Category Archives: World

US 'looking for reasons' to pressure Iran: Russia

MOSCOW: Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov today said Washington is “looking for reasons” to pressure Iran on its nuclear programme.
Ryabkov was responding to US Vice President Mike Pence who this week said Washington will “not remain silent on Iran” and called for a replacement to the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement.

“If (the US) is looking for reasons to increase pressure on Iran that have nothing to do with the (nuclear) deal, and that’s how it looks like from what we see, then this is an unworthy method that should not be used by a great power,” Ryabkov said.

The 2015 Iran deal gave Iran sanctions relief in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

“We see no reason whatsoever to change the Iran deal,” he added.

Earlier this week Ryabkov warned Washington against interfering in Iran’s “internal affairs” after US President Donald Trump pledged to help Iranians “take back” their government following protests.

US President Donald Trump tried to ramp up pressure on what he called a “brutal and corrupt regime” in Iran amid anti-government protests in the country this week.

Much of Trump’s response has focused on playing up perceived errors in foreign policy by the Obama administration, including the 2015 Iran deal.

The United States imposed sanctions on five Iranian companies it alleges are working on part of the Islamic republic’s illegal ballistic missile programme.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin linked the measure to recent anti-government protests, arguing that Iran ought to spend more on public welfare than on banned weapons.

Protests over economic problems broke out in Iran’s second largest city Mashhad on December 28 and quickly spread across the country, turning against the regime as a whole.

Tens of thousands of Iranians took to the streets in several cities on Wednesday for pro-regime rallies.

US designates al-Shabab deputy leader as 'global terrorist'

MOGADISHU: The United States government has designated the deputy leader of the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group a “global terrorist.”

A State Department statement says the designation of Abukar Ali Adan blocks any assets of his that are subject to US jurisdiction and prohibits US citizens from making any transactions with him.

The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab is the deadliest Islamic extremist group in Africa. It has been blamed for the October truck bombing in Somalia‘s capital, Mogadishu, that killed 512 people.

Little is publicly known about the reclusive Ali Adan. The US has designated al-Shabab as a foreign terrorist organization, and the Trump administration early last year approved expanded military efforts against the group. More than 30 US drone strikes were carried out against al-Shabab last year.

One tourist killed, 12 injured in air balloon crash in Egypt

CAIRO: A tourist was killed and 12 other people were injured in a hot air balloon crash near Luxor in Egypt on Friday, state-run news agency MENA reported.

The balloon, with tourists from different nationalities and Egyptians onboard, crashed to the west of the city of Luxor, MENA said.

The health ministry said a woman was killed and 12 people injured but gave no other details.

In 2015, at least 19 people, most of them Asian and European tourists, died near Luxor when a hot air balloon caught fire and crashed after a mid-air gas explosion.

Party over for Pak for now as US suspends $1.2bn assistance

The American party is over for Pakistan, for now. Uncle Sam has turned off the music, turned down the lights, and taken down all bells and whistles by suspending more than $ 1 billion in security assistance, all of which will resume only if Pakistan takes ”decisive action” against terror groups that it has long nurtured and harbored.
“We can confirm that we are suspending national security assistance only to Pakistan at this time until the Pakistani government takes decisive action against groups, including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani Network. We consider them to be destabilising the region and also targeting US personnel,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said on Thursday.

Other US officials said suspended assistance includes $ 900 million in Coalition Support Funds (CSF) authorized for 2017, in addition to the $ 255 million in foreign military sales assistance from 2016 that already stands frozen.

Pakistan believes CSF is reimbursement for services and logistics it provides to the US, and not assistance. But there have long been reservations and resentment in Washington about Pakistan stiffing the US both in the reasoning and the billing process relating to CSF, while at the same time providing safe havens to terror groups that attack US troops in Afghanistan.

President Trump is notoriously sensitive to being ripped off by allies, and he made known his pique in a sulfurous New Year’s Day tweet in which he accused Pakistan of “lies and deceit.”

The suspension will not affect civilian aid, US officials said, while repeatedly emphasizing that the move was not permanent and Pakistan could earn it back with action against terror groups.

In fact, the US did not announce suspension of a further $ 255 million in military assistance allotted for fiscal 2017. Deadline for disbursement of that amount is September 30, 2018, and the US is dangling that and other frozen sums as carrots for Pakistan as it spirals into a financial abyss.

Separately, Washington also placed Pakistan, a country that constitutionally discriminates against minorities, including Muslim minorities, on a special watch list “for severe violations of religious freedom.”

