US Ties Any North Korea Talks To Nuclear Arms

The United States says any dialogue with North Korea must have nuclear disarmament as the end goal.

The North indicated on the last day of the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang it was ready for talks, according to South Korea.

North Korea has previously said it will not accept any preconditions.

“We will see if Pyongyang’s message… that it is willing to hold talks, represents the first steps along the path to denuclearization,” the US said.

Reports about the North’s willingness to speak to the US emerged after a meeting of its officials with the South Korean president before the Games’ closing ceremony on Sunday.

US President Donald Trump’s daughter Ivanka also attended the ceremony but she is not expected to talk with any North Koreans, even though she sat a few feet from their main envoy, Gen Kim Yong-chol, at the Olympic Stadium.

North Korea was “very willing” to hold talks with the US, said the office of South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

It added that the North had “agreed that inter-Korea talks and North-US relations should improve together”.

The revelation from the South Korean presidency came hours after a furious statement from the North that described 

Pyongyang’s foreign ministry praised the way the two Koreas had co-operated together during the Olympics but said the US had “brought the threat of war to the Korean peninsula with large-scale new sanctions”.

The Korean peninsula has been divided since the 1950-53 war and the two sides have never signed a peace treaty.

The rapprochement between the two Koreas has been seen as a move by the North to drive a wedge between the South and the US.

Experts have cautioned that the latest developments do not put an end to underlying regional tensions, particularly following last year’s nuclear and missile tests carried out by the North.

South Korean media is abuzz with suggestions that North-US talks could still take place while the respective delegations are in town.

The BBC’s Laura Bicker, in Pyeongchang, asked an official from South’s government if the meeting could take place in the next two days, and the answer was: “We will see.”



Russian Plane Crash In Syria ‘Kills 32’

A Russian transport plane has crashed in Syria killing all 26 passengers and six crew members believed to have been on board, the defence ministry says.

The An-26 plane crashed during landing at Hmeimim air base, near the Syrian coastal city of Latakia, the ministry is quoted as saying by Russian media.

The plane was not fired upon, Russia says, and preliminary data suggests a technical malfunction could have caused the crash.

An investigation is now under way.

This breaking news story is being updated and more details will be published shortly. Please refresh the page for the fullest version.



Kim Jong-Un To Meet S Korea Leader In Landmark Summit

The leaders of North and South Korea are due to meet at a summit next month, Seoul’s envoy says.

It will be the first such meeting for more than a decade and the first since Kim Jong-un took power in North Korea.

The envoy also said Mr Kim suggested he would be willing to discuss getting rid of nuclear weapons, but only if his country’s security could be guaranteed.

In previous programmes to halt its nuclear ambitions, the North has failed to keep its promises.

Mr Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet on the heavily fortified border next month, at the truce village of Panmunjom. The two countries also agreed to open a hotline between the leaders.

After returning from a rare trip to Pyongyang, South Korean officials said Mr Kim told them there would be no missile tests while diplomacy continued.

This is a huge turnaround for North Korea’s young leader, the BBC’s Laura Bicker reports from Seoul.

The United States had said talks with North Korea would only go ahead if it was willing to discuss denuclearisation.

The US has said it is “cautiously optimistic” about improving North-South contacts, but ruled out formal talks with Pyongyang unless it was ready to give up its nuclear weapons.

“The World is watching and waiting!” tweeted President Trump.

“May be false hope, but the U.S. is ready to go hard in either direction!”


Russia’s Putin Vows To Halve Poverty In Pre-Election Speech

Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he intends to halve poverty in the country within the next six years, in his annual state of the nation address in Moscow.

The speech is the last before an election he is expected to win in 17 days’ time.

Mr Putin is laying out his key policies for his fourth presidential term.

“Every person matters to us,” he said, adding that he wanted to increase employment and longevity.

Mr Putin faces seven challengers on 18 March although none is expected to attract widespread support. The president played no part in a raucous televised debate broadcast on Wednesday that featured the other candidates.

Absent from the campaign is prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has been barred from running and has called on voters to boycott the poll.

President Putin has so far done little campaigning and until now said little about his plans for the next six years.

