Seismic activity detected near North Korean nuclear site; cause is unknown

Seismic activity was detected Saturday near the site of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear site, but it is not known whether a nuclear test caused the development.The first sign Pyongyang has conducted a nuclear test is usually seismic activity. North Ko…

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Seismic activity detected near North Korean nuclear site

Seismic activity was detected Saturday near the site of North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear site, but it is not known whether a nuclear test caused the development.

The first sign Pyongyang has conducted a nuclear test is usually seismic activity. North Korea has one nuclear test site — Punggye-ri.

A magnitude 3.5 earthquake struck at 4:29 a.m. ET Saturday 22 kilometers (more than 13 miles) east-northeast of Sungjibaegam, North Korea, the U.S. Geological Survey said. The depth of the earthquake was 5 kilometers (3.1 miles).

“This event occurred in the area of the previous North Korean nuclear tests,” the USGS said. “We cannot conclusively confirm at this time the nature (natural or human-made) of the event. The depth is poorly constrained and has been held to 5 kilometers by the seismologist.”

Saturday’s detection comes at a time of rising tensions between the United States and North Korea, with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump engaging in an escalating war of words.

Two South Korean officials at the Korea Meteorological Administration told CNN that their analysis so far suggests Saturday’s seismic activity around the nuclear site was not caused by an explosion or a collapse of the site.

“We assess that there is a slim possibility that it was caused by a collapse,” said Park Jong-shin, one of the officials.

“Our analysis shows that it was a natural earthquake. However, we are carrying out a further analysis because there are concerns that it might have been a man-made earthquake.”

Another official at the the Korea Meteorological Administration’s command center said it is believed to have been a natural earthquake.

“Seismic waves from a natural earthquake have a distinct pattern,” the official said. “The waves we have detected from the latest earthquake have a similar pattern to that of natural earthquakes. What we detected today (was) clearly different from wave patterns that would have been created as a result of an explosion or a man-made earthquake.”

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Iran tests new ballistic missile hours after showing it off at military parade

Iran tested a new ballistic missile that is reportedly capable of carrying multiple warheads, the nation’s state-run broadcaster announced Saturday.

Iran unveiled the ballistic missile Friday at a military parade in Tehran and successfully tested it the same day, Press TV reported. It said Iran released footage of the test-launch.

Called the Khorramshahr missile, the weapon has a range of 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) and can carry multiple warheads, according to Press TV.

“The Khorramshahr missile has become smaller in size and more tactical and it will be operational in the near future,” the broadcaster said.

The missile was launched from an unknown location.

With such a range, the missile would be easily capable of reaching Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Speaking during Friday’s parade, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would press ahead with strengthening its missile capabilities and military defenses, Press TV reported.

“We will promote our defensive and military power as much as we deem necessary,” Rouhani said. “We seek no one’s permission to defend our land.”

He added, “Whether you like it or not we are going to help Syria, Yemen and Palestine, and we will strengthen our missiles.”

Rouhani said the United States and Israel have isolated themselves by opposing the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the other major powers. He added that Iran remains fully committed to the pact, Press TV reported.

The United States extended sanctions relief for Iran last week as part of the agreement, which President Donald Trump has described as “the worst deal ever.”

It was mainly a procedural move, but it was significant since reimposing nuclear-related sanctions could lead Iran to end its compliance with the deal and revert back to rapid uranium enrichment — something it’s threatened to do if the United States reneges.

The next major deadline comes in October when Trump will decide whether to certify that Iran is complying with the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. If he does not, Congress has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions waived under the deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said that although the 2015 Iran deal was not perfect, the international community should stick with it or risk facing another situation like North Korea.

In an interview with CNN, he called for a new agreement to monitor Iran’s missile development.

“We have to work in order to have a monitoring process on the ballistic activity of Iran.” he told CNN. “That is a concern for the whole region.”

It’s been known that Iran has had a missile with a range capable of reaching Israel, said Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Institute for Internal Strategic Studies-Americas, a think tank.

What’s new, he said, is that Iran says its ballistic missiles can carry multiple warheads and maybe several cluster bombs.

“It has the potential to carry nuclear warheads, but I am skeptical as to whether it can carry multiple ones because nuclear warheads are so large,” said Fitzpatrick, who also heads the think tank’s Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme.

Fitzpatrick agrees it would be a good idea to extend the Iran nuclear deal to include ballistic missiles.

“But it is no good talking about this if the US is not honoring the nuclear agreement,” he said.

Iran expert Sanam Vakil, an associate fellow with the UK’s Chatham House, said that Rouhani was playing to both the international and domestic audience.

