Trump calls for Afghan peace talks but with ceasefire rider

Robie de Guzman   •   November 22, 2019   •   170

US President Donald Trump

Kabul, Afghanistan – The United States president has telephoned his Afghanistan counterpart to thank him for his efforts in facilitating the release of two foreign hostage professors, and insisted on ceasefire as a precondition to begin any peace talks with the Taliban, an official said on Friday.

According to the Afghan president’s office, Donald Trump called Ashraf Ghani on Thursday evening.

“(President) Trump thanked (President) Ghani for his efforts and support in ensuring the release of the two American University professors from the Taliban’s captivity,” tweeted Sediq Sediqqi, a spokesperson for the Afghan president.

Australian Timothy Weeks and his American colleague Kevin King, who in 2016 were abducted outside the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul where they worked, were released by the Taliban Tuesday in exchange for Kabul releasing three senior militants.

The prisoners released by the Afghan government, who have since arrived in Qatar, were Anas Haqqani, son of Jalaluddin Haqqani, the founder of the Taliban-linked Haqqani network that has claimed several deadly attacks in Afghanistan in recent years, as well as Hajji Mali Khan and Abdul Rashid.

Trump and Ghani also spoke about the Afghanistan government’s seven-point peace plan for ending the 18-year-long war in the country.

“The two leaders had a detailed discussion about the peace process and the important progress the Afghan security forces have made in the battlefield,” Sediqqi said.

“In response, President Trump insisted on a ceasefire as a precondition before negotiations.”

Sediqqi said Trump stressed on the need to include the Afghan government in peace talks, insisting that “their ownership and leadership of the process from the outset is imperative, which must begin immediately”.

Citing escalating violence and deadly attacks by the Taliban, Trump canceled talks with the Taliban in mid-September after US peace negotiators had held several rounds of parleys with Taliban leaders in Qatar and the UAE.

Sediqqi said Trump invited the Afghan president for an official visit to the US, which Ghani accepted. EFE-EPA

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US accuses Iran of more than 1,000 deaths during protests

Jeck Deocampo   •   December 6, 2019

US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Advisor to the Secretary of State Brian Hook responds to a question from the news media during a press conference at the US State Department in Washington, DC, USA, 4 September 2019. EPA-EFE FILE/SHAWN THEW

Washington DC – The United States government on Thursday held Iran responsible for the death of more than 1,000 people in the recent protests that shook the country.

“It appears the regime could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens since the protests began,” said State Department Special Representative for Iran, Brian Hook.

Hook, however, said he was not certain of that figure because “the regime blocks information.”

According to the US official, in one single protest in the southwestern city of Mahshahr, more than a hundred people died and when it was over, the bodies were loaded in trucks.

“We do not yet know where these bodies were taken, but we are learning more and more about how the Iranian regime treats its own people,” he added.

According to Washington, the number of deaths that occurred during the protests may have been five times the number estimated by Amnesty International, which in its latest report said 208 people lost their lives adding that the number was likely to be more.

Iran, on its part, said that the number reported by AI was not correct and claimed that the actual death toll was lower.

“The numbers and figures that are being given by hostile groups are utter lies and the statistics have serious differences with what they announced,” Iran’s judicial spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili said.

Protests broke out in Iran on Nov. 15 over rising oil prices and its rationing and led to criticism of the country’s theocratic system.

US President Donald Trump also mentioned the protests in Iran on Thursday.

The Iranian regime “has killed hundreds and hundreds of people in a very short period of time. They’re killing protesters. They turned down their internet system. People aren’t hearing what’s going,” said the president.

Days earlier, Trump accused Iran of killing “thousands and thousands” of people. EFE-EPA

North Korea says up to US to choose what ‘Christmas gift’ it wants

Robie de Guzman   •   December 3, 2019

A photo released by the official North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) shows North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un (C) during a ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a Township of Samjiyon County, North Korea, 02 December 2019. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un attended the ceremony. EPA-EFE/KCNA

Seoul – North Korea on Tuesday said it was up to the United States to chose what “Christmas gift” it wanted as the deadline to resume the stalled denuclearisation talks was drawing closer amid Washington’s continued “dialogue rhetoric”.

“What is left to be done now is the US’ option and it is entirely up to the US what Christmas gift it will select to get,” the North Korean foreign ministry said in a statement published by state news agency KCNA.

The statement quoted Vice Foreign Minister Ri Kil Song saying that Pyongyang had “done its utmost with maximum perseverance not to backtrack from the important steps.”

