Donald Trump and the Iran nuclear deal – a crisis in the making

As the world grapples with a nuclear-armed North Korea, the Trump administration is working to terminate the Iran nuclear deal. The catch is, it works and prevents a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

The roadmap for Iran is exchanged

US President Donald Trump has exactly one month, namely until October 15, to confirm to Congress that Iran is complying with the nuclear agreement. He has to do so every 90 days, as stipulated by the so-called Corker-Cardin law. It was passed by a largely Iran-critical Congress in 2015 to ensure lawmakers had a permanent say in US dealings with Iran. If the president fails to certify that Iran is in compliance with the nuclear agreement, Congress has 60 days to reinstitute sanctions against the country. This would equate to the US de facto leaving the nuclear treaty, which could possibly spark a nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

Thus far, Trump has certified twice that Iran is adhering to the nuclear deal, albeit reluctantly. Now, growing evidence suggests he does not intend to recertify the deal in mid-October. Not only did he tell the Wall Street Journal on July 25 that he would be “surprised if they were in compliance.” Trump also added that he would, if necessary, ignore his aides’ recommendations and even those expressed by the State Department. Trump has meanwhile tasked his own White House working group with producing arguments that Iran is not complying with deal.

Watch video02:05

In 2016 US and EU lifted sanctions on Iran (17.01.2016)

Opposition to nuclear deal

That the Trump administration is intent on canceling the Iran nuclear deal also became evident recently at the conservative American Enterprise Institute (AEI) think tank, which played an important role in drumming up support in the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War. On September 5, Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, held a speech at the AEI on Iran and the nuclear deal, dismissing the nuclear treaty and Iran as an untrustworthy partner. Haley erroneously claimed that “Iran has been caught in multiple violations over the past year and a half.”

Indeed, Iran did slightly exceed the agreed limits for heavy water, twice. Heavy water is used to moderate certain types of nuclear reactors. After talks with its treaty partners, Iran agreed to immediately export excess heavy water. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is tasked with monitoring the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), has consequently certified again and again that Iran is adhering to the conditions of the nuclear deal. The IAEA last did so on August 31, just five days prior to Haley’s speech. Haley herself had visited the IAEA in Vienna in late August, insisting on tougher inspections that include military facilities.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of Iran's nuclear authority, visits a nuclear power academyAli Akbar Salehi, head of Iran’s nuclear authority, visits a nuclear power academy

Most closely monitored non-nuclear state

The JCPOA does not, however, allow for inspections “everywhere and at all times,” as Haley demands. The IAEA may inspect previously agreed sites and can undertake inspections “where and when” evidence points to a treaty breach. So far, Iran has rejected not a single inspection request. In a study published in July, the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) thus declared Iran the world’s “most closely monitored non-nuclear state.” And IAEA director Yukiya Amano recently attested that “Iran is subject to the world’s most robust nuclear verification regime. Our inspectors are on the ground 24/7. We monitor nuclear facilities, using permanently installed cameras and other equipment.”

Haley’s talk at the AEI deliberately mixed up JCPOA stipulations with Iranian rocket tests, regional conflicts and human rights issues. Yet the Iran nuclear deal was never intended to pertain to anything other than Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It was solely designed to compel Iran to abandon its nuclear arms program, which it has succeeded in doing. Furthermore, the deal could allow Iran to return to the international community. This has only been a partial success. And so Iran has been able to improve its strategic position markedly in the previous two years, to the frustration of the US and some of its allies.

But a paper published on September 6 by the Soufan Group, a private strategic security intelligence consultant, draws a surprising conclusion: Easing JCPOA sanctions is not to blame. Instead, Iran’s regional clout can be mainly explained by the strategic mistakes of its enemies. Chiefly, Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen and its conflict with Qatar.

