Erdogan: Only Turkey Could Control Future Buffer Zone in Northern Syria

Erdogan: Only Turkey Could Control Future Buffer Zone in Northern Syria

ANKARA (Sputnik) – Turkey cannot trust anybody to control the planned buffer zone in northern Syria because the region may pose a threat to the country’s national security, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said.

“We cannot entrust the control over the zone, from where a threat may be posed to us, to others. We will be the ones to do it”, Erdogan told the NTV television channel. According to the Turkish leader, Syrians hope that Ankara would help them resolve the situation in the north of the country.

“Syrians have so much trust in Turkey that local tribes are urging us to take measures in [the northern Syrian city] of Manbij”, Edogan said.

The plans to create a 30-kilometer (19-mile) buffer zone in the north of Syria was announced by the Turkish leader in January after his phone conversation with US President Donald Trump. Ankara insists that the future security zone must be controlled by the Turkish military.Ankara claims that Kurdish militia operating in the north of Syria pose a threat to Turkey’s security. In January 2018, Turkey launched a military operation in the northwestern Syrian city of Afrin against the US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is regarded by Turkey as an affiliate of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara.

Last December, Erdogan announced that Ankara was ready to launch another offensive against the Kurdish militia, in then Kurdish-controlled Manbij, however, the Turkish leader later said that the operation had been postponed following his phone conversation with Trump, who announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria after the call.

Damascus categorically opposes the presence of either the Turkish or US military on Syrian territories to the east of the Euphrates River.

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Guaido’s return to Venezuela to mark brazen defiance of Maduro

Guaido's return to Venezuela to mark brazen defiance of Maduro

CARACAS (Reuters) – First he declared a rival presidency. Then he made a play for Citgo. Last weekend he flouted a court travel ban. Now, Juan Guaido says he is headed back home to Venezuela in another challenge to President Nicolas Maduro.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who many nations have recognized as the country’s rightful interim ruler speaks to the media in the area of a warehouse where humanitarian aid for Venezuela has been collected in Cucuta, Colombia, February 23, 2019. REUTERS/Marco Bello

Guaido, recognized by most Western nations as the country’s legitimate leader, slipped into neighboring Colombia last week to lead an ultimately failed effort to bring humanitarian aid into the crisis-stricken country.

After meeting with regional leaders including U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Bogota, Guaido is expected to come back through the porous border in the coming days and resume his political activities in open defiance of a Supreme Court order.

“I’m going to return to Caracas this week,” Guaido said in an interview with NTN24 broadcast on Tuesday. “My role and my duty is to be in Caracas despite the risks.”

He traveled last week from Caracas across the country in a caravan and then slipped into Colombia via back roads along the 2,200 km (1,367 miles) border, according to Colombian local media. Guaido said he received help from members of Venezuela’s armed forces.

Representatives for Guaido declined to disclose a timetable for his return or whether he will return the same way. To return via an official route would pose an even more brazen challenge to Maduro’s authority.

Maduro has faced regional condemnation this week for violently driving back the opposition’s attempts to bring in humanitarian aid. He denies there is a crisis despite overseeing a hyperinflationary economic meltdown that has spawned widespread food and medicine shortages.

Guaido’s return will force Maduro to decide whether to risk even greater international outrage by attempting to arrest the 35-year old congress chief or to allow him to openly disregard state institutions linked to the ruling Socialist Party.

“Trying to manage the Guaido situation has become a real problem for the government because (Guaido) has grown so much politically,” said Luis Salamanca, a political scientist and constitutional law professor at Venezuela’s Central University.

Guaido invoked articles of the constitution to assume an interim presidency in January, declaring Maduro a usurper following his 2018 re-election in a vote widely boycotted by the opposition.

State institutions including the chief prosecutor’s office, the Supreme Court, and the comptroller’s officer – all openly allied with Maduro – responded by opening investigations of Guaido.

But no state institution has sought his arrest or even formally accused him of a crime. So far authorities have only frozen his local bank accounts and prohibited foreign travel.

