foreign affairs
February 12, 2020

Sens. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), and John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) announced on Wednesday they are heading to Kyiv for a meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

"The U.S.-Ukraine relationship is as important now as ever," the senators said in a statement. "The future of Ukraine matters to the United States and we must make sure Ukraine knows that we view them as a strategic ally." The meeting is scheduled for Friday.

Zelensky became a household name in the United States last year during President Trump's impeachment inquiry. During a July 25 phone call, Trump asked Zelensky to launch investigations into a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. This conversation triggered the impeachment probe, which also focused on Trump's decision to freeze nearly $400 million in approved military aid to Ukraine. Trump was impeached by the House of Representatives in December, and acquitted by the Senate last week.

This won't be Johnson and Murphy's first time interacting with Zelensky. On Sept. 5, the senators met with Zelensky in Kyiv, when the military aid was still frozen. On Sept. 10, Murphy said Ukrainian officials brought up the aid during every meeting, and they did not know why it was being held up. Catherine Garcia

June 20, 2019

Chinese President Xi Jinping landed Thursday in Pyongyang, where he is expected to discuss aid, the economy, and nuclear talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Xi is the first Chinese president to visit North Korea in 14 years, and he will stay for two days. The pair will likely talk about Kim's failed February summit with President Trump, which crumbled after the two sides could not reach an agreement on North Korea ending its nuclear program in exchange for relief from sanctions. "For North Korea, the coming meeting will serve to show the U.S. that China has its back and to send a message to Washington it should stop its maximum-pressure posture," Lim Eul-chul, a professor at Kyungnam University, told The Guardian.

Xi is having his own tussle with the United States, in the form of an escalating trade war. While this is his first trip to North Korea to meet with Kim, the North Korean leader has gone to Beijing four times since March 2018. Xi was accompanied on his visit by several top officials and his wife, Peng Liyuan. Catherine Garcia

March 2, 2019

The U.S. military will no longer conduct large-scale drills with South Korea, NBC News and The Wall Street Journal reported Friday, each citing two unnamed defense officials.

Instead of major annual exercises, the officials said, U.S. and South Korean forces will cooperate on smaller, less costly training projects. "The U.S. has identified ways to mitigate potential readiness concerns by looking at required mission tasks versus having to conduct large-scale exercises," one official told NBC.

The large-scale exercises were suspended last year after President Trump promised to stop the "provocative" war games during his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. Another set of drills was canceled in October to further diplomatic progress with Pyongyang. Bonnie Kristian

February 26, 2019

If you want to convince North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to give up his nukes, ixnay on the regime change talk already. So warned Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), a 2020 presidential candidate, on Twitter Tuesday morning:

The connection between North Korea and the fate of two nations half a world away may seem slim, but Pyongyang has pointed to past U.S.-orchestrated regime changes in similarly distant Iraq and Libya as reasons not to denuclearize.

Neither Iraq's Saddam Hussein or Libya's Moammar Gadhafi could "escape the fate of destruction after being deprived of their foundations of nuclear development and giving up undeclared programs of their own accord," North Korean state-run media has argued, concluding that "[h]istory proves that powerful nuclear deterrence serves as the strongest treasure sword for frustrating outsiders' aggression."

Kim meets with President Trump in Vietnam this week for their second summit to negotiate denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula. Bonnie Kristian

February 11, 2019

Acting Defense Secretary Pat Shanahan made his first-ever trip to Afghanistan on Monday, meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, and Defense Minister Asadullah Khalid. The unannounced visit included discussions of the framework for a peace deal U.S. negotiators said they have reached with the Taliban late last month.

So far, the Taliban has refused to include the Afghan government in those talks. Yet ultimately, "Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like," Shanahan told reporters Monday. "It's not about the U.S.; it's about Afghanistan."

Withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan is a core feature of the deal framework, but Shanahan said he has "not been directed to step down our forces in Afghanistan." On the contrary, he argued "the U.S. military has strong security interests in the region" and suggested — in apparent disagreement with recent comments from U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, the United States' lead negotiatior in the talks with the Taliban — that U.S. military presence in Afghanistan will "evolve" rather than end. Bonnie Kristian

February 10, 2019

American and South Korean officials on Sunday signed a new deal on how much Seoul will pay Washington for the upkeep of U.S. troops stationed in South Korea.

The agreement was renegotiated after President Trump demanded Seoul pay more. The payment for 2019 will be about $924 million, up from $830 million in 2018. Sunday's deal will only last for one year, far shorter than the five-year arrangements between the two nations in the past.

There are about 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the Korean War in the 1950s. Bonnie Kristian

February 9, 2019

President Trump announced the specific location of his upcoming second summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in a tweet Friday evening:

At the State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump mentioned Vietnam as the location of the meeting but did not offer further details. The first summit between the two leaders took place in Singapore in June of last year.

In a second tweet Friday, Trump predicted Kim's leadership would bring North Korea into a new era of prosperity:

He was similarly optimistic at the SOTU address, describing his work with Kim as part of a "historic push for peace on the Korean Peninsula."

"Our hostages have come home, nuclear testing has stopped, and there has not been a missile launch in 15 months," Trump said. "If I had not been elected president of the United States, we would right now, in my opinion, be in a major war with North Korea with potentially millions of people killed. Much work remains to be done, but my relationship with Kim Jong Un is a good one." Bonnie Kristian

February 4, 2019

President Trump revealed on CBS Sunday he wants to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq to "watch Iran" — and apparently he didn't bother to mention this to Iraq first.

"The [U.S.] troops ... in Iraq are operating based on the agreement between the government of Iraq and the United States for the specific mission of combating terrorism," Iraqi President Barham Salih said Monday. "Iraq's constitution does not allow our territory of our country to be used against our neighbors."

"Don't overburden Iraq with your own issues," Salih added. "The U.S. is a major power ... but do not pursue your own policy priorities. We live here. ... Iran is our neighbor ... We don't want to be part of any axis."

Trump's Sunday comments offered a mixed message of discontent with the United States' "endless" wars and intent to maintain long-term, if scaled down, American military commitments in the Middle East. Bonnie Kristian

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