Germany Refuses to Join US Naval Mission in Strait of Hormuz

Germany has rejected the U.S. call to join an international mission to protect maritime traffic in the Strait of Hormuz. The United States had asked Germany to join France and Britain in a mission to secure shipping through the strait,  the narrow maritime passage through which international tankers transport at least a fifth of the world’s crude oil supply.German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas arrives for the weekly cabinet meeting in Berlin, Germany, July 31, 2019.”Germany will not take part in the sea mission presented and planned by the United States,” Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said Wednesday. Mass said the situation in the region is very serious but that “there is no military solution.”Tensions have heightened in the Middle East in recent weeks, with the U.S. and Iran announcing they had shot down each other’s unmanned drones near the strait.In addition, Britain seized an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar that London believed was shipping oil to Syria.  Iran’s Revolutionary Guards responded by taking over the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the strait. Last week, Britain called for a European-led naval initiative, but Washington has insisted on leading the mission. European leaders have been reluctant to back a U.S.-led mission, which they say could further escalate tensions in the region. Tehran and Washington have been at odds since President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of an international nuclear deal with Iran and reimposed sanctions on it. German Finance Minister and Vice Chancellor Olaf Scholz said it was important to avoid a military escalation in the Persian Gulf region and that a U.S.-led mission carried the risk of being dragged into an even bigger conflict.

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Pelosi Calls Visit to Ghana Transformative’

ACCRA, GHANA — Four hundred years after the first ship of enslaved Africans sailed to America, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi condemned the “grave evil” of slavery in a speech Wednesday to Ghana’s parliament. The California Democrat, who was the first U.S. House speaker to address Ghana’s lawmakers, said her and her colleagues’ visit was about acknowledging the past while also looking to the future. Pelosi and her delegation, which included members of the U.S. Congressional Black Caucus — including Representatives Ilhan Omar and John Lewis — arrived Sunday in Ghana. They have since met with Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo and have visited Elmina Castle and the “Door of No Return” at Cape Coast Castle. Both were slave forts where people were shipped in chains to the New World. Ghana has marked 2019 as “The Year of Return” to encourage people of African descent to visit the nation. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Ghana’s Speaker Mike Oquaye at Ghana’s parliament, July 31, 2019. (S. Knott/VOA)Sitting next to Mike Oquaye, Ghana’s parliament speaker, on Wednesday, Pelosi told the chamber that visiting the two sites was overwhelming, saying they marked the beginning of the journey of the African-American experience. 
 
“Our delegation has been humbled by what we have seen this week,” she said. “At Elmina Castle, we saw the dungeons where thousands were grotesquely tortured. At Cape Coast Castle, we stood before the Door of No Return, where countless millions caught their last glimpse of Africa before they were shipped to a life of enslavement. Being here has been a transformative experience for all of us.” 
 
Pelosi also spoke about the relationship between the two nations, thanking Ghana for its work in global security, especially its contribution to U.N. peacekeeping missions.  
 
She also acknowledged the fight against discrimination in both nations. Ghana gained its independence in 1957, and it also supported the U.S. civil rights movement. 
 
The visit has had a strong emphasis on economic and trade ties between the two nations, which Pelosi also addressed in her speech, acknowledging the efforts of the Congressional Black Caucus. 
 
“America is strongly committed to economic progress in Ghana — a commitment enshrined and advanced over the course of many years from the Millennium Challenge partnership and the Africa Growth and Opportunities Act,” she said. “Together, our governments must continue to support smart development strategies that spur sustainable economic growth that lifts up all families in Ghana and throughout Africa.” U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar is embraced by Ghana’s former president, Jerry John Rawlings, at Ghana’s parliament, July 31, 2019. (S. Knott/VOA)For Adwoa Safo, deputy majority leader of Ghana’s parliament and the chair of the female caucus, Pelosi’s visit was pivotal. As one of the few women in parliament, Safo said the speech was “right on point.” 
 
“I believe that with her enormous experience in politics, and having risen from the local level up to speaker of the United States, her visit is very historical and inspiring for most of us, as women,” she said. Safo said the two nations had a good relationship that should be strengthened. 
 
“Ghana has a lot to offer when you look at stability in terms of our politics — us being the pacesetters in Africa gaining independence and how we are progressing as a country — and the support we always get from the U.S. government,” she said. “There is a lot for us to offer and a lot they can give in terms of bringing in investment … tapping in on our natural resources and building capacity as well. They have been very, very supportive.” 
 
It was this sense of partnership Pelosi was emphasizing during the visit, along with promoting additional economic and trade ties between the two nations, while underscoring the need to combat climate change, push for female empowerment and provide health care equality. 

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Senate Committee Backs Hyten for Pentagon Post

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday backed General John Hyten to be the second-highest ranking U.S. military official, a day after he denied sexual assault allegations against him. The vote was 20-7 in favor of Hyten’s becoming the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Hyten, the outgoing commander of the U.S. military’s Strategic Command, must still be confirmed by the full Senate. A date for that vote has not been announced. FILE – Army Col. Kathryn Spletstoser, who has accused Air Force Gen. John Hyten of sexual misconduct, speaks to reporters following Hyten’s confirmation hearing, July 30, 2019.Hyten on Tuesday vehemently denied the sexual assault allegations against him at his confirmation hearing. His accuser, Army Colonel Kathryn Spletstoser, sat quietly in the room during the hearing, occasionally shaking her head in disagreement, and afterward told reporters that Hyten had lied to the senators under oath. An official Air Force investigation did not substantiate the accusations against Hyten.  Hyten’s nomination has posed a challenge to the Senate, which for years has criticized the military for failing to do enough to combat sexual assault in its ranks. 

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Trump Welcomes Mongolian President Battulga to White House

President Donald Trump has welcomed Mongolia’s president, Khaltmaa Battulga, to the White House for talks focused on trade.Wednesday’s visit is the first by a Mongolian president since June 2011, the last time a leader of the landlocked country between Russia and China came to the White House.Trump administration officials say they want to explore ways to help the East Asian nation diversify its trade flows since about 90 percent of Mongolia’s trade must go through China.Trump and Battulga are also expected to discuss defense and security matters, among other issues.  Battulga is a populist business tycoon and ex-judo champion whose meeting with Trump follows a recent visit to Mongolia by Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton.

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Fears Growing Congo’s Ebola Could Spread to Neighboring Countries

As the Ebola epidemic in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo enters its second year, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are voicing concern about the growing risk of the virus spreading to neighboring countries.Fears that the deadly Ebola virus could spread to Congo’s nine neighboring countries are growing with the death of the second person confirmed to have had the disease in Goma, a city of more than one million people. Goma, the capital of conflict-ridden North Kivu province, borders Rwanda and DRC’s gateway to the rest of the world.Uganda has had three imported cases of Ebola. While it has successfully contained the spread of the disease, WHO experts warn of the potential dangers should the virus enter South Sudan, which is a particularly vulnerable, unstable country.This is the 10th Ebola outbreak over the past four decades in the DRC. The executive director of WHO Emergencies, Michael Ryan, finds this current one presents unprecedented challenges.  Ryan notes previous outbreaks were generally small, self-contained, and often confined to remote rural areas. This has changed. He says factors such as a conflict, forced migration, unsafe health facilities, and disease amplification are increasing the risks from emerging diseases.”So, the risk of an individual disease emerging may not change,” he said. “But, the impacts of those emergencies are changing. In that sense it is a new normal and we need to be ready…About 80 percent of our high-impact epidemic responses are in fragile, conflict-affected, and vulnerable countries. So, about 30 countries around the world represent around 80 percent of these high-impact epidemics.” Ryan says African countries need international assistance to help them strengthen their fragile health systems. Without this aid, he warns, Congo and other nations will have great difficulty in tackling future outbreaks of Ebola and other emerging diseases.The World Health Organization has deployed more than 700 international experts in the field. The U.N. agency says it is scaling up Ebola preparation measures in the neighboring countries, especially Burundi, Uganda, South Sudan and Rwanda, which are most at risk.It says frontline health workers are being vaccinated against the disease, more Ebola treatment centers are being set up, and more than 3,000 health workers are screening people for the virus at major points of entry.

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Demise of US-Russian Nuclear Treaty Triggers Warnings

