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Pakistan needs to earn the money it gets, says US

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WASHINGTON: The US State Department has said that Pakistan needs to earn the money it gets from Washington while the White House warned that President Donald Trump can follow through his pledge to stop US assistance to Pakistan if it does not change its Afghan policy.

The two statements were part of the regular news briefings at the White House and the State Department o where reporters appeared perturbed about the timing of the tweet Mr Trump sent out at 4am on Monday, threatening Pakistan with dire consequences of its alleged support to the militants.

At the State Department, Spokesperson Heather Nauert seemed aware of the unpopularity of the “do more” phrase and avoided it, at least once. “I don’t want to say that Pakistan can do more, but Pakistan knows what it needs to do,” she said.

 

But Ms Nauert minced no words when asked why President Trump was threatening to stop US economic and military assistance to Pakistan.

White House’s press secretary says President Trump ‘does what he says’

“They need to better earn, essentially, the money that we have provided in the past in foreign military assistance, they need to show that they are sincere in their efforts to crack down on terrorists,” she said.

At the White House, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders reminded Pakistan that President Trump “does what he says” and he will follow through the commitment he made.

Both statements emphasised the point that there’s no immediate reason behind the tweet that seems to have stirred a wave of anti-American sentiments across Pakistan. Mr Trump was only re-emphasising his frustration with Pakistan’s Afghan policy.

“The president is simply following through on a commitment that he made, because this is a president that does what he says he’s going to do,” said Sanders when asked what precipitated President Trump’s tweet about threatening to withhold future US aid to Pakistan.

“We know that Pakistan can do more to fight terrorism, and we want them to step up and do that,” she added, negating the State Department’s effort to avoid using an unpopular phrase.

Despite her denial, reporters at the White House briefing continued to ask Ms San­ders what caused Mr Trump to send out a tweet at 4am.

Some reminded that the US-Pakistan disagreement on the Haqqani network was a long-running dispute between the two governments, so there has to be a reason for sending such a harsh message to Islamabad.

Sanders traced it back to the new Afghan strategy President Trump outlined in August reminding Pakistan that it was not fulfilling its obligations. Another journalist looking for a cause for the tweet referred to Mr Trump’s UN envoy Nikki Haley’s statement, saying that the aid cut for Pak­is­tan was not tied to the United Nations vote on Jerusalem.
“First, in terms of Pakistan, as I said, our goal is that we know that they can do more to stop terrorism, and we want them to do that. That seems pretty simple,” Ms Sanders said.

Responding to the second part of the question — when would the US announce sanctions on the nations that voted against it in the UN on the Jerusalem issue last month — the White House official said: “I think you’ll see some more details come out on that in the next 24 to 48 hours.”

At the State Department, Ms Heather too had to face the same question — “why did the administration choose this week to announce it is withholding aid from Pakistan”?

“Actually, no, we didn’t. That was an announcement that came out back in August, and for some reason, people got interested in it again. But that is not a new announcement that we would hold back on that money,” she responded.

“Pakistan is an important partner. We have a lot of issues in that region. Pakis­tan knows that, we all know that, and we try to work carefully together on some of those issues,” said Ms Hea­ther.

“The president has made clear in the past also… that the US expects Pakistan to take decisive action against the Haqqani network and other militants who are operating from its soil,” she added.


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US warn Turkey of facing ‘very negative’ consequences over S-400 deal

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Washington: The United States on Wednesday warned that Turkey will have to face “very real and very negative consequences” if Ankara finalises the purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile defence systems.

In a statement, the State Department said, “We have said that the S-400 defence system, the acquisition of that would have serious consequences for the US and NATO’s defence relationship with Turkey.”

“We’re clearly willing to engage with them and have continued to engage regarding our concerns on this acquisition, but there will be very real and very negative consequences if that happens,” it added.

 

Turkey has repeatedly rejected US ultimatums for cancelling S-400 shipments and the purchase of American Patriot batteries instead. However, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov condemned to the US ultimatum on Wednesday by calling it unacceptable, Sputnik reports.

In December 2017, Moscow and Ankara signed a loan agreement for the delivery of S-400 air defence systems to Turkey. Since then, the United States and NATO have criticised Turkey’s move, citing security concerns and incompatibility with NATO air defence systems.

Washington had earlier threatened Turkey with sanctions for its planned acquisition of S-400s and repeatedly said it may delay or cancel the sales of F-35 aircraft to Ankara. Turkey is one of the seven states that participate in the F-35 program.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on last Saturday told Al Jazeera that the S-400 deal with Russia was done and wouldn’t change.

