Biden Faces US Voters At Town Hall, Trump Heads Back To Wisconsin

WILMINGTON, DE – SEPTEMBER 16: Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden waves as he leaves the Hotel Dupont after having internal campaign meetings on September 16, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Earlier in the day, Biden participated in a briefing with medical professionals about the coronavirus vaccine. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

White House hopeful Joe Biden on Thursday holds his first extended face-to-face with voters since winning the Democratic nomination, a town hall where he will likely savage President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

With less than seven weeks before Election Day, Biden has ramped up his public appearances after spending large chunks of time at his Delaware home, even as Trump repeatedly barnstorms swing states.

Now both candidates are hitting the physical campaign trail in earnest, although still in very different ways.

Trump returns to Wisconsin Thursday for a public rally fueled by his signature bravado — a contrast to Biden’s quieter style of connecting with blue collar and everyday voters.

Ahead of his departure, Trump railed on Twitter against the move by many states to encourage voters to mail in their ballots, thereby avoiding possible coronavirus risks in polling stations.

The shift, which is popular with Democrats, will promote “ELECTION MAYHEM,” he tweeted, claiming that the results of the November 3 vote “may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED.”

He offered no evidence for his claims, and mail-in voting, which has been regularly used in previous elections, has never been tied to any wide-scale fraud.

Biden is attempting to project a calming alternative to Trump’s fury.

At the CNN town hall, he will take questions from a live, socially distanced audience on what could be described as his home turf — Scranton, the scrappy Pennsylvania city where he was born.

But the town hall event carries risks for a candidate who has done few unscripted encounters in the last months.

The 77-year-old former vice president has largely kept close to his home in Delaware during the pandemic, which has so far killed nearly 200,000 Americans. His go-to events have been speeches, with reporters rarely able to ask questions.

He has traveled to swing states like Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania, but has dodged crowds and engages with voters only in small, controlled settings.

Trump has badgered his rival for remaining cloistered in his “basement” and declining to engage in more traditional campaign events.

Local officials briefed on the town hall plans told US media that it will take place in a stadium parking lot, and that pre-approved attendees will drive in and park near the stage.

CNN said it will adhere to Pennsylvania pandemic guidelines, which limit gatherings to less than 250 people.

– Growing animosity –

The dueling events come one day after each candidate homed in on the pandemic as a campaign issue — and offered dramatically different views of how the Trump administration has responded.

Biden delivered a scathing speech in which he said “I don’t trust Donald Trump” to provide a vaccine free from any political interference.

The Republican incumbent meanwhile insisted a vaccine could be ready this year, directly contradicting the timeline offered by a top government health official.

Trump said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, one of the most prominent experts overseeing US pandemic response, “made a mistake” and “was confused” when he testified to lawmakers Wednesday that a safe and effective vaccine would not be widely available until mid-2021.

Trump also criticized Redfield for renewing his call for Americans to wear face masks as their best defense against spreading Covid-19.

Biden routinely appears at functions wearing a mask. Trump almost never does, and he mocks Biden for doing so.

Biden’s town hall comes two days after Trump appeared in a similar setting, also in Pennsylvania — in Philadelphia.

Critics panned the president’s performance, including his insistence that he had not downplayed the coronavirus threat, even though he acknowledged doing just that in a taped interview with journalist Bob Woodward.

The animosity has ramped up between Trump and Biden ahead of their first debate, scheduled for September 29 in Ohio.

Biden has consistently led Trump in national polls.

He is also ahead in several key battlegrounds like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all states won by Trump in his shock 2016 election victory — although by dwindling margins.

AFP

Trump Faces New Sexual Assault Allegations

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a bill singing ceremony with his economic team in the Rose Garden at the White House June 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP
File photo: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House June 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP

 

 

A former model has accused US President Donald Trump of groping and forcibly kissing her in 1997 — the latest allegation made against the Republican incumbent just weeks before he seeks reelection.

