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Qatar's emir met the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates during an official event at the Beijing Winter Olympics, in the first such interaction between the two Gulf leaders since four Arab states agreed to end a dispute with Doha over a year ago.

Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan on the sidelines of a lunch hosted by China's president on Saturday, Qatar's state news agency said.

UAE news websites published a video clip of the two leaders speaking.

Abu Dhabi has yet to restore diplomatic ties with Doha since Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt agreed in January 2021 to end a row that led them to boycott Qatar in mid-2017, though a senior Emirati official visited Doha last August.

Saudi Arabia and Egypt last year appointed ambassadors to Qatar. All but Bahrain have restored travel and trade links.

The dispute erupted over accusations that Doha supported terrorism — a reference to some groups — and its ties with regional adversary Iran and Turkey. Doha denies the charges.

The UAE, under a more conciliatory foreign policy driven by economic priorities, is engaging with both Tehran and Ankara, with which ties were badly strained over the role of Islamist groups following 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

KUWAIT: The Civil Aviation Affairs at Bahrain’s Ministry of Transportation and Telecommunications has announced that all travelers arriving in the kingdom as of Friday February 4 will no longer need to present a PCR test before boarding their plane. They, however, will have to take a PCR test after arriving, the Civil Aviation said in a statement issued Thursday, noting that the update in the procedures is based on the recommendations of the National Medical Taskforce for Combating Coronavirus (COVID-19). It disclosed that unvaccinated arrival will have to abide by the relevant precautionary quarantine guidelines. (KUNA)

MOSCOW: China and Russia proclaimed a deep strategic partnership on Friday to balance what they portrayed as the malign global influence of the United States as China’s President Xi Jinping hosted Russia’s Vladimir Putin.

In a joint statement, the two countries affirmed that their new relationship was superior to any political or military alliance of the Cold War era.

“Friendship between the two States has no limits, there are no ‘forbidden’ areas of cooperation,” they declared, announcing plans to collaborate in a host of areas including space, climate change, artificial intelligence and control of the Internet.

The agreement marked the most detailed and assertive statement of Russian and Chinese resolve to work together — and against the United States — to build a new international order based on their own interpretations of human rights and democracy.

Steeped in ideological discourse, it was not clear whether it would immediately translate into an increase in tangible and practical cooperation despite Putin trumpeting a new gas deal with China on Friday, or was intended as more of a statement of general policy intent.

“The two leaders are announcing their determination to stand together and to stand against the US and the West, ready to withstand sanctions and contest American global leadership,” said Daniel Russel of the Asia Society think tank, who served as the US State Department’s top diplomat for East Asia under the Obama administration.

While not formally allied, the two “are making common cause as a tactical matter to better defend their respective interests and their authoritarian systems from Western pressure”, he said.

Jonathan Eyal of the London-based Royal United Services Institute said the declaration marked a “frontal rebuttal” of the US and Western view of the world and a possible building block towards a military alliance.

“It’s the most explicit articulation of the ‘making the world safe for dictatorship’ strategy,” he said. “It is a historic point because they both feel cornered and they feel their moment has arrived to state their vision of the world and promote it aggressively.”

The two countries have moved closer together as both have come under pressure from the West on a host of issues including their human rights records and Russia’s military build-up near Ukraine. The timing of their announcement was highly symbolic, at a China-hosted Olympics that the United States has subjected to a diplomatic boycott.

There was no immediate comment from the White House or State Department.

In the lengthy document — nearly 5,400 words in English translation — each went significantly further than before in backing the other on key flashpoints of tension with the West.

Russia voiced its support for China’s stance that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposition to any form of independence for the island.

China joined Russia in calling for an end to Nato enlargement and supported its demand for security guarantees from the West — issues at the heart of Moscow’s confrontation with the United States and its allies over Ukraine.

The two countries expressed concern about “the advancement of US plans to develop global missile defence and deploy its elements in various regions of the world, combined with capacity building of high-precision non-nuclear weapons for disarming strikes and other strategic objectives”.

WASHINGTON: For the first time in years, the United States emphasised its strategic partnership with Pakistan, clarifying that Islamabad does not need to strain its relations with China to maintain ties with Washington.

The US-Pakistan relationship came up for discussion at a State Department briefing on Wednesday afternoon when a journalist referred to a recent statement by Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi who blamed the BJP government in India for pushing Pakistan into the Chinese camp.

“Does the State Department agree with Mr Gandhi’s assessment?” the journalist asked.

The department’s spokesperson Ned Price, however, refused to get involved in an Indian parliamentary debate, saying: “I will leave it to the Pakistanis and China to speak to their relationship. I certainly would not endorse those remarks.”

“Why do you think Pakistan is working so closely with China? Do you think they feel abandoned by the US?” the journalist asked again. This question, however, received a comprehensive response from the US official.

“We’ve made the point all along that it is not a requirement for any country around the world to choose between the United States and China,” Mr Price said. “It is our intention to provide choices to countries when it comes to what the relationship with the United States looks like.”

The US official explained that partnership with the United States brings a series of advantages that China could not offer.

