Posts Tagged ‘Mattis’

Mattis praises Vietnam’s ‘leadership’ on North Korea sanctions

January 24, 2018


HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis praised Vietnam on Wednesday for adhering to sanctions against North Korea, saying at the start of a two-day visit to Hanoi that its leadership on the issue came despite the costs associated with lost trade.

FILE PHOTO – U.S. Secretary for Defense, Jim Mattis, sits opposite Britain’s Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, before a meeting at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) in central London, Britain November 10, 2017. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

“I have to pay my respects there and thank them for their support on the (North Korea) issue. They have been supporting the United Nations sanctions, at some cost to them,” Mattis told reporters before landing in Hanoi.

“And so we appreciate their leadership on that, leading by example and stepping up.”

North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and missiles capable of hitting the United States has spurred deepening U.N. sanctions and stoked fears of a military conflict.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said last week that the United States was getting evidence that sanctions were “really starting to hurt” North Korea, although there are no signs yet that they have altered Pyongyang’s military calculus.

Vietnam and North Korea, at one time both within the influence of the former Soviet Union, maintain traditional diplomatic and political ties.

But those relations have been tested in recent years, particularly following the alleged involvement of a Vietnamese citizen in the murder of Kim Jong Un’s half brother in 2017.

Hanoi expelled blacklisted North Koreans last year by asking them to voluntarily leave, taking into account “traditional relations” between the two countries, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.

In a report to the U.N. Security Council in April 2017, Vietnam also said it had taken measures to implement U.N. sanctions on North Korea.

Mattis said Vietnam was adhering to those sanctions and noted that cutting off trade with a country so close carried an economic cost to Vietnam.

“DPRK sells coal very cheaply and so obviously if they turn that off, there could be costs associated,” Mattis explained, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.


Mattis’ first stop in Vietnam was to a U.S. Defense Department office in Hanoi that sits just across the street from the North Korean embassy and seeks to recover the remains of U.S. troops killed in the 1965-75 Vietnam War.

Some 1,293 U.S. forces are still unaccounted for, one U.S. official said.

Mattis’ trip comes amid steadily strengthening U.S.-Vietnamese ties, including between their two militaries, as both countries seek to put the Vietnam War firmly behind them.

Relations these days are seen largely through shared concern over China’s aggressive behavior in the South China Sea, where more than $3 trillion in cargo passes every year.

Vietnam has emerged as the most vocal opponent of China’s expansive territorial claims and has been buying U.S. military hardware, including its acquisition of an armed, Hamilton-class Coast Guard cutter.

The ship, one U.S. official said, was larger than anything Vietnam had in its navy.

“(Vietnam) does have one of the region’s fastest growing economies and so freedom of navigation and access in the South China Sea will be critical to them economically and of course in their security efforts,” Mattis said.

Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Nick Macfie

CSB-8020, manned by CSBV crew, during its transfer ceremony at US Coast Guard Base Honolulu. (USCG)

CSB-8020, manned by CSBV crew, during its transfer ceremony at US Coast Guard Base Honolulu. (USCG)

The US Coast Guard (USCG) has completed the transfer of a recently decommissioned Hamilton-class high endurance cutter to the Vietnam Coast Guard (Cánh Sát Bin Viet Nam: CSBV).

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Snake blood, flaming bricks: Mattis gets bizarre Indonesian send off

January 24, 2018


© Tentara Nasional Indonesia/AFP | Indonesian special forces display their military skills to a visiting US delegation

JAKARTA (AFP) – A soldier tore apart a snake with his teeth and his comrades headbutted flaming stacks of bricks as Indonesia’s special forces treated visiting US defence secretary Jim Mattis to an unusual display on Tuesday.Mattis — whose own nickname is “Mad Dog” — seemed impressed by the show, which also saw police dogs leaping from helicopters to attack “terrorists”.

