June 2020


AFP Updated 02 Jun, 2020

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has blamed the protest violence in the United States on Antifa, saying the leftist activist network will be formally designated “terrorists” on the same level as Al Qaeda and the militant Islamic State group.

Both White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Attorney General Bill Barr also singled out Antifa “radical militants” for stoking the rioting.

“The United States of America will be designating ANTIFA as a Terrorist Organisation,” Trump tweeted.

Antifa stands for anti-fascism, and the name comes from early 1930s Germany, where socialist “anti-fa” groups attempted to stand up to the rise of Adolf Hitler’s Nazis.

Over the past two decades anti-fascist groups in the United States have campaigned on a range of social justice issues. “We believe in & fight for a world free of fascism, racism, sexism, homo/transphobia, antisemitism, Islamophobia & bigotry,” said a Twitter post this week from New York Antifa.

But their principle focus has been countering the resurgence of neo-nazi and white supremacist groups.

One of the oldest, Rose City Antifa of Portland, Oregon, began in 2007 to shut down a neo-Nazi skinhead music festival called Hammerfest.

Their tactics mostly involve publicly outing right-wing extremists and organising counter-protests. But since Trump’s election in 2016 encouraged right-wing groups, Antifa has engaged in direct confrontations with them and destructive civil disobedience.

During Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017 scores of black-clad, mask-wearing Antifa and other protestors smashed windows and burned a car in Washington.

In August that year, they were at the vanguard of counter-demonstrations when white supremacists and neo-nazis marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, and engaged in physical fights with the rightists.

Since then the two sides have taunted and brawled with each other in several places including Portland and Berkeley, California.

But Antifa has no head or national organization, according to a Congressional Research Service analysis.

It described Antifa as “decentralised, consisting of independent, radical, like-minded groups and individuals.” Mostly they are non-violent, the report says, but “a portion of antifa movement members are willing to commit crimes to promote their beliefs.”

Aside from Trump and his top allies, US officials and state and local officials say the violence and destruction in cities across the country involves multiple groups, on the right and left, including but not limited to Antifa.

“Various domestic terror groups on BOTH far left & right are instigating & committing acts of violence & looting,” Senator Marco Rubio, who as chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee receives top level intelligence briefings, said.

ABC News reported that Department of Homeland Security intelligence reports blame actors on both ends of the political spectrum. Officials in Minnesota say their information points to instigators including white nationalists, leftist anarchists, and even drug gangs.

Mark Bray, a Dartmouth University historian who wrote “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” said that there are certainly Antifa activists involved, though their loose organisation and small cells make it impossible to ascertain how many.

Published in Dawn, June 2nd, 2020



AFP Updated 03 Jun, 2020

WASHINGTON: Violence and looting spread on Tuesday to more US cities as President Donald Trump faced heated criticism for using force outside the White House to dispel peaceful demonstrators against racial injustice.

Once-in-a-generation protests have brought a multiracial and overwhelmingly peaceful coalition into the streets for the past week but each night has descended into mayhem, with both activists and officials blaming rabble-rousers.

Some of New York’s most storied shopping streets were ransacked late on Monday, including the Macy’s flagship outlet, while four police officers were shot in St Louis, long a hotbed of racial tensions.

But there was relative calm in Minneapolis, where the uprising began following the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed African-American man who was pinned down for nearly nine minutes under the knee of a white police officer, who ignored his pleas for his life.

The US faces unusual criticism from some of its international allies

In Washington, federal police on Monday abruptly fired rubber bullets and tear gas into a peaceful crowd in Lafayette Park outside the White House, permitting Trump to walk through for a brief photo-op at a historic church that had suffered damage the night before.

In scenes reminiscent of the US occupation of Iraq, military helicopters hovered over crowds in downtown Washington, noisily blowing debris as terrified protesters who had defied a curfew fled.

Trump, who has rejected the traditional presidential role of unifier during a national crisis, voiced glee on Twitter over the response in Washington and accused the leadership of New York — led by the rival Democratic Party — of succumbing to “Lowlife & Scum”.

“Overwhelming force. Domination,” wrote Trump, who a day earlier declared himself “your president of law and order”.

But the strong-armed tactics near the White House triggered outrage as the protesters had been peaceful and a citywide curfew had yet to take effect.

Joe Biden, Trump’s presumptive Democratic rival in November 3 elections, accused Trump of caring only about his own power and said that, if elected, he would tackle the “systemic racism” in the country.

