The U.S. needs to wake up to the reality that its policy on North Korea is not working and quickly impose harsher sanctions if the world is going to avert the birth of a new nuclear state, a former North Korean diplomat says.
Thae Yong-ho, one of the highest-level North Korean officials to defect, told TIME in a recent interview that regime leader Kim Jong Un has no intention of abandoning his nuclear program and is only “trying to buy time” until the world accepts his country’s nuclear status.
Convincing Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal, Thae says, will require ramping up the pressure through punitive measures.
“Kim Jong Un is not interested in the denuclearization process,” he says, adding that “America has to take very resolute action by increasing additional economic sanctions.”
U.S. intelligence similarly concluded that Kim is not ready to relinquish his nuclear arsenal, Defense Intelligence Agency director Lieutenant General Robert Ashley told Fox News in June.
According to Thae, who served as the North’s former deputy ambassador to the U.K., President Donald Trump’s current approach of buddying up to the dictator and holding high-profile summits “is a failure.”
Thae’s comments come as Washington and Pyongyang both signal interest in resuming the stalled denuclearization talks. North Korea announced its willingness to reenter the discussions earlier this month in a statement that preceded its latest round of short-range missiles launches by just hours.
The last Trump-Kim summit in February collapsed over U.S. demands for denuclearization and North Korean demands for substantial sanctions relief.
While Trump has agreed to ease joint military exercises with South Korea, he has not relieved Pyongyang of the embargoes meant to halt its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
But Thae says that Trump’s refusal to exact a heavier toll on a regime that has made unprecedented gains in its nuclear program — Kim has conducted more missile and nuclear tests than his father Kim Jong Il and grandfather Kim Il Sung combined — is already a coup for the young leader. Directly undercutting his own cabinet, Trump in May rolled back additional measures imposed by the Treasury Department, a decision he announced via Twitter.
Some experts insist that progress toward denuclearization remains unlikely until Washington is prepared to ease its already tough sanctions regimen. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has advocated the U.S. take a more conciliatory approach, while in July Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly urged Trump in July to “show flexibility” and ease sanctions in due course. A New York Times report in June indicated that the Trump Administration may consider a deal that involves partial relief for partial dismantling.
Duyeon Kim, an adjunct senior fellow with the Center for a New American Security, suggests sanctions don’t have to be imposed in an all-or-nothing approach.
“If and when serious negotiations are held, Washington should consider providing time-bound ad hoc sanctions exemptions in exchange for some denuclearization steps,” she says.
“This provides some incentives and relief for Pyongyang to get the ball rolling on denuclearization while allowing for sanctions to be ‘snapped back’ if North Korea doesn’t fulfill its end of the bargain,” Kim adds. “Otherwise, if sanctions are completely lifted, then they would be difficult, if not impossible, to re-impose them because China and Russia would not vote in favor.”
The extent to which sanctions offer effective leverage over North Korea remains debatable. The regime itself insisted just last month that it “will never barter the strategic security of the country for the sanctions relief.”
Some analysts say it’s not the level of sanctions that should be up for debate, but how to more effectively enforce the U.S. and U.N. bans in place now, some of which date back to 2006.
“We don’t know precisely how badly the sanctions are hurting the North Korean economy,” says Benjamin Katzeff Silberstein, a Templeton Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, adding, “but we do know that they are.”
According to a report from South Korea’s central bank, the North’s economy in 2018 contracted for the second consecutive year, shrinking the most since 1997, due to a combination of international sanctions and drought.
Thae says the U.N.’s ban on North Korean exports of oil, seafood and petroleum have particularly put a squeeze on the country’s economy, but not enough to destabilize the black market or really force Pyongyang’s hand.
“The question is whether the sanctions are enough to stop the nuclear process of North Korea,” he says. “Clearly, it is not enough.”
Just outside a subway station in the city’s east, dozens gathered around a projector screen. They watched, transfixed, as the scene cut to riot police in full gear advancing towards protestors. For many in the audience, this was a picture they knew all too well.
On Thursday night, people in about a dozen locations across Hong Kong congregated at street corners, parks and other public spaces for screenings of “Winter on Fire,” an Oscar-nominated documentary about the Ukraine anti-government protests in 2013. The three-months-long demonstrations, known as the Euromaidan, successfully toppled the country’s pro-Russia leadership.
Almost 5,000 miles away from the Ukraine capital of Kiev, Hong Kongers are drawing parallels between the two movements: Both were sparked by the government’s response to a single piece of legislation — in Hong Kong, the leaders’ pushing of a controversial extradition bill, and in Ukraine, the president’s refusal to sign an association agreement with the European Union — but quickly snowballed to include demands relating to police violence and the release of those arrested.
“The way the protests developed in Ukraine is very similar to in Hong Kong, starting out peacefully and then becoming more and more radical and extreme,” Hansa, a 23-year-old protestor who organized a screening near a park that evening, tells TIME.
