BEIJING – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen is visiting her island’s diplomatic allies in the Pacific on a tour that will end with a stopover in Hawaii.
Taiwan’s official Central News Agency says Tsai will travel Thursday to March 28 to visit Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands. She will transit through Hawaii on her way back.
Taiwan’s list of allies has dwindled as countries choose instead to establish relations with Beijing, which considers the self-governing island part of Chinese territory.
Only 17 mainly small, developing countries still recognize Taiwan as a sovereign nation. The island split from mainland China amid a civil war in 1949.
Beijing has recently ratcheted up its rhetoric around "re-unifying" Taiwan, which has a democratic government, with the Communist Party-ruled mainland.
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BEIRUT – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hopes to use his first visit to Lebanon this week to step up pressure on Iran and its local ally, Hezbollah. But he could face resistance even from America’s local allies, who fear that pushing too hard could spark a backlash and endanger the tiny country’s fragile peace.
Hezbollah wields more power than ever in parliament and the government. Pompeo will meet Friday with President Michel Aoun and will also hold talks with Lebanon’s parliament speaker and foreign minister — all three of whom are close Hezbollah allies. He will also meet with Prime Minister Saad Hariri, a close Western ally who has been reluctant to confront Hezbollah.
"We’ll spend a lot of time talking with the Lebanese government about how we can help them disconnect from the threat that Iran and Hezbollah present to them," Pompeo told reporters earlier this week.
But isolating Hezbollah, whose military power dwarfs that of the Lebanese armed forces, could prove impossible.
The Iran-backed group has an arsenal of tens of thousands of rockets and missiles. Its battle-hardened cadres fought Israel to a stalemate in 2006, and have fought alongside President Bashar Assad’s army since the early days of the Syrian civil war, securing a string of hard-won victories. Over the past year, the group has translated this power into major political gains unseen in the past.
Hezbollah and its allies today control a majority of seats in parliament and the Cabinet, after it managed in 2016 to help Aoun, an allied Christian leader, be elected president. The group has three Cabinet seats, the largest number it has ever taken, including the Health Ministry, which has one of the largest budgets.
That has angered Washington, where U.S. officials have called on Hariri’s national unity government to ensure Hezbollah does not tap into public resources. Last month, U.S. Ambassador Elizabeth Richard expressed concerns over Hezbollah’s growing role in the new Cabinet, saying it does not contribute to stability.
Lebanon has long been a political battleground in the region-wide struggle between Washington and Tehran. But tensions have risen since President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers and re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.
The United States backs a coalition of groups opposed to Hezbollah led by Hariri’s Sunni-led Future Movement and the right-wing Christian Lebanese Forces, but Washington’s local allies are proceeding with caution. Memories are fresh of the clashes that erupted in May 2008, when the Shiite Hezbollah rapidly defeated a group of Sunni opponents on the streets of Beirut.
"Washington should be careful not to push Lebanon to the brink, as Hezbollah would retaliate if its survival is at stake," said Joe Macaron, a resident fellow at the Arab Center in Washington. "In the current status quo, the most effective way to restrain Hezbollah remains within the intricate parameters of the Lebanese political system," he said.
The Trump administration appears to be aware of the difficulties it faces, and while it has talked tough about Hezbollah, it has done little beyond strengthening already tough sanctions on the group, which has long been blacklisted as a terrorist organization by Western countries.
The United States is a strong supporter of Lebanon’s national army, supplying it with arms and more than $1.5 billion in aid over the past decade. But Hezbollah, the only group that did not disarm after the 1975-1990 civil war, takes credit for ending the 18-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in 2000 and says it is the only force capable of repelling another Israeli invasion.
During his visit to Lebanon, Pompeo is expected to reiterate Washington’s support to the Lebanese army. In return, he is expected to demand that Lebanon’s Central Bank act to prevent Iran from using the country’s banking sector to evade sanctions.