Amy Dorris told Britain’s The Guardian that Trump sexually assaulted her in his VIP suite at the US Open tennis tournament in New York — claims he denied via his lawyers.

“He just shoved his tongue down my throat and I was pushing him off. And then that’s when his grip became tighter and his hands were very gropey and all over my butt, my breasts, my back, everything,” Dorris said in an interview.

“I was in his grip, and I couldn’t get out of it,” she added.

Trump has faced more than a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct, including a claim by prominent American columnist E. Jean Carroll that he raped her in a department store changing room in the mid-1990s.

But he brushed them aside in his run for the White House.

Shortly before the 2016 election, a tape recording emerged from 2005 in which he was heard boasting about how his fame allowed him to “grab” women by the genitals when he wanted.

Trump dismissed this as “locker room banter” but subsequently apologized.

Dorris was 24 at the time of the alleged incidents. Trump was 51 and married at the time to his second wife, Marla Maples.

The accuser provided The Guardian with several photos showing her in Trump’s company, and multiple people corroborated her account, saying she told them at the time.

She says she told Trump to stop but “he didn’t care.” She added: “I felt violated, obviously.”

Asked why she continued to be around Trump in subsequent days, Dorris responded: “That’s what happens when something traumatic happens — you freeze.”

But Trump’s attorneys told the newspaper that her version of events was unreliable and there would be other witnesses if she had been assaulted.

They suggested in comments to The Guardian that the allegation could be politically motivated, coming weeks before Trump faces Joe Biden in the November 3 election.

Dorris, now 48, said she decided to come forward to be a role model for her teenage twin daughters.

She first told The Guardian her story more than a year ago but asked the newspaper not to publish it.

“I’m sick of him getting away with this,” Dorris said.

AFP

US Sends Top-Level Diplomat To Taiwan, Angering China

US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on September 16, 2020, in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
File photo: US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on September 16, 2020, in Washington, DC.
MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

 

A top US diplomat will arrive in Taiwan on Thursday, the highest-ranking State Department official to visit in 40 years, in a further sign of Washington’s willingness to defy China and its campaign to isolate the self-ruled island.

Keith Krach, undersecretary of state for economic growth, energy and the environment, was heading to Taipei to attend a memorial service for late president Lee Teng-hui on Saturday, the US State Department said.

The trip, the second high-ranking US visit in as many months, sparked an immediate rebuke from China, which baulks at any recognition of Taiwan and has mounted a decades-long policy of marginalising the democratic island.

“China strongly opposes this,” foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters on Thursday, saying the trip “encourages the arrogant attitude of Taiwan independence separatist forces”.

Beijing considers Taiwan part of its territory, to be absorbed into the mainland — by force if necessary.

Relations between the United States and China are at their lowest point in decades, with the two sides clashing over a range of trade, military and security issues, as well as the coronavirus pandemic.

Washington’s increased outreach to Taiwan under US President Donald Trump has become yet another flashpoint between the two powers.

“The United States honours President Lee’s legacy by continuing our strong bonds with Taiwan and its vibrant democracy through shared political and economic values,” spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement announcing Krach’s trip.

Taiwan’s foreign ministry said Krach, accompanied by assistant secretary Robert Destro, would also discuss “how to strengthen bilateral economic cooperation” during his three-day visit.

It described him as the highest-ranking State Department official to visit Taiwan since 1979 when Washington switched diplomatic recognition to Beijing from Taipei.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will host a dinner for the US delegation on Friday.

“We look forward to more exchanges and discussions between Taiwan and the US to solidify the foundation for further collaborations, including economic cooperation, through undersecretary Krach’s visit,” her office said in a statement.

– Ambassador meeting in New York –

Beijing discourages any official exchanges with Taiwan but in recent months Washington has dramatically increased its outreach.

Last month, US cabinet member and health chief Alex Azar visited to highlight Taiwan’s widely praised efforts to stop Covid-19.

