Trump slams European allies before NATO summit in London

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg at Winfield House in London, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2019. (AP)
Updated 03 December 2019

Trump slams European allies before NATO summit in London

  • Trump warned he could see France ‘breaking off’ from the allies, after Macron in an interview criticized NATO’s leadership and strategy
  • Trump demanded that Europe pay more for defense and also make concessions to US interests on trade

LONDON: US President Donald Trump lashed out at European allies before a NATO anniversary summit in London on Tuesday, singling out France’s Emmanuel Macron for “very nasty” comments on the alliance and Germany for spending too little on defense.
Underlining the breadth of strife in a transatlantic bloc hailed by its backers as the most successful military alliance in history, Trump demanded that Europe pay more for defense and also make concessions to US interests on trade.
The attack echoed a similar tirade by Trump ahead of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s last summit in July 2018.
It will add to the growing doubts over the future of the 29-member alliance, described last month by Macron as “brain dead” in the run-up to a London meeting intended to be a 70th anniversary celebration.
“It’s a tough statement, though, when you make a statement like that, that is a very, very nasty statement to essentially 28, including them, 28 countries,” Trump told reporters as he met the head of NATO in London.
“Nobody needs NATO more than France,” he said, adding that France, where Macron is seeking to push through delicate reforms of a large state sector, was “not doing well economically.”
In an interview with the Economist last month, Macron made headlines by faulting NATO for failing to update its strategy to respond to newer threats such as instability in Syria.
Trump explicitly linked his complaint that Europe does not pay enough for NATO’s security missions to his staunch “America First” defense of US commercial interests, saying it was time for Europe to “shape up” on both fronts.
“It’s not right to be taken advantage of on NATO and also then to be taken advantage of on trade, and that’s what happens. We can’t let that happen,” he said of transatlantic disputes over everything from the aerospace sector to a European “digital tax” on US technology giants.
Dismissing recent signals from Germany that it was ready to do more to match a NATO target of spending two percent of national output on defense, Trump accused it and other nations which spend less than that of being “delinquent.”
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, who shared omelette and sausages with Trump over breakfast, tweeted that the pre-summit talks had got off to an “excellent start.”
But the US leader’s broadside came only hours after splits opened up elsewhere in the alliance, with Turkey threatening to block a plan to defend Baltic states and Poland against Russian attacks unless the alliance backs Ankara in recognizing the Kurdish YPG militia as a terrorist group.
The YPG’s fighters have long been US allies on the ground against Islamic State in Syria. Turkey considers them an enemy because of links to Kurdish insurgents in southeastern Turkey.
“If our friends at NATO do not recognize as terrorist organizations those we consider terrorist organizations... we will stand against any step that will be taken there,” Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said before traveling to London.
Erdogan, who has already strained alliance ties with a move to buy Russian air defense systems, said he would meet Polish President Andrzej Duda and leaders of Baltic countries.
The question mark over the Baltics’ plan, which was drawn up at their request after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, raises issues about security on all of NATO’s frontiers.
Under NATO’s 1949 founding treaty, an attack on one ally is an attack on all, and the alliance has military strategies for collective defense across its territory.
Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday branded NATO’s continued expansion as pointless because the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 had removed the threat, and told a meeting of military leaders in Sochi that it was a danger for Russia.
While Trump hailed Turkey as a good NATO ally, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper earlier warned Ankara in a Reuters interview that “not everybody sees the threats that they see” and urged it to stop blocking the Baltics plan.
In a bid to placate Trump, Europe, Turkey and Canada will pledge $400 billion in defense spending by 2024, and also agree to reduce the US contribution to fund the alliance itself.
The allies will approve a new strategy to monitor China’s growing military activity, and name space as a domain of warfare, alongside air, land, sea and computer networks.
Leaders will issue a statement condemning Moscow’s Crimea annexation and its military build-up, recommitting to the alliance’s collective defense pledge.
While giving few specifics, Trump said he believed Russia wanted deals on arms control and nuclear issues, and that he would be willing to bring China into such accords. 


