Rex Tillerson travels to China to discuss North Korea

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson traveled to Beijing to pile pressure on China over the North Korean crisis. The US believes China can do a lot more to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.

China Präsident Xi Jinping & US-Außenminister Rex Tillerson (Reuters/T. Peter)

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was scheduled to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Foreign Minister Wang Yi, on Saturday. It is the secretary of state’s second visit in office to the world’s second-largest economy.

US President Donald Trump, who will travel to Asia in November, has repeatedly urged China to exert more pressure on North Korea, one of its regional allies, to convince the Kim Jong Un regime to reverse its nuclear and missile programs.

Pyongyang has conducted six nuclear tests to date and 15 missile launches this year alone, which experts say demonstrate the regime has a viable nuclear capability.

China, North Korea’s main trading partner, has backed UN sanctions on its ally. On Thursday, the Chinese government announced that North Korean companies must close their operations in China by January in line with the latest round of international penalties.

Ahead of Tillerson’s Saturday trip, Susan Thornton, the acting US assistant secretary for East Asia, told US lawmakers that US-China cooperation over North Korea was increasing.

“We are working closely with China to execute this strategy and are clear-eyed in viewing the progress — growing, if uneven — that China has made on this front,” she said.

“We have recently seen Chinese authorities take additional actions,” Thornton added.

Courtesy, DW

Watch video02:15

US and North Korea in dangerous war of words

A delicate line

Trump has threatened to use military force against Pyongyang if the conflict accelerates.

“The United States has great strength and patience but if forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said to the UN General Assembly last week.

In a display of military strength, US bombers and fighter escorts flew over North Korea last week. The planes flew to the farthest point north of the border between North and South Korea by any such US aircraft this century, the Pentagon said, adding that the mission showed “how seriously President Donald Trump takes North Korea’s reckless behavior.”

Read more: Donald Trump orders sweeping new travel ban, including N. Korea

Beijing appears to toe a delicate line between pressuring Pyongyang while at the same time avoiding any situation that would threaten the North Korean stability. China claims negotiations are the only workable solution to the crisis.

“China doesn’t want the DPRK to collapse because that would leave many uncertainties regarding its weapons, refugees and a US base at its doorstep,” Eduardo Araral, vice dean of research at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore, told DW.

Araral added that the US would not be able to handle North Korea without cooperation from China. “US-China ties are so intertwined that the US cannot continue hurting China, for example on trade, without hurting itself,” he said.

Read more: Why China won’t help US against North Korea

One of the major hurdles in preventing a united front from the US and China in dealing with the Kim regime is the uncertainty of the geopolitical outcome on the Korean Peninsula if the North were to collapse and be folded into the South.

US and Chinese interests do merge, however, in that both do not want a nuclear-ready North Korean military machine, and China especially does not want a nuclear war in its backyard.

Read more: North Korea nuclear ‘blackmail’ aimed at direct US talks

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Russia ‘ready to combine efforts’ with North Korea toward peaceful solution to nuclear crisis

Russia supported US-led sanctions against North Korea after Pyongyang’s most recent nuclear test. But Russian officials have now discussed another solution with a senior North Korean diplomat in Moscow.

Russian foreign ministry building in Moscow

Russia is willing to work with North Korea on a peaceful solution to tensions sparked by Pyongyang’s recent nuclear and missile tests, the Russian Foreign Ministry said after meetings between the two sides in Moscow on Friday.

“The Russian side confirmed its readiness to combine efforts in the interests of finding ways to solve the problems in the region by peaceful, political and diplomatic means,” it said.

Choe Son-hui, director-general of the North American department in the North Korean Foreign Ministry, had earlier discussed the situation with Russian ambassador-at-large Oleg Burmistrov and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov.

Suspension-for-suspension

Moscow said one of the solutions discussed in the meetings was “the Russian-Chinese roadmap for a Korean settlement.”