Watch video00:36

Trump: Iran must never be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon

Misinterpreted German intelligence

This does not hinder Iran’s enemies from also utilizing reports by Germany’s domestic intelligence service to attack the nuclear deal. In early July, the Washington-based Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) referred to Hamburg’s domestic intelligence service to claim that Iran was planning to purchase nuclear material in Germany. The claim was soon cited in other US media. These Iranian attempts to acquire nuclear material, however, dated back to 2009 – long before the nuclear deal was agreed.

German authorities had tried to clarify the timing of these Iranian plans, according to Mark Fitzpatrick. The director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) urged the German authorities to “further clarify this context.” Fitzpatrick is optimistic that the JCPOA will endure, despite the Trump administration’s stance and a largely critical Congress. That, he told DW, is because Iran has declared it will honor the nuclear agreement even if the US leaves, provided the other treaty partners – the European Union, Great Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia – don’t abandon the treaty. This affords the EU a significant role, says Fitzpatrick.

Europeans have reiterated their support for the Iranian nuclear deal. One day after Haley’s talk, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le-Drian expressed concern that the Trump administration was putting the nuclear deal in question. And EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini has stressed that “the nuclear deal doesn’t belong to one country; it belongs to the international community.”

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Courtesy, DW

Trump’s Afghanistan plan: Can it actually work?

Trump acknowledges flip-flop on Afghanistan
Trump acknowledges flip-flop on Afghanistan 00:45

(CNN)On Monday night, President Donald Trump unveiled his new strategy for American involvement in Afghanistan — a country that has been the stage for a seemingly unwinnable war for 16 years.

There was not much in terms of specifics, though Trump did reveal that more US troops would be deployed and the military would have more freedom to fight America’s opponents as it sees fit. He also singled out Pakistan as part of the problem — implying that unless the Pakistanis stopped providing safety for terrorists, they might lose financial aid from the United States.
Perhaps the most significant revelation was Trump’s desire to find a political solution to end the war — one that includes bringing the Taliban to the negotiating table.

What’s new in Trump’s plan?

Trump’s Afghanistan plan
  • Five key pillars of Trump’s plan
  • OPINION: The view from Islamabad
The new plan for American engagement in Afghanistan that Trump announced is — until he puts more meat on the bones — the same old plan, only with less accountability to Washington.
Yes, Trump more publicly called out Pakistan as being part of the problem. But he failed to lay out any serious detail, making it hard to see exactly now this plan differs from existing US policy and how it will succeed where the old one failed.
On the other hand, the lack of clarity may keep the enemy guessing: no drawdown dates, no troop numbers, only the threat that the enemy cannot win on the battlefield.

How realistic is it?

Trump said: “Someday after an effective military effort, perhaps it will be possible to have a political settlement that includes elements of the Taliban in Afghanistan.”
A political solution to the fight with the Taliban is the only realistic way for US forces to leave Afghanistan and not give a free hand to al Qaeda and ISIS. In acknowledging this, it is clear that Trump is now listening to the advice of his generals.
If you listened carefully, you’ll have noticed that Trump differentiated between his enemies. This is key to leaving the door open for a political deal with the Taliban. He said that his objectives are to “obliterate ISIS,” “crush al Qaeda” and “prevent the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan.”
The Taliban have responded by seemingly leaving the door open for talks. They couched their threat to keep fighting the United States by saying, “If the US keeps following a war strategy, we will keep fighting them.” That careful use of the word “if” may come to be incredibly important.

Will the tough talk on Pakistan work?

Pakistan fears that India would like Afghanistan to become a client state on the Pakistani border.
Pakistan has long supported the Afghan Taliban to prevent this from happening and as a result has a controlling influence in the Afghan government.
Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Taliban have complained that Pakistan has prevented their efforts at negotiating peace on their own terms.
Trump’s demand that Pakistan stop offering a haven to criminals, terrorists and other groups is not new.
Trump: US in Afghanistan to kill terrorists
Trump: US in Afghanistan to kill terrorists 00:54
But when the United States has previously blamed Pakistan for supporting the Taliban — and in particular the Haqqani network — it has not worked out so well: Vital US troop resupply routes that run through Pakistan have been shut down, local tribes have protested and the government has closed the border.
In such situations, the United States has turned to Russia for help. Russia has allowed resupply trains to run across its territory to Afghanistan. But the Russia route is not ideal because it takes much longer — supplies can take more than a month to arrive, as opposed to days from Pakistani ports.
And the political situation today means that Russia is far less likely to allow United States the luxury of a backup path for supplies, should Pakistan close its borders again.

