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Tillerson meets EU, NATO leaders under cloud
By Damon WAKE
Brussels (AFP) Dec 5, 2017


NATO chief hails Tillerson role on N.Korea
Brussels (AFP) Dec 4, 2017 - The head of NATO on Monday praised embattled US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for his "key role" in the North Korea crisis as rumours swirl that his position is under threat.

Jens Stoltenberg insisted that a meeting of NATO foreign ministers in Brussels this week would not be distracted by doubts over Tillerson's future.

Anonymous White House leaks have suggested Tillerson could be out of a job within weeks and even while denying this on Friday, President Donald Trump reminded him: "I call the final shots."

Stoltenberg gave his backing to Tillerson's efforts in tackling the crisis surrounding Pyongyang's nuclear and ballistic missile tests.

"Secretary Tillerson has played a key role, both in sending the message of deterrence, the unity and the resolve of the whole alliance, but also when it comes to the need for continuing to work for a peaceful solution," Stoltenberg told reporters in Brussels.

Trump has publicly criticised his top diplomat on the issue, saying Tillerson was "wasting his time" pursuing contacts with North Korea.

Tillerson has dismissed reports that Trump aides want him to resign as "laughable", but rumours are set to dog his diplomatic tour of Europe, which also includes visits to Paris and Vienna.

North Korea will be high on the agenda at the NATO meeting after Pyongyang last week tested its most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, which it says brings the whole of the continental United States within range.

- 'No change whatsoever' -

Questions have been raised about whether the reported rift with Trump undermines Tillerson's ability to negotiate with allies, but Stoltenberg said he had no concerns.

"We have seen again and again that NATO and NATO ministers are able to focus on the core task, on the job we have to do, despite any speculations and rumours, and I am absolutely certain that this will be the case also now," Stoltenberg said.

"I am absolutely certain that all ministers -- including secretary Tillerson -- will focus on that task and be able to make important decisions."

Rumours about Trump and Tillerson's fractious relationship came to a head on Thursday when several US media outlets -- citing White House sources -- predicted Tillerson's resignation and replacement by CIA chief Mike Pompeo.

Trump rejected the reports as "FAKE NEWS" in a tweet, but acknowledged the pair had policy differences.

The US Ambassador to NATO, Kay Baley Hutchison, also insisted Tillerson still spoke for the president.

"We have been working with Secretary Tillerson and his staff on this meeting for several weeks and there has been no change whatsoever," she told reporters in Brussels on Monday.

The North has staged six increasingly powerful atomic tests since 2006 -- most recently in September -- which have rattled Washington and its key regional allies South Korea and Japan.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson meets his EU and NATO counterparts in Brussels Tuesday to shore up ties, with allies insisting he still plays a "key role" despite doubts over his future.

Tillerson will hold talks over lunch with European Union foreign ministers and the bloc's diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini, before a two-day NATO meeting set to focus on North Korea's missile programme and concerns over perceived hostility from Russia.

But his visit comes against a difficult backdrop -- a rift with President Donald Trump has led to reports he could be replaced within weeks, calling into question his authority to speak for Washington.

And there are major differences between Washington and Europe on a number of key policy areas, notably the Iran nuclear deal which Trump has vehemently condemned but which Brussels is desperate to preserve.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said Monday it was vital international powers worked together to tackle the North Korean crisis, after Pyongyang tested a long-range missile it said could hit anywhere in the continental United States.

"Last week's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile showed that all allied nations could be within range," Stoltenberg said on Monday.

"The whole world needs to apply maximum pressure on North Korea in order to achieve a peacefully negotiated solution."

He said the 29-member alliance had been "clear and consistent" in its condemnation of Pyongyang's weapons programme, which has seen the reclusive state carry out a series of ballistic missile and nuclear tests in defiance of international sanctions.

The EU has been ramping up economic sanctions on the North in a bid to force it to the negotiating table -- but with no success so far.

- 'Key role' -

But if the US and EU can present a unified front on North Korea, the deal with Iran to end the Islamic republic's nuclear programme in return for the lifting of sanctions is more problematic.

Trump has slammed the historic 2015 accord, agreed after years of painstaking talks between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, China, Germany and Russia, as a bad deal and threatened to pull America out.

European powers are keen to maintain the deal and Mogherini last month travelled to Washington to lobby US lawmakers not to withdraw from the agreement.

"Preserving the nuclear deal with Iran and its full implementation is a key security priority for Europe," Mogherini said on Friday.

Tillerson's Brussels visit comes at the start of a European tour taking in Paris and Vienna for the 57-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Anonymous White House leaks have suggested Tillerson could be out of a job within weeks and even while denying this on Friday, President Donald Trump reminded him: "I call the final shots."

On Monday Stoltenberg gave his backing to Tillerson's efforts in tackling the North Korean crisis -- an issue where Trump has publicly criticised his top diplomat, saying he was "wasting his time" pursuing contacts with Pyongyang.

"Secretary Tillerson has played a key role, both in sending the message of deterrence, the unity and the resolve of the whole alliance, but also when it comes to the need for continuing to work for a peaceful solution," Stoltenberg said.

Tillerson has dismissed as "laughable" reports that Trump's closest aides want him to resign, but rumours will inevitably dog him when he sits down with his European peers.

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Ukraine plans NATO, EU referendums in 'near future'
Kiev (AFP) Dec 1, 2017
Ukrainians will be offered referendums on joining NATO and the EU in the "near future", President Petro Poroshenko said Friday, as conflict rumbles on in the country's east between the army and Moscow-backed separatist rebels. "We are fully sticking to our path towards European integration," Poroshenko said in remarks broadcast by several Ukrainian television stations. "Have no doubt th ... read more

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