From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE EAST 2019 JANUARY-FEBRUARY"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
    This link will take you to King Of The East 2019 March-April

KING OF THE EAST 2019 JANUARY-FEBRUARY



    So as 2018 has passed do we know who the "King of the East" is?
    As Bible students, we all are aware of the allusions to the "Kings of the East" in the prophetic scenario: "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    Revelation 16:12.
       
    The spectacular rise of China on the world scene, and achievements are spectacular, indeed.    In just one generation, they have tripled their per capita income, and lifted over 300 million people out of poverty.
    So due to that, I see that on 3/12/2018 China’s national legislature approved constitutional changes that allowed Xi Jinping to remain president for life and retain indefinitely his iron grip on the world’s most populous nation.    And as you see in the image above his "Belt And Road Project" fits the scenerio to fulfil prophecy to go into the Middle East at the appointed time.
    He has made constitutional changes adopting Xi’s "Thoughts on Socialism” and recognize the unconditional authority of the Communist Party, and has begun his widespread support in China for his pragmatic approach to economic growth and his crackdown on corruption and political dissent, citing a “broader crusade to root out anyone disloyal or who fails to comply with his orders.”
    Under Xi, a controversial effort to renew its territorial claims in the South China Sea, boosted its military capabilities and unveiled a vast international logistics and transportation project called the “Belt and Road” initiative that aims to connect Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, so I believe the The King of the East has made his bed.
    And they now have become the major competitor for energy and other commodities.    As to China, there is another - overlooked - giant rising in the east: emergence of India in the global technological culture, which is destined to dominate the next few decades.    Their research and development centers are sprouting everywhere and are the seedbeds of the most advanced software platforms, multimedia devices, and other next-generation innovations and at present India's Prime Minister is Narendra Modi.
    China and India account for one-third of the world's population.
    Although numerous commentators try to connect these kings with the 200 million horsemen of the sixth trumpet judgment, they are not related: as Rev. 16:12 only says "way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    This tells me that it could be several countries from the Kings of the East could take that journey.
    The “two hundred million” is in Rev. 9:16 are in a Trumpet Judgment, whereas the kings of the east are in a Bowl judgment.    Furthermore, . . . it was shown that the two hundred million are demons and not men.
    As to kings from the Orient, but this is not required by the text, they are kings representing nations east of the Euphrates.    Commentators particularly of the postmillennial and the historical schools have guessed at the identity of the kings of the East and as many as fifty different interpretations have been advanced.    The very number of these interpretations is their refutation.

2019 JANUARY-FEBRUARY

12/31/2018 Iranian security forces clash with students at bus crash protest
FILE PHOTO: Ali Akbar Velayati, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's top adviser on international affairs,
smiles as he listens to questions from the media during a news conference after meeting with
Lebanon's Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the government palace in Beirut May 18, 2015. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Security forces clashed with students in Iran on Monday in the third day of protests over a deadly bus crash, online videos showed, adding to officials’ fears that rising public unrest could threaten national security.
    President Hassan Rouhani has ordered an investigation into the accident at Tehran’s Azad University that killed 10 students last week.    Students have protested over the aging transport fleet and lack of accountability from the authorities.
    A video on Twitter showed students at a campus in Tehran chanting slogans and demanding the resignation of the chairman of the university’s board of trustees, Ali Akbar Velayati, an aide to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the videos.     Tehran’s deputy governor, Abdolazim Rezaie, was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency that the protests were illegal as no permit had been issued for any gathering.    He said the police had full control of the streets and no arrests had been made.
    In recent months, Iran has experienced demonstrations in different cities as factory workers, teachers, truck drivers and farmers protested against economic hardship and corruption.
    Ayatollah Sadeq Larijani, the chief of Iran’s hardline judiciary, warned on Monday of a possible repeat of the 2009 protests, Iran’s biggest unrest in the last two decades.
    “The workers and students have legitimate demands … but they should be vigilant not to advance the enemies’ goals,” Larijani was quoted as saying by the Tasnim news agency.
    U.S. President Donald Trump reimposed sanctions on Iran earlier this year after pulling out of a 2015 nuclear deal, helping to depress the value of the rial and boosting annual inflation fourfold to nearly 40 percent in November.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
[Sounds to me that the leaders of Iran are experiencing the revolt of their people as they lie to them to suck it up, and Trumps action with oil production and sanctions will make it worsen on them.].

12/31/2018 Iran’s Revolutionary Guards plan to upgrade speed boats with stealth technology
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Revolutionary Guards speed boats are seen near the USS John C. Stennis CVN-74
(not pictured) as it makes its way to gulf through strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said on Monday they plan to upgrade their speed boats in the Gulf with radar-evading stealth technology and new missile launchers as tensions rise between Tehran and Washington in the vital oil shipping route.
    Ending a long absence of U.S. aircraft carriers in the region, the USS John C. Stennis entered the Gulf last week, and was shadowed by the Revolutionary Guards’ speed boats.
    There have been periodic confrontations between the Revolutionary Guards vessels and U.S. military in the Gulf, although the number of incidents has dropped in recent months.
    “We are trying to increase the agility of the Guards’ speed boats and equip them with stealth technology to facilitate their operations,” Alireza Tangsiri, the Revolutionary Guards’ navy chief, was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.
    Tangsiri also said the speed boats will be equipped with new missiles, and their speed will reach 80 knots per hour.
    He did not elaborate on whether Iran had already mastered these technologies or if they were still in the study phase.
    Iran says it has been developing its own stealth technology for fighter jets and vessels, but the prototypes it has unveiled in recent years have mostly been met with derision by defense experts.
    The Revolutionary Guards last week launched war games in the Gulf, where third of the world’s sea-borne oil passes through, and warned that its forces were ready to respond to any hostile U.S. action.
    In an indirect threat to Saudi Arabia and other U.S. allies in the region, the head of the Iranian armed forces warned that any Iranian confrontation with U.S. forces might also target Gulf nations that he said had invited them into the region.
    “Iran’s regional enemies should know that alongside a pacifist doctrine, Iran has a powerful military force that are ready to protect Iran’s territorial integrity, and also hold accountable countries that proposed (the U.S. presence),” Major General Mohammad Bagheri was quoted as saying by Fars news agency.
    A U.S.-Iranian war of words has escalated since U.S. President Donald Trump took Washington out of a world powers’ nuclear deal with Iran in May, and reimposed sanctions on its banking and energy sectors.
    Iran has warned that if it cannot sell its oil due to U.S. pressure, then no other regional country will be allowed to do so either, threatening to block the Strait of Hormuz in the Gulf.
    The Guards’ naval arm lacks a strong conventional fleet.    However, it has many speed boats and portable anti-ship missile launchers, and can lay mines.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Alison Williams)

1/1/2019 Afghanistan’s neighbors fear refugee crisis if U.S. pulls out by Rupam Jain
FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in Logar province,
Afghanistan August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s neighbors, caught off-guard by reports of U.S. plans to withdraw thousands of troops, have begun preparing for the risk that a pullout could send hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing across their borders, diplomats say.
    Alarmed by the possibly of a chaotic withdrawal, diplomats from neighboring countries who have been in talks with U.S. officials in Kabul said they were reassessing policies and would ramp up border preparations.
    “At this point there is no clarity about the withdrawal, but we have to keep a clear action plan ready,” said a senior Asian diplomat based in Kabul.    “The situation can turn from bad to worse very quickly.”
    A White House spokesman last week said U.S. President Donald Trump had not issued orders to the Pentagon to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.    But the administration has not denied reports that the United States plans to pull out almost half of the 14,000-strong force currently deployed.
    The reports come amid an intensification of moves toward peace negotiations in Afghanistan.    U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad met Taliban representatives last month and discussed issues around a future troop withdrawal as well as proposals for a ceasefire.
    But even among regional powers such as Iran, Pakistan or Russia that have long been suspicious that the United States wants permanent military bases in South Asia, there is no appetite for a sudden U.S. withdrawal, say analysts.
    “While the news of a potential U.S. drawdown may be a reason for cautious optimism in the region, they don’t want an abrupt withdrawal,” said Graeme Smith, a consultant for the International Crisis Group.
    “All sides recognize that a precipitous pullout could spark a new civil war that destabilizes the region.    The neighbors do not enjoy surprises, and the uncertain signals from Washington are causing anxiety.”
    The United States, which sent troops to Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on New York and Washington and at the peak of the deployment had more than 100,000 troops in the country, withdrew most of its forces in 2014, but still keeps around 14,000 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission aiding the Afghan security forces and hunting militants.
    The top U.S. general in Afghanistan said 2019 was going to be an interesting year.
    “The policy review is going on in multiple capitals, peace talks out there, regional players pressing for peace, the Taliban talking about peace, the Afghan government talking about peace,” said General Scott Miller, the U.S. commander of Afghanistan’s NATO-led force, at the Resolute Support mission headquarters in Kabul.
BORDER SECURITY
    Pakistan, which was already working to fence its 1,400 km (870 miles) frontier with Afghanistan and deploy a 50,000-strong paramilitary force along the border, is preparing for a fresh influx of refugees in the event of disorder.
    “Camps will be set up near the border to manage a fresh wave of Afghan refugees and illegal migrants and Afghans will not be allowed to set up illegal homes in Pakistan,” said an official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    Afghanistan, which shares borders with Pakistan, Iran, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and China, is already the world’s second biggest source of refugees, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
    The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that approximately 1.4 million undocumented Afghans live in Pakistan and possibly 1.2 million in Iran.
    While thousands of undocumented Afghans were driven out of Iran by recent political and economic turbulence, Iranian officials in Kabul said they fear a sudden U.S. troop withdrawal could reverse that trend.
    “We are working closely with the Afghan government to stop Afghans from entering our country.    We don’t want to use violence to stop them, but a sudden U.S. pullout will lead to a crisis,” said an Iranian official.
    Afghanistan does not share a land border with Turkey, but Afghans enter Turkey from Iran to work as shepherds, farmers or in the construction sector.    Many use it as a transit point to try to enter Europe.
    “We have not closed our door but the number of illegal migrants is increasing on a daily basis,” said Mehmet Ozgur Sak, the second secretary at the Turkish embassy in Kabul.
    In 2018, Turkish police say they intercepted 90,000 Afghans who were trying to enter the country with fake documents or with the help of traffickers, double the number in 2017.
    As negotiations over the future of the country gather momentum, the Taliban have been trying to reassure Afghans that they have nothing to fear after foreign forces leave.
    But there are Afghans who refuse to trust the Taliban’s new stance.    Sayed Rafi Sadat, a student in western Herat province, said the Taliban would impose harsh laws to destroy democracy.
    “If U.S. troops withdraw then there is no hope for the future and we will have to leave the country,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Storay Karimi in Herat; Editing by Alex Richardson)

1/1/2019 Cooperation best for both China and U.S., Xi tells Trump
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China's President Xi Jinping
at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – History shows that cooperation is the best choice for both China and the United States, Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. President Donald Trump in a congratulatory message on Tuesday to mark 40 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations.
    The two countries agreed last month to a 90-day temporary ceasefire in their bitter trade war to give them time to hold fresh talks to try and end a dispute that has seen them level increasingly severe tariffs on each others’ goods.
    In his message to Trump, Xi said China-U.S. relations have experienced ups and downs but have made historic progress over the past four decades, state news agency Xinhua said.     “History has proved that cooperation is the best choice for both sides,” Xi said.
    Sino-U.S. relations are in an important stage, he added.
    “I attach great importance to the development of China-U.S. relations and am willing to work with President Trump to summarize the experience of the development of China-U.S. relations and implement the consensus we have reached in a joint effort to advance China-U.S. relations featuring coordination, cooperation and stability so as to better benefit the two peoples as well as the people of the rest of the world,” he said.
    Trump sent his own congratulatory message in return, saying it was his priority to promote cooperative and constructive U.S.-China relations, Xinhua added.
    Xi and Trump also spoke by telephone over the weekend.    Trump said he had a “long and very good call” with Xi and that a possible trade deal between the United States and China was progressing well.
    China and the United States have made plans for face-to-face consultations over trade in January, China’s Commerce Ministry said last week.
    Xinhua, in a commentary, said it was only natural the two countries would have disagreements and encounter problems, considering their “different social systems, development paths and historical and cultural backgrounds.”
    “At a time when the world is undergoing unprecedentedly profound changes and is fraught with risks and uncertainties, the global community expects even closer collaboration between the two largest economies,” it said.
    This year marks a series of sensitive anniversaries for China, including, in June, 30 years since the bloody crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators in and around Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
    On Wednesday, Xi will make his first public appearance at an anniversary-related event, giving a speech about self-ruled Taiwan, which China claims as its sacred territory, on the 40th anniversary of a key policy statement that led to a thaw in relations with the island.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Stephen Coates & Kim Coghill)

1/1/2019 Thai king to be crowned in ceremonies May 4-6
FILE PHOTO: Thailand's King Maha Vajiralongkorn attends the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony
in central Bangkok, Thailand, May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Thailand’s king will be officially crowned in elaborate ceremonies on May 4-6 as the latest ruler in the centuries-old monarchy, the royal palace said on Tuesday.
    King Maha Vajiralongkorn, 66, has been serving since shortly after his father died in 2016 following a 70-year reign.
    “His Majesty deems it fit to hold the coronation ceremony per royal traditions for the good fortune of the nation and the kingdom, to be enjoyed by the hopeful people,” a palace statement said.
    In the three-day coronation, the king will be officially crowned on May 4 and a celebration procession will be held on May 5. The king will meet the public and foreign dignitaries on May 6, the palace said.
    Vajiralongkorn, also known by the title King Rama X, became Thailand’s constitutional monarch two years ago following the death of his revered father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, on Oct. 13, 2016.
    His official coronation has been delayed until after a year-long mourning period for Bhumibol, who was cremated in October 2017 in a grand royal funeral in Bangkok.
    King Bhumibol was revered by Thais during his seven decades on the throne and the deep relationship between the monarchy and the military helped facilitate a smooth royal transition following his death.
    Since then, Vajiralongkorn has overseen sweeping changes to royal affairs, including the running of palace finances, which were formerly managed by the government.
    Thailand has been a constitutional monarchy since 1932, but the king remains supremely regarded as the spiritual protector of its people and culture.
    The kingdom is due to hold elections on Feb. 24, and the current election timeline means the coronation will likely take place before a new government is formed.
    The elections are meant to restore democracy after a 2014 military coup ousted an elected prime minister, though changes to the constitution in the interim ensure the military will retain a great deal of control.
(Reporting by Panu Wongcha-um, Patpicha Tanakasempipat, Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Stephen Coates, Kim Coghill and Neil Fullick)

1/1/2019 Taiwan tells China to use peaceful means to resolve differences by Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen announces her resignation as chairwoman of the
Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) after local elections in Taipei, Taiwan November 24, 2018. REUTERS/Ann Wang
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – China must use peaceful means to resolve its differences with Taiwan and respect its democratic values, Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said on Tuesday, ahead of a major speech about the island by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
    China has heaped pressure on Tsai since she took office in 2016, cutting off dialogue, whittling down Taiwan’s few remaining diplomatic allies and forcing foreign airlines to list Taiwan as part of China on their websites.
    China fears Tsai wishes to push for Taiwan’s formal independence, though Tsai says she wants to maintain the status quo.    Beijing has regularly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills.
    Taiwan is gearing up for presidential elections in a year’s time.    Tsai’s pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party suffered stinging losses to the China-friendly Kuomintang in mayoral and local elections in November.
    In a new year’s address at the presidential office in Taipei, Tsai said the two sides of the Taiwan Strait needed a pragmatic understanding of the basic differences that exist between them in terms of values and political systems.
    “Here, I would like to call on China to face squarely the reality of the existence of the Republic of China on Taiwan,” Tsai said, referring to the island’s formal name.
    China “must respect the insistence of 23 million people on freedom and democracy, and must use peaceful, on parity means to handle our differences,” she added.
    China’s interference in the island’s political and social development is “Taiwan’s biggest challenge at the moment,” Tsai said.    China denies any interference in Taiwan’s internal affairs.
    China views Taiwan as a wayward province, to be brought under its control by force if needed, with no right to international recognition as a separate political entity.
    Democratic Taiwan has shown no interest in being ruled by autocratic China.
    Liu Jieyi, head of China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said in his new year’s message they had not wavered last year in the face of “deliberate provocations” from Taiwan’s government.
    “Although the way ahead won’t all be plain sailing, we have the confidence and the ability to vanquish risks and challenges,” he said in a statement on the office’s website.
    On Wednesday, Xi will give a speech to mark 40 years since a key policy statement that eventually led to a thaw in relations with Taiwan, the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan.”
    On Jan. 1, 1979, China declared an end to what had been routine artillery bombardment of Taiwan-controlled offshore islands close to China and offered to open up communications between the two sides, after decades of hostility.
    Chiang Kai-shek fled with defeated Nationalist forces to Taiwan in December 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists.    Despite the deep business, cultural and personal links which exist today, no peace treaty or formal end to hostilities has been signed.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Stephen Coates & Kim Coghill)

1/1/2019 Thousands march in Hong Kong against China ‘repression’ after grim 2018 by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret
Occupy Central pro-democracy movement founder Chu Yiu-ming, waves to supporters as he takes part in an
annual New Year's Day march in Hong Kong, China January 1, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of demonstrators marched in Hong Kong on Tuesday to demand full democracy, fundamental rights, and even independence from China in the face of what many see as a marked clampdown by the Communist Party on local freedoms.
    Over the past year, countries such as the United States and Britain have expressed concerns about a number of incidents they say have undermined confidence in Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy under Chinese rule.
    These include the jailing of activists, a ban on a pro-independence political party, the de facto expulsion of a Western journalist and barring democracy activists from contesting local elections.
    The New Year’s day march included calls to restart stalled democratic reforms and to fight “political repression” from Beijing.
    “Looking back at the year that passed, it was a very bad year … The rule of law in Hong Kong is falling backwards,” said Jimmy Sham, one of the organizers.
    Organizers said the march drew 5,500 people, revised down from an earlier estimate of 5,800, while police said 3,200 people were on the streets at the march’s peak.
    The former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula, with the promise of a high degree of autonomy and universal suffrage as an “ultimate aim.”
    While authorities have clamped down hard on the city’s fringe, pro-independence movement, that didn’t deter around 100 independence activists from joining the march, holding up banners and chanting for the city to split from China.
    China considers Hong Kong to be an inalienable part of its territory, and denounces “separatists” as a threat to national sovereignty, even though the movement has not garnered much popular backing in the city.
    “There will be continuous suppression on the Hong Kong independence movement, but the movement will grow stronger and stronger,” said Baggio Leung, an independence leader who said several of his members had been harassed by purported “triads” or gangsters, before the march.
    Last year, in an unprecedented move, Hong Kong authorities banned a political group, the Hong Kong National Party, for its pro-independence stance on national security grounds.
    A western journalist, Victor Mallet, was also effectively expelled from Hong Kong, soon after he hosted a talk at a press club by the head of the National Party.
    Mallet’s visa denial, which the government has so far refused to explain, was criticized by some foreign governments and the American Chamber of Commerce.
    Some protesters carried “wanted” posters of Hong Kong’s top legal official, Theresa Cheng, criticizing a decision to drop a corruption investigation into Hong Kong’s former pro-Beijing leader Leung Chun-ying, without a satisfactory explanation.
    “I’m afraid the pressure will continue,” said Joseph Cheng, a veteran rights campaigner and retired professor who was raising money for a “justice” fund for activists facing hefty legal fees for several trials.
    “We’re going to face a few difficult years, but we must stand firm … Unlike in mainland China, at least we can still protest.”
(Reporting by James Pomfret and Donny Kwok; Editing by Kim Coghill and Kirsten Donovan)

1/1/2019 India ruling party confident of doing well in general election: Modi by Swati Bhat
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the Vijaya Dashmi, or Dussehra, festival celebrations
in the old quarter of Delhi, India, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is confident of doing well at this year’s general election despite the party’s recent losses in state polls, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in an interview with Reuters partner ANI on Tuesday.
    “No reason for morale down.    We are confident and are moving ahead.    In 2019, if there is one party which the country trusts and is connected with the people, it is the BJP,” Modi said.
    India’s ruling party lost power in three key states in December, handing Modi his biggest defeat since he took office in 2014 and boosting the Congress party opposition and its allies ahead of national polls due by May.
    Modi said it was more important to focus on his government’s achievements, including the introduction in September of a new healthcare scheme for the poor.
    “In such big numbers people suffering, today they have got treatment, how can I consider this a failure.    It is my biggest achievement,” Modi said.
    He said party has been discussing what it lacked at the state elections but winning or losing was not the only yardstick.    The Hindu nationalist BJP was willing to work with regional parties in the run-up to the general election, he said.
    “Our effort is to take everyone along, and listen to everyone.    I am committed to give importance to regional aspirations. The country cannot be run by ignoring regional aspirations.”
FARMER RELIEF
    Modi said farm loan waivers should be “definitely done” if it helps but that was not a long-term solution to the problem of farmer distress.
    “What is lacking in our system, that farmer becomes debt-ridden and the governments have to repeat vicious cycle of elections and loan waivers.    So solution is to empower the farmers. From seed to market, give all facilities to the farmers,” he said.
    Farmers’ anger about low crop prices and their sense that the government has done far too little to address them contributed to the state election defeats.
    The government is now considering three options for a relief package to help farmers suffering because of low crop prices at a cost of as much as 3 trillion rupees ($43.20 billion), three government sources told Reuters last week.
PATEL RESIGNATION
    Former Reserve Bank of India governor Urjit Patel had personally written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi about wanting to resign, citing personal reasons, several months before stepping down from the office in December, Modi said.
    “The governor himself requested (to resign) because of personal reasons.    I am revealing for the first time, he was telling me about this for the past 6-7 months before his resignation.    He gave it even in writing.    He wrote to me personally.”
    Patel resigned after a months-long tussle over policy with the government that raised concerns about the bank’s independence as the next general election nears.
    When asked if there was any political pressure on the governor to resign, Modi denied that was the case.No such question arises.    I acknowledge that Patel did a good job as RBI Governor.”
(Reporting by Swati Bhat; Editing by Martin Howell)

1/1/2019 Top U.S. commander in Afghanistan sees peace opportunity in 2019 by Rupam Jain
U.S. Army General Scott Miller, Commander of Resolute Support forces and command of NATO forces in Afghanistan,
speaks during a New Year celebration at the Resolute Support headquarters in Kabul, Afghanistan January 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – The top U.S general in Afghanistan told NATO troops on Tuesday to prepare themselves to deal with “positive processes or negative consequences” as peace talks between the U.S. and the Taliban to end a 17-year war gain momentum.
    General Scott Miller, who commands U.S. forces and the NATO-led non-combat Resolution Support (RS) mission in Afghanistan reiterated the need for a political settlement to end the conflict.
    “Peace talks (are) out there, regional players pressing for peace, the Taliban talking about peace, the Afghan government is talking about peace,” Miller told dozens of NATO soldiers who had gathered at RS headquarters in Kabul for an exercise session.
    Dressed in gym gear, Miller participated in a 60-minute open-air morning workout of sprints, squats, burpees and push-ups.
    He did not comment on reports that the United States was considering pulling out almost half of the 14,000-strong force currently deployed in Afghanistan.
    A White House spokesman said last week that U.S. President Donald Trump had not issued orders to withdraw the troops.    However, the administration has not denied the reports, which have also prompted fears of a fresh refugee crisis.
    “Are (the RS) able to adapt?    Are we able to adjust?    Are we able to be in the right place to support positive processes and negative consequences, that’s what I ask you guys to think about in 2019,” Miller said.
    With the help of its allies, the U.S. launched a military campaign in Afghanistan 17 years ago to topple the Taliban government following the September 2001 strikes on American cities.
    The longest American war effort has since killed nearly 140,000 people, including security forces, insurgents and civilians, and has cost Washington close to a trillion dollars.
    Officials from the warring sides have met at least three times to discuss the withdrawal of international forces and a ceasefire in 2019.    However, fighting has not subsided even as diplomatic efforts intensify.
    “As long as the Taliban want to fight we are going to fight,” said Colonel David Butler, spokesman for U.S. Forces in Afghanistan.
    He added that 2019 would bring a unique opportunity for peace in the country that has been at war on and off for almost 40 years, since U.S.-backed Afghan guerrillas fought to repel Soviet Union forces in the late 1970s.
    “Think of this — 40 years of war has a possibility of coming to an end,” Butler said.
    In their 2018 annual report, the Taliban said they had successfully forced the U.S. to invite them to the negotiating table.
    “The Mujahideen defended valiantly…the invaders were forced to review their war strategy,” the hardline Islamic militant group said in a statement.
(Additional reporting Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

1/1/2019 Bill Gates’ nuclear venture hits snag amid U.S. restrictions on China deals: WSJ
FILE PHOTO: Microsoft founder Bill Gates attends a forum of the first China International Import Expo (CIIE)
in Shanghai on November 5, 2018. Matthew Knight/Pool via REUTERS
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – TerraPower LLC, a nuclear energy venture chaired by Microsoft Corp co-founder Bill Gates, is seeking a new partner for early-stage trials of its technology after new U.S. rules forced it to abandon an agreement with China, company officials told the Wall Street Journal.
    TerraPower reached an agreement with state-owned China National Nuclear Corp in 2017 to build an experimental nuclear reactor south of Beijing.    But Gates wrote in an essay published late last week that TerraPower is unlikley to follow through on its plans in the face of new U.S. restrictions on technology deals with China.
    The Bellevue, Washington-based company is now unsure which country it will work with to conduct trials of its technology, which is designed to use depleted uranium as fuel for nuclear reactors in a bid to improve safety and costs, company officials told the Journal.
    “We’re regrouping,” Chief Executive Chris Levesque told the Journal in an interview.    “Maybe we can find another partner.”
    The U.S. Department of Energy in October announced new restrictions on nuclear deals with China, in keeping with a broader plan by the Trump administration to limit China’s ability to access U.S-made technologies it considers to be of strategic importance.
    Gates, who co-founded TerraPower, said in his essay that regulations in the United States are currently too restrictive to allow the reactor prototype to be built domestically.
(Reporting by Carl O’Donnell; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

1/2/2019 China’s Xi threatens Taiwan with force but also seeks peaceful ‘reunification’ by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at an event marking the 40th anniversary of China's reform
and opening up at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China December 18, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China reserves the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control but will strive to achieve peaceful “reunification” with the self-ruled island that has a bright future under any future Chinese rule, President Xi Jinping said on Wednesday.
    Taiwan is China’s most sensitive issue and is claimed by Beijing as its sacred territory.    Xi has stepped up pressure on the democratic island since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party became president in 2016.
    Tsai rejected Xi’s call and instead urged China to embrace democracy.
    Xi has set great personal store in resolving what the Communist Party calls the “Taiwan issue,” holding a landmark meeting with then Taiwan president Ma Ying-jeou in Singapore in late 2015, just before Tsai was elected.
    Xi spoke at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People on the 40th anniversary of a landmark Taiwan policy statement.
    He said “reunification” must come under a one-China principle that accepts Taiwan as part of China, anathema to supporters of Taiwan independence, adding that the “one country, two systems” model of autonomy, with which China governs Hong Kong, was the best way for Taiwan.
    China translates the word “tong yi” as “reunification,” but it can also be translated as “unification,” a term in English preferred by supporters of Taiwan independence who point out the Communist government has never ruled Taiwan and so it cannot be “reunified.”
    The vast majority of Taiwan’s people are clearly aware that Taiwan independence would lead to a “grave disaster,” Xi told an audience that included Taiwan business people and senior party officials.
    “Chinese people don’t attack other Chinese people.    We are willing to use the greatest sincerity and expend the greatest hard work to strive for the prospect of peaceful reunification,” Xi said.
    “We do not promise to renounce the use of force and reserve the option to use all necessary measures” to achieve this goal and prevent Taiwan independence, he said.
    This, though, was aimed at foreign forces who sought to interfere and the tiny minority of Taiwan independence forces and their activities, Xi said without elaborating in what was likely a reference to the United States, Taiwan’s strongest backer.
    Speaking to reporters, Tsai said Taiwan would never accept “one country, two systems” and was proud of its democratic way of life.
    “The vast majority in Taiwan resolutely oppose ‘one country, two systems’, This is the ‘Taiwan consensus’,” she said.
    “We call on China to bravely step forward for democracy, for only by doing so can it truly understand the people of Taiwan’s thinking and insistence.”
    Xi reiterated that China was willing to talk with any party in Taiwan to push the political process – stalled by China since Tsai took office – as long as they accept the “one China” principle.
    Underscoring China’s nervousness about U.S. support in particular for Taiwan, U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday signed into law the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act, which reaffirms the U.S. commitment to Taiwan, including arms sales.
‘LASTING PEACE’
    Xi sought to reassure people in Taiwan that there was nothing to fear from Chinese rule, even though most people there have shown no interest in being run by autocratic Beijing.
    “After peaceful reunification, Taiwan will have lasting peace and the people will enjoy good and prosperous lives.    With the great motherland’s support, Taiwan compatriots’ welfare will be even better, their development space will be even greater,” Xi said.
    Tsai, who says she wants to maintain the status quo with China, said on Tuesday China must use peaceful means to resolve its differences with Taiwan and respect its democratic values.
    Beijing has regularly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and has heaped pressure on the island internationally, including whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.
    Taiwan is gearing up for presidential elections in a year.    Tsai’s party suffered stinging losses to the China-friendly Kuomintang in mayoral and local elections in November.
    Xi was speaking on the anniversary of the “Message to Compatriots in Taiwan” on Jan. 1, 1979, when China declared an end to what had been routine artillery bombardment of Taiwan-controlled offshore islands and offered to open up communication between the two sides.
    However, the offer was rebuffed by Taiwan’s then-president Chiang Ching-kuo, who in April that year came out with a three nos” policy of no contact, no compromise and no negotiation with China.
    Chiang only relaxed that in 1987, allowing people in Taiwan to visit China for family reunions.    His father, Chiang Kai-shek, fled with defeated Nationalist forces to Taiwan in December 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Yimou Lee; Writing by Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

1/2/2019 India’s main parties call for protests after women visit Hindu temple by Jose Devasia and Neha Dasgupta
Protesters hold a portrait of Hindu deity “Ayappa” as they take part in a rally called by various
Hindu organisations after two women entered the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi, India, January 2, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V
    KOCHI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Two women defied a centuries-old ban on entering a Hindu temple in India in the early hours of Wednesday, leading to calls for protests from India’s two main political parties and raising fears of a backlash from conservative Hindu groups.
    India’s Supreme Court in September ordered the authorities to lift the ban on women or girls of menstruating age from entering the Sabarimala temple, in the southern state of Kerala, which draws millions of worshippers a year.
    However, the temple refused to abide by the court ruling and subsequent attempts by women to visit the temple had been blocked by thousands of devotees supporting the ban.
    The Kerala state government is run by left-wing parties and it has sought to allow women into the temple – a position that has drawn the criticism of both of the main political parties, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
    The uproar has put religion squarely on the political agenda months before a general election, which is due by May.
    The Kerala state president of Modi’s BJP described the visit to the temple by the two women as “a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples.”
    The party’s state president, P.S Sreedharan Pillai, told TV channels the BJP would “support the struggles against the destruction of faith by the Communists.”
    “Let all the devotees come forward and protest this,” he said.
    Officials from the main opposition Congress party in the state, in a rare alignment with their main rival for power at the national level, the BJP, also called for protests.
    “This is treachery … The government will have to pay the price for the violation of the custom,” K. Sudhakaran, vice-president of the Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, said in a statement.
    The women who entered the temple premises were in their 40s, according to Reuters partner ANI.    The ban has been imposed on all women and girls between the ages of 10 and 50.
    Conservative Hindu groups say they believe women of menstruating age would defile the temple’s inner shrine.
    News channels reported the chief priest briefly shut the temple for “purification” rituals after the women visited.
    Later, media reported that the temple had re-opened.
‘POLICE PROTECTION’
    A video from a police official posted online by ANI showed two women in the temple with their heads covered.
    One of the women, who gave her first name as Bindu, 42, told a television channel about their stealthy trek to the temple in the middle of the night.
    “We reached Pampa, the main entry point to the temple at 1.30 a.m. and sought police protection to enter the temple.    We walked two hours, entered the temple around 3.30 a.m. and did the darshan,” the woman said, referring to a ritual of standing in front of the temple’s Hindu image.
    The woman said she and the other woman would to back to their homes in other parts of Kerala.
    The state government defended its decision to protect the women as they went into the temple, saying it was a matter of civil rights.
    “i>I had earlier made it clear that the government will provide protection if any women come forward to enter the temple,” said Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan.
    Vijayan told a news conference the women, who had previously tried to enter the temple but were blocked by devotees, faced no obstruction on Wednesday.
    It was not immediately clear how the women managed to avoid devotees guarding the temple.
    On Tuesday, the state government backed a protest by thousands of women, who formed a 620 km (385 mile) human chain, termed the “women’s wall,” in support of “gender equality” and access to the temple.
    Modi, in an interview with ANI on Tuesday, indicated he felt that the temple issue was more about a religious tradition than gender equality.
    Modi said there were temples where men were barred from entering.
(Reporting by Jose Devasia; Editing by Martin Howell, Robert Birsel)

1/2/2019 Official from India’s ruling BJP calls for protests as women enter Hindu temple
    KOCHI, India (Reuters) – A local official from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party called for protests after two women entered a Hindu temple in the southern state of Kerala on Wednesday, defying a centuries-old ban on women of menstruating age entering the shrine.
    The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP)’s Kerala state president P.S. Sreedharan Pillai called it “a conspiracy by the atheist rulers to destroy the Hindu temples,” and said his party will “support the struggles against the destruction of faith by the Communists.”
    “Let all the devotees come forward and protest this,” Pillai told local television news channels.
    Two women, reported by Reuters partner ANI to be in their 40s, entered the Sabarimala hill temple in India’s southern state of Kerala in the early hours of Wednesday, the state’s chief minister said, raising fears of a backlash from conservative Hindu groups.
    India’s Supreme Court in September had ruled that the ban be lifted but Hindu devotees at the temple had defied the court and blocked attempts by women to go to the temple since then.    It is unclear how the women managed to get into the temple and avoid devotees who were guarding it.
(Reporting by Jose Devasia; Edited by Martin Howell)

1/2/2019 North Korea warns of ‘new path’, but options limited by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un poses for photos in Pyongyang in this January 1, 2019
photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – In his New Year address on Tuesday, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned he might take a “new pathif Washington maintains sanctions amid his country’s push for economic development, but experts say it may be too late to change the trajectory of negotiations.
    Kim did not specify what the new approach might be.    His warning may sound similar to the bellicose rhetoric that Pyongyang often deployed before last year’s summit, but he cannot jeopardize the hard-won thaw and has few options beyond appealing directly to U.S. President Donald Trump, experts say.
    State media have in recent weeks accused the State Department of risking returning to “exchanges of fire” of the past by ramping up sanctions, while crediting Trump for his efforts to continue talks.
    As both sides struggle to find a breakthrough in stalled talks, the speech shows Kim shifting the focus from calls for complete dismantlement of its nuclear arsenal and hinting at including countries other than the United States.
Q: IS THIS A SIGN OF FRUSTRATION?
. A: Kim vowed to work towards denuclearization at a summit with Trump in Singapore in June.    But since then there has been little progress, with a high-level meeting between the two sides canceled abruptly in November.
    Pyongyang has demanded Washington lift sanctions and declare a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War in response to the dismantlement of its Punggye-ri nuclear testing site and a key missile engine facility.
    Despite goodwill responses from Washington, such as a halt of some major military exercises with South Korea, U.S. officials have said North Korea’s initial steps were not confirmed and could be easily reversed.
    U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said North Korea would not be forced to provide a list of nuclear weapons and locations, and a U.S. nuclear envoy offered to facilitate humanitarian aid.
    But Kim’s speech on Tuesday called for a “complete end” to all joint exercises and slammed the sanctions campaign.
    “His message was ‘we have done what we said we would at Singapore, but the United States has done very little in return,'” said Vipin Narang, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Q: WHAT DOES ‘NEW PATH’ MEAN?
A: North Korea’s state media has stepped up criticism of the United States, warning of a return to the era of confrontation if sanctions and pressure continued.    But that indicates Pyongyang’s frustration rather than the “new path” Kim suggested, experts say.
    “His speech chiefly emphasized the need for a fair deal, and it’s extremely unlikely for them to go back,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at South Korea’s Sejong Institute.
    Instead, “new path” may refer to focusing on concessions that don’t involve broad denuclearization in favor of action-for-action commitments.
    South Korea’s Unification Ministry said on Wednesday it could not speculate on what the alternative path might be, but Kim showed his “clear resolve” to abandon the weapons program and improve U.S. ties by mentioning “complete denuclearization” himself for the first time.
    Kim Joon-hyung, a professor of international politics at Handong Global University, said one possible scenario was the North’s dismantling of the Yongbyon nuclear complex, as offered at an inter-Korean summit in September in Pyongyang, and acknowledging some facilities in return for eased sanctions, such as a partial restart of inter-Korean economic projects.
    Kim Jong Un said in the speech he was willing to reopen the Kaesong factory park and allow access to the North’s Mount Kumgang resort “without conditions.”
    Yet there remains an opportunity to limit Kim’s arsenal, Narang said.
    “The United States should find out what the price for a cap on North Korea’s nuclear program would be, as it would be an important and realistic objective,” he said.
Q: DOES NORTH KOREA WANT TO SHIFT ITS FOCUS FROM AMERICA?
A: The New Year address called for a launch of multilateral talks to officially declare an end to the Korean War, an idea also floated previously by South Korea.
    That could mean working with China, South Korea and others in pressing Washington, professor Kim said.    But other experts, including former South Korean nuclear envoy Lee Soo-hyuk, were skeptical that would happen given the deadlocked bilateral talks, the Sino-U.S. trade war and Trump’s dislike for multinational mechanisms.
    “This will not be easy, and neither side will achieve outright success, but diplomacy is possible,” said Patrick Cronin, chair for Asia-Pacific security at the Hudson Institute in New York.    “China and others may also be invited to play a role.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee in SEOUL and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Editing by Gerry Doyle)

1/2/2019 Hardline Hindus push Modi to allow temple on disputed Indian site by Mayank Bhardwaj
FILE PHOTO: A worker engraves a stone that Hindu groups say will be used
to build a Ram temple at a disputed religious site in Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, November 6, 2018.
Picture taken November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Hindu nationalists linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party urged him on Wednesday to push through laws to allow the building of a temple on the ruins of a 16th century mosque, a flashpoint in tensions with minority Muslims.
    A long-running dispute over the site in the northern town of Ayodhya has flared back into life in recent months in the build-up to national elections due before May.
    The Supreme Court is weighing petitions from both communities on what should be built there and Modi told Reuters partner ANI on Tuesday that the judicial process should take its course.
    A day later, Alok Kumar, the international working president of Vishva Hindu Parishad, responded: “The Supreme Court is taking its own sweet time and Hindus can’t wait endlessly to see a temple there.”
    “We’ll persuade the government of Prime Minister Modi to issue legislation to start the process of a grand temple in Ayodhya,” he told journalists.    He wanted the legislation in place before the government’s term ends, he added.
    A Hindu crowd tore down the mosque in 1992, triggering riots that killed about 2,000 people across India, in one of the worst instances of communal violence since the partition of the country in 1947.
    Vishva Hindu Parishad, also known as the World Hindu Council, has been spearheading a campaign over the past three decades to build a temple on the site of what Hindus say is the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of their most revered deities.
    Over the past few months, the group allied to Modi’s nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party has organized rallies of tens of thousands of activists, monks and other supporters, at a time of growing political and cultural tensions.
    At the other end of the country from Ayodhya, in the southern state of Kerala, two women defied a centuries-old ban on entering a Hindu temple on Wednesday, sparking protests and calls for a strike by conservative Hindu groups outraged by their visit.
(Editing by Martin Howell and Andrew Heavens)

1/3/2019 China ‘lifts mysterious veil’ by landing probe on far side of the moon by Michael Martina
FILE PHOTO: A Long March-3B rocket carrying Chang'e 4 lunar probe takes off from the
Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, China December 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese space probe successfully touched down on the far side of the moon on Thursday, China’s space agency said, hailing the event as a historic first and a major achievement for the country’s space program.
    The Chang’e-4 lunar probe, launched in December, made the “soft landing” at 0226 GMT and transmitted the first-ever “close rangeimage of the far side of the moon, the China National Space Administration said.
    The moon is tidally locked to Earth, rotating at the same rate as it orbits our planet, so most of the far side – or “dark side” – is never visible to us.    Previous spacecraft have seen the far side, but none has landed on it.
    The landing “lifted the mysterious veil” of the far side of the moon and “opened a new chapter in human lunar exploration,” the agency said in a statement on its website, which included a wide-angle color picture of a crater from the moon’s surface.     The probe, which has a lander and a rover, touched down at a targeted area near the moon’s south pole in the Von Karman Crater after entering the moon’s orbit in mid-December.
    The tasks of the Chang’e-4 [i.e. "moon goddess"] include astronomical observation, surveying the moon’s terrain, landform and mineral makeup, and measuring the neutron radiation and neutral atoms to study the environment of its far side.
    The control center in Beijing will decide when to let the rover separate from the lander, state news agency Xinhua said.
    “It’s an important milestone for China’s space exploration,” Wu Weiren, chief designer of the lunar exploration program, said, according to Xinhua.
    The probe also took six live species – cotton, rapeseed, potato, arabidopsis, fruit fly and yeast – to the lifeless environment to form a mini biosphere, Xinhua said.
A MAJOR SPACE POWER
    The landing is the latest step for China in its race to catch up with Russia and the United States and become a major space power by 2030.    Beijing plans to launch construction of its own manned space station next year.
    While China has insisted its ambitions are purely peaceful, the U.S. Defense Department has accused it of pursuing activities aiming to prevent other nations from using space-based assets during a crisis.
    Besides its civilian ambitions, China has tested anti-satellite missiles and the U.S. Congress has banned NASA from two-way cooperation with its Chinese counterpart over security concerns.
    As competition accelerates in space, U.S. President Donald Trump seeks to create a new “Space Force” by 2020, as the sixth branch of the military.
    But the private space race is also heating up, as numerous companies aim to commercialize space travel, such as California-based SpaceX, which has upended the industry with its low-cost reusable Falcon 9 rockets.
    The United States is the only country to have landed humans on the moon, and Trump said in 2017 he wanted to return astronauts to the lunar surface to build a foundation for an eventual Mars mission.
    NASA administrators have said people could be put on Mars by as soon as the mid-2030s, with the agency having landed eight spacecraft there, the most recent in November.
    As soon as 2022, NASA expects to begin building a new space station laboratory to orbit the moon, as a pit stop for missions to distant parts of the solar system.
    In 2003, China became the third country to put a man in space with its own rocket after the former Soviet Union and the United States, and in 2017 it said it was preparing to send a person to the moon.
    China completed its first lunar “soft landing” in 2013, but its “Jade Rabbit” rover began malfunctioning after several weeks.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Paul Tait and Clarence Fernandez)

1/3/2019 Protests paralyze south Indian state after women defy temple ban by Sudarshan Varadhan and Neha Dasgupta
Supporters of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Hindu nationalist organisation
Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) attend a protest rally during a strike against the state government for allowing two women to defy
an ancient ban and enter the Sabarimala temple, in Kochi, India, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V
    KOCHI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Conservative Hindu groups forced India’s southern state of Kerala to a standstill on Thursday as they protested against the state government for allowing two women to defy an ancient ban and enter a Hindu temple.
    About 400 protesters, including some women, took to the streets of Kochi, the commercial capital of Kerala, in the early morning, backed by officials from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP.     Many stores and other small businesses were shut after the Hindu groups called for a state-wide stoppage.    Most bus services were halted and taxis were refusing to take passengers as some drivers said they feared they would be attacked.
    The state’s Chief Minister, Pinarayi Vijayan, told reporters that women were the target of some attacks by protesters, including women journalists covering the events.
    India’s Supreme Court in September ordered the lifting of the ban on women of menstruating age entering the Sabarimala hill temple, which draws millions of worshippers a year.
    The temple has refused to abide by the ruling and subsequent attempts by women to visit have been blocked by thousands of devotees.
    In the early hours of Wednesday, two women were escorted by police into the temple through a side gate without being spotted by devotees guarding the temple.
    The women offered prayers from the back of the crowd from the top of a staircase where they could see the deity below without drawing the attention of the priest or other devotees, a police official familiar with the operation said.
    He did not wish to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
    “Surprise was the biggest element here,” the official said.
BUSES DAMAGED
    Protests erupted soon afterwards.    A woman police constable was attacked and molested by five protesters in one of the districts near Kochi on Wednesday, while a protester was pelted with stones and killed in a southern district of the state, police said.
    On Thursday, protesters were seen marching towards the main city junction to stage a sit-in protest, shouting slogans and waving flags, with streets deserted.
    The protests remained largely peaceful on Thursday, Vijay Sakhare, Inspector General of Police Kochi Range, told Reuters.
    “We arrested more than 600 people on Wednesday from Kochi and four other adjoining districts and took nearly 300 into preventive custody,” Sakhare said, adding that police were ready to offer protection to those who wanted to conduct routine business on Thursday.
    “Some protesters may turn violent such as stone-throwing or blocking roads and we are armed with riot gear and have teargas and water cannons,” he said.
    In several places protesters damaged state transport buses, V.P. Pramod Kumar, deputy director, public relations, state police headquarters, told Reuters.
    The Kerala state government is run by left-wing parties and has sought to allow women into the temple – a position that has drawn criticism from both of India’s main political parties, the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress.
DEFIANCE BY STEALTH
    The two women, Bindu Ammini, 42, and Kanaka Durga, 44, had approached the state police to find a way to enter the temple after a failed attempt on Dec. 24.
    As a result, officials from the state government and the police conducted a few rounds of reconnaissance to identify the side entrance, and to decide on the appropriate timing and transport, the police official said.
    For more than a week before Wednesday’s visit, the women were under police protection at an undisclosed location, unknown even to their families, to prevent the plan from leaking out, he said.
    In the early hours of Wednesday, the police took the two women to the hill temple inside an ambulance to avoid attention.    Medical services are frequently used outside the temple because the elderly who go on the trek often face discomfort, the official said.
    After offering prayers, the women merged with the crowd and headed to the exit, accompanied by four police in plain clothes, the police official said.
    “Every minute, about 100 devotees throng to the sanctum sanctorum and there was no way the priest would have noticed these two,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Jose Devasia; Editing by Martin Howell, Michael Perry and Nick Macfie)

1/3/2019 India’s top court says ‘every second counts’ for miners trapped for 3 weeks by Suchitra Mohanty
Indian Navy personnel come out of a coal mine during a rescue operation in Ksan, in the
northeastern state of Meghalaya, India, December 31, 2018. REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the government to list the steps it plans for the rescue of at least 15 miners trapped in a so-called “rat-hole” coal mine for three weeks in a remote hilly state, warning that “every second counts.”
    The workers were ensnared on Dec. 13 when the illegal mine in the northeastern state of Meghalaya was flooded.    Rescuers have so far only been able to find three helmets and two axes underground.
    The country’s top court wondered why attempts to reach the miners had not yet been successful.
    “Tell us by tomorrow, because for people who are trapped, every second counts,” Justice Arjan Kumar Sikri told the federal government, represented by Solicitor-General Tushar Mehta.
    The Meghalaya government told the court that nearly 86 people were working on the rescue effort since Dec. 14, including employees of state-controlled Coal India Ltd, the world’s biggest miner of the fuel.
    Kyrmen Shylla, Meghalaya’s disaster management minister, told Reuters both government and private agencies had been involved in the bid to reach the miners, many of whose family members have given up hope.
    Rat-hole mining has killed thousands of workers in Meghalaya, including children, before India’s environmental court banned the practice in early 2014.
    At its peak, the state produced coal worth $4 billion a year, or about a tenth of India’s total production.
    Despite the ban, many mines continued operation https://in.reuters.com/article/india-coal-meghalaya-mines/meghalaya-cm-pushes-for-coal-mining-critics-say-hes-helping-wife-idINKCN0SM0N220151028, requiring workers, often children, to descend hundreds of feet on bamboo ladders and dig coal out of narrow, horizontal seams.
    The unsuccessful rescue bid has drawn criticism of a lack of urgency shown by government agencies, particularly given the remote location of the mine, a journey to which can take more than five hours from the nearest commercial airport in Guwahati.
    “Would we have cared more if the miners had not been at the fringes of national consciousness in the northeast?” senior journalist Vir Sanghvi asked on Twitter.
    “I have not given up hope, but our response to this crisis shames us as a nation.”
(Additional reporting by Zarir Hussain in GUWAHATI; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/3/2019 U.S. warns Iran against space launches, ballistic missiles
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks at a news conference during the
NATO foreign ministers' meeting at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, December 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States issued a pre-emptive warning to Iran on Thursday against pursuing three planned space rocket launches that it said would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution because they use ballistic missile technology.
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran had announced plans to launch in the coming months three rockets, called Space Launch Vehicles (SLV), which he said incorporate technology that is “virtually identical” to that used in intercontinental ballistic missiles.
    “The United States will not stand by and watch the Iranian regime’s destructive policies place international stability and security at risk,” Pompeo said in a statement.
    “We advise the regime to reconsider these provocative launches and cease all activities related to ballistic missiles in order to avoid deeper economic and diplomatic isolation.”
    Iranian Deputy Defense Minister General Qassem Taqizadeh in late November was quoted by Iranian media as saying that Iran was planning to launch three satellites into space soon.
    “The satellites have been made by domestic experts and will be put on various orbits,” Taqizadeh said.
    Pompeo said such rocket launches would violate United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, which endorsed a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.    It calls upon Iran not to undertake activities related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using such technology.    It stops short of explicitly barring such activity.
    U.S. President Donald Trump decided in May to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal.
    Pompeo said Iran has launched ballistic missiles numerous times since the U.N. resolution was adopted.    He said it test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile capable of carrying multiple warheads on Dec. 1.
    “The United States has continuously cautioned that ballistic missile and SLV launches by the Iranian regime have a destabilizing effect on the region and beyond,” Pompeo said.    “France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and many nations from around the world have also expressed deep concern.”
    In July 2017, Iran launched a rocket it said could deliver a satellite into space, an act the U.S. State Department called provocative.    Earlier that month, the United States slapped new economic sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program.
    Iran says its space program is peaceful, but Western experts suspect it may be a cover for developing military missile technologies.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Lesley Wroughton; Additional reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

1/3/2019 U.S. issues China travel advisory amid increased tensions
FILE PHOTO: Chinese and U.S. flags are set up for a meeting during a visit by U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao
at China's Ministry of Transport in Beijing, China April 27, 2018. Picture taken April 27, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department on Thursday renewed its warning for U.S. citizens traveling in China to exercise increased caution due to “arbitrary enforcement of local laws” amid heightened diplomatic tensions over the arrest in Canada of a Chinese technology company executive.
    The updated travel advisory maintains the warning at “Level 2” but also warns about extra security checks and increased police presence in the Xinjiang Uighur and Tibet Autonomous Regions.
    The advisory follows the detentions by Chinese authorities in December of Canadians Michael Kovrig, a former diplomat and an adviser with the International Crisis Group (ICG) think-tank, and businessman Michael Spavor.    China says both men were suspected of endangering state security.
    Tensions with China increased after Canadian police arrested Huawei Technologies Co Ltd’s chief financial officer, Meng Wanzhou, on Dec. 1 in Vancouver at the request of the United States.
    U.S. prosecutors have accused her of misleading banks about transactions linked to Iran, putting the banks at risk of violating U.S. sanctions.
    Earlier on Thursday, China’s top prosecutor said the two Canadians had “without a doubt” violated the law.
    In its previous travel advisory for China issued on Jan. 22 last year, the State Department urged Americans to “exercise increased caution” in the country because of “the arbitrary enforcement of local laws and special restrictions on dual U.S.-Chinese nationals.”
    The latest advisory repeats that warning but adds: “Extra security measures, such as security checks and increased levels of police presence, are common in the Xinjiang Uighur and Tibet Autonomous Regions.    Authorities may impose curfews and travel restrictions on short notice.”
    The advisory also warns about China’s use of “exit bans” that would prohibit U.S. citizens from leaving the country, sometimes keeping them in China for years.
(Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Dan Grebler)

1/3/2019 North Korea diplomat in Italy missing, South Korean MP says, after asylum report by Hyonhee Shin and Joyce Lee
An entrance of the North Korean embassy is pictured in Rome, Italy, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A North Korean diplomat who was until recently acting ambassador to Italy has gone missing, a South Korean member of parliament said on Thursday, after a South Korean newspaper reported he was seeking asylum in the West.
    The diplomat, Jo Song Gil, disappeared with his wife after leaving the embassy without notice in early November, according to Kim Min-ki, a South Korean lawmaker who was briefed by the National Intelligence Service.
    Earlier on Thursday, the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, citing an unidentified diplomatic source, said Jo, 48, had applied for asylum to an unspecified Western country and was in a “safe place” with his family under the protection of the Italian government.
    A senior diplomatic source in Rome said Italy’s foreign ministry knew nothing about the reports.    A second diplomatic source said the ministry had no record of Jo seeking asylum in Italy.    The source added that North Korea had announced in late 2018 that it was sending a new envoy to Rome.
    “It was a perfectly normal procedure,” the source said.
    Kim told reporters he had some information about the case but could not discuss it.
    “They left the diplomatic mission and vanished,” Kim said, referring to Jo and his family.
DEFECTIONS
    If confirmed, Jo would join a slowly growing list of senior diplomats who have sought to flee the impoverished, oppressive North under the rule of Kim Jong Un.
    Thae Yong Ho, the North’s then deputy ambassador to Britain, defected with his family to South Korea in August 2016, becoming the highest-ranking diplomat to do so.
    Jo took up the acting envoy post in October 2017 after Italy expelled then-ambassador Mun Jong Nam in protest over North Korea’s nuclear and long-range missile tests in defiance of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
    Jo’s stint began in May 2015 and was due at the end of November, lawmaker Kim said.
    A source familiar with the matter, who asked to remain unnamed in order to speak about a sensitive political issue, told Reuters that Jo was officially replaced as acting ambassador by Kim Chon in late November.
    The source could not confirm the JoongAng Ilbo report or whether Jo was still based in Italy.
    South Korea’s presidential Blue House said earlier on Thursday it had no knowledge of the matter.
    Italy said in a report it submitted to a U.N. panel monitoring the enforcement of sanctions in November 2017 that four diplomats were stationed at the North Korean embassy there, listing the acting envoy as first secretary.
    The JoongAng Ilbo said Jo was with his wife and children. Citing an unidentified expert, it said he was known to be the son or son-in-law of a top-ranking North Korean official.
    North Korea forced diplomats stationed overseas to leave children at home after Kim took power in late 2011.
    Thae, the former deputy ambassador to Britain, said in his 2018 memoir that was the main reason behind his defection, calling it a “hostage” scheme.
    However, Thae also wrote there were some exceptions for those from the top echelons and who were seen as the most loyal to Kim.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin, Joyce Lee and Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer in Rome; Editing by Robert Birsel and Gareth Jones)

1/3/2019 India deports second Rohingya group to Myanmar, more expulsions likely by Zarir Hussain
Members of a Muslim Rohingya family sit as they pose for a photograph with Indian and Myanmar security officials
before their deportation on India-Myanmar border at Moreh in the northeastern state of Manipur, India, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) – India on Thursday deported a Rohingya Muslim family of five to neighboring Myanmar, the second such group expelled in four months during a crackdown on illegal immigrants.
    India’s Hindu nationalist government regards the Rohingya as illegal aliens and a security risk.    It has ordered that tens of thousands of the community, who live in small settlements and slums, be identified and repatriated.
    The husband, wife and three children had been arrested and jailed in northeastern Assam state in 2014 for entering India without valid documents, police said.
    “The five Rohingya have been handed over to Myanmar officials and they crossed the border,” Bhaskar Jyoti Mahanta, Assam’s additional director general of police, told Reuters.
    A Reuters picture from the India-Myanmar border showed the family members posing, with security officials of both countries standing behind them.
    Jails in Assam held 20 more Myanmar nationals, all arrested for illegal entry, he added.    But it was not immediately clear if all were Rohingya, a largely stateless Muslim minority in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
    “We shall send them back to Myanmar once we get their travel permits from that country,” Mahanta said.    “Most of them sneaked into India in search of a livelihood.”
    India’s first deportation of seven Rohingya men to Myanmar in October sparked fears of further repatriations among those sheltering in its refugee camps, and concern that those returned faced the risk of abuse at the hands of Myanmar authorities.
    The men returned to their villages in a relatively untroubled area of Kyauktaw in the northern Rakhine state.    They have been given so-called National Verification Cards, a residency document that conveys a status short of citizenship.
    India’s Border Security Force arrested 230 Rohingya last year until end-November, the highest number of detentions in at least four full years, the Ministry of Home Affairs told parliament on Tuesday.
    India estimates that 40,000 Rohingya live in the country in camps across the country, including the capital, New Delhi, having arrived over the years after fleeing violence and persecution in Myanmar, which denies them citizenship.
    In August, a U.N. report accused the Myanmar military of mass killings and rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent” in 2017 in an operation that drove more than 700,000 of them to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, according to U.N. agencies.
    Myanmar has denied the charges, saying its military launched a counter-insurgency operation after attacks on security posts by Muslim militants in August last year.
(Additional reporting by Altaf Bhat in NEW DELHI and Simon Lewis in YANGON; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

1/4/2019 Kim’s vision of a coal-fueled North Korean future may be tough to realize by Ju-min Park and Jane Chung
FILE PHOTO - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gives field guidance during his visit to a
machine factory under the Ranam Coal Mining Machine Complex in this undated photo released by
North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang July 17, 2018. KCNA via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – When North Korean leader Kim Jong Un used his New Year speech to highlight coal as a “primary front” in developing the economy, he was making a case for what analysts see as a flawed but key resource on which his country increasingly relies.
    Coal has long been a major resource for North Korea, and Kim’s call for self sufficiency in the face of international pressure is a recurring theme.
    But as international sanctions have increased over the past year, coal is one of the few local resources to which Kim can turn as he tries to make good on promises to improve life in a country notorious for limited electricity, analysts and defectors say.
    Last year Kim declared that his nuclear arsenal was “complete” and vowed to focus on building the economy.
    South Korea-based analysts and North Korean defectors report that with sanctions still blocking most coal exports, the North has put more of its stockpile to use domestically.
    “My acquaintances in North Hamgyong province told me… they got power for 14-15 hours a day in 2018, versus 8-10 hours in 2017,” said Kim Young Hui, a defector who now works as an economist at South Korea’s state-run Korea Development Bank.
    A “highly noticeable” increase in electricity in 2018 compared to the year before has increased power availability for many homes and boosted the operations of factories and trains, said Kang Mi-jin, a defector who now writes about North Korea for the website Daily NK and speaks to sources inside the North.
    “As Kim Jong Un said in the New Year speech, North Korea will focus on the domestic economy,” she said.    “Instead of finding another route to sell coal, they will continue to use it domestically.”
    But the aging technology is limited in how much it can contribute to the broader economy, analysts said.
    “Focusing on coal and electricity is a way to survive, and Kim Jong Un is trying hard to make the country a bit more self-sufficient, but (coal is) not enough to turn around the whole economy as long as exports are capped,” economist Kim Young Hui said.
LIGHTS ON
    In the New Year speech, Kim Jong Un called for the coal industry to focus on helping power stations “normalize electricity generation without letup.”
    He noted that output at the country’s largest coal power plant in Pukchang had increased “remarkably” and called for more progress on a “far-reaching plan” to develop tidal, wind and atomic power.
    Politically and economically isolated and repressed under Kim’s authoritarian regime, North Korea has long suffered from electricity shortages.
    In recent years, the lack of a reliable power supply led many North Koreans to install cheap household solar panels to charge mobile phones and light their homes.
    During a reporting trip to Pyongyang in September, multiple North Korean sources told Reuters that more electricity could help make some of Kim’s most prized building projects usable.
    At some recently constructed high-rise apartment buildings, for example, potential residents fear facing dozens of flights of stairs during power outages.
    Electricity in North Korea is prioritized for factories or areas of political importance, but people with money or connections are often able to tap power lines illegally.
    A source who regularly speaks to Pyongyang residents told Reuters that pre-ordering coal for boilers was no longer necessary because it had become more abundant.
    “People had to book coal early, about two months before running boilers when the weather gets chilly.    But thanks to reduced coal exports, it is not hard to buy it anymore after last year.    Sanctions have been tougher, but North Koreans can buy coal whenever they want if they have money,” the source said.
DWINDLING EXPORTS
    North Korea generates nearly 50 percent of its electricity from seven coal power plants and one oil-fired plant, and the rest from hydroelectric facilities.    Many of its decades-old coal plants were built by the former Soviet Union and China, according to South Korean data.
    Since 2015 North Korea has been working to convert the oil power plant to coal, according to U.S.-based monitoring group 38 North.    In the last year it has added generators to the biggest coal power complex and built a new hydro power plant.
    A 1994 deal for an international consortium to provide two light-water reactors to North Korea in exchange for its ending some of its weapons-related operations fell through.    Since then, the country has been working on an experimental light water reactor.
    Coal exports to China fell to 4.83 million tonnes in 2017, from more than 20 million tonnes in 2016, according to Chinese data.    China says it imported no North Korean coal from January to March 2018.
    North Korea’s coal production rose from 2013 to 2016, but fell 30 percent to 21.66 million tonnes in 2017 from 2016, according to South Korean government data.
    Reliable data on North Korea’s reserves is hard to come by, but 2015 BP’s Statistical Review of World Energy reported that North Korea has 600 million tonnes of coal as proven reserves, while South Korea says the North has 20.5 billion tonnes in reserve.
    North Korea is known to have 4.5 billion tonnes of anthracite, a higher quality of coal, and the rest is lignite, which is mainly suitable for power plants.    The North mostly exports anthracite, according to South Korean government data.
    North Korea has tried unsuccessfully to circumvent sanctions by smuggling coal into China and South Korea, monitors say.
    “Smuggling coal into China is not easy these days as even bribes for Chinese traders have become more expensive,” said Choi Kyung-soo, head of the North Korea Resources Institute.
(Additional reporting by Wonil Lee, Joyce Lee in SEOUL, and Henning Gloystein in SINGAPORE. Writing by Josh Smith. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

1/4/2019 Third woman breaches ban at south Indian temple amid protests
Protesters scuffle with police during a protest against state government for allowing two women to
defy an ancient ban and enter the Sabarimala temple, in New Delhi, India, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A 46-year-old woman has entered the Sabarimala temple in south India, becoming the third woman this week to breach an ancient ban on females of menstruating age from going inside, according to the office of the chief minister of Kerala state.
    It was not immediately clear how the woman, a Sri Lankan national, got into the temple.
    When the first two women to breach the ban entered the temple in the early hours of Wednesday, they arrived in an ambulance with a plainclothes police escort and went in through a side gate without any devotees noticing.
    Conservative Hindu groups paralyzed Kerala on Thursday, shutting businesses and halting transport with a protest strike against the left-wing Kerala state government, which has supported the right of women to enter the temple.
    The protests against Kerala’s communist coalition, led by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, were backed by both of the main national parties – Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu-nationalist Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) and the opposition Congress party.
    The temple is one of a few in India that bar entry to women and girls between the ages of 10 and 50 years old, saying that menstruating women are impure.
    Women’s rights groups say the ban is discriminatory.
    Media reported that the latest woman, whom they identified as Sasikala, has had her uterus removed, which would mean she cannot menstruate.    She entered the temple at about 10.55 p.m. on Thursday, media reported.
    The chief minister’s office said she went to the temple with her husband and she was offered police protection.    The Supreme Court in September ordered the lifting of the ban on women and girls entering the hill temple, which draws millions of worshippers a year.
    But the temple has refused to abide by the ruling and subsequent attempts by women to visit had been blocked by thousands of devotees.    It says that the ban is necessary because menstruating women are impure.
    On Friday, Kerala had largely returned to normal after the previous day’s strike but small protests were reported from across the state.
    Fewer than 100 members of the youth wing of the Congress party marched and shouted slogans against the chief minister in the state capital.
    Discrimination against menstruating women is common in some parts of South Asia, where they are forbidden from entering houses or temples and taking part in festivals and community events.
    Religion is often a contentious in India and political parties at times try to use the issue to their advantage.     India is due to hold a general election by May.
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Martin Howell)

1/4/2019 Japan urges South Korea to avoid unfair measures in forced labor case
December 19, 2018, Tokyo, Japan - Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono speaks during a news conference
at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo on Wednesday, December 19, 2018. (Photo by Natsuki Sakai/AFLO)
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono on Friday urged his South Korean counterpart to take prompt steps to avoid measures unfair to Japanese companies in the wake of South Korea’s claim against a Japanese firm over wartime forced labor.
    Ties between the two Asian neighbors have been frosty since a South Korean court ruling in October that Nippon Steel and Sumitomo Metal Corp should pay 100 million won ($90,500) to each of four South Koreans in a World War Two forced labor case.
    The ruling had angered Japan and, in a development that seemed set to increase tensions, lawyers for the South Korean plaintiffs said on Wednesday their clients had applied to seize some of Nippon Steel’s Korean assets.
    Kono said Japan took this move “extremely seriously”, while adding that he and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha agreed during their 30 minute telephone conversation to resolve the matter as soon as possible.
    “I called on the South Korean side to take firm steps as promptly as possible to ensure that measures unfair to Japanese firms are avoided,” Kono told reporters.
    Japan has said all wartime reparations were dealt with in a 1965 treaty that normalized ties between the two neighbors and previously said that it might be forced to take steps, including possibly going to an international court, if the issue was not resolved soon – a view Kono said he reiterated on Friday.
    Kono said he and Kang had also agreed to promptly resolve a dispute over whether a South Korean warship had locked its targeting radar on a Japanese patrol plane last month.
    South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the two ministers exchanged views on the court rulings and the radar incident, with the two agreeing on the need to “resolve differences in the two sides’ views” through consultations between defense authorities.
    They also agreed to continue close cooperation to foster a “forward-looking” relationship this year.
    Separately, South Korea’s Defense Ministry released a video earlier on Friday showing its ship trying to rescue a North Korean fishing vessel and reiterating that it was a humanitarian rescue operation.
    It added that Japan should apologize for the patrol plane’s “intimidating” low-altitude flight near the ship and urged Tokyo not to use the issue politically.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Billy Mallard in TOKYO and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/4/2019 Japan PM Abe says he plans to push for peace treaty with Russia by Elaine Lies
December 6 2018, Tokyo, Japan - Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe answers a question at Upper House's
judical committee session at the National Diet in Tokyo on Thursday, December 6, 2018. (Photo by Yoshio Tsunoda/AFLO)
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Friday he intends to push forward towards a World War Two peace treaty with Russia, which has been stymied for decades by a territorial row, during a summit in Russia later this month.
    Abe, who has signalled he is keen to clinch a deal, will meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in their 25th summit for discussions aimed at ending the disagreement over a group of windswept islands seized by Soviet troops in the final days of the war.
    “I’ll visit Russia later this month and intend to push forward with discussions towards a peace treaty,” he told a news conference in the western city of Ise.
    There had been “absolutely no progress” on the issue for more than 70 years, he said.
    Abe said that, while there were no guarantees of an agreement, the two nations had been cooperating over issues concerning the islands, as well as economically, over the past two years “as never before.”
    Putin caught Abe off guard in September when, on stage with the Japanese leader at a conference in Vladivostok, he suggested signing a peace treaty by year-end “without any pre-conditions.”
    Abe later rejected the proposal, repeating Japan’s stance that the question of sovereignty must be settled first.
    He told reporters after the two met again in Singapore in November they had agreed to speed up negotiations based on a 1956 joint statement in which Moscow agreed to transfer the two smaller islands to Japan after a peace treaty was concluded.
    “We both do not want this to drag out into another generation,” Abe said on Friday.
    Putin may be open to a deal now, expecting that better ties will act as a counter-balance to China and attract more Japanese investment and technology, some experts say.
    Others doubt Putin really wants any agreement, partly because a majority of the Russian public is opposed to returning any of the islands, known in Japan as the Northern Territories and in Russia as the Southern Kurils.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Paul Tait)

1/4/2019 China warns pig trade against African swine fever cover-ups as Taiwan concerns grow
Pork for sale is seen at a market in Beijing, China December 26, 2018. Picture taken December 26, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING/TAIPEI (Reuters) – China has warned the country’s pork industry that covering up cases of African swine fever is a crime, days after a dead pig was found on a Taiwanese beach prompting Taipei to claim Beijing was not sharing accurate information on the disease.
    China’s animal husbandry and veterinary affairs bureau is stepping up investigation and punishment of illegal activity in the pig industry, said a statement published on the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs website on Friday.
    Failing to report deaths and privately slaughtering and selling sick or dead pigs would be pursued under criminal law, it said, and compensation of 1,200 yuan ($175) for each pig culled was sufficient incentive for farmers to report the disease.
    In the worst epidemic of the disease ever seen, China has confirmed about 100 cases of African swine fever across 23 provinces since August last year.    The disease, for which there is neither cure nor vaccine, is deadly to pigs but does not harm people.
    But many experts believe it is even worse than has been reported, and Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen urged Beijing last month to “not conceal” information about the disease.
    Tsai raised the issue again in a New Year’s speech after a dead pig was found on a beach on Taiwan’s Kinmen island, a half-hour ferry ride from the east coast of China.    The pig has since been confirmed to have the African swine fever virus, while another dead pig was found on a nearby island on Friday, Taiwan’s official Central News Agency reported.
    “During our recent efforts to prevent an African swine fever epidemic, China’s government has never followed the relevant agreements and provided Taiwan with accurate, real-time reports about the epidemic situation,” she said.
    China has repeatedly said that the disease has been effectively dealt with and is under control.    The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs did not immediately respond to a fax seeking comment on Friday.
    The dead animals found on the Taiwanese islands have stoked fears that Taiwan’s pigs could soon become infected with the disease.
    Taiwan’s herd of 5.39 million pigs is tiny compared with China’s 700 million, but pork is the most popular meat in both places and domestic production in Taiwan reduces its need for imports of the staple meat.
(Reporting by Dominique Patton in BEIJING and Yi-Mou Lee in TAIPEI; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

1/4/2019 Pres. Trump optimistic on China trade deal by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump speaks out on trade negotiations with China, saying they’re going very well.
    Speaking at a press briefing Friday, the president said China is paying tremendous tariffs, and as a result, the U.S. is getting billions of dollars.
The US and China have pledged not to increase tariffs for 90 days as they seek a new trade deal [Andy Wong/AP Photo]
    When asked about Apple’s recent stock drop — which affected the overall stock market — and whether it was concerning, he said Apple is a great company, but he has to worry about the U.S.
    He also said the tech-giant should build its products in the states, instead of China.    He stressed he remains optimistic a trade deal with Beijing will be reached.
    “But I will tell you.    China is not doing well now.    And it puts us in a very strong position.    We are doing very well.    But we are taking in billions and billions of dollars.    And I hope we’re going to make a deal with China.    And if we don’t, they’re paying us tens of billions of dollars worth of tariffs – not the worst thing in the world.    But I think we will make a deal with China.    I really think they want to.    I think they sort of have to and I think we’re going to have a great relationship.    I think that President Xi and myself have a great relationship.” -President Trump.
    The president’s remarks come after China held its annual economic conference in Beijing, where they discussed a positive outlook for 2019.

1/5/2019 China’s Xi calls on army to be battle-ready
Soldiers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) take part in a combat training in the
Gobi desert in Jiuquan, Gansu province, China May 18. Picture taken May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s armed forces must strengthen their sense of urgency and do everything they can to prepare for battle, President Xi Jinping told a meeting of top brass on Friday.
    China is keen to beef up its armed forces amid territorial disputes in the South China Sea and escalating tension with the United States over issues ranging from trade to the status of Taiwan.
    The official Xinhua news agency said Xi told a meeting of the top military authority that China faced increasing risks and challenges, and the armed forces must work to secure its security and development needs.
    Xi, who is also chairman of the Central Military Commission, said the armed forces must devise strategies for the new era and take on responsibilities for preparing and waging war.
    “The world is facing a period of major changes never seen in a century, and China is still in an important period of strategic opportunity for development,” he was quoted as saying.
    He said the armed forces needed to be able to respond quickly to emergencies, needed to upgrade their joint operations capabilities and nurture new types of combat forces.
    Xi’s comments followed his remarks on Wednesday that China still reserved the right to use force to achieve “reunification” with Taiwan and prevent the island’s independence.
    Xi’s Taiwan speech came just days after U.S. President Donald Trump signed the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act into law, reaffirming the U.S. commitment to the island’s security.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/5/2019 Iran says despite U.S. sanctions, it has found new ‘potential’ oil buyers
Oil takners pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    LONDON (Reuters) – All countries that were granted waivers from the United States to continue buying a certain amount of Iranian oil imports are complying with U.S. sanctions, a senior Iranian energy official said, noting that Tehran was hopeful to find new buyers.
    The United States withdrew from a nuclear deal with Iran last year and snapped sanctions in place to choke Iran’s oil and banking industries, while temporarily allowing eight customers to keep buying crude from the Islamic Republic.
    “China, India, Japan, South Korea and other countries that were granted waivers from America to import Iranian oil are not willing to buy even one barrel more from Iran,” Amir Hossein Zamaninia, Iran’s deputy oil minister for trade and international affairs, was quoted as saying by the Oil Ministry’s news agency SHANA.     However, without giving details, Zamaninia said: “Despite U.S. pressures on Iranian oil market, the number of potential buyers of Iranian oil has significantly increased due to a competitive market, greed and pursuit of more profit.”
    The 180-day exemptions were also granted to Italy, Greece, Taiwan and Turkey.
    Washington seeks to bring Iranian oil exports to zero in order to curb Tehran’s missile and nuclear programs and counter its growing military and political influence in the Middle East.
    Iran has urged European countries, which are still committed to the nuclear deal, to oppose the sanctions by creating a financial mechanism that facilitates payments of Iranian oil sales.
    Zamaninia said the mechanism, known as SPV (Special Purpose Vehicle for trade), would be “helpful but could not resolve the problems since U.S. influence will affect any European action.”
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Alison Williams)
[Even if Iran gets someone to buy their oil they are not making enough money off of it to help their cause.].

