London, Feb 11 (AP/UNB) — With Brexit just 47 days away, the British government asked lawmakers on Sunday to give Prime Minister Theresa May more time to rework her divorce deal with the European Union.
Communities Secretary James Brokenshire said Parliament would get to pass judgment on May's Brexit plan "no later than Feb. 27."
The promise is a bid to avert a showdown on Thursday, when Parliament is set to debate and vote on next moves in the Brexit process. Some lawmakers want to try to seize control and steer the country toward a softer exit from the bloc.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, but Parliament has rejected May's divorce bill, leaving the prime minister to seek changes from the EU. The U.K.'s bid for last-minute changes has exasperated EU leaders, who insist the legally binding withdrawal agreement can't be changed.
The impasse risks a chaotic "no deal" departure for Britain, which could be painful for businesses and ordinary people on both sides of the Channel.
British businesses fear a no-deal Brexit will cause gridlock at ports by ripping up the trade rulebook and imposing tariffs, customs checks and other barriers between the U.K. and the EU, its biggest trading partner.
Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl told the BBC that a "disorderly exit" was now the most likely option.
Opponents of the government accuse May of deliberately wasting time so that Parliament will face a last-minute choice between her deal and no deal.
Carolyn Fairbairn of business group the Confederation of British Industry said failure to secure a deal in good time was "negligence on behalf of our political institutions and leaders."
Beirut, Feb 11 (AP/UNB) — Iran's foreign minister extended an offer for Iranian military assistance to the U.S.-backed Lebanese army on Sunday, saying Iran is ready to assist in all sectors should the Lebanese government want it.
Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke to reporters Sunday at Beirut's airport shortly after his arrival in the Lebanese capital for a two-day official visit.
"We are always ready (to support Lebanon militarily) and we have announced that on many occasions. This tendency does exist in Iran, but we are waiting for this desire to be there on the Lebanese side," he said.
The comments came a few days after the leader of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group urged Lebanon's government to accept anti-aircraft weapons from Iran to confront Israeli warplanes. He also said Iran was ready to provide Lebanon with electricity and medicine.
"Will the Lebanese government be brave enough to accept an Iranian offer? Why should Lebanon be afraid to cooperate with Iran?" Nasrallah asked during a speech marking the 40th anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution this week.
The United States, which lists Hezbollah as an armed terrorist group, backs the Lebanese army through a program that aims to strengthen the military as the sole military force defending the country.
Lebanon's Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri formed a government late last month, after a nine-month vacuum that exacerbated the country's economic woes. Hezbollah has three ministers in the new cabinet, reflecting the gains made by the powerful group in parliament elections held in May last year. The group named the health minister, marking the first time it controls a ministry with a large budget.
Zarif is the first senior official from the region to visit Lebanon since the new government was formed. He was met at the airport by a minister from Hezbollah and other officials from the Shiite group, which is deeply ingrained in Lebanese politics in addition to its role as an anti-Israel armed group.
In his comments, Zarif congratulated Lebanese politicians and said Iran is ready to support the government in any way possible.
Mahmoud Qomati, a Hezbollah member and state minister for parliamentary affairs, said later that his group appreciates there is international pressure on Lebanon but that shouldn't stand in the way of accepting Iran's offer to help the country's struggling economy.
He urged the government to take a "brave" stand and accept the offer extended to it.
Zarif is scheduled to meet with the Lebanese president, prime minister and foreign minister on Monday.
Washington, Feb 11 (AP/UNB) — U.S. fears about China and Russia's growing influence in Central Europe will top Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's agenda as he heads to the region this week, Trump administration officials say.
Pompeo leaves Sunday on a five-nation tour of Europe that will begin in Hungary and Slovakia where he will raise those concerns and the importance of promoting democracy and the rule of law to counter Beijing and Moscow's efforts to pull the countries away from the West and sow divisions in the European Union and NATO.
The centerpiece of the trip will be a conference on the future of the Middle East in Poland on Wednesday and Thursday that is expected to focus on Iran and will also be attended by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Vice President Mike Pence and President Donald Trump's Mideast peace team of senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner and special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt.
But in Budapest and Bratislava on Monday and Tuesday, Pompeo will specifically point to issues related to Central Europe's reliance on Russian energy and the presence of the Chinese high-tech telecom firm Huawei, particularly in Hungary, according to the officials, who were not authorized to publicly discuss Pompeo's travel and spoke on condition of anonymity. U.S. officials are deeply troubled by Huawei's expansion, especially in NATO member states where they believe it poses significant information security threats.
The officials said Pompeo hoped to reverse what they called a decade of U.S. disengagement in Central Europe that created a vacuum that Russia and China have exploited. Over the course of the past 10 years, the officials said Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders have become much more aggressive in the region and making inroads.
One official said Pompeo would "look for areas of shared interest that have been neglected in the recent past" in order to "wrong-foot the West's rivals in places where they have gained bridgeheads."
