US-China warship confrontation

Amid worsening U.S.-China military relations, a Chinese warship in the South China Sea this week passed dangerously close to a Navy guided missile destroyer in the most provocative encounter in many months.

The incident occurred Sunday around 8:30 a.m. local time near Gaven Reef in the western part of the disputed Spratly Islands, which have been occupied and militarized by China. The USS Decatur, a guided missile destroyer, was sailing near the reef when it was approached by a Chinese navy Luyang-class destroyer.

Capt. Charlie Brown, a spokesman for the Pacific Fleet, said the Chinese destroyer “conducted a series of increasingly aggressive maneuvers accompanied by warnings for Decatur to depart the area.”

The destroyer, according to Capt. Brown, approached within 45 yards of the bow, forcing the warship to maneuver to avoid a collision.

“U.S. Navy ships and aircraft operate throughout the Indo-Pacific routinely, including in the South China Sea,” he said. “As we have for decades, our forces will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows.”

The incident was captured by a Navy surveillance aircraft that appeared to be supporting the Decatur’s freedom-of-navigation operation near Gavin Reef. Aircraft surveillance photos, first published by the online maritime news outlet and confirmed by a U.S. defense official, show the Chinese ship passing more like 45 feet — not 45 yards — in front of the Decatur. Capt. Brown said the distance in his statement was based on a report from the Decatur.

Senior defense officials have warned for years that such potentially dangerous encounters could produce a “miscalculation” — a diplomatic euphemism for a shootout that could set off a larger regional conflict.

The United States regards the South China Sea as international waters and has rejected China’s expansive claims to own some 90 percent of the sea through vague historical claims.

The disputed Spratlys, along with the northern Parcel Islands, are claimed by China, Vietnam, the Philippines and other states in the region. China has built up some 3,200 acres of islands and began placing defense assets there over the past several years in a bid to assert military control over the waters, which carry an estimated $5 trillion in trade annually.

Adm. Jonathan Greenert, former chief of naval operations, wrote in a recently published report that China exploited the failure of the Obama administration to push back against China’s island-building.

“Indeed, there is evidence that Chinese leaders were prepared for a more robust reaction from the United States and might have recalibrated their activities as a consequence,” Adm. Greenert wrote. “When there was no such response, the island-building campaign continued apace.”

The admiral based the comment on meetings he held while chief of naval operations with PLA navy chief Adm. Wu Shengli, who “made clear that he thought the United States would have a more forceful reaction when China began its island-building.” Adm. Wu was commander from 2006 to 2017, roughly the same period when the Obama administration largely ignored the encroachment.

Retired Navy Capt. Jim Fanell, a former Pacific Fleet intelligence director during Adm. Greenert’s tenure, said he was not surprised by the comments. Capt. Fanell said he urged tougher action after China seized the Philippines’ Scarborough Shoal in 2012.

“Adm. Greenert supported the prior administration’s policy of appeasement and accommodation of China’s expansionism, which I had clearly assessed,” Capt. Fanell told Inside the Ring.

Adm. Greenert “made no effort to use his knowledge of the PRC’s maritime expansionism to call our nation to alarm,” he said.


Army Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of European Command, warned this week that Russia is stepping up its use of hybrid warfare — warfare carried out below the level of traditional armed conflict. Gen. Scaparrotti, who is also NATO’s military commander, said countering Russian hybrid warfare threats is part of a new NATO strategy he has been working on for the past year.

The four-star general said Russia is the No. 1 security threat in the region.

“They’re operating in domains, particularly below the level of war, in an aggressive way if you look at cyberactivity, the social media activity, disinformation, operating in many of the countries here in Europe in that way with basically the common theme being undermining Western values and the credibility of Western governments,” he told reporters in Warsaw on Sunday.

“And they do that in many different ways, but also including reinforcement, money to organizations and political groups on both ends of the spectrum, because really I think their view is just — I call it a destabilization campaign.”

Moscow is working in a strategic way to destabilize the governments of Europe using information warfare means. The doctrine involves using indirect means of subversion while avoiding direct military confrontation with troops.

“Their doctrine has that as a part of this indirect activity, with the idea that, if I don’t ever have to put a soldier there or ever fire a shot but I can undermine the government, then I’ve achieved my ends,” said Gen. Scaparrotti, adding that the main targets are nations in the eastern part of the NATO alliance.

Russia “wanted to keep those governments in a position where they could influence them, and this is a tactic for doing that,” he said.

