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BEIRUT, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Monday the US withdrawal from world powers' 2015 nuclear agreement with Iran would have negative consequences for Middle East stability.

"The unilateral US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement (in May) will have negative repercussions for security and stability in the region," Aoun wrote on Twitter, his first public comment on the accord.

"Lebanon considered (the deal) a cornerstone for stability in the region, helping make it an area free of weapons of mass destruction," Aoun's office said in a statement summarising a meeting between him and Iranian foreign ministry official Hossein Jaberi Ansari.

Aoun said he welcomed the commitment of other countries to continue with the deal.

Under the 2015 accord, Iran won a lifting of international sanctions in return for verifiable curbs on its disputed uranium enrichment programme.

 

 

 

WASHINGTON, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - US retail sales rose at a solid pace last month despite higher prices and modest wage gains, a sign of underlying consumer optimism.

The Commerce Department said Monday that sales at retailers and restaurants increased 0.5 per cent in June, following a big 1.3 per cent gain the previous month. May's figure was revised sharply higher from an initial estimate of 0.8 per cent.

Americans are confident about the economic outlook, with the unemployment rate near an 18 year-low and the economy accelerating after a sluggish start to the year. Retail sales rose 6.6 per cent from a year earlier, the fastest annual pace in five years.

Still, some of the spending increases, such as gas station sales, simply reflect higher prices. Excluding auto dealers and gas stations, sales rose 0.3 per cent in June.

 

TEHRAN, Iran, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - Iran says if President Donald Trump wants to negotiate after pulling the United States out of the international deal meant to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, he'll have to make the call.

Monday's remarks by Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi came after Trump last week said that with the United States increasing sanctions on Iran, "at a certain point they're going to call me and say 'let's make a deal,' and we'll make a deal."

Ghasemi says, however, "maybe someday he will call Tehran and ask for negotiations - this is more likely."

If Trump calls, it's not clear whether anyone will answer, with Iran's top leadership rejecting talks with the US.

Other nations in the deal are negotiating with Iran to try and make it work without Washington.

BEIJING, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - EU leaders and top diplomats urged US President Donald Trump to protect the world order at his summit on Monday with Vladimir Putin and dismissed his assertion that Europe was a US trade foe.

Trump triggered fresh concerns from European Council President Donald Tusk at an EU-China summit in Beijing, and from EU foreign ministers in Brussels, one of whom urged the US president to stand up for non-EU Ukraine and Georgia against Russia.

Trump said the European Union was a foe in trade while also calling Russia and China foes in some respects, before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki.

"America and the EU are best friends. Whoever says we are foes is spreading fake news," Tusk tweeted late Sunday from Beijing, without naming Trump directly.

Trump often uses the term "fake news" when he disagrees with news reports.

"Europe and China, America and Russia, today in Beijing and in Helsinki, are jointly responsible for improving the world order, not for destroying it," Tusk said in a separate tweet.

"I hope this message reaches Helsinki," the former Polish premier added.

Tusk echoed broader fears that Trump is tearing down the post World War II order in which the United States built a system of alliances and rules to advance peace and prosperity.

Trump told CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday that "I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade," adding Russia was also an enemy in some respects and that China was an economic foe.

The Trump administration has slapped tariffs on steel and aluminium imports from Europe as well as on products from Mexico, Canada and China, sparking retaliation and fears of a global trade war.

Tusk warned in Beijing that trade tensions could spiral into a "hot conflict."

The Financial Times reported meanwhile that the Trump administration has rejected an EU call for an exemption from fresh US sanctions on companies operating in Iran.

The EU opposed Trump's decision to scrap a deal with Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions and go ahead with new sanctions on firms doing business with Tehran.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini repeated remarks that a change in US administration does not mean a change in friendship, adding Europe will always "be close friends and partners" with Washington.

But Mogherini, speaking to reporters upon arriving for talks with EU foreign ministers, said Europe has many other friends in the world, citing in particular Japan, with which it is signing a massive trade deal on Tuesday.

"It seems the whole world is his enemy," French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian told reporters, adding Trump's remarks should be taken with a grain of salt.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders urged Trump to stand up for Ukraine and Georgia, countries on Europe's periphery where Russia has either invaded or backed break-away pro-Moscow rebels against the central government.

