MOSCOW, July 19 -- Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed concern over the confrontation between the United States and Iran. He said this to US director Oliver Stone in an interview published on the official Kremlin website on Friday.
"This worries us because this is happening near our borders. This may destabilize the situation around Iran, affect some countries with which we have very close relations, causing additional refugee flows on a large scale plus substantially damage the world economy as well as the global energy sector," Putin said. "We would welcome any improvement when it comes to relations between the US and Iran. A simple escalation of tension will not be advantageous for anyone. It seems to me that this is also the case with the US," he added. The United States withdrew from the Iranian nuclear deal on 8 May 2018 and imposed economic sanctions on Tehran's oil exports. One year later, on 8 May 2019, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani announced Iran's suspension of some commitments in the framework of the nuclear deal and gave other participants in the deal two months to return to its implementation. The situation around Iran further deteriorated after the June 13 incident in the Strait of Hormuz when two tankers caught fire after presumable attacks. The United States placed responsibility for the incident on Iran. The United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia supported these accusations. Teheran rejects these allegations.
TOKYO, July 18 -- We have long known that U.S. President Donald J. Trump thinks the U.S.-Japan relationship is unbalanced and that Japan should contribute more to the alliance.
But few of us ever expected that he would publicly criticize the bilateral security treaty as "an unfair agreement" while at the G-20 meeting in Osaka last month. Why did Trump choose this trip to revive a complaint he has mentioned occasionally since the 1980s, though not so frankly as president, and how meaningful is it? The short answers are "politics" and "possibly important," if counter arguments are not made effectively. Although Trump's rhetoric on these types of bilateral issues is not inconsequential -- and the current U.S.-Japan trade talks are an example of this -- overall it is manageable because there is very little sympathy for his criticism of Japan among U.S. business, political, bureaucratic, or military circles. Throughout the United States, support for the U.S.-Japan alliance remains strong, and a high percentage of Americans perceive it as being mutually valuable. Moreover, Trump himself has frequently praised the alliance, thanked Japan for its investment and purchase of military equipment, and vowed to "stand behind Japan, our great ally, 100 percent" when North Korea's missile testing was active in 2017.
So, in some ways, Trump's Osaka comment was a political signal to his supporters ahead of multilateral meetings. He often does this, knowing that his voters will see him on television interacting with other world leaders, and he prefers the storyline to be about his toughness. Most U.S. voters, however, are exasperated that Trump seems ruder to American friends than he is to autocrats like Russia's Vladimir Putin or North Korea's Kim Jong Un, perhaps because Trump thinks he has more leverage over allies. In this regard, Trump's comment in Osaka fits a pattern of criticizing allies for not spending enough or doing enough for the United States. Trump has also called the North Atlantic Treaty Organization "obsolete" and "not fair," and he has demanded significantly larger host nation support payments from South Korea. Still, if Trump keeps repeating his view that Japan is somehow taking advantage of the United States, more Americans might begin to believe him, even though Trump's comments ignore the history behind the U.S.-Japan treaty arrangement and mis-characterizes the track record of reciprocal support demonstrated by both countries. The Trump administration's own national security strategy and national defense strategy highlight the critical importance to the United States of alliances, but Trump voters are more likely to listen to what he says rather than read his government's documents.
As most in Japan understand, U.S. officials essentially drafted Japan's Constitution in 1946 to help prevent Japan from waging war overseas again, and their security treaty includes a mutually beneficial arrangement whereby the United States pledges to help Japan meet any "common danger" in and around Japan in exchange for the ability to maintain U.S. military forces in Japan for defense and regional stability. In practice, the allies have supported each other in times of conflict or disaster, including in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and following the Great East Japan Earthquake. Also, Japan has contributed steadily more to the alliance as its economy grew and it became a more active member of the international community. Currently, the allies are combining resources in Japan to work with other nations on enforcing nuclear weapon-related sanctions on North Korea, among other cooperative missions serving their shared interests. However, it is possible that in addition to political signaling, Trump might try to use his complaints about the security treaty as a way to pressure Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to make concessions in their bilateral trade talks or in host nation support negotiations expected in 2020. This is not in either country's interest, but if Trump does keep pushing this issue publicly then it should be met with strong counter arguments in the United States, Japan, and from other countries as well, explaining the unique benefits that derive from this 60-year alliance. Trump's bullying and ignorance should not be met passively.
