Here’s what you need to know:President Moon Jae-in of South Korea speaks during a meeting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other congressional leaders on Capitol Hill in Washington on Thursday.Credit…Yonhap/EPA, via Shutterstock
President Biden is set to meet with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea at the White House on Friday afternoon, the second in-person visit of a world leader during his presidency after Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan in April.
Mr. Moon, who has said denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is a “matter of survival” for his country, said this month that one goal for his meeting with Mr. Biden is bringing North Korea “back on the path of dialogue.”
North Korea’s arsenal of nuclear weapons and its stockpile of fuel have roughly doubled in the past four years, a steady rise that proceeded even as President Donald J. Trump held high-drama meetings with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader. In size, experts say, the North’s stockpile of nuclear arms is fast approaching those of India, Pakistan and Israel — relatively small members of the club who are seen as deploying about a hundred or so weapons, whereas the big players have thousands.
Privately, officials in the Biden administration admit they harbor no illusions that North Korea will ever give up the entirety of its program. Yet, like his predecessors, Mr. Biden has made the decision not to officially acknowledge the North as a nuclear state, aides say.
Any official acknowledgment that the North Korean arsenal is here to stay would revive the long-simmering debates about whether U.S. allies like South Korea and Japan can depend on the American nuclear umbrella — essentially a security net for countries that do not have nuclear weapons of their own.
For months now, the Biden administration has been engaged in a North Korean strategy review, often in consultation with South Korea and Japan. But it has offered little detail in public about its conclusions, other than to avoid trying the grand bargain with Mr. Kim that Mr. Trump did. Instead of trying to wrap a peace treaty formally ending the Korean War, the promise of a new relationship between Pyongyang and Washington, and a sweeping disarmament plan into one package, it will turn back to small, confidence-building steps.
Mr. Moon was crucial in arranging the summits between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim and has continued to encourage dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang.
While at the White House, he is expected to reiterate those goals, while emphasizing with Mr. Biden a series of South Korean investments in the United States in semiconductors and batteries for electric cars — ways of deepening the technological alliance at a moment of heightened competition with China.
The result is that Mr. Biden is not likely to dwell much on North Korea, at least in public, said Victor Cha, the Korea chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
“They will change the topic,” he said.
Turbine towers at an offshore wind farm near Gochang, South Korea. Credit…Jung Yeon-Je/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
The United States is calling on South Korea to set more ambitious climate targets, an issue that will be a part of discussions when President Moon Jae-in meets with President Biden on Friday at the White House.
Last month John Kerry, Mr. Biden’s international climate envoy, traveled to South Korea and, according to officials in both countries, surprised members of Mr. Moon’s government by suggesting the country take “corresponding efforts” to the United States in reducing planet-warming emissions. That would nearly double South Korea’s current target of cutting carbon 24.4 percent below 2017 levels by the end of the decade.
South Korea, the world’s seventh-largest emitter of planet-warming carbon dioxide, is important to the Biden administration’s effort to show that other industrialized countries are acting vigorously against climate change.
“South Korea is one of the major countries that can say, ‘Look, together with America we are doing this’ so Biden doesn’t stand on the podium alone,” said Chung Min Lee, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Officials in Seoul have made the environment a central pillar in the economic recovery from the pandemic, starting a multibillion dollar program to invest in electric vehicles, battery storage, smart grids and offshore wind farms. The country also has pledged to get to net-zero emissions by 2050 and to end funding of overseas coal plants.
At the same time, South Korea has seven coal plants under construction, according to the Global Energy Monitor, a San Francisco-based group that follows fossil fuel projects. And a new study by the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology found that unless the government enacted aggressive new policies, the country would “fall embarrassingly short” in meeting its current targets.
Col. Ralph Puckett Jr., a retired Army Ranger, visiting Fort Benning, Ga., in April during the 2021 David E. Grange Jr. Best Ranger competition.Credit…Sgt. Henry Villarama/U.S. Army
President Biden will award a Korean War hero, Ralph Puckett Jr., the Medal of Honor on Friday, seven decades after he led 51 Rangers in fighting off successive waves of enemy counterattacks after he was gravely wounded by a hand grenade.
