Trump unveils new strategy to counter Iran

Arab News
Fri, 2017-10-13 20:14

JEDDAH: US President Donald Trump, in consultation with his national security team, has approved a new strategy for Iran. 

According to a statement issued by the White House on Friday, it is the culmination of nine months of deliberation with Congress and the US’ allies on how to best protect American security.
The new strategy, the statement said, focuses on neutralizing Iran’s destabilizing influence and constraining its aggression, particularly its support for terrorism and militants.
Under the new strategy, the US seeks to revitalize its traditional alliances and regional partnerships as bulwarks against Iranian subversion and to restore a more stable balance of power in the region.
The statement said the US will work to deny the Iranian regime — and especially the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) — funding for its malign activities, and oppose IRGC activities that extort the wealth of the Iranian people.
“We will counter threats to the US and our allies from ballistic missiles and other asymmetric weapons,” the White House statement said.
The new US strategy seeks to rally the international community to condemn the IRGC’s gross violations of human rights and its unjust detention of American citizens and other foreigners on specious charges.
One of the core elements of the US president’s new Iran strategy is to deny Tehran all paths to a nuclear weapon.
The statement said the previous administration’s myopic focus on Iran’s nuclear program, to the exclusion of the regime’s many other malign activities, allowed Iran’s influence in the region to reach a high-water mark.
“Over the last decade and a half, the US policy has also consistently prioritized the immediate threat of Sunni extremist organizations over the longer-term threat of Iranian-backed militancy,” it added.
“In doing so, the US has neglected Iran’s steady expansion of proxy forces and terrorist networks aimed at keeping its neighbors weak and unstable in hopes of dominating the greater Middle East.”
The Trump administration has pledged not to repeat the mistake. According to the statement, the Trump administration’s Iran policy will address the totality of these threats from, and malign activities, by Tehran and will seek to bring about a change in its behavior.
The Trump administration seeks to accomplish these objectives through a strategy that neutralizes and counters Iranian threats, particularly those posed by the IRGC, the statement added.
The IRGC, it said, has sought to undermine the fight against Daesh with the influence of militant groups in Iraq under its control. 
“In Yemen, the IRGC has attempted to use the Houthis as puppets to hide Iran’s role in using sophisticated missiles and explosive boats to attack innocent civilians in Saudi Arabia and the UAE, as well as to restrict freedom of navigation in the Red Sea… Senior IRGC commanders plotted the murder of (then) Saudi Ambassador to the US Adel Jubeir, on American soil in 2011…”
“For all these reasons,” the statement said, “we want to work with our partners to constrain this dangerous organization, for the benefit of international peace and security, regional stability and the Iranian people.”

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Three dead in mid-air Australia skydiving collision

Fri, 2017-10-13 13:13

SYDNEY: Three people died Friday in what is believed to be a mid-air skydiving collision, with one of the victims found in someone’s garden.
Two men in their 30s and a woman in her 50s were found dead at Mission Beach, south of popular tourist town Cairns, mid-afternoon.
“Initial investigations indicate that a solo skydiver may have collided with tandem skydivers in mid-air with their parachutes failing to deploy correctly,” police said in a statement.
“Two men in their 30s and a woman in her 50s were located deceased at the scene.”
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation cited ambulance officials as saying one of them fell onto someone’s lawn.
“We had a report of a skydiver who had been found in the garden at a residence in Mission Beach,” said Queensland Ambulance Service’s Neil Noble.
“Shortly thereafter we received another report of another two skydivers that’d been found close by.”
An unnamed eyewitness told the Cairns Post newspaper the mood in the town was somber as residents came to terms with what had happened.
“I didn’t see anyone near them, but they were at a fairly high altitude so maybe a collision happened further up,” he said.
“You could see one chute was tangled and it wasn’t opening.
“I was just watching him in free fall until he went behind the trees, and that was the last I saw.”
Skydive Australia said operations at Mission Beach had been suspended while investigations were underway.
Located midway between Cairns and Townsville, Mission Beach, a gateway to Dunk Island, is popular with backpackers making their way down the Queensland state coast.

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Fight for top UNESCO post now between French and Qatari candidates

Agence France Presse
Fri, 2017-10-13 20:00

PARIS: Candidates from Qatar and France duelled Friday to become the new head of the UN’s embattled cultural agency where Gulf tensions and accusations of anti-Israel bias loomed over the politically charged contest.
The campaign to succeed UNESCO’s outgoing chief Irina Bokova was overshadowed by Washington’s announcement Thursday that it planned to withdraw from the body after years of tensions over decisions seen as critical of Israel.
Israel itself announced shortly afterwards that it would follow suit.
Arab states believe the job of director-general of the 195-member organization should go to one of them for the first time, but regional rivalries and the US and Israeli withdrawals looked set to undercut their ambitions.
Former Qatari culture minister Hamad bin Abdulaziz Al-Kawari is currently leading the contest, but he has been unable to pick up support from other Gulf states who are part of a Saudi-led coalition boycotting the gas-rich monarchy for allegedly supporting terrorists.
The division is likely to open the way for his rival, French ex-culture minister Audrey Azoulay, who is Jewish of Moroccan origin. She edged out Egyptian rights activist Moushira Khattab on Friday as the main challenger.
The ultimate winner, set to be decided in a final round of voting later Friday, will face the difficult task of trying to persuade the US and Israel to reverse course as well as tackling the allegations of anti-Israel bias.

‘Bad signal’
Reacting to the US withdrawal on Friday, a spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said it sent a “bad signal” at a time of global instability, but he added that Berlin too wanted changes at the Paris-based body.
“That’s why we put all our hope in the future director-general and expect that this person will carry out reforms,” spokesman Steffen Seibert told reporters.
“Abuse of this organization for political reasons must come to an end.”
In the face of Arab divisions, France has presented Azoulay as a consensus figure who could mend fences and soothe tensions caused by recent resolutions against Israel.
“Now more than ever UNESCO needs a project… which restores confidence and overcomes political divisions,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement reacting to the US pullout.
Lebanon’s candidate Vera El-Khoury, who bowed out at the fourth round, told AFP that the power game at play in the race had shown UNESCO members “did not give a damn” about the candidates’ programs.
Qatar has generously funded UNESCO in recent years and lobbied intensively for the post, which would help bolster its international status at a time when it faces isolation in the Gulf.
A Saudi-led coalition has been blockading the small strategically placed nation since June over its alleged support for radical Islamists and its ties to Iran.
Al-Kawari has also been dogged by old allegations of anti-Semitism after the Simon Wiesenthal Center accused him of remaining silent about anti-Semitic books at a fair in Doha when he was culture minister.

Heritages sites
UNESCO is best known for producing a list of World Heritage sites including tourist favorites such as the Grand Canyon or Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, but it also runs science, media training and cultural programs internationally.
The US decision to withdraw, which is to take effect on December 31, 2018, underlined America’s drift away from international institutions under President Donald Trump.
Washington has walked out on UNESCO once before, in 1984, after a row over funding and alleged anti-US bias.
For several years Washington returned to the fold in 2002, seeing UNESCO as a vehicle for combatting extremism in the wake of the September 11, 2001, attacks.
But in 2011 relations soured again after UNESCO admitted Palestine as a full member, prompting the US to cut its funding to the organization, leaving a gaping hole in its finances.

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Taiwan president to visit Pacific allies amid China pressure

