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.

UN Calls For Stronger ‘Global Response’ To Terrorism, Organized Crime

 

The UN Security Council called Friday for a better-coordinated “global response” to international terrorism and organized crime by working together to identify and eliminate such threats.

The council unanimously adopted the Peru-drafted resolution, which calls for increased cross-border collaboration in efforts to investigate and dismantle the links between terrorist groups and organized crime networks.

The resolution asks states to “enhance coordination of efforts at all levels in order to strengthen a global response to linkages between international terrorism and organized crime, whether domestic or transnational.”

The nature and scope of such linkages could be better understood by combining research, the resolution explained, adding that states should “accelerate the timely exchange of relevant operational information and financial intelligence” regarding terrorist networks’ actions.

Additionally, financial intelligence could help states better understand the “nature and scope” of potential links between terrorism and organized crime.

READ ALSO: One Dead, 14 Wounded In Clash Near DR Congo Gorilla Sanctuary

The resolution also called for states to “investigate, disrupt and dismantle organized crime networks” in accordance with national legislation regarding money laundering, corruption and bribery in addition to terrorism.

While speaking, Russia urged its allies in the Security Council not to politicize the question of links between organized crime and terrorism, though without specifying why.

The country emphasized that the work must continue after the resolution’s first steps had been taken.

This is not the Council’s first attempt at cracking down on international terrorism. In March, it ordered countries worldwide to step up the fight against terrorism financing by ensuring they have laws that make it a serious crime to fund terrorist acts.

AFP

US Slams ‘Escalatory Violence’ By Iran Over Seized British Tanker

 

The United States accused Iran of “escalatory violence” on Friday after the country’s Revolutionary Guards announced they had confiscated a British tanker in the strategic Strait of Hormuz.

Asked about the latest incident as he departed the White House, President Donald Trump told reporters there could be more than one tanker involved.

“It could be one, it could be two,” Trump said. “We will talk to the UK. We’ll be working with the UK.”

The Swedish owner of the UK-flagged tanker Stena Impero confirmed Friday the ship had been “attacked” and was heading towards Iran.

CNN quoted an unnamed US official as saying Iran had seized a second tanker, the Liberian-flagged MV Mesdar.

“The US will continue to work with our allies and partners to defend our security and interests against Iran’s malign behavior,” National Security Council spokesman Garrett Marquis said in a statement, denouncing “escalatory violence by the Iranian regime.”

READ ALSO: US Offers $7m To Find Hezbollah Agent Wanted For Argentina Attack

The incident comes after months of mounting tensions between Iran and the United States, which has tried to stop all oil exports from its adversary.

Hours before the latest episode came to light, the State Department explained the administration’s position in a presentation to diplomats accredited in Washington.

Some 100 envoys took part in the briefing by Brian Hook, the US pointman on Iran, who explained the Trump administration’s initiative for maritime security in the Strait of Hormuz, diplomats said.

The administration has called for a “coalition” in which navies escort their ships through the Strait of Hormuz with the United States providing command control and surveillance.

Some 20 percent of the world’s oil transits through the Strait of Hormuz, the narrow chokepoint to the Gulf.

Turkey Receives First Russian Missile Delivery, Risking US Ire

In this file photo taken on August 22, 2017 Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile launching system is displayed at the exposition field in Kubinka Patriot Park outside Moscow during the first day of the International Military-Technical Forum Army-2017. ALEXANDER NEMENOV / AFP

 

Turkey received the first batch of Russia’s S-400 missile defence system on Friday in a move expected to raise tensions with the United States, which has repeatedly warned against the purchase.

The delivery at an air base in the Turkish capital Ankara comes after Washington warned this week that there would be “real and negative” consequences if Turkey bought the defence system.

“The delivery of the first shipment of parts of the S-400 long range regional air missile defence system began as of July 12, 2019 to Murted air base in Ankara,” Turkey’s defence ministry said in a statement.

It was not immediately known where the defence system would be deployed or when it would be operational.

“It will be operational in a manner determined by relevant authorities once the system is entirely ready,” Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industries (SSB) said in a statement, adding that the delivery of the system’s other parts would continue “in the coming days”.

Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation confirmed the delivery to the TASS news agency.

TASS also quoted a Russian military-diplomatic source as saying that another plane carrying S-400 parts will depart for Turkey “in the near future”, while a third delivery consisting of 120 guided missiles will be shipped by sea “most likely at the end of the summer”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists on Friday that “everything is happening in strict accordance with the agreements and signed contracts, all obligations are being carried out”.

Potential US sanctions

The US State Department has said Turkish officials are fully aware of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, a law passed by Congress in 2017 that mandates sanctions for any “significant” purchases of weapons from Russia.

Washington has threatened to remove Turkey from its F-35 fighter jet programme, giving Ankara until July 31 to cancel the S-400 purchase or have its pilots kicked off the training course and expelled from the US.

But Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said after meeting US counterpart Donald Trump last month that he was confident Ankara would not face sanctions for buying the Russian missile system.

Erdogan told Trump during their meeting on the margins of the G-20 meeting in Japan last month that former US president Barack Obama did not allow Ankara to buy Patriot missiles — an equivalent of the S-400s.

Trump appeared to be convinced, saying: “You can’t do business that way. It’s not good.”

‘Game-changer’

The first parts of the Russian missile system arrived on two planes at Ankara’s Murted air base, Turkish media reported. Turkey’s air force changed the name of the base from Akinci to Murted after it was at the centre of a 2016 failed coup.

The delivery comes two days after US ambassador-designate to Turkey, David Satterfield, arrived in Ankara.

But despite the US threats, Turkish officials repeatedly insisted the agreement with Russia was a “done deal”.

“We say this each time. This is a done deal. The process continues. We are coordinating this work, whether permission for planes, personnel,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara on Friday.

“There are no problems, the process will continue in a healthy manner.”

The US and NATO have said that the S-400 is incompatible with equipment used by other members of the alliance.

Nick Heras, of the Center for a New American Security, said the S-400 system would be a “game changer” for Turkey’s air defence strategy in region surrounded by actors with well-developed air forces.

“It is no secret that Erdogan is positioning Turkey to be a ‘Eurasian’ power, which means that Turkey needs to balance its relationship with China and Russia as much as it does with the United States and NATO,” he told AFP.

“Turkey is not guaranteed to be in the American camp forever.”

AFP

African Leaders Set To Sign Landmark Trade Deal At AU Summit

 

 

African leaders will meet Sunday in Niger for the African Union (AU) summit, to sign a landmark free trade agreement, and to discuss looming security and migration crises on the continent.

In a “historic” moment for the 55-member bloc, according to its chairman Moussa Faki, heads of state will officially launch the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) at the two-day summit in Niamey, the Nigerien capital.

The agreement comes after 17 years of tough negotiations, and was formalised at the end of April when the agreement had crossed the launch threshold, which required ratification by at least 22 countries.

Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and largest economy, announced this week it would after all join the pact in Niamey, having unexpectedly pulled back from the agreement last year.

READ ALSO: Buhari Arrives Niamey Ahead Of AU Summit

Nigeria’s chief trade negotiator, Ambassador Chiedu Osakwe, said President Muhammadu Buhari would sign the landmark agreement, “opening Africa up to abundant opportunities.

“We weren’t dragged into this, we are a leading advocate,” Osakwe told AFP. “But it is about assessing how to make it work for Nigeria and indeed the continent.”

State trade ministers agreed the zone should be operational from July 2020, AU Trade and Industry Commissioner Albert Muchanga told AFP, as countries needed time to adapt to the agreed changes.

An official start date will be agreed by heads of state Sunday — with only Benin and Eritrea still to sign the agreement.

There are still key issues that need to be ironed out however, such as setting common criteria to determine rules of origin for traded products.

Amaka Anku, Africa analyst at Eurasia group, described the deal as a positive step but said the AfCFTA was still “a long way from taking off”.

The AU estimates that implementing the AfCFTA will lead to a 60-percent boost in intra-African trade by 2022.

