North Korea military parade features floats and flowers, not missiles

People carry flags in front of statues of North Korea founder Kim Il Sung (L) and late leader Kim Jong Il during a military parade marking the 70th anniversary of North Korea's foundation in Pyongyang, North Korea, September 9, 2018. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

By Josh Smith

PYONGYANG (Reuters) – With no long-range missiles on display, North Korea staged a military parade on Sunday focused on conventional arms, peace and economic development as it marked the 70th anniversary of the country’s founding.

The reduced display compared to past years earned a thank you note from U.S. President Donald Trump, who hailed it as a “big and very positive statement from North Korea.”

Trump on Twitter quoted a Fox News description of the event without long-range nuclear missiles as a sign of North Korea’s “commitment to denuclearize.”

“Thank you To Chairman Kim. We will both prove everyone wrong! There is nothing like good dialogue from two people that like each other! Much better than before I took office,” Trump tweeted.

In Pyongyang, line upon line of goose-stepping soldiers and columns of tanks shook the ground before giving way to chanting crowds waving flags and flowers as they passed a review stand where North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sat with a special envoy from China, as well as other visiting foreigners.

Kim told the envoy, Chinese parliament chief Li Zhanshu, that North Korea was focusing on economic development and hopes to learn from China’s experience in this regard, Chinese state television reported.

Attendees during the 70th anniversary of North Korea's foundation, in this undated photo released on September 9, 2018 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS

Attendees during the 70th anniversary of North Korea’s foundation, in this undated photo released on September 9, 2018 by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). KCNA/via REUTERS

“North Korea upholds the consensus of the Singapore meeting between the leaders of North Korea and the United States and has taken steps for it and hopes the United States takes corresponding steps, to jointly promote the political resolution process for the peninsula issue,” the report paraphrased Kim as saying.

The parade highlight themes of military accomplishment, national development, and international engagement at a time when doubts are arising over Kim’s commitment to abandoning nuclear weapons.

Unlike in previous years, there were no inter-continental missiles on display. And there were no nuclear tests to mark the holiday, as has happened in each of the last two years.

North Korea routinely uses major holidays to showcase its military capabilities and the latest developments in missile technology.

But that has lessened this year, underlining Kim’s stated aim for denuclearizing the Korean peninsula and his recent meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and summits with Trump in Singapore and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing and Dalian.

The theme for the celebrations this year was economic development and unifying the Korean peninsula, divided since World War Two.

A huge float was decorated with a modern train, solar panels, wind power plants and dams, under a slogan of “All our might to build economy!”, as North Korean men in construction work wear marched.

Kim Yong Nam, North Korea’s titular head of state, gave a speech at the parade in which he said the country had achieved status as a military power, and would now pursue efforts to strengthen its economy.

Floats on unification also passed by a throng of North Koreans waving unified Korea flags.

“All Koreans should join forces to accomplish unification in our generation. Unification is the only way Koreans can survive,” said an editorial in North Korea’s party newspaper Rodong Sinmun.

Kim Jong Un and his South Korean counterpart Moon will meet in Pyongyang on Sept. 18-20 for the third time this year and discuss “practical measures” toward denuclearization, officials in Seoul have said.

KIM’S LETTER

Despite stalled progress on talks with Washington, the North Korean leader wants to denuclearize the peninsula within Trump’s first term, according to South Korean officials.

Trump said on Friday that Kim has sent a letter to him, which he believes will be positive.

Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, said the military component of the parade appeared to be scaled down this year.

“I am very curious to hear what is in the letter to Trump, because this parade could have been more provocative,” Hanham said, adding satellite evidence showed North Korea continued missile-related activities such as testing solid fuel motors.

Kim was seen laughing and holding hands up with China’s Li as he oversaw the festivities at Pyongyang’s main Kim Il Sung square on a clear autumn day. Kim waved to the crowd before leaving but did not make any public remarks.

North Korea has invited a large group of foreign journalists to cover a military parade and other events to mark the 70th anniversary of its founding.

