Monthly Archives: July 2018

Trump Presses Demand for Wall Along US-Mexico Border

U.S. President Donald Trump pressed Congress again Monday to approve the controversial construction of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border to thwart illegal immigration.

“Border security is national security,” the U.S. leader told a White House news conference after meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, another Western leader who has adopted a hard-line immigration posture. “Strong nations must have strong borders.”

Trump called the U.S. “the laughingstock of the world, with the worst immigration laws anywhere in the world.”

Trump, expanding on the immigration comments he posted on Twitter the day before, said he would have “no problem doing a shutdown” of U.S. government operations at the end of September when current funding expires if he does not win approval for the wall, a key pledge of his during the 2016 presidential campaign.

But when asked whether he wants approval of full $25 billion funding for the wall, as well as other tougher immigration changes he has demanded in order to avert a shutdown, he replied, “I always leave room for negotiation.”

In addition to the wall, Trump has called for the end to a visa lottery allowing migrants from overseas to move to the U.S. Instead, he wants a “merit” system in which job skills and education of the migrants play an important role in whether they are allowed into the country.

“We have laws that don’t work,” Trump said. “We have to end these horrible ‘catch and release’ principles where you catch somebody, you take their name and you release them. You don’t even know who they are. The whole thing is ridiculous.”

Trump praised Conte for demanding that other European countries share the responsibility for handling the thousands of migrants who have descended on Italian shores as they escaped Africa and headed across the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.

Trump’s bid for funding a border wall in late September is uncertain.

In recent weeks, the House of Representatives already defeated two immigration proposals Trump supported. Any new action in late September would seem unlikely, coming about five weeks before nationwide congressional elections, a time when most lawmakers are unwilling to debate and vote on controversial issues like immigration.

Source: Voice of America

US Confirms Deployment of Armed Drones in Niger

U.S. forces started deploying armed drones in the west African country of Niger earlier this year to attack Islamist militants, the U.S. military said Monday.

Niger’s government granted American forces permission last November to arm their drones but neither side had previously confirmed their deployment. Before that, U.S. drones had only been used for surveillance.

The U.S. military presence in Niger has expanded in recent years to an 800-strong force that accompanies Nigerien troops on intelligence gathering and other missions, reflecting U.S. concerns about rising militancy in West Africa’s Sahel region.

An ambush by a local Islamic State affiliate in western Niger last October killed four U.S. soldiers. Jihadist groups based in neighboring Mali have also struck military and civilian targets as far afield as Ivory Coast.

“In coordination with the Government of Niger, U.S. Africa Command has armed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft already in Niger,” a spokesperson for United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) said in an email.

“As a matter of operational security, we do not discuss where strike platforms originate from, nor current or future operations.”

The drones are currently being flown out of a base in the capital Niamey while the military completes construction of a $100 million drone base in the central city of Agadez.

The military views the drones as a cost-efficient way to counter the militants but critics fear that drone strikes will cause civilian casualties and trigger blowback from the local population.

Source: Voice of America

US Confirms Deployment of Armed Drones in Niger

U.S. forces started deploying armed drones in the west African country of Niger earlier this year to attack Islamist militants, the U.S. military said Monday.

Niger’s government granted American forces permission last November to arm their drones but neither side had previously confirmed their deployment. Before that, U.S. drones had only been used for surveillance.

The U.S. military presence in Niger has expanded in recent years to an 800-strong force that accompanies Nigerien troops on intelligence gathering and other missions, reflecting U.S. concerns about rising militancy in West Africa’s Sahel region.

An ambush by a local Islamic State affiliate in western Niger last October killed four U.S. soldiers. Jihadist groups based in neighboring Mali have also struck military and civilian targets as far afield as Ivory Coast.

“In coordination with the Government of Niger, U.S. Africa Command has armed intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft already in Niger,” a spokesperson for United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) said in an email.

“As a matter of operational security, we do not discuss where strike platforms originate from, nor current or future operations.”

The drones are currently being flown out of a base in the capital Niamey while the military completes construction of a $100 million drone base in the central city of Agadez.

The military views the drones as a cost-efficient way to counter the militants but critics fear that drone strikes will cause civilian casualties and trigger blowback from the local population.

Source: Voice of America

Mali Presidential Election Marred by Violence

Malians went to the polls Sunday, in what’s widely expected to be the first round of Mali’s presidential elections. The atmosphere was calm in the capital but instances of violence were reported in other parts of the country.

Voting has been slow in the Malian capital Bamako. At 8 a.m., there were very few people at the voting stations, in keeping with the low rate of voter card collection by the Bamako electorate. And some were even less lucky.

“I’m Eli Togo. I never got my voter card,” says this voter. “I went to look for it, but it was not available. That’s a shame because I would have loved to cast my vote for my candidate. But let the best win and rule with love for our country in his heart.”

