Turkey rejects Greece accusation of Mediterranean violation

Turkey rejects Greece accusation of Mediterranean violation

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Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during an event in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, July 21, 2020. (Turkish Presidency via AP, Pool) more >

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Associated Press

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey on Wednesday rejected claims by Greece that its oil-and-gas research vessels were encroaching on Greek waters in the eastern Mediterranean and said it would continue to defend its legitimate rights and interests in the region.

A Foreign Ministry statement, however, also renewed a call by Ankara for dialogue to resolve the dispute between the two NATO allies.

Turkey announced plans Tuesday to dispatch search vessels into disputed waters in the Mediterranean, raising tensions between the neighbors and ignoring calls from European nations to avoid the action. Turkish authorities said the research vessel Oruc Reis and two support vessels would carry out operations through Aug. 2 in waters south of the Greek islands of Rhodes, Karpathos and Kastelorizo.

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State-run television in Greece said the country’s armed forces had been placed on a state of readiness.

An overnight statement by the Greek foreign ministry called the Turkish notification “illegal,” while authorities there issued a counter-notification declaring the Turkish navy’s notice for seismic survey in the area as “invalid.”

NATO allies Greece and Turkey are at odds over drilling rights in the region, with the European Union and the United States increasingly critical of Ankara’s plans to expand exploration and drilling operations in the coming weeks into areas Athens claims as its own.

Turkey has accused Greece of trying to exclude it from the benefits of oil and gas finds in the Aegean Sea and Eastern Mediterranean, arguing that sea boundaries for commercial exploitation should be divided between the Greek and Turkish mainland and not include the Greek islands on an equal basis.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry denounced what it called a “maximalist continental shelf claim,” insisting that they were “against international law, legal precedent and court decisions.”

The ministry statement added that the maritime area where Oruc Reis would conduct research was “within the limits of the continental shelf that our country has notified to the United Nations.” It said an exploration license was given to the Turkish state-run oil company, TPAO, in 2012.

Greece is pressing other EU member states to prepare “crippling sanctions″ against Turkey if it proceeds with the oil-and-gas exploration plans.

German politicians ask Congress to keep U.S. troops in their country

German politicians ask Congress to keep U.S. troops in their country

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German governors sent a letter to Congress to convince President Trump to back down from his plan to withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops from their country. (ASSOCIATED PRESS) more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Monday, July 20, 2020

German politicians representing areas where large numbers of American military personnel are based want Congress to force President Trump to back down on his plans to withdraw almost 10,000 U.S. troops from Germany.

The troops represent the “backbone of the U.S. military presence in Europe and NATO’s ability to act,” the governors of Bavaria, Hesse, Baden-Wuerttemberg and Rhineland-Palatinate wrote in a letter sent recently to more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers.

Among those who received it were several influential Republicans, including Sen. Jim Inhofe from Oklahoma, who is both a strong ally of President Trump and chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

SEE ALSO: Sen. Mitt Romney slams Germany troop withdrawal as ‘slap in the face’ to ally

While there was no immediate comment on the letter from Capitol Hill on Monday, several members of Congress have previously spoken out against Mr. Trump’s troop withdrawal plan, including some prominent Republicans.

In June, Mr. Trump ordered the American troop presence in Germany to be reduced from about 34,500 to 25,00. The president has said he wanted the numbers reduced because Germany takes advantage of the U.S. in trade policy and won’t sufficiently invest in its own defense.

Luke Coffey, a foreign policy expert with the Heritage Foundation, said Mr. Trump has a point about Germany’s lack of defense spending. But, in an interview with The Washington Times, Mr. Coffey said such factors shouldn’t warrant a U.S. pullout.

“I think there are plenty of good reasons to keep U.S. forces in Europe. I would like to see them increased,” he said, asserting the U.S. military presence in Germany protects Americans interests in Europe by strengthening allies and deterring adversaries.

The letter from the German governors draws attention to the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center and the Grafenwoehr training area as constituting essential to the U.S. presence in Europe, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press. Americans and Germans have worked together for decades to develop those structures, along with the headquarters for the U.S. European Command, the governors wrote.

“They provide the necessary foundation for a partnership-based contribution to peace in Europe and the world, to which we all share a common commitment,” they wrote. “We therefore ask you to support us as we strive not to sever the bond of friendship but to strengthen it and to secure the U.S. presence in Germany and Europe in the future.”

Domestic political considerations and the need to placate constituents is more likely at the center of the letter from the German chief ministers than geopolitical strategic concerns, said Mr. Coffey, who noted the loss of 10,000 well-paid American military personnel would be a major hit to the economies of the four German regions represented in the letter.

At the same time, Mr. Coffey argued such considerations also should not be a factor in weighing the strategic value of U.S. troops in Germany.

Sen. Mitt Romney, Utah Republican and one of Mr. Trump’s most ardent political foes, was one of the recipients of the letter. He was already firmly opposed to the president’s order — having called it a “gift to Russia” — and last month introduced an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2021 National Defense Authorization Act aimed at blocking any serious withdrawal of U.S. personnel from Germany.

