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Pompeo trip marks U.S. re-engagement with long-overlooked central Europe

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BUDAPEST (Reuters) – When Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Hungary, Slovakia and Poland this week he wants to make up for a lack of U.S. engagement that opened the door to more Chinese and Russian influence in central Europe, administration officials say.

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media at the United Nations following a Security Council meeting about the situation in Venezuela in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S., January 26, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo

    On a tour that includes a conference on the Middle East where Washington hopes to build a coalition against Iran, Pompeo begins on Monday in Budapest, the Hungarian capital that last saw a secretary of state in 2011 when Hillary Clinton visited.

On Tuesday he will be in Bratislava, Slovakia, for the first such high-level visit in 20 years.

“This is overdue and needed,” a senior U.S. administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. “Our message is we have to show up or expect to lose.

    “Our efforts at diplomatic engagement are aimed at competing for positive influence and giving allies in the region an indication of U.S. support and interest in order to have alternatives to China and Russia.”

    Washington is concerned about China’s growing presence, in particular the expansion of Huawei Technologies, the world’s biggest telecom gear maker, in Hungary and Poland.

    The United States and its Western allies believe Huawei’s equipment could be used for espionage and see its expansion into central Europe as a way to gain a foothold in the EU market.

    Huawei denies engaging in intelligence work for any government.

    Pompeo will also voice concerns about energy ties with Moscow, and urge Hungary to not support the TurkStream pipeline, part of the Kremlin’s plans to bypass Ukraine, the main transit route for Russian gas to Europe.

Hungary gets most of its gas from Russia and its main domestic source of electricity is the Paks nuclear power plant where Russia’s Rosatom is involved in a 12.5 billion-euro ($14 billion) expansion. It is also one of the EU states that benefit most from Chinese investment.

Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said this month the United States could help Hungary diversify away from Russian energy by encouraging ExxonMobil to proceed with long-stalled plans to develop a gas field in the Black Sea.

The administration official said there had been progress toward sealing bilateral defense accords with Hungary and Slovakia, which is looking to buy F-16 fighter jets.

MISSING OUT

Daniel Fried, a former U.S. ambassador to Poland, said U.S. engagement with the region fell after EU and NATO enlargement to central Europe, and as Washington’s attention moved to Asia and conflict in the Middle East.

    “A lot of Americans thought our work in the region was done, and yet it was not so,” said Fried, now at the Atlantic Council think-tank in Washington. “There was a sense in the last administration that eastern and central Europe was a finished place.”

The bulk of Pompeo’s Poland visit will focus on a U.S. conference on the “Future of Peace and Security in the Middle East”. Vice President Mike Pence will also attend the two-day event that starts on Feb. 13.

Washington hopes to win support to increase pressure on Iran to end what the it says is its malign behavior in the Middle East and to end its nuclear and missile programs.

    President Donald Trump withdrew from a 2015 deal on limiting Iran’s nuclear work last year but the European Union is determined to stick with it.

It is unclear what delegations European capitals will send to what Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has called a “desperate anti-Iran circus”.

“We think anybody who doesn’t participate is going to be missing out,” a second administration official said.

    White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law, will discuss a U.S. plan for peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, although he is not likely to give details.

Editing by Justyna Pawlak and Robin Pomeroy

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Saudi Arabia signs oil agreement to supply Pakistan: minister

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FILE PHOTO: Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih speaks during a news conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 9, 2019. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo

CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has signed an agreement to supply Pakistan with crude oil and petroleum products to secure its fuel needs, Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih said on Sunday on Twitter.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in Pakistan on Sunday and said Saudi Arabia has signed investment agreements worth $20 billion during his visit to the country.

Reporting by Hesham Hajali; Editing by Sandra Maler

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Indonesian presidential hopefuls vow energy self-sufficiency via palm

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JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s two presidential candidates pledged to achieve energy self-sufficiency by boosting the use of bioenergy, particularly fueled by palm oil, to cut costly oil imports by Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

Indonesia’s presidential candidate Joko Widodo (L) shakes hands with his opponent Prabowo Subianto after the second debate between presidential candidates ahead of the next general election in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer, has been pushing for all diesel fuel used in the country to contain biodiesel to boost palm consumption, slash fuel imports, and narrow a yawning current account gap.

In a televised election debate, President Joko Widodo said if he won a second term the government planned to implement a B100 program, referring to fuel made entirely from palm oil, after last year making it mandatory to use biodiesel containing 20 percent bio-content (B20).

“We hope 30 percent of total palm production will go to biofuel. The plan is clear, so we will not rely on imported oil,” Widodo said, adding that Indonesia’s crude palm oil production had reached 46 million tonnes a year.

Agreeing on the importance of bioenergy for self-sufficiency, his opponent Prabowo Subianto said if elected he would also “boost the use of palm oil, palm sugar, cassava and ethanol from sugar (cane)”.

The challenger did not elaborate on his bioenergy plan, but his campaign team has proposed using millions of hectares of degraded land to cultivate palm sugar to produce energy.

Widodo’s government has previously said it would offer incentives for developers of B100, which the net oil importer hopes can replace fuel imports within three years.

Oil imports have contributed to Indonesia’s widening current account deficit and the volatility of the rupiah currency. The government claimed that its biodiesel program would save billions of dollars in diesel fuel imports.

