Ukraine in mind, US frantic to avert Mideast showdown at UN

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President Joe Biden pauses as he answers a reporter's question about Ukraine after speaking about the May jobs report, June 3, 2022, in Rehoboth Beach, Del. (AP)
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In this file photo taken on January 31, 2023 Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas (R) and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken shake hands following their meeting in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. (AFP)
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Updated 20 February 2023
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Ukraine in mind, US frantic to avert Mideast showdown at UN

  • “The secretary underscored the urgent need for Israelis and Palestinians to take steps that restore calm and our strong opposition to unilateral measures that would further escalate tensions,” the statements said

WASHINGTON: The Biden administration is scrambling to avert a diplomatic crisis over Israeli settlement activity this week at the United Nations that threatens to overshadow and perhaps derail what the US hopes will be a solid five days of focus on condemning Russia’s war with Ukraine.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken made two emergency calls on Saturday from the Munich Security Conference, which he is attending in an as-yet unsuccessful bid to avoid or forestall such a showdown. It remained unclear whether another last-minute intervention might salvage the situation, according to diplomats familiar with the ongoing discussions who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.
Without giving details, the State Department said in nearly identical statements that Blinken had spoken to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from Munich to “reaffirm the US commitment to a negotiated two-state solution and opposition to policies that endanger its viability.”
“The secretary underscored the urgent need for Israelis and Palestinians to take steps that restore calm and our strong opposition to unilateral measures that would further escalate tensions,” the statements said.
Neither statement mentioned the proposed UN Security Council resolution demanding an immediate halt to Israeli settlements. The Palestinians want to bring that resolution to a vote on Monday. And neither statement gave any indication as to how the calls ended.
But diplomats familiar with the conversations said that in his call to Abbas, Blinken reiterated an offer to the Palestinians for a US package of incentives to entice them to drop or at least delay the resolution.
Those incentives included a White House meeting for Abbas with President Joe Biden, movement on reopening the American consulate in Jerusalem, and a significant aid package, the diplomats said.
Abbas was noncommittal, the diplomats said, but also suggested he would not be amenable unless the Israelis agreed to a six-month freeze on settlement expansion on land the Palestinians claim for a future state.
Blinken then called Netanyahu, who, according to the diplomats, was similarly noncommittal about the six-month settlement freeze. Netanyahu also repeated Israeli opposition to reopening the consulate, which was closed during President Donald Trump’s administration, they said.
The US and others were hoping to resolve the deadlock on Sunday, but the diplomats said it was unclear if that was possible,
The drama arose just ahead of the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which will be the subject of special UN General Assembly and Security Council sessions on Thursday and Friday.
The US opposes the Palestinian resolution and is almost certain to veto it. Not vetoing would carry considerable domestic political risk for Biden on the cusp of the 2024 presidential race and top House Republicans have already warned against it.
But the administration also fears that using its veto to protect Israel risks losing support at the world body for measures condemning Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Senior officials from the White House, the State Department and the US Mission to the UN have already engaged frantic but fruitless diplomacy to try to persuade the Palestinians to back down. The dire nature of the situation prompted Blinken’s calls on Saturday, the diplomats said.
The Biden administration has already said publicly that it does not support the resolution, calling it “unhelpful.” But it has also said the same about recent Israeli settlement expansion announcements.
UN diplomats say the USwants to replace the Palestinian resolution, which would be legally binding, with a weaker presidential statement, or at least delay a vote on the resolution until after the Ukraine war anniversary.
The Palestinian push comes as Israel’s new right-wing government has reaffirmed its commitment to construct new settlements in the West Bank and expand its authority on land the Palestinians seek for a future state.
Israel captured the West Bank, along with east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, in the 1967 Mideast war. The United Nations and most of the international community consider Israeli settlements illegal and an obstacle to ending the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Some 700,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank and Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.
Ultranationalists who oppose Palestinian statehood comprise a majority of Israel’s new government, which has declared settlement construction a top priority.
The draft resolution, circulated by the United Arab Emirates, the Arab representative on the council, would reaffirm the Security Council’s “unwavering commitment” to a two-state solution with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace as democratic states.
It would also reaffirm the UN Charter’s provision against acquiring territory by force and reaffirm that any such acquisition is illegal.
Last Tuesday, Blinken and the top diplomats from Britain, France, Germany and Italy condemned Israel’s plans to build 10,000 new homes in existing settlements in the West Bank and retroactively legalize nine outposts. Netanyahu’s Cabinet had announced the measure two days earlier, following a surge in violence in Jerusalem.
In December 2016, the Security Council demanded that Israel “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem.” It stressed that halting settlement activities “is essential for salvaging the two-state solution.”
That resolution was adopted after President Barack Obama’s administration abstained in the vote, a reversal of the United States’ longstanding practice of protecting its close ally Israel from action at the United Nations, including by vetoing Arab-supported resolutions.
The draft resolution before the council now is much shorter than the 2016 document, though it reiterates its key points and much of what the US and Europeans already said last week.
Complicating the matter for the US, the Security Council resolution was introduced and is supported by the UAE, an Arab partner of the United States that has also normalized relations with Israel, even as it has taken a tepid stance on opposing Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
The US will be looking to the UAE and other council members sympathetic to the Palestinians to vote in favor of resolutions condemning Russia for invading Ukraine and calling for a cessation of hostilities and the immediate withdrawal of all Russian forces.

 


Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

Updated 5 sec ago
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Iran frees imprisoned French citizen: Macron

PARIS: Iranian authorities have released a French citizen held since September 2022, France’s President Emmanuel Macron announced Wednesday, urging Tehran to free three other French citizens “without delay.”

“Louis Arnaud is free. Tomorrow he will be in France after a long incarceration in Iran,” Macron posted on X, thanking Oman in particular for helping to secure “this happy outcome.”


Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border

Updated 3 min 8 sec ago
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Biden faces first lawsuit over new asylum crackdown at the border

  • The order Biden issued last week would limit asylum processing once encounters with migrants between ports of entry reach 2,500 per day.

WASHINGTON: A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups sued the Biden administration on Wednesday over President Joe Biden’s recent directive that effectively halts asylum claims at the southern border, saying it differs little from a similar move during the Trump administration that was blocked by the courts.

The lawsuit — filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and others on behalf of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center and RAICES — is the first test of the legality of Biden’s sweeping crackdown on the border, which came after months of internal White House deliberations and is designed in part to deflect political attacks against the president on his handling of immigration.

“By enacting an asylum ban that is legally indistinguishable from the Trump ban we successfully blocked, we were left with no choice but to file this lawsuit,” said Lee Gelernt, an attorney for the ACLU.

The order Biden issued last week would limit asylum processing once encounters with migrants between ports of entry reach 2,500 per day. It went into effect immediately because the latest figures were far higher, at about 4,000 daily.

The restrictions would be in effect until two weeks after the daily encounter numbers are at or below 1,500 per day between ports of entry, under a seven-day average. But it’s far from clear when the numbers would dip that low; the last time was in July 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The order went into effect June 5, and Biden administration officials have said they expected record levels of deportations.

But advocates argue that suspending asylum for migrants who don’t arrive at a designated port of entry — which the Biden administration is trying to push migrants to do — violates existing federal immigration law, among other concerns.

Biden invoked the same legal authority used by the Trump administration for its asylum ban, which comes under Section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. That provision allows a president to limit entries for certain migrants if their entry is deemed “detrimental” to the national interest.

Biden has repeatedly criticized Trump’s immigration policies as he campaigns, and his administration argues that his directive is different because it includes several exemptions for humanitarian reasons. For example, victims of human trafficking, unaccompanied minors and those with severe medical emergencies would not be subject to the limits.

“We stand by the legality of what we have done,” Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said on ABC’s “This Week” before the lawsuit was filed, saying he anticipated legal challenges. “We stand by the value proposition.”

Under Biden’s directive, migrants who arrive at the border but do not express a fear of returning to their home countries will be subject to immediate removal from the United States, within a matter of days or even hours. Those migrants could face punishments that could include a five-year bar from reentering the US or even criminal prosecution.

Meanwhile, those who express fear or an intention to seek asylum will be screened by a US asylum officer but at a higher standard than currently used. If they pass the screening, they can pursue more limited forms of humanitarian protection, including the UN Convention Against Torture, which prohibits returning people to a country where they’re likely to face torture.


More than 80 passengers killed in the latest boat accident in Congo

Updated 12 June 2024
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More than 80 passengers killed in the latest boat accident in Congo

KINSHASA, Congo: A boat carrying more than 270 passengers has capsized on a river near Congo’s capital of Kinshasa, leaving more than 80 dead, President Félix Tshisekedi said Wednesday.

It was the latest deadly boat accident in the central African country where overloading is often blamed, including in February when dozens lost their lives after an overloaded boat sank.
A statement quoting Tshisekedi said the locally made boat capsized late Monday in Maï-Ndombe province along the Kwa River.
The boat was carrying 271 passengers to Kinshasa when it broke down due to an engine failure, according to the UN-backed Radio Okapi, citing Ren Maker, the water commissioner in the Mushi district where the accident happened.
Eighty-six of the passengers died while 185 managed to swim ashore, some 70 kilometers (43 miles) near the closest city of Mushie, Maker said.
He said the boat hit the edge of the river bank and broke up.
Congolese officials have often warned against overloading and vowed to punish those violating safety measures for water transportation. But in remote areas where most passengers come from, many are unable to afford public transport for the few available roads.
 

 

 


Apparent pro-Palestinian activists splash red paint on homes of Jewish officials at Brooklyn Museum

Updated 12 June 2024
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Apparent pro-Palestinian activists splash red paint on homes of Jewish officials at Brooklyn Museum

  • Mayor Eric Adams, in a post on the social platform X, wrote: “This is not peaceful protest or free speech. This is a crime, and it’s overt, unacceptable antisemitism”
  • Taylor Maatman, a spokesperson for the museum said a report was filed with police but declined to provide more details

NEW YORK: People purporting to be pro-Palestinian activists hurled red paint at the homes of four Jewish officials with the Brooklyn Museum and also splashed paint across the front of diplomatic buildings for Germany and the Palestinian Authority early Wednesday, in sprees of vandalism that prompted a police investigation and brought condemnation from city authorities.
Mayor Eric Adams, in a post on the social platform X, shared four images of a brick building splashed with red paint with a banner hung in front of the door that called the museum’s director, Anne Pasternak, a “white-supremacist Zionist.”
“This is not peaceful protest or free speech. This is a crime, and it’s overt, unacceptable antisemitism,” Adams wrote, sending sympathy to Pasternak and other museum board members whose homes were defaced. “These actions will never be tolerated in New York City for any reason.”
Taylor Maatman, a spokesperson for the museum said a report was filed with police but declined to provide more details.
“We are deeply troubled by these horrible acts of vandalism targeting museum leadership,” she said in a statement.
Red paint was also splashed across the front of a Manhattan building that houses Germany’s consulate and the United Nations mission, and another building that is a headquarters for for Palestinian diplomats. Flyers critical of the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, were scattered outside the building.
It wasn’t immediately clear who was responsible or whether the acts of vandalism were all related.
A spokesperson for the New York Police Department declined to comment, saying the agency was investigating and would provide more information later. Messages seeking comment were also sent to Palestinian and German diplomats.
Hundreds of protesters marched on the Brooklyn Museum late last month, briefly setting up tents in the lobby and unfurling a “Free Palestine” banner from the roof before police moved in to make dozens of arrests. Similar protests have happened since October at other New York City museums.
The protest group Within Our Lifetime and other organizers of that demonstration said the museum is “deeply invested in and complicit” in Israel’s military actions in Gaza through its leadership, trustees, corporate sponsors and donors — a claim museum officials have denied.
The protest group did not respond to an email seeking comment.
City Comptroller Brad Lander, who was among the New York politicians to speak out against the protests, said the Brooklyn Museum has done more to grapple with questions of “power, colonialism, racism & the role of art” than many other museums.
“The cowards who did this are way over the line into antisemitism, harming the cause they claim to care about, and making everyone less safe,” he wrote on X.
The grand beaux arts museum, the city’s second largest, sits at the edge of Crown Heights, home to one of the city’s largest communities of Orthodox Jews.
The paint attacks came the same week that Within Our Lifetime organized a large demonstration outside a New York City exhibition memorializing victims of the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on the Tribe of Nova music festival. The group called it “Zionist propaganda” and dismissed the music festival, where hundreds died, as “a rave next to a concentration camp.”
That protest also drew condemnations from across the political spectrum.
“The callousness, dehumanization, and targeting of Jews on display at last night’s protest outside the Nova Festival exhibit was atrocious antisemitism — plain and simple,” US Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said Tuesday on X.


