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‘I think it was Russia’: Trump says on US poll hacking



NEW YORK (JAN 12, 2017): President-elect Donald Trump has finally conceded that Russia was behind the hacking of Democratic institutions during the presidential election.

“I think it was Russia,” he said when asked about the poll hacking at a news conference at Trump Tower here on Wednesday. However, a few minutes later he said perhaps it was another country.

“But you know what, it could have been others also,” he said, hinting at US intelligence officials.

In his first news conference after winning the elections, Trump was asked about the reports that US intelligence chiefs had told the president-elect about Russia possessing damaging information on him.

Responding to the questions, Trump said he was untroubled by the intelligence reports stating that Russia preferred him over Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton and that President Vladimir Putin ordered the election meddling to benefit him.

“If Putin likes Donald Trump, guess what folks: That is called an asset, not a liability,” he said, adding that a strong relationship could allow the two nations to work together on difficult international issues.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin sm

However, the president-elect also came up with a message for Putin and said, “He shouldn’t be doing it. He won’t be doing it. Russia will have much greater respect for our country when I am leading it.”



Summit: US holds talks with N. Korea!



Trump asks North Korea to abandon its nuclear program

PANMUNJOM: A U.S. delegation is meeting N. Korean officials in *Panmunjom, at the border between North and South Korea, about a possible rendezvous between the leaders of two countries. 

A US delegation was holding talks with North Korean officials today at a border truce village amid preparations for a summit between the two countries’ leaders, the State Department said.

“A US delegation is in ongoing talks with North Korean officials at Panmunjom,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement…We continue to prepare for a meeting between the President and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.”

The State Department provided no details on the latest talks but The Washington Post earlier reported that the US delegation had crossed over to the North Korean side of the border at Panmunjom.

The US delegation was led by Sung Kim, a former US ambassador to South Korea and former nuclear negotiator with the North. It said the Americans met with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui.

*Panmunjom is located in the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) that divides the Korean peninsula.

Relevant pieces published earlier: 

i) US President Donald Trump, a day after his cancellation of a high-stakes summit with North Korea, said Friday that the meeting with Kim Jong Un could still go ahead. “We’re going to see what happens,” Trump told reporters at the White House, after welcoming Pyongyang’s latest statement on the talks as “very good news. “It could even be the 12th,” he said in a reference to the original June 12 date set for the meeting in Singapore. “We’re talking to them now,” Trump said of the North Koreans. 

“They very much want to do it. We’d like to do it. We’ll see what happens.” North Korea, responding to Trump’s abrupt cancellation of the meeting over “hostility” from Pyongyang, said Friday that it is willing to talk to the United States “at any time.” Trump welcomed the statement as “warm and productive.” “We will soon see where it will lead, hopefully too long and enduring prosperity and peace. Only time (and talent) will tell!” the US president said in a tweet. In a letter to Kim, Trump said Thursday he would not go ahead with the summit in Singapore, following what the White House called a “trail of broken promises” by the North. (25th of May, 2018)

ii)  In a correspondence addressed to North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un President Donald Trump has made it clear that due to North Korean anger and hostility the Singapore summit had been cancelled. Trump and Kim had been due to hold high-stakes talks on June 12 aimed at ridding the reclusive state of nuclear weapons, but the meeting was recently thrown into doubt as both sides raised the prospect of scrapping the discussions and traded threats. Trump’s letter came a day after North Korea attacked US Vice President Mike Pence as “ignorant and stupid.” “Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote in a letter to Kim released by the White House.

“Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.” Trump also brandished the threat of America’s nuclear might in his letter, writing: “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” The US leader’s letter appeared to leave the door open to a future meeting with Kim, however, stressing that he had been “very much looking forward to being there.” “We greatly appreciate your time, patience, and effort with respect to our recent negotiations and discussions” relative to the summit, he told Kim. 