 

File photo: US Health Secretary Alex Azar waves to the journalists as he arrives at Sungshan Airport in Taipei on August 9, 2020.  Pei Chen / POOL / AFP

 

On Thursday Taiwan’s foreign ministry also confirmed a rare meeting took place the day before between James Lee, its top official in New York, and Washington’s ambassador to the UN Kelly Clark.

Beijing has ramped up diplomatic, economic and military pressure on Taiwan since the 2016 election of Tsai, who rejects its view that the island is part of “one China”.

In recent weeks, Taiwan has reported a sharp increase in incursions by Chinese jets into its air defence identification zone.

On Thursday, Taiwan’s defence ministry said two Chinese anti-submarine planes crossed the boundary a day earlier and were warned to leave.

Washington remains the leading arms supplier to the island but has historically been cautious in holding official contact with it.

Trump has embraced Taiwan more closely as a way to hit back at authoritarian Beijing, especially as he seeks re-election in November.

He has also approved some major arms sales, something his recent predecessors were more reluctant to do.

But the United States has so far not strayed from the unwritten red line on Taiwan, as it has not sent senior officials whose primary responsibilities are foreign affairs or defence.

Lee, who died in July at the age of 97, was a towering figure in Taiwan’s history, helping the once authoritarian island transition to a vibrant democracy and later angering China by pushing for it to be recognised as a sovereign country.

When news of his death broke, Chinese state media called him “the godfather of Taiwan secessionism”.

Krach, with his economic focus, will be visiting as Taiwan seeks a trade deal with the United States.

Taiwan removed a major hurdle last month by easing safety restrictions on US beef and pork — welcome news for farmers, a key constituency for Trump, as the election approaches.

AFP

US Court Sides With Trump On Deporting Immigrants

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he departs for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from the White House on July 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP
FILE PHOTO U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP

 

A US court of appeals on Monday gave the green light for the Trump administration to expel hundreds of thousands of nationals from four countries who had been granted protected status for humanitarian reasons.

In a 2-1 ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a federal court in San Fransisco had erred when it issued an injunction protecting more than 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan from being deported from the US.

President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted to these people — who have several hundred thousand American children — on the grounds that their countries which were previously wracked by unrest were now safe.

Monday’s ruling will not result in the immediate deportation of TPS holders, the American Civil Liberties Union said, as the challengers have vowed to file an appeal.

Writing for the majority, Judge Consuelo Callahan disagreed with arguments that a bid to terminate TPS was influenced by Trump’s alleged anti-immigrant bias shown through his controversial remarks, including a 2018 comment in which he referred to “shithole countries.”

“Plaintiffs fail to present even ‘serious questions’ on the merits of their claim that the Secretaries’ TPS terminations were improperly influenced by the President’s ‘animus against non-white, non-European immigrants,'” Callahan wrote, referring to US-citizen children of TPS holders who are behind the case brought before the court.

The court’s majority added that while it did not “condone the offensive and disparaging nature” of Trump’s remarks, there was no proof his “alleged racial animus was a motivating factor in the TPS decisions.”

A statement by the American Civil Liberties Union said Monday’s ruling will lead to families who have lived lawfully in the US to be torn apart and vowed to fight the decision.

“The president’s vile statements about TPS holders made perfectly clear that his administration acted out of racial animus,” Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, said in a statement. “The Constitution does not permit policy to be driven by racism.”

Yael Schacher, an immigration historian and senior advocate at Refugees International, also denounced the ruling.

“Many of those with TPS have lived in the United States for more than two decades and are serving as essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic response,” she said.

“The pain and fear caused by this decision will be felt deeply in communities across the United States, as long-time residents living with TPS are now left in limbo and face the risk of being separated from their American-born children.”

The ACLU noted that TPS holders from the countries concerned will be permitted to maintain their status until at least February, and those from El Salvador until at least November.

AFP

US Eases China Travel Warning, Citing Virus Progress

File photo: US President Donald Trump (L) and China’s President Xi Jinping leave a business leaders event at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on November 9, 2017. NICOLAS ASFOURI/AFP/Getty Images)

 

The United States on Monday eased its warning against travel to China, acknowledging that the nation had made progress against Covid-19 despite frequent US criticism of its pandemic role.

