Who Is Jon Huntsman President Trump’s Pick To Be The U.S. Ambassador To Russia?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Washington (CNN) Former Utah governor and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman has accepted President Donald Trump’s offer to serve as the next ambassador to Russia, several senior administration officials told CNN.

If confirmed, Huntsman would become one of the highest-profile US ambassadors, helming the diplomatic mission to a country that has seen its relationship with the US become increasingly strained in recent years. Huntsman would also take on the post amid ongoing questions about connections between Russians known to US intelligence and Trump campaign advisers — and just months after Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election.
The post would be the third ambassadorship for Huntsman, who previously served as US ambassador to Singapore and China. Huntsman was the ambassador to China during President Barack Obama’s administration.
Huntsman’s selection comes two weeks after the Utah Republican was first floated as a contender for a top diplomatic post.
One senior administration official said Huntsman was tapped because he is a “brilliant guy,” “tough” and understands what Trump wants.

ARAB NATIONS FACE STARK CHOICE: ISRAEL OR IRAN

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NEWSWEEK)

ARAB NATIONS FACE STARK CHOICE: ISRAEL OR IRAN

This article first appeared on the Atlantic Council site.

Two very different dialogue proposals are on the table for the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, one from a historic enemy, Israel, proposed in conjunction with a crucial partner, the United States. The other is from a historic rival, Iran, which shares the same neighborhood and faith.

The choice the Arab countries ultimately make could determine the future peace and prosperity of the region.

On February 15, President Donald Trump met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House and during a press conference, both leaders hinted at an approaching Arab-Israeli cooperation.

A few days later, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif reiterated Iran’s previously proposed regional platform for dialogue between the Islamic Republic and its Persian Gulf neighbors during a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

The U.S.-Israel proposal encompasses almost all Arab States, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council, as well as Egypt, Jordan and possibly Lebanon and Tunisia.

This proposal’s principal objective is a wider Arab-Israeli peace agreement and an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the key selling point behind this initiative is mutual concerns regarding Iran, and the proposal has a goal to present a unified front against the Islamic Republic.

Netanyahu stated during the press conference that “for the first time in my lifetime, and for the first time in the life of my country, Arab countries in the region do not see Israel as an enemy, but, increasingly, as an ally.” He further stated that “the great opportunity for peace comes from a regional approach involving our newfound Arab partners in the pursuit of a broader peace with the Palestinians.”

Related: Michael Dorf: Trump’s Deal-Making Skills Won’t Help Israel

While there has been no official confirmation of back channel talks between Israel and the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, Trump and Netanyahu’s statements indicate that previous reports alleging secret direct interactions between high-level Israeli and GCC officials have indeed taken place in the past six years if not longer.

The perception left by the Barack Obama administration, that the United States is leaving the region and that an increasingly emboldened Iran is exerting power across the Middle East after the implementation of the 2015 nuclear agreement, has revived longstanding hostilities between Arabs and Persians, and presented an opening to realize mutual interests and foster cooperation between Arabs and Israelis.

Israel has long seen Iran as its major adversary because of Iran’s support for Hamas and Hezbollah as well as Iran’s ballistic missile program and nuclear advances.

Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia along with its GCC partners were alarmed when Iran took advantage of the US invasion of Iraq to become influential in Baghdad. The GCC states also grew intolerant of Iran’s perceived links to the uprisings in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia’s Eastern Province as well as Iran’s support for the regime of Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad and for the Houthis in Yemen.

03_03_Iran_Israel_01Deputy Crown Prince, Second Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Muhammad bin Salman Al Saud of Saudi arrive at the Hangzhou Exhibition Center to participate in the G20 Summit on September 4, 2016, in Hangzhou, China. Mehran Haghirian writes that if the United States goes forward with plans to move the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or gives a carte blanche for further Israeli settlements in the West Bank, while abandoning the goal of a two-state solution, there will be no domestic support for Arab rapprochement with Israel.ETIENNE OLIVEAU/GETTY

At the Munich conference, Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman quoted without naming him an old remark by U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis that “in the Middle East we are facing three challenges: Iran, Iran and Iran…and I can only repeat and confirm this approach.” Lieberman reiterated that Israel would continue efforts to hinder the Islamic Republic’s reintegration into the international community in the aftermath of the nuclear agreement.

Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir also reaffirmed his country’s objections to Iranian actions across the region. “The Iranians do not believe in the principle of good neighborliness or non-interference in the affairs of others,” Jubeir told the Munich conference. “This is manifested in their interference in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan.”

While the prospect for Iran-Saudi détente looks dim at present, it is crucial to remember that the future of Palestine is an issue that not only unites Iran and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, but all people in the Muslim world. The outlook for the US-Israeli proposal to solve the Palestinian issue is unclear and most likely not possible to be implemented.

If the United States goes forward with plans to move the US Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, or gives a carte blanche for further Israeli settlements in the West Bank, while abandoning the goal of a two-state solution, there will be no domestic support for Arab rapprochement with Israel.

Countering the US-Israeli proposal, Zarif reiterated the Islamic Republic’s proposition for creation of a regional platform for dialogue between Iran and its Persian Gulf neighbors, or as he called them “brothers.”

“Countries in the Persian Gulf region need to surmount the current state of division and tension and instead move in the direction erecting realistic regional arrangements,” Zarif told the Munich conference. To implement this proposal, he said it must start with a regional dialogue forum that encompasses the littoral neighbors of the Persian Gulf, and under the framework of shared principles and objectives.

The primary goal of Iran’s proposal is to decrease tensions and increase cooperation between neighbors.

“The forum can promote understanding under a broad spectrum of issues, including confidence and security building measures, and combating terrorism, extremism, and sectarianism,” Zarif said. “It could also encourage practical cooperation in areas ranging from the protection of the environment to join investments and tourism. Such a forum could eventually develop into a more formal non-aggression and security cooperation arrangements.”

This proposal is not new. Zarif put it forward shortly after finalizing the nuclear deal in an article on Al-Monitor titled “Choose your neighbors before your house,” and traveledto Qatar and Kuwait shortly afterward.

More recently, on January 24, the foreign minister of Kuwait met with Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani to deliver a letter on behalf of the GCC. While the details of the letter have not been made public, Rouhani followed with state visits to Oman and Kuwait on February 15, coincidentally the same day Trump and Netanyahu held talks.

Oman and Kuwait, which historically have had less troubled relations with Iran than other GCC members, have indicated a desire to take part in the dialogue forum with Iran, and have repeatedly attempted to mediate tensions between the Islamic Republic and Saudi Arabia.

The disagreements between rival powers should not preclude comprehensive and inclusive arrangements that address mutual concerns, and that benefit all participating countries. The Iranian proposal will ensure a sustainable relationship between neighboring states based on mutual respect, and eventually, the cooperation could facilitate an end to the civil wars in Yemen and Syria.

The Israeli proposal might lead to a wider peace agreement between Arab states and Israel. However, it will most definitely exacerbate tensions with Iran and increase the chances of a wider military conflict.

There has been no substantial conflict between the Arab States of the Persian Gulf and Israel in the past decade or more, and while a wider Arab-Israeli peace would undoubtedly have a positive impact in the region, it is contingent on a Palestinian-Israeli agreement.

Meanwhile, the rise in contention between some GCC states and Iran in the past decade has arguably had more dire consequences for the region than the absence of Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Agreeing to sit at the same table with Iran for dialogue based on a mutually acceptable and beneficial outlook will lead to greater peace in the region and beyond. It is crucial for the Arab states of the Persian Gulf to weigh the rewards and consequences of each proposal before going forward with either approach.

