Posts Tagged ‘US’

North Korea to blame for suffering of its people, Tillerson says

January 18, 2018

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson earlier met with allies to discuss intensifying sanctions pressure on North Korea. (AP)
PALO ALTO, California: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday that North Korea is responsible for the suffering of North Korean people from international economic sanctions imposed over its nuclear weapons. He voiced skepticism that humanitarian aid to alleviate that suffering would reach the people who need it.
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Tillerson said, “It’s an unacceptable outcome that Kim is making that choice, and we’re not going to take any responsibility for the fact that he’s choosing to make his own people suffer.”
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Tillerson spoke to reporters aboard his plane back to Washington, a day after meeting with US allies to discuss intensifying sanctions pressure on North Korea. The authoritarian government of Kim Jong Un is often criticized for spending scarce resources on nuclear and missile development despite chronic malnutrition among its people.
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The US stance could put it at odds with close partner South Korea, whose government is re-engaging the rival North after years of escalating tensions and is thought to be considering provision of humanitarian aid through the United Nations, which has a longstanding program to help feed needy women and children.
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Speaking at Stanford University earlier Wednesday, Tillerson said international sanctions — intended to deprive North Korea of revenue for its weapons and not hurt the wider population — were starting to bite.
He cited Japanese intelligence that 100 North Korean fishing boats have drifted into Japanese waters and two-thirds of the people aboard have died. What the Japanese learned is the North Korean fishermen “are being sent out in the wintertime to fish because there’s food shortages, and they’re being sent out to fish with a lack of fuel to get back,” he said.
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Asked about the impact of the sanctions on the broader North Korean population, Tillerson told reporters: “It doesn’t matter which country, when you impose sanctions you are limiting resources available to them and then it’s up to that government to decide how they want to allocate the available resources. So it’s an unavoidable outcome if they make that choice.”
Asked whether humanitarian aid by South Korea would weaken the impact of sanctions, Tillerson implied the North Korean government might divert the assistance, although according to the UN, there is monitoring of what is provided.
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“Our experience with ensuring that aid actually goes to the people who need it is not particularly good,” Tillerson said. “So countries will have to make their own choice, but we would be very skeptical that that aid that goes into the country will necessarily relieve the suffering of the people.”
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The Trump administration has galvanized international support for sanctions on North Korea, including by its longtime benefactor China, as the North comes closer to its goal of perfecting a nuclear-tipped missile that can reach the US mainland. That has stoked fears of war.
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Tillerson voiced confidence Wednesday that North Korea would eventually negotiate with the US as the economic pressure grows.
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UNRWA chief appeals for Palestinian refugee funds after US cut

January 17, 2018

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Palestinians hold signs during a protest against aid cut, outside United Nations’ offices in Gaza City January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Suhaib Salem Reuters

By Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi

JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. agency that provides aid to Palestinian refugees appealed on Wednesday for world donations after the United States withheld about half its planned funding for the organization, a move he said risks instability in the region.

Washington said on Tuesday it would provide $60 million to the U.N. Relief and Welfare Agency while keeping back a further $65 million for now. The U.S. State Department said UNRWA needed to make unspecified reforms.

Palestinians, already angered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, denounced the decision, which could deepen hardship in the Gaza Strip where UNRWA helps much of its population of 2 million.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl (not Krähenbüh) said he would appeal to other donor nations for money and launch “a global fundraising campaign” aimed at keeping the agency’s schools and clinics for refugees open through 2018 and beyond.

“At stake is the dignity and human security of millions of Palestine refugees, in need of emergency food assistance and other support in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” he said in a statement.

Krähenbühl said 525,000 boys and girls in 700 UNRWA schools could be affected by the fund cut, as well as Palestinian access to primary health care, but he pledged to keep facilities open through 2018 and beyond.

“The reduced contribution also impacts regional security at a time when the Middle East faces multiple risks and threats, notably that of further radicalization,” he said.

UNRWA was established by the U.N. General Assembly in 1949 after hundreds of thousands of Palestinians fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1948 war that followed Israel’s creation. It says it currently aids five million registered Palestinian refugees in the Middle East.

TRUMP THREAT

In a Twitter post on Jan. 2, Trump said that Washington gives the Palestinians “HUNDRED OF MILLIONS OF DOLLARS a year and get no appreciation or respect.” Trump added that “with the Palestinians no longer willing to talk peace, why should we make any of these massive future payments to them?”

While U.S. officials did not link the decision to Trump’s tweet, they made a point often advanced by him, saying the United States had been UNRWA’s single largest donor for decades.

Trump’s aides initially debated whether to cut off all UNRWA aid, an unidentified U.S. official said, but those opposed argued that could further destabilize the region.

Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) said the White House was “targeting the most vulnerable segment of the Palestinian people”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has called for a gradual cut in UNRWA funding and transferring its responsibilities to the U.N. global refugee agency, voiced measured support for the U.S. step.

But he appeared to acknowledge it could leave Israel – which maintains tight restrictions on the movement of people and goods across its border with Hamas Islamist-controlled Gaza – with a potential humanitarian crisis on its doorstep.

Netanyahu this month proposed gradually dismantling UNRWA, arguing it “perpetuates the Palestinian problem”, and moving funds to the UNHCR agency. UNRWA said the Palestinian refugee crisis stems from the failure of Israel and the Palestinians to agree a solution for Palestinian refugees.

Asked on Wednesday by Israeli reporters accompanying him on a diplomatic trip to India whether he supports the U.S. funding cut, Netanyahu said: “Of course, but I still suggest, because I think there are certain needs, to do what I have said … every step taken also contains some risk.”

(Corrects spelling of UNRWA Commissioner-General’s name.)

(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, William Maclean)

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

January 17, 2018

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

Japan Times —

AP, AFP-JIJI, REUTERS

JAN 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Trump’s Catch-22 With Iran and the Palestinians Could Blow Up at Israel

January 16, 2018

Like his threats to cut Palestinian funding, the U.S. presidents new demands for the Iran nuclear agreement suffer from inconsistencies that cannot be resolved

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TOPSHOT - Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABED
Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli security forces on the eastern outskirts of Gaza City, near the border with Israel, on January 12, 2018. / AFP PHOTO / MOHAMMED ABEDMOHAMMED ABED/AFP
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Lately, U.S. President Donald Trump is looking like a suicide bomber loaded with explosive devices that he’s releasing in different corners of the world. Fortunately, in most cases we’ve only had threats, finger wagging, shocking tweets and fake bombs, but there is no guarantee that the next one won’t be real.

At least two of these bombs could blow up in Israel’s face. Trump’s threat to significantly cut the funds the administration provides to the UN agency for Palestinian refugees and the aid it gives the Palestinian Authority in order to force Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to launch negotiations with Israel is already shaking up refugee camps in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, making the Jordanian kingdom tremble and sending Lebanon into a panic.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, January 10, 2018.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference at the White House in Washington, January 10, 2018. Evan Vucci/AP

In 2016 the administration gave UNRWA $355 million, a third of the agency’s budget. The expected cut is $65 million, around half of the first contribution that had been scheduled for 2018. Add to this the cuts to the PA funding, which amounted to $357 million last year and whose extent for this year isn’t clear. The significance is that the PA, Jordan – home to more than two million Palestinian refugees – and the government of Lebanon, where 175,000 refugees live according to a recent survey (previous UNRWA estimates put the number between 400,000 and 500,000), will have to finance the education, health and welfare services that will be affected by the cuts.

Jordan and Lebanon already bear the heavy burden of aiding Syrian refugees, which is only partially funded by the United Nations and donor states and which isn’t enough to assure them a reasonable quality of life. The Gaza Strip, where most of the Palestinian refugees are concentrated, has been in crisis mode for some time, and the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security service believe the economic stress could lead to its total collapse. Rich Arab nations like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are helping the PA, but it’s doubtful they will step in to fill the gap created by the American cutbacks, especially since they are coordinating their positions with the U.S. administration on the peace process.

It isn’t clear how Trump’s sanctions strategy against the PA will lead to a change in the Palestinian stance. Abbas has made it clear that he no longer considers the United States a fair broker and that economic pressure won’t make him adopt any program Trump presents.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018.
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018.AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI

There is a paradox here: The IDF is asking – or even demanding – that the Israeli government consider steps to alleviate the dangerous economic pressure on Gaza’s two million residents, and announced that it intends to approve a few thousand more permits for Palestinians to work in Israel. Meanwhile, the U.S. administration is adopting a policy aimed at curbing the threat of a violent outburst that could lead to a war with Israel, which undermines this demand.

The second potentially explosive charge, the sanctions on Iran, is no less worrisome. This week Trump gave the world powers four months to change the nuclear agreement that was signed with the Islamic Republic in 2015. Among other things, the new deal must include a ban on developing ballistic missiles, a halt in support for terror groups and a clause that keeps these restrictions in place forever in order for the United States to remain party to it. The U.S. president made it clear that if there was no progress in talks with his European partners, Russia and China, to fix the agreement, he would withdraw from it even sooner.

Like the threat to the Palestinians, this demand suffers from an inconsistency that cannot be resolved. The requirement to eliminate the nuclear deal’s time frame testifies to the faith the U.S. administration has in the Iranian leaderships desire and ability to uphold its terms, even as the administration itself (not just the EU and the International Atomic Energy Agency) admits that it hasn’t violated it to date. In other words, the deal may not be perfect, but according to Trump himself, the Iranian partner is a rational and responsible entity, to which one could make the demand that it sign to an eternal agreement – otherwise, what’s the point of making such a condition? In fact, what’s the point in signing any agreement with Iran at all?