What does success look like?

Success for the United States in Afghanistan would be a negotiated political solution that sees the Taliban as a political entity in the Afghan government.
It is something the Taliban have demanded in the past. The group is seeking ministerial places as well as senior positions in the army.
The Taliban are a national force that has a nationalist agenda, unlike al Qaeda and ISIS, which both have international ambitions.
Recognizing that — as Trump appears to have — is key. Certainly, it wouldn’t guarantee success, but it would help create conditions where success may be possible.
Haley: Trump listened to his generals
Haley: Trump listened to his generals 01:32
It would certainly require more diplomatic heavy lifting than the United States has managed in the past. The Taliban have a vested interest in seeing ISIS defeated and al Qaeda diminished — both are threats.
Both groups share a broadly common conservative Islamic philosophy and, to a significant degree, their fighters in Afghanistan and Pakistan are drawn from the same Pashtun ethnic group, with similarly strong cultural beliefs. This makes it even more important for the Taliban to gain recognition as a political force to represent their community and shut down sympathy for ISIS and al Qaeda.
And that’s the Taliban’s value to the Afghan government and to Trump: to co-opt them into denying territory to terrorists.

What will it take to achieve the plan?

Trust between all parties is central to this plan working.
Pakistan will have to feel that it can trust the United States to act in Pakistan’s interest as well as its own — something that will be complicated because of Trump’s huge appeal in India.
First, the United States cannot afford to make any mistakes — by this we mean civilian casualties that further damage its reputation. Second, it needs to practice quiet diplomacy and try to build a working relationship with the Taliban — which has suffered the most from American intervention.
India has to hold its venom on Pakistan, which it came close to doing in its statement Tuesday responding to Trump’s address.
And the Afghan government needs to win the confidence of its own people through curbing corruption and cronyism.
This is the only way it can build an army that thinks it has a country worth fighting for.
The fate of Afghanistan has always been in the hands of the generals who are invading it.
Trump’s announcement Monday night has done nothing to change this.
Courtesy, CNN

What are Venezuela’s proposed constitutional changes?

Venezuela has been in the grip of mass protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s plans to create a “constituent assembly.” Ahead of the Sunday vote, DW looks at the beleaguered president’s constitutional proposals.

Watch video00:39

Venezuela moves ahead with election despite violence

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro’s push for a special assembly to rewrite the country’s constitution has provoked international criticism and anger from the South American nation’s opposition groups. More than 100 people have died in anti-government protests since Maduro announced his plans in May.

Maduro, however, is bent on going ahead with creating a “constituent assembly” to “achieve the peace needed by the republic, defeat the fascist coup and let the sovereign people impose peace, harmony and true national dialogue.”

The Sunday vote will determine whether Maduro succeeds in his plans. The country’s electoral council, which is dominated by Maduro’s supporters, has created a voting system that critics say heavily favors the ruling party.

Watch video01:41

Deadly clashes in Venezuela as crisis deepens

Venezuelan opposition says Maduro could use the new assembly to install an autocratic regime.

Read: Pope Francis calls for ‘diplomatic solution’ to end violence in Venezuela

Proposed constitutional changes

What remains unclear is what constitutional changes the president is seeking. Maduro has only spoken about it in vague terms. But this is what could be in the offing:

– The new assembly is likely to create a peace and justice commission that would ensure those responsible for ongoing protests and political upheaval be dealt with effectively.