The administration has made a point of reaching out to Hungary's nationalist Prime Minister Victor Orban, who shares Trump's strong stance on limiting migration and has adopted increasingly authoritarian measures, including cracking down on the opposition, labor unions, independent media and academia.
The Obama administration had largely steered clear of Orban, who won a third consecutive term last year in a campaign based on anti-immigration policies and whose policies have been met with street protests and deepening concern within the EU.
Last month, Orban said he wanted "anti-immigration forces" to become a majority in all European Union institutions, including its Parliament and the EU's executive Commission and predicted that there would soon be two civilizations in Europe — one "that builds its future on a mixed Islamic and Christian coexistence" and another in Central Europe that would be only Christian.
Orban's government has been targeted for criticism, including from the U.S., for forcing a Budapest-based university founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros to move most of its programs to Vienna. His fiery rhetoric against migrants and refusal to join a new European Union public prosecutor's office focusing on fraud and corruption have also raised concerns.
Human rights groups and others have lamented Pompeo's plans to meet with Orban and urged him to take a strong stance against his worrisome policies.
"Secretary Pompeo needs to treat this trip not as a friendly meeting between allies, but as an opportunity to have a frank conversation with a state increasingly at odds with both American interests and its human rights obligations," Human Rights First said in a statement. "At the same time that he's rolling back Hungary's post-Cold War democratic gains, Orban is making increasingly clear where his strategic affinities lie by cozying up to the Kremlin."
The U.S. officials defended the Budapest stop, saying it is impossible to press the U.S. positions and interests in Hungary effectively without meeting Orban. "We have to show up or expect to lose," one official said. The official added that the administration has seen "the results of lack of U.S. engagement in the region" and "we want to step up that diplomatic engagement." The official also noted that Putin had visited Hungary twice last year and that Pompeo would meet civic leaders, some of whom have been critical of Orban.
In Bratislava, Pompeo will meet Slovak officials on similar issues and also to pay his respects to the hundreds of people who died attempting to escape from the communist former Czechoslovakia to Austria during the Cold War, the officials said. In addition, the State Department said Pompeo will also address students about the importance of "the legacy of Western democratic freedom and its triumph over Communism."
After the Mideast conference in Warsaw, Pompeo will wrap up his trip with brief stops in Brussels and Rekjaivik, Iceland, on Friday.
Jerusalem, Feb 11 (AP/UNB) — Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has invaded the Israeli city of Tel Aviv — as the face of an eye-catching, satirical new recycling campaign.
A gigantic poster featuring the Lebanese militant leader overlooking Tel Aviv's Ayalon highway went up Thursday and encourages Israelis to recycle plastic bottles.
Above Nasrallah's head reads the caption: "I don't recycle bottles." Beneath him, the poster says: "Nasrallah has been stuck in a bunker for 12 years. What is your excuse?"
ELA, Israel's recycling company, was not immediately available for comment.
Nasrallah has rarely been seen in public since a 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, apparently because of concerns he might be targeted in an Israeli attack.
The U.S., EU and Israel consider Hezbollah a terrorist organization.
Hungary, Feb 11 (AP/UNB) — Hungary's government is greatly increasing financial aid and subsidies for families with several children, the country's prime minister said Sunday.
The measures announced by Viktor Orban during his "state of the nation" speech are meant to encourage women to have more children and reverse Hungary's population decline.
The benefits include a lifetime personal income-tax exemption for women who give birth and raise at least four children; a subsidy of 2.5 million forints ($8,825) toward the purchase a seven-seat vehicle for families with three or more children; and a low-interest loan of 10 million forints ($35,300) for women under age 40 who are marrying for the first time.
Orban, who has made "zero tolerance" for immigration his main theme in the past four years and was elected to a third consecutive term in April, said the initiative is meant to "ensure the survival of the Hungarian nation."
"This is the Hungarians' answer, not immigration," Orban said.
The prime minister also listed some of his government's economic achievements — such as low unemployment — and vowed to fight poverty.
Orban then turned his attention to May's European Parliament elections, repeating his accusation that the leadership of the European Union wants to fill the continent with migrants, most of them Muslim.
"We have to understand that the European peoples have come to a historical crossroads," Orban said. "Those who decide in favor of immigration and migrants, no matter why they do so, are in fact creating a country with a mixed population."
Europe's left-wing has become "the gravedigger of nations, the family and the Christian way of life," Orban said.
After his speech, several hundred members and supporters of Hungary's main opposition parties held an anti-Orban rally that started in Buda Castle. The event also was aimed at protesting recent heavy fines the state audit office imposed on several opposition parties. A small group of protesters used their cars to block traffic from crossing the Chain Bridge over the Danube River for most of the day.
Opposition leaders said the fines, which cannot be challenged in Hungarian courts, were politically motivated and meant to hinder their campaigns for the European Parliament and municipal elections in Hungary later this year.