Xi, Trump Vow Cooperation On Diplomatic Anniversary

 

The presidents of China and the US have exchanged messages vowing to boost cooperation despite a bruising trade war on the 40th anniversary of the countries’ diplomatic relations, Chinese state media reported.

Tensions between Beijing and Washington soared in 2018 over trade disputes, although US President Donald Trump has frozen the latest planned tariff hike and on Saturday reported “big progress” after a call with his counterpart Xi Jinping.

In the messages sent Tuesday, Xi underlined the importance of working with the US “to advance China-US relations featuring coordination, cooperation and stability”, state news agency Xinhua reported.

According to Xinhua, Trump praised the last four decades of diplomacy between China and the US, hailing his “solid friendship” with the Chinese leader.

Washington and Beijing imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on more than $300 billion worth of goods in total two-way trade last year, locking them in a conflict that has begun to eat into profits and contributed to stock market plunges.

Trump initiated the trade war because of complaints over unfair Chinese trade practices — concerns shared by the European Union, Japan and others.

Since the two leaders agreed on a truce on the sidelines of the G20 summit meeting in Buenos Aires, however, there have been small signs of progress — and an absence of new threats from Trump.

China and the US established diplomatic relations on January 1, 1979, with Washington pledging to maintain only non-official ties with Taiwan.

In the same year, late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping, often credited with China’s “Reform and Opening” policy which led to its economic transformation, met US president Jimmy Carter in the United States.

Ties have improved dramatically from their Cold War nadir, though the two countries have since weathered ups and downs over a number of issues including Taiwan, human rights, and trade.

In December, China’s major state-owned grain stockpiler said it had resumed buying US soybeans, and Beijing announced it would suspend extra tariffs on US-made cars and auto parts starting January 1.

AFP

US Criticises Local Tanzania Elections

Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan speaks during a commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the terrorist bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, at the State Department on August 7, 2018 in Washington, DC. Mark Wilson/Getty Images/AFP

 

The US on Wednesday said it was “concerned” by the conduct of 70 recent by-elections in Tanzania, citing “election violence and irregularities” aimed at the opposition.

Local elections were held on Sunday to replace officials who had either resigned or died.

“Credible accounts of election violence and irregularities include refusal by National Election Commission authorities to register opposition candidates, intimidation by police of opposition party members, unwarranted arrests, and suppression of freedoms of assembly and speech in the lead up to the by-elections,” the US said in a statement.

“Such actions undermine the rights that Tanzania’s Constitution guarantees its citizens and jeapordize peace, stability, and security in the country and throughout the region.”

Local media reported the beating and hospitalisation of some members of the main opposition, by supporters of the ruling party.

Churches and civil society organisations have also highlighted political violence around local elections, particularly the perceived partiality of security forces in favour of ruling party candidates.

The US statement comes amid sustained criticism of the rule of President John Magufuli who has cracked down on dissent since taking office three years ago.

AFP

Lira’s Crash ‘Political Plot’ Against Turkey, Says Erdogan

(COMBO) This combination of file pictures created on August 11, 2018 shows (L)President of Turkey and Leader of the Justice and Development Party (AKP), Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivering a speech during an AK party’s group meeting at the AK Party’s headquarters in Ankara, on January 26, 2018.  ADEM ALTAN, SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday slammed the crash of the lira amid a widening spat with the United States as a “political plot” and said his country would instead seek new markets and new allies.

“The aim of the operation is to make Turkey surrender in all areas from finance to politics. We are once again facing a political, underhand plot. With God’s permission we will overcome this,” Erdogan told his party members in the Black Sea city of Trabzon.

The embattled Turkish lira tumbled over 16 percent to new record lows against the dollar as strains with the United States intensified over a number of issues including the detention of a pastor as well as Washington’s cooperation with Syrian Kurdish militia force in the fight against Islamic State.

“We can only say ‘good-bye’ to anyone who sacrifices its strategic partnership and a half-century alliance with a country of 81 million for the sake of relations with terror groups,” Erdogan said.