The State Department still urges Americans to reconsider travel to China, but it upgraded its advice from a blanket warning not to go to the country.

The People’s Republic of China “has resumed most business operations (including day cares and schools),” the State Department said.

“Other improved conditions have been reported within the PRC,” it said.

The State Department separately still cautioned US citizens about the risk of arbitrary arrest in China, including in Hong Kong as Beijing enforces a tough new security law.

The updated travel advice comes a week after China declared victory over the virus as President Xi Jinping decorated medical professionals in a triumphant ceremony.

China’s propaganda machine has sought to reframe Covid-19 as an example of the state’s agile leadership against the global pandemic that emerged in the country.

President Donald Trump’s administration has frequently lashed out at China and blamed it for Covid-19, news of which was initially suppressed when cases were first reported in the city of Wuhan.

Trump, who faces elections in less than two months, has faced heavy criticism for his handling of the health crisis in the United States, which has suffered the highest death toll of any country.

AFP

Trump Dismisses Climate Concerns, Insists ‘Will Start Getting Cooler’

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Advisor Jared Kushner, speaks in the Oval Office to announce that Bahrain will establish diplomatic relations with Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC on September 11, 2020. Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images/AFP

President Donald Trump on Monday suggested global warming will reverse itself and dismissed climate change as a cause of ferocious fires engulfing swaths of the US West during a briefing with local officials in California.

Trump, who flew into Sacramento in central California on the third day of a reelection campaign swing, pushed back against state leaders who said that climate change underlies the ever-stronger blazes.

 

The 20 largest wildfires in California and Oregon in recent history – AFP / AFP

 

“It will start getting cooler. You just watch,” he insisted to Wade Crowfoot, the head of the California Natural Resources Agency.

The official responded: “I wish science agreed with you.”

This was Trump’s first visit to California since the devastating blazes began there and in Washington and Oregon.

Minutes earlier, Democratic challenger Joe Biden branded Trump a “climate arsonist” whose policies are contributing to natural disasters.

On arrival in McClellan Park, near Sacramento, Trump repeated his argument that the wildfires are due instead to insufficient maintenance of forest areas to make them less combustible.

“There has to be strong forest management,” the Republican said.

“With regard to the forests, when trees fall down after a short period of time, about 18 months, they become very dry. They become really like a match stick,” he said. “They just explode.”

But at the briefing, California Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, countered that the fires are driven mostly by global warming.

Newsom acknowledged that “we have not done justice on our forest management,” though he pointed out that more than half of the land in California is under federal, not state control.

But he said the overwhelming cause of the problem is far bigger.

“The hots are getting hotter, the dries are getting drier,” he said. “We submit the science is in and observed evidence is self-evident: that climate change is real and that is exacerbating this.”

After the briefing was over, Crowfoot sought to get the last word, tweeting: “It actually won’t get cooler, Mr. President” over a graph showing relentlessly rising temperatures in California since the 1980s.

AFP

TikTok Rejects Microsoft Offer, Oracle Sole Remaining Bidder

This photo illustration taken on September 14, 2020 shows the logo of the social network application TikTok (L) and a US flag (R) shown on the screens of two laptops in Beijing. – US tech giant Microsoft said on September 13 its offer to buy TikTok was rejected, leaving Oracle as the sole remaining bidder ahead of the imminent deadline for the Chinese-owned video app to sell or shut down its US operations. (Photo by NICOLAS ASFOURI / AFP)

 

American tech giant Microsoft said Sunday its offer to buy TikTok was rejected, leaving Oracle as the sole remaining bidder ahead of the imminent deadline for the Chinese-owned video app to sell or shut down its US operations.

TikTok is at the center of a diplomatic storm between Washington and Beijing, and President Donald Trump has set Americans a mid-September deadline to stop doing business with its Chinese parent company ByteDance — effectively compelling a sale of the app to a US company.

