United Nations, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — The United States and Russia clashed Monday over enforcing U.N. sanctions against North Korea, with the U.S. ambassador accusing Moscow of "cheating" and Russia's envoy accusing Washington of "political ill-intent."
The acrimonious meeting of the Security Council was called by U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley, who accused Russia of pressuring independent U.N. experts to alter a report on implementation of sanctions against North Korea that she said contained "evidence of multiple Russian sanctions violations."
The sharp disagreement marked a rare break in what has been a united response by the U.N.'s most powerful body to North Korea's escalating nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
It has unanimously imposed increasingly tough sanctions on Pyongyang that have cut off all North Korean exports, 90 percent of its trade, and disbanded its pool of workers send abroad to earn hard currency.
Haley said Russia's violations are "systematic," including ship-to-ship transfers of banned items, mainly oil but increasingly coal and other goods. She identified the Russian ship Patriot filmed transferring refined petroleum to a North Korean vessel and accused Moscow of trying to cover up violations "whether they're committed by Russia or citizens of other states."
Haley said the United States prevented publication of the "tainted" report that removed allegations against the Russians and demanded the release of the initial version.
Russian Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia countered that the work of the panel of experts "became increasingly politicized, then became ultimately the hostages to the vision of Washington" and didn't take into account Russia's views.
"Unsurprisingly, therefore, we insisted on having our position reflected in the document," he said, and a compromise on the report was reached among all 15 council members — including the "American delegation" and U.S. "experts."
But Nebenzia said Haley put a hold on the report the following day, so it is the United States that is blocking release of the report and "the ball now is in your court."
The U.S. Mission said later in a statement: "Certainly no U.S. expert agreed - at any point in the process - to Russia's tainted version of the report."
Behind the U.S.-Russia squabble over implementing sanctions are the broader issues of how to achieve denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and when sanctions should be lifted.
The United States has kept up sanctions pressure on the North despite the historic summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June that dialed down nuclear tensions between the adversaries. That first-ever meeting of leaders from the two countries has been followed by a diplomatic impasse over how to achieve the agreed-upon goal of denuclearization.
The U.S. has said sanctions won't be lifted until that goal is met. South Korean officials who recently met with Kim said he still has faith in Trump's commitment to ending their nations' hostile relations, but is frustrated by questions about his willingness to denuclearize and wants his "goodwill measures" to be met in kind.
Haley told the council that "the difficult, sensitive talks with North Korea are ongoing."
"The Trump-Kim summit has set us on the path toward complete denuclearization," she said. "But we are not there yet. And until we get there, we must not ease the powerful worldwide sanctions that are in place."
Nebenzia countered that "resolving the nuclear issue of the peninsula through just sanctions and pressure on Pyongyang is impossible." He charged that the U.S. is using the Security Council committee monitoring implementation of sanctions "as a sledgehammer to punish (North Korea) for their intransigence."
He cited welcome developments, including the North's suspension of missile and nuclear tests, dismantling of a missile engine test site, opening of a liaison office, and agreeing to a third summit of Kim and South Korean President Moon Jae-in starting Tuesday.
Noting difficulties in U.S.-North Korea negotiations, Nebenzia stressed that negotiations are "a two-way street."
"It is difficult to come to agreement if you offer nothing in return for your demands," he said.
"What can we expect when Pyongyang is being called upon to unconditionally agree to comply with all of the conditions against a guarantee of empty promises," Nebenzia asked, saying the U.S. has broken promises to Tehran and pulled out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
He called for "confidence-building measures," citing as a possibility the signing of a peace treaty to end the 1950-53 Korean War. Nebenzia said the Security Council also could consider creating temporary exemptions from sanctions to carry out projects promoting inter-Korean cooperation.
Chinese Ambassador Ma Zhaoxu said Beijing remains committed to implementing both sanctions and dialogue.
"Confrontation is a dead end," he said. "Resorting to force will bring nothing but disastrous consequences to the peninsula."
China, which is North Korea's closest ally and is responsible for 90 percent of its trade, believes the Security Council should take action to reverse sanctions "at the appropriate time" in light of Pyongyang's progress to denuclearization.
