Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

In Libya, Islamic State Seeks Revival in Gateway to Europe

September 18, 2017

Small cells of fighters are operating in the country a year after the group lost its main Libyan stronghold

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Libyans attended a funeral west of Tripoli last month for people killed in an attack the previous day that was claimed by Islamic State.Photo: Agence France-Presse/Getty Image

Islamic State has formed a number of clandestine cells in Libya a year after losing its main stronghold in the chaotic North African country, part of the militant group’s efforts to regroup on Europe’s doorstep.

The small cells, some comprised of up to several dozen fighters, have set up new bases outside Libyan towns in the past several months and started making money by hijacking commercial trucks and extorting migrant smuggling rings, according to Libyan and European security officials.

Islamic State has also told fighters to go to Libya from Syria, where a U.S.-led coalition is pushing the terror group from its de facto capital of Raqqa, according to a defector and security officials.

“They consider Libya to be the main entrance to Europe,” said Abu Baara al-Ansari, a Syrian who defected from Islamic State in June.

Mr. al-Ansari said he worked in Raqqa for Islamic State in the office that tracked visitors to the group’s territory. He is now in Turkey and was interviewed via the Telegram messaging system.

The group’s efforts to stage a comeback in Libya after losing control of the coastal city of Sirte last year have sparked concern among European officials. Attackers who traveled from Syria to Europe have taken part in a number of deadly terrorist attacks in recent years, including in Paris and Brussels.

A resurgent Islamic State “is definitely becoming a problem in Libya,” a European security official said. The terror group can raise revenue in Libya by tapping lucrative rackets and take advantage of weapon stockpiles in a country that is both vast and politically unstable, he said.

Members of Libya’s Presidential Council, which presides over the Tripoli government, didn’t respond to requests for comment about Islamic State’s activities in the country.

Islamic State said two years ago that it planned to infiltrate migrant groups and carry out attacks in Europe. Tens of thousands of migrants have crossed the Mediterranean Sea from Libya and arrived in Italy this year.

Salman Abedi, a British citizen of Libyan descent, blew himself up outside a concert in Manchester in May, killing 22 people. Abedi had recently returned from a trip to Libya, and European security officials say the type of bomb he used indicates he may have been trained by Islamic State fighters there.

Forces allied with the U.N.-backed government in Libya fought Islamic State fighters in the coastal city of Sirte last year.Photo: Goran Tomasevic/REUTERS

Since the death of Col. Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, warring factions have carved Libya into fiefs and fought over its oil fields, leaving the economy in tatters.

“Daesh is exploiting the security vacuum,” said an intelligence officer from the city of Misrata who works with forces loyal to Tripoli, using the Arabic acronym for Islamic State.

Militias from Misrata—who support the United Nations-backed Government of National Accord in the capital, Tripoli—led the successful campaign to oust Islamic State from Sirte.

An estimate by the U.S. Africa Command, which oversees American military operations on the continent, indicates there are only 500 Islamic State members active in Libya now. That is down from a peak of about 3,000 fighters when the group held Sirte in 2016.

But other officials said it is difficult to know how many Islamic State fighters are currently in Libya. And they say the group’s ability to operate relatively unhindered around the country raises concerns.


  • Russia Strikes Near U.S. Coalition in Syria

Since driving Islamic State out of Sirte, the U.S. has seen “a marked decrease” in the number of foreign fighters traveling to or from the conflict in Libya, according to a U.S. State Department official.

European security officials and the Islamic State defector say the group’s fighters—including Syrians and Iraqis, as well as Libyans—have been trying to enter Libya in hopes of reaching Europe to launch attacks.

Islamic State members have in the past flown from Turkey to Sudan before going overland to Libya, according to European security officials. Meanwhile, Libyan forces in the south are monitoring a group of Islamic State recruits who made their way to Sudan from Syria and are trying to cross into Libya, according to a security official from the area with forces loyal to Tripoli.

Sudan is aware some fighters have taken advantage of its porous western border to infiltrate Libya, according to Rabie Abdelaty, who heads the political bureau at Sudan’s ruling National Congress Party. He says the government has deployed forces to stem the infiltration and to crack down on cross-border crime.