“On the one hand Iran is trying to demonstrate they are the pragmatic rational actor here and maintain unity among the other signatories of the nuclear agreement, even if from the US side it starts to unravel,” Vakil told CNN.

“On the other (hand), domestic politics very much drives Iran’s relationship with the US, and Rouhani has a big hard-line contingency among the country’s elite who fear the US wants a regime change that he has to consider.”

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Iran tests new ballistic missile hours after showing it off at military parade

Iran tested a new ballistic missile that is reportedly capable of carrying multiple warheads, the nation’s state-run broadcaster announced Saturday.

Iran unveiled the ballistic missile Friday at a military parade in Tehran and successfully tested it the same day, Press TV reported. It said Iran released footage of the test-launch.

Called the Khorramshahr missile, the weapon has a range of 1,250 miles (2,000 kilometers) and can carry multiple warheads, according to Press TV.

“The Khorramshahr missile has become smaller in size and more tactical and it will be operational in the near future,” the broadcaster said.

The missile was launched from an unknown location.

With such a range, the missile would be easily capable of reaching Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Speaking during Friday’s parade, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said Tehran would press ahead with strengthening its missile capabilities and military defenses, Press TV reported.

“We will promote our defensive and military power as much as we deem necessary,” Rouhani said. “We seek no one’s permission to defend our land.”

He added, “Whether you like it or not we are going to help Syria, Yemen and Palestine, and we will strengthen our missiles.”

Rouhani said the United States and Israel have isolated themselves by opposing the 2015 nuclear agreement between Iran and the other major powers. He added that Iran remains fully committed to the pact, Press TV reported.

The United States extended sanctions relief for Iran last week as part of the agreement, which President Donald Trump has described as “the worst deal ever.”

It was mainly a procedural move, but it was significant since reimposing nuclear-related sanctions could lead Iran to end its compliance with the deal and revert back to rapid uranium enrichment — something it’s threatened to do if the United States reneges.

The next major deadline comes in October when Trump will decide whether to certify that Iran is complying with the agreement, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. If he does not, Congress has 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions waived under the deal.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday said that although the 2015 Iran deal was not perfect, the international community should stick with it or risk facing another situation like North Korea.

In an interview with CNN, he called for a new agreement to monitor Iran’s missile development.

“We have to work in order to have a monitoring process on the ballistic activity of Iran.” he told CNN. “That is a concern for the whole region.”

It’s been known that Iran has had a missile with a range capable of reaching Israel, said Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Institute for Internal Strategic Studies-Americas, a think tank.

What’s new, he said, is that Iran says its ballistic missiles can carry multiple warheads and maybe several cluster bombs.

“It has the potential to carry nuclear warheads, but I am skeptical as to whether it can carry multiple ones because nuclear warheads are so large,” said Fitzpatrick, who also heads the think tank’s Non-Proliferation and Nuclear Policy Programme.

Fitzpatrick agrees it would be a good idea to extend the Iran nuclear deal to include ballistic missiles.

“But it is no good talking about this if the US is not honoring the nuclear agreement,” he said.

Iran expert Sanam Vakil, an associate fellow with the UK’s Chatham House, said that Rouhani was playing to both the international and domestic audience.

“On the one hand Iran is trying to demonstrate they are the pragmatic rational actor here and maintain unity among the other signatories of the nuclear agreement, even if from the US side it starts to unravel,” Vakil told CNN.

“On the other (hand), domestic politics very much drives Iran’s relationship with the US, and Rouhani has a big hard-line contingency among the country’s elite who fear the US wants a regime change that he has to consider.”

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From dotard to Goliath, world reacts to Trump

A giant gold Goliath. Mentally deranged. A pusher of pipe dreams.

World leaders pulled out the stops, and perhaps a thesaurus or two, to review President Donald Trump’s first appearance at the UN General Assembly, the multi-day pageant of meetings known as the Super Bowl of Diplomacy.

Some of the more colorful trash talk came from old foes of the US, while rivals for power tried to land a punch about nations used to “lording it over others.” But alongside the expected zingers came a raft of quieter criticism from countries that have long stood beside Washington in the global arena.

Where some saw a “refreshing” honesty in Trump’s remarks, others said the concern bubbling up from allies about his rhetoric and policies on Iran, North Korea, climate change and even domestic issues suggests there’s a danger the US will grow isolated on the international stage.

“Isolation of a different sort”

“This is isolation of a different sort, this is self-isolation,” said Daniel Serwer, director of the Conflict Management Program at the Johns Hopkins School of International Studies. “These aren’t conservative positions, they’re radical positions on climate change, North Korea and Iran.”

