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President Biden counters China, Russia at summits in Europe

Geneva: President Biden went to Europe for a week to convince the allies that America was back, and for good; gather them in common cause against the rising threat of China; and establish some red lines for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, whom he called his “worthy adversary.”

At G7 he made inroads on China on which in Europe here has been reluctance to think of China as a threat — economically, technologically and militarily.

In Geneva, Biden expressed cautious optimism about finding ways to reach a polite accommodation with  Putin. But it is far from clear that any of the modest initiatives the two men described on Wednesday, after a stiff, three-hour summit meeting on the edge of Lake Geneva, will fundamentally change a bad dynamic, rcometns New York Times

Biden, one of his senior aides said after the meeting was over, “is perpetually optimistic” that Mr. Putin may, despite a long history of efforts to undermine the Western alliance, see advantage in changing course.

This was Biden’s first foreign tour as President. He began over the weekend in England, on the rocky shores of Cornwall, the venue for G7, talking about friendship, alliances, consultation, comity and multilateralism. At every stop he opened with the same three words: “America is back.”

In Brussels, at NATO’s 31st summit on Monday, he  said it was up to Democratic nations to prove to the world that autocracies cannot deliver for their people. He said NATO members must root out corruption, guard against hatred and “phony populism,” and invest in strengthening institutions “that underpin and safeguard our cherished democratic values.”

Photo courtesy Yahoo News
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Biden calls for NATO to stand up to autocrats and “phony populism”

Brussels: President Biden repeated a call Monday to prove to the world and to his own people in America that democracy can still prevail against the challenges of our time and deliver the needs of our people. Addressing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 31st summit in Brussels Monday, he  said it was up to Democratic nations to prove to the world that autocracies cannot deliver for their people. He said NATO members must root out corruption, guard against hatred and “phony populism,” and invest in strengthening institutions “that underpin and safeguard our cherished democratic values.”

After the summit, NATO members issued a communiqué highlighting the “threat” presented by Russia and the “challenges” posed by China. “Russia’s aggressive actions constitute a threat to Euro-Atlantic security,” the communiqué read. On China, the statement said: “China’s growing influence and international policies can present challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance. The statement added that the NATO members “will engage China with a view to defending the security interests of the Alliance.”

The leaders of the 30 NATO countries agreed “that the impact of significant malicious cumulative cyber activities might, in certain circumstances, be considered as amounting to an armed attack,” an assessment that could lead to the invocation of the organization’s mutual self-defense clause, Article 5. The countries “(reaffirmed) that a decision as to when a cyber attack would lead to the invocation of Article 5 would be taken by the North Atlantic Council on a case-by-case basis,” the joint statement released during the NATO leaders’ summit said.

President Biden was asked about his upcoming meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said he will make clear where the “red lines” are. “I’m going to make clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate, if he chooses, and if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond. We will respond in kind,” Biden said.

NATO leaders largely backed the US decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan. Some American allies had griped ahead of the summit that they weren’t properly consulted before Biden announced he would withdraw US troops from Afghanistan by Sept. 11. Others have questioned how security can be maintained in the country when US troops leave, particularly at Kabul International Airport and at other diplomatic facilities. NATO leaders have also agreed to provide “transitional funding” to ensure that the international airport in Kabul continues to operate.

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Constructive discussions with Pak on Afghan issue: NSA Sullivan

Washington: The US has had constructive discussions in the military intelligence and diplomatic channels with Pakistan on terrorism emanating from Afghanistan and the Afghan peace process, the White House has said.

US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan also said that the peace process would be an important issue in the upcoming NATO meeting next week.

“We have only had constructive discussions in the military intelligence and diplomatic channels with Pakistan about the future of America’s capabilities to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a base from which Al Qaeda or ISIS or any other terrorist group can attack the United States,” he told a White House news conference.

Sullivan was responding to a question on talks with Pakistan on the Afghan peace process, which would be an important topic of discussion at the NATO summit.

However, he refrained from giving specifics oN the discussions with Pakistan.

“In terms of the specifics of what that will look that will have to remain in those private channels as we work through them. What I will say that we are talking to a wide range of countries about how we build effective over the horizon capability both from an intelligence and from a defense perspective to be able to suppress terrorism threat in Afghanistan on a going-forward basis,” Sullivan said.



‘Al-Qaeda chief somewhere between Afghanistan, Pakistan’

Kabul: A significant part of the Al-Qaeda leadership resides in Afghanistan and Pakistan region, including the group’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, who is “probably alive but too frail to be featured in propaganda,” according to a United Nations report.

The findings on the status of Taliban-controlled and contested districts were presented last week by the Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team.