That includes iconic mass games that Pyongyang is organizing for the first time in five years, a huge, nationalist pageant performed by up to 100,000 people in one of the world’s largest stadiums.

Both the Mass Games and the military parade have been criticized by human rights advocates and North Korean defectors for the pressure placed on performers and for painting a distorted picture of the country through stage-managed displays.

But thousands of jovial North Koreans clapped in unison and rallied support for their leader Kim.

A concert on Saturday night attended by Kim Yong Nam and foreign delegations featured little in the way of martial messaging or images, with only a few shadowy American bombers shown briefly in footage of the 1950-1953 Korean War.

(Reporting by Josh Smith; Additional reporting by Pei Li and Ben Blanchard in Beijing and David Lawder in Washington; writing by Ju-min Park; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Lisa Shumaker)

Hamas fires rockets, Israel bombs Gaza amid talk of truce

A Palestinian man inspects a Hamas site that was hit in an Israeli air strike, in Al-Mughraqa on the outskirts of Gaza City August 9, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Eli Berlzon

GAZA/SDEROT, Israel (Reuters) – A Palestinian official said on Thursday armed factions in Gaza were prepared to halt a round of rocket attacks on southern Israel if the Israeli military stopped its strikes after two days of cross-border violence.

An explosion is seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

An explosion is seen during an Israeli air strike in Gaza City August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

A pregnant Palestinian woman and her 18-month-old child, and a militant from the Islamist Hamas group that rules Gaza, were killed in the Israeli attacks, and at least five civilians were wounded, local medical officials said.

The Israeli military said seven people were wounded in southern Israel. One was identified by her employer as a Thai agricultural worker.

The flare-up came after officials on both sides had talked about potential progress in an effort by the United Nations and Egypt to broker a truce to end months of violence and alleviate deepening humanitarian and economic hardship in the Gaza Strip.

Israeli firefighters survey the scene where a rocket exploded in the southern city of Sderot, Israel August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Israeli firefighters survey the scene where a rocket exploded in the southern city of Sderot, Israel August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

A Palestinian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, raised the prospect of an imminent end to the current fighting.

“Factions of the resistance consider this round of escalation over as far as we are concerned, and the continuation of calm depends on the behavior of the occupation,” the official said, using militant factions’ term for Israel.

The Israeli military declined to comment on the official’s remarks.

The official, at a command center used by armed groups in Gaza, said they had been “responding to crimes” by Israel – a reference to the killing on Tuesday, in disputed circumstances, of two Hamas gunmen.

FAMILIAR PATTERN

The latest fighting has stayed within familiar parameters. The rocket fire from Gaza has not targeted Israel’s heartland and the Israeli military said its air strikes were limited to Hamas installations.

Yuval Steinitz, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s inner cabinet, told Israel Radio before the Palestinian officials comments that Israel was “not eager for war” but would make no concessions to Hamas.

An Israeli policeman walks next to the scene where a rocket exploded in the southern city of Sderot, Israel August 8, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Netanyahu was due to hold a security cabinet meeting later in the day after consultations with security officials.

Rocket warning sirens sounded almost non-stop in the southern Israeli town of Sderot and other border communities from sunset on Wednesday. Many residents have a reinforced room in their homes where they can shelter. The military said more than 180 rockets and mortar bombs were fired from Gaza.

Ambulance sirens echoed through the night in Gaza, where families huddled at home as powerful explosions shook buildings. The Israeli military said its aircraft struck more than 150 facilities belonging to Hamas.

U.N. Middle East envoy Nickolay Mladenov said in an overnight statement: “I am deeply alarmed by the recent escalation of violence between Gaza and Israel, and particularly by today’s multiple rockets fired towards communities in southern Israel.”

The United Nations, he said, has engaged with Egypt in an “unprecedented effort” to avoid serious conflict, but cautioned that “the situation can rapidly deteriorate with devastating consequences for all people”.

Gaza has been controlled by Hamas for more than a decade, during which time it has fought three wars against Israel, the latest in 2014.

