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January 2018 International Affairs

  • US shutdown ends as Congress strikes deal
    The US government partial shutdown is ending after Republicans and Democrats voted to approve a temporary funding bill. Senator Chuck Schumer said Democrats agreed to back the bill if Republicans would address a programme that shields young immigrants from deportation. Democrats refused to vote for the bill unless they secured protections for recipients of the Obama-era programme. 

  • US President open to citizenship for 'Dreamers' in 10-12 years
    For the first time, US President Donald Trump has indicated that he was open to a path to citizenship for America's so-called "Dreamers" in 10 to 12 years, a move which may also benefit thousands of Indian-origin undocumented immigrants. 

    Some 6,90,000 undocumented immigrants, who were illegally brought to the US as children, are likely to get benefited. Among them include several thousand people of Indian descent. 

    The term "Dreamers", which is used for the undocumented immigrants living in the US illegally, came from the DREAM Act, a bipartisan legislation that was first proposed in 2001 to provide citizenship to them under certain conditions. The bill was never passed. 

    UN hosts fresh Syria talks in Vienna
    The UN embarked on fresh efforts on 25th Janujary to jump-start Syrian peace talks that Western countries and the opposition fear are being undermined by a separate Russian diplomatic push. The two days of talks in Vienna come after eight previous rounds in Geneva, during which the two sides failed to even meet each other. 

    The previous attempts stumbled in particular over the fate of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, with the government delegation refusing to meet the opposition face-to-face until they drop demands that he leaves office. 

    The Syrian government’s top negotiator Bashar al-Jaafari made no comment as he arrived at the UN in Vienna to meet the world body’s special envoy Staffan de Mistura. The main opposition group, the Syrian Negotiations Commission (SNC), said it would sit down for separate talks with the envoy. Nasr al-Hariri from the SNC said the discussions would be “a real test for all the sides”. 

    The Vienna talks come ahead of a separate peace conference on 30th January in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, backed by Russia, Iran and Turkey. The three key regional players have been sponsoring parallel peace talks since the start of last year, which have fuelled concerns that the Kremlin is looking to sideline the UN. 

    The focus in Sochi will be on hammering out a new Constitution, according to the opposition, something that Mr. de Mistura also wants discussed in Vienna. 

    A Western diplomatic source said that if Moscow wanted its own peace talks in Sochi to be successful, it must push its ally Assad into accepting the need for a political transition, as agreed by the UN Security Council in 2015

  • US designates six individuals as global terrorist
    Continuing its stride against terrorism, the Trump administration has designated six individuals as global terrorists who are accused of supporting the Taliban and Haqqani network in Afghanistan and having their links to Pakistan. The black listed individuals include senior members of the former Taliban government in Afghanistan, and former central bank governor Abdul Samad Sani. 

    The designated terrorist is accused of providing financial assistance and weapons for militants involved in attacks on US-led coalition forces. 

  • Panama inks multilateral tax pact to end bank secrecy
    Panama, a popular tax haven that was in the eye of a data-leak storm dubbed ‘Panama Papers’ in 2016, has finally signed an international agreement that would pave the way for exchange of financial account information with the international community. 

    By signing this agreement — CRS Multilateral Competent Authority Agreement (CRS-MCAA) — at the OECD headquarters in Paris on January 15, Panama has re-affirmed its commitment to start the OECD/G-20 Common Reporting Standards (CRS) exchanges with all interested partners from September this year. 

    The signing of the CRS-MCAA will allow Panama to activate bilateral exchange relationships with the 97 other jurisdictions that have so far joined the agreement. 

    Panama’s delegated Competent Authority and its Director-General of Revenue Public Ricardo Cortes signed the CRS-MCAA, in the presence of OECD Deputy Secretary General Masamichi Kono. 

    It may be recalled that Panama had on July 15, 2016 — soon after the ‘Panama Papers’ expose — conveyed to the OECD, a club of rich nations, its intention to form part of the Multilateral Convention on Mutual Administrative Assistance in Tax Matters (MAC), which is now seen as “gold standard” for cooperation in tax administration. CRS-MCAA is the prime international agreement for implementing the automatic exchange of financial account information under MAC. 

