Month: January 2020

Trump Tries to Keep Focus on Trade as Impeachment Trial Moves Forward

Trump Tries to Keep Focus on Trade as Impeachment Trial Moves Forward


Battle Over Witnesses Launches First Full Week of Trump Trial

The impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump got fully underway in the Senate Tuesday with a battle over the rules governing how the case moves forward. For just the third time in U.S. history, senators will vote to decide if a president should be removed from office. Congressional Democrats argue witnesses should be allowed to testify to help make their case Trump abused the power of the presidency. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill.


American NGO Unearths Mines in Vietnam to Make Farming Possible

The United States bombed parts of Southeast Asia a generation ago. The fallout of one of the longest military entanglements in American history wreaked havoc on local populations and destroyed much of the land once suitable for farming.  VOA’s Arash Arabasadi looks at how US non-profit Roots of Peace sows seeds of hope today while unearthing the horrors of yesterday.


Sources: EU Nations Can Restrict High-Risk Vendors Under New 5G Guidelines

EU countries can restrict or exclude high-risk 5G providers from core parts of their telecoms network infrastructure under new guidelines to be issued by the European Commission next week, people familiar with the matter said on Wednesday.

The non-binding recommendations are part of a set of measures aimed at addressing cybersecurity risks at national and bloc-wide level, in particular concerns related to world No. 1 player Huawei Technologies.

The guidelines do not identify any particular country or company, the people said.

“Stricter security measures will apply for high-risk vendors for sensitive parts of the network or the core infrastructure,” one of the people said.

EU digital economy chief Margrethe Vestager is expected to announce the recommendations on Jan. 29.

Other measures include urging EU countries to audit or even issue certificates for high-risk suppliers.

EU governments will also be advised to diversify their suppliers and not depend on one company and to use technical and non-technical factors to assess them.

Europe is under pressure from the United States to ban Huawei equipment on concerns that its gear could be used by China for spying. Huawei, which competes with Finland’s Nokia and Sweden’s Ericsson has denied the allegations.


Reports: Tensions Grow Between US, Russian Forces in Northeast Syria

A U.S. military patrol has blocked a Russian military convoy from using a main highway in northeast Syria amid growing tensions between the two sides, local reports said.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor that has researchers inside the country, reported on Tuesday that U.S. forces didn’t allow Russian military vehicles to use a major road between two Kurdish-held towns in Syria’s northeast.

The Russian convoy was attempting to reach a border crossing between Syria and Iraq that is under the control of U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the Observatory added.

After Turkish military and allied Syrian militias launched an offensive against SDF fighters in October 2019, Russia, a staunch supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, stepped in to increase its military presence in northeast Syria following a U.S. decision to withdraw troops from parts of the border area between Syria and Turkey.

After mounting pressure from the U.S. Congress and U.S. foreign allies, President Donald Trump decided to keep about 500 U.S. troops in the area to protect the region’s oil fields, and prevent Islamic State and Syrian regime troops from accessing them.

Now, both the U.S. and Russia have military outposts throughout the region.

Turkish and Russian patrol is seen near the town of Darbasiyah, Syria, Nov. 1, 2019.

Growing tensions

The incident on Tuesday is part of a series of similar incidents that happened in recent days between the two powers over their presence in Syria, local sources said. 

“This is the third incident that occurred within a week,” said Nishan Mohammad, a local reporter who said he witnessed another recent standoff between U.S. and Russian troops in northeast Syria.

“I was there last weekend when U.S. soldiers stopped Russian military vehicles and forced them to head back to their base,” he told VOA in a phone interview Tuesday.

It seems that the U.S. wants to limit the Russian presence in certain parts of northeast Syria, Mohammad added.

Contacted by VOA, SDF officials declined to comment on the matter, citing the sensitivity of the issue.  

U.S. and Russian officials have not immediately reacted to this development.

Reasserting Assad’s authority  

Northeast Syria has largely been under the control of Kurdish forces since 2012 after Syrian regime troops withdrew to focus on fighting rebel forces elsewhere in the war-torn country.