“In addition to undermining our NATO alliance, a withdrawal would present serious logistical challenges and prevent our military from performing routine military readiness exercises,” Mr. Romney said on introducing the measure.

Final details around Mr. Trump’s troop withdrawal plan remain murky.

Pentagon officials have not indicated which troops would be moved and what their next location would be. Some are expected to be transferred east, possibly to Poland which has been constructing facilities in hope of an influx of American military personnel. Most are expected to move back to the U.S.

There is precedent, meanwhile, for foreign politicians to try and play the U.S. legislative and executive branches off each other on sensitive national security matters. In March 2015, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was invited to speak before a joint meeting of Congress in opposition to the Obama era Iranian nuclear negotiations. Some saw it as a breach of diplomatic and political protocol.

While the German politicians may be attempting a similar end run around the White House with their letter to U.S. lawmakers, Mr. Coffey said Mr. Trump may not even have been made aware of the attempt.

“I’m not even sure this will be raised to his level in terms of briefings,” Mr. Coffey said. “But if [German chancellor Angela Merkel] starts firing off letters to various senators and congressmen, that would change.”

US peace envoy looks to start of talks to end Afghan war

US peace envoy looks to start of talks to end Afghan war

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FILE – In this March 9, 2020 file photo, Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, attends Ashraf Ghani’s inauguration ceremony at the presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan. According to a statement released Thursday, July 2, 2020, by the U.S. Embassy in … more >

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By KATHY GANNON

Associated Press

Thursday, July 2, 2020

ISLAMABAD (AP) – Washington’s peace envoy told Pakistani officials that Afghanistan’s Taliban and Kabul’s political leaders were close to starting negotiations to decide the face of a post-war Afghanistan, a crucial next step in a U.S. deal signed with the Taliban in February, according to a statement released Thursday by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad.

Zalmay Khalilzad was in the region to pave the way for intra-Afghan negotiations expected to begin sometime this month. No date had been set, but Afghan President Ashraf Ghani said late Wednesday the first round would be held in Doha, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

Both sides must still release the remainder of prisoners laid out in the deal, which calls for the Afghan government to free 5,000 Taliban and the insurgents to release 1,000 government personnel. So far, the government has freed 3,500 and the Taliban about 700.

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“Ambassador Khalilzad noted how close the sides are to starting intra-Afghan negotiations and the importance of resolving remaining issues quickly, underscoring the promise peace holds for regional stability and development,” the embassy statement said of his meetings in Pakistan with the army chief and foreign minister.

Earlier this week, U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to Taliban chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar. In Monday’s video call, Pompeo “made clear the expectation for the Taliban to live up to their commitments, which include not attacking Americans,” according to the State Department.

Khalilzad’s latest foray into the region comes as the White House is embroiled in a controversy over whether Russia paid bounties to Taliban-linked militants or drug dealers close to the Taliban to kill U.S. and NATO soldiers in Afghanistan.

U.S. President Donald Trump has denied knowing about the suspected bounties. Russia has called the charges nonsense and the Taliban said they have not needed financial incentives from foreign intelligence agencies to wage war against U.S. and NATO troops.

The New York Times first reported the bounties, which were confirmed by The Associated Press. U.S. intelligence officials also said they were looking at whether bounties were involved in the deaths of U.S. soldiers in early 2019, particularly, and an April 2019 attack that killed three U.S. soldiers, as well as in so-called insider attacks in which Afghan National Army soldiers turned on their U.S. allies and killed them.

Khalilzad was appointed in September 2018 to open direct peace talks with the Taliban, however until mid- 2019 both the United States and Taliban were locked in battle as both sides sought to improve their negotiating position with military victories. The killing of a U.S. soldier in a Taliban attack on the capital Kabul in in September 2019 prompted President Trump to declare peace talks with the Taliban dead.

They restarted in December and on Feb. 29 this year the deal was signed in Doha. At the time, the agreement was touted as Afghanistan’s best chance at peace in decades of war.

Under the deal, the Taliban have committed to fighting terrorist groups, not supporting terrorist groups and ensuring Afghanistan is not used by anyone to attack the U.S. or its allies.

The Taliban also said they would not attack U.S. and NATO troops but would continue their fight against Afghan National Security Forces. One of the first items on the agenda of intra-Afghan negotiations is apparently a permanent cease-fire.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen said, however, that no talks will begin until all 5,000 Taliban listed in the agreement are freed. However, President Ghani on Wednesday said the government will announce on Sunday the final list of Taliban who will be released, suggesting some would not be freed and instead replaced by other prisoners.

The Taliban have said there could be no exceptions to the names on their list, which was approved by the U.S. during negotiations.

Khalilzad will hold videoconferences with Afghan leaders rather than travel to Kabul because of the dangers of the coronavirus pandemic. Afghanistan has recorded more than 32,000 infections but the real number is thought to be much higher.

