‘Pragmatic’ Biden-Putin summit agrees to resume arms talks, return envoys

‘Pragmatic’ Biden-Putin summit agrees to resume arms talks, return envoys
Russian president Vladimir Putin shakes hands with US president Joe Biden during the US - Russia summit in Geneva, Switzerland on June 16, 2021. (AP)
Short Url
Updated 16 June 2021

‘Pragmatic’ Biden-Putin summit agrees to resume arms talks, return envoys

‘Pragmatic’ Biden-Putin summit agrees to resume arms talks, return envoys
  • Putin called Biden, 78, a constructive, experienced partner, and said they spoke “the same language”
  • He added there had been no friendship, rather a pragmatic dialogue about their two countries’ interests

GENEVA: US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed at a “pragmatic” first summit on Wednesday to resume arms control talks and to return ambassadors to each other’s capitals after they were withdrawn earlier this year.
The discussions at the lakeside Villa La Grange in Geneva lasted less than four hours — far less than Biden’s advisers had said they expected.
Putin called Biden, 78, a constructive, experienced partner, and said they spoke “the same language,” but added that there had been no friendship, rather a pragmatic dialogue about their two countries’ interests.
He said it was “hard to say” if relations with the United States would improve, but that there was a “glimpse of hope” regarding mutual trust. There were no invitations to Washington or Moscow
The scheduling of separate news conferences meant there was none of the joviality that accompanied a 2018 meeting in Helsinki between Putin and Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, where Putin presented Trump with a soccer ball. There was also no shared meal.
Putin, 68, who was first to brief reporters, said the meeting had been constructive, without hostility, and had showed the leaders’ desire to understand each other.
He also said Russia and the United States shared a responsibility for nuclear stability, and would hold talks on possible changes to their recently extended New START arms limitation treaty.
But he showed little appetite for compromise on a range of other issues, dismissing Washington’s concerns about the arrest of opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny, about Russia’s increased military presence near Ukraine’s eastern border, and about US suggestions that unidentified Russians are responsible for a series of cyber-attacks in the United States.
Putin said Navalny had ignored the law and had known what would happen if he returned to Russia from Germany, where he had received treatment for an attempt inside Russia to kill him with poison. He also accused Kyiv of breaking the terms of a cease-fire agreement with pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
The Kremlin leader said Washington and Moscow would start consultations on cybersecurity, adding that most cyber-attacks on Russia came from the United States.
He said Biden had raised human rights issues and also the fate of US citizens jailed in Russia. Putin said he believed some compromises could be found, although he gave no indication of any prisoner exchange deal.

ARMS CONTROL PROGRESS
Arms control is, however, one domain where progress has historically been possible despite wider disagreements.
In February, Russia and the United States extended for five years the New START treaty, which caps the number of strategic nuclear warheads they can deploy and limits the land- and submarine-based missiles and bombers to deliver them.
Both sides had said in advance of the summit that they hoped for more stable and predictable relations, even though they were at odds over everything from arms control and cyber-hacking to election interference and Ukraine.
Putin and Biden shook hands on arrival before going inside, and Biden flashed a ‘thumbs-up’ to reporters as he left the villa where the talks were held and got into his limousine.
The first round of talks — which included Biden, Putin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov — lasted almost two hours, officials said.
Talks resumed after a break at around 4 p.m. (1400 GMT), with Moscow’s ambassador to the United States, Anatoly Antonov, who was recalled to Russia in March, among those present. That round ended at 5:05 p.m. (1505 GMT).
Relations between Moscow and Washington have been deteriorating for years, notably with Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine, its 2015 intervention in Syria and US charges — denied by Moscow — of meddling in the 2016 election that brought Donald Trump to the White House.
They sank further in March when Biden said he thought Putin was a “killer,” prompting Russia to recall Antonov to Washington for consultations. The United States recalled its ambassador in April.
Putin said on Wednesday that he had been satisfied by Biden’s explanation of the remark.
Trump’s summit in 2018 with Putin in Helsinki had included a meeting accompanied only by interpreters, but Biden and Putin had no solo talks.
Standing beside Putin in Helsinki in 2018, Trump refused to blame him for meddling in the 2016 US election, casting doubt on the findings of his own intelligence agencies and sparking a storm of domestic criticism.