Mehran Haghirian is an Iranian Graduate Student at American University’s School of International Service in Washington D.C., and he is currently a Project Assistant at Atlantic Council’s Future of Iran Initiative.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Lied In His Confirmation Hearing About His 2 Meetings With Russia’s Top Spy?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Sessions did not disclose meetings with Russian ambassador

  • The diplomat’s interactions with former Trump national security adviser Mike Flynn led to Flynn’s firing
  • The Justice Department disclosed the meetings

(CNN) Attorney General Jeff Sessions met twice last year with the top Russian diplomat in Washington whose interactions with President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser Mike Flynn led to Flynn’s firing, according to the Justice Department.

Sessions did not mention either meeting during his confirmation hearings when he said he knew of no contacts between Trump surrogates and Russians. A Justice official said Sessions didn’t mislead senators during his confirmation.
The Washington Post first reported on Sessions’ meetings with the official.
Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador, is considered by US intelligence to be one of Russia’s top spies and spy-recruiters in Washington, according to current and former senior US government officials.
Sessions met with Kislyak twice, in July on the sidelines of the Republican convention, and in September in his office when Sessions was a member of the Senate Armed Services committee. Sessions was an early Trump backer and regular surrogate for him as a candidate.
Sessions responded swiftly Wednesday, strongly stating that he never discussed campaign-related issues with anyone from Russia.
“I never met with any Russian officials to discuss issues of the campaign,” he said in a statement. “I have no idea what this allegation is about. It is false.”
Key Democratic lawmakers immediately called for Sessions’ resignation after the news broke.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi characterized Sessions’ comments in his confirmation “apparent perjury,” and said the attorney general should resign.
Kislyak’s potential proximity to Russian spying is one reason why Flynn’s interactions with him, and Flynn’s failure to disclose what he discussed with Kislyak, raised concerns among intelligence officials.
In his confirmation hearing to become attorney general, Sessions was asked about Russia and he responded at the time that he “did not have communications with the Russians.”
Sessions’ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said there was nothing “misleading about his answer” to Congress because the Alabama Republican “was asked during the hearing about communications between Russia and the Trump campaign — not about meetings he took as a senator and a member of the Armed Services Committee.”
“Last year, the Senator had over 25 conversations with foreign ambassadors as a senior member of the Armed Services Committee, including the British, Korean, Japanese, Polish, Indian, Chinese, Canadian, Australian, German and Russian ambassadors,” Isgur Flores said in the statement.
A Justice Department official confirmed the meetings, but said Sessions met with the ambassadors “in his capacity as a senator on the Armed Serviced Committee.”
A White House official said: “This is the latest attack against the Trump Administration by partisan Democrats. (Attorney) General Sessions met with the ambassador in an official capacity as a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which is entirely consistent with his testimony.”
In reaction to the report, Rep. Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member of the House Oversight Committee, also called for Sessions’ resignation.
“There is no longer any question that we need a truly independent commission” to investigate potential ties between Russia and the Trump campaign, Cummings said. “It is inconceivable that even after Michael Flynn was fired for concealing his conversations with the Russians that Attorney General Sessions would keep his own conversations for several weeks.”
Cummings called Sessions’ claim during his confirmation hearing that he did not have communications with the Russians “demonstrably false.”
Minnesota Democrat Sen. Al Franken, who asked Sessions about Russia at the confirmation hearing, said if the reports of Sessions’ contacts with Kislyak were true, then Sessions’ response was “at best misleading.”
“It’s clearer than ever now that the attorney general cannot, in good faith, oversee an investigation at the Department of Justice and the FBI of the Trump-Russia connection, and he must recuse himself immediately,” Franken said.
News of Sessions’ contacts with Kislyak came as the New York Times reported Wednesday evening that officials under former President Barack Obama had sent information throughout government about potential Russian contact with Trump’s associates and interference in the 2016 election. The officials did so, the Times reported, in order to preserve the information after Obama left office.
Regarding the Obama administration efforts, Obama’s spokesman Eric Schultz told CNN: “This situation was serious, as is evident by President Obama’s call for a review — and as is evident by the United States response. When the (intelligence community) does that type of comprehensive review, it is standard practice that a significant amount of information would be compiled and documented.”
Two days before Trump’s inauguration, the State Department sent Sen. Ben Cardin, a Maryland Democrat and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, a batch of documents related to Russian attempts to meddle in elections worldwide, two sources familiar with the matter told CNN.
Cardin spokesman Sean Bartlett told CNN that the senator had received the classified documents on request and that they were shared with both Republican and Democratic committee staffers.

