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Morning News Brief

Jun 7, 2018
Originally published on June 7, 2018 8:16 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In recent years, North Korea has launched missiles that theoretically could have reached the United States.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

But for people in Japan, the risk was not theoretical at all. At least two North Korean missiles flew right over Japan before crashing into the sea in recent times. So before President Trump meets with Kim Jong Un of North Korea next week, Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to have a word. He gets his chance at the White House today.

MARTIN: Indeed, he does. NPR national political correspondent Mara Liasson is with us this morning. Hey, Mara.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: What is Japan's prime minister going to be asking from President Trump?

LIASSON: I think he's going to be asking for clarification. Abe has been a big supporter of this maximum-pressure campaign on North Korea, very tough sanctions. And now there is some concern that President Trump is backing away from that campaign without getting any concessions from North Korea. On Friday, President Trump said he didn't even want to talk about maximum pressure anymore.

So Japan is concerned that Donald Trump could make a deal with North Korea that would address only U.S. security concerns but not Japanese ones - for example, a deal that would get rid of North Korea's long-range intercontinental missiles that presumably could reach the U.S. but allow North Korea to keep shorter-range missiles that could still be a threat to Japan. He also wants Donald Trump to bring up the issue of the Japanese abductees in North Korea. And I think he just wants overall clarification, what is the Trump administration strategy with North Korea?

MARTIN: Is he likely to get what he wants? I mean, what's the relationship between these two men?

LIASSON: That's a good question. He has put a lot of effort into this relationship. He has met with Donald Trump many times. Just on April 18, he met with him at Mar-a-Lago. They've golfed together. So even before Emmanuel Macron became President Trump's buddy, Abe was trying to develop a personal relationship, but so far, he hasn't gotten much. He wasn't even able to secure an exemption for Japan from those steel and aluminum tariffs that Donald Trump has put on U.S. allies.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, Mara, there's something else to talk about today, something we haven't actually discussed in a while, immigration, the potential for immigration reform on Capitol Hill. There is movement. The House - at least some House Republicans are meeting today. What can you tell us?

LIASSON: House Republicans are meeting to see if they can hammer out some kind of a compromise on immigration. The hand of the Republican leadership is being forced by a group of moderate Republicans, along with Democrats, on a mechanism called a discharge petition that would allow them to bring some immigration bills to the floor over the objections of leadership. They're just a couple signatures away from having the number they need to do that. It's kind of a bipartisan rank-and-file revolt.

So today, the House speaker is going to try to work out a compromise to avoid that. But it's hard to see what kind of compromise they could find since they've been working for a compromise on immigration, on what to do with the DREAMers all year, and they haven't found one.

INSKEEP: This is an election dilemma for many Republicans. You have more moderate Republicans or Republicans in districts with large Latino populations who want something to be done for DACA kids, as they're called. And you have more hardline base voters who don't.

LIASSON: That's right. And then you've got the president on the campaign trail using immigration as a weapon. He thinks it's a great political issue for him. He's been bashing the Democrats for being illegal immigrant lovers. They like illegal immigrants more than U.S. citizens, he says. So it's a complicated issue for Republicans.

MARTIN: NPR's Mara Liasson this morning. Thanks, Mara.

LIASSON: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: OK. The U.S. ambassador to Germany is under some pressure in this moment. There are some German politicians who now want him out of his job.

INSKEEP: Yeah. Ambassador Richard Grenell said some things that ambassadors normally would not. Not long after President Trump nominated him and he was confirmed and he settled into his new job in Berlin, Grenell gave an interview to the conservative news site Breitbart and said he wants to empower conservatives, populists, right-wing movements throughout Europe. Normally, an ambassador would try to stay out of a host country's politics at all costs, but here, Grenell explicitly said he wanted in to European politics.

MARTIN: OK. So what exactly do Germans hear in those remarks that Grenell made? Let's ask NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson. She joins us from Berlin. Hey, Soraya.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So saying that he wants to empower conservatives sounds different in a U.S. context than it does in a European context. Why did this cause such an uproar over there?

NELSON: Well, in Germany, there is a lot of sensitivity about this trend across Europe of far-right political parties rising, gaining popularity, joining governments. And the interview that Richard Grenell gave was perceived to be talking about these far-right groups even though it didn't specifically mention them by name. But he did mention right-wing Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who of course is a Merkel critic. And he's joined forces with the far right in Austria to form a government. So these are the things that are really worrying people here.

