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South Korea, US confirm suspending military drills after Trump-Kim summit

SEOUL, June 19: South Korean and US officials confirmed on Tuesday the suspension of scheduled joint military drills, making good on a pledge by President Donald Trump during his summit with North Korea’s leader.

Seoul, which has tens of thousands of US troops on its soil to help protect it from its hostile northern neighbour, said the suspension would affect the large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises slated for August.

“South Korea and the US plan to continue discussions for further measures,” the South’s defence ministry said in a statement, adding that “no decisions have been reached for other ensuing drills.” Some 17,500 US military personnel were due to take part in the Freedom Guardian drills.

“We are still coordinating additional actions. No decisions on subsequent war games have been made,” Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in confirming the suspension.

“There is no impact on Pacific exercises outside of the Korean Peninsula.” White said US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton would meet later this week at the Pentagon to discuss the issue.

Last week, Trump made the surprise announcement that the US would halt “war games” with its South Korean security ally -- without making clear when the freeze would begin.

The US leader raised eyebrows by describing the exercises as “provocative” -- a term used by the North.

US and South Korean forces have been training together for years, and routinely rehearse everything from beach landings to an invasion from the North, or even “decapitation” strikes targeting the North Korean regime.

Pyongyang typically reacts furiously. Following drills last year, the North fired ballistic missiles over Japan, triggering global alarm.

Trump’s decision raised concern in Japan, which hosts tens of thousands of US troops and has eyed the diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang with deep suspicion.

But officials were sanguine on the announcement today, with Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera saying Trump’s move would not affect US-Japan exercises.

“In talks with Secretary Mattis, we confirmed that we will implement drills between Japan and the US,” he told reporters.

Foreign Minister Taro Kono added that Tokyo understood the drills were being halted as a way to press Pyongyang to negotiate in good faith.

“I understand that if North Korea stops negotiating with good will, the joint drills will resume,” he said.

Choi Hyun-soo, a South Korea defence ministry spokeswoman, added: “We are expecting a corresponding measure from North Korea in response to the suspension of the joint drills.” At their landmark Singapore summit, Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un signed a joint statement in which Pyongyang committed to “work toward complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.” But critics have pointed to the vague wording of the non-binding document and raised fears that the summit could weaken the international coalition against the North’s nuclear programme.

Pompeo, who has stressed that sanctions will remain in place until North Korea’s complete denuclearisation, said he plans to meet Kim for follow-up talks.

South Korea said sanctions against the North could be eased once it takes “substantive steps towards denuclearisation,” seemingly setting the bar lower than Washington for such a move.

But Pompeo’s office said both allies remain “committed to the goal of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation.”

India refuses to endorse China’s Belt and Road Initiative in SCO summit statement

QINGDAO, June 10: India was the only country on Sunday not to endorse a high-profile Chinese project in Pakistan-occupied-Kashmir (PoK) — the only discordant note in the 17-page joint document released at the end of the 18th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Qingdao.

All remaining seven members of the SCO bloc supported the project that is a part of President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Earlier, Prime Minister Narendra Modi said India supports connectivity projects that are inclusive, transparent and respect territorial sovereignty. India has long maintained that the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) — a key part of the BRI initiative that passes through PoK — violates its territorial integrity.

Speaking at the plenary session of the summit, Modi aid India’s priority was connectivity with the neighbourhood and between SCO countries.

“We have again reached a stage where physical and digital connectivity is changing the definition of geography. Therefore, connectivity with our neighbourhood and in the SCO region is our priority,” he said, emphasising the need for inclusiveness and transparency in connectivity projects to be successful.

The prime minister also floated an overarching concept of security that the SCO could follow, calling it SECURE: S for security for citizens, E for economic development, C for connectivity in the region, U for unity, R for respect of sovereignty, E for environment protection.

Foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale said on Saturday that India’s position on the BRI “is spelt out”, that India “supports all connectivity initiatives but they should be keeping in mind territorial sovereignty, integrity” as well as viability and sustainability in all areas.

Reiterating the position on Sunday, Ruchi Ghanashyam, secretary (West), added: “I don’t think that India’s position (on BRI) is not known to others. So, I really don’t see India’s position coming as a surprise to anybody because it is not the first time that India has articulated it. The prime minister has articulated earlier. It is a well-known position.”

Since India not endorsing BRI was expected, it is likely that neither India nor China will allow this disagreement to impact bilateral ties and instead focus on projects in third countries such as in Afghanistan.

Modi did not have a bilateral meeting with Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain during the summit but the two leaders did shake hands after a joint press conference of all the member states.

“They exchanged pleasantries,” an Indian official said.

Modi didn’t single out Pakistan as a source of terrorism in his speech, which, experts said, could be dictated by the fact that both countries were new members of the SCO and a direct reference would have made it diplomatically awkward for the other member nations.

It is the first time that an Indian prime minister is attending the SCO summit after India and Pakistan became full-fledged members of the grouping that is jointly dominated by China and Russia.

The Qingdao declaration said that all member states strongly condemn terrorism in all forms and manifestations. One of the documents released was “a joint appeal by the SCO heads of member states for the prevention of radicalisation of youth, programme of cooperation in combating terrorism, separatism and extremism for the years 2019-21”, Ghanashyam said.