The Trump administration’s action comes as a moment of truth for Pakistan, which has reacted with bravado, bluster, fury, and outright lies so far to U.S warnings to change its policy of using terrorism for its professed need for strategic depth against India and roll up terror groups it has nurtured.

Pakistan officials repeatedly lied barefacedly that there were no terror groups on its soil and it was a frontline state fighting terror with sacrifices etc., even as the establishment publicly embraced and attempted to politically mainstream its UN-designated terrorist Hafiz Saeed. Its former military dictator Pervez Musharaf went so far as to praise Saeed and his Lashkar e Taiba while talking up poll alliances with terror groups.

Many other terrorists and terror groups operate with impunity in Pakistan with official patronage. The capture or killing of all major terrorist figures in the world on Pakistani soil, from Osama bin Laden to Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, also gave lie to its claim of not being a safe haven, recalling similar Pakistani falsehoods about not being a nuclear proliferator, a lie that previous US administrations winked at and eventually forgave.

US officials virtually said Pakistan had the suspension of assistance coming because it did not change its policy or behavior despite several missives from Washington, all for its own good. Successive US administrations have now told Pakistan that India is not a threat to the country, while according to regional primacy to New Delhi on account of its size and stability.

“They (Pakistan) may say it’s a surprise, but what is no surprise is that the President has expressed his concerns, Secretary Tillerson has expressed his concerns, as has Secretary Mattis, and I imagine many other government officials having those conversations with Pakistan,” spokesperson Nauert said.

Separately, two other US officials who briefed the media on background characterized the Trump administration’s move as an “incentive” to change policy rather than as a punishment.

“We have not done anything that’s irreversible here. All this funding is available to Pakistan, if they undertake to take the measures that we’ve asked of them,” said one senior administration official.

Much of Pakistan’s public show of bravado appears to stem from domestic politics where each party is out to show its machismo even as its leaders suck up to Washington in private. Some of its leaders and talking heads have gone so far as to demand that Islamabad interdict US supply route to Pakistan.

But the Trump administration appears ready to call that bluff with further punitive action, including at multilateral forums, which could decimate Pakistan’s parlous economy.

Despite its much talked up ties with China and Saudi Arabia neither country has rescued Pakistan from its financial mess, and many Pakistani commentators are now pointing out that Beijing is actually exploiting Pakistan’s vulnerability with its China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project that is aimed at helping China more than Pakistan.

Earlier this week, Pakistan’s central bank announced that it was replacing the dollar with the Chinese yuan for bilateral trade and investment with China. It still needs the dollar though for trade with much of the world.

UN Security Council to meet on Iran protests, at US request

UNITED NATIONS: The UN Security Council is planning an emergency meeting about Iran on Friday, after the US asked the world body to show support for Iran’s anti-government protesters.
With council members divided in their views of the demonstrations that have roiled the Islamic Republic, it’s not yet clear how the discussion will take shape or what might come out of it.

Alma Konurbayeva, a spokeswoman for current council president Kazakhstan, confirmed that Friday afternoon’s meeting is about Iran. The US called on Tuesday for such a session, but council members could insist on a vote before taking up the topic, and it would take nine of the 15 votes to go forward.

“This is a matter of fundamental human rights for the Iranian people, but it is also a matter of international peace and security,” the US envoy, Nikki Haley, said in a statement Thursday night. She added that it would be “telling if any country tries to deny the Security Council from even having this discussion.”

Iran’s interior minister said up to 42,000 people took part in the week of protests and unrest sparked by economic woes. At least 21 people have been killed and hundreds arrested. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people took part in counter-demonstrations Wednesday backing the clerically overseen government, which has accused the US of instigating the protests.

Iran’s prosecutor general, Mohammad Jafar Montazeri, said Thursday that an American CIA official was the ‘main designer’ of the demonstrations. And Iran’s UN envoy, Ambassador Gholamali Khoshroo, complained in a letter to the Security Council president Wednesday that US President Donald Trump’s ‘absurd tweets’ had ‘incited Iranians to engage in disruptive acts.’

Trump’s administration has denied having any hand in the demonstrations, saying they arose completely spontaneously. The CIA declined to comment.

The president’s tweets haven’t called for violence or disruptive acts, but he has commended the protests, expressing “such respect for the people of Iran as they try to take back their corrupt government” and pledging “great support from the United States.” Haley praised the anti-government protesters as brave and said “the U.N. must speak out” to support them.

