U.S. leads condemnation of China for ‘horrific’ repression of Muslims

By Humeyra Pamuk and David Brunnstrom

NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States led more than 30 countries in condemning what it called China’s “horrific campaign of repression” against Muslims in Xinjiang at an event on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly that was denounced by China.

In highlighting abuses against ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims in China, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said on Tuesday the United Nations and its member states had “a singular responsibility to speak up when survivor after survivor recounts the horrors of state repression.”

The United Nations says at least 1 million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslims have been detained in what China describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.

Sullivan said it was incumbent on U.N. member states to ensure it was able to closely monitor human rights abuses by China and added that it must seek “immediate, unhindered, and unmonitored” access to the western region of Xinjiang for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Sullivan said Tuesday’s event was co-sponsored by Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain, and was joined by more than 30 U.N. states, representatives of the European Union and more than 20 nongovernmental organizations, as well as Uighur victims.

“We invite others to join the international effort to demand and compel an immediate end to China’s horrific campaign of repression,” he said. “History will judge the international community for how we respond to this attack on human rights and fundamental freedoms.”

China’s Foreign Ministry denounced the U.S. move.

The Xinjiang issue is not about human rights but about countering separatism and terrorism, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing in Beijing on Wednesday.

“All the slander and defamation of the U.S. and other countries is futile.” said Geng. “Their lies will crumble in the face of facts and truth.”

“RELIGIOUS LIBERTY”

Paola Pampaloni, deputy managing director for Asia of the European External Action Service, said the EU was “alarmed” by the situation and also urged “meaningful” access to Xinjiang.

“We are concerned about … information about mistreatment and torture,” she said. “China is always inviting us to the camps under their conditions, we are in negotiations right now for terms and conditions for free access.”

On Monday U.S. President Donald Trump called for an end to religious persecution at another event on the sidelines of the U.N. gathering. He reiterated his comments in a speech to the General Assembly gathering of world leaders on Tuesday.

“Americans will never … tire in our effort to promote freedom of worship and religion. We want and support religious liberty for all,” he said.

Trump, who has been cautious about upsetting China on human rights issues while making a major trade deal with Beijing a major priority, said religious freedom was under growing threat around the world but fell short of specifically mentioning the Uighur situation.

“Volume is coming up at a pace that we hope that the Beijing government recognizes not only U.S. but the global concern about this situation,” David Stilwell, U.S. Assistant Secretary, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs told reporters.

“We will see how that plays out and how Beijing reacts and take it from there.”

A representative for the Chinese delegation to the U.N. General Assembly accused Washington of violating the U.N. Charter by criticizing China.

Sullivan said the United States had received “credible reports of deaths, forced labor, torture, and other cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment” in the camps.

He said there were also many reports that the Chinese government forces detainees to renounce their ethnic identities as well as their culture and religion.

Though U.S. officials have ramped up criticism of China’s measures in Xinjiang, it has refrained from responding with sanctions, amid on-again, off-again talks to resolve a bitter, costly trade war.

At the same time, it has criticized other countries, including some Muslim states, for not doing enough or for backing China’s approach in Xinjiang.

Rishat Abbas, the brother of Uighur physician Gulshan Abbas, who was abducted from her home in Urumchi in September 2018, told Tuesday’s event that “millions of Uighurs are becoming collateral damage to international trade policies, enabling China to continue to threaten our freedoms around the world, enable it to continue its police state.”

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has repeatedly pushed China to grant the United Nations access to investigate reports of disappearances and arbitrary detentions, particularly of Muslims in Xinjiang.

China’s envoy in Geneva said in June that he hoped Bachelet would visit China, including Xinjiang. Bachelet’s office said in June that it was discussing “full access” with China.