Colonel Puckett, 94, initially received a Distinguished Service Cross for his command of the Eighth U.S. Army Ranger Company in November 1950. But that citation was upgraded after a campaign by a retired Army officer who believed the actions by the young lieutenant from Georgia warranted the nation’s highest military honor.
Mr. Biden will honor Colonel Puckett, who has also been decorated for his valor in Vietnam, during a visit to the White House by President Moon Jae-in of South Korea. It is the first time Mr. Biden has issued the medal as president — and the first time a foreign leader will be present for such a ceremony, according to White House officials.
Colonel Puckett’s soldiers were “inspired and motivated by the extraordinary leadership and courageous example” he provided, the administration said in a statement.
The Korean War, a bloody and inconclusive stalemate often referred to as a “forgotten” war because it was fought in the shadows of World War II and Vietnam, claimed the lives of 36,574 American soldiers, along with millions of Korean and Chinese soldiers and civilians.
First Lt. Puckett, his rank at the time, was hit in the foot by a hand grenade as he began to organize the defense of an American-controlled hill against a chaotic assault by a Chinese force that greatly outnumbered his own.
But he refused medical evaluation, and darted in and out of his foxhole to rally his men, exposing himself repeatedly to danger, according to an oral history project documenting his heroism.
When the Chinese finally overran the position, Lieutenant Puckett — who had been hit by mortar fire twice after his foot was nearly blown off — ordered his company to evacuate and said he wanted to be left behind.
Two Rangers ignored him, and carried him behind the lines to safety.
He would recover, and go on to serve in Vietnam, before retiring as a colonel in 1971 as one of the most decorated combat veterans in the country’s history.
During his 22-year career, he received the Distinguished Service Cross twice, as well as two Silver Stars for valor, two Bronze Star Medals and five Purple Hearts.
Colonel Puckett would go on to serve as an executive with Outward Bound, a nonprofit educational organization that exposes students, especially those from cities, to wilderness settings.
Gaza residents surveying the damage to their homes on Friday.Credit…Hosam Salem for The New York Times
The United States plans to be at the forefront of an international effort to help rebuild Gaza, an undertaking that is likely to cost billions of dollars and include restoring health and education services and other reconstruction, a senior Biden administration official said on Thursday.
The official said that rebuilding Gaza — likely to be coordinated through the United Nations — was at the top of a list of diplomatic considerations in the region now that a cease-fire between Israel and Palestinian militants was underway.
The administration is also considering how to foster relations and coordination among Palestinian political factions in Gaza and the West Bank. The rivalry between the Palestinian Authority, which exerts partial control in parts of the occupied territories, and Hamas, which governs Gaza and which the United States, Israel and others consider a terrorist group, has been a major obstacle in international efforts to aid Palestinians.
Rebuilding Gaza is a necessary part of the diplomacy — not only to help residents, but also because officials and experts said it could help create leverage with Hamas, which has lost popularity among residents who criticize its authoritarian approach and poor administration.
But Dennis B. Ross, a veteran American negotiator of peace efforts between Israel and the Palestinians, said that international donors would be wary of financing a costly reconstruction effort without assurances that any investments would not go to waste — as they all but certainly would if Hamas reignited hostilities.
Similar warnings were posed in 2014 after an eight-week war between Israel and Hamas damaged more than 170,000 homes in Gaza, displacing over a quarter of its population. The international community created a monitoring system to oversee the rebuilding efforts and block any attempts by Hamas to import supplies that could be used as weapons.
Mr. Ross said that any future monitoring system would need to be an effective, round-the-clock endeavor that would halt reconstruction if Hamas were found to be storing, building or preparing to launch rockets.
“The issue is massive reconstruction for no rockets,” Mr. Ross said. “There has to be enough oversight of this process to know that it’s working the way it’s intended. And the minute you see irregularities, everything stops.”