  • Bangladesh agrees with Myanmar to complete Rohingya return in two years
    Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on 16th January to complete within two years the return of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who fled an army crackdown last year in Myanmar. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the U.N. Refugee Agency (UNHCR), responding to the plan, said they were concerned about forcibly repatriating over 650,000 Rohingya who fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after a conflict erupted in western Rakhine state in August. Statements from the Myanmar and Bangladesh foreign ministries said Bangladesh would set up five transit camps on its side of the border. Those camps would send Rohingyas to two reception centres in Myanmar. The repatriation process would start soon. Myanmar said it would build a transit camp that can house 30,000 returnees

    The meeting that concluded in Myanmar’s capital Naypyitaw was the first for a joint working group set up to hammer out the details of a November repatriation agreement. 

  • Nations at North Korea meeting at Vancouver agree to consider more sanctions
    A 20-nation meeting on North Korea at Vancouver agreed on 17th January to consider imposing unilateral sanctions on Pyongyang that go beyond those required by U.N. Security Council resolutions, the United States and Canada said in a joint statement. The meeting -- held to discuss North Korea’s nuclear weapons program -- also vowed to support dialogue between the two Koreas “in hopes that it leads to sustained easing of tensions” 

  • Over 5,000 killed or injured in Yemen conflict: UNICEF
    The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has said, more than 5,000 children have been killed or seriously wounded as a result of the conflict in Yemen. In a report, UNICEF said, over 11 million children need assistance. It called on the international community to work for the protection of children and an early end to the war. The agency warned that about 4 lakh children under 5 are in life threatening conditions. 

  • British lawmakers approve EU withdrawal Bill
    The marathon bill paving the way for Britain to leave the European Union (EU) passed a crucial stage in the House of Commons on 17th January. With the support of 324 MPs, and opposition by 295 MPs, a government majority of just 29, the bill for Exiting the EU aims to convert all European law into British law. The bill now heads to the House of Lords where it will undergo even more scrutiny and challenges from pro-EU unelected peers. 

    The withdrawal bill attracted more than 500 amendments which were discussed during more than 80 hours of debate in the chamber. The Brexit Withdrawal bill will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act which originally took Britain into what was then called the EEC in 1973. The bill, if eventually receiving royal assent by Queen Elizabeth, will also end the power of the European Court of Justice in Britain. 

  • US government officially shutdowns for first time in 5 years
    The US government officially shutdown on 20th January for the first time in five years after lawmakers failed to agree on a spending deal. Despite last minute bipartisan meetings, the bill to fund the government until 16 February did not receive the required 60 votes in the Senate. 

    The House of Representatives voted 230-197 to extend funding until February, but the measure failed to pass the Senate. Many government offices will close unless a compromise is found before the midnight deadline. 

    However, essential services like national security, post, air traffic control, inpatient medical services, emergency outpatient medicine, disaster assistance, prisons, taxation and electricity production will continue. The last US shutdown happened in 2013 over health care policy lasted for 16 days. 

  • Saudi Arabia gives green signal to India’s proposal to revive sea route for Haj pilgrimage
    According to the Minority Affairs Minister Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Saudi Arabia has given green signal to India’s proposal to revive option of Haj pilgrimage through sea route. It will be a revolutionary, pro-poor, pilgrim-friendly decision. Officials from both countries will discuss all formalities and technicalities so that Haj through sea route can be re-started in coming years. 

    The practice of ferrying Haj pilgrims between Mumbai and Jeddah by waterways was stopped from 1995. Saudi Arabia Haj Minister Dr. Mohamed Bentin and Mr Naqvi, who is on a Saudi Arabia visit, have signed bilateral annual Haj 2018 agreement in Makkah. 

    For the first time, Muslim women from India will go to Haj without Mehram, male companion. He said, separate accommodation and transport have been arranged for these women pilgrims in Saudi Arabia. Women Haj Assistant will be deployed for their assistance. 

