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27 Apr
2018

Korean leaders hold rare summit

KOREA (WNF) - The leaders of North and South Korea are expected to meet in the border village of Panmunjom, the first North-South summit in over a decade. The summit announcement did not indicate whether South Korean President Moon-Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will talk about the North’s nuclear arsenal.
The other significant unknown is how Kim’s visit to Chinese President Xi Jinping in March in Beijing, which preceded the summit, will impact the April meeting. In Beijing Kim is widely reported to have repeated an offer to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

The New York Times notes that Kim raced ahead with breakthrough tests of missiles capable of hitting the United States mainland and what he claimed was a missile-ready hydrogen bomb, then used the Winter Olympics to seize the initiative. He offered a rapprochement with the South and a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump.

It will be only the third time leaders of the two countries have met since an armistice was signed to conclude the Korean War in 1953.

Should the Trump administration set aside doubts about the North Korean leader’s intentions, the U.S.-North Korea summit could happen as early as May. #22571 Published: 03/29/2018

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Apr
2018

Fifth Caspian Summit to produce convention on status of vast enclosed sea?

KAZAKHSTAN (WNF) - Moscow and Astana report that a convention on the status of Earth’s largest enclosed body of water will be ready to sign at the Fifth Caspian Summit in Astana before May. Tehran is saying otherwise. (April 2018
At issue is the so-named Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea covering the five littoral states – Russia, Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan. Agreement on whether the vast body of water is a sea or a lake represented a key stage in the negotiations as the regulations differ for each. Caspian oil and gas spoils are one of the prizes, and Russia and Iran want a deal that maintains their stranglehold over Caspian exports to Europe and elsewhere.

Astana Times and Russian news outlets reported that foreign ministers from the five states met in Moscow in December and agreed to a draft convention covering the delineation and use of the Caspian Sea, with the expectation that it would be signed at the summit.

Iran’s FARS news agency reports that an agreement on the legal status of the Caspian Sea is not “practically ready,” as claimed by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov following the December meeting. “Delimitation of the Caspian Sea between littoral states had not been an issue on the agenda of last week’s ministerial meeting in Russia,” according to Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Qassemi in the FARS report. He dismissed the issue of deciding on shares of participating countries at the summit.

Before 2001, the Soviets and Iran regarded the Caspian as theirs. The collapse of the Soviet Union gave Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan the right, under international regulations, to lay claim to Caspian spoils.

The leaders of the littoral states have met several times since 2002 in search of a deal. #22447 Updated: 03/13/2018 WRITE THROUGH UPDATE MAR 13 TO REFLECT DISPUTE OVER STAGE OF THE NEGOTIATIONS

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30 Apr
2018

Palestinian National Council gathers to seek strategy after U.S. Jerusalem announcement

WEST BANK (WNF) - The Palestinian National Council (PNC) meets in Ramallah about the United States’ recognition of contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and a Knesset bill that further erodes Palestinian rights in the city. The succession issue looms as a divisive distraction at the meeting.
President Donald Trump inflamed regional tensions with his recent announcement of U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and plan to relocate the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in May. Palestinians claim East Jerusalem – seized by Israel in 1967 and later annexed – as the capital of a future state.

A controversial breach-of-loyalty bill in the Israeli parliament, which will allow the authorities to strip Palestinians living in Jerusalem of their right to live there, has further inflamed tensions. Under the new measures, according to Al-Monitor, residency documents belonging to any Palestinian deemed to be a threat to the state can be seized by the Interior Ministry.

Palestinian options for a strategy to counter the two developments appear to be scarce. Overwhelming condemnation of Trump’s move didn’t change the plan.

The meeting of the PNC, the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization, must tackle the issue of who will succeed Mahmoud Abbas as leader of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas, who has led the body as president since Jan 2005, is said to be in poor health and considering resignation. He has picked Mahmoud al-Aloul to succeed him, but might not get his way. Al-Monitor and other sources anticipate opposition to al-Aloul within the PNC and potential upheaval if the succession issue isn’t resolved in an orderly way. #22547 Published: 03/12/2018

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May
2018

NATO boosting air power and Afghans looking to diplomacy to end war

AFGHANISTAN (WNF) - NATO expects the first Afghan pilots trained on UH-60 Black Hawks to be mission-ready by May and the Afghan Air Force (AAF) to start flying missions with the new fleet of helicopters before Summer. The NATO-led military mission against the Taliban is running in tandem with an Afghan-led diplomatic push. (May 2018
Sixteen pilots are expected to graduate along with an equal number of special mission operators, the enlisted crew that works in the back of the helicopter. Once Afghans graduate and become mission-ready, all their Black Hawk combat missions will be flown and led by Afghans, according to NATO, which sees building the UH-60 program as a crucial part of its Resolute Support mission.

NATO reports that the AAF flies around 100 sorties each day, and around 10 per cent are strikes. The Alliance sees the developments in the AAF as milestones in its Resolute Support program to help Afghanistan build the capacity to protect itself.

In March delegates from more than 20 countries gathered in Uzbekistan to discuss ways to restore stability to Afghanistan. National Public Radio reported that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani opened the conference with an unprecedented offer to the Taliban, the government’s longtime antagonist: If the Taliban comes to the negotiating table and recognizes Ghani’s government, he would offer the insurgent group a role as a legitimate political party and release Taliban prisoners.

The Taliban have not responded to the offer and fighting continues. Officials are reported to be optimistic about the non-response, seeing it as a sign that it is under consideration. #22575 Published: 04/05/2018

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03 May
2018

National Rifle Association holds annual meeting in defensive mode

UNITED STATES (WNF) - The National Rifle Association (NRA) will be on the defensive at its 147th Annual Meetings and Exhibits in Dallas, Texas, because of a recent spate of shooting rampages, but can look forward to a fruitful year.
It will be rallying its millions of members – estimates range from 5 million to 14 million – to hold the ground against new efforts to restrict gun rights following a spate of mass shootings in late 2017 and early 2018. The most horrific were the mass shooting in October in Las Vegas, which killed 59 music festival patrons, and a school shooting in Florida in February that killed 17 students and staff.

Massive gun-control rallies are expected outside the venue because of the Florida shootings.

The rampages have increased calls from many legislators and members of the public for tighter gun regulations, an anathema to the NRA.

Typically, fear of new regulations sets off a members’ buying spree at the nation’s weapons retailers. As the NRA, which is also a trade group, profits from some unpublished part of gun sales, the rampages help to keep the organization’s coffers full enough for its gun rights lobby.

Salon reports that the NRA spent more than US $50 million on the 2016 election, some 96 per cent of its outside spending budget. The investment paid off, according to the magazine, with the election of pro-gun candidates, who include President Donald Trump and enough members of congress that gun control legislation is unlikely to go anywhere. #22335 Updated: 02/26/2018 UPDATED FEB 2018 TO INCLUDE FLORIDA SHOOTING

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