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Won’t ‘abandon’ Saudi over Khashoggi killing: Donald Trump

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Donald Trump

Washington | US President Donald Trump has defended his decision not to hold Saudi rulers accountable in the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying maintaining strategic ties with the kingdom and keeping the global oil prices down were in the best interest of America.

The death of Khashoggi, a onetime insider turned critic of the crown prince and a resident of the US, has spurred a wave of international anger against Saudi Arabia and its rulers.

The US last week imposed sanctions on 17 individuals of Saudi Arabia for serious human rights abuse resulting from their roles in the killing of Khashoggi at the kingdom’s Consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

“Because it’s America first to me,” Trump told reporters, adding that despite Khashoggi’s murder, the US will remain a “steadfast partner” of Saudi Arabia to ensure its interests as well as those of Israel and all other partners in the region.

“It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world!” he said in a statement that immediately drew sharp criticism from his political opponents.

“I’m shocked that President Trump said there will be no punishment for Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said as she and several other lawmakers announced their plan to bring in legislations to block arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Responding to questions from reporters at the White House before leaving for Florida to spend his Thanksgiving holidays, Trump said his decision was all about America first.

“We’re not going to give up hundreds of billions of dollars in orders and let Russia, China and everybody else have them. It’s all about — for me — very simple, it’s America first,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia, if we broke with them, I think your oil prices would go through the roof. I’ve kept them down. They’ve helped me keep them down. Right now, we have low oil prices, or relatively I’d like to see it go down even lower. “But I think that it’s a very simple equation for me. I’m about making America great again and I’m about America first,” Trump argued.

He denied the allegations that this was at the expense of human rights. “No, I’m not saying that at all. If you look at Iran… and you look at what they’re doing, they are a terrorist nation right now. Although, I must tell you, they’re a lot better right now than they were when I took office. When I took office, they were heading in a very, very bad direction.

“At some point, things very positive, frankly, could happen with Iran, but we also need a counterbalance. And Israel needs help also. If we abandon Saudi Arabia, it would be a terrible mistake,” Trump warned.

The President refuted The Washington Post’s allegations that by taking such a decision, he was putting his personal and commercial interests ahead of national interests.

“Well, I have nothing to do with Saudi — just so you understand, I don’t make deals with Saudi Arabia. I don’t have money from Saudi Arabia. I have nothing to do with Saudi Arabia. I couldn’t care less,” he said. “I will tell you and as most of you know, being President has cost me a fortune and that’s okay with me,” he said.

“All I do is focus on this country and making great deals for this country. I don’t focus on making on great deals for myself because I don’t care anymore,” Trump said. Saudi Arabia, Trump said, is buying hundreds of billions of dollars worth of things from the US.

“If I say we don’t want to take your business, if I say we’re going to cut it off, they will get the equipment — military equipment and other things — from Russia and China,” he said, adding that in that case the two countries would be “very, very happy” because right now the US is doing “very well” against China.

“We’re doing very well against everybody including Russia. I’m going to keep it that way. I’m not going to tell a country that is spending hundreds of billions of dollars and has helped me do one thing very importantly — keep oil prices down so that they’re not going to USD 100 and USD 150 dollars a barrel,” he said.

Noting that the oil prices right now are in a great shape, Trump insisted that he is not going to destroy the world economy. “I’m not going to destroy the economy for our country by being foolish with Saudi Arabia,” he added.

International

Three MPs quit UK PM May’s party over Brexit

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London | Three MPs resigned from British Prime Minister Theresa May’s ruling Conservative party on Wednesday over what they described as a “shift to the right” on issues such as Brexit.

Anti-Brexiteers Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen wrote to May, informing her of their decision just hours before she heads to Brussels to seek concessions from the EU on a withdrawal agreement to get it passed through Parliament before the March 29 deadline.

May, who is now left with an even shakier majority in the House of Commons than before, said she was “saddened” by her colleagues’ move but insisted the government was on the right track as she made her appearance for the weekly Prime Minister’s Questions in Parliament.

The three MPs, who will now join the breakaway Independent Group created by seven Opposition Labour MPs who had resigned earlier this week, said Brexit has “re-defined the Conservative Party – undoing all the efforts to modernise it” and there had been a “shift to the right”.

