North Korea issues threat ahead of UN sanctions vote

North Korea has said the US will pay a heavy price if the UN Security Council passes a new round of sanctions against Pyongyang. If approved, the sanctions would be the toughest ever issued against North Korea.

Nordkorea Kim Jong Un Armee Offiziere (Reuters/KCNA)

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement early on Monday saying that it was “ready and willing” to respond with its own measures should a new round of sanctions be approved later in the day.

Watch video01:04

China was North Korea’s last major trading partner.

Pyongyang is “ready and willing to use any form of ultimate means,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that the country could cause the US “the greatest pain and suffering it had ever gone through in its entire history.”

The UN Security Council is due to vote on Monday afternoon, New York time, on a draft proposal of sanctions against the reclusive state.

Should they be approved, the measures would be the toughest sanctions ever passed against Pyongyang.

The Washington-drafted sanctions reportedly include a proposal to freeze leader Kim Jong Un’s assets and to place a ban on all oil and natural gas exports to the country.

“The U.S. is trying to use the DPRK’s legitimate self-defensive measures as an excuse to strangle and completely suffocate it,” the North’s statement said, using the acronym for the country’s formal name.

Read more: A closer look at which countries trade with North Korea

Infografik Nordkorea Import Export Partner ENG

Security Council due to vote

It was not clear whether veto-holding Russia and China would support the sanctions.

Prior UN sanctions resolutions have taken weeks or months of negations between the US and China, but the Trump administration demanded a quick turnaround for the vote.

The sanctions are in response to North Korea’s ongoing nuclear weapon and missile programs and its latest nuclear test.

On September 3, Pyongyang tested what it claimed was a hydrogen bomb in the most powerful nuclear test conducted by the country so far.

Read more: US-South Korea military drills – an unnecessary provocation of Kim Jong Un?

Infografik Kronologie Atomwaffentests Nordkorea ENG

A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by the US, Britain, France, Russia or China to pass. Washington circulated its draft resolution to the 15-member council last Wednesday.

The UN imposed its most severe round of sanctions against North Korea just weeks ago, which included a complete ban on coal and iron exports as well as blocking international sales of North Korean seafood and lead ore.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leaders have expressed doubt over whether sanctions are an effective way to get the North to stop its missile tests. Beijing has repeatedly hesitated in the past to fully support US sanction plans.

Read more: North Korea: Germany, China back ‘peaceful’ dialogue

In an interview published Sunday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel also stressed the importance of diplomacy in defusing tensions with Pyongyang. She also offered to facilitate the talks if needed.

“If our participation in talks is wanted, I will say yes immediately,” she told the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung newspaper.

rs/jm (AP, dpa, Reuters)

Watch video02:19

Putin warns of global ‘catastrophe’ over N Korea conflict

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US pushes for new UN sanctions to slash North Korean export revenue

A new UN Security Council resolution drafted by the US aims to ban North Korean trade in coal, iron, lead and seafood. There was reportedly “high confidence” among that the resolution would be backed by Russia and China.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-UnNorth Korean leader Kim Jong Un pictured during military drills earlier this year

The UN Security Council is due to vote on Saturday over whether to toughen sanctions against North Korea, depriving the reclusive state of around $1 billion (850 million euro) in export revenue.

The draft resolution, which was circulated to the 15-member Security Council on Friday, would also halt countries from increasing the number of North Korean laborers working abroad, ban any new joint business ventures with the North Korean regime and ban fresh investment into such existing ventures.

Read more: US issues to ban travel to North Korea

Finally, the North’s Foreign Trade Bank, the country’s main clearing house, would be added to the UN’s sanctions blacklist.

Watch video00:31

Tillerson on North Korea: ‘We do not seek regime change’

Egypt, which currently holds the Security Council’s rotating presidency, confirmed that a vote on the draft resolution was scheduled for 3 pm local time in New York City (1900 UTC).

According to a council diplomat speaking to major news agencies on condition of anonymity, the US has been negotiating the proposed measures with China, Pyongyang’s principal ally and trading partner, since the North launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICMB) test on July 4.