To the sound of beating drums and with their faces daubed with camouflage, the elite soldiers launched a wild martial arts display as they demolished wood and brick obstacles with kicks, punches and headbutts.

The dumbfounded US delegation looked on as the men then killed live snakes, including cobras, and served their blood to each other in a sign of brotherhood. One fighter even tore apart a snake with his teeth.

Nearby, a commando rolled around on broken glass while another shot apparently live bullets at a balloon held by his blindfolded comrade — with one round missing the target, although no one was injured.

An aerial display accompanied to the “Mission Impossible” theme tune saw soldiers launch themselves from helicopters together with dogs to stage a mock manhunt for a pair of “terrorists”.

Back on land, a dog then jumped through an open car window to grab one of the pretend radicals.

“As you see, the dogs beat the terrorist,” a satisfied military official said following the show at Indonesia’s army headquarters to round of the US defence secretary’s visit.

Mattis, whose next stop on his Asian tour was Vietnam, said: “Even the dogs coming out of those helicopters knew what to do when confronting the terrorist.”


Trump Confounded by Turkey’s Invasion of Syria: Fight ISIS or Back NATO Ally?

January 24, 2018

Turkish offensive against Syrian-Kurdish forces in Afrin leaves U.S. in a bind: “They were ‘our guys’ in Syria, and now they are under attack and the U.S. doesn’t seem to have any real solutions”

Turkish troops advance near the Syria border at Hassa, Hatay province, on January 22, 2018, as part of the operation "Olive Branch", launched two days ago.
Turkish troops advance near the Syria border at Hassa, Hatay province, on January 22, 2018, as part of the operation “Olive Branch”, launched two days ago.BULENT KILIC/AFP

WASHINGTON – Ever since Turkey launched its attack on the Syrian-Kurdish forces in Afrin province this weekend, the Trump administration’s reaction to the new crisis has confused observers in Washington and in the Middle East. The conflict taking place in the northwestern corner of Syria involves an American ally country who is a member of NATO, and a militia group that the United States has partnered with as part of its war against ISIS.

On Tuesday, the U.S. State Department spokeswoman, Heather Nauert, tried to explain the administration’s reaction to the events during her daily press briefing. She said that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has spoken a number of times in recent days with his Turkish counterpart about the crisis in Afrin. Nauert described those conversations as “serious and frank.”

>> With Turkish military invasion, the Americans are once again trapped in Syria | Analysis <<

“We have very real concerns”, Nauert stated. “This area that we’re talking about, Afrin, was relatively stable given that it was Syria, but it was relatively stable, and now we’re seeing it not in that situation. So we’re tremendously concerned about the situation.”


Syrians hold up a banner with the word "Killer" in Turkish and the Arabic phrase "Trump is a killer of children" during a demonstration in northern Syria on January 19, 2018,

Syrians hold up a banner with the word “Killer” in Turkish and the Arabic phrase “Trump is a killer of children” during a demonstration in northern Syria on January 19, 2018, NAZEER AL-KHATIB/AFP

She added that “we call on all parties to remain focused. The reason that the United States is in Syria is to focus on the fight against ISIS. And when you take your eye off ISIS, when you take your eye off that and potentially divert other resources, troops, and all of that to fighting the Kurds, that is a huge problem.”

This was a clear criticism of Turkey. Minutes later, however, Nauert added that the administration also understands Turkey’s point of view: “As much as we are concerned about destabilizing activities in northwestern Syria, I want to make this clear as well, that Turkey is an important NATO ally,” she said. “And as an important NATO ally, we understand – fully understand – Turkey’s concerns about different terrorist organizations. We understand their concerns about the PKK. So we’re having conversations with the Turkish government about addressing those concerns, but also trying to bring stability and encourage them to de-escalate tensions.”

After being asked pressed by reporters trying to understand what exactly, then, is the administration’s position on the recent events in Afrin, Nauert concluded that “we are calling on the Turks to de-escalate the situation. We are calling for not an increase in violence; we’re calling for a decrease in violence and that’s something that is extremely important to us.” She also said that this issue was “at the top of the secretary’s radar right now.”