Gen. Scaparrotti said NATO is working to define Russian hybrid warfare, which is largely outside of the military realm.

“This really does talk about whole-of-government approach and bringing others into it and deciding what needs to be done,” he said.

Special operations forces are engaged in dealing with hybrid warfare threats because the commandos are trained to understand it.

“They can help our nations within the alliance build their ability to identify it and counter it,” said Gen. Scaparrotti, noting that military information operations are part of the countermeasures.

Part of the hybrid warfare is the use of cyberattacks against NATO commands that have been detected and some traced to Russians, he said.

“What I secure is our unclassified and classified communications systems that we use for, you know, command and control, communications, etc., and we have attempts to breach those on a daily basis,” Gen. Scaparrotti said. “And some of those are Russian actors. There’s no doubt.”

The general said he believes the cyberattacks are “connected to the state in some cases and their intelligence apparatus.”


Defense Secretary Jim Mattis this week was asked to comment on growing tensions with China.

In the past week, China canceled security talks with the United States, blocked a U.S. warship from visiting Hong Kong and made an unsafe passage close to another U.S. warship in the disputed South China Sea.

China’s military is attempting to punish the Pentagon for recent sanctions imposed by the State Department on a senior Chinese general in charge of armaments for buying Russian jets through a sanctioned state arms exporter.

On his way to Europe for a NATO meeting, Mr. Mattis was asked if U.S.-China military relations are getting worse.

“There are tension points in the relationship, but based on discussions coming out of New York last week, and other things that we have coming up, we do not see it getting worse,” he told reporters. “We’re just going to have to learn how to manage this relationship.”

The retired Marine Corps four-star general was also scheduled to travel to China for a second visit this year. However, the Chinese military declined to make an appropriate high-ranking Chinese defense official available for the meeting, so it was called off.

Asked if he was disappointed that the China trip was scuttled, Mr. Mattis, known for making wry comments, replied: “No. I keep my personal feelings for my girlfriend.” It was a rare comment on personal relationships from Mr. Mattis, a lifelong bachelor.

Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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Vladimir Putin Called Former Russian Spy Sergei Skripal A “Traitor To The Homeland” And “Scum”

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday called former Russian military spy turned defector Sergei Skripal a “traitor” and “scum”.

His comments come seven months after Russian agents attempted to murder him and his daughter with a deadly nerve agent, according to UK security services.

Putin, speaking at a conference in Moscow, said that some media reports were “pushing through a theory that Mr Skripal is some sort of a rights activist”.

“He’s plainly a spy,” he said. “A traitor to his homeland. There’s such a thing — being a traitor to the homeland. He is one.”

“Imagine, if there’s a person in your country who betrayed it. How would you treat him? He’s plainly scum.”

Putin went on: “He was caught, he was punished, he spent five years in prison, we let him go, he left and continued cooperating with, providing consultations to [UK] security services.”

Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, were found slumped over a bench in Salisbury in March this year. They were taken to hospital and diagnosed as critically ill with nerve agent poisoning. They were eventually both discharged.

In July, two people became ill as a result of contact with the same Novichok nerve agent — one of them, Dawn Sturgess, later died.

The UK and its allies, including the European Union and the US, said the Skripal incident — and by extension Sturgess’s death — was the work of the Russian state, something strongly dismissed by Kremlin officials as being part of an “anti-Russian media campaign”.

Even when the Metropolitan Police released CCTV images of the two men suspected to have carried out the poisoning in Salisbury on the day the Skripals fell ill, Russian officials claimed they were innocent tourists.

In an interview with state-controlled broadcaster RT, the two suspects said they were merely in Salisbury as tourists, to see the city’s cathedral and nearby Stonehenge.

An investigation from online news outlet Bellingcat subsequently alleged that one of the pair was Anatoliy Chepiga, a highly decorated colonel in the Russian military intelligence agency, GRU.

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When did the Presidential Alert test happen and what did it say?

On Wednesday afternoon, nearly every smart phone in America blared and vibrated with an emergency alert – the first ever test of the national Presidential Alert system.

The Presidential Alert is similar to the state-level systems that let police and local authorities send out AMBER Alerts and weather warnings. The biggest difference is its scale. Wednesday’s nationwide system was designed to blast a message to all 225 million smart phones in the United States – and reach about 75% of the population.

