France-Turkey Tensions

France-Turkey tensions mount after NATO naval incident – Reuters

PARIS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – For France, it was the final straw. For Turkey, it was a misunderstanding. For NATO, it could be a turning point.

FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron (L) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan before a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, Belgium July 12, 2018. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

The incident unfolded quickly in the eastern Mediterranean on June 10, when a French frigate under NATO command tried to inspect a Tanzanian-flagged cargo ship suspected of smuggling arms to Libya in violation of a U.N. embargo.

The French armed forces ministry, speaking on behalf of the government, said the frigate was harassed by three Turkish navy vessels escorting the cargo ship. A Turkish ship flashed its radar lights and its crew put on bulletproof vests and stood behind their light weapons, it said.

Turkey disputes this. It denies trafficking arms to Libya and says the cargo ship, the Cirkin, was carrying humanitarian aid. It has accused the French navy of aggression.

Turkey’s ambassador to France, Ismail Hakkı Musa, said on July 1 the three Turkish warships were helping NATO enforce the U.N. arms embargo.

NATO ordered an investigation, but its contents are classified and NATO has not commented on its outcome. Two European diplomats told Reuters that France sent a letter to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg in early July saying the report did not “correctly establish the facts.”

The U.S. Pentagon declined to comment on the incident.

For France, the incident highlights what many NATO allies see as President Tayyip Erdogan’s tendency to act against the Western alliance’s interests and values.


After a series of disagreements, from Turkey’s purchase of weapons from Russia to gas drilling operations near Cyprus, France concluded that suspicions of Turkish arms smuggling to Libya were too serious to ignore, four NATO diplomats and officials told Reuters.

France has suspended its participation in NATO’s Mediterranean mission, Sea Guardian, instead offering its assets to a European Union mission that is upholding the U.N. arms embargo but does not involve Turkish ships, diplomats said.

“What do you do when you have a NATO surveillance mission … and one of those in the alliance is the one doing the trafficking, while saying it is implementing the (U.N.)embargo?” said an official from France’s armed forces ministry, requesting anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The United States, frustrated by Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles and its military operations in Syria, has been seeking to calm the tensions in NATO, the diplomats said.

Last October, U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper said Turkey was “going in the wrong direction”. While U.S. President Donald Trump enjoys a close relationship with Erdogan, he urged Turkey in May to help de-escalate the Libyan conflict.

The Pentagon “strives to preserve our relationship with Turkey while encouraging the Turkish government to pursue more constructive policies regarding the S-400 and other areas of disagreement,” said U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Campbell, a Pentagon spokesman.


French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly told the European Parliament on July 2 that NATO must make Ankara realise it cannot “violate” NATO rules. But French diplomats also say Paris is not looking to expel Turkey, and NATO has no formal mechanism to punish or expel members.

Still, NATO could threaten to remove assets from Turkey, such as a radar, Patriot missiles or NATO AWACS aircraft.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian wants EU foreign ministers to consider new sanctions on Ankara during a video meeting on July 13.

“The main problem for Europe is Russia. The ambivalence of Turkey, with one foot in each camp, is the troubling factor,” said Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey with the Carnegie Europe think tank.

Turkey has the second-largest military in NATO and gives the alliance a strategic presence, notably on the Black and Mediterranean seas.

“Imagine NATO without Turkey! You would have no NATO,” ambassador Musa said.

France made four concrete demands of NATO in its July letter to Stoltenberg, the contents of which were laid out to Reuters.

It wants all 30 allies to reaffirm commitment to respecting the U.N. arms embargo on Libya, to ensure NATO signals are not used during national missions, to improve coordination between the NATO and EU missions in the Mediterranean, and to avoid similar incidents in the future.

At the last NATO defence ministers’ meeting in late June, via video link, eight countries including Germany, Italy and Spain backed seeking a more cooperative approach from Turkey.

Slideshow (2 Images)

French diplomats cite Turkey signing off on a NATO defence plan for the Baltics and Poland late last month, after holding it up for months, as a first sign of success.

Yet there is a risk of a long-term rift at NATO if Erdogan does not change course, analysts say.

“Turkey considers itself big enough now to be independent from all sides,” Pierini said.

