through Foreign Minister Geng Shuang, “The UN Security Council resolutions have clear stipulations about the use of ballistic missile in the DPRK’s launching activities. China expresses grave concern and opposition to the DPRK’s launching activities. China strongly urges the DPRK side to abide by relevant Security Council resolutions and cease actions that will heighten tensions on the Korean Peninsula. We hope that all relevant parties will act cautiously and work together to safeguard peace and stability in the region.”

The US and North Korea have experienced strained relations of late, with President Trump calling North Korea out for escalating their nuclear weapons program in a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in September. The President also threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea in the speech.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un responded in a speech via the KCNA, the North Korean state news agency, saying that he would “tame” the US President “with fire.”

Full texts of President Trump and Kim Jong-Un’s speeches can be found at the following links:

Britain’s Phased Brexit Plan Summary

On February 2, the United Kingdom government published a white paper, titled The United Kingdom’s exit from and new partnership with the European Union, to provide the parliament and the people of the UK with a clear vision of what the country is seeking to achieve in negotiating its exit from, and new partnership with, the European Union (EU).

The paper sets out a plan for the strong new partnership the UK wants to build with the EU. It set outs the basis for 12 priorities announced by Prime Minister Theresa May and the broad strategy that unites them in forging a new strategic partnership between the UK and the EU.

The paper said that the UK government will provide business and public with as much certainty as possible throughout the negotiations. To provide legal certainty over its exit from the EU, the government will introduce the Great Repeal Bill to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book and convert the ‘acquis’ – the body of existing EU law – into domestic law.

Here are main points from the paper:

– The UK will continue to build a national consensus around its negotiating position by listening and talking to as many organizations, companies, and institutions as possible.

– The UK will take control of its own affairs, “as those who voted in their millions to leave the EU demanded we must, and bring an end to the jurisdiction in the UK of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).”

– Leaving the EU will mean that the UK’s laws will be made in London, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast, and will be based on the specific interests and values of the country. “In chapter 1 we set out how the Great Repeal Bill will ensure that our legislatures and courts will be the final decision makers in our country,” the paper said.

– The UK will make sure that the devolved administrations are fully engaged in its preparations to leave the EU. The government will be working with the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to deliver an outcome that works for the whole of the UK. “In seeking such a deal we will look to secure the specific interests of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as those of all parts of England. A good deal will be one that works for all parts of the UK,” according to the paper.

– Maintaining strong and historic ties with Ireland will be an important priority for the UK in the talks ahead. This includes protecting the Common Travel Area (CTA).

– The UK will remain an open and tolerant country, and one that recognizes the valuable contribution migrants make to the society and welcomes those with the skills and expertise to make the nation better still. But in future, the UK must ensure it can control the number of people coming to the UK from the EU.

– The UK wants to secure the status of EU citizens who are already living in the UK, and that of UK nationals in the other Member States, as early as we can.

– As we convert the body of EU law into a domestic legislation, the UK will ensure the continued protection of workers’ rights. This will give certainty and continuity to employees and employers alike, creating stability in which the UK can grow and thrive.

– The government will prioritize securing the freest and most frictionless trade possible in goods and services between the UK and the EU. “We will not be seeking membership of the Single Market but will pursue instead a new strategic partnership with the EU, including an ambitious and comprehensive Free Trade Agreement and a new customs agreement,” according to the paper.

– By leaving the EU, the UK will have the opportunity to strike free trade agreements with countries around the world.

– From space exploration to clean energy, from medical technologies to agri-tech, the UK will remain at the forefront of collective endeavors to better understand, and make better, the world in which we live.

– The UK will continue to work with the EU to preserve the UK and European security and to fight terrorism and uphold justice across Europe.

On June 23, 2016, the people of the UK made voted to leave the EU. The government said that it will honor people’s wishes, and will not make any attempt to remain in the EU by the back door. The prime minister will trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on the EU by the end of March this year to begin the process of exit.

“Whatever the outcome of our negotiations, we will seek a more open, outward-looking, confident and fairer UK, which works for all,” wrote David Davis, secretary of state for exiting the EU.

Researchers Warn Stem Rust Could Destroy European Wheat

Researchers have issued a warning about a kind of stem rust that could damage wheat crops in the 2017 season.

