Analysis: Nobel Says to Korea Nuke Players: We are Watching

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. (Reuters)
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. (Reuters)
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Analysis: Nobel Says to Korea Nuke Players: We are Watching

The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. (Reuters)
The International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN) was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace. (Reuters)

They couldn't award it to Kim Jong Un or Donald Trump. That much was certain.

But the granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons opened itself to a clear interpretation across Asia: When it comes to the nuclear-saturated war of words on the Korean Peninsula, attention must be paid and treaties must be signed. And it must be done in a preventative way, at top speed, before something happens that can't be undone, said an Associated Press report.

Looming in the background of the award announcement Friday was the sometimes scalding, sometimes tepid, never silent geopolitical scuffle this year between the young leader of the third-generation Pyongyang regime and the always voluble president of the United States.

Even the Nobel committee's language keyed in on that. It sounded like a plaintive cry to push parties to the negotiating table — to fix something that's already cracked before it's completely, irreversibly shattered.

The head of the group listed an assortment of the world's nuclear nations when she spoke after the win. But it was easy to find significance in the two she mentioned before all others — North Korea and the United States.

And this was the immediate assessment from a Nobel historian: "The panel wants to send a signal to North Korea and the US that they need to go into negotiations." The prize, Oeivind Stenersen suggested, was also "coded support" of the Iran nuclear deal.

This year's Geneva-based winner, known as ICAN, was cited "for its work to draw attention to the catastrophic humanitarian consequences of any use of nuclear weapons and for its ground-breaking efforts to achieve a treaty-based prohibition of such weapons."

From the vantage point of the Korean Peninsula and its surrounding countries, where people shudder weekly at volleys of intemperate words and missile or bomb tests, such a treaty seems a distant dream. And few of the key players seem anywhere near a Nobel Peace Prize, said the AP.

North Korea just conducted its sixth and by far largest nuclear test, moving closer to its goal of mounting a nuclear warhead on an intercontinental ballistic missile. It has repeatedly threatened to obliterate the United States from the map.

Such bellicose language from the North is common. It has spent years issuing over-the-top dispatches through its propaganda apparatus promising to destroy the United States.

In recent months, however, Pyongyang's invective has been matched almost blow by blow for the first time by equally aggressive language from Washington under the Trump administration, or at least Trump himself. The US president has shown no hesitation in cutting through the niceties of diplomatic lingo to excoriate the North and threaten to wipe it out of existence.

He has dubbed Kim "Little Rocket Man" and said his regime may not be long for this world. The US, of course, has one of the world's largest nuclear arsenals, even after significant reductions since the Cold War. It remains the only nation on the planet to use nuclear weapons during a war.

In the past four weeks alone, Trump has used words like these, in a recent tweet: "Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at UN If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won't be around much longer!"

And Kim, who bestowed upon Trump the rarely used insult "dotard" and pronounced him senile, has used words like these:

"Now that Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world and made the most ferocious declaration of a war in history that he would destroy (North Korea), we will consider with seriousness exercising of a corresponding, highest level of hard-line countermeasure in history."

Public posturing, sure. But not exactly language that points the way toward common ground, either.
The tension in word and deed between Washington and Pyongyang has faded slightly in recent days as the in-the-moment news cycle marches forward, but history shows that to be temporary. Another early-morning missile test, another intemperate remark or worse will put it right back on center stage.

The awarding of the $1.1 million prize to ICAN helps that happen, too, though even the group's executive director, Beatrice Fihn, said she "worried it was a prank at first" when she got the call from the Nobel committee.

Against this backdrop — and in Northeast Asia, a region that remains the only place where nuclear weapons were used against a civilian population during a war — the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize in this manner implies one key point.

The influential body, which often uses the prize to set the agenda of where the light gets shone, is saying to Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump, among others: We've got our eye on you, and the world needs to look harder, too.



For Palestinian Athletes, the Olympics is About More than Sports

Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
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For Palestinian Athletes, the Olympics is About More than Sports

Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)
Omar Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself (The AP)

Most of the athletes representing the Palestinian territories at the Paris Olympics were born elsewhere — Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Germany, Chile and the United States — yet they care deeply about the politics of their parents’ and grandparents’ homeland.

They are eager to compete but say their presence at the Games isn’t only, or even primarily, about sports. With Israel and Hamas locked in a brutal war that has killed tens of thousands in Gaza, these eight athletes — two of whom hail from the West Bank — carry heavier burdens.

Yazan Al Bawwab, a 24-year-old swimmer who was born in Saudi Arabia and lives in Dubai, said he doesn't expect recognition for his performance in the pool. He uses swimming, he said, as a "tool for Palestine.”

