Jan 102018
Trump likely to extend sanctions relief for Iran

US President Donald Trump is expected this week to extend relief from economic sanctions to Iran as part of the nuclear deal, citing progress in amending US legislation that governs Washington's participation in the landmark accord, according to US officials and others familiar with the administration's deliberations.But Trump is likely to pair his decision to renew the concessions to Tehran with new, targeted sanctions on Iranian businesses and people, the six people briefed on the matter said. The restrictions could hit some firms and individuals whose sanctions were scrapped under the 2015 nuclear agreement, a decision that could test Tehran's willingness to abide by its side of the bargain.The individuals two administration officials, two congressional aides and two outside experts who consult with the government weren't authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. They cautioned that Trump could still reject the recommendation from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R McMaster and that no final decision had been made. They said heated discussions were going on within the administration and with key Republican lawmakers.The State Department and White House didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. Trump must decide by Friday to extend the nuclear-related sanctions relief for Iran's central bank or re-impose the restrictions that President Barack Obama suspended two years ago.The old, central bank sanctions largely cut Iran out of the international financial system, and are considered to be the most powerful of the penalties imposed by the [Read More…]

Jan 062018
Afghan deputy governor abducted in Peshawar is released

An Afghan official abducted in Peshawar last October has been freed by his captors and returned home. Qazi Mohammad Nabi Ahmadi, the deputy governor of Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province, was kidnapped while visiting a doctor in Peshawar, near the border. No one has claimed the kidnapping, and it's unclear who abducted him. Ahmadi is a member of the Hezb-e-Islami party of Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, a former warlord who fought in the 1990s civil war and recently made peace with the Kabul government. Zardasht Shams, Afghanistan's deputy ambassador in Islamabad, said on Saturday that Ahmadi had rejoined his family in Kunar. He said the official's brother, Habibullah, who was also abducted, remains missing. The family has been approached for ransom, but it's unclear whether any has been paid. Click for detailed story

Jan 012018
Kim Jong-Un warns US the 'button for nuclear weapons' is on his table

North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un said on Monday the United States should be aware that his country's nuclear forces are now a reality, not a threat. But he also struck a conciliatory tone in his New Year's address, wishing success for the Winter Olympics set to begin in the South in February and suggesting the North may send a delegation to participate.Kim, wearing a Western-style gray suit and tie, said in his customary annual address his country had achieved the historic feat of “completing” its nuclear forces and added he has a nuclear button on his desk.“The US should know that the button for nuclear weapons is on my table,” he said during the speech, as provisionally translated by the AP. The official transcript of his address was expected to be released shortly. “The entire area of the US mainland is within our nuclear strike range. … The United States can never start a war against me and our country,” he added. Kim also called for improved relations with the South, an idea mentioned in speeches more often than it is met. He said the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics would be a good opportunity to showcase the status of the Korean nation.He said the North and South could meet urgently to discuss the North sending a delegation. “The Winter Olympic games that will be held soon in the South will be a good opportunity to display the status of the Korean nation and we sincerely wish that the event will be [Read More…]

Dec 292017
How 2017 laid the groundwork for momentous change in Saudi Arabia next year

New heir to the throne Women start driving The return of movie theaters A historic Trump visit Crisis with neighbours Opening the country to tourists Saudi Arabia in 2017 laid the groundwork for momentous change next year, defying its conservative reputation for slow, cautious reforms by announcing plans to let women drive, allow movie theaters to return and to issue tourist visas. The kingdom could even get a new king.King Salman and his ambitious 32-year-old son and heir, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, have upended decades of royal family protocol, social norms and traditional ways of doing business. They bet instead on a young generation of Saudis hungry for change and a Saudi public fed up with corruption and government bureaucracy.Here’ a look at the major pivots of the past year and the reforms to come in 2018:New heir to the throne In possibly the boldest move by the king’s son this year, he pushed aside the then Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef to become first-in-line to the throne. King Salman, left, speaks with his son, Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, (MBS) in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.—AP/File The sidelining of Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was a feared interior minister overseeing domestic security and a longtime US partner in counterterrorism, established a new era for the kingdom. Given Mohammed bin Salman’s young age, his appointment essentially sets Saudi policy for decades in the hands of a man seen as a risk taker.Saudi analysts and observers say the crown prince may [Read More…]