Khalilzad, who was also in Uzbekistan was to also travel to Doha, where he is to meet Taliban negotiators.

______

Associated Press Writer Tameem Akhgar contributed to this report

Turkey demands French apology over Med naval incident

Turkey demands French apology over Med naval incident

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Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas greet each other by using their elbows before a meeting, in Berlin, Thursday, July 2, 2020. (Cam Ozdel/Turkish Foreign Ministry via AP, Pool) more >

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Associated Press

Thursday, July 2, 2020

BERLIN (AP) – Turkey’s foreign minister on Thursday demanded an apology from France over its depiction of a standoff between ships from the two countries in the Mediterranean Sea that prompted Paris to suspend its involvement in a NATO naval operation.

France says its frigate Courbet was “lit up” three times by Turkish naval targeting radar on June 10 when it tried to approach a Tanzanian-flagged civilian ship suspected of involvement in arms trafficking. The ship was being escorted by three Turkish warships. The Courbet backed off after the confrontation.

At the time, the French frigate was part of the Sea Guardian mission, which is helping to provide maritime security in the Mediterranean. France said it was acting based on NATO information and that under the alliance’s rules of engagement such conduct is considered a hostile act.

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Turkey has denied harassing the Courbet. Both countries are NATO allies.

France has not told the truth to the EU or to NATO,” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said during a visit to Berlin.

“The claims that our vessels locked onto (French vessels) are not true,” Cavusoglu added. “We have proven this with reports and documents and gave them to NATO. NATO saw the truth.”

NATO has confirmed only that investigators have submitted their report into the incident but said it was “classified” and declined to say what conclusions, if any, had been drawn.

“Instead of engaging in anti-Turkish activities and such leanings, France needs to make a sincere confession,” Cavusoglu said. “Our expectation from France at the moment is for it to apologize in a clear fashion, without ifs or buts, for not providing the correct information.”

The French government sent a letter Tuesday to NATO saying it is halting its participation in Sea Guardian “temporarily.”

France has accused Turkey of repeated violations of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya and branded the Turkish government as an obstacle to securing a cease-fire in the North African nation, which Turkey firmly denies.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, speaking alongside Cavusoglu, said “it is extremely important that relations between France and Turkey are constructive” because the countries need to work together on many issues. He said he hopes that “a constructive, open and very transparent dialogue” will be possible in the coming days and weeks to address their differences.

Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer: U.S. troop reductions in Europe should be coordinated with NATO

German defense minister: Any U.S. troop reductions in Europe should be coordinated with NATO

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In this Wednesday, Aug. 9, 2017, photo US soldiers take part in NATO-led Noble Partner 2017 multinational military exercises at the military base of Vaziani, outside Tbilisi, Georgia. After more than a year of thinly veiled threats that the United … more >

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By Mike Glenn

The Washington Times

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Any decision to slash the number of U.S. troops in Germany is a matter that affects the entire North Atlantic alliance rather than merely those two nations, Germany’s defense minister said Wednesday.

NATO is not a trade organization. Security is not a commodity,” Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer said in a video conference hosted by the Atlantic Council.

The U.S. is expected to remove about 10,000 troops from Germany, with some to return stateside while others will shift to the Pacific region or other countries in eastern Europe.

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President Trump has regularly complained that Germany and other NATO members fail to meet the 2 percent of GDP benchmark expected for defense spending.

NATO countries are actually very faithful partners,” the defense minister said. “It is important that NATO partners stand visibly united.”

With the rise of Russian aggressions, any plans to adjust the number of U.S. military personnel in Europe should be coordinated with other NATO members, she said.

“Russia has no respect for the right of self-determination of other countries,” Mrs. Kramp-Karrenbauer said.

Turkey accuses France of dragging Libya into ‘chaos’

Turkey accuses France of dragging Libya into ‘chaos’

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By

Associated Press

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – A Turkish government spokesman shot back at French President Emmanuel Macron and blamed France on Tuesday for allegedly “dragging Libya into chaos.”

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy accused Macron of “losing reason” and of making unfounded accusations against Turkey a day after the French leader said Ankara was involved in a “dangerous game” in Libya.

Macron also urged President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to end Turkey’s activities in the the conflict-torn country.

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“Due to the support it has given to illegitimate structures for years, France has an important responsibility in dragging Libya into chaos, and in this respect, it is France that plays a dangerous game in Libya,” Aksoy said in a statement.

The comments referred to France’s support of Libya’s eastern-based forces, which under Khalifa Hifter launched an April 2019 offensive to try to take the capital of Tripoli.

Turkey backs the U.N.-recognized Tripoli-based administration in Libya. The Tripoli administration’s forces, with Turkish military support, gained the upper hand in the war this month after retaking the capital’s airport, all main entrance and exit points to the city and a string of key nearby towns.

Aksoy added, “The people of Libya will never forget the damages France has inflicted on this country.”

The ministry spokesman also called on France to end steps that he said “put the security and future of Libya, Syria and the eastern Mediterranean under risk” and to enter into a dialogue with Turkey, a NATO ally.

