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Monday
Apr172017

What's at stake in North Korea?

iStock/Thinkstock(SEOUL) -- North Korea’s failed missile test this weekend is just the latest in a string of tests by the country that has stoked fears around the world.

There had been growing concern all week that Kim Jong Un’s government would attempt some form of missile or nuclear test this weekend as it celebrated the 105th birthday of its late founder, Kim Il Sung. So while the missile test did not come as a grand surprise, it serves a reminder of the growing threat that North Korea poses to U.S. interests in East Asia and the possible threat that it could pose to the U.S. homeland in the not-too-distant future.

Here’s what you need to know:

Ballistic abilities

At the moment, North Korea doesn’t have the ability to hit the U.S. mainland with its missiles. However, according to data provided by Michael Elleman, a senior fellow for missile defense at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a British research institute, North Korea is developing a missile known as the Musudan (or Hwasong-10), with a range of up to 3,200 kilometers (nearly 2,000 miles).

That puts the Musudan within striking range of Guam, a U.S. island territory in the western Pacific that is home to more than 150,000 U.S. citizens, as well as a number of U.S. military bases.

In addition, North Korea is developing other missiles with even greater ranges. Among those are the KN-08 (or Hwasong-13) and KN-14 (or Hwasong-14), both of which are believed to be intercontinental ballistic missiles. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, an American think tank based in Washington, D.C., the missiles have maximum ranges of 11,500 kilometers (approximately 7,145 miles) and 10,000 kilometers (approximately 6,215 miles) respectively — within striking distance of the U.S. mainland.

For a missile to be considered an ICBM, it must be able to travel a minimum of 3,400 miles (about 5,500 kilometers).

But experts have cast doubt on how ready the country is to launch such missiles.

“ICBMs that are reliable are at least four years away and more likely five to seven,” Elleman told ABC News.

Robert Kelly, an associate professor of political science at Pusan University in South Korea, pointed out that while Hawaii and Guam are closer targets that might not require an ICBM for targeting, he is “very doubtful North Korea missile guidance systems are good enough to get a ... missile to such a precise location,” he wrote in an email to ABC News.

Nuclear ambitions

Missiles are just one piece of the puzzle. North Korea’s nuclear program is also a concern for the international community.

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006, two of them last year.

While the nuclear program is separate from the missile tests, “the real issue is whether they could put a nuke on top of that missile. That is just unknown,” said Kelly. “If I had to speculate, I would say yes, that they could nuke Japan but, no, they could not reach Hawaii or [the U.S. mainland] yet.”

“Nuclear experts believe the North to have 12 to 20 bombs and [will] expand its nuclear arsenal to 40 or 50 in the next four to five years,” Sung-Yoon Lee, a professor of Korean studies at Tufts University, told ABC News in an email. “That would rival the size of the United Kingdom’s nuclear arsenal.”

Firepower at this scale would “give North Korea credible second strike capability. That is, the North attacks first, the U.S. shoots back, and the North shoots back — a series of nuclear exchanges, in a mutual destruction,” Lee added.

What is the worst-case scenario?

“The worst-case scenario is open warfare between the two Koreas into which China and the U.S. would get dragged on opposite sides and in which nuclear weapons were used,” said Kelly, adding that he thinks this is unlikely.

But if it does happen, “China has never confirmed what its status would be if war [broke] out again, and we’d like to think China would be on our side, but they’ve so far refused to agree to that position,” said Van Jackson, an associate professor at the College of Security Studies at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.

But how could the U.S. get dragged into a conflict so far away? “The American alliance arrangement with South Korea and Japan would require American involvement in the case of war, much like America’s Cold War commitment to NATO,” Kelly said.

The defense of South Korea is something that the U.S. continues to guarantee.

“Our commitment to this historic alliance with the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger,” Pence said on Sunday while visiting U.S. troops stationed in the country.

Jackson explained that the most likely way the U.S. would be dragged into the conflict would be “a North Korean first strike against either South Korea or the U.S. or a U.S. preventive attack on North Korea that leads to North Korean retaliation that then escalates.”

But even the tests pose a threat, according to professor Victor Cha, the director of Asian studies at Georgetown University.

“A failed missile test that hit Japan could spark calls for retaliation,” he told ABC News, and that could see the U.S. become involved.

Beyond conflict, the development of nuclear weapons in North Korea could cause other problems.

“A collapse of the regime could spark a loose-nukes crisis and/or proliferation of weapons to nonstate actors,” said Cha. In other words, terrorist groups could take advantage of the situation to get their hands on nuclear materials.

