On Khashoggi killing, Saudi prince says U.S. also made mistakes

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 16 (Reuters) – Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told President Joe Biden that Saudi Arabia had acted to prevent a repeat of mistakes like the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and that the United States had also made mistakes, including in Iraq, a Saudi minister said.

Biden said on Friday he told Prince Mohammed he held him responsible for the 2018 murder of Washington Post journalist Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, shortly after exchanging a fist bump with the kingdom’s de facto ruler. read more

“The President raised the issue… And the crown prince responded that this was a painful episode for Saudi Arabia and that it was a terrible mistake,” the kingdom’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said.

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Those who were accused were brought to trial and being punished with prison terms, he said.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing, which he denies.

Jubeir, talking to Reuters about Friday’s conversation between the two leaders, said the crown prince had made the case that trying to impose values by force on other countries could backfire.

“It has not worked when the U.S. tried to impose values on Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, it backfired. It does not work when people try to impose values by force on other countries,” Jubeir quoted the prince, known as MbS, as telling Biden.

“Countries have different values and those values should be respected,” MbS told Biden.

The exchange highlighted the tensions that have weighed on the relationship between Washington and Riyadh, its closest Arab ally, over several issues, including Khashoggi, high oil prices and the Yemen war.

Biden, who landed in Saudi Arabia on Friday in his first Middle East trip as president, held a summit on Saturday with six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq while downplaying his meeting with Prince Mohammed. That encounter has drawn criticism at home over human rights abuses.

Biden had promised to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the global stage over the 2018 murder of Khashoggi, but ultimately decided U.S. interests dictated improving relations with the world’s top oil exporter and Arab powerhouse.

After the summit, the leaders gathered for a group picture at which Biden kept his distance from Prince Mohammed.

“His Royal Highness mentioned to the President that mistakes like this happen in other countries and we saw a mistake like this being committed by the United States in Abu Ghraib (prison in Iraq),” Jubeir said.

Prince Mohammed also raised the killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during an Israeli raid in the West Bank.

Abu Akleh, who worked for the Al Jazeera network, was shot in the head on May 11 while reporting on an Israeli raid in the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

Palestinians believe she was killed deliberately by Israeli troops. Israel denies its soldiers shot her on purpose, and say she may have been killed either by errant army fire or a shot fired by a Palestinian gunman.

Jubeir rejected the accusation that Saudi Arabia has hundreds of political prisoners.

“That’s absolutely not correct. We have prisoners in Saudi Arabia who have committed crimes and who were put to trial by our courts and were found guilty,” he said.

“The notion that they would be described as political prisoners is ridiculous,” he added.

Washington has softened its stance on Saudi Arabia since Russia invaded Ukraine earlier this year, triggering one of the world’s worst energy supply crises.

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Additional reporting by Jarrett Reshow
Writing by Ghaida Ghantous
Editing by Mark Potter, Jane Merriman and Nick Macfie

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Biden fails to secure major security, oil commitments at Arab summit

  • Biden says U.S. will remain committed to allies
  • U.S. hoping to integrate Israel
  • Saudi crown prince pushes back on human rights issue

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia, July 16 (Reuters) – President Joe Biden told Arab leaders on Saturday that the United States would remain an active partner in the Middle East, but he failed to secure commitments to a regional security axis that would include Israel or an immediate oil output rise.

“The United States is invested in building a positive future of the region, in partnership with all of you—and the United States is not going anywhere,” he said, according to a transcript of his speech.

Biden, who began his first trip to the Middle East as president with a visit to Israel, presented his vision and strategy for America’s engagement in the Middle East at an Arab summit in Jeddah.

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The summit communique was vague, however, and Saudi Arabia, Washington’s most important Arab ally, poured cold water on U.S. hopes the summit could help lay the groundwork for a regional security alliance – including Israel – to combat Iranian threats.

During a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Biden raised the highly sensitive issue of human rights, drawing countercriticism from the crown prince, also known as MbS.

“We believe there’s great value in including as many of the capabilities in this region as possible and certainly Israel has significant air and missile defence capabilities, as they need to. But we’re having these discussions bilaterally with these nations,” a senior administration official told reporters.

A plan to connect air defence systems could be a hard sell for Arab states that have no ties with Israel and balk at being part of an alliance seen as against Iran, which has a strong regional network of proxies including Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen.

Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, said he was not aware of any discussions on a Gulf-Israeli defence alliance and that the kingdom was not involved in such talks.

He told reporters after the U.S.-Arab summit that Riyadh’s decision to open its airspace to all air carriers had nothing to do with establishing diplomatic ties with Israel and was not a precursor to further steps. read more

Biden has focused on the summit with six Gulf states and Egypt, Jordan and Iraq, while downplaying the meeting with MbS which drew criticism in the United States over human rights concerns.

Biden had said he would make regional power Saudi Arabia a “pariah” on the global stage over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, but ultimately decided U.S. interests dictated a recalibration, not a rupture, in relations with the world’s top oil exporter.

The crown prince told Biden that Saudi Arabia had acted to prevent a repeat of mistakes like the killing of Khashoggi and that the United States had also made mistakes, including in Iraq, a Saudi minister said.

FIST BUMP

Biden exchanged a fist bump with MbS on Friday but said he told him he held him responsible for Khashoggi’s murder at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

“The President raised the issue … And the crown prince responded that this was a painful episode for Saudi Arabia and that it was a terrible mistake,” said Saudi Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir.

The accused were brought to trial were and being punished with prison terms, he said.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe the crown prince ordered Khashoggi’s killing, which he denies.

Jubeir, talking to Reuters about Friday’s conversation, said MbS had made the case that trying to impose values on other countries by force could backfire.

“It has not worked when the U.S. tried to impose values on Afghanistan and Iraq. In fact, it backfired,” Jubeir quoted the crown prince as telling Biden. “Countries have different values and those values should be respected!”

The exchange highlighted tensions that have weighed on relations between Washington and Riyadh, its closest Arab ally, over issues including Khashoggi, oil prices and the Yemen war.

Biden needs the help of OPEC giant Saudi Arabia at a time of high crude prices and other problems related to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Washington also wants to curb Iran’s sway in the region and China’s global influence.

Biden came to Saudi Arabia hoping to reach a deal on oil production to help drive down gasoline prices that are driving inflation above 40-year highs and threatening his approval ratings.

He leaves the region empty-handed but hoping the OPEC+ group, comprising Saudi Arabia, Russia and other producers, will boost production at a meeting on Aug. 3.

“I look forward to seeing what’s coming in the coming months,” Biden said.

FOOD SECURITY

A second senior administration official said Biden would announce that Washington has committed $1 billion in new near- and long-term food security assistance for the Middle East and North Africa, and that Gulf states would commit $3 billion over the next two years in projects that align with U.S. partnerships in global infrastructure and investment.

Gulf states, which have refused to side with the West against Russia over Ukraine, are seeking a concrete commitment from the United States to strategic ties that have been strained over perceived U.S. disengagement from the region.

Riyadh and Abu Dhabi have been frustrated by U.S. conditions on arms sales and at their exclusion from indirect U.S.-Iran talks on reviving a 2015 nuclear pact they see as flawed for not tackling concerns about Iran’s missile programme and behaviour.

Israel had encouraged Biden’s trip to Saudi Arabia, hoping it would lead to warmer ties between it and Riyadh as part of a wider Arab rapprochement.

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Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan in Jeddah and John Irish in Paris Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Michael Georgy
Editing by Timothy Heritage and Helen Popper

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Airbus loses bid to use French blocking law in Qatar row

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Surface damage seen on Qatar Airways’ airbus A350 parked at Qatar airways aircraft maintenance hangar in Doha, Qatar, June 20, 2022. REUTERS/Imad Creidi//File Photo

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LONDON, July 15 (Reuters) – (Amends paragraph 6 of July 15 story to show that Airbus’ comment on French legal risks is paraphrased testimony, not a direct quote)

A UK judge on Friday rejected an attempt by Airbus (AIR.PA) to invoke a De Gaulle-era law restricting the way it responds to foreign courts, as a high-profile dispute with Qatar Airways became mired in a growing debate over cross-border legal powers.

Qatar Airways is suing France-based Airbus for $1.4 billion over damage to the painted surface and anti-lightning system on A350 jets, saying safety could be at risk from a design defect. Airbus acknowledges quality flaws but insists the jets are safe.

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Now, the two sides must provide each other with thousands of pages of documents as their dispute heads towards a rare London aerospace trial in mid-2023, barring an elusive settlement.

