Posts Tagged ‘U. S.’

Presence of US warship in Philippines a ‘breath of fresh air’ for Filipinos – Lawmaker says

February 16, 2018
By: – Reporter / @MAgerINQ
 / 06:38 PM February 16, 2018

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USS Carl Vinson in the South China Sea

For Senator Panfilo Lacson, the presence of a US warship in the country was a “breath of fresh air” for Filipinos.

On Friday, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson arrived in Manila for a port visit.

READ: USS Carl Vinson arrives in Manila for port visit

“Not being pro USA and anti-China, the presence of USS Carl Vinson in the West Philippine Sea is a breath of fresh air for those of us, pro Philippines,” Lacson wrote on Twitter.

“It is called, balance of power,” the senator added.

The arrival of the aircraft carrier came at a time when Philippines is protesting China’s reported naming of five undersea features in the Benham Rise.

Lacson was among those who protested this alleged intrusion into the country’s territory.

“The following Benham Rise features were named by China: Jinghao and Tianbao Seamounts, Haidonquing Seamount, Cuiqiao Hill and Jujiu Seamounts,” he said in his earlier post also on Twitter.

“It’s probably a matter of time before we see Chinese structures on more artificial islands. Damn us! Are we this helpless?”

READ: ‘Damn us! Are we this helpless?’ – Lacson on sea features named by China

Inquirer had also released aerial photos of China’s alleged militarization in seven reefs being claimed by the Philippines at the South China Sea

Read more: http://globalnation.inquirer.net/164312/presence-us-warship-ph-breath-fresh-air-pinoys#ixzz57HTRDbTd
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Chinese military bases near the Philippines

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China has no greater rights than any other in the sea. China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

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As China takes ‘center stage,’ Europe stands at a crossroads

February 16, 2018

China’s position as a global superpower is indisputable. As leaders gather to set the agenda of global security at the Munich Security Conference, the EU is at a crossroads between Washington and Beijing.

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Global leaders are converging on Germany this week for the 2018 Munich Security Conference at a time when the declining US influence in international politics continues to play out under President Donald Trump.

China, meanwhile, has increasingly been defined by a growing presence on the world stage, from the fight against climate change to global trade rules. The country’s rise to the position of a superpower may not be a new phenomenon, but the past year has seen its status cemented.

In a speech described by risk consultancy Eurasia Group as “the most geopolitically noteworthy event since Mikhail Gorbachev formally dissolved the Soviet Union,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping pronounced Beijing’s newfound status during China’s 19th Party Congress in October.

“With decades of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has crossed the threshold into a new era,” Xi said. “It will be an era that sees China moving closer to the center stage and making greater contributions to mankind.”

Images of China's past and present leaders

During the 19th Communist Party Congress in October, Xi Jinping (pictured right) consolidated his rule in China

‘World leader, at all costs’

In the 1990s, under the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, Beijing implemented a foreign policy that leaned toward slogans such as “hide our capacities and bide our time,” which meant  “maintaining a low profile” to focus on developing the country, according to the party-owned Global Timesnewspaper.

But Chinese historian Zhang Lifan told DW that such a strategy “is no longer suitable for China’s status of quo.”

“The current situation is China wants to be a world leader, at all costs,” Zhang told DW. “The United States is now employing the ‘America First’ policy. China and Xi Jinping want to seize this opportunity to become the leader of globalization.”

Read more: How Trump’s unreliability is pushing EU and China closer together

In many ways, China’s leadership role over the past year has been shaped by US foreign policy objectives under Trump. This has also seen China strengthening its position on strategic areas that will continue to drive international relations, including climate changeArctic securitycyberspaceinternational trade and space exploration.

China “seems to be the rational actor that’s fighting climate change, that is keeping markets open, that is continuing to praise the merits of globalization, which are undeniable,” Jan Gaspers, head of the European China Policy Unit at the Berlin-based Mercator Institute for China Studies (MERICS), told DW. “Of course, most of that is just rhetoric and they’re not living up to what they’re saying.”

Infographic showing China's lead in renewables

Europe’s lifeline?

