Migration at Top of Agenda of Spanish PM’s 1st Morocco Visit

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez urged greater cooperation on migration while making his first visit Monday to Morocco, a jumping-off point for a growing number of migrants trying to reach Spain and get a foothold in Europe.

Spain is one of the North African kingdom’s strongest European allies, and enhanced collaboration on all levels was a focus of Sanchez’s visit. It was among the topics discussed at a lunch hosted by Moroccan King Mohammed VI, the official MAP news agency said.

Controlling migration from Morocco to Spain was the focus of Sanchez’s talks with Moroccan Prime Minister Saad Eddine El Othmani.

“Migration is a shared responsibility, and we need to strengthen our cooperation,” Sanchez said at their joint news conference.

El Othmani said Morocco “is doing everything in its power” to fight illegal immigration, but insisted the complex issue “cannot be solved solely by the security approach.”

“Despite the importance of security, we must focus on the development of countries of departure in Africa,” Othmani said.

Many migrants in Morocco who embark for Spain are sub-Saharan Africans.

Moroccan authorities say the kingdom prevented 65,000 migrants from crossing to Spain in 2017. However, Morocco says it cannot be the region’s immigration police.

Morocco’s place as a point of passage has grown with Italy’s refusal to take in migrants who try to cross the Mediterranean Sea from Libya. The Libyan coast guard, with help from the Italian government, increasingly has intercepted flimsy boats launched by migrant smugglers.

Migrants head to northern Morocco with the aim of crossing the Strait of Gibraltar to Spain or climbing over high fences to reach the Spanish enclaves in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla.

Nearly 47,500 migrants arrived in Spain by sea since the start of the year, while 564 died or went missing while attempting the voyage, according to the International Organization of Migration.

Morocco, along with Tunisia and Algeria, has refused to serve as an immigration reception and processing center, an idea proposed by the European Union. Morocco instead wants more EU funding to help manage migration across its borders.

Morocco is scheduled to host an international U.N.-sponsored conference on migration on December 10-11.

French Universities to Offer More Courses in English to Attract Foreign Students

France wants to boost the number of foreign students at its universities by more than half over the next decade and will offer more courses taught in English to attract them.

Prime Minister Edouard Philippe, announcing the plan on Monday, said increasing the number of foreigners studying in the country would help build French influence overseas.

Home to centuries-old universities such as the Sorbonne in Paris and some leading business schools, France is the world’s top non-English speaking student destination, but it ranks behind the United States, Britain and Australia.

The number of foreign students at French universities fell by 8.5 percent between 2011 and 2016 and the country has seen increased competition from Germany, Russia, Canada and China, the prime minister’s office said.

“Many countries are already building global attractivity strategies, linking studies, the job market, tourism, which explains the influence of Asia or monarchies in the Gulf,” Philippe said in a speech unveiling the strategy. “In this field just as in other economic ones, the world’s balance of power is shifting. That’s why we need to welcome more foreign students.”

Under the plan, France will simplify student visa regulations but will also increase tuition fees for students outside the European Economic Area in order to be able to provide better facilities. However, fees will still be much lower than in Britain and other neighboring countries.

From March 2019, foreign graduates with a French master’s degree will be able to get a residence visa to look for work or set up a business in France.

“We are constantly compared, audited, judged among 10 other possible destinations. In an age of social media, no one can rest on its reputation only,” Philippe said.

French officials said current fees of around 170 euros ($195) a year for a bachelor’s degree in France or 243 euros for a masters’ — the same as those paid by French students — was interpreted by students in countries like China as a sign of low quality.

From September 2019, non-European students will be charged 2,770 euros annually to study for a bachelor’s degree and 3,770 euros a year for masters and PhDs.

“That means France will still subsidize two thirds of the cost of their studies,” Philippe said. “And the fees will remain well below the 8,000 euros to 13,000 euros charged by the Dutch or the tens of thousands of pounds paid in Britain,” he said.

Some of the extra revenue will be used to boost the number of scholarships offered by the foreign ministry.

The number of courses taught in English, which have already been increased fivefold since 2004 to 1,328, will be boosted further, Philippe said.

More French classes will also be on offer for foreign students and student visa applications will be made available online.

US, UK Clash With Russia at OPCW Over New Investigative Team

The U.S. and Western powers on Monday clashed with Russia and others over whether the global chemical weapons watchdog could start apportioning blame for poison gas and nerve agent attacks.

At a heated session of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons’ annual conference, both sides bitterly fought over a June decision for the group to set up a new investigative team which could name the perpetrators of chemical attacks — a major change in the group’s rules.

Russia and China said the widely-backed June decision to allow the organization to identify those responsible should be reviewed to ensure it didn’t go beyond the OPCW mandate.

The U.S. ambassador to the watchdog, Kenneth Ward, complained that “a tsunami of chemical weapons” had been used this year, especially in Syria, an ally of Russia, and called Moscow’s attempts to undo the decision “pungent hypocrisy.”