1/5/2019 China’s population set to peak at 1.44 billion in 2029: government report
Pedestrians walk past two girls, one wearing a face mask, sitting on their luggage
outside the Beijing west railway station January 18, 2012. REUTERS/David Gray
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China’s population is set to reach a peak of 1.442 billion in 2029 and start a long period of “unstoppable” decline in 2030, government scholars said in a research report published on Friday.
    The world’s most populous country must now draw up policies to try to cope with a declining labor force and a rapidly ageing population, according to the summary of the latest edition of the “Green Book of Population and Labor” published by the China Academy of Social Sciences (CASS).
    Growth in the working population had now stagnated, the report said, and the rising number of elderly people will have a far-reaching impact on the social and economic development in the country, especially if fertility rates remain low.
    “From a theoretical point of view, the long-term population decline, especially when it is accompanied by a continuously ageing population, is bound to cause very unfavorable social and economic consequences,” it said.
    China’s population is expected to fall back to 1.36 billion by the middle of the century, it said, which could mean a decline in the workforce of as much as 200 million.    If fertility rates remain unchanged, the population could fall to 1.17 billion by 2065, it said.
    China decided in 2016 to relax a controversial “one-child policy” aimed at curbing population growth and allow all couples to have two children.    However, the country’s birth rate still fell 3.5 percent in 2017 and is expected to have fallen again last year.
    China’s “dependency rate” – or the proportion of non-working people, including children and the elderly, in the total population – rose for the first time in more than 30 years in 2011, and is widely predicted to increase further for at least the next few decades.
    The proportion of retirees is projected to rise until 2060, the CASS report said, and while the decision to relax “one-child” rules was designed to rebalance China’s age structure, in the short term it will also lead to a greater dependency rate.
    According to previous forecasts, China’s elderly population is expected to reach 400 million by the end of 2035, up from around 240 million last year.
(Reporting by David Stanway; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

1/5/2019 Former North Korean diplomat urges missing colleague in Italy to go to South Korea, not U.S. by Hyonhee Shin
Thae Yong Ho, North Korea¡¯s former deputy ambassador in London who defected to the South,
speaks during an interview with Reuters in Seoul, South Korea, February 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A former North Korean diplomat who staged a high-profile defection to the South on Saturday urged an old colleague who has gone missing in Italy to defect to Seoul, following a report that he was seeking asylum in the United States.
    Jo Song Gil, the 44-year-old who was until recently North Korea’s acting ambassador to Italy, disappeared with his wife after leaving the embassy without notice in early November, South Korean lawmakers said on Thursday.
    Jo has sought asylum in the United States and is under the protection of Italian intelligence, Italy’s La Repubblica newspaper said on Friday, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.
    The State Department and the U.S. embassy in Seoul did not immediately respond to a query from Reuters.
    In an open letter, Thae Yong Ho, Pyongyang’s former deputy ambassador to Britain, who said he went to the same university and worked with Jo before defecting to South Korea in 2016, urged Jo to follow in his footsteps.
    To defect to the South is an “obligation, not a choice” for North Korean diplomats committed to unification, Thae said, calling Seoul “the outpost” for that task.
    “If you come to South Korea, the day when our suffering colleagues and North Korean citizens are liberated from the fetters would be moved forward,” Thae said in the letter released on his website.
    “If you come to Seoul, even more of our colleagues would follow suit, and the unification would be accomplished by itself.”
    Thae said his family visited Jo in Rome in 2008, where the latter was studying from 2006 to 2009.    He guided them to sites such as St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.
    South Korea could not be “heaven on earth” but a place where Jo can realize his wishes, Thae said, highlighting the ardent desire for unification among many of the roughly 32,000 defectors there.
    “The defectors may not be as wealthy as South Koreans,” Thae added.    “But isn’t it the only thing you and I, as North Korean diplomats, should do the rest of our lives – to bring about unification and hand over a unified nation to our children?
‘SAFER PLACE FOR DEFECTION’
    If confirmed to have fled, Jo would be another Europe-based diplomat who has sought to leave the impoverished, oppressive North under the rule of Kim Jong Un.
    In 2015, a counselor in charge of science affairs at the North’s embassy in Germany defected with his wife to an unidentified country, while a secretary-level trade official stationed in Bulgaria and his wife also fled, Thae told South Korean cable news Channel A in an interview this week.
    South Korean officials said they could not comment on intelligence matters.
    Europe could be a safer place for North Korean diplomats than elsewhere due to its openness to receiving asylum seekers, defectors and experts say.
    North Korea has formal diplomatic ties with 26 European nations, as well as Britain and Germany, since 2013, Seoul’s Unification Ministry says.
    Pyongyang requires diplomats going overseas to leave at least one child at home, but those from the top echelons or seen as the most loyal to the regime get some exceptions.
    Jo hailed from a wealthy family of diplomats, and was able to take his child on his posting to Italy in 2015, Thae said.
    “Diplomats in Europe are well-connected and sensitive to political changes at home, which allow them to make a move quickly,” said Ahn Chan-il, a former North Korean military officer and defector.
    Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a North Korea specialist at Vrije Universiteit Brussel, said Europe offered a “more open, safer environment” for North Korean officials to discuss sensitive issues and consider defection.
    “Also, Western European countries, such as Italy or the United Kingdom, are very likely to approve the asylum application or support the defection of any North Korean official who asks for it,” said Pacheco Pardo, who regularly meets North Korean officials and defectors in Europe.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Additional reporting by Joyce Lee in SEOUL and Lesley Wroughton in WASHINGTON; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/5/2019 Taiwan president calls for international support to defend democracy
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen visits Paraguay's president-elect Mario Abdo Benitez'
home in Asuncion, Paraguay August 14, 2018. REUTERS/Jorge Adorno
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen called on Saturday for international support to defend the self-ruled island’s democracy and way of life in the face of renewed threats from China.
    Tsai’s comments came days after Chinese President Xi Jinping said nobody could change the fact that Taiwan was part of China, and that people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should seek “reunification.”
    “We hope that the international community takes it seriously and can voice support and help us,” Tsai told reporters in Taipei, referring to threats by China to use force to bring Taiwan under its control.
    If the international community did not support a democratic country that was under threat, “we might have to ask which country might be next?” Tsai added.
    Taiwan is China’s most sensitive issue and is claimed by Beijing as its sacred territory.    Xi has stepped up pressure on the democratic island since Tsai from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party became president in 2016.
    President Xi said on Wednesday that China reserves the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control but will strive to achieve peaceful “reunification” with the island.
    In response, Tsai has said the island would not accept a “one country, two systems” political arrangement with China, while stressing all cross-Strait negotiations needed to be carried out on a government-to-government basis.
    Tsai on Saturday also urged China to have a “correct understanding” of what Taiwanese think and said actions such as political bullying were unhelpful in cross-strait relations.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by Anne Marie Roantree and Jacqueline Wong)

1/5/2019 Iran approves anti-money laundering bill to ease foreign trade
FILE PHOTO: An exchange currency dealer sits at his shop as he waits for customer in
Tehran's business district October 24, 2011. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi
    LONDON (Reuters) – A powerful Iranian council approved an anti-money laundering bill on Saturday, state media reported, a major step towards reforms that would bring Iran into line with global norms and could facilitate foreign trade in the face of U.S sanctions.
    Iran has been trying to implement standards set by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), an inter-governmental organization that underpins the fight against money laundering and terrorist financing.
    Foreign businesses say Iran’s compliance with FATF standards and its removal from the organization’s blacklist are essential if they are to increase investment, especially after reimposition of the U.S. sanctions on Tehran.
    However, Iranian hardliners have opposed passing legislation toward compliance with the FATF, arguing it could hamper Iranian financial support for allies such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah, which the United States lists as a terrorist organization.
    Parliament last year passed the anti-money laundering bill, one of four amendments Iran needs to implement to meet FATF requirements, but the Guardian Council, a vetting body, rejected it, saying it was against Islam and the constitution.
    On Saturday, the Expediency Council, a body intended to resolve disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council, approved the bill with some changes, state news agency IRNA said, quoting a member of the council.
    The move came after Ayatollah Sadeq Amoli Larijani – the chief of hardline judiciary – was appointed last week as the head of the Expediency Council.    He is the brother of Ali Larijani, the speaker of the parliament.
    Seven months after his harsh dismissal of parliamentary efforts to adapt FATF and other international conventions on money laundering, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei seems to have warmed to the reforms, a reversal that experts say is aimed at preventing Iran’s economic collapse.
    In recent months, cities have been rocked by demonstrations as factory workers, teachers, truck drivers and farmers protested against economic hardship.    The sanctions have depressed the value of Iran’s rial currency and aggravated annual inflation fourfold to nearly 40 percent in November.
    U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a nuclear deal with Iran last year and reimposed the sanctions on its banking and energy sectors, hoping to curb its missile and nuclear programs and counter its growing influence in the Middle East.
    European signatories of the nuclear deal are still committed to the accord and seek to launch a mechanism, a so-called special purpose vehicle (SPV), aiming to sidestep the U.S. financial system by using an EU intermediary to handle trade with Iran.
    The director general of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, an advisory body set up by Khamenei, voiced his support for the FATF-related bills on Friday.
    “It is better to finalize the FATF and CFT (counter financing of terrorism regimes) in the earliest time, so the Europeans have no excuse not to implement the (SPV) mechanism,” Abdolreza Faraji was quoted by semi-official ISNA new agency.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Alison Williams)

1/6/2019 Iran plans naval drills with Russia in Caspian Sea
Iran's army servicemen with the national flag attend the opening ceremony of the airborne platoon competition,
part of the International Army Games 2017, in Guangshui, Hubei province, China, July 30, 2017. China Daily via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran and Russia are preparing to hold joint naval exercises in the Caspian Sea, including rescue and anti-piracy drills, the commander of the Iranian navy was quoted on Sunday as saying.
    “Tactical, rescue and anti-piracy war games between Iranian and Russian naval forces are being planned and will be implemented in the near future,” the semi-official news agency Mehr quoted Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi as saying.
    Iran and Russia have held several naval drills in the Caspian Sea, including in 2015 and 2017.
    Iran and Russia have close ties, including in Syria where they both back President Bashar al-Assad in the country’s civil war.
    Khanzadi reiterated Iran’s opposition to the military presence of any country from outside the region in the Caspian Sea, saying: “All countries around the Caspian have the same approach,” Mehr reported.
    Russia said last year it was firmly committed to deepening ties with Iran despite a U.S. decision to quit an international nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; editing by Richard Pullin)

1/6/2019 China reveals plans for carrier relocation to Beijing’s new airport
FILE PHOTO: The inner view of a terminal hall of the new Daxing International Airport under construction
during a government-organised media tour on the outskirts of Beijing, China August 30, 2018. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
(This Jan. 3 story was refiled to fix typo in airport name in paragraph 6)
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s aviation regulator published on Thursday plans for airline relocation to Beijing’s new mega-airport set to open this year and said it would let foreign carriers decide which of the capital’s airports they will use.
    Beijing Daxing International Airport, due to open in September, will accommodate 72 million passengers a year by 2025 and is expected to become one of the world’s busiest airports upon completion.
    This will be the city’s second such facility and help relieve pressure on Beijing Capital International Airport, whose annual capacity has reached 100 million passengers.
    Foreign airlines, along with those in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, can choose which airport they want to operate in, with the option of having a presence in both.    Chinese carriers, except China Postal Airlines, will have to use only one airport, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).
    China initially planned to relocate airlines from the SkyTeam alliance to the new airport, while Star Alliance airlines would stay at the existing Beijing airport.
    Airlines including China Southern, China Eastern, Beijing Capital Airlines and China United Airlines will be relocated to Beijing Daxing International Airport, while carriers such as Air China, Hainan Airlines and Grand China Air will stay at Beijing Capital International Airport.
    Relocation will last from the winter of 2019 to the winter of 2021, the CAAC said.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu and Brenda Goh; Editing by Dale Hudson)

1/6/2019 China says pace of Xinjiang ‘education’ will slow, but defends camps by Ben Blanchard
Weapons the government says were seized from militants in Xinjiang are on display at an
exhibition titled "Major Violent Terrorist Attack Cases in Xinjiang”, during a government organised trip in
Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 3, 2019. Picture taken January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard
    URUMQI/KASHGAR/HOTAN, China (Reuters) – China will not back down on what it sees as a highly successful de-radicalisation program in Xinjiang that has attracted global concern, but fewer people will be sent through, officials said last week in allowing rare media access there.
    Beijing has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home.
    In August, a U.N. human rights panel said it had received credible reports that a million or more Uighurs and other minorities in the far western region are being held in what resembles a “massive internment camp.”
    Last week, the government organized a visit to three such facilities, which it calls vocational education training centers, for a small group of foreign reporters, including Reuters.
    In recent days, a similar visit was arranged for diplomats from 12 non-Western countries, including Russia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, Kazakhstan, according to Xinjiang officials and foreign diplomats.
    Senior officials, including Shohrat Zakir, Xinjiang’s governor and the region’s most senior Uighur, dismissed what they called “slanderous lies” about the facilities.
    Speaking in Xinjiang’s capital, Urumqi, Shohrat Zakir said the centers had been “extremely effective” in reducing extremism by teaching residents about the law and helping them learn Mandarin.
    “As time goes by, the people in the education training mechanism will be fewer and fewer,” he said.
    Shohrat Zakir said he could not say exactly how many people were in the facilities.
    “One million people, this number is rather frightening.    One million people in the education mechanism – that’s not realistic.    That’s purely a rumor,” he said, stressing they were temporary educational facilities.
    Dilxat Raxit, spokesman for the Munich-based exile group the World Uyghur Congress, told Reuters the Chinese government was using extremism as an excuse to lock people up.
    “What they are trying to do is destroy Uighur identity,” he said.
INSIDE THE CENTERS
    Human rights groups and former detainees have said that conditions in the camps are poor, with inmates subject to abuse.    They said detainees did not receive vocational training.
    Seeking to counter that narrative, the government took reporters to three centers, in Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax, all in the heavily Uighur-populated southern part of Xinjiang, where much of the violence has taken place in recent years.
    In one class reporters were allowed to briefly visit, a teacher explained in Mandarin that not allowing singing or dancing at a wedding or crying at a funeral are signs of extremist thought.
    The students took notes, pausing to look up as reporters and officials entered the room.    Some smiled awkwardly.    Others just looked down at their books.    All were Uighur.    None appeared to have been mistreated.
    In another class, residents read a Chinese lesson in their textbook entitled “Our motherland is so vast.”
    There was plenty of singing and dancing in other rooms reporters visited, including a lively rendition in English of “If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands,” that seemed to have been put on especially for the visit.
    Several residents agreed to speak briefly to reporters, though all in the presence of government officials.
    Reporters were closely chaperoned at all times.
    All the interviewees said they were there of their own accord after learning of the centers from local officials.
    Many answers used extremely similar language about being “infected with extremist thought.”
    Pazalaibutuyi, 26, told reporters at the Hotan center that five years ago she had attended an illegal religious gathering at a neighbor’s house, where they were taught that women should cover their faces.
    “At that time I was infected with extremist thought so I wore a face veil,” she said, speaking clear Mandarin after a year at the center.
    Government officials came to her village to talk to the villagers and after that, she said, “I discovered my mistake.”
    In the Kashgar center, Osmanjan, who declined to give his age, said he had incited ethnic hatred, so village police suggested he go for re-education.
    “Under the influence of extremist thought, when non-Muslims came to my shop I was unwilling to serve them,” he said in unsteady Mandarin.
    It was not possible to independently verify their stories.    All the interviewees said they had not been forewarned of the visit.
    Residents said they can “graduate” when they are judged to have reached a certain level with their Mandarin, de-radicalisation and legal knowledge.    They are allowed phone calls with family members, but no cell phones.    They are provided halal food.
    Only minimal security was visible at any of the three centers.
    Reuters last year reported on conditions inside the camps and took pictures of guard towers and barbed wire surrounding some. (https://tinyurl.com/y9zzouss)
‘A GOOD LIFE’
    The situation in Xinjiang has stirred concern in Western capitals.
    At least 15 Western ambassadors wrote to Xinjiang’s top official, Communist Party chief Chen Quanguo, late last year seeking a meeting to discuss their concerns.    Chen did not meet reporters on the trip.
    Diplomatic sources told Reuters the ambassadors did not get a response.
    The United States has said it is considering sanctions against Chen, other officials and Chinese companies linked to allegations of rights abuses in Xinjiang.
    Maya Wang, a Hong Kong-based Human Rights Watch researcher, said international pressure needs to increase.
    “The fact that they feel they need to put on a show tour is a sign that this pressure is working,” she told Reuters.
    Both Wang and Dilxat Raxit noted that the tight control over the visits and interviews showed China’s concern about their true nature.
    Over a lunch of lamb kebabs, horse meat and naan, Urumqi party boss Xu Hairong told Reuters that “all of the reports are fake” when it comes to foreign coverage of Xinjiang.    He dismissed worries about U.S. sanctions.
    “We, including Party Secretary Chen, are working all out for the people of Xinjiang to have a good life,” Xu said.    “If the U.S. won’t allow me to go, then I don’t want to go there.    That’s the truth.”
    The government says its goal is for Uighurs to become part of mainstream Chinese society.    Shohrat Zakir said in parts of southern Xinjiang people couldn’t even say hello in Mandarin.
    Officials point to a lack of violence in the past two years as evidence of program’s success.
    Urumqi’s Exhibition on Major Violent Terrorist Attack Cases in Xinjiang, normally closed to the public, displays graphic images and footage from what the government says are attacks.
    “Only with a deeper understanding of the past can you understand the measures we have taken today,” Shi Lei, Xinjiang’s Communist Party committee deputy propaganda chief, told reporters.
    One member of the Chinese armed forces, who has served in Kashgar, said the security situation had improved dramatically.
    “You can’t imagine what it was like there in 2014 and 2015.    There were attacks all the time, bombings, stabbings.    It was chaos,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
    In Kashgar, Hotan and Karakax, petrol stations are still surrounded by barbed wire and heavy security barriers.    Residential areas are dotted with small police stations.
    The stations have broader public service in mind, Zhang Yi, commander of one of the stations, told reporters.    The one reporters visited provided pamphlets on a wide range of subjects, including how to legally change your sex.
    Kashgar deputy party chief Zark Zurdun, a Uighur from Ghulja in northern Xinjiang, where many ethnic Kazakhs live, told Reuters that “stability is the best human right.”
    “The West should learn from us” on how to beat extremism, he said, dismissing concerns Uighur culture was under attack.
    “Did Kazakh vanish in the USSR when they all had to learn Russian?” he said.    “No.    So Uighur won’t vanish here.”
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Gerry Doyle)
[We'll what do you believe as even in China now behavior is controlled, so why would'nt it do it in a Muslim commune.    Even in the U.S.A. if Muslims try to force Shria Law on Americans they will be put in camps too, which I hope I never see that unless these foolish Socialist try to keep pushing their agenda on us.].

1/6/2019 Malaysia’s king abdicates after two years on throne
FILE PHOTO: Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani (L) shakes hand with Malaysia's King Muhammad V after a state
welcome ceremony at the Parliament House in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia October 16, 2017. REUTERS/Lai Seng Sin/File Photo
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Malaysia’s King Muhammad V abdicated on Sunday, the palace said, after two years on the throne, the first time a monarch has stepped down before completing their five-year tenure.
    The king’s resignation took effect immediately, the National Palace said in a statement.    No reason was given and palace officials did not respond to requests for comment.
    A week ago, the king, 49, had resumed duties after spending two months on medical leave.    Images purporting to show him getting married in Russia appeared on social media in December.    The palace did not respond to requests for comment on the photos or reports of a marriage.
    Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and the king assumes a largely ceremonial role, including as the custodian of Islam in the Muslim-majority country.    However, the king’s assent is needed before the appointment of a prime minister or senior public officials.
    Malaysia has nine royal households, who typically take turns to sit on the throne, and the selection of the next king is decided by a vote in the Council of Rulers, made up of all nine royal households.
    The palace statement said the king, who took the throne in December 2016, was grateful for the opportunity given to him by the Council of Rulers and thanked the prime minister and government for their cooperation during his rule.
    “His Highness has worked towards fulfilling his responsibilities entrusted to him as the head of state, serving as a pillar of stability, source of justice, the core of unity … for the people,” the palace statement said.
    The New Straits Times reported there had been tensions between the palace and the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who led the opposition to an election win in May.
    Mahathir, known for challenging royalty during his past 22-year tenure as prime minister, said in a blog post last week that everyone “from the Rulers to the Prime Minister and Ministers, to the civil servants and ordinary citizens” are subject to the law.    He did not elaborate.
    In June, the government and palace faced a near two-week impasse over a plan to appoint a non-Malay as attorney-general.    The king eventually approved the appointment, though the incident had stoked racial tensions.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

1/6/2019 Thai activists protest as election faces delay
Activist and university students gather to demand the first election in Thailand since the military seized power
in a 2014 coup to be held on February 24 this year in Bangkok, Thailand January 6, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Dozens of Thai activists on Sunday protested against a possible delay of a national election set for next month, the first such gathering since the military government lifted a ban on political activity imposed after a 2014 coup.
    The junta has promised and postponed the election several times since it came to power, with the latest date set for Feb. 24.
    However, the vote faces yet another postponement after Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam suggested on Friday that post-election events might clash with rituals related to King Maha Vajiralongkorn’s coronation from May 4-6.
    That prompted the first protest since the junta lifted a ban on political activities and a gathering of more than five people in December.
    “We want the government to hold an election as soon as possible, so that democracy can move forward in our country,” said Anon Nampa, a human rights lawyer and anti-junta activist who organized the protest at the Victory Monument area in central Bangkok.
    Protestors carried signs which read “We Want Election” and “Election only on Feb 24, 2019,” chanting “No delay!” in unison.
    Thailand’s Election Commission has not officially announced the postponement but said it has acknowledged the government’s suggestion that the vote be pushed back.
    The military government also failed to issue an official decree committing to holding a general election by Friday, meaning it is less likely to be held on Feb. 24 under the current timeline laid out.
    The election is meant to restore democracy after a 2014 military coup ousted an elected prime minister, though changes to the constitution in the interim ensure the military will retain a great deal of control.
(Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Juarawee Kittisilpa; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/6/2019 Iran’s central bank proposes slashing four zeros from falling currency: IRNA
FILE PHOTO: A man counts Iranian rials at a currency exchange shop in
Basra, Iraq, November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani - RC153985B7A0/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s central bank has proposed slashing four zeros from the rial, state news agency IRNA reported on Sunday, after the currency plunged in a year marked by an economic crisis fueled by U.S. sanctions.
    “A bill to remove four zeros from the national currency was presented to the government by the central bank yesterday and I hope this matter can be concluded as soon as possible,” IRNA quoted central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati as saying.
    Proposals to remove four zeros from the currency have been floated since 2008, but the idea has gained strength as the rial lost more than 60 percent of its value in 2018 despite a recent recovery engineered by the central bank in defiance of U.S. sanctions.
    The currency was trading at about 110,000 rials per U.S. dollar on the unofficial market on Sunday, according to foreign exchange websites.
    President Donald Trump reimposed U.S. sanctions on Iran last year after pulling out of world powers’ 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran.    Washington has vowed “maximum pressure” on Iran’s economy to force it to accept tougher limits on its nuclear and missile programs.    Iran has ruled this out.
    Rial weakness disrupted Iran’s foreign trade last year and helped boost annual inflation fourfold to nearly 40 percent in November.    The weak currency and galloping inflation have been a complaint of sporadic street protests since late 2017.
    After approval by the government, the proposed currency plan would have to be passed by parliament and approved by the clerical body that vets legislation before it takes effect.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
[I am assuming that Iran can just wish 4 zeros to go away in the real world than admit the reality they are in.].

1/7/2019 U.S. Navy ship sails in disputed South China Sea amid trade talks with Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Chinese ships are seen during a search and rescue exercise near Qilian Yu subgroup in the
Paracel Islands, which is known in China as Xisha Islands, South China Sea, July 14, 2016. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A U.S. guided-missile destroyer sailed near disputed islands in the South China Sea in what China called a “provocation as U.S. officials joined talks in Beijing during a truce in a bitter trade war.
    The USS McCampbell carried out a “freedom of navigation” operation, sailing within 12 nautical miles of the Paracel Island chain, “to challenge excessive maritime claims,” Pacific Fleet spokeswoman Rachel McMarr said in an emailed statement.
    The operation was not about any one country or to make a political statement, McMarr said.
    The statement came as trade talks between China and the United States were under way in Beijing, the first round of face-to-face discussions since both sides agreed to a 90-day truce in a trade war that has roiled international markets.stern representations.”
    “We urge the United States to immediately cease this kind of provocation,” he said, adding that China had sent military ships and aircraft to identify and warn off the ship.
    Asked about the timing of the operation during trade talks, Lu said resolving issues would benefit the two countries and the world.
    “Both sides have the responsibility to create the necessary positive atmosphere for this,” he said.
    China claims almost all of the strategic South China Sea and frequently lambastes the United States and its allies for freedom of navigation naval operations near Chinese-occupied islands.
    Vietnam, the Philippines, Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia and Taiwan have competing claims in the region.
    U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in December agreed to put on hold a spiraling trade dispute of tit-for-tat import tariffs on hundreds of billions worth of goods.
    Trump has imposed tariffs to pressure Beijing to change its practices on issues ranging from corporate espionage to market access and industrial subsidies.    China has retaliated with tariffs of its own.
    Fears have grown in recent months that the dispute is just one vector in a bilateral relationship that is fast cooling across the board, with top administration officials sharply criticizing Beijing for everything from human rights abuses and its influence operations in the United States.
    The two countries are also at odds over regional security, including Washington’s overtures to the self-ruled island of Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.
    China and the United States have in the past repeatedly traded barbs over what Washington says is Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea by building military installations on artificial islands and reefs.
    China defends its construction as necessary for self-defense and says that it is rather Washington that is responsible for ratcheting up tensions in the region by sending warships and military plans close to islands Beijing claims.
(Reporting by Philip Stewart in Washington and Christian Shepherd and Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/7/2019 Four decades on, Cambodia reflects on its ‘Killing Fields’ nightmare by Prak Chan Thul
Cambodians attend an event to mark the 40th anniversary of the toppling of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge regime
at the Olympic stadium in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – At the height of Pol Pot’s genocidal Khmer Rouge “killing fields” regime which devastated Cambodia for more than three years from 1975-79, Srey Heng overcame her crippling hunger by catching and eating frogs, snails and insects.
    “I was just skin and bones,” said Srey Heng, who was conscripted by the Khmer Rouge into a mobile labor unit for children, and forced to dig canals.
    Thousands of Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge marked the 40th anniversary of their demise in a commemoration in Phnom Penh on Monday.
    About 60,000 people gathered at a stadium in the capital, where dancers and performers held banners and waved flags in scenes reminiscent of an Olympic opening ceremony.
    The event was organized by the ruling Cambodian People’s party (CPP), whose Prime Minister Hun Sen has led the Southeast Asian country for more than 33 years.
    The 66-year-old, a former member of the Khmer Rouge, came to power under a government installed by Vietnam, which invaded Cambodia at the end of 1978 and captured Phom Penh on Jan. 7, 1979, ending Khmer Rouge rule and forcing its leader, Pol Pot, into hiding.
    Much of the event was dedicated to the achievements of Hun Sen, who has come under fire from rights groups for his intimidation of political opponents and for winning a widely criticized general election last July.
    Songs praising the prime minister as a “peaceful and loyal statesman” echoed through the stadium.
    Traditional dancers performed in honor of his policies.
    Outside, survivors like Srey Heng, now a street vendor selling water and soft drinks, cast a more somber figure compared with the scenes inside.
    “Many of my relatives died under Pol Pot because they were hungry," Srey Heng said.
    “I don’t even know what happened to the others.”
‘CHAOS’
    An estimated 1.7 million people died at the hands of the extremist, communist regime.
    Most victims died of torture, starvation, disease, or exhaustion in labor camps.    Others were beaten to death during mass executions.
    Seang Tharuon, 69, lost 11 siblings and both her parents during the killings.    She was forced by the Khmer Rouge to marry her husband.
    Like many others, Seang Tharuon was evacuated from Phom Penh by the Khmer Rouge at the start of its nightmarish rule.    She walked for more than 100 km (62 miles) from the countryside back to the capital when the regime fell in 1979.
    “We mainly had gruel to eat, and they would let us eat rice once a month,” Seang Tharuon told Reuters as she bought drinks from Srey Heng’s stall outside the stadium.
    In downtown Phnom Penh, former Khmer Rouge soldier Prum Punly balanced on one leg as he fed birds by the river.
    He lost his other leg to a landmine while fighting against U.S.-backed Cambodian government forces in 1975, as the Khmer Rouge came to power:
    “I was too young to understand politics,” the 67-year-old said.
    “It was chaos.”
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Editing by James Pearson, Robert Birsel)

1/7/2019 Malaysian royals to vote for a new king after surprise resignation
FILE PHOTO: Malaysian King Muhammad V attends a welcome ceremony at the Parliament House
in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia February 26, 2017. Picture taken February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Members of Malaysia’s royal families agreed on Monday to vote for a new king on Jan. 24 to replace King Muhammad V, who has stepped down unexpectedly, the national news agency Bernama reported.
    The king resigned on Sunday after just two years on the throne, the first time a monarch has stepped down before completing their five-year tenure.
    No reason was given for the resignation.
    King Muhammad, 49, had only just resumed duties last week after spending two months on medical leave.
    Images purporting to show him getting married in Russia appeared on social media in December.    Posts identified his new wife as Oksana Voevodina, who won a Miss Moscow contest in 2015.
    The palace has not responded to requests for comment on the photos or reports of a marriage.
    Media has also reported some tension between the palace and the government of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad since the veteran leader returned to power last year.
    Malaysia is a constitutional monarchy and the king assumes a largely ceremonial role, including acting as custodian of Islam in the Muslim-majority country.    The king’s assent is needed for the appointment of a prime minister and various senior officials.
    Malaysia’s nine royal households take turns to provide a king, who is chosen through a vote in a Council of Rulers, made up of the nine households, most of which are led by a sultan.
    A vote must be held within four weeks of the throne becoming vacant.
    Heads of six of the nine households met on Monday at the national palace to decide a date for the election of a new king.
    The council agreed that a new king would be voted in on Jan. 24, and would formally take the throne on Jan. 31, the council said in a statement posted on the Bernama Twitter feed.
    One sultan could not attend as he was unwell, while another was overseas, the council said.    The third sultan who was not present was King Muhammad.
    Earlier on Monday, Mahathir said the government hoped the council would elect a new king as soon as possible as the government needed to keep the king apprised on “certain matters,” Bernama reported.
    Mahathir led the opposition to a historic election win in May, defeating a coalition that had governed Malaysia for 60 years.
    In June, the government and palace faced a near two-week impasse over a plan to appoint someone how was not from the majority ethnic Malay community as attorney-general.
    The king eventually approved the appointment, though the incident had stoked ethnic tensions.
    Mahathir, known for challenging royalty during his earlier 22-year tenure as prime minister, said in a blog post last week that everyone “from the Rulers to the Prime Minister and Ministers, to the civil servants and ordinary citizens” are subject to the law.    He did not elaborate.
(Reporting by Joseph Sipalan; Editing by A. Ananthalakshmi and Robert Birsel)

1/7/2019 Singapore leading family feud resurfaces over founder’s will
FILE PHOTO: Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong speaks at the ASEAN
Business and Investment Summit in Singapore, November 12, 2018. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – A feud between Singapore’s prime minister and his siblings resurfaced on Monday when the public prosecutor said there were questions over the involvement of a family member in the preparation of their father’s will.
    The case, which comes ahead of a general election expected as soon as this year, stems from a dispute over the old house of Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s first premier and the father of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
    The siblings have publicly bickered since June 2017 over the future of the family home in which the late leader, who died in 2015, had lived for most of his life.
    Prime Minister Lee’s younger brother, Lee Hsien Yang, and sister, Lee Wei Ling, want the house to be eventually demolished in accordance, they have said, with their father’s wishes as stated in his will.
    But the prime minister has questioned whether his father really wanted the home, near Singapore’s bustling Orchard Road shopping district, to be knocked down.    He has said he has recused himself from government discussions on the matter.
    On Monday, the Attorney General’s Chambers (AGC) said it had referred to the Law Society a case of “possible professional misconduct” over the involvement of the wife of the prime minister’s brother in the will.
    The wife, Lee Suet Fern, who is a lawyer, appears to have prepared the elder Lee’s last will despite the fact that her husband was one of the beneficiaries of the will, the AGC said in a statement.
    Lee Suet Fern declined to comment.    She has never commented on whether she had prepared the late founder’s will.
    In a Facebook post late on Sunday, Lee Wei Ling said:
    “Lee Kuan Yew, a highly regarded lawyer, never complained about his will … Why therefore this new attack on our father’s will?    Why is this being initiated now, and by the AGC, after all this time?
    The government panel that had been set up to examine the future of the house said early last year that a future government should make the final call.
(Reporting by Jack Kim, Fathin Ungku and John Geddie; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/7/2019 Oil prices jump on U.S-China trade hopes, supply cuts by Henning Gloystein
A rainbow is seen over a pumpjack during sunset outside Scheibenhard, near Strasbourg, France, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Christian Hartmann
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices rose by more than 1.5 percent on Monday on hopes that talks in Beijing can resolve a trade war between the United States and China, while supply cuts by major producers also supported crude.
    Brent crude futures were at $58.04 per barrel at 0751 GMT, up 98 cents cents, or 1.7 percent, from their last close.
    U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $48.85 per barrel, up 89 cents, or 1.9 percent.
    Financial markets were riding a relief rally on Monday on expectations that face-to-face trade negotiations between delegates from Washington and Beijing, starting on Monday, would lead to an easing in tensions between the two biggest economies in the world.
    The United States and Beijing have been locked in an escalating trade spat since early 2018, raising import tariffs on each other’s goods.    The dispute has weighed on economic growth.
    Goldman Sachs said in a note on Monday that it had downgraded its average Brent crude oil forecast for 2019 to $62.50 a barrel from $70 due to “the strongest macro headwinds since 2015.”
    French bank Societe Generale also lowered its oil price forecasts, cutting its 2019 average price expectation for Brent by $9 to $64 a barrel and reducing its WTI forecast to $57 a barrel, also a reduction of $9.
    The bank said it had revised its global oil demand growth forecast to 1.27 million barrels per day (bpd), down from 1.43 million bpd previously.
    In the latest signs of widespread economic slowdown that could also hit fuel demand, British new car sales in 2018 fell at their fastest rate since the global financial crisis a decade ago, preliminary industry data showed on Monday.
    Meanwhile, German industrial orders dropped in November, official data showed on Monday, as Germany’s exporters suffer from the trade dispute between China and the United States.     U.S. bank J.P. Morgan said in a note late last week that “bond and commodity markets appear to be pricing in on average close to a 60 percent chance of a U.S. recession over the coming year compared to a 40 percent chance by our economists and 27 percent chance by the consensus.”
OPEC CUTS, RISING U.S. SUPPLY
    Despite the likelihood of a slowdown, crude future prices were being supported by supply cuts started late last year by a group of producers around the Middle East-dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as non-OPEC Russia.
    Goldman said the cuts would result in a gradual increase in spot crude prices in 2019 as high inventories revert to their 5-year averages.
    OPEC oil supply fell in December by 460,000 barrels per day (bpd), to 32.68 million bpd, a Reuters survey found last week, led by cuts from top exporter Saudi Arabia.
    The cuts are aimed at reining in swelling supply, especially in the United States.
    Because of record U.S. crude oil production of 11.7 million bpd, American fuel stockpiles are rising, according to weekly data by the Energy Information Administration (EIA) released on Friday.
    Crude oil inventories rose by 7,000 barrels in the week that ended on Dec. 28, to 441.42 million barrels, more than 5 million barrels above their 5-year average.
    Distillate and gasoline stocks, however, rose by a whopping 9.5 million and 6.9 million barrels, to 119.9 million and 240 million barrels respectively, the EIA data showed.
(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; Editing by Tom Hogue and Joseph Radford)

1/7/2019 President Trump, Kim Jong Un signal they’re willing to meet for second summit by OAN Newsroom
    With a new year ahead, President Trump is remaining optimistic about the future of relations with North Korea.    In a recent tweet, the president reaffirmed he wants to meet with Kim Jong Un again.    This tweet came just hours after Kim addressed his people and the world, and claimed he’s still dedicated to denuclearization.
    Trump tweet: “'Kim Jong Un says North Korea will not make or test nuclear weapons, or give them to others - & he is ready to meet President Trump anytime.' PBS News Hour. I also look forward to meeting with Chairman Kim who realizes so well that North Korea possesses great economic potential!”     “Our party’s, our government’s and my resolve for complete denuclearization remain unchanged,” stated the North Korean leader.    “We have proclaimed that we will no longer make nuclear weapons and will not use them or spread them — we have also taken various practical measures already.”
In this photo released on Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un delivers a New Year’s speech in North Korea.
The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by
source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
    However, these plans seem to be dependent on the U.S. Since the two leaders met for the first time in June, Kim has continued to push the White House to lift its sanctions and offer up a deal that’s beneficial for both countries.
    “I am always ready to sit down again with the U.S. president at any time and will make efforts to produce an outcome that the international community would welcome, however if the U.S. miscalculates our people’s patience, forces something upon us and pursues sanctions and pressure without keeping a promise it made in front of the world, we have no option but to explore a new path in order to protect our sovereignty and achieve peace on the Korean peninsula,” Kim stated.
    Despite his promises, some lawmakers on Capitol Hill remain skeptical he can be trusted.
    “Kim Jong Un is a butcher, and he’s a butcher of his own people — trying to reason with someone like that is like trying to hand feed a shark,” said Senator John Kennedy.
    “If he’s going to denuclearize, we have to be sure the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed because there are ways to hide like we all know,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein.
    Plans for a second summit between President Trump and Kim have yet to be publicized, but White House officials said it could happen within months — leading many to wonder if complete denuclearization is on the horizon.

1/7/2019 Myanmar’s civilian, military leaders meet, vow to ‘crush’ Rakhine rebels
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends the joint news conference of the Japan-Mekong Summit Meeting
at the Akasaka Palace State Guest House in Tokyo, Japan October 9, 2018. Franck Robichon/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
    YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar government leader Aung San Suu Kyi discussed insurgent attacks on Myanmar police on Monday in a rare meeting with the military chief, and her administration called for the armed forces to “crush” the rebels, a government spokesman said.
    Fighting between government forces and the rebel Arakan Army in the western state of Rakhine has displaced thousands of people since early December, according to the United Nations.
    The Arakan Army wants greater autonomy for Rakhine, where the mainly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group makes up the majority of the population.
    Rakhine State saw a military-led crackdown in 2017, following attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents that prompted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee westwards into neighboring Bangladesh.
    Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said Suu Kyi, President Win Myint and other cabinet members met military leaders, including army chief Min Aung Hlaing, his deputy and the military intelligence chief, to discuss “foreign affairs and national security.”
    “The president’s office has instructed the military to launch an operation to crush the terrorists,” Zaw Htay told a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw.
    While Suu Kyi is barred from being president by a military-drafted constitution, Win Myint is a loyalist and she is seen as de facto leader of the civilian government, while the military remains in charge of security.
    The insurgents killed 13 policemen and wounded nine in attacks on four police posts on Friday, as Myanmar celebrated Independence Day, state media reported.
    An Arakan Army spokesman outside Myanmar told Reuters last week the group attacked the security forces in response to a broad military offensive in northern Rakhine State that also targeted civilians.
    The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Monday that 4,500 people were sheltering in monasteries and communal spaces after being displaced by the fighting in the past month.
‘CYCLE OF VIOLENCE’
    Zaw Htay described the Arakan Army as a “terrorist organization” and said it had surprised security forces on guard against Rohingya insurgents.
    He said the Arakan Army could destabilize Rakhine State for years to come and warned people not to give it support.
    “Do they want to see a cycle of violence lasting decades?” he said.    “I want to tell Rakhine people who are supporting (the Arakan Army): Don’t think about yourself, but think about your next generation.”
    Myanmar governments have battled various ethnic minority insurgent groups since shortly after independence from Britain in 1948, though some have struck ceasefire agreements.
    Zaw Htay also accused the Arakan Army of meeting the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a group of Rohingya insurgents that Myanmar also considers terrorists but added that Myanmar was unable to eliminate the groups as they had bases across the border in Bangladesh.
    A Bangladeshi foreign ministry official and two Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) officers denied the accusation.
    One BGB officer asked Myanmar to provide evidence of militant camps in Bangladesh.
    “All the terrorism is taking place on the other side of the border,” said Lieutenant Colonel Manzural Hasan Khan, a BGB commander in Cox’s Bazar, the district where more than 900,000 Rohingya Muslims are sheltering having fled bouts of violence that have drawn international condemnation against Myanmar.
    “The world knows what happened on the other side,” he said.
    The Myanmar government and military leaders also discussed a temporary ceasefire the military announced last month in other parts of the country, where other insurgent groups operate, Zaw Htay said.
    The meeting was held at the request of the president’s office, he said.
(Reporting by the Reuters Yangon bureau and Zeba Siddiqui and Ruma Paul in DHAKA, Bangladesh; Editing by Robert Birsel)
[The Arakan Army is a Rakhine insurgent group in Myanmar, founded on 10 April 2009.    It is the armed wing of the United League of Arakan, and is currently led by Major General Twan Mrat Naing.    The purpose of the AA, as stated by its second-in-command Nyo Twan Awng, is to "protect our Arakan people, and to establish peace, justice, freedom and development."].

1/7/2019 Modi plans job quotas for less well-off upper caste Hindus as election nears by Nigam Prusty
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends the Vijaya Dashmi, or Dussehra,
festival celebrations in the old quarter of Delhi, India, October 19, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s cabinet on Monday approved proposals to reserve 10 percent of government jobs for less well-off upper caste Hindus, a plan the main opposition party called an attempt to lure back wavering voters as a national election nears.
    The upper echelons in India’s centuries-old caste system have traditionally been a core voter base for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP.
    Modi must call a national election by May and was handed a setback in December when the BJP lost power to the opposition Congress party in three states, its biggest defeat since he took office in 2014.
    They included Rajasthan, one of four states – the others being Maharashtra, Gujarat and Haryana – in which upper caste land-owning farming communities have held large protests in recent years demanding quotas for government jobs.
    More broadly, Modi has been criticized for failing to deliver jobs for young people and better conditions for farmers.
    “The … Modi government has suddenly woken up to the woes of economically poor (upper caste Hindus), facing imminent defeat in the 2019 elections,” said Congress spokesman Randeep Singh Surjewala.
    “Creating reservations in jobs may just prove to be one more ‘Jumla’ (gimmick) for the purpose of election promises.”
    Ashwini Kumar Choubey, junior health minister and a BJP member, welcomed the proposal, calling it “historic.”
    Hindus, who account for about four-fifths of India’s 1.3 billion people, were traditionally grouped into thousands of castes, whose membership is determined by birth.
    The lower castes have faced various forms of discrimination including segregation and social boycotts.
    There have been attempts to reduce caste-related inequality, and the country has had many lower caste leaders, including current president Ram Nath Kovind.
    But introducing quotas for lower castes has always been a contentious issue and have led to violent protests, though India’s income levels and expenditure patterns remain largely linked to caste.
    The government is expected to submit the bill in favor of “economically weak” upper castes to the lower house of parliament on Tuesday.    Modi’s BJP has a majority there, but not in the upper house.
    Two BJP sources said the government defined “economically weak” as anyone with annual income below 800,000 rupees ($11,500) and owning fewer than five acres of land.    In 2017, the average income in India was $1,939.60, according to the World Bank. (Reporting by Nigam Prusty; Additional reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; Writing by Sudarshan Varadhan; editing by John Stonestreet)

1/7/2019 Regional party quits India’s ruling coalition over citizenship row by Krishna N. Das
Activists from the All Assam Students Union (AASU) shout slogans during a protest against the government's bid
to pass a bill in parliament to give citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring countries, in Guwahati, India
January 7, 2019. The placard reads "Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016". REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A small regional party in India quit Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling coalition on Monday, protesting against his bid to give citizenship to hundreds of thousands of non-Muslims from neighboring countries such as Bangladesh.
    Modi said last week his government was determined to pass a bill in parliament to relax rules for Hindus and other non-Muslim minorities from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan to become citizens of Hindu-majority India.
    Critics have called the bill, to be discussed in parliament on Tuesday, an attempt by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to boost its Hindu voter base ahead of a national election due by May.
    The Asom Gana Parishad (AGP), based in the border state of Assam in India’s northeast, has become the fourth ally to quit the ruling National Democratic Alliance in the past year, for a variety of reasons.
    Protests have erupted in recent months and on Monday in Assam, where a movement against illegal immigrants, of all religions, from Bangladesh has simmered for decades, with some residents blaming them for eating into their resources and job opportunities.
    It is estimated that millions of Bengali-speaking people in Assam trace their roots to Muslim-majority Bangladesh, which won independence from Pakistan in 1971 with India’s help.
    “The home minister clearly told us they will try to get this bill passed tomorrow, so there’s no question us staying with the BJP anymore,” AGP President Atul Bora told reporters in New Delhi.
    The BJP has the numbers in the Assam assembly to stay in power in the state despite the AGP pullout, but the regional party could help galvanize anger amongst many ethnic Assamese opposed to giving citizenship to migrants who came to India after 1971.
    That could hurt the BJP’s goal of sharply increasing its parliamentary seats from the northeast region of the country in the national election.
    At least two of the parties that have left the BJP fold have already largely agreed to ally with the main opposition Congress, which hopes to take on Modi as a united front and says the citizenship should not discriminate against Muslims.
    The BJP says it is in favor of institutionalist “constitutional, legislative and administrative safeguards” to the ethnic Assamese, but also wants to give citizenship to Hindus from Bangladesh as the growth in the Hindu population of Assam had been overtaken by that of Muslims.
    “We’re trying to save Assam from Jinnah,” BJP leader and Assam minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said, referring to Pakistan founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah who was instrumental in carving Muslim-dominated Pakistan out of India after winning independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Alison Williams)

1/7/2019 Khamenei aide says U.S. approached him in Kabul seeking talks with Iran
FILE PHOTO: Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Iran's Supreme National Security Council Director,
speaks to the media after his arrival at Damascus airport, September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – An aide to Iran’s supreme leader said on Monday U.S. officials approached him during a December visit to Afghanistan to request talks with Tehran, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, but the U.S. State Department denied the report.
    Tensions between Iran and the United States have increased since May, when President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers and later reimposed sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the pact.
    “During my visit to Kabul last month, the Americans … asked to hold talks,” Ali Shamkhani, the secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council and a close aide to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying, without specifying what the U.S. side wanted to discuss.
    “This report is not accurate,” said a State Department spokeswoman on condition of anonymity.
    While denying it made a specific overture to Shamkani, the spokeswoman repeated that Trump is open to a dialogue with Iran on “urgent national security issues” and wants Tehran to “make fundamental changes in their destructive behavior.”
    Washington accuses Tehran of destabilizing the region by projecting its power via proxies in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.
    In 2001, Iran worked with the United States to help set up a new Afghan government to replace the Taliban, which had been toppled by a U.S.-led military campaign following al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks on U.S. cities.
    Shamkhani was in Kabul last month for talks with the Taliban “to help curb the security problems in Afghanistan.”    He said the Kabul government had known of his talks with the Taliban.
    Majority-Shi’ite Iran has long had close ties to Shi’ites in neighboring Afghanistan whose militias have fought the Taliban’s Sunni militants.
    Washington accuses Iran of trying to extend its influence in western Afghanistan by providing military training, financing and weapons to the Taliban, a charge Tehran denies.
    Shamkhani’s comments came days after reports of talks between U.S. and Taliban officials over proposals for a ceasefire in Afghanistan and a future withdrawal of foreign troops ahead of possible peace negotiations.
    Khamenei slapped down an offer of direct talks made by Trump last year and Iranian officials have said Washington’s crippling sanctions would fail to wreck the economy.
    In July, Iranian authorities said Tehran had rejected eight U.S. requests for a meeting between Trump and President Hassan Rouhani on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in Sept 2017.
(Additonal reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones and Tom Brown)

1/8/2019 North Korea leader visits China after warning of alternate path to U.S. talks by Andrew Galbraith and Joyce Lee
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and wife Ri Sol Ju inspect an honour guard before leaving Pyongyang for a visit to China,
this January 7, 2019 photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) in Pyongyang January 8, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI/SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is visiting China at the invitation of Chinese President Xi Jinping, only days after warning he may take an alternative path if the United States does not ease sanctions and pressure on his isolated country.
    The visit, confirmed by North Korean and Chinese state media, will likely lead to Kim’s fourth summit with Xi in the last year and comes amid plans for a second summit with Trump aimed at denuclearizing the Korean peninsula.
    Kim held three summits last year with Xi, his most important ally, before and after summits with Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in.    “Kim is eager to remind the Trump administration that he does have diplomatic and economic options besides what Washington and Seoul can offer,” Harry J. Kazianis, Director of Defense Studies at U.S.-based Center for the National Interest said in an e-mailed statement.
    “In fact, during his New Year’s Days speech, Kim’s ‘new way’ that he referred to may well have been a veiled threat to move closer to Beijing.    That should make America quite concerned.”
    Kim left for China on a private train on Monday afternoon accompanied by his wife, Ri Sol Ju, and senior North Korean officials, including Kim Yong Chol and Ri Yong Ho, North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said.    China’s official Xinhua news agency also confirmed that Kim is visiting from Monday to Thursday at Xi’s invitation.
    The visit coincided with what South Korean officials say is Kim’s 35th birthday on January 8.
    “He was warmly seen off by leading officials of the Party, government and armed forces organs at the railway station,” KCNA said in its report.
    Kim’s visit to North Korea’s most important economic and diplomatic ally, which was first reported by South Korean media, comes amid reports of advanced negotiations for a second summit between Washington and Pyongyang aimed at resolving the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear program.
    Kim said in a New Year speech last week he is ready to meet Trump anytime to achieve their common goal of denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.    But he warned that he may seek an alternative path to a summit with Trump if U.S. sanctions and pressure against the country continues.
GOOD PARTNER
    In an interview with CNBC on Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo praised China’s support for resolving the North Korean crisis and said he did not think the U.S. trade dispute with Beijing would affect this.
    “The Chinese have been very clear to us that these are separate issues,” Pompeo said.
    “Their behavior has demonstrated that as well and we appreciate that.    China has actually been a good partner in our efforts to reduce the risk to the world from North Korea’s nuclear capability; I expect they will continue to do so.”
    South Korea’s foreign ministry said it was aware of Kim’s planned visit and hopes Kim’s latest visit and summit with Xi would contribute to the shared “strategic goal” of achieving complete denuclearization and lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.
    While there were no details released about the possible agenda in China, Kim has been seeking relief from international sanctions, a peace declaration to formally end the 1950-1953 Korean War, and more economic investment.
    Ties between China and North Korea, which had frayed as Pyongyang stepped up its provocations through a series of missile and nuclear tests, warmed over the last year as Kim engaged with Beijing as well as Seoul and Washington. (Reporting by Andrew Galbraith and Joyce Lee; Writing by Se Young Lee; Editing by Michael Perry)

1/8/2019 Oil stable on trade talk optimism and OPEC cuts, but slowdown looms by Henning Gloystein
FILE PHOTO: A gas torch is seen at the Filanovskogo oil platform operated by Lukoil company
in Caspian Sea, Russia October 16, 2018. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Oil prices were stable on Tuesday, supported by hopes that talks under way in Beijing involving U.S. and Chinese officials could end trade disputes between the world’s biggest economies, while OPEC-led supply cuts also tightened markets.
    International Brent crude futures were at $57.43 per barrel at 0218 GMT (9.18 p.m. EST), up 10 cents, or 0.1 percent from their last close.
    U.S. West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil futures were at $48.62 per barrel, up 10 cents, or 0.2 percent.
    U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said late on Monday that Beijing and Washington could reach a trade deal that “we can live with” as dozens of officials from China and the United States held talks in a bid to end a trade spat that has roiled global markets since last year.
    Asian stock markets rose as investors hope Washington and Beijing will reach some sort of agreement.
    Despite optimism around the talks in Beijing, some analysts warned that the relationship between Washington and Beijing remained on shaky grounds, and that tensions could flare up again soon.
    “We remain concerned about the world’s most important bilateral relationship,” political risk consultancy Eurasia Group said in its 2019 outlook.
    “The U.S. political establishment believes engagement with Beijing is no longer working, and it’s embracing an openly confrontational approach…(and) rising nationalist sentiment makes it unlikely that Beijing will ignore U.S. provocations,” Eurasia Group said.
    There is also concern that a worldwide economic slowdown will dent fuel consumption, resulting in a reduction of bullish positions the hedge fund industry holds in crude futures.
OPEC VS SHALE
    Looking at oil supplies, 2019 crude prices have been supported by supply cuts from a group of producers around the Middle East-dominated Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) as well as non-OPEC member Russia.
    “Crude oil prices have benefited from OPEC production cuts and steadying equities markets,” said Mithun Fernando, investment analyst at Australia’s Rivkin Securities.
    Looming over the OPEC-led cuts, however, is a surge in U.S. oil supply, driven by a steep rise in onshore shale oil drilling and production.
    As a result, U.S. crude oil production rose by a whopping 2 million barrels per day (bpd) last year to a world record 11.7 million bpd.
    With drilling activity still high, most analysts expect U.S. oil production to rise further this year.
    Consultancy JBC Energy said it was likely that U.S. crude oil production was already “significantly above 12 million bpd” by early January.
(Reporting by Henning Gloystein; editing by Richard Pullin)

1/8/2019 EU agrees sanctions against Iran intelligence service -Danish Foreign Minister
FILE PHOTO: Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen speaks during a news conference
in Copenhagen, Denmark, October 30, 2018. Martin Sylvest/Ritzau Scanpix/via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – The European Union has agreed sanctions against an Iranian intelligence service for planning assassinations in Europe, Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said on Tuesday.
    “EU just agreed to enact sanctions against an Iranian Intelligence Service for its assassination plots on European soil.    Strong signal from the EU that we will not accept such behaviour in Europe,” Samuelsen said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Catherine Evans)

1/8/2019 Iran minister says EU trade arrangement moving slowly, talking to India, China
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends India-Iran business forum
in New Delhi, India, January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister said on Tuesday the European Union was moving more slower than expected in facilitating non-dollar trade with Tehran to circumvent U.S. sanctions, forcing it to explore avenues with other nations.
    “We continue to work with the Europeans for the special purpose vehicle but we are not waiting for them,” Mohammad Javad Zarif told reporters in New Delhi.    “We are working with our traditional partners like India, like China, like Russia so that we continue to work in the interest of our people.”
    The EU wanted a so-called special purpose vehicle (SPV) to help preserve the economic benefits for Iran deriving from the curbs Tehran placed on its nuclear program under a 2015 deal with world powers.    In May 2018, President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it.
    EU diplomats had hoped https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-nuclear-eu/eus-top-diplomat-eu-iran-trade-vehicle-could-be-ready-by-year-end-idUSKBN1O9209 to have the SPV in place last year but ran into delays as member states balked at hosting it for fear of being targeted by the revived U.S. sanctions regime against Iran.
    Zarif also said he was talking to Indian officials about selling more urea to India at a “reasonable” rate.
(Reporting by Nidhi Verma; Editing by Richard Borsuk)
[So Iran is getting desperate and Urea, also known as carbamide, organic compound with chemical formula CO(NH2)2.    This amide has two –NH2 groups joined by a carbonyl (C=O).    Your liver produces ammonia — which contains nitrogen — after it breaks down proteins used by your body's cells, the nitrogen combines with other elements, such as carbon, hydrogen and oxygen, to form urea, which is a chemical waste product in other words Iran is collecting human and animal piss.    The urea travels from your liver to your kidneys through your bloodstream.    Urea serves an important role in the metabolism of nitrogen-containing compounds by animals and is the main nitrogen-containing substance in the urine of mammals, it is a colorless, odorless solid, highly soluble in water, and practically non-toxic.].

1/8/2019 Afghan Taliban, U.S. to sit down to peace talks on Wednesday: sources
FILE PHOTO: Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations,
listens to speakers during a panel discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action
conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan Taliban representatives and U.S. officials will sit down to two days of peace talks on Wednesday in Qatar but Afghan government officials will not be involved, senior Taliban members said.
    The Taliban have rejected numerous requests from regional powers to allow Afghan officials to take part in the talks, insisting that the United States is their main adversary in the 17-year war and that Kabul is a “puppet” regime.     The insurgents, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster by U.S.-led troops, called off their meeting with the U.S. officials in Saudi Arabia this week because of Riyadh’s insistence on bringing the Western-backed Afghan government to the table.
    The talks will be the fourth in a series between Taliban leaders and U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
    “After mutual consultations, we are going to meet U.S. officials in Doha on Wednesday.    The meeting will continue for two days – Wednesday and Thursday,” said a senior member of the Afghan Taliban on condition of anonymity.
    Pakistani and Iranian officials said they were trying to persuade the Taliban to meet Afghan officials.
    Another senior Taliban leader confirmed the Qatar meeting and said no other country would be involved.
    Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took part in the last round of talks in December.
    “This time we want to hold talks with the American officials,” said a Taliban leader based in Afghanistan, adding that they would discuss a U.S. withdrawal, prisoner exchange and the lifting of a ban on movement of their leaders.
    The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest overseas military intervention.    It has cost Washington nearly a trillion dollars and killed tens of thousands of people.
    The United States, which sent troops to Afghanistan in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington and at the peak of the deployment had more than 100,000 troops in the country, withdrew most of its forces in 2014, but still keeps around 14,000 troops there as part of a NATO-led mission aiding Afghan security forces and hunting militants.
    Reports last month about U.S. President Donald Trump’s plans to withdraw thousands of troops from Afghanistan triggered uncertainty in Kabul which depends on the United States and other foreign powers for military support and training.
    The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar and Rupam Jain in Kabul; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/8/2019 U.S., China trade negotiations positive as Beijing meetings continue by OAN Newsroom
    It appears trade talks between the U.S. and China are going well as reports suggest the two sides are getting closer on settling their differences.    Recent reports have claimed negotiators on both sides are making progress as mid-level talks continue in Beijing.
    Additionally, the U.S. and China will meet for a third day on Wednesday.    This meeting was previously unscheduled, signaling the two sides could be coming together on key issues.
U.S. Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney, center, who is part of U.S. trade delegation
leaves from a hotel for a second day of meetings with Chinese officials in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019.
Facing a March deadline, talks aimed at ending a trade war between China and the U.S. are underway, with the
world’s two biggest economies expressing optimism over the potential for progress. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
    Financial experts have taken the news in a cautiously optimistic way.
    “Listen, I think in the end markets are not really going to care very much about the details of any deal that’s struck as long as a deal is struck and directionally looks like we are going toward deescalation rather than escalation,” said Jimmy Pethokoukis, fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
    The U.S. is looking to crack down on China’s business practices, including allegations of technology theft along with slashing the trade deficit and getting more access to Chinese markets.
    If talks continue to go well, a cabinet-level meeting is likely to happen before the end of the month.    That meeting would likely include a senior Chinese government official along with trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
    President Trump took to Twitter Tuesday to give his take on current negotiations, declaring talks with China are going very well.    It looks as if we will soon know if the president is correct.

1/9/2019 U.S. sanctions are putting pressure on Iran and Iranians: supreme leader
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei meets with people of
Qom, in Teheran, Iran, January 9, 2019. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – U.S. sanctions are putting pressure on Iran and its people, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday, according to his official website.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program in May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
    “The sanctions do put pressure on the country and the people.    The Americans happily say that these sanctions are unprecedented in history,” Khamenei said.    “Yes, they’re unprecedented.    And the defeat that the Americans will face will be unprecedented, God willing.”
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/9/2019 Iran says Taliban must have Afghan role, but can’t dominate
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends India-Iran business forum
in New Delhi, India, January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The Taliban must have a role in Afghanistan in future, Iran’s foreign minister said on Wednesday, but added that the hardline Islamist group should not have a dominant role.    Efforts for a negotiated settlement of the 18-year war in Afghanistan have gathered pace in recent weeks, even as reports that U.S. President Donald Trump plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops have triggered uncertainty in Kabul.
    U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan Reconciliation Zalmay Khalilzad has held three rounds of talks with the Taliban, but on Tuesday, the militants canceled a fourth round, which had been due in Qatar this week.     The militants said they called off the talks because of an “agenda disagreement,” especially over the involvement of officials from the Western-backed Afghan government as well as a possible ceasefire.
    Largely Shi’ite Muslim Iran has long been wary of the Sunni Muslim Taliban.
    But Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on a visit to India that Iran has had intelligence contacts with the Taliban because it needed to secure border areas controlled by the Taliban on the Afghan side.I think it would be impossible to have a future Afghanistan without any role for the Taliban,” Zarif, who is in New Delhi for talks with Indian leaders, told NDTV in an interview.
    “But we also believe that the Taliban should not have a dominant role in Afghanistan.”
    The Taliban, who are fighting to oust all foreign forces and defeat the government, want to re-impose strict Islamic law in Afghanistan after their 2001 ouster by U.S.-led troops.
    Zarif said it was up to Afghans to decide what role the Taliban should have but Afghanistan’s neighbors would not want them to be in overall control.
    “Nobody in the region believes that a Taliban dominated Afghanistan is in the security interests of the region.    I believe that is almost a consensus.”
    A Taliban source speaking about the canceled talks told Reuters that U.S. officials had insisted that the Taliban should meet Afghan officials in Qatar and said “both sides were in disagreement over declaring a ceasefire in 2019.”
    The Taliban have rejected repeated requests from regional powers to allow Afghan officials to take part in the talks, insisting that the United States is their main adversary.
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/9/2019 U.N. chief in Myanmar concerned over fighting in Rakhine State
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows burned down villages once inhabited by the Rohingya seen from the Myanmar
military helicopters that carried the U.N. envoys to northern Rakhine state, Myanmar, May 1, 2018. REUTERS/Michelle Nichols
    YANGON (Reuters) – The head of the United Nations in Myanmar on Wednesday expressed concern about the situation in the western state of Rakhine, where fighting between the military and the rebel Arakan Army has displaced about 4,500 people since early December.
    Myanmar government leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday discussed insurgent attacks on police in a rare meeting with the military chief, and her administration called for the armed forces to “crush” the rebels.
    Knut Ostby, who acts as the resident coordinator for the United Nations, said in a statement he was “deeply concerned about the situation” and urged “all sides to ensure the protection of all civilians” and to respect human rights.
    “Mr Ostby further appeals to all sides to intensify efforts to find a peaceful solution to the situation and to ensure humanitarian access to all people affected by the violence,” the United Nations said in a statement.
    The Arakan Army wants greater autonomy for Rakhine State, where the mostly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine people make up the majority of the population.
    Rakhine State saw a military-led crackdown in 2017, following attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents that prompted hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to flee westwards into neighboring Bangladesh.
    At a meeting on Monday between government and military leaders, the office of President Win Myint said it had instructed the military to “crush the terrorists,” the government spokesman later told a news conference.
    While Suu Kyi is barred from being president by a military-drafted constitution, the president is a loyalist.    Suu Kyi is seen as de facto leader of the civilian government, while the military remains in charge of security.
    Arakan Army insurgents killed 13 policemen and wounded nine in attacks on four police posts on Friday, as Myanmar celebrated Independence Day, state media reported.
    An Arakan Army spokesman outside Myanmar told Reuters last week the group attacked the security forces in response to a broad military offensive in the north of Rakhine State that also targeted civilians.
    The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said on Monday that 4,500 people were sheltering in monasteries and communal areas after being displaced by the fighting in the past month.
    Myanmar governments have battled various autonomy-seeking ethnic minority insurgent groups since shortly after independence from Britain in 1948, though some have struck ceasefire agreements.
(Reporting by the Reuters Yangon bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/9/2019 Bangladesh police use tear gas, water cannons on protesting garment workers by Serajul Quadir
Garment workers protest for higher wages in Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Salahuddin Ahmed
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladeshi police used water cannons, tear gas and batons to disperse thousands of protesting garment factory workers on Wednesday, after they pressed their demands for higher wages by blocking roads for a fourth day.
    The government of Bangladesh, the world’s second biggest garment exporter behind China, said on Tuesday it would consider demands for an increase in the minimum wage, after clashes between police and protesters killed one worker and wounded dozens.
    But the protesters came out again on Wednesday, blocking roads and burning tires in the Savar industrial district just north of the capital, Dhaka.
    Police and trade union leaders said more than two dozen people, including police, were injured in clashes on Wednesday.     “Police at first tried to convince them through discussions and requested them to leave the roads so that transport can move easily, but instead they threw stones and bricks,” Tahmidul Islam, a police officer in the area told Reuters.
    “So to disperse them police used tear gas … Now the situation is under control and the workers have left.”
    Ruhul Amin, executive president of the Garments Trade Union Centre, told Reuters police used batons, tear gas and also water cannons in some places to disperse the crowds.
    Similar protests were going on in the Mirpur area of Dhaka but without any violence, police said.
    The government said in September the minimum wage for garment workers would increase by up to 51 percent this year to 8,000 taka ($95) a month, the first such increase since 2013.
    But workers say that increase would benefit only a small percentage of the more than 3.5 million people employed in the sector.
    The government has formed a panel of factory owners, union leaders and officials to investigate the pay demands, Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi said on Tuesday, adding he hoped a resolution could be reached in a month.
    The garment industry generates about $30 billion of exports a year, accounting for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s merchandise export earnings and serving some of the biggest brands in the world.
    “We urge the government to sit with us and settle the issue, otherwise the movement will continue,” Amin said.
(Writing by Euan Rocha; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel)

1/9/2019 Iran says U.S. citizen White arrested, confirming earlier reports
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a joint news conference with his
Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan (not pictured) after their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran confirmed on Wednesday it had arrested an American, confirming U.S. media reports about a case that risks further worsening relations with Washington.
    The New York Times reported on Monday that Michael White, a 46-year-old U.S. Navy veteran, was arrested while visiting Iran and had been held since July on unspecified charges.
    Iran had not confirmed the arrest before the state news agency IRNA carried a statement by foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi on Wednesday, which did not specify when it had happened or what crime he was accused of.
    Qassemi said Iran had informed the U.S. government about White’s arrest within days of when he was taken into custody and denied that White had been poorly treated.
    “These sorts of reports are lies and improper and are seriously rejected,” IRNA quoted Qassemi as saying.    White’s case is going through the legal process and officials will make a statement at the appropriate time, he added.
    The case is likely to further worsen relations with the United States.    President Donald Trump withdrew from an international agreement Iran’s nuclear program and re-imposed sanctions last year that hit the Iranian economy hard.
    Several Americans have been detained in Iran in recent years and Trump warned in 2017 that Tehran would face “new and serious consequences” unless all unjustly held U.S. citizens were freed.
    White’s mother, Joanne, told the New York Times her son had visited Iran “five or six times” to meet his Iranian girlfriend.
    She reported her son’s disappearance after he failed to return in July but learned from the State Department only three weeks ago that he was being held in Iran.
    London-based news website IranWire, which first reported White’s arrest, quoted a former detainee, Ivar Farhadi, as saying he had been held at the same prison, Vakilabad, in Mashhad, northeastern Iran.
    Farhadi told IranWire White’s life was in danger because he was being kept in a prison with dangerous criminals.
    Joanne White told the New York Times her son, a California resident, suffers acute asthma and had had chemotherapy and radiation treatment for a neck tumor.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

1/9/2019 Afghanistan says end to war a ‘dream’ without Taliban talking to government by Hamid Shalizi
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier keeps watch at a check point
on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan December 31, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah said on Wednesday that the Taliban’s refusal to involve the government in peace talks means the end to a conflict that has lasted 17 years can only remain a dream.
    Abdullah’s remarks came a day after the Taliban called off a fourth round of talks with U.S. officials in Qatar, due to start this week, over disagreements about the involvement of Afghan officials, a possible ceasefire and prisoner exchange.
    Efforts for a negotiated settlement have gathered pace in recent weeks, even as reports that U.S. President Donald Trump plans to withdraw thousands of U.S. troops triggered uncertainty.
    The United States is pressing Taliban leaders to sit down with Afghan government officials but the Taliban see the United States as the main power and dismiss the Kabul administration as a puppet.
    “In any peace deal in which the rights of our citizens, that have been gained with a lot of sacrifices, are not respected, the deal is a dream and will never happen,” Abdullah told gathering in Kabul, commemorating the 15th anniversary of the constitution.
    “Today the talk about the withdrawal of foreign forces is an excuse for continuation of war and gaining more opportunities.”
    A Taliban leader told Reuters that the talks, which would have been the fourth round with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, would have focused on a U.S. withdrawal, prisoner exchange and the lifting of a ban on movement of Taliban leaders.
    Taliban sources said that they had demanded that U.S. authorities release 25,000 prisoners and that they would free 3,000, but that U.S. officials were not keen to discuss the exchange.
    The war in Afghanistan is America’s longest overseas military intervention.    It has cost Washington nearly $1 trillion and killed tens of thousands of people.
NO CHANGE IN TALIBAN
    Abdullah, who shares power with President Ashraf Ghani after a U.S.-brokered political deal in 2014 that led to formation of a coalition government, said the Taliban have not changed since their austere regime was toppled by U.S.-led forces in 2001.
    “We haven’t seen any change in the Taliban so far and that country that supports them, has not unfortunately changed its policies toward us either,” said Abdullah, referring to neighbouring Pakistan which Kabul accuses of harbouring Taliban leaders.
    Pakistan denies the charge and says it is encouraging the Taliban to talk directly with the Afghan government.
    A senior Afghan government official said the talks also would have involved discussion about the formation of an interim administration known as the “peace government” after U.S. forces announce a withdrawal and the Taliban accept a ceasefire.
    The peace government would bring all warring parties under one administration until the Taliban are fully integrated and election are held.
    But Ghani has strongly opposed any interim government.
    Abdullah called on Afghans to support the current administration instead.
    “They say they are not the Taliban of the past and they have learnt lessons and are in favour of an inclusive government, but they instead go and talk to some individuals and call them elders which is against our national interest,” Abdullah said, referring to political figures.
    “They do this to show that the government is either weak or does not exist,” he added.
    The impasse over the talks comes as Afghanistan prepares to hold presidential elections in July with many Afghans believing the vote may be cancelled if a peace deal is reached with the Taliban.
    Presidential candidates, including Ghani who seeks a second five-year term, have not officially announced they are running as coalition-building among leaders of various ethnic groups debated whom to support.
    The United States sent troops to Afghanistan after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington.    At its peak the U.S. deployment involved more than 100,000 troops, but Washington withdrew most in 2014 and now has around 14,000 troops in the country as part of a NATO-led mission aiding Afghan security forces and hunting militants.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on a visit to India on Wednesday that the Taliban must have a role in Afghanistan in future, but not a dominant role.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/9/2019 India sets jobs quota for less well-off, critics see pre-vote ploy by Manoj Kumar
FILE PHOTO: People stand in front of the parliament building in New Delhi, India, February 1, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    As seen above I wondered where the Star Wars Yoda went to.
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s parliament passed a landmark bill on Wednesday reserving 10 percent of government jobs for people outside high income brackets, a move criticized by some as a pre-election gimmick amid high unemployment.
    Joblessness in the world’s second most populous country shot up to a 15-month high last month, data from an independent think-tank showed, underlining the challenge to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s bid to retain power in a vote due by May.
    The new public sector job quota is expected to mainly benefit the upper echelons of India’s centuries-old Hindu caste system, which has traditionally been a core voter base for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
    Modi must call a national election by May and was dealt a setback in December when the BJP lost power to the opposition Congress party in three states, its biggest defeat since he took office in 2014.
    Under the new amendment to the constitution, floated by Modi’s party days after those state defeats, people with an annual income below 800,000 rupees ($11,354) and owning fewer than five acres of land would be eligible.
    The lower house of parliament had already passed the bill and almost all political parties voiced their support for it in the upper house on Wednesday.
    “Glad to see such widespread support for the Bill,” Modi tweeted after the bill’s passage.    “It ensures a wider canvas for our yuva shakti (youth) to showcase their prowess and contribute toward India’s transformation.”
    India already has job and education quotas for its lowest social classes, but this is the first time upper caste Hindus and people from other religions will benefit from affirmative action.
    “There is no food but every hungry man is handed an empty plate, that’s what Modi government is doing with the youth of India,” Shahid Siddiqui, a political analyst and former lawmaker, said on Twitter.    “There are no jobs, but 10 percent reservation in the line of unemployed.”
    Derek O’Brien, from the opposition All India Trinamool Congress party, said the bill was “an acknowledgement of guilt, that we haven’t created any jobs in last four and a half years.”
    But Modi said the bill “sets into motion the process to achieve an effective measure that ensures justice for all sections of society.”
    Data from the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy think-tank also showed India lost as many as 11 million jobs last year with around 83 percent in rural areas, as operational costs surged for small businesses since the launch of a national sales tax in 2017 and an earlier ban on high value currency notes.
(Reporting by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Krishna N. Das, Subhranshu Sahu and Andrew Cawthorne)

1/10/2019 Taiwan premier, cabinet to quit after local election trouncing
FILE PHOTO: Taiwanese new premier William Lai speaks during a cabinet
transition ceremony in Taipei, Taiwan September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu/File Photo
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan Premier William Lai will resign along with the self-ruled island’s entire cabinet, Lai said on Thursday, following the defeat of his ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) in local elections last year.
    Lai told reporters in Taipei that he would step down along with his cabinet on Friday.     Lai’s departure was widely expected.    It is standard practice in Taiwan for leaders to go when their party loses a major election.    The DPP suffered a significant defeat in November to the China-friendly opposition Kuomintang.
    It is also customary for the cabinet to step down when the premier resigns.
    President Tsai Ing-wen is expected to announce a new premier, Lai said, and ministerial appointments would follow.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/10/2019 South Korea, China urge concessions on both sides to end U.S.-North Korea standoff by Hyonhee Shin and John Ruwitch
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk
after lunch at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    SEOUL/SHANGHAI (Reuters) – China and South Korea called for concessions from the United States as well as North Korea, ahead of a possible second summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump, suggesting a U.S. pressure campaign aimed at the North’s denuclearization may be slipping.
    South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Thursday that he would cooperate with the international community to at least partially ease sanctions to allow for some inter-Korean business and tourism ventures, while later noting that Pyongyang needed to take “bold steps” towards denuclearization to win concessions from Washington.
    “I think North Korea knows that they clearly have to denuclearize for the easing of international sanctions, and the U.S. also understands that there needs to be corresponding action to expedite the North’s denuclearization,” Moon told reporters at the presidential Blue House.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping hosted Kim in Beijing this week and said he hoped the United States and North Korea would “meet each other halfway,” Chinese state media reported.
    China, the North’s lone major ally, and U.S-backed South Korea have been key players in two years of “maximum pressure” led by the United States, but both countries are signaling an increased willingness to ease sanctions and improve ties with North Korea.
    Pyongyang and Washington have been struggling to find a breakthrough despite a pledge by Kim at a landmark summit with Trump in Singapore in June to work towards denuclearization “of the Korean peninsula.”
    North Korea, which has been developing nuclear and missile programs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions, has demanded Washington lift sanctions and declare an official end to the 1950-53 Korean War.
    Those demands were in response to Pyongyang’s initial, unilateral steps toward denuclearization that included dismantling its only known nuclear testing site and a key missile engine facility.
    North Korea has rejected calls for unilateral disarmament, and has said it is now up to the United States and the international community to make concessions like easing sanctions.
    For its part, the United States has instead increased sanctions and said it will not lift the measures until North Korea takes more steps toward giving up its arsenal of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.
    In prepared remarks for his annual New year speech, Moon made no mention of any steps North Korea needs to take, instead focusing on the economic benefits of making peace with North Korea.
    But when pressed by journalists at a briefing afterward, Moon said North Korea should take more steps, such as abandoning its missiles and dismantling weapons production lines and other nuclear complexes, to secure U.S. concessions such as sanctions relief.
    He said reducing U.S. military commitments, such as a withdrawal of troops or strategic assets from the region, would be an unlikely option for Washington.    North Korea used the reference to denuclearization “of the Korean peninsula” in the past to include the removal of the U.S. nuclear umbrella in the region.
    “The second summit would be a venue where they settle on terms of what specific measures North Korea will take and how those moves will be reciprocated by the United States,” Moon said.
    “But U.S. forces in South Korea or strategic assets in places like Guam and Japan are not linked with North Korea alone, as they exist for the stability and peace of the entire Northeast Asia.”
SECOND SUMMIT SOON?
    Kim renewed his resolve to meet Trump again during his meeting with Xi in Beijing this week.    Moon said Kim’s latest trip to Beijing signaled that a second Trump summit was imminent.
    Another U.S.-North Korea summit would also expedite an unprecedented visit by Kim to Seoul, planned for last year but delayed amid the nuclear standoff, Moon said.
    “I expect we’ll hear about high-level talks between North Korea and the United States before long for their second summit,” Moon said.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made several trips to Pyongyang last year.    However, a meeting between Pompeo and senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol has yet to be rescheduled after an abrupt cancellation in November.
    North Korean state news agency KCNA said on Thursday Kim and Xi held “in-depth, frank discussions” on the Korean peninsula and nuclear issues during Kim’s stay in Beijing, his fourth since March 2018.
    Kim told Xi about the difficulties and concerns in improving North Korea-U.S. relations and denuclearization negotiations, KCNA said.    Xi agreed that North Korea’s reasonable concerns must be addressed properly, it said.
    KCNA reported that Xi once again accepted Kim’s invitation to visit Pyongyang, but Chinese officials would not provide further details.
    China’s official Xinhua news agency also said Pyongyang’s “legitimate concerns” must be taken seriously in order to achieve a comprehensive resolution.
    Xinhua quoted Xi as saying he hoped that North Korea and the United States could meet each other half way and that the international community expected peaceful negotiations.
    “The political settlement of the peninsula issue faces a rare historic opportunity,” said Xi, who “spoke highly of the positive measures taken by the (North Korea) side to maintain peace and stability and promote the realization of denuclearization on the peninsula.”
    Kim reiterated a pledge from his New Year’s speech that the North would try to make a second summit achieve a result that the international community would welcome, Xinhua said.
    Wang Yiwei, a senior research fellow at the Center for China and Globalization, said he believed North Korea was becoming impatient and beginning to lose hope with the United States for asking it to make changes without in turn removing sanctions.
    “The crux is how to let North Korea denuclearize and to give it security guarantees.    On this, the United States and North Korea don’t have trust, so China has to act as a bridge,” Wang said.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL and John Ruwitch in SHANGHAI; Additional reporting by Josh Smith, Joyce Lee, Soyoung Kim, and Jeongmin Kim in SEOUL, Josh Horwitz in SHANGHAI, and Christian Shepherd in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

1/10/2019 Pompeo takes aim at Iran in Egypt speech by OAN Newsroom
    According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, America will not retreat from the Middle East until the fight against terror is over.
    During a speech at the American University in Cairo Thursday, Pompeo slammed Obama administration policies that hurt U.S. allies in the region and emboldened Iran.
    He said the U.S. was timid in asserting itself at times when our partners demanded it, but noted this had changed under President Trump.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, gives a speech at the American University in Cairo, Egypt, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019.
Pompeo delivered a scathing rebuke of the Obama administration’s Mideast policies as he denounced the former president for misguided
and wishful thinking that diminished America’s role in the region, harmed its longtime friends and emboldened its main foe: Iran. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
    “Let’s turn to Iran.    President Trump has reversed our willful blindness to the danger of the regime and withdrew from the failed nuclear deal with its false promises.    The U.S. reimposed sanctions that should never have been lifted.    We embarked on a new pressure campaign to cut off the revenues the regime uses to spread terror and destruction throughout the world.” — Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State.
    Pompeo also called on countries to confront Iran, saying the Middle East would never enjoy security or economic stability if the regime persists on its current course.

1/10/2019 South Korea in favor of sanction exemptions to restart inter-Korean economic projects by OAN Newsroom
    South Korea is reportedly in favor of sanction exemptions for North Korea in order for the peninsula to restart joint economic projects.    President Moon Jae-in made the comments Thursday as the two nations pushed to normalize relations.
    In his New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un offered to restart those stalled projects without preconditions.    Those projects include a jointly-run factory complex in North Korea, and the opening of new tourist areas.
    Doing so, however, would not be possible without willingness from the United Nations or U.S. to lift sanctions related to the effort.
In this Jan. 9, 2019, photo provided on Jan. 10, 2019, by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un,
second left, talks with Chinese Communist Party’s International Department head Song Tao, second right, in a train on the way
home from China. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on
image as provided by source reads: “KCNA” which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
    “Considering the difficulties faced by South Korean businessmen of the Kaesong Industrial Park and the hopes of South Korean people who wish to visit our people’s great mountain, we are willing to resume the Kaesong Industrial Park and the tours to Mount Diamond with no preconditions or strings attached,” Kim stated.
    The recent comments shows that Seoul will likely join Pyongyang in pushing for sanctions relief, but the move could strain ties with the U.S.    The Trump administration wants to maintain sanctions until North Korea completely denuclearizes.

1/10/2019 Women who defied Indian temple ban unable to return home after threats by V. Sivaram and Alasdair Pal
Kanaka Durga, 39 (L) and Bindu Ammini, 40, the first women to enter Sabarimala temple which
traditionally bans the entry of women of menstrual age, pose for a photo after an interview with Reuters
at an undisclosed location on the outskirts of Kochi, India, January 10, 2019. REUTERS/Sivaram V
    KOCHI/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Two women who made history by becoming the first in centuries to enter a hill temple in southern India are in hiding after threats by hardline Hindu groups.
    The Sabarimala temple in the state of Kerala has been the site of tension since India’s Supreme Court ruled in late September to end a ban on women of menstruating age entering it.
    There have since been sporadic outbreaks of violence between the authorities and protesters attempting to prevent women from entering, setting off a cultural battle in what is still a deeply religious country.
    Bindu Ammini, 40, a law lecturer at Kerala’s Kannur University and Kanakadurga, 39, a civil servant, told Reuters they were determined to enter despite threats of violence.
    “A lot of people tried to dissuade us and make us turn back – police officers, our friends… because they knew we were facing a lot of backlash,” Kanakadurga said.
    After the Supreme Court’s judgment, the women made an unsuccessful attempt to enter the temple on Dec. 24, before finally succeeding on Jan. 2.
    A third woman aged 46 has since entered the site, the office of the chief minister of Kerala said on Jan. 4.
    “We felt no fear.    We had only one aim: we wanted to go to that shrine,” Bindu said.
    Their entry sparked widespread protests and a day-long strike in Kerala led in part by members of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
    “This BJP government has a duty to regulate and control their members,” Bindu said.
    The women – speaking in an undisclosed location on the outskirts of the city of Kochi – say they have since faced threats from protesters, but that they trusted the authorities to keep them safe and plan to return home next week.
    “I always say that I trust the police persons, the state government of Kerala and also our democratic society of Kerala,” Bindu said.
(Reporting by Sivaram V. and Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Ed Osmond)

1/10/2019 Philippine president renews attack on Catholic church
FILE PHOTO: President Rodrigo Duterte speaks after his arrival, from a visit in Israel and Jordan
at Davao International airport in Davao City in southern Philippines, September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Lean Daval Jr.
    MANILA (Reuters) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Thursday denounced bishops in the Catholic-majority country as “sons of bitches,” renewing his attacks on the church that has criticized him over his bloody war on drugs.
    Duterte, who launched his campaign against drugs when he took office in mid-2016, remains hugely popular but doubts about the campaign, in which thousands of people have been killed, have been growing.
    “Only I can say bishops are sons of bitches, damn you.    That is true,” Duterte said in a speech during a groundbreaking ceremony for a school north of the capital, Manila.
    Duterte did not mention any particular reason for his criticism of the church on Thursday, which included a suggestion that most bishops are homosexual.
    “Most of them are gay,” he said.    “They should come out in the open, cancel celibacy and allow them to have boyfriends.”
    Duterte, who is not a regular church-goer, said early in his presidency that he was sexually abused by a priest when he was a boy.
    The Roman Catholic Church is facing clerical sexual abuse scandals in various parts of the world, although there have been no major cases in the Philippines.
    In previous speeches, Duterte called God “stupid” and described as “silly” the doctrine of Holy Trinity.
    Francis Lucas, an official with the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, played down the president’s criticism saying all should show restraint.
    “We have to be more sensitive to the sensitivities and sensibilities of others out of respect,” Lucas told Reuters.
    The president’s crackdown on drugs retains much support but some sectors of the church have become increasingly vocal about the killings, with calls for justice and offers of sanctuary to drug users.
    Some 5,000 people have been killed in police anti-drugs operations in Duterte’s anti-drug drive.     Police reject accusations that the killings were executions, saying drug peddlers and users were killed in shootouts, and police acted in self-defense.
    About 80 percent of the more than 100 million people of the Philippines are Roman Catholic.
(Reporting by Neil Jerome Morales; Additional Reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/11/2019 India slaps cases against critics of plan to grant citizenship to non-Muslims by Zarir Hussain
FILE PHOTO: Activists from the All Assam Students Union (AASU) shout slogans during a protest against the
government's bid to pass a bill in parliament to give citizenship to non-Muslims from neighbouring countries,
in Guwahati, India January 7, 2019. The placard reads "Citizenship Amendment Bill 2016". REUTERS/Anuwar Hazarika
    GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) – Indian police on Friday said they are investigating an academic, a journalist and a peasant leader for possible sedition for publicly opposing a proposal to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighboring Muslim-majority countries.
    Critics have called the proposal blatantly anti-Muslim and an attempt by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) to boost its Hindu voter base ahead of a general election due by May.
    The cases have been filed amid a wave of protests in the BJP-governed northeastern state of Assam.    A small regional party in India quit the ruling coalition on Monday in protest against the plan.
    The Modi government is facing growing criticism for stifling criticism, including in the media.    A television journalist in the region was jailed last month for criticizing the government on social media.
    “We have registered a case against a few people based on certain statements that they made at a public rally in Guwahati,” Deepak Kumar, a police official from Guwahati in Assam, told Reuters.
    The three have not been charged.
    Many people fear such a move could change the demographic profile of Assam, where residents have for years complained that immigrants from Bangladesh have put a big strain on resources.
    Hiren Gohain, an 80-year-old academic, peasant leader Akhil Gogoi and journalist Manjit Mahanta have been accused of criminal conspiracy and attempting to wage a war against the government, Kumar said.
    The bill, which seeks to give citizenship to Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists, Christians and Parsis from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Bangladesh, has been passed by the lower house of the parliament.
    The bill will be tabled for approval in the upper house in the next session, where it is expected to face resistance from the opposition Congress party.    The BJP does not have a majority in the upper house of the parliament.
(Reporting by Zarir Hussain; Editing by Sudarshan Varadhan)

1/11/2019 ‘The whole country is a prison’: No sign of better rights in North Korea – U.N. by Josh Smith
Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea Tomas Ojea Quintana
arrives at a news conference in Seoul, South Korea, January 11, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Despite more than a year of international engagement and promises of economic reform by North Korea’s leaders, the human rights situation in the isolated country remains dire, a top U.N. rights official said on Friday.
    Blocked by the government from visiting North Korea, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in North Korea Tomas Quintana visited South Korea this week as part of an investigation that will be provided to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March.
    Noting that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has embarked on an effort to improve living conditions by focusing on economic development, Quintana said his preliminary findings showed those efforts had not translated into improvements in the lives of most people.
    “The fact is, that with all the positive developments the world has witnessed in the last year, it is all the more regrettable that the reality for human rights on the ground remains unchanged, and continues to be extremely serious,” he told reporters at a briefing in Seoul.
    “In all areas related to the enjoyment of economic and social rights, including health, housing, education, social security, employment, food, water and sanitation, much of the country’s population is being left behind.”
    North Korea denies human rights abuses and says the issue is used by the international community as a political ploy to isolate it.
    Human rights were noticeably absent from talks between Kim and the leaders of South Korea and the United States last year, over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
    But in December, the United States imposed sanctions on an additional three North Korean officials, including a top aide to Kim, for serious rights abuses and censorship.
    North Korea’s foreign ministry warned in a statement after the December sanctions were announced, that the measures could lead to a return to “exchanges of fire” and North Korea’s disarming could be blocked forever.
    While noting he had “no specific information” on whether international sanctions were hurting ordinary North Koreans, Quintana said the sanctions targeted the economy as a whole and “raised questions” about the possible impact on the public.
    He cited a reference by Kim in his New Year message to the need to improve living standards, saying it was a rare acknowledgement of the economic and social hardships faced by many North Koreans.
    Still, the United Nations has confirmed the continued use of political prison camps housing “thousands” of inmates, Quintana said, quoting one source as saying “the whole country is a prison.”
    He said witnesses who recently left North Korea reported facing widespread discrimination, labor exploitation and corruption in daily life.
    There is also a “continuing pattern of ill-treatment and torture” of defectors who escaped to China only to be returned to North Korea by Chinese authorities, Quintana said.
(Reporting by Josh Smith; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/11/2019 France tells Iran to stop ballistic missile work designed for nuclear weapons
FILE PHOTO: A boy holding a placard with pictures of (L-R) President Hassan Rouhani, the late founder of
the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei,
poses for camera in front of a model of Simorgh satellite-carrier rocket during a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary
of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) – France on Friday called on Iran to immediately stop all activities linked to ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons after Tehran said it could put two satellites into orbit in the coming weeks.
    “France recalls that the Iranian missile program (does) not conform with U.N. Security Council Resolution 2231,” Foreign ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll told reporters in a daily briefing.
    “It calls on Iran to immediately cease all ballistic missile-related activities designed to carry nuclear weapons, including tests using ballistic missile technology.”
    Von der Muhll was responding to comments by President Hassan Rouhani on Thursday, who said two satellites would be sent into space using Iran-made missiles.
    Tehran responded by telling France to avoid repeating “irresponsible and incorrect” claims about Tehran’s missile work that were made by countries that were against a 2015 deal reached between Iran and six major powers, Iranian state TV reported on Friday.
    “Iran’s home-grown defensive missile program is the Iranian nation’s natural right,” Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by TV.
    “Iran’s missile program is not in violation of U.N. resolution of 2231.”
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and John Irish in Paris editing by William Maclean)
[Wake up European Union and realize that Iran is not going to do what you want and join the U.S. in sanctions and drop the treaty.].