(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Writing by Ari Rabinovitch and Ori Lewis; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Robin Pomeroy, Richard Balmforth)

Xi tells Mattis China won’t give up ‘one inch’ of territory

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, second from left, speaks during a meeting with China's Defense Minister Wei Fenghe at the Bayi Building in Beijing, China, June 27, 2018. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS

By Phil Stewart and Ben Blanchard

BEIJING (Reuters) – China is committed to peace and won’t cause “chaos” in the world, but cannot give up even an inch of territory that the country’s ancestors have left behind, Chinese President Xi Jinping told U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday.

Mattis, a former Marine general, has been highly critical of China’s muscular military moves in the disputed South China Sea. The U.S. military even withdrew an invitation to China to join a multinational naval exercise that will start during Mattis’ visit, upsetting Beijing.

Mattis is visiting against a backdrop of spiraling tension between Beijing and Washington over trade.

Beijing is also deeply suspicious of U.S. intentions toward self-governing and democratic Taiwan, which is armed by the United States. China views the island as a sacred part of its territory.

Meeting in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, Xi told Mattis that China had only peaceful intentions and would not “cause chaos,” state television reported.

Both countries’ common interests far outweigh their differences, but on territorial issues there can be no concessions, Xi added, without referring to specific areas.

“We cannot lose even one inch of the territory left behind by our ancestors. What is other people’s, we do not want at all,” state television cited Xi as saying.

Mattis, in comments in front of reporters, told Xi his talks had been “very, very” good.

“I am happy to be in China and we are assigning the same high degree of importance to the military relationship,” Mattis said.

Meeting earlier in the day, China’s defense minister told Mattis that only with mutual respect and by avoiding confrontation can China and the United States develop together.

“China upholds peaceful development, and China’s military unswervingly protects the country’s sovereignty, security and development interests,” Chinese Defence Minister Wei Fenghe said, according to his ministry.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, and China's Defense Minister Wei Fenghe stand as the American national anthem is played during a welcome ceremony at the Bayi Building in Beijing, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via Reuters

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, and China’s Defense Minister Wei Fenghe stand as the American national anthem is played during a welcome ceremony at the Bayi Building in Beijing, Wednesday, June 27, 2018. Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via Reuters

“China and the United States can only develop together if we maintain no conflict, no confrontation, mutual respect and win-win cooperation,” Wei added.

“China and the United States’ two militaries must implement the consensus of the two countries’ leaders, increase mutual trust, strengthen cooperation and manage risks to turn ties between the two militaries into a factor for stability in the bilateral relationship.”

Mattis, the first Pentagon chief to visit China since 2014, told Wei he expected all of his conversations in Beijing would be characterized by an “open and honest” dialogue, like the one he had with Wei.

“The military-to-military relationship is critical to the broader relationship between our two countries,” Mattis added, in comments also in front of reporters.

Mattis invited Wei to visit him at the Pentagon.

Wei was similarly upbeat in his public remarks.

“Your visit to China this time is … a new positive factor to the military-to-military and state-to-state relationship,” said Wei, who only assumed his position in March.

TAIWAN TENSION

The Chinese defense ministry statement made only passing mention of the South China Sea, Taiwan and North Korea, citing Wei as telling Mattis what China’s positions were on those issues.

As Mattis arrived, Chinese state media said a formation of Chinese warships had been holding daily combat drills for more than a week in waters near Taiwan, and there have been frequent Chinese air force exercises near the island.

While China and the United States have tried hard to keep lines of communication between their militaries open, especially at the senior level, they are deeply suspicious of each other.

The United States accuses China of militarizing the South China Sea with its island-building work there, while China has been angered by U.S. naval patrols through the strategic waterway.

In May, the United States withdrew an invitation to China to attend a major U.S.-hosted naval drill, the Rim of the Pacific exercise, known as RIMPAC and previously attended by China, in response to what Washington sees as Beijing’s militarization of the South China Sea.

Still, the two have broad strategic common interests, such as ensuring peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.

China welcomed a historic summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un earlier this month in Singapore, where Kim reaffirmed a commitment to work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, while Trump said he would halt joint U.S.-South Korean “war games.”