On the Reddit-like forum, LIHKG, some netizens said that if Ukraine’s movement is “winter on fire,” Hong Kong’s is “summer be water,” alluding to the “be water” slogan that has characterized the fluid, flash-mob style of the protests. Many also say the success of the Euromaidan make it a case study they can learn from.
Scenes of white-shirted gangsters attacking commuters indiscriminately at a subway station in July, and stick-wielding men suspected to be members of a mainland Chinese clan attacking protestors and even reporters last weekend, have incited comparisons to Ukraine’s Titushki — government-hired strongmen who reportedly joined forces with the police to take down protestors.
Kenneth Chan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, says Hong Kongers could empathize with protestors in Ukraine, who felt like their government was not representative of them.
“Ukrainian protestors felt that their leaders were puppets of the Russian government, in the way that many in Hong Kong see theirs as puppets of Beijing,” Chan adds.
Still, protestors acknowledge that the use of force by Hong Kong police has been relatively restrained. In Ukraine, after tear gas and rubber bullets failed to disperse protestors, police used stun grenades and on some occasions, live rounds, with over a hundred casualties recorded in the movement. The use of force has been comparatively restrained in Hong Kong, though officers have fired warning shots in recent weeks. One police association has also urged the consideration of live ammunition at protestors who throw Molotov cocktails, which have been increasingly sighted on the frontlines as the confrontations get more violent.
More than 1,300 protestors have been arrested since the movement began in June, when demonstrations began over a proposed extradition bill that, if passed, would allow fugitives to be transferred to mainland China.
Early this month, the city’s embattled leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, withdrew the bill. But protestors, who want democratic reform and greater autonomy from Beijing, show few signs of backing down.
Thousands have gathered at the city’s shopping malls in recent weeks to sing “Glory to Hong Kong,” an original song that was the crowdsourced effort of singers, instrumentalists and sound engineers were recruited online. The march, which some have branded their new “national anthem,” is a nod to the slogan “Glory to Ukraine” that was popularly chanted during the demonstrations.
The director of “Winter on Fire,” Evgeny Afineevsky, penned an open letter encouraging Hong Kong’s protestors, for “hope truly lies in the hands of today’s younger generations.”
But some have blamed the film — with its graphic scenes of protestors burning tires and setting the city center ablaze — of radicalizing protestors. In an op-ed published Saturday, pro-establishment lawmaker Regina Ip wrote: “The forces driving the widespread upheaval are complex. We have young protesters imagining themselves as agents of change, as in the documentary Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom.”
The demonstrations came to an end in Ukraine after 93 days, when the country’s unpopular president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled and general elections were announced. This week, the movement in Hong Kong surpassed its 100th day.
“Hong Kongers need to be prepared,” a 38-year-old protestor who asked to be identified as Cloud, said. “This is going to be a long, uphill battle.”
(CANBERRA, Australia) — Thousands of protesters gathered Friday at rallies around Australia as a day of worldwide demonstrations calling for action to guard against climate change began ahead a U.N. summit in New York.
Some of the first rallies in what is being billed as a “global climate strike” kicked off in Australia’s largest city, Sydney, and the national capital, Canberra. Australian demonstrators called for their nation, which is the world’s largest exporter of coal and liquid natural gas, to take more drastic action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The Global Strike 4 Climate said protests will be staged in 110 towns and cities across Australia on Friday, with organizers demanding government and business commit to a target of net zero carbon emissions by 2030.
Similar rallies were planned Friday in cities around the globe. In the United States more than 800 events were planned Friday, while in Germany more than 400 rallies were expected.
A similar coordinated protest in March that drew crowds around the world.
The protests are partly inspired by the activism of Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg, who has staged weekly demonstrations under the heading “Fridays for Future” over the past year, calling on world leaders to step up their efforts against climate change. Many who have followed her lead are students, but the movement has since spread to civil society groups.
Australian universities have said they will not penalize students for attending Friday’s rallies, while Australian schools vary on what action, if any, they take against children who skip classes to attend demonstrations.
Siobhan Sutton, a 15-year-old student at Perth Modern School, said she would fail a math exam by attending a protest in the west coast city of Perth.
“I have basically been told that because it is not a valid reason to be missing school — it is not a medical reason or anything — I am going to get a zero on the test if I don’t actually sit it,” she told Australian Broadcasting Corp.
“Even though we ourselves aren’t sick, the planet which we live on is, and we are protesting and fighting for it,” she added.
Siobhan said her math teacher had given her an option to sit the exam before Friday, but she was unable to do so because of her commitments as one of the protest organizers.
The demonstrations come as Australia’s center-left opposition mulls abandoning its policy, rejected at May elections, of reducing Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions by 45% below 2005 levels by 2030. Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative coalition won a surprise third term with a commitment to reduce emissions by a more modest 26% to 28% in the same time frame.
