U.S.-China Clash at Asian Summit Was Over More Than Words

BEIJING — The United States wanted to emphasize free trade at the end of a meeting with Asia-Pacific leaders. China objected. So Chinese officials barged uninvited into the office of a senior Asian official, demanding changes in the official communiqué.

China’s decision to burst into the office of the host country’s foreign minister marked a striking break with decorum at a meeting that is normally used to promote cooperation among countries that ring the Pacific Ocean.

The dispute meant that the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, forum held in Papua New Guinea and attended by Vice President Mike Pence and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, failed to issue a joint document for the first time since 1989.

More important, it signaled a new phase in relations between the two powers, with China showing its willingness to cast diplomacy aside in favor of a more aggressive posture as it challenges the United States’ dominance in the region, analysts said.

China’s more assertive approach comes as Mr. Xi considers accepting an invitation from the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to visit the North. Such a trip could complicate stalled nuclear talks between the United States and North Korea.

The way the two big powers vied openly in Papua New Guinea with money and military assets for advantage was reminiscent of how Washington and Moscow behaved during the Cold War, analysts said.

“China doesn’t care if it looks like a boor. If you are a tough guy, you don’t care what others think,” said Hugh White, a former military strategist for the Australian government and author of “The China Choice.”

Such behavior was only surprising because it had been more than 30 years since the world had witnessed such edginess, Mr. White said. In that era, tit-for-tat diplomacy was a leitmotif between the pre-Gorbachev leaders of the Soviet Union and Ronald Reagan. Such public snarling between Washington and Beijing is likely to become more common, he said.

The latest tensions — part of a heated trade war — boiled over Saturday when four Chinese officials barged into the office of the foreign minister of Papua New Guinea, Rimbink Pato, according to a diplomat in the region and an American official involved in the drafting of the communiqué.

Security officials were summoned and the Chinese left voluntarily. The police were then posted at the office to prevent further disruptions.

The American official said the Chinese had taken issue with two portions of the draft communiqué that Washington supported and other members embraced.

One paragraph said the APEC member economies agreed to fight against unfair trade practices. Another paragraph said that members of the group would work together to improve the “negotiating, monitoring and dispute settlement functions” of the World Trade Organization.

Negotiators had been working on the final communiqué for days, diplomats said, and the disputed material was not suddenly inserted into the text.

The diplomat from the region said the Chinese move was puzzling.

Eswar Prasad, an economics professor at Cornell University, said: “China’s strident reaction to such innocuous language signals its leaders’ concern about being isolated by the U.S. and other countries who may still create a unified front to take on unfair Chinese trading and economic practices.”

China seemed to dismiss the account that its officials burst into the foreign minister’s office as “rumor.” But Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, hinted at the source of Chinese anger by saying that most APEC members opposed the practice of “economic bullying,” an apparent reference to the United States’ actions.

Beijing’s aggressive posture might backfire on its plans to present itself as a rising power that brings countries together as the United States looks increasingly inward.

“It is certain that China gained nothing by refusing a few words in the proposed draft when almost every other country accepted them,” said Shi Yinhong, professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. “We have seen this sort of situation generally since a few years ago.”

The Chinese may have also gone unceremoniously to the foreign office because they felt targeted, and isolated, by the Americans, and were seeking last-minute support, the diplomat from the region said.

By delegating Mr. Pence to attend the APEC meeting, President Trump dispatched the administration’s point person for its get-tough-on-China policy. Mr. Pence was accompanied by the head of China policy at the National Security Council, Matthew Pottinger, also a hard-liner on China.

Mr. Pence delivered a scorching speech last month that broadened the disagreements with China beyond trade to include Beijing’s allegedly predatory behavior against its neighbors and its naval maneuvers in the South China Sea. He pledged the United States would “not stand down” in the face of China’s challenge.

In Papua New Guinea, Mr. Pence continued his theme, criticizing China’s global infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, as a “constricting belt” and a “one-way road.”

The day before, Mr. Xi had vigorously defended the project, which is considered among the Chinese elite to be the foreign policy effort in which the president is most invested.

