U.S Secretary Of States, Tillerson Expected In Abuja Today

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks to survivors at the 1998 U.S. embassy bombing memorial site in Nairobi on March 11, 2018.
JONATHAN ERNST / POOL / AFP

The United States Secretary of States, Rex Tillerson, is expected to visit President Muhammadu Buhari, today at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, the nation’s capital.

The visit comes amidst speculation of the United States strengthening bilateral relations in Africa, with the commander of US Forces in Africa LT General Thomas Waldhauser recently affirming a need for Washington to retain its influence in the continent, and ensure that Africa sees the United States as a steadfast partner.

Mr Tillerson who was on his first African tour as Washington’s top diplomat, cancelled his programme in Kenya on Saturday because he was feeling unwell.”The secretary is not feeling well after a long couple days working on major issues back home such as North Korea and has cancelled his events for the day,” said a brief statement from Undersecretary of State Steve Goldstein. He later said that Tillerson was “feeling better and will resume his normal schedule tomorrow (Sunday)”.

The announcement came little more than 24 hours after US President Donald Trump stunned the world by accepting an invitation to meet North Korea’s Kim Jong Un before the end of May.

The audacious diplomatic gambit, which was taken before consulting key confidantes including Tillerson — who was in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa at the time — left aides scrambling to catch up.Just hours before the summit announcement Thursday, Tillerson had said Washington was “a long way” from talking directly to North Korea as he kicked off his five-nation Africa tour.

The US diplomat, who arrived in Nairobi on Friday, had been due to visit AIDS relief programme PEPFAR on Saturday and attend a ceremony marking 20 years since Al-Qaeda bombed the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, killing 224 people.

Tillerson is due to travel to Chad on Monday then on to Nigeria later in the day.

Africa, United States Move On From ‘Shithole’ Remarks As Tillerson Starts Tour

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) waits for the start of a news conference with African Union (AU) Commission Chairman Moussa Faki (R), of Chad following their meeting on March 8, 2018 at the AU headquarters in Addis Ababa. 
JONATHAN ERNST / AFP

 

Washington’s top diplomat began his first Africa tour Thursday by meeting with the African Union chief, who said the continent had moved on from a reported insult by President Donald Trump.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and AU commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat discussed security and counter-terrorism, trade and development, corruption and conflict in an hour-long meeting at the continental body’s headquarters in the Ethiopian capital.

But looming over the meeting was Trump’s alleged description of African nations as “shithole countries” in January, which forced the president to pen a letter reaffirming his commitment to the continent.

Faki, however, insisted the slur was now in the past.

“I received a letter written by President Trump to myself and I shared that with other African leaders. I believe this incident is of the past,” he said.

Tillerson’s five-nation Africa tour — to include Djibouti, Kenya, Chad and Nigeria, all key allies in fighting Islamic extremism — has been described as a “listening tour”, with no deals or initiatives due to be announced.

“The purpose of my trip is to listen to what the priorities of the countries here on the continent are and see where there is good alignment,” said Tillerson.

The diplomat met Ethiopia’s Foreign Minister Workneh Gebeyehu as well as Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who resigned earlier this month amid a political crisis in Africa’s fastest growing economy.

Tillerson urged Ethiopia to move on from a state of emergency “as quickly as possible” and called for citizens in the tightly-run country to be given “greater freedoms”.

Focus on security 

Analysts highlight the choice of countries visited by Tillerson as a sign of the United States’ focus on security issues on the continent.

Chad, Kenya and Nigeria are all battling Islamic extremism, with help from the United States, while Djibouti hosts the only permanent US military base on the continent.

Tillerson and Faki discussed continued US support to African counter-terrorism forces in the Sahel and Somalia but no new concrete commitments were given.

“We have not yet won that battle in Somalia and we must stay at it,” Tillerson said.

His visit is also a bid to counter the mounting perception that the continent is a low priority for the Trump administration, with US-Africa policy ill-defined and key ambassadorial and State Department posts unfilled.

Tillerson’s department, meanwhile, submitted a 2019 budget request that would cut US health programs in Africa by a fifth and diplomatic programs by more than a third.

However he said his visit was “an indication of the importance the continent plays in the future of the US, both in security and from the economic standpoint.”

Also looming over the journey is the rise of China as an economic and diplomatic power to rival the West.

Tillerson warned against blind acceptance of booming Chinese investment in Africa.