  • North, South Korea Agree to Hold Talks to Improve Relations
    North and South Korea agreed 8th January to hold military talks to improve relations, the two nations announced after their first formal discussions in more than two years. The rival nations said in a joint statement they have agreed to "defuse the current military tension and to hold military talks to address the issue." 

    North Korea also agreed to participate in the Pyeong Chang Olympics to be held in February in South Korea. These agreements came out of high-level Inter-Korean talks held on 8th January in Panmunjom, the so-called "peace village" straddling the border where the 1953 armistice that ended the fighting in the Korean War was signed. 

    The talks were aimed at facilitating North Korea's participation in the Olympics, and finding ways to reduce heightened tensions over Pyongyang’s growing nuclear and missiles development programs. 

    The White House later said President Trump has committed to sending a "high-level" delegation to the Winter Olympics, and praised the agreement between Seoul and Pyongyang. 

    South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon, who led his country’s delegation in the talks, expressed hope that this first official inter-Korean meeting in two years will lead to further dialogue and cooperation. 

    At the talks, North Korea agreed to send to the Olympics a delegation of high-ranking officials, athletes, a cheering squad, a Taekwondo demonstration team, and a number of journalists. 

    Currently only two North Korean figure skaters have qualified for the games. Although North Korea missed the deadline to participate in the 2018 games, the International Olympic Committee could still extend invitations to compete. 

  • China to fund base in Afghanistan
    China will fund the construction of an Afghan counterterrorism base in Badakhshan province to block cross-border infiltration of ethnic Uyghur militants. 

    According to China Military Online, a website affiliated with the People’s Liberation Army, Gen. Xu said during his meeting with Mr. Barhami that China was willing to “strengthen pragmatic cooperation in areas of military exchange and anti-terrorism, and safeguard the security of the two countries and the region, making contributions to the development of China-Afghanistan strategic partnership of cooperation”. 

  • Ecuador grants citizenship to Julian Assange
    Ecuador has granted citizenship to Julian Assange. Ecuador Foreign Minister Maria Fernanda Espinosa announced this on 11th January. Espinosa informed that Assange, an Australian, became an Ecuadoran citizen on December 12. 

    The Wikileaks founder has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012, when he was faced with extradition to Sweden for allegedly sexually assaulting two women. Ecuador has also sought to give Assange diplomatic status, but Britain has rejected the request. 

    Diplomatic immunity would allow him to leave the embassy without the possibility of being arrested for jumping bail in 2012

  • US House passes crucial surveillance law
    The US House of Representatives passed a crucial surveillance law on 11th January that reinforced the ability of the country's spy agencies to intercept and make use of Americans' private communications. 

    The national security establishment saw the reauthorization of the expiring Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as essential, warning that they would not be able to detect terror plots without it. 

    While nearly all lawmakers agree that 702 is an essential tool for US intelligence to safeguard national security, the bill passed the House by 256-164, showing the level of opposition to the powers it gives US spies and law enforcement. The no votes included 45 Republicans. 

  • Syria: Reports of chlorine gas attack on rebel-held Eastern Ghouta
    In Syria, a chlorine gas attack has reportedly been carried out on a rebel-held enclave on the outskirts of capital Damascus. In the Eastern Ghouta region, which is under daily bombardment, reported a smell of gas after a missile strike. 

    It said, six people were treated for minor breathing problems. A number of chlorine gas attacks have been reported since Syria's civil war broke out, but the government has always denied using chemical agents. 

  • Pakistan bans Hafiz Saeed-led Foundations from collecting donations
    Pakistan on 1st January banned Mumbai attack mastermind Hafiz Saeed-led Jamaat-ud Dawa and Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation from collecting donations. The notification comes on a day when President Donald Trump accused Islamabad of giving nothing to the US but "lies and deceit" and providing "safe haven" to terrorists. 

    The Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP) issued a notification prohibiting the collection of donations by the JuD, the front organisation of banned outfit Lashkar-e-Taiba, as well as several other such organisations named in a list of banned outfits by the UN Security Council. 

