Posts Tagged ‘U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’

U.S., Turkey agrees to normalize relations, Turkish Foreign Minister says

February 16, 2018

Reuters

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and the United States have decided to “establish mechanisms” to normalize relations between them, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday, after weeks of escalating anti-American rhetoric from Ankara.

Speaking at a joint news conference with his U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Cavusoglu said Turkey and the United States will hold another meeting by mid-March.

Tillerson met with President Tayyip Erdogan and had a “productive and open” talk on late Thursday, according to a U.S. State Department spokesman traveling with Tillerson.

Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by David Dolan

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Demonstrators chant anti-US slogans during a rally near the building where Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Ankara, Turkey, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018. The group protested U.S. support to Syrian Kurdish militia, known as the People’s Protection Units, or YPG_ the top U.S. ally in the fight against the Islamic State. Turkey considers them a “terrorist” group linked to Kurdish rebels fighting inside Turkey. AP Photo)

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Erdoğan conveys Turkey’s regional priorities to Tillerson in meeting

ANKARA

Erdoğan conveys Turkey’s regional priorities to Tillerson in meetingTurkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Feb. 15 “clearly” told U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about Turkey’s expectations on Syria and Iraq as well as the fight against terror in an over three-hour meeting in Ankara, presidential sources have said.

According to a Turkish presidential source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on talking to the media, Erdoğan and Tillerson also exchanged views on the fight against terrorism.

During their meeting at the presidential complex, Erdoğan “clearly” told Tillerson about Turkey’s priorities and expectations from the U.S. on bilateral ties and regional developments, the source added.

Meanwhile, Tillerson and Erdoğan had a “productive, open conversation” about a mutually beneficial way to improve U.S.-Turkey relations, a State Department spokesman travelling with Tillerson said.

The meeting, which was closed to the media, started at 7:40 p.m. and lasted for three hours and 15 minutes.

Tillerson is on a two-day working visit to Turkey.

He is expected to meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu on Feb. 16 to discuss bilateral relations, particularly the U.S. support for the People’s Protection Units (YPG), and international developments.

The meeting is expected to be followed by a joint news conference.

ErdoğanTillersonAnkara

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/turkish-president-us-secretary-of-state-meet-in-ankara-127410

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Hezbollah is destabilizing Lebanon, region: Tillerson — “Threaten Lebanon’s stability, independence and sovereignty.”

