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    Portuguese Gov't Aware of Cancer Claims at US Base in Azores - FM to Sputnik

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    MOSCOW (Sputnik) - Portuguese authorities are aware of the allegations about links between high rates of cancer on the Azores with the emissions from the US military base located on one of the islands, and awaiting the preliminary results of an investigation into this case in the forthcoming months, the Portuguese foreign minister told Sputnik.

    "I have seen interviews suggesting that but not claiming scientific evidence. We know that, this is a matter of fact, we know that there is a prevalence of a type of cancer in the area in which is located the largest field, which is greater than the prevalence of the same type of cancer on other parts of our territory," Augusto Santos Silva said.

    The diplomat added that the cabinet was waiting for the results of the investigation carried out by the University of Azores in order to find out whether there were any links between the disease rate and the activities of the US Air Force.

    "We know that University of Azores is making research on this topic and of course we are waiting for the results in order to see if this fact has anything to do with the activity in the base, and if it has, we have to intervene… The last time I met with the mayor of the main town of that region we established that during this year we would exchange all the information concerning this issue so I think that we can obtain at least intermediate results in the forthcoming months," the minister said.

    Earlier in the month, the Ruptly broadcaster reported that the residents of Terceira Island in the Azores, home to the Lajes Air Base used by the United States, were suffering from cancer, as well as from a number of other deadly diseases at rates far higher than residents of the rest of the archipelago.

    READ MORE: Anti-Nuclear Movement Founder Backs Cancer Crisis Clean-Up at US Base in Azores

    The Lajes Air Base is a major air base located in the Atlantic region between the United States and its European allies, which makes it strategically important for NATO. The air base has been used for a number of purposes, including refueling, as well as provision of support to transport and other types of aircraft.

    On Cooperation With Russia

    According to Silva, Portugal and Russia have "a lot of room" to further improve burgeoning bilateral relations despite the fact that their partnership is limited by the policy of sanctions, Silva said in an interview with Sputnik.

    "We have to keep in mind that there are political difficulties that affect our economic relationship because of the regime of sanctions both from the European Union towards Russia, and from Russia toward the European Union. But within this limit, within this framework, there is a lot of room to improve our bilateral trade. And as a matter of fact it [bilateral trade] is increasing," he said.

    The foreign minister noted that Russia’s export to Portugal mainly consisted of oil, while Portugal enjoyed a large flow of Russian tourists to the country.

    READ MORE: Portugal Seeks to Expand Trade With Russia, Neighboring Markets

    Lisbon aspires to increase and diversify its exports to Russia with wine and agricultural products, even though the latter is complicated by the EU sanctions’ regime, according to the official.

    "The trade is very unbalanced favoring Russia. The total of exports of Portugal to Russia is around on fifth of the exports of Russia to Portugal. As you know perhaps, Portugal has no oil, no gas, so it’s understandable. But we need to improve our exports. This is one of our main responsibilities," he added.

    Portugal believes that its relations with Moscow will not change following the upcoming Russian presidential election in March as the bilateral ties have always been sustainable, the foreign minister stressed.

    "I don’t envisage change. The relations are very stable, they are well-consolidated. We have an historical tradition of good relations between the two countries … Portugal has historically very favorable attitude towards Russia, a country which we consider a very important element of European culture … I think it will maintain the same pace and the same characteristics," Santos Silva underlined.

    Despite the sanction regime, the relations between Moscow and Lisbon have continued to prosper as the country’s top officials continue to meet on a regular basis. President of Portugal Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa has previously told Sputnik that Lisbon would like to expand its relations with Moscow in all areas including economic and cultural ties.

    On Upcoming 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia

    Speaking about the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia, Silva said that Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Eduardo Ferro Rodrigues, the president of the country’s parliament, the Assembly, were planning to attend matches of the 2018 World Cup in Russia.

    “I think that thousands of Portuguese fans will come to the World Cup. But I know three of them in person, because the Assembly’s president intends to visit the first match of Portugal, the prime minister – the second, and the third match is expected to be attended by the president of the republic,” Santos Silva said.

    “Of course, if both Portugal and Russia advance to the final, I think that I will meet once again with [Russian Foreign Minister] Sergey Lavrov in the stands! And this will become our fourth meeting in the past two years,” the minister added.

    According to the Portuguese senior foreign affairs official, he expected the country's national team to perform well during the forthcoming FIFA World Cup in Russia, stressing that for the Portuguese the championship would begin with a "hot game" with the Spanish team.

    "We are expecting a good campaign and it will begin with a hot game, because our first game will be Portugal versus Spain," the minister said, answering a question about his expectations from the team's participation in the international sports event.

