US defense chief Mattis to visit China amid Korea talks

US Secretary of Defense James Mattis wants to “take measure” of China’s strategic ambitions after it positioned weaponry on disputed islets in the South China Sea. (AFP)
Updated 25 June 2018
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US defense chief Mattis to visit China amid Korea talks

EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE: US Secretary of Defense James Mattis will make his first visit to China this week amid rising tensions between the two countries but also a deep need for Beijing’s support in nuclear talks with North Korea.
Mattis told reporters Sunday he wants to “take measure” of China’s strategic ambitions after it positioned weaponry on disputed islets in the South China Sea and is seeking to project its military power deep into the Pacific.
But in a four-day trip that will also include South Korea and Japan, the Pentagon chief also hopes to confirm China’s commitment to pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, after historic talks between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore.
The United States, China, Japan and South Korea “have a common goal: the complete, irreversible and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” Mattis said.
In Beijing From Tuesday to Thursday, Mattis will meet with senior Chinese defense officials.
Then he will travel to Seoul for talks with his South Korean counterpart Song Young-moo, followed by a stop Friday in Japan to see defense chief Itsunori Onodera.
Those meetings are aimed at reassuring both allies that Washington’s regional defense commitment remains unchanged after Trump unexpectedly announced on June 12 that the US would suspend a major joint military exercise in South Korea following his meeting with Kim.
The visit to China comes amid bilateral strains that cross multiple sectors. The Trump administration is challenging China on trade, theft of industrial secrets, and cyberthreats.
In the defense sector, China’s decision to position military hardware in built-up atolls in the South China Sea has sparked new security concerns throughout Southeast Asia.
Signaling Washington’s displeasure, in May the Pentagon disinvited China from the 2018 Rim of the Pacific Exercise, in which some two dozen navies train together for mostly civilian missions.
Weeks later at the Shangri-la Dialogue security conference in Singapore, Mattis slammed China for showing contempt of other nations’ interests in the South China Sea.
“Despite China’s claims to the contrary, the placement of these weapon systems is tied directly to military use for the purposes of intimidation and coercion,” Mattis said.
The Chinese, who say the weaponry is only defensive in nature, retorted that Mattis had made “irresponsible comments” that “cannot be accepted.”
Mattis has visited Asia seven times in his 17 months since becoming defense secretary, but not China. He has yet to meet the new Chinese defense minister, Wei Fenghe.
He said the talks in Beijing seek to scope out China’s long-term strategic intentions and determine possible areas of military-to-military cooperation.
He declined to characterize the relationship, saying that could “poison the well” before he meets his counterparts.
“I’m going there to get what I consider to be straight from them what they see for a strategic relationship,” he said. “I’m going there to have a conversation.”
But speaking separately a senior Pentagon official called the United States and China “strategic competitors” and suggested that Washington needs to keep up the pressure over the South China Sea buildup.
The Rimpac disinvite could be “just a first step,” the official said.
Chinese defense ministry spokesman Ren Guoqiang said Mattis was visiting Beijing at Wei’s invitation.
“It is in the common interests of both China and the United States to develop a healthy and stable bilateral military relationship,” Ren said in a statement.
Beijing “hopes that the United States and China will walk toward each other and work together to make the bilateral military relationship an important stabilizing factor in the relationship between the two countries.”
Mattis will also be adding his voice to North Korea talks, urging China to hold firm on commercial pressure on Pyongyang.
He said he has had daily discussions on the talks with the lead US negotiator, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The senior US defense official said they are hoping to see a concrete outcome, including a timeline for commitments by Pyongyang, “soon.”
Mattis tied the suspension of exercises to the getting concrete results.
“We’ll see if they continuing negotiations keep them that way.”
Mattis meanwhile confirmed that US officials are awaiting the imminent release by Pyongyang of the remains of US servicemen who died in the Korean war in the early 1950s.
Preparations to receive the remains have been made, he said, and “We’re optimistic that it will begin.”


Father of US-born woman who joined Daesh sues over citizenship

Updated 7 min 37 sec ago
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Father of US-born woman who joined Daesh sues over citizenship

  • Hoda Muthana says that she regrets joining the extremists and is willing to face prosecution in the United States
  • “This is a woman who inflicted enormous risk on American soldiers, on American citizens. She is a terrorist. She’s not coming back,” Pompeo said

WASHINGTON: The father of an Alabama woman who joined the Daesh group in Syria sued Thursday to bring her home after the Trump administration took the extraordinary step of declaring that she was not a US citizen.
Hoda Muthana, 24, says that she regrets joining the extremists and is willing to face prosecution in the United States over her incendiary propaganda on behalf of the ruthless but dwindling group.
A day after President Donald Trump declared on Twitter that he had issued orders to bar her, Muthana’s father filed an emergency lawsuit asking a federal court to affirm that his daughter is a US citizen and let her return along with her toddler son, whose father was a Tunisian militant killed in battle.
The brewing legal battle hinges on the murky timeline of bureaucratic paperwork in 1994 when Muthana was born and her father, Ahmed Ali Muthana, left a position at Yemen’s mission to the United Nations.
The US Constitution grants citizenship to everyone born in the country — with the exception of children of diplomats, as they are not under US jurisdiction.
“Upon her return to the United States, Mr. Muthana’s daughter is prepared and willing to surrender to any charges the United States Justice Department finds appropriate and necessary,” said the lawsuit filed with the US District Court in Washington.
“She simply requires the assistance of her government in facilitating that return for herself and her young son,” it said.

In the lawsuit, Ahmed Ali Ahmed said he was asked by Yemen to surrender his diplomatic identity card on June 2, 1994 as the Arab country descended into one of its civil wars. Hoda Muthana was born in New Jersey on October 28 of that year and the family later settled in Hoover, Alabama, a prosperous suburb of Birmingham.
The State Department initially questioned Hoda Muthana’s right to citizenship when her father sought a passport for her as a child because US records showed he had been a diplomat until February 1995, the lawsuit said.
But it said that the State Department accepted a letter from the US mission to the United Nations that affirmed that he had ended his position before his daughter’s birth and granted her a passport.
The lawsuit said that Hoda Muthana was also entitled to citizenship due to her mother as she became a US permanent resident, anticipating the loss of diplomatic status, in July 1994.
Ahmed Ali Muthana additionally asked for the right to send money to support his daughter and grandson, who are being held by US-allied Kurdish fighters at the forefront of fighting the Daesh militants.
She furtively went to Syria in 2014 when the Daesh group was carrying out a grisly campaign of beheadings and mass rape and turned to social media to praise the killings of Westerners.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was named in the lawsuit along with Trump, in a terse statement Wednesday said that Hoda Muthana was not a citizen.
Pompeo did not outline the legal rationale but in an interview Thursday, asked if the key issue was that her father had been a diplomat, Pompeo said, “That’s right.”
“She may have been born here. She is not a US citizen, nor is she entitled to US citizenship,” Pompeo told NBC television’s “Today” show.
In a separate interview with the Fox Business Network, Pompeo dismissed the “heart-strings” pitch in Muthana’s pleas to return home.
“This is a woman who inflicted enormous risk on American soldiers, on American citizens. She is a terrorist. She’s not coming back,” he said.
It is extremely difficult for the United States to strip a person of citizenship, a step taken by Britain in the case of homegrown militants.
Trump’s order on Muthana came even though he is pushing other Western countries to bring back hundreds of militants to prosecute at home as the United States prepares to withdraw troops from Syria.