Tag Archives: NATO

Trump’s pick for U.S. ambassador to Canada cites Huawei ban, increased NATO spending as top priorities

The woman nominated to serve as the new U.S. ambassador to Canada says she plans to apply fresh pressure on Ottawa to ban Huawei from taking part in Canada’s 5G network.

During an appearance before the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee in Washington, Aldona Wos said that, if confirmed, she will “… build on our existing bilateral cooperation to counter China’s malign activities, and continue to raise concerns regarding the authorization of access to the 5G network by Huawei and other untrusted vendors.”

Canada is the only member of the Five Eyes intelligence sharing alliance — which includes the U.S., the U.K., Australia, and New Zealand — that has not banned or restricted the Chinese tech giant from helping to build the country’s 5G network.

Ottawa is carrying out a comprehensive review of Huawei’s potential role in 5G that includes a broader, strategic look at how the technology can foster economic growth.

U.S. wants Canada to ban Huawei

Washington has threatened repeatedly to reconsider its intelligence-sharing arrangement with Ottawa if the company is allowed to participate in developing the sensitive technology, which will give internet users a speedier connection and provide vast data capacity.

The U.S. argues the company can be compelled to act as a spy agency for the Chinese government, and that it poses a significant national security risk. 

Wos also offered broad support for Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, the two Canadians being detained in China. Both men were taken into custody by Chinese authorities in December of 2018, shortly after Canada arrested Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou, on a U.S. extradition request.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau shake hands with U.S. President Donald Trump as they hold a bilateral meeting during the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 25, 2019. Trump has put pressure on NATO allies, including Canada, to increase defence spending. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

“I will make clear the United States government’s deep concern over China’s retaliatory and arbitrary detention of two Canadian citizens,” she said. 

In her opening remarks, Wos highlighted the integration of the Canada-U.S. relationship in the areas of defence and national security and vowed to deepen those ties.

“The United States-Canada relationship is one of enduring strength. It is built on broad and deep ties between our peoples, shared values, extensive trade, strategic global cooperation and defence partnerships,” she said, reading from prepared notes.

Defence spending a thorny issue

Wos also vowed to apply more pressure on Canada to increase its defence spending — an issue raised by both the previous Obama administration and the current Trump administration.

“If confirmed, I will encourage Canada to provide critical capabilities to the alliance by meeting the commitments that all NATO leaders agreed to in the 2014 Wales pledge,” she said.

The Wales pledge calls on all NATO members that are not currently spending the equivalent of 2 per cent of their country’s gross domestic product (GDP) on defence to gradually increase spending and move toward that goal within a decade.

Canada’s defence spending in 2019 was equal to 1.27 per cent of its GDP, according to NATO figures. There is no plan currently to meet the 2 per cent goal.

Canada’s current defence policy calls for a 73 per cent budget increase by 2026-27, which would bring defence spending to 1.4 per cent of GDP.

If confirmed, Wos will replace Kelly Craft, President Donald Trump’s first ambassador to Canada who oversaw the re-negotiation of NAFTA. 

Craft’s service impressed many in the White House and she left her post in Ottawa to become the new U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.

Wos faced fewer questions than other nominees at today’s hearing. Much of the focus was on an appearance by Lisa Kenna, a long-time State Department employee nominated to serve as ambassador to Peru. 

Kenna worked in Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s office at the time of the Ukraine pressure campaign that led to President Trump’s impeachment. 

Wos asked about Canada-U.S. border closure

Wos was asked by Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire about COVID-related restrictions at the Canada-U.S. border. 

Shaheen said companies, hospitals and other medical providers in the northern part of her state have been negatively affected by the closure.

“Because of the nature of the pandemic that we all face, it is currently by mutual decision beneficial to both our countries to continue to have restrictions at our border,” Wos replied.

“But those restrictions are mostly for tourist and recreational activities of travel through the border. It is critical for both our countries to continue to have our goods and services be able to flow freely through the borders.”

Shaheen said she hopes Wos can work to ensure that the border closure doesn’t continue to disrupt trade between border states and Canada.

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1 dead, 5 missing in Canadian military helicopter crash during NATO operations near Greece

One Canadian military member is dead and five others are missing after a helicopter serving with a NATO naval task force crashed in international waters between Greece and Italy, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau confirmed today.

There were four Royal Canadian Air Force members and two Royal Canadian Navy members on board.

“All of them are heroes. Each of them will leave a void that cannot be filled,” Trudeau said.

The six members were on a six-month deployment that began in January.

There will be many questions in the coming days about how the tragedy occurred, Trudeau said.

“I can assure you, we will get answers in due course.”

Aircraft from Canada, Italy and Turkey, with support from Greece and the U.S., are searching for the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter, NATO said in a short statement.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau started a news conference with Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance at 11:15 a.m. ET today. CBCNews.ca is carrying it live.

Vance said the Cyclone fleet has been put on “operational pause” to allow flight safety teams to investigate and rule out any fleet-wide problems.

He added the helicopter fleet is modern and has “state-of-the-art” technology.

“We have a lot of confidence in this fleet,” he said. 

Vance said the crash’s debris area is large and the exact position of wreckage is not yet known. The voice and flight data recorders broke away from the helicopter and have been retrieved, he said.

Sajjan said efforts are underway to find the five missing members and the cause of the crash is unknown.

A team is en route to the region to get answers.

