Pompeo Urges Palestinians To Rejoin Peace Talks

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during press conference in Amman on April 30, 2018. STRINGER / AFP


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wound up a three-day Middle East trip Monday without having met any Palestinian but nevertheless urged their leadership to rejoin the peace process.

Washington’s newly appointed top diplomat received a warm reception in Riyadh, Tel Aviv and Amman, focusing his talks on Iranian interference in the region — despite the tensions once against rising between Israel and the Palestinians.

Forty-five Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire on the Gaza border since the start of protests that organisers have dubbed the Great March of Return on March 30, with more than 1,500 wounded.

But Pompeo, who met Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at his military headquarters on Sunday, refused to criticise the use of deadly force, saying: “We do believe the Israelis have a right to defend themselves and we’re fully supportive of that.”

Pompeo was speaking in Amman, capital of Israel’s neighbour Jordan on the last day of his first diplomatic mission since he was sworn into office on Thursday and immediately set off for a NATO ministerial meeting in Brussels.

Before taking questions, he met Jordan’s Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, who said that Jordan believes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is “the main cause of instability in the region” that a two-state solution is the “only path” to peace.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has not ruled out the creation of a Palestinian state at some point in the future but has emphasised that it will not impose such an outcome on its ally Israel.

Trump’s decision to recognise the divided city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plan to move the US embassy there next month outraged the Palestinians, who are boycotting contacts with top US officials.

This has called into question the utility of a US peace plan being drawn up by the White House under the leadership of Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, which even US officials privately admit is far from ready.

Nevertheless, Pompeo placed the onus on the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table.

“The parties will ultimately make the decision about what the right resolution is,” he said.

“We’re certainly open to a two-party solution as a likely outcome. We certainly believe that the Israelis and the Palestinians need to have political engagement,” he added.

“We urge the Palestinians to return to that political dialogue.”

Asked whether he agreed with his host Safadi that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the most important threat to the stability of the region, Pompeo declined to rank it but described it as an “incredible priority”.


North Korea Denies United States’ Sanctions Prompted Peace Talks

FILE PHOTO North Korea’s President, Kim Jong Un with delegation from South Korea on peace talks over moves for denuclearisation.


North Korea has broken its silence on the diplomatic thaw with Washington and Seoul, saying it is driving the “peace offensive” and rejecting suggestions that sanctions forced it to the negotiating table.

The commentary from the state-run KCNA news agency came with a rapid rapprochement on the Korean peninsula underway, after a period of heightened tensions stoked by a missile and nuclear tests.

In order to prepare an inter-Korean summit scheduled for late April, South Korea on Wednesday proposed holding high-level talks with the North next week to discuss details including the summit’s dates and agenda.

But as diplomats scurry to arrange the North-South talks — and a mooted face-to-face meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un — the North’s silence had raised concerns over its intentions.

The KCNA commentary late Tuesday did not directly mention the summits but noted the “dramatic atmosphere for reconciliation” with the South and “a sign of change” with the US.

It said Pyongyang’s overtures came from a position of strength, not from weakness, even as it confronts intense international pressure as well as biting economic sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme.

“The dialogue peace offensive of the DPRK is an expression of self-confidence as it has acquired everything it desires,” it said, using the North’s official name.

It also slammed hawks in Washington, Seoul and Tokyo for questioning the sincerity and motivation behind the North’s willingness to step back from the brink.

“Such rubbish as ‘result of sanctions and pressure’… spread by hostile forces is just as meaningless as a dog barking at the moon,” it said, urging “prudence” for all parties involved.

“It is really an expression of small-mindedness for the riff-raffs to spoil the atmosphere and say this or that even before the parties concerned are given a chance to study the inner thoughts of the other side and are seated at a negotiating table,” it said in typically colourful language.

 ‘Carefully watching’ 

Since floating the idea for a summit with the US, “the North has been carefully watching how the situation is developing, including the US-South Korea joint military drills, before making it public to the people”, Professor Kim Yong-Hyun at Dongguk University told AFP.

The South and the US announced Tuesday a plan to resume annual joint military exercises on April 1, with its main drill shortened by a month — in an apparent conciliatory gesture over an event that infuriates the North.

Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies said the North also needs time to prepare its people for a drastic policy turnaround toward the United States.

“The North won’t confirm the two summits until dates and venues are fixed and it needs to educate its people through party cells slowly for a policy U-turn”, Yang said.

The North’s state media has not reported any public activities by Kim since March 6, when it said he held talks with South Korean envoys.

Kim learned of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s intention for an inter-Korean summit from the envoys, exchanged views and made a “satisfactory agreement,” the North’s KCNA said at that time.

Trump’s announcement earlier this month that he was willing to meet with the North’s young leader — after an invitation conveyed by envoys from the South — has triggered a flurry of diplomatic activity.

The North’s foreign minister Ri Yong Ho met his counterpart from Sweden, which represents Washington’s interests in North Korea, in Stockholm over the weekend, with reports saying they discussed the release of three Americans detained in the North.

Choe Kang Il, a senior Pyongyang diplomat handling ties with the US, is currently in Finland for discussions with the retired former US ambassador to Seoul, Kathleen Stephens.

Moon on Wednesday said a three-way summit including the two Koreas and the US could be possible, depending on the outcomes of the inter-Korean and US-North Korean summits.

