VIF News Digest: International Developments (24-30 Dec 2018)
Trump, ‘God’s Own Party’ seek to shift blame for shutdown to Pelosi
28 Dec 2018

White House officials and congressional Republicans are seeking to blame the partial government shutdown on Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), as the standoff over funding for a wall on the US-Mexico border appears likely to extend into the new year.

Acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in an interview Friday said Pelosi can’t move on the wall because of the Jan. 3 floor vote for House Speaker, repeating an argument first made by President Trump in an Oval Office meeting with Democrats. “She cannot be seen by her party as being weak on negotiating with Donald Trump,” Mulvaney said on Fox News Friday, suggesting that if Pelosi bargained with Trump, it could cost her votes from liberals.

The White House is also seeking to portray a split between Pelosi and Sen. Charles Schumer (NY), who leads Democrats in the Senate. Click here to read...

The Memo: Trump veers between hard-liner, dealmaker on shutdown
29 Dec 2018

President Trump is presenting himself as both a hard-liner and would-be dealmaker as the government shutdown hits the one-week mark. It’s a mix that he may hope will throw off Democrats but also leaves some members of his own party unsure of his ultimate intentions.

On Friday morning, Trump unleashed a series of tweets threatening to seal the southern border and cut off US aid to three Central American nations unless he got funding for a border wall. But at other times this week he has struck a more flexible tone, suggesting that there is wriggle room on exactly what kind of structural barrier he would accept on the border and how much money he wants to see provided to build it. Those divergent signals are themselves testament to the political dynamics of the moment.

Trump at one point this month seemed likely to sign a stop-gap spending measure passed by the Senate that included no new funding for the border wall. He hardened his position only after coming under fire from conservative commentators who feared he was going soft on one of his signature campaign promises. Click here to read...

Dems worry: Top three candidates in polls are all white men
26 Dec 2018

Democrats are worried that they have a problem: The three people leading polls in the very early stages of their presidential race are all white men. The party traditionally battles over identity politics and wants to be seen as promoting diversity. Its last three nominees have been Barack Obama, who became the nation’s first African-American president, and Hillary Clinton, the first woman to win the popular vote.

Vice President Joe Biden, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) are this year’s top-tier candidates, according to a recent and very early Des Moines Register/CNN/Mediacom poll. It showed that 32 percent of those polled in Iowa favored Biden, while 19 percent preferred Sanders and 11 percent liked O'Rourke.

While some Democrats believe the early polls are merely a metric on name recognition, they say it defies the party’s mission to be more diverse and more inclusive that the top three candidates are all white men. Click here to read...

Border closure could cost billions
28 Dec 2018

Closing the US border with Mexico, which President Trump threatened to do in a Friday tweet if Democrats do not approve funding for his wall, could cost the economy billions of dollars, analysts who have studied the issue say. “It would affect the US economy massively and very negatively,” said Chris Wilson, deputy director at The Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute, and the co-author of a study on the border economy. “There’s about a billion dollars of commerce that crosses the border every single day, so every day it’s closed we’re losing out on hundreds of millions of dollars,” he added.

Trump threatened to close down the border as part of a broader fight with Democrats over building a border wall and funding the government. “We will be forced to close the Southern Border entirely if the Obstructionist Democrats do not give us the money to finish the Wall & also change the ridiculous immigration laws that our Country is saddled with,” Trump wrote in the Friday tweet. Click here to read...

Nauert faces questions about qualifications at UN
28 Dec 2018

In two years, Heather Nauert has moved from Fox News to the State Department, earning good reviews along the way as the spokeswoman for President Trump’s State Department. Now she’s poised for an even bigger role as Trump’s nominee to serve as US ambassador to the United Nations, a job that combines the need to be an advocate for the United States and administration with the policy chops necessary to serve as the top US envoy.

Critics have raised skepticism about the former cable news anchor’s fitness for the job, citing her lack of deep experience in government and traditional foreign policy credentials. “I’ll be happy to hear why she thinks she’s qualified”, said Sen. Bob Menendez (N.J.), the Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat. “She has no foreign policy experience that I can deduce, and being a spokesperson is different than being the chief diplomat of the United States at a world body like the United Nations.” Click here to read...

Trump's national security team is constant source of turnover
26 Dec 2018

Defense Secretary James Mattis's decision to quit the Trump administration is the latest indication of a Cabinet constantly being shaken up. Mattis, who President Trump announced Sunday will leave office at the end of this year — ahead of the secretary's preferred exit — is just the latest person with a high-level national security or foreign policy position to be headed out of the president's orbit. Some have resigned, others have been ousted, and a few have moved to other posts within the administration. It will leave Trump with a different team in 2019.

Here's a look at the top national security-related posts that have seen turnover under Trump: Three people have served as Trump’s principal adviser on national security and foreign policy issues in the White House. Click here to read...

India not enthused by US move to reduce troops in Afghanistan
27 Dec 2018

Indications from Washington that the Donald Trump administration may reduce Afghanistan troops is not good news for New Delhi in view of the current situation in the war-torn nation. Knowledgeable sources in New Delhi said there was not much change in the security situation in Afghanistan and any reduction in the number of American troops in the country could worsen the crisis.