Asked by journalists on his way to the Middle East about his meetings with Aoun, who helped facilitate Hezbollah’s rise to power, Pompeo responded: "In my business we talk to a lot of people that we’re hoping to change their way."
Aoun is scheduled to visit Russia later this month for talks with President Vladimir Putin. The two are expected to discuss a number of topics, including the return of Syrian refugees and oil and gas exploration in the Mediterranean, which has been a source of tension between Lebanon and Israel.
Pompeo will likely offer continued U.S. mediation to try and resolve the maritime border dispute between Lebanon and Israel. Lebanon plans to begin offshore oil and gas exploration later this year.
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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Five former residents of a New Mexico compound where authorities found the remains of a 3-year-old boy are due in federal court on terrorism-related charges.
The charges include conspiring to attack law enforcement and military members.
The two men and three women living at the compound raided in August are being arraigned Thursday on new federal charges of supporting plans for violent attacks. The charges were included in a superseding indictment last week. The group has been in federal custody since August on firearms charges.
Four members of the group also are charged in the kidnapping of the boy who died at the compound. He had suffered from medical disabilities that authorities say went untreated.
Defense attorneys say the five will plead not guilty to charges.
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CARACAS, Venezuela – The United Nation’s high commissioner for human rights says recent U.S. sanctions that are aimed to topple Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro threaten to deep the nation’s crisis.
Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told the Human Rights Council of the U.N. on Wednesday that U.S. measures targeting Venezuela’s state-run oil company could have repercussions on people’s basic rights and wellbeing.
The Trump administration is among some 50 nations around the world that back opposition leader Juan Guaido, who seeks to oust Maduro.
The U.S. has sanctioned Maduro and dozens in his administration since 2017. In late January, the U.S. Treasury targeted PDVSA, aimed at depriving Maduro of billions in hard cash.
Maduro says the U.S. is leading a coup aimed at stealing the world’s largest oil reserves, which Venezuela possesses.
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JERUSALEM – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is renewing calls for a resolution to a festering dispute between Qatar and four other Arab nations, all America’s Mideast partners.
On a visit to Kuwait, Pompeo says the crisis that has roiled the Gulf Cooperation Council for almost two years is hindering efforts to combat regional threats posed by Iran, the Islamic State group and others.
Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began a boycott of Qatar in June 2017, alleging that Qatar funds extremists and has too-cozy ties to Iran. Qatar has long denied funding extremists, but Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.
Pompeo is in Kuwait on the first leg of a Mideast tour that will take him next to Israel and Lebanon.
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BEIJING – The Philippine foreign secretary has heaped praise on China’s ruling Communist Party during a visit to Beijing, underscoring the growing distance between the Philippines and the United States.
Teodoro Locsin said Wednesday that China’s authoritarian one-party system has provided opportunities for developing economies to grow and given momentum for improvement that Western democracies lack.
Locsin said the Chinese Communist Party is supplying direction that "no other institution anywhere in the world could."
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has frequently criticized his county’s alliance with the U.S.
Earlier this month, the Philippine defense secretary said his country’s defense treaty with the U.S. needs to be re-examined, bringing expressions of concern from Washington.
China and the Philippines have competing claims to territory in the economically and strategically crucial South China Sea.
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NEW YORK – Days after a climbable sculpture called the Vessel opened at New York’s Hudson Yards megadevelopment, critics are questioning a policy that grants the attraction’s owners broad rights to use photos posted by visitors.
Terms and conditions that visitors must click on to secure a free ticket to the 150-foot structure, which some have compared to an upside-down pine cone, include language granting the Vessel the right "in perpetuity" to publish or distribute any photos and videos of the structure posted by visitors on their social media accounts.
The policy also says the owners of the Vessel, which opened Friday, have "the unconditional, irrevocable right" to use their own photos and videos of visitors "in all media and formats, whether now known or later developed."
Jessica Scaperotti, a spokeswoman for developer Related Cos., said the terms and conditions are modeled on policies that are in place at similar local and national attractions.
