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ISLAMABAD, September 5, 2018 (News Wires) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Pakistan on Wednesday for a brief visit on his whistle-stop tour of the region, with the war in Afghanistan and the issue of Islamist militants once again set to dominate discussions with Pakistan.

Pompeo is next due to visit India, the main stop of his South Asia tour, where he is expected to pile pressure on New Delhi over its purchases of Iranian oil and Russian missile systems in talks with senior Indian officials.

In Pakistan, Pompeo will meet new premier Imran Khan and the army chief, Qamar Javed Bajwa, against a backdrop of tense ties and US military aid cuts over Islamabad’s alleged reluctance to crack down on militants.

Relations between uneasy allies United States and Pakistan have frayed in recent years, with Washington accusing Islamabad of turning a blind eye or helping Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network militants who stage attacks in Afghanistan. Pakistan denies doing so.

Pakistan’s new foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, said he would “have exchanges” with Pompeo over Washington’s cancellation of a $300-million disbursement for the Pakistani military.

Taking a tougher line with an ally that U.S. President Donald Trump considers unreliable, the United States halted the disbursement of Coalition Support Funds due to Islamabad’s perceived failure to take decisive action against Afghan Taliban militants operating from Pakistani soil.

The United States has withheld $800 million this year, cuts Pakistan says are unwarranted as it incurs expenses in fighting militants who pose a danger to US troops in Afghanistan.

Pompeo is also expected to discuss Pakistan’s possible plans to seek a bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to ease currency pressures and avert an economic crisis.

In July, Pompeo said there was “no rationale” for the IMF to give money to Pakistan that would then be used to pay off Chinese loans, comments that further rattled Islamabad.

Pompeo and US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis will meet their Indian counterparts in New Delhi on Thursday, and are expected to finalize defense pacts that could bring their militaries closer amid China’s rising influence.

The talks come as US hostility rises towards India’s traditional allies Iran and Russia, on which Washington has placed sanctions. Iran is a big oil supplier to India, and two-thirds of its military equipment is from Russia.

“They’re part of the conversation, they’re part of the relationship, they will certainly come up, but I don’t think they will be the primary focus of what it is we’re trying to accomplish here,” Pompeo told US pool reporters en route to Pakistan.

 

WASHINGTON, August 26, 2018 (News Wires) - The United States will continue to hold accountable those responsible for what he described as the “abhorrent ethnic cleansing” of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Saturday.

Pompeo’s statement came on the one year anniversary of the conflict in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state that drove more than 700,000 Rohingya from their homes into neighboring Bangladesh.

“A year ago, following deadly militant attacks, security forces responded by launching abhorrent ethnic cleansing of ethnic #Rohingya in Burma,” Pompeo said on Twitter, using an alternative name for Myanmar.

“The U.S. will continue to hold those responsible accountable. The military must respect human rights for #Burma’s democracy to succeed.”

The military ruled Myanmar for nearly 50 years after seizing power in a 1962 coup and retains considerable powers under a 2008 constitution.

Myanmar government spokesmen Zaw Htay was unavailable for comment on Sunday.

The government, led by Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, has denied refugees’ allegations of atrocities, saying security forces lawfully suppressed Muslim militants in Rakhine.

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh held demonstrations and prayers on Saturday to mark the anniversary of the outbreak of the conflict.

Thousands of refugees marched prayed and chanted slogans in events across the sprawling camps in southern Bangladesh. Many wore black ribbons to commemorate what they said was the start of the “Rohingya genocide”.

Across the border in Myanmar, the government said security patrols had been increased in the conflict area ahead of the anniversary for fear of further violence. Members of the mostly Buddhist Rakhine ethnic group and Hindus from Rakhine state said they would hold events to remember those killed by Rohingya militants in attacks that triggered the crisis.

Earlier this month, the United States imposed sanctions on four Myanmar military and police commanders and two army units, accusing them of “ethnic cleansing” against Rohingya Muslims and widespread human rights abuses across the Southeast Asian nation.

International pressure on Myanmar has been growing as U.N.-mandated investigators are set to publish a report on the crisis on Monday and the United Nations Security Council will hold a briefing on Myanmar on Tuesday.

WASHINGTON, July 31, 2018 (News Wires) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned on Monday that any potential International Monetary Fund bailout for Pakistan's new government should not provide funds to pay off Chinese lenders.

In an interview with CNBC television, Pompeo said the United States looked forward to engagement with the government of Pakistan's expected new prime minister, Imran Khan, but said there was "no rationale" for a bailout that pays off Chinese loans to Pakistan.

"Make no mistake. We will be watching what the IMF does," Pompeo said. "There's no rationale for IMF tax dollars, and associated with that American dollars that are part of the IMF funding, for those to go to bail out Chinese bondholders or China itself," Pompeo said.

The Financial Times reported on Sunday that senior Pakistani finance officials were drawing up options for Khan to seek an IMF bailout of up to $12 billion.

An IMF spokeswoman said: "We can confirm that we have so far not received a request for a Fund arrangement from Pakistan and that we have not had discussions with the authorities about any possible intentions."

Speaking in Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the IMF has its own standards and operating rules when cooperating with relevant countries.

"I believe they will handle it appropriately," he told reporters, without elaborating.

Pakistan is struggling to avert a currency crisis that has presented the new government with its biggest challenge. Many analysts and business leaders expect that another IMF bailout, the second in five years, will be needed to plug an external financing gap.