“Partnership may be the wrong term. The sorts of relationships that China has sought to have around the world do not (include those) typical advantages” that the United States offered, he added.

Moving to the decades’ long relationship between Pakistan and the United States, Mr Price said: “Pakistan is a strategic partner of the United States. We have an important relationship with the government in Islamabad, and it’s a relationship that we value across a number of fronts.”

Pakistan was a close US ally during the cold war that began in the sixties and remained so till the collapse of the former Soviet Union. Pakistan played a key role in the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan and partnered with the United States in the war against terrorism as well.

The relationship soured when Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was found in Abbottabad and the Obama administration took him out without informing Pakistan. Their relationship has remained strained since then, although bilateral consultations, even high-level visits by Pakistani rulers to Washington, have continued.

In July 2019, Prime Minister Imran Khan made an “official working” visit to Washington where he met the then president Donald Trump at the White House. He had another meeting with Mr Trump in New York during the UN General Assembly in September 2019.

Since then, there has been no face-to-face meeting between the leaders of the two countries and the current US President Joe Biden is yet to make a courtesy call to the Pakistani prime minister.

Despite these tensions, the relationship has continued, minus the fanfare of a summit. Pakistan extended full support to both the Trump and Biden administrations during their talks with the Taliban and facilitated the evacuation of US personnel from Afghanistan after the Taliban captured Kabul in August last year.

In recent years, China has emerged as the key factor in US foreign policies as Washington seeks to contain Beijing’s growing influence.

US policy makers see India as a key player in containing China’s influence and in their efforts to please India, they often ignore Pakistan’s interests, even on issues like Kashmir.

The United States, however, still recognises Kashmir as a disputed territory and not as an integral part of India, as New Delhi desires.

Some recent developments — such as India’s decision to abstain from a UN Security Council vote on Ukraine and a missile deal with Russia — apparently have also softened the US attitude towards Pakistan.

WASHINGTON : The United States said on Wednesday it was deploying thousands of troops to bolster Nato forces in eastern Europe, ratcheting up its military response to fears that Russia could invade Ukraine.

Russia has massed than 100,000 troops on Ukraine’s borders, and Western leaders have warned that any incursion into the ex-Soviet nation would be met with “severe consequences.” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said 1,000 US troops in Germany would deploy to Romania, and 2,000 based in the United States would be sent to Germany and Poland.

“It’s important that we send a strong signal to (President Vladimir) Putin and the world that Nato matters to the United States,” Kirby said, adding “this is not the sum total of the deterrence actions that we will take.” “These forces are not going to fight in Ukraine,” he stressed. “They are not permanent moves. They respond to current conditions.” As Nato leaders pursued diplomatic efforts to avert any invasion of pro-Western Ukraine, a senior Kremlin official stressed that Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping shared views on global security.

Russia denies any plans to invade its neighbour, with Putin accusing the West of failing to respect Moscow’s security concerns.

The Kremlin said China would explicitly back Russia’s stance when Putin visits Beijing for the opening of the Winter Olympics this week.

“China supports Russia’s demands for security guarantees,” the Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov told reporters.

Russian officials have demanded a ban on Ukraine joining Nato and on the deployment of missile systems near Russia’s borders, as well as a pullback of the US-led military alliance’s forces in eastern Europe.

In his first major remarks on the crisis in weeks, Putin on Tuesday suggested Washington was using Kyiv as an instrument to potentially drag Moscow into a war.

“Ukraine itself is just a tool to achieve this goal” of containing Russia, Putin said.

Putin left the door open to talks however, saying he hoped that “in the end we will find a solution.” The United States and Nato have provided written responses to Moscow’s demands, which Putin said he is studying.

Spanish newspaper El Pais on Wednesday published what it said were leaked copies of the responses, which showed Washington and Nato offering Moscow arms control and trust-building measures.

The proposals remain firm on insisting that Ukraine and any other country have a right to apply to join the alliance.

But the reported US response suggests “reciprocal commitments by both the United States and Russia to refrain from deploying offensive ground-launched missile systems and permanent forces with a combat mission in the territory of Ukraine.” Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte was meanwhile the latest Nato leader to visit Kiev in a show of support for Ukraine, where he met President Volodymyr Zelensky.

After the talks, Zelensky said Ukraine was focused “only on peace”, but insisted it has the right to defend itself. The Ukrainian leader had met a day earlier with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was due to hold a phone call with Putin on Wednesday.

Tensions have been further aggravated by plans for joint military exercises between Russia and neighboring Belarus, where Washington claims Moscow is preparing to send 30,000 troops.

While stressing that “conflict is not inevitable,” Kirby on Wednesday accused Putin of continuing “to destabilize the environment by adding more forces to the western part of his country and Belarus.” Video footage released by the Russian defense ministry on Wednesday showed tanks speeding across snowy fields in Belarus and combat helicopters flying overhead as units from both countries practised ahead of the February 10-20 drills.

Ukraine has been battling Moscow-backed insurgencies in two separatist regions since 2014, when Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula.

