Category: International

Rocket Scientist Arrested By Russian Authorities For Espionage

Russian scientist has been arrested in a probe into allegations staff at a top space research centre have been passing information on the country’s weapons programme to the West, agencies reported Tuesday.

The Roscosmos space organisation confirmed in comments to agencies that 74-year-old Viktor Kudryavtsev from the Central Research Institute of Machine Building near Moscow had been detained.

Award-winning scientist Kudryavtsev insisted he was not guilty of treason, his son said in reported comments.

Roscosmos denied reports a second employee of the research institute had been arrested.

Russia’s FSB security services last week raided the institute on the basis that Western security services had obtained information on secret hypersonic developments by Russian industry.

Sources told the Kommersant newspaper the probe was over “high treason,” with around 10 people suspected of “cooperation with Western secret services.”

The Russian space agency confirmed an investigation was taking place, saying it was looking at events in 2013.

The probe comes after President Vladimir Putin in March boasted in a state-of-the-nation address of new “invincible” weapons under development, including hypersonic missiles.

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From Where They’re Sitting: China’s Trade Surplus With USA Swells in June

Seeing it from a foreign perspective.

China’s surplus with the United States hit a record last month, data showed Friday, adding to brewing tensions between the economic superpowers as they stand on the brink of an all-out trade war that Beijing warned would have a “negative impact” globally.

The figures come after the two sides exchanged tit-for-tat tariffs on billions of dollars worth of goods and President Donald Trump threatened to up the ante with measures on a further $200 billion of Chinese imports.

Beijing said China’s surplus with the US hit an all-time high $28.97 billion last month, while exports to the country hit a record $42.62 billion.

Over the first six months of the year the surplus climbed to $133.8 billion, up 13.8 percent from last year, as total two-way trade continued to expand despite the face-off.

The imbalance is at the heart of Trump’s anger at what he describes as Beijing’s unfair trade practices that are hurting American companies and destroying jobs.

But in a statement from its commerce ministry Thursday, China blamed those problems on the USA, saying the imbalance was “overestimated” and caused by America’s own “domestic structural problems”.

China’s overall surplus continued to shrink, falling 24.5 percent on-year for the first six months, the data showed, with customs saying it has shrunk for the past eight quarters.

Last Friday, Trump rolled out 25 percent tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese goods, prompting Beijing to accuse Washington of launching the “largest trade war” in economic history and immediately match the US tariffs dollar for dollar.

“This trade dispute will definitely have an impact on China-US trade and will have a very negative impact on global trade,” said customs administration spokesman Huang Songping at a briefing Friday.

— A spiralling battle —

China’s commerce ministry has said the two sides are not discussing restarting trade negotiations, and renewed its pledge to “strike back” against Washington’s latest threat to slap $200 billion of Chinese imports with new 10 percent taxes.

The threat hammered global markets, especially as fears mount that Trump’s decision to pick fights with other key allies such as Canada and the European Union could fuel an all-out global trade war.

The spiralling battle with Beijing shows no signs of cooling down, and observers warn the impact will begin to hurt soon as China’s economy struggles with slowing growth — and just as leaders try to battle a worryingly large debt mountain.

“Looking ahead, export growth will cool in the coming months as US tariffs start to bite alongside a broader softening in global demand,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard of Capital Economics.

Beijing will back away from its war on debt and roll out policy easing measures, predicted China economist at Nomura investment bank Ting Lu, as it faces potential trade war fallout and a domestic slowdown proving to be worse than expected.

“We expect (economic) growth to slow noticeably” in the second half of the year, he said in a research note.

China’s total exports rose 11.3 percent year-on-year in June, beating a Bloomberg News forecast of 9.5 percent, while imports increased 14.1 percent, below the forecast 21.3 percent.

— Disrupting trade —

China’s June export upswing may have been caused by exporters shipping their goods early to beat the scheduled tariffs, analysts say, with the trade fight expected to further impact such data in coming months.

Beijing has instructed companies to look for imports beyond the US, and this week an official at China’s largest grain trader said it hoped to diversify away from US soybeans to those grown in South America and Eastern Europe.

The US has “no respect for rules of international law and international order,” said assistant foreign minister Zhang Jun on Friday, adding that China would step up cooperation with other developing nations like the BRICS grouping.

“This is the way for us to respond to the challenges of unilateralism and trade protectionism,” said Zhang.

Trump Attacks US ‘foolishness’ Heading Into Putin Powwow

President Donald Trump headed into his first summit with Vladimir Putin on Monday determined to forge a personal bond with the Kremlin chief and adamant that only “stupidity” by prior administrations had brought US-Russian ties to their present low.

Hours before the Helsinki summit, Trump was asked if he would press Putin over Russia’s alleged manipulation of the 2016 election that brought the mercurial property tycoon to power. He said only: “We’ll do just fine.”

Democrats had called for the summit’s cancellation after new revelations surrounding the election meddling. But Trump has insisted it is “a good thing to meet”, as he attempts to replicate with Putin the sort of personal rapport he proclaims with the autocratic leaders of China and North Korea.

