Zimbabwe Government Calls on Opposition to Stop Protests

Opposition supporters marched in Zimbabwe’s capital on Thursday, demanding that the government do more to fix the sinking economy. The marchers, among other things, want employers to pay them in the same U.S. dollars that government institutions demand for payment. The government said marches would only derail progress. Columbus Mavhunga reports from Harare.

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Uganda Testing Injectable HIV Prevention Drug

Ahead of World AIDS Day, Uganda is recruiting women to participate in a trial of an injectable antiretroviral drug to replace Truvada, a daily pill that has low adherence by users. The trial will assess if the new drug – Cabotegravir – can further reduce the risk of acquiring HIV. Halima Athumani has more from Kampala.

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Officials: 18 Wounded in Gaza Border Protest

Gaza health officials say 18 Palestinians have been wounded by Israeli gunfire at a protest along Gaza-Israel perimeter fence.

Thousands of Palestinians protested Friday, but maintained the monthlong lower intensity of the weekly marches that began in March. Some demonstrators approached the heavily guarded barrier, hurling rocks and firebombs.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers said the protests were restrained to assess the extent to which Israel is easing the Isreali-Egyptian blockade imposed on the territory’s 2 million residents since 2007.

Recently, Israel allowed Qatar to deliver cash to Hamas’ civil servants and fuel to Gaza’s power plant, hoping to calm down months of border violence, in which 175 Palestinians and an Israeli soldier were killed.

The Islamic militant Hamas has threated to ratchet up the marches if the blockade is not lifted.

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UN experts: South Sudan Beset by `Alarming’ Sexual Violence

South Sudan is beset by “alarming levels” of sexual and gender-based violence and a desperate humanitarian situation, including severe food shortages, as it attempts to implement the latest peace agreement in a climate of “deep distrust,” U.N. experts said.

The panel of experts said in a report to the Security Council that the world’s newest nation must deal with the fragmentation of armed groups “and grave human rights abuses, including against children,” in addition to the “profound deficit of trust” among almost all signatories to the September peace deal.

But most important, they said, is whether implementing the peace agreement improves the lives of the civilians, many of whom expressed to the experts “profound cynicism and distrust of a high-level political process that appears increasingly removed from their suffering.”

The report, which was circulated Thursday and covers a 45-day period in September and October, stressed that competition for South Sudan’s natural resources including oil, gold, teak wood and charcoal remains “central to the conflict” both locally and nationally.

There were high hopes that South Sudan would have peace and stability after its independence from neighboring Sudan in 2011. But it plunged into ethnic violence in December 2013 when forces loyal to President Salva Kiir, a Dinka, started battling those loyal to Riek Machar, his former vice president who is a Nuer.

A peace deal signed in August 2015 didn’t stop the fighting, and neither did cessation of hostilities agreement in December 2017 and a declaration on June 27.

The Sept. 12 power-sharing agreement signed in neighboring Sudan has so far been fraught with delays, missed deadlines and continued fighting in parts of the country. The government and opposition have said they are committed to implementing it but both sides blame each other for abuses and for violating the deal.

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people and forced over 4 million to flee their homes — more than 1.8 million of them leaving the country in what has become one of the world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis.

In July, the Security Council narrowly approved a U.S.-sponsored resolution imposing an arms embargo on the entire territory of South Sudan. It has also imposed sanctions on key figures in the conflict.

The experts said that while it’s too early to adequately assess the impact and enforcement of the arms embargo, “a number of violations have been noted by the panel.”

The panel said it also noted “repeated violations of the travel ban” against some South Sudanese on the sanctions blacklist.

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Family Says Egypt Arrested British Tourist for Military Chopper Video

The family of a 19-year-old British tourist says Egyptian authorities have arrested the young man over a video he filmed on his cellphone that showed a military helicopter in the background.

Speaking from the UK on Friday, humanitarian relief worker Shareen Nawaz told The Associated Press that her cousin, Libyan-British Muhammed Fathi AbulKasem, was arrested shortly after he arrived in Egypt’s coastal city of Alexandria on Nov. 21.


She said he faced a court three times over the past week on charges of collecting intelligence on the Egyptian military. His mother, Amaal Rafiq, confirmed his arrest in a Facebook post.


Egypt’s Foreign Ministry couldn’t immediately be reached for comment. The UK’s Foreign Office confirmed the arrest of a Briton in Alexandria, but didn’t elaborate.


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Egypt Says It Regrets Break of Parliamentary Ties With Italy

Egypt’s parliament says it regrets the decision of Italy’s lower house to break parliamentary ties over the lack of progress in investigations related to the torture and killing of an Italian researcher nearly three years ago.

In a Friday statement, Parliament said it was “surprised” by the Italian chamber’s “unilateral” decision and called for the non-politicization of legal issues.

Italy has been pressing Cairo for years to identify and prosecute those responsible for the 2016 killing of Giulio Regeni. Researching labor unions in Egypt at the time, Regeni’s body was found bearing marks of torture.

Italian media says prosecutors in Rome are set to launch an investigation into seven Egyptian secret service members they suspect were involved in Regeni’s abduction and murder. Egypt has long denied its authorities were involved.

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For Israel, a Rearmed Hezbollah in Lebanon is Top Concern

On a moonlit night, some two dozen Israeli soldiers in full battle gear march near a Lebanese border village with a bomb-sniffing dog, searching for explosives and infiltrators.

Suddenly the force stops. Through night-vision goggles, two suspicious men appear over the ridge, holding what looks like binoculars. Could they be undercover Hezbollah guerrillas? Lebanese soldiers on a night patrol? Or perhaps U.N. peacekeepers?

The men appear unarmed and since they are on the other side of the internationally recognized “blue line” that separates the two countries, Israeli troops move on, completing another routine foot patrol along a scenic frontier that has remained quiet but tense since the bloody battles of a 2006 summer war.

Even with attention currently focused on Gaza militants along the southern front, Israel’s main security concerns lie to the north, along the border with Lebanon.

Israeli officials have long warned the threat posed by Gaza’s Hamas rulers pales in comparison to that of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group — a heavily-armed mini-army with valuable combat experience and an arsenal of some 150,000 rockets that can reach nearly every part of Israel.

It’s along this northern front that Israeli soldiers come face-to-face with Hezbollah guerrillas and where any skirmish could spark an all-out war.

