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

U.S., Russia Must ‘Deal With’ Conflict, Tillerson Says

August 7, 2017

Secretary of state says U.S. will respond to expulsion of diplomats by Sept. 1

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, second from right, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Sunday.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, second from right, on the sidelines of the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Sunday. PHOTO: US DEPARTMENT OF STATE HANDOUT/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY
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Updated Aug. 7, 2017 5:09 a.m. ET

MANILA—U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russia’s foreign minister that the U.S. would respond to that country’s recent expulsion of American diplomats by Sept. 1 and that the nations must confront the distrust created by Moscow’s meddling in the U.S. presidential election.

Mr. Tillerson, speaking with journalists Monday at an Asian regional security conference in the Philippines, said that he told his Russian counterpart in a meeting a day earlier that he wanted Russia to “understand just how serious this incident had been and how seriously it had damaged the relationship between…the American people and the Russian people.”

He told Russia that “We simply have to find some way to deal with that,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Mr. Tillerson and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov got together Sunday for an hour in a much-anticipated meeting on the sidelines of the conference following a spell of increasing acrimony over sanctions against Russia adopted by the U.S. Congress and reluctantly signed into law by President Donald Trump.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said the meeting began with Mr. Lavrov explaining the reasoning behind Russia’s decision to expel U.S. diplomats. The decision came “after a long wait for the U.S. not to go down the path of confrontation. But, unfortunately, Russophobic members of Congress prevented that from happening,” the ministry said.

The ministers discussed a range of global issues, including cybersecurity, North Korea, Syria and Ukraine, the ministry said.

The sanctions were intended to punish Russia after the U.S. intelligence community concluded that Moscow had sought to interfere in the election, which Mr. Trump won. Russian President Vladimir Putin responded by saying the U.S. would have to cut 755 diplomats and staff in the country by September.

Mr. Tillerson said Monday that he asked Mr. Lavrov several clarifying questions about that move, and promised a U.S. response by Sept. 1.

Mr. Trump, who has said that relations between the powers are at “an all-time low,” has publicly questioned the intelligence findings on the election and dismissed investigations by Congress and a Justice Department special prosecutor into the matter. Russia has denied meddling in the election.

Mr. Tillerson said Mr. Lavrov indicated “some willingness” to resolve tensions over Ukraine. The countries have been in conflict since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea and Russian-backed separatists started a war in the eastern part of the country.

After the territory grab, the U.S. and the European Union imposed sanctions on Mosow, which Russia has tried unsuccessfully to have lifted. Mr. Trump, who has spoken favorably of the Russian leader, has called for the two countries to make peace.

Mr. Tillerson said the administration viewed the relationship with Russia with pragmatism.

“We want to work with them on areas that are of serious national security interest to us while at the same time having this extraordinary issue of mistrust that divides us,” Mr. Tillerson said. “That’s just what we in the diplomatic part of our relationship are required to do.”

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Write to Ben Otto at ben.otto@wsj.com

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https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-russia-must-deal-with-conflict-tillerson-says-1502093045

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Tillerson says can settle problems with Russia, avoid damaging ties

August 7, 2017

Reuters

AUGUST 6, 2017 / 11:15 PM

MANILA (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday said the United States wants to work with Russia and it was pointless to cut off ties over their disagreements.

Discussing a meeting he held on Sunday with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Tillerson told reporters that Russia had indicated “some willingness” to talk and find ways to move forward on the thorny issue of the Ukraine.

He said he saw U.S.-Russia relations pragmatically and believed problems could be addressed, and stressed to Lavrov that Russia needed to understand that meddling in elections was a very serious issue.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Michael Perry

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Rex Tillerson meets for ‘lengthy’ talks with Russia’s Sergey Lavrov amid diplomatic crisis

Russia has removed some 750 American diplomats from their positions

By Emily Shugerman New York

The Independent

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says he has engaged in “lengthy” talks with the US Secretary of State, and feels the US is ready to continue dialogue with Russia.

Mr Lavrov and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations meeting in Manila. It was the first conversation between the two men since the US imposed sanctions on Russia last week.

Mr Lavrov said Mr Tillerson was chiefly interested in the reduction of some 750 American diplomatic positions in Russia. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said the move was a response to the US sanctions, and to former President Barack Obama’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats from the US earlier this year.

“I decided that it is time for us to show that we will not leave anything unanswered,” Mr Putin said in a Russian state media interview.

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There has been confusion, however, over whether the US diplomats would be expelled from Russia, or simply removed from their positions.

