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Here’s what happened in Baku between Russia, Iran, and Azerbaijan

The summit meeting in Baku suggests a mending of relations between Azerbaijan and Iran and Russia and a further consolidation of integration processes in Central Asia and in southern Eurasia.

Alexander Mercouris

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As Vladimir Putin meets Recep Tayyip Erdogan in St. Petersburg and prepares for a meeting with Sargsyan of Armenia tomorrow, he has just completed another key meeting, this time in Baku in Azerbaijan with the Presidents of Iran and Azerbaijan, Rouhani and Aliyev.

Before discussing this meeting it is important to remember that Rouhani though Iran’s President is not Iran’s leader.  Iran’s Supreme Leader is Ayatollah Khamenei who scarcely ever leaves Iran but who Putin met during his own most recent visit to Iran in November last year.  Rouhani’s status is not therefore exactly analogous to Putin’s or Aliyev’s.  Rouhani does however have Khamenei’s confidence and there is no reason to think that at the meeting in Baku he was not speaking with the full authority and backing of the whole Iranian leadership.

Turning to the meeting itself, the most important single fact about it was the venue: Baku in Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan is a former Soviet republic with which Moscow has not always had an easy relationship. 

Since before the dissolution of the USSR Azerbaijan has been locked in conflict with Armenia over the territory of Nagorno Karabakh, which is populated overwhelmingly by Armenians but which the Soviets had placed within Azerbaijan’s administrative jurisdiction.  In the late 1980s, before the USSR fell, Nagorno Karabakh seceded from Azerbaijan and became self-governing, though with very strong economic and political links to Armenia.  Azerbaijan however continues to claim Nagorno Karabakh as part of its national territory, leading to a bitter dispute between Azerbaijan and Armenia, with Azerbaijan always reserving the right to settle the dispute by conquering Nagorno Karabakh by force.

Officially Moscow is neutral in the dispute and has indeed sought to act as a mediator.  In practice before the USSR broke up the Soviet authorities in Moscow backed Azerbaijan but since the USSR broke up the Russians have forged close and very friendly ties with Armenia, which they support economically and where they have established an important airforce base.  Armenia for its part looks to Russia for protection and is actively involved in the Russian-led process of Eurasian integration having joined the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organisation making it the only Caucasian state to do so. 

This repeats the historic pattern of friendship between Armenians and Russia, with Christian Armenians traditionally looking to Christian Russia as their protector from the Muslim people of the Caucasus and above all from Turkey. 

In the Nagorno Karabakh there is an extra dimension to the relationship between Russia and Armenia in that Turkey, which is closely allied to Azerbaijan, has together with Azerbaijan placed Armenia under economic blockade, making Armenia economically more dependent on Moscow. Azerbaijan has also used the profits of its very considerable Caspian Sea oil and gas wealth to finance a very substantial military build-up, which the Armenians have sought to counter by strengthening their military ties to Moscow.

The tense nature of the relationship between Armenia and Azerbaijan, and Moscow’s role in the conflict, was underlined by bitter clashes between Azerbaijan’s military and Nagorno Karabakh’s defence forces which took place as recently as April this year.  Though Armenia was not directly involved in the fighting an Azerbaijanian offensive resulted in heavy loss of life, though with insignificant territorial changes to show, provoking fears of an all-out war between Armenia and Azerbaijan.  Though in the event that did not happen, the Russians are known to have taken urgent diplomatic action to try to prevent it. 

No-one should be under any doubt that in the event of an all-out war between Azerbaijan and Armenia the Russians will act decisively to protect Armenia.  Though the Russians absolutely do not want to be put into this position, Armenia’s importance to Russia for geopolitical reasons – to secure Russia’s position in the Transcaucasus and for the success of the whole Eurasian integration project – means that Russia simply cannot afford to sacrifice Armenia, which is a full member of both the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union and of the Russian-led military alliance, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation.  The Russians almost certainly made this fact clear to Azerbaijan’s leadership during the April fighting, just as they will have quietly reminded Azerbaijan’s leadership of  Russia’s overwhelming military dominance in the Caucasus and Caspian Sea region, which means that in any conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in which Russia sided with Armenia Azerbaijan would lose.