President Biden chose quiet diplomacy rather than public pressure on Israel to end the violence.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
As violence raged between Israeli and Hamas for 10 days, President Biden spoke with Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, privately six times, conversations in which he pressed him to answer a simple question: “How does this end?”
Mr. Biden’s tactic was to avoid public condemnation of Israel’s bombing of Gaza — or even a public call for a cease-fire — in order to build up capital with Mr. Netanyahu and then exert pressure in private when the time came, according to two people familiar with the administration’s internal debates.
In private conversations, Mr. Biden and other American officials reiterated to the Israelis that they had achieved some significant military objectives against Hamas, the militant group that fired thousands of rockets at Israel from Gaza, including targeting its tunnel networks. Mr. Biden pressed Mr. Netanyahu on what his objective was, and what would allow him to say he had achieved it so that a shorter war was possible, rather than a drawn-out military conflict.
In response, according to the people familiar with the discussions, Mr. Netanyahu did not lay out specific objectives that he had to accomplish before agreeing to a cease-fire.
In his public comments, Mr. Biden refused to join the growing calls from world leaders and many of his fellow Democrats for a cease-fire, or express anything short of support for Israel’s right to defend itself.
Dennis B. Ross, who has served as Middle East envoy to three presidents, said a public demand for a cease-fire could have backfired.
“Had Biden followed that advice to call for a public cease-fire, we would not have a cease-fire right now,” Mr. Ross said. “All of this takes place in a political context as well. Had Biden responded to that, Bibi’s political need to stand up to him would have been much greater.”
Mr. Biden’s approach, he added, also sent a message to Hamas. “The more they understood we were not going to be pressuring Israel that way, the more they understood they can’t count on us stopping Israel,” he said.
At the same time, Richard N. Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, cautioned against exaggerating how much credit Mr. Biden deserved for setting the stage for a truce.
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“About 90 percent of the reason for the cease-fire is that both Hamas and the government of Israel determined that prolonging the conflict didn’t serve their interests,” Mr. Haas said. “This was a cease-fire that essentially was ready to happen.”
Mr. Biden’s strategy of quiet diplomacy was intended to build credibility with the Israelis, in order to privately push them toward an end to the violence in a final conversation with Mr. Netanyahu on Wednesday. And it took into account the need to tread carefully with Mr. Netanyahu.
Aware of the mistakes made by the United States in trying to mediate the 2014 Israel-Gaza conflict, Mr. Biden and his team did not want the United States to become the focus of the story. Instead, Mr. Biden tried to create space for Mr. Netanyahu, whom he will need as a partner in the future in dealing with Iran, to achieve his objectives.
“Israel and the United States are going to have big things to work out, in particular Iran,” Mr. Haas said. “The president had to be careful in how he handled Bibi. Both needed to maintain a working relationship so that if and when the Iran situation moved to the front burner, they would be able to work together.”
Mr. Biden began his conversations with Mr. Netanyahu by making no demands. That helped to pave the way for a gently worded statement that came after their third phone call, in which Mr. Biden said he would support a cease-fire, but stopped short of demanding one.
In follow up conversations on Tuesday and Wednesday, Mr. Biden built up the pressure by demanding privately to Mr. Netanyahu the need for a cease-fire.
Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the minority leader, and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, oppose creating a commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.Credit…Doug Mills/The New York Times
Leading congressional Republicans offer multiple justifications for why they oppose an independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob, but there is really one overriding reason: They fear it will hurt their party’s image and hinder their attempts to regain power in next year’s midterm elections.
Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Republican, was unusually candid about his party’s predicament, which he said was “weighing on people’s minds” as they contemplated the prospect of an inquiry into the deadliest attack on the Capitol in two centuries.
Republicans, he said, wondered “whether or not this can be, in the end, a fair process that fully examines the facts around Jan. 6 in an objective way, and doesn’t become a political weapon in the hands of the Democrats.”