“We provided an explanation,” Mr Lavrov said, but did not disclose details.

The US Congress overwhelmingly voted to imposed sanctions on Russia in retaliation for the country’s alleged meddling in the 2016 election.

Three US intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of releasing damaging information on Hillary Clinton and spreading false reports via social media in an attempt to bolster Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Federal investigators are also looking into whether Mr Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government in this effort.

Our relationship with Russia is at an all-time & very dangerous low. You can thank Congress, the same people that can’t even give us HCare!

Mr Trump signed his country’s sanctions into law begrudgingly last week, under intense pressure from legislators. In a statement, Mr Trump called the sanctions “seriously flawed,” and said he would only sign the bill for the sake of national unity.

The President, who has repeatedly pushed for better relations with Moscow, wrote: “We hope there will be cooperation between our two countries on major global issues so that these sanctions will no longer be necessary.”

Later, Mr Trump declared US relations with Russia were at an “all-time low”.

Russia “fully shares” Trump’s view that relations are in dangerous condition after sanctions law passed, Kremlin spokesman told press today.

Mr Lavrov, recalling his discussions with Mr Tillerson, said he felt that the Americans “need to keep the dialogue open,” and added: “There’s no alternative to that.”

Mr Tillerson did not comment on the discussions.’

Mr Lavrov said the two men also discussed sending special representative Kurt Volker, the US envoy to Ukraine, on a visit to Moscow. Mr Volker travelled to Ukraine last month to assess the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian separatists. The conflict is seen as a major obstacle to improved US-Russia relations in the US.

Mr Lavrov did not specify when Mr Volker would visit.

Mr Tillerson and Mr Lavrov also reportedly discussed the nuclear situation in North Korea, and how the US and Russia could withstand attacks.

They agreed that Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov and US Under Secretary Thomas A Shannon would continue the discussion.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/rex-tillerson-sergey-lavrov-russia-lengthy-talks-sanctions-association-of-southeast-asian-nations-a7880031.html

US Says Aircraft to Help Philippines Fight Pro-IS Militants

August 7, 2017

MANILA, Philippines — The United States has been providing the Philippines with surveillance capabilities, training, information and aircraft to help it fight a months-long siege of a southern city by pro-Islamic State group militants, the top U.S. diplomat said Monday as he prepared to meet the country’s polarizing president.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Manila for a regional gathering, said the equipment includes a few Cessna aircraft and a few drones. He said they’ll help the Philippines battle “an enemy that fights in a way that most people have never had to deal with.”

“We think they are beginning to get that situation under control,” Tillerson told reporters. “But the real challenge is going to come with once they have the fighting brought to an end how to deal with the conditions on the ground to ensure it does not re-emerge.”

Human rights groups have questioned President Donald Trump’s willingness to engage with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been roundly criticized for a bloody war on illegal drugs that has killed thousands of suspects. But Tillerson argued there’s no contradiction presented by the U.S. decision to help his country fight the militants, whose insurgency in the Philippines has stoked global fears about the Islamic State group exporting violence into Southeast Asia and beyond.

“I see no conflict — no conflict at all in our helping them with that situation and our views of the human rights concerns we have with respect to how they carry out their counter narcotics activities,” Tillerson said.

Ahead of the meeting, the U.S. said Tillerson indeed would discuss with Duterte human rights along with all other relevant issues. Duterte’s presidential spokesman, Ernesto Bella, said Monday that the topic would include discuss global terrorism threats, economic cooperation and security in Marawi, the city that has been under militant siege for more than two months.

“We also welcome the opportunity to address concerns such as human rights if and when raised,” Bella said in a statement. “We have always included this issue in our discussions and engagements with foreign governments, particularly Western democracies.”

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Associated Press writer Jim Gomez contributed to this report.

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China scores diplomatic coup in sea row — China pushes for new six-party talks on N. Korea — “It’s a slam dunk diplomatic victory for China”

August 6, 2017

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MANILA (AFP) – 

China on Sunday scored a diplomatic coup in its campaign to weaken regional resistance against its sweeping claims to the South China Sea when Southeast Asian nations issued a diluted statement on the dispute and agreed to Beijing’s terms on talks.

After two days of tense meetings on the dispute in the Philippine capital, foreign ministers from the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) issued a joint communique that diplomats involved said was carefully worded to avoid angering China.

The release of the statement came shortly after the ministers met with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and agreed on a framework for conducting negotiations on the decades-long row that included key clauses advocated by China.

“This is an important outcome of our joint effort,” Wang told reporters as he celebrated the agreement.