It is not however Russia’s wish or in Russia’s interests for it to burn its bridges with Azerbaijan.  Azerbaijan because of its oil and gas wealth is the richest of the three Caucasian states (the two others are Armenia and Georgia) and is a key state both in the Caucasus and on the Caspian Sea.  Russia needs no enemies in in this region, which is crucial to Russia.  Moreover Azerbaijan’s oil and gas wealth makes Azerbaijan a constant object of Western plans to break the supposed stranglehold the Russians are supposed to have over the EU’s gas supplies.  Though there is no evidence the Russians have ever sought to prevent the realisation of any of these projects (which like the Nabucco gas pipeline have always proved ephemeral) they obviously have no wish to give Azerbaijan an added incentive to involve itself in them.

Beyond these factors there is the further factor that the Russians undoubtedly see Azerbaijan as a major prize to be won for the process of Eurasian integration.  If Azerbaijan can eventually be drawn into this process it will not only secure a valuable country with its great oil and gas wealth to the Eurasian project, but it will also finally and conclusively secure Russia’s position in the Caucasus, isolating Georgia as the only pro-Western holdout in the area.   For some Russians there would also be something fitting in another country that was formerly a part of the USSR reintegrating itself via Eurasia with Russia.

For all these reasons the Russians have striven to maintain a relationship with Azerbaijan, difficult though that has sometimes been.  To the great anger of many people in Armenia they continue to sell weapons to Azerbaijan, and have maintained economic and political links with the country.  They have also, as discussed previously, declined to side openly with Armenia over the Nagorno Karabakh issue but have sought instead to act as mediators in it.

As for Azerbaijan, it too has its reasons to maintain its links with Moscow even if it has from time to time flirted with some of the transparently anti-Russian US and EU oil and gas pipeline projects such as Nabucco, and even if it has also participated in some of the US sponsored anti-Russian groupings within former Soviet territory such as the now essentially defunct GUAM project, in which however Azerbaijan was always the weakest link. 

The leadership of Azerbaijan is acutely aware of Russia’s overwhelming strategic dominance in its region, and has no wish to make Russia into an open enemy, which might cause Russia to side openly with Armenia, losing Nagorno Karabakh for Azerbaijan conclusively and forever. Azerbaijan’s failure to achieve a decisive breakthrough in the April fighting and Russia’s warnings to Azerbaijan during the fighting will have simply underlined the point.

Beyond that the leadership of Azerbaijan has good reason to doubt the West’s reliability as an ally.  Not only does Azerbaijan routinely get criticised in the West for being a dictatorship, something President Aliyev and his government must find infuriating, but Western NGOs in Azerbaijan have at times openly backed anti-government opposition leaders in ways that must make Azerbaijan’s government wonder whether it is a target for a Western backed colour revolution.  Following the collapse of oil prices, which has caused major economic problems in Azerbaijan, it is understandable why that might have made its leadership nervous and might make it want to insure its position by drawing closer to Russia.

As for the possibility of a conflict with Russia over Nagorno Karabakh, Azerbaijan was given a lesson of how ineffective Western support in this region would be during Russia’s comprehensive defeat of Georgia during the 2008 South Ossetia war.  As it happens President Aliyev is known to have had an angry row with US Vice-President Dick Cheney during that war, when he spurned Cheney’s request for Azerbaijan to side openly with the US and Georgia against Russia.

If Russia and Azerbaijan have had a complicated relationship but also have good reasons to draw closer to each other, the same is also true of Azerbaijan and Iran. 

Azerbaijan was formerly a province of Iran before it was conquered by Russia and incorporated by Russia into the Russian empire.  Southern Azerbaijan continues to be part of Iran to this day.  Though the people of Azerbaijan are Turkic and speak a language close to Turkish, unlike the Turks of Turkey because of their historic connection to Iran they are mainly Shia rather than Sunni.

Despite these strong connections to Iran, Azerbaijan has since the Soviet breakup been much closer to Turkey than to Iran, with Turkey giving Azerbaijan strong support in the Nagorno Karabakh dispute.  Moreover just as Azerbaijan became a centre of US and EU oil and gas projects targeted at Russia, so also it came under US pressure to become involved in the various US led projects targeted at Iran.  There have been rumours of US troops and even of US secret bases in Azerbaijan targeted at Iran, and there has even been some talk of secret US incursions into Iran from Azerbaijan’s territory.  It is widely believed that some of the plans for US attacks on Iran which are known to have been considered in Washington during the Bush II administration also involved Azerbaijan.