February 16, 2018

Arab News

Saad Hariri said that he assured Tillerson of ‘Lebanon’s right to explore, invest and develop our natural resources in our territorial waters.’ (AP)
BEIRUT: American Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said on Thursday that the US regarded Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and “we do not differentiate between its military and political arms, and it is unacceptable for militias like Hezbollah to act outside the rule of law.”
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Tillerson added in a press conference with the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut that “the Lebanese army is the only defender of the Lebanese State.”
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“The people of Lebanon should also be concerned about how Hezbollah’s actions and its growing arsenal bring unwanted and unhelpful scrutiny on Lebanon,” Tillerson said. “Hezbollah’s presence in Syria has only perpetuated the bloodshed, increased the displacement of innocent people and propped up the barbaric Assad regime.”
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“The Lebanese government must distance itself from external conflicts and Hezbollah must stop its activities abroad,” he said.
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Tillerson held talks with Lebanese President Michel Aoun. The presidential palace press office said that Aoun asked that the US “work on preventing Israel from continuing its assaults on Lebanese sovereignty” by land and sea and to abide by the implementation of Resolution 1701 (guaranteeing Lebanon’s territorial sovereignty) to preserve the stability that South Lebanon has enjoyed since 2006.”
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Lebanon “can no longer bear the repercussions of Syrian refugees on its security, stability and economy, especially as international aid is insufficient,” the statement said.
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It called for “a secure and gradual return of the Syrians to their country and a peaceful solution to the Syrian crisis,” noting that “the decision of the United States to reduce its contribution to the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees) will add to the burden placed on Lebanon in caring for these refugees.”
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Aoun said: “Lebanon is fully committed to the self-distancing policy, but is not responsible for what happens because of the interventions from abroad due to its inability to influence that.”
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Tillerson also held talks with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. A statement later said that Berri talked about “the daily Israeli violations, the construction of the concrete wall at points inside Lebanese territory, and Israel’s claims to the special economic zone (of Lebanon).”
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Tillerson and the delegation then held talks with Prime Minister Saad Hariri. During a joint press conference Hariri stressed Lebanon’s “commitment to the self-distancing policy” and Lebanon’s interest in “maintaining the best relations with Arab countries and the international community.”
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Hariri said that he “assured secretary Tillerson of Lebanon’s right to explore, invest and develop our natural resources in our territorial waters. We also agreed that the Lebanese banking sector is the cornerstone of our economy, and I reiterated that this sector is solid and sound … and in full compliance with international laws and regulations.”
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Hariri noted that “Lebanon is committed to Resolutions 1701 and 2373 (renewing the mandate of the UN interim force in Lebanon) and we want to move to a permanent cease-fire with Israel, but the Israeli violations of our sovereignty are hampering this process, let alone the Israeli rhetoric.”
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Secretary Tillerson said that the US stands by the Lebanese people and its legitimate institutions against regional challenges and threats. He also praised the American partnership with the Lebanese military and the internal security forces in the fight against Daesh and Al-Qaeda.
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On Syrian refugees, Tillerson said that “the United States has provided $1.6 billion to help with refugee affairs and host Lebanese communities. The United States stands side by side with the Lebanese people in confronting these challenges that threaten Lebanon’s stability, independence and sovereignty.”
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On the Iranian nuclear agreement, Tillerson said that President Trump had indicated that he wanted the flaws in this agreement to be addressed. “We are working with the other signatories to this agreement and with European partners to move forward to deal with the imbalances in the agreement.”
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On the recent escalation between Israel on one side and Iran and Syria on the other, Hariri said: “We are with all its types of pacification because the region is not lacking additional tensions and wars.”
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Asked about the situation between Turkey and the US over Syria, Tillerson said: “Turkey is an important ally to us in the battle against Daesh and has always been supportive of all efforts. The relationship is very positive and we intend to build on the important aspects that we share. There may be tactical differences about achieving the goals, but the main goal is to eliminate incitement, terrorism, reduce violence, protect the innocent and reach a peaceful settlement of the conflict in Syria.”
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On Turkey’s demand that the US take back heavy weapons from the Kurdish YPG, Tillerson said: “We have never given heavy arms to the YPG so there is none to take back.”

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U.S. to Increase Aid to Jordan, Despite Opposition to Jerusalem Move

February 14, 2018

Decision highlights importance the administration places on security cooperation with its Middle Eastern ally

The U.S. will commit at least $1.275 billion a year to boost Jordan’s security, despite the Middle Eastern country’s opposition to America recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II
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The Wall Street Journal

AMMAN—The U.S. will commit at least $1.275 billion a year to boost Jordan’s security Wednesday, increasing its aid to a key ally in the tumultuous Middle East.

The agreement will boost the U.S.’s contribution by nearly $1.4 billion over five years and follows a threat by President Donald Trump to cut aid to countries—including Jordan—that opposed America’s move to declare Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The administration’s decision not to make good on its threat highlights the importance it places on security cooperation with Jordan.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will sign the memorandum of understanding in Amman on Wednesday, ahead of a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah.

Jordan remains a key partner to Washington in the fight against Islamic State. The Pentagon has relied on Jordan to stage military operations in the region and Jordan has been a hub to train Syrian fighters. The countries also have close intelligence ties.

Trump administration officials previewed Mr. Tillerson’s announcement earlier this week as part of the unveiling of the 2019 budget, which also proposes to slash State Department funding by 30%.

Hari Sastry, director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources, told reporters Monday that Mr. Tillerson would sign the agreement committing the U.S. to $1.275 billion annually in foreign assistance for five years.

In a speech before Israel’s legislature in January, Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. embassy will be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem by the end of 2019, ahead of schedule.

The previous memorandum of understanding committed the U.S. to $1 billion annually in foreign assistance to Jordan. However, the U.S. has given more, such as in 2017 when it committed $1.3 billion in foreign assistance and $200 million in Pentagon funds to support Jordan’s military.

President Donald Trump and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in December lashed out at countries who backed a resolution at the United Nations condemning Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. That included Jordan and 127 other nations, many of them U.S. allies.

“Let them vote against us—we’ll save a lot. We don’t care,” Mr. Trump told reporters ahead of the vote.

In January, Ms. Haley held a party in New York for the 64 countries that didn’t vote against the U.S.

Write to Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-to-increase-aid-to-jordan-despite-opposition-to-jerusalem-move-1518602434

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US set to boost aid to Jordan despite Trump threats of cuts

 

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) – Despite repeated threats to punish countries that don’t agree with U.S. policy in the Middle East, the Trump administration is set to boost aid to Jordan by more than $1 billion over the next five years.