Greece slaps restrictions on two tourist islands to curb COVID

Greece slaps restrictions on two tourist islands to curb COVID
Updated 05 August 2021

Greece slaps restrictions on two tourist islands to curb COVID

Greece slaps restrictions on two tourist islands to curb COVID
  • The Mediterranean country is also battling a wave of wildfires during a protracted heatwave
  • Restrictions will come into effect from Friday and run until Aug. 13

ATHENS: Greece imposed a night time curfew and banned music on two popular tourist islands on Thursday to contain the spread of COVID-19, its civil protection deputy minister said.
The Mediterranean country, which is trying to rebuild a tourist sector hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, is also battling a wave of wildfires during a protracted heatwave.
Restrictions will come into effect from Friday and run until Aug. 13 after a recommendation by the committee of infectious disease experts advising the Greek government.
The areas affected are the island of Zakynthos in western Greece, where the epidemiological load worsened by 69% from a week earlier, and the city of Chania in Crete where it rose 54%.
The restrictions include a night time curfew and a complete 24-hour ban on music at all entertainment venues.
"We call on the residents and visitors in these areas to fully comply with the measures to limit the spread of the virus," the Civil Protection agency said.
Greece reported 2,856 COVID-19 infections on Wednesday and 16 related deaths, bringing the total since the first case was detected in February 2020 to 503,885 and 13,013 respectively.
Last month, Greece's south Aegean islands were marked dark red on the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control's COVID-19 map after a rise in infections, meaning all but essential travel was discouraged.


Russia-led drills begin on Afghanistan border

Russia-led drills begin on Afghanistan border
Updated 05 August 2021

Russia-led drills begin on Afghanistan border

Russia-led drills begin on Afghanistan border

DUSHANBE: Russia on Thursday kicked off military drills near the border with Afghanistan, as Kabul struggles to peg back a Taliban offensive after the withdrawal of US-led troops.
Moscow has positioned itself as bulwark against potential spillover from Afghanistan into Central Asia, where three former Soviet republics share borders with the conflict-wracked country.
The joint exercises at the Kharb-Maidon training ground just 20 kilometers from the Tajik border with Afghanistan involve 2,500 troops from Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, Russia’s Central Military District said in a statement.
The drills that will continue until August 10 are being held in parallel to joint Russian-Uzbek maneuvers featuring 1,500 troops in Uzbekistan’s Termez near the border with Afghanistan.
Russia maintains military bases in both Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Central Asia’s two poorest countries.


India to deploy ‘neutral force’ after deadly internal border clash

India to deploy ‘neutral force’ after deadly internal border clash
Updated 05 August 2021

India to deploy ‘neutral force’ after deadly internal border clash

India to deploy ‘neutral force’ after deadly internal border clash
  • Six police officers dead and dozens injured in July 26 border clash
  • The two states have been wrangling over their border for decades

NEW DELHI: India will deploy a “neutral force” at the frontier of two states in its north-east, after their long-running border dispute escalated into a deadly showdown, officials said Thursday.

The July 26 clash on the border between Assam and Mizoram left six police officers dead and dozens injured, in a major embarrassment to the central government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

In a joint statement released Thursday, the governments of both states said a “neutral force” would be deployed by the Indian government in disputed areas.

“For this purpose, both the states shall not send their respective forest and police forces for patrolling, domination, enforcement or for fresh deployment to any of the areas where confrontation and conflict has taken place,” the statement read.

Mizoram was part of Assam until 1972 and became a state in its own right in 1987.

The two states have been wrangling over their border for decades, but such deadly escalations are rare.

The government of Mizoram Thursday also expressed regret — for the first time since the clashes — over the death of the six police from Assam.