Fri, 2017-10-13 13:15

TAIPEI: Taiwan president Tsai Ing-wen will visit three Pacific nations in the next month, the foreign ministry said Friday, as fears grow of China influencing its dwindling list of allies.
It comes after Panama cut official ties with Taiwan in June, choosing instead to form diplomatic relations with China — leaving the island with only 20 nations worldwide that recognize it as a country.
Beijing has been wooing other countries to dump Taiwan, which it sees as part of its territory to be brought back into its fold at some point.
The two sides split after a civil war in 1949, and while Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign nation, it has never formally declared independence.
China has stepped up pressure to isolate Taiwan internationally since Tsai came to power last May, as she has refused to acknowledge its “one China” principle.
The Taiwan leader will visit the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands between October 28 and November 4 — three of its six Pacific allies.
“Through the president’s first visit to the Pacific since taking office, we hope to show the importance we place on these friendships and our strong determination to strengthen relations,” Francois Wu, deputy foreign affairs minister, told reporters Friday.
Wu declined to give details about where Tsai will transit, saying it is a “sensitive time” as the trip will take place right after a major congress of China’s ruling Communist Party.
Taiwan is typically low-key in announcing its leader’s specific itineraries, fearing China’s use of its power to disrupt.
Tsai’s last state visit was to Central American allies in January, during which she made stopovers in the United States.
Beijing had asked Washington then to bar Tsai from flying through US airspace, but the request was ignored.
Taiwan has accused China of luring its allies with economic incentives and has said it will not engage in “chequebook diplomacy” with Beijing.
Since Tsai came to power, the small African nation of Sao Tome also switched recognition to Beijing last December.
Taiwan’s most powerful remaining ally is The Vatican — its only one in Europe — but there have been signs Beijing is working toward resuming relations with the Holy See.

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Vietnam flood and landslide toll hits 54

Fri, 2017-10-13 15:33

HANOI: The death toll from devastating floods and landslides in north and central Vietnam has jumped to 54, officials said Friday, in one of the deadliest weather disasters to hit the country in years.
Rescuers were desperately searching for 39 people still missing after heavy rains pounded several provinces this week, with forecasters warning of another major storm heading toward the country.
Villages, roads and homes across several provinces remained submerged Friday, as authorities tried to clear roads and reach isolated residents in the mountainous north, which was hit by deadly landslides.
Entire families were killed in some areas as rivers tore a destructive path through villages and towns.
Hoang Phuc Son said he lost two children and two grandchildren as flood waters slammed into their house in Yen Bai province.
“We had no time to run. My children couldn’t run because water was coming in from all sides… my children and their two kids were swept away,” said Son, choking back tears.
The body of a Vietnam News Agency reporter was recovered Friday after he was washed away by a swollen river in Yen Bai province while reporting on the floods this week.
Thousands of police and soldiers were deployed to help search efforts, reinforce dikes and hand out food as the death toll jumped from 37 people on Thursday.
“We have mobilized more than 2,500 soldiers and policemen and thousands of civilians for rescue and relief efforts,” said Do Duc Duy, chairman of the Yen Bai People’s Committee.
In recent days floods submerged or destroyed 33,000 houses, wiped out swathes of farmland, and left several dikes badly damaged, Vietnam’s Disaster Management Authority said.
Northern Hoa Binh province — where a state of emergency was declared this week — was the hardest hit with 17 dead and 15 missing, followed by central Thanh Hoa province where 14 were killed, the disaster agency added.
And the country is bracing for yet more adverse weather, with forecasters predicting that tropical storm Khanun will intensify over the South China Sea and could hit Vietnam early next week.
Vietnam has already been hit by severe rain and storms this year, with nearly 170 people dead or missing before the latest bout of bad weather. Typhoon Doksuri killed 11 people and caused widespread destruction last month when it slammed into central Vietnam.
The country is routinely hit by tropical storms from May to October, frequently lashing its central coast. More than 150 people died when Tropical Storm Ketsana tore through the country in 2009.

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Toxic kitchen fumes sicken 15 in EU summit building

Fri, 2017-10-13 13:22

BRUSSELS: Fifteen people were taken ill due to noxious fumes in the kitchens of the EU’s new Europa building in Brussels, where leaders of the bloc are due to hold a summit next week, emergency services said.
Ambulances were seen outside the 321-million-euro headquarters of the European Council, dubbed the “Space Egg” because of its futuristic oval interior shape, and five people were taken to the hospital, they said.
“There was a bad mix of chemical products on the kitchen level. That caused fumes which made 15 people sick,” Pierre Meys, a spokesman for Brussels emergency services, told AFP.
He said the symptoms included “sore eyes and vomiting.”
The European Council confirmed the incident but said next week’s summit of 28 European Union leaders would take place there as planned.
“A technical issue affecting the ventilation in the kitchens of the Europa building, producing noxious fumes in the kitchens, has led to a number of kitchen staff falling ill,” the council said in a statement.
“The Belgian firemen and medical services were brought in today to investigate the situation and evacuate kitchen staff who felt ill.”
Staff was evacuated to the neighboring Justus Lipsius building “applying the principle of safety first” it added.
“This incident will not prevent next week’s meeting of the European Council from going ahead,” it said.
The ambulances were deployed as part of an “emergency medical plan” created by local authorities for any incident involving more than 10 people, he added.
The Europa building opened in January after a series of delays.

