Posts Tagged ‘Mike Pence’

Pence raises prospect of talks with North Korea amid ‘intensified’ pressure

February 12, 2018

Reuters

SEOUL/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States may be looking more favorably at diplomatic engagement with North Korea, possibly holding dialogue, as South Korea pushes forward with plans to establish grounds for a rare summit between the two Koreas.

 

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, North Korea’s nominal head of state Kim Yong Nam, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister Kim Yo Jong attend the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Pyeongchang, South Korea February 9, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS A

Vice President Mike Pence said in a newspaper interview the United States and South Korea had agreed on terms for further diplomatic engagement with North Korea, first with Seoul and then possibly leading to direct talks with Washington without pre-conditions.

The prospect of talks comes after months of tension between Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, with U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un trading insults and threats of destruction amid tightening sanctions from the United Nations.

Trump has at times questioned the purpose of further talks with the North after years of negotiations by previous U.S. administrations failed to halt the North’s weapons programs.

Last year, North Korea conducted dozens of missile launches and its sixth and largest nuclear test in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions as it pursues its goal of developing a nuclear-armed missile capable of reaching the United States.

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United States’ Vice President Mike Pence and South Korean President Moon Jae-in laugh during the ladies’ 500 meters short-track speedskating in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

Relations between the two Koreas have improved in recent weeks, with Pyongyang agreeing to send its highest ranking delegation ever to attend the Winter Olympic Games, being held in the South Korean resort of Pyeongchang.

The visit included an invitation for South Korean President Moon Jae-in to travel to Pyongyang for talks. Such a meeting, if it came about, would mark the first inter-Korea summit since 2007.

Speaking to the Washington Post aboard Air Force Two on his way home from the Games, Pence said Washington would keep up its “maximum pressure campaign” against Pyongyang but would be open to possible talks at the same time.

“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearisation,” Pence was quoted on Sunday as saying. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”

A South Korean government official said Seoul’s stance was that separate talks with North Korea by South Korea and the United States should both lead the denuclearisation of the North while sanctions and pressure continue to be applied.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in talks with president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly of North Korea Kim Young Nam as Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, looks on after North Korea’s Samjiyon Orchestra’s performance in Seoul, South Korea, February 11, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS

North Korea defends its weapons programs as essential to counter U.S. aggression, saying regular war drills between the United States and the South are preparations for invasion. The South hosts 28,500 U.S. troops, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war.

FAMILY TIES

South Korea said it will seek ways to continue engaging North Korea, including trying to arrange more reunions for families divided by the war and lowering military tensions.

The statement from the Ministry of Unification came after the North Korean delegation concluded its three-day visit.

The two Koreas are still technically at war after the 1950-53 conflict on the Korean peninsula ended in a ceasefire and not a truce.

“(The visit) shows that North Korea has a strong will to improve inter-Korean relations and that Pyongyang can make unprecedented and bold measures if deemed necessary,” the ministry said.

The visit of the delegation, which included North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, intrigued many in South Korea, but also met scepticism about the North’s willingness to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons. North Korea has said it will never give up its nuclear deterrent and critics in the South see its participation in the Games as a reward for bad behavior.

The South’s Unification Ministry said steps to improve ties would be led by the two Koreas, but with the support of the international community.

“Under a strong position for denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, Korea will faithfully implement the international sanctions on North Korea, while also adhering to the principle of resolution through peaceful means,” the statement said.

Kim Yo Jong and her delegation spent three days dining with top government officials, watching the opening ceremony and cheering for the united women’s ice hockey team the two Koreas have fielded at this Olympics.

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach will visit North Korea after the Games as part of an agreement between the IOC and North and South Korea, a source within the Olympic movement told Reuters on Monday.

Reporting by Christine Kim in SEOUL and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Nick Macfie

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Abe and Pence say no divide on North Korea during Tokyo meeting, warn against Pyongyang’s ‘smile diplomacy’

February 8, 2018

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence inspects PAC-3 missile interceptors with Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo on Wednesday. | REUTERS

BY  AND 

Amid signs of a gradual thaw in inter-Korean relations and a growing divide between Seoul and Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and visiting U.S. Vice President Mike Pence reaffirmed Wednesday their commitment to a policy of maintaining “maximum pressure” on North Korea days ahead of the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.

In a joint statement with Pence, Abe also said Tokyo and Washington agreed to urge the global community not to fall for North Korea’s “smile diplomacy,” a reference to the regime’s recent olive-branch tactics.

Pence’s visit to Tokyo marked the beginning of his Asia trip, which will see him attend the games’ opening ceremony Friday.

“We respect the progress on inter-Korean talks, but we need to accept the reality that North Korea is persistently pursuing nuclear and missile programs,” Abe said as he stood alongside Pence in Tokyo, adding Pyongyang’s massive military parade slated for Thursday is proof that its provocative nature is still very much alive.