The helicopter was based on HMCS Fredericton, which recently sailed from Souda, Greece, as part of a “mission of maritime situational awareness in the Mediterranean,” including exercises with the Turkish Navy and Greece’s Hellenic Navy and Air Force this past week, NATO said. 

Vance called it a “time of agony” for the Canadian Armed Forces and for the family members of those who were on board, and said the military has been in touch with next of kin.

Vance confirmed that Nova Scotia Sub-Lt. Abbigail Cowbrough is among the victims.

Cowbrough was a crew member on the CH-148 Cyclone helicopter that was a fixture of HMCS Fredericton, a vessel that was deployed from Dartmouth, N.S., in January to join the standing NATO naval group currently off the coast of Greece.

Trudeau acknowledged it is another “very hard day” for Nova Scotia — still grieving the victims of a gun massacre — and for all Canadians.

“In a season of grief – a time of hardship, heartbreak and loss for so many Canadians – the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces stand tall,” he said. “Bearing the maple leaf on their shoulders, they are known around the world as beacons of civility, compassion and courage.”

Greece expresses grief

“I express my grief over the crash of the Canadian helicopter in the Ionian Sea last night,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said Thursday, speaking in parliament.

Mitsotakis said he would contact Trudeau to express his condolences.

A CH-148 Cyclone maritime helicopter is seen during a training exercise at 12 Wing Shearwater near Dartmouth, N.S., in 2015. A search is underway for a Canadian CH-148 that crashed on Wednesday near Greece during a NATO exercise. (Andrew Vaughan/Canadian Press)

Greek state broadcaster ERT was first to report that a Canadian military helicopter had gone down in the waters between Italy and Greece on Wednesday.

The broadcaster later said one body had been found and five others on board were missing.

A NATO source told CBC News that contact with the helicopter was lost early in the evening on Wednesday, around 8:15 p.m. local time. The flight was briefed as a routine operation while the task force was at sea, according to the official, who asked that their name be kept confidential because of the sensitivity of the subject.

HMCS Fredericton has been on deployment since January.

WATCH | Canadian military helicopter missing near Greece:

The Canadian Armed Forces says it lost contact with a helicopter off the coast of Greece amid reports of a crash. 2:39

ERT reported that the helicopter had come from the Canadian frigate, which is taking part in the alliance’s Operation Reassurance meant to deter Russian aggression throughout Eastern Europe. 

The crash reportedly happened in the Ionian Sea about 80 kilometres off the Greek resort island of Cephalonia.

The Cyclone is a militarized version of the Sikorsky S-92 utility helicopter.

The Cyclones replaced the air force’s five-decade-old CH-124 Sea Kings, which were gradually retired from service over the last few years. The crash of a Cyclone represents a major blow, given how long the military had to wait for the aircraft to be developed.

Cost escalations

Originally ordered in 2004, the Cyclone program faced delays and cost escalations — to the point where former auditor general Sheila Fraser slammed the federal government’s handling of the project in 2010.

The Cyclone routinely flies with a crew of four: two pilots, a tactical operator and a sensor operator. There is also room for several passengers. The helicopter’s primary mission is hunting submarines, but it has a sophisticated surveillance suite and is also outfitted for search-and-rescue.

Since coming into service, the Cyclone has been deployed on five overseas missions with the navy, including previous NATO stints.

The air force has praised the aircraft’s capabilities repeatedly — although it was involved in at least one shipboard accident while serving with HMCS Regina and the resupply ship MV Asterix in the Pacific Ocean last year.

A Cyclone suffered what defence officials described at the time as a “hard landing” aboard the Asterix on Feb. 18, 2019. 

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NATO defence ministers take stock of pandemic’s economic toll on national budgets

NATO defence ministers took stock Wednesday of the economic damage raining down on allied countries because of the pandemic crisis — and considered the disease’s ability to blow vast holes in national defence budgets.

The military alliance’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, acknowledged the obvious in a teleconference with journalists following a virtual meeting of defence ministers from 30 member nations.

“Of course there will be economic consequences of the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. 

“We’ve seen a significant reduction in GDP. We have seen forecasts about further reductions and, of course, there will be budget consequences.”

Stoltenberg was quick to add that he thinks “it’s a bit too early to say how big those consequences will be because … it will depend upon how long the crisis will last.”

A defence analyst said the NATO chief was giving himself room to manoeuvre — partly in reponse to the tempestuous relationship U.S. President Donald Trump has with allies he has badgered into spending more on defence.

“He’s trying to be as a cagey as he can,” said Robert Baines, president and chief executive officer of the NATO Association of Canada, an independent, non-profit organization that provides analysis on the alliance and global security.

“I find it interesting the language has shifted in that direction.”

Prior to a meeting of NATO foreign ministers last month, Stoltenberg suggested the pandemic crisis shouldn’t affect the ability of nations to meet their defence spending targets.

In Canada, the parliamentary budget officer is forecasting a deficit of $ 112.7 billion in the current fiscal year — the result of unprecedented economic stimulus and relief programs and plummeting tax revenue.

Canada has some military expenses coming up

The bills for many of the big-ticket spending promises in the Liberal government’s defence policy — new fighter jets and naval frigates — will come due within five years.

Baines said that major defence equipment spending will be a tough sell with politicians and voters if Canada is still dealing with the pandemic’s economic aftermath.