Morrison is in the U.S. for a state dinner with President Donald Trump on Friday and has been criticized for failing to include in his New York itinerary the U.N. climate summit on Monday, when leaders will present their long-term plans for curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
Government lawmaker Craig Kelly on Thursday told students who planned to join Friday’s climate strike that “you are being used and manipulated and everything you are told is a lie.”
“The facts are, there is no link between climate change and drought; polar bears are increasing in number,” Kelly told Parliament.
“Today’s generation is safer from extreme weather than at any time in human history,” he added.
Some companies are encouraging their employees to join the climate strike.
Australian Council of Trade Unions, which represents labor unions, said it supported employees taking time off work to protest.
The council said in a statement that it “must take a stand for our future when our government will not.”
(DUBAI, United Arab Emirates) — Any attack on Iran by the U.S. or Saudi Arabia will spark an “all-out war,” Tehran’s top diplomat warned Thursday, raising the stakes as Washington and Riyadh weigh a response to a drone-and-missile strike on the kingdom’s oil industry that shook global energy markets.
The comments by Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif represented the starkest warning yet by Iran in a long summer of mysterious attacks and incidents following the collapse of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, more than a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the U.S. from the accord.
They appeared to be aimed directly at U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who while on a trip to the region earlier referred to Saturday’s attack in Saudi Arabia as an “act of war.”
Along with the sharp language, however, there also were signals from both sides of wanting to avoid a confrontation.
On Thursday evening, a spokesman at Iran’s mission to the United Nations said Zarif and President Hassan Rouhani had received U.S. visas to attend next week’s annual U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.
In his comments, Zarif sought to expose current strains between the Americans and the Saudis under Trump, who long has criticized U.S. wars in the Middle East.
Trump’s close relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been challenged by opponents following the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and the kingdom’s long, bloody war in Yemen. That country’s Houthi rebels claimed the oil field attack Saturday in Saudi Arabia, although the U.S. alleges Iran carried it out.
“I think it is important for the Saudi government to understand what they’re what they’re trying to achieve. Do they want to fight Iran until the last American soldier? Is that their aim?” Zarif asked in a CNN interview. “They can be assured that this won’t be the case … because Iran will defend itself.”
Asked by the broadcaster what would be the consequence of a U.S. or Saudi strike, Zarif bluntly said: “An all-out war.”
“I’m making a very serious statement that we don’t want war. We don’t want to engage in a military confrontation,” he said. “We believe that a military confrontation based on deception is awful.”
Zarif, who was to travel to New York on Friday, added: “We’ll have a lot of casualties, but we won’t blink to defend our territory.”
Pompeo, who was in the United Arab Emirates, dismissed Zarif’s remarks, saying: “I was here (doing) active diplomacy while the foreign minister of Iran is threatening all-out war to fight to the last American.”
Pompeo said he hoped Iran would choose a path toward peace, but he remained doubtful. He described “an enormous consensus in the region” that Iran carried out the attack.
“There are still those today who think, ‘Boy, if we just give Iran just a little bit more money they’ll become a peaceful nation,’” he said. “We can see that that does not work.”
Pompeo met Abu Dhabi’s powerful crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE is a close ally of Saudi Arabia and joined the kingdom in its war with the Houthi rebels in Yemen. The 4-year-old war has killed tens of thousands of people and destroyed much of the country, with millions more driven from their homes and thrown into near starvation.
On Wednesday, Pompeo met with the Saudi crown prince in Jiddah about the attack on the kingdom’s crucial oil processing facility and oil field, which cut its oil production in half.
While Pompeo struck a hard line, Trump has been noncommittal on whether he would order U.S. military retaliation. He said separately Wednesday that he is moving to increase financial sanctions on Tehran over the attack, without elaborating. Iran already is subject to a crushing American sanctions program targeting its crucial oil industry.
The UAE said it had joined a U.S.-led coalition to protect waterways across the Middle East after the attack in Saudi Arabia.
The state-run WAM news agency quoted Salem al-Zaabi of the Emirati Foreign Ministry as saying the UAE joined the coalition to “ensure global energy security and the continued flow of energy supplies to the global economy.”
Saudi Arabia joined the coalition on Wednesday. Australia, Bahrain and the United Kingdom also are taking part.
The U.S. formed the coalition after attacks on oil tankers that Washington blamed on Tehran, as well as Iran’s seizure of tankers in the region. Iran denies being behind the tanker explosions, although the attacks came after Tehran threatened to stop oil exports from the Persian Gulf.
Iraq said it would not join the coalition. The government in Baghdad, which is allied with both Iran and the U.S., has tried to keep a neutral stance amid the tensions.
At a news conference Wednesday, the Saudis displayed broken and burned drones and pieces of a cruise missile that military spokesman Col. Turki Al-Malki identified as Iranian weapons collected after the attack. He also played surveillance video that he said showed a drone coming in from the north. Yemen is to the south of Saudi Arabia.