The group’s leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to be located somewhere in the border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Previous reports of his death due to ill health have not been confirmed. “One Member State reports that he is probably alive but too frail to be featured in propaganda.”

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Pak contributed immensely to Taliban’s success: US Senator

Washington: Pakistan has played on both sides of the field in Afghanistan, contributing to the Taliban’s success, a senior US senator said, a day after Washington announced plans to withdraw all troops from the war-torn Asian country by September 11.

Chairman of Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator Jack Reed, on the Senate floor, said: “a crucial factor contributing immensely to the Taliban’s success” has been the inability of the US to “eliminate the sanctuary the Taliban was granted in Pakistan.”

Referring to a recent study, Reed said the Taliban sanctuary in Pakistan and state support from organizations, like Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), have been essential to their war effort and the US’ failure to undermine this safe haven may be Washington’s most significant mistake of the war.

“As the (congressionally mandated) Afghan Study Group noted, these sanctuaries are essential to the viability of the insurgency. Additionally, Pakistan’s ISI aided and abetted the Taliban while opportunistically cooperating with the United States,” Reed said.

A Brookings scholar, Reed said as per the assessment in 2018, Pakistan provided direct military and intelligence aid resulting in the deaths of US soldiers, Afghan security personnel and civilians, plus significant destabilization of Afghanistan.

“This support of the Taliban runs counter to Pakistani cooperation with the United States, including as they have, allowing the use of airspace and other infrastructure for which the United States provided significant funding,” he said.

“As the Afghan Study Group noted, Pakistan has played both sides of the field. These dynamics further play out against the complex environment in Pakistan which has implications for the national security of the United States, its allies and partners,” he said.

Under the US-Taliban pact signed in Doha, Qatar, the US agreed to withdraw all its soldiers from Afghanistan in 14 months.

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US to withdraw troops from Afghanistan by September 11

Kabul: The US will begin its drawdown of troops in Afghanistan before May 1 and complete the process before September 11, according to a senior US administration official. There are between 2,500 and 3,500 US troops in Afghanistan at present.

“We will begin an orderly draw-down of the remaining forces before May 1st and plan to have all US troops out of the country before the 20th anniversary of 9/11,” the official told reporters. The process could be completed “well in advance” of the September deadline, the official said.

The US and its NATO allies had signed a deal with the Taliban in February last year to withdraw their troops from Afghanistan if the Taliban met certain preconditions, including a cessation of violence (the Taliban has repeatedly attacked on civilians and Afghan security forces since) and not turning the country into a haven for terrorist groups, particularly al-Qaeda.

The US considers the re-emergence of al-Qaeda in the region after the draw-down of troops a “genuine threat” according to the official, who said the threat will be dealt with “directly” and by holding the Taliban accountable.

Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to arrive at an intra-Afghan settlement are under way. Istanbul will host talks between the Taliban and the Afghan government between April 24 and May 4.

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Taliban not ready to meet Afghan govt in Turkey

Islamabad: The Taliban has said that it won’t attend a peace conference tentatively planned for later this week in Turkey, putting US efforts to get a peace plan anytime soon in jeopardy.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken previously said he wanted to see a peace agreement between Afghanistan’s warring sides finalized at a conference hosted by Turkey and attended by top officials from both the Taliban and the Afghan government.

Afghan government, US and Turkish officials had said they intended to begin the conference on April 16. It was to last 10 days.

No new date for the Turkey conference was set but time is running out on a May 1 deadline for the withdrawal of US and NATO troops from Afghanistan in keeping with a deal the Trump administration made with the Taliban more than a year ago.

President Joe Biden has said he is committed to ending America’s longest war but the US is reportedly looking for a three- to six-month extension.

Until now the Taliban have refused, warning of “consequences” if Washington reneges on the deal and the withdrawal timeline.

Last month, Blinken gave both the Taliban and the Afghan government an eight-page proposed peace plan, which they were to discuss, revise and review and come to Turkey ready to cobble together an agreement.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has grown increasingly isolated in Kabul as his political opponents accuse him of clinging to power, offered an alternative to Blinken’s proposal. Ghani supported an interim government that he would head until elections could be held within months.

The Taliban have made it clear they would not accept a government headed by Ghani, but they have yet to offer an alternative to Binken’s proposal.

Blinken announced the Turkey meeting in a sharply worded letter to Ghani and other Afghan leaders. In that letter Blinken warned that a US withdrawal without a political settlement would leave Ghani’s government vulnerable to Taliban gains. (News 95.7)

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Afghan president proposes three-phase peace roadmap: Report

Kabul: Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has drawn up a new proposal for peace with the Taliban ahead of an international conference aimed at jump-starting faltering talks between the two warring sides, official sources said.