1/11/2019 Iran’s Zarif calls Iran-focused summit in Poland a ‘desperate circus’
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends
India-Iran business forum in New Delhi, India, January 8, 2019. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif criticized Poland on Friday for jointly hosting a global summit with the United States focused on the Middle East, particularly Iran, calling it a “desperate anti-Iran circus.”
    Earlier on Friday Washington announced that the summit would be held in Warsaw from Feb. 13 to Feb. 14, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the meeting would focus on stability and security in the Middle East, including on the “important element of making sure that Iran is not a destabilizing influence.”
    Writing on his Twitter account, Zarif said: “Reminder to host/participants of anti-Iran conference: those who attended last U.S. anti-Iran show are either dead, disgraced, or marginalized. And Iran is stronger than ever.”
    He went on to write that “while Iran saved Poles in WWII, it now hosts desperate anti-Iran circus.”
    Relations between Tehran and Washington are once more highly fraught following the decision in May by President Donald Trump to pull the U.S. out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and to reimpose sanctions.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/12/2019 U.S. official rules out further waivers on Iran oil imports
Oil takners pass through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – The United States will grant no more waivers for Iranian oil after the reimposition of U.S. sanctions, the U.S. special representative for Iran said on Saturday, underlining Washington’s push to choke off Tehran’s sources of income.
    “Iran is now increasingly feeling the economic isolation that our sanctions are imposing…We do want to deny the regime revenues,” Brian Hook told a news conference in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi.
    “Eighty percent of Iran’s revenues come from oil exports and this is (the) number one state sponsor of terrorism..We want to deny this regime the money it needs,” Hook said.
    Tensions between Iran and the United States have increased since May, when U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers, saying the accord was flawed in Tehran’s favor, and reintroduced sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the pact.
    “We want a new and better deal (with Iran) but in that process we are denying the Iranian regime billions and billions of dollars and they are facing a liquidity crisis,” Hook said.
    The Islamic Republic, he added, would not return to the negotiation table without pressure.
    Tehran has refused to renegotiate its nuclear accord and says its ballistic missile program – another source of concern for Washington and its regional allies such as Israel and Saudi Arabia – is solely defensive and untouchable.
    Hook said Washington was pleased with China cutting its oil imports from Iran, and that he expected much deeper reductions in Iranian oil exports.    “We are just getting started,” he said.
    Iran’s crude exports will be severely curtailed for a third month in January as it struggles to find new buyers amid U.S. sanctions even though its traditional customers secured temporary waivers, according to tanker data and industry sources.
    Separately, Omani Oil Minister Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhi told the news conference that Washington had not asked the Gulf Arab state to stop a gas pipeline project with Iran and that talks were continuing.
    He said some partners for the project had pulled out because of the risk of punishment by Washington for dealing with Iran but that some other Asian firms were willing to take part.
    Hook declined to say what the administration in Washington would do when the current Iran waivers end in May.
    Washington granted waivers to eight major buyers of Iranian oil – including China, India, Japan and South Korea – after restoring energy sanctions in November.
(Reporting by Rania El Gamal and Maha El Dahan; Writing by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/12/2019 India’s Gandhi vows to reform sales tax, seek investment as poll nears by Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: Rahul Gandhi, President of India's main opposition Congress party, speaks during a
news conference at his party's headquarters in New Delhi, India, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Anushree Fadnavis/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s main opposition Congress party will simplify the goods and services tax (GST) and take “rational economic decisions” to attract foreign investment if voted back to power in a general election due by May, its leader Rahul Gandhi said on Saturday.
    Launched in 2017, the GST was initially hailed as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s biggest economic reform as it replaced more than a dozen federal and state levies and unified Asia’s third largest economy.
    But its chaotic implementation and complexities https://in.reuters.com/article/india-election-tax-insight/indias-tax-effect-hundreds-of-thousands-laid-off-despite-growth-idINKCN1LL36M — months after a shock ban by Modi on high value bank currency aimed at unearthing untaxed wealth — badly hurt small businesses and led to millions of job losses in the cash-driven economy, presenting the biggest challenge to Modi’s re-election chances.
    Gandhi, scion of India’s Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, said during a visit to Dubai that foreign investment was at a multi-year low in India due to the “ill-advised and badly thought out economic moves” such as the currency ban and a “poorly designed GST.”
    “We will take some rational economic decisions,” he told a press conference, which was broadcast live on Twitter.    “We will restructure the GST and we will embrace investments from the Middle East and other parts of the world.    We are the party of (India’s economic) liberalization, we are the party that gave the fastest economic growth in the first decade of the century, and will do that again.”
    He said his main priority would be to create jobs, simplify the GST, rebuild confidence in institutions such as the Reserve Bank of India — whose governor resigned recently after a fight over autonomy with the government, and the Supreme Court.
    Four Supreme Court judges held a rare press conference early last year saying that “unless this institution is preserved and it maintains its equanimity, democracy will not survive in this country.”
    Modi told a BJP convention in New Delhi on Saturday that for Congress “every institution was wrong and only they were right.”
    The Congress press conference was organized by the Indian Overseas Congress, which is present in about 35 countries, as Gandhi tries to reach out to rich Indians living abroad for funds and social media support for the party that has dominated the country’s politics for decades before being nearly decimated in the last general election in 2014 by Modi.
    But back home, Gandhi received a jolt when bitter rivals Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) and the Samajwadi Party (SP) announced an election tie-up https://in.reuters.com/article/india-election-uttar-pradesh-sp-bsp/sp-bsp-unite-in-uttar-pradesh-in-a-bid-to-beat-modi-in-election-idINKCN1P51SP without Congress in Uttar Pradesh state, which sends the highest number of lawmakers to the lower house of parliament.
    “i>The BSP and SP have made a political decision,” Gandhi said.    “It’s on us on how to strengthen the Congress party in Uttar Pradesh and we will fight with our full capacity. Whether we do or their alliance does, the BJP is not winning there.”
    Modi said at the Delhi convention that the opposition was working on a “desperate alliance,” while the BJP would give a “strong government.”
    The Hindu nationalist BJP lost power in three key states recently, forcing the government to announce a flurry of measures to woo small businesses and the less well-off since then.
(Editing by Helen Popper)

1/13/2019 Iran says it is taking initial steps to design reactor fuel
FILE PHOTO: Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi gestures as he speaks to
Reuters during an interview in Brussels, Belgium November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran is taking preliminary steps to design uranium fuel with a purity of 20 percent for reactors instead of having to copy foreign designs, Iran’s nuclear chief said on Sunday.
    Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with world powers caps the level to which it is able to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent purity, well below the 20 percent it was reaching before the deal, and the roughly 90 percent that is weapons-grade.
    Iran is, however, allowed to produce nuclear fuel under strict conditions that need to be approved by a working group set up by the signatories to the deal.    Those conditions include ensuring that the fuel cannot be converted to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for centrifuges that enrich uranium.
    “We have made such progress in nuclear science and industry that, instead of reverse-engineering and the use of designs by others, we can design new fuel ourselves,” state broadcaster IRIB quoted , as saying.
    “Initial measures have been started for the design of modern 20 percent fuel and we’re on the verge of (achieving) it.    This product is different from the previous 20 percent fuel, and we can supply fuel to any reactor that is built like the Tehran reactor,” Salehi said.
    “The Tehran reactor has so far been working with old fuel, but modern fuel can improve efficiency,” he added.
    Iranian officials have repeatedly criticized delays in setting up a new European Union payments mechanism for Iranian oil exports, which are hit by U.S. sanctions.    But Tehran has stopped short of moves that could jeopardize the accord.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the accord last year, arguing that it was weak because it did not halt Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or support for armed proxies abroad, and he reimposed sanctions on Iran’s vital oil export sector.
    But Europe sees the nuclear deal as an important element of international security.
    The EU and other remaining parties – China and Russia – have tried with limited success to preserve trade incentives for Iran to respect the deal’s nuclear limits under U.S. pressure.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/13/2019 Bangladesh garment manufacturers raise workers’ pay amid further protests by Ruma Paul
Police officers are seen while the garment workers block a road as they protest for
higher wages in Dhaka, Bangladesh January 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Garment manufacturers in Bangladesh have agreed to raise workers’ pay, the commerce minister said on Sunday, urging people to return to work after a week of violent demonstrations.
    Last week at least one worker was killed and dozens wounded during protests over salaries, prompting the government to form a panel of factory owners, union leaders and government officials to investigate the pay demands.    On Sunday at least 20 people were hurt at in further clashes between protesters and police outside Dhaka.
    All parties involved agreed to raise wages across 6 of the 7 pay grades, leaving the minimum wages unchanged at 8,000 taka ($95), Commerce Minister Tipu Munshi told reporters after a meeting of the panel.
    Low wages and trade deals with Western countries have made the sector a $30 billion industry accounting for 80 percent of Bangladesh’s exports, making Bangladesh the world’s second-biggest garment exporter behind China.
    Earlier on Sunday, Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers and Exporters Association (BGMEA) had threatened to cut off workers’ pay if they did not return to work.
    “If you don’t return to your work by tomorrow, you will not be paid any wages and we will shut down factories for an indefinite period,” he said.    “Despite repeated assurance of meeting the demands, the workers are being incited to create unrest.    We will not allow this anymore.”
    The revised wages are effective from December and will be adjusted from January, Munshi said.
    At least 20 people were hurt on Sunday when police used teargas and water cannons to disperse workers blocking a major highway in the Ashulia garment manufacturing belt, on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka, according to Saminur Rahman, a director for the Industrial Police, which patrols the country’s business hubs.
    The protests are a test for the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who just won a third straight term in a Dec. 30 election.    The vote was marred by violence and allegations of widespread rigging and voter intimidation.
    The government said in September that the minimum wage for garment workers would increase by up to 51 percent to 8,000 taka ($95) a month, payable in January, the first increase since 2013.
    But union leaders say that increase will benefit only a small percentage of workers in the garment sector, which employs 4 million out of the country’s 165 million people.
    “Most of the workers do not want vandalism.    They want to work.    They don’t want their factories closed,” said Munshi, also a former president of the BGMEA.
    “I hope they will join work peacefully,” the minister added.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Additional reporting by Serajul Quadir; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/13/2019 Human Rights Watch calls for sanctions against new Afghan defense minister
FILE PHOTO: Asadullah Khalid speaks to the media in the Arghandab district of
Kandahar province in this June 20, 2008. REUTERS/ Ahmad Nadeem/Files/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – International rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has urged major donors to impose sanctions on Afghanistan’s newly appointed acting defense minister over alleged war crimes and human rights abuses.
    President Ashraf Ghani’s decision last month appoint the fiercely anti-Taliban Asadullah Khalid prompted an outcry from human rights organizations which accuse him of being involved in assassinations, torture and illicit drug business while serving as governor of Ghazni and later of southern Kandahar in 2005 and 2008.
    “Credible evidence of serious human rights abuses and war crimes linked to Khalid have followed him throughout his government career,” Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report published on Saturday.
    Brad Adams, Asia Director at HRW called on donors including the United States and Canada to impose sanctions on Khalid, freeze his assets and ban him from entry.
    “The European Union and other donors should impose similar sanctions to send a clear message that returning a known human rights abuser to a position of authority is simply unacceptable,” he said.
    Khalid, , who barely survived a Taliban suicide attack shortly he took over the National Directorate for Security in 2012, denies the charges and says they are politically motivated.
    An uncompromising opponent of the Taliban, Khalid accuses Pakistan of aiding the insurgent group, which Pakistan denies.
    His appointment and that of fellow Taliban critic Amrullah Saleh as interior minister come amid growing momentum in talks between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives, who have resisted U.S. pressure to include Ghani’s government.
    Critics say Khalid’s appointment will only complicate peace efforts after 17 years of conflict.    It has also fueled accusations that Ghani was trying to neutralize potential opponents by bringing them onto his side ahead of the election.
(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/13/2019 Australian premier plans Fiji, Vanuatu visit to offset China influence
FILE PHOTO - Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison arrives for APEC CEO Summit 2018
at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 17 November 2018. Fazry Ismail/Pool via REUTERS
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Monday he will visit Fiji and Vanuatu this week as part of a push to offset China’s growing influence in the South Pacific.
    Morrison heads to Vanuatu on Wednesday, in the first visit by an Australian prime minister to the Pacific island nation in three decades.    He then will go to Fiji, returning on Friday, a spokesman said.
    “This is part of our Pacific step-up.    It is part of a refocus of our international efforts on our own region, in our own backyard, and making sure we can have the biggest possible difference,” Morrison said on Australian Broadcasting Corp TV.
    The trip follows Chinese President Xi Jinping’s meeting in November with eight Pacific Island leaders before the APEC summit in Papua New Guinea.
    China’s efforts to woo Pacific island nations have been watched warily by the countries that have traditionally wielded power in the region, Australia, New Zealand and the United States.
    Australia announced in November it would offer Pacific countries up to $2 billion in grants and cheap loans for telecommunications, energy, transport and water projects, looking to counter China’s influence.
    At the same time, Australia said it would beef up defense and security ties with Pacific islands through new joint exercises and training.
    Canberra promised to bolster Vanuatu’s cyber security capability in June as it agreed to begin negotiating a security treaty.
    China has spent $1.32 billion on concessional loans and gifts since 2011 to become the second-largest donor after Australia in the Pacific region, raising concern in the West that several tiny nations could end up in debt to Beijing.
    Morrison is moving into campaign mode ahead of an election expected in May, following the release of what is expected to be a surplus budget in April.
    One issue on the agenda in Fiji is the Australian government’s decision to revoke the citizenship of a man accused of being an Islamic State recruiter, believing he was a dual citizen with Fiji as his father was Fijian.
    Fiji has since said that Neil Prakash, now jailed in Turkey, does not have Fijian citizenship, meaning Australia has effectively left him stateless.
    “We have been dealing with that issue between the governments over the last few weeks, including directly from leader to leader,” Morrison said on Monday.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul and Alison Bevege; editing by Grant McCool)

1/14/2019 Military cargo plane crashes in Iran, 15 killed by Parisa Hafezi
The site of a plane crash is seen in Alborz Province, Iran January 14, 2019
in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A Boeing 707 military cargo plane crashed in bad weather on Monday west of the Iranian capital, killing 15 out of the 16 people on board, the Iranian army said.
    A flight engineer survived and was taken to hospital, the army said in a statement carried by the semi-official Fars news agency.    The aircraft’s black box – a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) – had been recovered at the crash site, Fars said.
    The plane went down near Fath airport, which belongs to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps and is located near Karaj in the central Iranian province of Alborz.
    “A Boeing cargo 707 place carrying meat from Bishkek in Kyrgyzstan had an emergency landing at Fath airport today … the flight engineer has been dispatched to the hospital,” the army said in the statement.
    “It exited the runway during the landing and caught fire after hitting the wall at the end of the runway,” it said.
    An army spokesman, Shahin Taghikhani, told state TV that the plane belonged to Iran and that all on board were Iranian citizens.    The army’s statement came after conflicting reports over who owned the plane.
    State TV said rescue teams had been sent to the area, between the airports of Fath and Payam International Airport, where the plane had been meant to land.
(Additional reporting by Ozhas Auyezov in Almaty; Writing and reprting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/14/2019 Millions expected to throng Indian city for world’s largest religious festival by Alasdair Pal
A Sadhu or a Hindu holy man walks on a road at the site of the "Kumbh Mela,"
or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 13, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    PRAYAGRAJ, India (Reuters) – Pilgrims from across the world are gathering in India for the Kumbh Mela, a heady mix of spirituality, politics and tourism that begins on Tuesday, garnering extra attention ahead of a general election in the Hindu-majority country this year.
    During the eight-week festival at Prayagraj in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, authorities expect up to 150 million people, including a million foreign visitors, to bathe at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.
    Devout Hindus believe that bathing in the waters of the Ganges absolves people of sins and bathing at the time of the Kumbh Mela, or the “festival of the pot,” brings salvation from the cycle of life and death.
    “Belief is what brings us here, to bathe in the waters despite the cold,” said Ram Krishna Dwivedi, making his way back from the shore dressed in flowing white robes.
    More than 80 percent of India’s 1.3 billion people are Hindus, many of them deeply religious despite an increasingly Westernized middle class.
    On Tuesday, millions of pilgrims, led by naked, ash-smeared ascetics, some of whom live in caves, will plunge themselves into the cold waters during the first Shahi Snan, or Royal Bath, that begins at around 4 a.m. (2230 GMT).
    With less than 24 hours until the festival starts, the last of the arriving ascetics paraded towards temporary ashrams, or monasteries, built of corrugated iron and canvas, many bedecked with fairy lights, on the east bank of the Ganges.
    Pilgrims poured in to the site, which is closed to traffic around bathing days, carrying bundles on their heads, while vendors peddled balloons and candy floss, as security men stood guard, with priests and police seated side-by-side.
    Authorities have set up temporary bridges, 600 mass kitchens and more than 100,000 portable toilets in a pop-up city at the confluence of the rivers, which is known as the sangam.
    Those with cash can stay at luxury campsites on the river banks that offer ayurvedic spas and yoga, and cost up to 32,000 rupees ($455) a night.
    Most pilgrims make do with more modest lodgings, sleeping in big communal tents or out in the open.
    “I don’t know where I will stay yet, but you do not often get to meet these saints and sadhus,” said Rajendra Singh, a retired soldier and now a security guard, who came by bus from the state capital, Lucknow, about 200 km (124 miles) away.
    On Monday, a small fire broke out at one of the camps, though there was no report of any casualty, according to Reuters partner ANI.    Authorities later warned pilgrims about open fires.
POLITICAL PILGRIMAGE
    This year’s event comes at a critical time for Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), expected to face a tough contest in a general election due by May.
    It lost power in three key states in assembly elections in December, and will want to avoid a similar result during the general election in Uttar Pradesh, a state of 220 million where a good showing can often decide the outcome.
    The state’s chief minister, Yogi Adityanath, is a firebrand Hindu priest from the BJP, who has championed policies that play to the party’s core Hindu base.
    This year Adityanath has transformed a smaller Ardh, or “half” Kumbh Mela, into a full version of the festival.
    He has also lobbied to build a Hindu temple on the site of a former mosque, and renamed several cities with Hindu names – including Prayagraj, which was Allahabad until October.
    Modi and his rival, opposition Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, are both expected to attend the festival before it wraps up in March.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Krishna N. Das, Robert Birsel)
[Its like they have a WOODSTOCK every year.].

1/14/2019 China surplus with U.S. hits record high despite tariffs by OAN Newsroom
    China’s annual trade surplus with the U.S. has hit a record high despite increased tariffs and what appears to be a slowing Chinese economy.
    According to reports, China’s surplus with the U.S. is up $323 billion over last year, which is the highest on record going back to 2006.
Imports from China reportedly increased more than 11-percent, while exports from the U.S. to Beijing barely rose one-percent.    However, Chinese exports overall reportedly dropped more than four-percent as imports slumped even more — leading some to believe the world’s second largest economy is struggling.
In this Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, photo, containers are loaded onto a cargo ship at a port in Qingdao in east China’s Shandong
province. China’s trade growth slowed in 2018 as a tariff battle with Washington heated up and global consumer demand weakened.
Exports rose 7.1 percent, customs data showed Monday, Jan. 14, 2019, down from the 7.9 percent reported earlier for 2017.
Import growth declined to 12.9 percent from the previous year’s 15.9 percent. (Chinatopix via AP)
    “The external environment remains complicated and severe, and there are still lots of uncertainties and factors of instability, plus the factors like a higher base, the foreign trade growth may slow down somewhat,” said Li Kuiwen, spokesman for China’s General Administration of Customs.
    Chinese officials say they believe the large surplus is because the U.S. and China are at different developmental stages.

1/14/2019 Tehran attempting to enrich uranium above 2015 deal limits by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Sept. 11, 2018 file photo, Iran’s nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi speaks in an interview
with The Associated Press at the headquarters of Iran’s atomic energy agency, in Tehran, Iran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)
    Iran said it’s attempting to purify its uranium fuel, which is a move that puts it at odds with the 2015 nuclear deal.
    According to reports, Iran’s nuclear chief reported “preliminary activities for designing” modern fuel with a purity of 20-percent.    The 2015 nuclear deal between seven countries and Tehran prohibits enriching uranium above 3.67-percent.
    Officials said instead of reverse-engineering other designs, Iran can now design new fuel themselves.
    “Now, we are making 20-percent fuel according to modern fuel standards — it is to some extent different from the old one and it raises the reactor’s efficiency,” stated Iran Nuclear Chief Ali Akbar Salehi.    “Thanks to Allah, the initial work has begun, design-wise.”
    Iran is reportedly permitted to produce nuclear fuel under certain conditions that must be approved by a joint working group.
    President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear deal back in May, and restored economic sanctions against the nation.
[Now you know why Trump pulled us out and the EU is probably feeling stupid now for babying them, so lets see what sanctions will do to them.].

1/14/2019 Car bomb blast near high-security compound in Kabul kills four, 90 wounded by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Hamid Shalizi
An Afghan injured man receives treatment at a hospital after a car bomb blast
in Kabul, Afghanistan January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – At least four people were killed and 90 wounded when a bomb-laden car blew up near a high-security compound in the Afghan capital Kabul on Monday, officials said.
    An Afghan government security official said the blast occurred on Jalalabad Road in eastern Kabul near the Green Village compound, home to several international companies and charities.
    “Most of the victims were civilians,” said Najib Danish, an Interior Ministry spokesman.    Twenty-three children were among the injured, he added.
    Police spokesman Basir Mujahid said a vehicle full of explosives had been detonated.    “The area is cordoned off … and search operation underway for suspects and attackers,” he said.
    “It was a powerful car bomb that knocked (down) a wall between Green Village and the customs office,” a security source said.
    Hayat Khan was having dinner with his family at his home when the explosion shattered the windows.
    “All of my family are wounded.    They have received injuries on the head, hands, legs and on the neck,” he said.
    Khan and his family were being treated at the Wazir Akbar Khan hospital, where a Reuters witness saw dozens of severely injured people who had been rushed there from the blast site.,
    An official at Kabul’s Emergency Hospital said 15 wounded had been brought there.
    A senior Interior Ministry official said the explosion destroyed at least three checkpoints.
    “Residential buildings nearby have sustained heavy damage and several private guards around the Green Village checkpoints were critically injured,” the official said.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the bombing.    Green Village has come under Islamist militant attack in the past.
    The latest attack comes as U.S. special peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad tours the region for meetings aimed at bringing an end to the 17-year war in Afghanistan.
    Last week, Taliban leaders called off a fourth round of talks with U.S. officials in Qatar due to an “agenda disagreement” and refused to allow what they called “puppet” Afghan government officials join the talk.
    There has been no lull in fighting even as the talks intensify and the Taliban carry out near-daily attacks, mainly targeting security forces, government officials and civilians as human shields.
    The last major attack in the capital took place in late December when 43 were killed inside a government compound targeted by a suicide bomber and extremists armed with assault rifles.    No group has claimed responsibility for the incident.
(Additional reporting by Rupam Jain and Sayed Hassib; Writing by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

1/14/2019 Bangladesh garment workers stage protests, say pay rise insufficient by Ruma Paul
Garment workers block a road as they protest for higher wages at Ashulia,
outskirt of Dhaka, Bangladesh, January 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Several thousand garment workers took to the streets in Bangladesh on Monday, rejecting a pay hike in the crucial export industry as insufficient, police and union leaders said.
    Garment owners agreed to raise workers’ pay on Sunday after a week of violent demonstrations in which one person was killed and dozens wounded as police used teargas and water cannon to disperse workers who blocked roads and vandalized vehicles and factories.
    The protests are a test for the government of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who won a third straight term in a Dec. 30 election, which was marred by violence and allegations of widespread rigging and voter intimidation.
    "Workers from up to 10 factories tried to block a highway in the Ashulia garment manufacturing belt on the outskirts of the capital Dhaka,” said Saminur Rahman, a director for the Industrial Police, which patrols the country’s business hubs.
    “We dispersed them immediately and all other factories are open,” he added.
    Though many have returned to work, most employees remain unhappy with the pay rise proposed as basic salaries were not raised as expected, union leaders said.
    “We had to accept it as the proposal came from our prime minister.    How can we dishonor it?” Bangladesh Garment and Industrial Workers Federation president Babul Akter said.
    “We urged all workers to resume work.    We hope the prime minister will ensure our proper wages in near future,” he added.
    Garment owners said the rise put an extra burden on them which small factories will find difficult to afford, urging global brands to pay more for the clothes they buy.
    Low wages and trade deals with Western countries have turned Bangladesh’s garments sector into a $30 billion industry accounting for 80 percent of the country’s exports, with retailers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc and H&M Hennes & Mauritz AB buying clothes from its factories.
    “We have agreed to the new wages for the greater interest for the sector,” said Siddiqur Rahman, president of the Bangladesh Garment Manufacturers’ and Exporters’ Association.
    “Through increasing productivity, we will have to adjust to the rise,” he said, adding: “At the same time, international brands will have to share the rising costs.”
    The government said in September that the minimum wage for garment workers would increase by up to 51 percent to 8,000 taka ($95) a month, payable in January, the first increase since 2013.
    But union leaders say that increase will benefit only a small percentage of workers in the garment sector, which employs 4 million out of the country’s 165 million people.
(Reporting by Ruma Paul; Editing by Toby Chopra)

1/15/2019 Explainer: The insurgents plunging Myanmar’s Rakhine back into chaos
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar border guard police stand guard at Goke Pi outpost in Buthidaung during
a government organized media tour in Rakhine, Myanmar, January 7, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s government says it has ordered the military to “crush” rebels in the western state of Rakhine, following raids by insurgents that killed 13 police officers earlier this month.
    The United Nations says fighting between the Myanmar military and Arakan Army, which recruits from among the mainly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group, has forced about 5,000 people from their homes in the state in the past month.
    The latest violence underscores the complexity of the ethnic divisions that have long scarred Rakhine.    In 2017 attacks on security posts in the north of the state by insurgents from the Muslim Rohingya minority provoked a military crackdown that sent more than 730,000 fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh, according to U.N. agencies, and sparked the biggest crisis of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s young administration.
    Aid workers say military aircraft and trucks have been seen arriving in Rakhine since early January – raising fears conflict could intensify once again in the state.
    The group’s rise threatens to further undermine Suu Kyi’s hopes of securing peace across Myanmar, but who are the fighters of the Arakan Army, and what do they want?
JADE MINES TO SNIPER RIFLES
    The Arakan Army says it formed nearly a decade ago to fight for self-determination for Rakhine, which it says has been exploited by a remote central government.
    Many early recruits were ethnic Rakhine Buddhists who had traveled to northern Myanmar to make their fortune toiling in the jade mines there.
    They gathered and trained in territory along Myanmar’s border with China that is held by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), one of the largest ethnic armed groups still fighting the Myanmar military.    Arakan Army fighters have fought the military alongside the KIA as part of a “northern alliance” in northern Shan state since late 2016.
    Arakan Army forces have also moved into the rugged western borderlands with India and Bangladesh, where they are believed to number about 3,000.
    In parallel, the group has launched a propaganda push aimed at inspiring an uprising across Rakhine in 2020.
    Slick online videos show young men and women insurgents marching, wrestling and firing modern assault weapons and sniper rifles.    They often feature the group’s charismatic chief, Twan Mrat Naing, who wears thick-rimmed glasses and a military beret.
ETHNIC GRIEVANCES
    The Arakan Army in its propaganda largely steers clear of the communal conflict between Buddhists and Muslims that has riven Rakhine in recent years.
    Instead the group has found fertile ground appealing to a sense of economic and historical injustice directed at the Myanmar state and its Bamar ethnic majority.
    Though rich in oil and other natural resources and a focus of China’s Belt and Road Initiative investment drive, Rakhine remains one of Myanmar’s poorest states. Only 17 percent of households in the state have access to safe drinking water year-round, far below the proportion elsewhere in Myanmar, according to a 2017 World Bank survey.    Nearly 300,000 households there do not have a toilet, it found.
    The coastal area now known as Rakhine was historically an independent kingdom, Arakan, until a Burmese invasion in the 18th century.    A demonstration in January last year to mark the anniversary of the Arakan kingdom’s overthrow ended in bloodshed when police opened fire on protesters.
    The figurehead of the state’s most popular political party, the Arakan National Party (ANP) was arrested soon after with another activist and charged with high treason.    They remain on trial.    Many ethnic Rakhines resent that Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy installed its own chief minister in the state after taking power in 2016, despite the ANP winning most seats in the state at elections in 2015.
INSURGENT INFILTRATION
    After only sporadic encounters with the military in recent years, the Arakan Army has reported at least two dozen clashes with security forces in the last few months.    It says it is responding to military aggression in Rakhine that has also targeted civilians.
    “Rakhine state must have its own army,” Arakan Army chief Twan Mrat Naing told local news site the Irrawaddy this week.    “Having an armed group means the survival of the Rakhine ethnicity.”
    The government describes the group as a terrorist organization and says it could destabilize the state for years to come.
    Analysts say the Arakan Army, which has trained with Kachin rebels, poses a potentially greater military threat than the ill-equipped Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army that precipitated the 2017 crisis.
    Arakan Army (AA) fighters appear to be “well-trained and generally extremely well-equipped,” said Anthony Davis, a security analyst with Jane’s at IHS-Markit, describing the recent violence as a “watershed” for the conflict.
    “What we’ve seen is the AA shifting from a preparatory phase of political and military infiltration into northern Rakhine state that began in 2015,” said Davis.
    “They’ve now taken it to a much higher level, operating at platoon and even company strength across almost all the townships in the north of the state, and that’s new.”
(Reporting by Yangon bureau; Editing by Alex Richardson)

1/15/2019 Hindu ascetics lead millions of Indians in holy bath by Alasdair Pal
Naga Sadhus or Hindu holy men take a dip during the first "Shahi Snan" (grand bath) at "Kumbh Mela"
or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    PRAYAGRAJ, India (Reuters) – Millions of pilgrims began bathing on the first official day of India’s Kumbh Mela on Tuesday, the world’s largest religious festival where politics play an important role ahead of a general election this year.
    During the eight-week festival at Prayagraj in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, up to 150 million people, including a million foreign visitors, are expected to bathe at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.
    Devout Hindus believe bathing in the waters of the Ganges absolves people of sins and at the time of the Kumbh Mela, or the “festival of the pot,” it brings salvation from the cycle of life and death.
    A highlight is the appearance of the Naga sadhus, or ascetics, who worship Shiva and bathe on the first day of the festival.
    Many sadhus belong to monastic orders called Akharas and some live in remote caves, stepping out only for the Kumbh Mela, generally held once every three years in four cities across India.
    Shortly before dawn on Tuesday, the first naked, ash-smeared ascetics, the Panchayati, plunged into the water amid cries of “har har Mahadev,” or “everyone is Mahadev,” another name for Shiva.
    “It is out of this world,” said Varun K Seth, a saffron-clad sadhu.    “When you get in the water, you feel like you are alive.”
    Members of the largest monastic order at the festival, the Juna Akhara, raced down to the water carrying tridents and spears as police held back throngs of spectators.
    “The river gives us immortality,” said a naked sadhu from the Juna Akhara as he reapplied a coating of ash on his body after bathing.
POLITICAL FLAVOR
    While the festival is best known for the reclusive sadhus, the image of Prime Minister Narendra Modi was ever-present.
    Giant cardboard cutouts of Modi, the Hindu-nationalist leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party who faces a tough test in a general election due by May, adorned the sacred site.
    The BJP lost power in three states in assembly elections in December, and will want to avoid a similar result during the general election in Uttar Pradesh, a state of 220 million people where a strong showing can often decide the outcome.
    “Modi is a good man,” said festival goer Seth, who gestured at a figurine of the prime minister.    “He is watching over us.”
    Modi’s chief minister in Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, a firebrand Hindu priest pictured on billboards across the city, has championed policies that play to the party’s core Hindu base and alarmed Muslims.
    This year he transformed a smaller Ardh, or “half” Kumbh Mela, into a full version of the festival.    He also replaced the Muslim names of several cities with Hindu names – including Prayagraj, which was Allahabad until October.
    “Yogi is a great leader who cares for the people,” said Kuldeep Banderi, a pilgrim from Delhi.    “If this Kumbh is Ardh think what the next will be like.”
    For the first time at the Kumbh Mela, a transgender ashram known as the Kinnar Akhara and led by rights activist Lakshmi Narayan Tripathi from Mumbai, joined the first bathing day.
    India legalized gay sex in September, but the LGBT community still faces prejudice in the deeply religious country.
    Members of the Kinnar Akhara received a police escort to the bathing site, where Tripathi plunged into the waters fully clothed to the cheers of her followers.
    The festival has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality from demons.
    In a 12-day fight for possession, four drops fell to earth, in the cities of Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik, which now share the Kumbhs.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani and Darren Schuettler)

1/15/2019 Iran satellite launch, which U.S. warned against, fails
The Payam satellite is seen in the sky after it was launched in Iran,
January 15, 2019, in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran’s bid to launch a satellite has failed, Telecoms Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said on Tuesday, after it ignored U.S. warnings to avoid such activity.
    Washington warned Tehran this month against undertaking three planned rocket launches that it said would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution because they use ballistic missile technology.     The United States is concerned that the long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit can also be used to launch warheads.     Iran, which considers its space program a matter of national pride, has said its space vehicle launches and missile tests were not violations and would continue.     Under the U.N. Security Council resolution that enshrined Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers – which Washington pulled out of last spring – the country is “called upon” to refrain from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for up to eight years.     Azari-Jahromi said that the satellite, named Payam, failed in the third stage of the launch because it “did not reach adequate speed,” according to a report on the ministry’s website.
    The satellite was intended to be used for imaging and communications purposes and was mounted with four cameras, according to the report.
    The satellite was planned to stay at an altitude of 500 km for approximately three years.
    Another satellite named Doosti is waiting to be launched, Azari-Jahromi wrote in a Twitter post.
    “We should not come up short or stop,” Azari-Jahromi wrote on Twitter after announcing the failed launch.    “It’s exactly in these circumstances that we Iranians are different than other people in spirit and bravery.”
    Iran launched its first domestically built satellite, the OMID (Hope) research and telecoms satellite in 2009 on the 30th anniversary of the country’s 1979 Islamic revolution in 2009.
    The 40th anniversary falls in February.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by John Stonestreet and Jason Neely)

1/15/2019 Taliban threatens to pull out of peace talks with U.S.
FILE PHOTO: A member of the Taliban holds a flag in Kabul, Afghanistan June 16, 2018. The writing on the
flag reads: 'There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah'. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – The Taliban on Tuesday threatened to stall peace talks with the United States if they deflect from the issue of foreign force withdrawal from Afghanistan, a key demand of the hardline Islamic militants to end the 17-year war.
    In a statement, the Taliban said America must pursue the peace talks with “sincere intentions” or it “will be forced to stall all talks and negotiations until America ends her unlawful pressures and maneuvering and steps forward toward true peace.”
    The warning comes a day after Taliban fighters blew up a car-bomb outside a highly fortified compound killing at least five people and wounding more than 110 Afghans and expatriates in Kabul city.
    Last week senior leaders of the Taliban canceled the fourth round of peace talks with Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan over an “agenda disagreement.”
    Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Tuesday after meeting officials in India, the United Arab Emirates and China, the U.S. Embassy in Kabul said.
    The Afghan-born former U.S. ambassador to Kabul was named to oversee Washington’s peace efforts last year.    He has met with the Taliban leaders at least three times to discuss foreign troop withdrawal and a timeline for a ceasefire.
    The United States has also insisted that any final settlement must be led by Afghans themselves.
    “The U.S. goal is to promote dialogue among Afghans about how to end the conflict, and to encourage the parties to come together at the negotiating table to reach a political settlement in which every Afghan citizen enjoys equal rights and responsibilities under the rule of law,” the embassy said in a statement.
    But the leaders of the insurgent group have rejected requests from the United States and regional powers to deal directly with the government in Kabul, which it considers an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime.
    The Taliban has been pushing to shift the venue for the talks from Saudi Arabia to Qatar in an attempt to fend off Riyadh’s bid to include the Afghan government in them.
    The insurgents, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster by U.S.-led troops, insist that the United States is their main adversary in the war and demand bilateral talks.
    “The United States agreed during the Doha meeting in the month of November 2018 about discussing the withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the upcoming meeting,” the Taliban said.    The United States “is now backing away from that agenda and is unilaterally adding new subjects.”
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi; Editing by Janet Lawrence)
[Allah, in Islam, God is indivisible, the God, the absolute one, the all-powerful and all-knowing ruler of the universe, and the creator of everything in existence.    Islam emphasizes that God is strictly singular: unique, inherently One, also all-merciful and omnipotent.    God is neither a material nor a spiritual being.    According to Islamic teachings, beyond the Throne and according to the Quran, "No vision can grasp him, but His grasp is over all vision: He is above all comprehension, yet is acquainted with all things."    Chapter 112 of the Quran, titled Al-'Ikhlas (The Sincerity) reads: "He is God, [who is] One.    God, the Eternal Refuge.    He neither begets nor is born, Nor is there to Him any equivalent."    In Islam, there are 99 known names of God (al-asma' al-?usna lit. meaning: "The best names"), each of which evokes a distinct attribute of God.    All these names refer to Allah, the supreme and all-comprehensive god.    Among the 99 names of God, the most familiar and frequent are "the Compassionate" (Ar-Ra?man) and "the Merciful" (Ar-Ra?im).    Creation and ordering of the universe is seen as an act of prime mercy for which all creatures praise God's attributes and bear witness to God's unity.
My comment: Too bad they do not follow Allah, instead of the other documents that tell them to kill anyone they believe they deem unworthy of their beliefs, which seems to be associated with this statement 'There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.'    I suspect that they have been misguided over time by their messenger, who by the way was a human who lived between 571-632 A.D., who they claim was a prophet, sent to present and confirm the monotheistic teachings preached previously by Adam, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and other prophets.].

1/15/2019 Iran could enrich uranium to 20 percent within four days: atomic chief
FILE PHOTO: Iran's nuclear chief Ali Akbar Salehi gestures as he speaks to Reuters
during an interview in Brussels, Belgium November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran can enrich uranium up to 20 percent within four days, its atomic energy chief said on Tuesday, a comment apparently aimed at showing Tehran could quickly expand its enrichment program if its nuclear deal with world powers collapses.
    Iran’s 2015 accord with world powers caps the level to which it is able to enrich uranium to 3.67 percent purity, well below the 20 percent it was reaching before the deal, and the roughly 90 percent suitable for a nuclear weapon.
    President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the deal last May, calling it flawed, and reimposed sanctions on Iran.    Tehran refuses to renegotiate and has said the deal could fall apart unless European signatories preserve its economic benefits for the Islamic Republic against U.S. pressure.
    “If we want to come out of the nuclear deal and produce, within four days we could start our 20 percent,” Ali Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, told the semi-official Fars News Agency.    “But we already have stockpiles of 20 percent, and the capability.”
    Salehi did not elaborate on his remark about stockpiles.    Iran’s reserve of 20 percent enriched uranium was downblended, shipped abroad or turned into fuel plates for a research reactor after the nuclear deal was clinched.
    Salehi told Reuters in an interview last November that Iran could resume enriching uranium to 20 percent purity – seen as well above the level suitable for fuelling civilian power plants – if the 2015 deal’s trade spin-offs do not pan out for Tehran.
    Iran is allowed under the deal to produce nuclear fuel under strict conditions that need to be approved by a working group set up by the signatories.    Those conditions include ensuring that the fuel cannot be converted to uranium hexafluoride, the feedstock for centrifuges that enrich uranium.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/15/2019 Iran reports satellite launch failure, denies launch involved in military testing by OAN Newsroom
In this frame grab from Iranian state TV, a video, a rocket carrying a Payam satellite is launched
at Imam Khomeini Space Center, a facility under the control of the country’s Defense Ministry,
in Semnan province, Iran, Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019. According to Telecommunications Minister
Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, the rocket failed to reach the “necessary speed” in the third stage of its launch. (IRINN, via AP)
    An Iranian rocket failed to put a satellite into space despite U.S. criticism not to pursue such projects.
    According to international reports, the rocket failed to reach the required speeds to put the satellite in orbit after it pushed through the Earth’s atmosphere.
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has alleged the Iranian space program could help it develop a nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S.
    Iran has long denied trying to develop nuclear weapons, adding, the launches do not have a military aspect to them.
    The launch was one of two satellites Iran said it plans on putting into orbit.

1/15/2019 U.S. eyes Taiwan risk as China’s military capabilities grow by Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: Chinese military vehicles carrying DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missiles, potentially capable of
sinking a U.S. Nimitz-class aircraft carrier in a single strike, travel past Tiananmen Gate during
a military parade to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II
in Beijing Thursday Sept. 3, 2015. REUTERS/Andy Wong/Pool/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is closely watching Chinese intentions toward Taiwan, concerned that Beijing’s growing military prowess may increase the risk it could one day consider bringing the self-ruled island under its control by force, a U.S. official said on Tuesday.
    The senior U.S. defense intelligence official, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, did not predict that China’s military, known as the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), would take such a step but said such a possibility was the top worry as China expands and modernizes its military capabilities.
    “The biggest concern is that … they are getting to a point where the PLA leadership may actually tell Xi Jinping that they are confident in their capabilities,” the official said, referring to China’s president.
    Pressed on whether the official was referring to Chinese confidence in its capabilities to be able to successfully win a battle with Taiwan, the official said, “Well, specifically that would be the most concerning to me.”
    Taiwan is only one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, including a trade war between the countries, U.S. sanctions on the Chinese military, and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea.
    However, in meetings with Pentagon leaders, PLA officials have long described Taiwan as China’s most sensitive issue.    China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and worked to isolate the island internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.
    It has also strongly objected to U.S. warship passages through the Taiwan Strait this year, and issued a terse warning about Taiwan after talks in Beijing on Tuesday with the U.S. Navy’s top officer, Admiral John Richardson.
‘WHATEVER IT TAKES’
    In the talks, Chinese General Li Zuocheng, chief of China’s Central Military Commission Joint Staff Department, stressed that Taiwan was “China’s internal affairs” and that Beijing would allow “no external interference.”
    “If someone tries to split Taiwan from China, the Chinese military will do whatever it takes to safeguard national reunification, national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to an English-language statement http://eng.mod.gov.cn/news/2019-01/15/content_4834575.htm by China’s defense ministry on the talks.
    Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help it defend itself and is the island’s main source of arms.    The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
    Xi has stepped up pressure on the democratic island since Tsai Ing-wen from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party became president in 2016.
    On Jan. 2, Xi said in a speech that China reserved the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control but would strive to achieve peaceful “reunification.”
    Still, the U.S. defense intelligence official cautioned against over-reacting, noting Xi could believe he has plenty of time to achieve reunification with Taiwan.
    The official also cautioned that China’s military still faced gaps in its capabilities.
    “They could order them to go today, but I don’t think they’re particularly confident in that capability,” the official said.
    Also on Tuesday, the Defense Intelligence Agency released a report describing Taiwan as the “primary driver” for China’s military modernization, which it said had made major advances in recent years.
    U.S. defense officials have become particularly alarmed about China’s advances in super-fast “hypersonic” technology, which could allow it to field missiles that are far harder to detect.
    “The result … is a PLA on the verge of fielding some of the most modern weapon systems in the world.    In some areas, it already leads the world,” the report said http://www.dia.mil/News/Articles/Article-View/Article/1732500/defense-intelligence-agency-releases-report-on-china-military-power.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; editing by Will Dunham and James Dalgleish)

1/16/2019 Exclusive: Modi’s party wants expansionary economic policy ahead of India election by Krishna N. Das and Aftab Ahmed
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi attends a presentation of a joint statement with Russian
President Vladimir Putin after their delegation level talks at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, October 5, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
.     NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party is in favor of an expansionary economic policy and does not consider the government’s plan to keep the fiscal deficit to 3.3 percent of GDP as “sacrosanct,” a party spokesman told Reuters.
    Ahead of a general election that must be held by May and after a string of losses in recent state polls, the government run by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has announced several stimulus measures for the countryside where millions of farmers are grappling with low crop prices.    Other fiscal moves have been aimed at helping small businesses.
    The measures are likely to be a drain on finances in Asia’s third-biggest economy, though the Modi administration is expected to get the Reserve Bank of India to agree to transfer an interim dividend of 300-400 billion rupees ($4.32 billion-$5.8 billion) to the government by March, Reuters reported last week quoting sources.
    Weak consumer spending and the fragile farm sector have already been a drag on economic growth, creating a headache for Modi as he struggles to meet ambitious job creation targets.
    India lost 11 million jobs last year, with around 83 percent in rural areas, according to independent think-tank the Center for Monitoring Indian Economy, as operational costs surged for small businesses.    Those costs were boosted by the launch of a national sales tax in 2017 and the economic impact of an earlier ban on high value currency notes.
    “There’s a demand, there’s a debate – all my colleagues are saying what’s the need of keeping the fiscal deficit in check when there is a distress in a particular sector,” said Gopal Krishna Agarwal, the economic affairs spokesman for the Hindu nationalist BJP, referring to the farm sector.
    “Even think-tanks associated with us are talking in this sense.    Very few people domestically are talking about fiscal prudence.    Only foreign think-tanks are talking fiscal prudence, fiscal prudence.    I strongly believe an expansionary policy can benefit the party,” he said in an interview on Tuesday night.
    India’s 10-year benchmark bond yield rose 4 basis points to 7.53 percent after the news, its highest since Jan. 8 on worries about the fiscal deficit.    The rupee also weakened to 71.23 to the dollar from its previous close of 71.03.
    Agarwal, a chartered accountant who is a director at state-run Bank of Baroda and a member of a government committee on small and medium-sized businesses, said Modi was aware of his party colleagues’ thinking but that no final decision had been taken.
    D.S. Malik, a spokesman for the Ministry of Finance, did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.    Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is in the United States for a medical check-up, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that India’s “fiscal discipline during the past five years has been amongst the best as compared to any preceding period.”
NEED TO REACH LANDLESS
    Agarwal said the government understands that farmers are in distress and that directly transferring money to their bank accounts was an option to help them out.    He said the government was, however, trying to figure out how to distribute funds to landless tillers to make sure any such transfer program was effective and didn’t just benefit those with land.
    The government is studying a program launched by the eastern state of Odisha under which farmers with landholdings of up to 5 acres would get cash assistance to buy seeds, pesticides, fertilisers and pay for labor.    Sharecroppers, who cultivate rented land will also get the benefits, which include life insurance coverage.br>     Agarwal said Modi and many financial institutions were not in favor of waiving farm loans, as done by states recently won by the main opposition Congress party, because doing so mainly helps banks and not so much farmers in duress.
    “There’s definitely a suggestion to give interest-free loans to farmers.    Banks won’t have to pay, it has to be incorporated into the budget,” he said.
    “And what’s the so sacrosanct issue about keeping the fiscal deficit at less than 3.5 percent?    If you don’t adopt an expansionary economic policy, then the government alone can’t create demand by just spending on infrastructure.    It has to come from both public and the private sector.    The economy will grow only when demand will be created.”
    He said increasing the income tax exemption limit for individuals was also being considered for the interim budget to be presented on Feb. 1 by Jaitley.
    William Foster, vice president at Moody’s Investors Service, said that it expects the country’s fiscal deficit to slip to 3.4 of GDP this fiscal year ending March 31 due to revenue shortfalls from goods and services tax, lower excise duty and below-target receipts from sale of government assets.
    “Increased expenditure on income transfers, farm loan waivers or other forms of subsidies would weigh further on government finances,” Foster told Reuters.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das and Aftab Ahmed; Additional reporting by Suvashree Dey Choudhury; Edited by Martin Howell)

1/16/2019 Iran says it will be ready for new satellite launch in a few months
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference after a meeting
with Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran will be ready for a new satellite launch in a few months’ time after a failed attempt this week, President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday, ignoring U.S. and European warnings to avoid such activity.
    Western officials say the missile technology used in such launches could be applied to delivering a nuclear weapon.
    Iran’s bid to send a satellite, named Payam, into orbit failed on Tuesday as its launching rocket did not reach adequate speed in its third stage.
    Rouhani was quoted by state media as saying, however, that Iran had “achieved great success in building satellites and launching them.    That means we are on the right track."
    “The remaining problems are minor, will be resolved in a few months, and we will soon be ready for a new launch,” he said.
    The United States warned Iran this month against undertaking three planned rocket launches that it said would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution because they use ballistic missile technology.
    France’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday condemned the abortive launch and urged Iran to cease ballistic missile tests, which Paris sees as of potential use for nuclear arms.
    “The Iranian ballistic programme is a source of concern for the international community and France,” ministry spokeswoman Agnes von der Muhll said in a statement.
    “We call on Iran not to proceed with new ballistic missile tests designed to be able to carry nuclear weapons, including space launchers, and urge Iran to respect its obligations under all U.N. Security Council resolutions,” von der Muhll said.
    Iran, which deems its space program a matter of national pride, has said its space vehicle launches and missile tests do not flout a U.N. resolution and will continue.
    Under the U.N. resolution enshrining Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, Tehran is “called upon” to refrain from work on ballistic missiles suitable for carrying nuclear weapons.
    Some states say this phrasing does not make it an obligatory commitment.    Iran has repeatedly said the ballistic missiles it is developing are purely defensive in purpose and not designed to carry nuclear warheads.
    The nuclear deal is now at risk after President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from it, in part because it did not cover Iran’s ballistic missile program, and reimposed tough sanctions on Tehran.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London and Johgn Irish in Paris; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
[Is the United States the only one who knew this was coming, wake up other countries, especially the biased U.N..].

1/16/2019 Iran vows it will keep military forces in Syria despite Israeli threats
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Revolutionary Guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari looks on while
attending Friday prayers in Tehran February 10, 2012. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran will keep military forces in Syria, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said on Wednesday, defying Israeli threats that they might be targeted if they do not leave the country.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that Israeli forces would continue to attack Iranians in Syria and warned them “to get out of there fast, because we will continue with our resolute policy.”
    Rebuffing the threats, Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari, the Revolutionary Guards top commander, was quoted as saying by the semi-official ISNA news agency that “the Islamic Republic of Iran will keep all its military and revolutionary advisers and its weapons in Syria.”
    Jafari called Netanyahu’s threats “a joke,” and warned that the Israeli government “was playing with (a) lion’s tail.”
    “You should be afraid of the day that our precision-guided missiles roar and fall on your head,” he said.
    Iran and Russia have both backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a seven-year war against rebels and militants, and have sent thousands of soldiers to the country.
    Israel, increasingly concerned that its enemy Iran may establish a long-term military presence in neighboring Syria, says it has carried out more than 200 attacks against Iranian targets in Syria in the last two years.
    Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israeli warplanes carried out an attack on what he called an Iranian arms cache in Syria.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin in London with additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/17/2019 Mysterious naked holy men a huge draw at India’s Kumbh Mela by Sunil Kataria and Alasdair Pal
A Naga Sadhu or Hindu holy man waits for devotees inside his camp during "Kumbh Mela"
or the Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    PRAYAGRAJ, India (Reuters) – Ash-smeared and dreadlocked Naga sadhus or Hindu ascetics, naked except for rosary beads and garlands and smoking wooden pipes, are a huge draw at the world’s largest religious festival that began this week in India.
    At the Kumbh Mela, or “festival of the pot,” held this year in Prayagraj in north India, organizers expect up to 150 million people to bathe at the confluence of three holy rivers: the Ganges, the Yamuna and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.
    The festival is one of the only opportunities to see the reclusive Naga sadhus, some of whom live in caves after taking a vow of celibacy and renouncing worldly possessions.
    Their charge down to the waters to bathe at the opening of the Kumbh, many armed with tridents and swords, is one of the highlights of the festival.
    “It is a confluence of all Naga sadhus at the meeting point of these holy rivers,” said Anandnad Saraswati, a Naga sadhu from Mathura, a holy city in north India.
    “They meet each other, they interact with each other and they meditate and pray here at the holy confluence.    They give their message to the people and they transform people.”
    Most of the Nagas enter the orders in their early teens, leaving their friends and families to immerse themselves in meditation, yoga and religious rituals.    It can take years to be conferred with the title of a Naga, they say.
    “One has to live a life of celibacy for six years.    After that the person is given the title of a great man and 12 years after that he is made a Naga,” said Digambar Kedar Giri, a Naga sadhu from Jaipur.
    During the eight-week Kumbh, generally held every three years in one of four cities in India, the Nagas live in makeshift monasteries called Akhara erected on the eastern banks of the Ganges.
    They spend their days meditating, smoking cannabis and receiving a stream of visitors who come to pay their respects.
    “It feels surreal: all this time you have read about them.    They are almost like fictional characters and then you meet them,” said a woman who gave her name as Pallavi, on a visit to the Akharas.
    The Kumbh Mela has its roots in a Hindu tradition that says the god Vishnu wrested a golden pot containing the nectar of immortality from demons.    In a 12-day fight for possession, four drops fell to earth, in the cities of Prayagraj, Haridwar, Ujjain and Nasik, who share the Kumbhs as a result.
(Reporting by Sunil Kataria, writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

1/17/2019 Malaysia announces it will no longer host any future events with Israel by OAN Newsroom
    The Malaysian government recently announced it will no longer host any future events that include Israel.
    Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah made the announcement on Wednesday, saying the government is taking a “tough stance on the issue of Israel” and is going to “fight on behalf of the oppressed.”
    The decision comes a week after the country’s prime minister banned Israeli swimmers from participating in a qualifying event for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
Malaysia Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah speaks during a press conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia, Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2019.
Malaysia’s foreign minister says the government will not budge over a ban on Israeli athletes in para swimming competition
and decided that the country will not host any events in future involving Israel. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)
    “For any international programs that Malaysia has committed to host, and if those events have an Israeli delegation, be it sports or any other events, our cabinet has decided that Israeli delegates will not be allowed in Malaysia,” announced Foreign Minister Abdullah.
    Malaysia is a known supporter of Palestine, and even prevents Israeli passport holders from entering the country.
U.S. Navy chief does not rule out sending aircraft carrier through Taiwan Strait by Tim Kelly
FILE PHOTO: Chief of U.S. Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson poses after speaking to reporters on the
pier of the USS Coronado, a littoral combat ship, at the Changi Naval Base in Singapore, May 16, 2017. REUTERS/Himani Sarkar
    TOKYO (Reuters) – The U.S. Navy has not ruled out sending an aircraft carrier through the Taiwan Strait, despite military technology advances by China that pose a greater threat to U.S. warships than ever before, the chief of U.S. naval operations said on Friday.
    Washington sent ships through the strategic waterway three times last year as it makes more frequent transits of the strait that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland, but it has not dispatched a carrier in more than 10 years.
    During that time, China has modernized its forces with missiles designed to strike enemy ships.
    “We don’t really see any kind of limitation on whatever type of ship could pass through those waters,” Admiral John Richardson told reporters in the Japanese capital, when asked if more advanced Chinese weapons posed too big a risk.
    “We see the Taiwan Strait as another (stretch of) international waters, so that’s why we do the transits.”
    Aircraft carriers, typically equipped with about 80 aircraft and crews of about 5,000, are key to the U.S. military’s ability to project power globally.
    On Tuesday, a U.S. official told Reuters the United States was closely watching Chinese intentions toward Taiwan as advances in military technology give Beijing’s forces greater capability to occupy an island it considers a breakaway province.
    In a report, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency called Taiwan the “primary driver” for China’s military modernization.
    Richardson, who visited China before traveling to Japan, said he told his Chinese counterparts the United States was opposed to any unilateral action by Beijing or Taipei.
    He also urged China to stick to international rules during unplanned naval encounters at sea.
    That request came after a Chinese destroyer approached the USS Decatur in October and forced it to change course as it challenged Chinese territorial claims in the contested South China Sea with a freedom of navigation operation (FONOP).
    “We have made this very clear that this was an excursion, a departure from the normal adherence to those rules and we would hope that behavior in the future would be much more consistent,” Richardson said.
    “We should not see each other as a threatening presence in these waters.”
    The U.S. Navy continues to pass through waters in the South China Sea that Beijing considers its territory.
    On Jan 7, a U.S. guided-missile destroyer sailed within 12 miles of a Chinese-occupied island, prompting Beijing’s rebuke that it had “gravely infringed upon China’s sovereignty.”
    China, which claims almost all of the strategic waterway, says its intentions are peaceful.    Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have competing claims.
(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/18/2019 Chinese police must guard against ‘color revolutions’, says top official
FILE PHOTO: Police walk sniffer dogs outside the Great Hall of the People during the closing session of the
Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing, China March 15, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s police must focus on withstanding “color revolutions,” or popular uprisings, and treat the defense of China’s political system as central to their work, the top law-enforcement official said.
    China’s stability-obsessed Communist Party has long tasked the nation’s police force with stamping out any form of grassroots social or political movement.
    However, those efforts have intensified under Chinese President Xi Jinping, who has warned that China needs to do more to withstand “Western” influence that might undermine party rule.
    China’s police must “stress the prevention and resistance of ‘color revolutions’ and firmly fight to protect China’s political security,” Public Security Minister Zhao Kezhi said on Thursday, according to a post on the ministry’s website.
    “(We) must firmly defend our national security, with regime and system security at its core, and firmly defend the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party and our nation’s Socialist system,” he said.
    Police must also “strike back against all kinds of infiltration and subversive activities by hostile foreign forces,” he told the ministry’s annual national meeting.
    The term “color revolution” refers to popular uprisings experienced by former Soviet states, such as Ukraine, that often swept away long-established rulers.
    Chinese officials have previously mentioned such uprisings as a warning to their own people about the trouble that might result from overthrowing long-standing governments.
    China’s domestic security budget has not been detailed by the government in its annual work report since 2014, after the figure outstripped the military budget three years in a row.
    Analyst estimates suggest spending has continued to soar, with security-related construction tripling in 2017 in the far western region of Xinjiang, where hundreds of thousands of individuals from Muslim ethnic minorities have been held in camps as part of a “de-radicalization” drive.
    Government procurement documents suggest that China’s police have also increased spending across China as they adopt new high-tech devices, such as phone scanners, to help surveillance.
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Paul Tait)

1/18/2019 Europe’s patience with Iran wears thin, tiptoes toward Trump by Robin Emmott and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: Iranian-made Emad missile is displayed during a ceremony marking the
37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi//File Photo
    BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) – In Tehran on Jan. 8 during a meeting with European envoys, Iranian officials abruptly stood up, walked out and slammed the door in an extraordinary break with protocol.
    The French, British, German, Danish, Dutch, and Belgian diplomats in the Iranian foreign ministry room had incensed the officials with a message that Europe could no longer tolerate ballistic missile tests in Iran and assassination plots on European soil, according to four EU diplomats.
    “There was a lot of drama, they didn’t like it, but we felt we had to convey our serious concerns,” one of the diplomats said.    “It shows the relationship is becoming more tense,” a second said.
    An Iranian official declined to comment on the meeting.
    The next day, the European Union imposed its first sanctions on Iran since world powers agreed the 2015 Vienna nuclear arms control deal with Tehran.
    The sanctions were largely symbolic but the stormy meeting encapsulated the unexpected shift in European diplomacy since the end of last year.    Smaller, more dovish EU countries have joined France and Britain in a harder stance on Tehran, including considering new economic sanctions, diplomats say.     Those could include asset freezes and travel bans on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and Iranians developing the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile program, three diplomats said.
    The new approach moves Europe closer to U.S. President Donald Trump’s policy of isolating Iran with tough sanctions even though European governments still support the 2015 Vienna deal from which he withdrew in May.
    Although there are diverging views in Europe, the shift could have consequences for President Hassan Rouhani’s government as it looks to European capitals to salvage that deal.
    It could also strengthen anti-Western sentiment in Iran and lead to more aggressive Iranian moves around the Middle East, where the Islamic Republic is involved in proxy wars with its main regional rival Saudi Arabia.
    Iran’s firing of short-range ballistic missiles into Syria on Sept. 30, missile tests and a satellite launch this month have niggled Western powers.
    For Europe, alleged assassination plots by Iran on French and Danish soil in 2018 were the last straw, diplomats say.
    Tehran denies the plots and says the missile tests are purely defensive.
    “The accusations against Iran over the past few months have awoken a few countries in Europe that were against a tougher line on Iran,” a European-based Middle East diplomat said.
    The same day as the meeting, the Netherlands publicly blamed Iran for killings on its soil in 2015 and 2017.    Tehran denies any involvement.    Then on Jan. 9, the EU designated a unit of Iran’s intelligence ministry a terrorist organization, froze its assets and those of two men.
    “Take the Dutch for example.    They had kept very quiet until the Danish attack and now they are more hawkish than the French,” said the diplomat.
    Alarmed by Trump’s “America First” policy, Europe considered his May 8 decision to pull out of the Iran accord a severe setback but Iran’s international ambitions appear to offer Brussels and Washington a chance to work more closely.
    A U.S. State Department official said there was now “a growing international consensus” on the range of Iranian threats.
    “The U.S. welcomes Europe’s efforts to counter Iranian terrorism on European soil, its missile launches, human rights abuses, and other threats,” the official said.
DIALOGUE FALTERS
    As the Trump administration accused Iran last year of harboring nuclear ambitions and fomenting instability in the Middle East through its support for militant groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Yemen, the EU sought dialogue with Tehran.
    At meetings between European and Iranian diplomats last year, Britain, France, Germany and Italy, pressed for gestures on Iran’s role in Syria’s war and for help to end the conflict in Yemen.
    But multiple bilateral talks on the ballistic missile program have yielded no results.
    The EU tried to show Iran that compliance with the nuclear accord would still mean economic benefits despite Trump’s decision to reimpose U.S. sanctions and choke off Iranian oil exports by pressuring U.S. allies.
    The European Union is set to officially launch a mechanism, the special purpose vehicle (SPV) to trade with Iran later this month but it will not be operational for several months.    It will be registered in France, run by a German and likely to include Britain as a shareholder.
    “There’s a feeling of frustration among Britain, France and Germany, and others, after the first phase of diplomacy with Iran,” another senior EU diplomat said.    “We thought we could get some effort from the Iranians in several areas.”
    Iran says Europe may not be able to safeguard the nuclear deal anyway and accused European officials of dragging their feet.
    Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister and senior nuclear negotiator Abbas Araqchi said last week “operational steps” were needed from Europe as political support not enough.
    Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, head of Iran’s powerful Assembly of Experts said on Thursday Europe “would do nothing in our interest.”
    “The Europeans are worse than the Americans.    If not, they are not any better,” he said, state TV reported.
EU DISAGREEMENTS
    Last March, as part of efforts to convince Trump to stick to the nuclear deal, France, Britain and Germany proposed asset freezes and travel bans on the IRGC and Iranian companies and groups developing the missile program, according to a document seen by Reuters.
    Now, a similar set of measures is being prepared, three diplomats say.
    “We’d prefer not to take these measures, but they need to stop trying to kill people on our territory and over the last three years they have beefed up their ballistic program,” said one senior European diplomat.
    The diplomats say getting all 28 EU members to agree will take time.
    The EU’s top diplomat Federica Mogherini, who helped seal the 2015 deal, is wary of moving too fast for fear of provoking a complete collapse of the accord, four diplomats said.
    EU foreign ministers planned to issue a rare joint statement on Jan. 21 about what they say is Iran’s interference in the region and calling for an end to missile tests.    Diplomats said Mogherini wants to see the SPV established first.
    An EU official denied any split in policy between Mogherini and EU governments, saying the statement will be published as soon as the SPV is launched.
    EU diplomats said eastern European governments could also go too far against Iran to please Trump in return for security guarantees against Russia.
    EU diplomats said there was a risk that a two-day conference in Poland in February focused on the Middle East, particularly Iran, convened by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, could divide eastern and western Europe.
    Mogherini is unable to attend due to another official engagement, an EU official said, and it is not clear at what level France, Britain and Germany will be represented.
    “There are clearly risks in attending,” another diplomat said.    “While we don’t think Iran will withdraw from the nuclear deal, we don’t need to force them into the abyss and deepen an arms race in the Middle East.”
(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Arshad Mohammed in Washington; editing by Anna Willard)

1/18/2019 Myanmar army kills 13 rebels in Rakhine clashes: military spokesmanz
Major General Tun Tun Nyi and Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun report to the press
about the recent Arakan army conflict and the peace process, at the Defense Services Museum
in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Shoon Naing
    NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – Myanmar’s army has killed 13 rebel fighters in the western Rakhine State, a military spokesman said on Friday, as government troops battle to contain a new insurgency in the troubled region.
    Fighting between security forces and the Arakan Army, an ethnic armed group seeking greater autonomy for Rakhine, has forced some 5,000 civilians to flee their homes since early December, according to the United Nations.
    The violence has brought fresh turmoil to the region, the site of a massive crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority in 2017, and represents another setback for the Buddhist-majority country’s embattled peace process.
    “Between Jan. 5 and 16, 2019, there were eight clashes and five landmine explosions,” said Major General Tun Tun Nyi, speaking at a rare press conference in the capital, Naypyitaw.
    “Thirteen enemy bodies and three weapons were seized, and some soldiers died and were injured on our side,” he said.
    He declined to elaborate on the number of government troops killed, saying it was “not necessary” to give the figures.
    The Arakan Army could not be immediately reached for comment, but a spokesman outside Myanmar previously told Reuters five bodies seized by the military did not belong to their fighters.
    The recent surge of violence began after insurgents killed 13 police and wounded nine in attacks on four police posts on Jan. 4, as Myanmar celebrated Independence Day, state media reported.
    Yanghee Lee, U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, voiced alarm at the “escalating violence” in Rakhine and urged both sides to show restraint and protect civilians.
    She condemned the Jan. 4 attack by the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military’s “disproportionate response,” citing reports that heavy weapons, artillery, and helicopters had been used in civilian areas, leading to civilian casualties.
    “I am also seriously concerned about the dangerous rhetoric being used by the government.    The ethnic Rakhine population must not be demonized and targeted by the military on suspicion of association with the AA,” Lee said in a statement.
    There was no immediate response from the Myanmar authorities to her remarks.
    Myanmar’s civilian administration last week called on the military to “crush” the rebels, according to a government spokesman.
    On Friday, the military said Aung San Suu Kyi, who runs the country as state counselor, personally ordered the crackdown, stating that the Arakan Army, which recruits from among the mainly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group, should face the same treatment as Rohingya insurgents.
    The military onslaught against the Rohingya in 2017, which the U.N. and Western nations have called ethnic cleansing, was preceded by attacks on security forces by fighters calling themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.    The government denies the charge of ethnic cleansing.
    “During negotiations at the president’s house on January 9, state counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said AA were terrorists and instructed to crack down effectively,” Tun Tun Nyi said.
    “If not, others would point out that ARSA was cracked down on because it’s from a different religion and AA was not because it is an ethnic group,” he said.
    A government spokesman did not answer calls seeking comment.
    The conflict is the latest crisis facing Nobel laureate Suu Kyi’s administration, which swept to power in 2015 promising to bring an end to the country’s myriad civil wars.
    The United Nations has called for “rapid and unimpeded” aid access to the conflict zone, after the state government last week banned non-governmental organizations and the U.N. from five townships affected by the fighting.
(Reporting by Yangon bureau and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Nick Macfie and xxxx)

1/18/219 Former Afghan security adviser enters race for president
Mohammad Hanif Atmar, former Afghanistan National Security Adviser, speaks to the media
after arriving to register as a candidate for the presidential election at Afghanistan's
Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kabul, Afghanistan January 18, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – A former national security adviser entered Afghanistan’s presidential race on Friday, seeking to unseat his former boss President Ashraf Ghani with the promise of a renewed effort to bring peace to the country.
    Mohammad Hanif Atmar, the country’s top security official for four years before he quit in August over policy differences with Ghani, is seen by analysts as a leading contender in the election now expected in July.
    Announcing his candidacy in Kabul, Atmar said he welcomed peace talks with the Taliban but added he would not accept the return of a Taliban regime.
    “I definitely seek to have a change in the leadership and replace it with my ‘Peace and Moderation Team’ to bring peace to the country,” Atmar told reporters.
    The presidential polls will be a crucial test for election officials who were criticized for failing to conduct free and fair parliamentary elections last October.    The 2014 presidential election won by Ghani was also tainted by accusations of widespread cheating.
    Two senior election officials said on Friday the vote could be delayed in order to prioritize peace talks between U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and the Taliban to end the country’s 17-year conflict.
    Ghani has yet to register his candidacy for a second term, but last month he brought two vocal critics into cabinet in what critics saw as a bid to neutralize potential opponents ahead of the election.
    Ghani’s office was not immediately available for comment on Atmar’s decision to enter the race.
    Atmar, who began his security career with the Soviet Union-backed government in the late 1980s, is still seen as close to Russia.
    An ethnic Pashtun, Atmar worked for the KHAD, an Afghan security and intelligence agency with strong ties to the Soviet KGB.    During the Soviet-Afghan War he fought against the Afghan Mujahideen, and lost a leg defending the eastern city of Jalalabad in 1988.
    “He is a strong, charismatic candidate, but he does not enjoy the complete support of the U.S.,” a Western diplomat in Kabul said.
    “America’s blessings are needed to be the leader of Afghanistan, especially now when peace talks with the Taliban are gaining momentum,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity.
    Taliban representatives have met with U.S. officials but have so far refused to talk directly with members of Ghani’s government, which they consider an illegitimate regime put in place by foreign powers.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain and Hameed Farzad; editing by Darren Schuettler)

1/18/2019 China offers to even out trade imbalance by OAN Newsroom
    A new bombshell report is indicating that President Trump’s aggressive trade strategy on China could result in a historic new agreement.    On Friday, Bloomberg reported that China has offered a way to completely slash its trade imbalance with the U.S.
    During mid-level talks in Beijing earlier this month, China reportedly said it will go on a six-year buying spree to greatly boost imports from the U.S.    The report suggested the move would cut China’s trade surplus to zero by 2024.
    President Trump has made cutting the trade deficit with China a chief priority of his trade strategy, repeatedly claiming he wants a fair and reciprocal deal.
    Some believe this proposal shows China is close to giving in on what the U.S. wants, and a deal could be happening soon.
    “He needs to say — ‘I got this, it’s going to happen, you can trust me on that’ — and if it doesn’t happen, we’ll go back to tariffs, so you can’t just make any deal, but the president does want one and I’ll think we’ll get one in about a month,” said Derek Scissors, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.
In this Friday, Jan. 11, 2019, photo, containers are loaded onto a cargo ship
at a port in Qingdao in east China’s Shandong province. (Chinatopix via AP)
    The report comes as China’s top negotiator prepares for his trip to the U.S. to meet with Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
    Although the deadline on the 90-day truce is closing in, financial experts say progress is happening at the right speed.
    “I think at the end of the day the fact that we’ve got the vice premier coming on the 3oth and 31st is incredibly positive, and I think the fact that the U.S. went there a couple of weeks ago is postie as well — this is moving exactly as you want,” said Paul Richards, president of Medley Global Advisors.
    If China does take steps to even out trade, it would widely be seen as the greatest trade related accomplishment during President Trump’s time in office.

1/18/2019 Singapore to buy a few F-35 jets, eyes fleet replacement by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan
Singapore's Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen speaks at the Xiangshan Forum in Beijing, China October 25, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    SINGAPORE (Reuters) – Singapore’s defense minister said on Friday that Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 fighter jets were the most suitable replacement for the country’s F-16 fleet, and it planned to initially buy a few for evaluation.
    With Southeast Asia’s largest defense budget, the wealthy city-state is a key prize for global arms companies as it looks to invest in new technology and upgrade its equipment.
    Singapore’s fleet of around 60 F-16 jets, which first entered service in 1998, will be retired soon after 2030.
    “They (defense agencies) have decided that the F-35 would be the most suitable replacement fighter,” Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said in a Facebook post.    “We want to procure a few planes first, to fully evaluate the capabilities of the F-35 before deciding on the acquisition of a full fleet.”
    Ng said defense agencies would speak to their U.S. counterparts to move the process forward, but that it would take 9-12 months to finalize terms on the initial deal.
    The F-35, one of the world’s most advanced fighter jets, accounts for about a quarter of Lockheed’s total revenue.
    “We look forward to supporting them on their continued evaluation of the F-35,” a Lockheed spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
    The most common variation of the jet, the F-35A, costs around $90 million each, based on contract negotiations with the Pentagon in the United States.
    While the price has declined with increased production, U.S. President Donald Trump and other U.S. officials have criticized it as too high, and have cited numerous production delays and cost overruns.
    Other international customers have expressed interest in the F-35.    Both Switzerland and Finland have competitions underway to select a new fighter jet.
    Last year, all Lockheed Martin’s U.S. and international F-35 fighter jets were grounded for engine inspections following a crash of an F-35B on Sept. 28 near Beaufort, South Carolina.
(Reporting by John Geddie and Aradhana Aravindan; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Richard Chang)

1/19/2019 Afghan Taliban reject talks with U.S. in Pakistan by Jibran Ahmad
Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, leads a panel
discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington,
February 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS)
    PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – The Afghan Taliban rejected reports in the Pakistani media that they were prepared to resume meetings with U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad and repeated their refusal to deal directly with the Afghan government.
    Pakistani newspapers and television stations reported that a meeting in Islamabad was in prospect following discussions between Khalilzad and Pakistani officials including Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday.
    Senior Taliban leaders said that regional powers including Pakistan had approached them and wanted them to meet the U.S. delegation in Islamabad and also include the Afghan government in the peace process but that the approaches had been rejected.
    “We wanted to make it clear that we will not hold any meeting with Zalmay Khalilzad in Islamabad,” Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid in a statement.
    Talks between the two sides have stalled after the Taliban accused Khalilzad of straying from the agreed agenda and there is no clarity on when they may resume.
    “We have made it clear again and again that we would never hold any meeting with the Afghan government as we know that they are not capable of addressing our demands,” said one senior Taliban leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
    The United States says any settlement in Afghanistan must be between the internationally recognized Afghan government and the Taliban, who have so far refused to talk to an administration they describe as an illegitimate puppet regime.
    The Taliban leader said peace talks with the U.S. delegation could resume if they were assured that only three issues would be discussed – a U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, an exchange of prisoners and lifting a ban on the movement of Taliban leaders.
    Khalilzad arrived in Islamabad on Thursday and met Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as well as the Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and other officials.
    “The two sides reviewed developments post Abu Dhabi, in order to take the Afghan peace process forward,” a foreign office statement said.    An Afghan Taliban delegation had a round of talks last month with U.S. officials in Abu Dhabi.
    The statement didn’t give any further details on the talks, but several local TV channels reported that Pakistan agreed to host the next round of talks between the Afghan Taliban and the United States in Islamabad.
    Khalilzad, an Afghan-born veteran U.S. diplomat who served as George W. Bush’s ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, was named by the Trump administration four months ago as a special envoy to negotiate peace.
    Washington has long been pushing Islamabad to lean on Taliban leaders, who it says are based in Pakistan, to bring them to the negotiating table.
    It often accuses the south Asian nation of covertly sheltering Taliban leaders, an accusation Islamabad vehemently denies.
    The United States, which had more than 100,000 troops in Afghanistan at its peak during the first term of former President Barack Obama, withdrew most of them in 2014 but still keeps around 14,000 there.
(Additional reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by Michael Perry)

1/19/2019 Former Afghan warlord Hekmatyar enters presidential race
Former Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (C) leaves after registering as a candidate for the presidential election
at Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) in Kabul, Afghanistan January 19, 2019.REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – A former warlord accused of historic war crimes entered Afghanistan’s presidential race on Saturday in a new challenge to President Ashraf Ghani who allowed him to return from exile two decades he was forced out by the Taliban.
    Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, whose fighters killed thousands in Kabul during the bloody civil war of the 1990s, has remained a divisive figure since his return from exile in 2016.
    His decision to contest the presidential polls in July is seen by analysts as the ex-warlord’s attempt legitimize his Hizb-i-Islami party.    The faction has been blamed for atrocities committed during Afghanistan’s brutal civil war, which led many Afghans to welcome the emergence of the Taliban in 1996 in the hope the hardline Islamist group would restore law and order.
    In 2003, the U.S. State Department listed him as a terrorist, accusing him of taking part in and supporting attacks by al Qaeda and the Taliban.    But Washington later welcomed Ghani’s decision to sign a peace deal with Hekmatyar.
    In 2016, President Ghani’s government granted immunity to Hekmatyar but the former warlord has been critical of his administration and the parliamentary election process in 2018.
    Announcing his candidacy, Hekmatyar pledged to restore peace and security and said the current government had failed to end the war with the Taliban.
    “Our country’s situation requires a powerful central government lead by an elected president supported by the majority of people,” he told a news conference in Kabul.
    The July election faces serious security challenges with the Taliban threatening large parts of the country.    The polls will be a crucial test for election officials who were criticized for failing to conduct free and fair parliamentary elections last October.    The 2014 presidential election won by Ghani was also tainted by accusations of widespread cheating.
    Afghanistan’s presidential race is now in full swing, with several former officials, politicians lining up to challenge Ghani who is expected to register his candidacy for a second term on Sunday.
    On Saturday Interior Minister Amrullah Saleh resigned to run for the vice-presidency as part of Ghani’s team, according to two political sources.
    In December, Ghani appointed Saleh, a former security official and an uncompromising opponent of the Taliban, to his government in a bid to secure the support of former opponents for a second term.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain, Samargul Zawak; Editing by Ros Russell)

1/19/2019 Rival groups demonstrate in Thailand as election tensions grow by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panarat Thepgumpanat
A placard mocking Thailand's Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha as Pinocchio is seen
as activists hold up candles while gathering to demand quick elections to end military rule
at a university in Bangkok, Thailand, January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
    BANGKOK (Reuters) – Rival groups held demonstrations in Thailand’s capital on Saturday, with hundreds of people demanding quick elections to end military rule and a much smaller group of pro-junta supporters saying it was too soon for a vote.
    The competing protests were tiny compared to those that paralyzed Bangkok in 2014 before the army seized power in the name of ending instability, but were an indication of the tensions in the run-up to a long-delayed ballot.
    No date has been set for an election which was first promised for 2015 and most recently postponed from Feb. 24.    Hundreds joined a demonstration calling for elections on March 10.
    “We’re calling for elections as soon as possible,” activist Sirawith Seritiwa told the crowd.
    The junta has said the most recent election delay is because of scheduling difficulties with planning for the coronation of King Maha Vajiralongkorn in early May – although it has said it still wants the ballot held before those ceremonies.
    The Election Commission of Thailand has given March 10 or March 24 as possible polling dates, but no date has been set and a royal decree must be issued before it can be.
    Some 1 km (0.6 miles) from the demonstration calling for elections, around 30 counter-protesters gathered with placards at the Democracy Monument.    They said they were not opposed to a ballot, but national unity must come first.
    “We can wait for elections,” the group’s leader, Jathurun Bunbenjara, told reporters.    “We don’t agree with protests that create chaos… We want to see Thais come together and hold an auspicious and great coronation.”
    Thailand’s longstanding political divide is between strongly royalist and pro-military conservatives and “red shirt” populists linked to exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra who have won every election since 2001.
    Despite measures by the junta to entrench the ruling generals’ hold on power after any election, opinion polls have shown that Thaksin’s supporters remain politically strong.
    Activist Sirawith denied that the group intended to create chaos ahead of the coronation – saying that holding elections earlier would reduce that danger.
    It will be the first Thai coronation in living memory.    The king’s revered late father ruled for more than 70 years until his death in 2016.
(Additional reporting by Chayut Setboonsarng; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Ros Russell)

1/19/2019 Indian opposition stages giant joint rally to oust Modi by Subrata Nagchoudhury
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives to inaugurate the
Vibrant Gujarat Global Trade Show at Gandhinagar, India, January 17, 2019. REUTERS/Amit Dave
    KOLKATA, India (Reuters) – India’s main opposition parties joined forces against Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday at a rally which attracted hundreds of thousands of people months ahead of elections.
    The 23 regional groups said they forged a common front to stop Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which beat the main opposition Congress and regional parties in 2014.
    Rural anger over weak farm prices and sluggish job creation mean Modi’s BJP faces a tough challenge to stay in power after electoral losses in three key states last month.
    Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Kolkata from rural Bengal for the rally, bringing disruption to the city.
    Mamata Banerjee, chief minister of the state of West Bengal, called on regional party leaders to join a single platform to defeat the “anti-people” government of Modi, which the 64-year-old said was “nearing its end.”
    A poll last month by ABP News forecast Modi’s party could fall about 25 seats short of a majority in national elections and Banerjee is among the few opposition leaders who could emerge as a prime ministerial candidate if the BJP loses.
    Regional parties hold the key as they dominate the eastern states of West Bengal, Odisha, and the southern states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Kerala, which together send 161 members to the 543 constituencies of parliament’s lower house.
    Missing from Saturday’s lineup was Rahul Gandhi, president of the main opposition Congress party and leaders of the left parties, reflecting tensions among opposition parties on who would be their prime ministerial candidate against Modi.
    Gandhi sent his representatives and a letter of support.
FOCUS ON JOBS
    After the formation of a strong alliance between Samajwadi and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) last week in the state of Uttar Pradesh, which sends 80 members to the lower house, Modi’s party faces a risk of losing elections, Banerjee said.
    Arvind Kejriwal, chief minister of Delhi, said Modi had failed to fulfill his promises including job creation.
    “Modi had promised to create 20 million jobs a year but after a faulty launch of national sales tax and demonetization in 2016 more than 10 million jobs were lost,” he said.
    India’s unemployment rate hit 7.4 percent in December, highest in 15 months, while the number of people employed fell by nearly 11 million from a year ago, a report by the Mumbai-based Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy, said this month.
    Politicians at the rally, whose organizers said was attended by more than a million people, said India’s growth had slowed during Modi’s term and their first priority was to defeat him, adding a replacement would be decided after the elections.
    The BJP dismissed the prospects of an opposition alliance, questioning who would lead such a coalition.
    Modi is expected to detail a package worth more than 1 trillion rupees ($14 billion) in his last budget on Feb 1, including benefits for farmers and other taxpayers.
($1 = 71.2000 Indian rupees)
(Writing by Manoj Kumar; Editing by Alexander Smith)

1/20/2019 Senator Graham urges Trump to meet Pakistan PM Khan by James Mackenzie
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham gestures during a news conference in
Ankara, Turkey, January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES NO ARCHIVES
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday President Donald Trump should meet Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan as soon as possible to reset long-difficult U.S. relations with Pakistan and push for a peaceful settlement in Afghanistan.
    The comments, which add to growing signs of improved relations between Islamabad and Washington, come amid efforts to press on with talks between the Taliban and the United States aimed at an agreement to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan.
    “I’ve seen things change here and all in a positive direction,” Graham, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee who has generally been a staunch supporter of Trump, told a news conference in Islamabad.
    He said a meeting with Khan, who has declared strong support for a peace agreement in Afghanistan, would leave Trump “far more enthusiastic about the region than he is today.”
    “With Prime Minister Khan we have a unique opportunity to change our relationship,” he said.    A previously transactional relationship, based on rewards for services rendered, should be replaced by “strategic engagement,” including a free trade agreement, he said.
    U.S. relations with Pakistan have long been dogged by suspicions that elements in the Pakistani establishment were aiding the Taliban, a charge Islamabad strongly denies.    However, relations have appeared to improve in recent months amid efforts to push the Taliban towards a peace deal.
    Trump, who has in the past argued for the United States to withdraw from Afghanistan, has made it clear he wants to see a peace accord reached rapidly although the Taliban have so far refused to talk directly with the Afghan government.     Graham’s trip to Pakistan coincided with a visit by Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, and top military commanders including General Joseph Votel, commander of U.S. Central Command.     Khalilzad left Islamabad without announcing a new date for talks with Taliban representatives, who have refused further meetings until the U.S. side agrees to discuss a timetable for withdrawing its forces.     The uncertainty has been increased by reports that Trump is prepared to order more than 5,000 U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, a move that would represent a sharp change in course from Washington’s previous policy of stepping up military action against the Taliban.     With Afghan forces suffering thousands of casualties a year and struggling to hold back the Taliban insurgency, the reports have caused alarm in Kabul, prompting many close to the government to question the U.S. commitment to Afghanistan.     Asked whether there had been confusion over the U.S. message, Graham, who has called for a Senate hearing on Trump’s plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria and Afghanistan, said “without a doubt” but added that he did not believe Washington would stand by and allow a Taliban victory.
    “The world’s not going to let the Taliban take Afghanistan over by force of arms.    That would be unconscionable,” he told Reuters.    “Any president who let that happen would go down in history very poorly.”
(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Dale Hudson)
[After reading the article I do not quite understand how Pakistan is going to solve anything.    Does Pakistan have connections to the Taliban or not?].

