US Envoy Calls For De-Escalation Of Iran Tension

Brian Hook, the US Special Representative for Iran, speaks during a press conference in Kuwait City on June 23, 2019.  Yasser Al-Zayyat / AFP

 

The US special envoy for Iran on Sunday urged “all nations to use their diplomatic effort to urge Iran to de-escalate and meet diplomacy with diplomacy” amid soaring tensions in the Gulf.

“We are not interested in… military conflict against Iran, we have enhanced our forces’ postures in the region for purely defensive purposes,” Brian Hook told journalists in Kuwait City.

READ ALSO: British PM Race: Boris Johnson Under Pressure After Police Visit

AFP

US Envoy Hails ‘Significant Progress’ In Taliban Talks

US Envoy Hails 'Significant Progress' In Taliban Talks
(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 27, 2016, former US Ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad speaks at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, DC. Brendan Smialowski / AFP

 

The US envoy negotiating with the Taliban hailed “significant progress” Saturday in finding a solution to end Afghanistan’s long-running war.

“Meetings here were more productive than they have been in the past. We made significant progress on vital issues,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, wrote on Twitter.

Khalilzad met for an unexpectedly long six days with the Taliban in Qatar. He said he was flying back to Afghanistan to discuss the talks.

“We will build on the momentum and resume talks shortly. We have a number of issues left to work out,” he tweeted.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed, and ‘everything’ must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire.”

While he did not give further details, floated proposals include a withdrawal by the United States of its troops in return for Taliban guarantees not to shelter foreign extremists — the initial reason for the US intervention.

President Donald Trump has been eager to end America’s longest war, which was launched shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks.

Trump has already said he will pull half of the 14,000 US troops from Afghanistan.

AFP

Top US Envoy Resigns After Trump’s Syria Decision

In this file photo taken on November 6, 2016, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk, speaks during a press conference in Amman. McGurk has resigned, a US State Department official said December 22, 2018. PHOTO: AHMAD ABDO / AFP

 

Brett McGurk, the US special envoy to the anti-Islamic State group coalition, has resigned, a State Department official said Saturday, capping a chaotic week that saw the departure of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Donald Trump’s stunning decision to pull troops from Syria.

McGurk’s resignation, effective December 31, comes on the heels of Mattis’s decision to quit the Trump administration over key disagreements with the US president, notably the Syria withdrawal.

Just last week McGurk, a Barack Obama appointee whom Trump kept on, said “nobody is declaring a mission accomplished” in the battle against IS — just days before the president blindsided politicians and allies with his announcement of victory against the jihadist movement.

Trump on Saturday said that the jihadist group “is largely defeated.”

“When I became President, ISIS was going wild,” the president tweeted. “Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!”

Trump later took aim at McGurk on Twitter, referring to him as a “grandstander” who was quitting just before his time was up.

McGurk, 45, was set to leave his position in February, but reportedly felt he could no longer continue in the job after Trump’s declaration and on Friday evening informed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo of his intention to wrap up at year’s end.

His conclusion mirrored that of Mattis, who was seen as a voice of moderation in the mercurial Trump White House and quit after telling the president he could not go along with the Syria decision.

McGurk has served as the US envoy to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS, an acronym for the jihadist group, since 2015.

He also served as the deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran, and worked under Republican George W. Bush as a senior official on Iraq and Afghanistan.

Discussing the US role in Syria this month, he had told journalists that “it would be reckless if we were just to say, ‘Well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now.'”

“I think anyone who’s looked at a conflict like this would agree with that.”

‘Complete reversal of policy’

McGurk called Trump’s move to leave Syria “a shock” and “a complete reversal of policy that was articulated to us,” in an email announcing his decision to colleagues that was obtained by The New York Times.

“It left our coalition partners confused and our fighting partners bewildered,” he said, according to the newspaper.

“I worked this week to help manage some of the fallout but — as many of you heard in my meetings and phone calls — I ultimately concluded that I could not carry out these new instructions and maintain my integrity.”

Just after announcing his Syria decision, Trump again confounded international partners with plans to slash troop numbers in Afghanistan.

The momentous reversal of years of US foreign policy will leave the war-torn regions at risk of continued and potentially heightened bloodshed.

In typical fashion, Trump said Saturday that the media was treating him unfairly over the Syria withdrawal decision.

“If anybody but your favorite President, Donald J. Trump, announced that, after decimating ISIS in Syria, we were going to bring our troops back home (happy & healthy), that person would be the most popular hero in America,” he tweeted.

“With me, hit hard instead by the Fake News Media. Crazy!”

The troop pullout will leave thousands of Kurdish fighters — which the Pentagon spent years training and arming against IS — vulnerable to Turkish attack.

On Saturday, a senior Kurdish official called on the United States to prevent a potential Turkish offensive against areas in northern Syria inhabited by Kurds, calling it America’s “duty to prevent any attack and to put an end to Turkish threats.”

The US has for years supported the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the fight against IS in Syria.

Aldar Khalil, a key player in establishing Syria’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region in 2013, said the US and its partners “must honor their commitments.”

Heavyweight adviser Mattis — a decorated Marine general who was often referred to as “the last adult in the room” — made clear in his resignation letter that pulling out of Syria crossed the line.

