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Greece Sends Letters to UN over Turkey-Libya Deal

Greece has sent two letters to the United Nations explaining its objections to a maritime boundary deal between Turkey and Libya and asking for the matter to be taken up by the U.N. Security Council, the government spokesman said Tuesday.

The country’s foreign minister also convened a meeting in Athens to brief political party leaders on developments. The deal, endorsed by Turkey’s parliament last week, has fueled regional tension, particularly over drilling rights for gas and oil exploration.

The agreement would give Turkey and Libya access to an economic zone across the Mediterranean despite the objections of Greece, Egypt and Cyprus, which lie between the two geographically. All three countries have blasted the deal as being contrary to international law, and Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador last week over the issue.

Government spokesman Stelios Petsas said Greece sent one letter to the U.N. Secretary General and one to the head of the U.N. Security Council Monday night detailing Greece’s position. He said the letters noted the agreement “was done in bad faith and violates the law of the sea, as the sea zones of Turkey and Libya are not neighboring, nor is there a joint maritime border between the two countries.”

The letters also note the deal “does not take into account the Greek islands” and their right to a continental shelf and exclusive economic zone. The agreement has also not been ratified by Libya’s parliament, Petsas said, rendering it “void and unable to affect Greek sovereign rights.”

Neighbors Greece and Turkey, although NATO allies, have tense relations and are divided by a series of decades-old disputes, including territorial issues in the Aegean Sea, and have come to the brink of war three times since the 1970s, including once over drilling rights in the Aegean.

 

Qatar Emir Not Attending Annual Gulf Summit in Saudi Arabi

A summit of Arab Gulf nations opened on Tuesday in Saudi Arabia without Qatar’s ruler in attendance, despite signs of a thaw in a diplomatic crisis that has gripped the regions U.S. allies.

Qatar’s Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani instead sent Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani to head Qatar’s delegation to the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting.

The GCC bloc, composed of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and Bahrain, has been fractured since mid-2017. That’s when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Qatar and blockaded the tiny peninsula-nation.

The four accuse Qatar of supporting Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood, which these countries view as a terror threat to regional security. They also accuse Qatar of having close ties with Iran. Qatar, which shares a massive underwater gas field with Iran, says its commitments have always been “to uphold international law and protect human rights and not to a specific party or group.”

There had been some speculation among analysts that Sheikh Tamim might attend the summit following recent signs hinting at reconciliation. Others said he would never be seen visiting any of the quartet nations so long as their blockade on Qatar persists.

Qatar Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani acknowledged last week, however, there have been talks with Saudi Arabia.

“We hope that these talks will lead to a progress where we can send an end for the crisis,” he said at the Mediterranean Dialogue Forum in Rome.

In another sign of a possible thaw, teams from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain flew this month to Qatar and participated in the Arabian Gulf Cup soccer tournament, which they had previously refused to do.

Still, there’s little indication that deeply-strained ties with the UAE might also be repaired, despite Kuwaiti mediation efforts to end the dispute. This year’s GCC summit was originally planned to be held in the UAE, but was moved to Saudi Arabia.

Gerald Feierstein, senior vice president at the Middle East Institute in Washington, said the venue change is indicative if the Emirati-Qatar rift.

“Unhappiness with Doha’s sympathetic view of the political Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and its close relationship with Turkey remain friction points,” he said.

For all their diverging views and interests, the GCC states share a common interest of stability in the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow shipping corridor vital that’s to their energy exports in the Persian Gulf.

Attacks blamed on Iran this summer, including a stunning attack on a major Saudi crude processing facility, have rattled the region. Tensions between Tehran and Washington have also escalated.

“All these countries’ economies and oil exports are at risk if the Gulf is not secure,” Omani analyst Abdullah Baabood said.

Sigurd Neubauer, a Mideast analyst based in Washington, said the recent attacks in the Persian Gulf have accelerated the need for GCC reconciliation.

“The external threat to the GCC is significant now from Iran as opposed to just a year ago,” he said.

