In the World

North Korea to reopen hotline to South to discuss Olympics

BBC News, Jan. 2, 2018

North Korea has said it will reopen a telephone hotline to South Korea, to facilitate talks on its possible participation in the Winter Olympics.

Seoul's Yonhap news agency reported that the inter-Korean communications channel would be restored at 15:30 local time (06:30 GMT) on Wednesday.

It comes after Kim Jong-un said he was "open to dialogue" with Seoul and to sending a team to the Games.

The two nations have not held high-level talks since December 2015.

A North Korean official announced the telephone hotline's re-opening in a televised statement.

He said the two nations would discuss the practical issues around a proposal to send a North Korean delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in February.

"We will discuss working-level issues over our potential dispatch of the delegation," Yonhap quoted the official as saying.

South Korea had indicated that the North's participation in the Games would be welcomed.

In a New Year's Day speech, Mr Kim Jong-un spoke of lowering tensions and of melting "frozen North-South relations".

He said attending the Games would be "a good opportunity to show unity of the people" in North Korea.

Seoul offered high-level talks in response, with President Moon Jae-in calling it a "groundbreaking chance" to improve relations.

It is not yet clear whether North Korea will accept that offer, but the opening of the hotline will allow for preliminary discussions to be held.

The North cut off communications in 2016 following a row over the Kaesong joint industrial complex.

South Korea says it has not answered calls on the hotline since.

On Tuesday, a South Korean official said they had been trying to call since Mr Kim's speech but there had been no answer.

The press secretary for President Moon said the restoration of the hotline was "very significant".

"It creates an environment where communication will be possible at all times," he told AFP.

North Korea has come under increasing international pressure in the past year over its nuclear weapons programme.

Responding to the developments this week, US President Donald Trump tweeted earlier that economic sanctions and external pressure were "beginning to have a big impact".

Trump threatens to withhold aid to Palestinian Authority
U.S. president accuses Palestinian leadership of being no longer willing to negotiate peace

The Associated Press/Jan. 2, 2018

Acknowledging his push to broker peace in the Middle East has stalled, U.S. President Donald Trump on Tuesday appeared to threaten to cut off U.S. aid money to the Palestinian Authority, asking why the U.S. should make "any of these massive future payments" when the Palestinians are "no longer willing to talk peace."

Trump, in a pair of tweets, said the U.S. pays "the Palestinians HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and gets no appreciation or respect."

"They don't even want to negotiate a long overdue ... peace treaty with Israel," he wrote.

Trump infuriated Palestinians and Muslims across the Middle East when he announced late last year that the U.S. would consider Jerusalem the capital of Israel and move its embassy there, upending decades of U.S. policy and igniting protests.

While the Palestinians haven't closed the door to a potential deal with Israel, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said the announcement had destroyed Trump's credibility as a Mideast peace broker, calling the decision "a declaration of withdrawal from the role it has played in the peace process."

Tuesday's tweets mark a tacit admission by Trump that his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has thrown a wrench into his administration's plans to restart the peace process between Israelis and Palestinians, which he had dubbed "the ultimate deal."

Trump tasked son-in-law Jared Kushner to restart the effort, and brought his former attorney, Jason Greenblatt, into the White House to lead the negotiations. Trump's Mideast peace team had held meetings with Israeli, Palestinian and Arab leaders for nearly a year ahead of an expected peace proposal.

But by recognizing Israel's claim to Jerusalem, Trump was seen by the Palestinians as siding with Israel on the most sensitive issue in the conflict. The Palestinians seek east Jerusalem - which Israel captured in 1967 - for their capital.

Trump said his decision merely recognized the reality that Jerusalem already serves as Israel's capital and wasn't meant to prejudge the final borders of the city.

In his tweets, Trump argued his decision had taken "Jerusalem, the toughest part of the negotiation, off the table, but Israel, for that, would have had to pay more."

When Trump declared Jerusalem to be Israel's capital, he insisted, counterintuitively, that the move would improve, not hurt, prospects for clinching a peace deal.

In the days after the decision, Trump administration officials said the strategy was based on the notion that Israel had lost faith in the U.S. as a committed partner during the Obama administration. With trust in Washington restored, Netanyahu's government would be more inclined going forward to make tough concessions that would ultimately be needed for a peace deal, the U.S. officials argued at the time, and Israeli officials quietly indicated that they could potentially do so.