Results of lab tests showed that stem rust epidemics in Sicily last year were caused by a new and dangerous variant of race TTTTF, according to Denmark-based Global Rust Reference Center (GRRC).

Researchers are warning that spores produced by stem rust may spread to this year’s crops in Europe, according to a report from Nature weekly magazine.

“We have to be careful of shouting wolf too loudly. But this could be the largest outbreak that we have had in Europe for many, many years,” Chris Gilligan, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge in the UK, was quoted as saying by the Nature magazine. Gilligan leads a team that has modeled the probable spread of the fungus’s spores.

In a statement issued February 2, the GRRC said the stem rust infected several thousands of hectares, and it could have produced a huge number of spores. There could be a “real risk of repeated outbreaks in the 2017 crop season if stem rust race TTTTF persists,” the center said.

The organization also said that two new strains of yellow rust were also spotted for the first time. One was found in Europe and North Africa, and the other in East Africa and Central Asia.

Farmers in at-risk areas should be fully ready, monitor crops for stem rust, and use registered fungicides. They need to control stem rust at an early growth stage to avoid losses, according to the center.

Similar alerts about the three crops diseases were issued by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) on February 3.

Last year, stem rust destroyed tens of thousands of hectares of crops in Sicily. Europe is known as the world’s largest wheat-producing region. According to Mogens Hovmøller of the GRRC, the region has not been seen stem rust epidemics in Europe since the 1950s. Hovmøller, who leads the center’s testing team, thinks that there is a great need for an early-warning system in Europe. In next few weeks, he will join other experts to ask the European Research Council to release funds for the establishment of the warning system.

Such a system will help partners – including breeders, scientists, and agrochemical firms in Europe – to share investigative facilities and information about potential outbreaks.

Fazil Dusunceli, a plant pathologist at the FAO, believes that such a warning system might have helped to mitigate the Sicily outbreak. “I wouldn’t question the necessity for an early-warning system,” he said.

The GRRC is part of Aarhus University in Denmark and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center.


Iran Tests Missiles, President Trump Responds

Iranian Defense Minister Brigadier General Hossein Dehqan confirmed reports that Iran successfully conducted a ‘ballistic’ missile test, Tasnim News Agency reported Feb. 2.

The defense minister said that the missile test was successful and does not violate the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and the UNSC Resolution 2231.

However, U.S. officials criticized the missile test and claimed that Iran has violated JCPOA and the Resolution 2231. They also claimed that the test-fired Iranian ballistic missile exploded after traveling 630 miles (1,013 kilometers).

Dehqan did not say anything about the missile explosion. The Iranian defense minister, however, said that Iran will not allow the others to interfere in its defense affairs.

Meanwhile, 220 Iranian MPs recently issued a statement to voice their “full-fledged support” for the country’s Armed Forces. In a prepared statement, they said that “reinforcement of the defense capabilities of the Islamic Republic of Iran in line with deterrence strategy” is essential to ensure the country’s security.

Under the Resolution 2231, Iran cannot “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons.”

However, Iran says that none of its missiles have been designed to carry nuclear warheads. It maintains that nuclear weapons have no place in the Islamic Republic’s defense doctrine.

In response to the reports of Iran’s missile test, Trump Administration has issued a statement, stating that Iran’s recent actions including “a provocative ballistic missile launch” underscores its “destabilizing behavior across the Middle East.”

“Recent Iranian actions, including a provocative ballistic missile launch and an attack against a Saudi naval vessel conducted by Iran-supported Houthi militants, underscore what should have been clear to the international community all along about Iran’s destabilizing behavior across the Middle East,” the White House said.

Houthi forces, which were trained by Iran, recently have struck Emirati and Saudi vessels and threatened U.S. and allied vessels transiting the Red Sea, according to the White House.

The White House criticized the Obama Administration for its failure to respond adequately to Iran’s actions including weapons transfers, support for terrorism, and other violations of international norms.

President Trump called various agreements reached between Iran, the Obama Administration, and the United Nations “weak and ineffective.”

The White House said that Trump condemns Iranian actions “that undermine security, prosperity, and stability throughout and beyond the Middle East and place American lives at risk.”

“As of today, we are officially putting Iran on notice,” the White House said Feb. 1.

