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  Treasury Targets Sanctions Evasion Conduits for Major Hizballah Financiers

WASHINGTON.- Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) further targeted the global business operations of Hizballah by designating two individuals and three entities acting as conduits for sanctions evasion schemes.

Specifically, OFAC designated Belgium-based Wael Bazzi for acting for or on behalf of his father and Hizballah financier, Mohammad Bazzi. OFAC designated Belgium-based Voltra Transcor Energy BVBA, Belgium-based OFFISCOOP NV, and United Kingdom-based BSQRD Limited for being owned or controlled by Wael Bazzi.

OFAC is also adding Energy Engineers Procurement and Construction as an alias for Global Trading Group NV (GTG), one of Mohammad Bazzi’s companies, which was designated in May 2018. Additionally, OFAC designated Lebanon-based Hassan Tabaja for acting for or on behalf of his brother and Hizballah member and financier, Adham Tabaja.

These individuals and entities were designated under Executive Order (E.O.) 13224, which targets terrorists and those providing support to terrorists or acts of terrorism.

“Treasury is relentlessly pursuing Hizballah’s financial facilitators by dismantling two of Hizballah’s most important financial networks. As Hizballah continues to attempt to obscure its activities by using seemingly legitimate businesses, we will continue to take action against the front persons who hide the movement of money, including the relatives of designated terrorists,” said Sigal Mandelker, Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence. “By targeting Hassan Tabaja and Wael Bazzi and their European-based companies, this Administration is continuing to disrupt all avenues of financial support relied upon by Hizballah.”

Today’s designation of Hassan Tabaja and Wael Bazzi and his companies builds on the State Department’s April 22, 2019 announcement of a Rewards for Justice (RFJ) reward offer for information leading to the disruption of Hizballah’s financial mechanisms. The program provides rewards for information that helps bring terrorists to justice, prevents international acts of terrorism against U.S. persons or property, leads to the identification or location of a key terrorist leader, or disrupts terrorist financing. OFAC is designating individuals and entities connected to two of the financiers highlighted in that announcement, Mohammad Bazzi and Adham Tabaja. For more information about the reward offer or to submit information on Hizballah’s financial networks, visit the Rewards for Justice website at or contact the Rewards for Justice office via the confidential e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Today’s action also builds on the unprecedented number of designations taken in 2018 exposing Hizballah’s terrorist support networks and pervasive use of seemingly legitimate businesses to launder money and foment regional conflict. Hizballah and its proxies continue to use deceptive practices to circumvent sanctions, such as the use of family members and others to gain access to the formal financial system both in Lebanon and beyond. As a standard practice, the regulated public should undertake know-your-customer due diligence to ensure awareness of the ultimate beneficiaries of transactions. In cases with known links to designated terrorists, enhanced due diligence should be applied to ensure that the underlying activity is not in violation of U.S. sanctions. The Treasury Department is determined to protect the integrity of the U.S., Lebanese, and international financial system to ensure that Hizballah cannot exploit them to further its political, financial, or operational agenda.

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these persons, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated persons, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

Additionally, the two individuals and three entities designated today are subject to secondary sanctions pursuant to the Hizballah Financial Sanctions Regulations, which implements the Hizballah International Financing Prevention Act of 2015. Pursuant to this authority, OFAC can prohibit or impose strict conditions on the opening or maintaining in the United States of a correspondent account or a payable-through account by a foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transaction for Hizballah, or a person acting on behalf of or at the direction of, or owned or controlled by, Hizballah.

Hizballah was designated by the Department of State as a Foreign Terrorist Organization in October 1997 and as a Specially Designated Global Terrorist (SDGT) pursuant to E.O. 13224 in October 2001. It was listed in January 1995 in the Annex to E.O. 12947, which targets terrorists who threaten to disrupt the Middle East peace process, and also designated in August 2012 pursuant to E.O. 13582, which targets the Government of Syria and its supporters.

OFAC designated Adham Tabaja as an SDGT in June 2015 for providing support and services to Hizballah. Adham Tabaja is a Hizballah member and majority owner of the designated Lebanon-based real estate development and construction firm Al-Inmaa Group for Tourism Works and its subsidiaries. His company has been used by Hizballah as an investment mechanism. He maintains direct ties to senior Hizballah organizational elements, including the terrorist group’s operational component, the Islamic Jihad, the unit responsible for carrying out the group’s overseas terrorist activities. Specifically, Islamic Jihad member Husayn Ali Faour, whom OFAC designated concurrently with Adham Tabaja in June 2015, has worked with Adham Tabaja to secure and manage construction, oil, and other projects in Iraq. Adham Tabaja’s global network of seemingly legitimate businesses combined with his ties to Hizballah’s terrorist unit make it critically important that his access to the international financial system is severed to ensure that he cannot fund this terrorist group.

Adham Tabaja maintains ties to other major Hizballah financiers, including Mohammad Bazzi, whom OFAC designated as an SDGT in May 2018 for assisting in, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Hizballah. Mohammad Bazzi, who operates or transacts in or through Belgium, Lebanon, Iraq, and several countries in West Africa, provided Hizballah financial assistance for many years and has provided millions of dollars to Hizballah generated from his business activities. In addition, Mohammad Bazzi was a close associate of Yahya Jammeh who was identified on December 20, 2017, in the annex to E.O. 13818, which implemented the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. Since his designation in May 2018, Mohammad Bazzi has continued to work with other Treasury-designated, senior Hizballah members.

Wael Bazzi was designated for acting for or on behalf of Mohammad Bazzi.

Since his designation in May 2018, Mohammad Bazzi has turned to his son, Wael Bazzi, to continue doing business in the Gambia. Mohammad Bazzi has been able to conduct business through Wael Bazzi, upon whom he has continued to rely on to register new businesses and bid on Gambian government contracts. Wael Bazzi formed a petroleum company to maintain his father’s access to the oil industry. Additionally, Mohammad Bazzi coordinated with Wael Bazzi and a Belgium-based GTG employee to change GTG’s name after GTG’s designation. Wael Bazzi was the purported owner of this new company, likely to obscure Mohammad Bazzi’s involvement and circumvent Mohammad Bazzi‘s designation.

Wael Bazzi has helped Mohammad Bazzi and a Lebanon-based associate facilitate payments for a business contract. Additionally, Wael Bazzi likely established an account for Voltra Transcor Energy, in connection with Mohammad Bazzi’s attempted use of an intermediary company to move money to GTG and circumvent OFAC sanctions. In 2017, Mohammad Bazzi planned to submit his son, Wael Bazzi, to fill the Lebanese Consular position in the Gambia because he could exert his influence over Wael. As of at least early 2018, Wael Bazzi has been witting of Mohammad Bazzi’s involvement in illicit activity.

On August 9, 2018, GTG changed its name to Energy Engineers Procurement and Construction.

Voltra Transcor Energy BVBA
Voltra Transcor Energy BVBA was designated for being owned or controlled by Wael Bazzi.

Wael Bazzi is the Chief Executive of Belgium-based Voltra Transcor Energy BVBA, which is involved in the petroleum products industry. Wael Bazzi established an account for Voltra Transcor Energy, which Mohammad Bazzi attempted to use as an intermediary company to move money to GTG and circumvent OFAC sanctions.

OFFISCOOP NV was designated for being owned or controlled by Wael Bazzi.

Wael Bazzi is the Chief Executive, Managing Director, and Director of Belgium-based OFFISCOOP NV, which is involved in the management consulting services industry.

BSQRD Limited
BSQRD Limited was designated for being owned or controlled by Wael Bazzi.

Wael Bazzi is the Chief Executive, Director, and 50% owner of United Kingdom-based BSQRD Limited, which is involved in the computer-related services industry.

Hassan Tabaja was designated for acting for or on behalf of Adham Tabaja.

Hassan Tabaja managed multiple properties in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) belonging to his brother, Adham Tabaja; however, in the summer of 2018 Emirati authorities took swift action against Hassan Tabaja and the assets he controlled as a result of his nefarious activities. Hassan Tabaja is the legal representative for Adham Tabaja, has Power of Attorney (PoA) for him, and is named the executor of his property. Accordingly, Hassan Tabaja was granted the power to make legal, real estate, and financial decisions; sign for business matters; buy and sell vehicles; take out loans; take out insurance policies; and cancel the PoA and any agreements in conjunction with and on behalf of Adham Tabaja.

Hassan Tabaja, likely on behalf of Adham Tabaja, has also pursued business transactions with Mohamad Noureddine, a Lebanese money launderer, whom OFAC designated as a SDGT pursuant to E.O. 13224 in January 2016, for providing financial services to or in support of, Hizballah.

View identifying information on the individuals and entities designated today.




  US-China Trade Dispute Compounds Ag Industry Headaches

MOLINE, ILLINOIS, (KANE FARABAUGH-VOANEWS).- It’s been almost two decades since Illinois farmer Scott Halpin drove a newer tractor through the fields of Grundy County.

Thankfully, as he helps pour soybean seeds into the planter that eventually will place them in the soil, the equipment his family is using is well-serviced and —so far — reliable.

Hopefully, that doesn’t change anytime soon, because Halpin says he can’t afford it.

“Not under this farm economy,” he told VOA, peering at the fields and the iconic green and yellow tractors his family owns, made in America by John Deere, headquartered in Moline, Illinois.

​New equipment more expensive

John Deere saw a surge in sales and profits in the early part of 2018, but that was before aluminum and steel tariffs were imposed by the United States on China.

Now Deere, which uses steel in its equipment, plans to increase prices for 2019 models to protect profits.

That means it isn’t getting cheaper for Halpin to make a new purchase.

“The increased cost of equipment with the declining farm economy right now doesn’t make it real smart for us, or doesn’t make it what we want to do for our farming operation here,” he said.

As tensions ease somewhat over a potential trade war while negotiations continue between the U.S. and China, uncertainty remains about tariffs and the eventual impact on the U.S. agricultural industry. It’s taking a toll on U.S. farmers like Halpin, heading to the fields to plant this year’s crop. It’s also a growing concern for companies that supply the U.S. agricultural industry.

Hit from both sides

“For companies like John Deere and Caterpillar, they really get hit on both sides of the trade dispute spectrum,” said Mark Grywacheski, an investment adviser with the Quad Cities Investment Group. He explained that the cost for farmers and their suppliers to do business expands beyond the additional tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum imposed by the U.S.

“So, if John Deere makes a routine purchase of $10 million of imported steel, they now have to cut another check for $2.5 million to the federal government, and that increases their operating costs,” Grywacheski told VOA. “On the other side, you have China threatening the U.S. with $150 billion of their own tariffs, primarily targeting the U.S. agricultural industry. Not only does that impact farmers, but it impacts those companies with ties to the farming industry.”

A daily effect

Increased cost for farm equipment and concerns about competitive access to a big market like China, which has depressed prices for corn and soybeans, is creating the perfect economic storm for farmers like the Halpins.

“The decline in the market has a daily effect on every farm in this country.” Halpin said the relentless news about renegotiating trade deals and tariffs also has a “daily effect” and what he wants most, almost as much as favorable weather this year for his crops, is some sense of stability.

“With the negotiations the way they’re happening, it can hurt when things happen on a daily basis. It’s just kind of uncertain times here in farming,” he noted.

It’s a time when, even before new tariffs, the U.S. Agriculture Department projected net farm income in 2018 to reach a 12-year low.

Kane Farabaugh
Kane Farabaugh is the Midwest Correspondent for Voice of America, where since 2008 he has established Voice of America's presence in the heartland of America.

Pompeo: US Will See Iran as Friend If It Accepts Demands

WASHINGTON, (SETAREH DERAKHSHESH-MICHAEL LIPIN-VOANEWS).- U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says if Iranian leaders accept U.S. demands to behave like a normal nation, Americans will visit Iran and treat it as a friend.

In an exclusive interview with VOA's Persian service broadcast Friday, Pompeo said the goal of the new Iran strategy that he revealed earlier this week is to set conditions for Iran's Islamist rulers to behave like "normal leaders." Speaking to VOA at the State Department on Thursday, he said "normal" leaders do not loot from their people or waste their money on "adventures" in Syria and Yemen, as he put it.

"If we can create conditions where [Iran's leaders] will stop that [behavior], the Iranian people will have great success, and we will have Americans visiting there, and we will have all the great things that we do when there are friends and allies," Pompeo said.

The top U.S. diplomat elaborated on one of the 12 conditions from his strategy speech by saying Iran should allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to inspect military sites and research laboratories. In the May 21 speech, he had called for the IAEA to have unqualified access to "all sites throughout the entire country."

In his VOA Persian interview, Pompeo also expanded on the U.S. demand for Iran to end threats to destroy Israel and end other threatening behaviors toward neighboring states. He said Iranian leaders should not only stop encouraging public chants of "Death to Israel," but also "Death to America."

"When you have senior leaders [and] others fomenting these sort of fake gatherings to do nothing but … chant, 'Death to America' or 'Death to Israel,' the Iranian leadership ought to stop … because it is not the right thing for their people," he said.

Pompeo reiterated that the U.S. does not seek regime change in Iran and advised exiled Iranian opposition groups not to do so, either. "We do not want them advocating for regime change," he said. Pompeo said that as long as such groups are working toward the same goals as the U.S., he welcomes their efforts.

But, Pompeo said some "smaller" opposition groups have not always aligned themselves with U.S. goals, without naming which groups he was referring to. "We want them working on behalf of the Iranian people, ordinary Iranian citizens who want nothing more than to live their lives, to be able to take their hijab off, to be able to go to work and raise their families and worship in the way they want to worship."

Pompeo said the Trump administration will support congressional efforts to pass legislation that would try to expose the hidden wealth of top Iranian leaders, whose many critics inside Iran view as corrupt.

"The Iranian people deserve the truth. You have senior leaders that are pocketing money, using businesses that are nominally fronts, and frankly, just stealing. To the extent we can prove that and demonstrate that, I would welcome the chance to expose it so the Iranian people can judge for themselves whether these are the individuals they want to lead their country," he said.

The Iranian Leadership Asset Transparency Act would require the U.S. Treasury Secretary to publish reports about the estimated financial assets of senior Iranian leaders suspected of corruption. The bill passed the House in December and has been taken up by a Senate committee.

Pompeo also said the State Department is working "every day" to try to bring home Robert Levinson, an American who disappeared March 9, 2007, while visiting Iran's Kish Island as a private investigator.

"As for other Americans [detained in Iran], we hope that the Iranian leadership [President Hassan] Rouhani, [Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad] Zarif, [Supreme Leader] Ayatollah [Ali Khamenei] all would see that it is in their best interests — and for nothing more than basic humanity — to allow these innocent Americans to return to their families."

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Persian Service.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

Treasury Increases Pressure on Cuba to End Support to Maduro by Imposing Further Oil Sector Sanctions

WASHINGTON.- Today, the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) designated four companies that operate in the oil sector of the Venezuelan economy, pursuant to E.O. 13850, as amended. Additionally, OFAC identified nine vessels, some of which transported oil from Venezuela to Cuba, as blocked property owned by the four companies.

The United States is continuing to take strong action against the illegitimate regime of former President Nicolas Maduro, to include those that prop up Maduro’s regime and contribute to Venezuela’s humanitarian crisis.

“We continue to target companies that transport Venezuelan oil to Cuba, as they are profiting while the Maduro regime pillages natural resources. Venezuela’s oil belongs to the Venezuelan people, and should not be used as a bargaining tool to prop up dictators and prolong oppression,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin.

“Maduro relies on the support he receives from the Cuban military and intelligence services to retain his hold on power because he does not have the support of the Venezuelan people.”

Today’s action further targets Venezuela’s oil sector, which continues to provide a lifeline to the illegitimate regime of former President Maduro:

Jennifer Navigation Limited is based in Monrovia, Liberia, and is the registered owner of Nedas.

Nedas is a crude oil tanker (IMO: 9289166) that delivered crude oil from Venezuela to Cuba during January and March of 2019.

Lima Shipping Corporation is based in Monrovia, Liberia, and is the registered owner of New Hellas.

New Hellas is a crude oil tanker (IMO: 9221891) that delivered crude oil from Venezuela to Cuba during February and March 2019.

Large Range Limited is based in Monrovia, Liberia, and is the registered owner of

S-Trotter is an oil products tanker (IMO: 9216547) that delivered oil products from Venezuela to Cuba during February and March 2019.

PB Tankers S.P.A. is based in Italy, and is the registered owner of several vessels, including Silver Point, Alba Marina, Gold Point, Ice Point, Indian Point, and Iron Point.

Silver Point is a chemical and oil tanker (IMO: 9510462) that delivered oil products from Venezuela to Cuba during March 2019.

Alba Marina is a floating storage tanker (IMO: 9151838).

Gold Point is a chemical and oil tanker (IMO: 9506693).

