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North Korea preps nuclear site demolition despite US summit doubts

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Invited foreign journalists began a long journey up North Korea’s east coast Wednesday to witness the slated destruction of the reclusive regime’s nuclear test site, a high profile gesture on the road to a summit with the US that Donald Trump now says might not happen.

In a surprise announcement Pyongyang said earlier this month that it planned to “completely” destroy the Punggye-ri facility in the country’s northeast, a move welcomed by Washington and Seoul.

Punggye-ri has been the staging ground for all six of the North’s nuclear tests, including its latest and by far most powerful one in September last year, which Pyongyang said was an H-bomb.

The demolition is due to take place sometime between Thursday and Friday, depending on the weather.

The North has portrayed the move as a goodwill gesture ahead of a planned June 12 summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore.

But doubts have since been cast by both sides on whether that historic meeting will take place.

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Last week Pyongyang threatened to pull out if Washington pressed for its unilateral nuclear disarmament. Trump also said the meeting could be delayed as he met with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in in Washington on Tuesday.

“There are certain conditions we want to happen. I think we’ll get those conditions. And if we don’t, we won’t have the meeting,” he told reporters, without elaborating on what those conditions might be.

– Sharp differences –

Politically, Trump has invested heavily in the success of the planned summit, and so privately most US officials, as well as outside observers, believe it will go ahead.

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But as the date draws near, the differences between the two sides are coming into sharp relief.

Washington has made it clear it wants to see the “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation” of the North.

Pyongyang has vowed it will never give up its nuclear deterrence until it feels safe from what it terms US aggression.

Observers will be watching this week’s demolition ceremony closely for any clues to the North’s intentions.

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Experts are divided over whether the demolition will render the site useless. Sceptics say the site has already outlived its usefulness with six successful nuclear tests in the bag and can be quickly rebuilt if needed.

Previous similar gestures by the North were rapidly reversed when the international mood soured.

But others say the fact that North Korea agreed to destroy the site without preconditions or asking for something in return from Washington suggests Pyongyang’s sincerity.

– ‘Game of chicken’ –

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Go Myong-hyun, an analyst at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, said both sides were playing “a game of chicken” in the run-up to the summit “to gain an upper hand in negotiations”.

He said the destruction of the site would win Pyongyang international sympathy even if the summit collapses.

“North Korea can say to the international community that it did its best to achieve denuclearisation through negotiations but was pressured by the United States and couldn’t do it,” he said.

A handful of foreign journalists from China, the US, Britain, Russia and South Korea were invited to attend the demolition ceremony.

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They set off from the North Korean city of Wonsan on Wednesday around 0800 GMT, according to tweets from some of the journalists within the group.

They are expected to travel for some 20 hours by train, bus and finally a short hike to the remote test site — a vivid illustration of the impoverished country’s notoriously decrepit transport infrastructure.

The South Korean journalists were only allowed to attend at the last minute by Pyongyang on Wednesday.

Seoul scrambled a government passenger jet to ferry them to Wonsan — a rare direct flight between the two countries.

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Agence France-Presse is one of a number of major media organisations not invited to cover the demolition.

On Seoul’s streets Wednesday, South Koreans were circumspect about whether they thought Pyongyang was genuine.

“I don’t really have any faith,” said Korean-American businessman Peter Chung. “But… I hope for the best.”

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Virginia Democrats are so fired up that the party chair had to scold them: ‘Sit down — be quit’

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Democrats in Virginia are fired up as they gathered in Richmond for their annual gala dinner.

Political analysts believe the Democratic Party of Virginia has a good chance to win control of the state legislature in 2019's election, before setting their sights on the Commonwealth continuing its recent trend of voting Democratic in presidential elections.

Patrick Wilson, a political reporter for the Richmond Times-Dispatch, attended the event.

He reported that Democrats were so "noisy" that it was hard to hear the speakers, which include presidential candidates Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

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‘Everyone knows what to expect’ at Trump’s Amway Center re-election kickoff

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Donald Trump considers himself a legendary salesman, but can he really sell America on giving him four more drama-filled years at the White House?

Tuesday, he'll make his big pitch.

The 2020 reelection kickoff rally is being held in Orlando, Florida and campaign operations chief Michael Glassner says the "historic" event "has already generated tens of thousands of ticketing requests."

There's little mystery about how the night will go down.

Expect Trump, the self-promoting hero of his ghost-written book "The Art of the Deal," to claim the US economy is richer, the military stronger, and the country more respected than ever in history.

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Florida man’s own family blasts him after he was arrested for racist threats: ‘This isn’t how we were raised’

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After a Florida man was arrested for trying to start a race war, a member of his own family slammed his values.

"A Florida man’s social media posts that threatened violence against African-Americans, Jews and homosexuals and that urged his followers to start a race war netted him a $1 million bond," the Miami Herald reported Saturday. "And then there’s another $100,000 bond he would have to pay to get out of Lee County Jail because of a weapons charge."

Joshua Leff, 40, is being held in the Lee County Jail.

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