Syrian Peace Talks Begin

The Syrian peace talks, that began on January 23, 2017 in Astana, the Kazakhstan capital, are the latest moves towards ending the bloody six-year old civil war in Syria. It is an initiative by Russia, Turkey and Iran and aims at consolidating a ceasefire agreement that came into force on December 30, brokered by Russia and Turkey.

Opposition spokesman Yahya al-Aridi said there are two main objectives of the ongoing peace talk: “First is the consolidation of the accord signed by Turkey and Russia on the 30th of December, concerning the ceasefire, and making this ceasefire cover all of Syria and at the same time taking care of all the breaches by the regime and Iran, especially in Wadi Barada and Homs and in southern Damascus and other areas in Syria.”

The talks began on Monday with representatives of some of the rebel armed groups sat opposite to the Syrian government delegation on a round table. They are also joined by representatives of Russia, Iran and Turkey, the UN special envoy Staffan de Mistura and the US ambassador to Kazakhstan.

Residents in the Syrian city of Aleppo express high hopes that progress can be made in the strife-torn Syria. One woman in Aleppo said, “I hope that the conference in Kazakhstan will lead to reconciliation. I hope that they all agree to stand with us and that God stands by our side too. God willing things will be well,” said one woman in Aleppo.

Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov, said that it was time to “make the real breakthrough that Syrian people rightfully deserve”.

Some key players were not present in the talks. The prominent stakeholders like ISIS, al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia, and the Kurdish-led, U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Council and a powerful militant group named Ahrar al-Sham are not attending the peace talks.

A spokesman for the rebel delegation, Yahya al-Aridi said that the meeting would contribute to the UN brokered Geneva talks on a political settlement, which are scheduled to resume next month.

Syria’s permanent representative to the UN Mr. Jaafari was critical of opposition delegation Chief Mr. Mohammed Alloush’s speech and said on Monday that it had ‘irritated the attendees’ diplomatic senses and experience’. A transcript of Mr. Alloush’s speech has not been released, but a video of part was posted online by a member of his delegation.

Alloush has warned “A political solution in Syria is our choice but it is not the only one because we fight for our rights; our right to live; the right of freedom; the right to decide our fate and the people’s right to decide who will represent them.”

$125B Sovereign Wealth Fund Merger in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi’s government has merged two of its sovereign wealth funds called Mubadala Development Co and International Petroleum Investment Co (IPIC) into a new single entity called Mubadala Investment Company (MIC) with assets totalling about $125 billion on 21 January 2017. Government sources said the move was to cut costs in response to drop in oil prices in the global market and to diversify investments away from oil to other viable sectors.

The government said the joint venture will “run operations in acquisition, development, construction, financing, operation, and investment in various sectors”.

According to the government, integrating the two entities would create greater benefit and enhanced economic value to them.

IPIC owns corporate stakes in the energy industry and other sectors across the world. The new fund, Mubadala Investment Co, becomes the world’s 14th largest sovereign fund according to the data available with Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

The Abu Dhabi government also named Mubadala Development’s current group CEO Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak to run the new sovereign fund.

Government sources say the merger of the two wealth fund giants will enable Abu Dhabi to face the demands of competitive world, where size matters. The measure by the major sheikhdom in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, comes as a cost-cutting measure in response to the low prices of the commodity in the global market.

According to government the high-level merger is needed as the emirate government attempts to combine state assets to cut costs in response to drop in oil prices and diversify investments away from oil to other viable sectors. In the wake of oil prices at about half their levels in mid-2014, sovereign funds across the rich Gulf Arab oil exporting states have to adjust policies to adapt themselves to lower inflows of petrodollars.

The merged entity’s large size is expected to enable it to raise money from international market. Mubadala Investment Company would conduct partnerships and businesses in 30-plus countries. It will infuse synergies and growth in various sectors including the energy and utilities sector, technology, aerospace, industry, health care, real estate, and financial investments.

According to the Emirate government, the combined entity would realize synergies and growth in multiple sectors including the energy and utilities sector, technology, aerospace, industry, health care, real estate, and financial investments. It would also have the ability to contribute more significantly to the diversification of the economy, in line with the Abu Dhabi plan and the country’s long-term vision.

As a part of its measures to strengthen its financial institutions, Abu Dhabi is initiating the process of merging of several institutions like the proposed merger of two largest banks, National Bank of Abu Dhabi and First Gulf Bank.

For more information see: