World leaders at UN look for progress on N.Korea, brace for Trump

In this file photo taken on September 21, 2016 security guards are seen on the UN building roof at the UN General Assembly in New York. (AFP)
Updated 23 September 2018
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World leaders at UN look for progress on N.Korea, brace for Trump

  • About 130 heads of state and government are turning up for the six-day marathon of speeches and meetings
  • Unpredictable Trump takes the podium on Tuesday to face foes and increasingly uneasy allies at the UN General Assembly

UNITED NATIONS, USA: North Korea and Iran will dominate this week’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations, where President Donald Trump will be in the spotlight as he continues to upend global diplomacy.
After warming up to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and ditching the Iran nuclear deal, the unpredictable Trump takes the podium on Tuesday to face foes and increasingly uneasy allies at the UN General Assembly.
On Wednesday, he will for the first time chair a Security Council meeting on non-proliferation and weapons of mass destruction that will focus heavily on Iran — likely triggering a clash with other big powers.
“It will be the most watched Security Council meeting ever,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley said of Trump’s first time wielding the gavel.
The diplomatic gathering will take stock of the thaw in relations between North and South Korea, and groundbreaking US-North Korea moves to address the threat from Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Last year, world leaders shuddered when Trump threatened to totally destroy North Korea and belittled Kim as “Rocket Man” who was “on a suicide mission.”
An exchange of insults ensued, with Kim calling out the “mentally deranged US dotard.”


Trump’s address to the assembly will be the “polar opposite of what we heard last year,” said Suzanne DiMaggio, an expert on North Korea and Iran at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
The president will tout his June face-to-face with Kim as a major diplomatic win but “he should think twice if he plans to repeat his claim that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat,” she said.
Despite the Trump-Kim landmark summit in Singapore, there has been little concrete progress on denuclearization.
North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho has been invited by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for talks on the sidelines of the assembly meeting. Ri is scheduled to deliver his address on September 29.
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in will encourage Trump to press on with the rapprochement, but the US president is likely to get a different message from Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has taken a tough stance on maintaining sanctions pressure on Pyongyang.
When he takes the podium shortly after Trump on Tuesday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani will meanwhile address the fall-out from the US decision to abandon the 2015 nuclear deal which lifted international sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran’s nuclear program.
European countries along with Russia and China are still working to salvage the accord and will use the council meeting chaired by Trump to defend what they consider a milestone in non-proliferation.
“The members of the Security Council are not going to take kindly to being lectured by President Trump on the subject of Iran,” said DiMaggio.
“These very countries, which include our closest allies, are now facing US sanctions as they scramble to save the agreement.”
Pompeo reiterated Sunday that Trump is willing to meet Rouhani as part of a “constructive dialogue” — but added on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that that seemed unlikely at present.
In a weekend op-ed in the Washington Post, Rouhani charged that Trump’s offer of direct talks was not “genuine” and came with a list of “openly insulting pre-conditions.”
And Haley — while she condemned “any terrorist attack” after the deadly assault on a military parade in southwest Iran — urged Rouhani to acknowledge popular discontent.
“He has oppressed his people for a long time,” Haley told CNN on Sunday.
The UN rendezvous takes place during a sharp divide between the United States, accused of turning its back on multilateralism, and countries that view the global rules-based order as their best hope to tackle the world’s problems.
Struggling with tighter budgets from US cuts, the United Nations has been put on the defensive as its peace efforts in Syria, Libya and Yemen fall short.
“Multilateralism is under attack from many different directions precisely when we need it most,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
About 130 heads of state and government are turning up for the six-day marathon of speeches and meetings on tackling a long list of issues from climate change to poverty.
Russia and China will be represented by their foreign ministers.
Among those making their debut on the world stage will be Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has signed a historic peace deal with Eritrea, Zimbabwe’s Emmerson Mnangagwa and Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel.


Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

Updated 26 May 2019
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Germany in push to resurrect talks with Taliban

  • Only the Afghans ‘can decide upon the future of their country’

KABUL, BERLIN: Germany, a leading donor and member of the NATO-led coalition in Afghanistan, has been talking with the Taliban and the Afghan government in an effort to restart peace talks to end 18 years of conflict, officials said.

While the Taliban have been talking with US officials since October about withdrawal of international troops, they have so far refused formal talks with the Western-backed government, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime.

Berlin’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, Markus Potzel, has visited Kabul for talks with the Afghan government and met Taliban officials in Doha at least twice this month.

“The current chance for a process toward a more peaceful Afghanistan should not be missed. If the friends of Afghanistan — and Germany is one of them — together can help in this effort, then we should do it,” Potzel said.

“In the end, only the Afghans themselves, including the Taliban, can decide upon the future of their country.”

The chief US negotiator in Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, in March said that a draft agreement had been reached on a withdrawal of US forces in exchange for a commitment by the Taliban to cut ties with militant groups such as Al-Qaeda.

But there has been no agreement yet on a cease-fire or a start to talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, both seen as key conditions for a settlement.

An Afghan delegation had been due to meet Taliban officials in the Qatari capital Doha last month to build the basis for possible negotiations, but the meeting was canceled at the last minute after a dispute over the number of participants.

FASTFACT

 

● At least 3,804 Afghan civilians were killed in the war last year. ● 14,000 US troops are still stationed in Afghanistan.

“We realize that US-Taliban talks will gain momentum only if the insurgent leaders start engaging with the Afghan representatives,” a senior German official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Sohail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office in Doha, said that Germany was one among several countries to have offered help to seek a peaceful resolution. 

The EU and Indonesia are among those to have offered help, another Taliban official said, declining to be named.

Discussions were held with Germany about an Afghan-Taliban meeting in Germany but no decision has been made, Shaheen told Reuters.

 

Captives subjected to abuse

Afghan captives held by the Taliban have been subjected to abuse, ill-treatment and actions that may amount to torture, the UN said on Sunday.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it interviewed 13 detainees from a group of 53 recently rescued from the Taliban, mainly members of Afghan forces but also civilians and government officials captured by the insurgents.

The group was freed on April 25 when Afghan troops raided a Taliban-run detention facility in the Khas Uruzgan district in southern Uruzgan province.

Most of the captives were held since 2018, with three since 2016, the UNAMA statement said, adding they were kept in poor conditions and subjected to forced labor. It cites the detainees as saying that the Taliban killed some of their captives.

“I am gravely concerned about these serious allegations of ill-treatment, torture and unlawful killing of civilians and security personnel, as well as the deplorable conditions of detention,” said Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of UNAMA.

The detainees were shackled while in captivity and almost all said they were beaten. The Taliban told them it was punishment for supporting the government, working with the Americans or fighting the insurgents.