U.S. has ‘understanding’ with Germany to shut Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine -congressional aide

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. officials have told members of Congress they have an understanding with Germany about shutting down the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine, a senior congressional aide told Reuters on Tuesday.

The aide said U.S. officials told Congress they have been in contact with their German counterparts in the event of an invasion, given the massing of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine.

U.S. officials say they have received assurances from Germany the pipeline would be turned off, the aide said. But it was unclear if the two sides had agreed on a definition of invasion, the aide said.

A European diplomat told Reuters U.S. officials had made it clear to allies that they would act to sanction the pipeline in the event of an invasion, which could make any German action a moot point.

“If the U.S. imposes (additional) sanctions, it’s an academic point, because no one will be able to do business with Nord Stream 2 for fear of running afoul of U.S. sanctions.”

German officials told reporters on Tuesday that there was still a process to complete before the pipeline would even start operations.

President Joe Biden has long opposed the Russian-German pipeline. The U.S. State Department has sanctioned Russian entities related to it, but not the company behind it, as it has tried to rebuild ties with Germany that deteriorated under Donald Trump’s administration.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Writing by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Heather Timmons and Mark Heinrich)

Exclusive-World Bank works to redirect frozen funds to Afghanistan for humanitarian aid only: sources

By Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The World Bank is finalizing a proposal to deliver up to $500 million from a frozen Afghanistan aid fund to humanitarian agencies, people familiar with the plans told Reuters, but it leaves out tens of thousands of public sector workers and remains complicated by U.S. sanctions.

Board members will meet informally on Tuesday to discuss the proposal, hammered out in recent weeks with U.S. and U.N. officials, to redirect the funds from the Afghanistan Reconstruction Trust Fund (ARTF), which has a total of $1.5 billion.

Afghanistan’s 39 million people face a cratering economy, a winter of food shortages and growing poverty three months after the Taliban seized power as the last U.S. troops withdrew from 20 years of war.

Afghan experts said the aid will help, but big gaps remain, including how to get the funds into Afghanistan without exposing the financial institutions involved to U.S. sanctions, and the lack of focus on state workers, the sources said.

The money will go mainly to addressing urgent health care needs in Afghanistan, where less than 7% of the population has been vaccinated against the coronavirus, they said.

For now, it will not cover salaries for teachers and other government workers, a policy that the experts say could hasten the collapse of Afghanistan’s public education, healthcare and social services systems. They warn that hundreds of thousands of workers, who have been unpaid for months, could stop showing up for their jobs and join a massive exodus from the country.

The World Bank will have no oversight of the funds once transferred into Afghanistan, said one of the sources familiar with the plans.

“The proposal calls for the World Bank to transfer the money to the U.N. and other humanitarian agencies, without any oversight or reporting, but it says nothing about the financial sector, or how the money will get into the country,” the source said, calling U.S. sanctions a major constraint.

‘NOT A SILVER BULLET’

While the U.S. Treasury has provided “comfort letters” assuring banks that they can process humanitarian transactions, concern about sanctions continues to prevent passage of even basic supplies, including food and medicine, the source added.

“It’s a scorched earth approach. We’re driving the country into the dust,” said the source. Crippling sanctions and failure to take care of public sector workers will “create more refugees, more desperation and more extremism.”

Any decision to redirect ARTF money requires the approval of all its donors, of which the United States has been the largest.

A State Department spokesperson confirmed that Washington is working with the World Bank and other donors on how to use the funds, including potentially paying those who work in “critical positions such as healthcare workers and teachers.”

The spokesperson said the U.S. government remains committed to meeting the  critical needs of the  Afghan people, “especially across health, nutrition, education, and food security sectors … but international aid is not a silver bullet.”

BYPASSING TALIBAN

Established in 2002 and administered by the World Bank, the ARTF was the largest financing source for Afghanistan’s civilian budget, which was more than 70% funded by foreign aid.

The World Bank suspended disbursements after the Taliban takeover. At the same time, Washington stopping supplying U.S. dollars to the country and joined in freezing some $9 billion in Afghan central bank assets and halting financial assistance.

A World Bank spokesperson confirmed that staff and executive board members are exploring redirecting ARTF funds to U.N. agencies “to support humanitarian efforts,” but gave no further details. The United Nations declined to comment.

