Mexico Offers Asylum To Bolivia’s Morales, Says Foreign Minister

(FILES) In this file picture taken on December 19, 2005 Bolivian presidential candidate Evo Morales Ayma waves to supporters in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Bolivian President Evo Morales resigned on November 10, 2019, caving in following three weeks of sometimes-violent protests over his disputed re-election after the army and police withdrew their backing. Aizar RALDES / AFP

 

Mexico on Sunday said it was offering asylum to Bolivia’s President Evo Morales after 20 government officials and lawmakers had sought refuge at its embassy in La Paz.

“Mexico, in accordance with its tradition of asylum and non intervention, has received 20 personalities from the Bolivian executive and legislature in the official residence in La Paz, so we would also offer asylum to Evo Morales,” Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said on Twitter.

Pompeo Warns Against China, Russia On Eve Of Berlin Wall Anniversary

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday issued a stark warning against China and Russia on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Western, free nations have a responsibility to deter threats to our people” from governments like China, Russia and Iran, Pompeo said, speaking just a few metres (yards) away from where the Wall ran past the German capital’s world-famous Brandenburg Gate.

The US and its allies should “defend what was so hard-won… in 1989” and “recognise we are in a competition of values with unfree nations,” he added.

Picking at sore spots in Washington’s relationship with Berlin, Pompeo said the under-construction Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany would mean “Europe’s energy supplies… depend on (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s whims”.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly said the pipeline is a purely private business concern.

And he warned of “Chinese companies’ intent to build 5G networks”, after the German government failed to exclude tech giant Huawei from the bidding process for the next-generation mobile network infrastructure.

Pompeo is on a whirlwind two-day tour of Germany where he has revisited the site of his Cold War military service on the former Iron Curtain border and is slated to meet leaders including Merkel.

While in Europe, he has looked to shore up transatlantic relations eroded by trade conflicts and discord over geopolitical crises and military spending.

Spurred by the US leaving the way open to Turkish and Russian military action in northern Syria, France’s President Emmanuel Macron told The Economist this week that the NATO alliance — of which Ankara is also a member — was suffering a “brain death” of lack of coordination between Europe and Washington.

Recalling past “challenges between partners” within NATO, including France’s 1960s departure from the alliance’s command structure, Pompeo on Friday dismissed the debate around Macron’s comments as a “kerfuffle”.

Other leaders including Merkel, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have also firmly rejected Macron’s assessment.

Jackie Chan’s Trip To Vietnam Cancelled Over China Sea Row

(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 12, 2019, Hong Kong actor Jackie Chan attends a press conference promoting the release of his new solo album “I Am Me” in Taipei.

 

Martial-arts film star Jackie Chan’s planned visit to Vietnam for a charity has been cancelled following an online backlash related to Beijing’s expansive claims in the disputed South China Sea.

The Hong Kong-born actor was set to visit Hanoi on November 10 to support Operation Smile, a charity that gives free surgery to children with facial disfigurements.

But the plans were scrapped after thousands of angry Facebook users flooded the charity’s official page when his visit was announced last week.

Some of their comments claimed Chan had spoken in support of China’s so-called nine-dash line — its historic justification for its territorial claims in the resource-rich sea.

However, Chan has not explicitly expressed public support for the controversial maritime assertion.

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Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Brunei all have competing claims in the waterway that overlap with China’s — long a source of tension in the region.

Issuing a mea culpa Friday for failing “to predict the reaction” of the Vietnamese public, the charity asserted that their work is “non-political”.

“We are very sorry… Operation Smile will not organise any activities with (Chan’s) involvement” in Vietnam, they said.

Vietnam is one of Beijing’s most vocal critics over the flashpoint South China Sea issue.

The foreign ministry on Thursday repeated its usual proclamation on the sea, citing the country’s “full legal basis and true evidence to affirm Vietnam’s sovereignty”, deputy spokesperson Ngo Toan Thang told AFP.

