Posts Tagged ‘British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’

UK pushes for trade talks to solve Northern Ireland border issue — “There’s a sense of jumping into the dark here.” — Johnson and Coveney publicly disagree on a series of issues during early morning press conference

November 17, 2017


Image result for Simon Coveney, boris johnson, photos

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson


DUBLIN (AFP) – British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson on Friday called on Brussels to move on to post-Brexit trade talks to solve the Irish border issue, despite a warning from the EU that London still had work to do.

“The issues of the Northern Irish border and how it works are intellectually, intimately bound up with the questions of the customs union, the single market, Britain’s relationship with those.

“Those questions have been reserved by the (European) Commission for study in stage two of the negotiations. I think logically now is the time to proceed to stage two,” Johnson said at a Dublin press conference with his Irish counterpart Simon Coveney.

Deciding the future of Britain’s only land border with the European Union has been a top priority for Brussels, with all sides determined to avoid a return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“We need to get on with this, but our view is that you can only really crack the problem in the context of a wider understanding of how the new customs arrangements are going to work,” said Johnson.

– May under pressure? –

The foreign minister’s comments followed a warning from European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who on Friday said Britain must do “more work” before moving onto trade talks.

“The clock is ticking. I hope that we will be able to come to an agreement as far as the divorce is concerned at the December council (summit) but work has still to be done,” Juncker told reporters as he arrived at an EU summit in Gothenburg, Sweden.

British Prime Minister Theresa May and her Brexit minister, David Davis, are also in Gothenburg for the ?European Social Summit.

After London failed to convince Brussels last month that sufficient progress had been made in divorce talks to move onto negotiating a future trade deal, Davis on Friday called on the EU to compromise.

“Surprise, surprise: nothing comes for nothing in this world,” he told the BBC in Gothenburg.

Various EU countries “can see there are big, big benefits in the future deal that we’re talking about,” he added.

Arriving at the summit, May said she hoped the EU would respond “positively” to British proposals so that negotiators could move on to discuss future ties.

The prime minister is reportedly under pressure from Johnson and fellow Brexiteer Michael Gove, Britain’s environment minister, who according to a leaked memo have tried to instruct her on how to run the exit negotiations.


Boris Johnson visits Simon Coveney in Dublin… and they’re already disagreeing in early morning press conference

Johnson and Coveney publicly disagree on a series of issues during early morning press conference

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson6
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney and UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Boris Johnson
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

A massive gulf between Ireland and the UK in the Brexit negotiations was in clear evidence as Boris Johnson arrived in Dublin today.

The UK’s Foreign Secretary and Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney publicly disagreed on a series of issues during an early morning press conference.

In particular Mr Johnson said the future of the border region cannot be decided until the second phase of the Brexit talks.

Asked to offer up even a hypothetical vision of how a ‘frictionless border’ might work, Mr Johnson said the British government’s view “is you can only really crack the problem” in the second phase of the talks.

Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)66
Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)

By contrast Mr Coveney said: “The parameters [of how a post-Brexit border might work] need to be a lot clearer and more credible before we go on to phase two.”

The European Council will meet next month to decide whether the talks should move past negotiations on the so-called divorce bill, citizens’ rights and the Irish question.

Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)66
Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)

Mr Coveney admitted there is “an impasse” in relation to the border and urged the UK government to consider keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union.

The minister said everybody wants the talks to progress but “we are not in a place right now that allows us to do that”.

Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)66
Boris Johnson visits Dublin (Photo: Gerry Mooney)

Mr Coveney also called for a lengthy transitional period of up to five years to allow businesses adjust to life after Brexit.

This was rejected by Mr Johnson who said he was unaware that IReland support “such a long transitional period”.

He said the “maximum reassurance” for companies and people can be provided “in a much shorter timescale”.

Mr Johnson said Brexit should “proceed as fast as possible”.

Despite the clear diplomatic split emerging between Dublin and London, Mr Johnson did reiterate that the UK has “no interest whatsoever in seeing a hard border”.

But Mr Coveney responded that the challenge is to find “a credible roadmap to get us there”.

“There’s a sense of jumping into the dark here,” he said.

Separately Taoiseach Leo Varadkar is meeting British Prime Minister Theresa May in Gothenburg today.