“It does not exclude anyone,” Mr. Xi said in his speech about the Belt and Road Initiative. “It is not an exclusive club closed to nonmembers, nor is it a trap as some people have labeled it.”

China may also have been rattled by the American decision to join hands with its major allies, Japan and Australia, to increase its economic development assistance to Papua New Guinea and to embark on redeveloping a naval port there at Manus Island.

Mr. Xi arrived in Papua New Guinea two days ahead of the APEC meeting, for which China financed roads and a $50 million renovation of a convention center. The Chinese leader stressed his nation’s largess to Pacific island nations like Papua New Guinea.

But China is the third-largest donor to these countries, trailing Australia and New Zealand, said Jonathan Pryke, an expert on the Pacific islands at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. The United States was the fourth largest, sending most of its aid to the northern Pacific countries of Palau, Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, Mr. Pryke said.

At the meeting, Mr. Pence announced that the United States would increase engagement in the region, pledging to join Australia and Japan in helping to bring electricity to 70 percent of Papua New Guinea by 2030. (Only 13 percent of the country currently has electricity.)

The United States is also working with Australia to develop the deepwater port at Manus Island, which lies 1,060 miles south of the American territory of Guam.

Manus Island played an important role for the United States Navy in the defeat of Japan during World War II. Now it could play a strategic role against China’s expansion in part because the port is big enough to hold large naval vessels and task groups, said Peter Dean, professor of war studies at the University of Western Australia.

“If the Chinese were able to land this as a base instead of the United States and Australia, then it would have had significant strategic implications,” Mr. Dean said.

Luz Ding contributed research.

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US returns 'Bells of Balangiga' war trophies to the Philippines a century after clash

MANILA – The United States on Thursday (Nov 15) formally returned three church bells seized as war trophies from the Philippines following one of the worst defeats of American soldiers more than a century ago.

The bells were taken after 48 US soldiers were killed during a surprise attack on Sept 28, 1901, in Balangiga town, in the central island province of Samar, during the Philippine-American war from 1899 to 1902.

As recorded by historians, hundreds of men from Balangiga, some dressed at women, hid inside caskets. They then launched their attack on more than 70 soldiers of the 9th US infantry regiment who were having breakfast or reading their mail.

The attackers used large knives.

Resentment had been brewing in Balangiga after US troops stationed there cut food and other supplies, and conscripted or detained many of the town’s men, as part of a campaign to end resistance to the US occupation of the Philippines.

Only four US soldiers managed to flee unharmed.

It was the worst defeat for US soldiers since the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 in the US, also known as Custer’s Last Stand.

In Balangiga, historians say one or more of the church bells were rung to signal the attack.

US forces took the bells after a brutal counter-attack that killed between 2,000 and 10,000 Filipinos, mostly non-combatants.

Brigadier-General Jacob Smith, tasked to pacify Samar, was quoted by historians as ordering his men: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn, the better it will please me. The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.”

Whole villages were systematically burned, crops were destroyed, and farm animals were slaughtered.

Two of the three bells taken from Balangiga were later shipped to the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming. The third bell is at a US Army museum in South Korea.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, speaking at a ceremony at the F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming attended by the Philippine ambassador to the US, said the bells’ return to the Philippines would “smooth the bonds that were tested but never broken by war”.

“Bear these bells home back to their Catholic Church confident that America’s ironclad alliance with the Philippines is stronger than ever,” he said.

In Manila, the Philippines’ foreign affairs department cheered the move.

“Today is a time of solemn remembrance as we pay tribute to all those who gave up their lives during the Filipino-American War,” it said.

The bells in Wyoming will be restored and handed over to the Philippines as early as December, said Mr Joe Felter, the US deputy assistant secretary of defence for South and South-east Asia.

The third bell in South Korea has already been placed inside a crate, according to the Philippine National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

The Philippines has been asking for the return of the bells since 1958.

Former president Fidel Ramos, a West Point alumnus, raised the issue with his counterpart Bill Clinton. But negotiations stalled over what was then seen as conflicts with US military laws.