Under the agreement, Iran is not required to subject its ballistic missile program or its military bases to international inspection. It announced this week that it does not plan to respond to the American demand to begin talks on changing the deal’s terms.

Meanwhile, Congress has so far refused to take up the gauntlet, passed to it by the president in October, to begin legislating new sanctions on Iran; the EU fears the new initiative, which could create a rift between Europe and the United States and freeze the huge ongoing European investment in Iran. Russia termed Trumps decision extremely negative, and China, Iran’s largest oil customer, is concerned about factors liable to complicate the agreement, as the Chinese foreign minister told his Iranian counterpart. It’s therefore doubtful that Trump will find partners among the agreement’s signatories to realize his latest demand.

In the worst-case scenario, Iran revives its nuclear program if the United States imposes new sanctions on Tehran or pulls out of the agreement. Under the more comfortable scenario, Europe, Russia and China continue to do business with Iran and thus push Washington into an isolated corner internationally. In such a case Trump could respond by punishing the states and international corporations that don’t uphold the American sanctions, but that would turn the U.S. into a Western country hostile to the West.

Israel’s great interest is for Iran to abide by the nuclear deal and not risk it being voided by its most important ally. The real concern regarding Iran’s ballistic missiles must lead to the opening of a parallel negotiations channel with Iran, but not by holding the nuclear agreement hostage.

Israel achieved one of the most important strategic achievements in its history when it succeeded in mobilizing a strong international coalition against the Iranian nuclear threat. Trump might now crush that achievement and sabotage any chance of reaching any kind of agreement with Iran on its nuclear program or its ballistic missiles in the future. In the cases of both Iran and the Palestinian Authority, where Trump treads, Israels toes get broken.

Nuclear-capable B-52 bombers join B-2s, B-1Bs on Guam amid tensions with North Korea

January 16, 2018

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U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber lands at Andersen Air Force Base on Guam on Tuesday. U.S. AIR FORCE photo

BY 

STAFF WRITER

JAN 16, 2018

The U.S. Air Force announced Tuesday that it has deployed six of its powerful B-52 strategic bombers to Guam amid tensions with nuclear-armed North Korea.

The six planes, accompanied by 300 airmen, join three of the air force’s B-2 stealth bombers that were also recently dispatched to the U.S. island territory, home to Andersen Air Force Base, a key American outpost in the Pacific.

The base is also currently hosting several B-1B heavy bombers. While both the B-52 and B-2 are capable of carrying nuclear payloads, the B-1B has been modified to carry conventional ordinance only.

The deployment, conducted “in support of U.S. Pacific Command’s (PACOM) Continuous Bomber Presence mission,” according to a U.S. Pacific Air Forces statement, is likely to raise eyebrows in North Korea, which last year threatened to fire missiles near Guam.

The B-52s were last deployed to the region in July 2016, during which they conducted a variety of joint and bilateral training missions with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, Air Self-Defense Force, South Korean Air Force and Royal Australian Air Force.

The move, widely seen as a show of American military muscle, was likely intended to reassure Asian allies nervous amid the North Korean nuclear crisis.

“The B-52Hs return to the Pacific will provide U.S. PACOM and its regional allies and partners with a credible, strategic power projection platform, while bringing years of repeated operational experience,” the U.S. Pacific Air Forces said in its statement.

“This forward deployed presence demonstrates the U.S. continued commitment to allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific region,” it added.

It was unclear how long the base, some 3,400 km from North Korea, would play host to all three bombers.

Overflights of the Korean Peninsula by heavy bombers such as the B-52, B-2 and B-1B have incensed Pyongyang. The North sees the flights by what it calls “the air pirates of Guam” as a rehearsal for striking its leadership and has routinely lambasted them as “nuclear bomb-dropping drills.”

In November, the U.S. Pacific Air Forces confirmed to The Japan Times that it had flown two B-52s for a rare joint mission with the ASDF in the skies near North Korea in August.

The North has ramped up its threats to the U.S. and its allies in recent months in both words and deeds — including with successful tests of what the country claimed was a powerful hydrogen bomb and the separate test of an intercontinental ballistic missile believed capable of striking the American mainland.

https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/01/16/asia-pacific/nuclear-capable-b-52-bombers-join-b-2s-b-1bs-guam-amid-tensions-north-korea/#.Wl4OPqinGUk

Palestinians threaten major step but will they act on it? — Palestinian leaders long known for inablility to take care of the suffering of their own people…

January 16, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Joe Dyke and Hossam Ezzedine | A recommendation by Palestinian leaders to suspend recognition of Israel could have major implications but analysts question whether the move announced by senior official Salim Zaanoun on January 16, 2018 will be implemented soon

RAMALLAH (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – A call by Palestinian leaders to suspend recognition of Israel in response to US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital could have major implications but is unlikely to be implemented for now, analysts said.The vote late on Monday could be another devastating blow to the so-called peace process — long on life support — although the Palestinians argue US President Donald Trump and Israel have already effectively ended it.