1/20/2019 Afghanistan’s Ghani launches bid for second presidential term by Rupam Jain and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends a two-day conference on Afghanistan
at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday entered the 2019 presidential race after forging an alliance with a staunch critic to challenge his former governing partners at a time when the Taliban has shut him out of talks to end more than 17 years of war.
    Ghani, 69, is seeking a second term amid the war with the hardline Islamic militants and ongoing peace talks between the United States and the Taliban, in which his government complains it has been sidelined.
    On Sunday Ghani registered as a presidential candidate for the July election, facing competition from his one-time officials who have formed new alliances.
    Independent analysts said Afghanistan’s political landscape has been thrown into turmoil by the nominations and shifting loyalties.
    A day earlier former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar announced he was running for president, with the Afghanistan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who currently holds a power-sharing agreement with Ghani, formally entering the race on Sunday morning.
    In a televised announcement, President Ghani, accompanied by his wife and political allies, listed his National Unity government’s achievements during the five-year term, including his consistent offer to hold unconditional peace talks with the Taliban.
    “I started the peace initiative and our team will bring stable and long-lasting peace to the country,” he said, adding that if the Taliban consider themselves Afghans they “should come and talk to us.”
    Ghani’s critics say the previous presidential election in 2014 was fraught with irregularities, but the American government backed the Western-educated leader to rule the country while Washington wound down the U.S. military presence in favor of an advisory role to Afghan forces in the war.
    But in the past four years, Western diplomats said they found Ghani to be an unrealistic micromanager who had failed to assess the security crisis or build political consensus to govern far-flung provinces.
    The Taliban, has steadily carved out territorial gains since 2014, leaving Ghani’s government in control of less than two thirds of the country.    Islamic State also has an established presence in the east of the country.
    Suicide attacks targeting Afghan forces, government officials and expatriates have not subsided.
    Last year Washington appointed Afghan-born diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad to start direct peace talks with the Taliban.    Khalilzad has met Taliban leaders at least three times but disagreement over the agenda and the Taliban’s refusal to meet representatives from Ghani’s government has stalled the talks in recent weeks.
    “Ghani could have made a dignified exit from politics and committed himself to the peace process, but instead he has formed an alliance with his main opponent to secure a second term,” said one Western diplomat in Kabul, asking to remain anonymous.
    On Saturday Interior Minister Amrullah Saleh stepped down from his position to join the Ghani’s team as a vice-presidential candidate.    Ghani, an ethnic Pashtun, had appointed Saleh, once seen as a significant rival, in an effort to neutralize his political opponents and shore up support from Afghanistan’s ethnic Tajiks, among whom Saleh commands strong backing.
    “The most fundamental shift in Kabul politics recently has been the muddying of the waters during the presidential candidate nominations,” said Graeme Smith, a consultant for the International Crisis Group.
    Smith said the rural-urban divide in which major cities favored Ghani while his opponents received backing from provincial strongholds had been eroded.    “Those clear lines have been blurred,” he said.
    Senior electoral officials, who have been accused of failing to conduct free and fair parliamentary elections last year, said they are committed to stick to the deadline but the security situation could force them to delay polls by two months.
(Additional reporting by Charlotte Greenfield; Editing by David Goodman)

1/201/2019 Australia’s solar, wind boom to power past grid woes in 2019 by Sonali Paul
FILE PHOTO: A solar array, a linked collection of solar panels, can be seen in front of a
residential apartment block in the Sydney suburb of Chatswood in Australia, July 28, 2017. REUTERS/David Gray/File Photo
    MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s wind and solar boom looks set to power through 2019 following a record year, despite grid constraints and extra scrutiny from network operators to make sure new projects don’t spark blackouts like ones that hit two years ago.
    Abundant wind and sun, falling turbine and panel costs, and corporate demand for contracts to hedge against rising power tariffs have attracted dozens of international developers looking to build wind and solar farms Down Under.
    Even though the developers have met with flip-flops on energy policy, a strained grid that has trouble integrating intermittent renewable power, and unexpected hook-up costs, they still see Australia as a growth market.
    “We believe that we have a great future in Australia, because we have the right answers,” said Xavier Barbaro, Chief Executive of France’s Neoen , whose biggest market is Australia.
    Companies like Neoen, its compatriot Total-Eren , India’s Adani , U.S. utility AES Corp and Germany’s Sonnen are expanding in Australia, looking to fill a gap as ageing coal-fired plants are retired over the next two decades.
    “Confidence is high as the industry enters 2019, with unprecedented levels of construction activity under way,” said Anna Freeman, a director at the Clean Energy Council, an industry group.
    Australia generates nearly 20 percent of its electricity from renewables.    This is forecast to jump to 75 percent over the next 20 years.
    A total of 14.7 gigawatts (GW) of large-scale solar and wind projects worth A$20 billion ($14 billion) were under construction or reached financial close last year, more than double 2017’s record, according to the Clean Energy Council.
(Graphic: Australia’s renewable power – https://tmsnrt.rs/2ROVMyc)
    This rush of projects, with no clear guidance on where they best fit, led to an “element of anarchy,” but that is changing, said Simon Currie, founder of advisory firm Energy Estate.    The Australian Energy Market Operator (AEMO), the energy council and network companies are working out clear guidelines on where to build plants and how to connect them to the grid.
    “We’re moving from what was an opportunistic-based approach … into something that will be much more planned,” said Currie, whose company wants to develop Australia’s biggest renewable energy hub, with 4 GW of wind, solar and pumped hydro capacity in New South Wales.
    Renewable projects added to the grid have grown from 22 with 1.2 GW of capacity in 2013 to a record 45 projects with 2.9 GW added in 2018, AEMO said.    There are 114 more applications representing 15.9 GW pending, indicating plenty of potential congestion ahead.
    The biggest challenge is that developers are all vying to connect to a grid running 5,000 km (3,100 miles) from Queensland in the north to South Australia and Tasmania.
(See graphic https://tmsnrt.rs/2AGa36n)
    This grid was designed to deliver power mainly from always-on coal-fired plants near three big mining areas, while wind and solar farms generate intermittent power from more remote sites, where network capacity can be limited.
    To keep the grid stable, equipment such as “synchronous condensers” or batteries need to be added, which can increase costs by at least $20 million for a condenser alone.    Batteries could be much higher.
    Developers who failed to account for these issues have run into delays on project approvals or grid hook-up, bringing unanticipated costs, which in one case, led to the collapse of engineering firm RCR Tomlinson last November.
(Graphic: Solar power needs the sun – https://tmsnrt.rs/2B1WOgT)
HOOK-UP HICCUPS
    A Clean Energy Council survey of senior executives in December found grid connection is the biggest industry concern heading into 2019, Freeman said.
    UK-based solar investor Octopus Investments said grid issues were what took it two years to choose its first investment in Australia.    The Darlington Point solar farm is about to begin construction and will be the country’s largest.
    “The grid is the biggest issue where assets fail in our project filter,” Octopus Managing Director Sam Reynolds told Reuters, declining to name projects the company rejected.
    Developers and project lenders said they need to consider grid congestion, which can curtail power that gets to the network from any one plant; intermittency of wind and solar power, which affects current flow; and transmission losses, called marginal loss factors (MLFs).
    “There’s a bit of nervousness around MLFs, curtailment, and then there’s construction and commissioning risk,” said Stephen Panizza, head of renewable energy at Federation Asset Management.
    MLFs measure energy lost over power networks and have been increasing, with renewable projects being on the outer reaches of the grid, weakening returns for some operators.
    Another factor is the cost of the extra technology to keep current steady on the grid as more intermittent power is added.
    In November, France’s Total-Eren agreed to buy a synchronous condenser to secure a connection agreement so it could build the A$330 million Kiamal solar farm in Victoria.
    Delays due to talks with AEMO about the condenser, however, led to Total-Eren losing one of its power purchase agreements (PPAs).
    Total-Eren’s Asia Pacific director, Michael Vawser, says other projects will face the same trouble.
    “I do think there are other projects … caught off-guard by new grid regulations that will lose their PPAs through delays in being allowed to connect to the grid,” Vawser told Reuters in an interview in November.
    Neoen, which has built 1 GW of wind and solar farms and the world’s biggest battery in Australia over the past four years, said in a recent prospectus it had collected 14 million euros ($16 million) in damages from a contractor building three solar farms because of hook-up delays.
    Despite the challenges, Neoen, Total-Eren and their rivals are still scouring Australia for more opportunities.
    “Australia is still an attractive market for us,” Vawser said.
($1 = 1.3875 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Tom Hogue)
[After reading the above obviously Australia is the guinea pig for the wind, solar, etc tecnologies which do not have it down to pat yet, and this is a country with moderate warm weather year round, and if they achieve it will it work in all climates as the new Democrats in the U.S. believe this is the future of their "Green Deal" to replace coal even though it looks like it would have to be subsidied just to make it work.].

1/21/2019 Rohingya Muslim group fleeing India to Bangladesh stuck on ‘zero line’ by Serajul Quadir
FILE PHOTO: A man from the Rohingya community fills out an identification form, provided by
local police, inside his shop at a camp in New Delhi, India October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    DHAKA (Reuters) – Bangladesh has denied entry to 31 Rohingya Muslims trying to enter from India and they are stuck in no-man’s land on the border, Bangladesh authorities said on Monday, as India cracks down on members of the community.
    The stranded Rohingya, including women and children, had been living in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, according to a Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) official who said he had seen some of their identity cards issued by the U.N. refugee agency in India.
    The 31 had been stuck on Bangladesh’s border with northeast India since Friday, said the BGB commander in the area, Golam Kabir.
    “We stopped them as they were crossing the border,” Kabir told Reuters by telephone.
    “They’ve been on the zero line since the 18th of this month,” he said, referring to the border.    Two rounds of talks on what to do with the 31, with India’s Border Security Force on Sunday, had “ended without any conclusive decision,” Kabir said.
    Many hundreds of thousands of members of mostly Buddhist Myanmar’s Rohingya community have left their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine Sate over the decades, most fleeing military crackdowns and discrimination.
    Many have sought shelter in Bangladesh – where nearly 1 million live – but others have ended up in India, Southeast Asia and beyond.
    An Indian border force officer in Tripura state told reporters on Sunday that they were providing food and clothing to the Rohingya, 16 of whom were children.
    The force could not be reached for comment on Monday.
    India estimates that 40,000 Rohingya are living in scattered settlements in various parts of the country.
    But its Hindu nationalist government regards them as illegal aliens and a security threat, and has ordered that they be identified and repatriated.
    The U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, has issued about 16,500 Rohingya in India with identity cards that it says can help “prevent harassment, arbitrary arrests, detention and deportation.”    India does not recognize the cards.
    Hundreds of Rohingya families have left India for Bangladesh since seven Rohingya men were deported to Myanmar in October.    This month, India sent a Rohingya family of five to Myanmar.
    The United Nations says conditions are not conducive for Rohingya to return to Myanmar.
    In August, the United Nations accused the Myanmar military of mass killings and rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent” in a 2017 military operation that drove more than 700,000 of them into Bangladesh, according to U.N. agencies.
    Myanmar has denied the accusations, saying its military launched a counter-insurgency operation after attacks on security posts by Muslim terrorists.
(Additional reporting by Zarir Hussain in GUWAHATI; Writing by Krishna N. Das; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/21/2019 Modern China’s birth rate falls to lowest ever
FILE PHOTO: People play with children at a park in Jinhua, Zhejiang province, China November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s birth rate last year fell to its lowest since the founding of the People’s Republic of China 70 years ago, official data showed on Monday, as looser population controls fail to encourage couples to have more babies.
    The birth rate stood at 10.94 per thousand, the lowest since 1949 and down from 12.43 per thousand in 2017, data from the statistics bureau showed.    The number of babies born in 2018 fell by two million to 15.23 million.
    The rate of natural increase in population, deducting the number of deaths, also slowed to the lowest since the aftermath of a disastrous famine in the early 1960s.
    China allowed urban couples to have two children in 2016, replacing a one-child policy in place since 1979, with policymakers wary of falling birth rates and a rapidly growing aging population.
    In January, a government-affiliated think tank warned that the population in the world’s second-biggest economy could start to shrink as soon as 2027.
    The statistics bureau did not suggest a reason for the birth rate decline but economic growth last year fell to its lowest in nearly three decades.
(Reporting by Stella Qiu, Yawen Chen and Ryan Woo; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/21/2019 Philippines holds referendum for Muslim autonomy in troubled south by Martin Petty
Ebrahim Murad, Chairman of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), gestures after
casting his vote during the plebiscite on Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL) at a voting precinct in
Sultan Kudarat, Maguindanao province, Philippines January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Marconi B. Navales
    MANILA (Reuters) – Minority Muslims in the southern Philippines cast votes on Monday in a long-awaited referendum on autonomy, the culmination of a peace process to end decades of separatist conflict in a region plagued by poverty, banditry and Islamist extremism.
    Some 2.8 million people in the volatile Mindanao region are being asked if they back a plan by separatists and the government to create a self-administered area known as Bangsamoro, or “nation of Moros,” referring to the name Spanish colonialists gave to the area’s Muslim inhabitants.
    A clear “yes” vote is widely expected, which would grant executive, legislature and fiscal powers to a region where more than 120,000 people died a four-decade conflict that left it one of Asia’s poorest and at risk of infiltration by radical groups.
    Philippine referendum on Muslim autonomous region: https://tmsnrt.rs/2Hk3s7L
    The central government would continue to oversee defense, security, foreign and monetary policy, and appoint a transition authority run by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), the separatist group expected to dominate the new setup after a 2022 election.
    “We are confident that ‘yes’ will win,” MILF chairman Murad Ebrahim told CNN Philippines on Monday.
    “If there is no manipulation, no intimidating, there will be overwhelming approval,” he added.
    That would be a much-needed boost for Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who remains a hugely popular personality among Filipinos but has so far struggled to make inroads on his ambitious policy agenda.
    Though the Bangsamoro plan was negotiated by his predecessors, Duterte, a mayor in Davao City in Mindanao for 22 years, is credited with ensuring it got the support of Congress, which the previous administration was unable to secure.
    A result is expected by Friday. Duterte last week urged voters to approve the plan and show they wanted peace, development and a local leadership that “truly represents and understand the needs of the Muslim people.”
    The plan’s advocates say it would address what are the predominantly Catholic country’s lowest levels of employment, income, education and development, which experts say are exploited by pirates, kidnapping gangs and armed groups that have pledged allegiance to Islamic State.
    The MILF has denounced extremists and said disillusionment over the slow progress towards devolution was a factor behind a 2017 occupation of Marawi City by rebels loyal to Islamic State, which the military took five months of ground offensives and devastating air strikes to defeat.
    The whole of Mindanao has since been under martial law.
    The MILF and the government hope autonomy would lead to greater investment in infrastructure and natural resources, and allow for expansion of fruit and nickel exports and development of a palm oil industry.
(Editing by Darren Schuettler)

1/21/2019 At a top Chinese university, activist ‘confessions’ strike fear into students by Christian Shepherd
FILE PHOTO: People cycle past a building in Peking University in Beijing, China, July 27, 2016. REUTERS/Thomas Peter AUNI
    BEIJING (Reuters) – In late December, on the leafy streets of China’s prestigious Peking University, a handful of students held up banners to protest against a takeover of the campus Marxist society by the Chinese Communist Party-affiliated Student Association.
    Within an hour, police rushed at the group and dragged them into a nearby building, where, barricaded in classrooms, they were shown videos of recent graduates, including one from their own university, “confessing” to working with an “illegal organization” to arrange protests in southern China, students involved told Reuters.
    On Monday, a solidarity group that has been calling for the activists to be released posted online statements decrying the videos as “slander.”
    Friends of the activists told Reuters that the videos distorted facts and were an attempt to threaten those who have been calling for the release of dozens who have been detained since August.
    The private screening was part of efforts by Chinese authorities to stem a groundswell of activism on China’s university campuses, with students taking up causes from #MeToo to the rights of migrant and factory workers.
    Chinese authorities have in recent years made increasing use of video “confessions” to seize the public narrative in politically charged cases and to make an example of those detained as a warning to others, rights groups say.
    A Peking University spokeswoman declined to comment due to the university currently being on winter break.    China’s Public Security Ministry did not reply to a faxed request for comment.
    The videos shown to the students last month focus on events in July 2018, when Chinese police quashed protests by workers from a welding equipment manufacturer in the southern city of Shenzhen who wanted to form a labor union with leaders of their choice.
    Around 50 students and activists from across China had flocked to support the workers, sparking waves of further detentions that spread to China’s top university campuses, including Peking University, informally known as Beida.
    The videos featured four activists in their 20s, all recent graduates, saying that they had spread “false information,” founded organizations that intended to “overthrow” the government and worked in concert with foreign media.
    Shen Mengyu, Zheng Yongming and Gu Jiayue – all of whom had supported workers at Jasic International, the welding equipment firm – said they had been assigned by an unnamed “organization” to organize the worker protests.
    Yue Xin, a Beida graduate who first made headlines in April 2018 for her vocal #MeToo activism, said that the Shenzhen protests had been “politically motivated” and created a “negative impact on society.”
    Yue also renounced her earlier efforts, inspired by the global #MeToo movement, to force Beida to divulge information about a decades-old rape case.
    “At the time people placed too much importance on public disclosure,” she says in the video, according to students who have seen the clip, adding that “foreign forces fixated with China’s bad side” had exploited this desire to “provoke troubles.”
    It was not possible to contact Yue, Gu, Zheng or Shen for comment.
INVERT BLACK AND WHITE
    The versions of events given by the activists in the video are radically different from how close friends recall the incidents described, four of them told Reuters, declining to be named for fear of reprisals from the authorities.
    “There has been no news of these classmates since they went missing in August.    No one, whether family or lawyers, has been allowed to see them. Where they are being held, what they have suffered, we don’t have a clue,” one of the friends said.
    The reference in the videos to an “illegal organization” that orchestrated the protests was an attempt to “invert black and white,” given it was the workers’ protests that drew activist support, not the other way around, the same source said.
    “The left-wing students and the support group’s actions are guided by Marxism, are answering Chairman Xi Jinping’s call and are in line with Socialist ideas,” another said, referring to Xi’s calls for China to stick with Marxist theories.
    Since 2012, when Chinese President Xi Jinping took office, law enforcement authorities in China have made increasing use of “confessions,” often delivered via state media, during politically charged cases, sometimes involving foreign citizens.
TOOL OF “TERROR
    Gu and Zheng are being held in a form of detention known as “residential surveillance at a designated location,” or RSDL, according to notices sent to their families and seen by students.
    The controversial measure allows police to interrogate suspects for six months without legal representation and is meant to be reserved for severe crimes such as “endangering national security,” “terrorism” or serious bribery crimes.
    Rights groups say that the lack of oversight gives police carte blanche in their interrogations, allowing torture and forced confessions, including those that can then be publicly released.
    China aired nearly 50 such confessions between 2013 and 2018, according to RSDL Monitor, a group run by Madrid-based rights activist Peter Dahlin, who featured in one such video himself, aired by China’s state broadcaster in 2016.
    People who are asked to make confession videos tends to have been detained for some time, and have often been physically or mentally tortured, Dahlin told Reuters.
    Under RSDL, he was held in solitary confinement, denied sleep and interrogated for about six hours per day, according to a book Dahlin wrote about China’s use of “confessions.”
    After three weeks, he provided a scripted “interview” to state broadcaster journalists to try and speed up his release and that of his Chinese girlfriend, he wrote.
    “These ‘confession’ videos not only serve a more generic propaganda purpose, they tend to be aimed as tools of political terror, using one or a few people to create fear in their larger communities,” Dahlin said in an interview.
    China’s Foreign Ministry said in 2016 that Dahlin had pleaded guilty to crimes of endangering national security and was expelled from China in accordance with Chinese law.
    Chinese state media has defended RSDL as being necessary to ensure that legal procedures “proceed smoothly” in complicated or sensitive cases.
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Alex Richardson)

1/21/2019 More than 100 Afghan security forces killed in Taliban attack by OAN Newsroom
    The Taliban recently launched a car bomb attack, killing more than 100 Afghan security forces.    The bombing happened Monday at a military training center west Kabul.
    According to Defense Ministry officials, 126 people were killed and dozens were injured when terrorists rammed a car full of explosives into a checkpoint before detonating the bombs inside the facility.
The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a coordinated attack, carried out using a car bomb that
detonated at the gate of a military base in Maidan Shahr about 44km southwest of Kabul. (Photo/Reuters)
    Two men then rushed the building and gunned down dozens of Afghan soldiers before they were shot and killed.    The attackers reportedly used U.S. made Humvees captured from Afghan forces to breach the checkpoint.
    The country’s president issued a statement, confirming many Afghan security forces were killed or wounded.

1/22/2019 South Korea says troop talks deadlocked as U.S. demands ‘unacceptable’ funding increase by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO: South Korean and U.S. Marines take part in a winter military drill
in Pyeongchang, South Korea, December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    SEOUL (Reuters) – The United States and South Korea are struggling to narrow differences over the share of the cost of maintaining U.S. troops after a U.S. demand for a 50 percent increase in the South’s contribution, a South Korean lawmaker said on Tuesday.
    Despite 10 rounds of talks since March, the allies have failed to strike an accord to replace a 2014 deal that expired last year, which requires South Korea to pay about 960 billion won ($848 million) a year for keeping some 28,500 U.S. troops there.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that South Korea, where the United States has stationed soldiers since the 1950-53 Korean War, should bear more of the cost.
    The U.S. military has warned Korean workers on its bases they might be put on leave from mid-April if no deal is reached.
    At their last meeting, in December, the United States made a “sudden, unacceptable” demand that South Korea pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year, about 1.5 times its current contribution, according to Hong Young-pyo, a senior ruling party legislator.
    Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha briefed a group of lawmakers on the talks on Monday.    Any deal is subject to parliamentary approval.
    “The negotiations were deadlocked,” Hong told a meeting with lawmakers.    “The U.S. side suddenly made a proposal at the last stage which was difficult for us to accept.”
    A spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Seoul declined to comment.
    When asked about the U.S. demand on Monday, Kang declined to specify numbers but said there was a “very big difference” in the positions between the two countries.
    “We’ll work to reach an agreement that’s reasonable, affordable and explainable to the National Assembly and the people,” Kang told reporters.
    Kang Seok-ho, another lawmaker who attended the foreign minister’s briefing, said the government’s stance was not to pay more than 1 trillion won a year and an agreement should be valid for five years, not one year as reportedly sought by the United States.
DEADLOCK
    With another meeting not scheduled, the stalemate raises concerns about the funding gap and the posture of the 70-year alliance amid signs of a rift over North Korea policy.
    About 70 percent of South Korea’s contribution covers the salaries of some 8,700 South Korean employees who provide administrative, technical and other services for the U.S. military.
    Trump announced a halt to joint exercises with South Korea in June, after a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying they were very expensive and paid for mostly by his country.
    Major joint exercises have since been suspended, which Washington said would expedite talks aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear program, though some small-scale exercises have continued.
    U.S. Ambassador Harry Harris met South Korea’s national security advisor Chung Eui-yong late last month to urge a swift agreement, warning that the United States may consider implementing the defense treaty “in a different way,” South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper reported on Tuesday, citing an unidentified diplomatic source.
    South Korea’s foreign ministry confirmed Harris had visited Chung but declined to give details.
    The U.S. embassy spokesman declined to comment, citing “confidential diplomatic discussions.”
    North Korean state media has recently increased complaints about South Korea’s military ties to the United States, but South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, has said reducing U.S. military commitments would be an unlikely option for Washington.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/22/2019 Cambodian leader, in Beijing, says China pledges nearly $600 million in aid
A man carries a sack of rice at a warehouse in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 22, 2019. REUTERS/Samrang Pring
    PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – China has pledged 4 billion yuan ($588 million) in aid to Cambodia from 2019 to 2021, Prime Minister Hun Sen said on Tuesday, highlighting strong ties between Beijing and Phnom Penh amid a European Union threat of trade sanctions.
    Hun Sen is on a three-day visit to China, his most important regional ally, and held bilateral talks with President Xi Jinping in Beijing in which he asked for more aid and investment in his Southeast Asian country’s crucial textile industry.
    Xi pledged the 2019-21 grant in response, Hun Sen’s official Facebook post said.    The Chinese leader also promised to import 400,000 tonnes of rice from Cambodia, vowed to push bilateral trade to $10 billion by 2023 and encouraged more Chinese investment, the post said.
    “The President said the relationship between China and Cambodia is very special, compared to other countries,” Hun Sen’s post said.
    China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement Xi told Hun Sen China wanted to strengthen political, economic and security cooperation with Cambodia and increase China-Cambodia coordination at the United Nations and within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
    The two sides should hasten links between China’s Belt and Road plan and Cambodia’s development strategy, Xi said.    The statement made no mention of the financial aid.
    China has already poured billions of dollars in development assistance and loans into Cambodia through Xi’s Belt and Road initiative, which aims to bolster land and sea links with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.
    Some Western governments have accused China of pulling countries into a debt trap with the initiative, an accusation China has denied.
    Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party won all seats in a general election in July after the Supreme Court dissolved the main opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) in 2017 at the government’s request.
    The European Union condemned the election as not credible and threatened to strip Cambodia of its Everything but Arms status because of the crackdown on the opposition, media and civil society groups before the election.
    It imposed tariffs on rice from Cambodia last week for the next three years to curb a surge in imports it said had damaged EU producers.
(Reporting by Prak Chan Thul; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Paul Tait)

1/22/2019 North Korean base serves as missile headquarters: think tank by Katanga Johnson
Intercontinental ballistic missiles are seen at a grand military parade celebrating the
70th founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, in this photo released
by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) February 9, 2018. KCNA/via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – One of 20 undeclared ballistic missile operating bases in North Korea serves as a missile headquarters, according to a report by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) published on Monday.
    “The Sino-ri missile operating base and the Nodong missiles deployed at this location fit into North Korea’s presumed nuclear military strategy by providing an operational-level nuclear or conventional first strike capability,” said the report co-authored by analyst Victor Cha.
    The discovery of an undeclared missile headquarters comes three days after U.S. President Donald Trump said he “looks forward” to another summit to discuss denuclearization with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in late February.
    Kim vowed to work toward denuclearization at his first summit with Trump in June, but there has since been little concrete progress.
    The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    CSIS, which last reported on the 20 missile bases in November, said the Sino-ri base has never been declared by North Korea and as a result “does not appear to be the subject of denuclearization negotiations.”
    The report said that missile operating bases would presumably be subject to declaration, verification, and dismantlement in any nuclear deal.
    “The North Koreans are not going to negotiate over things they don’t disclose,” said Cha.
    “It looks like they’re playing a game.    They’re still going to have all this operational capability,” even if they destroy their disclosed nuclear sites.
    Located 132 miles (212 km) north of the demilitarized zone, the Sino-ri complex is a seven-square-mile (18-square-km) base that plays a key role in developing ballistic missiles capable of reaching South Korea, Japan, and even the U.S. territory of Guam in the Western Pacific, the report said.
    It houses a regiment-sized unit equipped with Nodong-1 medium-range ballistic missiles, the report added.
    Satellite images of the base from Dec. 27, 2018 show an entrance to an underground bunker, reinforced shelters and a headquarters, the report said.
    In South Korea, the Sino-ri facility has long been known as one of the bases housing the Nodong, also called the Rodong, a medium-range missile based on Soviet-era Scud technology that the North began deploying in the mid-1990s.
    “It is a facility we’ve been monitoring with interest, in cooperation with the United States,” Kim Joon-rak, a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news briefing on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Katanga Johnson; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by Chris Sanders, Sandra Maler and Darren Schuettler)

1/23/2019 South Korea ‘selective’ in implementing sanctions on North: group by Joyce Lee
FILE PHOTO - South and North Korean officials unveil the sign of Seoul to Pyeongyang during a groundbreaking ceremony for the
reconnection of railways and roads at the Panmun Station in Kaesong, North Korea, December 26, 2018. Yonhap via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea failed to notify a U.N. sanctions committee when it sent about 300 tonnes of petroleum products to North Korea in 2018, the website NK News reported on Wednesday, suggesting South Korea was slipping on sanctions.
    South Korea has urged the partial easing of U.N. Security Council sanctions at a time of improving ties with the North, as the United States continues to pressure Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons and missile programs.
    “Seoul has chosen to implement UNSC sanctions on North Korea on a selective and often inconsistent basis,” NK News, a group that follows North Korea, said in a report on its website, citing its analysis.
    South Korea sent 342.9 tonnes of petroleum products to North Korea in 2018, according to the South’s Ministry of Unification, but NK News said the shipments were not reported to the United Nations.
    South Korea’s government said on Wednesday it was “complying with the framework of sanctions on North Korea” while pursuing exchange and cooperative projects with the North.
    “We only used petroleum products to carry out joint inter-Korean projects, and our view is that this does not harm the purpose of sanctions on North Korea,” the foreign ministry said.
    The U.N. Security Council said the monthly reports of petroleum shipments to North Korea showed that only China and Russia had submitted the required reports in 2018.
    Under UNSC resolution 2397, adopted in 2017, member states must notify a sanctions committee every 30 days of the amount of refined petroleum products supplied, sold or transferred to North Korea.
    The U.N. sanction allows up to 500,000 barrels (73,087 tonnes) of refined petroleum products per year from all U.N. member nations to be supplied, sold or transferred to the North.
    Most of the petroleum products shipped to the North in 2018 were used for North-South family reunions in August, and joint projects such as a railway survey and the remodeling of a liaison office in Kaesong in the North.
    About 32.3 tonnes were returned to the South, the Unification Ministry said.
    South Korea said in November it had received sanctions exemptions from the UNSC for a joint railway survey, the first step toward reconnecting rail and road links cut during the 1950-53 Korean War.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee; Editing by Darren Schuettler)

1/23/2019 South Korea condemns Japanese patrol flight over ship as ‘provocation’ by Hyonhee Shin
FILE PHOTO - A police officer stands guard near Japan and South Korea national flags in Tokyo June 22, 2015. REUTERS/Toru Hanai
    SEOUL (Reuters) – A Japanese patrol aircraft made an “intimidating” pass over a South Korean warship on Wednesday, in what South Korea’s military said was a “clear provocation” toward a friendly neighbor.
    The aircraft made its flight just over the South Korean navy vessel in waters off the southwest coast of the Korean peninsula, even after the aircraft determined the ship’s identity, the South Korean military said.
    “Today’s low-altitude flight was a clear provocation against a ship of a friendly country, and we cannot help but doubt Japan’s intentions and strongly condemn it,” General Suh Wook, of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a news briefing.
    South Korea’s defense ministry said it called in a defense official from Japan’s embassy to lodge a protest.
    “If this behavior is repeated again, we will sternly respond according to our military’s rules of conduct,” Suh said.
    Japanese government and defense force spokesmen were not immediately available for comment.
    South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, as saying he was aware of the South Korean announcement and it was important the two countries maintained communication.
    The two U.S. allies share a bitter history that includes Japan’s 1910-45 colonization of the Korean peninsula and the use of comfort women, Japan’s euphemism for girls and women, many of them Korean, forced to work in its wartime brothels.
    The rows over wartime history have long been a stumbling block for relations between the neighbors, sparking concern about regional efforts to rein in North Korea’s nuclear program.
    Wednesday’s encounter follows a December feud over a Japan complaint that a South Korean destroyer locked a targeting radar on a Japanese surveillance plane.
    South Korea denied it, saying the plane needlessly approached the ship, which was on a normal rescue mission.
    There have been two other flights by Japanese aircraft near South Korean vessels since Friday, which prompted a South Korean request to Japan to top such incidents, Suh said.
    Defense officials from the two sides have been meeting but Japan had decided to halt the talks, Japanese media reported on Monday.
    The two countries’ foreign ministers are due to meet later on Wednesday on the sidelines of an international conference in Davos, Switzerland.
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin)

1/23/2019 Hong Kong moves to make disrespecting Chinese national anthem a crime by Jessie Pang
FILE PHOTO - A woman is reflected in a window behind Chinese and Hong Kong flags after
celebrations commemorating the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong's handover to Chinese sovereignty from
British rule, in Hong Kong, China July 2, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone SiuTyrone Siu
    HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong on Wednesday presented a controversial bill to lawmakers that prescribes jail terms of up to three years for disrespecting the Chinese national anthem, a move critics say raises fresh fears over freedom of expression in the city.
    Chinese authorities have strived to instill greater patriotism in the former British colony at a time of heightened tension between democracy activists and forces loyal to Beijing, with some in Hong Kong even advocating independence from China.
    Besides imprisonment, the measure would fix a maximum fine of HK$50,000 ($6,370) for those who publicly and intentionally disrespect the anthem, the “March of the Volunteers.”
    It also extends to schoolchildren, including pupils of international schools, who would be legally required to learn the anthem.
    “I think teachers would feel worried about this proposal, because if we allow this government to pass a law to instruct the teachers what to teach, well, this time it is for the national anthem, maybe next time it could be other things,” said secondary school teacher Simon Hung, 36.
    Small groups of pro-democracy and pro-Beijing protesters taunted each other outside the Legislative Council, shouting and chanting through loud hailers.
    Waving the red Chinese flag, pro-Beijing demonstrators held up banners that read: “Safeguard national dignity” and “Support the national anthem law,” while democracy activists held placards that said: “Unsung freedom.”
    Booing the anthem at soccer matches in Hong Kong has emerged as a form of political protest in the past few years, seized upon by young people keen to demonstrate their frustration at Beijing’s perceived creeping influence.
    The global financial hub returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that promises the city a high degree of autonomy, including freedom of expression.
    The anthem proposal is expected to pass easily when it comes to a vote – probably before the summer – as the opposition does not have enough seats to block routine legislation.
    Hong Kong has already outlawed the desecration of national flags and emblems, which can attract jail terms of three years.
    Calls for outright independence are a red line for China’s Communist Party leaders, who deem Hong Kong an inalienable part of the nation.
    But many young people in Hong Kong have become increasingly angered by what they see as China’s encroachment on the city’s culture and autonomy, with some advocating “localism,” or a Hong Kong identity, rather than a Chinese one.
    “We have no sense of belonging to China at all,” one football supporter told Reuters.    “Even people I know who are born since 1997, they still think they are HongKongers, but not Chinese.”
    In 2017, mainland China adopted a law banning disrespect for the anthem.    A similar measure is being reviewed in Macau, a former Portuguese-run enclave that returned to Chinese rule in 1999.
(Additional reporting by Aleksander Solum and Farah Master; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Nick Macfie)

1/23/2019 Why Davos is talking about the fight between two absentees by Simon Robinson
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump takes part in a welcoming ceremony with China's
President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Damir Sagolj
    DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – The two most powerful men in the world are not in Davos this year, but they remain impossible to escape.
    In a sweeping speech at the World Economic Forum two years ago, President Xi Jinping argued that China was free trade’s greatest champion.    Any attempt to stop the flow of capital, technology, goods, industries or people between economies “is simply not possible,” he said.
    Then in January last year, President Donald Trump arrived at the Swiss ski village to deliver his own “simple message: There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States.    America is open for business.”
    Washington was committed to free trade, he said.    But “we cannot have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others.”
    Neither leader mentioned their superpower rival.    But it was clear that in setting out their boundaries for how global trade should work, they were talking to each other.
    If the last year is anything to go by, neither much listened.    And the fallout from their falling out is why there’s so much talk about Xi, Trump and trade at this year’s Forum.
    Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, told the audience at one session that some countries – she did not name which – were starting to pull away from the rules-based multilateral system built up over the past few decades.    “If that is no longer the mainstream, we could be in trouble,” she said.
    Kevin Sneader, Global Managing Partner at McKinsey & Company, said that trade was just “one aspect of a broader tension between the U.S. and China.”
    Already, the trade war between the two biggest economies in the world has begun to crimp global growth, to reshape supply chains and corporate planning, and to hit countries from Canada to Singapore.    The International Monetary Fund trimmed its growth forecasts on the eve of this year’s Davos meeting, while a survey showed increasing pessimism among business chiefs.
    In the real world, the effects have been felt for months.
    Take Foxconn <2354.TW>, which assembles Apple iPhones in China but now says it is considering building factories in Vietnam and India to help mitigate any impact from the trade war.
    Or automakers, who are busy changing where they build certain models to account for increased tariffs.
    Or countries such as Australia, whose currency, winemakers and home owners are all feeling the chill of the economic battle.
    People want to know “how much has the economy slowed and from a trade perspective what are these tariffs and what impact are the trade discussions really having,” said Citigroup CEO Michael Corbat in an interview with Reuters.
THE VIEW FROM WASHINGTON AND BEIJING
    The U.S. delegation stayed at home this year thanks to the government shutdown.    But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke via video link.    He began by describing China as belligerent toward its neighbors and “embracing totalitarianism” at home, but went on to say that Washington’s issues with Beijing could be resolved if China accepted the principles of fair and open trade and protection of intellectual property.
    A U.S. official, speaking in Washington a few days before the Davos conference, said that Trump’s message at the event last year still applied.    A lot of progress had been made, he said, citing the trade agreement with Canada and Mexico as one example.
    The imposition of tariffs on China had got Beijing talking, he argued, a major development since last year’s Davos.
    In China, views are divided.
    Tu Xinquan, a trade expert at Beijing’s University of International Business and Economics, said the trade war may ultimately push China to open up further – even if this would not be easy.
    When Xi spoke at Davos two years ago, he “was paying more attention to politics.”    The trade war could force China to focus on economics, he said.
    However, a senior analyst at a major Chinese state-owned company told Reuters that Xi could never back down when confronted with U.S. demands for reform.    Such a move would be more politically dangerous than navigating an economic downturn, the analyst said.
    “If the Chinese government kneels down to the American president, it will give rise to intense dissatisfaction from the people, and it would be a major political loss within the government.”
(Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing, Jeff Mason in Washington, Silvia Aloisi in Davos, and Ju-min Park, Soyoung Kim and Choonsik Yoo in Seoul; Writing by Simon Robinson; editing by Mark Trevelyan)

1/23/2019 India navy set to open third base in strategic islands to counter China by Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: A general view of the runway controlled by the Indian military is pictured at
Port Blair airport in Andaman and Nicobar Islands, India, July 4, 2015. REUTERS/Sanjeev Miglani/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s navy will open a third air base in the far-off Andaman and Nicobar islands on Thursday to beef up surveillance of Chinese ships and submarines entering the Indian Ocean through the nearby Malacca Straits, military officials and experts said.
    New Delhi has grown concerned over the presence of China’s bigger navy in its neighborhood and the network of commercial ports it is building in an arc stretching from Sri Lanka to Pakistan that India fears could become naval outposts.
    The Indian military has seized upon the Andamans that lie near the entrance to the Malacca Straits to counter the Chinese challenge, deploying ships and aircraft since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took office in 2014 promising a more muscular policy.
    Indian navy chief admiral Sunil Lanba will commission the new base, called INS Kohassa, about 300 km (180 miles) north of the archipelago’s capital, Port Blair, the navy said in a statement.
    The facility, the third in the islands, will have a 1,000-metre runway for helicopters and Dornier surveillance aircraft.    But eventually the plan is for the runway to be extended to 3,000 meters to support fighter aircraft and longer-range reconnaissance aircraft, navy spokesman Captain D.K. Sharma said.
    About 1,200,000 ships pass through the Indian Ocean each year and nearly 70,000 of them pass through the Malacca Strait.
    “The underlying thing is the expanding Chinese presence.    If we have to really monitor Chinese presence, we need to be adequately equipped in the Andaman islands,” said former navy commodore Anil Jai Singh.
    “If you have air bases you can cover a larger area,” he said, adding he expected the navy to permanently deploy more ships to the islands in the next phase of the buildup.
    A Chinese submarine docked in Sri Lanka’s Colombo port in 2014 that drew such alarm in New Delhi that Modi’s government raised the issue with the Sri Lankan authorities.
    Both India and China have been locked in a contest for influence, with New Delhi trying to push back against Beijing’s expansive diplomacy in the region.
    This week, Indian defense officials are due to hold talks with the defense minister of the Maldives, Mariya Ahmed Didi, where New Delhi is seeking to repair ties after the ouster of its pro-China leader in a presidential election last year.
(Additional reporting by Sanjib Kumar Roy in PORT BLAIR; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/24/2019 North Korea’s Kim ‘believes in’ Trump ahead of second Trump summit: KCNA by Joyce Lee
FILE PHOTO - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un poses for photos in Pyongyang in this January 1, 2019
photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS/File Photo
    SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un spoke highly of U.S. President Donald Trump, state media said on Thursday, and expressed satisfaction over the results of talks between officials from both countries about a second summit between Kim and Trump.
    Kim said he would trust Trump’s approach, the North’s official KCNA news agency said, weeks after Kim warned North Korea could seek a “new path” if U.S. sanctions and pressure continued.    That suggested Kim was focused on the next meeting with Trump to produce results.
    “Kim Jong Un said that we will believe in President Trump’s positive way of thinking, wait with patience and in good faith and, together with the U.S., advance step by step toward the goal to be reached by the two countries,” KCNA said.
    It said Kim expressed “large satisfaction” at receiving a “great” letter from Trump and a briefing about the results of the negotiations from the North Korean delegation that visited Washington last week but did not elaborate.
    Kim ordered working-level preparations for the second North Korea-U.S. summit to be done well, KCNA said.    The White House said last week a second Trump-Kim summit would be held in late February but did not say where.
    That follows their landmark first summit in Singapore last June, which produced a promise to work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.    Progress since then has been patchy.
    Kim has indicated to South Korean President Moon Jae-in he would undertake a “groundbreaking” denuclearization measure, South Korean newspaper DongA Ilbo reported on Thursday.
    The newspaper, citing an unidentified source with direct knowledge of the U.S.-North Korea situation, said the same had been made clear to Trump during senior North Korean official Kim Yong Chol’s Washington visit last week.
    North Korea has hinted, for example, at the possibility of agreeing to the U.S. demand for verification of denuclearization efforts before it discards its Yongbyon nuclear facilities.
    In turn, the United States has mentioned potential measures such as easing limits on oil imports, a conditional restart of the Kaesong industrial zone in North Korea, and opening a liaison office in Pyongyang, DongA reported.
‘NO RUSH’
    DongA also said that, according to several South Korean government sources, talks between officials from North Korea, the United States and South Korea near Stockholm this week appeared to have been constructive in setting some of the agenda for the second Trump-Kim summit.
    The U.S. State Department did not respond to a request for comment on the DongA report.
    The White House said after Trump met Kim Yong Chol, the North’s chief nuclear negotiator, last week that economic sanctions against Pyongyang would be maintained despite agreeing to the second summit.
    Trump has said there is “no rush” and “no time limit” on denuclearization negotiations, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has given varying statements about the degree of Washington’s patience.
    Pompeo said after the Singapore summit the United States hoped to achieve “major disarmament” by North Korea by the end of Trump’s current term in office in January 2021.    He has subsequently said he would not put a timeline on talks.
    He told Fox News in an interview broadcast on Wednesday there had been progress in stopping North Korea’s nuclear and missile-testing programs.
    “Chairman Kim continues to assure the President of the United States he is intent on denuclearization and I hope that at the end of February, when the two leaders get together, we can make a substantial step along the way,” Pompeo said.
    He said on Tuesday he saw an important role for the private sector in helping to develop North Korea if progress was made.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee in SEOUL, David Brunnstrom in WASHINGTON; Additional reporting by Ju-min Park and Heekyong Yang; Editing by Jonathan Oatis, Phil Berlowitz and Paul Tait)

1/24/2019 North Korean officials hold meeting in Pyongyang on reunification by OAN Newsroom
    North Korea recently held a meeting with the intention of reunifying the entire Korean peninsula.    Several high-level officials attended the meeting in Pyongyang on Wednesday, including Kim Yong Chol.    He was recently in the U.S. to meet with President Trump.
    Reunification has been discussed since the two sides split in the Korean War, but both governments have had difficulties finding common ground.
In this Wednesday, Jan. 23, 2019, photo provided on Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019 by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un,
right, meets Kim Yong Chol, who traveled to Washington to discuss denuclearization talks, in Pyongyang, The North’s Korean Central News Agency
said Thursday that Kim Jong Un received a letter from U.S. President Donald Trump from the North Korean envoy
who traveled to Washington and met Trump last week. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)
    “The principled stand and proposal set by Leader Kim Jong Un for developing North-South Korea relations and ensuring everlasting and durable peace of the Korean peninsula are highly important guidelines, which reflect desires of the Korean people and the requirement of the times.    Also, it encourages the whole nation to the reunification of the country.” — Yang Hyong Sop, Vice President – Presidium of Supreme People’s Assembly.
    In a New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called on Seoul to stop military drills with the U.S.    The dictator said by halting such actions, the peninsula can work on creating permanent peace.

1/24/2019 U.S. sanctions hit Iran-backed airlines, fighters in Syria
A staff member removes the Iranian flag from the stage after a group picture with foreign ministers
and representatives of the U.S., Iran, China, Russia, Britain, Germany, France and the European Union during the
Iran nuclear talks at the Vienna International Center in Vienna, Austria July 14, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Thursday targeted two Iran-backed foreign fighter militias in Syria and two airlines that help send weapons to Syria in fresh sanctions as Washington prepares for a military withdrawal from the war-torn country.
    All four groups are linked to Iran’s Mahan Air and Iran’s elite military unit, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps-Quds Force, both of which are already blacklisted, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a statement.
    The Fatemiyoun Division and Zaynabiyoun Brigade are being designated for providing material support to the IRGC-QF, the statement said.
    “Treasury’s targeting of Iran-backed militias and other foreign proxies is part of our ongoing pressure campaign to shut down the illicit networks the regime uses to export terrorism and unrest across the globe,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.
    Since President Donald Trump announced that Washington will withdraw its roughly 2,000 troops in Syria, the administration has tried to allay concerns that Islamic State militants could stage a comeback in the region, or that Iran and Russia will benefit from the U.S. departure.
    The United States imposed sanctions on Mahan Air in 2011, saying it provided financial and other support to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards.
    Treasury said Iran-based Qeshm Fars Air was designated for being owned or controlled by Mahan Air and for providing material support to the Quds Force.    Armenia-based Flight Travel LLC acts for or on behalf of Mahan Air, which transports Iran-allied personnel and weapons to Syria, Treasury said.
    Sigal Mandelker, undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, said Treasury is aggressively targeting groups that support Mahan air.
    “Iran continues to leverage Mahan Air and its commercial aviation sector to transport individuals and weapons needed to carry out this tragic campaign and to fuel sectarian conflict throughout the region,” she said in the statement.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Tim Ahmann; Editing by David Alexander and Steve Orlofsky)

1/24/2019 Taliban appoints new political leader to join U.S.-Taliban peace talks by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Jibran Ahmad
An Afghan National Army (ANA) soldier keeps watch at a check point on the outskirts of Kabul, Afghanistan December 31, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – A co-founder of the Taliban was appointed as the leader of its political office in Qatar on Thursday to strengthen its hand in peace talks with the United States as they try to establish a mechanism to end the 17-year Afghan war.
    Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar was released from a prison in Pakistan in October last year has been authorized to lead the political team and take decisions, two Taliban sources in Afghanistan said.
    The Taliban issued a statement to announce Baradar’s appointment and a reshuffle in their team to put senior leaders into key positions as the talks with U.S. officials gain momentum.
    “This step has been taken to strengthen and properly handle the ongoing negotiations process with the United States,” the Taliban said in statement.
    U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad’s meeting with the Taliban representatives, which was originally due to run over two days, entered its fourth day on Thursday.
    It was not clear whether the talks were to continue on Friday, or how soon Baradar could join the talks.
    “Baradar will soon fly to Qatar. He has been given the new position because the U.S. wanted senior Taliban leadership to participate in peace talks,” a senior Taliban official said.
    Baradar, who coordinated the insurgent group’s military operations in southern Afghanistan, was arrested in 2010 by a team from Pakistan’s military-controlled intelligence agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence, and the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.
    His release, according to security experts, was part of high-level negotiations led by Khalilzad with the Taliban.
    Diplomatic efforts to end the United State’s longest running conflict intensified last year after the appointment of the Afghan-born Khalilzad to lead direct talks with the Taliban.
    He has held at least four meetings with the Taliban representatives. But there has been no let up in the violence.
    And abiding fears about how Afghan government forces would withstand the Taliban threat without U.S. military support have been heightened by reports that U.S. President Donald Trump wants to bring home almost half of the 14,000 U.S. troops deployed in Afghanistan.
POSITIVE PROGRESS
    But the unexpected extension of peace talks was a positive sign, according to two senior Taliban leaders in Afghanistan who have been kept informed of the progress made in Qatar.
    During the first two days, the talks focused on a roadmap for the withdrawal of the foreign forces and a guarantee that Afghanistan would not be used for hostile acts against the United States and its allies, according to one of Taliban leaders.
    “The mechanism for a ceasefire and ways to enter into an intra-Afghan dialogue were the two other big topics that were supposed to be discussed on Thursday,” he told Reuters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    A third source based in the Gulf, who has close ties to the Taliban representatives, said the decision to extend the meeting in the Qatari capital Doha came after “positive progress” during the first two days.
    Members of Afghanistan’s High Peace Council (AHPC), a body which oversees peace efforts but does not represent the government said they were hoping for positive news.
    “When talks take a long time it means the discussion is in a sensitive and important stage, and the participants are getting close to a positive result,” said Sayed Ehsan Taheri, the spokesman for AHPC in Kabul.
    The Taliban who are fighting to oust foreign troops have repeatedly rejected the offer to hold direct talks with President Ashraf Ghani’s government, which they consider an illegitimate foreign-imposed regime.
    The U.S. and regional powers insist that the peace process should be “Afghan-led and Afghan-owned.”
    Newly appointed Baradar will also hold the additional post of third deputy of Mullah Haibatullah Akhundzada, the leader of Taliban and work with Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanekzai, a veteran Taliban official who has been running the group’s political office in Qatar since 2015 and has participated in the latest rounds of peace talks.
    “Stanekzai was given the responsibility but he was not powerful to make all decisions,” said a second Taliban official on conditions of anonymity.
(Additional reporting and writing by Rupam Jain; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Alison Williams)

1/24/2019 Exclusive: Aid curbs in Myanmar’s Rakhine impact ‘at least 50,000 people’ – U.N.
Aerial view of a burnt Rohingya village near Maungdaw in Rakhine state, Myanmar, September 20, 2018. Ye Aung Thu/Pool via REUTERS
    YANGON (Reuters) – New government curbs on aid activities in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State “are affecting at least 50,000 people,” the United Nations has said in an internal note, highlighting the growing impact of recent fighting on the civilian population.
    The Rakhine State government this month blocked non-governmental organizations and U.N. agencies from traveling to rural areas in five townships in northern and central parts of the state affected by conflict.
    The International Committee of the Red Cross and U.N. World Food Programme were exempted from the ban on aid activity in the region, where fighting between government troops and autonomy-seeking ethnic Rakhine rebels has displaced thousands.
    The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) summarized recent information gathered from aid organizations on the impact of the restrictions in the two central Rakhine townships of Kyauktaw and Ponnagyun.
    UNOCHA circulated a note on the findings late on Wednesday to some U.N. officials and non-governmental organizations seeking comments and updates on the situation.    Reuters obtained the note independently and reviewed it on Thursday.
    It said that the restrictions forced aid organizations to reduce or stop pre-existing programs, including the provision of healthcare, clean water, school construction and teacher training, among other activities.
    For example, the agency said that in Kyauktaw “mobile health services were to be provided in 15 villages, totaling around 17,000 people, involving around 1,600 people to be treated on average each month … the provision of these services has now been put on hold.”
    The affected activities included primary health care and malnutrition screening and treatment, it said.
    “In Ponnagyun, around 220 health consultations in rural areas of the township have been stopped, including emergency referral services,” the agency said in the note.
    Fighting has forced about 5,000 people to flee from their homes and to take shelter in monasteries and communal areas across the region since early January, according to UNOCHA.
    Myanmar’s president, speaking in a rare meeting with the commander-in-chief this month, urged the military to “crush” the rebels of the Arakan Army.    The president, Win Myint, is a loyalist of the de facto government leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
    Last week, the United Nations called on the government to allow “rapid and unimpeded” humanitarian access to the area.
    “We are currently working to assess the impact that recent access restrictions could have on the delivery of pre-existing and ongoing humanitarian programs in the affected townships,” said Pierre Peron, UNOCHA’s spokesman in Myanmar in response to an email seeking comment on the internal note.
    “This is an evolving assessment.”
    He said the United Nations was “liaising closely with the authorities in Rakhine State, who have now invited humanitarian organizations to individually apply for travel authorizations for specific activities,” adding he hoped authorities would respond “quickly and positively” to such applications.
    Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay did not respond to calls seeking comment.
‘READY TO RESPOND’
    The Rakhine municipal affairs minister, Win Myint, could not be reached for comment.    He told Reuters earlier the restrictions had been put in place for “security reasons” and he did not know when they would be lifted.
    Reuters contacted several affected NGOs seeking comment on the situation. One of them, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), said: “Along with most other organizations we do not currently have access to respond to the needs of the conflict-affected and displaced populations.”
    “We have emergency supplies prepositioned and remain ready to respond if this situation changes,” said Laura Marshall, the NRC’s acting country director.
    The affected aid groups published a statement on Tuesday expressing “deep concern” about the restrictions.
    Rakhine State has been roiled by successive rounds of violence in recent years.
    In 2017, an extensive military crackdown, following attacks by Rohingya Muslim insurgents, prompted about 730,000 Rohingya to flee westwards into neighboring Bangladesh.
    The Arakan Army, the group behind the recent fighting, is demanding greater autonomy from the central government for the state, where the mostly Buddhist ethnic Rakhine people form the majority of the population.
    Arakan Army fighters killed 13 policemen and wounded nine in attacks on four police posts in early January, state media reported.
    An Arakan Army spokesman outside Myanmar told Reuters the group attacked the security forces in response to a broad military offensive in the north of Rakhine that also targeted civilians.
(Reporting by Yangon bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/25/2019 China says Soros’ criticism of Xi is ‘meaningless’
Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the
"Message to Compatriots in Taiwan" at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China January 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mark Schiefelbein/Pool
    BEIJING (Reuters) – U.S. billionaire George Soros’ criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping was “meaningless,” China’s foreign ministry said on Friday, after the investor and philanthropist called Xi the world’s most “dangerous opponent” of open society.
    Soros, who promotes liberal causes through his charities, said during a speech on Thursday at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that China was the wealthiest, strongest and technologically most advanced authoritarian regime in the world.     “This makes Xi Jinping the most dangerous opponent of open societies,” Soros said.
    Foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked about the comments, said remarks by some individuals that “invert right and wrong” were “meaningless and not worth refuting.”
    “We hope the relevant American can correct his attitude, not be shortsighted, and hold an objective, rational and correct opinion of China’s development,” Hua told reporters at a regular briefing.
    Xi has presided over a crackdown on dissent since coming to power in 2012, with hundreds of rights lawyers and activists detained.    Dozens have been jailed.
    Soros said Xi was wielding Chinese technology companies to develop artificial intelligence and a nascent social credit system that would allow China’s “one-party state to reign supreme.”
    He said U.S. President Donald Trump should drop trade disputes with other countries and focus on China, while cracking down on Chinese technology firms, such as Huawei Technologies Co Ltd [HWT.UL] and ZTE Corp, which could be used to assert authoritarian control.
    China has said it would create a “social credit system” by 2020 to reward or punish individuals and corporations, using technology to record various measures of financial credit, personal behavior and corporate misdeeds.
    The system’s rollout has attracted international headlines, sparking comparisons to George Orwell’s novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” with critics saying it could massively increase the ruling Communist Party’s already strict control.
    Some experts say the system remains in its early stages and could help tackle social problems like fraud or food security.
    The U.S. government under Trump has pursued a strategy to counter what it sees as China’s growing threat to U.S. economic competitiveness and security.
    That includes tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods, based on U.S. findings that it is misappropriating U.S. intellectual property through forced technology transfers and other means.
    A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers recently introduced bills that would ban the sale of U.S. chips or other components to Huawei, ZTE, or other Chinese telecommunications companies that violate U.S. sanctions or export control laws.
    ZTE and Huawei are viewed with suspicion in the United States because of fears their switches and other gear could be used to spy on Americans.
    China has called the legislation “hysteria” and denies U.S. accusations of trade abuses.
(Reporting by Michael Martina; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/25/2019 China: Soros’ criticism of social credit system ‘not worth refuting’ by OAN Newsroom
    Chinese officials are sidestepping recent criticisms by liberal billionaire George Soros.
    During the World Economic Forum in Davos Thursday, Soros spoke out against Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proposed “social credit system,” arguing it was another step toward “authoritarianism.”
    He went on to say the proposal made the Chinese president “the most dangerous opponent of open societies.”
George Soros. (Photo/Jean-Christophe Bott/AP)
    On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said his remarks were “shortsighted.”
    “It was not worth refuting such meaningless remarks from individuals that confuse right and wrong,” she stated.    “In an era where globalization keeps growing, only by adhering to a developmental perspective, an open mind and an inclusive attitude, can we discover more room for self development and development between countries.”
    During his speech, Soros also called on President Trump to drop trade disputes with other countries to focus on China, particularly in an effort to crackdown on tech firms like Huawei and ZTE.

. 1/25/2019 France tells Iran new sanctions loom if missile talks fail
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian attends a European Union foreign ministers
meeting in Brussels, Belgium, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    PARIS (Reuters) – France is ready to impose further sanctions on Iran if no progress is made in talks over its ,b>ballistic missile program, the French foreign minister said on Friday.
    Jean-Yves Le Drian, who this week reiterated support for a European-backed system to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran and circumvent U.S. sanctions, said France wanted to see Tehran rein in its missile activity.
    “We are ready, if the talks don’t yield results, to apply sanctions firmly, and they know it,” Le Drian told reporters.
    In response, Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi “reiterated that any new sanctions by European countries would lead to a re-evaluation by Iran of its interactions with those countries,” the state news agency IRNA reported.
    “Iran’s missile capability is not negotiable, and this has been brought to the attention of the French side during the ongoing political dialogue between Iran and France,” Qasemi added.
    A U.N. Security Council resolution enshrined Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States in which Tehran curbed its uranium enrichment program in exchange for an end to international sanctions.
    The resolution says Iran is “i>called upon/i>” to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons.    Iran denies its missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
    Last May, U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of the nuclear deal, approved before he took office, and reimposed sanctions on Tehran, saying it was flawed as it did not address ballistic missiles or Iran’s support for armed proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.
    The European signatories to the deal stuck with it, saying it is the best way to keep Iran’s nuclear work in check.
    But U.S. sanctions over dollar transactions have made investors wary about doing business with Iran, something the European-backed special purpose vehicle (SPV) is meant to tackle.
    Diplomats previously told Reuters that new sanctions being considered by EU countries over the missile issue could include asset freezes and travel bans on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards and people involved in the ballistic missile program.
(Reporting by John Irish; Additional reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Writing by Michel Rose; Editing by Richard Lough and Robin Pomeroy)
[Maybe France will learn when Iran shoots their first missile at them.].

1/25/2019 Indian PM Modi’s popularity at all-time low; rival Gandhi closing in: poll by Promit Mukherjee
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi poses after the ceremonial reception for South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa at
the forecourt of India's Rashtrapati Bhavan Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ratings have dropped to their lowest-ever level, but he still leads in popularity before a national election expected in the next few months, an India Today poll showed on Friday.
    Modi is facing discontent over lack of jobs for young people and a weak farm economy, and polls have forecast his ruling alliance will fall short of a majority in the election due by May.
    The India Today poll, which was conducted from Dec. 20 to Jan. 8, showed his popularity rating at 46 percent.    That’s down from 65 percent in January 2017, a little over a month after he announced a nationwide ban of 500- and 1,000-rupee notes.,br>     Nearly 900 million people will be eligible to vote in the election and surveys to predict how they will vote have often gone wrong.
    Rahul Gandhi, the main challenger to Modi and leader of the opposition Congress party, has seen his ratings rise from a low of 10 percent two years ago to his all-time high of 34 percent, 12 percentage points shy of Modi.
    The poll interviewed 12,166 voters across 97 parliamentary constituencies out of the total 543 constituencies in India.
    In an earlier poll by India Today, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party-led alliance was forecast to win 237 seats, down from 336.    The Congress alliance was expected to take 166 seats, up from 59 won in the 2014 elections.
    Modi’s popularity began to wane after his sudden move to ban large rupee notes, then imposed tax reforms that hurt small traders and led to several factories closing.
    The aftershocks of the two moves were exacerbated by falling commodity prices, which affected the incomes of a largely agrarian society.
(Reporting by Promit Mukherjee, writing by Sanjeev Miglani, editing by Larry King)

1/25/2019 U.S. warships pass through Taiwan Strait amid China tensions
Shiyu, or Lion Islet, which is part of Kinmen county, one of Taiwan's offshore islands,
is seen in front of China's Xiamen, on Lieyu island, Kinmen county, Taiwan August 20, 2018. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – The United States sent two warships through the Taiwan Strait on Thursday in the first such operation this year, the Taiwan government said, as it increases the frequency of transits through the strategic waterway to the concern of China.
    The passage by the U.S. ships will likely be viewed in Taiwan as a sign of support from U.S. President Donald Trump’s government amid growing friction between the self-ruled island and Beijing.
    China considers Taiwan its own and has not ruled out the use of force to bring it under its control.
    Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a statement late on Thursday the ships were moving in a northerly direction through the waterway that separates Taiwan from the Chinese mainland and that their voyage was in accordance with regulations.
    It said Taiwan closely monitored the operation to “ensure the security of the seas and regional stability.”
    The United States sent ships through the waterway three times last year.
    Despite Chinese military technological advances that pose an increased threat to U.S. warships, the U.S. Navy has said it has not ruled out sending an aircraft carrier through the strait, something it has not done in more than 10 years.
    In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China closely monitored the U.S. ships through the waters, and had “expressed concern” to the U.S. side, urging it to abide by the “one China” principle.
    China has stepped up pressure on Taiwan since President Tsar Ing-wen, from the pro-independence ruling party, took office in 2016.    It has regularly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years.
    Beijing sent several bombers and aircraft through the Bashi Channel, which separates Taiwan from the Philippines, earlier on Thursday, Taiwan’s defense ministry said in a separate statement.
    A similar Chinese operation was conducted on Tuesday, the ministry said, and both were monitored closely.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping said in early January China reserves the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control.    In response, Tsai vowed to defend the island’s democracy and called for international support to protect Taiwan’s way of life.
    Trump recently signed into law the Asia Reassurance Initiative Act reaffirming the U.S. commitment to Taiwan, including arms sales.
    The United States recognizes only “one China” and has no formal ties with Taiwan, but it is bound by law to help the island defend itself and is its main source of arms.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Additional reporting by Michael Martina in Beijing; Editing by Paul Tait, Robert Birsel)

1/26/2019 Foreign troops to quit Afghanistan in 18 months under draft deal: Taliban sources by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Jibran Ahmad and Rupam Jain
FILE PHOTO: Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations, listens to speakers during a panel
discussion on Afghanistan at the Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    KABUL/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Taliban officials said U.S. negotiators on Saturday agreed a draft peace deal setting out the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan within 18 months, potentially ending the United States’ longest war.
    The details of the draft were given to Reuters by Taliban sources at the end of six days of talks with U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad in Qatar aimed at ending the war, more than 17 years since American-led forces invaded Afghanistan.
    It stipulates that troops would leave within 18 months of the agreement being signed.
    While no joint statement was issued, Khalilzad tweeted later that the talks had made “significant progress” and would resume shortly, adding that he planned to travel to Afghanistan to meet government officials.
    “Meetings here (in Qatar) were more productive than they have been in the past.    We have made significant progress on vital issues,” he wrote, adding that numerous issues still needed work.
    “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and everything must include an intra-Afghan dialogue and comprehensive ceasefire,” he said in the tweets.
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson declined further comment.
    A Taliban statement issued later also noted progress on troop withdrawal and other issues but said more negotiations and internal consultations were required.
    “The policy of the Islamic Emirate during talks was very clear — until the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is agreed upon, progress in other issues is impossible,” said Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid, using another name the group calls itself.
    It was not clear if the draft described by the Taliban sources was acceptable to both sides or when it could be completed and signed.
MAIN ENEMY
    According to the sources, the hardline Islamic group gave assurances that Afghanistan will not be allowed to be used by al-Qaeda and Islamic State militants to attack the United States and its allies — a key early demand of Washington.
    They said the deal included a ceasefire provision but they had yet to confirm a timeline and would only open talks with Afghan representatives once a truce was implemented.
    Up until now, the Taliban has repeatedly rejected the Afghan government’s offer of holding talks, preferring instead to talk directly to the U.S. side, which it regards as its main enemy.
    “In 18 months, if the foreign forces are withdrawn and ceasefire is implemented then other aspects of the peace process can be put into action,” a Taliban source said, quoting from a portion of the draft.
    More talks on the draft are expected in February, again in the Qatari capital Doha, the Taliban sources said.
    They expect their side to be led by new political chief Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the movement’s co-founder and a former military commander who was released from prison in Pakistan last year.
    While they said his appointment had boosted momentum for a deal, it was unclear if he joined the talks.
NEAR-DAILY ATTACKS
    News of progress on a deal comes as the Taliban continues to stage near-daily attacks against the Western-backed Afghan government and its security forces.
    Despite the presence of U.S.-led foreign forces training, advising and assisting their Afghan counterparts 17 years after the U.S.-led an invasion to drive them from power, the Taliban controls nearly half of Afghanistan.
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said last week that 45,000 members of the country’s security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014.
    The United States has some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led mission, known as Resolute Support, as well as a U.S. counter-terrorism mission directed at groups such as Islamic State and al-Qaeda.
    Despite reports in December last year that the United States was considering pulling out almost half of its forces, a White House spokesman said that U.S. President Donald Trump had not issued orders to withdraw the troops.    However, the administration has not denied the reports, which have prompted fears of a fresh refugee crisis.
    The Taliban sources said other clauses in the draft include an agreement over the exchange and release of prisoners, the removal of an international travel ban on several Taliban leaders by Washington and the prospect of an interim Afghan government after the ceasefire is struck.
    The suggestion to appoint an interim government in Afghanistan comes as top politicians including Ghani have filed their nominations for the presidential polls in July this year.    Ghani has repeatedly rejected the offer to agree to the formation of an interim government.
    The Taliban sources also confirmed provisions in the draft that have broader implications for Afghanistan’s ties with its neighbors, particularly Pakistan, India and China.
    They said the deal included provisions that separatist militants from Balochistan, a resource-rich southwestern Pakistani province, will not be allowed to use Afghan soil to target Pakistan.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington; Writing by Greg Torode; Editing by William Maclean and Helen Popper)

1/26/2019 Lawyer Mulook returns to Pakistan in blasphemy case: Dutch lawmaker
FILE PHOTO: Saiful Mulook addresses a news conference in Frankfurt, Germany, November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – Pakistani lawyer Saiful Mulook, who fled to the Netherlands after receiving death threats for defending a Christian woman on blasphemy charges, is returning home, a Dutch politician said on Saturday.
    Joel Voordewind, a member of the Dutch parliament, said in a tweet that Mulook planned to return to Pakistan to defend Asia Bibi in a new hearing in her case.
    Voordewind posted a picture of himself and Mulook at Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport adding that Mulook was “hopeful” this would be the last hearing in Bibi’s case.
    Bibi was convicted of blasphemy in 2010 over allegations that she made derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
    She was initially sentenced to death but was acquitted by Pakistan’s Supreme Court last October and freed.
    The court is expected to hear a petition against that ruling next week.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

1/27/2019 U.S peace envoy visits Kabul to consult president on talks with Taliban by Rupam Jain and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad speaks to the media after a meeting of the
U.N. Security Council at United Nations headquarters in New York August 11, 2008. REUTERS/Keith Bedford/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. special envoy Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Kabul on Sunday to try to secure cooperation from Afghanistan’s president after breakthroughs in peace negotiations with Taliban leaders in Qatar.
    With Khalilzad and his boss U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well Taliban officials, hailing progress toward ending America’s longest war, he must now win over President Ashraf Ghani — whose government the Taliban have so far kept out of the process.
    Six days of talks ended in Qatar on Saturday with key parts of a draft pact mapped out, including an 18-month timeline for the withdrawal of foreign troops after the completion of a deal, according to Taliban officials.
    The draft also includes assurances from the hardline Islamic group that it will not allow Afghanistan to be used by al-Qaeda and Islamic State to attack the U.S. and its allies – a core U.S. demand. Similar assurances involving other groups are given to Pakistan in the draft pact.
    The Taliban also want to be part of an interim government after any ceasefire, Taliban sources said.
    It was not clear whether the draft described by the Taliban sources was acceptable to both sides or when it could be completed and signed.
    A fresh round of talks between Khalilzad and the Taliban is expected to take place on February 25 in Doha, two senior Taliban sources said.
    While he has not been directly involved up until now, Ghani’s role is likely to grow as a full deal gets closer and diplomacy intensifies.
    Without going into detail on Saturday night, Khalilzad said in tweets that nothing could be agreed without an intra-Afghan dialogue and a full ceasefire.
    “He (Khalilzad) will inform Ghani and his officials about all the developments, seek their opinion before traveling back to Washington,” a senior Afghan official said on conditions of anonymity.
    Khalilzad is also due to brief top regional diplomats on Monday morning.
GHANI’S OPTIONS
    Western diplomats describe Ghani as being in a tight spot, with no authority to decide on the troop departure and the final decision to declare the ceasefire resting with the Taliban.
    He, however does enjoy the power to decide to support an interim government rather than push for presidential elections which could prove to be a distraction to the peace effort.
    So far he has rejected talk of an interim government.    “It is time for Ghani to choose between elections or peace process,” said a western diplomat based in Kabul.
    Despite the progress on a pact, violence is widely expected to continue, with the Taliban mounting daily attacks against the Afghan government and its security forces.
    The Taliban now control about half of Afghanistan’s territory and Ghani said in Switzerland last week that 45,000 members of the country’s security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014.
    A former Taliban leader said despite a agreement for an 18-month withdrawal, he predicted intense fighting ahead.
    “I think Taliban won’t stop their fight until they get 100 percent sure that foreign forces are leaving Afghanistan,” said Sayed Mohammad Akbar Agha, who heads Ways to Save Afghanistan, an independent group run by tribal elders and religious scholars working toward securing peace.
(Writing by Greg Torode; Editing by Keith Weir)

1/28/2019 Explainer: Who is behind the Philippine church bombings? by Martin Petty
A Philippine Army member walks inside a church after a bombing attack in Jolo, Sulu province,
Philippines January 27, 2019. Armed Forces of the Philippines - Western Mindanao Command/Handout via REUTERS
    MANILA (Reuters) – Philippines security forces investigating a deadly twin bombing at a church on a predominantly Muslim southern island are zeroing in on what they say is an affiliate of the militant Abu Sayyaf Group.
    Twenty people were killed and more than 100 wounded in Sunday’s attack on Jolo island, shocking a region that only days earlier delivered a resounding “yes” in a plebiscite on greater autonomy for the Muslim-dominated south.
WHO ARE THE MAIN SUSPECTS?
    Jolo is a stronghold of the militant Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), making it a prime candidate.
    More specifically, authorities believe the bomb attack was orchestrated by a faction called “Ajang-Ajang, which is notorious for kidnapping and extortion in Sulu province.    It is the first time the military has mentioned this group.
WHAT WAS THE MOTIVE?
    Police believe Ajang-Ajang carried out the attack in revenge for the deaths of relatives killed during military operations against Abu Sayyaf.
    According to Rommel Banlaoi, head of the Philippine Institute for Political Violence and Terrorism Research, the group’s members consider themselves “soldiers of martyrs” and appear highly capable, having pulled off such a devastating attack when security was tight for the referendum.
    “This group outsmarted law enforcement authorities,” Banlaoi said.    “Sulu has been receiving threats coming from this group.    This will inspire other groups to do some more.”
WHAT IS KNOWN ABOUT ABU SAYYAF?
    Abu Sayyaf, which means “Bearer of the Sword,” was founded in the 1990s with its roots in a separatist cause that it long since abandoned.    It lacks a central command and operates in cells across the Sulu archipelago.
    The group has grabbed headlines for bombings and pledges of allegiance to Islamic State and links to al Qaeda, but its main activities have been piracy and kidnapping.
    It is notorious for brutality, posting videos of captives, foreign and local, begging for their lives.    Those for whom ransoms are not paid are often decapitated.
    The ASG is fragmented, comprised of various clans or family-based factions operating under different commanders in different areas.
    But ASG’s radical streak cannot be ignored.    Isnilon Hapilon, a faction commander from Basilan, was anointed as Islamic State’s “emir” in Southeast Asia.    He was credited with bringing together foreign fighters and members of various groups from Mindanao island to occupy Marawi City in 2017, under an alliance known as Dawla Islamiya, which sought to carve out an Islamic State territory.
    The fighters held Marawi through five months of air strikes and ground operations, but collapsed within a week of the military killing Hapilon.    His death does not appear to have weakened Abu Sayyaf.
GRAPHIC: Church bombing in the Philippines’ south – https://tmsnrt.rs/2ShShkh
CHURCH ATTACK LINKED TO ISLAMIC STATE?
    Islamic State, via its Amaq news agency, claimed responsibility for the church attack, although the details it gave were not consistent with those from authorities.    The group said the attack was twin suicide bombings, rather than remotely detonated devices, and its death toll appears to be exaggerated.
    Security analyst Banlaoi considers Ajang-Ajang to be pro-Islamic State, noting that it is led by the father-in-law of Malaysian operative Amin Baco, who was involved in planning the Marawi occupation.
RESPONSE TO REFERENDUM?
    That has been widely assumed and should not be ruled out.    The region as a whole voted overwhelmingly in support of autonomy, although the plan was narrowly rejected in Sulu, where some influential politicians had opposed it, including a Supreme Court challenge.
    The separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), which opposes the Abu Sayyaf, is likely to dominate the transition authority and the elected government of the new Bangsamoro administration.    That could threaten some political interests and patronage arrangements in Sulu and be seen as a challenge to Abu Sayyaf’s power.    However, the timing of the bombings – six days after the vote – raises some doubts.
IS AN ABU SAYYAF DEFEAT LIKELY?
    Not soon.    Offensives from 2001 by the Philippine military with help of U.S. special forces under “Operation Enduring Freedom” made some progress in killing senior commanders but that led to splintering and increased kidnapping to raise funds.    In recent years, ASG has started to engage more in piracy.
    President Rodrigo Duterte has offered talks but has also promised to wipe them out.    He has created a Jolo-based infantry division, to be comprised of 4,500 troops by 2022, to go after the ASG and last month oversaw the deployment of its first 840 personnel.
    In a Jan. 9 report, the Jakarta-based Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict argued that non-military measures were key to defeating ASG.    It advocated capturing and interviewing militants rather than killing them, which could be “critical to understanding ASG networks and identifying possible policy interventions.”
(Additional reporting by Karen Lema; Editing by Robert Birsel)

1/28/2019 India’s Modi seen appeasing voters, putting reforms aside in pre-election budget by Manoj Kumar and Aftab Ahmed
A labourer pushes a handcart loaded with garlic sacks at a wholesale market
in Kolkata, India, January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Desperate for five more years in power, India’s Hindu nationalist government will woo rural and urban middle-class voters with farm relief measures and tax cuts, said officials privy to plans for the final budget before a general election.
    Stung by opposition victories in three state polls last month, and needing to call a national election by May, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing growing discontent over depressed farm incomes and doubts over whether his policies are creating enough jobs.
    The electoral compulsions mean that major economic reforms, such as tax cuts for bigger companies and plans to bring down the budget deficit, could be put on hold at least until after the election, the sources said.
    Piyush Goyal, India’s interim finance minister, will present the budget on Feb. 1, in the absence of Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who is currently in the United States for medical treatment.
    The higher spending, along with a shortfall in tax collections, will push the fiscal deficit up to the equivalent of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product for the year ending in March, overshooting a previous 3.3 percent target, according to one of the sources with direct knowledge of budget discussions.
    That would fit with the expectations of a Reuters poll of economists.
    For graphic on India’s fiscal deficit click https://tmsnrt.rs/2S8mr9w?eikon=true
    The source said there was a chance that the government could take corrective action in March, hoping that by that time the election schedule will be settled and the public focus will shift toward campaigning.
    “We may resort to spending cuts in March to contain the fiscal deficit,” the source said.
    The finance ministry had cut capital and other spending amounting to 750.8 billion rupees ($10.55 billion) in the last financial year ending in March 2018.    But Modi’s government has been stepping back from such fiscal rectitude in recent months.
    In its desperation to find ways to pay for pre-election spending, the government has also pressed the central bank to part with more of its reserves, causing a rift that culminated in the resignation of the bank’s governor last month.
    “This is an election budget, and most of the economic reforms have been put on hold,” said another official, adding the government could defer any decision on business demands for a cut in corporate tax.
    Business leaders said the government still has to meet its three-year old promise of cutting the corporate tax rate for larger companies to 25 percent from 30 percent.
    “Although all over the world overall tax has started coming down, India is one of the large economies which has corporate taxes on the higher side,” said Rohinton Sidhwa, partner at Deloitte India.
    The budget, which is interim and is likely to be followed by a full one in July, is expected to project economic growth of around 7.5 percent for the next financial year, while expanding capital spending on railways, roads, ports by 7-8 percent, and estimating an increase in revenue of about 15 percent, officials said.
    But the main focus will be on the rural sector and the urban middle-class.
    The government is ready with relief measures for farmers, benefits for unemployed youth, higher tax exemptions for the middle class and small businesses, the officials said.
    According to two government sources, the farm relief package itself could run to at least one trillion rupees ($14 billion) if the government is to have a meaningful impact on which way voters lean in rural areas, where two-thirds of Indians live.
    The pre-election giveaways could give the economy short term momentum, but result in a hangover after the election. Credit rating agencies have warned that without bringing down other spending, a higher farm subsidy bill will increase future fiscal deficits.
    “In the absence of new revenue boosting measures, the policies will collectively make it harder for the government to achieve its fiscal consolidation objectives,” Moody’s Investors Service said last week.
LOOKING FOR JOBS
    Though he has spent big on building roads and railways, Modi has been fiscally conservative for most of his time in power, helping to bring retail inflation to near 2 percent from double-digits during the previous government’s time.
    Last month’s state election upsets have made the Modi government shed some of that caution.
    Despite expanding by 7 percent plus annually – the fastest pace among major economies, the uneven nature of the growth has meant that the economy has failed to create enough jobs for millions of youth entering the workforce each year.
    Merchandise exports have shown no signs of growth in last four years, and some textile, leather and engineering goods producers have shifted production abroad.
    Earlier this month, the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economy (CMIE), a leading independent think tank, issued a report showing the country lost as many as 11 million jobs last year, making it even harder for new entrants to the labor market.
    Last week, Raghuram Rajan, former governor of the Reserve Bank of India, said India needed flexible labor and land laws, and to fix glitches in the Goods and Services Tax, launched as a major tax reform in 2017.
    “We need two percentage points more growth to provide those jobs that are needed,” said Rajan.
($1 = 71.1740 Indian rupees)
(Editing by Martin Howell & Simon Cameron-Moore)

1/28/2019 Suu Kyi to investors: Myanmar is open for business by Shoon Naing and Antoni Slodkowski
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi attends the ASEAN-China Summit in Singapore November 14, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday urged global investors to put their money into Myanmar, seeking to offset the negative impact of the Rohingya crisis and slow pace of economic reforms.
    Suu Kyi touted Myanmar’s economic potential, its attractive geographical location, expanding domestic markets and young population.    She also listed some of the reforms undertaken by her government since coming to power in 2016.
    “I stand here to reaffirm our commitment to continue our reform and to build an investment-friendly environment,” Suu Kyi said in the capital Naypyitaw, launching the first official investment conference hosted by her administration.
    “Please do come to Myanmar, soak in an atmosphere brimming with opportunities and witness our new-found economic vibrancy with your own eyes,” she told a crowd of business people, diplomats and journalists gathered at a conference hall.
    While there were relatively few details on planned reforms, the conference itself could signal a shift in the government’s approach to the business community.
    Until now, investors have complained the government has focused largely on ending the country’s myriad armed conflicts, neglecting economic reforms and their needs.
    Suu Kyi did not mention in her speech the Rohingya crisis and the chilling impact it has had on investment.    Many businesses worry that some of the Western sanctions that stifled the economy under army rule could be reinstated.
    About 730,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled from western Rakhine State into Bangladesh since a military crackdown in 2017 after Rohingya insurgents attacked security posts.
    A U.N. mandated fact-finding mission said that Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent” and called for top generals to be prosecuted. Myanmar rejected the findings.
    The International Monetary Fund said last year its data indicated that some foreign investors were delaying final approval of projects until there was clarity about how the situation may unfold.
    The European Union is considering trade sanctions on Myanmar over the crisis, potentially stripping the country of tariff-free access to the world’s largest trading bloc.    The measures could include Myanmar’s lucrative textile industry and potentially put thousands of jobs at risk.
    Separately this month, the EU imposed tariffs on rice from Myanmar and Cambodia to curb a surge in imports.
    Suu Kyi did not mention the EU measures in her speech.
    The World Bank said last month it expected Myanmar’s gross domestic product to fall to 6.2 percent in 2018-19 fiscal year from 6.8 percent the year before.    It saw “elevated downside risks from intensifying impacts of the Rakhine crisis,” among other factors contributing to slowing growth.
    Investors have credited the government’s appointment of a new finance minister, Soe Win, who has a background in international finance.
    The government has also continued to reform the legal framework for investing and establishing companies, liberalizing some of the junta-era restrictions on investment, and has created a bank of key projects it wants to implement.
(Reporting by Shoon Naing and Antoni Slodkowski; editing by Darren Schuettler)

1/28/2019 Malaysia stripped of right to host 2019 Paralympic Championship Game amid claims of anti-Semitism by OAN Newsroom
    The 2019 Paralympic Swimming Championships are no longer being hosted in Malaysia due to its ban on Israeli participants.    The International Paralympic Committee (IPC) stripped the country of its right to hold the qualifying event Sunday, which sets the stage for the 2020 games in Tokyo.
    IPC President Andrew Parsons expressed disappointment in a recent statement after Malaysia disregarded an agreement inclusive of Israeli swimmers.    Malaysian officials announced the ban earlier in January in a show of solidarity with the Palestinians since it doesn’t have an alliance with Israel.
Malaysia’s Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, right, speaks to the media after a private event in Putrajaya, Malaysia,
Monday, Jan. 28, 2019. Malaysia’s government remained defiant despite losing the rights to host the World Para Swimming Championships
after it banned Israelis from competing in the event. The event is a qualifying competition for the 2020 Tokyo Paralympics. (AP Photo/Yam G-Jun)
    The Israeli foreign ministry quickly condemned the nation’s apparent prejudice, and called the exclusion of its Paralympians “shameful.”
    The decision to move the games came on the same day as the 74th World Holocaust Remembrance Day honoring the millions of Jewish lives lost during World War II.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gave remarks during a cabinet meeting attended by survivors of the genocide and touted the Jewish community’s perseverance in the years after.
    During the Holocaust the Jewish people was completely defenseless — today the state of the Jews is one of the strongest and most advanced in the world,” he stated.    “Primarily, we have returned the power to stand up for ourselves which we had lost in the Diaspora.”
    Netanyahu also addressed the alarming increase in anti-Semitism in Europe, calling out two countries by name.
    “I am calling on the international community to act against the anti-Semitism, in particular the rising antisemitism in Europe — anti-Semitism from the right is not a new phenomenon there,” said the Israeli prime minister.    “What is new in Europe is the combination of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism from the extreme left dressed in a robe of anti-Zionism, like what is happening lately in Britain and Ireland.”
    Meanwhile, the International Paralympic Committee has asked countries interested in hosting the swimming championships to come forward by February 11, 2019.
    The games are still set to take place as scheduled from July 29 until August 4 and will feature roughly 600 swimmers from 60 nations including Israel.

