US Pressures Spain on Chinese Tech Firms

The U.S. government warned Spain this week about the security risk inherent in opening its fifth-generation communications networks to Chinese mobile technology providers. In meetings Thursday and Friday, U.S. officials warned Spanish officials and telecommunications executives that the U.S. could stop sharing sensitive information with Spain if the Chinese firms reportedly involved in 5G technology were not excluded from local markets. Robert Strayer, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for cyber and international communications and information policy, told reporters at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid that 5G pioneer Huawei was under the control of the Chinese government.Defense implications  “We cannot put our important information at the risk of being accessed by the Chinese Communist Party,” Strayer said, stressing that technology developed by Huawei to accelerate connections between billions of objects has inevitable defense implications. Huawei offers better 5G network equipment at lower prices than its competitors, according to telecommunications analysts. U.S. efforts to restrict the company’s access to major international markets have been rebuffed by allies in Europe and Asia. The U.K. announced in late January that it would allow Huawei to equip parts of its 5G networks. Similar decisions have been made by Germany and other EU governments. FILE – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo walks on the tarmac as he leaves Germany after taking part in the 56th Munich Security Conference in Munich, southern Germany, Feb. 15, 2020.At an international security conference in Munich last week, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the creation of a Western alliance against China aimed at blocking cyberespionage.  “In recent years, we have witnessed an intense communications campaign to raise consciousness over the interference of the People’s Republic of China in companies that manufacture telecommunications equipment,” said Javier Cremades, a Spanish lawyer specializing in cybersecurity. ‘Criminalizing’ competitionCremades said Chinese laws allow official access to all information handled by technology firms. That provision, however, does not extend to European affiliates or commercial activity outside China, he said, adding that U.S. accusations against China might be aimed at “criminalizing” the competition in the rivalry with Beijing to control the world’s phone technology market. Spokesmen from the U.K.’s National Cyber Security Center said it was “feasible” to implement security measures to separate “high-risk vendors” from sensitive data and functions, although it could require design restrictions that may slow 5G network performance. U.S. officials said other European and Asian firms that have been cleared to operate in American markets, including Sweden’s Ericsson and South Korea’s Samsung, offer 5G technology as advanced as China’s. Spain’s biggest telecommunications companies, including Telefonica and Vodafone, say they have taken steps to reduce Chinese input for their core systems of future data management in mobile telephones, according to the newspaper El Mundo. But U.S. appeals to European countries to restrict access to Chinese tech giants come at a sensitive moment in transatlantic commercial relations. Serious disagreement over European Union efforts to impose a new tax on American high-tech providers has already shaken the telecommunications sector. U.S. diplomats have threatened to retaliate against Spain and other countries for imposing taxes that target American firms that operate a majority of Europe’s digital networks.  U.S. President Donald Trump “cannot become a boss who tells European countries what they can do in the EU,” said Spain’s Treasury Minister Maria Jesus Montero, who defends the tax as a way of protecting local competitors. Spain has a had a close commercial and military relationship with the U.S. since the middle of the last century. But the influence of China has grown recently, with nearly 50% of Spain’s national debt now owned by Chinese banks. 

Erdogan to Hold Syria Summit With Russia, France and Germany

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday said he would hold a summit with the leaders of Russia, France and Germany on March 5 to discuss the situation in Syria’s last rebel enclave of Idlib.”We will come together on March 5 and discuss these issues,” Erdogan said in a televised speech, following a phone call on Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his tele-conference with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.The Turkish leader did not say where the summit would be held but his announcement comes a day after Macron and Merkel called for a four-party Syria summit also involving the Russian leader.  A months-long offensive by Russia-backed Syrian troops against rebels backed by Turkey in northwest Idlib has seen close to one million civilians flee the violence.The two European Union heavyweights on Friday “expressed their willingness to meet President Putin and Turkish President Erdogan to find a political solution to the crisis,” the chancellor’s office said.Russia on Wednesday objected to the U.N. Security Council adopting a statement that would have called for a cease-fire in Idlib, diplomats said, after a tense closed-door meeting.Turkey, which has threatened an “imminent” operation in Idlib after its troops have come under intense fire from regime forces, has given Damascus until the end of this month to drive back its army positions.Syrian regime fire has killed 17 Turkish personnel this month alone, sparking a war of words between Ankara and Moscow, a key Damascus ally.

EU Searches for Way Forward After Budget Deadlock

European Union leaders are still seeking a compromise on their next seven-year, trillion-plus-dollar budget. But they ended two days of talks so divided they couldn’t set a date for their next meeting.European unity over Brexit was nowhere to be seen during this first meeting since Britain’s departure from the EU. Leaders of the 27 remaining members ended budget talks Friday acknowledging the gridlock.The tone was set by the EU’s most powerful members. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the differences were too big to overcome, while French President Emmanuel Macron said the deadlock was deeply regrettable. “We don’t need Britain to show disunity,” he added.But inaugurating the annual agricultural fair in Paris Saturday, Macron underscored just why the divisions remain so strong. He told French farmers he remained firm in defending the EU’s biggest budget item — agricultural subsidies — of which France is a top beneficiary.These kinds of no-go zones are being staked out by other member states. Poorer, mostly eastern European nations and five countries that currently get rebates want a more generous budget. Meanwhile the so-called frugal four, Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden, don’t want the budget to exceed one percent of the bloc’s gross national income.At the same time, the EU’s new executive arm has outlined ambitious new goals — including achieving zero greenhouse emissions by 2050. Those also will need funding — or risk being scaled down. Then there’s the $65 billion budget hole left by Britain’s departure, which needs filling.Yet EU leaders say they are confident a compromise will be struck.European Council President Charles Michel says the bloc has no choice but to reach a decision. The question is when.  Analyst Marta Pilati, of the Brussels-based European Policy Center research group, says the longer talks drag on, the more likely EU-funded programs will be affected next year.”The first consequence of non-agreement is … that we have a delay in implementation, which in practice means that the EU will not be able to disburse funding to the programs so that they can start in January, but maybe that will happen in March and April next year,” Pilati said.The current budget expires in December. After EU leaders reach agreement on the next one, the European Parliament will need to ratify it, which also promises to be complicated. 

Mexico Extradites Son of Jalisco Cartel, Braces for Violence

Mexico extradited the son of the leader of the Jalisco New Generation Cartel to face drug charges in the United States, leading to fears his powerful gang may retaliate.Ruben Oseguera was handed over to U.S. authorities Thursday after he lost a long legal fight against extradition, Mexico’s top security official, Alfonso Durazo, said Friday.The U.S. Department of Justice said Oseguera will appear in a federal court in Washington Friday to answer a drug-distribution indictment.Oseguera is known as “El Menchito,” after his father, Nemesio Oseguera, alias “El Mencho.” The younger Oseguera was born in California and holds dual U.S.-Mexican citizenship. He was arrested in 2015 on weapons possession and organized crime charges, and had been fighting extradition.The Jalisco cartel is currently Mexico’s most violent and fastest-growing gang.Embassy warningThe move appeared to spark fears of retaliation.The U.S. Embassy issued a security alert saying “following previous high-profile security operations, criminal groups operating in Jalisco have responded by taking retaliatory actions including an increase in anti-government rhetoric (banners and internet threats) and blockades inside the city and on interstate highways.”“On some occasions, these criminals have seized private vehicles and set them on fire,” according to the alert.Durazo said Mexico had tried to extradite Oseguera before but “in fact, the process was a long one because of several legal appeals” filed by his lawyers, the last of which was rejected Wednesday.Victor Francisco Beltran, Oseguera’s Mexican lawyer, denied he was the son of Nemesio Osegura, suggesting he was instead a nephew.Beltran said the extradition shouldn’t have happened, because the younger Oseguera still had pending appeals.Fugitive fatherThe elder Oseguera remains a fugitive, despite the 2018 arrest of his wife.The U.S. has offered a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest of the elder Oseguera.Jalisco New Generation has a reputation for battling with government agents. It brazenly shot down a Mexican military helicopter with a rocket launcher in 2015, prompting Mexican officials to declare an all-out offensive against the criminal group.

Sanders Condemns Any Russian Influence in Election 

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders is condemning any Russian efforts to interfere in the 2020 U.S. election. The Vermont senator issued a statement immediately after The Washington Post reported U.S. officials told Sanders that Russia was trying to help his campaign. The statement did not confirm the report. Sanders wrote: “I don’t care, frankly, who Putin wants to be president. My message to Putin is clear: Stay out of American elections, and as president I will make sure that you do.” Sanders continued: “Unlike Donald Trump, I do not consider Vladimir Putin a good friend. He is an autocratic thug who is attempting to destroy democracy and crush dissent in Russia. Let’s be clear, the Russians want to undermine American democracy by dividing us up and, unlike the current president, I stand firmly against their efforts, and any other foreign power that wants to interfere in our election.” 

Greece Scraps Asylum Requests for Migrant ‘Troublemakers’

Greece says it will deport “migrant troublemakers” to their homelands in a bid to combat rising crime and surging migration inflows that have reached a breaking point for the refugee-swollen country.The announcement by Public Order Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis follows the recent deadly shooting of a 23-year-old Afghan man in a heated standoff with a rival Pakistani gang in central Athens. It also follows violent clashes between police and thousands of asylum seekers who took to the streets of Lesbos earlier this month to protest living conditions on the island’s overcrowded camp, and tougher asylum regulations enforced by the new conservative government of Kyriakos Mitsotakis.Greek Public Order Minister Michalis Chrisochoidis, arrives to participate on the first cabinet meeting of the new government, in Athens, on July 10, 2019.“These troublemakers and criminal offenders have no place in Greece,” Chrysochoidis said. “They have chosen the wrong country and society to behave criminally against.”“Rest assured,” he told Apotipomata, a leading current affairs program, “that migrant troublemakers will be hunted down and forced to leave.”More than 100 migrant arrests have been made in the past days in Athens alone. An additional 40 asylum seekers have been rounded up in Lesbos, the start of what authorities call sweeping operations to crack down on rival ethnic groups’ criminal activities, including sex trafficking and drug trafficking, while waiting for their asylum requests to be processed.“For years,” Chrysochoidis said, “there was no real attempt to penalize them. They would be rounded up, detained and then released, allowing them to resume their criminal conduct while waiting for their asylums to be processed.”Now, under new legislation adopted by the government, offenders will instantly be stripped of their asylum rights and detained until deportation, in closed facilities on a host of Greek islands.“You cannot expect a country to be rewarding criminal offenders and troublemakers with asylum,” Chrysochoidis said.Riot police scuffle with migrants during a protest in Mytilene port on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, on Feb. 4, 2020.Nearly 60,000 migrants and refugees illegally crossed to the Greek islands from Turkey last year, roughly double the rate recorded in 2017 and 2018, according to the U.N. refugee agency.  The dramatic rise adds to more than 100,000 asylum seekers already in the country, mainly on the Greek mainland, waiting for their legal claims to be processed, with a backlog expected to last more than five years.Mitsotakis’ government surged to power in July vowing to combat rising crime and enforce a tougher stance on migration. That position includes plans to set up a floating barricade off the coast of Lesbos and reject 95% of asylum claims. Officials say it is a bid to sift through some 75,000 requests in fast-track procedures intended to ease overcrowded camps on five Greek islands at the forefront of Europe’s lingering refugee crisis.State data released this week showed authorities approving 79 of a total of 1,881 cases reviewed in the last month alone.Children play next to the fence of the Moria migrant camp on the island of Lesbos, Greece, Feb. 18, 2020.The government’s hardened stance has stoked concerns by human rights and aid organizations that say the new fast-track asylum rules would allow only days for requests to be reviewed — a process that ordinarily requires months to be fairly considered.Aid works and charity groups have urged the government to ease overcrowded conditions at islands camps, adding that asylum procedures must be fair.”The government must urgently implement its plan to move people to the mainland, improve conditions and enforce a fast and fair asylum procedure,” said Boris Cheshirkov, a spokesperson for UNHCR Greece. He said it was also important for other regions in the country to accept migrants and that the EU should re-open an ill-fated relocation scheme.Meanwhile, residents of refugee-swollen islands are voicing anger over the government’s intention to set up new camps there, to serve as migrant holding centers.Locals on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Kos, Samos and Leros warn that their economies have already been shattered by the migration crisis with the business of many hotels and restaurants falling off by more than 50% in recent years.A new camp for migrants with a capacity of 1200 people is pictured in Zervou, on the island of Samos on Feb. 21, 2020.Tensions with the local communities are expected to heighten in the coming weeks as the government plans to use emergency legal powers to requisition large swathes of forest land on the five islands to create the contentious detention centers as it also speeds up deportations.Greece has been grappling with rising tides of illegal migration since the summer, receiving the biggest inflow in four years, or since the EU signed a landmark accord with Turkey to stem a mass migration move of some 1.2 million mainly Syrian refugees to Europe.While the 2016 deal has helped dramatically decrease illegal arrivals by as much as 97%, the contentious measures now adopted by the new government underscore how four years since the landmark EU agreement deal, Greece still remains ground zero for Europe’s migration crisis.“We’re changing the rules,” Chrysochoidis said. “And it’s not out of spite or because of some racist belief. We finally have to defend out people from the fallouts of this crisis.”