There also were other reasons why Malians could not vote. By early Sunday afternoon, there were reports of attacks in the north and central regions of the country. Timbuktu, Kidal and Mopti reported violent incidents that prevented some people from casting their votes. At least 10 incidents of violence at polling stations and against election officials had been reported by midafternoon.

These are the areas that have presidential candidate CheikhModiboDiarra worried, and not just because of the violence. There are two regions where roughly only half of the residents have been receiving there voting cards.

“For Timbuktu, that means some 175,000 votes,” he said. “But when you get to Mopti, you’re talking about 1.1 million voters. If 60 percent of those people can’t vote that means 650,000. Now provided somebody put their hands on those bulletins on behalf of those people that can bias, you’ll agree with me, heavily the outcome of this election.”

On Saturday, the government and the opposition, in the presence of international observers, reached what they called a consensus on the elimination of fictitious voters and a parallel register, which the opposition claimed tilted the election in the government’s favor by a whopping 1.2 million possible votes.

Diarra and his opposition colleagues now hope the contest will be more transparent.

Mali’s vote is crucial for the international community led by France and the United States, which is using the country as a cornerstone for its fight against terrorist groups in the region. Neighbors such as Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger, which are also affected by Mali’s instabilities as they have hosted tens of thousands of refugees since the country’s conflict began in 2012, are also keenly watching the outcome.

Malians consider it their civic duty to vote but have little confidence in the current system changing. Some analysts have been predicting an upset, and in terms of names this means that either President Ibrahim BoubacarKeAta or his main challenger, SoumaAlaCisse, would not win more than 50 percent of the vote, leading to a second vote on Aug. 12.

Results of Sunday’s vote may be known by Wednesday, although a final result is not expected until Friday.

Source: Voice of America

Report: Revive Cold War Contacts to Stop Spread of Nuclear Weapons

The United States and Russia urgently need to revive Cold War-era cooperation to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, according to a new report.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies report, entitled “Once and Future Partners: The United States, Russia and Nuclear Non-Proliferation,” uses newly declassified intelligence archives to shed light on the key personal exchanges between the Cold War foes that helped sustain the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

It also highlights a key moment in Cold War cooperation that helped prevent the spread of nuclear weapons to the African continent.

In August 1977, Soviet spy satellites detected preparations for a nuclear weapons test at the Vastrap military base in South Africa’s Kalahari desert. Moscow’s decision to consult Washington before going public with the discovery indicates the Cold War foes could still work together in non-proliferation matters, says Nicholas Redman of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“The Soviet Union did not have diplomatic relations with the apartheid regime. It did, however, have intelligence which suggested that [nuclear] test preparations were underway. The Soviets took the risk of sharing this intelligence with the United States. The United States did have relations with Pretoria, had indeed assisted the civilian nuclear program, but evidently had no interest in allowing South Africa to conduct a nuclear test,” Redman said.

Pretoria denied it planned to conduct any nuclear test. However, U.S. intelligence soon confirmed the presence of the test site and helped pressure South Africa into abandoning its plans. The destruction of the Kalahari facility was eventually overseen by inspectors from the U.N. nuclear watchdog the IAEA in 1993.

The collaboration between Cold War foes, led then by U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, is one of numerous examples of Washington and Moscow working together to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

“Personal relations were absolutely key to building not only the non-proliferation treaty, but the entire non-proliferation regime that then grew around it. The fact that there were arms control specialists and scientific specialists in both governments, the fact that they met regularly … this was actually vital in building the entire regime,” Redman added.

The construction of that regime entailed a decade of U.N. talks in Geneva during the 1960s, culminating in the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, which remains the cornerstone of efforts to prevent the spread of atomic weapons and a testimony to Cold War cooperation.

Increased pressure

But half a century later, the IISS report warns the NPT is under pressure from many sides, just as relations between Moscow and Washington are worse than at any point since the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

“So there’s a need for an investment to rebuild these habits of cooperation because the threats haven’t actually gone away. There are still a lot of nuclear weapons that aren’t as secure as we would like them to be. There are even more nuclear materials,” Redman said.

There are fears of a new arms race, with Russia developing tactical atomic weapons and the United States modernizing its nuclear capabilities.

The 2017 Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons was not signed by any nuclear powers and shows a growing divide between countries with and those without atomic weapons.

“Unless the United States and Russia cooperate, the problem is they could very quickly lose the initiative that they have held up till now in the nuclear proliferation sphere,” Redman said.

International image

The report identifies seven lessons that may help to revive non-proliferation cooperation, including “recognition by policymakers on both sides that their countries’ international images typically were enhanced when they were seen to cooperate.”

The report urges policymakers in both the United States and Russia to learn lessons from Cold War history as the world still faces grave nuclear threats.

Source: Voice of America