Weekly Global Newscast | June 24 - June 30, 2019
Deliberations for Terminating America’s Most-Protracted War in Afghanistan
Seventh round of negotiations are being held between United States and the Taliban in Qatar for ending the US war in Afghanistan, withdrawal of US troops in exchange for guarantee that Afghanistan will never provide sanctuaries to extremist and terrorist groups.
‘Following the end of the sixth round of negotiations with the Taliban in May, the US special representative for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, announced that “faster progress” was needed as “the conflict rages” and “innocent people die”. But analysts say peace has never been closer in Afghanistan since the talks between the US and the Taliban began. Separately, three meetings have been held since 2017 in Moscow between the Taliban and senior Afghan politicians, including former President Hamid Karzai. Last month, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani held a grand council in Kabul with politicians and tribal, ethnic and religious leaders to discuss the talks between the US and the Taliban in Doha. But as these initiatives remain in the spotlight, deep divisions among the Afghan government and politicians complicate efforts to establish peace in Afghanistan. “We made steady but slow progress on aspects of the framework for ending the Afghan war. We are getting into the nitty-gritty. The devil is always in the details,” Khalilzad said. “However, the current pace of talks isn’t sufficient when so much conflict rages and innocent people die. We need more and faster progress. Our proposal for all sides to reduce violence also remains on the table. The Taliban would try to increase their territorial control and put maximum pressure on the Afghan government by attempting to capture cities, including provincial capitals and taking control of major highways,” he said. Azami also said the Afghans and the rest of the world would have to deal with a “possible security vacuum in which groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIL found fertile ground”. “Increased production of drugs and the overflow of refugees would pose serious challenges not only to Afghanistan but to the whole region and rest of the world,” he said.’ Shereena Qazi reported for Al Jazeera.
‘The focus of the peace talks has been a Taliban demand that foreign forces leave and a U.S. demand for a guarantee that Afghanistan will not be used as a base for attacks elsewhere. Two other main issues are a ceasefire and talks between the insurgents and the Western-backed government, which the Taliban denounce as a “puppet”. A senior U.S. official, who declined to be identified as he is not authorized to speak to media, said before the latest violence was reported that there was “a genuine sense of expectation on both sides … It’s a make-or-break moment.” A Taliban leader in Qatar, who also declined to be identified, said the talks would be crucial. Some Afghan officials’ fear the war-weary United States and the Taliban will strike a deal that allows Washington to end its involvement, leaving government forces to battle on alone’. Rupam Jain and Abdul Qadir Sediqi reported for Reuters.
‘Deadly violence surged across Afghanistan as American and Taliban officials started a seventh round of peace talks on Saturday, with high hopes for a breakthrough. Even as American and Taliban negotiators made progress on the draft agreement, negotiations were stalled over how to move to the next stage — getting the Taliban to sit down with the Afghan government. The Taliban has long refused to acknowledge the Afghan government, and has said it would only speak to Afghan officials after the Americans announce their withdrawal. The Afghan government, on the other hand, has insisted that any negotiations be conducted directly with it. Efforts in April to take a step toward such direct talks, by including Afghan government officials in a delegation representing a wide cross-section of society, faltered as the list of representatives from Kabul grew to more than 200 people, and the Taliban called it too heavy on government representation. In recent weeks, Germany has been involved in the process, helping Qatar, the host of the talks, prepare for an intra-Afghan meeting comprised a smaller, more manageable group. If the U.S. and Taliban finalize their agreement on troop withdrawal and counterterrorism guarantees, Western officials said, a group of about 60 Afghans could meet with Taliban representatives early next month for what would be an icebreaker, before more direct negotiations at a later stage with the Afghan government.’ Mujib Mashal reported for The New York Times.
Trump Putting the Trade Talk Back on Track with Xi
President Donald Trump has announced to pause the US “trade war” with China and resume bilateral negotiations for trade on free and fair terms.
