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Abe: North Korea Medium-Range Missile Launch ‘Absolutely Intolerable’

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe says North Korea’s firing of an unidentified ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan is “absolutely intolerable.”

Abe spoke late Saturday alongside U.S. President Donald Trump at a hastily called news conference in an ornate room in Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida where Abe has been visiting with Trump this weekend.

“North Korea must fully comply with the relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions,” the Japanese leader said. “During the summit meeting that I had with President Trump, he assured me that the United States will always (be with) Japan 100 percent, and to demonstrate his determination as well as commitment, he is here with me at his joint press conference.”

Trump said in his terse comments at the news conference, “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 percent.”The North Korean test is widely interpreted as a challenge to the Trump administration.

North Korea fired the missile into the Sea of Japan early Sunday.

The U.S. Defense Department said late Saturday, “The launch of a medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missile occurred near the northwestern city of Kusong,” noting it was tracked into the Sea of Japan and “never posed a threat to North America.”

Pyongyang issued no statement about the launch, but experts said the rocket was most likely a model capable of reaching targets in Japan, but not the U.S.

North Korea detonated two unauthorized nuclear test explosions last year and launched nearly two dozen rockets in continuing efforts to expand its nuclear weapons and missile programs. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un declared in a speech on New Year’s Day that his country has “reached the final stage” in its program to build ICBMs (Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile), but Western experts have been skeptical about his forecast.

At the time, Trump answered Kim’s ICBM boast with one of his trademark Twitter messages: “It won’t happen!”

Harry Kazianis, the director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest in Washington said North Korea wanted to provoke Trump with Sunday’s missile launch, but did not want to risk an ICBM test that might fail.

“I think the North Koreans would be a little bit afraid that if (an ICBM) test failed that would obviously not make them look very good,” he said.

Trump briefed on launch, monitoring situation

When he welcomed Abe to Washington Friday, Trump emphasized that the United States is committed to the security of its key Asian ally.

“We will work together to promote our shared interests,” the president said at the White House, including “defending against the North Korean missile and nuclear threat.”

During the 2016 presidential election Trump raised concerns about U.S. military spending overseas, but since taking office, President Trump and his Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis have emphasized America’s commitment to support its allies in Asia against the growing North Korean nuclear threat. Mattis’ first trip abroad was to Asia.

The United States has repeatedly vowed it will never accept North Korea as a nuclear-armed nation.

Same launch site used 4 months ago

South Korean military officials said the missile was launched at 7:55 a.m. local time (2255 Saturday UTC) from a military site at Banghyeon — the same place where the North test-launched powerful Musudan rockets twice last October. Such missiles are estimated to have an effective range of about 3,000 kilometers (1,865 miles).

Officials said the rocket crossed the Korean Peninsula from the launch site in western North Korea and headed east over the Sea of Japan, after a flight path of about 500 kilometers, (300 miles).

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga denounced the North Korean missile launch as an “as act of provocation to Japan and the region” and noted that it was purposely timed to disrupt the prime minster’s summit with Trump.

South Korea convened a national security meeting Sunday in response to the missile launch. South Korea’s Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said Seoul will work with the international community “to punish the North (for its missile launch).”

“North Korea’s repeated provocations show the Kim Jong Un regime’s nature of irrationality, maniacally obsessed in its nuclear and missile development,” the South’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

North Korea-watchers reported late in January that the North Korean military had loaded missiles aboard two mobile launchers, a sign that test-firings could be imminent. They noted at the time, however, that the missiles appeared to be no more than 15 meters long, which would tend to rule out the possibility that a long-range weapon was involved.

Analysts are divided over how close Pyongyang is to realizing its full military ambitions, especially since it has never successfully test-fired an ICBM. However, most experts agree that the North has made considerable progress since Kim took over absolute power in the country following the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in December 2011.

Talks broke down in 2009

For more than a decade, Washington and a vast majority of world governments have demanded that North Korea denuclearize the Korean peninsula. However, Western leaders have yet to devise a plan that would either compel the North to cooperate or create incentives for it to do so.

