Top diplomats from the United States, India, Australia and Japan will gather in Tokyo next week for rare face-to-face talks on tackling the coronavirus and strengthening co-operation, Japan said Tuesday.
The four nations have in recent years formed a strategic grouping — known as the “Quad” — meant to serve as a counterweight to China and promote their vision of a “free and open Indo-Pacific”.
The meeting on October 6 will be attended by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Indian Minister of External Affairs Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi announced he would host the four-way talks — the second such meeting after the first was held in New York last year.
“It is the right time for these like-minded foreign ministers to gather in Tokyo for face-to-face talks, to exchange views about how to deal with issues that have emerged from the spread of the coronavirus, along with regional affairs,” he told reporters at a regular briefing.
It will be the first ministerial-level international meeting hosted by Japan since the pandemic began, and also since Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga took power this month.
Japan is moving gradually to open its borders to more foreigners, particularly business travellers, as it prepares to hold the postponed Olympics next summer.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas quarantined himself on Wednesday after one of his security staff tested positive for coronavirus, a ministry spokeswoman said.
Maas returned a negative result in a preliminary test carried out on Wednesday, she said in a statement.
“The foreign ministry is working with public health authorities to determine whether further people are affected and other measures are necessary,” she said, adding that anyone who might have been exposed would be contacted.
Maas was in Brussels on Monday meeting his EU counterparts as well as Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya.
Chancellor Angela Merkel in March put herself in quarantine after seeing a doctor who tested positive for the coronavirus but all of her subsequent tests came back negative.
Germany has not suffered the kind of impact from the pandemic seen in many other European countries but its infection numbers are rising.
On Wednesday, it recorded 1,769 cases, bringing the total so far to 275,927.
The number of deaths rose by 13 at 9,409, according to the Robert Koch Institute for disease control.
Germany, the current head of the European Union, will discuss possible sanctions against Russia over the poisoning of Alexei Navalny if the Kremlin does not provide an explanation soon, its foreign minister said Sunday.
Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner Navalny fell ill on a flight last month and was treated in a Siberian hospital before being evacuated to Berlin.
Germany said last week there was “unequivocal evidence” that President Vladimir Putin’s top foe had been poisoned using Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok.
“We have high expectations of the Russian government to solve this serious crime,” Heiko Maas told German daily Bild. “If the government has nothing to do with the attack, then it is in its own interest to back this up with facts.”
If Russia does not help clarify what happened “in the coming days”, Germany will be compelled to “discuss a response with our allies,” Maas said.
The crime against Navalny was a violation of the international Chemical Weapons Convention and there must be an appropriate response, he said. “When we think about sanctions, they should be as targeted as possible.”
Western leaders and many Russians have expressed horror at what Navalny’s allies say is the first known use of chemical weapons against a high-profile opposition leader on Russian soil.
The Kremlin has denied responsibility for the attack and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has said that Germany is yet to share any findings with Moscow’s prosecutors.
Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova on Sunday accused Germany of stalling efforts to probe the Navalny case.
“Berlin is stalling the process of investigation for which it’s calling. On purpose?” she said on Facebook.
– ‘Several indications’ –
Maas said there were “several indications” that Russia was behind the poisoning, in the strongest accusations yet from Germany.
“The deadly substance with which Navalny was poisoned has in the past been found in the hands of Russian authorities.
“Only a small number of people have access to Novichok and this poison was used by Russian secret services in the attack against former agent Sergei Skripal,” he said, referring to a 2018 attack on the former double agent and his daughter in the English city of Salisbury.
The Skripals spent days in a coma before recovering but local resident Dawn Sturgess died after picking up a discarded perfume bottle allegedly used to carry the poison.
The Navalny case is only the latest in what Berlin has seen as a series of provocations by Putin that have damaged ties and called future cooperation into question.
The poisoning comes a year after the murder in broad daylight of a former Chechen rebel commander in a Berlin park, which German prosecutors believe was ordered by Russia.
– Nord Stream 2 –
German Chancellor Angela Merkel also revealed in May that Russia had targeted her in hacking attacks, saying she had concrete proof of the “outrageous” spying attempts.
On the subject of which sanctions could be discussed by the EU, Maas did not rule out action relating to Nord Stream 2, a multi-billion-euro Russian-German gas pipeline nearing completion that has drawn the ire of US and European partners alike.
“I hope… that the Russians do not force us to change our position on Nord Stream,” Maas said, adding that the consequences of any potential cancellation of the project would also need to be weighed, and that the debate on sanctions should not be “reduced” to one point.
The controversial pipeline is meant to deliver Russian gas to Europe, but the German government has faced growing calls to abandon it as tensions with Russia escalate.
Bild slammed Merkel last week for comments that Nord Stream 2 should be judged independently from Moscow’s actions.
“Vladimir Putin views the gas pipeline as an important strategic weapon against Europe and as a vital source of funding for his war against his own people,” it said.