(The story is refiled to removes extraneous words paragraphs five and nine, fixes typo paragraph seven.)

(Reporting by Phil Stewart and Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Christian Shepherd and Michael Martina; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

Israel’s Netanyahu, Jordan’s Abdullah talk regional peace

FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem, June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Pool

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Jordan’s King Abdullah in Amman on Monday to discuss ways to advance regional peace, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.

The two leaders “discussed regional developments and advancing the peace process and bilateral relations,” the statement said.

Jordan made peace with Israel in 1994. It is one of two Arab countries, along with Egypt, to have treaties with Israel and both countries have been involved in efforts to reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been working on a long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, but it has yet to be made public.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, the U.S. envoy to the Middle East and Trump’s son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s Middle East peace negotiator, are expected in the region this week to discuss their peace plan.

Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is also custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterated Israel’s commitment to maintaining the status quo at the holy sites in Jerusalem,” the statement said.

The last round of U.S.-led peace talks collapsed in 2014.

(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; editing by John Stonestreet and Jane Merriman)

South Korea’s Moon says three-way summit with North Korea, U.S. possible

FILE PHOTO: South Korean President Moon Jae-in delivers a speech during a ceremony celebrating the 99th anniversary of the March First Independence Movement against Japanese colonial rule, at Seodaemun Prison History Hall in Seoul, South Korea, March 1, 2018. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

By Hyonhee Shin and Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Wednesday a three-way summit with North Korea and the United States is possible and that talks should aim for an end to the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula.

Moon is planning a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month after a flurry of diplomatic activity in Asia, Europe and the United States. U.S. President Donald Trump has also said he would meet Kim by the end of May.

“A North Korea-U.S. summit would be a historic event in itself following an inter-Korean summit,” Moon said at the presidential Blue House in Seoul after a preparatory meeting for the inter-Korean summit.

“Depending on the location, it could be even more dramatic. And depending on progress, it may lead to a three-way summit between the South, North and the United States,” he said.

Seoul officials are considering the border truce village of Panmunjom, where Moon and Kim are set for a one-day meeting, as the venue for talks between not only Kim and Moon but also a possible three-way meeting.

A Blue House official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Moon did not specifically refer to Panmunjom or that a three-way summit had been discussed with Washington before the president spoke.

The rush of recent diplomatic contacts began in the lead-up to the Winter Olympics in South Korea last month and helped ease tensions on the Korean peninsula caused by North Korea’s pursuit of its nuclear and missile programs in defiance of United Nations Security Council sanctions.

South Korea wants to hold high-level talks with North Korea on March 29 to discuss a date and agenda for the inter-Korean summit and make a formal request to the North on Thursday, Moon’s presidential office said.

North and South Korean officials should be able to agree on when the summit between Moon and Kim will take place once the officials from both sides meet this month, the Blue House official said.

‘CLEAR GOAL’

Moon said the series of summits should aim for a “complete end” to the nuclear and peace issues on the Korean peninsula.

He said he has a “clear goal and vision”, which is for the establishment of a lasting peace to replace the ceasefire signed at the end of the 1950-53 Korean war. It also includes the normalization of North Korea-U.S. relations, the development of inter-Korean ties, and economic cooperation involving Pyongyang and Washington, he said.

However, the United States must also add its guarantee in order for peace to come about, Moon said.

“Whether the two Koreas live together or separately, we have to make it in a way that they prosper together and in peace, without interfering or causing damage to each other,” Moon said.

The Blue House official said this could mean stopping propaganda broadcasts at the border that are commonly blasted from both sides over loudspeakers. The official could not say whether “interference” also referred to criticism over widely recognized human rights violations in North Korea.

South Korea and the United States will resume joint military drills next month, although the exercises are expected to overlap with the summit between the two Koreas.

Seoul and Washington delayed the annual drills until after the Winter Olympics, helping to foster conditions for a restart of such talks.

North Korea regularly denounces the drills as preparation for war but a South Korean special envoy has said Kim understood that the allies must continue their “routine” exercises. That exchange has not been confirmed.

