Italy far-right minister furious after migrant deal

File Photo showing Matteo Salvini gestures during the television talk show "Porta a Porta" in Rome. (Reuters)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Italy far-right minister furious after migrant deal

  • Salvini has for months repeated that Italian ports are closed to migrants
  • Salvini demanded that other European nations fulfil their promises to take migrants from Italy

Rome: Italy’s populist coalition has reached agreement on the fate of 10 migrants the country agreed to take from Malta despite the fury of far-right anti-immigrant Interior Minister Matteo Salvini.
Disagreement over the migrants, who arrived in Malta on Wednesday after being rescued in the Mediterranean and spending weeks stranded aboard an NGO vessel, has shaken Italy’s coalition.
Salvini, fellow deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, held talks late into the night on Wednesday.
“There is convergence within the government on a hard line: ports closed, fight against smugglers and NGOs,” Salvini said on Thursday.
“And I add that any new arrival must not cost Italian citizens a cent,” Salvini said, insisting that “it’s the interior ministry that handles immigration.”
While Salvini has for months repeated that Italian ports are closed to migrants, Di Maio last week said that Italy should take in several women and children rescued before Christmas but stranded at sea after no port would allow them to dock.
Conte, who was named premier by Salvini and Di Maio, agreed with the latter, whose M5S does not have the same hard-line anti-immigrant position as Salvini’s League.
Italy became one of eight EU nations that on Wednesday agreed to take in some migrants from Malta.
Salvini was infuriated by that decision and a compromise was agreed by which Italy’s Waldensian Evangelical Church would take in the 10 migrants.
The church has been involved with so-called “humanitarian corridors” that help asylum seekers come to Italy, assisting them with housing, Italian language learning and skills training.
But Salvini also demanded that other European nations fulfil their promises to take migrants from Italy.
In July 2018, Germany, France, Portugal, Spain and Malta agreed each to take in 50 of around 450 migrants disembarked in Sicily by the Italian coast guard vessel Diciotti after being rescued at sea.
According to Salvini, France has taken its 50, but Germany only 23, Spain 21, Portugal 19 and Malta none. Ireland, which said it would take in 20, has received 16 migrants, he said.
The Maltese government on Thursday voiced “disdain and surprise at the inaccurate allegations by Minister Salvini,” pointing out that Italy had promised to take 50 migrants from Malta and that the two countries had agreed the two deals cancel each other out.
Salvini remained adamant.
“We’re not going to take any lessons from Malta, which closed its eyes for years so that boats could head for Italy,” said Salvini.
“The music has changed, you can only come to Italy if you have a permit. We’ve already taken in too many, it’s time for others to wake up.”


Report raises fresh doubts over Trump’s NATO commitment

Updated 16 January 2019
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Report raises fresh doubts over Trump’s NATO commitment

  • Last year, Trump repeatedly told senior officials that he did not see the point of NATO
  • Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete”

WASHINGTON: Fresh doubts surfaced Tuesday over President Donald Trump’s commitment to NATO, after he was reported to have discussed a desire to pull out of the trans-Atlantic military alliance.
Last year, Trump repeatedly told senior officials that he did not see the point of NATO — the historic alliance that forms the backbone of the West’s post-World War II security order — and that he wanted to withdraw, The New York Times reported.
He has often blasted members of the 29-nation partnership for not paying more into their national defense budgets.
Before taking office, Trump called NATO “obsolete” and soon after a tumultuous summit in July, he questioned whether the US would honor the alliance’s founding principle of mutual defense for newest member Montenegro.
Eric Pahon, a Pentagon spokesman, said the US remains “100 percent” committed to NATO.
At the summit the president said the US “commitment to NATO is very strong” and “tremendous progress has been made” by allies and partners.
“That has not changed,” Pahon said in a statement.
“NATO remains the cornerstone of transatlantic security.”
In Brussels, a NATO official also highlighted Trump’s comments from the July summit.
“The United States is strongly committed to NATO and to transatlantic security,” the official told AFP.
“The US has significantly boosted its commitment to the defense of Europe, including with increased troop commitments.”
Turning 70 this year, NATO has underpinned Western security in Europe for decades, first countering the Soviet Union and then Russian expansionism.
A US withdrawal from NATO would be a strategic gift of epic proportions to Russia, which is accused of meddling in the 2016 presidential elections to help Trump win.
Former defense secretary Jim Mattis was a staunch proponent of NATO and repeatedly visited its Brussels headquarters, where he sought to reassure allies about America’s commitment to the alliance.
But Mattis quit last month, and observers see a shrinking coterie of advisers around Trump willing to push back against him.
The US Congress, including Trump’s own Republican Party, would likely push back against any effort to withdraw from NATO.
The only country to have ever invoke Article 5, NATO’s collective defense principle, was America following the September 11, 2001 attacks.