NATO insists it is united at end of raucous, divisive summit

Heads of state take part in a working dinner at The Parc du Cinquantenaire — Jubelpark Park in Brussels on July 11, 2018, during the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit. (AFP / POOL / BENOIT DOPPAGNE)
Updated 13 July 2018
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NATO insists it is united at end of raucous, divisive summit

  • Tensions rose on the final day of the two-day summit, when members met in an emergency session amid demands from Trump to speed up defense spending.
  • NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that Georgia will one day join the world’s biggest security alliance, despite separatist ambitions in parts of the former Soviet republic.

BRUSSELS: At the end of a bewildering, roller-coaster NATO summit, the military alliance’s 29 nations somehow pledged continued unity and kept their long commitment to beef up defense spending amid a barrage of biting criticism from US President Donald Trump.

Even though Trump suggested he could probably withdraw the US from NATO if he wanted to, he conceded “that is unnecessary” because he felt his relentless hectoring had forced other nations to spend more than NATO’s long-term goal of 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Many even fail to meet the current benchmark.

Trump called it “a fantastic meeting,” speaking at a news conference on Thursday before flying to Britain.

Some NATO allies had not exactly heard the same conclusions as Trump around the table, and French President Emmanuel Macron immediately poured cold water on Trump’s spending ambitions for other allies.

“There is a communique that was published yesterday. It’s very detailed,” Macron said.

 “It confirms the goal of 2 percent by 2024. That’s all.”

In the end, leaders left with an awkward consensus, after hours in which Trump had been so aggressive in his approach with allies that reports made the rounds that he might pull the US out.

“President Trump never at any moment, either in public or in private, threatened to withdraw from NATO,” Macron told reporters.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was a prime target of Trump over two raucous days. He accused her nation of being beholden to and a “captive” of Russia for a pipeline deal while at the same time presiding over an economy that seeks to rip off the United States.

By Thursday afternoon she left unruffled and unflappable as ever, telling reporters in Brussels that “there was a clear commitment to NATO by all.”

She said Trump raised the topic of better burden-sharing and more spending by Germany, “as has been discussed for months,” and that “we made clear that we’re on the way.”

Trump has several times assailed Germany for not spending a large enough proportion of its gross domestic product on defense.

Merkel, for her part, stressed that Germany is NATO’s second-biggest contributor when it comes to troops.

Tensions rose on the final day of the two-day summit, when members met in an emergency session amid demands from Trump to speed up defense spending.

“We are paying for far too much of NATO,” Trump said.

At the end though, Trump said the military alliance is “very unified, very strong, no problem.”

 

Separatist ambitions

For an organization Trump once called “obsolete,” he said on Thursday: “I believe in NATO.”

Also on Thursday, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg insisted that Georgia will one day join the world’s biggest security alliance, despite separatist ambitions in parts of the former Soviet republic.

Stoltenberg said “Georgia will become a member of NATO.” 

He said the 29-nation alliance supports the territorial integrity of Georgia, including its sovereignty over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Russia and Georgia fought a brief war in 2008, which led to the regions declaring independence. Russia has since been supporting them financially and militarily.

Despite Georgia’s important contribution to NATO operations, the alliance is unlikely to invite it in until the conflict with the two regions has been resolved.


‘Makkah Road Initiative’ to fast-track Malaysian and Indonesian Hajj pilgrims

Updated 1 min 45 sec ago
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‘Makkah Road Initiative’ to fast-track Malaysian and Indonesian Hajj pilgrims

  • Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia join forces to launch the “Makkah Road Initiative"
  • It will help Hajj pilgrims to fast-track journeys to the Holy Land

KUALA LUMPUR: Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Indonesia have joined forces to launch the “Makkah Road Initiative” this year, a pre-clearance system that will help Hajj pilgrims to fast-track journeys to the Holy Land.
Two flights carrying Hajj pilgrims were commissioned at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport to mark the official launch, which was attended by officials from Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia.
According to Minister in the Malaysian Prime Minister’s Office for Islamic Affairs, Dr. Mujahid Yusuf, who also launched the Makkah Road Initiative, pilgrims will no longer have to wait in long queues to finalize documentation such as visa stamps, customs, and health screenings.
“All these will be sorted out in KLIA, and when our (Malaysian) pilgrims arrive (in Madinah), they can just take the bus to the hotel. Their luggage will be managed by the Saudi authorities,” Dr. Yusuf added.
A world first, the initiative has been made possible by multi-agency collaboration within Saudi Arabia, as well as weeks of preparation by officials in the Kingdom, Malaysia and Indonesia.
The Makkah Road Initiative will cut time and entrance procedures for pilgrims from Malaysia and Indonesia to Saudi Arabia through a “unified electronic paths” and “pre-clearance procedures” before arrival at Madinah airport, according to officials.
The services provided under the initiative include issuing visas, customs and passport procedures, facilitating health requirements, baggage management, and housing arrangements in Makkah.
The initiative also involves checking off the pilgrims’ entry visas into the Kingdom at the airport when the flight departs. Travel arrangements will be “confirmed electronically”, including health requirements where pilgrims can skip the paper documents on vaccines at the airport in their own country.
Fingerprints and passports are to be taken and stamped “electronically” in their home country before departure. Pilgrims will fly from either the Kuala Lumpur International Airport or the Soekarno-Hatta International Airport, and will arrive at the Prince Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz in Madinah.
The pilgrims will check out at the airport arrival hall “like a domestic flight” while their luggage will be sorted to their places of residence by the Ministry of Hajj.
With an increasing number of Muslim pilgrims to Makkah each year, the Saudi Arabian government has made serious efforts to streamline the process.
“We really appreciate this progress by the Kingdom,” said Zainol Rahim Zainuddin, Malaysian ambassador to the Kingdom, adding that the initiative showcased the close partnership between the governments of the Kingdom and Malaysia.
Indonesia, which has the biggest Muslim population in the world, had 221,000 of pilgrims arriving in Makkah last year. Malaysia, a Muslim majority nation, increased its number of pilgrims to 31,300 in 2017 from an initial projection of 30,200.
The Makkah Road Initiative is part of the National Transition Programs (2020). It aims to fulfil the Vision 2030 objective of having well-developed public services and infrastructure throughout the Kingdom.