In his speech to a joint sitting of both houses of parliament on Thursday, he said he wanted Russia to emulate life-expectancy rates in Japan and France.

In 2000 there were 42 million people in Russia living below the poverty line, he said; today there were 20 million, but this still needed to come down.

He also said Russia could not take its power for granted.

“We have no right to allow the stability we have achieved to lead to complacency. Especially since we are far from resolving many problems,” he said.

“Russia is now a leading country with a powerful foreign economic and defence potential. But from the point of view of the extremely important task of ensuring people’s quality of life and welfare we, of course, have not achieved the level we require. But we have to do this and will do this,” he added to applause.

Defence and territory

Russia’s operations in Syria – supporting the Assad government’s fight against rebels – showed the country’s increased defence capabilities, said the president.

He also said a bridge to the Crimean peninsula would be open within the next couple of months. Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, during Mr Putin’s current term in office.

Russia was safeguarding its interest in the Arctic region by strengthening its military infrastructure in the region, he said.

Technological growth

Digital growth was also essential, Mr Putin said. He said he wanted Russia to become one of the world’s main hubs for storing and processing big data.

He called for more progress in making robots and artificial intelligence. New talent in technology should be nurtured and foreigners should be encouraged to study in Russia, he said.

All government business would be digitalised “to make it more transparent to fight corruption”, he said.

“Most government officials are good, result-orientated people,” he added, “but these plans will help everyone.”

Ordinary concerns

The first part of the speech was tailored towards working Russians and their concerns.

Mr Putin pledged to spend more on roads and reduce accidents. He said teachers deserved good salaries and wages and there should be better access to medical services for people in remote areas.

He also said internet access would be provided to rural populations across the country, “from the far east to the Siberian north”.



Africa ‘Set To Miss UN Development Goal On Malnutrition’

Exceptionally detailed maps of child growth and education across Africa suggest that no single country is set to end childhood malnutrition by 2030.

That target was set by the UN as a Sustainable Development Goal.

However, the new maps, which give detail to the level of an individual village, show that almost every nation has at least one region where children’s health is improving.

They are published in Nature.

The two studies have mapped child growth rates and educational attainment for women of reproductive age – tracking progress in both in 51 countries between 2000 and 2015. The scientists targeted these two factors in particular because they are important predictors of child mortality.

“Together, these are very useful indicators of where populations are doing well and where they’re being left behind,” explained Prof Simon Hay, a global health researcher from the University of Washington in the US.

Prof Hay and his team pieced together data from community-level surveys and produced a series of 5km by 5km scale maps, showing child growth and educational attainment across Africa over the 15-year span of the study.

‘Stark disparities’

This revealed that most African countries, especially much of sub-Saharan Africa and eastern and southern regions, show improvement in malnutrition.

They also showed large disparities within individual countries. But by mapping these in such detail, scientists say policymakers will have the evidence to direct their resources.

Kofi Annan, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former secretary general of the UN, endorsed this aim in an article he wrote in response to the maps’ publication. “Without good data,” he wrote, “we’re flying blind. If you can’t see it, you can’t solve it.”

While highlighting what he called “stark disparities” in progress, particularly in conflict-affected areas, Mr Annan said the progress in Africa that these maps painted was “astonishing”.

“Especially for me,” he said, “an African accustomed to international headlines depicting a continent consumed by war, famine and hunger. The Africa shown in these maps tells a different story – one of measurable, steady progress on issues long thought intractable.

“[But] there are villages where all children are too short for their age. Across most of the Sahel, a semi-arid swath of land from the Atlantic to the Red Sea, high rates of stunting persist, with no hint of improvement.

“Such fine-grained insight brings tremendous responsibility to act.”

Lessons to learn

Progress in Africa has never before been mapped in this level of detail and Prof Hay said that making the data openly available and providing “the best information we can” would help to direct resources towards the populations most in need.

“We can look at those communities that are doing particularly well and ask if there are lessons we can learn and apply elsewhere,” he told BBC News.