He said the US was “not in any way attempting to keep Chinese investment dollars out of Africa” but urged governments to “carefully consider the terms of those investments” so they do “not forfeit any elements of your sovereignty”.

He also solicited African support in pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.

Tillerson said the US was “a long way from negotiations” with North Korea, which this week made a shock offer to discuss denuclearisation in return for security guarantees.

Lavrov meeting? 

Tillerson’s trip to Ethiopia is scheduled to briefly overlap with a visit by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who said he had requested a meeting. Washington denied receiving an invitation to talks.

“We sent proposals to the Americans and they said they will think about that but later. As you know, they announced that there will be no meeting and that no discussions (about it) have taken place at all,” Lavrov said in Zimbabwe.

Tillerson, in Addis Ababa, called the idea that he had rejected a meeting with Lavrov “silly.”

“If it doesn’t work out here, he and I see each other often around the world and we have each other’s telephone numbers and we do use them.”

Tillerson heads to Djibouti and Kenya on Friday.

AFP

United States Far From Negotiations With North Korea, Says Tillerson

U.S. Announces $533m Humanitarian Aid For Nigeria, Others
United States Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks about the US relationship with Africa and his upcoming trip to the continent at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, on March 6, 2018. SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

Washington’s top diplomat Rex Tillerson said Thursday the United States was “a long way from negotiations” with North Korea, which this week made a shock offer to discuss denuclearisation.

Tillerson, who is in Ethiopia on his first-ever Africa tour, said the signals from Pyongyang may be positive but stressed negotiations with Kim Jong Un’s regime were not going to happen soon.

“I think as President Trump has indicated, (there are) potentially positive signals coming from North Korea by way of their intra-Korean dialogue with South Korea,” he told journalists.

But “in terms of direct talks… we’re a long way from negotiations, we just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it,” he said.

He said a first step would be “talks about talks” to see if “conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations.”

Details are still sketchy, but South Korea announced Tuesday that the North had stated there was “no reason” to hold on to its nuclear weapons “if military threats towards the North are cleared and the security of its regime is guaranteed”.

The North is open to “frank” talks with the United States on denuclearisation and would suspend missile and nuclear tests while dialogue was under way, the South’s national security adviser Chung Eui-yong said after returning from a meeting in Pyongyang with Kim.

President Donald Trump welcomed the offer as “very positive”.

However his Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told Congress he was “quite skeptical” and Vice President Mike Pence said the US position towards North Korea would not change “until we see credible, verifiable, and concrete steps toward denuclearisation.”

China on Thursday urged the United States and North Korea to start negotiations as soon as possible, while Japan has warned it could be a ploy to play for time, and urged “concrete” steps from Pyongyang.

AFP

Tillerson Heads To Africa For Talks With Buhari, Other Leaders

U.S. Announces $533m Humanitarian Aid For Nigeria, Others
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks about the US relationship with Africa and his upcoming trip to the continent at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia, on March 6, 2018. SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

Washington’s top diplomat set off for Africa on Tuesday to tour countries that form a new theater for competition with America’s ambitious great power rival China.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Chad and Nigeria will take him to new battlefields in the United States’ long war against Islamist extremism.

But looming over the journey will be a different and arguably more important long-term challenge — the rise of China as an economic and diplomatic power to rival the West.

In a low-key speech to the George Mason University in Virginia before setting off, Tillerson insisted on the importance of Africa to America’s interests.

“Our country’s security and economic prosperity are linked with Africa’s like never before,” he said, noting the continent’s rapid population increase and growing economies.

But he spoke mainly in generalities, and State Department officials played down the idea that the exploratory trip will produce any “deliverables.”

Critics, meanwhile, stressed that recent US engagement with the continent has been led by the Pentagon and focused too narrowly on ongoing counterterrorism battles.

And they noted that Tillerson’s own plan to slash the State Department budget for diplomacy and aid by 30 percent leaves him ill-prepared to match China’s targeted investment.

Just as he had done before leaving for Latin America last month, Tillerson warned African countries that Chinese interest in their economies is not disinterested.

While America, he argued, seeks to build partnerships with African countries “by incentivizing good governance”, China’s approach “encourages dependency.”

He accused Beijing of entrapping African governments with “opaque contracts, predatory loan practices, and corrupt deals that mire nations in debt.”