Libyans were among those who trained at Islamic State’s weapons lab in Raqqa, according to another Islamic State defector. Some of the devices were intended both for battlefield use and for carrying out attacks in Europe, said the defector, who said that he was involved in their design and that he left the group in 2016. Components are cheap and easy to get, and Islamic State videos show how to assemble them, he added.

Forces allied with the U.N.-backed government patrolled last month on the outskirts of Sirte.Photo: ismail zitouny/Reuters

In Libya, a rival government operates in the east of the country, where a group allied with Islamic State was ousted earlier this year from the city of Benghazi. In late May, around the time of the ouster, two members of the allied group were dispatched by Islamic State from Benghazi to go to Istanbul, according to a third person who said he had defected from Islamic State and who said he remains in contact with the group in Raqqa.

They were directed to make their way from Istanbul to Athens and to wait for orders about carrying out an attack in Europe, the defector said. A European security official said last month the movements of the two men were being monitored.

Islamic State fighters who escaped Sirte fled to other parts of Libya such as Bani Walid, west of Sirte. The fighters remained hidden in the surrounding valleys for months, but now have started to “set up checkpoints at times and hijack trucks and any goods in them,” said the intelligence officer from Misrata.

Other fighters escaped to the southwestern town of Ghat, near the Algerian border. The group has since expanded its presence in that part of the country to the desert oasis of Ubari, with fighters holding regular meetings in the town and moving freely in the vicinity of Libya’s largest oil field, according to the security official from southern Libya.

In May, Islamic State seized three fuel trucks en route to Jufra, a district between Sirte and Ubari, according to an Aug. 22 report from the U.N. Security Council.

Islamic State has forged business ties in the area with a local Islamist warlord who specializes in fuel smuggling, according to a European security official.

Islamic State also has a presence in other Libyan cities and towns, and groups that can range from five to 50 fighters roam outside urban areas, the intelligence officer from Misrata said. Those groups often travel in a small number of cars to try to avoid becoming a target, he said.

In January, the U.S. launched airstrikes on Islamic State training camps southwest of Sirte and other targets in Libya, killing dozens of militants, the Pentagon said.

—Ben Kesling, Nicholas Bariyo, Nour Malas, Nour Alakraa and Jenny Gross contributed to this article.

Write to Benoit Faucon at
Migrants trying to reach a rescue boat in the Mediterranean Sea, north of Sabratha, Libya, in July.Credit Santi Palacios/Associated Press

CAIRO — As they scrambled to curb the flow of migrants, Europe’s leaders wrestled with a vexing question: How to stop the ruthless Libyan militias that control the human-trafficking trade from dispatching countless boats across the Mediterranean?

Now Italy, after striking out on its own, appears to have found a solution — one that, though wildly successful for the moment, is provoking questions about its methods and the humanitarian costs.

Arrivals of migrants in Italy have plunged in recent months. In August alone, they fell 85 percent, leading some to charge that Italy was paying off Libya’s most rapacious warlords at the risk of further destabilizing the fractured North African country, while condemning migrants to misery.

Human rights activists liken the grimy conditions at militant-run detention centers inside Libya to concentration camps, while the top United Nations human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, recently warned that the Italian-led tactics were “very thin on the protection of the human rights of migrants inside Libya and on the boats.”

Italian ministers deny giving even a single euro to Libya’s armed militias. Instead, they attribute their success to painstaking diplomacy and other inducements, like the possibility of rejoining a regularly paid, national army.

“We approached the issue slowly, slowly, Italian style,” Mario Giro, deputy foreign minister, said in an interview. “We spoke to everyone.”

Many are skeptical: Money and the threat of brute force are the usual considerations when it comes to persuading the fractious militias that hold sway across Libya. But if Italy’s aggressive new approach to migration includes dealing with unsavory strongmen, it would not be the first time.

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EU mulls longer Schengen checks to fight terror

September 14, 2017


© AFP/File | Travel in the 26-country Schengen area — which includes 22 EU countries plus non-EU Iceland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein — is normally free of border and passport controls

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The EU said Thursday it may allow countries in Europe’s passport-free Schengen zone to carry out internal border checks for an extra two years to tackle terror threats.Home Affairs Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said there was no longer any need for temporary checks that several countries reintroduced last year as a result of Europe’s migration crisis.

But he said the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, would present plans soon to “update” the rules when it came to security reasons, with EU sources saying that could happen in October.

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“The Schengen borders code may not be sufficiently adapted to address the evolving security challenges,” Avramopoulos told a news conference in Brussels after talks with EU interior ministers.

Avramopoulos cited recent deadly terror attacks in Spain and Finland, which have followed others in France, Belgium, Germany and other countries.

Travel in the 26-country Schengen area — which includes 22 EU countries plus non-EU Iceland, Norway, Switzerland and Liechtenstein — is normally free of border and passport controls.

Under current rules, countries can reinstate ID checks at their borders with other Schengen-area states for six months when there is a terror threat, extending that for up to two years in exceptional cases.

The new plans would allow them to bring back checks for renewable two-year periods, up to a maximum total of four years, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by AFP.

France, Germany, Austria, Denmark and Norway back the plan, saying the current limits are inadequate against a “long-term terrorist threat.”

France reinstated checks for security reasons the day after the November 2015 attacks that killed 130 people in Paris, but they are due to expire at the end of next month.

Border checks introduced by Germany, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Norway in May 2016 to deal with a huge influx of migrants into Europe from Syria and North Africa are set to expire in November.

The reintroduction of so many checks raised concerns about the collapse of the Schengen zone, seen by many in Europe as a symbol of unity and freedom.

With China in Mind, Japan, India Agree to Deepen Defense Ties

September 14, 2017

GANDHINAGAR, India — The leaders of India and Japan agreed on Thursday to deepen defense ties and push for more cooperation with Australia and the United States, as they seek to counter growing Chinese influence across Asia.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe arrived this week in his counterpart Narendra Modi’s home state, skipping the tradition of visiting the capital of New Delhi, for the tenth meeting between two leaders since Modi came to power in 2014.

Image result for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in india, photos

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Prime Minister Narendra Modi

Relations have deepened between Asia’s second and third largest economies as Abe and Modi, who enjoy a close personal relationship, increasingly see eye-to-eye to balance China as the dominant Asian power.

“Almost everything that takes place during the visit, including economic deals, will in part be done with China in mind,” Eurasia analysts said in a note.

Abe’s visit comes days after New Delhi and Beijing agreed to end the longest and most serious military confrontation along their shared and contested border in decades, a dispute that had raised worries of a broader conflict between the Asian giants.

In a lengthy joint statement, India and Japan said deepening security links was paramount. This included collaboration on research into unmanned ground vehicles and robotics and the possibility of joint field exercises between their armies.

There was also “renewed momentum” for cooperation with the United States and Australia. Earlier this year, India rejected an Australian request to be included in four-country naval drills for fear of angering Beijing.

“Relations between India and Japan are not only a bilateral relationship but have developed into a strategic global partnership,” Abe told reporters in Gandhinagar, the capital of western Gujarat state.

“We (India and Japan) will strengthen our collaboration with those countries with whom we share universal values.”

Abe flew to Gujarat to lay the foundation stone of a $17 billion bullet train project, India’s first, that was made possible by a huge Japanese loan.

Tokyo wants to win other high-speed rail lines India plans to build, to edge out Chinese ambitions to do the same and provide a boost for its high-end manufacturers.

The visit was light on specific announcements, but India said it welcomed proposals for increased Japanese investment into infrastructure projects in its remote northeast, a region New Delhi sees as its gateway to Southeast Asia.

China claims part of India’s northeast as its own territory.

Japanese investment into the northeast “would give legs to our Act East policy,” Indian Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar told reporters.

Modi and Abe also said they would push for more progress on the development of industrial corridors for the growth of Asia and Africa.