The departures of Mattis and now McGurk follow those of national security advisor H.R. McMaster and White House chief of staff John Kelly — leaving Trump, who has no political, diplomatic or military experience, increasingly alone.

Top US Envoy In Fight Against IS Group Resigns

Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition to Counter ISIL, Brett McGurk, speaks during a press conference in Amman. AHMAD ABDO / AFP

 

Brett McGurk, the special US envoy to the coalition fighting the Islamic State group, has resigned, a State Department official said Saturday.

His resignation, effective December 31, comes just after Donald Trump abruptly ordered the withdrawal of US troops from Syria as well as the announcement that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was quitting, citing key disagreements with the US president.

Just last week McGurk, a Barack Obama appointee who Trump kept on, said “nobody is declaring a mission accomplished” in the battle against IS — just days before the president’s stunning announcement of victory against the jihadist movement.

Trump — who postponed his holiday vacation as failed budget talks triggered a partial US government shutdown — again on Saturday said: “ISIS is largely defeated.”

“When I became President, ISIS was going wild,” the president tweeted. “Now ISIS is largely defeated and other local countries, including Turkey, should be able to easily take care of whatever remains. We’re coming home!”

McGurk reportedly said in his resignation letter that IS militants were in fact not defeated, and that prematurely withdrawing US troops could foster conditions allowing the jihadists to amass power in the region once more.

The 45-year-old top envoy was set to leave his position in February, but reportedly felt he could no longer continue in the job after Trump’s declaration.

The news capped a chaotic week that saw Mattis — seen as a voice of moderation in the mercurial Trump White House — quit after telling the president he could not go along with the Syria decision.

The shock troop pullout will leave thousands of Kurdish fighters — which the Pentagon spent years training and arming against IS — vulnerable to Turkish attack.

“It would be reckless if we were just to say, ‘Well, the physical caliphate is defeated, so we can just leave now,'” McGurk had told journalists earlier this month.

“I think anyone who’s looked at conflict like this would agree with that.”

AFP

State Development: US Envoy John Bray Hails Ayade’s Administration

 

United States Consul General to Nigeria, John Bray, has hailed the Cross River State Governor, Ben Ayade on the development so far in the state.

Mr Bray expressed satisfaction over the industrialisation drive of the Ben-Ayade administration within his three years in office.

He made this known during a visit to the state on Friday.

Mr Bray during his visit inspected the Cross River Garment Factory, the Rice Seeds and Seedlings Factory, the Calabar Pharmaceutical Company and the 21 megawatts power plant.

Speaking shortly after being conducted around the several industries built by the Ayade-led administration, Bray disclosed that, he was impressed seeing such development happening in a state in Nigeria.

On possible areas of collaboration between the United States and Cross River, the US Consul said it was obvious that such existed already with the American-made tractors on the ground at the rice seeds and seedlings factory as well as American engineers at the power plant.

He gave a scorecard of his achievements three years in office; Ayade maintained that all his projects are service driven as his government is about service.

South Sudan Agrees Truce After Meeting In Nairobi

East African leaders who are meeting in Nairobi have said that the government of South Sudan has agreed to an immediate end to fighting with rebels.

Welcoming the commitment from President Salva ‘s government, they urged rebel leader Riek Machar to do likewise, as fighting continued.

Mr Machar however told BBC News that conditions for a truce were not yet in place.  Although, he confirmed that two of his allies had been freed from custody, he called for the other nine to be released too.

The release of the 11 politicians, accused of plotting a coup, has been a key rebel condition for any negotiations.

Recent fighting left at least 1,000 people dead, with fierce new battles reported in the town of Malakal, in oil-rich Upper Nile State.

More than 121,600 people have fled their homes in the world’s newest state, with about 63,000 seeking refuge at UN compounds across the country, according to a statement by the United Nations.

There has been no confirmation from President Kiir’s office that he has agreed to end the hostilities in his power struggle with Mr Machar, his former vice-president, where members of Mr Kiir’s Dinka ethnic group and Mr Machar’s Nuer community have both been targeted in the violence.

East African regional leaders, who make up an eight-member bloc known as IGAD, held talks in the Kenyan capital Nairobi a day after the leaders of Kenya and Ethiopia met Mr Kiir in South Sudan’s capital, Juba.

They said they would not accept a violent overthrow of the government in South Sudan and called on the government and rebels to meet for talks within four days.

President Kiir did not attend the talks in Nairobi nor did any representative of Mr Machar.

After meeting Mr Kiir on Friday morning, US envoy Donald Booth said: “He confirmed he is moving forward to arrange a cessation of hostilities throughout the country.”

The US diplomat was also quoted by Reuters News Agency as saying Mr Kiir had agreed to release eight out of 11 politicians detained over the alleged coup plot.

“We were very encouraged to hear the president reiterate that with the exception of three… officials who have been detained… the others will be released very shortly,” Mr Booth said, according to Reuters.

Speaking to BBC World Service by satellite phone “from the bush”, Mr Machar said he was ready for talks but any ceasefire had to be negotiated by delegations from the two sides, with a mechanism agreed to monitor it.

Saying that he had the allegiance of all rebel forces in South Sudan, he called for the release of all 11 detainees.

Violence has continued through the week with conflicting reports on Friday about the situation in Malakal, capital of Upper Nile State, where some 12,000 people have been sheltering at a UN base.