1/28/2019 Iranian commander threatens Israel’s destruction if it attacks: state TV
EDITORS' NOTE: Reuters and other foreign media are subject to Iranian restrictions on leaving the office
to report, film or take pictures in Tehran. Hossein Salami, deputy head of Iran's Revolutionary Guard,
speaks during Tehran's Friday prayers July 16, 2010. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A senior Iranian Revolutionary Guards commander on Monday threatened Israel with destruction if it attacks Iran, state media reported.
    The comments by Brigadier General Hossein Salami, deputy head of the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, followed an Israeli attack on Iranian targets in Syria last week – the latest in a series of assaults targeting Tehran’s presence there in support of President Bashar al-Assad’s government.
    “We announce that if Israel takes any action to wage a war against us, it will definitely lead to its own elimination and the freeing of occupied (Palestinian) territories,” Salami said, quoted by state television.
    Iranian officials have previously said Tehran, which does not recognize Israel, would respond swiftly to any Israeli attack.
    Israel backed U.S. President Donald Trump’s move to back out of the 2015 international deal on Iran’s nuclear program and welcomed Washington’s reimposition of sanctions on the country.
    Israel sees Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs as a threat to its existence.    Iran says its nuclear work is for peaceful purposes only.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/28/2019 U.S. committed to pulling foreign forces out of Afghanistan: official by Rupam Jain
U.S. special envoy for peace in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, (C) speaks during a roundtable discussion with
Afghan media at the U.S Embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan January 28, 2019. U.S Embassy/ Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – A senior U.S. government official, speaking after six days of U.S. peace talks with Afghan Taliban militants, said on Monday that Washington was committed to withdrawing foreign forces from Afghanistan to end more than 17 years of war.
    The official, who declined to be identified, described “significant progress” in talks last week with the Taliban in Qatar about a foreign troop pullout, but more negotiations were needed on a ceasefire and its timing.
    “Of course we don’t seek a permanent military presence in Afghanistan,” the official said in the capital Kabul.
    “Our goal is to help bring peace in Afghanistan and we would like a future partnership, newly defined with a post peace government,” the official told Reuters.    “We would like to leave a good legacy.”
    There could not be a withdrawal without a ceasefire, the official said.
    The issue looms as a sticking point in the next round of talks on Feb. 25, with the U.S. official saying Taliban negotiators wanted a full withdrawal before a ceasefire.
    Despite the presence of U.S.-led foreign forces training, advising and assisting their Afghan counterparts, the Taliban control nearly half of Afghanistan and stage near-daily attacks against the Western-backed Afghan government and its security forces.
    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said last week that 45,000 members of the country’s security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014.
    There were reports last month that the United States was considering pulling out almost half of its forces, but a White House spokesman said U.S. President Donald Trump had not issued orders to withdraw.    However, the administration has not denied the reports.
CORE CONCERNS
    Both U.S. officials and the hardline Islamic group hailed progress after the talks on Saturday with U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.    He told the New York Times on Monday that a draft framework had been completed but details still needed to be fleshed out.
    Taliban sources told Reuters on Saturday that the United States had agreed on the withdrawal of foreign troops within 18 months of the signing of a pact but the U.S. official said a timeline was not discussed.
    The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO-led mission and a U.S. counter-terrorism mission largely directed at groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda.
    Some 8,000 troops from 38 other countries are participating in the operation, known as Resolute Support.
    The official said progress was made on addressing core U.S. concerns that Afghanistan will not be used as a base by al Qaeda or Islamic State for attacks against the United States and its allies.
    “That is why we came to Afghanistan in the first place,” the official said.
    Apart from the ceasefire, the Taliban did not discuss the need for talks with the Afghan government to reach a durable political settlement, the U.S. official said.
    The Taliban have repeatedly refused to talk to the Afghan government, which they see as a puppet of the United States, throwing into question how effective a peace deal could really be.
    The Taliban do want, however, to join an interim government post-deal – something that alarms Ghani.
    Khalilzad, an Afghan-born American diplomat, met Ghani for four hours on Sunday to outline progress and seek his support.
    In response, Ghani said in a televised address that the presence of foreign forces was based on an international agreement and they will not be required for ever.
    “No Afghans want foreign forces in their country for the long term,” Ghani said.
    “The current presence of foreign forces is based on need…and according to an exact and arranged plan we are trying to bring down that number to zero.”
(Reporting by Rupam Jain and Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Writing by Greg Torode; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/28/2019 Afghans do not want foreign forces long term: Afghan president
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a live TV broadcast at the presidential palace
in Kabul, Afghanistan January 28, 2019. Presidential Palace office/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said on Monday the presence of foreign forces was based on an international agreement and they will not be required in the long term.
    “No Afghans want foreign forces in their country for the long term,” Ghani said in a televised address.
    “The current presence of foreign forces is based on need, and this need has always been contemplated and will be contemplated … and according to an exact and arranged plan we are trying to bring down that number to zero,” he said.
(Reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Writing by Rupam Jain; editing by Darren Schuettler)

1/28/2019 Pakistan Supreme Court to review Christian woman’s blasphemy acquittal by Asif Shahzad and Drazen Jorgic
A man with a stick walks near a fire blocking a road, during a protest, after the Supreme Court overturned the
conviction of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, in Karachi, Pakistan November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court will on Tuesday begin a review of its acquittal of a Christian woman charged with blasphemy, a verdict that sparked days of Islamist protests over a case that has divided society and incited killings.
    Asia Bibi, who spent eight years on death row, has been in hiding since the Supreme Court freed her in October, with religious hardliners calling for her death and demanding that the government prevent her from leaving the country.
    Most reviews of Supreme Court verdicts are dismissed immediately, but the controversy, anger and fear surrounding the case has added an extra layer of uncertainty.
    A three-judge panel, including new Supreme Court Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa, is due to hear the case.
    Bibi’s lawyer, Saif-ul-Malook, who fled to Europe due to fears for his safety last year, told Reuters he expected the case to be dismissed.
    “They have filed the petition on flimsy grounds.    They haven’t attempted to counter her release on constitutional grounds,” said Malook, who returned to Pakistan this week and will represent Bibi in court.
    “God willing, she will have the decision in her favor tomorrow.    She will be a free person to go anywhere she wants to.”
    If allowed to do so, Bibi is widely expected to seek asylum abroad due to safety concerns.    In November, Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau said his country was in talks with Pakistan about helping her.
    Bibi, a farm worker, was convicted in 2010 of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors working in the fields with her objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
    She has always denied committing blasphemy.
    The governor of Punjab province, Salman Taseer, was assassinated by his bodyguard in 2011 after speaking in Bibi’s defense.    Federal minister for minorities Shahbaz Bhatti was killed later that year after calling for her release.
    The violence stifled debate on Pakistan’s draconian blasphemy law, which critics say is often abused and unfairly targets religious minorities.
WARNING
    Protesting members of the hardline Islamist Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) group, founded by supporters of Taseer’s assassin, blocked main roads in Pakistan’s biggest cites for three days after Bibi’s acquittal.
    They called for the killing of the Supreme Court judges who freed her, urging their cooks and servants to murder them.
    The TLP called off the protests after striking a deal with the government to put Bibi on an “exit control list,” barring her from leaving the country.
    The government later cracked down on the TLP, detaining more than 3,000 activists and pressing terrorism charges against its leaders.
    The TLP’s acting chief, Shafeeq Ameeni, warned that the court panel should not make a “wrong decision.”
    “We will not tolerate an attack on the sanctity of our prophet,” he said in a video statement.
    “We don’t want the country to go up in flames because of a wrong decision.”
    Bibi’s case has outraged Christians worldwide and dismayed moderate Pakistanis, though few dare to speak out.
    “No one should be able to intimidate the Supreme Court into reversing a long-overdue ruling.    Asia Bibi has been found to be innocent,” said Omar Waraich, deputy South Asia director for Amnesty International.
    “She should now finally be free to be reunited with her family and leave the country if she chooses.”
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel)

1/28/2019 EU agency says Iran likely to step up cyber espionage
FILE PHOTO: A man holds a laptop computer as cyber code is projected on him in this
illustration picture taken on May 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Illustration/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Iran is likely to expand its cyber espionage activities as its relations with Western powers worsen, the European Union digital security agency said on Monday.Iranian hackers are behind several cyber attacks and online disinformation campaigns in recent years as the country tries to strengthen its clout in the Middle East and beyond, a Reuters Special Report published in November found.
    This month the European Union imposed its first sanctions on Iran since world powers agreed a 2015 nuclear deal with Teheran, in a reaction to Iran’s ballistic missile tests and assassination plots on European soil.
    “Newly imposed sanctions on Iran are likely to push the country to intensify state-sponsored cyber threat activities in pursuit of its geopolitical and strategic objectives at a regional level,” the European Union Agency for Network and Information Security (ENISA) said in a report.
    A senior Iranian official rejected the report, saying “these are all part of a psychological war launched by the United States and its allies against Iran.”
    ENISA lists state-sponsored hackers as among the highest threats to the bloc’s digital security.
    It said that China, Russia and Iran are “the three most capable and active cyber actors tied to economic espionage.”
    Iran, Russia and China have repeatedly denied U.S. allegations that their governments conduct cyber attacks.
    A malicious computer worm known as Stuxnet that was used to attack a uranium enrichment facility at Iran’s Natanz underground nuclear site a decade ago is widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel.
    When Washington imposed sanctions on several Iranians in March 2018 for hacking on behalf of the Iranian government, Iran’s foreign ministry denounced the move as “provocative, illegitimate, and without any justifiable reason.”
    In November the United States indicted two Iranians for launching a major cyber attack using ransomware known as “SamSam” and sanctioned two others for helping exchange the ransom payments from Bitcoin digital currency into rials.
.     Cyber activities are expected to increase in coming months, particularly if Iran fails to keep the EU committed to a 2015 landmark nuclear deal, ENISA said.
(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio, Additional Reporting by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

1/28/2019 Australia urges China to act responsibly in South China Sea, not raise tensions with U.S. by OAN Newsroom
    Australia is urging China to reduce tensions in the region as a dual citizen remains in Chinese custody.
    Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne made the comments Monday amid growing conflict between the U.S. and China.
    “Any division of the region into Cold War-like blocs is doomed to failure since it would necessitate fault choices between prosperity and security,” he stated.    “Unquestionably, rivalry between the U.S. and China will be a feature of our international outlook in the foreseeable future, however, it’s critical that U.S.-China relations do not come to be defined in wholly adversarial terms.”
    Christopher Pyne called on China to follow international law when it comes to the South China Sea, so neighboring countries would not have to pick between the U.S. and China amid their growing rivalry.
    “We are not interested in containing China, but we are interested in engaging and encouraging China to exercise its powers in ways that increase regional trust and confidence,” he stated.    “The building and militarization of artificial features in the South China Sea for instance, has not increased regional confidence in China’s strategic intentions — instead, it has increased anxiety.”
Australian Defense Minister Christopher Pyne speaks to the journalists at the Australian Embassy in Beijing,
Thursday, Jan. 24, 2019. Pyne says he will raise issue of a missing Chinese-Australian writer with his Chinese counterpart
to call for consular assistance and transparency in the case. (AP Photo/Andy Wong)
    Pyne claimed following international law would build confidence that China respects all states.
    In the meantime, while China has detained an Australian writer for the past 10 days, Pyne is saying he doesn’t believe the imprisonment was about politics or related to the cases of Canadians detained in what many see as retaliation for the jailing of a Chinese executive in Canada.
    “I don’t see any evidence that the detention of Mr. Yang is linked to decisions that the Australian government has made in the recent times, nor do I see it as being linked to the detention of the two Canadians,” said Pyne.
    However, he did say he raised the issue with his Chinese counterpart during a visit last week to make sure the dual citizen was being treated fairly.    Australia has been granted access to visit the writer, who is accused of endangering China’s national security.

1/29/2019 Iran rejects talks on missiles, but says no plan to increase range
FILE PHOTO: Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Iran's Supreme National Security Council Director, speaks to the
media after his arrival at Damascus airport, September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran on Tuesday dismissed pressure from France and other Western powers for talks over its ballistic missile program, but said it had no plans to increase the range of the weapons.
    France said last week it was ready to impose further sanctions on Iran if no progress was made in talks about the missiles, described by Tehran as defensive but seen in the West as a destabilizing factor in a volatile region.
    “Negotiations over Iran’s missile and defensive capabilities are not acceptable in any way,” Major General Hassan Firouzabadi, a top adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted as saying by the IRNA news agency.
    He said French leaders were only raising the issue to distract attention from anti-government demonstrations in their country.    Iran on Monday denied that it was holding any talks with France about the missiles.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a nuclear deal with Iran in May and reimposed sanctions, saying the accord did not address the missiles and what he saw as the Islamic republic’s malign influence on the region.
    France, along with other signatories, stuck with the accord, under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear work in exchange for sanctions relief.    But Paris and other European powers have also raised concerns about the missiles, fearing they could one day reach their territories.
    “The enemies say Iran’s missile power should be eliminated, but we have repeatedly said our missile capabilities are not negotiable,” Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami was quoted as saying by Tasnim news agency, using a phrase usually applied to the United States and Israel.
SATELLITES
    The secretary of Iran’s National Security Council said Iran would keep working to improve the missiles’ accuracy.
    “Iran has no scientific or operational restriction for increasing the range of its military missiles, but based on its defensive doctrine, it is continuously working on increasing the precision of the missiles, and has no intention to increase their range,” Ali Shamkhani, another close aide to Khamenei, was quoted as saying by state broadcaster IRIB.
    In November 2017, the deputy head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards warned that it would increase the range of its missiles beyond 2,000 km (1,200 miles), if Europe threatened Iran.
    A U.N. Security Council resolution that accompanied the 2015 nuclear deal “called upon” Tehran to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons.
    But Iran said that call did not amount to a binding order and has denied that its missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
    Washington has also told Tehran to stop developing satellite-launching technology, saying it was concerned that the same gear could also be used to launch warheads.
    Shamkhani said Iran would keep working on the technology “to improve the quality of people’s lives and increase the country’s technological prowess.”
    Telecoms Minister Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said on Tuesday that an Iranian satellite, called Friendship, will be launched soon.    Another launch failed earlier this month.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Michael Perry and Andrew Heavens)

1/29/2019 Pakistan court upholds acquittal of Christian woman accused of blasphemy by Asif Shahzad
A man with a stick walks near a fire blocking a road, during a protest, after the Supreme Court overturned the conviction
of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy against Islam, in Karachi, Pakistan November 2, 2018. REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the acquittal of a Christian woman who spent years on death row after being convicted of blasphemy, dismissing a petition filed by Islamists who have called for her execution.
    “On merit, this petition is dismissed,” Chief Justice Asif Saeed Khosa said in court, saying the petitioners, led by a village prayer leader, had failed to point out any mistake in the original judgment.
    Asia Bibi, a farm worker, was convicted in 2010 of making derogatory remarks about Islam after neighbors working in the fields with her objected to her drinking water from their glass because she was not Muslim.
    Her conviction was overturned in October, prompting protests from religious hardliners calling for her death and demanding that the government prevent her from leaving the country.
    Under pressure from days of protests in the capital, Islamabad, and other cities, the government agreed to stop Bibi leaving the country until the Supreme Court heard a review petition.
    Bibi, who spent eight years on death row, has been in hiding since the Supreme Court freed her in October.    She has always denied committing blasphemy.
    In remarks in court, Khosa was severely critical of the petitioners’ attempt to have the judgment reversed and said Bibi had been convicted on the basis of false evidence, pointing to discrepancies in testimony presented in the original case.
    “You think we give the death sentence to someone on the basis of false evidence?” Khosa said.    “Such lies were told that one statement doesn’t match with another.”
    “Please point out any error in our judgment and we’re ready to rectify it,” he said.
    “You start declaring someone deserves to be killed just on the basis of false evidence.”
    Hours before the Supreme Court announced its decision, Shafeeq Ameeni, acting head of the hardline Tehreek-e Labaik group, which led the protests last year, issued a new warning to the court not to rule in favor of the “blasphemer.”
    Ameeni was not immediately available for comment after the ruling.
    Bibi’s case attracted headlines around the world last year, highlighting Pakistan’s strict anti-blasphemy laws which campaigners have urged the government to repeal.
    Rights group Amnesty International issued a statement calling for Bibi, who is staying at an undisclosed location, to be allowed to “reunite with her family and seek safety in a country of her choice.”
    “The authorities must also resist and investigate any attempts to intimidate the Supreme Court,” said Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, Rimmel Mohydin.
    “They have a duty to protect against threats of violence to harm religious minorities or the lives of judges or other government officials.”
    If allowed to do so, Bibi is expected to seek asylum abroad.    In November, Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau said his country was in talks with Pakistan about helping her.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Robert Birsel)
[I will almost bet that tomorrows news will have Islamist factions doing somethng drastic over this.].

1/29/2019 North Korea says it wants peace, relations with U.S.
Directional signs bearing North Korean and U.S. flags are seen near the demilitarized zone in Paju, South Korea, June 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korea said on Tuesday that relations with the United States will develop “wonderfully at a fast pace” if Washington responds to its efforts on denuclearisation with trustworthy measures and practical actions.
    North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Han Tae Song, also told the U.N.-sponsored Conference on Disarmament that Pyongyang would continue working to establish a “permanent and durable peace mechanism on the Korean peninsula.”
    The summit last June between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump had brought about a dramatic turn in relations that had been “the most hostile on earth” and contributed to ensuring peace and security on the divided peninsula, Han said.
    He referred to the two leaders’ joint statement issued after their meeting in Singapore and Kim’s New Year’s Address, adding:
    “Accordingly we declared that we would neither make and test nuclear weapons any longer nor use and proliferate them and we have taken various practical measures."If the U.S. responds to our efforts with trustworthy measures and corresponding practical actions, bilateral relations will develop wonderfully at a fast pace through the process of taking more definite and epoch-making steps,” he said.
    Han told Reuters that he had no information on a possible upcoming second summit between Kim and Trump.
    South Korea’s foreign minister told Reuters at Davos last week that North Korea must make concrete pledges toward curbing its nuclear weapons programme, such as dismantling its main nuclear complex and allowing international inspections to confirm the process, when leader Kim meets Trump as soon as next month.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/29/2019 Myanmar Suu Kyi’s party proposes ‘committee’ to change army-drafted charter by Shoon Naing and Poppy McPherson
FILE PHOTO: Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi attends Invest Myanmar in Naypidaw, Myanmar, January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File photo
    NAYPYITAW (Reuters) – Myanmar’s ruling party on Tuesday proposed steps toward changing the constitution, its biggest challenge in nearly three years to the military’s power over politics as enshrined in the charter.
    The proposal could add to tension between the military and Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), which have been at loggerheads over the charter since the party’s historic landslide election win in 2015.
    The surprise bid to reform the constitution comes as both civilian and military leaders face growing international pressure over an army crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in 2017 that sent about 730,000 people fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.
    Addressing parliament on Tuesday, speaker T Khun Myat said NLD member of parliament Aung Kyi Nyunt had submitted an “emergency proposal” to form a parliamentary committee for amending the constitution.
    The speaker turned down an objection by military lawmaker Brigadier-General Maung Maung that the proposal breached “procedure.”
    Parliament will vote later on Tuesday on whether to discuss the proposal further, a motion requiring a simple majority.
    Nobel laureate Suu Kyi’s NLD commands a large majority in the two houses of parliament.
    But the 2008 constitution, drafted during military rule, guarantees the army a quarter of seats and changes to the charter require votes of more than 75 percent, giving the army an effective veto.
    The constitution also blocks Suu Kyi from becoming president as it contains a prohibition on presidential candidates with foreign spouses or children.    Suu Kyi had two sons with her late British academic husband.
    For nearly three years, she has ruled from “above the president” by creating a new position of State Counsellor.
    The constitution also gives military control of key security ministries, including defense and home affairs.
LONG-HELD AIM
    Suu Kyi has long spoken of her aim to reform the constitution as part of a democratic transition after 50 years of strict military rule.
    “The amendment of the constitution was one of the goals of our government,” she said during a forum in Singapore in August.
    “The completion of our democratic transition must necessarily involve the completion of a truly democratic constitution.”
    She was not in parliament on Tuesday.
    The military has for decades seen itself as the only institution capable of preventing the disintegration of the ethnically diverse country, and has stressed the importance of its constitutional oversight of the political system.
    An adviser to Suu Kyi who openly called for reforms to reduce the military’s role, Ko Ni, was shot dead in broad daylight at the Yangon International Airport exactly two years ago, on Jan. 29, 2017.
    While no evidence has emerged that his call for constitutional reform led directly to his murder, or that active military officials ordered the killing, his death cast a pall over reform efforts.
    It was not clear what provisions of the constitution the NLD’s proposal would target or whether the party had secured the buy-in from the military necessary to pass any such measure.
    In the past, some members of Suu Kyi’s party have expressed their desire to amend Article 436, which gives the military the effective veto over constitutional reform.
    At a short meeting with its MPs on Monday, the party’s central executive panel briefed them on the plans for Tuesday’s vote, said Ye Htut, who attended the gathering.
    Party spokesman Myo Nyunt declined to comment.    Reuters was unable to seek comment from the parliamentary office.
(Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

1/29/2019 India asks top court to allow land transfer near disputed Ayodhya site by Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: People look at a model of a proposed Ram temple that Hindu groups want to build at a disputed
religious site in Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar/File Photo
.     NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India’s government on Tuesday asked the Supreme Court to allow it to hand over land to a Hindu trust that wants to build a temple in the northern town of Ayodhya, long a flashpoint for minority Muslims.
    The move comes as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling alliance faces a tightening race for an election due by May, with opinion polls suggesting it could fall short of a parliamentary majority.
    The government, under pressure from its Hindu base to build a temple to the god-king Rama on a site where zealots demolished a 16th century mosque, said land around the disputed site could be given to the trust while the court decided the title suit.
    “A large part of the remaining superfluous land comprises properties of which the title is not even in dispute,” the government said in asking the judges to allow the land transfer.
    After the 1992 destruction of the Babri mosque that triggered Hindu-Muslim riots across India which killed at least 2,000 people, the Supreme Court ordered a freeze on activity at the disputed site and surrounding areas.
    But it has not moved forward in resolving the dispute, prompting a renewed campaign by Hindu hardliners for the construction of the temple at the site they believe to be the birthplace of Rama.
    Leaders of Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, hope the handover will help assuage the hardliners, who can begin some form of construction ahead of the election.
    “We are trying to do it in the legal way,” said Subramaniam Swamy, one party leader, adding that if the Supreme Court allowed the surplus land to be given to the Ram Janambhoomi Trust, it could start construction of the temple.
    But one leader of India’s tiny Muslim minority, which makes up 14 percent of a population of 1.3 billion that is 80 percent Hindu, said the government’s latest proposal on the Ayodhya dispute was aimed at shoring up its base.
    “Threatening the judicial process like this is another (failed) attempt to save BJP from their rapidly diminishing political fortunes,” said Asaduddin Owaisi, the president of the All India Majlis e-Ittehadul Muslimeen party.
    The BJP lost power in three states in assembly elections in December, and wants to avoid a similar result during the general election in Uttar Pradesh, a state of 220 million people where Ayodhya is located.
    The Supreme Court did not immediately respond to the petition.    In the past, it has urged parties to the Ayodhya dispute to observe the status quo and deployed security forces to ensure there is no activity in the area.
    The handover to the trust was “the least that can be done in the face of inordinate delays in the Supreme Court,” Ram Madhav, another BJP leader, said on social network Twitter.
(Additional reporting by Suchitra Mohanty; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/29/2019 Malaysia’s Mahathir seeks China’s understanding on scrapped $20-billion rail deal
FILE PHOTO: Malaysia's Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad arrives at APEC Haus, during the
APEC Summit in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea November 18, 2018. REUTERS/David Gray
    KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) – Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad on Tuesday asked for China’s understanding over Malaysia’s plan to cancel a $20-billion rail project that spearheads China’s infrastructure push in the Southeast Asian nation, saying Kuala Lumpur could not afford it.
    Since winning power last May, Mahathir has repeatedly vowed to renegotiate or cancel what he calls “unfairChinese projects authorized by predecessor Najib Razak, whose near-decade long rule ended in electoral defeat amid a massive financial scandal.
    The cabinet has decided to cancel the contract with China Communications Construction Co Ltd (CCCC) for the East Coast Rail Link project, economic affairs minister Mohamed Azmin Ali said last week.
    “We seek understanding from the parties concerned,” Mahathir told reporters on Tuesday, adding that Malaysia was burdened with “heavy debt” and could not afford the project, one of the biggest signed in China’s signature Belt and Road initiative.
    “It is not because we want to frustrate or throw out the contract, it is because we are really tight in terms of finance.”
    The contract may cost the country more than 100 billion ringgit ($24.33 billion) in total, Mahathir said, adding that Malaysia would still have to pay a cancellation fee.
    “The huge compensation is not as huge as the amount of debt we will carry for the next 30 years.”
    The government was still determining how much to pay CCCC as cancellation fee, Azmin said last week.    Government officials have previously said the project cost had been inflated.
    In Beijing this week, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was unaware of the project cancellation.
    On Tuesday, Mahathir said an official statement is to be issued in the next few days, with the finance ministry to provide a detailed explanation soon.
    In August Mahathir had said the project would be canceled “for now,” but the government later said it was in talks with CCCC on the future of the rail line.
    Mahathir has blamed Najib’s administration for taking total government debt and liabilities to more than 1 trillion ringgit, including that of scandal-plagued state fund 1MDB, which is being investigated for corruption in at least six countries.
(Reporting by Rozanna Latiff and A. Ananthalakshmi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/30/2019 Iran facing the toughest economic situation in 40 years: president
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart
Tayyip Erdogan (not pictured) after their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Iran’s president said on Wednesday the country was facing its toughest economic situation in 40 years, and the United States, not the government, was to blame.
    U.S. President Donald Trump last year pulled out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and re-imposed sanctions.
    Workers, including truck drivers, farmers and merchants, have since launched sporadic protests against economic hardships, which have occasionally led to confrontations with security forces.     “Today the country is facing the biggest pressure and economic sanctions in the past 40 years,” Hassan Rouhani said, according to the presidential website.
    “Today our problems are primarily because of pressure from America and its followers.    And the dutiful government and Islamic system should not be blamed,” he added.
    Rouhani spoke at a ceremony at the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini – part of a series of events leading up to the 40th anniversary of the February 11th revolution.
    Iran’s rial currency has fluctuated in value in recent months, making it difficult for ordinary people to make ends meet.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
[Rouhani has finally got the message as the sanctions are working but he and his cronies will continue to let his people suffer than stop their attacks on other countries and not comply to the rest of the world's demand, so be prepared to live it Iran.    I hope to see that the Iranian people decide to uprise and overthrow the regime.].

1/30/2019 Afghanistan’s post 9/11 generation wary of any future with the Taliban by Charlotte Greenfield and Hameed Farzad
FILE PHOTO: Afghan boys ride a donkey at the old part of Kabul, Afghanistan January 23, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s Generation Z has grown up in a 17-year window shadowed by warfare and a heavy international presence, but now faces an uncertain future and the possibility of stark change.
    Peace talks between the United States and Taliban are ramping up, which could see the hardline group take on a formal role in government, while U.S. President Donald Trump is reported to be mulling cutting the number of U.S. troops, which peaked at 100,000 in the early 2010s and is now at about 14,000.
    No one knows what form a new government may take or how much control the Taliban might have under any deal, but for young people who were babies when the Taliban were driven from power by a U.S.-led campaign in 2001, the prospect of peace with the hardline Islamists brings a daunting mix of hope and fear.
    For villagers in rural Afghanistan, where traditional ways have always counted for more than central government law, life may not change much.
    But for the young of Kabul and other cities, there is much to lose, in particular the freedoms restored after the Taliban were ousted – from playing music, to modeling and adopting trendy haircuts – which they’ve grown up with.
    “The thing I’m most worried about is that if they return, I’ll not be able to continue playing music,” said Maram Atayee, a 16-year-old pianist who attends music school in Kabul.
    “It will be great if the government and the Taliban reach a peace deal.    At that time there should be access to music for everyone and women’s rights must be protected.”
    When the Taliban were last in power, they gained global notoriety for a harsh regime that forced women and girls to stay at home, restricted music and sports and imposed brutal punishment on infractions of a hardline version of Islamic law.
    More recently, they have adopted a more moderate tone, including pledges on rights for women and girls’ education, appeals for support from foreign aid groups and promises to maintain good international relations.
    While huge doubts remain, the peace talks have given young people a sense of hope.
    “I am optimistic about the Taliban joining the peace process,” said Hussain, 19, who like many young Afghans grew up in neighboring Iran where millions have taken refuge from war.    He now works as a hairdresser in Kabul.
    “It will be an end to the war and conflicts in our country.    I want the Taliban to change their policy and not behave like before.”
‘WE NEED HELP’
    Afghanistan has a strikingly young population, with more than 60 percent of its 35 million people under the age of 25, and half under the age of 15, according to the U.N. population agency.
    Like young people everywhere, Afghanistan’s urban youth rely on technology for their window on global trends and culture, and face huge problems finding permanent, stable work.
    They have also had to deal with near-daily violence and a broken economy that cannot provide jobs for the 400,000 or so new entrants to the workforce every year.
    Hundreds of thousands have migrated in the years since 2014, when most foreign forces left.    Many have risked dangerous journeys in search of new homes in countries like Turkey, or in Europe or further afield.
    For some of those who have remained, there is now hope that peace will bring opportunities.
    Nineteen-year-old Omar, who works at a shop in Kabul that sells clothes imported from Turkey, has been learning English since he was six with the hope of traveling.    He keeps a book filled with photos of places he wants to visit – the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, New York City.
    Still, he says, he wants to live in Afghanistan and longs for an end to the violence.
    “If there’s peace it would be easier, there’s lots of rich guys and they’re not investing because they’re scared for their lives, that there will be a bomb that will destroy what they’ve done.”
    He admires the progress made by China, whose presence in Afghanistan pales in comparison with that of other powers, but whose investment is increasing: “They have peace, they are hard workers.”
    But he feels apprehensive about the prospect of the U.S. military leaving.
    “What President Trump said about Afghanistan was totally wrong, we need help,” he said.
GENERATION OF CHANGE
    Sultan Qasim Sayeedi, an 18-year-old model sports a hairstyle with shaven sides and a slicked back front called a “sinpogh,” which he says turns heads on Kabul’s streets.
    He scours Facebook, YouTube and Instagram to learn about fashion and modeling and draws inspiration from his favorite models, including Saudi Arabia’s Omar Borkan, and Canadian popstar Justin Bieber.
    “We’re afraid that if the Taliban come then we will not be able to hold our shows,” he said.
    Despite that wariness, Sultan says it’s time the fighting ended.
    “If American troops will go peace will come, we want peace,” he said.
    Maryam Ghulami, a 20-year-old living in the western province of Herat, says her generation will bring change that her parents never could.
    She is learning graphic design and computer coding at an online academy and likes to hone her skills with YouTube tutorials.
    While she believes Afghanistan faces many problems – a slow and unreliable internet connection, for a start – she has faith that her generation can bring change.
    “The new generation can change Afghanistan with knowledge, with technology,” she said.
(Editing by James Mackenzie, Robert Birsel)

1/30/2019 Roadblocks cast shadows over path to peace in Afghanistan by Greg Torode, Rupam Jain and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: An Afghan guard looks out from a security tower at the site of a
car bomb blast in Kabul, Afghanistan January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – U.S. diplomats and the Afghan Taliban have seen cause for hope in talks to end the United States’ longest war, but the pivotal issues of a ceasefire and the militants sitting down with the Afghan government are far from being resolved.
    Areas in which both sides have hailed progress – plans for the withdrawal of foreign troops 17 years after the U.S.-led ouster of the Taliban and assurances that Afghanistan won’t become a base for al Qaeda or Islamic State – still need detailed negotiation, sources on both sides said.
    The withdrawal, for example, is contingent on a ceasefire that the Taliban have yet to discuss.
    “We want to be absolutely sure that the U.S. is leaving before we call off the fight,” said a senior Taliban official on condition of anonymity.
    But a senior U.S. official privy to the negotiations was clear a ceasefire had to come first: “How could we even do a withdrawal without a ceasefire?
    And the Taliban’s assurances on counter-terrorism also come with caveats.
    They say they can guarantee the United States the security of the half of the country they now control, but they would have to be in an interim government to be sure of stopping al Qaeda or Islamic State from attacking anywhere else.
    Left to watch the unlikely U.S. and Taliban tango as he eyes a second term, Western-backed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani refuses to accept an interim government as part of any deal.
    “We want peace, we want it quickly, but we want a proper plan … so the mistakes of the past do not repeat,” Ghani said in a televised address on Monday, referring to a bloody history of failed governments, military coups and civil war.
    Ghani mentioned the deaths of previous rulers, including former President Najibullah, who was hanged from a Kabul lamppost when Taliban guerrillas swept into the capital in 1996.
NEW NEGOTIATOR
    The next round of talks will be held in Qatar on Feb. 25 when Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a former mujahideen fighter against the Soviet occupation of the 1980s, will head the Taliban side following his release last year from eight years in a Pakistani jail.
    U.S. officials told Reuters they hope he will have the authority to negotiate on the ceasefire and the need for discussions with the Afghan government.    The Taliban have so far refused to talk to the government which they dismiss as a puppet of the United States.
    Baradar, a co-founder of the movement and a former military commander in western Afghanistan, will enter new talks from a position of relative strength as its new political chief, Taliban officials said.
    For years, the Taliban have fought to expel foreign forces and drive the government from power, so they can restore their version of hardline Islamic law across Afghanistan.
    After intensifying attacks over the last two years, the Taliban are more powerful than any at other time since they were toppled by Western forces.
    And senior Taliban officials say they know the United States and other foreign forces are tired and want out. While they, meanwhile, can sense victory and a future role in government.
    “If the Afghan government and the Taliban have an agreement, it will involve altering government arrangements in some respect, creating a more inclusive government and consolidating the Afghan security forces and the Taliban in some new security architecture,” said James Dobbins, a former diplomat who is now senior fellow at the RAND Corporation think-tank.
    Dobbins, who was the Obama administration’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan in 2013, said it would take a long time to reach a deal that would be sustainable.
    But however much time the talks took, the senior U.S. official privy to the talks, who did not want to be identified, insisted: “We will not leave Afghanistan without a deal.    We want to leave a good legacy.”
UNCERTAIN FUTURE
    Doubts have increased in recent weeks whether U.S. President Donald Trump would stomach a protracted presence in Afghanistan amid mixed signals from Washington.
    U.S. officials told Reuters last month that Trump had issued verbal orders to plan for a withdrawal of about half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.    However, they said he could reverse course.
    The U.S. troops in Afghanistan are part of a NATO-led mission and a U.S. counterterrorism mission largely directed at groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda.
    Some 8,000 troops from 38 other countries are participating in the operation, known as Resolute Support.
    Diplomats and military attaches from many of those countries describe an intense desire to leave.    Italy is considering sending home its 900 troops within a year.
    The period after any deal and withdrawal is also fraught with risks.    Kabul-based Western envoys say little hard thought has been given to how aid plans and other support would have to be intensified and tailored to fit a new era of peace, and possible power sharing.
    Some also warn of a spike in violence as fighters on both sides return to villages and start new lives.
    Afghans and regional diplomats also fear a U.S. bid to cut a hasty deal with the Taliban could allow militia groups to exploit ethnic rivalries to usurp power.
    Then there is the worry that the country’s nascent democracy and women’s rights could crumble in the absence of foreign forces.
    Ghani made clear this week they are worries he shares, even if question marks remain over his ability to shape events ahead.
    “I, as an elected leader in charge of 35 million Afghans, … know what are the probable dangers and threats after the peace deal.”
(Additional reporting James Mackenzie in Islamabad; Editing by Nick Macfie)

1/30/2019 Iran facing economic difficulty amid U.S. pressure on regime by OAN Newsroom
    As part of President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Obama-era Iran Nuclear Deal, he promised to put maximum pressure on the regime.
    “We will be instituting the highest level of economic sanctions,” he announced.
In this photo released by official website of the office of the Iranian Presidency, President Hassan Rouhani
speaks at a ceremony in Tehran, Iran, Thursday, Jan. 10, 2019. (Iranian Presidency Office via AP)
    That pressure appears to be dealing a major blow to the Middle Eastern country.    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said his country is dealing with the most difficult economic pressures it has faced in 40-years.    He made the comments Wednesday, adding, the problems are primarily because of the pressure from the U.S. and its allies.
    President Trump pulled out of the Obama-era nuclear deal last year, saying Iran poses a major threat to the U.S.
    “The Iranian Regime is the leading sponsor of terror — it exports dangerous missile fuels conflicts across the Middle East, and supports terror proxies and militias such as Hezbollah, Hamas, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda,” explained the president.
    President Trump said the U.S. would work with its allies to stop Iran’s terrorist activities worldwide.    Since then, the president has said Iran’s difficulties are proof the pressure on the regime is working.

1/30/2019 U.N. nuclear watchdog warns against pressuring it on inspections
FILE PHOTO: International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano addresses a news conference during a
board of governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria November 22, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – The U.N. nuclear watchdog policing Iran’s deal with major powers said on Wednesday that attempts to pressure it on inspections were “counter-productive and extremely harmful,” though it stopped short of naming those responsible.
    Israel, which vehemently opposes the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, has called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to visit what it says is a “secret atomic warehouse” and other locations in Iran.    The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pulled his country out of the deal, has made similar calls.
    The IAEA has bristled at such calls but used only guarded language in public, saying it does not take information at face value and assesses it independently, and then only sends inspectors to a specific location when necessary.
    In a speech to staff on Wednesday, however, IAEA chief Yukiya Amano was blunt.
    “If our credibility is thrown into question and, in particular, if attempts are made to micro-manage or put pressure on the agency in nuclear verification, that is counter-productive and extremely harmful,” he said, according to a text of the speech posted online by the IAEA.
    He did not elaborate on the attempts or those behind them.
    The IAEA is policing the restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear activities under the deal, which also lifted international sanctions against Tehran.
    Amano reiterated that Iran was continuing to keep its end of the bargain.    Trump on Wednesday called top U.S. intelligence chiefs “extremely passive and naive” on Iran, a day after they contradicted his views in congressional testimony.
    Amano was also more direct in making the case for his agency to be in charge of inspections in North Korea in the event of any political agreement being reached on that country’s nuclear activities.    Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are due to hold their second summit in late February.
    “The IAEA is the only international organization that can verify the nuclear program of the DPRK,” said     Amano, using the acronym of the country’s official name — the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
    Amano, a Japanese diplomat, has previously said his agency is best placed to do that job.    It has not been granted access to North Korea since 2009, when Pyongyang threw out its inspectors.
    “As far as the nuclear program of the DPRK is concerned, we remain ready to play an essential verification role if a political agreement is reached among countries concerned,” he said.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/30/2019 Hindu priest sets date for temple construction at disputed site in India by Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: A worker engraves a stone that Hindu groups say will be used to build a Ram temple at a disputed religious site
in Ayodhya in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, India, November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Pawan Kumar//File Photo
    PRAYAGRAJ, India (Reuters) – A powerful Hindu priest said on Wednesday he would lead a group of followers to start building a Hindu temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque, which could violate a court order and raise religious tensions in an election year.
    A Hindu mob leveled the mosque in 1992, sparking communal riots that killed about 2,000 people across India.    The site, in the northern town of Ayodhya, has been the focus of dispute between majority Hindus and minority Muslims for many years.
.     Hindu groups believe the site to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the religion’s most revered deities.    They also point to evidence there was a temple there before the mosque was built in 1528.
    The place where the Babri Mosque once stood is now under court control, guarded by armed state and federal police and surrounded by walls and watchtowers.
    “We’ll lay the foundation stone there on Feb. 21,” Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati said after meeting Hindu monks and priests at the world’s biggest religious gathering, Kumbh Mela, in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh where Ayodhya is located.
    “Lord Ram resides there and that’s his birthplace.”
    But Zafaryab Jilani, a secretary of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board and an advocate in the mosque case, said his community would not be provoked by such calls to disturb the status quo and that any attempt to breach the site would amount to a contempt of court.
    “We have full faith in the Supreme Court,” he told Reuters.
    Saraswati’s aides said they were ready to be arrested if their attempts are resisted.
    His statement to Reuters partner ANI and others comes a day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist government petitioned the Supreme Court to return land around the site seized by various court orders over the years.
    Building the temple is a key demand of the conservative Hindu allies of Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and has gained fresh impetus ahead of a general election due by May.
    The BJP said in its 2014 general election manifesto it would “explore all possibilities within the framework of the constitution” to facilitate the construction of a Ram temple at the disputed site.
    The BJP government in Uttar Pradesh state, whose chief minister Yogi Adityanath is a robe-wearing Hindu priest, has already organized a large eight-week Kumbh Mela gathering at Prayagraj city.    Up to 150 million people, including a million foreign visitors, are expected to bathe at the confluence of the Ganges, the Yamuna, and a mythical third river, the Saraswati.
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das, Editing by William Maclean)

1/30/2019 Iran implementing its commitments under nuclear deal, IAEA says
The flag of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flutters in front of
their headquarters in Vienna, Austria June 4, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran is carrying out its commitments under its nuclear deal with major powers, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano said in the text of a speech posted online by his agency on Wednesday.
    “Iran is implementing its nuclear-related commitments under the JCPOA,” Amano said, repeating his position on the deal, known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action..    “It is essential that Iran continues to fully implement those commitments.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump, who has pulled his country out of the deal, on Wednesday called top U.S. intelligence chiefs “extremely passive and naive” on Iran, a day after they contradicted his views in congressional testimony.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

1/31/2019 China’s military-run space station in Argentina is a ‘black box’ by Cassandra Garrison
The construction site of a Chinese space station is shown in this satellite photo, in Las Lajas, Argentina,
taken April 26, 2016. Satellite image ©2019 DigitalGlobe, a Mazar Company/Handout via REUTERS
    LAS LAJAS, Argentina – When China built a military-run space station in Argentina’s Patagonian region it promised to include a visitors’ center to explain the purpose of its powerful 16-story antenna.
    The center is now built – behind the 8-foot barbed wire fence that surrounds the entire space station compound.    Visits are by appointment only.
    Shrouded in secrecy, the compound has stirred unease among local residents, fueled conspiracy theories and sparked concerns in the Trump administration about its true purpose, according to interviews with dozens of residents, current and former Argentine government officials, U.S. officials, satellite and astronomy specialists and legal experts.
    The station’s stated aim is peaceful space observation and exploration and, according to Chinese media, it played a key role in China’s landing of a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon in January.
    But the remote 200-hectare compound operates with little oversight by the Argentine authorities, according to hundreds of pages of Argentine government documents obtained by Reuters and reviewed by international law experts. (For an interactive version of this story: https://tmsnrt.rs/2TlXEMj)
    President Mauricio Macri’s former foreign minister, Susana Malcorra, said in an interview that Argentina has no physical oversight of the station’s operations.    In 2016, she revised the China space station deal to include a stipulation it be for civilian use only.
    The agreement obliges China to inform Argentina of its activities at the station but provides no enforcement mechanism for authorities to ensure it is not being used for military purposes, the international law experts said.
    “It really doesn’t matter what it says in the contract or in the agreement,” said Juan Uriburu, an Argentine lawyer who worked on two major Argentina-China joint ventures.    “How do you make sure they play by the rules?
    “I would say that, given that one of the actors involved in the agreements reports directly to the Chinese military, it is at least intriguing to see that the Argentine government did not deal with this issue with greater specificity,” he said.
    China’s space program is run by its military, the People’s Liberation Army.    The Patagonian station is managed by the China Satellite Launch and Tracking Control General (CLTC), which reports to the PLA’s Strategic Support Force.
    Beijing insists its space program is for peaceful purposes and its foreign ministry in a statement stressed the Argentine station is for civilian use only.    It said the station was open to the public and media.
    “The suspicions of some individuals have ulterior motives,” the ministry said.
    Asked how it ensures the station is not used for military purposes, Argentina’s space agency CONAE said the agreement between the two countries stated their commitment to “peaceful use” of the project.
    It said radio emissions from the station were also monitored, but radio astronomy experts said the Chinese could easily hide illicit data in these transmissions or add encrypted channels to the frequencies agreed upon with Argentina.
    CONAE also said it had no staff permanently based at the station, but they made “periodic” trips there.
SPYING CONCERNS
    The United States has long been worried about what it sees as China’s strategy to “militarize” space, according to one U.S. official, who added there was reason to be skeptical of Beijing’s insistence that the Argentine base was strictly for exploration.
    Other U.S. officials who spoke to Reuters expressed similar concerns.
    “The Patagonia ground station, agreed to in secret by a corrupt and financially vulnerable government a decade ago, is another example of opaque and predatory Chinese dealings that undermine the sovereignty of host nations,” said Garrett Marquis, spokesman for the White House National Security Council.
    Some radio astronomy experts said U.S. concerns were overblown and the station was probably as advertised – a scientific venture with Argentina – even if its 35-meter diameter dish could eavesdrop on foreign satellites.
    Tony Beasley, director of the U.S. National Radio Astronomy Observatory, said the station could, in theory, “listen” to other governments’ satellites, potentially picking up sensitive data. But that kind of listening could be done with far less sophisticated equipment.
    “Anyone can do that.    I can do that with a dish in my back yard, basically,” Beasley said.    “I don’t know that there’s anything particularly sinister or troubling about any part of China’s space radio network in Argentina.”
    Argentine officials have defended the Chinese station, saying the agreement with China is similar to one signed with the European Space Agency, which built a station in a neighboring province.    Both have 50-year, tax-free leases.
    Argentine scientists in theory have access to 10 percent of the antenna time at both stations.
    The law experts who reviewed the documents said there is one notable difference: ESA is a civilian agency.
    “All of the ESA governments play by democratic rules,” Uriburu said.    “The party is not the state.    But that’s not the case in China.    The party is the state.”
    In the United States, NASA, like the ESA, is a civilian agency, while the U.S. military has it own space command for military or national security missions.    In some instances, NASA and the military have collaborated, said Jonathan McDowell, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.
    “The line does blur sometimes,” he said.    “But that’s very much the exception.”
BLACK BOX
    In Las Lajas, a town of 7,000 people located about 40 minutes drive from the station, the antenna is a source of bewilderment and suspicion.
    “These people don’t allow you access, they don’t let you see,” said shop owner Alfredo Garrido, 51.    “My opinion is that it is not a scientific research base, but rather a Chinese military base.”
    Among the wilder conspiracy theories reporters heard during a visit to the town: That the base was being used to build a nuclear bomb.
    The drive from Las Lajas to the space station is barren and dusty.    There are no signs indicating the station’s existence.    The sprawling antenna is suddenly visible after a curve in the gravel road off the main thoroughfare.    The massive dish is the only sign of human life for miles around.
    The station became operational in April.    Thirty Chinese employees work and live on site, which employs no locals, according to the Las Lajas mayor, Maria Espinosa, adding that the station has been good for the local economy.
    Espinosa said she rented her house to Chinese space station workers before they moved to the base and had visited the site herself at least eight times.
    Others in Las Lajas said they rarely see anyone from the station in town, except when the staff make a trip to its Chinese supermarket.
    Reuters requested access to the station through CONAE, the local provincial government and China’s embassy.    CONAE said it was not able to approve a visit by Reuters in the short term but it was planning a media day.    It added that students from nearby towns have already visited the compound.
NO OVERSIGHT
    When Argentina’s Congress debated the space station in 2015, during the presidency of Cristina Fernandez, opposition lawmakers questioned why there was no stipulation that it only be for civilian use.    Nonetheless, Congress approved the deal.
    When Macri took office in 2015 he was worried the space station agreement did not explicitly say it should be for civilian use only, said Malcorra, his then foreign minister, who flew to Beijing in 2016 to rework it.
    Malcorra said she was constrained in her ability to revise it because it had already been signed by Fernandez.    The Chinese, however, agreed to include the stipulation that it be for civilian use.    She insisted on a press conference with her Chinese counterpart in Beijing to publicize this.
    “This was something I requested to make sure there was no doubt or no hidden agenda from any side here, and that our people knew that we had done this,” she said from her home in Spain.
    But it still fell short on one key point – oversight.
    “There was no way we could do that after the level of recognition that this agreement had from our side.    This was recognized, accepted and approved by Congress,” Malcorra said.
    “I would have written the agreement in a different way,” she added.    “I would have clauses that articulate the access to oversight.”
    Malcorra said she was confident that Argentina could approach China for “reassurances” if there was ever any doubt about activities at the station.    When asked how Argentina would know about those activities, she said, “There will be some people who will tell us, don’t worry.”
LOGGING VISITORS
    The opaqueness of the station’s operations and the reluctance of Argentine officials to talk about it makes it hard to determine who exactly has visited the compound.
    A provincial government official provided Reuters a list of local journalists who had toured the facility.    A number appeared to have visited on a single day in February 2017, 14 months before it became operational, a review of their stories and social media postings showed.
    Aside from Espinosa, the mayor of Las Lajas, no one else interviewed by Reuters in town had toured the station.
    Resident Matias Uran, 24, however, said his sister was among a group of students who visited last year.    They saw a dining room and a games room, he said.
    Alberto Hugo Amarilla, 60, who runs a small hotel in Las Lajas, recalled a dinner he attended shortly after construction began at the site.
    There, he said, a Chinese official in town to visit the site greeted him enthusiastically.    His fellow dinner guests told him the official had learned that Amarilla was a retired army officer.
    The official, they said, was a Chinese general.
(Reporting by Cassandra Garrison; Additional reporting by Dave Sherwood in SANTIAGO, Matt Spetalnick, Mark Hosenball and Phil Stewart in WASHINGTON, Joey Roulette in ORLANDO, Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Ross Colvin, Julie Marquis and Paul Thomasch)

1/31/2019 Germany, France, Britain to launch mechanism for trade with Iran
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during his visit to the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic,
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, south of Tehran, Iran, January 30, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS
    PARIS/BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany, France and Britain have officially set up a European mechanism to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran and circumvent U.S. sanctions, two diplomats said on Thursday.
    The EU has been preparing the system, in effect a clearing house that avoids monetary transfers in dollars between the EU and Iran for months although it is unlikely to become operational for several months due to technical details.
    German broadcaster NDR reported that the European Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) would be named INSTEX-Instrument In Support Of Trade Exchanges.
    The idea is for the SPV to help preserve the economic benefits for Iran derived from the curbs it placed on its nuclear program under a 2015 deal with world powers.
    Europe has been keen to show good faith toward Iran since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the deal last year.
    The entity is not likely to revive trade with Iran to begin with as its focus will primarily be food, medicine and humanitarian, with transactions small.    It will not be used for oil-related transactions that have been hit hard by U.S. sanctions.
    “It won’t change things dramatically, but it’s an important political message to Iran to show that we are determined to save the JCPOA and also the United States to show we defend our interests despite their extraterritorial sanctions,” one European diplomat said.
    However, relations between Tehran and the EU have worsened, and the EU this month imposed its first sanctions on Iran since the 2015 deal in reaction to Iran’s ballistic missile tests and assassination plots on European soil.
    In a symbolic move, the EU added two Iranian individuals and an Iranian intelligence unit to the bloc’s terrorist list.
    EU member states are also finalizing a joint statement on Iran to outline concerns about Tehran’s regional policies and ballistic missile program, but also to show their desire to maintain the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
    France and Germany had taken joint responsibility for the SPV.    A German banker would head up the vehicle, which would be based in France.    France, Britain and Germany will be shareholders and they hope other states will join.
(Reporting by John Irish and Riham Alkousaa; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Michelle Martin)

1/31/2019 Watchdog shows Afghan defense forces declining as peace talks edge forward by Greg Torode
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers attend their graduation ceremony at the Kabul
Military Training Centre (KMTC) in Kabul, Afghanistan January 27, 2019.REUTERS/Omar Sobhani
    KABUL (Reuters) – The strength of the embattled Afghan defense forces has declined to its lowest level in four years, a U.S. watchdog said on Thursday, as talks between Washington and the Taliban continue over the possible withdrawal of foreign troops.
    The negotiations, due to resume in Qatar on Feb. 25, are centered on a possible ceasefire and the withdrawal of thousands of U.S.-led NATO forces.    Many obstacles remain before that would be possible but an eventual pullout would place the Afghan defense forces under even more pressure.
    The latest quarterly report by the U.S. Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) noted that the control of Afghanistan’s territory and population “became somewhat more contested (and) Afghan government control or influence continued to decline.”
    It put districts under government control or influence at 53.8 per cent covering 63.5 percent of the population by October 2018, with the rest of the country controlled or contested by the Taliban.
    The hardline Islamist group has been unable to seize a major Afghan city but has stepped up pressure in rural areas and is now more powerful than any at other time since they were toppled by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
    SIGAR cited a U.S. Forces-Afghanistan report that the Afghan National Defence and Security Forces had decreased to 308,693 troops, or 87.7 per cent of its assigned strength, the lowest since the creation of NATO’s operation to train, advise and assist Afghans in January 2015.
    The United States has some 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission and a separate counter-terrorism effort largely directed at groups such as al Qaeda and Islamic State.
    Some 8,000 troops from 38 other countries also participate in Resolute Support.
    The report did not detail the reasons for the decreasing numbers and the Afghan government does not publish casualty figures.    However, security analysts say that re-enlistment and unauthorized absences remain major problems.
    President Ashraf Ghani said in Switzerland last week 45,000 members of the Afghan security forces had been killed since he took office in 2014, a figure analysts said helped explain morale problems.
    “That number indicates that in those roughly 53 months, around 849 Afghan security personnel have been killed per month on average,” SIGAR said.
    SIGAR also released figures suggesting the recruitment and retention of women in the national defense and security forces was a significant challenge.
    Citing information declassified by U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, SIGAR said Afghan forces had 4,735 female personnel – less than 2 per cent of current assigned strength.
(Additional reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Paul Tait)

1/31/2019 U.S. envoy calls for full list of North Korean weapons programs by David Brunnstrom and Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump arrives to deliver remarks on border security and the partial shutdown of the
U.S. government in the Diplomatic Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. special envoy for North Korea laid out an extensive list of demands for North Korean denuclearization on Thursday that is likely to anger Pyongyang, even as President Donald Trump said the date and place for a second summit was set and hailed “tremendous progress” in his dealings with the country.
    In a speech at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, envoy Stephen Biegun said North Korea would need to declare all its nuclear and missile programs and warned that Washington had “contingencies” if the diplomatic process failed.
    Biegun, in his most detailed public remarks on his approach to North Korea after five months in his role, said Washington would have to have expert access and monitoring mechanisms of nuclear and missile sites and “ultimately ensure removal or destruction of stockpiles of fissile material, weapons, missiles, launchers and other weapons of mass destruction.”
    Pyongyang has rejected declaring its weapons programs for decades.
    Biegun also said that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un committed during an October visit by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to the dismantlement and destruction of plutonium and uranium enrichment facilities.
    The information from Biegun goes much further than Pompeo himself did after his trip and further than any public statement by Pyongyang.
    While Biegun conceded there was “more work ahead of us than behind us,” Trump appeared upbeat about the prospects for a second summit with Kim, telling reporters in the Oval Office on Thursday that a time and place had been agreed upon and would be announced next week.
    He said he was making “tremendous progress” with North Korea.    “They very much want the meeting. And I think they really want to do something, and we’ll see.”
    Pompeo said on Wednesday that North Korea had agreed that the summit would be held at the end of February and that it would be “some place in Asia.”
    Trump and Kim met in Singapore last June in the first summit between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, an event that produced a vague commitment by Kim to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, where U.S. troops have been stationed in the South since the 1950-53 Korean War.
    Pyongyang has yet to take concrete steps in that direction, in Washington’s view, and the director of U.S. national intelligence, Dan Coats, told Congress on Tuesday that it was unlikely to give up all of its nuclear weapons and has continued activity inconsistent with pledges to denuclearize.
    The State Department said Biegun will travel to South Korea on Feb. 3 for talks with his North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol “to discuss next steps to advance our objective of the final fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and steps to make further progress on all the commitments the two leaders made in Singapore.”
    North Korea has complained that the United States has done little to reciprocate for the actions it has taken so far to dismantle some weapons facilities.    It has repeatedly demanded a lifting of punishing U.S.-led sanctions and has also sought a formal end to the war, as well as security guarantees.
    In his speech, Biegun said the United States had told North Korea it was prepared to pursue commitments made in Singapore “simultaneously and in parallel” and had already eased rules on delivery of humanitarian aid to North Korea.
    He said he planned to discuss “corresponding measures” Washington was willing to take in return for the dismantlement of North Korea’s enrichment capabilities when he holds talks with his counterpart next week.
    Responding to questions after his speech, Biegun said it was correct that the United States would not lift sanctions until North Korean denuclearization was complete, but added: “We did not say we will not do anything until you do everything.”
    Biegun said both he and Trump were convinced it was time to move past 70 years of war and hostility on the Korean Peninsula, but stopped short of suggesting that an end-of-war declaration North Korea has been seeking could be a summit outcome.
    However, he added: “If we are doing the right thing on nuclear weapons, it makes it a lot more conceivable that there would be a permanent peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.”
    Biegun said that while he sometimes imagined a “perfect outcome moment, where the last nuclear weapons leave North Korea, the sanctions are lifted, the flag goes up at the embassy, and the treaty is signed at the same hour,” he realized that was an ideal and added: “These things are going to move haltingly along different courses.”
    Biegun admitted that the United States and North Korea did not have an agreed definition of denuclearization, but was blunt about U.S. expectations and said Trump had made clear he expected “significant and verifiable progress on denuclearization” to emerge from the next summit.
    “Before the process of denuclearization can be final, we must have a complete understanding of the full extent of the North Korean WMD and missile programs through a comprehensive declaration,” Biegun said in his speech.
    Biegun said all these details would have to be addressed in working-level negotiations if the conditions were to be put in place “to fundamentally transform the U.S.-North Korean relations and establish peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
    He pledged that once North Korea was denuclearized the United States was prepared to explore with North Korea and other countries the best way to mobilize investment in the country.
    Biegun said the past 25 years of talks had shown that the possibility of failure was great, and stressed: “We need to have contingencies if the diplomatic process fails – which we do.”
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom, Steve Holland and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; writing by David Brunnstrom and Makini Brice; editing by Sonya Hepinstall, James Dalgleish and Grant McCool)

2/1/2019 Disappearing textbook highlights debate in China over academic freedom by Christian Shepherd
FILE PHOTO: A resident sits near his bicycle while reading a book against a wall with the political slogans
"Rule of law (L) and Harmony " in central Beijing, China August 18, 2014. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A constitutional law textbook written by one China’s best-known reform-minded legal scholars has been pulled from book shops, apparently the latest text to run afoul of a government campaign against “i>Western influence.”
    The author, Zhang Qianfan, a professor at Peking University known for his advocacy of constitutionalism and judicial reform, dismissed any suggestion his writing excessively promoted Western ideas as “utter nonsense,” and said the academic world should not be politicized.
    Since taking office in 2012, President Xi Jinping has tightened the Communist Party’s control over society including the legal system and education.
    While authorities have not confirmed they ordered the book withdrawn, and no reason for its disappearance has been given, it comes after the government launched a sweeping review of teaching materials.
    The Ministry of Education in early January launched a nationwide check on the content of all university constitutional law textbooks, according to posts on the Jiangxi and Zhejiang province Education Ministry websites.
    Universities were told the “fact-finding” sweep was of great importance and they must accurately fill in a chart detailing titles and authors of the books they used, with “no omissions,” according to the ministry’s posts.
    The campaign drew criticism from some legal academics, which was amplified by a rumor that the sweep was sparked by an accusation by a professor that certain texts were “promoting Western thinking and agitating for a Western system.”
    The Education Ministry did not respond to a faxed request for comment.
    China’s constitution promises freedom of speech, religion and assembly, but it is trumped in practice by legislation and regulations, and it is rarely invoked in legal cases.
    The constitution has long been a focus for political reformers, who argue that its status should be elevated within the legal system.
    Zhang’s book could not be found on China’s main online bookstores when searched by Reuters on Friday.
‘EVERYONE IS SCARED’
    Zhang, in an interview published on the WeChat social media platform, rejected any suggestion his texts promoted a “Western” system over alternatives.
    “To criticize purely for the sake of it and to shut our nation off to the outside world is closed-minded thinking,” Zhang said.
    “Constitutional law, as an academic discipline, should not be politicized,” he said.    “Any academic discipline should retain a certain political neutrality.”
    “At this time, constitutional law is a ‘sensitive’ topic. As far as I can see there is basically no public discussion.    It seems that everyone is scared,” he said.
    Zhang’s interview disappeared soon after it was posted, to be replaced by a notice saying the content had broken “relevant laws and regulations.”
    Zhang did not respond to a Reuters email seeking comment.
    Many legal scholars took to social media to voice support for Zhang.
    Some posted the foreword from his book, in which he stresses the importance of giving people who have suffered injustices the chance to defend themselves using the constitution.
    Some voiced concern that some academics might accuse others of failing to toe the party line.
    “The worst part about this incident is that in the current environment, not only are these people not inhibited, but rather they are given a channel, or even rewards,” Zhang Taisu, an associate professor of law at Yale University in the United States, wrote on Weibo, referring to the accusers.
(Reporting by Christian Shepherd; Editing by Tony Munroe, Robert Birsel)

2/1/2019 Congressional Panel: China gained missile advantage over U.S., Russia because of INF Treaty by OAN Newsroom
    China is reportedly opposed to the possible U.S. suspension of a nuclear treaty with Russia, because it would chip away at China’s advantage in developing missiles.
    President Trump is reportedly considering including China in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to restrict its missile arsenal as a new congressional study shows China has benefited from the INF by being free to deploy hundreds of missiles with no deterrent from Russia or the U.S.
    The U.S. and Russia have restricted their development of medium-range missiles under the accord for 30-years, but China was not included.
    The report’s release comes after China unveiled its newest intermediate-range-missiles earlier in January.
U.S. Under Secretary of State Andrea Thompson, left, and Director General of the Department of Arms Control and Disarmament of the
Chinese Foreign Ministry Fu Cong attend a panel discussion after a Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) conference
in Beijing, China, Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) conference in
Beijing consists of five permanent members (P5) China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. (Thomas Peter/Pool Photo via AP)
    “We are operating in an environment where some states are violating arms control and non-proliferation obligations and developing new and destabilizing weapons systems,” stated Andrea Thompson, U.S. Under Secretary of Arms Control and International Security.
    The future of the treaty is still unknown as President Trump pushes for China to come under its authority, and continues to claim Russia has long flouted the rules.

2/1/2019 Forty years since revolution, Iran taunts ‘declining’ America
FILE PHOTO: An elderly Iranian man walks past a large poster of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini
in front of Tehran University, at the start of Friday prayers June 4, 2004. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Forty years after its revolution, Iran has no fear of a “declining” America, a senior cleric said on Friday at the start of official commemorations of the uprising that made the country a permanent enemy of the United States.
    Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a famously hardline cleric who is the secretary of the Guardian Council, a body with huge influence over the way Iran is run, used his speech to mock the leadership of President Donald Trump.
    “Even many of America’s allies don’t listen to it anymore and they are not afraid of it,” Jannati said at the mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who returned from exile in France to lead the revolution exactly 40 years ago.
    “America cannot manage its own affairs now,” Jannati said in remarks carried by state television, adding that “millions of people are hungry there and America’s power is in decline.”    He did not say what he was basing that assertion on.
    The 1979 uprising deposed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, a secular king allied to the West.    Later that year, Iranian students stormed the U.S. embassy and held 52 Americans for 444 days – an affront to U.S. pride that still colors how Iran is viewed from Washington.
    Trump last year pulled out of an international agreement under which Iran curbed its nuclear work in exchange for a sanctions relief.    The re-imposed sanctions caused a currency crash, rampant inflation and added to investors’ hesitancy about doing business there.
    Jannati, who opposed President Hassan Rouhani’s decision to negotiate away some of Iran’s nuclear rights, said: “Unfortunately, some of our officials believe that we cannot manage the country without America’s help.    May such wrong thoughts be damned!
    Among many programs on state TV featuring achievements since the revolution, was a short animation showing an Iranian-made Ghadir navy submarine surfacing near a U.S. aircraft carrier and other vessels which then inexplicably sink without any sign of an attack or explosion.
    In December, the USS John C. Stennis entered the Gulf, ending a long absence of U.S. aircraft carriers.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)
[The image above reminds me of "The Wizard of Oz" with a little man in a side room controlling it, and it is in battle with the "Witch Hunt of the West," for President Donald Trump, who is actually the one doing Good things.].

2/1/2019 Iran’s foreign minister says deals with U.S. ‘not worth the ink’
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the economic forum
in Sulaimaniya, Iraq January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif chided the United States on Friday for saying it may leave an arms treaty with Russia, and said on Twitter that “any deal with US (government) is not worth the ink.”
    Earlier on Friday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would suspend compliance with the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia on Saturday and formally withdraw in six months if Moscow does not end its alleged treaty violations.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

2/2/2019 Iran unveils long-range cruise missile on revolution anniversary
Iran's Defence Minister Amir Hatami walks at an exhibition in Tehran, Iran, Faberuary 2, 2019. Tasnim News Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran displayed a new cruise missile with a range of 1,300 km (800 miles) on Saturday during celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, state television reported.
    Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles, in defiance of opposition from the United States and expressions of concern by European countries. Tehran says the program is purely defensive.
    “This cruise missile needs a very short time for its preparedness and can fly at a low altitude,” Defense Minister Amir Hatami said during the unveiling ceremony.
    The surface-to-surface missile, named Hoveizeh, is from the Soumar family of cruise missiles, which Iran added to its arsenal in 2015, Hatami said.     Western experts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, although there are concerns about its long-range ballistic missiles.
    Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace division, said at the event Iran had overcome initial problems in producing jet engines for cruise missiles and could now manufacture a full range of the weapons.
    The Defense Ministry’s website carried an undated video purportedly showing the Hoveizeh being test-fired from a mobile launcher.    It quoted Hatami as saying the missile had successfully hit targets at a distance of 1,200 km.
    Since agreeing to a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Iran has expanded its missile program despite warnings from the United States.
    In January, it tried to launch a satellite into space which it said failed.    The launch followed a U.S. warning to Iran against undertaking three planned rocket launches that Washington said would violate a U.N. Security Council resolution.
    The resolution, which enshrined Iran’s nuclear deal, called upon Tehran to refrain for up to eight years from work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons.
    Iran says its missile tests are not in violation of the resolution and denies its missiles are capable of carrying nuclear warheads.    It says its missiles are defensive and used for deterrence and has rejected talks over its missile program.
    U.S. President Donald Trump quit the deal last year and reimposed sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the pact in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.
    Washington says although Iran has met the terms, the accord was too generous, failing to rein in Iran’s ballistic missile program or curb what the United States says is interference in regional affairs.
    Iran has developed a large domestic arms industry in the face of decades-long international sanctions and embargoes that have barred it from importing most weapons.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Clelia Oziel)

2/3/2019 Trump wants U.S. military in Iraq to ‘watch Iran’: CBS interview by Doina Chiacu
FILE PHOTO: A member of military units of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps fires a rocket launcher as they
launched war games in the Gulf, Dec. 22, 2018. Hamed Malekpour/Tasnim News Agency via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said it was important to keep a U.S. military presence in Iraq so that Washington can keep a close eye on Iran “because Iran is a real problem,” according to a CBS interview to be broadcast on Sunday.
    The Republican president lamented “endless wars” in Syria and Afghanistan in an interview with CBS’ “Face the Nation” and made clear he wants to reduce the costly U.S. military presence in those countries despite warnings against such moves from his military advisers and spy chiefs.
    The United States could rely heavily on intelligence work in Afghanistan, he said, and respond to developments in Syria from U.S. bases in neighboring Iraq.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have sent weapons and thousands of soldiers to Syria to help shore up the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad during a 7-year civil war there.
    Trump said the United States has spent a “fortune” on the Al Asad Air Base in western Iraq, which he visited in December, and that the United States should hold on to it.
    “One of the reasons I want to keep it is because I want to be looking a little bit at Iran because Iran is a real problem,” he said in the CBS interview.
    Asked if that meant he wanted to be able to strike against Iran, Trump said, “No, because I want to be able to watch Iran.    All I want to do is be able to watch.”
    The president defended his decision in December to withdraw troops from Syria but refused to provide a timetable for the pullout, which drew criticism from members of his own Republican Party and concerns among some allies.
    In a rebuke, the Republican-led U.S. Senate advanced largely symbolic legislation on Thursday opposing plans for any abrupt withdrawal of troops from Syria and Afghanistan.
    Trump initially said the withdrawal from Syria should be immediate but he has since said it would be gradual.
    Some of the forces moving out of Syria will go to Iraq, where they can monitor any resurgence of Islamic State or other militant group and “ultimately some will be coming home,” Trump said.
    He said U.S. forces could be deployed again if there is a resurgence of militant groups like al Qaeda.    “We’ll come back if we have to,” he said.
    Trump said on Thursday he would bring U.S. troops home if a peace deal was reached to end 17 years of war in Afghanistan.
    He told CBS he would be open to keeping a small number of troops there as well as intelligence operations to monitor for “nests” of militant activity, according to the interview taped on Friday.
    Trump did not say whether he trusted Afghanistan’s Taliban insurgent group but said he believed they want peace.
    “They’re tired.    Everybody’s tired,” Trump said.    “I don’t like endless wars.”
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Lucia Mutikani; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Lisa Shumaker)

2/4/2019 Taiwan takes dig at China’s lack of democracy in new year message
Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen visits the 6th Army Command, ahead of Lunar New Year,
in Taoyuan, Taiwan January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen took a dig at China’s lack of freedom in a message to mark Tuesday’s start of the Lunar New Year, saying she hoped ethnic Chinese all over the world could experience the “blessing” of democracy.
    Self-governed Taiwan is China’s most sensitive issue and is claimed by Beijing as its sacred territory.
    President Xi Jinping has stepped up pressure on the democratic island since ,b>Tsai, from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party, became president in 2016.
    He kicked off 2019 with a speech warning that China reserves the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control, though it will strive for peaceful “reunification.”
    Taiwan is able to maintain cultural traditions and is committed to uphold the values of freedom and democracy, Tsai said in the message, posted late on Sunday on her official social media accounts.
    “Those in places lacking democracy may not understand this commitment.    We hope that ethnic Chinese all over the world can experience this blessing,” she added, without directly mentioning China.
    “So I want to make three new year’s wishes for our ethnic Chinese friends both at home and abroad.    I hope that you may all enjoy democracy, freedom and continued prosperity.”
    There was no immediate reaction from Beijing.    Xi’s new year’s speech, also on Sunday, did not mention Taiwan, apart from new year wishes to people on the island.
    Taiwan is gearing up for presidential elections early next year.    Tsai’s party suffered stinging losses to the China-friendly Kuomintang in mayoral and local elections in November.
    Tsai has repeatedly called on China to respect Taiwan’s democracy, and to embrace democratic reforms itself.
    Taiwan has shown no interest in being ruled by autocratic China, where Xi has overseen a sweeping crackdown on dissent since assuming office six years ago and the ruling Communist Party has tightened controls on all facets of society.
(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Writing by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

2/4/2019 Iran’s first president says Khomeini betrayed 1979 Islamic revolution by John Irish and Michaela Cabrera
Former Iranian President Abolhassan Bani-Sadr attends an interview with Reuters in
Versailles, near Paris, France, January 31, 2019. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
    VERSAILLES, France (Reuters) – Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini betrayed the principles of the Iranian revolution after sweeping to power in 1979, his first president told Reuters, leaving a “very bitter” taste among some of those who had returned with him to Tehran in triumph.
    Abolhassan Bani-Sadr, a sworn opponent of Tehran’s clerical rulers ever since being driven from office and fleeing abroad in 1981, recalled how 40 years ago in Paris, he had been convinced that the religious leader’s Islamic revolution would pave the way for democracy and human rights after the rule of the Shah.
    “When we were in France everything we said to him he embraced and then announced it like Koranic verses without any hesitation,” Bani-Sadr, now 85, said in an interview at his home in Versailles, outside Paris, where he has lived since 1981.
    “We were sure that a religious leader was committing himself and that all these principles would happen for the first time in our history,” he said.
    Khomeini fled Iran in the mid-1960s, fearing a crackdown on his teachings by the Shah, eventually settling in a modest house in a village outside Paris from where he fomented unrest in Iran and nurtured the future Islamist revolution.
    Bani-Sadr, son of a senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric and a former student of economics in Paris, had close family ties with Khomeini and helped him move to France after periods in Turkey and Iraq, becoming one of his closest aides.
    “France was the crossroads of ideas and information, which is why he picked it after Kuwait refused to take him,” Bani-Sadr said.    “When he was in France he was on the side of freedom.    He was scared that the movement wouldn’t reach its conclusion and he’d be forced to stay there.”
MULLAHS
    For Western observers, at least, Khomenei appeared to endorse a more modern interpretation of Islam in which religion and politics were kept separate and Iran would move away from the Shah’s dictatorship, Bani-Sadr said.
    “It was when he came down the steps from the plane in Iran where he changed … The mullahs got a hold of him and gave him a new destiny, which is the dictatorship we see today,” he said.
    Bani-Sadr was elected president on Feb. 5, 1980, in a popular vote, but under the new Islamic Republic’s constitution, Khomenei wielded the real power – a situation that has continued since his death in 1989 under his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    Bani-Sadr recounted how he went to see Khomenei, now known as the Supreme Leader, in the city of Qom a few months after their return to bemoan pressure from religious authorities to force women to wear the veil.    He said this went against promises he made in Paris that women should have a right to choose.
    “(Khomeini) told me he had said things in France that were convenient, but that he was not locked into everything he had said there and that if he felt it necessary to say the opposite he would,” Bani-Sadr said.
    “For me it was a very, very bitter moment.”
    Despite such disappointment and his long exile, Bani-Sadr said he did not regret having been part of the revolution.
    But he warned that U.S. President Donald Trump’s effort to bring Tehran to heel through economic sanctions would backfire, hurting ordinary Iranians while reinforcing the existing system.
    “If Mr Trump left Iran alone, you’d see that the system is a lot more fragile than one imagines.    We don’t need a new revolution,” he said.
(Writing by John Irish; Editing by Gareth Jones)
[I think he is wrong because the sanctions are working, and if Khomenei does not change the ordinary Iranians may do to him what Venzuelans are doing to Maduro.].

2/4/2019 Japan, Germany share responsibility to work towards global peace: PM Abe by Andreas Rinke and Elaine Lies
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) shakes hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prior to their
meeting at Abe's official residence in Tokyo, Japan, February 4, 2019. Frank Robichon/Pool via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Monday that he and German Chancellor Angela Merkel share a responsibility to work towards global peace and prosperity, with both hoping for a prompt, democratic solution to Venezuela’s leadership crisis.
    Merkel, on a two-day visit to Japan, said that Germany recognises opposition leader Juan Guaido as the nation’s interim president, joining many European nations, and said he should organise new elections as soon as possible.
    “Guaido is the person with whom we are talking and who we expect to initiate an election process as quickly as possible, and he is the legitimate interim president for this task from the German perspective and also from the perspective of many European partners,” Merkel told a news conference with Abe.
    “And we hope that this process is as short as possible and of course peaceful,” she added.
    Abe emphasized his cooperation with Merkel during a visit aimed a forging an “alliance of multilateralists” to resist U.S. President Donald Trump’s “America First” approach to trade and China’s pursuit of narrow national interests.
    “Our responsibility towards working for global prosperity and security has merely increased,” he said, adding that the two leaders would work for a global order “based on rules.”
    Merkel referred to an EU-Japan trade deal that entered into force on Feb. 1, saying: “All in all, a trip at a time in which we have demonstrated that, even at times when multilateral agreements are in difficult straits, we are ready to conclude such things.”
    “..very good win-win situations can occur when all partners talk to each other. Of course, fairness and reciprocity are part of this, but that is what we advocate.”
    Abe did not comment on Guaido’s status, but he said Japan wanted a stable, democratic and prompt solution to Venezuela’s political crisis.    Several European nations have joined the United States in recognising Guaido as interim president, intensifying a global showdown over Nicolas Maduro’s socialist rule.
    Merkel said Germany would do everything possible to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but she did not want to see Britain’s divorce deal with the EU – the so-called Withdrawal Agreement – renegotiated.
    British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday she would seek a “pragmatic solution” to a parliamentary impasse over the terms on which Britain leaves the European Union when she tries to reopen talks with Brussels less than two months before Britain is due to leave the bloc on March 29.
    “There are definitely options for preserving the integrity of the single market, even when Northern Ireland isn’t part of it because it is part of Britain, while at the same time meeting the desire to have if possible no border controls,” Merkel said.
    “To solve this point you have to be creative and listen to each other, and such discussions can and must be conducted,” she added.    “We can still use the time to perhaps reach an agreement if everyone shows good will.”
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; additional reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; editing by Darren Schuettler)

2/4/2019 Iran’s top judge: EU preconditions for non-dollar trade channel ‘unacceptable’
A man counts Iranian rials at a currency exchange shop, before the start of the U.S. sanctions on
Tehran, in Basra, Iraq November 3, 2018. Picture taken November 3, 2018. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani
    DUBAI/PARIS (Reuters) – Iran’s top judge said on Monday that Tehran would never accept the “humiliating conditions” set by the European Union for non-dollar trade intended to evade U.S. sanctions, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.
    France, Germany and Britain have opened a new channel for non-dollar trade with Iran to get around the sanctions, reimposed on Iran after President Donald Trump’s decision in May to exit a 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six major powers.
    “After nine months of procrastination and negotiation, Europeans have created a mechanism with limited capacity … only for food and medicine,” Tasnim quoted Sadeq Amoli-Larijani as saying.
    “Iran will never accept their strange and humiliating conditions of joining the FATF (the Financial Action Task Force) and negotiations on its missile program.”
    A French, British and German statement on Friday made no mention of any preconditions, although the European powers must now establish a budget and define its rules before the mechanism can be operational.
    Welcoming their move, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi said on Friday Tehran would also have to set up a mirror company.    The two sides are to hold talks this week on the process.
    The European statement said they expected Iran to swiftly implement all elements of its FATF action plan.
    “FATF is not a precondition, it’s a strong expectation,” said a senior European diplomat, dismissing any suggestion that ballistic missile talks had anything to do with creating the mechanism.
    Iran has threatened to pull out of the nuclear deal unless the European powers enable it to receive economic benefits.    The Europeans have promised to help companies do business with Iran as long as it abides by the deal.
    New U.S. sanctions have largely succeeded in persuading European companies to abandon business with Iran, and Washington said it did not expect the EU effort – known as INSTEX, or Instrument for Supporting Trade Exchanges – to change that.
    Even as European powers have worked to preserve the nuclear deal, relations with Tehran have been worsening.    The EU this month imposed its first sanctions on Iran since the nuclear pact, in response to assassination plots on European soil.
    They are also considering whether to push for sanctions on Iran’s ballistic missile program if talks between the two sides on the issue do not progress.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and John Irish; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/5/2019 Tehran bats away EU criticism of Iranian missile tests
FILE PHOTO: Iranian-made Emad missile is displayed during a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary
of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran dismissed European Union criticism of its missile program, regional policies and rights record on Tuesday, highlighting their increasingly testy relationship as both sides seek to salvage a troubled nuclear deal.
    Iran’s comments came a day after the bloc criticized the Islamic Republic’s ballistic missile tests and expressed concern at Iran’s role in growing Middle East tensions.
    The European Union has promised to abide by a 2015 nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to limit its atomic work in exchange for sanctions relief, even after U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the accord because it did not cover Iranian military activities.
    The EU has stepped up criticism of Iran’s ballistic missiles program and its regional policies in a dual-track approach analysts say is designed to show Washington it is possible to contain Tehran while remaining inside the nuclear pact.
    The Iranian foreign ministry said on Tuesday Iran would never negotiate over its missile program, which it said was defensive and designed as a deterrent.
    “Clear threats against the Islamic Republic are not constructive, efficient or helpful, and they are not in line with regional security and the real interests of Europe,” the foreign ministry said in a statement published on its website.
    Iran has expanded its missile program in the last two decades, particularly its ballistic missiles, in defiance of the United States and concern by European countries, especially France.
    As part of EU efforts to sustain the nuclear pact, Britain, France and Germany last week launched the Instrument In Support Of Trade Exchanges (INSTEX), a system to facilitate non-dollar trade with Iran and avoid U.S. sanctions.
    Iran’s foreign ministry welcomed the new channel, but said it was “late and inadequate.”    Iran would revise relations with Europe if it did not benefit economically from INSTEX, it said.
    The EU also urged Tehran to stop activities that deepened mistrust, including what it called Iranian assassination plots.    France, Denmark and Netherlands have accused Iran of attacks against Iranian opposition figures and arrested suspects with links to Iranian embassies and intelligence ministry.
    Iran’s foreign ministry rejected the EU warning:
    “Raising such baseless and hollow accusations while known terrorist and criminal groups are free in Europe, is not constructive at this stage and is in line with the goals of enemies who seek to undermine Iran’s relations with Europe.”
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jon Boyle)

2/5/2019 Afghanistan lacks pilots, engineers to handle Black Hawk ‘copters, U.S. watchdog warns by Greg Torode
FILE PHOTO - American Black Hawk helicopters are parked in a row during a dress rehearsal of the arrival ceremony which will be held
to welcome U.S. President Donald Trump upon his arrival, at Ben Gurion International Airport in Lod, Israel May 21, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    KABUL (Reuters) – The United States risks providing Afghanistan with state-of-the-art Black Hawk helicopters that the country’s embattled air force does not have the pilots to fly nor the engineers to maintain, a U.S. watchdog said on Tuesday.
    The warning, by the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR), comes amid widespread fears that the Afghan military will struggle to cope with a looming pullout of allied foreign troops after more than 17 years of conflict.
    Talks between U.S. envoys and Taliban negotiators due to resume in Qatar on Feb. 25 are likely to center on the withdrawal of thousands of US-led NATO forces and a ceasefire to end America’s longest war.
    The U.S. military has provided the first 16 of a scheduled 159 UH-60 Black Hawks to the Afghan air force and its special forces, a move the watchdog says raises concerns about the country’s ability to absorb the rest by 2023.
    It calls for efforts to improve pilot training timetables and English-language skills, as well as build a teaching program for Afghan maintenance crews to replace foreign contractors.
    “Given concerns that the Afghan air force and special mission wing may not be able to fully use all 159 aircraft when delivered, the Department of Defence runs the risk of wasting U.S. taxpayer dollars to purchase aircraft the AAF and SMW cannot fly or maintain,” SIGAR said.
    It urged that the training and maintenance be linked to the pace of deliveries so that Black Hawks “will not sit idle in Afghanistan without enough pilots to fly them.”
    Even reduced targets of U.S.-led training for 320 pilots may not be met, the watchdog added, with a class attrition rate of 26 per cent.
    The Black Hawks are intended to replace a fleet of aging Soviet-era helicopters that now serve as workhorses for the Afghan air force, which is battling Taliban militants who have stepped up attacks over the last two years.
    The hardline Islamist movement now controls or contests districts across nearly half of Afghanistan.
    In December last year, Reuters reported that Afghanistan’s fleet of 47 M-17s was under pressure from a deadly mix of hard use and poor maintenance.
    As the pace of operations against Taliban and Islamic State insurgents has risen, crews said they faced pressure to take short cuts with maintenance, an issue U.S. military advisers saw as a major concern for the fledgling Afghan air force they were trying to build up, the Reuters report said.
    SIGAR said the U.S. military “acknowledged that the UH-60 has performance limitations when compared with the MI-17, which can fly higher and carry more passengers.”
    Most missions flown by the Afghan air force did not need the additional capability provided by the Mi-17, the watchdog, quoting the U.S. military.
(Reporting by Greg Torode; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

2/5/2019 Iran criticizes Greece, Italy for not buying its oil despite U.S. waivers
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh talks to journalists during a meeting of the Organization of the
Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, Austria, November 30, 2016. REUTERS/Heinz-Peter Bader/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran’s oil minister on Tuesday criticized Greece and Italy for not buying its oil despite U.S. waivers and said they had not offered Tehran any explanation for their decision.
    The United States granted the two countries exemptions along with six others – Turkey, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan – allowing them to temporarily continue buying Iranian oil as Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran’s banking and energy sectors.
    No European country is buying oil from Iran except Turkey,” Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
    “Greece and Italy have been granted exemptions by America, but they don’t buy Iranian oil and they don’t answer our questions,” he said.
    Zanganeh said the U.S. sanctions on Iran were more difficult than the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, but said Tehran will not allow the United States to reduce its oil exports to zero.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; editing by Jason Neely)
[So it is already happening Zanganeh, like I said that Greece, Italy, China, India, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan are buying oil cheaper from elswhere but Turkey is the oddball, and it is easy to figure out because Iran cannot sell their oil for a price to make the money they need.    Trumps plan to bring oil down to $50 a barrel is working, which means there is a $20 barrel profit as Iran use to get $40-$50 a barrel.].

