Turkish, Russian foreign ministers discuss Syria

                 By Muhammed Ikbal Arslan</p>  <p>ANKARA (AA) - The Turkish and Russian foreign ministers discussed Syria via telephone Wednesday, according to a Turkish diplomatic source.

Mevlut Cavusoglu offered his condolences to Sergey Lavrov for a deadly plane crash Monday when a Superjet-100 plane with 78 people on-board, traveling from Moscow to Murmansk, caught fire soon after take-off and asked for an emergency landing.

At least 41 people were killed.

*Writing by Burak Bir

UK condemns surge in violence in Syria's Idlib

            By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal</p>  <p>LONDON (AA) – Britain on Tuesday condemned the recent escalation of violence in Syria’s Idlib province following increased military action by Russia and the Syrian regime.</p>  <p>Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was deeply concerned by the latest developments in the region.</p>  <p>“This has included horrifying reports of attacks on schools, hospitals and first responders as well as the use of barrel bombs for the first time in seven months,” Hunt said, noting that more than 57 civilians have been killed and over 150,000 forced from their homes in recent days.</p>  <p>He said the latest offensive, “a flagrant violation of the ceasefire agreement that Russia itself agreed with Turkey, is only compounding what was already a dire humanitarian situation in Idlib”.</p>  <p>Hunt urged Russia and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad regime to respect their obligations under the Sochi agreement and international humanitarian law.</p>  <p>“They must also remember that any future use of chemical weapons in Syria would be met with a swift and appropriate response,” he added.</p>  <p>Last September, Turkey and Russia agreed to turn Syria’s northern Idlib province into a de-escalation zone in which acts of aggression would be expressly prohibited.</p>  <p> 

EU, Russia should counter US peace plan: Palestine

            By Umar Farooq</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - The European Union (EU) and Russia should take action to save a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if the U.S. peace plan does not lead to two independent nations, Palestine’s ambassador to the UN said Tuesday.</p>  <p>Riyad Mansour said he told EU officials that support for a two-state solution is appreciated, but it is “not sufficient -- they have to act on it&quot;.</p>  <p>Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump's senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, said Washington's Middle East peace plan, billed 'the Deal of the Century', would be revealed after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.</p>  <p>While Kushner provided no details as to what the plan entails, he said &quot;there will be tough compromises for both sides&quot; and that past efforts have not worked, referencing the two-state solution, a long-held framework for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.</p>  <p>Foreign ministers of the Arab League have rejected the U.S. plan, saying that without giving the legal rights of the Palestinians, these kinds of plans will never bring comprehensive and lasting peace in the Middle East.</p>  <p>Mansour said if the U.S. plan does not end with two independent nations -- Palestine and Israel -- then the EU should take action against it to save the two-state framework.</p>  <p>The European Union could call for an international conference on the basis of the global consensus supporting a two-state solution “to see how we can open ways to move forward&quot;, Mansour told reporters at the UN. </p>  <p>He also said that European countries – particularly France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, Belgium and Luxembourg -- could offer their support by recognizing the state of Palestine.</p>  <p>In the runup to Washington’s peace plan, U.S. President Donald Trump has moved to isolate Palestinians.</p>  <p>Last year, the U.S. cut all its funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), which provides critical aid to Palestinian refugees. It also unilaterally recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and closed the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Washington office, which served as the de-facto Palestinian embassy in the U.S.</p>  <p>Mansour said Russia could also host an international conference in Moscow, since it is on the UN Security Council and Palestinians are already in talks with Moscow.</p>  <p> 

Ex-White House counsel told to ignore subpoena

             By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - Former White House counsel has been advised by U.S. President Donald Trump's chief of staff not to comply with a congressional subpoena seeking information about his time in office. </p>  <p>House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler subpoenaed Don McGahn on April 22 for records and testimony, calling him a &quot;critical witness&quot; to allegations of obstruction of justice involving the president.</p>  <p>In the lengthy report detailing the conclusions of his two-year probe, Special Counsel Robert Mueller pointed to 10 incidents involving Trump that raised questions of obstruction, including the president's attempt to remove the special counsel from his post and attempts to curtail his investigation. </p>  <p>They included Trump's June 2017 directive to McGahn to speak with then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to say Mueller must be expelled because Trump believed he had alleged conflicts of interests. </p>  <p>But in a widely reported letter, McGahn's lawyer, William Burck, told Nadler his client has been advised by Acting Chief of Staff Mick Muvlaney not to comply with the subpoena. </p>  <p>Mulvaney issued the directive because the documents McGahn was ordered not to turn over the requested documents &quot;because they implicate significant Executive Branch confidentiality interests and executive privilege,&quot; current White House counsel Pat Cipollone said in a letter that Burck included in his missive to the judiciary committee chairman. </p>  <p>Cipollone argued McGahn does not have the legal right to turn them over to the committee. </p>  <p>&quot;Where co-equal branches of government are making contradictory demands on Mr. McGahn concerning the same set of documents, the appropriate response for Mr. McGahn is to maintain the status quo unless and until the Committee and the Executive Branch can reach an accommodation,&quot; Burck wrote to Nadler. 