“The rules of the game are very clear. They know I’m here and I know they’re there,” said Lt. Col. Aviv, a regional battalion commander. “But if they break that equation, they are going to get hit.”

From his base along the border near the Israeli farming community of Avivim, he can see the hilltop Lebanese village of Maroun al-Ras, a U.N. observer outpost and a new square house inside an agricultural field, assumed to be a Hezbollah lookout.

Under the U.N.-brokered cease-fire that ended the 2006 war, Hezbollah’s troops are prohibited from approaching the border. But Israeli intelligence says Hezbollah men operate freely, generally unarmed and in civilian clothes. Sometimes they come within just a few meters (feet) of the Israeli troops, it says. Only a coil of barbed wire separates them but there are no interactions.

“They are very disciplined soldiers. They won’t initiate anything,” said Aviv, who can only be identified by his first name under military regulations.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently decided against a full-scale offensive in Gaza, he cited the current “security-sensitive period” in what was widely assumed to be a reference to the northern front.

Israel has generally refrained from engaging in Syria’s civil war, where Hezbollah has fought fiercely alongside President Bashar Assad’s troops, though it has carried out scores of airstrikes against what Israel says were Iranian shipments of advanced weapons bound for Hezbollah.

Until recently, Israel flew its jets through Syrian skies with impunity. But that was severely restricted after a Russian plane was downed in September by Syrian forces responding to an Israeli air strike, a friendly fire incident that stoked Russian anger toward Israel and hastened the delivery of sophisticated S-300 air defense systems to Syria.

With Syria’s civil war winding down, an empowered Hezbollah is now free to re-establish itself back home in Lebanon and refocus on Israel, said Eyal Ben-Reuven, a lawmaker and retired general who commanded Israeli ground troops in the 2006 war. Armed with more exact rockets and munitions, Hezbollah now poses a far more dangerous threat, he said.

“A terror organization, unlike a country, doesn’t stockpile weapons for deterrence but in order to use them one day,” he said. “I suspect they will now try to goad Israel. … The war the Israeli military has to prepare for is the one against Hezbollah.”

Neither side appears interested quite yet in another full-fledged confrontation like the monthlong 2006 war, which ended in stalemate and in which more than 1,200 Lebanese and 160 Israelis were killed.

With a lagging economy and a paralyzed government, Lebanon appears unlikely to have the stomach for another war. Though emboldened politically from the Syria war and having surged in power in Lebanese parliamentary elections earlier this year, Hezbollah is going through a financial crunch. It also is recovering after having hundreds of fighters killed or wounded in Syria.

Still, Israel accuses it of ratchetting up tensions.

The military says it recently uncovered militant surveillance outposts along the border, set up under the guise of a tree-planting campaign by an environmental advocacy group, “Green Without Borders.” The group acknowledges its affiliation with Hezbollah but says its work is purely environmental.

Netanyahu also accused Hezbollah of setting up secret rocket launching sites near Beirut’s international airport. The military says Hezbollah is establishing new launching sites among civilians — a trap that could make it difficult for Israel to respond forcefully.

But the military says its major concern is Iranian-backed efforts to convert some of Hezbollah’s unguided rockets into precision munitions that could wreak far more devastation on Israeli targets.

Hezbollah declined to respond to the accusations. Its leader, Hassan Nasrallah, said recently the group is “more confident than ever” and ready for war at any time.

On the ground, the potential for trouble is clear. Israel occupied parts of southern Lebanon before withdrawing in 2000 to the U.N.-demarcated “blue line.” But Lebanon and Hezbollah have disputed parts of the U.N. map, and an official border has never been agreed on by the two enemy countries.

Due to the uneven terrain, Israel’s sophisticated northern fence does not run precisely along the border, creating enclaves of Israeli territory that are inside the blue line but beyond the fence.

Israel had previously neglected these areas and its troops were ambushed there in 2006. Now it’s stepping up its presence, fortifying fences and clearing away brush to improve observation.

It’s also sending a signal that violations won’t be tolerated — even on a night patrol, Israeli troops don’t hide their presence.

“I have an interest that they see I’m here,” said Lt. Col. Aviv, a bullet loaded in the chamber of his modified M-16 rifle. “There are no surprises.”

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Brussels Police Water-cannon ‘yellow vest’ Protesters

Belgian police fired water-cannon and teargas in central Brussels on Friday to drive back protesters inspired by France’s “yellow vest” anti-tax movement who hurled rocks at the prime minister’s office.

For nearly three hours, crowds of people complaining about fuel prices and a squeeze on living standards had disrupted traffic and walked the streets in an unauthorized demonstration that lacked clear leadership, largely promoted via social media.

Several hundred people wearing the fluorescent safety vests drivers must carry in their vehicles eventually converged on the office of Prime Minister Charles Michel. Dozens, many of them masked, threw rocks, firecrackers and road signs at police who doused them with high-pressure water jets and fired gas rounds.

Protests in Belgium, notably around fuel depots in the French-speaking south, have been inspired by the yellow vest — or “gilet jaune” — actions in France against increases in fuel duty imposed by President Emmanuel Macron’s government as part of efforts to reduce emissions causing global warming.

“Michel, resign!” people chanted on Friday. Michel, a liberal ally of Macron, voiced sympathy for people’s troubles on Thursday, but added: “Money doesn’t fall from the sky.”

His center-right coalition faces an election in May.

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Washington’s New Power Standoff – Trump, Pelosi

They haven’t spoken in days, not since President Donald Trump called to congratulate Nancy Pelosi on Democrats’ election night win.

But they don’t really need to. Trump and Pelosi go way back, from the time she first showed up at Trump Tower fundraising for the Democrats long before he would become president or she the House speaker. Two big-name heirs to big-city honchos — Trump and Pelosi each had fathers who were political power players in their home towns — they’ve rubbed elbows on the Manhattan social scene for years.

And despite daily barbs in Washington, he’s always “Mr. President” to her, and she’s one prominent politician he has not labeled with a derisive nickname.

Not quite friends, nor enemies, theirs is perhaps the most important relationship in Washington. If anything is to come of the new era of divided government, with a Republican president and Democratic control of the House, it will happen in the deal-making space between two of the country’s most polarizing politicians.

The day after their election night phone call, Trump and Pelosi did speak again, indirectly, across Pennsylvania Avenue.

“I really respected what Nancy said last night about bipartisanship and getting together and uniting,” Trump said in a press conference at the White House. “That’s what we should be doing.”