Canada’s foreign minister Thursday offered help in investigating the cause of the colossal port explosion that ravaged Beirut on August 4.
During a tour of the capital, Francois-Philippe Champagne stressed the need for a “credible investigation” into the blast that killed more than 180 people including two Canadians and wounded thousands.
“Canada would like, under the right circumstances, to contribute to the investigation,” he told Lebanese press.
The United States has already sent FBI investigators to assist at the request of Lebanese authorities, and France has opened its own probe.
Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun accepted the Canadian offer.
“We welcome the help that Canada wants to provide in the ongoing investigations over the explosion at the Beirut port,” Aoun told Champagne, according to the presidency.
The blast came after hundreds of tonnes of ammonium nitrate had been left unsecured for several years at the port, despite repeated warnings of the dangers it posed.
Western powers, international bodies and Lebanese at home and abroad have called for an international probe into the blast, but Lebanese authorities have rejected this.
Champagne also called for “economic and political reforms” as he met Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister Charbel Wehbe.
The Canadian minister toured Beirut neighbourhoods devastated by the blast, and met the families of the two Canadians who were killed in the disaster.
He said Canada would contribute an additional 8 million Canadian dollars ($6 million) to aid efforts to match the contribution of Canadians via a fund launched earlier this month.
Canada, which is home to a large Lebanese community, previously pledged 30 million Canadians dollars (more than $22 million) to help after the blast.
In Lebanon’s ongoing probe, Judge Fadi Sawan has so far issued arrest warrants for 16 people.
He is next week due to start questioning six others, including the director-general of land and maritime transport and four senior security officers responsible for the port.
Poland’s foreign minister Jacek Czaputowicz resigned Thursday, the second top member of the right-wing government to quit this week.
The decision comes as Warsaw is involved in European diplomacy on the political crisis in neighbouring Belarus.
On Wednesday, Czaputowicz received prominent Belarusian opposition activists Valery and Veronika Tsepkalo.
The departure of Czaputowicz, who had been in the post since 2018, follows that of health minister Lukasz Szumowski on Tuesday.
Szumowski, a cardiologist, has been at the centre of the struggle against the novel coronavirus in Poland, where infection rates have been relatively low compared to many countries in western Europe.
Asked about the timing of the departures, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki said “when it comes to politics, I don’t think there’s ever a good time.”
“What if a minister had resigned two months ago, before the first round of the (presidential) election?” he said Thursday.
“Or four months ago when the coronavirus was gathering steam and we had the European Union budget negotiations — there’s never a good time,” he told reporters.
Morawiecki announced the new health minister would be Adam Niedzielski, an economist at the helm of the national health fund since 2019.
As for Poland’s next top diplomat, Morawiecki named Zbigniew Rau, a lawyer and lawmaker who heads the foreign committee in parliament.
Morawiecki said they would take up their new duties in the coming days, adding that their predecessors had given considerable notice before leaving.
Czaputowicz’s office gave no precise reason for his resignation, but told the PAP news agency that “the minister has in the past said the post-election period was the right time for a change” in the post of foreign minister.
President Andrzej Duda was returned to power in a run-off vote last month, backed by the populist right-wing Law and Justice (PiS) party.
Szumowski cited personal reasons for his departure. But Polish media have accused his ministry of failing to supervise the procurement of items such as face masks during the pandemic.
Italy’s foreign minister made a lightening trip to Libya on Wednesday amid a flaring conflict between a UN-recognised government in the west and eastern-based forces loyal to strongman Khalifa Haftar.
Luigi Di Maio was due to meet the head of Tripoli’s Government of National Accord Fayez al-Sarraj, as well as the interior minister and his foreign affairs counterpart, Italian agencies Agi and Ansa said.
Rome considers Libya “a priority… our most important issue, which concerns our national security,” according to an unnamed ministry source, cited by the Messaggero daily.
“We can’t afford a partition of the country. That is why we went first to Ankara, a (diplomatic) channel we’ve always kept open,” the source said, referring to Di Maio’s trip to Turkey on June 19.
He last visited Libya in January.
During his Wednesday visit Di Maio is set to examine an amended “memorandum” of cooperation between the two countries over migration, the Repubblica said.
Libya has been mired in chaos since the 2011 uprising that toppled and later killed longt-time dictator Moamer Kadhafi.
The Arab League on Tuesday called for the withdrawal of foreign forces in Libya and urged talks on ending the conflict in the north African country.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday Moscow welcomed contacts between its close allies India and China after a deadly border confrontation.
President Vladimir Putin has close ties with both Chinese President Xi Jinping and Indian premier Narendra Modi, who has talked of a “special chemistry” with the Russian strongman.
Lavrov said at a press conference that “it’s already been announced that military representatives of India and China have been in contact, they are discussing the situation, discussing measures for its de-escalation. We welcome that.”