With Syrian troops now in control of most territory once held by rebels, experts charge that Russia’s recent moves in northeast Syria are an attempt at reasserting the Syrian government’s authority in that region.“

Russia’s clear objective is to reestablish the authority of the (Syrian) regime in the Kurdish region,” said Radwan Badini, a Syria expert who teaches journalism and politics at Salahaddin University in Irbil, Iraqi Kurdistan.

He told VOA that such provocations by Russia will not yield any results in Moscow’s favor, as Syria’s northeast is of strategic importance to the U.S. in its continued war against IS.

“The Americans will not give up this part of Syria,” Badini said, noting that, “in addition to its oil fields, northeast Syria represents a strategic depth for the U.S. and its allies to carry on their counterterrorism efforts in eastern Syria.”



Venezuela’s Guaido Defies Travel Ban to Rally Diplomatic Support

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido was in London on Tuesday as part of a surprise international trip to revive support for forcing the resignation of the country’s authoritarian leader, Nicolas Maduro.  One year ago, Guaido was recognized by the U.S. and over 50 countries as Venezuela’s interim president after Maduro blocked opponents in the last presidential election. However, VOA’s Brian Padden reports that tough U.S. sanctions and diplomatic pressure imposed a year ago have not succeeded to break the socialist president’s hold on power.


Afghan Government Says Full Cease-fire Key to Peace Talks

After the Afghan Taliban announced a seven  to 10-day cease-fire with US troops and a reduction in violence against Afghan forces, the Afghan government called the Taliban offer ‘ambiguous,’ and asked for a complete cease-fire as a way forward for peace talks.


Iranian Student Denied Re-Entry to US

An Iranian student returning to university in Boston was denied entry to the United States and sent out of the country, immigration lawyers said.

Mohammad Shahab Dehghani Hossein, a 24-year-old undergraduate student at Northeastern University, arrived on a flight into Boston International Logan Airport on Monday with a valid student visa, but was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

Lawyers filed an emergency petition Monday night to allow him re-entry to attend college, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts. The U.S. District Court in Massachusetts issued an order allowing Dehghani to stay in the U.S. until a hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Tuesday.

But CBP put him on a flight out of the U.S. Monday night.

Kerry Doyle, one of Dehghani’s lawyers, said CPB acted after the order was issued to allow the student to stay in the U.S. They say he is waiting in Paris.

UPDATE: JUDGE ORDERED client to remain in the US at 9:27 p.m. According to @SenMarkey office, he was removed from the US at 10:03 p.m. CBP officers told MULTIPLE attorneys that he was removed from the plane at 9:30/9:40 p.m. THEY LIED . The Federal Judge will handle this now

— Susan Church (@SusanBChurch11) January 21, 2020

Dehghani’s “expedited removal is a result of additional scrutiny targeting Iranian citizens,” and is not “based on legitimate concerns of Plaintiff’s admissibility to the United States,” his attorneys argued in court filings.

“As such, it violates equal protection guarantees against discrimination based on national origin, constitutional due process guarantees, and the Administrative Procedure Act,” wrote his attorneys, who include Kerry Doyle, Susan Church and lawyers from Americans for Civil Liberties (ACLU).

Like most of the more than 1 million international students in the U.S., Dehghani’s student F-1 visa was issued by the U.S. Department of State and administered by agencies within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

“He went through an extensive processing period before he came back, which means that overseas investigators investigate his family, they speak to employers, they do a very thorough investigation,” Church told reporters outside the courthouse.

“It is unclear why Defendants would now decide, after conducting a full visa issuance process, that Plaintiff’s student visa should be revoked,” Doyle said in the filing.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Doyle argued that Dehghani had not boarded his flight when the order was issued and should be returned to the U.S.

U.S. District Judge Richard Stearns said the case was moot and out of his jurisdiction because the student was no longer in the U.S.

Dehghani’s attorneys disputed the judge’s ruling, and say they are weighing Dehghani’s legal options.

