Progress at Korea peace talks overshadowed by gloom facing both leaders back home

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

TODAY:

  • The choreographed bonhomie of the South Korean president's visit to North Korea's capital has been accompanied by real progress at the negotiating table, and an apparent breakthrough in efforts to stop Kim's nuclear weapons programs.
  • Going undercover and assuming a fake identity is not regular CBC News policy, but reporter Dave Seglins describes how it was used to research a story on Ticketmaster and scalping.
  • Athletes and anti-doping experts are sending Russia an angry message on the eve of the possible reinstatement of Rusada, the body that oversaw the Kremlin's massive cheating scheme for the London and Sochi Olympics.

Korea peace talks

The welcome was warm — Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un indulging in an inter-Korea bear hug on the airport tarmac, then cruising down Pyongyang's boulevards crammed together in a Mercedes sunroof opening, waving happily at the well-organized crowds.  

But the choreographed bonhomie of the South Korean president's visit to North Korea's capital has been accompanied by real progress at the negotiating table, and an apparent breakthrough in efforts to stop Kim's nuclear weapons programs.

Reuters

At a news conference this morning — day two of a planned three-day visit — the leaders announced a sweeping agreement to improve relations between the North and South. They pledged to build new roads, eliminate guard posts, stop military drills, increase trade and tourism, and even make a joint bid for the 2032 Summer Olympics.

All of which was overshadowed by Kim's promise to allow international inspectors to observe the "permanent" shut down of a missile testing site, and an offer to mothball the North's prime nuclear complex — if America agrees to "corresponding measures."

"The world is going to see how this divided nation is going to bring about a new future on its own," Kim told the assembled dignitaries.

Reuters

Moon went a step further, saying the deal will  turn the Korean peninsula into a "land of peace without nuclear weapons and nuclear threats."

That might be overly optimistic, given that it was just two days ago that the UN Security Council was told that Kim's past denuclearization pledges have resulted in zero changes to the North's weapons program.

But the rapid thaw does provide Moon and Kim with something that has been in very short supply — good news.

Earlier this month, Moon's approval rating fell below 50 per cent for the first time since he took power in May 2017. It's a drop that must worry him, given that it stood at 83 per cent after his first summit with Kim in April.

The reason is the economy.

Reuters

Job growth in South Korea is slumping and unemployment is at an eight year high. A 20 per cent surge in housing prices in Seoul has many young Koreans worried that they will never be able to afford a place of their own.

And North Korea's "Supreme Leader" is dealing with far deeper economic anxieties. Earlier this year, after U.S. sanctions choked off foreign aid and helped destabilize the state rationing system, Kim turned away from a policy that called for the parallel development of nukes and the economy. The drive to improve the daily lives of North Koreans is now his regime's top priority; something that Pyongyang-watchers see reflected in the dictator's media appearances, with far more factory and farm tours, and far fewer photo-ops with military hardware.

And after the failure of most crops this summer due to a prolonged drought, there is even more pressure on the North Korean regime to find a way to feed its people.

Moon's strategy of engagement with the North is about the only thing the South Koreans like about his government. And they are even warming to Kim.

Reuters

A Gallup Korea poll last March found that just 10 per cent of Southerners had a favourable view of the North Korean leader, with 83 per cent disapproving and 64 per cent expressing a belief his regime would "never" give up its nukes.

Those numbers flipped following the April summit, with 78 per cent of South Koreans suddenly saying that they found Kim "generally" or "very" trustworthy.

By summer a bit of that euphoria had worn off, but Kim is still viewed more favourably than other neighbouring leaders like China's Xi Jinping or Japan's Shinzo Abe.

All the more reason for the Moon/Kim bromance to continue.

At today's press conference, Kim said that he intends to travel to Seoul in "the near future."

It would be the first ever-visit by a North Korean leader.

Undercover in Vegas

Reporter Dave Seglins went undercover in Las Vegas recently for an investigative story. Here's what it was like, and what he discovered:

Going undercover and assuming a fake identity is not regular CBC News policy.

In exceptional cases, however, our bosses will approve covert methods if that's the only way to get to the heart of a story and all other avenues have been exhausted.

And so it was that this summer I was wired up with hidden cameras to get inside an international ticket industry conference in Las Vegas.

Reuters

It was a last resort, after Ticketmaster, the world's biggest box office company, rebuffed months of requests for interviews.

We'd learned Ticketmaster planned to have a sales booth at Ticket Summit 2018 at Caesars Palace, flogging a new program and recruiting scalpers (which seemed a little strange, since the company has publicly professed to be against mass scalping, although it now allows people to resell tickets on its own website).

Senior CBC managers approved our plan. We registered a camera crew to attend, but were told we'd only be allowed on the tradeshow floor — not inside the closed-door sessions.

So, I did something I've never done before. I pretended to be a scalper (or "ticket broker," as the pros prefer to be called). I signed up online, providing the name "David Geoffrey" of the fictitious DGS Promotions of Toronto.  