Pressed after his unusual public lobbying for Pelosi to become House speaker, Trump insisted he was sincere.

“A lot of people thought I was being sarcastic or I was kidding. I wasn’t. I think she deserves it,” he said. “I also believe that Nancy Pelosi and I could work together and get a lot of things done.”

Pelosi sent word back a few minutes later from her own press conference at the Capitol, which she delayed for nearly an hour as the president conducted his.

“Last night, I had a conversation with President Trump about how we could work together,” Pelosi said, noting that “building infrastructure” was one of the items they discussed.

“He talked about it during his campaign and really didn’t come through with it in his first two years in office,” she nudged. “I hope that we can do that because we want to create jobs from sea to shining sea.”

Despite all the campaign trail trash talk, both Trump and Pelosi have incentive to make some deals.

The president could use a domestic policy win heading into his own re-election in 2020, alongside his regular railing against illegal immigration, the “witch hunt” of the Russia investigation or other issues that emerge from his tweets.

Democrats, too, need to show Americans they can do more than resist the Trump White House. It’s no surprise that two of the top Democratic priorities in the new Congress, infrastructure investment and lowering health care costs, dovetail with promises Trump made to voters, but has not yet fulfilled.

“I do think there’s opportunities to pass legislation,” said former White House legislative director Marc Short.

Trump has long viewed Pelosi as both a foil and a possible partner, and she sees in him the one who can sign legislation into law.

The president has told confidants that he respects Pelosi’s deal-making prowess and her ability to hang on to power in the face of a series of challenges from the left wing of the party, according to four White House officials and Republicans close to the White House. The officials were not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and requested anonymity.

He told one ally this month that he respected Pelosi “as a fighter” and that he viewed her as someone with whom he could negotiate.

“The president respects her,” said Short.

Short described the interaction between Pelosi and Trump during a 2017 meeting with other congressional leaders at the White House to prevent a government shutdown. “They were throwing pros and cons back at each other,” he said.

“The question I can’t answer is to what extent will Democrats give Pelosi political bandwidth” to strike deals, Short said. He pointed to potential areas of agreement like infrastructure, drug prices and prison reform.

But part of Trump’s push for Pelosi to return to power was more nakedly political. Pelosi has long been a popular Republican target, spurring countless fundraising efforts and attack ads. And Trump has told advisers that, if needed, he would make her the face of the opposition in Democratic party until the 2020 presidential field sorts itself out.

Pelosi’s name draws some of the biggest jeers at his rallies and he believes that “she could be Hillary” in terms of a Clinton-like figure to rally Republicans against, according to one of the advisers familiar with the president’s private conversations.

At the same time, Trump has not publicly branded Pelosi with a mocking nickname. She’s no “Cryin’” Chuck Schumer, as he calls the top Senate Democrat, or “Little” Adam Schiff at the Intelligence Committee or “Low IQ” Rep. Maxine Waters of California, who will chair the Financial Services Committee.

On whether Trump likes Pelosi as ally or adversary, Short said, “I don’t think those are mutually exclusive.”

Pelosi, perhaps more than her Republican counterparts — outgoing Speaker Paul Ryan or Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — became an early observer, and adapter, to the Trump style of governing.

When Trump and Democrats were trying to broker an immigration deal in September 2017, she suggested he could tweet his assurances to the young Dreamers. And he did.

Around the same time when Trump and congressional leaders convened at the White House to avoid a federal government shutdown, Republicans and Trump’s own Cabinet team pressed for their preferred solution. But Pelosi kept asking a simple question: How many Republican votes could they bring to the table? When it was clear they could not bring enough for passage, Trump intervened and agreed with Democrats “Chuck and Nancy,” as he came to call them.

Votes, Pelosi explained later, were the “currency of the realm.” Trump, as a businessman, she said, got it.

Pelosi is poised to become House speaker again if she wins her election in January. Asked this week how Trump might react to having a woman in power, Pelosi recalled the first time she held the office, when George W. Bush was president, in 2007.

Bush would call her “No. 3,” she said, a reference to the speaker’s spot in the presidential succession line, after the president and the vice president.

“He treated me and the office I hold with great respect,” she said. “I would expect nothing less than that from this President of the United States.”

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Canada, Mexico, US Sign Trade Deal

The leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States signed a new North American trade deal Friday. Justin Trudeau, Enrique Pena Nieto and Donald Trump inked the deal in Argentina, ahead of the opening of the G-20 summit.

It will, however, take a while for the agreement to take effect as lawmakers from all three countries have to approve the scheme, officially known as the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA.

The pact underpins $1.2 billion in annual trade among the three countries.

It replaces NAFTA, a pact that Trump had roundly criticized in his 2016 presidential campaign, terming it the worst trade deal in history and blaming NAFTA for the loss of American manufacturing jobs since it went into effect in 1994. 

Trump called the deal a “model agreement that changes the trade landscape forever” at a news conference with his North American counterparts in Buenos Aires, Argentina, ahead of the G-20 conference.

When the three countries agreed on the USMCA deal earlier this year, the U.S. leader said, “This landmark agreement will send cash and jobs pouring into the United States and into North America.” 

Joshua Meltzer, a senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, told VOA at that time that the deal was not that much different from NAFTA.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a vastly different deal at all.” Meltzer said. “It’s an agreement that’s over 20 years old and so it clearly needed to be updated.I think certainly it reduces a level of anxiety about how the administration was going to square its rhetoric on trade with an actual trade deal. We certainly see some increased protectionism in some areas, particularly in the auto sector.But overall it’s an update of a trade agreement, it’s comprehensive, and it’s largely good for improving integration between the three economies.” 

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Monitor: Israeli Airstrikes Hit Syrian Targets South of Damascus

Israel struck several positions south of Damascus, a war monitor said Friday, in the first strikes since Syrian air defenses were upgraded following the accidental downing of a Russian plane in September.

Damascus claimed its air defense systems shot down all “hostile targets” late Thursday. Israel did not confirm carrying out raids but denied any losses.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, the strikes hit two positions in the south of Damascus province, including an area believed to be an Iranian weapons depot near the capital.

“Israeli forces bombarded for an hour,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

Two missiles hit “weapons depots belonging to the Lebanese Hezbollah [militant group] as well as Iranian forces” in Kisweh.

Another missile hit the area of Harfa, where there is a Syrian military base, the Britain-based monitor said.