Russian flag behind eagle statueThe Kremlin has repeatedly called for all sides to seek a “peaceful” solution

Russia and China have previously said they both support a “suspension-for-suspension” approach to reign in North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons program. The strategy calls for Pyongyang to stop its tests in exchange for an end to US and South Korean joint military exercises on the peninsula.

The US and South Korea most recently flew eight fighter jets and two bombers near North Korea in mid-September as a “routine” show of force.

Read more: North Korea nuclear crisis: Vladimir Putin warns against ‘global catastrophe’

Russian leaders have been particularly alarmed in recent weeks after senior US officials did not rule out armed force against Pyongyang. A public war of words between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un has also caused considerable concern.

Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea during a speech to the UN last week. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened retaliation in his response, calling Trump “mentally deranged” and a “dotard.”

Russia has nevertheless agreed to US-led restrictions against Pyongyang despite Washington’s approach. On September 11, Moscow voted with the rest of the UN Security Council to pass the most far-reaching sanctions ever placed on North Korea.

amp/kms (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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Under Trump’s Plan, Tax Cuts Shrink Over Time for Everyone but the Richest

The nonpartisan Tax Policy Center released a preliminary analysis of President Trump’s tax plan on Friday, showing that the proposed tax cuts would get smaller over 10 years for all but the top 1 percent of earners. Some major findings:

Most, but not all, taxpayers would
get a moderate tax cut next year.

While most taxpayers would benefit at least modestly, taxes would increase for others, particularly those with incomes of $150,000 to $300,000. The increases would primarily come from the repeal of several itemized deductions, such as the state and local tax deduction.

Average

tax change

Income

TAX CUT

NO CHANGE

INCREASE

Lowest quintile

71% of taxpayers

–$60

Less than $25,000

Second quintile

88%

–$290

$25,000 – $48,600

Middle quintile

85%

–$660

$48,600 – 86,100

Fourth quintile

79%

–$1,110

$86,100 – 149,400

80-90 percentile

67%

–$1,140

$149,400 – $216,800

90-95 percentile

60%

–$1,500

$216,800 – $307,900

95-99 percentile

74%

–$7,620

$307,900 – $732,800

Top 1 percent

89%

–$129,030

$732,800 and up

Top 0.1 percent

98%

–$722,510

$3,439,000 and up

Note: Income quintiles are based on cash income and contain an equal number of people.

These estimates could change significantly based on how policymakers fill in the details of the president’s proposal. The analysts made several assumptions, including the income thresholds for each marginal tax rate, which are based on on the 2016 House Republican plan, and the amount that the child tax credit would increase.

The analysts also assumed that the top marginal tax rate would be 35 percent, though the president’s proposal left room for an additional, higher rate. If a higher rate is adopted, the wealthiest taxpayers would not benefit as much from the plan.

The top 1% would benefit
far more than everyone else.

Change in tax

rate (pct. pt.)

Change in

after-tax income

Income

Lowest quintile

–0.4%

+0.5%

Less than $25,000

Second quintile

–0.8

+0.9

$25,000 – $48,600

Middle quintile

–1.0

+1.2

$48,600 – 86,100

Fourth quintile

–1.0

+1.2

$86,100 – 149,400

80-90 percentile

–0.6

+0.8

$149,400 – $216,800

90-95 percentile

–0.6

+0.7

$216,800 – $307,900

95-99 percentile

–1.7

+2.3

$307,900 – $732,800

Top 1 percent

–5.7

+8.5

$732,800 and up

Top 0.1 percent

–6.8

+10.2

$3,439,000 and up

Note: All estimates are averages.

The bottom 99 percent of taxpayers would see their federal tax rates drop 0.4 to 1.7 percentage points on average next year. But the top 1 percent would benefit much more, with average tax rates falling by 5.7 percentage points. Gains are even higher for the top 0.1 percent, or people with income higher than $3.4 million.