Airbus says it is prevented from directly handing over documents sought by Qatar Airways by a 1968 law that stops French companies from handing over sensitive economic details to foreign courts, without a special mechanism in place.

The planemaker applied to a UK judge for permission to appoint a special commissioner responsible for transmitting the documents to Qatar Airways, something it had already done to assist UK authorities during a bribery investigation.

Airbus said that failing to set up such a conduit would expose the company to criminal charges in France.

“This is not something entirely novel, weird or wacky that we are proposing,” its lawyer Rupert Allen told a division of the High Court in an online hearing on Friday.

Judge David Waksman, however, rejected the request, awarding costs to Qatar Airways.

The 1968 law – widely referred to as the “French blocking statute” – was designed to protect French companies from oppressive foreign court demands especially from the United States, with which Paris was locked in an economic Cold War.

“That in my judgment is a million miles away from what this case is all about,” Judge David Waksman said.

“This is hardly the example of an unwilling, vulnerable French company that has now found itself having to cope with a highly intrusive and oppressive form of discovery,” he said.

JURISDICTION DEBATE

He also criticised the planemaker for slowness over the request for a special disclosure mechanism.

The jurisdictional row coincides with a simmering political debate in the UK over the rights of British and foreign courts following Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Tensions flared again last month when the European Court of Human Rights, which is separate from the EU, blocked Britain’s move to deport some asylum seekers to Rwanda.

At least one of the candidates to replace Boris Johnson as UK prime minister has pledged to withdraw from the court.

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab, who is not standing in the Conservative leadership race, has said Britain will stay in the ECHR but that it is “legitimate to push back”. read more

In France, a corruption case that led to a record 3.6 billion euro $3.63 billion) fine against Airbus from Britain, France and the United States in 2020 also fuelled a debate over the extra-territorial reach of U.S. prosecutors against French companies.

Airbus said throughout the four-year investigation that it was co-operating with all domestic and foreign agencies.

Friday’s ruling came after Qatar Airways urged the judge to invoke the authority of English courts, which both sides had chosen to settle any disputes in their jetliner contracts.

“Complying with a foreign law is no defence against non-compliance” with English courts, Qatar’s lawyer Philip Shepherd said.

Airbus said in an emailed statement it had sought to comply with applicable laws rather than limit disclosure. Qatar Airways had no immediate comment on the judgment.

($1 = 0.9915 euros)

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Reporting by Tim Hepher
Editing by Barbara Lewis and Mark Potter

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Apple to release new ‘Lockdown Mode’ as it battles spyware firms

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July 6 (Reuters) – Apple Inc (AAPL.O) on Wednesday said it plans to release a new feature called “Lockdown Mode” this fall that aims to add a new layer of protection for human rights advocates, political dissidents and other targets of sophisticated hacking attacks.

The move comes after at least two Israeli firms have exploited flaws in Apple’s software to remotely break into iPhones without the target needing to click or tap anything. NSO Group, the maker of the “Pegasus” software that can carry out such attacks, has been sued by Apple and placed on a trade blacklist by U.S. officials.

“Lockdown Mode” will come to Apple’s iPhones, iPads and Macs this fall and turning it on will block most attachments sent to the iPhone’s Messages app. Security researchers believe NSO Group exploited a flaw in how Apple handled message attachments. The new mode will also block wired connections to iPhones when they are locked. Israeli firm Cellebrite has used such manual connections to access iPhones.

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Apple representatives said that they believe sophisticated attacks the new feature is designed to fight – called “zero click” hacking techniques – are still relatively rare and that most users will not need to active the new mode.

Spyware companies have argued they sell high-powered technology to help governments thwart national security threats. But human rights groups and journalists have repeatedly documented the use of spyware to attack civil society, undermine political opposition, and interfere with elections.

To help harden the new feature, Apple said it will pay up to $2 million for each flaw that security researchers can find in the new mode, which Apple representatives said was the highest such “bug bounty” offered in the industry.

Apple also said it is making a $10 million grant, plus any possible proceeds from its lawsuit against NSO Group, to groups that find, expose and work to prevent targeted hacking. Apple said the grant will go to the Dignity and Justice Fund established by the Ford Foundation, one of the largest private foundations in the United States.