Tensions between France and Turkey escalated following a June 10 incident between Turkish warships and a French naval vessel in the Mediterranean, which France considers a hostile act under NATO’s rules of engagement. Turkey has denied harassing the French frigate.

France accused Ankara of repeated violations of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya.

Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed.

Republicans urge Donald Trump to reconsider Germany troop reduction plan

Republicans urge Trump to reconsider Germany troop reduction plan

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Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is joined at left by Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) ** FILE … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Six Republicans on the House Foreign Affairs Committee are urging President Trump to reconsider his plan to cut the number of troops stationed in Germany, arguing that the move would weaken NATO’s long-standing deterrence against China and Russia.

Mr. Trump earlier this month ordered the Pentagon to cut thousands of troops by September, a move that experts have warned could deeply impact the historic U.S.-German relationship.

The president later doubled down on the move, when he told reporters that he’s prepared to recall about half of the U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany if that nation doesn’t pay more to NATO and treat Washington more fairly on trade issues.

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In a new letter obtained by The Washington Times Tuesday, the lawmakers, led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and the committee’s top Republican Michael McCaul of Texas, expressed “concern” over the plan and said that the U.S. presence in Germany has benefited American interests beyond just Europe, and into the Middle East and Africa where Russia and China have been repositioning their posture.

“The U.S. forward presence in Germany serves as a cornerstone of NATO’s deterrent against Russian aggression,” the lawmakers wrote. “This is not the time to take any action that might cause the Putin regime to question the credibility of the NATO deterrent or might lead our NATO allies and partners to doubt the U.S. commitment to our collective security.”

At his campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, Mr. Trump said Germany has been “delinquent” in its NATO payments and reiterated his plan to reduce the U.S. force presence within the borders of the historic American ally.

“They haven’t been paying what they’re supposed to be paying,” he said.

The president’s plan would reduce by about 28% the number of U.S. military personnel in the country, pulling back 9,500 from the 34,500 who are now there. There has also been speculation some of the forces in Germany could be redeployed in Poland and elsewhere in Europe closer to Russia.

“Our adversaries understand that the American alliance network is at the heart of the U.S. comparative advantage and will seek to exploit any cracks in transatlantic ties,” the lawmakers wrote, adding that they are “troubled” that members of the alliance had not been consulted prior to Mr. Trump’s announcement.

They praised Mr. Trump’s attempts to encourage other nations to contribute more to NATO costs, but they said that a troop withdrawal would reverse the efforts to convince allies to spend more and instead put U.S. interests at risk.

“The United States should continue to lead by example and remain fully committed to the NATO alliance, which has successfully deterred the outbreak of another costly world war on the continent since its formation,” the lawmakers wrote.

Turkey the key to unlocking NATO help for EU naval operation

Turkey the key to unlocking NATO help for EU naval operation

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FILE – In this Jan. 17, 2020, file, photo, Libyan Gen. Khalifa Hifter joins a meeting with the Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias in Athens. Two families targeted in a campaign of violence more than five years ago are suing … more >

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – Turkey is hindering European Union attempts to secure NATO’s help for the bloc’s naval operation in the Mediterranean as its tries to enforce a U.N. arms embargo on conflict-torn Libya, according to diplomats and officials in Brussels.

The operation – dubbed Irini, the Greek word for “peace” – was launched on April 1. The European Council said it has as “its core task the implementation of the U.N. arms embargo through the use of aerial, satellite and maritime assets.”

But Turkey, a NATO member whose efforts to join the EU have stalled, suspects that Irini focuses too much on the internationally recognized Libyan administration in Tripoli and not enough on rival forces under the command of Khalifa Hifter, who launched an offensive in April 2019 to capture the capital.

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Libya has been in turmoil since 2011, when a NATO-backed uprising toppled leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was later killed. The country has since been split between rival administrations in the east and the west, each backed by armed groups and different foreign governments.

Hifter is supported by France, Russia, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and other key Arab countries. The government in Tripoli led by Fayez Sarraj is backed by Turkey, which sent troops and mercenaries to protect the capital in January, as well as Italy and Qatar.

On Tuesday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said that the bloc and NATO “are discussing how to establish a new arrangement of cooperation – not participation – cooperation between Operation Irini and NATO, once again in our shared interest.”

“I hope that this cooperation agreement can be set up on the next days,” said Borrell, who is set to take part in a video conference with NATO defense ministers on Thursday.

But two NATO diplomats raised doubts about whether Turkey would let such an arrangement happen, and because the 30-nation military alliance operates on the basis of unanimity, NATO’s support cannot be guaranteed. The diplomats’ job descriptions do not allow them to speak on the record about in-house deliberations.

Asked Wednesday what the response might be, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said “we are looking into possible support, possible cooperation, but no decision has been taken. There is dialogue, contacts, addressing that as we speak.” He noted that NATO did provide support to the EU’s previous naval operation, which had a different mandate to Irini.