The Sad Life And Death Of Kim Jong Nam: Ostracized By His Father And Murdered By His Brother

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Kim Jong Nam led a life of loneliness and fear and seclusion, rejected by his father, orphaned by his mother, stuck in a shadowy exile where he constantly had to worry about spies and secret agents and reporters.And it all came to a pitiful end, with Kim slumped in a chair in a Malaysian airport clinic, his belly protruding from his navy-blue polo shirt, then dying in an ambulance en route to the hospital. He had been smeared with VX, a lethal nerve agent that is used as a chemical weapon.

“He’s like a country-and-western song — it’s sad, sad stuff,” said Michael Madden, editor of the North Korea Leadership Watch website.

Kim’s painful demise is a blow for the United States and South Korea, which have lost a potential source of intelligence on the world’s most secretive regime. They also have lost a potential replacement for his half brother Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader who again has thrown down the gauntlet to the outside world.

“Kim Jong Un is testing nukes and missiles like crazy,” said Alexandre Mansourov, a North Korea leadership expert who once studied at Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. “Now he feels confident enough to send his goons around the world to assassinate people he doesn’t like.”

CCTV footage allegedly shows attack on Kim Jong Nam

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CCTV footage released on Feb. 20 purportedly shows the attack on Kim Jong Nam, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s half brother, at Kuala Lumpur airport in Malaysia a week earlier. The footage has been edited for clarity. (CCTV via Fuji TV)

Kim Jong Un feels this emboldened because he keeps challenging the outside world, especially the United States, and it does nothing to stop him, Mansourov said. “It’s a sign of supreme confidence that he can get away with anything, that he can literally get away with murder.”

The blame for the well-planned attack on Kim Jong Nam in a Kuala Lumpur airport terminal on Feb. 13 is, however, being directed squarely at the leader of North Korea.

Malaysia says that Kim died because of exposure to VX, and it has implicated eight North Koreans in the attack, including a diplomat and a scientist.

South Korean intelligence officials have said that Kim Jong Un put out a “standing order” for his older half brother’s assassination years ago, but even so, analysts agree that he would have had to give the green light for this attack.

“The fact that so many North Korean agents were involved shows that the operation was planned well in advance and was done with Kim Jong Un’s blessing,” said Sue Mi Terry, a former North Korea analyst at the CIA.

It would not be the first time Kim Jong Un has acted in such a ruthless way. The 33-year-old has ordered the purge or execution of several hundred officials during his five years at the helm. These included his uncle, Jang Song Thaek, who had been a mentor to Kim Jong Nam and was accused of amassing too much power.

“This fits into the larger narrative of what Kim Jong Un wants to do,” said Ken Gause, a North Korea leadership expert at CNA, a Virginia-based consulting firm. “He’s getting rid of potential contenders to the throne.”

‘Without even one friend’

Kim Jong Nam was the result of a secret relationship between North Korea’s second-generation leader, Kim Jong Il, and his consort, an actress named Sung Hye Rim.

He led a lonely childhood in Pyongyang, “without even one friend,” Sung’s sister wrote in her memoir.

When he was 8, Kim moved to Moscow with his aunt and grandmother, but he hated it. He then moved on to Geneva. There he seemed to fit in better, although he still lived in a cloud of half-truths.

“He introduced himself as the son of the North Korean ambassador,” said Anthony Sahakian, a Swiss businessman who went to school with Kim, whom he knew as “Lee.”

“North Korea, South Korea — we were 13 years old. We didn’t know the difference,” Sahakian said.

