US: Second Trump-Kim summit in works

By Umar Farooq

WASHINGTON (AA) – The State Department said Tuesday it was working on details of an upcoming second summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said there are still no details regarding the time or place of the summit, however, discussions between working level groups would intensify in the run-up to the meeting.

Earlier this week, the North Korean leader invited inspectors to the Punggye-ri nuclear test site to confirm it has been "irreversibly dismantled", a move that was met with praise by Washington.

"President Trump looks forward to building on the trust that was first established at the Singapore summit," Nauert said at a news briefing.

The first summit between the leaders took place in Singapore on June 12, and Trump and Kim both signed a joint-statement reaffirming their commitment to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with Kim in Pyongyang, as part of a larger tour which included visits to South Korea, Japan and China.

Pompeo said he had productive conversations during his meeting.

"We continue to make progress on agreements made at Singapore Summit. Thanks for hosting me and my team @StateDept," Pompeo said in a tweet.

Trump also tweeted about Pompeo's visit.

"@SecPompeo had a good meeting with Chairman Kim today in Pyongyang. Progress made on Singapore Summit Agreements! I look forward to seeing Chairman Kim again, in the near future," he said.

Advertisements

US to close consulate in southern Iraq

By Umar Farooq

WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. will close its consulate in Basra, Iraq, the State Department said Friday, citing mounting threats from Iranian-backed militias.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the temporary relocation of diplomatic personnel in Iraq and said they are working with Iraqi security forces to address these threats.

Pompeo said the U.S. will hold Iran accountable for any harm caused to U.S. diplomatic facilities in Iraq.

"I have made clear that Iran should understand that the United States will respond promptly and appropriately to any such attacks," he added.

Pompeo cited "repeated incidents of indirect fire from elements of those militias" which was directed at the U.S. consulate in Basra as well as its embassy in Baghdad.

He said the responsible parties were the Iranian government, Iranian elite military unit the Quds Force, and militias under the command of Quds Force leader Qasem Soleimani.

State Department Spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the U.S. embassy in Baghdad will provide consular services for people in and around the Basra area.

"We remain strongly committed to supporting Iraqis in the southern provinces and throughout the country," Nauert said in a statement.

Earlier this month, protesters set fire to Iran’s consulate in Basra and rockets were fired towards Basra International Airport, which houses the U.S. consulate.

In a written statement, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said Iran did not act to stop “attacks by its proxies in Iraq, which it has supported with funding, training and weapons".

Since July 9, Iraq’s Shia-majority central and southern provinces — especially Basra — have been rocked by protests to demand better public services, more job opportunities and an end to government corruption.

US asks top Myanmar official for Rohingya culpability

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has personally urged a top Myanmarese minister to hold to account those responsible for human rights abuses against the country's minority Muslim Rohingya people, the State Department said Friday.

The appeal came during a bilateral meeting between Pompeo and Myanmar's Minister for the Office of the State Counsellor, Kyaw Tint Swe, on the margins of the UN General Assembly on Thursday.

"While underscoring U.S. support for the democratic transition in Burma [Myanmar] and efforts to achieve national peace and reconciliation, the Secretary urged the Government of Burma to take concrete steps to investigate the human rights abuses chronicled by the U.S. Documentation Report and UN Fact Finding Mission and to hold accountable members of the security forces and others responsible for these acts," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

Pompeo also called for the immediate release of two jailed Reuters journalists.

The report Nauert was referring to chronicled the Myanmar military's persecution of the Rohingya, saying "the vast majority of Rohingya refugees experienced or directly witnessed extreme violence and the destruction of their homes."

“The scope and scale of the military’s operations indicate they were well-planned and coordinated,” the report released Monday said. It was referring to the Myanmar military's violence against the Rohingya in the country's northern Rakhine State.

According to the report, the Rohingya identified the Myanmarese military as the perpetrator "in 84 [percent] of the killings or injuries they witnessed," the report said.

The Rohingya said the security forces used flamethrowers and incendiary devices to burn down houses and kill and injure the Rohingya, accusing the military of targeting "civilians indiscriminately and often with extreme brutality."

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, entitled Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience.

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly children and women, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings — including of infants and young children — brutal beatings, and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.