India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

Updated 06 December 2019

India’s Muslims split in response to Hindu temple verdict

  • The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Modi’s government gives overt support to Hindu nationalist causes
  • Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid

NEW DELHI: India’s largest Muslim political groups are divided over how to respond to a Supreme Court ruling that favors Hindus’ right to a disputed site 27 years after Hindu nationalist mobs tore down a 16th century mosque, an event that unleashed torrents of religious-motivated violence.
The sharp split illustrates growing unease among India’s Muslims, who are struggling to find a political voice as Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government gives overt support to once-taboo Hindu nationalist causes.
“We are pushed against the wall,” said Irfan Aziz, a political science student at Jamia Millia Islamia university in New Delhi. “No one speaks about us, not even our own.”
The dispute over the site of the Babri Masjid mosque in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state has lasted centuries. Hindus believe Lord Ram, the warrior god, was born at the site and that Mughal Muslim invaders built a mosque on top of a temple there. The December 1992 riot — supported by Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party — sparked massive communal violence in which some 2,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims.
The 1992 riot also set in motion events that redefined the politics of social identity in India. It catapulted the BJP from two parliamentary seats in the 1980s to its current political dominance.
Modi’s party won an outright majority in India’s lower house in 2014, the biggest win for a single party in 30 years. The BJP won even more seats in elections last May.
Muslim groups for decades waged a court fight for the restoration of Babri Masjid. But now, friction among Muslim groups has spilled into the open, with one side challenging the verdict and the other saying they are content with the outcome.
Hilal Ahmad, a political commentator and an expert on Muslim politics, said India’s Muslims feel isolated and even divided over the verdict because policies championed by the BJP have established a populist anti-Muslim discourse.
Muslims in India have often rallied around secular parties. However, after Modi won his first term in 2014, religious politics took hold. The BJP’s rise has been marked by the electoral marginalization of Muslims, with their representation in democratic institutions gradually falling.
The 23 Muslim lawmakers in India’s Parliament in 2014 was the lowest number in 50 years. The number rose slightly to 27 in 2019 — out of these, only one is from the BJP.
India’s population of more than 1.3 billion includes more than 200 million Muslims.
The unanimous court verdict last month paves the way for a Hindu temple to be built on the disputed site, a major victory for the BJP, which has been promising such an outcome as part of its election strategy for decades. The court said Muslims will be given 5 acres (2 hectares) of land at an alternative site.
But the Muslim response has been far from unanimous.
All India Muslim Personal Law Board and Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind, two key Muslim parties to the dispute, have openly opposed the ruling, saying it was biased.
Jamiat Ulama-i-Hind has filed a petition with the court for a review of the verdict. Its chief, Maulana Arshad Madani, said the verdict was “against Muslims.”
“We will again fight this case legally,” Madani said.
Asaddudin Owaisi, one of India’s most prominent Muslim leaders and a member of Parliament, told reporters in November that it was “the right of the aggrieved party” to challenge the verdict.
But another influential Muslim body, Shia Waqf Board, said it accepts the verdict.
It believes any further court procedures in the case will keep the festering issue alive between Hindus and Muslims, said the organization’s head, Waseem Rizvi.
“I believe Muslims should come forward and help Hindus in construction of the temple,” he said.
Swami Chakrapani, one of the litigants in the case representing the Hindu side, said both Hindus and Muslims had accepted the verdict, and “the matter should be put to rest now no matter what some Muslim parties have to say.”
For many Muslims, the verdict has inspired feelings of resignation — of having no choice but to accept the court’s ruling — and fear.
“Our leaders have no consensus and the community is just scared and helpless,” Aziz said.
Disenchanted with the attitude of the religious and political leadership of Muslims, Aziz said the community lacks a “unified voice.”
The divisions are likely to worsen as some Muslim parties start to lean toward the BJP, either as a result of pressure or in an attempt to gain greater Muslim representation in it. With no national Muslim political party to represent them, the community is likely to remain divided over its politics.
“The lack of Muslim representation in Indian politics will marginalize us more,” Aziz said.
Ahmad said the temple verdict could further inflame a dangerous perspective on religious communities in India which portrays Muslims and Hindus as hostile opponents. He said some Muslim groups use issues like Babri Masjid to maintain support, while some Hindu groups thrive on presenting Muslims as “the other,” resulting in greater friction between the communities.
“The fear is evident among the Muslims. The Hindu and Muslim religious elites, as well as political parties, employ this fear to nurture their vested interests,” he said.