Ice Point is a chemical and oil tanker (IMO: 9379337).

Indian Point is a chemical and oil tanker (IMO: 9379325).

Iron Point is a chemical and oil tanker (IMO: 9388209).

For information about the methods that Venezuelan senior political figures, their associates, and front persons use to move and hide corrupt proceeds, including how they try to exploit the U.S. financial system and real estate market, please refer to Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) advisories FIN-2017-A006, “Advisory on Widespread Public Corruption in Venezuela,” FIN-2017-A003, “Advisory to Financial Institutions and Real Estate Firms and Professionals” and FIN-2018-A003, “Advisory on Human Rights Abuses Enabled by Corrupt Senior Foreign Political Figures and their Financial Facilitators.”

As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these entities, and of any entities that are owned, directly or indirectly, 50 percent or more by the designated entities, that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons are blocked and must be reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within (or transiting) the United States that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

U.S. sanctions need not be permanent; sanctions are intended to bring about a positive change of behavior. The United States has made clear that the removal of sanctions is available for persons designated under E.O. 13692 or E.O. 13850, both as amended, who take concrete and meaningful actions to restore democratic order, refuse to take part in human rights abuses, speak out against abuses committed by the illegitimate Maduro regime, and combat corruption in Venezuela.

Trump Thanks North Korea for Return of US War Remains

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump extended a word of gratitude to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un Friday for returning to U.S. authorities what are believed to be the remains of 55 U.S. service members who were killed in the Korean War more than six decades ago.

"I want to thank Chairman Kim for keeping his word," Trump told reporters outside the White House. "We have many others coming, but I want to thank Chairman Kim in front of the media for fulfilling a promise that he made to me and I'm sure he will continue to fulfill that promise as they search and search and search."

The transfer of the remains is the beginning of the fulfillment of an agreement reached between Kim and Trump during their historic Singapore summit last month.

About 7,700 U.S. soldiers are listed as missing from the Korean War, and 5,300 of the remains are believed to still be in North Korea.

U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters at the Pentagon Friday the return of the remains may help remove a cloud of uncertainty that some grieving families have been forced to grapple with for decades.

"We have families that... have never had closure. They've never gone out and had the body returned, so what we're seeing here is an opportunity to give those families closure, to make certain that we continue to look for those remaining."

The White House said Thursday that a U.S. military plane transporting the remains departed Wonsan, North Korea. The plane landed Friday morning at Osan Air Base near the South Korean capital of Seoul, where the White House said a formal repatriation ceremony will be held on August 1.

The remains will be transferred from the base to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency in Hawaii, where forensic work will be done to identify them.

Friday (June 27) marks the 65th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended the 1950-53 war that split the communist North and the democratic South.

The remains were the first returned to the U.S. since a joint U.S.-North Korean effort between 1996 and 2005 recovered what were believed to have been the remains of 220 U.S. soldiers.

Since then, U.S. efforts to bring more American service members home have been slowed due to escalating tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile programs.

White House Bureau Chief Steve Herman and Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb contributed to this report.

Afghanistan War Commander: 'Strategy Working,' Despite No Battlefield Changes

PENTAGON, (CARLA BABB-VOANEWS).- The commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan says the Trump administration's strategy for the war-torn country is yielding progress, despite no significant changes on the battlefield and several deadly Taliban attacks.

"I believe the strategy is working," U.S. Army Gen. John Nicholson told reporters at the Pentagon via telephone.

Last year, the Trump administration called for a conditions-based deployment of U.S. troops in support for Afghan forces.

Nicholson said this approach on the battlefield "has affected the enemy's calculus" and pushed them toward reconciliation.

He said the Taliban now has the incentive to negotiate because the coalition has "clearly communicated" that they are not leaving, pointing to two peace offers and a cease-fire as evidence of the progress.

Michael O'Hanlon, senior fellow in defense and foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, called Nicholson's comments "the most optimistic interpretation of what's possible" in Afghanistan.

"I don't think it's proven or established," O'Hanlon told VOA on Wednesday. "I'm not saying he's wrong, but I would not bet my house on it."

From 2017 to 2018, Taliban control of the Afghan population has grown slightly from 9 percent to 12 percent, with about a quarter of the population living in areas contested by the Taliban and the Afghan government, according to the latest data from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

Nicholson said the lack of change with respect to the Afghan government's population control has been predicated on what he called the Afghan military's "works in progress," namely the growth in the number of Afghan commandos and the growth in the Afghan air force.

Once those two forces are strengthened in the next year or two, Nicholson said he believes the Afghans will be able to "expand control."

But the general also admitted that "traditional metrics of fighting are not explaining why the Taliban are willing to talk now," suggesting instead that social and religious pressure is advancing the peace process.

O'Hanlon cautioned that it will take many years before results from the new strategy could be measured.

"I think stalemate is far and away the simplest, safest way to interpret the dynamics in Afghanistan," he said.

Carla Babb

Carla is VOA's Pentagon correspondent covering defense and international security issues. Her datelines include Ukraine, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq and Korea.

Amid Family Separation Furor, US House Plans Immigration Votes

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- As the House of Representatives prepares for expected votes on major reforms to U.S. immigration law this week, the Trump administration defends the separation of some undocumented immigrant children from their parents,

Once a rare practice, federal agents now routinely separate families seeking asylum or attempting to enter the United States illegally. Roughly 2,000 minors had been separated from their families over a six-week period ending in May, administration officials said last week.

Video released by the U.S. government shows what appears to be humane conditions at a shelter site for children. But furor over the Trump administration’s “zero-tolerance” policy for unauthorized border arrivals is growing.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said Monday that seeking to deter parents by inflicting abuse on children is "unconscionable."

"Mr. President, people do not lose their human rights by virtue of crossing a border without a visa," Zeid said. "I deplore the adoption by many countries of policies intended to make themselves as inhospitable as possible by increasing the suffering of many already vulnerable people."

Defend policy

Trump continues to view America's immigration debate through the lens of public safety, often pointing to foreign-born members of a vicious Central American gang as he seeks stricter policies.

The president has also repeatedly blamed Democrats for the separations, falsely claiming they are responsible for the situation. Trump's administration put in place the policy to arrest all migrants who illegally cross the U.S. border, including those seeking asylum, and because children cannot be sent to the same detention facilities as their parents, they are separated.

"The Democrats should get together with their Republican counterparts and work something out on Border Security & Safety," Trump tweeted late Sunday. "Don't wait until after the election because you are going to lose!"

Trump's Republican party holds a majority in both houses of Congress.

He is scheduled to meet with House Republicans on Tuesday to discuss two competing Republican immigration reform bills.

Both bills would provide legal status to hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children, make sweeping changes to legal immigration, and boost U.S. border security. It is unclear if either will attract enough votes to pass.

"We said from the beginning we want the House to debate immigration reform in a serious, meaningful way. And it looks like that is happening for the first time in nearly a decade," Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo said.

Trump's advisers, both past and present, also continue to defend the separation policy.

"Nobody likes'' breaking up families and "seeing babies ripped from their mothers' arms,'' said Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president. But she, too, placed the blame on the Democrats.

Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, also defended the policy saying, "We ran on a policy, very simply, stop mass illegal immigration and limit legal immigration, get our sovereignty back, and to help our workers, OK? And so he went to a zero-tolerance policy.''

Immigration experts and many legal scholars, however, said the administration is interpreting U.S. immigration law as no other administration has. Democrats have condemned both the policy and Trump's rationale for pursuing it.

"In the world, there is a recognition that people can seek asylum, except, apparently not in the United States," House minority leader Nancy Pelosi said.

Texas protest

Over the weekend, several protests were held across the country as lawmakers, religious leaders and American citizens decried the family separation policy.

Democratic Texas state Congressman Beto O'Rourke led hundreds of people on a march Sunday in Tornillo, Texas, where the government is holding some of the children. The purpose of the march, he said, was to "help this country to make the right decision, and part of that is knowing what's going on in the first place."

O'Rourke, who is seeking to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, was joined by U.S. Congressman Joe Kennedy of Massachusetts, also a Democrat.

Evangelical leader Franklin Graham, a prominent supporter of President Donald Trump, also spoke out against the policy.

"It's disgraceful, and it's terrible to see families ripped apart and I don't support that one bit," he said on the Christian Broadcasting Network.

Miami (Florida) Archbishop Thomas Wenski said, “The policy is designed to frighten the parents by taking away their kids, traumatizing the kids. And they [federal agents] think that will serve as a deterrent for people exercising a basic human right, which is to ask for asylum.”

First lady Melania Trump released a statement that appeared to oppose her husband's policy.

"Mrs. Trump hates to see children separated from their families and hopes both sides of the aisle can finally come together to achieve successful immigration reform," her office Sunday said. "She believes we need to be a country that follows all laws, but also a country that governs with heart."

Former first lady Laura Bush wrote in a Washington Post op-ed that the policy is cruel and immoral."

"Our government should not be in the business of warehousing children in converted box stores or making plans to place them in tent cities in the desert outside of El Paso," she said. "These images are eerily reminiscent of the Japanese interment camps of World War 2, now considered to have been one of the most shameful episodes in U.S. history."

Also Sunday, officials say at least five people died after an SUV fleeing Border Patrol agents crashed in southern Texas.

Texas public safety officials said many people in the vehicle might have been living in the U.S. without legal permission. The driver and at least one other person, believed to be U.S. citizens, are in custody, the state officials said.

VOA's Michael Bowman contributed to this report.

China Detains VOA Mandarin Correspondent

BEIJING, (HAIYANG ZHANG-VOANEWS).- Voice of America's Mandarin Service correspondent and a multimedia journalist working for VOA were detained Monday evening by Chinese police while attempting to interview a retired Chinese professor who was taken away by authorities during a live television interview with VOA nearly two weeks ago.

Correspondent Yibing Feng and VOA contractor Allen Ai were taken into custody in Jinan, Shandong province after talking to professor Sun Wenguang, 84, through a closed door of his apartment. Sun told Feng details of his detention and thanked VOA for allowing him to express his freedom of speech on the air.

Authorities in the apartment hallway attempted several times to disrupt the interview and ordered Feng and his Chinese assistant to leave the building. The two reporters were then held by police at the building exit. They are still believed to be in police custody.

“It is outrageous that two journalists have been detained for nothing more than doing their jobs,” said VOA Director Amanda Bennett. She called for them to be released immediately.

Sun Wenguang, who was detained earlier this month, was only recently allowed to return home under strict security, close friends told VOA on Monday. Chinese authorities have refused to comment on his detention.

On Monday, the professor shouted answers to VOA’s questions from behind a locked door saying that he was moved to several locations after being detained August 1, including Yanzi Mountain Villa at Jinan Military Region, a military-linked hotel and reception center in Jinan, his hometown. He was taken to four places, often staying for one or two days under a security watch, he said.

“Now I have been locked in at my dwelling,” he said. “My wife and I have been in a forced trip outside our residence for 10 days and we stayed in four hotels. And now we are back to our home finally. But they sent four security guys to sleep in our home.

Here in China, we have a lack of freedom of press,” the professor said. “Authorities have blocked and suppressed press freedom. Chinese authorities have a practice of trade barrier and press barrier. Why can Chinese reporters act as journalists in the U.S. freely while U.S. reporters cannot do normal journalistic work in China?”

When the VOA journalists first arrived at Sun's apartment, they encountered a few security people outside the door.

After they identified themselves as journalists, correspondent Feng told security: “Please don't interrupt our work.”

A security officer asked them to go downstairs where they were later detained. The two VOA journalists were then taken away separately in police cars.

“Where are you taking me?” Feng asked police in a conversation that was overhead on a cell phone call to VOA editors in Washington.

“You will know,” an officer responded.

“I need to talk to your leader,” Yibing told the officer.

The police then apparently asked Yibing to turn over his equipment.

“This is (US) government property, you cannot take it,” Yibing told them, referring to VOA's status as a U.S. government broadcasting entity.

Before the cell phone line went dead, the sound of footsteps could be heard.

“Don’t grab me,” Yibing said. “I will go with you.”

Earlier this month, professor Sun was taken away during a live telephone interview on the VOA Mandarin television show Issues & Opinions as he was criticizing China’s foreign aid and diplomatic strategy in Africa. During the interview, he told VOA that authorities were breaking into his house in an attempt to prevent him from speaking out against the government.

* This is a developing story which will be updated.

G7 Finance Ministers Joint Statement on North Korea

WASHINGTON.- North Korea’s continued development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and ballistic missile programs poses a grave threat to international peace and security. We remain committed to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean peninsula and dismantlement of North Korea’s WMD and ballistic missile programs, but North Korea must match its words with concrete actions.

To support this goal, we will continue to take action to impose maximum economic pressure on North Korea, in keeping with relevant United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCRs).

We are concerned by North Korea’s evasion of international sanctions and its continued ability to access the international financial system.

North Korea does little business in its own true name and uses a network of agents, front and shell companies, and complex ownership structures to access the international financial system.

As the UN Panel of Experts (PoE) noted in its March 2018 report, in 2017, more than 30 representatives of North Korean banks have been operating outside of North Korea, in contravention of UNSCRs.

The PoE also noted that DPRK trade representatives continue to play a role in the country’s prohibited programs, including by acting as fronts for designated entities and individuals, as well as engaging in commercial activities that violate the UNSCRs.

We call on all countries to fully and effectively implement their UNSCR obligations with respect to North Korea and, in this regard, to expeditiously expel these bank and trade representatives in accordance with their UN obligations.

Financial institutions in G7 countries also play an important role in the fight against North Korea’s illicit global financial activity, and we will engage and share information with them, as appropriate, to expose North Korea’s deceptive financial practices and thereby protect the integrity of the international financial system.

We call on countries to similarly engage their financial institutions so they will be on alert and take steps to implement necessary additional scrutiny to ensure that they are not processing transactions on behalf of sanctioned North Korean entities.

U.S. Department of the Treasury

IACHR Takes Case Involving Venezuela to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights

WASHINGTON. – The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) filed an application before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (I/A Court H.R.) in Case 12.814, Orlando Edgardo Olivares Muñoz and Others (Deaths at Vista Hermosa Prison), with regard to Venezuela.

The case concerns the extrajudicial executions of Orlando Edgardo Olivares Muñoz, Joel Rinaldi Reyes Nava, Orangel José Figueroa, Héctor Javier Muñoz Valerio, Pedro Ramón López Chaurán, José Gregorio Bolívar Corro and Richard Alexis Núñez Palma, when they were inmates at Vista Hermosa Prison in Ciudad Bolívar. Those executions were carried out by members of the National Guard during a raid at the prison on November 10, 2003. A further 27 inmates were injured and are also regarded as victims in this case.

The Commission concluded that the State had failed to adequately explain the deaths and injuries that happened under its watch in a way that might have defused its presumed international responsibility in such a context. Further, the IACHR established that many elements of the case, taken together and given the lack of appropriate investigation of events, indicate the use of illegitimate, unnecessary and disproportionate force. The Commission noted that the rights to life and personal integrity of the executed and injured victims had been violated.

The IACHR further concluded that the State is liable to the injured victims and to the families of victims who were killed for violations of those victims’ rights to a fair trial and to judicial protection. The Commission determined, among other aspects, that no thorough investigation had been conducted, that the autopsies that had been conducted were incompatible with the applicable international standards, that the context of the deaths had not been examined, and that investigation of those events—which remains pending—had not been timely. The Commission further stated that the families of executed victims had seen their right to psychological and moral integrity violated, given the suffering and the anxiety caused by the deaths of their loved ones in the circumstances described above, as well as their lack of access to truth and justice.

In the Merits Report, the IACHR recommended that the State of Venezuela provide comprehensive reparations, both material and immaterial, for the human rights violations declared in that report, including economic financial and compensation; provide physical and mental healthcare necessary for the rehabilitation of injured inmates and of relatives of the dead victims in an agreed upon manner, if they so wish; and continue to pursue a diligent, effective and timely criminal investigation to fully shed light on those events, in order to identify anyone responsible for them and to impose appropriate penalties for the human rights violations declared in the report. Further, the IACHR recommended that the Venezuelan State implement non-repetition mechanisms that contemplate the following aspects: ensuring that both the law and current practices deny the military access to penitentiary facilities to watch over inmates or to respond to alterations of law and order; and to take any measures necessary to ensure that—even in emergency situations—guards at detention facilities are civilians with adequate training to work in prisons, including the applicable standards regarding the use of force, in the terms described in the Merits Report.

The Inter-American Commission submitted the case to the Court’s jurisdiction on April 1, 2019. The State reported the repeal of the rule that enabled the military to guard detention facilities, but the IACHR received no information about the effective implementation of such a change in the rules. The Commission also received no information about compliance with all the other recommendations held in the report, particularly those concerning comprehensive reparations for the families of the victims and the need to investigate events and to prosecute and punish anyone responsible for them.

