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US, Turkey press Riyadh to explain fate of missing journalist

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Istanbul: Turkey and the United States on Thursday ratcheted up the pressure on Saudi Arabia to explain how a journalist vanished after entering its Istanbul consulate last week, with US lawmakers warning that military ties were at risk.
President Donald Trump became more forceful in his call for answers from Saudi Arabia but he also rebuffed calls from the US Congress to show more resolve, saying he would not jeopardise arms sales to the close ally.
Khashoggi, a Saudi national whose articles have criticised Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has not been seen since October 2 when he went to the consulate in Istanbul to obtain official documents for his upcoming marriage.
Turkish officials have said he was killed — reportedly by a 15-man “assassination team” that arrived on two planes — but Riyadh insists that he left the consulate safely.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in his most extensive remarks on Khashoggi, challenged Saudi Arabia to provide CCTV images to back up its account.
“Is it possible there were no camera systems in a consulate, in an embassy?” he asked.
“If a bird flew, or a fly or a mosquito appeared, the systems would capture this; they (Saudi Arabia) have the most cutting-edge systems,” he was quoted as telling Turkish reporters.
The consulate said CCTV cameras were not working that day and dismissed the murder claims as “baseless”.
The Washington Post reported however that the Turkish government has told US officials it has audio and video recordings which show how Khashoggi was “interrogated, tortured and then murdered” inside the consulate before his body was dismembered.
AFP was unable to independently verify the report and US State Department officials weren’t immediately available for comment.
The case has come to threaten the strong relationship the Trump administration has built with Prince Mohammed, initially hailed by US supporters as a reformer who wants to turn the oil-rich conservative kingdom into a hub for innovation.
The two sides have worked together in confronting Iran despite growing concern over the prince’s campaign against dissidents, which critics say has revealed the true face of his rule.
Raising his tone a notch from Washington’s initial low-key response, Trump expressed determination to get to the bottom of the matter.
“We can’t let it happen. And we’re being very tough and we have investigators over there and we’re working with Turkey and frankly we’re working with Saudi Arabia,” Trump said in an interview with “Fox and Friends”.
However, a Turkish diplomatic source quoted by the state-run Anadolu news agency denied US investigators had been tasked on the case. Asked to elaborate, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert later said that the United States had offered help but declined further details. Trump, however, quickly tried to take a major means of US influence off the table — arms sales.
“That would not be acceptable,” Trump said in the Oval Office.
“They are spending USD 110 billion on military equipment and on things that create jobs.”
The Saudis will “take that money and spend it in Russia or China or someplace else. I think there are other ways. If it turns out to be as bad as it might be, there are certainly other ways of handling the situation.”
But the US Congress, which enjoys wide oversight powers and can temporarily block arms sales, made clear that ties with Saudi Arabia were at risk. Cory Gardner, a senator from Trump’s Republican Party, told reporters that arms sales would be “a huge concern” if Saudi Arabia is found responsible.
“We can’t let even an ally believe that they have carte blanche to do anything they want,” added Bob Menendez, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


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International

Pakistan rules out India’s role in Afghan peace process

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Islamabad: Pakistan has ruled out any role for India in the Afghan peace process, the media reported on Friday.

“India has no role in Afghanistan,” Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said at the weekly media briefing on Thursday while responding to a query about Islamabad’s position on New Delhi’s part in the reconciliation process.

Faisal acknowledged that Pakistan has a difficult relationship with India, saying that despite Pakistan’s efforts for normalisation, no concrete progress could be achieved in ties with India, Dawn news reported.

 

“You all know that India is not willing to engage with Pakistan,” he reminded.

Faisal’s remarks were in sharp contrast to what Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi had told the National Assembly last month.

“Since India is present in Afghanistan, its cooperation in this regard (facilitating a negotiated settlement of the Afghan conflict) will also be required,” he had told legislators.

Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy on Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad arrived in Pakistan on Thursday to discuss with the senior civil and military leadership the latest efforts to bring peace to the war-torn country.