In Kisweh, “the depots that were targeted are used to temporarily store rockets until they are taken somewhere else,” Abdel Rahman said.

“It appears the Israelis had intelligence that weapons had arrived there recently,” he said.

The state news agency said the attack was foiled and did not admit to any losses.

“Our air defenses fired on hostile targets over the Kisweh area and downed them,” SANA said, citing a military source.

A military source quoted by the pro-government Al-Watan daily said “the aggression, despite its intensity, was not able to implement any of its goals and all enemy bodies were downed.”

Initial reports by the Observatory suggested there were no casualties.

The Israeli military denied any of its assets were hit but stopped short of denying it had conducted strikes at all.

“Reports regarding an IDF (Israeli military) aircraft or an airborne IDF target having been hit are false,” it said in an English-language statement.

It said a Syrian surface-to-air missile was fired in the direction of an open area of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights but it was unclear if it had hit Israeli-held territory.

Air defense upgrade

Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes in neighboring Syria against what it says are Iranian targets, many of them in the area south of Damascus.

Iran and Russia are the government’s key allies in the civil war that has raged Syria since 2011, and Moscow’s intervention in 2015 dramatically turned the tables against the rebels.

The accidental downing of a Russian transport aircraft by Syrian ground batteries during an Israel air strike on September 17 killed 15 service personnel.

Moscow pinned responsibility for the downing on Israel, saying its fighter jet used the larger Russian one for cover, an allegation Israel disputed.

Russia subsequently upgraded Syrian air defenses with the delivery of the advanced S-300 system, which Damascus had said last month would make Israel “think carefully” before carrying out further air raids.

The move raised fears in Israel that its ability to rein in its arch foe Iran’s military presence in its northeastern neighbor would be sharply reduced.

There was no evidence however that the S-300 batteries were used to intercept Israeli missiles overnight.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had told Moscow his government would continue to hit hostile targets in Syria to prevent Iran from establishing a military presence across the border.

He added that Israel would “continue security coordination” with Russia.

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Ukraine Bars Entry to Russian Males, Upping Ante in Conflict

Ukrainian officials on Friday upped the ante in the growing confrontation with Russia, announcing a travel ban for most Russian males and searching the home of an influential cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The long-simmering conflict bubbled over Sunday when Russian border guards rammed into and opened fired on three Ukrainian vessels near the Crimean Peninsula, which Moscow annexed in 2014. The vessels were trying to pass through the Kerch Strait on their way to the Sea of Azov. The Russians then captured the ships and 24 crew members.

The Ukrainian parliament on Monday adopted the president’s motion to impose martial law in the country for 30 days in the wake of the standoff.

There has been growing hostility between Ukraine and Russia since Moscow’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. Russia has also supported separatists in Ukraine’s east with clandestine dispatches of troops and weapons. Fighting there has killed at least 10,000 people since 2014 but eased somewhat after a 2015 truce.

Petro Tsygykal, chief of the Ukrainian Border Guard Service, announced at a security meeting on Friday that all Russian males between 16 and 60 will be barred from traveling to the country while martial law is in place.

President Petro Poroshenko told the meeting that the measures are taken “in order to prevent the Russian Federation from forming private armies” on Ukrainian soil.

The announcement follows Thursday’s decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to scrap the much-anticipated meeting with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. Trump said it isn’t appropriate for him to meet with Putin since Russia hasn’t released the Ukrainian seamen.

Meanwhile, the Ukrainian intelligence agency announced on Friday that they are investigating a senior cleric of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Ihor Guskov, chief of staff of the SBU intelligence agency, told reporters that its officers are searching the home of Father Pavlo, who leads the Pechersk Monastery in Kiev. He said the cleric is suspected of “inciting hatred.”

The Pechersk Monastery, the spiritual center of Ukraine, is under the jurisdiction of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The Ukrainian church, which has been part of the Russian Orthodox Church for centuries, moved close to forming an independent church — fueled by the conflict with Russia Ukraine’s Orthodox communities earlier this year.

There are currently three Orthodox communities in Ukraine, including two breakaway churches. Ukrainian authorities sought to portray the Russian Orthodox clerics in Ukraine as supporting separatists.

Ukraine’s president announced on Thursday that the Constantinople patriarchy has approved a decree granting the Ukrainian Orthodox Church independence from the Russian Orthodox Church, a major boost to the president’s approval ratings.

Both the Russian Orthodox Church and Russian authorities are strongly against the move and have warned Ukraine not to do it, fearing sectarian violence.

Russian government-appointed ombudswoman for Crimea told Russian news agencies that all the seamen have been transported from a detention center in Crimea. The three commanders have been taken to Moscow, she said. It wasn’t immediately clear where the other 21 have been taken.

A Crimea court earlier this week ruled to keep the Ukrainian seamen behind bars for two months pending the investigation.

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Report: Russia, China ‘Stress-Testing’ Resolve of West

Russia and China are among several countries attempting to “stress-test” the resolve of traditional powers, according to a report from the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

It claims so-called “challenger” nations are persistently testing the tolerance of established powers for different forms of aggression, from proxy wars to cyberattacks.

The researchers cite the seizure this week of three Ukrainian naval vessels by Russian forces in the Azov Sea off Crimea, the territory that was forcibly annexed in 2014. Moscow claims these are Russian waters, in contravention of a 2003 deal between Moscow and Ukraine, which agreed the Azov Sea would be shared.

Ukraine warns its Black Sea ports are being cut off. A bridge built by Russia linking it with Crimea now limits the size of ships able to navigate the Kerch Strait.

Probing for weaknesses

The aim is to change the facts on the ground, said Nicholas Redman, co-author of the institute’s “Strategic Survey” report.

“They’re testing tolerances, probing for weaknesses, getting a measure of the resolve of other states by acts that are generally aggressive but are below the threshold of something that would obviously require a military response,” Redman told VOA.

Iran is also accused of conducting “tolerance warfare” by using its Revolutionary Guard and proxies across the Middle East to destabilize other countries, such as Syria.

Beijing’s activities in the South China Sea are also seen as part of the strategy to test Western resolve in that arena.

“China has used not its navy, but its coast guard or some other at-water capabilities in order to slowly push the envelope in the South China Sea. And obviously, the island-building campaign and the growth of infrastructure around there is about — without directly confronting anyone — nevertheless changing facts on the ground,” Redman said.

