(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES OF INDIA)
No official confirmation from US on H-1B cap for Indians: Centre
Trade tensions between the two sides have increased in recent weeks, with India imposing higher tariffs on some American goods on June 16 after the US withdrew export benefits under GPS programme.
WORLDUpdated: Jun 20, 2019 23:58 IST
Rezaul H Laskar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Asked about the H-1B visa issue at a news briefing on Thursday, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “We have not heard anything officially from the US government on this matter. (SONU MEHTA/HT PHOTO)
There are no immediate plans to impose caps on H-1B work visas in retaliation for New Delhi’s data localisation plans though India and the US will have to contend with a full plate of trade-related issues during secretary of state Mike Pompeo’s visit next week, people familiar with developments said.
Trade tensions between the two sides have increased in recent weeks, with India imposing higher tariffs on some American goods on June 16 after the US withdrew export benefits under the Generalised System of Preferences (GSP) programme. The US has opposed India’s data storage plans that could hit firms such as Wal-Mart and Amazon.
“We are not aware of such plans,” a person familiar with developments said in the wake of a Reuters report that the US is considering a 15% cap on H-1B visas for countries that force foreign companies to store data locally. India is the largest beneficiary of the programme, with about 70% of the 85,000 H-1B visas issued each year going to Indians.
Asked about the H-1B visa issue at a regular news briefing on Thursday, external affairs ministry spokesperson Raveesh Kumar said, “We have not heard anything officially from the US government on this matter.
“We remain engaged with the US administration…and we have emphasised time and again at all our high-level interactions the contributions of Indian skilled professionals to the growth and development of the US economy.”
Kumar said consultations are underway within the Indian government and between the government and industry on data localisation or the storage of private data of users by foreign firms. The use of such data will have to be balanced with “national priorities and sensitivities,” he said.
“India’s position is in line with global best practices. We will remain engaged with the US on this matter and see how we can dispel any misconceptions on data localisation which they might have,” he added.
The Indian side is looking to Pompeo’s visit during June 25-27 – the first high-level engagement with the US since the general elections – as an opportunity to clear the air on differences over trade-related issues, which are in marked contrast to the robust cooperation on strategic security and defence issues.
Kumar said Pompeo’s visit will be “an important opportunity for both sides to explore ways to further strengthen the India-US strategic partnership and continue the high-level engagement on matters of mutual interest”.
Besides holding talks with his Indian counterpart S Jaishankar, Pompeo will meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi and National Security Adviser Ajit Doval on June 26, the main working day of his visit.
The external affairs ministry sought to play down trade-related differences, with Kumar saying, “In a relationship that is as diverse and as deep as the one we have with the US, that there will be certain issues which will be on the table…The overall direction of the relationship remains very positive.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrongly stated that Syrian President “Bashar al-Assad controls a small fraction of Syria.” Middle East experts tell us that Assad controls a majority of Syria’s land and population.
Pompeo made his remarks during an April 8 interview with Fox News’ Bret Baier. Pompeo urged the Cuban government to stop supporting Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — telling Baier that Maduro’s “days are numbered” — when in an aside the secretary also remarked about Assad’s power in Syria.
Pompeo, April 8: I might add, Bashar al-Assad controls a small fraction of Syria today. The work that the Trump administration has done to deny Assad the capacity to rebuild his nation — this is the guy who believes he won, but the truth is the Middle East is in a much more stable, much better place today than it was when President Obama was running the joint in Syria.
“Pompeo’s comment is false,” Steven Heydemann, director of Middle East Studies at Smith College, told us in an email. “The Assad regime controls about 60% of Syrian territory, including the entire western ‘spine’ of the country that includes all its major cities and a large majority of its population.”
The civil war in Syria started in March 2011, and, at its weakest point in 2015, Assad’s government held less than a fifth of Syria. “However, the Asad government — backed by Russia and Iran — has reasserted control over much of western Syria since 2015, and appears poised to claim victory in the conflict,” according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service.