The North’s official KCNA news agency said on Wednesday a “dramatic atmosphere for reconciliation” had been created in cross-border ties and there had also been a sign of change in North Korea-U.S. relations.

That was “thanks to the proactive measure and peace-loving proposal” made by Pyongyang, not Trump’s campaign to put maximum pressure on the country, KCNA said in a commentary.

The Blue House official also said earlier on Wednesday South Korea was in discussions with China and Japan for a three-way summit in Tokyo in early May. The three countries have not held such a meeting since November 2015, with relations soured by historical and territorial tensions.

(Reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Christine Kim; Editing by Paul Tait)

U.N. mediator warns of ‘violent, worrying, dangerous’ moment in Syria

United Nations Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura speaks to attendees after a session of the Syrian Congress of National Dialogue in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, Russia January 30, 2018. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The U.N. Syria peace mediator warned on Wednesday that a recent increase in violence has created one of the most dangerous moments in years of civil war there, as the government bombards rebel areas and foreign powers further intervene.

“I have been now four years (as) special envoy, this is a violent and worrying and dangerous a moment as any that I’ve seen in my time,” Staffan de Mistura told the United Nations Security Council.

Last week was one of the bloodiest in the nearly seven-year-old conflict as Syrian government forces, backed by Russia and Iran, bombarded two of the last major rebel areas: Eastern Ghouta and the northwestern province of Idlib.

The 15-member Security Council is currently negotiating a possible resolution, drafted by Kuwait and Sweden, that would demand a 30-day ceasefire in Syria to allow the delivery of aid and the evacuation of sick and wounded.

The multi-sided conflict is also raging elsewhere, with Turkey waging an offensive against Syrian Kurdish forces in the Afrin region of northwestern Syria, while on Saturday, Syrian government anti-aircraft fire downed an Israeli warplane returning from a bombing raid on Iran-backed positions in Syria.

“What we are seeing in Syria today not only imperils the de-escalation arrangements and regional stability, it also undermines the efforts for a political solution. Yet we will not be deterred from pursuing the Geneva process, which is the only sustainable path toward a political solution,” De Mistura said.

The U.N.-led Geneva process to try and broker an end to the conflict has been making little or no progress. Last year Russia, Turkey and Iran agreed “de-escalation” zones to ease hostilities in western Syria where they wield influence.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told the Security Council that Russia was supposed to guarantee adherence to the de-escalation zones and the removal of all chemical weapons from its ally Syria.

“Instead we to see the Assad regime continue to bomb, starve and yes, gas, civilians,” Haley said, referring to President Bashar al-Assad’s government. “Russia can push the regime to commit to seeking a real peace in Syria … now is the time for Russia to use that leverage.”

Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia pushed back on Haley’s remarks, saying the Syrian political process should be free from “external pressure.” He also called on the United States to “exert their influence” on Syrian opposition fighters to ensure they cease hostilities.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Trump tells Israel peace means compromise; U.S. envoy under fire

An Israeli flag is seen near the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount December 6, 2017.

By Dan Williams

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump told Israel on Friday that it too would need to make “significant compromises” for peace with the Palestinians, even as they accused one of his Middle East envoys of bogging down diplomacy with what they see as pro-Israel bias.

The Palestinians were outraged by Trump’s Dec. 6 recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, a move overturning decades of U.S. reticence on the city’s status, and say they are looking at additional world powers as potential mediators.

In an interview with an Israeli newspaper that was excerpted ahead of its full publication on Sunday, Trump described his Jerusalem move as a “high point” of his first year in office.

The language of Trump’s announcement did not rule out a presence in Jerusalem for the Palestinians, who want the eastern part of the city – captured by Israel in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognized internationally – as their own capital.

“I wanted to make clear that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. Regarding specific borders, I will grant my support to what the two sides agree between themselves,” he told the conservative Israel Hayom daily, in remarks published in Hebrew.

“I think that both sides will have to make significant compromises in order for achieving a peace deal to be possible,” Trump added, without elaborating.

The interview coincided with fresh strains between the Palestinians and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, following the killing by a Palestinian of a Jewish settler.

