Posts Tagged ‘U. S.’

Iran Will Respond to Any New U.S. Sanctions: Deputy Foreign Minister

July 26, 2017

BEIRUT — Iran will respond if the U.S. government passes new sanctions, deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi said Wednesday, according to state media.

Image result for Abbas Araqchi, Iran

Islamic Republic of Iran deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi  (Abbas Araghch)

New sanctions being discussed in the U.S. Congress are “a completely clear hostile act and against the Islamic Republic of Iran and … will be met with a definitive response,” Araqchi, who is also a top nuclear negotiator, was quoted as saying by the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

He did not specify what actions Iran would take.

The U.S. House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to slap new sanctions on Iran, Russia and North Korea. The Republican-controlled Senate passed an earlier version of the bill with near-unanimous support.

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Iran’s Republican Guard released this photo of the IRGC launching a missile attack on enemy positions in Syria

It was unclear how quickly the bill would make its way to the White House for U.S. President Donald Trump to sign into law or veto.

Separately, Trump issued a veiled threat against Iran on Tuesday, warning Tehran to adhere to the terms of a nuclear deal with world powers or else face “big, big problems.”

A week after certifying Iran as complying with the 2015 agreement negotiated by Democratic President Barack Obama, Trump made clear that he remains extremely wary of Tehran.

New sanctions could reduce the benefits that Iran receives from the nuclear agreement, Araqchi said, according to IRNA.

“America has committed to follow the nuclear deal with goodwill and in a productive environment and to hold back from any steps that would have an effect on the successful execution of the deal,” he said.

(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Catherine Evans)

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USS Thunderbolt

 (Qatar stands in support of Iran)

Trump says he would be surprised if Iran is in compliance with a nuclear deal — WSJ Interview

July 26, 2017

WASHINGTON — U.S. President Donald Trump said on Tuesday he would be surprised if Iran is in compliance with a nuclear deal when recertification comes up again in three months, according to an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

“We’ll talk about the subject in 90 days but I would be surprised if they were in compliance,” he told the Journal. The president must certify to Congress every three months that Iran is complying with the 2015 nuclear deal.

(Writing by Eric Beech)

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Washington, Berlin and the Problem With Russia’s New Pipeline — US and EU on collision course

July 25, 2017

Some Europeans worry about possible sanctions hurting Nord Stream 2, but America is right to be suspicious of the project.

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The Wall Street Journal

July 24, 2017 3:33 p.m. ET

Amid allegations that Washington is using the cover of sanctions to advance its own commercial interests, Germany has been furiously lobbying against a Russian sanctions bill that passed the U.S. Senate and goes to vote in the U.S. House of Representatives Tuesday.

In a recent joint statement, Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austria’s Chancellor Christian Kern blasted the Senate version of the bill as aimed at “selling American liquid natural gas and ending the supply of Russian natural gas to the European…

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US and EU on collision course over Russia pipeline sanctions

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raft of top European companies will be forced to pull out of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Russia or face crippling sanctions under draconian legislation racing through the US Congress.

Berlin and Brussels have threatened retaliation if Washington presses ahead with penalties on anything like the suggested terms, marking a dramatic escalation in the simmering trans-Atlantic showdown over America’s extra-territorial police powers.

A consortium of Shell, Engie, Wintershall, Uniper, and Austria’s OMV is providing half the €9.5bn (£8.5bn) funding for the 760-mile pipeline through the Baltic Sea to Germany. “This is a spectacular interference in internal European affairs,” said Isabelle Kocher, the director-general of Engie in France.

The wording of the US legislation is so broad that it could sweep up dozens of firms in different ways. “The measures could impact a potentially…

Read the rest:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2017/07/24/us-eu-collision-course-russia-pipeline-sanctions/

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From July 7, 2017

Authored by Pepe Escobar via Counterpunch.org,

The Russia sanctions bill that passed the US Senate by 98:2 on June 15 is a bombshell; it directly demonizes the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, under the Baltic Sea, which is bound to double Gazprom’s energy capacity to supply gas to Europe.

The 9.5 billion euro pipeline is being financed by five companies; Germany’s Uniper and Wintershall; Austria’s OMV; France’s Engie; and Anglo-Dutch Shell. All these majors operate in Russia, and have, or will establish, pipeline contracts with Gazprom.

In a joint statement, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern stressed that, “Europe’s energy supply is a matter for Europe, not the United States of America”; “instruments for political sanctions should not be tied to economic interests”; and the whole thing heralds a “new and very negative quality in European-American relations”.

An oil trader in the Gulf bluntly told me, “the new sanctions against Russia basically amount to telling the EU to buy expensive US gas instead of cheap Russian gas. So the Germans and the Austrians basically told the Americans to buzz off.”

A top US intel source, Middle East-based and a dissident to the Beltway consensus, stresses how, “the United States Senate by a nearly unanimous vote have decided to declare war on Russia (sanctions are war) and Germany has threatened retaliation against the United States if it initiates sanctions.

Germany accused the United States of trying to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline of Russia to the EU so that the US can export their liquid natural gas to the EU, making the EU dependent on the United States.”
But then, there’s a possible game-changing aftermath; “That would spell the end of NATO if a trade war between the EU and the United States takes place.”

The usual Brexiteer suspects obviously are falling like a ton of bricks over the “Molotov-Ribbentrop 2 pipeline” – another trademark expression of paranoia by Poland.

They are even demonizing Germany for daring to do business with Russia, “undermining the security and economic interests of Eastern and Central Europe” and – yes, roars of laughter are in order — undermining “American emotional backing for NATO.”

So much pent-up “emotion” even leads to a nasty accusation of betrayal; “We know which side Poland is on. Which side is Germany on?”

What’s really unforgivable though is that Nord Stream 2, in practice, buries for good failed state Ukraine’s $2 billion in revenue from pipeline fees.

Nord Stream 2 is opposed by all the usual suspects; Poland; the Baltic states; Washington; but also the Nordic states. The top official argument is that it “harms EU energy security”. That in itself embeds a massive joke, as the EU has been harming itself in interminable “energy security” discussions in Brussels for over a decade.

Lucrative creative destruction, anyone?

Analyst Peter G. Spengler qualifies the US Senate bill as a “declared, but not yet executed act of warfare, an act of (sanctions) war against Germany and Austria directly, possible recipients within the EU indirectly.”

Spengler draws attention to the reminder of the FRG/USSR Agreement on Economic Cooperation of 1978 with a 25 years duration 1978 Agreement of Economic Cooperation between the then Federal Republic of Germany and the USSR, designed to last for 25 years; “This agreement together with all the foregoing treaties between West Germany and the Soviet Union were the basis on which [Helmut] Kohl could build his ‘Haus Europa’ with the Soviet Union/Russia from the summer of 1989 in Bonn onwards.”
Crucially, this agreement also included a gas transportation triangle between Moscow, Teheran and Bonn, and was “fiercely but completely clandestinely embattled by the Carter administration, among so many silent wars against the Federal Republic of Germany in those years.”

And guess who was trying to sabotage the agreement 24/7; recently deceased Polish “Grand Chessboarder” Zbigniew Brzezinski.

So nothing much changed since the late 1970s; Washington demonizing both Tehran and Moscow. The section of the US Senate bill related to Russia is some sort of after thought to yet another hardcore package against Iran, the Countering Iran’s Destabilizing Activities Act (which includes the Russia sanctions.)

It’s not an accident that the US Senate sanctions bill targets energy; this is a sub-product of a fierce energy war. But what is the US Senate really up to? Call it creative (lucrative) destruction.
The US Senate is convinced that Nord Stream 2 “would compete with US exports of liquefied natural gas to Europe”. Thus the US government “should prioritize the export of United States energy resources in order to create American jobs, help United States allies and partners, and strengthen United States foreign policy”.

Yet this has absolutely nothing to do with helping “allies and partners”; it’s rather a case of US energy majors getting a little help from their friends/puppets in the Senate. It’s in the public domain how US energy majors donated over $50 million in 2015/2016 to get these people elected.

Compared to the US Senate, the role of the European Commission (EC) in the saga remained somewhat murky, until it became clear it will interfere via a “mandate”. This “mandate” will have to be approved by a “reinforced qualified majority” vote by member states, a higher than usual threshold of 72 percent of EU states representing 65 per cent of the population.

Spengler observes how, “the commission’s continued attempts to get a legal foot in the contracts between European companies and Gazprom would be much more detrimental and potentially efficient than even a President’s signing of the Senate (and House) sanctions law.”

So where will this all lead? Arguably towards an extremely messy clash “between the European Commission/Court of Justice and German/Austrian (plus Russian) jurisdiction.”

The Senate bill will have to be backed by a veto-proof majority in the House; that vote won’t happen before the G-20 in Hamburg.Then it would become law – assuming President Trump won’t squash it.

The key, “nuclear” issue is a non-mandatory clause for the US Treasury to sanction those five Western firms involved in Nord Stream 2. If the law is approved, the White House better ignore it. Otherwise Germany, Austria and France will definitely interpret it as a declaration of war.

Trump and Chancellor Angela Merkel will definitely be on a collision course at the G-20, with Merkel emphasizing discussions on climate change, refugees and no trade protectionism, much to Trump’s disgust. The Russia sanctions bill just adds to the unholy mess. Expect a lot of fireworks “celebrating” those bilaterals in Hamburg.

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-07-07/washington-and-berlin-collision-course

Al-Qaida in Northwestern Syria Close To Becoming The Dominant Force Around Idlib — Hay’at Tahrir al Sham militant group is the “Levant Liberation Committee”

July 25, 2017

BEIRUT — Syrian rebels and activists are warning that an al-Qaida-linked jihadi group is on the verge of snuffing out what remains of the country’s uprising in northwestern Syria, after the extremists seized control of the opposition-held regional capital, Idlib, last weekend.

With the jihadis cementing their authority over the city and its province, also called Idlib, Syrian President Bashar Assad has been supplied with a useful pretext for a long-expected assault against the rebellious province: that the uprising against him is largely driven by Islamists and terrorists.

“There is the real possibility that because of the Nusra Front’s domination, the regime will enter the area with international approval,” said Lt. Col. Fares Bayoush, a longtime opponent of Assad, who has been leading a rebel faction in north Syria.

The Nusra Front is one of the many names for the al-Qaida-affiliate that now heads the mighty Hay’at Tahrir al Sham militant group — Arabic for Levant Liberation Committee — that seized the city of Idlib, as well as two border crossings with Turkey to feed its coffers. It is also known as HTS.

In July last year, the Nusra Front changed its name to Fatah al-Sham Front and said it was cutting all its links with al-Qaida, a move seen by many as an attempt to improve its image and market itself as a faction defending the Syrian people.

Fighters from al-Qaeda's branch in Syria, formally known as the al-Nusra Front, marching toward the northern village of al-Ais in Aleppo province. (Al-Nusra Front via AP)

Fighters from al-Qaeda’s branch in Syria, formally known as the al-Nusra Front, marching toward the northern village of al-Ais in Aleppo province. (Al-Nusra Front via AP)

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It abides by a deeply conservative code for ethics and jurisprudence and tolerates no dissent — leading many who live under its rule to complain they are no better than the government they sought to overthrow in 2011.

The fresh gains by HTS in northern Syria come at a time when the Islamic State group is suffering defeats at the hands of Iraqi and Syrian forces as well as U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters in northern Syria.

In Idlib demonstrations last week, the group’s members shot at protesters waving the tri-color flag of the Syrian uprising. HTS will only accept their own, jihadi-inspired black flags to be flown in their presence.

“Any party that tries to confront HTS will be crushed,” said an activist based in northwest Syria.

“This is a big blow for the Syrian revolution. Bashar will look like he is fighting terrorism,” the activist said, speaking on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals by the HTS.

With its previous incarnations, Hay’at Tahrir al Sham has long been the top dog in Idlib province but the putsch has had the effect of making it feel official. In recent weeks, the group deployed masked gunmen and carried out raids in search operations for alleged IS members.

HTS deployed across Idlib city last weekend after a rival faction, the ultraconservative Ahrar al-Sham group, withdrew. Five days of clashes around the province left 77 fighters and 15 civilians dead, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group.

Other factions, including many once financed and armed in part by the CIA, kept to the sidelines. They are hoping to win a share of the revenues from the lucrative Bab al-Hawa border crossing, said a Turkey-based opposition activist who liaises with Syrian rebels and their state sponsors. He asked for anonymity so as not to jeopardize his position.

That crossing used to bring Ahrar al-Sham over $1 million in revenues a month, according to a senior Ahrar al-Sham official, who also asked for anonymity for the same reason. The group will now have to share those revenues with HTS after forfeiting its monopoly over it to a “civilian administration” forced in by the extremists.

HTS also seized Sarmada — the first town after the Bab al-Hawa crossing and an important trade hub in north Idlib — and Khirbet al-Jouz, home to a second, less important crossing with Turkey.

“Ahrar al-Sham no longer has a real on-the-ground presence in Idlib province. It’s over,” said the Observatory’s chief, Rami Abdurrahman.

[File: Ammar Abdullah/Reuters]

HTS and Ahrar have long been at odds over Idlib, but the rout last week nevertheless carried a hint of betrayal, as the two sides fought side by side in 2015 to throw the government out of the province once and for all. Armed with anti-tank missiles supplied to supporting moderate opposition forces, some of which ended up in the hands of the Nusra Front, the coalition’s advantage was so great that Assad conceded, for the first time in the war, that he might not be able to retain control over all of Syria.

But Russia intervened with a bruising aerial campaign that drove the rebels and insurgents back on all fronts. Further infighting between the factions has all but doomed any hopes of rebels reaching the Syrian capital, Damascus.

Assad, who has long eyed Idlib province since he lost it, will be further emboldened by a White House decision to halt the CIA supply-and-equip program for Syrian rebels. It was first reported by the Washington Post last week.

Opposition activists saw it as an acknowledgement that HTS was exploiting its position in northwestern Syria to pilfer weapons from vetted opposition groups.

“It means HTS will have less access to arms,” said the Turkey-based opposition activist.

But it is also a sign of growing closeness between the White House and the Kremlin over Syria.

Russia, a strong backer of Assad, had long pushed the United States to end the program. And U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was reported to have told U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres earlier this month that the U.S. was leaving “Syria’s fate in Russia’s hands now,” according to Foreign Policy magazine.

Afghanistan: Kabul Car Bomb Kills At Least 24 — “Unrelenting violence in Afghanistan”

July 24, 2017

KABUL — A suicide attacker detonated a car bomb in the western part of Kabul on Monday, killing at least 24 people and wounding 40, and the death toll could rise, an Interior Ministry spokesman in the Afghan capital said.

Police cordoned off the area, located near the house of the deputy government Chief Executive Mohammad Mohaqiq in a part of the city where many of the mainly Shi’ite Hazara community live, but they said the target of the attack was so far unclear.

A small bus owned by the Ministry of Mines had been destroyed, government security sources said.

Acting Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said at least 24 people had been killed and 40 wounded but the casualty toll could rise further.

Salim Rasouli, director of the city’s hospitals, said at least 13 dead and 17 wounded had been taken to hospitals.

The latest suicide bombing adds to the unrelenting violence in Afghanistan, where at least 1,662 civilians were killed in the first half of the year. It came two weeks after the Islamic State group claimed an attack on a mosque in the capital that killed at least four people.

Kabul has accounted for at least 20 percent of all civilian casualties this year, including at least 150 people killed in a massive truck bomb attack at the end of May, according to United Nations figures.

The Taliban, which is battling the Western-backed government for control of Afghanistan, has launched a wave of attacks around the country in recent days, sparking fighting in more than half a dozen provinces.

On Sunday, dozens of Afghan troops were under siege after Taliban fighters overran a district in northern Faryab province, a spokesman for the provincial police said.

There was also fighting in Baghlan, Badakhshan, Kunduz, Kandahar, Helmand, and Uruzgan provinces, according to officials.

The resurgence of violence coincides with the U.S. administration weighing up its strategic options for Afghanistan, including the possibility of sending more troops to bolster the training and advisory mission already helping Afghan forces.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and James Mackenzie; Editing by Paul Tait)

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Suicide car bomb hits Afghanistan’s Kabul

Taliban claim responsibility for attack that killed at least 24 people in a western Kabul neighbourhood.

The attack took place in a neighbourhood that is home to many Shia Hazaras [Reuters]

At least 24 people have been killed and more than 40 wounded after a suicide car bomb targeted Afghanistan’s capital Kabul, officials have said.

The target of Monday’s attack was a bus carrying staff of the Ministry of Mines and Petroleum, intelligence officials told Al Jazeera.

Najib Danish, an acting Interior Ministry spokesman added that the casualty toll could rise.

Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.

The attack came just before 7am local time (02:30 GMT) and took place close to the house of Hazara leader Mohammed Mohaqeq.

Al Jazeera’s Jennifer Glasse, reporting from Kabul, said the Hazara community had called a demonstration for Monday to commemorate a suicide bombing that killed 84 in the same area on July 23 last year.

The demonstration was postponed because of security risks.

“Security has been very tight in Kabul,” she said.

“This morning, new barrier gates went up that limit the height of trucks coming in to the city.”

The Hazaras are one of Afghanistan’s largest ethnic minorities, accounting for up to 20 percent of Afghanistan’s 30 million inhabitants.

The latest suicide bombing adds to the unrelenting violence in Afghanistan, where at least 1,662 civilians were killed in the first half of the year.

It came two weeks after the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group claimed an attack on a mosque in the capital that killed at least four people.

Kabul has accounted for at least 20 percent of all civilian casualties this year, including at least 150 people killed in a massive truck bomb attack at the end of May, according to UN figures.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

http://www.aljazeera.com/news/2017/07/casualties-feared-kabul-car-bomb-attack-170724034019038.html

Upset With US, Iranian Lawmakers to Draft Anti-American Bill — “America is the only thing holding Iran back”

July 18, 2017

Iranian state TV reported that 211 lawmakers in the 290-seat assembly backed an outline for the legislation at a session Tuesday.

The details of the bill will be worked out in parliament over the next few weeks, after which it will go to the Guardian Council for ratification, like all laws in Iran.

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Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, right, with Brigadier General Ali Fadavi and other commanders

The development came a day after the Trump administration told Congress that Iran would face consequences for breaching “the spirit” of the nuclear deal with world powers.

Congress has been pushing for a new set of sanctions against Iran and its Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force responsible for recent ballistic missile tests that angered Washington.

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New South Korea government moving ahead with proposed military talks with North

July 18, 2017

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By Reuters/Christine Kim   July 18, 2017 | 02:51 pm GMT+7

New South Korea government proposes military talks with North

South Korean President Moon Jae-in walks during his visit to the state-run Agency for Defense Development in Taean, South Korea, in this handout picture provided by the Presidential Blue House and released by Yonhap on June 23, 2017. Photo by The Presidential Blue House/Yonhap via Reuters
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Military talks would aim to halt hostile acts on border.

South Korea on Monday proposed military talks with North Korea, the first formal overture to Pyongyang by the government of President Moon Jae-in, to discuss ways to avoid hostile acts near the heavily militarized border.

There was no immediate response from North Korea to the proposal for talks later this week. The two sides technically remain at war but Moon, who came to power in May, has pledged to engage North Korea in dialogue as well as bring pressure to impede its nuclear and missile programs.

The offer comes after North Korea claimed to have conducted the first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) earlier this month, and said it had mastered the technology to mount a nuclear warhead on the missile.

“Talks and cooperation between the two Koreas to ease tension and bring about peace on the Korean peninsula will be instrumental for pushing forth a mutual, virtuous cycle for inter-Korea relations and North Korea’s nuclear problem,” South Korea’s Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon told a news briefing.

The United States, South Korea’s main ally, which has been trying to rally international support for tougher sanctions on North Korea, appeared cool to the proposal, recalling President Donald Trump’s statements that conditions must be right for dialogue.

 South Korean President Moon Jae-in. CreditYonhap/European Pressphoto Agency
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“I think the President has made clear in the past with respect that any type of conditions that would have to be met are clearly far away from where we are now,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told a news briefing.

The South Korean defense ministry proposed talks with the North on July 21 at Tongilgak to stop all activities that fuel tension at the military demarcation line.

Tongilgak is a North Korean building at the Panmunjom truce village on the border used for previous inter-Korea talks. The last such talks were held in December 2015.

Cho also urged restoration of cross-border military and government hotlines that North Korea cut last year in response to South Korea’s imposition of new economic sanctions after a nuclear test by Pyongyang.

South Korea also proposed separate talks by the rival states’ Red Cross organizations to resume a humanitarian project to reunite families separated during the 1950-53 Korean War.

The South Korean Red Cross suggested talks be held on Aug. 1, with possible reunions over the Korean thanksgiving Chuseok holiday, which falls in October.

The last such reunions were in October 2015.

Beijing in favor

China, which has close ties to Pyongyang despite its anger over North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, welcomed the proposal, saying cooperation and reconciliation could help ease tensions.

“We hope that North and South Korea can work hard to go in a positive direction and create conditions to break the deadlock and resume dialogue and consultation,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a daily news briefing.

The proposals come after Moon said at the G20 summit in Hamburg this month he was in favour of dialogue despite the “nuclear provocation” of North Korea’s latest missile test.

When Moon visited Washington after being elected president, he and Trump said they were open to renewed dialogue with North Korea but only under circumstances that would lead to Pyongyang giving up its weapons programs.

“The fact that we wish to take on a leading role in resolving this (North Korean) issue has already been understood at the summit with the United States and the Group of 20 summit meetings,” Cho said on Monday.

In the proposal for talks, South Korea did not elaborate on the meaning of hostile military activities, which varies between the two Koreas. South Korea usually refers to loudspeaker propaganda broadcasts by both sides, while North Korea wants a halt to routine joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.

Moon suggested this month that hostile military activities at the border be ended on July 27, the anniversary of the 1953 armistice agreement. Since no truce was agreed, the two sides remain technically at war.

Asked if South Korea was willing to be “flexible” on military drills with the United States should North Korea be open to talks, Cho said the government had not discussed the matter specifically.

Pyongyang has said it will not engage in talks with Seoul unless it turns over 12 waitresses who defected to South Korea last year after leaving a North Korean restaurant in China.

North Korea says South Korea abducted the waitresses, but Seoul has said they defected of their own free will. Cho said this matter was not included on the talks agenda.

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U.S. Congress To Hold Hearings on Human Rights, Drug War in the Philippines

July 18, 2017
The US Congress Human Rights Commission will hold a hearing on the human rights consequences of the ‘war on drugs’ currently underway in the Philippines. AP/J. Scott Applewhite

MANILA, Philippines — The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, under the US Congress, will hold an inquiry into the Philippines’ war on drugs on Thursday.

The US Congress commission has invited witnesses that will analyze the implementation of the so-called war on drugs and its consequence for the human rights situation in the Philippines.

Among the panelists for the upcoming hearing are iDEFEND Philippines spokesperson Ellecer Carlos, Amnesty International Senior Crisis Advisor Matthew Wells and Human Rights Watch Asia Division Deputy Director Phelim Kine.

“They will also provide policy recommendations for ensuring accountability for human rights violations and for addressing the problems of drug abuse and trafficking in ways consistent with promoting public health and strengthening rule of law,” the US Congress commission said.

The US had been supporting the Philippine National Police in its counterterrorism and counternarcotics campaign.

PNP data showed that 7,025 drug-related killings have been carried out from July 1, 2016 and January 21, 2017 — an average of 34 per day.

“Although extrajudicial killings have been a major human rights concern for some time, in its Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2016, the Department of State recognized that such killings increased sharply over the last year,” the US Congress commission said.

The US Congress noted that President Rodrigo Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs and reports of extrajudicial killings have raised questions whether Washington should balance its concerns for protecting human rights and the rule of law while maintaining bilateral alliance.

The Philippines and the US have been allies for more than 70 years. The Philippines is the largest recipient of US assistance in East Asia.

This is not the first time that American lawmakers under the human rights panel are tackling a situation in the Philippines. In 2015, members of the congressional commission were briefed on human rights violations by police and military personnel in the Philippines. Panelists at the meeting included Filipino rights workers.

“Security forces are responsible for the most significant human rights concerns in the country, including extrajudicial killings, harassment, disappearances, illegal arrests and torture,” the announcement for the 2015 briefing read.

RELATED: US senators reconsider assistance to Philippines amid drug war

http://www.philstar.com/headlines/2017/07/18/1720766/us-congress-hold-hearing-philippines-drug-war

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France calls for lifting of sanctions on Qatar citizens

July 15, 2017

French Foreign Minister says his country is “very concerned by the sudden deterioration” of the situation in the Gulf.

France has called for a swift lifting of sanctions that target Qatari nationals in an effort to ease a month-long rift between the Gulf country and a Saudi Arabia-led group.

In his visit to the Qatari capital Doha on Saturday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said his country is “very concerned by the sudden deterioration” of the situation in the region.

“France calls for the lifting, as soon as possible, of the measures that affect the populations in particular, bi-national families that have been separated or students,” Le Drian told reporters in Doha, after he met his counterpart Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani.

READ MORE: The turning point of the GCC crisis

Le Drian also met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, following the steps of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who was in the Gulf this week to help to find a solution the regional impasse.

He is scheduled to visit Saudi Arabia later on Saturday and will visit Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates on Sunday.

“France should be a facilitator in the mediation” led by Kuwait, Le Drian told reporters.

Kuwait is trying to mediate the dispute.

“France is talking to all these countries to help in the search for a solution,” he said, calling for “dialogue and calm” between the Arab states concerned.

Le Drian also said France counted on “reinforcing cooperation with Qatar in the fight against terrorism, particularly in combating terrorism financing”.

‘Political, intellectual terrorism’

For his part, Sheikh Mohammed said that the actions taken by Saudi Arabia and its allies against Qatar are disrupting the regional effort to combat terrorism.

“Combating terrorism also cannot be through practising political and intellectual terrorism against a state,” Sheikh Mohammed said.

Aside from France, officials from Britain and Germany also visited the region in recent weeks.

In an interview with Al Jazeera, Samer Shehata of the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, however, said that while France’s voice lends more support for Qatar, it does “not have a tremendous amount” of influence in the crisis.

“The United States has the most pressure it can potentially exert on the parties involved, particularly the Saudis and the Emiratis,” he said.

Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt imposed sanctions on Qatar on June 5, accusing it of financing armed groups and allying with Saudi Arabia’s regional ally, Iran — allegations that Doha denied.

On June 22, the Saudi-led group issued a 13-point list of demands, including the shutdown of Al Jazeera, limiting ties with Iran and expelling Turkish troops stationed in the country, as a prerequisite to lift the sanctions.

Doha rejected the demands and the countries now consider the list “null and void”.

On July 11, US and Qatar signed an agreement to help combat “terrorism financing”. But the Saudi-led group called it “insufficient”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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France Urges Qatar, Arab Neighbors to Resolve Diplomatic Standoff

July 15, 2017 9:06 AM
  • VOA News
French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian is seen at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 3, 2017. Le Drian met Saturday in Doha with his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

French Foreign Minister Jean Yves Le Drian is seen at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, June 3, 2017. Le Drian met Saturday in Doha with his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani.

France’s foreign minister has expressed concern about the deterioration of relations between Qatar and its Arab neighbors and urged all sides to find a way to end the diplomatic standoff.

Jean-Yves Le Drian spoke to reporters after talks with his Qatari counterpart, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, in Doha on Saturday.

A group of nations that includes Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt accuses Qatar of supporting terrorism and has given Doha a 13-point list of demands after severing diplomatic ties in early June.

Qatar has said it is willing to negotiate but will not give up its sovereignty.

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited the region earlier this week but left with little apparent progress in resolving the standoff.

https://www.voanews.com/a/france-qatar/3945483.html

Optimism in Financial Markets Fails to Show in Real Economy

July 15, 2017

“Hopes for a prolonged period of 3% GDP growth sparked by Trump’s victory have largely vanished.”

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By Ben Leubsdorf

The Wall Street Journal
July 14, 2017 3:08 p.m. ET

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Optimism in financial markets isn’t showing up in the real economy.

Though stocks have been hitting records and big U.S. banks reported stronger-than-expected earnings Friday, consumers pulled back their spending at midyear and became less optimistic about the future, while inflation on consumer purchases softened.

Taken together, the indicators pointed to an economy that is entering the ninth year of expansion steady and still creating jobs at a healthy clip, but without obvious additional momentum. President Donald Trump has set out an agenda to push economic growth beyond the 2% pace that has prevailed since the recession ended in 2009, but so far there is little sign of a real breakout happening.

Modest price pressures are a possible sign of slower underlying economic momentum and a headache for the Federal Reserve, which has struggled to reach its 2% annual inflation goal since the 2007-09 recession.

“To be sure, the data do not suggest an impending recession,” said Richard Curtin, chief economist for the University of Michigan’s consumer-sentiment survey. “Rather, the data indicate that hopes for a prolonged period of 3% GDP growth sparked by Trump’s victory have largely vanished, aside from a temporary snapback expected in the second quarter.”

On the positive side, factory output picked up in June, and domestic energy production is rebounding. Overall economic activity appeared to accelerate in the second quarter following a weak start to 2017, when gross domestic product expanded at a 1.4% annual rate during the first quarter.

For the recently ended second quarter, forecasting firm Macroeconomic Advisers on Friday projected 2.3% growth and the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta’s high-profile GDPNow model predicted a 2.4% growth pace.

Reports on Friday offered fresh insights into the state of the economy, a broadly healthy picture with some downbeat signals headed into the second half of 2017.

Several of the biggest U.S. banks released mixed reports that, while showing stronger-than-expected earnings, sent their shares lower.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co., the largest U.S. bank by assets, reported record quarterly profit of $7.03 billion. But it also trimmed forecasts for growth in loans and net interest income.

Wells Fargo & Co. reported a $6.7 billion decline in average loans from the first quarter. The company’s chief financial officer, John Shrewsberry, noted “softness across the industry,” but also cited specific actions the bank has taken “primarily driven by our own risk discipline which have caused our growth to slow.”

The bank has pulled back, for example, in auto lending, part of an $11.1 billion drop in the San Francisco bank’s consumer loan portfolio from a year earlier.

Retail sales — a gauge of consumer spending at stores, restaurants and websites — decreased a seasonally adjusted 0.2% in June after falling 0.1% in May, the Commerce Department said. It was the first back-to-back sales drop since July and August 2016.

Sales excluding motor vehicles and gasoline fell 0.1% last month, the first decline for the measure in almost a year.

In the second quarter, total retail sales were up just 0.2% from the first three months of the year. But more broadly, sales rose 3.9% in the first half of 2017 compared with the year-earlier period.

Fed Chairwoman Janet Yellen told lawmakers this past week that growth in household outlays “continues to be supported by job gains, rising household wealth and favorable consumer sentiment.”

But the University of Michigan’s sentiment gauge dropped in July for the second straight month, with a preliminary July reading of 93.1 versus 95.1 in June and 97.1 in May. The decline was driven by weaker expectations for future economic gains, though the overall index was still 3.4% higher in June from a year earlier.

On inflation, the Labor Department said its consumer-price index was unchanged in June from the prior month. Excluding the often-volatile categories of food and energy, so-called core prices rose just 0.1% for the third straight month.

On an annual basis, overall inflation softened to a 1.6% annual gain in June, while core inflation was steady at 1.7% annual growth.

The Fed is tasked with achieving maximum sustainable employment and stable prices. With unemployment at 4.4% in June, it appears the Fed has closed in on half of its mandate. Inflation, however, remains well shy of its 2% target.

The Fed’s preferred inflation gauge, the Commerce Department’s price index for personal-consumption expenditures, poked above the central bank’s 2% goal in February for the first time in nearly five years. It has settled lower each month since. The most recent data, for May, showed a 1.4% year-to-year gain.

“We’re starting to see some signs of cyclical weakness,” said Laura Rosner, senior economist at research firm MacroPolicy Perspectives. She said recent soft inflation data “really raise questions about whether we will get to 2% on a sustained basis before the next recession, and I think that raises very thorny questions for the Fed.”

The Fed has penciled in one more increase for short-term interest rates this year, and also plans to begin shrinking its $4.5 trillion asset portfolio. Continued soft readings on core inflation could damp enthusiasm for higher rates, though Ms. Yellen has said she expects the current weakness will prove transitory and inflation will firm alongside a tightening labor market.

Speaking in Mexico City on Friday, Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas President Robert Kaplan reiterated he would like to see more evidence that inflation is moving toward the 2% target. The Fed’s policy-making committee is expected to remain on hold at its July 25-26 meeting, but Mr. Kaplan said the Fed should begin the process of shrinking its balance sheet “very soon,” as early as the U.S. central bank’s September policy meeting.

The industrial side of the economy looked a bit stronger last month. Industrial output — a measure of production by manufacturers, mining companies and utilities — grew 0.4% in June from May, the Fed said. Production rose 2% over the past year.

The rebound has been driven by mining output, which grew 1.6% in June and has risen nearly 10% over the past year as energy companies boost oil and gas extraction. Growth in manufacturing output has been more modest, with factory production climbing 0.2% in June and up 1.2% on the year

–Aaron Lucchetti, Jeffrey Sparshott, Josh Mitchell, Josh Zumbrun and Anthony Harrup contributed to this article.

Write to Ben Leubsdorf at ben.leubsdorf@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/optimism-in-financial-markets-fails-to-show-in-real-economy-1500059325

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