Kurdish demonstrators holding Kurdish flags and a picture of the Turkish president protest against the operation by the Turkish army aimed at ousting the U.S.-backed Kurdish militia from the area in Afrin, Syria, at the Russian embassy, in Beirut, Lebanon, Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. The Turkish offensive on Afrin, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, started Saturday and has heightened tensions in the already complicated Syrian conflict, threatening to further strain ties between NATO allies Turkey and the United States. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Kurdish demonstrators holding flags and a picture of the Turkish president protest against the operation by Turkish army in Afrin, Syria. Jan. 22, 2018.Hussein Malla/AP

The administration, in other words, is hoping to end the fighting in Afrin, but is not yet willing to seriously pressure Turkey on the subject. “I don’t think they have much of a choice,” said Steven Cook, an expert on Turkey and a senior fellow at the Washington-based Council on Foreign Relations. “The Turks are determined to ensure that Syrian Kurds don’t have this territory. They recognize that the United States is unhappy about it, but they won’t challenge them too much, for now.”

Cook told Haaretz that statements coming out of Washington “encouraging all sides to focus on fighting ISIS,” are in fact “a sign that the United States has very little leverage and no cards to play with.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, he added, “knew there would be a response of this kind coming from the United States,” a clear sign that he is not concerned about the Trump administration’s expressions of discomfort with his aggressive policy.

The Kurdish fighters in the Afrin area belong to the YPG, a Syrian-Kurdish militia that played an important role in the fight against ISIS in northern Syria, and did so in close coordination with the United States.

“The Kurds are angry – they feel betrayed,” Cook said. “And they have reason to. They were ‘our guys’ in Syria, and now they are under attack and the United States doesn’t seem to have any real solutions to offer them.”

The real test for the Trump administration, Cook added, would be whether or not it can stop Erdogan from expanding his attack on the Syrian Kurds to other parts of the border. If the fighting remains only in Afrin, the U.S. could perhaps stick to its current line of requesting both sides to show restraint. If, however, the Turkish attack moves to the east, towards areas of Syria where the YPG defeated ISIS in recent years, that would become “a major problem” for the administration, Cook warned.

Afrin, Syria

“You can understand the Turkish concern for security along the border,” he explained. “But I think there needs to be a strong statement from the U.S. that if this moves further east, we will not accept it. The Turks are using extremist groups in Syria as the tip of their swords in this attack, and we could definitely warn them that we will protect our YPG allies from those extremists if that’s what it takes to keep ISIS at bay in eastern Syria.”

The Syrian Kurdish YPG has been a sticking point between Turkey and the U.S. Washington backs the fighters against Islamic State in Syria. Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has carried out a three-decade violent insurgency in its Kurdish southeast.

Such an American message, Cook said, could be summed up as “we understand your concerns about Afrin, even though we don’t like what you’re doing there, but if you start moving too much to the east – the Syrian forces you’re relying on will pay a price.”

Such a message, however, would likely have to come directly from U.S. President Donald Trump, who so far has not commented on the crisis in Afrin, leaving it to the hands of Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

“I think this issue hasn’t yet surfaced to the top of the president’s tweet pile,” said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East negotiator in the Bush and Clinton administrations, who is currently vice president of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington. “It’s not a top priority for him right now. He is pre-occupied with domestic politics, which is what drives his view of the world,” Miller said, noting that the crisis broke out at the same down that the government was shut-down in Washington.

A Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighter uses a drone at a monitoring point near the Syrian village of Qilah, in the southwestern edge of the Afrin region close to the border with Turkey, on January 22, 2018
A Turkish-backed Syrian rebel fighter uses a drone at a monitoring point near the Syrian village of Qilah, in the southwestern edge of the Afrin region close to the border with Turkey, on January 22, OMAR HAJ KADOUR/AFP

“The Turks have already acted and they’re going to continue to act. As long as you don’t have a situation where American forces are involved in conflict with Free Syria Army forces or, even worse, with Turkish forces, it’s not clear that Trump has to be involved,” Miller said.

