Washington Looks for Clarity on Who Ordered Khashoggi Killed
Confusion continues in Washington over what the Trump administration has concluded regarding the death of Saudi journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi – and the implications for U.S.-Saudi relations. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, President Donald Trump has repeatedly deflected questions about the kingdom’s crown prince amid news reports the CIA believes Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, last month in Turkey.
APEC Ends Without Communique as China, US Differ
An acrimonious meeting of world leaders in Papua New Guinea failed to agree Sunday on a final communique, highlighting widening divisions between global powers China and the U.S.
The 21 nations at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Port Moresby struggled to bridge differences on the role of the World Trade Organization, which governs international trade, officials said. A statement was to be issued instead by the meeting’s chair, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill.
“The entire world is worried” about tensions between China and the U.S., O’Neill told a mob of reporters that surrounded him after he confirmed there was no communique from leaders.
It was the first time leaders had failed to agree on a declaration in 29 years of the Pacific Rim summits that involve countries representing 60 percent of the world economy.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said there were differences between several nations, including China and the U.S. Draft versions of the communique seen by The Associated Press showed the U.S wanted strong language against unfair trade practices that it accuses of China. China, meanwhile, wanted a reaffirmation of opposition to protectionism and unilateralism it says the U.S. is engaging in.
“I don’t think it will come as a huge surprise that there are differing visions on particular elements in regard to trade and those prevented there from being a full consensus on the communique,” Trudeau said.
Rising West-China rivalry
The two-day summit was punctuated by acrimony and underlined a rising rivalry between China and the West for influence in the usually neglected South Pacific. China is a relative newcomer to providing aid, and its loan-heavy, no-strings attached approach has unsettled Western nations that have been the mainstay donors to developing nations and often use aid to nudge nations toward reforms.
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Chinese President Xi Jinping traded barbs in speeches Saturday. Pence professed respect for Xi and China but also harshly criticized the world’s No. 2 economy for intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and unfair trading practices.
The U.S. has this year imposed additional tariffs on $250 billion of Chinese goods, and Beijing has retaliated with its own tariffs on U.S. products.
The world, according to Xi’s speech, is facing a choice between cooperation and confrontation as protectionism and unilateralism grows. He said the rules of global institutions set up after World War II such as the World Trade Organization should not be bent for selfish agendas.
Pence told reporters that during the weekend he had two “candid” conversations with Xi, who is expected to meet President Donald Trump at a Group of 20 summit at the end of this month in Buenos Aires.
“There are differences today. They begin with trade practices, with tariffs and quotas, forced technology transfers, the theft of intellectual property. It goes beyond that to freedom of navigation in the seas, concerns about human rights,” Pence said.
China rejects US criticism
The U.S. is interested in a better relationship “but there has to be change” from China’s side, Pence said he told Xi, who responded that dialogue is important.
China’s foreign ministry rejected the U.S. criticism that it was leading other developing nations into debt bondage.
“The assistance provided by China has been warmly welcomed by our partners in this region and beyond,” Wang Xiaolong, a foreign ministry official, told a news conference.
“No country either in this region or in other regions has fallen into a so called debt trap because of its cooperation with China. Give me one example,” he said.
Countering Belt and Road
In Port Moresby, the impact of China’s aid and loans is highly visible. But the U.S. and allies are countering with efforts to finance infrastructure in Papua New Guinea and other island states. The U.S. has also said it will be involved in ally Australia’s plan to develop a naval base with Papua New Guinea.
On Sunday, the U.S., New Zealand, Japan and Australia said they’d work with Papua New Guinea’s government to bring electricity to 70 percent of its people by 2030. Less than 20 percent have a reliable electricity supply.
“The commitment of the United States of America to this region of the world has never been stronger,” Pence said at a signing ceremony. A separate statement from his office said other countries are welcome to join the electrification initiative provided they support the U.S. vision of a free and open Pacific.
China, meanwhile, has promised $4 billion of finance to build the first national road network in Papua New Guinea, among the least urbanized countries in the world.
