Toulouse, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — President Emmanuel Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel sought Wednesday to show unity at a meeting in southern France, as the European Union and Britain appeared close to a tentative Brexit deal.
"We must show that ... we, Europeans, Germany and France in particular, are defending our common values and interests," Macron said at a news conference in the city of Toulouse.
Macron and Merkel, after holding bilateral talks and a joint French-German cabinet meeting, both said they were convinced the Brexit negotiations are in their final stages and that a deal can be adopted by EU leaders on Thursday.
Merkel stressed: "This is very intensive cooperation ... and the news we are hearing from Brussels could be worse, to put it another way."
Both leaders also attended a joint meeting on defense and security.
In a statement issued at the end of the meeting, both countries said they reached a legally binding agreement on the arms export rules regarding Franco-German military programs. They did not disclose details.
The agreement demonstrates "mutual trust" and allow both countries to work on developing key military equipment, including tanks and combat aircraft, the statement said. Macron's office said further steps were still needed before the deal can enter into force.
Both countries decided to halt weapons exports to Turkey after the offensive in northeast Syria last week. Germany has also banned defense industry exports to Saudi Arabia over the war in Yemen — while France has not.
Earlier Wednesday, Macron and Merkel visited the headquarters of plane-maker Airbus, widely seen as a symbol of European industrial cooperation, near Toulouse. The company, which is holding its 50th anniversary celebrations this year, has production and manufacturing facilities in countries including Germany, Spain and Britain.
The French and German delegations, including key ministers from both governments, also sought to improve cooperation on how to fight climate change and develop innovative technology. They said their "determination" to defend European new copyright rules against Google's decision last month not to apply them.
Macron also said France and Germany were working at organizing a summit with Ukraine and Russia "in coming weeks" to help resolve the conflict in Ukraine.
On Wednesday night, Macron and Merkel were having dinner with incoming European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and members of the European Round Table of Industrialists, a group gathering over 50 major European multinational companies.
They were expected to discuss the U.S. decision to put tariffs worth $7.5 billion on EU goods like wine, cheese and olive oil, following a green light from the World Trade Organization in a case involving illegal EU subsidies for Airbus. The tariffs, to take effect Friday, will be 10% for EU aircraft and 25% for everything else.
Islamabad, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Pakistani and Indian troops exchanged gunfire in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir, killing four civilians and wounding nearly a dozen others, officials from both sides said Wednesday, as tensions remain high between the two South Asian countries.
Kashmir is split between Pakistan and India and claimed by both countries in its entirety. They have fought two wars over the province.
India sparked a new round of tensions in August, when it downgraded the autonomy of its side of Kashmir and imposed tighter controls on the area.
On Wednesday, Pakistan's foreign ministry said it summoned an Indian diplomat to lodge its protest over the previous day's "cease fire violations" that killed three civilians, including two children, on the Pakistani side of the contested Kashmir border.
In neighboring India, Lt. Col. Devender Anand, an army spokesman, said Pakistan fired at two dozen Indian army posts along the highly militarized Poonch sector Monday and Tuesday. He said Pakistani troops used mortar and machine-guns and targeted several villages as well.
Anand blamed Pakistan for initiating the fire and said Indian troops "befittingly" responded to what he called a series of unprovoked cease-fire violations. Earlier, an Indian civil administrator, Rahul Yadav, said that a young woman and several cattle were killed because of Pakistani firing in the Poonch sector Tuesday.
Also Wednesday, Indian police officer Parvaiz Ahmed said Indian security forces killed three militants in an exchange of gunfire in southern Kashmir after receiving intelligence that a group of militants was hiding in the town Bijbehara town.
Police also said gunmen fatally shot one brick kiln worker and one apple trader from the Indian states of Chhattisgarh and Punjab states on Wednesday in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
Another trader from Punjab state was critically wounded after gunmen sprayed bullets in the southern Shopian area, a police officer said.
The police officer blamed militants fighting against Indian rule for the killings. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak with reporters.
Kashmir's largest indigenous rebel group, Hizbul Mujahideen, had warned that it would target Indians visiting Kashmir if New Delhi revoked Kashmir's special status.
Indian-administered Kashmir has experienced unrest and sporadic anti-government protests since New Delhi revoked its special status in August.
Islamabad, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Pakistan's foreign minister says Iran and Saudi Arabia have indicated a willingness to pursue diplomacy to end their disputes after Pakistan's prime minister traveled to both countries to try and ease tensions.
Tensions between the rival Middle Eastern countries escalated following last month's attack on the Saudi oil industry.
Shah Mahmood Qureshi said Wednesday that both the Saudi and Iranian leadership indicated a willingness to talk after meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, who traveled to Iran on Sunday and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Qureshi revealed no additional details.
Khan's mediation efforts come after Washington blamed the Sept. 14 attack on Saudi oil fields on Iran, a charge which Tehran denies. The attack halved the kingdom's oil production.
Since then, Khan has attempted to play the role of facilitator to arrange talks between Riyadh and Tehran.
Mexico City, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim says he supports President Andrés Manuel López Obrador's objectives and estimates that he will make investments of more than $5.2 billion through his companies during López Obrador's six-year term.
Slim highlighted the president's efforts to rein in government spending, raise the minimum wage, eradicate corruption, address crime, give scholarships to students and focus development on the country's ignored southeast.