“You dare to sacrifice 81-million Turkey for a priest who is linked to terror groups?”

US President Donald Trump said Friday he had doubled steel and aluminium tariffs on Turkey, which pushed the Turkish lira to new historic lows against the dollar. The White House said the newly imposed sanctions would take effect from August 13.

Turkey remains at loggerheads with the United States in one of the worst spats between the two NATO allies in years over the detention for the last two years of American pastor Andrew Brunson and a host of other issues.

“We will give our answer, by shifting to new markets, new partnerships and new alliances, to the one who waged an economic war against the entire world and also included our country,” Erdogan said.

AFP

Saudi Expels Canadian Envoy, Recalls Own Diplomat Over ‘Interference’

Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman Al-Saud attends the 29th Arab League Summit in Dhahran.  BANDAR AL-JALOUD / Saudi Royal Palace / AFP

 

Saudi Arabia announced Monday it was expelling the Canadian ambassador and had recalled its envoy while freezing business ties with Ottawa, over what it called “interference” in its internal affairs.

The move follows vigorous calls by Canada for the immediate release of human rights activists swept up in a new wave of detentions.

“The kingdom of Saudi Arabia… will not accept interference in its internal affairs or imposed diktats from any country,” the foreign ministry tweeted.

“The kingdom announces that it is recalling its ambassador… to Canada for consultation.”

The ministry said that the Canadian ambassador to Riyadh had 24 hours to leave the country, and announced the “freezing of all new commercial and investment transactions” with Ottawa.

The move came after the Canadian embassy in Riyadh said it was “gravely concerned” over a new wave of arrests of human rights campaigners in the kingdom, including award-winning gender rights activist Samar Badawi.

“We urge the Saudi authorities to immediately release them and all other peaceful #humanrights activists,” the embassy tweeted on Friday.

Badawi was arrested along with fellow campaigner Nassima al-Sadah last week, “the latest victims of an unprecedented government crackdown on the women’s rights movement”, Human Rights Watch said.

The arrests come weeks after more than a dozen women’s right campaigners were detained and accused of undermining national security and collaborating with enemies of the state. Some have since been released.

The Saudi foreign ministry voiced anger over the Canadian statement.

“It is very unfortunate that the words ‘immediate release’ appeared in the Canadian statement… it is unacceptable in relations between countries,” the ministry said.

AFP

First Commercial Flight In 20 Years Leaves Ethiopia For Eritrea

Eritrea President Issaias Afeworki (R) is welcomed upon arrival by Prime minister of Ethiopia Abiy Ahmed on July 14, 2018, at Addis Ababa Bole International Airport for his official visit to Ethiopia after more than twenty years in border conflict among the two neighbouring countries.
MICHAEL TEWELDE / AFP

 

The first commercial flight to Eritrea in two decades departed Wednesday from Addis Ababa after the two nations ended their bitter conflict following a whirlwind peace process.

Ethiopian Airlines said that flight ET0312 to Asmara had departed Bole International Airport, after a ceremony inaugurating the historic flight.

“This day marks a unique event in the history of Ethiopia and Eritrea,” the airline’s chief executive Tewolde GebreMariam said at the ceremony.

Overwhelming demand saw the African aviation giant operate two flights within 15 minutes of each other.

“The fact that we are taking two flights at a time shows the eagerness of the people,” said GebreMariam.

An AFP journalist onboard the second flight said champagne was served to passengers in all classes, who were also given roses shortly before take-off.

Once a province of Ethiopia, Eritrea seceded in 1993 after a long independence struggle. A row over the demarcation of the shared border triggered a brutal 1998-2000 conflict which left 80,000 people dead before evolving into a bitter cold war.

In a surprise move, Ethiopia’s new reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last month announced he would finally accept a 2002 United Nations-backed border demarcation, paving the way for peace between the two nations.

He then paid a historic visit to Eritrea, during which he and President Isaias Afwerki declared an official end to the war. Afwerki reciprocated with a state visit to Ethiopia just days later.

AFP

Ethiopia To End Boundary Dispute With Eritrea

 

Ethiopia’s ruling party announced on Tuesday it would end its dispute over its shared border with Eritrea after decades of fighting and tension.