However, those talks have gained in urgency over the past week, after a second ICBM test raised fears that Pyongyang could soon possess missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

“These are export sectors where this money is viewed as a critical, critical source of hard currency that the North immediately turns around into its fantastically expensive war machine and these just amazingly expensive ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs,” the diplomatic source said.

The resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes from the council’s permanent members – the US, China, Russia, France and Britain – to be adopted.

Read more: Which US cities could North Korea’s ballistic missile hit?

Crucially, the draft text stopped short of curbing oil imports into North Korea, which would likely have dealt a massive blow to the country’s already cash-starved economy. Such a move would have faced a probable veto from China and Russia, who have vowed to not to support any measures that risk worsening North Korea’s humanitarian crisis.

Watch video01:22

North Korean economy grows nearly 4%

Chinese and Russian backing essential

The diplomatic source said there was “high confidence” that China and Russia would be on board with the latest series of sanctions, which would make it the seventh sanctions resolution passed since North Korea’s first nuclear test in 2006.

Read more: Sent from North Korea, exploited in Poland

However, Russia has rejected assessments that Pyongyang’s latest tests saw the launch of long-range ICBMs, arguing that the missiles were medium-range. That, coupled with worsening relations between Moscow and Washington, could see negotiations over North Korean sanctions hampered.

Infografik North Korea's missile ranges

However, the fact that the proposal is expected to be voted on Saturday indicates that negotiations between the US and China have gone well, despite US President Donald Trump criticizing Beijing for not having done more to rein in North Korea.

When it comes to new sanctions being imposed on North Korea, both sides generally come to an agreement first before involving other Security Council members.

Nevertheless, differing views remain on how to handle North Korea’s military threat. The US, along with its European allies, as well as Japan and South Korea, maintain that increased sanctions are needed to force Pyongyang to halt its weapons program.

China and Russia, meanwhile, insist that talks are necessary, and sanctions alone will do nothing to alter North Korea’s behavior.

dm/gsw (afp, Reuters, AP)

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Tillerson in Beijing set to talk on North Korea, South China Sea

Rex Tillerson, the U.S. Secretary of State, arrived in Beijing on Saturday for a face-to-face meeting with a China official who last week likened the U.S., South Korea and North Korea to speeding trains ready to hit each other.

Tillerson’s visit followed his remarks in South Korea on Friday in which he warned that pre-emptive military action against North Korea might be necessary if the threat from their weapons program reaches a level “that we believe requires action.”

China, the North’s biggest source of diplomatic support and economic assistance, has yet to respond to his remarks, although Beijing has called repeatedly for steps to reduce tensions.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, with whom Tillerson was due to meet on Saturday afternoon, spoke about the tension between the countries. He said, “The question is: Are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?” Wang told reporters. “Our priority now is to flash the red light and apply the brakes on both trains.”

Wang said North Korea could suspend its nuclear and missile activities in exchange for a halt in joint U.S.-South Korea military drills, a proposal swiftly shot down by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, who said Washington has to see “some sort of positive action” from North Korea before it can take leader Kim Jong Un seriously.

Tillerson: Nothing is off the table in dealing with N. Korea

Tillerson’s comments in Seoul that “all of the options are on the table,” including possible military action, are likely to be deeply disconcerting to Beijing, which fears that a collapse of Kim’s regime would send waves of refugees into northeastern China and land South Korean and American forces on its border.

China has agreed reluctantly to U.N. Security Council resolutions sanctioning North Korea, while calling for renewed dialogue under the Beijing-sponsored six-nation format that broke down in 2009.

In a further sign of its frustration with Pyongyang, China last month banned imports of North Korean coal for the rest of the year, potentially depriving Kim’s regime of a key source of foreign currency.

Past U.S. administrations have considered military force because of North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile to deliver them, but rarely has that option been expressed so explicitly as by Tillerson.

North Korea has accelerated its weapons development, violating multiple Security Council resolutions without being deterred by sanctions. The North conducted two nuclear test explosions and 24 ballistic missile tests last year. Experts say it could have a nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the U.S. within a few years.