Further development of nuclear weapons in North Korea could encourage other countries — even ones friendly with the U.S. — to develop their own nuclear weapons.

“The moment we acknowledge North Korean nuclear weapons, the global taboo against nuclear weapons becomes violated, no longer sacrosanct,” said Jackson. “Practically speaking, South Korea will eventually go nuclear itself, which in turn will place tremendous pressures on Japan and Taiwan to do so as well.”

What options does President Donald Trump have?

Putting it bluntly, Jackson said, “The United States has no good options.”

The U.S. could launch a strike on North Korea’s nuclear arsenal, but that is “very difficult and fraught with risk” and could lead to conflict, he added.

“A military strike is a dangerous option, given that North Korean artillery stands only seconds away from Seoul, where 10 million people live and 100,000 American expats and 27,500 U.S. troops,” said Cha.

The U.S. could temper its desire to see North Korea denuclearize in an attempt to get a deal with North Korea that modestly stabilizes relations in the region, Jackson said.

But “this has historically been unacceptable to South Korea and to most U.S. policy officials,” he explained.

Lee said that the U.S.’s best course of action is “to put unrelenting financial pressure” on the regime that would exclude it from the U.S. dollar system, the backbone of the global financial system.

“Such targeted sanctions have worked against Iran, Burma, Ukraine, Congo, etc., because the target is isolated from the international financial order and its partners are presented with the stark choice of either continuing to do business with the primary target or continuing to access the U.S. financial system,” he said. “Amazingly, such target financial sanctions have never been fully employed against North Korea, which is the world’s leading proliferator, money launderer and human rights abuser.”

But according to Kelly, China “has mixed feelings about really cutting North Korea off from the global economy.”

“If North Korea were to dramatically implode, most analysts expect a wave of refugees headed toward China,” South Korea or even Japan, explained Kelly.

Jackson agreed that refugees were a concern, saying, “This is one of China’s long-standing concerns that has incentivized it to urge caution and restraint in Korea.”

The refugee flow could be “on the same scale as Syria but perhaps with even greater desperation,” he added.

‘No joke’

“North Korea is no joke. With its bizarre cult of personality and backwardness, the world tends to laugh at Pyongyang,” said Lee.

“The leadership is not crazy or suicidal, hence an imminent war is unlikely,” Lee continued. “But North Korea is a revisionist state — that is, a state that is willing to take risks to change the international environment in its favor.”

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr172017

Dramatic ice rescue of 5 horses caught on video

William Vavrek Photography(EDMONTON, Alberta) -- Fire crews were able to save five horses from a frozen pond in northern Alberta, Canada, this weekend during a dramatic rescue that was caught on video.

When fire crews from three nearby towns arrived on the scene on Sunday, they found seven horses trapped in the ice, CTV News Edmonton reported.

The crews were able to use chainsaws to help free five of the horses, but it was too late for two others.

The rescue operation happened just west of Grande Prairie.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr172017

Turkey's referendum could signal trouble ahead for the country, experts say

iStock/Thinkstock(ISTANBUL) -- Turkey's narrow approval of a historic referendum will add to the already significant powers of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and could signal trouble ahead for the Middle Eastern nation, experts told ABC News.

The referendum approved Sunday included 18 constitutional amendments, including abolishing the office of prime minister, which will eliminate a critical counterbalance to Erdogan's power. The changes will take effect after the next election in 2019.

The measure's approval will also weaken the country's parliament and give Erdogan increased authority in picking judges and ministers, according to experts who spoke to ABC News.

Stronger, but weaker too

Despite the boost to Erdogan's power, the vote on the referendum signaled a decrease in his overall popularity in Turkey, according to Gönül Tol, founding director of The Middle East Institute’s Center for Turkish Studies in Washington, D.C.

The referendum won Sunday -- as confirmed by the head of Turkey's electoral board although the vote count will continue for more than a week -- with "yes" votes leading "no" votes by 51.2 percent to 48.8 percent, with over 47 million votes counted, according to the state-run Anadolu Agency.

That result falls well short of the 60 percent approval that Erdogan had hoped for, despite his having a massive media advantage, Tol said.

In addition, the president for the first time lost the support of some of the country's major cities, including his hometown of Istanbul.

"This is actually a huge success for the "no" campaign," Tol told ABC News.

She also pointed out that the vote is being challenged by the opposition on grounds of alleged voter fraud.

The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), an observer mission that has been monitoring the vote on the Turkish referendum, alleged Monday that the voting process "fell short" of international standards.

"If Erdogan had won by a larger margin, it might be different," Tol said. "But to have this shift toward dictatorship without strong support and with questions of foul play, it will lead to further instability. It's going to be hard for him to run a deeply divided country."