The ruling Socialist Party has in the past clipped the wings of opposition politicians, particularly charismatic challengers, by accusing them of irregularities in managing state funds.

Maduro said in an ABC News interview released on Tuesday that Guaido’s fate was up to the justice system: “He can’t just come and go. He will have to face justice, and justice prohibited him from leaving the country. I will respect the laws.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Guaido said his team had a strategy should he be detained, without giving details on what that was.

“A prisoner doesn’t do anyone any good but neither does an exiled president so we are in uncharted waters here,” he said.

KEEPING UP MOMENTUM

Many Venezuelans credit Guaido, a fresh face, with capturing the international community’s attention through his bold move to swear himself in as interim president, galvanizing a once-fractured and weary opposition.

Maduro, who has described his rival as a U.S.-backed puppet, now faces severe international pressure including U.S. sanctions meant to cripple the OPEC nation’s vital oil industry.

“I hope he returns because he has shown himself to be a politician with strength, who has given us hope,” said Martha Sanchez, 65, a receptionist who has lost a third of her weight due to hyperinflation that has left her struggling to buy food on a minimum wage equivalent to less than $10 per month.

Guaido’s attempt to bring humanitarian aid into the country had in particular fueled her hope as she has been unable to find hypertension pills for sale over the past two months.

“No other candidate called for humanitarian aid before,” she said.

To be sure, Guaido’s team also faces a conundrum after that effort failed, allowing Maduro to declare victory even as the images of troops firing tear gas on convoys carrying aid sparked anger around the world.

Guaido’s team has won control over crucial offshore assets including U.S.-based refiner Citgo, but still does not control the ports or central bank, or, most crucially, the armed forces.

“If he doesn’t keep up momentum, he will end up being another failed leader of the opposition,” said Jesus Barreto, a 21-year old student. “He needs to keep challenging the government.”

Maduro’s government has largely allowed him to carry out political activities including rallies and press conferences, and appears unwilling to imprison him – even now that he has openly flouted a legal restriction placed upon him.

“I think they will hold off because it is much more sustainable over time to make your opponent seem ineffective than making yourself appear more like a dictator, especially when there is so much focus on you,” said Raul Gallegos, an analyst with the consultancy Control Risks.

Reporting by Brian Ellsworth and Sarah Marsh; Additional reporting by Corina Pons and Vivian Sequera; Editing by Christian Plumb and Phil Berlowitz

Paul Manafort lawyers request leniency in court: ‘This case is not about murder, drug cartels, or organised crime’

Paul Manafort lawyers request leniency in court: ‘This case is not about murder, drug cartels, or organised crime’

AFP/Getty Images

Paul Manafort’s lawyers have asked for leniency in his sentencing, arguing in federal court that their client’s charges are rarely prosecuted and that the former Donald Trump campaign consultant is not a hardened criminal.

Manafort is already facing as many as 24 years in prison after his conviction on charges including tax and bank fraud last year. The new sentencing concerns two further charges of conspiracy he pleaded guilty to last year.

“Manafort, who over the decades has served four U.S. presidents and has no prior criminal history, is presented to this court by the government as a hardened criminal who ‘brazenly’ violated the law and deserves no mercy,” Manafort’s lawyers Monday said in a memo. “But this case is not about murder, drug cartels, organised crime, the Madoff Ponzi scheme or the collapse of Enron.”

While Manafort’s charges stemmed from the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign, the political operative’s lawyers argued in court filings that their client’s particular charges are unrelated to the primary focus of that investigation.

“Manafort has been punished substantially, including the forfeiture of most of his assets,“ his attorneys wrote in court filings regarding their 69-year-old client. “In light of his age and health concerns, a significant additional period of incarceration will likely amount to a life sentence for a first time offender.”

The former Trump campaign chairman pleaded guilty in September to one count of conspiracy against the US and one count of conspiracy to obstruct justice, and promised at that time to cooperate with the special counsel investigation run by Robert Mueller. He faces up to five years for those charges.

Prosecutors on Mr Mueller’s team told Judge Amy Berman Jackson last week that Manafort had “brazenly violated the law” for repeatedly violating American laws.