“It makes some sense to save the ‘presidential resource’ for an event where you might actually need it, like the Turks going east and crossing the Euphrates. But right now, this is below the level of the president, and up to Mattis and Tillerson to manage.”

Miller said that one possible reason for the administration’s cautions response thus far, could be that Tillerson or Mattis have “already communicated” to the Turks what are America’s “red lines” with regards to their current attack. “If such messages were already conveyed privately, that could explain a lot of what is going on right now, including Russia’s acquiescence and Washington’s restrained responses. Of course, that comes with assuming that the administration is on top of this.”

Mattis calls for Turkish ‘restraint’ in Syria

January 23, 2018


© AFP/File | US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, seen here in November 2017 in Washington, urged Turkey to show restraint in its offensive against a Kurdish militia in Syria.

JAKARTA (AFP) –  US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis urged Turkey on Tuesday to show restraint in its offensive against a Kurdish militia in Syria.”We take very seriously Turkey’s legitimate security concerns and we are committed to work with our NATO allies on those,” Mattis said in Jakarta at the start of an Asian tour.

“We urge Turkey to exercise restraint in the military action and the rhetoric.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to step up an offensive against Kurdish targets in neighbouring Syria and in Iraq.

The operation, which includes an air and ground campaign involving Ankara-backed Syrian rebels, aims to oust the People’s Protection Units (YPG) from Afrin in northern Syria.

Turkey views the YPG as a terror group and an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which has long fought for autonomy within Turkey.

The YPG denies aiming for separatism.

Turkey’s offensive is complicated by the US relationship with the YPG, on which it relied to help oust Islamic State jihadists from their Syrian strongholds.

“The violence in Afrin disrupts what was a relatively stable area in Syria and distracts from the international effort to defeat ISIS,” Mattis said Tuesday, using another name for the Islamic State.

“We are calling all parties to remain focused on defeating ISIS.”

