PARIS: Ahead of this week’s summit of NATO countries in Brussels, speculation mounted about what sort of Donald Trump would turn up for the two days of talks about the military alliance.
Would it be angry, vindictive Trump who has a tendency to turn on the US’s historic allies in public and undermine NATO, the cornerstone of European security for 70 years? Or would he arrive ready to make a deal and put on a display of unity that was desperately sought by his European partners after a disastrous meeting at the G7 summit in Canada last month?
In the end, the US leader, who thrives on keeping both allies and enemies off balance, was a combination of both. His Twitter account buzzed with criticism of NATO – “Very Unfair!”, “Not acceptable!” – and he began with a blistering public attack on Germany, which he accused of being “totally controlled” by Russia.
Both charges play well with Trump’s conservative electoral base back home in America. “Trump is motivated by domestic politics, the mid-term elections (in November) and his populist image,” the head of the Schuman Foundation think-tank in Brussels, Jean-Dominique Giuliani, told Media. But behind closed doors, European leaders suggested things had gone more smoothly, particularly over dinner on Wednesday night when the 29 heads of state and government in central Brussels.
“I read in the papers that everything depends on President Trump’s mood. Well, I can tell you he was in a good mood and he said that Europe was a continent he appreciates,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told reporters on Thursday morning.
This was echoed by others, including French President Emmanuel Macron who was photographed smiling and sharing a hug with Trump on Wednesday despite recent tensions between the two.
It is pertinent to recall here that during the G7 summit in Canada in June, Trump clashed bitterly with his Western partners behind closed doors over US tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum imports. At one point, he was reported to have thrown a handful of sweets towards German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying “here, Angela, don’t say I never give you anything”.
The meeting ended with Trump insulting his host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as “dishonest and weak”. Despite fears of another bust-up in Brussels, the NATO summit ended Wednesday in what was neither harmony nor the crisis some had feared. Trump signed up to a joint declaration by NATO members and left the Belgian capital claiming victory in having forced European states to increase their spending.
“This was a fantastic two days. It all came together at the end. Yes, it was a little tough for a little while,” he said. But Macron insisted that NATO members have simply recommitted to a previous target of military spending, set in 2014, at a level of 2.0 percent of GDP. They have also agreed to publish their plans to get there. The joint declaration also recommitted all members to Article 5 of the alliance which holds that an attack on one country is an attack on all of them — something Trump had raised doubts about. “I believe in NATO,” Trump told a news conference, denying rumors that had spread through the press room that he had threatened to pull out of the alliance during talks. The joint declaration also included tough language on Russia and reiterated NATO’s position that it would never recognize Moscow’s annexation of Crimea – something some Europeans fear Trump might be reconsidering.
He is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday at their first bilateral summit in Helsinki. “The shared interests (of the European and Americans) are stronger than the public statements and the tweets,” added Giuliani of the Schuman Foundation.
Referring to Trump’s focus on domestic politics, he said: “Beyond that, all of the US industrial, strategic and diplomatic complex sees the benefit of the alliance.” Tomas Valasek, director of the Carnegie Europe think-tank, also sounded upbeat and said that “a pattern has emerged”. Trump “uses these events to speak to home audiences. He’s permanently campaigning,” Valasek wrote on Twitter, adding that NATO appeared to be “an oasis amidst the wreckage of transatlantic cooperation”.
But Francois Heisbourg, head of the The International Institute for Strategic Studies, forecast a bleak future for the organization because Trump had undermined its credibility. “Trump is not interested in a collective defense arrangement operated on multilateral lines, that’s the bottom line,” he told Media.”NATO is like a zombie bank,” he said.
Plagued Modi trying to hide behind anti-Pak rhetoric
ISLAMABAD: After being exposed by the French government for influencing 36 Rafale fighter planes deal, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has charged his cannons to fire obsolete anti-Pakistan rhetoric to mock fanatic Indians.
The Rafale scandal has been a burning question since the opposition blew the whistle of hefty corruption when Modi announced to purchase the French fighter jets on his visit to Paris. The opposition party ‘Congress’ has accused the government for choosing Reliance Defence over state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited to benefit the private firm though it did not have any experience in the aerospace sector.
The Congress also demanded the Modi government to elucidate the thrice increase in the prices of the jets which was a mere eyewash that erupted a huge corruption scandal narrating unprecedented plundering of public money.
Interestingly, prior to the Modi government, the deal to purchase the Rafale aircraft was also done during the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government where its largest member party is the Indian National Congress.
According to the Congress, the cost of an aircraft at that time was Indian Rs 5900 million, while the deal was finalized by the Modi government three times the price.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi also boiled a hot war on the social media portal Twitter slamming PM Modi for betraying the country. Rahul said, “The Prime Minister spoke privately about Rafael Deal behind the closed door and made a change in it. He has betrayed the country and insulted our martyrs”.
The former French President Francois Hollande according to a French media report clarified: “The Indian government proposed Reliance Defence as the partner for Dassault Aviation in the Rafale jet fighter deal and France did not have a choice”.