Art Thrives Among Hunters, Fishers in Northernmost Alaska
The small town of Utqiagvik, Alaska, is the northernmost town in the United States. Entertainment is scarce and so is the list of jobs. A lot of locals still hunt and fish, and there is room for art here as well. As Natasha Mozgovaya reports, indigenous carvers have been creating beautiful figurines, intricate miniature sculptures and jewelry from very Alaskan materials.
Houston Charity Helps Disabled Pakistani Children Rebuild Their Lives
A Houston-based charity is helping disabled children from Pakistan rebuild their lives by bringing them to United States and treating them with the help of U.S. doctors and surgeons. VOA’s Nadeem Yaqub recently visited the medical center where they are treated, and filed this report.
Arab Media Report IS Fighters, Family Members Killed in US Coalition Airstrikes in Syria
The head of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says that U.S.-led coalition airstrikes killed more than 40 people in the village of Abu Husn in the region of Deir el-Zor, near the Iraqi border.
Arab media announced the deaths of several dozen people, most of whom appeared to have been Islamic State group fighters, during bitter fighting in the Deir el-Zor region of eastern Syria, not far from the Iraqi border.
Rami Abdel Rahman of the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights claims that about three dozen Islamic State fighters were killed in the airstrikes on the village of Abu Husn. A number of civilians and family members of the IS fighters also were killed.
Abdel Rahman insisted that “it was the highest death toll in coalition airstrikes since (U.S.-aligned Kurdish fighters) launched their attack against this (particular northeastern Syrian) Islamic State pocket in September.
U.S. Coalition spokesman Sean Ryan told the French news agency earlier this week “the avoidance of civilian casualties is our highest priority when conducting strikes against legitimate military targets with precision munitions.”
Khattar Abou Diab, who teaches political science at the University of Paris, tells VOA that bad weather conditions in recent days have allowed IS fighters to gain ground against the U.S.-led alliance of Kurdish SDF fighters, alongside U.S. and French forces, prompting strong efforts to push them back.
He says that the final pockets of Islamic State fighters have taken advantage of poor weather conditions (and cloud cover) to capture positions and equipment belonging to the U.S. coalition, prompting fierce fighting in an effort to recapture lost ground.
Abou Diab says the Islamic State pocket in the region of Deir el-Zour is one of several he says are supported by different countries involved in the Syria conflict. He argues that a separate Islamic State faction, supported by the Syrian government, has been involved in attacking Druze civilians and holding them hostage in the southern region of Sweida.
Taliban ‘Optimistic’ About Dialogue With U Son Afghan Peace
The U.S. special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, Zalmay Khalilzad, has held another round of marathon discussions with Qatar-based Taliban officials to push for a politically negotiated settlement to the 17-year war.
Khalilzad’s three days of meetings with the Islamist insurgency concluded on Friday and both sides were “optimistic about the dialogue process,” multiple Taliban sources said Saturday.
Neither side, however, has officially confirmed or released details of this week’s talks in Doha, the capital of the Gulf nation, which houses the so-called “political office” of the Afghan Taliban.
This was Khalilzad’s second interaction with the Taliban in more than a month. The Trump administration appointed him to the office in September with the goal of bringing the Afghan government and the insurgent group to the negotiating table.
Insurgent sources noted that former prisoners of the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention center, Mullah Fazal and Mullah Khairkhaw, also joined the Taliban delegation in talks with the U.S. team.
The Taliban says its dialogue process with Washington is aimed at securing a timetable for the withdrawal of all American and NATO troops from Afghanistan to pave the way for an intra-Afghan dialogue.
“When we reach a solution about the pullout of all their forces then we enter a second phase (of discussions) among Afghans (themselves) on how to bring about peace and form a government in Afghanistan,” Sohail Shaheen, who speaks for the Taliban’s Qatar office, told reporters in Moscow last week.
Shaheen was in the Russian capital as part of a five-member Taliban delegation that attended for the first time an international conference Russia hosted to discuss Afghan peace efforts.
The insurgent group says in meetings with the U.S., it also is seeking the release of its prisoners and the removal of international travel restrictions on senior Taliban leaders.
