U.S. and Cuba talk about resuming direct mail service
The United States and Cuba concluded on Monday their second round of talks aimed at re-establishing direct mail service between the two countries after a 50-year ban, but left for later the most sensitive issue - Cuban planes landing on U.S. soil.
The Cuban Foreign Ministry said both sides had agreed to continue the talks in the near future and that it had emphasized, “working out the transportation of mail by regular direct routes in both directions,” was key to their successful conclusion.
The State Department said something very similar in a statement: “The goal of the talks is for the United States and Cuba to work out the details for a pilot program to directly transport mail between the two countries.”
PICTURED ABOVE: In this Jan. 14, 2013 file photo, Cubans wait to enter the U.S. Interests Section to apply for U.S. visas in Havana, Cuba.
Cuban, US diplomats increasingly allowed to travel
For decades, Cuban and U.S. diplomats have faced strict limits on their travel within the Cold War enemy countries.
Cuban diplomats at the United Nations in New York cannot go 25 miles beyond Columbus Circle in Manhattan or past the Beltway loop circling Washington without the permission of the U.S. State Department.
U.S. Interests Section workers, meanwhile, must submit detailed itineraries to Cuban officials if they want to travel outside Havana.
Recently, however, Cuban and U.S. diplomats have been increasingly, and more easily, stepping outside the once nearly insurmountable fences.
US, India renew efforts to boost bilateral ties
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh held talks in the Indian capital Tuesday as part of a renewed effort to strengthen ties between the two countries.
The meeting came just weeks after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry came to India to lead a strategic dialogue between the nations. The pair of high-profile meetings signal increasing efforts to upgrade bilateral relations as the U.S. lays out its plans to rebalance its foreign policy toward the Asia-Pacific.
Biden’s trip will also lay the groundwork for a summit meeting between Singh and President Barack Obama in Washington in September.
Indian officials said the two discussed a raft of issues, including ways to boost trade and ease bottlenecks preventing American companies from investing in the Indian market.
They also talked about the hurdles in implementing a landmark civil nuclear agreement that the countries ratified in 2008.
India has said foreign nuclear companies operating in the country should assume nearly unlimited liability for accidents, a stringent condition that makes it all but impossible for foreign nuclear firms to set up nuclear power plants in India.
Regional security, especially in war-torn Afghanistan, and New Delhi’s concerns about the possibility of the Taliban returning to power in Kabul post-2014, were also discussed during the 75-minute meeting.
The U.S. increasingly views India as a partner in developing Afghanistan, where New Delhi has provided $2 billion in assistance. Washington wants India to play a more active role in training Afghan security forces as the U.S. and its NATO allies withdraw combat forces by 2014.
Later Tuesday, Biden will attend a banquet in his honor hosted by his Indian counterpart before leaving for Mumbai, India’s financial hub. [x]
Colombian, Venezuelan leaders say will meet to mend ties
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos (left) and his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro (right), plan to meet next week in a bid to improve relations after a diplomatic spat in May triggered by Santos’ meeting with Venezuela’s main opposition leader.
Taiwan and New Zealand Sign Free-Trade Agreement
Taiwan signed a free-trade pact with New Zealand—its first with a developed economy—in a move that boosts its international profile and may help reduce its dependence on mainland China.
The pact was signed Wednesday at a university campus without lawmakers from either side present—a low-key affair designed to avoid provoking China, which claims Taiwan as its own territory.
Two Koreas agree to take steps to reopen joint industrial zone
North and South Korea agreed early on Sunday to take steps to reopen a jointly run industrial park, including facilities inspections, after the two rivals staged a marathon meeting lasting more than 16 hours to arrange details.
The talks at a truce village of Panmunjom, where an armistice was signed in the 1950-53 Korean conflict, were held to find a way to restart operations at the Kaesong Industrial Zone, a rare source of hard currency for the impoverished North.
The United States and Cuba are exploring the possibility of resuming direct mail services between the two countries after a 50-year ban, U.S. officials with knowledge of the talks said on Monday.
Representatives from the U.S. State Department and United States Postal Service will meet with Cuban diplomats on Tuesday and Wednesday in Washington to discuss the issue, the officials said.
Afghan President Visits Qatar To Discuss Peace
Afghanistan’s president landed in Qatar Sunday to discuss his country’s stalled peace process and the possible opening of a Taliban office in the Gulf state, officials said.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Janan Mosazai said President Hamid Karzai will not hold any talks with Taliban representatives now in Qatar.
He will meet with Qatari officials on the sidelines of an annual conference on relations between the United States and the Muslim world.
"As we have already said, any official negotiations regarding peace with the Taliban can take place only between the high-ranking Taliban representatives and the High Peace Council of Afghanistan," Mosazai told reporters.
Myanmar says President to make official US visit
Myanmar’s reformist President Thein Sein will visit the White House next week, the first such trip by a Myanmar head of state in almost 47 years and a sign of warming ties.
Myanmar state television announced the U.S. visit Monday, saying it comes at the invitation of President Barack Obama. It gave no exact date, but congressional staffers in Washington who were briefed on the upcoming trip said Thein Sein would meet Obama May 20.
The last Myanmar leader to visit the White House was the late dictator Ne Win in 1966.
South Africa President Jacob Zuma met and held discussions Monday with Lesotho Prime Minister, Thomas Thabane, in an effort to promote the African Agenda and strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries.
“Bilateral cooperation between South Africa and Lesotho spans a wide range of areas including, but not limited to, trade and investment, security, energy, transport, agriculture, tourism, water and environment,” the Presidency said in a statement on Monday.