For Europe, Beijing has tacitly started to fulfill a role that its traditional ally, the US, has seemingly cast aside under an “America First” doctrine. The Chinese government understands that by partnering with the EU, it can increase its legitimacy in the eyes of global stakeholders and ensure its influence in any shake-up of international leadership roles.

“China and the European Union are global powers: We have a joint responsibility to work together toward a more cooperative, rules-based global order,” Federica Mogherini, the EU’s top diplomat, said as she wrapped up an official visit to Beijing last year.

China is not seeking to undermine any kind of rules-based relationship in the near-term, and neither is Europe, especially as it redefines its position. But an increasingly relevant question is how the EU will position itself in what appears to “be a more conflicting relationship between the US and China.”

“It will be interesting how Europe will navigate those difficult waters, especially given that Europe itself is not actually united … and then there are growing differences between the EU and US on climate change, open markets and global trade,” Gaspers said.

An infographic showing Chinese Foreign Direct Investment in Europe

China’s ‘better alternative’

Besides the benefits of the EU being China’s largest trading partner, Beijing’s rise has also had an adverse affect in Europe. China’s strong leadership has found support within the EU from the likes of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and Czech President Milos Zeman.

China has become much more confident in presenting its economic and political model as a “better alternative” to liberal democracy, Gaspers told DW, noting that China’s influence had extended beyond Europe’s political periphery.

Read more: Is the Czech Republic moving closer to China?

A report published by MERICS last year showed China “creating layers of active support for Chinese interests” by “fostering solid networks among European politicians, business, media, think tanks and universities,” including in Brussels, the heart of European politics.

“China’s rapidly increasing political influencing efforts in Europe and the self-confident promotion of its authoritarian ideals pose a significant challenge to liberal democracy as well as Europe’s values and interests,” the report said.

While the merits of a deep economic relationship will continue to push the China-EU relationship forward, serious concerns as to how this could develop at the political level, both domestically and globally, will impact the EU’s liberal aspirations and China’s ambitions to become a world leader.

Ju Juan of DW’s Chinese service contributed to this report.

http://www.dw.com/en/as-china-takes-center-stage-europe-stands-at-a-crossroads/a-42590805

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Iran Displays Missile, Rouhani Says U.S. Regional Policy Has failed

February 11, 2018
BY REUTERS
 FEBRUARY 11, 2018 14:00

“They (US and Israel) wanted to create tension in the region… they wanted to divide Iraq, Syria… They wanted to create long-term chaos in Lebanon but… but with our help their policies failed.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech at the Azadi Square in the capital Tehran

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani delivers a speech at the Azadi Square in the capital Tehran during a ceremony to mark the 39th anniversary of the Islamic revolution. (photo credit: ATTA KENARE / AFP)

ANKARA – Hundreds of thousands of Iranians rallied on Sunday to mark the anniversary of Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, denouncing the United States and Israel as oppressors.

President Hassan Rouhani, addressing flag-waving crowds on central Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square, made no specific reference to Israel’s air strikes in Syria on Saturday which it said were aimed at air defense and Iranian targets.

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But he told the crowd: “They (US and Israel) wanted to create tension in the region… they wanted to divide Iraq, Syria… They wanted to create long-term chaos in Lebanon but… but with our help their policies failed.”

Iran backs Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war, supports Shi’ite militias in Iraq, Houthi rebels in Yemen and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

US President Donald Trump, who sees Iran as a rising threat to regional stability in the Middle East, has pledged to work with Israel and Iran’s key regional rival Saudi Arabia to curb what they say are Tehran’s attempts to extend its influence in the region.

Israel has warned about the increased Iranian involvement along its borders with Syria and Lebanon.

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Israel’s air strikes on Saturday which it said successfully hit air defense and Iranian targets represented the most serious confrontation between Israel and Iranian-backed forces in Syria in the seven-year civil war.

The Syrian army claimed to have brought down an Israeli F-16 after Israel reportedly shot down an Iranian drone which it said had entered Israeli airspace. Iran has denied the Israeli claim, saying its presence in Syria is only advisory.

