Pelosi in Jordan for ‘Vital Discussions’ Amid Syria Crisis

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a group of American lawmakers on a surprise visit to Jordan to discuss “the deepening crisis” in Syria amid a shaky U.S.-brokered cease-fire.
 
The visit came after bipartisan criticism in Washington has slammed President Donald Trump for his decision to withdraw the bulk of U.S. troops from northern Syria — clearing the way for Turkey’s wide-ranging offensive against the Kurdish groups, who had been key U.S. allies in the fight against the Islamic State group.
 
Turkey agreed on Thursday to suspend its offensive for five days, demanding the Kurdish forces withdraw from a designated strip of the border about 30 kilometers deep (19 miles).  
 
Pelosi, along with the nine-member Congressional delegation, met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II in the capital of Amman late Saturday for talks focusing on security and “regional stability,” according to a statement from her office.
 
Jordan is a key U.S. ally in the region and has been greatly affected by the eight-year-long civil war in neighboring Syria. Jordanian officials say the kingdom hosts some 1 million Syrians who have fled the fighting.
 
 “With the deepening crisis in Syria after Turkey’s incursion, our delegation has engaged in vital discussions about the impact to regional stability, increased flow of refugees, and the dangerous opening that has been provided to ISIS, Iran and Russia,” said the statement, using the Islamic State group’s acronym.
 
Jordan’s state news agency Petra said Abdullah stressed the importance of safeguarding Syria’s territorial integrity and guarantees for the “safe and voluntary” return of refugees.
 
 “The meeting also covered regional and international efforts to counter terrorism within a comprehensive approach,” the agency said.
 
The Congressional delegation included Democrats Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, who is leading the impeachment probe into President Trump; Eliot Engel, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Bennie Thompson, chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. There was one GOP member of the group, Rep. Mac Thornberry, the top Republican on the House Armed Services Committee.
 
The U.S. Embassy in Amman said the delegation left Jordan early Sunday but gave no further details on where it was heading.
 
Many Democrat and Republican lawmakers say that the U.S. pullout could make way for rivals like Iran and Russia, who back Syrian President Bashar Assad.

 

 

 

 

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Esper Makes Unannounced Visit to Afghanistan

U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper has made an unannounced trip to Afghanistan amid efforts to restart peace talks with the Taliban.

“The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point, a political agreement, that is the best way forward,” Esper told reporters traveling with him Sunday.

Last month, President Donald Trump abruptly called off yearlong U.S.-Taliban talks just when the two adversaries had come close to signing a peace agreement that could have ended the 18-year-old Afghan war, America’s longest overseas military intervention.  

Trump declared the peace process process “dead,” citing continued insurgent deadly attacks on Afghan civilians and American troops in Afghanistan.

 

 

 

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Щонайменше 7 людей загинули внаслідок стрілянини на кордоні Індії та Пакистану

Щонайменше четверо цивільних і троє військових загинули під час стрілянини, що сталася пізно ввечері на кордоні Пакистану та Індії. У серпні влада в Делі скасувала особливий статус підпорядкованої Індії частини Кашміру, і відтоді сталися вже кілька прикордонних сутичок.

Суперечливі повідомлення кожної сторони дозволяють припустити, що число загиблих все ще може зрости.

Речник армії Пакистану генерал-майор Асіф Гафур 20 жовтня звинуватив індійську сторону в обстрілі, під час якого, за його словами, «навмисно цілили в мирних жителів». Внаслідок обстрілу, твердить речник, загинули троє цивільних та один солдат у Пакистані, а ще двоє пакистанських солдатів та п’ятеро цивільних зазнали поранень. Також Гафур твердить, що пакистанські війська, стріляючи у відповідь, убили дев’ять індійських солдатів і поранили «ще кілька».

Індійські джерела заперечують таку версію подій та число жертв. За їхніми даними, пакистанські солдати цілили по індійському прикордонному посту та цивільних районах, убивши одного солдата та двох цивільних.

Конфлікт між Індією та Пакистаном триває від 1947 року, коли обидві країни здобули незалежність від Великої Британії. Кашмір є розділеним регіоном, на який претендують обидві країни.