President Rodrigo Duterte again asked the US to return the bells last year, calling them “reminders of the gallantry and heroism of our forebears who resisted the American colonisers and sacrificed their lives in the process”.

Despite decades of close ties between the two countries and a tight military alliance, the US’ refusal to return the bells has long been a bone of contention.

Some US veterans and Wyoming’s delegation to the US Congress have uniformly opposed returning bells that were a memorial to the 48 US soldiers who were killed in Balangiga.

Mr Mattis, addressing those still opposing the bells’ return, said: “To those who fear we lose something by returning these bells, please hear me when I say: Bells mark time, but courage is timeless. It does not fade in history’s dimly lit corridors.”

Some Wyoming veterans, like Ms Cheryl Shannon at Veterans of Foreign Wars, told Reuters they are fine with the decision to return the bells.

“We’re tired of it always being an issue,” said Shannon, an Iraq war veteran.

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Opinion | North Korean Nuclear Shell Game

President Trump, who styles himself a master deal maker and reader of people, claimed to have put an end to the North Korean nuclear threat with his meeting in June with the North Korean dictator, Kim Jong-un. “We fell in love,” he swooned in September after an exchange of follow-up letters with Mr. Kim. Mr. Trump’s closest advisers remained dry-eyed, and the evidence is mounting that they had reason.

On Monday the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a respected Washington think tank, published a study by its “Beyond Parallel” program showing that even as North Korea was touting some half steps to dismantle a missile launching site, it was operating and improving at least 13, and possibly as many as 20, bases housing mobile ballistic missile launchers. One mountain base on which the study focused, just 84 miles from Seoul, was “active and being reasonably well maintained by North Korean standards.”

None of that was a surprise to American intelligence agencies, which have been reporting a continuing buildup of North Korea’s missile stockpile. Nor should it have surprised Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, until recently the director of the C.I.A., who acknowledged at a Senate hearing in July that North Koreans “continue to produce fissile material.”

For that matter, North Korea’s shell game is not even a violation of the agreement Mr. Trump signed with Mr. Kim, which proclaimed their meeting “an epochal event of great significance” but referred only to working toward a vague “denuclearization.” The skeletal agreement had no deadlines, no verification regime, no penalties for noncompliance.

The trouble is that Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim had totally opposite views of what the joint statement was supposed to mean. Mr. Trump apparently believed that American sanctions, plus his threats (“fire and fury”) and his irresistible persona, had driven Mr. Kim to abandon his nuclear aspirations. Mr. Kim apparently believed that approaching the capacity to strike the United States had compelled Mr. Trump to agree to lift sanctions in exchange for a gradual stand-down of the North’s program.

Pyongyang now seems to have understood its error. Mr. Kim’s envoy skipped a scheduled meeting with Mr. Pompeo last week, and Mr. Trump’s special envoy for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, has yet to meet a North Korean official more than two months since his appointment. Recent statements from North Korea speak of resuming work on its nuclear program unless sanctions are lifted. The Trump administration continues to demand complete denuclearization before any sanctions are lifted. In other words, virtually nothing has changed.

And Mr. Trump? He appears still happily convinced that love had conquered all. “We fully know about the sites being discussed, nothing new — and nothing happening out of the normal,” he said on Twitter on Tuesday. “Just more Fake News. I will be the first to let you know if things go bad!”

How bad they have to go before Mr. Trump abandons his delusions of an epochal achievement is anybody’s guess. But once he does, it is easy to imagine him unleashing even more of the apocalyptic language that raised tensions in 2017. The difference is that this time he will probably not have the support of China, Russia or South Korea, which took the June summit meeting as a signal to improve relations with North Korea and are not likely to turn back.

The challenge for Mr. Pompeo and other sober hands in the administration is to prevent a slide back to fire and fury and to put the denuclearization talks on a more practical and realistic footing than love, which, as Erin Morgenstern noted in her novel “The Night Circus,” is “rarely a solid foundation for decisions to be made upon, in any game.” In the disarmament game, it can be deadly.