Eighteen drones and seven cruise missiles were launched in the assault, Al-Malki said, with three missiles failing to hit their targets. He said the cruise missiles had a range of 700 kilometers (435 miles), meaning they could not have been fired from inside Yemen. That opinion was shared by weapons experts who spoke to The Associated Press .
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian similarly was skeptical of the Houthi claim of responsibility.
“This is not very credible, relatively speaking,” he told CNews television. “But we sent our experts to have our own vision of things.”
Separately, a U.N. panel of experts on Yemen arrived in Saudi Arabia to investigate the attack, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said.
Since then, a third instance of the prime minister with darkened features has emerged—a video from the early 1990s that shows Trudeau in blackface, raising his hands in the air and sticking out his tongue. Zita Astravas, the media relations head of the Liberal Party of Canada, first confirmed that the video was of Trudeau.
On Thursday afternoon, Trudeau—who is currently in the midst of a reelection campaign—spoke in Winnipeg, Manitoba, about the scandal. After he was asked multiple times whether more photographs or videos of him in blackface or brownface exist, Trudeau said, “I am wary of being definitive about this because the recent pictures that came out I had not remembered.”
“And I think the question is: ‘How can you not remember that?’” he continued. “The fact is I didn’t understand how hurtful this is to people who live with discrimination every single day.”
The 47-year-old leader of the Liberal Party of Canada also reiterated his apology for the scandal while speaking to the press.
“I want to begin by saying a few words directly to racialized Canadians who face discrimination every single day in their lives, even in a country like Canada. What I did hurt them …. This is something that I deeply, deeply regret.”
Trudeau was also questioned more than once on when he became aware that blackface was racist. The prime minister cited his time working with the community in Papineau—a diverse community in Montreal—as his moment of realization.
“Darkening your face, regardless of the context or circumstances, is always unacceptable because of the racist history of blackface,” he also said.
When a reporter used the word “makeup” to describe Trudeau’s usage of blackface, the prime minister responded, “I appreciate you calling it makeup, but it was blackface. And that is something that is just not right.”
“It is something that people who live with the kind of discrimination that far too many do because of the color of their skin, or their history, or their origins, or their language, or their religion, face on a regular basis. And I didn’t see that from the layers of privilege that I have. And for that, I am deeply sorry and I apologize,” he added.
The revelations have placed Trudeau’s reelection campaign under scrutiny, and the story has dominated Canadian media since TIME published the exclusive after obtaining a copy of the school’s yearbook, which included a photograph of the incident, earlier this month.
The picture was taken at an “Arabian Nights”-themed gala and shows Trudeau, then the 29-year-old son of the late former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, wearing a turban and robes with his face, neck and hands completely darkened. The photograph appears in the 2000-2001 yearbook of West Point Grey Academy, a private day school where Trudeau was a teacher.
The United States has a fraught history of white performers darkening their faces to demean and dehumanize African Americans, including in minstrel shows in the 19th century. Minstrel shows were also performed in Canada, and McGill University in Montreal notes that blackface “dates back to the days of blackface minstrelsy—a form of 19th and early 20th century entertainment that expressed nostalgia for slavery and racist violence.”
As an American, Jeanne Glenz prizes her right to vote. But, because she lives near Munich with her German husband, exercising that right isn’t always easy.
This year, it could get even harder, depending on the results of an obscure international meeting scheduled to take place in Geneva on Sept. 24-25. If the Trump Administration doesn’t get what it wants at that summit, the United States is set to withdraw from an arcane treaty that governs global mail delivery—leaving commercial shippers and military mail managers fretting, and election officials concerned that millions of overseas Americans will struggle to cast a vote.
“This represents taxation without representation,” says Glenz, a 79-year-old retired psychologist from California.
The White House says it is working “around the clock” to facilitate a smooth exit from the agreement if it comes to that, but the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) has telegraphed a more cautious outlook in industry conversations. With few details made public, experts in everything from elections to trade worry the U.S. may be about to upset the stability of the mail system around the world.
The current system isn’t perfect—a letter may get lost; a gift may arrive the day after a birthday—but it’s still an impressive bit of international cooperation. After all, if you want to send a letter from the U.S. to Glenz in Germany, you can use American stamps and still expect Deutsche Post to deliver it.
That’s thanks to the Universal Postal Union (UPU), a 144-year-old organization that sets technical and security standards to keep international mail and small packages moving around the globe. Now part of the U.N., it’s the second oldest international organization in the world, and not typically involved in high-profile disputes. But one main part of the arrangement has drawn President Donald Trump’s ire: “terminal dues,” the rates the 192 member countries pay one another to deliver mail across borders. Because the fees were developed in the 1960s based on factors including a nation’s economic development at that point, countries like China, whose economy has grown enormously since then, still pay heavily subsidized rates while the U.S. pays much more. That means it can sometimes be cheaper to send a package from China to the United States than it is for Americans to send packages between states.
