Future EU membership flagged as US looks to build partnerships ‘in important and dynamic region’

Future EU membership flagged as US looks to build partnerships ‘in important and dynamic region’
NATO soldiers serving in Kosovo patrol next to a road barricade set up by ethnic Serbs near the town of Zubin Potok on Aug. 1, 2022. (AFP)
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Updated 05 August 2022

Future EU membership flagged as US looks to build partnerships ‘in important and dynamic region’

Future EU membership flagged as US looks to build partnerships ‘in important and dynamic region’
  • Tensions have flared recently over a Kosovar plan to require people entering with Serbian IDs to replace them with a temporary document during their stay in the country

WASHINGTON: Recent tensions between Kosovo and Serbia amid a dispute over license plate rules should be resolved through dialogue and the implementation of previous agreements between the two countries, the US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Gabriel Escobar, said.

Escobar urged both countries to work out their differences through the framework of agreements sponsored by the EU.

His comments follow angry protests by ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo who refused to display temporary license plates on their vehicles when entering Kosovo territory from Serbia.

In a press briefing on Friday attended by Arab News, Escobar said that the US government remains committed to the Western Balkans region.

“The Western Balkans remains a place of tremendous opportunity, a dynamic and important part of the world, and one that we count on and where we are building important partnerships,” he said.

Tensions between the two countries flared on July 31 when Serbian protesters used vehicles to block key border areas between Serbia and Kosovo over plans by the Kosovo government requiring people entering Kosovo with Serbian IDs to replace them with a temporary document during their stay in the country.

The measures also called for Serbian drivers to display temporary Kosovo license plates on their vehicles.

The Kosovar government argues that the plans are similar to those the Serbian government applies to Kosovar drivers and citizens who enter Serbia.

An estimated 50,000 ethnic Serbs who live in northern Kosovo use Serbian identity cards and license plates, and refuse to recognize the Kosovo government.

In 2013, an agreement normalizing ties between Kosovo and Serbia stipulated the establishment of an Association of Serb Municipalities in northern Kosovo, granting ethnic Serbs in the region a semi-autonomous status.

However, the Kosovo government insists that the so-called Brussels agreement should not undermine Kosovo sovereignty or create a Serbian mini-state within the country.

Escobar agreed that the issue of Association of Serb Municipalities should not contradict the Kosovo constitution, but also called for ways to acknowledge Serbian minority rights and cultural heritage.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, and has since joined NATO and hopes to become a EU member.

Escobar said that “from the US perspective, the long-term future for both Serbia and Kosovo is to become members of the EU.”

He added that both countries should work to resolve their differences on the issues of license plates, energy and the Association of Serb Municipalities.

“In that regard, we support the EU efforts to facilitate a dialogue between the two countries. And our position is that all prior agreements should be implemented, including the Association of Serb Municipalities. So we would like to see a discussion on that when the parties meet later this month,” Escobar said.

He added that “the future lies with Europe,” and EU membership for both countries would encourage regional integration and freedom of movement, as well as stability.

Escobar said that three Balkan states are already NATO members, and the Balkans is an important component of US European security strategy, especially in the wake of conflict between Russia and Ukraine.