Italy Town Shuts Schools, Cafes as 6 Test Positive for Virus

Italian officials ordered schools, public buildings, restaurants and coffee shops closed in a tiny town in northern Italy Friday after six people tested positive for the new virus, including some who had not been to China or the source of the global health emergency.
The new cases represented the first infections in Italy acquired through secondary contagion and tripled the country’s total to nine. The first to fall ill met with someone in early February who had returned from China on Jan. 21 without presenting any symptoms of the new virus, health authorities said.
Authorities think that person passed the virus onto the 38-year-old Italian, who went to a hospital in the town of Codogno with flu-like symptoms on Feb. 18 but was sent home. He returned to the hospital after his conditions worsened and is now in intensive care, Lombardy region public welfare director Giulio Gallera said.
The man’s wife and a friend who did sports with him have also tested positive for the virus. The Italian Health Ministry ordered anyone who came into direct contact with the three to be quarantined for 14 days. About 150 people, including medical personnel, were in isolation undergoing tests.
Another three people in the Lombardy region also tested positive Friday, the health ministry said later.

Firm Wants to Recover Titanic’s Iconic Telegraph Machine

The salvage firm that has plucked silverware, china and gold coins from the wreckage of the Titanic now wants to recover the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Machine that transmitted the doomed ship’s increasingly frantic distress calls.
Lawyers for the company, R.M.S. Titanic, Inc., called witnesses before a federal judge on Thursday to explain why the company should be allowed to possibly cut into the rapidly deteriorating ship to recover the device before it’s irretrievable.
“It’s one of those iconic artifacts, like the signal flares (that the sinking ship launched),” testified David Gallo, an oceanographer who retired from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and is now a paid consultant for the firm.
Gallo, who testified in federal court in Norfolk, Virginia, said that salvaging the device would not be “grave robbery” but a way to connect people to the ship’s legacy and honor its passengers.
U. S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith, the maritime jurist who presides over Titanic salvage matters, said it was too early for her to make any decisions on the proposal. She said she needed more details and proposed scheduling another hearing sometime in the future.
The Titanic was traveling from England to New York when it struck an iceberg at 11:40 p.m. on April 14, 1912. The large and luxurious ocean liner sent out distress signals using the relatively new Marconi wireless radio system.
The messages were picked up by other ships and onshore receiving stations. They included: “We require immediate assistance”  … “Have struck iceberg and sinking” … “We are putting women off in boats.”
The ship sank in less than three hours, with the loss of all but 700 of the 2,208 passengers and crew.
An international team led by oceanographer Robert Ballard located the wreckage in 1985 on the North Atlantic seabed, about 400 miles (645 kilometers) off Newfoundland, Canada.
RMS Titanic Inc., oversees a collection of thousands of items recovered from the site over the years as the court-recognized salvor, or steward of the artifacts.
The company has argued that time is running out to retrieve the telegraph machine. It has been referred to as the voice'' of the Titanic, which also delivered the ship's last words.
The device is located in a room on the ship's deck. A gymnasium on the other side of the grand staircase has already collapsed. The roof above the telegraph machine has begun to perforate.
“I'm not sure if we go in 2020 that the roof won't be collapsed on everything”  testified Paul Henry Nargeolet, director of the company's underwater research program.
The company is already facing resistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which represents the public's interest in the wreck site.
The U.S. Attorney's Office in Virginia represents NOAA. Its attorneys argued in court documents that the proposed retrieval runs contrary to prior court orders that prohibit the firm from cutting holes or taking items from the wreck.
The items that the firm has salvaged came from a debris field outside the ship.
 “It seems clear that this is not simply a `one-off' proposal for the Marconi Wireless Telegraph, but a placeholder for future requests to take similar actions in order to recover other artifacts from inside the wreck,'' federal attorney Kent P. Porter wrote.
Porter also wrote that the court must consider international agreements involving the wreck as well as archaelogical standards to determine whether the retrieval is justified. He cited the United Kingdom-based Joint Nautical Archaeology Policy Committee, which said the company has failed to adequately justify its proposal.
Karen Kamuda, president of the Massachusetts-based Titanic Historical Society, Inc., told The Associated Press in an email that the society
has been against disturbing the wreck since 1985 because it is a gravesite.”
“As usual, its all about money,” she wrote.