How to respond

So how should those on the receiving end of “tolerance warfare” respond? The report’s authors praise Britain’s reaction to the attempted chemical poisoning of a former double agent on British soil earlier this year, which London blamed on the GRU, the intelligence branch of Russia’s armed forces.

“What we saw was a powerful, asymmetric response. Sanctions, a tremendous degree of allied solidarity over diplomatic expulsions, and then an information operation over several months to systematically expose GRU activity,” Redman said.

The report warns a new era of geopolitical competition urgently requires new rules governing international behavior but negotiating such a global framework is fraught with difficulty.

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UNICEF: Children in CAR Face Lives of Desperation, Deprivation

A new report presents a dire portrait of the lives of hundreds of thousands of children in the Central African Republic. They live in a state of permanent crisis brought on by years of conflict and international neglect, a report by the United Nations Children’s Fund on the “Crisis in the Central African Republic” found.

The U.N. children’s fund considers the Central African Republic to be one of the most difficult and dangerous places in the world to be a child. And the statistics bear this out.

The new UNICEF report finds that 2 out of 3 children, or 1.5 million children in the C.A.R., need humanitarian aid to survive. It finds that tens of thousands of children suffering from severe acute malnutrition are at risk of death. It says children in this war-torn country live in a constant state of fear of being killed or subjected to abuse and violence.

UNICEF’s representative in the C.A.R., Christine Muhigana, says the children are in desperate need of the world’s support.

She says the country briefly made headlines five years ago when fierce fighting broke out in the capital, Bangui. Since then, she says, the C.A.R. has been forgotten, although the situation in the country has worsened.

“Children are at risk of violence, recruitment into armed groups, sexual violence, forced labor; malnutrition is a grave concern,” Muhigana said. “More children than ever are expected to need treatment for severe acute malnutrition next year because displaced families cannot farm.”

The lead author of the report, Marixie Mercado, notes that earlier this month, a UNICEF official warned of potential famine in the C.A.R. unless the security situation improves dramatically, and people are able to go home to cultivate their land.

“C.A.R.’s children should not have to wait for a declaration of famine until the world acts and provides more resources to the country,” Mercado said. “By the time famine is declared, if it is declared, untold numbers of children will already have died.”

UNICEF says it has received less than half of its $56.5 million appeal for C.A.R. funding this year. The aid agency says the money is needed to provide lifesaving food and medicine for severely malnourished children, as well as other needs like immunization campaigns and to provide clean water and sanitation.

UNICEF says the money would also be used to set up learning and recreational centers, to provide a space for children where they can retrieve a sense of normalcy and feel what it is like to be a child again.

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Abuse Cases Prompt NM Archdiocese to File Bankruptcy

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Santa Fe, New Mexico, will file for bankruptcy protection as it faces litigation arising from accusations of sexual abuse by clergy, its archbishop said Thursday.

The move comes nearly three months after New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas requested Catholic church officials in the state, including the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, provide his office with documents related to possible abuse by priests.

Allegations of sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, especially with minors, have roiled dioceses across the United States and in other countries.

Balderas made his request after the Pennsylvania attorney general in August issued an 884-page report that contained graphic examples of children who were groomed and sexually abused by Catholic clergymen.

The Pennsylvania report described how church officials sent a number of priests accused of sexual abuse to a Catholic treatment center in New Mexico from the 1950s through the 1990s.

Separately, a number of sexual abuse lawsuits have been brought against the Archdiocese of Santa Fe.

Among them were five lawsuits filed earlier this month, which detailed accusations of abuse between the 1950s and the 1980s, according to the Santa Fe New Mexican newspaper.

The archdiocese will file for bankruptcy protection by the end of next week, but is committed to providing financial compensation to victims, including those who will come forward in the future, Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester said in a statement.

“I wish to make clear that our first and foremost concern is the victims of sexual abuse and our desire to do all we can to provide for their just compensation,” Wester said.

The reorganization will give the archdiocese an equitable way to fulfill its responsibility to abuse survivors and ensure continued operation of parishes, schools and other critical missions, he said.

Michael Norris, a spokesman for the New Mexico chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the planned bankruptcy was not fair to victims.

“They want to keep their parishes and schools operational instead of focusing on making sure the victims are OK,” he said.

The archdiocese of Santa Fe will join about 20 Catholic religious organizations in the United States, including the diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, that have sought Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

Child sex abuse litigation has cost the Catholic Church in the United States billions of dollars in settlements in the two decades since a series of molestation cases were uncovered in Boston in 1992.

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Market Shifts Leave US Manufacturing Behind

U.S. President Donald Trump has challenged car giant GM’s decision to close five plants across the United States and Canada just weeks before the holidays. GM says changing car habits are to blame for the closings, which impact thousands of workers across North America. VOA’s Katherine Gypson reports from the GM plant in Ohio, where workers say they feel left behind by the global marketplace.

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Tenor Nelson Ebo Hopes to Inspire More Opera Fans in Africa

Angola’s most famous operatic tenor hopes to inspire more Africans to take up the classical music form. Nelson Ebo has performed around the world and is currently starring with the Heartbeat Opera company on stage in New York. He recently sang in Washington, where VOA Portuguese Service’s Mayra de Lassalette met up with him.

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Britain’s May to Talk With Saudi Crown Prince About Khashoggi Killing

The British prime minister says she intends to talk about the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the G-20 meeting in Argentina.

Theresa May said on the airplane to Buenos Aires that the British government “wants to see a full and transparent investigation in relation to what happened and obviously those responsible being held to account.”

The Guardian, a British newspaper, said Downing Street sources have not officially confirmed a bilateral meeting but have suggested that May and the crown prince would be “engaging.”

Khashoggi, a Saudi national and critic of the crown prince, was killed last month after entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul, where he had gone to obtain documents needed for his upcoming wedding.

Saudi Arabia has denied allegations that Salman played a role in Khashoggi’s death, blaming the killing on rogue agents. U.S. President Donald Trump has echoed Riyadh’s denials and said the matter remains an open question.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, a frequent defender of Trump has joined other U.S. lawmakers in demanding a briefing by the CIA on Khashoggi’s death and has threatened to withhold votes on urgent legislation if it does not occur.

