Berlin, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) — The new leader of Chancellor Angela Merkel's party took over Germany's defense ministry on Wednesday in a risky but potentially rewarding move, reversing her previous insistence that she wouldn't join the Cabinet.
Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer succeeded Ursula von der Leyen, who was elected Tuesday as the new head of the European Commission.
Kramp-Karrenbauer narrowly won the leadership of Merkel's center-right Christian Democratic Union in December. She has concentrated so far on trying to renew the party, among other things seeking to heal divisions with conservatives who were irked by Merkel's welcoming approach to migrants in 2015 and other moves.
However, she has seen her poll ratings drop sharply following several gaffes, and has struggled to raise her profile given that she lacks a seat in parliament and also wasn't in the Cabinet. Kramp-Karrenbauer had insisted in recent days that she would continue to concentrate on the party, but has now changed tack abruptly.
Merkel says she won't seek a fifth term as chancellor. It isn't yet clear who will run as the CDU's candidate for chancellor in Germany's next election, which is due in 2021 but could come earlier if her fractious coalition with the struggling center-left Social Democrats collapses.
The defense ministry offers Kramp-Karrenbauer, 56, who has served as governor of Saarland state but not in the federal government, a chance to gain foreign and security policy experience.
But it also is notoriously difficult to run, with concerns including the poor state of the German military's equipment and managing a transition from conscription to a professional force.
While von der Leyen's unexpected elevation to the European Union's top job after 5½ years as defense minister suggests that the post can be a springboard to promotion, it has left most recent occupants as diminished figures in domestic politics. Von der Leyen herself was long considered a potential successor to Merkel but faded out of contention while at the defense ministry.
An ambitious younger conservative who also ran in last year's CDU leadership election, Health Minister Jens Spahn, had been considered favorite to become defense minister. Kramp-Karrenbauer's move to take the job avoids giving a potential rival more exposure.
Kramp-Karrenbauer didn't address the reasons for her choice in brief remarks to reporters at the defense ministry, and took no questions.
She said she was taking on the job "with great respect, whole-heartedly and full of conviction," and is "very much looking forward to this task."
Dubai, Jul 17 (AP/UNB) — Portugal's foreign ministry is clarifying that its decision to temporarily stop granting visas to Iranians is due to work on improving security at its Tehran consular building.
The foreign ministry says the decision is not linked to any assessment of security conditions in Iran or any political consideration.
The ministry issued the clarification in a statement late on Tuesday, hours after Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva told a Portuguese parliament committee the halt on issuing visas to Iranians was due to "security reasons."
At the time he declined to give more information about what was behind the decision, saying he would only provide details privately to lawmakers on the committee.
The husband of a British-Iranian woman imprisoned in Iran says she has been transferred to a hospital mental health facility.
Richard Ratcliffe said on Wednesday that his 40-year-old wife Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is now in the mental health ward of Iman Khomeini hospital in Tehran.
He says he is "hopeful" this means she will be receiving better treatment and care.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was arrested in Iran while traveling with the couple's young daughter in April 2016 and has been sentenced to five years in prison after being accused of spying, which she denies.
She and her husband recently ended a hunger strike designed to call attention to her plight. British officials have failed to secure her release despite repeated efforts.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe works for the charitable Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Iran says remarks by the country's foreign minister about Iran's missile program possibly being up for negotiations with the U.S. meant to challenge Washington's arms sales policy to the region — and were not meant to indicate a readiness by Tehran for any such talks.
The Foreign Ministry's spokesman, Abbas Mousavi, tweeted late on Tuesday that Mohammad Javad Zarif's comments "threw the ball into the U.S. court while challenging America's arm sales" to its Mideast allies.
Zarif had said in an NBC News interview that if the U.S. wants to talk about Iran's missiles, "they need first to stop selling all these weapons, including missiles, to our region."
Iran has long rejected negotiations over its missile program.
Iran's mission to the United Nations also described Zarif's comments as purely "hypothetical."
Copenhagen, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — A Muslim cleric found guilty in Italy of planning terror has been detained in Norway on an Italian arrest warrant, The Norwegian domestic security agency said.
Iraqi-born Mullah Krekar was detained late Monday, the PST security agency said. It was not immediately clear whether he would be extradited.
The agency tweeted hours after an Italian court found Krekar guilty of attempting to overthrow the Kurdish government in northern Iraq and create an Islamic caliphate, and sentenced him to 12 years.
Italian prosecutors had alleged Krekar, who is based in Norway, is behind Rawti Shax, a European network aimed at violently overthrowing the government in Kurdistan. Krekar, who has denied the allegations, plans to appeal, said his Italian lawyer, Marco Vernillo.
In 2015, European authorities arrested 15 Iraqi-Kurdish nationals on terrorism-related charges. Rawti Shax recruited foreign terrorist fighters to be sent to Iraq and Syria and provided logistical and financial support, according to the Italian prosecutors who spearheaded the probe. They alleged that Krekar was the leader.
Only Krekar and five others were charged, according to Vernillo.
Krekar, born Najm al-Din Faraj Ahmad, had refused to travel to Italy, fearing he would be extradited to Iraq after the trial.
A refugee from Iraqi Kurdistan who came to Norway in 1991, the 63-year-old cleric has several convictions in Norway, including for threatening Prime Minister Erna Solberg. He also praised the 2015 extremist attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo.