At the moment, African countries trade only about 16 percent of their goods and services among one another, compared to 65 percent with European countries.

High security

Also on the summit agenda is security — an issue afflicting the Sahel in particular.

Summit host Niger has faced constant attacks by jihadist groups.

Its fellow members in the G5-Sahel security pact — Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania — will seek backing at the AU summit to push for a greater UN security force to address the terror threat.

The countries hope to activate Chapter VII of the UN Charter, a Nigerien security source told AFP. The chapter allows for the UN Security Council to determine a threat to peace and propose measures, including military deployment, to deal with it.

“No prosperity, no integration is possible without peace,” said Faki, who stressed the importance of an AU Peace Fund launched in 2018 to finance security activities and called on member states to fulfil their financial promises.

So far, only $116 million has been received for the envisaged $400-million fund.

Niamey is under high surveillance, with summit facilities subjected to strict access controls and a heavy security presence.

“We have a special unit of several thousand men” on duty, said Defence Minister Mohamed Bazoum.

The city has been revamped and boasts a brand-new airport, upgraded roads, and new hotels for the occasion.

Migration crisis

The leaders will also discuss boosting intelligence cooperation and the global migration crisis.

An airstrike Tuesday on a migrant detention centre near the Libyan capital, Tripoli, killed 53 and injured more than 130.

The AU’s Peace and Security Council on Friday condemned what it called a “savage attack”, calling for an independent inquiry into the incident.

AU member states needed to quickly repatriate their nationals from Libya “in order to prevent any further exploitation of their fragile situation,” they said in a statement.

Trump Warns Any Conflict With Iran ‘Wouldn’t Last Long’

US President Donald Trump speaks to the press as he departs the White House in Washington, DC on June 26, 2019. Trump is traveling to Osaka, Japan, for the G20 Summit.
Anna-Rose GASSOT / AFP

 

President Donald Trump said Wednesday he does not want a war with Iran but warned that if fighting does break out, it “wouldn’t last very long,” even as Iran’s president tried to tamp down soaring tensions.

Trump also hinted that any conflict would be waged with air strikes, saying there would be no US boots on the ground.

His remarks came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani tried to rein in the crisis between the two archfoes, saying that Iran “never seeks war” with the United States.

Washington has ratcheted up crippling economic sanctions on Tehran after the Islamic republic’s forces shot down an unmanned US drone in the Gulf region, following a series of attacks on tankers that Washington blamed on Iran.

Trump says he called off an air strike against Iranian targets at the last minute last week, having decided the expected death toll of 100 would have been a disproportionate response.

In an interview on Fox Business Network, Trump was asked if America is going to go to war with Iran.

“Well, I hope we don’t but we’re in a very strong position if something should happen. We’re in a very strong position,” Trump said, a day after he warned that any further military action by Iran would result in an “overwhelming” US response and could result in “obliteration.”

“It wouldn’t last very long, I can tell you that. And I’m not talking boots on the ground,”

Talking later with reporters outside the White House, Trump said Iran’s leaders would be “selfish and … stupid” to reject cutting a new deal with his administration to replace the 2015 nuclear accord made under his predecessor Barack Obama, which Trump himself walked out of.

That step is widely seen as the genesis of steadily declining relations between the two countries over the past year.

“They have a country that’s in economic distress. It’s an economic disaster right now, they can solve it quickly or in 10 years from now,” he said. “I have all the time in the world. In the meantime, they have very strong sanctions.”

In the current crisis with Iran, Trump’s tone has vacillated between tough and conciliatory — talking up US military might and saying all options are on the table, or offering Tehran talks on renegotiating a multi-party nuclear deal.

‘Decades of turmoil’

Iran has responded by saying it will “resolutely” abandon more commitments under the nuclear deal with world powers on July 7.

But Iran’s own stance also has been mixed: while the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed his country would remain unbowed by US “insults,” Rouhani adopted a more conciliatory approach.

“Iran has no interest to increase tension in the region and it never seeks war with any country, including (the) US,” the president said, quoted by state news agency IRNA.

