Dutch PM Mark Rutte set to be next Nato chief

This morning's top world news, in a nutshell - Friday, 21st June 2024.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte is to be named the next Nato Secretary General after the last remaining holdout Romania agreed to back his candidacy. Rutte, a liberal starlwart, will govern over a tricky few years as the transatlantic alliance balances Russian aggression and potentially wavering US support.
His appointment was confirmed just ahead of a summit due to be held in Washington on between July 9 and 11, marking the Nato’s 75th anniversary.


Romanian President Klaus Iohannis had also put himself forward to be Secretary General, the senior official that coordinates the Brussels-based organisation, but his government has now offered its support to Rutte, according to an official statement. The incumbent, Jens Stoltenberg, has been in the post since 2014 and had been due to stand down last year.


But the wrangling appears to have been caught up in a wider debate over top jobs at the European Union’s institutions – with Estonia’s Kaja Kallas, another who had proferred her candidacy for the NATO job but subsequently withdrew, now a favourite to be the EU’s foreign policy chief.

Once he enters office, Rutte, 57, will serve a term of at least four years.


To be appointed he had to square off opposition from Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, who did not want to be forced to support Ukraine. Rutte assuaged those concerns in a letter sent earlier this week, bringing him one step closer to securing the needed consensus among Nato’s 32 members.


As Nato chief, Rutte faces a difficult balancing act, as members of the alliance have sought to support war-torn Ukraine without provoking further Russian aggression. Last weekend, Rutte attended the Ukraine summit in Switzerland, from which he promised the Netherlands will “continue to support Ukraine any way we can. For as long as it takes and with all the backing that is necessary.”


A further twist may come with US Presidential elections in November, as Republican frontrunner Donald Trump has proven lukewarm over the alliance, even calling on Russia to invade supposed allies that don’t invest in their military.
Rutte has led the Netherlands since 2010, managing a series of tricky coalitions, but is set to step down on July 2. Rutte’s liberal party the VVD will form part of a coalition led by former spy chief Dick Schoof, after November elections that saw a surge in support for right-wing firebrand Geert Wilders.


Putin threatens to arm North Korea
President Vladimir Putin has directly warned the United States and its allies that he is willing to arm North Korea if they continue to supply Kyiv with sophisticated weapons that have struck Russian territory, raising the stakes for the Western powers backing Ukraine.


Putin made the threat in comments to reporters travelling with him late Thursday in Vietnam before he flew home to Russia after a trip there and to North Korea. He had made a similar, though significantly less overt, threat a day earlier in Pyongyang, where he revived a Cold War-era mutual defence pact with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. The pact requires each nation to provide military assistance to the other “with all means at its disposal” in the event of an attack.


Putin cast his threat to arm Pyongyang, in violation of United Nations sanctions, as a response to decisions by the United States and its allies in recent months to allow Ukraine to make limited strikes on Russian territory with their weapons but prohibiting longer-range attacks deeper in the country. The White House made that decision last month. “Those who supply these weapons believe that they are not at war with us,” Putin said. “Well, as I said, including in Pyongyang, then we reserve the right to supply weapons to other regions of the world.”


“And where will they go next?” he asked of the weapons, suggesting that North Korea could then sell the Russian arms to other rogue actors hostile to the United States and its allies around the world. Though he did not say what weapons he would give to North Korea, Kim Jong-un is seeking to advance his nuclear warheads, missiles, submarines and satellites – all areas where Russia possesses some of the most sophisticated and dangerous technology in the world.


USA worried about Russia’s proposal to supply weapons to Pyongyang
The United States considers Russia’s proposal to supply weapons to North Korea “extremely worrying”, State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said, underlining that the supply “would destabilise the Korean Peninsula and could violate UN Security Council resolutions that Russia has supported”.


South Korea will consider supplying arms to Ukraine
Meanwhile, South Korea said Thursday that it would consider sending arms to Ukraine, a major policy change that was suggested after Russia and North Korea rattled the region and beyond by signing a pact to come to each other’s defencse in the event of war. The comments from a senior presidential official came hours after North Korea’s state media released the details of the agreement, which observers said could mark the strongest connection between Moscow and Pyongyang since the end of the Cold War. It comes at a time when Russia faces growing isolation over the war in Ukraine and both countries face escalating standoffs with the West.