But some things did make Kim different — for instance, he had a driver’s license that said he was older than he was.

“That was strange because he showed up in a Mercedes 600, driving it himself,” Sahakian said, referring to the huge sedan that was a favorite among dictators. “At the time, all we wanted to do was drive, so we were very jealous. We’d skip class and go somewhere else during the day to drink coffee.”

Kim was multilingual as a result of his international childhood. He spoke fluent English and French, and Sahakian said they conversed in Russian.

In 1988, when he was almost 18, Kim went back to Pyongyang and to a life of cloistered misery, the polar opposite from his freewheeling youth in Europe. To boot, he found that the affection his father once had showered upon him now was directed at a new family, which included a young boy called Jong Un.

Kim Jong Nam had talked about “life in the palace” being oppressive. “He had everything he could possibly desire, but he was in a black depression there,” said a school friend who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive details.

So Kim Jong Il struck a deal with his son: If he got married and had a child, he could leave, the friend said.

Kim Jong Nam married and had a son in 1995, although it is not known exactly when he left North Korea.

Certainly a turning point came in 2001, when the family was caught entering Japan on false Dominican Republic passports. Kim, whose passport name was Chinese for “Fat Bear,” told the authorities that they had wanted to go to Tokyo Disneyland.

After that, the family moved to Macau, where they were under Chinese protection and could live relatively freely, with Kim indulging his passion for gambling. He traveled to Beijing, where he was thought to have another family, and around Southeast Asia, popping up in Indonesia and Singapore.

He also traveled regularly to Europe — sometimes to see his oldest son, who had been studying in France, and sometimes on business, apparently buying wine or property for wealthy Asian clients.

He always kept his wits about him, said Sahakian, who had seen his old friend several times in Geneva in recent years. “He wasn’t paranoid, but he was worried,” he said. “When he was out he was careful, and he avoided talking to Asians because he was worried they were spies. He was on his guard, but it wouldn’t stop him.”

Dynastic competition

Although he had been mentioned as a potential leader in dynastic North Korea, friends say he did not have any interest in the prospect.

But he appears to have antagonized his younger brother just enough. In 2010, the day before Kim Jong Un was to make his first appearance as heir apparent in North Korea, Kim Jong Nam gave an interview to Japan’s TV Asahi in which he said that the choice was his father’s and that there appeared to be internal reasons for hurrying the process along.

“Personally speaking, I am opposed to the third-generation succession,” he said, a statement that might be considered anodyne elsewhere but was tantamount to treason in North Korea.

Madden, of North Korea Leadership Watch, said that there was always a chance of Kim Jong Nam’s being thrust into leadership. “Jong Nam still had a power base, and there was always a remote possibility that he would take power,” he said.

Terry, the former CIA analyst, agreed. “However improbable, there are always rumors that Kim Jong Nam could replace Kim Jong Un as the head of the regime at the behest of China or the U.S.” she said.

There have been reports in South Korea that Kim Jong Nam had acted as a middleman between South Korean President Park Geun-hye and officials in North Korea. Just a few days before his death, a South Korean newspaper reported that Kim Jong Nam had tried to defect to South Korea several years ago.

This would have given the regime ample reason to get rid of him, said Cheong Seong-chang, senior fellow at the Sejong Institute, a South Korean think tank.

Indeed, Kim’s defection would have been much more catastrophic for the regime than that of Thae Yong-ho, the deputy North Korean ambassador in London who fled to South Korea last year, said one former official in the regime.

“Imagine how detrimental the impact would have been if Kim Jong Un’s half brother were to speak out against Kim Jong Un,” said the former official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concern for his safety. “It would have a much bigger impact than Thae Yong-ho is having now in South Korea.”

Thae has become an outspoken critic of the regime, calling for a flood of information into North Korea to encourage people there to flee or rise up.