‘President Donald Trump declared the U.S. was “winning” the trade war a day after reaching a temporary truce with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Trump said at a news conference that the Federal Reserve “has not been of help to us at all” in his trade spat with Beijing. “Despite that, we’re winning, and we’re winning big because we have created an economy that is second to none,” he said. The move drew criticism back home, where many members of Congress agreed with the administration’s assessment that Huawei is a threat to national security and don’t want the company treated as a bargaining chip. The Commerce Department in May moved to place Huawei on a blacklist that would cut it off from American suppliers. U.S. officials have alleged the company’s products could be utilized for espionage by Beijing, a claim Huawei denies. “If President Trump has agreed to reverse recent sanctions against #Huawei he has made a catastrophic mistake,” Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said in a tweet.’ Alex Wayne reported for Bloomberg.
‘The presidents agreed only to resume their trade negotiations. The two sides are no nearer to reaching consensus on a trade deal than they were when the talks faltered in early May, and several major issues still need to be addressed. “China is sincere in continuing its negotiations with the US to manage differences, but the negotiations should be based on equality and mutual respect, and address each other’s legitimate concerns,” Xi was quoted by Xinhua as saying. “It was a very, very good meeting, better than expected. We’re right back on track”, Donald Trump said. “China and United States both benefit from cooperation and lose in a confrontation. Cooperation is better than friction, and dialogue is better than confrontation,” Xi said. China’s state media was less upbeat before the talks, criticizing Washington for blaming China for its trade problems. People’s Daily, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, published an editorial just hours before the summit arguing that the US should not take its trade deficit as evidence of “being taken advantage of”, though it did not name Trump directly. Those who try to blame trade surplus countries for US domestic woes are suffering from a “whole-body smell of selfishness”, the editorial said.’ Kristin Huang, Liu Zhen and Catherine Wong reported for South China Morning Post.
‘President Trump has positioned his trade talks with Xi Jinping as a win for the US – but he may have also given Beijing exactly what it wants on Huawei. It is still not clear whether what Mr. Trump has announced is a complete reversal – but if it is, it would be a significant concession by the US on a company that Washington has said is a threat to national security. The resumption of talks and pressing the pause button on more tariffs will be seen in the short term as positive for markets and American businesses. Those have already complained about the cost of further tariffs saying that if they had gone ahead – American consumers would have ended up paying something like $12bn more in higher prices Chinese businesses have been suffering too – the trade war has hit investment plans, business confidence, and exports in the world’s second largest economy. But pressing pause doesn’t mean the trade war is over. Tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods are still in place. And the two sides still have much to agree on. Washington wants Beijing to fundamentally change the way China’s economy has grown over the past four decades – get rid of subsidies to state owned companies, open up the domestic market and most importantly, hold China to account if it fails to deliver on any of these commitments. But Beijing has already publicly said that it won’t budge on issues of principle or bow to US pressure. How the two sides close that gap will be the real test of any trade truce. For now – it is a positive thing that they’re talking again. But talking can only take you so far. The truce signals a pause in hostilities rather than a resolution of the dispute, which has caused market turbulence and hit global growth. Mr. Trump said his meeting with Mr. Xi was “excellent, as good as it was going to be,” adding: “We discussed a lot of things and we’re right back on track and we’ll see what happens.” China’s state news agency Xinhua quoted Mr. Xi as saying: “China and the US have highly integrated interests and extensive co-operation areas and they should not fall into so-called traps of conflict and confrontation.”’ Karishma Vaswani reported for BBC.
Middle East & North Africa
Iran to Exceed Uranium Stockpile Limit Soon
A report by the Iranian news agency Fars claimed on Saturday that Iran is likely to surpass the amount of low-enriched Uranium limit that was set on Iran in order to curb its Nuclear program by the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
‘While surpassing the stockpile limit would violate the terms of the JCPOA, the Washington Post notes that it is a small fraction of what would be needed for a nuclear weapon. The low-enriched uranium has only been enriched with about 4 percent of the Uranium-235 isotope, which makes it suitable for use in nuclear power plants, but far from the 90 percent enrichment typically found in nuclear weaponry. Iran has repeatedly claimed that it has no intention of using its nuclear program to develop weapons. However, Tehran has argued in recent months that it should no longer be required to comply with the JCPOA if the U.S. is no longer part of the deal. The EU had hoped to ease tensions with INSTEX. However, when it was first announced in January, the EU this trade vehicle would be “focusing initially on the sectors most essential to the Iranian population — such as pharmaceutical, medical devices and agri-food goods,” far from the influx of foreign trade promised by the JCPOA. Tensions between Washington and Tehran have only worsened in recent months, as the U.S. pushed for more sanctions and sent additional military assets to the Middle East, claiming Iran and Iran-backed forces posed a heightened threat to its regional interests. Washington has blamed Iran for recent attacks against oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman, though Tehran has steadfastly denied those allegations. Then last week, Iran’s Revolutionary Guard downed a U.S. Navy RQ-4A drone that it claimed was flying in Iranian airspace; the U.S. has insisted the drone was over international waters. Trump nearly responded to that incident with attacks on Iranian military assets, but opted against doing so at the last minute’. Chris Moran reported for Newsweek.