— John Hawkinson (@johnhawkinson) January 21, 2020

Attorneys complained that customs officials in Boston have a “pattern” of ignoring court orders, such as removing people from the U.S. despite legal injunctions.

At least 10 students have been sent back to Iran upon arrival at U.S. airports since August 2019, the ACLU said. Seven had flown into Logan airport.

“In America, nobody is above the law — including Customs and Border Protection officials. … We are looking at all options to hold CBP accountable for wrongfully deporting Iranians and other students who hold valid visas,” Carol Rose, executive director at the ACLU of Massachusetts, said in a statement.

CBP told the Guardian newspaper in a Jan. 14 article that “it was not at liberty to discuss an individual’s processing, and that it prohibits profiling on the basis of race or religion.” It added that the agency “is operating with an enhanced security posture.”

‘Maximum pressure’ campaign

Earlier in January, reports indicated that the Trump administration would be expanding its much litigated travel ban that restricts travel and immigration from five majority-Muslim nations: Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen, as well as Venezuela and North Korea.

In September, President Donald Trump declared an entry ban to “restrict and suspend” the ability of “senior government officials of Iran and their immediate family members” to enter the U.S. as immigrants or nonimmigrants. The president called it a “maximum pressure” campaign to push Iran to end perceived malign behaviors. 

Northeastern University released a statement saying it has reached out to federal officials to try to help Dehghani.

“Northeastern welcomes thousands of international students and supports them with an array of resources,” the university said in a statement. “We have been in touch with federal officials to learn more about this case and to provide our students with the appropriate assistance to facilitate a successful return to Northeastern.”


Indonesia Fights Growing Pressure from China to Let it Use Use Disputed Waters

China is raising pressure on Indonesia over rights to use a contested tract of sea and challenging the militarily weaker Southeast Asian country to consider options from friendly dialogue to strong protests.
Indonesia spotted as many as 63 “trespassing” Chinese vessels in 30 locations within its maritime exclusive economic zone last month, the research platform East Asia Forum says in a January 15 report.  Another spate followed in early January.  Chinese coast guard vessels had escorted some, media reports from Jakarta say.
Though not a first between the two big Asian countries, this escalation near Indonesia’s Natuna Islands raises the specter of a new flash point in a normally quiet part of the broader, heavily disputed South China Sea.

“On the Indonesian side, I think that there’s a growing sense at the security level that China is becoming a more problematic actor,” said Stephen Nagy, a senior associate professor of politics and international studies at International Christian University in Tokyo.
China may hope Indonesia will bargain over the tract of sea that’s near the 272 tiny Natuna islands northwest of Borneo, possibly in exchange for economic aid, Asia scholars say.
But if Indonesia fears talks would validate China’s claim, it might instead make diplomatic protests instead or get help from powerful Western-allied countries that already resent China’s maritime expansion.

“I think you’ll see a lot more of China pushing not just on us but on Malaysia, Vietnam, Philippines and others through incursions and get us to eventually acknowledge their right to a negotiation, and I think this is why we’re still very much resisting the notion that we should come and talk to the Chinese about this,” said Evan Laksamana, senior researcher for the Centre for Strategic and International Studies think tank in Jakarta.

“And I think China also doesn’t want to make (the coordinates of its claim) that clear yet, so that’s why these are kind of gradual, low-level incursions, that of course I think will escalate if Indonesia doesn’t respond strongly and forcefully and provide actual diplomatic protest notes so that under international law we always challenge China’s incursions,” Laksamana said.

South China Sea Territorial Claims

China vies separately with Brunei, Malaysia, Taiwan, Vietnam and the Philippines over parts of the 3.5 million-square-kilometer South China Sea north of the Natuna Islands. China uses a nine-dash line, sourcing it to maritime records from dynastic times, to claim about 90% of the waterway that multiple countries value for its fisheries and undersea fossil fuel reserves. The nine dashes cut into the Indonesian exclusive economic zone, or EEZ.
Indonesia and China are in a new phase of testing each other’s bottom line, said Oh Ei Sun, senior fellow with the Singapore Institute of International Affairs. Competing ship movements will continue “for a while”, he believes. “In recent years, I think both China and Indonesia came to the realization that the Natuna Island EEZ and nine-dash line, they do intersect one another, so they are literally testing the water now,” Oh said.
Friction between the two sides dates back to 2016, when Indonesian President Joko Widodo showed signs of taking a harder line in the maritime dispute compared to his predecessors.