Still, the risk of international criticism and practical concerns means the Palestinians are unlikely to follow through on the call to suspend recognition soon, analysts said.

“If we stop recognising them, we should stop dealing with them in all aspects, security and civilian,” Ghassan Khatib, an analyst and former Palestinian minister, told AFP.

“That is not practically possible given the extensive interaction and dependency, so I don’t think there is going to be an implementation to this.”

The vote was by the Palestinian Central Council, one of the key institutions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, in a meeting on Sunday and Monday called to discuss Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The vote ordered the PLO Executive Committee to suspend recognition of Israel until it recognises the state of Palestine and reverses its building of Jewish settlements on occupied Palestinian land.

The PLO is considered the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people by the international community and formalised its recognition of Israel in 1993.

– Oslo ‘finished’? –

The council meeting was the latest attempt by the Palestinian leadership to formulate a response to Trump’s policies following his December 6 Jerusalem declaration.

The council also backed president Mahmud Abbas’s comments that the Oslo agreements of the 1990s, the basis of Palestinian relations with Israel, were “finished”.

Abbas said on Sunday that Israel had ended the accords through its actions, referring to activities seen as eroding the possibility of a two-state solution such as persistent settlement expansion.

He also called Trump’s peace efforts the “slap of the century.”

Eighty-seven of the council’s 109 members attended for the vote, with the vast majority, including Abbas, voting in favour of suspending recognition.

But previous decisions by the PCC have not been implemented, notably a 2015 vote calling for suspending security coordination with Israel.

There is no date set for a meeting of the PLO Executive Committee, at which the suspension could be confirmed.

Israel did not immediately respond to the vote, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Abbas had “torn off” his “mask” as a supposed moderate in his speech on Sunday.

Following Monday’s vote, Abbas set off on a trip to Jordan, Egypt and the European Union’s headquarters in Brussels in which he is expected to seek support for a change of strategy.

– ‘Not talks and words’ –

The council meeting was part of Abbas’s attempt to seek an alternative strategy to achieve an independent Palestinian state following the collapse in relations with the United States.

The longtime leader, now 82, has been through a series of failed US-brokered peace negotiations, but Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital deeply angered the Palestinians.

The Palestinians see the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state, and Abbas froze ties with Trump’s administration following the announcement.

Abbas has said the United States can no longer be the mediator in peace talks with Israel, calling instead for internationally-led negotiations. The PCC backed him in his call.

Trump has also threatened to cut hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid to the Palestinians, including through the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees.

Jihad Harb, a West Bank-based political analyst, said that while most Palestinians would support the central council’s recommendation “it will take a long time to implement it.”

“The people are waiting for implementation, not talks and words.”

Abbas’s term of office expired in 2009 but elections have not been held since due to Palestinian political infighting.

Polls indicate around 70 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign, with criticism of his policy of negotiations with Israel rife.

Israeli analysts, too, were sceptical whether the announcement would lead to much.

Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador and negotiator, said the Palestinians needed coordination with Israel for survival.

Israel occupies the West Bank and controls the borders with Jordan, making travel outside their headquarters in Ramallah near impossible for Abbas and other officials without Israeli cooperation.

“Israel or others are going to say: ‘If you no longer recognise us, it’s a mutual thing — you are no longer recognised as the leadership for the Palestinians.'”

Diana Buttu, a former aide to Abbas and now prominent critic, said few new ideas had been floated, pointing to the advanced age of the delegates as evidence of the lack of new thinking.

“You can’t lead a revolutionary movement with people at retirement age,” she said.

by Joe Dyke and Hossam Ezzedine
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Palestinian leaders call for suspending recognition of Israel

January 16, 2018

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Photo: Mahmoud Abbas. Credit Mohamad Torokman-Reuters
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Mehul Srivastava in Jerusalem
Financial Times (FT)

The Palestinian central council has authorised its executive committee and President Mahmoud Abbas to suspend recognition of Israel and stop security co-operation.

If adopted, the steps could threaten the landmark Oslo Accords that created the Palestinian Authority more than 20 years ago.

The statement late on Monday signalled the deep-seated Palestinian frustration over the recent deterioration in conditions for a long-awaited peace plan promised by Donald Trump, who described himself as the most “pro-Israel” candidate during the US presidential election.

