Trump calls for Afghan peace talks but with ceasefire rider

Robie de Guzman   •   November 22, 2019   •   208

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 soldiers injured in Iran’s attack on Iraqi military bases

UNTV News   •   January 17, 2020

US soldiers stand next to the damage caused by Iran’s missile attack inside Ain al-Assad air base in Anbar province, Iraq, 14 January 2020. EPA-EFE FILE/STR

Washington, DC — Eleven United States soldiers were injured in the Jan. 8 Iranian bombing of a military base in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Qasem Soleimani in a targeted strike, the US Central Command said in a statement Thursday.

Initially, the Pentagon had said that the attack had not caused any injuries but now, after re-evaluating the victims, it has identified some symptoms of possible concussions due to the force of the impact of the missiles.

“While no US service members were killed in the Jan. 8 Iranian attack on Al Asad air base, several were treated for concussion symptoms from the blast and are still being assessed,” Centcom spokesperson Bill Urban said in a statement.

“Out of an abundance of caution,” in the days following the attack, eight soldiers were transported from the Al Asad air base in western Iraq to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, while three others were sent to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait for follow-on screening, the official said.

“When deemed fit for duty, the service members are expected to return to Iraq following screening,” he added.

After the attack on the air base, Iran warned that it was only the beginning of a series of retaliatory actions it would take to avenge the death of Soleimani, the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps’ elite Quds Force and a highly respected figure in the Persian county, in a US targeted strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3.

At the time, US President Donald Trump chose not to respond to the Iranian offensive with military force and said in a speech to the nation that he would impose more sanctions against Iran.

Those sanctions were directed against eight senior Iranian officials, including Iran’s Supreme National Security Council secretary Ali Shamkhani, as well as against the country’s steel, iron, aluminum and copper industry.

“The United States is targeting senior Iranian officials for their involvement and complicity in Tuesday’s ballistic missile strikes,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had said in a statement outlining the sanctions.

“We are also designating Iran’s largest metals manufacturers, and imposing sanctions on new sectors of the Iranian economy including construction, manufacturing, and mining,” he added.

Tehran and Washington, which have had no diplomatic relations since 1979, have experienced multiple crises since Trump ordered the US’ exit from a landmark multilateral agreement on Tehran’s nuclear program in 2018.

The current escalation of tension coincides with the downing of a Ukrainian aircraft by the Islamic Republic, which caused the death of all 176 people aboard. EFE-EPA

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EU business lobby fears losses as China promises to import more from US

UNTV News   •   January 16, 2020

European Chamber report on China epa05174731 Joerg Wuttke, President of the European Union Chamber of Commerce in China, delivers a briefing on a new report on the increased overcapacity in China’s industrial economy at the Four Seasons hotel in Beijing, China, 22 February 2016. According to a statement from the European Chamber, it’s report titled ‘Overcapacity in China: An Impediment to the Party’s Reform Agenda’ provides recommendations to address problems of ineffectual efforts by China’s government in resolving excessive production capacity in its industrial economy. EPA/ROLEX DELA PENA

Beijing – A European business lobby in China on Thursday said Beijing’s promise to buy $200-billion worth of products from the United States in two years as part of the first phase of a bilateral trade agreement could result in a drop in imports from Europe.

“Will our exports to China be possibly hurt? Possibly yes,” European Union Chamber of Commerce President Joerg Wuttke told reporters.

He warned that Chinese commitments could mean that it stops purchasing European products in the relevant sectors to substitute them with US imports.

In the agreement signed in Washington on Wednesday, China has pledged to boost its imports of US goods and services by $200 billion over the next two years.

This includes $32 billion in additional agricultural purchases, $52 billion in energy products and $78 billion in additional manufactured goods.

In 2018, the US had exported products worth $120 billion to China.

“The US always stood for competition and openness and it’s very interesting to see only that China gets told now what to buy, where to buy (…) All of a sudden, the lead of the free world is turning into a system that resembles the Chinese system. It’s ironic,” Wuttke said.

Although the EU trade representative welcomed the deal as a “good news” that meant the end of the “negative spiral” caused by the tariff war between the US and China, he criticized what he called a trend of “managed trade” and said it was “rewriting globalization”.

The business lobby also expressed doubts over specific parts of the agreement, such as the emphasis on bigger purchases of steel, even though China has been struggling with overproduction in the sector.

Wuttke welcomed Chinese Vice Premier Liu He’s statement that the deal would not affect third parties.

“(The statement) indicates that China might not be willing to just be forced to buy American products, they still want to maintain the right to source globally where products are (the) cheapest and best,” Wuttke said.

How the conflict between Beijing and Washington has been resolved – at least partially and temporarily – has not surprised European companies, which have been hit by US tariffs in sectors like Spanish olive oil.

“There’s this particular ban on Scottish whiskey and Spanish olive oil. There might be Italian or Greek olive oil but the fact is the American consumer gets told ‘you buy only this’,” Wuttke said.

“We do not like this kind of protectionism. Tariffs are something like an addiction, once you have it you don’t get rid of it, and certain interest groups will defend them. Getting tariffs down, as we learned last night, is very difficult,” he said.

Wuttke said that the real challenge in resolving the trade dispute lay in the “tech war”.

“There is tremendous pressure from the US on European business, you know the Huawei 5G story. But then again, like China, Europe doesn’t like to be told what to buy, where to buy,” he insisted.

Wuttke said EU firms suffered from the trade war because most of them operated in China and sold to China.

“We happen to sell to many Chinese exporters so indirectly many of us took a hit by this,” he said.

As part of Wednesday’s deal, the US agreed to cut tariffs on $120-billion worth of Chinese imports (imposed in September) from 15 percent to 7.5 percent and also suspend plans for 15 percent tariffs on $150 billion of Chinese goods that had been scheduled to go into effect last month.

However, tariffs ranging between 15 and 25 percent will remain in place on $370 billion worth of goods: roughly two-thirds of all US imports from China. EFE-EPA

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First batch of Filipinos repatriated from Iraq to arrive in PH Wednesday

Robie de Guzman   •   January 15, 2020

MANILA, Philippines – The first batch of Filipino workers repatriated from Iraq will arrive on Wednesday afternoon, January 15, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said.

In a statement, 13 Filipinos evacuated from Baghdad and Erbil in Iraq will arrive in Manila.

The DFA said the first group from Baghdad, comprised of seven adults and two minors were supposed to arrive on Tuesday but was held by Iraqi immigration officials at the Baghdad International Airport for “baseless allegations of visa fraud.”

The second group is composed of four adults coming from Erbil, north of Baghdad.

The department said the repatriated Filipinos will be landing in Doha, Qatar before flying to Manila. They are scheduled to land at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3 at 4:10 p.m.

“The repatriates arriving today comprise the first batch of Filipinos coming home after the government ordered mandatory repatriation,” DFA Undersecretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs Sarah Lou Arriola said in a statement.

“More Filipinos from affected areas are expected to come home in the coming weeks,” Arriola added.

Alert Level 4, which mandates mandatory repatriation of Filipinos in Iraq, was raised on January 8, 2020, due to growing security threats in the Middle East.

The tension grew after top Iranian military commander Qassem Solemanei was killed by a US drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

Iran retaliated on January 8 by launching a series of ballistic missile attacks at Iraq’s bases housing US troops. On the same day, around 176 passengers were killed when a Ukrainian plane was mistakenly shot down by Iran while on alert after its missile attacks on US forces in Iraq.

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