Kremlin Scrambles to Avoid Open Conflict With Turkey

The Kremlin was scrambling Friday to reach a stopgap agreement with Ankara to halt fighting in northwest Syria amid growing fears that Russia and Turkey are on the brink of open warfare.  Clashes between the Turks and their Syrian rebel allies with troops loyal to President Bashar al-Assad in Idlib province have already killed two Turkish soldiers this week and dozens of Syrian government troops.The skirmishes between the Turks and Assad’s forces were triggered when Syrian rebels supported by Turkish artillery stormed a village east of Idlib city on a strategic highway. Turkish media said the Turkish army was directly involved in the ground attack. Kremlin officials say their forces weren’t involved and that their warplanes held off striking Turkish positions.While expressing hope an open conflict between Russia and Turkey can be averted, Kremlin officials warned that Russia would support al-Assad’s forces militarily if the fighting escalates and Turkey increases its military operations.Desperate situation for displaced SyriansThe new developments in Idlib, roiling months of cooperation between Moscow and Ankara on the Syrian conflict, are rapidly raising the stakes in Idlib — as well as adding to the desperation of nearly a million displaced Syrians who have fled in the past few months toward the Turkish border, which remains closed to them.Since the Syria conflict erupted nearly nine years ago, Turkey has taken in more than 3 million Syrian refugees but refuses to accept any more. Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies have carved out a swathe of territory in northwest Syria and are relocating some Syrian refugees there, using land snatched from Kurdish forces.FILE – Civilians flee from Idlib toward the north to find safety inside Syria near the border with Turkey, Feb. 15, 2020.The United Nations has warned of possible catastrophe in Syria’s northwest unless the Assad government shows restraint. Syrian government forces, which for weeks have been advancing in the province, have been shelling areas where displaced Syrians are camped, say U.N. officials.The U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator for Syria, Mark Cutts, told Britain’s Sky News that even by the Syrian war’s brutal standards, the situation is now desperate. If the shelling and airstrikes move any further into the areas where refugees are camped out, “We’re going to see a bloodbath, we’re going to see a massacre on a scale that has never been seen in this entire war,” he said.The Turkish-backed attack on Assad’s forces underscored the seriousness of the threat issued this week by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Erdogan warned Turkish troops would go on the offensive in Idlib unless President Assad calls off his offensive on the enclave — the last remaining stronghold of anti-Assad rebel forces and part of an area Ankara has earmarked as a buffer zone and the future home of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey.Russian defense officials condemned the Turkish military action and urged Turkey “to cease support of the actions of terrorists and handing them arms.”Political ramificationsAnalysts say the Turkish leader can ill-afford to see his plans for Idlib dashed, which would amount to a personal and political setback.But conversely a defeat for Assad would wreck Moscow’s efforts in Syria over the past five years, eroding the Kremlin’s growing clout in the region.FILE – Russian troops with military vehicles are seen on patrol outside the town of Darbasiyah in Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province, on the border with Turkey, Nov. 1, 2019.”It is very hard to tell how far Turkey is willing to go in Idlib,” according to Assaad al-Achi, director of Baytna Syria, a pro-democracy civil society support organization.  “Negotiations with Russia have not stopped, but have failed so far to produce any lasting cessation of hostilities. Therefore, Turkey is in a conundrum. It wants to avoid at all costs a humanitarian disaster on its southwestern border, but at the same time it doesn’t want to ruin its relationship with Russia.” he said in a commentary for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based research group.There were reports circulating in the Turkish capital, Ankara, Friday that President Erdogan has been sounding out Washington on whether the U.S. would deploy two Patriot anti-aircraft missile batteries on its southern border in readiness for escalating hostilities.On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump praised his Turkish counterpart, calling him a “tough guy” who doesn’t want to see people killed in great numbers. “We are working together on seeing what can be done. You have a lot of warring going on right now,” he added.Some analysts say Trump is taking a keener interest in Syria and some U.S. officials appear to see the growing conflict in Idlib as an opportunity to pull Erdogan more firmly into the West’s camp. Other U.S. officials say the administration is wary of being drawn in and highlight Trump’s determination to disentangle the U.S. from Middle East conflicts.With the perceived danger the situation could trigger a general standoff between Russia and NATO, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron told Russia’s Vladimir Putin in a phone call Thursday they want to meet him and Turkey’s president to discuss ways to defuse the burgeoning crisis in Syria.FILE – Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin are seen during their joint news conference after talks at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi, Russia, Oct. 22, 2019.Meanwhile, humanitarian organizations are discussing trying to form a “peace team” of former and retired world leaders to try to persuade all warring parties to observe a cease-fire.Western diplomats say both Moscow and Ankara appear at this stage desperate to avoid an open clash. But their conflicting interests are making it harder to shape an interim agreement and that the situation on the ground risks spinning out of anyone’s control. An agreement has eluded negotiators after two rounds of talks in Ankara and Moscow earlier this month. On Friday, more columns of Turkish armor and howitzers crossed into Syria.Russian officials appear to believe that Ankara will blink because, they say, Turkey has much to lose. The last time Moscow and Ankara were drawn into a standoff over Syria was in 2015 when Turkey shot down a Russian warplane. Russia imposed sanctions on Turkish exports and businesses, crippling Turkey’s agriculture and tourism sectors. 

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