The top 1 percent would also pay a smaller proportion of all federal taxes next year, 23.5 percent compared with 26.1 percent under current law.

And the tax cuts would shrink by
2027, except for the wealthiest.

By 2027, tax cuts would shrink for every group except the top 1 percent, and a quarter of taxpayers, many in the upper middle class, would pay more than they would without the new plan.

For example, taxpayers with incomes of about $150,000 to $215,000 would receive, on average, a $1,140 tax cut in 2018. But in 2027, they would pay $820 more than if nothing changed.

There are a few reasons that the tax cuts shrink over time. The expanded tax credits for dependents are not indexed for inflation, so their value would decrease in the coming years. In addition, tax brackets would be indexed to a slower measure of inflation, meaning that by 2027, more income would be taxed at higher rates.

The plan would cost $2.4
trillion over 10 years.

The single biggest cost would be reducing the corporate tax rate and repealing the corporate alternative minimum tax, which would total $2 trillion.

Individual provisions
Change in revenue, in trillions
Tax rates of 12, 25, and 35%
−$1.2
Increase standard deduction
−$0.8
Repeal alternative minimum tax
−$0.4
Increase child credit and add dependent credit
−$0.3
Repeal most other itemized deductions
+$0.2
Index tax system to chained Consumer Price Index
+$0.1
Repeal state and local deduction
+$1.3
Repeal personal exemptions
+$1.6
Subtotal
+$0.5
Business provisions
Reduce corporate rate to 20% and repeal the A.M.T.
−$2.0
Limit tax rate on pass-through income to 25%
−$0.8
Expensing of equipment through 2022
−$0.2
Enact territorial tax system
−$0.1
One-time tax reduction to encourage repatriation
+$0.2
Repeal certain business tax expenditures
+$0.2
Subtotal
−$2.6
Repeal estate and related taxes
−$0.2
Total
−$2.4
Note: Numbers may not add due to rounding. The report’s authors did not include the revenue impact of some provisions, like limiting the corporate deduction for net interest.

The business tax cuts are estimated to cost $2.6 trillion over 10 years, while revenue from individual income taxes would actually increase slightly. The Tax Policy Center analysis does not include the plan’s potential impact on economic growth, which Republicans have said will help pay for the tax cuts. The report said it expected any economic effects on revenue to be minimal in the first decade.

Senate leaders on Friday released a budget blueprint that, if approved, would allow for a $1.5 trillion tax cut over the next decade — much smaller than the estimated cut in the president’s plan.

Courtesy, The New York Times

Health Secretary Tom Price Resigns After Drawing Ire for Chartered Flights

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Tom Price Resigns Under Pressure

Tom Price, the health and human services secretary, resigned on Friday. Mr. Price drew criticism for his use of expensive chartered flights, which undermined President Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” of an entitled capital.

By CHRIS CIRILLO, GLENN THRUSH and A.J. CHAVAR on Publish DateSeptember 29, 2017. Photo by Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times. Watch in Times Video »

WASHINGTON — Tom Price, the health and human services secretary, resigned under pressure on Friday after racking up at least $400,000 in travel bills for chartered flights and undermining President Trump’s promise to drain the swamp of a corrupt and entitled capital.

Already in trouble with Mr. Trump for months of unsuccessful efforts to repeal and replace President Barack Obama’s health care program, Mr. Price failed to defuse the president’s anger by offering regret and a partial reimbursement. His departure was the latest from an administration buffeted by turbulence at the top, and capped a week of setbacks for the president.

“I’m not happy, O.K.?” Mr. Trump told reporters who asked about Mr. Price as the president prepared to leave for his New Jersey golf club for the weekend, barely an hour before the resignation was announced. “I can tell you, I’m not happy.” He called Mr. Price “a very good man” but added that the secretary’s offer to pay back the government for just part of the cost of the private flights “would be unacceptable.”