In a study that is considered to have been the birth of modern epidemiology in the 19th Century, the London physician John Snow mapped cholera cases in London – revealing in a world-changing map how cases in the city were clustered around one water pump in Broad Street. This led to the revelation that the disease was spread through contaminated water.

Mr Annan concluded that these maps could be as powerful in the long battle against hunger.

“They are another tool in our arsenal,” he said. “Alone, they won’t eradicate malnutrition but they will enable Africa’s leaders to act strategically.”



Trump At Odds With Republican Lawmakers Over Gun Reforms

US President Donald Trump has stunned lawmakers from both parties by telling them in a live broadcast not to be so “petrified” of the powerful gun lobby the National Rifle Association (NRA).

In a break from his party’s stance on gun control, Mr Trump urged lawmakers to come up with a “strong” reform bill.

He suggested expanding background checks for gun buyers and raising the legal age to buy rifles to 21 from 18.

His comments come in the wake of the deadly school shooting in Florida.

“I want you to come up with a strong bill – and really strong on background checks,” Mr Trump told lawmakers at the White House on Wednesday, pushing them to work together on bipartisan legislation.

He said the NRA has “great power over you people”, but that the lobby has “less power over me”.

Mr Trump’s change of tack on gun control left Republicans “a bit unsettled”, CNN reported.

The Republican party supports the right of individuals to own guns, seeing most restrictions as an infringement of the second amendment to the US constitution, which governs the right to bear arms.

Take the guns first, go through due process second,” Mr Trump said, suggesting police officers be given the power to seize guns from anyone who could pose a threat, including the mentally ill, without a court order.

“We can’t wait and play games and nothing gets done,” he added.

He called for tighter restrictions on gun sales to young adults and for background checks to be expanded for all weapons purchases, including at gun shows and online.

The president repeatedly stated his support for increasing armed security at schools, arming teachers and reducing “gun-free zones”.

“It would be so beautiful to have one bill that everybody can support, as opposed to – you know – 15 bills, everybody’s got their own bill,” Mr Trump said.

He also warned lawmakers against proposing a bill that included concealed carry across the US, a provision that Republicans and the NRA have aimed to include in any gun legislation.

Mr Trump has already signed an order to ban bump-stock devices, which enable a rifle to shoot hundreds of rounds a minute.

His latest comments at the hour-long summit with Democrats and Republicans are at odds with a president who has been vocal about protecting the second amendment and has received campaign support from the NRA.

Many Republican lawmakers distanced themselves from Mr Trump’s comments.

“We’re not ditching any constitutional protections simply because the last person the president talked to today doesn’t like them,” said Republican Senator Ben Sasse, who was not at the meeting.

Florida Senator Marco Rubio said the proposed reforms might not have prevented the school attack in his state in which 17 people were killed, which was not “conducted by someone who bought a gun at a gun show or parking lot”.

John Cornyn, the top Senate Republican who sat next to the president at the meeting, said he thought it was “fascinating television” but that it was “surreal to actually be there”.

Mr Trump’s statements on gun control have changed before.

In the 1990s and early 2000s he expressed support for a ban on some automatic weapons. But as he approached the nomination of the Republican Party as its candidate for presidency, he fell more within the fold of the party’s views.

Mr Trump was also endorsed by the NRA in his 2016 presidential campaign

The man who suggested that if his opponent had been elected “you’d be handing in your rifles” endorsed taking guns away from people of questionable mental fitness and worrying about due process later.

The man who received $30m in support from the National Rifle Association during his presidential campaign scorned Washington politicians for being afraid of the NRA and said it had “less power” over him.

After a bipartisan meeting with congressional legislators, Donald Trump left heads spinning. Democratic Senator Diane Feinstein, a fierce gun-control advocate, clapped in joy, while some gun-rights Republicans wondered whose side the president was on.

Of course, we’ve seen this film before. In a January meeting with a similar group of congressional leaders, Mr Trump expressed support for any comprehensive bipartisan agreement on immigration. In the following days and weeks, his administration did everything it could to undermine the most popular compromise bill.

Gun-control supporters may feel they made progress in Wednesday’s White House meeting, but the NRA surely will have another chance at the president’s ear.



