GOP Seeks Immigration Accord Under Pressure from Moderates

House Republicans labored to strike an immigration accord Tuesday, the day restive moderates have said they’d move to force future votes on the divisive issue if no compromise is reached. Aides said any deal would likely include provisions changing how immigrant children are separated from their families at the border.

Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, planned to meet with centrist and conservative GOP leaders in hopes of defusing an election-year civil war that leaders worry will alienate right-leaning voters. For weeks, the two factions have hunted ways to provide a route to citizenship for immigrants brought illegally as children to the U.S. and bolster border security, but have failed to find middle ground.

Moderates led by Representatives Carlos Curbelo of Florida and California’s Jeff Denham have said that without an agreement, they would on Tuesday get the 218 signatures — a House majority — needed on a petition that would trigger votes later this month on four immigration bills. They are three names short, but have said they have enough supporters to succeed.

House GOP leaders have tried to derail that rarely used process, asserting those votes would probably produce a liberal-leaning bill backed by Democrats and just a smattering of Republicans. They’ve been trying to craft a right-leaning measure, but the party has long failed to find compromise between centrists with Hispanic and moderate-minded constituents and conservatives whose voters back President Donald Trump’s hardline views.

Any deal is likely to include much if not all of the $25 billion Trump wants to build his proposed wall with Mexico and other security steps. But there have been disagreements over details, such as conservative plans to make it easier to deport some immigrants here legally.

Trump’s recent clampdown on people entering the U.S. illegally has resulted in hundreds of children being separated from their families and a public relations black eye for the administration.

No law requires those children to be taken from their parents. A two-decade-old court settlement requires those who are separated to be released quickly to relatives or qualified programs. Republicans are seeking language to make it easier to keep the families together longer, said several Republicans.

Besides trying to cut a deal on a bill, Ryan and other GOP leaders have been trying to persuade moderate Republicans to not sign the petition. Two Republican aides said that as part of that, party leaders have promised votes later this year on a bill dealing with migrant agriculture workers and requirements that employers use a government online system to verify workers’ citizenship.

The Republicans spoke on condition of anonymity to describe private talks.

Under House procedures, if the moderates’ petition reaches 218 signatures on Tuesday, the immigration votes could occur as soon as June 25. Otherwise, the votes would have to wait until July.

Trump last year terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, though federal court orders have kept the program functioning for now. Hundreds of thousands of young immigrants have benefited from DACA or could qualify for it, and moderates want legislation that would give these so-called Dreamers a way to become legal residents and ultimately citizenship.

Conservatives have derided that step as amnesty for lawbreakers and have resisted providing a special pathway to protect them.

In recent days, talks have focused on proposals that give the Dreamers a way to gain legal status, perhaps making them eligible for visas now distributed under existing programs. Trump has proposed limiting the relatives that immigrants can bring to the U.S. and ending a lottery that provides visas to people from countries with low immigration rates, which could free up some visas.


Thousands of US Asylum Claims in Doubt After Sessions’ Decision

New limitations on asylum imposed by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions could invalidate tens of thousands of pending claims brought by women, children and others fleeing violence in their home countries, according to immigration attorneys.

Sessions on Monday overturned a grant of asylum to a Salvadoran woman whose former husband raped and beat her for 15 years. The decision left immigration lawyers across the United States grappling with how to proceed for their clients.

At least 230,000 of the 711,000 cases before U.S. immigration courts involve asylum petitions from Central America and Mexico, according to a Reuters analysis of data from the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs U.S. immigration courts.

Attorneys said most claims from this region are based on domestic or gang violence. Those cases will be far harder — if not impossible — to win in light of Sessions’ decision, they said.

In a case known as the “Matter of A-B,” the attorney general revoked a ruling by the Board of Immigration Appeals that carved out special protections for domestic violence victims. The decision narrowed who can qualify for asylum because they were victims of criminal activity, as opposed to government persecution.

“Generally, claims by aliens pertaining to domestic violence or gang violence perpetrated by non-governmental actors will not qualify for asylum,” the nation’s top law enforcement officer wrote.

Sessions’ action has left immigration lawyers uncertain about the next steps for their cases.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, immigration lawyer Rebecca Kitson said she had about six cases pending that were now in doubt.

One involves a teenager whose father, a minister in El Salvador who traveled between gang territories, was gunned down and died in his arms, she said. The gangs then targeted the boy.

“Can’t change that they are based on gang violence,” Kitson said. “The plan is to keep fighting and hope that appeals and the federal courts will sort it out.”