CRS, March 25: The collapse of IS [Islamic State] and opposition territorial control in most of Syria since 2015 has been matched by significant military and territorial gains by the Syrian government. The U.S. intelligence community’s 2018 Worldwide Threat Assessment stated in February 2018 that, “The conflict has decisively shifted in the Syrian regime’s favor, enabling Russia and Iran to further entrench themselves inside the country.”
A Jan. 14 Bloomberg News article on the various forces still fighting in Syria includes a map that shows the Assad regime controls about two-thirds of Syria — nearly all of the land southwest of the Euphrates River, which serves as a natural barrier between the U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, and the Russia-backed Syrian military.
“The Kurdish-held areas in northern Syria, comprising about a quarter of the country, are the largest remaining areas outside of Syrian government control,” the CRS report said. “Asad has stated that his government intends to recover these areas, whether by negotiations or military force.”
Michael E. O’Hanlon, a senior fellow and director of foreign policy research at the Brookings Institution, agreed that Pompeo’s statement was “not correct.” In an email, he told us that “in terms of population, Assad controls a substantially higher percentage of the densely populated regions of the country.”
“The main cities under government control are: Damascus, Homs, Hama, Aleppo, Latakia, Tartus, Palmyra, Albu Kamal,” according to a March 13 Al-Jazeera article headlined “Syria’s War: Who Control What?” Aleppo is the largest city in Syria, followed by Damascus and Homs, according to the World Atlas.
“The regime is not in control of two important areas: parts of northwest Syria from north of Homs up to the border with Turkey. This area includes the city and province of Idlib and areas under Turkish control,” Heydemann said. “In addition, the regime is not in control of a large part of Syria’s northeast, which is dominated by Kurdish forces that are supported by the U.S.”
Idlib province has been under rebel control since 2015. It is the “the most significant zone remaining outside of government control in western Syria” — “the final opposition stronghold,” according to CRS. Idlib is strategically important to the Assad regime because it allows direct transit from government-control areas in the south to Aleppo, Syria’s largest city, according to CRS.
The area in the northeast that is under control of Kurdish forces is strategically important because that’s where “most of Syria’s major oil production facilities” are located, Heydemann said. “However,” he added, “the PYD – the most powerful Kurdish political party in the northeast – has entered into agreements to provide the Assad regime with oil from the areas it controls.”
The Wall Street Journal, in a Feb. 8 article, said the decision by the Kurdish forces to sell oil to the Assad regime “represent[s] a new challenge to U.S. efforts to starve the Syrian government of oil.”
Clearly, Assad doesn’t have full control of Syria as he did before the civil war. But he controls more than “a small fraction” of it, contrary to what Pompeo said.
We asked the State Department to clarify Pompeo’s remarks, but did not receive a response. We will update this article if we do.
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Syrian President “Bashar al-Assad controls a small fraction of Syria today.”
Some say last week’s cancellation of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang signaled a breakdown in the U.S.–North Korean disarmament talks, but this misses three much larger points, which go way beyond Korea and speak to the failings of President Trump’s foreign policy as a whole.
First, the talks were never going anywhere to begin with; there is nothing to break down.
Second, the Trump administration’s policy on North Korea is in complete chaos.
Third, the reason it’s in chaos is that Trump himself has no idea that it is in chaos, or that the talks have been moribund from their beginning, or that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is taking him for a ride and everyone knows it, except Trump.
This jolted close observers. The day before, Pompeo had hired Steve Biegun, a Ford Motors executive who had worked in George W. Bush’s National Security Council, to be his special envoy to North Korea. The trip was to be their maiden voyage as a team. But then North Korea’s chief negotiator (and former top spy) Kim Yong-chol sent Pompeo a belligerently toned letter, which suggested to the secretary—who persuaded Trump—that a trip would be pointless. Hence Trump’s tweet.
If that had been Trump’s only tweet, it might have been a shrewd move. In past negotiations, North Koreans get cranky as a way of testing their interlocutors; a piss-off note from Trump might have compelled a concession, even if just a superficial one.
But Trump didn’t stop there. He proceeded to blame the lack of progress not on the North Koreans but rather on the Chinese, who, “because of our much tougher Trading stance,” are not “helping with the process of denuclearization as they once were.”
