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US-led coalition says Syria withdrawal has begun

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Hasakeh: The US-led coalition in Syria has begun withdrawing its troops, a spokesman said today, less than a month after US President Donald Trump made his shock announcement.
The force which has battled the Islamic State group since 2014 started scaling down but it remained unclear how long the drawdown process would last.
“CJTF-OIR has begun the process of our deliberate withdrawal from Syria,” spokesman Colonel Sean Ryan told AFP in a statement, referring to the US-led anti-militant force.
“Out of concern for operational security, we will not discuss specific timelines, locations or troops movements,” he said.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that the coalition had started scaling down its presence at Rmeilan airfield in the Hasakeh province in northeastern Syria.
“On Thursday, some American forces withdrew from the Rmeilan military base,” Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Britain-based monitoring organization, said.
He put the number of US forces who left at 150 and added that around 10 armored vehicles and some heavy equipment were also removed from Rmeilan.
“This is the first such pullout of American forces since the US president’s announcement” of military withdrawal from Syria last month, he said.
The US-led coalition has several other bases across northeastern Syria, as well as in neighboring Iraq, where Trump has said his forces would remain.
A US defense official in Washington had earlier confirmed to AFP that equipment was being removed from Syria.
The US-led coalition, which also includes countries such as France and Britain, was formed in mid-2014 to counter the expansion of the Islamic State group after it proclaimed its self-styled “caliphate”.
Trump claimed last month that the jihadists had been defeated and that US troops could, therefore, come home.
Fighter jets and special forces have played a key role in efforts to claw back the territory lost to IS.
A Kurdish-led group, the Syrian Democratic Forces, is currently flushing out the very last pockets of land controlled by the militants in the Euphrates River Valley.
The beginning of the drawdown coincided with a visit to the Middle East by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who insisted in Cairo Thursday that the withdrawal would go ahead despite widespread criticism.
On the same day, however, Pompeo stated in a speech that “when America retreats, chaos often follows.”
Earlier this week, US National Security Adviser John Bolton laid out conditions for the pullout, including the defeat of the IS in Syria and guarantees for the safety of Washington’s Kurdish allies in the campaign, who have been threatened with an imminent offensive by Turkey.
Bolton’s comments were widely seen as backtracking on Trump’s announcement, including by Turkey which described them as “unacceptable”.
The battle against die-hard jihadists in remote areas along the Iraqi-Syrian border and the hunt for IS supremo Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the world’s most wanted man, could last indefinitely, however.

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Asia

Beijing says China, US are ‘mutually indispensable’

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DAVOS: China and the United States cannot do without one another, one of Beijing’s most senior officials said Wednesday, as the world’s two biggest economies struggle to end a damaging trade war.
“The Chinese and US economies are mutually indispensable, so their relations must be mutually beneficial and win-win,” Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan told an audience at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“This is the reality: neither side can do without the other side,” said Wang, who plays a top role in resolving the US-China trade battle.
The annual conference in the Alpine ski resort was originally expected to see the two sides meet, but the White House canceled the US delegation’s trip due to the government shutdown in Washington.
Economic experts assembled in Davos are also worried about an economic slowdown in China, but Wang — a close ally of President Xi Jinping – said the economy was growing at a healthy pace.
“The number is 6.6 percent. I think this is a pretty significant number. Not low at all,” Wang told the audience, referring to the growth rate for 2018, the lowest in 28 years.
The IMF on Monday warned that the US-China trade confrontation was feeding global uncertainty and threatening to drag down world growth.

 

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Pakistan

Pakistan believes in friendly terms with all

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Legislation against corruption will be PTI govt.'s priority

ISLAMABAD: Foreign Service Attaches from different countries on Wednesday called on Speaker National Assembly Asad Qaiser and discussed matters related to important regional and international issues and Pakistan’s relations with different countries of the world.