But, Manafort’s attorneys argued in their plea for leniency that their client is something of a victim to the circumstances, given how much attention has been given to the Donald Trump campaign and any connection it may have had with Russia in 2016.

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They argued that Manafort’s charges stem from a “mundane” case that revolves, essentially, around their client’s failure to properly document his income.

“The special counsel’s attempt to portray him as a lifelong and irredeemable felon is beyond the pale and grossly overstates the facts before this court,” the attorneys wrote.

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un arrive in Vietnam for second nuclear summit

Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un arrive in Vietnam for second nuclear summit

US President Donald Trump (right) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un on June 13, 2018, walk to attend their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel in Singapore. | KCNA Via KNS/AFP file photo

United States President Donald Trump arrived in Vietnam on Tuesday hours after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s arrival in the South East Asian country for their second summit. The two leaders are scheduled to meet in Hanoi on February 27 and 28.

The two leaders had met for the first time on June 12 in Singapore for a historic summit, following which Kim had committed to the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean Peninsula.

While Trump arrived in the country aboard Air Force One on Tuesday, Kim travelled by train up to Dong Dang border station and was then driven to Hanoi, BBC reported.

Before leaving the United States, Trump had said he was “looking forward to a productive summit”.

On February 9, Trump had said announced the dates of the second summit and said he was meeting Kim to “advance the cause of peace”.

Kim Jong-un, in his New Year address, claimed that Pyongyang has taken practical steps towards denuclearisation. If the US responds with practical and trustworthy measures, bilateral relations will “develop wonderfully”, he had said. However, he had added that North Korea will have to find a “new way to defend sovereignty” if Washington persists with imposing sanctions on them.

In December 2018, North Korea warned the US that new sanctions imposed by Washington could derail its plans to dismantle its nuclear programme. The month before, North Korea threatened to resume its nuclear programme if the US did not lift sanctions on the country. Later that month, Washington abruptly postponed high-level talks with Pyongyang.

US denies Russian accusation it is preparing Venezuela intervention

US denies Russian accusation it is preparing Venezuela intervention

FILE PHOTO: Secretary of Russia’s Security Council Nikolai Patrushev attends a meeting of President Vladimir Putin with U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia October 23, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A top Russian security official on Tuesday accused Washington of deploying forces in Puerto Rico and Colombia in preparation for a military intervention in Venezuela to topple Moscow’s ally, President Nicolas Maduro, something the United States denied.

“… The United States is preparing a military invasion of an independent state,” Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, was quoted as saying in an interview with weekly newspaper Argumenty i Fakty.

“The transfer of American special operations forces to Puerto Rico, the landing of U.S. forces in Colombia and other facts indicate the Pentagon is reinforcing its troops in the region in order to use them in an operation to remove … Maduro from power,” Patrushev said.

However, the U.S. special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, when asked on Tuesday if Washington was preparing to take military action in Venezuela, responded: “No.”

“The president has said all options are on the table. Presidents always say that and rightly so. But it ill behooves the Russians to talk about military intervention after they have dismembered both Georgia and Ukraine,” Abrams told reporters at the United Nations ahead of a Security Council meeting on Venezuela.

Venezuela, which has been plunged into political turmoil, was rocked by violent clashes at the weekend. The United States and a raft of other countries have backed the country’s opposition, while China and Russia have stood by Maduro’s government.

Patrushev said Washington had asked Moscow for consultations on Venezuela and that Russia had agreed, but that U.S. officials had repeatedly postponed them under false pretexts.

U.S. officials have previously dismissed Russian allegations about U.S. plans for Venezuela as baseless “propaganda”.

Reporting by Polina Devitt and Andrew Osborn; additional reporting by Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Andrew Osborn and James Dalgleish

Sudan’s leader Omar al-Bashir bans unauthorised gatherings during state of emergency

Sudan’s leader Omar al-Bashir bans unauthorised gatherings during state of emergency

Sudanese demonstrators march during an anti-government protest in Khartoum ( Reuters )

Sudanese protesters have defied their embattled president’s ban on unauthorised public gatherings, with hundreds rallying across the country to call for his resignation.