Trump delivered trademark provocation — threatening to “totally destroy” North Korea in a body based on the idea of turning swords into ploughshares. He dismissed the North Korean leader as “Rocket Man.” He hinted at a decision to walk away from the international pact that restrains Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

And in a body devoted, however imperfectly, to the idea of collaboration for the greater good, he championed self-interest.

“Some of us were embarrassed, if not frightened, by what appeared to be the return of the biblical giant gold Goliath,” said Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s president. “Are we having a return of the Goliath to our midst who threatens the extinction of other countries?”

Mugabe said that the world wanted to be led by a United States guided by values of unity and peace, “not by the promise of our damnation.” Countries like his had already resisted “damnation” in the form of imperialism. “The master of imperialism was defeated by us,” he said. “Bring us another monster, by whatever name, he will suffer the same consequences.”

Criticism from the likes of Mugabe, not a particularly warm friend of the US, is “just business as usual,” said James Carafano, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “Put everyone’s politics and line up their comments and they just fall in line like tin soldiers.”

Certainly, the usual critics lined up.

North Korea’s Kim slammed Trump from afar as a “mentally deranged US dotard,” sending hundreds of thousands running to their dictionaries.

Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, speaking just outside the General Assembly, bristled with sarcasm as he told reporters that, “of course the country that violates the human rights all over the world seems to have the moral authority to come and speak to the rest of the countries as if they were his employees.”

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran rebuked Trump’s “ignorant, absurd rhetoric.” Cuba’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Bruno Eduardo Rodriguez Parrilla, said the US leader “manipulates” the concept of sovereignty and security, “ignores and distorts history, and portrays a pipe dream as a goal to be pursued,” to his own benefit and the harm of others, including his allies. 

At least one of those allies had nothing but praise for Trump. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that, “in over 30 years in my experience with the UN, I never heard a bolder or more courageous speech.”

The US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley said that many countries “were very positive to the speech,” adding that “they appreciated how blunt and honest he was … how straightforward he was and how refreshing it was.”

But publicly and privately, Haley and the Israeli leader seemed to be in the minority.

One senior diplomat from a close US ally said Trump’s references to his “America First” campaign platform, which he tied to his remarks on sovereignty, were “just terrible.” A diplomat from the Middle East, asked for an opinion about Trump’s address to the UN, simply laughed and after a pause said, “interesting.”   

But others were more than happy to air their concerns publicly, however carefully.

French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were among leaders who called out Trump for his decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, putting the US in a club of three, alongside Syria.

“There is no country on the planet that can walk away from the challenge and reality of climate change,” Trudeau told the UN Thursday.

Another nearby neighbor, Mexican Secretary of Foreign Affairs Luis Videgaray, used his address to the UN to question Trump’s “America First” spin on sovereignty.

“We hear voices today questioning the efficacy of multilateralism to deal with the world’s challenges,” Videgaray said, without mentioning Trump by name. “Mexico rejects this dilemma and continues to be a sovereign state with a profound multilateral feeling. No matter how powerful a country is it cannot respond to the enormous shared challenges of time.”

“It is multilateralism that makes a difference,” the Mexican minister said, mentioning problems like climate change, arms regulation, drug control and natural disasters as just a few examples of challenges one country can’t manage alone.

A win for Mexico, a loss for the US

At a later press conference, he wondered at the logic of Trump’s decision to expel children brought to the US without papers, many of them from Mexico and now known as “Dreamers.” “It’s hard to understand why a country would export, export for free a human capital of this quality,” Videgaray told reporters at the UN. “If that happens it would be a tremendous win for Mexico, big loss for the US.”

Again and again, people returned to the Trump administration’s handling of North Korea, singling out the propensity for threats that, in their view, escalate tensions, not defuse them.

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Lofven wasn’t the only person to question not just Trump’s boast of North Korean destruction, but the place he chose to do it. Speaking to CNN, Lofven said, “I think the spirit of the world community and the United Nations is not to threaten one another, it is to find a way to common solutions.”

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel rebuked Trump’s remarks on sovereignty and his dismissal of the Iran deal, linking it to ongoing tensions with North Korea. “This is not only about Iran,” Garbiel said. “This is about the credibility of the international community.”

What happens, he asked, “if it turns out that negotiated agreements do not endure and confidence in those agreements are not worth the paper they’re written on. How are we going to convince countries like North Korea that international agreements provide them with security?”

Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs Taro Kono also touched on the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, as the Iran deal is known, saying that it’s “extremely important” the pact be continuously and steadily implemented.

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, who told a room full of diplomats that “we don’t destroy countries,” made clear that Europe will chart its own path if need be. If the US leaves the deal, she said, “I can tell you as a European … we will make sure that the agreement stays.”

Carafano says the Europe is upset because of Trump’s “big challenge to the euro-federalist program,” the commitment to a European Union. “They see calls for sovereignty as a direct challenge on the European project.”