“Donald Trump has turned this country into a battlefield driven by old resentments and fresh fears,” Biden said in a speech in Philadelphia, also hit by violence.

“He thinks division helps him,” he said. “His narcissism has become more important than the nation’s well-being.”

Trump on Tuesday visited another prominent religious site, a shrine in honour of pope John Paul II, prompting the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Washington to say the space was being “egregiously misused and manipulated”.

The late pontiff “certainly would not condone the use of tear gas and other deterrents to silence, scatter or intimidate (people) for a photo opportunity in front of a place of worship and peace,” Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory said.

The United States also faced unusual, if polite, criticism from some of its international allies.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas called the anti-racism protests “understandable and more than legitimate”. “I hope that these peaceful protests won’t slide further into violence, but even more than that I hope that they will make a difference in the United States,” Maas told reporters.

Germany, Britain and Australia all voiced concern about the safety of the media after a number of journalists were roughed up by police or occasionally by rioters.

Curfew extended

In New York — which has seen some of the fieriest of the dozens of protests triggered nationwide — Mayor Bill de Blasio extended a curfew through Sunday that will start each night at 8pm.

It is the first curfew since World War II in the “City that Never Sleeps” and comes just as the metropolis was emerging from weeks under coronavirus lockdown.

The curfew began on Monday at 11pm but New York was already suffering widespread looting, with rioters smashing storefronts on posh Fifth Avenue, pulling electronics from a Best Buy store and breaking into Macy’s, the department store known for its iconic Christmas displays.

Protests each day have begun peacefully. In the diverse Bedford-Stuyvesant neighbourhood of Brooklyn, at least 1,000 people marched on Monday, symbolically kneeling as an act of solidarity.

“This is about making leaders listen,” said Cav Manning, 54, a black man originally from London who has lived in New York for 25 years.

“This isn’t just about George Floyd, may he rest in peace. This is about all the black men before, all the black women, all the black children, any people feeling the knee of oppression.” Mourners plan a service on Thursday in Minneapolis to mourn Floyd, who died after being accused of trying to buy cigarettes with a counterfeit bill.

An autopsy on Monday called his death a homicide, prompting renewed calls to arrest three fellow officers who assisted Derek Chauvin, facing manslaughter charges over Floyd’s death.

Violence subsided markedly overnight in Minneapolis, leading authorities to consider reducing the number of National Guard forces on the ground.

Gunfire in St Louis

But violence spread elsewhere with four officers shot overnight in St Louis near the police headquarters after a night of clashes and looting. None of the injuries were life-threatening.

St Louis Police Chief John Hayden told reporters that protesters were peaceful but that a separate group of 200 later showed up who “obviously had no intention of protesting, doing anything constructive” and threw fireworks and gasoline at officers.

Seattle, the scene of 1999 anti-globalisation protests that remain emblematic for global anarchists, also saw intense scuffles overnight with crowds throwing rocks, bottles and fireworks at police, who responded with tear gas.

Louisville, Kentucky, was comparatively quiet, a night after police dispersing a crowd shot dead a black restaurant owner — a rare fatality in nationwide unrest that has targeted property.

Louisville is among numerous US cities that had already been seething over the killing of African-Americans.

In March, 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was shot dead in her own apartment in Louisville by police who barged in, alleging her home had been used by drug dealers.

Published in Dawn, June 3rd, 2020



AFP 04 Jun, 2020

Former Pentagon chief Jim Mattis issued a stinging rebuke of his erstwhile boss Donald Trump on Wednesday, accusing the president of trying to “divide” America and failing to provide “mature leadership” as the country reels from days of protests.

Mattis, who resigned in December 2018 over Trump’s ordering of a full troop withdrawal from Syria, also voiced support for the demonstrators whose anti-racism rallies have roiled the country.

“Donald Trump is the first president in my lifetime who does not try to unite the American people — does not even pretend to try,” Mattis wrote in a blistering statement posted online by The Atlantic.

“Instead, he tries to divide us,” added the retired Marine general, who had previously argued it would be inappropriate for him to criticise a sitting president.

“We are witnessing the consequences of three years without mature leadership,” he stated.

Mattis described himself as “angry and appalled” after witnessing events of the last week, which saw Trump threaten a military crackdown on American citizens as nationwide protests turned violent in some cities.

The fury was ignited by the May 25 killing of George Floyd, a black man who suffocated beneath the knee of a white police officer, and whose agonising death was filmed by bystanders.