If his instinct proves right and the pair find common ground, then the summit may take the heat out of some of the world’s most dangerous conflicts including Syria.

But the Washington-Moscow rivalry has rarely been more bitter, and there are many points of friction that could yet spoil Trump’s hoped-for friendship.

Trump began the day’s talks by meeting Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto, who has loaned his harbour-front palace for the occasion. But first he took a moment to fire a Twitter broadside at his domestic opponents, blaming the diplomatic chill on the investigation into Russian election meddling.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.

After a stormy NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump was accused by critics of cosying up to Putin while undermining the alliance.

But, over breakfast with Niinisto, he insisted NATO “has never been stronger” and “never been more together” thanks to his insistence on all allies paying their fair share.

With Washington and Moscow at loggerheads over Ukraine, Iran and trade tariffs as well as Syria, even Trump has cautioned that he is not approaching the Putin summit “with high expectations”.

The 72-year-old brash billionaire has been president for 18 months, while the former KGB officer, 65, has run Russia for the past 18 years.

In an interview with CBS News that aired before he touched down in Helsinki, Trump admitted that Russia remains a foe, but he put Moscow on a par with China and the European Union as economic and diplomatic rivals.

The Kremlin has also played down hopes that the odd couple will emerge from their first formal one-on-one summit with a breakthrough.

Putin, who played host at the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday and was due to arrive in Finland later Monday, has remained terse in the run-up to the summit.

On Friday his adviser Yuri Ushakov also played down expectations, saying: “The state of bilateral relations is very bad…. We have to start to set them right.”

– Giving up ground? –

Indeed, after the bad-tempered NATO summit and a contentious trip by Trump to Britain, anxious European leaders may be relieved if not much comes out of the Helsinki meeting.

Those leaders are already fuming over Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on various countries, including Russia.

European Union President Donald Tusk called on the United States, China and Russia to work together to cool the global trade tensions, warning that they could spiral into violent “conflict and chaos”.

For their part, protesters have been on the streets of Helsinki to denounce the policies of both Trump and Putin. Greenpeace draped a giant banner down a church tower urging: “Warm our hearts not our planet.”

Trump is also under pressure from Britain to press Putin over the nerve agent poisoning of four people in the city of Salisbury.

One of the victims, Dawn Sturgess, has died and her 19-year-old son Ewan Hope told the Sunday Mirror newspaper: “We need to get justice for my mum.”

– Extradition demand? –

Many fear that Trump — in his eagerness to prove that he was right to seek the summit with Putin despite US political opposition — may give up too much ground.

Ahead of the talks, Trump has refused to personally commit to the US refusal to recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving open the possibility of a climb-down linked to a promise by Putin to somehow rein in Iranian influence in Syria.

If Washington were to de facto accept Russia’s 2014 land-grab, this would break with decades of US policy and send tremors through NATO’s exposed eastern flank.

And there will be outrage at home if Trump does not confront Putin over the election scandal.

But the US leader would not say whether he would demand the extradition of 12 Russian intelligence officers who were indicted last week by US special prosecutor Robert Mueller, for allegedly hacking Trump rival Hillary Clinton’s computer server.

North Korean Threat Brings Bold “We’ll see” From President Trump

President Donald Trump sounded a note of caution Wednesday about his much-vaunted summit with Kim Jong Un, saying “we’ll see” after Pyongyang threatened to cancel.

Trump said the US government had not received any official word of a change in plans for the June 12 meeting in Singapore.

“We haven’t been notified at all. We’ll have to see,” Trump said in the Oval Office.

“We haven’t seen anything. We haven’t heard anything. We will see what happens. Whatever it is, it is.”

After weeks of warm words and diplomatic backslapping, Pyongyang abruptly threatened to pull out Tuesday, over US demands for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

In an angrily worded statement, the North warned “if the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue.”

The statement was attributed to first vice foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan and carried by state media KCNA.

In that case, he added, Pyongyang would have to “reconsider” its participation at next month’s summit in Singapore.

The first vice foreign minister also tore into Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton for drawing parallels between North Korea and Libya, calling the comparison “absolutely absurd.”

“We do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him,” he said of Bolton.

Bolton has pushed the idea of a deal with North Korea like that reached with Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi, who agreed in 2003 to the elimination of his country’s nuclear program and chemical weapons arsenal to gain sanctions relief.

After giving up his atomic program, Kadhafi was killed in 2011 in an uprising backed by NATO bombing.

– A plea from China –

Experts have not been surprised by the sudden about face, expecting bumps in the road as tough issues to be discussed in the meeting come into sharper focus.

Washington is pressing for North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. But so far, the North has given no public indication of what it is offering, beyond a broad commitment to denuclearization of the “Korean peninsula.”

Pyongyang “made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” the North Korean minister said.

In the past, Pyongyang has demanded the withdrawal of US troops stationed in the South, and an end to Washington’s nuclear umbrella over its ally.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally, called for the summit to go ahead.