President Donald Trump has vowed to cut aid to nations that oppose the U.S., yet rhetoric appears to have hit reality with Jordan, a critical American partner in the volatile Middle East that has opposed the administration’s Mideast approach.

Jordan voted in December to condemn the U.S. for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and has criticized the U.S. for withholding millions in funding for Palestinian refugees, many of whom live in Jordan.

Nonetheless, U.S. officials say the administration has decided to give Jordan $1.275 billion annually until 2022. That’s $275 million more per year than the current level.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Jordan’s foreign minister will sign the aid agreement in Amman on Wednesday, according to officials, who were not authorized to preview the announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The expected announcement appears to represent a victory of sorts for Tillerson and U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, both of whom have been lobbying the administration to continue such assistance on national security grounds. But Trump and his U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, have been pressing for aid cuts.

Jordan, a longtime partner of the U.S and one of only two Arab nations to have full diplomatic relations with Israel, is especially critical as an American ally, given its large Palestinian population along with the influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria.

Gulf crisis harms regional security: Tillerson

February 13, 2018

13 Feb 2018 – 18:34

Gulf crisis harms regional security: Tillerson

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Kuwait’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Sabah al Khalid Al Sabah attend a joint news conference, in Bayan, Kuwait February 13, 2018. Reuters/Stephanie McGehee

AFP

Kuwait City:  US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Tuesday called for an end to the more than seven-month dispute between a Saudi-led bloc and Qatar, warning it is harming regional security.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt broke off ties with Qatar in June.

Tillerson, in Kuwait for a meeting of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group, said the United States was working to settle the Gulf dispute.

“This type of division is counterproductive to the security of the region,” the top US diplomat said, speaking alongside his Kuwaiti counterpart at the meeting.

Qatar is home to the largest US airbase in the Middle East, Al-Udeid, which houses some 10,000 American troops and has been key in the war against IS.

https://www.thepeninsulaqatar.com/article/13/02/2018/Gulf-crisis-harms-regional-security-Tillerson

Turkey, U.S. to discuss trial of Turkish banker, Syria and cleric Gulen in visit: Erdogan spokesman

February 7, 2018

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, February 6, 2018. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and the United States will discuss U.S. support for the Kurdish YPG militia in Syria, the extradition of a Turkish cleric and a U.S. trial of a Turkish banker which “poisons” ties, a spokesman for President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.

Speaking to reporters during a news conference in Ankara, Ibrahim Kalin said the issues would be discussed with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, who are expected to visit Turkey next week.

Turkish-U.S. ties have neared a breaking point recently over a number issues, including U.S. support for the YPG, the extradition of Gulen, accused by Ankara of masterminding a 2016 abortive putsch, and last month’s U.S. conviction of an executive from Turkey’s Halkbank for helping Iran evade U.S. sanctions.

Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay

Syria says claims it uses chemical weapons ‘lies’ — If the Chemical weapons charge is true, can Assad be removed?

January 24, 2018

Reuters

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Syrian government said on Wednesday that claims by the French and U.S. foreign ministers that it was still using chemical weapons were “lies”.

On Tuesday, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the Syrian government may still be using chemical weapons, following a suspected chlorine attack in the rebel enclave of eastern Ghouta on Monday.

Reporting by Tom Perry and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Catherine Evans

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Above: Iranian foreign minister Zarif shares some fun with his co-equal from Russia Mr. Lavrov.

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Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani, Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan meet in Sochi, Russia, on November 22, 2017

Tillerson warns North Korea that failure to negotiate giving up its nukes could trigger military action

January 17, 2018

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Foreign Minister Taro Kono (left), Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland (second left), U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (second right) and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha pose for a photo with other ministers during a meeting to discuss the Korean Peninsula in Vancouver, British Columbia, on Tuesday. | THE CANADIAN PRESS / VIA AP

Japan Times —

AP, AFP-JIJI, REUTERS

JAN 17, 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned Tuesday that if North Korea does not choose to negotiate on giving up its nuclear weapons that pose a growing threat to the United States it could trigger a military response.

After a meeting of U.S. allies on how to beef up the sanctions pressure, Tillerson stressed that the Trump administration seeks a diplomatic resolution in the nuclear standoff, but he said the North has yet to show itself to be a “credible negotiating partner.” He said U.S.-North Korea talks would require a “sustained cessation” of threatening behavior.

