Tillerson visits US Embassy in London after Trump snub

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Britain's Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson attend a press conference in London Monday. (Reuters)
Updated 23 January 2018
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Tillerson visits US Embassy in London after Trump snub

LONDON: US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson paid a discreet visit to the new US Embassy in London on Monday, after President Donald Trump canceled plans to open it himself following a series of rows.
Tillerson bucked tradition by not holding a formal meet-and-greet at the new embassy, which the State Department claimed was due to the current shutdown of the US government over a budget impasse in Congress.
But even before the shutdown, the State Department had already played down Tillerson’s visit to the embassy, which opened last week, due to controversy over Trump’s refusal to inaugurate the new building.
The president claimed it was because he was unhappy at the cost and location of the new embassy.
But the decision came after a series of rows that have damaged the so-called “special relationship” between the two nations and after it became clear the visit would be met with mass protests.

“The purpose of the trip is to underscore our commitment to the transatlantic alliance,” said a State Department spokesman.
“First stop is the United Kingdom, where the secretary will reaffirm the US-UK special relationship.”
Tillerson posed for photographs before being shown around the new building.
Trump had been due to inaugurate the building in February, but canceled the visit, tweeting: “having sold perhaps the best located and finest embassy in London for ‘peanuts,’ only to build a new one in an off location for 1.2 billion dollars. Bad deal. Wanted me to cut ribbon-NO!.”
The new building is slightly outside central London in a neighborhood south of the River Thames, unlike its predecessor, which was in the heart of the British capital.
Trump has not yet visited Britain since taking office a year ago, and has been involved in rows with the government over issues including trade and his retweeting of a video posted by a British far-right group.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan also said he “would not be welcome” in the city, suggesting there could be widespread protests.
Tillerson was to meet with Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson later in the day.
Johnson wrote in The Sunday Telegraph newspaper that Trump should be welcomed to Britain because the country’s ties with the US are vital for security and provide the UK’s “single most extraordinary economic relationship.”
Trump “is the elected president of the world’s most powerful democracy” and resisting his visit to the UK risks “damaging the national interest,” he added.
He and Tillerson are expected to discuss Yemen, Syria and the Iran deal.
During May’s meeting with Tillerson, the British premier was to say that London was “fully committed to the deal and also to working with our allies to counter Iran’s destabilising regional activity,” according to her spokesman.
Tillerson’s mini-tour of Europe will continue with a visit to Paris on Tuesday.


Indian manned space flight ‘by 2022,’ PM pledges

Updated 15 August 2018
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Indian manned space flight ‘by 2022,’ PM pledges

  • Modi highlights manned space mission and major health care initiative during independence day address
  • PM’s speech a campaign launch for next year’s elections, observers say

NEW DELHI: India is planning its first manned space mission by 2022, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on Wednesday.

Delivering his fifth independence day speech from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in New Delhi, Modi said that the manned flight would be the culmination of India’s recent advances in space science.

“We have decided that by 2022, when India completes 75 years of independence, or before that, a son or daughter of India will go to space with a tricolor in their hands,” he said.

India will become the fourth nation after the US, Russia and China to send a manned mission to space.

In his 90-minute speech, Modi listed his achievements of the past four-and-a-half years and announced a new health care scheme that would cover 5 billion people.

Observers described Modi’s speech as a campaign launch for next year’s elections.

“No doubt next year’s elections are playing on the PM’s mind. The tone and tenor of the address reflects that,” said political analyst and author Nilanjan Mukhopadhyay.

As expected, the Indian PM announced his government’s flagship program, Ayushman Bharat, a national health scheme that will offer health insurance from about $5,000 to 1.4 million poorer families.

Popularly named “Modicare,” the scheme targets rural and middle-class voters and will be rolled out in the final week of September.

Comparing the past four years of his leadership with the previous government, Modi said that “the red tape has gone and now there is more ease of business — the sleeping elephant has started walking.”

He boasted that “India’s standing in the world has increased in the past four years and today when any Indian goes anywhere, all countries of the world welcome them and the power of the Indian passport has increased.”

However, the opposition Congress Party described the speech as high in rhetoric and low in substance.

“The Indian economy is a virtual shambles. The rupee has crashed to a historic low. Joblessness, farmers’ suicides, atrocities against marginalized Dalit groups, attack on minorities, corruption — all these show that the government has failed,” said Sanjay Jha, a Congress Party spokesman.

Aateka Khan, of Delhi University, said Modi’s speech was “hollow” and that “India has never looked as divided as it is looking now. He has failed to assure the besieged minorities about their security.”

Mukhopadhyay said the speech was “disappointing” and failed to reflect the vision Modi set out when he addressed the nation for the first time in 2014.

“He seems to be still blaming the opposition for the ills of the country,” the political analyst said.

Mukhopadhyay believes that “Modicare” ignores India’s huge infrastructure deficiency. “In the absence of good medical facilities, how are poor people going to benefit from the insurance?” he asked.

India’s 71st independence day also offered observers a chance to reflect and assess the country’s future.

“The legacy of freedom is under siege today. We as a modern nation state with secular principle are at a crossroads,” said Santosh Sarang, a political analysts based in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

“The forces of division are more predominant today than ever before in this independent nation.”

Sarang said that “economic growth is not the only parameter that can make India great; keeping India together and preserving its syncretic culture is also important. The way the attack on minorities has increased and their sense of insecurity has been institutionalized make us question how long we can remain a liberal and secular democracy.”

He warned that “majoritarian Hindu forces now want to rewrite the Indian constitution to make it exclusive, not inclusive.”

Urmilesh, a New Delhi-based thinker and analyst, agreed. “What is at stake is the idea of India. In 1947, we took a pledge to make India a modern, progressive nation and tried to promote scientific temper among new generation, but today a new idea of India is being promoted which sees its future in majoritarian politics. This is very much against the spirit of freedom struggle and nation-building.”

He said that independence day left him “somber and sad” that fundamentalist forces, such as Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh and its protege Bhartiya Janata Party, which never participated in the freedom struggle and opposed the creation of a liberal and secular India, are ruling the country.

“The atmosphere in the country is so vicious that religious minorities and liberals have been pushed to the edge,” he said.

The right-wing activist Nirala, however, said that “the meaning of independence day does not remain the same all the time. We cannot have the same prism of looking at India as it was in 1947. What is happening today is the redefining of nationalism, which reflects the majoritarian thinking. Hinduism is the way of life in India and it should asserted unabashedly.”