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Trump Abruptly Cancels G-20 Meeting with Putin 

U.S. President Donald Trump begins two days of meetings with world leaders Friday in the Argentinian capital, which is hosting the G-20 summit of the world’s leading economies. But one counterpart he will apparently not be sitting down with is Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Trump tweeted his decision from Air Force One on his way to Buenos Aires on Thursday.

Trump had been scheduled to hold a two hour meeting here with Putin despite intense criticism in the United States and among NATO allies following Moscow’s seizure Sunday of the three Ukrainian vessels and their crews in the Kerch Strait as they tried to make their way to the Ukrainian port of Mariupol, in the Sea of Azov.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told reporters on Air Force One that the decision to cancel the meeting was “made on the plane” after Trump received an in-flight briefing by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, National Security Adviser John Bolton and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly about the tensions between Russia and Ukraine.

​Hours earlier, meeting on

Just two hours earlier as he departed the White House, Trump had told reporters he looked forward to meeting with Putin during the G-20 leaders’ meeting.

“I think it’s a very good time to have the meeting,” Trump had told reporters on the South Lawn.

The reversal came on the same day as the president’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about a proposed Trump skyscraper in Moscow.

Trump told reporters Cohen is a “liar” and a “weak person.”

Russians surprised

Russian officials are expressing surprise about Trump’s cancellation of the meeting with Putin, with whom the U.S. president has enjoyed a warm relationship despite significant geo-political differences between the two countries.

“A cancellation means that the discussion on key international issues is being postponed indefinitely,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told the RIA news agency.

​Ukraine seeks NATO’s help

Meanwhile, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko asked NATO countries to send naval ships to the Sea of Azov to aid his country and “provide security” amid tensions with Russia. Ukraine, once a Soviet satellite state, is not a NATO member.

Poroshenko’s comments were published Thursday in the German newspaper Bild.

NATO spokeswoman Oana Lungescu responded to Poroshenko’s request by saying the military alliance already has a strong presence in the Black Sea region.

She said NATO ships routinely patrol the area and several NATO allies conduct reconnaissance flights over the region. 

“We will continue to assess our presence in the region,” Lungescu added.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also rejected Poroshenko’s request, urging Kyiv to adopt a “sensible” approach “because there is no military solution to these disputes.”

Also Thursday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he could play a mediator role between Ukraine and Russia.

Erdogan has held phone talks with leaders on both sides, and said he would continue discussing the issue with Putin and Trump at a G-20 summit.

​What happened in Kerch Strait

Ukraine said Russia used a tanker to block access to the Kerch Strait, which under a treaty is shared territory. Russia said the vessels illegally entered its waters.

Putin on Wednesday blamed Poroshenko for the incident, alleging it is an attempt by Poroshenko to boost his re-election chances next year.

Ukraine has imposed martial law in some of its border regions in response to the incident, and with a growing number of other European countries, urged Western allies to impose additional sanctions on Moscow.

Poroshenko said martial law will help “strengthen Ukraine’s defense capabilities amid increasing aggression and according to international law, a cold act of aggression by the Russian Federation.” He demanded Russia release the Ukrainian sailors and vessels.

Poroshenko wrote on Twitter Thursday that his country will impose unspecified restrictions on Russian citizens in response to Russia’s actions. Ukraine has already denied Russians entry into the country since last week’s incident.

VOA’s Chris Hannas and Wayne Lee contributed to this report.

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US: Iran Floods Unstable Regions With Advanced Weaponry

The United States is sounding more warnings about Iran’s malign activities across the Middle East and beyond, urging countries to take action or risk growing instability and conflict.

To back up its assertions, the U.S. on Thursday unveiled what it said was more evidence of Tehran’s meddling: pieces of missiles, rockets, drones and other Iranian weaponry, either recovered from Iranian proxies or interdicted on the high seas.

WATCH: US: Iran Floods Unstable Regions With Advanced Weaponry

“The new weapons we are disclosing today illustrate the scale of Iran’s destructive role across the region,” U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook told reporters while standing in front of a section of a Sayyad-2C surface-to-air missile he said had been intercepted by Saudi forces earlier this year, before it could reach Houthi rebels in Yemen.

“Tehran is intent on increasing the lethality and reach of these weapons to deepen its presence throughout the region,” Hook said. “We are one missile attack away from a regional conflict.”

This is the second time in less than a year that the U.S. has publicly displayed weapons it claims Iran sent to proxies and terrorist groups. Last December, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley chastised Iran after showing off parts of missiles and drones recovered by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, calling the evidence “undeniable.”


Since then, U.S. officials say the collection has grown to include the surface-to-air missile, long-range drones, anti-tank guided missiles, AK-47s, sniper rifles, grenades and even a second Qiam short-range ballistic missile, also known as a Burkan-2.

U.S. defense officials said the ballistic missile was fired into Saudi Arabia by Houthi rebels in broad daylight Dec. 19, just days after Haley’s rebuke of Iran.

U.S. officials also said Tehran is making little effort to hide the origin of the weapons, even though Iran is prohibited from sending weapons outside the country without approval from the U.N. Security Council.

“The conspicuous Farsi markings are Iran’s way of saying they don’t mind being caught violating U.N. resolutions,” Hook said.

Iranian officials have previously denied U.S. allegations of weapons transfer, deriding the display at a hangar at a U.S. military base in Washington as a fabrication when it was unveiled last year.

​Traced to Iran

But U.S. defense officials said all of the weapons in the collection could be traced to Iran in multiple ways, including the presence of Iranian defense company logos, the type of serial numbers ingrained on the weapons, and design features that align perfectly with evidence from photos and videos that Iran itself has made public.

With the drones, officials said all of them used a vertical gyroscope to help with stabilization. They said Iran is the only country in the world known to use vertical gyroscopes.

In the case of a Shark 33 drone, an unmanned boat used by the Houthis to attack Saudi ships, U.S. officials found the GPS component listed 90 locations, two of which were in Tehran. One of those corresponded with the location of the Self Sufficiency Jihad Organization, a research arm of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Images captured on the Shark 33’s computer showed images of a testing facility with an IRGC hat in the background.

While much of the concern focused on Tehran’s support for Yemen’s Houthi rebels, U.S. officials warned that Iranian weapons such as AK-47 machine guns are also finding their way to Shiite militias in Bahrain, while guns and Fadjr rockets had been sent to support the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Officials said there is also evidence Iran is sharing ballistic missile technology with Shiite militias in Iraq.

