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CPEC to inflict heavy debt burden on Pakistan: US

Wells emphasised the CPEC was not an aid to Pakistan but a form of financing that guaranteed profits for Chinese enterprises, with little benefits for Islamabad.

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Washington/Islamabad, Nov 24 The US has warned that the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) would only benefit Beijing and inflict heavy debt burden on Islamabad.

Addressing a gathering at the Wilson Center, a Washington think-tank, US South Asia Assistant Secretary Alice Wells said the multi-billion-dollar project would take a toll on Pakistan’s economy, Dawn reported.

Wells emphasised the CPEC was not an aid to Pakistan but a form of financing that guaranteed profits for Chinese enterprises, with little benefits for Islamabad.

“The CPEC’s most expensive single project is upgrading the railway from Karachi to Peshawar. When the project was initially announced, the cost was set at $8.2 billion,” she said.

But in October 2018, Pakistan’s Railways Minister announced that they had negotiated the cost down to $6.2 billion, a saving of $2 billion, she said. “He explained that Pakistan is a poor country and can’t afford this huge burden of loans,” the US diplomat said.

But according to recent media reports the price had risen to $9 billion, she said. “So, why doesn’t the Pakistani public know the price for CPEC’s most expensive project or how it’s being determined?”

The US diplomat pointed to the long-term effects of China’s “financing practices” and urged Islamabad to assess “the burdens that are falling on the new government”. The current debt included an estimated $15 billion to the Chinese government and $6.7 billion in Chinese commercial debt, the diplomat said.

Wells asserted that China was providing loans, not grants, as the US.

“It’s clear or needs to be clear that the CPEC is not about aid. This is almost always the form of loans or other forms of financing, often non-concessional with sovereign guarantees or guaranteed profits for Chinese state-owned enterprises that are repatriated to China,” she said.

“Now, together with non-CPEC Chinese debts payments, China is going to take a growing toll on the Pakistan economy, especially when the bulk of payment starts to come due in the four-six years.”

Even if loan payments were deferred, she said, “they are going to hang over Pakistan’s economic development potential, hamstringing Prime Minister (Imran) Khan’s reform agenda.”

Wells urged Islamabad to introduce economic reforms that would encourage US investors to invest in Pakistan.

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McConnell proposes resolution for Trump impeachment trial

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Washington, Jan 21 US Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has proposed a draft resolution on schedules of the upcoming impeachment trial of President Donald Trump in the Republican-led upper chamber.The Senate will debate and vote on the resolution on Tuesday. Currently, the Senate has 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two Independents.

As expected, the four-page resolution does not require additional witnesses to be subpoenaed and does not allow House prosecutors to admit evidence into the Senate trial record until after the opening arguments are heard.

Instead, the resolution allows for a motion to be introduced to dismiss the impeachment charges by a simple majority vote.

According to the resolution, House impeachment managers will be allowed to begin their arguments 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

They will have 24 hours over two days to make their opening arguments when they begin to present their case against Trump on the Senate floor on Wednesday.

Similarly, the President’s legal team will also have two days to present their arguments.

The two-day rule means that presentations from both sides could go late into the night.

Votes on calling witnesses or documents will not be allowed until after the question phase of the trial. Senators will be given four hours to debate witnesses and documents.

If the Senate sticks to the schedule and later votes down motions to subpoena witnesses or documents, the trial could be finished by the end of next week, said a The Hill news report.

“It’s clear Senator McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer said in a statement on Monday.

On January 18, House Democrats unveiled a 111-page outline of their legal case, underlying the central assertion that the president abused his office, obstructed Congress and should be removed.

“The evidence overwhelmingly establishes that he is guilty of both. The only remaining question is whether the members of the Senate will accept and carry out the responsibility placed on them by the Framers of our Constitution and their constitutional Oaths,” the brief compiled by seven House managers reads.

Trump was alleged to have pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into launching investigations that could politically benefit him. Furthermore, the White House allegedly tried to cover it up after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi initiated an impeachment inquiry last September.

A whistleblower raised concerns about the White House’s interactions with Ukraine in an anonymous complaint last year.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing, repeatedly calling the impeachment “a hoax”.

Under the US Constitution, the House has the sole power of impeachment, while the Senate can try all impeachments.

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Iran warns of ‘final step’ on nuclear deal

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Ali Khamenei

Tehran, Jan 20 Iran on Monday Iran said it could take a “final and more effective” step concerning its nuclear deal if the other parties remain in default of their contractual obligations towards Tehran.

“If this trend continues, Iran will take this effective step,” Press TV quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as saying at a press conference.

Since May 2019, Iran has been gradually reducing its commitments to the 2015 agreement, which is officially known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

The countermeasures came in response to the US’ withdrawal from the deal last year, its resumption of anti-Iranian sanctions, and refusal by Washington-aligned deal partners — the UK, France, and Germany — to guarantee Iran’s business interests under the JCPOA after the sanctions returned.

As part of the retaliatory steps, Iran stopped recognizing the limits set by the deal on the level of its enrichment activities and the volume of its heavy water reservoir.

On January 5, however, the country said it would no longer observe any operational limitations on its nuclear industry, whether concerning the capacity and level of uranium enrichment, the volume of stockpiled uranium or research and development.

The decision came two days after an American drone attack killed Iranian Major General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad.

Mousavi on Monday said so far the countermeasures that have been taken by the Islamic Republic have been meant “to strike a balance” between the quality of Iran’s commitment to the JCPOA and the way others honour the accord.

Amid their continued violation of the JCPOA, the European trio even decided to formally trigger a dispute settlement mechanism featured in the deal that saw them accusing Iran of flouting the agreement.

Mousavi said, though, that despite the “betrayal” perpetrated by some European states, “the door to negotiation with them has not been closed yet”, adding” “The ball is in their court.”

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B’desh to introduce e-passports this week

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Dhaka: Bangladesh is set to begin the distribution of e-passports on Wednesday, it was reported.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is expected to launch the e-passport distribution at an event scheduled to be held at the capital’s Bangabandhu International Conference Centre, bdnews24 quoted Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan as saying on Sunday.

The President and Prime Minister will receive THE e-passports first, he said, adding that anyone can apply for it.

The delivery of e-passports will start in regional offices by the end of 2020. The services will expand in phases, the Minister said, adding that machine-readable passports will remain valid as well.

The Department of Immigration and Passports will issue 48-page and 64-page e-passports with the validity of five years and 10 years, respectively.

The decision on introducing digital passport comes less than a decade after Bangladesh switched from manual to the machine-readable passport.

The government took the initiative to introduce e-passports in the wake of more than one passport being illegally issued against one person in the absence of database of fingerprints of citizens.

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