China has stridently opposed the deployment of a U.S. missile defense system to South Korea, saying its X-band radar can peer deep into China to monitor flights and rocket launches. The U.S. says it’s a system focused on North Korea. China sees it as a threat to its own security.

Tillerson’s visit to Beijing is the final stop on his three-nation swing through Northeast Asia, which began in Japan. State Department officials have described it as a “listening tour” as the administration seeks a coherent North Korea policy, well-coordinated with its Asian partners.

In Beijing, he is also expected to discuss China’s claim to virtually the entire South China Sea, including its building of islands atop coral reefs, complete with airstrips and military installations.

During his confirmation hearings in January, Tillerson compared China’s island-building and deployment of military assets to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, and suggesting China’s access to the island should not be allowed.

While President Donald Trump during his campaign pledged to slap 45 percent tariffs on imports from China and label the country a currency manipulator, there has been little sign of his doing either. His pick for U.S. trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, has said he would use a “multi-faceted approach” to cracking down on Chinese trade abuses.

Tillerson’s trip is also expected to highlight the Trump administration’s lack of concern with human rights abroad, formerly a key element of U.S. policy toward China and a major irritant for Beijing.

In a departure from past practice, Tillerson skipped the launch of an annual report on human rights last week that cited numerous abuses by China. He has also said the U.S. would not continue participating in the U.N. Human Rights Council unless it undergoes “considerable reform.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Trump administration: ‘We are officially putting Iran on notice’

 

Media captionDonald Trump repeated the remarks of his National Security Advisor Michael Flynn

President Donald Trump says the US is putting Iran formally “on notice” after the country tested a ballistic missile.

He was echoing the comments of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who has accused the Iranian government of “malign actions” over the test.

Washington earlier declared the test to be “absolutely unacceptable”.

Iran confirmed on Wednesday it had tested a missile over the weekend but denied violating a UN Security Council resolution on its nuclear activities.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to the country’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, dismissed the comments, saying: “This is not the first time that an inexperienced person has threatened Iran.”

Reacting to the development on Thursday, Donald Trump tweeted: “Iran has been formally PUT ON NOTICE for firing a ballistic missile. Should have been thankful for the terrible deal the U.S. made with them!”

The president’s national security adviser had said the same in a daily press briefing on Wednesday, but did not provide any further details of what actions the US may be planning in response to the test.

‘Destabilising behaviour’

Pentagon officials say the missile test had failed upon re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere.

The launch prompted the US to accuse Iran of violating UN resolution 2231, which “calls upon” Iran not to “undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles designed to be capable of delivering nuclear weapons”.

The measure formed part of the resolution which endorsed the 2015 nuclear deal agreed by Iran with six world powers.

Mr Flynn did not accuse Tehran of violating that nuclear accord, but he did describe the Obama administration-brokered deal as “weak and ineffective”.

“Instead of being thankful to the United States for these agreements, Iran is now feeling emboldened,” he said.

He said “the Obama administration failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions – including weapons transfers, support for terrorism and other violations of international norms”.

Mr Flynn also pointed to a recent attack against a Saudi warship by Iranian-backed Houthi militants as evidence of “Iran’s destabilising behaviour across the Middle East”.

Media captionRebel-controlled al-Masira TV broadcast what it said was footage of the attack on the Saudi warship

During Mr Trump’s campaign for president, he frequently attacked the nuclear pact with Iran, vowing to “dismantle the disastrous deal”.

‘Nobody can influence our decision’

In December 2016, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told an audience at the University of Tehran that he would not allow Mr Trump to “rip up” the deal, Reuters news agency reported.

On Wednesday, Iranian Defence Minister Hossein Dehghan stood by the country’s missile test.

“We have previously announced that we will execute the programmes we have planned in production of defence equipment meant for our national interests and objectives,” Iranian media quoted him as saying.

“Nobody can influence our decision. We will not allow foreigners to interfere in our defence affairs. The test did not violate the nuclear deal or resolution 2231.”

