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Trump-Merkel air differences in frosty 1st meeting

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Washington, March 18, 2017: US President Donald Trump and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have acknowledged past differences here in a frosty first encounter with widely diverging views of the world, a media report said.

The face-to-face talks at the White House on Friday seemed to do little to narrow the breach exposed by Trump’s criticism of Merkel during the 2016 Presidential campaign, Efe news reported.

What may have been the most telling episode of the visit took place during a photo opportunity in the Oval Office.

In response to calls from the press, Merkel asked Trump if he wanted to shake hands for the cameras, but the President did not respond.

Trump, known for his enthusiastic greetings, did extend his hand to Merkel when she arrived at the White House.

“I’ve always said it’s much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another, and I think our conversation proved this,” Merkel said through a translator during a joint press conference with her host, who in the past accused her of “ruining” Germany by admitting large numbers of Middle Eastern refugees.

The President, meanwhile, praised the Chancellor for Germany’s efforts in Afghanistan and its contributions to the fight against the Islamic State.

At the same time, he again raised the complaint that many European members of NATO – which he has described as “obsolete” – were not pulling their weight within the Atlantic Alliance.

“Many nations owe vast sums of money from past years and it is very unfair to the US. These nations must pay what they owe,” he said, apparently referring to the failure of some member-states to comply with the NATO guideline calling for devoting at least two per cent of gross domestic product to the military.

Trump expressed appreciation for Merkel’s assurance that Germany is committed to increasing its military spending.

More differences were evident on the subject of immigration.

“Immigration is a privilege, not a right, and the safety of our citizens must always come first, without question,” Trump said in the wake of court rulings blocking his second attempt to temporarily ban refugees as well as travellers from six Muslim-majority nations.

The German leader, who has criticised Trump’s travel ban, said that efforts to make borders secure and integrate immigrants must include “looking at the refugees as well, giving them opportunities to shape their own lives.”

The West, she said, should “help countries who right now are not able to do so, sometimes because they have civil war.”

On economic matters, the Chancellor said she hoped Trump would consider re-opening discussions on the TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a proposed pact between the US and the European Union.

One of Trump’s first actions as President was to formally withdraw the US from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and he made no secret of his dislike for multilateral deals.

Merkel said she was in agreement with Trump that “trade has to be fairer, has to be a win-win situation.”

“Globalisation ought to be shaped in an open-minded way, but also in a fair way,” she said.

“I am a trader, I am a fair trader, a trader that wants to see good for everybody worldwide, but I’m not an isolationist by any stretch of the imagination,” Trump said, clearly annoyed at a German reporter for posing a question to Merkel about the President’s “isolationism.”

Germany, one of the world’s biggest exporters, currently enjoys a trade surplus with the US.

“I would say that the negotiators for Germany have done a far better job than the US but hopefully we can even it out,” Trump said.

The press conference ended on an unusual note, as a German reporter asked Trump about the controversy created when the White House cited a media report claiming that a British intelligence agency spied on him during the 2016 campaign at the request of then-President Barack Obama.

“As far as wiretapping, I guess, by this past administration, at least we have something in common, perhaps,” Trump said, looking over at Merkel, who reacted with anger in 2013 when documents provided by Edward Snowden revealed that the US had monitored her communications.

“We said nothing,” the President said. “All we did was quote a certain very talented legal mind who was the one responsible for saying that on television. I didn’t make an opinion on it.”

“You shouldn’t be talking to me. You should be talking to Fox (News),” Trump said, though he did stand by his assertion that Obama spied on him.

IANS

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New attacks in Syria’s Eastern Ghouta after UNSC resolution

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Syria airstrike attack which killed 28 civilians (photo credit Getty images )
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Damascus, Feb 25: Syrian government forces on Sunday continued their airstrikes and shelling of Eastern Ghouta, a rebel-held suburb of the capital Damascus, hours after the UN Security Council (UNSC) approved resolution demanding a 30-day nationwide cease-fire.

On Sunday morning, two airstrikes targeted the town of al-Shifonia, while government troops launched missiles against Harasta, Karf Badna and Jesren, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR), a UK-based war monitor.

Despite fighting between government troops and the Jaysh al-Islam (Army of Islam), the SOHR reported that Saturday night was the calmest in the region since the government forces intensified their attacks on Eastern Ghouta as there were no casualties.

The attacks involved the use of heavy arms and were the first to take place in al-Shifonia since February 18, when the government forces started their campaign.

Also on Sunday, six surface-to-surface missiles were launched at Harasta, four targeted Karf Badna and Jesren and another four were launched at Hamouriyah, while al-Shifonia suffered two airstrikes, according to the SOHR.

The UNSC on Saturday unanimously approved a resolution demanding a 30-day, nationwide cease-fire in Syria, including Eastern Ghouta.

Under the cease-fire deal continued military operations will be authorised against groups regarded as terrorist organisations by the UN, including the Islamic State and Nusra Front, who now call themselves Tahrir al-Sham, which the Syrian government says is present in Eastern Ghouta.

A week of intense attacks on Eastern Ghouta killed at least 510 people, including 127 minors, according to latest figures.

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Communist Party proposes to lift two-year limit on President term, Xi Jinping may get another term in office

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In a major change in China’s political scenario the Communist Party of China Central committee has proposed to remove a clause from China’s constitution which forbids the president and vice president to serve more than two consecutive terms on the post.

President Xi Jinping’s first term will end on March 5 and as he has been re-elected so he will take on the president for the second term.

The proposal was made public on Sunday, state-owned media Xinhua reported.Other than the term the central committee has also proposed to add the Xi Jinping’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” to China’s Constitution.

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UNSC unanimously votes resolution ordering ceasefire in Syria

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United Nations, Feb 25: The ten elected non-permanent members (E10) of the UN Security Council pushed the five permanent members (P5) to reach a compromise and got an unanimous vote on a resolution ordering a ceasefire “without delay” in Syria to allow humanitarian aid to reach areas under siege.

After two days of delays and several postponements, Russia and the three western permanent members — Britain, France and the United States — agreed on Saturday, on the final version negotiated by Kuwait and Sweden with the backing of the P10.

Kuwait’s Permanent Representative Mansour Ayyad Al-Otaibi, who is the Council President for the month, said after the resolution passed that the unanimous vote was a “sign that the Security Council is united” and this could pave the way for finding a lasting political solution to the seven-year conflict.

Hoping to shame the permanent members locked in a standoff and push them to a compromise, all the the E10 representatives lined up together and held a news conference on Friday while the negotiations were on. “We want to show you the solidarity of the E10,” Al-Otaibi declared: “We are all united, we want the resolution to be adopted.”

The unrelenting push by Al-Otaibi and Sweden’s Permanent Representative Olof Skoog won praise from every one of the Council members. It was a rare instance of the E10 bending the P5, instead of the other way around.

Besides the nation-wide ceasefire, the resolution calls for the lifting of all sieges, facilitation of medical evacuations, and permitting convoys of the UN and its partners carrying humanitarian supplies free access.

However, the resolution made one notable exception to the ceasefire: It allowed continued action against the Islamic State, Al-Qaeda, A1-Nusra Front and other terrorist organisations.

The key point of contention that held up the resolution since it was formally introduced by Kuwait and Sweden on Wednesday was the timing of when the ceasefire should start. The US demanded it should be immediate, while Russia wanted lag before it went into effect and the threat of a Moscow veto hung over it.

The resolution now says it will come into force “without delay,” leaving an element of ambiguity subject to interpretations.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Al-Otaibi said they debated about the timing during the negotiations all of Friday and into Saturday morning. “Without delay means” immediately, he said.

Russia’s Permanent Representative Vassily Nebenzia was non-commital about. He told reporters that the reason his country held out on the wording of the timing was that it was logistical issue and a “painful process on the ground.”

He added that another concern of Moscow was that resolution was not used as a pretext to launch an invasion of Syria.

With the drawn-out negotiations, Syria got three days to prepare for it.

Speaking in the Council after the vote, United States Permanent Representative Nikki Haley lashed out at Russia saying that during the time it held up the resolution to change a “few words and some commas,” mothers lost their children to bombing and shelling.

“The Syrian people should not have to die waiting for Russia to organise their instructions from Moscow, or to discuss it with the Syrians,” she added.

The action on the ceasefire was precipitated situation in East Ghouta, which UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has called “hell on Earth”. One of the few rebel-held territories, the Damascus suburb has been under a siege and bombed from the air by the Syrian government forces.

East Ghouta was specifically mentioned, along with several other areas, but the Kurdish city of Afrin was not. Intense fighting has been underway in the area between Turkey’s military and Kurdish militias backed by Syrian government forces.

Asked about it by reporters, Al-Otaiby said the ceasefire applied to all of Syria and to all forces operating there.

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