MARTIN: Right. It's not just conservatives, it's very extreme far-right leaders, of course. And when you take into consideration Europe's history...

NELSON: Right. That was definitely the fear, or that's the concern is that what he meant in other words.

MARTIN: So now some lawmakers in Germany say that they want Grenell to leave over this?

NELSON: Yes, certainly. And it's not just lawmakers. You'll recall from your time here covering the elections that Martin Schulz of the Social Democrats who ran against Merkel and lost, he's been very vocal about Richard Grenell leaving. And Sahra Wagenknecht basically referred - or called him a colonial master, you know, that this sort of behavior welcome. And so you really do have this growing outcry of explain yourself and leave.

INSKEEP: There is a lot in that phrase colonial master because Europeans are well used to the idea of sending an ambassador to Africa or to Asia in past generations, of course, and the ambassador being extraordinarily powerful in some other country. Americans have had ambassadors like that. But the idea of an American ambassador coming to Europe and acting like that is something that people take offense.

MARTIN: Altogether different. And clearly, this is not happening in a vacuum, right? Soraya - President Trump, Chancellor Merkel, they are not seeing eye to eye much.

NELSON: Oh, yes. I mean, we're talking about the trade tariffs that are on the table at the moment, the punitive tariffs against aluminum and steel that the Trump White House has imposed, the fact that the Iran deal is - that the U.S. is leaving the Iran deal. And so this is something where Grenell has ruffled a lot of feathers as well because on his first day, he tweeted about German companies doing business in Iran.

MARTIN: All right. Much more to say as we keep covering this. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reporting from Berlin this morning. Thanks so much, Soraya.

NELSON: You're welcome, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: All right. Steve, you'll remember that story in Cuba where all these American diplomats were hearing strange sounds and then getting sick, kind of a harrowing story. Now this appears to be happening in China. What's going on?

INSKEEP: For the second time in recent weeks now, U.S. diplomats stationed in Guangzhou - that's a huge city not far from Hong Kong in China - have been sent to the United States for medical testing after they complained of an unexplained illness. The diplomats suffered symptoms after they said they heard strange high-pitched noises.

MARTIN: This is such a weird story. NPR's Anthony Kuhn is with us now. He's in Beijing. Anthony, what can you tell us? I mean, what do we know about this case in China?

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Well, as you said, Rachel, this happened at the U.S. consulate in Guangzhou, where there are about 170 U.S. staff working. And they were found to have symptoms similar to diplomats - U.S. diplomats in Havana. To experts, these symptoms looked like mild traumatic brain injury. And after hearing these odd high-pitched sounds, the employees said that it impaired their hearing, their vision, their balance, memory, sleep and other functions.

INSKEEP: Traumatic brain injury, that's something that happens to soldiers on the battlefield from the concussion of explosions and so forth.

KUHN: Not diplomats, that's right. So the State Department says that it has sent an undisclosed number of employees back to the U.S. for examination. They're not saying who they are for privacy reasons. And a U.S. medical team has been sent to Guangzhou. And a government task force has also been established to look into this.

MARTIN: I mean, what is - what are the Chinese saying? I mean, what's the government there saying?

KUHN: Yeah. The Foreign Ministry was asked about this at a routine briefing today. And Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying responded. Let's hear a clip of tape of her explanation.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HUA CHUNYING: (Through interpreter) The Chinese side has adopted a responsible attitude to investigate the relevant issue. And we haven't found any course or clue that leads to the situation mentioned by the U.S.

MARTIN: So they don't have an explanation, basically.

KUHN: That's right. We don't know whether this was the result of an intentional attack, something in the environment around the diplomats which caused this or some medical condition the government employees which is completely unrelated to outside factors. It's just unexplained.

INSKEEP: This went on for quite some time in Cuba, and there's still no explanation for what happened there.

MARTIN: Right. And it really disrupted an already fraught relationship between the U.S. and Cuba. Is that likely to further complicate the relationship between the U.S. and China, which isn't so great right now?

KUHN: Right. Well, you know, the U.S. relationship with China is, of course, much bigger. And it's already strained by so many disputes on everything from trade to China's actions in the South China Sea, human rights. I guess we can say that there's this growing atmosphere of strategic mistrust between the two countries, and that could fuel suspicions. And if these suspicions are confirmed, then it could sour the relationship even further.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Anthony Kuhn reporting from Beijing for us this morning. Anthony, thanks so much.

KUHN: You bet, Rachel.

(SOUNDBITE OF TWUAN'S "NAH MAN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.