Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference

Special Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov collects his notes after addressing the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 25, 2021. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/Pool)
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov collects his notes after addressing the 76th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City on Sept. 25, 2021. (REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/Pool)
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Updated 26 September 2021

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference

Moscow-Ankara tensions on display at Lavrov press conference
  • Russian foreign minister criticizes Turkey over Crimea, Syria
  • Lavrov praises ‘wise’ Saudi approach to resolving Israel-Palestine conflict

NEW YORK: Russia’s foreign minister on Saturday accused Turkey of a “lack of diplomatic professionalism,” and announced that his government currently has no intention of recognizing the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.

At a press conference held at the UN and attended by Arab News, Sergei Lavrov also reiterated Russia’s support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and praised the Saudi-led approach to immediate Arab-Israeli reconciliation upon the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

Earlier this week, a Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman said elections held by Russia in Crimea — which Moscow annexed in 2014 — have “no legal validity” in Ankara’s eyes.

Lavrov said the Turkish position exhibited “a lack of diplomatic professionalism, a lack of professionalism in foreign policy, because professionals understand full well that the Crimean issue has been put to rest once and for all.”

He also defended Russia’s recent assault on rebel-held territory in Syria’s Idlib province, saying there needs to be an “uncompromising assault on terrorism on Syrian soil.”

He added: “There was a special agreement on Idlib between the presidents of Russia and Turkey, and our Turkish colleagues took upon themselves the obligation to separate normal opposition forces from terrorists. This was to have been done a long time ago now, but it has not happened to date.”

Lavrov also said Russian recognition of the Taliban as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan is “not currently on the table.”

He added: “The reality that is currently unfolding (in Afghanistan) is based on statements by the Taliban, who have proclaimed their intent to combat extremism, to combat terrorism, including the Islamic State (Daesh) and Al-Qaeda, (and) not to project instability on neighbors. What’s most important, probably, is for these promises to be honored.”

For Moscow, he added, the top priority is that the Taliban fight terrorism. “They (the Taliban) announced that they’re determined to fight ISIL (Daesh) and other terrorist groups, and we’ll do everything possible to support them to ensure that this be made a reality,” he said.

Lavrov reiterated Russia’s longstanding position that a two-state solution is the only viable resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and supported US overtures in this regard.

“It’s very important that the Biden administration has reaffirmed its commitment to a two-state solution,” said Lavrov, adding that the conflict remains of paramount importance to regional stability. 

He endorsed the Saudi-led approach of the early 2000s toward resolving the conflict and its resulting regional tensions.

“At the initiative of the king of Saudi Arabia, an Arab Peace Initiative was adopted which stipulated that as soon as a viable Palestinian state is established, which meets all the criteria set out at the UN, then immediately the Arab states would normalize relations with Israel. I think this was a very wise approach,” said Lavrov.

Powerful storm Fiona hits Canada’s Nova Scotia

Powerful storm Fiona hits Canada’s Nova Scotia
Updated 24 September 2022

Powerful storm Fiona hits Canada’s Nova Scotia

Powerful storm Fiona hits Canada’s Nova Scotia
  • Experts predicted high winds, storm surges and heavy rainfall from Fiona

HALIFAX: Powerful storm Fiona slammed into eastern Canada on Saturday with hurricane-force winds, nearly a week after devastating parts of the Caribbean.
The US National Hurricane Center said the center of the storm, now called Post-Tropical Cyclone Fiona, was crossing eastern Nova Scotia, bringing high winds and heavy rains.
The storm had weakened somewhat as it traveled north. As of 5 a.m. (0900 GMT), the storm was about 160 miles (255 km) northeast of Halifax, carrying maximum winds of 90 miles per hour (150 kph) and barrelling north at around 26 mph (43 kph), the NHC said.
Experts predicted high winds, storm surges and heavy rainfall from Fiona. Although a gradual weakening was forecast during the next couple of days, Fiona was expected to maintain hurricane-force winds until Saturday afternoon, the NHC said.
Formerly designated a hurricane, the storm battered Caribbean islands earlier in the week, killing at least eight people and knocking out power for virtually all of Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million people during a sweltering heat wave. Nearly a million people remained without power five days later.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau delayed Saturday’s departure for Japan, where he was to attend the funeral of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to receive briefings and support the government’s emergency response, Press Secretary Cecely Roy said on Twitter.
A hurricane warning was in effect for much of central Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, home to more than 150,000 people, and parts of Newfoundland, the Miami-based NHC said.
Canadian Hurricane Center meteorologist Ian Hubbard said on Friday the effects of Fiona would be felt over a wide area.
“The center of it is one thing, but the weather that’s associated with it in terms of the rain and where all the strong winds are, it’s going to be over a much larger area,” he said.
“Many, many places away from the center of the storm are still going to be seriously impacted from this,” Hubbard told Reuters.
There will be rough and pounding surf, with waves as high as 10 meters (33 feet) expected to hit the eastern shore of Nova Scotia Friday night.
Canadian authorities sent emergency alerts in Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island, warning of severe flooding along shorelines and extremely dangerous waves. People in coastal areas were advised to evacuate.
“We’ve had a few before, but they say this is going to be the biggest of them all,” said Chris MacPhee, 53, of Sydney, Nova Scotia, who stocked up on groceries, batteries and candles. He said he was feeling “a little nervous, I guess.”
The storm could prove more ferocious than the benchmarks of Hurricane Juan in 2003 and Hurricane Dorian in 2019, Canadian Hurricane Center meteorologist Bob Robichaud told a briefing.
The country’s two largest carriers, Air Canada and WestJet Airlines, suspended regional service starting Friday evening.
Trailing Fiona in the Caribbean is Tropical storm Ian, which is expected to become a hurricane on Sunday night. The NHC said that a hurricane watch is in effect for Cayman Islands.
The storms Ian’s projected path takes it just south of Jamaica, over western Cuba and into Florida early next week, the hurricane center said.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on Friday, freeing up funding and emergency services in advance of the storm.

North Korea may test submarine-launched ballistic missile: South Korea

North Korea may test submarine-launched ballistic missile: South Korea
Updated 24 September 2022

North Korea may test submarine-launched ballistic missile: South Korea

North Korea may test submarine-launched ballistic missile: South Korea
  • US Vice President Harris is set to visit the region next week and meet with leaders of Japan and South Korea

South Korea’s military has detected signs that North Korea may be preparing to test a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), Yonhap news agency reported on Saturday, days before a visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris.
The military detected preparations this week in Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, North Korea, Yonhap reported, citing an unnamed South Korean military source. This is in line with a US-based think tank’s report this week, which cited commercial satellite imagery.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol is aware of signs and movements suggesting North Korean provocations, including SLBMs, the presidential office said in a statement on Saturday.
US Vice President Harris is set to visit the region next week and meet with leaders of Japan and South Korea.
A senior US administration official told a briefing on Friday that a nuclear test or other provocation was possible during Harris’ trip to the region, but that they had no predictions or announcements to make.
A US aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea on Friday for the first time in about four years, joining other military vessels to participate in joint drills with South Korean forces.
North Korea has denounced previous US military deployments and joint drills as rehearsals for war and evidence of hostile policies by Washington and Seoul.

Heavy rains, lightning kill at least 36 in northern India

Heavy rains, lightning kill at least 36 in northern India
Updated 24 September 2022

Heavy rains, lightning kill at least 36 in northern India

Heavy rains, lightning kill at least 36 in northern India
  • Lightning strikes are common during India’s monsoon season, which runs from June to September
  • Global warming has also increased the frequency of lightning