So far, Turkey does not seem to be entirely helpful to the EU operation, and a recent incident highlights the limitations of Irini, which only has two ships and three planes and needs more.

Borrell said that Irini personnel tried to make contact last week with a “suspicious” Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship that was being escorted by two Turkish warships. He said the ship refused to respond, but its Turkish escorts said the cargo was medical equipment bound for Libya.

He said the personnel contacted the Turkish and Tanzanian authorities to try to verify the information, and they also informed the United Nations. Borrell added that had Irini received no reply from any of the ships, it could have taken other action. He refused to elaborate.

“It is only in the cases in which the ship is not answering that we can take another kind of activities, we can do something more,” Borrell said. “We cannot do anything more than to transmit this information to the United Nations. It is the United Nations who gathers this information in order to control the implementation of the arms embargo.”

NATO chief plays down concern over U.S. troop plans in Germany

NATO chief plays down concern over U.S. troop plans in Germany

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Details of President Trump’s announcement to withdraw U.S. forces from Germany have not yet been decided on among allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday.

Mr. Trump earlier this month ordered the Pentagon to cut thousands of troops by September, a move that experts have warned could deeply impact the historic U.S.-German relationship.

The president doubled down on the move Monday, when he told reporters that he’s prepared to recall about half of the U.S. soldiers stationed in Germany if that nation doesn’t pay more to NATO and treat Washington more fairly on trade issues.

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“The U.S. has made it clear that no final decision has been made on how and when,” Mr. Stoltenberg told reporters during a virtual news conference. “It’s not yet decided how and when this decision will be implemented.”

“It’s a bilateral arrangement between the U.S. and Germany, but of course it matters for the whole alliance,” the secretary-general said. “What matters for me is that we maintain credible deterrence and defense and that we maintain the strong link between North America and Europe.”

The move would reduce by about 28% the number of U.S. military personnel in the country, pulling back 9,500 from the 34,500 who are now there. There has also been speculation some of the forces in Germany could be redeployed in Poland and elsewhere in Europe closer to Russia.

The U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said she wasn’t aware of preparations for any possible troop withdrawal.

“Any kind of actual planning, I think, has not happened yet,” Hutchison told reporters at a video news conference Tuesday. “I don’t think that we have any kind of timeline that we have heard of.”

She described Germany as “a good partner” of the United States at NATO and said that “it should not be thought that there is any walking away from Europe, and Germany.”

The NATO allies are expected to convene in a virtual conference on Wednesday, when the issue is set to be discussed.

• This article was based in part on wire service reports.

Russia welcomes prospect of U.S. troop pullback from Germany

Russia welcomes prospect of U.S. troop pullback from Germany

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In this Friday, Jan. 17, 2020 file photo, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova gestures as she attends Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s annual roundup news conference summing up his ministry’s work in 2019, in Moscow, Russia. On June 11, … more >

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Associated Press

Thursday, June 11, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Thursday welcomed President Donald Trump’s reported plan to withdraw more than a quarter of U.S. troops from Germany, saying it would help bolster security in Europe.

Trump has reportedly signed off on a plan to cut the number of troops stationed in Germany from 34,500 to no more than 25,000.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that “we would welcome any steps by Washington to scale down its military presence in Europe.”

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“Such steps would undoubtedly help reduce confrontational potential and ease military and political tensions in the Euro-Atlantic region,” Zakharova said at a briefing, adding that the large U.S. military presence in Germany is a “vestige of the Cold War.”

Zakharova challenged the U.S. to also take its tactical nuclear weapons home from Germany.

German Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told reporters earlier this week that Berlin hadn’t yet been informed of any U.S. troops pullout. She warned that if the U.S. goes ahead the move would do more harm to NATO as a whole than to Germany’s own defense.

Relations between Russia and the West are at post-Cold War lows following the 2014 Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and other issues.

Moscow has described the deployment of NATO forces near Russian borders as a top security threat.

Zakharova strongly warned Washington against redeploying some of the troops from Germany to Poland, saying it would further exacerbate tensions and undermine prospects of dialogue between Russia and NATO.

Russian plane violates airspace of NATO member Estonia

Russian plane violates airspace of NATO member Estonia

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Thursday, June 11, 2020

HELSINKI (AP) – Estonia’s military says a civilian aircraft belonging to Russia has violated the airspace of the Baltic nation, a member of NATO.

Officials said the Tupolev Tu-204-300, a type of passenger plane regularly used by the Russian government, spent less than one minute in Estonian airspace near the Baltic Sea island of Vaindloo on Wednesday morning.

The plane’s transponder had been switched on but the crew did not present a flight plan, the Estonian military said Thursday. The aircraft also failed to keep radio contact with the Estonian Air Navigation Services, the military said.

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Russia’s ambassador to Estonia, Alexander Petrov,, was summoned to the Foreign Ministry, where Estonian officials presented him with a note about the incident, the military said.

The Estonian military said it was the first air violation by a Russian aircraft this year. Several identical air violations by Russian aircraft have taken place in the same location in past years.

