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Trump says he'll meet with North Korea's Kim

WASHINGTON — After months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation, President Donald Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by the end of May to negotiate an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program, South Korean and U.S. officials said Thursday. No sitting American president has ever met with a North Korea leader.

The meeting would be unprecedented during seven decades of animosity between the U.S. and North Korea. The countries remain in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.

“Great progress being made,” Trump tweeted after the South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, announced the plans to reporters in a hastily called appearance on a White House driveway.

Trump added that sanctions will remain in place until there’s a deal.

Trump took office vowing to stop North Korea from attaining a nuclear-tipped missile that could reach the U.S. mainland, a goal that Pyongyang is on the cusp of reaching. He’s oscillated between threats and insults directed at Kim that have fueled fears of war, and more conciliatory rhetoric.

The historic announcement comes during a period of unparalleled tumult in the West Wing, with the president’s policy agenda stalled and morale sinking as staff departures proliferate and disrupt efforts to instill more discipline and order.

Trump clearly relished the news of the planned summit. He had made a surprise visit to the White House press briefing room on Thursday afternoon to alert reporters of a “major statement” on North Korea by South Korea. When asked by an ABC reporter if it was about talks with North Korea, he replied: “It’s almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit.”

Earlier Thursday, Chung had briefed Trump and other top U.S. officials about a rare meeting with Kim in the North Korean capital. During that meeting, the rival Koreas agreed to hold a leadership summit in late April, the first in a decade.

Kim “expressed his eagerness to meet President Trump as soon as possible,” Chung told reporters. “President Trump appreciated the briefing and said he would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.”

The White House said Trump’s meeting with Kim would take place “at a place and time to be determined.”

“Kim Jong Un talked about denuclearization with the South Korean Representatives, not just a freeze,” Trump said in a tweet. “Also, no missile testing by North Korea during this period of time.”

It marks a dramatic shift in Trump’s stance toward North Korea. He has threatened the pariah nation with “fire and fury” if its threats against the U.S. and its allies continued. He has derided Kim by referring to him as “Little Rocket Man.” Kim has pilloried Trump as “senile” and a “dotard.”

After Kim repeated threats against the U.S. in a New Year’s address and mentioned the “nuclear button” on his office desk, Trump responded by tweeting that he has a nuclear button, too, “but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!”

North Korea appeared to confirm the summit plans. A senior North Korean diplomat at the United Nations in New York, Pak Song Il, told The Washington Post in an e-mail that the invitation was the result of Kim’s “broad minded and resolute decision” to contribute to the peace and security of the Korean Peninsula.

By the “great courageous decision of our Supreme Leader, we can take the new aspect to secure the peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula and the East Asia region,” Pak wrote.

On Tuesday after leaving Pyongyang, Chung had publicized that North Korea was offering talks with the United States on denuclearization and normalizing ties. But the proposal for a summit still came as a surprise, and will raise questions about whether the two sides are ready for such a high-level meeting.

Just a few hours earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is traveling in Africa, had said the adversaries were still a long way from holding negotiations.

Chung, who credited Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign for the diplomatic opening on the nuclear issue, said Kim understands that routine U.S.-South Korea military drills “must continue.”

The drills were suspended during the Winter Olympics recently hosted by South Korea, which provided impetus for the inter-Korea rapprochement. The drills are expected to resume next month and had widely been seen as an obstacle to talks. North Korea has long protested the military maneuvers south of the divided Korean Peninsula as a rehearsal for invading the North.

When the South Korean delegation briefed Trump in the Oval Office, he was joined by a number of top advisers, including Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, chief of staff John Kelly and the director of national intelligence, among others, according to a senior Trump administration official who briefed reporters after the announcement. The official, who was not authorized to discuss the sensitive diplomatic issue by name and spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was no letter from Kim to Trump, just an oral briefing from the South Korean officials.

Downtown racks up visitors with state pool tournament

WATERLOO — On Wednesday, pool players from all over Iowa showed up in downtown Waterloo, hoping for their big break.