Syria conflict: UN welcomes Russia-Turkey truce efforts

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Children carry balloons before releasing them towards Damascus from the rebel-held suburb of Jobar, 30 DecemberImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionChildren in the rebel-held Damascus suburb of Jobar released balloons during the truce

The UN Security Council has voted to back efforts by Russia and Turkey to end fighting in Syria and plans for fresh peace talks next month.

The resolution, drafted by Russia, also calls for rapid access for humanitarian aid to be delivered across the country.

Turkey and Russia led a ceasefire deal that has mostly held since Thursday.

The resolution helps pave the way for talks in Kazakhstan between the Syrian government and opposition, which have the backing of Russia, Iran and Turkey.

Earlier Syria’s main rebel alliance threatened to abandon the truce by 18:00 GMT if the government continued to attack areas under its control.

The Free Syrian Army (FSA) issued the ultimatum to Russia – Syria’s key ally – amid reports of intense bombardment by government forces on the rebel-held Wadi Barada area of Damascus.

But shelling on the area concerned ceased just minutes before the deadline, the group’s legal adviser, Osama Abu Zeid, said.

The new ceasefire deal applies across Syria but excludes the jihadists of so-called Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham (JFS), and the Kurdish YPG militia.

Questions over resolution text

A final text of the UN resolution dropped the word “endorsed”, stating, instead, that the Security Council “welcomes and supports” efforts by Russia and Turkey to end the crisis in Syria.

It said it had taken note of the documents issued by the two countries, but the French Ambassador to the UN later said the council had not seen any documents signed by the rebel groups and the Syrian government.

Copy of UN resolution textImage copyrightUN

“In these conditions, the level of commitment of the parties to this truce remains somewhat uncertain and its implementation rather fragile,” Alexis Lamek said.

Some of the rebel signatories have alleged that they were made to sign a version that may differ from that of the Syrian government.

Who backs who at the UN?

The resolution comes against a backdrop of deadlock among the veto-wielding members of the council, with Russia supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and the US, UK and France insisting he must step down as part of any deal to end the war.

New Zealand ambassador to the UN, Gerard Jacobus van Bohemen (L) and Russian ambassador to UN, Vitaly Churkin (R) vote on a ceasefire in Syria at UN headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 31 December 2016.Image copyrightEPA
Image captionRussia drafted the new UN Security Council resolution

Russia and Turkey also back opposite sides in the conflict, with Turkey supporting the rebellion against Mr Assad.

Russia’s Ambassador to the UN, Vitaly Churkin, appealed to council members to give the latest ceasefire efforts a chance, saying: “Don’t just keep repeating outdated cliches.”

“Let us work very seriously on this and ensure that in 2017 we achieve a political settlement of the Syria crisis,” he added.

Why is Wadi Barada so important?

On Thursday, the UN expressed concern about the fighting in the town, saying fighters were deliberately targeting and damaging springs used to supply some four million people in the Damascus area with drinking water.

Wadi Barada is held by opposition forces, including JFS, which was known as al-Nusra Front until it formally broke ties with al-Qaeda in July.

Syrian women wait to fill their water buckets in Damascus, Syria, 29 DecemberImage copyrightEPA
Image captionDamascus residents have reportedly been suffering a water shortage

On Saturday, the FSA accused the government and Iranian militias of “brazen violations” in the town and planning a “massacre” which would “lead to an immediate end” of the truce.

“We call on Russia which signed the agreement as a guarantor for the regime and its allies to bear its responsibility,” the rebels said.

The FSA added that it was “fully committed to the ceasefire in accordance with a comprehensive truce which does not exclude any area or faction present in opposition areas”.


Who is included in the truce agreement?

On the one side, Syrian government forces, allied militias and the Russian military.

On the other, the FSA plus several other groups.

Rebel fighters in al-Rai, in northern Aleppo provinceImage copyrightREUTERS
Image captionRebel fighters in al-Rai, in northern Aleppo province

The Russian defence ministry named seven “moderate opposition formations” included in the truce as Faylaq al-Sham, Ahrar al-Sham, Jaysh al-Islam, Thuwwar Ahl al-Sham, Jaysh al-Mujahidin, Jaysh Idlib and Jabhah al-Shamiya.

