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  • Pompeo meets with Oman’s new ruler amid US-Iran tensions

    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with the new ruler of Oman on Friday. The Gulf Arab country has close ties with both Washington and Tehran, and has previously provided a back channel for talks between the adversaries.

    Pompeo’s stop in Oman to meet Sultan Haitham bin Tariq Al Said is the highest-level US visit to the country since he was selected as successor to longtime ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who died on January 10 after 50 years in power, AP reports.

    Oman supported the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran and world powers, from which the US withdrew under President Donald Trump.

    Like other Gulf Arab countries, Oman is concerned that rising tensions in the region and the Trump administration's maximum pressure campaign against Iran could harm tourism and economic growth, and impact the flow of oil through the narrow Strait of Hormuz and Gulf of Oman.

  • Spain arrests Russian woman on business trip, possibly at US behest – Moscow

    A Russian woman has been arrested in Spain, possibly following a request by the US, the Russian Foreign Ministry said on Friday. It added that the embassy in Spain will do everything possible to provide assistance to Olesya Krasilova, who had arrived in Spain for a short business trip as part of an official delegation on February 14.

    Krasilova was detained when she was departing from the Tenerife South Airport. The woman works for the All-Russian Center for Plant Quarantine, which is a subordinate of the Federal Service for Veterinary and Phytosanitary Supervision.

    The Russian citizen is currently being held in a penal facility on the island of Tenerife, according to the Russian ministry’s statement. She has been visited by employees of the Russian consul’s office on the Canary Islands.

    “According to the unofficial information that we have, Krasilova’s placement into custody may be related to a request by the US side,” the ministry said. She might have been detained on charges of transferring biometric data to third parties, RIA Novosti said. It added, citing her mother, that the detained woman “had earlier worked at the US embassy.”

  • Pakistan remains on terrorism financing ‘grey list’ – global watchdog

    Pakistan was given an extra four months to meet international anti-terrorism financing norms on Friday, after a global dirt money watchdog decided to keep the country off its blacklist for now.

    Islamabad missed multiple previous deadlines, and the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) said it was concerned that the country had again failed to complete an internationally agreed action plan.

    “The FATF strongly urges Pakistan to swiftly complete its full action plan by June 2020,” the watchdog said after a meeting in Paris. “Otherwise, should significant and sustainable progress – especially in prosecuting and penalizing [terrorism financing] – not be made by the next Plenary, the FATF will take action.”

    Such action could include calling on its member states to order their financial institutions to pay particularly rigorous attention to business relations and transactions with Pakistani clients. Islamabad has long been accused of nurturing and supporting Islamist militant groups, but it denies the accusations, Reuters reported.

  • Thai Constitutional Court dissolves opposition party critical of military rule

    Thailand’s Constitutional Court on Friday dissolved an upstart opposition political party that has challenged the military establishment, finding it guilty of taking an illegal loan from its billionaire founder.

    The dissolution of the Future Forward Party comes less than a year after Thailand held a general election to end five years of military rule. The ruling also strengthens the position in parliament of a coalition led by PM Prayuth Chan-ocha, the former junta leader who seized power in a 2014 coup, Reuters said.

    Future Forward, led by charismatic auto-parts fortune heir Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, 41, has been sharply critical of military dominance of politics. It surprised many by coming third in the elections last year, winning the support of many young people and 81 of the 500 seats contested in parliament.

    The court said that the party broke the law by taking a 191.2 million baht ($6.08 million) loan from Thanathorn. The ruling also bans Thanathorn and 15 other party executives from politics for 10 years.

  • Libya ceasefire talks ‘back on track’ in Geneva – UN

    The UN said on Friday ceasefire talks were back on track between the forces fighting over Libya’s capital. The statement comes days after the internationally-recognized government pulled out of the talks as its foes shelled Tripoli’s port.

    However, there was no immediate comment from the Government of National Accord (GNA), which withdrew from the talks on Tuesday, Reuters said.

    The rival Libyan National Army (LNA) Commander Khalifa Haftar was quoted by Russia’s RIA Novosti as saying a ceasefire would only be possible if Turkish and Syrian fighters stopped supporting the GNA. Turkey has backed the GNA to fend off the LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

    Five military officers from both sides have been holding indirect talks meeting in separate rooms with the UN envoy Ghassan Salame shuttling between them, but with no sign of any progress on the ground.

  • Week-long ‘reduction in violence’ in Afghanistan to begin on Saturday

    A week-long “reduction in violence” between the Taliban, the US, and Afghan security forces will commence at midnight (1930 GMT), officials said on Friday, ahead of the signing of a possible deal between Washington and the insurgents. “The reduction in violence will start from 22 February and will last for one week,” according to Javed Faisal, Afghanistan’s National Security Council spokesman.

    Three senior Taliban leaders in Doha and Afghanistan confirmed to Reuters that they had agreed to reduce violence in Afghanistan for seven days from Friday night.

    The agreement was struck during protracted negotiations between US and Taliban representatives, which began in Qatar in 2018 and could lead to a withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan.

    A reduction in violence would show the Taliban can control their forces and demonstrate good faith ahead of any signing, which would see the Pentagon withdraw about half of the 12,000-13,000 troops currently in Afghanistan.