Khalilzad, who met Taliban representatives last month in Abu Dhabi, is leading an inter-agency delegation to India, China, Afghanistan and Pakistan from January 8-21 to “facilitate a negotiated settlement to the conflict in Afghanistan”.

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US, India in talks over strategic missile defence cooperation: Pentagon

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Washington: The Trump administration has discussed a potential missile defence cooperation with India as part of its effort to deepen the bilateral strategic partnership, the Pentagon has said, asserting that New Delhi is a “key element” in America’s Indo-Pacific strategy.

The Pentagon’s announcement in the 81-page ”Missile Defence Review” report released by President Donald Trump gains significance in view of India placing a USD 5 billion order to purchase S-400 air defence system from Russia, for which the US had publicly expressed its displeasure.

Noting that the threats posed by offensive missile capabilities are no longer limited to a few regions around the world, the Pentagon in its report said there were now a number of countries in South Asia that are developing an advanced and diverse range of ballistic and cruise missile capabilities.

 

“Within this context, the United States has discussed potential missile defence cooperation with India. This is a natural outgrowth of India’s status as a Major Defence Partner and key element of our Indo-Pacific Strategy,” said the Pentagon report on Thursday.

The report, which identifies missile development projects by Russia and China as major threats to the US, did not give any further details about its potential missile defence cooperation with India.

The US has shown reluctance to offer its missile defence system to India.

Given the tough neighbourhood that India is in, New Delhi several years ago had approached US and expressed its desire to acquire a missile defence system from it, particularly the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system popular as THAAD.

The previous Obama administration was not very forthcoming in sharing its advance missile defence system with India, following which New Delhi went ahead to procure it from Russia.

As part of its Indo-Pacific strategy, the Trump administration now seems to be more than inclined to let India procure its missile defence system with talks between the two countries having already started.

“We will deepen our strategic partnership with India and support its leadership role in Indian Ocean security and throughout the broader region,” said the 2017 National Security Strategy of the US, which has been mentioned in the Pentagon report.

The Missile Defence Review report said that the cornerstone of US’ security and diplomacy in the Indo-Pacific region is its strong bilateral alliances with Japan, South Korea and Australia, and emerging security relationships with others such as India.

Japan and South Korea are working with the US to build missile defence systems that are increasingly interoperable with American defences and increasingly capable against regional offensive missile threats and coercion.

This cooperation includes bilateral missile defence training exercises with the US.

Australia participates in a trilateral discussion on missile defence with the US and Japan. The US and Australia meet annually to discuss bilateral missile defence cooperation. New areas of focus include joint examination of the challenges posed by advanced missile threats, it said.

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400 migrants detained after crossing under fence into US

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Washington: Nearly 400 migrants burrowed under a fence on the US-Mexico border earlier this week and crossed into the US, informed sources told CNN. US Border Patrol officers stationed in Yuma, Arizona, took about 375 migrants into custody after they had made it into the US, the officials said on Thursday, calling it an unusually large apprehension.

It was not immediately clear if the migrants voluntarily surrendered to Border Patrol officials or if they were caught after attempting to evade authorities. The “vast majority” of the group were family members arriving from Guatemala, said National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd.

“It`s the largest I`ve ever heard of,” said Judd when asked if this was a significant number for a single group. There are often groups of 20 to 30 people, sometimes as large as 100, apprehended in the Yuma area, according to a Customs and Border Protection official.

 

The incident comes as President Donald Trump continues to demand funding for new barrier construction on the US-Mexico border as the government shutdown entered its 27th day , saying there was a “crisis” at the border that can only be solved with the construction of new border walls or fencing.

In November, a group of around 80 migrants from Guatemala — primarily families — were apprehended by Border Patrol after climbing over the legacy landing mat border wall east of the San Luis Port of Entry.

Hours later, another group of around 80 people entered the US by digging a shallow hole underneath the same portion of the wall, according to CBP. There has been a recent spike in total Border Patrol apprehensions in Yuma, up from 2,117 in fiscal year 2017 to 26,244 last year.

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