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, as is his style, was much more circumspect. But in a closed-door luncheon this week, Mr. McConnell, the minority leader, warned fellow Republican senators that the proposed panel was not as bipartisan as it appeared. He said he believed that Democrats had partisan motives in moving to set up the commission and would try to extend the investigation into 2022 and the midterm election season, tarnishing Republicans and complicating Mr. McConnell’s drive to return as majority leader.
A day later, Mr. McConnell joined Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, in flat-out opposing the creation of the 10-member commission.
Like Mr. McConnell, Mr. McCarthy is determined to put Republicans in the House majority next year and himself in the speakership, and he regards an investigation into what happened on Jan. 6 as an obstacle in his path.
Republican leaders have dug in against the commission even though one of their own members negotiated its details with Democrats, who acceded to their initial demands about its structure. The Jan. 6 proposal was modeled very closely on the Sept. 11 commission. But times have changed, and the Capitol riot has become just another partisan dividing line in a divided capital.
Federal prosecutors during the Trump administration secretly obtained a CNN journalist’s phone and email records for a two-month period in 2017. Credit…Christopher (TX) Lee for The New York Times
The Justice Department under the Trump administration targeted the phone and email records of a prominent CNN journalist who covers the Pentagon as part of an investigation into the apparent disclosure of classified information, the network revealed Thursday.
Federal prosecutors secretly obtained the records, which covered a two-month period beginning in June 2017. In a letter to CNN, prosecutors acknowledged they not only sought records for Barbara Starr’s work and personal email accounts, but also phone records for her offices at the Pentagon and at home, as well as for her cellphones.
It was not clear which CNN article prompted the Justice Department to obtain the records, but seeking them is supposed to be the last step that F.B.I. agents and prosecutors take after exhausting all other efforts to uncover the source of sensitive information.
“CNN strongly condemns the secret collection of any aspect of a journalist’s correspondence, which is clearly protected by the First Amendment,” said Jeff Zucker, the network’s president. “We are asking for an immediate meeting with the Justice Department for an explanation.”
CNN said the department had received “non-content information” from Ms. Starr’s email accounts. That means prosecutors were able to see who sent emails and when, but were not able to read them.
The disclosure that the Justice Department had seized the CNN reporter’s records comes less than two weeks after prosecutors revealed they had secretly obtained the phone records of three reporters at The Washington Post in the early months of the Trump administration.
The Justice Department’s decision to seek a court order for the CNN reporter’s records would have required the approval of the attorney general at the time, William P. Barr, as it would have in the Post case.
The Bond fire burning through Orange County, Calif., in December.Credit…Patrick T. Fallon/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
President Biden has ordered government agencies to prepare for climate-related shocks across the economy, as escalating disasters threaten home prices, the value of retirements funds and even the stability of the global financial system.
The executive order signed Thursday is the latest indication of how climate change, once dismissed as a distant threat, is already complicating life for Americans. It follows a report last week from the Environmental Protection Agency, which showed that global warming is now being felt in the United States in the form of more heat waves, wildfires, floods and other disasters.
Experts warn of two broad types of financial risk posed by a hotter planet: The growing cost to businesses and investors as climate-related disasters damage or destroy buildings, crops or supply chains; and the potential for a sudden drop in the value of companies that depend on fossil fuels, as governments or consumers embrace wind, solar and other sources of energy that do not produce the carbon emissions driving global warming.
The order directs officials to report the risk that climate change poses to federal assets and tax revenue. It tells the Labor Department to find ways to protect pensions. And it says the government should consider requiring the companies with which it does business to disclose their greenhouse gas emissions.
“Our modern financial system was built on the assumption that the climate was stable,” Brian Deese, head of President Biden’s National Economic Council, said Thursday on a call with reporters. “It’s clear that we no longer live in such a world.”