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Reporting by Stephen Nellis in San Francisco; Editing by Alexandra Hudson

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Investigators of War Crimes in Ukraine Face Formidable Challenges

KOROPY, Ukraine — Four men tugged at long strips of fabric to lift a coffin out of the gaping hole in the backyard of a small house. They flung the lid open to reveal the moldy corpse of Oleksiy Ketler, who had been killed instantly by shrapnel when a mortar fell on the road in Koropy, a village outside Khavkiv in northeastern Ukraine, in March.

Mr. Ketler, a father of two young children, would have celebrated his 33rd birthday on June 25, if he had not been outside his house at the wrong time. Now, his body has become another exhibit in Ukraine’s wide-ranging effort to collect evidence to prosecute Russia and its military for war crimes in the brutal killings of Ukrainian civilians.

Experts say the process is proceeding with extraordinary speed and may become the biggest effort in history to hold war criminals to account. But it faces an array of formidable challenges.

rape, execution-style killings and the deportation of what Mr. Belousov said could be tens of thousands of Ukrainians to Russia — were being investigated.

At the same time, hundreds of international experts, investigators and prosecutors have descended on Ukraine from an alphabet soup of international agencies.

Early in the war, the top prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Karim Khan, arrived in Ukraine with several dozen investigators. But the court, which is based in the Netherlands, tries a limited number of cases, and usually seeks to prosecute only the upper echelon of political and military leaders.

It is also slow: Investigators working on the 2008 Russian-Georgian war did not apply for arrest warrants until this year.

There are a number of other initiatives, too. Amal Clooney, an international human rights lawyer, is part of a team advising the Ukrainian government on bringing international legal action against Russia. The United Nations has started a commission to investigate human rights violations in Ukraine — with three human rights experts — but cannot establish a formal tribunal because Russia wields veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

Investigators in Poland are collecting testimonies from refugees who fled there to feed to Ukrainian prosecutors. France has sent mobile DNA analysis teams to embed with the Ukrainian authorities to collect evidence. Nongovernmental organizations based in Kyiv, Ukraine’s capital, are going to territories recently occupied by Russian soldiers to collect witness statements.

The involvement of multiple countries and organizations does not necessarily lead to a more productive investigation, said Wayne Jordash, a British criminal lawyer who lives in Ukraine. Mr. Jordash, who is part of an international task force supporting Ukrainian prosecutors, was critical of some of the efforts to assist Ukraine judicially, describing it as “smoke and mirrors,” without results and clear priorities.

The International Criminal Court’s investigators were only just getting going, he noted, and experts from other countries have also been cycling in for stints of several weeks.

“You can’t just parachute into an investigation for two weeks and expect it to be meaningful,” Mr. Jordash said.

Iva Vukusic, a scholar of post-conflict justice at the University of Utrecht, said, “Resources are being poured in, but maybe down the line we will see that they were not being spent the right way,” for instance, duplicating investigation efforts rather than providing psychosocial support to victims.

Ms. Vukusic pointed out the large size of the endeavor. Across the country, she said, “there are thousands of potential suspects, and thousands of potential trials.” All of the material needs to be properly marshaled and analyzed, she said.

“If you have 100,000 items — videos, statements, documents — if you don’t know what you’re sitting on, it limits the use of material,” Ms. Vukusic said.

She also cautioned that the International Criminal Court’s leadership could face criticism by collaborating too closely with the Ukrainian authorities because, she said, Ukraine was also “an actor in this war.”

She feared Ukrainian officials were setting expectations for justice very high, and possibly wasting scarce resources on absentia trials.

“No big case is going to be finished in two years or five years because of the scale of the violence and the fact it is going on for so long,” she said.

Mr. Belousov, the Ukrainian war crimes prosecutor, acknowledged as much. “We are playing a long game,” he said. Even if the perpetrator is tried and convicted in absentia, Mr. Belousov said, “We understand in a year, or two or three or five, these guys won’t be able to avoid punishment.”

Mr. Belousov said that he appreciated the international assistance but that coordinating it was the “biggest challenge” law enforcement authorities experienced.

For example, the Kharkiv prosecutors used a shiny new forensic investigation kit donated by the European Union for their exhumation in Koropy, the village in northeast Ukraine. But a police officer from a unit in Dmytrivka, a 45-minute drive west of Kyiv, said they had not seen or met with any international investigators or received any equipment from them.

Mr. Belousov said Ukraine wanted to take the lead in prosecuting the cases — a divergence from previous post-conflict situations in which the national authorities initially left the process to international tribunals.

