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US reaffirms Major Defence Partner status for India

NEW DELHI, April 18: The United States and India reaffirmed a strategic partnership that involves not only a growing defence relationship but also shared perspectives of the region.

Rounding off his first regional visit, US NSA, HR McMaster held talks with prime minister Narendra Modi, NSA, Ajit Doval and foreign secretary S Jaishankar. According to the PMO, the two sides "exchanged views on how both countries can work together to effectively address the challenge of terrorism and to advance regional peace, security and stability."

A statement by the US embassy said the US reaffirmed India's status as "major defence partner". "The two sides discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues, including their shared interest in increasing defense and counterterrorism cooperation. The visit was a part of regional consultations that included stops in Kabul and Islamabad."

PM Modi is expected to travel to Washington DC for his first summit with Donald Trump this summer, though dates were not revealed. It is believed McMaster's discussions included talks on the visit, though there was no official confirmation.

Official sources said the discussions with the Indian leadership covered situation in Afghanistan, West Asia and DPRK. McMaster has separately been quoted as saying that the North Korean issue was "coming to a head".

On the issue of Afghanistan, Indian sources said there appeared to be a continuation of US policy, based primarily on counter-terrorism and supporting building up of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF). "We both want the same outcomes in Afghanistan. The difference is in our resources and approach," said high level sources.

Doval, Jaishankar and several key officials were present in the meeting that took place at the Prime Minister's residence. The talks started on Monday evening, continuing through dinner hosted by Doval, for well over three hours. They continued on Tuesday morning as well. The discussions according to sources covered bi-lateral relations, including the defence relationship as well as regional perspectives.

The US NSA arrived in Delhi on Monday evening from Pakistan, where he met Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and some top officials. In Islamabad, the relations between India and Pakistan figured in McMaster's discussions with Sharif. A US embassy readout of the meeting said "McMaster expressed appreciation for Pakistan's democratic and economic development, and stressed the need to confront terrorism in all its forms."

McMaster's visit to Kabul was preceded by the US using its biggest non-nuclear bomb on an IS/Daesh complex in Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan.

US NSA McMaster tells Pakistan leaders to confront ‘terror in all forms’

ISLAMABAD, April 17: US National Security Adviser HR McMaster on Monday told Pakistan’s top civil and military leaders to “confront terrorism in all its forms”, a day after he hinted the Trump administration could take a tougher stance on Islamabad’s efforts to counter militant groups.

McMaster arrived in Pakistan for an unannounced visit after travelling to Afghanistan, where he told the media that Pakistan should target militant groups “less selectively” and stop using “proxies that engage in violence”.

A statement from the US embassy in Islamabad said McMaster expressed appreciation for Pakistan’s democratic and economic development but also “stressed the need to confront terrorism in all its forms”.

McMaster, making his first visit to Pakistan as National Security Adviser, discussed a range of bilateral and regional issues with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, army chief Gen Qamar Javed Bajwa, special advisor to the prime minister Sartaj Aziz, and his Pakistani counterpart Nasser Khan Janjua.

There has been growing criticism by American officials and lawmakers of Pakistan’s policy of targeting some terror groups while turning a blind eye to the activities of others such as the Lashkar-e-Taiba that target India.

A statement from Sharif’s office quoted the premier welcoming President Donald Trump’s apparent “willingness to help India and Pakistan resolve their differences particularly on Kashmir and noted that this could go a long way in bringing sustainable peace, security and prosperity to the region”.

Sharif also referred to his commitment to a peaceful neighbourhood and “reiterated his firm conviction on sustained dialogue and meaningful engagement as the only way forward to resolve all outstanding issues between India and Pakistan, including the Kashmir dispute”.

But India has already rejected any role for the US in mediating between New Delhi and Islamabad, especially after America’s envoy to the UN, Nikki Haley, recently suggested Trump could play a role in the region.

Sharif also sought to assure the US of his administration’s efforts to counter extremism, telling McMaster about a “marked improvement in the overall security situation” that captured the spirit of “new Pakistan” and “across-the-board consensus” achieved by his government to combat terrorism.