Last week, the chief ministers of both states tweeted that they would seek an amicable approach to the dispute.

Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma belongs to Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party while Mizoram chief minister Zoramthanga heads the Mizo National Front — an ally of the ruling BJP alliance.

Related


UK govt aims to relocate 2,500 Afghan translators and families

UK govt aims to relocate 2,500 Afghan translators and families
Updated 05 August 2021

UK govt aims to relocate 2,500 Afghan translators and families

UK govt aims to relocate 2,500 Afghan translators and families
  • Regular reprisals against Afghan interpreters and their families have escalated as the Taliban have seized vast swathes of the countryside

LONDON: The UK government said on Wednesday it aimed to resettle hundreds more Afghan translators and their families, after criticism from former military top brass it was not doing enough.

Defense Secretary Ben Wallace and Home Secretary Priti Patel said they were committed to relocating the families of 500 staff who supported British troops in Afghanistan “as soon as possible” — some 2,500 individuals in total.

The pledge came after published criticism from senior defense figures, urging a review of the relocation scheme in the face of escalating violence in Afghanistan and threats to former local staff.

“There has been considerable misreporting of the scheme in the media, feeding the impression the Government is not supporting our former and current Afghan staff,” Wallace and Patel wrote.

“This could not be further from the truth and since the US announced its withdrawal we have been at the forefront of nations relocating people,” they added.

In response to pressure following the announcement of a US military withdrawal from Afghanistan, the UK accelerated its relocation scheme for Afghan local staff in May.

Since the expansion was announced, 1,400 Afghan staff and their families had been relocated, equalling the total number resettled in Britain since 2014.

Six former heads of the UK armed forces and other senior military figures voiced concern in a letter to The Times last week that Afghan staff had been rejected for relocation because of security concerns.

Often these individuals were deemed ineligible because they were dismissed from service.

The ministers asserted they needed to ensure a “balance between generosity and security” and would now offer relocation to 264 members of Afghan staff who were dismissed for a “relatively minor administrative offense.”

Of these, they said, 121 individuals in that category have already been offered relocation.

The Taliban on Wednesday claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s deadly bomb and gun attack on the capital, Kabul, amid a wider assault by the Islamist group on a string of provincial capitals.

Regular reprisals against Afghan interpreters and their families have escalated as the Taliban have seized vast swathes of the countryside in the weeks following the withdrawal announcement.

As humanitarian displacement from the conflict increases, the UK also said it would make further changes to its rules to allow former Afghan staff and their families to make applications for relocation outside Afghanistan.


Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Olympics

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Olympics
Updated 05 August 2021

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Olympics

Tokyo logs record 5,042 cases as infections surge amid Olympics
  • Nationwide, Japan reported more than 14,000 cases for a total of 970,000
  • Some experts have called for a current state of emergency in Tokyo and five other areas to be expanded nationwide
TOKYO: Tokyo reported 5,042 new daily coronavirus cases on Thursday, hitting a record since the pandemic began as the infections surge in the Japanese capital hosting the Olympics.
The additional cases brought the total for Tokyo to 236,138. Nationwide, Japan reported more than 14,000 cases on Wednesday for a total of 970,000.
Tokyo has been under a state of emergency since mid-July, and four other areas have since been added and extended until Aug. 31. But the measures, basically a ban on alcohol in restaurants and bars and their shorter hours, are increasingly ignored by the public, which has become tired of restrictions.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has denied that the July 23-Aug. 8 Olympics have caused a rise in infections.
Alarmed by the pace of the spread, some experts have called for a current state of emergency in Tokyo and five other areas to be expanded nationwide.
Instead, Suga on Thursday announced a milder version of the emergency measures in eight prefectures, including Fukushima in the east and Kumamoto in the south, expanding the areas to 13 prefectures.
Experts at a Tokyo metropolitan government panel cautioned that infections propelled by the more contagious delta variant have become “explosive” and could exceed 10,000 cases a day in two weeks.