Analysts say the planned $40 billion Asia-Africa Growth Corridor takes direct aim at China’s Belt and Road project, envisaged as a modern-day “Silk Road” connecting China by land and sea across Asia and beyond to the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

(Writing by Tommy Wilkes; Editing by Nick Macfie)

Russia’s Zapad War Games Unnerve the West

September 13, 2017

TALLINN/VILNIUS — From planes, radars and ships in the Baltics, NATO officials say they are watching Russia’s biggest war games since 2013 with “calm and confidence”, but many are unnerved about what they see as Moscow testing its ability to wage war against the West.

NATO believes the exercises, officially starting on Thursday in Belarus, the Baltic Sea, western Russia and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, are already underway. It says they are larger than Moscow has publicized, numbering some 100,000 troops, and involve firing nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.

Codenamed Zapad or “West”, NATO officials say the drills will simulate a conflict with the U.S.-led alliance intended to show Russia’s ability to mass large numbers of troops at very short notice in the event of a conflict.

“NATO remains calm and vigilant,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said last week during a visit to an Estonian army base where British troops have been stationed since March.

But Lithuania’s Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis was less sanguine, voicing widely-felt fears that the drills risk triggering an accidental conflict or could allow Moscow to leave troops in neighboring Belarus.

“We can’t be totally calm. There is a large foreign army massed next to Lithuanian territory,” he told Reuters.

Some Western officials including the head of the U.S. Army in Europe, Gen. Ben Hodges, have raised concerns that Russia might use the drills as a “Trojan horse” to make incursions into Poland and Russian-speaking regions in the Baltics.

The Kremlin firmly rejects any such plans. Russia says some 13,000 troops from Russia and Belarus will be involved in the Sept. 14-20 drills, below an international threshold that requires large numbers of outside observers.

NATO will send three experts to so-called ‘visitor days’ during the exercises, but a NATO official said these were no substitute for meeting internationally-agreed norms at such exercises that include talking to soldiers and briefings.

Moscow says it is the West that threatens stability in eastern Europe because the U.S.-led NATO alliance has put a 4,000-strong multinational force in the Baltics and Poland.

Wrong-footed by Moscow in the recent past, with Russia’s seizure of Crimea in 2014 and its intervention in Syria’s war in 2015, NATO is distrustful of the Kremlin’s public message.

In Crimea, Moscow proved a master of “hybrid warfare”, with its mix of cyber attacks, disinformation campaigns and use of Russian and local forces without insignia.

One senior European security official said Zapad would merge manoeuvres across Russia’s four western military districts in a “complex, multi-dimensional aggressive, anti-NATO exercise”.

“It is all smoke and mirrors,” the official said, adding that the Soviet-era Zapad exercises that were revived in 1999 had included simulated nuclear strikes on Europe.

NATO officials say they have been watching Russia’s preparations for months, including the use of hundreds of rail cars to carry tanks and other heavy equipment into Belarus.

As a precaution, the U.S. Army has moved 600 paratroopers to the Baltics during Zapad and has taken over guardianship of the airspace of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, which lack capable air forces and air defense systems.


Russia’s military show of force raises some uncomfortable questions for the alliance because NATO cannot yet mass large numbers of troops quickly, despite the United States’ military might, NATO officials and diplomats said.

NATO, a 29-nation defense pact created in 1949 to deter the Soviet threat, has already begun its biggest modernization since the Cold War, sending four battalions to the Baltics and Poland, setting up an agile, high-readiness spearhead force, and developing its cyberspace defenses.

But NATO has deliberately taken a slowly-slowly approach to its military build-up to avoid being sucked into a new arms race, even as Russia has stationed anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles in Kaliningrad, the Black Sea and Syria.

“The last thing we want is a military escalation with Russia,” said one senior NATO official involved in military planning, referring to Zapad.

In the event of any potential Russian incursion into the Baltics or Poland, NATO’s new multinational forces would quickly need large reinforcements. But a 40,000-strong force agreed in 2015 is still being developed, officials say.

Lithuania’s Karoblis said he hoped to see progress by the next summit of NATO leaders in July 2018.

Baltic politicians want more discretion given to NATO to fight any aggressor in the event of an attack, without waiting for the go-ahead from allied governments.

During Zapad, NATO is taking a low-key approach by running few exercises, including an annual sniper exercise in Lithuania. Only non-NATO member Sweden is holding a large-scale drill.