This case will allow the Inter-American Court of Human Rights to expand and consolidate its jurisprudence regarding States’ obligations that stem from their special duty to protect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty. In particular, the Court will be able to address the safeguards that need to be implemented when responding to alterations of public order in detention facilities, to ensure that the response—including any use of force—is in keeping with the duty to respect and protect the rights of persons deprived of their liberty and to prevent extrajudicial executions in such contexts. The Court will be able to assess whether the use of military forces to restore public order in the specific context of penitentiary facilities is compatible with the Convention. The Court will also be able to analyze more profoundly the standards to adequately explain the fate of persons held in the custody of the State and the direct implications of such standards for the duty of due diligence when investigating violent deaths of persons deprived of their liberty, particularly when such deaths happen at the hands of officers of the State.

Iran Deal, Transatlantic Trade Loom Over Macron Visit

WHITE HOUSE, (PEGGY CHANG-VOANES).- U.S. President Donald Trump will host French President Emmanuel Macron for a state visit next week as the Iran nuclear agreement hangs in the balance, and the expiration of EU’s exemptions from steel and aluminum tariffs nears.

Macron’s visit will be the first state visit of the Trump administration. Over the past year, Macron and Trump have forged an unlikely partnership. U.S. media dubbed the relationship a “bromance” and “one of history’s oddest diplomatic couples.”

“The Trump-Macron relationship is perhaps one of the most unexpected partnerships of the Trump era,” observed Nile Gardiner, director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at Heritage Foundation in an interview with VOA. “Clearly, Emmanuel Macron is very different to Trump in many respects ideologically, but the two leaders have formed a very pragmatic working relationship.”

Iran deal​

A senior administration official said the themes of the visit include celebrating the close ties between France and the United States, trade and investment issues, and security concerns, such as combating terrorism and the way forward in Syria.

It is expected that the Iran nuclear deal, or Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), will be front and center of the bilateral discussions. Analysts see Macron’s visit, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to the White House later in the week, as last-minute efforts to save the deal ahead of Trump’s May 12 deadline for the U.S. to pull out of the agreement if the terms are not changed.

A senior administration official told reporters it’s difficult to say the degree of detail the two leaders will go into regarding the Iran accord. He noted the discussions between European allies and the United States are “not quite done yet,” so the timeframe for the president make a decision on the deal will be “mid-May.”

“The president’s three priorities with respect to JCPOA are the sunset clause, the ballistic missile program, and more broadly, Iran’s malign activities throughout the region and throughout the world,” the official said.

Trump has demanded these flaws be fixed in the 2015 deal Iran made with six major powers — the United States, Britain, Germany, France, Russia and China — to curb its nuclear program in exchange for relief from international sanctions that hobbled its economy.

Trump has called the agreement crafted under the Obama administration “the worst deal ever negotiated.” Trump contends Iran would quickly achieve nuclear capability at the end of the 10-year agreement and often assails its current military adventures in Syria, Yemen and Lebanon.

Heritage Foundation expert Gardiner said it will be very interesting to see what Macron has to offer.

“Unless measures are taken to strengthen the deal, the deal should be dropped by the United States. I expect actually that’s what the president is going to do, unless there is a convincing case made by European leaders that Europe is committed to fundamentally strengthen the agreement. We haven’t seen that commitment yet,” he said.

Eric Jones, director of European and Eurasian Studies at Johns Hopkins University, also doesn’t see Trump changing his mind about Iran after meeting with Macron, and he believes the Europeans see that as well.

“They’re hoping to convince the president they are going to introduce their own sanctions outside of the agreement in order to punish Iran for its behavior in Syria and other places, and that will be adequate reasons for the president to continue to waive U.S. sanctions under the deal where it stands. That’s what they want, a short-term achievement, not a long-term change in the president’s perspective,” Jones told VOA.

​US-European trade

Regarding trade, for Macron, extending the steel and aluminum exemption for the EU will be the first priority. A senior administration official said it’s hard to say if there will be any trade announcement following the state visit.

Jones said there are a lot of differences on trade, the most important of which is that Trump’s team hasn’t wrapped its collective mind around the idea that the European Union is a single trading entity.

“President Trump’s team has repeatedly approached not just France, but Germany and other European countries with the eye of making bilateral deals with these countries. Unfortunately, that’s a category error. These countries can’t make bilateral deals with the United States, so I think part of what President Macron is going to try to do, is better to push the conversation forward as a way of suggesting the United States should imagine the European Union as a single trading entity and a bilateral arrangement between the US and EU is what the White House should aspire to achieve,” he noted.

Macron’s state visit will start Monday with a tour of Mount Vernon and a private couples’ dinner hosted by Trump. Macron and Trump will meet at the White House Tuesday morning for a one-on-one session in the Oval Office, followed by a joint press conference. That evening, Trump will host Macron for a state dinner at the White House. On Wednesday, Macron will address a joint session of Congress.

Joy, Outrage as US Embassy Set to Open in Jerusalem

STATE DEPARTMENT, (CINDI SAINE-VOANES).- With the opening Monday of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, the region is bracing for both celebrations and unrest.

The United States plans to host about 800 guests at an opening ceremony of its embassy. U.S. President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will be on hand, while Trump addresses the ceremony via video, reaffirming his December 2017 decision to move the American embassy from Tel Aviv.

"I have determined that it is time to officially recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel," Trump said at the White House late last year. "While previous presidents have made this a major campaign promise, they failed to deliver. Today, I am delivering."

National Security Advisor John Bolton points out that other presidents also said they would move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, but Trump is the only one to do it.

"That’s not simply something that has an effect on the conditions in Israel, but it says to world leader all around the world, when he says he’s going to do something, he does," Bolton told VOA on Friday.

Most of the 850 U.S. Embassy workers will remain in Tel Aviv until a new embassy building is constructed in Jerusalem. Fifty of them will make up the initial staff at the new embassy, including U.S. Ambassador David Friedman.

Experts say the move is largely symbolic. But with Palestinians wanting to name East Jerusalem as a capital of their future state, this symbolism matters.

'Contentious' issue

Khaled Elgindy of the Brookings Institution notes both Republican and Democratic administrations have resisted moving the U.S. Embassy for the past 70 years.

"The United States, like most countries in the world, have maintained an embassy in Tel Aviv, rather than in Jerusalem, precisely because of the highly contentious nature of the issue of Jerusalem for Palestinians, for Israelis, for the Arab world, for the Muslim world, for Christians around the world, and of course for Jews as well," he said.

Elgindy said the move was centered on U.S. domestic politics, namely a campaign pledge Trump made to his core supporters.

"There is no national security interest that is gained by moving the embassy — to the contrary," he said. "I think it destabilizes the region. It adds a level of instability and it also makes it much harder to negotiate peace between Israelis and Palestinians."

Palestinians have protested Trump's decision and are calling for more demonstrations next week. They want East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war, as the capital of their future Palestinian state and feel that Trump gave away the "crown jewel" of peace negotiations.

Senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said Trump shattered any hope for the peace process.

"What [Trump] has done is blow out the possibility of a peace process that was really never completed," Shaath said.

Palestinian officials are no longer accepting the U.S. as a mediator, while Israeli leaders see the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem as a long-held dream come true.

'Great moment' for Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the move would have long-term, positive ramifications.

"This is a great moment for the citizens of Israel and this is a historic moment for the state of Israel," Netanyahu said during an Israeli Cabinet meeting in February.

Asked what concessions the United States had won from Israel in exchange for the move, a senior administration official said that was not what the decision was about. It was about doing what is best for America's interests, the official said.

"There was no give-and-take with Israel with regard to this decision," the official said during a background briefing with reporters.

The official said the Jerusalem embassy would be opening just five months after the president announced the decision, adding, as the president likes to say, "ahead of schedule and under budget."

Mexican journalist held at US border for past two months

EL PASO, (RSF).- Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the US authorities to admit Mexican journalist Martin Méndez Pineda into the United States.

The target of death threats in the southwestern state of Guerrero, Méndez has been awaiting a reponse to his political asylum request since 5 February.

RSF is extremly concerned about the plight of Martin Méndez Pineda, a former reporter for the Guerrero-based Novedades Acapulco newspaper who has been held by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at a detention centre in El Paso, Texas, for the past 60 days.

Méndez requested political asylum at the US border on 5 February in order to escape repeated death threats in Guerrero. On 1 March, he passed the “credible fear interview” which the US authorities use to decide whether there are prima facie grounds for accepting that a real threat exists.

Normally, ICE would have then approved his conditional release and allowed him to enter the United States officially.

But Méndez has yet to receive an answer and is being held in the detention centre in “deplorable conditions,” according to his lawyer, Carlos Spector, who is his only contact with the outside world and has been helping him at every step. RSF’s assistance desk is in regular contact with Spector.

In a February 2017 report entitled “Discretion to Deny,” the Borderland Immigration Council accused US government agencies of using a “broad and unaccountable mechanism of ‘discretion’ to (...) remove asylum seekers and keep people in a situation of prolonged detention.”

“We call on ICE to release Martin Méndez Pineda without delay,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America burea. “This journalist, who has been persecuted and threatened with death in his country, must be allowed to present his case for political asylum freely and with dignity before an immigration judge.”

After providing Novedades Acapulco with coverage of the arrests that federal police officers carried out in a violent manner at the scene of a road accident on 22 February 2016, Méndez was insulted and attacked by the same police officers.

A few weeks later, armed individuals threated to kill him outside his home. Fearing for his safety, he resigned from Novedades Acapulcoand filed a complaint with Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission. After the acts of intimidation continued, above all in the form of death threats in anonymous phone calls to his home, he finally decided in early 2017 to flee to the United States and not go back.

The environment for journalists in Guerrero is extremely dangerous. According to RSF’s tally, 11 journalists have been murded in Guerrero since 2003 and one has disappeared. The most recent victim was Cecilio Pineda Birto, a crime reporter who was gunned down in Guerrero last month.

Ranked 149th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index, Mexico is the western hemisphere’s deadliest country for the media. A record number of 11 journalists were killed in connection with their work in Mexico in 2016.

In addition to Pineda Birto in Guerrero, two other journalists were murdered last month in Mexico: Miroslava Breach and Ricardo Monlui. There were also two attempted murders of journalists.

In a report published in February, entitled “Veracruz: journalists and the state of fear,” RSF examined the difficulties of working as a journalist in Mexico and proposed a series of recommendations to the federal and local authorities for ending the spiral of violence.

Military base rumors stoke Western allies’ fear of losing the Pacific to China

BEIJING, (RT NEWS).- In early April, reports began emerging that China was seeking to build a military base in the Pacific. Are these reports “fake news,” or are we witnessing the early stages of a regional showdown between Western powers and China?

The unsubstantiated rumor of a Chinese military base in the Pacific was first reported on by Fairfax media this month, which cited unnamed sources while affirming that no formal proposal had yet been made. However, the report stated that the prospect of a Chinese military post close to Australia had been discussed at the “highest levels in Canberra and Washington.”

According to the report, a “base less than 2000 kilometres from the Australian coast would allow China to project military power into the Pacific Ocean and upend the long-standing strategic balance in the region, potentially increasing the risk of confrontation between China and the United States.”

The prospective Pacific island nation in question is Vanuatu, a country with a noticeably close relationship with China. While the Western powers, especially Australia, have become increasingly concerned by China’s growing military capacity in the South China Sea through its reclaimed reefs and artificial islands, Vanuatu has been one of the very few countries who have openly supported Beijing’s island-building program. China has also donated military vehicles to Vanuatu, invested millions of dollars in infrastructure, and reportedly accounts for nearly half of Vanuatu’s $440 million foreign debt.

The Allies’ Response
As one can imagine, the report of a looming Chinese military base was not welcomed at all by US allies in the region, particularly New Zealand and Australia.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said at the time that he viewed “with great concern the establishment of any foreign military bases in those Pacific Island countries and neighbours of ours.”

“The maintenance of peace and stability in the Pacific is of utmost importance to us, to Australia — it’s one of the key priorities of the foreign policy white paper,” the prime minister also reportedly said.

In other words, Australia may seek to use this threat to justify a renewed militaristic foreign policy strategy of its own. After all, Australia has been sending warships to the South China Sea for military exercises even as recently as last year, and even felt it necessary to openly consider sending more vessels to confront China’s expanding influence just a few months ago. Australia also facilitated the proposal for a British warship, the HMS Sutherland, to depart Australia and voyage to the South China Sea to assert its so-called “freedom of navigation rights.” The US, for its part, sent warships to the South China Sea just this past month, as well as in January of this year, saber-rattling China in the process. Not to mention that Trump’s nominee for the US ambassador to Australia is a known anti-Chinese war hawk.

In solidarity with Australia, New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, also voiced her opposition to what she termed the “militarization” of the Pacific, even though she hadn’t even been formally briefed on the issue at the time.

According to a prominent New Zealand outlet, the country’s government was seeking further information on the report and considering ways to respond. Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, a notorious anti-Chinese politician who just about rattles Chinese people any chance he gets, also said there are a “number of players doing certain things in the Pacific that are not good for the peace and security” of the Pacific. He also believed that it was time for New Zealand to “step up” and “do a whole lot more in the Pacific.”

In March of this year, Peters spoke about the Pacific becoming a “contested strategic space” which was “creating a degree of strategic anxiety.” He also vowed to pour more money and resources in the Pacific region, further indicating that New Zealand would back away from supporting China’s monumental Silk Road project even after New Zealand’s former government had already signed a memorandum of understanding in support of the project.

All this being said, both Vanuatu and China have already heavily denied the veracity of the report, rejecting the claim that China will be building a military base in Vanuatu.

“No one in the Vanuatu government has ever talked about a Chinese military base in Vanuatu of any sort,” Vanuatu’s foreign minister, Ralph Regenvanu, told Australian media. “We are a non-aligned country. We are not interested in militarisation.”

By way of confirmation, China also referred to the statements from the Vanuatu Foreign Ministry, which China believed had “cleared the record.” China even referred to the report as “fake news.”

Washington irked by China’s purported ambitions

Some of you may be wondering, if both Vanuatu and China have openly denied the story, then so what? Case closed, right?

As of now, China maintains only one foreign military base in the world, being in the Horn of Africa’s Djibouti. Allegedly, the establishment of this base represents the “first pearl of a necklace” unfolding along a sea route that will connect China to the Middle East.

According to the Diplomat, there are also “credible reports” of further plans to establish naval or military facilities in locations such as Timor-Leste, the Azores islands (Portugal) in the middle of the North Atlantic, Walvis Bay (Namibia) in the South Atlantic, and Gwadar (Pakistan), with other initiatives that may not have come to light as yet (including, for example, Sri Lanka).

Regarding Pakistan, unnamed Chinese military officials first told the South China Morning Post (SCMP) that Beijing was looking to build a naval base in Gwadar Port in the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Almost immediately, both Pakistan and China rejected these reports, even though the speculation initially came from Chinese military officials and not from the Western media. Sound familiar?

Back to the issue at hand, Fairfax’s report clearly indicated that Beijing’s military ambition in Vanuatu “would likely be realized incrementally,” perhaps taking shape with an “access agreement that would allow Chinese naval ships to dock routinely and be serviced, refueled and restocked.”

The report also makes note of the fact that China has invested heavily in a major new wharf on the north island of Espiritu Santo, which allegedly “raised eyebrows in defence, intelligence and diplomatic circles” in Australia because it has the potential to service naval vessels as well as commercial ones (Vanuatu already hosted Chinese warships throughout last year).

And here is where it gets interesting. Luganville, on the island of Espiritu Santo, actually housed one of the largest military bases in the entire Pacific battle theatre during World War II. Its geostrategic significance cannot be understated. Whoever controls Vanuatu controls the air and sea route between the United States and Australia. This is a deal-breaker not just for the United States, but for its local lackey-states Australia and New Zealand, who act as regional care-takers for Washington’s foreign policy interests.

Double standards, hypocrisy and the road to war
Nonetheless, it is the United States that currently boasts approximately 1,000 military bases worldwide, including military research bases located in the Pacific region. The US also maintains a military budget so astronomical it far exceeds that of China. Despite this, one would be hard-pressed to find any instances of a New Zealand or Australian government criticizing the American military presence in the Pacific (or its presence on the wider global chessboard in general).

A report last year by Commander Thomas Shugart and Commander Javier Gonzalez at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) suggested that these US bases were becoming deeply vulnerable to attack by China’s ballistic missile capabilities, which could cripple US military capabilities in the Asia-Pacific region while using only a fraction of its arsenal should a confrontation emerge.

