Tillerson ends Africa trip vowing US backing against terror

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson boards his plane to depart at the end of a five-country swing through Africa from Abuja, Nigeria. (AP)
Updated 12 March 2018
0

Tillerson ends Africa trip vowing US backing against terror

ABUJA: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson brought his truncated maiden Africa trip to a close on Monday, promising the full backing of the United States to two countries on the frontline of the war on terror.
Washington's top diplomat has been on a five-country tour of east and west Africa but was forced to cut short his visit "due to demands in (his) schedule", the State Department said.
After stops in Ethiopia, Djibouti and Kenya, which were overshadowed by US President Donald Trump's surprise announcement on talks with North Korea, he squeezed visits to Chad and Nigeria into just one day.
Before returning to Washington, Tillerson notably promised Nigeria support ranging from equipment to intelligence to help secure the swift release of 110 schoolgirls kidnapped last month by Boko Haram militants.
Tillerson slammed the mass abduction in northern Nigeria and promised Washington's "full support" in the country's fight against Boko Haram.
"The recent kidnapping of 110 schoolgirls is heartbreaking," Tillerson said on his arrival in the capital Abuja on the final leg of an African tour.
"Nigeria has the US in full support and we are actively working with our partners in what we can assist you in this fight."
The students were taken from their state-run school in Dapchi, in the northeastern state of Yobe, on February 19. Nothing has been heard from them since.
The abduction brought back painful memories of the kidnapping of 276 girls from Chibok in April 2014 that sparked global outrage and calls for their release, led by then-first lady Michelle Obama.
The Dapchi abduction has yet to garner such support.
Tillerson called it "heartbreaking" and added: "Nigeria has the United States' full support and we are actively working with our partners in what we can to assist you in this fight."
Washington was already "very engaged" with Nigeria and its neighbours "in supporting, equipping and training" as well as advising and providing information.
"I think that's the best way we can help the government of Nigeria secure the release these girls, which we hope will be done in a peaceful manner," he added.
"We hope something can be worked out and they (Boko Haram) can be persuaded to release these girls quickly. That's what we pray."
Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari benefitted at the polls in 2015 from his predecessor's handling of the aftermath of Chibok.
But Dapchi and persistent suicide bombings and raids in the northeast have raised questions about the extent of his repeated claim the militants are on the verge of defeat.
The United States has agreed to sell Nigeria 12 Super Tucano A-29 ground attack aircraft in a $593 million deal, which the country's foreign minister Geoffrey Onyeama said on Monday would be a "game-changer".
The Obama administration blocked the sale on human rights grounds.
Buhari's office said the president asked Tillerson for further support in terms of training and equipment, without elaborating.
It also said in a statement that Buhari had "chosen negotiation" to secure the return of the Dapchi schoolgirls rather than the use of military force.
"We are trying to be careful. It is better to get our daughters back alive," he was quoted as saying.
Buhari is expected to visit Yobe state this week.
Tillerson arrived in Abuja from N'Djamena, where he said Washington supported the fight by the so-called G5 Sahel countries against militants in the volatile Saharan region.
Chad was an "important partner" in fighting terrorism, Tillerson told a news conference.
Tillerson on Monday told the African nation's citizens they're welcome in the United States but it wasn't enough to overcome a Trump administration travel ban that Chad's top diplomat declared an injustice.
Tillerson's message of growing U.S. cooperation with Chad, a key counterterrorism partner, was overshadowed by palpable hurt and resentment over Chad's position on an inglorious list that includes North Korea, Iran and Venezuela. Tillerson, who became the most senior U.S. official to set foot in Chad, expressed hope the restrictions will be lifted.
"The placement of Chad in this list was an injustice done to Chad," Foreign Minister Mahamat Zene Cherif said. He said Chadian President Idriss Deby had "expressed his incomprehension" to Tillerson about the restrictions.
Chad last year was stunned to find itself on one of six Muslim-majority countries whose countries are affected by President Donald Trump's travel ban.
Questioned repeatedly by the local Chadian media about why it remains on the list, Tillerson said the visa restrictions were necessary "because of all the conflict that exists on Chad's borders," even as he gave the country credit for "many, many important positive steps" to comply. He said the United States later this month would prepare a report on Chad's progress that Trump would review in April.
"These steps I think are going to allow us to begin to normalize the travel relationship with Chad," Tillerson said. But, he added, "We have to wait for the final report."
The US military has a drone unit at the N'Djamena airport, Washington backs a multinational force fighting Boko Haram militants, helps train Chadian troops and provides military equipment to its armed forces, according to a Chadian military official.
Tillerson said he wanted "to ensure that the people of Chad understand they are welcome in the United States" and argued the country's inclusion on the list "has never harmed in any way whatsoever the cooperation between our two countries."
Progress had been made with dealing with what has been cited as the reason for including Chad on the list -- problems with its passports, which are not biometric.
He said steps were being taken "to allow us to begin to normalise the travel relationship with Chad".


UN nuclear watchdog chief Amano has died, IAEA tell member states

Updated 6 min 11 sec ago
0

UN nuclear watchdog chief Amano has died, IAEA tell member states

  • The 72-year-old Japanese had held the position of IAEA director general since 2009
  • Argentina's ambassador to the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, is running to succeed Amano, and diplomats say the agency's chief coordinator Cornel Feruta of Romania, effectively Amano's chief of staff, is likely to run

VIENNA: UN nuclear watchdog chief Yukiya Amano has died, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said on Monday, just as he was preparing to step down because of an unspecified illness.
The 72-year-old Japanese had held the position of IAEA director general since 2009, taking over from Mohamed ElBaradei and steering the UN agency through a period of intense diplomacy over Iran's nuclear program.
He had been preparing to leave his position in March, well before the end of his third four-year term, which ran until Nov. 30, 2021.
The IAEA announced last September that Amano had undergone an unspecified medical procedure. The specific nature of his illness has remained a taboo subject within the agency, diplomats say, but with each public appearance he had appeared increasingly frail.
“The Secretariat of the International Atomic Energy Agency regrets to inform with deepest sadness of the passing away of Director General Yukiya Amano,” the secretariat's note read.
The note did not lay out a timeframe for naming his successor, though a race to succeed him had been taking shape since last week, when it became clear he would step down early.
Argentina's ambassador to the IAEA, Rafael Grossi, is running to succeed Amano, and diplomats say the agency's chief coordinator Cornel Feruta of Romania, effectively Amano's chief of staff, is likely to run. Others could also enter the fray.