Understandably enough all this put a significant strain on relations between Azerbaijan and Iran, despite the two countries having no obvious points of conflict with each other and despite the common interest of both countries in having friendly relations with each other.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement has however, if only for the time being, caused tensions between the US and Iran to diminish, with US plans for attacks on Iran at least for the moment off the agenda.  That has given Azerbaijan the political space to mend its fences with Iran. 

This has come at a time when relations between Russia and Iran, and between Russia and Azerbaijan’s ally Turkey, have both been getting significantly stronger. 

The way has therefore been opened for Azerbaijan to strengthen its relations with both Iran and Russia, and to do so moreover as part of a tripartite arrangement that enables Azerbaijan to achieve a balance in its relations with each of these powers. 

That provides the background to the summit meeting between Putin, Rouhani and Aliyev which has just taken place in Baku.

All three of these states – Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan –  stand to achieve something from their common rapprochement.  The Russians are drawing Azerbaijan further away from the West whilst securing their positions in the Caspian Sea area and in the Caucasus.  They must also be hoping  to draw Azerbaijan further into the Eurasian integration processes.  The Iranians have ended the potential threat to themselves from Azerbaijan’s territory and have strengthened their relations with a rich and important country that was formerly an Iranian province.  As for Azerbaijan, it has managed to improve its relations with both its two great neighbours in a way that enables it to preserve a balance between the two of them.

Beyond this there is now optimistic talk of creating a free trade area involving the Russian-led Eurasian Economic Union, Iran and Azerbaijan.  Negotiating such arrangements is a hugely complex affair and one should not make the mistake of thinking that because the three countries have now publicly committed themselves to it that it will necessarily happen.  At the very least the process will take years. 

The logic and the economic benefits for all three countries of a free trade area are however obvious.  Not only would such an arrangement bring together three highly compatible economies and consolidate economic and trade links in Central Asia and in southern Eurasia, but it would also quietly allow Azerbaijan to resume trade links with Armenia (which is a member of the Eurasian Economic Union) thereby hopefully facilitating a settlement of the currently frozen Nagorno Karabakh conflict. 

However whether any of this actually happens, and how sustained the present rapprochement between Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan will be, will depend on many factors, not least the maintenance of political stability in all three of these countries, especially in Azerbaijan.

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Skripal and Khashoggi: A Tale of Two Disappearances

Two disappearances, and two different responses.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Two disappearances, and two very different responses from Western governments, which illustrates their rank hypocrisy.

When former Russian spy Sergei Skripal went missing in England earlier this year, there was almost immediate punitive action by the British government and its NATO allies against Moscow. By contrast, Western governments are straining with restraint towards Saudi Arabia over the more shocking and provable case of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The outcry by Western governments and media over the Skripal affair was deafening and resulted in Britain, the US and some 28 other countries expelling dozens of Russian diplomats on the back of unsubstantiated British allegations that the Kremlin tried to assassinate an exiled spy with a deadly nerve agent. The Trump administration has further tightened sanctions citing the Skripal incident.

London’s case against Moscow has been marked by wild speculation and ropey innuendo. No verifiable evidence of what actually happened to Sergei Skripal (67) and his daughter Yulia has been presented by the British authorities. Their claim that President Vladimir Putin sanctioned a hit squad armed with nerve poison relies on sheer conjecture.

All we know for sure is that the Skripals have been disappeared from public contact by the British authorities for more than seven months, since the mysterious incident of alleged poisoning in Salisbury on March 4.

Russian authorities and family relatives have been steadfastly refused any contact by London with the Skripal pair, despite more than 60 official requests from Moscow in accordance with international law and in spite of the fact that Yulia is a citizen of the Russian Federation with consular rights.

It is an outrage that based on such thin ice of “evidence”, the British have built an edifice of censure against Moscow, rallying an international campaign of further sanctions and diplomatic expulsions.

Now contrast that strenuous reaction, indeed hyper over-reaction, with how Britain, the US, France, Canada and other Western governments are ever-so slowly responding to Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case.