Australia upset at Indonesia reducing Bali bomber’s sentence

Australia upset at Indonesia reducing Bali bomber’s sentence
Updated 13 sec ago

Australia upset at Indonesia reducing Bali bomber’s sentence

Australia upset at Indonesia reducing Bali bomber’s sentence
  • Umar Patek could be released on parole ahead of the 20th anniversary of the bombings in October
  • Australian leader Anthony Albanese: ‘His actions were the actions of a terrorist’
CANBERRA: Australia’s leader said Friday that it’s upsetting Indonesia has further reduced the prison sentence of the bombmaker in the Bali terror attack that killed 202 people — which could free him within days if he’s granted parole.
The most recent reduction of Umar Patek’s sentence takes his total reductions to almost two years and means Patek could be released on parole ahead of the 20th anniversary of the bombings in October.
“This will cause further distress to Australians who were the families of victims of the Bali bombings,” Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told Channel 9. “We lost 88 Australian lives in those bombings.”
Albanese said he would continue making “diplomatic representations” to Indonesia about Patek’s sentence and a range of other issues, including Australians currently jailed in Indonesia. Albanese described Patek as “abhorrent.”
“His actions were the actions of a terrorist,” Albanese told Channel 9. ”They did have such dreadful results for Australian families that are ongoing, the trauma which is there.”
Indonesia often grants sentence reductions to prisoners on major holidays such as the nation’s Independence Day, which was Wednesday.
Patek received a 5-month reduction on Independence Day for good behavior and could walk free this month from Porong Prison in East Java province if he gets parole, said Zaeroji, who heads the provincial office for the Ministry of Law and Human Rights.
Zaeroji, who goes by a single name, said Patek had the same rights as other inmates and had fulfilled legal requirements to get sentence reductions. “While in the prison, he behaved very well and he regrets his radical past which has harmed society and the country and he has also vowed to be a good citizen,” Zaeroji said.
Patek was arrested in Pakistan in 2011 and tried in Indonesia, where he was convicted in 2012. He was originally sentenced to 20 years imprisonment.
With his time served plus sentence reductions, he became eligible for parole on Aug. 14. The decision from the Ministry of Law and Human Rights in Jakarta is still pending, Zaeroji said. If refused parole, he could remain jailed until 2029.
Patek was one of several men implicated in the attack, which was widely blamed on Jemaah Islamiyah, a Southeast Asian militant group with ties to Al-Qaeda. Most of those killed in the bombing on the resort island were foreign tourists.
Another conspirator, Ali Imron, was sentenced to life. Earlier this year, a third militant, Aris Sumarsono, whose real name is Arif Sunarso but is better known as Zulkarnaen, was sentenced to 15 years following his capture in 2020 after 18 years on the run.
Jan Laczynski, a survivor of the bombings, told Channel 9 that many Australians will be “devastated” by Patek’s potential release. “This guy should not be going out unsupervised, unmonitored,” he said.

North Korea dismisses Seoul’s aid-for-disarmament offer

North Korea dismisses Seoul’s aid-for-disarmament offer
Updated 27 min 5 sec ago

North Korea dismisses Seoul’s aid-for-disarmament offer

North Korea dismisses Seoul’s aid-for-disarmament offer
  • Kim Yo Jong: Country has no intentions to give away nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program for economic cooperation

