SEOUL, South Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reopened a key cross-border communication channel with South Korea for the first time in nearly two years Wednesday as the rivals explored the possibility of sitting down and talking after months of acrimony and fears of war.
The sudden signs of easing hostilities, however, came as President Donald Trump threatened Kim with nuclear war in response to his threat earlier this week.
In his New Year's address Monday, Kim said he was willing to send a delegation to next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea. But he also said he has a "nuclear button" on his desk and that all U.S. territory is within striking distance of his nuclear weapons — comments Trump latched onto Tuesday when he boasted of a bigger and more powerful "nuclear button" than Kim's.
The two leaders exchanged crude insults last year, as the North received new U.N. sanctions over its sixth and most powerful nuclear test explosion and a series of intercontinental ballistic missile launches.
The White House on Wednesday defended Trump's Twitter message to Kim.
"I don't think that it's taunting to stand up for the people of this country," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, adding that people should be concerned about Kim's "mental fitness."
Pressed on Trump's claim about nuclear capabilities, Sanders said, "I think it's just a fact."
The recent softening of contact between the rival Koreas may show a shared interest in improved ties, but there's no guarantee tensions will ease. There have been repeated attempts in recent years by the rivals to talk, but even when they do meet, the efforts often end in recriminations and stalemate.
Outside critics say Kim may be trying to use better ties with South Korea as a way to weaken the alliance between Washington and Seoul as the North grapples with toughened international sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.
Kim's latest announcement, which was read by a senior Pyongyang official on state TV, followed a South Korean offer on Tuesday of high-level talks with North Korea to find ways to cooperate on next month's Winter Olympics in the South and discuss other inter-Korean issues.
Ri Son Gwon, chairman of the state-run Committee for the Peaceful Reunification, cited Kim as welcoming South Korea's overture and ordering officials to reopen a communication channel at the border village of Panmunjom. Ri also quoted Kim as ordering officials to promptly take substantial measures with South Korea out of a "sincere stand and honest attitude," according to the North's state TV and news agency.
South Korea quickly welcomed Kim's decision and later confirmed that the two Koreas began preliminary contacts on the channel. During their 20-minute communication, liaison officials of the two Koreas exchanged their names and examined their communication lines to make sure they were working, according to Seoul's Unification Ministry.
Since taking office last May, South Korea's liberal President Moon Jae-in has pushed hard to improve ties and resume stalled cooperation projects with North Korea. Pyongyang had not responded to his outreach until Kim's New Year's address.
Relations between the Koreas soured under Moon's conservative predecessors, who responded to the North's expanding nuclear program with hard-line measures. All major rapprochement projects were put on hold one by one, and the Panmunjom communication channel had been suspended since February 2016.
Moon has joined U.S.-led international efforts to apply more pressure and sanctions on North Korea, but he still favors dialogue as a way to resolve the nuclear standoff. The Trump administration says all options are on the table, including military measures against the North. Moon has repeatedly said he opposes any war on the Korean Peninsula.
Some observers believe these differences in views may have led Kim to think he could drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington as a way to weaken their alliance and international sanctions.
Talks could provide a temporary thaw in strained inter-Korean ties, but conservative critics worry that they may only earn the North time to perfect its nuclear weapons.
After the Olympics, inter-Korean ties could become frosty again because the North has made it clear it has no intention of accepting international calls for nuclear disarmament and instead wants to bolster its weapons arsenal in the face of what it considers increasing U.S. threats, analysts say.
WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump launched a scathing attack on former top adviser Steve Bannon on Wednesday, responding to a new book that portrays Trump as an undisciplined man-child who didn't actually want to win the White House and quotes Bannon as calling his son's contact with a Russian lawyer "treasonous."
Hitting back via a formal White House statement rather than a more-typical Twitter volley, Trump insisted Bannon had little to do with his victorious campaign and "has nothing to do with me or my Presidency."
"When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind," Trump said.
It was a blistering attack against the man who helped deliver the presidency to Trump. It was spurred by an unflattering new book by writer Michael Wolff that paints Trump as a leader who doesn't understand the weight of the presidency and spends his evenings eating cheeseburgers in bed, watching television and talking on the phone to old friends.
Later Wednesday, Trump attorney Charles Harder threatened legal action against Bannon over "disparaging statements and in some cases outright defamatory statements."
Harder sent a letter to Bannon saying the former Trump aide violated confidentiality agreements by speaking with Wolff. The letter demanded Bannon "cease and desist" any further disclosure of confidential information. Bannon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
White House aides were blindsided when early excerpts from "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" were published online by New York magazine and other media outlets ahead of the Jan. 9 publication date.
The release left Trump "furious" and "disgusted," said White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who complained that the book contained "outrageous" and "completely false claims against the president, his administration and his family."