The downside for the United States and South Korea is that they have lost the opportunity to recruit someone in the family to provide information. They also have lost someone who could be installed as a slightly friendlier leader in North Korea while still maintaining the Kim family bloodline — an important factor in Korean culture.

“They wanted him alive, not dead,” said Mansourov. “The only party interested in his premature departure was Pyongyang.”

U.S. And England Agree On The Need To Be Cautious In Dealing With Russia’s President Putin

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

Boris Johnson says US agrees on need for caution over Russia

Boris Johnson

Donald Trump’s new administration understands the need to deal with Russia in a “very guarded way”, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has said.

Following his first meeting with US secretary of state Rex Tillerson during the G20 summit in Germany, Mr Johnson, referring to Russia, said “you’ve got to beware of what they are up to”.

Neither side wants to see a return to the days of the Cold War, he said.

But Moscow’s current behaviour cannot be allowed to continue, he added.

Mr Johnson’s comments come amid intense scrutiny in the US of the administration’s attitude to Russia following the resignation of national security adviser Michael Flynn over his contacts with the Russian ambassador to the US before Mr Trump’s inauguration last month.

Mr Johnson told the BBC: “I think Rex Tillerson is absolutely clear in his view, which is the same as mine. You have got to engage with Russia, but you have got to engage in a very guarded way. You have got to beware of what they are up to.

“There is no question that, when you look at Russian activity on the cyber front, when you look at what they are doing in the western Balkans, when you look at what has been happening in the Ukraine, you’ve got to be very, very cautious.

“I think it is entirely right to have a dual track approach.

“We don’t want to get into a new Cold War. That’s something London and Washington are completely at one on. But nor do we want Russian behaviour to continue as it is – and Rex Tillerson has been very clear about that.”

EXCLUSIVE: Shadowy Iranian Republican Guard General visits Moscow, violating Sanctions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FOX NEWS AND ‘OUTBRAIN’)

IRAN

EXCLUSIVE: Shadowy Iranian general visits Moscow, violating sanctions

A shadowy Iranian general responsible for the deaths of nearly 500 Americans traveled to Moscow Wednesday to meet with high-ranking Russian officials — a trip that violated multiple United Nations resolutions forbidding him from leaving his country, multiple western intelligence officials with direct knowledge of the visit told Fox News.

RUSSIAN SPY SHIP SPOTTED CLOSER TO USA, NEAR NAVY SUBMARINE BASE

Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani arrived in Terminal A of Vnukovo airport outside Moscow on Feb. 14 on Mahan Air WD084 at 12:13 p.m. local time and was scheduled to remain in Russia for a few days for meetings, officials said.

Soleimani is visiting Moscow to express his displeasure with the Russian government over their relationship with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states, mainly regarding weapons deals and strengthening economic ties, sources told Fox News.

MIDEAST PEACE MAY NOT COME FROM TWO-STATE SOLUTION, WHITE HOUSE SAYS

The CIA would not immediately answer a request for comment. A State Department spokesman said he was unaware of the visit.

This is Soleimani’s third trip to Moscow following visits in April and July last year. Soleimani is thought to be the mastermind behind Iran’s proxy war in Syria in order to prop up the Assad regime. Soleimani met with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu days after the Iranian nuclear deal was agreed to in Vienna. Iran has been a key ally along with Russia in Syria, working together to shore up support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad against opposition fighters, some of whom are backed by the United States.

The Quds Force, which Soleimani heads, is the special operations wing of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, responsible for supporting terrorist proxy forces across the Middle East. Soleimani reports directly to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Soleimani was first designated a terrorist and sanctioned by the U.S. in 2005 for his role as a supporter of terrorism. In October 2011, the U.S. Treasury Department tied Soleimani to the failed Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States at a popular restaurant in Washington, D.C.

Testifying before Congress last year, former Secretary of State John Kerry said Soleimani and the Quds Force would continue to face sanctions even after some UN sanctions were lifted on Iran following the landmark nuclear agreement between Iran and six world powers, including the United States.