Pakistan, which already has around $5 billion in loans from China and its banks to fund major infrastructure projects, had sought another $1 billion in loans to stabilise its plummeting foreign currency reserves.

Officials in the Trump administration, including US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, have criticised China's infrastructure lending to developing countries, arguing that this has saddled them with unsustainable debt.

The $57 China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, a series of port and rail improvements associated with China's One Belt One Road infrastructure push, has led to massive imports of Chinese equipment and materials, swelling Pakistan's current account deficit.

Pakistan has had 14 IMF financing programmes since 1980, according to fund data, including a $6.7 billion three-year loan programme in 2013.

KABUL, July 9, 2018 (News Wires) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday there was “now hope” for peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, during an unannounced visit to Kabul.

Pompeo’s first visit to Afghanistan since he was sworn in as America’s top diplomat in April came amid renewed optimism for peace in the war-weary country following last month’s unprecedented ceasefire by the Taliban and the government.

“An element of the progress is the capacity that we now have to believe that there is now hope,” Pompeo told a joint press conference with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani Monday.

“Many of the Taliban now see that they can’t win on the ground militarily. That’s very deeply connected to President Trump’s strategy,” he said, referring to Trump’s much-vaunted South Asia policy announced last August.

But he added: “Make no mistake, there’s still a great deal of work to do.”

Pompeo’s visit to the Afghan capital follows a ceasefire during Eid, when the Islamic holiday was marked by spontaneous street celebrations involving Afghan security forces and Taliban militants.

Fighters on both sides expressed a deep fatigue with the grinding conflict, raising hopes that an end to hostilities was possible after 17 years of war that began with the US-led invasion in 2001 that ousted the Taliban from power.

But the insurgents refused the government’s request to extend their three-day ceasefire, launching attacks that have seen scores killed or injured.

US-backed Ghani, who is under international pressure to ensure credible parliamentary elections are held in October ahead of next year’s presidential vote, has been leading the push for peace talks.

Ghani thanked Pompeo for US support, hailing Trump’s strategy as a “game changer” in the conflict.


TOKYO, July 8, 2018 (News Wires) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo brushed off North Korean accusations of “gangster-like” diplomacy during negotiations in Pyongyang, saying on Sunday he will pursue denuclearisation talks after meeting his Japanese and South Korean counterparts.

Pompeo said in Tokyo there was still a lot of work to do but he was confident North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would stick to a commitment to abandon nuclear weapons that he made during a summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore last month.

Pompeo’s meeting with Japan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono and South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha followed two days of talks in Pyongyang that ended on Saturday.

“When we spoke to them about denuclearisation, they did not push back,” Pompeo told a news conference. “The road ahead will be difficult and challenging and we know that critics will try to minimise the work that we’ve achieved.”

Pompeo spoke after North Korea said the two days of talks with America’s top diplomat “brought us in a dangerous situation where we may be shaken in our unshakable will for denuclearisation, rather than consolidating trust between the DPRK and the US”.

The statement, which referred to the North’s formal name of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), was carried by the official KCNA news agency on Saturday soon after Pompeo left Pyongyang.

Kim made a broad commitment in Singapore to “work towards denuclearisation” but did not give details on how or when he would dismantle North Korea’s nuclear programme. Trump in turn offered security guarantees to Pyongyang and pledged a halt to large-scale military drills with South Korea.

North Korea’s latest comments, which came after Pompeo said talks had made progress, are a reminder of the difficulties that previous US administrations have had negotiating with the reclusive Stalinist state and suggest that Pyongyang may not agree to any rapid denuclearisation.

Leaked US intelligence findings concluded that North Korea does not intend to give up its nuclear programme completely.

Trump has vowed that North Korea will not be allowed to threaten the United States with its ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. His meeting with Kim in Singapore came after months of often bitter rhetoric and threats.

WASHINGTON, July 3, 2018 (News Wires) - US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will leave for North Korea on Thursday seeking agreement on a plan for the country’s denuclearisation, despite mounting doubts about Pyongyang’s willingness to abandon a weapons programme that threatens the United States and its allies.

In announcing Pompeo’s travel plans on Monday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the United States was “continuing to make progress” in talks with North Korea. She declined to confirm or deny recent media reports of intelligence assessments saying North Korea has been expanding its weapons capabilities.

The State Department said Pompeo would head on Saturday from Pyongyang to Tokyo, where he would discuss North Korean denuclearisation with Japanese and South Korean leaders.

It will be Pompeo’s first visit to North Korea since the June 12 summit in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, at which the North Korean leader agreed to “work toward denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.”

The joint summit statement, however, gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might give up its weapons. US officials have since been trying to flesh out details to produce an agreement that might live up to Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the outcome.

The US goal remained “the final, fully-verified denuclearisation of (North Korea), as agreed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore,” a State Department spokeswoman said.

A US delegation led by US ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim met with North Korean counterparts at Panmunjom on the border between North and South Korea on Sunday to discuss next steps on the implementation of the summit declaration, the State Department said.

“We had good meetings yesterday and ... the secretary of state will be there later this week to continue those discussions,” Sanders told a White House briefing.

Sanders endorsed comments made on Sunday by White House national security adviser John Bolton, who said he believed the bulk of North Korea’s weapons programs could be dismantled within a year “if they have the strategic decision already made to do that.”

“There is great momentum right now for a positive change and we are moving together for further negotiations,” Sanders said.

However, some experts disputed Bolton’s optimistic time frame for decommissioning North Korea’s weapons, even if North Korea were willing to agree to such moves, amid multiple reports suggesting otherwise.

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