After last month’s meetings with Afghan officials and Taliban representatives, Khalilzad had called for both sides to form their respective authorized teams for peace talks.
Since then, the Taliban has inducted into its Doha “political office” five senior insurgent leaders, who were swapped for the freedom of an American hostage in 2014. The United States released the men from its Guantanamo detention center to authorities in Qatar, in exchange for Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, the only American soldier taken prisoner by the Taliban in Afghanistan.
For his part, Afghanistan’s president, Ashraf Ghani, has been holding discussions with leaders and representatives of Afghan political parties, as well as civil society organizations for the formation of an “advisory council and a negotiating team.”
Ghani’s office said Saturday the meetings will continue for several more days and the government is determined to proceed with a peace process based on national consensus.
It quoted the president as cautioning “the route to peace is full of obstacles, and we need to be ready to employ all available tools for gaining a positive outcome.”
Speaking this week via video link to an audience in Washington, the Afghan president appeared upbeat about the prospects of peace talks. Responding to domestic critics that the U.S. has not taken Kabul into its confidence before opening talk with the Taliban, Ghani noted that many of the ideas and the plans Khalilzad is discussing with the Taliban actually have come from the Afghan government.
“The U.S. engagement (with the Taliban) is to ensure that talks with the Taliban result not in negotiations with (the) Taliban but direct talks between the Afghan government and (the) Taliban,” Ghani said.
The president said his government is prepared to tackle all the issues on the negotiating table to try to bring an end to the deadly war in Afghanistan. He disclosed in his speech that since 2015, his government security forces have lost more than 28,500 personnel in the battle with the Taliban but Ghani denied the insurgents were in a winning position on the battlefield.
A senior Afghan peace negotiator who met Khalilzad during his recent trip told reporters in Kabul the American envoy has been given six months to produce an outcome for the U.S. administration.
Khalilzad’s office has neither commented on these assertions nor onengagements with the Taliban.
Trump Defends Deployment of US Troops Sent to Southern Border
U.S. President Donald Trump again defended sending U.S. troops to the southern border with Mexico, questioning the migrants’ motives for making the perilous journey, citing a strong U.S. economy.
Speaking with reporters at the White House House Saturday morning before departing for California to tour the devastation from wildfires burning in the state, the president said, “Yeah, we have a tremendous military force in the south, on the border, on the southern border. We have large numbers of people trying to get into our country. I must say the reason it’s increased so much is because we’re doing so well as opposed to the rest of the world. And if you look at south of our border, it’s not doing so well.
“But regardless, we have millions of people on line to get into our country legally, and those people have preference. They have to have preference. They’ve been waiting for a long time, they’ve done it legally.”
Trump continued, “They’re coming up and they’re talking about, oh, their great fear, oh, their problems with their country, but they’re all waving their country’s flag. What is that all about? If they have such fear and such problems and they hate their country, why do we see all the flags being waved for Guatemala, for Honduras, for El Salvador? We’re seeing flags all over the place. Why are they waving flags? This has nothing to do with asylum, this has to do with getting into our country illegally. And we have to know who wants to come into our country.”
The number of U.S. troops on the border with Mexico has reached its upper limit, top Pentagon officials said earlier this week.
More than 5,800 active duty and 2,100 National Guard troops are currently deployed to help U.S. Customs and Border Protection strengthen barriers, build housing, operate aircraft and other activities intended to help the U.S. Border Patrol. Earlier this week, President Trump said the force might be larger.
“We’re pretty much peaked in terms of the number of people that are down there,” Deputy Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan told reporters at the Pentagon.
The troops were sent to the U.S. southern border at the request of the Department of Homeland Security. Shanahan said the troops may stay through Dec. 15. The military is legally prohibited from domestic law enforcement, such as arresting migrants crossing the border.
In the meantime, several hundred Central American migrants arrived midweek in the Mexican border city of Tijuana after a month of traveling away from poverty and violence at home, in hopes of entering the United States.
