Stories that have made headlines over the past two weeks, from a Christian perspective

ISSUE 222 | 11 JULY 2019

ALSO IN THIS EDITION

TrumpKim

ANOTHER STEP TOWARDS PEACE AS TRUMP AND KIM MEET AT DMZ

By Donnelly McCleland

South Korea’s president on Tuesday [2 July] called a recent US-North Korean summit at the Korean border an end of mutual hostility between the countries, despite scepticism by many experts that it was just a made-for-TV moment that lacked any substance. During their impromptu third summit at the Korean Demilitarised Zone on Sunday [30 June], Mr Trump and Mr Kim reaffirmed their friendship and agreed to resume nuclear talks. Mr Trump’s brief stepping across the borderline into North Korea also made him the first sitting US president to set foot in the North’s soil. (Time)

Another step towards peace

The historic meeting – the third in just over a year – was reportedly initiated by a tweet from Mr Trump that Mr Kim said took him by surprise. It again displayed a rapport between the two leaders, and a mutual willingness to keep the lines of communication open. The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) where the meeting took place has for decades represented the hostility between the United States and North Korea, which are technically still at war.

Stu Smallwood (on Antiwar.com) highlighted two incidents during the DMZ meeting that indicated how much the situation has improved over the past two years: North and South Korean security guards exchanged warm greetings of recognition from past summits, and all were unarmed as a result of an inter-Korean agreement to finally demilitarise the Joint Security Area of the DMZ.

President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, meanwhile, has invested a tremendous amount of political capital in efforts to bring the two Koreas closer. He may not see a peace deal or a significant renewal of inter-Korean economic cooperation before his term in office ends, but Smallwood maintains that “his efforts will ensure his eventual successor finds it very difficult to resume the military tensions of the past.” Smallwood also credits Mr Trump for his strategic role in forming an amicable relationship with the leader of North Korea, doing more than any other sitting US president, to allow the space for a thaw on the peninsula.

A possible way forward

According to Axios, Steve Biegun (the Trump administration’s North Korea negotiator) told reporters in an off-the-record briefing that “the administration wanted a ‘complete freeze’ of North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction programme while they are negotiating with the US.” Biegun’s remarks seem to signal his willingness to be more flexible with North Korea than some of the hardliners in the Trump administration. During the discussion he did, however, point out that the administration was not ready to lift the sanctions against North Korea if it freezes its weapons programme, but they could offer other concessions, such as humanitarian relief and improved diplomatic ties. Biegun insisted that the administration hasn’t abandoned its goal of “complete denuclearisation”, but he reportedly said several times that he was open to some give and take along the way to that goal.

It seems that all senior officials in the Trump administration are agreed on the ultimate goal of “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula, but opinions seem to differ within the administration on the best way of reaching that goal.

Michael Bosack (a former intergovernmental negotiator writing in Japan Times) suggests four ways the Trump administration could improve their North Korean negotiations. One of those is targeting broader interests than simply “final, fully verified denuclearisation” (or FFVD). Bosack maintains: “The myopic focus on FFVD violates two core principles of negotiating: always negotiate interests, not positions, and never expect to get agreement on your opening position.” Bosack believes that the inflexibility of the US position reflects a lack of clarity of its underlying interests. He concludes that the US has a variety of interests in their dealings with North Korea and that they could be secured through more flexible positions than “denuke or bust”.

Diplomatic obstruction

Some observers of the US-North Korea negotiations have raised concerns that two crucial advisors within Mr Trump’s inner circle – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton – have, on more than one occasion, disrupted diplomatic progress. After the aborted Hanoi summit, a top North Korean official said that the “gangster-like” behaviour of Mr Trump’s ‘hawkish’ top officials helped derail the denuclearisation negotiations. The Vice Foreign Minister said the two had “…created an atmosphere of hostility and mistrust”.

Bolton and Pompeo have long espoused “maximum pressure” as the sole means for dealing with “rogue nations”. Both are opposed to any concessions prior to complete North Korean denuclearisation. Pompeo led the highly anticipated follow-up meeting to the Singapore summit, but had nothing to offer and much to demand, mainly asking for “a full declaration of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal [and] a timeline for dismantling the nuclear programme”.

Bolton reportedly had a similarly dampening effect at the Hanoi summit where he is said to have convinced Mr Trump to demand that Mr Kim hand over all of North Korea’s nuclear weapons material prior to any sanctions relief or improved diplomatic ties. Some commentators pointed out that such a demand could have only one outcome: the North Koreans walking away from the negotiation table. It thus appeared that Bolton had achieved his mission, as prior to the summit, he had expressed confidence that “the negotiations … would collapse on their own.”

However, despite these major setbacks, Mr Trump’s continued efforts to build a harmonious and open relationship with Mr Kim has ensured that the lines of communication between the two nations have remained open, as was demonstrated by the DMZ meeting.