India’s massive humanitarian assistance programme in Afghanistan was based on the assumption that American and NATO troops would stay put in the embattled nation till the security situation improves. These troops also provide security cover to various ongoing Indian developmental projects in Afghanistan. India has legitimate concerns over any move to reduce the number of troops as that would indeed have an impact on the morale of Indian nationals working in Afghanistan, sources said while drawing attention to another terror attack on two government offices in Kabul earlier this week, in which 44 people were killed.

Any hasty step by the US administration at this stage could plunge Afghanistan into further chaos and embolden the Taliban and other radical forces out to destabilise the situation, sources said. Click here to read...

India, US unable to resolve tariff issue as Steel Ministry refuses quota restrictions
26 Dec 2018

The Steel Ministry has refused to accept any quantitative restrictions on export of steel and aluminium to the US making it difficult for the Commerce Ministry to convince Washington to withdraw the penal duties imposed on the metals earlier this year, a government official said. India’s export of steel to the US has already started taking a hit, although export of aluminium is stable, according to government calculations.

“The US is not willing to consider any option other than the quantitative restrictions on imports at levels suggested by it. The Steel Ministry, on the other hand, is refusing to accept any such restrictions. The Commerce Ministry is, therefore, in a difficult spot as imposing retaliatory duties against the US may have diplomatic implications,” a government official told Business Line. Click here to read...

Military walks a fine line in discussing Afghanistan after Trump orders withdrawal plans
26 Dec 2018

A week after President Trump directed the military to draw up plans to withdraw about half the US troops deployed in Afghanistan, military officials are walking a fine line detailing the future of the longest US war in history.

Trump pressed White House national security adviser John Bolton to make the move Dec. 18, and he and other US officials were trying to talk him out of it, administration officials said. Since then, no announcements have been made, and senior US military officers have said they have received no new orders.

The situation has put the US generals in the awkward position of attempting to downplay the significance of a potential reduction in US troops in Afghanistan while American diplomats try to negotiate a peace deal with the Taliban. They must do so just weeks ahead of Trump’s State of the Union address, slated for Jan. 22, an event at which presidents often roll out new policy plans. Click here to read...

Martial law comes to an end in Ukraine after 30 days
26 Dec 2018

Martial law declared in parts of Ukraine has ended after 30 days, amid continuing tensions with Russia in the Kerch Strait. The measure was in force in 10 regions along the Black Sea and the borders with Russia, Belarus and Moldova. It was declared after the capture of three Ukrainian naval vessels and 24 sailors by Russian forces in November.

Russia's foreign ministry said it hoped Western countries would dissuade Ukraine from any "provocations". During the emergency, Ukrainian armed forces were put on combat readiness and reservists were called up. Click here to read...

Russia condemns 'Israeli' air strikes on Syria
26 Dec 2018

Russia has branded as "provocative" an alleged Israeli air strike on Syria late on Tuesday. Reports from Syria said an arms depot in Qatifah, about 40 km (25 miles) north-east of Damascus, was hit, injuring three soldiers.

Israel has not commented, but after the reported strikes it said it had fired at a Syrian anti-aircraft missile. It did not report any damage or injuries. Israel has carried out dozens of strikes on Syria in recent years. It says it is acting to thwart advanced weapons transfers from Iran to the Lebanese pro-Iranian Hezbollah movement and the strengthening of Iran's military presence in Syria.

Israel considers Iran and Hezbollah to pose a particularly dangerous threat. Click here to read...

Putin hails successful test of Russia's new hypersonic missile
27 Dec 2018

Russian President Vladimir Putin has overseen a test of a new hypersonic missile, declaring that the weapon is impossible to intercept and will guarantee the country's security over the coming decades. Speaking to Russia's military top brass on Wednesday after watching the live feed of the launch of the Avangard system from the defence ministry's control room, Putin said the test was a "great success" and an "excellent New Year's gift to the nation".

According to the Kremlin, the missile was launched from the Dombarovskiy missile base in the southern Ural Mountains and hit its target on a test site in Kamchatka, about 6,000 km away. "The Avangard is invulnerable to intercept by any existing and prospective missile defence means of the potential adversary," Putin said after the test, adding that the new weapon will enter service next year with the military's Strategic Missile Forces. Click here to read...

Law could change to keep Vladimir Putin as President of Russia
28 Dec 2018

The Russian constitution that limits leaders’ grip on power is not dogma, the Speaker of the lower house of parliament said yesterday, raising the prospect of changes that could extend President Putin’s rule.

Speaking at a Kremlin meeting attended by Mr Putin, Vyacheslav Volodin said that there were “questions in society” about the fundamental laws of the Russian Federation, adopted 25 years ago, including whether the tenets of the constitution were effective or had “lost their essence”. Mr Volodin said: “This is the time when we could answer these questions without in any way threatening (Constitution’s) fundamental provisions.” Click here to read...