The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times reported that Oracle had won the bidding war, citing people familiar with the deal, although the company did not immediately confirm that to AFP.

But two Chinese state media outlets — CGTN and China News Service — said Monday that ByteDance will not sell TikTok to Oracle either, citing unnamed sources.

The Oracle bid would need approval from the White House and Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, a source told the Journal, with both parties under the belief it would meet US data security concerns.

Microsoft had indicated at the beginning of August that it was interested in acquiring TikTok’s US operations, but announced Sunday that bid had been rejected.

“ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft,” it said in a statement.

“We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests.”

In early August, Trump issued an executive order stating that if a purchase agreement was not reached by September 20, the platform would have to close in the United States.

Trump claims TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage.

– Disputed dangers –

In late August, China’s commerce ministry published new rules potentially making it more difficult for ByteDance to sell TikTok to a US entity by adding “civilian use” to a list of technologies that are restricted for export.

ByteDance had vowed to “strictly abide” by the new export rules.

“We believe Microsoft would only buy TikTok WITH its core algorithm which the Chinese government and ByteDance was not willing to budge,” Wedbush analyst Daniel Ives said in a note.

“Given the need now to get a green light from Beijing after its export rules were changed a few weeks ago, TikTok’s days in the US likely are numbered with a shutdown now the next step,” the analyst said.

Downloaded 175 million times in the United States, TikTok is used by as many as a billion people worldwide to make quirky, short videos on their cellphones. It has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing.

Microsoft said it would have “made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combatting disinformation.”

A deal with Microsoft could also have included Walmart, which joined forces with the tech giant during negotiations.

Ives said that even with Microsoft out of the picture, “while Oracle is technically the remaining bidder, without willing to sell its core algorithm we see no TikTok sale on the horizon.”

“Oracle could be a technology partner, but a sale/divestiture of the US operations for TikTok remains the focus.”

TikTok meanwhile has filed a lawsuit challenging the US crackdown, contending that Trump’s order was a misuse of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act because the platform is not “an unusual and extraordinary threat.”

Controversially, Trump has demanded that the US government get a cut of any deal, which critics contend appears unconstitutional and akin to extortion.

The bidding for TikTok comes during a broader deterioration of relations between the world’s top two economies in recent months, with both exchanging fierce recriminations over trade, human rights, and the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

AFP

US, Iran Battle Over Sanctions At World Court

A file photo of a court gavel.
A file photo of a court gavel.

 

The United States and Iran will face off at the UN’s top court on Monday in the latest round of a battle over sanctions on Tehran reimposed by President Donald Trump.

Tehran dragged Washington to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in 2018 after Trump pulled the US out of a landmark international nuclear deal with Iran.

They will argue over the coming week about whether the court, set up after World War II to deal with disputes between UN member states, actually has jurisdiction in the case.

Iran says the sanctions brought back by the Trump administration breach the 1955 “Treaty of Amity” between the two countries, signed long before the 1979 Iranian revolution severed ties.

Tehran won an early victory in October 2018 when the ICJ ordered sanctions on humanitarian goods to be eased as an emergency measure while the overall lawsuit is dealt with.

The US responded by formally ending the treaty, agreed when Iran was ruled by the Western-oriented shah, and accusing Iran of using the ICJ for “propaganda” purposes.

The United States will first address the court on Monday at 1300 GMT about whether judges have jurisdiction in the case, while Iran will speak on Wednesday.

A decision on that issue could take several months, while a final judgment will take years.

– ‘Unclean hands’ –

Relations between Washington and Tehran have been tense since the Iranian revolution, and have spiralled since Trump unilaterally pulled out of the nuclear deal in May 2018.

The deal, involving the five permanent members of the UN Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany — had limited Iran’s nuclear programme.

Washington then reimposed sanctions on Iran and companies with ties to it, notably hitting Iran’s vital oil sector and central bank, while major global firms halted their activities in Iran.