Initial work has also been done on a potential swap of U.S. dollars for Afghanis to deliver the funds into the country, but those plans are “basically just a few PowerPoint slides at this point,” one of the sources said. That approach would deposit ARTF funds in the international accounts of Afghan private institutions, who would disburse Afghanis from their Afghan bank accounts to humanitarian groups in Afghanistan, two sources said.

This would bypass the Taliban, thereby avoiding entanglement with the U.S. and U.N. sanctions, but the plan is complex and untested, and could take time to implement.

One major problem is the lack of a mechanism to monitor disbursements of funds in Afghanistan to ensure Taliban leaders and fighters do not access them, a third source said.

Two former U.S. officials familiar with internal administration deliberations said that some U.S. officials contend that U.S. and U.N. sanctions on Taliban leaders bar financial aid to anyone affiliated with their government.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by Arshad Mohammed and Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

Iran wants resumption of nuclear talks that leads to lifting U.S. sanctions -Raisi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran wants a resumption of nuclear talks with world powers to lead to the removal of U.S. sanctions, Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi told the annual U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday in a pre-recorded address.

“The Islamic Republic considers the useful talks whose ultimate outcome is the lifting of all oppressive (U.S.) sanctions,” Raisi said in his address.

Hardline cleric Raisi, who is under personal U.S. sanctions over allegations of human rights abuses in his past as a judge, said the U.S. sanctions, imposed by former President Donald Trump in 2018, “were crimes against humanity during the coronavirus pandemic.”

Harsh sanctions reimposed by Trump since 2018 have prompted Tehran to violate the deal’s limits. However, Tehran says its nuclear steps are reversible if Washington lifts all sanctions.

Indirect talks between Iran and the United States to revive the 2015 nuclear pact stopped two days after Raisi was elected as Iran’s president in June. Parties involved in the negotiations have yet to announce when the next round of negotiations will resume.

However, Tehran said on Tuesday that talks with world powers in Vienna to reinstate the nuclear pact would resume in a few weeks.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)

With aid in balance, Syrians who fled Assad fear deeper hardship

By Mahmoud Hassano

IDLIB PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Having fled their homes to escape President Bashar al-Assad’s rule, many of Syrians sheltering in the rebel-held northwest fear their fate may once again be placed in his hands.

Russia, Assad’s key ally, wants U.N. aid to the region to come through the capital Damascus and not via Turkey, raising fears that food on which they rely will fall under their oppressor’s control.

A U.N. mandate to supply aid from Turkey, currently via the Bab al-Hawa crossing, expires on Saturday, and while Western members of the U.N. Security Council want to extend and expand it, veto powers Russia and China are wary of renewing it.

Russia skipped negotiations on the issue on Tuesday.

Hossam Kaheil, who fled to Idlib in 2018 when the rebellion in Ghouta, just outside Damascus, was defeated, does not trust Syrian authorities to let aid through if supply lines are changed.

“In Idlib the situation is good, but if they close the crossings, there will be a humanitarian catastrophe,” said the 36-year-old, who recalls being so hungry in 2014, as the Syrian army laid siege to Ghouta, that he had to eat animal feed.

He added that two of his siblings died due to medical shortages during the siege, described by U.N. investigators as the longest in modern history.

U.N. aid across the Turkish border has helped to keep millions of Syrians supplied with food, medicine and water in the last part of Syria still held by anti-Assad insurgents.

Syria says it is committed to facilitating the delivery of U.N. aid from within the country. The Syrian information ministry did not respond to emailed questions from Reuters for this article.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said last month that the Red Cross and Red Crescent should be allowed to observe if there were suspicions of any stealing, although he did not think that would happen.

RUSSIAN LEVERAGE

The tussle marks a diplomatic front in a war that has been in military stalemate for several years, with Moscow and Damascus seeking to reassert state sovereignty over a corner of Syria outside their control.

Since winning back the bulk of Syria with Russian and Iranian help, Assad has struggled to advance further: Turkish forces block his path in the northwest, and U.S. forces are on the ground in the Kurdish-controlled east, where oilfields, farmland and land routes to Iraq are located.

Government-held Syria, along with the rest of the country, is in economic crisis. Assad’s plans for reconstruction and economic revival, which came to little, faced new headwinds with the imposition of new U.S. sanctions last year.

“This is a moment of leverage for Russia – a wrangle over strategic advantage in which humanitarian issues are being used as the fulcrum,” said Joshua Landis, head of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma.