The protests came on Tuesday despite a state of emergency imposed on Friday by President Omar al-Bashir in response to more than two months of demonstrations against his nearly three-decade rule.

Nationwide protests erupted in December, initially over rising prices and shortages but quickly turned to calls for Mr al-Bashir to step down.

Tuesday’s rallies were called by the Sudanese Professional Association, an umbrella of independent professional unions that has spearheaded the two and a half months of protests.

Video footage shows demonstrators, mostly women, marching in the streets of Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman. Demonstrations were also reported in the city of Atbara and the country’s troubled Darfur region.

On Monday, Mr al-Bashir issued decrees giving security forces powers to search buildings, restrict movements of people and public transportation, arrest individuals suspected of crimes related to the state of emergency and seize assets or property during investigations, according to the state-run SUNA news agency.

The decrees included a ban on unauthorised trading and stockpiling fuel products and prison terms for those travelling with more than $3,000 (£2,300) in cash or 150g of gold.

The unions said the state of emergency was unconstitutional and that they would challenge it in courts. “We have one option, which is to win,” they added, calling for fresh protests against Mr al-Bashir.

“The ban is a desperate decision aiming at terrifying the protesters and their families,” said rights lawyer Amal el-Zain. “It may curb the uprising but will not stop it.”

Activists said on Tuesday that authorities have lifted a block on popular social media platforms that have been used to organise and broadcast the protests.

They said users of the three main telecommunications operators in the country – Zain, MTN and Sudani – have access to Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp after nearly two months of restrictions during which users could only access the internet through a virtual private network, or VPN.

The government had blocked access to social media platforms shortly after protests erupted on 19 December, according to Salah Abdallah, the head of the country’s National Intelligence and Security agency.

There was no immediate comment from authorities on the lifting of the blocks on social media and a government spokesman did not immediately respond to phone calls and messages seeking comment.

The current wave of unrest is marked by the most serious protests against Mr al-Bashir in nearly three decades of rule. Previous rulers faced with mass protests often turned to a state of emergency, which means deploying more troops – with fewer restraints on their behaviour – and erecting multiple roadblocks in an effort to control the civilian population’s movements.

Mr al-Bashir himself has repeatedly declared an emergency in several provinces since 2011 in a bid to quell anti-government protests.

Along with imposing the state of emergency, which is to last a year, Mr al-Bashir disbanded the federal government and replaced all state governors with senior army officers. The order also gave security forces a free hand in cracking down on protesters and making arrests, and placed heavier restrictions on the press and opposition parties.

A joint statement on Tuesday by the US, Britain, Norway and Canada said they were “deeply concerned” about Mr al-Bashir’s recent decisions to declare the state of emergency, impose a ban on unauthorised public gatherings and appoint military and security members to senior government positions.

“The return to military rule does not create a conducive environment for a renewed political dialogue or credible elections,” the statement said.

The moves by Mr al-Bashir, who seized power in an Islamist-backed military coup in 1989, further concentrated power in his hands and set the stage for a bloody crackdown on protests, said the International Crisis Group.

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The group urged the US and the EU not to normalise relations with Khartoum if it “gives its forces carte blanche to kill and detain protesters”.

Mr al-Bashir’s term expires in 2020; he has repeatedly promised not to run again. Without amending the constitution, he can’t run for a third term.

Earlier this month, a parliamentary committee tasked with amending the constitution to scrap presidential term limits cancelled its meetings, a move that appeared to be the only political concession by Mr al-Bashir so far.

The unrest coincides with worsening economic woes that saw a currency devaluation, price hikes, fuel shortages and a steep rise in the price of bread, a main fare for most Sudanese.

Activists say at least 57 people have been killed in the protests. The government’s latest tally stands at 30 killed, but figures have not been updated in weeks.