LONG RANGE MISSILE

In a show of defiance of Western pressure to curb its ballistic missile program, Iran put its Ghadr ballistic missile with a range of 2,000 km (1,240 miles) on display in Tehran’s central Vali-ye Asr street.

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Iran says its missile program is solely defensive in nature and is not negotiable as demanded by the United States and the Europeans.

Iranian State television said “tens of millions of people” rallied to support the revolution across the country of 81 million, which faced its worst domestic crisis in nearly a decade in late December.

For over a week, thousands of young and working class Iranians angry about official corruption, unemployment and a widening gap between rich and poor, staged anti-government rallies in 80 cities and towns. Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards put down the protests.

Iranian authorities said 25 people died and over 3,000 people were arrested during the unrest. Most of those arrested have been released but around 300 remain in jail facing charges, according to Iran’s interior ministry.

“America wanted to interfere in our state matters. But they failed because of our nation’s awareness and unity,” Rouhani said, echoing Iran’s claim that the protests were instigated from abroad.

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Burning of the flags — just getting started
 http://www.jpost.com/Middle-East/Iran-News/Iran-displays-missile-Rouhani-says-US-regional-policy-a-failure-542293
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Iran’s Oil Minister says hostile comments by President Donald Trump torpedoed new oil and gas contracts

February 4, 2018

AFP

© AFP | Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zangeneh addresses journalists in Tehran on February 4, 2018

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran’s oil minister lashed out at the United States on Sunday, saying that hostile comments by President Donald Trump had torpedoed new oil and gas contracts for the Islamic republic.”Trump is trying to destabilise market conditions for those who want to work in Iran,” Bijan Namdar Zanganeh told a press conference.

“For the past year, every three or four months, he has destabilised the market. One cannot say that this is not without effect,” he said.

The agreement in July 2015 of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers sparked keen interest among international investors keen to focus on the country’s petroleum riches.

But Trump’s arrival in the White House a year ago, and his regular denunciations of the deal with Iran and the country in general, cooled their ardour.

Zanganeh revealed that Tehran was currently negotiating with “more than 20 foreign companies” to develop its oil and gas fields.

“But I dare not name the projects that are near to being agreed. If I do so, from tomorrow there will be pressure for them not to sign contracts with us,” he said.

Some countries “both at the international and regional level” are exerting pressure on European and Asian firms not to agree contracts with Iran, Zanganeh added, without naming them.

However, he did say he was optimistic about a $5-billion (four-billion-euro) contract signed last July with the French group Total, which heads a consortium with China’s CNPC to develop a gas field.

“I consider that Total is very serious… I hope it will implement the accord and I think that in a short period of time, it will sign agreements with subcontractors,” Zanganeh said.

He added that Iran had planned measures “if the deal ever runs into trouble” because of pressure from the United States.

War on Washing Machines May Have Early Casualty in Singapore

January 24, 2018

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Bloomberg

By Masaki Kondo

  • Singapore’s GDP growth closely follows world trade volumes
  • Slowing trade could impact MAS tightening bets, SMBC says

U.S. President Donald Trump’s attack on washing machine imports may end up putting the Singapore dollar through the spin-cycle.

Economic growth in the Asian city state has closely followed year-on-year changes in global trade volumes for almost twenty years, as the nation handles the second highest amount of containers in the world. Any escalation of U.S. protectionism, with Trump seen advocating his “America First” policies at Davos, could have an adverse reaction on investor expectations for Singapore’s growth, monetary policy and the local dollar.

“Singapore would be more adversely affected than other economies should the U.S. step up protectionist policies,” said Hirofumi Suzuki, an economist at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. “A drop in world trade volumes could damp speculation of monetary policy tightening and weigh on the Singapore dollar.”

Trump comes to the World Economic Forum with a rap sheet in the eyes of proponents of global trade. In his first year in office, he’s withdrawn the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade deal and the Paris Agreement on climate change. He’s threatened to renege on the Iran nuclear deal, a free-trade agreement with South Korea, and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The Singapore dollar is particularly exposed to investor expectations of future growth trends as the country’s central bank uses the currency as a monetary policy tool instead of interest rates. The local currency has risen about 1.6 percent against the U.S. dollar so far this year.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore is expected to shift to a 0.5 percent appreciation in the nominal effective exchange rate in April from the current zero appreciation, according to a research note from United Overseas Bank Ltd. Tuesday.

