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‘Not helpful’, says US on India’s plans to buy Iran oil, Russia’s S-400 air missiles

WASHINGTON, Oct 12: As a top US official headed for New Delhi for talks on Iran sanctions a state department spokesperson on Thursday said “it’s not helpful” that India plans to continue buying Iranian oil and go ahead with the purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems, both of which are subject to secondary sanctions under separate US authorities.

Special representative on Iran Brian Hook, accompanied by assistant secretary of state for energy Francis Fannon, will meet “Indian government counterparts for consultations”, the state department announced Thursday.

The note did not provide any details of the talking points, but added, generically, the special representative “will engage our allies and partners on our shared need to counter the entirety of the Iranian regime’s destructive behaviour in the Middle East, and in their own neighbourhoods”.

From New Delhi Hook will fly to Luxembourg, France and Belgium.

State department spokesperson Heather Nauert said “it’s not helpful” to note India plans to continue buying Iranian oil and the decision to purchase Russian S-400 air defence systems, both of which are subject to secondary American sanctions.

The spokesperson’s observation came a day after President Donald Trump said India “is going to find out … (and) sooner think you think” his decision on its recent S-400 deal with Russia. About India’s and China’s reported plans to continue buying Iranian crude even after the sanctions kick in early November, Trump had said, “We will take care of that.”

India will soon find out about my decision on sanctions over Russia deal: Donald Trump
While Trump’s comments did not reveal much despite their ominous portent, Nauert added a new edge to them even saying, “But certainly when we hear about things such as purchasing oil or purchasing of the S-400 systems, it’s not helpful.....The United States Government just reviews that very carefully.”

India has also indicated in recent days that its state-owned refiners will continue to buy Iranian crude even after the second round of US sanctions kick in on November 5, specifically targeting oil, ports and banking. New Delhi has also, at the same time, cut its purchases in anticipation of the curbs.

India has sought waivers, which the US has said it may consider on a case-by-case basis for countries that shown significant reduction in the imports, but it has received no public guarantees yet. New Delhi also wants a carve-out for Chabahar, an Iranian port it has helped build and operates as a gateway to Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Iran is India’s third largest oil supplier and it would need time to switch to other producers, a process in which the United States has said it is helping out. A phased reduction is what it has sought, as had been the policy under President Barack Obama before the signing of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action in 2015 that lifted the UN-mandated Iran sanctions reinforced by those imposed by the United States.

India signed an agreement with Russia last week to sign five S-400 missile defense systems at an estimated cost of $5.4 billion despite appeals from the United States that the S-400s were a “focus area” of secondary sanctions under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act), a law aimed at punishing Russia for annexing Crimea from Ukraine and interfering in US elections in 2016.

Trump says daughter Ivanka would be ‘dynamite’ as US envoy at UN

WASHINGTON, Oct 10: President Donald Trump believes his daughter Ivanka Trump would be “dynamite” if she succeeds Nikki Haley as the US envoy to the United Nations, but says he has a shortlist of five candidates.

He did not name all contenders, only confirming that former deputy national security advisor Dina Powell is on the list.

“The people that know, know that Ivanka would be dynamite. But...I’d then be accused of nepotism, if you can believe it,” Trump told reporters about his daughter, who serves as his adviser.

Ivanka Trump, however, took herself out of speculation. “I know that the President will nominate a formidable replacement for Ambassador Haley. That replacement will not be me,” she tweeted.

She shot to the top of the list of names after Haley spoke glowingly about her at the joint announcement with Trump on Wednesday about her plans to leave the key post at the end of the year.

“Dina would love it,” Trump said about Powell, who is now in the private sector.

Jon Huntsman, US ambassador to Russia, Richard Grenell, US ambassador to Germany who was with the US permanent mission to the UN, and Heather Nauert, state department spokesperson and undersecretary for public affairs, are also on the list, according to media reports.