UN Chief Asks India, Pakistan To Exercise “Maximum Restraint”

UN Chief Asks India, Pakistan To Exercise “Maximum Restraint”

UN chief Antonio Guterres is following the situation between India and Pakistan “very closely” and has appealed to the governments of both nations to exercise “maximum restraint” to ensure the situation does not deteriorate further, a top UN official said on Tuesday, 26 February.

The UN Secretary General’s remarks came after Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out a pre-dawn airstrikes on a terror training camp inside Pakistan.

The strike was the first by the IAF inside Pakistan after the 1971 war.

India bombed and destroyed Jaish-e-Mohammed’s (JeM) biggest training camp in Balakot in Pakistan’s restive Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, about 80-km from the Line of Control (LoC) early Tuesday, killing a “very large number” of terrorists, trainers and senior commanders.

“He is following the situation very closely and reiterates his urgent appeal to both the governments of India and the government of Pakistan to exercise maximum restraint to ensure that the situation does not further deteriorate.”

UN Spokesman Stephane Dujarric on the Secretary General’s remarks on the air strike.

Read all the latest news on the airstrikes here.

Dujarric said Guterres did not have any information on the possible casualties and has seen the news reports.

Guterres is returning to New York from Geneva and Dujarric said he had spoken to the UN chief about the situation between India and Pakistan before he boarded his plane.

The air strike came 12 days after the JeM carried out a suicide attack in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district that killed 40 CRPF soldiers.

International Community Condemns Pakistan For Harbouring Terrorists

India launched a major diplomatic offensive against Islamabad after the Pulwama attack and highlighted Pakistan’s role in using terrorism as an instrument of state policy.

The international community led by the US pressed Pakistan to deny safe haven to terror groups operating form its soil and bring the perpetrators of the Pulwama attack to justice.

India has asked Pakistan to take immediate and verifiable action against terrorists and terror groups operating from territories under its control.

New Delhi also announced the withdrawal of the Most Favoured Nation status for Pakistan and hiked the customs duty by 200 per cent on goods originating from Pakistan.

Looks like he’s trying to impress someone …

Whether you love him or loathe him, Donald Trump certainly knows how to make a statement with his imposing hairstyles.

But as the US President landed in Hanoi for greatly anticipated summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who also has a questionable taste in haircuts, a vicious conspiracy theory is beginning to emerge — and it’s much more worrying than the Deep State or alleged collusion with Russia.

The most powerful man in the world appears to have dyed his mop.

News.com.au cannot independently verify the claims that are swirling around social media, but let’s have a look at the evidence for ourselves.

Only five days ago, the Twitter-addicted world leader was spotted sporting a wispy tuft of grey hair as he sat in the White House.

Looks like he’s trying to impress someone …

Only five days ago, the pensive-looking President sported a wispy grey look. Picture: Al Drago/Bloomberg/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images

Less than a week later, he was photographed stepping off his Air Force One flight in Vietnam with a drastically slick new look.

Now it seems the President has undergone a drastic transformation. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

Social media has gone wild with speculation. Picture: Kham/Pool photo via APSource:AP

Now clearly rocking a mousy brown look to impress the North Korean leader, social media has lost it over the 72-year-old’s incredible transformation.

@realDonaldTrump Donnie got a hair cut and dyed her hair to look good for “Unny”.— Kathy Albers (@KathyAlbers) February 26, 2019

Why did you use a darker hair paint this week? @realDonaldTrump— Kristopher (@thieveshours) February 26, 2019

Why isn’t the media pointing out that Trump’s hair color looks ridiculous.— Robert Smith (@carmelindybob) February 26, 2019

The President’s hair has long been the subject of heated debate. Some have speculated he wears a wig. Gawker estimated the cost of the toupee upkeep at as much as $77,000.

His new-found admirer Kim Jong-un, despite an atrocious record of human rights abuses, has also become a fashion icon himself and some avid fans in Vietnam are gearing up for the summit by channelling the flamboyant hairstyles of both leaders.