McMaster, the first top member of Trump’s administration to visit Pakistan, spoke of the need for Pakistan to change its approach towards terror during an interview with Afghanistan’s Tolo News channel on Sunday: “As all of us have hoped for many, many years, we have hoped that Pakistani leaders will understand that it is in their interest to go after these groups less selectively than they have in the past and the best way to pursue their interest in Afghanistan and elsewhere is through diplomacy, not through the use of proxies that engage in violence.”

His delegation included Lisa Curtis, the National Security Council’s senior director for South Asia, who recently co-authored a paper calling on the US to stop treating Pakistan as an ally and instead to “focus on diplomatically isolating” it if it continues to support terror groups.

Trump, Xi talks 'positive, productive'

WASHINGTON, April 8: While the world’s attention was focussed on the US missile strikes on Syria, Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping quietly wrapped up their first round of meetings on Friday that the American side described as “positive and productive”.

On Saturday, Trump tweeted, “It was a great honor to have President Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan of China as our guests in the United States. Tremendous goodwill and friendship was formed, but only time will tell on trade.”

Trade remains Trump’s chief grouse against China, which has a trade surplus of $347 billion with the US, and he, as presidential candidate, had accused China of cheating, by manipulating their currency, and had once even accused China of “raping” the US.

Trump did raise his concerns on the issue with Xi. The White House said in a statement that he “noted the challenges caused by Chinese government intervention in its economy and raised serious concerns about the impact of China’s industrial, agricultural, technology, and cyber policies on United States jobs and exports.

“The President underscored the need for China to take concrete steps to level the playing field for American workers, stressing repeatedly the need for reciprocal market access.”

The two leaders also discussed North Korea and threat posed by its weapons programme. The US has said it wants China to take the lead on bringing North Korea, over which it has “great influence”, but is prepared to go it alone.

“They agreed to increase cooperation and work with the international community to convince North Korea to peacefully resolve the issue and dismantle its illegal nuclear and missile programs,” the White House said.

To better address important issues, the two leaders also decided to “elevate existing bilateral talks” and established a “new and cabinet-level framework for negotiations”.

The US said United States-China Comprehensive Dialogue will be overseen by the two presidents and have four pillars: the Diplomatic and Security Dialogue; the Comprehensive Economic Dialogue; the Law Enforcement and Cybersecurity Dialogue; and the Social and Cultural Issues Dialogue.

Trump has also accepted Xi’s invitation to visit China.

US missiles pound Syria

PALM BEACH, Florida, April 6: The United States blasted a Syrian air base with a barrage of cruise missiles Thursday night in fiery retaliation for this week's gruesome chemical weapons attack against civilians. President Donald Trump cast the U.S. assault as vital to deter future use of poison gas and called on other nations to join in seeking "to end the slaughter and bloodshed in Syria."

It was the first direct American assault on the Syrian government and Trump's most dramatic military order since becoming president just over two months ago. The strikes also risk thrusting the U.S. deeper into an intractable conflict that his predecessor spent years trying to avoid.

Announcing the assault from his Florida resort, Trump said there was no doubt Syrian President Bashar Assad was responsible for the chemical attack, which he said employed banned gases and killed dozens.

"Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children," Trumped declared.

The U.S. strikes - some 59 missiles launched from the USS Ross and USS Porter - hit the government-controlled Shayrat air base in central Syria, where U.S. officials say the Syrian military planes that dropped the chemicals had taken off. The U.S. missiles hit at 8:45 p.m. in Washington, 3:45 Friday morning in Syria. The missiles targeted the base's airstrips, hangars, control tower and ammunition areas, officials said.

Trump approved the strikes without approval from Congress or the backing of the United Nations. The White House said about two dozen lawmakers from both parties were briefed on the actions.

Syrian state TV reported a U.S. missile attack on a number of military targets and called the attack an "aggression."

The U.S. assault marked a striking reversal for Trump, who warned as a candidate against the U.S. being pulled into the Syrian civil war that began six years ago. But the president appeared moved by the photos of children killed in the chemical attack, calling it a "disgrace to humanity" that crossed "a lot of lines."