‘Three Ds’ 

US officials want to meet their Chinese counterparts to coordinate assistance to and investment in Africa, in particular, to use its infrastructure building expertise.

But China is already heavily involved in Africa and, for all its wealth, America is losing ground.

US exports to Africa fell last year to just under $22 billion, down from $38 billion in 2012, when Washington had a slight trade surplus with the continent.

In 2016, Chinese exports to Africa were more than $80 billion and imports from Africa less than half that.

Xi Jinping’s government plans to give $60 billion in loans and export credits to African countries before 2020 and Chinese loans already far outstrip those of the World Bank.

And, while America’s military commitment to wars in various African hot spots remains impressive, China recently opened its first overseas naval base in Djibouti.

Tillerson’s department, meanwhile, submitted a 2019 budget request that would cut US health programs in Africa by a fifth and diplomatic program by more than a third.

The US military, whose already huge budget is set to balloon still further, is already complaining that the US civilian commitment to Africa is lagging behind the competition.

General Thomas Waldhauser, head of US Africa Command, told US lawmakers on Tuesday that Washington “will never outspend the Chinese on the African continent.”

The United States and French military bases in Djibouti preceded the Chinese one, but Beijing’s presence in the country is unmistakable and welcomed by locals, he said.

“The Chinese are building facilities, they are building a shopping mall, they built a soccer stadium, they have built the infrastructure for communications,” he said.

He noted that China had brought a hospital ship off Djibouti to provide basic care for local people and argued that the US could get a lot of mileage from doing “small things.”

“We may not keep pace with the Chinese in terms of what they are doing, but at least our influence and our involvement there will not go away,” he said.

There will be strong positive symbolism on the trip. Tillerson’s visit to Chad — a key US military partner — will be the first by a sitting secretary of state.

But two negative symbols also stand out.

Tillerson has yet to appoint an assistant secretary of state for African affairs and eight US embassies in Africa have no ambassadors, including key players South Africa and Egypt.

And President Donald Trump caused upset on the continent when he reportedly referred to African countries as “shitholes” from which the US ought not to accept immigrants.

So, as Africa growth expert Brahima Coulibaly, a senior fellow of the Brookings Institution, argues, of the “three Ds” of engagement — defense, development and diplomacy — only one is properly resourced.

Tillerson arrives in Ethiopia on Wednesday and returns to Washington on March 13.

AFP

Tillerson Heads To Ankara To Ease Turkey Tensions

Under Fire Tillerson Denies Rift With Trump
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walks to a podium before making a statement at the State Department in Washington, DC. WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrives in Turkey on Thursday seeking to ease tensions with its NATO ally that have reached fresh heights over Ankara’s ongoing operation inside Syria.

During his two-day trip to the Turkish capital, Tillerson — who last visited in July 2017 — will hold talks with Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Turkey’s operation against a Kurdish militia in Syria has added a potentially insurmountable new problem to the litany of issues clouding the relationship between Washington and Ankara.

Analysts said the level of tension was similar to 2003 when Turkey refused to let US troops operate from its territory for the Iraq war, or even the aftermath of Ankara’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974.

Turkey’s operation against the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara blacklists as a terror group, has seen troops fighting a militia which is closely allied with the US in the battle against jihadists.

And Erdogan has further upped the ante by warning US troops to steer clear of Manbij, a YPG-held town east of Afrin where the main operation is happening, raising fears of a clash.

“We are going to go to Manbij and if they are there, it’s too bad for them,” a senior Turkish official told AFP.

When a US commander told the New York Times it would respond “aggressively” to any attack by Turkey, Erdogan didn’t mince his words.

“It’s very clear that those who make such remarks have never experienced an Ottoman slap,” he said, using the term for a backhander which, according to legend, could kill an opponent in one stroke.

Weakening anti-IS efforts

For Ankara, the YPG is linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is blacklisted as a terror outfit by the US and the EU.

But for Washington, the YPG is an ally.

On Tuesday, Tillerson said Turkey’s operation “detracted” from the fight against Islamic State jihadists, saying Kurdish fighters had been “diverted” from where they were really needed in order to fight in Afrin.

Former State Department official Amanda Sloat told AFP Washington did not appear to have “developed a clear way forward on Syria nor determined how its plans address Turkish security concerns”.

And if Ankara expected any clarity from US officials on the way forward in Syria, it would be “disappointed”, said Sloat, now a senior fellow at the US-based Brookings Institution.

