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If Trump and Kim can meet, why can’t India-Pakistan leaders: Nepali Foreign Minister

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Mehbooba Mufti

New Delhi | Nepal on Friday strongly pitched for convening of the SAARC summit, saying differences should be resolved through dialogue and the grouping should collectively deal with terrorism and other key challenges facing the region.

Nepalese Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali also cited last year’s historic talks between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore, saying dialogue was the only way to address differences.

“If US President Trump and North Korea’s Kim can meet, then why not (leaders of) other countries,” he asked during an interaction with a group of foreign policy experts and reporters.

It is Pakistan’s turn to host the summit. However, India, citing continued support to cross-border terrorism by Pakistan, has been maintaining that it is difficult to proceed with the summit.

The SAARC (South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation) Summit was to be held in Islamabad. But after a deadly terrorist attack on an Indian Army camp in Jammu and Kashmir that year, India expressed its inability to participate in it.

The summit was called off after Bangladesh, Bhutan and Afghanistan also declined to participate in the meet. Maldives and Sri Lanka are the seventh and eighth members of the grouping.

“There is no alternative to sitting together and mitigating differences. The problems we (the region) are facing cannot be resolved alone. We need to put collective efforts to deal with various key challenges like climate change and terrorism,” Mr Gyawali said.

The Nepalese foreign minister, who held bilateral talks with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Thursday, said his country has been raising the issue of the SAARC summit with India.

“I am hopeful the summit will be held soon,” Gyawali said. SAARC summits are usually held biennially, hosted by a member state in alphabetical order. The member state hosting the summit assumes the chair of the Association.

The last SAARC Summit in 2014 was held in Kathmandu, which was attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Nepalese foreign minister also said he has requested the Indian government to replace Rs. 7 crore worth of old Indian currency notes with new ones. Following the demonetisation exercise in India, people in Nepal deposited the old notes in banks in Nepal. Indian currency is extensively used by Nepalese people and businesses. The Nepalese government last month asked its citizens to refrain from keeping or carrying Indian bank notes higher than Rs.100 denomination.

On Nepal’s ties with China, Mr Gyawali said Nepal has very close ties with India and it will be unfair to compare his country’s relationship with India to that of China. “We have a wonderful relationship with India. I do not want to compare it with our ties with China. We have a good relationship with China and I do not want to compare it with India,” he said. The minister also said the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) on Nepal-India relations was finalising its report covering all aspects of the bilateral ties and asserted that there was no difference of opinion between the two sides on the issue.

The EPG was formed in January 2016 with the mandate to review various aspects of the bilateral relations including Nepal-India Friendship Treaty 1950.

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China’s top trade negotiator to visit US January 30-31

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China

Beijing | China’s top trade negotiator will travel to the United States to resume talks later this month ahead of a March deadline to avoid bruising tariff hikes, the commerce ministry said on Thursday.

Vice Premier Liu He will visit Washington on January 30-31 for the negotiations, the ministry said, following up on talks by lower-level officials in Beijing earlier this month.

US President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping agreed to a three-month trade war truce in December, suspending US plans to increase tariffs on billions of dollars in Chinese goods to give negotiators space to find a solution.

Liu and US officials will “hold negotiations on economic and trade issues and work together to push forward and implement the consensus” reached by Xi and Trump, ministry spokesman Gao Feng told reporters.

China’s senior negotiator will travel at the invitation of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Gao said. Without a resolution, punitive US duty rates on USD 200 billion in Chinese goods are due to rise to 25 per cent from 10 per cent on March 2.

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Indian-American Raja Krishnamoorthi 1st South Asian to serve on powerful committee on intelligence

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Raja Krishnamoorthi

Washington | Indian-American Democratic lawmaker Raja Krishnamoorthy has been appointed as a member of a Congressional committee on intelligence, becoming the first South Asian to serve in the powerful body tasked to strengthen America’s national security.