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US Treasury's Mnuchin, China Vice-Premier Liu resume trade dispute discussions over phone

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) – US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has resumed discussions with China Vice-Premier Liu He, with the two speaking by telephone on Friday (Nov 9), the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, citing sources.

The conversation did not lead to any breakthrough to resolve the tariff dispute between the world’s two largest economies, the WSJ reported.

A US Treasury spokesman did not immediately respond to a query about the report.

The development comes as China President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump plan to meet on the sidelines of a G-20 summit that is being held in Argentina at the end of November and early December.

Earlier this month, after a phone conversation with Mr Xi, Mr Trump said he thought the United States would make a deal with China on trade but stood ready to levy more tariffs on Chinese goods if no progress is made.

Mr Trump has imposed tariffs on US$250 billion (S$345.96 billion) of Chinese goods to pressure Beijing to stop intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, improve market access for US firms and cut China’s high-tech industrial subsidy programme – major shifts away from China’s state-led economic model.

The tariff rate on US$200 billion in Chinese goods is set to increase to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on Jan 1.

Mr Trump has also threatened to impose tariffs on all remaining Chinese imports, about US$267 billion worth, if China fails to address US demands.

Mr Mnuchin in October said that China needed to identify concrete “action items” to re-balance the two countries’ trade relationship before talks to resolve their disputes could resume.

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‘Tell Your Boss’: Recording Is Seen to Link Saudi Crown Prince More Strongly to Khashoggi Killing

WASHINGTON — Shortly after the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was assassinated last month, a member of the kill team instructed a superior over the phone to “tell your boss,” believed to be Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, that the operatives had carried out their mission, according to three people familiar with a recording of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing collected by Turkish intelligence.

The recording, shared last month with the C.I.A. director, Gina Haspel, is seen by intelligence officials as some of the strongest evidence linking Prince Mohammed to the killing of Mr. Khashoggi, a Virginia resident and Washington Post columnist whose death prompted an international outcry.

While the prince was not mentioned by name, American intelligence officials believe “your boss” was a reference to Prince Mohammed. Maher Abdulaziz Mutreb, one of 15 Saudis dispatched to Istanbul to confront Mr. Khashoggi at the Saudi Consolate there, made the phone call and spoke in Arabic, the people said.

Turkish intelligence officers have told American officials they believe that Mr. Mutreb, a security officer who frequently traveled with Prince Mohammed, was speaking to one of the prince’s aides. While translations of the Arabic may differ, the people briefed on the call said Mr. Mutreb also said to the aide words to the effect of “the deed was done.”

“A phone call like that is about as close to a smoking gun as you are going to get,” said Bruce O. Riedel, a former C.I.A. officer now at the Brookings Institution. “It is pretty incriminating evidence.”

Turkish officials have said that the audio does not conclusively implicate Prince Mohammed, and American intelligence and other government officials have cautioned that however compelling the recording may be, it is still not irrefutable evidence of his involvement in the death of Mr. Khashoggi.

Even if Mr. Mutreb believed the killing was ordered by the crown prince, for example, he may have had an inaccurate understanding of the origins of the order. Prince Mohammed is not specifically named on the recording, and intelligence officials do not have ironclad certainty that Mr. Mutreb was referring to him.

In a statement on Monday, Saudi officials denied that the crown prince “had any knowledge whatsoever” of Mr. Khashoggi’s killing. Referring to Mr. Mutreb’s instructions to “tell your boss,” the Saudi statement said that Turkey had “allowed our intelligence services to hear recordings, and at no moment was there any reference to the mentioned phrase in the such recordings.”

The Turks may possess multiple recordings, including surveillance of telephone calls, and the Turkish authorities may have shared the audio only selectively.

A C.I.A. spokesman declined to comment.

The call was part of a recording that Turkish officials played for Ms. Haspel during her visit in October to Ankara, Turkey’s capital, but they did not allow her to bring it back to the United States. On Saturday, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey announced that his government had shared the audio with Saudi Arabia, the United States and other Western allies.

But while Turkish officials have played the recording for American and other intelligence agencies and provided transcripts, the Turks have not handed over the recording for independent analysis, according to Turkish officials.

