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US, North Korea offer dueling accounts of talks breakdown

HANOI, Vietnam — The U.S. and North Korea offered contradictory accounts Thursday of why the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un broke down, though both pointed to punishing American sanctions as a sticking point in the high-stakes nuclear negotiation.

President Trump, who returned to the White House on Thursday night, said before leaving Hanoi that the talks collapsed because North Korea's leader insisted that all the sanctions the U.S. has imposed on Pyongyang be lifted without the North firmly committing to eliminate its nuclear arsenal.

But North Korea challenged that account, insisting it had asked only for partial sanctions relief in exchange for shutting down its main nuclear complex. Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho commented on the talks during an abruptly scheduled middle-of-the-night news conference after Trump was in the air.

Ri said the North was also ready to offer in writing a permanent halt of the country's nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and Washington had wasted an opportunity that "may not come again." He said the North's position won't change even if the United States offers to resume another round of dialogue.

Later, a senior U.S. official involved in the negotiations offered some clarification, saying the North wanted all sanctions, except for those involving weapons sales and transfers, to be lifted in exchange for the dismantlement of parts of the Yongbyon nuclear site. The official was not authorized to discuss the negotiations publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Trump, the official said, challenged the North Koreans to offer more or "go all in," but Kim would not agree.

Trump made no mention of the disagreement as he addressed U.S. troops during a stopover at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Alaska, though White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said he was aware of Ri's comments.

Instead, Trump focused on U.S. military might and offered a broad warning to U.S. enemies.

"America does not seek conflict, but if we are forced to defend ourselves we will fight and we will win in an overwhelming fashion," he declared.

Earlier on Thursday in Hanoi, Trump had told reporters the North had demanded a full removal of sanctions in exchange for shutting the Yongbyon nuclear facility. Trump said that there had been a proposed agreement "ready to be signed." However, he said after the summit was cut short, "Sometimes you have to walk."

Meanwhile, Trump said Thursday he takes the North Korean leader "at his word" that Kim was unaware of the alleged mistreatment of an American college student who died after being imprisoned there.

Kim "tells me he didn't know about it, and I will take him at his word," Trump said in Vietnam.

The president's comments about the Otto Warmbier case called to mind other times when he chose to believe autocrats over his own intelligence agencies, including siding with the Saudi royal family regarding the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and supporting Russia's Vladimir Putin's denials that he interfered with the 2016 election.

The demise of the talks came after Trump and Kim had appeared ready to inch toward normalizing relations between their still technically warring nations.

The American leader had dampened expectations that the negotiations would yield an agreement by North Korea to take concrete steps toward ending a nuclear program that Pyongyang likely sees as its strongest security guarantee. However, Kim, when asked whether he was ready to denuclearize, had said, "If I'm not willing to do that I won't be here right now."

But hours after both nations had seemed hopeful of a deal of some kind, the two leaders' motorcades roared away from the downtown Hanoi summit site within minutes of each other, lunch canceled and signing ceremony scuttled. The president's closing news conference was hurriedly moved up, and he departed for Washington more than two hours ahead of schedule.

The breakdown denied Trump a much-needed triumph amid growing political turmoil back home and the path forward now appears uncertain. Trump insisted his relations with Kim remain warm, but he did not commit to having a third summit with the North Korean leader, saying a possible next meeting "may not be for a long time."

Ri's comments reflected the North Koreans' disappointment, though there was a notable absence of bluster or threats by either side.

Both Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said significant progress had been made in Hanoi, but the two sides appeared to be galaxies apart on an agreement that would live up to stated American goals.

"Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn't do that," Trump told reporters.

Kim, he said, appeared willing to close his country's main nuclear facility, the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, if the sanctions were lifted. But that would leave him with missiles, warheads and weapon systems, Pompeo said. There are also suspected hidden nuclear fuel production sites around the country.

"We couldn't quite get there today," Pompeo said, minimizing what seemed to be a chasm between the two sides.


President Donald Trump speaks as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on during a news conference after a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, on Thursday in Hanoi.

Lowell lease for AEA facilities to cost Waterloo Schools $15,000 per month

CEDAR FALLS — Waterloo Community Schools will pay $15,000 per month for Lowell Elementary’s temporary move to former area education agency facilities.

Central Rivers AEA’s Board of Directors on Wednesday approved a five-month lease with the district for the two vacant buildings.

Lowell students started classes there the same day after a portion of the school’s roof collapsed a week earlier. The incident happened following a heavy snowfall.

The lease agreement runs from Feb. 21 to July 21. It includes 38,566 square feet of the AEA’s former conference center, at 3712 Cedar Heights Drive, and 27,584 square feet of the former special education building, at 3706 Cedar Heights Drive.

Lowell school gears up for move

CEDAR FALLS — Former offices of Central Rivers Area Education Agency became a hub of activity Friday as plans to relocate Lowell Elementary School moved forward.

Plans are underway to seek bids and complete repairs to Lowell’s roof, at 1628 Washington St. in Waterloo. Officials expect the school to be ready for students and staff to move back in time for classes in the fall.

The board also approved amending contracts with unionized employees to boost wages next year and extend the agreement for the following year. The same wage increases will be provided for administrators and non-union support staff.