“Today, I shared the recognition with Vice President Pence once again that Japan, the U.S. and South Korea need to maximize pressure against North Korea through every possible measure. I was able to coordinate our North Korea policy completely.”

“Security is the foundation of our prosperities, and security in the Indo-Pacific is the main reason I came to Japan today,” Pence said. “Working together, the United States and Japan will continue to confront the most dangerous threat in the Indo-Pacific, the rogue regime … North Korea,” he said.

“We will continue to intensify our maximum pressure campaign,” Pence said, until North Korea takes steps toward “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization.”

“The United States is committed to provide Japan with additional cutting edge defense systems. Our nations are now working together to deliver these new defense systems as quickly as possible,” he added.

Pence last visited Japan in April of last year as part of a Japan-U.S. economic dialogue framework involving his counterpart, Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso.

After meeting with Abe, Pence was expected to sit down with Aso Wednesday night to hold informal discussions on various topics including trade.

But “the economy isn’t really the highlight of his trip this time around, it’s North Korea that he will likely spend lots of time talking about,” a senior Foreign Ministry official told reporters ahead of the visit.

Pence was scheduled to address U.S. military personnel Thursday morning at Yokota Air Base before flying over to South Korea.

His visit to Tokyo is not only intended to showcase Japan-U.S. solidarity but also send “a message to South Korea,” said Kazuhiro Maeshima, a professor of international relations at Sophia University. “It’s America’s way of warning Seoul not to go rogue” and engage in dialogue with Pyongyang on its own.

The vice president’s trip coincides withgrowing signs of rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula, as opposed to the more hard-line diplomatic stance maintained by Tokyo and Washington.

After negotiations with Seoul, Pyongyang decided to dispatch what it touted as a “high-level” delegation — comprised of athletes and officials — to the Winter Games. The regime announced Monday that the group will be led by Kim Yong Nam, president of the Presidium of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

Kim is reportedly the highest-ranking North Korean official to visit the South since the Korean War ended with a truce in 1953.

Prior to Pence’s visit, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga in Tokyo cautioned against Pyongyang’s charm offensive.

By taking advantage of talks between the two Koreas ahead of the Olympic Games, “it is likely that North Korea is trying to deflect international attention away from its nuclear and missile programs and buy itself more time to press ahead with further development,” the top government spokesman said.

Suga noted the possibility of the regime using overtures as leverage to elicit more financial support, stop U.S.-South Korea military drills and “drive a wedge” between its perceived enemies.

“We cannot be swayed by North Korea’s smile diplomacy,” Suga also said.

While the U.S. has stressed a commitment to playing hardball with North Korea, there is growing speculation that there may be a meeting between Washington and Pyongyang on the sidelines of the Winter Games. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Pence separately left open the possibility of direct contact with the North, reportedly using the exact same language: “We’ll see what happens.”

Maeshima said it’s hard to foresee a breakthrough at this point. He added, however, that any face-to-face contact, however fleeting, between Pence and Kim would represent “significant progress,” nonetheless.

“Even three seconds of a greeting or conversation would be a step toward opening up a diplomatic channel between the U.S. and the North,” Maeshima said.

Abe, for his part, took a dim view on the prospect of such a dialogue.

“Unless North Korea shows sincere willingness to denuclearize itself and take concrete steps toward that goal, we cannot expect any meaningful dialogue,” Abe said.

Right from the onset of their discussion, Abe and Pence reaffirmed that the Japan-U.S. alliance is stronger than ever, with both agreeing that Wednesday’s meeting was a chance to further consider ways to bolster cooperation on security, diplomacy and economics.

“Our alliance between Japan and the United States has become more robust and unwavering than ever,” Abe said.

Abe and Pence did not discuss Tokyo’s recent feud with Seoul over the issue of “comfort women,” a euphemism for the women who were forced to provide sex in Japanese military brothels before and during World War II, a Japanese official told reporters after the meeting. Nor did they talk about President Donald Trump’s recent stated willingness to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement under better terms.

Earlier that day, Pence visited the Defense Ministry in Tokyo to inspect the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air interceptors deployed by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.

“I wish to enrich (Pence’s) understanding of the tough security situation surrounding Japan, including North Korea’s technological improvement in nuclear missile development, and China’s military reinforcement and increasing activities in its surrounding sea and airspace,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said in a meeting with Pence.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/02/07/national/politics-diplomacy/pence-views-japans-missile-defense-site-north-korea-agenda-talks/#.WnwYSujwaUk

Let the Propaganda Games Begin: North Korea Scores First in Olympic Battle

February 7, 2018

Pyongyang looks to project unity on global stage while foes remind world of its evils

Image result for photos, south korea, olympics

SEOUL—Ninety-two countries will take part in the Winter Olympics that begin Friday in the South Korean ski resort of Pyeongchang. Yet much attention will be fixed on one that failed to register any athletes and has only the faintest of medal hopes: North Korea.