“What’s really made this a disastrous system is that in the last 10 years or so, international document volume has plummeted and international e-commerce has boomed,” says James Campbell, a lawyer and UPU expert who consults for international shipping companies. “The United States and the Europeans have been flooded with e-commerce goods that come from China and other countries. We are delivering those goods at terminal dues rates that are substantially less than what the Postal Service charges domestic mailers for the same service.”
“It looks like Trump is having his own Brexit. It could be an absolute free-for-all.”This discounted shipping cost industrialized nations $2.1 billion in 2014, per a study cited by the USPS. Trump, who has long complained about trade imbalances and NATO spending, called this discrepancy “discriminatory” in the presidential memorandum he issued before announcing last October that he intended to leave the UPU. Though his was not a new complaint—administrations going back to Ronald Reagan’s have voiced it, and many trade experts agree the treaty’s rates need an update—the decision to quit the group outright was, like many Trump Administration actions, a surprise. But the withdrawal process takes a year, and the State Department says the U.S. will stay put if allowed to “self-declare” its own terminal-dues rates.
Which means the clock is ticking: the September UPU meeting is the last real chance to strike a deal. There, members will consider several proposals. Option A offers few changes. Option B lets countries decide rates, up to the amount they charge for domestic mail, starting in 2020. Option C would allow them to move toward setting their own rates, but at set ceiling increases until 2025. The proposals aren’t public, but documents seen by TIME show the U.S. proposed an amendment to Option C that would let it self-declare in 2020 while leaving other nations with a longer transition. (Other countries have proposed a variety of other amendments, too.)
U.S. officials say other member states appear to be listening, but its patience is limited. “We are doing everything possible to make sure one of two things happen: either we get a vote at the [meeting] that gives us immediate self-declared rates,” top White House trade adviser Peter Navarro tells TIME, “or we seamlessly exit the UPU.”
Those in the mailing industry aren’t optimistic about the seamless part.
“It looks like Trump is having his own Brexit,” says David Jinks, head of consumer research at the U.K.-based courier company ParcelHero. “It could be an absolute free-for-all, and every country will have to fight its corner and set its own rates.”
For now, there’s widespread disagreement about what will happen if the U.S. does withdraw on Oct. 17 without new bilateral postal agreements to replace the relationships the UPU now covers. And until those agreements are made public, businesses and election officials are stuck trying to plan for contingencies. Major trade partners are unlikely to refuse to deliver American mail, but a spokesperson for the European Commission—noting that it remains “committed to a multilateral rules-based approach”—said withdrawal from the UPU could have a “significant impact” on the customs treatment of mail from the U.S. bound for the European Union. There might be less incentive for foreign postal services to prioritize U.S. mail, or mere confusion could leave letters languishing in foreign post offices.
And while every person who enjoys getting a postcard from a friend who wishes you were here is potentially affected by the way mail moves around the globe, the stakes are particularly high for some.
Major business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are eager for the dues reform the Trump Administration is pushing, but many are wary of the upheaval of fully withdrawing from the union. Kate Muth, executive director of the International Mailers Advisory Group (IMAG), which has members that include outbound shippers, marketers and bulk mail consolidators, notes that the break would take place at peak shipping season ahead of the holidays, potentially leaving U.S. exporters without access to expedited customs processes. IMAG members are also concerned that a U.S. exit will encourage other countries to change their rates too, causing shipping costs to change unpredictably.
For U.S. troops serving overseas, mail is handled by the Military Postal Service Agency, so it should be largely unaffected by UPU changes—but military mail managers have been worried as they prepare for a withdrawal, according to Merry Law, an international mail expert who serves on the Universal Postal Union addressing work group. And even if military mail functions just fine, millions of other Americans live abroad, including civilians, military family members and military contractors who don’t have access to bases.
That population includes an estimated three million potential overseas voters, and election officials are unsure what to tell them as Election Day approaches.
Federal law guarantees them the right to vote absentee, but 19 states do not allow for electronic submission of ballots. Even for those that do allow an electronic method, ballot security is a major concern. Elections experts worry that, without access to the Universal Postal Union, overseas voters might not know if their ballots make it back on time or could be left paying high prices for private carriers to deliver their ballots—especially in state and local races, which aren’t covered by the guarantee that the federal government will cover postage for their ballots. “That’s tantamount to a poll tax,” said a Democratic aide to the House Administration Committee, which has been looking into mitigating fallout from a withdrawal.
“This would suddenly undermine a federal law, undermine the voting process, and take away options that overseas voters want and need,” says Susan Dzieduszycka-Suinat, president of the U.S. Vote Foundation, a non-partisan organization that helps overseas voters cast their ballots. “It would be a knife in the heart of overseas voting.”