More than 13,000 people have been killed in the fighting, the last major ongoing war in Europe.

WASHINGTON: US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urged Russia to immediately de-escalate tensions and to withdraw troops from Ukraine’s borders in a call on Tuesday with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.

Blinken “emphasised that further invasion of Ukraine would be met with swift and severe consequences and urged Russia to pursue a diplomatic path,” the US State department said in a statement.

Lavrov said after the call that he had told Blinken that Russia would continue insisting on its demands, including that the West stick to its security “obligations,” and added that: “Blinken agreed that there is subject for further discussion.” The call came amid rising worries that Russia intends to attack Ukraine, and a US official said Lavrov gave “no indication” of any plans to de-escalate.

Blinken said Washington and its European partners are willing to keep talking, but also underscored “the US commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” and to Kiev’s right to determine its own alliances — a reference to Russia’s demand for a pledge that Ukraine will not join Nato.

With tens of thousands of Russian troops massed on the Ukrainian border, Tuesday saw another burst of top-level diplomacy to try to head off a major conflict in Europe.

The British and Polish prime ministers were in Kiev for talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the Hungarian leader in Moscow and held a phone call with the Italian prime minister.

Putin was to give a press conference with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban after their talks, and could make his first major comments on the crisis in weeks.

Going in to the meeting with Orban, Putin reiterated that Moscow had sent proposals to Washington for “written commitments” on Russia’s demands for security guarantees from the West.

“I would like to assure you that no EU leader wants war or conflict, we are ready for a rational agreement, from the EU side,” Orban told the Russian leader.

Orban, one of Putin’s few allies among Nato and EU leaders, made the trip to Moscow in defiance of opposition parties who said it went against the country’s national interests.

Tensions between Russia and the West have been building for weeks, with Washington accusing Moscow of deploying more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border and preparing an invasion of its pro-Western neighbour.

Russia denies any plans to invade but is demanding that Ukraine never be allowed to join Nato and a series of other security guarantees against the US-led military alliance’s expansion in the ex-Soviet bloc.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi urged “a de-escalation of tensions” in a call with Putin on Tuesday, a day after French leader Emmanuel Macron spoke to Putin for the second time in four days. Western leaders have repeatedly warned of “severe consequences” if Russia does invade, including wide-ranging and damaging economic sanctions.

Britain and the United States said they were looking at targeting people in Putin’s inner circle, including powerful business allies. British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told parliament that the government was putting through “the toughest sanctions regime against Russia we’ve ever had”. “Those in and around the Kremlin will have nowhere to hide,” she said.

LONDON: Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) supremo Altaf Hussain appeared at the Kingston-upon-Thames crown court on Monday to mark the first day of his trial centering on a terrorism offence.

Mr Hussain was charged with inciting violence in an incendiary speech relayed from the United Kingdom to his followers in Pakistan on Aug 22, 2016. He was arrested and released on bail before charges were filed in 2019, three years after Scotland Yard launched an investigation into speeches made in the UK that allegedly encouraged violence in Karachi.

Mr Hussain has pleaded not guilty to the charge filed under Section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act (TACT) 2006.

The 68-year-old appeared confident and in high spirits as he entered the court premises flanked by London-based party workers and relatives. As he disembarked from his vehicle, he spoke briefly with reporters and said he has faith in the British judicial system but will not comment on the trial as it was a sub judice matter. He entered the court in a wheelchair.

“I have endured such difficulties and tests during my 45-year struggle numerous times,” he said. “God has given me strength and I have remained steadfast. I have not been despondent even in the face of the biggest challenges. Neither am I despondent today. I beseech my supporters not to pay attention to rumours during this difficult time, but stay united and pray.

“I cannot comment on the present situation of Karachi, as to what should happen and what should not happen. I can give well wishes, and pray. Whoever is in politics and the parties there should work for the prosperity and peace of Pakistan’s biggest economic city.”

When asked about his health, Mr Hussain said he has not felt his best since he contracted Covid-19 early last year.

The hearing was adjourned after jury selection, with the jurors set to take oath before Justice May on Tuesday (today). Due to Covid-19 restrictions and social distancing rules, the courtroom had a limited number of seats.

The charge as stated by the UK police is that Mr Hussain had “on 22 August 2016 published a speech to crowds gathered in Karachi, Pakistan which were likely to be understood by some or all of the members of the public to whom they were published as a direct or indirect encouragement to them to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism and at the time he published them, intended them to be so encouraged, or was reckless as to whether they would be so encouraged”.

The Met Police at the time had also said: “Hussain was previously arrested on 11 June [2019] on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting offences contrary to Section 44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007. He was released on bail and subsequently charged as above.”

The conditions of his bail include a bar on him to broadcast any speeches and remaining at his residence for a restricted amount of time each night. He is also barred from applying for a travel document and his passport will remain in police custody.

The MQM founder has lived in self-imposed exile in London since the early 1990s, when he applied for asylum. He was later granted British citizenship. From London, Mr Hussain has played an active role in politics, regularly broadcasting political speeches to his followers in Karachi.

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