 

After a year in which Pyongyang test-launched ballistic missiles and detonated a powerful nuclear weapon in violation of United Nations resolutions, the regime of leader Kim Jong Un is trying to present a friendlier face on a stage many view as a symbol of international peace and harmony.

North Korea’s success in getting into the Olympics represents a first-round win in a parallel competition: the propaganda games.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will be there for the opposing team, attending the opening ceremony with the parents of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. college student who died in June, days after he was returned to the U.S. in a coma after over a year in North Korean custody.

Protesters demonstrate against the arrival of North Korean performers in Donghae, South Korea on Tuesday.
Protesters demonstrate against the arrival of North Korean performers in Donghae, South Korea on Tuesday.PHOTO: CARL COURT/GETTY IMAGES

“We’re traveling to the Olympics to make sure that North Korea doesn’t use the powerful symbolism and the backdrop of the Winter Olympics to paper over the truth about their regime,” Mr. Pence said Monday.

Mr. Pence hinted at a series of events highlighting North Korea’s human-rights abuses. “We’ll be telling the truth about North Korea at every stop,” he said.

But Mr. Kim will also have opportunities to score more image points in the days to come.

Hundreds of North Korean cheerleaders will descend on the Olympic venues. A 140-member North Korean musical ensemble will perform two shows to packed auditoriums in Seoul and at the Games.

North Korea’s 22 athletes, brought in with a last-minute assist from the International Olympic Committee, will march into Pyeongchang’s opening ceremony alongside the South’s larger delegation under a flag bearing a silhouette of an undivided Korean peninsula.

In the arena, even one victory for the inter-Korean women’s ice-hockey team would be a coup for Pyongyang—especially if it comes against rival Japan.

The Korean women’s hockey team lines up on Sunday ahead of a match with Sweden on Sunday in Incheon, South Korea.
The Korean women’s hockey team lines up on Sunday ahead of a match with Sweden on Sunday in Incheon, South Korea. PHOTO: JON OLAV NESVOLD/ZUMA PRESS

North Korea’s pivot to rapprochement, which began in a Jan. 1 speech by Mr. Kim that also included threats of nuclear destruction, has injected tensions into the alliance between South Korea and the U.S. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has promoted outreach to the North, while the Trump administration has led a global campaign of pressure and sanctions.

Mr. Kim raised the stakes on Wednesday by informing Seoul that he would send his younger sister, Kim Yo Jong, to the Games, in the first official visit to the South by a member of the North’s ruling family.

The opening ceremony alone will present plenty of potential for drama. Mr. Pence will be there, as will North Korea’s nominal head of state, Kim Yong Nam. The seating arrangement could allow for an encounter—planned or otherwise—between the two. It’s also possible that Ms. Kim could attend the opening ceremony.

The North’s involvement in the Games allows it to try to cast itself as something of a peacemaker, despite its continued pledges to bolster its arsenal of nuclear weapons. The U.S. and South Korea recently agreed to postpone joint military exercises until after the Paralympics end in mid-March, citing the need to concentrate on security arrangements for the Games.

For skeptics of Mr. Kim’s intentions, this has turned the Pyeongchang Olympics into the “Pyongyang Olympics”—a phrase that South Korea’s main conservative opposition party has deployed in recent weeks.

“It’s amazing how completely Kim Jong Un is controlling the agenda,” said Aidan Foster-Carter, an honorary senior research fellow and Korea expert at Leeds University in the U.K.

Pyeongchang, a tiny ski resort in a remote corner of South Korea, has transformed itself into the host of the largest-ever Winter Olympics. Here’s how the Games look from a drone’s perspective.

Defenders of South Korea’s president say that if allowing Mr. Kim to bask in a propaganda win is the price needed to ensure a peaceful Olympics free of North Korean military threats, it is a price worth paying.

“As recently as the end of last year, it was unimaginable that South and North Korea would enter the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympics together,” read an editorial praising the rapprochement, in Hankyoreh, South Korea’s main left-leaning newspaper.

A hint of North Korea’s charm offensive came in the early rounds of inter-Korean dialogue last month, when Pyongyang sent its best-known pop singer to the talks.

The appearance of Hyon Song Wol at the negotiating table and then on an inspection of concert venues caused a flurry of excitement in South Korea, where her every move was broadcast on national TV.

The image could turn once the Games are under way, if there are defections from the North Korean delegation or protests against the regime by athletes or others.

South Korean conservatives have already met the North Koreans’ arrival with protests, burning the North’s flag and effigies of Mr. Kim.