(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

Russia, U.S. clash over INF arms treaty at United Nations

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Ronald Reagan (R) and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty at the White House, Washington, on December 8 1987. REUTERS/Stringer

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia failed on Friday to get the U.N. General Assembly to consider calling on Washington and Moscow to preserve and strengthen an arms control treaty that helped end the Cold War and warned that if the United States quits the pact it could raise the issue in the U.N. Security Council.

President Donald Trump said on Oct. 20 that Washington planned to quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty which Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, and Ronald Reagan had signed in 1987. It eliminated all short- and intermediate-range land-based nuclear and conventional missiles held by both states in Europe.

Washington has cited Russia’s alleged violation of the treaty as its reason for leaving it, a charge Moscow denies. Russia, in turn, accuses Washington of breaking the pact.

Russia had proposed a draft resolution in the 193-member General Assembly’s disarmament committee but missed the Oct. 18 submission deadline. On Friday, it called for a vote on whether the committee should be allowed to consider the draft, but lost with only 31 votes in favor, 55 against and 54 abstentions.

“In a year, if the U.S. withdraws from the treaty and begins an uncontrolled build-up of weapons, nuclear-capable weapons, we will be confronting a completely different reality,” Andrei Belousov, deputy director of Russia’s Department for Nonproliferation and Arms Control, told the committee.

He questioned whether the United States was preparing for a war, asking: “Why is it then … do they want to leave the treaty? Why do they want to build up their nuclear capability?”

Belousov said if the United States follows through on its threat to withdraw, then Russia could raise the issue in the 15-member Security Council. However, such a move would not lead to any action as both countries have veto powers in the council.

U.S. Disarmament Ambassador Robert Wood told the committee Washington had spent some five years trying to engage Moscow on the issue of compliance and that Russia had “denied having produced or tested a ground-launch cruise missile.”

“It’s only recently that they admitted to having produced a ground-launch cruise missile but then maintained that it did not violate the range limits of the treaty,” he said.

“The U.S. has been extremely patient with Russia and our hope is that Russia will do the right thing and destroy that ground-launch cruise missile,” Wood said.

European members of NATO urged the United States on Thursday to try to bring Russia back into compliance with the treaty rather than quit it, diplomats said, seeking to avoid a split in the alliance that Moscow could exploit.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Palestinians may seek U.N. Assembly support if U.S. vetoes Jerusalem resolution

A protester carries a Palestinian flag at the end of a demonstration against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital opposite to the American embassy in Tel Aviv, Israel December 12, 2017.

DUBAI (Reuters) – The Palestinian leadership may turn to the U.N. General Assembly if Washington vetoes a draft U.N. Security Council resolution to reaffirm Jerusalem’s status as unresolved, after President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize it as Israel’s capital.

The Palestinian United Nations envoy raised this option in remarks published in Saudi daily Arab News on Monday, ahead of a Security Council vote on an Egyptian-drafted resolution about Jerusalem’s status which the United States is expected to veto.

The draft says any “decisions and actions which purport to have altered the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded”.

Trump’s Dec. 6 decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. Embassy to the city has provoked widespread anger and protests among Palestinians as well as broad international criticism, including from top U.S. allies.

Israel says Jerusalem is its indivisible capital. It captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move never recognized internationally. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they seek in territory Israel captured a half century ago.

Arab News quoted Ambassador Riyad Mansour as saying that the Palestinians and Egyptians have worked closely with Security Council members while drafting the resolution to ensure that it gets overwhelming support.

“The Europeans in particular asked us to avoid terms like ‘denounce’ and ‘condemn,’ and not to mention the U.S. by name,” it quoted Mansour as saying. “We acceded to their request but kept the active clauses rejecting all changes to Jerusalem and the reaffirmation of previous decisions.”

Israel has long accused the United Nations of bias against it in its conflict with the Palestinians and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised Trump’s move again on Sunday.

The Palestinians have the option of invoking a rarely-used article of the U.N. Charter that calls for parties to a dispute not to cast a veto, Arab News said. But, it said, they are more likely to take the issue to the General Assembly under Resolution 377A, known as the “Uniting for Peace” resolution.