Turkey shared evidence from the case with “a large number of friendly nations,” a spokesman for Mr. Erdogan, Fahrettin Altun, said on Monday. Reacting to French criticism of Turkey’s handling of the case, Mr. Altun said that the Turkish government had played an audio recording for French intelligence officials and given them transcripts.

“Let us not forget that this case would have been already covered up had it not been for Turkey’s determined efforts,” Mr. Altun said.

The growing evidence that Prince Mohammed was involved in the killing of Mr. Khashoggi is certain to intensify pressure on the White House, which appeared intent on relying on a lack of concrete proof of his involvement to preserve its relationship with the crown prince. Prince Mohammed has fostered a close relationship with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, and the Trump administration has turned Saudi Arabia into Washington’s most crucial Arab partner.

Some Trump advisers have argued that they would need indisputable evidence of Prince Mohammed’s involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s killing before they would punish him or the kingdom more harshly. Turkish officials have said the recording contains evidence of a premeditated killing, in which Saudi agents quickly strangled Mr. Khashoggi and methodically dismembered his body with a bone saw.

The administration, according to current and former officials, is hoping that making some modest moves on sanctions and curtailing support for the Saudi war effort in Yemen will satisfy critics, including those on Capitol Hill.

But the shift in power in Congress, where Democrats take control of the House in January, is also increasing pressure on the administration to take more punitive action. The C.I.A. and other intelligence officials were set to brief Congress this week, and congressional leaders will press Ms. Haspel for her assessment of Prince Mohammed’s culpability.

Mr. Trump himself has suggested more information would be coming out. “I’ll have a much stronger opinion on that subject over the next week,” he told reporters on Wednesday at the White House. “I am forming a very strong opinion.”

Signs of a hardening stance within the administration are emerging. The State Department issued a tough statement on Sunday saying that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had told Prince Mohammed in a phone call that “the United States will hold all of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable.”

Saudi officials planned to release their own inquiry in the coming days, but Turkey’s revelation that they and Western officials also have the transcripts of the recordings could force the Saudis to scramble before any presentation they planned to make.

Even without definitive proof, intelligence agencies had already concluded that only Prince Mohammed could have ordered the operation to kill Mr. Khashoggi, given the personal character of his governance and the depth of his control over the kingdom. Evidence from the tape also showed that Mr. Khashoggi was killed soon after he entered the room of the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul where the security team was waiting for him, further proof that the killing was planned, according to people briefed on the intelligence.

Current and former intelligence officials insisted that it is rare that all of the pieces of a complex puzzle like Mr. Khashoggi’s killing would ever be available. Intelligence, according to a former official, simply does not work like a spy thriller or television cop show where a case turns on a crystal-clear recording.

Investigators were unlikely to collect a piece of evidence that incontrovertibly links the crown prince to the killing, said Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California, who is set to lead the House Intelligence Committee next year.

“You are not going to have any of the people who carried out the murder speak openly about who they got their orders from or who is in the loop on it,” Mr. Schiff said in an interview. “That is not realistic to expect.”

The absence of direct evidence does not prevent the intelligence community from laying responsibility at Prince Mohammed’s feet. An intelligence assessment includes an agency’s best judgment on what happened based on the available facts and experience of officials.

Mr. Schiff promised that when he takes charge of the Intelligence Committee, he will investigate Mr. Khashoggi’s killing and examine Saudi Arabia’s actions more broadly in the Middle East, including its military campaign in Yemen, which has prompted a humanitarian crisis.

“We need to do our own due diligence, we need to make sure we are getting good intelligence, and we need to make sure the administration doesn’t misrepresent to the country what foreign actors are doing,” Mr. Schiff said.

Nonetheless, current and former officials said they do not expect Mr. Trump to drop his support for Prince Mohammed.

“The Trump family and the president have built up such an overwhelming reliance on the crown prince that the relationship is now, in their view, too big to fail,” Mr. Schiff said.

Policymakers — not Ms. Haspel or Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence — will decide what sort of relationship to have with Prince Mohammed and what punishment Saudi Arabia should face for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing, current and former officials said.