U.S. officials have reported a debate within the Trump administration over whether to give more active consideration to military options, such as a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean nuclear or missile site.

Tillerson brushed off a question about such a “bloody nose” strike, telling a closing news conference: “I’m a not going to comment on issues that have yet to be decided among the National Security Council or the president.”

However, he said the threat posed by North Korea was growing.

“We all need to be very sober and clear-eyed about the current situation,” Tillerson said when he was asked whether Americans should be concerned about the possibility of a war. He said North Korea has continued to make significant advances in its nuclear weapons through the thermonuclear test and progress in its intercontinental missile systems.

“We have to recognize that the threat is growing and that if North Korea does not choose the pathway of engagement, discussion, negotiation then they themselves will trigger an option,” he said.

His uncompromising message came after a gathering in Vancouver of 20 nations that were on America’s side during the Korean War, where there was skepticism among the allies over North Korea’s sincerity in its recent diplomatic opening with the U.S.-allied South. The meeting convened days after a mistaken missile alert caused panic on Hawaii, a stark reminder of the fears of conflict with the North.

Despite Washington’s tough stance and determination to keep up the pressure on North Korea, President Donald Trump has signaled openness to talks with the North under the right circumstances. After months of insults and blood-curdling threats traded with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Trump suggested in an interview last week that the two leaders could have a positive relationship.

Tillerson declined to say Tuesday whether Trump has spoken directly to Kim.

“I don’t think it’s useful to comment” he said. “We are at a very tenuous stage in terms of how far North Korea has taken their program and what we can do to convince them to take an alternative path. And so when we get into who’s talking to who and what was said, if we want that to be made know or made public we will announce it.”

Tillerson was joined by his hawkish Japanese counterpart, Foreign Minister Taro Kono, in calling for tougher punitive measures against Pyongyang.

But South Korea, while publicly maintaining faith with Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, struck a markedly more optimistic tone, arguing that renewed North-South talks show sanctions are already working.

Key players China and Russia were not invited to the meeting of the powers that united under U.N. command to fight North Korea in the 1950-1963 war, and denounced the gathering as a Cold War throwback.

“We must increase the costs of the regime’s behavior to the point that North Korea must come to the table for credible negotiations,” Tillerson said in his opening remarks at the meeting.

“We will not allow North Korea to drive a wedge through our resolve or solidarity,” he added.

The top U.S. diplomat, hosting the event with Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, called for North Korean ships to be intercepted at sea and for new international measures to be implemented every time Pyongyang tests new weapons.

“First, we all must insist on a full enforcement of U.N. Security Council sanctions, as this is the letter of the law. We especially urge Russia and China in this matter,” he said.

“Second, we all must work together to improve maritime interdiction operations. We must put an end to illicit ship-to-ship transfers that undermine U.N. sanctions.

“And, third, there must be new consequences for the regime whenever new aggression occurs.”

He received backing Kono in public opening remarks, but South Korea’s Kang Kyung-Wha sounded a more cautious note and told the 20 senior envoys that sanctions pressure is already making progress.

Some observers have welcomed North Korea’s decision to meet with Seoul’s representatives and to send a delegation to the South’s upcoming Winter Olympics as a sign that tensions may be lowered.

But Kono urged the allies not to let their guard down as they seek to force Pyongyang to agree to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament.

Without explicitly pointing to Seoul, Kono warned that the Kim regime “must be intending to drive a wedge between those tough countries and those that are not so tough,” adding that other countries should not to “be blinded by North Korea’s charm offensive.”

“I am aware that some people argue that because North Korea is engaging in inter-Korean dialogue, we should reward them by lifting up sanctions or by providing some sort of assistance,” he said.

“Frankly, I think this view is just too naive. I believe that North Korea wants to buy some time to continue their nuclear missile programs,” he said.

For her part, Kang welcomed international support for the sanctions regime, but her opening remarks in Tuesday’s session carried a more optimistic message than that of her Japanese neighbor.

“I believe that the two tools, tough sanctions and pressure on the one hand and the offer of a different brighter future on the other, have worked hand in hand,” she said.

“Indeed the concerted efforts of the international community has begun to bear fruit,” she explained.

“We should take note that the North has come back to inter-Korean dialogue for its participation in the Winter Games, as evidence and observations accumulate to show that sanctions and pressure are beginning to take effect.”