Though little regard is paid to it by the media, there’s a reason Australia and the US continue to send warships to the South China Sea. It’s the same reason China has responded with live-fire military exercises that began in the Taiwan Strait this week, as China sets out to prove that it is a force to be reckoned with in the region.

Despite New Zealand and Australia’s fear-based position on this issue, it should be borne in mind that there are alternative options to the dispute which could prove far more beneficial for regional security than our current trajectory. As The Diplomat’s David Brewster explained:

“Whether or not this reported proposal in Vanuatu comes to pass (and it seems less likely than more), Australia needs to better understand – and deal with – China’s growing interests in the South Pacific. If Australia sees itself as a regional leader, then it needs to show leadership in avoiding militarization of South Pacific. Rather than hoping to lock China out, Australia should be exploring ways of working with China that address some of its concerns in a manner that does not adversely affect Australia’s clear strategic interests. These issues are not going to go away.”

If only the West will heed Brewster’s much needed advice, the region might avert a heavily anticipated catastrophe.

Darius Shahtahmasebi for RT

Darius Shahtahmasebi is a New Zealand based legal and political analyst. Follow him on Twitter @TVsLeaking

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

N. Korea Escalates Threat to Pull Out of Summit with US

CoreadelNorte11SEOUL, (BRIAN PADDEN-VOANEWS).- North Korea’s sudden threat to pull out of the upcoming summit with the U.S. raises new doubts of whether a denuclearization deal is possible.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un agreed to meet with U.S President Donald Trump in Singapore on June 12 to work out an agreement to end the North’s nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees and an end to punishing international sanctions.

But on Wednesday North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Kim Kye Kwan released a statement through the state-run KCNA news agency that criticized “unbridled remarks” made specifically by the U.S. president’s National Security Adviser John Bolton demanding that Pyongyang completely decommission its entire nuclear arsenal, along with its ballistic missile program and chemical weapons stockpile, before receiving any compensation or concessions.

He expressed “indignation” at the U.S uncompromising position and said North Korea might pull out of the Trump-Kim summit, unless the Trump administration acts with “sincerity” to improve relations through dialogue.

“If the United States is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the North Korea-U.S. summit,” the statement said.

The vice foreign minister also said it was “absolutely absurd” that Bolton would compare Libya’s experience dismantling its relatively rudimentary nuclear program as a model for dealing with the North’s more advanced and expansive capabilities.

He also denounced the Trump administration for “miscalculating the magnanimity” of Kim Jong Un’s decision to suspend further nuclear and missile tests, and his willingness to engage in nuclear talks, as “signs of weakness,” that were the result of what the U.S. administration has dubbed its “maximum pressure” campaign that led international efforts to impose punishing sanctions banning 90% of North Korean trade.

​The vice minister’s remarks came shortly after the North abruptly canceled inter-Korean talks planned for Wednesday, citing ongoing joint military drills between South Korea and the U.S.

Last week American and South Korea forces began their two-week Max Thunder exercise that involves 100 aircraft, including eight F-22 radar-evading jets, as well as F-15 and F-16 fighter jets. The North derided the drills as a rehearsal for invasion that undermines improving inter-Korean ties.

Cautious reactions

The U.S. and South Korea reacted with caution to North Korea’s more confrontational posture.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo conferred with South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha on Wednesday and said the U.S. would continue planning for the upcoming Trump-Kim summit but continue to monitor the situation.

Pompeo, who recently met with the North Korean leader in Pyongyang to prepare for the summit, said on Sunday that the U.S. would lift sanctions on North Korea if it agreed to completely dismantle its nuclear weapons program.

However, Kim Kye Gwan's statement appeared to reject such an arrangement, saying North Korea would never give up its nuclear program in exchange for economic trade with the United States.

Wednesday’s denouncement of the joint drills also seemed to contradict what the North Korean leader reportedly said earlier this year. A South Korean diplomatic envoy that met with Kim in Pyongyang this year, said the North Korean leader had dropped his objection to U.S., South Korea military exercises as a barrier to developing a peace agreement.

The South Korean Unification Ministry said it was “regrettable” that the North unilaterally postponed ministerial-level inter-Korean talks, and the North’s cancelation of talks was not in line with the “spirit of the recent Panmunjom Declaration” calling for increased cross border cooperation that was signed by Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in at the inter-Korean summit.

"The South Korean government has a firm willingness to faithfully implement the Panmunjom Declaration and is urging the North to respond quickly to the talks for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula," said Baik Tae-Hyun, South Korea's Unification Ministry spokesperson.

Bargaining positions

It is unclear if the North’s threat to pull out of the summit with the U.S. reflects a change in policy or a negotiating tactic to exploit Trump’s repeated claims that he may achieve a historic diplomatic breakthrough with North Korea that has eluded past presidents.

“If you signal you are desperate for some kind of deal, then your counterpart can sense that you are willing to make concessions, and they can drive a hard bargain, and this could be a reflection of that,” said Daniel Pinkston, a North Korea analyst with Troy University in Seoul.

The more aggressive stance taken by the North may also reflect growing pressure from conservative elements within the military or Communist Party that are worried the U.S. seems to be unilaterally dictating the terms for a nuclear deal.

“It is true that North Korea is anxious about the situation where it needs to back down on everything to the U.S.,” said Ahn Chan-il, a North Korean defector and analyst with the World Institute of North Korea Studies in Seoul.

John Delury, a North Korea analyst with Yonsei University in Seoul suggested on Twitter that the U.S. and South Korea address the North’s sudden threat to withdraw from talks by making a small but meaningful good-will gesture, given that the Kim government has already made a number of concessions, including releasing three American prisoners, and suspending missile and nuclear tests.

However North Korea skeptics say the Kim government should not be rewarded for merely meeting its minimum obligations by suspending nuclear and missile tests that violate U.N. restrictions or for releasing prisoners that were unjustly apprehended by the repressive state.

Lee Yoon-jee contributed to this report.

Russia Says It Will Not Interfere With Syria Chemical Weapons Probe

MOSCOW, (VOANEWS).- Russia said Monday it will not interfere with the work of a fact-finding mission investigating an alleged chemical attack last week near Syria's capital.

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons has sent a team to Syria to probe what happened in Douma, and the watchdog held an emergency meeting Monday in The Hague to discuss the situation.

Britain, France and the United States all say Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces were responsible for using chemical weapons in Douma, which Syria and Russia deny. The three Western allies launched coordinated airstrikes Saturday that hit several sites linked to Syria's chemical program.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Monday the strikes were "entirely the right thing to do."

"I'm afraid the Syrian war in many ways will go on in its horrible, miserable way. But it was the world saying that we've had enough of the use of chemical weapons," Johnson said.

He spoke as European foreign ministers gathered to discuss the situation in Syria. The EU reiterated its condemnation of the use of chemical weapons on Syria, including the most recent reported attack, and said it supports the work of international chemical weapons investigators.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also said there is a clear need to push for relaunching a U.N.-led peace process. She called on Russia and Iran to use their influence as allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "start serious and meaningful discussions under U.N. auspices in Geneva."

Also Monday, the United States is expected to unveil new sanctions against Russia. U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told CBS News the measures would "go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to Assad and chemical weapons use."

In a separate interview with Fox News, Haley warned Assad that the U.S. would launch new missile strikes against his government if he carries out another chemical weapons attack.

Haley said, "If Assad doesn't get it" after Saturday's barrage of 105 missiles fired by the U.S., Britain and France at three Syrian chemical weapons facilities, "it's going to hurt. There will be more. We can't allow even the smallest use of chemical weapons."

She said that it is "entirely up to Assad" whether the missile attack on Syria was a one-time response to the suspected chemical attack by Syrian forces a week ago that killed more than 40 people or part of a continuing allied military effort.

"We'll see how smart he is," Haley said. "We'll watch his actions. Hopefully he's gotten the message."

Senator McCain to Discontinue Medical Treatment

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- The family of U.S. Senator John McCain has announced he is discontinuing medical treatment for terminal brain cancer.

The family made the announcement Friday, saying McCain had "surpassed expectations for his survival" since making his cancer diagnosis public last year.

"But the progress of disease and the inexorable advance of age render their verdict," the statement continued. "With his usual strength of will," it said, "he has now chosen to discontinue medical treatment."

McCain has been undergoing treatment for aggressive glioblastoma since July 2017.

Despite two unsuccessful campaigns for the presidency in 2000 and 2008, McCain is one of the most prominent lawmakers in Washington. A Republican, he has worked with Democrats, as well as members of his own party, on such issues as climate change, immigration reform, and campaign finance reform.

McCain made a dramatic return to Washington last year just two weeks after surgery to cast the deciding vote -- and one against the party line -- on the Republican effort to repeal former U.S. president Barack Obama's health care reform law.

McCain first rose to fame as a prisoner of war who was tortured and held for five years during the Vietnam War. As a senator, he returned to Vietnam multiple times and made it his work to see that the remains of U.S. soldiers killed in Vietnam were returned home.

In 2016, he told VOA he worked to help heal the relationship between the United States and Vietnam. "I worked very, very hard for normalizing our relations," he said, referring to the diplomatic relationship between Washington and Hanoi. "I wanted to heal the wounds of war. I wanted many of our veterans who have been unable to do so, to come all the way home."

He went on to note that "relations between the Vietnamese people and the United States government have never been better."

McCain has been living at his home in Arizona since December.

Some in Washington Wary as Silicon Valley Welcomes Chinese Investments

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA, (MICHELLE QUINN-VOANEWS).- While the Trump administration is putting tariffs on Chinese imports, another battle has been brewing about whether the United States should block Chinese investments in some U.S. companies that work in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other key technology.

Some of these technologies have U.S. national security implications, argues the Department of Defense in a report on growing Chinese ties to U.S. firms. Lawmakers in Washington are considering expanding a Treasury Department review process that looks at investments from foreign entities.

“I assure you that the threat China poses is real and that the dangers we worry about are already taking effect,” said Sen. John Cornyn, a Texan Republican, who is sponsoring the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act, the bill that would strengthen the review. “Our inaction can only have negative consequences, and we need to aim to prevent any future negative consequences to our country.”

Limiting Chinese investments has to be done thoughtfully, said Jeff Moon, an international trade and government affairs consultant and a former assistant U.S. trade representative.

“The biggest problem I see is just vagueness when we talk about Chinese investment,” Moon said. “Are we talking about any Chinese national that's dropping a penny into the American economy?”

View from Silicon Valley

In Silicon Valley, there is some relief the Trump administration appears to have backed away from a plan to block investment into AI or other technologies in the United States by a company with more than 25 percent Chinese ownership.

While the national security concerns are legitimate, tech firms and investors don't want to see “policies that take some kind of a sledgehammer approach to investment, which by and large from China here has been beneficial," said Sean Randolph, senior director of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute.

“How concerned should we be about these different sources of leakage, if that's the term,” Randolph said. “What is an appropriate way to address that as opposed to ways that would try to address it, but that actually end up having a very negative effect on the economy here and in the U.S. economy, and the Chinese economy, too?”

Collaboration valued

Recently, Silicon Valley held its first U.S.-China summit on AI technologies with a focus on how to better collaborate between the two nations.

“The technology is shared and collaborative and better for humankind. I don’t think it’s one country against another country,” said Tao Wang of SAIC Capital.

Helen Liang, managing partner of FoundersX, a venture capital firm, said entrepreneurs and companies in AI are focused on how to tackle big issues, such as health care, transportation and work.

“Regardless of the geopolitical pressure or differences, from a technology perspective we are looking to solve society’s problems,” said Liang, whose firm helps startups it invests in with business relationships in China.

'Disruption' from both countries

Nicolas Miailhe, president of The Future Society, a nonprofit research group, said any limits on investment from China to the United States could also slow down U.S. innovation.

“We have been used to disruptive business models emerging from the Silicon Valley here. This is changing,” Miailhe said. “We are now in FinTech for example seeing new and disruptive business models emerging from China.”

“Disruption” is a favorite term in Silicon Valley, describing how new technologies can lead to dramatic and unpredictable results on an industry.

That potential is what excites these entrepreneurs – and worries some lawmakers back in Washington.

Statement of Treasury Secretary Mnuchin Following Fifth Finance Ministers’ Meeting on Venezuela

WASHINGTON.- U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin issued the following statement following the fifth finance ministers’ meeting on Venezuela:

“I welcomed Finance Ministers to the Treasury Department today to discuss Venezuela’s dire economic and humanitarian situation. This was the fifth such meeting, and the first since more than 50 countries recognized Interim President Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s legitimate Interim President. Participants in the meeting included officials from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Guyana, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Panama, Portugal, Peru, Spain, and the UK.

“Previously, Finance Ministers have examined the involvement of Maduro regime insiders in diverting funds from the subsidized food program, and the regime’s use of illegal gold mining to help Maduro maintain power. Today, the Ministers reviewed steps taken since January to increase financial pressure on the Maduro regime and additional steps to support the democratically elected National Assembly and Interim President Guaidó.

“The Ministers then discussed plans for future economic support of Venezuela. We welcomed to this discussion Dr. Ricardo Hausmann, whom Interim President Guaidó has designated as coordinator of his economic advisors. The Ministers considered Interim President Guaidó’s economic policy vision to stabilize Venezuela’s financial system, root out public corruption, and spur economic growth.

“The Ministers also agreed to support robust engagement by the international financial institutions to assist Interim President Guaidó’s government as it prepares for new elections. The Ministers acknowledged that there may be a long and costly process of rebuilding Venezuela after many years of poor economic policies and kleptocracy.

“The Ministers discussed that very significant trade finance is needed to restart Venezuela’s private sector. We are committed to work with partners to prepare these mechanisms and we are prepared to work with Venezuela to provide technical assistance and capacity building.

“The Ministers agreed to monitor developments in Venezuela closely. We will continue to support Venezuela in its transition to a legitimate government as soon as possible to meet the people’s aspirations for a better life and democratic future.”

Survey: US Tariffs Hurting American Businesses in China

BEIJING, (BILL IDE-VOANEWS).-Even before U.S.-China trade tensions began escalating dramatically, foreign businesses who operate in China were warning about the impact tariffs could have. And now, according to a newly released joint survey from the American Chamber of Commerce in China and AmCham Shanghai, many are already feeling the pinch.

More than 60 percent say the initial $50 billion in tariffs rolled out by the United States and China are having a negative impact on business, increasing the demand of manufacturing and slowing demand for products.

That number is expected to rise to nearly 75 percent if a second round of tariffs, an additional $200 billion in tariffs from Washington and another $60 billion from Beijing, goes ahead.

The administration of President Donald Trump has threatened it could go ahead with $200 billion in tariffs and, if needed, $267 billion more after that.

Unexpected consequences

William Zarit, chairman of AmCham China said while there are expectations in Washington that an additional onslaught of tariffs could force Beijing to wave the white flag, it risks underestimating China’s capability to continue to meet fire with fire, he said.

“It seems that American companies will be more harmed by the American tariffs than they will by the Chinese tariffs. I don’t think that this necessarily is a result that was expected,” Zarit said.

President Trump argues that China is stealing jobs from the United States and not doing enough to address the huge trade deficit between the two economies. The tariffs are seen by proponents as a way of pressuring China to move away from its state-led economy and policies that force technology transfers.

Zaritt said it remains to be seen whether some of the Trump administration’s tactics and tariffs will address big problems, such as Chinese protectionism, state capitalism and other things such as preferential loans and subsidies. He said one key approach that could go a long way to help ease tensions is for the focus to shift toward equal and reciprocal treatment.

“The Chinese have acknowledged that as their economy is evolving away from an export driven/investment driven to a more consumption/domestic demand driven economy, that they really need to open their market. And so, the big question is why would you not do that if it is in your interest?” Zarit said.

Private vs public economy

In Beijing, some have framed the trade tensions as an attempt by the United States to thwart China’s rise. Others, however, have suggested that instead of opening up markets and giving private enterprises more space, the opposite should happen. An article written by Wu Xiaoping, a veteran financier and columnist argues it is time for private enterprises to think about exiting the market.

In the article, he argued China should move toward a large scale centralized private-public mixed economy. He also said the private economy shouldn’t expand blindly.

“The private economy has accomplished its mission to help the public economy develop and it should gradually step aside,” he wrote in the article.

The article has sparked a backlash online and even state media reports have criticized Wu’s views. The fact that the idea was able to circulate so widely before being heavily censored on Thursday is a signal that the government might be sending out a trial balloon.

Others analysts argue the publication of the article could have been motivated by a fear for some that Beijing was preparing to make major concessions.

Zhang Yifan, an associate economics’ professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said despite the widespread criticism, the idea was worrisome.

“President Xi’s government, they believe [in a] strong government,” Zhang said. “So, there is a trend that they strengthen the power of the government and I am worried that market forces will play a smaller and smaller role.”