No one spelled out, however, what the Palestinians would receive in return.

Trump on Tuesday also issued a threat to cut off foreign aid dollars to an unspecified list of countries that don't reciprocate.

"It's not only Pakistan that we pay billions of dollars to for nothing, but also many other countries, and others," Trump wrote, appearing to reference a Jan. 1 tweet lambasting Pakistan for failing to do enough to combat terror groups while taking U.S. aid. "No more!" Trump had tweeted Monday.

Trump's language marks a striking departure from decades of bipartisan U.S. practice and reflects Trump's transactional view of global affairs. U.S. leaders of both parties have long utilized foreign assistance dollars - a minor percentage of the overall budget - to promote American interests abroad, alleviate humanitarian crises and support oppressed peoples.

Condemned by UN

Trump's envoy to the United Nations, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, foreshadowed Trump's warning earlier Tuesday at the UN Security Council. Haley said the president doesn't want to give more funds "until the Palestinians are willing to come back to the negotiation table."

"We still very much want to have a peace process. Nothing changes with that. The Palestinians now have to show they want to come to the table," Haley said. "As of now, they're not coming to the table, but they ask for aid. We're not giving the aid. We're going to make sure that they come to the table."

Since a Dec. 21 UN vote condemning Trump's Jerusalem decision, U.S. officials have been weighing various options for retaliating against the Palestinians for pushing the resolution, which passed by a 128-9 margin.

Those options, which were to be discussed by Trump's top national security aides at a meeting next week, included several involving cutting off some or all aid to the Palestinian Authority. Another option would cut funding to the UN agency that provides services to the Palestinians in places like Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon.

No dollar figure

The talks are in their very early stages, with no determination yet of a fixed amount or percentage of assistance to be cut, according to officials familiar with the discussions.

However, the officials noted that only a relatively small amount of the more than $220 million that the U.S. was planning on sending to the Palestinians in the current budget year actually goes to the Palestinian Authority. Most of that assistance flows to non-governmental groups that are involved in building civic organizations that promote good governance, anti-corruption efforts, and health and education projects.

The officials said one possibility would be to redirect aid from the Palestinian Authority to those groups. Similar proposals were envisioned for the U.N. relief agency for Palestinians, the officials said, noting that Palestinian children in Gaza, Jordan and Lebanon would be disproportionally affected by an immediate and complete cut-off.

One basket of money that is unlikely to be affected is security assistance that helps the Palestinian Authority coordinate police cooperation with Israel, the officials said. They spoke on conditions of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about internal deliberations.

And in Canada

Freed hostage Joshua Boyle faces 15 criminal charges

BBC News/Jan. 2, 2018

A Canadian man who was held hostage for five years by a Taliban-linked insurgent group has been arrested.

Joshua Boyle, 34, is facing a total of 15 charges including assault and unlawful confinement, according to Canadian media.

Pakistani soldiers rescued Mr Boyle, his US wife, Caitlan Coleman, and their children in October.

The couple were kidnapped in Afghanistan in 2012 and had three children while in captivity.

Canadian media said the offences were alleged to have happened since Mr Boyle's return to Ottawa. He faces eight assault charges, two sexual assault charges, two unlawful confinement charges, one count of misleading police, uttering death threats and causing someone to take a noxious substance.

The charges were filed on 1 January.

"Mr Boyle is presumed innocent," his lawyer Eric Granger said in an email to the BBC.

"He's never been in trouble before. No evidence has been provided yet, which is typical at this early stage. We look forward to receiving the evidence and defending him against these charges."

There is a publication ban on any information that would identify any alleged victim or witness.

Canadian reports said the alleged offences took place between 14 October and 30 December.

The couple were kidnapped while backpacking in Afghanistan in 2012 by the Taliban-aligned Haqqani network.

After their release, Mr Boyle told the media that their captors had killed a fourth child and said they had raped his wife.

The couple have been living in Canada since their rescue.

In December, the family met Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and images of the meeting were shared on the Boyle's Twitter account.

Mr Boyle is scheduled to appear in court 3 January.