U.S. officials placed some of the blame on Russia, one of Syria's most important benefactors. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in Florida with Trump, said Moscow had failed in living up to a 2013 agreement that was intended to strip Syria of its chemical weapons stockpiles.

"Either Russia has been complicit or Russia has been simply incompetent in its ability to deliver on its end of the agreement," Tillerson said.

About 60 U.S. Tomahawk missiles, fired from warships in the Mediterranean Sea, targeted an air base in retaliation for the attack that America believes Syrian government aircraft launched with the nerve agent sarin mixed with chlorine gas. The president did not announce the attacks in advance, though he and other national security officials ratcheted up their warnings to the Syrian government throughout the day Thursday.

The strike came as Trump was hosting Xi in meetings focused in part on another pressing U.S. security dilemma: North Korea's nuclear program. Trump's actions in Syria could signal to China that the new president isn't afraid of unilateral military steps, even if key nations like China are standing in the way.

"This clearly indicates the president is willing to take decisive action when called for," Tillerson said.

Trump has advocated greater counterterrorism cooperation with Russia, Assad's most powerful military backer. Just last week, the Trump administration signaled the U.S. was no longer interested in trying to push Assad from power over his direction of a conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and led to the worst refugee crisis since World War II.

U.S. officials portrayed the strikes as an appropriate, measured response and said they did not signal a broader shift in the Trump administration's approach to the Syrian conflict.

Still, the assault risks plunging America into the middle of Syria's conflict, complicating the safety of the hundreds of U.S. forces fighting a separate campaign against the Islamic State group in the north of the country. If Assad's military persists in further gas attacks, the Trump administration might logically pursue increased retaliation.

Russia and Iran, Assad's allies, pose other problems. Russian military personnel and aircraft are embedded with Syria's, and Iranian troops and paramilitary forces are also on the ground helping Assad fight the array of opposition groups hoping to topple him.

Before the strikes, U.S. military officials said they informed their Russian counterparts of the impending attack. The goal was to avoid any accident involving Russian forces.

Nevertheless, Russia's Deputy U.N. ambassador Vladimir Safronkov warned that any negative consequences from the strikes would be on the "shoulders of those who initiated such a doubtful and tragic enterprise."

The U.S. also notified its partner countries in the region prior to launching the strikes.

Trump's decision to attack Syria came three-and-a-half years after President Barack Obama threatened Assad with military action after an earlier chemical weapons attack killed hundreds outside Damascus. Obama had declared the use of such weapons a "red line." At the time, several American ships in the Mediterranean were poised to launch missiles, only for Obama to abruptly pull back after key U.S. ally Britain and the U.S. Congress balked at his plan.

He opted instead for the Russian-backed plan that was supposed to remove and eliminate Syria's chemical weapons stockpiles.

The world learned of the chemical attack earlier in the week in footage that showed people dying in the streets and bodies of children stacked in piles. The international outcry fueled an emotional response from Trump, who appeared to abandon his much-touted "America First" vision for a stance of humanitarian intervention, akin to that of previous American leaders. "I think what happened in Syria is a disgrace to humanity," he said Thursday.

Trump seemed to rapidly reconsider his feelings about Assad, saying: "He's there and I guess he's running things, so something should happen."

The show of force in Syria raises legal questions. It's unclear what authority Trump is relying on to attack another government. When Obama intervened in Libya in 2011, he used a U.N. Security Council mandate and NATO's overall leadership of the mission to argue that he had legal authority - arguments that many Republicans opposed. Trump can't rely on either justification here.

Unclear also is whether Trump is adopting any broader effort to combat Assad. Under Obama, the United States largely pulled back from its support for so-called "moderate" rebels when Russia's military intervention in September 2015 led them to suffer a series of battlefield defeats. Instead, Obama sought to work with Russia on a negotiated transition.

Trump and his top aides had acknowledged in recent days the "reality" of Assad being in power, saying his ouster was no longer a priority. But the chemical weapons attack seemed to spur a rethink. In Florida on Thursday, Tillerson said of Assad: "There's no role for him to govern the Syrian people."