It is pertinent to mention here that today North Korea has proclaimed that it had fully demolished its nuclear test site with a series of planned detonations. According to an official declaration: “The Nuclear Weapons Institute of the DPRK held a ceremony for completely dismantling the northern nuclear test ground on May 24… to ensure transparency of the discontinuance of nuclear test… “Dismantling the nuclear test ground was done in such a way as to make all the tunnels of the test ground collapse by the explosion and completely close the tunnel entrances, and at the same time, explode some guard facilities and observation posts on the site”. It has been confirmed that no leakage of radiation had been detected at the site during explosions.  

iii) US President Donald Trump asks North Korea to abandon its nuclear program on Tuesday, ahead of an expected summit with the North’s leader Kim Jong Un. Earlier, the US leader – who had spent the day in talks with French President Emmanuel Macron – had described Kim as “very open” and “very honourable” – his most positive comments yet about a man he once publicly belittled. But when pressed about what he hoped to gain from Pyongyang, the 71-year-old Republican president was blunt. “Meetings are being set up, and I want to see denuclearization of North Korea,” Trump told reporters.

Asked to explain what he means by denuclearization, Trump replied: “It means they get rid of their nukes – very simple.” “It would be very easy for me to make a simple deal and claim victory. I don’t want to do that. I want them to get rid of their nukes.” While Trump has repeatedly referred to North Korea’s denuclearization, Pyongyang however consistently defines the term as “denuclearization of the Korean peninsula” – code for the removal of America’s military presence in the South, a condition Washington is unlikely to accept. Amid preparations for a landmark bilateral US-North Korea summit, which could come in June, Trump had kind words for Kim, whom he once called a “madman” and “little rocket man.”

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26 Syrians, 9 Russians killed in IS attack



BEIRUT: At least 26 Syrian regime forces and nine Russian fighters were killed in an Islamic State group attack earlier this week in Syria’s eastern desert today.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the jihadists had targeted a group of Syrian and allied Russian troops in Deir Ezzor province on Wednesday.

Russia’s defense ministry said today four Russian servicemen had been killed in an incident in Deir Ezzor but did not give a date. Certain quarters insinuate that there are some 4,000 or 5,000 Russian military servicemen stationed in Syria. 

Observatory chief informed: “There were 35 pro-government forces killed, including at least nine Russians. Some of those Russian nationals were government troops, but not all of them.”


Relevant pieces published earlier:

i) Lebanon’s top diplomat warned Saturday that a recent Syrian property law could dispossess hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees from their land back home, leaving them permanently displaced in Lebanon. The law, known as Decree 10, allows Syria’s government to seize private property for zoned developments and compensate proven owners with shares in the new projects. But rights groups and lawyers fear that millions of Syrians who have sought safety abroad do not have the right paperwork or enough time to claim their land. On Saturday, Lebanon’s foreign minister Gebran Bassil said Decree 10 could adversely impact the nearly one million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.

In a letter to his Syrian counterpart Walid Muallem, Bassil expressed “Lebanon’s fear that the conditions imposed by this law will hinder the return of a not-insignificant number of displaced to their hometowns.” Once an area is declared a new development zone under Decree 10, owners inevitably lose their property. They can, however, get shares in the new project by proving they owned land there within 30 days of the decision being publicly announced. “The inability for displaced to prove ownership in the provided time-frame could cause them to lose their property… and dispossess them of one of their main incentives to return to Syria,” said Bassil. (27th of May, 2018).

ii) US warns Syria of ‘firm’ action, The US has warned Damascus it will take “firm” action if the regime of Bashar al-Assad violates a ceasefire deal after Syrian aircraft dropped leaflets on a southern province ahead of an expected offensive. Residents of Daraa told Media Friday that several different leaflets were scattered across the province, which has borders with Israel and Jordan and is expected to be among the next targets in the resurgent regime’s reconquest. One of them, seen by a journalist contributing to AFP in the city of Daraa, includes a picture showing lined up bodies, presumably of anti-government fighters. “This is the inevitable fate of anyone who insists on carrying arms,” reads the leaflet. The US State Department issued a statement late Friday saying it was “concerned” by the reports and that the area in question was within the boundaries of a de-escalation zone it had negotiated with Russia and Jordan last year.