WASHINGTON, July 16 -- President Donald Trump on Sunday assailed a group of Democratic congresswomen of color as foreign-born troublemakers who should go back to the “broken and crime infested places from which they came,” ignoring the fact that the women are American citizens and all but one was born in the U.S.
Trump’s tweets drew sharp rebukes from Democrats, who derided his remarks as racist. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the president wants to “make America white again.” And Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a Trump critic who recently took steps to leave his party, called the remarks “racist and disgusting.” Trump was almost certainly referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and her allies in what’s become known as “the squad.” The others are Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. Only Omar, from Somalia, is foreign-born.
Ocasio-Cortez swiftly denounced his remarks. “Mr. President, the country I come from, & the country we all swear to, is the United States,” she tweeted. “You are angry because you can’t conceive of an America that includes us. You rely on a frightened America for your plunder.” With his tweet, Trump again inserted himself into a rift between Pelosi and the liberal congresswomen, after offering an unsolicited defense of the Democratic speaker days earlier. Pelosi has been seeking to minimize Ocasio-Cortez’s influence in recent days, prompting Ocasio-Cortez to accuse Pelosi of trying to marginalize women of color. “She is not a racist,” Trump said Friday.
On Sunday, Trump’s tone turned nativist
“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run,” he said in tweets. “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how it is done.” He added: “These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”
The attacks may have been meant to further the divides within the Democrat caucus, strained over internal debates on liberal policies and on whether to proceed with impeachment proceedings against Trump. Instead, Democrats as one voice denounced the comments, which evoked the old racist trope of telling a black person to go back to Africa. “Unfortunately there is an American tradition of telling people to go back where they came from,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democratic presidential contender, said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” ”It’s a very bad tradition that we need to weed out of our nation because we are a nation of immigrants, that is who we are by our nature for hundreds of years. But you don’t expect to hear it from the president.”
Another 2020 contender, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, tweeted at the president: “This is racist. These congresswomen are every bit as American as you — and represent our values better than you ever will.” Few Republicans immediately weighed in on the president’s comments. Shortly after the tweets, and a later post defending the harsh scenes at a border detention facility where hundreds of migrant men are being held in sweltering, foul-smelling conditions, Trump left the White House to go golfing at his Virginia club. It was far from the first time that Trump has been accused of holding racist views. His political career was launched on the backs of falsely claiming that President Barack Obama was not born in the United States. In his campaign kickoff in June 2015, he deemed many Mexican immigrants “rapists.” And last year, during a White House meeting on immigration, he wondered why the United States was admitting so many immigrants from “shithole countries” like Haiti, El Salvador and several African nations.
Ocasio-Cortez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was born in the Bronx, New York, and raised in suburban Westchester County. Pressley, the first black woman elected to the House from Massachusetts, was born in Cincinnati. Omar, the first Somali native elected to Congress and one of its first Muslim women, was born in Somalia but spent much of her childhood in a Kenyan refugee camp as civil war tore apart her home country. She immigrated to the United States at age 12, teaching herself English by watching American TV and eventually settling with her family in Minneapolis.
Tlaib was born in Detroit.
BEIJING, July 15 -- China’s economic growth slowed to a record low of 6.2 per cent in the second quarter of 2019 as the shock from the protracted trade war with the United States continued to resonate through the world’s second largest economy.
Gross domestic product (GDP) growth slid from 6.4 per cent in the first quarter, according to data published by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) on Monday. Even during the global financial crisis in 2009, China’s quarterly GDP growth did not dip below 6.4 per cent. The figure, nonetheless, falls within the range of Beijing’s target growth rate for the year of between 6.0 to 6.5 per cent and was generally expected. The median forecast of a poll of analysts conducted by Bloomberg was 6.2 per cent, but some had predicted worse, with many having deep concerns about the effect of the trade war. The data also showed that over the first half of the year, China’s economy grew by 6.3 per cent.