The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) said in a statement it would “fully implement” a 2002 decision by a UN-backed boundary commission that divided up contested territory between the two countries after a 1998-2000 border conflict.

“The Eritrean government should take the same stand without any prerequisite and accept our call to bring back the long-lost peace of the two brother nations as it was before,” the EPRDF wrote on Facebook.

The move represents a major policy change by new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who promised in his April inaugural address to seek peace with Eritrea.

A one-time province of Ethiopia enjoying its entire Red Sea coastline, Eritrea voted for independence in a 1993 referendum but was soon at war with its southern neighbour over the demarcation of the two countries’ borders.

Around 80,000 people died in that conflict, which degenerated into a stalemate after the impasse over the boundary.

Periodic clashes between the two countries after the war’s formal end killed hundreds.

AFP

U.S. Threatens To Expel Venezuelan Diplomats In Retaliation

Trump Thanks North Korea For 'Gracious' Pledge To Destroy Nuclear Site
US President, Donald Trump                                                                           NICHOLAS KAMM / AFP

 

The United States threatened to retaliate against Venezuela on Tuesday after President Nicolas Maduro ordered the expulsion of America’s top two diplomats in Caracas.

A State Department official told AFP that Washington had “not received notification from the Venezuelan government through diplomatic channels,” but that if the expulsion goes ahead, “the United States may take appropriate reciprocal action.”

Maduro declared US charge d’affaires Todd Robinson and deputy head of mission Brian Naranjo “personae non gratae” and gave them 48 hours to leave the country, angrily rejecting US economic sanctions imposed over his re-election in a nationally televised speech.

The Venezuelan leader announced the move after being officially proclaimed winner of Sunday’s election, which was boycotted by the opposition and criticized by the international community.

The United States called it a “sham.”

Maduro promised to present “evidence” that both diplomats were engaged in a political, military and economic “conspiracy.”

The State Department said US authorities “reject completely the false allegations made by Maduro” against Robinson and Naranjo.

Washington and Caracas have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010, and relations between the two countries have been tense since the late leftist president Hugo Chavez, Maduro’s mentor, assumed power in 1999.

AFP

Timeline: Russian Diplomats Expelled Over Past Four Decades

FILE PHOTO Embassy of the Russian Federation in Copenhagen. Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands said on March 26, 2018 they had ordered the expulsion of Russian diplomats over the poisoning of a former spy and his daughter in England, as EU nations step up the pressure on Moscow. Photo: Jens Noergaard Larsen / Ritzau Scanpix / AFP

 

The expulsion of more than 100 Russian diplomats from the United States and several European countries Monday over the poisoning of an ex-spy in Britain follows a series of such measures against Russia.

Before the action on Monday, Britain had already thrown out 23 Russian diplomats after the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4.

Here is a look back at some of the other major expulsions of diplomats or agents from Russia and its predecessor, the Soviet Union, over more than 40 years.

 During the Cold War 

– September 1971: Britain expels 105 Soviet diplomats and officials after Moscow refuses to clarify the activities of 440 of its citizens in Britain. Two weeks later, Moscow kicks out 18 Britons.

– April 1972: Bolivia expels 49 members of the Soviet embassy in La Paz as diplomatic relations deteriorate sharply two years after being established.

– April 1983: France throws out 47 Soviet diplomats in the midst of the so-called Farewell Affair involving Soviet double agent Vladimir Vetrov, posted in Paris from 1965 to 1970, who passed to France the identities of Soviet spies.

– November 1983: the Caribbean island of Grenada kicks out 49 Soviet diplomats shortly after the intervention of American troops following a coup.

– September 1985: Moscow and London engage in a six-day exchange of spy expulsions, with 31 kicked out on each side in total. This follows the defection to Britain of the KGB’s London station chief, Oleg Gordievsky.

–  Late 1986: The United States under President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev’s the Soviet Union carry out tit-for-tat expulsions over several weeks.