LUCKNOW, India: Hazardous weather killed at least 36 people in northern India over the past 24 hours, including 12 who died after being struck by lightning, officials said as they warned of more heavy downpours in the coming days.
Across the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, some 24 people died after their homes collapsed amid unrelenting rains, Relief Commissioner Ranvir Prasad said.
Mohamed Usman, 15, was on his friend’s roof in the city of Prayagraj when lightning struck Friday evening, killing him instantly. His friend Aznan, who goes by one name, was injured and is being treated in a hospital.
“As soon as they set foot on the roof, they were hit by lightning and my son died,” said Mohammad Ayub, Usman’s father.
Officials said 39 people in the state have died from lightning in the last five days, prompting the state government to issue new guidelines for how people can protect themselves during a thunderstorm.
Lightning strikes are common during India’s monsoon season, which runs from June to September.
Col. Sanjay Srivastava, whose organization Lightning Resilient India Campaign works with the Indian Meteorological Department, said that deforestation, the depletion of bodies of water, and pollution all contribute to climate change, which leads to more lightning.
Global warming has also increased the frequency of lightning, said Sunita Narain, director general at the Center for Science and Environment. A 1-degree-Celsius (1.8-degree-Fahrenheit) rise in temperature increases lightning by 12 times.
There has been a 34 percent rise in lightning strikes across India over the past year, which has caused deaths to also jump. India recorded 1,489 deaths due to lightning in 2016, and the number grew to 2,869 in 2021, according to Srivastava.

New leader Marcos Jr. wants to ‘reintroduce’ Philippines

New leader Marcos Jr. wants to ‘reintroduce’ Philippines
Updated 24 September 2022

New leader Marcos Jr. wants to ‘reintroduce’ Philippines

New leader Marcos Jr. wants to ‘reintroduce’ Philippines
  • Three months into his administration, he seemed energetic and enthusiastic — and eager to project his vision for the nation beyond its borders

NEW YORK: Looking to “reintroduce the Philippines” to the world, new President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has ambitious plans for his nation on the international stage and at home — if, that is, the twin specters of pandemic and climate change can be overcome or at least managed.
And if he can surmount the legacies of two people: his predecessor, and his father.
He also wants to strengthen ties with both the United States and China — a delicate balancing act for the Southeast Asian nation — and, like many of his fellow leaders at the United Nations this week, called on the countries that have caused global warming to help less wealthy nations counteract its effects.
Marcos, swept into office this spring, is already drawing distinctions both subtle and obvious between himself and his voluble predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who alienated many international partners with his violent approach to fighting drug trafficking and the coarse rhetoric he used to galvanize supporters.
Asked if Duterte went too far with his lethal drug crackdown, Marcos redirected the criticism toward those who carried out the plan.
“His people went too far sometimes,” Marcos said on Friday. “We have seen many cases where policemen, other operatives, some were just shady characters that we didn’t quite know where they came from and who they were working for. But now we’ve gone after them.”
Marcos, 65, sat for a wide-ranging interview in New York on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly’s annual leaders’ meeting. Three months into his administration, he seemed energetic and enthusiastic — and eager to project his vision for the nation beyond its borders.
On Thursday, he met with US President Joe Biden in a bid to strengthen the sometimes complicated ties that have ebbed and flowed between the two nations since the Philippines spent four decades as an American colony in the early 20th century.
“There have been bits and pieces where they were not perhaps ideal,” Marcos said. “But in the end, that overall trajectory has been to strengthen and strengthen and strengthen our relationship.”
In addition to Duterte, Marcos also must draw distinctions between himself and the most iconic figure in the Philippines’ public sphere: his late father, whose name he shares. Ferdinand Marcos Sr., hero to some and plundering dictator to others, ruled from the 1960s to the 1980s, including a tumultuous period of martial law and repression. He made the family reputation an indelible part of Filipino history.