"This council should stay united, honor its responsibility entrusted by history and push for the denuclearization and lasting peace in northeast Asia," Ma said.
Algiers, Sep 18 (AP/UNB) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel has met with Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika on Monday during a one-day visit to the country to discuss migration and the situation in neighboring Libya.
Algeria's official APS news agency reported the meeting happened in the presence Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia and other government members.
The discussions take on particular significance before April's presidential election in Algeria. No candidate has yet emerged because everyone is waiting to learn whether Bouteflika, 81, partially paralyzed from a stroke and rarely seen in public, will seek a fifth term.
Bouteflika travelled to Switzerland earlier this month for medical check-ups.
Algerian television channels showed images of Merkel and Bouteflika talking together.
In a joint news conference, Merkel and Ouyahia said they agreed on a process to send about 700 Algerian migrants identified as illegally staying in Germany back to their country.
Ouyahia suggested that German airline Lufthansa should help with their transfer in addition to Air Algeria. Algerian authorities requested that no special flight is chartered, he said.
"Algeria will take back its children staying irregularly in Germany," he said.
Merkel said they also discussed the situation in neighboring Mali and Libya, without providing details.
Before the talks, Merkel visited the hilltop memorial to "martyrs" who died in Algeria's war of independence with France that ended in 1962.
Germany was Algeria's fourth-largest commercial partner in 2017, with 200 German companies working in various sectors in the North African country.
This was Merkel's first visit to Algeria in a decade. Initially set for February 2017, it was postponed because Bouteflika was stricken with the flu.
Both countries also sought to deepen their economic cooperation.
Mohamed Saidj, professor of political science in Algiers, told The Associated Press that Merkel's meeting with Bouteflika provided the Algerian president an occasion to "show his adversaries that he keeps assuming normally the prerogatives of his office."
Saidj stressed that Algeria has strong economic links with Germany especially in mechanical engineering, the auto industry, renewable energy, the chemical sector and pharmaceuticals.
Berlin, Sep 17 (AP/UNB) — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz are meeting to discuss migration before an upcoming European Union summit on the topic.
Merkel told reporters in Berlin as she and Kurz prepared to sit down for their one-to-one talks Sunday that "migration is, of course, a very important issue."
The EU's member countries are divided over how to respond to mass migration.
Some refuse to accept any asylum-seekers from the southern nations where most newcomers land first. Others are encouraging greater solidarity within the 28-nation EU.
Merkel and Kurz are set to join other national leaders at the two-day summit starting Wednesday in Salzburg, Austria. Their agenda includes a review of Brexit negotiations.
The Austrian leader next travels to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Madrid, Sept 14 (AP/UNB) — Spanish Prime Minister Pablo Sanchez published his doctoral thesis online Friday to deflect any doubts over its existence and refute allegations of plagiarism raised by media and the political opposition.
A day earlier Sanchez, a Socialist, wrote on Facebook that he considered the plagiarism allegations a "personal attack" by opposition parties in the absence of a "solid political project."
He also threatened to take legal action against ABC newspaper and other media that published stories arguing that passages of his "Spain's Economic Diplomacy, 2010-2012" dissertation had been copied from other researchers' works.
Doctored or exaggerated resumes have backfired in Spanish politics in the past, but academic misdeeds uncovered by the media have led to political turmoil and a string of high-profile resignations in recent months.
They include the conservative former president of the Madrid region and a health minister in Sanchez's cabinet, who both stepped down amid allegations that they had obtained master's degrees at the same private public policy institute in Madrid without apparently showing up for classes or by copying passages of their papers.
Courts in Madrid have opened an investigation and the Supreme Court is separately probing the degree obtained by the current opposition leader, the Popular Party's Pablo Casado, who graduated from the same university.
Media lined up at the library of Sanchez's alma mater in Madrid on Wednesday shortly after another opposition leader, Citizens' Albert Rivera, dared the prime minister to publish his thesis to dispel "reasonable doubts" over its existence. The journalists found a single printed copy that the university wouldn't allow to be copied, and also learned that Sanchez had not authorized online copies.
