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Kashmir ‘bilateral issue’, Washington ‘stands ready to assist’: US

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Donald Trump Trade War

Washington, July 23 Hours after US President Donald Trump offered to mediate in the Kashmir issue, saying he had been requested to do so by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, a claim India has rejected, the US Acting Assistant Secretary Alice Wells clarified that the Trump administration welcomes India and Pakistan sitting down to resolve the issue and the “US stands ready to assist”.

Wells, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of South and Central Asian Affairs, acknowledged that Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss — echoing India’s consistent stand on the subject.

“While Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump administration welcomes #Pakistan and #India sitting down and the United States stands ready to assist,” Wells tweeted.

On Monday, President Trump claimed during a press conference with visiting Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan that Prime Minister Modi had asked him to mediate in the dispute with Pakistan.

India immediately rejected Trump’s assertion. “No such request has been made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi to the US President,” External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.

In his euphoria with the Pakistan Prime Minister offering to help resolve the Afghanistan war, Trump positioned himself as a mediator in the Kashmir dispute.

Speaking to reporters before his meeting in the White House with Khan, Trump asserted that during his meeting with Modi in Osaka, “We talked about the subject, (and) he actually said, ‘Would you like to mediate, mediate or arbitrate?’ I said, ‘Where,?’ (and he said) ‘Kashmir’.”

Trump made the claim about Modi while answering a question from a reporter about what he would do to help resolve the Kashmir issue.

Any request for mediation would be a major change in India’s policy of not having third party involvement in the Kashmir issue, which India sees as a bilateral matter with Pakistan.

Denying that Modi had made a mediation request to Trump, Kumar said: “It has been India’s consistent position that all outstanding issues with Pakistan are discussed only bilaterally. Any engagement with Pakistan would require an end to cross-border terrorism. The Simla Agreement and the Lahore Declaration provide the basis to resolve all issues between India and Pakistan bilaterally.”

Despite previously taking a stand against Islamabad-backed terrorism, Trump put himself in a neutral position equating India and Pakistan,

He said: “I think it (India-Pakistan dispute) is two-way street. You say that India is coming in and destabilising Pakistan, and India is saying Pakistan is coming and destabilising. There is a lot of room right there where we can meet.”

When Trump said, “If you want me to mediate or arbitrate, I will be glad to do it”, Khan immediately said, “Yes, Mr President,” and added that he will have the prayers of millions if he accomplished it.

“I will speak to him (Modi) or you can speak to him,” Trump said.

Trump said that he was surprised at how long the Kashmir problem has been dragging on.

Imran Khan interjected at this point to say the Kashmir problem has been going on for 70 years.

Trump continued: “I think they (India) would like to see it resolved, and I think you (Pakistan) would like to see it resolved. And if I can help, I would love to be mediator.”

“It’s impossible to believe that two incredible countries that are very, very smart, with very smart leadership, can’t solve a problem like that. But if you would want me to mediate, or arbitrate, I would be willing to do that,” the US President said.

Khan then added: “I would like to tell you that right now you will have the prayers of over a billion people if you can mediate and resolve this issue.”

To which Trump nodded and said, “It should be resolved. But he (Modi) asked me the same thing. So I think there is something. So, maybe we’ll speak to him, or I’ll speak to him and we’ll see if we can do something.”

“Because I have heard so much about Kashmir. Such a beautiful name, it’s supposed to be such a beautiful part of the world. But right now, there’s just bombs all over the place. So everywhere you go, there are bombs.. And it’s a terrible situation, been going on for many years. If I can do anything to help, let me know,” Trump said.

Business

Pakistan’s economy shows positive indicators: PM’s Office

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Imran Khan Pakistan PM

Islamabad, Feb 28 : Pakistan’s economic indicators are seeing a constant improvement due to efforts made by the current government to overcome the serious economic challenges, the Prime Minister’s Office said on Friday.

Prime Minister Imran Khan, chairing a meeting of his economic team, expressed satisfaction over the improvement in all sectors, adding that his government is making efforts to bring a trickle-down effect of the improving economy on general public and in this regard steps are being taken to provide relief to low income and salaried class of the country, Xinhua reported.

He also directed the economic team to keep the public updated about the positive indicators of the economy in a bid to win the confidence of the local businessman to invest in the country.

Earlier this month, the prime minister approved subsidy of Pakistani Rs 10 billion ($65 million) on five essential food items for controlling rampant inflation in the country.

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Iranian vice president tests positive for coronavirus

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Tehran, Feb 28 Iran’s Vice President for Women and Family Affairs Masoumeh Ebtekar has tested positive for the coronavirus, an official said on Thursday.

Ebtekar’s adviser Fariba Ibtihaj said the vice president tested positive for COVID-19 on Wednesday, Iran’s official IRNA news agency  reported.

“Everyone in the vice president’s team was also tested and the results will be available on Saturday,” she said.

Ebtekar is not the first high-ranking Iranian official to contract the virus.

Ebtekar, joins the deputy health minister, the head of the national security commission and a reformist MP who have been infected with the virus, reports Efe news.

She tested positive on Thursday after showing symptoms the previous day during a cabinet meeting, according to state TV.

The politician is one of the most recognizable in the Islamic Republic and previously held the position of environment minister.

Iran has reported 26 deaths from the deadly disease and 245 cases total with a dramatic surge of 106 new infections registered on Thursday, the Health Ministry said.

Tehran authorities have decided to close down schools and universities in the country to curb the spread of the disease.

Friday prayers in the capital have also been cancelled.

Amid the spread of the virus, neighbouring countries have closed their land borders with Iran and most airlines have suspended their flights or imposed restrictions on air travel to the country.

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COVID-19 cases in South Korea reach 2,022, 13 deaths

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Seoul, Feb 28 The number of coronavirus cases in South Korea increased to 2,022 on Friday, with a total of 13 fatalities as the nation aggressively counters the fast-spreading virus with massive testing, particularly for 210,000 followers of a religious sect at the centre of the epidemic.

The 256 new cases brought the nation’s total infections to 2,022, the Yonhap News Agency quoted the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) as saying.

Only two days ago, the number of infections exceeded 1,000.

More than half of newly confirmed cases were linked to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeastern city of Daegu, 300 km southeast of Seoul.

Of the 256 new cases, 182 are in Daegu, and 49 are in the neighbouring North Gyeongsang Province.

Since raising the virus alert level to “red”, the highest level, on Sunday, health authorities have focused on halting the spread of the virus in Daegu, the epicentre of the virus outbreak in South Korea, and North Gyeongsang.

Experts said the number of confirmed cases is expected to jump in the coming days as health authorities have begun testing more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

The government also ordered another 1,638 Shincheonji followers to self-isolate as they have shown symptoms, Yonhap News Agency said in its report.

Since the first coronavirus case — a Chinese woman from Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak — on January 20, the pace of infections had not been alarming until February 18, when a 61-year-old woman who is tied to the Daegu religious sect tested positive for the virus.

Since then, the nation has seen an explosion in infections as it accelerated virus tests on potential cases.

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