“Unfortunately the Syrian people are the real losers in this battle between Russia and the United States.”

The United States wants the aid mandate renewed. So does Turkey, which exercises sway in the northwest through support to rebels, aid, and Turkish boots on the ground.

The United Nations has warned that failure to renew the aid operation would be devastating for millions of people.

“We don’t want to see these people becoming pawns in a political game,” said Mark Cutts, U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syria crisis.

“It is really shameful that we are talking about reducing access at a time when we should be scaling up the operation.”

The number of people dependent on aid in the northwest has grown by 20% to 3.4 million in a year, the U.N. says.

MISTRUST

Russia cites U.S. sanctions as a reason for the humanitarian problems. Washington, whose sanctions aim to cut off funds for Assad’s government, rejects this.

Agreed in 2014 when Assad was in retreat, the U.N. mandate initially allowed deliveries from four locations. Russian and Chinese opposition whittled this down to one last year. Russia says the operation is outdated.

Delivering aid across frontlines has proven difficult if not impossible throughout the war.

“We’ve requested access for cross-line convoys multiple times … because we would like as much access as possible from all sides, but the war is not over,” Cutts said.

“In this kind of environment, it is very difficult to get agreement from the parties on both sides for convoys to move across that frontline.”

Insurgents in the northwest include groups proscribed as terrorists by the Security Council. U.N. oversight has prevented aid being diverted to armed groups, Cutts said, expressing concern that the loss of such oversight may deter donors.

Durmus Aydin, secretary-general of Turkey’s Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), part of the aid operation, told Reuters that aid deliveries across frontlines did not seem possible at the moment.

“One of the reasons this isn’t a realistic solution is the mistrust in people towards the Syrian government and Russia.”

(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Istanbul, Tom Perry in Beirut, Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Judge under U.S. sanctions set to take over Iran presidency

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – Millions of Iranians voted on Friday in a contest set to hand the presidency to a hardline judge who is subject to U.S. sanctions, though anger over economic hardship means many will heed calls for a boycott.

Senior officials appealed for a large turnout in an election widely seen as a referendum on their handling of the economy, including rising prices and unemployment and a collapse in the value of its currency.

“I urge everyone with any political view to vote,” judiciary head Ebrahim Raisi, the front-runner in the contest, said after casting his ballot.

“Our people’s grievances over shortcomings are real, but if it is the reason for not participating, then it is wrong.”

While state television showed long queues at polling stations in several cities, the semi-official Fars news agency reported 22 million or 37% of voters had cast ballots by 7:30 pm (1500 GMT), citing its own reporter. The interior ministry said it could not confirm turnout figures.

After voting in the capital Tehran, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iranians follow suit, saying “each vote counts … come and vote and choose your president”.

Raisi, 60, is backed by security hawks in his bid to succeed Hassan Rouhani, a pragmatist prevented under the constitution from serving a third four-year term in the post, which runs the government day-to-day and reports to Khamenei.

Supported by the powerful Revolutionary Guards Corps, Raisi, a close Khamenei ally who vows to fight corruption, is under U.S. sanctions for alleged involvement in executions of political prisoners decades ago.

Voters reached by Reuters expressed mixed views.

Maryam, 52, a hairdresser in Karaj near Tehran, said she would not vote because “I have lost confidence in the system.”

“Every time I voted in the past, I had hope that my living standard would improve. But I lost hope when I saw the highest official in the country wasn’t brave enough to resign when he couldn’t make things better,” she said, referring to Rouhani.

Asked which candidate he preferred, Mohammad, 32, at a polling station in a hamlet in southern Iran, replied: “To be honest none of them, but our representative in parliament says we should vote for Raisi so that everything will improve.”

BOYCOTT

“My vote is a big NO to the Islamic Republic,” said Farzaneh, 58, from the central city of Yazd, referring to the country’s system of clerical rule. She said contrary to what state TV reported, “the polling stations are almost empty here”.

Mohammad, 40, an engineer, said he would not vote because “the results are known beforehand and more important, if Mr. Raisi was serious about tackling corruption he should have done so by now”.

While hundreds of Iranians, including relatives of dissidents killed since Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution and political prisoners, have called for an election boycott, the establishment’s religiously devout core supporters are expected to vote for Raisi.

More than 59 million Iranians can vote. Polls close at 1930 GMT but can be extended for two hours. Results are expected around midday on Saturday.

