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US delegation to meet Taliban in first high-level talks: officials

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The high-level US delegation will include officials from the State Department, USAID and the US intelligence community, and will press the Taliban to ensure continued safe passage for US citizens and others out of Afghanistan, the officials say.

A US delegation will meet with senior Taliban representatives in Doha on Saturday and Sunday in their first face-to-face meeting at a senior level since Washington pulled its troops from Afghanistan and the group took over the country, two senior administration officials have told Reuters.

The high-level US delegation will include officials from the State Department, USAID and the US intelligence community, will press the Taliban to ensure continued safe passage for US citizens and others out of Afghanistan and to release kidnapped US citizen Mark Frerichs, the officials said.

Another top priority will be to hold the Taliban to its commitment that it will not allow Afghanistan to again become a hotbed for Al Qaeda or other militants while pressing the group to improve access for humanitarian aid as the country faces the prospect of a “really severe and probably impossible to prevent” economic contraction, US officials said.

READ MORE: Taliban warns against isolating Afghanistan, ready for talks

‘Any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions’

US Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad, who has for years spearheaded US dialogue with the Taliban and been a key figure in peace talks with the group, will not be part of the delegation.

The US team will include the State Department’s Deputy Special Representative Tom West as well as top USAID humanitarian official Sarah Charles. On The Taliban side, cabinet officials will be attending, officials said.

“This meeting is a continuation of the pragmatic engagements with the Taliban that we’ve had ongoing on matters of vital national interest,” said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“This meeting is not about granting recognition or conferring legitimacy. We remain clear that any legitimacy must be earned through the Taliban’s own actions. They need to establish a sustained track record,” the official said.

US-allied Afghans at risk

The United States’ two decades-long occupation of Afghanistan culminated in a hastily organised airlift in August which saw more than 124,000 civilians including Americans, Afghans and others being evacuated as the Taliban took over. But thousands of other US-allied Afghans at risk of Taliban persecution were left behind.

Washington and other Western countries are grappling with difficult choices as a severe humanitarian crisis looms large over Afghanistan. They are trying to formulate how to engage with the Taliban without granting it the legitimacy it seeks while ensuring humanitarian aid flows into the country.

Many Afghans have started selling their possessions to pay for ever-scarcer food.

The departure of US-led forces and many international donors robbed the country of grants that financed 75% of public spending, according to the World Bank.

While there was an improvement for humanitarian actors get access to some areas that they haven’t been in a decade, problems still persisted, the US official said, adding that the US delegation would press Taliban to improve.

“Right now, we are facing some real access issues….There are a lot of challenges in ensuring that female aid workers are provided unimpeded access to all areas,” the official said and added that Washington needed to see an improvement by the Taliban on this front “if we are to contemplate even more robust humanitarian assistance.”

READ MORE: UN agency warns Afghanistan at risk of ‘imminent’ famine

Pressure on women’s rights

While the Taliban has promised to be more inclusive than when it led the country from 1996 to 2001, the United States has repeatedly said it will judge the new Taliban government based on its deeds not its words.

The Taliban drew from its inner high echelons to fill top posts in Afghanistan’s new provisional government announced last month, including an associate of the group’s founder as premier and a wanted man on a US terrorism list as interior minister. There were no outsiders and no women in the cabinet.

The European Union foreign policy chief said on Sunday its behaviour up to now was “not very encouraging.”

“We will certainly press the Taliban to respect the rights of all Afghans including women and girls and to form an inclusive government with broad support,” the US official said.

READ MORE: Taliban-run Kabul municipality orders female workers to stay home

He added that there were discrepancies between the Taliban’s promises of continued safe passage and implementation.

“As a practical matter, their implementation of their commitments have been uneven. It is true that sometimes we receive assurances from certain levels but then follow through on those assurances has truly been uneven,” the official said.

The United States has directly facilitated the departure of 105 US citizens and 95 lawful permanent residents out of Afghanistan since August 31, when US withdrawal was completed, State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Thursday.

He declined to provide a precise figure for those remaining, but said the agency was in contact with “dozens of Americans in Afghanistan who wish to leave” but that the number was dynamic and constantly changing.

READ MORE: Moscow invites Taliban to Afghanistan talks

Source: Reuters (www.trtworld.com)

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Brazilian deported after found carrying drugs worth MVR 6.5M

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ABrazilian traveler has been deported after Maldives Customs officials found 2.6 kilos of cocaine in her luggage.

According to Customs, the traveler, identified as a 23-year-old Brazilian woman, had arrived in Maldives via Doha on Monday, February 6.

Customs officials flagged the traveler for suspicious behavior, and conducted a search of her luggage, during which they found a suspicious substance – which tested positive for cocaine.