“The abiitty to justify especially the large procurement projects — that’s going to become harder and harder if we get hit with anything less than a V recession, as far as the economy going down and right back up,” he said.

“If that doesn’t happen, it will be a very hard sell for the larger procurement programs that have just been put off and put off for so long.”

Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was not immediately available for comment.

But a senior defence official, speaking on background today, said there has been no indication of any change to the department’s spending plans and the Liberal government remains committed to delivering what was promised in the 2017 defence policy.

Canada’s federal balance sheet is not bleak as those of some other allies — including the United States, where Congress recently approved a $ 2 trillion economic lifeline package.

Even before the COVID-19 crisis, some budget-challenged southern European countries had sold port facilities to the Chinese state-controlled firms.

Through its so-called Belt and Road initiative, Beijing has provided trillions of dollars in loans and other assistance to countries around the world. By early last year, about one-tenth of Europe’s port capacity had been sold off by cash-starved governments in Spain, Italy and Greece.

Cash-strapped nations selling infrastructure

The possibility that trend could accelerate due to the economic fallout of the pandemic was a topic of discussion among the NATO defence ministers on Wednesday.

“The fact we will most likely have an economic downturn may make some allies more vulnerable for situations where critical infrastructure can be sold out,” Stoltenberg said.

He reminded the ministers that having a stable transportation system is key to their collective defence and said the sale of national assets could undermine the resilience of the alliance as a whole.

“I conveyed that message but also many allies conveyed that message during the meeting,” the secretary general said.

Going into the meeting, Stoltenberg said that NATO is placing more emphasis on the resilience of member nations in light of the pandemic.

His attention was focused on the stranglehold China maintains over the production of vital medical equipment and protective gear.

He announced Wednesday that NATO defence ministers will conduct a sweeping review of the baselines the alliance uses to assess whether countries are resilient enough to withstand shocks, and whether they have the capacity to maintain reliable infrastructure and telecommunications in an emergency, among other things.

“Many allies highlighted the importance of critical industries, infrastructure, as part of our resilience,” Stoltenberg said. “We’re seeing this as a NATO responsibility.”

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Trudeau meets with Prince Charles ahead of date with Trump on NATO sidelines

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hit the ground running on Tuesday with a series of courtesy calls in London ahead of the NATO summit with other world leaders.

Trudeau met with Prince Charles at Clarence House, the royal residence that had been home to Queen Mother. There have been reports in Britain that the prince will be stepping up more often to assume public duties normally carried out by Queen Elizabeth, who turns 94 in the spring.

The reports come as the Royal Family tries to contain the damage from a BBC interview Prince Andrew gave over his friendship with convicted American sex offender Jeffrey Epstein. On Monday, an American woman who says she was forced to have sex with the prince when she was a teenager told her story to the BBC.

Earlier Tuesday morning, Trudeau also met with Latvian President English Levitis. The two discussed the deployment of nearly 600 Canadian troops in the Baltic State, a NATO mission meant to deter Russian aggression.

Some NATO leaders have openly questioned the future of the 70-year-old military alliance, with French President Emmanuel Macron saying it is suffering a “brain death.”

“This alliance at 70 is extremely important to Canada and to people around the world, and we’re going to continue to be dedicated to it,” said Trudeau.

Levitis was even more determined to shore up the alliance in the face of criticism.

“For Latvia, I can say the transatlantic bond — that means Europe and Canada and the U.S. — are the cornerstones of our defence politics and of our foreign politics,” he said.

“Because NATO is comprised of member states which share the same values: rule of law, democracy. And these values are to be defended. And we both, Canada and Latvia, are ready and willing to do so.”

Later Tuesday, Trudeau will sit down with U.S. President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the NATO summit.

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NATO marks 70 years with mutual suspicion and insults

After weeks of watching supposed allies trade allegations of betrayal and of insulting each others’ troops, delegates to the NATO Summit in London this week might be wondering who their friends are these days.

But bitter as the recriminations have been, there’s an even bigger cloud hanging over the summit: doubts about the fundamental principle of trust upon which NATO was built 70 years ago.

For decades, the 29 countries making up NATO have been reassured by the treaty’s ironclad guarantee of mutual defence in Article Five of its founding charter: “an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all.”

But in the era of U.S. President Donald Trump, governments now have doubts about the United States’ commitment to Article Five. The mutual defence clause has only ever been invoked once — by Canada on behalf of the U.S. in the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The 158 Canadian soldiers and seven Canadian civilians who lost their lives in Afghanistan died upholding Article Five. The NATO alliance only works when members trust that others will answer when the call comes.

Military analyst Dave Perry of the Canadian Global Affairs Institute said NATO allies still trust the U.S. military, American institutions and the individual Americans they work with in the alliance.

“The concern is really about a president who keeps demonstrating, over and over again, that he has a very different view of how America should be relating to its allies,” he said.

“The American president has left the impression at times that he’s got better relations with the Russian president than he does with some of the heads of NATO allies in Europe or even Canada.”

A legacy of disloyalty

Ivo Daalder, president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, was the U.S. permanent representative on the NATO Council for four years under President Barack Obama.

He said President Trump has undermined the alliance by sowing doubts about America’s intentions.

“He has said many times that NATO is obsolete. He refused for the first six months of his presidency to reaffirm Article Five, and has called into question whether the United States should continue to be a member of NATO if the allies are not willing to spend more on defence,” he said.

