Erdogan Tells of Two Missile Defense Deals With Russia

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday that the purchase of S-400 defense systems from Russia was a done deal, adding that Ankara would also jointly produce S-500 defense systems with Moscow. 

 

U.S. officials have called Turkey’s planned purchase of the S-400 missile defense system “deeply problematic,” saying it would risk Ankara’s partnership in the joint strike fighter F-35 program because it would compromise the jets, made by Lockheed Martin Corp. 

 

However, Erdogan said at a televised question-and-answer session with university students in Istanbul that Turkey had carried out technical work and found that such a problem did not exist. 

 

“They [the U.S.] are passing the ball around in the midfield now, showing some reluctance. But sooner or later, we will receive the F-35s. [The U.S.] not delivering them is not an option,” he said.

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US OKs Possible $314M Missile Deal for S. Korea 

The U.S. State Department has cleared $314 million in possible sales of air defense missiles to South Korea, the Pentagon said, as tensions re-emerge on the Korean Peninsula. 

 

South Korea, a key Asian ally of the United States, asked to buy up to 94 SM-2 missiles used by ships against air threats, along with 12 guidance systems and technical assistance, for a total cost of $313.9 million, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said on its website. The agency, a unit of the Department of Defense, delivered certification on Thursday notifying Congress of the possible sale. 

 

The proposed sale, announced Friday by the Pentagon, comes after North Korea recently criticized South Korea’s defense purchases from the United States, including the arrival of the first F-35 stealth aircraft. 

 

With denuclearization talks stalled after a second summit between North Korea and United States broke down in Hanoi in February, North Korea went ahead with more weapons tests this month. 

 

The reclusive North and the rich, democratic South are technically still at war because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, rather than a peace treaty. 

 

South Korea already uses SM-2 missiles developed by Raytheon Co., but is building more missile defense-capable destroyers equipped with the weapon. 

 

North Korea has boasted about its indigenous surface-to-air missiles. 

 

Separately, Japan, another key U.S. ally in the region, was also cleared to buy $317 million worth of medium-range air-to-air missiles from Washington, the DSCA said.

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Chinese Entrepreneurs Assess Impact of Trade Tensions with US

Trade tensions between the United States and China are deepening. After months of talks, the two sides appear no closer to reaching a deal. VOA spoke with business owners in southern China about the toll from the prolonged standoff. VOA Mandarin Service reporter Ye Bing has more from Guangdong.

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Acting US Defense Secretary Faces Challenges Ahead of Confirmation

Acting Secretary of Defense Pat Shanahan is President Donald Trump’s pick for the next U.S. defense secretary. He will need to lead the Pentagon through many military challenges in the coming weeks but will have to make it through a difficult confirmation hearing first. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.

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‘Constitutional Crisis’ or Confrontation? Democrats and Republicans Disagree

Democratic lawmakers say the Trump administration’s refusal to provide additional information and testimony relating to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report has plunged the U.S. into a constitutional crisis. The fight over just how much oversight the U.S. Congress should have over the White House has triggered a debate about the balance of power in the U.S. government. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson reports from Capitol Hill.

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In Trade War, How Much Can Beijing Fight Back?

China’s retaliatory measures against the United States in their ongoing trade war have raised questions about the limitations of Beijing’s ability to fight back.

Beijing’s retaliation did not match the size of Washington’s action of raising tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10% to 25%. China has imposed additional taxes on a wide range of American goods worth $60 billion. But Beijing has left out some crucial goods from enhanced taxation. They include technology-related products and farm commodities like soy beans.

Most of the American products covered by additional taxation will see tariffs rising to 15-20% while only a few will be taxed at 25%.

“Beijing wants to minimize the domestic economic impact caused by tariff retaliation. Thus, commodities that might cause greater domestic repercussions have been excluded,” said Zhengyuan Bo, the Beijing-based analyst for consulting firm GRisk.

US pork takes a hit

But China is showing its muscle in other ways. Chinese buyers are cutting back on imports of American pork to the extent of $6.5 billion. This will seriously hurt U.S. pork farmers because China is the second biggest importer of American pork.

Few expected China to take this measure at a time when its domestic pig farms have been hit by African swine fever. Some reports said Chinese pig breeders are at risk of losing one-third of their livestock.

“As a result of the African swine flu outbreak in China, the supply of pork has been affected. In April, pork prices surged by 14.4 percent. In order to push down prices, China will need to import more pork,” said Max Zenglein, head of economic research at the Mercator Institute for China Studies, or Merics, in Berlin.

But imports may prove to be difficult because Beijing has cut down on imports from the U.S. and neighboring Vietnam has also been hit by the pig disease. China’s Communist leaders are gauging the extent of sacrifices that Chinese consumers are willing to make at a time when the country in engaged in a bitter trade war, analysts said.

Technology mostly off-limits

China is in no mood to take chances with the supply of crucial American technology, which is essential for the survival and growth of hundreds of Chinese companies and joint ventures involving local and U.S. firms.

This is why Beijing has spared many technology-related products in its decision to impose additional taxes.

“Technology is one of the core issues that Beijing is targeting to support high-value jobs and eventually push up the income curve, much like Japan and Korea,” said Mark Tanner, managing director of research firm China Skinny.

On top of these measures, China has offered the advantage of tax exclusion for domestic companies that have been hardest hit by the U.S. trade action. The government will subsidize some of the additional import costs, particularly in the import of technology related products.

Non-tariff aggression

Analysts said China may have limited capability for tit-for-tat taxing of U.S. goods, but it has other equally strong ways of pressuring Washington.

One of them is its ability to get the Chinese public to adhere to what the authorities want, even if they have to reduce purchases of highly taxed American goods.