Mr. Price ran afoul of one of the president’s most consequential campaign pledges. While some of Mr. Trump’s advisers privately make light of his vow to drain the swamp of Washington privilege, to many of his voters, it was a threshold promise. The firestorm over Mr. Price came as the president was already on the defensive with his base, as the incumbent mainstream Republican senator he backed in an Alabama primary race lost to an insurgent channeling Mr. Trump’s election movement.

“It’s hard to see how a cabinet secretary can drain the swamp from 42,000 feet in the plush interior of a taxpayer-funded Gulfstream 4,” said Laura Ingraham, a conservative talk show host and Trump supporter who, like others, defied the president by backing Roy Moore, the insurgent Senate candidate who won in Alabama.

Continue reading the main story

Mr. Trump berated Mr. Price in the Oval Office on Friday afternoon for about two hours before heading out to meet with reporters, according to people informed about the meeting. All cabinet travel requests now must be cleared by the White House, they said.

The White House’s announcement of Mr. Price’s departure was sparse, with none of the customary thanks for his service; it said simply that he had “offered his resignation earlier today and the president accepted.”

In his resignation letter to Mr. Trump, Mr. Price said: “I have spent 40 years both as a doctor and public servant putting people first. I regret that the recent events have created a distraction from these important objectives. Success on these issues is more important than any one person. In order for you to move forward without further disruption, I am officially tendering my resignation.”

Mr. Trump tapped Don J. Wright, a deputy assistant secretary for health and the director of the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, to serve as acting secretary. Possible candidates for a successor include Seema Verma, the administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and Scott Gottlieb, the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration.

DOCUMENT

Read the Resignation Letter Tom Price Sent to President Trump

Tom Price sent a letter on Friday to President Trump resigning as health secretary. Mr. Price had been under pressure after racking up at least $400,000 in travel bills, footed by the taxpayers, for chartered flights.

 OPEN DOCUMENT

Mr. Price’s job was on the line since the first of a string of reports by Politico, on Sept. 19, about his extensive use of chartered aircraft. The president has fumed privately and publicly about Mr. Price’s actions. Hoping to assuage Mr. Trump, the secretary offered on Thursday to reimburse the government $51,887 — which he said represented the cost of his seat on the trips — of the at least $400,000 spent. But it was not enough to save his job.

Mr. Price, a physician and a former Republican congressman from Georgia who had long opposed Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act, served as a point man on Mr. Trump’s drive to scrap the law. In July, Mr. Trump said he would fire Mr. Price if he did not get the votes for the legislation.

“He better get them,” Mr. Trump told an audience with Mr. Price at his side. “Otherwise, I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.’”

He said it in a jocular fashion, and his audience took it as a jest, but in fact the president has been privately simmering about Mr. Price over the unsuccessful efforts to pass health care legislation in the Senate. While a bill passed the House, the latest effort collapsed this week when enough Senate Republicans defected to deprive Mr. Trump of a majority.

Mr. Price had been under fire from the start. During his confirmation hearing in January, Senate Democrats pressed him on the more than $100,000 in pharmaceutical and medical stocks he owned. Democrats said that Mr. Price had understated the value of his 400,613 shares in an Australian company, Innate Immunotherapeutics. He defended himself, saying, “Everything that I did was ethical, above board, legal and transparent.”

In just eight months since taking office, Mr. Trump has fired or lost a chief of staff, a chief strategist, a national security adviser, a press secretary, two communications directors, a deputy chief of staff, a deputy national security adviser, the F.B.I. director and numerous other aides and advisers.

Mr. Price may not be the only senior official to face anger over travel bills. In recent days, a slew of reports about the fast-lane habits of the cabinet have resulted in a mounting public relations headache for the Trump administration, which is stocked by billionaires accustomed to using private jets.

Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, used a chartered airplane for several flights, including a $12,000 trip to deliver a speech celebrating a new professional hockey team in Las Vegas. Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has spent more than $58,000 on chartered and military flights, and David Shulkin, the veterans affairs secretary, took his wife on a 10-day trip to Europe that mixed business meetings and sightseeing, according to The Washington Post.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asked about using a $25,000-an-hour military plane for his European honeymoon and later used a government jet to fly to Fort Knox in Kentucky in August, a trip that offered him a clear view of a solar eclipse, although he later disclaimed any interest.

Other cabinet members issued statements explaining their travel practices. The Small Business Administration said its chief, Linda McMahon, had used private air services and that “on the rare occasion” she had, she “covered the entire cost out of her own pocket.” Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, travels on personally owned aircraft “at zero cost to U.S. taxpayers” because she “neither seeks, nor accepts, any reimbursement,” the department said.

The sensitivity about the situation within the cabinet was clear on Friday when Mr. Zinke delivered an energy policy address to the Heritage Foundation. He opened his speech by lashing out at what he called “a little B.S.” on chartered flights.

“I fly coach,” he said, adding that he uses chartered or military flights only when necessary. “Every time I travel, I submit the travel plans to the ethics department,” he added. “I will always be honest and up front about my travel.”

Current and former West Wing officials said oversight of Mr. Trump’s cabinet was so lax in the past that Stephen K. Bannon, then the president’s chief strategist, requested meetings once every 60 days to review each member’s agenda and travel itinerary. The secretaries did not flag the questionable flights, the officials said.

John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff who has tried to impose a military discipline on a chaotic West Wing with mixed success, has ordered the president’s budget director, Mick Mulvaney, to revamp the review process for flights and set limits on prices that cabinet members can pay for transportation, according to two people briefed on the plans.

At a recent meeting with legislative affairs aides for cabinet agencies, Marc Short, the White House legislative affairs director, warned that they should be prepared for additional reports on cabinet secretaries’ expenses, according to a person who attended. Mr. Short said that agencies should assume everything will be made public eventually — and urged the aides to come clean with the president’s staff first.

Additionally, Rick Dearborn, a deputy White House chief of staff tasked with overseeing the cabinet, has been in the president’s cross hairs, according to an aide familiar with the situation. Mr. Dearborn accompanied Mr. Trump on his visit to Alabama last week to support Senator Luther Strange, who lost to Mr. Moore in the state’s Republican primary. On the flight back to Washington, the president lashed out at Mr. Dearborn and White House political director Bill Stepien because he was left supporting a candidate who seemed likely to lose, said the aide who was not authorized to be named.

Two people on the plane insisted the president never chastised his aides. Another adviser said Mr. Dearborn and Mr. Stepien had both cautioned against the trip, but caught Mr. Trump’s wrath once it went badly.

Critics were unmollified by Mr. Price’s departure. “While his resignation ends his time in the government, it does not end the private jet scandal that others in the Trump administration, including Mnuchin, Pruitt and Zinke, find themselves in,” Noah Bookbinder, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a progressive watchdog group, said in a statement.

“This administration,” he added, “seems to believe that the government and the taxpayers serve them rather than the other way around.”

Representative Joseph Crowley of New York, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said the episode demonstrated a lack of judgment in the administration.

“President Trump talked a big game about draining the swamp, yet he continues to surround himself with staff and administration officials who behave as though a separate set of rules apply to them,” he said. “That must end.”

Correction: September 29, 2017 
An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the events leading up to Secretary Price’s resignation. It was President Trump, not former President Barack Obama, who threatened to fire Mr. Price.

IS leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi ‘resurfaces’ in audio clip

News of Baghdadi’s death would seem to have been greatly exaggerated, if a new recording proves genuine. A purported recording of IS leader issues renewed calls for violence from his followers.

