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In comments published Saturday, Kim said North Korea is pushing ahead with the armaments to deter the United States, comments that appear to show President Donald Trump’s strategy of high-level engagement with Pyongyang — including three historic in-person meetings between Trump and Kim — failed to convince Pyongyang to stop its pursuit of a modern nuclear arsenal.

“No matter who is in power in the US, the true nature and the true spirit of the anti-North Korea policy will never change,” Kim said, according to the country’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“The development of nuclear weapons be pushed forward without interruption.”

The projects, according to Kim, are at various stages of development. He said “multiple-warhead guidance technology” is in the final stage, while studies in hypersonic flight that could be applied to new ballistic missiles “are complete,” with North Korea “making preparations for their test and production” — a possible sign that Pyongyang may be on the verge of resuming the type of missile testing anathema to Washington and Seoul.

Improvements in tactical nuclear weapons — which are meant to be used at shorter range and are often less destructive than strategic nuclear weapons — are also being finalized, Kim said. Nuclear-powered submarine research appears to be the least far along. Research into these subs is complete and in “the final stages of examination,” Kim said.

Experts say the Kim regime has long sought these technologies to enhance the quality and durability of its nuclear weapons. A nuclear-powered submarine would be particularly useful from a deterrence perspective because it would enhance North Korea’s “second-strike” capability — the ability to survive an initial nuclear attack from an adversary and respond in kind.

In July 2019, KCNA released photographs of Kim inspecting a submarine under construction. At the time, the United States believed the images likely showed a refurbished submarine that Washington had been aware of for more than a year, according to a senior US official. And satellite imagery from September of that year showed that Pyongyang may have been preparing to deploy a submarine capable of firing missiles.
However, it’s unlikely North Korea will be able to actually field such a submarine any time soon. Though North Korea has successfully test-fired submarine-launched ballistic missiles and is believed to boast a fleet of about 70 submarines, experts say most of the subs are likely old, loud and unable to fire nuclear-armed ballsitic missiles.

“I would not anticipate even a prototype naval nuclear reactor in North Korea, but their interest in the technology is unsurprising,” said Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and an expert in North Korea’s nuclear program.

Panda said Kim’s interest in tactical or low-yield nuclear weapons made sense, even though they can be “very inefficient in their use of fissile material,” which isn’t easy for North Korea to get.

“North Korea’s interest in these weapons isn’t surprising from a strategic point of view — in fact, it augments Kim’s preferred nuclear strategy quite well,” said Panda, author of “Kim Jong Un and the Bomb: Survival and Deterrence in North Korea.”

Panda said North Korea likely wants these tactical nuclear weapons to combat a potential conventional domestic invasion. That way, Kim could keep his strategic, longer-range nuclear weapons “for retaliation against the US and civilian centers in Japan and South Korea if the US and allies press on after that initial nuclear use.”

“Kim’s interest in tactical nuclear weapons is much like that of Pakistan’s: use them early to degrade mobilization by a conventionally superior neighbor,” he said.

Kim’s comments were delivered to the country’s top political leaders, who are gathered in Pyongyang for the Eighth Workers’ Party Congress — a high-level meeting in which the country’s rulers gather to reflect on successes and failures in years past and set an agenda for the future. These meetings are typically held every five years or so, but Kim’s father and predecessor — Kim Jong Il — stopped holding them after 1980. Kim Jong Un revived them in 2016.

North Korea’s fledgling economy is likely the most important topic on the domestic agenda. Kim admitted in August that his economic plans devised at the Seventh Workers’ Party had failed, and vowed to do better. However, sanctions, natural disasters and the Covid-19 pandemic have pushed the North Korean economy into a freefall, and experts are unsure how things can improve without major reforms.

Kim’s plans for developing his nuclear arsenal and modernizing his conventional arsenal comprised most of the address. He pledged that North Korea would be a responsible nuclear power committed to a “no first use policy of nuclear weapons.

“As a responsible nuclear power, North Korea will not abuse nuclear weapons unless invasive hostile forces try to use it against it,” Kim said.

While Kim said the continued buildup of nuclear and conventional weaponry did not “exclude diplomacy,” he cautioned adversaries against any “attempts to violate the country’s highest interests and dignity.”

The comments targeting the United States are the first from Kim publicly directed at President-elect Joe Biden, and indicate that Pyongyang might not be eager to engage in negotiations in the first days of the new administration.

Kim said the key to establishing a new North Korea-United States relationship requires the US to end its “policy of hostility” towards Pyongyang, which North Korea often defines as Washington’s alliance with South Korea, its commitment to protect South Korea under the US “nuclear umbrella,” and US force deployments in East Asia.

Biden, however, has made it clear that his foreign policy strategy will involve strengthening ties with allies that felt abandoned by Trump, who viewed the partnerships as transactional in nature.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry said Seoul would not alter its policies toward denuclearization or inter-Korean peace in response to Kim’s comments.

“South Korea hopes the talks between North Korea and the United States can resume as soon as possible as the start of a new administration,” the ministry said in a statement.

But the Biden administration may be forced to deal with this sooner than it would like, as North Korea conducted provocative missile tests during the first 100 days of both the Trump and Obama administrations.

Though Kim has not said similar weapons tests are on the table, he indicated a year ago that he no longer feels “bound” by agreements with Trump to halt nuclear weapons and long-range missile testing — and Kim likely needs to test any of the new armaments in development before declaring them battle ready.

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)


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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers

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Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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