"As we are a new destination, we wanted to over communicate, be transparent and disclose to all users that we may re-share select social posts on our social channels and website that visitors have already shared publicly on their social channels," Scaperotti said Tuesday. She added, "If someone takes a great photo we want the ability to share it on our social channels."
But City Council member Ben Kallos, a Manhattan Democrat, said he planned to introduce legislation to make sure that tourists’ photos and videos "are not taken and sold to the highest bidder."
"Security cameras can help keep us safe, but storing footage for marketing is a nightmare," Kallos said. He suggested that if photo-use policies similar to the Vessel’s are in place elsewhere the Council should examine that as well.
"Now that we are aware of the problem I will be looking into this citywide and I hope I will have the help and support of Hudson Yards," Kallos said.
The Vessel’s terms and conditions drew fire from organizations that represent photographers as well.
"Needless to say, an attraction like this in NYC means that Hudson Yards need never spend a dollar on advertising or content creation; they have every visitor to do it for them for free," Thomas Maddrey, an attorney for the American Society of Media Photographers, said in a statement.
Mickey Osterreicher, general counsel for the National Press Photographers Association, said the controversy shows that too many people check boxes on terms and conditions without reading them. "It just goes to show how important reading and understanding those terms are before agreeing to them," he said.
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The "Adoption Incentive Program" comes from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), within the Interior Department. The incentive is part of an effort to "encourage more adopters to give a wild horse or burro a good home."
The bureau states online that the goal is to reduce the agency’s "recurring costs to care for unadopted and untrained wild horses and burros while helping to enable the BLM to confront a growing over-population of wild horses and burros on fragile public rangelands."
Both wild horses and burros are federally protected. Since 1971, when the Wild and Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed into law, the animals have been considered "living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the West."
In accordance with the law, the animals are protected from "capture, branding, harassment, or death."
The $1,000 incentive is broken into two parts: those who adopt a wild horse or burro that’s eligible for a new home after March 12 can receive $500 within 60 days of the adoption, in addition to another $500 within 60 days of "titling the animal."
Officials said a $25 adoption fee will apply.
Earlier this month, the government said they were seeking more private pastures for the overpopulation of wild horses. Over 55,000 more horses and burros live wild in the West than the roughly 27,000 the BLM says can thrive in harmony with the landscape.
For those interested in the adoption of a wild horse or burro, visit the bureau’s website.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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BOGOTA, Colombia – The U.S. Treasury Department is lifting sanctions on the wives of two Venezuelan TV magnates close to President Nicolas Maduro two months after their U.S. assets were frozen as part of a crackdown on corruption.
Maria Alexandra Perdomo and her husband Raul Gorrin were among seven individuals sanctioned in January for allegedly running a graft network that stole $2.4 billion from state coffers through corrupt currency deals.
Her removal from the blacklist on Tuesday along with the wife of Gorrin’s brother-in-law and business partner Raul Perdomo suggests the two women may be cooperating with U.S. authorities trying to untangle the web of corruption that proliferated during two decades of socialist rule in Venezuela.
Prosecutors in Miami indicted Gorrin last year on charges of bribing Venezuelan officials.
Source: Fox News World
JERUSALEM – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pays a visit to Israel this week but it’s what he’s not doing while there that may be the most notable aspect of the trip.
Pompeo doesn’t plan to talk publicly about the "deal of the century" that President Donald Trump said he would offer to settle the Israel-Palestinian conflict, a plan so important that he delegated negotiations to his senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
"Look, we desperately want a good solution," Pompeo told reporters Tuesday before his plane landed in Kuwait City for the first stop of the trip. "Mr. Kushner’s working on the Middle East peace plan. There’ll be a right time when we will introduce bigger pieces of that."
Pompeo’s Israel itinerary is characteristic of the administration’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which has been largely private and without participation from the Palestinians.