Britain and its allies also have accused Moscow of using a Soviet-era nerve agent in an attempted assassination of former spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury earlier this year. Russia denies the allegation.

Britain’s ambassador, Peter Wilson, said a Russia-Chinese proposal to review the decision “is clearly designed to obstruct and delay implementation” of the decision.

Russian envoy Alexander Shulgin said the new team would wield unlawful powers within the OPCW and on Monday called for an expert group to assess the viability of the decision, something the U.S. insisted would hamstring the development of the team. Wilson said that the Russian move would “undermine” plans to set up the team.

Last June, an 82-24 vote among OPCW members provided more than the necessary two-thirds majority to give the group the mandate to name the parties it found responsible for chemical attacks.

With Russia’s opposition on Monday, Ward said Russia and China made “an attempt to re-litigate what happened in June.” He said that both nations “are trying to turn back the clock of history.”

One allegation still being investigated by weapons inspectors is the suspected chemical attack in April in the Syrian town of Douma. An interim report said that weapons inspectors found “various chlorinated organic chemicals” at the site of the alleged Douma attack.

The OPCW made headlines last month when Dutch authorities revealed that they had foiled an alleged plot by Russian spies to hack into the organization’s Wi-Fi network using equipment stashed in the trunk of a rental car parked at a hotel next to the OPCW headquarters. Russia denied any wrongdoing.

Migrants at Balkan Border Face New Obstacle: Cold

It is biting cold near the border of Bosnia and Croatia, and nothing really keeps the migrants camping there stay warm.

After a mild autumn, the weather in the Balkans gave way to gray skies, plunging temperatures and cutting wind. The approach of another winter announced tougher times for migrants stuck in the region while trying to reach western Europe.

Hundreds of migrants are staying in make-shift camps with no heating or facilities. Some are fleeing wars in their home countries in the Middle East Africa or Asia. Others have been driven away by poverty, lack of freedom or hope for the future.

One such camp is in the town of Velika Kladusa, in northwestern Bosnia, only about a kilometer (mile) from the heavily guarded border. Dozens of migrants spend days and nights here trying to cross into Croatia, a European Union member nation a short distance away that holds the promise of easier travels.

Migrants turn to Bosnia to avoid more heavily guarded routes elsewhere in the Balkans. As a European Union member, Croatia is easier to pass through toward wealthy EU countries where they hope to find work and start new lives. Many spend months, or sometimes even years, on the road.

After their long journeys, many migrants don’t have winter shoes, warm socks, caps or gloves. They wrap themselves tightly in blankets, leaving their faces barely visible. At lunch time, they line up for warm meals provided by aid groups. They eat among garbage-strewn, grim-looking tents made of nylon, ropes and cardboard.

At night, the travelers gather around camp fires warm up or cook. Some say their hands have turned blue from cold and they don’t know what to do.

Bosnian authorities have been struggling to accommodate migrants who arrive in a country still recovering from a brutal 1992-95 ethnic war. Some of the wayfarers refuse to go to government-run camps, choosing to take their chances at the border instead.

UK Foreign Secretary to Make First Visit to Iran

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will visit Iran for the first time on Monday for talks with the Iranian government on issues including the future of the 2015 nuclear deal, his office said in a statement.

In May, U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned the deal, negotiated with five other world powers during Democratic president Barack Obama’s administration, and earlier this month the United States restored sanctions targeting Iran’s oil, banking and transportation sectors.

Hunt’s office said he would meet Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and would stress that the UK is committed to the nuclear deal as long as Iran sticks to its terms. He will also discuss European efforts to maintain nuclear-related sanctions relief.

“The Iran nuclear deal remains a vital component of stability in the Middle East by eliminating the threat of a nuclearized Iran. It needs 100 percent compliance though to survive,” Hunt said in a statement ahead of the visit.

“We will stick to our side of the bargain as long as Iran does. But we also need to see an end to destabilizing activity by Iran in the rest of the region if we are going to tackle the root causes of the challenges the region faces.”

Hunt will also discuss Iran’s role in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, his office said, and press Iran on its human rights record, calling for the immediate release of detained British-Iranian dual nationals where there are humanitarian grounds to do so.

“I arrive in Iran with a clear message for the country’s leaders: putting innocent people in prison cannot and must not be used as a tool of diplomatic leverage,” he said.

 

Painting Found in Romania Studied As Possibly Stolen Picasso

Romanian prosecutors are investigating whether a painting by Pablo Picasso that was snatched from a museum in the Netherlands six years ago has turned up in Romania.

Four Romanians were convicted of stealing Picasso’s “Tete d’Arlequin” and six other valuable paintings from the Kunsthal gallery in Rotterdam.

One of them, Olga Dogaru, told investigators she burned the paintings in her stove to protect her son, the alleged leader of the 2012 heist. She later retracted the statement.