“The people of Iran are crying out for freedom. All freedom-loving people must stand with their cause,” she said at a news conference Tuesday.

Not all council members see a need to weigh in.

Russia’s US embassy warned Monday against ‘external interference’ in what it views as a domestic issue in the Islamic Republic; the two nations have close ties. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova went on to mock the US call for a UN discussion.

“The US delegation undoubtedly has something to share with the world. For example, Nikki Haley could share the American experience of dispersing protest rallies,” Zakharova said on Facebook Wednesday, mentioning mass arrests during the Occupy Wall Street protests, among other things.

Russia’s and Iran’s UN missions didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment on Friday’s Security Council meeting. Iran isn’t a member.

The Iranian protests have given Trump a fresh avenue to try to muster world opinion against a nation he has decried since he ran for president.

After taking office last year, Trump refused this past fall to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal that lifted some sanctions in return for Iran curbing its nuclear program. Trump said Tehran was getting disproportionate benefits, considering its concessions.

The US imposed new sanctions Thursday on five Iranian entities over their involvement in developing ballistic missiles. While those sanctions were unrelated to the ongoing protests, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said more sanctions “targeting human rights abuses are coming.”

Storm pummels New Zealand's North Island, thousands left without power

WELLINGTON: A huge storm battered New Zealand‘s North Island on Friday, leaving tens of thousands of homes without power and forcing evacuations in low-lying areas. The county’s official meteorology service said the storm, which began on Thursday, would continue to cause havoc as it moved south towards the capital, Wellington.
New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland, was pummelled by two months’ worth of rain in 24 hours, according to the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, prompting authorities to shut major roads and cancel ferry services.

In Kaiaua, a seaside town south of Auckland, local authorities called for residents to immediately evacuate on Friday morning as strong tides submerged land along the coast.

Winds of up to 128 kilometres (79.5 miles) an hour tore off roofs, felled trees and ripped boats from their moorings overnight, according to local media.

More than 20,000 households had been left without power, including 12,000 in Auckland, according to the New Zealand Herald newspaper.

Electricity providers said they were working to urgently fix dozens of separate power outages centering around Auckland.

Air New Zealand said on Twitter that flights could be affected by the bad weather across the country.

The storm was a dramatic interlude in an unusually dry summer period, which has led to drought in many of the country’s farming regions and curbed production of milk, New Zealand’s most lucrative goods export.

North, South Korea to hold talks on Tuesday

SEOUL: Nuclear-armed North Korea on Friday accepted the South’s offer of talks next week, said Seoul’s Unification ministry, which oversees relations with Pyongyang.
The meeting will take place in Panmunjom, the truce village in the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula.

Tensions have been high after the North carried out multiple missile launches in 2017, including a number of ICBMs, and its sixth atomic test, by far its most powerful to date.

The tentative rapprochement comes after the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un warned in his New Year speech that he had a nuclear button on his desk, but at the same time offered Seoul an olive branch, saying Pyongyang could send a team to next month’s Winter Olympics in the South.

Seoul responded with an offer of talks between the two, and earlier this week the hotline between them was restored after being suspended for almost two years.

Late Thursday, the South’s president Moon Jae-In and his US counterpart Donald Trump agreed to delay joint military drills — which always infuriate the North — until after the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang which begin on February 9.

A unification ministry official told AFP that the North faxed a message to Seoul saying it accepted the proposal for talks on Tuesday.

Ministry spokesman Baek Tae-Hyun told journalists that the agenda would include the Pyeongchang Olympics “and the issue of improving inter-Korean relations”.

Pak's ties with China and America not the same: US official

WASHINGTON: The US has appeared unperturbed that its suspension of security aid to Pakistan would bring Islamabad closer to China and insisted that the two relationships are different.
“I believe they (Pakistan) do want to build strong relations with both countries. But what they get from China is not necessarily going to be the same thing to get from the US and vice versa,” a State Department official told reporters.

“We (US) don’t have the capacity to direct state banks and state companies to invest USD 55 billion dollars in Pakistan. But at the same time China does not have the capacity to provide the highest quality military equipment in the world,” the official said.

The official was responding to question that the latest American move would push Pakistan towards China.

“We have no problem with Pakistan and China‘s relationship. China has invested a significant amount and plans to invest significant amount more,” the official said.

“Pakistan is in need of economic development and economic growth. In so far as China’s able to contribute to that that will contribute to Pakistan’s stability and security and economic well-being. And that’s perfectly. That’s totally fine. That’s a good thing,” the official said.