Challenges considered likely

Sessions’ decision applies to immigration courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals, which are overseen by the attorney general. Decisions can ultimately be appealed to federal appellate courts, which operate independently, and immigration attorneys say challenges are likely.

Asylum law requires that claims be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Immigrants fleeing domestic and other violence can still seek relief if they can show their persecution was based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a “particular social group.” But the ruling narrowed the definition of what that term means.

Previously, for example, some married women who could not leave abusive husbands were considered a “particular social group.” But Sessions’ decision tossed that definition.

Those with pending cases can amend the basis of their claim while still before an immigration court, though not at the appeals stage. But immigration attorneys say the decision closes off an avenue for relief to some of the most vulnerable immigrants.

Court backlog

At the Dilley, Texas, federal family detention center, the vast majority of the more than 13,000 families served by a legal services project in 2017 were fleeing domestic violence, gang violence or both, according to Royce Murray, policy director at the American Immigration Council. The council is a partner in

the project.

In Boston, immigration attorney Matt Cameron said his office has a hearing scheduled Thursday for a woman who endured years of physical violence from the father of her children. He said the case would have had a strong likelihood of success — before the Sessions decision.

“This person had been through a lot of counseling, a lot of preparation. … It took a long time to get her to the point where she could actually talk about it,” he said. “Now you have to tell them they don’t even have a case anymore.”

Sessions has vowed to reduce the court backlog, which reached 711,000 pending immigration cases in May. A Department of Justice spokesman said Monday’s decision will allow cases “to be more effectively and quickly adjudicated.”


US Vows to Find, Punish Citizenship Cheaters

The U.S. government agency that oversees immigration applications is launching an office that will focus on identifying Americans who are suspected of cheating to get their citizenship and seek to strip them of it.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director L. Francis Cissna told The Associated Press in an interview that his agency is hiring several dozen lawyers and immigration officers to review cases of immigrants who were ordered deported and are suspected of using fake identities to later get green cards and citizenship through naturalization.

Cissna said the cases would be referred to the Department of Justice, whose attorneys could then seek to remove the immigrants’ citizenship in civil court proceedings. In some cases, government attorneys could bring criminal charges related to fraud.

Coordinated effort

Until now, the agency has pursued cases as they arose but not through a coordinated effort, Cissna said. He said he hopes the agency’s new office in Los Angeles will be running by next year but added that investigating and referring cases for prosecution will likely take longer.

“We finally have a process in place to get to the bottom of all these bad cases and start denaturalizing people who should not have been naturalized in the first place,” Cissna said. “What we’re looking at, when you boil it all down, is potentially a few thousand cases.”

He declined to say how much the effort would cost but said it would be covered by the agency’s existing budget, which is funded by immigration application fees.

The push comes as the Trump administration has been cracking down on illegal immigration and taking steps to reduce legal immigration to the U.S.

Immigrants who become U.S. citizens can vote, serve on juries and obtain security clearance. Denaturalization, the process of removing that citizenship, is very rare.

Citizenship revoked

The U.S. government began looking at potentially fraudulent naturalization cases a decade ago when a border officer detected about 200 people had used different identities to get green cards and citizenship after they were previously issued deportation orders.

In September 2016, an internal watchdog reported that 315,000 old fingerprint records for immigrants who had been deported or had criminal convictions had not been uploaded to a Department of Homeland Security database that is used to check immigrants’ identities. The same report found more than 800 immigrants had been ordered deported under one identity but became U.S. citizens under another.

Since then, the government has been uploading these older fingerprint records dating back to the 1990s and investigators have been evaluating cases for denaturalization.

Earlier this year, a judge revoked the citizenship of an Indian-born New Jersey man named Baljinder Singh after federal authorities accused him of using an alias to avoid deportation.

Authorities said Singh used a different name when he arrived in the United States in 1991. He was ordered deported the next year and a month later applied for asylum using the name Baljinder Singh before marrying an American, getting a green card and naturalizing.

Authorities said Singh did not mention his earlier deportation order when he applied for citizenship.

Entered a new chapter

For many years, most U.S. efforts to strip immigrants of their citizenship focused largely on suspected war criminals who lied on their immigration paperwork, most notably former Nazis.

Toward the end of the Obama administration, officials began reviewing cases stemming from the fingerprints probe but prioritized those of naturalized citizens who had obtained security clearances, for example, to work at the Transportation Security Administration, said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute’s office at New York University law school.