 This July 5, 2014 photo shows an image grab taken from a propaganda video released by al-Furqan Media allegedly showing the leader of the Islamic State (IS) jihadist group, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, aka Caliph Ibrahim, adressing Muslim worshippers at a mosque in the militant-held northern Iraqi city of Mosul. (Getty Images/AFP)

An outlet of the so-called “Islamic State” (IS) on Thursday released an audio recording purportedly of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.

In June Russia had claimed that Baghdadi was most likely dead following an aistrike outside Raqqa. That was one of several claims that the preacher had died.

In the new 46-minute recording Baghdadi calls on his followers around the world to wage attacks against the West and to keep fighting in Iraq, Syria and elsewhere.

Read more: Who is the ‘Islamic State’ leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?

“Beware of retreat, or the feeling of defeat, beware of negotiations or surrender. Do not lay down your arms,” Baghdadi said, referring to followers in Iraq, Syria, Saudi Arabia, North Africa and elsewhere in Africa.

Baghdadi reminded his followers of the rewards of martyrdom, which he said include “72 wives” in paradise and told them to fight against the “Crusaders and the apostates.”

The recording date was not entirely clear, but Baghdadi seems to reference recent events such as North Korea’s threats against Japan and the US and the recapture of Mosul by US-backed Iraqi forces two months ago.

Read more: ‘Islamic State’: Will it survive a post-caliphate future?

US working to verify recording

The recording was released by the extremist group’s al-Furqan outlet, which has published his messages before.

The US State Department said it was still trying to verify the recording, but suggested it could be real.

“We are aware of the audio tape purported to be of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi and are taking steps to examine it,” an intelligence community source said in a statement to AFP news agency.

“While we have no reason to doubt its authenticity, we do not have verification at this point.”

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told AFP: “I have no information about this recording.”

The US increased its bounty for the IS leader in December to $25 million (€€21 million) from $10 million.

A senior US general said earlier this month that Baghdadi was probably hiding in the Euphrates River valley that stretches from Syria to Iraq.

Read more: ‘Islamic State’ chief al-Baghdadi probably still alive: US general

Russian-backed and US-backed forces are waging battle against IS on both sides of the river in Syria.

On Thursday, the US conducted its first airstrikes in Libya since President Donald Trump took over,targeting IS forces camped out in the desert near Sirte. Some militants were wounded and others were arrested and some “materials” seized, Sadiq Al-Sour, head of investigations for the Libyan Attorney General’s office, told a news conference in Tripoli.

In Egypt’s northern Sinai, an IS affiliate group is still fighting Egyptian military forces.

aw/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

Watch video05:42

Germany: A Syrian on the trail of IS

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Tom Price resigns over private jet scandal

The US Secretary of Health and Human Services has been dogged with scandal after it was revealed he spent vast sums of public money on private jets. The US president said he did not ‘like the optics’ of the scandal.

 US Health Secretary Tom Price (C) reacts after delivering his speech on the opening day of the World Health Assembly (Getty Images/AFP/F. Coffrini)

Embattled US Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned on Friday, the White House announced.

Price had been heavily criticized for his use of private charter flights for official government business.

Price used costly private aircraft on 26 separate occasions costing taxpayers $400,000 (340,000 euros), according to news outlet Politico.

He attempted to rectify the scandal by paying back a fraction of the total cost.

US President Donald Trump warned on Friday he was considering Price’s future.

“I don’t like the optics,” Trump said.”I’m not happy, I can tell you I’m not happy.”

The trips were ostensibly official business, but they included destinations where Price owns property.

Price is the first cabinet member to leave the administration, from which several high-ranking aides have already been ousted. Price served less than eight months.

The scandal prompted a broad investigation of the travel expenses of top political appointees.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was also put under the spotlight for his use of three charter flights since taking office in March, including a $12,375 late-night flight from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana. He dismissed the controversy on Friday as “a little BS over travel.”