If the sanctions regime is to survive and eventually force Kim to the table, it will require Russia and especially China to continue to support the measures they agreed to in U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Moscow and Beijing were not represented in Vancouver and angrily dismissed the talks.

“The most important relevant parties of the Korean Peninsula issue haven’t taken part in the meeting so I don’t think the meeting is legal or representative,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

Lu denounced the “Cold War mentality” of “relevant parties,” without naming the United States, which is urging Beijing to cut off fuel oil supplies to Pyongyang to force it to negotiate its own nuclear disarmament.

With China absent from Vancouver, Trump spoke with his counterpart, Xi Jinping.

According to the White House, the pair expressed hope that a recent resumption in face-to-face talks between North and South Korea “might prompt a change in North Korea’s destructive behavior.”

But Trump also “committed to sustain the United States-led global campaign of maximum pressure to compel North Korea to commit to denuclearization.”

Trans-Pacific tensions have been running high for months, despite the recent return to direct talks between Kim’s regime and President Moon Jae-In’s South Korea.

Meanwhile, U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster held secret meetings in San Francisco over the weekend with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s top national security adviser and a senior South Korean official, a U.S. official said.

The three discussed North-South talks last week and a shared commitment to keep up the U.S.-led pressure campaign against Pyongyang, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

McMaster in recent weeks has been among the more hawkish of top aides to Trump on the need to actively consider military options, according to other U.S. government sources.

U.S. officials say hawks in the Trump administration remain pessimistic that the North-South contacts will lead anywhere.

Even so, they say debate within the U.S. administration over whether to give more active consideration to military options, such as a pre-emptive strike on a North Korean nuclear or missile site, has lost momentum ahead of the Olympics.

Brian Hook, the U.S. State Department’s head of policy planning, told MSNBC the North-South talks were a positive step, but North Korea had been taking advantage of goodwill gestures for decades and needed to “earn their way back to the negotiating table.”

Over the weekend, a false alarm in Hawaii warning of an incoming ballistic missile rattled nerves, and earlier this month, Trump and Kim traded saber-rattling bluster.

As the talks got under way, Pyongyang issued its first response to Trump’s argument that his nuclear arsenal dwarfs the North’s fledgling missile batteries.

Official party newspaper Rodong Sinmun dismissed Trump’s “swaggering” as the “spasm of a lunatic” frightened by North Korea’s power and the “bark of a rabid dog.”

The Vancouver meeting kicked off late Monday with a dinner and several bilateral meetings, before Tuesday’s talks to hammer out next steps in the standoff.

Further bilateral talks between the North and South are scheduled for Wednesday, after the Vancouver meeting.

In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said while he believed war was “avoidable,” peace was far from “guaranteed.”

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/01/17/asia-pacific/u-s-led-meeting-urges-pressure-north-korea-despite-north-south-detente/#.Wl8msKinGUk

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Erdogan says Jerusalem ‘red line’, could cut Turkey-Israel ties — “We would set the entire Islamic world in motion” — Israel Fires Back at Turkey: Jerusalem Has Been the Jewish Capital for 3,000 Years

December 5, 2017

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File Photo: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

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AFP

ANKARA (AFP) – The status of Jerusalem is a “red line” for Muslims and could even prompt Turkey to cut ties with Israel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Tuesday, as US President Donald Trump mulled whether to recognise the city as the Israeli capital.

Erdogan said Turkey, which currently holds the chairmanship of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), would immediately call a summit meeting of the pan-Islamic group if Trump went ahead with the move.

“Mr Trump! Jerusalem is a red line for Muslims,” Erdogan said in a raucous televised speech to his ruling party that was greeted with chants and applause.

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Erdogan said that if such a move was made to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he would summon a summit of the OIC in Istanbul within five to 10 days “and we would set the entire Islamic world in motion”.

As for Turkey, Erdogan said Ankara would “follow this struggle to the very last moment with determination and we could even go right up to cutting our diplomatic relations with Israel.”

Last year, Turkey and Israel ended a rift triggered by Israel’s deadly storming in 2010 of a Gaza-bound ship that left 10 Turkish activists dead and led to a downgrading of diplomatic ties.

The two sides have since stepped up cooperation in particular in energy but Erdogan, who regards himself a champion of the Palestinian cause, is still often bitterly critical of Israeli policy.

The United States is a strong supporter of a strong relationship between Turkey, the key Muslim member of NATO, and Israel, which is Washington’s main ally in the Middle East.

Erdogan’s comments came after the White House said Trump would miss a deadline to decide on shifting the embassy from Tel Aviv, after a frantic 48 hours of public warnings from allies and private phonecalls between world leaders.

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Israel Fires Back at Turkey: Jerusalem Has Been the Jewish Capital for 3,000 Years

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Amid diplomatic backlash over possible change in U.S. status to Jerusalem, top Israeli official says Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital for 70 years, whether Erdogan recognizes it or not

Noa Landau and Reuters Dec 05, 2017 12:53 PM
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman attend a signing ceremony of an agreement between the US and Israel for energy aid given by both countries to Africa, on December 4, 2017 in Jerusalem. / AFP PHOTO / MENAHEM KAHANA

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and US ambassador to Israel David Friedman attend a signing ceremony of an agreement between the US and Israel for energy aid given by both countries to A MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP

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A senior Israeli official responded to Turkey’s threat to cut ties with Israel if the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as its capital, saying that “Jerusalem has been the Jewish capital for 3,000 years and the capital of Israel for 70 years, whether [Turkish President] Erdogan recognizes it as such or not.”

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Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the possibility that U.S. President Donald Trump will recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital “is a red line for Muslims.” He warned that if such a decision is made it “will result in Turkey’s cutting diplomatic ties with Israel.”

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Erdogan’s comments echo a growing sentiment in the Arab world and international community who are warning the U.S. against the potential fallout from the move.

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The Turkish premier’s announcement follows comments by the diplomatic adviser of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas who said that the Palestinian leadership would “stop contacts” with the U.S. if Trump follows through with the move.

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's president, during a news conference at the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, May 16, 2017. Erdogan said he's looking forward to a "decisive meeting" with his U.S. counterpart Trump, whose decision to arm Kurdish groups against Islamic State in Syria has stoked tensions between the two NATO members. Photographer: Michael Reynolds/Pool via Bloomberg

U.S. President Donald Trump, right, shakes hands with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, during a news conference at the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday,Michael Reynolds/Bloomberg

U.S. officials have said a possible recognition might come this week, prompting Arab and Muslim backlash.

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Abbas’ aide Majdi Khaldi said on Tuesday the U.S. would lose credibility as a Mideast mediator if Trump goes ahead with the move.

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Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, had even harsher words.

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“So Mr. Trump came up with the slogan of the ‘deal of the century,’ or ‘the mother of all transactions’, as Saddam Hussein would say.  But the mother of all the deals dies here on the rocks in Jerusalem if he says tomorrow that he recognizes a united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel,” Shaath told reporters. “It removes any chance he will play a role in an agreement. There is no deal that begins with the destruction of the two-state solution.”

According to the Palestinians, they will turn to other countries in the world to serve as mediators in the negotiations should Trump proceed with such a decision on Jeruasalem, like China, Russia or European countries.

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“Everyone conveyed a message that it would destroy any chance for peace. We do not want to reach violence, but we cannot prevent violence. ISIS is recruiting people to defend Jerusalem,” said Shaath.

Saudi Arabia also spoke out against the move, saying it hopes the U.S. will not recognize Jerusalem and warned such a decision would have serious implications, state news agency SPA reported on Tuesday.
“The recognition will have very serious implications and will be provocative to all Muslims’ feelings,” SPA said quoting an unnamed official source at the Saudi Foreign Ministry.

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“The United States administration should take into account the negative implications of such a move and the Kingdom’s hope not to take such a decision as this will affect the U.S. ability to continue its attempt of reaching a just solution for the Palestinian cause,” the statement added.

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On Monday, Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador in Washington Prince Khalid bin Salman said any U.S. announcement on the status of Jerusalem before a final settlement is reached in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would hurt the peace process and heighten regional tensions.

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“The kingdom’s policy – has been – and remains in support of the Palestinian people, and this has been communicated to the U.S. administration,” Prince Khalid said in a statement.

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Twenty-five former Israeli ambassadors, academics and peace activists on Monday expressed their opposition to the move in a letter to Trump’s Mideast peace envoy Jason Greenblatt.

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The letter was written on behalf of The Policy Working Group, an organization of Israeli activists with diplomatic, academic, political and media backgrounds, including former Israeli diplomats such as Ilan Baruch, Alon Liel and Elie Barnavi. The group wrote Greenblatt that “we are deeply concerned by recent reports that President Trump is seriously considering the announcement of his decision to unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel.”

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“The status of Jerusalem, the city that houses the holy sites of the three monotheistic religions, lies at the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and must be determined within the context of resolving that conflict,” the letter continued.