Nikki Haley to leave as US ambassador to UN by year-end: Trump

WASHINTON, Oct 10: Nikki Haley, the first Indian-American to hold a cabinet position in the US, has resigned as ambassador to the UN, taking many even in the Trump administration by surprise and triggering speculation about a run for the White House.

Haley will leave at the end of the year, President Donald Trump said in a joint announcement with her from the White House. He said he is looking at several people as a possible replacement, and could make an announcement in two or three weeks or even sooner.

Trump’s daughter Ivanka has been named by some as a possible successor. Haley was effusive in her praise of Ivanka and her husband Jared Kushner at the announcement.

Others being speculated about are Dina Powell, former deputy national security adviser, and Richard Grenell, the US envoy to Germany, who has had an eye on the UN ambassadorship for a long time.

In her opening remarks, Haley ruled out a run for the White House on her own. “No I am not running for 2020 (the year of the next presidential election),” she said. Turning towards Trump, she added, “I can promise you what I will be doing is I will be campaigning for this one. I look forward to supporting the president in the next election.”

Haley’s exit was greeted with as much surprise as her selection as the US ambassador to the UN in 2016. She had been a two-term Republican governor of South Carolina state, and had no exposure to foreign policy, other than leading state delegations abroad.

She went on to become one of Trump’s most trusted cabinet members, and they got along famously despite differences on some key issues. She emerged as the strongest defender of Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, his move to tear up the Iran nuclear deal and to pursue peace with North Korea.

Speaking highly of her and her contribution to his administration — “you have been very special to me” —Trump said of her role at the UN: “She got to know the players. She got to know China, Russia, India. She knows everybody on a first-name basis and they like her.”

Haley got to know the Indians quite well. “We lost our best US ally at the UN in a long time,” said an Indian diplomat, pointing to the most recent example of the support they received from her, when she brought external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to meet Trump at a UN meeting.

Haley also made a successful visit to India in July, during which met the top leadership in New Delhi, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Swaraj. She pressed them to cut oil imports from Iran in view of upcoming sanctions but had conveyed to them US willingness to work with India on Chabahar port in Iran that India has helped build and runs as a gateway into Afghanistan and Central Asia.

Her parents came to the US from the Punjab. She grew up in South Carolina and went into politics there at a time few Indian-Americans could even consider such a career path. She won elections to the state assembly, and two terms as governor.

On her appointment as ambassador to the UN, she became the first Indian-American to hold a cabinet rank position, a milestone that earned her widespread respect in the community, even among Indian-American Democrats.

Haley is a rising star for Republicans and has been on every shortlist of those that the party believes can make it to the White House. Speculation about a presidential run by her has been whispered about for long, especially among Republicans unhappy with Trump’s unorthodox presidency.

That’s what Haley dealt with in her opening remarks, even before she was asked by reporters, as speculation about a presidential run had started within seconds of the news of her resignation, which had been among the best kept secrets of a White House known for leaks.

Trump told reporters Haley had first told him about her desire to leave six months ago. “She said, ‘Maybe at the end of the year, the end of the two-year period, at the end of the year, I want to take a little time off.’”

Trump clearly was not happy to see her go. “So, I just wanted to tell you, we will miss you, we’ll be speaking all the time, but we will miss you,” he said.

No departing member of the administration has been accorded a farewell anything like this, not former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, former NSA Michael Flynn, former chief strategist Steve Bannon, former chief of staff Reince Priebus or former spokesperson Sean Spicer.

The White House joint announcement spoke, according to observers of this White House, of the respect Trump has for Haley, to whom he said: “Hopefully you will be coming back at some point, in a different capacity, you can have your pick.”

If I join politics, it’ll cause third World War: Indra Nooyi

NEW YORK, Oct 10: PepsiCo’s India-born former CEO Indra Nooyi has said she would cause a third World War if she joins politics as she is “too outspoken”.