The high-stakes showdown in the Gulf between the longtime rivals has triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity as world leaders scramble to prevent a war that would massively disrupt oil flows and shake the global economy.

Rouhani spoke earlier by phone with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron and told him Iran has “always been committed to regional peace and stability and will make efforts in this respect.”

Iran’s ambassador to the UN, Majid Takht Ravanchi, told the Security Council Wednesday that Tehran alone cannot save the nuclear deal.

“Iran alone cannot, shall not and will not take all of the burdens anymore to preserve the JCPOA,” he said, referring to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action as the deal is formally known.

Iran has said that as of June 27, it will have more than the 300 kilos (660 pounds) of enriched uranium that it was allowed to have under the deal, the result of 12 years of tough diplomatic negotiations.

Iraqi President Barham Saleh added his voice to the warnings against a fresh regional conflict that would have serious repercussions for his own war-torn country.

“We have had four decades of challenge and turmoil. We do not want to be embroiled in another war,” he said. “We cannot afford our country to be dragged into conflict.”

AFP

US To Withdraw Diplomatic Staff From Venezuela

 

The United States will withdraw all remaining diplomatic personnel from its embassy in Caracas as the crisis in Venezuela deepens, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late Monday.

The move worsens already tattered relations, with President Donald Trump having said he rules out no options including military intervention to oust President Nicolas Maduro as Washington monitors rapidly unfolding events in the oil-rich but crippled South American nation supported by Russia and China.

The US has already imposed sanctions designed to choke off Venezuelan oil sales, the lifeblood of the leftist government in Caracas.

Much of Venezuela has been without electricity for going on five days now due to a power outage that the government blames on what it calls sabotage encouraged by the US.

READ ALSO: Woman Arrested For Cutting Off Hand Over Insurance Payment

Venezuela is in the grips of an acute economic crisis that has fueled the rise of opposition leader Juan Guaido, the national assembly speaker who in late January declared himself to be the interim leader. More than 50 countries led by the US have endorsed him.

“This decision reflects the deteriorating situation in #Venezuela as well as the conclusion that the presence of US diplomatic staff at the embassy has become a constraint on US policy,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

On January 24 the State Department ordered all non-emergency government employees to depart Venezuela and urged Americans living in the country to consider leaving.

Earlier Monday Pompeo took aim at Cuba and Russia for their support of Maduro.

He rejected Maduro’s assertion that the US was responsible for the blackout, instead pointing the finger at the socialist nature of the Venezuelan government.

“Nicolas Maduro promised Venezuelans a better life and a socialist paradise. He delivered on the socialism part, which has proved, time and time again, is a recipe for economic ruin,” Pompeo told journalists.

“The paradise part? Not so much.”

Pompeo took aim at the “central role Cuba and Russia have played and continue to play in undermining the democratic dreams of the Venezuelan people and their welfare.”

“Cuba is the true imperialist power in Venezuela,” Pompeo said, denouncing the “physical protection and other critical material and political support to Maduro and to those around him.”

“When there is no electricity, thank the marvels of modern Cuban-led engineering,” he said. “When there is no water, thank the excellent hydrologists from Cuba.

“When there is no food, thank the Cuban communist overlords.”

AFP

Trump Vows To Outspend Russia Without New Missile Pact

File: President Donald Trump

 

President Donald Trump vowed Tuesday that the United States would outspend Russia on missiles without a fresh international accord after he ditched a landmark Cold War treaty.

Trump’s warning during his annual State of the Union address cemented fears of an emerging arms race, with Russia hours earlier pledging to design new missiles over the next two years.

The United States last week started the process of exiting the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, saying that Russia has been violating the pact through a new missile system and ignored repeated complaints.

“Under my administration, we will never apologize for advancing America’s interests,” Trump told US lawmakers assembled in the House chamber.

“Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others. Or perhaps we can’t –- in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far,” Trump said.

READ ALSO: Five Things To Know About Migrant Caravans Crossing Mexico

While pointing the finger at Russia, US officials have voiced concern that the 1987 treaty does not constrain China, whose rapidly growing military relies on medium-range missiles as a core part of its defense strategy.