“It’s those kinds of questions that lead allies to say, ‘If the chips are down, will the U.S. be there?’ And there’s less confidence about that today than there used to be.”

Kurdish forces withdraw from from an area near Turkish border with Syria, overseen by the Russian forces, near the town of Amuda, Sunday, Oct. 27, 2019. (Baderkhan Ahmad/The Associated Press)

Daalder said Trump has undermined that trust through both his words and his actions.

“President Trump has taken a number of steps, including abandoning his Kurdish allies in Syria, that would call into question his commitment to alliance relationships,” he said.

Perry agrees that the betrayal of the Kurds sent a shiver through the Western alliance.

“It’s not just that the United States bailed out on the Kurds, because I think we’ve seen a version of that movie before. It’s the no-notice way of doing it, and the fact that the president would make these kinds of decisions not only capriciously, but also appearing to have totally ignored any advice that he did bother to solicit,” he said.

“The president’s whims are increasingly being translated into tangible outcomes. People have been speculating for several years that the president will send some tweets, but then the ‘grown-ups’ will prevail. I think the Syria example shows that the ‘grown-ups-prevailing’ narrative may be coming to an end.”

Fighting with France

While some European leaders expressed their doubts in private, France’s President Emmanuel Macron made his public in a recent interview with The Economist. In it, Macron said NATO was suffering “brain death” and openly questioned Article Five.

Daalder said the French leader’s concerns about the United States’ reliability as an ally may be affected by his own ambitions to lead Europe.

“My reading of President Macron’s latest statements are back in this Gaullist perspective that France needs to lead Europe,” he said. “I’m gratified that the reaction to that from allies within Europe has been to say, ‘Don’t call into question the fundamental nature of the alliance with the United States, and indeed with Canada,’ while at the same time trying to say how can we do more ourselves within a European context.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, shakes hands with French President Emmanuel Macron during the G-20 summit in Osaka, Japan June 28, 2019. (The Associated Press/Presidential Press Service)

On Thursday, Macron defended his harsh language and expanded on it.

“The questions I have asked are open questions that we haven’t solved yet — peace in Europe, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, the relationship with Russia, the issue of Turkey,” he said. “Who is the enemy? 

“So I say, as long as these questions are not resolved, let’s not negotiate about cost-sharing and burden-sharing, or this or that. Maybe we needed a wake-up call, as they say in English. I’m glad it was delivered, and I’m glad everyone now thinks we should rather think about our strategic aims.”

But the U.S. does want to talk about cost-sharing; in fact, the Trump administration announced unilaterally this week that it intends to cut its contribution to NATO’s total budget from 22 per cent to 16 per cent. Other members, including Canada, will have to pick up the slack.

Feuding with Germany

It’s a feature of NATO that the closer its members are to Russia, the more likely they are to meet the desired threshold of spending at least 2 per cent of GDP on defence.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov, while visiting President Trump in the Oval Office on Monday, made a point of noting that his country spends 3.1 per cent of its GDP on defence.

“You should tell that to Germany,” Trump huffed.

Trump has singled Germany out for failing to spend enough on the alliance, although his administration also is pressuring Canada.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump pose for a photograph prior to a bilateral meeting on the sideline of a summit of heads of state and government at NATO headquarters in Brussels July 11, 2018. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

In the run-up to the NATO summit, the U.S. and Germany have been feuding over another topic familiar to Canadians: Huawei.

Like their Canadian counterparts, Germany’s leaders are wrestling with whether to permit the Chinese company to bid on contracts to build its 5G networks. Berlin has been subjected to a pressure campaign by Washington to ban Huawei as a potential security risk.

On Sunday, German minister Peter Altmaier recalled during a TV debate that it was the Americans — not the Chinese — who were caught spying on Germans through the PRISM program exposed by Edward Snowden in 2013.

Pointing out that Germany had not boycotted the U.S. companies that facilitated that spying, Altmaier reminded Germans that “the U.S. also demands from its companies that they pass on information.”

Back in 2013, when German Chancellor Angela Merkel personally reproached President Obama about the bugging of her phone, he apologized and promised to make changes to the program.

U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell said Altmaier’s remarks were “an insult to the thousands of American troops who help ensure Germany’s security and the millions of Americans committed to a strong Western alliance.”

Turkey: With friends like these….

Meanwhile, Turkey continues to behave more like an adversary than a member of the NATO alliance, doubling down on its arms purchases from NATO’s main strategic rival Russia — and threatening other members with sending jihadists captured in Syria back to their European countries of origin if their governments don’t stop complaining about Turkey’s actions in Syria.

Turkey has depended on President Trump to shield it from U.S. retaliation over its attack on Kurdish enclaves in Northern Syria, which infuriated both Republicans and Democrats. At the same time, it has counted on Trump to block enforcement of a U.S. law that requires Washington to impose sanctions on Turkey for installing Russian-made S-400 air defence systems.

On Thursday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu castigated Macron for hosting a delegate from the Kurdish YPG last month.

“He is already the sponsor of the terrorist organization and constantly hosts them at the Elysée. If he says his ally is the terrorist organization … there is really nothing more to say,” said Cavusoglu.

“Right now, there is a void in Europe. [Macron is] trying to be its leader.”

‘You are brain dead’

Macron shot right back, arguing Turkey’s attack on the Kurds was at cross-purposes with NATO’s mission to defeat the Islamic State.