The last time South Korea hosted the 1988 Summer Olympics, Pyongyang made several efforts to co-host events but was rebuffed, and blew up a South Korean airliner in the lead-up to the Games. The 2018 Games could provide a display of the gap that has continued to widen between this thriving democracy and the impoverished dictatorship next door.

The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, North Korea was shut out and blew up a South Korean airliner, killing over 100 people. Here a South Korean government employee carries the Olympic flame Seoul on Sept. 16, 1988, ahead of the opening ceremony.
The last time South Korea hosted the Olympics, North Korea was shut out and blew up a South Korean airliner, killing over 100 people. Here a South Korean government employee carries the Olympic flame Seoul on Sept. 16, 1988, ahead of the opening ceremony. PHOTO: HYUNGWONG KANG/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Even as the North has turned on the charm, there is plenty of evidence that it hasn’t backed away from its goal of being able to threaten the U.S. with nuclear-tipped missiles. On Thursday, a day before the Olympic opening ceremony, North Korea is expected to hold a large military parade in Pyongyang where it could show off new hardware.

It has also continued to lash out at its three nemeses: South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. In articles published through its state mouthpiece on Tuesday, the North called South Korea’s defense minister “an imbecile” and “a colonial stooge,” while denouncing President Donald Trump as a “dolt-like” lunatic whose “backbone would be broken” if the U.S. conducted even a limited, so-called bloody-nose military strike on North Korea.

Write to Jonathan Cheng at jonathan.cheng@wsj.com

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/let-the-propaganda-games-begin-north-korea-scores-first-in-olympic-battle-1517999404

South Korea Kept U.S. Out of the Loop on North Korea Overture — South Korea accused of “cutting the U.S. out of the decision-making process”

February 5, 2018

Officials on both sides say Seoul’s North Korea move puts strains on alliance

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SEOUL—When North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un suggested in a New Year address that his country might be open to participating in the Winter Olympics, South Korea’s president and top aides quickly convened to craft a friendly response.

U.S. officials, however, weren’t included in those consultations and, to their consternation, were notified just hours before Seoul announced its proposal to Pyongyang for negotiations.

North Korea’s surprise outreach and South Korea’s opening to its northern rival have stirred tensions between Seoul and Washington—despite professed unity in public statements—as the allies work to present a common front in dealing with Pyongyang, according to senior U.S. and South Korean officials.

Trump may present peace plan even if Palestinians won’t negotiate — “Peace will not be achieved by walking away”

February 2, 2018

Barak Ravid of Israel’s Channel 10 news

Axios

The White House is considering presenting President Trump’s Middle East peace plan even if the crisis with the Palestinian Authority continues and Palestinian President Abbas refuses to come to the negotiating table, senior U.S. officials tell me.

The bottom line: The U.S. officials say the administration won’t impose on the Israelis or Palestinians to accept the plan, but may release it so the parties and international community can judge it at face value.

The officials said no decisions were made yet in this regard but stressed the president and his “peace team” are not ruling out this option.

One senior U.S. official told me:

“Since it’s not done, we haven’t decided yet how we are going to put it forward and what happens if one of the sides isn’t ready to come to the table. We are not there yet. But we are very optimistic that all relevant countries who want to support a peace agreement between the two sides are still waiting for our plan, want to work with us and realize we cannot be replaced. Despite all of the false reports about our plan, we are confident it will be beneficial to both sides and both peoples.”

The current standoff

After Trump’s Jerusalem announcement on December 6th, Abbas announced he would cut ties with the U.S. over the peace process. The Palestinians also boycotted Vice President Pence’s visit in the region.

  • Abbas claimed Trump is not an honest broker and called his peace plan “the slap of the century”.
  • Meanwhile Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu said he will react to the Trump plan after he sees it but stressed he is ready to renew peace talks.

The latest developments…

  • U.S. special envoy Jason Greenblatt held a series of meetings with Netanyahu, his advisers and several ministers over the last two weeks. Greenblatt also met with opposition leader Hertzog and briefed EU member states representatives in Tel-Aviv and East Jerusalem. He did not meet with any Palestinian officials but met with Palestinian students and private sector executives.
  • On Wednesday, Greenblatt participated in an emergency meeting of the donor countries to the Palestinian Authority. The meeting focused on the crisis in the peace process and on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. The Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah also participated in the meeting. It was the first time senior Palestinian and U.S. officials were around the same table since the Jerusalem announcement. Greenblatt and Hamdallah shook hands but didn’t hold a meeting.
  • In his speech during the plenary meeting, Greenblatt referred to Hamdallah and said he hopes that the fact he is participating shows the Palestinians are still committed to the efforts to renew the peace process. Greenblatt also said President Trump’s announcement was just a recognition of reality and the connection of Israel and the Jewish people to Jerusalem. Greenblatt also said in his speech: “Did the President’s decision prejudge any final status issues? No. We have not taken a position on borders”.
  • Greenblatt stressed that the Trump administration continues drafting its peace plan and called on the Palestinians to return to the peace talks: “Peace will not be achieved by walking away from negotiations. It is easy to walk away from the table. But that helps no one, and it reduces or perhaps eliminates the chances of achieving a comprehensive peace agreement. And that would be terrible for the Palestinian people”.