“It’s not just Saudi and Yemen,” Pentagon spokeswoman Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich told VOA. “It’s a story of how Iran is proliferating these various weapon systems across the region.”

​Training in weapons use

Defense officials contend it is more than just the weapons themselves. Oftentimes, groups getting arms from Iran are getting help, too, from experienced IRGC operators who can help make sure they can use missiles like the Qiam.

“You would have to have an understanding of how to launch one of these,” a defense official said, dismissing the possibility Houthi rebels could operate the missiles without training or guidance.

Some U.S. officials and experts have also argued that Iranian efforts to develop and spread its weapons have only increased since Tehran, the U.S. and other powers initially agreed to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, using the influx of cash from the deal to expand its reach.

“Iran’s proxy strategy is relatively low cost, but offers the regime a high reward,” Behnam Ben Taleblu, a research fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told VOA by email.

“Weapons like anti-tank missiles and rockets may not win conflicts in the Middle East, but can bleed adversaries and force a political solution to the region’s myriad proxy war’s in Iran’s favor,” he added.

Critical time in Congress

The new evidence presented by the U.S. Thursday comes at a critical time. There has been growing concern in Congress about the worsening humanitarian toll as a result of the Saudi-led efforts against the Houthis in Yemen.

U.S. lawmakers and others around the world have likewise been critical of the Saudis for the death of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Turkey in October.

“I get Yemen. I understand the strategic relationship between us and Saudi Arabia, but I’m not going to blow past this,” Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said Wednesday.

​No ‘political stunt’

But officials, such as Hook of the State Department, denied the rollout of the new evidence against Iran was designed to help sway support for Saudi Arabia in the face of mounting criticism.

“I haven’t heard anybody say this is a political stunt,” Hook said Thursday. “This is simply putting out in broad daylight Iran’s missiles and small arms and rockets and UAVs and drones.

“Our preference is to use all of the tools that are at our disposal diplomatically,” he added, but warned, “We have been very clear with the Iranian regime that we will not hesitate to use military force when our interests are threatened.”

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US: Iran Flooding Unstable Regions with Advanced Weaponry

The United States is unveiling new evidence of what officials describe as Iran’s continued attempts to destabilize the Middle East. Specifically, these officials say Tehran is arming proxies with a growing array of advanced weaponry, that while far less destructive than nuclear weapons, is nonetheless a serious threat to the stability. VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin got a look at some of these weapons and filed this report.

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Study: China Engaging in Wide Campaign to Influence American Life

A new study by longtime China experts in the U.S. has concluded that Beijing is engaging in an increasingly aggressive campaign to influence and shape perceptions about China held by American politicians, university scholars and students, as well as executives at major corporations.

“Except for Russia, no other country’s efforts to influence American politics and society is as extensive and well-funded as China’s,” according to the report by Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations.

The report, called “Chinese Influence & American Interests: Promoting Constructive Vigilance,” details a wide range of Chinese activities in the U.S. to “advance its influence-seeking objectives.” It includes lobbying “influential civil society groups,” but also accessing critical U.S. infrastructure and technology and engaging in “covert, coercive or corrupting” behavior, such as pressuring Chinese students studying on U.S. campuses to spy on other Chinese students at the same schools.

The report said China has, with the assistance of U.S. universities, established so called 110 Confucius Institutes on U.S. campuses, but the institutes are forced to use Communist Party-approved materials “that promote PRC Chinese viewpoints, terminology and simplified characters; the avoidance of discussion on controversial topics such as Tibet, Tiananmen, Xinjiang, the Falun Gong, and human rights in American classrooms and programs.”

Now, however, some U.S. universities, including the University of Chicago and the Texas A&M system, have had second thoughts about the Confucius Institutes and have closed branches at their schools. The report said U.S. institutions should rewrite their contracts with China to eliminate a clause that stipulates Confucius Institutes must operate according to China’s laws.

One of the report’s authors, Orville Schell, said money flowing to U.S. universities “will not come with any explicit prohibitions, but implicit ones,” that if the schools “want to get more [money], don’t say this, don’t say that,” an effort aimed at “modulating and controlling what people say about it and how they view it.”

The report said Hollywood, the film capital of the world, has been influenced by Chinese investment and now routinely makes films that portray China’s government in a favorable light. It said that two decades ago, films such as “Red Corner,” “Seven Years in Tibet,” and “Kundun” addressed topics the Chinese government deemed sensitive. Hollywood studios now are teaming up with Chinese interests to produce such films as “The Martian,” a hit in which the Chinese government saves the American protagonists.

“The rush of Chinese investment into the American film industry,” the report concludes, “has raised legitimate concerns about the industry’s outright loss of independence.”

Schell said that after a year and a half of research, he and others came to the conclusion “that the relationship between the U.S. and China when it comes to influence is not reciprocal.”

He said, “The open society of the United States gets used for Chinese purposes in myriad ways that are not available to Americans in China.”

American universities have not been granted the same access in China as Beijing has received, and U.S. journalists are severely restricted inside China.

The report’s conclusions echo those of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence in a speech last month.

“Beijing is employing a whole-of-government approach,” Pence said, “using political, economic and military tools, as well as propaganda, to advance its influence and benefit its interests in the United States.”

The Hoover-Asia Society report comes as U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President XI Jinping have in recent months imposed tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of exports flowing between the world’s two biggest economies.

The two leaders are meeting Saturday night over dinner in Buenos Aires at the G-20 summit of the world’s leading economies and could possibly reach a new trade agreement. But obstacles remain and agreement on a deal is uncertain.


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Kerch Naval Clash Upends Planned Trump-Putin Talks

Until the Russian attack Sunday on Ukrainian vessels in the Black Sea, the White House and the Kremlin had at least agreed on one thing, the agenda for Saturday’s scheduled face-to-face between U.S. President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, their second summit meeting.

Arms control, security issues as well as the Middle East and North Korea were all set to figure prominently, senior U.S. and Russian aides told reporters in the run-up to the meeting.

The Kremlin had earmarked as their key issue, say Russian officials, Trump’s recent decision to abandon a landmark Cold War-era agreement prohibiting the U.S. and Russia from possessing ground-launched short-range nuclear missiles.

For the White House, securing a public commitment from the Russians to enforce United Nations sanctions on North Korea before next month’s planned summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was a key objective, according to U.S. officials.