In December 1987, U.S. President Ronald Reagan hosted Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at the White House for a ceremony that signaled the changing times.Reagan, a Cold War hardliner who’d once labeled the U.S.S.R. “the Evil Empire,” was all smiles as he and Gorbachev sat down to sign the latest symbol of growing U.S.-Soviet detente — the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, known as the INF Treaty. “It was a momentous occasion,” remembers George Shultz, Reagan’s Secretary of State from 1982-1988 — and a key figure in crafting the INF deal.  Schulz, now 98 years old and still active as a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, credits the INF agreement in large part to a shift in Reagan’s attitude toward nuclear weapons.FILE – President Ronald Reagan gestures to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev during arrival ceremonies at the White House, Dec. 8, 1987.”He thought they were immoral. Where is it written that a man can push a button and kill a million people? That’s God,” Schultz says.  Gorbachev also viewed nuclear weapons as “genocidal” says Pavel Palazhchenko, a Soviet diplomat who oversaw the INF negotiations and served as Gorbachev’s longtime English translator.  “Gorbachev and Reagan had the goal of arms reduction and they did not allow themselves to be pushed off track,” Palazhchenko says.  “[It was] definitely a huge step forward. Two great nations, two nuclear superpowers have finally been able to stop the arms race in at least two categories of nuclear weapons.”With the agreement, the U.S. and U.S.S.R. formally renounced the development and deployment of ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Both sides were still armed with enough nuclear weapons to destroy one another — and the rest of the planet. But George Shultz says the INF’s elimination of short- and medium-range arsenals made the world infinitely safer in one critical regard — time.”Between when they’re fired and when they hit is only about 10 or 11 minutes. So if you’re trying to do something about it, you don’t have much time,” Shultz says. A new nuke arrives The crisis around shortened impact times started in the mid 1970s. The Soviet Union had developed a new class of mobile medium-range nuclear missiles — the so-called SS20s — that were capable of striking targets in Western Europe with little warning.  The problem? The U.S. had nothing comparable. At least not initially. 
      
It was not until the early 1980s that the U.S. unveiled the Pershing II, which the U.S. and its NATO allies threatened to deploy in West Germany — as close as possible to the communist bloc borders — in 1984. FILE – The U.S. Army launched a Pershing II missile from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, Jan. 13, 1988.Palazhchenko, Gorbachev’s aide, says the threat proved convincing to Soviet hardliners who — up until that point — saw little point in negotiating.Now they understood time was working against the Soviets, too. “When the Americans completed their program of deployment, then the situation became at least on the face of it quite different,” Palazhchenko says. “Americans have ballistic missiles that have a flight time to Moscow of less than 10 minutes.” ‘Euroshima’While strategic balance had been restored, the short-range weapons also magnified the risks of what some called a potential “Euroshima.”  Where once the Cold War threat consisted of missiles lobbed across oceans, the new quick delivery missiles incentivized a first strike and immediate response. There was little time to verify whether an attack was real — or a false alarm.  Fear of the superpowers stumbling into nuclear Armageddon gripped the European public. Thousands marched in opposition to the U.S. missiles — a factor that increasingly influenced Washington’s own decision-making. FILE – A life-size mockup of a Pershing II missile dwarfs the demonstrators protesting the scheduled deployment of missiles, in downtown Bonn, Germany, Oct. 22, 1983.”We were negotiating not only with the Soviets but the European public,” recalls Shultz. “Who would want a nuclear missile on their soil? It makes you a target.” Indeed, public opposition in Europe — and a desire to grab the moral high ground — drove President Reagan to embrace a concept called the “Zero Option.”The idea? That when it came to negotiating over intermediate and short-range nukes, Reagan wouldn’t just push for the U.S. and U.S.S.R. to limit their arsenals. They’d demand both sides give up everything.Russian proverbCritical to selling the idea to skeptics were intensive inspections — with Reagan often citing an old Russian proverb: doverai no proverai. Trust but verify.”The INF treaty contains in it the most clear verification provisions — onsite inspections!” Schultz says. “People said we could never get that but we did.” Over the next three years, inspectors observed as both sides destroyed their arsenals — over 800 missiles by the U.S. and nearly double that from the Soviet side.Viktor Litovkin, a military journalist who covered the events for the the Soviet daily Izvestia newspaper, remembers watching as Soviet engineers carried out the treaty’s provisions — destroying missile after missile with tears in the eyes.   “I understood why,” says Litovkin. “It was their life’s work and they were experiencing every parent’s worst nightmare.” They were outliving their children. INF 1987-2019 (RIP)Today, the Trump administration argues it is the INF Treaty that has now outlived its use.Last October, President Donald Trump’s National Security Adviser, John Bolton, traveled to Moscow to deliver the news: The U.S. would leave the INF agreement amid long-standing U.S. accusations that Russia was violating the treaty.FILE – U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton, left, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov shake hands prior to their talks in Moscow, Oct. 22, 2018.The INF was also “outmoded,” argued Bolton, so long as other countries — like China — that have immediate-range weapons weren’t part of the agreement.”Under that view, exactly one country was constrained by the INF Treaty — the United States,” Bolton said. Russian President Vladimir Putin soon followed suit — announcing that Russia, too, was leaving the pact.  Barring a last-minute reprieve, the INF treaty expires Aug. 2. Both sides have vowed to develop weapons once banned under the INF. A new arms race? All of this has left Europe, once again, the battleground in a potential new arms race — with tomorrow’s weapons promising shorter warning times. “We will miss the INF when it’s gone,” says Ulrich Kuhn, an arms control expert at the Institute of Peace Research and Security in Hamburg, Germany. “We are going back to the Cold War.” Kuhn points to divisions in Europe over how to best respond to any future Russian nuclear deployments — feelings exacerbated by the history of former Warsaw Pact countries that joined the NATO alliance following the collapse of the U.S.S.R. “We might see a situation where Central and Eastern European states say we really need to push back against the Russians and other Europeans saying we don’t want that,” Kuhn says. “That could put NATO in serious trouble.” Meanwhile, nearly 30 years after the initial INF Treaty signing, the diplomats who crafted the agreement worry today’s politicians are too cavalier about the nuclear threat. “When something like the INF goes down the drain almost like nothing, it shows you the degree to which people have forgotten the power of these weapons,” Shultz says.  “One day it’ll be too late.” FILE – Pavel Palazhchenko, former chief interpreter for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, speaks during his interview to the Associated Press in Moscow, Russia, July 23, 2018.”We are, unfortunately, moving toward a situation where we might — maybe within a few years — have no arms control, no mutual verification and no mutual restraint,” warns Gorbachev’s aide, Palazhchenko.”The INF was a success story,” Palazhchenko says. “And there aren’t many success stories in U.S.-Soviet and U.S.-Russia relations.”

