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| June 26, 2019

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Iran Allies Hit Saudis Ahead of Pompeo Visit

June 23, 2019 |

One person was killed and seven others were wounded in an attack by Iranian-allied Yemeni rebels on an airport in Saudi Arabia Sunday evening, the Saudi military said, as the US secretary of state was on his way to the country for talks on Iran. The Sunday attack by the…

US and allies set to present ‘evidence’ of Iran attacks in Middle East, as Bolton denies policy rift with Trump

May 31, 2019 |

US and allies set to present ‘evidence’ of Iran attacks in Middle East, as Bolton denies policy rift with TrumpAmerica and its allies in the Middle East are planning to present evidence of Iranian complicity in the attacks on oil tankers in the Gulf to the United Nations Security Council, according to US National Security Advisor John Bolton.Speaking in London before Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK next week, Mr Bolton warned that the “threat was not over” from Iran and that the country “will be held accountable.”“There will be strong response,” to any further acts of violence, he added. He accused Tehran of involvement either directly, or through proxy forces, in carrying out attacks on international shipping, oil pipelines and port facilities in neighbouring countries.Mr Bolton made his charge amid rising tension in the region after the US dispatched an aircraft carrier strike group and B52 bombers and ordered the deployment of additional ground troops.It also comes during continuing friction between the Trump administration and Western allies, including Britain, over the Iran nuclear deal.Mr Bolton claimed in Abu Dhabi, on his way to London, that it was “clear that Iran is behind” the attacks on the tankers and that “naval mines almost certainly from Iran” caused the damage to the ships.Tehran has described the charges as “ludicrous,” with the Foreign Ministry declaring that “Iran’s strategic patience, vigilance (and) defensive prowess will defuse mischievous plots made by Bolton and other warmongers”.Mr Bolton has called for regime change in Tehran on numerous occasions in the past, as the Iranian government of Hassan Rouhani has repeatedly pointed out. President Trump stated earlier this year that the US was not seeking regime change and repeated calls for talks with the leadership in Tehran.Asked by The Independent whether he was at odds with the president on this issue of regime change, Mr Bolton said “before I became national security advisor I said and wrote a lot of things on every subject. I believed what I wrote then and I still do. But I am National Security Advisor, not National Security decision maker.“The policy we are pursuing is not a policy of regime change, that’s a fact and everybody should understand that.”However Mr Bolton went on to accuse Iran of involvement in the tanker assaults, adding that “there is some prospect that evidence of this will be presented to the Security Council next week.”“There are a series of meetings under way on this in Saudi Arabia, the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and Organisation of Islamic Cooperation … I don’t think there’s anybody who is familiar with the situation in the region and have examined the evidence can come to any other conclusion that these attacks were carried out by Iran and its surrogates.“We are looking at all the evidence and we are looking at it in a responsible and prudent fashion … We say there is a lot of activity that goes on in that part of the world which is attributable to Iran because of their prior conduct, because of their statements and because of information that comes into our possession which I am not going to discuss further.”Mr Bolton accused Iran of direct and indirect culpability.“When the Houthis use drones or ballistic missiles, they don’t make them, they get them from somewhere.“I think it’s fair to hold Iran accountable even without more information because of the foreseeable consequences of giving such weapons to the Houthis. In terms of attacks on pipelines, it’s possible the Houthis did it, or it came from somewhere else too, more directly from Iran,” he said.The Houthis, a Yemeni rebel group, claimed responsibility for an attack on a Saudi oil pipeline in mid-May.Differences remained, Mr Bolton acknowledged, between the US and its allies over the Iran nuclear deal. President Trump pulled the US out of the JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) and imposed sweeping sanctions on Iran.The other international signatories — Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China— as well as the UN and EU insist that Tehran has adhered to its obligations and are attempting to save the agreement which they say has stopped Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.The European Union is putting together a financial programme which seeks to enable businesses to trade with Iran in the face of US sanctions.Mr Bolton held up the possibility that Britain’s position on supporting the programme may change after Brexit. “By definition as an independent country you can make up your own policy – it’s different once you are outside the European Union,” he said.