There won’t be much time to iron out the kinks, with 2020 primaries just months away and severalstates holding important elections this November. Ballots are usually sent to overseas and military voters 45 days before Election Day. This year, that’s Sept. 21—three days before the UPU meeting in Switzerland.
More than 1 in 4 U.S. citizens living overseas could be in a country with no agreement facilitating mail between them and the U.S.“It’s uncertain what’s actually going to happen until ballots are already in the hands of the voters,” Keith Ingram, director of elections in Texas and president of the National Association of State Election Directors, told TIME. Overseas voters already have fairly low turnout, he added, “and uncertainty is something that has the potential for decreasing turnout.”
The White House and State Department declined to answer specific questions on how military and election mail would be handled in the event of withdrawal, but Navarro said that there would be no “interruption” for overseas voters or troops, and that there would be “no additional cost” for overseas voters in the event of an exit. Preparations for a future outside the UPU started the day after Trump announced his intention last fall, Navarro said, and the White House has since held regular “high level” meetings with relevant agencies. “Two of the highest priority issues we are addressing have to do with these elections and mail involving our military troops,” Navarro said. “We will not let there be any interruption in either one of those groups.” The Postal Service also declined to answer detailed questions about its preparations but said it was taking “parallel efforts to ensure the continued exchange of international mail items even if the negotiations to remain in the UPU are unsuccessful.”
Yet despite the confidence projected by the Trump Administration, the Postal Service warned the mailing industry in a June presentation in Washington that it would likely see changes to its “geographic coverage” if the U.S. pulled out, according to presentation materials and recordings obtained by TIME. The USPS and the Federal Voting Assistance Program, the Defense Department office that helps manage overseas voting, also told election officials at a conference in August that the U.S. was focused on establishing agreements to ensure that mail delivery continues with 17 priority nations, according to Tammy Patrick, a senior adviser at the Democracy Fund who serves as the USPS liaison for the National Association of Election Officials.
Those countries are expected to cover about 70% of Americans abroad. That means more than 1 in 4 U.S. citizens living overseas could be in a country with no agreement facilitating mail between them and the U.S.
So far, as the Trump Administration prepares for the meeting in Geneva, all the major agencies involved appear to be sticking with the President’s signature confident style and quick decision-making. The State Department said it is “ready and eager to constructively engage with other reform-minded partners” at the summit, but emphasized the U.S. would achieve its goal of setting its own rates “whatever the outcome” of the meeting. The United States under Trump doesn’t have the same relationships it once did with other countries, but if the Americans can convince a majority of the other countries attending the Universal Postal Union’s meeting that they don’t want the U.S. to leave the group, then some of these concerns might not come to pass this year.
In either case, the once quiet world of international mail may be quiet no longer.
“It’s definitely going to have an impact,” Patrick says of the potential withdrawal. “It’s just a question of how detrimental it’s going to be.”
For Glenz, the uncertainty has made her more eager than ever to get her ballot in the mail. “The ability to vote is the cornerstone of a democracy,” she says from Germany. “This is my one tiny golden hammer, and I’m not giving it up.” —With reporting by Madeline Roache/London
A version of this article appears in the Sept. 30, 2019, issue of TIME
Yet Macron hardly looked like a man who had weathered one of the most violent years in modern France, with Yellow Vest protesters burning barricades and hurling vitriol at him. Relaxed in his shirtsleeves in his office in the Elysée Palace on Sept. 9, he betrayed little sign of the turmoil some in his inner circle say he has been through in the past months. “There have been moments, very tough, especially on a personal standpoint,” says Ismael Emelien, a long-time advisor of Macron who left the Elysée in February. “He always knew that since we were transforming the country, it would come with some costs.”
Early this year, it seemed to many French that those costs might be as high as his presidency itself. But just a few months later Macron is riding a surge in the polls, and vowing not to be as aloof and impatient as before. And he is attempting to resume his position as a key, global champion for multilateralism.
The turnaround in his popularity is not the only change we found. Inside the 300-year-old palace once occupied by Napoleon, the heavy antique furnishings and wooden desk are gone. Now his office is all sleek black leather and neutral-color drapes. Some decorating touches, we were told, were from his wife Brigitte.
For more than an hour, Macron settled into one of the leather couches, to discuss his determination to change France, how the West has failed its middle classes, and how he spends his downtime. Here, extended highlights from the conversation, edited for length and clarity.
TIME : How much did the Gilets Jaunes [Yellow Vest] protests shock you?
MACRON: For me, the most important thing is what it told [us] about the current deadlock of democracies. Our global economy failed to improve the situation of the middle classes. There is an over-concentration of wealth in some hands. We have a crisis of capitalism. On top of that you have a big technology transition. It creates a lot of opportunities, but at the same time creates emotions, resentments, and disruption, killing jobs and creating new anxieties for a lot of people.