The declaration said that member states “…strongly condemn terrorism in all forms and manifestations.”

Modi spoke about how terrorism had affected Afghanistan, an observer country in the SCO. “Afghanistan is an unfortunate example of effect of terrorism,” he said, adding that he hoped steps towards peace taken by its President Ashraf Ghani will be respected by all other countries in the region.

Promising full cooperation for the summit a year after India joined the bloc, Modi said, “We should together set a goal for the 25th SCO Summit. We should work together as a committee. India is committed to extend full cooperation to a successful outcome of the summit.”

The SCO was founded at a summit in Shanghai in 2001 by the presidents of Russia, China, Kyrgyz Republic, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. India and Pakistan became its members last year. The SCO member countries represent around 42% of the world’s population and 20% of the global GDP.

SCO endorses India's proposal for UN terror treaty

NEW DELHI, June 12: India’s proposal for UN Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism (CCIT) got a shot in the arm when the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) said in a declaration on Sunday that a comprehensive UN treaty on fighting international terrorism should be passed by reaching consensus based on UN documents such as the Charter of the United Nations.

“The member states will boost cooperation in fighting the spread and propaganda of terrorist ideas on the Internet, including public justification of terrorism, the recruitment of new members to terrorist groups, incitement to commit terrorist acts, financing of terrorism and the spread of information about ways to carry out terrorist attacks on the Internet,” read the SCO declaration adopted at the two-day Qingdao summit.

The declaration suggested that the global community pool its efforts to counter attempts to lure young people into terrorist, extremist and separatist groups. Besides, SCO members expressed concern about “threats emerging from the growing production, trade and misuse of narcotic substances, as well as from the use of proceeds of illicit drug trafficking for financing terrorism”.

The SCO is among the few regional groupings that have a separate body – RATS, in this case, based in Tashkent – to counter terrorism on the ground. Strengthening security architecture in the Eurasian region is one of the key goals for the eight-member grouping.

The CCIT is currently being discussed at the Sixth Ad Hoc Committee of the United Nations and has been blocked by the USA, Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) member states and South American countries over definition of ‘terrorism’. The OIC wants exclusion of national liberation movements, especially in the context of Israel-Palestinian conflict. The US wanted the CCIT draft to exclude acts committed by military forces of states during peacetime. The Modi government has urged several member states of the OIC to adopt the CCIT.

The global community has so far failed to develop rules under which terrorists shall be prosecuted or extradited. The CCIT would give “legal teeth to prosecute terrorist acts”, according to Indian officials. India has raised the issue of the need for endorsement of the CCIT across several bilateral and multilateral forums for the past two decades, irrespective of governments in Delhi. The CCIT provides a legal framework which makes it binding on all signatories to deny funds and safe havens to terrorist groups.

Although consensus has so far eluded adoption of the terrorism convention, discussions have yielded three separate protocols that aim to tackle terrorism – International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, adopted on December 15, 1997; International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism, adopted on December 9, 1999; and International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism, adopted on April 13, 2005.

Besides the CCIT, fight against corruption including information sharing was included in the SCO declaration in what can be viewed as an endorsement of the Modi government’s appeal for global fight against corruption.

The document stressed that corruption in all its manifestations poses a threat to national and regional security, decreasing the efficiency of state management, negatively affecting investment attractiveness and hindering social and economic development. “The member states call for boosting international cooperation in the fight against corruption, particularly through exchanging experiences and information,” read the declaration.

Nirav Modi flees to UK, claiming political asylum: Report

LONDON, June 11: Nirav Modi, the billionaire jeweller at the heart of a more than $2 billion fraud case in India, has fled to the UK, where he is claiming political asylum, the Financial Times reported on Sunday, citing Indian and British officials.

Britain’s Home Office said it does not provide information on individual cases.

Punjab National Bank, India’s second-largest state-run bank, said earlier in 2018 that two jewellery groups headed by Modi and his uncle Mehul Choksi had defrauded it of about $2.2 billion by raising credit from overseas branches of other Indian banks using illegal guarantees issued by rogue PNB staff at a Mumbai branch over several years.

Nirav Modi is in London trying to claim asylum from what he calls “political persecution”, the FT reported.

India’s ministry of external affairs told the FT the Indian government was waiting for the country’s law enforcement agencies to approach them before pushing for an extradition, which had thus far not happened. The ministry did not respond to a Reuters request for comment outside regular working hours.

India is already seeking the extradition of Vijay Mallya, a liquor and aviation tycoon, over unpaid loans to his defunct Kingfisher Airlines after the businessman and co-owner of the Formula One Force India team moved to Britain in March last year.

The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) filed charges against more than 25 people in May including Modi, Choksi, former PNB chief Usha Ananthasubramanian, two of the bank’s executive directors and three companies belonging to Nirav Modi.

Modi and Choksi have denied any wrongdoing.

Last month, senior executives at the bank were accused by the CBI, in a charge sheet filed in court, of misleading the central bank in late 2016 over the lender’s handling of the financial messaging system and credit guarantees that were at the centre of the fraud.

 
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