UPDATE – 7 nations urge UN to draft new Syrian constitution

ADDS STATEMENT, OTHER DETAILS

By Betul Yuruk

UNITED NATIONS (AA) – The U.S. and six other nations called on the United Nations Thursday to convene a committee “as quickly as possible” to begin drafting a new constitution for Syria.

In a joint statement, the foreign ministers of the U.S., France, Germany, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the UK urged UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura to convene a “credible” and “inclusive” committee to pave the way for UN-supervised free and fair elections.

Emphasizing the need for a political resolution to the seven-year conflict, the group warned against the pursuit of a solution by military means.

“Those who seek a military solution will only succeed in increasing the risk of a dangerous escalation and wider conflagration of the crisis to the region and beyond,” said the statement as published by the U.S. State Department.

The group asked de Mistura to submit a progress report on the formation of the constitutional committee to the UN Security Council by Oct. 31.

US removes PYD/YPG from annual terrorism report

By Safvan Allahverdi

ANKARA (AA) – The U.S. State Department omitted the PYD/YPG terrorist group from its 2017 Country Reports on Terrorism, which was released Wednesday.

The previous edition of the report noted that Turkey views the Syria-based PYD/YPG as an extension of the PKK militant group.

The report also said that Turkey refers to Fetullah Gulen as the leader of the Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO), but the State Department described him as an “Islamic cleric”.

"Turkey’s counterterrorism efforts were impacted in the aftermath of the July 2016 coup attempt due to the government’s investigation of FETO," it said.

According to the report, Turkey continued its intensive efforts to defeat terrorist organizations both inside and outside its borders, including the PKK terrorist organization and Daesh terrorist group.

Additionally, terrorist attacks around the world decreased by 23 percent, while the number of casualties caused by terrorist attacks fell by 27 percent, according to the report.

US welcomes efforts to reduce violence in Syria

By Hakan Copur, Muhammed Bilal Kenasari and Kasım Ileri

WASHINGTON (AA) – The United States welcomes any "sincere effort" to reduce violence in Syria, a State Department official said Monday.

"We are encouraged that Turkey and Russia appear to have taken steps to avert a military offensive by the Assad regime and its allies in Idlib and welcome any sincere effort to reduce the violence in Syria. We hope de-escalation is made permanent," the official told Anadolu Agency, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The official added that the U.S. was not involved in the negotiations between the Turkish and Russian governments in the Russian city of Sochi over the future of Syria’s northwestern Idlib province.

"As we have noted before, an offensive by the Assad regime and its allies against the densely populated Idlib province would be a reckless escalation and would have serious consequences for Syria and the surrounding region," the official added.

The official said Washington remains "concerned by the Assad regime’s pattern of destabilizing actions in Idlib and elsewhere”, noting that the U.S. will continue to watch the situation and the regime's actions closely.

"We reiterate something that both President [Donald] Trump and President [Vladimir] Putin agreed to in Da Nang, Vietnam: There is no military solution to this conflict," the official said, adding that all parties should "redirect their energies to forging a durable political resolution in Syria".

"As the United Nations Security Council has long emphasized, ending the conflict will require a political solution based on UNSCR 2254 and the Geneva process," the official said.

"The United States supports any credible efforts that prevent a resurgence of violence and protects civilians. Civilians must be allowed freedom of movement, including the right to return home, and provided access to immediate humanitarian assistance and medical care," the official added.

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Pentagon spokesman Cmdr. Sean Robertson also affirmed U.S. support for the “de-escalation of violence in Syria, unhindered humanitarian access, an enduring defeat of ISIS and other terrorists and progress toward a credible political resolution”. He was referring to the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, another name for Daesh.

“We continue to support the UN-led Geneva peace process to resolve the hostilities in Syria under the auspices of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2254," he added.

UPDATE 4 – US shutters Palestine Liberation Organization's mission

ADDS PLO REPRESENTATIVE CONDEMNATION IN GRAPHS 17-20

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. on Monday announced the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) Washington diplomatic mission as the Donald Trump administration prepares to roll out its Middle East peace plan.

The State Department announced the decision, saying "the PLO office in Washington will close at this point." The office had served as Palestine's de facto embassy in Washington.