After the settler was stabbed to death on Monday, Friedman tweeted that he had previously donated an ambulance to the slain man’s community and that he was praying for the next-of-kin, adding: “Palestinian ‘leaders’ have praised the killer.”

That drew a rebuke from the Palestinian administration.

“The American ambassador’s statements make us wonder about his relationship with the occupation,” Nabil Abu Rdainah, a spokesman for President Mahmoud Abbas, said in a statement. “Is he representing America or Israel?”

“Friedman’s recommendations and advice, which do not aim to achieve a just peace on the basis of international legitimacy, are what led to this crisis in American-Palestinian relations,” Abu Rdainah said.

Friedman, among the top Trump advisers who promoted the Jerusalem move, is a former contributor to settler causes.

In addition to East Jerusalem, Palestinians want the occupied West Bank for a future state and see Israel’s Jewish settlements there as a major obstacle. Israel disputes this.

Most world powers deem the settlements illegal, but the Trump administration has taken a softer tack.

A liberal Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, published a column criticizing Friedman’s stance and dubbing the settlement he had supported as “a mountain of curses” – a play on its Hebrew name, Har Bracha, which means “Mount Blessing”.

The ambassador took the unusual step of firing back at the daily in another tweet on Friday: “Four young children are sitting shiva (Jewish mourning rite) for their murdered father …. Have they (Haaretz) no decency?”

Haaretz’s publisher, Amos Shocken, responded over the platform with a critique that echoed Palestinian complaints.

“As long as the policy of Israel that your Government and yourself support is obstructing (the) peace process … there will be more Shivas,” Shocken tweeted.

(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

Netanyahu visits Golan Heights, near Syrian border, and cautions Israel’s enemies

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech during an event marking the International Holocaust Victims Remembrance Day and the 75th anniversary of the breakthrough the Nazi Siege of Leningrad in the World War II, at the Jewish Museum and Tolerance Centre in Moscow, Russia January 29, 2018.

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paid a rare visit to the occupied Golan Heights on Tuesday, peering across the nearby border into Syria and warning Israel’s enemies not to “test” its resolve.

Netanyahu was accompanied to a hilltop observation point, some three kilometers (two miles) from a 1974 ceasefire line, by his security cabinet. He has been cautioning against any attempt by Iran to deepen its military foothold in Syria or construct missile factories in neighboring Lebanon.

“We seek peace but are prepared for any scenario and I wouldn’t suggest to anyone that they test us,” Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller)

Trump threatens to pull aid to Palestinians if they don’t pursue peace

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland January 25, 2018

By Steve Holland and Yara Bayoumy

DAVOS, Switzerland (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump threatened on Thursday to withhold aid to the Palestinians if they did not pursue peace with Israel, saying they had snubbed the United States by not meeting Vice President Mike Pence during a recent visit.

Trump, speaking after a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the World Economic Forum, said he wanted peace. However, his remarks could further frustrate the aim of reviving long-stalled Israeli-Palestinian talks.

Palestinians shunned Pence’s visit to the region this month after Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and vowed to begin moving the U.S. embassy to the city, whose status is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Trump’s endorsement in December of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital drew universal condemnation from Arab leaders and criticism around the world. It also broke with decades of U.S. policy that the city’s status must be decided in negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

“When they disrespected us a week ago by not allowing our great vice president to see them, and we give them hundreds of millions of dollars in aid and support, tremendous numbers, numbers that nobody understands — that money is on the table and that money is not going to them unless they sit down and negotiate peace,” Trump said.

The United States said this month it would withhold $65 million of $125 million it had planned to send to the U.N. agency that helps Palestinian refugees. The UNRWA agency is funded almost entirely by voluntary contributions from U.N. states and the United states is the largest contributor.

A spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said the United States had taken itself “off the table” as a peace mediator since it recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“Palestinian rights are not up to any bargain and Jerusalem is not for sale. The United States can’t have any role unless it retreats its decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital,” spokesman Nabil Abu Rdainah told Reuters by phone from Jordan.