Asked what specifically had prompted the president's fury with Bannon, she said: "I would certainly think that going after the president's son in an absolutely outrageous and unprecedented way is probably not the best way to curry favor with anybody."
In the book, an advance copy of which was provided to The Associated Press, Bannon is quoted as describing a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between Donald Trump Jr., Trump campaign aides and a Russian lawyer as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic." The meeting has become a focus of federal and congressional investigators.
Bannon also told Wolff the investigations into potential collusion between Russia and Trump campaign officials would likely focus on money laundering.
"They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV," Bannon was quoted as saying in one section that was first reported by The Guardian.
A spokeswoman for Bannon did not immediately respond to a request for a comment. Trump Jr. lashed out in a series of tweets, including one that said Andrew Breitbart, the founder of the Breitbart News site that Bannon now runs, "would be ashamed of the division and lies Steve Bannon is spreading!"
Bannon, who was forced out of his White House job last summer, was not surprised or particularly bothered by the blowback, according to a person familiar with his thinking but not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. That person said Bannon vowed on Wednesday to continue his war on the Republican establishment and also predicted that, after a cooling-off period, he'd continue to speak with Trump, who likes to maintain contact with former advisers even after he fires and sometimes disparages them.
Sanders said Bannon and Trump last spoke in the first part of last month.
The former-and-current Breitbart News head has told associates that he believes Trump has been ill-served by some his closest allies, including eldest son Don Jr. and Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law. Bannon believes they have exposed Trump to the Russia probe that could topple his presidency and that Trump would be able to accomplish more without them.
So far, there is no indication that Bannon is being investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. But the House intelligence committee has invited him, along with former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, for a closed-door interview as a part of the panel's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election, according to a person familiar with the invitation.
Trump, up until Wednesday, had been complimentary of Bannon, saying in October that the two "have a very good relationship" and had been friends for "a long time."
In the book, Bannon also speaks critically of Trump's daughter and White House adviser, Ivanka, calling her "dumb as a brick."
"A little marketing savvy and has a look but as far as understanding actually how the world works and what politics is and what it means — nothing," he is quoted saying.
New York magazine also published a lengthy adaptation of the book on Wednesday, in which Wolff writes that Trump believed his presidential nomination would boost his brand and deliver "untold opportunities" — but that he never expected to win.
It says Trump Jr. told a friend that his father looked as if he'd seen a ghost when it became clear he might win. The younger Trump described Melania Trump as "in tears — and not of joy."
The first lady's spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, disputed that, saying Mrs. Trump supported her husband's decision to run, encouraged him to do so and was happy when he won.
"The book is clearly going to be sold in the bargain fiction section," Grisham said in a statement.
The Flagstaff City Council decided not to discuss a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Donald Trump at its meeting Tuesday night.
“It is obvious that a demagogue is not suitable to serve as president, but it is not necessary for the council to re-state the obvious,” Councilman Jim McCarthy said after announcing he would not support moving the resolution forward.
The item was brought to the city council through a citizen’s petition, not through the request of any councilmember. City law requires the council to consider placing an item brought to them through a petition on an upcoming agenda within 30 days if the petition contains 25 verified signatures of Flagstaff residents. The petition asking the council to consider supporting impeachment had 39.
Flagstaff Mayor Coral Evans said while she appreciated the petition and said Trump’s election “created a very divisive situation,” she did not think supporting the resolution was in the best interest of the city.
The city is already asking for federal funding for the veteran’s home and the Rio de Flag Flood Control Project, and Evans said she worried if the council were to pass a resolution supporting the impeachment of the president, those local requests may be less likely to get funding.
Evans said councilmembers as individuals could decide to advocate for other activism to support or not support Trump, but said the resolution “could have serious ramifications for our city.”
Councilwoman Eva Putzova, the only member who voiced support of moving the resolution forward to a discussion phase, said this was the only time residents of the city felt the “situation was so dire” that they approached the city council asking for them to support articles of impeachment.
Several other cities, including Los Angeles, San Francisco and Cambridge, Mass., have already passed resolutions calling for Trump’s impeachment.
Putzova said cities like Los Angeles receive more federal funding than Flagstaff, but have still advanced the idea.
Councilman Charlie Odegaard said he found the idea of the resolution “very partisan” and said the council is a nonpartisan body.
“We try to achieve a higher standard,” he said.
Three people addressed the council during the public comment period on the item, two in favor of creating a resolution supporting impeachment and one speaking against it.
Jeffrey Nickell, who created and submitted the petition to the council, said the movement to impeach Trump has been growing throughout the country, and he wanted to see if Flagstaff would entertain the idea of joining.
John Victora also spoke in support of impeaching Trump, citing previous comments he made about women and minorities.