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Myanmar army opens probe amid reports of killings, abuse of Rohingya Muslims

Wa Lone and Simon Lewis | Reuters
Fri, 2017-10-13 19:05

YANGON: Myanmar’s military has launched an internal probe into the conduct of soldiers during a counteroffensive that has sent more than half a million Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, many saying they witnessed killings, rape and arson by troops.
Coordinated Rohingya insurgent attacks on 30 security posts on Aug. 25 sparked a ferocious military response in the Muslim-majority northern part of Rakhine state that the United Nations has said was ethnic cleansing.
A committee led by military Lt. General Aye Win has begun an investigation into the behavior of military personnel, the office of the commander in chief said on Friday, insisting the operation was justified under Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s constitution.
According to a statement posted on Senior General Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook page, the panel will ask, “Did they follow the military code of conduct? Did they exactly follow the command during the operation? After that (the committee) will release full information.”
Myanmar is refusing entry to a UN panel that was tasked with investigating allegations of abuses after a smaller military counteroffensive launched in October 2016.
But domestic investigations — including a previous internal military probe — have largely dismissed refugees’ claims of abuses committed during security forces’ so-called “clearance operations.”
Thousands of refugees have continued to arrived cross the Naf river separating Myanmar’s Rakhine state and Bangladesh in recent days, even though Myanmar insists military operations ceased on Sept. 5.
Aid agencies now estimate that 536,000 people have now arrived in Cox’s Bazar district, straining scarce resources of aid groups and local communities.
About 200,000 Rohingya were already in Bangladesh after fleeing persecution in Myanmar, where they have long been denied citizenship and faced restrictions on their movements and access to basic services.
Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has pledged accountability for human rights abuses and says Myanmar will accept back refugees who can prove they were residents of Myanmar.
The powerful army chief has taken a harder stance, however, telling the US ambassador in Myanmar earlier this week that the exodus of Rohingya — who he said were non-native “Bengalis” — was exaggerated.
In comments to Japan’s ambassador carried in state media on Friday, Min Aung Hlaing denied ethnic cleansing was taking place on the grounds that photos showed Muslims “departing calmly rather than fleeing in terror.”

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Allies press Catalan leader to declare full independence, ignore Madrid deadlines

Fri, 2017-10-13 13:27

MADRID: Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont came under pressure from one of his key allies on Friday to declare full independence and ignore a threat of direct rule from the Spanish government.
Puigdemont made a symbolic declaration of independence on Tuesday night, only to suspend it seconds later and called for negotiations with Madrid.
Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has given him until Monday to clarify his position — and then until Thursday to change his mind if he insists on a split — threatening to suspend Catalonia’s autonomy if he chooses independence.
But far-left Catalan political group CUP called on Puigdemont to make an unequivocal declaration of independence in defiance of the deadlines.
“If (the central Madrid government) wants to continue to threaten and gag us, they should do it to the Republic that has already been claimed,” the party said.
The CUP only holds 10 seats in the 135-seat Catalan parliament. But Puigdemont’s minority government relies on its support to push through legislation and cannot win a majority vote in the regional parliament with its backing.
The wealthy region’s intention to break away after a referendum has plunged Spain into its worst political crisis since an attempted military coup in 1981.
Sources close to the Catalan government said Puigdemont and his team were working on an answer to Rajoy though they declined to say what line he might take.
The CUP statement echoes the position expressed late on Thursday by influential pro-independence civic group Asamblea Nacional Catalana which said: “Given the negative position of Spain toward dialogue, we ask the regional parliament to raise the suspension (on the declaration of independence).”
But the leader of Puigdemont’s party, Artur Mas, who served as the region’s president until 2016 and is still believed to influence key decisions, said on Friday declaring independence was not the only way forward.
“If a state proclaims itself independent and cannot act as such, it’s an independence that is merely aesthetic,” he told Catalan television TV3.
“The external factor must be taken into account in the decisions that will be made from now on,” he said.
The European Union, the United States and most other world powers have made it clear they wanted Catalonia to remain within Spain.
“If we allow Catalonia — and it is none of our business — to separate, others will do the same. I do not want that,” Jean Claude Juncker said in a speech at Luxembourg University.