You still have a lot of people calling you ‘the president of the rich.’ They call you arrogant.
I think this is the French system. We are a country where we like leadership and we want to kill the leaders. I don’t mind if it’s fair or not, to be honest with you. I was elected, I’m in charge, and I’m the leader, so I take it. I don’t care. The deep roots is much more how to deal with inequalities in our society. We have a unique role in Europe. Our role is to build a new model on ecology, industry, education. That’s what we are doing.
In a certain way, you have a ‘Death Valley.’ I’m in this Death Valley. When you get rid of the past system you enter into this new road. And the end of the Death Valley is the day you have results, and you can clearly deliver.
But in the meanwhile, people were unhappy with the past system, but they were used to the past system. They are not clear about what they want, because they don’t have the results of what [we] are doing. So my challenge is to listen to people much better than I did at the very beginning. To have a method which is not just to reform for the country but to reform with the country.
I think, first of all we live in a world where you might just catch one sentence, and get it out of the context. I spent a long while with each of these people and this was just one sentence. It’s not like I went out in the street, saw a man and said you should cross the street to get a job. I never did it.
Other politicians say just hello to people and don’t discuss because it’s probably too dangerous. I spent a lot of time in discussion with people, on a direct basis. So, I didn’t think this was arrogant. It was a little bit unfair. But politics is also about perception. It created this image, and that was that.
Do you feel you need to be more cautious now?
We acted very rapidly and drastically and we took a series of very important measures. I probably provided the feeling that I wanted to reform even against people. My impatience was felt as an impatience vis à vis French people. It is not the case. It was an impatience vis à vis the system. I think I have to take more time to explain where we are and what we want to do exactly, to keep reforming and transforming the country, because this is a necessity : To build this new country, this new France of the 21st century.
How bothered are you by the approval ratings in the polls month by month, tracking how you are doing?
Real-time democracy should not push us to have real-time obsessions and real-time action. When you are elected for five years you should be obsessed by your popularity if you campaign for a new election. But during the mandate I don’t overrate this.
Do you see any circumstances in which you would not run again?
It is notthe right moment to raise this issue. The pace of reforms is unprecedented. We experienced a very hard crisis and I don’t consider it is over. What we have to do now is deal with this anxiety.
Building this new France is my obsession. I still have slightly more than two years and a half. It is not a lot. What I have to do now is every day convince people about the rational and the logic of what I am doing.
My obsession is to explain that the best answer to the crisis of democracies and middle classes, to deliver what I call this “new enlightenment.” I am totally ready to even sacrifice any possibility to go to any other election to witness that.
Do you mean you would rather succeed in the policy, than win another term in office?
Sure. Sure. I will never stop fighting to convince people what is at stake. You have such a rise of this democratic crisis, of hate speech everywhere in the political sphere and on social networks, of I would say fake news and increasing doubt in our society. Even the relationship with rationality, the relation with truth, with accountability, is at stake today.
If we can turn to foreign policy: Your relationship with President Trump has been extraordinary to witness. He’s been to the Elysée Palace four times, and you speak to each other regularly. Do you still believe you can persuade him to reverse course on Iran, climate, on trade and tariffs?
Look, when President Trump committed to doing a certain way with his voters, he does it. I respect that. This is good for democracy. If you want a president being compliant with the Paris Agreement [on climate change] or playing differently, elect a president who has such a behavior. When people reproach me for not succeeding in changing his mind, I tell them — I did my best. I always failed changing his mind when it was about clear commitment taken during his campaign.
President Trump is very attached to trying to find a deal, whatever the question is. If you take a lot of international crises, his willingness is not to have a war. I strongly believe that in Iran he does not want a war. He did not follow the hardliners of his Administration pushing for more tensions with Iran. And that is where we have a space to maneuver.
On Brexit, is there any give whatsoever in Europe, to break the deadlock with the U.K.?
I think we should look at the situation as it is. British people decided to leave. Not the European people. British people. I do respect this vote. I’m a strong believer in sovereignty. And during more than two years, the British government have negotiated in good faith with the E.U. in delivering an agreement. We have it. And today you have just a political British crisis because the British system is unable to vote [on] the agreement.
This deadlock is a British deadlock. It’s not a European deadlock. If they propose something which is compliant with the E.U. requirements, our negotiator can move. But we know what we don’t want. The four freedoms is not negotiable. We have to preserve stability and peace in Ireland. And the Good Friday Agreement and the roles decided during the Good Friday Agreement. That is absolutely critical. After that, the negotiators have to work together.
I think I see a lot of noise without a lot of serious discussion. So it’s time to discuss seriously. I saw the [E.U.’s negotiator] Michel Barnier on [Sept. 7], and he told me, I had very few discussions with British negotiators without any clear and concrete proposals. So, let’s propose and let’s see if it’s acceptable. At the end of the day, the British always have the possibility to withdraw Article 50. Nobody should forget that. So no deal will always be, at the end, a British decision.