Pakistani PM says ‘committed’ to seizing Islamist charities

January 23, 2018

Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi reacts during an interview with Reuters in Islamabad, Pakistan Jan. 22, 2018. (Reuters/Caren Firouz)
ISLAMABAD: Pakistani Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi on Monday said his government will push ahead with plans to seize control of charities run by an Islamist designated a terrorist by Washington, and warned the United States not to weaken Pakistan.
Abbasi brushed off US President Donald Trump’s recent tweet accusing Pakistan of “lies and deception” in its commitment to fighting terrorism, as he raised the prospect of charging the United States to use Pakistan’s airspace to resupply NATO troops in Afghanistan.
Under pressure from the United States and international institutions to crack down on terrorist financing, Pakistan last month drew up secret plans for a “takeover” of charities linked to Islamist leader Hafiz Saeed, who Washington blames for the 2008 attacks in Mumbai that killed 166 people.
The United States has labelled the charities Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) and the Falah-e-Insaniat Foundation (FIF) as “terrorist fronts” for Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET), or “Army of the Pure,” a group Saeed founded in 1987 and which Washington and India accuse of carrying out the Mumbai attacks.
Saeed has repeatedly denied involvement in the Mumbai attacks and says the charitable organizations he founded and controls have no ties with militants.
But both he and the organizations have been sanctioned by the United Nations and his freedom in Pakistan, where he holds public rallies, has been a thorn in Islamabad’s relations with India and the United States.
“Yes, the government will take over the charities which are sanctioned and not allowed to operate,” Abbasi, 59, told Reuters in an interview at the prime minister’s chamber in Pakistan’s Parliament in capital Islamabad.
Answering specific questions about the proposed takeover of JuD and FIF, Abbasi said the civilian government had the backing of the powerful military, which effectively controls Pakistan’s security and foreign policy.
“Everybody is on board, everybody is on the same page, everybody is committed to implementation of UN sanctions,” he said.
He declined to set a deadline.
JuD and FIF did not respond to Reuters requests for comment. The organizations have previously said they would take legal action if the government tried to take them over. Saeed could not be reached for comment.
Selective action
There are concerns in Pakistan that the country may face financial sanctions over accusations of selective action against Islamist militant groups and financing.
Pakistan is a base for myriad Islamist movements, and critics accuse Islamabad of only targeting militants who attack the state while leaving unscathed those who target neighboring Afghanistan and arch-foe India.
Pakistan denies those allegations.
Abbasi said Pakistan had made progress in curbing terrorist financing after meetings with the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an international body that warned Islamabad could be put on a watchlist for not doing enough to stop the practice.
“We’ve had several meetings on that, and from what I’ve seen a large part of those actions have been taken,” Abbasi said.
A UN Security Council team is due to visit Pakistan this month to review progress against UN-designated “terrorist” groups, which includes LeT and others such as the Afghan Taliban-allied Haqqani network.
Former petroleum minister Abbasi said any sanctions against Pakistan would be counter-productive to the country’s own battle against Islamist militants, which he called “the largest war on terror in the world.”
“Any constraints put on Pakistan, actually only serve to degrade our capability to fight the war against terror,” he said.
Trump meeting
Relations between the United States and its uneasy ally have frayed since Jan. 1, when Trump lashed out against what he called Pakistan’s “lies and deceit” over its alleged support of Afghan Taliban militants battling US troops in Afghanistan. Washington has since suspended aid totalling about $2 billion.
Abbasi said Trump’s tweet was “unacceptable” in its tone and that Pakistan should not be “scapegoated” for US failures in Afghanistan.
“That is something … we cannot accept because nobody’s suffered more than Pakistan,” Abbasi said, adding that tens of thousands of Pakistani have died from militancy that has inflicted damage worth $120 billion to the economy.
US officials last year warned of tougher measures against Pakistan, including potentially withdrawing its “non-Nato ally” status or even designating it a state sponsor of terrorism.
Abbasi said much of the suspended aid was from the Coalition Support Fund (CSF), a US Defense Department program to reimburse allies for the costs of supporting counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations.
He said the US needed to respect Pakistan’s contribution to the fight against Islamist militancy and raised the prospect of charging Washington for air transport flights that have been resupplying US-led troops and Afghan forces in landlocked Afghanistan.
“If somebody wants to start quantifying expenses and aid, I think let’s put this on the table also. Let’s discuss that,” Abbasi said, though he added that such talk was “hypothetical.”
Abbasi dismissed media reports that Islamabad has ended intelligence sharing with the US military as false.
And he also spoke fondly about a brief discussion he had with Trump in September at a reception at the UN General Assembly in New York.
“I found him to be fairly warm,” he said. “Somebody that you would like to engage with and talk to.”

Pakistan Says Alliance With U.S. Is Over

January 5, 2018

America has turned Islamabad into a ‘whipping boy,’ its foreign minister said, after the U.S. suspended security aid to the country

ISLAMABAD—The U.S. failed to behave as an ally and turned Islamabad into a “whipping boy” for its own shortcomings in Afghanistan, Pakistan’s foreign minister said, after the Trump administration suspended security-related aid to the country.

“We do not have any alliance” with the United States, Khawaja Muhammad Asif said in an interview Friday. “This is not how allies behave.”



U.S. suspends at least $900 million in security aid to Pakistan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Thursday it was suspending at least $900 million in security assistance to Pakistan until it takes action against the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network militant groups.

The U.S. State Department announced the decision, saying it reflected the Trump administration’s frustration that Pakistan has not done more against the two groups that Washington says use sanctuaries in Pakistan to launch attacks in neighboring Afghanistan that have killed U.S., Afghan and other forces.