Axios:https://www.axios.com/trump-may-present-middle-east-peace-plan-without-palestin-1517504081-af6aabf0-76c5-4994-9d37-1dc203a411c3.html

US delegation flees Bethlehem as Palestinian protesters storm workshop — “Zionism = Nazism = Fascism.”

January 30, 2018

Times of Israel & AFP
January 30, 2018

Angry demonstrators slam Trump’s Jerusalem move; throw tomatoes at vehicle with US consular license plates, damage side mirror

Palestinian activists disrupt a meeting between members of an American economic delegation and the Head of the Bethlehem Chamber for Commerce and Industry in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on January 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Musa Al-Shaer)

Palestinian activists disrupt a meeting between members of an American economic delegation and the Head of the Bethlehem Chamber for Commerce and Industry in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on January 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Musa Al-Shaer)

A delegation of US diplomats had to cut short an event in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on Tuesday, an attendee said, after protesters stormed their meeting.

The angry protesters, who were objecting to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, also threw tomatoes at the delegation’s car as they left, a video posted online showed.

Some five protesters kicked one of the doors of the car, which had US consular license plates, and ripped the plastic casing off a side mirror, Reuters reported.

A Palestinian activist throws a tomato at a vehicle transporting members of an American economic delegation that are meeting with the Head of the Bethlehem Chamber for Commerce and Industry alongside Palestinian businessmen in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on January 30, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/Musa AL SHAER)

Samir Hazboun, head of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, said the group had been holding a training session for local businesspeople about digital commerce with an American expert and a delegation from the US consulate in Jerusalem.

“We were surprised when a number of angry protesters held an extraordinary protest, which forced us to end the course and for the American trainer to leave immediately with the American consulate delegation,” he told AFP.

A Palestinian activist argues with argue with Sameer Hazboun (L), the head of the Bethlehem Chamber for Commerce and Industry as they meet with an American economic delegation in the West Bank town of Bethlehem on January 30, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/Musa AL SHAER)

The video showed a handful of protesters entering the room and chanting while holding signs opposing Trump’s decision.

One sign read “Zionism = Nazism = Fascism.”

The American delegation quickly packed up and left, with the protesters throwing what appeared to be tomatoes at their cars, while one man kicked a car.

The US Consulate in Jerusalem declined comment, Reuters reported.

A Palestinian kicks a SUV carrying members of an American economic delegation in the West Bank city of Bethlehem on January 30, 2018. (AFP Photo/Musa Al-Shaer)

Palestinians froze ties with Washington following Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The US has reacted to the boycott by freezing payments worth $100 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) earlier this month, and the White House and Congress are threatening to further cut aid to the Palestinians.

The declaration saw a spike in violent protests in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. There has also been a surge in rocket attacks from Gaza, and Hamas, the terror group which rules Gaza and seeks to destroy Israel, has called for a new intifada to liberate Jerusalem and urged Palestinians to confront soldiers and settlers.

The Central Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PCC) — the second-highest decision-making body for Palestinians — recently voted to officially declare the US no longer fit to be the sole sponsor of peace talks.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/us-delegation-flees-bethlehem-as-palestinian-protesters-storm-workshop/

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Angered by Trump, Palestinian protesters disrupt business seminar US helped organize in Bethlehem

January 30, 2018

A Palestinian activist kicks a vehicle transporting members of an American economic delegation that are meeting with the Head of the Bethlehem Chamber for Commerce and Industry alongside Palestinian businessmen in the West Bank town. (AFP)
BETHLEHEM, West Bank: Palestinians protesting against US President Donald Trump’s policy on Jerusalem halted a US-coordinated Palestinian marketing workshop in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday, damaging an American diplomatic vehicle as it sped away.
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Protesters threw tomatoes at the sports utility vehicle, which had US consular license plates. They also kicked one of its doors and ripped the plastic casing off a side mirror as it drove off under Palestinian police escort from the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce.
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Samir Hazboun, the chamber’s director, told Reuters that a digital marketing workshop, which the US Consulate in Jerusalem helped to organize, was under way when about five protesters barged in.
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“We hosted an American expert on this issue. Some people who have been trying to express their point of view and protest (against) the American decision regarding Jerusalem and the political situation … interrupted the workshop and we stopped the workshop,” Hazboun said.
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Commenting on the incident, a State Department spokesperson said: “The United States opposes the use of violence and intimidation to express political views. This non-political program was one part of long-term US engagement to create economic opportunities for Palestinians.”
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The US-based lecturer was not a consular staff member. He was accompanied by consular security personnel and some of its Palestinian employees, organizers said.
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Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital overturned decades of US policy that its status should be decided in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
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His declaration drew universal condemnation from Arab leaders, stirred Palestinian street protests and drew widespread international criticism.
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On a visit to Israel last week, US Vice President Mike Pence said that Trump’s promised relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would take place by the end of 2019. Palestinians boycotted Pence’s visit.
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Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians say East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in a 1967 war, must be the capital of a state they seek in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
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In the Aida refugee camp near Bethlehem on Saturday, effigies of Trump and Pence were hanged and burned in a protest attended by about 30 Palestinians.