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Курдські сили заявляють про готовність піти з прикордонного з Туреччиною району Сирії

Один із лідерів сил сирійських курдів Редур Халіл заявив, що підконтрольні йому групи вийдуть з прикордонного району на північному сході Сирії, щоб виконати запропоновану США угоду про припинення вогню. Умовою Халіл називає те, щоб контрольовані Туреччиною сили дозволили курдським військам і цивільним безперешкодно залишити населені пункти, що перебувають у зоні бойових дій.

Один із керівників «Сирійських демократичних сил» (SDF), які отримували американську зброю для боротьби проти угруповання «Ісламська держава», заявив пізно ввечері 19 жовтня, що курдські війська відійдуть назад на 30 кілометрів від турецько-сирійського кордону на ділянці довжиною 120 кілометрів між містами Рас-ель-Айн та Тал-Айбад, якщо буде дозволена евакуація з цих міст.

Навіть попри висунуті умови, ця заява є з боку SDF першим публічним визнанням можливості відходу з нині підконтрольних курдам територій.

Міністр закордонних справ Туреччини Мевлют Чавушоглу 20 жовтня заявив, що Анкара не хоче, щоб «жодний курдський бойовик» залишився у запланованих Туреччиною «зонах безпеки». Він додав, що Туреччина обговорить з Росією, сили якої воюють на підтримку президента Сирії Башара Асада, можливість вивезення курдських бойовиків з регіонів Манбіджа і Кобані.

Президент Туреччини Реджеп Ердоган планує провести зустріч із президентом Росії Володимиром Путіним на російському чорноморському курорті Сочі 22 жовтня.

17 жовтня віцепрезидент США Майк Пенс в Анкарі оголосив про угоду, яка передбачає призупинення військової операції Туреччини на північному сході Сирії.

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Троє людей загинули в Чилі, де тривають соціальні протести

Троє людей загинули внаслідок пожежі в супермаркеті в столиці Чилі Сантьяго, де другу добу тривають нічні протести. Двоє людей загинули безпосередньо на місці, ще один потерпілий помер від опіків у лікарні, повідомила мер столиці Карла Рубілар.

Раніше президент Чилі Себастьян Піньєра призупинив зростання тарифів на метро, яке й спричинило початок протестів, але заворушення тривають, попри цю заяву.

Також президент Чилі оголосив надзвичайний стан у столиці через заворушення, погроми та підпали. Війська патрулюють вулиці чилійської столиці, повідомляє Euronews. Центральна магістраль перекрита танками, щоб не допустити нових зіткнень.

Протести розпочалися кілька днів тому в формі масових «стрибків через турнікети», так студенти висловили своє невдоволення другим за цей рік підвищенням цін.

У години пік ціна проїзних квитків сягає 830 чилійських песо (це еквівалентно 1 долару 17 центам, приблизно 29 гривень 25 копійок – замість колишньої ціни 1 долар 13 центів, 28 гривень 25 копійок). Зарплата багатьох чилійців не досягає і 770 доларів на місяць.

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Afghan Election Results Delayed

Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission (IEC) confirmed Saturday it had delayed the planned release of preliminary results of the Sept. 28 presidential polls. 
 
The commission’s chief, Hawa Alam Nuristani, made the widely anticipated announcement at a late evening news conference in Kabul on the day the commission was supposed to officially deliver first results. 
 
Nuristani apologized to Afghans for not being able to meet the deadline, but she defended the decision to delay the results, saying it would “further ensure the transparency of the [electoral] process” and restore the people’s confidence in it. 
 
The chief election commissioner promised to release preliminary results as soon as possible but did not say exactly when that would happen. 
 
Two senior IEC members, while speaking to VOA on Friday, predicted results would be delayed by at least one week. 

Problems from the start
 
Election officials said they had from the outset faced issues in collecting and transferring massive amounts of data to the main IEC computer server from biometric devices used to record voter fingerprints and pictures. A time-consuming exercise of identifying fraudulent votes was cited as another major factor for the slow data entry. 
 
The fourth Afghan presidential election was already under scrutiny for a record-low turnout of about 26 percent and allegations of fraud. The final turnout was expected to drop further as the IEC was expected to disqualify an estimated 700,000 of the 2.7 million votes cast last month for not meeting anti-fraud rules. 
 

FILE – Independent Election Commission workers carry ballot boxes to be taken to a counting center in Kabul, Oct. 2, 2019.