Chan has in the past been accused of siding with China over Hong Kong’s democracy protests after calling the unrest in his hometown “sad and depressing”.

The comment sparked ire in Hong Kong but was warmly received by many in China where he has a massive fan base.

Earlier this month Hanoi pulled the DreamWorks film “Abominable” from theatres over a scene featuring a map showing the nine-dash line.

Beijing claims the majority of the South China Sea through the vague delineation, which is based on maps from the 1940s as the then-Republic of China snapped up islands from Japanese control.

“Abominable” is not being shown in Malaysia either after its distributor refused to cut the offending scene, while the Philippines also filed complaints.

The US this week accused Beijing of intimidating smaller countries in the South China Sea, a key global fishing route.

China has built military installations and manmade islands in the area, and for several weeks earlier this year sent a survey ship to waters claimed by Vietnam.

Iran Resumes Uranium Enrichment At Fordow Plant In New Stepback From Deal

 

Iran resumed uranium enrichment at its underground Fordow plant south of Tehran on Thursday in a new step back from its commitments under a landmark 2015 nuclear deal.

Engineers began feeding uranium hexafluoride gas into the plant’s mothballed enrichment centrifuges in “the first minutes of Thursday”, the statement said.

The suspension of uranium enrichment at the long secret plant was one of the restrictions Iran had agreed to on its nuclear programme in return for the lifting of UN sanctions.

Iran’s announcement on Wednesday that it would resume enrichment at the Fordow plant from midnight (2030 GMT) had drawn a chorus of concern from the remaining parties to the troubled agreement.

Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia have been trying to salvage the hard-won deal since Washington abandoned it in May last year and reimposed crippling unilateral sanctions.

They say Iran’s phased suspension of its obligations under the deal since May makes that more difficult.

The resumption of enrichment at Fordow is Iran’s fourth move away from the deal.

Uranium enrichment is the sensitive process that produces fuel for nuclear power plants but also, in highly extended form, the fissile core for a warhead.

Iran has always denied any military dimension to its nuclear programme.

It has been at pains to emphasise that all of the steps it has taken are transparent and swiftly reversible if the remaining parties to the agreement find a way to get round US sanctions.

“All these activities have been carried out under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency,” the Iranian nuclear organisation said.

A source close to the UN watchdog told AFP that it has inspectors on the ground in Fordow and would report “very rapidly” on the steps taken by Iran.

Iran’s latest move comes after the passing of a deadline it set for the remaining parties to the nuclear agreement to come up with a mechanism that would allow foreign firms to continue doing business with Iran without incurring US penalties.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed concern about Tehran’s announcements but said European powers should do their part.

“They are demanding that Iran fulfil all (obligations) without exception but are not giving anything in return,” he told reporters in Moscow.

The Kremlin has previously called sanctions against Iran “unprecedented and illegal”.

European concern

French President Emmanuel Macron said Iran had made “grave” decisions and its resumption of uranium enrichment was a “profound change” from Tehran’s previous position.

“I will have discussions in the coming days, including with the Iranians, and we must collectively draw the consequences,” Macron said during a trip to Beijing.

The next few weeks will be dedicated to increasing pressure on Iran to return within the framework of the pact, the French president said, adding that this must be “accompanied by an easing of some sanctions”.

“A return to normal can only take place if the United States and Iran agree to reopen a sort of trust agenda” and dialogue, Macron said, adding that he would discuss the issue with Trump.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain remained committed to a negotiated way forward but demanded that Iran abide by its obligations.

“We want to find a way forward through constructive international dialogue but Iran needs to stand by the commitments it made and urgently return to full compliance,” he said.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Iran must roll back its decision to resume uranium enrichment, calling Tehran’s action “unacceptable”.

“We call on Iran to reverse all steps taken since July and return to full compliance with its commitments,” Maas told reporters in Berlin.

“Our aim is to maintain the nuclear agreement,” he said. “We have always fully implemented our commitments and Iran must now urgently relent in order to ease tensions.”