The end of what could have been

The referendum's approval may close off the possibility for modern democratic values to take hold in Turkey, some analysts say.

"The Turkish Republic has always been flawed, but it always contained the aspiration that — against the backdrop of the principles to which successive constitutions claimed fidelity — it could become a democracy. Erdogan’s new Turkey closes off that prospect," wrote Steven Cook, a senior fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, in an op-ed for Foreign Policy magazine on Sunday.

Cook told ABC News Monday that Erdogan's support came from lower- and middle-class voters who have indeed seen positive changes in their lives and were therefore willing to back his ambition for increased authority.

"His core constituency at this point includes many religiously pious voters," Cook said. "And they are people who have seen themselves become healthier, wealthier, and have increased transportation during his rule."

The referendum win left Erdogan's secular and liberal-minded opponents in a state of flux, Cook said.

"I think that what you'll see from here forward are more spontaneous and leaderless bursts of protest," he said, referring to a wave of anti-government protests in Turkey that made headlines in 2013. "You'll also see increased polarization among the Turkish people."

The US and Syria

Cook told ABC News that he didn't feel that the referendum meant much for America's relations with Turkey, one of its most important allies in the region, considering that the U.S. has a history of dealing with autocratic leaders. He added, however, the measure's approval raises questions about "whether or not Turkey shares common values" with the U.S.

Tol said, however, that Erdogan's weakened support at home opens possibilities for change.

She said Erdogan might be forced by the relatively weak results to reach out Turkey's Kurdish population, the country's largest non-Turkish ethnic group, which accounts for between 10 and 20 percent of the population, according to most estimates.

If Erdogan establishes better relations with his country's Kurds, he might find more common ground with the U.S. over its relationship with Syrian Kurds, who represent a critical U.S. ally in the region, including in the fight against ISIS in Syria, experts said.

"That's the hope," said Jim Jeffrey, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Turkey from 2008 to 2010 under President Obama.

Jeffrey struck a cautiously optimistic tone about how the referendum may affect Turkish-U.S. relations, saying the weak "yes" vote might signal the best possible outcome.

"Had Erdogan lost this vote, he would have lashed out at his enemies and become consumed with trying to bring the issue back to vote," Jeffrey said.

"We need him to move beyond this issue," Jeffrey said.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr172017

North Korea vows further missile tests: Report

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- North Korea will conduct "more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis," a senior official from the country has told BBC News.

Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-Ryol also said that any U.S. military intervention would result in "all out war."

Han's heated rhetoric on Monday was matched by North Korea's permanent representative to the United Nations, Ambassador Kim In Ryong, who said that "thermonuclear war may break out at any moment on the [Korean] peninsula and pose a serious threat to the world's peace and security."

The North Korean officials' comments came hours after U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said that the "era of strategic patience" with the North Korean government was over.

"President Trump has made it clear that the patience of the United States and our allies in this region has run out and we want to see change. We want to see North Korea abandon its reckless path of the development of nuclear weapons, and also its continual use and testing of ballistic missiles is unacceptable," Pence said during a visit to the demilitarized zone that separates North and South Korea.

Pence was speaking in South Korea shortly after a failed North Korean missile test.

In recent weeks, U.S. Pacific Command instructed the U.S.S. Carl Vinson naval strike group to head to the region in a show of force meant to deter North Korea from conducting further missile or nuclear tests.

Ambassador Kim, North Korea's U.N. representative, said that deploying the U.S. strike group to the region was a "reckless move" and suggested that the U.S. was focused on invading North Korea.

Experts, however, cast doubt on claims that open conflict was imminent.

Col. Steve Ganyard, an ABC News contributor and former State Department official, said that North Korea can not afford weekly tests, but that "they will keep up appearances until things quiet down."

"I see no indications of an impending military strike as it would require a lot of diplomatic and military ground work that doesn't seem to be underway," Ganyard said.

Robert Kelly, an associate professor of political science at Pusan University in South Korea, speaking on Sunday night, said that the failed missile test was "probably the best possible outcome," because the North Koreans "got to say that they made trouble," while "the Americans were sort of let off the hook of having to find some kind of response."

This is a developing story. Please check back for the latest.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr172017

Creepy cobweb coats New Zealand soccer field

Tracey Maris(TAURANGA, New Zealand) -- It's something that might give those with arachnophobia the heebie-jeebies.

A soccer field in New Zealand turned into a playground for spiders on Sunday.

A massive spider web spanned more than 32 yards in the suburb of Papamoa.

The field was flooded during Cyclone Cook last week, which may explain the increased spider presence.