    The politician noted that the Portuguese national team was a champion, and its recent results had created a framework for considering it as one of the favorites of the contest.

    "Well, I would say since Portugal is the current European champion, since Portugal classified third in the last Confederation Cup, and since Portugal ranks third or fourth in the FIFA ranking, I can say that Portugal deserves, that people consider us a favorite," he said.

    Russia will host its first FIFA World Cup from June 14 to July 15. The matches will take place in Kaliningrad, Kazan, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Saransk, Sochi, St. Petersburg, Volgograd, and Yekaterinburg.

    READ MORE: About 2Mln Tourists to Visit Russia During 2018 FIFA World Cup — Senior Lawmaker

    On Migration

    Although Portugal got used to the influx of migrants and is not afraid of it due to the country's geographic position, it still takes an active part in the European debate on migration, which is a serious challenge to other EU states, Silva said.

    When asked whether Portugal was concerned over a potential influx of migrants into the country, the diplomat said it was not for two reasons.

    "First, physical reason, because Portugal is an Atlantic country, and as you know, in practical terms it is much more difficult to use the kind of vessels that are used in the migration route through the Mediterranean, in Atlantic deep waters. Secondly, because we don’t fear migration flows that much. We are used to migration," Santos Silva said.

    The diplomat stressed that Portugal had been the country of immigrants since the 15th century, with Portuguese nationals currently living in 178 world countries. At the same time, 5-6 percent of the population residing in Portugal today are foreigners, including from Eastern Europe and former colonies in Africa, according to Santos Silva.

    "We think that migration is a constant, a permanent element of the history of mankind and has produced and produces an overall positive effect on development. That said, we need to combat trafficking, we need to combat smuggling, we need to combat illegal immigration," the foreign minister underlined.

    While migration is not a problem for Portugal, it still presents a serious challenge to Europe in general, which could eventually cause negative repercussions for Lisbon, he noted.

    "So that’s why we participate very actively in the current European debate on migration. We participate very actively on the global compact for migration in the framework of the United Nations," Santos Silva said, adding that Portugal had recommended the candidacy of former European commissioner Antonio Vitorino for the post of director of the International Organization of Migration (IOM).

    Since 2015, Europe has been experiencing its worst migration crisis in recent history, struggling to accommodate hundreds of thousands of migrants and refugees, fleeing hostilities in the Middle East and North Africa. 

    On Country's Defense Capabilities

    Speaking about the countries defense capabilities, Silva said that Portugal was planning to spend 1.4 percent of its GDP on defense this year and reach the 2-percent target set by NATO before 2024.

    "Portugal, which was hindered by a severe financial crisis between 2010 and 2015, had to first put in order its public finances. So there was a period in which public expenditure with defense decreased in Portugal. Now we are gradually recovering in economic terms, so this year we plan to spend 1.4 percent of our GDP on our defense and security," Santos Silva said.

    When asked when the country's defense spending would reach 2 percent of its GDP, the foreign minister stressed that the aim was "to approach [the NATO target] until 2024."

    At the Warsaw summit in 2016, NATO allies reiterated their commitment to end cuts to defense spending, and gradually increase it toward the alliance's designated 2-percent of GDP target within a decade.

    Only six of the 29 NATO members — the United States, Greece, Estonia, the United Kingdom, Romania and Poland — are meeting the target 2 percent of GDP, according to the NATO's June 29 defense spending report.

    Speaking about Portugal's contribution to global security, the diplomat noted that the country was specifically good at peacekeeping missions and therefore directed its investment in defense to this particular field. 

    Thus, Lisbon is ready to send its peacekeepers to Donbass within the UN mission if the relevant resolution is adopted by the UN Security Council.

    “If all parties agree on the deployment of UN peacekeepers and are confident that such a mission can contribute to the settlement of the situation in Donbas, of course, Portugal will be ready to respond positively and promptly to such a request,” Santos Silva said.

    According to the minister, Portugal has extensive experience in peacekeeping missions, which is recognized by various parties.

    “Of course, we are not experts in combat or military operations. But Portugal has experience of participating in peacekeeping missions, including in Europe, we are also involved in various aspects of UN activities,” Santos Silva added.

    Ahead of the 2018 Munich Security Conference held earlier in February, a non-resident fellow of the US-based Hudson Institute, Richard Gowan, told Sputnik he had prepared a report at the request of the consulting company of former NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen.

    The report, seen by Sputnik, proposes a 20,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission to Ukraine's breakaway Donbas region that may include representatives of NATO, including Portugal, and countries outside the bloc, such as Belarus, Kazakhstan and Latin America nations.


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