A win for Raisi would confirm the political demise of pragmatist politicians like Rouhani, weakened by the U.S. decision to quit the nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions in a move that stifled rapprochement with the West.

The new sanctions slashed oil exports from 2.8 million barrels per day in 2018 to as low as an estimated 200,000 bpd in some months of 2020, although volumes have since crept up. Iran’s currency, the rial, has lost 70% in value since 2018.

With inflation and joblessness at about 39% and 11% respectively, the clerical leadership needs a high vote count to boost its legitimacy, damaged after a series of protests against poverty and political curbs since 2017.

Official opinion polls suggest turnout could be as low as 44%, well below 73.3% in 2017.

Khamenei, not the president, has the final say on Iran’s nuclear and foreign policies, so a Raisi win would not disrupt Iran’s bid to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement and break free of sanctions.

ECONOMIC MISERY

Raisi’s record as a hardline judge accused of abuses could worry Washington and liberal Iranians, analysts said, especially given President Joe Biden’s focus on human rights.

Raisi was appointed by Khamenei to the job of judiciary chief in 2019. A few months later, Washington sanctioned him for alleged abuses including what rights groups say was his role in the executions of political prisoners in 1980s and the suppression of unrest in 2009.

Iran has never acknowledged the mass executions, and Raisi has never publicly addressed allegations about his role.

Raisi’s main rival is the moderate former central bank governor Abdolnaser Hemmati, who says a win for any hardliner will mean more sanctions.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean, Giles Elgood, Philippa Fletcher)

Soaring international prices aggravate Cuban food crisis

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) – Soaring international food and shipping prices and low domestic production are further squeezing import-dependent Cuba’s ability to feed its people.

Cuba traditionally imports by sea around 70% of the food it consumes, but tough U.S. sanctions and the pandemic, which has gutted tourism, have cut deeply into foreign exchange earnings.

For more than a year Cubans have endured long waiting lines and steep price rises in their search for everything from milk, butter, chicken and beans to rice, pasta and cooking oil. They have scavenged for scant produce at the market and collected dwindling World War II-style food rations.

This month the Communist-run government announced flour availability would be cut by 30% through July.

Diorgys Hernandez, general director of the food processing ministry, said when he announced the wheat shortage that “the financial costs involved in wheat shipments to the country” were partly to blame.

That was bad news for consumers who had been buying more bread to make up for having less rice, pasta and root vegetables at the dinner table.

“People eat a lot of bread and there is concern there is going to be a shortage of bread because that is what people eat the most,” Havana pensioner and cancer survivor Clara Diaz Delgado said as she waited in a food line.

Cuba does not grow wheat due to its subtropical climate. The price of the commodity was $280 per tonne in April, compared with $220 a year earlier.

The government has also said the sugar harvest was short of the planned 1.2 million tonnes by more than 30%, coming in at less than a million tonnes for the first time in more than a century.

Cuba will have trouble making up for a shortage of domestically produced sugar as international prices are around 70% higher than a year ago.

COST OF SHIPPING

Adding to the pain, the cost of international container shipping is up as much as 50% over the last year and bulk freight more.

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization reported its international food price index was up 30.8% through April compared with the same month last year, and the highest since May 2014.

The Cuban state has a monopoly on foreign trade and purchases around 15% of the food it imports from the United States for cash under a 2000 exception to the trade embargo.

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, which follows the trade, said sales fell 36.6% last year to $163.4 million, compared with 2019. They recovered in the first quarter, reaching $69.6 million, though that represented less food due to higher prices.

Chicken, Cuba’s most important U.S. import, is badly affected. A U.S. businessman who sells chicken to Cuba said he shipped drumsticks at 24 cents a pound in January and 48 cents in April. He did not wish to be named.

“Resuming global demand, increased prices for product inputs and labor shortages suggest that commodity prices will not decrease soon,” Kavulich said.

The economy declined 11% last year and according to local economists contracted further during the first trimester of 2021 as a surge in the new coronavirus kept tourism shuttered and much of the country partially locked-down.

The government reported that foreign exchange earnings were just 55% of planned levels last year, while imports fell between 30% and 40%.

Incoming container traffic was down 20% through April, compared with last year, according to a source with access to the data, who requested anonymity.

The government has not published statistics for the notoriously inefficient and rustic agricultural sector since 2019 but scattered provincial and other reports on specific crops and livestock indicate substantial declines for rice, beans, pork, dairy and other Cuban fare.