Qatar’s powerful ex-prime minister, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim, said reconciliation talks must address the harm inflicted on Qatar from the blockade so that “such policies are not repeated.”

“I am with a reconciliation that comes without conditions, and which protects the dignity and sovereignty of nations,” he wrote on Twitter, before adding that it will take years to rebuild trust among nations of the GCC.

Centuries-old ties that bind families and tribes underpin the Arabian Peninsula, but that kinship has been strained under the crisis. After the row erupted in June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain warned that anyone who sympathizes with Qatar or criticizes the measures taken against it would be imprisoned and fined.

Qatari citizens were 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.

Qatar turned to Turkey and Iran to restock its food shelves and supplies, and deepened its military alliance with Turkey.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa said resolution to the crisis ultimately lies with Qatar.

“It’s in the hands of Qatar to make sure that all our worries that led to us to boycott them are dealt with from their part,” he said in remarks at the Manama Dialogue last month.

 

AP Interview: Taiwan May Help if Hong Kong Violence Expands

Taiwan’s top diplomat said Tuesday that his government stands with Hong Kong citizens pushing for “freedom and democracy,” and would help those displaced from the semi-autonomous Chinese city if Beijing intervenes with greater force to quell the protests.

Speaking to The Associated Press in the capital, Taipei, Foreign Minister Joseph Wu was careful to say his government has no desire to intervene in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, and that existing legislation is sufficient to deal with a relatively small number of Hong Kong students or others seeking to reside in Taiwan.

But he added that Hong Kong police have already responded with “disproportionate force” to the protests. He said that any intervention by mainland Chinese forces would be “a new level of violence” that would prompt Taiwan to take a different stance in helping those seeking to leave Hong Kong.

“When that happens, Taiwan is going to work with the international community to provide necessary assistance to those who are displaced by the violence there,” he said.

Chinese paramilitary forces have deployed to the Chinese city of Shenzhen, just outside Hong Kong, since the protests began in June. Neither they nor the thousands of Chinese military troops garrisoned in Hong Kong itself have been deployed to confront the protesters so far.

“The people here understand that how the Chinese government treats Hong Kong is going to be the future way of them treating Taiwan. And what turned out in Hong Kong is not very appealing to the Taiwanese people,” Wu said.

China’s Communist Party insists that Taiwan is part of China and must be reunited with it, even if by force. Modern Taiwan was founded when Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists, who once ruled on the mainland, were forced to retreat to the island in 1949 after the Communists took power in the Chinese Civil War.

Beijing has suggested that Taiwan could be reunited under the “one country, two systems” model that applied to Hong Kong after the former British colony was returned to China in 1997. That agreement allowed Hong Kong to keep its civil liberties, independent courts and capitalist system, though many in Hong Kong accuse Beijing of undermining those freedoms under President Xi Jinping.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has said that the “one country, two systems” model has failed in Hong Kong and brought the city to “the brink of disorder.”

Government surveys earlier this year showed that about 80% of Taiwanese citizens oppose reunification with China.

Wu spoke a month before Taiwanese voters go to the polls for presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 11. Opinion surveys suggest that Tsai, a U.S. and British-educated law scholar who rejects Beijing’s claims to Taiwan, is on track to secure a second term over her more China-friendly rival, Han Kuo-yu of the Nationalist Party.

China severed links with Taiwan’s government after Tsai took office in 2016 because of her refusal to accept Beijing’s claims on the island. It has since been increasing diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan.

That includes sending aircraft carriers through the Taiwan Strait — the most recent transit was last month — and peeling away Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies. Two more, the Solomon Islands and Kiribati, switched their diplomatic recognition to Beijing in September.

A second term for Tsai would see a continuation of Taiwan’s tough stance against its much larger neighbor.

 “If President Tsai is reelected, we’ll continue to … maintain the status quo across the Taiwan Strait. We’ll continue to send out goodwill gestures to China,” Wu said. “We want to make sure that the Chinese have no excuse in launching a war against Taiwan.”

