United Nations, June 26 (AP/UNB) — Iran's U.N. ambassador warned Monday that the situation in the Persian Gulf is "very dangerous" and called talks with the U.S. impossible in the face of escalating sanctions and intimidation, while the U.S. envoy said the Trump administration's aim is to get Tehran back to negotiations.
Recent attacks on tankers and the downing of a U.S. drone played out in comments before and after a closed U.N. Security Council meeting called by the United States that provided sharply different views of the current situation. It took place hours after U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order targeting Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei and senior Iranian military figures with financial sanctions.
Iranian Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi called the new sanctions another indication of "U.S. hostility" toward the Iranian people. He said the Trump administration should de-escalate tensions by stopping "its military adventurism" in the region, withdrawing its "naval armada" and moving away from "economic warfare against the Iranian people."
Acting U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen outlined the U.S. case for blaming Iran for tanker attacks May 12 and June 13 and for shooting down a $100 million U.S. drone in international airspace June 20. Iran denies it attacked the tankers and says the drone was in its airspace.
"Iran must understand that these attacks are unacceptable," Cohen said. "It's time for the world to join us in saying so."
Cohen reiterated that U.S. policy "remains an economic and diplomatic effort to bring Iran back to the negotiating table." He repeated his call to meet diplomacy with diplomacy, noting that Iran dismissed it two weeks ago as "inflammatory."
Ravanchi said he agrees with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres' call to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf region, but said that is up to the United States, not Iran.
He ruled out any talks with the Trump administration. "You cannot start a dialogue with someone who is threatening, who is intimidating you," he said, accusing the U.S. of trying to destroy Iran's economy.
Ravanchi urged the U.N. chief to initiate "a genuine regional dialogue on regional security ... so that we will see a new region for the generations to come."
The Security Council issued a statement condemning the latest attacks on oil tankers and urging all parties "to exercise maximum restraint and take measures and actions to reduce escalation and tension." The statement made no mention of the drone attack.
France, Germany and the United Kingdom issued a separate statement warning that increased tensions in the Gulf since the drone attack "risk miscalculation and conflict." The three countries called for "de-escalation and dialogue" and reiterated their support for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that President Donald Trump pulled out of last year.
Responding to the U.S. administration's "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran, French Ambassador Francois Delattre told reporters: "The message of France is we're in a time where maximum pressure only makes sense with maximum diplomacy. So that's where we must go."
Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, also referred to the U.S. desire for dialogue with Iran.
"Some of the Iranian officials recently said that you cannot have a dialogue with a knife against your throat," Nebenzia said. "What kind of dialogue if you are introducing the worst kind of sanctions ever?"
Bahrain, June 26 (AP/UNB) — The heads of international financial institutions and global investors are addressing a conference intended to boost a $50 billion U.S. economic plan for the Palestinians.
Despite widespread doubts about the proposal, which has been rejected by the Palestinians, the chiefs of the IMF and World Bank will offer suggestions for making the plan a success.
Also speaking Wednesday to the "Peace to Prosperity" workshop in Bahrain are former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, the head of the international football federation FIFA and the lone Palestinian on the agenda, a West Bank businessman who is viewed with deep suspicion by many fellow Palestinians.
The plan's architect, President Donald Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will make a return appearance and the two-day conference will close with an address by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
Mexico City, June 16 (AP/UNB) — The man and his 23-month-old daughter lay face down in shallow water along the bank of the Rio Grande, his black shirt hiked up to his chest with the girl tucked inside. Her arm was draped around his neck suggesting she clung to him in her final moments.
The searing photograph of the sad discovery of their bodies on Monday, captured by journalist Julia Le Duc and published by Mexican newspaper La Jornada, highlights the perils faced by mostly Central American migrants fleeing violence and poverty and hoping for asylum in the United States.
According to Le Duc's reporting for La Jornada, Óscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez, frustrated because the family from El Salvador was unable to present themselves to U.S. authorities and request asylum, swam across the river on Sunday with his daughter, Valeria.
He set her on the U.S. bank of the river and started back for his wife, Tania Vanessa Ávalos, but seeing him move away the girl threw herself into the waters. Martínez returned and was able to grab Valeria, but the current swept them both away.
The account was based on remarks by Ávalos to police at the scene — "amid tears" and "screams" — Le Duc told The Associated Press.
Details of the incident were confirmed Tuesday by a Tamaulipas government official who was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity, and by Martínez's mother back in El Salvador, Rosa Ramírez, who spoke with her daughter-in-law by phone afterward.