The Trump administration has made these investigations a bigger priority, he said. He said he expects cases will focus on deliberate fraud but some naturalized Americans may feel uneasy with the change.

“It is clearly true that we have entered a new chapter when a much larger number of people could feel vulnerable that their naturalization could be reopened,” Chishti said.

Since 1990, the Department of Justice has filed 305 civil denaturalization cases, according to statistics obtained by an immigration attorney in Kansas who has defended immigrants in these cases.

The attorney, Matthew Hoppock, agrees that deportees who lied to get citizenship should face consequences but worries other immigrants who might have made mistakes on their paperwork could be targeted and might not have the money to fight back in court.

Cissna said there are valid reasons why immigrants might be listed under multiple names, noting many Latin American immigrants have more than one surname. He said the U.S. government is not interested in that kind of minor discrepancy but wants to target people who deliberately changed their identities to dupe officials into granting immigration benefits.

“The people who are going to be targeted by this, they know full well who they are because they were ordered removed under a different identity and they intentionally lied about it when they applied for citizenship later on,” Cissna said. “It may be some time before we get to their case, but we’ll get to them.”


New Disclosure Shows Growing Kushner Wealth, Debt

Financial disclosure forms released late Monday show that White House special adviser — and President Donald Trump’s son-in-law — Jared Kushner’s wealth and debt both appear to have risen over the year, an indication of the complex state of his finances and the potential conflicts that confront some of his investments.

 

Disclosures issued by the White House for Kushner and his wife, Trump’s daughter Ivanka, showed that Kushner held assets totaling at least $181 million. His previous 2017 disclosure had showed assets in at least the $140 million range. Kushner and Ivanka Trump, jointly held at least $240 million in assets last year.

 

The financial disclosures released by the White House and filed with the U.S. Office of Government Ethics routinely show both assets and debts compiled in broad ranges between low and high estimates, making it difficult to precisely chart the rise and fall of the financial portfolios of federal government officials.

 

The White House released the disclosures for Kushner and Ivanka Trump on a heavy news day, while the world’s media lavished attention on President Trump’s preparations to meet with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un for talks over nuclear weapons. The White House had released the president’s own financial report last month.

 

A spokesman for the couple said Monday that the couple’s disclosure portrayed both assets and debts that have not changed much over the past year — and stressed that Kushner and Ivanka Trump have both complied with all federal ethics rules.

 

“Since joining the administration, Mr. Kushner and Ms. Trump have complied with the rules and restrictions as set out by the Office of Government Ethics,” said Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for the couple’s ethics lawyer, Abbe Lowell. “As to the current filing which OGE also reviews, their net worth remains largely the same, with changes reflecting more the way the form requires disclosure than any substantial difference in assets or liabilities.”

 

One of Kushner’s biggest holdings, a real estate tech startup called Cadre that he co-founded with his brother, Joshua, rose sharply in value. The latest disclosure shows it was worth at least $25 million at the end of last year, up from a minimum value of $5 million in his previous disclosure.

 

The bulk of Ivanka Trump’s assets — more than $50 million worth — was contained in a trust that holds her business and corporations. That trust generated over $5 million in revenue last year.

 

She reported a stake in the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., worth between $5 million and $25 million. The hotel has been a focus of lawsuits against the president and ethics watchdogs who say Trump is violating the Constitution by profiting from his office as diplomats spend big money there.

 

The disclosure also showed that Kushner has assumed growing debt over the past year, both expanding his use of revolving lines of credit and taking on additional debt of between $5 million and $25 million as part of his family company’s purchase last year of a New Jersey apartment complex.

 

A series of interim financial reports last year showed that Kushner had increased lines of credit with Bank of America, New York Community Bank and Signature Bank, each from at least $1 million to $5 million. Such moves do not mean that Kushner has yet accumulated that debt, but has the ability to do so.

 

The new disclosure shows that Kushner did take on a new debt last year with Bank of America worth between $5 million and $25 million — but jointly with other investors in Quail Ridge LLC, a company used for his family firm’s purchase of Quail Ridge, a 1,032-unit apartment community in Plainsboro, N.J., near Princeton. The disclosures also showed that Ivanka Trump owns an interest in that purchase through a family trust.

 

The disclosure showed that Kushner reported making at least $5 million in income from the development since Kushner Companies bought the complex in September. The family business has made a splash with high-profile deals for buildings in New York City in the past decade, but lately has been returning to its roots by buying garden apartments in the suburbs.