Merle Henderson, the president of the Flagstaff Tea Party, said Trump’s “enormous success in business and with his family” qualifies Trump to be president, even though he “inherited a stronger than anticipated level of corruption” among other politicians in Washington.
“Fortunately, we went to the polls to elect a proven leader with the least baggage,” Henderson said.
Rising numbers of invasive brown trout and green sunfish in the Colorado River downstream of Glen Canyon Dam have spurred the National Park Service to propose a range of new actions to control those and other non-native aquatic species in Glen Canyon and Grand Canyon.
But a few of the ideas, including long-term electrofishing and the introduction of more non-native fish to the river, are drawing concern from fishing and environmental organizations as well as the Arizona Game and Fish Department.
The Park Service is gathering public comments on its initial slate of ideas until Friday.
The agency stated that it is looking for “additional tools” to prevent, control, minimize and eradicate invasives that threaten native species in the Colorado River as well as the blue ribbon rainbow trout fishery at Lees Ferry.
Among the proposed invasive species control options is a still-experimental tactic involving the introduction of non-native male fish with YY chromosomes, which produce only male offspring. As the fish continue to reproduce, that gender imbalance ends up crashing the population of whatever invasive species managers want to reduce, said Chris Cantrell, chief of fisheries with Arizona Game and Fish.
Fish barriers, pumps and piping in backwater areas where invasive sunfish are spawning and the application of fish-specific chemicals are other ideas the Park Service included in the proposal.
It’s the agency’s suggestion to use long-term intensive and repeated electrofishing that drew opposition from the Arizona Game and Fish Department as well as Trout Unlimited and Fly Fishers International. The process involves sending an electric current into the water to stun invasive fish so they can be scooped up and removed.
The prospect of weeks or months of electrofishing around Lees Ferry would negatively impact people’s perceptions of the fishery to the point where they just won’t come, said John Hamill, a volunteer for Trout Unlimited who serves in the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Work Group.
That would have “a lot of collateral damage to the local community up there,” Hamill said.
Electrofishing at a rate that would reduce brown trout populations also would negatively impact the local rainbow trout population, Cantrell said. The technique has a low catch probability and isn’t an efficient or effective use of resources, especially in a big river like the Colorado, Cantrell and Hamill said.
A 2017 white paper on the brown trout also noted that several tribes including the Zuni Tribe have expressed concerns with the physical removal of non-native aquatic life. State wildlife managers would advocate other alternatives like stocking more rainbow trout that compete with the brown trout, Cantrell said.
But the idea of introducing more exotic species to manage existing exotic species?
“I feel like history has told us that rarely works," said Alicyn Gitlin, with the Sierra Club. Gitlin said she instead supports the idea, also included in the Park Service proposal, of introducing more native species like Colorado pikeminnow to prey on and compete with non-natives in the river.
What isn’t in the range of options that she would like to see, Gitlin said, is the modification of water releases from Glen Canyon Dam to better mimic the river’s pre-dam spring and summer flooding regime instead of maintaining steadier flows with high-flow releases in the fall.
The 2017 brown trout white paper supports that idea, saying extremes in discharge, with both floods and drought, often inhibit the trout’s recruitment, “even to the point of population collapses.”
Brown trout numbers, after holding steady for more than a decade, exploded between 2012 and 2016, with the number of fish caught per minute in the Lees Ferry reach of the river increasing from .01 to .06 over that span. Brown trout prey on juvenile humpback chub, which are native to the Colorado, and also prey on and compete with rainbow trout.
Sunfish, a predatory invasive, also have continued to breed in a backwater of the Colorado River in the two years since thousands of fish were first discovered there. Fish managers tried two chemical treatments to wipe out the fish, but they just keep getting back into that area, said Scott Vanderkooi, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey’s Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center.
The sunfish are up in Lake Powell and scientists think with lake levels dropping, the warmer surface waters where the green sunfish live get closer to the dam’s turbines, so some fish are slipping through, Vanderkooi said.
Scientists are less sure about the reason brown trout numbers are increasing so dramatically. The white paper lays out seven possible hypotheses with the most likely being the start of regular fall high flow releases from Glen Canyon Dam that “cue the migration of ripe brown trout into Glen Canyon” and cleanse spawning grounds.
It’s most likely a combination of reasons though, especially in a large ecosystem like the Grand Canyon, Vanderkooi said.
“We're trying to understand what’s happening and why now, given that we’ve had brown trout in the system for a long time," he said.
Rob Billerbeck with the National Park Service stressed that this is just the beginning of the agency’s planning process.
“There is a range of alternatives we are looking at. We are really open at this point and have tried to be very inclusive,” Billerbeck said. “As we hear back from the public and conduct our analysis then we will likely weed through those actions and may weed out some of them. We also might get a few new ideas.”