Over the weekend, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un spent some time touring what he hopes will soon be a “world-class” ski resort in Kangwon Province, North Korea. Kim — who went to school in Switzerland — is a big booster of the project, which he calls a “gigantic patriotic work.” He has specified the exact types of structures that should be built, including a heliport — for all those (illegal) helicopters in North Korea. The idea is, in part, to one-up South Korea ahead of its hosting of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang. “A skiing wave will seize the country,” Kim is reported to have said.
But, as with much of life in North Korea, just because Kim Jong Un says a thing will be great does not make it so.
Aside from landslides, heavy rain, and the incredible cost of constructing a skiing area that spans dozens of miles in an impoverished nation, North Korea will have to battle trade sanctions. On Monday, the government of Switzerland announced that it has blocked the sale of more than $7 million worth of ski lifts and cable cars to North Korea. Kim’s government had contacted several Swiss companies, who then needed Switzerland’s sign-off to proceed. That didn’t go over too well with the Swiss.
Switzerland’s state secretariat for economic affairs called the ski resort a “prestigious propaganda project for the regime” and a spokesperson said that it would not be “appropriate” to export infrastructure to North Korean sports facilities with a “luxury character.” And it’s not just ski equipment that Switzerland has now added to its list of sanctions for the Democratic People’s Republic. Swiss companies will now not be able to sell golf, horseback-riding, or billiards equipment to the country. Also, perfume.
Switzerland isn’t the first ski-centric country to knock down a sale: both France and Austria have previously rejected deals. It may be a while before we get to see photos of Kim Jong Un zipping down powdered slopes.
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"American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers." The conversations centered around Paul Manafort, who was campaign chairman at the time, and Michael Flynn, former national security adviser and then a close campaign surrogate. Both men have been tied heavily with Russia and Flynn is currently at the center of the FBI investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.
"Former FBI Director Robert Mueller has been cleared by U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts to oversee an investigation into possible collusion between then-candidate Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign and Russia." Some had speculated that the White House would use "an ethics rule limiting government attorneys from investigating people their former law firm represented" to trip up Mueller's appointment. Jared Kushner is a client of Mueller's firm, WilmerHale. "Although Mueller has now been cleared by the Justice Department, the White House may still use his former law firm's connection to Manafort and Kushner to undermine the findings of his investigation, according to two sources close to the White House."
Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr (R-NC) and ranking member Mark Warner (D-VA) will subpoena two businesses owned by former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Burr said, "We would like to hear from General Flynn. We'd like to see his documents. We'd like him to tell his story because he publicly said he had a story to tell."