“One cannot say on one hand that we’re allies, and consequently demand our solidarity, and on the other hand put one’s allies in the face of a military offensive delivered as a fait accompli that endangers the action of the coalition against the Islamic State,” he said.

And on Friday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan upped the stakes again, accusing “some countries that are accustomed to not taking risks and always winning” of being unable to “tolerate Turkey’s efforts to protect its own rights, laws, borders and sovereignty. Most particularly, the latest comments of French president are the examples of this sick and shallow understanding.

“[Macron] says NATO is experiencing a brain death. I’m addressing Mr. Macron from Turkey and I will say it at NATO: You should check whether you are brain dead first.”

Pardoning war criminals

As if the rancour wasn’t enough, Perry said that President Trump is sowing new doubts by pardoning convicted war criminals.

“For all its warts, the U.S. has long been an upholder of the laws of armed conflict. For him to be intervening in that process of maintaining order and discipline is extraordinarily troubling,” he said, citing Trump’s recent decision to intervene in a disciplinary case against a Navy SEAL accused of war crimes in Iraq.

“From allies’ perspective, it’s another piece falling on top of the Syria withdrawal. It’s increasingly uncertain what the United States stands for. You’re not as sure now what it means to contribute to an American military operation as you would have been even a year ago.”

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Turkish forces push deeper into northeastern Syria as NATO chief urges restraint

Turkish forces pushed deeper into northeastern Syria on Friday, the third day of a cross-border offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters that has set off another mass displacement of civilians and met with widespread criticism from the international community.

There were casualties on both sides and Turkey reported its first military fatality, saying a soldier was “martyred” in the fighting. The invasion came after U.S. President Donald Trump opened the way for it by pulling U.S. troops from their positions near the border and abandoning U.S.-allied Syrian Kurdish fighters.

NATO’s secretary general, meanwhile, urged Turkey to exercise restraint — though he acknowledged what he said is Turkey’s legitimate security concern about the Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Jens Stoltenberg also expressed his worry Turkey’s offensive may “jeopardize” gains made against ISIS in the war in Syria.

On Friday morning, plumes of black smoke billowed from the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad as Turkey continued bombarding the area.

Plumes of black smoke billow from the Syrian border town of Tel Abyad as Turkey continues to bombard the area. (Reuters TV)

The Turkish Ministry statement that reported the death of a soldier also said three soldiers were wounded in the action, but didn’t provide details. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said a total of 342 Syrian Kurdish militia members were killed in the incursion so far. Those figures could not be independently verified.

Turkey considers the Syrian Kurdish fighters as terrorists linked to a Kurdish insurgency within Turkey, and says the offensive is necessary for national security.

In Syria, residents fled with their belongings loaded into cars, pickup trucks and motorcycle rickshaws, while others escaped on foot. The United Nations refugee agency said tens of thousands were on the move, and aid agencies warned that nearly a half-million people near the border were at risk — in scenes similar to those from a few years ago, when civilians fled the ISIS militants.

Turkish officials said the Kurdish militia has fired dozens of mortars into Turkish border towns the past two days, including Akcakale, killing at least six civilians, including a nine-month-old boy and three girls under 15. On the Syrian side, seven civilians and eight Kurdish fighters have been killed since the operation began, according to activists in Syria.

Mourners in Akcakale carried the coffin Friday of the slain baby boy, Mohammed Omar Saar, as many shouted, “Damn the PKK,” in reference to the Kurdish insurgent group in Turkey that Ankara says is linked to Syrian Kurdish fighters.

Sanctions ‘on the table,’ French official says

The Turkish Defence Ministry said the offensive was progressing “successfully as planned.” A Kurdish-led group and Syrian activists said that despite the bombardment, Turkish troops had not made much progress on several fronts they had opened. But their claims could not be independently verified.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has said the military intends to move 30 kilometres into northern Syria and that its operation will last until all “terrorists are neutralized.”

Cavusoglu, speaking at a joint news conference with Stoltenberg on Friday in Istanbul, said Turkey expected solidarity from its allies. He added that “it is not enough to say you understand Turkey’s legitimate concerns, we want to see this solidarity in a clear way.”

Meanwhile, a French official said Friday that sanctions against Turkey will be “on the table” at next week’s European Union summit.

Amelie de Montchalin, the French secretary for European affairs, told France Inter radio that Europe rejected any idea that it was powerless to respond to what she described as a shocking situation against civilians and Europe’s Kurdish allies against ISIS.

European diplomats in Brussels have responded cautiously to the idea of sanctions on Ankara though the invasion — which began Wednesday and was dubbed by Turkey “Operation Peace Spring” — has met with unanimous criticism.

The Turkish assault aims to create a corridor of control along the length of Turkey’s border — a so-called “safe zone” — clearing out the Syrian Kurdish fighters. Such a zone would end the Kurds’ autonomy in the area and put much of their population under Turkish control. Ankara wants to settle two million Syrian refugees, mainly Arabs, in the zone.

As the incursion drew widespread criticism, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned the European Union not to call Ankara’s incursion into Syria an “invasion.” He threatened, as he has in the past, to “open the gates” and let Syrian refugees flood into Europe.