While the call from the central council is non-binding, it is the first time that the possibility of derecognition of Israel, a key tenet of the 1993 Oslo Accords, has been officially raised.

It comes as Mr Abbas heads to Brussels to seek support for a demand that the US not be the primary mediator between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership.

Mr Abbas spent the opening hours of the central council’s two-day meeting on Sunday night excoriating the US.

He described Mr Trump’s “deal of the century”, the way the president describes his pledge to reopen a Middle East peace process, as the “slap of the century”.

He also attacked the US ambassador to Israel, who has previously supported Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and US ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has joked that she wears high heels to protect Israel.

“Our reaction will be worse, but not with high heels,” he said on Sunday night, repeating a longstanding position that he sought peace with Israel through non-violent means. His angry, sometimes rambling, two-and-a-half-hour speech included a colloquial Palestinian insult, “Yekhreb Beitak” or “May your house be destroyed”, according to the Associated Press.

The decision by Mr Trump in December to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel has enraged a Palestinian political community that appears, along with Mr Abbas, to be losing some support among its own population.

The council also confirmed that the Palestinian Authority was being asked to consider a suburb of East Jerusalem outside the Israeli security barrier as its own capital.

A Palestinian official said that the council statement would strengthen the hand of Mr Abbas as he prepares a response to any negotiations he believes would be harmful to the Palestinian cause.

Prior statements by the central council have been ignored by Mr Abbas. Ending the Oslo process would disband the Palestinian Authority, which has administered parts of the West Bank and recently regained some control over the Gaza Strip.

“This was done to leave some manoeuvring room for the president to persuade the international community to get involved,” the official said.

https://www.ft.com/content/d230b388-fa4b-11e7-9b32-d7d59aace167

Netanyahu: Abbas ‘helping’ Israel with anti-Semitic, anti-Trump rant

January 15, 2018
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Israeli leader says PA showing true face by rejecting Washington; says he warned Europeans it was their ‘last chance’ to fix the Iran nuclear deal
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara pay a floral tribute at the grave of Mahatama Gandhi in New Delhi, India on January 15, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara pay a floral tribute at the grave of Mahatama Gandhi in New Delhi, India on January 15, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

NEW DELHI, India — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is serving Israel’s interests by lashing out against Washington and against a Jewish connection to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday, a day after the Palestinian leader angrily rejected US President Donald Trump’s approach to the Middle East peace process.

“He exposed what we have been saying all the time, that the root of the conflict is the basic refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any borders,” Netanyahu said from New Delhi, where he is on an official state visit, adding that the Palestinians would find no mediator to replace the Americans.

Abbas’s speech Sunday night was filled with  perceived anti-Semitic comments, including denials of a Jewish connection to the Land of Israel. He went so far as to imply that European Jews during the Holocaust chose to undergo “murder and slaughter” rather than emigrate to British-held Palestine, and alleged that the State of Israel’s first prime minister David Ben-Gurion imported Jews from Yemen and Iraq to the country against their will.

The Palestinian leader further asserted that the State of Israel was formed as “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism” to safeguard European interests.

Netanyahu was speaking hours after meeting with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his first official trip to New Delhi. The two only briefly touched on the Palestinian issue, according to a joint statement following the meeting, with both affirming “their support for an early resumption of peace talks.”

The meeting came a day after Netanyahu expressed “disappointment” with India for having voted in favor of a resolution condemning Trump’s recognition of Israel as a journalist. Netanyahu did not say if the topic came up during the talks Monday, but expressed some understanding for India’s position and indicated it had not affected the relationship.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a joint press conference at the president’s house in New Delhi, India, January 15, 2018. ( Avi Ohayon/GPO)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Don’t forget they have a ‘small’ population of a few hundred millions of Muslims,” he said. “It’s clear there has been an improvement in ties [between Israel and India].”

Abbas has raged against the American decision, breaking off diplomatic contacts with Washington, and on Sunday the Palestinian leader caustically reacted to a Trump’s expected peace plan that reportedly wanted the Palestinians to accept Jerusalem suburb Abu Dis as its capital, calling it “the slap of the century.”

“We told Trump we will not accept his project, the ‘deal of the century,’ which has become the ‘slap of the century,’” Abbas said. “But we will slap back.”

“We do not take instructions from anyone, and say ‘no’ to anyone if it is about our destiny, our cause, our country and our people… 1,000 times no,’” he said, opening a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council in Ramallah.

On Monday, Netanyahu said Abbas’s statement, both in content and in the way it was said, would “aid” Israeli efforts to explain its position to a skeptical international community.

“Without a change in the stance that Abbas expressed, there will not be peace,” Netanyahu said. “Today when I speak about it to world leaders, it will be more clear to them.”