“China doesn’t have to reduce demand for foreign products through tariffs. It can simply direct that purchases be stopped,” said Doug Barry, an executive with U.S.-China Business Council.

Zenglein of Merics said, “Although China imports less from the U.S., American companies are heavily invested in the market and generate significant profits there. This gives China considerable leverage.”

Chinese authorities also could consider putting pressure on American businesses operating in China by cutting back on its own buying of U.S. products. Beijing recently moved away from buying U.S.-made Boeing aircraft after two accidents and enhanced its purchase of Airbus jets made in France.

“China also has non-tariff options for making life distressing for U.S. business people, such as more frequent inspections, costly audits, national security reviews and other forms of harassment,” Barry said.

Barry said the U.S. industry is heavily dependent on Chinese manufacturers for a wide range of goods and parts, which cannot be easily substituted by supplies from other countries. Chinese companies are accustomed to the requirements of American users after decades of mutual dealings — something other markets cannot learn in a hurry, he said.

The question remains, however, whether Beijing would use this as leverage, because cutting off supplies from China would hurt its companies and cause large-scale disruptions and unemployment.

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Khashoggi Fiancee: Lack of US Stand Endangers Journalists

The killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Turkey last year raised international awareness of the dangers of reporting on human rights abuses. But as Khashoggi’s fiancee told lawmakers Thursday, the lack of a U.S. response to his death endangers journalists worldwide. VOA’s congressional correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill.

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Trump Wants Highly Skilled Migrants, No Green Card Lottery

U.S. President Donald Trump launched his immigration plan that includes stopping the Diversity Immigrant Visa, also known as green card lottery, drastically reducing the number of family-sponsorship visas, and moving toward a merit-based system. Democrats have rejected the plan because it does not address the fate of the 700,000 “Dreamers,” individuals brought in the country illegally as children. White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has this story.

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Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms

Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms on display at The George Washington University Museum and The Textile Museum.

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‘I Hope Not,’ Trump Says on Possibility of War With Iran

Michael Bowman and Shahla Arasteh contributed to this report.

President Donald Trump says he hopes the U.S. is not going to war with Iran amid rising tensions in the Middle East, as an Iran diplomat downplayed such prospects.

“I hope not,” Trump said when asked about the possibility of a conflict with Tehran as he began talks with Swiss President Ueli Maurer.  The U.S. and Iran do not have diplomatic ties but Switzerland represents U.S. interests in the Middle Eastern country.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders reiterated to reporters early Thursday that Trump wanted a “behavioral change” from Iran and would oppose any aggressive actions by the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s ambassador to the United Nations, Majid Takht-e-Ravanchi, downplayed that possibility, saying on National Public Radio’s Morning Edition Thursday that his country was not interested in escalating regional tensions. “If something goes wrong, everyone loses,” he said. But Ravanchi added, “It is our right to be prepared,” and “It is our right to defend ourselves.”

The diplomat accused the U.S. and regional countries of making “false allegations” about Iran.

 

A New York Times report, citing three U.S. officials, said Thursday that the White House escalated warnings after reviewing photographs of missiles on small vessels in the Persian Gulf that were installed by Iranian paramilitary forces. The report said the images fueled fears that Iranian forces would fire the missiles at U.S. naval ships.

Trump said Wednesday that there was “no infighting whatsoever” about his Middle East policies and that he was “sure that Iran will want to talk soon.”

Those remarks came in response to reports in the Times and The Washington Post about clashing opinions between those in his administration who see Iran preparing to attack U.S. forces, and other officials, including some from European allies, who argue Iran’s moves are defensive precautions in response to U.S. actions toward Iran.

Trump decided last year to withdraw from an international agreement limiting Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief, and applied fresh actions to cut off Iran’s oil and banking sectors in an attempt to alter the Iranian government’s behavior.  

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Thursday that “the escalation by the U.S. is unacceptable and uncomfortable,” and that despite the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran was exercising “maximum restraint.”

The U.S. has ordered its non-emergency employees to leave the country’s embassy in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad, and its consulate in Irbil as the Trump administration warned of threats against American forces in the Middle East from Iran or Iranian-backed proxies.

The move sparked sharp reactions on Capitol Hill.

“There are only two reasons for ordering their departure: We have credible intelligence that our people are at risk or in preparation for military action in Iran,” said the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, Robert Menendez of New Jersey. “The Trump administration has not provided any information to this committee on the intelligence behind their decisions or what they plan to do in Iraq or Iran.”

Menendez demanded the officials bring panel members up to date on “any plans to go to war with Iran.”

Committee Chairman James Risch, an Idaho Republican, said he had been briefed on the unfolding situation in the Middle East and that a briefing of the full Senate was “in the works.”

The Pentagon has dispatched an aircraft carrier and nuclear-capable bombers to the region in the past few days, with a Patriot missile battery and a landing platform dock ship on the way. The Patriot system offers protection from aircraft and missiles, while the LPD carries Marines and the aircraft, hovercraft or boats needed to put them ashore to fight in distant places.

But a major U.S. ally in the region, the UAE, said it would show “restraint” in the face of Iranian aggression.

“We need to emphasize caution and good judgment,” UAE Foreign Affairs Minister Anwar Gargash said Wednesday. “It is easy to throw accusations, but it is a difficult situation. There are serious issues and among them is Iranian behavior.” 

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said his country agreed with the U.S. that Iran poses a heightened threat.  His comment Thursday came two days after a senior British officer in the U.S.-led military coalition fighting Islamic State in Syria said he had not seen an increased threat to his troops by Iranian-backed forces in Iraq or Syria. 

 

Maj. Gen. Chris Ghika’s statement to reporters contradicted the Trump administration, which has asserted for more than a week that it has detected potential Iranian threats against U.S. forces in the Middle East. 

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