Vaindloo, a small island that belongs to Estonia, is near a corridor where Russian planes – both civilian and military – fly from the St. Petersburg area to Russia’s Baltic Sea enclave of Kaliningrad between Poland and Lithuania.

NATO chief urges allies not to go it alone

NATO chief urges allies not to go it alone

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By LORNE COOK

Associated Press

Monday, June 8, 2020

BRUSSELS (AP) – NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg on Monday urged the 30 members of the world’s biggest military alliance to defend the rules-based global order and to champion democracy amid challenges from Russia and China.

In a speech laying out his vision of NATO for 2030, Stoltenberg said that the U.S.-led organization must become more political, particularly in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which exposed a lack of preparedness in many countries and severe weaknesses in their health systems.

“As we look to 2030, we need to work even more closely with like-minded countries, like Australia, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, to defend the global rules and institutions that have kept us safe for decades,” Stoltenberg said during an online event.

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He urged them to “stand up for a world built on freedom and democracy. Not on bullying and coercion.”

President Donald Trump has routinely berated U.S. allies in Europe and Canada for what he considers to be insufficient defense spending, and trans-Atlantic relations are at their lowest ebb for decades over his threats to slap tariffs on steel, aluminum or cars exported from Europe.

Trump has also pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement and the Iran nuclear deal and has threatened to cut funding to the World Health Organization, accusing it of being effectively controlled by China and misleading the world about the virus.

Stoltenberg said that “the challenges that we face over the next decade are greater than any of us can tackle alone. Neither Europe alone nor America alone. So, we must resist the temptation of national solutions.”

He added that the allies “must live up to our values, freedom, democracy and the rule of law.”

Stoltenberg said that Russia continues to develop new weapons, including recently a medium-range missile, while “the rise of China is fundamentally shifting the global balance of power,” and that the spread of the coronavirus has increased security tensions.

The disease has often been framed as a silent enemy and has killed hundreds of thousands of people on both side of the Atlantic, but the military alliance has only been able to play a limited role in combating it, compared with other multinational institutions like the United Nations and European Union.

Stoltenberg said the allies “need to use NATO more politically,” with military, economic and diplomatic resources to help strengthen societies and lessen their vulnerabilities to threats like the coronavirus or hybrid and cyber-attacks.

Jens Stoltenberg, NATO secretary-general: COVID-19 pandemic has ‘magnified’ global tensions

Pandemic has ‘magnified’ global tensions, says NATO chief

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NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg speaks on the second day of the Munich Security Conference in Munich on Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. (AP Photo/Jens Meyer) **FILE** more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Monday, June 8, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic has put a spotlight on global tensions as countries race to limit the spread of the coronavirus and develop a cure for the highly contagious virus, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Monday.

Global leaders have called for global cooperation to eradicate the virus and develop a vaccine, but efforts have put nations on the defensive as the coronavirus continues to spread and the death count continues to rise.

Mr. Stoltenberg said during a virtual event hosted by the Atlantic Council on Monday that the novel coronavirus has “magnified existing trends and tensions when it comes to our security,” pointing to ongoing Russian military activities and violence in Afghanistan.

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He said that the continuing rise of China, where the coronavirus began late last year, is “fundamentally shifting the global balance of power.”

NATO has begun looking into how to address a potential second wave of the pandemic as well as a long-term plan to cope with future health crises, Mr. Stoltenberg said.

“We are all in the process of working more on the resilience of our society,” the secretary general continued. “All of that matters for the civilian society, and it matters for NATO’s military alliance … and capabilities”

Mr. Stoltenberg urged cooperation between the 30 NATO members, saying every country has lessons to learn from the response to the pandemic.

Russian general chafes at “provocative” NATO drills

Russian general chafes at “provocative” NATO drills

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By BY VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV

Associated Press

Monday, June 1, 2020

MOSCOW (AP) – The Russian military on Monday accused the U.S. and its NATO allies of conducting “provocative” military drills near the nation’s borders, a statement that reflected simmering RussiaNATO tensions.

Col.-Gen. Sergei Rudskoi of the Russian General Staff said Russia has sent a formal letter to NATO proposing to scale down each other’s military activities for the period of the coronavirus outbreak, but the alliance has stonewalled the offer.

Rudskoi particularly mentioned recent NATO maneuvers in the Barents Sea, charging that they emulated strikes on Russian territory and the intercept of Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. Rudskoi said the drills were the first of the kind by NATO since the Cold War.

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Rudskoi also pointed at an increased number of flights by U.S. nuclear-capable strategic bombers near Russia’s frontiers last month. He said U.S. B-1B strategic bombers last week flew over Ukraine for the first time ever, prompting Russia to scramble fighter jets and put air defense forces on alert.

Russia-West relations have sunk to post-Cold War lows after the 2014 Russian annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and Moscow’s support for a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine.

Moscow has repeatedly voiced concern over the deployment of NATO forces near Russian borders, describing it as a threat to its security. Russia and the alliance also have blamed each other for conducting destabilizing military exercises near the borders.