The demonstrations have mostly been peaceful, but some have degenerated into violence and looting as night falls.

Mattis wrote that the protesters’ call for equal justice was a “wholesome and unifying demand.

And he slammed the decision to use force to clear peaceful protesters from near the White House on Monday to allow Trump to pose for photographs at a nearby damaged church, calling it an “abuse of executive authority.”

The photo op has become a lightning rod for criticism of Trump’s handling of the crisis, with religious leaders, politicians, and onlookers around the country expressing outrage.

“When I joined the military, some 50 years ago, I swore an oath to support and defend the Constitution,” Mattis stated.

“Never did I dream that troops taking that same oath would be ordered under any circumstance to violate the Constitutional rights of their fellow citizens — much less to provide a bizarre photo op for the elected commander-in-chief, with military leadership standing alongside.”

Trump dismissed Mattis with a tweet, rehashing his claim that he “essentially” fired his Pentagon chief.

“Probably the only thing Barack Obama and I have in common is that we both had the honor of firing Jim Mattis, the world’s most overrated General,” the president wrote.

Mattis was head of US Central Command when Obama fired him in 2013 over his hawkish views on Iran.

‘We can unite without him’

For months after Mattis resigned, he refused to criticize Trump publicly, insisting the military must remain apolitical.

Wednesday’s statement appeared to signaled he no longer felt bound by that sentiment, as he called for solidarity — with or without the president.

“We can unite without him, drawing on the strengths inherent in our civil society,” Mattis wrote.

Retired Marine Corps General John Allen echoed Mattis’ criticism of Trump after his speech threatening to deploy the US military against American citizens.

“To even the casual observer, Monday was awful for the United States and its democracy,” the former commander of US and NATO forces in Afghanistan wrote in Foreign Policy.

“The president’s speech was calculated to project his abject and arbitrary power, but he failed to project any of the higher emotions or leadership desperately needed in every quarter of this nation during this dire moment.”

Allen, president of the Brookings Institution, also took aim at the president’s church photo-op.

“Donald Trump isn’t religious, has no need of religion, and doesn’t care about the devout, except insofar as they serve his political needs,” he wrote.



06 Jun, 2020

TULKAREM:Palestinians in the West Bank on Friday rallied to mark 53 years of Israeli occupation and protest against the Jewish state’s plans to annex part of the territory.

In Tulkarem, in the northern West Bank, dozens of demonstrators waved Palestinian flags and chanted slogans against Israeli settlements and the plans, which could move ahead as soon as next month.

An AFP reporter at the scene said that Israeli troops fired stun grenades and tear gas to repel protesters approaching a military checkpoint.

“This march shows our rejection of any plan of settlement or annexation,” said Iyad Jarada, secretary of Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah party in the city.

“This is our land and we will defend it with all our power and energy.”

Near Tubas, also in the northern West Bank, a protester was wounded in the head by a rubber bullet fired by Israeli forces, the Palestinian Red Crescent said. Further protests were taking place in the West Bank cities of Ramallah, Nablus, Jericho, and the Jordan Valley, which could be annexed as part of the Israeli plan. In the southern West Bank city of Hebron hundreds gathered, chanting against Israel’s occupation, as well as anti-American slogans.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2020



Anwar Iqbal Updated 08 Jun, 2020

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump downplayed this weekend’s anti-racism demonstrations in Washington tweeting they were “much smaller than anticipated”, disagreeing with the US media and protest organisers who reported a massive turnout.

“Far fewer protesters showed up last night than anticipated,” Trump wrote in one of many tweets he posted on Sunday.

The US media disagreed. “At times, it seemed almost all of the nation’s capital came out to protest racism and police brutality,” the L.A. Times reported.

“Throngs of protesters gathered peacefully in front of the Lincoln Memorial by midday … the first of more than a dozen similar events at other [Washington] landmarks,” the National Public Radio reported.

Marches were more often festive than tense

“We are witnessing the birth of a movement — and the downfall of a president,” noted the Salon magazine while commenting on the protests. “We’ve reached a turning point in the Trump era. The 2020 campaign is in the streets and he’s losing,” the report added.

The protests against police brutality nationwide capped a week that began in chaos but ended with largely peaceful expressions that organisers hope will sustain their movement.

Saturday and Sunday’s marches featured few reports of problems in scenes that were more often festive than tense. Authorities were not quick to release crowd size estimates, but it was clear tens of thousands of people and perhaps hundreds of thousands turned out nationally.