Asia Society, a non-profit organisation that focuses on educating the world about Asia, honoured 62-year-old Nooyi Tuesday with the ‘Game Changer of the Year Award’ here in recognition of her business achievements, humanitarian record and advocacy for women and girls around the world.

Asked if she would like to join US President Donald Trump’s Cabinet now that she has stepped down as Pepsi CEO, Nooyi said, “Me and politics don’t mix at all. I am too outspoken, I am not diplomatic. I don’t even know what diplomacy is. I would cause a third World War. Don’t do it”.

Nooyi stepped down on October 2 as PepsiCo’s CEO, after 12 years at the helm of the global beverage giant. PepsiCo’s Board of Directors had in August announced that they unanimously elected Ramon Laguarta, 54, to succeed Nooyi as Chief Executive Officer.

Nooyi will remain chairman until early 2019 to ensure a smooth and seamless transition.

After having worked 18 to 20 hours a day for the last 40 years, Nooyi said it was “liberating” to have a bit of free time.

“When I stepped down, I thought that it was going to be tough. For 40 years, I have done nothing but wake up at 4 am and figured out how to rush to work and work 18-20 hours a day,” she said during the interaction.

Nooyi said a day after she stepped down, she realised that there was life beyond working.

“I am still a PepsiCo at heart but I am learning to step aside and realise that there is life beyond PepsiCo,” she said.

Nooyi said she was looking forward to utilising her time writing and visiting as many countries as possible to talk about how to address issues of maintaining work-life balance.

She also plans to pursue several extra-curricular activities that she enjoyed but had to squeeze time for from her previous packed schedule.

“I am told I need to go to sleep school to learn how to sleep...Learning how to sleep 6, 8 or 10 hours, play Tennis, I don’t know how it’s going to be but I know it is going to be fun,” she said.

Nooyi, who has long advocated the need for finding solutions to help women strike a work-life balance, recalled her experience of how she incorporated the “Asian model” in her life to manage her career and bring up her daughters.

She also emphasised that this model needed to be “imported” to the west.

“I imported a quintessential Asian model to my life,” she said.

Nooyi and her husband did not want to leave their kids with a day care worker and turned to their families in India for help, asking parents, in-laws, aunts and uncles, grandparents to stay with them in the US for 3 to 4 months to help supervise their children.

“We need to import that Asian model here. We need to have more multi-generational families living together. We need to have the older generation helping the young people supervise day-care facilities,” she said.

Nooyi said there was a need to build communities where the older people and younger people can live together, enabling kids to learn the value of respect and wisdom.

“We need solutions to address the issue of work-life balance and co-opting the entire family is part of this solution,” she said.

Given that in the west the focus has been too much on the nuclear family, Nooyi said people have forgotten that the definition of family is much broader than the nuclear family.

“If we don’t provide support system for families, I don’t know how we are going to do it. Traditional Asian values need to be revived - the joint family, coming together of communities has to happen,” she said.

The 2018 Asia Game Changer Awards were given to individuals and institutions who have broken barriers, defined courage, worked miracles, and in turn inspired their fellow citizens of the world.

Sharing lessons learnt through her experiences, Nooyi said that her mother’s advice to “leave the crown in the garage” holds true.

“Do not bring it in. If your husband wants to bring his crown in, that’s just fine. That’s crown. But don’t take your crown in,” she said, adding that some people may “hate” her for making such a remark.

“If you want to stay married, if you want to be a daughter, wife, mother, unfortunately the crown stays in the car. That is the unfortunate rule number one. Somebody has got to play the role of getting everybody together,” she said.

Nooyi led a group of other revolutionary women as Asia Society’s Game Changers, including the Afghan Girls Robotics Team who has made waves at international robotics competitions and Mira Rai, a record-shattering runner from a small village in Nepal, who is also an inspiration for millions of girls and young women.

Other recipients of this year’s awards are the Thai rescuers who saved a dozen teenage soccer players in a flooded cave, the Japanese first responders who risked their lives following the tsunami and nuclear disaster at Fukushima.