Ambassador Nikki Haley Wants UN Members To Walk The Talk

By Deepak Arora

Nikki HaleyNEW YORK, April 3: Even before Ambassador Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, took over the US Presidency of the UN Security Council beginning this month, her forthright remarks on challenges facing the world body have placed her in different league. Whether Ambassador Haley speaks about human rights, terrorism or UN peacekeeping missions, she has amply made it clear she means business and make the UN great again.

Last Wednesday, she has made a mark spoke to the Council on Foreign Relations, where she discussed the U.S. presidency of the UN Security Council in April, including her plans to assess current UN peacekeeping missions and make the case that human rights fall within the Security Council’s responsibility for maintaining international peace and security.

“I believe strongly that the time has come for the Security Council to explicitly consider the connection between human rights and security. This debate is one that’s worth having. It would greatly strengthen the work of the Security Council. And it’s the right thing to do. We intend to challenge Member States to start walking the walk and not just talking the talk of human rights. We will see which countries rise to the challenge and which resort to the same old, tired excuses. It will be very telling if any country tries to block this debate. It’s past time that the Security Council acknowledge the importance of human rights abuses and demand that its member nations do the same.”

“We will lay out a comprehensive vision for how peacekeeping missions should be reviewed moving forward. We will go back to first principles and ask the hard questions: what was the original intent of the mission? Is the mission achieving its objective? Are we lifting up the people in the region towards independence? What are the mission countries doing to help themselves? Do we have an exit plan? And is there accountability?”

Following is the text of her speech at the the Council on Foreign Relations:

I’m excited that I’m going to be taking over the presidency at the UN Security Council in April, and I’d like to spend a few moments just talking to you about our agenda and what we want to try and accomplish.

Being at the UN has reminded me in powerful ways of my early days in state government in South Carolina. The UN Security Council – just like the South Carolina legislature – is basically a club. And the thing about clubs is that they have rules, and they have a culture. There is constant pressure to comply with this culture. And soon enough, members are doing things a certain way because that’s the way they’ve always done them. And then the club becomes stale. Its members forget that being responsive and changing with the times are needed to show value to the people that they serve.

I’ve approached my job at the UN in the same way I did in South Carolina: I’m working to change the culture.

Institutions always benefit from an outsider’s perspective. In South Carolina, I was the first minority governor, and a real shock to the state, the first girl governor as well. And I was definitely an outsider. But my perspective allowed me to see the ways the legislature had become complacent.

Challenging the rules of the club didn’t make me popular at the State House. But it was necessary then, and it’s necessary now.

At the U.S. Mission, we’re all about changing the culture and bringing positive energy to the United Nations. We’ve put accountability front and center. People who’ve worked with me know that I have no tolerance for unmet promises and inaction. My team is about action, reliability, and results. We demand that of ourselves and we expect it of others.

We’re also having the backs of our allies, and we’re not afraid to call out the governments that don’t have our backs. We will deal fairly with the people who are fair with us. If not, all bets are off.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have illusions about how easily an institution the size and complexity of the United Nations can be changed. Still, with the support of the new Secretary-General and many of my colleagues on the Security Council, we’ve already started to make some progress.

A couple of weeks ago when a UN agency put out yet another ridiculously biased report attacking Israel, we were able to work with the Secretary-General to have it withdrawn. The head of the UN agency then resigned.

I think this incident really goes to the heart of what needs to be changed at the United Nations. So many dollars and man hours were spent to produce a false and defamatory report. So much energy and emotion is spent on the same old things. Meanwhile, the UN is missing the growing discontent – and growing distrust – among the people it’s supposed to represent.

The fact is a wave is building throughout the world. It’s a wave of populism that is challenging institutions like the United Nations and shaking them to their foundations.

So many people are desperate. So many face injustice, genocide, starvation, and corruption – and they feel powerless. So many people yearn just to be heard.

Mohammed Bouazizi was one of the first to show the world the frustration that’s out there.