Abbas has called Trump’s Jerusalem declaration a “slap in the face” and has rejected Washington as an honest broker in any future talks with Israel. Abbas left for an overseas visit before Pence arrived.

Abbas has said he would only accept a broad, internationally backed panel to broker any peace talks with Israel. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley also criticized Abbas.

Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the country, although that is not recognized internationally. Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Speaking in Davos, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said only the United States could broker a peace deal.

“I think there’s no substitute for the United States. As the honest broker, as a facilitator, there’s no other international body that would do it,” Netanyahu said.

Trump said Palestinians had to come to the negotiating table.

“Because I can tell you that Israel does want to make peace and they’re going to have to want to make peace too or we’re going to have nothing to do with them any longer,” Trump said.

Trump said his administration had a peace proposal in the works that was a “great proposal for Palestinians” which covers “a lot of the things that were over the years discussed or agreed on”, without providing specifics.

Trump said his declaration on Jerusalem took it off the negotiating table “and Israel will pay for that”, adding “they’ll do something that will be a very good thing” without elaborating.

Earlier at the World Economic Forum, Jordanian King Abdullah said Jerusalem had to be part of a comprehensive solution.

He said Trump’s decision had created a backlash, frustrating Palestinians who felt there was no honest broker.

But he added: “I’d like to reserve judgment because we’re still waiting for the Americans to come out with their plan.”

King Abdullah’s Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem, making Jordan particularly sensitive to any changes of status there.

The last talks collapsed in 2014, partly due to Israel’s opposition to an attempted unity pact between Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, and because of Israeli settlement building on occupied land that Palestinians seek for a state, among other factors.

Palestinians want the West Bank for a future state, along with East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. Most countries consider as illegal the Israeli settlements built in the territory which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Israel denies its settlements are illegal and says their future should be determined in peace talks.

The United States has said it would support a two-state solution if the Israelis and Palestinians agreed to it.

(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in RAMALLAH, Ari Rabinovitch in JERUSALEM, Michelle Nichols at the UNITED NATIONS and Noah Barkin and Dmitry Zhdannikov in DAVOS; Writing by Yara Bayoumy; Editing by Mark Bendeich)

Japan faces greatest danger since World War due to North Korea

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attends Universal Health Coverage Forum 2017 in Tokyo, Japan December 14, 2017.

TOKYO (Reuters) – The security situation facing Japan is the most perilous since World War Two because of North Korea’s “unacceptable” provocations, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Thursday and he vowed to bolster defenses to protect the Japanese people.

Tension in the region has been rising, particularly since North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test in September, and then in November, said it had successfully tested a new intercontinental ballistic missile that could reach all of the U.S. mainland.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that the security environment surrounding Japan is at its severest since World War Two. I will protect the people’s lives and peaceful living in any situation,” Abe told a New Year news conference.

Abe said Japan would take new steps to strengthen its defense posture but he did not go to specifics.

The government approved a record military budget last month, with defense outlays due to rise for a sixth year, increasing by 1.3 percent to 5.19 trillion yen ($46 billion), with the biggest item 137 billion yen in reinforcing defenses against North Korean ballistic missiles.

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said this week the United States was hearing reports that North Korea might be preparing to fire another missile, and she warned it not to.

“It is absolutely unacceptable that North Korea is trampling the strong desire of Japan and the rest of the international community for peaceful resolutions and continuing with its provocative behavior,” Abe said.

Abe has said he wants to amend Japan’s pacifist constitution with the aim of loosening constraints on the military, although the public is divided over changes to the charter imposed after Japan’s World War Two defeat.

War-renouncing Article 9 of the constitution, if read literally, bans the existence of standing armed forces, but has long been interpreted to allow a military for exclusively defensive purposes.

Abe said he wanted more debate on the issue.

“I would like this to be a year in which public debate over a constitutional revision will be deepened further,” he said.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party-led coalition retained its two-thirds “super majority” in parliament’s lower house in an Oct. 22 election, re-energizing his push to revise the constitution.

(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Chang-Ran Kim, Robert Birsel)