More to come…

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Iraq imposes flight ban on Kurdish airports in response to independence referendum

An overwhelming majority of Iraqi Kurds voted for independence in Monday’s referendum. But the Iraqi central government in Baghdad is cracking down on Kurdish leaders in a bid to force them to annul that decision.

Irak Erbil International Airport in irakische Kurdistan (picture-alliance/dpa/Sputnik/V. Sergeev)

An international flight ban enacted by the central Iraqi government against cities in Iraq’s northern Kurdish region came into effect Friday evening amid rising tensions following Monday’s controversial vote for Kurdish independence.

The ban took effect at 6 p.m. local time (1600 UTC) and covers all international flights to Iraqi Kurdistan’s capital city, Irbil, and its second-largest city, Sulaimaniya. Domestic flights will continue as normal, the Iraqi ministry of transport said today.

Iraqi prime minister Haider al-AbadiIraqi prime minister al-Abadi had warned that Iraq would impose the ban if Kurdish leaders did not hand over control of local airports to Iraqi authorities

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi had announced on Wednesday that his government would institute the ban within three days if leaders from the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) did not hand over control of local airports to Iraqi authorities.

The KRG refused to meet that demand and has criticized Baghdad for pursuing “unlawful” measures that amount to “collective punishment.”

“The Irbil and Sulaimaniya airports belong to Kurdistan,” KRG Transport Minister Mawlood Bawa Murad said Wednesday. “The demand of the Iraqi government to hand over airports is inappropriate and incorrect.”

Read more: Iraq warns Kurds as they claim victory in independence vote

KRG leader Massud Barzani had called on the central government to join negotiations about Kurdistan’s future after more than 90 percent of Kurdish voters opted for secession on Monday. Baghdad should “not to close the door to dialogue because it is dialogue that will solve problems,” Barzani said Tuesday.

Most regional and several international carriers have said they will halt flights to the region. Well-known airlines Egypt Air, Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Lufthansa, and Austrian Airlines have all announced flight cancellations.

Speaker of the IKRG Independent High Election and Referendum Commission Hindirin Mohammed declares Kurdish independence referendum results.The Kurdish electoral commission said over 90 percent of voters opted for independence in Monday’s referendum.

No oil, few friends

The KRG has found itself increasingly isolated as Baghdad and other neighboring countries with large Kurdish populations have pressed for the referendum result to be annulled.

Turkey said Thursday that it would start dealing exclusively with Baghdad on oil sales. The KRG could lose up to 80 percent of revenue if Turkey decides to halt imports of Iraqi oil via a pipeline that runs through Iraqi Kurdistan.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim has said however that Ankara would only institute targeted oil sanctions against individuals responsible for holding the referendum to avoid impacting civilians in the region. He did not give further details on how the sanctions would spare civilians.

Turkey is home to the largest Kurdish population in the region and Ankara fears that Monday’s vote may bolster Turkish Kurds’ calls for independence. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that any move toward independence would risk an “ethnic war.”

Read more: Opinion: Kurds find few friends in independence referendum

Both Turkey and Baghdad have signaled a willingness to intervene militarily in the KRG if Kurdish leaders do not back down.

Infografik Karte Kurdische Siedlungsgebiete ENG

On Wednesday, the Iraqi parliament asked Prime Minister al-Abadi to use the Iraqi army to retake the oil fields in Kirkuk, an area that the KRG has only controlled since 2014, but that it included in the independence referendum.

The prime minister has so far held off sending troops into the area. However, the Iraqi military has conducted joint military drills with Turkey along the Iraqi Kurdistan border and Baghdad has said it also sent a delegation to Iran, which also opposes Kurdish independence, “to coordinate military efforts.”

Turkey and Iran have also reportedly conducted joint military exercises along their respective borders with the KRG.

The US, the European Union, and the United Nations have all criticized the referendum, saying it risks destabilizing an already volatile region.

Read more: The Middle East’s complex Kurdish landscape

amp/kms (AP, Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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Kurdish independence vote sparks backlash

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