The department said "the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," and pointed to Palestinian calls for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israel as reasons for its decision.

"We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise," she added.

Another State Department spokeswoman later said the mission was ordered to vacate its office no later than Oct. 10.

Mark Perry, a former unofficial advisor to late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, ripped Washington's announcement, saying "the U.S. has always been Israel's lawyer."

"Ironically, the announcement is actually good news — as it ends the pretense that the U.S. actually cares about peace in the Middle East," Perry told Anadolu Agency.

"The U.S. is now perfectly aligned with the Israeli national project. Israel does not now, and never has, believed in the peace process or sought reconciliation with the Palestinians," he said. "Rather, its goal is the destruction of the Palestinian national project. What changed today is that the U.S. has now joined that effort."

National Security Advisor John Bolton later Monday said Washington will act if the ICC decides to prosecute Israel, the U.S. or any of its other allies.

Those actions include potential sanctions of ICC funds residing in the U.S., as well as a ban on ICC prosecutors and judges from entering the U.S.

"We will take note if any countries cooperate with ICC investigations of the United States and its allies, and we will remember that cooperation when setting U.S. foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels," Bolton said.

“We will let the ICC die on its own, after all, for all intents and purposes the ICC is already dead to us,” he added.

The comments comes as the Trump administration prepares to roll out its plan to achieve a peace between Palestine and Israel, a deal that Trump has framed as the "deal of the century."

Palestinian officials continue to deny any role for the U.S. in peace talks with Israel after Trump unilaterally declared Jerusalem to be Israel's capital last year, upending long-held underpinnings of peace talks which had maintained the issue was to be determined as part of final status negotiations.

The decision provoked worldwide condemnation.

Husam Zomlot, the PLO's U.S. ambassador, strongly condemned the decision to shutter the organization's offices as a "reckless act" that ultimately confirms that the U.S. "is blindly executing Israel’s 'wish list,' which starts with shutting down Palestinian diplomatic representation in the US."

Zomlot insisted the U.S. action would not deter Palestine in its mission "to hold Israel accountable by referring it to the International Criminal Court," or force Ramallah to return to a U.S.-brokered negotiations.

"We stand firm in our decision not to cooperate in this ongoing campaign to liquidate our rights and cause. Our rights are not for sale and we will block any attempts at bullying and blackmailing us to forgo our legitimate and internationally endorsed rights," he said in a statement.

"While today is a dark day for peace in the Middle East, for multilateralism, and the integrity of the international political and legal system, we will continue our struggle to pursue all possible legal and political means to achieve peace, independence, and our internationally enshrined rights," he added.

Prior to the formal announcement of the mission's closure, Palestinian officials described the move as “an escalation that will have serious political consequences by sabotaging the entire international system in order to protect the Israeli occupation and its crimes.”

“This is another blow by the Trump administration against peace and justice," said PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.

The decision to close the Palestinian mission is the latest effort to ramp up pressure on Ramallah. The U.S. has already halted all funding to the UN's Palestine refugee agency and cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians.

UPDATE 3 – US shutters Palestine Liberation Organization's mission

ADDS STATE DEPT. SPOKESWOMAN ON DATE OF CLOSURE IN GRAF 6

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. on Monday announced the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) Washington diplomatic mission as the Donald Trump administration prepares to roll out its Middle East peace plan.

The State Department announced the decision, saying "the PLO office in Washington will close at this point." The office had served as Palestine's de facto embassy in Washington.

The department said "the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," and pointed to Palestinian calls for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israel as reasons for its decision.

"We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise," she added.

Another State Department spokeswoman later said the mission was ordered to vacate its office no later than Oct. 10.

Mark Perry, a former unofficial advisor to late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, ripped Washington's announcement, saying "the U.S. has always been Israel's lawyer."

"Ironically, the announcement is actually good news — as it ends the pretense that the U.S. actually cares about peace in the Middle East," Perry told Anadolu Agency.

"The U.S. is now perfectly aligned with the Israeli national project. Israel does not now, and never has, believed in the peace process or sought reconciliation with the Palestinians," he said. "Rather, its goal is the destruction of the Palestinian national project. What changed today is that the U.S. has now joined that effort."