China claims nearly all of the strategically vital sea, through which $5 trillion in annual shipping trade passes and is believed to sit atop vast oil and gas deposits.

Its sweeping claims overlap with those of ASEAN members Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei, as well as Taiwan.

China has dramatically expanded its presence in the contested areas in recent years by building giant artificial islands that could be used as military bases, raising concerns it will eventually establish de facto control over the waters.

In what two diplomats involved said was another victory for Beijing on Sunday, ASEAN members declined to say in their joint statement that the hoped-for code of conduct with China be “legally binding”.

Vietnam, the most determined critic of China on the issue, had insisted during two days of negotiations that ASEAN insist the code be legally binding, arguing otherwise it would be meaningless.

The ASEAN ministers failed to release the joint statement as expected after meeting on Saturday because of their differences on the sea issue, with Vietnam pushing for tougher language and Cambodia lobbying hard for China.

“Vietnam is adamant, and China is effectively using Cambodia to champion its interests,” one diplomat told AFP on Sunday as negotiations extended into overtime.

– Consensus struggle –

Tensions over the sea have long vexed ASEAN, which operates on a consensus basis but has had to balance the interests of rival claimants and those more aligned to China.

Critics of China have accused it of trying to divide ASEAN with strong-armed tactics and chequebook diplomacy, enticing smaller countries in the bloc such as Cambodia and Laos to support it.

The Philippines, under previous president Benigno Aquino, had been one of the most vocal critics of China and filed a case before a UN-backed tribunal.

The tribunal last year ruled China’s sweeping claims to the sea had no legal basis.

But China, despite being a signatory to the UN’s Convention on the Law of the Sea, ignored the ruling.

The Philippines, under new President Rodrigo Duterte, decided to play down the verdict in favour of pursuing warmer ties with Beijing. This in turn led to offers of billions of dollars in investments or aid from China.

“It’s clear that China’s pressure on individual ASEAN governments has paid off,” Bill Hayton, a South China Sea expert and associate fellow with the Asia Programme at Chatham House in London, told AFP.

Hayton and other analysts said the agreement on a framework for talks on Sunday came 15 years after a similar document was signed committing the parties to begin negotiations

The 2002 document was more strongly worded against China.

China used those 15 years to cement its claims, while continuing to get ASEAN to issue ever-weaker statements of opposition, according to the analysts.

“It would appear China has never lost in terms of seeing the language of ASEAN forum statements being toned down,” Ei Sun Oh, adjunct senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told AFP.

Philippine academic and security analyst Richard Heydarian expressed stronger sentiments as he summarised Monday’s developments: “Overall it’s a slam dunk diplomatic victory for China”.

by Ayee Macaraig, Martin Abbugao
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China pushes for new six-party talks as N. Korea

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© Eduardo Munoz Alvarez, AFP | UN Security Council members vote on a resolution toughening sanctions on North Korea at UN headquarters in New York on August 5.

Video by Elizabeth WALSH

Text by Khatya CHHOR 

Latest update : 2017-08-06

A day after the UN imposed strict new sanctions on North Korea, China’s foreign minister called Sunday for the resumption of six-party talks to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear programme and warned that the crisis was entering a “critical” new phase.

In a 15-0 vote on Saturday, the UN Security Council imposed tough new sanctions on North Korea that could slash its exports by as much as $1 billion a year – a third of its export revenue – in response to two intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests Pyongyang carried out last month. The July tests heightened fears that North Korean missiles were now capable of hitting the continental United States.

“After the UN resolution is passed, the situation on the peninsula will enter a very critical phase,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang, quoted by China’s CGTN state broadcaster. “We urge all parties to judge and act with responsibility in order to prevent the tensions from escalating.”

The UN resolution imposes a total ban on exports of coal, iron, lead, iron and lead ore as well as seafood. It also prohibits new investment in, or the establishment of, joint ventures with North Korean companies. Nine North Korean officials and four entities were added to the UN’s blacklist while foreign permits for North Korean workers have been suspended.

Wang warned Pyongyang that it should make “smart” decisions going forward, while counselling Washington and Seoul not to respond with “provocative” actions.

Speaking to reporters after talks with North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Hong-Yo on the sidelines of an ASEAN summit in Manila, Wang said he had urged Pyongyang to stop testing “the international community’s goodwill” with its ICBM launches and nuclear tests.

Wang noted that the new UN resolution also calls for a return to negotiations, saying diplomatic measures were needed to prevent the stand-off from escalating further.