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Turkey receives delivery of Russian missile defence system, likely to roil U.S., NATO

Russia began delivery of an advanced missile defence system to Turkey on Friday, a move expected to trigger U.S. sanctions against a NATO ally and drive a wedge into the heart of the Western military alliance.

The first parts of the S-400 air defence system were flown to a military air base near the capital Ankara, the Turkish Defence Ministry said, sealing Turkey’s deal with Russia that Washington had struggled for months to prevent.

The United States says the Russian military hardware is not compatible with NATO systems and the acquisition may lead to Ankara’s expulsion from an F-35 fighter jet program.

Investors in Turkey have been unsettled by the deal. The Turkish lira weakened against the U.S. dollar before the ministry announced the arrival of the S-400 consignment to the Murted Air Base, northwest of Ankara.

“The delivery of parts belonging to the system will continue in the coming days,” Turkey’s Defence Industry Directorate said. “Once the system is completely ready, it will begin to be used in a way determined by the relevant authorities.”

“Today three cargo planes arrived,” Defence Minister Hulusi Akar told state-owned Anadolu news agency, adding deliveries would continue in coming days.

At least two Russian Air Force AN-124 cargo planes flew to Turkey on Friday morning, data from plane tracking website Flightradar24 showed. Turkish broadcasters showed footage of one plane parked at airbase and a second one landing at around 12.30 p.m. local time.

Russia’s Federal Service for Military-Technical Cooperation confirmed on Friday it had started delivering the S-400 systems and the deliveries would continue in accordance with an agreed schedule, the RIA news agency reported.

Turkey says the system is a strategic defence requirement, particularly to secure its southern borders with Syria and Iraq. It says that when it made the deal with Russia for the S-400s, the United States and Europe had not presented a viable alternative.

Fighter jet deal could be off

President Tayyip Erdogan said after meeting President Donald Trump at a G20 summit last month that the United States did not plan to impose sanctions on Ankara for buying the S-400s.

Trump said Turkey had not been treated fairly, but did not rule out sanctions. U.S. officials said last week the administration still plans to impose sanctions on Turkey.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan last month. The countries have come to agreements on military equipment and monitoring and enforcing ceasefires in Syria. (Yuri Kadobnov/Pool via Reuters)

Under legislation known as Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), which targets purchases of military equipment from Russia, Trump should select five of 12 possible measures.

These range from banning visas and denying access to the U.S.-based Export-Import Bank, to the harsher options of blocking transactions with the U.S. financial system and denying export licences.

In the first comments from Washington, acting Defence Secretary Mark Esper said the U.S. position on the issue has not

“We are aware of Turkey taking delivery of the S-400, our position regarding the F-35 has not changed, and I will speak with my Turkish counterpart Minister Akar this afternoon,” Esper said. “There will be more to follow after that conversation.”

Washington has said the S-400s could compromise its Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighter jets, an aircraft Turkey is helping to build and planning to buy.

Turkey could also face expulsion from the F-35 program under the sanctions. Erdogan has dismissed that possibility, but Washington has already started the process of removing Turkey from the program, halting training of Turkish pilots in the United States on the aircraft.

Investors in Turkey have been concerned about the impact of potential U.S. sanctions on an economy that fell into recession after a currency crisis last year.

Also: Syria, Gulen oil

The S-400 acquisition is one of several issues that have frayed ties between the two allies, and has worried some in the West that Turkey is drifting closer to Moscow’s sphere of influence.

That includes a dispute over strategy in Syria east of the Euphrates River, where the United States is allied with Kurdish forces that Turkey views as terrorists. In Syria, Turkey supports the opposition against President Bashar al-Assad, but has joined with Russia to secure and monitor local ceasefires.

Turkey has also long demanded Washington hand over a Muslim cleric, Fethullah Gulen, which Ankara holds responsible for an attempted coup in 2016.

U.S. officials have said the courts would require sufficient evidence to extradite the elderly Gulen, who resides in Pennsylvania and has denied any involvement in the coup.

The United States reimposed sanctions on Iran last year, barring countries from importing its oil. In May Washington scrapped a six-month waiver granted to Turkey and seven other big importers in order to step up attempts to isolate Tehran and choke off its oil revenues.

Turkey, which complained but fully complied with the sanctions, is dependent on imports for almost all of its energy needs and Iran is a leading gas and oil supplier.

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China must treat detained Canadians fairly, NATO chief says

NATO's chief weighed in Thursday on the diplomatic spat between China and Canada, calling on Chinese officials to treat two Canadians detained in the country "fairly and with due process."

In his first public comments about the case, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he was following their case "with concern" and urged Beijing to address the concerns of the Canadian government, which wants the pair to be "immediately released."

Diplomat Michael Kovrig and entrepreneur Michael Spavor have been detained in China since December for allegedly endangering national security.

Their arrests came shortly after Canadian authorities in Vancouver arrested Meng Wanzhou, a senior executive with Chinese firm Huawei Technologies, who is wanted by the U.S. on fraud charges.

Another Canadian, Robert Lloyd Schellenberg, received a death sentence for a previous drug-smuggling conviction, a harsher penalty than the 15 years of imprisonment he had already been given.

The final decision of whether to extradite Meng could ultimately land on Justice Minister David Lametti's desk, but that could take time if it happens at all.

