Australia rules out hosting US missiles

Australia has ruled out hosting US missiles, after Washington said it plans to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia. (File/AFP)
Updated 05 August 2019

Australia rules out hosting US missiles

  • Australian Defence minister told a public broadcaster that the issue came up in her meeting with Esper
  • Following the United States plans to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia, Australia scotched the notion of locating them Down Under

SYDNEY: Australia on Monday ruled out hosting ground-based US missiles after talks with Washington's top defence and diplomatic officials.

Following an announcement that the United States plans to deploy intermediate-range missiles in Asia, widely seen as an effort to contain China, Australia scotched the notion of locating them Down Under.

"It's not been asked of us, not being considered, not been put to us. I think I can rule a line under that," Prime Minister Scott Morrison said of the notion.

His comments came hours after US Defense Secretary Mark Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo departed Sydney following talks. Australian Defence minister Linda Reynolds told public broadcaster ABC the issue came up in her meeting with Esper: "I asked him directly, 'was there any expectation of a request', and he said 'no'."

Any formal request would put Australia in a difficult spot between long-time ally the United States and major trade partner China. Policy toward Beijing has become an increasing point of friction between Washington and Canberra, which has tried to maintain good working relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping's government.

While Australia has a mutual defence treaty with the United States, China's purchases of Australian coal and iron ore kept the latter's economy purring through the global financial crisis. Pompeo's visit featured a sharp warning for partners to "have their eyes wide open" about China's increasingly assertive behaviour.

He also cautioned Australian policymakers about the risk of turning a blind eye to abuses in order to trade with Beijing. "You can sell your soul for a pile of soybeans, or you can protect your people," he said. "We think it's possible to have trade with China and yet require them to behave with the same set of rules."

US Marine Corps units regularly rotate through Darwin, raising speculation that the northern city could host missiles after the US withdrawal Friday from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with Russia. Experts say the most likely location for deployment is at American military facilities on the island of Guam.


Pakistan shuts Taftan border after coronavirus kills six in Iran

Updated 3 min 19 sec ago

Pakistan shuts Taftan border after coronavirus kills six in Iran

  • Flights to and from Iran unaffected despite deaths
  • Health emergency declared in border districts 

KARACHI: Pakistan has sealed its Taftan border and stopped pilgrims from traveling via the crossing to Iran after six coronavirus deaths were reported in the neighboring country, officials told Arab News on Sunday.
Afghanistan has also suspended travel to the neighboring country as fears across the region continued to grow over a jump in new coronavirus infections.
There are several shrines in Iran which are frequented by a large number of Shiites from Pakistan. Hundreds of people access the Taftan border crossing between the countries on a daily basis.
Pakistan has stopped all movement from crossing points, launched screening procedures and introduced additional patrols along the border “until the situation is under control,” Mir Zia Ullah Langove, home minister of southwestern Balochistan province, said.
“We are trying to take every possible precaution,” he told Arab News, adding that these were efforts being taken by the provincial government, with assurance from Prime Minister Imran Khan that the federal government would also be extending its help.
The move to seal the border follows Chief Minister Jam Kamal Khan’s decision to declare a health emergency in all provincial districts bordering Iran on Saturday. But reports of the coronavirus deaths have had no impact on flights to and from Iran.
“The staff of the health ministry is already present at the airports and a passenger is allowed entry only after clearance of health declaration,” Abdul Sattar Khokhar, Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan spokesman, told Arab News as he dismissed reports of a temporary halt on flights to Iran.
“There is no reality in reports that flight operations to Iran have been stopped. We had neither stopped flight operations to and from China and nor will it be stopped to any other country.”
Imran Zarkon, who is chief of the Provincial Disaster Management Authority, said 1,000 masks had been distributed in border areas and a temporary hospital tent with 100-beds had been set up to deal with an emergency as part of preventive efforts.
“Qom is the most affected area of Iran where the pilgrims go, so if there is any possibility of virus coming to Pakistan it will be through Taftan and authorities here are on high alert,” he told Arab News.
But these steps have failed to console the people of Balochistan, with some expressing concern about illegal movement along the porous border.
“Iran shares over #1000 KM long porous border with #Balochistan #Pakistan, #coronaravirus deaths are alarming news for the region,” Sanallah Baloch, a Balochistan lawmaker, tweeted on Saturday. “Daily 100s of people cross these borders without formal procedures, region is poverty-stricken with no medical facility.”
In a statement released Sunday, Pakistan’s Minister for Religious Affairs Noorul Haq Qadri said he had discussed the matter with Iranian officials to safeguard Pakistani nationals visiting the country.
Qadri also spoke to Dr. Zafar Mirza, state minister for health, on the deployment of medical teams to Taftan town along the border.
Iranian health authorities said 28 people were being treated for the virus in at least four different cities, including Tehran.
Both Afghanistan and Pakistan share long, porous borders with Iran that are often used by smugglers and human traffickers, while millions of Afghan refugees currently live in the Islamic Republic — raising fears that the virus could easily spread over the border.
“To prevent the spread of the novel #coronavirus and protect the public, Afghanistan suspends all passenger movement (air and ground) to and from Iran,” the office of the National Security Council of Afghanistan said in a statement posted on Twitter.
A provincial official in Pakistan and the country’s Frontier Corps also confirmed that the country had sealed the land border with Iran.
Earlier Sunday, Iran reported eight deaths from the novel coronavirus, the highest toll of any country outside China, as the supreme leader accused foreign media of trying to use the outbreak to sabotage a general election.
The latest three deaths Iran reported on Sunday were among 15 new confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus, bringing the overall number of infections to 43 and fatalities to eight — the highest death toll outside of China, the epicenter of the epidemic.
Four new infections surfaced in the capital Tehran, seven in the holy city of Qom, two in Gilan and one each in Markazi and Tonekabon, health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said.
Authorities have ordered as a “preventive measure” the closure of schools, universities and other educational centers in 14 provinces across Iran from Sunday.
Desperate and jobless Afghans have crossed the porous border with Iran for years in search of work to support their struggling families back home.
But hundreds of thousands of Afghans have returned home in recent years as US sanctions have battered the Iranian economy.
(With AFP)