“He’s pretty good,” Angela Flaherty said of her boyfriend, Darrell Edwards, who’s playing in the State Pool Championships at the Five Sullivan Brothers Convention Center. The tournament began Wednesday and runs through Sunday.

Flaherty and Edwards drove from Des Moines, joining more than 1,000 other visitors who converged on Waterloo mid-week.

“We got up at 4:15 a.m.; we had to get here for his first game at 8,” Flaherty said.

On Thursday morning, players filled both floors of the convention center, waiting for their turn at one of 138 pool tables.

“We try to keep everybody happy and having fun,” said Ron Ries, president of the Iowa Operators of Music & Amusements, which organizes the event. “We like to keep things flowing.”

To get to the state tournament, players had to win their local tournaments.

“This is a very meaningful tournament for him,” Flaherty said of Edwards. “He grew up playing pool with his dad, who passed away last year.”

While the telltale sounds of billiards cracked inside the halls, the clink of ice in glasses rang out at the cash bars situated in the first- and second-floor lobbies.

“Bloody Marys are their breakfast, and the pickle is the fiber,” said a busy bartender, who didn’t want to be identified. “We can’t keep up.”

In fact, she noted, the bars briefly ran out of Crown Royal whiskey, also a favorite among the crowd.

Adjacent to the bar was a massage therapist, offering respite for tense, sore backs and shoulders. Vendors selling billiards supplies and accessories dotted the lobbies as well.

Action wasn’t limited to inside the convention center, though. Nearby eateries have been busy since Wednesday morning.

“Because of the nature of the tournament, we are steady throughout the day,” said Jorge Santiago, head chef at Basal Pizza and Cibo Street Food Bar, located across the street from the convention center. “We get a big crush at lunch and dinner, but we were prepared for it. We knew what to expect from last year.”

Also busy is the staff at Ramada, the host hotel, where rooms are full and food buffet lines move quickly.

“We’re all sold out,” said Yvonne Knox, front desk manager. “We are rockin’ and rollin’.”

Iowa House votes to stop most ‘food shaming’ in schools

DES MOINES — Legislation to keep Iowa school children “full and focused” won unanimous approval in the Iowa House on Thursday.

Supporters said the bill would end most “food shaming,” or denying school lunches to children whose parents owe the school for those meals. It was approved 96-0.

The bill “is good for the children of Iowa,” said Rep. Kirsten Running-Marquardt, D-Cedar Rapids. “It makes clear to all public schools that current and future Iowa children will not be shamed because their parents are behind in payment.”

Schools will be prohibited from posting names or otherwise identifying students whose parents owe money for school meals. In some cases, schools have required those students to sit together at table separate from classmates, do chores to pay for meals or denied participation in school activities, lawmakers said.

Ensuring that students eat is important, Running-Marquardt said, because “we know that if a child is hungry, it affects their ability to learn.”

MCO fixes

Lawmakers also approved a Medicaid managed care organization bill, 97-0, to address what Rep. Dave Heaton, R-Mount Pleasant, called “some bumps in the system.”

An amendment he offered would require MCOs to pay claims within the time specified in the contract. It directs the Department of Human Services to use standardized Medicaid provider enrollment forms and credentialing standards. It also addresses appeals and reviews and court-ordered services.

Also Thursday:

  • The House voted 97-0 to approve House File 2312 to require the Department of Public Safety to implement a plan to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits submitted to the state crime lab. It requires the processing time be reduced to 90 days from the current six-month backlog of about 1,000 untested kits.

Although she voted for the bill, Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines, called it “mean-spirited” because the Legislature has inadequately funded the crime lab.

  • The House approved a bill to schedule school bond referendums at the same time as general elections in November.
  • Gov. Kim Reynolds signed bill giving Iowa school districts a 1 percent increase in state aid — about $67 per student.

The $32 million boost in state funding for K-12 schools, signed by Reynolds on Wednesday, will increase the per-pupil investment from the current $6,664 to $6,731 for fiscal 2019.