They sent me an email approval, took my $800 US fee, and I was welcomed inside … without security or attendees knowing I was wired with a hidden microphone and video camera.

The footage was grainy and dark. Sometimes the equipment failed. And there was the constant nervous worry that someone might catch on that I wasn't who I claimed to be — or that they'd spot the lens of my hidden camera.

But in the end, we captured an unprecedented glimpse inside the secretive, high-tech world of industrial-scale scalping.

And we discovered that Ticketmaster, the world's biggest box office company (owned by Live Nation, the world's largest concert promoter), was not just co-sponsoring the conference. A sales team was actively recruiting big-time resellers as the company develops a program aimed at profiting from the scalping of its own tickets.

It's a story of trickery that would never have been exposed without a little deception of our own. You can watch it tonight on The National on CBC Television and streamed online, and read the feature on the website.

Rusada unforgiven

Russia has not been forgiven.

That's the loud and angry message that athletes and anti-doping experts are sending on the eve of the possible reinstatement of the Russian Anti-Doping Agency (Rusada), the body that oversaw the Kremlin's massive cheating scheme for the London and Sochi Olympics.

CBC

Late last week, the World Anti-Doping Agency served notice that it intends to welcome Rusada back to the fold when its executive committee meets in the Seychelles tomorrow.

But now that decision seems in doubt, following an intense backlash from WADA members and the world's athletes.

Yesterday, 13 leading anti-doping agencies — including those of the U.S., Canada and the U.K. — signed an open letter accusing the world body of "moving the goalposts" and delivering a message that "doping is tolerated."

Seven people on WADA's 17-member athletes' commission also issued their own statement expressing dismay at the proposed reinstatement, calling it a "a devastating blow to clean athletes and clean sport."

Former Canadian Olympian Beckie Scott resigned from WADA's Compliance Review Committee on Saturday in frustration.

Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press

The Russian agency has been banned since November 2015, after the revelation of a performance-enhancing drug program that involved 1,000 athletes across 30 sports. The program was under the direct supervision of the country's anti-doping lab and officials at the highest reaches of the government.

The International Olympic Committee welcomed Russia back after the conclusion of last winter's Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the country's athletes were forced to compete under a neutral flag.

But forgiveness from WADA has been a stickier problem, since Russia has refused to meet two key conditions of its "Roadmap to Compliance":

  • Their public acceptance of the report written by Canadian lawyer Richard McLaren that detailed the scale of the corruption.
  • Allowing full access to past athlete samples and tests.

WADA has been trying to broker a compromise, allowing the Russians to agree with the conclusions of a different report and provide access to a select number of samples rather than all their testing data.

File/The Canadian Press

The proposals "are grounded in pragmatism and are nuanced interpretations of the Roadmap in order to bring matters to a conclusion," WADA explained in a news release last weekend. "The goal of having clean Russian athletes competing under verifiable standards was never going to be achieved without small degrees of movement on both sides," the statement added.

But that was before the revolt reached the executive ranks.

Yesterday, WADA's vice-president Linda Helleland announced that she will vote against lifting Russia's ban. (The Norwegian politician is widely believed to be angling for the agency's top job.)

And other voices continue to weigh in.

Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of Moscow's anti-doping lab and the scandal's principle whistleblower, has written an op-ed for USA Today in which he rejects all talk of compromise.

"WADA must not fall prey to manipulation and false assertions from the Ministry [of Sport], the same arm of the Kremlin that facilitated the doping program and asserted false compliance," says Rodchenkov. "To do so would be nothing short of a catastrophe for clean sport."

Reuters

​Iñaki Gomez, the retired Canadian race walker who now chairs the IAAF's Athletes' Commission, is circulating his own open letter slamming the anti-doping body's position.

"One thing that the Russian doping scandal has highlighted is WADA's limited powers, their inability to sanction a country that so blatantly chose to break the rules," the Vancouver resident writes. "Russia's state-supported doping system was the biggest sporting scandal of all time and, while we all want to move on from it, certain steps must be taken to re-establish integrity in sport, before we can.

"For many, including myself, this means ensuring those responsible for Russia's egregious violations of sport integrity accept responsibility."

A few words on ... 

A middle-aged frenzy on Parliament Hill.

Cameron Spencer/Getty Images/File

Quote of the moment

"I don't have an attorney general."

- U.S. President Donald Trump  rips Jeff Sessions in a televised interview, heightening speculation that he intends to fire the former senator and replace him with someone who will put the brakes on Robert Mueller's Russia probe.

CBC

What The National is reading

Today in history

Sept. 19, 1984: Cruising on the 'Popeboat'

The end of Pope John Paul II's 11-day visit to Canada is marked with a special transportation treat — a papal barge ride down Ottawa's Rideau Canal. The "Popeboat" featured a large cross, floral arrangements and bulletproof glass. Some 250,000 people lined the banks to watch the Bishop of Rome smile and wave his way down to Parliament Hill.

Sign up here and have The National Today newsletter delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.

Please send your ideas, news tips, rants, and compliments to thenationaltoday@cbc.ca. ​