This was confirmed by a local expert who requested anonymity and said output was down by double digits due to a lack of fuel and imported fertilizer and pesticides.

(Reporting by Marc Frank; additional reporting by Reuters TV and Nelson Acosta; editing by Estelle Shirbon)

Iran frees 157 detained during protests as more U.S. sanctions loom

DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has freed 157 people arrested during anti-government demonstrations, the country’s judiciary said on Tuesday, as the United States appeared poised to impose sanctions on Iranians involved in a violent crackdown on the protesters.

Three sources familiar with the matter told Reuters on Monday the United States was expected to launch the sanctions as early as next week, coinciding with the one-year anniversary of what may have been the bloodiest repression of protesters in Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said the 157 “security detainees” were among 2,301 people freed under a pardon by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as part of events marking the anniversary of the birth of the Prophet Mohammad, state media reported.

The 157 detainees had been convicted of “propaganda against the system, (illegal) assembly and collusion, and taking part in riots” after being arrested in anti-government protests in recent years, the judiciary spokesman said.

Human rights groups estimate that thousands were arrested in the 2019 protests, which broke out over gasoline price hikes and quickly turned political, with protesters demanding that top officials step down.

Meanwhile, government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Iranians would stand firm against any sanctions by U.S. President Donald Trump and expressed hope President-elect Joe Biden would change U.S. foreign policy.

“We closely follow the future U.S. administration’s activities and know that Mr. Biden has promised the American people that he will restore multilateralism and legitimacy,” state media quoted Rabiei as saying.

The sources said the new U.S. sanctions had been in the works for months and were the latest in a long series of penalties imposed on Tehran by Trump after he pulled Washington out of Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in 2018.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Gareth Jones and Mark Heinrich)

Iran’s Rouhani: Talks possible if U.S. returns to 2015 nuclear deal

By Parisa Hafezi

DUBAI (Reuters) – If the United States wants an agreement with Iran, it must first come back to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six powers that Washington abandoned two years ago, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Tuesday.

“Washington’s maximum pressure policy on Iran has failed 100%…If Washington wants an agreement with us, then they should apologize for exiting the deal and return to it,” Rouhani told a televised news conference.

Long-tense relations between the two adversaries have almost come to blows since 2018 when U.S. President Donald Trump ditched the deal reached by his predecessor Barack Obama and reimposed sanctions that have crippled the Iranian economy.

In response to what Washington calls its “maximum pressure” campaign to force Iran to negotiate a new deal, Tehran has breached key limits on nuclear activity imposed by the 2015 accord, under which the Islamic Republic accepted curbs on its uranium enrichment program in return for relief from sanctions.

Trump has pledged to strike a new deal – under which he would seek stricter limits on enrichment, an end to Tehran’s ballistic missile program and involvement in various Middle East conflicts – within weeks if he wins re-election in November.

“Trump has been talking a lot … The next president, whether it is Trump or someone else, must adopt a different approach towards Iran,” Rouhani said.

In response to U.S. sanctions, Tehran has breached key limits on nuclear activity imposed by the 2015 accord.

Last week the United States moved to reinstate global U.N. sanctions on Iran, including an arms embargo, arguing Tehran was in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal even though Washington itself abandoned that agreement two years ago.

Council members France, Britain and Germany (E3), which along with Russia and China remain in the accord, have dismissed the move as void given Washington’s departure from the deal and said it was harming efforts to restrain Iran’s nuclear activity.

But France’s foreign minister, echoing the stance of Britain and Germany, told his Iranian counterpart that Paris was worried about the impact of the arms embargo expiring in October.

“The minister reiterated our concern about Iran’s destabilizing activities and the consequences of the expiration of the…embargo on conventional arms, and told him of the E3’s determination to seek solutions preserving security and regional stability,” ministry deputy spokesman Francois Delmas said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, Iran’s arch-enemy in the Middle East, urged Britain to join the U.S. bid to reimpose U.N. sanctions during a visit by British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to Jerusalem.

“Look at Iran’s aggression today, without a nuclear weapon. What a huge danger Iran would be to the entire world if it did get a nuclear weapon,” Netanyahu told Raab, according to a statement released by the premier’s office.

Iran has repeatedly denied seeking nuclear weapons.