Taiwan, known officially as the Republic of China, lacks a seat at the United Nations. It counts on its 15 official diplomatic allies, which are mostly small and poor, to help bolster its claims to international legitimacy.

Safeguarding diplomatic relations with those remaining countries is a top priority for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Wu said.

“I think our relations with these 15 countries are quite strong at this moment and we don’t worry that much,” he said.

Taiwan also has unofficial relationships with several other countries, including the United States, which does not support its independence but is bound by law to ensure its defense.

The Trump administration has increased support for Taiwan even as it is embroiled in a trade war with China. The U.S. this year agreed to sell 66 F-16 fighter jets worth $8 billion to Taiwan, prompting complaints by China.

Wu said Taiwan’s relationship with the U.S. is the best it has been in 40 years — a reference to the four decades since Washington formally shifted its diplomatic relations with China from the government in Taipei to the one in Beijing.

The ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China is creating both opportunities and challenges for Taiwan, Wu acknowledged. Taiwanese companies are big investors in China, and some are moving their businesses off the mainland as the trade war drags on, he said, citing $23 billion of investments pledged by companies relocating operations back to Taiwan.

But he said Taiwan enjoys “strong bipartisan support” in Washington and is not concerned that its status with the U.S. could be used as a bargaining chip in the trade negotiations.

 “We are being assured … by very senior Trump administration officials that their relations with Taiwan is independent of relations with any other country and to the United States, Taiwan is a very important partner,” he said.

 

 

Pentagon Denies Intentionally Misleading Public on Afghan War

The Pentagon has denied intentionally misleading the public about the 18-year war in Afghanistan, after The Washington Post published a trove of government documents revealing that officials made overly optimistic pronouncements they knew to be false and hid evidence that the conflict had become un-winnable. 

“There has been no intent by DoD to mislead Congress or the public,” Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell wrote to VOA on Monday. 

“The information contained in the interviews was provided to SIGAR (Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction) for the express purpose of inclusion in SIGAR’s public reports,” he added.

The Post said the documents contain more than 400 interviews with senior military and government insiders who offered unrestrained criticism of what went wrong in Afghanistan and how the United States became mired in nearly two decades of war.

According to the Post, U.S. officials, most of whom spoke on the assumption that their remarks would not be made public, acknowledged that the strategies for fighting the war were flawed and that the U.S. wasted hundreds of billions of dollars trying to make Afghanistan into a stable, democratic nation. 

“If the American people knew the magnitude of this dysfunction,” Douglas Lute, a three-star Army general who served as the White House’s Afghan war czar during the Bush and Obama administrations, said in 2015, according to the documents. “We didn’t have the foggiest notion of what we were undertaking.”

The Post said the interviews also highlight botched U.S. attempts to reduce corruption, build a competent Afghan army and reduce the country’s opium trade.

U.S. presidents George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump all vowed to avoid becoming mired in “nation-building” in Afghanistan. However, the report shows how even from the early days of the war, senior officials in charge of directing U.S. policy in the country expressed confusion about Washington’s basic objectives and strategy for achieving them.

The Post said the interviews “contradict a long chorus of public statements” that assured the U.S. was “making progress in Afghanistan.”

Outgoing Command Sgt. Maj. John Troxell, who serves as the senior enlisted adviser to the top U.S. military officer, told reporters on Monday that he “firmly thought the strategy we had in place was working.”  

“I feel that we’ve never been lied to, and we are continuing to move forward (in Afghanistan),” Troxell added.

The Afghan war is estimated to have killed more than 150,000 people, including civilians, insurgents, local and foreign troops, since the U.S. and its allies invaded 18 years ago to oust the Taliban from power for sheltering al-Qaida leaders accused of plotting the Sept. 11 terrorist strikes on the U.S.

The conflict has claimed the lives of more than 2,400 U.S. service members and cost Washington nearly $1 trillion.

The Post waged a legal battle for three years to force the government to disclose the information because of its importance to the public.

The U.S. and the Afghan Taliban restarted peace negotiations on Saturday, three months after Trump abruptly stopped the yearlong process aimed at finding a political settlement with the insurgent group and ending the war in Afghanistan.