Tehran took the case to the ICJ and, in response to Iran’s request for so-called “provisional measures” while the case is resolved, the judges two years ago found that some of the sanctions breached the 1955 treaty.

The court ordered Washington to lift measures on medicines, medical equipment, food, agricultural goods, and airplane parts and services.

The ICJ is also dealing with a separate case over Tehran’s bid to unfreeze $2 billion in assets frozen in the United States.

In February 2019 the court said the case could go ahead, rejecting US arguments that Iran’s “unclean hands” — Tehran’s alleged backing for terror groups — should disqualify its lawsuit.

AFP

Microsoft Says Its TikTok Buyout Offer Rejected

CORTE MADERA, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 26: The showroom at Microsoft store sits empty on June 26, 2020 in Corte Madera, California. Microsoft announced that it plans to close all of its 83 brick-and-mortar stores and switch to an online only platform. The company says it will keep their New York City, London, Redmond, Washington and Sydney, Australia storefronts open to showcase their technology but not to sell their products. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP

 

US tech giant Microsoft said Sunday its offer to buy TikTok was rejected, as a deadline looms for the Chinese-owned video app to sell or shut down its US operations.

TikTok has been at the center of a diplomatic storm between Washington and Beijing, and President Donald Trump gave Americans a deadline to stop doing business with TikTok’s Chinese parent company ByteDance — effectively compelling a sale of the app to a US company.

Trump claims that TikTok could be used by China to track the locations of federal employees, build dossiers on people for blackmail and conduct corporate espionage.

“ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft,” the US tech giant said in a statement referring to TikTok’s owner.

“We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests,” the statement added.

Following Trump’s executive order, Microsoft and Oracle were possible suitors to take over TikTok operations.

Microsoft said that it would have “made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combatting disinformation.”

TikTok has filed a lawsuit challenging the crackdown by the US government, contending that Trump’s order was a misuse of the International Emergency Economic Powers Act because the platform is not “an unusual and extraordinary threat.”

Downloaded 175 million times in the US, TikTok is used by as many as a billion people worldwide to make quirky, short-form videos on their cellphones. It has repeatedly denied sharing data with Beijing.

AFP

Turkey Condemns Bahrain, Israel Accord

President of Turkey and leader of Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks at the party’s group meeting at Grand National Assembly of Turkey in Ankara, on February 12, 2020. Adem ALTAN / AFP

 

Turkey strongly condemned the deal between Israel and Bahrain to normalise relations, describing it as a “fresh blow” to the Palestinian cause.

US President Donald Trump Friday announced the “peace deal” between Israel and Bahrain, which becomes the second Arab country to settle with its former foe in less than a month.

Turkey’s foreign ministry late Friday said Ankara was “concerned” by the move and “strongly condemned” the deal.

“The step will be a fresh blow to efforts to defend the Palestinian cause and will further embolden Israel to continue its illegal practices toward Palestine and its attempts to make the occupation of Palestinian territories permanent,” the ministry said in a statement.

It said the move was contrary to the commitments under the Arab Peace Initiative — which calls for Israel’s complete withdrawal from the Palestinian territories occupied after 1967 — and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, is a strong advocate of Palestinian rights who has frequently criticised Israeli policies in the West Bank.

After last month’s deal between the United Arab Emirates and Israel, Erdogan warned Turkey could suspend diplomatic relations with the Gulf state in response.

AFP

Egypt’s Sisi Hails ‘Historic’ Israel-Bahrain Normalisation Deal

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during a summit in the capital Amman.  AFP

 

 

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Friday hailed the “historic” normalisation deal between Israel and Bahrain.

“I hail this important step aimed at consolidating stability and peace in the Middle East, which will achieve a just and permanent solution to the Palestinian cause,” Sisi said in a tweet.

Sisi also thanked “all those who helped achieve this historic step”. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994, while the UAE announced it was normalising ties with the Jewish state on August 13.