9 killed in Russian aerial attacks on Ukraine ahead of G7 summit aimed at slowing Moscow’s offensive

Updated 12 June 2024
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9 killed in Russian aerial attacks on Ukraine ahead of G7 summit aimed at slowing Moscow’s offensive

  • Zelensky said the strike has again proven that “Ukraine, together with its partners, must strengthen its air defenses”
  • “Modern air defense systems are capable of providing maximum protection of people, our cities, and our positions“

KYIV: Russian forces launched new deadly attacks on Ukraine, killing at least nine people on Wednesday, a day before the leaders of countries that are some of Ukraine’s biggest backers were to discuss how to slow Moscow’s offensive.
Ukrainian authorities said that along with the nine killed, 29 others, including five children, were wounded when Russian missiles hit an apartment block in Kryvyi Rih, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s hometown.
Zelensky said the strike has again proven that “Ukraine, together with its partners, must strengthen its air defenses” — something that he has repeatedly appealed for with Ukraine’s Western partners. The United States has agreed to send another Patriot missile system, two US officials said late Tuesday.
“Modern air defense systems are capable of providing maximum protection of people, our cities, and our positions,” Zelensky said. “And we need as many of them as possible.”
Earlier Wednesday, Ukraine’s air force said it shot down more than two dozen air targets, including cruise missiles, a Kinzhal ballistic missile and Shahed drones. Several people were wounded, authorities said.
Kyiv’s outgunned and outnumbered forces are battling to hold back the bigger Russian army, which is trying to exploit Ukrainian vulnerabilities. Ukraine has been short of troops, ammunition and air defenses in recent months as the Kremlin’s forces try to cripple the national power supply and punch through the front line in eastern parts of the country.
Ukraine will need to weather the Russian onslaught through the summer, military analysts say, and in the meantime train more soldiers, build fortifications and hope that the provision of Western military aid picks up speed so that in 2025 Kyiv may be able to mount its own offensive.
Several diplomatic events over the next few days are aimed at how to help Ukraine fend off the Russian invasion or how to bring about an end to the war.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden and the other Group of Seven leaders will gather in Italy for their annual summit to discuss ways to help Ukraine, including how to divert more frozen Russian assets to Kyiv’s defense.
Separately, the Biden administration on Wednesday said it had broadened sanctions against Russia by targeting companies that help Moscow’s war effort and raising the stakes for foreign financial institutions that work with sanctioned Russian entities.
The more than 300 new sanctions are largely aimed at deterring individuals and companies in countries such as China, the United Arab Emirates and Türkiye from helping Moscow circumvent Western blocks on obtaining key technology. They also threaten foreign financial institutions with sanctions if they do business with almost any sanctioned Russian entity, underscoring the US view that the Kremlin has pivoted the Russian economy on to a war footing.
Biden and Zelensky will also sign a bilateral security agreement between the US and Ukraine on Thursday, when they meet on the G7 summit’s sidelines, the White House said.
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the agreement would not commit US troops directly to Ukraine’s defense, but that it would demonstrate the US supports the people of Ukraine and serve as a “bridge” to when Ukraine is invited to join the NATO alliance — a long-term priority of Zelensky’s that alliance members have said will first require an end to the war.
While the G7 meets in Italy, defense chiefs from the US, Europe and other nations will meet Thursday in Brussels for their monthly meeting on Ukraine’s security needs. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin will host the event.
And this weekend, representatives of nearly 90 countries and organizations, half from Europe, are expected to attend a summit in Switzerland aimed at charting a path to peace between Russia and Ukraine, though Russia won’t be attending.
Both sides in Europe’s biggest conflict since World War II have been reaching out to friendly nations to help keep their armed forces supplied. The war has cost tens of thousands of lives on both sides, including more than 11,000 Ukrainian civilians, according to the United Nations.
While Ukraine has looked to Western countries, Russian President Vladimir Putin has turned to nations such as Iran and North Korea for help. Unconfirmed reports suggested Putin may soon make a third visit to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Moscow showed no signs of relenting in the war. The Kremlin said Wednesday that Putin met with Defense Minister Andrei Belousov, the chief of the military’s General Staff, Gen. Valery Gerasimov, and the commanders of Russia’s five military districts.
A readout of the Tuesday night meeting said the officials presented Putin with “plans to continue the hostilities.”
Fighting along the roughly 1,000-kilometer (620-mile) front line has in recent months focused on the partly occupied Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, where Russian forces are trying to reach the key hilltop city of Chasiv Yar and other strategic hubs.
Last month, Russian forces also launched an offensive in Ukraine’s northeastern Kharkiv region, which borders Russia. Putin said he wanted to establish a buffer zone there to prevent Ukrainian cross-border attacks. The offensive drew some Ukrainian fighters away from Donetsk.
However, Russia’s gains have been incremental and costly.
In the Kharkiv region, Russian units have become bogged down in Vovchansk, Ukraine Commander in Chief Oleksandr Syrskyi said Wednesday on the Telegram messaging app.