China-sponsored talks between Pyongyang and a six-nation panel have been stalled since 2009, when the communist North pulled out of the negotiations. The North had carried out its first underground nuclear test explosion three years before the talks broke down.

Washington has since said the six-party talks could not resume until Kim’s regime in Pyongyang would recommit itself to halting all nuclear tests and scrapping its nuclear development program. That policy was agreed to during the administration of former President Barack Obama, and Trump’s government has reaffirmed it.

Pyongyang has so far rejected Western overtures and continues to resist world leaders’ attempts to bring it into compliance with a string of United Nations resolutions.

VOA’s Brian Padden in Seoul, South Korea, contributed to this report. 

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US Commander Warns of Russian, Iranian, Pakistani Influence in Afghanistan

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan says Russia, Pakistan and Iran are pursuing their own agendas with regard to the fragile country, complicating the fight against terrorism and extremism.

“We’re concerned about outside actors,” General John Nicholson told VOA’s Afghan service in an interview.

Russia, which had an ill-fated intervention into Afghanistan that started in 1979 and ended nearly a decade later, has been trying to exert influence in the region again and has set up six-country peace talks next week that are excluding the United States. Nicholson worries about Russia’s links with the Taliban.

“Russia has been legitimizing the Taliban and supporting the Taliban,” he said. “Meanwhile, the Taliban supports terrorists. I’m very sorry to see Russia supporting the Taliban and narcoterrorism.”

Moscow denies that it provides aid to the Taliban and says its contacts with the group are aimed at encouraging them to enter peace talks.  

Taliban role in peace efforts

Despite the Taliban’s history of violence and extremism, Nicholson didn’t rule out a role for the Taliban in the peace process, saying there were elements in the group that appeared to be more pragmatic about the country’s prospects for peace.

“Many of its leaders see a better life for all Afghans,” he said.

Meanwhile, he said Iran appeared to be supporting extremists in western Afghanistan.

“But the situation is more complex than with Russia,” Nicholson said. “There needs to be a relationship” between Afghanistan and Iran, which have seen a resurgence in trade that has partially compensated for a decline in Afghan economic activity with Pakistan.

President Donald Trump’s new administration has made a flurry of contacts with top Afghan and Pakistani officials in recent days as it formulates a new policy in the region. That clearly involves pressure on Islamabad to do more to crack down on terrorist groups that hide out near the Afghan border in Pakistan’s volatile tribal areas.

“We want cooperation from Pakistan against all terrorists,” Nicholson said. “We must have pressure on external sanctuaries in Pakistan.”

Rooting out terrorists would help ease Pakistan’s concerns about further attacks on its turf that are seen by many as a penalty for the country’s support for the U.S. war on terrorism, he said.

“We all hope for a change in Pakistani behavior,” Nicholson said. “This is in Pakistan’s interest.”

Congressional appearance

The general spoke shortly after appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday, where he said he needed “a few thousand” more soldiers to bolster the 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

Nicholson told VOA that the extra troops would serve as advisers, extending that role from the core of the Afghan military down to the brigade level to help the country’s troops in what he called a “very, very tough fight” to foster peace.

“The enemy is trying to seize cities,” he said. “It’s a new dimension to the fight.”

The Afghan military has suffered heavy losses as a result. More than 6,700 of its soldiers were killed last year through November 12, according to a quarterly report from the U.S. government’s Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, up from 6,600 for all of 2015.

Nicholson discounted recent figures that indicated the Taliban has gained more territory this year and now holds about 15 percent of the land, saying it was the result of a revised Afghan government strategy to focus on protecting urban areas.

“This was a wise decision by the government,” he said, adding that it had provided greater protection for most of the people. “There’s a difference between territory and population. Many areas are sparsely populated.”

Propaganda war

U.S.-led forces also have been losing ground in the propaganda war waged by the Taliban and the 20 terrorist groups that operate in Afghanistan, who aggressively use social media, often with false reports that put the international mission in a bad light, Nicholson said.