The cocaine seized in the operation weighed 2.6 kilos.

The street value of the drugs is estimated to be MVR 6.5 million.

According to Customs, the drugs seized in the operation has been handed over to the police, while the traveler was deported following discussions with law enforcement agencies.

Customs reserves the right to bar entry to people based on intel they use or may use Maldives as a transit point to traffic drugs.

Source(s): sun.mv

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U.S. long-arm jurisdiction harms int’l order, rule of law

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BEIJING, Feb. 3 (Xinhua) — The United States has a longstanding practice of exerting frequent long-arm jurisdiction over other countries, which severely harms the international political and economic order and the rule of law.

In essence, long-arm jurisdiction is an arbitrary judicial practice wielded by the U.S. government on the strength of the U.S. hegemony to enforce extraterritorial jurisdiction over entities and individuals of other countries on the ground of its domestic law.

In line with international law, the exercise of a country’s jurisdiction over an extraterritorial person or entity generally requires that the person or entity or its conduct has a real and sufficient connection to that country. Yet the United States exercises long-arm jurisdiction on the basis of the “minimum contacts” rule, constantly lowering the threshold for application.

Meanwhile, to exercise long-arm jurisdiction, the U.S. government has further developed the “effects doctrine,” meaning that jurisdiction may be exercised whenever an act occurring abroad produces “effects” in the United States, regardless of whether the actor has U.S. citizenship or residency, and regardless of whether the act complies with the law of the place where it occurred.

Long-arm jurisdiction has become a means by which the United States abuses unilateral sanctions, especially secondary sanctions. According to the Treasury 2021 Sanctions Review, by fiscal year 2021, the number of active U.S. sanctions designations had increased to more than 9,400.

U.S. sanctions have strained relations between countries and undermined the international order. So far, the “long arm” of U.S. jurisdiction has reached China, Russia, Iran, Syria, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Cuba, France, Britain, Germany, Japan, among others.

Long-arm jurisdiction has become a tool for the U.S. authorities to interfere with normal international commercial exchanges and competition.

In 2013, in order to beat Alstom in their business competition, the United States applied the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act to arrest and detain then Alstom’s senior manager Frederic Pierucci on charges of bribing foreign officials. He was further induced to sign a plea deal and provide more evidence and information against his company, leaving Alstom no choice but to accept General Electric’s acquisition, vanishing ever since from the Fortune 500 list.

In an article published in Foreign Affairs magazine, Professor Daniel Drezner of Tufts University criticized successive U.S. administrations for abusing economic coercion and economic violence, and using sanctions as the preferred solution to diplomatic problems, which have been causing humanitarian disasters.

When COVID-19 was raging across the world, the U.S. government did not relent in imposing unilateral sanctions on Iran, Syria and other countries, making it difficult for these countries to obtain the much-needed medical supplies to fight the virus. As a result of the sanctions, Iran has been cut off access to essential medicines and medical equipment, putting the health of millions of Iranians in jeopardy.

Long-arm jurisdiction not only undermines the principle of sovereign equality, violates international law, and erodes the multilateral order with the United Nations at its core, but also creates and intensifies tensions and conflicts among major countries, and poses a threat to the international security system established after World War II. It also interferes with and distorts normal international commercial exchanges and trade order, disrupts the supply chain of global trade, damages the interests of enterprises and raises their operating costs.

The United States should renounce its illegal unilateral sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction measures, and truly take up its international responsibilities as a permanent member of the UN Security Council.

Source(s): Xinhua

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Small unknown asteroid accidentally detected by Webb telescope

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European astronomers using the James Webb Space Telescope have detected a previously unknown asteroid about the size of Rome’s Colosseum in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

The asteroid measuring between 100 and 200 meters in length is suspected to be the smallest object observed to date using the telescope, the U.S. space agency NASA said Monday.

The European astronomers “serendipitously detected” the asteroid, NASA said in a statement, adding that more observations would be needed to better characterize its nature and properties.

“We – completely unexpectedly – detected a small asteroid,” said Thomas Muller, an astronomer at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Germany.

It was detected during calibration of the telescope’s Mid-InfraRed Instrument (MIRI), which operates in mid-infrared wavelengths.

“Webb’s incredible sensitivity made it possible to see this roughly 100-meter object at a distance of more than 100 million kilometers,” Muller said.

Webb, which has been operational since July, is mainly built to study the life cycle of stars. Another main research focus is on exoplanets, planets outside Earth’s solar system.

Webb was not designed to look for small objects such as the newly discovered asteroid, but Muller said its discovery “suggests that many new objects will be detected with this instrument.”

Source(s): AFP & CGTN

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