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Sudan Protests Continue as Authorities Close Schools

Hundreds of protestors rallied in the central Sudanese city of  Obeid Tuesday after security forces shot and killed six demonstrators, including five students, on Monday.”Blood for blood, we don’t want compensation,” marchers chanted, according to news agency Agence France Presse.Protests followed sharp increases in bread prices. Security forces, seeking to quell protests, shot six people dead and wounded dozens more.A curfew and state of emergency have been declared in the city.Across the nation, schools have been ordered to shut down.”Orders have been given to governors of all states to shut kindergartens, primary and high schools from tomorrow [Wednesday] until further notice,” according to Sudan’s Suna news agency.The killings in Obeid were felt all over Sudan.  After the shootings, talks that were originally scheduled to resume between opposition leaders and military officials were postponed by protest leaders.”What happened in Obeid is sad. Killing peaceful civilians is an unacceptable crime that needs immediate accountability,” said General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, chairman of Sudan’s military council.Military rulers allege that the killings were not carried out by Sudanese military forces, but rather by unaffiliated militia forces.Protests against then-President Omar al-Bashir broke out across the country in December. In April, the military deposed Bashir.Violence peaked in June, when security forces killed around 100 people in a crackdown at a protest camp in the country’s capital of Khartoum.A power-sharing agreement has been reached between generals and protest leaders that would eventually implement civilian rule. Under the agreement, a joint ruling committee would be in place for 39 months until elections take place.

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Russian Hospital Says Tests Exclude Navalny Poisoning

The head of a Russian medical center says laboratory tests performed on unspecified biomaterial taken from opposition politician Aleksei Navalny have excluded poisoning as a reason for his recent hospitalization.Aleksei Tokarev, chief physician of the Moscow Sklifosovsky Medical Center, said on July 31 that Navalny’s samples had been delivered to the center’s lab on July 29 and that the results state “no substances that could cause poisoning have been found.”A handout image made available on the official website of Russia’s opposition leader Alexei Navalny (Navalny.com) on July 29, 2019, shows Russia’s jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny sitting on a hospital bed in Moscow.The Kremlin critic, who is currently serving a 30-day jail sentence for calling a protest last weekend where almost 1,400 people were detained by police, was taken to hospital late on July 28 with severe swelling of the face and a rash, sparking fears he had been the victim of a poisoning attempt, though hospital officials characterized the illness as “a generalized allergic reaction.”Navalny was released from the hospital a day later and transferred back to jail and has said he shares the suspicions of his lawyer and his personal doctor that he may have been poisoned in prison.The physician treating Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Dr. Anastasiya Vasilyeva speaks to journalists at a hospital after Navalny was discharged, in Moscow, Russia, July 29, 2019.Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva said she has taken Navalny’s hair and clothing samples for independent testing, as well as calling for any video from internal cameras in the jail where the 43-year-old was being held.Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, said on July 29 that she was asking for the court to terminate the case “due to the lack of evidence or to terminate his administrative arrest due to his poor health condition.”The Kremlin critic also posted a picture of himself on social media with a bloated face and one eye shut.The rally on July 27 took place in protest of Moscow election officials who have refused to register several independent and opposition candidates to run in the September 8 vote to the 45-seat Moscow City Duma legislature.The municipal legislature has oversight over Moscow’s $43 billion budget, the largest of any city in the country.The United States, the European Union, Canada, and human-rights groups have denounced what they called the “disproportionate” and “indiscriminate” use of force against the demonstrators.

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