Speaking ahead of the visit, a senior State Department official said “eyes had to be on” the defeat of IS.

“It’s complicated enough. Let’s not make it more so.”

But Cavusoglu warned Washington that ties were at a “critical point” where relations would “be fixed or… completely damaged.”

Ties were damaged after the failed coup of 2016 with Turkey stung by a perceived lack of US solidarity and angered by its intransigence over the extradition of Fethullah Gulen, a Pennsylvania-based cleric blamed for ordering the putsch.

There is still no US ambassador to Turkey after the departure of John Bass last year, and it was only in December that the two sides ended a row following tit-for-tat suspensions of visa services.

 ‘Inflaming public anger’ 

Last month, Ankara reacted furiously to the conviction in New York of Turkish banker Mehmet Hakan Atilla on charges of violating sanctions against Iran.

And Washington has expressed concern that several of its citizens, as well as Turkish employees of US missions, have been caught up in the post-coup crackdown.

Last week, NASA scientist Serkan Golge, a dual national, was jailed for seven-and-a-half years for being a member of Gulen’s movement, with the State Department saying he had been convicted “without credible evidence”.

Another case is that of US pastor Andrew Brunson, who ran a church in Izmir, who has been held on similar charges since October 2016.

Such tensions have affected the Turkish public with 83 percent holding unfavourable views of the US, a Center for American Progress (CAP) poll showed this week.

“The Turkish public has long been sceptical of the US, but Erdogan and the (ruling party) have chosen to inflame the public’s anger to score political points,” said CAP’s associate director Max Hoffman.

AFP

United States’ Envoy Tillerson Pushes Counternarcotic Effort In Americas

Under Fire Tillerson Denies Rift With Trump
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson walks to a podium before making a statement at the State Department in Washington, DC. WIN MCNAMEE / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / AFP

Washington’s top diplomat wrapped up a trip through Latin America on Tuesday buoyed by support for the US approach to Venezuela but with a warning against backsliding in the drug war.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first official foray to the region began badly last week, when his arrival in Mexico was overshadowed by President Donald Trump’s latest attack on US allies.

But as he prepared to leave Colombia on Tuesday after six days of visits to Mexico, Argentina and Peru, he had conducted what he described as positive and successful meetings with top leaders.

Latin America’s democracies support Washington’s opposition to the Venezuelan regime of Nicolas Maduro, whom they accuse of subverting the constitution to cling to power illegitimately.

And the countries Tillerson visited — whatever Trump may have said about them “laughing at” Washington while pocketing US aid — renewed their pledges of support to fight drug trafficking.

“I don’t think that President Trump is referring to Colombia, because Colombia is not laughing at the US,” President Juan Manuel Santos said at a joint news conference with Tillerson.

“There would be no supply if there’s no demand and no demand if not for supply, and Colombia does not laugh at this very important issue because it’s a matter of national security,” Santos said.

“We have lost our best leaders, journalists, judges, policemen in this war against drugs.”

Santos said no country had suffered more than Colombia during a four-decade war on drugs, which in his country also fed and was fed by civil conflict with leftist rebels.

 Cartel violence 

If Tillerson has had any more success than Trump, with his threats and harsh criticism, in winning over foreign leaders, it may be because he accepts that Washington shares responsibility.

In Colombia, he agreed with Santos that there would be no supply of drugs without the demand of the US market, and in Mexico he acknowledged that smuggled US guns fuel cartel violence.

But while he pushed for and welcomed cooperation, he also left behind a note of caution, warning that as Colombia at last emerges from civil war, its production of cocaine is soaring.

“One of the things that’s important about this relationship is that we are so close, we can speak openly and frankly about things of concern,” Tillerson said, standing alongside Santos.

“The rapid increase in cultivation was an intended consequence of the peace and — as the president has described it — now it’s now the long process of reversing those trends.”

Tillerson would not be drawn on Trump’s threat to cut aid if countries fail to halt the northward flow of drugs, but he warned “our expectation is that Colombia will make significant progress.”

The other main theme of Tillerson’s trip was the looming catastrophe in Venezuela, where Maduro is pressing ahead with plans to seek re-election under an electoral system controlled by his regime.

Earlier on Tuesday, Tillerson had met President Pedro Pablo Kuczynski of Peru, the country that helped set up the Lima Group of like-minded American allies seeking a democratic solution in Venezuela.