News of the Presidential Alert test drew immediate criticism on some corners of social media – with some people vowing to turn off their phones, believing wrongly that they will be a captive audience of President Donald Trump. Some even mused – incorrectly – that the system would allow him to tweet to every American.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and experts say the Presidential Alert will not be Trump’s personal megaphone to America. Instead, they argue, it’s a necessary 21st-century update to the Emergency Alert System that has for decades allowed the president to authorize broadcasts on every television and radio in the country in the event of a national emergency.

Here’s what you need to know about Wednesday’s test of the Presidential Alert system.

When did the Presidential Alert test happen and what did it say?

At 2:18 p.m. ET on Wednesday, Oct. 3, FEMA sent out the first message testing the new nationwide presidential-level Wireless Emergency Alert. The alert went out to every smart phone in the United States that was turned on and within range of a cell tower and there was no opt-out. Originally scheduled for Sept. 20, the test was rescheduled for Oct. 3 due to Hurricane Florence.

The Presidential Alert said:

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Wireless Emergency Alert System. No action is needed.”

The message to smart phones were followed by an Emergency Alert System message broadcast on every TV and radio at 2:20 p.m. ET. That featured a voice that said:

“THIS IS A TEST of the National Emergency Alert System. This system was developed by broadcast and cable operators in voluntary cooperation with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Communications Commission, and local authorities to keep you informed in the event of an emergency. If this had been an actual emergency, an official message would have followed the tone alert you heard at the start of this message. A similar Wireless Emergency Alert test message has been sent to all cell phones nationwide. Some cell phones will receive the message; others will not. No action is required.”

In the event of an actual emergency, the Presidential Alert will include information about the emergency and instructions for how to respond and stay safe.

What is the Presidential Alert system and how does it work?

The Presidential Alert – also known as the Integrated Public Alert and Warning System (IPAWS) – is a new take on the country’s existing emergency warning systems.

FEMA said Wednesday’s test was meant to assess the readiness to distribute an emergency message nationwide and determine whether there are improvements to be made.

FEMA said every American who owns a smart phone – which is about 75% of the population – should have received the test alert. FEMA said the test was meant to allow officials to find a way to reach more people, including those who do not have access to smartphones. The alerts were similar to the ones for extreme weather or AMBER Alerts, which feature a loud alarm followed by vibration. Wednesday’s alert lasted around one minute, and required no action.

Only Wireless Emergency Alert-compatible cellphones that were switched on and within range of an active cell tower were able to receive the test alert. 100 mobile carriers participated, including the largest providers.

The clear difference between a Wireless Emergency Alert and a text message is the special, loud tone and a vibration that are both repeated twice, according to FEMA. There was also a distinctive Wireless Emergency Alert message dialogue box that appeared on phones home screens.

In the future, the President of the United States will have sole responsibility for determining when the national-level Emergency Alert System will be activated, but FEMA will be responsible for tests and exercises of the system.

Will President Trump now be able to personally message every phone in America?

In short, no.

Because it has been dubbed a Presidential Alert, some have claimed that Trump himself will now be able to send all Americans personalized messages.

However, FEMA said the alert system is meant to be used in case of an emergency and Wednesday’s Presidential Alert only featured a brief text pertaining directly the test.

There is also a law prohibiting Trump or any president from abusing the system. The Integrated Public Alert and Warning System Modernization Act of 2015 specifically states that the warning system must only be used to to alert the public of a potential disaster, so if Trump were to use the presidential alert for anything other than it’s intended use, he would be breaking the law.

“Except to the extent necessary for testing the public alert and warning system, the public alert and warning system shall not be used to transmit a message that does not relate to a natural disaster, act of terrorism, or other man-made disaster or threat to public safety.” the act states.

The process is also a lot more complex than simply drafting a tweet and hitting send. There are very specific guidelines for what the message must contain and the President himself will not draft the message, he will simply authorize a staff member to send it out on his behalf, according to FEMA.

“The message is not coming directly from the President,” a FEMA spokesman tells TIME. “The message is going to be sent on behalf of the president. The president or anyone that he designates will be advised by the staff to activate the warning and then issue it to the public, at that time the designee would contact FEMA at our operations center and tell us to activate the warning.”

Why were people threatening to turn off their phones to avoid the test?

Trump’s messages to his 54.8 million followers on Twitter are often brash and full of his own opinions. The misconception that the customized message will be similar to his tweets had some people online protesting the scheduled test, even going as far as turning their phones off to avoid receiving the Presidential Alert.