The secretary won’t even meet with any Palestinian officials on this trip, something that would have been routine for any top U.S. diplomat in recent decades.
Pompeo’s mere presence in Jerusalem with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu just weeks before a national election may be symbolic of the administration’s political preference, but his main public message will be a familiar one: The U.S. has an unbreakable commitment to Israel’s security no matter who’s in charge.
"I’m going to Israel because of the important relationship we have," he said. "Leaders will change in both countries over time. That relationship matters no matter who the leaders are."
He said he would spend a good deal of time speaking about the security challenges posed by the conflict in Syria ahead of a sharp reduction in the U.S. presence there, as well as about the longstanding threats Israel faces from Iran and the militant groups Hamas and Hezbollah.
Palestinians wouldn’t meet with Pompeo even if he wanted to see them. They have severed ties with the administration over its recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moving the U.S. Embassy there from Tel Aviv and slashing hundreds of millions of dollars of aid.
"Political relations with the U.S. administration are broken unless it backs down from its decisions on Jerusalem and refugees and abides by international law," said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeneh.
For now, the only apparent interaction between U.S. and Palestinian officialdom seems to be an increasingly frequent stream of tweets from international negotiations envoy Jason Greenblatt, taking issue with Palestinian positions and criticism, most of which he says is incorrect, relies on faulty hearsay or is otherwise intended to deceive.
"The message is that those who spread misinformation about the conflict or the plan are not going to get away with it anymore," said Greenblatt, who is leading the talks with Kushner, in an interview last week. "If you lie or deceive to try to shape public opinion, we’re not going to let you do that without a response. We are in the midst of educating, and in some cases, re-educating people."
Greenblatt brushed away criticism of the tweets from former would-be peacemakers and diplomats with experience in the region who say such engagement is undignified.
"In some cases it might be more useful to provide information behind closed doors, but they won’t engage with us that way," he said. "But more importantly, they are speaking loudly and publicly, so why should the U.S. not say something publicly and respond to accusations, misinformation or manipulation?"
The peace plan itself doesn’t yet exist, at least not outside a small circle of top White House aides led by Kushner and Greenblatt. They insist the plan is real but won’t say when it will be presented other than after Israel’s April 9 election. But officials note there is only a narrow window between the election, the start of the weeklong Jewish holiday of Passover in late April and the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, which starts in early May. That means the plan is likely to be delayed further.
In the meantime, Kushner and Greenblatt have begun to preview the nonpolitical elements of the plan to interested parties, including Israelis, Palestinians outside of the Palestinian Authority, Arab countries that will be critical to the economic part of the plan, and the Jewish and evangelical Christian communities in the U.S. that staunchly back Israel.
Administration officials familiar with that outreach say each group has its own issues and concerns. They add that Greenblatt and Kushner have their work cut out for them as they try to promote a peace plan for which they are unwilling to provide details, particularly on the most sensitive parts of what must be in an eventual deal: the status of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, territorial sovereignty and borders.
Those officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly about the effort and spoke on condition of anonymity, conceded that early discussions had produced some unease, particularly as Greenblatt and Kushner make clear that both Israel and the Palestinians will have to make hard compromises to achieve peace.
Suggestions that the plan will not explicitly call for a two-state solution, which is favored by most of the international community, and instead offer the Palestinians something less in return for massive economic investment have not sat well with veteran Mideast hands.
"The architects of Trump’s deal of the century believe that’s old think," said Martin Indyk, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel and the second of the Obama administration’s three Mideast peace envoys. "Their idea is that the Palestinians can be persuaded to forgo their national aspirations in return for normalcy and prosperity funded by the Arab states."
Yet administration officials believe the mood in the region has changed, that Arab nations have higher priorities and that even if the plan fails it may have benefit in more closely aligning Israeli and Arab interests on Iran.
EDITOR’S NOTE_AP Diplomatic Writer Matthew Lee has been covering U.S. foreign policy and international affairs since 1999.
Source: Fox News World