Mohammed was a simple street vendor in Tunisia. He was repeatedly abused by a corrupt system for the crime of wanting to sell his oranges and apples. He became so desperate to be heard that he set himself on fire in front of the offices of the police – the very police who had humiliated and stolen from him. Mohammed’s act of desperation was heard by the people. It set off the Arab Spring.

Then there was Neda. She was 26 years old, talking on her cell phone, when she was shot by government forces in Iran in 2009. A video of her bleeding to death on the street in Tehran went viral. Once again, the people reacted. Neda’s death powered the Green Revolution. But the international elite had other priorities for Iran. In the end, Neda’s death – and the dreams of the Iranian people – were overlooked and unfulfilled.

Like all governing bodies, the United Nations has to contend with this growing wave of discontent. I came to the UN with the goal of showing the American people value for our investment in this institution. And when I say “value,” I’m not primarily talking about budgets. I’m talking about making the UN an effective tool on behalf of our values.

The United States is the moral conscience of the world. We will not walk away from this role. But we will insist that our participation in the UN honor and reflect this role. If we can’t speak on behalf of people like Mohammed and Neda, then we have no business being here.

For me, human rights are at the heart of the mission of the United Nations. That’s why I will be devoting a portion of my presidency to putting the issue of human rights on the agenda at the Security Council.

It might surprise many Americans to learn that human rights violations have not been considered an appropriate subject for discussion in the Security Council. This is the rule the club has created. The Security Council has never had a session focused exclusively on human rights. There have been meetings focused on singular situations in particular countries, but never has a meeting been dedicated to the broader question of how human rights abuses can lead to a breakdown in national peace and security. The thinking is that peace and security are the Security Council’s business. Human rights are left, separate, to others.

The need for this to change is not just a question of morality – although morality should compel all of us to protect basic human dignity. It’s a question of the very peace and security that the Security Council is charged to promote. The fact is peace and security cannot be achieved in isolation from human rights. In case after case, human rights abuses are not the byproduct of conflict – they are the cause of conflict. Or they are the fuel that feeds the conflict. Desperate people subject to humiliation and abuse will inevitably resort to violence. People who are robbed of their humanity and dignity will inevitably want revenge. They are also vulnerable to manipulation or coercion by extremist groups.

In some cases, human rights abuses literally provide the financing for aggression. The North Korean regime forces political prisoners to work themselves to death in coal mines to finance its nuclear program. In other cases, human rights abuses are a weapon of war. Syrian intelligence uses torture – including the deliberate, systemic torture of children – to identify and silence opponents. And as you know, pro-government forces in Syria have systematically targeted civilian infrastructure, including hospitals.

Recently, CCTV cameras captured what happens when hospitals are targeted by government bombs. A horrifying YouTube showed the final seconds of the life of the last pediatrician in East Aleppo, Dr. Mohammed, who was there. The video is simply shot down a hallway of a children’s hospital. Dr. Ma’az darts in and out, hurrying from room to room, seeing patients. Then, just after he walks out of the frame, you see the walls, the ceiling, the floor, the air of the hospital explode. And then the screen goes blank.

The video is horrible, but the reality behind it is even worse. Together with Russia and Iran, the Assad regime has destroyed each and every hospital in East Aleppo. Every one. A quarter million people have left to suffer. These are war crimes.

And Assad’s crimes, of course, have not been confined to Syria. Syrian human rights violations have led to the greatest refugee crisis since World War II. What was once a brutal crackdown on peaceful protestors is now a six-sided conflict and a great power proxy war.

I believe strongly that the time has come for the Security Council to explicitly consider the connection between human rights and security. This debate is one that’s worth having. It would greatly strengthen the work of the Security Council. And it’s the right thing to do.

We intend to challenge Member States to start walking the walk and not just talking the talk of human rights. We will see which countries rise to the challenge and which resort to the same old, tired excuses. It will be very telling if any country tries to block this debate. It’s past time that the Security Council acknowledge the importance of human rights abuses and demand that its member nations do the same.