SEOUL: The sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said her country will never accept South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s “foolish” offer of economic benefits in exchange for denuclearization steps, accusing Seoul of recycling proposals Pyongyang already rejected.
In a commentary published by state media Friday, Kim Yo Jong stressed that her country has no intentions to give away its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program for economic cooperation, saying “no one barters its destiny for corn cake.”
She questioned the sincerity of South Korea’s calls for improved bilateral relations while it continues its combined military exercises with the United States and fails to stop civilian activists from flying anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other “dirty waste” across their border.
She also ridiculed South Korea’s military capabilities, saying the South misread the launch site of the North’s latest missile tests on Wednesday, hours before Yoon used a news conference to urge Pyongyang to return to diplomacy.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, expressed “strong regret” over Kim Yo Jong’s comments that it said were disrespectful to President Yoon Suk Yeol and reaffirmed the North’s desire to continue developing nuclear weapons.
“This attitude from North Korea will not only threaten peace on the Korean Peninsula but result in further difficulties for the North by worsening its international isolation and economic situation,” said Lee Hyo-jung, a ministry spokesperson.
Kim Yo Jong last week had threatened “deadly” retaliation against the South over the COVID-19 outbreak in the North, which it dubiously claims was caused by leaflets and other objects dropped from balloons launched by southern activists.
Yoon during a nationally televised speech on Monday proposed an “audacious” economic assistance package to North Korea if it takes steps to abandon its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles program. The offers of large-scale aid in food and health care and modernizing electricity generation systems and seaports and airports weren’t meaningfully different from previous South Korean proposals rejected by the North, which is speeding the development of an arsenal Kim Jong Un sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
Kim Yo Jong, one of the most powerful officials in her brother’s government who oversees inter-Korean affairs, said Yoon displayed the “height of absurdity” with his offer, saying it was realistic as creating “mulberry fields in the dark blue ocean.”
She said South Korea’s words and actions would only incite “surging hatred and wrath” from North Koreans and insisted Pyongyang has no immediate plans to revive long-stalled diplomacy with Seoul. “It is our earnest desire to live without awareness of each other,” she said.
Inter-Korean ties have worsened amid a stalemate in larger nuclear negotiations between North Korea and the US that derailed in 2019 because of disagreements over a relaxation of crippling US-led sanctions on the North in exchange for disarmament steps.
There are concerns that Kim Yo Jong’s threats last week over the leafletting portends a provocation, of which the possibilities may include a nuclear or missile test or even border skirmishes. The United States and South Korea kick off their biggest combined training in years next week to counter the North Korean threat. The North describes such drills as invasion rehearsals and has often responded to them with missile tests or other provocations.
During Wednesday’s news conference, Yoon expressed hope for meaningful dialogue with the North over his aid-for-disarmament proposal. Maintaining a reserved tone, Yoon said his government has no plans to pursue its own nuclear deterrent and doesn’t desire political change in Pyongyang that’s brought by force.
Yoon spoke hours after South Korea’s military detected North Korea firing two suspected cruise missiles toward the sea and identified the western coastal site of Onchon as the launch location. Kim Yo Jong in her column said the weapons were fired from a bridge in the city of Anju, north of Onchon and farther inland, and ridiculed South Korean and US capacities to monitor North Korean missile activity. The South’s military has yet to release its analyzed flight details of those missiles.
“If the data and flight trajectory (of the missiles) are known, (the South) will be so bewildered and afraid,” Kim Yo Jong said. “It will be a thing worthy of seeing how they will explain about it before their people.”
The latest launches extended a record pace in North Korean missile testing in 2022, which has involved more than 30 ballistic launches, including the country’s first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years.
North Korea’s heighted testing activity underscores its dual intent to advance its arsenal and force the United States to accept the idea of the North as a nuclear power so it can negotiate economic and security concessions from a position of strength, experts say.
Kim Jong Un could up the ante soon as there are indications that the North is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test since September 2017, when it claimed to have developed a thermonuclear weapon to fit on its ICBMs.


Erdogan warns of ‘another Chernobyl’ after talks in Ukraine

Erdogan warns of ‘another Chernobyl’ after talks in Ukraine
Updated 19 August 2022

Erdogan warns of ‘another Chernobyl’ after talks in Ukraine

Erdogan warns of ‘another Chernobyl’ after talks in Ukraine
  • A flare-up in fighting around Europe’s largest nuclear facility in Russian-controlled southern Ukraine has sparked urgent warnings from world leaders

LVIV, Ukraine: Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Thursday of a nuclear disaster in Ukraine during his first face-to-face talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky since Russia’s invasion began, echoing pleas from the UN’s chief.
A flare-up in fighting around Europe’s largest nuclear facility in Russian-controlled southern Ukraine has sparked urgent warnings from world leaders, and UN chief Antonio Guterres cautioned during talks with Erdogan that any damage to the plant would be akin to “suicide.”
“We are worried. We don’t want another Chernobyl,” Erdogan said during a press conference in the eastern city of Lviv, during which he also assured the Ukrainian leader that Ankara was a firm ally.
“While continuing our efforts to find a solution, we remain on the side of our Ukraine friends,” Erdogan said.
Guterres said he was “gravely concerned” about the situation at the plant and that it had to be demilitarized, adding: “We must tell it like it is — any potential damage to Zaporizhzhia is suicide.”
Erdogan, who has major geopolitical rivalries with the Kremlin but maintains a close working relationship with President Vladimir Putin, met with the Russian leader less than two weeks ago in the Black Sea resort of Sochi.
The Turkish leader and Guterres were key brokers of a deal inked in Istanbul last month allowing for the resumption of grain exports from Ukraine after Russia’s invasion blocked essential global supplies.
The success of the grain deal contrasts with failed peace talks early in the war, and Zelensky on Thursday ruled out peace with Russia unless it withdrew its troops from Ukraine.
He told reporters he was “very surprised” to hear from Erdogan that Russia was “ready for some kind of peace,” adding: “First they should leave our territory and then we’ll see.”
Fighting raged along the front on Thursday and early Friday.
Bombardments across the city of Kharkiv and nearby Krasnograd left at least six dead and 25 injured on Thursday, just one day after Russian bombardments killed 13 in the country’s second-largest urban center.
Early-morning shelling on Friday also targeted the city of Nikopol, according to a local military official, while the mayor of Mykolayiv reported “massive explosions” there around the same time.
Fighting in recent weeks has focused around the southern region of Zaporizhzhia and the nuclear facility there, and Zelensky called on the UN to ensure security at the plant after direct talks with Guterres, while also blaming Russia for “deliberate” attacks on the facility.
Russian forces took the plant in March and uncertainty surrounding it has fueled fears of a nuclear incident.
Moscow dismissed Ukrainian allegations Thursday, saying its forces had not deployed heavy weapons at Zaporizhzhia and accusing Kyiv of preparing a “provocation” there that would see Russia “accused of creating a man-made disaster at the plant.”
Kyiv, however, insisted it was Moscow that was planning a “provocation” at the facility.
Ukrainian military intelligence said in a Facebook post on Thursday night that it had received reports that all but a “small part of operational personnel” at the plant had been ordered to stay home on Friday, while representatives of Russia’s state nuclear operator “actually left the territory” of the facility.
“Considering the number of weapons that are currently located on the territory of the nuclear plant, as well as repeated provocative shelling, there is a high probability of a large-scale terrorist attack at the nuclear facility,” it said.