Julian E. Barnes and Eric Schmitt reported from Washington, and David D. Kirkpatrick from London.

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Top US diplomat Pompeo tells Saudi crown prince Khashoggi killers to be held accountable

WASHINGTON (AFP, BLOOMBERG) – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Sunday (Nov 11) the US will hold accountable all those involved in the killing of a dissident Saudi journalist, in a telephone call that also took in the conflict in Yemen.

The killing of Mr Jamal Khashoggi in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul and the war in Yemen, which has pushed the country to the brink of famine, are two of the main sources of strain in the decades-old alliance between Washington and Riyadh.

Crown Prince Mohammed is controversially linked to both: he has played a direct role in overseeing Saudi Arabia’s Yemen intervention and has also been accused of orchestrating the Oct 2 murder of Mr Khashoggi, who was a US resident.

“The Secretary emphasised that the United States will hold all of those involved in the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable, and that Saudi Arabia must do the same,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

The top US diplomat has previously said Mr Khashoggi’s killing “violates the norms of international law”, and that the US was reviewing possible sanctions on individuals identified as having been involved.

But Mr Pompeo and US President Donald Trump have also both emphasised America’s important commercial, strategic and national security relationships with the petro-state.

Upping the pressure on Saudi Arabia, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that Turkey had shared recordings related to Mr Khashoggi’s murder with Riyadh, Washington and other capitals, without giving details of their specific contents.

After repeated denials, Saudi Arabia finally admitted the 59-year-old journalist had been murdered at its diplomatic mission in what it termed a “rogue” operation.

Ankara has been demanding, to date without success, the extradition of those involved in the killing.

Mr Khashoggi, a columnist for the Washington Post, was critical of Crown Prince Mohammed and the country’s intervention in Yemen, a conflict which also came up during the call, said Ms Nauert.

Mr Pompeo “reiterated the United States’ calls for a cessation of hostilities and for all parties to come to the table to negotiate a peaceful solution to the conflict”, she said.

Mr Pompeo has previously called for an end to the fighting in the impoverished Arab state, saying that Shi’ite Houthi rebels must stop missile and drone strikes from areas they control, and that the Saudi-led coalition must subsequently halt strikes in populated areas.

Mr Pompeo’s latest remarks come just days after the announcement of the end of a controversial refuelling arrangement between the US and the Saudi-led coalition carrying out strikes in Yemen – a step that lessens American involvement in the war.

Pentagon chief James Mattis said he supported Saudi Arabia’s decision after the official Saudi Press Agency said the coalition asked for the “cessation of inflight refuelling support” from the United States.

The end of the arrangement comes amid ongoing international outcry over Saudi actions in Yemen, particularly after a string of high-profile coalition strikes that have killed scores of civilians, many of them children.

The Pentagon had provided refuelling capabilities for about 20 per cent of coalition planes flying sorties over Yemen, supporting a highly controversial intervention led by Riyadh to bolster President Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi’s government in the face of an insurgency by the Houthis – a conflict that has left nearly 10,000 people dead.

Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt on Monday begins the first visit to Saudi Arabia by a British minister since the death of Mr Khashoggi.

Mr Hunt will use meetings with officials including King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed to urge Saudi Arabia to cooperate with Turkey over the investigation into the murder, according to his office in London.

“It is clearly unacceptable that the full circumstances behind his murder still remain unclear,” Mr Hunt said in a statement.

Mr Hunt, who’s also visiting the United Arab Emirates this week, will call for an end to the bloodshed in Yemen, where a Saudi-led coalition is fighting Houthi rebels believed to be backed by Iran.

The United Nations has called the conflict the world’s worst humanitarian disaster, but UN Security Council members are divided over how hard to pressure Saudi Arabia over its role.

“We are witnessing a man-made humanitarian catastrophe on our watch: now is the window to make a difference, and to get behind both the UN peace process and current UK efforts in the Security Council,” Mr Hunt said.