The Presidency said the two leaders reaffirmed the historical and cultural relations that exist between the two sisterly countries.
“They committed themselves to working together in the implementation of the joint projects in the areas of water, energy and tourism,” the Presidency said.
South Africa recently hosted the Joint Bilateral Commission for Cooperation (JBCC) with Lesotho, where wide ranging bilateral, regional and international issues were discussed.
Obama, Putin set up two rounds of talks
U.S. President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday set up two rounds of talks in coming months in a bid to move past a fight over human rights and seek common ground on issues such as Iran, Syria and North Korea.
The announcement of an Obama-Putin summit in early September, added to plans for a meeting at a G8 summit in Northern Ireland in June, suggested the two leaders want to revive the momentum from a reset in relations despite tensions over the so-called Magnitsky List.
Canada opens first diplomatic mission in Iraq in 22 years
Canada’s foreign minister made a surprise visit to Iraq on Monday to meet with Iraqi leaders and open the country’s first diplomatic mission in Iraq in more than two decades, saying the Canadian government intends to expand its engagement with the war-torn country.
Foreign Minister John Baird landed in the Iraqi capital of Baghdad on Monday morning, marking the first trip to Iraq by a Canadian foreign minister since 1976. He met with with a number of senior officials in the Iraqi government, including Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki and parliament speaker Usama al-Nujayfi.
The highlight of the brief visit was the opening of a small diplomatic mission in Baghdad. The new mission, co-located in the British Embassy under an agreement signed last year with British Foreign Secretary William Hague, will be an offshoot of the Canadian embassy in Jordan.
"Today’s opening is a historic milestone in Canadian relations with Iraq and comes at a pivotal moment," Baird said, adding that Iraq is "one of the fastest-growing economies in the world" despite deep and lingering sectarian tensions. It marks Canada’s first diplomatic mission in Iraq since it closed its embassy in Baghdad in 1991.
"With conflict raging in neighboring Syria, with [Iran’s] Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s regime relentlessly pursuing sectarian hegemony and nuclear ambitions, and with a NATO ally and economic partner bordering Iraq’s north, today’s opening here in Baghdad expresses Canada’s intention to expand our engagement with a key regional player," Baird said.
Israel and Turkey agree to restore diplomatic ties
Israel and Turkey agreed to restore full diplomatic relations on Friday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized in a phone call for a deadly naval raid against a Gaza-bound international flotilla in a dramatic turnaround partly brokered by President Barack Obama.
Joint interests between the two countries, including fears that the Syrian civil war could spill over their respective borders, and some cajoling by Obama made the time ripe to repair the frayed relations after nearly three years of acrimony over the deaths.
It was a surprising turnaround for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had long rejected calls to apologize. He announced the breakthrough after a 20-minute phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Obama helped broker the fence-mending while visiting Israel, but the sides had been reaching out to each other before.
"They agreed to restore normalization between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against Israeli soldiers," a statement from Netanyahu’s office said. Netanyahu "regretted the recent deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey and expressed his commitment to overcoming their differences in order to advance peace and stability in the region," it said.
Serbia and Kosovo presidents hold rare talks
The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo have met for the first time in talks mediated by the European Union in Brussels to mend their strained ties.
Wednesday’s meeting was characterised as “open and constructive”, by Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, after separate meetings with Tomislav Nikolic, the Serbian president, and his Kosovo counterpart Atifete Jahjaga.
Both “assured me of their continued support and commitment” to EU-sponsored talks aimed at normalising ties since Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008.
"I reaffirmed the European perspective for both Serbia and Kosovo and encouraged both sides to continue with the efforts needed for further progress towards the European Union," Ashton said in a statement.
Though no concrete announcements were made, this first top-level meeting marked a significant step in two years of EU efforts to ease tension in the Western Balkans.
The EU is pressing both sides to mend ties, before the bloc moves ahead with Serbia’s bid to join.
"The handshake will be highly symbolic, very important," said an EU diplomat who asked not to be named.
The meeting comes nearly 14 years after the end of the 1998-1999 conflict between Belgrade and Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian separatist guerrillas.
Serbia lost control over Kosovo in 1999 after NATO launched air strikes against Serbian military and police forces accused of trying to purge Kosovo of ethnic Albanians to put down the uprising.
Easing border controls
Belgrade refuses to recognise Kosovo’s sovereignty, which is backed by over 90 countries including the United States and most EU members.
President Nikolic said there was no question of Belgrade “recognising an independent Kosovo”, and that he favoured “a wide institutional autonomy” for ethnic Serbs in northern Kosovo.
"If Pristina’s position stays firm, that they are an independent state, then we will hardly reach an agreement," he told reporters.
The Kosovo leader, a former police commander elected to office in 2011, said that the talks were “the expression of our interest for good neighbourly relations. Our countries benefited, but the whole region as well”.
The prime ministers of the two countries, who hold executive powers, have already met four times in Brussels since October, with Ashton as mediator.
Their next talks are slated for February 22.
The EU-brokered dialogue between the former foes has focused on easing difficulties for people on both sides by easing border and customs’ controls or mutually recognising each others’ university diplomas.
But at stake for Serbia in the longterm are hopes of joining the EU.
Shortly both sides will post so-called “liaison officers” in their respective capitals to boost communication, a key development.
The most sensitive and complex issue is Belgrade’s hope for some autonomy for the Serbs of northern Kosovo, as well as for 80,000 others in enclaves scattered throughout Kosovo.