— With assistance by Enda Curran

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-24/war-on-washing-machines-may-have-an-early-casualty-in-singapore

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Congressional Leaders Struggle to Avert Shutdown Amid Immigration Blow-Up — “It’s a S—Hole.”

January 16, 2018

Bloomberg

By Laura Litvan Anna Edgerton

  • Lawmakers face Jan. 19 deadline to keep government funded
  • Trump’s rejection of DACA compromise complicates debate
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Republican congressional leaders are struggling to separate the immigration blow-up set off by President Donald Trump from a funding bill to avert a U.S. government shutdown at the end of this week.

Democrats say the burden is on Trump to help break the stalemate after he rejected a bipartisan proposal to shield young, undocumented immigrants from deportation and ignited outrage by reportedly disparaging Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries.” Democrats want to attach such an immigration measure to the must-pass spending bill, an idea House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell reject.

“No, we’re not going to do that,” Ryan said Friday during an event in his home state of Wisconsin. “People are attaching these as far as leverage is concerned,” but Republican leaders won’t go along, he said.

Government funding runs out at the end of the day Friday, and Republican leaders are weighing another short-term measure that would extend it until Feb. 16, a person familiar with the negotiations said.

Spending Deal

Both parties have struggled for months to agree on a spending deal for the rest of the fiscal year that began Oct. 1, but Congress already has had to pass three short-term funding bills. This time, Democrats, and some Republicans, want to use the next attempt to keep government operations funded as a vehicle for other bills to provide disaster-relief funds, shore up Obamacare, extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and possibly to protect young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. A dispute over how much to allocate to defense and domestic programs is another obstacle to a broader fiscal agreement.

GOP leaders don’t expect to have enough time to reach to craft a budget agreement even if they get a breakthrough in negotiations this week, according to the person, who asked for anonymity because the talks are private.

Senate Democratic leader Charles Schumer will have to decide whether this is the moment to force a showdown on immigration that temporarily results in a partial government shutdown in an election year.

Republicans’ slim 51-49 Senate majority means they need at least nine Democratic votes to pass a spending bill. The GOP is counting on support from some Democrats, including from among the 10 who are up for election in November in states won by Trump.

Shutdown Prospects

Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is on the ballot in November and who voted with Republicans to help keep the government operating with a stop-gap measure in December, said he has little desire to see a shutdown. He said he remains confident that some kind of deal on immigration can be worked out before it comes to that.

“Shame on any of us if we sit here and say, OK, we‘re going to let it run out for the sake of politics and shut the government down,” Manchin said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “None of us even should be representing the good states that we represent, such as West Virginia and Colorado and Arkansas, if we allow that to happen.”

Republicans have a wider majority in the House — they hold 239 seats in the chamber and 218 are needed to pass a bill. But even there, GOP leaders are working with a thin margin.

Representative Carlos Curbelo, a Florida Republican who faces a competitive re-election this fall in a district that is heavily Latino, said he won’t vote to extend government spending authority if there isn’t an indication that an immigration deal is near.

Republican Resistance

“If we don’t have any measurable progress towards a DACA deal I am not going to vote for a stopgap measure, and I’m asking Republicans and Democrats to take that position,” Curbelo said Monday on CNN, referring to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which Trump is ending. “We are in Congress and, regrettably, Congress is an institution that only acts when it’s forced to.”

Meanwhile, some House conservatives, including those in the Freedom Caucus, are threatening to withhold their votes on a stopgap spending bill, known as a continuing resolution, to protest rising spending levels or to force an increase for defense.

“If it’s just a yes or a no on a CR, I would be a no,” said Representative Warren Davidson of Ohio, a Freedom Caucus member. But he said he doubts there will ultimately be a shutdown.

“I don’t know anyone who truly wants the government to shut down,” Davidson said on a conference call with reporters.