Xi, Putin to attend G20 summit in Bali, says Indonesia’s Widodo — Bloomberg News

Xi, Putin to attend G20 summit in Bali, says Indonesia’s Widodo — Bloomberg News
Updated 19 August 2022

Xi, Putin to attend G20 summit in Bali, says Indonesia’s Widodo — Bloomberg News

Xi, Putin to attend G20 summit in Bali, says Indonesia’s Widodo — Bloomberg News

Chinese and Russian leaders Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin will attend the G20 summit in Bali in November, Indonesian President Joko Widodo told Bloomberg News on Thursday.
“Xi Jinping will come. President Putin has also told me he will come,” Jokowi, as he is popularly known, told the news agency.
The Chinese foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment. Indonesia presidential palace officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Indonesia is chairing the Group of 20 major economies and has faced pressure from Western countries to withdraw its invitation to Putin over his country’s invasion on Ukraine, which his government calls a “special military operation.”
Jokowi has sought to position himself as mediator between the warring countries, and has traveled to meet both Ukraine’s and Russia’s presidents. This week, Jokowi said both countries have accepted Indonesia as a “bridge of peace.”
Leaders of major countries, including US President Joe Biden, are set to meet in Indonesia’s resort island of Bali in November. Indonesia has also invited Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky.


UK spy chief says Putin is losing information war in Ukraine — The Economist

UK spy chief says Putin is losing information war in Ukraine — The Economist
Updated 19 August 2022

UK spy chief says Putin is losing information war in Ukraine — The Economist

UK spy chief says Putin is losing information war in Ukraine — The Economist

Russia has failed to gain ground in cyberspace against Ukraine almost six months after its invasion of the country, the head of Britain’s GCHQ intelligence service said on Friday.
Jeremy Fleming, the intelligence head, in an op-ed in The Economist, wrote that both countries have been using their cyber capabilities in the war in Ukraine.
“So far, president Putin has comprehensively lost the information war in Ukraine and in the West. Although that’s cause for celebration, we should not underestimate how Russian disinformation is playing out elsewhere in the world,” Fleming wrote.
“Just as with its land invasion, Russia’s initial online plans appear to have fallen short. The country’s use of offensive cyber tools has been irresponsible and indiscriminate.”
Fleming said Russia had deployed WhisperGate malware to destroy and deface Ukrainian government systems.
He also said Russia has used the same playbook before on Syria and the Balkans and said online disinformation is a major part of Russia’s strategy. However, the GCHQ has been able to intercept and to provide warnings in time, he said.
Without going into much detail, Fleming said the UK’s National Cyber Force could respond to Russia by deploying a UK military unit that employs offensive cyber tools.