NATO Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe James Everard told Reuters there was no need to mirror Zapad. “It’s not a competition,” he said during a visit to NATO forces in Latvia.

(Additional reporting by Gederts Gelzis in Latvia; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Global Stock Rally Stalls

September 13, 2017

Government bond yields fell

The global rally that pushed Wall Street to new records eased in Europe Wednesday as some investors questioned how long the bull run can last.

The Stoxx Europe 600 edged down 0.2% in morning trade, dragged down by losses in utilities and mining stocks. Asian…

NATO missile shield is ‘weak link’ in North Korea threat

September 12, 2017

Reuters and France 24

© AFP file photo | Ballistic missiles are displayed on April 16, 2016 through Kim Il-Sung Square during a military parade in Pyongyang marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung.


Latest update : 2017-09-12

NATO has joined world powers’ diplomatic efforts to stop North Korea’s missile programme but it cannot yet rely on its U.S.-built shield to defend Europe, experts and diplomats said.

The United States says the shield, more than a decade in the planning, is needed to protect against so-called rogue states, a term US officials have used to refer to North Korea and Iran.

But with BerlinParis and London potentially within striking distance of North Korea’s missiles from next year, officials say the US-led alliance’s system needs more radars and special interceptors to destroy a rocket from Pyongyang.

“The NATO shield in its current state lacks the reach and early warning radars to shoot down North Korean rockets. It’s a weak link,” said Michael Elleman, a missile defence analyst at the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS).

“Early tracking is also difficult because North Korean missiles would be flying over Russia, where NATO obviously cannot put radars,” he added.

The sort of interceptor needed to shoot down North Korean ballistic missiles could breach a Soviet-era arms control agreement between the United States and Russia because of its greater range, arms experts say.

Moscow has long objected to US missile shield plans, saying their real aim is to neutralize Russia’s own nuclear arsenal, rather than meet the perceived threat from “rogue states”.

Russia’s strategic concerns would, therefore, make it hard to renegotiate the 1987 Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, something arms experts say would be required if a North Korean missile shield were to be fully effective.

Switched on

Alliance planning to confront any threat from Pyongyang is in its infancy. Following North Korea’s country’s sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3, two senior NATO diplomats told Reuters that protection against the North Korean threat was only beginning to be considered at NATO headquarters in Brussels.

That was despite a more forceful diplomatic tone on the crisis and warnings on the scale and immediacy of the threat from US President Donald Trump‘s new ambassador to NATO, France‘s defence minister and the alliance’s deputy head.

While analysts do not expect North Korea to have a reliable intercontinental ballistic missile until next year at the earliest, NATO’s European allies could become a target as a way of threatening their closest partner, the United States, a third NATO diplomat said, stressing that was only speculation.

The United States switched on its $800 million European missile defence umbrella in May last year at a site in Romania to protect against Iranian rockets.

The system, controlled from a NATO base in Germany, includes radars and interceptors stretching from eastern Europe to the Mediterranean.

A final site in Poland should be ready by late 2018, extending the European umbrella from Greenland and the Azores.

To shoot down a ballistic missile from North Korea would require a new generation of interceptor, the Block II, which is still in development. It is capable of downing ballistic rockets earlier and at a much higher altitude.

However, Elleman said that US missile sites in Alaska and California, as well as in Japan and South Korea, were likely to be given priority before Europe, when they are ready in 2018.


School segregation in Europe ‘form of discrimination’

September 12, 2017


© AFP/File | The open-air classroom in northeast Paris for migrants waiting for a decision by the French government on their asylum claim

STRASBOURG (FRANCE) (AFP) – School segregation in Europe is “one of the worst forms of discrimination”, the region’s top rights watchdog said in a report published Tuesday.

Many European countries continue to exclude disabled children, Roma children and migrants or refugees from mainstream schools, according to the report by the Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights.

“School segregation harms children’s learning opportunities and is a clear injustice against minority and other vulnerable groups of people, which also perpetuates their marginalisation,” said Nils Muiznieks.

Countries have an obligation to combat segregation in schools, but the reality is very different, the report said.