Resolution 377A was passed in 1950 and used to authorize the deployment of U.S. troops to fight in the Korean war.

Mansour said Palestinians resorted to the “Uniting for Peace” resolution in the 1990s after Israel began building a settlement on Jabal Abut Ghnaim, a hilltop on occupied West Bank land south of Jerusalem, but left that session in suspension. However, they could seek a resumption of the session, he said.

“If the resolution is vetoed, the Palestinian delegation can send a letter to the U.N. Secretary General and ask him to resume the emergency session,” he said, according to Arab News.

(Reporting by Sami Aboudi; editing by Mark Heinrich)

U.S. carrier patrols off Korean peninsula in warning to Pyongyang

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan conducts joint drills with the South Korean navy at sea October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Tim Kelly

By Tim Kelly

ABOARD USS RONALD REAGAN, Sea of Japan (Reuters) – The USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear powered aircraft carrier, patrolled in waters east of the Korean peninsula on Thursday, in a show of sea and air power designed to warn off North Korea from any military action.

The U.S. Navy’s biggest warship in Asia, with a crew of 5,000 sailors, sailed around 100 miles (160.93 km), launching almost 90 F-18 Super Hornet sorties from its deck, in sight of South Korean islands.

It is conducting drills with the South Korean navy involving 40 warships deployed in a line stretching from the Yellow Sea west of the peninsula into the Sea of Japan.

“The dangerous and aggressive behavior by North Korea concerns everybody in the world,” Rear Admiral Marc Dalton, commander of the Reagan’s strike group, said in the carrier’s hangar as war planes taxied on the flight deck above.

“We have made it clear with this exercise, and many others, that we are ready to defend the Republic of Korea.”

The Navy's forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Stethem steam alongside ships from the Republic of Korea Navy in the waters east of the Korean Peninsula on October 18, 2017.

The Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Stethem steam alongside ships from the Republic of Korea Navy in the waters east of the Korean Peninsula on October 18, 2017. Picture taken on October 18, 2017. Courtesy Kenneth Abbate/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

The Reagan’s presence in the region, coupled with recent military pressure by Washington on Pyongyang, including B1-B strategic bomber flights over the Korean peninsula, comes ahead of President Donald Trump’s first official visit to Asia, set to start in Japan on Nov. 5, with South Korea to follow.

North Korea has slammed the warship gathering as a “rehearsal for war”. It comes as senior Japanese, South Korean and U.S. diplomats meet in Seoul to discuss a diplomatic way forward backed up by U.N. sanctions.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since 2006. The most stringent include a ban on coal, iron ore and seafood exports that aim at halting a third of North Korea’s $3 billion of annual exports.

On Monday, Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy U.N. envoy, told a U.N. General Assembly committee the Korean peninsula situation had reached a touch-and-go point and a nuclear war could break out at any moment.

A series of weapons tests by Pyongyang, including its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3 and two missile launches over Japan, has stoked tension in East Asia.

A Russian who returned from a visit to Pyongyang has said the regime is preparing to test a missile it believes can reach the U.S. west coast.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump had instructed him to continue diplomatic efforts to defuse tension with North Korea.

Washington has not ruled out the eventual possibility of direct talks with the North to resolve the stand-off, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said on Tuesday.

 

 

(Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

 

Iran promises ‘crushing’ response if U.S. designates Guards a terrorist group

Members of the Iranian revolutionary guard march during a parade to commemorate the anniversary of the Iran-Iraq war (1980-88), in Tehran September 22, 2011.

By Bozorgmehr Sharafedin

LONDON (Reuters) – Iran promised on Monday to give a “crushing” response if the United States designated its elite Revolutionary Guards as a terrorist group.

The pledge came a week before President Donald Trump announces final decision on how he wants to contain Tehran. He is expected on Oct 15 to “decertify” a landmark 2015 international deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program, a step that by itself stops short of pulling out of the agreement but gives Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose sanctions.