More trade talks

On Thursday, China’s Foreign Ministry confirmed that both Washington and Beijing are preparing for another possible round of talks and trade negotiations.

A spokesman from the Foreign Ministry welcomed the invitation from Washington and the two were discussing details about the proposed talks. U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin invited his counterparts in China along with Vice Premier Liu He to attend the talks, which could happen in the coming weeks.

The fact that higher ranking officials would attend the talks is being seen as a positive sign. The last round of talks were carried by lower-ranking officials.

Joyce Huang contributed to this report

Taiwan Expects a Wait before Acquiring US Submarine Technology

TAIPEI, (RALPH JENNINGS-VOANEWS).-Taiwan expects a slow absorption of U.S. military submarine technology due to technical barriers and opposition from its chief rival China, despite Washington’s agreement this month to let American contractors pass on the sensitive information.

In early April, the U.S. Department of State agreed to grant marketing licenses to American defense contractors that offer Taiwan the technology, military officials in Taipei say. Taiwan plans to develop its own conventional submarine.

Washington had prohibited those transfers before because of the information’s sensitivity, military scholars in Taiwan say.

“This is the very first step. Contractors can openly discuss these issues with their contractors in Taiwan,” said Andrew Yang, secretary-general of the Chinese Council of Advanced Policy Studies in Taiwan. “However, we still don't know how much can be approached.”

Obstacles in China

China protested to the United States April 11 over its agreeing to licensing of submarine technology, with a foreign ministry spokesman saying any U.S. effort to “play the Taiwan card” would fail.

American contractors keen to sell technology to Taiwan would risk getting cut off by China if they do business there, too, said Alexander Huang, strategic studies professor at Tamkang University in Taiwan.

“There is a long way to go before that any shape of submarine can be contemplated,” Huang said.

Taiwan and China have been separately ruled since the Chinese civil war of the 1940s, when the Nationalists lost and fled to the island. Beijing insists that the two eventually unify, though opinion polls in Taiwan indicate most Taiwanese oppose unification.

China has a more powerful military than Taiwan's and has not renounced threats to use force if Taiwan declares formal independence. Beijing resents the United States, which has the world’s most powerful armed forces, for helping in Taiwan’s defense.

Last week’s announcement in Beijing of live-fire naval drills in the strait west of Taiwan on April 18 was meant to warn Washington and Taipei, said Yun Sun, East Asia Program senior associate at the Stimson Center think tank in the United States.

China would particularly oppose a senior official’s visit to the island under the Taiwan Travel Act approved in March, Sun said.

U.S. officials could tone down their support for Taiwan’s submarines or ramp it up after those drills, said Huang Kwei-bo, international affairs college vice dean at National Chengchi University in Taipei. Washington values its economic ties with China but backs Taipei as part of a loose alliance of Asian Pacific democracies.

“The drills in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, what’s the impact?” the vice dean asked. “Whether it will make the U.S. think twice or accelerate its help for Taiwan, I don't know, but it will definitely have an impact, whether positive or negative.”

If anyone involved in the submarine technology copies it to China as a spy, he added, Washington might reconsider its level of military aid to Taiwan.

Legal and technical barriers

In early 2016, the Taiwan Ministry of National Defense found local manufacturers to develop a $3.3 billion submarine within eight years. That hardware would join Taiwan’s slow-growing effort to build its own military technology rather than relying on sales from abroad. Today the military operates two aging submarines bought from the Netherlands in the 1980s.

Taiwan is starting from scratch to build its submarine, pointing to a long discussion process with any willing American contractors, Yang said. To get a deal from an American contractor may take more U.S. government support, he said.

The U.S. government periodically sells Taiwan billion-dollar-plus arms packages that include military expertise. It never before included anything as far-reaching or sensitive as submarine technology, they say.

The defense ministry must develop a budget for any technology if negotiations reach that point, ministry spokesman Chen Chung-chi said. He said it had set no timeline for getting the U.S. submarine technology.

It would take time to negotiate with contractors, arrange a budget and wait for possible legislative discussions, he said.

Because the U.S. navy no longer uses the type of diesel-electric submarines that Taiwan hopes to build, a willing American contractor may also need to “find spare parts” for Taiwan, Alexander Huang said. “We still are in the beginning of it, at square one,” he said.

But the ministry spokesman called the U.S. nod to submarine licenses a “breakthrough” with “major significance” that he hopes will inspire more military technology transfers.

Taiwan's military advantages vs. China waning: U.S. report

WASHINGTON,  (CNA).- Taiwan's military advantages are on the wane as Beijing continues to modernize its armed forces and reinforce preparations for a possible conflict in the Taiwan Strait, the United States said in a report on China's military power.

The Department of Defense's 2018 China Military Power Report released Thursday said Taiwan has historically enjoyed military advantages in a potential cross-strait conflict, such as technological superiority and the inherent geographic advantages of island defense.

But "China's multi-decade military modernization effort has eroded or negated many of these," the report contended.

Though Taiwan is taking steps to compensate for the growing disparities, they only partially address Taiwan's declining defensive advantages at a time when China's official defense budget has grown to roughly 15 times that of Taiwan.

Much of that budget is focused on developing the capability to unify Taiwan with the mainland by force, the report said, noting that China has never repudiated the use of military force despite its advocacy of "peaceful reunification" with Taiwan.

"China's overall strategy continues to incorporate elements of both persuasion and coercion to hinder the development of political attitudes in Taiwan favoring independence," the report said.

China has stressed that Taiwan must accept the "1992 consensus," an ambiguous term used by Taiwan's previous administration and Chinese leaders as a basis for engagement, according to the report.

Taiwan's incumbent President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) of the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party has refused to recognize the "consensus," a tacit understanding there is "one China," with each side having its own interpretation of what "one China" means.

Against that backdrop, the "major PLA reorganization of combat units in 2017 likely affected units responsible for a Taiwan contingency," the report said.

"Concurrently, the PLA continued to develop and deploy increasingly advanced military capabilities intended to coerce Taiwan, signal Chinese resolve, and gradually improve capabilities for an invasion."

These improvements pose major challenges to Taiwan's security, the report said, arguing that "China could pursue a measured approach by signaling its readiness to use force or conduct punitive actions against Taiwan."

"The PLA could also conduct a more comprehensive and more methodical campaign designed to force Taiwan to capitulate to unification, or unification dialogue, under PRC terms."

China will also try to deter potential U.S. intervention "in any Taiwan contingency campaign," the report said. "Failing that, China would attempt to delay intervention and seek victory in an asymmetric, limited war of short duration.

"In the event of a protracted conflict, China might fight to a standstill and pursue a political settlement," the report speculated.

The China Military Power Report, a requirement of the U.S.'s National Defense Authorization Act, describes the current status and development of Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) forces, and also provides analysis of China's strategy in the Taiwan Strait.

(By Chiang Chin-yeh and Elizabeth Hsu)

Photo CNA.

Terrorist Financing Targeting Center Hosts Exercise on Disrupting Illicit Finance

RIYADJ, SAUDI ARABIA.- The Terrorist Financing Targeting Center (TFTC) this week convened a regional capacity-building workshop in Riyadh focused on Iranian illicit finance schemes and the risks Iran poses to the international financial system.

The TFTC, launched in 2017, is a multilateral effort among the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, and Oman to counter terrorist financing.

During the exercise, member countries were presented with a series of case studies that highlight Iran-related illicit finance and sanctions evasion schemes. Iran deploys these tactics to skirt efforts to detect, deter, and prevent money laundering and terrorist financing in countries around the world.

Participants worked through best practices and steps their governments have taken or could take to further disrupt the Iranian regime’s malign activities.

TFTC member states also offered expert guidance for complying with United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) and Financial Action Task Force (FATF) international standards. Discussions focused on key efforts to counter the financing of weapons of mass destruction proliferation, vulnerabilities of general trading companies, and strengthening financial transparency in the private sector through customer due diligence and other preventive measures. Participants also discussed the importance of effectively regulating and supervising digital asset financial activities and related digital currency providers for anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism (AML/CFT).

The capacity-building workshop helps to advance the core TFTC mission of disrupting the flow of illicit funds to terrorists and terrorist organizations. Member states will take the lessons learned back to their countries to help identify ways they can strengthen their sanction regimes, close vulnerabilities, and work more efficiently together to fight terrorist financing.

Treasury Designates Singapore-Based Targets for Laundering Money in Support of North Korea

WASHINGTON. – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) today announced North Korea-related designations of two entities and one individual, continuing the implementation of existing sanctions. In a related action, today the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed criminal charges against the same individual, Tan Wee Beng.

Today’s action highlights North Korea’s continued illicit use of the financial system to circumvent sanctions, as well as the U.S. Government’s commitment to safeguard the international financial system and implement existing UN Security Council (UNSC) resolutions. Today’s action also makes clear that the United States will not hesitate to impose sanctions on any individual, entity, or vessel supporting North Korea’s illicit activities, regardless of nationality.

“Tan Wee Beng and his co-conspirators made deliberate efforts to launder money through the U.S. financial system on behalf of North Korea,” said Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “Governments, financial institutions, and other companies worldwide need to be on high alert to these types of schemes.

The U.S. government will not overlook these deceptive practices. We are deeply committed to the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea, and Treasury will continue to enforce and implement sanctions until that time.”

OFAC designated Singapore-based Tan Wee Beng, Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd, and WT Marine Pte Ltd pursuant to E.O. 13551 for having, directly or indirectly, engaged in money laundering, the counterfeiting of goods or currency, bulk cash smuggling, narcotics trafficking, or other illicit economic activity that involves or supports the Government of North Korea or any senior official thereof.

Tan Wee Beng is a director and significant shareholder of Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd, a Singapore-based commodities trading company. Over several years, dating back to at least 2011, Tan Wee Beng and at least one other individual in his company fulfilled millions of dollars in commodities contracts for North Korea. To do so,

Tan Wee Beng made a concerted effort to obfuscate payment origins and structure transactions to avoid regulatory scrutiny. Tan Wee Beng and his co-conspirators also knew of and took efforts to evade financial sanctions on North Korea. In at least one instance, when a wire payment was rejected, Tan Wee Beng and Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd orchestrated payment in bulk cash, hand-delivered to a North Korean.

OFAC also designated WT Marine Pte Ltd, a marine fuels company closely related to Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd, and of which Tan Wee Beng is the Managing Director. Last year, the JW JEWEL (IMO: 9402964) and NYMEX STAR (IMO: 9078191), vessels operated and managed by WT Marine Pte Ltd, engaged in illicit economic activity that involves or supports the Government of North Korea.

Many of the activities undertaken by Tan Wee Beng and his associated companies are the types of activities that were highlighted in the November 2, 2017 Advisory on North Korea’s Use of the International Financial System published by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).

Most notably, today’s designations illustrate Treasury’s previous warnings regarding North Korea’s use of third-country companies to divide their payments into smaller outflows in complex layering schemes directed through front companies, shell companies, and shipping or trade businesses elsewhere in Asia. Moreover, North Korean financial representatives use third-country corporate service providers to establish the front or shell companies and use these companies to open bank accounts to access the U.S. and international financial systems.

Tan Wee Beng’s role in Wee Tiong (S) Pte Ltd and WT Marine Pte Ltd is also indicative of how North Korea-linked financial facilitators often establish and use multiple companies with the same owners or managers. These companies also frequently share addresses, telephone numbers, and employees, and they may transact with similar business partners. Additional questions or comments regarding the contents of the November 2, 2017 advisory should be addressed to the FinCEN Resource Center at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Moreover, UNSC resolution 1718 (2006) prohibits transactions with designated entities who subject to an asset freeze. In Resolution 2375 (2017) the UNSC decided that all Member State shall prohibit their nationals, persons subject to their jurisdiction, entities incorporated in their territory or subject to their jurisdiction, and vessels flying their flag from facilitating or engaging in ship-to-ship transfers to or from Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)-flagged vessels of any goods or items that are being supplied, sold, or transferred to or from the DPRK.

As a result of today’s action, any property or interests in property of the designated persons, including the two vessels, in the possession or control of U.S. persons or within the United States is blocked, and U.S. persons generally are prohibited from dealing with the designated persons.

Identifying information on the entities and individual sanctioned today.

Trump Acknowledges Summit With North Korea's Kim in Doubt


WHITE HOUSE, (STEVE HERMAN-VOANEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump said his planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un might not take place next month.

"If it doesn't happen, maybe it will happen later," Trump said. "It may not work out for June 12."

Trump added, however, "There's a good chance we'll have the meeting," terming the preliminary discussions between his administration and North Korean officials, so far, "a good experience."

Trump also said of Kim that "I think he's absolutely serious" about the planned talks.

Trump, speaking in the Oval Office alongside South Korean President Moon Jae-in, explained, "There are certain conditions that we want. I think we will get those conditions."

Asked about the conditions, Trump replied, "I'd rather not say." But he stated that the denuclearization of North Korea "must take place."

"After talking about the summit with unbridled enthusiasm, President Trump is now playing it cool, hinting that he could just as easily walk away," said Jean Lee, director of Korean history and public policy at the Wilson Center. "We know he wants it — and so does Kim Jong Un — but it's a complicated courtship between these leaders of two countries that remain in a technical state of war."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to reporters at a State Department briefing Tuesday, said the U.S. is still working toward the June 12 summit date, but wouldn't predict whether the summit would take place. But he said he was "confident we'll get there" in the end.

Might call off meeting

North Korea has indicated it might call off the meeting due to disagreements on conditions by the United States for unilateral denuclearization.

“All in one [denuclearization] would be a lot better," Trump stated but acknowledged that for "physical reasons" that might not be immediately possible, Kim would have to agree to abandon his nuclear arsenal "over a very short period of time."

Trump, during a 35-minute exchange with reporters in the Oval Office, said if Kim agrees to that, "I will guarantee his safety," which would make Kim happy and "his country will be rich."

South Korea, China and Japan, according to Trump, are ready to invest "very, very large sums of money into helping to make North Korea great" if there's a deal made to get rid of Pyongyang's nuclear weapons.

"If it doesn't work out, he can't be happy," said Trump, who recently warned that North Korea would be "decimated" if it does not agree to give up its atomic arsenal.

"North Korea will chafe at this approach," Lee at the Wilson Center told VOA News. "Kim Jong Un doesn't want to be treated, publicly, like a pauper. He wants to come to the table as an equal, and from a position of perceived strength, not as a supplicant."

Moon, who flew to Washington from Seoul to try to persuade Trump not to call off next month's meeting in Singapore with the North's leader, said he has "every confidence [Trump] will be able to achieve a historic feat" by getting North Korea to denuclearize, ending the Korean War, establishing relations between Washington and Pyongyang and thus bringing "peace and prosperity" to the northern half of the peninsula.

"I will spare no effort to provide all necessary support," Moon said. "The fate and the future of Korea hinge on this."

The two-hour talks Tuesday between Trump and Moon marked their sixth meeting, although they have spoken on the telephone numerous other times.

Trump in charge

Moon, in the Oval Office discussion, credited Trump with bringing about the recent positive change of tone from North Korea, saying, "The person who is in charge is President Trump. President Trump has been able to achieve this dramatic change."

Trump, in response to a question from a South Korean reporter, said, "I have tremendous confidence in President Moon, and I think South Korea is very lucky to have him."

After a historic inter-Korean meeting between Moon and Kim last month, a followup round of high-level North-South talks was abruptly canceled by Pyongyang, which expressed anger about continuing military exercises between the United States and South Korea.

Trump said the two Koreas have been separated for decades by "an artificial border" and predicted "maybe someday in the future they'll get together and you'll go back to one Korea."

Also under discussion between Seoul and Washington is the size and cost of U.S. forces in South Korea to defend it against the North.

The Trump administration is reportedly considering reducing the number of American military personnel from the current level of 28,500. A South Korean official said Seoul and Washington "remain far apart on the cost-sharing issue."

Asked by VOA News at Tuesday's White House briefing about the outcome of the discussion concerning the U.S. troops, Press Secretary Sarah Sanders replied she had no immediate information.

"At least in the meeting that I was in that did not come up," Sanders added.

Steve Herman

Steve Herman is VOA's White House Bureau Chief.

Trump Reimposes Iranian Economic Sanctions

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- The United States has reimposed economic sanctions on Iran that were originally put in place to pressure the country to limit its nuclear program and later lifted under a 2015 international agreement.

President Donald Trump has been a frequent critic of that deal and withdrew the United States from the agreement three months ago, setting in motion the reimposition of the sanctions effective at midnight Monday.

Earlier in the day he assailed Iran as "a murderous dictatorship that has continued to spread bloodshed, violence and chaos."

Trump said the new sanctions target the Islamic Republic's automotive sector, its trade in gold and other precious metals, along with its currency, the Iranian rial, and other financial transactions.

hat on Nov. 5, the United States would also resume sanctions against Iran's energy-related transactions, as well as business conducted by foreign financial institutions with the Central Bank of Iran.