The #Godark103 was being used by Twitter users who protested the Presidential Alert by shutting off their phones.

Tim Groeling, a professor of communication studies at the University of California-Los Angeles, says that he believes the Presidential Alert system is an inevitable extension of the existing emergency alert systems. She says that the #Godark103 hashtag on Twitter has more to do with some people’s aversion to Trump than any reasonable fear of the alert being abused.

“The amount of paranoia that people are engaged in on this is kind of shocking for something that is a natural extension of the national broadcast system in a situation where people aren’t consuming live media,” Groeling tells TIME.

“If Trump was going to abuse this system, he could of already been abusing the television one, which has been in force since he took office.

“I think people’s telephones are very personal devices, they carry them with them all the time, so the level of concern is higher. But, on the flip side of that, if there is an earthquake or any other disaster, it is a good medium to let people know, because in those situations seconds do count.”

Why is the Presidential Alert system important?

FEMA said Wednesday’s nationwide test will provide FEMA with valuable information on the government’s ability to distribute a national emergency message.

The IPAWS Modernization Act, made law in 2016, requires FEMA to conduct at least one nationwide test every three years. According to FEMA, the nationwide test are to help ensure under all conditions that the President, federal agencies and state, local and tribal governments can alert and warn the civilian population in areas endangered by natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other man-made disasters and threats to public safety.

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Convicted murderer accused of raping woman who offered him shelter from Hurricane Florence

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A murderer recently released from prison was arrested in North Carolina for allegedly raping a deaf woman who’d been sheltering him from Hurricane Florence, authorities said.

Freeman Scott Ireland, 37, was charged with second-degree forcible rape, Southern Pines police said in a statement on Tuesday.

The victim called police at 11:08 p.m. on Monday to report the assault by “a male who was known to her.”

Freeman Scott Ireland
Freeman Scott IrelandSouthern Pines Police Department

“[The suspect] sexually assaulted her while she was sleeping inside her home,” according to the police statement. “Freeman Scott Ireland was still inside the victim’s residence when the investigating officers arrived.”

The woman was treated at Moore Regional Hospital in nearby Pinehurst.

The victim has known Ireland for at least 20 years, though the exact nature of their relationship wasn’t clear on Wednesday, Southern Pines police Capt. Charles Campbell said.

Not only is the victim deaf, but at least one potential witness in the apartment where the attack happened is also deaf, according to police.

“We’re still putting all the pieces together,” Campbell said.

Ireland had been on supervised release since May, after spending 20 years behind bars for a second-degree murder conviction, according to state records.

Ireland was just 16 when he broke into a home, robbing and beating to death a 61-year-old man in the seaside town of Southport in September 1997, prosecutors said.

He was originally charged as an adult with first-degree murder before he pleaded guilty to second-degree murder in March 1998, records showed.

Ireland is now being held at the Moore County Detention Center in lieu of $500,000 bond and he’s scheduled to face a judge on Tuesday next week.

Hurricane Florence, which roared through the southeast last month, killed 49 people with flood waters still covering much of North and South Carolina, officials said.

“There is no place in our community for predators, sexual or otherwise,” Southern Pines police chief Robert Temme said in a statement.

“I have worked closely with our law enforcement partners at the North Carolina Department of Public Safety, Division of Adult Correction, to ensure that an additional arrest warrant was issued for Freeman Scott Ireland to further provide the highest level of safety possible, not only for the victim in this case, but for the entire community as well.”

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North Korean Hackers Stole Over $1 Billion and Destroyed Computers Around the World, Reports Reveal

As President Donald Trump claims that he and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un  “fell in love” over “beautiful letters,” hackers from the rogue regime are working diligently to steal millions of dollars from financial institutions and funnel them back into Kim’s coffers.

New research by the cybersecurity firm Fire Eye demonstrates that the APT38, a North Korean government–linked hacking group, is targeting financial institutions around the world in an attempt to pilfer over $1.1 billion since 2014. The group has also conducted widespread espionage and reconnaissance against international financial institutions. These operations often leave the victims’ computer systems completely destroyed.

“The group has compromised more than 16 organizations in at least 11 different countries, sometimes simultaneously, since at least 2014. Since the first observed activity, the group’s operations have become increasingly complex and destructive,” reads the report released Wednesday. 

“APT38 executes sophisticated bank heists typically featuring long planning, extended periods of access to compromised victim environments preceding any attempts to steal money, fluency across mixed operating system environments, the use of custom developed tools, and a constant effort to thwart investigations capped with a willingness to completely destroy compromised machines afterwards,” the report continues.