UN Resolution 1747 prohibits Soleimani to travel, and any country that lets him transit or travel is also defying sanctions. Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council and would be a aware of the restrictions against meeting him.

During his confirmation hearing before Congress in 2015, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford said many Americans were killed by Iranian-backed forces under the command of Soleimani.

“The number has been recently quoted as about 500. We weren’t always able to attribute the casualties we had to Iranian activity, although many times we suspected it was Iranian activity even though we didn’t necessarily have the forensics to support that,” Dunford told lawmakers.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry said five days after Soleimani’s Moscow visit that he would never receive sanctions relief.

“Under the United States’s initiative, Qassem Soleimani will never be relieved of any sanctions,” Kerry said.

Lucas Tomlinson is the Pentagon and State Department producer for Fox News Channel. You can follow him on Twitter: @LucasFoxNews

Iran Is Allowing Russian Bombers To Use Their Airspace And Military Base For Refueling

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

Iran allowing Syria-bound Russian planes to use airspace-report

Iran has again allowed Russian planes to use its airspace during recent operations in Syria, a senior Iranian security official was quoted as saying on Saturday.

In August, Russian aircraft for the first time used an Iranian air base to conduct strikes in Syria. The Russian military said its fighters had completed their tasks, but left open the possibility of using the Hamadan base again if circumstances warranted.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry said then that Russia had stopped using the base for strikes in Syria, bringing an abrupt halt to the deployment that was criticized both by the United States and some Iranian lawmakers.

Ali Shamkhani, secretary of Iran’s National Security Council, on Saturday told the semi-official news agency Fars: “Their (Russians’) use of Iran’s air space has continued because we have a fully strategic cooperation with Russia.”

“In the recent cases, Russian fighter planes have only used Iran’s airspace and have not had refueling operations,” Shamkhani added.

The agency said Shamkhani was commenting on media reports that Russia’s Tupolev-22M long-range bombers had used Iranian airspace and a base in the country on their missions in Syria, where both Tehran and Moscow back President Bashar al-Assad’s government.

It was not immediately clear if the recent missions were linked to Russian air strikes on Thursday that accidentally killed three Turkish soldiers during an operation against Islamic State in Syria, according to the Turkish military.

(Reporting by Dubai newsroom Editing by Jeremy Gaunt)

Trump Says US Will Never Accept Russia’s Annexation of Crimea

 

UNITED NATIONS — Ukraine’s U.N. envoy says U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley has confirmed the Trump administration fully supports his country’s territorial integrity and independence and will never accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

Volodymyr Yelchenko told reporters Wednesday that Haley also confirmed in their “very good” recent meeting that the U.S. is “completely against the way Russia is dealing with the eastern part of Ukraine.”

Yelchenko says he’s “absolutely satisfied by her reaction and replies.”

Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in March 2014, and since then fighting between Ukrainian government troops and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 9,600 people in the east.

Yelchenko is the current Security Council president and said members will be briefed Thursday on the latest flare-up in violence.

The U.S. Mission says Haley reaffirmed support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

Continue reading the main story

Where Is Ildar Dadin?

This post, and this new law, show the cowardness of President Putin. Laws and events like this are not acts of a strong leader, they are the acts of an insecure coward. Mr. Putin disgraces himself and the whole of his Nation by being such a coward!

The Russian Reader

"Where is Dadin?" Photo courtesy of Gradus TV “Where is Dadin?” Photo courtesy of Gradus TV

Activists Picketing in Support of Ildar Dadin Detained in Moscow
RBC
January 4, 2016

Police in Moscow detained six activists [Pavel Kuznetsov, Mikhail Lashkevich, Leonid Dubrovo, Tatyana Tarvid, Elena Zakharova, and Maria Ryabikova — TRR] who had been holding solo pickets in support of Ildar Dadin, according to OVD Info.

The activists had been picketing on Zhitnaya Street, where the Federal Penitentiary Service and Justice Ministry are located. Several of the picketers held placards that read, “Where is Dadin?”