Barbers in Vietnam are offering up Trump and Kim specials for the summit. Picture: Hau Dinh/APSource:AP

Le Phuc Hai, 66, cops a Trump haircut in Hanoi, Vietnam. Picture: Hau Dinh/APSource:AP

To Gia Huy, 9, felt a Kim Jong-un haircut was the way to go. Picture: Hau Dinh/APSource:AP

With nervous world capitals looking on, President Trump and Mr Kim are beginning their second nuclear summit with a one-on-one discussion and an intimate dinner as hard questions swirl about what the American president will demand and Pyongyang might be willing to give up.

The two days of talks will address perhaps the world’s biggest security challenge: Mr Kim’s nuclear program that stands on the verge of realistically threatening targets around the planet.

Mr Trump is more concerned with maintaining a dialogue and ending the nuclear program than Mr Kim’s human rights record.

Mr Kim has continued his diplomacy efforts following the Singapore summit, sending “beautiful letters” to the US President, who said the pair “fell in love”. He also met with the Chinese president Xi Jinping and South Korean president Moon Jae-in, who is also eager to forge peace between the divided powers.

“I think we’ll have a very tremendous summit,” said Mr Trump before leaving Washington on Monday, adding that he expected the talks to be “very productive”.

Brexit APOCALYPSE: India has MAJOR concerns over UK’s EU split, Austria claims

Brexit APOCALYPSE: India has MAJOR concerns over UK’s EU split, Austria claims

India is concerned about the impact of Brexit on trade, Austria’s foreign minister has claimed (Image: GETTY IMAGES)

Karin Kneissl told Austrian media that New Delhi has serious concerns about the UK’s departure from the EU and believes British hopes for a resurgence of the Commonwealth are unfounded. Ms Kneissl, from the FPO party in coalition with Chancellor Sebastian Kurz’s OVP, said India instead sees the EU as an important trading bloc. Following a meeting with her Indian counterpart, she told Austrian public broadcaster ORF she had tried to convince officials that “not everything will break down” after Brexit if Britain leaves with a deal.

India has previously voiced concerns that a no-deal Brexit would have major ramifications for around 800 Indian businesses which operate in the UK and currently enjoy direct access to EU markets.

But British diplomats have sought to play down any disruption caused by the split.

The UK’s trade commissioner to South Asia, Crispin Simon, this month insisted that trade relations are unlikely to be affected after Brexit, Indian broadcaster NDTV reported.

Mr Simon said trade between India and Britain has “a nice momentum” and is growing by 17 percent each year.

Brexiteers have expressed hope for a wide ranging trade deal with India after Brexit (Image: GETTY IMAGES)

He said: ”Bilateral trade between Britain and India stands at $25 billion.

“India is an important trading partner and after Brexit, it is not to be affected.”

UK negotiator have laid the groundwork for a possible post-Brexit trade deal with its former South Asian colony and in April 2018 signed off a series of agreements worth £1billion.

Mr Simon said a “new trade deal will have a positive effect” on business between the two nations.

Indian firms in the UK have expressed concern over access to EU markets after Brexit (Image: GETTY IMAGES)

But India has previously hinted it will only agree to a trade agreement if Britain eases travel rules for Indians.

The country’s top diplomat in London said last year that New Delhi is not looking to rush into a deal.

He told Politico Europe: “I don’t think India is in a rush. I think India would like certainly, and I’m sure the UK would too… to get the best deal possible.

“I think for us it is very important that if we need to step up our engagement, we need to have that easier access, the ease of travel has to be looked into.”

Trump meets Vietnamese president before second North Korea summit

Trump meets Vietnamese president before second North Korea summit

FILE PHOTO – U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Vietnamese President Nguyen Phu Trong at the Presidential Palace in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis

HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump met Vietnam’s president, Nguyen Phu Trong, in Hanoi on Wednesday, hours before Trump was due to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un for their second summit.

Trump and Trong, who is also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, met at the grand, colonial-era presidential palace. Trump was later due to have lunch with Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc.

On Wednesday evening, Trump is scheduled to meet Kim at the city’s Metropole hotel, eight months after their first summit in Singapore, to discuss efforts to get North Korea to dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

Reporting by Jeff Mason; Editing by Robert Birsel