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East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in 1967, is home to major Muslim, Christian and Jewish holy sites. The Palestinians seek it as a future capital, while Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital.
Arab League representatives were to discuss the Jerusalem controversy on Tuesday. The organization said on Monday that Trump’s possible recognition would constitute “naked aggression” against Muslims and Arabs.

Noa Landau
Haaretz Correspondent
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.826906

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“But maybe going against the conventional wisdom is a good thing.”

U.S., foreign officials warn Trump not to call Jerusalem Israel’s capital — “But maybe going against the conventional wisdom is a good thing.”

December 5, 2017

Reuters

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The possibility that U.S. President Donald Trump may recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has stirred opposition from U.S. and foreign officials who fear it could unleash violence.

 President Donald Trump speaks to the press before the UN General Assembly on Sept. 18, 2017, in New York.

Such a decision, which U.S. officials have said has not been finalized, would violate decades of U.S. policy not to take a stance on the fate of Jerusalem on the grounds that this was an issue Israelis and Palestinians should negotiate and decide.

If Trump made such a move, it could spark demonstrations or violence by Palestinians or by Muslims around the world, in part because of the sensitivity of the Jerusalem site known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as Haram al-Sharif.

© AFP/File | The status of Jerusalem is one of the most contentious issues of the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The site includes the al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, and the golden Dome of the Rock. It was also the site of an ancient Jewish temple, the holiest place in Judaism.

Israel seized East Jerusalem, which includes the area, during a 1967 war. However, the Waqf, a Muslim religious body, manages the Islamic sites within the compound.

A senior U.S. official told Reuters last week that Trump was likely to make the announcement on Jerusalem’s being Israel’s capital on Wednesday, though his adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner on Sunday said no final decision had been made.

Kushner is leading Trump’s efforts to restart long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, efforts that so far have shown little progress.

The White House said it would not take any action on Monday on whether to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, something that Trump had promised to do in his presidential campaign.

Trump is expected to sign the waiver, according to several U.S. officials. One U.S. official said Trump was likely to accompany the signing with an order for his aides to begin serious planning for an eventual embassy move, though it was unclear whether he would establish a strict timetable.

Two other U.S. officials said on condition of anonymity that news of the plan to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital had kicked up resistance from the State Department’s Near Eastern Affairs bureau (NEA), which deals with the region.

“Senior (officials) in NEA and a number of ambassadors from the region expressed their deep concern about doing this,” said one official, saying that the concerns focused on “security.”

The State Department referred questions to the White House. The White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment about the concerns of U.S. and foreign officials about the possibility of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump, near an Israeli flag at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem May 23, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

A fourth U.S. official said the consensus U.S. intelligence estimate on U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was that it would risk triggering a backlash against Israel, and also potentially against U.S. interests in the Middle East.

“PLAYING WITH FIRE”

The core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian dispute include borders, the future of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the fate of Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem.

The Palestinians seek to establish an independent state in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war and the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Islamist Hamas, with East Jerusalem as its capital.

A general view shows the Dome of the Rock and Jerusalem’s Old City December 4, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

U.S. allies voiced their misgivings about the United States unilaterally calling Jerusalem Israel’s capital.

“Any U.S. announcement on the status of Jerusalem prior to a final settlement would have a detrimental impact on the peace process and would heighten tensions in the region,” Prince Khalid bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to the United States, said in a statement.

French President Emmanuel Macron “expressed his concern over the possibility that the United States would unilaterally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel” during a phone call with Trump on Monday, Macron’s office said after the two leaders spoke by telephone.

And in an unusually detailed statement published by Jordan’s official news agency Petra, Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi was quoted as having warned U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson against the move in a call on Sunday.

Safadi said such a move would “trigger anger across the Arab and Muslim world, fuel tension and jeopardize peace efforts,” Petra reported.

The Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief representative in Washington, Husam Zomlot, said a formal U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel would be the “kiss of death” to the two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Should such a step be taken it would have catastrophic consequences,” Zomlot told Reuters.

A fifth U.S. official said concerns of Palestinian and other Arab leaders about endorsing Israel’s claim to Jerusalem were being taken into account but no final decisions had been made.

Daniel Benjamin, a former U.S. counterterrorism official now at Dartmouth University, had a simple message: “This is playing with fire.”