Afghan-born U.S. special reconciliation representative, Zalmay Khalilzad, led his team at a meeting Saturday in Doha, Qatar, where insurgent negotiators are based.

The draft agreement the U.S.-Taliban negotiations had produced before Trump called off the process on Sept. 7 would have set the stage for a phased withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan.

The Taliban, in return, had given counterterrorism guarantees and promised to engage in intra-Afghan peace negotiations to permanently end decades of hostilities in the country.

Chile Air Force Plane Vanishes During Flight to Antarctica

Chile’s military has launched a search and rescue mission for an air force plane carrying 38 people that disappeared Monday during a flight to a base in Antarctica.

The C-130 Hercules aircraft took off from the southern city of Punta Arenas, located more than 3,000 kilometers south of the capital Santiago. The 17 crewmen and 21 passengers were heading to the Antarctic outpost to check on a floating fuel supply line and other equipment.  

The air force says it lost contact with the plane nearly an hour-and-a-half later.

New Zealand to Launch Investigation into Volcano Deaths

New Zealand police say they are launching an investigation in connection with the volcanic eruption on New Zealand’s White Island that killed five tourists Monday.  

Deputy Commissioner John Tims told reporters earlier Tuesday that the probe was criminal in nature, but police later issued a statement revising Tims’s announcement.  The police investigation is being conducted by alongside a probe by New Zealand’s safety regulator.

The country’s seismic monitoring agency GeoNet raised the volcano’s alert level last month to level two on the five-level scale that monitors its chances of eruption. Still pictures captured by a GeoNet camera showed a group of tourists walking on the crater floor moments before the eruption.

Along with the five confirmed deaths, eight others are missing and presumed dead and at least 31 have been injured.  New Zealand chief medical officer

Pete Watson said at least 27 survivors are being treated for burns to more than 71 percent of their bodies.

Authorities say about 47 people were touring the island at the time of the eruption, including 24 Australians, with the rest from the United States, Britain, Germany, China, Malaysia and New Zealand.  Some of the victims were passengers from a cruise ship operated by Royal Caribbean.  

Conditions on White Island have made it impossible for rescue crews to return to the island to search for any survivors.  GeoNet says there is still a 50 percent chance of another eruption within the next day.

“To those who have lost or are missing family and friends, we share in your grief and sorrow, and we are devastated” Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said Tuesday in Parliament.  Prime Minister Ardern also praised the pilots  who risked their lives to fly to White Island to rescue survivors.  

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said three Australians are feared to be among the five confirmed deaths, while at least 13 were hospitalized.  

White Island, also known by its Maori name Whakaari, sits about 50 kilometers northeast of the town of Tauranga on North Island, attracts about 10,000 visitors every year.  It is New Zealand’s most active cone volcano, with about 70% of the island under the sea.

UN Calls for Truce Around Next Year’s Tokyo Summer Olympics

The U.N. General Assembly unanimously approved a resolution Monday urging all nations to observe a truce during the 2020 Summer Olympics in Japan, saying sports can play a role in promoting peace and tolerance and preventing and countering terrorism and violent extremism.

Diplomats burst into applause as the assembly president announced the adoption of the resolution by the 193-member world body.

The resolution recalls the ancient Greek tradition of “ekecheiria,” which called for a cessation of hostilities to encourage a peaceful environment, ensure safe passage and participation of athletes in the ancient Olympics.

The General Assembly revived the tradition in 1993 and has adopted resolutions before all Olympics since then calling for a cessation of hostilities for seven days before and after the games. But member states involved in conflicts have often ignored the call for a truce.

Yoshiro Mori, head of the Tokyo organizing committee for the 2020 games, introduced the resolution calling on U.N. members states to observe the truce around next year’s Summer Olympics, being held July 24-Aug. 9, and the Paralympics, following on Aug. 25-Sept. 6.