Japan-Russia summit may take place in Moscow on Jan. 21
24 Dec 2018

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Russian President Vladimir Putin are likely to hold talks in Moscow on Jan. 21, a senior government official said Sunday.
The Japanese and Russian governments are now in the final phase of discussions to fix the summit schedule. According to the official, who declined to be named, Abe will be able to fly to Moscow for the bilateral summit before attending the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum to be held in Switzerland on Jan. 22-25. Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, are planning to have talks in the Russian capital on Jan. 14 to pave the way for the Abe-Putin meeting, which may push forward bilateral negotiations to resolve the longstanding territorial row between the two countries to conclude a peace treaty to officially end their World War II hostilities. Click here to read...

Chinese firm to invest $147m in copper project in DRC: africanews
25 December 2018

China’s Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt Co will invest $147.2 million to build a copper project in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), as it extends the exploration of its mining assets in the country, the company said in a filing to the Shanghai stock exchange on Tuesday. The project will be located in the Lukuni region in the south of DRC, and will have annual electro-deposited copper production capacity of 30,000 tonnes.

Electro-deposited copper is a raw material widely used in the electrical equipment and machine manufacturing sectors. Huayou has built two cobalt refineries in the Luiswishi region of DRC after buying copper-cobalt mineral rights from La Generale des Carrieres et des Mines in 2015.

The new copper project is expected to launch by September 2019, the company said in the filing, but it also warned it still needs approvals from Chinese authorities. The investment will be made through its subsidiary Congo DongFang International Mining (CDM), which mainly sources copper and cobalt from DRC. Click here to read...

Sudan Police fire live ammunition to block Khartoum protest march: Aljazeera
26 December 2018

Riot police in the Sudanese capital, Khartoum, used live ammunition and tear gas in an attempt to disperse protesters marching towards the presidential palace. Videos posted online appeared to show crowds of several hundred people heading towards the palace on Tuesday, which is located on the bank of the river Blue Nile in the heart of Khartoum.

The demonstrators could be heard singing patriotic songs and chanting, "Peaceful, peaceful against the thieves" and "The people want to bring down the president”. Click here to read...

Sudanese protesters dispersed after week of rallies: Reuters
26 December 2018

At least three Sudanese protesters were wounded by gunshots Tuesday when security forces dispersed rallies in the capital, witnesses said, after a week of demonstrations against President Omar al-Bashir's three-decade rule.

A witness said security forces barred protesters at one location in Khartoum from marching on the presidential palace by firing tear gas and shots in the air. Three witnesses told Reuters that three protesters had been wounded by gunshots, one of them in the head. A police spokesman was not available to comment. Officials have previously said the security forces exercised restraint and dealt with the protesters in a "civilized manner." Click here to read...

DR Congo Election: Protesters attack ebola centre in Beni – BBC News
27 December 2018

Protesters angry with the postponement of Sunday's presidential election in parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo have attacked a clinic where possible Ebola cases are assessed. The attack happened in the eastern city of Beni, one of three opposition areas where the vote has been postponed. The electoral commission has cited the current Ebola outbreak as one of the reasons behind the postponement. But opposition parties have accused the authorities of seeking to rig the vote. Along with Beni, voting has been postponed until March in Butembo, also in the east and in Yumbi, which is in the west.

With President Joseph Kabila's successor due to be sworn in next month, it appears the votes of more than a million people could be discounted. But in an interview with the BBC, Mr. Kabila insisted that postponing the vote until after the final result was due to be declared was lawful. Click here to read...

Armed Chadian group attacks forces loyal to Haftar in Southern Libya: Reuters
27 December 2018

A Chadian armed group attacked a military camp of forces loyal to General Khalifa Haftar in southern Libya on Thursday, killing one fighter, a local official and a spokesman for Haftar said. After the toppling of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in a NATO-backed uprising in 2011, fighters from neighbouring Chad and Sudan joined the ensuing turmoil. Competing Libyan armed factions frequently accuse each other of deploying mercenaries from sub-Saharan Africa.

Thirteen people were also wounded in the attack, which took place near Traghen, some 900 kilometers (560 miles) south of Tripoli and about 400 kilometers north of the border with Chad, a spokesman for the Traghen municipality said. Haftar’s Libya National Army (LNA) is the military wing of the government that operates in the east of the country. An LNA spokesman, Ahmed Mesmari, said the dead man was one of its members. Click here to read...

Largest aircraft deal ever for African Continent announced: allAfrica
28 December 2018

Boeing and Lagos based Green Africa Airways recently announced a commitment for up to 100737 MAX 8 aircraft, evenly split into 50 firm aircraft and 50 options, as the airline gears up to begin commercial operations. The total deal carries a list-price of $11.7 billion, the largest aircraft agreement from Africa, and will be reflected on Boeing's Orders and Deliveries website once finalised. "Today is a historic day for the Nigerian and African aviation industry," said Babawande Afolabi, Founder & CEO, Green Africa Airways.

"This landmark deal takes us much closer to our long-held dream of building a world-class airline that will unlock a new realm of positive possibilities for millions of customers. Broadly speaking, this deal is a bold symbol of the dynamism, resilience and soaring entrepreneurial drive of the next generation of Nigerians and Africans." Click here to read...

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