Krishnamoorthy, 45, who represents Illinois’s 8th congressional district in the House, was chosen along with Congresswoman Val Demings of Florida, Sean Patrick Maloney of New York and Peter Welch of Vermont as the four new Democratic members of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence (HPSCI) for the 116th Congress.

The HPSCI is tasked with overseeing the activities and budget of the 17 intelligence agencies of the US. Speaker of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi appointed Krishnamoorthi Wednesday.

Pelosi said, “Our new members of the Intelligence Committee bring exceptional judgment, expertise and determination to our mission to honour that oath and, guided by the strong, principled leadership of Chairman Adam Schiff, will restore the long tradition of bipartisanship and integrity of this critical committee. “We look forward to the many contributions these new members will bring to Democrats’ work to strengthen America’s national security and defend our democracy”.

Krishnamoorthi, after Pelosi announced his appointment, said: “It is very humbling to be chosen to serve on the Intelligence Committee in this Congress, and I am ready to join with my colleagues in preserving the safety and security of our nation”.

“The intelligence challenges and international threats facing our country today are vast, ranging from terrorism to cyberwarfare to investigating Russia’s previous and continuing attempts to sabotage our democracy.

“I am honoured that the Speaker and Caucus have placed their trust in me and the contributions I’ll make to the Committee. When I took the oath of office, I swore to protect and defend the Constitution from all threats, foreign and domestic, and I know that the work we do under the leadership of Chairman Adam Schiff will fulfil that solemn duty,” Krishnamoorthi said.

Born into a Tamil-speaking family in New Delhi, his family moved to Buffalo, New York when he was three months old. Krishnamoorthi attended Princeton University, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. He also attended Harvard Law School.

Early this week, Pelosi appointed Indian-American Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal to the House Education and Labour Committee.

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US tells Taliban it must talk to Afghan government

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Aghan Taliban

Kabul | The US envoy in Afghanistan has said on Wednesday that a peaceful end to the 17-year conflict requires the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government, which they have consistently refused.

Zalmay Khalilzad spoke to reporters in Kabul on his latest visit to the war-torn country, where he is at the centre of a flurry of diplomatic efforts to bring an end to the conflict which began with the US invasion of 2001.

“The road to peace will require Taliban to sit with other Afghans, including the government,” Khalilzad said.

“There is a consensus among all regional partners on this point,” he added, according to quotes sent to the US embassy in Kabul.

The insurgents have long refused to hold direct talks with the Kabul government, which they dismiss as a puppet of Washington.

Taliban representatives have met several times with US officials in recent months, but earlier this week threatened to suspend the fledgling peace efforts, accusing the US of changing the agenda of the talks and “unilaterally” adding new subjects.

“If the Talibs want to talk, we can talk, if they want to fight we can fight. We hope that the Talibs want to make peace,” Khalilzad said in response to the threat.

The envoy arrived in Kabul on late Tuesday, where he met with the country’s political leaders. On his third tour of the region since his appointment in September, he had previously travelled to India, the United Arab Emirates and China. He is expected next in Pakistan.

His tour comes shortly after US officials said in December that President Donald Trump intends to withdraw as many as half of the 14,000 US troops deployed in Afghanistan.

Khalilzad Wednesday said that if the Taliban choose to continue fighting, “The United States will stand with the Afghan government and the Afghan people and support them”.

He dismissed reports the US wanted to maintain military bases in the country.

“We have never said we want permanent military bases in Afghanistan,” he said.

“What we want is to see this conflict end through negotiation, and to continue our partnership with Afghanistan, and to ensure no terrorist threatens either of us.” In the long run, the US is seeking a military, diplomatic and economic relationship with Afghanistan, he added.

Khalilzad, a former US ambassador to Afghanistan, said he hopes for fresh talks with the Taliban “very soon”.

The US is not the only country dancing around talks with the militants. Russia and Iran have held meetings with the Taliban in recent months, while China has also made overtures. Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan are all participating in the US efforts.

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