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Palestinians search for alternatives to US-led peace process

January 29, 2018

A Palestinian student from the Balata refugee camp near Nablus in the Israeli occupied West Bank protests against the reduction of the services of the UN agency and against US president’s decision to cut aid, on Sunday. (AFP)
AMMAN: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has triggered a frantic search for a new strategy toward ending Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state.
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During the Palestine Central Council meeting earlier this month, Abbas angrily declared that US-brokered negotiations were over after President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
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Abbas’ two-hour speech in front of the 80-member council was followed by a boycott of the visiting US Vice President Mike Pence.
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The Palestinian leadership has triggered the pursuit of a more even-handed mechanism to handle negotiations with Israel.
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Hani Al-Masri, a Ramallah-based Palestinian analyst, described Abbas’ speech as having delved “deep into history, passed quickly over the present, and largely — almost totally — ignored the future.”
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But Abbas did give some hints about possible options ahead.
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Palestinians have long claimed the talks were biased in favor of Israel and Abbas called for any further discussion to be brokered by an international committee.
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He also said they would pursue Israel at the International Criminal Court for war crimes, encourage popular resistance and continue to work with Israeli peace activists.
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International sponsors
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Abbas dispatched emissaries to Russia and China soon after Trump broke with decades of US policy with his Jerusalem declaration last month.
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But the focus of Palestinian diplomatic strategy has been on Europe where the hope is that Brussels can provide balance to the pro-Israel US role.
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Abbas visited Belgium last week and urged European countries to respond by recognizing the state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem. But the plea was met with a muted response.
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Slovenia’s foreign minister said he hoped his country would later this year become the 10th European nation to recognize Palestine. Sweden is the only country to have recognized Palestine while being part of the EU. Countries like the Czech Republic and Hungary did so before joining the bloc. Ireland, Portugal, Luxemburg and Belgium are debating whether to follow suit.
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While the EU assured Abbas of its commitment to a two-state solution with Jerusalem as a shared capital, there was little support during his visit for his call to immediately recognize the Palestinian state, Reuters reported.
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The EU is the biggest donor of aid to Palestinians but it is also the largest trade partner with Israel.
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In a meeting in Washington on Wednesday, the head of Palestine’s mission to the US, Husam Zomlot told a delegation of European diplomats that the issue is no longer one of the negotiations but of implementation.
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“The time is ripe for the activation of the international community led by Europe to take a lead role in a peace implementation process that is based on international law,” he said.
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While efforts in Brussels and other international moves will continue, it is not expected that this alone will lead to significant progress in the near future.
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Non-violent resistance
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For many Palestinians, the only realistic and possible alternative to US-led peace talks is what Abbas referred to as “peaceful popular resistance.”
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The Palestinian president praised the tactics deployed during the first intifada, which started in 1987, and made it clear that he abhors violence.
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Mubarak Awad the founder of the International Center for Nonviolence told Arab News that peaceful resistance must be a dedicated strategy, not a short-term tactic.
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“We are requesting many groups, organization, colleges, universities, and churches to boycott, divest and sanction Israel yet we eat Israeli products.”
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He suggested that Palestine begin forming local communities to take care of people in preparation for an economic struggle against Israel that will inevitably lead to a cut in the Palestinian budget.
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“Local bodies need to organize, prepare and help their members to be prepared for the cost and sacrifice that will come with the struggle for freedom and independence. They need to work towards bringing unity and self-reliance.”
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At the present time, Awad and others are aware that neither Abbas nor most of his Fatah movement are capable of leading a physically demanding national non-violent campaign.
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The majority of Fatah activists are deeply embroiled in the Palestinian government and most of its leaders are over 65.
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Awad also suggested that Palestinians should consider using a different currency than the Israeli Shekel, such as the Jordanian dinar, Egyptian pound, or create a Palestinian currency.
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There is also the challenge of political apathy among Palestinian parties and factions, especially in Gaza where living conditions are the worst and people feel they have been pawns in the hands of local and regional powers and ideologies.

Of All Threats Facing Israel, Army Believes Palestinian Front Is the Most Volatile

January 27, 2018

Haaretz

A new document outlining the strategy of the Israel Defense Forces describes Israel’s three largest threats, and its best asset

An IDF tank on the Lebanon border, January 25, 2015.

