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WASHINGTON, August 16, 2018 (News Wires) - The United States imposed sanctions on a Russian port service agency and Chinese firms on Wednesday for aiding North Korean ships and selling alcohol and tobacco to North Korea in breach of US sanctions aimed at pressuring it to end its nuclear programmes.

The US Treasury said in a statement China-based Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading Co. Ltd and its Singapore-based affiliate SINSMS Pte. Ltd had netted more than $1 billion a year by exporting alcohol and cigarette products to North Korea.

The department also sanctioned Russian-based Profinet Pte Ltd and its director general, Vasili Aleksandrovich Kolchanov, for providing port services on at least six occasions to North Korean-flagged ships.

Kolchanov was personally involved in North Korea-related deals and interacted directly with North Korean representatives in Russia, the department said.

"The tactics that these entities based in China, Singapore, and Russia are using to attempt to evade sanctions are prohibited under US law, and all facets of the shipping industry have a responsibility to abide by them or expose themselves to serious risks," US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a statement.

The sanctions mandate that no US citizen can deal with any of those designated in the order, and any of their properties in the United States "must be blocked", Treasury said.

The United States has been pressuring North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons programme.

Liang Ye, legal representative of Dalian Sun Moon Star International Logistics Trading, said when asked for comment on the US Treasury statement the matter was still unclear and the Chinese company had not received any notice.

China's official Xinhua news agency said the United States needed to back off with the pressure on North Korea if it was serious about wanting lasting peace on the Korean peninsula.

"Washington should be reminded that the 'maximum pressure' approach on Pyongyang is not in keeping with the current situation on the Korean Peninsula and it needs to consider easing sanctions," Xinhua said in a commentary.

By the Gazette Editorial Board

The trade war the US is launching against various countries under the slogan of "America First" is one aspect of current US policy. The ongoing crisis between Washington and Ankara is seen to be another. But it far exceeds the row over the imprisonment of the American pastor, Andrew Craig Brunson, whom the Turkish Authorities accuse of espionage and ties to terror.

 

Trump recently tweeted that US-Turkish relations were currently not good. They stand, in fact, at a 100-year-low. After having been the biggest and most reliable US ally, one that Washington depended on to contribute to political and military stability, Turkey chose to side with America’s rivals in the course of considering its national interests in the region, especially while dealing with the Syrian file.

 

Relations between the old allies started to deteriorate because of US support for the Kurds in Syria.This raised Ankara's concern over the possible emergence of a Kurdish state on its border and it, therefore, stepped up its military operations in northern Syria targeting the Kurdish regions.

 

Then again, though a member of NATO, Turkey's relations with the West, including the US, recently suffered the most since Erdogan started fostering his authoritarian rule of Turkey, revealing the falsity of the image of his AKP party as an Islamic democratic ruling party.

 

Therefore, the change in Washington's attitude towards Ankara cannot be seen in the light of the new protective economic measures being taken by President Trump to promote the US national economy. It is more likely that America's Trump has lost interest in Erdogan’s Turkey as a Civil Democratic Muslim State that can impose its model on other Muslim countries of the Middle East.

 

Unlike his predecessor who used Ankara to provide political and financial support to some Muslim movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, in order to rule some Arab countries, Trump has turned his back on these fanatical groups as well as Turkey. The reason likely lies in the Turkish ruler’s tendency to disconnect from Western democratic principles and resort to the oppression of his rivals after the alleged coup against his rule in 2016.

 

The question is how far will the two countries work to mend this crack in relations and overcome the current crisis.

 

In retaliation for Trump's decision to boost tariffs on Turkish exports of steel and aluminium to the US that caused the free fall of the Turkish currency in face of the US dollar, Erdogan announced a boycott of US electronic goods.

 

Continuing to escalate measures against each other is likely not only to harm the economies of the two countries but may also provoke geopolitical shifts that might eventually damage the peace and security of the Middle East region and the entire world.

TEHRAN, August 15, 2018 (News Wires) - The United States is trying to make Iran surrender through the imposition of sanctions, Iranian vice president Eshaq Jahangiri said on Wednesday.

New US sanctions against Iran took effect last week, and President Donald Trump said companies doing business with the country will be barred from the United States.

“The first priority for all of us under a sanctions situation is to work toward managing the country in a way that brings the least amount of damage to people’s lives,” Fars News quoted Jahangiri as saying. “America is trying by apply various pressures on our society to force us to retreat and surrender.”