But the Russian attack on three Ukrainian vessels shifted the dynamics of Saturday’s planned two-hour face-to-face between Trump and Putin on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Argentina, say analysts, with the U.S. leader being urged to take a tough line that might imperil his overall determination to improve U.S.-Russian relations.

Trump suggested Tuesday he might cancel the meeting after Russian ships opened fire on and seized the Ukrainian ships near Crimea.  Then on Thursday, after telling reporters the meeting will go ahead, he tweeted that he has canceled the meeting “based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia.”  “I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!” he said.

Kremlin officials had earlier said they expected the meeting to be held.

“We don’t have to agree on all issues, which is probably impossible, but we need to talk.  It’s in the interests of not only our two countries, it’s in the interests of the whole World,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Earlier this week John Bolton, the U.S. National Security Adviser, said Trump was planning to discuss security, arms control and regional issues with Putin.  “I think it will be a continuation of their discussion in Helsinki,” he said, referring to the first summit meeting between the two leaders held in Finland in July, when they met for more than two hours with only their translators present.

The Helsinki sit-down prompted widespread criticism of Trump from across the U.S. political spectrum, with Republican and Democrat lawmakers expressing dismay at what they saw as the U.S. leader’s amplifying of Putin denials of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said Washington wanted to see tougher enforcement of sanctions against Russia as a consequence of the Russian action, the first time the Kremlin has staged open aggression against Ukraine since Putin annexed Crimea four years ago and launched a destabilization campaign in Ukraine’s Donbas region.

German chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to address the Kerch incident at the G-20 meeting.

Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko piled pressure Thursday on the G-20 by calling for a tough collective response to Russia, saying he fears Moscow intends broader military action against his country.  European Union hawks have called for more sanctions to be imposed on Russia, although with the bloc already divided over policy towards Russia it is unlikely that will happen swiftly without a strong lead from Washington, say diplomats.

Trump waited more than 24 hours after the maritime clash before he commented on the incident, prompting criticism, once again, that he was going lightly on his Russian counterpart.  But once he did address the clash, his irritation was clear.  “I don’t like that aggression.  I don’t want that aggression at all,” he told the Washington Post.

Steven Pifer, a former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and now an analyst at the Washington-based Brookings Institution told VOA if Trump “does not raise the question of the Russian conflict against Ukraine … the Russian would calculate the President is weak on this issue.  That’s going to be bad for Ukraine, but also bad for American foreign policy.”



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Erdogan, Trump Set to Meet at G-20

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump are due to meet  on the sidelines of the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Erdogan indicated U.S. support for a Syrian Kurdish militia would top their agenda.

Speaking before leaving for Buenos Aires, Erdogan said the planned talks would pick up on themes raised in Wednesday’s telephone call with Trump. Ongoing tensions between Ukraine and Russia initiated the call.

“They agreed to meet again at G-20 to discuss this concern and other important issues in the bilateral relationship,” read the White House readout of the call.

Trump and Erdogan have again started to work together on the many crises in Turkey’s region after months of diplomatic tensions. October’s release by a Turkish court of American pastor Andrew Brunson was the trigger for renewed cooperation and talks.

“There are some very thorny issues that have been postponed rather than resolved,” said analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners. “But the release of Brunson has ended a psychological barrier to dialogue.”

At the top of Erdogan’s list of issues to be resolved is Washington’s ongoing support for the YPG Syrian Kurdish militia in its war against the Islamic State.

Turkey considers the YPG terrorists linked to a decades-long insurgency inside Turkey and is pushing for a road map agreement with Washington to end YPG presence in the strategically important Syrian City of Manbij.

Under the deal, American and Turkish forces would replace the militia. “We will discuss the Manbij issue at the [G-20] meeting with U.S. President Trump,” Erdogan said Thursday.

Former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, who served widely in the region, sees the Manbij deal as a blueprint for future efforts that would feature “joint Turkish-US patrols to push the YPG away from the border.”

Time is against the Kurds, he said. “We are at a new phase in U.S. Turkish relations with greater cooperation.”

Greater cooperation

A major stumbling block to greater cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey are the deepening Turkish-Iranian ties. Observers point out Washington increasingly sees curtailing Iran’s presence in Syria a priority, a role the YPG could play given it controls a fifth of Syrian territory.

“They [Washington] will ask Turkey to follow in line against Iran and hold the ground.” said Selcen, “Then, this will push Turkey to distance itself from the Astana process, from Iran and Russia altogether.”

The Astana process brought together Ankara, Moscow, and Tehran in efforts to end the Syrian civil war.

Leverage over Turkey

Trump does retain leverage over Erdogan. Turkish State-owned Halkbank is facing potential multi-billion dollars fines for violating U.S. Iranian sanctions.

“The fact that Halkbank is still on the hook with the American judiciary obliges Turkey to be nice to the U.S.,” said Yesilada.

Erdogan is expected to raise Halkbank with Trump at the G-20 summit.

Turkey’s controversial purchase of S400 Russian missiles also is likely feature in the talks. The U.S. is calling for an end to the deal, claiming the missiles threaten to compromise NATO weapons systems, in particular, America’s latest fighter the F-35.


A U.S. Congressional report cautions against the delivery of the F 35 to Turkey if the delivery of S400 goes ahead in mid-2019. Such a move could also jeopardize Turkey’s ongoing participation in the manufacture of the fighter.

“The F-35 is important to Erdogan as part of the development of Turkey’s defense industry, which is a priority for the president,” said Yesilada.

Erdogan insists the S-400 purchase will go ahead, although he has suggested readiness to consider buying an American missile system as well.

International relations professor Huseyin Bagci, of Ankara’s Middle East Technical University, says Turkey has “had enough with the economic and political crisis and now wants to repair relations. And Trump appears prepared to do this.”

Trump has received plaudits in Ankara for taking steps against Turkish Islamic cleric Fethullah Gulen, who lives in self-imposed exile in the United States and denies Erdogan’s charges he was behind a 2016 coup attempt.

“Ankara is quite content with the state of a recent investigation by the FBI on Gulen’s approximately 180 charter schools in the U.S.” wrote columnist Cansu Camlibel for Hurriyet Daily News. “The FBI has been investigating tax and visa fraud, as well as money laundering, allegations against schools known for their ties to Gülen.”

The Erdogan-Trump meeting is not expected to result in any breakthroughs on critical issues that continue to plague bilateral ties. But analysts suggest both leaders share an interest in working to defuse tensions.

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