Officials said Central Rivers’ budget for the current year, a higher than usual increase in state funding for the next fiscal year and a desire to boost the number of employees in its insurance pool led to seeking the adjustment. For unionized employees, that means increased base wages, movement on the salary schedule and a $20 boost to health insurance premiums for the fiscal year starting July 1.

The 350-member Education Association will receive a 2.25 percent total package increase, including $360 added to base wages. That brings it to $34,445 per year. The 107-member Communication Workers of America Local 7170 will receive a 2.23 percent total package increase with a 20-cent boost to base hourly wages.

Administrators and non-union support staff will receive a 2.25 total package increase for salaries and the $20 health insurance premium boost, as well. All four groups will receive a total 1.7 percent raise in wages and benefits for the 2020-21 fiscal year. That largely matches the increases that had originally been negotiated for 2019-20.

In other business, the board approved:

  • A $42,524 media van purchase from Dan Deery Motors in Waterloo, the lowest of two bids by about $3,500. “That’s for the cost of two (van) bids and it does include trade,” said Central Rivers spokeswoman Beth Strike. The two Dodge Ram ProMaster 2500 cargo vans cost $54,524 with a trade-in allowance of $12,000.
  • Low bids for upgrading fire alarms in two buildings. That included a $30,908 bid from Blazek Electric in Mason City for the Clear Lake office and a $28,882 bid from Marshalltown Alarm for the Marshalltown office. The one other bid for each project was $32,840 and $31,032, respectively. “The work is to be completed this summer on those,” said Strike.

Iowa universities face rising mental health needs

AMES — Demand for mental health services on college campuses nationwide has spiked over the past decade, and the same is true at Iowa’s public universities, according to a report presented to the Board of Regents.

Compounding the increase in students seeking help at the University of Iowa, Iowa State University and the University of Northern Iowa is the degree of services they seek. More students are arriving on campus already using counseling or psychiatric services they started during middle or high school.

“We see a higher severity of student needs around mental health, and definitely that increased demand and static resources has created a challenge to expand services on our campuses,” ISU Assistant Vice President for Student Health and Wellness Erin Baldwin told the board, meeting Wednesday on the Ames campus.

Boosting support for student health services is paramount, according the regents’ mental health report, in it’s “inextricably linked to student academic success, retention and persistence to graduation.”

Research presented Wednesday shows stress and anxiety are the top factors affecting undergraduate academic performance at Iowa’s three public universities, according to National College Health Assessment data. Also making the top 10 are sleep difficulties and depression, with 23 percent of students at ISU reporting sleep-related issues and 20 percent at the UI reporting depression-related struggles.

All three campuses are addressing the growing mental health needs with a variety of initiatives and programs.

The UI, for example, is adding suicide-prevention training to its slate of requirements for new students. Every incoming first-year student will be required to take the training that will, among other things, provide information on how to spot signs a person is suicidal and help, according to UI Counseling Service Director Barry Schreier.

Suicide-related indicators jumped on the UI campus, according to the most-recent 2018 National College Health Assessment report. The percentage of students reporting self-harm in the past 12 months rose from 5.7 percent in 2017 to 9 percent; the percentage who reported seriously considering suicide spiked from 8.4 percent to 13.4 percent; and the rate of those who actually attempted suicide more than doubled from 1.4 to 4 percent.

Additionally, the UI is providing “student in distress” training for faculty and staff and increasing its efforts to embed counselors across campus — currently with six locations, including residence halls and colleges.

ISU has rolled out several initiatives and campaigns, including programming for “Body Image and Eating Disorder Awareness Week,” which started Monday. It has employed a Crisis Text Line and tapped a suicide prevention grant.

It added five practitioners, a mental health advocate on the ISU police force and a well-being space in the library.

UNI has added self-care workshops; liaison counselors for international, transgender and minority students; and “student in distress” and companion guides.

Mental health care groups balk at lawmakers’ funding solution

DES MOINES — An attempt by state lawmakers to find funding for mental health care services is receiving a lukewarm reception from the Iowa counties and regions that deliver the care.

The proposal presented Thursday at the Capitol would provide short-term relief for the costs by increasing allowable fund balances from 25 percent to 30 percent for budget years starting July of 2021.

“We understand what is the intention of the bill, to try to provide the counties with additional resources,” said Jamie Cashman, a lobbyist for organizations representing Iowa county governments and county supervisors, said Thursday. “We just question what the effect would be.”

County officials and leaders of the multi-county mental health care regions in Iowa have been asking the state for ways to help them adequately fund the services they deliver. Their requests have included more state funding and the elimination of the cap on the amount of local property taxes they can raise for mental health care services.

Lawmakers have balked at those requests, instead proposing the fund balance option.

“I don’t see how by raising this to 30 percent that this would truly help counties and regions,” Cashman said. “We currently have counties and regions that are on the hook for thousands of dollars with (health care providers).”

Amy Campbell, a lobbyist for the Polk County Supervisors, said counties and regions need a long-term funding solution.

“This isn’t a solution for us,” she said. “We have to have that discussion (about long-term funding) and I don’t know where we’re going to have that discussion.”

Rep. Joel Fry, R-Osceola, called the proposal “narrow” in its focus.

“I hear your concerns at the moment, and we will take those under advisement,” Fry said. “This bill will not including anything that is ongoing (funding).”

Fry said the proposal advanced out of an Iowa House subcommittee on Thursday and likely also will advance out of the House’s Health Care Committee.