Although retired general Prabowo agreed with Widodo on several points during the debate, he said Indonesia’s “land and water, and the resources within” must be controlled by the government.

“We are of the view that the government must be present in detail, thoroughly, firmly and actively to correct inequalities in wealth,” he said.

The challenger said the proportion of small farmers’ holdings in the country’s palm plantations should also be larger. Smallholders currently account for roughly 40 percent of Indonesia’s 12 million hectares of palm oil plantations.

Farmers currently do not require larger plots of land, but instead, they need a program to boost yield from their current farm, Mansuetus Darto of Palm Farmers Union said.

He added that farmers wanted more clarity on Widodo’s B100 program and have asked to ensure that small holders play a greater role in the biodiesel supply chain.

“This is an important task for Jokowi on how to prevent big palm companies to be the only main suppliers and not farmers,” Darto said, referring to the president’s nickname.

Meanwhile, environmental group Greenpeace criticized both candidates for failing to ensure that the biofuel programs they promised will not cause further erosion of forests, peatlands and mangrove, due to potentially higher demand for palm oil that is mixed with the fuel.

Slideshow (2 Images)

By 2030, the global demand for biofuels would reach 67 million tonnes from the current 10.7 million tonnes, which could potentially result in 4.5 million hectares of deforestation and 2.9 million hectares of mangrove disappearance, Greenpeace said.

Both candidates expressed support for greater control of Indonesian natural resources.

President Widodo highlighted Pertamina’s takeover of stewardship of major oil and gas blocks from foreign operators, and an agreement for a state company to purchase a 51 percent stake in the giant Grasberg copper mine from Freeport McMoRan.

Reporting by Fransiska Nangoy and Tabita Diela,; Additional reporting Bernadette Christina Munthe,; Editing by Ed Davies, Jan Harvey and Sherry Jacob-Phillips

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Indonesian presidential hopefuls vow energy self-sufficiency through palm

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JAKARTA (Reuters) – Indonesia’s two presidential candidates pledged on Sunday to achieve energy self-sufficiency by boosting the use of bioenergy, particularly fueled by palm oil, to cut costly oil imports by Southeast Asia’s biggest economy.

Indonesia’s presidential candidate Joko Widodo (L) shakes hands with his opponent Prabowo Subianto after the second debate between presidential candidates ahead of the next general election in Jakarta, Indonesia, February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Willy Kurniawan

Indonesia, the world’s biggest palm oil producer, has been pushing for all diesel fuel used in the country to contain biodiesel to boost palm consumption, slash fuel imports, and narrow a yawning current account gap.

In a televised election debate, President Joko Widodo said if he won a second term the government planned to implement a B100 program, referring to fuel made entirely from palm oil, after last year making it mandatory to use biodiesel containing 20 percent bio-content (B20).

“We hope 30 percent of total palm production will go to biofuel. The plan is clear, so we will not rely on imported oil,” Widodo said, adding that Indonesia’s crude palm oil production had reached 46 million tonnes a year.

Agreeing on the importance of bioenergy for self-sufficiency, his opponent Prabowo Subianto said if elected he would also “boost the use of palm oil, palm sugar, cassava and ethanol from sugar (cane)”.

The challenger did not elaborate on his bioenergy plan, but his campaign team has proposed using millions of hectares of degraded land to cultivate palm sugar to produce energy.

Widodo’s government has previously said it would offer incentives for developers of B100, which the net oil importer hopes can replace fuel imports within three years.

Indonesia’s state energy company PT Pertamina has signed an agreement with Italian oil company Eni to develop a refinery in Indonesia that would produce fuel completely derived from crude palm oil (CPO).

Oil imports have contributed to Indonesia’s widening current account deficit and the volatility of the rupiah currency. The government claimed that its biodiesel program would save billions of dollars in diesel fuel imports.

Although retired general Prabowo agreed with Widodo on several points during the debate, he said Indonesia’s “land and water, and the resources within” must be controlled by the government.

“We are of the view that the government must be present in detail, thoroughly, firmly and actively to correct inequalities in wealth,” he said.

The challenger said the proportion of small farmers’ holdings in the country’s palm plantations should also be larger. Smallholders currently account for roughly 40 percent of Indonesia’s 12 million hectares of palm oil plantations.

Farmers currently do not require larger plots of land, but instead, they need a program to boost yield from their current farm, Mansuetus Darto of Palm Farmers Union said.

He added that farmers wanted more clarity on Widodo’s B100 program and have asked to ensure that small holders play a greater role in the biodiesel supply chain.

Slideshow (2 Images)

“This is an important task for Jokowi on how to prevent big palm companies to be the only main suppliers and not farmers,” Darto said, referring to the president’s nickname.

Both candidates expressed support for greater control of Indonesian natural resources.

President Widodo highlighted Pertamina’s takeover of stewardship of major oil and gas blocks from foreign operators, and an agreement for a state company to purchase a 51 percent stake in the giant Grasberg copper mine from Freeport McMoRan.

Reporting by Fransiska Nangoy and Tabita Diela,; Additional reporting Bernadette Christina Munthe,; Editing by Ed Davies, Jan Harvey and Sherry Jacob-Phillips

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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