Dec 212017
China urges others to avoid 'complicating' Myanmar dispute

China urged other governments on Thursday to “constructively help” Myanmar and Bangladesh resolve the fate of Rohingya Muslims “instead of complicating the issue” after Myanmar blocked a visit by United Nations human rights official. Events in Rakhine state, where more than 630,000 Rohingya fled a military crackdown, are an internal affair for Myanmar that “contains complicated historical, national and religious factors,” said a foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying. “We think the international community should constructively help Myanmar and Bangladesh to solve the issue instead of complicating the issue,” said Hua at a regular briefing. The UN official, Yanghee Lee, said Wednesday that Myanmar's government barred her from the country.She said officials told her that was in response to her criticism of official restrictions on her movement when she visited in July. Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed last month that some Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh could start returning on about Jan. 21. A Bangladeshi official on Tuesday said that might be delayed.Human rights groups warn the Rohingya may face more violence if they are sent back.The government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar has refused to accept Rohingya Muslims as a minority group, though they have lived in the country for generations. Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship in 1982. Click for detailed story

Dec 192017
Saudis intercept Yemen rebel missile targeting royal palace

The Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen's Houthi rebels said it intercepted a missile fired over southern Riyadh on Tuesday while the Yemeni rebels said they targeted the royal palace in the kingdom's capital. The announcement by the coalition was carried by the Saudi state TV as residents of the kingdom posted videos on social media showing a small cloud of smoke in the sky. The report said no damage was caused by the intercepted missile. In Yemen, Mohammed Abdul-Salam, the spokesman for the rebels, said they fired a ballistic missile targeting the Yamama Palace. He tweeted that a ballistic “Volcano H-2” missile was used in the attack.This is the second missile attack fired by the Houthis to target Riyadh since Nov. 4. Last month's attack targeted the Saudi capital's airport but was also intercepted. The Yamama Palace is where the Saudi monarch, King Salman, receives visiting foreign dignitaries and top Saudi officials. The Saudi-led coalition has been fighting in Yemen since March 2015 to defeat the Houthis and reinstate the internationally recognised government of President Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi who was forced into exile by the Houthis. Click for detailed story

Dec 182017
Trump to unveil 'America First' national security strategy

United States President Donald Trump is outlining a new national security strategy that refocuses the US's relationship with the rest of the world, essentially implementing his “America First” mantra on a global scale. It envisions nations in constant competition, reverses Obama-era warnings on climate change, and affirms that the US will unilaterally defend its sovereignty, even if that means risking existing agreements with other countries that have dominated the United States' foreign policy since the Cold War. The Republican president, who ran on a platform of “America First,” will detail his plan on Monday, one that if fully implemented could sharply alter US international relationships. The plan, according to senior administration officials who offered a preview on Sunday, is to focus on four main themes: protecting the homeland; promoting American prosperity; demonstrating peace through strength; and advancing American influence in an ever-competitive world. Trump's doctrine holds that nation states are in perpetual competition and that the US must fight on all fronts to protect and defend its sovereignty from friend and foe alike. While the administration often says that “America First” does not mean “America Alone,” the national security strategy to be presented by Trump will make clear that the United States will stand up for itself even if that means acting unilaterally or alienating others on issues like trade, climate change and immigration, according to people familiar with the strategy. The last such strategy document, prepared by then-President Barack Obama in 2015, declared climate change an “urgent and growing [Read More…]