The department declined to say exactly how much aid would be suspended, saying the numbers were still being calculated and included funding from both the State and Defense departments.

Pakistan has long rejected accusations that it fails to tackle the militants battling the Kabul government and U.S.-led foreign forces in Afghanistan, from sanctuaries on its side of the border.

On Friday, Pakistan criticized what it called “shifting goalposts” and said the U.S. suspension of aid was counter-productive.

U.S. officials said two main categories of aid are affected: foreign military financing (FMF), which funds purchases of U.S. military hardware, training and services, and coalition support funds (CSF), which reimburse Pakistan for counter-terrorism operations. They said they could make exceptions to fund critical U.S. national security priorities.

CSF funds, which fall under Defense Department authority, are covered by the freeze, said Pentagon spokesman Commander Patrick Evans, saying Congress authorized up to $900 million in such money for Pakistan for fiscal year 2017, which ended Sept. 30. None of that money has yet been disbursed.

The freeze also covers $255 million in FMF for fiscal year 2016, which falls under State Department authority and whose suspension has already been announced, as well as unspecified amounts of FMF that went unspent in earlier fiscal years.

Briefing reporters, U.S. officials stressed the suspension did not affect civilian aid to Pakistan and that the money could go through if Islamabad took decisive action against the groups.

“Our hope is that they will see this as a further indication of this administration’s immense frustration with the trajectory of our relationship and that they need to be serious about taking the steps we have asked in order to put it on more solid footing,” a senior State Department official told reporters.

“We’re hoping that Pakistan will see this as an incentive, not a punishment,” he added.

The Trump administration briefed Congress on its decision on Wednesday.


Pakistan is largely shrugging off the proposed U.S. aid cuts but frets that Washington could take more drastic measures to deter what it sees as Pakistan’s support for the Taliban.

Pakistan is worried about the influence of old rival India in Afghanistan, and at the same time has been battling a Pakistani Taliban insurgency that Pakistan says was largely fueled by its support for the U.S. war on terrorism launched after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States.

“Arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats,” the Pakistani foreign ministry said in a statement.

Pakistan was engaged with the U.S. administration on security cooperation and awaited further detail, it said.

Tense ties between the uneasy allies nosedived on Jan. 1 when U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out on Twitter against Islamabad’s “lies and deceit” despite $33 billion in aid and the White House warned of “specific actions” to pressure Pakistan.

Trump’s frustrations are shared by some U.S. lawmakers, who accused Pakistan of playing a double game by allowing militant groups sanctuary – which Islamabad denies – despite promising to crack down on them.

“Pakistan is one of the most duplicitous governments I’ve had any involvement with,” Senator Bob Corker, Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told reporters. “Their, in essence, support of the Haqqani network, or … allowing them to have safe harbor in their country when they’re the greatest threat to our men and women in uniform.”

South Asia expert Christine Fair of Georgetown University voiced concern that Pakistan might retaliate for the suspension by closing the highways from the port city of Karachi on which equipment is trucked to land-locked Afghanistan and the airspace through which supplies are flown to U.S.-led international forces there.

“What is the plan if they close the GLOCs?” she asked, using the military acronym for Ground Lines of Communications.

“What if the Pakistanis shut down the ALOCs (Air Lines of Communications). How do you keep supplying the ANSF?” she asked, referring to the Afghan national security forces.

“Pakistan could be within their rights if they tell us you don’t have flyover rights anymore,” she said.

Addititional reporting by David Alexander, Phil Stewart and Patricia Zengerle and Drazen Jorgic in ISLAMABAD; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by James Dalgleish, Robert Birsel

US, Israel reach ‘closed door’ cooperation agreement on Iran

December 29, 2017

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US, Israel reach cooperation agreement on Iran: report

The Hill
U.S. and Israeli officials reached a closed-door cooperation agreement on how to deal with Iran, according to Israel’s Channel 10 News.