Raed Saleh and the Syrian White Helmets, a global champion for “green cities” Wang Shi of China, Australia-based Iraqi pioneering surgeon who has brought new hope for amputees Munjed Al Muderis and the founders of Koolulam from Israel — a musical phenomenon that aims to bridge the most difficult ethnic and religious divides are other recipents of the award.

Kim Jong Un, Mike Pompeo agree to 2nd US-North Korea summit

SEOUL, Oct 7: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has agreed to hold a second summit with US President Donald Trump as soon as possible, Seoul said Sunday.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said “he agreed with Chairman Kim to hold the second US-North Korea summit at the earliest date possible,” South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement.

The two sides agreed to “continue talks to decide on the specific time and location for the second summit”, Pompeo told South Korean President Moon Jae-in, following his meeting with Kim in Pyongyang earlier Sunday.

At least 20 killed in New York car crash involving a limousine

ALBANY, Oct 7: Twenty people have been killed in a limousine crash in New York state, police confirmed Sunday, with local media reporting that it slammed into a crowd of pedestrians at a country store.

Police said the accident occurred Saturday afternoon, describing in a brief statement two cars colliding in Schoharie County, near the state capital, Albany.

An SUV-style stretch limousine sped down a hill, crashing into pedestrians outside the Apple Barrel Country Store and Cafe, the Albany Times Union said, citing police.

Pictures posted on Twitter by Jesse McKinley, the Albany bureau chief for the New York Times, showed a hair brush and a fragment of tail light in the grass at the side of the road, near deep muddy tracks that disappeared into woodland beyond.

Apple Barrel manager Jessica Kirby said customers in the parking lot were killed when they were hit by the limousine as it careened down the hill, the Times reported.

“All fatal. That limo was coming down that hill probably over 60 mph... I don’t want to describe the scene. It’s not something I want to think about,” she was quoted as saying.

The Columbus Day weekend is the busiest of the year for the store, Kirby told the paper, noting that it was full of customers from New York City, New Jersey and Albany at the time of the crash.

China is meddling in America’s democracy: Mike Pence

WASHINGTON, Oct 5: Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday accused China of military aggression, commercial theft and rising human rights violations as he cast the Asian power as a villain bent on interfering in upcoming US elections.

In a blistering speech that expands on complaints aired by President Donald Trump at the United Nations last week, Pence accused China of waging an “unprecedented effort to influence American public opinion” ahead of critical congressional elections on November 6.

“To put it bluntly, President Trump’s leadership is working; China wants a different American president,” Pence said at the Hudson Institute, a conservative Washington think tank.

“There can be no doubt -- China is meddling in America’s democracy.”

China hit back furiously on Friday, branding Pence’s accusation as “ridiculous,” groundless and slanderous.

The administration’s offensive on China comes as a cloud hangs over Trump with an investigation into whether his campaign colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 presidential election in the Republican real estate tycoon’s favor.

Just hours before Pence spoke, the US Justice Department indicted seven Russian intelligence agents as part of a joint crackdown with Britain and The Netherlands on alleged hacking by Moscow, including against the Democratic Party, Trump’s domestic rivals.

But Pence said: “As a senior career member of our intelligence community told me just this week, what the Russians are doing pales in comparison to what China is doing across this country.”

Pence’s sharply worded address comes days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to visit China on a trip focused on nuclear diplomacy with North Korea -- an area in which the United States still seeks Beijing’s cooperation.

China has maintained a calm tone as US language escalates. China’s ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai, in an interview with National Public Radio aired shortly before Pence’s address, said there was a “much larger need for cooperation” than competition with Washington.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have plummeted in recent weeks with Trump placing $250 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods, in part over charges that Beijing forces US companies to hand over technological know-how.

Larry Kudlow, the director of the White House’s National Economic Council, separately said that the United States was speaking to the European Union and Japan about taking joint action against China.