Nov 192017
6 Afghan policemen killed in Taliban attack

The Taliban attacked three checkpoints in the western Farah province of Afghanistan, killing at least six policemen, an Afghan official said on Sunday.Mohammad Naser Mehri, a spokesman for the provincial governor, said eight other policemen were wounded in the late Saturday attack. He claimed eight insurgents were killed and at least five others were wounded in the battle.The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack.Elsewhere in Afghanistan, seven militants were killed and two others wounded when a bomb exploded prematurely in the northern Kunduz province. Mahbobullah Sayedi, a district chief, said the fighters died while trying to plant the bomb on a road used by Afghan security forces.Dozens of Afghan police and soldiers have been killed in a wave of Taliban attacks on checkpoints in Afghanistan, officials had said on Tuesday, as insurgents step up assaults on the beleaguered security forces.Afghan security forces have faced soaring casualties in their attempts to hold back the insurgents since Nato combat forces pulled out of the country at the end of 2014.Casualties leapt by 35 per cent in 2016, with 6,800 soldiers and police killed, according to US watchdog SIGAR.The insurgents have carried out more complex attacks against security forces in 2017, with SIGAR describing troop casualties in the early part of the year as “shockingly high”.In August, Trump announced that American forces would stay in Afghanistan indefinitely, increasing attacks on militants and deploying more troops. Click for detailed story

Nov 172017
Lebanon's Hariri set to leave Saudi Arabia for France

'Start of a solution' Regional clash Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was on Friday preparing to leave Saudi Arabia for France, a move aimed at defusing political turmoil sparked by his shock resignation in Riyadh. The Lebanese premier is due to meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Saturday after allegations from Hariri's political rivals back home that he was essentially being held hostage by the Saudi authorities. The announcement of the visit came after Hariri met French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian in Riyadh on Thursday, with Lebanon's former colonial power Paris hoping to ease a crisis that has driven up tensions between regional titans Iran and Saudi Arabia. Hariri, a dual Saudi citizen, has been in Riyadh since issuing a statement on television there on November 4 that he was stepping down because he feared for his life while also accusing Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah of destabilising his nation. The announcement — which reportedly took even some of Hariri's closest aides by surprise — and his subsequent failure to return home to officially quit in person, fuelled speculation that he was acting under orders from his Saudi patrons. Both Hariri and Riyadh denied claims he was being held against his will, with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir insisting he could leave the country “when he pleases”. Macron's office said the French leader would meet Hariri at noon on Saturday. 'Start of a solution' Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who had accused Saudi authorities of “detaining” Hariri [Read More…]

Oct 182017
Pakistan fortifies border with Afghanistan to reduce cross border attacks

Pakistan Army said that newly installed fence and guard posts along the Pak-Afghan border will help prevent militant attacks, Maj Gen Nauman Zakaria, the Pakistan commander for the South Waziristan region, told reporters during a visit to the border on Wednesday that the fencing and surveillance technology would prevent attacks on both sides of the border. Pakistan began construction of the fencing earlier this year.United States President Donald Trump has recently reiterated longstanding accusations that Pakistan turns a blind eye to militant groups that launch attacks in Afghanistan from within its territory, allegations always denied by Islamabad.Afghanistan has levelled similar accusations but has also objected to the building of the border fence. The stepped-up fortifications have angered Kabul, which does not recognise the frontier as an international border. Soldiers patrol next to a newly fenced border fencing along with Afghanistan's border. —AFP Camouflage army snipers take position in a bunker near a newly fenced border at North Waziristan. —AFP Electronic surveillance equipment near a newly fenced border fencing along Afghan border in NW. —AFP An army helicopter patrol near a newly fenced border fencing along with Afghan's Paktika province. —AFP Soldiers patrol next to a newly fenced border fencing along Afghan border at Kitton Orchard Post in NW.—AFP A soldier keeps vigil next to a newly fenced border fencing in Angoor Adda, South Waziristan.—AFP A soldier keeps vigil beside a newly fenced border fencing along Afghan border at Kitton Orchard Post in NW.—AFP Pakistani soldiers keep vigil next to a [Read More…]

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