"When the girl jumped in is when he tried to reach her, but when he tried to grab the girl, he went in further ... and he couldn't get out," Ramírez told AP. "He put her in his shirt, and I imagine he told himself, 'I've come this far' and decided to go with her."
From the scorching Sonoran Desert to the fast-moving Rio Grande, the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border has long been an at times deadly crossing between ports of entry. A total of 283 migrant deaths were recorded last year; the toll so far this year has not been released.
In recent weeks alone, two babies, a toddler and a woman were found dead on Sunday, overcome by the sweltering heat; elsewhere three children and an adult from Honduras died in April after their raft capsized on the Rio Grande; and a 6-year-old from India was found dead earlier this month in Arizona, where temperatures routinely soar well above 100 degrees Fahrenheit.
The search for Martínez and his daughter was suspended Sunday due to darkness, and their bodies were discovered the next morning near Matamoros, Mexico, across from Brownsville, Texas, several hundred yards (meters) from where they had tried to cross and just a half-mile (1 kilometer) from an international bridge.
Tamaulipas immigration and civil defense officials have toured shelters beginning weeks ago to warn against attempting to cross the river, said to be swollen with water released from dams for irrigation. On the surface, the Rio Grande appears placid, but strong currents run beneath.
Ramírez said her son and his family left El Salvador on April 3 and spent about two months at a shelter in Tapachula, near Mexico's border with Guatemala.
"I begged them not to go, but he wanted to scrape together money to build a home," Ramírez said. "They hoped to be there a few years and save up for the house."
El Salvador's foreign ministry said it was working to assist the family including Ávalos, who was at a border migrant shelter following the drownings. The bodies were expected to be flown to El Salvador on Thursday.
The photo recalls the 2015 image of a 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned in the Mediterranean near Turkey, though it remains to be seen whether it may have the same impact in focusing international attention on migration to the U.S.
"Very regrettable that this would happen," Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Tuesday in response to a question about the photograph. "We have always denounced that as there is more rejection in the United States, there are people who lose their lives in the desert or crossing" the river.
There was no immediate comment from the White House.
U.S. "metering" policy has dramatically reduced the number of migrants who are allowed to request asylum, down from dozens per day previously to sometimes just a handful at some ports of entry.
The Tamaulipas government official said the family arrived in Matamoros early Sunday and went to the U.S. Consulate to try to get a date to request asylum. The mother is 21 years old and the father was 25, he added.
But waits are long there as elsewhere along the border — last week a shelter director said only about 40 to 45 asylum interviews were being conducted in Matamoros each week, while somewhere in the neighborhood of 800-1,700 names were on a waiting list.
It's not clear what happened to the family at the U.S. Consulate, but later in the day they made the decision to cross. The Tamaulipas official said the father and daughter set off from a small park that abuts the river. Civil defense officials arrived at the scene at 7 p.m. Sunday and later took the wife to the shelter.
"I was drawn to the girl's arm on her father," Le Duc said as she described arriving at the scene. "It was something that moved me in the extreme because it reflects that until her last breath, she was joined to him not only by the shirt but also in that embrace in which they passed together into death."
"It's a horrifying image," Maureen Meyer, a specialist on immigration at the Washington Office on Latin America, which advocates for human rights in the region, said of the photograph. "And I think it speaks so clearly to the real risks of these U.S. programs that are either returning people back to Mexico seeking asylum or in this case limiting how many people can enter the U.S. every day."
The United States has also been expanding its program under which asylum seekers wait in Mexico while their claims are processed in U.S. courts, a wait that could last many months or even years.
This week Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas, the same state where Matamoros is located, said it will become the latest city to receive returnees as soon as Friday.
Many migrant shelters are overflowing on the Mexican side, and cartels hold sway over much of Tamaulipas and have been known to kidnap and kill migrants.
Meanwhile, Mexico is stepping up its own crackdown on immigration in response to U.S. pressure, with much of the focus on slowing the flow in the country's south.
"With greater crackdowns and restrictions," said Cris Ramón, senior immigration policy analyst at the Bipartisan Policy Center think tank in Washington, "we could see more desperate measures by people trying to enter Mexico or the U.S."
Tokyo, June 26 (AP/UNB) — Japan has a plastic problem. In a country where cleanliness and neat packaging have long been considered good service, almost everything, from single bananas to individual pieces of vegetables, pastries, pens and cosmetics is sold plastic-wrapped.
But as world leaders descend on Osaka for the two-day G-20 summit that starts Friday, Japan will attempt to become a leader in environmental policy at the same time it plays catch-up with countries that already have well-defined goals in place.