The visit comes as Prime Minister Theresa May uses her annual foreign policy speech to outline the action taken against Russia following the nerve agent attack on a former spy in southern England in March.

“We remain open to a different relationship – one where Russia desists from these attacks that undermine international treaties and international security – and instead acts together with us to fulfil the common responsibilities we share as permanent members of the UN Security Council,” Mrs May will tell the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London on Monday, according to her office.

“And we hope that the Russian state chooses to take this path. If it does, we will respond in kind.”

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Trump cancels WW1 memorial at US cemetery in France due to rain

PARIS (REUTERS) – President Donald Trump could not attend a commemoration in France for US soldiers and marines killed during World War One on Saturday (Nov 10) because rain made it impossible to arrange transport, the White House said.

The last minute cancellation prompted widespread criticism on social media and from some officials in Britain and the United States that Trump had “dishonoured” US servicemen.

The president was scheduled to pay tribute at a ceremony at the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery in Belleau, about 85 km (50 miles) east of Paris, with his wife Melania. But light steady rain and a low cloud ceiling prevented his helicopter from travelling to the site.

“(Their attendance) has been cancelled due to scheduling and logistical difficulties caused by the weather,” the White House said in a statement, adding that a delegation lead by Chief of Staff John Kelly, a retired general, went instead.

The decision prompted a rash of criticism on Twitter, with Nicholas Soames, a British member of parliament who is a grandson of former Prime Minister Winston Churchill, saying that Trump was dishonouring US servicemen.

“They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to the Fallen”, Soames wrote on Twitter.

White House officials said the decision was taken due to the weather and cited security concerns in hastily arranging a motorcade. Similar concerns prevented Trump from reaching the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea a year ago when foggy weather prevented his helicopter from landing.

Ben Rhodes, who served as deputy national security adviser for strategic communications under President Barack Obama, said the excuse about the inclement weather did not stand up.

“I helped plan all of President Obama’s trips for 8 years,” he wrote on Twitter. “There is always a rain option. Always.”

Despite the light rain, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held a moving ceremony in Compiegne, northeast of Paris, to mark the 100th anniversary of the signing of the World War One armistice.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended his own ceremony to pay tribute to Canadian troops killed at Vimy Ridge, on the battlefields of northeastern France.

Around 70 leaders, including Trump, were scheduled to gather at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on Sunday morning to mark the commemoration of the centenary of the end of the war, when some 10 million soldiers were killed during four years of grinding conflict.

It was not clear what Trump decided to do instead of attending the cemetery. The White House said he was at the residence of the US ambassador in Paris. During that time he sent a tweet wishing a “Happy 243rd Birthday” to the US Marine Corps.

The president is scheduled to take part in a ceremony at the Suresnes American Cemetery to the west of Paris on Sunday afternoon, when he is expected to make formal remarks.

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Frail Mikhail Gorbachev warns against return to the Cold War

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, warned on Thursday (Nov 8) against rising tensions between Russia and the United States and said there should be no return to the Cold War.

The frail 87-year-old was physically helped by aides to a cinema hall to watch the premiere in Russia of a new documentary about his life, his Soviet reforms in the 1980s and his arms control drive that helped end the Cold War.

His legacy has come under a pall as ties between Moscow and Washington have fallen to post-Cold War lows, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 and rows over sanctions, election meddling and the poisoning of a spy in England.

He spoke briefly to a cinema hall in Moscow after “Meeting Gorbachev”, a new documentary directed by filmmakers Werner Herzog and Andre Singer, and was asked if the world would hold back from a new Cold War.

“We must hold back,” he said.

“And not just from the Cold War. We have to continue the course we mapped. We have to ban war once and for all. Most important is to get rid of nuclear weapons.”

Reviled by many Russians as the man whose reforms ultimately led to the Soviet breakup, Gorbachev is lauded in the West as the man who helped end the Cold War.

Gorbachev, whose visibly ailing health was in stark contrast to the vigorous reformist figure he cut in the 1980s, said the world was moving dangerously closer to a new arms race.

Last month in a column for the New York Times, Gorbachev denounced the United States after President Donald Trump said he planned to quit the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty which Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed in 1987.