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Pakistani-American faces extradition hearing on NYC attack plot

Fri, 2017-10-13 13:23

ISLAMABAD: A Pakistani court on Friday delayed the extradition hearing of a Pakistani-American man accused of plotting attacks in New York City for Daesh without fixing a new date, the man’s lawyer said.
Talha Haroon, 19, was arrested in Pakistan in 2016 after US authorities identified him as one of three men, along with a Canadian citizen and a man from the Philippines, planning attacks on Manhattan’s Times Square and the city’s subway.
His lawyer and family deny the charges.
Haroon’s lawyer termed the investigation a sting operation carried out by an investigating officer motivated by career advancement.
“The FBI projected this as a high-level story, but these people don’t have the qualifications to kill a monkey,” said the lawyer, Idrees Ashraf.
Ashraf said his client was only in contact with the investigating officer but never directly spoke with the co-accused, raising serious doubts about the nature of the investigation.
“According to the criminal complaint, the FBI agent communicated with Talha online, and has said he was active in IS, but no proof of militant links has been provided,” Ashraf added.
One of the accused men, 19-year-old Canadian citizen Abdulrahman El Bahnasawy, has been in US custody since May 2016. He pleaded guilty to terrorism charges in October 2016, prosecutors said.
The third accused, 37-year old Russel Salic, was arrested in the Philippines in April, according to the office of Acting US Attorney Joon Kim.
Prosecutors say Salic maintained a pro-Daesh social media presence, told the undercover officer he had been communicating with El Bahnasawy, and sent the officer about $423 from the Philippines to help pay for the attacks.
Haroon has been in custody for more than a year without being charged. A bail plea will be filed for his release at the hearing once a date is set, his attorney said.
“He was one of the best students in his school,” Haroon’s father said, adding that Talha moved to Pakistan in 2014 after finishing high school.
“He is naive and speaks from his heart,” Ashraf added. “He is not the sort of boy who can commit such brutal acts.”
US prosecutors said they expect Haroon and Salic to be extradited to face the charges, which include conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and to support a terrorist organization.
If convicted of the most serious charges, they face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

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South Korean court extends detention of ex-President Park

Fri, 2017-10-13 16:40

SEOUL, South Korea: A South Korean court on Friday extended the detention of former President Park Geun-hye, who is on trial over broad corruption allegations that led to her removal from office and arrest in March.
The Seoul Central District Court issued an additional six-month arrest warrant for Park which will take effect once the current warrant expires on Monday, according to a court official who didn’t want to be named, citing office rules.
Prosecutors said Park should be kept behind bars until the court reaches a verdict in her case, citing concerns she might try to destroy evidence if released. A verdict is expected as early as before the end of the year.
Park faces the possibility of a lengthy prison term over charges that she colluded with a friend to take tens of millions of dollars from companies in bribes and extortion.
The scandal led to the indictments of dozens of people, including former Cabinet ministers, senior presidential aides and billionaire Samsung scion Lee Jae-yong, who has appealed an August ruling that sentenced him to five years in prison for offering bribes to Park and her friend in exchange for business favors.
Park was arrested and jailed on the last day of March, weeks after Seoul’s Constitutional Court upheld an impeachment bill passed by lawmakers in December and formally removed her from office. Millions of people had angrily but peacefully marched in the streets for months calling for her ouster, turning a large boulevard near Seoul’s presidential palace into a sea of candlelight over dozens of weekends.
A smaller but growing number of Park’s supporters — many of them in their 50s, 60s, and 70s — has been rallying near the court in recent months, calling for her release.

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