Speaking before the Economic Club of Washington, Kudlow -- using language with echoes of the Iraq war -- spoke of a “trade coalition of the willing to confront China.”

Pence lashed out at China for focusing its retaliatory tariffs on states vital to the Republicans’ electoral chances.

He also slammed Beijing for placing a multi-page advertisement extolling the virtues of US-China trade in the Des Moines Register, the highest-circulation newspaper in Iowa, a swing state whose longtime governor Terry Branstad is Trump’s ambassador to Beijing.

Such paid supplements by foreign governments are commonplace in US newspapers, but Pence complained that the United States was not allowed to print similar advertisements in China’s state-controlled press.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the US charges were “nothing but speaking on hearsay evidence, confusing right and wrong and creating something out of thin air.”

She said China was a “builder of world peace” with no interest in meddling in US elections.

“It is very ridiculous for the US side to stigmatize its normal exchanges and cooperation with China as China interfering in its internal affairs and elections,” Hua said.

“The international community has already known fully well who wantonly infringes upon others’ sovereignty, interferes in others’ internal affairs and undermines others’ interests.”

Touching a particularly sensitive issue for China, Pence attacked Beijing for coaxing three more Latin American nations to switch recognition from Taiwan.

“These actions threaten the stability of the Taiwan Strait -- and the United States of America condemns them,” Pence said.

The democratic, self-governing island is home to nationalists who fled in 1949 after losing China’s civil war and has waged an increasingly lonely campaign for diplomatic recognition as the Republic of China.

Pence made clear that the United States still adhered to its four-decade policy of recognizing only Beijing but added to applause: “Let me also say that Taiwan’s embrace of democracy shows a better path for all the Chinese people.”

Pence also accused Beijing of showing its “aggression” when a Chinese navy vessel recently sailed in the dispute-ridden South China Sea near the USS Decatur destroyer, which according to US officials had to make a quick detour to avoid collision.

“Despite such reckless harassment, the United States Navy will continue to fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows and our national interests demand,” Pence said.

“We will not be intimidated; we will not stand down.”

The vice president, a favorite of conservative US Christians, also criticized China on human rights, voicing disappointment that rising prosperity has not led to reforms.

China “has taken a sharp U-turn toward control and oppression,” Pence said, adding: “A new wave of persecution is crashing down on Chinese Christians, Buddhists and Muslims.”

US, Canada agree on last-minute NAFTA deal

OTTAWA, Oct 1: Canada has joined the U.S. and Mexico in a trade deal to replace Nafta. The new deal is going to be known as the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement or USMCA.

"Canadian and US negotiators reached a deal late Sunday on reforming the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), Canadian media reported, after more than a year of talks triggered by US President Donald Trump’s discontent with the 24-year old pact.

Trade ministers from the U.S., Mexico and Canada have reached a deal to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Trump administration announced late Sunday night.

The new pact, which is being called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, is a major step toward completing one of Trump’s signature campaign promises and gives the president a concrete policy win to tout on the campaign trail this fall. It also sets the stage for what is sure to be a high-stakes fight to get the agreement passed by Congress before it can become law.

The Trump administration already formally notified Congress at the end of August of its plans to sign a new pact and faced a deadline of the end of September to provide a draft of the agreement.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in late August that officials are planning to sign with their Canadian and Mexican counterparts by the end of November — a date that would also satisfy Mexico, which is eager to have current President Enrique Peña Nieto sign the deal before his successor takes over December 1.

“It’s a great win for the president and a validation for his strategy in the area of international trade,” a senior administration official said on a call with reporters late Sunday.

People briefed on the outlines of a revamped deal described changes in language governing dairy imports, dispute resolution between countries, limits on online shopping that can be done tax free, and limits on the U.S. threat of auto tariffs.

“It’s a good day for Canada,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said as he left the office late Sunday night. He said he would save other comments for an official announcement on Monday.

A formal vote in Congress won’t be held until 2019, and it is still an open question whether lawmakers — including members of the president's own party who have often clashed with him on trade — will fall in line to support the deal.