– Legislators in the National Assembly, controlled by opposition members, could be stripped of their immunity from prosecution.

– Not only will the National Constituent Assembly rewrite Venezuela’s constitution; it will also have more powers than the National Assembly.

– The next presidential vote is set for next year, but the constituent assembly could postpone it.

– The assembly is certain to continue the socialist policies first installed by Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez.

Read: Venezuela police beat journalists, anti-Maduro protesters

Unpopular vote

Only 23 percent of Venezuelans favor the new assembly plans, according to a June survey by polling firm Datanalisis. Nineteen percent said a new constitution would “guarantee peace and stability” in the country.

Earlier this month, more than 7.5 million people had rejected Maduro’s proposals in an unofficial referendum organized by opposition parties.

The United States and the European Union have slammed Maduro’s proposed measures and have threatened to further isolate the socialist regime.

shs/  (AP, Reuters)

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San Francisco federal appeals court upholds block on Trump’s travel ban

A federal court has upheld a lower court ruling that bars US President Trump’s revised travel ban on six countries. The judges did not address whether the ban violated the constitution by discriminating against Muslims.

Watch video00:44

Court upholds freeze on travel ban

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The US president has blasted the Justice Department for submitting a ‘watered-down’ version of his proposed travel order to the Supreme Court. He called it a ‘travel ban,’ even though that may well hurt his legal case. (05.06.2017)

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Monday against reviving US President Donald Trump’s revised travel ban on people from six Muslim-majority nations.

The San Francisco-based federal court rejected Washington’s attempt to undo a Hawaii federal judge’s decision to block Trump’s executive order, saying that the president violated US immigration law by discriminating against people based on their nationality.

The three judge panel acknowledged the president’s ability to oversee immigration policy, but noted in their opinion that “immigration, even for the president, is not a one-person show.”

They said that Trump had “exceeded the scope of the authority delegated to him by Congress” under immigration law.

Burden of proof

Furthermore, the three-judge panel said that Trump failed to prove that travelers entering the US from Libya, Iran, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen would hurt American interests.

The judges, however, did not rule on whether the president’s order was an unconstitutional discrimination against Muslims.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer asserted on Monday that the order was “fully lawful” and said the administration was reviewing the court’s decision.

“We can all attest these are very dangerous times and we need every available tool at our disposal to prevent terrorists from entering the United States and conducting acts of bloodshed and violence,” Spicer said.

Watch video01:02

Merkel’s statement on Trump’s travel ban (10.03.2017)

Supreme Court decision pending

The ruling was another legal setback for the Trump administration as the Supreme Court considers a separate case on the issue.

On May 25, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Maryland judge’s ruling that also blocked Trump’s 90-day ban, saying that the order “drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination” against Muslims.

Even prior to Monday’s ruling, the 4th Circuit decision was on the fast track to the Supreme Court after the Trump administration appealed the ruling in an emergency request on June 1.

Trump’s revised ban in March was his second attempt to impose restrictions on people traveling from Muslim-majority countries. The first executive order, issued on January 27 led to chaos and protests at several airports before being blocked by the courts.

Trump’s second order sought to resolve the legal issues present in the original ban, but was blocked before it could go into effect on March 16.

rs/jm (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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German Foreign Minister Gabriel talks up NAFTA and free, fair trade in Mexico

In the week that the US President began the process of overhauling the NAFTA trade accord, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has spoken in favor of free and fair trade. Germany is Mexico’s main EU trading partner.

Watch video00:32

German FM Gabriel backs NAFTA in Mexico visit

After a visit to the US this week, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel crossed the border into Mexico to speak in favor of free and fair trade.

“In our view the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is an agreement that doesn’t just serve Canada and Mexico, but also the United States,” Gabriel said at a news conference with his Mexican counterpart, Luis Videgaray, on Friday.