It comes after the US — backed by Russia and other stakeholders — said in its own leaked proposal that it wants to see some form of transitional government involving the Taliban, although Ghani has insisted leaders can only be chosen at the ballot box.

According to official sources, Ghani intends to present his three-stage plan at a UN-backed conference in Turkey to be attended by the US, Russia and other key regional countries. A date for the event has not been finalized.

The US is just weeks away from a May 1 deadline to withdraw all foreign troops from Afghanistan as part of a deal agreed with the hardline group last year — a date US President Joe Biden has said will be tough to meet.

Ghani’s three-stage proposal includes reaching a political settlement with the Taliban and announcing an internationally monitored ceasefire.

He then proposes holding an early presidential election in which the Taliban could take part to form a “government of peace”. (The Hindu)

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Under Biden, a return to professional diplomacy with India

By Frank F Islam

Under the current secretary of state, Antony Blinken, the US is more likely to play the role of a firefighter, rather than that of an arsonist. That does not, however, mean Washington will be blind to potential Chinese aggression

India, United States (US), Japan and Australia came together for the Quad summit on March 12, 2021, hosted by US president Joe Biden. This was the first interaction between Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi and President Joe Biden in a multilateral forum since the change of power in Washington earlier this year, though they have spoken on the phone since Biden took over.

In the past two decades, bilateral relations have grown under successive Democratic and Republican administrations, with the two countries cooperating on a wide range of areas, from trade, commerce and technology to defence and terrorism. The two have also been working together on several multilateral forums. In recent years, Quad has come to be seen as a platform that will serve as a counterweight to China. In fact, the Donald Trump administration had even floated the idea of an Asian NATO.

Some in India, who have been increasingly worried about the Chinese border transgressions in recent years, may have been hoping for Quad to become just that. Biden’s participation in last Friday’s summit signals that his administration does indeed see strategic potential in Quad.

Another issue that pundits in both countries have been keeping a close eye on is, of course, China. Beijing has been a factor in US-India bilateral relations since the early 2000s, when China arrived as an economic power and its spectacular rise on the world stage began. Some Indian analysts have suggested that the recent military disengagement by both New Delhi and Beijing would not have taken place if then secretary of state Mike Pompeo were still in office because of his continuous attempts to insert himself into the India-China dispute.

Under the current secretary of state, Antony Blinken, the US is more likely to play the role of a firefighter, rather than that of an arsonist. That does not, however, mean Washington will be blind to potential Chinese aggression.

Even though the Quad summit and the readout of the Modi-Biden call did not mention China, they both emphasised the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific. It means China will remain a factor in India-US relations, but not in the way anti-China hawks in Washington and New Delhi envisaged during the Trump administration.

Biden understands geopolitics better than most other heads of state, having served in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for decades. He has more India expertise than any previous president, which will only be a good thing for bilateral relations. But it’s not Biden’s experience and expertise alone that will count.

It will equally be the extensive experience and expertise of others whom he will bring to the table to meet with their Indian counterparts to work collaboratively to construct policy positions that will work to the benefit of both nations and the world.

(The Op-Ed appeared in The Hindustan Times)

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America is back: Biden to allies

Washington: President Biden told allies Friday that he hopes to reestablish the U.S. as a reliable player in multilateral dealings with European countries after four years of “America First” policies pushed by former President Donald Trump.

“I’m sending a clear message to the world. America is back. The transatlantic alliance is back,” Biden said at a virtual appearance at the Munich Security Conference.

Biden articulated a series of broad commitments to European allies, emphasizing the importance of democracy and collaboration on economic issues, climate and national security. His speech last Friday is part of the White House’s ongoing efforts to undo what it believes to be the damage done by the Trump administration to its relationships with foreign allies.

Biden said his administration is “fully committed to the NATO alliance,” using language starkly different from that of Trump, who particularly in his first year as president frequently criticized the organization as obsolete and accused members of not paying their fair share.

Biden stressed that teamwork between Europe and the U.S. is critical in dealing with countries like Russia and China, though he made sure not to cast those challenges as a “new Cold War.”

“Competition with China is going to be stiff. That’s what I expect, and that’s what I welcome,” he said.

Turning his attention to the Kremlin, Biden pulled no punches on what he believes to be “malign” actions Russia has taken to sow chaos across the globe and called on countries to align themselves with Washington against Russian President Vladimir Putin — a radical change in tone from Trump, who often praised Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

“Putin seeks to weaken the European project and our NATO alliance. He wants to undermine the transatlantic unity and our resolve,” said Biden.

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