‘Tariff king’ India wants trade deal to keep me happy: Donald Trump

WASHINGTON, Oct 1: US President Donald Trump on Monday escalated ongoing trade tensions with India, calling the country a “tariff king” for the first time and accusing it of slapping levies as high as 100%.

Insisting that he shared a good relationship with India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Trump said New Delhi wanted to start trade talks with the US “immediately”. He added he was told no one had ever asked India to lower tariffs.

India wants to talk because it wants to “make your president happy”, Trump said while announcing a new tripartite trade deal with Mexico and Canada, replacing the quarter-century-old North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta).

“India is a very, very high tariff (country),” he said in response to a question on why he called it “tariff king”.

“They really charge tremendously high tariffs. On motorcycles it is 100%…it’s so high, it’s like a barrier.”

He acknowledged India had “substantially” reduced the rate but insisted it was still high.

Trump was referring to some high-end motorcycles that come to India in completed form, including those of Harley-Davidson. There was a 100% duty on them, which has since been slashed.

But Trump has threatened a reciprocal levy on Indian motorcycles that are not subject to similar rates when they enter the US. He has been arguing his trade case against India at all forums, including political rallies. Japan, the EU and China get the same treatment, and he is usually much harsher on them.

India and the US have been in talks on trade and related issues for months, especially after Washington slapped a uniform tariff of 25% and 10% on all steel and aluminum imports. India, which was impacted, announced retaliatory measures and has gone to the World Trade Organization.

Talks picked up momentum after India offered to discuss all trade issues, something Trump has mentioned several times. On Monday, he said the Indian side called to open trade talks, which he added was “shocking”.

Several rounds of discussions have taken place, with the US pressing India to lift trade barriers, especially on medical devices and poultry, holding up an American trade promotion programme of zero-import duties for developing nations, of which India has been the largest beneficiary.

The US has been in talks with India to reduce tariffs and other barriers, and contrary to Trump’s claims, this has been an ongoing discussion, brought up by previous administrations. The issue has acquired new urgency now due to the new tariffs he has imposed or threatened.

US warship sails near islands claimed by China in South China Sea: US official

WASHINGTON, Sept 30: A US Navy destroyer sailed near islands claimed by China in the South China Sea on Sunday, a US official told Reuters, potentially angering Beijing at a time of tense relations between the two countries.

Beijing and Washington are locked in a trade war that has seen them impose increasingly severe rounds of tariffs on each other’s imports.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the destroyer Decatur travelled within 12 nautical miles of Gaven and Johnson Reefs in the Spratly Islands.

The operation was the latest attempt to counter what Washington sees as Beijing’s efforts to limit freedom of navigation in the strategic waters, where Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian navies operate.

China’s claims in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year, are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.

“We conduct routine and regular freedom-of-navigation operations, as we have done in the past and will continue to do in the future,” the US official added.

China’s foreign ministry did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

The United States has criticised China’s construction of islands and military facilities in the area and is concerned they could be used to restrict free nautical movement.

The US military has a long-standing position that its operations are carried out throughout the world, including in areas claimed by allies, and are separate from political considerations.

The latest move comes at a particularly tense time in relations between the United States and China.

Friction between the world’s two biggest economies is now moving beyond trade, with U.S. President Donald Trump accusing Beijing this week of seeking to interfere in congressional elections, marking a new phase in an escalating campaign by Washington to put pressure on China.

China recently denied a request for a US warship to visit Hong Kong and this month Beijing postponed joint military talks in protest against a US decision to impose sanctions on a Chinese military agency and its director for buying Russian fighter jets and a surface-to-air missile system.

In May two US Navy warships sailed near South China Sea islands claimed by China.

 

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Second North Korea summit likely to take place ‘quite soon’: Donald Trump
UN sanctions on North Korea in place till denuclearisation achieved: Mike Pompeo
 
     
  

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