Trump is also expected to designate Iran’s most powerful security force, the Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC) as a terrorist organization, as he rolls out a broader U.S. strategy on Iran.

“We are hopeful that the United States does not make this strategic mistake,” foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Qasemi was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA at a news conference.

“If they do, Iran’s reaction would be firm, decisive and crushing and the United States should bear all its consequences,” he added.

Individuals and entities associated with the IRGC are already on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, but the organization as a whole is not.

IRGC commander Mohammad Ali Jafari said on Sunday “if the news is correct about the stupidity of the American government in considering the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist group, then the Revolutionary Guards will consider the American army to be like Islamic State all around the world.”

Jafari also said that additional sanctions would end the chances for future dialogue with the United States and that the Americans would have to move their regional bases outside the 2,000 km (1,250 mile) range of IRGC’s missiles.

 

“MALIGN ACTIVITIES”

The foreign ministry spokesman Qasemi also denied U.S. accusations that Iran had cooperated with North Korea.

In an interview that was aired on Saturday night, Trump accused Iran of “funding North Korea” and “doing things with North Korea that are totally inappropriate”.

Qasemi called the accusations “baseless”.

“Israel and some specific countries are raising these accusations to create Iranophobia.”

In his first speech to the U.N. General Assembly in September Trump called Iran “a corrupt dictatorship”, and the nuclear deal negotiated by his predecessor Barack Obama “an embarrassment”.

The deal, which was also supported by Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, saw Iran agree to curbs on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international sanctions that had damaged its economy.

The Kremlin said on Monday that any U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal would have “negative consequences.”

Gemran Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Germany was ready to increase pressure on Iran with diplomatic means, but that “we do not want to see this agreement damaged”.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, who supports the nuclear deal, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposes it, agreed in a phone call on Monday that they need to be “clear-eyed” about the threat Iran poses to the Middle East.

“They agreed that … the international community should continue working together to push back against Iran’s destabilizing regional activity,” May’s spokesman said in a statement.

Despite the nuclear deal, Washington still maintains its own more limited sanctions on Iran over its missile program and over accusations Tehran supports terrorism.

The Trump administration is seeking to put more pressure on the IRGC, especially over recent ballistic missile tests and what Washington has called its “malign activities” across the Middle East.

U.S. sanctions on the IRGC could affect conflicts in Iraq and Syria, where Tehran and Washington both support warring parties that oppose the Islamic State militant group (IS).

The U.S. government imposed sanctions in July on 18 entities and people for supporting the IRGC in developing drones and military equipment. In August, Congress overwhelmingly approved the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act” which imposed new sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile program, as well as sanctions on Russia and North Korea.

 

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, additional reporting by Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow, Andrea Shalal and Michelle Martin in Berlin, William James in London; Editing by Jeremy Gaunt and Peter Graff)

 

Trump says giving Mideast peace ‘an absolute go’

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York, U.S., September 18, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Monday he believed “we really have a chance” to make peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Trump has faced deep skepticism at home and abroad over the chances for him to achieve any quick breakthrough, not least because his administration has yet to articulate a strategy for restarting a moribund peace process.

Trump has described peace between Israelis and Palestinians as “the ultimate deal.”

“Peace between the Palestinians and Israel would be a fantastic achievement, and we are giving it an absolute go. I think there’s a good chance that it could happen. Most people would say ‘there’s no chance whatsoever,’” Trump said as he began a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in New York ahead of the U.N. General Assembly’s meeting.

“I think Israel would like to see it. I think the Palestinians would like to see it. I can tell you the Trump administration would like to see it. So we’re working very hard on it; we’ll see what happens. Historically, people say it can’t happen. I say it can happen.”

Trump is also to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas later this week.

 

(Reporting By Steve Holland; Writing by Arshad Mohammed and Yara Bayoumy; editing by Grant McCool and Dan Grebler)