The agreement, which was reportedly signed on Dec. 12 at the White House, aims to counter Iran’s missile and nuclear programs.

According to Channel 10, the agreement would translate President Trump’s Oct. 13 speech decertifying the Iran deal into steps on the ground.

The two countries have reportedly decided to set up joint teams to combat Iran in the region.
One joint team would grapple with Iran’s ties to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, as well as Iranian activity in Syria.

The second team would aim to deal with Iran’s nuclear goals, while another team would specialize in dealing with the country’s missile program.

The fourth team is designed to control preparations for any escalation from Hezbollah or Tehran.

The news organization reported a senior Israeli official as saying the two nations “see eye to eye on the trends and processes in the region.”

U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster and his Israeli counterpart Meir Ben-Shabbat led the negotiations, according to Channel 10.

The Hill has reached out to the White House for comment.

The report comes as U.S.-Iranian relations have declined in recent months.

Trump announced in October that he would decertify the Iranian nuclear deal, which was reached during the Obama administration.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley ripped into Tehran earlier this month when she presented what she said was “undeniable” evidence that Iran was supplying weapons to Yemeni rebels in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

U.S.-Israeli relations have been on the uptick since Trump announced earlier this month the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Iran’s legislative body voted on Wednesday to declare Jerusalem the capital of Palestine.


Merkel and Macron call for ‘peaceful settlement’ in eastern Ukraine

December 23, 2017


© AFP/File | Fighting between Ukrainian forces and pro-Russian separatists, who hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions, has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014

PARIS (AFP) – The leaders of Germany and France called on Saturday for all sides in the Ukraine conflict to “face their responsibilities” after a rise in ceasefire violations in the east of the country.A recent spike in fighting between Ukraine’s army and Russian-backed rebels has resulted in casualties on both sides, despite ceasefire deals supposedly being in place.

“There is no alternative to an exclusively peaceful settlement of the conflict,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement issued by the Elysee, referring to “the recent unacceptable increase of ceasefire violations”.

“It is necessary to implement agreements on disengagement and the withdrawal of heavy weapons behind the agreed withdrawal lines, withdrawal of tanks, artillery and mortars to the agreed storage sites,” the statement added, listing requirements to end the conflict.

It said the two leaders “urge the parties to face their responsibilities and to implement as soon as possible the decisions they have already agreed upon, in order to alleviate the suffering of the populations most affected by the present situation.”

A ceasefire was agreed in Minsk in February 2015 as part of a broader peace plan, but its terms haven’t been fulfilled.

Violence has frequently broken out and UNICEF this month warned that hundreds of thousands of children are at imminent risk of being hit by mines and other explosive weapons in the war-torn east.

The conflict in the former Soviet republic broke out in April 2014 and has claimed more than 10,000 lives.


Russia, Accuses U.S. of Encouraging Ukraine to Use More Force to Stop Russian-Backed Separatists Rebels

December 23, 2017


MOSCOW (Reuters) – The U.S. decision to supply weapons to Ukraine is dangerous as it will encourage Kiev to use force in eastern Ukraine, Russian officials said on Saturday.

The U.S. State Department said on Friday the United States would provide Ukraine with “enhanced defensive capabilities” as Kiev battles Russian-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Supplies of any weapons now encourage those who support the conflict in Ukraine to use the “force scenario,” Russia’s RIA state news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin as saying on Saturday.

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U.S. anti-tank weapon Javelin

Franz Klintsevich, a member of the upper house of parliament’s security committee, said Kiev would consider arms supplies as support of its actions, Interfax news agency reported.

“Americans, in fact, directly push Ukrainian forces to war,” Klintsevich said.

After Moscow’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Ukraine and Russia are at loggerheads over a war in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government forces that has killed more than 10,000 people in three years.

Kiev accuses Moscow of sending troops and heavy weapons to the region, which Russia denies.