US: FBI refutes spying allegations on Trump campaign

                                  By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - FBI Director Christopher Wray broke with Attorney General William Barr on Tuesday, denying the bureau spied on President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign.

Wray contradicted congressional testimony last month in which Barr said he thinks "spying did occur" on the campaign.

"That's not the term I would use," Wray told the Senate Appropriations Committee under questioning from Senator Jeanne Shaheen. "I believe that the FBI is engaged in investigative activity, and part of investigative activity includes surveillance activity of different shapes and sizes, and to me the key question is making sure that it is done by the book."

Asked directly by Shaheen if he has any evidence to support allegations the bureau acted illegally in its investigation, Wray said he does not.

The Justice Department did not immediately return Anadolu Agency's request for comment.

Trump claimed federal investigators spied on his campaign, citing investigations that were conducted on at least one advisor to his campaign.

The FBI received Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court warrant in 2016 to surveil Carter Page, who was advising the campaign on foreign policy matters, on suspicions he was working with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

Trump and his partisan allies have cited the matter as alleged evidence the bureau was covertly spying, claiming the court order was granted under a flimsy pretext.

The Justice Department's inspector general is currently reviewing the process that led to the granting of the FISA warrants.

That process is expected to be completed this month or June, according to Barr.

Lavrov, Pompeo meet in Finland

            By Elena Teslova</p>  <p>MOSCOW (AA) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov held talks Monday with his U.S. counterpart Mike Pompeo in Finland</p>  <p>They met on the sidelines of the 11th ministerial meeting of the Arctic Council and discussed &quot;topics concerning strategic stability&quot;, Lavrov said later at a press conference.</p>  <p>Lavrov called the meeting &quot;constructive&quot; and said the two diplomats examined &quot;a range of questions that are on the regional, UN and international agenda&quot;.</p>  <p>&quot;I think we made a very good step forward in the development of the discussions that took place between President [Vladimir] Putin and President [Donald] Trump” over the phone a couple of days ago, he said.</p>  <p>Asked what Russia would do if the U.S. intervened military in Venezuela, Lavrov said he hoped there would be no military option, as it would be &quot;catastrophic&quot; and U.S. diplomats understand that.</p>  <p>Venezuela has been rocked by protests since January when President Nicolas Maduro was sworn in for a second term following a vote boycotted by the opposition.</p>  <p>Tensions escalated when Juan Guaido, who heads Venezuela’s National Assembly, declared himself acting president days later, a move supported by the U.S. and many European and Latin American countries.</p>  <p>Russia, Turkey, China, Iran, Bolivia and Mexico have thrown their weight behind Maduro.

Turkey offers condolences to Russia over plane fire incident

By Dilara Hamit

ANKARA (AA) – Turkish foreign ministry on Monday offered condolences to Russia over a fatal plane fire incident at the Sheremetyevo Airport in Moscow that killed 41 people.

“We received the news of loss of lives caused by the
aircraft accident,” that happened at the Sheremetyevo Airport “yesterday evening with
great sorrow,” the ministry said in a statement.

“We share the sorrow of the people and Government of Russia,
convey our condolences to the families of those who lost their lives, wish
speedy recovery to the injured,” it added.

A Superjet-100 plane with 78 people on-board, traveling from
Moscow to northern port city of Murmansk, caught fire soon after taking off and
asked for an emergency landing.

Up to 41 people were killed.

UPDATE – Death toll rises to 41 in Moscow plane crash


By Elena Teslova

MOSCOW (AA) – Up to 41 people were killed after a Russian Aeroflot plane made an emergency landing in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, Russian Investigative Committee said late Sunday.

A Superjet-100 plane with 78 people on-board, traveling from Moscow to northern port city of Murmansk, caught fire soon after taking off and asked for an emergency landing, the Committee's spokeswoman Svetlana Petrenko told reporters in Moscow.