“There was a bright glistening coming from the top of the mound [and] it looked almost like the hill was sparkling, but we were unsure why," Tauranga resident Tracey Maris told Storyful. “So my 10-year-old daughter and I raced up to look and were shocked to learn it was all spider web. Kind of yuck, but really beautiful at the same time. I was amazed being up on top of the mound seeing how far it stretched for."

Maris said she thought she saw bugs trapped in the web until she realized it was just tons of tiny spiders.

"I screamed pretty loudly at my discovery," Maris continued to tell Storyful. "My stepson stood inside it and then had spiders crawling over him. The web was really sticky and clung to all of us."

Maris said the web was mostly gone Monday morning.

Canterbury Museum spider expert Cor Vink told the New Zealand Herald spiders often create huge cobwebs after flooding as they seek higher ground.

A similar phenomenon was observed in Northland in 2014 and in Tasmania in 2016.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr172017

President Trump says North Korea has 'gotta behave'

ABC News(WASHINGTON) -- President Donald Trump weighed in on the tense situation with North Korea on the sidelines of the annual White House Easter egg roll today.

When asked for his message to North Korea following Sunday's failed missile launch, Trump responded, "They gotta behave."

Later, when ABC News pressed Trump on his next move on the Korean peninsula, the president said, "You'll see."

Vice President Mike Pence and his family were in South Korea over the weekend, where they visited the border in the demilitarized zone.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr172017

Vice President Mike Pence makes surprise visit to Korean Demilitarized Zone

ABC News(SEOUL, South Korea) -- Vice President Mike Pence is making a surprise visit to the Korean Demilitarized Zone while touring the Asia-Pacific region for the first time since taking office.

Pence landed via helicopter at Camp Bonifas, about a mile from the southern boundary of the zone, around 8:30 p.m. ET. He will be receiving a security briefing from Gen. Vincent Brooks, the commander of U.S. Forces Korea, and will then visit the Freedom House observation post in the Korean DMZ.

The visit comes just a day after North Korea's failed missile launch, and one month since Secretary of State Rex Tillerson's visit to the DMZ, where he was notably photographed by a North Korean soldier standing on the other side of an observation post.

Briefly addressing reporters in Camp Bonifas, Pence praised the "unshakeable bond" between the U.S. and Korean people.

"My father served in the Korean War with the U.S. Army, and on the way here, we actually saw some of the terrain my father fought alongside Korean forces to help earn your freedom," Pence said. "It’s a great honor to be with all of our forces."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr172017

Elephant fights off crocodile in Malawi

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An elephant escaped a crocodile at the Liwonde National Park in Malawi on April 10.

Alexander Amuli M'betti Makanga was on a boat safari when he caught this frightening battle on camera.

As seen in the video, a crocodile leaps out of the water and snaps onto a nearby elephant's trunk.

The elephant tries to escape, but the crocodile has latched on.

After much thrashing about, the elephant was able to drag the crocodile out of the water. Other elephants then fight off the crocodile.

Eventually, the crocodile released its grip on the elephant's trunk.

The extent of the injuries to the elephant are not known at this time.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Apr172017

Lava flows out of Mount Etna in Sicily

File Photo iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Lava continues to flow out of Mount Etna in Sicily, Italy.

The National Institute of Geophysics and Volcanology Observatory Etneo spotted the lava at an altitude of about 3,000 meters above sea level.

This drone footage offers a closeup view of lava flowing from the volcano.

In early March, Mount Etna erupted, spewing magma into the air and injuring 10 people, including a BBC television crew and scientist.

Etna's eruptions, often visible from far away, are reminders to those living or hiking on its slopes that the volcano is quite active.

Mount Etna is the highest point in Italy south of the Alps and one of the most active volcanoes in the world.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sunday
Apr162017

Turkey's Erdogan claims victory in referendum to expand powers

moodboard/Thinkstock(ISTANBUL) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared victory in a referendum to significantly expand his powers.

According to vote tallies posted by the state-run Anadolu news agency, about 51 percent of voters supported the constitutional changes while over 48 percent voted "no."

Turkey's main opposition party has vowed to challenge the results.

On Sunday, Erdogan called on the opposition to respect the outcome of the referendum. He said according to BBC, "Today... Turkey has taken a historic decision. With the people, we have realised the most important reform in our history."

With the new constitutional changes, the country will no longer have a prime minister, the president can appoint top officials and judges, the president will be limited to two five-year terms, and more.

Turkey has been under a state of emergency ever since there was an attempted coup last summer. Tens of thousands were arrested and over 100,000 government officials were fired or suspended from their jobs in connection with the failed coup.

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