The country is gripped by political strife and faces economic catastrophe. More than half a million people have already fled to Colombia, increasing the pressure on its post-war recovery.

‘Illegitimate’ poll 

Tillerson thanked Peru for its leadership and offered more support in the runup to this year’s Summit of the the Americas, which Kuczynski will host in April on the theme of fighting corruption.

The US envoy received strong political backing during the trip for Washington’s tough stance on Venezuela. All the capitals he visited have vowed not to recognize Maduro’s “illegitimate” poll.

But discussion will continue on the idea of a US embargo on Venezuelan oil exports. This would heap huge pressure on the regime, but might trigger a destabilizing total economic collapse.

Tillerson for his part acknowledged that more thought would have to go on how such a measure would affect the long-suffering Venezuelan people — and also US refineries reliant on Venezuelan exports.

On Wednesday, Tillerson will stop off in Jamaica on his way back to Washington, for talks on how the Caribbean region could cope if its subsidized flow of oil from Venezuela comes to a halt.

AFP

Tillerson Backs Trump As Book Casts Mental Health Doubts

Tillerson Says Saudi Graft Purge 'Raises A Few Concerns'
US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson                                                                                                              BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP

Washington’s chief diplomat Rex Tillerson found himself obliged to defend President Donald Trump’s fitness for office Friday after a bombshell new book called into doubt his mental health.

In an extraordinary portion of a television interview on foreign policy challenges, Tillerson was asked about claims that Trump has a short attention span, regularly repeats himself and refuses to read briefing notes.

“I’ve never questioned his mental fitness. I’ve had no reason to question his mental fitness,” said Tillerson, whose office was last year forced to deny reports that he had referred to Trump as a “moron” after a national security meeting.

And, even in defending Trump, the former ExxonMobil chief executive admitted he has had to learn how to relay information to a president with a very different decision-making style.

“I have to learn how he takes information in, processes it and makes decisions,” Tillerson told CNN. “I’m here to serve his presidency. So I’ve had to spend a lot of time understanding how to best communicate with him.”

But Tillerson emphasized the right decisions had been made and that the United States is in a stronger place internationally thanks to Trump’s policies.

 ‘Not a typical president’

“He is not a typical president of the past, I think that’s well recognized — that’s also why the American people chose him,” he said, insisting that he does not expect to be asked to resign in the coming year.

Tillerson was forced to mount his defense as Washington devoured a new supposed tell-all — Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” — rushed into bookstores after the White House failed to suppress it.

The book quickly sold out in shops in the US capital, with some people even lining up at midnight to get their hands on it and others circulating pirated copies. Trump has decried the instant best-seller as “phony” and “full of lies.”

Journalist Wolff, no stranger to controversy, quotes several key Trump aides expressing doubt about Trump’s ability to lead the world’s largest economy and military hegemon.

“Let me put a marker in the sand here. One hundred percent of the people around him” question Trump’s fitness for office, Wolff told NBC’s “Today” show.

“They all say he is like a child. And what they mean by that is he has a need for immediate gratification. It’s all about him.”

The 71-year-old Republican president, approaching the first anniversary of his inauguration, has responded to the book with fury.

 Criticism from aides 

“I authorized Zero access to White House (actually turned him down many times) for author of phony book! I never spoke to him for book. Full of lies, misrepresentations and sources that don’t exist,” Trump tweeted Thursday.

But Wolff countered: “I absolutely spoke to the president. Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don’t know, but it certainly was not off the record.”

The book includes extensive quotes from Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, and its publication sparked a very public break between the former allies.

Bannon is quoted accusing Trump’s eldest son Don Jr of “treasonous” contacts with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, and saying the president’s daughter Ivanka, who imagines running for president one day, is “dumb as a brick.”

But it is Trump himself who is cast in the most unfavorable light.

Late Friday Trump fired another bitter tweet, calling Wolff “a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book.”

“He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”

The book claims that for Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and former White House chief of staff Reince Priebus, the president was an “idiot.” For chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, he was “dumb as shit.” And for National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, he was a “dope.”

The publication came as it emerged that at least a dozen members of the US Congress were briefed last month by a Yale University professor of psychiatry on Trump’s mental health.

“Lawmakers were saying they have been very concerned about this, the president’s dangerousness, the dangers that his mental instability poses on the nation,” Bandy Lee, a doctor, told CNN.