AFP

Trump To Announce US Troop Withdrawals From Iraq, Afghanistan

President Donald Trump announces that the Food and Drug Administration is issuing an emergency authorization for blood plasma as a coronavirus treatment during a press conference in James S. Pete Marovich/Getty Images/AFP

 

US President Donald Trump was expected to announce further troop withdrawals Wednesday from Afghanistan and from Iraq, where several thousand US troops hunting down jihadist sleeper cells have faced increasing attacks blamed on pro-Iran factions.

The deadly bomb and rocket attacks have put additional pressure on Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhemi, who has pledged to rein in rogue groups pledged to fight the US military presence.

During Washington talks with Kadhemi last month, Trump said US forces would leave Iraq but gave no timetable or specific troop levels.

A senior administration official told reporters that the president would make an announcement on Wednesday, but offered no additional details.

The US has already been steadily downsizing its troop levels in Iraq in recent months as Iraqis take over more combat and training roles from foreign forces.

“These withdrawals are part of the agreed transition of the US-led coalition’s role in Iraq,” an Iraqi official told AFP ahead of Trump’s announcement on Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The US deployed thousands of forces to Iraq in 2014 to lead a military intervention against the Islamic State group, which had swept across a third of the country.

Even after Baghdad declared IS defeated in late 2017, the US and other coalition troops continued supporting Iraqi forces with airstrikes, drone surveillance and training to prevent a jihadist resurgence.

– Shrinking presence –

By late 2018, there were an estimated 5,200 troops still stationed in Iraq, making up the bulk of the 7,500 coalition forces there, according to US officials.

Over the past year, dozens of rocket attacks have targeted those forces as well as the US embassy in Baghdad’s high-security Green Zone, killing at least five military personnel — three Americans, one Briton and one Iraqi.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event about regulatory reform on the South Lawn of the White House on July 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP
File photo: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event about regulatory reform on the South Lawn of the White House on July 16, 2020 in Washington, DC. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

US officials have blamed the violence on hardline factions close to Tehran, which as Washington’s longtime foe has repeatedly demanded that all US troops leave the Middle East.

Tensions skyrocketed early this year when a US drone strike near Baghdad airport killed Iranian general Qasem Soleimani, prompting Tehran to mount a retaliatory missile strike against US troops in western Iraq.

Enraged by the US strike, the Iraqi parliament voted to oust all foreign troops still left in Iraq, although Kadhemi’s government — seen as friendly to the US — has stonewalled that decision.

Instead, the coalition has been quietly drawing down troops on its own since March, consolidating its presence from a dozen bases across the country to just three.

Some troops were redeployed to the main bases in Baghdad, Arbil in the north and Ain al-Asad in the west, but most were transferred outside of Iraq, US officials told AFP.

They said the downsizing was long-planned as IS had been defeated, but admitted that the withdrawal timeline was accelerated in response to rocket attacks and the fear Covid-19 could spread among military partners.

France has already withdrawn its troops and Britain has significantly downsized to just 100 personnel in recent months.

British, French and US special forces are expected to remain deployed in undisclosed locations around the country, diplomatic sources said.

Still, attacks on US targets have continued. Late Tuesday, a bomb targeted a supply convoy heading to an Iraqi base where US troops are deployed, killing one member of the Iraqi security forces.

– Drawdown in Afghanistan? –

The US president is also set to announce further withdrawals from Afghanistan in the coming days, the senior administration official said.

Washington currently has 8,600 soldiers deployed in accordance with a bilateral agreement signed in February between Washington and the Taliban.

The Pentagon said in August that its goal was to get down to fewer than 5,000 troops as inter-Afghan peace talks progress.

Trump previously mentioned in an interview with Axios that the White House aimed to reach 4,000 to 5,000 troops in Afghanistan before the US presidential election on November 3.

Under the US-Taliban deal, all foreign troops must leave the country by the spring of 2021, in exchange for security commitments from the militants.

Trump, who is trailing Democratic rival Joe Biden in the opinion polls, has previously promised to bring troops home in a bid to end what he has called America’s endless wars.

AFP