All previous elections held in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Taliban government in 2001 were marred by allegations of widespread fraud and rigging, prompting the IEC to use biometric devices for the first time in the just concluded presidential polls. 
 
While security concerns stemming from violent Taliban attacks on the election process were mainly blamed for the low turnout, the polling was marred by widespread irregularities and allegations of fraud. 
 
The United Nations, in a report released this week, noted that election-related attacks had killed 85 Afghan civilians and injured 373 others. 
 
Both front-runners, President Ashraf Ghani and Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, have already claimed victories, raising fears of a repeat of what happened in the 2014 fraud-marred presidential election. The United States at the time had to intervene to help the two men negotiate a power-sharing deal, ending months of nationwide chaos. 

Accuracy paramount
 
On Wednesday, U.S. acting Assistant Secretary of State Alice Wells underscored the need for a credible outcome of the election and called on all candidates to avoid declaring victory before official results were released. 
 
“We welcome the IEC’s intention to conduct all necessary anti-fraud measures before it announces the preliminary result. An accurate result is more important than a rushed one,” Wells told reporters in Kabul after her meetings with Ghani, Abdullah and election commission officials. 
 
Abdullah and Ghani have both pledged support for the IEC to take as much time as needed to deliver a transparent outcome. 
 
“The Afghan people yearn to hear about the results of the presidential elections, but we respect the Independent Election Commission’s decision to postpone announcing the results to ensure fairness, transparency and accountability of the final vote,” Ghani tweeted shortly after the delay was announced. 

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Медведєв у парламенті Сербії анонсував підписання угоди про вільну торгівлю з «ЄврАзЕС»

Прем’єр-міністр Росії Дмитро Медведєв під час візиту до Сербії 19 жовтня відвідав військове шоу і виступив на спеціальній сесії парламенту країни.

Під час виступу він висловив сподівання, що прем’єр-міністр Сербії Анна Брнабич під час свого візиту до Москви 25 жовтня підпише угоду про вільну торгівлю з Євразійським економічним союзом під керівництвом Росії.

 

В інтерв’ю сербській газеті 18 жовтня Медведєв розкритикував США, звинувативши Вашингтон у «прагненні… домінувати над усім світом, включаючи Балкани та Європу».

 

Медведєв прибув до Сербії із нагоди 75-ої річниці звільнення Белграда від нацистської окупації у Другій світовій війні.

Він провів зустрічі із прем’єром Брнабич і з президентом Сербії Александаром Вучичем.

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Туреччина і курди звинувачують одне одного в порушенні перемир’я в Сирії

Сторони конфлікту на півночі Сирії – Туреччина і сирійські курди – звинувачують одне одного в порушенні режиму припинення вогню, узгодженого 17 жовтня під час візиту в Анкару віцепрезидента США Майка Пенса.

У заяві турецького Міністерства оборони сказано, що «терористи», як називають у Туреччині курдські збройні формування, за 36 годин здійснили 14 нападів.

Турецькі військові заявляють, що самі дотримуються перемир’я.

Зі свого боку, курди звинувачують Туреччину в порушенні перемир’я і продовження наступу на їхні позиції в Рас аль-Айні.

Проте інтенсивність бойових дій після оголошення про припинення вогню, як відзначають спостерігачі, істотно нижча.

Президент США Дональд Трамп напередодні ввечері знову привітав перемир’я, написавши в твітері, що воно врятувало тисячі життів.

 

Туреччина погодилася припинити вогонь на північному сході Сирії на п’ять діб, які закінчуються 22 жовтня, і при цьому поставила умову – виведення всіх курдських збройних формувань з 30-кілометрової «зони безпеки» біля кордону. Якщо ж цього не відбудеться, в Анкарі заявляли, що відновлять операцію.

22 жовтня, як очікується, президент Туреччини Реджеп Таїп Ердоган відвідає Росію.

Російські військові разом з урядовими військами Сирії після початку турецької операції за погодженням з курдами увійшли в місто Манбідж і взяли під контроль низку інших територій на півночі Сирії, які раніше залишили американські військові.

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Turkish-Backed Forces, Kurds Clash Despite Syria Cease-Fire

Turkish-backed Syrian fighters clashed with Kurdish-led forces in several parts of northeastern Syria on Saturday, with some crossing the border from Turkey to attack a village, a war monitor said. Both sides blamed each other for fighting that has rattled the U.S.-brokered cease-fire.