According to the text of the deal published by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, if either country gets invaded and is pushed into a state of war, the other must deploy “all means at its disposal without delay” to provide “military and other assistance”. But the agreement also says that such actions must be in accordance with the laws of both countries and Article 51 of the UN Charter, which recognises a UN member state’s right to self-defence.


Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin signed the pact at a summit Wednesday in Pyongyang. Both described it as a major upgrade of bilateral relations, covering security, trade, investment, cultural and humanitarian ties.
President Putin said Seoul’s supply of lethal weapons to Kyiv would be “a mistake”, Russian state news agency Tass reported.


‘We will not leave Gaza without the hostages’ – Netanyahu
“We will not leave Gaza until all the hostages are returned and we will not leave until we have eliminated Hamas’ military and government capabilities,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday when he met the families of the hostages killed in the Palestinian enclave.


“There is no chance of giving up. We have no chance of giving up on victory. This is my position. Whoever opposes must oppose openly. We are committed to bringing back all 120 kidnapped people, both the living and the dead,” he said.


8 children among the bodies recovered in Ionian Sea shipwreck
Eight children – four boys and four girls – are among the bodies recovered by the Italian Coast Guard in the Ionian Sea, about 160kms from the Calabrian coast, all victims of the shipwreck of a sailing boat that left Turkey.


The total number of bodies recovered Thursday were 14. In addition to the eight minors, there were two men and four women who were put on a patrol boat and taken to the port of Roccella Jonica. Since the beginning of the operations, 20 bodies have been recovered (six men, six women, eight minors). The eleven survivors brought to Roccella Ionica had spoken of around 60 missing people.


Actor Donald Sutherland dead at 88
Donald Sutherland, the enigmatic actor whose lengthy career encompassed films including “The Dirty Dozen” and “The Hunger Games”, has died, aged 88, after a long illness. His death was announced by his son, actor Kiefer Sutherland, who on X wrote: “With a heavy heart, I tell you that my father, Donald Sutherland, has passed away.”


The elder Sutherland had a distinctive look – and piercing eyes – that brought a depth and mystery to the huge range of roles he inhabited over more than half a century on the big screen. One of Canada’s most famous sons, he played dashing leading men as well as antiheroes and villains, most recently making a name among a new generation of fans as the evil President Snow in “The Hunger Games” franchise. “I personally think one of the most important actors in the history of film. Never daunted by a role, good, bad or ugly. He loved what he did and did what he loved, and one can never ask for more than that. A life well lived,” wrote Kiefer. Reaction to the Emmy and Golden Globe-winner’s death was swift, with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau hailing his unique talents.


Trump gets the final word at CNN debate
Former US President Donald Trump will get the final word when he debates President Joe Biden on CNN next week, after a coin flip to determine podium placement and the order of closing statements. The coin landed on the Biden campaign’s pick – tails – which meant his campaign got to choose whether it wanted to select the president’s podium position or the order of closing statements.


Biden’s campaign chose to select the right podium position, which means the Democratic president will be on the right side of television viewers’ screens and his Republican rival will be on viewers’ left. Trump’s campaign then chose for the former president to deliver the last closing statement, which means Biden will go first at the conclusion of the debate.


Biden and Trump are set to make history on June 27 in the first presidential debate between an incumbent and a former president. It will also be the first debate since 2020 featuring either Biden, who did not face a serious challenge for the Democratic nomination, or Trump, who skipped those held during the Republican primary race. CNN’s Jake Tapper and Dana Bash will host the 90-minute showdown in Atlanta.


Carlo Maria Viganò charged with schism
He has called Pope Francis “a liberal servant of Satan”, demanded his resignation and suggested that his Swiss Guards arrest the 87-year-old pontiff. Now, after receiving years of withering verbal attacks, Pope Francis appears to have struck back against Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, the former Vatican ambassador to the United States and the pope’s most ardent internal critic.