Political leaders and education authorities can sometimes be reluctant to bring about changes that alter the existing privilege in education, it added.

The report made a series of recommendations aimed at the leaders of the 47 Council of Europe member states, including strengthening the law.

“The legislation should be comprehensive and explicit enough to address situations in which tradition, freedom of choice, parental consent or urban segregation serve to legitimise discrimination and high concentrations of Roma children, children of migrant background or children with disabilities in specific schools,” the report said.

A move towards more inclusive education systems will also require a change in attitude.

Parents of the majority population often prefer to send their children to schools without minority and migrant groups.

The report also called for a ban on the use of tests as a selection tool and suggests assigning the best teachers to the most difficult schools.

Suspect in Paris ‘explosives lab’ linked to Islamic State group

September 10, 2017

Reuters and France 24


Latest update : 2017-09-10

A French prosecutor said on Sunday that a man arrested last week after a police raid on a flat near Paris had a direct connection with the Islamic State group.

Police discovered a stash of explosives in the raid last Wednesday in Villejuif, south of Paris, and found TATP, a product often used by suicide bombers.

A second cache of explosive materials was discovered in a nearby town the following day.

Two men who were arrested were put into formal investigation on Sunday and placed in detention, the Paris prosecutor, François Molins, told a a news conference. A third suspect was released with no charges.

“Analysis from the material seized showed one of the suspects had been in direct contact in August 2016 with Rachid Kassim via Facebook,” Molins said.

Kassim, believed to be a senior Islamic State militant, was targeted by the U.S. military in a strike near the city of Mosul, Iraq, earlier this year.

TATP has been used by militants in several attacks in Western Europe in recent years, including Manchester in May, Brussels in 2016 and Paris in 2015.

More than 230 people have been killed by Islamist-inspired attackers in the past three years in France, which along with the United States and other countries are bombing Islamic State bases in Iraq and Syria.


Nato chief: world is at its most dangerous point in a generation

September 9, 2017

Jens Stoltenberg warns of converging threats as Russia mobilises estimated 100,000 troops on EU’s borders

By  in Tapa
The Guardian

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Secretary general Jens Stoltenberg visits Nato battle group soldiers at Tapa military base in Estonia. Photograph: Raigo Pajula/AFP/Getty Images

The world is more dangerous today than it has been in a generation, the head of Nato has said, days before the mobilisation of an estimated 100,000 Russian troops on the EU’s eastern borders, and as a nuclear crisis grows on the Korean peninsula.

Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of the military alliance, said the sheer number of converging threats was making the world increasingly perilous.

Asked in a Guardian interview whether he had known a more dangerous time in his 30-year career, Stoltenberg said: “It is more unpredictable, and it’s more difficult because we have so many challenges at the same time.

“We have proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in North Korea, we have terrorists, instability, and we have a more assertive Russia,” Stoltenberg said during a break from visiting British troops stationed in Estonia. “It is a more dangerous world.”

From next Thursday, over six days, Russian and Belarusian troops will take part in what is likely to be Moscow’s largest military exercise since the cold war. An estimated 100,000 soldiers, security personnel and civilian officials, will be active around the Baltic Sea, western Russia, Belarus and the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, without the supervision required under international agreement.

On the other side of the world, in the face of local protests, the South Korean government has deployed the controversial US Thaad missile defence system as it looked to counter potential future attacks from North Korea, which recently launched a ballistic missile over Japan, threatened the US Pacific territory of Guam and tested a possible thermonuclear device.

Donald Trump has threatened to unleash “fire and fury” on the North Koreans should further threats be made against the US, and kept up the threat on Thursday, saying he is building up US military power.

“It’s been tens of billions of dollars more in investment. And each day new equipment is delivered – new and beautiful equipment, the best in the world, the best anywhere in the world, by far,” Trump said. “Hopefully we’re not going to have to use it on North Korea. If we do use it on North Korea, it will be a very sad day for North Korea.”

Trump has ruled out talks with Pyongyang for the time being and Washington’s diplomatic focus is now on efforts to secure agreement at the United Nations for much tighter economic measures, including an oil embargo and possibly a naval blockade.