Romania’s Directorate for the Investigation of Organized Crime and Terrorism said Sunday it was examining the circumstances of a painting a fiction writer said she found under a tree after receiving an anonymous tip.

The work, purported to be the stolen Picasso, was given to the Dutch embassy in Romania on Saturday.

Finnish President Says He Briefed Trump on Forest Monitoring

Finland’s president says that he briefed U.S. President Donald Trump amid the California wildfires on how the Nordic country effectively monitors its substantial forest resources with a well-working surveillance system.

President Sauli Niinisto said in an interview published Sunday in the Ilta-Sanomat newspaper that he told Trump during their brief meeting in Paris on Nov. 11 that “Finland is a country covered by forests but we also have a good surveillance system and network” in case of wildfires.

Trump said Saturday in northern California that wildfires weren’t a problem in Finland because the Finns “spend a lot of time on raking” leaves and “cleaning and doing things.”

Niinisto said he told Trump “we take care of our forests,” but said that he can’t recall anything being mentioned on raking.

Ukraine Ex-President Yanukovych to Miss Treason Hearing

Former Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych won’t be able to appear before a Kyiv court on Monday because of injuries sustained on a Moscow tennis court, his lawyer said.

Yanukovych “cannot appear in court seeing as he has been hospitalized” and is unable to move due to spinal and knee injuries, lawyer Aleksandr Goroshinsky told Russian news agencies Sunday.

Yanukovych fled Ukraine in 2014 as tensions in the capital flared up following a brutal and deadly police crackdown on protesters calling for the president to follow through with an association agreement signed with the European Union.

Shortly after disappearing from Kyiv, he surfaced safely in Russia.

Prosecutors told a Kyiv court in August that Yanukovych abandoned the nation to fate and “fled into the arms of the aggressor,” referring to Russia’s swift annexation of Crimea from Ukraine following his flight from the capital.

Yanukovych, who so far has been absent from court proceedings against him, faces charges of treason, complicity in a war against Ukraine and premeditated actions to alter Ukraine’s borders. Prosecutors in August asked for a sentence of 15 years in prison.

In September, the court invited Yanukovych to appear and make a final statement. Goroshinsky said at the time that his client was only interested in doing so by Skype. On Sunday, he told Russian journalists that, given Yanokovych’s current condition, they would ask to reschedule the date of the hearing.

Macron, Merkel Seek Common Approaches to Trump, Euro

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, both limping in the polls, are looking for common approaches to U.S. President Donald Trump and fixing the flaws in the euro currency.

The two need a little mutual support right now given their respective political shakiness at home as Macron visits Sunday to take part in Germany’s annual remembrance day for victims of war and dictatorship. Macron has seen his poll ratings sag at home and Merkel has been a lame duck since saying she wouldn’t seek another term. Her conservative party has lost support in recent regional elections.

 

Merkel has offered support for Macron’s proposal for a European army, in the face of criticism from Trump. Both leaders have said Europe needs to depend less on others — such as the U.S. — for its defense. It’s at least in part a response to Trump’s disruption of the status quo in the NATO alliance by raising doubts about U.S. willingness to pay for other countries’ defense.

 

But ceremonial appearances and good words can’t paper over persistent differences between their approaches to the European Union’s economic issues.

 

For example, Germany and France have apparently struck a deal on a common budget for the EU countries that use the shared euro currency, something Macron has been pushing for. German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz told the dpa news agency that the deal was to be presented to European finance ministers on Monday, and that he hoped it would find agreement.

 

But the size of the budget — mentioned by French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire as 20 to 25 billion euros — is far short of Macron’s idea. The amount is only 0.2 percent of the eurozone economy, far short of the several percentage points of gross domestic product originally mentioned by Macron. The compromise underscores German reluctance to sign off on anything seen as transferring taxpayer money from richer countries like Germany to more fiscally shaky ones such as Italy or Greece.

 

The two sides have also not agreed on a tax on digital companies such as Amazon and Google. The French and the European Commission have proposed imposing such a tax, but Scholz said the issue should be left with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a forum of mostly developed nations. Since the OECD includes the US, and such a tax would hit U.S. tech companies, prospects for a deal there are less than clear.

 

Macron was to speak in the German parliament Sunday on an annual day of remembrance for victims of war and dictatorship, a week after the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, and then consults with Merkel on European and international issues.

Merkel last week echoed Macron’s call in an interview for a European army, a long-term prospect that drew tweeted criticism of Macron from Trump. Macron in fact was advocating that Europe do more for its own defense, putting him on the same page in many ways with Trump.

At another point in the interview, Macron discussed hacking and other cyber threats and asserted that on that front, France must protect itself from China, Russia and even the United States. His concern about U.S. hackers had nothing to do with military threats or forces but drew an angry tweet from Trump regardless.

 

Merkel said a European force would save money and agreed with Macron that Europe must be able to defend itself on its own. Despite the words of support, such a common army remains only a long-term prospect.