"It is very important to us to reaffirm our solidarity with the Ukraine and Georgia, the sovereignty of these two countries, the territorial integrity," he said.

During last week's summit in Brussels, Trump fuelled fears again about his commitment to NATO when he denounced European allies for falling short on spending pledges for the alliance.

In the run-up to the NATO summit, Tusk delivered a blunt message to Trump to appreciate his European allies, adding Washington does not have many others.

BEIJING, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - China announced it filed a World Trade Organization challenge Monday to President Donald Trump's latest tariff threat, stepping up its diplomatic efforts to counter US pressure in a spiraling technology dispute.

The Trump administration has criticized the WTO as unable to deal with the problems posed by China, suggesting a challenge there might have little impact in Washington. But it might help Beijing rally support from governments that criticized Trump for going outside the WTO to impose tariffs on Chinese and other imports.

The move is unusually swift, coming less than one week after the US Trade Representative proposed 10 per cent tariffs on a $200 list of Chinese goods. Those wouldn't take effect until at least September.

China's lopsided trade balance means it will run out of US imports for penalty tariffs before Washington does. Beijing is trying to recruit support, so far in vain, from Europe, South Korea and other governments.

"We are unable to fight equally," said Tu Xingquan, director of the China Institute for WTO Studies at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing.

Monday's move "indicates that we value the role of the WTO rules," said Tu.

Washington imposed 25 per cent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods in response to complaints Beijing steals or pressures companies to hand over technology. Beijing responded immediately by imposing identical penalties on a similar amount of American imports.

It has criticized the latest tariff threat but has only about $80 billion of annual imports left for penalties.

As for why Beijing hasn't retaliated, "there might be some adjustment in China's approach to countermeasures," said Tu.

Economists and business groups have suggested Beijing might try to disrupt operations of American companies, especially service industries, in which the United States runs a surplus. But Chinese officials have tried to appeal to American companies as allies.

A Commerce Ministry spokesman said last week Beijing hoped they would lobby Washington to protect their own interests.

HELSINKI, July 16, 2018 (News Wires) - US President Donald Trump sat down with Vladimir Putin for a long-awaited summit on Monday saying he wanted good relations with Russia, after blaming Washington's own past "foolishness and stupidity" for the countries' hostile ties.

Trump opened the meeting with warm words for Putin, seated next to the Russian leader in an ornate presidential palace in neutral Finland, and said it was a longstanding goal of his to improve the relationship between the two countries.

"I think we will have an extraordinary relationship. I hope so. I've been saying it, and I'm sure you've heard over the years, and as I campaigned, that getting along with Russia is good thing, not a bad thing," he said.

But to Trump's critics, the friendly words had already been overshadowed by an extraordinary denunciation of his own country's prior policies, which Trump tweeted out hours before the summit.

"Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of US foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!" he tweeted before the summit began.

The Russian foreign ministry "liked" his tweet, and tweeted back: "We agree".

Trump's opponents at home were furious, with one Democratic congressman tweeting that Trump had turned the White House into "a propaganda arm for the Kremlin".

Putin and Trump met alone apart from interpreters before a working lunch with aides. Trump said they would talk about a range of subjects, listing trade, the military, nuclear weapons and China.

But, at least in his public remarks at the outset, he mentioned none of the issues that have lately brought US-Russian relations to the lowest point since the Cold War: Moscow's annexation of territory from Ukraine, its support for Syria's Bashar al-Assad, as well as Western accusations that it poisoned a spy in England and meddled in elections.

"Our relationship with Russia is strained because of the very malign actions he's refusing to take Russia to task for," tweeted Democratic US Representative Gregory Meeks, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

"Though relations were worse during the Cold War, at least then the US Presidency wasn't a propaganda arm for the Kremlin."

The Kremlin has played down expectations for the summit. It said it did not expect much from the meeting but hoped it would be a "first step" to resolving a crisis in ties.

"Presidents Trump and Putin respect each other and they get along well," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. "There is no clear agenda. It will be determined by the heads of state themselves as they go along."

 

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