“The U.S,. and its allies are continuing to destroy Europe’s security system under the guise of a perceived ”Russian aggression,’” Rudskoi said.

He said that despite NATO’s refusal to agree on reduction of military activities, Russia has decided not to conduct any big drills near the borders with NATO members this year.

U.S. and its NATO allies have repeatedly said that Russian fighter jets have performed unsafe maneuvers while shadowing their planes – accusations that the Russian military has rejected.

In the latest such incident last week, the U.S. military complained that Russian Su-35 fighter jets flew dangerously close to a U.S. Navy P-8A Poseidon intelligence plane over the eastern Mediterranean, restricting its ability to maneuver safely.

Rudskoi charged that increasingly often U.S. intelligence flights near Russian bases in Syria violated previous agreements between Moscow and Washington on avoiding mid-air incidents.

He said Moscow is open for talks to negotiate minimal distances and rules of communications during encounters of naval ships and military aircraft belonging to Russia and the alliance.

U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan ahead of schedule: Report

U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan ahead of schedule: Report

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Security forces stand guard during the first day of Eid al-Fitr during a lockdown aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus in Kabul, Afghanistan, Sunday, May 24, 2020. The Taliban and Afghanistan’s president announced late Saturday a three-day cease-fire … more >

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By Lauren Meier

The Washington Times

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The U.S. troop drawdown in Afghanistan is moving quicker than expected as American forces in the country have decreased to nearly 8,600.

The mark is well ahead of schedule, partially due to fears of the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, in the country and on military bases, U.S. and NATO officials told Reuters on the condition of anonymity.

The development comes just one day after the Afghan government moved to free hundreds of Taliban prisoners, breathing new life into hopes for substantive peace talks with the militants and ending months of infighting.

SEE ALSO: Release of Taliban prisoners breathes new life into Afghan peace talks

Under an agreement with special U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Feb. 29, the Taliban vowed to block ISIS and other outside terrorist groups and begin talks with Kabul in exchange for a Trump administration commitment to drawdown the 13,000 American troops to about 8,600 by midsummer and down to zero by May 2021.

But the deal was also contingent on peace negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, which were supposed to have started quickly with a major prisoner swap as a confidence-building measure.

U.S. officials now say the goal of 8,600 could be achieved by the start of June, Reuters reported.

“Due to COVID-19 concerns, we are moving towards that planned drawdown faster than anticipated,” said a U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. They explained the Pentagon focused on removing nonessential and high-risk troops from bases across the country.

President Trump on Tuesday said there were “7,000 some-odd” American troops that remain in Afghanistan, but officials have since clarified that there are more than 8,600.

American lawmakers and experts alike have warned that a complete U.S. troop withdrawal could bring more instability to Afghanistan, which has seen war for nearly two decades. The Taliban has recently upped the number of attacks in small provinces across the country — a move that Mr. Khalilzad has said “violates the spirit” of the agreement with the U.S.

Taliban say they don’t have missing US contractor

Taliban say they don’t have missing US contractor

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By KATHY GANNON

Associated Press

Sunday, May 10, 2020

ISLAMABAD (AP) – Taliban leaders searched their ranks, including in the much-feared Haqqani network, and on Sunday told The Associated Press they are not holding Mark R. Frerichs, a Navy veteran turned contractor who disappeared in Afghanistan in late January.

“We don’t have any information about the missing American,” Sohail Shaheen, the Taliban’s political spokesman, told the AP.

A second Taliban official familiar with the talks with the United States said “formally and informally” the Taliban have notified U.S. officials they are not holding Frerichs. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

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Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad, who negotiated a peace deal with the Taliban signed in February to allow America and NATO countries to withdraw their troops and end decades of war, asked for Frierchs’ release during his meetings this week in Qatar, where the Taliban maintain a political office.

In a statement late Saturday by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad, Khalilzad also sought Pakistan’s help in locating Frierchs. He arrived in Islamabad on Friday from Doha before heading to neighboring India in his pursuit of a lasting peace in Afghanistan. He met with Pakistan’s Army Chief of Staff Qamar Javed Bajwa to also press Pakistan’s assistance getting the Taliban to agree to reduce violence in Afghanistan, where they have stepped up attacks on Afghan Security Forces but not U.S. or NATO forces, in line with the peace deal.

Pakistan, where Taliban leaders have found a safe haven since their overthrow in 2001 by the U.S.-led coalition, has worked with the U.S. to get a peace deal with the Taliban. While it still has influence with the insurgents, a deep mistrust between the militant movement and Pakistan exists.

Pakistan kept the Taliban’s chief negotiator Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in jail for eight years after his arrest in a joint Pakistan-CIA operation in 2010, apparently because he had opened peace talks with Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai but without Pakistan or Washington’s involvement. Since his release in late 2018 to push the U.S.-Taliban peace process forward, he has returned only once to Pakistan and has quietly been relocating his family to the Middle East.