Mexiko Gabriel und Videgaray Caso in Mexiko-Stadt (picture alliance/dpa/B. von Jutrczenka)Sigmar Gabriel with his Mexican counterpart Luis Videgaray Caso

NAFTA was set up in 1994 and encouraged multinationals to set up factories in Mexico, the US and Canada, taking advantage of the opportunity to sell products across the free trade area which links 450 million people.

“So we’re trying, also via our visits to the United States, to make clear that a fair agreement isn’t just in the interests of German companies, but also the United States of America,” the minister commented.

AM @sigmargabriel nach Gespräch mit MEX AM @LVidegaray: Wollen uns gemeinsam für die Idee des fairen+freien Welthandels einsetzen.

Both Mexico and Germany run trade surpluses with the United States. In 2016 they both reached more than $60 billion (53 billion euros), according to US data.

Trump has threatened aggressive measures to eliminate the deficit.

In an interview with German newspaper Bild, then-President-elect Trump said in January he would aim to realign Germany’s “out of balance” car trade with the US.

“If you go down Fifth Avenue, everyone has a Mercedes Benz in front of his house, isn’t that the case?” Trump asked in the interview. “How many Chevrolets do you see in Germany? Not very many, maybe none at all … it’s a one-way street.”

Gabriel was asked at the time what Trump could do to encourage German buyers to favor more American cars. He suggested “build better cars.”

Infografik Autoindustrie Mexiko ENGLISCH

Concern for the future

Speaking on Friday, Gabriel told reporters in Mexico City that German firms were concerned about the future of the accord. He urged the US to recognize the benefits NAFTA had brought.

Germany is Mexico’s principal trading partner in the European Union and more than 1,900 companies with German interests, mainly in the automotive and automotive suppliers industries, are registered with the Economics Ministry, according to the Federal Foreign Office. Mexico is a priority country for German cultural relations and education policy and all of Germany’s major cultural organisations are active there.

Multi-issue Chancellor’s visit

Chancellor Angela Merkel is expected to visit Mexico within the coming weeks to discuss trade but also the protection of human rights, press freedom and the challenge of organized crime.

This week, Salvador Adame Pardo, founder and director of Canal 6 Media TV, was kidnapped in the state of Michoacan where he had been working for more than 20 years. His family said he had been receiving threats for some time.

This followed the killings of Mexican journalists Javier Valdez y Jonathan Rodríguez just a few days before.

3rd Mexican journalist attacked this week: Salvador Adame Pardo, Michoacán station owner, journalist, kidnapped now http://www.univision.com/noticias/america-latina/secuestran-al-periodista-mexicano-salvador-adame-pardo-en-michoacan 

Photo published for Secuestran al periodista mexicano Salvador Adame Pardo en Michoacán

Secuestran al periodista mexicano Salvador Adame Pardo en Michoacán

La desaparición del comunicador ocurre a unos días de que el presidente Enrique Peña Nieto anunció el incremento de medidas de protección para la prensa mexicana.

univision.com

jm/gsw (EFE, Reuters)

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Trump’s woes at home mount as he travels abroad

As President Donald Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia for his first foreign tour, US media reports have kept the focus on his White House and relations to Russia. Senators say fired FBI head Comey will testify in Congress.

Donald Trump, Melania Trump (picture alliance/AP Photo/E.Vucci)

The New York Times has reported that President Trump told Russian officials that his firing of former FBI Director James Comey had eased “great pressure” Trump faced.

The newspaper cited a document detailing the White House meeting Trump held with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to Washington in the Oval Office the day after he fired Comey.

“I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Trump said on May 10, according to the paper. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The New York Times cited an unnamed US official as its source for receiving the comments, which had been taken down in notes summarizing the meeting.

Other news reports have alleged Trump had previously asked Comey to stop the investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. On Thursday, the Justice Department said a special counsel had been appointed to look into allegations of Russian interference in last year’s election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign.