“We also caution the Syrian regime against any actions that risk broadening the conflict or jeopardize the ceasefire,” said spokeswoman Heather Nauert, adding that the ceasefire had been re-affirmed by President Donald Trump and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin at a meeting in Vietnam in November. “As a guarantor of this de-escalation area with Russia and Jordan, the United States will take firm and appropriate measures in response to Assad regime violations,” she added. The Syrian regime and allied forces on Monday retook the Yarmuk area in southern Damascus, giving President Bashar al-Assad full control of the capital and its surroundings for the first time since 2012. (26th of May, 2018). 

iii)  Syrian army declared Monday it is in complete control of Damascus and its outskirts after a devastating battle that forced Islamic State group jihadists to flee their last pocket of resistance in the capital. It marked a major milestone in the protracted war, which began in 2011 and saw parts of Damascus fall to armed rebels the following year. In recent months, President Bashar al-Assad has used a blend of military pressure and negotiated withdrawals to steadily flush rebels out of territory around Damascus. But as a small IS holdout remained in the capital’s south, troops and allied Palestinian militia launched an offensive last month to recapture the area covering the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk and adjacent districts of Qadam, Tadamun and Hajar al-Aswad. 

On Monday, the army declared it had ousted IS from that zone, sealing its control of the capital. “The Syrian army announces today that Damascus, its outskirts, and surrounding towns are completely secure,” it said in a statement carried on official media. “The wheel of our progress on the battlefield will not stop until all Syrian land is purified.” Standing on Route 30, the main street in the Palestinian camp of Yarmuk, a Lieutenant Mohsen Ismail, 22, sighed: “This was the last battle in Damascus. I’m extremely happy.” (22nd of May 2018).

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Linkages with Afghanistan to increase export!



ISLAMABAD: Deputy Chairman of Planning Commission Sartaj Aziz today stressed that Pakistan and Afghanistan should focus on building the road and railway linkages which would ultimately enable both sides to utilize the export potential.

Talking to a high level delegation led by Dr Humayun Qayumi, Chief Advisor on Infrastructure and Technology to President of Afghanistan who called on him here, Sartaj Aziz said improved regional connectivity can assist supporting growth and development.

He further said Pakistan was ready to play a meaningful role in terms of extended cooperation in multi-sectoral avenues. Sartaj Aziz emphasized that connectivity is a key to expanding mutual trade and enhancing bilateral ties. The two sides discussed avenues of economic cooperation, trade, energy, and connectivity.

Sartaj Aziz maintained that the people of Afghanistan have suffered for many years and they deserve rapid improvement in economic and social sectors.

Both the sides agreed to hold meetings of the sub-working groups on regular basis in order to fast track the economic and development initiatives.

Furthermore, the sub-working groups would identify issues and prepare agenda for the upcoming meeting of the Economic Cooperation Group to be held in September 2018.

Relevant piece published earlier: Pakistan and Afghanistan sign bilateral trade meeting minutes held here on May 8, expressing the desire to enhance business ties between them by overcoming existing challenges through frequent interaction and extended facilitation. From Pakistan side, the minutes were signed by Secretary Commerce Mohammad Younus Dagha, whereas from Afghanistan side, Deputy Minister for Industries and Commerce Kamila Sidiqi signed the documents, said a press release issued here Thursday. Minister for Commerce Mohammad Pervaiz Malik, Ambassador of Afghanistan to Pakistan Omar Zakhilwal, officials of the Ministry of Commerce and Textiles, members of the Afghan ministerial delegation, and embassy officials were also present on the occasion. The Afghan ministerial delegation, who arrived in Islamabad on May 7, had been holding policy and expert-level talks with Pakistani counterparts for improvement of bilateral trade relations. After the signing ceremony, both sides had a brief discussion and expressed the desire to enhance trade relations between the two countries by overcoming existing challenges and impediments through frequent interaction and extending facilitation. The announcement by the Prime Minister of Pakistan during his recent visit to Afghanistan regarding removal of regulatory duties on import of Afghan products was also discussed during the recent visit and talks. As per discussions on May 8, 2018, the Afghanistan side had requested for removal of regulatory duties from fresh fruits, vegetables, dry fruits and other goods. The ministry of commerce assured to accommodate the Afghan request to all possible extent. In addition, it was also agreed to facilitate Afghan cotton exports to Pakistan.


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