‘The ball is in Europe’s court to shield Iran from US sanctions and prevent it from further scaling back compliance with its nuclear agreement with world powers, Iranian state TV said on Saturday, with days remaining on Tehran’s ultimatum.
Iran stopped complying on May 8 with some commitments in the nuclear deal after the United States unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018 and reimposed sanctions. Tehran said it would suspend further obligations under the deal after 60 days. “The ball is in Europe’s court. Are Paris, London and Berlin going to again waste a chance under the influence of (U.S. President Donald) Trump, or use the remaining opportunity to fulfil their promises and act on their commitments under the (nuclear deal),” Iranian state TV said in a commentary’. Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
Sub Saharan Africa
Bloc of West-African Countries Adopt Single Currency
A group of leaders of fifteen member states of west African block; the Economic Community of West African States or Ecowas, formally agreed to name a single currency of the states as ‘ECO’ on Saturday.
‘Leaders of the member states of the Economic Community of West African States, known as Ecowas, formally agreed Saturday to name a planned common currency the ‘ECO’. The 15-member group announced at the end of a summit in Abuja, the Nigerian capital, that “ECO was adopted as the name of the Ecowas single currency.” The idea of a common currency for the West African region was first mooted almost 30 years ago in the hope of boosting cross border trade and economic development. The aim is to have the currency in place by next year and leaders in Abuja reaffirmed the “gradual approach to the single currency starting with countries that meet the convergent criteria,” a statement said. It said the currency would be based on a flexible exchange rate regime, coupled with a monetary policy framework focused on inflation targeting. Member states should pursue appropriate policies and structural reforms that will sustain accelerated growth and the structural transformation of their economies, it added’. Associated Press reported for Khaleej Times.
‘The bloc, which represents an estimated population of about 385 million people, said it acknowledged a 2018 report which underlined “the worsening of the macroeconomic convergence” and urged member states to do “more to improve on their performance” as the deadline for the establishment of a monetary union approached. The 2018 report called, among others, for the promotion and liberalisation of regional trade, the consolidation of the customs union and the creation of a free trade area – all of which are yet to be met. Mahamadou Issoufou, ECOWAS chairman and Niger’s president, said there was “a real firm political will” to increase efforts ahead of the January 2020 deadline. “We are of the view that countries that are ready will launch the single currency and countries that are not ready will join the programme as they comply with all six convergence criteria,” Issoufou said’. Mercy Abang reported for Al Jazeera.
Europe Engulfed by Deadly Heatwave
A deadly heatwave has spread across Europe as temperatures keep rising for the second consecutive week. Leaving several dead in France, Italy and Spain.
‘Europe’s scorching heat wave expanded across the continent on Saturday, with people from Britain to the Balkans sweltering under abnormally high temperatures after a record-breaking week. France is expecting temperatures of 39 degrees Celsius (103 degrees Fahrenheit) in parts on Saturday, a day after it shattered its record mark multiple times in one day.
Spain, which is dealing with the aftermath of a wildfire that tore through 10,000 acres of forest in the country’s north-east on Friday, is bracing for temperatures of up to 42 degrees, according to its national meteorological body AEMET. The country is still affected by a “mass of tropical wind coming from Africa’a mass of tropical wind coming from Africa,” the agency said. And the UK saw its hottest day of the year by some distance, with the mercury rising to 33 degrees Celsius (91.4 Fahrenheit) and threatening the country’s hottest-ever June mark of 35.6 degrees, set in 1976’. Rob Picheta reported for CNN.