This was up from 5.0 per cent growth in May, which was the lowest since February 2002, and well above the expectations of a poll of economists, which had predicted 5.2 per cent growth. Within industrial production, manufacturing grew by 6.2 per cent year-on-year, up from 5.0 per cent in May. This beat expectations, and contrasts sharply with the weak sentiment among manufacturers surveyed in June’s purchasing managers’ index. Furthermore, China’s marginalized private sector provided the main driver of industrial growth in June, expanding by 8.3 per cent in June and 8.7 per cent in the first half of the year, compared with 6.2 per cent and 5.0 per cent for state-owned enterprises over the same periods, respectively. Fixed asset investment, the national spend on physical assets such as real estate, infrastructure or machinery, grew by 5.8 per cent in the January to June period compared to a year earlier, higher than the 5.6 per cent growth reported in May and above the Bloomberg poll median, which had predicted no change. Investment in China’s mining sector surged by 22.3 per cent over the first half of the year, while government investment outstripped that of private investment. Investment in property development, meanwhile, grew by 10.9 per cent in the first half of the year, down from 15.8 per cent in the year to May.
LAS VEGAS, July 13 -- Should everything go according to plan, more than half a million strangers will gather in a remote Nevada town in mid-September, united by a common goal: Raid Area 51 in the wee hours of the morning - using a strength-in-numbers approach to reveal any extraterrestrial treasures stashed within the notoriously clandestine government base.
Or, put more simply, "Lets see them aliens." By Friday evening, more than 540,000 people from around the world had signed up to attend the joke Facebook event: "Storm Area 51, They Can't Stop All of Us," - and just as many had indicated they were "interested." Planned for September 20 in Amargosa Valley, an hour's drive away from Las Vegas, the event page is currently filled with thousands of posts theorizing the best way to break into the top-secret facility. "We will all meet up at the Area 51 Alien Center tourist attraction and coordinate our entry," reads a brief description of the event, which was created by popular video game streamer SmyleeKun. "If we Naruto run, we can move faster than their bullets." The latter part of the description references anime ninja Naruto Uzumaki, whose notorious head forward, arms-behind-the-back running technique has led some to believe it makes them run faster. (It doesn't). Most people discussing the raid, including various news outlets that have written about the Facebook event, recognize it's not intended to be taken seriously. But what about those who don't? It is not clear exactly how many people, if anyone, will actually show up to lead a blitzkrieg on the Nellis Air Force Base Complex, which houses the land containing Area 51. Some who've posted on the event's page in recent days have considered that possibility.
"P. S. Hello US government, this is a joke, and I do not actually intend to go ahead with this plan," wrote user Jackson Barnes, following his rather descriptive proposed game plan. "I just thought it would be funny and get me some thumbsy uppies on the Internet. I'm not responsible if people decide to actually storm area 51." Speaking with The Washington Post on Friday afternoon, US Air Force spokeswoman Laura McAndrews said officials were aware of the Facebook event. When asked how authorities might respond to ardent explorers who may attempt to enter Area 51 in September, McAndrews said she could not elaborate on specific plans or security procedures at the base. She did, however, issue a warning to those itching to try their luck.
"[Area 51] is an open training range for the US Air Force, and we would discourage anyone from trying to come into the area where we train America armed forces," McAndrews said. "The US Air Force always stands ready to protect America and its assets." The facility has long been a source of public intrigue, yet for decades, Americans were told Area 51 didn't exist at all. That notion was officially debunked in 2013 when the CIA confirmed its existence through documents obtained in a public records request by George Washington University. Yes, Area 51 is definitely real - and even though the report indicated it was nothing more than an aircraft-testing facility and mentioned nothing about extraterrestrial life, the revelation gave credence to conspiracy theories alleging the government uses the base to hide aliens and their spacecraft. The CIA has since published information about test flights that took place there, and the alien aspects in many of those theories have been debunked. But in 2017 the Pentagon confirmed the existence of a $22 million government program to analyze "anomalous aerospace threats" - a.k.a. UFOs - giving alien-obsessed kooks fresh fodder for their conjectures. Though the facility is not publicly accessible, the area around Area 51 is a popular tourist destination, sprinkled with alien-themed motels, museums and restaurants. (In 1996, Nevada renamed state Route 375 to "Extraterrestrial Highway") But those who venture too far into the land surrounding the base are greeted with warning signs indicating they could be fined or jailed for trespassing and taking photos. Some signs suggest those who enter could be subject to "deadly force."