Earlier on Sunday, Wang said that all sides should work toward restarting long-stalled six-party nuclear talks between China, North Korea, South Korea, Japan, Russia and the United States.

“The aim is to bring the peninsula nuclear issue back to the negotiating table and seek a solution through negotiations until the denuclearisation of the peninsula and the stability of the peninsula are achieved,” he said.

North Korea pulled out of the six-party talks in 2009 after the UN Security Council condemned it for launching a long-range rocket.

A deputy spokeman for the Japanese foreign ministry on Sunday welcomed the UN sanctions but added that more “effective pressure” was needed in dealing with Pyongyang and that it was not yet time to restart talks.

“Now is not the time for dialogue but the time to increase effective pressure on North Korea so that they will take concrete actions towards de-nuclearisation,” Toshihide Ando told a press conference in Manila.

US pressure on Beijing

US President Donald Trump has repeatedly urged China to take a more aggressive role in reining in Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions. As North Korea’s largest trading partner, China is uniquely positioned to apply economic and diplomatic pressure on North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.

“This is the most stringent set of sanctions on any country in a generation,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley said after the Security Council vote.

The US led resolution passed by the SC on N. Korea will be a loss of 1/3 of their exports = over $1 billion in hard currency 

But she warned that the international community “should not fool ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem – not even close”.

“The threat of an outlaw nuclearised North Korean dictatorship remains … [and] is rapidly growing more dangerous,” Haley said.

China urges US concessions

In an interview with the MSNBC news channel on Saturday, US National Security Adviser HR McMaster was asked if the United States was gearing up for a pre-emptive “first strike” against North Korea.

Trump “has been very clear” that “he will not tolerate” Pyongyang being able to threaten the United States with a nuclear weapon, McMaster said, and that entails keeping all options – including a “preventive war” – on the table.

But he acknowledged that any military solution would mean “a very costly war, in terms of the suffering of mainly the South Korean people”.

McMaster said the US seeks instead to do “everything we can” to pressure Kim and his entourage into concluding that “it is in their interest to denuclearise”.

In his statements on Sunday, Foreign Minister Wang reiterated Beijing’s proposal for what it calls a “double suspension” – a halt to North Korea’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for an end to the joint US-South Korean military exercises that alarm Pyongyang.

“This is currently the most realistic and plausible initiative, and it is the most reasonable and friendly solution,” Wang said.

But speaking to MSNBC, McMaster said Beijing’s plan to offer a freeze on joint training in return for a freeze on Pyongyang’s nuclear programme was no longer viable.

“They are at a threshold capability now. ‘Freeze for freeze’ doesn’t work anymore,” he said, adding: “The goal is denuclearisation of the peninsula.”

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Ri Yong Ho, Wang Yi

North Korea Shrugs Off Sanctions Despite China’s Push to End Missile Tests — Has China Bested the Trump Administration?

August 6, 2017

U.S. lauds China for supporting latest U.N. sanctions, but Pyongyang has no plans to change

The bespectacled North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi after their meeting in Manila on Sunday.
The bespectacled North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi after their meeting in Manila on Sunday. PHOTO: BULLIT MARQUEZ/ASSOCIATED PRESS

MANILA—The U.S. praised China for backing new economic sanctions by the U.N. Security Council against Pyongyang over the regime’s weapons program, but North Korea indicated to its most important economic partner that there would be no change in policy.

“The fact that the Chinese were helpful and instrumental in setting up this really sweeping set of international sanctions shows they realize that this is a huge problem they need to take on, that it’s a threat to them and their region,” Susan Thornton, the U.S. State Department’s acting assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told journalists on the sidelines of regional security meetings in the Philippines on Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who is attending the forum bringing together 27 nations, including China, Russia, South Korea and North Korea, described the sanctions as “a good outcome” as he works to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear-weapons program.

The Security Council on Saturday unanimously passed a resolution that would slash about $1 billion from North Korea’s annual foreign revenue. Ms. Thornton called the sanctions the strongest against the regime in a generation. China and Russia, two permanent council members who had previously resisted fresh sanctions against Pyongyang, said the rogue nation’s recent provocations were unacceptable.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Sunday met his North Korean counterpart, Ri Yong Ho, in Manila and urged Pyongyang to halt its missile tests and other actions that violate Security Council resolutions, according to the People’s Daily Online, an official Chinese state media website.

“The China side pressed the North Korea side to deal calmly with the new UN Security Council resolution regarding North Korea, and to stop the missile tests, and even nuclear research, which violate UN Security Council resolutions and the wishes of the international community,” the People’s Daily Online said.