“There is absolutely no question of [Turkey] taking a step back from the S-400 purchase. That is a done deal,” Erdogan was quoted as saying.

He also said Turkey and Russia would jointly produce S-500 defence systems after Ankara’s controversial purchase of the S-400s from Moscow.

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Man busted for threatening to bomb Trump tower in New York

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Washington: A 20-year-old New Jersey man accused of threatening on social media to “shoot everybody” at a pro-Israel march and bomb the Trump Tower skyscraper in New York City was arrested on Wednesday on a string of federal charges, prosecutors said.

Jonathan Xie, of Basking Ridge, was taken into custody on charges of attempting to provide material support to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules the Gaza Strip and which the United States designates as a terrorist organization, making false statements and transmitting threats over interstate commerce, according to federal prosecutors.

“Homegrown violent extremists like Xie are a serious threat to national security,” US Attorney Craig Carpenito said in a statement. “The actions that he took and planned to take made that threat both clear and present.”

 

According to the charging documents, Xie appeared in an Instagram Live video in April 2019 wearing a black ski mask and displayed a handgun as he expressed the desire to attack demonstrators at a pro-Israel rally.

“I want to shoot the pro-Israel demonstrators … you can get a gun and shoot your way through or use a vehicle and ram people … all you need is a gun or vehicle to go on a rampage….I do not care if security forces come after me, they will have to put a bullet in my head to stop me,” Xie said in the video, according to the court papers.

That same month Xie was spotted outside of Trump Tower, headquarters of the businesses owned by US President Donald Trump. He later posted photos of the building on Instagram along with a poll asking if he should bomb it.

“Okay, so I went to NYC today and passed by Trump Tower and then I started laughing hysterically … I forgot to visit the Israeli embassy in NYC … I want to bomb this place along with trump tower,” Xie said in a separate post detailed in the court documents.

In February 2019 Xie said he wanted to join the US Army in hopes of learning “how to kill” and applied for a security clearance as a first step, prosecutors say.

He is also accused of sending money to an individual in the Gaza Strip aligned with a faction of Hamas that has carried out attacks against civilian targets in Israel.

It was not immediately clear if Xie, who faces more than 30 years in federal prison if convicted on all charges, had retained an attorney.

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Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro wins, Justice Minister loses in Congress

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Brasilia: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro surmounted a crucial hurdle for his young government on Wednesday by winning approval from disgruntled lower house lawmakers for his move to reorganize the country’s executive branch.

But lawmakers voted against putting the Council for Financial Activities Control (COAF), a key tool for flagging suspicious funds moving through the banking system, under the control of Justice Minister Sergio Moro, a former judge who jailed many politicians in the sweeping corruption probe known as Car Wash.

“I lament what happened,” Moro said, according to newspaper O Globo. “It’s part of the democratic debate.”

 

The vote on the first decree Bolsonaro issued the day he took office in January was a test of his ability to govern without courting traditional parties in Congress, which is threatening to derail his agenda after months of mutual antagonism.

The decree that reduced the number of ministries to 20, from 29 previously, was due to expire on June 3.Failure to gain approval would have thrown the government into crisis, forcing a ministry reshuffle and increasing doubts that he can rally support for an ambitious pension reform bill – the cornerstone of his economic agenda – now in the hands of a political class he openly insults.

A former army captain and apologist for Brazil’s 1964-85 military dictatorship, Bolsonaro wielded little influence in his three decades in Congress and cast his grassroots campaign as a crusade against the horse trading of Brazil’s “old politics.”

“Bolsonaro despises democracy. We have to isolate his anti-democratic attitude and lack of respect for institutions so this does not paralyse the country,” lawmaker Marcelo Ramos, chairman of the congressional committee on pension reform, told Reuters.

Ramos said Bolsonaro was unable to build a coalition with the 308 votes needed to pass the pension bill, aimed at saving 1.2 trillion reais (USD 300 billion) in a decade to restore investor confidence and jump-start a weak economy. Ramos estimated the bill could currently only muster 200 votes.

Bolsonaro has said he would rather work with issue-focused caucuses than party leaders and has called on his supporters via social media to pressure lawmakers obstructing his agenda.

He attacked the political class on Monday for being the country’s “big problem” and blamed interest groups for impeding him from governing.

Lawmakers passed the decree despite their frustration with Bolsonaro’s refusal to reach out to them with government jobs and support for projects in their constituencies.

However, their decision to keep the COAF under the Economy Ministry was a set-back for Bolsonaro and especially Moro, who has declared war on the country’s entrenched culture of political graft and impunity.

The move had alarmed some lawmakers, many of whom are under investigation on suspicion of corruption.

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