National Security Advisor John Bolton later Monday said Washington will act if the ICC decides to prosecute Israel, the U.S. or any of its other allies.

Those actions include potential sanctions of ICC funds residing in the U.S., as well as a ban on ICC prosecutors and judges from entering the U.S.

"We will take note if any countries cooperate with ICC investigations of the United States and its allies, and we will remember that cooperation when setting U.S. foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels," Bolton said.

“We will let the ICC die on its own, after all, for all intents and purposes the ICC is already dead to us,” he added.

The comments come as the Trump administration prepares to roll out its plan to achieve a peace between Palestine and Israel, a deal that Trump has framed as the "deal of the century."

Palestinian officials continue to deny any role for the U.S. in peace talks with Israel after Trump unilaterally declared Jerusalem to be Israel's capital last year, upending long-held underpinnings of peace talks which had maintained the issue was to be determined as part of final status negotiations.

The decision provoked worldwide condemnation.

Prior to the formal announcement of the mission's closure, Palestinian officials described the move as “an escalation that will have serious political consequences by sabotaging the entire international system in order to protect the Israeli occupation and its crimes.”

“This is another blow by the Trump administration against peace and justice," said PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.

The decision to close the Palestinian mission is the latest effort to ramp up pressure on Ramallah. The U.S. has already halted all funding to the UN's Palestine refugee agency and cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians.

UPDATE 2 – US shutters Palestine Liberation Organization's mission

ADDS BOLTON COMMENTS, BACKGROUND ON US ACTIONS

By Michael Hernandez

WASHINGTON (AA) – The U.S. on Monday announced the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization's (PLO) Washington diplomatic mission as the Donald Trump administration prepares to roll out its Middle East peace plan.

The State Department announced the decision, saying "the PLO office in Washington will close at this point." The office had served as Palestine's de facto embassy in Washington.

The department said "the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel," and pointed to Palestinian calls for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Israel as reasons for its decision.

"We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017," State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement.

"However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel. To the contrary, PLO leadership has condemned a U.S. peace plan they have not yet seen and refused to engage with the U.S. government with respect to peace efforts and otherwise," she added.

Mark Perry, a former unofficial advisor to late PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, ripped Washington's announcement, saying "the U.S. has always been Israel's lawyer."

"Ironically, the announcement is actually good news — as it ends the pretense that the U.S. actually cares about peace in the Middle East," Perry told Anadolu Agency.

"The U.S. is now perfectly aligned with the Israeli national project. Israel does not now, and never has, believed in the peace process or sought reconciliation with the Palestinians," he said. "Rather, its goal is the destruction of the Palestinian national project. What changed today is that the U.S. has now joined that effort."

National Security Advisor John Bolton later Monday said Washington will act if the ICC decides to prosecute Israel, the U.S. or any of its other allies.

Those actions include potential sanctions of ICC funds residing in the U.S., as well as a ban on ICC prosecutors and judges from entering the U.S.

"We will take note if any countries cooperate with ICC investigations of the United States and its allies, and we will remember that cooperation when setting U.S. foreign assistance, military assistance, and intelligence sharing levels," Bolton said.

“We will let the ICC die on its own, after all, for all intents and purposes the ICC is already dead to us,” he added.

The comments come as the Trump administration prepares to roll out its plan to achieve a peace between Palestine and Israel, a deal that Trump has framed as the "deal of the century."

Palestinian officials continue to deny any role for the U.S. in peace talks with Israel after Trump unilaterally declared Jerusalem to be Israel's capital last year, upending long-held underpinnings of peace talks which had maintained the issue was to be determined as part of final status negotiations.

The decision provoked worldwide condemnation.

Prior to the formal announcement of the mission's closure, Palestinian officials described the move as “an escalation that will have serious political consequences by sabotaging the entire international system in order to protect the Israeli occupation and its crimes.”

“This is another blow by the Trump administration against peace and justice," said PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat.

The decision to close the Palestinian mission is the latest effort to ramp up pressure on Ramallah. The U.S. has already halted all funding to the UN's Palestine refugee agency and cut more than $200 million in aid to the Palestinians.