The North Korean minister restated Pyongyang’s policy on the nuclear weapons issue, but indicated a “willingness to maintain communications with the China side on this point,” according to Chinese state media. North Korea says it needs such weapons and maintains the right to build them to defend itself from the U.S.

The nine-page U.N. resolution steps up trade restrictions with Pyongyang by aiming to cut off a third of its $3 billion annual export revenue. It bans North Korea from trading coal, iron, lead, iron and lead ore, and seafood, and prohibits countries from hiring North Korean laborers and from entering or investing into new joint ventures with Pyongyang.

The resolution came after a months-long drive by the U.S. to pressure nations to isolate the North Korean regime in response to an unprecedented pace of missile testing in its ambitions to become a nuclear power. Last month, North Korea fired two missiles that appeared capable of reaching the continental U.S. and Europe. Diplomats said this raised the stakes and elevated North Korea’s military and nuclear threat from regional to global.

Before meeting with the North Korean minister in Manila, Mr. Wang said the sanctions were a necessary reaction to the launches, but urged countries to resume the negotiations known as the six-party talks, stalled since 2008. The talks included China, the U.S., South Korea, North Korea, Japan and Russia.

Mr. Wang repeated China’s call for a “dual freeze,” in which North Korea would halt its missile and nuclear programs in exchange for the U.S. and South Korea stopping major military exercises. The U.S. and South Korea rebuffed that proposal previously, and Ms. Thornton did so again Sunday.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Manila on Sunday.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha in Manila on Sunday. PHOTO: U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE/EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

The U.S. will also focus on ensuring China follows through on fully implementing the new sanctions, Ms. Thornton said, suggesting China had in the past acted initially, before “slipping back” over time. “We want to make sure China…is working actively to continue putting pressure on North Korea,” she said.

Ms. Thornton also praised Saturday’s “really strong” statement by the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which hosts the annual security meetings. The countries condemned North Korea’s weapons testing and called on the regime to comply with U.N. measures.

Mr. Tillerson doesn’t have a scheduled meeting with North Korea’s Mr. Ri, but both men are expected during the meeting of all 27 participants Monday.

The U.S. Secretary of State did meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for more than an hour late Sunday, ahead of a gala dinner. Neither official made any public comment.

Write to Ben Otto at ben.otto@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/north-korea-shrugs-off-sanctions-despite-chinas-push-to-end-missile-tests-1502020932?mod=e2tweu

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Ri Yong Ho, Wang Yi

Amid US-Russia feuding, chief diplomats Tillerson and Lavrov stay tight-lipped over talks

August 6, 2017

Neither responded to a shouted question about how new sanctions might affect their discussions

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The Associated Press
August 6, 2017

The United States and Russia are feuding, expelling diplomats in what Washington calls a new post-cold war low. But that did not stop US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov from meeting for the first time since the Trump administration imposed new sanctions against Moscow.

The two held talks on Sunday on the sidelines of an Asian regional gathering in the Philippines, and as investigations into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 US presidential election push ahead. They smiled and exchanged pleasantries but made no substantive remarks to journalists, who were briefly permitted to observe the start of the meeting.

Neither Tillerson nor Lavrov responded to a shouted question about how the new US penalties might affect their discussions. More than an hour later, Tillerson emerged from the meeting and boarded his motorcade without commenting.

Tillerson and President Donald Trump opposed the sanctions package, passed by Congress in July, which makes it harder for Trump to ever ease penalties on Russia. Trump signed the bill last week, but called it “seriously flawed”.

The White House said Trump’s opposition stemmed from the bill’s failure to grant the president sufficient flexibility on when to lift sanctions. Trump’s critics saw his objections as another sign that he is too eager to pursue closer ties to Russia, or to protect the former cold war foe from penalties designed to punish Moscow for its actions in Ukraine, election meddling and other troublesome behaviour.

Even so, Trump’s administration has argued there’s good reason for the US to seek a more productive relationship. Tillerson has cited modest signs of progress in Syria, where the US and Russia recently brokered a cease-fire in the war-torn country’s southwest, as a sign there’s fertile ground for cooperation.

Yet Russia continues to dismiss any suggestion it interfered in the US election. The former Russian ambassador in Washington, Sergey Kislyak, denied the allegations in an interview screened on Russian state television on Saturday. He said he was merely carrying out his duties as a diplomat when he met with members of Trump’s campaign team.

“Any diplomat, Russian or not, works to better understand the policy of a country he’s posted to, figure out what the new administration’s course is and understand where cooperation is possible,” Kislyak said.