Ahrar al-Sham, which said it had “reservations” about the deal, and Jaysh al-Islam are Islamist groups that Russia has previously described as terrorist organisations.


Who is not included?

IS and JFS and the groups affiliated to them”, are not part of the agreement, according to the Syrian army.

JFS said on Friday it would continue to fight President Assad, with a spokesman saying the political solution under the truce would “reproduce the criminal regime”.

Members of the group are currently operating as part of a rebel alliance that controls Idlib province.

Kurdish YPG fightersImage copyrightAP
Image captionWhat will happen to Kurdish YPG fighters?

The FSA also said the deal did not include the Kurdish Popular Protection Units (YPG).

The militia, which has captured large swathes of north-eastern Syria from IS with US support, is designated a terrorist organisation by Turkey.

The truce is nominally nationwide, although that really only covers the areas where the sides who have signed up have a presence – western Syria.

Map showing control of Syria and Iraq (28 December 2016)

US-Israeli tensions spill into the open in closing days of Obama administration

The Obama administration’s long-running frustration with Israel has resulted in a rebuke from the UN and an impassioned speech from Secretary of State John Kerry. But why now, when Obama’s term is coming to an end?

USA Treffen Benjamin Netanjahu & Barack Obama in New York (Reuters/K. Lamarque)

Eight years of tension between two historically staunch allies spilled into the open this week as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took his unyielding intransigence to a new level in the closing days of US President Barack Obama’s term in office.

With Obama still in office for three more weeks, the Israeli prime minister sought to do an end-run around him, reaching out to President-elect Donald Trump to try and stave off a UN Security Council resolution that rebuked Israel for its ongoing settlement buildup in the West Bank.

But Netanyahu’s machinations failed and with the United States choosing to abstain from the Security Council resolution, rather than vote against it, Israel received its harshest rebuke from the international body in more than 35 years.

On Tuesday, prominent Israeli newspaper “Haaretz” published a blistering attack on Netanyahu’s sensational breach of protocol.

Watch video01:52

Israel: Netanyahu angry over UN resolution

“Netanyahu doesn’t want anyone interfering as he destroys diplomatic relations with the countries, some friendly to Israel, that ‘dared’ to vote for the resolution declaring the settlements illegal,” the paper wrote.

“The burial of the Foreign Ministry and the abandonment of diplomacy turns out to be part of a broad and dangerous plan to disengage from international law and stop playing by its rules.”

Some time ago Netanyahu effectively dissolved the Foreign Ministry, handling all foreign relations issues out of his prime ministerial office.

Aaron David Miller, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Wilson Center think tank in Washington, called the imbroglio “a fitting conclusion to an eight-year soap opera whose personalities fundamentally clashed.”

Miller described the personal relationship between the leaders of the US and Israel as “the most dysfunctional relationship in the past 30 years.”

That dysfunction is driven in part by contrasting personalities – the sagacious Obama against the pugnacious Netanyahu.

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What path to peace?

But beyond personalities, and what appears to be considerable personal enmity, the relationship ultimately floundered over two manifestly opposing views of how, if at all, to move toward a peaceful settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which in its current iteration has simmered and boiled over in starts and fits since Israel seized the occupied territories, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, during the Six-Day War in 1967.

For more than two decades the conventional wisdom has been that the path to a viable and sustainable peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians is a two-state solution. That is, a sovereign Israel and a sovereign Palestine living side-by-side.

Fundamental to this solution is an understanding that Israel would have to vacate many of its West Bank settlements, which would be part of land returned to the Palestinians.

Netanyahu has ostensibly endorsed this idea but in practice has all but ignored it, moving ahead with ongoing settlement constructions in east Jerusalem and the broader West Bank.

Last week’s UN resolution that has so inflamed Netanyahu, the Israeli far-right and, for that matter, a large swathe of the US political arena beholden to Israeli special interest money, calls Israel’s ongoing settlement construction a “flagrant violation” of international law which has “no legal validity.”