Trump Endorses Guns For Teachers To Stop Shootings

US President Donald Trump has said arming teachers could prevent school shootings like that which left 17 people dead last week in Florida.

Teachers carrying a concealed gun could end attacks “very quickly”, he said.

Mr Trump floated the proposal – long-championed by the powerful NRA gun lobby – as emotional survivors of the 14 February massacre urged him to take measures to stop similar attacks.

The US leader called for improved background checks on gun buyers.

“It’s not going to be talk like it’s been in the past,” he said.

What do students and parents want?

President Trump listened to pleas for gun reform on Wednesday from about 40 students, teachers and families in the executive mansion’s state dining room.

Hundreds of teenagers from the Washington DC suburbs rallied outside at the time – some voicing support for arming teachers.Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in last week’s attack – the second-deadliest shooting at a US public school – said: “We, as a country, failed our children.”

Mark Barden – whose son Daniel was killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut – said more guns was not the answer.

“Schoolteachers have more than enough responsibilities right now, than to have to have the awesome responsibility of lethal force to take a life,” he said.At his White House event, Mr Trump promised to look “very strongly” at calls for educators to be armed with guns – a position long held by the National Rifle Association (NRA).

“If you had a teacher who was adept at firearms,” he said, “they could very well end the attack very quickly.”

“Where a teacher would have a concealed gun on them,” he said, while acknowledging the plan was controversial, “they would go for special training and they would be there, and you would no longer have a gun-free zone.

On Thursday morning, Mr Trump criticised reporting of his remarks, stressing that he spoke of the need to train teachers properly.

Throughout his presidential campaign he endorsed the idea of an armed citizenry as a defence against attacks.

But during the 2016 election campaign, he denied that he was in favour of guns in classrooms.

Will those plans work?

Stoneman Douglas High School had an armed guard on duty during last week’s attack – but he never discharged his gun. The local sheriff told reporters the deputy never encountered the shooter.

But putting an armed teacher in every classroom is a divisive topic – a 2013 poll by the National Education Association found only 22% of teachers said they approved of the idea of arming staff, while 68% of teachers said they were opposed.

And 72% of teachers said they would not want to carry a gun even if the law allowed.



Migration Figures: Highest Number Of EU Nationals Leaving UK In A Decade

The number of EU citizens leaving the UK is at its highest level for a decade, figures from the Office for National Statistics show.

It estimates that 130,000 EU nationals emigrated in the year to September, the highest number since 2008.

Meanwhile, 220,000 EU nationals came to live in the UK – 47,000 fewer than the previous year.

Net EU migration – the difference between arrivals and departures – was 90,000, the lowest for five years.

The figures also show that more British people are emigrating than are returning to live in the UK.

Of those EU nationals arriving in the UK, fewer were coming for “work-related reasons”, in particular to “look for work”.

Nicola White, head of international migration statistics at the ONS, said: “Brexit could well be a factor in people’s decision to move to or from the UK, but people’s decision to migrate is complicated and can be influenced by lots of different reasons.”

‘More students’

By contrast, immigration from countries outside the European Union is going up which means the UK population is continuing to grow at a similar level to early 2014.

Some 285,000 non-EU citizens arrived in the UK in the 12-month period to September, and 80,000 departed.

This gives a net increase of 205,000, the highest for six years.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said this was largely driven by more people coming to study in the UK and an uncharacteristic dip in the previous year’s figures that may have been corrected.

He also speculated whether firms were starting to struggle to recruit or retain people from the EU, forcing them to look outside the EU.

Overall, net migration is estimated to have fallen by 29,000 to 244,000 in the same period.

This includes 73,000 British people coming back to the UK and 125,000 Britons leaving.

The overall net migration figure is still well short of the government’s target to reduce net migration to below 100,000, a pledge made in the 2010, 2015 and 2017 Tory manifestos.

Caroline Nokes, immigration minister, said the latest figures demonstrated that the UK was still attracting the “brightest and best people” to come to work and study and described the increase in the number of overseas students as a “huge positive”.

“We are a country that is open for business,” she added.

“We want to have great relations with our European neighbours going forward but at the same time we need to have a sustainable migration system,” she said.