Online Editors


US ‘will not turn blind eye’ as Iran supplies missiles

November 8, 2017
JEDDAH: The US accused Iran on Tuesday of breaking international law by supplying ballistic missiles fired at Saudi Arabia, and said the US would “not turn a blind eye to these serious violations.”
“By providing these types of weapons to the Houthi militias in Yemen, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps is violating two UN resolutions simultaneously,” said Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN.
“We encourage the UN and international partners to take the necessary action to hold the Iranian regime accountable.”
Iran supplied missiles fired at Makkah in July, and most recently at Riyadh last Saturday. Both were launched from Yemen. The Houthis boasted on Tuesday that they had ballistic missiles with a range of 1,500km and threatened to attack more cities in Saudi Arabia and the UAE.
Col. Aziz Rashed, an army spokesman with a Houthi-allied unit, warned travelers to stay away from Saudi and UAE airports. “All airports, ports, border crossings and areas of any importance to Saudi Arabia and the UAE will be a direct target of our weapons,” a Houthi spokesman told reporters in Sanaa, according to The Associated Press.
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Haley has accused Iran in the past of illegal arms deals and military support in Yemen, Lebanon and Syria, and has repeatedly called on the UN Security Council to take a tougher stance.
Under the UN Security Council resolution that enshrines the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, Tehran is prohibited from supplying, selling or transferring weapons outside the country unless approved in advance by the Security Council.
A separate UN resolution on Yemen bans the supply of weapons to militia chief Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, two Houthi commanders, Yemen’s former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, his son, and “those acting on their behalf or at their direction.”
Washington’s options now are to ask the Security Council’s 15-member Yemen sanctions committee to blacklist individuals or groups, or to seek a new Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on Iran. The latter is likely to be vetoed by Russia, according to a Reuters report.
In a phone conversation on Monday night, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson that the involvement of the Iranian regime in supplying Houthi militias with missiles “is considered a direct military aggression by the Iranian regime and may be considered an act of war against the Kingdom.”
Johnson condemned the missile launch against Riyadh last Saturday and the deliberate targeting of civilians, and said Britain stood with Saudi Arabia in confronting security threats.
The missile launch was “most likely a war crime,” Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday, and was carried out by the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir said. “It was an Iranian missile launched by Hezbollah from territory occupied by the Houthis in Yemen,” Al-Jubeir said in an interview with CNN on Monday.
In the US, Pentagon spokesman Marine Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway said Saudi Arabia had exposed Iran’s “malign role in Yemen” and its provision of dangerous missile systems to Houthi militants. “We continue to maintain strong defense ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and work together on common security priorities to include combat operations against violent extremist organizations, and neutralizing Iran’s destabilizing influence in the Middle East region,” he said.
In Riyadh, Canadian Ambassador Dennis Horak condemned the missile attack on the city. “This attack constitutes a serious escalation in the conflict and poses a growing risk to regional stability and security,” he said in a written statement to Arab News.
“The intentional targeting of civilians cannot be tolerated and Canada calls on the Houthi rebels and their supporters to refrain from such indiscriminate attacks against civilians in both Yemen and Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, said: “It is clear that the leadership in Tehran is shipping more advanced missiles to Houthi militias with the specific aim of targeting major Saudi cities, such as Riyadh.
“Iran is already banned from proliferating advanced missiles to regional terrorist organizations like Lebanese Hezbollah, but they continue to move these deadly weapon systems which are ultimately used as a terror weapon to target civilians. The Houthi militias are copying Hezbollah’s playbook. The only real solution is to neutralize the problem at its source — the missile shipping and manufacturing centers in Iran.”
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei and Revolutionary Guards Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani “care little about UN Security Council Resolutions where they can count on the Russian veto,” Shahbandar said.
“The only language they truly understand is that of power and deterrence. They must be made to believe that they have crossed a red line and that any further strategic missile strikes will be met with a crippling response.”

Johnson accused of jeopardising case of Briton in Iran jail

November 7, 2017


© Free Nazanin campaign/AFP/File | Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, an Iranian-British citizen, is being held in Iran on charges of taking part in a “sedition movement” of protests

LONDON (AFP) – British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson faced calls to quit Tuesday over a “slip of the tongue” that Iran is now using to partly justify further charges against an Iranian-British national detained in Tehran.