Wearing masks and urging fundamental change, protesters gathered in dozens of places from coast to coast while mourners in North Carolina waited for hours to glimpse the golden coffin carrying the body of native son George Floyd, the black man whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police has galvanised the expanding movement.

Collectively, it was perhaps the largest one-day mobilisation since Floyd died on May 25.

Demonstrations also reached four other continents, ending in clashes in London and Marseille, France.

The significance of the weekend protests also reflected in Trump’s tweets as he calibrated his posts to promote his election campaign. In one tweet, he used a popular slogan, “Defund the police”, to rally his right-wing supporters who fear the protest would make them unsafe by weakening law enforcement.

“Not only will Sleepy Joe Biden DEFUND THE POLICE, but he will DEFUND OUR MILITARY,” he wrote.

Biden, now the official candidate of the Democratic Party for the November 2020 election, has not endorsed this demand, echoed by a section of the crowd on Saturday. But Trump claimed that Biden had “no choice” because “the Democrats are controlled by the radical left”.

He also tried to take credit for an action he was forced to take which was the withdrawal of troops from Washington. “I have just given an order for our National Guards to start the process of withdrawing from Washington, now that everything is under perfect control.”

“They will be going home, but can quickly return, if needed,” he said, assuring his supporters that he wants “great and well-paid law enforcement and law and order”.

In other tweets, Trump tackled former secretary of state and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Colin Powell who on Sunday endorsed Biden, becoming the first major Republican to publicly back Trump’s rival ahead of November’s election.

“Colin Powell, a real stiff who was very responsible for getting us into the disastrous Middle East Wars, just announced he will be voting for another stiff, Sleepy Joe Biden,” Trump tweeted. “Didn’t Powell say that Iraq had ‘weapons of mass destruction?’ They didn’t, but off we went to WAR.”

Last week, Trump’s former defence secretary, James Mattis, said Trump lacked “mature leadership” and former White House chief of staff John Kelly also blasted Trump’s response to the protests, saying he had an “awful big concern that the partisanship has gotten out of hand, the tribal thing has gotten out of hand”. —with input from agencies

Published in Dawn, June 8th, 2020



Agencies Updated 13 Jun, 2020

UNITED NATIONS: Cruise missiles and drones used in attacks last year on Saudi Arabia were “of Iranian origin,” including components that had been made in Iran or exported there, according to a report by the UN Secretary General.

The document, which covers the implementation of the 2015 UN nuclear accord with Iran and was seen by this news agency on Friday, offers a detailed examination of debris from the missiles and drones used in the attacks.

The strikes targeted a Saudi oil facility in Afif in May, the international airport at Abha in June and August and state oil giant Aramco’s processing facilities in Khurais and Abqaiq in September.

“The Secretariat assesses that the cruise missiles and/or parts thereof used in the four attacks are of Iranian origin,” the report by UN chief Antonio Guterres said.

The document, submitted on Thursday to the Security Council, added that the drones used in the May and September attacks were entirely or partially from Iran.

The devastating multi-pronged strikes against Aramco caused extensive damage and briefly interrupted production of half of the country’s oil output.

France, Germany and Britain joined the United States in September last year in accusing Iran of carrying out the attacks.

Iran formally denied any involvement and Guterres cites several exchanges with Tehran rejecting the charges.

The report draws on weapons seized by the United States off the coast of Yemen in November 2019 and February of this year which were likely destined for the country’s Houthi rebels.

Those weapons, or parts of them, were “of Iranian origin,” such as anti-tank missiles, or had been “delivered to the Islamic Republic of Iran,” such as optical weapons sights, the report said.

Items may have been transferred “in a manner inconsistent with resolution 2231” of 2015, the secretary general said, noting that some of the seized weapons were identical or similar to parts recovered from the 2019 missile and drone attacks.

In a letter addressed to Guterres from Iran’s UN delegation and dated May 22, Tehran said it had not been Iran’s policy to export weapons “in violation of relevant arms embargoes of the Security Council.” But the letter also insisted that the 2015 resolution “does not prohibit the transfer of arms from Iran.”Iran on Friday rejected a United Nations report that said cruise missiles used in attacks on oil facilities and an airport in Saudi Arabia last year were of “Iranian origin”, saying it had been drawn up under US and Saudi influence.Iran’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement carried by state media that “Iran denies allegations by the UN Secretariat that appear to have been made under political pressure from the US and Saudi regimes”.