First Let Me Take A Selfie, El Salvador’s President Tells UN

 

El Salvador’s President Nayib Bukele, whose social media savvy helped win him power earlier this year, took a selfie before his maiden speech at the UN General Assembly, which he called “obsolete” and suggested scrapping.

In a dark suit and no tie, his hair slicked back in his signature style, the 38-year-old thanked the other leaders present and said he especially wanted to greet his wife and baby daughter sitting in the gallery.

“If you’ll just bear with me a second,” he then added, pulling out his iPhone 11, lifting it up to his grinning face and snapping a photo he later posted on Twitter to his 1.1 million followers.

“Believe me, many more people will see that selfie when I share it than will listen to this speech — I hope I took a good one.”

“A couple of images on Instagram can have more impact than any speech delivered in this assembly,” he said, quipping that the annual summit of the world’s leaders could be done by video-conference.

The conservative businessman and former mayor of the capital San Salvador was sworn into office in June in the small Central American country of 6.6 million people, tasked with turning around grinding poverty and rampant gang violence that are sending thousands fleeing to the United States.

He traded on his telegenic looks and promises of a break with the past, but critics have called him light on policy and substance.

Trump bromance

On Wednesday, he held his first meeting with US President Donald Trump, a fellow prolific social media user and self-styled iconoclast whom Bukele has aggressively courted — a contrast with his predecessor Salvador Sanchez Ceren, a leftist former guerrilla.

The two countries reached an agreement last week to curb illegal migration that opens the door for the United States to send refugees back to the violent Central American country, a move slammed by migrant rights advocates.

“For us, the United States is not only a partner and an ally, but also a friend,” Bukele told reporters after that meeting.

“We’re hoping that this meeting will only strengthen our relationship even more, and I think it will because, you know, President Trump is very nice and cool, and I’m nice and cool, too. We both use Twitter a lot, so, you know, we’ll get along.”

Talking to journalists on Thursday after his speech, he defended his show of bonhomie with the US leader.

“Someone made fun of the fact that I joked with Trump. Did they want me to come fight with him — or for me put on a cranky face or something?”

On the controversial migration agreement, he appeared to agree that those Salvadorans fleeing to the US were involved in gangs.

“We’ve supported our natural and biggest ally,” he said. “We’ve caught human traffickers, we’ve seized their money, their arms, false documents.”

“El Salvador has to propose a positive migration, academic migration, business migration, work migration, not those with false documents or drugs.”

Trump Announces New US Sanctions On Iran Central Bank

 

President Donald Trump on Friday announced new sanctions on Iran’s central bank, calling the measures the “highest” sanctions ever imposed on a foreign country by the United States.

“We have just sanctioned the Iranian national bank,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, later clarifying that he was referring to the Iranian central bank.

“These are the highest sanctions ever imposed on a country,” he said.

Trump earlier this week announced what he said would be substantial new sanctions against Iran, in response to what US officials say was likely Iranian involvement in an attack on Saudi oil facilities.

Saudi Oil Attacks An Iranian ‘Act Of War’, Says Pompeo

 

 

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo denounced strikes on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure as an “act of war” on Wednesday, as Riyadh unveiled new evidence it said showed the assault was “unquestionably” sponsored by arch-foe Iran.

The comments raise the risk of a wider conflict in the tinderbox Gulf region after the weekend strikes on the heart of the kingdom’s oil industry knocked out half its production, rattling energy markets.

“This was an Iranian attack,” Pompeo told reporters on his plane before landing in the western city of Jeddah, calling it “an act of war”.

“This is an attack of a scale we’ve just not seen before.”

His comment came as Saudi Arabia displayed what it said were fragments of 25 drones and cruise missiles fired at two facilities in the country’s east, engulfing them in flames.

“The attack was launched from the north and unquestionably sponsored by Iran,” defence ministry spokesman Turki al-Maliki said.

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Tehran-linked Huthi rebels in the kingdom’s southern neighbour Yemen have claimed responsibility, but both Washington and Riyadh have ruled that out.