Johnson told a parliamentary committee last week that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe was training journalists in Iran when she was arrested for alleged sedition last year — something her employer and her family insist is incorrect.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe appeared in court on Saturday to face further charges, brought in early October, that carry a 16-year jail term.

The Iranian judiciary issued an online article on Sunday saying that Johnson’s comments proved that she wasn’t on holiday, as claimed, backing the justification for new charges.

A Foreign Office spokesman said Johnson’s comments may have been “misrepresented” and provided “no justifiable basis” for additional charges.

Johnson was due to call Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Tuesday in a bid to defuse the situation.

Richard Ratcliffe, the detainee’s husband, told AFP that Johnson “made a factual error, and then it felt more ominous on Sunday when that factual error was being used to justify her detention.”

He said that Johnson’s phone call to his Iranian counterpart was “not good enough” and that he needed to officially correct the record to send a message to Iran’s judiciary.

“He made a statement in parliament that’s being manipulated; another statement in parliament is the natural way of clarifying that.”

He added that Saturday’s court appearance had left his wife “very stressed and upset”.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who works for the Thomson Reuters Foundation (TRF), the media organisation’s philanthropic arm, was arrested at Tehran airport on April 3, 2016 after visiting family.

Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards accused her of having taken part in the “sedition movement” of protests that followed the disputed 2009 re-election of then hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Zaghari-Ratcliffe denies the charges.

She is serving a five-year jail sentence in Tehran but last month was presented with extra charges carrying a possible 16-year prison term, her employers said.

TRF said those charges were that she had joined organisations specifically working to overthrow the regime, referring to her media charity work in London, and that she once attended a demonstration outside the Iranian embassy in Britain’s capital.

– Pressure to quit –

Following Johnson’s comments, TRF chief executive Monique Villa urged him to “immediately correct the serious mistake”.

“She is not a journalist and has never trained journalists at the TRF where she is project manager,” Villa said in a statement.

“She was in Iran on holiday to show her daughter Gabriella to her grandparents.”

Emily Thornberry, foreign affairs spokeswoman for the main opposition Labour Party, wrote to Johnson urging him to quit if his actions have damaged Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s prospects of freedom.

“I hope and trust you will take full responsibility for that,” she said in a letter published by Politics Home.

Britain’s International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told Sky News television that he did not believe Johnson had made “a serious gaffe”.

Fox said the situation was being used as an attempt to discredit Johnson without thinking of the possible consequences.

“The most important thing is to do what he’s doing today: to make very clear to his Iranian counterpart that this would not be any excuse for extending an illegal detention,” Fox also told BBC radio.

“We all make slips of the tongue. I think we’ve got to be very careful that we’re not over-reacting to this.

“He will determine with the Iranian foreign minister exactly the best way to ensure that she can be released.”


‘Proud’ Britain marks Balfour anniversary with Netanyahu

November 2, 2017


© POOL/AFP/File | Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on a five-day visit to Britain where he will celebrate the centenary of the Balfour declaration

LONDON (AFP) – Prime Minister Theresa May and Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday were preparing to celebrate the centenary of a British declaration that ultimately led to the foundation of the state of Israel.

“We are proud of our pioneering role in the creation of the state of Israel,” May will say at a dinner in London to mark the date alongside Netanyahu, according to extracts released by her office.

May will also warn about a “pernicious form of anti-Semitism which uses criticism of the actions of the Israeli government as a despicable justification for questioning the very right of Israel to exist.”

On the second day of his five-day visit to Britain, Netanyahu was set to meet with May in her Downing Street office and hold talks with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, including on the Iran nuclear agreement.

The dinner will be attended by dignitaries including a descendant of the Balfour Declaration’s author, then foreign secretary Lord Arthur Balfour who called for “a national home for the Jewish people”.

The declaration is seen as a precursor to Israel’s creation in 1948 and the anniversary is a joyous occasion for Israelis but is contentious for many Palestinians who say it led to hundreds of thousands fleeing or being forced from their homes.

Speaking ahead of his departure for London, Netanyahu said: “The Palestinians say that the Balfour Declaration was a tragedy. It wasn’t a tragedy.

“What’s been tragic is their refusal to accept this 100 years later. I hope they change their mind, because if they do they can move forward finally to making peace between our two peoples,” he said.

At the dinner, May is also set to call for “a renewed resolve to support a lasting peace that is in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians — and in the interests of us all.

“A peace deal that must be based on a two-state solution, with a secure and prosperous Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.”

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour main opposition, will not attend the dinner due to “other engagements” and is sending foreign affairs spokeswoman Emily Thornberry instead, the party said.

Labour has been embroiled in a number of rows over anti-Semitism under his leadership, and Corbyn himself has in the past come under fire for meeting representatives of Hezbollah and Hamas.

Brexit: UK’s Theresa May should ‘accept reality,’ says EU negotiator

October 23, 2017

The EU Parliament’s Brexit negotiator has called on the British premier to outline the trade deal she wants after the UK leaves the EU. He said many Brexiteers have refused to accept the realities of the exit.

Guy Verhofstadt (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Seeger)

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, on Sunday called on British Prime Minister Theresa May to confront British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and other Brexit advocates in her party with the true consequences of Britain’s departure from the European Union by outlining the future trade deal she would like with the bloc.

Read more: Angela Merkel has ‘absolutely no doubts’ about securing Brexit deal

May should call the bluff of the “increasingly desperate Brexiteers” and “outline, once and for all, what kind of future relationship the country wants with the European Union,” Verhofstadt told the British The Mail on Sunday newspaper.

“This may require Theresa May to face down Boris Johnson and others in her party who refuse to accept the reality of the Brexit they campaigned for,” he said.

EU member states are calling for detailed and concrete commitments from Britain about how it sees its relationship with the bloc after Brexit before consenting to start trade talks. However, at a recent summit, leaders of the 27 states that will remain in the EU did agree to start preparing for the so-called Phase Two of Brexit negotiations, which will include the issues of trade and a transition deal.

Financial deadlock

The EU fears that Britain’s planned departure in 2019 will badly impact on the bloc’s budget and are demanding a large financial settlement.

However, May said the amount of that settlement can be agreed only after London and Brussels formulate an overall deal.

Read more: UK finance chief regrets calling EU ‘the enemy’

“Brexiteers failed to outline the extent of UK liabilities in Europe. Nevertheless, what is clear is that it will not be the taxpayers of the European Union who pay Britain’s bar bill,” Verhofstadt said in the Mail on Sunday interview.

Figure combining David Davis, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Theresa May at an anti-Brexit protest in ManchesterThe idea of Brexit is deeply unpopular with many Britons

‘People first’

British Trade Secretary Liam Fox, meanwhile, took exception to comments made by French President Emmanuel Macron at the summit in which he accused Brexiteers of bluffing about a willingness to make a “no-deal” exit in order to soften the EU’s stance.

Fox told broadcaster ITV that Macron was “completely wrong,” adding that failure to come up with a deal would not be “exactly a nightmare scenario” for trade conducted under World Trade Organization (WTO) rules. He, however, said that having a deal was the preferable option to him.

Read more: Brexit’s side effects for life-saving medicines

May is expected to update the British Parliament on Monday about the results from the recent summit. According to comments carried by Sunday newspapers in the UK, she will say that the Brexit process must take into consideration the well-being both of the 3 million EU nationals living in Britain, and of British expats.

“The negotiations are complicated and deeply technical, but in the end they are about people — and I am determined that we will put people first,” she was to tell parliament.

A timeline of Brexit

tj/ls (AFP, Reuters)


China Stands With Myanmar: “We Understand the Problems” (China has experience with Muslims)

September 19, 2017

The Associated Press

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Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a televised speech to the nation at the Myanmar International Convention Center in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar (AP) — The Latest on the violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh (all times local):11:50 a.m.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi says that Beijing “understands and supports Myanmar’s efforts to maintain national stability.”

Wang’s comments, made in New York during a meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, came amid a surge in violence in Myanmar, with hundreds of thousands of Muslim Rohingyas fleeing their villages for safety in Bangladesh. Myanmar’s government conducted what it called “clearance operations” after deadly insurgent attacks last month, but the refugees have said security forces and mobs carried out indiscriminate killings and arsons that burned out Rohingya enclaves in the predominantly Buddhist nation.