In the months leading up to the G-20 summit, Japanese officials have delivered full-throated endorsements of future bans on single-use plastics, beach cleanup efforts and more research into alternatives such as bioplastics. The problem is, the enforcement and timing of the directives have yet to match measures already in place in the EU — including sweeping legislation passed earlier this year that will ban single-use plastic in all member states by 2021.
Just last summer, Japan was criticized for failing to sign the G-7 Plastics Charter, the only country to do so besides the United States.
At a mid-June meeting of G-20 environmental ministers in Karuizawa, Japan brokered an agreement to begin sharing best practices and establishing standards for tracking marine plastic waste, but stopped short of setting numerical goals or a timeline for progress.
Japan is the world's No. 2 consumer of single-use plastic packaging per person — the United States is No. 1 — according to a 2018 U.N. Environment Program report. G-20 nations produce half the world's plastic waste, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who will chair the summit, has made fixing the problem a top initiative, both at the summit and in Japan.
But Japanese promotional efforts, such as crafting next year's Tokyo Olympic medals and champion podiums from recovered metals and plastics, have failed to impress experts who say that Japan cannot recycle its way out of a global plastic waste crisis, and that the country instead needs to focus on reducing plastic at the earlier end of the supply chain.
"What we are asking for is the reduction of plastic produced in the first place," said Mageswari Sangararalingam, a Malaysian-based waste management expert.
There are signs that Japan is beginning to recognize its own difficulties.
Trade Minister Hiroshige Seko announced at the G-20 environment ministers' meeting plans for a law that will require retailers to charge fees for plastic shopping bags as early as next April.
Seven & i Holdings Co., the Japanese operator of 7-Eleven convenience stores, announced a plan last month to replace all plastic shopping bags with paper by 2030 and all plastic packaging with paper, biodegradable or other reusable materials at its nearly 21,000 stores nationwide. Those goals are more ambitious than the government's 2030 target for a 25% reduction in single-use plastic.
Selected 7-Eleven stores near Tokyo, including one at Yokohama, have started offering paper bags instead of plastic. Saemi Nakamura, a customer, said the change is welcome. "The world is talking about the use of plastic not being good. I think paper bags are better," Nakamura said.
Another convenience store chain, Ministop, began charging 3 yen (3 cents) per plastic shopping bag in an experiment at two stores in Chiba, near Tokyo, which is to be expanded to about 40 outlets by early 2020.
But plastic shopping bags and packaging are only a small part of the overall plastic waste problem, experts say. As much as 12.7 million tons of plastic waste end up in the ocean each year, of which up to 60,000 tons comes from Japan, according a study cited by the country's Environment Ministry.
Japan is also the world's No. 2 exporter of plastic waste. It used to export about 1.5 million tons per year, mainly to China. After China stopped accepting plastic imports in 2017, several Southeast Asian nations became new targets, but some countries, including Malaysia and the Philippines, are now turning the shipments back. They accused rich countries of pushing their garbage onto poorer nations.
Officials in Japan have scrambled to find a new home for the country's used plastic by establishing a 1.9 billion yen ($18 million) emergency fund over the past two years and asking local authorities and waste handlers to shoulder additional loads for recycling and incineration. Japan's plastic waste exports last year totaled 1 million tons, according to trade statistics, but experts say the decline could be linked to an increase in illegal exports or stockpiles at garbage dumps.
"We are trying to develop more domestic plastic recycling facilities and capabilities, but it takes some time," said Hiroshi Ono, an Environment Ministry official.
At a factory on Tokyo Bay, one of more than a dozen operated by plastic recycling company Kyoei Industry Co., about 35 tons of PET bottles are processed daily. They come in hundreds of bales, each wrapped in plastic, and are then unraveled, sorted, pulverized, heated and minced. Next they're turned into fine pellets and reborn as egg cartons, school uniforms, soccer jerseys and other sports equipment, as well as PET bottles, returning to store shelves, said company president Eiichi Furusawa.
"Even if we wanted to (export plastic waste), no country welcomes imports now," Furusawa said. "We think we need to circulate plastic domestically."
Mexico City, June 25 (AP/UNB) — The man and his 23-month-old daughter lie face down in shallow water along the Matamoros, Mexico, bank of the Rio Grande across from Brownsville, Texas.
His black shirt is hiked up his chest with the girl's head tucked inside, and her arm draped around his neck suggesting she clung to him in her final moments.
The searing photograph this week of the two drowned migrants at the border highlights the perils faced by the surge of mostly Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty and hoping for asylum in the U.S.
The two were swept away by the current and their bodies discovered Monday morning hundreds of yards away.