The INF treaty banned all missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres (310 to 3,400 miles), a legacy of the end of the Cold War as last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US president Ronald Reagan sought to ease European fears of an arms race that would destroy their cities.

Russian President Vladimir Putin — who has sought a warm relationship with Trump but is widely reviled by the US establishment — responded Saturday by saying Moscow would also leave the INF treaty.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said earlier Tuesday that Putin had approved plans for new missiles.

“During 2019-2020 we have to develop a land-based version of the seaborne Kalibr system equipped with a long-range cruise missile which showed good results in Syria,” Shoigu told defense officials.

“Over the same period we will also have to create a land-based missile system with a long-range hypersonic missile,” he said.

Latvia urges international pact

Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics of Latvia — for which former ruler Russia looms large as a threat — voiced hope that Washington and Moscow would work with other powers on a new agreement.

“I would advocate — even if it is going to take a very long period of time, even if it may be a very, sometimes, complex and disappointing, from time to time, process — it would be good to try to find a way forward on a multilateral arms control agreement in this area,” Rinkevics told AFP.

“It needs to be more than the United States and Russia because there are more countries that can produce such weapons than 30 years ago,” he said in an interview in Washington, where he is taking part in a 79-member conference Wednesday on the fight against the Islamic State group.

Latvia, like other members of the NATO alliance, has backed the United States which has charged since the administration of former president Barack Obama that Russia is infringing on the INF treaty with the range of its new 9M729 missile system.

But Rinkevics played down the immediate impact of the INF treaty’s demise, saying that Russia had already been stepping up military movements since Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

He acknowledged that a future pact was unlikely to be as sweeping as the INF treaty.

“The difficult answer is that I don’t see currently much appetite to do anything in this direction, almost from everyone,” Rinkevics said.

AFP

UN Experts Say North Korea Shielding Missiles At Airports

 

North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain intact and Pyongyang is using airports and other facilities to shield its weapons from possible US military strikes, according to a UN panel of experts.

The panel said in a report seen by AFP on Tuesday that sanctions against North Korea were “ineffective,” with Pyongyang still able to acquire illegal shipments of oil products, sell banned coal and violate an arms embargo.

“The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs remain intact,” said the report, using the official name for North Korea.

“The panel found that the DPRK is using civilian facilities, including airports for ballistic missile assembly and testing with the goal of effectively preventing ‘decapitation’ strikes.”

The confidential report was sent to the Security Council as President Donald Trump prepares for a second summit this month with leader Kim Jong Un that the United States hopes will yield concrete progress in dismantling Pyongyang’s weapons programs.

The Trump administration has led the drive at the United Nations to impose a series of tough economic sanctions on North Korea in response to its nuclear tests and missile launches in 2017.

READ ALSO: Trump’s Ambitious Plan To Eliminate HIV Welcomed By Experts

But North Korea has resorted to illegal transfers of oil, fuel and coal using a network of ships at sea to circumvent the UN-imposed measures aimed at depriving Pyongyang of revenue to build up its weapons programs.

“These violations render the latest United Nations sanctions ineffective by flouting the caps on the DPRK’s import of petroleum products and crude oil as well as the coal ban imposed in 2017,” said the report.

UN sanctions resolutions have set ceilings for North Korea of four million barrels of crude oil per year and 500,000 barrels of refined oil products.

Rampant violations

“The panel found that DPRK ports and airports are used for rampant violations of the resolution ranging from illegal oil imports and coal exports to the smuggling of bulk cash by DPRK nationals,” said the report.

North Korea continues to violate an arms embargo and attempted to supply light weapons to Syria, the Huthi rebels in Yemen, Libya and Sudan, it added.

“Financial sanctions remain some of the most poorly implemented and actively evaded measures of the sanctions regime,” said the panel.

North Korean financial institutions operate in at least five countries, despite UN-imposed restrictions, while the country’s diplomats help their country evade sanctions by controlling bank accounts in multiple countries.

The panel’s findings were in line with US intelligence assessments that North Korea is unlikely to scrap its weapons programs but may offer to scale back its activities to win sanctions relief.