“We are working to know the exact launch point,” Maliki said.

But he would not be drawn on whether Saudi officials believed Iran would ultimately be found to be the culprit.

Pompeo said there was no evidence for media reports the attacks had been launched from Iraq — caught between its two main sponsors, Tehran and Washington.

Diplomats at the United Nations said experts were expected in the kingdom to lead an international inquiry.

Pompeo met Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah to discuss a response to the strike, which took out six percent of global supplies.

Meanwhile, the Huthis threatened to hit “dozens of targets” in the United Arab Emirates, part of a Saudi-led coalition against the rebels.

‘We don’t want war’

A US official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP the administration has concluded the attack involved cruise missiles from Iran, and said evidence would be presented at the UN General Assembly next week.

Vice President Mike Pence reiterated President Donald Trump’s comments that “we don’t want war with anybody, but the United States is prepared.”

Trump, who has already re-imposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy, promised on Wednesday to “substantially increase” the measures, winning quick praise from Riyadh.

He said details would be given within 48 hours.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, himself under US sanctions since July 31, described the measures as “illegal” and “inhuman”.

Trump’s move was an “admission that (the) US is DELIBERATELY targeting ordinary citizens,” he said on Twitter.

The apparent hardening of the US position came as Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ruled out negotiations with Washington “at any level”.

That appeared to nix hopes for a dramatic meeting between Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the United Nations next week.

Late Wednesday, the United States still had not issued Rouhani and his delegation with visas to attend the meeting in New York, Iranian state media said.

Maliki said Saturday’s attack did not originate from Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is locked in a prolonged conflict with the Huthis, “despite Iran’s efforts to make it appear so”.

He said the strike was beyond the capabilities of the militia — who have however mounted dozens of smaller attacks on Saudi territory.

“The precision impact of the cruise missile” indicated advanced capabilities beyond those of the Huthis, he added.

Oil prices rocked

Observers say the Saudi experience in Yemen, where despite their vast firepower they have failed to subdue the ragtag but highly motivated militia, has made Riyadh circumspect about wading into another conflict.

“I certainly hope we’re not” going to have a war, Riyadh’s ambassador to London Prince Khalid bin Bandar told the BBC.

“We are trying not to react too quickly because the last thing we need is more conflict in the region.”

Iran has backed Huthi claims of being behind the attack, and Rouhani said Wednesday it was a rebel “warning” about a possible wider war in response to the Saudi-led intervention in Yemen.

State media said Tehran had written to Washington through the Swiss embassy on Monday, denying any role in attacks on Saudi installations and warning it would respond to any action against it.

Trump’s administration is considering responses including a cyber attack or a physical strike on Iranian oil infrastructure or its Revolutionary Guards, NBC News reported, citing unnamed US officials.

Oil prices have see-sawed since the attacks, with record gains Monday followed by a tumble Tuesday as the Saudi assurances on supplies soothed the markets.

Trump Says Almost Sure Iran Behind Saudi Attacks

US President Donald Trump

 

US President Donald Trump declared Monday that Tehran was likely behind strikes on Saudi oil facilities, but that he wanted to be sure and he hoped to “avoid” war.

“It is certainly looking that way at this moment,” he told reporters when asked if he believes Iran carried out the attack.

Trump said “we pretty much already know” but that Washington still wanted more proof. “We want to find definitively who did this.”

“With all that being said, we’d certainly like to avoid” war, he said. “I don’t want war with anybody but we’re prepared more than anybody.”

 

Trump Condemns Drone Attacks In Call With Saudi Crown Prince

Trump To Hit China With $300bn Punitive Tariffs In Goods

 

US President Donald Trump on Saturday condemned drone attacks at two Saudi Aramco oil facilities that reportedly disrupted production and marked a new escalation in regional tensions with Iran.