“Interestingly, the … report comes at a time when the United States is working to draft a dangerous resolution to extend an arms embargo against Iran,” the statement said.

Iran on Wednesday called on Russia and China to resist a push by Washington to extend a UN-imposed arms embargo that is due to expire in October under Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers.

US President Donald Trump withdrew Washington from the deal in 2018 and his administration has been taking a harder line with the United Nations to extend and strengthen the embargo on Iran, saying lifting it would let Tehran acquire weapons that could fuel conflicts in the Middle East.

Guterres said that in a May 22 letter, Iran’s UN envoy said “it has not been the policy of Iran to export weapons in violation of relevant arms embargoes of the Security Council” and that it will “continue to actively cooperate with the United Nations in this regard”.

US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft has said she will circulate a draft resolution to extend the arms embargo on Iran soon. If Washington is unsuccessful, it has threatened to trigger a return of all UN sanctions on Iran under the nuclear deal, even though it quit the accord. Diplomats say Washington would likely face a tough, messy battle.

Published in Dawn, June 13th, 2020



AFP 18 Jun, 2020

GENEVA: More than one percent of the world’s population – a record 80 million people – have now been forced to flee their homes due to violence and persecution, the UN said Thursday.

By the end of 2019, one out of every 97 people in the world was living uprooted and displaced, according to a fresh report by the United Nations refugee agency, highlighting swelling displacement from conflicts in places like Syria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“One percent of the world population cannot go back to their homes because there are wars, persecution, human rights violations, and other forms of violence,” UN refugee chief Filippo Grandi told AFP in an interview.

The UNHCR agency found that by the end of last year, a record 79.5 million people were living either as refugees, asylum seekers or in so-called internal displacement within their own countries, marking a dramatic increase of nearly nine million from a year earlier.

“This is a trend that has been going on since 2012: the figures are higher than the year before,” Grandi said, pointing out that this meant “there has been more conflict, there has been more violence that has pushed people away from their homes.”

It also means, he said, “that there have been insufficient political solutions” to the conflicts and crises that would allow people to return home.

Grandi noted that 10 years ago, the number of people living in displacement around the globe stood at around 40 million.

“So it has basically doubled. And we don’t see this trend diminishing,” he said.

Fears for 2021

“With the international community so divided, so unable, so incapable of making peace, unfortunately the situation won’t stop growing, and I am very worried that next year it will be even worse than this year.”

Thursday’s report showed that at the end of 2019, nearly 46 million of those displaced remained inside their own country, while 26 million had fled across borders as refugees.

Another 4.2 million people were asylum seekers, while 3.6 million Venezuelans displaced abroad were tallied separately.

Last year, some 11 million people were newly displaced, many in a handful of conflict-wracked countries and regions, the report showed.

They include Syria, which after more than nine years of civil war counts 13.2 million people displaced either inside or outside the country — a full sixth of the global total.

In fact, Grandi said, a full 68 percent of the world’s refugees come from just five countries: Syria, Venezuela, Afghanistan, South Sudan and Myanmar.

Coronavirus impact?

The report did not address the evolving displacement situation since the global coronavirus pandemic struck.

Grandi said it was clear the crisis was complicating the situation for the displaced at a time when everyone is being told that “being on the move is a liability for yourself and for others.”

But he noted that the poor and middle-income countries that host around 85 percent of the world’s refugees had so far been relatively spared the worst health impacts of the pandemic.

However, he warned, the economic impacts were taking a dire toll.

“What we have really seen escalating dramatically is poverty,” he said, pointing out that lockdowns in many countries had eliminated any chance most displaced people have of making an income.

Without significant support for displaced people and their host communities, this could spark “further population movements”, he warned.

Grandi also reiterated that countries must continue granting asylum to those in need, despite border closures and lockdown measures.

“One activity that doesn’t seem to have been discouraged by the pandemic is war, or conflict or violence,” he said.

“Unfortunately people continue to flee their homes, because pandemic or not, they are at risk… and they need to continue to be given refuge, protection, asylum.”



By Anwar Iqbal | 6/23/2020

WASHINGTON: The February 2019 India-Pakistan conflict alarmed the White House so much so that officials held an emergency meeting soon after PAF shot down an Indian plane and spent hours calling their counterparts in the region to defuse the crisis, reveals the memoir penned by an ex-Trump aide.