The pact eliminated all short- and intermediate-range land-based nuclear and conventional missiles held by both countries in Europe.

In a prepared, written message read out to the hall by an aide before the film, Gorbachev alluded to the article and said”I am convinced we can stop a new Cold War. I will do everything for this.”

“Most dangerous would be a return to confrontation, the start of a new arms race. They are already talking about a nuclear war as if this is something entirely acceptable. It is being prepared, scenarios are being discussed.”

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US exempts Indian-backed port in Iran from sanctions

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States said on Tuesday (Nov 6) it would exempt Iran’s Indian-backed port of Chabahar from new sanctions on Teheran, recognising the value of the project to Afghanistan.

Iran late last year inaugurated the port on the Indian Ocean, which provides a key supply route to landlocked Afghanistan and allows India to bypass its historic enemy Pakistan.

The United States will exempt from sanctions the development of Chabahar along with an attached railway project and Iranian petroleum shipments into Afghanistan, the State Department said.

President Donald Trump’s “South Asia strategy underscores our ongoing support of Afghanistan’s economic growth and development as well as our close partnership with India”, a State Department spokesperson said.

“This exception relates to reconstruction assistance and economic development for Afghanistan. These activities are vital for the ongoing support of Afghanistan’s growth and humanitarian relief,” the spokesperson said.

The United States, which has been building closer relations with New Delhi since the late 1990s, earlier exempted India from sanctions that took effect on Monday.

The Trump administration has vowed to exert maximum pressure on Iran to end its support for regional proxies, exiting a denuclearisation agreement that brought sanctions relief.

Mr Trump’s decision has been opposed by European powers as well as other nations including India, which has largely warm relations with Iran and accuses Pakistan of fomenting attacks on its soil.

India has poured US$2 billion (S$2.74 billion) into Afghanistan since the 2001 US-led overthrow of the extremist Taleban regime, which was also opposed by Iran.

India has seen Chabahar as a key way both to send supplies to Afghanistan and to step up trade with Central Asia as well as Africa.

Iran has plans to link the port by railway to Zahedan on the Pakistani border up to Mashhad in the north-east.

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U.S. and Turkey Drop Dueling Sanctions Against Senior Officials

WASHINGTON — The United States and Turkey have lifted sanctions against top officials in each other’s government in a mutual sign on Friday of warming diplomatic relations between the two NATO allies after last month’s release of an American pastor.

The Trump administration had imposed financial sanctions on two Turkish officials in August to punish the country for the two-year detention of the pastor, Andrew Brunson. In turn, Turkey placed its own sanctions on Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Kirstjen Nielsen, the homeland security secretary.

In Ankara, Hami Aksoy, the Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the sanctions against Mr. Sessions and Ms. Nielsen “responded according to reciprocity principle, which is basis of diplomatic practices.”

He said those constraints — which included a travel ban to Turkey, the freezing of any assets in Turkey and a ban on any financial transaction with people or entities in Turkey — were lifted in parallel with the scuttled sanctions against Turkey’s minister of justice, Abdulhamit Gul, and the interior minister, Suleyman Soylu.

The Treasury Department updated its list of individuals under sanction on Friday to remove the two Turkish officials.

Mr. Brunson’s release came a week after the disappearance of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist, inside Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Istanbul.

At the time, Turkish officials said they believed Saudi officials had killed Mr. Khashoggi inside the consulate — a plot that President Trump and other American officials also described as likely, siding against Riyadh despite a budding alliance between the White House and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Brunson was accused of spying and helping terrorists in the 2016 coup against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey. His release appeared to represent an olive branch, and to ensure American support as Turkey confronted the Saudis over Mr. Khashoggi’s killing.

Additionally, Turkish officials said Hulusi Akar, the country’s defense minister, spoke with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on the phone. “Two ministers exchanged views on bilateral defense relations, Syria and counterterrorism,” according to a Turkish ministry statement.

Eileen Sullivan reported from Washington, and Carlotta Gall from Istanbul. Lara Jakes contributed reporting from Washington.

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