“The United States strongly condemns today’s attack on critical energy infrastructure. Violent actions against civilian areas and infrastructure vital to the global economy only deepen conflict and mistrust,” the White House said in a statement following a phone call between Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

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Trump offered Prince Mohammed “his support for Saudi Arabia’s self-defense,” the White House said, following an earlier statement from Riyadh saying the crown prince told Trump the kingdom was “”willing and able” to respond to the attacks blamed on Yemeni rebels.

“The United States Government is monitoring the situation and remains committed to ensuring global oil markets are stable and well supplied,” the US statement said.

 

In Bombshell, Trump Calls Off Secret Summit, Talks With Taliban

US President Donald Trump. Nicholas Kamm / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump said he had called off a secret summit with the Taliban and Afghanistan’s leader, abruptly slamming the door on a year of diplomacy to end America’s longest war.

In a Saturday evening bombshell, Trump said that he had planned unprecedented, albeit separate, talks with the two sides Sunday in Camp David, the presidential retreat in Maryland, but that the Taliban’s persistent, grisly violence made them untrustworthy partners.

“Unbeknownst to almost everyone, the major Taliban leaders and, separately, the President of Afghanistan, were going to secretly meet with me at Camp David on Sunday,” Trump said in a tweet.

“Unfortunately, in order to build false leverage, they admitted to an attack in Kabul that killed one of our great great soldiers, and 11 other people. I immediately cancelled the meeting and called off peace negotiations.”

“What kind of people would kill so many in order to seemingly strengthen their bargaining position? They didn’t, they only made it worse!” Trump said.

A US soldier and another service member from Romania were killed in the bombing Thursday in Kabul — the latest major attack claimed by the Taliban even as they negotiated with a US envoy on the withdrawal of thousands of troops.

Trump would have met the Taliban at Camp David days before the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, which triggered the US invasion that toppled the militants’ regime.

Washington was jolted by the announcement from Trump, who is fond of dramatic gestures but whose Twitter pronouncements have often come into question later.

“Why a lethal attack in Kabul on Thursday would be the reason for calling it off, considering the multiple recent Taliban attacks, is unclear,” said International Crisis Group’s Asia director Laurel Miller, who earlier served as the US special representative on Afghanistan.

Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat who has been pressing for clarity on the US strategy in Afghanistan, called the idea of Taliban leaders at Camp David “weird.”

“But I’m glad the president called off this farce, and hope this good decision sticks,” Malinowski tweeted.

Deal unpopular in Kabul

The announcement appears to abruptly end, at least for now, a painstaking diplomatic process led for nearly a year by Zalmay Khalilzad, the Afghan-born veteran US diplomat who held nine rounds of talks with the Taliban, usually in Qatar.

Khalilzad had earlier said that he had reached an agreement “in principle” with the Taliban.

According to parts of the draft deal made public, the Pentagon would pull about 5,000 of the roughly 13,000 US troops from five bases across Afghanistan next year.

The insurgents in turn would renounce Al-Qaeda, promise to fight the Islamic State group and stop jihadists using Afghanistan as a safe haven.

Afghanistan’s internationally recognized president, Ashraf Ghani, had been outspoken in his criticism of the emerging shape of the withdrawal agreement with the Taliban, who have refused to negotiate with his government.

“The Afghan government, in relation to the peace, appreciates the sincere efforts of its allies and is committed to working together with the United States and other allies to bring a lasting peace,” said a statement from Ghani’s office Sunday in response to Trump’s announcement.

Question mark on troops

Trump’s announcement draws a fresh question mark on whether the United States will leave Afghanistan anytime soon.

The decision comes weeks before Afghanistan is set to hold elections, an unwieldy exercise even in more stable times. The Afghan government said it “insists” the polls should go ahead in its statement Sunday.

Trump had been uncharacteristically reticent about Afghanistan in recent weeks, with all eyes on whether he would approve a final deal.

Washington had hoped that a withdrawal of US troops would lead to peace negotiations between the Taliban and Kabul.

The Taliban have shown no signs of letting up on violence. Claiming responsibility for Thursday’s bombing in Kabul, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said that a suicide bomber had killed “foreign invaders.”