The Russian foreign ministry said the U.S. decision once again undermines Minsk agreements, TASS state news agency reported on Saturday.

Minsk agreements intended to end the fighting in Ukraine were signed by Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France in the Belarussian capital in early 2015.

Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Alison Williams and Stephen Powell


UN Security Council imposes new sanctions on North Korea

December 23, 2017

UNITED NATIONS/SEOUL (REUTERS) – The UN Security Council on Friday (Dec 22) unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea following its latest intercontinental ballistic missile test, a move that analysts said could have a significant impact on the isolated country’s struggling economy.

The resolution seeks to ban nearly 90 per cent of refined petroleum product exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels a year and, in what diplomats said was a last-minute change, demands the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within 24 months, instead of 12 months as first proposed.

The US-drafted resolution would also cap crude oil supplies to North Korea at four million barrels a year. The United States has been calling on China to limit its oil supply to its neighbour and ally.

Wu Haitao, China’s deputy U.N. ambassador, said tensions on the Korean peninsula risk “spiralling out of control” and he repeated Beijing’s call for talks.  China’s foreign ministry said it hoped all parties would implement the resolution and urged all sides to exercise restraint.

Friday’s resolution passed by a vote of 15 to zero, said Japan’s ambassador to the United Nations. Japan holds the presidency of the Security Council this month.

North Korea on Nov 29 said it successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile in a “breakthrough” that puts the US mainland within range of its nuclear weapons whose warheads could withstand re-entry to the Earth’s atmosphere.

“It (the resolution) sends the unambiguous message to Pyongyang that further defiance will invite further punishments and isolation,” Nikki Haley, US ambassador to the United Nations, said following the vote.

Tensions have been rising over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes, which it pursues in defiance of years of UN Security Council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric coming from both Pyongyang and the White House.

The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 in favor of additional Sanctions on North Korea. The World wants Peace, not Death!

In November, North Korea called for a halt to what it called “brutal sanctions”, saying a previous round imposed after its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept 3 constituted genocide.

US diplomats have made clear they are seeking a diplomatic solution but have proposed new, tougher sanctions to ratchet up pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

North Korea regularly threatens to destroy South Korea, the US and Japan, and says its weapons programmes are necessary to counter US aggression. The US stations 28,500 troops in the South, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean War.

On Friday, a spokesman for North Korea’s foreign ministry called US President Donald Trump’s recently released national security strategy the latest American policy seeking to “stifle our country and turn the entire Korean peninsula” into an outpost of American hegemony.

He said Trump was seeking “total subordination of the whole world”.


Speaking before the Security Council vote, analysts said the new sanctions could have a major effect on the North’s economy.

“If they were enforced, the cap on oil would be devastating for North Korea’s haulage industry, for North Koreans who use generators at home or for productive activities, and for (state-owned enterprises) that do the same,” said Peter Ward, a columnist for NK News, a website that tracks North Korea.

The forced repatriation of foreign workers would also cut off vital sources of foreign currency and investment not only for the government but also for North Korea’s emerging market economy, he said.

“If such sanctions were enforced, they would thus impede and endanger North Korea’s economic development.”

John Park, director of the Korea Working Group at the Harvard Kennedy School, said it was important to manage expectations about sanctions, which could take years to have a full impact while the North was making progress in its weapons progammes at a pace measured in weeks and months.

“If the game plan is to use sanctions as the last non-military policy tool to induce North Korea’s return to the denuclearization table, we may quickly find Washington prioritizing military options,” Park said.

Asked about the effects of sanctions before these latest proposals were announced, Michael Kirby, who led a UN inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea, said cutting off fuel imports would be “a very serious step”.

“Cutting off oil, petroleum supplies, would obviously have a very big impact on the ordinary population,” he said.

China, which supplies most of North Korea’s oil, has backed successive rounds of UN sanctions but had resisted past US calls to cut off supplies to its neighbour.