Still, a US Justice Department investigation is moving ahead into Russia’s election interference and potential Trump campaign collusion.

Trump denies any collusion and has repeatedly questioned US intelligence about Moscow’s involvement. Trump has tried to turn the issue into a political rallying cry, arguing that the controversy is an attempt by Democrats and the media to undermine the many millions of Americans who voted for him.

http://www.scmp.com/news/world/united-states-canada/article/2105644/amid-us-russia-feuding-chief-diplomats-tillerson-and

Tillerson, Russia’s Lavrov Hold Talks in Manila: Interfax

August 6, 2017

MOSCOW — U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov began talks on the sidelines of an Association of Southeast Asian Nations forum in Manila, Russia’s Interfax news agency reported on Sunday.

The meeting is their first face-to-face talks since President Donald Trump reluctantly signed into law new economic sanctions that Russia said amounted to a full-scale trade war and ended hopes for better ties.

(Reporting by Andrey Ostroukh; Editing by Gareth Jones)

United Nations bans key North Korea exports over missile tests — China’s sanctions support shows recognition of gravity of North Korea threat: U.S. official

August 6, 2017

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Saturday that could slash by a third the Asian state’s $3 billion annual export revenue over its two intercontinental ballistic missile tests in July.

The U.S.-drafted resolution bans North Korean exports of coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. It also prohibits countries from increasing the current numbers of North Korean laborers working abroad, bans new joint ventures with North Korea and any new investment in current joint ventures.

Image may contain: sky, mountain and outdoor

North Korean intercontinental ballistic missile Hwasong-14 on a Chinese made truck (TEL)

“We should not fool ourselves into thinking we have solved the problem. Not even close. The North Korean threat has not left us, it is rapidly growing more dangerous,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the council.

“Further action is required. The United States is taking and will continue to take prudent defensive measures to protect ourselves and our allies,” she said. Washington would continue annual joint military exercises with South Korea, Haley said.

Image result for Korea Kwangson Banking Corp, photos

North Korea has accused the United States and South Korea of escalating tensions by conducting military drills.

China and Russia slammed U.S. deployment of the THAAD anti-missile defense system in South Korea. China’s U.N. Ambassador Liu Jieyi called for a halt to the deployment and for any equipment in place to be dismantled.

Image result for THAAD in South Korea, Photos

THAAD ballistic missile defense system

Liu also urged North Korea to “cease taking actions that might further escalate tensions.”

U.S. President Donald Trump hailed the vote in a Twitter message on Saturday evening.

“The United Nations Security Council just voted 15-0 to sanction North Korea. China and Russia voted with us. Very big financial impact!” Trump wrote.

Trump “appreciates China’s and Russia’s cooperation in securing passage” of the resolution, the White House said in a later statement. The U.S. president “will continue to work with allies and partners to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea to ends its threatening and destabilizing behavior,” it said.

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One of China’s banks found to be laundering money for North Korea

U.S. PRESSURE ON CHINA

Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he hoped recent remarks by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “were sincere – that the U.S. is not seeking to dismantle the existing situation or to forcibly unite the peninsula or to militarily intervene in the country.”

While the Security Council has been divided on how to deal with other international crises like Syria, the 15-member body has remained relatively united on North Korea. Still, negotiating new measures typically takes months, not weeks.

North Korea has been under U.N. sanctions since 2006 over its ballistic missile and nuclear programs. The new measures came in response to five nuclear weapons tests and four long-range missile launches.

The United States negotiated with China for a month on the resolution, then expanded negotiations to the full council on Friday.

Washington, frustrated that China has not done more to rein in North Korea, has threatened to exert trade pressure on Beijing and impose sanctions on Chinese firms doing business with Pyongyang.

“We had tough negotiations this week,” Haley told reporters. “I think that the Chinese realized that the United States was going to push, but they responded and we appreciate how they cooperated with us during these negotiations.”

Liu, asked about U.S. negotiating pressure, said China has been consistent on trying to achieve denuclearization, peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and “to re-launch negotiations to achieve this end.”

He told reporters China was “opposed to any unilateral sanctions outside the agreed framework set by the U.N. Security Council resolutions.”

Sung Kim, the US ambassador to the Philippines, meets US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson upon his arrival in Manila late Saturday night. Courtesy of the US Embassy’s Facebook page

RUSSIA/U.S. COOPERATION

It had been unclear whether strained U.S.-Russia relations would hamper negotiations on North Korean sanctions. On Wednesday, Washington imposed unilateral sanctions on Moscow to punish Russia over accusations of interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

“We are not hostages to our relations when we have to work together on issues which are far more important,” Russia’s Nebenzia told Reuters.