The comments were released Tuesday by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.

Wang also said that “China looks forward to the war falling silent as soon as possible, when innocents will no longer be hurt,” adding that China would be providing emergency humanitarian assistance to Bangladesh to deal with the flood of refugees from Myanmar.


Image result for Suu Kyi, photos, september 19, 2017
Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a televised speech to the nation at the Myanmar International Convention Center in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

11:20 a.m.

Rohingya Muslims who fled violence in Myanmar are rejecting leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s claims that many members of their minority group are safe.

Suu Kyi said Tuesday that most Rohingya villages weren’t hit by violence. She invited foreign diplomats gathered in the capital for her speech to visit villages that were unaffected.

In the Kutupalong refugee camp in nearby Bangladesh, Abdul Hafiz says Rohingya once trusted Suu Kyi more than the military that ruled before her for half a century. Now he calls Suu Kyi a “liar” and says Rohingya are suffering more than ever.

Hafiz was angered by the implication that Rohingya who were driven from their villages were themselves responsible. He said if that’s true, Suu Kyi should give international journalists more access to their destroyed villages. If Rohingya are proven wrong, he says, “we will not mind if the world decides to kill us all by pushing us into the sea.”


10:30 a.m.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is defending her country against international criticism over an exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims by saying most of their villages remain intact, and that it’s important to understand why conflict did not break out everywhere.

The Nobel Peace laureate’s global image has been damaged by violence since Rohingya insurgents attacked Myanmar security forces on Aug. 25. More than 400,000 Rohingya have fled their villages, many of which have been burned. The government has blamed the Rohingya themselves, but members of the persecuted minority have said soldiers and Buddhist mobs attacked them.

Suu Kyi told foreign diplomats gathered in Naypyitaw that “more than half” of Rohingya villages were not affected by the violence. She invited the diplomats with visit those villages so they could learn along with the government “why are they not at each other’s throats in these particular areas.”


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Aung San Suu Kyi addresses nation on Rohingya violence in Myanmar

September 19, 2017

World leaders have said this speech is Aung San Suu Kyi’s last chance to avoid international action against Myanmar. A crackdown on the country’s Muslim minority has led to a mass exodus into Bangladesh.

 Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi has addressed her nation in a hotly anticipated television address.
Image result for Suu Kyi, photos, september 19, 2017
Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a televised speech to the nation at the Myanmar International Convention Center in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, Tuesday, Sept. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Aung Shine Oo)

The 72-year-old Nobel laureate spoke about her country’s crackdown on the stateless Rohingya minority, which she had so far remained silent on. Her refusal to publicly urge restraint from the military had drawn international condemnation.

“We condemn all human rights violations and unlawful violence. We are committed to the restoration of peace and stability and rule of law throughout the state,” Suu Kyi said in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyidaw.

Before her live broadcast address, world powers had warned Myanmar of potential action if it did not act to end the crackdown on the Rohingya minority in Rakhine state.

Read more: Rohingya people in Myanmar: what you need to know

Suu Kyi said she “felt deeply” for the suffering of the civilians who were caught up in the conflict and that she wanted to end the suffering as soon as possible.

“We are concerned to hear the number of Muslims fleeing areas to Bangladesh,” she said, condemning any “human rights violations” that may have exacerbated the crisis. She asked for the international community’s help to finding a solution, adding that Myanmar did not fear international scrutiny.

UN probe ‘not helpful’

Yet one of her officials, Myanmar’s envoy to the UN Htin Lynn seemed to qualify that claim when he told the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday that a UN-backed investigation into the crisis was “not a helpful course of action.”  He added “proportionate security measures, targeted only on terrorists, are being taken to safeguard our state sovereignty, and to restore law and order.”

During the meeting, the head of the probe said Suu Kyi’s government was not cooperating fully with his investigation. Marzuki Dursman said his team needed “full and unfettered access to the country” and that the inquest could not proceed “until there is a clear signal from the government of Myanmar that the fact-finding mission is in fact enabled to access into the country.”

Suu Kyi nevertheless invited diplomats to visit Rohingya Muslim villages in her speech, insisting that most had not been affected by the violence.

“The majority of Muslims have not joined the exodus,” she said. “We want to find out why this exodus is happening.”

Suu Kyi claims picture unclear

The de facto leader, propped up by the military that used to rule Myanmar outright and retains considerable influence, also claimed that there was no clear picture of the events in Rakhine state.

“We too are concerned. We want to find out what the real problems are. There have been allegations and counter-allegations. We have to listen to them all,” she said.

Suu Kyi promised to implement the recommendations of the Annan commission delivered in August. The commission, led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, looked at how to solve the sectarian tensions in the country.

The report warned against using force and to end restrictions on movement and citizenship for Rohingya people.

International outrage has grown steadily in recent weeks over a military crackdown that has led to the exodus of more than 400,000 of Myanmar’s Muslim minority to neighboring Bangladesh in less than a month.

Myanmar’s government has blamed the crisis on Rohingya insurgents who attacked security posts in late August. But the United Nations has described its response as “ethnic cleansing.”

Read more:UN Security Council condemns excessive violence in Myanmar

‘Last Chance’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had said on Monday the speech was “a last chance” for Suu Kyi to change her country’s course, speaking to the BBC.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson met on the sidelines of a UN meeting with representatives from several countries to discuss the crisis. His US counterpart, Nikki Haley, called Monday’s meeting “productive” but voiced alarm at the lack of progress on the ground.

“The United States continues to urge the Burmese government to end military operations, grant humanitarian access and commit to aiding the safe return of civilians back to their homes,” she said.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for “a collective response by the international community” and “a system to try to ensure [the Rohingya’s] protection.”

amp, aw/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

Includes videos:


UN investigators demand ‘full, unfettered’ access to Myanmar


© AFP/File | A house burns in Gawdu Tharya village near Maungdaw in Rakhine state, northern Myanmar, on September 7, 2017
GENEVA (AFP) – UN human rights investigators on Tuesday said they needed “full and unfettered” access to Myanmar to investigate a grave and ongoing crisis, but the government renewed its rejection of the probe.”It is important for us to see with our own eyes the sites of these alleged violations”, the head of UN-backed fact-finding mission, Marzuki Darusman, told the Human Rights Council, asking for “full and unfettered access to the country.”

“There is a grave humanitarian crisis underway that requires urgent attention”, he added.

The council set up the mission in March to investigate possible violations across Myanmar, with a particular focus on alleged crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly denounced the UN probe as unhelpful and vowed that her government would not cooperate with it.

Suu Kyi earlier Tuesday delivered a nationally televised address on the Rohingya crisis, appealing for outside observers to visit Myanmar and see the situation for themselves, in a speech aimed at appeasing an international community horrified by the army-led violence in Rakhine.

But hours after that speech, Myanmar’s UN ambassador Htin Lynn re-asserted his government?s “position of disassociating herself from the resolution” that set up the fact-finding mission.

“We continue to believe that instituting such a mission is not a helpful course of action in solving the already-intricated Rakhine issue”, he told the council.

Darusman had upped the pressure on Myanmar to grant access, arguing it was “in the government?s interest and in the interests of the people of Myanmar to communicate their views and evidence directly to the (UN) mission.”

He added that the probe “had urgently dispatched a team to Bangladesh”, where more than 400,000 Rohingya have fled army operations in recent weeks.

The UN investigator, an Indonesian national and veteran of past UN investigations including a ground-breaking report on slave labour in North Korea, warned that Myanmar had the “danger signs” of a crisis that could worsen.

He noted reports that some in majority Buddhist Myanmar had spread propaganda that “compared the Rohingya to pests”.

Dublin rejects British proposal for post-Brexit Irish border

September 8, 2017

* Dublin joins Brussels in criticism of London’s border plan

* Brexit talks stuck over divorce bill, Irish border

* Violent history, trade rules make Ireland issue sensitive (Recasts with Irish minister)

By David Mardiste and Robin Emmott

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British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson

TALLINN, Sept 8 (Reuters) – Ireland dismissed British proposals for the Irish border after Brexit as unconvincing on Friday, a day after the EU chief negotiator said they amounted to a demand the bloc suspend its laws for Britain.