The resolution also urges nations to help “use sport as a tool to promote peace, dialogue and reconciliation in areas of conflict during and beyond” the games.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee, told the General Assembly that as the United Nations approaches its 75th anniversary next year, an Olympic year, there is no better time to celebrate the shared values of both organizations to promote peace among all countries and people of the world.

But he warned that “in sport, we can see an increasing erosion of the respect for the global rule of law.”

Bach said the IOC’s political neutrality “is undermined whenever organizations or individuals attempt to use the Olympic Games as a stage for their own agendas – as legitimate as they might be. The Olympics “are a sports celebration of our shared humanity … and must never be a platform to advance political or any other potentially divisive ends,” he said.

Looking ahead, Bach announced that “we will achieve gender balance at the Olympic Games for the first time in Tokyo, with the highest-ever number of female athletes in history at about 49%.”

He said Tokyo 2020 also aims “for carbon-neutral games,” saying medals will be made from recycled electronics and renewable energy and zero-emission vehicles will be used.

The resolution notes that the Tokyo event will be the second of three Olympics in Asia, following the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and ahead of the 2022 winter games in Beijing.

It also notes that the Summer Olympics will give Japan the opportunity to express gratitude to countries and people around the world for their “solidarity and support” after the 2011 earthquake and “to deliver a powerful message to the world on how it has been recovering.”

2020 Newcomer Bloomberg Stepping onto International Stage

New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg launched his campaign less than three weeks ago, but he is already making his first foreign trip as a presidential candidate.

The Democrat will appear Tuesday at a United Nations global climate conference in Madrid, where he’ll share the results of his private push to organize thousands of U.S. cities and businesses to abide by the terms of a global climate treaty that the Trump administration is working to abandon. The appearance comes as Bloomberg, a former Republican whose dedication to the environment earned him the designation of special U.N. envoy for climate action, tries to find his footing in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary election.

It’s rare for a presidential candidate to step onto the international stage before securing the nomination, and virtually unheard of for a candidate to do so in the first month of his or her candidacy.

Earlier this year, Bernie Sanders appeared in Canada to highlight his fight to lower prescription drug costs, while former candidate Beto O’Rourke met with asylum seekers in Mexico. Both men represented states that bordered those countries, however, and there were no formal talks with foreign leaders involved.

Bloomberg shared his plan to appear at the global climate conference on social media on Monday.

“I’m going to the climate summit in Madrid because President Trump won’t,” he said, adding that he plans to “meet with environmental leaders from around the world about next steps on tackling the climate crisis.”

Bloomberg also vowed in a statement to rejoin the Paris climate agreement in his first official act as president.

Campaign aide Brynne Craig said climate would be “a central issue” for Bloomberg this week and throughout his presidential run.

She said the issue “is near and dear to his heart” and “a front-of-mind issue for Democratic voters.”

The 77-year-old billionaire has used his wealth to make an impact in the global fight against climate change and in his 2020 presidential campaign. He is largest donor in the history of the Sierra Club, and he has spent more than $60 million in the first two weeks of his campaign on television ads now running in all 50 states.

Many progressives remain resistant to his candidacy.

“How many self-declared climate champion billionaires does the race need? The answer is none,” said Mitch Jones, climate and energy program director for the group Food & Water Watch, which has been critical of Bloomberg’s pragmatic approach to fighting climate change. “This is just Bloomberg trying to insert himself into international climate negotiations to bolster his campaign.”

Bloomberg’s presidential campaign released a new online video ad contrasting his message on climate change with that of Trump, who served formal notice last month that the U.S. intends to become the first country to withdraw from the Paris accord.

“It’s getting hotter. But while fire and smoke choke our air, Donald Trump is making it worse,” Bloomberg’s new ad says, describing Trump as a “climate change denier” and Bloomberg as a “climate change champion.”

AP VoteCast, a nationwide survey of the American electorate, found that 92% of people who voted for Democrats in the 2018 midterms said they were at least somewhat concerned about climate change. Seventy percent said they were very concerned.