If Kim had been concerned for a moment that his bluff had been called and that the Americans were about to get tough, Trump’s final tweet allayed his worries—and perhaps made him laugh. It assured Kim that he can continue stalling on disarmament—that he can do almost anything he wants—without facing any punishment because, like other autocrats who have learned the art of dealing with Trump, he’s bamboozled our narcissistic president into thinking that the two of them are friends.
At their June summit in Singapore, Trump and Kim signed a one-page “joint statement,” which Trump hailed as a pledge—he later even called it a “contract”—to “denuclearize” North Korea. In fact, as anyone who has ever read an international communiqué could tell (a group that clearly did not include Trump), it was nothing of the sort.
A few weeks before that summit, Trump tweeted that he was canceling it, in response to a typically nasty North Korean press release—then put it back on the calendar after Pyongyang officials put out a “very nice statement,” as Trump described it. That was no doubt the first sign—reinforced by his latest cancellation with warm regards—that Trump is a pushover.
Not only does Kim seem to know this—so does practically everyone in the Trump administration.
Daniel Sneider, lecturer on Asian studies at Stanford University and a seasoned international journalist, reported this week that U.S. officials who are working this issue have the following aims: to contain Kim so he doesn’t expand his nuclear arsenal, to contain Chinese President Xi Jinping so he keeps enforcing economic sanctions against Kim’s regime; to contain South Korean President Moon Jae-in so he doesn’t rush forth with massive economic projects in the North before Kim makes good on nuclear disarmament, and, most important, to contain their own boss, President Trump, from giving away the store.
Kim has bamboozled our narcissistic president into thinking that the two of them arefriends.
At the summit in Singapore, Kim asked Trump to suspend America’s joint military exercises with South Korea, and Trump obliged him—without first consulting South Korea, Japan, or his own secretary of defense, Jim Mattis, who were all surprised by the move. At a press conference today, Mattis said, “We have no plans at this time to suspend any more exercises.”
Of course, the key words here are “no plans at this time.” Mattis didn’t have plans to suspend the last exercise either. Mattis may have lots of plans; Trump makes the decisions—if he becomes aware of the plans. This may be one reason Mattis is keeping a low profile these days: He doesn’t always want Trump to know precisely what he’s doing.
The same is true of the officials working North Korean policy. Their No. 1 goal, at the moment, is to keep Trump from having another summit with Kim. This is what terrifies them about Trump’s final tweet. (“I look forward to seeing him soon!”) None of these officials, including Pompeo, wanted Pompeo to make the trip to Pyongyang. They knew it would go nowhere, and they knew Trump would infer from the failure that only he could solve the problem by sitting down with his friend Kim and asking him, as a favor, to help break through the logjam.
This is how Trump thinks international politics works. Back in June, when he proposed letting Russia back into the G-8, he explained his thinking: “If Vladimir Putin were sitting next to me at a table … I could say, ‘Would you do me a favor and get out of Syria? Would you do me a favor, would you get out of Ukraine?’ ” Soon after this bizarre remark, Trump held his infamous summit with Putin and, whatever else happened (this remains a mystery), no such favors were granted.
We don’t know what other concessions Trump made in his one-on-one session with Kim in Singapore (or, for that matter, his one-on-one with Putin in Helsinki). Kim claims that Trump said he would sign a peace treaty, ending the 1950–53 Korean War (which has been in a state of cease-fire these past 65 years, but not a formal peace). As a result, ever since, North Korean negotiators have demanded a treaty before they take any steps to dismantle their nuclear arsenal. Pompeo rejected that demand the last time he was in Pyongyang. According to Sneider’s account, Kim Yong-chol, the North Korean negotiator, held up a cellphone and taunted Pompeo, saying, “Why don’t you call your president.”
Before Trump canceled the meeting, Pompeo had planned to offer Kim a deal: The United States would declare a willingness to negotiate a peace treaty if North Korea declared the number and location of its nuclear facilities. Pompeo was going to do this without first having his negotiators test it on their counterparts. U.S. officials now say Kim would have rejected it. He would probably reject any offer, knowing that Trump would respond by offering more.