Addressing the family legacy directly is something the son has been loath to do, at least explicitly, though he vehemently rejects use of the term “dictator” to describe his father’s rule, To him, the political baggage of his parents is a remnant of the past.
“I did not indulge in any of that political back-and-forth concerning the Marcos family,” he said. “All I spoke about was, ‘What are we going to do to get into a better place?’ And people responded.”
Engaging, he said, would have simply been a retread — and an unnecessary one. “It doesn’t help. It doesn’t change anything,” he said. “So what’s the point?”
When it comes to his predecessor, Marcos treads a nuanced political line as well. Distinguishing himself from Duterte’s in-your-face rule can benefit him at home and internationally, but Duterte’s popularity helped catapult him into office, and the former president’s daughter Sara is Marcos’ vice president.
The extrajudicial killings associated with Duterte’s yearslong crackdown provoked calls that his administration should be investigated from the outside, and he vowed not to rejoin the International Criminal Court — a precept that Marcos agrees with. After all, Marcos asked, why should a country with a functioning legal system be judged from elsewhere?
“We have a judiciary. It’s not perfect,” he said. “I do not understand why we need an outside adjudicator to tell us how to investigate, who to investigate, how to go about it.”
Marcos cast the coronavirus pandemic as many other leaders have — as a balancing act between keeping people safe and making sure life can push forward.
“We took a very extreme position in the Philippines, and we eventually had the longest lockdown in any country in the world,” he said. “That was the choice of the previous government. And now, we are now coming out of it.”
In recent days, he has both removed a national mandate to wear masks outdoors and extended a “state of calamity” — something he said he didn’t necessarily want to do, but keeping the declaration in place allows more people to continue getting help.
“It’s not very encouraging when people look at your country and they see, ‘Well, it’s under a state of calamity.’ That’s not good for tourists. It’s not good for visitors. It’s not good for business,” Marcos said.
Encouraging ties with China, particularly given Beijing’s aggressive maritime policies, might be a daunting prospect for a nation so closely and historically aligned with the United States. But, Marcos says, it’s possible — and necessary.
“It is a very fine line that we have to tread in the Philippines,” the president said. “We do not subscribe to the old Cold War ‘spheres of influence.’ ... So it’s really guided by national interest, number one. And second, the maintenance of peace.”
Peace comes in many flavors. Last week, Marcos traveled to the southern part of the nation — a predominantly Muslim area of a predominantly Catholic country — to express support for a multiyear effort to help a onetime rebel group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, give up their guns and govern their autonomous region effectively.
While Moro has come into the government fold, smaller militant groups including the violent Abu Sayyaf have continued to fight the government and wage sporadic attacks, especially in impoverished rural regions with weak law enforcement. Marcos dismissed Abu Sayyaf as a group that no longer has a cause other than “banditry.”
“I don’t believe they are a movement anymore. They are not fighting for anything,” Marcos said. “They are just criminals.”
Marcos did not specify precisely why the Philippines needed to be reintroduced, though the country’s image took a hit from 2016 to 2022 under the Duterte administration.
“The purpose, really, that I have brought to this visit here in New York ... has been to try to reintroduce the Philippines to our American friends, both in the private sector and in the public sector,” he said.
And after the pandemic truly ends, he said, the nation needs to find a fruitful path and follow it.
“We have to position ourselves. We have to be clever about forecasting, being a bit prescient,” he said.
“We do not want to return to whatever it is we were doing pre-pandemic,” Marcos said. “We want to be able to be involved and be a vital part of the new global economy, of the new global political situation.”