The group generally targets financial institutions and inter-bank financial systems to obtain large sums of money. Banks have been targeted in the U.S, Vietnam, Turkey, Mexico, India, Ecuador, Chile and Bangladesh, among other countries. The group has also targeted financial governing bodies and media organizations that focus on economics. During the height of the bitcoin bubble of 2016, the hackers targeted media outlets that covered cryptocurrency-related stories. 


This picture taken on September 21, 2017 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on September 22 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un delivering a statement. North Korean hackers have stolen over $1.1 billion from financial institutions around the world. STR/AFP/Getty Images

Meanwhile, a separate report by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, also released Wednesday, noted that North Korea’s hackers pose a significant risk to national security despite being significantly less skilled than hackers from China or Russia.

“Fifteen or even 10 years ago, when analyzing potential blowback to U.S. sanctions on North Korea or U.S.-South Korean military exercises, there was never a consideration of the Kim regime’s ability to target the U.S. economy,” Samantha Ravich, senior adviser and principal investigator of FDD’s cyber-enabled economic warfare project, said in a statement. “Now, North Korea has one of the most capable and aggressive cyber operations. Facing intense U.S. economic sanctions, Pyongyang may consider using its cyber capabilities to attack the U.S. economy.”

Researchers noted that most of the regime’s focus is on making and stealing money for the North Korean regime, as well as collecting data from foreign governments. According to journalist Bob Woodward’s recent book Fear, the Obama administration tentatively thought about launching offensive cyberattacks against North Korea in retaliation for the rogue regime’s 2014 hack against Sony Pictures, but the administration ultimately nixed the plan so as not to provoke China.

“To launch broader cyber attacks effectively, the National Security Agency would have to go through servers that North Korea had in China. The Chinese would detect such an attack and could conclude it was directed at them, potentially unleashing a cataclysmic cyber war,” the book reads.

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Trump and North Korea’s Kim: Caught in a bad romance?

North Korea’s authoritarian leader may have found the key to President Trump’s heart: a flowery letter full of flattery.

In May, when Trump threatened to cancel his upcoming summit with Kim Jong Un because of the “open hostility” being expressed by the North Korean leader, Kim got out his stationery.

Trump liked what he read, and the summit was back on for June 12.

“That letter was a very nice letter,” Trump told reporters on June 1. “Oh, would you like to see what was in that letter? Would you like it?” he teased.

Trump then received a letter from Kim on Aug. 1 that prompted the president to reply publicly on Twitter.

“Thank you for your nice letter — l look forward to seeing you soon!” Trump wrote.

President Trump takes a letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from his suit jacket pocket during a meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Lotte New York Palace hotel during the U.N. General Assembly on Sept. 26. (Evan Vucci/AP)

Love again was in the air, or at least nestled in Trump’s coat pocket, last week at the United Nations.

Trump carried the latest missive from Kim with him to meetings with world leaders, at one point pulling it, still folded, from his suit jacket and fingering it as he spoke to reporters while seated next to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“We have a very good relationship. He likes me. I like him. We get along,” Trump told reporters at the end of his trip to the United Nations, calling the latest correspondence “a beautiful piece of art.”

The White House has kept the exact contents of the letters a secret, but people briefed on them said they did not contain substantive new policy proposals or other breakthroughs.

Nonetheless, they have had their desired effect: charming Trump.

“We are doing great,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Wheeling, W.Va., on Saturday night, rhapsodizing about his relationship with Kim. “I was really being tough, and so was he, and we’d go back and forth. And then we fell in love. Okay? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

North Korean rhetoric tends to be over the top in both praise and disdain — last year the regime called Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” — and formal written communication can be particularly hyperbolic, veterans of past negotiations and other North Korea watchers said. They warned that Trump would be wise to focus on what Kim does rather than what he writes in a letter.

“What’s probably attracting the president is rhetoric that for people who have done this for a long time is very familiar and is meant to convince fellow travelers, such as, ‘I am completely committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,’ ” said one person familiar with aspects of the current negotiating effort led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who was not authorized to speak on the record.

Trump has based much of his foreign policy on the belief that he is a master negotiator who can strike deals where his predecessors failed. He often publicly muses about whether foreign leaders, such as Chinese President Xi Jinping, like him as a barometer of what types of deals may be possible. But analysts said this approach comes with its own set of perils.