“The situation on the peninsula has eased up, which is worth cherishing,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

Minister Kim also dismissed offers by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for US economic aid if the North denuclearizes.

“We have never had any expectation of US support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future,” he said.

The White House said plans for the summit were moving ahead.

“The president is ready if the meeting takes place. And if it doesn’t, we will continue the maximum pressure campaign that has been ongoing,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

– Tightrope diplomacy –

The North Korean warning follows a weeks-long charm offensive that has seen Kim Jong Un hold a historic summit with the South’s president and meet twice with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Pyongyang also raised hopes ahead of the US summit by announcing it will destroy its nuclear testing site next week.

Analysts said Pyongyang appeared to be trying to redefine the terms of the debate.

“It’s a diplomatic tactic,” Kim Hyun-wook, professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, told AFP, calling it “brinkmanship to change the US position.”

“It looks like Kim Jong Un was pushed into accepting US demands for ‘denuclearization-first’ but is now trying to change its position after normalizing North Korea-China relations and securing economic assistance,” he added.

“The classic North Korean tightrope diplomacy between the US and China has begun.”

US officials have repeatedly claimed credit for Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy for bringing Pyongyang to the negotiating table.

Joshua Pollack of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies said Pyongyang had been irritated by the “triumphalist tone.”

“The North Koreans aren’t happy with what they’re seeing and hearing,” he said. “There is still a yawning gulf between expectations for diplomacy in Pyongyang and Washington, DC.”

– Thunderstruck –

KCNA also denounced the Max Thunder joint military exercises being held between the US and South Korea as a “rude and wicked provocation,” and Seoul said it had received a message cancelling planned high-level talks “indefinitely.”

The two-week drills started last Friday and involves some 100 aircraft from the two allies, including F-22 stealth fighter jets.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters it had received “no notification” of a position change by North Korea on next month’s meeting.

The exercises were “not provocative” and would continue, she added.

U.S. Seeks Continued Inspections if Iranian Nuclear Sites

The White House wants intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites to continue despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from a landmark accord on Tehran’s atomic program, US officials have told America media agencies.

Days after the president walked away from a three-year-old deal that mandated rigorous scrutiny of Iranian facilities, senior administration officials said monitoring should continue regardless.

Known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal between Tehran and major world powers forces Iran to open any site to inspectors within 24 days at most and introduced 24-hour remote surveillance at some sites.

Supporters of the Obama-era accord argue it provided “the world’s most robust” monitoring regime, allowing access to the Islamic republic’s most sensitive nuclear sites.

Speaking at a rally in Indiana on Thursday Trump said tough inspections were still needed.

“We must be able to go to a site and check that site. We have to be able to go into their military bases to see whether or not they’re cheating,” he said.

The White House is demanding the existing inspection regime, however imperfect, continue under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog.

“We expect Iran will continue to implement the Additional Protocol and cooperate with the IAEA whether or not the JCPOA remains in place,” one senior administration official said.

A second official confirmed on Thursday that Washington still wanted the inspections.

Other signatories to the Iran deal — including Tehran, China and European powers — have vowed to press ahead with the agreement’s implementation.

But officials are privately skeptical about how long it can survive, particularly if the United States imposes sanctions on European companies doing business in Iran.

And non-proliferation experts have warned that a vital window into Iran’s nuclear activities could be lost.

“If the agreement collapses, Iran is under no obligation to implement any of these provisions, either the Additional Protocol or the deal-specific measures,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

“The nuclear deal with Iran put the country’s program under a microscope,” she explained, saying the measures serve as “an early warning system that will set off alarm bells if Iran tries to cheat on its commitments or conduct illicit activities.”

– Are inspections effective? –

Since the nuclear accord was reached in 2015, the IAEA has carried out hundreds of inspections inside Iran.

That includes monitoring at Fordo, an underground fuel enrichment plant inside a base used by Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The JCPOA adds an extra layer of scrutiny not found in existing accords, including monitoring of mines and restrictions on multi-point detonation systems and nuclear computer simulations.

The IAEA has so far confirmed that Iran is adhering to its “nuclear-related commitments,” although the US administration questions that conclusion.

“You cannot say that Iran is in compliance unless you are 100 percent certain that the IAEA and our intelligence are infallible,” said US national security advisor John Bolton.

That approach has left some questioning why the administration wants monitoring to continue at all.

“If they don’t trust the inspections, I don’t know why they would be strongly encouraging Iran to comply,” said Corey Hinderstein, a fuel cycle expert who previously worked on implementation of the deal at the Department of Energy.

“The fact is the inspections are and have been effective,” she said.

American citizens are working on the IAEA inspection team, but are based in Vienna, not on the ground in Iran.

Hinderstein said there is every indication that the US is preparing to pull out of other non-inspection mechanisms in the agreement, including converting the Arak heavy water reactor and the “procurement channel” that regulates the import of dual use materials to Iran.

Trump has described the agreement as “the worst deal in history” and vowed to renegotiate it.

He has also warned that Iran will be punished if it returns to military-scale uranium enrichment.

“If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before,” Trump said.