President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev expressed their condolences to the relatives of the victims.

Putin ordered a scrupulous investigation into the incident.

NATO chief speaks to Anadolu Agency ahead Turkey visit

By Serife Cetin

BRUSSELS (AA) – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, commending Turkey's contributions to the alliance, emphasized that NATO allies stand in solidarity with Turkey as it faces serious security challenges.

Stoltenberg answered the questions of Anadolu Agency in Brussels ahead of his visit to Turkey on Monday and Tuesday. He will chair a meeting of the North Atlantic Council with the Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) partners in the capital Ankara. Separately, he will have bilateral meetings with senior Turkish government officials.

Commenting on a wide range of issues including the agenda of his visit, purchase of S-400 air and missile defense system, NATO's contribution to Turkey, Stoltenberg thanked Turkey for hosting a special meeting of the North Atlantic Council in connection with the 25th anniversary of the Mediterranean Dialogue (MD) .

Below is a transcript of our conversation with Stoltenberg:

  • 'NATO allies stand in solidarity with Turkey'

Anadolu Agency: What is the purpose of your visit to Turkey? Who will you carry out official meetings with? What will be the main message you intend to convey to Turkish authorities? 

Stoltenberg: I am very pleased to be visiting Turkey again, an important and highly valued NATO ally. I am grateful to Turkey for hosting a special meeting of the North Atlantic Council, NATO’s highest decision-making body, with our seven partner countries in our Mediterranean Dialogue. This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the dialogue, which is a unique network of NATO partners, promoting mutual understanding and cooperation.

As well as this important meeting in Ankara, I will have talks with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. I am in regular contact with them, and I welcome the opportunity to discuss in person the security situation in the region and Turkey’s strong contributions to NATO.

My main message, to all the people of Turkey, is that NATO allies stand in solidarity with Turkey as you face serious security challenges, and that Turkey continues to make essential contributions to our Alliance.

  • 'Decisions about military procurement are for nations to make'

Anadolu Agency: The Turkish decision to purchase S-400 air and missile defense system has caused a lot of controversy, especially between two NATO allies, the U.S. and Turkey and Turkey has recently come under a lot of criticism. In turn, the Turkish government has been indicating that it has tried to meet its urgent needs in air and missile defense primarily through its NATO allies, like U.S. patriot systems. It argues that the offer from the U.S. came very late, it is high in cost and does not meet Turkey’s expectations. In light of this, do you think Turkey deserves the criticism it has received on the purchase of the S-400’s? What is your position?

Stoltenberg: This is a challenging issue, and it is important that there is an ongoing dialogue between Turkey and the United States.

I welcome and encourage the discussions about Turkey’s possible acquisition of a U.S. patriot missile system, and also welcome that Turkey, France and Italy continue their efforts on the definition and development of a long-range air and missile defense system. This is important for NATO because key allies are involved and because we encourage allies to purchase equipment which is able to operate together.

Decisions about military procurement are for nations to make. But, as I have said, interoperability of our armed forces is fundamental to NATO for the conduct of our operations and missions.

We must also remember that since 2013 NATO allies have been reinforcing Turkey’s air defenses. Spain and Italy have missile batteries deployed near Turkey’s southern border. Their Patriot and SAMP-T systems help defend Turkey against the threat of missiles from across the border with Syria. The mission is important and NATO allies are committed to it.

  • 'NATO is committed to the defense of Turkey'

Anadolu Agency: The S-400 debate has also reflected upon the Turkish public opinion, leading many to question NATO’s contribution to Turkey’s defense and security and Turkish membership to NATO. What would be your message to the Turkish people regarding NATO’s contribution to Turkey’s security?

Stoltenberg: NATO allies stand with Turkey as you face serious security challenges. As well as protecting Turkey with air and missile defense systems, NATO has enhanced patrols by AWACS surveillance planes over Turkish territory. These can monitor and track potential air space violations, supporting Turkey’s efforts to defend its air space. All NATO allies are members of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS/Daesh, and working together, we have liberated all the territory once held by this terrorist group. NATO’s new training mission in Iraq is also helping to boost stability in the region. At last month’s meeting of foreign ministers in Washington, we also agreed a package of possible actions to enhance the security of the Black Sea region. All this shows NATO’s commitment to the defense of Turkey.

Turkey, bordering Iraq and Syria, is the ally most exposed to violence and turmoil from the Middle East. Your country has also suffered a series of horrific terrorist attacks. All NATO allies stand together in our determination to fight terrorism in all its forms.