Additional reporting by Idrees Ali in Washington, Editing by Frances Kerry and Timothy Heritage

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Flare Tensions

Tensions Flare After North Korea Demolished Liaison Office Near Border | NBC News NOW – NBC News

Published on 16 Jun 2020

Relations are even more strained on the Korean Peninsula with North Korea demolishing the inter-Korean Liaison Office near the border of South Korea. The building is a symbol of peace between the two countries. NBC News’ Keir Simmons reports impacts the incident will leave on the economy.

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Tensions Flare After North Korea Demolished Liaison Office Near Border | NBC News NOW

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China Tensions

U.S.-China tensions will likely get worse ahead of November election, experts say – CNBC

Tensions between the U.S. and China will likely get worse ahead of the American presidential election this November, experts told CNBC on Thursday.

The world’s two largest economies have been embroiled in a long-drawn trade war and are now in a tussle over issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

U.S. President Donald Trump has blamed Beijing for a lack of transparency over the true extent of the Covid-19 outbreak in China, where cases were first reported. In response, Beijing suggested that the U.S. might be the real source of the global pandemic.

With Trump campaigning for a second term in office, “the end game for the Trump administration is crystal clear — and that is winning the election,” said Yale University senior fellow, Stephen Roach.

“This is not about improving economic security for Americans, American companies, no matter what they say. This is a politically motivated trade conflict,” said Roach, who is a former chairman at Morgan Stanley Asia.

Roach added he “wouldn’t rule anything out” in terms of actions that the Trump administration may take, be they new tariffs on Chinese imports into the U.S. or defaulting on debt to China, as some have suggested.

The Trump administration has been ratcheting up the rhetoric on China recently as the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc on the U.S. economy.

On Wednesday, Trump blasted China over the origin of the coronavirus in a tweet, saying that it was the “incompetence of China” that caused “this mass Worldwide killing.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday said the $2 billion that Beijing has pledged to fight the pandemic was “paltry” compared to the hundreds of thousands of lives lost and trillions of dollars of damage that the coronavirus caused. Pompeo also rejected Chinese President Xi Jinping’s claim that Beijing had been transparent about the outbreak in China.

“President Xi claimed this week that China is acting with openness, transparency responsibility. I wish it were so,” Pompeo said during a State Department news conference, adding that Beijing continued to withhold virus samples and access to facilities. The Chinese government is also censoring discussion on the outbreak, he said.

There will be a lot more action — both symbolic and substantive — from the Trump administration before voters cast their ballots in November, said Eswar Prasad, a professor at Cornell University.

Recently, the U.S. restricted sales from global chipmakers to Huawei, the Chinese technology giant. This move would offer very little wriggle room for Huawei to find alternative suppliers.

“It’s very clear the Trump administration means business and the hardliners seem to be viewing the pandemic as an opportunity to get even tougher on China than was the case before,” said Prasad, who was previously head at the International Monetary Fund’s China division.

In return, China has been aggressively responding and hitting back at the U.S.

“China has been trying very hard to corral the discussion in international policy circles around to the view that it has been the adult in the room trying to make sure that the pandemic’s effects can be contained, and that the right sort of approach can be taken towards addressing the pandemic,” said Prasad.

Chinese diplomats in particular have been openly combative. On Tuesday, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the U.S. was trying to smear China and shift blame for its own mishandling of the viral outbreak. Zhao was responding to Trump’s letter threatening to halt U.S. funding to the World Health Organization.

“Certainly, China has not stood still. Its diplomats have been trying very hard to control the narrative and they’ve become much more blunt about using their economic and political persuasive power to try to bring countries around to their side and making it very clear that countries that don’t play according to their rules are going to be facing consequences,” said Prasad.

The spat between the U.S. and China comes at an unfortunate time as a dispute between the world’s top two economies will not help anyone and is bad for business and consumer confidence, he said.

And it can only get worse.

“The domestic political dynamics in both countries, I think, are going to be the key drivers here — in particular in the run up to the elections in November. Any negative consequences of tariffs or other economic sanctions against China are going to pale relative to the consequences of the pandemic on the U.S. economy,” said Prasad. “So I think for Trump it certainly makes sense to try to look tough on China and his base is probably going to respond positively.”

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Tensions White

Tensions rise between the White House and CDC as Birx critiques virus tracking – CNN

Washington (CNN)As the coronavirus pandemic stretches past its ninth week, tensions are rising between the White House and the nation’s leading public health agency. In interviews with CNN, senior administration officials in Washington, as well as top officials at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta describe a growing sense of mistrust and animosity between the White House and CDC over how quickly the US should reopen and how the government tracks data on the virus.