Noting that Pakistan and China have had a longstanding and very strong relationship, the official asserted that that relationship has never come at the expense of US-Pak ties.

“I think Pakistan clearly understands that our relationship and what we bring to the table internationally is different than China. And they shouldn’t want to choose between China and the United States and they do want to build strong relations with both countries,” the State Department official said.

Thieves steal Indian jewels from Venice exhibition

ROME: Thieves on Wednesday stole precious Indian jewels from the famed Al Thani Collection that were on show in a Venetian palace, making off with a brooch and a pair of earrings by mixing in with the crowd on the final day of the exhibition, police said.

The stolen jewels were not the top highlights of the Al Thani Collection, which includes gems dating from the time of the Mughal Empire. But police said they were made of gold, platinum and diamonds and reports estimated their value in the millions of euros.

Venice police said the security alarm went off at around 10am at Venice’s Doge’s Palace and police immediately sealed the area. But the thieves had already made their escape from the museum, known as the Palazzo Ducale and one of Venice’s top tourist destinations. Venice police said the thieves managed to delay the triggering of the alarm system, allowing them to escape.

The Al Thani Collection is a renowned collection of 270 pieces of Indian and Indian-inspired jewellery. Forbes magazine has said “there is no comparable collection on the planet.”

Trump hails potential Korea talks, credits his firm stance

WASHINGTON/SEOUL: US President Donald Trump on Thursday called potential talks between North and South Korea “a good thing” and the South Korean presidency said he had agreed there would be no military drills with South Korea during next month’s Winter Olympics.
South Korea’s Presidential Blue House said Trump told South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in in a telephone call that he hoped inter-Korean talks would lead to good results and that he would send a high-level delegation, including members of his family, to the Winter Olympics, which will be held in South Korea.

In a tweet ahead of the South Korean statement, Trump hailed potential talks between North Korea and South Korea as “a good thing” and took credit for any dialogue after Seoul and Pyongyang this week signalled willingness to speak.

“Does anybody really believe that talks and dialogue would be going on between North and South Korea right now if I wasn’t firm, strong and willing to commit our total ‘might’ against the North,” Trump tweeted, adding that “talks are a good thing!”

Asked about the suspension in drills, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning said: “The Department of Defense supports the president’s decision and what is in the best interest of the (South Korea)-US alliance.” North Korea has for long denounced US-South Korean joint military exercises as preludes to invasion.

US officials had earlier responded coolly to North Korea’s suggestion of talks with the state department saying Pyongyang “might be trying to drive a wedge” between Washington and Seoul.

And the head of US forces in South Korea warned on Thursday against raising hopes over North Korea’s peace overture amid a war of words over North Korea’s development of nuclear tipped missiles capable of hitting the United States.

Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un have exchanged a series of bellicose comments in recent months, raising alarm across the world, with Trump at times dismissing the prospect of a diplomatic solution to a crisis in which both sides have threatened to destroy each other.

In a New Year address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said he was open to dialogue with U.S. ally South Korea and could send a delegation to the Winter Olympics.

Kim also warned that he would push ahead with “mass producing” nuclear warheads in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions and warned that the entire United States was in range of North Korean nuclear missiles and a nuclear button was always on his desk.

Trump responded by mocking Kim as “Little Rocket Man” and saying that his nuclear button was bigger and more powerful and worked.

Seoul answered the North Korean talks overture by proposing high-level talks at a border village next week and on Wednesday, the two Koreas reopened a border hotline that had been closed since February 2016.

The commander of US Forces Korea (USFK), General Vincent Brooks, said the overture was a strategy to divide five countries – the United States, South Korea, China, Japan and Russia – to reach its goal of being accepted as a “nuclear capable” nation, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

“We must keep our expectations at the appropriate level,” he was quoted as saying in an address to a university in Seoul.

“We can’t ignore that reality,” he said, adding it was important for the United States and South Korea to maintain an “ironclad and razor sharp” alliance.

The five countries mentioned by Brooks were involved in years of on-again-off-again “six-party talks” with North Korea aimed at resolving the crisis, negotiations which eventually fizzled when North Korea pulled out.

North Korea says its weapons are necessary to counter US aggression. The United States stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday the security crisis posed by North Korea to Japan was the most perilous since World War Two and he vowed to bolster defences.

On Tuesday, Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said Washington would not take any talks between North and South Korea seriously if they did not contribute to denuclearizing North Korea.

She also said Washington was hearing reports that Pyongyang might be preparing to fire another missile and warned of even tougher steps in response if it did so.

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