After nearly two weeks since Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the Saudi regime is this week finally admitting he was killed on their premises – albeit, they claim, in a “botched interrogation”.

Turkish and American intelligence had earlier claimed that Khashoggi was tortured and murdered on the Saudi premises by a 15-member hit squad sent from Riyadh.

Even more grisly, it is claimed that Khashoggi’s body was hacked up with a bone saw by the killers, his remains secreted out of the consulate building in boxes, and flown back to Saudi Arabia on board two private jets connected to the Saudi royal family.

What’s more, the Turks and Americans claim that the whole barbaric plot to murder Khashoggi was on the orders of senior Saudi rulers, implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The latest twist out of Riyadh, is an attempt to scapegoat “rogue killers” and whitewash the House of Saudi from culpability.

The fact that 59-year-old Khashoggi was a legal US resident and a columnist for the Washington Post has no doubt given his case such prominent coverage in Western news media. Thousands of other victims of Saudi vengeance are routinely ignored in the West.

Nevertheless, despite the horrific and damning case against the Saudi monarchy, the response from the Trump administration, Britain and others has been abject.

President Trump has blustered that there “will be severe consequences” for the Saudi regime if it is proven culpable in the murder of Khashoggi. Trump quickly qualified, however, saying that billion-dollar arms deals with the oil-rich kingdom will not be cancelled. Now Trump appears to be joining in a cover-up by spinning the story that the Khashoggi killing was done by “rogue killers”.

Britain, France and Germany this week issued a joint statement calling for “a credible investigation” into the disappearance. But other than “tough-sounding” rhetoric, none of the European states have indicated any specific sanctions, such as weapons contracts being revoked or diplomatic expulsions.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “concerned” by the gruesome claims about Khashoggi’s killing, but he reiterated that Ottawa would not be scrapping a $15 billion sale of combat vehicles to Riyadh.

The Saudi rulers have even threatened retaliatory measures if sanctions are imposed by Western governments.

Saudi denials of official culpability seem to be a brazen flouting of all reason and circumstantial evidence that Khashoggi was indeed murdered in the consulate building on senior Saudi orders.

This week a glitzy international investor conference in Saudi Arabia is being boycotted by top business figures, including the World Bank chief, Jim Yong Kim, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Britain’s venture capitalist Richard Branson. Global firms like Ford and Uber have pulled out, as have various media sponsors, such as CNN, the New York Times and Financial Times. Withdrawal from the event was in response to the Khashoggi affair.

A growing bipartisan chorus of US Senators, including Bob Corker, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Chris Murphy, have called for the cancellation of American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as well as for an overhaul of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Still, Trump has rebuffed calls for punitive response. He has said that American jobs and profits depend on the Saudi weapons market. Some 20 per cent of all US arms sales are estimated to go to the House of Saud.

The New York Times this week headlined: “In Trump’s Saudi Bargain, the Bottom Line Proudly Stands Out”.

The Trump White House will be represented at the investment conference in Saudi Arabia this week – dubbed “Davos in the Desert” by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He said he was attending in spite of the grave allegations against the Saudi rulers.

Surely the point here is the unseemly indulgence by Western governments of Saudi Arabia and its so-called “reforming” Crown Prince. It is remarkable how much credulity Washington, London, Paris, Ottawa and others are affording the Saudi despots who, most likely, have been caught redhanded in a barbarous murder.

Yet, when it comes to Russia and outlandish, unproven claims that the Kremlin carried out a bizarre poison-assassination plot, all these same Western governments abandon all reason and decorum to pile sanctions on Russia based on lurid, hollow speculation. The blatant hypocrisy demolishes any pretense of integrity or principle.

Here is another connection between the Skripal and Khashoggi affairs. The Saudis no doubt took note of the way Britain’s rulers have shown absolute disregard and contempt for international law in their de facto abduction of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. If the British can get away with that gross violation, then the Saudis probably thought that nobody would care too much if they disappeared Jamal Khashoggi.

Grotesquely, the way things are shaping up in terms of hypocritical lack of action by the Americans, British and others towards the Saudi despots, the latter might just get away with murder. Not so Russia. The Russians are not allowed to get away with even an absurd fantasy.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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Massacre in Crimea kills dozens, many in critical condition

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

The Duran

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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