 

Under an ethics agreement he signed when he joined the administration in early 2017, Kushner withdrew from his position as CEO of Kushner Companies. But even as a passive investor, he retains many lucrative investments — which ethics critics have warned could raise conflicts of interest.


US’s Rosenstein Calls for Global Collaboration on Crime Amid Trade Tension

United States Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein on Monday called for global governments to “work together” on law enforcement, at a time when an escalating trade rift is pitting the United States against Canada and a number of Washington’s other close trade partners.

Rosenstein said during a speech in Montreal the United States is “enhancing its commitment to international law enforcement coordination,” through personal relationships, policy changes and additional resources, citing examples of recent collaboration between Canadian and U.S. law enforcement. 

“Working together is not always easy. There may be legal and practical barriers to cooperation,” he said during the International Economic Forum of the Americas, Conference of Montreal. “But strong leadership is not about avoiding problems. It is about embracing challenges and overcoming obstacles.”

Rosenstein’s speech comes after U.S. President Donald Trump fired off a volley of tweets venting anger on NATO allies, the European Union and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the wake of a divisive G-7 meeting over the weekend.


US Supreme Court Upholds Ohio Voter Roll Purging Law

The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld Ohio’s policy of purging infrequent voters from the state’s registration rolls.

Under Ohio election laws, a voter in the state is sent a notice if he or she fails to cast ballots in a federal election cycle. If the person does not vote in the subsequent four years, his or her name is purged from the rolls, requiring the individual to re-register to vote.

In the case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, the high court’s conservative jurists ruled that the Ohio measure did not violate U.S. federal law.

“It has been estimated that 24 million voter registrations in the United States — about one in eight — are either invalid or significantly inaccurate,” Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the court’s 5-4 opinion.

Alito mentioned a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center, which was cited by the White House in alleging that voter fraud was occurring within the United States. The Justice Department supported the Ohio law in a reversal from the previous administration.

Several voting rights advocacy groups have raised concerns about the ruling, citing its potential to disproportionately affect low-income and minority voters. A 2016 analysis by the Reuters news agency found that of voting rolls in Ohio’s three largest counties, “neighborhoods that have a high proportion of poor, African-American residents are hit the hardest.”

“This decision will fuel the fire of voter suppressors across the country who want to make sure their chosen candidates win re-election — no matter what the voters say,” said Chris Carson, president of the League of Women Voters of the United States, in a statement Monday. The organization filed a brief arguing the Ohio law violated federal law. Carson said, “The right to vote is not use it or lose it.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by Celina Stewart, director of advocacy and litigation for the League of Women Voters. Stewart told VOA, “Our fear is that this would encourage states to put up further barriers to voting.”

Stewart said the warning provided to Ohio voters was too vague, and did not clearly articulate that a failure to respond meant potentially losing the right to vote.

The case originated in 2015, when Larry Harmon, a software engineer from Kent, Ohio, showed up to vote on a local ballot initiative, but was turned away because his name had been removed from the list of eligible voters. Harmon — who said he did not vote in the 2012 presidential election — became a lead plaintiff in the case as it made its way through the legal system and up to the Supreme Court.

“I’ve been paying my taxes, paying my property taxes, registering my car,” Harmon told NBC News in August. “All the data was there for [election officials] to know that I was there.”

Monday’s decision comes ahead of midterm elections later this year.


US Sanctions 5 Russian Entities, 3 Individuals

The U.S. sanctioned five Russian entities and three individuals Monday, accusing them of malicious cyber activities to provide material and technological support to Moscow’s intelligence service.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the sanctioned entities and individuals “have directly contributed to improving Russia’s cyber and underwater capabilities through their work with “the Russian Federal Security Service “and therefore jeopardize the safety and security of the United States and our allies.”

He said the U.S. “is committed to aggressively targeting any entity or individual working at the direction” of the Russian intelligence service “whose work threatens the United States and will continue to utilize our sanctions authorities … to counter the constantly evolving threats emanating from Russia.”

The sanctions continue what appear to be conflicted messages from Washington about Moscow.

The U.S. has imposed a series of penalties against specific Russian activities. Yet just last week, President Donald Trump suggested that Russia be allowed to rejoin the G-7 group of advanced economies after being pushed out in 2014 for its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Trump has also been discussing the possibility of a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The sanctions announced Monday block access for those blacklisted to any U.S. financial accounts they hold and prohibit Americans from any transactions with them.

The Treasury statement said the five entities and three individuals have engaged in “malign and destabilizing cyber activities,” including intrusions “against the U.S. energy grid to potentially enable future offensive operations” and “global compromises of network infrastructure devices.”