2/5/2019 North Korea protecting nuclear missiles, U.N. monitors say, ahead of summit talks by Michelle Nichols and David Brunnstrom
Intercontinental ballistic missiles are seen at a grand military parade celebrating the 70th
founding anniversary of the Korean People's Army at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, in this photo released by North Korea's
Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) February 9, 2018. KCNA/via REUTERS
    UNITED NATIONS/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea is working to ensure its nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities cannot be destroyed by military strikes, U.N. monitors said ahead of a meeting between U.S. and North Korean officials to prepare a second denuclearization summit.
    The U.S. special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, will meet his North Korean counterpart on Wednesday in Pyongyang to prepare for a summit later this month between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the U.S. State Department said on Monday.    Biegun has said he hoped the meeting with new North Korean counterpart Kim Hyok Chol would map out “a set of concrete deliverables” for the summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.
    Biegun, who held talks with South Korean officials in Seoul on Sunday and Monday, said he would be aiming for “a roadmap of negotiations and declarations going forward, and a shared understanding of the desired outcomes of our joint efforts.”
    South Korean officials said they and the United States could be looking at a compromise that could expedite North Korea’s denuclearization – the dismantling of the North’s main Yongbyon nuclear complex, which could be reciprocated by U.S. measures including formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War and setting up a liaison office.
    But U.N. sanctions monitors said in a confidential report, submitted to a 15-member U.N. Security Council sanctions committee and seen by Reuters on Monday, that they had “found evidence of a consistent trend on the part of the DPRK to disperse its assembly, storage and testing locations,” using the abbreviation for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
    The North Korean mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report, which was submitted to Security Council members on Friday.
    The first summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un last June in Singapore yielded a vague commitment by Kim to work toward the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, where U.S. troops have been stationed since the 1950-53 Korean War.
    The Vietnamese resort town of Danang is seen as the most likely location for the next summit.
    Trump last Thursday hailed “tremendous progress” in his dealings with North Korea, but the view in the United States is that it has yet to take concrete steps to give up its nuclear weapons program.
‘SANCTIONS INEFFECTIVE’
    North Korea has complained the United States has done little to reciprocate its freezing of nuclear and missile testing and dismantling of some nuclear facilities.
    It has also repeatedly urged a lifting of punishing U.S.-led sanctions, a formal end to the war, and security guarantees.
    The U.N. report said sanctions were proving ineffective.
    “The country continues to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products and coal,” the sanctions monitors found.
    “These violations render the latest U.N. sanctions ineffective.”
    The monitors said they had evidence of one unprecedented prohibited petroleum product transfer of more than 57,600 barrels, worth more than $5.7 million.
    North Korea has said it will never unilaterally give up its nuclear weapons unless the United States first removes any threat to it.    North Korea has long demanded U.S. troops be withdrawn as a condition for peace.
    The Korean War ended with an armistice that left the two Koreas technically still at war.
    The United States has stressed that U.S. troops are not a bargaining chip and South Korea has said U.S. troops in the South were unrelated to any future peace treaty and that American forces should stay even if such an agreement is signed.
    The U.S. State Department said on Monday that Washington and Seoul had reached an agreement “in principle” on sharing the cost of stationing U.S. troops in the Asian country.
    CNN quoted a State Department official as saying that under the revised agreement, South Korea would boost its contribution to nearly $1 billion.
    A 2014 deal that expired last year required South Korea to pay about 960 billion won ($848 million) a year for keeping some 28,500 U.S. troops in South Korea.    The allies had appeared unable to strike an accord to renew the deal despite 10 rounds of talks since March.
(This story has been refiled to amend wording in paragraph six)
(Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Writing by Michael Perry; Editing by Robert Birsel)

2/5/2019 U.S., South Korea agree ‘in principle’ on sharing troop cost: State Department
The South Korean and American flags fly next to each other at Yongin, South Korea, August 23, 2016.
Picture taken on August 23, 2016. Courtesy Ken Scar/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and South Korea have reached an agreement “in principle” on sharing the cost of stationing U.S. troops in the Asian country, the State Department said on Monday.
    “The United States and the Republic of Korea have reached an agreement in principle on a new Special Measures Agreement,” a spokeswoman said.    “Both sides are committed to working out remaining technical issues as quickly as possible.”
    CNN quoted an State Department official as saying that under the revised agreement, South Korea would boost its financial contribution to nearly $1 billion.
    The 2014 deal that expired last year required Seoul to pay about 960 billion won ($848 million) a year for keeping some 28,500 U.S. troops in the South Korea.    The allies had appeared unable to strike an accord to renew the deal despite 10 rounds of talks since March.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly said that South Korea, where the United States has stationed soldiers since the 1950-53 Korean War, should bear more of the cost.
    South Korean news agency Yonhap earlier quoted a diplomatic source in Seoul as saying that Washington appeared set to accept South Korea’s request to contribute under $1 billion in 2019, and that the agreement would run for a year as opposed to a previous five-year deal.
    Yonhap said the two sides were expected to seal the deal as early this week.    Its source attributed the compromise to the allies’ efforts to focus on diplomacy with North Korea ahead of a second U.S.-North Korea summit planned for later this month.
    South Korean officials have said Seoul had sought to limit its share to $1 trillion won ($891 million) and make the agreement valid for at least three years.
    A senior legislator in South Korea’s ruling party said last month that negotiations were deadlocked after the United States made a “sudden, unacceptable” demand that South Korea pay more than 1.4 trillion won ($1.25 billion) per year.
    About 70 percent of Seoul’s contribution covers the salaries of some 8,700 South Korean employees who provide administrative, technical and other services for the U.S. military.
    The U.S. military warned Korean workers on its bases they might be put on leave from mid-April if no deal was reached.
    Trump announced a halt to joint exercises with South Korea in June after his first meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, saying they were expensive and paid for mostly by the United States.
    Major joint exercises have been suspended, which Washington said would expedite talks aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear program, but some small-scale drills have continued.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin in Seoul; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

2/5/2019 Ayatollah regime vows to advance ‘Islamic Revolution’ in Middle East by OAN Newsroom
    Iran’s Ayatollah regime is continuing to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the ‘Islamic Revolution’ with mass demonstrations and a display of military might.    During the ongoing military exhibition in Tehran, Iranian officials unveiled newest ballistic missiles and weaponized drones.
    This comes as the regime is trying to ensure its own survival amid international pressure as well as continue its spread of terror across the Middle East.
    “Our dear country Iran will put all its effort into defending itself– no sanctions can force Iran to give up,” stated General Davoud Abdi, head of public relations for the Iranian Defense Ministry.
    The arms exhibition features roughly 560 items of military equipment, including Iran’s newest ballistic missile with a range of nearly 850 miles.    The rocket is believed to be intermediate-range and nuclear capable, but more importantly officials stressed it could reach Israel.
An Iranian cleric looks at domestically built surface-to-surface missiles at a military show marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s
Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed shah, at Imam Khomeini Grand Mosque, in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019. Since
1992, Iran has developed a self-sufficient military weapons program, producing mortars to missiles. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
    This comes as the Ayatollah regime has defied the ongoing U.S. oil embargo, threatening tough retaliation for what Tehran believes is “America’s hostile stance.”
    President Trump said he’s watching Iran and its malicious activities.
    “When I look at Iran, I look at Iran as a nation that has caused tremendous problem, huge difficulty,” he stated, “Every single one of them was caused by the number one terrorist nation in the world, which is Iran.”
    On Monday, EU officials expressed concern with the ongoing advances in Iran’s ballistic missile program.    This comes despite the EU having recently launched a financial scheme to help the Ayatollah regime bypass U.S. sanctions.    The EU urged Iran to cease its missile tests and other activities, a call which was later dismissed by Tehran.
    “If Europeans give up again on America’s pressures and if Europe cannot show its independence to the world, our people and our government will certainly confront them,” stated General Mohammad Reza Yazdi of Iran’s Guards of the Islamic Revolution.
    Meanwhile, the Ayatollah regime rallied its supporters in Tehran on Monday to back-up its claims of widespread popular support.    Thousands of demonstrators expressed their commitment to the ideals of the ‘Islamic Revolution,’ which they believe should advance into neighboring countries as well.
    This comes as Iran has recently ramped-up its military presence in Iraq and Syria as well as Lebanon, triggering a reaction from Israel.
    “Iran has proxies.    One of them is Hezbollah.    Hezbollah just joined the government of Lebanon.
    We’re not only protecting ourselves, Israel itself, but also protecting our neighbors and world peace
.” — Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli Prime Minister.
    The Israeli Defense Forces said Iranian presence in foreign countries, as well as advances in its missile and nuclear programs, will be countered with high-precision airstrikes.    However, Iranian officials insist that any perceived threat to the Ayatollah regime could provoke a major war in the Middle East.

2/5/2019 Afghan president says he will oppose peace deal without his government by Hamid Shalizi
Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a live TV broadcast at the presidential palace
in Kabul, Afghanistan January 28, 2019. Presidential Palace office/Handout via REUTERS
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan’s president Ashraf Ghani said on Tuesday that no peace deal between the Taliban and the United States could be finalised without involving his government as “the decision-maker.”
    Ghani’s government has so far been shut out of the evolving peace talks between Taliban negotiators and U.S. envoys to end more than 17 years of war, with the hardline Islamist movement branding his government as a U.S. puppet.
    His made his remarks in a television interview as Afghan opposition politicians, including his predecessor Hamid Karzai, meet Taliban representatives in Moscow.
    “At the end of any peace deal, the decision-maker will be the government of Afghanistan,” Ghani told TOLO News, the country’s largest private television station.
    “No power in the country can dissolve the government,” he said, adding that he was ready to “stand and defend our country.”
    “Rest assured that no-one can push us aside,” he said.
    With both sides hailing progress in talks in Qatar last month, U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is due to meet Taliban representatives there again on Feb. 25.
    Ghani’s comments are some of the most extensive since he met Khalilzad in Kabul last week following the last round of talks.
    U.S. officials say any withdrawal is contingent on a ceasefire – something the Taliban insists on happening first – and that the movement must be prepared to enter talks with the Afghan government to help create a durable peace.
    After two years of intensified attacks by the Taliban on the Afghan government, military and foreign forces, they now control or contest nearly half of the districts across Afghanistan.
    A ceasefire and the withdrawal of thousands of U.S.-led NATO troops is on the table after Washington secured earlier assurances from the Taliban that they would not allow groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State to attack the United States and its allies.
    Western diplomats and security advisers believe a swift foreign pullout would put the stretched Afghan forces under severe strain.
    “The Taliban said they ready to sever ties with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and this is a good development,” Ghani said.
    Shortly before the interview was broadcast, a U.S. general told a Senate hearing that the talks were in their early stages and the Afghan government would have to be part of any negotiated solution.
    “I would characterize where we are in the process as very, very early in the process,” U.S. General Joseph Votel, head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, told a Senate hearing.
    Votel also said that the United States would need to continue to support Afghan security forces financially even if U.S. troops withdrew.
    The United States has about 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of the NATO-led Resolute Support mission and a separate counter-terrorism effort largely directed at groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
    Some 8,000 troops from 38 other countries also participate in Resolute Support.
(Writing by Greg Torode, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/6/2019 ‘Get out of Syria,’ Iran tells U.S. by Babak Dehghanpisheh
Iran's President Hassan Rouhani speaks during his visit to the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic,
Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, south of Tehran, Iran, January 30, 2019. Official President website/Handout via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Senior Iranian figures said on Wednesday that Syria was a top foreign policy priority and American troops should withdraw, as planned by U.S. President Donald Trump.
    “Whether they want to or not, the Americans must leave Syria,” Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was reported as saying.
    There are fears in the West that Trump’s plan to extricate about 2,000 soldiers from Syria will cede influence to Tehran, which has backed President Bashar al-Assad in the nearly eight-year war, and also allow Islamic State militants to regroup.
    “Now 90 percent of Syrian soil is under the control of the government and the rest will soon be freed by the Syrian army,” Velayati added during a meeting with Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem in Tehran, according to the Tasnim news agency.
    President Hassan Rouhani told Moualem that peace in Syria was a priority.    “One of the important regional and foreign policy goals of the Islamic Republic is the stability and complete security of Syria,” Tasnim quoted him as saying.
    “And establishing normal conditions in Syria and the return of the people of this country to their normal lives.”
    Moualem was in Tehran for negotiations before the meeting of leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran in the Russian Black Sea resort town Sochi on Feb. 14 over Syria.
    Separately, Rear-Admiral Mahmoud Mousavi, a deputy commander of the regular armed forces, said on Wednesday that Iran plans to extend the range of its land-to-sea missiles beyond 300 kilometers (186 miles), according to the Fars news agency.
    Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles, in defiance of opposition from the United States and expressions of concern by European countries.
    Tehran says the program is purely defensive.
    The European Union said on Monday it was gravely concerned by Iran’s ballistic missile launches and tests, and urged it to stop activity that deepens mistrust and destabilizes the region.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

2/6/2019 U.S. supports ‘dictators, butchers and extremists’ in Middle East, says Iran
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during news conference in
Baghdad, Iraq January 13, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The United States supports “dictators, butchers and extremists” in the Middle East, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in a Twitter post Wednesday in a response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s State of the Union speech.
    Tensions have ramped up between Iran and the United States since Trump pulled out of a multilateral nuclear deal last May and reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
    “US hostility has led it to support dictators, butchers & extremists, who’ve only brought ruin to our region,” Zarif wrote in the Twitter post.
    Trump called Iran “the world’s leading state sponsor of terror” during his speech and said his administration had acted decisively to confront it, according to a video of the speech posted on the official White House website.
    “It is a radical regime.    They do bad, bad things,” Trump said.    “We will not avert our eyes from a regime that chants ‘death to America’ and threatens genocide against the Jewish people.”
    Zarif responded by saying that Iran, including its Jewish community, was commemorating progress as it prepares to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Islamic revolution on Monday.
    “Iranians—including our Jewish compatriots—are commemorating 40 yrs of progress despite US pressure, just as @realDonaldTrump again makes accusations against us @ #SOTU2019” Zarif wrote on Twitter, referring to the State of the Union address.
    Top Iranian officials, including President Hassan Rouhani, have said that the Islamic Republic is facing its toughest economic situation in 40 years, at least partially due to the U.S. sanctions.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Nick Macfie)
[The Iranian leaders rhetoric to their people in the above two articles is as bad as what the Democrats in the U.S.A. say to Americans on the media.].

2/6/2019 ‘Stay out of politics’ Pakistan court tells powerful military by Drazen Jorgic
FILE PHOTO: Paramilitary soldiers stand guard outside the Supreme Court
building in Islamabad, Pakistan January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Saiyna Bashir/File Photo
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Pakistan’s top court on Wednesday warned the military and intelligence agencies they must not exceed their mandate and meddle in politics, an apparent rebuke over their handling of Islamist protests in 2017.
    The judges’ comments were a rare public ticking off for the powerful armed forces, which have ruled for nearly half of Pakistan’s history and have in recent years been criticized for resuming a more active role in politics.
    The army denies interfering.
    The Supreme Court was investigating the so-called “Faizabad protest,” which saw a hardline Islamist group paralyze the capital Islamabad accusing a minister of blasphemy.
    But the inquiry also looked at the role of security agencies, including ending the standoff through mediation.
    Seven people were killed and nearly 200 wounded when police initially tried but failed to remove protesters.
    The military is widely seen to have disagreed with civilian authorities over how to handle the protests.    The unrest had weakened the previous Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government, which had fallen out with the armed forces.
    The army’s role came under criticism after video footage shared on social media showed a senior officer from the military-run Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) spy agency giving cash to Islamist protesters after a deal was struck to end the blockade.
‘DON’T EXCEED MANDATE’
    “The involvement of ISI and of the members of the Armed Forces in politics, media and other ‘unlawful activities’ should have stopped,” Supreme Court Justices Mushir Alam and Qazi Faez Isa said in their verdict.
    “Instead when (protest) participants received cash handouts from men in uniform, the perception of their involvement gained traction.”
    The Supreme Court also criticized the military’s influential media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), for commenting on political matters such as the contested 2018 election, where the military was accused of helping Prime Minister Imran Khan into power.
    “The Constitution emphatically prohibits members of the Armed Forces from engaging in any kind of political activity, which includes supporting a political party, faction or individual,” the justices said.
    “All intelligence agencies … and the ISPR must not exceed their respective mandates.”
    There was no immediate response from the military and intelligence agencies, though in the past the ruling party said the army and government acted together over the 2017 protests.
    The judgment urged provincial and federal authorities to monitor and prosecute those advocating hate and extremism, such as the Tehreek-e-Labaik (TLP) group that rose in popularity by championing Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws.
    TLP leaders have in recent months been mostly arrested or detained after they staged further protests and urged the overthrow of the army chief over the Supreme Court’s acquittal of a Christian woman, Asia Bibi, from blasphemy charges.
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)
[It sounds like Pakistan needs to clean out their SWAMP also.].

2/6/2019 With eye on Afghanistan talks, Trump vows to stop ‘endless wars’ by Patricia Zengerle
FEBRUARY 5, 2019 - WASHINGTON, DC: President Donald Trump delivered the State of the Union address, with Vice President Mike Pence
and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, at the Capitol in Washington, DC on February 5, 2019. Doug Mills/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump told Americans on Tuesday his administration had accelerated talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan and would be able to reduce U.S. troops there as negotiations advance to end America’s longest war.
    “Great nations do not fight endless wars,” Trump said in his annual State of the Union address to Congress, in which he also said U.S. troops had nearly defeated Islamic State militants in Syria and it was time to bring them home.
    After 17 years of war in Afghanistan, Trump praised “the unmatched valor” of U.S. forces.
    “Thanks to their bravery, we are now able to pursue a possible political solution to this long and bloody conflict,” Trump said.     He said his administration was holding constructive talks with a number of groups, including Taliban militants.
    “As we make progress in these negotiations, we will be able to reduce our troop presence and focus on counter-terrorism.    And we will indeed focus on counter-terrorism,” Trump said.
    Trump offered no specifics about when he would bring home the 14,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan.
    U.S.-led forces in 2001 toppled the hardline Taliban for harboring the al Qaeda militants responsible for the Sept. 11 attacks.
    “We do not know whether we will achieve an agreement – but we do know that after two decades of war, the hour has come to at least try for peace,” Trump said.
‘END MILITARY PRESENCE’
    The Taliban, responding to Trump’s speech, rejected any suggestion of a lingering U.S. focus on counter-terrorism after troops are drawn down, reiterating their long-held demand that all foreign troops get out.
    “At the first step, we want all the foreign forces to leave and end the military presence in our country,” Sohail Shahin, a spokesman for a Taliban office in Qatar, said by telephone.
    “But after ending their military presence, their non-military teams can come and … take part in the reconstruction and development process.”
    In December, a U.S. official said Trump was planning to withdraw more than 5,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, triggering worries about whether a smaller force would be able to fulfill missions under way and stabilize the country.
    When he campaigned for president in 2016, Trump said he wanted to focus more on domestic issues than foreign conflicts.
    However, Trump’s sudden announcement in December that he would withdraw U.S. forces from Syria alarmed allies and many current and former U.S. officials, who worry that Islamic State militants remain a threat.
    After the speech, Democratic Representative Eliot Engel, chairman of the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said Trump’s Syria plans did not seem well thought out and could put U.S. allies like the Kurds and Israel at risk, while empowering Iran.
    “We’ll probably come back at a future date, with much more danger to our troops,” Engel told Reuters.
    Earlier on Tuesday, General Joseph Votel, head of the military’s Central Command, warned that Islamic State would pose an enduring threat.
    In his address, Trump said Islamic State controlled more than 20,000 square miles of territory in Iraq and Syria.    “Today, we have liberated virtually all of that territory from the grip of these bloodthirsty monsters,” he said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi in KABUL; Editing by Mary Milliken, Sonya Hepinstall and Nick Macfie)
[Trump makes the Islamic State to sound like vampires, but hopefully they will see the sunshine and hide in their caskets.].

2/6/2019 Sabarimala Hindu temple board reverses opposition to women worshippers
FILE PHOTO: Police stand inside the premises of the Sabarimala temple in Pathanamthitta district
in the southern state of Kerala, India, October 17, 2018. REUTERS/Sivaram V/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The board of an ancient Hindu hill temple in southern India said on Wednesday it now favoured allowing female worshippers of menstruating age to enter, reversing its previous support for a centuries-old ban.
    The board overseeing the Sabarimala temple also said it would withdraw from efforts to challenge the Indian Supreme Court’s ruling that the ban on entry for women and girls aged 10-50 must be ended to uphold rights to equality of worship.
    The temple in Kerala state has been the site of tension since the ruling in late September.    Thousands of devotees have blocked attempts by women to visit the site.    Some protesters have threatened the women and pelted them with stones, causing injuries to some and damaging property.
    On Wednesday, the Tranvancore Devaswom Board told the Supreme Court it would abide by its decision to open the temple to women, after holding off for months saying it did not want to violate a historic tradition.
    “After the Supreme Court judgement, we discussed a lot.    We realise that we should respect the judgement of the court,” lawyer Rakesh Dwivedi told Reuters.
    The board had decided to withdraw from petitions challenging the lifting of the ban because it now believed it was discriminatory, its president Padmakumar was quoted as saying by Reuters partner ANI.
    After the Supreme Court ruling, Hindu groups physically blocked younger women from entering the temple, though a number managed to get in with help from police.
    Devotees and petitioners in favour of the ban have contended that women should not be allowed inside the temple to prevent its deity Ayyappan from breaking the oath of celibacy he is believed to be observing.    Some of them also consider menstruating women impure.
    Pro-ban activists and politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party called the temple board’s decision a betrayal.
    “The government has not shown least respect to the sentiments of the devotees.    The people of Kerala will give befitting reply,” Sreedharan Pillai, state president of the BJP, said, blaming the state government led by a communist alliance of undermining Hindu traditions.
    The temple in Kerala pays homage to the god Ayyappan and draws millions of worshippers each year.    It is one of only a few in India which had barred entry to girls and women between the ages of 10 and 50.
    Activist Rahul Easwar, grandson of a former chief priest of Sabarimala, said the temple board had succumbed to pressure from the government.
(Reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Additional reporting by Jose Devasia in KOCHI and Suchitra Mohanty in NEW DELHI; Editing by Catherine Evans)

2/7/2019 U.S. calls on Iran to halt space launches that defy U.N. resolution
The Payam satellite is seen in the sky after it was launched in Iran, January 15, 2019,
in this still image taken from video. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Thursday it was aware of reports of a failed Iranian attempt to launch a satellite into space last month and it called on Tehran to halt activities that violate U.N. resolutions.
    “I’ve seen the reports, and it failed, correct?” State Department spokesman Robert Palladino told a news briefing, his first since the start of the year.
    “We continue to call upon the Iranian regime to cease immediately all activities that are inconsistent with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2231, including space vehicle launches,” Palladino said.    Iran has indicated it will be ready for another launch in a few months.
(Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Eric Beech)

2/8/2019 ‘Death to America’ aimed at Trump, not American nation, Iran leader says
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in Tehran June 12, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranians will chant “Death to America” as long as Washington continues its hostile policies, but the slogan is directed at President Donald Trump and U.S. leaders, not the American nation, Iran’s supreme leader said on Friday.
    “As long as America continues its wickedness, the Iranian nation will not abandon ‘Death to America’,” Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a gathering of Iranian Air Force officers marking the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic Revolution, according to his official website.
    Trump pulled out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers last year and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran, dealing a blow to the country’s economy.
    “‘Death to America’ means death to Trump, (National Security Adviser) John Bolton, and (Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo.    It means death to American rulers,” Ayatollah Khamenei said.
    European signatories of the nuclear deal have been trying to save the accord, but Khamenei said they could not be trusted.
    “I recommend that one should not trust the Europeans just as the Americans,” Khamenei said.    “We don’t say, don’t have contacts with them, but it’s an issue of trust.”
    The European Union has stepped up criticism of Iran’s ballistic missiles program while remaining committed to the 2015 nuclear deal.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, editing by Larry King)

2/8/2019 Exclusive: Once spoiler, Pakistan starts behind-scenes aid to U.S.-Taliban talks by Phil Stewart, Idrees Ali and Jibran Ahmad
FILE PHOTO - Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan (R) speaks with U.S. special envoy
Zalmay Khalilzad (3rd L) during a meeting at the Prime Minister's office in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this
handout photo released January 18, 2019. Press Information Department (PID)/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Pakistan, long at odds with the United States over the war in Afghanistan, has begun to play a behind-the-scenes but central role in supporting U.S. peace talks with the Afghan Taliban, including by facilitating travel to negotiations, U.S. officials and Taliban sources tell Reuters.
    The Pakistani assistance, which has not been reported in such detail before, also includes exerting pressure on Taliban leaders who fail to cooperate, including by detaining members of the militants’ families, the insurgents say.
    The Pakistani role in the peace negotiations is a delicate one, with Islamabad seeking to avoid demonstrating the kind of broad influence over the Taliban that Washington has long accused it of having. Sources caution its help could be temporary.
    The Taliban also do not want to appear beholden to Islamabad, which has long denied U.S. accusations that it provides safe haven and assistance to insurgents as a way to preserve influence in neighboring Afghanistan throughout its more than 17-year-old war.
    President Donald Trump has repeatedly signaled his intention to wind down America’s longest conflict, declaring this week in his State of the Union address that “great nations do not fight endless wars.”
    One senior U.S. official, who declined to be identified, said of Pakistan’s role in the talks: “We know it just wouldn’t be possible without their support.”
    “They’ve facilitated some movement and travel to the discussions in Doha,” the official said.
    Trump’s administration has accelerated talks for a political settlement in Afghanistan. U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad held six days of talks – perhaps the most productive to date – with the Taliban in Doha last month and is due to meet Taliban representatives again on Feb. 25.
    Taliban sources said Pakistan’s role in bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table was instrumental.    In one instance, Islamabad sent a message to the militants through religious leaders that they had to talk to the United States or risk a cut-off in ties.
    They detained Taliban members’ families as a way to pressure them, a Taliban leader told Reuters.
    “I haven’t seen Pakistan so serious before,” the senior Taliban leader said.
    The Taliban leader, who declined to be named, said Pakistan had kept “unprecedented pressure” on the militants and their close relatives over the past few months.
    “i>They made it clear to us that we (Taliban) have to talk to the U.S. and Afghan government,” the Taliban leader said.
    U.S. General Joseph Votel, who leads the U.S. military’s Central Command, hinted at some kind of Pakistani assistance in a Senate hearing this week, saying Islamabad had “played a more helpful role.”
    To be sure, current and former U.S. officials still are highly skeptical of Islamabad and do not see any steps by Pakistan that could not be easily reversed.
    Washington appears for now to be sticking to a total freeze in U.S. assistance to Islamabad imposed over a year ago over its alleged support to the Taliban.    Trump at the time accused Islamabad of rewarding past U.S. aid with “nothing but lies & deceit.”
    “There’s some self-interest obviously involved here … I would be wary of taking that and extrapolating off that and saying they’re now on board with the peace process,” said Jason Campbell, who was the Pentagon’s Afghanistan country director until last year.
PULLOUT PRESSURE
    Pakistani sources suggest that the driver behind their country’s support for the talks is not U.S. aid but growing concerns over the regional economic shockwaves that could follow an abrupt U.S. pullout from Afghanistan.
    Those concerns have been strengthened by Trump’s surprise decision in December to withdraw completely from Syria, despite objections from the Pentagon.
    There are only about 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan at the moment, but their presence ensures a continuous flow of U.S. financial assistance to Afghanistan.
    Islamabad, running short of foreign exchange reserves and in talks with the International Monetary Fund over what would be its 13th bailout since the 1980s, says it cannot afford to see Afghanistan slide into chaos just as Pakistan is trying to attract foreign investors to shore up its own economy.
    “That is our main worry in all of this,” said a senior official who is closely involved in cross-border relations.
    “We have enough economic issues of our own to deal with already.”
    One of the most notable public signs of Pakistan’s willingness to aid the negotiations was the release of Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar.
    Now the newly appointed chief negotiator, Baradar is expected to fly from Pakistan to attend the next round of negotiations in Doha on Feb. 25.
    Dan Feldman, a former U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said he believed Washington was still hesitant to become too hopeful about Pakistan’s change in posture.
    “There is cautious appreciation for the fact that Pakistan has seemingly done more than before to be helpful,” Feldman said, before adding that it did not “suggest a sea change in Pakistan’s position.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Idrees Ali in Washington and Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar, Pakistan; Additional reporting by James Mackenzie in Islamabad and Jonathan Landay in Washington; Editing by James Dalgleish)

2/8/2019 As India election looms, politics infiltrates the world’s biggest religious festival by Krishna N. Das
FILE PHOTO: Naga Sadhus or Hindu holy men take a dip during the first "Shahi Snan" (grand bath) at "Kumbh Mela" or the
Pitcher Festival, in Prayagraj, previously known as Allahabad, India, January 15, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui/File Photo
    PRAYAGRAJ, India (Reuters) – At the world’s biggest religious festival, the Hindu Kumbh Mela in northern India’s Uttar Pradesh state, the spiritual message for the faithful is deep and profound.
    The political message for voters isn’t far behind.
    As many as 150 million people are expected to come to the festival city of Prayagraj to bathe at the confluence of three rivers considered holy in Hinduism – the Ganges, the Yamuna, and a mythological third one, the Saraswati.    Hindus believe bathing in the Ganges at the time of the Kumbh, this year from Jan. 15 to March 31, absolves people of sins.
    The federal and Uttar Pradesh state governments – both controlled by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) – are spending nearly $600 million on the giant event, according to the state government.
    Some Hindu religious and political figures say they expect a return on their efforts, not only from the gods, but from voters when Modi battles for a second term in an election that must be held by May.
    Hindu activists are also using the event to build support for a hugely controversial project to construct a Hindu temple on the site of the 16th century Babri Mosque that was destroyed by a Hindu mob in 1992.    That assault triggered communal riots and led to the deaths of around 2,000 people, many of them Muslim.
    Shrikant Sharma, a BJP leader and cabinet minister in the Uttar Pradesh government, denied the Kumbh was being used to score political points ahead of the election, and said people wrongly accuse the party of advocating hardline Hindu causes.
    “The Kumbh is a matter of faith for us,” Sharma told Reuters, hours after bathing there.    “That’s why we are working there with complete commitment.”
    Uttar Pradesh, India’s most populous state and one of its poorest, is funding two-thirds of the money to provide an “unforgettable pilgrimage experience.”    The total cost is more than three times the last Kumbh in 2013.
    The BJP nearly swept Uttar Pradesh in the last election in 2014, but depressed farm prices, high unemployment and the coming together of two caste-based regional parties have hurt its prospects this year, opinion polls show.
    A big loss of seats in the state might prevent Modi and the BJP from returning for a second term in New Delhi.
HAIL LORD RAM
    Politics was never far away at two conferences at the Kumbh last week.
    Hindu priests and religious leaders sang praises of Modi and the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh, Yogi Adityanath, for the “best ever” Kumbh.
    They also called for people to back the BJP to help it build the temple for Lord Ram at the Babri Mosque site in Ayodhya.
    A powerful Hindu priest, who has no association with the BJP, said from his base at the Kumbh he would lead a group of followers on Feb. 21 to start building the temple, which could violate a court order and raise religious tensions.
    “We must ensure that a nationalist government committed to building a Ram temple stays in power,” Mohan Bhagwat, head of BJP parent and Hindu-first group Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), said to loud cheers of “Jai Shree Ram!” – “Hail Lord Ram!
    At another event there, Bhagwat’s colleague Indresh Kumar told Reuters Modi was the “only meritorious” prime ministerial candidate whose party deserved at least two more terms.
    Critics among Indian historians and Muslim leaders say the actions of the BJP and other Hindu activist groups are a not only a threat to harmony, but put the very nature of India as a secular democracy at stake.
    They argue Muslims are increasingly being treated as second-class citizens, pointing to the BJP’s plans to give citizenship to non-Muslims from neighboring Muslim-majority countries such as Bangladesh and Pakistan but not to Muslims.
    S. Irfan Habib, a New Delhi-based historian, said the Kumbh this year was the BJP’s “Hindu India” plan to prop up the country’s majority religion for political benefit.
    India’s population is 80 percent Hindu and 14.2 percent Muslim.    Under India’s constitution following its independence in 1947, all citizens are supposed to be treated equally.
    “This is a blatant violation of the ethos which our constitution represents and ethos which were cultivated by our freedom fighters,” said Habib, a specialist in modern history.     Governments should stay away from religion, said Habib, who supported the Modi administration’s decision last year to end state aid to Muslims making the annual Islamic haj pilgrimage. HINDUS SHOULD FEEL PROUD
    At the Kumbh, Modi and Adityanath smile down from hoarding after hoarding, trumpeting the work of their government in Uttar Pradesh. Party workers distributed publicity material to many devotees who attended various religious conferences there.
    Much of the effort and spending has no overt political tone.
    Uttar Pradesh authorities have set up temporary bridges, hundreds of mass kitchens, more than 120,000 portable toilets, temporary power stations and arranged thousands of free shuttle buses.
    Munna, a boatman who has been ferrying devotees for two decades, said his passengers had never been more satisfied at the arrangements than this year, including the provision of free life jackets.    He said all of them credited Modi and Adityanath for the cleanliness and facilities.
    “They are doing so much for us pilgrims,” said Hitu Dambar, a corn and wheat farmer from the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, holding a BJP booklet he was handed at a government-backed conference attended by more than 100 Hindu, Buddhist and Jain priests under a massive tent.
    “Hindus should feel proud of what they are seeing here.”
NEW NAME, HIGHER PROFILE
    Adityanath, known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric, started preparing for the Kumbh soon after taking office in 2017 and gave it top priority, officials said.
    Last October, Adityanath gave the city of the Kumbh the Hindu name Prayagraj, changing it from Allahabad, an Islamic name given to the place hundreds of years ago by India’s then Muslim rulers.
    He held a cabinet meeting at the festival site late last month, the first such meeting held outside the state capital Lucknow.
    Pictures on social media after the cabinet meeting showed him and ministerial colleagues bare-chested, bathing in the holy waters and flanked by Hindu priests in saffron.
    Modi went to Prayagraj in December to inaugurate various Kumbh-related projects.    It’s not yet certain if he will visit the Kumbh, said the festival’s officer-in-charge Vijay Kiran Anand.
    Romila Thapar, 87, one of India’s best known historians, said a “showy” Kumbh like this year’s might help invoke Hindu pride.
    “I think it does make a difference to those who feel that these rituals uphold the grandeur of Hinduism, and so they take pride in that,” Thapar told Reuters.    “They see that the state is putting in so much money, and they justify it by arguing that ‘we are the rightful citizens and the state should put money into our events’.”
($1 = 71.5660 Indian rupees)
(Reporting by Krishna N. Das; Additional reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Martin Howell and Lincoln Feast)

2/8/2019 China condemns Indian PM Modi’s visit to disputed region
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi poses after the ceremonial reception for South Africa's President Cyril Ramaphosa at
the forecourt of India's Rashtrapati Bhavan Presidential Palace in New Delhi, India, January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Altaf Hussain/File Photo
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry on Saturday condemned Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to the disputed northeastern border state of Arunachal Pradesh, saying it “resolutely opposes” activities by Indian leaders in the region.
    Modi’s visit was part of a series of public meetings in the region aimed at garnering support for his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of Indian elections due by May.
    Despite recent efforts to improve bilateral ties in both countries, disputes over the mountainous Indo-China border – which triggered a war in 1962 – and the region that China claims as southern Tibet have remained a sensitive issue.
    “China urges the Indian side to proceed from the overall situation of bilateral relations, respect China’s interests and concerns, cherish the momentum of improving relations between the two countries, and refrain from any actions that intensify disputes and complicate the border issue,” its foreign ministry said in a statement.
    In response, the official spokesperson at India’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Arunachal Pradesh was “an integral and inalienable part of India.”
    “Indian leaders visit Arunachal Pradesh from time to time, as they visit other parts of India.    This consistent position has been conveyed to the Chinese side on several occasions.”
    Both India and China have sought to rebuild trust after an armed standoff over a stretch of the Himalayan border in 2017. (Reporting by Abhirup Roy and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell and Alexander Smith)

2/10/2019 South Korea signs deal to pay more for U.S. troops after Trump demand by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers take pictures from a truck as U.S. President Donald Trump arrives via helicopter
at Camp Humphreys, South Korea November 7, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Officials signed a short-term agreement on Sunday to boost South Korea’s contribution toward the upkeep of U.S. troops on the peninsula, after a previous deal lapsed amid U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for the South to pay more.
    About 28,500 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea, where the United States has maintained a military presence since the 1950-53 Korean War.
    The new deal must still be approved by South Korea’s parliament, but it would boost its contribution to 1.03 trillion won ($890 million) from 960 billion won in 2018.
    Unlike past agreements, which lasted for five years, this one is scheduled to expire in a year, potentially forcing both sides back to the bargaining table within months.
    “It has been a very long process, but ultimately a very successful process,” South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said at a meeting before another official from the foreign ministry initialed the agreement.
.     While acknowledging lingering domestic criticism of the new deal and the need for parliamentary approval, Kang said the response had “been positive so far.”
    The U.S. State Department senior adviser for security negotiations and agreements, Timothy Betts, met Kang before signing the agreement on behalf of the United States, and told her the money represented a small but important part of South Korea’s support for the alliance.
    “The United States government realizes that South Korea does a lot for our alliance and for peace and stability in this region,” he said.
    The allies had struggled to reach a breakthrough despite 10 rounds of talks since March, amid Trump’s repeated calls for a sharp increase in South Korea’s contribution.
    South Korean officials have said they had sought to limit its burden to $1 trillion won and make the accord valid for at least three years.
    A senior South Korean ruling party legislator said last month that negotiations were deadlocked after the United States made a “sudden, unacceptable” demand that Seoul pay more than 1.4 trillion won per year.
    But both sides worked to hammer out an agreement to minimize the impact on South Koreans working on U.S. military bases, and focus on nuclear talks ahead of a second U.S.-North Korea summit, Seoul officials said.
    The disagreement had raised the prospect that Trump could decide to withdraw at least some troops from South Korea, as he has in other countries like Syria.    But on Sunday, South Korean officials told Yonhap news agency that the United States had affirmed it would not be changing its troop presence.
    Trump said in his annual State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday that he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Feb. 27-28 in Vietnam, following their unprecedented meeting in June in Singapore.
    Citing officials at South Korea’s presidential Blue House, Yonhap also reported that South Korean President Moon Jae-in would discuss the upcoming summit with Trump “soon,” and that American and North Korean officials would be meeting in an unspecified Asian country ahead of the summit.
    After the June meeting, Trump announced a halt to joint military exercises with South Korea, saying they were expensive and paid for mostly by the United States.
    Major joint exercises have been suspended, but some small-scale drills have continued, earning rebukes from North Korea’s state media in recent months.
    About 70 percent of South Korea’s contribution covers the salaries of some 8,700 South Korean employees who provide administrative, technical and other services for the U.S. military.
    Late last year, the U.S. military had warned Korean workers on its bases they might be put on leave from mid-April if no deal was agreed.
(This story has been refiled to add dropped word in name of South Korean foreign minister in paragraph 5.)
(Additional reporting by Do-gyun Kim; Editing by Neil Fullick, Robert Birsel)

2/10/2019 Afghan president offers Taliban local office, but group wants Doha instead by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan's President Ashraf Ghani attends a two-day conference on Afghanistan
at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 27, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Sunday offered the Taliban the possibility of opening an office in Afghanistan but the proposal was swiftly spurned by the group that is determined to keep his government out of accelerating peace talks.
    Ghani has expressed alarm at the Taliban shutting his administration out of negotiations with the United States as well as recent Moscow talks with Afghan opposition politicians, and repeated earlier offers to give the group a secure official address to aid any future diplomacy between the two sides.
    “If the Taliban want an office, I will give it to them in Kabul, Nangarhar or Kandahar by tomorrow,” Ghani said while visiting the province of Nangarhar, a hotbed of insurgent violence on the border with Pakistan.
    “We will bring a lasting and honorable peace to the country,” he said.
    Nangarhar is a stronghold of the Taliban, the hardline Islamist movement that now controls or contests districts across nearly half the country, more than 17 years since they were toppled from power.
    Taliban officials in Moscow last week stressed the importance of a formal office among a string of demands that included the removal of Western sanctions and travel bans on Taliban members, prisoner releases and an end to “propaganda” against the group.
    Taliban spokesman Sohail Shahin later told Reuters that the focus was international recognition of their existing site in Doha, Qatar.
    On Sunday he said Ghani was trying to harm the peace efforts with his latest offer.
    “Our demand about having an official political office is clear, we want that our office in Doha is recognized by the international community and the United Nations,” Shahin said.
    “By this, Ghani is trying to change the topic and harm the on-going peace efforts.”
    Taliban negotiators are due to meet U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad for another round of talks in Qatar on Feb. 25.    The State Department said on Saturday that Khalilzad would spend the rest of the month traveling to Belgium, Germany, Turkey, Qatar, Afghanistan and Pakistan to work on Afghan peace process.
    The talks are expected to center around a ceasefire to end America’s longest war and the withdrawal of foreign troops.
    Some 14,000 U.S. troops are based in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan forces.    Some U.S. forces also carry out counter-terrorism operations.
(Additional reporting by Hameed Farzad in Kabul and Ahmad Sultan in Nangarhar, Doina Chiacu in Washington; Writing By Greg Torode; Editing by Robin Pomeroy and Lisa Shumamker)

2/11/2019 Acting Pentagon chief lands in Afghanistan, supports Kabul role in peace talks by Idrees Ali
Acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan arrives in Kabul, Afghanistan February 11, 2019. REUTERS/Idrees Ali
    KABUL (Reuters) – Acting U.S. defense secretary Patrick Shanahan arrived in Afghanistan on Monday and said it was important the Afghan government is involved in talks, from which it has so far been excluded, to end the 17-year-old war.
    Shanahan, who will meet U.S. troops and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on his first trip in his new role, said he had so far not received any direction to reduce the nearly 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
    He also said the United States had important security interests in the region.
    Ghani’s government has been shut out of the evolving peace talks between Taliban negotiators and U.S. envoys, with the hardline Islamist movement branding his government a U.S. puppet.    Kabul is also concerned that a sharp drawdown of U.S. forces could lead to chaos in the region.
    “It is important that the Afghan government is involved in discussions regarding Afghanistan,” Shanahan told a small group of reporters traveling with him on the unannounced trip.
    “The Afghans have to decide what Afghanistan looks like in the future.    It’s not about the U.S., it is about Afghanistan.”
    Shanahan took over from Jim Mattis, who quit in December over policy differences with U.S. President Donald Trump.
    He said he could not make any guarantees because U.S. peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad was leading the talks.
    “The U.S. military has strong security interests in the region.    (The) presence will evolve out of those discussions,” Shanahan said.
    He also said his goal on the trip was to get an understanding of the situation on the ground from commanders and then brief Trump on his findings.
    U.S. officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since last year in what is widely seen as the most serious bid yet for peace in Afghanistan since the Taliban were ousted by U.S.-backed Afghan forces in late 2001.
    Both sides hailed progress after the latest round last month, although significant obstacles remain. Those include the involvement of the Afghan government.
    The next round of talks is due in Qatar on Feb. 25.
    Michael Kugelman, a South Asia specialist at the Woodrow Wilson Center, said Shanahan’s main priority in Kabul should be to address Afghan government concerns.
    “The top priority of Shanahan has to be to impress upon the government that we’re going to do everything we can to get you into this conversation,” Kugelman said.
‘LEVERAGE’
    Shanahan will also have to grapple with how much allies will trust him.
    Mattis, a former four-star general once in charge of U.S. Central Command, was respected for his deep knowledge of military and global affairs.    Shanahan, a former Boeing executive and Mattis’ deputy, is seen as a relative outsider in foreign policy circles.
    Afghanistan and neighboring countries are also concerned about the effect of a sudden withdrawal of U.S. forces on the region.
    An Afghan official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters that even the suggestion of U.S. troops leaving was dangerous.
    “Of course it has given leverage to the Taliban, there is no question about that,” the official said.
    Trump has offered no specifics about when he would bring home the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan but has said progress in negotiations with the Taliban would enable a troop reduction and a “focus on counter-terrorism.”
    Shanahan said a withdrawal of about half the U.S. troops in Afghanistan was not something that was being discussed and he had not been directed to reduce troop numbers.
    “The presence we want in Afghanistan is what assures our homeland defense and supports regional stability and then any type of sizing is done in a coordinated and disciplined manner,” he said.
    Khalilzad said after six days of talks with the Taliban in Doha last month the United States and the Taliban had sketched the outlines for an eventual peace accord.
    He has said since then there had been progress on the future of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
    However, the Taliban have put out contradictory information on what timeline the United States had agreed to in any potential withdrawal.
    Most recently, a Taliban official said no timetable had been agreed with the U.S. government for the partial withdrawal of U.S. forces.
    U.S. officials have told Reuters that, while no formal orders have been sent, the military is preparing for what a withdrawal of about half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would look like.
    Officials have expressed concern that if U.S. troops leave, Afghanistan security forces, already stretched thin, could crumble.
    Shanahan met with a group of elite Afghan commandos later on Monday and backed using more resources for offensive operations by the special forces.
    “What we see here today is how capability is being generated and the commitment of special forces to fighting the Taliban,” Shanahan said.
    Afghanistan’s highly regarded special forces units suffered increasingly heavy casualties last year as the Taliban mounted major assaults on provincial centers including Ghazni city and Farah city in the southwest.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali in Kabul; Editing by Greg Torode, Paul Tait and Nick Macfie)

2/11/2019 Iran cheers U.S. ‘dismay’, vaunts military might as revolution turns 40 by Parisa Hafezi
Iranians burn U.S. flags during a ceremony to mark the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution
in Tehran, Iran February 11, 2019. Meghdad Madadi/Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of Iranians held nation-wide rallies on Monday to mark the 40th anniversary of the fall of the Shah and the triumph of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Shi’ite cleric who led an Islamic Revolution that rattles the West to this day.
    On Feb 11, 1979, Iran’s army declared its neutrality, paving the way for the collapse of the U.S.-backed monarch, the United States’ closest ally in the Middle East.
    State TV showed large crowds defying frigid weather and carrying Iranian flags while chanting “Death to Israel, Death to America,” trademark chants of the revolution which toppled the United States’ most important ally in the Middle East.
    One banner read: “Much to the dismay of America, the revolution has reached its 40th year.”
    The large turnout in state-sponsored rallies came as Iranians face rising prices, food shortages and high inflation that have triggered waves of protests.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers last year and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran, dealing a blow to the country’s economy.    Iranian officials said the move amounted to “economic warfare.”
    In a speech at Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) square, President Hassan Rouhani dismissed U.S. efforts to isolate Iran, saying U.S. sanctions could not break the Islamic Republic.
    “We will not let America become victorious… Iranian people have and will have some economic difficulties but we will overcome the problems by helping each other,” he said in a speech.     Iran was determined to expand its military power and ballistic missile program despite mounting pressure from hostile countries to curb Iran’s defensive work, state TV reported Rouhani as saying.
    Soldiers, students, clerics and black-clad women holding small children flocked to the streets of cities and towns, many carrying portraits of Khomeini and Iran’s current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    Regional power Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries have viewed Iran with great suspicion since the Islamic Revolution swept the Shah from power, fearing Khomeini would inspire Islamic militants across the region.
    Iran and Saudi Arabia are locked in proxy wars in Iraq, Yemen and Syria.
[Burning American flags will not make your problems go away as your people are hurting it will come back on the leaders and they will burn you eventually.].

2/11/2019 Rouhani: Iran to continue expanding military might, missile work – TV
FILE PHOTO: Iran's President Hassan Rouhani exits following a news conference on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the
United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan Mcdermid/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday that Iran was determined to expand its military power and ballistic missile program despite mounting pressure from hostile countries to curb Iran’s defensive work, state TV reported.
    “We have not asked and will not ask for permission to develop different types of … missiles and will continue our path and our military power,” Rouhani said in a speech at Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) square, where tens of thousands gathered to mark the 40th anniversary of Iran’s Islamic revolution.
    Rouhani also vowed Iran would defeat U.S. sanctions, reimposed after President Donald Trump withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear accord with world powers last year.
    “The Iranian people have and will have some economic difficulties (due to the sanctions) but we will overcome the problems by helping each other,” Rouhani said.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Additional reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafeddin; Editing by Alison Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

2/12/2019 North Korea may have made more nuclear bombs, but threat reduced: study by David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO - People carry flags in front of statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung (L) and
late leader Kim Jong Il during a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of North Korea's foundation
in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – North Korea has continued to produce bomb fuel while in denuclearization talks with the United States and may have produced enough in the past year to add as many as seven nuclear weapons to its arsenal, according to a study released just weeks before a planned second summit between the North Korean leader and U.S. President Donald Trump.
    However, the country’s freeze in nuclear and missile testing since 2017 mean that North Korea’s weapons program probably poses less of a threat than it did at the end of that year, the report by Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation found.
    Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the U.S. Los Alamos weapons laboratory in New Mexico who is now at Stanford and was one of the report’s authors, told Reuters analysis of satellite imagery showed North Korea’s production of bomb fuel continued in 2018.
    He said spent fuel generated from operation of the 5 megawatt reactor at its main nuclear plant at Yongbyon from 2016-18 appeared to have been reprocessed starting in May and would have produced an estimated 5-8 kg of weapons-grade plutonium.
    This combined with production of perhaps 150 kg of highly enriched uranium may have allowed North Korea to increase the number of weapons in its arsenal by between five and seven, the Stanford report said.
    Hecker’s team had estimated the size of North Korea’s arsenal in 2017 at 30, bringing a possible current total of 37 weapons.    U.S. intelligence is not certain how many nuclear warheads North Korea has.    Last year, the Defense Intelligence Agency was at the high end with an estimate of about 50 nuclear warheads, while analysts have given a range of 20-60.
    The Stanford report said that while North Korea was likely to have continued work on warhead miniaturization and to ensure they can stand up to delivery via intercontinental ballistic missiles, the halt in testing greatly limited its ability to make such improvements.
    “They have continued the machinery to turn out plutonium and highly enriched uranium,” Hecker said, “but it also depends on weaponization – the design, build and test and then the delivery.     “When they ended missile testing, those things rolled backwards.    So when I look at the whole spectrum, to me North Korea … is less dangerous today than it was at the end of 2017, in spite of the fact that they may have made another five to seven weapons worth of nuclear material.”
    The Stanford experts said it was their assessment that “North Korea cannot deliver a nuclear warhead with any measure of confidence to the U.S. mainland,” although Hecker said its nuclear weapons were a real threat to Japan and South Korea.
    Hecker said it was understandable that North Korea should have continued its weapons work, given that it had reached no specific agreement in the latest talks with the United States to stop that work.
    U.S. Secretary State Mike Pompeo told Congress in July that North Korea was continuing to produce fuel for nuclear bombs in spite of its pledge to denuclearize, even as he argued – as he has continued to do – that the Trump administration was making progress in talks with Pyongyang.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged during an unprecedented first summit with Trump last June to work towards denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    There has been little concrete progress since, but in September, Kim expressed willingness to take steps, including the permanent dismantlement of nuclear facilities at Yongbyon, in return for “corresponding measures” by the United States.
    U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun held three days of talks in Pyongyang last week to prepare for a second Trump-Kim summit due to be held in Hanoi on Feb. 27 and 28. He said before the talks they would include discussion of corresponding steps North Korea has demanded.
    Trump described those talks as “very productive” but the State Department has offered no sign of progress and Biegun and his counterpart have agreed to meet again before the summit.
(Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)

2/12/2019 Vietnam says being chosen to host second Trump-Kim summit is a positive sign
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc attends a news conference with his
Cambodian counterpart Hun Sen in Hanoi, Vietnam December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Kham
    HANOI (Reuters) – The choice of Vietnam as host of this month’s summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un shows the Southeast Asian nation is headed in the right direction, Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said on Tuesday.
    Last week, Trump said he would hold his second meeting with Kim in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi on Feb. 27 and 28.    That follows an unprecedented June 11 summit of the two leaders in the wealthy city state of Singapore.
    “This important event has shown that Vietnam’s investment environment is good, that Vietnam’s development model is going in a right direction and especially that the security and safety in Vietnam is wonderful,” Phuc told government officials at the Hanoi Stock Exchange.
    “Vietnam will demonstrate its international role and do its best to let the word ‘Vietnam’ ring out.”
    Vietnam’s foreign minister, Pham Binh Minh, will visit North Korea from Feb. 12 to 14 ahead of the summit.
    As Vietnam prepares for the summit, its reform model is being widely touted as the economic path for impoverished and isolated North Korea to follow.
    Last year, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said North Korea could follow the example of Vietnam, adding that Trump believed Pyongyang could replicate Hanoi’s path to normal relations with Washington and to prosperity.
(Reporting by Mai Nguyen; Editing by James Pearson and Clarence Fernandez)

2/12/2019 Pakistan, India hope to reap investment from Saudi prince’s visit by Sanjeev Miglani and Drazen Jorgic
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman shakes hands with India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi in
Buenos Aires, Argentina November 29, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    NEW DELHI/ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is expected to announce investments in energy and infrastructure during a visit to India and Pakistan in coming days as part of his efforts to wean the Saudi economy off oil exports.
    He is also expected to visit China, Malaysia and Indonesia during a tour that will be his first through the region since the storm over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
    Prince Mohammed is expected to sign agreements, mostly linked to a refinery and the power sector, during the trip to Pakistan this weekend, Pakistani officials said.
    The memorandums of understanding will include renewable energy projects and investments in petrochemicals and mineral resources, Saudi state news agency SPA said.
    The prince is expected in New Delhi next week, along with leading Saudi businessmen, at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, India’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was among a handful of leaders who attended an investment conference in Saudi Arabia in October, an event boycotted by many companies and world leaders in protest over Khashoggi’s killing.
    India’s Modi met the prince in November, when they were both in Argentina for a Group of 20 summit.    Saudi Arabia is India’s top supplier of crude oil but the two countries have expanded ties beyond energy, and their governments have agreed to build a strategic partnership, the foreign ministry said.
    In a statement, it cited cooperation in areas including energy security, trade and investment, infrastructure, defense and security.
    India is expecting Prince Mohammed to announce an initial investment in its National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF), a b>quasi-sovereign wealth fund, to help accelerate the building of ports and highways, an Indian official said.
    Saudi state media said Saudi officials will discuss an investment in NIIF.
    Saudi Arabia has also flagged a desire to invest in India’s farm sector, with products to be exported to Saudi, another official at the trade ministry said.
REFINERY HITCH
    However, progress on a $44 billion refinery that Indian state-run oil companies agreed to build with Saudi Aramco on India’s west coast has been held up by strong opposition from mango farmers who will lose their land.
    Since taking office in 2014, Modi has sought to use India’s fast-growing economy to attract more investment from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations.
    As a fellow Muslim country, Pakistan has long maintained strong ties with Saudi Arabia.    In late October, Riyadh offered Pakistan a $6 billion loan to help keep its ailing economy afloat.
    Saudi Arabia has also announced plans for a $10 billion refinery and petrochemical complex at the coastal city of Gwadar, where China is building a port as part of its vast Belt and Road initiative.
    “They’re looking at the energy sector, at some of our privatization plans that they might bid for through our privatization process,” Pakistani investment minister Haroon Sharif told Reuters.
    Sharif, who chairs Pakistan’s Board of Investment, said there was also Saudi interest in Pakistan’s mining sector.
    “Saudi Arabia has huge resources.    Their investment fund is over $1 trillion, so we want just a fraction of that,” said a second Pakistani minister, who did not wish to be named.
    Saudi state news said Saudi officials will discuss investments with China, South Korea and Indonesia, in sectors including healthcare and telecommunications, without giving further details.
(Additional reporting by Neha Dasgupta and Rajendra Jadhav, and Marwa Rashad in Riyadh.; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Frances Kerry)
[It looks like Saudi Arabia may help China build their road to the Western nations.].

2/13/2019 No problem with America can be resolved: Iran Supreme Leader
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks
in Tehran June 12, 2009. REUTERS/Caren Firouz/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – No problem with the United States can be resolved and negotiations are a loss, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday in a statement published on his official website.
    “With regard to America, no problem can be resolved and negotiations with it has nothing but economic and spiritual loss,” he wrote.
    Khamenei also said in the statement that the Iranian people now see a number of European governments as untrustworthy.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Alison Williams)
[Sounds to me that Iran is losing friends fast.].

2/13/2019 Suicide bomber kills 27 members of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards by Babak Dehghanpisheh
A car is seen at the site of the suicide attack on a Revolutionary Guards on the road between
the cities of Zahedan and Khash, Iran, February 13, 2019. Fars News/Handout via REUTERS
    GENEVA (Reuters) – A suicide bomber killed at least 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday, Tasnim news agency said, in a southeastern region where security forces are facing a rise in attacks by militants from the country’s Sunni Muslim minority.
    The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it wants greater rights for the ethnic minority Baluchis, claimed responsibility for the attack, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.
    A suicide bomber driving a vehicle laden with explosives attacked a bus transporting members of the Guards, the force said in a statement.
    A video posted by Fars showed blood and debris at the site of the attack on the road between the cities of Zahedan and Khash, a volatile area near the Pakistan border where militants and drug smugglers operate.
    The explosion was so powerful that the bus was turned into a twisted pile of metal, a photo published on Fars showed.    Reuters could not independently verify the images.
    While Jaish al Adl and other groups like it are not regarded as a major security threat, the attack is a fresh blow to the image of the Guards, the most powerful force in Iran, which reports directly to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.     Foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qassemi vowed retaliation for Wednesday’s attack.
    “The self-sacrificing military and intelligence children of the people of Iran will take revenge for the blood of the martyrs of this incident,” Fars quoted him as saying.
    In October, Jaish al-Adl claimed responsibility for kidnapping 10 Iranian security personnel.    Some of them have been released.
(Additional reporting by Bozorg Sharafedin in London; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/13/2019 U.S. to meet Taliban in Islamabad on Feb. 18: Taliban spokesman by Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: U.S. military advisers from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade walk at an Afghan National
Army base in Maidan Wardak province, Afghanistan August 6, 2018. REUTERS/James Mackenzie/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Taliban negotiators will meet their U.S. counterparts on Feb. 18 in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad as part of accelerating diplomacy to end more than 17 years of war in Afghanistan, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said on Wednesday.
    But a U.S. State Department representative said in a statement that the United States had “not received a formal invitation to any talks.”
    The talks would come a week ahead of previously scheduled negotiations between the two sides in Qatar on Feb. 25. Mujahid said in a statement that the Qatar talks would still take place as scheduled.
    Mujahid said his side would also meet Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan to hold “comprehensive discussions about Pakistan-Afghanistan relations.”
    While he said the Taliban delegation would meet the U.S. team, he did not specify any meetings with team head, U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad.
    Khalilzad is due in Pakistan ahead of the Qatar talks as part of a six-country swing through Europe and the Middle East as he tries to build support for efforts to end America’s longest war.
    Both the hardline Islamist movement and the United States hailed progress after the end of the last round of negotiations in Qatar last month but Western diplomats familiar with discussions say that many tough hurdles lie ahead.
    The U.S. side is expected to push hard for a ceasefire between Taliban insurgents and foreign-backed Afghan forces before any agreement on the withdrawal of U.S.-led foreign troops.
    Taliban officials say they want all foreign troops out before a ceasefire, but would still welcome non-military foreign help to re-build the country.
    Washington is also seeking more details on fresh assurances from the Taliban that it would not allow Afghanistan to be used by groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State to attack the United States and its allies, Western diplomats said.
    It is also pushing for the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government, which it has so far shut out of talks, branding it as a puppet of Washington.
    U.S. President Donald Trump used his State of the Union address last week to say progress in negotiations with the Taliban would allow a reduction in the approximately 14,000 U.S. troops currently in Afghanistan and a renewed “focus on counter terrorism.”
(Additional reporting and writing by Greg Torode; Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington; Editing by Toby Chopra and Lisa Shumaker)

2/13/2019 Former U.S. Air Force intelligence agent charged with spying for Iran by OAN Newsroom
    The FBI has issued an arrest warrant for a former U.S. Air Force officer from Texas, who they say worked with Iranian hackers and exposed classified intelligence secrets of the Department of Defense.
    39-year-old Monica Witt, a counter-intelligence officer and special agent of the Air Force, defected to Iran in 2013.
This image provided by the FBI shows part of the wanted poster for Monica Elfriede Witt. The former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence
specialist who defected to Iran despite warnings from the FBI has been charged with revealing classified information to
the Tehran government, including the code name and secret mission of a Pentagon program, prosecutors said Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2019. (FBI via AP)
    According to a Department of Justice indictment unsealed Wednesday, Witt had high-level security clearances and helped Iran launch a cyber-spying operation which targeted her former colleagues.
    Officials said Witt turned on the U.S. and shifted her loyalty to the Islamic Republic for “ideological reasons.”
    “The FBI actually had previously warned her that by virtue of her connections and the fact that she was going to be attending a conference in Iran that she was vulnerable to being targeted by Iranian intelligence agencies, and so she attended in 2012 a conference that promoted anti-Western propaganda,” explained Eric Tucker of the Associated Press.    “She returned the next year, and then she began working for the Iranian government to provide information…she has been there ever since.”
    Four Iranians who helped Witt in the cyber hack were also named in the indictment.    All remain at large, but the FBI said Witt could be in Afghanistan, Iran or the United Arab Emirates working as an English teacher.

2/14/2019 Iran’s Rouhani blames U.S., Israel for attack on Revolutionary Guards: TV
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart
Tayyip Erdogan (not pictured) after their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States and its regional allies on Thursday for a suicide bombing in southeastern Iran that killed 27 members of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Iranian state TV reported.
    The force said on Wednesday a suicide bomber driving a vehicle laden with explosives had attacked a bus transporting members of the Guards in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan.
    A militant Sunni Muslim group, Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic minority Baluchis, has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iranian media have reported.
    “The crime will remain as a ‘dirty stain’ in the black record of the main supporters of terrorism in the White House, Tel Aviv and their regional agents,” Rouhani said.
    Apart from Israel, Rouhani did not name the regional states he believed were to blame.    Mainly Shi’ite Muslim Iran does not recognise Israel, which is a key U.S. ally in the region and sees Tehran as posing an existential threat to its existence.
    In the past, Tehran has accused its main regional rival Saudi Arabia of backing Sunni militia groups who have carried out bloody attacks against Iranian security forces.    Riyadh has denied the charges.
    Repeating warnings made by senior commanders of the Guards, Rouhani said Iran was determined to bring justice to those responsible for one of the worst assaults ever against the Revolutionary Guards in years.
    The assault, which wounded at least 13 people, took place in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan, which has a large, mainly Sunni Muslim, ethnic Baluchi community, which straddles the border with Pakistan.
    Jaish al Adl has carried out attacks against the border guards from Pakistan since its founding in 2012.
    Iran has called on neighbouring countries to crack down on separatist groups.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/14/2019 I did it for my daughter, says woman arrested for headscarf protest in Iran by Emily Wither
Azam Jangravi holds hands with her daughter in a park, at the unknown location, February 7, 2019. REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Azam Jangravi’s heart was pounding when she climbed atop an electricity transformer box on Tehran’s busy Revolution Street a year ago.    She raised her headscarf in the air and waved it above her head.
    A crowd formed.    People shouted at her to come down.    She knew all along she was going to be arrested.    But she did it anyway, she says, to change the country for her eight-year-old daughter.
    “I was telling myself: ‘Viana should not grow up in the same conditions in this country that you grew up in’,” Jangavi recalled this week in an interview in an apartment in an undisclosed location outside Iran, where she now awaits news on an application for asylum.
    “I kept telling myself: ‘You can do this, you can do this’,” she said.    “I was feeling a very special kind of power.    It was as if I was not the secondary gender anymore.”
    After her protest she was arrested, fired from her job at a research institute and sentenced to three years in prison for promoting indecency and wilfully breaking Islamic law.
    The court threatened to take her daughter away, but she managed to escape Iran – with Viana – before her jail term began: “I found a human smuggler with a lot of difficulty.    It all happened very quickly, I left my life, my house, my car behind,” she said.
    As she spoke, Viana sketched pictures.    They showed her mother waving the white hijab in the air.
    Since Iran’s Islamic Revolution 40 years ago this week, women have been ordered to cover their hair for the sake of modesty.    Violators are publicly admonished, fined or arrested.
    Jangravi was one of at least 39 women arrested last year in connection with hijab protests, according to Amnesty International, which says another 55 people were detained for their work on women’s rights, including women who tried to enter football stadiums illegally and lawyers advocating for women.
    Authorities go to “extreme and absurd lengths to stop their campaign,” said Amnesty’s Iran researcher Mansoureh Mills.    “Like searching people’s homes for pin badges that have ‘I am against forced hijab’ written on them.”
    The badges are part of continued efforts to highlight the hijab issue, along with a campaign for women to wear white headscarves on Wednesdays.
    Jangravi recalls stories her mother told her about life before the revolution: “She told me that the revolution caused a great deal of sexism and they separated men and women.”
    She was inspired to act after two other women were arrested for similar protests on the same street.
    “Of course we don’t expect everyone to climb up the platform in Revolution Street,” she said.    “But this made our voices heard by the entire world.    What we girls did made this movement into something that continues.”
(Editing by Peter Graff)

2/14/2019 Iran’s Rouhani blames U.S., Israel for attack on elite Guards: TV
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a joint news conference with his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan
(not pictured) after their meeting in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani blamed the United States and its regional allies on Thursday for a suicide bombing in southeastern Iran that killed 27 members of the country’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Iranian state TV reported.
    The force said on Wednesday a suicide bomber driving a vehicle laden with explosives had attacked a bus transporting members of the Guards in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan.
    A militant Sunni Muslim group, Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic minority Baluchis, has claimed responsibility for the attack, Iranian media have reported.
    “The crime will remain as a ‘dirty stain’ in the black record of the main supporters of terrorism in the White House, Tel Aviv and their regional agents,” Rouhani said.
    Apart from Israel, Rouhani did not name the regional states he believed were to blame.    Mainly Shi’ite Muslim Iran does not recognize Israel, which is a key U.S. ally in the region and sees Tehran as posing an existential threat to its existence.
    “There is a link between this crime … and some regional and international spying and intelligence agencies,” TV quoted Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as saying.
    Khamenei ordered immediate action against those responsible for the attack.
    In the past, Tehran has accused its main regional rival Saudi Arabia of backing Sunni militia groups who have carried out bloody attacks against Iranian security forces.    Riyadh has denied the charges.
    Repeating warnings made by senior commanders of the Guards, Rouhani said Iran was determined to bring justice to those responsible for one of the worst assaults ever against the Revolutionary Guards in years.
    The assault, which wounded at least 13 people, took place in the province of Sistan-Baluchestan, which has a large, mainly Sunni Muslim, ethnic Baluchi community, which straddles the border with Pakistan.
    Jaish al Adl has carried out attacks against the border guards from Pakistan since its founding in 2012.    Iran has called on neighboring countries to crack down on separatist groups.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/14/2019 Kashmir car bomb kills 44; India demands Pakistan act against militants by Fayaz Bukhari
Indian soldiers examine the debris after an explosion in Lethpora in south
Kashmir's Pulwama district February 14, 2019. REUTERS/Younis Khaliq
    SRINAGAR, India (Reuters) – A suicide bomber rammed a car into a bus carrying Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir on Thursday, killing 44 of them in the deadliest attack in decades on security forces in the disputed region, raising tensions with arch foe Pakistan.
    The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility for the attack.    The Indian government demanded that Islamabad take action against militant groups operating from its soil.
    Kashmir is a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility between India and Pakistan.    The neighbors both rule parts of the region while claiming the entire territory as theirs.
    The explosion targeting a convoy of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) was heard from several miles away, according to witnesses.    Mohammad Yunis, a journalist who reached the site minutes later, told Reuters he saw blood and body parts scattered along a 100-metre stretch of the main highway running through the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
    “We demand that Pakistan stop supporting terrorists and terror groups operating from their territory and dismantle the infrastructure operated by terrorist outfits to launch attacks in other countries,” the Indian foreign ministry said in a statement, hours after the attack.
    There was no immediate comment from the Pakistani government.    Islamabad denies New Delhi’s accusations that it gives material help to the militants fighting Indian rule in Muslim-majority Kashmir.    It says it gives only moral and diplomatic support to the Kashmiri people in their struggle for self-determination.
    Television images showed a mangled car amid rubble and snow around the site.    Reuters photos showed tens of policemen surveying damaged vehicles and one policeman was seen carrying a plastic cover with guns inside.
    The death toll stood at 44, a senior police official said.
    The Central Reserve Force Police is a paramilitary organization that is working with the Indian military to quell the 30-year insurgency in Kashmir.
    “I strongly condemn this dastardly attack.    The sacrifices of our brave security personnel shall not go in vain,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a tweet.
    Indian forces have sporadically battled Islamist militants in mountainous Kashmir since an armed revolt in 1989 in which tens of thousands were killed, but car bombings are rare.
    A video circulating on social media on Thursday purportedly featured the suicide bomber, and showed a young man holding a gun and threatening more attacks.    Reuters was not able to independently verify the authenticity of the video.
    The Indian foreign ministry accused the Pakistani government of giving the militant group Jaish a free run in Pakistan, saying it has allowed the group’s leader, Masood Azhar, “to operate and expand his terror infrastructure in territories under the control of Pakistan and to carry out attacks in India and elsewhere with impunity.”
    The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when militants raided an Indian army camp in Uri, killing 20 soldiers.
    Tension with Pakistan rose after that incident when New Delhi said the attackers had come from Pakistan to stage the assault.    Pakistan denied any involvement.
MODI UNDER PRESSURE
    The attack could put Modi, who faces a general election due by May, under political pressure to act against the militants and Pakistan.
    Randeep Singh Surjewala, a spokesman for the main opposition Congress party, accused Modi of compromising on security.
    “Zero political action & Zero policy to tackle terror has led to an alarming security situation,” Surjewala said in one of a series of tweets.
    Kanwal Sibal, a former top diplomat, said a diplomatic response from India would not be enough.
    “They will have to do something otherwise I think it will be very difficult for government to absorb this blow and be seen to be doing nothing,” Sibal told Reuters.
    The Jaish-e-Mohammad group is one of the most powerful militant groups operating in Kashmir.    It was blamed for a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament that led to India deploying its military on the border with Pakistan.
    In a statement carried by GNS news agency, a spokesman for the group said dozens of security force vehicles were destroyed in the attack.
    Arun Jaitley, a senior minister in Modi’s cabinet, said India would retaliate, tweeting that “terrorists will be given unforgettable lesson for their heinous act.”
    The U.S. ambassador to India, Ken Juster, condemned the attack, saying in a tweet "that Washington stands alongside India in confronting terror and defeating it.”
    On Wednesday, an explosion at a school in Kashmir wounded a dozen students.    The cause of the blast remains unclear.
(Additional reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal in New Delhi; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani and Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Frances Kerry)

2/15/2019 Exclusive: U.S. may trim over 1,000 troops from Afghanistan in belt-tightening – general by Phil Stewart and Greg Torode
FILE PHOTO: U.S. troops patrol at an Afghan National Army (ANA) Base in
Logar province, Afghanistan August 7, 2018. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani/File Photo
    MUSCAT/KABUL (Reuters) – Even before any peace push-related drawdowns, the U.S. military is expected to trim troop levels in Afghanistan as part of an efficiency drive by the new commander, a U.S. general told Reuters on Friday, estimating the cuts may exceed 1,000 forces.
    U.S. President Donald Trump told Congress this month he intended to reduce U.S. forces from Afghanistan as negotiators make progress in talks with Taliban insurgents, saying: “Great nations do not fight endless wars.”
    U.S. Army General Joseph Votel, the head of the U.S. military’s Central Command, said the decision to reduce some of the roughly 14,000 American forces in Afghanistan was not linked to those peace efforts, however.
    Instead, he said it was part of an effort by Army General Scott Miller, who took over the more than 17-year war effort in September, to make better use of U.S. resources.
    “This is something that he started as he got into the position here and was looking at how we (can) be as efficient and as effective as we can be on the ground,” Votel said in an interview during a trip to Oman.
    Miller’s decision represents a reversal of sorts after years in which the U.S. military sought to slow or halt troop drawdowns under Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, and previously lobbied for more troops under Trump.
    It was unclear how far along any troop reductions might already be.    The Pentagon says U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan are at around 14,000 but adds the number can fluctuate.
    Other sources offered lower estimates.    Diplomatic sources believe the efficiency push, which has been raising eyebrows in Kabul, was already driving down U.S. troop levels.
    “We’re watching this very closely,” said a senior Western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.    “It is clear General Miller’s desire to streamline is already having an impact on numbers.”
    Asked whether Miller would likely cut more than 1,000 troops from Afghanistan under the efficiency drive, Votel said: “He probably will.”
    Votel added that some troops could be moved “over the horizon,” still remotely supporting the war effort from overseas.    That, he said, would also reduce vulnerabilities in America’s longest war.
    “This is his decision as commander here – how he most effectively uses the resources that he has and trying to be as efficient as he can be,” Votel said, without offering a specific estimate of exactly how many troops Miller may withdraw.
    Miller’s spokesman, Army Colonel Dave Butler, declined to speculate on future troop levels.    But Butler said Miller would still have surge capabilities into Afghanistan when needed for specific missions.
    Costs have increasingly been a focus of discussions between Kabul and Washington.    Afghan President Ashraf Ghani recently sent a letter to Trump offering to reduce U.S. expenses in Afghanistan.
    “How to do this more cost effectively is something that we have been working towards for a long time,” Roya Rahmani, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Washington, told Reuters.
ENDLESS WARS
    U.S. officials have held several rounds of talks with the Taliban in Qatar since last year in what is widely seen as the most serious bid for peace in the 17-year war.    Taliban negotiators will meet their U.S. counterparts on Feb. 18 in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad.
    U.S. officials have told Reuters the military is planning for what a withdrawal of about half of the 14,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan would look like.
    That has raised concerns about whether a smaller force would be able to support the Afghan military and whether other European armies that rely on American helicopters and other support would pull out.
    It also raises questions about how big of a U.S. counter-terrorism force might be able to remain in the country.
    Votel declined to discuss any internal deliberations, noting he had not received orders for a withdrawal.
    Acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan offered a similar reassurance this week, telling nervous NATO allies on Thursday that any potential U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan will be done in a coordinated fashion.
    Asked about Trump’s concerns about endless wars, Votel said: “We don’t want to fight endless wars either.    We want to accomplish the mission here.”
    “I think the strategy that the president has allowed to get put in place here, the South Asia strategy, focused on reconciliation, has been a good one,” he said.
    Beyond U.S. troops in Afghanistan, the Pentagon relies on thousands of private contractors.
    A recent report by the U.S. Special Inspector for Afghanistan Reconstruction noted there were an additional 861 Defense Department civilians and 10,698 contractors who were U.S. citizens.
    Diplomats familiar with NATO operations told Reuters they believed the number of contractors was not expected to be reduced along with U.S. troop withdrawals, and could actually increase.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart in Muscat, Oman and Greg Torode in Kabul; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

2/15/2019 Myanmar army chief denies systematic persecution of Rohingya
Rohingya refugees are seen near a shop in the evening at Balukhali camp in
Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Myanmar’s army chief, who is facing international calls that he be prosecuted for genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority, has denied any systematic army persecution and said such accusations were an insult to his country’s honor.
    In his first detailed interview since the Myanmar military launched a crackdown in 2017, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing cast doubt on U.N. estimates that some 730,000 Rohingya had fled to Bangladesh, and on their accounts of abuses by his forces, saying the refugees had been told what to say.
    “Criticism without any certain proof hurts the nation’s dignity,” Min Aung Hlaing told Japan’s Asahi Shimbun daily in an interview published on Friday.
    Myanmar forces launched their offensive in Rakhine State in 2017 in response to a series of attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security posts near the Bangladesh border.
    A U.N. fact-finding mission last year said the military campaign, which refugees say included mass killings and rape, was orchestrated with “genocidal intent” and recommended charging Min Aung Hlaing and five other generals with the “gravest crimes under international law.”
    U.N. refugee chief Filippo Grandi told reporters in Geneva that he had not seen the interview but Myanmar’s government had signed an agreement with the United Nations last year recognizing that there had been violence and that people had fled across the border and that they had a right to return.
    “If some people among our interlocutors have different views, we stick by the letter of that memorandum of understanding, which recognizes these problems and indicates precisely what solutions need to be carried out,” he said.
    A U.N. rights investigator said last month that Min Aung Hlaing and others should be held accountable for genocide against the Rohingya and doing so was necessary before refugees could return.
    Myanmar has consistently denied the accusations of murder, rape and other abuses by its forces though Min Aung Hlaing acknowledged that “a number of security men may have been involved.”
    Min Aung Hlaing, in the interview on Thursday in the Myanmar capital, Naypyitaw, raised questions not only about the number of people who had fled, but also about their motives.
    “It’s possible to think that the reasons they moved to Bangladesh were things like living with relatives or fleeing to a third country,” he said.
    “All of them are saying the same thing, which I believe somebody told them to say.”
    The Rohingya have faced discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for generations.
    They are generally regarded as illegal immigrants from South Asia and few of them have Myanmar citizenship.
    Many have sought better lives elsewhere in Asia while occasional military crackdowns over the decades have sent waves of people fleeing to Bangladesh.
    The U.N. Human Rights Council in September voted to set up an “ongoing independent mechanism” for Myanmar that would collect, consolidate, and preserve evidence of crimes that could be used in any eventual court case.
    Myanmar has said it “absolutely rejects” that the International Criminal Court (ICC) has jurisdiction to rule on its actions, a point Min Aung Hlaing repeated in the interview.
    Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute that established the Hague-based court.
    “We will not accept any instructions that threaten Myanmar’s sovereignty,” he said
.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, additional reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva, Editing by Robert Birsel, William Maclean)

2/15/2019 Iran confirms second failed satellite launch: NBC News
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during a
news conference in Baghdad, Iraq January 13, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran bid to launch a second satellite in the past two months has failed, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said in an interview with NBC News published on Friday.
    Its effort to launch a satellite last month also failed. Despite both failures, Zarif’s confirmation is likely to raise tensions with the United States, which is concerned the long-range ballistic technology used to send satellites into space could also be used to launch warheads.
    A representative for the U.S. National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Iran views its space program as a matter of national pride.    Tehran has denied that the space vehicle launches and missile tests violated a U.N. Security Council resolution.
    Last month, Iran said a satellite it tried to launch did not reach adequate speed and failed.    Iran’s telecommunications ministry said at the time that the satellite, named Payam, was intended to be used for imaging and communications purposes for about three years.
    Iran launched its first domestically-built satellite in 2009, on the country’s 30th anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution.    This month, Iran marked the 40th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution.
    Iran’s Foreign Ministry could not be reached for comment on the NBC News report which was widely quoted by Iranian news outlets, including the state news agency IRNA.
(Reporting by Makini Brice and Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Susan Thomas)

2/15/2019 India’s PM Modi warns Pakistan of strong response to Kashmir attack by Fayaz Bukhari and Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi speaks with the media inside the parliament premises on the
first day of the winter session, in New Delhi, India, December 11, 2018. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR (Reuters) – India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned Pakistan on Friday to expect a strong response to a suicide attack that killed 44 paramilitary policemen in Kashmir, ratcheting up tension between the nuclear-armed neighbors.
    The car bomb attack on a security convoy on Thursday was the worst in decades of insurgency in the disputed region.    India said it had “incontrovertible evidence” of Pakistani involvement, a statement quickly rejected by Islamabad.
    “We will give a befitting reply, our neighbor will not be allowed to destabilize us,” Modi said in a speech, after meeting security advisers to discuss options.
    The attack comes months before national elections in India.
    The Pakistan-based Islamist militant group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility soon after a suicide bomber rammed an explosives-laden car into a bus carrying police personnel.
(graphic: https://tmsnrt.rs/2TM34k8)
    India has for years accused Muslim Pakistan of backing separatist militants in divided Kashmir, which the neighbors both claim in full but rule in part.
    Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political support to the Himalayan region’s suppressed Muslim people.
    The White House urged Pakistan “to end immediately the support and safe haven provided to all terrorist groups operating on its soil.”
    Pakistan is due to host peace talks next week between the Afghan Taliban and the United States as part of efforts to seek a political settlement to the Afghan war, but escalating tensions with India could divert Pakistan’s attention.
    As outrage and demands for revenge flooded Indian social media, Arun Jaitley, one of the most senior figures in the Hindu nationalist-led government, told reporters India would work to ensure the “complete isolation” of Pakistan.
    The first step, he said, would include removing most favored nation (MFN) trade privileges that had been accorded to Pakistan – though annual bilateral trade between the countries is barely $2 billion.
    The last major attack in Kashmir was in 2016 when Jaish militants raided an Indian army camp, killing 20 soldiers.    Weeks later, Modi ordered a surgical strike on suspected militant camps across the border in Pakistan Kashmir.
    When he swept to power in 2014, Modi vowed to pursue a tough line with Pakistan.    The two countries have gone to war three times since independence from Britain in 1947, twice over Kashmir.
    The Line of Control, the de facto border dividing Indian- and Pakistani-held Kashmir, is widely regarded as one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints, especially after the two countries became nuclear armed states in 1998.
CALLS FOR REVENGE
    Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale summoned Pakistan’s ambassador, Sohail Mahmood, and issued a demarche demanding that Islamabad take verifiable action against Jaish.    India also recalled its ambassador in Pakistan for consultations, a government source said.
    Pakistan’s foreign ministry also summoned the Indian deputy High Commissioner in Islamabad to reject New Delhi’s “baseless allegations,” a Pakistani official said.
    Crowds gathered in Jammu, the Hindu-dominated part of Jammu and Kashmir state, to demand stronger action against Pakistan.
    A curfew was briefly imposed in Jammu after crowds overturned and set fire to some vehicles.    Protesters were also marching to the Pakistani embassy in New Delhi.
    The attack comes at a difficult time for Pakistan, which is struggling to attract foreign investment and avert a payments crisis, with its swiftly diminishing foreign currency reserves at less than $8 billion, equivalent to two months of import payments.
    The escalating tension risks overshadowing a visit to the region by the Saudi crown prince, who is due in Islamabad over the weekend and New Delhi next week, with both governments hoping to attract Saudi investment.
    On Friday, Islamabad said the two-day visit had been put back by a day until Sunday but the program would remain unchanged. It gave no explanation for the change.
    India’s Home Minister Rajnath Singh flew into Srinagar, the main city in Indian Kashmir, and joined mourners carrying the coffins of the dead policemen, before they were sent to their homes across India.
    Hundreds of thousands of Indian troops are deployed in Kashmir.    Singh said civilian vehicles will be stopped if there is a major movement of military convoys on the main highway following Thursday’s attack.
    The separatist insurgency has waxed and waned since the late 1980s, but began to pick up in the last five years as a fresh generation of Kashmiris was drawn to militancy.
    Soon after Thursday’s attack, Jaish released photographs and a video of a young Kashmiri villager, Adil Ahmad Dar, who it said had carried out the suicide attack on the convoy.
    In the video, Dar warned of more attacks to avenge human rights violations in Kashmir.    On Friday, hundreds of people gathered at his village of Lethipora to mourn his death.
    His parents told Reuters the 20-year-old took up the gun after he was beaten by troops in Kashmir three years ago.    Jaish is one of the most deadly groups operating in Kashmir.
    In 2001, it mounted an attack on the parliament in New Delhi that brought India and Pakistan to the brink of war.
    Indian efforts to add Jaish leader Masood Azhar to a U.N. Security Council blacklist of al Qaeda-linked terrorists have been blocked by China.
    Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang expressed “deep shock” at the latest attack and said Beijing hoped “relevant countries in the region” could cooperate to combat the threat.
(Additional reporting by Sudarshan Varadhan; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel)

2/16/2019 Iran asks Pakistan to move against attackers, warns Saudi
FILE PHOTO - Iran's Revolutionary guards commander Mohammad Ali Jafari speaks during a conference
to mark the martyrs of terrorism in Tehran September 6, 2011. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran urged neighbouring Pakistan on Saturday to crack down on militants who killed 27 of its Revolutionary Guards in an attack near the border or expect military action by Tehran “to punish the terrorists,” state media reported.
    Revolutionary Guards commander Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari also warned Iran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) that they could face “retaliatory measures” for supporting militant Sunni groups that have attacked Iran’s security forces.    Riyadh and the UAE deny this.
    “If Pakistan does not carry out its responsibilities, Iran reserves the right to confront threats on its borders … based on international law and will retaliate to punish the terrorists,” Jafari was quoted as saying by state news agency IRNA.
    A suicide car bomber killed 27 members of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards on Wednesday in a southeastern region where security forces are facing a rise in attacks by militants from the country’s Sunni Muslim minority.
    The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic minority Baluchis, claimed responsibility for the attack.
    Iran’s Shi’ite Muslim authorities say militant groups operate from safe havens in Pakistan and have repeatedly called on the neighbouring country to crack down on them.
    “They (attackers) are backed by reactionary regional states, the Saudis and the Emiratis, under orders from the Israelis and the Americans … and we will certainly take retaliatory measures,” Jafari told state television.
    The remarks came amid heightening regional tensions after Israel and the Gulf Arab states attended a summit in the Polish capital Warsaw this week where the United States hoped to ratchet up pressure against Iran.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Mark Potter)

2/16/2019 U.S. backs India’s right to self-defense over Kashmir attack: Indian government by Sanjeev Miglani
India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi pays tribute as he walks next to the coffins containing the remains of Central Reserve
Police Force (CRPF) personnel who were killed after a suicide bomber rammed a car into a bus carrying them in south Kashmir on
Thursday, at Palam airport in New Delhi, India, February 15, 2019. India's Press Information Bureau/Handout via REUTERS
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – The United States supports India’s right to self-defense against cross-border attacks, India’s foreign ministry said on Saturday after a deadly car bombing in disputed Kashmir raised tensions with rival neighbor Pakistan.
    Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised a strong response after a Pakistan-based militant group claimed responsibility for the suicide attack on a military convoy on Thursday that killed 44 paramilitary policemen.
    India’s government said it had evidence the group, Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), had the backing of Pakistan and demanded Islamabad take action.    Pakistan has condemned the attack and rejected India’s allegations.
    U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke to his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval on Friday night, promising to help bring those behind the attack to justice, the foreign ministry said in a readout of the phone call.
    “The two NSAs vowed to work together to ensure that Pakistan cease to be a safe haven for JeM and terrorist groups that target India, the U.S. and others in the region,” the foreign ministry said.
    “They resolved to hold Pakistan to account for its obligations under U.N. resolutions,” it added.
    India has for years accused Muslim Pakistan of backing separatist militants in divided Kashmir, which the neighbors both claim in full but rule in part.
    Pakistan denies that, saying it only offers political support to the Himalayan region’s suppressed Muslim people.
    Modi, who is facing an election in the next few months, has called a meeting of political parties on Saturday to build support for action against Pakistan.
    Indians have poured onto social media to vent their fury over the suicide bombing in Kashmir, with many of them calling for swift retribution against Pakistan as TV news shows hosted jingoistic debates.
    When he swept to power at the head of a Hindu nationalist-led alliance in 2014, Modi vowed to pursue a tough line with Pakistan.    The two countries have gone to war three times since independence from Britain in 1947, twice over Kashmir.
    The attack comes at a difficult time for Pakistan, which is struggling to attract foreign investment and avert a payments crisis, with its swiftly diminishing foreign currency reserves at less than $8 billion, equivalent to two months of import payments.
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by Darren Schuettler)

2/16/2019 Afghan Taliban likely to meet Saudi crown prince in Pakistan: sources by Jibran Ahmad
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the opening of the
G20 leaders summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes
    PESHAWAR, Pakistan (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is likely to meet Afghan Taliban representatives during his visit to Pakistan starting on Sunday, Pakistani government sources said, part of efforts to broker an end to Afghanistan’s 17-year-old civil war.
    Pakistan has been playing an increasingly vital role in the Afghanistan peace talks, which have been gathering momentum in recent months amid a growing U.S. desire to pull out its troops.
    Along with other Gulf countries, Saudi Arabia has been part of the peace negotiations and is seen to have some sway over the Afghan Taliban militants due to Riyadh’s historical ties with the hardline Islamist group and the kingdom’s religious clout as the birthplace of Islam.
    Two senior Pakistani officials said the crown prince was likely to meet Afghan Taliban representatives in Islamabad, where the militants, fighting to restore strict Islamic rule in Afghanistan after their 2001 ouster, say they are due to meet U.S. representatives and Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan.
    “Though it is top secret so far, there are strong indications representatives of the Afghan Taliban will meet Prince Salman during their visit of Pakistan on February 18,” one of the Pakistani officials in Islamabad said.
    A senior Taliban leader in Qatar said no decision had been made on whether they would meet the crown prince.
    “Actually meeting Prince Salman is not in the plan so far but we can discuss it when we are in Islamabad,” said the Taliban representative.
    Pakistan’s Foreign Office and Saudi Arabia’s government did not respond to a Reuters request for comment.
    The crown prince is expected to stay to leave Pakistan on Monday after signing a raft of investment agreements in the energy sector for more than $10 billion.
    But his trip, which Islamabad is treating as the biggest state visit in years, risks being overshadowed by escalating tensions between India and Pakistan following a militant attack on Indian security forces in the disputed Kashmir region.
    New Delhi says Pakistan had a hand in the attack by a militant group which is based on Pakistani soil, something Islamabad denies.
(Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Nick Macfie)

2/16/2019 U.S. adviser Bolton promises India support after Kashmir attack
FILE PHOTO: U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton arrives to address reporters as the Trump administration
announces economic sanctions against Venezuela and the Venezuelan state owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela (PdVSA)
during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke to his Indian counterpart promising support to bring those responsible for a deadly car bombing in disputed Kashmir to justice, the Indian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday.
    A Pakistan-based militant group, Jaish-e-Mohammad, has claimed responsibility for the attack on a military convoy in which 44 paramilitary police were killed, raising tensions with India.
    Bolton told Ajit Doval in a telephone conversation that the United States supported India’s right to self-defense against cross-border terrorism, the Indian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    India has demanded Pakistan act against the Jaish.    Pakistan had condemned the attack but denied any complicity.
    “The two NSAs vowed to work together to ensure that Pakistan cease to be a safe haven for JeM and terrorist groups that target India, the U.S. and others in the region,” the ministry said.
    “They resolved to hold Pakistan to account for its obligations under U.N. resolutions.”
(Reporting by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Nick Macfie)

2/16/2019 U.S., China Trade Talks Expected to Resume in Washington Next Week by OAN Newsroom
    In an effort to end the ongoing trade war, trade talks between the U.S. and China are slated to continue in Washington D.C. next week.
    On Friday, White House officials said the two sides plan to resume discussions to reach an agreement prior to the March 1st deadline.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, second from left, shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping
as U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, left, and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, right, look on before
their meeting at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, Pool)
    The Washington talks are expected to be led by U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, along with China’s Vice Premier and Chief Trade Negotiator.
    This comes after President Trump floated the idea of extending the deadline if it will bring the nations closer to a deal and prevent tariffs from rising on Chinese goods.
    Meanwhile, tariffs are expected to increase from 10% to 25% if no deal is reached.

