Venezuelan government, opposition head to talks in Norway

A protester is seen ahead of a rally in support of the Venezuelan National Assembly and against the government of Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro in Caracas, Venezuela, May 11, 2019. (Reuters/Ivan Alvarado)
Updated 16 May 2019
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Venezuelan government, opposition head to talks in Norway

  • Senior members of both sides will be involved in the exploratory discussions in Oslo
  • The planned talks seemed likely to dampen speculation that the United States, the main backer of the Venezuelan opposition

CARACAS, Venezuela: The Venezuelan government and opposition have sent envoys to Norway to attend talks on ways of ending the South American country's crisis, though their mutual mistrust and differences on key issues are likely to slow chances of progress.
The development reported by officials Wednesday appeared to reflect a recognition that neither side had been able to prevail in the struggle for power, leaving Venezuela in a state of paralysis after years of hyperinflation and shortages of food and medicine.
It was also a policy reversal for the opposition, which has accused President Nicolás Maduro of using previous negotiations to play for time.
Senior members of both sides will be involved in the exploratory discussions in Oslo, said members of Venezuela's opposition-controlled congress who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks. Delegations from the two opposing camps had received separate invitations from a group of Norwegians, one official said.
The representatives include Information Minister Jorge Rodríguez on the government side and Stalin González, a leading member of the National Assembly, the officials said.
Maduro did not directly comment on the talks during televised remarks, but he said Rodríguez was on a "very important" mission outside Venezuela.
The planned talks seemed likely to dampen speculation that the United States, the main backer of the Venezuelan opposition, might be considering military action as a way to end the crisis in the near term. US officials have previously said they are focusing on diplomatic and economic measures to force out Maduro, though opposition leader Juan Guaidó said his Washington envoy will meet with the head of the US Southern Command on Monday.
The two sides are currently far apart on many issues. The opposition has insisted that Maduro was illegitimately elected last year and that he must step aside to make way for elections. Maduro, in turn, accuses the opposition of being US stooges intent on illegally seizing power.
The Norway dialogue comes as a mostly European group of nations prepares to send a high-level delegation to Venezuela to propose solutions to the country's protracted crisis. The International Contact Group consists of eight European countries, the European Union and four Latin American countries.
The group formed after Guaidó, the head of the National Assembly, declared himself Venezuela's interim president early this year in a direct challenge to the rule of Maduro, who says his government champions the socialist principles of his predecessor, Hugo Chávez.
The opposition, which is backed by the United States and about 50 other nations, says Venezuela's dire economic state is the result of years of corruption and mismanagement. Maduro blames the country's problems on US sanctions that were imposed more recently.
Also Wednesday, the United States suspended all commercial passenger and cargo flights between the US and Venezuela, saying the political unrest and tensions there pose a risk to flights.
The announcement by the Department of Homeland Security affected a dwindling number of flights between the two countries, since US airlines no longer fly to Venezuela. The measure reflected the increasingly sour relationship between the Venezuelan government and the US
Conditions in Venezuela "threaten the safety and security of passengers, aircraft, and crew," the department said. It said the flight suspension will continue indefinitely, though the decision will be reviewed if the situation in Venezuela changes.
Maduro criticized the suspension of flights, saying the measure was an attack on freedom of movement.
American Airlines stopped its flights in mid-March after union leaders told pilots not to go there due to safety concerns. Some other international airlines quit flying to Venezuela years ago because of the country's deteriorating economy.
Some Venezuelan airlines had been operating commercial flights to and from Miami, though those were already affected by the upheaval in the South American country, including after a failed call for a military uprising by the opposition on April 30.


Trump sets $8bn-plus in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

Updated 26 May 2019
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Trump sets $8bn-plus in arms sales to Saudi Arabia and UAE

  • Pompeo says US partners in Mideast need contracts to be completed to help deter Iran
  • Trump’s administration also announced that it was sending 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, has swept aside objections from Congress to complete the sale of over $8 billion of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Jordan.

The Trump administration informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudi Arabia, UAE and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of major weapons sales.

Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the UAE for months.

Several of Trump’s fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, said they would object to such a plan, fearing that blowing through the “holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to check not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that US partners in the Middle East needed the contracts to be completed to help deter Iran, and that the decision to circumvent Congress was meant to be a “one-time event.”

In documents sent to Congress, Pompeo listed a wide range of products and services that would be provided to the countries. These include Raytheon precision-guided munitions (PGMs), support for Boeing Co. F-15 aircraft, and Javelin anti-tank missiles, which are made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp. 

Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad. Mike Pompeo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo

Other companies that will benefit include General Electric, now cleared to sell engines for use in F-16 fighter jets operated by the UAE, and the US unit of French firm Thales, which was cleared to sell a fuzing system for Paveway IV precision-guided bombs to Britain and the UAE.

It will also likely be welcome news for Britain’s BAE Systems Plc and Europe’s Airbus, clearing the way for installation of Paveway laser-guided bombs on European-built Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets sold to Saudi Arabia, as well F-15 fighters built by Boeing.

In his memorandum justifying the emergency declaration, Pompeo listed years of actions by Iran. “Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote and cited “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Tehran.

Trump’s administration also announced that it was sending 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East, which it described as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran over what it sees as a threat of potential attack.

Members of Congress from both parties have worried that Trump is pushing toward war with Iran. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said the administration was responding to important needs from partners.

“This is about deterrence and it’s not about war,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.