Nearly two days into the five-day halt in fighting, the two sides were still trading fire around the key border town of Ras al-Ayn. There has also been no sign of a withdrawal of Kurdish-led forces from positions along the Syrian-Turkish border as called for under the agreement, reached between Turkey and the United States.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry said it was “completely abiding” by the accord and that it was in “instantaneous coordination” with Washington to ensure the continuity of calm. The ministry accused Kurdish-led fighters of carrying out 14 “attacks and harassments” the past 36 hours, most in the town of Ras al-Ayn, which is besieged by allied fighters before the cease-fire. It said the Syrian Kurdish fighters used mortars, rockets, anti-aircraft and anti-tank heavy machine guns.

Turkey also said Saturday said it has recaptured 41 suspected Islamic State members who had fled a detention camp amid the chaos caused by the fighting earlier this week.

The Kurds, meanwhile, appealed to Vice President Mike Pence to enforce the deal saying Turkey has failed to abide by its provisions and has continued the siege of Ras al-Ayn.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces said there were still clashes inside Ras al-Ayn and medical personnel could not enter to help the wounded.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the Turkish-backed fighters entered Syria and advanced into Kurdish-held Shakariya, a village east of Ras al-Ayn that saw clashes and a Turkish strike a day earlier.

Video posted online showed the fighters driving alongside the wall Turkey has erected along the border and boasting that they were headed on “an assault” into Syria. The video did not show them crossing the border.

Syrian state media said Turkish-backed fighters also made an “infiltration attempt” south of Ras al-Ayn but were repelled in clashes with the Syrian government military that had just moved into the area. The reports gave no further details.

People stand in a queue to receive bread in the border town of Tal Abyad, Syria, Oct. 18, 2019.

The Observatory said Saturday that Turkey-backed Syrian fighters have prevented a medical convoy from reaching Ras al-Ayn. It said a medical convoy arrived outside the town Friday but Turkey-backed factions closed the road ahead and behind, leaving it stuck outside Ras al-Ayn.

The agreement — reached in negotiations between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. Vice President Mike Pence — would virtually hand Turkey its aims in the invasion, requiring Kurdish fighters to vacate a swath of territory in Syria along the Turkish border during the cease-fire.

The Kurdish-led force, which said it was in contact with the Americans during the negotiations, said it will abide by the halt in fighting but has not committed to any pull-out. Erdogan warned Friday that Turkey will relaunch its assault on Tuesday when the deal runs out if the Kurdish fighters don’t pull out of a zone 30 kilometers (20-miles) deep running the entire length of the border.

On Saturday, the Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said 41 suspected Islamic State members were re-captured after fleeing a detention camp amid fighting earlier this week in Syria. He said 195 other suspected IS members had already been recaptured. He said the captured IS suspects would be relocated to areas controlled by Turkey in northern Syria, including Afrin and al-Bab.

Turkey-backed Syrian rebel fighters chat in the border town of Tal Abyad, Syria, Oct. 18, 2019.

Last week, there were reports that after a Turkish shell landed near Ein Issa camp that holds members of IS families, more than 700 managed to flee amid the chaos.

Turkey’s state-run English language broadcaster TRT World said the IS members and families were captured by Turkey-backed Syrian opposition forces.

Erdogan has accused Syrian Kurdish forces of releasing some 750 IS members and families, amid Turkey’s offensive. The Kurds say they broke out of their camp a week ago, attacking guards, amid heavy clashes and Turkish airstrikes nearby.

 

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Bipartisan Shrug as US Budget Deficit Nears $1 Trillion

Washington is drowning in red ink again, yet the mounting fiscal problem is prompting collective yawns from the Trump Administration and Democrats alike.

It wasn’t so long ago that an announcement that the United States annual budget deficit was approaching $1 trillion — in a time of record low unemployment and steady economic growth, no less — would have set off alarm bells in the nation’s capital and sent politicians running to the television cameras to demand action to rein in federal spending. But a recent report from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic analysis that shows the deficit ballooning to a seven-year high of $984 billion in fiscal 2019 was greeted with near silence from U.S. lawmakers, the administration and other policy makers.