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Trump defends China tariffs as trade war leaves allies and opponents in bind

May 15, 2019 |

Trump defends China tariffs as trade war leaves allies and opponents in bindTrump’s hardline stance against China puts Republicans in an awkward position, while Democrats are splitDonald Trump with China’s President Xi Jinping in 2017. China said it will raise tariffs on $ 60bn worth of US goods from 1 June, in retaliation to the latest round of US tariff hikes. Photograph: Fred Dufour/AFP/Getty ImagesDonald Trump has again defended tariffs as his dogged, often self-contradictory pursuit of a trade war with China put allies and opponents alike in a difficult spot.Stocks tumbled after China said it would impose higher tariffs on US goods including frozen vegetables and liquefied natural gas, in retaliation for America raising tariffs on $ 200bn in Chinese imports. Trump has threatened to extend tariffs to the remaining $ 300bn or so in Chinese imports that have not been targeted yet, but told reporters on Monday: “I have not made that decision yet.”As the clash of the world’s two biggest economies raised fears of global shockwaves, Trump denied American consumers would pay the price.“There is no reason for the US consumer to pay the tariffs, which take effect on China today,” Trump tweeted, before offering a convoluted explanation.That put him at odds with his own national economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, who was asked on Fox News Sunday: “It’s US businesses and US consumers who pay, correct?”Kudlow replied: “Yes, I don’t disagree with that.”He also acknowledged that “both sides will suffer”.Not for the first time, Trump is scrambling political allegiances. It is especially awkward for Republicans. The president’s protectionist “America first” agenda flies in the face of the party’s free market principles and threatens to hurt voters in red states.Farmers are one example. At a news conference organised by the campaign group Tariffs Hurt the Heartland, in response to the raising of tariffs to 25%, Brent Bible, a soybean and corn farmer in Lafayette, Indiana, said: “Our competitive advantage has always been we are a reliable source of product. This has taken that away.“It has made it … so uncompetitive that other countries are willing to now take the risk that some of the South American countries have in terms of logistics, safety and being reliable. China and others are now willing to take that risk since we are priced so far out of the market.”Trump has promised to “make it up” to farmers hurt by Chinese tariffs against soybeans and other agricultural products. Previously set at $ 12bn, on Monday he suggested the compensation could go even higher.He said: “We’re going to take the highest year, the biggest purchase that China has ever made with from our farmers, which is about $ 15bn, and do something reciprocal to our farmers so our farmers can do well.”The bailout programme, which has been slow to take effect because of bureaucratic hurdles, threatens to wipe out whatever financial rewards Trump claims tariffs have reaped. “We’re taking in billions of dollars of tariffs,” he insisted at the White House, dangling the prospect of yet more.But Republicans have become accustomed to twisting themselves into unexpected positions to support Trump on all kids of issues. This is no different.Last week the White House issued a list of those who back Trump for taking a hard line after China allegedly reneged on commitments made during months of talks. It included Senator Marco Rubio of Florida: “Not surprised China is trying to go back on changes they had previously agreed to. For years they have had counterparts so desperate for a deal they allowed them to get away with this. [Trump] is the first to ever pose a credible threat to walk away from a bad deal.”Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said: “I completely support President [Trump]’s approach in trade negotiations with China. This is the last, best chance for America and the world to get China to play by the rules.”Intriguingly, the roll call also quoted Chuck Schumer, the Democratic minority leader in the Senate: “Hang tough on China, President [Trump]. Don’t back down. Strength is the only way to win with China.”Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, another Democrat, said: “China’s cheating has hurt American workers for far too long. Tariffs brought China to the negotiating table and now that we’re there, the president must secure real changes to level the playing field.”The remarks illustrate the dilemma facing Democrats. Former vice-president Joe Biden, the frontrunner for 2020, was recently condemned for remarks that played down Chinese competition. “China is going to eat our lunch?” he said. “Come on, man.”Bernie Sanders has pledged to label China a currency manipulator, a stand Trump vowed he would make but was talked out of by advisers. Sanders and another progressive candidate, Elizabeth Warren, share Trump’s distaste for Republican worship of the free market.But centrist Democrats are going on the offensive. Another 2020 contender, the Massachusetts congressman Seth Moulton, told Fox News Sunday:“Wielding tariffs like a cudgel because it makes the president look tough? That only hurts American families.”Many feel Trump has hit upon an important theme – the threat posed by China and its long history of flouting rules.A few Republican voices have warned against a prolonged dispute. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky told ABC’s This Week he advised the president to finalise a deal with China soon, “because the longer we’re involved in a tariff battle or a trade war, the better chance there is that we could actually enter into a recession because of it”.Trump said on Monday he plans a meeting with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, next month at the G20 summit in Japan. He insisted: “We’re in a great position right now, no matter what we do. I think China wants to have it.”The Associated Press contributed reporting

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Mueller tried to keep Comey memos secret to stop Trump allies faking their stories