 

Fishermen Mass to Overwhelm Mexico’s Protected Porpoises

A conservation group trying to protect the world’s most endangered marine mammal said Monday that hundreds of fishermen massed in dozens of boats to fish illegally in Mexico’s Gulf of California.

Activists with the Sea Shepherd group said they witnessed about 80 small fishing boats pulling nets full of endangered totoaba fish from the water near the port of San Felipe on Sunday.

Those same nets catch vaquita porpoises. Perhaps as few as 10 of the small, elusive porpoises remain in the Gulf of California, which is the only place they live.

While totoaba are more numerous, they are also protected. But their swim bladders are considered a delicacy in China and command high prices.

The Mexican government prohibits net fishing in the gulf, also known as the Sea of Cortez, but budget cuts have meant authorities have stopped compensation payments for fishermen for not fishing.

Sea Shepherd operates in the area to remove the gillnets that trap vaquitas, but the group said the mass fishing seen Sunday was a new tactic, in which a number of boats would surround and enclose totoabas to ensure they couldn’t escape the nets.

The mass turnout overwhelmed the relatively few Mexican navy personnel present, the group said. In the past, fishermen have attacked Sea Shepherd boats as well as naval vessels.
 

Sudanese PM Calls His Country a ‘Success Story in the Making,’ Asks World for Help

During his recent visit to Washington, Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said one goal looms above all others as he leads the country’s transitional government: bringing peace to the war-ravaged nation.
 
“Our number one top priority is to stop the war and build the foundation of sustainable peace,” he said. “Essentially to stop the sufferings of our people in the IDP camps and the refugee camps. We think the opportune time of stopping this war is now.”
 
Hamdok did not specify which war he meant; Sudan’s government has been fighting rebels in the Darfur, South Kordofan and Blue Nile regions for years. The capital, Khartoum, saw deadly conflicts between protesters and the military earlier this year.
 
He did say he was heartened by the resiliency on display when he visited the Zam Zam camp for internally displaced people in Darfur, where a war that began in 2003 has never entirely stopped.
 
“It was a very moving moment but the climax of it was… a woman who took the floor and delivered the first speech. She articulated so well their interest, their expectations about the transitional government, how they see the peace process. After that, she was followed by six speakers… They all said our sister articulated our issues and were very satisfied with what she said.
 
“All the sufferings and the miseries they went through, it taught them, educated them and made them strong enough to be able to say from now onwards we know what is good for ourselves and nobody can dictate on us anything. This is very liberating,” Hamdok said.
 
Unlike the administration of his predecessor, Omar al-Bashir, Hamdok’s government has pledged to allow unfettered access for aid organizations to reach those in need.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok speaks at the Atlantic Council, a Washington think tank, during his recent visit to the U.S. capital. (Twitter – @SudanPMHamdok)

Hamdok spoke at the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank in Washington. He visited the American capital in an effort to repair Sudan’s relationship with the U.S., which was strained to nonexistent during the entire 30-year reign of former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who the military ousted in April after months of mass protests.
 
One of Hamdok’s goal’s is for the U.S. to remove Sudan from the list of state sponsors of terrorism.  Sudan was put on the list in 1993, at a time when al-Qaida founder Osama bin Laden was living in Khartoum.

Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok addresses members of the Sudanese diaspora in a Washington hotel during his recent visit to the U.S. capital. (Twitter – @SudanPMHamdok)

 Although Sudan is still on the list, the two countries agreed to resume diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors.
 
U.S. officials have said the process of removing Sudan from the terrorism list will be a long one. Hamdok stressed that his country is prepared to meet the requirements which may include paying restitution to victims of terrorist attacks.
 
“We Sudanese as a people have never supported terrorism before. It was a former regime that supported this,” he said. “We are also as a nation, victims of terrorism that was inflicted on us by the regime. But we accepted this as a corporate responsibility. And we are negotiating.”
 