According to reports in Indian media, the French government claimed to have no involvement in the choice of Indian industrial partners for the Rafale fighter jet deal, insisting that French companies have full freedom to select Indian firms for the contract.
Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, had chosen Reliance Defence as its partner to fulfill offset obligations of the deal. The government has been maintaining it did not have any role in selection of the offset partner by Dassault.
In a statement, Dassault Aviation said it decided to partner with Reliance Defence in accordance with the policy of ‘Made in India’.
In the recent escalating crisis over the controversy, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has alleged that “Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Anil Ambani jointly carried out a multi-billion ‘surgical strike’ on the defense forces.”
The Indian Air Force (IAF) had termed that deal as oxygen for Indian Defence but allegations of corruption on PM Modi has raised many questions about the transparency of the deal.
After a plethora of allegations against Modi, the Indian Prime Minister opted for anti-Pakistan rhetoric to hoodwink his masses no matter that Indian opposition parties themselves exposed the real face of Modi’s BJP not before the Indian citizens but also the world democracies.
The PM Modi’s narrative against Pakistan was not well taken by Indians themselves as the mega corruption charges in an important defense project raises questions on his own commitment to safeguarding his motherland and the opposition called him ‘the plunderer instead of protector of national assets.’
Modi has now entered into a blind alley and retaliates through outmaneuvering repeated trivial narrative with greater lucidity to pacify the lurking public outrage. His people, the neighboring countries as well as world democracies have ample substance to understand as to why he denied dialogue with Pakistan.
Shehbaz urges govt to withdraw gas price hike!
ISLAMABAD: Leader of Opposition in the National Assembly Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif Monday urged the government to withdraw gas price increase as it would directly affect the common people.
Initiating the debate on the amended Finance Bill 2018, he said the gas price hike would raise the inflation rate, which would directly hit the poor people and also the middle class. It was not expected from the finance minister as the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government had promised to make a ‘new Pakistan’, he added.
He said the gas price raise would also increase the prices of fertilizer, electricity and other necessary commodities being used by the common men. “Increasing tax on the poor is tantamount to their suppression,” he added. He said the government had failed to broaden the tax net and further burdened those, who were already paying the taxes. New indirect taxes of Rs 70 billion had been imposed by the government, he claimed. He also criticized allowing nontax filers to purchase property and vehicles. He said the amended finance bill was anti-people. The ‘mini-budget’ was a bomb for the poor, he added.
Shehbaz Sharif, who is also president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, alleged that the PTI had no genuine public mandate to form the government as the elections were rigged. The PTI government claimed that it had the best team but ‘imported advisors’ and ‘friends’ were seen at the helm of affairs, he added. He said the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) was a very important project for the 220 million people of Pakistan, who would never let it be adversely affected by wrong policies. They would protect the project like a ‘China wall’, he added.
The opposition leader claimed that the previous government had set up gas-fuelled power plants to generate 5,000MW energy. His party’s government had given subsidy to farmers on tube wells and made the agriculture sector self-sufficient, he added. Shehbaz said the PML-N government had handled two big challenges of power load-shedding and terrorism effectively. He said the opposition parties welcomed constitution of a parliamentary commission to probe alleged irregularities in the last general election. They would fully cooperate with the commission, he added.
The opposition leader said no one could deny the importance of dams, but the government had not allocated any fund in that regard. He suggested that Rs 225 billion, which was slashed from the PSDP allocations by the government, should be diverted to the Diamer-Bhasha Dam project. “We should not do politics on the water issue,” he added.
WB to resolve the dispute over Kishan Ganga project!
UNITED NATIONS: The World Bank is finalizing a fresh initiative to resolve the dispute over the Indian construction of the Kishan Ganga and Ratle projects, saying the multilateral lender would soon contact Pakistan and India, the bank chief, Jim Young Kim, has said.
Kim said this during a meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on Monday on the sidelines of the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly, after the Pakistani leader presented his government’s position on these projects in “a forceful and emphatic manner”, according to an official statement.
The focus of the meeting was the World Bank’s role in the implementation of the Indus Water Treaty between India and Pakistan as its Administrator. The Foreign Minister said Indian construction of the Kishan Ganga and Ratle projects represented a violation of the 1960 Treaty, which gave Pakistan exclusive rights to western rivers. He emphasized that the procedural delay on Pakistan’s request to the World Bank to empanel the Court of Arbitration had resulted in the completion of the Kishan Ganga Projects while construction work on Ratle was in progress.
Qureshi said that the new government viewed this as a humanitarian issue with lives and livelihood of millions at stake, adding that It was not interested in politicizing the issue. The President of the World Bank said that while he understood Pakistan’s position on the Treaty, he expressed the Bank’s desire to play a constructive role in resolving this important matter at the earliest.
In this context, he remarked that, with the ongoing challenge of climate change, water issues were likely to be more prominent on the international agenda. “He indicated that the World Bank was in the process of finalizing a fresh initiative and would soon be approaching Pakistan and India with details.” the statement added. The meeting was conducted in a cordial and frank setting. Both sides resolved to maintain regular contacts at various levels to seek an early and amicable settlement to the issue.