In 2014, a tour bus carting four passengers near Area 51 inadvertently drove through the warning signs and entered the base, Las Vegas Now reported. The truck was stopped by men in "military garb," and everyone in the vehicle was threatened with a misdemeanor conviction and $650 fine. The incident was caught on video, making it obvious the tour's passengers thought it was all part of the experience. Only the driver was charged. Of course, those who say they will participate in the September raid know their mission won't be easy. Some have offered their own plans and even schematics detailing how the group will take on the base.
Author: Pete McGee
BEIJING, July 11 -- China's Defense Ministry indicated Thursday that it will take reciprocal action to counter the recent U.S. approval to sell weapons to Taiwan.
The Chinese military will "take all necessary measures" to safeguard national sovereignty and territorial integrity, Defense Ministry spokesman Wu Qian said in a statement, adding that Beijing has already lodged a protest against Washington. The U.S. move "will threaten development of militaries of both counties and damage peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait," the spokesman said, urging the United States to withdraw its plan. The U.S. State Department has approved a planned sale of weapons, including tanks and surface-to-air missiles, to Taiwan for an estimated cost of $2.22 billion, the Defense Department said earlier this week. The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has forged close relations with self-ruled, democratic Taiwan, which China considers a renegade province awaiting reunification. Taiwan and mainland China have been governed separately since they split amid a civil war in 1949. Beijing has since then endeavored to undermine Taipei's quest for international recognition. China has stepped up such efforts, particularly since President Tsai Ing-wen -- who belongs to the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party -- came to power in Taiwan in May 2016.
LUXEMBOURG, July 7 -- Luxembourg foreign minister Jean Asselborn has warned that escalating tensions between the US and Iran could cause a challenging refugee crisis for Europe.
Speaking to German newspaper Welt am Sonntag, Asselborn said Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement was a “complete misstep”. The Trump administration withdrew from the deal a year ago and reimposed sanctions on Iran’s economy and leaders, prompting it to scale back compliance and fuelling concerns that the region was sliding toward war. Iran has demanded economic relief from Europe in response to the sanctions by 7 July and threatened to resume purifying uranium to 5%, beyond the 3.67% allowed under the 2015 agreement should efforts fail.
The European troika – a decision group including the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the International Monetary Fund – in June delivered Instex, a financial channel aimed at protecting some trade with Iran – most likely food and medicines – from the threat of US sanctions. However, Iran has said the trade vehicle is insufficient unless it can be used to buy Iranian oil. European officials say that oil purchases are a matter for the private sector. However, private sector companies remain wary of US sanctions. The effects of economic sanctions could also affect the roughly three million Afghan refugees living in the country of which around 1.5 to two million are estimated to be without legal status. Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araqchi in May said that Iran would have to consider asking Afghan refugees to leave under US economic sanctions. While the Iranian government later downplayed Araqchi’s comments, the issue remains on the table.
Speaking to Welt am Sonntag, Asselborn said that there is a risk that three million Afghans could leave Iran due to the tensions between Washington and Tehran. The Luxembourg foreign minister said he estimates that most of them would not return to Afghanistan but try to reach Europe via Turkey. “There is a risk of a huge wave of refugees which poses great challenges for Europe,” he said. Europe meanwhile has been trying to delay the 7 July deadline imposed by Iran and save the nuclear deal from falling apart. In a one-hour telephone call with Iranian president Hassan Rouhani on Saturday night, French president Emmanuel Macron reinforced his concerns about the risks of a further weakening in the multiparty pact meant to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.
“Beyond the announced 7 July deadline, the president has agreed with his Iranian counterpart to explore by 15 July the conditions for a resumption of dialogue between all parties,” according to a statement from Macron’s office.
