Trump warns Israel against new settlement building

Donald Trump warns Israel that new settlements ‘may not help’ achieve Middle East peace: Friday morning briefing

The Trump administration on Thursday night warned Israel against the construction of new settlements.

President Donald Trump had previously offered his firm support to Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister and signalled he could be more accommodating towards settlement projects than his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama.

While we don’t believe the existence of settlements is an impediment to peace, the construction of new settlements or the expansion of existing settlements beyond their current borders may not be helpful in achieving that goal,” the White House said in a statement, adding that Mr Trump would discuss the issue during a meeting with Mr Netanyahu on February 15.

The statement could disappoint Israel’s far-right which had hoped Mr Trump would give an unqualified green light on rapid settlement construction in the occupied West Bank and east Jerusalem – areas Israel captured in the 1967 war.

Earlier on Thursday, Mr Netanyahu had vowed to establish the first new West Bank settlement in more than two decades “as soon as possible”.

Rex Tillerson, US Secretary of State, spoke by phone with Mr Netanyahu on Thursday, the State Department said. It did not say whether they discussed the White House statement.

On Wednesday, Israel announced plans for 3,000 more settlement homes in the West Bank – the third such declaration in less than two weeks since Mr Trump took office.

Mr Trump has already appeared to slow his promises to move the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem – a promise often made by presidential candidates, but never carried out in office because of fears the move would inflame tensions in the region.

The prime minister’s vow to establish new West Bank settlements came as Israeli security forces were completing the evacuation of Amona, where they broke into a synagogue to remove dozens of Israeli protesters who had barricaded themselves inside. Netanyahu’s pro-settler government had unsuccessfully tried to block the evacuation of Amona, but Israel’s Supreme Court rejected all appeals after determining the outpost was built illegally two decades ago on private Palestinian land.

Speaking at a ceremony in the West Bank settlement of Ariel, Netanyahu expressed “great pain” over the removal of Amona.

Mattis warns North Korea of ‘overwhelming response’ to attack

Jim Mattis, the US defence secretary, said any use of nuclear weapons by the North on the United States or its allies would be met with what he called an “effective and overwhelming” response.

US defence secretaries have long offered assurances to South Korea and Japan that its nuclear “umbrella” will protect them, but Mr Mattis’s statement was perhaps more pointed than most. He made the remarks during an appearance with his South Korean counterpart, Defence Minister Han Min Koo.

“North Korea continues to launch missiles, develop its nuclear weapons programme, and engage in threatening rhetoric and behaviour,” Mr Mattis said.

Mattis warns North Korea of 'overwhelming response' to attack
Mattis warns North Korea of ‘overwhelming response’ to attack

“We stand with our peace-loving Republic of Korea ally to maintain stability on the peninsula and in the region,” he added. “America’s commitments to defending our allies and to upholding our extended deterrence guarantees remain ironclad: Any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming.”

Mr Mattis’s statement showed by he chose South Korea for his first visit overseas since becoming defence secretary on January 20. He sought to reassure South Koreans of the longstanding US commitment to a defence treaty that President Donald Trump suggested during the campaign was a bad deal for America.

Nikki Haley blames Russia for new violence in eastern Ukraine

US Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, blamed Russia on Thursday for the recent surge of violence in eastern Ukraine and warned Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia will not be lifted until Moscow returns Crimea to Kiev.

Nikki Haley blames Russia for new violence in eastern Ukraine
Nikki Haley blames Russia for new violence in eastern Ukraine

“I consider it unfortunate on the occasion of my first appearance here I must condemn the aggressive actions of Russia,” Haley said, making her first public remarks inside the Security Council since being sworn in as the United States’ representative to the United Nations last month.

“It shouldn’t happen, or be that way. We do want to better our relations with Russia. However, the dire situation in eastern Ukraine is one that demands clear and strong condemnation of Russian actions.”

Her remarks came amid speculation over new US President Donald Trump’s intentions towards Moscow. Trump has praised Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and expressed a wish for improved relations between the two countries.

Haley made clear that tensions over the Ukraine would not end soon, including the matter of sanctions slapped on Russia related to the annexation of Crimea three years ago.