When you campaigned for President in 2017 you warned people Europe was in danger of falling apart. Do you still feel that way?
I do believe it. If we don’t move forward on more integration of the Eurozone, my view is that it would probably not happen overnight, but progressively, we will lose our sovereignty, and Europe will be dismantled for sure.
The current European Union is an invention made seventy years ago, completely unique. We preserved peace and prosperity on this Continent. It never happened before in Europe. But it can fall apart if we don’t move forward. For the very first time you have adverse forces in favor of dismantling Europe. The extremists in Europe are all nationalists in favor of dismantling of Europe. This is unique, it never happened after Second World War, never, with such an intensity.
I wanted to turn briefly to Brazil, and your dispute with Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro over the Amazon rainforest. It has been very personal, with him comparing your respective wives.
When somebody insults your wife this is unacceptable. I’m profoundly hurt by this lack of not just elegance but decency. When you are a leader, you cannot have these kind of statements. I never insulted any leader in my life and I will never insult any leader.
I had a meeting with President Bolsonaro in November. I made it clear I am a believer in climate change. A few weeks after, he took opposite measures, got rid of independent scientists. I sent my Minister of Foreign Affairs in Brazil and he cancelled a few minutes before the meeting, to go to the hairdresser. So when we committed to send support for the [wild fires raging in the Amazon forests] he took personally the fact that we said we would act to reforest everywhere. Brazil is a great country and Brazilian people are great people, so we have to help them.
How worried are you about the climate, particularly given President Trump pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement in 2017?
My fear at that time was its dismantlement over time. It did not happen because some leaders reaffirmed their commitments. We managed to convince Russia to ratify Paris Agreement, probably before [next week’s] United Nations General Assembly.
What we have to do now is to implement fair policy. This is for me the main challenge on the domestic basis. It is not a walk in the park, to be honest. I failed. One of the origins of the Yellow Vests was precisely the fact that we went too fast [hiking fuel taxes] on this issue without taking into consideration the social impact. This this is one of my main regrets.
A lot of young people are looking for more radical solutions perhaps to target climate change. Do you have sympathy with their position?
Yes, I have. They put very useful pressure on governments because they are the voice of future generations. The more you are pressed the more you can move. When you are a leader and every week you have young people demonstrating you cannot remain neutral. I would say exactly what President Roosevelt said to demonstrators in the 1930s: “Help me to move faster through your demonstrations.” We need to mobilize more and more people.
Can you convince France to become vegetarian?
I think you can have cows and it can be totally compatible with climate change. It is not black or white. And if you say being green is stopping eating cows, you create super confrontations in your society. What you need to build is a more rapid transition, reconciling everybody’s way of life.
What about your own personal life — how do you spend your downtime?
I think the way to organize your life is very important, not be under the pressure of the daily business and to remain independent and to think and to remain creative. So I preserve time for my family, I preserve time to think about things, walking, I practice sports regularly as well 2 or 3 times a week. Boxing, football, running.
Who do you spar with?
With my guards. You can do it everywhere, in the garden. At least two times a week. And I read every week, every day at least one or two hours, because it is important for me. I have never stopped.
Novels or history?
Both. I have just finished some recent novels. I finished La Tentation by Luc Lang, one of the most talented French authors. I read a series by Daniel Rondeau, La Raison le Coeur, about the evolution of Europe, and much more thinking about the situation. I read Camus this summer a lot, coming back to novels I read a few years ago, novels as well especially during the Algerian war. And I listen to music almost every day.
Sometimes, in specific context. I cannot tell you everything. But it happens. I still sing. Charles Aznavour and Johnny Hallyday.
And you still have time for the family?
Yes, for sure. Sometimes you miss some important family event. But my wife organizes our life in order that we see regularly the children and grandchildren for birthdays and holidays. So each holiday we have moments and for each birthday. This weekend I spent this Saturday with them. This is important.
You wrote a novel as a young man, as yet unpublished. When will we be able to read it?
When it will be readable, according to me. So I have to work again. I think after [my time in office ends], I will write. This is why I am very peaceful about the future. I will do my best as I am in charge. The day people will decide I am no more in charge I know what I will do.
Be a writer?
Yes. I think this is probably one of the most demanding things to be done and very important to me, especially after such a period of time. So the day people will decide I will do it. I love family, friends, books and I am ready to be alone and quiet.
When we first interviewed you, you said you always wanted to remain a newcomer. It was very important to you.
And now I am the insider of the bourgeois club! (laughs) This is why, by the way, the gilets jaunes crisis was in a certain way very good for me. Because it reminded me who I should be. It reminded me, for me the actual message was ‘We did not decide to have something [to vote for Macron in 2017] not to have our lives change.’