Trump renewed his attack on the international nuclear pact, calling it "a horrible, one-sided deal" that "failed to achieve the fundamental objective of blocking all paths to an Iranian nuclear bomb," while giving it "a lifeline of cash" when earlier sanctions were lifted.

"Since the deal was reached, Iran’s aggression has only increased," Trump said. He said Iran has used "the windfall of newly accessible funds" it received "to build nuclear-capable missiles, fund terrorism, and fuel conflict across the Middle East and beyond."

He added, "To this day, Iran threatens the United States and our allies, undermines the international financial system, and supports terrorism and militant proxies around the world."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a speech broadcast on state television, said the United States cannot be trusted because it withdrew from the international pact, whose other signatories still support it. He said Tehran has always believed in resolving disputes diplomatically.

Rouhani said that Trump's call for direct negotiations with Iran were "only for domestic consumption in America... and to create chaos in Iran."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, like Trump a long-time opponent of the accord, congratulated him on the new sanctions.

"This is an important moment for Israel, the U.S., the region and the entire world," Netanyahu said.

In Washington, senior administration officials said that while critics of Trump's withdrawal from the Iran pact predicted that the threat of unilateral sanctions reimposed by the United States would be ineffective, the reality has shown the opposite.

"Three months out, we have a very different picture in front of us," with higher unemployment, "widespread protests, social issues and labor unrest," one Trump official said.

One of the officials said that nearly 100 international firms have announced their intention to leave the Iranian market, particularly in the energy and finance sectors.

The official said the United States expects Iran will blame it for any new hardships, saying, "They've been doing it for almost 40 years. Now, it's there. It's their modus operandi. But I think you can see the Iranian people start to see through that. We would like to see a change in the regime behavior, and I think the Iranian people are looking for the same thing."

EU takes action

The European Union, which remains a supporter of the three-year-old nuclear pact with Iran, said it is taking counter-measures to blunt the impact of the sanctions Trump has reinstituted.

The EU said it is simultaneously implementing a "blocking statute" as the new sanctions take effect, stopping European companies from complying with the U.S. sanctions unless they have permission to do so. It also blocks the effect of any U.S. court actions in Europe related to the sanctions.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini and the French, German and British foreign ministers said they deeply regretted Trump's action.

They called the international agreement "a key element of the global nuclear nonproliferation architecture, crucial for the security of Europe, the region and the entire world."

In his statement, Trump said the United States "is fully committed to enforcing all of our sanctions, and we will work closely with nations conducting business with Iran to ensure complete compliance. Individuals or entities that fail to wind down activities with Iran risk severe consequences."

The two other signatories to the 2015 pact — Russia and China — also continue to support it. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is monitoring the implementation of the deal, has said in 11 consecutive reports that Iran is in compliance and that the agreement has allowed for greater verification of Iran's nuclear activities.

The 2015 agreement called for Iran to sharply curb its uranium enrichment program and other nuclear activity in exchange for the end of most sanctions. Iran has repeatedly denied its nuclear program was aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Trump to Spare Chinese Telecom ZTE From Collapse

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- The Trump administration told lawmakers Friday that it had reached a deal that would keep the Chinese telecom firm ZTE alive, possibly clearing the way for the United States to make progress in its high-stakes trade talks with China next month.

Under the agreement, ZTE would oust its management team, hire American compliance officers to be placed at the firm and pay a fine. The fine would come on top of the roughly $1 billion ZTE has paid for selling equipment to North Korea and Iran in violation of U.S. sanctions, according to news reports.

In return, the Commerce Department would lift a seven-year ban on ZTE’s purchase of components from U.S. companies. The Chinese company depends on these components to make its products, and the ban, imposed earlier this month, threatened to put ZTE out of business.

On Friday evening, President Donald Trump lashed out at Democratic lawmakers and confirmed the news of the deal on Twitter.

Last month, the U.S. Commerce Department ruled that the company had failed to live up to the terms of an agreement over ZTE’s evasion of sanctions.

News of the ZTE agreement came nearly a week after the U.S. and China suspended plans to impose tariffs on as much as $200 billion of each other’s goods, putting them on the brink of a trade war.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is scheduled to travel to Beijing on June 2 for further discussions about China’s aggressive push to challenge U.S. technological dominance.

Trump Warns Iranian President 'Never Threaten the US'

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- U.S. President Donald Trump has warned Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to "never threaten the United States," in a Twitter comment that came shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave a speech critical of Iran's leaders.


He appeared to be responding to reports earlier in the day quoting Rouhani warning Trump, "don't play with the lion's tail, this would only lead to regret."

"America must understand well that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace and war with Iran is the mother of all wars," Rouhani said.

Gen. Gholam Hossein Gheibparvar, a senior officer in Iran's Revolutionary Guards, dismissed Trump's statement as "psychological warfare" and said Trump would not take action against Iran.

Pompeo told an audience at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California that the government in Iran has become a nightmare for the Iranian people.

The top U.S. diplomat said the United Sates is not afraid to pressure the Iranian government at its highest level as he urged all U.S. allies to join in financially suppressing the government.

"This especially goes for our allies in the Middle East and Europe, people who have themselves been terrorized by the violent regime's activity for decades," Pompeo said.

He said the Trump administration will not stay silent against what he calls the numerous crimes and abuses of the Iranian government. This includes kleptocracy, with Pompeo saying those at the top have squandered the people's wealth on terrorism and theft and a zeal to spread the Islamic revolution to other nations.

Pompeo said the Iranian economy is "going great," but only for the elite, accusing the ayatollahs and senior leaders of lining their pockets to the tune of billions of dollars while a third of Iranians live in poverty.

"Judging by their vast wealth, they seem more concerned with riches than religion," he said. "These hypocritical holy men have devised all kinds of crooked schemes to become some of the wealthiest men on Earth while their people suffer."

While Pompeo was speaking about the lack of free speech in Iran, he was interrupted by a heckler. The secretary stood by calmly before remarking that Iranians should have the same kind of freedom of expression.

The secretary also announced that the Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees the Voice of America, is taking new steps to help Iranians get around internet censorship. The BBG is also launching a new 24/7 Farsi-language channel across television, radio, digital, and social media formats.

He said the goal of the United States is to see Iranians inside their own country live the same kind of life Iranians in the United States enjoy.

Turkish-US Tensions Deepen Over Detained American Pastor

ISTANBUL/WASHINGTON, (NIKE CHING).- A senior U.S. official said Washington is confident a detained American pastor in Turkey will be free soon, as tensions deepen between the two countries.

"On Pastor Brunson, I think there is excellent prospects that he's going to come home," Sam Brownback, U.S. ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said Thursday at the conclusion of three days of State Department talks to advance religious freedom.

Andrew Brunson, an evangelical pastor from Black Mountain, North Carolina, has been jailed in Turkey for nearly two years on terrorism and espionage charges. Earlier this week, Brunson was released from a Turkish prison and placed under house arrest while his trial continues.

His case has strained relations between Turkey and the United States, both NATO allies.

Threatening sanctions

Thursday, U.S. President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence threatened sanctions on Turkey if Brunson is not released.

The warning prompted a sharp response from Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Twitter.

The State Department said Friday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke with Cavusoglu the day before, underscoring "it is well past time" for Brunson to come home.

Washington accuses Ankara of hostage-taking in a bid to extract diplomatic leverage, a charge Turkey denies, insisting its judiciary is independent.

The diplomatic disagreement is further escalating amid reports Ankara reneged on a deal to release Brunson as part of the agreement that saw Israel release Turkish citizen Ebru Ozkan, accused of smuggling for Hamas.

A senior Turkish official dismissed the reports as "baseless." However, Trump's strong remarks calling for Brunson's release have led some to suggest there was some kind of agreement.

"I understand the so-called deal is a verbally agreed deal between the two presidents," said former senior Turkish diplomat Aydin Selcen, who served in Washington, "So we are not privy to the details. Maybe both sides did not understand one another well. So the U.S. believed they had a firm deal. But, Ankara believed there was more to deal with, before Brunson's release."

Diplomatic fallout

With Trump weighing in on Brunson's case, analysts say the diplomatic fallout for Ankara could be severe.

"Mr. Trump seems to be the only remaining asset left in D.C. [Washington] for Ankara," Selcen said.

Trump and Erdogan reportedly had developed a good relationship. The U.S. president at this month's NATO summit praised his Turkish counterpart.

"He does things the right way," he said.

At the same time, the U.S. Senate is set to vote on a bill that would seek the restriction of loans by international bodies to Turkey.

"It's mainly symbolic, but important," said political analyst Atilla Yesilada of Global Source Partners.

He said the move would only have limited effect on Turkey, but warns it could be a sign of Washington's intent on how it could punish Turkey.

"Never mind these various sanction bills," he continued. "Just a few telephone calls from the American Treasury to large American banks to hold back on new loans to Turkey's counterparts or not to underwrite bonds would cause significant damage to an already extremely fragile Turkish economy."

Turkey is heavily dependent on foreign capital to sustain its economy.

But Turkey has leverage of its own. U.S. forces are reliant on Ankara for regional operations at the large Incirlik Turkish airbase. Washington is also looking for Turkish cooperation in enforcing Iranian sanctions.

Analysts say Turkey also uses Washington's concerns over its deepening relationship with Russia as leverage. Washington is lobbying Ankara to abandon a purchase of Russian S-400 missiles.

U.S. drug enforcement agency plans to open office in Taipei

TAIPEI, (CNA).- A United States narcotics official said Tuesday that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) plans to establish an office in Taipei to promote interaction with Taiwan's law enforcement agencies.

Phillip Chad Esch, narcotics attaché for the DEA Hong Kong SAR Office, made the announcement at the first-ever crime-fighting and forensic science workshop that opened in Taipei that day.

It is hoped that the future Taipei office will also help enhance cooperation between law enforcement agencies, and that the two sides will be able to further exchange information on cross-border crime, Esch said.

However, the date for the establishment of the office has yet to be determined, he added.

According to the DEA website, the agency currently has 86 foreign offices in 62 countries, of which 14 are in the Far East region including Hong Kong, Australia, the Philippines and Singapore.

The two-day workshop, the first held under the U.S.-Taiwan Global Cooperation Training Framework (GCTF) since its inception in June 2015, is co-hosted by Taiwan's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), the Ministry of Justice Investigation Bureau (MJIB), and the American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) which represents the U.S. interests in Taiwan during the absence of the diplomatic ties between the two nations.

According to MOFA, representatives from 16 countries on three continents are attending the event in Taipei and will discuss how to deepen international cooperation and combat cross-border crime.

(By Wang Yang-yu and Ko Lin)

UN: Migrant Caravan Children Suffering Extreme Hardships

GENEVA, (LISA SCHLEIN-VOANEWS).- The United Nations children's fund (UNICEF) reports an estimated 2,300 children in Mexico traveling toward the United States are suffering extreme hardships because of the heat, lack of basic services and multiple dangers on the way.

The children are part of a caravan carrying some 9,300 refugees and migrants toward the U.S. border.

The voyage is long, extremely hot and dangerous. UNICEF said the journey is particularly tough on the children.

The U.N. agency said the temperature in southern Mexico is dangerously hot. Many children are ill, others are suffering from dehydration and trauma. All lack access to essential services including health care, clean water and sanitation and shelter.

In addition, UNICEF spokeswoman, Marixie Mercado, said the need for protection is great. She noted that many of the children and their families in the caravan are fleeing gang and gender-based violence, extortion, and poverty in their home countries.

She said they have embarked on this dangerous journey from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador in search of asylum and in hopes of improving their lives.

"While those traveling with the caravan hope for safety in numbers, the perils of using irregular migration routes remain significant, especially for children," she said. "The journey is long, uncertain and full of danger, including the risk of exploitation, violence and abuse."

Mercado told VOA the children, regardless of their migration status, are guaranteed certain protection rights under international law. She said governments are obliged to abide by them.

"That means that it is essential that all children and families are able to apply for asylum and that they are able to have their international protection rights addressed before any decision on returns or deportations are made," she added.

Meanwhile, Mercado said UNICEF is working with the Mexican government and other partners to make sure uprooted children receive the support and services they need. This, she said, includes providing children with nutrition, protection, and psychosocial support to help them deal with abuse they may have encountered along the migratory route.

United States Disrupts Large Scale Front Company Network Transferring Hundreds of Millions of Dollars and Euros to the IRGC and Iran’s Ministry of Defense

WASHINGTON . – Today, the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) took action against 25 individuals and entities, including a network of Iran, UAE, and Turkey-based front companies, that have transferred over a billion dollars and euros to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and Iran’s Ministry of Defense and Armed Forces Logistics (MODAFL), in addition to procuring millions of dollars’ worth of vehicles for MODAFL.

Today’s action exposes an extensive sanctions evasion network established by the Iranian regime, which it increasingly relies on as the United States’ maximum pressure campaign severely constricts the regime’s sources of revenue. OFAC also designated Iran’s MODAFL pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13224 for its role in assisting the IRGC-Qods Force (IRGC-QF), as well as an Iran-based bank for providing banking services to the IRGC-QF.

“We are targeting a vast network of front companies and individuals located in Iran, Turkey, and the UAE to disrupt a scheme the Iranian regime has used to illicitly move more than a billion dollars in funds,” said Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin. “The IRGC, MODAFL, and other malign actors in Iran continue to exploit the international financial system to evade sanctions, while the regime funds terrorism and other destabilizing activities across the region.”

“Central to this network and sanctioned today pursuant to our counterterrorism authority is Iran's IRGC-controlled Ansar Bank and its currency exchange arm, Ansar Exchange, both of which used layers of intermediary entities to exchange devalued Iranian rial ultimately for dollars and euros to line the pockets of the IRGC and MODAFL.

This vast network is just the latest example of the Iranian regime’s use of deceptive practices to exploit the global financial system and divert resources to sanctioned entities,” said Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal Mandelker. “This once again exposes to the international community the dangerous risks of operating in an Iranian economy that is deliberately opaque.”

Ansar Bank’s Sanctions Evasion Scheme
Through IRGC-controlled Ansar Bank, the Iranian regime established a layered network of front companies based in Iran, Turkey, and the UAE to bypass sanctions, gain access to the international financial system, and exchange devalued Iranian rial for dollars and euros. Ansar Bank also used international free zones to establish front companies.

As part of this scheme, Ansar Bank used its Iran-based foreign currency arm, Ansar Exchange and its network, to convert Iranian rial ultimately to hundreds of millions of dollars and euros. To provide this funding to Ansar Bank, MODAFL, and the IRGC, Ansar Exchange relied upon a network of front companies and agents in Turkey and the UAE. In just the last year-and-a-half, four front companies- UAE-based Sakan General Trading, Lebra Moon General Trading, and Naria General Trading, as well as Iran-based Hital Exchange, all designated today — provided the equivalent of approximately $800 million in funds to Ansar Exchange. Additionally, Turkey-based Atlas Doviz acted as a secondary foreign currency provider for Ansar Exchange.

These front companies are witting to Iran’s sanctions evasion. For example, as of 2019, Ansar Exchange Managing Director Alierza Atabaki worked closely with one central procurement agent, Reza Sakan, to avoid the scrutiny of Emirati authorities regarding Ansar Exchange’s financial dealings with UAE-based Sakan General Trading and other identified Ansar Exchange intermediaries.

Ansar Exchange network image

View the chart in Farsi describing Ansar Bank’s sanctions evasion scheme.

MODAFL, Ansar Bank, and Its Iran-Based Subsidiaries

MODAFL, first designated in 2007 pursuant to E.O. 13382 for supporting persons involved in Iran’s proliferation activities, supervises Iran’s development and production of missiles, including those used by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen against coalition forces. Today, OFAC designated MODAFL for providing logistic support to the IRGC-QF and its regional proxy groups. Specifically, MODAFL was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF.

As of 2017, MODAFL used funds from the Central Bank of Iran (CBI) that were earmarked for the IRGC-QF.

As a part of this scheme, multiple UAE-based firms were involved in the acquisition of hundreds of vehicles by MODAFL, an endeavor that also involved Iran-based Zagros Pardis Kish and Reza Heidari, who was designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 on November 20, 2017 for acting for or on behalf of, and for providing support to, the IRGC-QF as a part of a large-scale IRGC-QF counterfeiting ring. Payment for these vehicles was made to Lebra Moon General Trading. Naria General Trading was also involved in the vehicle acquisition.

Ansar Bank and Ayatollah Ebrahimi

IRGC-controlled Ansar Bank was previously designated pursuant to E.O. 13382 in 2010. Today, OFAC designated Ansar Bank pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF, and for being owned or controlled by the IRGC. With 1,081 branches throughout Iran, Ansar Bank procured hundreds of millions of dollars in the last three years on the IRGC’s behalf.