‘Minute-by-minute’ 

The White House issued a scorched-earth dismissal of “Fire and Fury” along with its author and his sources, with Press Secretary Sarah Sanders calling it “complete fantasy.”

First lady Melania Trump’s spokeswoman, Stephanie Grisham, told CNN that it is “a work of fiction. It is a long-form tabloid that peddles false statements and total fabrications.”

Behind the scenes, though, Trump has been enraged by the betrayal by Bannon — a man who engineered the New York real estate mogul’s link to the nationalist far right and helped create a pro-Trump media ecosystem.

Sanders suggested that Bannon’s employer, Breitbart News, should consider firing him.

He wasn’t fired, but Bannon’s main financial backer is formally cutting ties with him, The Washington Post reported.

Bannon, who left the White House in August, is also quoted in the book as saying that the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into Russian interference in the 2016 election — and possible collusion by the Trump campaign — will focus on money laundering.

Wolff confidently defended himself against attacks on his credibility, which have included threats from Trump’s lawyers of a libel suit.

“My credibility is being questioned by a man who has less credibility than, perhaps, anyone who has ever walked on earth at this point,” Wolff said.

“I spoke to people who spoke to the president on a daily, sometimes minute-by-minute basis,” he added.

“I am certainly absolutely in every way comfortable with everything I’ve reported in this book.”

AFP

Lavrov, Tillerson Discuss Need For Urgent North Korea Negotiations – Moscow

This photo taken on October 7, 2017, and released on October 8, 2017, by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un attending the Second Plenum of the 7th Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in Pyongyang.
STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Tuesday discussed North Korea’s nuclear programme with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, stressing the need to start a negotiations process.

“The sides were united in the opinion that nuclear missile projects in North Korea violate the demands of the UN Security Council,” the Russian foreign ministry said after the two men spoke by telephone.

 

Lavrov “once again highlighted that it is unacceptable to exacerbate tensions around the Korean peninsula with Washington’s aggressive rhetoric toward Pyongyang and increasing military preparations in the region,” it said.

“It was underlined that it is necessary to move from the language of sanctions to the negotiating process as soon as possible,” the statement said, adding that it was Tillerson who initiated the call.

The UN Security Council on Friday slapped new sanctions on North Korea that will restrict oil supplies vital for its missile and nuclear programmes, the latest response to Pyongyang’s ICBM test last month.

US President Donald Trump has threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if it attacks the United States, while North Korea insists the world must now accept that it is a nuclear power.

Pyongyang has slammed the UN sanctions as an “act of war”.

Moscow has called for talks between North Korea and the United States, warning of a “risk of uncontrolled escalation”. Russia has also criticised Washington’s military drills with South Korea saying it provokes Pyongyang.

AFP

N.Korea Must ‘Earn Its Way Back To Table,’ Tillerson Tells UN

Tillerson Says Saudi Graft Purge 'Raises A Few Concerns'
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP

North Korea must “earn its way back” to the negotiating table, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the UN Security Council on Friday, backtracking on an earlier offer of unconditional talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.

Tillerson said a “sustained cessation of North Korea’s threatening behavior must occur before talks can begin,” though he insisted the lines of communication remain open.

Earlier this week, Tillerson set off speculation that Washington was seeking a diplomatic opening for negotiations with North Korea when he offered to hold “talks with no preconditions.”

The White House however said there was no change in US policy and Tillerson did not repeat the offer at the council meeting.

“North Korea must earn its way back to the table,” he said. “The pressure campaign must and will continue until denuclearization is achieved.”

“We will, in the meantime, keep our channels of communication open.”

Tillerson repeated that “we do not seek, nor do we want, war with North Korea.”

“The United States will use all necessary measures to defend itself against North Korean aggression, but our hope remains that diplomacy will produce a resolution.”

– ‘China is helping, Russia is not helping’ –

North Korea’s UN ambassador Ja Song-Nam made a rare appearance at the council meeting chaired by Japan, which announced new targeted sanctions on Chinese entities, among others.

Singling out China, Pyongyang’s sole ally, and Russia, Tillerson urged Beijing and Moscow to take unilateral steps that go beyond the current tough UN sanctions resolutions.

“Continuing to allow North Korean laborers to toil in slave-like conditions inside Russia in exchange for wages used to fund nuclear weapons programs calls into question Russia’s dedication as a partner for peace,” he said.