Amid mounting pressure, the thesis was finally uploaded on Friday to an Education Ministry online directory for academic researchers. The prime minister's office also issued a statement saying the thesis had passed plagiarism tests of two specialized pieces of software used by academics.
Sanchez surprised observers of Spanish politics in June when he succeeded in ousting his predecessor with a vote of no confidence. While he won early praise for leading a cabinet with a majority of women, opening ports to migrants and offering an olive branch to the strong separatist movement in Catalonia, a cabinet member resigned within a week of taking the oath after an undisclosed tax fine emerged.
Sanchez's minority government, with only 84 Socialist lawmakers in the 350-seat lower house of the parliament, has also been marred by erratic policies and increasing criticism, reversing decisions to accept migrants crossing from Morocco, to authorize a sex workers union and, just this week, to halt arm sales to Saudi Arabia.
He lost his second cabinet member on Tuesday when Health Minister Carmen Monton resigned over irregularities found in the way she obtained her master's degree, including chunks of the final thesis copied from websites and other works.
Monton's resignation, and Sanchez's move to publish his dissertation, seemed also aimed at exerting pressure on Casado, whose own degree is under investigation. The PP leader has said he doesn't fear the results of the probe.
A government spokeswoman said on Friday that both Casado and Rivera — whose official resume on the parliament's website had shrunk overnight — "should rise to the challenge" and respond with "transparency" to Sanchez's move. Isabel Celaa, who is also the Education Minister, said the scandal shouldn't stain the name of the country's higher education, stressing that it affects one single institution.
Moscow, Sept 14 (AP/UNB) — Russia is ready to consider a request by British investigators to come and interrogate the two men accused of poisoning a former spy, the Kremlin said Friday.
Britain charged Alexander Petrov and Ruslan Boshirov last week with trying to kill double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter, Yulia, with the Soviet-designed nerve agent Novichok. The Skripals survived the March 4 attack in Salisbury, but a local resident later died after apparently having contact with the poison.
Petrov and Boshirov appeared Thursday on the state-funded RT channel, saying they visited Salisbury as tourists and had nothing to do with the poisoning. They denied the British claim that they were Russian military intelligence officers, saying they work in the nutritional supplements business.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Friday that Russian authorities will consider Britain's request to interrogate them if it comes. He added that Britain has stonewalled repeated Russian offers to conduct a joint inquiry.
"There is a mechanism of legal assistance regulated by bilateral documents and international law," Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. "If we receive a formal request from London, it will certainly be considered by the Russian side in strict conformity with the law."
He added that "from the very beginning, Russia has emphasized its desire to cooperate to clarify the circumstances of what happened in Salisbury and track down the culprits," but "the British side has strongly rejected such cooperation."
Britain has said the attack received approval "at a senior level of the Russian state," an accusation Moscow has fiercely denied.
"Russia's position has remained unchanged and clear — we consider it unacceptable to link the Russian leadership or the Russian state to what happened in Salisbury," Peskov said.
Britain identified the Russian suspects last week and released security-camera photos of them in Salisbury on March 3 and 4.
The surprise TV appearance by Petrov and Boshirov came a day after Putin said Russian authorities know the identities of the two men but insisted that they were civilians and there is "nothing criminal" about them.
The men told RT they traveled to Salisbury on March 3 to see its famed cathedral but were turned back by slush and snow, then returned the next day when the weather was better and spent two hours exploring the "beautiful" city.
The pair were caught on camera at Salisbury rail station on March 4, and minutes later another camera spotted them walking in the direction of Skripal's house — the opposite direction from the cathedral.
The men, who appeared to be about 40, claimed they did not know who Skripal was or where he lived.
James Slack, spokesman for British Prime Minister Theresa May, on Thursday derided their claims as "lies and blatant fabrications."
Peskov said he hasn't yet had time to watch their interview and said he didn't know if Putin saw it. He wouldn't elaborate on how long it took the Russian authorities to find the two men, and said that the Kremlin had nothing to do with arranging their interview.