In mid-September, Washington demands the departure of 25 members of the Soviet mission at the United Nations and Moscow replies by expelling five American diplomats.

A month later Washington expels 55 more Soviet diplomats. Five are suspected of spying and the remaining leaves as part of Washington’s decision to reduce the number of Soviet personnel in the United States.

The Soviet Union responds by expelling five US diplomats and withdrawing all Soviet personnel working at US missions in the country.

– June 1988: Canada expels, or declares personae non-gratae, 19 Soviets. Moscow takes similar measures against 13 Canadian diplomats.

After the Soviet Union falls 

– March 2001: Washington throws out 50 Russian diplomats, four of whom are declared personae non-gratae. The move follows the arrest of Robert Hanssen, an FBI counterintelligence expert who spied for Moscow for 15 years as one of its most valuable ever agents.

Russia retaliates by expelling a similar number of Americans.

– December 2016: US President Barack Obama expels 35 Russian intelligence operatives as part of a barrage of retaliatory measures against Moscow who intelligence agencies accused of meddling in the US election.

Russian President Vladimir Putin rules out tit-for-tat measures, a move that wins plaudits from then president-elect Donald Trump.

AFP

Russia Kicks Against Expulsion Of Diplomats, Vows To Retaliate

Putin Orders Alternative Olympic Games For Banned Athletes
Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo:  Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

The Russian foreign ministry on Monday vowed to retaliate against the expulsions of its diplomats by the United States and Canada, as well as 14 European Union countries and Ukraine over the poisoning of a former spy in Britain. 

“We express a decisive protest over the decision taken by a number of EU and NATO countries to expel Russian diplomats,” the ministry said in a statement, calling the moves a “provocative gesture” and promising that this “unfriendly step… will not pass without trace and we will respond to it.”

 

Moscow vowed that this “unfriendly step by this group of countries will not pass without trace and we will respond to it.”

Russia said the move went against the interests of identifying those guilty for the attack in the English city of Salisbury on ex-double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia, who are both unconscious in hospital after being poisoned by a nerve agent developed in the Soviet Union.

It accused the countries who took part in expulsions of “pandering to the British authorities” and “not bothering to look into the circumstances of what happened,” saying this was part of a confrontational dynamic aimed at “escalating the situation.”

Moscow said the British authorities have issued “groundless accusations” against Russia and taken “a prejudiced, biased and hypocritical position.”

It complained that it had received no information on the “attempted assassination of Russian citizens.”

AFP

Expelled Russian Diplomats Leave London Embassy Amid Spy Row

People carrying luggage leave the Russian Embassy in London on March 20, 2018, and board a van bearing diplomatic plates. 
Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP

 

Diplomats expelled from the Russian embassy in London began leaving the building with their families and luggage on Tuesday, AFP journalists witnessed.

Britain has thrown out 23 Russian diplomats over the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia on March 4.

As people began streaming out of the embassy in a plush part of central London close to Kensington Palace, they hugged as they stood with their luggage outside the building.

Some were seen holding pet carriers as they made their way to the three cars, five people carriers and two small coaches waiting.

People standing outside the embassy waved them off as the vehicles bearing diplomatic plates pulled away.

Families were seen waving from the windows of the coach, as children inside the coach took pictures on their mobile phones.\

AFP

Russia Demands Britain’s Proof Or Apology In Spy Poisoning Allegation

Putin Orders Alternative Olympic Games For Banned Athletes
FILE PHOTO Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech during a meeting.   Alexey NIKOLSKY / SPUTNIK / AFP

 

 

Britain must prove Russia’s involvement in the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal in the UK or apologise, the Kremlin said Monday. 

“Sooner or later these unsubstantiated allegations will have to be answered for: either backed up with the appropriate evidence or apologised for,” presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov was responding to a question about whether the exacerbation of tensions with the West had boosted Putin’s performance in Russia’s presidential elections Sunday.

“I wouldn’t use the phrase ‘exacerbation of tensions with the West’. It’s a question of this stream of slander, that is hard to explain and difficult to understand the motivation for, from the British side towards Russia,” he said.

