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NATO: Trump barks but strained alliance avoids bust up

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Trump's Walk of Fame star must go

PARIS: Ahead of this week’s summit of NATO countries in Brussels, speculation mounted about what sort of Donald Trump would turn up for the two days of talks about the military alliance.
Would it be angry, vindictive Trump who has a tendency to turn on the US’s historic allies in public and undermine NATO, the cornerstone of European security for 70 years? Or would he arrive ready to make a deal and put on a display of unity that was desperately sought by his European partners after a disastrous meeting at the G7 summit in Canada last month?
In the end, the US leader, who thrives on keeping both allies and enemies off balance, was a combination of both. His Twitter account buzzed with criticism of NATO – “Very Unfair!”, “Not acceptable!” – and he began with a blistering public attack on Germany, which he accused of being “totally controlled” by Russia.
Both charges play well with Trump’s conservative electoral base back home in America. “Trump is motivated by domestic politics, the mid-term elections (in November) and his populist image,” the head of the Schuman Foundation think-tank in Brussels, Jean-Dominique Giuliani, told Media. But behind closed doors, European leaders suggested things had gone more smoothly, particularly over dinner on Wednesday night when the 29 heads of state and government in central Brussels.
“I read in the papers that everything depends on President Trump’s mood. Well, I can tell you he was in a good mood and he said that Europe was a continent he appreciates,” Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel told reporters on Thursday morning.
This was echoed by others, including French President Emmanuel Macron who was photographed smiling and sharing a hug with Trump on Wednesday despite recent tensions between the two.
It is pertinent to recall here that during the G7 summit in Canada in June, Trump clashed bitterly with his Western partners behind closed doors over US tariffs imposed on steel and aluminum imports. At one point, he was reported to have thrown a handful of sweets towards German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying “here, Angela, don’t say I never give you anything”.
The meeting ended with Trump insulting his host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as “dishonest and weak”. Despite fears of another bust-up in Brussels, the NATO summit ended Wednesday in what was neither harmony nor the crisis some had feared. Trump signed up to a joint declaration by NATO members and left the Belgian capital claiming victory in having forced European states to increase their spending.
“This was a fantastic two days. It all came together at the end. Yes, it was a little tough for a little while,” he said.  But Macron insisted that NATO members have simply recommitted to a previous target of military spending, set in 2014, at a level of 2.0 percent of GDP. They have also agreed to publish their plans to get there. The joint declaration also recommitted all members to Article 5 of the alliance which holds that an attack on one country is an attack on all of them — something Trump had raised doubts about. “I believe in NATO,” Trump told a news conference, denying rumors that had spread through the press room that he had threatened to pull out of the alliance during talks.  The joint declaration also included tough language on Russia and reiterated NATO’s position that it would never recognize Moscow’s annexation of Crimea – something some Europeans fear Trump might be reconsidering.
He is set to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday at their first bilateral summit in Helsinki. “The shared interests (of the European and Americans) are stronger than the public statements and the tweets,” added Giuliani of the Schuman Foundation.
Referring to Trump’s focus on domestic politics, he said: “Beyond that, all of the US industrial, strategic and diplomatic complex sees the benefit of the alliance.” Tomas Valasek, director of the Carnegie Europe think-tank, also sounded upbeat and said that “a pattern has emerged”.  Trump “uses these events to speak to home audiences. He’s permanently campaigning,” Valasek wrote on Twitter, adding that NATO appeared to be “an oasis amidst the wreckage of transatlantic cooperation”.
But Francois Heisbourg, head of the The International Institute for Strategic Studies, forecast a bleak future for the organization because Trump had undermined its credibility. “Trump is not interested in a collective defense arrangement operated on multilateral lines, that’s the bottom line,” he told Media.”NATO is like a zombie bank,” he said.