  • 'I greatly appreciate all that Turkey does for NATO'

Anadolu Agency: Relatedly, how does Turkey contribute to NATO? What is the value of Turkey for NATO?

Stoltenberg: I want to thank Turkey for the essential contributions you make to our shared security.

From Konya and supported by the Turkish Government, NATO AWACS surveillance planes fly in support of the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS/Daesh. Turkey also plays an important role in NATO’s new training mission in Iraq. It is strengthening Iraq’s security forces to help ensure that ISIS can never return.

Turkey is also one of the biggest contributors to our Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan, helping ensure the country never again becomes a safe haven for international terrorists. Turkey is also helping build stability in the Western Balkans as part of NATO’s peacekeeping operation in Kosovo.

Turkey joined the Alliance in 1952, and it continues to be a highly valued member of our family of nations. As Secretary-General, I greatly appreciate all that Turkey does for our Alliance.

  • 'NATO will remain a pillar of stability'

Anadolu Agency: NATO has celebrated its 70 years as the most successful and enduring military alliance in history. In your opinion, what has been the main strengths and weaknesses of NATO? What should NATO focus on in the near future in light of increasingly complex security threats?

Stoltenberg: For seventy years, NATO has kept our countries and our people safe by continuously adapting to new security challenges. During the Cold War, NATO successfully deterred the Soviet Union from aggression. In the 1990s, we faced new security challenges in Europe, and helped to end conflicts in the Western Balkans. After 9/11, NATO took a lead role in the international response in Afghanistan, where we continue to train local forces.

Today, we face the most unpredictable security situation in many years – including instability across the Middle East and North Africa, a more assertive Russia, cyber and hybrid threats, and a continued terrorist threat. In response, NATO has stepped up again, responding to many challenges at the same time.

We have strengthened our presence, including in the Black Sea region. We have increased the readiness of our forces, and our resilience against hybrid and cyber threats, while keeping channels of dialogue open with Russia. We have increased our role in the fight against terrorism, contributing to the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS/Daesh, with surveillance flights and training in Iraq.

Our world is changing and NATO is changing with it. But some things remain unchanged: our commitment to one another endures, giving us the strength to overcome our differences and rise to any challenge. NATO will remain a pillar of stability in an uncertain world for future generations.

UPDATE 2 – Trump, Putin discuss nuclear pacts: White House

                                                                ADDS WITH TRUMP COMMENTS IN GRAF 10</p>  <p>By Michael Hernandez</p>  <p>WASHINGTON (AA) - U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin spoke for more than an hour Friday discussing a wide range of issues including nuclear arms control agreements, according to the White House.</p>  <p>Spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said the conversation was &quot;very good&quot; and included discussions of trade, Special Counsel Robert Mueller's long-awaited report, North Korea and Venezuela.</p>  <p>Regarding nuclear arms treaties, Sanders said the men addressed the possibility of &quot;extending the current nuclear agreement, as well as discussions about potentially starting a new one that could include China as well.&quot;  </p>  <p>Trump later tweeted that he and Putin had &quot;a long and very good conversation.&quot;</p>  <p>&quot;As I have always said, long before the Witch Hunt started, getting along with Russia, China, and everyone is a good thing, not a bad thing,&quot; he said. &quot;Very productive talk!&quot; </p>  <p>Trump unilaterally began the process of formally withdrawing Washington from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, suspending it in February on allegations that Russia is not in compliance, and concerns China is not bound by its constraints on arms development.</p>  <p>The bilateral pact between the U.S. and Russia took effect in 1988, and was intended to mitigate the chances of nuclear war in Europe. </p>  <p>Trump has reportedly ordered his staff to prepare new arms control treaties with Russia and China.</p>  <p>It is not clear what those efforts will produce, if anything -- either separate bilateral pacts with China and Russia or a trilateral grand agreement. Either option usually takes years to achieve. </p>  <p>Addressing reporters while hosting Slovak Primer Minister Peter Pellegrini, Trump said Beijing has signaled its interest in a trilateral pact, suggesting the Chinese government may be more interested in the agreement than in a trade agreement currently under discussion.</p>  <p>In explaining his decision to the American people to exit the INF Treaty, Trump hinted he might pursue the latter option.</p>  <p>&quot;Perhaps we can negotiate a different agreement, adding China and others,&quot; Trump said during his State of the Union address in February. &quot;Or perhaps we can’t — in which case, we will outspend and out-innovate all others by far.&quot;