The author, former US National Security Adviser John Bolton, describes how on Feb 27 senior US officials held a late-night meeting on the brewing crisis, although they had just concluded lengthy discussions with President Donald Trump on Afghanistan.

`I thought that was it for the evening, but word soon came that Shanahan and Dunford wanted to talk to Pompeo and me about a ballooning crisis between India and Pakistan,` Bolton writes in The Room Where It Happened to be released on Tuesday as the Trump administration failed to persuade a federal court to ban it.

The participants he mentions by their last names were Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, the then Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Francis Dunford and the acting US Defence Secretary Patrick Shanahan.

`After hours of phone calls, the crisis passed, perhaps because, in substance, there never really had been one. But when two nuclear powers spin up their military capabilities, best not to ignoreit,` Bolton added.

The 2019 Indo-Pakistan military standof f followed a Feb 14 militant attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy on the JammuSrinagar National Highway. Over 40 Indian troops and the perpetrator were killed in the attack.

The bomber was a local Kashmiri, Adil Ahmad Dar, who was unhappy with India`s policies and had no link to any Kashmiri group inside Pakistan.

New Delhi, however, blamed Islamabad for the explosion and on Feb 26 carried out a retaliatory attack in Balakot, which is not part of the disputed Jammu and Kashmir territory.

Independent analysts have raised doubts about the efficacy of the strike, rejecting New Delhi`s claim that they had targeted a Jaish-i-Mohammad training camp.

International media representatives who visited the area after the air strike noted that the target was `a mere school for the local kids`.

The standoff occurred ahead of the 2019 Indian general election and political analysts, both in India and abroad, noted that the retaliatory attack improved the electoral prospects of the ruling BJP party.

The Balakot strike alarmed the United States and other world powers as they feared that Pakistan would retaliate to this violation of its international border perhaps leading to a larger conflict between South Asia`s two nuclear powers.

Pakistan, however, waited patiently but when another Indian plane entered its territory on Feb 27, it was shot down.

The Indian pilot, Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, was captured by angry villagers, held in Pakistan for 60 hours and handed over to India on March 1.


US, Russia divided over Chinese role in nuclear talks

AFPUpdated 24 Jun, 2020

VIENNA: Crucial negotiations to replace a nuclear disarmament treaty between the US and Russia were overshadowed on Tuesday by a divide between Washington and Moscow over whether China should be brought to the table.

The two sides met in Vienna to discuss a replacement for the New START treaty, which limits each side to 1,550 deployed nuclear warheads but which is due to run out in February.

The leader of the US delegation Marshall Billingslea told reporters on Tuesday that China had an “obligation to negotiate in good faith with us and the Russians”.

China’s absence from the talks meant they “stood up not just the United States and Russia but they stood up the entire world”, according to Billingslea.

US President Donald Trump has insisted China be included in disarmament talks, citing what he says is the free rein Beijing has had to develop weapons systems.

However, Russia’s envoy to the Vienna talks, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said on Tuesday it was “unrealistic to count on China’s participation”.

“We will not use our influence on China as the Americans want,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by news agency RIA Novosti. China has shown no interest in taking part.

Observers fear New START could go the way of several other international agreements, which have fallen by the wayside during Trump’s tenure in line with his “America First” foreign policy.

Last month, Trump pulled out of the Open Skies Treaty, which allowed Russia, the United States and 32 other nations to conduct surveillance flights over one another’s territory at short notice.

He earlier pulled out of the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, a key agreement from the Cold War, and has also left the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers hanging by a thread after withdrawing and reimposing sanctions on Tehran.

The US justifies its focus on China by saying that it believes Beijing is “racing towards parity” with the US and Russia in terms of its nuclear arsenal and is not being transparent about its intentions.

Billingslea said the American delegation shared detailed intelligence with Russia for the first time in recent memory regarding the nuclear programmes of “third parties” — an oblique reference to China.

However, the US and Russia still hold more than 90 percent of the world’s nuclear weapons, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

According to the institute’s latest research, Russia has 6,375 nuclear warheads, including those that are not deployed, and the United States has 5,800. By contrast, China has 320, France 290 and the UK 215.

Experts say the Trump administration’s insistence that China should be a part of the talks casts doubt on whether it is serious about reaching an accord.

Some even go as far as to suggest that the focus on China could become a pretext for the US to abandon the agreement.

However, Billingslea has not ruled out an extension of the bilateral accord.

Published in Dawn, June 24th, 2020