The most current document outlining the strategy of the Israel Defense Forces, distributed within the army about two months ago, described the Palestinian arena as potentially the most volatile from Israel’s perspective. But in the hierarchy of threats the document says the IDF army is preparing to deal with, the Palestinian front is presented as secondary.

Ahead of it, from the General Staff’s point of view, is the Shi’ite threat represented by Iran and which in the past two years increasingly included Syria alongside Hezbollah in Lebanon. The third most significant threat, according to the army, is posed by Sunni extremist organizations, first and foremost Al-Qaida and the Islamic State.

In the summer of 2015, six months after Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot became chief of staff, he took the unusual step of composing a strategic document, whose nonclassified version was made public. The document sparked extensive discussion among researchers and experts, mainly because Eisenkot took on sensitive topics, such as the security doctrine and the IDF’s objectives in combat, that political leaders had consistently avoided. When the document was released, Eisenkot said it would have to be updated based on military developments. In November, a revision was completed that was not made public. Its main points are reported here for the first time.

One update is the division of the region into “areas of confrontations” (threats to Israel) and “areas of cooperation” (countries that are friendly or with which some coordination is possible). Also stressed is the growing importance of Israel’s “battle between the wars” against terror groups and analysis of the application of military force as a blend of achieving a decisive outcome and of preventing war.

The supreme test

According to Eisenkot, the IDF’s supreme test is to implement its strategy and to prepare for challenges. “Our goal is to protect and win,” Eisenkot wrote in the introduction to the new edition, copies of which were distributed within the army and sent to members of the inner cabinet after it was shown to Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

The new document contains an updated discussion of the cooperation between moderate countries in the region and world powers, first and foremost the United States. It stresses that the army’s actions are intended to strengthen Israel’s international and regional position.

“Looking ahead to the coming years, Israel has an established strategic position and a positive balance over all its enemies,” the document states. It ascribes this state of affairs to U.S. support for Israel, the postponement of the Iranian nuclear threat, the weakening of Arab states and the focus of states in the region on domestic issues, the waning likelihood of an Arab military coalition against Israel and Israel’s military advantage over its enemies.

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The update emphasizes Iran’s role in the threats facing Israel. The paper’s first edition was written during the regional window of opportunity that followed the signing of the 2015 nuclear deal, about which Eisenkot was more optimistic than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The latest edition notes that Iran has been instrumental in strengthening Shi’ite influence and the possibility of a potential conventional warfare threat by deploying Shi’ite militias along Israel’s border with Syria on the Golan Heights. While the Shi’ite threat is growing, the Palestinian arena is the more volatile one. The document mentions for the first time the threat of “lone wolf” attacks, manifested in the wave of knife assaults that began in October 2015.

Army officials attributed the revisions to widespread changes in the region since the first edition was published. These include, in addition to growing Iranian involvement in Syria, Russia’s heightened presence there as well as Israel’s construction of a tunnel barrier on the Gaza border and the increased threat from Islamic State in Sinai.

Progress by the enemy

The army sees progress by the enemy in a number of areas, including more precise fire that can cause major damage to infrastructure in Israel, the acquisition of advanced weapons that can hinder the mobility of ground forces, the growing threat of cyberwarfare from “numerous players,” at attempts to wage what the document calls a “war for consciousness, legitimization and law.” The IDF has identified an “ongoing and growing trend to move the fighting to our territory,” it states.

The IDF defines the principles of Israel’s security doctrine as deterrence, reducing threats and deferring military conflicts if needed, offensive action during war and adhering to the principles defined by David Ben-Gurion: taking the fight to the enemy and shortening the war to restore normal life as soon as possible.

Beads for the natives

Netanyahu was right again. The current U.S. administration is the most pro-Israeli ever, as was underscored by the visit this week of Vice President Mike Pence. Whether this necessarily benefits Israel’s strategic situation in the region is another question altogether.

The friendship itself is a good thing. With the Middle East in such a tumult of contradicting trends, and stability so far away, it’s good to know the United States is on our side. But there is a dissonance between the Trump-Netanyahu alliance and the inaction of the United States in the region. Pence was enthusiastically received during his Knesset speech that recalled the warm welcome of the Republican senators to Netanyahu when he spoke in Washington against the nuclear deal in 2015. Pence’s declaration that the U.S. Embassy would move to Jerusalem by the end of 2019 was greeted with cheers by the cabinet members and many MKs. But while Pence was handing out beads to the natives, as one listener put it sarcastically, the United States was disappearing from a no-less important region, Syria.