Hamdok, an economist and diplomat who has worked for the U.N., was named the country’s transitional prime minister in August. In deference to the leading role women played in the revolution, Hamdok made history by

Members of the Sudanese diaspora listen to Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok as he addresses them at a Washington hotel. (Twitter – @SudanPMHamdok)

Walaa Esam AbdelRahman, Minister of Youth and Sport, was an activist who participated in sit-ins and street protests. She and other activists faced live fire and tear gas and were forced to go into hiding in between protests in fear of reprisals from security forces.
 
“It was very dangerous. But the more that they were aggressive, the more that we went to the street. That’s why we went so far,” she told VOA.
 
Now AbdelRahman and others are seeking to institute a series of changes, including legal and political reforms, paving the way for a democratic, free and fair election in 2022.
 
“The road is not easy but we went so far and we were very determined to reach to the final destination of this transitional period because I always say that these [upcoming] three years is part of the revolution. It’s another level,” she told VOA. “We will finish the level of protesting and marching. Now we need to build the new Sudan.”

 

Reports: Trump, House Democrats Close to Deal on Revisions to Trade Deal

News reports say House Democrats and the White House are close to agreeing on changes to a trade deal that the United States, Canada and Mexico signed last year but have not ratified.

The United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement, known as the USMCA, would replace the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, which President Donald Trump has derided as the “worst trade deal” ever signed by the U.S. He made renegotiating NAFTA a campaign promise during the 2016 presidential race.

NAFTA took effect in the 1990s during U.S. President Bill Clinton’s administration.

FILE – Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador speaks during his daily morning press conference at the National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, Nov. 21, 2019.

The Mexican Senate accepted changes to the USMCA after intense negotiations with the United States. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to move forward on the deal.

“It’s time, it’s the moment,” Lopez Obrador said at a press conference.

Reports say Pelosi is studying the terms of the agreement. The changes to the deal are aimed at winning the support of House Democrats. Those close to the discussions say a ratification vote could take place in the House of Representatives on Dec. 18.

FILE – Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., meets with reporters during her weekly news conference at the Capitol in Washington, Dec. 5, 2019.

Both the House and the Senate must sign off on the deal.

Some congressional Republicans have criticized Pelosi, saying she is holding up the deal, which they say is having an impact on Trump’s negotiations with China.

“We would get a better agreement with China if we had USMCA done,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said in his weekly press conference last Thursday. China and the U.S. have placed billions of dollars worth of tariffs on each other’s goods in the trade war.

NAFTA’s critics say it encouraged factories and jobs to relocate to Mexico. NAFTA eliminated most tariffs among the three nations, making it one of the largest free trade agreements in the world.

Ratification needed

The revised agreement must be ratified by legislators in the three countries for it to go into force. House Democrats called on Mexico to adhere to higher labor standards.

Mexican senators have approved the USMCA. If it cannot be ratified by all three countries, they will remain in NAFTA unless they break away from it.

Lopez Obrador expressed concern for implementing the trade deal sooner rather than later. He said time was running short to avoid the matter becoming an issue in the U.S. presidential race.
 
 The Trump administration also made lowering the trade deficit with Mexico part of a renegotiation strategy.
 
Separately, the United States had a last-minute request to the agreement over the weekend, relating to how steel is identified. The U.S. has proposed that 70% of steel for automobile production come from the North American region. Cars produced in Mexico also use components made in Brazil, Japan and Germany.

If Congress is not able to pass Trump’s renegotiated trade deal, he said that he would take the United States out of NAFTA.
 

Turkish-US Fighter Jet Dispute Rekindles Century-Old Animosities

Turkey Defense Minister Hulusi Akar warned Washington on Monday that Turkey will seek alternatives if Washington doesn’t end its embargo on the sale of the F-35 jet.

The impasse over the fighter jet, deemed key to Turkey’s future defense, is rekindling memories of a similar century-old dispute.

Hoping that a “reasonable and sensible” way could be found to resolve Washington’s freeze on the F-35 sales, Akar warned, “If this is not possible, everyone should know that we will naturally seek other quests.”