Putin on Sunday rejected as “nonsense” allegations by London and its allies that Russia was behind the March 4 attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in the English city of Salisbury.

In response, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Moscow’s denials were becoming “increasingly absurd”.

London says the Soviet-designed military grade nerve agent Novichok was used to target Skripal and last week Britain, France, Germany and the United States issued a joint statement blaming Russia for the first offensive use of chemical weapons in Europe since World War Two.

AFP

North Korea In Talks To Free Jailed Americans

North Korea’s President, Kim Jong Un  Photo Credit: AFP

 

North Korea is in talks with the US and Sweden to release three jailed Americans, reports said, as diplomatic activities intensified ahead of Pyongyang’s planned summits with Washington and Seoul.

The release of the three Korean-Americans is under discussion through multiple channels more than a week after President Donald Trump agreed to meet the North’s Kim Jong Un, the reports said.

Pyongyang has yet to confirm it even made the US summit offer — relayed by Seoul envoys who had met Kim in Pyongyang — but South Korea said he had “given his word” about his commitment to denuclearisation.

Trump’s stunning announcement has triggered a race to set a credible agenda for what would be historic talks between the two leaders.

Seoul-based MBC TV station reported Sunday that Pyongyang and Washington had “practically reached” a final agreement on the release of US citizens Kim Hak-song, Kim Sang-Duk and Kim Dong-Chul.

“They are hammering out details over the timing of the release,” it quoted a South Korean diplomatic source as saying.

The negotiation was held through the North’s mission to the United Nations and the US State Department — an unofficial avenue of communication dubbed the “New York channel”, the source said.

CNN said the prisoners’ release was also discussed at three-day talks in Stockholm between the North’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Swedish counterpart Margot Wallstrom that ended Saturday.

Sweden represents Washington’s interests in the North. It raised the issue of American detainees to “move things in the right direction”, CNN quoted one source as saying.

Kim Dong-Chul, a South Korea-born American pastor, has been detained by the North since 2015 when he was arrested for spying. He was sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour in 2016.

Kim Hak-song and Kim Sang-Duk — or Tony Kim — were both working at the Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, founded by evangelical Christians from overseas when they were detained last year on suspicion of “hostile acts”.

Diplomatic flurry 

Reports of their possible release come amid a flurry of diplomatic activities involving Pyongyang and  Washington along with Seoul and other US allies.

During a visit to Pyongyang by Seoul’s envoys earlier this month, Kim reportedly offered to meet Trump, with the US president subsequently agreeing to talks by May. No specific time or venue has been set.

Kim also agreed to hold a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in next month — the third ever between the two Koreas — according to the envoys. And he reportedly offered to consider abandoning his nuclear weapons in exchange for US security guarantees.

South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said in an interview aired Sunday that Kim was “taking stock” after Trump’s surprise decision to accept the invitation, but that a channel of communication had been established.

She said Kim had “given his word” on his commitment to denuclearisation.

“But the significance of his word is quite, quite weighty in the sense that this is the first time that the words came directly from the North Korean supreme leader himself, and that has never been done before,” Kang told CBS’s “Face the Nation”.

Nothing has been offered to the North Koreans to engage in negotiations, she said.

The Stockholm talks overlapped with another meeting between the national security advisers of the US, South Korea and Japan.

US National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster, the South’s Chung Eui-Yong and Japan’s Shotaro Yachi met in San Francisco over the weekend and vowed “close policy coordination” for the weeks ahead, Seoul’s presidential office said.

They agreed that peace on the Korean peninsula hinges on the success of the two planned summits, vowing “not to repeat the failure of the past”, it said in an apparent reference to previous botched nuclear disarmament negotiations with the North.

Also on Sunday a senior North Korean diplomat arrived in Finland for talks on peninsula issues with former officials and academics from the US and South Korea.

The sudden rapprochement comes months after the North staged its most powerful nuclear test and test-fired missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

Kim and Trump traded colourful threats of war and personal insults, which heightened global concerns of another conflict on the peninsula once reduced to ruin by the 1950-53 Korean War.

AFP