“Brexit has re-defined the Conservative party undoing all the efforts to modernise it. There has been a dismal failure to stand up to the hardline ERG (European Research Group), which operates openly as a party within a party, with its own leader, whip and policy,” the MPs said in their letter, in reference to the hardline Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg led ERG group within the Tories.

“The country deserves better. We believe there is a failure of politics in general, not just in the Conservative party but in both main parties as they move to the fringes, leaving millions of people with no representation. Our politics needs urgent and radical reform and we are determined to play our part,” the letter adds.

Soubry is a former government minister as part of former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Cabinet, while Wollaston is Chair of the Commons Health and Social Care Committee. Allen was elected to Parliament in 2015 and has been an outspoken MP since.

“I am saddened by this decision these are people who have given dedicated service to our party over many years, and I thank them for it,” May said in her statement in response to the spate of resignations.

She admitted that the UK’s membership of the EU has been a source of disagreement in the party, adding that by implementing the decision of the British people, she is doing the “right thing” for the country.

The new splinter group calling itself the Independent Group was created on Monday by seven former Labour MPs Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey with an eighth Labour MP Joan Ryan joining the ranks on Tuesday.

It would now seem like the group is gaining some momentum as the members move away from their party benches to sit independently in the Commons.

The common factor uniting different sides of the political divide in the form of the new splinter group is the contours of Britain’s exit from the EU, with some demanding a second referendum to let the British public have another say and others unhappy with the deal on the table.

May will seek to revisit the withdrawal agreement during her meeting with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who has repeatedly ruled out the reopening of the draft agreement reached at the end of last year.

Unless both sides are able to strike an amicable deal on Britain’s exit that can pass through the UK Parliament in time for the March 29 deadline, the UK is set to crash out in a chaotic no-deal Brexit with no arrangements in place.

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Putin warns new missiles could target ‘decision-making centres’

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Moscow | President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday said Russia would have to deploy missiles targeting “decision-making centres” if Washington sends missiles to Europe.

The announcement comes after the US said it would withdraw from a key Cold War-era arms treaty over what it said were Russian violations, prompting a mirror move from Moscow.

“Russia does not intend to be the first to deploy such missiles in Europe,” Putin said during an annual state of the nation address.

“If (the US) develops and deploys them in Europe… this will dramatically exacerbate the international security situation, creating serious threats to Russia,” he said.

“I’m saying this clearly and openly, Russia will be forced to deploy weapons that can be used… against the decision-making centres that are behind the missiles systems which threaten us.”

He earlier accused Washington of using “far-fetched accusations” to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) agreement.

Putin said he understood concerns about the bilateral deal, namely that other countries could continue to develop weapons that are banned for the US and Russia.

“The current state of affairs of course raises questions,” he told the audience of lawmakers and celebrities.

“Our American partners should have been honest… and not use far-fetched accusations against Russia to justify their unilateral withdrawal from the treaty,” he added.

The United States has repeatedly accused Russia of violating the INF by developing banned weapons and this month President Donald Trump said Washington was starting a process to withdraw from the treaty.

In a tit-for-tat move, Putin said Moscow was also leaving the treaty and beginning work on new types of weapons that would breach the agreement.

Many analysts say abandoning the treaty effectively signalled the start of a new arms race.

The INF deal was signed in 1987 by then US president Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and resolved a crisis over Soviet nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles targeting Western capitals.

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China closes Tibet to foreigners for sensitive anniversaries

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Beijing | China is keeping foreign travellers out of Tibet during sensitive political anniversaries.

Travel agencies contacted on Wednesday said foreign tourists would not be allowed into the Himalayan region until April 1. It’s not clear when the ban started, although some monitoring groups said it started this month.

March 10 is the 60th anniversary of an abortive 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, while anti-government riots occurred March 14, 2008, in the regional capital Lhasa.

While the foreigner travel ban is an annual occurrence, the occasion of the 60th anniversary is drawing special attention from the authorities. Amid heavy security on the ground, Tibet is almost entirely closed to foreign journalists and diplomats and information about actual conditions there is hard to obtain.

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