Laying Blame

Trump has preemptively sought to lay the blame on Democrats if there’s no agreement on funding and the government is forced to shutdown over the immigration standoff.

“Honestly, I don’t think the Democrats want to make a deal,” Trump told reporters Sunday at his golf club in Florida, where he was spending the weekend. “I think you have a lot of sticking points, but they’re all Democrat sticking points.”

The immigration talks were set back Thursday when Trump sided with Republican immigration hardlines and rejected a plan negotiated among a small group of Democratic and Republican senators. The proposal, presented by Senators Dick Durbin, a Democrat, and Lindsey Graham, a Republican, during an Oval Office meeting with a group of lawmakers, combined border security and immigration-law changes — sought mainly by Republicans — with a measure to permanently shield an estimated 800,000 undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children from deportation.

Hardened Positions

The furor over the president’s reported remarks about why the U.S. accepts immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and African nations rather than places like Norway, has hardened positions on both sides. Trump has denied using those exact words, which were confirmed by three people briefed on the exchange.

On Twitter Monday, Trump belittled Durbin, who said the president used “hate-filled, vile and racist” language about immigrants during the Oval Office meeting.

“Senator Dicky Durbin totally misrepresented what was said at the DACA meeting,” Trump tweeted. “Deals can’t get made when there is no trust! Durbin blew DACA and is hurting our Military.”

Durbin and Graham are seeking more sponsors for their compromise plan in an attempt to force a vote. When Congress returns Tuesday there will be additional meetings on an immigration measure among a group that includes the No. 2 Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate.

— With assistance by Anna Edgerton, and John Fitzpatrick

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-16/gop-leaders-struggle-to-avert-shutdown-amid-immmigration-blow-up

North Korea to send team to Winter Games, South to consider easing bans after talks

January 9, 2018

North Korean Ri Son-gwon, centre, arrives at the South side for the meeting with South Korea at the Panmunjom in the ...

North Korean Ri Son-gwon, centre, arrives at the South side for the meeting with South Korea at the Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone in Paju. Photo: AP

SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea said during rare talks with the South on Tuesday it will send a delegation to the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea next month and Seoul said it was prepared to lift some sanctions temporarily to facilitate the visit if needed.

North Korean officials at the first formal talks with South Korea in more than two years said their delegation for the Games would consist of athletes, high-ranking officials and a cheering squad.

The talks are being closely watched by world leaders eager for any sign of a reduction in tensions on the Korean peninsula amid rising fears over North Korea’s missile launches and development of nuclear weapons in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions.

(For an interactive graphic on inter-Korean talks click tmsnrt.rs/2t8i6no)

South Korea’s unification minister, Cho Myoung-gyon, left, with Mr. Ri before the start of their talks.Credit Pool photo by Yonhap, via Associated Press

South Korea has unilaterally banned several North Korean officials from entering the country in response to Pyongyang’s ramped-up missile and nuclear tests, conducted despite international pressure.

However, some South Korean officials have said they see the Olympics as a possible opportunity for easing tensions.

Foreign ministry spokesman Roh Kyu-deok said Seoul would consider whether it needed to take “prior steps”, together with the U.N. Security Council and other relevant countries, to help the North Koreans visit for the Olympics.

At Tuesday’s talks, the first since December 2015, Seoul proposed inter-Korean military discussions to reduce tensions on the Korean peninsula and a reunion of family members in time for February’s Lunar New Year holiday, South Korea’s vice unification minister Chun Hae-sung said.

South Korea also proposed that athletes from the two Koreas march together at the Games’ opening ceremony and other joint activities between during the Winter Olympics, Chun told reporters outside the talks.

Athletes from the two Koreas have paraded together at the opening and closing ceremonies of major international games before, although it has not been seen since the 2007 Asian Winter Games in China after relations chilled under nearly a decade of conservative rule in the South.

It would also be the first time since 2005 for the North to send its female cheerleaders, dubbed the “cheering squad of beauty” by South Korean media.

‘PEACE HOUSE’

The meetings continued on Tuesday afternoon after the two sides broke up for separate lunches. Officials began speaking at 10 a.m. (0100 GMT) in the three-storey Peace House just across the demilitarized zone on the South Korean side of Panmunjom truce village.

“North Korea said that they are determined to make today’s talks fruitful, and make it a groundbreaking opportunity,” South Korea’s Chun said.

South and North Korean delegations attend their meeting at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarised zone separating the two Koreas, South Korea, January 9, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS

Chun also said the South Koreans proposed resuming negotiations over the North’s nuclear program but there was no specific response from the North Koreans.

However, North Korean officials said during the meeting they were open to promoting reconciliation between the two countries through dialogue and negotiation, according to Chun.

The head of the North Korean delegation, Ri Son Gwon, said in opening remarks: “We came to this meeting today with the thought of giving our brethren, who have high hopes for this dialogue, invaluable results as the first present of the year …”

‘GOOD PRESENT’

North Korea entered the talks with a “serious and sincere stance”, said Ri, chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland.

Slideshow (17 Images)

South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon expressed optimism as the meeting began.

“Our talks began after North and South Korea were severed for a long time, but I believe the first step is half the trip,” said Cho. “It would be good for us to make that ‘good present’ you mentioned earlier.”

“Everything feels slightly new as we have not had talks in a while,” he said.

Just before the delegation drove into the demilitarized zone, some 20 South Koreans were seen waving a banner that read: “We wish the success of the high-ranking inter-Korean talks”.

One man was spotted waving a flag with a unified Korean peninsula.

The delegations were made up of five senior officials from each side.

The North Korean delegation walked over the border inside the joint security area to the Peace House around 0030 GMT, an official from the South’s Unification Ministry told reporters.

The United States, which has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea as a legacy of the 1950-1953 Korean War, initially responded coolly to the idea of inter-Korean meetings, but U.S. President Donald Trump later called the talks “a good thing”.

Trump has said he would like to see talks go beyond the Olympics. “At the appropriate time, we’ll get involved,” he said.

China’s Foreign Ministry said on Tuesday it was happy to see talks between North and South Korea take place and welcomed all positive steps.

Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL and David Brunnstrom, Jim Oliphant and Steve Holland in WASHINGTON,; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait

Erdogan says US verdict part of ‘plots’ against Turkey

January 5, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has indicated that bilateral agreements between Ankara and Washington could be weakened due to the trial

ISTANBUL (AFP) – Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday slammed the conviction in the US of a top Turkish banker in a trial on Iran sanctions busting, saying it was part of a “chain” of plots against his nation.”What we are seeing in America is a chain of serious plots,” Erdogan told reporters at Istanbul airport after the conviction of Mehmet Hakan Atilla, deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank.

“If this is the US understanding of justice then the world is doomed. There can be no such understanding of justice.”

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Mehmet Hakan Atilla, deputy chief executive of Turkish lender Halkbank

The trial, which rested on the testimony of Turkish-Iranian businessman Reza Zarrab, a suspect turned prosecution witness, implicated former Turkish ministers and even Erdogan in the Iran sanctions busting scheme.

But Erdogan lambasted the case as being “full of contradictions”.

He also took aim at the United States for hosting the Pennsylvania-based Islamic preacher Fethullah Gulen, who Turkey accuses of being behind the failed 2016 coup and also of influencing prosecutors in the Atilla case.

“Those who are attempting a coup against us in my country… live like pashas in 400 acres of land,” Erdogan said in apparent reference to Gulen’s leafy estate.

The United States has so far resisted pressure from Ankara to handover Gulen for trial. Gulen denies any involvement in the failed coup bid.

Erdogan indicated that consequently bilateral agreements between Ankara and Washington were losing their value.

“Well then what are the international and bilateral legal agreements doing? They are becoming obsolete. I am saddened to say this but after this, the process will work like that,” said Erdogan.

Analysts say that the court verdict has added yet another strain to Turkish-US relations and buried any hope of a reset in ties under President Donald Trump.

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Russia’s new Syrian peace congress thrown into doubt — Syrian opposition activists reject Moscow’s conditions for their attendance — “The event is only legitimate to Russians, Iranians, Turks and those who love Bashar al-Assad”

December 25, 2017

 

TOPSHOT – A Syrian girl crosses a destroyed street in Raqa on December 20, 2017, two months after YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces captured the city from the Islamic State (IS) group. / AFP / Delil souleiman

JEDDAH: A Russian-sponsored reconciliation conference on Syria next month was cast into doubt on Sunday after Syrian opposition activists rejected Moscow’s conditions for their attendance.

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The Congress for National Dialogue, planned for the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Jan. 29-30, is supposed to involve all the parties in the Syrian conflict in charting a course for the country’s future.
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However, Russia has ruled out the participation of any group that insists on the removal of President Bashar Assad, whose regime it supports. The opposition refuses to accept that condition.
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“Our position is clear that we reject any role by the Assad regime in the future of Syria and we will not accept any party telling us what or what not to discuss,” Hisham Marwa, a representative of Syria’s opposition High Negotiations Committee, told Arab News.
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“The Russians want to implement their vision of resolving the Syrian crisis according to what serves their and the Syrian regime’s interests.
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Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan all agreed their peace plan was impartial…
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“Assad and his regime have the blood of innocent Syrian people on their hands, and he must be tried and held accountable for his crimes, not rewarded.
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“It is the Syrian people who decide their own future and the nature of any future political system to rule their country, and not the Russians or the Iranians.”
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Opposition spokesman Yahya Al-Aridi told Arab News the exact nature of the Sochi congress was not yet known. “Its content is not clear. Its goals and aims are not yet set. Attendance is not clear. Invitations are not sent.”
He said Russia may also demand that those who attended the Sochi talks could not discuss the Russian military presence in Syria.
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Bahia Mardini, an opposition figure based in London, said Russia was preparing to control the political situation in Syria through Sochi.
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“This conference is seen by them as the gate to legitimize the Russian occupation of Syria and to float or reproduce the Assad regime as an agent of Russia in Syria,” Mardini, a journalist and human rights activist who fled regime persecution, told Arab News.
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“The birth of Sochi means the burial of Geneva and risks meaning other countries that do want to see democracy at risk turning into mere observers.
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“In this sense, it is necessary to reactivate the political solution under an international umbrella and the UN, and this is what we have always asked for.”
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She also criticized the Syrian regime and Russia for the suffering in Eastern Ghouta, and said the UN Security Council “must look for the earliest opportunity to intervene to rescue civilians from bombing and starvation.”
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The Assad regime has refused to allow hundreds of residents to leave the besieged Damascus suburb, where about 400,000 people live, to reach hospitals just minutes away.
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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his government was working with Russia to try to move people to safety. About 500 people, including 170 women and children, were in urgent need of humanitarian or medical assistance, he said. “We want to take them and provide them with treatment and care in our country.”
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The Sochi congress, if it takes place, would open up a fourth track of negotiations between parties to the conflict. The UN’s own Geneva program has been supplemented by the “technical” talks in the Kazakh capital, Astana, brokered by Russia, Iran and Turkey. They announced the date for the Sochi congress last Friday after the latest round of talks in Astana.
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Russia periodically opens a third track through Cairo. Egypt has provided a base to Syrian reformists seen as acceptable to the Damascus government.
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“The United Nations maintains its view that any political initiative by international actors should be assessed by its ability to contribute to and support the mandated political process under the United Nations in Geneva,” UN Special Envoy Syria Staffan de Mistura said after the Astana talks.
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“The special envoy will be consulting the secretary-general once he has received all the information required.”
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Japanese Cabinet OKs record ¥5.19 trillion defense budget to counter North Korea with interceptor batteries, first cruise missiles

December 23, 2017
BY 

STAFF WRITER
Japan Times

DEC 22, 2017
Japan deployed Patriot interceptor launchers at Ishigaki in February last year. Tokyo is laying the groundwork for an expanded military presence on Japan’s southwestern islands. JIJI PRESS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The Cabinet on Friday approved a record-high draft defense budget for fiscal 2018 to beef up Japan’s missile defenses against the growing threat from North Korea, breaking the record for the fourth consecutive year.

The draft budget for fiscal 2018 rose to ¥5.19 trillion from ¥5.13 trillion the previous year, and covers upgrades to the ballistic missile defense system and procure long-range cruise missiles to be launched from fighter jets.

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“Our nation’s security is under a greater threat. It is significantly important that we procure cutting-edge equipment,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters Friday.

“It’s important that we continue to increase pressure on North Korea to urge the regime to alter its policy. (U.S.) President (Donald) Trump repeated ‘all options are on the table.’ We must prepare to be able to correspond to various situations,” he said.

On Tuesday the government said it will introduce two Aegis Ashore interceptor batteries, so ¥700 million was allocated to survey potential sites and design a deployment plan.

The U.S.-made land-based version of the Aegis combat system developed for warships is a collection of radars, computers and missiles. Japan plans to deploy two Aegis Ashore batteries by 2023 at the earliest.

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AEGIS Ashore missile launch

Aegis Ashore will add a new layer of protection to Japan’s current missile shield, which consists of Patriot interceptor batteries, backed up by Aegis-equipped destroyers.

Defense officials say acquiring Aegis Ashore would allow the government to cover the entire country from Hokkaido to Okinawa, and make preparations for interception easier than that for the Aegis destroyers.

To buy Standard Missile-3 Block IIA interceptors for Aegis Ashore, the ministry allocated ¥44 billion. The interceptor was co-developed with the United States.

Narushige Michishita, professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, welcomed Aegis Ashore as a “cost-effective” way to improve Japan’s missile shield.

“Aegis Ashore uses the SM-3 Block IIA, which is able to defend a very wide range and shoot down missiles at extremely high altitudes,” Michishita said.

The government had also considered the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, also made by the U.S.

Michishita said introducing Aegis Ashore instead of THAAD was an effective way to cut costs because the government says 16 THAAD systems are required for total coverage instead of two.

But Michishita warned that deploying Aegis Ashore could trigger health concerns because its radars emit strong radio waves, adding that the government must encourage residents hosting the batteries to cooperate.

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Japans Air Self-Defense Force members set up PAC-3 surface-to-air missile launch systems during a temporary deployment drill

Another highlight of the draft is the ¥2.2 billion allocation to procure Japan’s first long-range cruise missiles mountable on fighter jets.

The Joint Strike Missile by Norway’s Kongsberg Defense & Aerospace AS, with a range of about 500 km, will be loaded on F-35A stealth fighters.

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F-35A

The government denied that the cruise missiles are for attacking other countries. It claimed that they will instead be used to defend Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers equipped with the Aegis missile defense system.

Michishita the professor suggested they could be used for island defense.

The ministry has also allocated ¥78.5 billion to buy six F-35As and ¥14.7 billion to obtain RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance aircraft.

Some ¥92.2 billion was allocated to build a 3,900-ton escort ship and ¥69.7 billion for a 3,000-ton submarine with improved underwater sound detection capabilities.

The ministry also allocated ¥39.3 billion to obtain four V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft.

While Japan tries to stay prepared for North Korea’s missile threat, it is also apparently keeping an eye on China’s growing maritime activities.

Japan is looking to strengthen its defense of remote islands, especially in the East China Sea and around Okinawa.

The ministry allocated ¥55.3 billion to prepare for the deployment of Ground Self-Defense Force units on Miyakojima Island in Okinawa and Amami-Oshima Island northeast of Okinawa. Both are near the Senkaku Islands. The budget will be used to develop facilities, such as government office buildings and repair factories.

Elsewhere, ¥197.7 billion was earmarked for so-called host-nation support, which covers the cost of workers, utilities and other items at U.S. military bases. The amount was ¥194.6 billion in fiscal 2016.

Since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe took office in 2012, the defense budget has been climbing under the government’s five-year defense buildup through fiscal 2018.

Onodera said Friday that a new five-year program will be debated next year.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2017/12/22/national/politics-diplomacy/japanese-cabinet-oks-record-%C2%A55-19-trillion-defense-budget-counter-north-korea-interceptor-batteries-first-cruise-missiles/#.Wj4_rN-nGUk

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