But British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, speaking at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Tallinn, said a solution was “not beyond the wit of man”.

The border between the Irish Republic and the British province of Northern Ireland is currently open to free flow of goods, being an internal EU frontier. But when Britain leaves the bloc, it will become subject to EU customs regulation.

Establishment of a physical border could revive security concerns, 20 years after a peace deal involving Dublin that ended a long civil conflict in Northern Ireland and led to the end of army and police checkpoints.

Britain has proposed an “invisible border” without border posts or immigration checks between the two after Brexit, but given no firm proposals how the customs frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic would be monitored.

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Thursday British proposals would undermine the bloc’s single market. He said Britain in effect wanted the EU to “suspend the application of its laws” as a test case for broader EU-British customs regulations. “This will not happen.”

Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told Reuters on Friday: “The maintenance of an invisible border on the island of Ireland would be a lot easier if Britain were to remain in the customs union.”

That is something Prime Minister Theresa May has said would not happen, though her cabinet is split on the issue and some have floated the idea of a transition period after Brexit that would still leave Britain in the EU customs union.


“Britain is the one leaving, they have an obligation to try and design unique solutions…. We cannot have a physical border on the island of Ireland again that creates barriers between communities,” Coveney said.

“We cannot and will not support that and nor will the European Union,” he said, adding that Britons wanted to avoid a hard border too. “The problem is that the solutions to actually get us there so far haven’t been convincing.”

Negotiations to extricate Britain from the EU have seen a slow start and Brussels has repeatedly warned that time is running out to answer complex questions before Britain is due to leave in March, 2019.

The bloc, which will have 27 member states after Brexit, wants to solve key exit issues before opening talks about any future trade cooperation with Britain. London says divorce talks should run in parallel with discussions about future ties.

But, with slow progress on agreeing Britain’s divorce bill, ensuring expatriates’ rights and deciding on the Irish border, the EU now doubts it will give a green light in October for starting talks about the post-Brexit order, as had been planned.

The EU worries London may try to use the Irish border as a template for a broader trade pact with the EU after Brexit. It believes Britain’s proposals risk affecting the bloc’s single market and customs union.

The European Parliament’s chief Brexit speaker, Guy Verhofstadt, dismissed Britain’s plans for an “invisible border” as surreal.

“We are nowhere on border issues,” one senior EU official said.

But, asked if he was confident that Britain would get a deal with the EU, Johnson said in Tallinn: “Absolutely, with rock solid confidence.”

He reiterated London’s stance that the divorce talks should run together with discussion about the post-Brexit relationship.

“Article 50 makes it very clear that the discussion about the exit of a country must be taken in context with discussion of the future arrangements. And that’s what we’re going to do,” he said. (Additional reporting by Alastair Macdonald and Philip Blenkinsop in Brussels, Writing by Gabriela Baczynska; editing by Ralph Boulton)

South China Sea: China Criticizes British Freedom of Navigation Mission Plans — U.S., Allies Standing By International Law

July 31, 2017

BEIJING — A look at recent developments in the South China Sea, where China is pitted against smaller neighbors in multiple disputes over islands, coral reefs and lagoons in waters crucial for global commerce and rich in fish and potential oil and gas reserves:


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a weekly look at the latest developments in the South China Sea, the location of several territorial conflicts that have raised tensions in the region.



China’s foreign ministry criticized plans by Britain to send its new aircraft carriers on freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea to challenge Beijing’s expansive territorial claims in the strategic waterway.

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HMS Queen Elizabeth

Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told reporters Friday in response to a question on statements by British officials that “some countries” from outside the region “insist on stirring up trouble while the situation is trending toward calm in the South China Sea.”

“Regardless of what banner these countries or individuals fly under, or what excuses they may peddle, their record of the same kind of sanctimonious interference in the affairs of other regions, leaving behind chaos and humanitarian disaster, prompts countries in this region to maintain a high degree of vigilance,” Lu said.

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China’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson confirmed following a high-level meeting in Sydney with his Australian counterpart, Julie Bishop, that missions to the South China Sea would be near the top of deployment plans for the new carriers, the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales.