    In addition to JuD, the list also includes LeT itself, the Falah-i-Insaniat Foundation (FIF), the Paasban-i-Ahle-Hadith and Pasban-i-Kashmir, among others. 

    The JuD is the front organisation for the LeT which is responsible for carrying out the Mumbai attack.It has been declared as a foreign terrorist organisation by the US in June 2014. 

  • US blocks $255 million military aid to Pakistan
    The United States has suspended its USD 255 million military aid to Pakistan for now, the White House has confirmed, saying the fate of such assistance will depend on Islamabad’s response to terrorism on its soil. The confirmation comes on the same day when US President Donald Trump accused Pakistan of giving nothing to the US but “lies and deceit” and providing “safe haven” to terrorists in return for USD 33 billion aid over the last 15 years. 

    The US administration continues to review Pakistan’s level of cooperation, the official said. Earlier in the day, US President Donald Trump, in his first tweet of the New Year, blasted the Pakistan leadership by saying that they have given America “nothing but lies and deceit” despite having received more than USD 33 billion in last 15 years. 

  • Bulgaria takes over revolving EU presidency
    Bulgaria, on 2nd January took over the the European Union's six-month revolving presidency with the ongoing migrant crisis and Brexit among the top items on its agenda. 

    The presidency, which rotates between different EU member states, will give Bulgaria the opportunity to chair meetings and set agendas, as the bloc grapples with the record influx of migrants, management of its borders, rising populism and Britain's EU divorce. 

    Taking over from Estonia, Bulgaria will have to manage a June deadline for EU leaders to agree an overhaul of the so- called Dublin Regulation, under which the country where an asylum seeker arrives is responsible for them. 

    Taking up the presidency also gives Bulgaria an opportunity to improve its image as the bloc's most corrupt country. 

  • Will restore hotline with South Korea: North Korea
    North Korea on 3rd January said, it will restore a hotline with South Korea. The development follows proposed high-level talks by Seoul in response to North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un's calls for better relations and suggestion that his country might attend the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February, 2018. 

    A North Korean official announced in a televised statement that Mr Kim has given an order to open a long-closed border hotline with South Korea for talks. 

    The official said, the talks would aim to establish formal dialogue about sending a North Korean delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics. 

    The Yonhap news agency quoted the Head of North Korea's agency handling inter-Korean affairs, Ri Son-gwon, as saying that by upholding a decision by the leadership, Pyongyang will make close contact with South Korea in a sincere and faithful manner. 

  • North Korea reopens cross-border hotline with South Korea
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un reopened a key cross-border communication channel with South Korea for the first time in nearly two years on 3rd January as the rivals explored the possibility of sitting down and talking after months of acrimony and fears of war. 

    The sudden signs of easing hostilities, however, came as President Donald Trump threatened Kim with nuclear war in response to his threat. 

    In his New Year's address, Kim said he was willing to send a delegation to next month's Winter Olympics in South Korea. But he also said he has a "nuclear button" on his desk and that all U.S. territory is within striking distance of his nuclear weapons, comments Trump latched onto when he boasted of a bigger and more powerful "nuclear button" than Kim's. 

    The two leaders exchanged crude insults last year, as the North received new U.N. sanctions over its sixth and most powerful nuclear test explosion and a series of intercontinental ballistic missile launches. 

    The recent softening of contact between the rival Koreas may show a shared interest in improved ties, but there's no guarantee tensions will ease. There have been repeated attempts in recent years by the rivals to talk, but even when they do meet, the efforts often end in recriminations and stalemate. 

  • North Korea accepts South Korea's offer for dialogue
    North Korea has agreed to open dialogue with neighbouring South Korea for the first time in more than two years. South Korea's Unification Ministry confirmed in Seoul on 5th January that the North KOrean government has notified that it will send delegates to the high level talks. 

    The meeting will be held on 9th January at the border village of Panmunjom, inside the demilitarised zone (DMZ). The announcement of diplomatic talks came just hours after the US and South Korea agreed to suspend military exercises off the peninsula until after the Winter Games.
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