World opinion shifts against Russia as Ukraine worries grow

World opinion shifts against Russia as Ukraine worries grow
Updated 24 September 2022

World opinion shifts against Russia as Ukraine worries grow

World opinion shifts against Russia as Ukraine worries grow
  • Tide had already appeared to be turning against Russian President Vladimir Putin even before Thursday’s UN speeches

NEW YORK: The tide of international opinion appears to be decisively shifting against Russia, as a number of non-aligned countries are joining the United States and its allies in condemning Moscow’s war in Ukraine and its threats to the principles of the international rules-based order.
Western officials have repeatedly said that Russia has become isolated since invading Ukraine in February. Until recently, though, that was largely wishful thinking. But on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, much of the international community spoke out against the conflict in a rare display of unity at the often-fractured United Nations.
The tide had already appeared to be turning against Russian President Vladimir Putin even before Thursday’s UN speeches. Chinese and Indian leaders had been critical of the war at a high-level summit last week in Uzbekistan. And then the UN General Assembly disregarded Russia’s objections and voted overwhelmingly to allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to be the only leader to address the body remotely, instead of requiring him to appear in person.
That shift against Russia accelerated after Putin on Wednesday announced the mobilization of some additional 300,000 troops to Ukraine, signaling the unlikelihood of a quick end to the war. Putin also suggested that nuclear weapons may be an option. That followed an announcement of Russia’s intention to hold referendums in several occupied Ukrainian regions on whether they will become part of Russia.
Those announcements came at the very moment that the General Assembly, considered the premier event in the global diplomatic calendar, was taking place in New York.
Numerous world leaders used their speeches on Tuesday and Wednesday to denounce Russia’s war. That trend continued Thursday both in the assembly hall and at the usually deeply divided UN Security Council, where, one-by-one, virtually all of the 15 council members served up harsh criticism of Russia – a council member — for aggravating several already severe global crises and imperiling the foundations of the world body.
The apparent shift in opinion offers some hope to Ukraine and its Western allies that increasing isolation will add pressure on Putin to negotiate a peace. But few are unduly optimistic. Putin has staked his legacy on the Ukraine war and few expect him to back down. And, Russia is hardly isolated. Many of its allies depend on it for energy, food and military assistance and are likely to stand by Putin regardless of what happens in Ukraine.
Still, it was striking to hear Russia’s nominal friends like China and India, following up on last week’s remarks, speak of grave concerns they have about the conflict and its impact on global food and energy shortages as well as threats to the concepts of sovereignty and territorial integrity that are enshrined in the UN Charter.
Brazil registered similar concerns. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa make up the so-called BRICS bloc of countries, which has often shunned or outright opposed Western initiatives and views on international relations.
Only one country, Belarus, a non-council member and Russia ally that was invited to participate, spoke in support of Russia, but also called for a quick end to the fighting, which it called a “tragedy.”
“We hear a lot about the divisions among countries at the United Nations,” Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “But recently, what’s striking is the remarkable unity among member states when it comes to Russia’s war on Ukraine. Leaders from countries developing and developed, big and small, North and South have spoken in the General Assembly about the consequences of the war and the need to end it.”
“Even a number of nations that maintain close ties with Moscow have said publicly that they have serious questions and concerns about President Putin’s ongoing invasion,” Blinken said.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was careful not to condemn the war but said that China’s firm stance is that “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected. The purposes of the principles of the UN Charter should be observed.”
Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar said “the trajectory of the Ukraine conflict is a matter of a profound concern for the international community.” He called for accountability for atrocities and abuses committed in Ukraine. “If egregious attacks committed in broad daylight are left unpunished, this council must reflect on the signals we are sending on impunity. There must be consistency if we are to ensure credibility,” he said.
And Brazilian Foreign Minister Carlos Alberto Franca said immediate efforts to end the war are critical. “The continuation of the hostilities endangers the lives of innocent civilians and jeopardizes the food and energy security of millions of families in other regions, especially in developing countries,” he said. “The risks of escalation arising for the current dynamics of the conflict are simply too great, and its consequences for the world order unpredictable.”
Foreign ministers and top officials from Albania, Britain, France, Ireland, Gabon, Germany, Ghana, Kenya, Mexico and Norway delivered similar rebukes.
“Russia’s actions are blatant violation of the Charter of the United Nations,” said Albanian Foreign Minister Olta Xhacka. “We all tried to prevent this conflict. We could not, but we must not fail to hold Russia accountable.”
Mexican Foreign Secretary Marcelo Ebrard called the invasion a “flagrant breach of international law” and Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said: “If we fail to hold Russia accountable we send a message to large countries that they can prey on their neighbors with impunity.”
Unsurprisingly, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was unapologetic and defensive at the same time and specifically targeted Zelensky. Citing a phrase often attributed to President Franklin Roosevelt, Lavrov called Zelensky “a bastard,” but said Western leaders regarded him as “our bastard.”
He repeated a long list of Russia’s complaints about Ukraine and accused Western countries of using Ukraine for anti-Russia activities and policies.
“Everything I’ve said today simply confirms that the decision to conduct the special military operation was inevitable,” Lavrov said, following Russian practice of not calling the invasion a war.
Russia has denied being isolated and the foreign ministry used social media to publicize a number of apparently cordial meetings that Lavrov has held with foreign minister colleagues at the UN in recent days.
Still, Blinken and his colleagues from other NATO nations seized on what they believe to be growing opposition to and impatience with Putin.
And, several speakers, including Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, pointed out that Lavrov skipped the meeting except for his speaking slot.
“I notice that Russian diplomats flee almost as quickly as Russian soldiers,” Kuleba said, referring to Lavrov’s hasty exit along with recent Russian troop retreats in Ukraine.