Other Israeli officials have also sharply criticized Abbas, with Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman saying Monday he had “lost his senses.”

Netanyahu accused Abbas of being “afraid of US peace initiatives” and wanting to remove the US from the peace process and find another mediator, an idea rejected by the Israeli leader.

“There is nobody else,” he said.

“For too long, the PA has been pampered by the international community, which would not bother telling them the truth,” Netanyahu said. “This is the first time someone told him the truth.”

‘Last chance for nuke deal’

An official with India’s Foreign Ministry said Netanyahu and Modi had discussed reform at the United Nations, but not the Iran nuclear deal, which has proved a point of contention as New Delhi has remained a major consumer of Iranian oil.

Netanyahu told Israeli journalists he had spoken with other world leaders recently about the nuclear deal, telling them to “take Trump seriously” about pulling out of the 2015 pact, which curbs Iranian enrichment in exchange for sanctions relief.

On Friday, Trump announced he would continue to extend sanctions, but warned it would be the last time if the deal was not reworked.

Netanyahu said he told European leaders that it was “the last chance to fix the deal.”

“I think people are starting to understand, maybe a bit late,” he said.

‘Working’ on reviving missile deal

Monday marked the second day of Netanyahu’s visit to India, leading a delegation of business leaders meant to boost economic ties between the countries. It began with the Israeli leader attending an official honor guard at the Presidential Palace and laying a wreath at a memorial for Ghandi.

On Monday night, Netanyahu and Modi attended a business summit bringing together industrialists from both countries.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a welcome ceremony at the president’s house in New Delhi, India on January 15, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

The visit has been clouded over by the recent announcement that Delhi had canceled a $500 million deal with the Israeli arms manufacturer Rafael for Spike anti-tank missiles.

Netanyahu would only offer that Israel is “working on it,” when asked if the deal had a chance of being revived. Another senior Israeli official also said it was unclear if Israel had any hopes of putting the deal back on the agenda.

However, at a joint press conference following their meeting, preceded by the exchange of nine Memorandums of Understanding and letters of intent  in tech, agriculture and other fields, both Netanyahu and Modi spoke of the growing relationship between the countries.

“Our discussions today were marked by convergence to accelerate our engagement and to scale up our partnership,” Modi said, announcing the opening of an Indian cultural center in Israel and welcoming his counterpart in broken Hebrew.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (center), his wife Sara and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at a welcome ceremony at the president’s house in New Delhi, India, on January 15, 2018. (Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Israel and India are major trade partners, though most of the billions of dollars exchanging hands yearly are wrapped up in diamonds and defense, and  both countries would like to diversify.

Netanyahu praised Modi as having “revolutionized the relationship between Israel and India,” which is marking 25 years of ties, though the Israeli premier said they had only begun to become close recently.

“We are ushering today a new era in our relations,” he said. “We’ve had diplomatic relations for 25 years but something different is happening now because of your leadership and because of our partnership.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-abbas-helping-israel-with-anti-trump-rant/

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Netanyahu Blasts Abbas Speech: He Revealed Truth About Conflict and Did Israel a Service

January 15, 2018

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah January 14, 2018. (Reuters)

Speaking to reporters while visiting India, Netanyahu says he supports economic relief for Gaza; on Iran, the prime minister warns West: Last chance to fix nuclear deal

By Noa Landau (New Delhi) 15.01.2018 16:30 Updated: 5:51 PM
Haaretz

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks back after inspecting a guard of honor during a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 15, 2018

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu walks back after inspecting a guard of honor during a ceremonial reception at the Presidential Palace in the Indian capital New Delhi on January 15, 2018 PRAKASH SINGH/AFP
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NEW DELHI — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s comments that Israel killed the Oslo accords by saying that his remarks did Israel a service. Netanyahu, speaking to Israeli journalists in his entourage during his visit to India, also said that he supports economic relief for the Gaza Strip.

However, Netanyahu added that the main problem in the enclave was “the failure of Gaza itself to take care of the basic infrastructure that people need, such as electricity, water and housing. That’s our problem. When they talk about collapse, that’s the infrastructure they mean. It is an absurd situation that the State of Israel has to handle the most basic needs of life, which are neglected by the Hamas government.”

Netanyahu’s comments follow the publication of a report in Haaretz Monday that quoted army officials as saying that the Strip is on the brink of economic collapse.

The prime minister also warned the West that it was the last chance to fix the nuclear deal with Iran.

Regarding the escalation on the border with Gaza, he said that Israel’s actions are guided by its security interests, and that Israel holds Hamas responsible for every attack. “The Israel Defense Forces does not bomb sand dunes,” he added.