The Vatican’s disciplinary body, the Dicastery of the Doctrine of the Faith, issued a formal decree – made public by Viganò on Thursday – assigning the senior cleric to a penal canon trial. The charges: the “crime of schism” and “denial of the legitimacy of Pope Francis”.


Analysts say such trials are exceedingly rare, and the move underscores a recent effort by the Vatican to take more-formal action against a gaggle of archconservatives who have sought to undermine Francis’s papacy from the inside. Conviction could lead to Viganò’s defrocking and excommunication, ending the career of the 83-year-old Italian who has been the leading symbol of resistance to a pope viewed by some traditionalists as wildly liberal.
On Thursday, Viganò said in a statement that he sees the accusations against him as an” honour”. “It is no coincidence that the accusation against me concerns the questioning of the legitimacy of Jorge Mario Bergoglio and … the ideological, theological, moral, and liturgical cancer of which the Bergoglian ‘synodal church’ is the necessary metastasis.” Viganò has made few public appearances since calling for Pope Francis’s resignation in 2018.
Maryland pardons 175,000 marijuana convictions


The governor of the US state of Maryland has pardoned more than 175,000 marijuana convictions. “I’ll pardon all convictions related to the possession of cannabis and cannabis paraphernalia,” Governor Wes Moore said at a news conference in Annapolis. This move forgives low-level convictions for around 100,000 people. Maryland legalised recreational cannabis in 2023 after a referendum in 2022. However, this did not overturn prior convictions for possession and other misdemeanors.


21 dead in cholera epidemic in Lagos
The death toll from a cholera epidemic that broke out in the southwestern Nigerian state of Lagos is at least 21, according to health authorities quoted by local media. Laboratory tests confirmed the spread of the disease on June 15, with 401 cases of infection recorded this month. From the beginning of the year to June 11, there were around 30 deaths from cholera in the African country, with 65 confirmed cases. The state government’s Special Health Adviser attributed the increase in infections and deaths to recent gatherings for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha. The EU has pledged millions of euros to help fund vaccine production in Africa for such outbreaks.


3,300-year-old sunken ship found in Med
A 3,300-year-old ancient sunken ship dating back to the Bronze Age has been discovered in the Mediterranean Sea at a depth where time has “frozen”, the Israel Antiquities Authority announced Thursday.


The agency, which describes the find as the “first and oldest wrecked ship discovered to date in the deep sea in the eastern Mediterranean”, says it was first spotted last year about 56 miles (90kms) off Israel’s coastline by Energean, a natural gas company that was conducting a survey in the area.


“The ship appears to have been eroded as a result of a distress it got into in a sea storm, or perhaps in the event of an encounter with pirates – a phenomenon known from the Late Bronze Age,” Yaakov Sharavit, the director of the IAA’s Unit of Marine Archaeology, said in a statement. “This is a world-class, historical-altering discovery,” Sharavit was also quoted by The Jerusalem Post as saying. “This find reveals to us as never before the ancient mariners’ navigational skills, capable of traversing the Mediterranean Sea without a line of sight of any coast.”


The ship’s remnants were found more than a mile (1.6kms) below the surface at a depth “where time was frozen in the moment of disaster” and has been untouched by humans or currents that affect shipwrecks found in shallower waters, according to Sharavit. The IAA says it sank sometime between 1400 and 1300 B.C.


Euro 2024 latest: Spain dominate Italy to reach knockout phase
After Germany, Spain are the second team to reach the Euros knockouts thanks to a 1-0 win over Italy, while England stay on top of Group C despite drawing against Denmark. Italy’s goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma did his best to fend off Spain’s constant incursions but finally had to surrender after teammate Riccardo Calafiori unluckily pushed the ball into his own net. Italy’s reaction came too late. The Azzurri’s next face-off against Croatia will be decisive.


Thursday’s results: Group C: Slovenia v Serbia 1-1; Denmark v England 1-1. Group B: Spain v Italy1-0. Today’s programme: Group E: Slovakia v Ukraine (3pm); and Group D: Poland v Austria (6pm) and Netherlands v France (9pm). Copa America Group A (played at 2 am this morning): Argentina v Canada 2-0; tomorrow’s programme (2 am): Group A: Peru v Chile.

Photo: Francois Mori/AP/Pool

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