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 May seeks EU compromise to save Brexit deal

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British PM fends off Brexit defeat by pro-EU rebels

BRUSSELS: Bloodied but not yet beaten, British Prime Minister Theresa May met EU leaders on Thursday to beg for concessions that might save her Brexit deal but admitted she does not expect a rapid breakthrough.
May survived a confidence vote staged by her own party’s MPs late on Wednesday, but admitted as she arrived at the EU summit that she will not fight the next general election planned for 2022.
Instead, her focus is on salvaging her plan for an orderly Brexit and on persuading her European counterparts to offer guarantees that Britain will not remain trapped indefinitely in their customs union.
The other 27 EU leaders have agreed to draft a reassuring political statement, but remain firmly opposed to renegotiating a hard-won withdrawal deal they endorsed less than three weeks ago.
“My focus now is to get those assurances that we need to get this deal over the line because I genuinely believe it’s in the best interests of both sides, of the UK and the EU,” May said.
“I don’t expect an immediate breakthrough but what I do hope is that we can start to work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary,” she said.
European diplomats are discussing a two-step plan that would see a brief political statement issued at the summit, followed in January by a legal interpretation of the deal.
“It’s all about clarification tonight,” said Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.
May was due to meet EU President Donald Tusk in Brussels for what he called “last-minute talks” before joining the other European leaders.
EU members have drawn up a draft six-paragraph statement they hope will appease British concerns about the so-called “Irish backstop” and give life to May’s effort to get the deal through parliament.
Last month the withdrawal accord was hailed as the end to a 17-month negotiation, and leaders dared hope they had saved Britain from crashing out of the union on March 29 without a deal.
But when May took it home, she ran into renewed opposition from hardline Brexiteers in her Conservative party and this week she baulked at putting it to a vote in parliament.
Now, with the vote delayed until January, she wants Europe to sweeten the offer with “reassurances” that measures to prevent the return of a hard border with Ireland will not last indefinitely.
According to European diplomats, the proposed summit statement would declare that any backstop “would only be in place for a short period and only as long as strictly necessary”.
And it will add: “The union stands ready to examine whether any further assurances can be provided. Such assurances will not change or contradict the withdrawal agreement.”
This would not be the legally binding promise, sought by Brexiteers, that the backstop would not be used to bind the UK into a customs union indefinitely.
“This is incredibly innocent language. Nothing of this is new. There is no end date for the backstop,” one European source told the Media. 
Brexit will once again dominate an EU summit which had been planned to deal with the thorny issues of migration, budgets and eurozone.
After May made a desperate three-capital European tour on Tuesday to seek assistance from fellow leaders, Tusk had said he would love to help her, but “the question is how”.
European officials insist in public and in private that the backstop must stay. “The idea of a sell-by date won’t stand,” one said.
May also met Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar before the summit. “Nobody is talking about and nobody is being asked to – by the British prime minister – to change the wording of the withdrawal agreement,” Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney said in Dublin.
“What is being looked at now seriously is how a political declaration can be put together that is real, that provides reassurance for many in Westminster who need it, that the backstop represents no threat to them, no threat to the United Kingdom.”
Anything May does come away with must convince her own party, its angry Northern Irish allies and a majority of British MPs to back the deal when it returns to for a vote before January 21.
Her victory in a confidence vote of Conservative MPs late Wednesday made her immune from further challenge in her party for a year, but she was forced to admit she would quit by 2022.
And if the Brexit agreement is still found wanting not only would Britain and its main trading partners face economic chaos, but May could be finished off by a parliamentary vote of no confidence.

 

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Politics

Russian military chief accuses NATO of buildup on borders

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MOSCOW: A senior Russian military official on Wednesday warned of a buildup of NATO forces close to the country’s borders, the defense ministry said.
Valery Gerasimov, head of Russia’s General Staff, “noted a strengthening of NATO’s frontline military presence close to Russia’s borders”, while meeting the commander of NATO forces in Europe Curtis Scaparrotti.
Gerasimov added that “this doesn’t help reduce tensions” between Moscow and the alliance, said a defense ministry statement after they met in Baku, Azerbaijan.
NATO and the US have accused Russia of violating a Cold War arms control treaty (known as the INF) with ground-launched missiles with a range of 500 kilometers ( to 5,500 kilometers, which Moscow denies.
The US last week warned it would withdraw from the treaty signed in 1987 within 60 days if Russia does not dismantle missiles that the US claims to breach the deal.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has warned such a move would only push Moscow to develop nuclear missiles banned by the treaty.

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Asia

Modi loosing from traditional stronghld!

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NEW DEHLI: India’s ruling party looked set to lose power in at least one of three traditional stronghold states releasing election results on Tuesday, in a blow to Prime Minister Narendra Modi ahead of national polls in 2019.

Early election results in the central state of Chhattisgarh indicated the main opposition Congress party of Rahul Gandhi would win 59 seats compared to just 11 for Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party.

The Hindu nationalist BJP has ruled Chhattisgarh for the past 15 years.

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