Netanyahu looked tired. Aside from the hectic schedule of the official visit, he has taken part in a number of nighttime votes and debates in recent weeks. He also had to contend with negative reports about his son Yair, who was supposed to come on the trip but ultimately remained in Jerusalem.  At the start of the meeting with reporters, the premier asked for coffee, blaming jet lag.

‘What we have been saying all along’

Reacting to Abbas’ speech Sunday night, Netanyahu said that the Palestinian prime minister had exposed “what we have been saying all along, that the roots of the conflict are opposition to a Jewish state within any borders it might have. Not only the way he spoke but the things he said help us show the truth,” Netanyahu said. “I think this serves our political goals more than anything else.”

>> Abbas declares Oslo Accords dead: ‘Trump’s peace plan is a slap, we’ll slap back’ <<

Israel can now fairly make the “elementary, logical demand” that the Palestinian leader change his position, or there will be no peace, Netanyahu said. Abbas did truth a service, and Israeli diplomacy too, the prime minister added – possibly because the Palestinian president is worried that the Americans will come out with a new initiative, and would prefer that they were replaced in their role as mediators.

“But there is nobody else,” Netanyahu said: Abbas’ efforts to get them removed from that role won’t work. “For too long, the Palestinian Authority has been pampered by the international community, which didn’t dare tell them the truth – not about Jerusalem and not about recognizing Israel. That has changed. I think Abu Mazen [Abbas] was reacting to that. This is the first time somebody’s told him the truth to his face.”

‘Last chance to fix the Iran deal’

At the meeting with reporters during the second day of Netanyahu’s visit to India, he reviewed the trip so far and took questions. The prime minister began his remarks by underscoring the “vast importance” that the visit has for security.

Asked about reports that he’s trying to persuade India to reinstate a canceled sale of antitank missiles from the Israeli company Rafael, which was worth half a billion dollars, the prime minister said, “we’re working on it.” On security issues, Netanyahu said that he and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had discussed the Iranian threat.

“We have spent many hours together and much of that conversation focused on Iran, the danger it poses and the aspiration for hegemony over the Muslim world and Muslims everywhere,” Netanyahu said.

Asked about the future of the Iran nuclear agreement, given U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest statement that he will quit the deal unless it is “fixed,” Netanyahu said, “I think it’s the West’s last opportunity to fix the agreement.”

The Prime Minister’s Office later clarified that he meant to say “it looks like the last opportunity.”

Netanyahu said he has counseled European leaders to take Trump’s words seriously. “Some thought he would never retreat from this agreement. I told them I suggest they treat [him] with respect and seriousness. After what he said on Friday, I think people are starting to get it, perhaps belatedly, that this is how it is.”

Referring to his conversation with French President Emmanuel Macron, Netanyahu said, “He told me, ‘I agree on the ballistic missiles, the terrorism, Iran’s aggression. But I don’t agree with you about the agreement.’ I told him, if we don’t change it, the agreement will double Iran’s aggression in the region and its ability to threaten France with missiles. They will achieve a nuclear arsenal. If the agreement isn’t changed, that’s what will be.”

“That is why Trump’s position is correct,” Netanyahu said, adding that he’s been preaching to that effect for some time. “He told me that he understand the superpowers have an opportunity here, I think the last one, to fix the agreement. I think the president is deadly serious that if the agreement isn’t changed, he will make the inescapable decision. The main thing is to make changes that prevent Iran from achieving a nuclear arsenal without hindrance. I think this is the Western countries’ last chance to fix the agreement.”

‘Tehran to Kfar Sava’

Speaking about an Iranian land corridor, Netanyahu said that nobody can stop a truck from driving from Tehran to Damascus. “My policy is to stop trucks driving from Tehran to Kfar Sava,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean we’re allowing Iran to establish itself militarily in Syria,” Netanyahu continued. “They want to bring planes there, they want to bring army forces, warships and submarines. We are preventing this in practice. What’s preventing it is Israel – only Israel,” he said, adding that Iran needs to understand that if it wants to advance its ground, air and naval forces into Israel’s back yard, it will be met with opposition. “The decision whether to escalate is in the hands of the Iranians,” the prime minister said.

Asked about ties between Iran and countries like India and China, with which Netanyahu is trying to improve ties, he answered gingerly, “We have an interest in maintaining excellent relations with India and China as well. I understand the sensitivities and we are discussing that. too. Our improvement of ties is not designed against any specific country.”

Annexing the West Bank?

Netanyahu also fielded a question about the Likud Central Committee’s resolution to annex the West Bank to Israel, noting that the committee could resolve whatever it liked, and the government would also do so.

The prime minister then said, “I support wisdom and responsibility and firmness regarding our central interests,” which he said include protecting Israel’s security and settlements, as well as maneuvering vis-à-vis the international community.