The way Kim is believed to see it, Trump wants a deal—wants to be seen as a peacemaker—more than anything, especially before the 2020 (or even this year’s midterm)elections. If Trump had read his own book, much less written it, he would know that you should never appear to want a deal too eagerly. He is violating that basic principle.
Pompeo is proving to be a better secretary of state than his hapless predecessor, Rex Tillerson, in the sense that he sees the value of filling his department’s empty slots with competent people and letting them do their work.
But Trump keeps undercutting their efforts, and Pompeo—an ambitious ex-congressman who got this job by kowtowing to Trump’s political needs while he was CIA director and who is too keen to maintain his access to the White House—will go only so far to rein the boss in. He convinced Trump to call off the trip, but he is too cowed to tell Trump that his policy, his understanding of the joint statement, and his view of Kim are all wrong.
Meanwhile, national security adviser John Bolton, who came into office with a clear record of wanting to bomb North Korea (and Iran), seems to be sitting back, waiting for the roses to wilt and for Trump to realize that Kim is not a friend and will never disarm, before pouncing into action.
For the moment, though, Trump’s reality is whatever reality that grooms and praises Trump. He’s not interested in any other reality. He thinks the polls show that he’s popular. He thinks the leaders of the world respect him. At 10:02 on Tuesday morning, he Googled “Trump” and “news,” saw that almost all the entries were unfavorable, inferred that the search algorithm was “RIGGED,” and tweeted that regulations should be considered.
Meanwhile, the real world follows its own dynamics, Trump is steadily divorcing himself from reality, but, as president, he still has an oversize impact on what really happens. That’s the danger. The pity, and potentially the tragedy, is that many of those around him know this and are doing little about it.
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North Korean officials insist that the country is committed to the Singapore agreement, which expressed a need for the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
A confidential United Nations report argues that North Korea “has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs” and continues to engage in illicit activities in violation of UN sanctions resolutions.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo remains optimistic but notes that North Korea’s behavior is “inconsistent” with the pledge North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made to US President Donald Trump at their summit in Singapore.
North Korean officials insist the country is committed to upholding the provisions of the Singapore agreement signed by US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June, but a confidential United Nations report reveals that North Korea “has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs.”
“The [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] stands firm in its determination and commitment for implementing the DPRK-US Joint Statement in a responsible and good-faith manner,” North Korean foreign minister Ri Yong Ho said Saturday, arguing that North Korea has demonstrated its goodwill through the moratorium on weapons testing and the dismantling of the Punggye-ri nuclear test site.
North Korea has also released American hostages and began dismantling parts of the Sohae Satellite Launch Station, a facility believed to have played a prominent role in the engine development for one of the new intercontinental ballistic missiles tested for the first time last year. But while Pyongyang has taken certain presumably positive steps, it remains a good distance from reaching the Trump administration’s desired outcome — denuclearization and disarmament. In fact, evidence suggests that North Korea may be moving in the other direction.
A 149-page report analyzing the implementation of United Nations sanctions over a six-month period was submitted to the United Nations Security Council’s North Korea sanctions committee late Friday. North Korea “has not stopped its nuclear and missile programs and continues to defy Security Council resolutions through a massive increase in illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum products, as well as through transfers of coal at sea during 2018,” the document put together by a team of independent experts stated, according to Reuters.
In recent weeks, North Korea has been spotted engaging in activities that cast doubt on its commitment to denuclearize. They include producing possible liquid-fueled ICBMs at a location in Sanum-dong,increasing nuclear fuel production at secret enrichment sites like Kangson, making key infrastructure improvements at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center, and expanding an important facility in Hamhung dedicated to the development of solid-fueled ballistic missiles.
It is not just the weapons programs that are troubling, though. The United Nations report notes that not only has North Korea been collaborating with Syria’s military and attempting to sell weapons to the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, but illicit ship-to-ship transfers of petroleum have “increased in scope, scale and sophistication.”
North Korean vessels were involved in at least 89 illegal ship-to-ship transfers between January 1 and May 30, which resulted in the country importing as much as three times the amount permitted by the United Nations, NK News reported , citing US data.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Friday that North Korea’s behavior is inconsistent with Kim Jong Un’s promise to the president.