USA Richard Burr Senator (Getty Images/G. Demczuk)Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr

Comey has agreed to testify before the Senate intelligence committee, although a date has not yet been set, according to the committee’s chairman, Senator Richard Burr.

Burr said on Friday the former FBI director would testify in an open setting before the committee which wanted to know from Comey about his role in the assessment Russia interfered in last year’s election and his response to questions that have arisen since his dismissal.

White House response

In response to the latest reports on Friday, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer again rejected the allegations and said, “A thorough investigation will confirm that there was no collusion between the campaign and any foreign entity.”

Spicer said of the former FBI director: “by grandstanding and politicizing the investigation into Russia’s actions, James Comey created unnecessary pressure on our ability to engage and negotiate with Russia.”

USA Donald Trump und James Comey (Getty Images/A. Harrer)President Trump with former FBI Director James Comey in January

A person of interest

In a separate news report on Friday, the Washington Post claimed that a senior White House adviser was a person of significant interest in the investigation into possible ties between Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

The Post said the source of its information would not further identify the official, who was described as being a person close to Trump. The report claimed the investigation appeared to be entering a more open and active phase, with investigators conducting interviews and using a grand jury to issue subpoenas.

The president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson all have acknowledged contacts with Russian officials.

Capitol reaction

House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in response to the reports “every day the president gives us more reason to believe that he does not respect the office that he holds.” She expressed optimism ahead of 2018 midterm elections, which could return Democrats back to control of the House.

Elijah Cummings, the senior Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, said the panel should request White House documents related to the May 10 meeting and subpoena them if necessary. Cummings called Trump’s reported comment “astonishing and extremely troubling.”

Trump himself left Washington on Friday for his first international trip, beginning in Saudi Arabia. Air Force One took off with the president, first lady Melania Trump, his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as well as senior advisers and journalists. The group will then travel to Israel, the Vatican, Brussels and Sicily.

jm/gsw (Reuters, AP)

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President Trump declares US withdrawal from TPP trade pact

The new US president has signed an executive order to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership with 12 Asian countries, warning US businesses that they face penalties if they moved production outside the country.

USA steigen aus Transpazifik-Handelsabkommen aus (Reuters/K. Lamarque)

Donald Trump has started to unravel the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal with Asia he inherited from his predecessor, as he signed an executive order on Monday to withdraw from the negotiating process. The new US president had vowed during his election campaign to withdraw the US from TPP which he argued was harmful to American workers and manufacturing.

The TPP was negotiated under former President Barack Obama, but never ratified by Congress. Trump’s withdrawal from it will not have an immediate effect on US economic policies, although it does signal a new and very different American outlook on trade under the Trump administration.

‘Border tax’ threat

Earlier on Monday, Donald Trump also reiterated threats to impose a significant “border tax” on companies that move production of products outside of the US to other countries.

Watch video01:43

How far will Trump’s protectionism go?

During a meeting in Washington, he told the chief executives of Ford, Dow Chemical, Dell Technologies, and Tesla that companies were welcome to negotiate with governors to move production between US states. But those businesses that choose to move factories abroad would pay a price.

“We are going to be imposing a very major border tax on the product when it comes in,” the US president warned, adding: “A company that wants to fire all of its people in the United States, and build some factory someplace else, and then thinks that that product is going to just flow across the border into the United States – that’s not going to happen.”

Carrot and stick

At the same meeting, however, Trump said he would seek to cut corporate taxes to the 15 to 20 percent range – down from current statutory levels of 35 percent.

In addition, the new US president promised to cut regulations, saying business leaders had told him that reducing those was “even more important.”

“We think we can cut regulations by 75 percent. Maybe more,” he told business leaders in the Roosevelt Room of the White House.

Trump said that regulations regarding worker safety would be “just as strong” and “just as protective of the people,” adding that current regulations, however, “make it impossible to get anything built.”

He also said he planned to hold meetings with American CEOs on a quarterly basis or whenever they wanted to in order to address their concerns.

uhe/mds (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

 

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