But most Ukrainian investigators have little experience in these kinds of inquiries.

For example, Andriy Andriychuk, who joined the police force in the region west of Kyiv two years ago, said his work previously involved investigating local disputes or livestock theft. Now it involves “a lot more corpses,” he said.

On a recent sunny afternoon, he was called to a wooded area near the town of Dmytrivka. Several days before, police officers had received a call from foresters who had come upon a man’s grave. The dead man, Mykola Medvid, 56, had been buried with his passport; his hat was hung on top of a cross made out of sticks.

His daughter and his cousin identified his body. The local morgue officially established the cause of death: a fatal shot in the chest.

Since then, his daughter Mariia Tremalo has not heard from the investigators. No witnesses have come forward, and it was unclear who might have killed her father, or why. Still, she is hungry for justice.

“My father will never be returned,” she said. “But I would like the perpetrators to be punished.”

Right now that seems all but impossible.

In Koropy, the village near Kharkiv, Mr. Ketler’s mother, Nadezhda Ketler, was inconsolable as the gravediggers and inspectors worked. She wandered down the road to another part of her property. Six officials stood over her son’s body, photographing and documenting as his best friend, Mykhailo Mykhailenko, who looked petrified and smelled of stale alcohol, identified him.

The next day, Mr. Ketler’s body was taken to the city’s morgue, where the final cause of death was established.

Eventually, Ms. Ketler gathered the strength to show investigators the crater made by the bomb that killed him, leading the police to the exact spot where he died. Ms. Ketler stood looking at the trees as they rustled in the wind. She did not speak to anyone. She said she did not know if a guilty verdict in a war crimes trial, if it ever came, would ease the pain of losing her child.

“I had to bury my son twice,” Ms. Ketler said later. “You understand, this is hard enough to do once, and to have to do it a second time. The pain of a mother will not go anywhere.”

Evelina Riabenko, Diana Poladova and Oleksandr Chubko contributed reporting.

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Spain turns to Africa, lobbies NATO, allies over Ukraine-driven migration

  • Spain hosts NATO summit this week
  • Spain likely to push for more shared intelligence, sources
  • Families making dangerous crossings from Africa to Canaries
  • Morocco clamping down on migration after deal with Spain
  • Migrant deaths in Melilla highlight dangers, NGOs say

MADRID/LAS PALMAS, June 27 (Reuters) – Spain is shifting its foreign policy towards Africa while lobbying the EU and NATO for support to address migration from the continent, aggravated by the Ukraine invasion, two senior government officials and two diplomatic sources told Reuters.

Spain will use a NATO summit in Madrid this week to press its case, and is likely to ask for increased intelligence sharing by the alliance including on issues related to migration, the diplomats said.

Even before Russia’s Feb. 24 invasion of Ukraine, Socialist prime minister Pedro Sanchez had revived a strategy mothballed by previous governments of working with African partners to contain migration and to tackle root causes such as instability and climate change, two officials close to him said.

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That drive has now taken on more urgency, they added.

“We are looking for good relations with all the neighbours around us and jointly managing phenomena that no one, not even the most powerful state on the planet, can deal with on its own,” Spain’s foreign minister Jose Manuel Albares told Reuters. He declined to give details.

Spain, its southern neighbours and EU officials are increasingly alarmed that a hunger crisis worsened by the disruption of Ukraine’s grain exports will trigger chaotic migration from the Sahel and sub-Saharan regions of Africa, with numbers already on the rise this year, the sources said.

On Friday, at least 23 migrants died after clashes with Moroccan security forces when around 2,000 people tried to cross into Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla. Morocco in recent weeks has toughened containment measures following Spain’s new diplomatic approach. read more

Migration by sea to the Canary Islands, another risky but popular entrance point into Europe, jumped 51% between January and May this year compared to last year, Spanish data showed, with the busiest period of the year still to come.

Reuters Graphics

Spain is used as a gateway to Europe by migrants from other continents, including Africa and Latin America. Although it is largely a transit country, previous jumps in arrivals have put its border resources under intense pressure.

Albares said the new strategy, which has seen Sanchez visit nine African countries since last year, was designed to keep migrants from danger.

“We cannot allow the Mediterranean, the Atlantic, to become enormous watery tombs where every year thousands of human beings die when all they aspire to is a better life,” Albares said.