A South Korean marine participating in an exercise this week.
 A South Korean marine participating in an exercise this week. Photograph: Handout/South Korean Defense Ministry vi

Speaking during his visit to the Estonian military base in Tapa, a former Soviet Union airstrip about 75 miles (120km) from the border with Russia, Stoltenberg was coy when asked if he backed the US president’s bellicose threats to Pyongyang, blamed by some for exacerbating the current situation in south-east Asia.

“If I started to speculate about potential military options I would only add to the uncertainty and difficulty of the situation so I think my task is not to be contribute to that. I will support efforts to find a political, negotiated solution,” he said.

Pushed on whether he could even envision a military solution to the crisis in Korea, Stoltenberg said: “I think the important thing now is to look into how we can create a situation where we can find a political solution to the crisis.

“At the same time I fully understand and support the military message that has been implemented in the region by South Korea and to some extent Japan, as they have the right to defend themselves. They have a right to respond when they see these very aggressive actions. I also support the presence of US troops and capabilities in Korea.”

Stoltenberg, a former Norwegian prime minister whose 10 years in power were marked for his success in improving Norway’s environmental footprint, took over the role of Nato secretary general in 2014, forming a close working relationship with Barack Obama.

Soon after Trump’s election last year, however, in response to suggestions that the White House might back away from Nato, Stoltenberg made a pointed intervention highlighting the lives lost by the alliance’s members coming to the aid of the US after the 9/11 attacks. Trump had described Nato as obsolete during his election campaign.

In May, Stoltenberg took on the role of placater-in-chief after the US president used the occasion of the opening of Nato’s new building in Brussels, and the unveiling of a memorial to 9/11, to castigate 23 of the 29 Nato members for not spending enough on defence. A number of leaders were visibly startled by the nature and timing of the speech.

Asked this week whether Trump was the ideal person to unpick the current fraught security situation, Stoltenberg insisted the 29 Nato members were united within the alliance. “Donald Trump is the elected president of the United States,” he said. “And Nato is a collective alliance of 29 democracies. And that’s part of democracy, that different political leaders are elected.”

Donald Trump after pushing the Montenegrin prime minister, Dusko Markovic, aside as they walked through the Nato headquarters in Brussels in May.
 Donald Trump at the Nato headquarters in Brussels in May. He had just shoved the Montenegrin prime minister aside. Photograph: Etienne Laurent/EPA

He said he did not believe there was an imminent threat to Nato members, and that an increase in defence spending had strengthened the alliance in recent years.

Stoltenberg has completed a tour of the four battle groups stationed in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, forming the Nato advanced forces defending the eastern borders.

Stoltenberg said the troops’ “defensive” mobilisation was a message to Russia that an attack on one Nato ally was an attack on all, and that he remained confident of the security of eastern Europe. But he expressed concern at Moscow’s imminent failure to live up to its international obligations for exercises involving more than 13,000 troops to be open to observers, including overflights. Some Baltic states estimate that about 100,000 Russian troops will be involved in this year’s exercise and Poland claims the Kremlin has requisitioned more than 4,000 train carriages to move military personnel west.

“Russia has said it is below 13,000. They briefed that on the Nato-Russia council a few weeks ago,” Stoltenberg said. “That was useful but at the same time we have seen when Russia says that an exercise has less than 13,000 troops that’s not always the case. We have seen that in Zapad 2009 and 2013 – the two previous Zapad exercises. There were many more troops participating.”

Stoltenberg said Nato had always offered up its exercises to scrutiny, “while Russia has not opened any exercise to open observation since the end of the cold war”.


U.N. Rights Chief Says EU Deal on Libya Migrants Falls Short

September 8, 2017

GENEVA — A European and African deal to stem the flow of migrants coming through Libya to Europe fails to tackle the abuses they face, the top U.N. human rights official wrote on Friday.

The Aug. 28 deal struck in Paris by France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Chad, Niger and Libya failed to provide “a detailed blueprint to tackle the hidden human calamity that continues to take place within Libya, and along its coast,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein said.

(Reporting by Tom Miles; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

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U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein