Posts Tagged ‘United Arab Emirates’

Military leaders from Iran, Turkey meet to discuss Syria, Kurds, and counter-terrorism

August 16, 2017

ANKARA — Turkish and Iranian military leaders held talks on Wednesday over cooperation in the Syrian conflict and counter-terrorism, officials said, during a rare visit to NATO-member Turkey by the Islamic Republic’s military chief of staff.

Turkey’s ties with Washington have been strained by U.S. support for Kurdish fighters in Syria, and the visit by Iranian General Mohammad Baqeri is the latest sign that Ankara is increasing cooperation with other powers such as Iran and Russia.

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Iranian Chief of Staff Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri (R) in Ankara to hold talks with a number of high-ranking Turkish officials on cooperation in settling the crises in Syria and Iraq and other issues

Baqeri met his Turkish counterpart on Tuesday and Turkey’s Defence Minister Nurettin Canikli on Wednesday in what Turkish media said was the first visit by an Iranian chief of staff since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution.

He was due to meet President Tayyip Erdogan later on Wednesday.

Turkey and Iran have supported rival sides in Syria’s six-year-old conflict, with Iran-backed fighters helping President Bashar al-Assad to drive back rebels battling to overthrow him, including some supported by Ankara.

Turkey is concerned that the Syrian chaos has empowered Kurdish forces who it says are closely tied to the long-running insurgency in its southeastern regions, as well as Islamic State fighters who have waged attacks inside Turkey, and is working with Iran and Russia to reduce the fighting in some areas.

An Iranian source said Baqeri was accompanied by the head of the ground forces of the Revolutionary Guards Corps, Iran’s most powerful security entity.

“There have been no such visits between the two countries for a long time, but considering regional developments and security issues – border security and the fight against terrorism – there was a need for such a visit,” Baqeri told Iranian state television on arrival on Tuesday.

The Iranian source said that, in addition to the war in Syria, the two sides would discuss the conflict in Iraq as well as dealing with Kurdish militants in the Turkish-Iranian border region, where Turkish media say Turkey has started building a frontier wall.

RUSSIAN MILITARY CHIEF

Turkey, Iran and Russia agreed in May to set up “de-escalation zones” in Syria to try to stem the fighting in some parts of the country, including the northern province of Idlib, which borders Turkey and has since been overrun by jihadists linked to a former al Qaeda affiliate.

That has thrown into question any suggestion that the three countries could deploy a force to police the Idlib region.

“The negotiations regarding the Idlib issue are still ongoing,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told Turkish broadcaster TRT Haber on Wednesday.

“After the Iranian chief of staff, the Russian chief of staff will also come to Turkey,” he added.

Turkey has said for months that it is close to buying an S-400 missile defense system from Russia, and Erdogan said in July that the deal had already been signed.

Cavusoglu said Russia understood Turkey’s sensitivities about arming Kurdish fighters better than the United States, although he said U.S. officials had informed Turkey that the most recent shipments to the YPG did not include guns.

“The United States gives us reports about how many weapons they have given to the YPG every month,” he said. The latest “said they gave armored vehicles and a bulldozer, but no guns.”

Turkey’s stepped-up military talks with Iran and Russia coincide with a major oil and gas deal involving firms from the three countries.

The Turkish firm Unit International said this week it has signed a $7 billion agreement with Russia’s state-owned Zarubezhneft and Iran’s Ghadir Investment Holding to drill for oil and natural gas in Iran.

Turkey is also discussing transporting more goods through Iran to the Gulf state of Qatar, which is locked in a dispute with its neighbors Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.

(Additional reporting by Tulay Karadeniz and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alister Doyle)

Qatar’s economy still strong despite Saudi-led multi-nation boycott

August 16, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Aymeric Vincenot | Qatar’s economy has been hit by the sanctions imposed by a Saudi-led Arab bloc but the emirate’s economy is strong enough to survive, argue local and international analysts
DOHA (AFP) – Qatar’s economy has been hit by the sanctions imposed by a Saudi-led Arab bloc but the emirate’s economy is strong enough to survive, analysts say.

Since June 5, Saudi Arabia and allies Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates shut down air, maritime and land links with Qatar, and imposed economic sanctions, accusing Doha of supporting “terrorists” and of being too close to Iran.

Qatar, denying the charges, accuses its Gulf neighbours of seeking to strangle its economy.

The heavily air-conditioned malls of Doha, a city in the throes of a $200-plus billion construction boom as it aims to make a splash on the world stage by hosting football’s 2022 World Cup, remain busy as ever, as do its roads.

To counter the sanctions and trading curbs, ally Turkey and neighbouring Iran have been pouring in food supplies by air and sea.

“In the medium- to long-term, perhaps people who live here will feel” the effects, but for the time being, “we haven’t felt any big difference”, said Mohamed Ammar, who heads the Qatari Businessmen Association.

For Rashid bin Ali al-Mansoori, CEO of the Qatar Stock Exchange, the worst is already over. The second most highly-capitalised bourse in the Middle East plunged seven percent on June 5 and lost almost 10 percent in the first three days.

“We were surprised and the market also was surprised, so the market really reacted to the news like any other market of course,” he said.

But “the Qatar economy is very strong, it’s the strongest economy in the region… investor trust and confidence in the market is still there,” said Mansoori.

The level, however, remains around six percent lower than during pre-crisis Qatar.

And analysts are predicting a long drawn-out crisis which will affect investor confidence, with Bloomberg assessing at the end of July that Qatar’s economy was showing “the strain”.

“Data released last week showed that foreign deposits at Qatar’s banks fell the most in almost two years last month as customers withdrew funds, pressuring liquidity available locally for businesses and the government,” it said.

Amy McAlister of consultancy firm Oxford Economics said central bank data showed reserves were running at their lowest level since May 2012, a slide of 30 percent compared with June 2016.

“Uncertainty will have prompted banks and portfolio investment funds to withdraw money from Qatar, leading to a fall in reserves as the central bank tries to ease liquidity pressures,” she said.

“The central bank will have also depleted reserves to support the currency peg to the US dollar, which has seen pressure since the dispute began.”

– ‘Most resilient in Mideast’ –

Oxford Economics has revised its growth outlook for 2017 down to 1.4 percent, compared with 3.4 percent before the Gulf crisis, and re-evaluated inflation at 1.8 percent, up from the anticipated 1.5 percent, because of higher import costs.

Fitch, Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s have downgraded their credit ratings for Qatar.

But analysts have faith in the capacity of Qatar, holder of the world’s third-largest natural gas reserves after giants Russia and Iran, to withstand a long crisis.

“Qatar is the most resilient country in the Middle East by far,” said Andreas Krieg, a strategic risk analyst and assistant professor at King’s College London university.

“They are very determined to see this through. Unlike the other countries, they have the most stable economy and the most stable financial situation.

“The per capita reserves they have are the greatest in the world. Even if they have to liquidate some of their investments overseas, they could do but, at this point, this is not on the books,” he said.

The tiny emirate with a population of 2.6 million, 80 percent of them foreigners, ranks as the world’s richest on a per-capita basis, according to the International Monetary Fund.

It holds a staggering $330 billion in a sovereign wealth fund, with assets heavily invested abroad.

“It is worth pointing out that these reserves do not include the foreign assets of the sovereign wealth fund, so the wider impact may not be as significant as the sharp drop initially suggests,” said McAlistair.

For McAlistair, despite uncertainty over the timeframe of the crisis, “Qatar will likely be able to withstand economic sanctions for many years”.

by Aymeric Vincenot

‘Lot of time’ needed to rebuild trust in Gulf: Qatar FM

August 15, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by David Harding | “Qatar has always been one of the founders of the GCC organisation and we still consider that this has a great importance for all of us in the region,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said
DOHA (AFP) – Qatar’s foreign minister said Tuesday it will take a “lot of time” to rebuild any trust between sparring Gulf countries because of the region’s continuing diplomatic crisis.

As the impasse between Doha and four Arab states led by Saudi Arabia entered its 11th week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said regional relations had been transformed by the dispute.

“Qatar has always been one of the founders of the GCC organisation and we still consider that this has a great importance for all of us in the region,” he told reporters.

Created in 1981, the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a political and economic union comprised of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“This organisation has been built on a strategical security and been built on trust.

“Unfortunately, what happened lately with this crisis, this factor is missing now and needs a lot of time to rebuild the trust again.

“We hope that it’s restored.”

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt cut ties with Qatar on June 5 — accusing it of backing extremism and fostering ties with Iran — triggering the biggest political crisis in the Gulf for several years.

Doha denies the claims and accuses the other countries of an attack on its sovereignty.

The Saudi-led countries have also imposed sanctions including restrictions on Qatari aircraft using their airspace.

The foreign minister added that the conflict was unnecessary.

“Such a crisis is not needed in our region, we have enough problems and enough conflict.

“A region like the Gulf region, which was considered the most stable region in the Arab world is now destabilised because… of a crisis without a solid foundation.”

However, he added that diplomatic efforts led by regional mediator Kuwait were continuing.

“We have received a letter from the Emir of Kuwait a few days ago. And this letter is a continuous effort… to encourage the parties to engage in dialogue.”

Despite this, Sheikh Mohammed said Qatar was still waiting to hear from its rivals.

“Put up your claims and put up your evidence. We told them (Saudi-led countries) anywhere you want, whatever evidence you have, just put it on the table.

“Now its been 72 days since the first day of their measures and we have not been provided with a single document.”

Experts have speculated that the diplomatic uncertainty in the region will lead to the demise of the GCC.

One, Andreas Krieg, a political risk analyst at King’s College London, told AFP that the GCC was “dying by the day”.

“The Kuwaiti emir is a great believer in the GCC and will do everything he can to resolve the crisis to save the GCC.

“However, realistically, the GCC cannot survive this crisis,” he said.

by David Harding

Drilling ship leaves Vietnam oil block after China row

August 14, 2017

Reuters

HANOI (Reuters) – The drilling ship at the center of a row between Vietnam and China over oil prospecting in disputed waters in the South China Sea has arrived in waters off the Malaysian port of Labuan, shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon showed on Monday.

Drilling by the Deepsea Metro I ship was suspended in Vietnam’s Block 136/3 last month after pressure from China, which says the concession operated by Spain’s Repsol overlaps the vast majority of the waterway that it claims as its own.

The ship, used by Norway’s Odfjell Drilling Ltd., was reported to be in Labuan at 9.17 a.m. (0117 GMT), according to shipping data in Thomson Reuters Eikon. It was last recorded at the drilling site on July 30.

Odfjell Drilling did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

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Deepsea Metro I

The row over the drilling inflamed tensions between Vietnam and China, whose claims in the South China Sea are disputed by five Southeast Asian countries.

Repsol said last month that drilling had been suspended after the company spent $27 million on the well. Co-owners of the block are Vietnam’s state oil firm and Mubadala Development Co of the United Arab Emirates.

The block lies inside the U-shaped “nine-dash line” that marks the area that China claims in the sea.

China had urged a halt to the exploration work and a diplomatic source with direct knowledge of the situation said that the decision to suspend drilling was taken after a Vietnamese delegation visited Beijing.

Vietnam has never confirmed that drilling started or that it was suspended, but last month defended its right to explore in the area.

Vietnam has emerged as the most vocal opponent of Chinese claims in the South China Sea, where more than $3 trillion in cargo passes every year, and China was also angered by Vietnam’s stand at a regional meeting last week.

Vietnam held out for language that noted concern about island-building and criticized militarization in South China Sea in the communique from foreign ministers of the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Reporting by Matthew Tostevin; Editing by Richard Pullin

Qatar Will Not Be Intimidated

August 14, 2017

It’s time to resolve the dispute, which is driven by Saudi and Emirati hypocrisy.

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Aug. 13, 2017 5:48 p.m. ET

As the Gulf crisis enters its third month, it is clear the blockade against Qatar has not succeeded.

If Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates—the countries driving the confrontation, despite the appearance of a unified bloc—hoped to bring Qatar to its knees, they have failed. If they hoped to damage Qatar’s reputation and improve their own, they have failed. If they hoped to enhance their relationship with the U.S. at Qatar’s expense, again, they have failed.

Instead, the anti-Qatar smear campaign has put a spotlight on the shameful history and unsavory practices of the Saudis and Emiratis themselves. Saudi Arabia justifies the blockade by alleging that Qatari authorities “support extremists and terrorist organizations.” But the accusation only reminds observers that the Saudis have consistently failed to prevent the radicalization of their citizens.

Fifteen of the 19 hijackers in the 9/11 attacks were Saudis. Thousands of Saudi citizens have taken up arms to join Islamic State and other radical groups. Saudi textbooks are used in ISIS schools. Many of the five dozen groups that the U.S. State Department designates as terror organizations are funded by Saudi nationals.

The Emirates have taken a similarly hypocritical stance. While the U.A.E. falsely portrays itself as America’s best ally in the region, its track record is no better than Saudi Arabia’s. Two Emiratis participated in the Sept. 11 hijackings, and the staff report to the 9/11 Commission revealed that much of the funding for the attacks flowed through the U.A.E., which was a world hub for money laundering.

The U.A.E. has fared no better with regard to freedom of speech and press. In 2014 authorities arrested a man for plotting a terrorist attack on a Formula One racetrack in Abu Dhabi. But the Emirates prohibitedinternational media outlets from reporting on the trial. The U.A.E.’s recent clampdown on free speech has been widely condemned, especially after the country’s Justice Ministry said in June that supporting Qatar on social media could be punishable by fines and even prison time.

Meanwhile, leaked emails show that Emirati officials were conspiring with a variety of interest groups and lobbyists on a campaign to slander Qatar long before the blockade was imposed. Now intelligence experts and Qatar’s cybersecurity services have identified the U.A.E. as the perpetrator of the hacking of Qatar News Agency, which set the entire Gulf crisis in motion.

Surely this kind of publicity can’t be what the Saudis and Emiratis hoped for when they instigated this crisis. Yet the longer the blockade goes on, the more damaging information the world will learn about them—and the more difficult it will be to resolve their differences with Qatar.

It’s time to abandon the public-relations campaigns, the blockade, the ultimatums and the pressure tactics and meet at the negotiating table, so we can broker a fair and just resolution to the Gulf crisis.

Mr. Al-Gahtani is special envoy for Qatar’s foreign minister for counterterrorism and mediation of conflict resolution.

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Kushner to Meet With Mideast Leaders in Latest Attempt at Peace Deal

August 12, 2017

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will soon travel to the Middle East for yet another foray into trying to forge a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the most difficult diplomatic assignments of the Trump administration.

Mr. Kushner, who traveled to the region in June, will be accompanied on the trip by Jason Greenblatt, a special representative for international negotiations, and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser. No date was announced.

The three will hold meetings with leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said a White House official. The discussions will focus on resolving the impediments to peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, but will also cover combating extremism, the official said.

That topic could take Mr. Kushner even deeper into territory generally reserved for Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. A bitter feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over how to combat extremism has split the Gulf Cooperation Council, putting a host of American priorities in the region at risk. Mr. Tillerson spent hours on the phone and days on the ground in the Middle East recently in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the standoff, which led Saudi Arabia and three other Arab states to slap an embargo on Qatar.

Mr. Tillerson’s efforts were repeatedly undermined by Mr. Trump, who largely sided with the Saudis. A frustrated Mr. Tillerson said he had set aside the matter, but Mr. Kushner’s wading into the issue could cause tensions in an administration already rived by internal disputes.

In most administrations, crucial diplomatic efforts are given to the secretary of state, but Mr. Trump gave the task of forging a Middle East peace deal to Mr. Kushner, who is also expected to focus on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

By talking to multiple players in the region, Mr. Kushner may be hoping to recruit Arab countries to offer outlines of a deal that would be difficult for either the Israelis or Palestinians to reject, known as the “outside-in” approach.

Mr. Kushner was criticized when he said in a talk given to interns, which was later leaked, that he did not want to focus on the region’s complex history. “We don’t want a history lesson,” Mr. Kushner said. “We’ve read enough books.”

Many in the region see their history as crucial to the dispute as well as any resolution, so critics saw the remarks as a sign of inexperience.

Among the challenges Mr. Kushner could confront on the trip are the myriad legal problems facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, which have begun to threaten his political standing.

Qatar Crisis Redraws Red Lines and Frays Age-Old Gulf Ties

August 12, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — It’s early morning at a fishing port in Dubai. A group of mostly retired fishermen are playing cards, eating dates and drinking coffee at the port’s majlis, a traditional meeting space.

Here, the Emirati fisherman say they aren’t too worried about the political fallout with Qatar that’s gripped the region since early June, when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with the small Gulf state, accusing it of supporting extremists.

“When it comes to politics, it’s not our business,” Thani Obeid said. “If everyone walks around saying their opinion there will be chaos.”

Obeid, 65, and Salem Jomaa, 70, say they have faith in the “wisdom” of the region’s rulers because “we are one family.”

“The Gulf is one home. From Saudi Arabia to Ras al-Khaimah (in the UAE) to Oman. We are all brothers, cousins, friends,” Jomaa said. “We are all Muslims.”

Centuries-old ties that bind families to tribes and tribes to ruling sheikhs underpin the Arabian Peninsula, but that kinship is now under strain.

The crisis has also upended some red lines, making what was once illegal now legal, and vice-versa.

Chief among them was an understanding — enshrined in tradition and government enforced — that criticism of another Gulf country or its esteemed ruler could lead to automatic imprisonment and hefty fines.

After the row erupted June 5, those rules changed. Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain warned instead that anyone who sympathizes with Qatar or criticizes the measures taken against it would be imprisoned and fined.

Qatari citizens were also expelled from the three countries after years of visa-free travel throughout the Gulf. Transport links with Qatar were cut and Saudi Arabia sealed shut Qatar’s only land border, impacting food imports.

Saudi and Emirati officials insist the measures are not aimed at Qatari citizens, but at the government. That distinction has meant little to Qataris who say the blockade on their country and the assault on their leadership is like an attack on the whole society.

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Qatari Food companies step in to fill the void

“If they talk about our emir, it’s like they are talking about us. The siege and blockade and making it illegal to sympathize with Qatar, this is against us,” Ahmed al-Khayli, a 36-year-old Qatari said.

Speaking by phone from Qatar, al-Khayli said he believes the relationship between Qataris and others in the Gulf has become “more sensitive.”

Many Qataris — who number around 270,000 citizens — believe their small, energy-rich country is standing up for itself, refusing to surrender its sovereignty. Patriotic fervor has swept through the country. Towering images of its 37-year-old ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, are plastered on cars, billboards and storefronts across the capital.

In Qatar and the UAE, where foreigners far outnumber locals, many talk with sincere admiration for their rulers. It’s a relationship that harkens to a time when tribal elders were responsible for the security of their communities, which relied on pearl diving and fishing for survival. Then, as now, tribes in the Arabian Peninsula intermarried.

The expulsion of Qataris separated mixed-nationality families, parents from their children and husbands from their wives. After public outcry, the three Gulf countries said exceptions would be made for immediate family members, though rights groups say students and families are still being affected.

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Hamad al-Kulaib, a 38-year-old Kuwaiti businessman, said the crisis “feels like a battle of the egos” between high-ranking officials. Kuwait, which has remained neutral, is trying to mediate the crisis.

“The tension between Qatar and the Saudi-led bloc is certainly putting all our social relationships in danger,” he said.

Though there have been fallouts in the past between Gulf states, this is the most severe crisis in decades.

Saudi and Emirati media have unleashed a barrage of critical reports about Qatar, accusing it of sedition, lying, sponsoring terrorism and trying to destabilize the region. Qatar’s support of opposition Islamist groups and its ties with Iran has unnerved its neighbors. Qatar says accusations it backs extremist groups are politically motivated and denies it has ever sponsored terrorism.

Meanwhile, Qatari-affiliated press upped their critical coverage of Saudi Arabia since the row erupted. Qatar and the UAE have also traded accusations of hacking.

In the years before the crisis, state-linked news channels and papers did not criticize a fellow Gulf nation’s ruler or policies.

Officially, at least, Qatar has kept a modicum of decorum in place. The emir congratulated the Saudi king and his son, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, when he was elevated to crown prince in late June. The emir also sent a cable of condolences to King Salman on the death of his elder brother.

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Those acts sparked a hashtag on Twitter in support of Qatar, and another hashtag said Saudis still welcome ties with Qatari citizens. Twitter is also where people have rallied behind their governments.

Emirati social media star Taim al-Falasi hit back at accusations that citizens in the UAE were being paid to support the moves against Qatar. In a fiercely-worded post, she asked Qataris how they could continue to support their emir after all the allegations made against Qatar.

At the majlis in Dubai’s harbor, the fishermen shake their heads when the mention of Twitter comes up. They disapprove of the fierce words being traded online.

Image result for Dubai's harbor fishermen, photos

“If you add fuel to a fire, the fire will grow,” Obeid said.

In Kuwait, 27-year-old Barrak al-Dakhail says the crisis has polarized opinions there and made relationships among people in the Gulf “awkward.”

“If the situation continues to escalate, it might create a bigger wedge between the people … and that’s certainly something we don’t want,” he said.

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Associated Press writer Hussain al-Qatari contributed from Kuwait City.

Kuwait Says North Korean Workers Still Welcome — Then Backtracks; Maybe

August 11, 2017

In a statement responding to an AP story , Kuwait also said it never stopped issuing work visas for North Koreans, refuting a major State Department human trafficking report released in June that applauded the Mideast nation for taking steps to limit their presence.

Kuwait’s response Thursday — and a later statement early Friday refuting itself after the U.S. expressed concern — shows the challenge America faces in trying to convince Gulf nations to cut back on using thousands of North Korean workers on major construction projects and to close government-run restaurants in the region.

Experts and analysts say the money earned from those enterprises helps Pyongyang buy luxury goods and build the missiles it now uses to threaten the U.S. territory of Guam, as well as other parts of the U.S. and America’s Asian allies.

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North Korean workers in the Middle East

Kuwait currently hosts 6,064 North Korean laborers, the country’s Public Authority of Manpower said in a statement sent to the AP by the Information Ministry .

That’s more than double the estimate offered by two officials with knowledge of Pyongyang’s operations in the Gulf who spoke to the AP. Speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence reports, they earlier said some 2,500 North Koreans worked in Kuwait.

Kuwait also dismissed the notion it cut off the laborers from coming to its construction sites.

“There are no plans to expel North Korean laborers and Kuwait has never done so,” the statement said.

However, in June, the State Department said that Kuwait had stopped issuing new worker visas to North Korean laborers. Former Secretary of State John Kerry also had applauded Kuwait in 2016 for stopping direct flights by North Korea’s state-run Air Koryo as a means to stop “an illegal and illegitimate regime in North Korea.”

The State Department’s June report alleged that since 2008, North Korean sent over 4,000 laborers to Kuwait “for forced labor on construction projects, sourced by a North Korean company operated by the Workers’ Party of Korea and the North Korean military.”

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“According to these reports, employees work 14 to 16 hours a day while the company retains 80 to 90 percent of the workers’ wages, and monitors and confines the workers, who live in impoverished conditions and are in very poor health due to lack of adequate nutrition and health care,” the State Department said.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauer said Thursday that North Korean workers in Kuwait “would obviously be a concern to us.”

“The government of Kuwait will be taking further measures in response to the dangerous and provocative behavior of DPRK regime within the coming days, we are told,” she said, using an acronym for North Korea.

Early on Friday, Kuwait’s state-run KUNA news agency issued a statement quoting an anonymous official at the country’s Foreign Ministry saying that it “categorically refutes the existence of such alleged numbers” of North Korean workers and that it had stopped issuing visas. The statement did not acknowledge that Kuwait’s own government offered the figures to the AP.

“The state of Kuwait is committed to the U.N. Security Council resolution on the economic embargo on North Korea,” the report said.

Most North Korean workers in the Gulf earn around $1,000 a month, with about half being kept by the North Korean government and another $300 going toward construction company managers, the officials said. That leaves workers receiving $200 for working straight through an entire month, they said. Even $200 a month can go a long way in North Korea, where the per-capita income is estimated at just $1,700 a year.

Outside of Kuwait, Pyongyang sends workers to the Gulf countries of Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, all U.S. allies. The workers face conditions akin to forced labor while being spied on by planted intelligence officers, eating little food and suffering physical abuse, analysts and officials say.

Gulf nations keep their ties with North Korea largely quiet while supplying oil and natural gas crucial to the economies of Pyongyang adversaries South Korea and Japan.

For Kuwait, the ongoing North Korea crisis puts the tiny, oil-rich nation in a tough position diplomatically. Kuwaitis even today will embrace Americans they meet in the street over the U.S.-led 1991 war that ended Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s occupation of the country.

The country hosts some 13,500 American troops, many at Camp Arifjan south of Kuwait City, which also is home to the forward command of U.S. Army Central. Guam, which Pyongyang now threatens to target , hosts 7,000 American troops — showing the strategic importance of Kuwait to the U.S.

But Kuwait also hosts North Korea’s only embassy in the Gulf, through which Pyongyang conducts all its diplomatic affairs.

Kuwait’s 88-year-old ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, is scheduled to travel to Washington in September to meet Trump. The visit by Sheikh Sabah comes as he’s been trying to mediate a dispute between Qatar and Arab nations, though North Korea potentially could come up at the meeting as well.

However, Kuwait’s long embrace of America shouldn’t be seen as it giving up making its own foreign policy decisions, said Shafeeq Ghabra, a political science professor at Kuwait University. Hosting North Korean laborers is part of that, he said.

“Being very close doesn’t mean we become identical,” Ghabra sad.

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Associated Press writer Matthew Lee in Washington contributed to this report.

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Follow Jon Gambrell on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jongambrellap. His work can be found at http://apne.ws/2galNpz.

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Iranian Convicted of Being Spy in UAE Gets 10-Year Sentence

August 10, 2017

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — An Iranian convicted of being a spy in the United Arab Emirates and trying to smuggle equipment for the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The state-run WAM news agency reported late Wednesday that 48-year-old man, identified only by the initials H.R.M.H.M., imported the equipment from the U.S. with the intention of sending it onto Iran.

The report said the man would be deported after serving his sentence.

Iran long has described its nuclear program as peaceful. Western fears over it prompted sanctions later lifted by the 2015 nuclear accord with Iran, which capped its enrichment of uranium.

In April, a UAE court sentenced another Iranian identified by the initials S.M.A.R. to 10 years in prison for similarly trying to aid Iran’s nuclear program.

Nepal immigration officials trafficking women

August 8, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | More than 60 percent of Nepali domestic workers who end up illegally in the Gulf travelled through the main airport in the capital Kathmandu, the report said

KATHMANDU (AFP) – Immigration officials at Nepal’s international airport are colluding with traffickers to illegally send Nepali women to the Gulf where they are often exploited and abused, said a parliamentary report released Tuesday.

The parliamentary committee tasked with international relations and labour rights said the government had failed to protect Nepalis working overseas and turned a blind eye to allegations of trafficking.

More than 60 percent of Nepali domestic workers who end up illegally in the Gulf travelled through the main airport in the capital Kathmandu, the report said.

“(They) travel on tourist visas via Tribhuvan International Airport in direct collusion with immigration officials, airline company staff, security officials and the traffickers.”

“The rest travel via different cities in India, Sri Lanka, China and various African countries,” the report said.

The women are lured to Gulf countries on promises of well-paid jobs in department stores or hotels. Instead, they are sent to work in private homes where their passports are usually confiscated.

Rights activists in Nepal have long demanded the government do more to protect the four million Nepalis who work overseas — mostly in the Gulf and Malaysia.

With remittances from migrant workers accounting for nearly a third of Nepal’s GDP according to government figures, activists suspect the authorities are reluctant to put pressure on host nations.

“The government has been closing its eyes to the problem of human trafficking,” Mohna Ansari, spokeswoman for the Nepal’s Human Rights Commission, told AFP.

Lawmakers on the parliamentary committee met with women who had escaped from abusive homes in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

Many had suffered physical, mental and sexual violence, the report said.

“Some women who have escaped and reached an embassy office have made reports about the human traffickers, but Foreign Affairs Ministry has failed to request the Home Ministry to take action against the culprits,” it added.

The number of migrants leaving Nepal for work has surged in recent years with nearly half a million leaving in 2015, up from 200,000 in 2008, according to the latest available government figures.

The vast majority are men working in construction, but around 20,000 women leave each year.

Nepal has previously attempted to ban women from working as maids in private homes in the Gulf over allegations that they are often overworked for low wages and treated poorly, but enforcement has been patchy.