The new sanctions targeted Iranian purchases of US dollars, metals trading, coal, industrial software and its auto sector, though the toughest measures targeting oil exports do not take effect for four more months.

Few US companies do much business in Iran so the impact of sanctions mainly stems from Washington’s ability to block European and Asian firms from trading there.

President Hassan Rouhani made similar comments to Jahangiri, although he did not specifically refer to the United States.

“We will not let the enemy bring us to our knees,” Rouhani said, according to state TV. “If the enemy thinks they will defeat us they will take this hope to the grave with them.”

Washington had said Iran’s only chance of avoiding the sanctions would be to accept an offer by Trump to negotiate a tougher nuclear deal than the international accord struck in 2015.

Iranian officials already rejected the offer and on Monday Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the highest authority in the country, also ruled out the possibility of talks.

The Iranian economy is beset by high unemployment and a rial currency which has lost half its value since April. The reimposition of sanctions could also make the economic situation worse.

Rouhani said today that the economy is the biggest problem facing the country.

Khamenei accused the Iranian government of economic mismanagement on Monday in the face of reimposed sanctions.

Thousands of Iranians have protested in recent weeks against sharp price rises of some food items, a lack of jobs and state corruption. The protests over the cost of living have often turned into anti-government rallies.

MOSCOW, August 15, 2018 (Reuters) - The Kremlin said on Wednesday preparations were underway for a meeting in Geneva next week between Russian officials and White House national security adviser John Bolton, the first top-level meeting since the Russian and US presidents met in Helsinki.

“Such contacts are indeed planned and being prepared,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on a conference call on Wednesday. Peskov did not elaborate further.

US President Donald Trump faced criticism at home after he met Vladimir Putin in the Finnish capital in July, and refused to blame the Russian leader for meddling in the 2016 US election.

A new round of US sanctions targeting Russia was announced in the wake of that criticism, prompting the Russian rouble to fall sharply.

Last week, Rand Paul, a Republican senator and Trump ally, traveled to the Russian capital, saying his trip aimed to encourage diplomacy amid the tense relations between Moscow and Washington.

Washington had said on Tuesday Bolton would meet Russian officials as a follow-up to the Helsinki summit.

MOSCOW, August 14, 2018 (News Wires) - The Kremlin said on Tuesday that a new US bill on sanctions against Moscow does not bode well for Russia's relations with the United States.

The US Congress published on Tuesday the text of a bipartisan bill that among other things includes restrictions on investment in new Russian sovereign debt and bans several state-run Russian banks from operating in the United States.

"We maintain our stance on these restrictive measures. This does not bode well for the bilateral relations," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said during a conference call.

ISTANBUL, August 14, 2018 (News Wires) - President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday Turkey will boycott electronic products from the United States, retaliating in a dispute with Washington that has helped drive the lira to record lows.

The lira has lost more than 40 per cent this year and crashed to an all-time low of 7.24 to the dollar on Monday, hit by worries over Erdogan's calls for lower interest rates and worsening ties with the United States.

The weakness of the Turkish currency has rippled through global markets. Its drop of as much as 18 per cent on Friday hit US and European stocks as investors fretted about banks' exposure to Turkey.

On Tuesday the lira recovered some ground, trading at 6.53 to the dollar at 09:18 GMT, up around five per cent on the day.

It was supported by news of a planned conference call in which the finance minister will seek to reassure investors concerned by Erdogan's control of the economy and his resistance to interest rate hikes to tackle double-digit inflation .

Erdogan says Turkey is the target of an economic war, and has made repeated calls for Turks to sell their dollars and euros to shore up the national currency.

"Together with our people, we will stand decisively against the dollar, forex prices, inflation and interest rates. We will protect our economic independence by being tight-knit together," he told members of his AK Party in a speech.

"We will impose a boycott on US electronic products. If they have iPhones, there is Samsung on the other side, and we have our own Vestel here," he said, referring to the Turkish electronics company, whose shares rose five per cent.

The United States has imposed sanctions on two Turkish ministers over the trial on terrorism charges of a US evangelical pastor in Turkey, and last week Washington raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports.

Erdogan said his government would offer further incentives to companies planning to invest in Turkey and said firms should not be put off by economic uncertainty.

"If we postpone our investments, if we convert our currency to foreign exchange because there's danger, then we will have given into the enemy," he said.

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