“One of the first things we will do with the two new colossal aircraft carriers that we have just built is send them on a freedom of navigation operation to this area to vindicate our belief in the rules-based international system and in the freedom of navigation through those waterways which are absolutely vital for world trade,” Johnson said.

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British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, left, and Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop look at each other during a press conference following their meeting in Sydney, Thursday, July 27, 2017. Johnson said that he supports a proposed free trade agreement between the United Kingdom and Australia, as his country looks to strengthen its relationships with allies ahead of Britain’s departure from the European Union. (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)

British Defense Secretary Sir Michael Fallon later said exact plans for the deployments had not yet been finalized.

“But, yes, you would expect to see these carriers in the India Pacific Ocean, this part of the world because it is in this part of the world we see increasing tension, increasing challenges,” Fallon said.

China has strongly objected to repeated freedom of navigation missions carried by the U.S. Navy along with the presence of the navies of Japan, Australia and others in the waterway, through which an estimated $5 trillion in annual trade passes each year.



An official Chinese magazine says President Xi Jinping personally directed the enlargement of China’s presence in the South China Sea through the construction of man-made islands and other measures, crediting him with constructing a “maritime Great Wall.”

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China’s President Xi Jinping addresses 12,000 troops during an unprecedented display of China’s military muscle in Inner Mongolia, Sunday, July 30, 2017. Xinhua photo

Xi “personally led and directed a series of great struggles to expand strategic advantages and safeguard national interests,” the Study Times, published by the ruling Communist Party’s central training academy, said in an article published Friday.

The president’s policies, including the building of islands and administrative changes elevating the status of China’s claims in the disputed Paracel island group, have “altered the basic direction of the South China Sea strategic situation.”

They have “created a solid strategic foundation for the winning final victory in the struggle for upholding rights in the South China Sea, the equivalent of building a maritime Great Wall,” the magazine said, referencing the centuries-old defensive structure built to protect China from invasions by Mongols and tribes from the north.

Under Xi, China has constructed seven man-made islands in the highly contested Spratly group by piling sand and cement atop coral reefs, later adding runways, aircraft hangers and other infrastructure with defensive uses. Islands in the Paracel islands and elsewhere have also been expanded and similarly augmented.

China claims the construction is mainly to improve safety for shipping and fishermen, although the Study Times article again appeared to underscore its military purpose.

The article also cited Xi’s involvement in policy regarding uninhabited Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea that China claims.

Giving “measures for measure,” China unilaterally declared control over a large swath of airspace in the East China Sea — a move declared illegitimate and ignored by the U.S. and others — and patrols the area on a regular basis, the article said.

It said Xi’s moves have “in one fell swoop, shattered Japan’s many years of maintaining ‘actual control'” over the islands, known in Chinese as Diaoyu and in Japanese as Senkaku.


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North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Choe Hui Choi in Beijing, China in June of 2016. Kyodo Photo

EU sanctions 16 more Syrians over chemical attacks

July 17, 2017


© AFP/File | US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley holds photos of victims as the UN Security Council meets in an emergency session in April about a suspected deadly chemical attack that killed civilians, including children, in Syria

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions against 16 more high-ranking military Syrian officials and scientists over chemical weapons attacks on civilians, a statement said.

The move by the bloc’s foreign ministers brings to 255 people now facing a travel ban and an assets freeze over President Bashar al-Assad’s violent crackdown on civilians during a five-year civil war.

“The EU added these 16 persons for their role in the development and use of chemical weapons against the civilian population,” an EU statement said.

The EU will release the names of those hit by the sanctions on Tuesday, it said.

The UN’s chemical watchdog, the OPCW, last month concluded that sarin was used as a chemical weapon in the April 4 attack in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhun that killed at least 87 people including children.

The sanctions decision “shows the resolve of the UK and the rest of our friends in Europe in dealing with those who are responsible for chemical weapons attacks,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told reporters just before the decision was announced.

Syria is already subject to an oil embargo, restrictions on certain investments, a freeze of the assets of the Syrian central bank held in the EU, as well as export restrictions.

It also is under sanctoins on equipment and technology that might be used for internal repression as well as on equipment and technology for the monitoring or interception of internet or telephone communications.