Earlier this week, the FBI took the unusual step of putting out a poster with Frerichs’ picture on it seeking information into his disappearance and whereabouts, something they have not done in previous incidents where the Taliban have taken hostages.

In previous talks, negotiations have been held quietly, intelligence has been gathered and only many months later the hostages’ fate became known – having either found their freedom or died.

Khalilzad’s latest trip to the region, according to a U.S. State Department announcement, includes Doha, Islamabad and New Delhi but not Kabul, where political turmoil has stymied progress on the deal’s next and critical phase of intra-Afghan talks.

Afghanistan’s political leaders are still disputing last year’s presidential polls.

A frustrated U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in March cut $1 billion in aid to Afghanistan after a surprise visit to the Afghan capital failed to bring about an agreement between the two leaders – President Ashraf Ghani and his rival, Abdullah Abdullah.

Khalilzad however has been pressing forward, pushing the Taliban to agree to a reduction in violence in an effort to move Afghanistan toward a lasting peace.

The U.S. and NATO however have started their troop withdrawal, which will be completed by next year if the Taliban keeps to their promise in the deal to fight terrorist groups, particularly the Islamic State, and guarantee Afghan territory is not used again to attack the United States or its allies.

Watchdog group says US not releasing data on Taliban attacks

Watchdog group says US not releasing data on Taliban attacks

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FILE – In this March 30, 2020 file photo, a damaged vehicle is removed from the site of a bomb explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan. The U.S. mission in Afghanistan has for the first time refused to publicly release its data … more >

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By TAMEEM AKHGAR

Associated Press

Friday, May 1, 2020

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The U.S. mission in Afghanistan has for the first time refused to publicly release its data on insurgent attacks amid the implementation of a peace agreement between the United States and the Taliban, an American watchdog said Friday.

The decision not to release the data comes as the Trump administration is eager for the U.S.-Taliban agreement to be seen as successful so that President Donald Trump can meet his commitments on pulling troops out of Afghanistan.

Washington’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, which monitors billions of dollars in U.S. aid to Afghanistan, expressed its concern in its quarterly report, which also discusses the reduction in ground operations of Afghan forces.

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John F. Sopko, who heads the watchdog, wrote that data on the Taliban and other militant attacks “was one of the last remaining metrics SIGAR was able to use to report publicly on the security situation in Afghanistan.”

The report said U.S. forces have classified all casualty information from Afghan national defense and security forces for the first quarter of 2020. However, the office of Afghanistan’s national security adviser earlier this week said the Taliban have carried out 2,804 attacks since the peace agreement between the Taliban and U.S. was signed on Feb. 29.

Army Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesperson, said data on insurgent attacks is important to discussions between agencies regarding the Taliban’s adherence to the peace agreement

“It will be releasable to the public when no longer integral to these deliberations, or the deliberations are concluded,” he said.

Campbell did say that enemy-initiated attacks during the month of March exceeded seasonal norms.

“The U.S., NATO and our international partners have been clear that the Taliban’s level of violence against the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces is unacceptably high,” he said.

U.S. officials and the Afghan government have repeatedly urged the Taliban to reduce their attacks in the wake of the agreement, but the insurgent group has continued to target Afghan security outposts at “levels above the seasonal norms,” according to the report.

Afghan officials said a police security chief in southern Helmand province and two other police officials were killed Wednesday, when a roadside bomb placed by the Taliban struck their car. According to Afghan Defense Ministry officials, the Taliban have been conducting on average 10 to 15 armed attacks daily on Afghan security forces across the country.

The watchdog report said Afghan special forces conducted 528 ground operations in the first three months of this year, 10% fewer than last quarter and 36% fewer than in the same period last year. Based on U.S. reporting to SIGAR, the Afghan forces conducted over half of the operations during this period independently of their American and NATO allies.

Under the peace deal, the U.S. last month began to draw down its forces to 8,600 from 13,000, with the remainder withdrawing in 14 months.

After the U.S.-Taliban deal, the Afghan government announced a 21-member team to negotiate peace with the Taliban in what are supposed to be intra-Afghan negotiations. However, the Taliban have refused to meet with a Kabul government team because of the continued dispute between Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and his political rival Abdullah Abdullah, who have both declared themselves the victor in September’s presidential election.

Another element of the U.S.-Taliban deal is a prisoner exchange. The agreement had called for the release of 5,000 Taliban prisoners and 1,000 government personnel held by the insurgents.

So far, the Afghan government has released 550 detainees based on age, vulnerability to the coronavirus and time served behind bars. The Taliban have not said if those released are among the prisoners referred to in the agreement. For their part, the Taliban have freed 114 prisoners, including 54 on Thursday.

Even though violence and attacks have continued in Afghanistan, the U.N. mission on Monday noted a drop in the number of civilians killed in the first three months of this year, compared to the same time last year. It said that in the first quarter of this year, 533 people, including 152 children, were killed by fighting and hundreds more were wounded.

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Associated Press writer Robert Burns in Washington contributed to this report.