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#NorthKorea to send team to Winter Games, South to consider easing bans after talks

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North Korea said during rare talks with the South on Tuesday it would send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month and Seoul said it was prepared to lift some sanctions temporarily so the visit could take place, write Christine Kim and Josh Smith.

At the first formal talks with South Korea in more than two years, North Korean officials said their delegation to the Games would consist of athletes, high-ranking officials and a cheering squad.

The talks are being closely watched by world leaders eager for any sign of a reduction in tension on the Korean peninsula, amid rising fears over North Korea’s missile launches and development of nuclear weapons in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

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South Korea has unilaterally banned several North Korean officials from entry in response to Pyongyang’s ramped-up missile and nuclear tests, held despite international pressure.

However, some South Korean officials have said they see the Olympics as a possible opportunity for easing tension.

Foreign ministry spokesman Roh Kyu-deok said Seoul would consider whether it needed to take “prior steps”, together with the U.N. Security Council and other relevant countries, to help the North Koreans visit for the Olympics.

At Tuesday’s (9 January) talks, the first since December 2015, Seoul proposed inter-Korean military discussions to reduce tension on the peninsula and a reunion of family members in time for February’s Lunar New Year holiday, South Korea’s vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung said.

The North has finished technical work to restore a military hotline with South Korea, he added, with normal communications set to resume on Wednesday. But Chun did not immediately say what information would be transferred along the hotline.

The North severed communications in February 2016, following the South’s decision to shut down a jointly run industrial park in the North.

South Korea also proposed that athletes from both sides march together at the Games’ opening ceremony and other joint activities during the Winter Olympics, Chun told reporters outside the talks.

It would also be the first time since 2005 that the North will send its female cheerleaders, dubbed the “cheering squad of beauty” by the South Korean media.

The meetings continued on Tuesday afternoon after the two sides broke up for separate lunches. Officials began speaking at 10h (1h GMT) in the three-storey Peace House just across the demilitarized zone on the South Korean side of Panmunjom truce village.

“North Korea said that they are determined to make today’s talks fruitful, and make it a groundbreaking opportunity,” South Korea’s Chun said.

Chun also said the South Koreans proposed resuming negotiations over the North’s nuclear programme, but there was no specific response from the North.

However, North Korean officials said during the meeting they were open to promoting reconciliation through dialogue and negotiation, according to Chun.

The head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon, said: “We came to this meeting today with the thought of giving our brethren, who have high hopes for this dialogue, invaluable results as the first present of the year ...”

North Korea entered the talks with a “serious and sincere stance”, said Ri, chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon expressed optimism as the meeting began.

“Our talks began after North and South Korea were severed for a long time, but I believe the first step is half the trip,” said Cho. “It would be good for us to make that ‘good present’ you mentioned earlier.”

“Everything feels slightly new as we have not had talks in a while,” he said.

Just before the delegation drove into the demilitarized zone, about 20 South Koreans were seen waving a banner that read: “We wish the success of the high-ranking inter-Korean talks.”

One man was spotted waving a flag with a unified Korean peninsula.

Each side’s delegation consisted of five senior officials.

The North Korean delegation walked over the border inside the joint security area to the Peace House around 0030 GMT, an official from the South’s Unification Ministry told reporters.

The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, initially responded coolly to the idea of inter-Korean meetings, but U.S. President Donald Trump later called them “a good thing”.

Trump has said he would like to see talks go beyond the Olympics. “At the appropriate time, we’ll get involved,” he said.

On Tuesday, China’s foreign ministry said it was happy to see talks between North and South Korea and welcomed all positive steps. Russia echoed the sentiment, with a Kremlin spokesman saying, “This is exactly the kind of dialogue that we said was necessary.”

Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

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European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

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The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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