China draws three-stage path for Myanmar, Bangladesh to resolve Rohingya crisis

November 20, 2017

Reuters

Image may contain: 4 people

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the 13th Asia Europe Foreign Ministers Meeting (ASEM) in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, November 20, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer Reuters

By Yimou Lee

NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – China called for a ceasefire in Myanmar’s Rakhine State so that Rohingya Muslim refugees can return from Bangladesh, proposing a three-stage approach to the crisis as diplomats from 51 mostly Asian and European countries gathered in Myanmar on Monday.

More than 600,000 Muslim Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since late August driven out by a military clearance operation in Buddhist majority Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

Amid a burgeoning humanitarian catastrophe, rights groups have accused the Myanmar military of committing atrocities, while foreign critics have blasted Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace prize winner who leads the country’s less than two-year-old civilian administration, for failing to speak out more strongly.

On Monday, Suu Kyi opened a Asia-Europe Meeting for foreign ministers that had been scheduled to take place in Myanmar before the outbreak of the current crisis.

Speaking in Naypyitaw on Sunday having arrived from Dhaka, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China believed Myanmar and Bangladesh could work out a mutually acceptable way to end the crisis.

“The first phase is to effect a ceasefire on the ground, to return to stability and order, so the people can enjoy peace and no longer be forced to flee,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement citing Wang.

“With the hard work of all sides, at present the first phase’s aim has already basically been achieved, and the key is to prevent a flare-up, especially that there is no rekindling the flames of war.”

Visiting Myanmar last week, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made many of the same points, but he also called for a credible investigation into reports of atrocities.

REPATRIATION PROCESS

Once a ceasefire is seen to be working, Wang said talks between Myanmar and Bangladesh should find a workable solution for the return of refugees, and the final phase should be to work toward a long-term solution based on poverty alleviation.

Myanmar and Bangladesh officials began talks last month to settle a repatriation process for Rohingya refugees, and Bangladesh’s foreign minister expects to take those talks to the next level in coming days.

Speaking on the sidelines of the ASEM meeting, European Union foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said: “we believe that stopping the violence, the flow of refugees and guarantee full humanitarian access to the Rakhine state, and safe, sustainable repatriation of refugees are going to be key.”

Mogherini, who also visited Bangladesh over the weekend, said, “there’s a real possibility of Myanmar and Bangladesh reaching a memorandum of understanding and agreement for the safe repatriation of refugees to Myanmar.”

She said the European bloc was ready to help with the process.

It was unclear, however, whether a safe return was possible – or advisable – given that thousands of Rohingya women and children are still stranded on the beaches trying to flee hunger and instability in Rakhine.

Myanmar intends to resettle most refugees who return to Rakhine state in new “model villages”, rather than on the land they previously occupied, an approach criticized in the past by the United Nations as effectively creating permanent camps.

Aside from restoring peace for Rohingya to return home, Myanmar also had to resolve the issue of their citizenship, having treated them as stateless for decades, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, told a news conference in Tokyo.

He said the UNHCR was ready to assist both countries with the repatriation process and said it could help Myanmar with the citizenship verification of the Rohingya. Until now it has not been invited to participate in either.

“Much as resources are needed in Bangladesh to respond to the crisis, the solutions to this crisis lie in Myanmar,” Grandi said.

VIOLENCE LARGELY OVER

The refugee crisis erupted after the military launched a brutal counter-insurgency operation against the militants after attacks on an army base and 30 police posts in Rakhine on Aug. 25.

Myanmar’s military has said that all fighting against the Rohingya militants died out on Sept.5.

The group behind those attacks, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), had declared a one-month ceasefire on Sept.10, which was rejected by the Myanmar government. But there have been no serious clashes since.

The United States and other Western countries have become more engaged with Myanmar in recent years, since it began a transition to civilian government after nearly 50 years of military rule. Currently, there is a power sharing arrangement, whereby Myanmar’s generals retain autonomy over defense, internal security and border issues.

China has close relations with both Myanmar and Bangladesh, and has long been a key player in lawless borderlands where rebel ethnic groups have fought Myanmar’s government for decades. The conflict in those border regions have occasionally pushed thousands of refugees to seek shelter in China.

Since the Rohingya crisis, China has repeatedly expressed support for what it calls the Myanmar government’s efforts to protect stability.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Antoni Slodkowski in YANGON and Thomas Wilson in TOKYO; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

Copyright 2017 Thomson Reuters.

Rohingya Refugees Cannot Return Until Myanmar Citizens Accept Them, Says Army Chief
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