Friday morning news: April 20, 2018

South Korea: Pyongyang softens stance ahead of talks » 

North Korea is softening its stance on the presence of the U.S. military ahead of a possible meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un.

That according to South Korean President Moon Jae-in. If true, it’s a key concession that could bring Trump and Kim one step closer to in-person talks. WORLD Radio’s Jim Henry has details.

JIM HENRY, REPORTER: The South Korean government, which remains in ongoing peace talks with the North says Pyongyang will not demand the withdrawal of U.S. troops as a precondition for giving up nuclear weapons.

The U.S. has nearly 29,000 troops stationed in South Korea and 50,000 in nearby Japan. North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un often refers to that troop presence as a “hostile” U.S. policy, forcing his country to spend big on its military.

The South Korean president said Kim still wants the U.S. to change military policies and offer security guarantees. Those are likely to be big topics in historic talks between the leaders scheduled for May or June. President Trump said Thursday he’s looking forward to meeting Kim but insisted he would cancel the talks if he thinks they are “not going to be fruitful.”

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Jim Henry.

Pentagon says no civilian casualties in airstrikes » Pentagon spokesperson Dana White said Thursday that the U.S. military deems last week’s airstrikes in Syria a success. She said the strikes degraded the Assad regime’s chemical weapons facilities without any civilian casualties.

WHITE: This is a testament to the professionalism and precision of the US, UK and French forces that carried out this mission.

Meantime, it’s still unclear if inspectors have been able to gain access to the Syrian town of Douma. That’s where the U.S. and its allies say the Syrian government launched a chemical weapons attack on civilians earlier this month.

The Assad regime and its Russian allies continue to deny a chemical attack ever took place, but they have not cooperated with international inspectors. Gunmen opened fire on a UN security team visiting the site this week—forcing the group to turn back.

DOJ inspector general makes criminal referral » The former acting director of the FBI could soon face criminal charges.

The Justice Department’s inspector general has reportedly sent a criminal referral about fired FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe to federal prosecutors. The referral does not necessarily mean McCabe will be charged. That’ll be up to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington.

A report from the watchdog office last week concluded that McCabe had misled investigators, and his own boss about his role in leaking information to the press regarding the bureau’s probe of the Clinton Foundation.

New Jersey court rules on church repair funds » The New Jersey Supreme Court has dealt a blow to historic churches in Morris County. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has that story.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: The unanimous bench ruled that grant money for preserving historic sites cannot be used to repair or restore houses of worship. The court ruled that using tax dollars in that way violates the state constitution which says no person is obliged to pay taxes to repair any church or place of worship.

The Freedom from Religion Foundation sued in 2015 to block funding to preserve old churches that met grant criteria.  

The matter may wind up at the U.S. Supreme Court. It ruled last year in another case that state aid programs cannot single out religious organizations and exclude them from otherwise available public benefit.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

FAA orders mandatory checks of Boeing 737 engines » Following this week’s fatal engine explosion during a Southwest Airlines flight, the the Federal Aviation Administration is mandating new safety checks. The FAA has ordered inspections of fan blades on engines like the one that failed on the Boeing 737 on Tuesday.

Airlines that have planes with the affected engines must conduct ultrasonic inspections of fan blades to check for microscopic metal fatigue.

The agency considered ordering mandatory inspections of those engines last year, after the manufacturer recommended the checks. But the FAA never issued the final order.

CA reaches deal on nat guard » California Governor Jerry Brown has reached a deal with the federal government for use of his state’s National Guard troops at the U.S/Mexico border. Brown pledged 400 personnel in response to President Trump’s request for more troops. The governor said he didn’t want the group involved in general immigration enforcement, but added:

BROWN: I am concerned about our borders. I’m concerned about the shipment of drugs, not only over land, but on the shores of California, and human trafficking. And I’m concerned about the guns that are going south from Arizona and California and Texas.

Under the new agreement, California troops will focus on fighting gangs, as well as gun, drug and human traffickers.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen wrote on Twitter that final details were still being worked out but she said, “we are looking forward to the support.”

The governors of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas also have committed National Guard troops to the effort.

Lance Armstrong settles with federal government » Cyclist Lance Armstrong will pay $5 million to the federal government to settle a lawsuit which claimed he owed $100 million to taxpayers in damages. That suit stems from fraud allegations. The U.S. Postal Service sponsored Armstrong’s cycling team to the tune of more than $30 million before he admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. After being caught cheating, Armstrong was stripped of his Tour de France victories and banned for life from Olympic sports.

Armstrong also agreed to pay more than $1.5 million to covers legal costs for a former teammate, who was a whistleblower in the case.

I’m Kent Covington. Up next: Laura Finch reports on some evangelical leaders who are concerned their brand is damaged. And later: Word Play with George Grant. This is The World and Everything in It.

(Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP, File) In this March 5, 2018, file photo, provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, front right, shakes hands with South Korean National Security Director Chung Eui-yong after Chung gave Kim the letter from South Korean President Moon Jae-in, in Pyongyang, North Korea. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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