(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai, John Irish in Paris and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

North Korea abandons nuclear freeze pledge, blames ‘brutal’ U.S. sanctions

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – North Korea said on Tuesday it was no longer bound by commitments to halt nuclear and missile testing, blaming the United States’ failure to meet a year-end deadline for nuclear talks and “brutal and inhumane” U.S. sanctions.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un set an end-December deadline for denuclearization talks with the United States and White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said at the time the United States had opened channels of communication.

O’Brien said then he hoped Kim would follow through on denuclearization commitments he made at summits with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Ju Yong Chol, a counselor at North Korea’s mission to the U.N. in Geneva, said that over the past two years, his country had halted nuclear tests and test firing of inter-continental ballistic missiles “in order to build confidence with the United States”.

But the United States had responded by conducting dozens of joint military exercises with South Korea on the divided peninsula and by imposing sanctions, he said.

“As it became clear now that the U.S. remains unchanged in its ambition to block the development of the DPRK and stifle its political system, we found no reason to be unilaterally bound any longer by the commitment that the other party fails to honor,” Ju told the U.N.-backed Conference on Disarmament.

Speaking as the envoy from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), North Korea’s official name, Ju accused the United States of applying “the most brutal and inhumane sanctions”.

“If the U.S. persists in such hostile policy toward the DPRK there will never be the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” he said.

“If the United States tries to enforce unilateral demands and persists in imposing sanctions, North Korea may be compelled to seek a new path.”

U.S. military commanders said any new path could include the testing of a long-range missile, which North Korea has suspended since 2017, along with nuclear warhead tests.

“DO THE RIGHT THING”

U.S. disarmament ambassador Robert Wood voiced concern at Pyongyang’s remarks and said Washington hoped the North would return to the negotiating table.

“What we hope is that they will do the right thing and come back to the table and try to work out an arrangement where by we can fulfill that pledge that was made by President Trump and Chairman Kim to denuclearize,” he said.

South Korean Ambassador Jang-keun Lee said there must be substantial progress in denuclearization to “maintain and build upon the hard-won momentum for dialogue”.

“Therefore, early resumption of negotiations between the United States and the DPRK is critical,” he said.

Vesna Batistic Kos, permanent representative of Croatia to the U.N. Office at Geneva speaking on behalf of the European Union, also called on North Korea to stick to the talks.

Pyongyang, slapped with multiple Security Council resolutions and sanctions, has rejected unilateral disarmament and given no indication that it is willing to go beyond statements of broad support for the concept of universal denuclearization.

North Korea has said in previous, failed talks that it could consider giving up its arsenal if the United States provided security guarantees by removing its troops from South Korea and withdrew its so-called nuclear umbrella of deterrence from South Korea and Japan.

Impoverished North Korea and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

The North regularly used to threaten to destroy the South’s main ally, the United States, before rapprochement began after the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Jon Boyle and Nick Macfie)

‘No invasion since 1914’ – Mexico bristles at U.S. terror designation plan

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Friday Mexico had not been invaded for more than a century and he would not permit another foreign intervention, reflecting tensions over a Trump administration plan to designate drug cartels based in Mexico as terrorist groups.

Designating groups as foreign terrorist organizations is aimed at disrupting their finances through the imposition of U.S. sanctions. While it does not directly give authority for overseas military operations, many Mexicans are nervous that it would lead to unilateral U.S. action against gangs.

“Since 1914 there hasn’t been a foreign intervention in Mexico and we cannot permit that,” Lopez Obrador said at a regular news conference, referring to the U.S. occupation of the port of Veracruz 105 years ago.

“Armed foreigners cannot intervene in our territory,” he said, instead offering more cooperation with the United States on fighting drug gangs, which have shown their power with a series of battles with security forces and civilians in recent months.

U.S. Attorney General William Barr will visit Mexico next week to discuss further security cooperation, Mexico’s foreign minister said earlier. The U.S. embassy in Mexico did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lopez Obrador was responding to comments by U.S. President Donald Trump this week that he was working to designate Mexican cartels as terrorist groups.

The planned Barr visit will be the highest level meeting since a gangland massacre of a U.S.-Mexican family triggered Trump’s terrorist comments.

“What we need to address organized crime is more mutual cooperation, not elements that will put distance between us or create hostilities,” said Ebrard.

(Reporting by Anthony Esposito, Miguel Angel Gutierrez and Abraham Gonzalez; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)