“Chairman Kim made a commitment to denuclearize,” Pompeo said , “The world demanded that they do so in the UN Security Council resolutions. To the extent they are behaving in a manner inconsistent with that, they are a) in violation of one or both the United Nations Security Council resolutions, and
b) we can see we still have a ways to go to achieve the ultimate outcome we’re looking for.”
Speaking at the Asian Regional Forum Retreat Session in Singapore Saturday, Pompeo urged Southeast Asian nations to maintain the pressure on North Korea by fully implementing sanctions. At the same event, the North Korean foreign minister said Pyongyang is alarmed by US attitudes.
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(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWSPAPER OF INDIA)
Why US postponed the 2+2 talks with India
The 2+2 dialogue scheduled for July 6 – the first simultaneous meeting of the Indian defence and external affairs ministers and their US counterparts – was postponed by the US on Wednesday citing “unavoidable reasons”.
US president Donald Trump with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Philippines in November 2017.
It was the sudden “classified travel” of US secretary of state Mike Pompeo that resulted in the last-minute deferral of the so-called 2-plus-2 dialogue between India and the US originally scheduled for July 6, senior Indian officials involved in talks with the US said.
Indeed, the US is keen on the talks and could even be open to shifting the venue for the discussion between the foreign and defence ministers of the two countries to India, they added.
The officials, none of whom wished to be identified, said the dialogue had been postponed because Pompeo has to travel either to North Korea or Russia.
They dismissed theories that it was US concern over Iran (and India’s oil purchases from that country), the purchase of S-400 missiles from Moscow, or bilateral trade issues that resulted in the deferment. A report in the Financial Times said Pompeo was likely to travel to North Korea to discuss the country’s denuclearisation plans.
The Indian embassy in Washington was informed about the postponement of the dialogue by the state department on Wednesday morning with an assurance that secretary Pompeo would himself conveys his regrets to external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj later over phone. Before the state department communication, both countries were preparing for the meeting, with US ambassador to India Kenneth Juster meeting foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale on Tuesday afternoon.
Indian diplomats in the US echoed these views. They, and the Indian officials, pointed to US ambassador Nikki Haley’s meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during which she said the US would not tolerate Pakistan becoming a safe haven for terrorists. They also pointed to the fact that a US trade delegation led by assistant US trade representative Mark Linscott is currently in Delhi negotiating the way to address bilateral trade concerns. India,for its part, the officials said, has decided to address the Trump administration’s concerns by buying oil and gas worth $4 billion a year from the US and also facilitating the purchase of 300 civilian jets worth $40 billion.
During his meetings with US trade representative Robert Lighthizer and secretary of commerce Wilbur Ross in Washington this month, commerce minister Suresh Prabhu agreed with his hosts that the only way to address trade concerns was through a comprehensive dialogue.
On US concerns over India buying the S-400 missile systems from Russia, South Block officials agreed that “this was not an ideal situation” but said that both sides were open to having a candid discussion given India’s legacy issues.
Although US sanctions against Iran will kick in on November 4, senior Indian diplomats said the US is not threatening India over purchase of crude oil from Tehran; Washington is aware that New Delhi had already cut down its oil intake from the Islamic Republic to 6% of the total oil it imports before the sanctions were lifted when Iran signed its deal with the US when Barack Obama was in power.
Even now, India imports only 18% of its crude oil from Iran. Before the dialogue was postponed, the talks on Communications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) had recorded forward momentum towards closure by the end of this year and hardware acquisition through the foreign military sales route had been finalized with the two countries involved in advanced Malabar and RIMPAC (Rim of the Pacific) naval exercises.
It has also been decided that both India and the US will closely collaborate on a maritime security architecture through the Indo-PAC Command of the US Navy.
“ India-US relations are multi-faceted and on a vast canvass. It is normal to have differences over some issues. But saying US is threatening India (and that the postponement of the talks is one embodiment of this) is an overexaggeration of the facts on ground,” said a top Indian diplomat dealing with US.