EU readies Brexit transition deal, Ireland seeks border assurance

British Brexit Secretary David Davis, left, and EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier pose ahead of a meeting in Brussels on Monday, March 19. (Reuters)
Updated 19 March 2018
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EU readies Brexit transition deal, Ireland seeks border assurance

BRUSSELS: The European Union is close to offering Britain a deal on a post-Brexit status quo transition, EU diplomats and officials said on Monday, as Ireland sought assurances any agreement would not let London water down pledges on its Northern Irish border.
Asked about a deal, EU negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters “We are determined” as he welcomed British Brexit Secretary David Davis to the European Commission. The two are expected to speak at a news conference scheduled at short notice to take place at 1145GMT.
Brussels diplomats dealing with Brexit for the other 27 EU member states were also summoned urgently for a briefing shortly before Davis arrived and several of them told Reuters that they believed that a weekend of intensive talks had broken deadlock to allow EU leaders to offer a transition deal on Friday.
Before his own meeting with Barnier, and ahead of Davis’ arrival, Ireland’s main Brexit point man, Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, warned that Dublin wanted assurances from the EU that there would be “no backsliding” from London on an agreement in December that there would be no disruptive “hard border” on the island, if necessary by aligning Northern Ireland with the EU.
Dublin is concerned at British Prime Minister Theresa May’s rejection of a “backstop” arrangement set out in the EU’s draft of the withdrawal treaty — under which Northern Ireland would effectively submit to EU economic rules and so become potentially isolated from the British mainland. The EU says May agreed to that potential outcome in December.

Britain argues that it has two other preferred outcomes for the Irish border, both dependent on agreement on future EU-UK trade rules. Negotiations on that will not start until next month, once Friday’s EU summit gives Barnier the go-ahead. As a result, Britain is reluctant to give even a conditional nod to a draft treaty on Ireland that May says she could never accept.
EU diplomats said that it was likely that the draft wording on Ireland would not be agreed before May meets the other 27 leaders in Brussels on Thursday or before the 27 meeting to agree a transition deal on Friday. However, London would need to assure its good faith on the border issue in order to get a transition.
Brussels is keen to give May a positive outcome this week, locking in an interim political accord that Britain would remain in most EU structures without a vote after it leaves next March until at least the end of 2020. That will not be legally binding until the full treaty is ratified early next year, however.
Other parts of the treaty are still being negotiated, including the controversial protocol on Ireland. It is not vital to conclude that before offering the transition, but Dublin and 4its EU allies are anxious not to give up a vital element of leverage on London before the border issue is settled.
Sterling jumped as optimism for a transition deal grew on Monday. The pound traded 0.54 percent higher versus the euro, its biggest daily gain since late January. The pound also broke through the $1.40 mark against the dollar and was up more than half a percent on the day.


Japan to buy more US-made stealth jets, radar to counter China, Russia

A Marine Corps pilot prepares for a vertical landing of Lockheed Martin F-35B stealth fighter aboard the USS Wasp amphibious assault carrier during their operation in the waters off Japan's southernmost island of Okinawa March 23, 2018. (REUTERS
Updated 19 December 2018
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Japan to buy more US-made stealth jets, radar to counter China, Russia

  • “The budget is increasing and there has been an acceleration to deploy capability as soon as possible,” Robert Morrissey, head of Raytheon Co’s unit in Japan, said this month

TOKYO: Japan will accelerate spending on advanced stealth fighters, long-range missiles and other equipment over the next five years to support US forces facing China’s military in the Western Pacific, two new government defense papers said.
The plans are the clearest indication yet of Japan’s ambition to become a regional power as a military build-up by China and a resurgent Russia puts pressure on its US ally.
“The United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, but national rivalries are surfacing and we recognize the importance of the strategic competition with both China and Russia as they challenge the regional order,” said a 10-year defense program outline approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government on Tuesday.
The United States, followed by China, North Korea and Russia, are the countries that most influenced Japan’s latest military thinking, the paper said.
China, the world’s second biggest economy, is deploying more ships and aircraft to patrol waters near Japan, while North Korea has yet to fulfil a pledge to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Japan was “singing the same old tune” and making “thoughtless remarks” about China’s normal defense activities.
“What Japan is doing here is neither conducive to improving and developing China-Japan relations, nor to the broader picture of regional peace and stability,” Hua told a news briefing.
“China expresses strong dissatisfaction and opposition at this and has already lodged stern representations with Japan,” she added.
Russia, which continues to probe Japan’s air defenses, said on Monday it built new barracks for its troops on islands seized from Japan at the end of World War Two.
MORE STEALTH FIGHTERS
Japan plans to buy 45 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 stealth fighters, worth about $4 billion, in addition to the 42 jets already on order, according to a separate five-year procurement plan approved on Tuesday.
The new planes will include 18 short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) B variants of the F-35 that planners want to deploy on Japanese islands along the edge of the East China Sea.
The islands are part of a chain stretching past Taiwan and down to the Philippines that has marked the limit of Chinese military dominance east of the disputed South China Sea.
“Japan’s decision to acquire more F-35s is a testament to the aircraft’s transformational capability and its increasing role in promoting regional stability and enhancing the US-Japan security alliance,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement.
The navy’s two large helicopter carriers, the Izumo and Kaga, will be modified for F-35B operations, the paper said.
The 248-meter (814 ft) long Izumo-class ships are as big as any of Japan’s aircraft carriers in World War Two. They will need reinforced decks to withstand the heat blast from F-35 engines and could be fitted with ramps to aid short take-offs, two defense ministry officials told Reuters.

TRADE WAR THREAT
The new F-35 order may also help Japan avert a trade war with the United States.
US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose tariffs on Japanese car imports, thanked Abe for buying the F-35s when the two met at a summit in Argentina this month.
Other US-made equipment on Japan’s shopping list includes two land-based Aegis Ashore air defense radars to defend against North Korean missiles, four Boeing Co. KC-46 Pegasus refueling planes to extend the range of Japanese aircraft, and nine Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye early-warning planes.
Japan plans to spend 25.5 trillion yen ($224.7 billion) on military equipment over the next five years, 6.4 percent higher than the previous five-year plan. Cost-cutting will free up another 2 trillion yen for purchases, the procurement paper said.
Japan only spends about 1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, but the size of its economy means it already has one of the world’s largest militaries.
“The budget is increasing and there has been an acceleration to deploy capability as soon as possible,” Robert Morrissey, head of Raytheon Co’s unit in Japan, said this month.
Wary of North Korean promises to abandon ballistic missile development, Japan’s military is buying longer-range Raytheon SM-3 interceptor missiles able to strike enemy warheads in space.
The defense papers assessed non-traditional military threats as well. A new joint-forces cyber unit will bolster Japan’s defenses against cyberattacks.
More electronic warfare capabilities are planned, and the air force will get its first space unit to help keep tabs on potential adversaries high above the Earth’s atmosphere. ($1 = 113.4800 yen)