This refers to North Korea’s self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear weapons and medium and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“Drawing nearer is the year-end time limit the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) set for the US. However, the US is keen on earning the time needed for it, talking about the ‘sustained and substantial dialogue,’ far from acting in response to the measures taken by the DPRK first,” Ri said.

The statement said North Korea had “heard more than enough dialogue rhetoric raised by the US whenever it is driven into a tight corner. So, no one will lend an ear to the US any longer.”

It said the talks touted by Washington was, “in essence, nothing but a foolish trick hatched to keep the DPRK bound to dialogue and use it in favor of the political situation and election in the US”.

Experts believe that if there is no progress in talks in the next few weeks, the North Korean regime could carry out new weapons tests from January, especially of intermediate-range missiles.

Bilateral negotiations have not advanced since a failed summit in February in Hanoi, where Washington refused to lift economic sanctions in return for what Pyongyang dismantling its nuclear assets.

Both parties held a working meeting in early October in Stockholm, Sweden, which ended with North Korea accusing Washington of failing to offer anything new and actively maintaining its “hostile policy”.

North Korean media on Tuesday also showed leader Kim Jong-un inaugurating a real estate project near Mount Paektu, a sacred site for the regime.

Given that important decisions have often followed visits to this area, some experts believe that Pyongyang wants to ramp up the pressure with this gesture.

Last week, North Korea fired two missiles into the Sea of Japan (also known as East Sea in the two Koreas) from a super large multiple-launch rocket system, prompting Pentagon to deploy reconnaissance aircraft over the Korean peninsula.

On Tuesday, the US aircraft flew over the region for the fifth time in less than a week in a gesture that some believe may be a deliberate warning message against threats from the North Korean regime. EFE-EPA

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China threatens US after Trump passes bills backing Hong Kong protesters

Robie de Guzman   •   November 28, 2019

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang speaks to reporters during a daily Foreign Ministry press conference in Beijing, China, 28 November 2019. China responds with anger and warns of countermeasures after US President Donald Trump’s signing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act on 28 November 2019. EPA-EFE/HOW HWEE YOUNG

Beijing – The Chinese government Thursday threatened the United States with “countermeasures” and “consequences” after the US president signed two bills into law backing Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters.

Donald Trump in a statement said he had signed the bills — the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019 and one against crowd control munition exports to the territory — out of “respect” to Chinese President Xi Jinping and the people of Hong Kong.

China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement Thursday responded by reminding “the US that Hong Kong is part of China and Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs where no foreign government or force shall interfere. This Act will only further expose the malicious and hegemonic nature of US intentions to the Chinese people, including our Hong Kong compatriots.”

“We urge the US to not continue going down the wrong path, or China will take countermeasures, and the US must bear all consequences,” it added.

Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Le Yucheng also summoned US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad “to lodge stern representations and strong protest” to the passing of the Act, state news agency Xinhua reported Thursday.

The two countries are still immersed in negotiations to end their trade war, which could be affected by the bills, however the statement does not specify the countermeasures it intends to apply.

The Hong Kong government also expressed its “strong opposition” to the new laws, saying in a statement that they “contravene in Hong Kong’s internal affairs” and would harm relations with the US.

“The two acts are unreasonable. Although human rights and democracy are mentioned in the title of the Act, some of the provisions in the Act are actually about export control and enforcement of the sanctions imposed by the United Nations in Hong Kong, which are totally unrelated to human rights and democracy in Hong Kong,” a government spokesman said.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act 2019, passed last week by the US Senate, requires the US State Department to conduct a review at least annually as to whether Hong Kong retains enough autonomy from mainland China to qualify for special trade considerations, and threatens sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations.

Following the approval by the Senate last week, the Chinese government threatened that “China will take strong opposing measures and the US has to bear all the consequences” if it was passed into law. Beijing also reportedly summoned a senior US diplomat over the move.

The second bill signed into law Wednesday prohibits US exports of specified police equipment such as teargas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and stun guns to Hong Kong.

“They are being enacted in the hope that Leaders and Representatives of China and Hong Kong will be able to amicably settle their differences leading to long term peace and prosperity for all,” Trump said.

At the weekend, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong swept the local elections, winning 388 of the total 452 district council seats up for grabs. The side aligned with Beijing suffered a crushing defeat with only 59 councilors, compared to the almost 300 it had, while independents won five seats in the elections which saw a record 71.2% turnout.

Hong Kong was passed to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, although it still retains a degree of independence from Beijing under the “one country, two systems” formula. According to the handover deal between London and Beijing, this political system — which includes certain legal freedoms not recognized in mainland China — must be preserved until 2047. EFE-EPA

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