Human rights groups and migration advocates, however, say Spain’s quest to outsource enforcement puts vulnerable people in the hands of security forces in countries with a history of abuses and heavy-handed policing.

The deaths in Morocco “are a tragic symbol of European policies of externalizing the borders of the EU,” groups including the Moroccan Association for Human Rights and Spanish migration charity Walking Borders said in a joint statement on Saturday.

Sanchez’s office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

INTELLIGENCE SHARING

In a sign of its growing anxiety, Madrid hopes to secure a commitment at the NATO summit to better policing of “hybrid threats,” including the possibility irregular migration is used as a political pressure tactic by hostile actors. It will also lobby NATO to dedicate resources to securing the alliance’s Southern Flank. read more

Madrid will ask NATO for “allied intelligence sharing,” including on issues related to migration, a senior Spanish diplomatic source and an EU diplomat said. This could formalise and expand on existing intelligence cooperation.

At the summit, NATO will reinforce cooperation efforts with southern countries and agree a package for Mauritania to help “the fight against terrorism, border control and strengthening its defence and security,” NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg told newspaper El Pais at the weekend.

The expanded NATO presence could see Mauritania, which works closely with Spain, help coordinate with other countries in the Sahel region, said Felix Arteaga, senior defence analyst with Madrid’s Elcano Institute, a think tank.

Foreign Minister Albares declined to give details on how NATO could expand operations in Africa.

NATO sources and academics signal that Spain’s proposals will face resistance amid conflicting needs from countries such as Russia’s vulnerable neighbours in the Baltic States. read more

Spain says the growing influence of Russia in unstable countries including the Central African Republic and Sahel nation Mali risks fuelling insecurity to the south of Europe. read more

Citing the presence of Russian military contractors in Mali, the blockade of grains exports from Ukraine and Moscow ally Belarus’ policy last year of allowing migrants into the EU, Madrid says President Vladmir Putin could use migration and hunger as part of his war effort.

“Putin wants to use food crisis to orchestrate a repeat of migration crisis of the magnitude we have seen in 2015-16 to destabilise the EU,” one European Union official told Reuters.

Moscow denies responsibility for the food crisis, blaming Western sanctions that limit its own exports of grains for a jump in global prices.

Russia’s foreign ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

FUNDING FOR THE SAHEL

In recent weeks, Sanchez has held a flurry of bilateral meetings with heads of state and officials from Nigeria, Morocco and Mauritania to discuss economic cooperation, human trafficking, capacity building for controlling borders and the fight against terrorism.

In June, the government sent to parliament a new development bill to channel funding to the Sahel. The legislation would mark a significant expansion of existing funding for migration control to eight African countries.

Italy too has sought to enlist support, with the government earlier hosting a meeting of southern European nations to push for a post-Ukraine migration policy that distributes arrival numbers more evenly throughout Europe. read more

People are already on the move. Data from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) shows departures from the Sahelian nation of Niger in the first four months of this year have risen by 45%, and from neighbouring Mali they have doubled.

The rise has not yet been reflected by arrivals to European shores.

A Reuters review of data from European border and coast guard agency Frontex showed migrant numbers arriving in the Canary Islands from the Sahel region of Africa and below it, from Guinea, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, rose in the first five months of 2022 compared to the same period last year.

Whole families are increasingly making the trip to the Atlantic islands in fragile rubber dinghies from as far south as Senegal and Guinea, citing insecurity, climate change and, in more recent cases, high food prices, said Jose Antonio Rodríguez Verona, a Red Cross official in the Canary Islands.

Morocco remains the biggest origin country and transit point for migrants to Spain, with record numbers of Moroccans reaching the Canary Islands in January and February this year.

Those figures however fell by 85% in March and April from the previous two months, according to figures from Frontex, after Spain changed its policy on the disputed Western Sahara to align with Morocco’s stance. Albares has attributed the drop directly to the change of policy.

Reuters Graphics

“I would like to thank the extraordinary cooperation we have with the Kingdom of Morocco,” Spanish Prime Minister Sanchez said on Saturday, after the deaths in Melilla, which he blamed on human trafficking gangs.

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Reporting by Belen Carreno, Joan Faus and Borja Suarez, additional reporting Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels, Emma Farge in Geneva, Ed McAllister in Dakar, Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat, editing by Aislinn Laing and Frank Jack Daniel

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