He sought advice from VOA journalists on the best ways to counter the extremists’ message and recruitment efforts, saying “the enemy” was doing a better job than the government and its allies at reaching the Afghan people. “We’re trying to be more proactive in communications,” he said.

The U.S. has been in Afghanistan for more than 15 years and has committed to at least four more years. But Nicholson said even though the internal fight is currently at a “stalemate,” the battle is worthwhile. He added that he did see a peaceful future for the country.

“I believe it will end well for the Afghan people,” he said. “Our Afghan brothers and sisters are worth our support.”

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Співаки Illaria та Rozhden виграли другий півфінал українського відбору до «Євробачення»

Співачка Illaria та співак Rozhden 11 лютого пройшли до фіналу національного відбору на пісенний конкурс «Євробачення-2017».

Шість інших виконавців не змогли переконати суддів та глядачів, що вони гідні боротися за право представляти Україну на «Євробаченні».

Найкращих обирали за змішаною системою голосування: свої бали виставляло як журі в складі композитора Костянтина Меладзе, співачки Джамали і шоумена Андрія Данилка, так і глядачі – за допомогою смс-голосування.

Перший півфінал національного відбору на пісенний конкурс «Євробачення-2017» від України відбувся 4 лютого, тоді з-поміж восьми конкурсантів було обрано двох – Tayanna (співачка Тетяна Решетняк) та група «Сальто назад».

Третій півфінал відбудеться 18 лютого. А 25 лютого – фінал національного відбору.

«Євробачення-2017» триватиме у Києві у травні на території Міжнародного виставкового центру, що на лівому березі Дніпра. Фінал пісенного конкурсу запланований на 13 травня.

Україну визначили місцем проведення «Євробачення-2017» після перемоги Джамали у травні минулого року в Швеції.

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Індія повідомила про успішне випробування технології перехоплення балістичних ракет

Міністерство оборони Індії повідомило, що військові цієї країни успішно випробували ракету, призначену для знищення балістичних ракет під час їхнього перебування в космосі.

Індійська Організація оборонних досліджень і розвитку вказує, що ракета-перехоплювач 11 лютого на висоті 100 кілометрів над Бенгальською затокою успішно вразила ціль, яка імітувала балістичну ракету.

Сусіди Індії, Китай і Пакистан, мають у своєму арсеналі складні балістичні ракетні класу «земля –земля», які здатні доставляти ядерні боєголовки.

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US Commander in Afghanistan: Afghan Government Protecting People Over Territory

The top U.S. commander in Afghanistan tells VOA that Kabul has consciously decided to concentrate its security forces around population centers, which is partly what has led to the Taliban gaining territory. The comments came shortly after General John Nicholson appeared on Capitol Hill asking for more troops for his mission. VOA’s Amy Katz reports.

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Країни ЄС навряд чи матимуть спільну позицію в переговорах щодо Brexit – Юнкер

Голова Європейської комісії Жан-Клод Юнкер заявив про сумніви в тому, що члени Європейського союзу матимуть узгоджену позицію в переговорах із Лондоном щодо Brexit – виходу Великої Британії з ЄС. 62-річний Юнкер зробив цю заяву 11 лютого в інтерв’ю німецькому радіо Deutschlandfunk.

За словами Юнкера, «27 членів ЄС досі не знають, але британці знають дуже добре, як вони даватимуть раду цьому». Голова Єврокомісії додав, що Велика Британія “«може обіцяти країна А одне, країні B інше, країні С щось ще – і наприкінці гри з’ясується, що не існує єдиного європейського фронту».

Юнкер також оголосив у цьому інтерв’ю, що не балотуватиметься на посаду голови Європейської комісії після того, як його нинішній термін завершиться в 2019 році.

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Trump, Abe Mix Business With Pleasure in Florida

U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe mixed business with pleasure Saturday on the second day of the multiday summit between the two leaders.

A day after Trump declared at the White House an alliance between the two countries is a cornerstone of peace in East Asia, Trump and Abe played golf Saturday at Trump National Golf Course near his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida.