Norwegian officials have long wanted to get him out of the country.
Krekar founded the now-defunct Ansar al-Islam insurgent group of Sunni Kurds, which aimed to install an Islamic caliphate in Iraqi Kurdistan. It reportedly merged with the Islamic State group in 2014.
Norwegian courts have ruled in favor of his extradition and the government has given him travel documents so he can travel to Italy, escorted by Norwegian police. According to his lawyer, Brynjar Meiling, Krekar lives legally in Norway and should not be extradited because of fears for his life.
Belgrade, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — French President Emmanuel Macron vowed Monday to help jumpstart stalled negotiations to resolve Serbia's independence dispute with former province Kosovo so a lasting solution can be found for the decades-long Balkan crisis.
Macron, making the first visit to Serbia by a French president since 2001, also expressed support for the country's stated goal of joining the European Union even as he reiterated his belief that the EU must adopt reforms before adding more members.
His two-day trip was intended to rebuild relations between Serbia and France. Their historically close ties were damaged when NATO forces bombed Serbia in 1999 over the country's actions in Kosovo and by France's recognition of Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence.
Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a country. But the EU has set normalized relations between the two countries as a condition for advancing to EU membership. But talks mediated by EU officials have been stalled for months.
Macron said France and Europe would get more engaged in facilitating an end to the bitter rift, which stems from the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s.
"Whoever believes in Europe cannot accept the inevitability of never-ending and inextricable conflicts in Europe," Macron said at a news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. "Our commitment is the reflection of a European sovereignty in which we believe and that will stand by your side."
Serbia has officially been on the path to becoming an EU member since 2008. The country also maintains close ties with Russia and China, whose mounting influence in the Balkans has raised Western concerns.
Macron urged Belgrade to keep making the reforms it needs for EU membership, saying Serbia's candidacy could progress in parallel to the EU's own improvement process.
"It's a process that's been started but it must be kept in check on both sides," he said. "I think it's a good thing."
Serbia's president said a compromise in the Kosovo dispute was "the only possible solution."
"I urged France to help us on our European road and in solving the Kosovo crisis," Vucic said of his meeting with Macron.
Macron's visit originally was planned for December and postponed amid massive street protests in Paris.
Brussels, Jul 16 (AP/UNB) — European Union foreign ministers on Monday turned up the pressure on Turkey after approving an initial batch of sanctions against the country over its drilling for gas in waters where EU member Cyprus has exclusive economic rights.
The ministers said in a statement that in light of Turkey's "continued and new illegal drilling activities," they were suspending talks on an air transport agreement and would call on the European Investment Bank to "review" it's lending to the country.
They also backed a proposal by the EU's executive branch to reduce financial assistance to Turkey for next year. The ministers warned that additional "targeted measures" were being worked on to penalize Turkey, which started negotiations to join the EU in 2005.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu issued his own warning last week that his country would step up drilling activities off Cyprus if the EU moved ahead with sanctions.
Two Turkish vessels escorted by warships are drilling for gas on either end of ethnically divided Cyprus.
The EU ministers repeated the "serious immediate negative impact" that Turkey's illegal actions are having on EU-Turkey relations and called on Ankara to respect Cyprus' sovereign rights in line with international law.
They also welcomed the Cypriot government's invitation to Turkey to negotiate the borders of their respective exclusive economic zones and continental shelf.
Turkey doesn't recognize Cyprus as a state and claims 44% of Cyprus' exclusive economic zone as its own, according to Cyprus government officials. Turkish Cypriots in the east Mediterranean island nation's breakaway north claim another 25%.
Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in 1974 when Turkey invaded in the wake of a coup by supporters of union with Greece. A Turkish Cypriot declaration of independence is recognized only by Turkey, which keeps more than 35,000 troops in the breakaway north. Cyprus joined the EU in 2004, but only the internationally recognized south enjoys full membership benefits.
Turkey contends that it's protecting its rights and those of Turkish Cypriots to the area's hydrocarbon deposits. Cypriot officials, however, accuse Turkey of using the minority Turkish Cypriots in order to pursue its goal of exerting control over the eastern Mediterranean region.
The Cypriot government says it will take legal action against any oil and gas companies supporting Turkish vessels in any repeat attempt to drill for gas. Cyprus has already issued around 20 international arrest warrants against three international companies assisting one of the two Turkish vessels now drilling 42 miles (68 kilometers) off the island's west coast.
The Cyprus government has licensed energy companies including ExxonMobil, France's Total and Italy's Eni to carry out gas drilling in blocks, or areas, off the island's southern coastline. At least three significant gas deposits have so far been discovered there.
Meanwhile, Cyprus' Greek Cypriot President NIcos Anastasiades will chair a meeting of political leaders Tuesday to discuss a renewed proposal by Turkish Cypriot leader Mustafa AKinci to establish a joint committee with Greek Cypriots on managing offshore gas drilling activities.
Akinci has repeatedly called for the creation of such a committee that he says would give his community a say in how newly found gas deposits off Cyprus' southern coast are managed and future proceeds are divvied up. A similar proposal was made by Akinci's predecessor Dervis Eroglu in 2011.
The Cypriot government says energy discussions with Turkish Cypriots should be part of overarching reunification talks, adding that Turkish Cypriot rights to the island's energy reserves are assured. The government says future gas proceeds that will flow into an established hydrocarbons fund will be shared equitably after a peace deal is signed.