It said the sanctions also target Russia’s underwater capabilities, which it said include tracking undersea communications cables that carry the bulk of the world’s telecommunications data.

The U.S. said one of the entities, Divetechno services, bought underwater equipment and diving services for the intelligence service, including a $1.5 million submersible craft. The three sanctioned individuals all worked for the company.


Justice Department Defends Trump’s Business with Foreign Governments

President Donald Trump’s hotel company did not break the law by doing business with other countries, a Justice Department lawyer told a federal judge Monday.

The state of Maryland and the District Columbia have accused Trump of capitalizing on the presidency and causing harm to local businesses that compete with his Washington hotel.

 

Monday’s arguments before U.S. District Judge Peter Messitte delve into the substance of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause” and what it means. The clause bans federal officials from accepting benefits from foreign or state governments without congressional approval.

 

Last March, Messitte ruled that the plaintiffs can proceed with their lawsuit against Trump’s Washington hotel. But he rejected their effort to target Trump Organization properties outside of the immediate area.

 

Trump administration lawyers say such business activity, including hotel room stays, isn’t an emolument. Justice Department lawyer Brett Shumate on Monday told Messitte that no federal official would be able to own stock from a foreign company that provides profits or collects royalties if the argument pressed by Maryland and D.C. is accepted.

 

But attorneys general for Maryland and DC have rejected the government’s stance.

“This case is about the president of the United States making an affirmative decision to use the government to enrich himself,” D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine told The Associated Press last week.

 

The case in Messitte’s court is one of three emoluments lawsuits against Trump. Last week, a federal judge in the District heard arguments in a lawsuit pressed by more than 200 Democratic lawmakers. A third case was rejected by a federal judge in New York and is now on appeal.

 

 

 


White House Adviser: ‘Special Place in Hell’ for Canada’s Trudeau

The White House is assailing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, saying he “stabbed us in the back” and undermined U.S. President Donald Trump after Trump left the G-7 economic summit early for Singapore.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told Fox News, “There’s a special place in hell for any foreign leader that engages in bad-faith diplomacy with President Donald J. Trump and then tries to stab him in the back on the way out the door … that’s what bad faith Justin Trudeau did with that stunt press conference.”

Navarro added, “To my friends in Canada, that was one of the worst political miscalculations of the Canadian leader in modern Canadian history. All Justin Trudeau had to do was take the win.”

Trump left the Group of Seven summit in Quebec early Saturday to head to Singapore for his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

After Trump left, Trudeau called new U.S. tariffs on aluminum and steel “insulting.”

“We leave and then he pulls this sophomoric political stunt for domestic consideration,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow told CNN. “You just don’t behave that way. It’s a betrayal.”

Kudlow said Trump negotiated the communique in “good faith,” and had called at the summit for “no tariffs, free trade.”

But Kudlow said Trump “gets up in a plane and then … Trudeau stabs him.” He said Trump “is not going to let a Canadian prime minister push him around.”

U.S. wouldn’t sign communique

While airborne, Trump ordered U.S. officials to refuse to sign the traditional end-of-summit communique.

“Based on Justin’s false statements at his news conference, and the fact that Canada is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers, and companies, I have instructed our U.S. reps not to endorse the communique as we look at tariffs on automobiles flooding the U.S. market!” Trump said on Twitter.

“PM Justin Trudeau of Canada acted so meek and mild during our G7 meetings only to give a news conference after I left saying that, ‘US Tariffs were kind of insulting’ and he ‘will not be pushed around.’ Very dishonest & weak. Our Tariffs are in response to his of 270% on dairy!” he added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel told ARD television that Trump’s withdrawal from the communique through a tweet is “sobering and a bit depressing.”

French President Emmanuel Macron attacked Trump’s stance, saying, “International cooperation cannot be dictated by fits of anger and throwaway remarks.” He called Trump’s refusal to sign the communique a display of “incoherence and inconsistency.”  

Trudeau did not respond to the U.S. attacks, instead declaring the summit a success.

“The historic and important agreement we all reached” at the summit “will help make our economies stronger and people more prosperous, protect our democracies, safeguard our environment, and protect women and girls’ rights around the world. That’s what matters,” Trudeau said.

But foreign minister Chrystia Freeland said, “Canada does not believe that ad hominem attacks are a particularly appropriate or useful way to conduct our relations with other countries.”