At 1 percent, 183 of the state’s 333 school districts will be on the budget guarantee that means the state will backfill property taxes.

Legislators also agreed to make a one-year commitment to appropriating $11.2 million for busing students to and from school and to also devote $2.8 million to addressing an inequity in per-pupil funding.

  • A bill to extend the 1 percent sales tax to support school infrastructure and property tax relief until 2050 advanced in the House Education Committee.

The extension of the sales tax would put $16 billion in the Secure an Advanced Vision for Education — or SAVE — fund by 2050, supporters said.

Local districts use the tax to pay for physical plant and equipment improvements, educational and recreation programs and other authorized infrastructure projects.

Kevin E. Schmidt Quad-City Times 

Cedar Falls' AJ Green (4) gets in under the basket for a shot past Valley, West Des Moines's Derek Emelifeonwu (44) during the IHSAA State Basketball Class 4A semifinal game at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines Thursday, March 8, 2018.

Cuts expected as Waterloo fails to approve budget

WATERLOO — Major differences between Mayor Quentin Hart and a majority of his City Council have left the city without a budget for the coming year.

Waterloo now faces the prospect of failing to adopt a budget and tax rate by the March 15 deadline required by state law.

That would force the city to keep its current level of tax collection in the fiscal year starting July 1, prompting significant cuts to city services due to higher personnel costs and lost revenue sources.

“You’re going to be pushing $1.5 million to $2 million that has to be cut,” said Chief Financial Officer Michelle Weidner. “There will be significant curtailment of services. There’ll have to be.”

Hart said there’s no way to avoid cutting numerous city staff positions, and it will be impossible to avoid reducing police and fire service levels given those departments represent more than 80 percent of the city’s general fund operating budget.

“If that is the level of service that council would like to see, the majority, then it has to be honored,” Hart said. “Folks need to say exactly what they want to see gone, and then you have to answer to the public for it.”

Earlier this week Hart proposed a spending plan that would have kept total tax collection flat, raised the tax rate from $17.60 to $17.76 per $1,000 of value, and — due to a change in how residential property is taxed — resulted in a 1.4 percent cut in homeowner tax bills.

Council members Steve Schmitt, Bruce Jacobs, Chris Shimp and Margaret Klein voted against that proposal Thursday because it included a half-percent increase in the city’s current 3 percent gas and electric utility franchise fee, failed to reduce the tax rate and projected more state tax replacement revenue than pending legislation would provide.

Councilman Pat Morrissey joined them in voting against Hart’s budget because it left two firefighter positions vacant.

Klein, Schmitt, Jacobs and Shimp then approved a budget calling for the tax rate to fall to $17.17 and eliminating the $450,000 additional revenue from the franchise fee increase and another $450,000 in state property tax replacement revenue.

Klein and Jacobs said the franchise fee was a “regressive tax” that would hurt the city’s ability to grow.

Morrissey, Sharon Juon and Jerome Amos Jr. voted against that proposal, which would have forced the city to slash nearly $2.8 million from its budget next year.

Hart promptly vetoed the adopted budget, saying the deep cuts would “impede the city of Waterloo from adequately providing the level of services necessary and deserved for the citizens of Waterloo.”

He said being stuck with the current year’s budget, which still raises the tax rate to about $17.74, was better than the cuts prompted by the budget the council members approved.

Morrissey offered a proposal to maintain public safety, lower the tax rate to $17.40 and dig deeper into city reserve funds. But he continued to support the franchise fee increase and added a 5 percent fee hike for every general fund fee the city collects.

That proposal was rejected 4-3 along the same voting lines.

Council members continued to debate taxes and budget philosophies as the meeting stretched into its fourth hour. They adjourned after it was apparent no compromise was available.

“It is a philosophical difference; it’s just that simple,” said Schmitt, noting he believed the public elected the current council to start cutting taxes.

“This council is the council that’s going to make changes in how we do business,” he said. “I believe and I think other people believe this is how systemic change is done, and I think that’s what we’re going to do.”