Last week, US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said North Korea’s leaders see nuclear weapons capability as “critical to regime survival.”

US special envoy for North Korea Stephen Biegun will hold talks in Pyongyang on Wednesday to press for progress and steps that could be touted as success during the upcoming summit, which is likely to take place in Vietnam.

Erdogan, Putin Vow Closer Cooperation On Syria At Moscow Talks

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan at a meeting in Moscow on Wednesday vowed to coordinate their actions more closely in Syria.

“Cooperation between Russia and Turkey is a touchstone for Syrian peace and stability,” Erdogan said in translated comments at a joint press conference after their talks, which lasted around three hours.

“With our Russian friends, we intend to strengthen our coordination even more.”

“We agreed how we’ll coordinate our work in the near future,” Putin said, calling the talks which included the countries’ defence ministers “effective”.

At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria”.

Erdogan used the same term for Putin and said: “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region”.

The two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.

‘Positive step’

Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.

Putin said that if carried out, the withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria “will be a positive step, it will help stabilise the situation in this restive area”.

Turkey has also welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal, but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labelled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.

Erdogan had said on Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.

The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.

Putin said Wednesday that Russia supports “establishing a dialogue between Damascus officials and representatives of the Kurds”.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week said that Damascus must take control of the north.

 

‘Serious concern’

The northwestern province of Idlib earlier this month fell under the full control of a jihadist group dominated by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate.

The Russian foreign ministry said earlier Wednesday that the situation in the province remained of “serious concern”.

Putin said that the leaders discussed the situation in Idlib “in great detail today.”

“We have a shared conviction that we must continue jointly fighting terrorists wherever they are, including in the Idlib zone,” the Russian leader said.

Erdogan said that the countries will wage a “lengthy fight” in Syria.

Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the planned US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.

Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.

The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.

Moscow plans to organise a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran early this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.

Putin said Wednesday the next summit would be held “in the near future” in Russia, saying the leaders still needed to agree the time and location with Iran.

The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.

Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.

But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered at remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defence systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.

 

AFP

Trump Recognises Venezuela Opposition Leader Guaido As ‘Interim President’

President Donald Trump and Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guadio – AFP

 

US President Donald Trump on Wednesday recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s interim president.

Trump described hard-left President Nicolas Maduro as “illegitimate” and said the National Assembly, headed by Guaido, is “the only legitimate branch of government duly elected by the Venezuelan people.”

Trump’s support for Guaido came shortly after the opposition leader declared himself “acting president” during a mass demonstration against Maduro.

 

READ ALSO: Tensions Rising In Venezuela Ahead Of Rival Protests

 

Trump noted that the National Assembly had declared Maduro “illegitimate, and the office of the presidency therefore vacant.”

“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” he said.

Trump urged other countries to follow his lead and promised to “use the full weight of United States economic and diplomatic power to press for the restoration of Venezuelan democracy.”

Apparently referring to tensions around the mass demonstrations against the Maduro government, Trump warned: “We continue to hold the illegitimate Maduro regime directly responsible for any threats it may pose to the safety of the Venezuelan people.”

AFP

Putin And Erdogan To Hold Syria Talks

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan will hold Syria talks in Moscow on Wednesday, with Turkey saying they will focus on Ankara’s so-called “security zone” in northern Syria.

The two leaders are on opposite sides of the conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.

Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict. Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement on pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria last month.

READ ALSO: At Least 65 Killed In Taliban Attack On Afghan Intel Base – Sources

In a speech on Monday, Erdogan said he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.

The US-allied Kurds, who control much of northern Syria, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.

Moscow, a long time supporter of Assad, is likely to oppose the plan, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week saying Damascus must take control of the country’s north.

Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control over the country.

Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw US troops have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.

The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.

Moscow plans to organise a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran at the beginning of this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.

“So far, no date has been set but after negotiations with Erdogan, we will begin preparations for the trilateral summit,” Putin’s foreign policy aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters last week.

The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of the rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.

Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.

But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered with the remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defence systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.