FROM A CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVE

Mr Trump and Mr Kim clearly demonstrated their commitment to the peace-building process, ensuring the meeting at the DMZ took place despite very short notice. And while nothing major was decided, it was yet another building block in the peace process. One can imagine that these events could be a major source of encouragement for North Korean believers who have experienced years of isolation.

A peaceful and lasting resolution to the divided Korean peninsula would be a monumental achievement, and Mr Trump clearly has a number of counsellors who have an influence on his decision making. Proverbs 11:14 says: “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” It is fortunate that not all of Mr Trump’s counsellors appear to seek confrontation, otherwise negotiations may never have gone beyond the first summit. Mr Trump has repeatedly stated that he is in no rush, and that he wants to do it right. There is much need to pray for him to receive Godly counsel as he continues to negotiate the road ahead.

PRAY 

  • For Mr Trump and Mr Kim to continue their efforts towards forging a lasting peace on the peninsula
  • For the talks to resume and there to be a lasting breakthrough
  • For North Korean believers to be deeply encouraged

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Egypt

EGYPTIAN PRESIDENTIAL COMMITTEE LEGALISES 127 CHURCHES

On Monday 1 July, a presidential committee in Egypt legalised 127 churches and service buildings that had been operating without permits. This brings the total to more than one thousand churches that have been granted legal status since 2016. Thousands of other Egyptian churches are still waiting such approval, but this is seen as a positive step forward in a country that is notorious for challenges regarding church construction.

From a Christian Perspective

Egypt is seen as a “gateway” for mission activities in the Arab world. Almost 50 percent of Christians in the Arab world are found in Egypt, and it is vital for believers around the world to support and strengthen them so that they can reach out to their Arab neighbours. The legalisation of churches offers some new hope and a renewed sense of legitimacy in Egypt, which may also encourage other believers in the wider region.

Migrants

MIGRANT CHALLENGES AROUND THE WORLD STILL A CRITICAL ISSUE 

On Monday 8 July, Pope Francis prayed for migrants in a special Mass, saying that they are people and not just a social issue. The Mass marked the sixth anniversary of the pope’s visit to the Italian island of Lampedusa, one of the main European points of entry for migrants and refugees trying to cross the Mediterranean. His prayer came shortly after a migrant detention centre in Tripoli was hit by an airstrike during the ongoing Libyan conflict, killing 53 people.

From a Christian Perspective

The Bible addresses how immigrants should be treated, and it is clear that the Lord’s children have a part to play in the process. Although the Bible does not give a complete set of guidelines for immigration, there are some specific commandments that convey God’s view on immigration and migrants.

IN OTHER NEWS

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday 10 July that Britain would face “consequences” over the seizure of an Iranian oil tanker. Iran has demanded the immediate release of the Grace 1, which British Royal Marines boarded off Gibraltar last week and seized on suspicion that it was breaking sanctions by taking oil to Syria. Rouhani also said Iran’s decision to increase uranium enrichment would produce fuel for power plants and serve other peaceful aims, and that it was within the framework of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. He was speaking a day after European powers accused Iran of “pursuing activities inconsistent with its commitments” under the nuclear deal and called for an urgent meeting of the parties to the agreement.

Voters in Greece have given Kyriakos Mitsotakis’ centre-right New Democracy party a resounding mandate to form a new government after it won by a landslide over the incumbent leftwing Syriza party, which has been in power since 2015. The neo-fascist Golden Dawn party failed to cross the 3% threshold required to secure any seats in parliament after previously being Greece’s third biggest political force. The anti-immigrant party embodied the darkest days of the debt-stricken country’s descent into crisis, and their demise appears to indicate a clear shift away from the populist politics that have dominated Greece and other parts of Europe in recent years.

On Friday 5 July, Sudan’s military and civilian leaders announced that they had reached an agreement to share power  until elections, promising an end to the standoff that has paralysed the African country since the ouster of President Omar al-Bashir in April. The two sides agreed to form a sovereign council and to rotate power for three years. The council will consist of five military leaders and six civil representatives. The two sides also agreed to open an independent investigation into the violence that began on 3 June when military forces cracked down on protesters, leading to at least 128 deaths. Crowds celebrated news of the unexpected deal, but many protestors expressed a continued mistrust of the military

Uganda says there have been no further cases of Ebola on its territory resulting from the deaths of two Ugandans who had travelled to DR Congo, the Congolese authorities said Wednesday 10 July. In an update on the epidemic in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, the health ministry said its Ugandan counterparts had confirmed there had been no further infections. A total of 1,641 deaths have been recorded in DRC’s North Kivu and neighbouring Ituri provinces since 1 August, according to the latest toll. The epidemic is the worst outbreak of Ebola on record after more than 11,300 were killed Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone between 2014-2016.

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