2/16/2019 Iran says Pakistan to ‘pay high price’ over attack, warns Saudi
Members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, gather around the coffins of their fellow guards, who were killed by a
suicide car bomb, during the funerals in Isfahan, Iran February 16, 2019. Morteza Salehi/Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran warned neighboring Pakistan on Saturday it would “pay a heavy price” for allegedly harboring militants who killed 27 of its elite Revolutionary Guards in a suicide bombing near the border earlier this week, state television reported.
    Revolutionary Guards chief Major General Mohammad Ali Jafari also accused Tehran’s regional rival Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of supporting militant Sunni groups that attack Iranian forces, saying they could face “reprisal operations.”
    Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE deny backing such militants.
    “Why do Pakistan’s army and security body … give refuge to these anti-revolutionary groups?    Pakistan will no doubt pay a high price,” Jafari said in remarks live on state television.
    Jafari was addressing a large crowd gathered for the funeral of the victims of Wednesday’s suicide bombing, which took place in a southeastern region where security forces are facing a rise in attacks by militants from the country’s Sunni Muslim minority.
    “Just in the past year, six or seven suicide attacks were neutralized but they were able to carry out this one,”     Jafari told the mourners, who packed a square in the central city of Isfahan and roads leading to it.
    The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic minority Baluchis, claimed responsibility for the attack.
    “The treacherous Saudi and UAE governments should know that Iran’s patience has ended and we will no longer stand your secret support for these anti-Islam criminals,” Jafari said.
    “We will avenge the blood of our martyrs from the Saudi and UAE governments and ask the President (Hassan Rouhani) … to leave our hands free more than ever for reprisal operations,” Jafari told the crowd, drawing chants of “Allahu Akbar” (God is Greatest).
    Iran’s Shi’ite Muslim authorities say militant groups operate from safe havens in Pakistan and have repeatedly called on the neighboring country to crack down on them.
    Jafari’s remarks came amid heightening regional tensions after Israel and the Gulf Arab states attended a summit in the Polish capital Warsaw this week where the United States hoped to ratchet up pressure against Iran.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom; Editing by Mark Potter and Helen Popper)

2/17/2019 Rouhani says Iran ready to improve ties with Gulf states
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin
and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during their meeting in the Black sea resort of
Sochi, Russia, 14 February 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday that Tehran wanted to establish close ties with all countries in the Middle East, where Iran has been involved in proxy wars with Saudi Arabia for decades.
    “Iran is ready to work with regional states to preserve security in the Middle East … Our enemies, America and Israel, want to create division among Iranians,” Rouhani said in a public speech in southern Iran, broadcast live on state TV.
    Iran and Saudi Arabia are backing opposing sides in the wars in Syria and Yemen, while Saudi Arabia welcomed President Donald Trump’s move to pull the United States out of a nuclear deal between Iran and world powers and reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
    Rouhani said the U.S. approach toward Iran was doomed to failure.
    “We will not succumb to pressure from America and Israel,” Rouhani said in the southern city of Bandar-e Gonaveh.
    Tehran has suggested it could take military action in the Gulf to block other countries’ oil exports in retaliation for U.S. sanctions intended to halt its sales of crude.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Potter)

2/17/2019 Saudi crown prince heads for Pakistan amid India tensions by Drazen Jorgic
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a graduation ceremony for the 95th batch of cadets from
the King Faisal Air Academy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 23, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is due to arrive in Pakistan on Sunday at the start of his tour of South Asia and China, but the visit risks being overshadowed by escalating tensions between nuclear-armed rivals India and Pakistan.
    The trip comes days after a suicide bomber killed 44 Indian paramilitary police in the disputed Kashmir region.    New Delhi has accused Pakistan of having a hand in the bombing and vowed to punish Islamabad, which denies involvement.
    Prince Mohammed had also planned to visit Indonesia and Malaysia during the Asian tour, but those trips have been postponed, according to Malaysian and Indonesian officials. No reasons for the postponements or alternative tour dates were given.     Cash-strapped and in need of friends, Pakistan is welcoming the crown prince with open arms for a visit during which he is expected to sign investment agreements worth more than $10 billion.
    Saudi Arabia has in recent months helped keep Pakistan’s economy afloat by propping up its rapidly dwindling foreign exchange reserves with a $6 billion loan, giving Islamabad breathing room as it negotiates a bailout with the International Monetary Fund.
    Analyst say the crown prince’s trip is being treated by Islamabad as the biggest state visit since Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2015, soon after Beijing announced plans to invest tens of billions of dollars on infrastructure in Pakistan as part of China’s global Belt and Road initiative.
    The visit marks a deepening in ties between allies whose relationship has in the past centered on oil-rich Saudi Arabia backing Pakistan’s economy during difficult periods, and in return Pakistan’s powerful army lending support to Saudi Arabia and its royal family.
    As the guardians of most holy sites in the birthplace of Islam, the Saudi royal family carries vast religious clout in Pakistan, a staunchly conservative and mainly-Muslim nation of 208 million people.
    “i>What is happening in this relationship is a renewal of Pakistan’s commitment to help protect the royal family and the order as it exists in Saudi Arabia,” said Mosharraf Zaidi, Senior Fellow at Tabadlab, a Pakistani think tank focused on global and local public policy.
    “On the flip side, there is reassurance that Saudi Arabia will not only continue to serve as a strategic friend who will help shore up Pakistan’s finances when needed, but it’s also going to become a participant in the wider investment in Pakistan.”
    Pakistan is shutting down its airspace and has stepped up security in Islamabad for the crown prince, who is set to become the first guest to stay at the Prime Minister’s House.    Pakistan’s new populist premier, Imran Khan, has refused to use the residence in a bid to save taxpayers’ money.
    Pakistani hopes for further investment opportunities from Saudi Arabia were dealt a blow on Saturday when the government announced that the Pak-Saudi Business Conference had been “postponed.”
    Pakistani officials have already flagged up that Saudi Arabia will announce eight investment agreements, including a $10 billion refinery and petrochemicals complex in the coastal city of Gwadar, where China is building a port.
    But the crown prince’s arrival comes amid a vow by India to isolate Pakistan internationally following the deadliest attack in Kashmir in decades.
    New Delhi is demanding Islamabad act against the Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group, which it says has the backing of the Pakistani state, over the bombing. Islamabad denies playing a role and has called for an investigation.
    In Islamabad, the crown prince is expected to meet Khan and Pakistan’s army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa.
    He is also set to meet representatives of the Afghan Taliban militant group to discuss peace negotiations to end the 17-year civil war in Afghanistan, Pakistani government and Taliban sources say.
    “We arrived in Islamabad today Sunday and others are on their way,” one senior Afghan Taliban figure told Reuters.    “As per the plan we know so far, we are going to meet Mohammed bin Salman and his delegation members today at night and then on Monday.”
(Reporting by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Nick Macfie and Sam Holmes)

2/17/2019 Japan’s PM nominated Trump for Nobel Peace Prize on U.S. request: Asahi
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump greets Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines
of the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 26, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    TOKYO (Reuters) – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe nominated U.S. President Donald Trump for the Nobel Peace Prize last autumn after receiving a request from the U.S. government to do so, the Asahi newspaper reported on Sunday.
    The report follows Trump’s claim on Friday that Abe had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize for opening talks and easing tensions with North Korea.
    The Japanese leader had given him “the most beautiful copy” of a five-page nomination letter, Trump said at a White House news conference.
    The U.S. government had sounded Abe out over the Noble Peace Prize nomination after Trump’s summit in June last year with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the first meeting between a North Korean leader and a sitting U.S. president, the Asahi said, citing an unnamed Japanese government source.
    A spokesman for Japan’s Foreign Ministry in Tokyo said the ministry was aware of Trump’s remarks, but “would refrain from commenting on the interaction between the two leaders.”
    The White House had no immediate comment when contacted by Reuters.
    The Nobel Foundation’s website says a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize may be submitted by any person who meets the nomination criteria, which includes current heads of states.    Under the foundation’s rules, names and other information about unsuccessful nominations cannot be disclosed for 50 years.
(Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Additional reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Editing by Sam Holmes)
[Well at least someone recognizes the good he is doing in the world, where Obama got it for being the first black president and they were sucked into his push of progressive socialist views on the world, where Trump is trying to reverse that concept to return the United States to what it should be and the U.S. is being respected again.]

2/17/2019 European efforts for trade with Iran fall short: Zarif
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the annual Munich
Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
    MUNICH (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign minister said on Sunday that a European mechanism to trade with Tehran fell short and that France, Britain and Germany needed to do more to show their commitment to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.
    “Instex (the mechanism) falls short of commitments by the E3 (France, Germany, Britain) to save the nuclear deal,” Mohammad Javad Zarif said at the Munich Security Conference.    “Europe needs to be willing to get wet if it wants to swim against the dangerous tide of U.S. unilateralism.”
(Reporting by John Irish. Editing by Jane Merriman)
[He lowered the hook with the bait on it, so SWIM to it EU for a fast food meal of terrorism if you do not do it the way they want you to.].

2/17/2019 Saudi crown prince signs $20 billion in agreements with Pakistan
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman waits for the family photo during the G20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina November 30, 2018. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has signed agreements with Pakistan worth $20 billion, Saudi-owned Arabiya TV quoted Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying on Sunday.
    The crown prince arrived in Pakistan earlier on Sunday on the first stop of a trip to South Asia and China.
(Reporting by Hesham Hajali; Editing by Susan Fenton)

2/17/2019 India detains 23 men with suspected links to group behind deadly Kashmir attack by Fayaz Bukhari
Indian Army soldiers in a vehicle patrol a street as a woman walks past during a
curfew in Jammu, February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Mukesh Gupta
    SRINAGAR (Reuters) – Indian forces have detained 23 men suspected of links to the Pakistan-based militant group that masterminded the bombing of an Indian security convoy that killed 44 paramilitary police, a top police official said on Sunday.
    The 23 men included members and sympathizers of Jaish-e-Mohammad, the militant group which has claimed responsibility for Thursday’s attack, the deadliest on Indian security forces in decades.
    The attack has fueled tensions between India and Pakistan.
    India has demanded Pakistan close down the Jaish and other Islamist militant groups that operate from its soil, while Islamabad has rejected suggestions it was linked to the attack.
    Kashmir, a Muslim-majority region at the heart of decades of hostility, is claimed in its entirety by India and Pakistan, but is ruled in part by both south Asian countries.
    Representatives of India’s National Investigating Agency (NIA) questioned the suspects about the bombing on Sunday, two security officials said.
    “They are trying to reach out to the top commanders of Jaish-e-Mohammad, including its Kashmir Chief,” one of the sources said.
    Mohammed Umair, the commander of the Jaish in Kashmir who is believed to have plotted the attack, is suspected to be hiding in the region where the attacks took place, the officials said.
    The officials say Umair had “radicalised and motivated” the Kashmiri school dropout who rammed a car laden with explosives into the convoy on Thursday.
    Umair is thought to have entered Indian Kashmir from Pakistan in September to head the Jaish in the region.    Security forces suspect he is in hiding in southern Kashmir, according to the officials, who could not be named as a matter of policy.
    Indian officials say Umair is a nephew of the chief of the Jaish, Masood Azhar, who is believed to be in Pakistan.
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised a strong response to the attack and says he has given the military a free hand to tackle cross-border militancy.
    The Jaish, considered to be one of the most lethal militant groups, has expanded its presence in Kashmir, the police officer said.
    India has raided the houses of suspected militants across South Kashmir to find information on those who masterminded and executed the attack.
    Muzaffar Ahmad Malik, whose brother declared himself a militant a year ago, told Reuters that his house was raided on Saturday by Indian troops.
    “They were looking for militants, as they said that they had information about militants hiding in the house,” Malik said.
    Investigators are now trying to figure out how a large quantity of explosives used in the attack was smuggled into Kashmir, the officials said.
    A spokesman for the ministry of home affairs declined to comment.
(Writing by Sudarshan Varadhan and Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Mark Potter and Jan Harvey)

2/17/2019 China surveillance firm tracking millions in Xinjiang: researcher by Cate Cadell and Philip Wen
FILE PHOTO - Security cameras are installed at the entrance to the Id Kah Mosque during a government organised trip in
Kashgar, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 4, 2019. Picture taken January 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A Chinese surveillance firm is tracking the movements of more than 2.5 million people in the far-western Xinjiang region, according to a data leak flagged by a Dutch internet expert.
    An online database containing names, ID card numbers, birth dates and location data was left unprotected for months by Shenzhen-based facial-recognition technology company SenseNets Technology Ltd, according to Victor Gevers, co-founder of non-profit organization GDI.Foundation, who first noted the vulnerability in a series of social media posts last week.
    Exposed data also showed about 6.7 million location data points linked to the people which were gathered within 24 hours, tagged with descriptions such as “mosque”, “hotel,” “internet cafe” and other places where surveillance cameras were likely to be found.
    “It was fully open and anyone without authentication had full administrative rights.    You could go in the database and create, read, update and delete anything,” said Gevers.
    China has faced an outcry from activists, scholars, foreign governments and U.N. rights experts over what they call mass detentions and strict surveillance of the mostly Muslim Uighur minority and other Muslim groups who call Xinjiang home. (https://tinyurl.com/y9zzouss)
    According to its website, SenseNets works with China’s police across several cities.    Its Shenzhen-listed parent company NetPosa Technologies Ltd has offices in a majority of Chinese provinces and regions, including Xinjiang.
    SenseNets and NetPosa, as well as the Xinjiang regional government, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on Sunday.
    The Chinese government has ramped up personal surveillance in Xinjiang over recent years, including the construction of an extensive video surveillance system and smartphone monitoring technology.
    Gevers said the foundation directly alerted SenseNets to the vulnerability, in line with GDI.Foundation protocol.    He said SenseNets did not respond, but that it has since taken steps to secure the database.
(Reporting by Cate Cadell and Philip Wen; Editing by Mark Potter)
[Don't be surprised by this because the NSA in the U.S. is still doing this to Americans and probably around the world also, even now they are still hell bent to get their hands on Snowden and Assange, and if Americans are stupid enough to vote the Socialist back into office then some day afterward you will find yourself being monitored just like they are in China.].

2/17/2019 Support for Australian government rallies ahead of May election by Colin Packham
FILE PHOTO - Prime Minister of Australia Scott Morrison arrives for APEC CEO Summit 2018
at Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, 17 November 2018. Fazry Ismail/Pool via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Support for Australia’s conservative government has risen to its highest levels in more than six months, a widely watched poll showed on Monday, boosting Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s re-election prospects ahead of a national poll due by May.
    Morrison’s coalition government now trails the opposition Labor Party by 49 percent to 51 percent on a two-party preferred basis under Australia’s preferential voting system, where votes from minor parties are redistributed, a Fairfax-Ipsos poll showed.
    The last Fairfax-Ipsos poll in December showed the government trailing by 8 percent.
    While still on course for an election defeat, the poll is the best result for Morrison’s government since the ousting of former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in August 2018 in a backbench revolt.
    Despite voters remaining angry at the removal of his predecessor, Morrison has been able to profit from an embarrassing defeat in Australia’s House of Representatives last week.
    Australia’s Labor Party and independents voted to soften the country’s hardline immigration laws to give doctors the right to transfer asylum seekers from two Pacific detention centers to Australia if they need medical treatment that they are unable to get on either Papua New Guinea or Nauru.
    Some 1,000 men and woman have been detained by Canberra for six years after they were intercepted at sea attempting to travel to Australia, a policy that has been widely condemned internationally.
    But the policy remains popular at home, and Morrison has sought to use the amendment to frame the looming election as a referendum on national security.
    The issue of immigration has several times played a key role in the outcome of Australian elections.
    In 2001, Australia’s then conservative Prime Minister John Howard refused permission for a Norwegian ship carrying 433 rescued refugees to enter Australian waters.
    Howard, who was trailing in the polls at the time, won re-election and held onto power until 2007.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

2/18/2019 Saudi visit highlights Pakistan’s search for investment by James Mackenzie
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan accompanies Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on a carriage
to the President House in Islamabad, Pakistan February 18, 2019. Press Information Department (PID)/Handout via REUTERS
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The lavish welcome for visiting Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Islamabad this weekend could hardly have made more clear Pakistan’s dependence on foreign investments to prop up its stumbling economy and plug its depleted reserves.
    Fighter jets escorted the prince’s plane across Pakistani airspace and television stations devoted hours of live coverage to the royal motorcade and ceremony, where officials signed memoranda of understanding in energy, minerals and agriculture valued at about $20 billion.
    With foreign exchange reserves now only enough to cover two months of imports and an economy dogged by weaker growth and rising debt, Pakistan needs investment badly as bailout talks with the International Monetary Fund are moving slowly.
    President Arif Alvi bestowed Pakistan’s highest award, the “Nishan-e-Pakistan,” on the prince, while the head of the Senate presented him with a gift of a gold-plated submachine gun.
    “The MOUs reflected the enhanced relationship but what I feel is that this is just a beginning,” Prime Minister Imran Khan told his guest.
    For Saudi Arabia, itself in need of friends after prompting global outrage over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last year at its consulate in Istanbul, the fulsome tributes were no doubt welcome but officials said the accords were economically significant.    Riyadh denies the prince was involved in Khashoggi’s killing, which has strained ties with the West.
    “This is not charity, this is an investment.    There is benefit for both sides,” said Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir.
    Under its Vision 2030 strategy, Saudi Arabia is looking to diversify investments in addition to its crude oil reserves and develop as a “global investment powerhouse.”
HUGE OPPORTUNITY
    The largest deal signed on Sunday, a $10 billion refinery to be developed in the port of Gwadar by Saudi Aramco, will take up to five years to develop.    But smaller deals, including the acquisition of two liquefied natural gas plants, alternative energy projects and food and agriculture investments should bear fruit more quickly.
    “We believe in Pakistan’s future, we believe Pakistan has a huge opportunity,” Prince Mohammed said on Monday.
    Details on many of the investments remain vague but the package was the largest since the $60 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor, hailed as the centerpiece of Beijing’s mammoth Belt and Road global infrastructure project when it was announced in 2014.
    “The interesting thing about this trip is that the relationship has taken another dimension.    From strategic military-to-military, it has taken the dimension of economic cooperation,” said Zahid Hussain, a writer and analyst on regional issues.
    “China will remain a major, key partner in Pakistan,” he said.    “But the Saudis will be supplementing that.    I don’t think it’s a zero-sum game.”
    Prince Mohammed’s visit coincides with a ratcheting up of tensions between Pakistan and India following last week’s suicide attack in Kashmir, claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e Mohammad, which killed 44 Indian police.
    The issue was only briefly alluded to in public but Prince Mohammed’s next stop on his first official Asian tour is New Delhi, where officials are also eyeing billions of dollars in investments.
    Iran – Saudi Arabia’s arch foe – has also stepped up pressure on Pakistan over an attack near their shared border claimed by another militant group, Jaish-e Adl.
    While Pakistan’s powerful military has long been a reliable ally of Saudi Arabia, Islamabad is wary about being drawn into the war in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement.    Pakistani officials say the investment package is not linked to support for the coalition.
(Additional reporting by Drazen Jorgic and Asif Shahzad; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/18/2019 Iran arrests militants linked to attack on Revolutionary Guards
Members of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, gather around the coffins of their fellow guards, who were killed by a
suicide car bomb, during the funerals in Isfahan, Iran February 16, 2019. Morteza Salehi/Tasnim News Agency/via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Revolutionary Guards have broken up a group of militants in southeast Iran who were linked to a suicide bombing that killed 27 guards near the border with Pakistan last week, the Corps said on Monday.
    “Last night, a terrorist cell was identified and destroyed in an operation,” the Corps said in a statement carried by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
    Three militants were arrested and explosive material was seized from houses in the cities of Saravan and Khash, it said.
    “They were linked to the suicide bombing attack last week.    The Corps will continue its efforts to take revenge over the deadly terrorist attack,” it said.
    The Sunni group Jaish al Adl (Army of Justice), which says it seeks greater rights and better living conditions for the ethnic minority Baluchis, claimed responsibility for the attack.
    Shi’ite Muslim Iran says militant groups operate from safe havens in Pakistan and have repeatedly called on the neighboring country to crack down on them.
    Iranian authorities also accuse regional rival Sunni Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates of financially supporting militant Sunni groups that attack Iranian forces.    Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the UAE deny backing such militants.
    Iran summoned the Pakistani ambassador to protest the attack.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/18/2019 Iran’s Khamenei warns government about deception by Europeans by Parisa Hafezi
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a meeting with Iranians
from the East Azerbaijan province, in Tehran, Iran February 18, 2019. Khamenei.ir/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday warned his country’s government not to be deceived by European countries that say they want to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal abandoned by U.S. President Donald Trump last year.
    The comments by the long-serving hardline cleric demonstrate the difficulty the elected government of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani has in maintaining his policy of keeping Iran open to the outside world in the face of new U.S. sanctions.
    Washington’s major European allies have said they want to save the agreement under which world powers agreed to lift sanctions on Iran in return for curbs to its nuclear program.
    The Europeans have promised to guarantee that Iran benefits from abiding by the deal, even though Trump reimposed sanctions.    In practice, European companies largely abandoned plans to reinvest in Iran after Trump’s decision.
    “America’s enmity toward Iran is obvious,” Khamenei said, according to state TV.    “Europeans also practice deception today…. The enemy sometimes shows his teeth, sometimes his fists, and sometimes his smile.    All these tactics are the same.    Even their smile is out of animosity.”
    Since Washington walked out of the deal, Iran has so far continued to observe it.    However, with few economic benefits to show for it, Rouhani has faced a backlash from conservatives.
    The Trump administration says the nuclear deal did not do enough to curb Iranian meddling in regional affairs or restrict its missile program.    European countries say they share U.S. concerns about Iran, but that scrapping the deal would strengthen the hands of hardliners and undermine reform.
    Britain, France and Germany are co-signatories of the deal along with Russia and China.
    A new EU mechanism has been put in place to facilitate trade with Iran without using U.S. dollars, drawing a sharp rebuke from Washington.    In practice, EU diplomats say it is likely to be used only for trade permitted by Washington anyway, such as for food or humanitarian supplies.
    Iran has called on the EU to do more to demonstrate its commitment to the deal.
    Khamenei, a hardline cleric in power since 1989, is Iran’s ultimate authority, but the country is run on a day-to-day basis by the government of Rouhani, who won landslide elections in 2013 and 2017 on promises of opening Iran to the world.
    “I am not telling the officials what to do, but I am advising them to exercise caution (in dealing with Europe), so that they will not be tricked by them and cause problems for the country,” Khamenei said.
    During a conference on the Middle East organized by the United States in Warsaw last week, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence accused Washington’s European allies of trying to break U.S. sanctions against Tehran.    The meeting was attended by more than 60 nations but major European powers such as Germany and France declined to send top diplomats.
    Khamenei said the “anti-Iran” conference in Warsaw had failed: “America invites weak and frightened puppets to conspire against Iran in Warsaw but to no avail,” he said.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra and Peter Graff)

2/19/2019 Ahead of Saudi visit, China seeks ‘deeper trust’ with Iran
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (L) and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi during their meeting
at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China February 19, 2019. How Hwee Young/Pool via REUTERS
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China wants to deepen “strategic trust” with Iran, the Chinese government’s top diplomat told Iran’s foreign minister on Tuesday, days before Saudi Arabia’s crown prince visits Beijing, underscoring China’s difficult Middle East balancing act.
    China has traditionally played little role in Middle East conflicts or diplomacy, despite its reliance on the region for oil, but it has been trying to raise its profile, especially in the Arab world.
    Saudi Arabia’s King Salman visited Beijing in 2017, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in China later this week.
    However, China has had to walk a fine line, as it also has close ties with Saudi Arabia’s regional foe, Iran.
    Meeting Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at a state guest house in Beijing, Chinese State Councillor Wang Yi said he had watched Zarif’s Sunday speech at the Munich Security Conference, where he had accused Israel of looking for war.
    “I saw on television how you defended the rights of Iran loud and clear at the Munich Security Conference.    I think an audience of hundreds of millions of Chinese also watched what you said and you are a famous person now,” Wang said, in brief remarks in front of reporters.
    “I would like to take this opportunity to have this in depth strategic communication with my old friend to deepen the strategic trust between our two countries and to ensure fresh progress of the bilateral comprehensive and strategic partnership,” he said.
    China set great store on, and looks forward to, Iran playing an even more constructive role in regional affairs, Wang added, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry statement.    It did not elaborate.
    Zarif is in Beijing accompanying a delegation that includes Iran’s speaker of parliament, Ali Larijani, and Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh.    Iran was China’s fourth-largest oil supplier last year.
    “Our relationship with China is very valuable to us.    We consider the comprehensive strategic partnership between Iran and China as one of our most important relations,” Zarif said, also in remarks in front of the media.
    Washington’s major European allies opposed last year’s decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to abandon the Iran nuclear deal, which includes China and Russia, under which international sanctions on Iran were lifted in return for it accepting curbs on its nuclear program.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Robert Birsel)
[It is obvious that Iran needs somebody to buy their oil, and Iran is in the path of China's push to build the Belt and Road Initiative, so I am sure there will be a deal in the works toward that end for the Kings Of The East.].

2/19/2019 South Korea’s Moon offers to resume cooperation with North Korea to help denuclearization by Hyonhee Shin and Josh Smith
FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in holds his New Year press conference at
the presidential Blue House in Seoul on January 10, 2019. Jung Yeon-je/Pool via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in told U.S. President Donald Trump in a call on Tuesday that his country is willing to open economic engagement with North Korea as a “concession” if it will hasten Pyongyang’s denuclearization, Moon’s office said.
    Trump is scheduled to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Vietnam next week for a second summit aimed at enticing Kim to follow through on his pledge to abandon nuclear weapons.
    Since Trump and Kim first met in June last year, there has been little progress in talks between the two countries, while Moon and Kim have forged ahead with multiple summits of their own, as well as promises of inter-Korean cooperation on everything from reducing border tensions to launching a joint bid for the 2032 Olympics.
    But plans for economic projects, such as linking railways, reopening a joint industrial center, and allowing South Korean tourists to visit the North, have been on hold while the United States opposed loosening sanctions until more progress is made on denuclearization.
    Moon asked Trump to make use of South Korea’s role as a “concession” to expedite North Korea’s denuclearization, saying he was ready to undertake anything from reconnecting rail and road links between the two Koreas to other inter-Korean economic cooperation, according to a statement from Moon’s spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom.
    “We’re determined to take up that role if President Trump asks, if that’s the way to lessen the U.S. burden,” Moon said.
    Moon said it was Trump’s “leadership and firm resolve” that had brought difficult negotiations with North Korea thus far, as well as progress in inter-Korean ties, according to the statement.
    He “expressed his respect” to Trump who is “exploring a diplomatic strategy to achieve denuclearization and a lasting peace regime on the peninsula, overcoming diplomatic failures over the past 25 years that did not accomplish any outcome through negotiations but only strengthened North Korea’s nuclear and missile capabilities,” the spokesman said.
    Moon’s praise echoes Trump’s own assessment of his efforts, given in a Rose Garden news conference on Friday in which he made the case that he deserves to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on North Korea and Syria, but complained he probably would never get the honor.
    In the past, Moon has said that Trump deserves the prize for engaging with Kim Jong Un directly, in a way no other American president has.
    During Tuesday’s call, Trump briefed Moon on preparations for the upcoming summit, and said he would brief the South Koreans on the results, including in a future meeting with Moon, the Blue House said.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Lambert in WASHINGTON; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Alison Williams)

2/19/2019 China to expand agriculture reforms to bolster rural economy
Farmers unload freshly harvested corn cobs from a corn harvester at a farm in
Bozhou, Anhui province, China September 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China will deepen reforms of its agriculture sector to promote its rural economy, the government said in its first policy statement of 2019, as it seeks to bolster growth and offset trade challenges.
    Beijing’s statement, released late on Tuesday, comes after the world’s No.2 economy saw its weakest growth in 28 years in 2018 and remains entangled in an on-off trade war with Washington.
    “Under the complicated situation of increasing downward pressure on the economy and profound changes in the external environment, it is of special importance to do a good job in agriculture and rural areas,” the government said in the document issued by the State Council and published by official news agency Xinhua.
    Known as the “No. 1 document,” this year’s policy reiterated a rural rejuvenation strategy first laid out in 2017 to improve income levels and living standards in China’s countryside.
    China has been overhauling its crop structure in recent years, reducing support for corn after stocks ballooned, and seeking to promote more planting of oilseeds that it mostly imports.
    That goal has become increasingly important since a trade war with the United States, which led China to slap tariffs on imports of soybeans, tightening domestic supplies.
    In its statement, the government said China will increase soybean planting through “multiple” ways, which were not specified.
    It will also accelerate development of a new farm subsidy policy system and further crack down on the smuggling of agriculture products.
As in previous years, it also called for stable grain production, increased imports of agriculture products where there are shortages in the domestic market and diversified import channels.
    Beijing aims to stabilize corn production and support the production of rapeseed in the Yangtze River Basin, according to the document.
    The government said it plans to strengthen monitoring and control of African swine fever outbreaks, after more than 100 cases were reported in China since August.
    Other plans include continuing to tackle rural pollution and promoting recycling of agricultural waste such as manure and agricultural film.
(Reporting by Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton; Editing by Susan Fenton)

2/19/2019 India’s Modi breaks protocol to welcome Saudi’s crown prince by Mayank Bhardwaj
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman hugs India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi
upon his arrival at an airport in New Delhi, India, February 19, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi broke with government protocol to personally welcome Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to New Delhi on Tuesday.
    Ordinarily, the prime minister would not receive a foreign dignitary at the airport, but instead send an official or a junior government minister.
    “A new chapter in bilateral relations,” Raveesh Kumar, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry, posted on Twitter, hailing Modi “breaking protocol” with a photograph of the pair warmly clasping hands by the steps of the prince’s plane.
    Modi is due to hold talks on Wednesday with the crown prince, who has already visited Pakistan, where he also received a lavish reception.
    The trip has taken on extra dimension after a bombing in the disputed Kashmir region on Thursday that India blamed on Pakistan.    The neighbors are each keen to cement ties with Saudi Arabia even as tensions between them have risen sharply.
    Saudi Arabia is India’s top supplier of crude oil but the two countries have expanded ties beyond energy, and their governments have agreed to build a strategic partnership, India’s Foreign Ministry said last week.
    During the trip, India is expecting the crown prince to announce an initial investment in its National Investment and Infrastructure Fund, a quasi-sovereign wealth fund, to help accelerate the building of ports and highways, an Indian official and Saudi state media has said.
    He is also due to visit China, Malaysia and Indonesia during the tour that is his first through the region since the outcry over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
    The crown prince’s trip began days after a suicide bomber killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir in the attack claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) militant group.
    New Delhi has accused Pakistan of having a hand in the bombing and vowed to punish Islamabad, which denies involvement.
    During his visit to Pakistan, the crown prince said Saudi Arabia had signed investment agreements worth $20 billion.
    He is scheduled to leave New Delhi on Wednesday night, India’s Foreign Ministry said.
(Reporting by Mayank Bhardwaj; Editing by Alison Williams)
[I am sure that Modi needs the Saudi money for their purhases of Russian jets and missiles, etc., etc..].

2/20/2019 Iran’s Rouhani says U.S. sanctions are ‘terrorist act’
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani attends talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip
Erdogan, during their meeting in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, 14 February 2019. Sergei Chirikov/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday relations with the United States had rarely been so bad and that sanctions imposed by the Trump administration targeting Tehran’s oil and banking sectors amounted to “a terrorist act.”
    Animosity between Washington and Tehran – bitter foes since Iran’s 1979 revolution – has intensified since U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from an international nuclear deal with Tehran last May and reimposed sanctions lifted under the accord.
    “The struggle between Iran and America is currently at a maximum. America has employed all its power against us,” Rouhani was quoted as saying in a cabinet meeting by the state broadcaster IRIB.
    “The U.S. pressures on firms and banks to halt business with Iran is one hundred percent a terrorist act,” he said.
    Trump has reimposed the sanctions with the aim of slashing Iranian oil sales and choking its economy in order to curb its ballistic missile program and its activities in the Middle East, especially in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
HYPOCRISY
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the United States of hypocrisy for trying to wreck Iran’s nuclear program while seeking to sell nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, Tehran’s regional rival.
    “Neither human rights nor the nuclear program are the real concern of the U.S. First a dismembered journalist; now illicit sale of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia fully expose #USHypocrisy,” Zarif said in a tweet.
    He was referring to the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, which triggered international revulusion.    His body has not been found.
    The CIA has said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman likely ordered the killing, which Riyadh denies.    Trump has stood by the prince, saying weapons sales to Saudi Arabia are an important source of U.S. jobs.
    U.S. Democratic lawmakers alleged in a report released Tuesday that a proposed transfer of U.S. nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia was being fast-tracked around a mandatory approval process.
    Unlike the United States, European powers are working to preserve the 2015 international nuclear deal with Iran.    But France has said it is ready to reimpose sanctions on Iran if no progress is made in talks over its ballistic missile program.
    In a clear reaction to French pressure, Rouhani said: “We want a constructive interaction with the world, but the countries that work with us should not have excessive demands.    Iran is firm in its stance and will act based on its national interests.”
    Iran has said its missile program is purely defensive.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Gareth Jones)

2/20/2019 North Korea’s Kim shuffles nuclear talks team after defections, spying allegations by Hyonhee Shin
Kim Hyok Chol (R), North Korea's interlocutor leading negotiations with the United States, is pictured upon arrival at Beijing's
international airport on his way to the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, in Beijing, China in this photo taken by Kyodo February 19, 2019. Kyodo via REUTERS
    SEOUL (Reuters) – Veteran North Korean diplomats are being sidelined from nuclear talks ahead of a second summit with the United States as recent defections and allegations of spying undermine the trust of leader Kim Jong Un, South Korean officials and experts say.
    Kim has purged and replaced many top diplomats and officials who served his father and grandfather with new, younger advisors as he gears up to meet U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam next week.
    Among the most significant changes, Kim has appointed little-known Kim Hyok Chol to spearhead working-level talks with U.S. nuclear envoy Stephen Biegun.
    A former ambassador to Spain who was expelled in 2017 after North Korean nuclear and missile tests, Kim Hyok Chol has been working at the State Affairs Commission, a top governing body chaired by the young leader, a South Korean official said.
    He replaced Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, who led negotiations in the run up to the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore in June.
    “It’s a big boys’ game and many diplomats are being neglected, as they face fierce inter-agency rivalry and questions about their ideological faithfulness given their experience in richer, capitalist nations,” the South Korean official said, asking to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.
    “Kim Hyok Chol is a career diplomat too, but he apparently has passed a loyalty test to become the point man in the negotiations.”
SPY CHARGES
    The promotion of Kim Hyok Chol, believed to be in his late 40s, was partly influenced by the 2016 defection of Thae Yong Ho, a former deputy ambassador to Britain, and the recent disappearance of Jo Song Gil, a senior diplomat in Italy, the official said.
    Adding to Kim Jong Un’s mistrust in veteran diplomats, Han Song Ryol, who was vice foreign minister in charge of U.S. relations until early last year, has been purged on charges of spying for the United States, two sources with knowledge of the situation told Reuters.
    Han was one of the best known and highly respected North Korean diplomats in the United States, having for years manned the so-called “New York channel,” a key diplomatic conduit between Pyongyang and Washington, before returning home in 2013.
    But Han has been out of the public eye for the past year, with state media last mentioning him in February 2018.
    South Korea’s Unification Ministry removed his name in its annual ‘Who’s Who’ in North Korea directory, released last month.
    A diplomatic source in Seoul told Reuters, citing North Korean officials, Han was purged last year after being accused of spying for the United States and pocketing funds.
    Michael Madden, a North Korea leadership expert at the Washington-based Stimson Centre who regularly speaks with sources inside the country, said two people told him Han faced “espionage charges” and disappeared last July.
    Thae also said Han had been purged, which means he was likely to have been sent to a labor camp for reeducation or possibly executed.
    South Korea’s Chosun Ilbo newspaper also reported last month, citing an unnamed source, that Han was sent to a labor camp after making an unspecified proposal on the nuclear talks against the ruling Workers’ Party’s guidelines.
    An official at the Unification Ministry said the information on Han could not be confirmed.
    “There were financial problems, but the biggest thing was his spy allegation. Several other diplomats, especially those who were close to Han, were investigated,” said the first source, who spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter.
DRIVING A WEDGE
    In a 2017 report based on interviews with 20 elite defectors, the North Korea Strategy Centre, a defector-run think tank in Seoul, said more than 70 officials have been executed since Kim took power in late 2011.
    Thae said at least 10 diplomats were killed under Kim, and replaced by younger aides and loyalists.    Many other diplomats and officials have been sidelined.
    In a Facebook post last week, Russia’s Embassy in North Korea confirmed Kwon Jong Gun was the new director of the foreign ministry’s North America Department, a post that has been vacant since Choe became a vice foreign minister.
    Choe’s boss, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho, a former nuclear envoy who was widely expected to be U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s counterpart, has never had a chance to show his credentials as Kim continued to rely on Kim Yong Chol, a former spymaster specialized in inter-Korean affairs.
    Thae, the former diplomat in London, said the unorthodox new breed of negotiators was aimed at driving a wedge between the free-wheeling Trump and his team of technocrats, who were mostly cautious and skeptical about North Korea’s claims of pursuing denuclearization.
    “North Korea’s diplomacy has taken an unprecedented tactical course, which is tailor made for Trump,” Thae told a news conference in Seoul on Tuesday.
    “By appointing Kim Hyok Chol, Kim Jong Un was trying to give the impression that there’s no one between them, so that Trump will talk to him and shut his ears to his own staff.”
(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

2/20/2019 Saudi prince sees ‘useful returns’ from expected $100 billion investment in India by Sanjeev Miglani
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a meeting with Indian Prime Minister
Narendra Modi at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said on Wednesday he saw investment opportunities of more than $100 billion in India over the next two years as he began his first official visit amid tensions between arch foes India and Pakistan.
    India rolled out the red carpet for the crown prince as it seeks diplomatic support against Pakistan following a militant attack in the disputed region of Kashmir.
    The crown prince was also given a lavish welcome this week in Pakistan where the two sides signed memoranda of understanding valued at about $20 billion to help prop up Pakistan’s economy.
    In a joint press appearance after talks with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the crown prince said terrorism was a common concern and Saudi Arabia was ready to share intelligence with India to tackle it.
    India blames Pakistan for not doing enough to roll up militant groups that operate from its soil including the one that claimed responsibility for the Kashmir car bombing on Thursday last week.
    Pakistan denies any involvement in cross-border terrorism and said it would retaliate against an Indian attack.
    “We face similar challenges, chief among them extremism and terrorism … and we reaffirm to India that we are ready to work in the intelligence and political arenas to coordinate our efforts…” the crown prince said.
    Saudi Arabia’s formidable domestic security structure helped put down an al Qaeda bombing campaign over a decade ago.    But the kingdom continues to face occasional attacks by Sunni Islamic State fighters and Shi’ite militants in its Eastern Province.
SAUDI ARAMCO IN TALKS
    Riyadh also leads a coalition of Arab states fighting in support of Yemen’s internationally recognized government against the Iranian-aligned Houthi fighters, who regularly fire rockets across the kingdom’s southern border.
    The crown prince also said he wanted to expand commercial relations with India.
    “Today we expect the opportunities we are targeting in India in various fields to exceed $100 billion in the coming two years… we want to work with you, Mr Prime Minister, to ensure these investments are made and to ensure useful returns for both countries.”
    Giant petroleum and natural gas company Saudi Aramco said it was in talks with India’s Reliance Industries Ltd for possible investments and was seeking other opportunities.
    Both India and Pakistan had expected a scaling up of investments on the crown prince’s first tour of the region since the storm over the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist, at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.
    The killing of Khashoggi, a known critic of the crown prince, has strained Saudi Arabia’s ties with the West and battered the prince’s image abroad.    He’s next due in China.
    The European Commission has added Saudi Arabia to an EU draft list of countries that pose a threat to the bloc because of lax controls against terrorism financing and money laundering, sources told Reuters last month.
    But Modi has sought to use India’s fast-growing economy to attract more investment from Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations since he took office.
    During the press briefing, Modi said he had agreed with the prince to strengthen cooperation on counter-terrorism and naval and cyber security.
    The two countries signed agreements on investment in infrastructure, housing sector and tourism.
(Additional reporting by Dahlia Nehme, Stephen Kalin, Neha Dasgupta, Devjyot Ghoshal and Aditya Kalra; Editing by Nick Macfie)

2/20/2019 Taiwan says no compromise on democracy after opposition’s China peace overture by Yimou Lee
FILE PHOTO - Taiwan's President Tsai Ing-wen visits the 6th Army Command, ahead of
Lunar New Year, in Taoyuan, Taiwan January 25, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan will not accept any deal that destroys its sovereignty and democracy, President Tsai Ing-wen said on Wednesday after the island’s opposition KMT party said it could sign a peace deal with China if it wins a presidential election next year.
    China claims self-ruled and proudly democratic Taiwan as its own and has vowed to bring the island, which it regards as sacred territory, under Beijing’s control, by force if necessary.
    While China has not broached the idea of a peace deal in years, the chairman of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang (KMT), Wu Den-yih, said last week the party could sign a peace deal with China if it won the hotly contested election.
    “Taiwan society will not accept any treaty that harms Taiwan’s national sovereignty and democracy,” Tsai told reporters in Taipei.    She said there won’t be real peace unless China rules out using force to bring Taiwan under its control.
    Beijing was expected to make fresh overtures to the KMT ahead of the elections, security sources in Taiwan’s government familiar with the matter told Reuters, a move they said could isolate Tsai’s government and sway the election results.
    Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party suffered stinging losses to the KMT in mayoral and local elections in November.
    Tsai, who says she wants to maintain the status quo, has said China must use peaceful means to resolve its differences with Taiwan and respect Taipei’s democratic values.
    Beijing has regularly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and has heaped pressure on Taiwan internationally, including whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.
    Tsai has repeatedly called for international support to defend Taiwan’s democracy and way of life in the face of China’s renewed threats.
(Reporting By Yimou Lee; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Paul Tait)

2/20/2019 North Korea requests humanitarian aid claims sanctions caused food shortage by OAN Newsroom
    In a rare show of vulnerability, North Korea is requesting humanitarian assistance to feed its people.    According to reports, senior North Korean official Kim Song recently sent a letter to the United Nations, claiming the country doesn’t have enough food or resources to feed its citizens.
    The letter cited extreme weather and sanctions on farming equipment as primary reasons for the decline in food.
    Those sanctions were implemented last year by President Trump in attempt to put pressure against Kim’s regime and nuclear program.
    “The sanctions will come off when we are sure that the nukes are no longer a factor,” stated the president.    “Sanctions played a big role, but they’ll come off at that point.”
    Many see the country’s plea for help as a sign the president’s sanctions are working.    However, critics also worry the claims of dwindling food supplies is merely a negotiation tactic for the upcoming second summit.
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un react at the
Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)
    Nevertheless, Kim Song said North Korea will increase food imports and harvest its crops early this year.
    President Trump is set to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi, Vietnam for a second summit from February 27th to the 28th.

2/20/2019 Iran will not rule out possibility of military conflict with Israel
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the annual
Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accused Israel of engaging in “adventurism” with its bombing campaigns in Syria and said he could not rule out the possibility of a military conflict between the countries.
    Zarif told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung newspaper that Iran was in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government, while Israel was violating Lebanese and Syrian air space, as well as international law.
    “There is adventurism on Israel’s side, and adventurism is always dangerous,” Zarif told the newspaper in an interview to be published on Thursday.
    Asked if he saw an emerging military conflict between Iran and Israel, Zarif said, “I do not, but we cannot exclude the possibility.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel has carried out hundreds of attacks in Syria over the past several years and will ramp up its fight following the planned withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country.
    Israel is trying to counter the influence carved out in Syria by Iran, which has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in the war that erupted in 2011.    It said Tehran’s actions are the main destabilizing factor in the Middle East.
    Zarif, speaking at the Munich Security Conference on Sunday, accused Israel of looking for war and warned that its actions and those of the United States were increasing the chances of a clash in the region.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Susan Thomas)

2/20/2019 Saudi to free 850 Indian prisoners from its jails: India government
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
meet at Hyderabad House in New Delhi, India, February 20, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi/File Photo
    NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will release 850 Indians from its prisons after a request from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi during its Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s visit to New Delhi, India’s Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.
    Saudi jails hold the greatest number of Indians incarcerated in any country abroad.    As of January 2019, 2,224 Indians were jailed in the kingdom for crimes including murder, kidnapping, bribery, cheating, and offences related to drugs and alcohol, according Indian Foreign Ministry figures.
    Some 2.7 million Indians in Saudi Arabia form the largest expatriate community in the kingdom, with many working in low-paid jobs in sectors such as construction, domestic services and retailing that Saudis spurn.
    “At the request of the PM @narendramodi, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia has ordered the release of 850 Indian prisoners lodged in Saudi jails,” India’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a tweet.
    On Monday, Saudi Arabia ordered the release of about 2,100 Pakistani prisoners from its jails, according to Pakistan’s information minister.    Prince Mohammed, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, paid a visit to India’s arch regional rival earlier this week, before heading home and then flying to New Delhi.
    On Sunday, Saudi Arabia signed investment agreements with Pakistan worth $20 billion.    In New Delhi on Wednesday, Prince Mohammed said he expected investment opportunities worth more than $100 billion in India over the next two years.
    The Crown Prince’s Asian tour, which will include China, is regarded as part of an effort to help rebuild his reputation abroad after the killing last October of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi leadership.
    Saudi officials have denied accusations that Prince Mohammed ordered Khashoggi’s murder in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, and have detained 11 suspects in connection with the killing.
(Reporting by Devjyot Ghoshal; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/21/2019 China’s desire for close Iran ties unchanged, Xi says ahead of Saudi prince’s visit
FILE PHOTO - Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks during an event to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the "Message to Compatriots
in Taiwan" at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China January 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mark Schiefelbein/Pool
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s desire to develop close ties with Iran will remain unchanged, regardless of the international situation, President Xi Jinping told the speaker of Iran’s parliament, ahead of Thursday’s visit to Beijing by Saudi Arabia’s crown prince.
    China has traditionally played little role in Middle East conflicts or diplomacy, despite relying on the region for oil, with Iran its fourth largest supplier last year, but has been trying to raise its profile, especially in the Arab world.
    Saudi Arabia’s King Salman visited Beijing in 2017, and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives on Thursday for a two-day visit.
    However, China has had to walk a fine line, as it also has close ties with Saudi Arabia’s regional foe, Iran.
    Meeting Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani on Wednesday, Xi said the two countries had a long friendship and shared long-tested mutual trust, according to a Chinese foreign ministry statement issued on Thursday.
    “No matter how the international and regional situation changes, China’s resolve to develop a comprehensive strategic partnership with Iran will remain unchanged,” it paraphrased Xi as saying.
    China and Iran should further deepen strategic mutual trust and continue to support each other on core interests and major concerns, Xi added.
    China advocates cooperation among international and regional parties to swiftly put the Middle East on the road of stability and development, he said.
    “We support Iran in playing a constructive role in maintaining regional peace and stability and are willing to closely communicate and coordinate on regional issues,” Xi added.
    In Beijing, Larijani has been accompanied by Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh and Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, who met his Chinese counterpart on Tuesday. (Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

2/21/2019 New Taliban political chief to miss upcoming peace talks with U.S. envoys by Jibran Ahmad and Abdul Qadir Sediqi
FILE PHOTO: Head of Political Office of the Taliban Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai attends a
conference arranged by the Afghan diaspora, in Moscow, Russia February 5, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    PESHAWAR, Pakistan/KABUL (Reuters) – Afghan Taliban leaders said on Thursday that their new political chief will not be attending peace talks with U.S. envoys due to take place in Qatar next week.
    U.S. officials had been keen to negotiate with Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, hoping the Taliban’s co-founder and military veteran would add momentum and have the clout to discuss tough issues surrounding the end of America’s longest war.
    But senior Taliban leaders said Baradar would not be traveling to Qatar, citing different reasons including problems obtaining travel documents as well difference among the leadership over his precise role in the talks.
    Baradar was released from a Pakistani jail in October and his appointment was widely seen as marking a new push by the Taliban to emerge from the political and diplomatic shadows.
    Baradar, who earlier led the insurgent group’s military operations in southern Afghanistan, was arrested in 2010 by a team from Pakistan and U.S. intelligence agencies.    A co-founder of the movement, he was a close friend of the reclusive late Taliban leader, Mullah Mohammad Omar, who gave him his nom de guerre, “Baradar” or “brother”.
    “Actually Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar wanted to go to Qatar and personally head the peace talks but due to a host of reasons, he would not be able to travel to Qatar and participate in talks,” one leader told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    Taliban spokesman Sohail Shahin said earlier this week that he was unable to say whether Baradar would be attending.
JANUARY TALKS
    The last round of talks ended in Qatar in January with both the hardline Islamist movement and U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad hailing progress after a longer-than-expected six-day session.
    U.S. officials familiar with discussions said they were hoping to get more details over fresh assurances from the Taliban that they would not allow Afghanistan to be used by groups such as al-Qaeda and Islamic State to attack the United States and its allies – a key demand by Washington.
    The timing of a ceasefire and the withdrawal of foreign forces remain sticking points, while Washington is also pushing the Taliban to talk to the Afghan government.
    The movement has so far boycotted the government, saying it is a puppet of the United States – a position that has alarmed Afghan President Ashraf Ghani.
    Another Taliban official said they were not expecting breakthroughs in the coming talks, adding that they also wanted to discuss the exchange of prisoners and lifting bans on the movement of Taliban leaders.
    The Taliban side will continue to be headed by lead negotiator Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanikzai, a figure who has been increasingly active diplomatically and who recently met Afghan opposition politicians in Moscow.
    The movement earlier announced that its team would meet U.S. negotiators this week in the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, as well holding talks with Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan. The meetings did not take place for reasons that remain unclear.
    Staging near daily attacks against the Western-backed Afghan government and its security forces, the Taliban contest or control nearly half of Afghanistan and are widely seen as more powerful than at any time since being toppled from power in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.
    The United States has nearly 14,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a U.S.-led NATO mission to train, assist and advise Afghan defense and security forces as well as a separate counter-terrorism effort.
(Additional reporting by Rupam Jain in Kabul; Writing by Greg Torode; Editing by Frances Kerry)

2/22/2019 Iran starts Gulf war games, to test submarine-launched missiles
FILE PHOTO: A U.S sailor keeps watch from the captain's bridge onboard the USS John C. Stennis as it makes
its way to the Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, December 21, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo
.     DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran on Friday began large-scale naval drills at the mouth of the Gulf, which will feature its first submarine cruise missile launches, state media reported, at a time of rising tensions with the United States.
    More than 100 vessels were taking part in the three-day war games in a vast area stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean, the state news agency IRNA reported.
    “The exercise will cover confronting a range of threats, testing weapons, and evaluating the readiness of equipment and personnel,” navy commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi, said in remarks carried by state television.
    “Submarine missile launches will be carried out … in addition to helicopter and drone launches from the deck of the Sahand destroyer,” Khanzadi said.
    State media said Iran would be testing its new domestically built Fateh (Conqueror) submarine which is armed with cruise missiles and was launched last week.
    Iranian officials in the past have threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, in retaliation for any hostile U.S. action, including attempts to halt Iranian oil exports through sanctions.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program last May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.    He said the deal was flawed because it did not include curbs on Iran’s development of ballistic missiles or its support for proxies in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq.
    Iran has expanded its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles.
    Iran launched its domestically made destroyer Sahand in December, which official say has radar-evading stealth properties.
    The USS John C. Stennis entered the Gulf in December, ending a long absence of U.S. aircraft carriers in the strategic waterway.,br>     Iran displayed a new cruise surface-to-surface missile with a range of 1,300 km (800 miles) earlier this month during celebrations marking the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
    Western experts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, although there are concerns about its long-range ballistic missiles.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

2/22/2019 North Korea warns of food crisis, slashes rations before next leaders’ summit by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO - A North Korean farm is seen in the rice paddy fields on Hwanggumpyong Island,
located in the middle of the Yalu River, near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of
Dandong, North Phyongan Province, North Korea, June 19, 2015. REUTERS/Jacky Chen /File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – North Korea has warned that it is facing a food shortfall of some 1.4 million tons in 2019 and has been forced to almost halve rations, blaming high temperatures, drought, floods and United Nations sanctions in a memo seen by Reuters on Thursday.
    The release of the undated two-page memo by the North Korean mission to the United Nations comes ahead of a second summit next week between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    Washington has been demanding that North Korea give up a nuclear weapons program that threatens the United States, while North Korea has been seeking a lifting of punishing sanctions, a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War and security guarantees.
    The 15-member U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
    “The DPRK government calls on international organizations to urgently respond to addressing the food situation,” read the North Korean memo, which the country’s U.N. mission described as a follow-up to joint assessment with the World Food Programme between Nov. 26 and Dec. 7, 2018. WFP declined to comment.
    The official name for North Korea is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
    The memo said North Korea’s food production last year was 4.951 million tons, 503,000 tons down on 2017.    The United Nations confirmed these figures as official government data provided at the end of January and said North Korea’s food production included rice, wheat, potatoes and soy beans.
    North Korea said it would import 200,000 tons of food and produce about 400,000 tons of early crops, but that it would still be left with a gap and from January would cut daily rations to 300 grams (10.5 ounces) per person from 550 grams.
    U.N. officials and aid groups in North Korea were consulting the government to “further understand the impact of the food security situation on the most vulnerable people in order to take early action to address their humanitarian needs,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.
    He said the United Nations and aid groups were only able to help one third of six million people estimated to be in need last year due to a lack of funding.    A U.N. appeal for $111 million in 2018 was only a quarter funded, Dujarric said.
    The United Nations estimates a total of 10.3 million people – almost half the population – are in need and some 41 percent of North Koreans are undernourished, Dujarric said.
BAD HARVEST
    Along with extreme weather, the North Korean memo also blames U.N. sanctions for restricting the delivery of farming materials and hindering fuel supply for the agricultural sector.
    U.S. Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun said earlier this month the United States had eased rules on humanitarian assistance to North Korea and was working to clear a backlog of U.N. approvals.
    Benjamin Silberstein, co-editor of North Korean Economy Watch and an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said the harvest had been bad but there was no sign of an emergency.
    “Of course it’s at least partially about the sanctions,” Silberstein said.
    “Just look at the way the letter is worded.    They want to make it sound like sanctions equals starvation so the U.S. should really be benevolent and give them up,” he said.
    Humanitarian aid nearly ground to a halt in 2018 as the United States stepped up enforcement of U.N. sanctions, even though the Security Council North Korea sanctions committee has said sanctions “are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences for the civilian population.”
    “While Security Council sanctions clearly exempt humanitarian activities, there have been unintended consequences on humanitarian operations,” Dujarric said.
    Margareta Wahlstrom, president of the Swedish Red Cross, told Reuters after a trip to North Korea in November that, as far as the areas in which they operated were concerned, the maize harvest was only 65 percent of what should be normal due to the combination of an influenza outbreak, a heat wave and a typhoon.
    Russia is considering sending 50,000 tonnes of wheat in humanitarian aid to North Korea to help it cope with natural disasters, the Interfax news agency cited senior Russian lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev as saying last week.
    Kim Young-hee, a North Korean defector and an expert on the North Korean economy at Korea Development Bank in Seoul, did not think the memo was asking for food.
    “The memo seems like a message saying ‘although U.N. sanctions do not affect people’s lives directly, they affect the whole economy and people’s livelihoods are getting worse.    So wouldn’t it be good if sanctions were eased?’,” she said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS Additional reporting by Joyce Lee, Josh Smith and Hyonhee Shin in SEOUL; Editing by James Dalgleish and Paul Tait)

2/22/2019 China says humanitarian aid should not be forced into Venezuela
People wait with their vehicles at a checkpoint set up by Venezuelan security forces in
Taguanes, Venezuela, February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIJING (Reuters) – Humanitarian aid should not be forced into Venezuela, lest it cause violence, China’s Foreign Ministry said on Friday, warning that Beijing opposed military intervention in the country.
    Venezuela President Nicolas Maduro threatened to close the border with Colombia on Thursday as opposition leader Juan Guaido and some 80 lawmakers ran a gauntlet of roadblocks trying to get to the frontier to receive humanitarian aid.
    Guaido, who is recognized by dozens of countries as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, was poised for a showdown with Maduro’s government on Saturday, when the opposition will attempt to bring in food and medicine being stockpiled in neighboring countries.
    Maduro denies there is a humanitarian crisis and said on Thursday he was considering closing Venezuela’s key border with Colombia and would close the country’s other main border with Brazil, effectively shutting off any legal land access.
    Speaking at a daily news conference, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said that the Venezuelan government had “remained calm and exercised restraint,” effectively preventing large-scale clashes.
    “If so-called aid material is forced into Venezuela, and then if it causes violence and clashes, it will have serious consequences.    This is not something anyone wants to see,” Geng said.
    “China opposes military intervention in Venezuela, and opposes any actions causing tensions or even unrest,” he said.
    Maduro retains the backing of both Russia and China.
    Beijing has lent more than $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade, securing energy supplies for its fast-growing economy
.
    A change of government in Venezuela would favor Russia and China, who are the country’s two main foreign creditors, Guaido told Reuters in an interview last month.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Darren Schuettler)

2/22/2019 U.S., North Korea negotiators work to define denuclearization ahead of summit by OAN Newsroom
    With less than a week to go before the second North Korean summit, negotiators from both sides are working to come to an agreement about the definition of denuclearization.
    North Korean envoy Stephen Biegun and his team are in Vietnam ahead of President Trump’s arrival.    They are laying the groundwork for next week’s summit.
    There is still some confusion over how far chairman Kim Jong Un is willing to go to denuclearize.    As U.S. officials have pointed out, North Korea has yet to clarify their support for the “full and final” destruction of their nuclear weapons program.
    President Trump is expected to use the summit to show chairman Kim why it would be in his economic interest to comply.
    “I really believe that North Korea can be a tremendous economic power when this is solved -their location between Russia, China and South Korea is unbelievable,” said the president.    "I think that North Korea and Chairman Kim have some very positive things in mind and we’ll soon find out.”
In this Tuesday, June 12, 2018, file photo, U.S. President Donald Trump, right, reaches to
shake hands with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore. Trump and Kim are
planning a second summit in the Vietnam capital of Hanoi, Feb. 27-28. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
    President Trump said his ultimate goal is for North Korea to fully and verifiably denuclearize.    However, he also said he is in no hurry at the moment, because Pyongyang has stopped testing missiles and has complied in other areas.
    “I’m in no particular rush — the sanctions are on, the relationships are very strong and a lot of good things have happened,” he stated.
In this June 12, 2018, file photo, a man reads a newspaper reporting the summit between
U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at a newspaper distributing station in
Seoul, South Korea. Trump and Kim are planning a second summit in the Vietnam capital of Hanoi, Feb. 27-28. The headline read:
"North Korea and the United States end 68 years of hostile relations.” (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

2/22/2019 Trump says U.S. has developed ‘much better’ relations with Pakistan recently
FILE PHOTO: Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan speaks at the opening ceremony for the first
China International Import Expo (CIIE) in Shanghai, China November 5, 2018. REUTERS/Aly Song/Pool/File Photo
    (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that the United States has developed a “much better” relationship with Pakistan recently.
    Trump noted that the relations had improved over the “last short period of time” and added that the United States may set up some meetings with Pakistan, which has long been at odds with the United States over the war in Afghanistan.
(Writing by Meredith Mazzilli; Editing by James Dalgleish)

2/22/2019 China, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela in hot seat at U.N. rights forum by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Dolkun Isa, President of the World Uyghur Congress, attends a demonstration against China during its Universal Periodic
Review by the Human Rights Council in front of the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, November 6, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – China is lobbying hard to thwart scrutiny of its mass detention camps for Muslim Uighurs in the Xinjiang region at the U.N. Human Rights Council’s main annual session opening on Monday, diplomats and activists said.
    Saudi Arabia will face criticism for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and its failure to cooperate with a U.N.-led inquiry, diplomatic sources said.     And ambassadors from some European countries plan to boycott a speech by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza on Tuesday, as more countries back opposition leader Juan Guaido and spurn President Nicolas Maduro, they add.
    Western countries look to Turkey and other members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to shine a spotlight on what China calls re-education and training facilities.    U.N. experts say the camps hold a million Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language, and other Muslims.    China has rejected accusations of mistreatment.
    While the 47-member Council’s resolutions are not binding, all countries work hard to avoid its “naming and shaming.”    China is especially sensitive to criticism, which it views as interference.
    Turkey, whose foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu is due to address the Geneva forum on Monday, urged China this month to close its camps, calling them a “great shame for humanity.”
    “It’s up to the OIC.    If they don’t take the lead, it’s very hard for other countries,” one Asian ambassador told Reuters.
    Activists have urged European and Muslim nations to take the lead in establishing a U.N. investigation into the detentions and what they call “forced indoctrination.”
    John Fisher of Human Rights Watch said: “We are encouraged that everybody we speak with shares the concern at China’s sweeping violations in Xinjiang, and agrees that China must be held to the same standard as everyone else, that there is a need for collective action, and that the time to act is now.”
    But diplomatic sources said that there was no sign that any country would present a resolution on China, although delegations were preparing to raise the issue in statements.
    Meanwhile China has failed to block Tibetan and Uighur activists from taking part in the four-week session.
    A letter from China’s mission in Geneva, seen by Reuters, urges the United Nations not to allow 15 activists – including the Dalai Lama and Dolkun Isa, president of the exiled World Uighur Congress – to attend.    The request was rejected, U.N. sources said.
    China is also organizing a photo exhibit at the U.N. in Geneva with some 90 photos, many of smiling Uighurs, they add.
    U.N. rights investigators on Iran, Myanmar and North Korea are to present annual reports.    Their mandates are expected to be renewed, despite the United States having quit the forum last year over a perceived anti-Israel bias, diplomats said.
    A U.N. report on Israel’s use of force against Palestinian protestors in Gaza last year is to be issued, while a U.N. report on a database of companies active in the Gaza Strip may be delayed again, they said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Frances Kerry)

2/22/2019 Trump: Decreasing troops in South Korea not on table for North Korea talks
FILE PHOTO: South Korean and U.S. Marines take part in a winter military drill
in Pyeongchang, South Korea, December 19, 2017. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Friday that drawing down U.S. troops in South Korea is not on the table for his upcoming talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, which will be focused on pressing the Asian nation to abandon nuclear weapons.
    Trump made the comments at a White House event on trade negotiations with China.
    Senior Trump administration officials said on Thursday the two sides will not discuss removing U.S. troops from South Korea and will focus on seeking a common understanding of what it means to denuclearize when they meet in Vietnam at the end of the month.
    The United States keeps some 28,500 troops in South Korea.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Jeff Mason; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Sonya Hepinstall)

2/23/2019 Australia confirms Wikileaks’ Assange has valid passport by Alison Bevege
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange demonstrate in front of presidential palace
regarding his Ecuadorian citizenship, in Quito, Ecuador, October 31, 2018, REUTERS/Daniel Tapia
    SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia has confirmed that Julian Assange has a valid passport, a key development for the Wikileaks founder, who fears that Ecuador seeks to end his asylum in its London embassy and extradite him to the United States.
    The new passport, which would allow Assange, who is in failing health, to return to Australia, was issued in September last year but remained unreported until Saturday.    His previous passport had expired.
    Senior officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) on Thursday told a Senate estimates hearing that Assange had a valid passport, reiterating a statement from last October.
    Senator Rex Patrick of minority party Centre Alliance, who has taken up Assange’s cause in parliament, asked department officials if they had talked to the United States about safe passage for Assange if he left the embassy.
    James Larsen, the department’s chief legal officer, said he was not aware of any U.S. proceedings against Assange and so there was nothing to discuss.
    “I don’t have a record before me of what our engagement with the United States is specifically concerning Mr Assange,” he said.
    “We are not aware, on the Australian government’s side, of any legal proceedings initiated within, or by, the United States, concerning Mr Assange.”
    U.S. officials have acknowledged that federal prosecutors launched a lengthy criminal investigation into Assange and Wikileaks, which published U.S. diplomatic and military secrets under him.
    Assange’s supporters remain convinced the United States will seek his extradition if he tries to leave the embassy.
    “Day 2998 of the unlawful and arbitrary detention of Julian Assange in the United Kingdom,” the Defend Assange Campaign said in a message on social network Twitter on Thursday.
    “U.S. government continues to seek his arrest and extradition for publishing the truth about the war in Iraq.    He has been nominated for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.”
    Assange first took asylum in the embassy in 2012, but his relationship with Ecuador has grown increasingly tense.
    In December he was administered a series of medical tests, in line with new rules for his asylum at the embassy that prompted him to sue the government.
(Reporting by Alison Bevege; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
[You better watch out Assange look what the FBI did to Roger Stone, if they sent 29 FBI agents in full gear and CNN filming the raid and rampaged through his entire house, so they will send hundreds to come after you?].

2/23/2019 North Korea’s Kim begins long train trip to Vietnam for summit with Trump: report by Ju-min Park and Soyoung Kim
FILE PHOTO: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks at the Ministry of the People's Armed Forces on occasion of the 71st anniversary
of the Korean People's Army (KPA) in Pyongyang, North Korea in this February 8, 2019 KCNA Photo. KCNA via REUTERS
    HANOI (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set off by train for Vietnam on Saturday, for his second summit with U.S. President Donald Trump next week, media reported, and hours later, two witnesses saw a train crossing into China from North Korea.
    The reports of Kim’s departure from North Korea came after Vietnam announced that Kim would make an official visit in “coming days,” as the Southeast Asian country prepares to host the summit with Trump on Wednesday and Thursday.
    No details of the leaders’ travel arrangements, or for the summit, have been officially released.
    Trump and Kim will meet in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, eight months after their historic summit in Singapore in June – the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader – at which they pledged to work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    But progress has been scant since then.
    The Trump administration has pressed North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons program, which threatens the United States, before it can expect any concessions.
    North Korea wants an easing of punishing U.S.-led sanctions, security guarantees and a formal end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a treaty.
    Kim left the North Korean capital of Pyongyang at around 5 p.m. (0800 GMT) in an armored train, Russia’s TASS news agency said, citing a North Korean diplomatic source.
    North Korea’s state media has yet to confirm either Kim’s trip to Vietnam or his summit with Trump.
    Two witnesses in the Chinese border city of Dandong, where the main rail line from North Korea arrives in China, said a train had crossed the Yalu River into China at around 9.30 p.m. (1330 GMT).
    South Korea’s Yonhap news agency and broadcaster YTN also reported that a train suspected to be carrying Kim had arrived in Dandong.
    Chinese security chased away people trying to take photographs, one witness said.
    It was unclear if Kim was on the train.    China has declined to answer questions about Kim’s travel plans via the country.
    It could take Kim at least two and a half days to travel the thousands of kilometers through China by train to Vietnam.
TRAIN SPOTTING
    A senior security official in Vietnam told Reuters that Hanoi had been expecting a Vietnam-bound train to depart Pyongyang on Saturday, but did not know if Kim Jong Un himself was on board.
    Two sources with direct knowledge of security and logistics planning told Reuters on Wednesday that Vietnam was preparing for Kim to arrive by train.
    His train was expected to stop at the Vietnamese border station of Dong Dang, where he will disembark and drive 170 km (105 miles) to Hanoi by car, the sources told Reuters.
    Vietnamese police have stepped up security around the border station.
    On Feb. 26, Vietnam will ban traffic on the road Kim is expected to take to Hanoi from a station on the Chinese border, state media said.
    Travel by train has been a favorite mode of transport for Kim Jong Un, and his father, Kim Jong Il, and grandfather, Kim Il Sung.
    In 1958, Kim Il Sung went from Pyongyang to Beijing by train, then flew from Beijing to Hanoi in a plane provided by China, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported on Saturday citing archived Chinese media reports.
QUESTIONS
    The summit in Hanoi comes amid some questions about prospects for progress.
    American intelligence officials have said they believe Kim is unlikely to ever relinquish all of his nuclear arsenal, and U.N. monitors have reported that in recent months North Korea had taken steps to hide, disperse and protect its weapons.
    But a former U.S. intelligence officer, who helped arrange the first summit, predicted on Friday the second summit would be more productive than the first, quoting Kim Jong Un as saying last year he did not want his children to live with the burden of nuclear weapons. [L3N20I05O]
    Kim is visiting Vietnam at the invitation of President Nguyen Phu Trong, who is also general secretary of the ruling Communist Party, Vietnam’s foreign ministry said in a statement earlier on Saturday, but it gave no further details.
    The preferred location for the summit is the Government Guesthouse, a colonial-era building in central Hanoi, three sources told Reuters on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Khanh Vu, James Pearson, Ju-min Park and Soyoung Kim; Additional reporting by Minh Nguyen, Kham Nguyen, Ju-min Park and Hyonhee Shin, and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Robert Birsel)

2/23/2019 North Korea’s Kim: I don’t want my children to bear burden of nuclear arms – report by Jack Kim
FILE PHOTO - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un poses for photos in Pyongyang in this January 1, 2019
photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS.
    HANOI (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told the U.S. secretary of state he did not want his children to live with the burden of nuclear weapons, a former CIA officer involved in high-level diplomacy over the North’s weapons was quoted as saying on Saturday.
    Kim made the rare personal comments to Mike Pompeo during a visit to the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, in April last year to lay the groundwork for the historic first summit between the North’s leader and U.S. President Donald Trump in June in     Singapore, former CIA official Andrew Kim said, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency and the Wall Street Journal reported.
    “’I’m a father and a husband.    And I have children’,” Andrew Kim quoted the North Korean leader as telling Pompeo, when asked whether he was willing to end his nuclear program.
    “‘And I don’t want my children to carry the nuclear weapon on their back their whole life.’    That was his answer,” Andrew Kim told a lecture on Friday at Stanford University’s Asia Pacific Research Center, where he is a visiting scholar.
    Before he retired from the CIA, Kim established the agency’s Korea Mission Center, in April 2017, and accompanied Pompeo – who was then CIA director – to Pyongyang last year.
    In their Singapore summit, Kim and Trump pledged to work toward peace between their countries and for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    But little progress has been made since then and they are set to meet again in Hanoi on Wednesday and Thursday.    They are expected to focus on what steps North Korea might take toward denuclearization, in exchange for what U.S. concession.
    The former CIA officer said the North Korean leader expressed a strong desire to improve ties with the United States as a way to build confidence between them, which he said was needed to end the nuclear weapons program.
    The North Korean leader left Pyongyang by train for his visit to Vietnam on Saturday afternoon, Russia’s TASS news agency reported on Saturday citing a North Korean diplomatic source.
    North Korea’s state media has yet to confirm either Kim’s trip to Vietnam or his summit with Trump.
(Reporting by Ju-min Park and Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel)

2/23/2019 More than 100 separatists detained in Kashmir in pre-election crackdown by Fayaz Bukhari and Alasdair Pal
Indian Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) personnel patrol a street in downtown Srinagar February 23, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Ismail
    SRINAGAR/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – More than 100 separatists in Kashmir were detained in overnight raids, police officials said on Saturday, as part of a crackdown on groups that might cause trouble ahead of nationwide elections set to be held by May.
    The move comes days after a suicide car bombing killed at least 40 Indian security personnel on Feb. 14.    The Indian government has said it will use everything in its power to avenge the attack claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed.
    A senior police official said the arrest of leaders and deployment of troops was a security measure ahead of the elections.
    “Anti-election campaigns will not be allowed and separatists will be detained to ensure free, fair and transparent elections in the state,” the official said.
    On Saturday there were increasing signs that the military clampdown in Indian-controlled Kashmir and the government’s threats against Pakistan were prompting panic buying of fuel, medicines and food.
    There were queues outside petrol pumps and grocery stores were packed with people stockpiling food.
    Mohammad Amin Rather, owner of A-Z grocery Store in the Rajagh area of Srinagar, said: “People are buying rice, edible oil, pulses, eggs and other essentials in bulk.    We are busy and supplies are running out.”
    A government directive to hospitals to ensure they have stores of drugs triggered some of the concerns.
    “People in the valley, especially the cities and towns, are taking everything said or done as a sign that some big trouble is just around the corner,” said Omar Abdullah, a former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir.
    The owner of Raina Medicate in Srinagar’s upscale Jawahar Nagar area, Mohammad Hameem, said people were rushing to buy anti-cancer, hypertension, diabetic and other vital drugs.
    Kashmir is likely to be a key issue in the Indian general election.    It has taken some of the attention away from concerns about the way Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party have managed the economy, and issues such as weak farm incomes and poor jobs growth.
    Modi has promised a strong response to the attack and on Saturday reiterated his intention to make the perpetrators pay a heavy price.
    However, he did condemn the harassment of Kashmiris that has occurred in various parts of India since the attack.
    “Our fight is for Kashmir, not against Kashmiris,” he told a rally of supporters.    “Kashmiris have suffered the most due to terrorism, and the rest of the country must stand in their support.”
TRUMP SEES BIG DANGERS
    Last week’s attack has raised tensions between nuclear-armed neighbors India and Pakistan, that both claim Kashmir in full but rule it in part.    India blames Pakistan for harboring militant groups operating in Kashmir, which Pakistan denies.
    Following the attack, India removed trade privileges offered to Pakistan, and is preparing to send as many as 10,000 additional troops to the contested area, according to a letter from the home ministry seen by Reuters.
    “India will exercise all instruments at its command, whether it is diplomatic or otherwise,” Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said late on Friday.    “This isn’t a one-week battle. It’s to be undertaken in various forms.”
    On Friday, U.S. President Donald Trump said India “is looking at something very strong” in response to the attacks.
    “Right now between Pakistan and India, there is a very, very bad situation.    A very dangerous situation,” he told reporters.
    Islamabad in turn has warned it would respond with “full force” if attacked.
    The overnight arrests in the state included those of senior members of Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI), an Islamic organization that wants Kashmir to be independent from India.
    The arrests led to violent scenes in parts of Kashmir, with stone-throwing protestors met by police firing tear gas.
    JeI’s leader, Abdul Hamid Fayaz, and Yasin Malik, the head of Jammu Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) that wants independence from both India and Pakistan, were among those detained.
    A spokesman for India’s home ministry did not respond to a request for comment on the arrests or troop deployments.
    Next week India’s Supreme Court is expected to hear a petition attempting to remove an article in the constitution that prevents non-residents from moving to Jammu and Kashmir, the Indian state that contains Muslim-majority Kashmir.    If passed it could further escalate tensions in the region.
    A spokesman for JeI said the arrests of its members were a “well designed ploy” ahead of the ruling.
(Reporting by Fayaz Bukhari in Srinagar and Alasdair Pal in New Delhi; Editing by Martin Howell and Robin Pomeroy)

2/23/2019 Iran says it has many options to neutralize ‘illegal’ U.S. sanctions: Tasnim by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO - Admiral Ali Shamkhani, Iran?s Supreme National Security Council Director, speaks to the
media after his arrival at Damascus airport, September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Khaled al-Hariri
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Saturday it had many options to neutralize the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on its oil exports, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported, adding that Tehran’s regional influence could not be curbed as demanded by Washington.
    “Apart from closing Strait of Hormuz, we have other options to stop oil flow if threatened,” Secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council Ali Shamkhani told Tasnim.
    “Iran has plans in place that will neutralize the illegal U.S. sanctions against Iran’s oil exports,” Shamkhani said.    “We have many ways to sell our oil.”
    Tensions between Iran and the United States increased after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers last May, and then reimposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.
    The restoration of sanctions is part of a wider effort by Trump to force Iran to further curb its nuclear and missile programs as well as its support for proxy forces in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon and other parts of the Middle East.
    Washington had been pushing governments to cut imports of Iranian oil to zero.    But, fearing a price spike, it granted waivers to eight Iranian oil buyers when the sanctions on oil imports started last November.
    Iranian officials have threatened to disrupt oil shipments from the Gulf countries if Washington tries to strangle Tehran’s oil exports.
    Carrying one-third of the world’s seaborne oil every day, the Strait of Hormuz links Middle East crude producers to key markets in Asia Pacific, Europe, North America and beyond.
    “There are multiple ways to make that (blockage of Hormuz) happen.    We hope we would not be forced to use them,” Shamkhani said.
RESISTANCE FRONT
    Iran — the dominant Shi’ite Muslim power which is in a rivalry with Saudi Arabia and the United States’ other Sunni Arab allies — has been President Bashar al-Assad’s most supportive ally against insurgents throughout the nearly eight-year Syrian civil war.
    “We have achieved 90 percent of Iran’s goals in Syria,” said Shamkhani, a close ally of Iran’s top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    “There will be important developments in promoting deterrence capability of the resistance front in Syria,” said Shamkhani when asked about Israel’s “possible future attacks” in Syria, according to Tasnim.
    Iran often refers to regional countries and forces opposed to Israel and the United States as a “resistance axis.”
    Israel, increasingly concerned that its enemy Iran may establish a long-term military presence in neighboring Syria, says it has carried out over 200 attacks against Iranian targets in Syria in the last two years.
    Defying Israeli threats that they might be targeted if they do not leave the country, Iran says it will continue to provide military advisers to Syria for as long as necessary in support of Assad’s forces.
    “Iran is capable of confronting any military threat … Trump and Israel are well aware of Iran’s military might,” Shamkhani said.    “They know that they cannot enter a war with Iran.    That is why they publicly threaten Iran.”
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra)
[Go ahead and sell your oil since it will not bring the income you would expect and when those countries are done with you they will go to other sources.    Then what?].