The new U.N. resolution adds nine individuals and four entities to the U.N. blacklist, including North Korea’s primary foreign exchange bank, subjecting them to a global asset freeze and travel ban.

Image result for Korea Kwangson Banking Corp, photos

“I would think China and Russia signed on the sanctions hoping that they would force North Korea back to the negotiating table,” said Thomas Byrne, president of the New York-based Korea Society. “However, North Korea will try to evade the new sanctions.”

The new resolution completely bans North Korean exports of coal. In November, the Security Council capped the North’s coal exports at $400 million annually. China, its largest buyer, halted imports in February.

A U.N. diplomat said North Korea had been expected to earn an estimated $251 million from iron and iron ore in 2017, $113 million from lead and lead ore, and $295 million from seafood. The diplomat said it was difficult to estimate how much North Korea was earning from sending workers abroad.

A United Nations human rights investigator said in 2015 that North Korea had forced more than 50,000 people to work abroad, mainly in Russia and China, earning between $1.2 billion and $2.3 billion a year for the government.

Joseph DeThomas, a former State Department official who worked as an adviser on Iran sanctions and on previous rounds of North Korea sanctions, said freezing foreign labor would be difficult to enforce.

“Overall I doubt that $1 billion number. I doubt it will hit that hard in terms of economic damage,” he said. “You cannot expect North Korea to buckle for anything less than the sanctions imposed on Iraq in 1990.”

These sanctions, he said, remain “a very long way” from there.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols,; addtional reporting by David Brunnstrom and Valerie Volcovici; Editing by David Gregorio and Paul Tait

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MANILA (Reuters) – China’s support for sweeping sanctions on North Korea under a new United Nations Security Council resolution show Beijing recognizes the gravity of the threat of Pyongyang’s nuclear program and missile tests, a top U.S. official said on Sunday.

It was important for all parties to have dialogue to de-escalate the issue, and it was also incumbent on China to ensure that the sanctions on North Korea were fully implemented, said Susan Thornton, acting Assistant Secretary of State East Asian and Pacific Affairs.

Thornton made the comments to reporters during an international meeting of foreign ministers in Manila.

Reporting by Karen Lema; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Tait

Chinese Foreign Minister Says He Pressed North Korea to Follow U.N. Resolutions

August 6, 2017

MANILA — Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said he urged his North Korean counterpart to abide by United Nations resolutions when the two met on Sunday, and pressed South Korea and the United States to ensure that they take no provocative actions.

Wang met Ri Yong Ho in Manila a day after the United Nations Security Council agreed tough sanctions on Pyongyang over its recent missile tests.

The pair greeted each other warmly before the meeting. Wang declined to say what Ri had told him during their meeting.

(Reporting by Joseph Campbell and Christian Shepherd; Writing by Martin Petty; Editing by Paul Tait)

North Korea’s foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, center, at Pyongyang International Airport on Saturday. CreditKim Won-Jin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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China appeals for new North Korea talks

BEIJING (AP) — China’s foreign minister called for all sides in the North Korean nuclear dispute to return to negotiations following a U.N. vote to impose new sanctions.In a statement Sunday, Wang Yi appealed to other governments to resume the six-nation talks that involve the North, the United States, Russia, Japan and South Korea, as well as Beijing.

“The aim is to bring the peninsula nuclear issue back to the negotiating table and seek a solution through negotiations until the denuclearization of the peninsula and the stability of the peninsula are achieved,” Wang said.

North Korea pulled out of the talks in 2009 to protest international condemnation of a long-range rocket launch. Last month, it test-launched two intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has said Washington wants eventually to talk to North Korea, but thinks discussions would not be productive if Pyongyang comes with the intention of maintaining its nuclear weapons.

Election company reports manipulation in Venezuela vote turnout — Number of voters inflated by at least 1 million vote

August 2, 2017

By MICHAEL WEISSENSTEIN and LEONORE SCHICK
The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — The number of Venezuelans who participated in the election for an all-powerful constituent assembly was inflated by at least 1 million votes in an official count, the head of a voting technology company asserted Wednesday, a finding certain to sow further discord over the controversial super-body that has generated months of nationwide protests.

Smartmatic CEO Antonio Mugica said results recorded by his systems and those reported by Venezuela’s National Electoral Council indicate “without any doubt” that official turnout figure of more than 8 million participants was manipulated.

Two of Venezuela’s leading opposition figures, Antonio Ledezma and Leopoldo Lopez, were taken from their homes in the middle of the night by state security agents on Tuesday. Both incidents were purportedly captured on video. (Aug. 1)

Video:

https://apnews.com/1dc867e2621c4ce38fc88d3910753eb7/Election-company-says-manipulation-in-Venezuela-vote-turnout

The international software company has been providing electronic machines in Venezuela since 2004.

“Even in moments of deep political conflict and division we have been satisfied with the voting process and the count has been completely accurate,” Mugica told reporters in London. “It is, therefore, with the deepest regret that we have to report that the turnout figures on Sunday, 30 July, for the Constituent Assembly in Venezuela were tampered with.”

The assembly will be granted vast powers to rewrite the nation’s constitution and override every branch of the government. Opposition members boycotted the election, claiming the terms to select delegates were heavily rigged to favor the ruling party. President Nicolas Maduro has vowed to use the assembly to target his enemies and solidify Venezuela as a socialist state.

An independent exit poll concluded turnout was less than half that reported by the election commission. Opposition leaders who stationed observers in every municipality also questioned the count.

Julio Borges, the president of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, said lawmakers will ask the nation’s chief prosecutor to investigate commission members for potential crimes.

“They want to give total power to an assembly who people with more than 10 years managing the electoral process in Venezuela say with all certainty, irreversibly, with hard data from their own servers, that the announced result was crooked,” Borges said.

The assembly is expected to be sworn into office Thursday. Opposition leaders are calling on Venezuelans to gather in Caracas for a mass protest.

On Monday, two prominent opposition leaders were dragged from their homes by heavily armed security agents and thrown in a military prison Tuesday, drawing condemnation from the United States and some Latin American countries. But many other nations and international organizations were silent or limited themselves to expressions of concern.

Opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma were accused by the government-allied Supreme Court of violating the terms of their house arrest by plotting to escape and releasing video statements criticizing Maduro.

Both men’s supporters denied the charges and vowed to continue to try to push the ruling socialist party from power. However, they gave little indication of how they planned to do that, and the capital was unusually quiet after months of sometimes violent protests.

Lopez’s supporters released a video that he taped last week saying he expected to be imprisoned again soon, and calling on Venezuelans to be firm in resisting Maduro.

“If you are looking at this video now, it’s precisely because that occurred, because they came and they illegally imprisoned me again unjustly, a prisoner of consciousness, a prisoner for my ideas, a prisoner for wanting a better Venezuela,” the 46-year-old Lopez said.

He also said that his wife, Lilian Tintori, is pregnant, touching her belly and saying he has “one more reason to fight for Venezuela.” He called the pregnancy “the best news I’ve received in the last 3 1/2 years” — the time he spent behind bars before being released to house arrest last month. The couple had been allowed some conjugal visits.

Maduro appeared undeterred in his plans to seat a special assembly this week with powers to rewrite the constitution and override any other branch of the Venezuelan government. He has threatened to use those powers to go after his opponents and the arrests Tuesday appeared to show he is willing to proceed with full force.

Maduro appeared to have the full support of the country’s most important institutions.

Maduro called the vote for the constitutional assembly in May after weeks of protests fed by anger at his government over food shortages, triple-digit inflation and high crime. Many people accuse the ruling party of corruption and mismanagement.

The Trump administration on Monday added Maduro to a growing list of high-ranking Venezuelan officials targeted by financial sanctions. But the U.S. held off on sanctioning Venezuela’s oil industry, which could undermine Maduro’s government but also deepen the humanitarian crisis in Venezuela.

Maduro scoffed at the sanctions. He has said he would use the assembly’s powers to bar opposition candidates from running in gubernatorial elections in December unless they negotiate an end to protests that have resulted in at least 120 deaths and nearly 2,000 injuries over the past four months.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that the Trump administration was “evaluating all of our policy options as to what can we do to create a change of conditions where either Maduro decides he doesn’t have a future, and wants to leave of his own accord, or we can return the government processes back to their constitution.”

Later, the White House issued a statement condemning “the Maduro dictatorship” over the arrests and saying Lopez and Ledezma are political prisoners.

Image: Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma

Leopoldo Lopez, left, and Antonio Ledezma AFP – Getty Images

“The United States holds Maduro — who publicly announced just hours earlier that he would move against his political opposition — personally responsible for the health and safety of Mr. Lopez, Mr. Ledezma, and any others seized,” the White House said.

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Leonore Schick reported from London.

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Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein