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Daily Brief: North Korea Party Congress Begins

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May 6, 2016

Daily News Brief

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North Korea Party Congress Begins

North Korea opened its first party congress in thirty-six years on Friday morning in Pyongyang's April 25 House of Culture. The state-run Korean Central News Agency published a dispatch praising North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for developing a nuclear deterrent (NYT) against its enemies, particularly the United States. North Korea had invited more than a hundred foreign journalists to cover the event, but the reporters were bused to the venue and only allowed to view it from the outside (AP). The Workers' Party congress is expected to run through Monday (Korea Times).


"Even worse, North Korea is now a nuclear-armed state. It is the only country to ever withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and has tested nuclear weapons on four occasions, the only state in the world to undertake nuclear tests in the 21st century. In mid-March, Kim Jong-un pledged that North Korea would conduct a fifth test in the near future, which many expect will be in conjunction with the Party Congress this week. Pyongyang also continues to pursue development of a wide variety of ballistic missiles and has engaged in a flurry of recent tests, most of which have been spectacular failures. It says otherwise to its own citizens, urging them to celebrate North Korea’s supposed achievements. North Korea also insists that it is now a full-fledged nuclear weapons state with capabilities equivalent to the established nuclear powers. These claims remain aspirational and without a basis in fact," writes Jonathan Pollack for the Brookings Institution.

"Kim has timed North Korea's nuclear sprint to coincide with internal and external objectives. First, he set the date for an historic seventh conference of the Korean Worker's Party for May 2016. Second, Kim used international condemnation under UN Security Council Resolution 2270 and the holding of annual U.S.-ROK Key Resolve/Foal Eagle military exercises in March and April as further justification to intensify his nuclear push. The third reason for North Korea's nuclear dash may be influenced by the U.S. political calendar. The Obama administration's main tool to blunt North Korea's crisis escalation tactics has been an approach known as 'strategic patience.' An underlying premise enabling such an approach for the last eight years has been the knowledge that North Korea's pace of nuclear and missile development was not rapid enough to enable Pyongyang to be able to directly strike the United States with a nuclear weapon on the Obama administration's watch. As a result, the White House could use pressure to slow North Korea's program while pushing Pyongyang to return to denuclearization talks," writes CFR's Scott Snyder for CNN.

"While sanctions are important and China, more than any other country, has the power to make North Korea feel their effects, sanctions alone are not enough to mitigate the threat. Backing an inexperienced and reckless leader like Mr. Kim into a corner is risky and might lead to even more dangerous responses, like aiming a weapon at South Korea or Japan, with potentially catastrophic results. At some point, the United States, along with China, South Korea, Japan and Russia, will have to find a way to revive negotiations aimed at curbing North Korea’s nuclear program. The Obama administration earlier this year had secret contacts with the North that foundered over a disagreement on whether to focus on denuclearization (America’s priority) or on replacing the current Korean War armistice with a formal peace treaty (North Korea’s priority). But the idea of talking with the North is politically unpopular in America, and this is an election year," writes the New York Times editorial board.


Chinese Navy to Participate in Naval Exercises in Hawaii

A U.S. naval official said that China would participate in the RIMPAC military drills near Hawaii in June and July, saying the relationship between the two countries was "too important" to allow China's refusal last week to let a U.S. aircraft carrier dock in Hong Kong get in the way of naval relations (WSJ)


Report: CIA Chief in Pakistan May Have Been Poisoned Following Bin Laden Raid

A new report (WaPo) says that CIA Station Chief Mark Kelton abruptly left Pakistan two months after the 2011 Osama bin Laden raid in Abbottabad due to a violent illness that led some to believe he had been poisoned.

Sartaj Aziz, an adviser to Pakistan's prime minister, discusses U.S.-Pakistan relations in this CFR event.

KAZAKHSTAN: President Nursultan Nazarbaev announced he would delay (RFA) a controversial plan to privatize state-owned farmland, which would have gone up for auction in July. The backtracking follows weeks of protests over foreign ownership of public lands. 


Airstrikes on Refugee Camp Kill at Least Thirty in Idlib Province

At least thirty people were killed when a camp for internally displaced persons located near Syria's border with Turkey was attacked on Thursday (Guardian). Meanwhile, seventy-three people were reportedly killed when Islamist rebels attacked a village outside the city of Aleppo overnight (Reuters), straining a new cease-fire announced by U.S. and Russian diplomats this week.

ISRAEL: A Gazan woman was killed and several others wounded in Israeli airstrikes in the strip, representing one of the worst outbreaks of violence in the area since the 2014 Gaza war (Al Jazeera). Israel began launching airstrikes in Gaza on Wednesday after its troops on the border were targeted with mortar attacks.


Militants Attack Offshore Chevron Facility in Nigeria

A Nigerian naval spokesman said that militants used dynamite to attack a facility that collects oil and gas in the Niger Delta region (VOA). A group called the Niger Delta Avengers took responsibility for the attack (Premium Times).

CFR's Matthew Page discusses Nigeria's stability and business climate in this Expert Brief.

UGANDA: Ugandan officials announced a ban on media coverage of opposition politicians’ protest campaign against the reelection of President Yoweri Museveni (AfricaNews). The government said journalists who report on the opposition party’s activities could lose their licenses and face arrest (VOA)


Italian, German Leaders Criticize Austrian Border Fence

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel denounced Austria's construction of a border fence at the Brenner Pass to prevent asylum seekers from entering the country (FT). Renzi called the move "mistaken and anachronistic" and "not justified by any emergency."

UNITED KINGDOM: The Scottish National Party's Nicola Sturgeon extended her term as the head of Scotland's government (Bloomberg), though her party also lost its majority in parliament (NYT).  


Airlifts Begin for 25,000 Residents Trapped in Canadian Oil Sands Fire

As a wildfire in Canadian oil sands town Fort McMurray continued into its third day, Alberta officials began airlifts for thousands of residents who could not be evacuated by land due to fire and smoke (Globe and Mail). Fire officials expect the blaze to continue for days as winds push it into dry forests.

BRAZIL: Brazil's Supreme Court suspended the mandate of the country's speaker of the lower house, Eduardo Cunha, over corruption charges (LAHT). Cunha has been a leading voice in the charge to impeach President Dilma Rousseff.

CFR's Matthew Taylor discusses Brazil's political crisis and corruption probe in this interview.


Poll: Americans’ View of Fight Against Islamic State Improves

Forty-five percent of Americans in a recent CNN/ORC poll said the U.S. fight against the self-proclaimed Islamic State in Iraq and Syria was going well, an increase of 7 percentage points from a similar survey in December. Overall, 54 percent still see U.S. military action against the militant group faring poorly.

Track and compare the candidates’ positions on combating terrorism and other foreign policy issues with CFR’s interactive, The Candidates and the World.

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