2/23/2019 U.S., Russia to find ways to lift travel ban on Taliban leaders for peace talks
FILE PHOTO - A member of the Taliban holds a flag in Kabul, Afghanistan June 16, 2018. The writing on the
flag reads: 'There is no god but Allah, Muhammad is the messenger of Allah'. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail
    KABUL (Reuters) – The United States and Russia have agreed to explore options on securing travel waivers for Taliban negotiators to participate in talks to end the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. peace envoy said ahead of a fresh round of peace talks scheduled on Monday.
    Lifting the travel ban imposed over Taliban leaders by the United Nations has been one of the key demands of the hardline Islamic group that started negotiations with U.S. officials in 2018 to end the 17-year-old war.
    U.S. special peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who is leading the peace talks with the Taliban, discussed the issue of lifting the travel ban for Taliban leaders with his Russian counterpart Zamir Kabulov in Ankara on Friday.
    “Amb (Ambassador) Kabulov and I also discussed travel barriers to talks. We will explore options for securing UN travel waivers for Taliban negotiators to participate in peace talks,” he wrote on Twitter.
    U.S. officials familiar with discussions said lifting the travel ban on some Taliban leaders could help accelerate the pace of ongoing negotiations.
    The Afghan Taliban said it would resume negotiations on Monday with the United States in Qatar, insisting the meeting “will prove positive” despite propaganda against the peace process.
    Last week the Taliban had to call off meetings in Pakistan after the Afghan government protested to the United Nations Security Council that leaders of the insurgent group were violating travel restrictions under international sanctions.
    However, the Taliban leaders have managed to evade restrictions, raising questions about the United Nations’ efforts in limiting their movements.
    In recent months, Taliban representatives have visited Tehran, Beijing and Moscow.
    The Afghan government was angered that regional countries have been facilitating trips for leaders of the insurgent group, including a conference in Moscow where a Taliban delegation met with Afghan opposition politicians.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

2/24/2019 China tells foreign envoys its efforts in Xinjiang should be applauded
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag flies outside the mosque at the Xinjiang International Grand Bazar during a government
organised trip in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s counter-terror and de-radizalisation efforts in its far western region of Xinjiang should be applauded for creating a new method of tackling the problem, a senior diplomat told foreign envoys last week.
    China is stepping up its diplomatic outreach over controversial camps in the heavily Muslim region, inviting more foreign diplomats to visit as it seeks to head off criticism from Muslim-majority nations and at the United Nations.
    The government says the camps are re-education and training facilities, and have been highly successful in stopping attacks previously blamed on Islamist militants and separatists, but rights groups say they are internment camps.
    Chinese officials briefed diplomats from more than 80 countries and international organizations in Beijing on Friday about Xinjiang, the foreign ministry said on Sunday, confirming a Reuters report.
    Xinjiang Deputy Governor Erkin Tuniyaz and Deputy Foreign Minister Zhang Hanhui explained Xinjiang’s “development achievements” and their “preventive counter-terrorism and de-extremism work” to the gathering, the ministry said.
    “Xinjiang’s counter-terrorism and de-extremism efforts have created a new way to solve the symptoms and root cause of the difficult global issue of counter-terrorism, and are worthy of praise,” the statement paraphrased Zhang as saying.
    “China will continue to make its due contribution towards the global fight against terrorism.”
    The diplomats said China’s explanation had helped them understand Xinjiang, that what China was doing there was important for the rest of the world in combating terror, and that the “successful experience in Xinjiang was worth studying and drawing on,” the ministry added.
    It did not say which countries’ representatives had made the comments, or which countries’ envoys had attended.
    Diplomatic sources told Reuters last week that Western diplomats would attend, as well as those from countries close to China and which traditionally do not criticize its rights record.
    China is also lobbying hard to thwart scrutiny of the Xinjiang camps at the U.N. Human Rights Council’s main annual session, which opens on Monday.
    China has rejected all accusations of mistreatment in the camps.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)
[The big question is who do the Chinese consider to be terrorist?].

2/24/2019 North Korea warns U.S. skeptics as Kim heads for summit with Trump by Jack Kim and Josh Smith
Vietnamese police officers stand guard outside the North Korea-USA summit's media centre
in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jorge Silva
    HANOI (Reuters) – North Korea warned President Donald Trump on Sunday not to listen to U.S. critics who were disrupting efforts to improve ties, as its leader, Kim Jong Un, made his way across China by train to a second summit with Trump in Vietnam.
    The two leaders will meet in Hanoi on Wednesday and Thursday, eight months after their historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, where they pledged to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    But their vaguely worded agreement has produced few results and U.S. Democratic senators and U.S. security officials have warned Trump against cutting a deal that would do little to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
    The North’s KCNA state news agency said such opposition was aimed at derailing the talks.
    “If the present U.S. administration reads others’ faces, lending an ear to others, it may face the shattered dream of the improvement of the relations with the DPRK and world peace and miss the rare historic opportunity,” the news agency said in a commentary, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
    The Trump administration has pressed the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, which, combined with its missile capabilities, pose a threat to the United States, before it can expect any concessions.
    But in recent days Trump has signaled a possible softening, saying he would love to be able to remove sanctions if there is meaningful progress on denuclearization.
    Trump also said he was in no rush and had no pressing schedule for North Korea’s denuclearization, hinting at a more gradual, reciprocal approach, long favored by Pyongyang.
    The North also wants security guarantees and a formal end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a treaty.
    Trump said on Sunday that he and Kim expect to make further progress at this week’s summit and again held out the promise that denuclearization would help North Korea develop its economy.
    He also said Chinese President Xi Jinping has been supportive of Trump’s meeting with Kim.    “The last thing China wants are large scale nuclear weapons right next door.”
TRUMP SCOFFS AT CRITICS
    Trump scoffed at critics of his handling of North Korea.
    “i>So funny to watch people who have failed for years, they got NOTHING, telling me how to negotiate with North Korea.    But thanks anyway!” he said in a tweet
.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told “Fox News Sunday” that North Korea has yet to take “concrete” steps on denuclearization and said another summit might be needed beyond the one in Hanoi, but that he hoped for substantial progress this week.
    “The alternative to giving up his nuclear weapons is remaining a pariah state, remaining a nation that is unable to trade, unable to grow, unable to take care of its own people,” Pompeo said of Kim in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union.”     In a letter to Trump last week, three Democratic chairmen of key committees in the House of Representatives accused the administration of withholding information on the negotiations with North Korea.
    “There are ample reasons to be skeptical that Chairman Kim is committed to a nuclear-free North Korea,” the lawmakers wrote.
    U.S. intelligence officials recently testified to Congress that North Korea was unlikely to ever give up its entire nuclear arsenal.
    The New York Times reported on Sunday that Pompeo has conceded in private discussions with Korea experts that he would be lucky if North Korea agreed to dismantle 60 percent of what the United States has demanded, although he added that it would still be more than any other administration had achieved.
    The State Department declined to comment on the report.
    KCNA, referring to U.S. fears of the North’s weapons, said if this week’s talks ended without results, “the U.S. people will never be cleared of the security threats that threw them into panic.”
    Few details of Kim’s trip to Vietnam were announced until early on Sunday, when North Korean state media confirmed he had left Pyongyang by train, accompanied by senior officials as well as his influential sister, Kim Yo Jong.
RED CARPET SEND-OFF
    In rare, revealing coverage of Kim’s travel, the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper featured photographs of the leader getting a red-carpet send-off on Saturday afternoon and waving from a train door while holding a cigarette.
    He was joined by top officials also involved in the Singapore summit, including Kim Yong Chol, a former spy chief and Kim’s top envoy in negotiations with the United States, as well as senior party aide Ri Su Yong, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and defense chief No Kwang Chol.
    Other senior officials, such as his de facto chief of staff, Kim Chang Son, and Kim Hyok Chol, negotiations counterpart to U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun, were already in Hanoi to prepare for the summit.
    Both sides are under pressure to forge more specific agreements than were reached in Singapore.
    The two leaders are likely to try to build on their personal connection to push things forward in Hanoi, even if only incrementally, analysts said.
    “They will not make an agreement which breaks up the current flow of diplomacy.    (President Trump) has mentioned that they’ll meet again; even if there is a low-level agreement, they will seek to keep things moving,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
    Few details of summit arrangements have been released.
    Some lamp posts on Hanoi’s tree-lined streets are decked with North Korean, U.S. and Vietnamese flags fluttering above a handshake design, and security has been stepped up at locations that could be the summit venue, or where the leaders might stay.
    It could take Kim at least 2-1/2 days to travel to Vietnam by train.
(Additional reporting by Joyce Lee, Ju-min Park, Soyoung Kim, Hyonhee Shin, James Pearson, and Ginger Gibson in Washington; Editing by Robert Birsel and Jeffrey Benkoe)

2/24/2019 Iran says it made successful submarine missile launch in Gulf war games
An Iranian cruise missile fires into the air from a submarine during a test at Strait of Hormuz,
at the mouth of the Gulf, February 24, 2019 in this still image taken from a video. IRINN/Reuters TV via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran successfully tested a cruise missile on Sunday during naval exercises near the Strait of Hormuz, state media reported, at a time of heightened tensions with the United States.
    Tehran has in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route at the mouth of the Gulf, in retaliation for any hostile U.S. action, including attempts to halt Iranian oil exports through sanctions.
    In August Washington said Iran had test-fired a short-range anti-ship missile in the strait during naval drills it believed were intended as a warning after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to reimpose sanctions on Tehran.
    “On the third day of the … exercises, a Ghadir-class Iranian navy submarine successfully launched a cruise missile,” official news agency IRNA reported.
    Iran’s other submarines, the Tareq and the new domestically built Fateh (Conqueror), have the same anti-ship capability, IRNA quoted a military statement as saying.
    More than 100 vessels took part in the three-day war games in a vast area stretching from the Strait of Hormuz to the Indian Ocean, state media reported.
    Separately, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander said Iran had been aware of “enemy efforts” to sabotage its missile program and neutralized them, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.
    “They were trying to sabotage some parts, to cause the missiles to explode in the air,” Amirali Hajizadeh, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace division, was quoted as saying by Tasnim.
    “But so far, they have failed … because we anticipated (the sabotage plans) and made reinforcements.”
    Iran last week confirmed that it had failed twice in the past two months to launch a satellite into orbit.
    Trump pulled out of an international agreement on Iran’s nuclear program last May and reimposed sanctions on Tehran.
    Iran’s expansion of its missile program, particularly its ballistic missiles, has been met with expressions of concern by the United States and European countries.    Tehran says the program provides deterrent capabilities and is defensive.
    The USS John C. Stennis entered the Gulf in December, ending a long absence of U.S. aircraft carriers in the waterway.
    Western experts say Iran often exaggerates its weapons capabilities, though there are concerns about its long-range ballistic missiles.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and David Goodman)

2/24/2019 Iran frees French businesswoman held since October
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012,
a day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubaz/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has released a French citizen arrested for entering the country illegally after other charges were dropped, the state news agency IRNA reported on Sunday, days after France’s foreign minister discussed her case in parliament.
    On Wednesday, b>Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers France was in touch with Iran to improve the conditions of the woman arrested in October on Iran’s Gulf island of Kish for allegedly signing an illegal mining contract.
    “A French national who had been detained for unauthorized entry into Iran has been released in the past few days after legal proceedings took their course and other charges were Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by IRNA.
    Qasemi did not give further details, but Le Drian said on Wednesday that the woman was held “on the grounds of having signed an illegal contract and carrying out a non-authorized trip.”
    Nelly Erin-Cambervelle, a 59-year-old businesswoman from Martinique, had been on Kish – a free-trade zone allowing visa-free entry for visitors from most countries – as part of her import-export business.
    Details over her arrest first appeared in Martinique media last week after Patricia Gros-Desirs Dicanot, a friend and colleague, was quoted as saying that Erin-Cambervelle had been arrested for illegally buying gold after originally going to Kish to begin negotiating a minerals contract.
    Dicanot said Iranian authorities were demanding 40,000 euros ($45,000) for her release.
    “The consular services have been able to meet her several times and are very concerned about her situation,” Le Drian said on Wednesday.    “We are in touch with the family and with the Iranian authorities to ensure that Mrs Erin’s situation improves, while respecting Iranian procedures.”
    Relations between France and Iran have been strained over the last six months despite the two sides committing to upholding a 2015 nuclear deal, after the United States withdrew from the accord.
    Paris suspended nominating a new ambassador to Iran last year after an alleged bomb plot by Iranian intelligence and had not responded to Tehran’s nominations for the top diplomatic post in France. Iran has denied involvement in any plot.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

2/24/2019 North Korea’s Kim on his way by train to summit with Trump in Vietnam by Joyce Lee and Jack Kim
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves from a train as he departs for a summit in Hanoi, in Pyongyang, North Korea
in this photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 23, 2019. KCNA via REUTERS
    SEOUL/HANOI (Reuters) – North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made his way across China by train on Sunday, media reported, bound for a high-stakes second nuclear summit with U.S. President Donald Trump in Vietnam’s capital of Hanoi.
    Few details of Kim’s trip have been announced but he left Pyongyang by train on Saturday afternoon for the Feb. 27-28 summit accompanied by senior North Korean officials as well as his influential sister, North Korea’s state media reported.
    Trump and Kim will meet in Hanoi eight months after their historic summit in Singapore, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, where they pledged to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    With little progress since then, the two leaders are expected to focus on what elements of North Korea’s nuclear program it might begin to give up, in exchange for U.S. concessions.
    In rare, revealing coverage of Kim’s travel, while it is still going on, the North’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper featured photographs of him getting a red-carpet send-off in Pyongyang and waving from a train carriage door while holding a cigarette.
    He was accompanied by top officials also involved in the Singapore summit, including Kim Yong Chol, a former spy chief and Kim’s top envoy in negotiations with the United States, as well as senior party aide Ri Su Yong, Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and defense chief No Kwang Chol.
    The North Korean leader’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, who acted as a close aide in Singapore, is again part of the delegation, the North’s KCNA news agency reported.    It made no mention of his wife, Ri Sol Ju.
    The extensive coverage in the secretive North’s official media was a contrast to the limited reporting that has traditionally prevailed during his foreign trips.
    Other senior officials, such as his de facto chief of staff Kim Chang Son and Kim Hyok Chol, negotiations counterpart to U.S. envoy Stephen Biegun, were already in Hanoi to prepare for the summit.
    With scant progress since the June summit, the two leaders are likely to try to build on their personal connection to push things forward in Hanoi, even if only incrementally, analysts said.
    Both sides are under pressure to forge more specific agreements than were reached in Singapore, which critics, especially in the United States, said lacked detail.
    “They will not make an agreement which breaks up the current flow of diplomacy.    (President Trump) has mentioned that they’ll meet again; even if there is a low-level agreement, they will seek to keep things moving,” said Shin Beom-chul, a senior fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
LEARNING FROM VIETNAM
    The Trump administration has pressed the North to give up its nuclear weapons program, which, combined with its missile capabilities, poses a threat to the United States, before it can expect any concessions.
    North Korea wants an easing of punishing U.S.-led sanctions, security guarantees and a formal end of the 1950-1953 Korean War, which ended in a truce, not a treaty.
    Few details of summit arrangements have been released.
    Some lamp posts on Hanoi’s tree-lined streets are decked with North Korean, U.S. and Vietnamese flags fluttering above a handshake design, and security has been stepped up at locations that could be the summit venue, or where the leaders might stay.
    It could take Kim at least 2-1/2 days to travel to Vietnam by train.
    Some carriages of a green train were spotted at Beijing’s station on Sunday, but it was not confirmed it was Kim’s.
    South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said Kim’s train had passed through a station in China’s port city of Tianjin, southeast of Beijing, at around 1 p.m. (0500 GMT).
    China has given no details of his trip. Its foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Two top North Korean officials who were not in Singapore but will be in Hanoi are Kim Phyong Hae and O Su Yong, vice chairmen of the party’s Central Committee, respectively in charge of personnel management and industrial affairs, KCNA reported.
    O is a former minister of electronics and vice minister of metals and machine building. He might try to learn about Vietnam’s development of manufacturing, analysts said.
    Kim Jong Un may tour some economic facilities while in Vietnam.
    Vietnam, like North Korea, fought a war against the United States and keeps tight control over its people and economy.    It has been touted as a model for North Korea’s development.
    Vietnamese media reported that a North Korean cargo plane arrived on Sunday carrying personnel who appeared to be Kim’s security guards and state media workers.    They were driven under police escort to a downtown hotel.
(Reporting by Joyce Lee in SEOUL and Jack Kim in HANOI, Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING, Hyonhee Shin in HANOI and Hanoi bureau; Editing by Robert Birsel)

2/24/2019 Afghanistan launches new export route to India through Iran
FILE PHOTO: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani speaks during a news conference
in Kabul, Afghanistan July 15, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail/File Photo
    KABUL (Reuters) – Afghanistan began exports to India through an Iranian port on Sunday, official said, as the landlocked, war-torn nation turns to overseas markets to improve its economy.
    Officials said 23 trucks carrying 57 tonnes of dried fruits, textiles, carpets and mineral products were dispatched from western Afghan city of Zaranj to Iran’s Chabahar port.    The consignment will be shipped to the Indian city of Mumbai.
    At the inauguration of the new export route, President Ashraf Ghani said Afghanistan was slowly improving its exports in a bid to reduce its trade deficit.
    “Chabahar port is the result of healthy cooperation between India, Iran and Afghanistan this will ensure economic growth,” he said.
    The Iranian port provides easy access to the sea to Afghanistan and India has helped developed this route to allow both countries to engage in trade bypassing Pakistan.
    Last year the U.S. government granted an exception to certain U.S. sanctions that allowed development of Chabahar port as part of a new transportation corridor designed to boost Afghanistan’s economy and meet their needs of non-sanctionable goods such as food and medicines.
    India has sent 1.1 million tonnes of wheat and 2,000 tonnes of lentils to Afghanistan through Chabahar.
    Both countries established an air corridor in 2017.    Afghan exports to India stood at $740 million in 2018, making it the largest export destination, officials said.
(Reporting by Rupam Jain; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

2/25/2019 Japan to push ahead with U.S. base relocation despite Okinawa referendum result by Linda Sieg
The relocation site for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma where land reclamation work
continues is seen in the Henoko coastal district in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo
February 23, 2019. Picture taken February 23, 2019. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
    TOKYO (Reuters) – A majority of voters in a referendum on Okinawa opposed a plan to relocate a U.S. military base within the southern Japanese island, but the central government said on Monday it intended to press ahead with its construction plans.
    Just over 70 percent of voters opposed relocating the U.S. Marines’ Futenma air base within Okinawa in Sunday’s non-binding referendum, with a turnout of 53 percent.    Okinawa governor Denny Tamaki was elected on that platform in September.
    Okinawa is host to the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan, whose alliance with Washington is central to its security.    Many Okinawa residents associate the bases with crime, pollution and accidents.
    The governor is required to respect the outcome and notify the premier and the U.S. president if the top response was backed by more than 25 percent of eligible voters.
    Tokyo’s central government and Okinawa authorities have long been at loggerheads over the plan to move the air base.
    A U.S.-Japan agreement calls for moving the base, which is surrounded by schools, hospitals and shops, to a less populated area, called Henoko, on the northern part of Okinawa.
    However many Okinawa residents, indignant at what they see as an unfair burden, want the base off the island altogether.
    Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters on Monday the government was taking the results seriously, and would work to obtain the understanding of Okinawa residents, but that plans to move the base could not be deferred.
    “We cannot avoid the necessity of moving Futenma, said to be the most dangerous base in the world,” Abe said, noting that two decades had passed since the agreement to do so was made.
    “We can’t put this off any longer,” he said.
    Tamaki called on the government to accept the “firm decision” of the Okinawa people that the base relocation was unacceptable.
    “I urge the government to change their view that relocating the base to Henoko is the only way and halt construction, along with more dialogue with us on closing Futenma and returning the land to us,” Tamaki said.
    The referendum result was unlikely to derail the central government’s stance, said former Chuo University professor Steven Reed.
    “It’s not a matter of local government policy.    It’s a matter for foreign policy.    The deal has been made,” he said.
    The outcome could give a bit of a boost to the struggling opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) – the largest among Japan’s opposition groups – ahead of an upper house election this year, Reed said.
    The CDPJ opposes the Futenma relocation plan.
    “It could make a substantial difference in the next election in Okinawa and it could make some difference nationwide,” he said.
    Support for the CDPJ was just under 6 percent in a February survey by public broadcaster NHK, dwarfed by about 37 percent for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.
(This story corrects turnout to 53 percent, not 63 percent, paragraph 2)
(Additional reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Jason Neely and Paul Tait)

2/25/2019 China says hopes world provides ‘constructive’ help to Venezuela
Demonstrators throw stones at a line of Venezuelan national guards at the border
in Pacaraima, Brazil February 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China hopes that the international community can provide “constructive” help to Venezuela based on respect for the country’s sovereignty, the foreign ministry said on Monday, after Venezuelan troops repelled foreign aid convoys.
    Violent clashes between security forces and a U.S.-backed opposition attempt on Saturday to bring aid into the economically devastated country left almost 300 wounded and at least three protesters dead near the Brazilian border.
    The United States has threatened new sanctions and Brazil has urged allies to join a “liberation effort.”
    China hopes Venezuela can remain peaceful and calm, the Foreign Ministry said, and reiterated Beijing’s opposition to foreign interference in Venezuela’s internal affairs or the use of “so-called ‘humanitarian aid’ for political aims.”
    “We again call on the government and opposition in Venezuela to seek a political resolution under the framework of the constitution and law, and call on the international community to do more that really benefits Venezuela’s stability, economic development and improvement in livelihoods,” the ministry said.
    China “hopes the international community can provide constructive help to Venezuela under the precondition of respecting Venezuela’s sovereignty,” it added.
    Juan Guaido, recognized by most Western nations as Venezuela’s legitimate leader, has urged foreign powers to consider “all options” in ousting President Nicolas Maduro, ahead of a meeting of the regional Lima Group of nations in Bogota on Monday that will be attended by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence.
    Maduro retains the backing of both Russia and China.
    Beijing has lent more than $50 billion to Venezuela through oil-for-loan agreements over the past decade, securing energy supplies for its fast-growing economy.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; editing by Darren Schuettler)

2/25/2019 Indonesian president vows $30 billion transfer to villages if re-elected
FILE PHOTO - Indonesian President Joko Widodo arrives to visit former first lady Ani Yudhoyono
at a hospital in Singapore February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesian President Joko Widodo has pledged to raise the funds the government transfers to villages across the world’s fourth most populous country to nearly $30 billion over the next five years if he wins a second term in April.
    The World Bank has questioned the effectiveness of the program, called Village Funds, while there are also concerns about how the transfers can fuel corruption.
    Widodo, who will be facing former military general Prabowo Subianto in a re-run of the 2014 contest, made the pledge in a televised speech on Sunday night.
    By the end of 2019, his administration would have transferred 257 trillion rupiah ($18.36 billion) to villages and this would rise to 400 trillion rupiah ($28.54 billion) if he got another five years, he said.
    “Half of Indonesian people live in villages and there is a higher poverty level there than in cities,” Widodo told thousands supporters in a conference hall in Sentul, south of Jakarta, on Sunday.
    “With better utilization (of funds), the prosperity of the people will be more evenly distributed to remote villages.”
    Indonesia’s anti-graft agency has arrested hundreds of village officials for corruption since the Village Funds scheme was launched in 2015.
    Based on Indonesia Corruption Watch’s tally, as of late last year, there had been a total of 181 graft cases related to the scheme.
    Prabowo, as he is usually referred to in Indonesia, has criticized Widodo for economic mismanagement that he says has left many Indonesians poor.
    His camp has also accused Widodo of using the Village Funds, along with a newly introduced “District Funds,” to win votes.
    In a 2017 report, the World Bank said the funds had not resulted in lower rural poverty due to constraints that limit the quality of spending, even though it noted Widodo’s efforts to improve the program’s impact.
    Prabowo has also pledged to transfer 1 billion rupiah to every village across the archipelago if he wins in April.
(Reporting by Gayatri Suroyo; Editing by Ed Davies and Nick Macfie)

2/25/2019 Iran’s Foreign Minister Zarif, architect of nuclear deal, resigns by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the annual
Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the urbane, U.S.-educated architect of its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, announced his resignation unexpectedly on Monday on Instagram.
    “Many thanks for the generosity of the dear and brave people of Iran and its authorities over the past 67 months.    I sincerely apologise for the inability to continue serving and for all the shortcomings during my service. Be happy and worthy,” he wrote on his Instagram page jzarif_ir.
    He gave no specific reasons for his decision.
    Zarif played the lead role in striking the deal under which Iran agreed to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international financial sanctions.
    He came under attack from anti-Western hardliners in Iran after the United States pulled out of the agreement last May and reimposed sanctions.
    A spokesman for the Iranian mission to the United Nations, Alireza Miryousefi, confirmed the announcement of the resignation.    However there was no immediate word on whether President Hassan Rouhani would accept it.
    Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency said “some sources have confirmed Zarif’s resignation.”
    Born in 1960, Zarif lived in the United States from the age of 17 as a student in San Francisco and Denver, and subsequently as a diplomat to the United Nations in New York, where he served as Iranian ambassador from 2002 to 2007.
    He was appointed minister of foreign affairs in August 2013 after Rouhani won the presidency in a landslide on a promise to open up Iran to the outside world.
    Since taking charge of Iran’s nuclear talks with major powers in late 2013, Zarif has been summoned to the parliament several times by hardline lawmakers to explain about the negotiations.
    In February 2014 he caused an uproar with public comments condemning the Holocaust and was subsequently summoned to parliament.    Holocaust denial has been a staple of public speeches in Iran for decades.
    Some hardliners even threatened Zarif with bodily harm after the nuclear deal was signed.    Iran’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, guardedly backed the deal.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Peter Graff and Angus MacSwan)

2/25/2019 U.S. Navy ships pass through strategic Taiwan Strait, riling China by Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Stethem transits waters east of the
Korean peninsula during a photo exercise including the United States Navy and the Republic of Korea Navy
during Operation Foal Eagle March 22, 2017. U.S. Navy/Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Kurtis A. Hatcher/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States sent two Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait on Monday as the U.S. military increased the frequency of movement through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.
    The voyage risks further raising tensions with China but will likely be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from the Trump administration amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.
    The movement comes as U.S. President Donald Trump said the United States and China are “very, very close” to a deal to end a months-long trade war that has slowed global growth and disrupted markets.
    The U.S. Navy’s passage through the Taiwan Strait also comes just days before a summit between Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.
    “The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the U.S. Pacific Fleet said in a statement.
    The two ships were identified as the destroyer Stethem and Navy cargo and ammunition ship Cesar Chavez, the statement added.    The 180-km-wide (111.85 miles) Taiwan Strait separates Taiwan from China.
    Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan, but is bound by law to help defend the island nation and is its main source of arms.    The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.
    China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a breakaway province of “one China.”
    China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and worked to isolate the island internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.
    Earlier this year the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report describing Taiwan as the “primary driver” for China’s military modernization, which it said had made major advances in recent years.
    Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom of navigation patrols.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)

2/25/2019 U.S., Taliban resume Afghan peace talks before spring fighting season by Abdul Qadir Sediqi and Jibran Ahmed
FILE PHOTO: Zalmay Khalilzad, former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Nations,
listens to speakers during a panel discussion on Afghanistan at the
Conservative Political Action conference (CPAC) in Washington, February 12, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst/File Photo
    KABUL/PESHAWAR,Pakistan (Reuters) – The top U.S. envoy for peace in Afghanistan met a senior Taliban leader in Qatar on Monday as the two sides resumed talks to end 17 years of war despite the insurgents’ continued refusal to deal with the Kabul government.
    Zalmay Khalilzad, named last year to lead the U.S. peace effort, met Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, a co-founder of the Taliban and the movement’s political chief, for the first time in Doha.    Talks were expected to run for at least four days.
    “Just finished a working lunch with Mullah Baradar and his team.    First time we’ve met.    Now moving on to talks,” Khalilzad tweeted.
    Even with peace talks under way, the war in Afghanistan killed almost 4,000 civilians in 2018, including a record number of children, making it the single deadliest year for Afghan civilians since the United Nations began documenting casualties a decade ago.
    Baradar arrived in Doha on Sunday, but sources said it was not clear whether he would attend all the meetings, which diplomats in Kabul said were expected to focus on clinching a ceasefire before the onset of warmer spring weather prompts an escalation of fighting, as in previous years.
    The last round of talks ended in Qatar in January.
    Baradar, a veteran fighter and figure of considerable influence within the Taliban, was released from a Pakistani jail last year.    His appointment was widely seen as a fresh effort by the Taliban to emerge from the political and diplomatic shadows.
    Last week the Taliban said that Baradar had named a 14-member team for the talks and would not go to Qatar, but his plans changed on Sunday.
CONFUSION
    “There was much confusion whether Mullah Baradar should travel to Qatar or not.    Some of our people wanted him to go there but avoid participation in the peace talks.    Others wanted him to go and supervise the peace talks,” said a senior Taliban leader in Afghanistan.
    American negotiators, who have held multiple rounds of talks with Taliban leaders since last year, want Baradar to attend the talks to be able to resolve key sticking points: the timing of a ceasefire and the possible withdrawal of foreign forces.
    “What was the point of Baradar’s release if he wants to stay away from the talks?” said a senior diplomat in Kabul, adding that U.S. negotiators had to provide assurances to lift a travel ban on some Taliban leaders to get Baradar to travel to Qatar.
    Last week, the United States and Russia agreed to explore options to revoke a U.N. travel ban on Taliban negotiators, one of the key demands of the group.
    Taliban officials have so far rejected the Afghan government’s offer to hold direct talks but Kabul is planning to hold a grand council of tribal elders and political leaders next month to discuss how to end the Taliban insurgency.
    Sohail Shahin, a Taliban spokesman, said U.S. and Taliban officials are expected to focus on the details of a framework deal reached in principle last month – American troops would withdraw from Afghanistan in return for a Taliban guarantee that Afghan territory would never be used by militants.
    “The ceasefire is one of the big issues that will be discussed at the last stage of this round of peace talks,” said Shahin.    “We are optimistic about the ongoing talks which can end with good progress…It is possible that the Taliban do not refresh or announce their spring offensive.”
(Additional reporting and writing by Rupam Jain, Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/26/2019 Iran infighting ‘deadly poison’ for foreign policy: Zarif
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif speaks during the annual
Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Fighting between parties and factions in Iran is a “deadly poison” undermining foreign policy, Mohammad Javad Zarif was quoted as saying in an interview published on Tuesday, a day after he resigned as Iranian foreign minister.
    Zarif’s comments suggest he may have quit over pressure from hardline elements who have long criticized his role in negotiating a landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
    “We first have to remove our foreign policy from the issue of party and factional fighting,” Zarif told the Jomhuri Eslami newspaper.
    “The deadly poison for foreign policy is for foreign policy to become an issue of party and factional fighting,” he added.
    The Fars news agency reported that the interview had taken place last week, before the resignation.
    President Hassan Rouhani has not formally accepted the resignation which Zarif announced on Monday on Instagram.
    A majority of Iran’s parliamentarians signed a letter to Rouhani on Tuesday, asking for Zarif to continue his job, Ali Najafi Khoshroodi, the spokesman for the parliament’s National Security and Foreign Policy commission told the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).
    Zarif told the newspaper he had followed the guidance of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest authority in the Islamic Republic, during the nuclear negotiations.
    He said U.S. President Donald Trump and his national security adviser John Bolton, rather than Rouhani, were to blame for the U.S. withdrawal from the deal.
    Trump withdrew from the deal in May and reimposed sanctions on Iran.
    “Instead of condemning Trump, why do you come and condemn the elected president of the people?    You come and condemn the foreign policy?” Zarif said.    “What result does that have? The result is that people will become hopeless about the future.”
    Zarif urged diplomats and other employees at the foreign ministry not to quit on Tuesday, according to IRNA.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; editing by Darren Schuettler and Andrew Heavens)

2/26/2019 India says air strike hit major militant camp inside Pakistan by Drazen Jorgic and Sanjeev Miglani
FILE PHOTO: Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor, director general of Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR),
speaks during a news conference in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood
    ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian jets conducted air strikes against a militant camp in Pakistani territory on Tuesday, India’s foreign secretary said, and a Indian government source said 300 militants had been killed, but Pakistan denied there had been any casualties.
    The air strikes hit a training camp of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the group that claimed credit for a suicide car bomb attack killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police in Kashmir on Feb. 14, ratcheting up tensions between the two nuclear armed neighbors.
    The action was ordered as India said it had intelligence that Jaish was planning more attacks.
    “In the face of imminent danger, a preemptive strike became absolutely necessary,” Vijay Gokhale, India’s top diplomat, told reporters.
    “The existence of such training facilities, capable of training hundreds of jihadis could not have functioned without the knowledge of the Pakistani authorities,” Gokhale said.
    Pakistan denies harboring JeM, a primarily anti-India group that forged ties with al Qaeda and has been on a UN terror list since 2001.    In December 2001, Jaish fighters, along with members of another Pakistan-based militant group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, launched an attack on India’s parliament, which almost resulted in the two countries going to war for a fourth time.
    Gokhale said “a very large number” of militants were killed in a strike on a training base in Balakot, a town in a remote valley in Pakistan’s Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province, but did not provide a precise figure for the casualties.
    The commander of the camp was Maulana Yusuf Azhar, a brother-in-law of JeM leader Masood Azhar, Gokhale said.
    A senior Indian government source said that 300 militants had been killed in the strikes.    But no details were provided.
    Pakistan downplayed the severity of air strike, saying its own warplanes had chased off the Indian aircraft, which had released their “payload” in a forested area, causing no casualties and no serious material damage.
    “Indian aircrafts intruded from Muzaffarabad sector,” Pakistani military spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor said on Twitter early on Tuesday, referring to an area in the Pakistan-held part of Kashmir.
    Ghafoor said “facing timely and effective response from Pakistan Air Force,” the Indian aircraft “released payload in haste, while escaping, which fell near Balakot.    No casualties or damage.”
    Saying that more information would be released, Ghafoor tweeted four pictures of the alleged site where Indian aircraft dropped a payload near Balakot, purportedly showing a bomb crater in a forest area but no serious damage.
    Pakistani villagers in the area where the Indian jets struck said they heard four loud bangs in the early hours of Tuesday but reported only one person was wounded.
    “We saw fallen trees and one damaged house, and four craters where the bombs had fallen,” said Mohammad Ajmal, a 25-year-old who visited the site.
    Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi said on Tuesday that “better sense” should prevail, warning India not to challenge Pakistan.
    While Gokhale did not comment on the status of the camps, India’s minister of state for agriculture, Gajendra Singh Shekhawat, said on Twitter on Tuesday they had been “completely destroyed.”
    Indian television networks reported the air strikes took place at 3.30 am.
    Mohammed Iqbal, a resident of Mendhar, on the Indian side of the Line of Control (LoC), told Reuters that he heard jets flying through the night.
    Balakot is about 50 km (30 miles) from LoC, the ceasefire line that is the de facto border in Kashmir, a Himalayan region that has been the cause of two of the three wars India and Pakistan have fought since the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
    Analysts have alleged Pakistani militants have their training camps in the area, although Pakistan has always denied the presence of any such camps.
RARE STRIKES
    Indian markets fell on Tuesday amid concerns over increased tensions with Pakistan.    The rupee weakened to 71.16 per dollar compared with Monday’s close of 70.9850.
    The 10-year benchmark bond yield rose to 7.61 percent compared with 7.58 percent on Monday, while the broader NSE stock index declined 1.17 percent.
    Shelling across the LoC has occurred frequently over the past few years but airspace violations by jets are extremely rare.
    New Delhi said in 2016, following another large attack on Indian security forces in Kashmir, that its troops crossed the LoC to carry out a “surgical strike” on suspected militant camps in Pakistan Kashmir.    Islamabad denied anything serious occurred.
    Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, facing a tight election in the next couple of months, has vowed a strong response to the Feb. 14 attack, the deadliest single assault on Indian forces in 30 years of insurgency in Jammu & Kashmir, India’s only Muslim-majority state.
    Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan denied his country was involved and offered to help investigate the attack if any credible evidence was provided.
(Additional reporting by Asif Shahzad, Fayaz Bukhari and Neha Dasgupta; Writing by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait)

2/26/2019 Pakistani villagers shaken awake as Indian warplanes drop bombs near madrasa by Abu Arqam Naqash and Asif Shahzad
General view of a site after the Indian military aircrafts released payload in
Balakot, Pakistan February 26, 2019. Inter Service Public Relation (ISPR)/Handout via REUTERS.
    BALAKOT, Pakistan (Reuters) – Villagers near the town of Balakot in northeast Pakistan were shaken out of their sleep by what seemed like an earthquake in the early hours of Tuesday, only discovering once dawn broke that there had been an Indian airstrike on their neighborhood.
    Indian officials said the raid destroyed a training camp of Jaish-e- Mohammed, the militant group behind a suicide attack in Indian-controlled Kashmir that killed 40 members of a paramilitary police force on Feb. 14. India’s foreign secretary said “a very large number of JEM terrorists” had been eliminated in what was the first Indian air strike on Pakistani territory since 1971.
    The villagers, however, said only one person was wounded in the attack and they knew of no fatalities.
    A resident, who did not want to give his name, said there was a nearby madrasa run by Jaish, though most villagers were guarded talking about their militant neighbors.
    “There is this madrasa on the hilltop. The Jaish-e-Mohammed runs it,” he said.
    Another person, who also declined to give his name said the militants had had a presence in the area for years.
    “I belong to that area. I know for sure that there has been a training camp.    It used to be there.    I know Jaish people ran it,” he said.
    “This camp was turned into a madrasa several years ago, but no one would still be allowed to get close to this infrastructure.    There are scores of students in the madrasa at any given time,” he said.
    Set in a wooded, hilly area in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province on the way to the scenic Kaghan valley, some 40 kilometers from the de facto border with India, Balakot was of many towns that was devastated by as massive earthquake in 2005.
    From what villagers could see, the Indian attack had missed its target as the bombs dropped exploded about a kilometer away from the madrasa.
    Mohammad Ajmal, a 25 year-old villager near Jaba Top, where the attack took place, said he had heard four loud bangs in succession just before 3.00 a.m. (2200 GMT).
    “We couldn’t tell what had happened.    It was only in the morning that we figured out it was an attack,” he told Reuters after visiting the site, in a wooded hilltop area.
    “We saw fallen trees and one damaged house, and four craters where the bombs had fallen.”
    Fida Hussain Shah, a 46 year-old farmer, said he and other villagers had found pieces of Indian ordnance that had splintered pine trees on the hill but the only casualty was a man sleeping in his house when shrapnel broke the windows.
(Additional reporting by Jibran Ahmad in PESHAWAR; writing by James Mackenzie; Editing Cameron-Moore)

2/26/2019 Taiwan concerns mean China defense budget likely to defy slowing economy by Ben Blanchard
FILE PHOTO: Soldiers carry a PLA flag and Chinese national flags before the military parade
to commemorate the 90th anniversary of the foundation of China's People's Liberation Army (PLA) at Zhurihe
military base in Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, China, July 30, 2017. REUTERS/Stringer
    BEIJING (Reuters) – A slowing economy is unlikely to crimp China’s 2019 defense budget rise, as Beijing earmarks more spending for modernization and big-ticket items like stealth jets, and focuses on Taiwan after a stern new year’s speech from President Xi Jinping.
    The defense spending figure is closely watched worldwide for clues to China’s strategic intentions as it develops new military capabilities, including aircraft carriers and anti-satellite missiles.
    In 2018, China unveiled its largest defense spending increase in three years, setting an 8.1 percent growth target for the year, fuelling an ambitious military upgrade program and making its neighbors nervous.
    The 2019 number should be revealed at the March 5 opening of the annual session of China’s largely rubber-stamp parliament, although in 2017 it was initially not announced, prompting renewed concerns about transparency.
    China plans to set a lower economic growth target of 6-6.5 percent in 2019 compared with last year’s target of around 6.5 percent, policy sources have told Reuters.    The government will also announced the economic growth target on March 5.
    However, the defense budget increase could well surpass that.
    Influential state-run tabloid the Global Times, which takes a strongly nationalistic line, this month cited an unidentified military expert as saying “a stable 8-9 percent increase from 2018 would be a reasonable prediction.”
    China still has a long way to go to catch Western forces because the number of advanced weapons now in its arsenal, such as the J-20 stealth fighter, remain limited, the paper said.
    Xie Yue, a professor of political science at Tongji University in Shanghai and a security expert, said with a weakening economy there would naturally be an expectation for a slower increase in military spending.
    “It should go down, as the defense budget is connected to economic growth, but certainly factors will probably mean it will still go up, like the South China Sea and Taiwan issues,” Xie said.
    Xi’s January speech threatening to attack Taiwan should it not accept Chinese rule has shot the issue back up the agenda for China’s military thinkers, especially as the island gears up for presidential elections next year.
    “The Taiwan question can’t keep being put off, passed down through the generations,” retired Chinese Major General     Luo Yuan, one of the country’s most prominent and widely read military commentators, wrote on his blog last month.
    “Our generation must complete our historic mission.”
‘ITCHING FOR A FIGHT’
    One source with ties to China’s military said the armed forces were itching for a fight over self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by China as its sacred territory, especially after Xi’s speech.
    “Every day, they’re like ‘fight, fight, fight’,” said the source, who regularly meets senior officers.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly warned of the threat from China, and vowed to defend the island and its democratic way of life.    The United States has said it is closely watching Chinese intentions toward Taiwan.
    “Even with just a broom, I would fight against China,” Taiwan Premier Su Tseng-chang told parliament last week.    “You would pay a price if you want to annex Taiwan.”
    The United States again sent two Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait on Monday as the U.S. military increased the frequency of movement through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.
    China’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment on this year’s military budget.    China routinely says spending is for defensive purposes only, comparatively small and that critics just want to keep the country down.
    “What people are scared of is China getting strong,” said Xu Guangyu, a senior consultant at the China Arm Control and Disarmament Association and another former senior Chinese officer, dismissing concerns about defense spending.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has backed plans to request $750 billion from Congress for defense spending in 2019.
    That compares with the 1.11 trillion yuan ($165.40 billion) China set for its military budget in 2018.
    China provides no breakdown of its defense budget, leading neighbors and other military powers to complain that Beijing’s lack of transparency has added to regional tension.    China says it is fully transparent and no threat.
    Diplomats and many foreign experts say China’s defense numbers probably underestimate true military spending for the People’s Liberation Army, the world’s largest armed forces, which also runs the country’s space program.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Gao Liangping, and Yimou Lee in TAIPEI; Editing by Michael Perry)

2/26/2019 Exclusive: Iran buys Indian sugar for first time in five years to overcome U.S. sanctions by Rajendra Jadhav
FILE PHOTO: A man packs sugar for sale inside a shop at a marketplace in Ahmedabad, India, September 19, 2018. REUTERS/Amit Dave
    MUMBAI (Reuters) – Indian traders will export raw sugar to Iran for March and April delivery, five trade sources said, the first Indian sugar sales to Tehran in at least five years as Iran struggles to secure food supplies under sanctions imposed by the United States.
    Under the sanctions, Iran is blocked from the global financial system, including using U.S. dollars to transact its oil sales.    Iran agreed to sell oil to India in exchange for rupees but it can only use those rupees to buy Indian goods, mainly items it cannot produce enough of domestically.
    Trading houses have contracted to export 150,000 tonnes of raw sugar for shipments arriving in March and April at $305 to $310 per ton on a free-on-board basis, the trade sources told Reuters this week.
    “Oil payments have piled up in UCO Bank. Iran is keen to utilize the payments to buy sugar and other food items,” said one of the sources, a Mumbai-based dealer with a global agricultural trading firm, who asked not to be identified as he was not authorized to speak to media.
    Iran’s state buyer, the Government Trading Corporation (GTC), purchased the sugar to ensure ample supplies in the coming months, said a second source, a Mumbai-based exporter.    Iran usually buys sugar from Brazil, the world’s biggest producer and exporter of the sweetener.
    Iran could import as much as 400,000 tonnes of raw sugar from India in 2019 as its local production is not enough to fulfill the demand, he said.
    Cargill, Bunge and other global traders have halted food supply deals with Iran because the new U.S. sanctions have disrupted the banking systems used to settle payments, industry and Iranian government sources said in December.
    Iran is paying a premium of as much as $7 per ton compared to other buyers as traders are anticipating a risk of a delay in payments, said a third source, also based in Mumbai, who did not want to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the U.S. sanctions.
    The exports will help reduce swelling sugar inventories in India, the world’s second-biggest sugar producer, but could weigh on global prices that have risen 8.9 percent so far in 2019 to 13.1 cents per pound as of Monday.
INDIA-IRAN TIES
    During the last round of U.S. sanctions that ended in 2015, India was one of the few countries that continued to trade with Iran.
    India is Iran’s biggest supplier of premium basmati rice and Indian rice traders have extensive business relationships in the country.
    U.S. President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran in May and reimposed sanctions on Iran’s vital oil industry from November.
    Since the renewal of the sanctions, India’s soymeal exports to Iran have also surged to overcome a shortage of animal feed.
    A few Indian sugar traders are hesitant to open trade with Iran because of the sanctions and have carried out their sales through existing connections in the rice and soymeal sector, said a New Delhi-based sugar dealer with a global trading firm.
    “A few trading houses fear selling sugar to Iran could hurt them in future.    They are now helping rice and soymeal traders in arranging sugar shipments,” he said.
    Iran is expected to import 535,000 tonnes of sugar in the 2018/19 marketing year ending on Sept. 30, according to the International Sugar Organization (ISO).    The country’s demand of 2.54 million tonnes outpaces production of around 2 million tonnes, the ISO said.
    Iran bought 720,000 tonnes of the sweetener in 2017/18, the ISO said.
    Indian sugar mills were struggling to export a domestic surplus until recently.    However, they have resumed signing export contracts as a recovery in global prices and a softening rupee narrowed the difference between local and overseas prices, dealers said.
    Mills have shipped around 1 million tonnes of sugar out of 1.8 million tonnes contracted for exports so far in 2018/19, said the first Mumbai-based exporter.
    India is set to produce a sugar surplus for the second straight year in 2018/19, putting pressure on mills to export so they can make payments to farmers.
(Reporting by Rajendra Jadhav; editing by Christian Schmollinger)

2/27/2019 Pakistan says it shot down Indian jets, carried out air strikes in Kashmir by James Mackenzie and Alasdair Pal
General view of a site after the Indian military aircrafts released payload in Balakot, Pakistan
February 26, 2019. Inter Service Public Relation (ISPR)/Handout via REUTERS.
    ISLAMABAD/NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Pakistan carried out air strikes and shot down two Indian jets on Wednesday, Pakistani officials said, a day after Indian warplanes struck inside Pakistan for the first time since a war in 1971, prompting leading powers to urge both sides to show restraint.
    Both countries have ordered air strikes over the last two days, the first time in history that two nuclear-armed powers have done so, while ground forces have exchanged fire in more than a dozen locations.
    Tension has been elevated since a suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir killed at least 40 Indian paramilitary police on Feb. 14, but the risk of conflict rose dramatically on Tuesday when India launched an air strike on what it said was a militant training base.
    Both countries claim the mountainous Himalayan region of Kashmir in full but rule in part.
    The attack targeted the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), the group that claimed credit for the suicide attack.    India said a large number of JeM fighters had been killed, but Pakistani officials said the strike was a failure and inflicted no casualties.
    Indian air force planes entered Pakistani airspace on Wednesday after Pakistan carried out six air strikes in Indian-occupied Kashmir, said Major General Asif Ghafoor, a spokesman for the Pakistan armed forces.
    “This was not a retaliation in true sense, but to tell Pakistan has capability, we can do it, but we want to be responsible, we don’t want an escalation, we don’t want a war,” he told a news conference.
    One of the aircraft fell on India’s side of Kashmir, while the second came down in Pakistani-held territory with two pilots captured, he added.
    At the briefing, Ghafoor produced weapons and identity documents he alleged were carried by the Indian pilots.
    The Pakistan government’s official Twitter account released a video of what it claimed was one of the Indian pilots who had been shot down.
    The man, whose face is bloodied and blindfolded, gives his name and service number, before telling a man questioning him: “I’m sorry sir, that’s all I’m supposed to tell you.”
    In a separate statement, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said it had hit “non-military” targets inside Indian-controlled Kashmir, but that it had avoided human loss and collateral damage.
    “If India is striking at so called terrorist backers without a shred of evidence, we also retain reciprocal rights to retaliate against elements that enjoy Indian patronage while carrying out acts of terror in Pakistan,” the statement said.
    “We are ascertaining and putting out something.    You have to give me some time,” a spokesman for India’s air force said, without taking any questions, when contacted by Reuters.
    Indian officials said three Pakistani jets had also entered Indian airspace, before being intercepted and forced turned back.
    The Indian air force has ordered Kashmir’s main airport in Srinagar along with at least three others in neighboring states to close because of the two incidents, an official said.
    Pakistan shut its airspace, with flights in the country also canceled.    Flights from the Middle East and India were also affected.
    In a separate incident, police officials in Indian-occupied Kashmir said that two Indian pilots and a civilian had died after an Indian aircraft crashed in Kashmir.    The craft was initially reported by officials to be a plane, but a partial tail number from the craft seen by a Reuters witness showed it to be an Mi17 military helicopter.
    The cause of the crash is unknown.
    The latest exchanges hit stock markets in both countries.
    Pakistani stocks fell sharply during morning trade with the benchmark KSE 100 Index down 3.34 percent and the narrower KMI 30 index down 3.6 percent in Karachi.    The Indian stock market was down around 0.5 percent.
CIVILIAN FRIGHT
    On Tuesday evening, Pakistan began shelling using heavy caliber weapons in 12 to 15 places along the de facto border in Kashmir, known as the Line of Control (LoC), a spokesman for the Indian defense forces said.
    “The Indian Army retaliated for effect and our focused fire resulted in severe destruction to five posts and number of casualties,” the spokesman said.
    Five Indian soldiers suffered minor wounds in the shelling that ended on Wednesday morning, he added.
    “So far there are no (civilian) casualties but there is panic among people,” said Rahul Yadav, the deputy commissioner of the Poonch district on the Indian side where some of the shelling took place.
    “We have an evacuation plan in place and if need arises we will evacuate people to safer areas,” he said.
    Officials on the Pakistani side said at least four people had been killed and seven wounded, including civilians, with thousands evacuated and schools closed in border areas.
    “Only those families are still here which have concrete bunkers built within or along their homes,” said Muhammad Din, a resident of Chakothi, a village in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir near the de facto border.
    India has also continued its crackdown on suspected militants operating in Kashmir.
    On Wednesday, security forces killed two Jaish militants in a gun battle, Indian police said.
HEIGHTENED SECURITY
    Pakistan and India have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947 and went to the brink a fourth in 2002 after a Pakistani militant attack on India’s parliament.
    In Mumbai, India’s financial capital, there was a visible increase in security levels for a city that has suffered numerous militant attacks in the past.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke separately with the foreign ministers of India and Pakistan and urged them to avoid “further military activity” following Tuesday’s air strike.
    “I expressed to both ministers that we encourage India and Pakistan to exercise restraint, and avoid escalation at any cost,” Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday.
    “I also encouraged both ministers to prioritize direct communication and avoid further military activity,” he said.
    Both China and the European Union have also called for restraint.    On Wednesday New Zealand Foreign Minister Winston Peters also voiced concern over the escalation in tension.
(Reporting by James Mackenzie and Alasdair Pal; Additional reporting by Fayaz Bukhari, Devjyot Ghoshal, Aditi Shah, Aditya Kalra, Rupam Jain, Abu Arqam Naqash, Eric Beech and Praveen Menon; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani, Simon Cameron-Moore and Nick Macfie)

2/27/2019 Rouhani rejects resignation of Iran foreign minister Zarif by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif delivers his statement, during the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan,
at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 28, 2018. Salvatore Di Nolfi/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected the resignation of Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on Wednesday, standing by a moderate ally long targeted by hardliners in internal factional struggles over a 2015 nuclear deal with the West.
    Zarif – a U.S.-educated veteran diplomat who helped craft the pact that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief – announced his resignation on Instagram on Monday.
    “As the Supreme Leader has described you as a ‘trustworthy, brave and religious’ person in the forefront of resistance against widespread U.S. pressures, I consider accepting your resignation against national interests and reject it,” Rouhani said in a letter published on state news agency IRNA.
    In another show of confidence, senior Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani said Zarif was the main person in charge of Iranian foreign policy and he was supported by the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
    On Wednesday, Zarif thanked Iranians for their support.    “As a modest servant I have never had any concern but elevating the foreign policy and the status of the foreign ministry,” he added in an Instagram post.
    After Rouhani’s announcement, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported that Zarif had attended a ceremony to welcome Armenia’s prime minister to Tehran.
    Zarif gave no specific reasons for his resignation.
    But his move thrust the schism between Iran’s hardliners and moderates into the open, effectively challenging Khamenei to pick a side.
    The schism between hardliners and moderates over the nuclear deal shows the tension in Iran between the two factions, and between the elected government which runs the country on a day-to-day basis and a clerical establishment with ultimate power.
    An ally of Zarif told Reuters his resignation was motivated by criticism of the nuclear accord, under increasingly intense fire in Iran since the United States abandoned it last year.
    Since the United States walked out of the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions, Rouhani has had to explain why Iran has continued to abide by its restrictions while reaping virtually none of the foreseen economic benefits.
    Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh, a moderate, on Wednesday denied reports by a hardline lawmaker that he had also resigned, the Iranian Students’ News Agency (ISNA) reported.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
[Maybe they want a raise, or they are starting to suffer from the sanctions.].

2/27/2019 China says Taiwan talks must benefit ‘reunification’
FILE PHOTO - Wu Den-yih, newly elected chairman of Taiwan's opposition Nationalist Kuomintang Party (KMT),
arrives at a news conference in Taipei, Taiwan May 20, 2017. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China can talk to Taiwan as long as it helps promote peaceful development and “reunification,” Beijing said on Wednesday, after the island’s main opposition party said it could sign a peace treaty if it wins a presidential election next year.
    China claims self-ruled and proudly democratic Taiwan as its own and has vowed to bring the island, which it regards as sacred territory, under Chinese control, by force if necessary.
    While China has not broached the idea of a peace deal in years, the chairman of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang, Wu Den-yih, said earlier this month the party could sign a peace deal with China if it won the hotly contested election.
    Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, from the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), said the island will not accept any deal that destroys its sovereignty and democracy.
    China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, in the government’s first official response to the Kuomintang’s peace agreement proposal, said anything that benefits the interests of people on both sides of the Taiwan Strait should be promoted.
    “As long as it benefits protecting the peace of the Taiwan Strait and increasing the peaceful development of relations, and pushes the peaceful reunification process of the motherland, it can be jointly investigated by both sides,” spokesman An Fengshan told a regular news briefing.
    He did not directly mention the idea of a peace deal in his answer.    China has not mentioned the idea since 2009, when then-premier Wen Jiabao unexpectedly raised it in his opening speech at the annual meeting of China’s parliament.
    China translates the word “tong yi” as “reunification,” but it can also be translated as “unification,” a term in English preferred by supporters of Taiwan independence who point out that Beijing’s Communist government has never ruled Taiwan and so it cannot be “reunified.”
    An said the DPP was seeking to stymie the wish of Taiwan’s people for peace across the Taiwan Strait, which would only harm the people of Taiwan’s interests and “ruin Taiwan’s prospects and future.”
    Tsai’s party suffered stinging losses to the Kuomintang in mayoral and local elections in November.
    Tsai, who says she wants to maintain the status quo, has said China must use peaceful means to resolve its differences with Taiwan and respect Taipei’s democratic values.
    Beijing has regularly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and has heaped pressure on Taiwan internationally, including whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.
    Chinese President Xi Jinping has made Taiwan a key focus of his administration, and warned in a major new year’s speech that China reserves the right to use force to bring Taiwan under its control.
(Reporting by Ben Blanchard and Gao Liangping; Editing by Paul Tait and Darren Schuettler)

2/27/2019 Kazakh leader orders $3.6 billion pre-election oil fund drawdown
Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev speaks during a congress of the Nur Otan ruling party
in Astana, Kazakhstan February 27, 2019. REUTERS/Mukhtar Kholdorbekov
    ASTANA (Reuters) – Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered his government on Wednesday to tap the country’s rainy-day fund for $3.6 billion in order to boost public sector salaries and social aid payouts and develop housing and infrastructure.
    Nazarbayev, who has run the oil-rich Central Asian nation since 1989, might seek re-election in a vote scheduled next year and the additional spending is likely to boost his already strong popularity.
    He spoke in the Kazakh capital, Astana, at a congress of his Nur Otan party, which is also preparing for a parliamentary election in 2020.
    Small groups of opponents staged protests outside the party buildings as he spoke, and were quickly detained by police.
    Nazarbayev ordered lowest-bracket public sector salaries raised by a quarter, and told the government to allocate about $790 million to social assistance for low-income families.
    He also ordered additional spending on affordable housing, and healthcare and infrastructure development.
    The 78-year-old leader, who routinely wins elections with more than 90 percent of the vote, said some of the extra spending would be financed by regular revenue reallocated from other items.
    But the state will also tap its $58 billion national fund replenished by revenue from oil and metals exports for 1.35 trillion tenge (about $3.6 billion), Nazarbayev said.
    As the former steelworker and Communist apparatchik spoke in Astana a few dozen protesters gathered outside the Nur Otan office in Almaty.
    Police quickly broke up the protest which was organized by supporters of Mukhtar Ablyazov, a fugitive former banker and politician who now lives in France and routinely attacks Nazarbayev via social media.
    A Reuters reporter on the scene saw police detain at least 20 people.
(Reporting by Tamara Vaal; additional reporting by Pavel Mikheyev in Almaty; writing by Olzhas Auyezov; editing by Jacqueline Wong and Jason Neely)
[If you did not know Kazakhstan, a Central Asian country and former Soviet republic, extends from the Caspian Sea in the west to the Altai Mountains at its eastern border with China and Russia, largest metropolis, Almaty, trading hub whose landmarks include Ascension Cathedral, a tsarist-era Russian Orthodox church, and the Central State Museum of Kazakhstan, displaying thousands of Kazakh artifacts.].

2/27/2019 President Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, Vietnam by OAN Newsroom
    President Trump is meeting face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.    On Wednesday at the Hanoi summit in Vietnam, the president greeted chairman Kim and said it’s an honor to speak with him once again.
    The president went on to say the first summit in Singapore was very successful, and said he hoped this one will be equal or greater.
President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
    President Trump then told Kim there is tremendous potential for his country of North Korea, and offered help from the U.S. in helping them achieve success.
    “And as I’ve said many times and I say it to the press, I say it to anybody that wants to listen, I think that your country has tremendous economic potential — unbelievable, unlimited — and I think that you will have a tremendous future with your county, a great leader, and I look forward to watching it happen and helping it to happen and we will help it to happen,” he stated.
    President Trump announced there are big meetings Wednesday, February 27th through Thursday, February 28th, and said there may be a news conference while he is still in Hanoi.

2/27/2019 Vietnamese Prime Minister on hosting U.S.-North Korea Summit by OAN Newsroom
    The host of this week’s summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is speaking out about the impact the high-level event is having on his country.
    On Tuesday, the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc said he believes Vietnam was chosen to host the summit, because the country’s government and economy have greatly improved since the Vietnam War.
    Since the 1980’s, Vietnam has made several market reforms and has transformed into a manufacturing super power.
    “The fact that Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, was chosen as the venue for the 2nd North Korea- U.S. Summit is a clear testimony to Vietnam’s increasingly important role and position in the region and the world,” said the prime minister.    “Holding this event realized the principle that Vietnam is an active and responsible member of the international community.”
President Donald Trump, center, and Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc wave flags before a
meeting at the Office of Government Hall, Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019, in Hanoi. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    In a tweet Tuesday, President Trump noted that North Korea could grow its economy like Vietnam if they give up their nuclear weapons.
    Trump tweet: “Vietnam is thriving like few places on earth.    North Korea would be the same, and very quickly, if it would denuclearize.    The potential is AWESOME, a great opportunity, like almost none other in history, for my friend Kim Jong Un.    We will know fairly soon - Very Interesting!

2/27/2019 Iran’s Khamenei says U.S. seeks war, sedition ‘everywhere’
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a speech during a meeting with Iranians from the
East Azerbaijan province, in Tehran, Iran February 18, 2019. Khamenei.ir/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the United States an untrustworthy and warmongering country on Wednesday, and urged neighboring Armenia to expand ties with Tehran despite U.S. pressures.
    Iran is struggling with the sanctions imposed by Washington after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers last year, calling it deeply flawed.
    Washington has told international firms that they will be barred from the U.S. financial system if they breach its sanctions on Iranian energy and banking sectors.    The warning has made many countries wary of doing business with Iran.
    “Americans are totally untrustworthy and they want sedition, corruption, disagreement and war everywhere.    They are against Iran-Armenia relations,” Khamenei’s official website quoted him as saying during a meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan in Tehran.
    “We are committed to good relations with our neighbors, but U.S. officials like (national security adviser) John Bolton have no understanding of human issues and relations,” Khamenei said.    Bolton takes a particularly hawkish view of Iran in the Trump administration.
    President Hassan Rouhani said earlier that Iran was ready to export more gas to Armenia.
    Iran has accused the United States of starting an “economic war” against it, saying the sanctions are preventing Iranians’ access to vital resources.    The U.S. treasury says imports of medicines and food are exempted from sanctions.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)
[Khamenei admitted that the sanctions are working but he will let the people suffer before giving in].

2/27/2019 Stay in your job, Iranian president tells moderate ally Zarif by Parisa Hafezi and Bozorgmehr Sharafedin
FILE PHOTO: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif delivers his statement, during the Geneva Conference on Afghanistan, at the
European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, November 28, 2018. Salvatore Di Nolfi/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI/LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani rejected his foreign minister’s resignation as “against national interests on Wednesday, bolstering a moderate ally who has long been targeted by hardliners in factional struggles over the 2015 nuclear deal with the West.
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, a U.S.-educated veteran diplomat, announced his resignation on Monday in what an aide said was anger at being excluded from meetings that day with Syria’s president, who was visiting Tehran.
    Two days later, he was back with his position strengthened by the president’s endorsement as well as a chorus of support from moderate lawmakers, a senior Revolutionary Guards commander and, implicitly, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.
    In a letter published by state news agency IRNA, Rouhani told Zarif:
    “As the Supreme Leader has described you as a ‘trustworthy, brave and religious’ person in the forefront of resistance against widespread U.S. pressures, I consider accepting your resignation against national interests and reject it.”
    Senior Revolutionary Guards commander Qassem Soleimani said Zarif, who helped craft the pact that curbed Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, was the main person in charge of foreign policy and he was supported by Khamenei.
    The support came at a time when the clerical establishment is in a vulnerable position amid growing pressure from the United States, and so in need of promoting unity and keeping the reform wing on its side.
    Iranian leaders reached the conclusion that Washington wants regime change after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal in May last year.
    In many of his speeches at the time Khamenei stressed that unity is paramount, and that remains his position as Tehran faces reimposed sanctions.
PROTESTS
    Discontent with sky-rocketing inflation and unemployment exacerbated by sanctions have triggered waves of protests.    Iranians who were hoping the nuclear deal would bring relief are now calling for Rouhani and clerical leaders to step down.
    Zarif’s sudden resignation after months of pressure from hardliners was prompted by his indignation of being excluded from meetings in Tehran between top Iranian officials and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an aide said.
    Syrian state news agency SANA said on Wednesday that Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mouallem had received a phone call “from his Iranian counterpart” Zarif to follow up on Assad’s “historic visit” to Tehran.
    In another sign Zarif is firmly back in the job, Assad invited Zarif to visit Damascus, state news agency IRNA reported, without specifying a date.
    Zarif also spoke on phone with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and offered mediation between India and Pakistan, after rising tensions between the two countries.
    “Zarif wanted to resign for a long time and actually he tried several times in the past. But for many reasons, including lack of a replacement, his attempts failed,” said a senior official.
    “I believe that is why Zarif decided to go public and resign.    It was a cry for help.    To tell officials and people that his hands were tied.”
    Zarif’s departure would have deprived Iran of its most skilled diplomat, a patient negotiator able to strike a landmark deal with often hostile Western powers.
    Hardliners also need him to work with countries such as India and China to find sways to ease the impact of sanctions.
    “Zarif is too valuable for the Iranian system to let him go at a time when his diplomatic skills are needed more than ever,” said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran project at Crisis Group.
    The foreign minister’s knowledge of the West – gained during years of studying in the United States and then representing Iran at the United Nations – helped him build a rapport with American officials despite decades of animosity between Washington and Tehran.
    But after Trump abandoned the nuclear deal and reimposed U.S. sanctions, he came under heavy criticism from opponents who accused him of selling out his country.
POLITICAL AMMUNITION
    It was unclear whether Zarif’s resignation announcement, and the expressions of support which followed, were orchestrated.    But allies said the last two days’ events would give him political ammunition against hardliners.
    “There is no one to replace Zarif as the foreign minister.    And the establishment knows that,” said Zarif’s ally, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    “The establishment needs Zarif and Zarif needs the establishment’s support. And the reactions after his announcement, showed the consensus over the importance of having him as Iran’s foreign minister,” the ally added.
    Khamenei, who stays out of day to day politics, has not publicly commented on Zarif’s resignation.    But it is almost certain that Rouhani would have needed a green light from the man with ultimate authority in Iran.
    Zarif’s move thrust the schism between Iran’s hardliners and moderates into the open, effectively challenging Khamenei to pick a side.
    Zarif gave no specific reasons for his resignation.    But allies said he had quit after coming under increasing pressure over the nuclear deal and other issues.
    On Wednesday, Zarif thanked Iranians for their support.    “As a modest servant I have never had any concern but elevating the foreign policy and the status of the foreign ministry,” he said in an Instagram post.
    After Rouhani’s announcement, Zarif signed two agreements in Tehran with Armenia, television footage showed, continuing his duties as Iran’s top diplomat.
(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin and Parisa Hafezi, additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Frances Kerry)

2/27/2019 China expresses ‘deep concern’ over India-Pakistan conflict
FILE PHOTO: Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi attends a joint news conference with Kyrgyzstan's Foreign Minister
Chyngyz Aidarbekov (not pictured) at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse in Beijing, China, February 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee
    SHANGHAI (Reuters) – A senior Chinese diplomat expressed “deep concern” over the escalation of tensions between India and Pakistan on Wednesday, after the two countries said they shot down each other’s fighter jets.
    State Councillor Wang Yi, the Chinese government’s top diplomat made the comments in a telephone conversation with Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, China’s foreign ministry said in a statement on its website on Thursday.
    Qureshi telephoned Wang to inform him of the latest developments in the conflict and to express hope that China would continue to play a “constructive role” in easing tensions, the statement said.
    Wang “reiterated his hope that both Pakistan and India will exercise restraint and earnestly fulfill their commitments to preventing the expansion of the situation,” and said the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected, the statement said.
    India launched an air strike on what it said was a militant training base on Tuesday, its first inside Pakistan since a 1971 war, after at least 40 Indian paramilitary police died in a Feb. 14 suicide car bombing by Pakistan-based militants in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
    It is the first time in history that two nuclear-armed powers have launched air strikes against each other, while ground forces have exchanged fire in more than a dozen locations.
(Reporting by Andrew Galbraith; Editing by Michael Perry)

2/28/2019 Big ask: North Korea’s Kim answers first questions from foreign journalists by James Pearson and Ju-min Park
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Kim Yong Chol, Vice Chairman of the North Korean
Workers' Party Committee, attend the extended bilateral meeting in the Metropole hotel with U.S. President Donald Trump and his
delegation during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    HANOI (Reuters) – Kim Jong Un’s summit with U.S. President Donald Trump may have ended without progress on removing economic sanctions or ending the Korean War, but at least in his dealings on the world stage, the young North Korean leader took another step forward.
    In an unexpected first, Kim spoke to foreign journalists on Thursday during a photo opportunity in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.
    “I won’t make a premature judgment, but my sense is that there will be good results,” Kim said of his meeting with Trump, in response to a question from Washington Post reporter David Nakamura.
    While Kim’s optimism was misplaced, it marked the first time the North Korean leader has ever answer a question from a foreign journalist, and there was more to come.
    “There must be people who watch us having a wonderful time, like a scene from a fantasy movie.    We have so far made lots of efforts, and it’s time to show them,” Kim said.
    Later, seated across the negotiating table from Trump, Kim was asked by Reuters whether or not he was ready to give up his nuclear weapons.
    “If I wasn’t ready for such a thing, I wouldn’t be here,” Kim replied.
    Kim then asked the media for more time with Trump for “sufficient discussion.”
    “Even one minute is precious for us,” he said.
    Kim’s confident interaction with the foreign press is a marked departure from the style of his father and previous North Korean leader Kim Jong Il, who never gave interviews and whose voice was only ever heard twice in publicly available audio recordings.
    It does, however, bear the hallmarks of Kim’s grandfather, founding president Kim Il Sung, who gave interviews to foreign journalists in the 1990s, and even hosted some for drinks on his private yacht.
    The eldest Kim described the impact of media coverage of journalists visiting North Korea as “very positive.”
    “This is very fresh.    Even Kim Il Sung preferred written interviews, but Kim Jong Un responded to reporters in impromptu, informal circumstances,” said Koh Yu-hwan, a North Korea leadership expert at South Korea’s Dongguk University.
    “It looks like he’s confident enough to speak up.”
    It was not the first time a foreign journalist had asked a question to Kim Jong Un.
    In 2013, a journalist from Britain’s Channel 4 News shouted “What message are you trying to send to the West?” at Kim Jong Un as he passed a gaggle of reporters at an official event in Pyongyang.
    That time, Kim did not answer.
(Reporting by James Pearson and Ju-min Park; Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim, Jeff Mason and Jeongmin Kim; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

2/28/2019 Trump walks away from deal with North Korea’s Kim over sanctions demand by Jeff Mason and Josh Smith
The motorcade of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is seen after leaving the Metropole, following the
North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon
    HANOI (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he had walked away from a nuclear deal at his summit with Kim Jong Un because of unacceptable demands from the North Korean leader to lift punishing U.S.-led sanctions.
    Trump said two days of talks in the Vietnamese capital Hanoi had made good progress in building relations and on the key issue of denuclearization, but it was important not to rush into a bad deal.
    “It was all about the sanctions,” Trump said at a news conference after the talks were cut short.    “Basically, they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, and we couldn’t do that.”
    The United Nations and the United States ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea when the reclusive state undertook a series of nuclear and ballistic missile tests in 2017, cutting off its main sources hard cash.
    Both Trump and Kim left the venue of their talks, the French-colonial-era Metropole hotel, without attending a planned lunch together.
    “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times,” Trump said, adding “it was a friendly walk.”
    He later left Vietnam to return to Washington.
    Failure to reach an agreement marks a setback for Trump, a self-styled dealmaker under pressure at home over his ties to Russia and testimony from Michael Cohen, his former personal lawyer who accused him of breaking the law while in office.
    Trump said Cohen “lied a lot” during Congressional testimony in Washington on Wednesday, though he had told the truth when he said there had been “no collusion” with Russia.
    The collapse of the talks will likely raise questions about the Trump administration’s preparations and about what some critics see as his cavalier style of personal diplomacy.
    Since their first summit in Singapore in June, Trump has stressed his good chemistry with Kim, but there have been questions about whether the bonhomie could move them beyond summit pageantry to substantive progress on eliminating a North Korean nuclear arsenal that threatens the United States.
GRAPHIC: Vietnam holds Trump-Kim summit – https://tmsnrt.rs/2VkEAP4
‘NO RUSH’
    “No deal is a surprise, especially as they were both all smiley last evening,” said Lim Soo-ho, senior research fellow at the Institute for National Security Strategy.
    “But no-deal today doesn’t mean there won’t be one in coming months.    It means stakes were way too high for the two leaders to give another wishy-washy statement like they did in Singapore.”
    The Singapore summit, the first between a sitting U.S. president and a North Korean leader, produced a vague statement in which Kim pledged to work toward denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.
    But little progress followed.
    News of the summit failure sent South Korea’s currency lower and knocked regional stock markets.    South Korea’s Kospi index closed 1.8 percent lower, marking the biggest one-day percentage loss since Oct 2018.
    North Korea’s old rival South Korea, which backs efforts to end confrontation on the peninsula, said it regretted that no deal had been reached but the two sides had made progress.
    While Trump had said he was in no rush to strike a deal with North Korea, the White House had been confident enough to schedule a “joint agreement signing ceremony” at the conclusion of talks. Like the lunch, the ceremony did not take the place.
    There was no indication of when Trump and Kim might meet again but the White House said the “respective teams look forward to meeting in the future.”
    Kicking off their second day in Hanoi, Trump said he would be happy as long as North Korea conducted no more nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
    North Korea has conducted no nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile tests since late 2017, and Trump said Kim had promised him there would be no more.     Trump said he and Kim had discussed dismantling North Korea’s main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, which Kim was willing to do, but Kim had wanted sanctions relief first.     There were other facilities that Trump said he had raised, and the North Koreans had been surprised the Americans knew about them, but they had not been able to agree on them.     “We asked him to do more and he was unprepared to do that, but I’m still optimistic,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told the news conference, referring to Kim.     Trump said the United States would be able to inspect some North Korean facilities but he did not go into specifics.
WILLINGNESS?
    While Trump indicated a more flexible stance in the run-up to the Hanoi summit, critics had warned that he risked squandering vital leverage over North Korea if he gave away too much, too quickly.
    U.S. intelligence officials have said there is no sign North Korea would eve give up its entire arsenal of nuclear weapons, which Kim’s ruling family sees as vital to its survival.
    While the United States has long demanded that North Korea give up all of its nuclear and missile programs, the North wants to see the removal of a U.S. nuclear umbrella for its Asian allies such as South Korea and Japan.
    Earlier Kim and Trump, seated across from each other at a conference table, appeared confident of progress, and Kim had suggested he was ready to give up his nuclear bombs.
    “If I’m not willing to do that, I won’t be here right now,” Kim told reporters through an interpreter, when asked if he was ready to give up his nuclear weapons.
(For live coverage of the summit, click: https://www.reuters.com/live/north-korea; Eikon SUMMIT LIVE [nL3N20M1H6]; Reporting by Soyoung Kim and Jeff Mason in HANOI; Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim, Joyce Lee, Jeongmin Kim, Hyonhee Shin, Jack Kim, James Pearson, Mai Nyugen, Ju-min Park, Khanh Vu in HANOI, David Brunnstrom and Matt Spetalnick in WASHINGTON; Editing by Robert Birsel and Lincoln Feast)
[Some say that Kim is unsure to modernize in fear that giving people such freedom may lead to his family line to be overthrown, and other doubt that he will ever give up his nuclear weapons.].

2/28/2019 Burden back on diplomats as Trump and Kim fail to reach North Korea deal by Josh Smith
North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un and U.S. President Donald Trump talk in the garden of the Metropole hotel
during the second North Korea-U.S. summit in Hanoi, Vietnam February 28, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    HANOI (Reuters) – The failure of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to secure even a limited deal at their second nuclear summit means any breakthrough now depends on working-level talks that have made little progress since last year.
    The sudden collapse of talks on Thursday highlighted just how large the gulf between the two countries remains, experts said.
    It also underscored that whatever chemistry Trump and Kim might have, it was not enough to overcome differences that the rushed pre-summit negotiations left unresolved.
    In the run-up to the summit in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, Trump downplayed expectations that North Korea would give up its entire nuclear weapons arsenal any time soon.
    But officials had signaled a limited deal could lead to a declaration ending the state of hostilities that have existed since the 1950-1953 Korean War, the closing of North Korea’s main nuclear facility at Yongbyon, or opening liaison
    The two leaders began their summit by expressing optimism and the White House announced they would sign a joint declaration, widely expected to at least reaffirm the general goals agreed to when Trump and Kim met for the first time in Singapore last year.
    The ceremony, as well as a working lunch, was abruptly canceled.
    “Not only did the Hanoi Summit fail to produce meaningful results, but Trump and his team have clearly squandered the seven months since Singapore to make progress on even modest steps toward the lofty Singapore Summit goals,” said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Washington-based Arms Control Association.
    Trump said no deal was reached because Kim wanted all sanctions lifted in exchange for partial denuclearization.
    That stance should have been a massive warning flag to the American delegation ahead of the summit, Kimball said.
SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP
    Typically, major summits between world leaders are held only once officials have finalised all the details, something they were unable to do this time.
    “When you are dealing with a country that is of the nature of North Korea, it is often the case that only the most senior leaders have the capacity to make those important decisions,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters on his airplane after departing Hanoi.
    Optimists clung to Trump’s insistence that the two sides remained committed to talking as a sign there won’t be an immediate return to the threats and tension of the past.
    Critics, meanwhile, said the summit proved Trump’s diplomacy was based on pageantry that has done little beyond reducing political pressure on one of the world’s most repressive countries.
    Most analysts agreed, however, that the second summit ending with no or little progress made it harder for Trump to argue for his reliance on the self-described “special relationship” with Kim.
    “It does rather undermine the top-down approach, at least for the time being,” said Christopher Green, senior advisor to the International Crisis Group.    “Trump isn’t going to be able to spend scarce political capital on another failed summit, so the next steps will have to come from the working level.”
WORKING LEVEL TALKS
    After last year’s Singapore summit, lower-level U.S. negotiators sometimes struggled to meet with their North Korean counterparts, and the recent flurry of talks only began after the summit appeared imminent.
    “The lack of working-level talks in the lead up to the Hanoi Summit undermined the chances of reaching a successful deal,” U.S. Democratic senator Ed Markey said on twitter on Thursday, calling on both sides to “immediately continue their engagement.”
    Daniel Russel, vice president of Asia Society Policy