Lametti said he will have to make the call at the end of a complex legal process if there is an actual extradition order against her.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said he wants the two detained Canadian men to be 'immediately released.' (Stephanie Lecocq/EPA-EFE)

A Vancouver court heard the United States has issued a formal extradition request for Meng, Huawei's chief financial officer, who was arrested Dec. 1 at Vancouver's airport. She is facing charges of bank fraud, wire fraud and two counts of conspiracy to commit both.

The case will return to court in Vancouver on March 6 to discuss Canada's authority to proceed with the extradition request.

The U.S. Department of Justice laid out its case Monday against Meng and Huawei. Both have denied any wrongdoing.

Meng's arrest has touched off a political furor marked by days of angry anti-Canada rhetoric from China's Foreign Ministry, culminating last weekend in the firing of John McCallum as Canada's ambassador to China.

McCallum, a former longtime Liberal MP and cabinet minister, had publicly expressed confidence in Meng's case against any U.S. extradition order.

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Trump continues attacks on NATO nations during 2nd day of summit

U.S. President Donald Trump continued to hammer NATO nations over their defence spending Thursday as he prepared for a second day of meetings with leaders of the military alliance.

Trump, in a series of tweets from Brussels, said that, "Presidents have been trying unsuccessfully for years to get Germany and other rich NATO Nations to pay more toward their protection from Russia."

He said the U.S. "pays tens of Billions of Dollars too much to subsidize Europe" and demanded that members meet their pledge to spend 2 percent of GDP on defence, which "must ultimately go to 4%!"

Trump has taken an aggressive tone during the summit, questioning the value of a military alliance that has defined decades of American foreign policy, torching an ally and proposing a massive increase in European defence spending.

'Not acceptable!'

Under fire for his warm embrace of Russia's Vladimir Putin, Trump turned a harsh spotlight on Germany's own ties to Russia, declaring Wednesday that a natural gas pipeline venture with Moscow has left Angela Merkel's government "totally controlled" and "captive" to Russia.

'Germany is a captive of Russia,' says U.S. president at start of NATO meetings 3:21

He continued the attack Thursday, complaining that, "Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia."

"Not acceptable!" he railed before a day of events that will include meetings with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Romania, Ukraine and Georgia before he heads to his next stop: the United Kingdom.

The tough rhetoric against a core ally comes just days before Trump is set to meet one-on-one with Putin in Finland.

'What good is NATO'

With scorching language, Trump questioned the necessity of the alliance that formed a bulwark against Soviet aggression, tweeting after a day of contentious meetings: "What good is NATO if Germany is paying Russia billions of dollars for gas and energy?"

During the meetings, he demanded via tweet that NATO countries "Must pay 2% of GDP IMMEDIATELY, not by 2025" and then rattled them further by privately suggesting member nations should spend four per cent of their gross domestic product on defence — a bigger share than even the United States currently pays, according to NATO statistics.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump pose for a family picture ahead of the opening ceremony of the NATO summit in Brussels on Wednesday. Trump says Germany is "totally controlled" by Russia. (Ludovic Marin, Pool via AP)

It was the most recent in a series of demands and insults that critics fear will undermine a decades-old alliance launched to counterbalance Soviet aggressions. And it comes just days before Trump sits down with Putin at the conclusion of his closely watched European trip.

Trump has spent weeks berating members of the alliance for failing to spend enough of their money on defence, accusing Europe of freeloading off the U.S. and raising doubts about whether he would come to members' defence if they were ever attacked.

May calls for solidarity

He described the current situation as "disproportionate and not fair to the taxpayers of the United States."

However, a formal summit declaration issued by the NATO leaders Wednesday reaffirmed their "unwavering commitment" to the two per cent pledge set in 2014 and made no reference to any effort to get to four per cent.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, talks to U.S. President Donald Trump as British Prime Minister Theresa May, right watches at the opening ceremony of the NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, shot back that she had "experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union, and I'm very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and can thus say that we can determine our own policies and make our own decisions and that's very good."

Amid the tumult, British Prime Minister Theresa May sounded a call for solidarity among the allies, saying, "As we engage Russia we must do so from a position of unity and strength — holding out hope for a better future, but also clear and unwavering on where Russia needs to change its behaviour for this to become a reality. And, as long as Russia persists in its efforts to undermine our interests and values, we must continue to deter and counter them."

Visit largely outside central London

From Brussels, Trump heads to England, where May's government is in turmoil over her plans for exiting the European Union.

Although administration officials point to the long-standing alliance between the United States and the United Kingdom, Trump's itinerary will largely keep him out of central London, where significant protests are expected.

Instead, a series of events — a black-tie dinner with business leaders, a meeting with May and an audience with Queen Elizabeth — will happen outside the bustling city, where Mayor Sadiq Khan has been in a verbal battle with Trump.


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Trump suggests NATO allies could double defence spending beyond 2014 pledge

U.S. President Donald Trump barrelled into a NATO summit Wednesday with claims that a natural gas pipeline deal has left Germany "totally controlled" and "captive to Russia" as he lobbed fresh complaints about allies' "delinquent" defence spending during the opening of what was expected to be a fraught two-day meeting.

Trump also suggested that NATO allies commit to spending four per cent of their gross domestic product on defence — double the current goal of two per cent by 2024.

The president, in a testy exchange with NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg that kicked off his visit, took issue with the U.S. protecting Germany as it strikes deals with Russia.

"I have to say, I think it's very sad when Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia where we're supposed to be guarding against Russia," Trump said at a breakfast with Stoltenberg. "We're supposed to protect you against Russia but they're paying billions of dollars to Russia and I think that's very inappropriate."