Asked whether falling numbers would adversely affect some sectors, in particular the NHS, Ms Nokes said the independent migration advisory committee was due to report its findings on EU patterns to the government in September so decisions could be made based on evidence.

‘Immigration mess’

Labour’s shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said net migration was still double the government’s target and accused the Home Office of turning away qualified doctors despite a recruitment shortage in the NHS.

“This deficit hurts us all and highlights the immigration mess the government has created,” she said.

The ONS figures also show that in 2017, the UK granted asylum, alternative forms of protection or resettlement to almost 15,000 people, 40% of whom were under 18.

Separate figures from the Home Office showed more than 10,500 people have been granted refuge in the UK after fleeing the conflict in Syria, under the Vulnerable Person Resettlement scheme.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd, who is in Lebanon near the Syrian border, said the government was considering extending its commitment to rehome 20,000 people by 2020.

Other figures from the Home Office show there were 141,302 applications made for British citizenship in 2017, an increase of 8% on the previous year.

This was 39% lower than the peak of 232,262 in 2013.

There is evidence that more EU citizens, who have settled in the UK, are applying for citizenship, with applications more than doubling from 15,460 in 2016 to 38,528 in 2017.



Germany Coalition Talks: Merkel’s Conservatives And SPD ‘Clinch Deal’

Germany’s centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) have reached an agreement on a coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives (CDU/CSU), according to media reports.

A deal on distributing ministries was said to be one of the last major hurdles towards forming a coalition.

The agreement looks set to end more than four months of wrangling since inconclusive elections in September.

Negotiators have been in non-stop talks since Tuesday morning.

The remaining stumbling blocks have been workers’ rights and healthcare.

Immigration, Europe, and tax, have also been points of contention.SPD leader Martin Schulz had at first ruled out going back into government with Mrs Merkel’s centre-right CDU and its Bavarian sister party, the CSU.

But he changed his mind when CDU/CSU coalition talks with the liberal Free Democrats (FDP) and Greens broke down.

After months of stalemate, there are now hopes Germany could have a government in place by Easter.However, the SPD’s 460,000 members will have a final say on whether to accept a coalition agreement in a postal vote due to take place in coming weeks.

Those opposed to any deal with Mrs Merkel include a new group within the SPD calling itself NoGroKo (no grand coalition).

European Union allies, such as France, see Germany as a pillar of stability in the bloc and have been hoping Mrs Merkel succeeds.The centre-left Social Democrats will reportedly get a number of key ministries, including finance, foreign and labour.

This would have a big impact on the rest of the world, particularly Europe.

A Social Democrat finance ministry is more likely to go along with French President Macron’s ambitious plans for EU reform, by allowing more German support for struggling eurozone economies.

And at home these powerful ministries would help the SPD push for key left-wing policies, such as better rights for employees.

All of this could go down well with SPD party members, who will vote on any final coalition deal.

An agreement which looks like a win for the SPD will increase the likelihood that they will vote yes.

But if they vote no, then the most likely outcome could be fresh elections.


Trump Tells Pentagon ‘To Top’ France Military Parade

US President Donald Trump has asked the Pentagon to organise a large military parade in the nation’s capital.

The president made the request of top military chiefs in late January, after reportedly being impressed by a French Bastille Day parade last year.

“It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen,” he later said. “We’re going to have to try and top it.”

Democrats compared the plan to displays of military might organised by autocratic nations.

The plan was first revealed by the Washington Post, before being confirmed by the White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders.

“President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” she said.

“He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”

Military displays in Washington DC are usually only used to mark victory at the end of a war.The Pentagon is now looking at the details of the event, though one White House official told the Washington Post plans were still at a “brainstorming” stage.US media linked the plan to Mr Trump’s admiration for a military parade he attended in Paris in July last year.

The occasion, marking 100 years since America entered World War One, saw troops march down the Champs-Élysées, accompanied by dozens of military vehicles, flyovers of military aircraft, and traditional mounted cavalry.

Commentators say a US parade would be extremely expensive, given the cost of bringing military hardware and personnel to the capital and protecting its streets from tanks designed for war zones.