Authorities in his government have burned dozens of foreign fishing boats found in the EEZ.   Vessels from the two countries entered a standoff   in 2016 when Indonesian authorities tried to arrest a private boat operator but a Chinese coast guard vessel intervened. Indonesia said then that China had officially included waters near the Natuna Islands on a territorial map. Two years later Indonesia opened a Natuna Islands military base for up to 1,000 personnel.
China hinted this month that the two sides should talk. 

“I can tell you that China and Indonesia have always carried out dialogue through diplomatic channels,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a news briefing January 7 as quoted on his ministry’s website. “We believe the Indonesian side also can see the issue from the vantage of bilateral relations and regional stability and resolve disputes with the Chinese side.”
China often offers aid and investment to ease rifts with smaller countries.  

Before Widodo took office in 2014, Indonesia normally said little about Chinese vessels near the Natuna Islands. China had invested in Indonesia’s infrastructure and bought oil from its palm plantations. Indonesian officials today have been cautious on any deals to accept infrastructure aid under Beijing’s $1 trillion, Belt and Road Initiative aimed at building trade routes across Asia.   
Indonesia indicated it would assert its maritime claim without dialogue.

Maritime and Fisheries Minister Edhy Prabowo made a working visit January 15 to the Natuna Islands “in order to follow up President Jokowi’s instructions that Indonesian sovereignty is not negotiable,” according to a statement on the ministry’s website. Jokowi is the president’s nickname.
Indonesia protested diplomatically over the December ship movements and China replied that it had rights to use those waters.
Jakarta might look to Australia, Japan and the United States for help such as “capacity building”, Nagy said. Eventually, he said, nothing will be settled. That way China can show it’s not being influenced by smaller countries and Indonesian people won’t see their government as a pushover, he said.
China would avoid any moves that might incite anger among Indonesian people, the source of deadly anti-Chinese riots in 1998, Nagy added.


South Korea Naval Unit to Expand Operations to Strait of Hormuz

A South Korean anti-piracy unit has temporarily expanded its mission to the Strait of Hormuz, a vital global oil route at the center of soaring tensions between Iran and the United States.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry announced the expansion Tuesday, saying it was meant to help ensure the safe passage of South Korean vessels and nationals through the waterway. 

South Korea has conducted anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden since 2009 and is expanding to the strait that connects the Gulf of Oman and Persian Gulf. Tensions in waters around the Arabian Peninsula have soared since President Donald Trump withdrew the United States from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and a U.S. airstrike earlier this month killed Iran’s top general.

Iran was accused of sabotaging oil tankers in the Persian Gulf last year, allegations it denied. It seized a British-flagged oil tanker after an Iranian oil tanker was seized by authorities in Gibraltar over suspected sanctions violations. Both ships were released weeks later. 

The United States last week warned of threats to commercial vessels in and around the Persian Gulf following the latest tensions.

The South Korean ministry’s statement said the unit will work independently but cooperate with a U.S.-led coalition if necessary. It said two South Korean soldiers will be liaison officers at the International Maritime Security Construct headquarters. 

Observers say the decision suggested South Korea considered both its relations with Iran and chief ally United States, which has asked it for a contribution to help guard oil tankers.

The South Korean naval unit refers to a 4,400-ton-class destroyer with 300 troops and a helicopter, according to the navy. 

According to the statement, the Strait of Hormuz is a shipping lane for more than 70 percent of South Korean oil imports and South Korean vessels sail through the area about 900 times annually. It said about 25,000 South Korean nationals live in the Middle East.