In particular, Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator for the President’s coronavirus task force, has become increasingly critical of the CDC, making clear in recent meetings that she is more than frustrated with the agency, according to two senior administration officials. Specifically, Birx believes the way the CDC gathers data on the coronavirus is antiquated, causing inaccurate and delayed numbers on both virus cases and deaths.
Birx has expressed her agitation during recent task force meetings, where at least one conversation between her and CDC Director Robert Redfield has grown heated, according to a source close to the task force. Birx and Redfield have known each other for decades, due to their work on HIV research together. And while Birx defended Redfield to their peers earlier this year over the CDC’s faulty test kits, her tone toward him has shifted dramatically in recent weeks, according to multiple officials and a source close to the task force.
There has also been significant tension between the White House and CDC over guidelines on how to reopen the country.
Last week, Redfield was forced to apologize to administration officials after a draft of the CDC’s guidelines to reopening America were leaked to the media. The 68-page document outlined a detailed approach for how states, businesses and individuals could safely ease back into normalcy and were far more strict and detailed than the White House’s own road map toward a return to normal, a CNN review found.
On Thursday the CDC published just 6 pages of graphics labeled “decision trees” as updated guidance. After spending “innumerable hours” on the guidance draft of recommendations, which they say was asked for specifically by Dr. Birx, two senior CDC officials tell CNN that the White House decision to shelve it for now in favor of a 6-page outline has only added to mounting frustration toward Birx within the CDC.
Tension between Birx and the CDC was first reported by the Washington Post.
One senior administration official told CNN that the slimmed down guidelines should not been seen as a rebuke of Redfield or the CDC inside the White House, since a whole national strategy was never on the table.
“It makes no sense for a movie theatre in a rural Tennessee town with zero COVID cases to be under the same restrictions as a theatre in New York,” the official said.
Still, the limited guidelines combined with Birx’s dust up with Redfield have underscored to many top officials the level of sway Birx has inside the White House, particularly with Trump.
Even as the President has publicly rebuked Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, he remains totally supportive of Birx, officials tell CNN. “She is charming and listens to him. She has found a way to shut down his bad ideas without making him feel diminished, unlike Fauci and some of the others,” said one senior administration official. The President has expressed on multiple occasions how great he thinks Birx is, the official said, “It is clear that she has his ear.”
Since Birx first joined the task force as its coordinator, there has been a healthy amount of skepticism toward her among senior CDC officials who spoke to CNN.
One senior official, who has known Birx since she served as the division director of Global HIV/AIDS at the CDC from 2005 to 2014, said Birx has always “enjoyed being front and center.”
“From the beginning of her role at the White House, Debbie Birx is out for Debbie Birx,” the official said.
In interviews with CNN over the past several weeks, CDC officials have expressed a disappointment that Birx has not done more to correct some of the misinformation that Trump has touted during many of the coronavirus press briefings. “As a scientist when you stand-up in front of all that, it doesn’t help your credibility,” said the same official in describing the prevailing view of officials within the CDC about Birx.
Regardless, Birx’s criticism of the CDC data collection system doesn’t appear to be without merit. According to health industry sources familiar with the system, there are numerous flaws in the way the CDC tracks the coronavirus, including that it is unable to track symptoms in real time.
In some cases with flu-like illnesses, primary care physicians who receive patients aren’t getting the information out and processed by CDC for as long as a week — which makes contact tracing nearly impossible. Additionally, these sources note that state public health departments still use outdated technology like fax machines to transmit information.
As of May 16, CDC data still indicated 60,299 deaths and was last updated on May 15, while CNN’s US death count, fueled by Johns Hopkins University data, stood at more than 87,000.
The CDC says states report at different rates. Currently, 63% of all US deaths are reported within 10 days of the date of death, but there is significant variation between states, the agency said.
“That’s part of the problem, we don’t know how far of a lag there is, but there definitely is a lag,” one CDC official told CNN.
The CDC has been working on a major data modernization initiative to “spruce up the system,” primarily by giving the state and local health departments the ability to gather data electronically in real time, federal officials said.
The system, which would help digitize the data using modern technology, will not be up and running until later this year, one official said.

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