The resolution, which has no enforcement mechanism or sanction attached, also calls on Israel to abide by the Geneva Convention with regard to its role as an occupying power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Netanyahu feels the heat

The UN resolution puts Netanyahu between the proverbial rock and a hard place, according to Miller.

“He is sandwiched between the international pressure for progress towards a peace settlement and Israel’s far-right which is eager for more settlements,” Miller told DW.

“He doesn’t want to be hostage to his own right-wing,” he continued. “This creates significant difficulties for Netanyahu. He can try to restrain the right-wing against further development in the West Bank or he can go with the [international] flow.”

US Secretary of State John Kerry added to the maelstrom on Wednesday, delivering a speech that was essentially unprecedented in both its length and its passion.

For more than 70 minutes, Kerry held court as he made his impassioned case that peace and a two-state solution was not only the morally correct thing to do but that it was, at heart, in Israel’s best interest.

“Rarely has a US foreign policy speech been so long, with such passion, irritation and, at times, anger,” Miller said.

Kerry’s speech was slammed by the Israeli right, as well as many in the US, but German Foreign Minister Frank Walter-Steinmeier praised the US effort, in a statement that was posted on the German ministry’s website.

“It tells us that we must not permit the two‑state solution to become an empty phrase,” Steinmeier said. “And it calls on both sides to clearly demonstrate their commitment to the two‑state solution and to take steps on the ground to underpin this commitment. Together with our partners in the EU, we remain ready to play our part for peace.”

Superpower limits

But why provoke a diplomatic firestorm in the closing days of an administration, without an opportunity to force the issue, and with an incoming administration that appears willing to do Netanyahu’s bidding without question?

Despite the US being the world’s lone superpower, Miller said there are still limits as to what it can achieve on the ground.

“Talking is a lot easier than doing,” he said. “The administration has been reluctant all along to impose sanctions or penalties. There has never been a moment in the past eight years when [they] could have been used to accomplish something positive.”

To say something now, specifically Kerry’s speech,” Miller said, “It frames the issue for posterity – it’s a rhetorical baseline.”

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Israeli minister: Palestinian state ‘off the table’ under Trump

Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, has vowed that a two-state solution will be “taken off the agenda” in January when Trump takes office. He repeated a call that Israel annex most of the West Bank.

Symbolbild Israel Siedlungen im Westjordanland (Getty Images/AFP/T. Coex)

The inflammatory comments came in response to a speech by outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry, warning that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was in “serious jeopardy” due to a more hard-line Israeli stance.

Bennett, who is leader of the Jewish Home party, told the Ynet news portal on Thursday that “Palestine will be taken off the agenda” come January 20, referring to the date of US President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration.

Naftali Bennett Naftali Bennett leads Israel’s Orthodox Jewish Home party

The religious-nationalist politician also vowed to advance initiatives that would see Israel annex large parts of the West Bank.

That move would effectively destroy any hope for a solution that would envisage an independent state of Palestine alongside Israel, an idea first mooted in the 1970s.

Bennett added that Kerry’s speech, warning about the fragility of a solution to the long-running conflict, was “totally out of touch with reality.”

Infografik Siedlungen im Westjordanland ENGLISCH

Tensions compounded

Kerry’s remarks, and Israel’s angry response, follow last week’s refusal by Washington to block a United Nations Security Council resolution critical of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, which are widely accepted as being illegal under international law.

Bennett’s response is likely to further widen the divide between Israel, the Palestinians and the outgoing Obama administration.

Watch video02:10

Israeli settlements divide US, Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused US President Barack Obama and Kerry of orchestrating last week’s resolution, which demanded Israel halt its settlement building program.

Despite his insistence, some analysts question whether Netanyahu really backs a two-state solution as he claims, as he has described it as Israel’s most pro-settlement administration.

Meanwhile, Trump hit out at the US decision to abstain from voting on the UN resolution, hinting in a tweet on Wednesday of a reversal of policy, telling the Jewish-majority state “Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching.”

But on Thursday, the real estate magnate refused to be drawn by journalists on whether Israel should stop building settlements.

Watch video01:05

US Secretary of State John Kerry defends 2-state solution

mm/kms (AFP, AP, dpa)

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