The real drama this week was in northern Syria, where Turkey mounted an offensive against the district of Afrin, near the border, as part of its war against Kurdish militias. Those militias are part of the “Syrian democratic forces” that with robust U.S. assistance played an important role in driving Islamic State from its self-declared caliphate in Raqqa and Deir el-Zour. The United States also hoped to use these militias to thwart Iran’s establishment of a land corridor from Tehran through Syria to Damascus and Beirut. That was the foundation of what was left of U.S. strategy in Syria, which seems to have dissipated entirely this week. The Turks invaded, coordinated with the Russians or the Iranians, or perhaps they turned a blind eye to the incursion.

Considering the lack of American action, the high level of coordination reached by Netanyahu and President Donald Trump is surprising. It seems for the moment that some of the Israeli right’s fondest dreams are about to come true. The Americans, who are finding it hard elsewhere to walk and chew gum at the same time (said, famously, about President Gerald Ford), are showing remarkable synchronization when it comes to Israel, so much so that when Trump contradicted Netanyahu’s assessment about the timing of the U.S. Embassy’s move to Jerusalem, a statement is immediately issued toeing the line with Israel — and the date, entirely by chance, coincides with Israel’s next scheduled election year here, a fine gift to Netanyahu. Did someone say diplomatic isolation?

The U.S. is showing the same determination toward Iran. At the Knesset, Pence reiterated Trump’s pledge not to sign an extension of the nuclear agreement in four months if it is not improved. Jerusalem rejoiced, without questioning how this was to happen and how the five other powers that are partners to the agreement would respond.

At the moment it seems that the daylight between Washington and Jerusalem doesn’t leave room for even a pin. The motives of the Republicans here are interesting: Is it a simple response to the expectations of their voters, a sign of the impact of the evangelical audience or the hope to obtain Jewish votes, which traditionally go to the Democrats, in the next election?

Meanwhile, waiting in the wings is Trump’s much-touted Israeli-Palestinian peace initiative. But Netanyahu’s close relationship with the U.S. administration raises the possibility that such an initiative will be stillborn, with no chance of acceptance by the Palestinians. The initiative is likely to be postponed, with U.S. Ambassador Jason Greenblatt occasionally whispering in the ears of diplomatic reporters a few details of the plan.

Pence’s speech this week conveyed an important message to the region about the solid alliance between Israel and the United States. It also dispelled any remnant of the United States as a fair broker vis-a-vis the Palestinians. Will this push the Palestinian Authority into a corner, giving it an excuse to reignite violence? Only time will tell.

Palestinians Respond to Trump: If Jerusalem Off Table, Then U.S. No Longer Has Seat at the Table

January 26, 2018
Haaretz

‘Trump can buy many things with his money, but he won’t be able to buy the dignity of our nation,’ Palestinians say after Trump threatens to cut aid if Palestinians refuse to return to peace talk

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Abbas speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 14, 2018.
Abbas speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 14, 2018.REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fired back at U.S. President Donald Trump who said Jerusalem was taken off the negotiating table, with a spokesman for the Palestinian leader saying him that if Jerusalem is off the table then the U.S. no longer has a seat at that table.

Trump met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday. Ahead of their meeting, Trump said that that the U.S. had taken Jerusalem off the negotiating table and seemed to threaten Palestinians to return to peace talk or run the risk of losing financial support from the U.S.

>> Trump says Jerusalem ‘off the table,’ threatens to pull aid to Palestinians if they don’t pursue peace <<

“Jerusalem is not off the negotiations table, rather the U.S. is outside the international consensus,” said Saeb Erekat, the former Palestinian chief peace negotiator.

“Those who say that Jerusalem is off the table are saying that peace is off the table. The holy city is in the hearts of each and every Palestinian, Arab, Christian and Muslim, and there will be no peace without East Jerusalem being the sovereign capital of the State of Palestine,” Saeb Erekat said in a statement.

“Trump could buy many things with his money, but he won’t be able to buy the dignity of our nation,” he added.

‘Money on the table’ 

Trump claimed that the Palestinians “disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them, and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support, tremendous numbers, numbers that nobody understands.

“That money is on the table. That money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace” with Israel, he said.

Trump’s statement that Jerusalem is “off the table” contradicts what he himself said and what his vice president recently told Israelis: that the U.S. decision to recognize the city as Israel’s capital will not influence the final status of its borders.

The U.S. president also said that he has “a proposal for peace,” adding that “We have a great proposal for the Palestinians, it covers a lot of the things we discussed over the years.”

However, Trump then noted that the U.S. had taken the issue of Jerusalem out of the talks. “You could never get past Jerusalem, we got it off the table,” he said. “I hope the Palestinians want to make peace.” He then added: “We give them tremendous amounts. That money is on the table. Why should we do that, if they’re doing nothing for us.”

The meeting between the heads of state took place just 72 hours after Netanyahu met with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in Jerusalem, who promised that the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to an existing consular office in Jerusalem by the end of 2019.