Asked whether the illegal outpost of Havat Gilad would be legalized after a terror attack nearby killed 35-year-old Rabbi Raziel Shevach, he said that this option was under consideration. He noted that in the meantime, the outpost has been connected up to water and electricity.

He then asked to share something personal with the reporters: a moment from the red-carpet reception, with the Indian honor guard present. “I thought how I was representing a people that was shattered to pieces 70, 75 years ago, and now I am being received here as its prime minister, with the respect given to a nation among the nations, and more,” Netanyahu said. “It moved me very much. I think that historically, the moment reflected the Jewish people’s return to the world stage, in many ways.”

The city of New Delhi alone has three times the whole population of Israel, Netanyahu said, and “India contains a considerable proportion of the people who live on Earth. India is a world power and Modi is trying to advance it, to become even more powerful. He is going out of his way to demonstrate his friendship toward Israel and the personal friendship between us.”

Netanyahu said that this is partly due to Israel’s might – economic, technological, in security and in intelligence – but also contains a dimension of personal relations.

A number of economic agreements have been signed during this visit, Netanyahu said, and he anticipates more agreements on security and business in the months to come.

No passage to India

The biggest obstacle that the Israeli delegation would like to resolve involves red tape on imports to India. Until a comprehensive solution, such as a free trade agreement, can be found, Israel has given India a list of products it wants to be exempt from customs – chiefly, food.

The topic of upgrading direct aviation links also arose, as did the use of Israeli agricultural technology in India, which hasn’t yet adopted all the advanced technologies, Netanyahu said carefully. “When I was the ambassador to the UN, we had no relations with India,” he added. “There was structural hostility. In recent years we have changed that from top to bottom. There has been unprecedented blossoming since the moment I met Modi and we decided to upgrade relations.”

Noa Landau
read more: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/1.835078

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Russia’s Sergei Lavrov slams US for ignoring ‘multipolar’ world

January 15, 2018

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has sharply criticized the US for trying to dismantle the Iran nuclear deal. Washington is still using ultimatums and failing to recognize the emerging “multipolar world,” he said.

 Image result for lavrov, photos

Moscow will work to preserve the Iran nuclear deal despite Donald Trump’s recent pledge to change it,Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at his annual news conference.

Russia also hopes that France, Germany and the UK would also resist US pressure to alter the arrangement, Lavrov added. The three European powers, alongside US, Russia, and China, reached the 2015 deal to limit Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions after years of laborious talks.

Read more:What is the Iran nuclear deal?

“Unfortunately, our American colleagues still want to operate only on the basis of dictating policy, issuing ultimatums,  they do not want to hear the perspectives of other centers of world politics,” Lavrov said on Monday.

Read moreIran rebuffs Trump’s demand for more nuclear negotiation

The US is refusing to “acknowledge the reality of the emerging multi-polar world,” he added.

Lavrov’s annual conference is designed to give an overview of Russia’s diplomatic efforts in the past year and provide a lookahead for 2018.

Iran failure – a message to North Korea?

Several days ago, US President Donald Trump said he would waive sanctions against Tehran only to give US and Europe more time to fix the “terrible flaws” of the Iran arrangement.

However, Iran has been fulfilling its part of the deal, Lavrov said on Monday.

“The US is requiring for Iran to stop developing its ballistic rockets, but that was never a topic of the talks and Iran has never taken up any obligations about it,” according to the official.

Read more: Tehran says nuclear deal relies on ‘full compliance’ from US

The Russian foreign minister said that statements coming from the US also “seriously aggravated” tensions in other parts of the world, including the Korean Peninsula.

The collapse of the Iran deal would also undermine any arrangement with Pyongyang, Lavrov added.

“If they put this agreement aside and tell Iran: you keep within the arranged limits and we’ll bring back the sanctions anyway – just put yourself in North Korea’s shoes. They have been promised that the sanctions would be removed if they give up their nuclear program.”

Read moreNorth Korea missile launch prompts Hawaii nuclear attack warning test

Lavrov  also criticized the US over their plans to provide Greece with US natural gas, and other energy initiatives clashing with Russia’s interests in Europe.

“When it comes to [Trump] administrations actions, there is a fear of healthy competition,” he said.

Commenting on the US actions in Syria, he said that Washington’s priorities had not changed under Trump. According to Moscow’s standpoint, Washington is focusing on regime change over ending the civil war.

In some areas, US foreign policy even became “more saturated, more assertive” under Donald Trump, “regardless of his positions during the electoral campaign,” Lavrov said.

dj/ng (AFP, Reuters, Interfax)

http://www.dw.com/en/russias-sergei-lavrov-slams-us-for-ignoring-multipolar-world/a-42150394?maca=en-Facebook-sharing