China and India have traded blame for Monday’s high-altitude brawl that left at least 20 Indian soldiers dead, with China refusing to confirm so far whether there were any casualties on its side.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists: “Both China and India are very close partners for us, allies.”
“We are paying close attention to what is happening on the China-India border,” he said, calling reports on the clashes “very concerning.”
He said that Russia nonetheless believes China and India “are capable by themselves of taking steps so that such situations do not happen again… and so that this region is safe for the peoples of China and India.”
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman appointed a new foreign minister on Wednesday, according to a royal decree issued less than a year after his predecessor took office.
Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud, who has been serving as ambassador to Germany, will replace Ibrahim al-Assaf, the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) cited the decree as saying.
Assaf will be demoted to minister of state, the SPA reported, having replaced Adel al-Jubeir in December 2018, two months after the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
Assaf had been detained in 2017 in an anti-corruption sweep.
Saudi officials say he was released after being cleared of any wrongdoing, and he subsequently led a government delegation to the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year.
Saud will take office as the kingdom continues to deal with the aftermath of Khashoggi’s killing, widely seen as the kingdom’s worst diplomatic crisis since the September 11 attacks, in which most of the hijackers were identified as Saudi nationals.
The 45-year-old new foreign minister served as a key advisor at the Saudi embassy in Washington during the time of Khashoggi’s murder in October.
Farhan has “strong ties with ‘the West'”, tweeted Cinzia Bianco, a Middle East analyst at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
“He is dynamic and proactive. The ministry will likely be different than what we saw with Adel al-Jubeir and Ibrahim al-Assaf.”
She told AFP on Wednesday that Farhan “has really strong ties with traditional Saudi allies, US and even a more European outlook than would be traditionally the case”.
Elana DeLozier, a research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told AFP it was still not immediately clear why the replacements took place.
“Al-Jubeir, the foreign minister previously, is still rather present in the foreign policy scene,” she said.
“In fact, he has remained more prominent in the media than Assaf.”
Saudi King Salman also replaced the transport minister, Nabil al-Amoudi, with Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser on Wednesday.
This comes after 35 foreigners were killed when a bus collided with another heavy vehicle near the Islamic holy city of Medina last week.
Transporting worshippers around the holy sites, particularly during the hajj, is a huge challenge for Saudi Arabia.
During the pilgrimage, the roads can be chaotic with thousands of buses creating interminable traffic jams.
The kingdom has also been navigating a spike in tensions with its regional arch-rival Iran, with attacks on Saudi oil facilities last month that temporarily halved the kingdom’s crude output and sent prices soaring.
Yemen’s Iran-backed Huthi rebels claimed responsibility, but US officials blamed Tehran, charging that the rebels did not have the range or sophistication to target the facilities.
Tehran has denied involvement and warned of “total war” in the event of any attack on its territory.
Earlier this month, an Iranian tanker was hit in suspected missile strikes off the coast of Saudi Arabia, sparking new fears of war.
“If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again,” Trump tweeted.
Relations between Washington and Tehran plummeted a year ago when Trump pulled out of a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with Iran and imposed tough sanctions.
Tensions have risen further this month with Washington announcing further economic measures against Tehran, before deploying a carrier group and B-52 bombers to the Gulf over unspecified Iranian “threats”.
The claim has been met with widespread scepticism outside the United States.
The Trump administration last week ordered non-essential diplomatic staff out of Iraq, citing threats from Iranian-backed Iraqi armed groups.
On Sunday a rocket was fired into the Green Zone of the Iraqi capital Baghdad, which houses government offices and embassies including the US mission. It was not immediately clear who was behind the attack.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif’s resignation on Wednesday, the government’s official website said.
“I believe your resignation is against the country’s interests and do not approve it,” Rouhani wrote in a letter to Zarif, the website said.
“I consider you, as put by the leader, to be ‘trustworthy, brave and pious’ and in the forefront of resistance against America’s all-out pressure,” he added. referring to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Zarif abruptly tendered his resignation on Instagram on Monday, seemingly over being left out of meetings with visiting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad earlier in the day, Iran’s Entekhab news agency reported.
Assad, a major recipient of Iranian aid during his country’s nearly eight-year civil war, met with both Khamenei and Rouhani on his rare foreign visit, but not with Zarif.
Rouhani praised Zarif’s “relentless efforts and endeavours” in bearing the “heavy responsibility” of the foreign affairs portfolio.
He stressed that Zarif was the point man in the conduct of Iran’s foreign policy.
“As ordered several times, all bodies — including government or state bodies — must be in full coordination with this ministry with regards to foreign relations,” the president said in his letter.
Entekhab said it tried to reach Zarif after Assad’s visit and received the following message: “After the photos of today’s meetings, Javad Zarif no longer has any credibility in the world as the foreign minister!”