As recently as 2019, Ansar Bank officials maintained close associations with senior IRGC-QF officials and financial facilitators who use accounts at Ansar Bank to keep the equivalent of millions of dollars. For example, Treasury-designated IRGC-QF financial facilitator Meghdad Amini held funds at Ansar Bank.

Ansar Bank also extended the equivalent of millions of dollars as a loan to an IRGC-QF front company. IRGC-QF officials’ salaries also have been paid using Ansar Bank, and Ansar Bank is used by the IRGC-QF to pay the salaries of its foreign fighters, particularly those based in Syria. On October 16, 2018, Treasury designated two of these Syria-based, IRGC-QF-backed militias, the Fatemiyoun Division and Zainabiyoun Brigade, which are comprised of foreign fighters, including child soldiers as young as 14 years old.

Ayatollah Ebrahimi, who was recruited into the IRGC at the age of 14, has been the managing director of Ansar Bank since 2005. In this capacity, Ebrahimi worked directly with IRGC-QF officials to facilitate their financial activities, including the conversion of euros or the UAE dirham for the terrorist group. Ayatollah Ebrahimi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for acting for or on behalf of Ansar Bank.

Treasury is also taking action against a number of Iranian firms owned, or under the control of, Ansar Bank. Specifically, Iranian Atlas Company, Ansar Bank Brokerage Company, and Ansar Information Technology are being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by Ansar Bank.

Ansar Exchange and Its Network of Procurement Agents
Ansar Exchange

Central to this foreign currency procurement network is Iran-based Ansar Exchange, which conducted significant volumes of foreign currency exchange services for sanctioned Iranian entities, including Ansar Bank, MODAFL, and the IRGC. Ansar Exchange is wholly owned and controlled by Ansar Bank.

Since 2016, Ansar Exchange conducted currency exchange services for Ansar Bank totaling over one billion dollars. Over the past few years, Ansar Exchange also directly provided MODAFL with the equivalent of approximately 100 million in dollars and euros, in addition to the equivalent of approximately 130 million dollars’ worth of goods and services ultimately destined for the benefit of the IRGC.

As recently as 2019, Ansar Exchange maintained a close association with senior IRGC-QF officials. Ansar Exchange is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by Ansar Bank, and for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Ansar Bank. Ansar Exchange is also being designated for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, the IRGC-QF, and for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, the IRGC.

Alireza Atabaki

Alireza Atabaki is the managing director of Ansar Exchange. He co-owns Zagros Pardis Kish with Reza Heidari, an individual designated by Treasury in 2017 for acting for or on behalf of, and providing support to, the IRGC-QF. As recently as early 2019, Atabaki has worked with the IRGC-QF and coordinated transactions using an identified IRGC-QF front company.

Alireza Atabaki is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for acting for or on behalf of Ansar


In 2018, Iran-based Atlas Exchange — also designated today — at the behest of Atabaki, paid hundreds of thousands of euros and dirham to companies in Europe and the UAE. In 2018 and 2019, Atabaki worked closely with UAE-based Iranian financial facilitator Reza Sakan and UAE-based Mohammad Vakili, both of whom are being designated today. Vakili is affiliated with UAE-based companies Best Leader General Trading LLC and Golden Commodities General Trading LLC. Since at least 2015, Atabaki, in coordination with Iranian financial facilitator Assadollah Seifi, used Vakili and his UAE-based companies as foreign currency procurement and financial facilitation agents to procure and transfer millions of dollars, including in cash.

Zagros Pardis Kish

Ansar Exchange’s Managing Director Atabaki and Reza Heidari are registered as the co-owners of Zagros Pardis Kish, a company that is wholly owned by Ansar Bank. Ansar Exchange lists Zagros Pardis Kish as one of its major foreign currency customers.

Zagros Pardis Kish was involved in MODAFL’s acquisition of hundreds of vehicles shipped from the UAE to Iran. Multiple UAE-based firms were used to pay for and ship the vehicles. Reza Heidari and Zagros Pardis Kish manager Iman Sedaghat were involved in this endeavor. Zagros Pardis Kish is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of MODAFL, and for being owned or controlled by Alireza Atabaki.

In his capacity as manager of Zagros Pardis Kish, Iman Sedaghat coordinated the purchase of the hundreds of vehicles for MODAFL through the UAE for millions of dollars. Iman Sedaghat was previously involved in working with the IRGC-QF. Iman Sedaghat is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for acting for or on behalf of Zagros Pardis Kish, and for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, MODAFL.

UAE- and Turkey-Based Front Companies
Sakan General Trading and Reza Sakan

Among the UAE-based companies sanctioned today, UAE-based Sakan General Trading provided the most foreign currency exchange support to Ansar Exchange, and is owned by UAE resident and Iranian national Reza Sakan and his Iran-based firm Sakan Exchange, also known as Joint Partnership of Reza Sakan Dastgiri and Associates. Sakan General Trading was involved in financing the purchase of military aircraft tires by Iran’s Pars Aviation Service Company for the Syrian Air Force.

Sakan General Trading recently changed its name to Royal Credit General Trading.

Sakan General Trading is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Ansar Exchange. Reza Sakan is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being otherwise associated with Sakan General Trading, as he owns or controls Sakan General Trading. Sakan Exchange is also being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by Reza Sakan.

Hital Exchange and Seyyed Mohammad Reza Ale Ali

Hital Exchange, also known as Seyyed Mohammad Reza Ale Ali Currency Exchange, provided a significant volume of euros and dollars to Ansar Exchange. It is owned by Iranian national Seyyed Mohammad Reza Ale Ali who worked directly with Ansar Exchange Managing Director Alireza Atabaki to convert foreign currency.

From October 2016 to March 2018, Mohammad Reza Ale Ali, using Hital Exchange, provided Ansar Exchange with the equivalent of approximately $180 million in euro and U.S. dollar banknotes.

Today, Mohammad Reza Ale Ali is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Ansar Exchange. Hital Exchange is also being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by Mohammad Reza Ale Ali.

Atlas Exchange and Mohammad Vakili

Ansar Exchange also used Iran-based Atlas Exchange and its brokers to procure foreign currency. During the latter half of 2018, Ansar Exchange directed Atlas Exchange to transfer hundreds of thousands of euros and dirham to an Iranian company in the UAE and four companies in Europe. As of early 2019, Atlas Exchange solicited business with sanctioned Iranian banks. Atlas Exchange is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Ansar Exchange.

Atlas Exchange is owned by Mohammad Vakili, who resides in the UAE and collaborated with Assadollah Seifi to use two UAE-based companies – the Best Leader General Trading and Golden Commodities General Trading – to evade sanctions. Since at least 2015, Attabaki (Ansar Exchange’s managing director) in coordination with Assadollah Seifi used Vakili and his affiliated UAE-based companies, the Best Leader General Trading and Golden Commodities, to procure and transfer millions of dollars including in cash. The Best Leader General Trading recently changed its name to Wilmington General Trading.

As recently as late 2018, Atabaki (Ansar Exchange’s managing director) coordinated closely with Mohammad Vakili on financial matters. Vakili effectuated multiple transfers worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to entities in the UAE and Turkey on behalf of Atabaki, who has instructed Vakili to increase certain deposits for companies affiliated with the scheme. Mohammad Vakili is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for acting for or on behalf of Alireza Atabaki.

Asadollah Seifi, Golden Commodities General Trading, and The Best Leader General Trading

Asadollah Seifi used UAE-based Golden Commodities, which is under his supervision, and UAE-based company The Best Leader General Trading, to obfuscate millions of dollars’ worth of transactions benefiting the Iranian regime. Seifi also manages Atlas Exchange, and his procurement of U.S. dollars involved the transfer of funds through U.S.-designated banks such as Bank Mellat and Europaisch-Iranische Handelsbank AG. In August 2018, Seifi also facilitated the purchase of gold by the Iranian regime after U.S. sanctions on Iranian gold had been reimposed.

Seifi has also facilitated the purchase of foreign currency for the IRGC.

Assadolah Seifi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for acting for or on behalf of Atlas Exchange. Golden Commodities General Trading LLC is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by Asadollah Seifi. The Best Leader General Trading is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by Asadollah Seifi.

Suleyman Sakan and Atlas Doviz Ticaret A.S.

Since 2017, Turkey-based Suleyman Sakan, who is affiliated with Turkish firm Atlas Doviz Ticaret A.S., provided millions of U.S. dollars in foreign currency exchange services to Ansar Exchange, including through Turkey-based Atlas Doviz. Suleyman Sakan is an associate of Reza Sakan and UAE-based Sakan General Trading. Since at least 2017, Suleyman Sakan worked with Reza Sakan to expand their business activities to Oman using the Omani financial sector.

Suleyman Sakan is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Ansar Exchange.

Atlas Doviz Ticaret A.S. is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for being owned or controlled by Suleyman Sakan.

Ali Shams Mulavi

Since 2017, another Ansar Exchange intermediary agent, Turkey-based Iranian financial facilitator Ali Shams Mulavi, has used Naria General Trading to purchase foreign currency on behalf of Ansar Exchange. In 2019, Ali Shams Mulavi procured and transferred U.S. dollar banknotes for Ansar Exchange.

Ali Shams Mulavi is being designated pursuant to E.O. 13224 for assisting, sponsoring, or providing financial, material, or technological support for, or financial or other services to or in support of, Ansar Exchange.

Sanctions Implications
As a result of today’s action, all property and interests in property of these targets that are in the United States or in the possession or control of U.S. persons must be blocked and reported to OFAC. OFAC’s regulations generally prohibit all dealings by U.S. persons or within the United States (including transactions transiting the United States) that involve any property or interests in property of blocked or designated persons.

In addition, persons that engage in certain transactions with the individuals and entities designated today may themselves be exposed to sanctions or subject to an enforcement action. Furthermore, unless an exception applies, any foreign financial institution that knowingly facilitates a significant transactions for any of the individuals or entities designated today could be subject to U.S. sanctions.

Photo: Pixabay.

US Charges N. Korean Man in Sony Hack, Other Attacks

WASHINGTON, (MASOOD FARIVAR-VOANEWS)- U.S. prosecutors on Thursday announced criminal charges against a North Korean hacker they said was involved in a string of brazen cyberattacks in recent years, including the 2014 invasion on Sony Pictures and a 2016 heist at the central bank of Bangladesh.

Prosecutors identified the hacker as Park Jin Hyok, a computer programmer and member of a North Korean regime-sponsored hacking team known as the Lazarus Group. The group is accused of engaging in a multiyear conspiracy to conduct "multiple destructive cyberattacks" on banks and other institutions around the world.

The charges against Park were filed in federal court in Los Angeles, where Sony Pictures is headquartered, on June 8, four days before U.S. President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a historic summit in Singapore. The allegations come as the Trump administration is seeking to break a stalemate in denuclearization talks with the North Korean government.

Park, who faces charges of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit computer-related fraud, remains at large. The FBI released a wanted poster that seeks information about him.
The Treasury Department announced sanctions against Park and Chosun Expo Joint Venture, a North Korean government front company that employed him.

"Today's announcement demonstrates the FBI's unceasing commitment to unmasking and stopping the malicious actors and countries behind the world's cyberattacks," FBI Director Christopher Wray said. "We stand with our partners to name the North Korean government as the force behind this destructive global cybercampaign."

Accused of numerous attacks

The hacking group is accused of carrying out numerous other attacks on financial institutions, entertainment companies, defense contractors, virtual currency industries, academia and electric facilities in the United States, as well as on entities in Europe, Asia, Africa, North America and South America.

Assistant Attorney General John Demers called the scale of the cyberattacks "staggering."

The attack on Sony Pictures crippled the company's networks and was widely believed to have been carried out in retaliation for the release of The Interview, an action comedy film that depicted a fictional assassination plot against Kim.

The complaint alleges that the North Korean hackers stole movies and other confidential information during the invasion and rendered thousands of the company's computers inoperable. The administration of former President Barack Obama sanctioned three North Korean organizations and 10 individuals for the attack.

In the 2016 attack on Bangladesh Bank, the country's central bank, Lazarus Group hackers attempted to transfer out as much as $1 billion but ended up with $81 million. The heist is seen as the largest cybertheft from a financial institution.


The group was also behind the 2017 global ransomware attack known as WannaCry 2.0. The complaint alleges that the Lazarus Group hackers wrote the malware used in the attack, which infected computer networks in more than 150 countries.

The criminal complaint alleges that Park worked as a computer programmer for Chosun Expo for over a decade.

The company is affiliated with Lab 110, a component of the North Korean military intelligence service, according to the complaint. In addition to performing legitimate programming work for paying clients, the Lazarus

Group is accused of engaging in malicious cyberattacks.

Officials said the investigation into the group was ongoing.

Growing cyberthreats to US

In recent years, U.S. officials have singled out North Korea among the countries that pose growing cyberthreats to the U.S. In its annual Worldwide Threat Assessment report, released in February, the Office of the

Director of National Intelligence said Russia, China, Iran and North Korea "will pose the greatest cyberthreats to the United States during the next year."

Lazarus is one of several North Korean hacking groups. Another is known as Reaper, a group that started off focusing on South Korea but has expanded to targets throughout East and South Asia over the past year, said Benjamin Reed, senior manager for cyber espionage analysis at cybersecurity firm FireEye.

"So there is definitely more than one hacking group out of North Korea," Reed said.

He said north Korean hackers engage in two types of activities: traditional espionage aimed at its neighbors, Asian countries and the United States, and financially motivated cyberattacks carried out in countries with vulnerable computer networks.

Reed said that Lazarus was active as recently as a few months ago and that it remained to be seen how it would react to the publicity surrounding the criminal charges announced Thursday.
Deterrent effect

The group had been previously tied to the Sony, Bangladesh Bank and WannaCry attacks, and the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security issued an alert about it in June. But the scrutiny hasn't fazed the group, Reed said.

Jeanette Manfra, the homeland security department's top cybersecurity official, said the charges against Park could have a deterrent effect.
"It's important to hold people accountable for their actions and use the tools that the government has available," Manfra said. "It changes a country's calculus."

VOA National Security Correspondent Jeff Seldin contributed to this report.

US China to Meet for Round 2, But Big Differences Remain

BEIJING, (JOYCE HUANG-VOANEWS).- Trade negotiations between China and the United States continue early next week in Washington D.C., but analysts say after the first round, the differences between the two sides are huge. Some believe the differences are so fundamental and big that an escalation of tariffs is unavoidable.

According to a widely circulated copy of Washington’s demands, President Donald Trump’s delegation not only asked Beijing to cut its trade deficit with the United States by $200 billion by 2020, but to also sharply lower tariffs and government subsidies of advanced technologies.

Beijing wants the United States to no longer oppose granting China market economy status at the World Trade Organization, amend an export ban against Chinese tech company ZTE Corp and open American government procurement to Chinese technology and services among other demands.

View to escalation

Scott Kennedy, a China scholar at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the first round made it clear just how far apart the U.S. and China are in their views of what's fair, what they want and expect the other side to do.

“I think we're still headed toward escalation with both sides adopting tariffs in the next few weeks, but at least now we know what the fight is about,” Kennedy said. “It's about whether or not China should be a market economy, or what you know whether it should be able to maintain its state capitalist system without any constraints.”

China joined the WTO in December of 2001 as a non-market economy and after 15 years it was expected the granting of the status as a market economy would naturally follow — along with its opening up.

But that is not what has happened, and the United States and European Union have refused to grant China market economy status.

Beijing insists it should be regarded as a market economy regardless of whether other countries believe it fits the definition. Under Xi Jinping, the Communist Party has moved to assert greater control over business and the economy.

Competition vs. compensation

It has also become increasingly clear that China’s definition of reform and that of the West are strikingly different.

In an interview with VOA earlier this year, William Zarit, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce, said that while many used to assume China would continue to carry out Western style economic reforms initiated in the early 2000s, that is no longer the case.

“In the last four or five years, we’ve seen that reform has taken a different direction, that the Chinese economy is on a different trajectory and that is more support for state-owned enterprises,” Zarit said. “And when I hear reforms now, it is more about making state-owned enterprises more efficient and not necessarily competitive in a fully market-based economy.”

But Song Hong, an economist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, argues that China has fulfilled its WTO obligations and it is the United States and European Union that have broken their promises to grant the country market economy status.

He said Washington’s demands to slash the trade deficit by $100 billion a year does not make economic sense. He also said the demand for China to lower tariffs and put the two countries on equal footing is impossible.

“The market in China is of course not as open as the U.S. market because China remains a developing country, which is no match to the U.S.,” Song Hong said. “The per capita income level in China around $10,000 vs. the U.S.'s some $50,000. How can both countries be equal?”