“Unfortunately, nobody has ever asked me about my races. Nobody cares,” said al Bawwab, whose parents come from Jerusalem and Lod, a city that today is in central Israel. “I’m going to be plain and honest: France does not recognize Palestine as a country. But I’m over there, raising my flag. That’s my role.”

Omar Ismail, who was born in Dubai to parents who come from the West Bank town of Jenin, has loftier athletic ambitions. Shortly after earning his spot on the team at a taekwondo qualification tournament in China, the 18-year-old said he aims to win a gold medal in Paris.

But even if he does not earn a medal, Ismail — who has visited relatives in Jenin — believes his mere participation symbolizes something larger than himself, The AP reported.

“I represent the identity of the people in Palestine, their steadfastness,” Ismail said. “I’d like to inspire the children of Palestine, show them that each of them can achieve their goals, give them hope.”

Even under the best of circumstances, it is difficult to maintain a vibrant Olympics training program in Gaza, the West Bank and east Jerusalem. Nine months of war between Israel and Hamas has made that challenge next to impossible.

Much of the country’s sporting infrastructure, clubs and institutions have been demolished, said Nader Jayousi, the technical director at the Palestine Olympic Committee.

“Do you know how many approved pools there are in Palestine? Zero,” said al Bawaab, who noted that the Palestinian economy is too small and fragile to consistently support the development of elite athletes. “There is no sports in Palestine. We are a country right now that does not have enough food or shelter, and we are trying to figure out how to stay alive. We are not a sports country yet.”

The Palestinian diaspora has always played an important role at the Olympics and other international competitions, Jayousi said.

Jayousi said it’s not the first time that most of the athletes representing the POC come from abroad. He said the Palestinian diaspora is always represented at any big international sporting competition and Olympics.

More than 38,000 people have been killed in Gaza since the war between Israel and Hamas began, according to local health officials. Among those who died were about 300 athletes, referees, coaches and others working in Gaza's sports sector, according to Jayousi.

Perhaps the most prominent Palestinian athlete to die in the war was long-distance runner Majed Abu Maraheel, who in 1996 in Atlanta became the first Palestinian to compete in the Olympics. He died of kidney failure earlier this year after he was unable to be treated in Gaza and could not be evacuated to Egypt, Palestinian officials said.

Only one Palestinian athlete, Ismail, qualified for the Paris Games in his own right. The seven others gained their spots under a wild-card system delivered as part of the universality quota places.. Backed by the International Olympic Committee, it allows athletes who represent poorer nations with less-established sports programs to compete, even though they did not meet the sporting criteria.

“We had very high hopes that we would go to Paris 2024 with qualified athletes,” Jayousi, the team's technical director, said. “We lost lots of these chances because of the complete stoppage of every single activity in the country.”

Palestinian athletes will compete in boxing, judo, swimming, shooting, track and field and taekwondo.

There is a chance Palestinian athletes could compete against Israelis in Paris. The Israel Olympic Committee said it is sending 88 athletes to Paris, and that they would compete against athletes from anywhere.

Jayousi declined to say whether clear guidelines have been issued to Palestinian athletes about whether they would be expected — as a form of protest against the war in Gaza — to drop out of competition rather than face Israelis.

“Let's see what the draws will put our athletes against," he said. “We know what we want to do, but we don't have to say everything that we want to do.”

One Olympic hopeful who did not make the cut was Gaza-born weightlifter Mohammed Hamada, a flag bearer at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. When the war began, Hamada moved to Gaza's southernmost city of Rafah and trained there for 25 days. But because of the shortage of food, Hamada — who competed in the 102 kilograms (225 pounds) weight class — gradually lost about 18 kilograms (40 pounds).

Hamada eventually secured a visa to leave Gaza and moved to Qatar to continue his training. But, Jayousi said, he just couldn't get his body back to Olympic-level condition.

Jayousi said winning medals is not the top priority for the athletes who made it to Paris. (No Palestinian athlete has ever won an Olympic medal).

“We are going here to show our Palestinianism,” he said. “We are focused on fighting until the last second, which we have been doing as a nation for the last 80 years.”

Al Bawaab said he wants to empower the next generation of Palestinian athletes, in part by providing them with greater financial resources. He founded the Palestinian Olympians Association to help athletes prepare for sports and life beyond, including by providing them with mental-health support.

"We don’t have that sports culture yet,” al Bawaab said. “When I’m done swimming, we’ll hopefully get that rolling in the country. But you have to be safe first.”