Canada refuses to budge

Trudeau closed the annual G-7 summit Saturday in Canada by refusing to budge on positions that place him at odds with Trump, particularly the new steel and aluminum tariffs that have drawn the ire of Canada and the European Union.

He said in closing remarks that Canada will proceed with retaliatory measures on U.S. goods as early as July 1.

“I highlighted directly to the president that Canadians did not take it lightly that the United States has moved forward with significant tariffs,” Trudeau said following the summit. “Canadians, we’re polite, we’re reasonable, but we will also not be pushed around.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May echoed Trudeau, pledging to retaliate for tariffs on EU goods.

“The loss of trade through tariffs undermines competition, reduces productivity, removes the incentive to innovate and ultimately makes everyone poorer,” May said. “And in response, the EU will impose countermeasures.”

U.S. Republican Sen. John McCain, a vocal Trump critic, offered support for the other six world leaders at the Canadian summit.

“To our allies,” McCain tweeted, “bipartisan majorities of Americans remain pro-free trade, pro-globalization & supportive of alliances based on 70 years of shared values. Americans stand with you, even if our president doesn’t.”

Trudeau and May also bucked Trump on another high-profile issue: Russia. Trump suggested Russia rejoin the group after being pushed out in 2014 when it annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Trudeau said he is “not remotely interested” in having Russia rejoin the group.

May added, “We have agreed to stand ready to take further restrictive measures against Russia if necessary.”


South Koreans Hopeful Peace Will Prevail

South Koreans are optimistic that U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will improve the prospects for a lasting peace in the region when the two men meet Tuesday in Singapore, even if no definitive denuclearization deal is reached.

“What we want is peace. I wish that the summit works out well so that peace comes to the Korean Peninsula,” said Cho Ik-Sung, a doctor who lives in Seoul.

Public support

Prior to the Singapore meeting between Trump and Kim, there have been rallies in Seoul by groups urging the two leaders to end the U.S.-North Korea nuclear standoff with a peace treaty.

Conservative groups have also held demonstrations, urging the U.S. not to compromise with the repressive Kim government that has broken previous denuclearization promises.

But public opinion polls indicate strong support for progressive South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s diplomatic efforts to persuade the North Korean leader to agree to denuclearization talks. Moon’s approval rating was at 75 percent in a recent Gallup poll.

Kim’s popularity in South Korea also increased significantly after the inter-Korean summit in April, where he was seen by many as nonthreatening and open to compromise.

“Regarding Chairman Kim Jong Un, I used to have a negative impression of him, but after seeing him on TV at the last summit, my impression of him improved a lot,” Seoul resident Choi Yun-mi said.

Kim’s approval rating increased 10 points, to 31 percent overall, in the Gallup poll.

In advance of the summit, the U.S. president’s favorability rating in South Korea rose 8 points, to 32 percent.

Trump had in the past raised anxiety among South Koreans with threats to use military force if needed to eliminate the North Korean nuclear threat, suggestions that he may withdraw U.S. troops in Korea unless Seoul increases defense contributions, and criticisms over unfair trade practices.

Summit anxiety

Many in Seoul still worry that the U.S. and North Korea will not be able to resolve their differences, as Washington wants complete denuclearization before any sanctions relief, and Pyongyang wants concessions tied to each phase of the process.

After temporarily pulling out of the summit earlier, Trump has said he still is prepared to walk away if Kim is not committed to ending his nuclear program.

“I am concerned that the United States might cancel the U.S.-North Korea summit again,” said Shim Nu-ri, a teacher who lives in Seoul.

But, overall, people in Seoul expect the Singapore summit to produce a positive result that will lower the potential for military conflict, and move the peace process forward.

Trump has said he believes Kim is committed to denuclearization and that Kim “wants to do something great for his people.” But the president also tempered summit expectations by saying the Singapore meeting will likely be the beginning of a longer process. 

At the April inter-Korean summit, Moon and Kim agreed to improve relations by holding military talks to reduce border tensions, and hold reunions for families separated by the long-standing division of Korea. 

There are also signs that South Korea, China and Russia are preparing to increase economic ties with North Korea, should a nuclear deal be reached. Such a move would ease the tough international sanctions in place that ban 90 percent of trade with North Korea.

Officials from South Korea visited a shuttered joint economic project in Kaesong, North Korea, on Friday, possibly in preparation to reopen the site that was closed in 2016 following a North Korean nuclear test. 

And in the Chinese-North Korean border city of Dandong, property prices are rapidly rising in anticipation that official trade will resume.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.



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