‘The temperature in France’s southern Gard region hit an all-time high of 45.9 degrees Celsius on Friday – hotter than in California’s Death Valley – sparking scores of fires that burned 600 hectares of land and destroyed several homes and vehicles. France is the seventh European country to ever register a plus 45-degree temperature, along with Bulgaria, Portugal, Italy, Spain, Greece and North Macedonia, Meteo France said, prompting the weather service to issue its highest alert level of red for the first time. Winegrowers in the south of France said their precious crops had been badly burned.
France remains haunted by the memory of the devastating heatwave of August 2003, in which nearly 15,000 people were estimated to have died. “I want to appeal to the sense of responsibility of citizens – there are avoidable deaths in every heatwave,” French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said’. Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
Australian Student Feared to be Detained in North Korea
Australia says it is trying to confirm the status of Australian student and tour guide Alek Sigley who may be detained in North Korea.
‘The family of Alek Sigley, a 29-year-old student living in Pyongyang, could not confirm if he had been arrested, but said he had not been in touch with them since Tuesday. Australian officials were trying to confirm his situation, his family said. The government has described it as a “very serious set of circumstances”. Representatives in South Korea had contacted “relevant officials” in North Korea, one minister said. “It has not been confirmed that Alek has been detained in the DPRK,” his family said in a statement on Thursday. “The situation is that Alek has not been in digital contact with friends and family since Tuesday morning Australian time, which is unusual for him.”
Mr Sigley is one of a handful of Western students living in the country. He also runs a business providing tours for Western tourists visiting the totalitarian, communist state. He first visited in 2012 in the first of several trips, his family said. In March, he described himself as “the only Australian living in North Korea“ in a piece published by The Guardian’. Associated Press reported for BBC.
‘The son of an Anglo-Australian man and Chinese mother, he previously studied at Fudan University in Shanghai and in South Korea before moving to Pyongyang, according to his post. “I’m enrolled in a master’s degree in Korean literature in the university’s postgraduate school. Because I am the only foreign student in this particular programme, my courses are all conducted one-on-one with the teacher,” he wrote.
Canberra advises against non-essential travel to North Korea – where several foreigners have been detained in the past. Consular advice recommends Australians “stay as short a time as possible, eliminate unnecessary activities, and review your security arrangements”. In 2016, Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was imprisoned during a tour of the authoritarian state after being accused of taking down a propaganda poster’. Agence France-Presse reported for South China Morning Post.
US President Trump Meets North Korean Leader in a Landmark Visit
In an unprecedented move, President of the United State and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un stepped into the Demilitarized zone at the South Korea- North Korea border to hold a meeting.
‘With the highly symbolic gesture, Trump became the first sitting US president to set foot on North Korean soil. What originally was intended to be an impromptu exchange of pleasantries turned into a 50-minute meeting, another historic first in the yearlong rapprochement between the two nations, which are still technically at war with each other. It marks a return to face-to-face contact between the leaders after talks broke down during a summit in Vietnam in February. Trump announced afterward that the two nations had agreed to resume discussions in the coming weeks. Significant doubts remain, though, about the future of the negotiations and the North’s willingness to give up its stockpile of nuclear weapons. “Stepping across that line was a great honour,” Trump said at a joint news conference with Kim. “It’s a great day for the world,” he added.
“I want to thank Chairman Kim for something else; when I put out the social media notification, if he didn’t show up the press was going to make me look very bad so you made us both look good and I appreciate it,” Trump added. “We’ve developed a great relationship, I think if you go back two and a half years and you look at what was going on prior to me becoming president, it was a very, very bad situation a very dangerous situation for South Korea, North Korea, for the world,” the US president said. “I think the relationship that we have developed has meant so much to so many people, and it’s just an honour to be with you and it was an honour that you asked me to step over that line and I was proud to step over the line,” he added’. Associated Press reported for Al Jazeera.
‘On Monday, KCNA carried extensive coverage of the unprecedented meeting. North Koreans rarely receive news of the outside world, and the heavily controlled media has depicted the US as its most hated enemy for decades. Images of the US president walking into the North as a friend of Mr Kim will be an extraordinary sight for ordinary North Koreans. Negotiations over North Korea’s controversial nuclear programme have stalled since the second summit between the two leaders ended without an agreement in February. After their surprise talks on Sunday, they reaffirmed their claims to friendship and said talks would continue through their negotiating teams. Critics have dismissed the occasion as an act of political theatre which does not make substantial progress towards North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons’. Associated Press reported for BBC.