“We must completely resolve the issues of denuclearising the Korean Peninsula and establishing peace”, he said.

The South proposed sending a three-member delegation including chief delegate, Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, to the border truce village of Panmunjom for talks Thursday next week to pave the way for the inter-Korean summit, the presidential Blue House said.


Middle East Peace Talks To Begin In Paris

Peace Talks, Middle EastDespite the floods in Europe, a French-led conference aimed at reviving the Israeli-Palestinian peace process is to begin in Paris later.

It will bring together officials from the Middle East quartet, the UN, Arab League and other countries – but Israel and the Palestinians will not participate.

Israel has rejected the meeting and called for direct negotiations.

The last round of talks between Israel and the Palestinians came to an end amid acrimony in April 2014.

The Palestinians accused Israel of reneging on a deal to free prisoners, while Israel said it would not continue negotiations after the Palestinians decided to bring the Islamist Hamas movement into a unity government.

Meanwhile, meteorologists in France are predicting that France will experience its most severe floods in decade on Friday, with the River Seine due to reach 19 feet above its normal level.

Flooding across France and Germany has left at least 11 people dead and forced thousands from their homes.

More downpours are also forecast through the weekend across a band of central Europe from France to Ukraine

Assad tells UN envoy peace talks can succeed only if aid to rebels stops

Syria’s President, Bashar al-Assad, has stressed that talks to end the civil war would only succeed if foreign powers end support for rebels fighting to overthrow him.

Assad told UN envoy, Lakhdar Brahimi, on Wednesday that “the success of any political solution is tied to stopping support for terrorist groups and pressuring their patron states.”

Brahimi is in Damascus to meet Syrian officials in an effort to shore up support for the faltering peace talks.

Assad’s government calls the armed opposition terrorists.

The “Geneva 2” talks, tentatively planned for November 23, aim to start a political process to end the civil war in which more than 100,000 people have been killed.

Brahimi has angered the opposition by saying that Iran, Assad’s main backer during the war, should attend Geneva. The rebels and political opposition say that any negotiations should be based on Assad’s removal.

Assad and Iran, however, have said they will only go to talks that set no preconditions. Assad said that “only the Syrian people are authorized to shape the future of Syria.”

The Iranian ambassador to Syria, Mohammad Riza Shebani, told reporters in Damascus on Wednesday that Iran was ready to attend the Geneva meeting.

“Of course, everyone knows Iran’s efforts to help a political solution to the Syrian crisis. Iran’s absence from this meeting does not benefit the meeting,” he said.

The Syrian conflict began in early 2011 as a peaceful protest movement against four decades of Assad family rule, but has degenerated into a sectarian civil war and forced millions to flee from Syria to neighbouring countries.


Colombian President Hints At Re-election In 2014

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos hinted that he will be vying for the first citizen’s position come 2014, citing continuity of his policies and bringing to conclusion peace talks with Marxist FARC rebels as reasons.

Though the Colombian President did not explicitly announce his candidacy< Mr. Santos also informed that Colombian housing minister German Vargas Lleras, who led the free housing programme has resigned from the cabinet and will run a foundation that helped steer the president’s campaign win in 2010.

Vargas Lleras, who ran against Santos in 2010, is now considered a Santos ally, and his probable heir. No replacement for Vargas Lleras was announced.

In a move popular with millions of Colombia’s poor, Santos has sought to provide cheap housing to Colombia’s most needy, offering 100,000 free homes and mortgages at rock bottom interest rates.

Last week Colombia’s agriculture minister, Juan Camilo Restrepo, also stood down ahead of the May 25 cut-off date for cabinet officials seeking to participate in next year’s presidential election.

Santos, 61, told reporters in Bogota that he would make a formal announcement on his re-election plans by the November deadline.

“But I want to be respectful of the rules of play and so I won’t take a formal decision about my future until the date required in the Law 996 of 2005, that is to say, six months before the next presidential elections,” he said.

Santos took the greatest risk of his political career last year, launching peace negotiations with the nation’s biggest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, in the hope of ending five decades of war.

Talks have dragged on for almost seven months without reaching accord on the first of a five-point agenda, putting in doubt Santos’ goal that the two sides will reach agreement this year.

Boko Haram says it has “closed all possible doors of negotiation”

Radical Islamic sect Boko Haram said on Tuesday that it has “closed all possible doors of negotiation” with the Nigerian federal government after tentative peace talks collapsed last week.

Reuters reported that a purported spokesman of the sect made the statement to local journalist in Maiduguri, the Borno state capital and Boko Haram base, two days after Dr. Ibrahim Datti Ahmad, a top mediator for the peace talks pulled out.

Ahmad’s retreat from the peace process stalled the dialogue, which was aimed at bringing an end to increasingly frequent violent attacks by the Boko Haram sect. The president of the Supreme Council of Shariah in Nigeria had said in a statement that he was opting out of the talks because he believed the federal government to be insincere.

He said sensitive information discussed during a confidential meeting with top officials of the federal government had made its way to the press, placing the group in an embarrassing situation.

“Almighty God has told us repeatedly that the unbelievers will never respect the promises they made. As such, henceforth, we will never respect any proposal for dialogue,” the sect’s spokesman, operating under the name Abu Qaqa, said in the phone interview.