As for the upset about Trump’s threat to North Korea, Carafano says it’s “laughable.”

But others like Serwer see worrying signs.

“The European allies aren’t with us on North Korea, Iran or climate change,” he said. “He is pretending to lead but nobody is following. It’s that bad.”

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Trump gives ‘final warning’ on North Korea trade. What comes next?

The high-stakes standoff between the U.S., China and North Korea is heating up.

President Trump on Thursday gave the Treasury Department more power than ever to punish people and businesses who trade with North Korea. The big questions are how and when it will be used.

“They certainly have enough evidence to move forward with these kinds of sanctions,” said Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “It looks like they were interested in providing one little final warning, especially to China.”

Trump has been pushing China to use its deep economic ties with North Korea to pressure Kim Jong Un’s regime to back down from developing nuclear weapons. China is estimated to account for roughly 90% of North Korea’s foreign trade, with money and goods flowing back and forth across a land border that runs for 880 miles.

On Friday, China announced it would limit its exports of refined petroleum products to North Korea beginning in October 1 to comply with U.N. resolutions.

The Chinese Ministry of Commerce said in a statement that exports of condensate oil, liquefied natural gas as well as textile imports from the North are currently prohibited.

Trump’s big ‘experiment’

Even though China has supported a series of tough U.N. resolutions this year targeting a growing portion of North Korea’s economy, many experts are skeptical that Chinese officials and companies are fully applying the sanctions.

That’s where the new powers Trump gave Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin come in. They enable him to cut off access to the U.S. financial system and freeze the assets of any company or individual doing business with North Korea, measures known as secondary sanctions.

Those are serious threats for major Chinese banks, which had $142 billion of assets in the U.S. at the end of March, according to the Federal Reserve. U.S. dollars are the lifeblood of the global financial system and banks operating internationally need easy access to them.

“We are about to run the most significant experiment in the use of secondary sanctions on North Korea to date, and perhaps the most significant such experiment with respect to any country ever,” wrote Stephan Haggard, a North Korea expert at the University of California, San Diego.

Alarm bells in banks

The executive order that Trump signed Thursday is likely to have set off alarm bells around the globe.

“Every single big bank in the world has sent or will be sending a memo to their compliance teams,” Haggard said. “Those teams in turn will be scrambling to figure out if they have any North Korea risk.”

But it’s uncertain exactly how Chinese banks will respond.

Earlier this month, China ordered its financial institutions to take a number of steps to comply with past U.N. resolutions, including halting business with sanctioned individuals and companies. And employees at some major Chinese banks told CNNMoney that they were no longer opening new accounts for any North Koreans.

Unprecedented pressure

Those measures did not go far enough for Trump.

The North Korean regime is believed to use a complex network of front companies to do business in China and other countries to dodge sanctions. Trump’s new order has put the onus on banks and other firms to find out whether the businesses they’re dealing with have any kind of North Korean connection.

Banks that may have previously looked the other way now have a strong incentive to pay close attention or risk severe punishment. If they all begin cutting off business with North Korea, the impact would be felt immediately.

“It’s something that the North Koreans have never really faced before,” said Ruggiero, a former official at the State and Treasury departments who specialized in financial sanctions and weapons proliferation issues.

Too big to sanction?

But the new U.S. measures still come with limitations.

Experts say cutting off a major Chinese bank from the U.S. financial system could have unforeseen consequences, such as a chain reaction of defaults that could ripple through the world’s second largest economy and beyond. Beijing, which has strongly opposed sanctions against its companies, could retaliate against U.S. interests.

Ruggiero said there are still less drastic measures available, such as slapping a big fine on a high-profile Chinese bank to deter others.

“I certainly don’t rule out that this administration could decide that a North Korean nuclear weapon on an ICBM is a big enough threat to overrule the concerns that [crippling sanctions on a big Chinese bank] could harm both economies and crack the trade relationship,” he said. “But…there are things that can be done before getting there.”

‘Parallel universe of banks’

Other factors could also blunt the effectiveness of the new U.S. measures.

There may be smaller Chinese banks and firms dealing with Kim’s regime that have little or no exposure to the U.S. financial system, Haggard said. North Korea is also believed to have an array of illicit revenue sources, such as cyberattacks, drugs and weapons.

“If the sanctions don’t have the anticipated effect, it could be because North Korea has a… parallel universe of banks and firms that simply are immune” to the executive order, Haggard wrote.

And other experts point out that North Korea’s nuclear weapons program has developed over decades, surviving periods of famine and economic crisis. Pyongyang can take a lot of pain.

— Stella Ko, Donna Borak, Yuli Yang and Serenitie Wang contributed to this report.

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