Instead, as the 2020 presidential campaign heats up, Republicans and Democrats are promoting ambitious new spending and tax relief measures that would add many trillions of dollars to the cumulative federal debt – the sum total of past deficits — which is now approaching a staggering $23 trillion.

After forcing a $1.5 trillion tax cut through Congress in 2017 and demanding sharp increases in military spending, both of which have contributed to a 48% increase in the federal deficit since he took office, President Trump and others in his administration have floated the idea of further tax reductions heading into 2020.

FILE – U.S. President Donald Trump holds an executive order relieving qualified disabled veterans of federally held student loan debt at the AMVETS (American Veterans) National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky, Aug. 21, 2019.

Meanwhile, Democratic presidential candidates including liberal Senators Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont are pushing for additional federal spending on social programs, including a controversial “Medicare for All” proposal. A study by the Urban Institute found that the most expansive version of that program, which extends healthcare coverage to every American and eliminates virtually all out-of-pocket spending on health care, would cost an average of $3.4 trillion per year, or $34 trillion over a decade.

Warren, who is surging in the polls ahead of former Vice President Joe Biden and Sanders, is also advocating expanded Social Security benefits, free college tuition, student debt relief and environmental initiatives with hefty price tags.

The current U.S. federal debt, now approaching $23 trillion  is equal to more than 100% of the estimated $21.3 trillion 2019 Gross Domestic Product. The country has not seen a debt-to-GDP ratio this high since World War II. But still, the primary policy proposals coming from voices on both sides of the political spectrum are in favor of measures that would likely exacerbate the deficit and add to the federal debt.

It’s a state of affairs that leaves Washington budget watchdogs frustrated and worried about the future.

“Certainly, interest in fiscal responsibility seems to be an all-time low,” said Marc Goldwein, senior vice president and senior policy director for the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget

“It should be frustrating for everyone, because the deficit is at an all-time high…for this point in the economic cycle,” he said. “It’s really dangerous. And what we need to be doing is getting our debt under control now, understanding that it will have to expand during a recession, not making it even worse.”

That’s a message that neither the Trump administration nor the Democrats running for president appear to have acknowledged.

FILE – A worker aerates printed sheets of dollar bills at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, Nov. 15, 2017.

There are multiple reasons why demands for spending cuts and deficit reduction have been muted in recent years. For one, the seemingly constant state of crisis in Washington, made even more profound by the ongoing effort to impeach President Trump, leaves little room in the headlines for more complex issues like fiscal policy.

However, one key reason that deficit hawks’ collective voice does not command the attention in Washington that it once did is that they have been demonstrably wrong about the effects of rising federal borrowing.

For years, the twin terrors of rising interest rates and inflation were key arguments against allowing the deficit and debt to continue to mount. Expansive federal spending was supposed to goose demand and drive up prices. At the same time, lenders — in the form of the bond market — were expected to demand ever-higher interest rates from a federal government that kept driving itself further into debt.

Additionally, as the government borrowed more and at higher interest rates, the borrowing was supposed to “crowd out” more productive investment in the private sector.

But for the past decade, inflation has remained stubbornly low, even in the years immediately following the Great Recession, when the government was pouring money into the economy to increase demand.

At the same time, the federal government is still able to borrow at historically low rates, making the cost of servicing new debt much lower than budget hawks predicted it would be at this point. And the absence of any evidence that government borrowing is “crowding out” private sector investment has been sparse enough that the conservative-leaning Tax Foundation has declared it to be a concern of “minimal importance.”

Additionally, while much is made of the fact that the federal debt is now higher than annual GDP, that hardly makes the U.S. an outlier among developed nations. Other advanced economies carrying comparable levels of debt include Canada, Spain, the United Kingdom, and France. Japan’s debt load is equal to more than twice its GDP.

In fact, there is a rising consensus among economists worldwide that, especially given the low interest rate environment that is expected to persist indefinitely, high debt levels among advanced economies simply are not that big a deal. Among the loudest voices making this point has been Olivier Blanchard, the former head of the International Monetary Fund — an organization that has spent decades trying to convince developing economies to avoid high debt loads.

“The right attitude…is not to pretend that debt is catastrophic if it is not,” he wrote in a recent paper with economist Ángel Ubide. “Sooner or later, a government will test that proposition and discover that it is false. The right approach is to tailor the advice to the situation of each country.”

 

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