The Speaker said that Pakistan is a peace loving country and believed in building friendly relations with all countries including its neighbors. He said that vast investment opportunities exist in Pakistan and foreign investors can take advantages from these opportunities. He said that the incumbent government in Pakistan has introduced investment-friendly policies in the country and taking steps to safeguard the investment of the foreign investors. Asad Qaiser said that Pakistan has an abundance of beautiful tourist resorts and the highest mountain ranges of the world due to which it has a lot of attractions for foreign tourists. \

He said that promotion of tourism was the prime concern of the present government. He said that people of Pakistan and its security forces have rendered matchless sacrifices in the war against terrorism and more than 70 thousand innocent citizens and personnel of security forces were martyred during this war.  He said that due to successful military operations by Pakistan, terrorism has been reduced to a great extent. He urged upon the Attaches to play their due role to portray the soft and positive image of Pakistan in their respective countries.

On this occasion, Secretary National Assembly Tahir Hussain briefed the participants about formation, functions and organizational structure of the National Assembly and its standing committees. The Foreign Attaches thanked the Speaker National Assembly for providing them the opportunity to visit the National Assembly of Pakistan. They said that they have learned a lot about legislative procedures and other functions of this supreme constitutional body during this visit.

 

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Politics

Syria Safe Zone: Erdogan meets Putin

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MOSCOW: Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan met for Syria talks in Moscow on Wednesday, with Turkey saying they would focus on Ankara’s so-called “security zone” in northern Syria.
Russia and Turkey have agreed to coordinate ground operations in Syria following US President Donald Trump’s shock announcement last month about pulling 2,000 American troops out of Syria.
At the start of their meeting in the Kremlin, Putin addressed Erdogan as “dear friend,” saying that their countries “work on issues of regional security and actively cooperate on Syria.”
Erdogan used the same term for Putin in translated comments and said: “our solidarity makes a weighty contribution to the security of the region.”
The leaders were set to give a press conference after their talks.
The warm rhetoric came despite the fact that the two leaders are on opposite sides of the Syria conflict: Russia provides critical support to the Syrian government, while Turkey has backed rebel groups fighting President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
Despite this, they have worked closely to find a political solution to the seven-year conflict.
Turkey has welcomed Washington’s planned withdrawal from Syria but the future of US-backed Kurdish militia forces labeled terrorists by Ankara has upset ties between the NATO allies.
Erdogan said Monday he would discuss with Putin the creation of a Turkish-controlled “security zone” in northern Syria, suggested by Trump.
The US-allied Kurds, who control much of the north, have rejected the idea, fearing a Turkish offensive against territory under their control.
Moscow, a long-term supporter of Assad, is likely to oppose the plan, with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last week saying Damascus must take control of the north.
Nearly eight years into Syria’s deadly conflict, the US pullout has led to another key step in Assad’s Russian-backed drive to reassert control.
Kurdish forces who were left exposed by Trump’s pledge to withdraw have asked the Syrian regime for help to face a threatened Turkish offensive.
The Kremlin hailed the entry by Syrian forces into the key northern city of Manbij for the first time in six years after Kurds opened the gates.
Moscow plans to organize a three-way summit with Turkey and Iran at the beginning of this year as part of the Astana peace process, launched by the three countries in 2017.
“So far, no date has been set but after negotiations with Erdogan, we will begin preparations for the trilateral summit,” Putin’s foreign policy aide Yury Ushakov told reporters last week.
The last meeting between Putin, Erdogan, and Iran’s Hassan Rouhani took place in Iran in September last year with the fate of rebel-held Idlib province dominating the agenda.
But in a separate briefing Wednesday, the Russian foreign ministry said the situation in the province remained of “serious concern”.
“The situation in the (Idlib) de-escalation zone is rapidly deteriorating. The territory has in fact been taken under full control by militants,” said ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.
Ties between Russia and Turkey plunged to their lowest level in years in November 2015 when Turkish
forces shot down a Russian warplane over Syria.
But after a reconciliation deal in 2016, relations have recovered with the remarkable speed with Putin and Erdogan cooperating closely over Syria, Turkey buying Russian-made air defense systems and Russia building Turkey’s first nuclear power plant.

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