About 800 migrants are now in Tijuana. Many said they would stay there and wait for the rest of their caravan to arrive and for leaders to advise them of their options for seeking asylum in the United States.Some of the early arrivals went to the border fence to celebrate.
The migrants in Tijuana got a generally warm greeting from locals, but some were met with hostility from an upper middle-class beach neighborhood.
Residents shouted, “You’re not welcome!” and “Get out!” to a group of about 100 Central Americans. Police kept the two sides apart. One protester said the hostility had nothing to do with race, but with safety.
A Tijuana city official said the city is not prepared for such a large number of arrivals. Most migrant shelters are already full. The official said she hopes the Mexican federal government will offer the migrants asylum and jobs.
The bulk of the migrant caravan of about 4,000 people, mostly Honduras, is making its way through the state of Sonora and is expected to arrive soon in Tijuana.
The San Ysidro port linking Tijuana to the U.S. city of San Diego, is the busiest crossing on the border. But it only processes about 100 asylum claims per day, meaning those in the caravan who seek that route face a long wait.
Trump has sharply criticized the caravans, casting them as a “national emergency.”He signed a proclamation last week declaring migrants who enter the country illegally ineligible for asylum.That goes against federal laws stating anyone is eligible for asylum, no matter how he or she entered the country.
The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups quickly filed a legal challenge and sought an injunction against the new rules while the case makes its way through the courts.A federal judge has set a hearing on the injunction for Nov. 19.
In addition to the caravan at or nearing the border, two others have made their way to Mexico City with more than 2,000 people.
Mexico said last week it had issued about 2,700 temporary visas to individuals and families, allowing them to work while their refugee applications proceed.
VOA Pentagon Correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this story.
Report: CIA Concludes Saudi Prince Ordered Journalist’s Killing
The CIA has concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul, The Washington Post reported Friday, a finding that contradicted Saudi government assertions that he was not involved.
The Post said U.S. officials had expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment, which was the most definitive to date linking Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler to the killing and complicated President Donald Trump’s efforts to preserve U.S. ties with one of the closest American allies in the region.
Reuters was not immediately able to verify the accuracy of the report, but a source familiar with U.S. intelligence assessments told Reuters U.S. government experts assessed with confidence that the crown prince had ordered the operation that led to Khashoggi’s death. The Saudi government denied the allegation.
The White House declined to comment on the Post report, saying it was an intelligence matter. The State Department also declined to comment.
Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for the Post, was killed at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 when he went there to pick up documents he needed for his planned marriage to a Turkish woman.
Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi government, had resisted pressure from Riyadh for him to return home. Saudi officials have said a team of 15 Saudi nationals were sent to confront Khashoggi at the consulate and that he was accidentally killed in a chokehold by men who were trying to force him to return to the kingdom.
Pressure on Saudis
Turkish officials have said the killing was intentional and have been pressuring Saudi Arabia to extradite those responsible to stand trial. An adviser to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday accused Saudi Arabia of trying to cover up the killing.
His remarks came after Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor said he was seeking the death penalty for five suspects charged in Khashoggi’s killing. The Saudi prosecutor, Shalaan al-Shalaan, told reporters the Saudi crown prince knew nothing of the operation, in which Khashoggi’s body was dismembered and removed from the consulate.
The Post, citing people familiar with the matter, said the CIA reached its conclusions after examining multiple sources of intelligence, including a phone call that the prince’s brother, Khalid bin Salman, the Saudi ambassador to the United States, had with Khashoggi.
Khalid told Khashoggi he should go to the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to retrieve the documents and gave him assurances that it would be safe to do so, the Post said.
The newspaper, citing people familiar with the call, said it was not clear whether Khalid knew Khashoggi would be killed but that he made the call at his brother’s direction.
‘I never talked to him’
Khalid bin Salman said in a Twitter post on Friday that the last contact he had with Khashoggi was via text on Oct. 26, 2017, nearly a year before the journalist’s death.
“I never talked to him by phone and certainly never suggested he go to Turkey for any reason. I ask the U.S. government to release any information regarding this claim,” he said in his Twitter message.