Author: Lora Smith
But with Trump's repeated complaints about dollar strength – even after the US refrained from formally labeling China a currency manipulator at the end of May – anything is on the table, according to Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. Presidential ‘obsession’"The obsession with currency manipulation – a month after the last Treasury report had different conclusions – means we should be prepared for anything," said Bipan Rai, CIBC’s North American head of foreign-exchange strategy. "The Treasury hasn't intervened to weaken the dollar for decades, but we wouldn't be surprised if that changes potentially under Trump." The euro touched the day's high on Trump's tweet Wednesday before retreating. The latest missive did little to rattle the offshore yuan, which is roughly unchanged near 6.88 per dollar. The Bloomberg Dollar Spot Index is down about 0.5% this year, after a 3.2% gain in 2018. But using a Federal Reserve trade-weighted measure, the dollar is not far below the strongest since 2002, which threatens to make US exports less competitive abroad.
The risk of intervention increases should the Fed decide not to ease policy at its meeting this month, Rai said. Trump has staged a campaign against Fed Chairman Jerome Powell in recent months, comparing the central bank to a "stubborn child" last month for not cutting rates. Trump may ramp up his jawboning efforts as other major central banks start to ease, said Anthony Doyle, global cross-asset investment specialist at Fidelity International. "I wouldn't be surprised if jawboning was to increase in coming months," Doyle said in an interview with Bloomberg Television. "Generating inflationary pressures, generating competitiveness through a lower currency is one tool that central banks can use to support their economies and it’s the only game in town at the moment." Not enoughEven if the Fed does lower rates in a few weeks – a move that bond traders overwhelmingly expect – that might not be enough for the president, according to Bank of America Corp. "The president is likely to get his way at least for the time being," foreign-exchange strategist Ben Randol said via email. "However, the problem arises if US economic outperformance continues and the dollar proves accordingly resilient," he said. "In that case, the temptation to intervene in FX markets will increase if Fed cuts don't do the trick."
Author: Lora Smith
SEOUL, June 30 -- President Donald Trump stepped foot into North Korea on Sunday, making him the first US leader to enter the country.
The two leaders greeted each other warmly after crossing the open ground of the de-militarised zone separating the country. “Stepping across that line was a great honour, a lot of progress has been made,” Mr Trump told the assembled press after Kim Jong-Un accompanied him back onto the South Korean side of the de-militarised zone. South Korean President Moon Jae-in announced that Mr Kim accepted Mr Trump’s invitation to meet when the US president visits the heavily fortified site at the Korean border village of Panmunjom. Mr Moon praised the two leaders for “being so brave” to hold the meeting and said: “I hope President Trump will go down in history as the president who achieves peace on Korean Peninsula.” Earlier, Mr Trump expressed his desire to be the first sitting US president to cross into North Korea when he makes his first trip to the DMZ.
“I look forward to saying hello to him if that all finally works out,” Mr Trump said. “I guess there’s always a chance that it might not, but it sounds like the teams would like to have that work out, so that’s good.” Mr Trump made his audacious offer to meet Mr Kim at the DMZ in a tweet on Saturday before meetings at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan, jolting the gathering of world leaders as well as officials in the US and Seoul. The American and South Korean governments have scrambled to arrange the meeting, but there is so far no public indication Mr Kim will show up.
During the event, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who chairs the two-day summit from Friday, received reports on activities and recommendations on the issue from groups such as a U.N. entity dedicated to gender equality and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Abe said the G-20 will establish a follow-up system to review at the leaders' level the steps taken by members to achieve a goal agreed in 2014 of reducing the gender gap in labor force participation by 25 percent by 2025.
The special event, which was opened to the media and featured Dutch Queen Maxima as a guest, was held to add momentum to women's empowerment, seen as essential for achieving sustainable economic growth, according to the Japanese government. A report submitted to Abe by the OECD and the International Labor Organization said "further progress" was seen in most G-20 economies toward meeting the 25 percent target, but there remain large country differences in the labor force participation of women and, consequently, in the gender gap in participation. The report said particularly large gender gap reductions occurred in Argentina, Brazil, South Korea and Japan, where Abe has been pushing his "womenomics" policy that focuses on enhancing women's role in the economy. In Japan, the share of the population aged 15-64 participating in the labor force by gender was about 70 percent for women and nearly 90 percent for men in 2018, according to the report. But Japan ranked the lowest among members of the G-20 major economies in a 2018 global ranking on representation of women in parliament, coming 165th among 193 countries, according to a different report by an international organization that was announced in March.
Among the G-20 leaders who gathered in western Japan, only two were women -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May.