“Historians and practitioners sometimes refer to this as the ‘perils of personal diplomacy’ — the notion that leaders can get carried away by emotion when they’re dealing with other leaders directly,” said Jon Meacham, the presidential historian and author. “Politicians are wired to like and to be liked, which means the closed atmospherics of a summit or a correspondence can overwhelm considerations of national interest.”

British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain and Adolf Hitler come to mind, Meacham added.

“In Trump’s case, the worry, to put it mildly, is that he’s overly susceptible to flattery,” he said.

Trump’s public affection for Kim has no modern parallel, said Meena Bose, director of the Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University.

President Harry S. Truman called Joseph Stalin “someone I could work with,” which sounds tame by comparison, Bose said, and George W. Bush was mocked for saying he had looked into Vladi­mir Putin’s eyes and seen the Russian leader’s soul.

“It’s not unprecedented for presidents to make personal remarks about other leaders,” she said. “The ‘love him’ is, of course, particularly enthusiastic.”

Trump shocked allies, his own party and the foreign policy establishment by agreeing to the unprecedented personal meeting with Kim in June.

Trump had spent his first year in office warning Kim that he risked destruction if he threatened the United States with North Korea’s newly capable intercontinental ballistic missiles. He famously insulted the short, heavyset North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man.” It was not a term of endearment.

Now that they are close, Trump has dropped the snide references to Kim, instead praising his savvy and his “incredible” commitment to negotiations.

“We’ve come a long way from, you know the term,” Trump said in Wheeling, in apparent reference to “Rocket Man.”

The summit in Singapore, which featured the two leaders holding hands, resulted in the return of some remains of U.S. service members killed in the Korean War but little other measurable success.

North Korean officials have been vague about what an agreement over its nuclear weapons would cover and have resisted a deadline, current and former U.S. officials said.

Addressing reporters at the United Nations last Wednesday, Trump stressed his personal connection with Kim and said he sees no need to “rush” an agreement with North Korea to dismantle its nuclear program.

The process could take as many as three years, Trump added, contradicting top advisers.

“We’re not playing the time game,” Trump said. “If it takes two years, three years or five months, it doesn’t matter.”

Pompeo plans to visit Pyongyang next week to prepare for the second summit between Trump and Kim.

Trump’s chumminess with Kim makes traditional U.S. allies in the Pacific nervous — particularly Japan, which is directly threatened by North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

Abe had presented Trump a list of specific things he did not want Trump and Kim to agree to, using an invitation to Trump’s Florida golf resort weeks before the summit to lobby the president, a person familiar with the meeting said.

Trump, however, told Abe that he needed to enter the meeting unencumbered “and look in his eyes and see if we have a deal,” the person said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to protect diplomatic discussions.

U.S. sanctions on North Korea remain in place and probably would be lifted in stages if North Korea sticks to a future agreement for verification and dismantlement of its nuclear facilities. Such a detailed agreement appears a long way off, and U.S. officials are wary of North Korea’s long history of obfuscation, cheating and delay.

North Korea warned Tuesday that a formal end to the Korean War should not be considered a bargaining chip in negotiations over North Korean nuclear weapons, but it dangled the possibility of concessions in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.

At the United Nations last week, North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho said Washington has not demonstrated commitment to improving relations, adding that North Korea will not “unilaterally” disarm if it cannot trust the United States. Many observers took as a threat that Washington should lift sanctions or risk talks falling apart.

“We are at a point now where both the U.S. and North Korea have bought into this top-down, leader-driven process,” said Jenny Town, a research analyst at the Stimson Center and editor of the North Korea-focused publication “38 North.”

“So whenever there are kind of grievances on the working level, instead of working on that, both sides are escalating higher,” Town said.

The “love” comment on Saturday night occasioned comparisons to Trump’s criticism of former president Barack Obama as weak and overly eager to strike a deal with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons ambitions.

“We would have been dragged up to the Congress and flailed in public” had Obama ever said the same thing about a dictator who threatened the United States, said Kelly Magsamen, a senior Asia policy official at the Pentagon in the Obama administration.

Trump’s faith in his personal relationship with Kim seems to ignore the history of failed negotiations with North Korea and the caution of some aides.

Trump is in a classic bad relationship, Magsamen said.

“Highly dysfunctional on both sides. An abusive partner who has a history of cheating,” Magsamen deadpanned.

Her relationship advice?

“Get a prenup.”

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