“Since the Taliban were flexing muscles on the ground, Americans also showed them they have a say politically,” analyst Ahmad Saeedi said — adding that he expects talks to resume again.

Trump has walked away from high-stakes talks before. In February, his aides pressed him not to accept a deal in Hanoi with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — another individual whom it would have long been unthinkable for a US president to meet.

But Trump soon made clear that he wanted to keep talking, calling Kim a friend, and arranged to meet him in June as the US leader visited the Korean peninsula.

Japan PM Warns Africa About Debt As China Grows Presence

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe delivers a speech during the opening session of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) in Yokohama on August 28, 2019.  TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA / AFP

 

Japan’s prime minister on Thursday warned African leaders against accumulating too much debt, in an apparent reference to Chinese infrastructure projects that some blame for damaging the finances of developing nations.

Addressing leaders from several African nations at a development conference in Yokohama, Shinzo Abe stressed that Tokyo was promoting “quality” infrastructure exports and investments, supported by Japan’s government-backed institutions.

“What should the government do to encourage (entrepreneurs) to exercise their skills?,” Abe asked the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD).

“If partner countries are deeply in debt, it interferes with everyone’s efforts to enter the market,” he said, introducing financing and insurance schemes by Japan’s government-baked institutions aimed at reducing risks to businesses and public coffers.

He also announced that Japan plans to train experts in 30 African countries in next three years on managing risks and public debts.

The comment came as Abe aims to boost Japan’s presence in the promising African market but many businesses are wary of financial and other risks.

But China, with its ambitious Belt and Road Initiative, now enjoys a massive presence in the continent, having announced $60 billion in development funding for Africa last year.

The Chinese efforts, however, have faced criticism for favouring Chinese companies and workers over local economies, saddling nations with debts and ignoring rights and environmental issues.

Japan stresses that its loans and projects come with fewer strings attached and with sound financial advice and support.

Since 1993, Japan has partnered with African countries to hold the TICAD conference around every five years in a drive to promote aid and business opportunities.

Japan, with its own government funding problems, has struggled to increase its foreign aid money.

It has shifted its focus on encouraging the private sector to invest in Africa.

US, Taliban Push For Peace At Doha Talks

In this file photo taken on July 08, 2019 US Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad attends the Intra Afghan Dialogue talks in the Qatari capital Doha. KARIM JAAFAR / AFP

 

US and Taliban representatives held negotiations in Doha on Sunday, an American source close to the process said, as potentially decisive talks to enable Washington to drawdown its military in Afghanistan stretched into the evening.

“Talks resumed late morning today,” the US source said.

The third day of the two sides’ ninth round of dialogue, which continued until after 1900 GMT an AFP correspondent said, was described as promising by a Taliban source.

The insurgent group had earlier said that it was finalising technical points of an agreement with Washington at the talks being held in a luxury members’ club in the Qatari capital Doha.

“The agreement will be completed after we agree on these points,” Taliban spokesman Suhail Shaheen told AFP on Saturday.

Any deal would be announced before the media as well as representatives from neighbouring countries and China, Russia, and the United Nations, he added.

The United States, which invaded Afghanistan and toppled the Taliban from power in 2001 after the September 11 attacks, wants to withdraw thousands of troops but only in return for the group renouncing Al-Qaeda and curbing attacks.

Washington is hoping to strike an agreement with the Taliban by September 1 — ahead of Afghan polls due the same month, and US presidential polls next year.

The Doha talks are being held against a backdrop of persistent violence in Afghanistan.

The Taliban claimed on Saturday to have killed seven members of the US military in an attack on a convoy near Bagram airfield north of Kabul. American officials dismissed the claims as “lies”.

On Wednesday, two US soldiers were killed by small arms fire in Faryab province in northern Afghanistan, the Pentagon said.

Shaheen, the Taliban spokesman, had said the deaths should have a “positive” impact on the talks in Doha.