Abe and Trump had more discussions Saturday over meals at various Trump properties in Florida.

Moments before the presidential motorcade arrived at the golf course, it crossed an intersection with a couple dozen protesters carrying signs, some of which said “Stop Hate and “Resist.”

Before departing for Florida Friday afternoon, the two leaders began talks at the White House that provided them with opportunities to reinforce a long-established security treaty and bolster their economic relationship.

On trade

Abe said he and Trump reached agreement on a new framework for economic talks, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal would be among the topics of discussion. Trump said any trading relationship between the two countries must be “free, fair and reciprocal.”

Japan has been concerned about the impact that Trump’s decision to withdraw from the TPP trade agreement, and his “America First” strategy, would have on Asia.

Abe expressed hope of developing a joint economic stimulus package that could create thousands of U.S. jobs through private and public investments in infrastructure.

Trump has spent more time with Abe than any other foreign leader since becoming president January 20. The meeting with Abe is Trump’s second face-to-face meeting with a key ally after hosting British Prime Minister Theresa May in Washington two weeks ago. The weekend excursion is Trump’s first use of his Mar-a-Lago resort to entertain an international leader.

‘We will work together’

The Trump administration set a positive tone for the weekend summit by saying before Abe’s arrival at the White House that Trump is committed to resisting any unilateral declarations that would threaten Japan’s authority over disputed islands in the East China Sea.

At their Friday news conference, Trump reaffirmed that commitment, as well as one ensuring safety in the region.

“We will work together to promote our shared interests … including freedom of navigation and defending against the North Korean missile and nuclear threat, both of which I consider a very, very high priority,” he said.

Japan’s concerns about Trump’s campaign promise to get Japan and other U.S. allies to pay more for their own defense were allayed somewhat by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis during a visit last week to Japan and South Korea.

Trump’s meeting with Japan’s prime minister occurs as the new U.S. administration appears to be adopting a more traditional U.S. policy toward Asia that features consolidating alliances and collaboration with China.

Late Thursday, Trump reaffirmed America’s long-standing “One China” policy in a telephone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Late Friday, Trump and Abe had dinner with their wives on an outdoor patio at Mar-a-Lago. They were joined by Robert Kraft, the owner of the National Football League’s New England Patriots, which won the Super Bowl last Sunday.

Trump and Abe are scheduled to leave Florida Sunday.

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Suicide Bomber Targets Afghan Military Convoy

A suicide car bombing Saturday killed at least seven people and wounded many others in Afghanistan’s embattled southern province of Helmand, officials said.

The Taliban insurgency took responsibility for the bombing, according to a spokesman for the group, who claimed army officers and soldiers were among the casualties.

The attack near a bank in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah was aimed at an Afghan National Army (ANA) convoy, a provincial government spokesman told VOA.

Soldiers and civilians were among those killed and wounded, said Omar Zwak. He added that at least 21 wounded people have been sent to area hospitals.

The victims were collecting their salaries when the bomber hit a military vehicle with his explosives-laden car outside the bank, said the spokesman.

The Taliban insurgency controls most of the province and often claims suicide and other bombings against Afghan security forces.

Airstrike probe

Meanwhile, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said Saturday it is looking into reports of civilian casualties from American airstrikes in another district of Helmand.  

Residents and Taliban insurgents in Sangin, the district center, alleged that the airstrikes Thursday night killed at least 20 civilians and wounded several others.

Provincial Governor Hayatullah Hayyat, accompanied by military and police commanders, told a joint news conference Saturday in Lashkar Gah that claims of civilian casualties were untrue.

He said the U.S. strikes targeted insurgent positions and killed nearly 60 Taliban fighters. Hayyat asked for proof from those claiming the attack caused civilian casualties.  

A U.S. military spokesman on Friday confirmed it carried out air raids against Taliban positions in the area, and it was looking into allegations of civilian casualties in the strikes.

“We are aware of the allegations of civilian casualties, and take every allegation very seriously,” a statement quoted the spokesman as saying.