Slim says he is interested in bidding on contracts for segments of the planned Train Maya.
He says López Obrador "has done very well."
Slim spoke Wednesday at a news conference updating his foundation's charitable reconstruction work since the September 2017 earthquakes. The Carlos Slim Foundation put up more than $107 million (2 billion pesos) to rebuild homes, schools, medical centers and historic buildings.
Brussels, Oct 17 (AP/UNB) — The European Union and Britain inched ever closer to a Brexit deal, with the leaders of France and Germany saying they expected an agreement could be sealed at Thursday's EU summit.
Positive vibes radiated from French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a joint news conference Wednesday in Toulouse, France, where Merkel said that negotiations were "in the final stretch."
Macron added that "I want to believe that a deal is being finalized and that we can approve it" Thursday, when EU leaders are due to meet British Prime Minister Boris Johnson in Brussels.
Differences between the two sides remained but were narrowing to some technical and complicated customs and value-added tax issues, officials said. Negotiating teams were working into the night at EU headquarters to solve them.
"Good progress, and work is ongoing," EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters Wednesday evening.
Johnson, meanwhile, likened Brexit to climbing Mount Everest, saying the summit was in sight, though still shrouded in cloud.
And the EU Parliament's chief Brexit official, Guy Verhofstadt, said Johnson had already moved mountains over the past days, seeking compromise where once he had been unbending.
"Before, the proposals of Mr. Johnson were absolutely unacceptable," Verhofstadt said. "There has been a fundamental shift, that is clear."
But Brexit negotiations have been here before — seemingly closing in on a deal that is dashed at the last moment. But with Britain's Oct. 31 departure date looming and just hours to go before the EU leaders' summit, hopes were increasingly turning toward getting a broad political commitment, with the full legal details to be hammered out later. That could mean another EU summit on Brexit before the end of the month.
Negotiators were locked inside EU headquarters with few details leaking out. Wild movements in the British pound Wednesday underscored the uncertainty over what, if anything, might finally be decided.
The focus of recent talks has been the thorniest component of a deal: how goods and people will flow across the land border between EU member Ireland and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K.
So far, all plans to keep an open and near-invisible border between the two have hit a brick wall of opposition from Johnson's key Northern Irish ally, the Democratic Unionist Party. Leaders from the party met several times with the British prime minister Wednesday as he tried to win their support. Without it, any Brexit deal is likely to be rejected by Britain's Parliament — which has already voted down prospective deals three times.
Johnson told Conservative Party lawmakers on Wednesday that he believed a deal was close.
Legislator Bim Afolami quoted the prime minister as saying "the summit is in sight, but it is shrouded in cloud. But we can get there."
Northern Ireland is not the only issue. The eventual withdrawal agreement will be a legal treaty that also lays out other aspects of the U.K.'s departure — including issues like the divorce bill Britain must pay to leave and the rights of U.K. and EU citizens living in each other's territories. It will set up a transition period in which relations would remain as they are now at least until the end of 2020, to give people and businesses time to adjust to new rules.
But the agreement will likely leave many questions about the future unanswered, and Britain's departure is sure to be followed by years of negotiations on trade and other issues.
Even if a deal is inked this week, moves in the British Parliament could still mean another delay to Britain's planned Oct. 31 departure.
U.K. lawmakers are determined to push for another delay rather than risk a chaotic no-deal Brexit that economists say could hurt the economies of both the U.K. and the EU. They have passed a law ordering Johnson's government to seek to delay the departure if a deal isn't in place by Saturday.
Johnson has both promised to obey Parliament's order and vowed to leave the bloc on Oct. 31, deal or no deal.
Parliament has also repeatedly rejected previous attempts at a Brexit deal. With the need to get Parliament's approval looming over negotiations, EU leaders are seeking reassurances from Johnson during this week's summit that he has the political weight to push any new deal through the House of Commons, which is due to meet Saturday for its first weekend session in almost 40 years.
The Brexit talks plodded ahead Wednesday, further delaying preparations for the EU summit. Since the weekend, negotiators have been locked in long sessions on how to deal with detailed customs, value-added tax and regulatory issues under British proposals to keep goods and people flowing freely across the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
"Talks have been constructive, but there still remains a number of significant issues to resolve," EU Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos said after being briefed by Barnier.
Beyond the questions of disrupting daily life, an open Irish border underpins both the local economy and the 1998 peace accord that ended decades of Catholic-Protestant violence in Northern Ireland. But once Britain exits, that border will turn into an external EU frontier that the bloc wants to keep secure.
The big question is how far Johnson's government is prepared to budge on its insistence that the U.K., including Northern Ireland, must leave the EU's customs union — something that would require checks on goods passing between the U.K. and the EU.
An alternative is to have checks in the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland. But Northern Ireland's DUP, the party that props up Johnson's minority Conservative government, strongly opposes any measures that could loosen the bonds between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.
Pro-Brexit Conservative British lawmaker David Davis said success in passing a Brexit deal rests on the stance of the DUP.
"If the DUP says, 'This is intolerable to us' that will be quite important," he said.
DUP leader Arlene Foster said the party had not yet consented to a deal. She tweeted: "Discussions continue. Needs to be a sensible deal which unionists and nationalists can support."