A second issue I intend to focus on in the coming weeks is the UN peacekeeping operations. This is an area of great potential for reform. One of the ways the UN does its best work – and shows its greatest value – is through peacekeeping operations.

But too often the focus of our peacekeeping efforts is on the troop contributing countries – that is those who are paid to send troops into an area – or the funding countries, or the bureaucracy of the UN itself, not on protecting civilians and achieving a political solution.

In the past, when we’ve discussed our peacekeeping operations, we’ve kept the focus on management-related issues. We’ve rightly spent time on peacekeeper troop conduct. But too often we’ve gotten bogged down in parochial questions. We’ve spent a lot of time worrying about which country or bureaucracy benefits from the mission. We’ve worried about the donor countries. We’ve worried about troop supplying countries. We’ve missed the forest for the trees in peacekeeping operations altogether.

During the U.S. presidency, I intend to do something different. We will lay out a comprehensive vision for how peacekeeping missions should be reviewed moving forward. We will go back to first principles and ask hard questions: what was the original intent of the mission? Is the mission achieving its objective? Are we lifting up the people in the region towards independence? What are the mission countries doing to help themselves? Do we have an exit plan? And is there accountability?

As it stands, the lack of this kind of basic evaluation in the UN missions is shocking. For example, the UN has a political mission in Afghanistan – not a peacekeeping mission, but the accountability concept is the same. This mission has been in place for more than 15 years, and it has never once been reviewed. No one has ever thought to check and see if we’re actually achieving any goals. This is unacceptable.

We are in the process of proposing a strategic review of this and other missions to get the facts on the ground. Peacekeeping is the largest item in the UN budget. Our review will identify those missions that are in need of structural reform. We will determine where we need to augment, where we need to restructure, and where we need to cut back. Again, I’m not just interested in cheaper peacekeeping operations. I’m interested in better and smarter peacekeeping operations.

This is an area in which Secretary-General Guterres and I very much are in agreement. We have developed a set of principles to guide our review and our operations going forward. They start with the fundamentals: effectiveness and accountability.

In South Sudan, the civil war continues, and there is no political solution in sight. It’s time to rethink that mandate and find a political solution with partners in the region. Other principles seem basic, but what is basic at the UN and what is basic in the real world can be two different things. The agreement of the host country to an operation is essential to its success. Again, in South Sudan, the government openly opposes the mission and the mission has suffered; therefore, the people continue to suffer. We have to do a better job of avoiding mission creep and ensure that the objectives of peacekeeping missions are achievable. We must have an exit strategy. And if things don’t improve, we have to have the political will to adjust the mission, even if some countries and bureaucracies are going to lose funding in the process.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, the government is corrupt and preys on its citizens. At the same time, the UN peacekeeping mission is mandated to partner with the government to consolidate peace and security. In other words, the UN is aiding a government that is inflicting predatory behavior against its own people. We should have the decency and common sense to end this.

We also need to have the political will to adjust the mission when things aren’t improving on the ground. After a very difficult period, the democratically elected leaders of the Central African Republic are seeking help in training their own troops to take over from UN peacekeepers. The president has told me that his country is eager to stand on its own two feet. This is exactly what we want to see. Our goal should be to end these missions, not continue them with no end in sight, creating a more dependent and helpless environment.

This is a moment of great responsibility for those who believe in peace and security through international cooperation. Countries all over the world are turning inward. People are questioning the value of interactions with other nations and with international institutions. Some of those questions are good ones and are long overdue. But there is also a danger. Hanging in the balance is the very relevance of the United Nations.

This is a time, in short, to show the people reasons to support the UN. Even in these cynical times, I believe we all carry in our hearts a bit of idealism that inspired the creation of the United Nations. I know we all want those ideals to succeed in the world. I know I do. I have promised the American people to continue the United States’ indispensable role as the moral conscience of the world. Today, I pledge to my colleagues on the Security Council that I will work with them to make the UN an effective instrument of peace, security, and human rights of all people. I hope they will join me in doing what’s right, both for the United Nations and for the people we are pledged to protect.

 

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