May 8, 2019 |

Mueller tried to keep Comey memos secret to stop Trump allies faking their storiesThe special counsel’s office sought to keep secret the memos written by former FBI director James Comey in an attempt to stop those under investigation — such as Donald Trump — from tailoring their stories to line up with Mr Comey’s accounts, according to a court transcript made public on Tuesday.Lawyers for the special counsel, Robert Mueller, made their arguments in a closed-door hearing in January 2018 before a federal judge, who was overseeing a lawsuit to have memos Mr Comey wrote about his interactions with the president released to the public.News organisations had sued the Justice Department over access to the memos, but the case became moot when Congress made them public three months later. The judge ordered a transcript of the hearing to be released on Tuesday.The transcript provides a window into the status of the special counsel’s investigation eight months after Mr Mueller began examining whether Mr Trump obstructed justice, among other issues. At the hearing, one of Mr Mueller’s top lawyers, Michael Dreeben, tried to illustrate the severity of the investigation, the questions over the president’s conduct and the potential benefits for witnesses who had read Mr Comey’s memos.“An individual who is seeking to shape or mould his own statements around those of others thereby acquires an advantage in doing so that he would not otherwise have,” Mr Dreeben said, according to the transcript.Mr Dreeben acknowledged to the judge, James Boasberg of the US District Court for the District of Columbia, that Mr Trump was being investigated for obstructing justice and that the FBI had opened that inquiry before Mr Mueller’s appointment in May 2017.“That investigation entailed matters that were covered in the Comey memoranda, which explored and recorded Mr Comey’s recollections of meetings, including one-on-one meetings with the president of the United States,” Mr Dreeben said, referring to the initial FBI inquiry. “In those meetings, events occurred that led the FBI to conclude that an investigation was appropriate under its authority to consider matters such as obstruction of justice.”Mr Dreeben added, “In this instance, a person whose conduct is within the scope of the investigation is the president of the United States.”Details of the transcript were first reported on Tuesday by CNN.Many details from Mr Comey’s memos had already been made public at the time of the hearing. The New York Times reported in May 2017 that Mr Trump had asked Mr Comey for his loyalty and for an end to the investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. The day after The Times reported on the Flynn encounter, Mr Mueller was appointed.The next month, Mr Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee about his interactions with the president.Mr Dreeben said that although many parts of the memos had been previously revealed, it was still important to keep them away from those whose conduct was being scrutinised.“Those memoranda are also far more detailed in many instances than the matters that Mr Comey revealed either in his statement for the record or in his oral testimony before the Senate,” Mr Dreeben said.He said that because Mr Comey’s memos were written contemporaneously, witnesses would want their accounts to line up with the memos.Things like Mr Comey’s memos “are typically held in confidence through the course of the investigation and any ensuing proceedings to ensure that all witnesses provide truthful evidence based on their own recollections and not on any inadvertent or advertent tailoring or influence from other witness statements.”Mr Mueller’s office ultimately lost the battle — but not in the courtroom. In April 2018, the Justice Department provided copies to members of Congress, which immediately released them to the public.A year after the memos became public, Mr Mueller finished his investigation and declined to decide whether the president obstructed justice. The attorney general, William Barr, cleared the president of wrongdoing.But in his report, Mr Mueller detailed more than a dozen episodes that legal experts believe show how Mr Trump sought to interfere with the investigation. Among them were several of the encounters Mr Comey detailed in his memos.The New York Times

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Kim Kardashian and Allies Sought Out by Desperate Inmates

May 8, 2019 |

Kim Kardashian is more popular in prisons than ever — and that’s saying a lot — because scores of inmates are reaching out now that word is out she can offer non-violent offenders a path to freedom. Sources familiar with the situation tell…

Poland Urges NATO Allies to Coordinate Against China Cybersecurity Challenges

February 21, 2019 |

Poland is joining the U.S. in pressing its NATO allies to coordinate efforts to address security challenges from China after the arrest of two men on charges of spying for Beijing. What’s News Europe

Nuclear Pact Breakdown Unnerves U.S. Allies

February 2, 2019 |

The U.S. decision to exit a decades-old treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces is unsettling Europe, which sits in range of a Russian missile system that U.S. officials say breaches the 1987 pact. What’s News Europe

GOP allies Graham, McCarthy defend Trump against Pelosi in battle over State of the Union address

January 24, 2019 |

It was unclear exactly what prompted President Trump’s decision Wednesday night to postpone his State of the Union address, but earlier in the evening it seemed that two of his closest Republican allies — Sen. Lindsey Graham and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — were standing by the president in his battle with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi regarding plans for the speech.  
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Mueller hardball fuels Trump allies’ anger toward probe, risks backfiring

November 28, 2018 |

Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s tough tactics with investigation targets and witnesses are fueling complaints about the probe from President Trump and his allies at a critical stage, as key cooperation efforts seem to break down. 
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