The United States has called on China to cut off oil supplies to North Korea, a move that would deal a crippling blow to its economy.

In Washington, US President Donald Trump criticized Russia for not doing enough to pressure North Korea to change course.

“China is helping. Russia is not helping. We would like to have Russia’s help,” said Trump, who discussed North Korea by phone with President Vladimir Putin on Thursday.

– Avoiding catastrophe –

Pyongyang has carried out its sixth nuclear test and conducted a series of missile launches including its first tests of two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) this year.

In his address to the Security Council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged diplomatic engagement with North Korea and said the United Nations could play a role to promote contacts.

“We must do everything we can to reach that objective — and avoid a level of danger that would be unpredictable in its trajectory and catastrophic in its consequences,” said Guterres.

The UN’s political affairs chief, Jeffrey Feltman, returned at the weekend from talks in Pyongyang — the first visit to the North by a high-ranking UN official since 2011.

While Feltman received no firm commitment from North Korea to open talks, he has said the visit is “just the beginning” of his push for “talks about talks.”

Since late 2016, the council has slapped three rounds of sanctions aimed at choking off revenue to Pyongyang’s weapons program, which the United Nations has described as the most dangerous security issue in the world today.

China and Russia argue that sanctions alone will not compel North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un to change course and want to step up diplomatic efforts to achieve a solution.

Tillerson appeared to dismiss concerns that UN sanctions are having an impact on North Korea’s humanitarian crisis, saying Pyongyang “hypocritically spends billions” on its military programs “while its own people suffer great poverty.”

In Tokyo, the government said it had added 19 more entities to its sanctions blacklists including seven from China, one from Singapore and two from Namibia.

“The international community must continue to coordinate and apply pressure until North Korea changes its policies and seeks negotiations,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said.

AFP

Jerusalem: Trump ‘Very Committed’ To Middle East Peace Process – Tillerson

Tillerson Says Saudi Graft Purge 'Raises A Few Concerns'
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP

President Donald Trump is “very committed” to the Middle East peace process, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Wednesday amid global alarm at a US plan to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Tillerson said the US believes “there is a very good opportunity for peace to be achieved” between Israel and the Palestinians, despite international outcry at Trump’s expected announcement on Jerusalem.

AFP

Tillerson ‘Continues To Lead The State Department’ – White House

The White House responded to speculation about Rex Tillerson’s imminent departure as Secretary of State Thursday, saying he was still in the job and “there are no personnel announcements at this time.”

“Secretary Tillerson continues to lead the State Department and the entire cabinet is focused on completing this incredibly successful first year of President Trump’s administration,” press secretary Sarah Sanders added in a statement.

AFP

Trump Fuels Tillerson Firing Speculation

Tillerson Says Saudi Graft Purge 'Raises A Few Concerns'
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP

US President Donald Trump on Thursday passed up an opportunity to publicly back his embattled Secretary of State, fueling rumors that Rex Tillerson may be on his way out the door.

Asked if he wants Tillerson to remain in his post, Trump said only that “Rex is here” at the White House, a break from the usual expression of confidence in such a circumstances.

A senior White House official did not deny reports that Tillerson would be replaced by CIA director Mike Pompeo — a rumor that has been circulating for weeks but which was firmly reported by the New York Times and other US media earlier Thursday.

The newspaper quoted unnamed senior administration officials as saying Trump had soured on Tillerson and was ready for a change at the State Department, probably around the end of the year.

The two men have aired striking differences in public. Trump surprised many observers when he tweeted that Tillerson was “wasting his time” pursuing contacts with North Korea, and Tillerson was quoted as having said that the president was a “moron.”

The former ExxonMobil executive has also defended the Iran nuclear deal, which Trump last month disavowed.

It was not clear Thursday whether the president had given final approval to the reported cabinet changes.

The White House did not immediately respond to an AFP request for official comment.

Under the purported plan, Pompeo would be replaced at the CIA by Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and a hawk on Iran and an important Trump ally on national security issues.

A Cotton aide told AFP that “Senator Cotton’s focus is on serving Arkansans in the Senate.”

His departure would leave Republicans with another seat to defend, at a time when their Senate majority already in question.

Cotton won his seat easily in 2014, and is tipped as a future presidential contender, but Trump’s unpopularity means Republicans can no longer assume victory in even deep red states.

AFP