A wildfire burning in the Pacific Palisades area of Los Angeles this month.Credit…Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Workers from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have been scouting shelters for the migrant children surging across the southern border. They’ve been running coronavirus vaccination sites in Colorado, Massachusetts and Washington. And they are still managing the recovery from a string of record disasters starting with Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
On the cusp of what experts say will be an unusually destructive season of hurricanes and wildfires, just 3,800 of the agency’s 13,700 emergency workers are available right now to respond to a new disaster. That’s 29 percent fewer than were ready to deploy at the start of last year’s hurricane period, which began, as it does every year, on June 1.
FEMA has seldom been in greater demand — becoming a kind of 911 hotline for some of President Biden’s most pressing policy challenges. And the men and women who have become the nation’s first responders are tired.
Deanne Criswell, President Biden’s pick to run the agency, identified employee burnout as a major issue during her first all-hands FEMA meeting, according to Steve Reaves, president of the union local that represents employees.
“FEMA is like the car engine that’s been redlining since 2017 when Harvey hit,” said Brock Long, who ran the agency under former President Donald J. Trump and is now executive chairman of Hagerty Consulting. “It is taking a toll.”
Part of the strain reflects the large number of disaster-recovery operations that FEMA is still handling, from last year’s record-breaking 30 named storms that pummeled states like Louisiana and Texas to the wildfires that blazed through California last September. Those disasters, which take years to recover from, have translated into an escalating workload for the agency’s staff.
A growing number of employees have headed for the exits. In 2020, more FEMA workers transferred to other agencies than in any other year over the last decade — twice the typical annual number, according to federal data.
Under President Biden, FEMA’s mission has expanded significantly. Lauded for his ability to empathize with those who are suffering, Mr. Biden has increasingly deployed to crises an agency that in the past had mostly managed distribution of disaster funds to state governments.
Antony Blinken, the secretary of state, left, with the premier of Greenland, Mute Egede, during an aerial tour of the territory on Thursday.Credit…Saul Loeb/Pool, via Reuters
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Thursday confirmed that the United States was no longer interested in buying Greenland, scuttling for good a quixotic 2019 proposal by the Trump administration to annex the self-governing Danish territory.
“I can confirm that’s correct,” Mr. Blinken said during an appearance in Greenland with Danish officials and the premier of Greenland, Mute Egede, in response to a reporter who asked him to “definitively say that the United States does not seek to buy Greenland.” Earlier in the day, the secretary of state toured the territory and met privately with the premier to discuss “bilateral trade and investment.”
Mr. Blinken’s brief remarks closed the book on a bizarre episode in U.S. foreign policy. The Wall Street Journal had first reported in August 2019 that President Donald J. Trump had repeatedly asked aides to pursue a purchase of Greenland, in part to exploit the territory’s abundant natural resources. Mr. Trump’s advisers were highly skeptical of the idea, but agreed to investigate the matter.
News of Mr. Trump’s interest in annexing Greenland quickly became the butt of jokes online, while receiving a cold reception both from residents of the semiautonomous territory and among Danish leadership, who took umbrage at the then-president’s suggestion that the territory could be bought as, essentially, “a large real estate deal.”
“Greenland is not for sale,” Mette Frederiksen, the prime minister of Denmark, told a Danish newspaper at the time. “Greenland is not Danish. Greenland belongs to Greenland. I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously.”
Mr. Trump, angered at the Danish response to his idea, abruptly canceled a diplomatic visit to Denmark and described Ms. Frederiksen as “nasty,” sparking an international incident.
“All they had to do is say, ‘No, we’d rather not do that’ or ‘We’d rather not talk about it,’” Mr. Trump said to reporters on the day he canceled the trip. “Don’t say, ‘What an absurd idea that is.’”
Pele Broberg, Greenland’s foreign minister, alluded to the diplomatic rupture during his appearance with Mr. Blinken on Thursday.
“We will underscore this is not considered a real estate deal,” Mr. Broberg said of talks with U.S. officials, quoting Mr. Trump. “Secretary Blinken has made it very clear that he is here for the people living in the Arctic, for the people living in Greenland.”