Trump repeatedly described Germany as "captive to Russia" because of the energy deal and urged NATO to look into the issue.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed back firmly, insisting that Germany makes its own decisions and drawing on her own background growing up in communist East Germany behind the Iron Curtain.

Donald Trump, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel met in Brussels after the U.S. leader publicly lambasted his country's longtime ally over its spending on national defence and a Russian oil pipeline. (Markus Schreiber/Associated Press)

"I've experienced myself a part of Germany controlled by the Soviet Union and I'm very happy today that we are united in freedom as the Federal Republic of Germany and can thus say that we can determine our own policies and make our own decisions and that's very good," she said.

The president appeared to be referring to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that would bring gas from Russia to Germany's northeastern Baltic coast, bypassing Eastern European nations like Poland and Ukraine and doubling the amount of gas Russia can send directly to Germany. The vast undersea pipeline is opposed by the U.S. and some other EU members, who warn it could give Moscow greater leverage over Western Europe. It's expected to be online at the end of 2019.

Environmental-conscious Germany is trying to reduce its reliance on coal and is phasing out nuclear power by 2022, so it hopes to use natural gas to partially fill the gap until the country's electricity grid can cope with fluctuating levels provided by renewable energy. The alternatives, including U.S. supplies, are more expensive.

In their back-and-forth, Stoltenberg stressed to Trump that NATO members have been able to work together despite their differences. "I think that two world wars and the Cold War taught us that we are stronger together than apart," he told the president, trying to calm tensions.

'They will spend more'

Trump's dramatic exchange with Stoltenberg set the tone for what was already expected to be a tense day of meetings with leaders of the military alliance as Trump presses jittery NATO allies about their military spending ahead of his meeting next week with Putin.

"The United States is paying far too much and other countries are not paying enough, especially some. So we're going to have a meeting on that," Trump said, describing the situation as "disproportionate and not fair to the taxpayers of the United States."

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, left, talks to U.S. President Donald Trump as British Prime Minister Theresa May, right watches at the opening ceremony of the NATO summit at NATO headquarters in Brussels. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

"They will spend more," he later predicted. "I have great confidence they'll be spending more."

And with that, he went on to push allies at the summit to double their commitment on defence spending.

"During the president's remarks today at the NATO summit, he suggested that countries not only meet their commitment of two per cent of their GDP on defence spending, but that they increase it to four per cent," said White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders.

She said the president raised the same issue at NATO last year and that, "Trump wants to see our allies share more of the burden and at a very minimum meet their already stated obligations."

However, a formal summit declaration issued by the NATO leaders Wednesday reaffirmed their "unwavering commitment" to the two per cent pledge set in 2014 and made no reference to any effort to get to four per cent.

Trump's pipeline criticism was an unusual line of attack for a president who has proclaimed himself eager to improve relations with Russia's Vladimir Putin and dismissed the U.S. intelligence community's assessment that Russia tried to undermine Western democracy by meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Trump win. Trump has long argued that improving relations with Russia would be good for both nations.

Mixed reaction in U.S. 

Back in the U.S., Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer issued a joint statement describing Trump's "brazen insults and denigration of one of America's most steadfast allies, Germany," as "an embarrassment."

"His behaviour this morning is another profoundly disturbing signal that the president is more loyal to President Putin than to our NATO allies," they wrote.

Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch also took issue with Trump, saying "I don't agree with that. Germans wouldn't agree with that. They are a very strong people."

But Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas and a strong supporter of the president, said the pipeline issue strikes at the "heart of NATO unity."

"The pipeline gets cheap Russian gas to Germany while bypassing smaller Eastern European nations, allowing Russia to pressure them while Germany is held harmless," he tweeted, adding: "No amount of preening in Berlin will cover this nakedly selfish policy."

Despite Trump's claims about Germany, Merkel served as a forceful advocate for imposing — and maintaining — sanctions on Russia after it annexed Crimea in 2014, arguing that it violated the principles of the international order established after the Second World War.

The president is also not the first leader to point to the impact of Nord Stream 2 on Europe, echoing complaints from Eastern European allies who note it would cut out transit countries such as Poland and Ukraine.

U.S. President Donald Trump is greeted by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg before a bilateral breakfast ahead of the NATO Summit in Brussels. Trump took issue with the U.S. protecting Germany when the European nation is making deals with Russia. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Trump and Merkel met later Wednesday on the sidelines of the summit and kept their remarks polite during a photo opportunity with the press.

Trump told reporters the two had a "very, very good relationship" and congratulated Merkel on her "tremendous success." Asked if they had discussed the pipeline, he said they had, but declined to elaborate.

Merkel, for her part, called the two nations "good partners" and said "we wish to continue to co-operate in the future."

Trump then met with French President Emmanuel Macron, who said he disagreed with Trump's pipeline assessment. But the two appeared on good terms, with Trump joking about the fact that Macron had been asked about it.

Trump has long pushed NATO members to meet their agreed-to target of two per cent by 2024 and has accused those who don't of freeloading off the U.S.

NATO estimates that 15 members, or just over half, will meet the benchmark by 2024 based on current trends.

Brussels is the first leg of a weeklong European tour that will include stops in London and Scotland, as well as a highly anticipated meeting next week with Putin.


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