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You In Their Shoes: North/South Korea Talks

You In Their Shoes: North/South Korea Talks

North Korea will send athletes (and a cheering squad!) to the upcoming Winter Olympics in South Korea, under an agreement just reached in the first high level talks between the countries in two years.


Anything to ease tensions on the peninsula is good news — especially considering that that the last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, in 1988, the North not only boycotted the event, but bombed a South Korean airliner ahead of the games.

That said, easing tensions during the Olympics is one thing — addressing the underlying crisis surrounding North Korea’s defiant development of nuclear weapons is another. How does it look from each of the key participants’ perspective?

You’re Kim Jong-un — more than anything you want an ICBM that can hit the US. If you have refrigerator magnets, surely two of them are of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi, as reminders. But with sanctions hurting your cash flow, you’re in the mood for a temporary thaw, some international goodwill, and more time to develop that ICBM. You know South Korean president Moon Jae-in wants to ease tensions and have a peaceful Olympic games. So you sent him an olive branch on New Year’s Day.. And here you are.

You’re Moon Jae-in — you’ve already agreed to postpone regular US-South Korea military drills to avoid provoking Kim during the Games. North Korean participation is a nice little win, but there’s not much more you can do with the North without violating the sanctions approach or diverging from the hardline policy of the US, your main security partner. Don’t forget, Trump is also in a state about the trade deficit with your country, and is currently trying to renegotiate your most important free trade deal as a result. Tough spot. How good a geopolitical slalom skier are you?

You’re Donald Trump — you’ve threatened to destroy North Korea, though you must know that would also risk the lives of tens of thousands of South Koreans and US troops too. And yet beneath the bluster, your administration has helped cobble together a decent sanctions regime. The trouble is that Kim’s fundamental determination to get nuclear weapons that can hit you is undeterred — it’s an existential security question for him. So after the goodwill of the games, you’ll resume military drills with South Korea, Little Rocket Man will test a Big Rocket, man, and… then what?

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Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has made a lot of foreign governments really mad. Let's call the roll.

Europe. The EU is angry that Turkey is drilling for oil in the eastern Mediterranean, and NATO is furious that member Turkey has defied its protests to purchase S-400 missiles from Russia. Erdogan has repeatedly rejected pushback from EU leaders by calling them fascists and Islamophobes.

Just this week, Erdogan refused to express sympathy with France following the beheading of a French schoolteacher by an Islamist extremist, attacked Macron's own response to the murder, suggested the French president needed "some sort of mental treatment," and countered Macron's vow to crack down on Islamist radicals with calls for a boycott of French products.

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Less than a week before the US election, President Donald Trump is repeatedly questioning the legitimacy of the vote (if he doesn't win) over largely unsubstantiated claims of potential fraud in universal mail-in voting. But with absentee ballots coming in all-time highs in all states due to the coronavirus pandemic, some Americans worry that the system itself may not be able to handle such an influx of ballots, including those already cast by a record number of early voters. Whether or not you agree, Gallup data show that US citizens are now less confident that the election will be conducted accurately — and more concerned about election irregularities and voter suppression — than they were four years ago. We take a look at how Americans' views on these electoral integrity issues have changed from 2016 to 2020.

Belarus on strike: In recent days, the Belarusian streets have turned up the heat on strongman President Alexander Lukashenko, as thousands of state factory workers and students in Belarus heeded a call from opposition leader Svyatlana Tikhanouskaya to join a general strike. Protests have roiled the country since August, when Lukashenko, in power since 1994, won a presidential election widely regarded as rigged. Last Sunday, 100,000 people turned up in Minsk, the capital. Tikhanouskaya — who ran against Lukashenko in that election and is currently exiled in neighboring Lithuania — had demanded the president resign by October 26. When he didn't, the walkout began. In one of the most iconic moments of protest so far, a striking worker at a refrigerator factory climbed the plant's tower to record a dramatic call for Lukashenko to step down. Belarus has been hit with sanctions from the US and EU, both of which are calling on him to hold new elections, but so far he has shown no signs of backing down, deploying his riot police with the usual fury. Something's got to give, soon.

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Who does Vladimir Putin want to win the US election? Given the Kremlin's well-documented efforts to sway the 2016 vote in Donald Trump's favor, it's certainly a fair question. And while there's no solid evidence that Russian interference had any decisive effect on the outcome four years ago, the Trump administration itself says the Kremlin — and others — are now trying to mess with the election again.

So let's put you in Vladimir Putin's size 9 shoes as you weigh up Donald Trump vs Joe Biden while refreshing your own personal PyatTridsatVosem (FiveThirtyEight) up there in the Kremlin.

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