Talks as clock ticks

Some Chinese state media reports have tried to sound upbeat about the meetings focusing on the two sides agreed to keep talking, despite their differences.

On Monday, the White House announced a Chinese delegation led by Liu He, China’s vice premier and a top aide to Chinese leader Xi Jinping, will visit the United States early next week.

At the same time, however, the clock is ticking on U.S. threats to implement up to $150 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods. A day after Liu arrives in Washington, there will be a public hearing to discuss tariffs and the Trump administration’s investigation into China’s trade policies and practices.

If no agreement is reached by May 23, Washington would be well within its right to go ahead with the tariffs, analysts note. To which, China has promised to promptly reply.

Kennedy said that while the United States has used unilateral penalties in the past, this time around the chances of escalation are a lot higher.

“Not only are the disagreements deeply fundamental, China is much more powerful and ambitious than it used to be. And so it's not likely to cave easily,” he said.

Brian Kopczynski contributed to this report.

US Digs in for Long-Term North Korea Nuclear Talks

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA, (BRIAN PADDEN-VOANEWS).- The North Korea denuclearization progress has stalled as pressure from economic sanctions appears to be easing, and after U.S. President Donald Trump declared that North Korea is no longer a nuclear threat.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday that reaching a denuclearization deal with North Korea “may take some time.” He spoke during a Cabinet meeting with the president and high-ranking members of his administration.

Trump had also said Tuesday that there is “no time limit” to the negotiations, but added Wednesday in a tweet that sanctions would remain in place and there would be big benefits for North Korea at the end of the process.

North Korea analyst Cheong Seong-chang, with the Sejong Institute in South Korea, says the new patient approach by the Trump administration may indicate a growing recognition that its prior demands for rapid and unilateral denuclearization before granting any concessions are unrealistic.

“The United States has started to recognize clearly that it will take a considerable amount of time for North Korea’s complete denuclearization. In this situation, it is very unrealistic to expect North Korea to move forward with the denuclearization process without any compensation for years to come,” Cheong said.

North Korea has called for a more reciprocal approach with economic and diplomatic incentives tied to each phase of the process.

​Easing pressure

At the Singapore summit in June, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met with Trump and reiterated a broad commitment to work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Following the summit Trump tweeted, “There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea,” but many analysts said the president’s inflated claims of his achievements had eased pressure on the Kim government to take concrete action.

Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!

“The fact that the president has come back and said North Korea is no longer a nuclear problem, without any substantial evidence for that, is going to create a problem now because North Korea will say, ‘we don’t need to do anything,’” said Paul French a commentator on politics in Asia and author of the book North Korea: State of Paranoia.

Subsequent negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have so far not produced any significant progress. After Pompeo’s last visit to Pyongyang in July, North Korea accused his delegation of making “gangsterlike” demands in calling for compete denuclearization.

Go Myong-Hyun, a North Korea research fellow at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul, says the Kim government is still striving to preserve all or parts of its nuclear arsenal, while at the same time pushing to end international sanctions that block 90 percent of the country’s trade, and pursue increased economic development.

“This is the dilemma not just for us but for the North Koreans, how to come up with this balance between nuclear capabilities clearly opposed by all of North Korea’s neighbors whereas at the same time achieve a modicum of economic development,” Go said.

Sanctions evasion

Since the summit, there have been reports of China and Russia informally easing sanctions enforcement on North Korea, along with calls by Beijing and Moscow to reduce the United Nations Security Council imposed ban on the North’s exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products. However, the U.S. has indicated it would veto any such measure.

The South Korean government said Thursday that it is investigating reports that Chinese companies illicitly shipped 9,000 tons of North Korean coal through South Korea last year.

“If necessary, penalties will be imposed. This will become a moment to remind the importance of implementing the U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea,” said South Korean Foreign Ministry Spokesman Noh Kyu-duk.

The United States also accused North Korea on Thursday of making illicit transfers of oil between ships at sea and demanded an immediate end to all sales of the fuel.

Sanctions evasions may help Pyongyang endure in the short term, but the continued reduction in overall trade and dwindling foreign reserves will likely increase the prospects for either denuclearization progress or renewed provocation in the months to come.

“The economic sanctions are being played out slowly but for sure. This is something that North Korea is not very happy with,” Go said.

​Americans’ remains

There also seemed to be a misunderstanding over North Korea’s ability to rapidly return to the United States the remains of some of the American service members killed in the 1950-53 Korean War, which was also agreed to in Singapore. A week after the summit, President Trump claimed the repatriation had already happened, even though it had not.

Part of the reason for the delay is logistics related. Many of the more than 55 sets of remains are in different locations and it will take time for authorities in Pyongyang to collect and verify them.

“It is inevitable that it will take some time, but I think there was a misunderstanding with the United States that North Korea is ready and prepared to return the remains at any time,” said Cheong with the Sejong Institute.

Secretary of State Pompeo said Wednesday that the remains will be returned in the coming weeks.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul and Sarah Williams in Washington contributed to this report.

US Issues China Health Alert for 'Abnormal' Sound Sensations

BEIJING, (VOANEWS).- The U.S. State Department issued a health alert Wednesday for its citizens in China in response to what it said was a recent report of a U.S. government employee in Guangzhou experiencing "subtle and vague, but abnormal sensations of sound and pressure."

The U.S. Embassy in Beijing said the employee was sent back to the United States for evaluation and diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury.

Wednesday's alert said the U.S. government does not know the cause of the reported symptoms and has not received similar reports in other parts of China, but that it is taking the report seriously.

It advised anyone who experiences "unusual acute auditory or sensory phenomena accompanied by unusual sounds or piercing noises" to not seek out the source, but instead to move to a location where they are not present.

The State Department "is working to determine the cause and impact of the incident," spokesperson Heather Nauert said. "The State Department will be sending a medical team to Guangzhou early next week to conduct baseline medical evaluations of all Consulate Guangzhou employees who request it."

Last year in Cuba, the United States reported that some of its personnel and family members experience a range of symptoms, often after hearing an unusual sound, but the cause is still unknown.

"We are working to figure out what took place, both in Havana, now in China as well. We've asked the Chinese for their assistance in doing that, and they have committed to honoring their commitments under the Vienna convention to keep American Foreign Service officers safe," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in remarks to the House Foreign Affairs Committee Wednesday.

US Pushes Back on Reports of Fraying Ties With Europe

STATE DEPARTMENT, (NIKE CHING-VOANEWS).- U.S. officials are pushing back at reports that America's ties with European allies are frayed over the Trump administration's withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

"We agree on more than we disagree," said State Department Policy Planning Director Brian Hook during a telephone briefing Friday with reporters. "People are overstating the disagreement between the U.S. and Europe."

"We believe that our shared values and commitment to confront the common security challenges will transcend any disagreements over the JCPOA," said Hook, referring to the 2015 Iran nuclear accord with major powers.

His remarks come after President of the European Council Donald Tusk lashed out at Washington over a trade dispute and the United States pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal.

When asked about Tusk's tweet, U.S. President Donald Trump hit back, saying the European Union has been "terrible" with the U.S. on trade.

"We lost $151 billion last year dealing with the European Union," Trump told reporters Thursday, referring to the U.S. trade deficit with the 28-nation bloc. "So they can call me all sorts of names. And if I were them, I'd call me names also, because it's not going to happen any longer."

Iran deal fallout

Intense diplomacy followed Trump's decision to pull out of the Iran deal, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo making phone calls to his counterparts in Britain, France and Germany. U.S. officials said those conversations were focused on agreeing to a new "security architecture" for Iran.

At the same time, the European Commission is working to prohibit European companies from adhering to U.S. sanctions against Iran, a move to help keep the Iran nuclear agreement intact and to defend European corporate interests.

"We have the duty to protect European companies," Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said following a meeting of European Union leaders Thursday in Sofia, Bulgaria. "We now need to act and this is why we are launching the process."

Juncker said the commission will begin the process of activating a so-called blocking statute, which bans EU companies from observing the sanctions and any court rulings that enforce U.S. penalties.

The way forward

On Monday, Pompeo will deliver his first major foreign policy remarks on Iran and the path forward after the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal.

U.S. officials say Washington seeks a diplomatic outcome with Iran that addresses "the totality of Iran's threats," including its nuclear programs and "destabilizing" activities.

"This involves a range of things around its [Iran's] nuclear program — missiles, proliferating missiles, and missile technology, its support for terrorists, and its aggressive and violent activities that fuel civil wars in Syria and Yemen," Hook said Friday.

"We see this, the coming months, as an opportunity to expand our efforts and to work with a lot of countries who share the same concerns about nonproliferation, about terrorism, about stoking civil wars around the region, and so we're very, very hopeful about the diplomacy ahead," he added.

US Sends Nazi Guard to Germany

WASHINGTON, (VOANEWS).- The United States has deported the last known Nazi collaborator living in the country to Germany after years of legal, diplomatic and political pressure.

Jakiw Palij had spent decades living in the Queens section of New York City after coming to the United States in 1949.

The White House said in a statement that immigration authorities carried out the deportation order early Tuesday.
It is unclear what, if any, legal proceedings the 95-year-old Palij may face in Germany.

"Palij's removal sends a strong message: The United States will not tolerate those who facilitated Nazi crimes and other human rights violations, and they will not find a safe haven on American soil," the White House said.

Palij became a U.S. citizen in 1957, but in 2001 admitted to Justice Department investigators his past role as a Nazi labor camp guard in German-occupied Poland. His citizenship was stripped on the grounds he fraudulently obtained it, and in 2004 an immigration judge ordered his deportation.

During World War II, Palij trained and worked at the Trawniki forced labor camp. At the site in November 1943, Nazi SS forces killed more than 6,000 Jewish prisoners in a single day.
"By helping to prevent the escape of these prisoners during his service at Trawniki, Palij played an indispensable role in ensuring that they later met their tragic fate at the hands of the Nazis," the Justice Department said.

The United States had asked Germany and other nations to take Palij in the past, but those requests were repeatedly denied.
Lawmakers representing New York mounted a renewed campaign focused on the case last year, and the White House said in its statement Tuesday that President Donald Trump made it a priority of his administration.

"Through extensive negotiations, President Trump and his team secured Palij's deportation to Germany and advanced the United States' collaborative efforts with a key European ally," the White House said, while also blaming previous administrations for failing to carry out the deportation.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions said his department had successfully helped remove 67 other Nazis in the past, and that the United States "will never be a safe haven for those who have participated in atrocities, war crimes, and human rights abuses."

US Strike on Syria Sends Mixed Messages to North Korea

SEOUL, (BRIAN PADDEN-VOANEWS).- The recent U.S. missile strikes against Syria could increase pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, or reinforce in Pyongyang the need for nuclear deterrence.

The United States, France and Britain fired 105 missiles at three Syrian chemical weapons facilities on Saturday, in response to an alleged Syrian chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma that killed at least 40 people and wounded or sickened hundreds of others. The Syrian government has repeatedly denied any use of banned weapons.

The combined military strike on Syria comes as the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and the government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are preparing for an expected summit in late May or early June to discuss dismantling the North’s nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees.

Maximum pressure

Trump’s willingness to use force against Syria can be seen to reinforce his “maximum pressure” campaign message, that in addition to imposing tough sanctions banning most North Korean exports, the U.S. would take military action, if necessary, to force Kim to terminate his nuclear program and end the continued development of a nuclear armed intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the U.S. mainland.

Calling the U.S. attack on Syria “a warning for Pyongyang,” the South Korean newspaper the Korea Joongang Daily, in an editorial on Monday said, “If Kim wants to be free from the fear of a potential raid, then he must be willing to denuclearize.”

From this perspective the U.S. show of force in Syria will increase pressure on the leadership in North Korea to offer meaningful nuclear concessions at the Trump-Kim summit.

“Unless it abandons at least part of its nuclear and missile capabilities then the Trump administration will not be satisfied,” said Bong Young-shik, a political analyst with the Yonsei University Institute for North Korean Studies in Seoul

Nuclear deterrence

However the U.S. military strike on Syria could also reinforce concerns in North Korea that giving up its nuclear deterrent would make the country more vulnerable to a similar attack.

“If it thinks that its regime is not guaranteed, it will keep the nuclear program,” said Kim Hyun-wook, a professor of American studies at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy in Seoul.

North Korea has long justified the need for its nuclear program by pointing to the fate of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya, who was overthrown and killed by U.S. and NATO backed rebel forces, just a few years after he agreed to give up his country’s nuclear weapons.

The U.S. and its allies justified their military action in Libya as a “humanitarian intervention” to prevent government forces from slaughtering the civilian opposition. Without a nuclear deterrent, leaders in Pyongyang worry the U.S. could use a similar humanitarian justification to intervene in North Korea.

“The U.S. can view North Korea as a autocratic state or human rights violator, and then it can always overthrow the Kim Jong Un regime that does not have nuclear program,” said Professor Kim.

From this perspective, the Kim government could use the strike against Syria to emphasize its step-by-step approach to denuclearization to maintain stability, which would include the reduction or removal of U.S. forces in Korea over time as part of the required security guarantees.

Asia reaction

Major U.S. Asian allies Japan, South Korea and Australia voiced strong support for combined military action to punish Syria’s alleged use of chemical weapons and to deter other countries as well.

China, however, objected to the U.S. and its allies taking “unilateral military action” prior to an impartial investigation and without the consent of the U.N. Security Council, where Russia, a close ally of Syria, holds veto power.

Lee Yoon-jee in Seoul contributed to this report.

US, China Slap Tariffs on Billions of Dollars of Each Other's Exports 

BEIJING, (VOANEWS).- China said Friday it was "forced to take a necessary counterattack" and responded in kind to the United States after Washington placed tariffs on 800 Chinese import products valued at $34 billion.

China said it applied retaliatory tariffs on 545 U.S. items, also worth $34 billion, "including agricultural products, vehicles and aquatic products," China's state-run Xinhua News Agency reported.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said China is "completely justified" in its response to the U.S. tariffs, which he said "will disturb the global trade order, cause turbulence on the global market, and hamper world economic recovery," according to Chinese broadcaster CCTV.

Lu warned that consumers and small businesses would be adversely affected, noting that, "Enterprises and people in the U.S. are also increasingly realizing the great harm ahead."

The new tariffs went into effect one minute after midnight (0401GMT) Friday, Washington time.

China's Ministry of Commerce spokesman Gao Feng told reporters Thursday that about $20 billion of the U.S. goods China targeted are backed by foreign investors, including a significant portion from the U.S.

Hours before the U.S. tariffs were imposed, U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to further escalate the trade dispute by ultimately targeting more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods, roughly equal to the value of U.S. imports from China last year.

"We can probably say that the trade war has officially started," said Shanghai Jiaotong University economics professor Chen Feixiang. "If this ends at $34 billion, it will have a marginal effect on both economies. But if it escalates to $500 billion like Trump said, then it's going to have a big impact for both countries."

The volley of trade tariffs has fueled concern that a prolonged trade dispute would hinder global economic growth, while inflicting damaging blows to U.S. farmers who stand to lose revenue.

Growing trade friction worries some top officials of the U.S. central bank, who say it discourages investment that helps economic growth. The concerns were made public Wednesday in notes from the most recent policy discussion by leaders of the U.S. Federal Reserve, who set interest rates and other economic policies.

Travel warnings

Just days before Friday's tariffs took effect, the Chinese embassy in Washington issued a warning to its citizens traveling to the U.S. Chinese tourists were warned of things such as costly medical bills, the possibility of gun violence and robberies, seizures by customs agents and natural disasters.

"Public security in the United States is not good," said an embassy statement published last week. "Cases of shootings, robberies, and theft are frequent."

When asked Tuesday if the timing of China's travel warning was politically motivated, Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu said the embassy was obligated to issue the alert because the summer is the height of the travel season for Chinese tourists visiting the U.S.

"I think this is absolutely a matter that is in the scope of our duty," Kang said.

China often issues warnings for Chinese travelers, usually in war-afflicted regions. But some foreign governments have accused China of using tactics such as curtailing outbound tourism to settle political or trade disputes, accusations that China typically denies.

The United Nations reported last year that China has led the world since 2012 in the number of tourists who travel abroad. The U.N. said Chinese tourists spent $261 billion in foreign countries in 2016, more than double the amount travelers from the U.S. spent.

More Chinese tourists are visiting the U.S., according to the U.S. Commerce Department. It said nearly 3 million visited the U.S. in 2016, a nearly six-fold increase since 2009. Chinese tourist visits to the U.S. rank fifth behind Canada, Mexico, Britain and Japan.

A 2017 survey of Chinese and other tourists by the marketing firm Nielsen found that half of the Chinese respondents said the safety of a destination would impact their decision on where to travel.

VOA's Joyce Huang contributed to this report.