FILE – Turkey’s Defense Minister Hulusi Akar speaks to a group of reporters in Ankara, Turkey, May 21, 2019.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has confirmed that Russia’s Su-35 fighter is being considered as an alternative to America’s latest stealth fighter jet if the embargo is not lifted.

President Donald Trump froze the jet sale after Ankara procured the Russian S-400 missile system. Washington claims the S-400’s sophisticated radar compromises NATO defense systems — in particular, the stealth technology of its F-35 jet.

Ankara claims Washington is manufacturing the dispute.

“The U.S. criticized us. However, NATO did not say anything. On the contrary, NATO Secretary General (Jens Stoltenberg) repeatedly stated all countries have the right to buy the weapon and defense system they want,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Saturday.

1914 dispute

The increasingly acrimonious dispute is resurrecting memories of a century-old Turkish arms deal that also went sour. In 1914 on the eve of World War I, Britain seized two state-of-the-art dreadnought warships built by British builders for the then-Ottoman Empire.

The incident still resonates in Turkey.

“It continues to haunt not only the public and political mind, but the institutional mind, especially,” said international relations professor Serhat Guvenc of Istanbul’s Kadir Has University and author of “The Ottoman Quest for Dreadnoughts.” “The navy has never forgotten this experience, and today, there are many similarities in several respects with the F-35 embargo.

“The two warships … were fully paid for. But (Winston) Churchill (head of the British navy in 1914) was obsessed, convinced that the Ottomans were going to join the Germans. So, there was no point in releasing the two ships which may end up on the wrong side of the conflict,” Guvenc said.

“Over a century ago, it was the fear of the Ottoman’s joining the Germans,” Guvenc added. “Today, the case with the F-35, Russia is the modern-day equivalent with Germany.”

FILE – National Guard members view two F-35 fighter jets that arrived at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington, Vt., Sept. 19, 2019.

In 1914, after Britain’s seizure of the Ottoman warships, Germany offered two ships of its own as replacements, a move that brought the Turks to Germany’s side against Britain, France and Russia in World War I.

Former Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen acknowledges the 1914 incident still resonates in Turkish military thinking.

“Among commanders of today’s Turkish navy, it is still a vivid memory and still today shapes the thinking of these naval planners.”

Since 1914, Ankara has never procured a British naval vessel. Selcen says the latest arms disputes with Washington differs from the past.

“It’s a public diplomacy stand (by Ankara). It’s public propaganda to compare with the warships,” Selcen said, “because it was kind of an own goal by Turkish foreign policy to get kicked out of the project. It was made clear by Washington: either the S-400 or F-35, not both.”

Higher stakes

Analysts point out that the loss of the F-35 jets could be more far-reaching than the loss of two warships in 1914. Ankara has invested over a billion dollars into the jet project and ultimately was to take delivery of around 100 jets to replace the Turkish air force’s aging fleet of F-16 aircraft.

Washington has also expelled Turkey from the international consortium building and servicing the advanced jet.

FILE – Sukhoi Su-35 jet fighters of the “Sokoly Rossii” (Falcons of Russia) aerobatic team fly in formation during a rehearsal for the airshow in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, Aug. 1, 2019.

“When Turkey became a full-fledged partner in the F-35 program, the political implications would be that Turkey remains committed to the NATO alliance and staunch ally to the United States,” Guvenc said. “In Washington, the idea is that Turkey is now moving irreversibly away from the western alliance and seeking new friends in Eurasia, basically Russia and China.”

Moscow is lobbying Ankara hard to deepen and broaden Russian military purchases. Turkey is reportedly close to buying a second battery of S-400 missiles, a move analysts say is likely to anger Washington further.

Just as in 1914, Ankara could be facing a pivotal moment, Guvenc said.

“The similarities are very striking, because when the two German warships arrived in Istanbul in place of the two commandeered dreadnoughts, the British naval mission had to leave and was replaced by the German naval mission. And the German military naval influence in Turkey continued after World War I,” he explained.

“So, we may see a rupture in the Turkish military strategy and its realignment around Russia-China — a hybrid military strategy but definitely moving away from the western alliance,” Guvenc said.