The detainees were taken to Yakimanka police precinct.

Later, activist Sergei Ozhich reported on his Facebook page that all six detainees had been released. They have been charged with misdemeanors under Article 20.2.5 of the Russian Federal Administrative Offenses Code (violation of the established rules for holding assemblies, rallies, demonstrations, marches, and pickets by a participant of a public…

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With Trump, Russia Goes From Thursday’s Foe of U.S. to Friday’s Friend

 

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Photo

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia with President Obama in Hangzhou, China, in September.CreditAlexei Druzhinin/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

MOSCOW — The diatribe against the Obama administration on prime-time television by a Russian Foreign Ministry official was hardly unusual in the long history of rocky relations between the United States and Russia.

The administration “demonstrated the belief that the strongest has the right to create evil,” Maria Zakharova, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said on the Christmas Day broadcast.

From Washington’s perspective, it is the Kremlin that generally personifies evil, a point President Obama made on Thursday in punishing Russia for cyberattacks by directing new sanctions against Moscow and expelling 35 Russian diplomats. “The United States and friends and allies around the world must work together to oppose Russia’s efforts to undermine established international norms of behavior,” Mr. Obama said in a statement.

The two statements appeared to be business as usual — each side representing enemy No. 1 for the other. By Friday that mood had been abruptly cast aside, however. President Vladimir V. Putin announced that Russia would do nothing in response to the new American measures, awaiting the next administration, prompting President-elect Donald J. Trump to call him “very smart” in a Twitter post.

Continue reading the main story

With the sitting president calling Russia a national security threat and the incoming one praising Mr. Putin, many American voters, long accustomed to being suspicious about Russia, are understandably confused and uneasy. Russia was an enemy on Friday morning, and a friend by the afternoon.

“We are in a whiplash moment right now, and I think it is unprecedented in several respects,” said Cliff Kupchan, the chairman of the Eurasia Group, a political risk assessment firm in Washington, and a former State Department official from the Clinton administration. “The most important one is that the baton is about to be passed from an administration with a very hard line on Russia to one that is very much more sympathetic.”

No clear agreements or even offers are on the table yet, however, bringing uncertainty. “Russia’s relations with the U.S. are currently up in the air — both sides have no clear strategy about how to move them forward,” said Aleksandr Morozov, an independent Russian political analyst.

Until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, and even for years afterward, matters were more black and white. A young American diplomat stationed in Moscow named George F. Kennan established the parameters of the relationship for decades with a famous 1947 policy paper. The Soviet Union was bent on expansion, he wrote, so the main element of any United States policy had to be containment.

Thus began a long roller coaster ride for the two countries, full of periodic upswings as friends when détente was in vogue, inevitably followed by precipitous plummets as foes that left the world shuddering about the prospects of a nuclear Armageddon.

Tensions eased periodically, but it never seemed to last.

President Ronald Reagan, an implacable anti-Communist, surprised the world by reaching out to the man who turned out to be the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, to begin negotiations for far-reaching arms control agreements between the two sides.

After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the Russian Federation that emerged entered into an extended period of decline and, inevitably, friendship with the United States as a kind of junior partner.

That “junior” aspect rankled, however, particular after Mr. Obama went from seeking to reset relations to dismissing Russia as a “regional power.”

The latest crisis began in 2014, with a revolution in Ukraine that Mr. Putin labeled an American plot — he, as many Soviet leaders have, sees the hidden hand of Washington everywhere. Mr. Putin annexed Crimea and armed rebels in eastern Ukraine, prompting Western economic sanctions, which Mr. Trump has disparaged.

The last confrontation under the Obama administration between Moscow and Washington came to a head this fall after American intelligence agencies concluded that hacking by their Russian counterparts had breached national security, cracking open the computers of the Democratic National Committee to reveal emails that embarrassed Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Mr. Trump initially encouraged the Kremlin to hack even more, breaking with all precedents, not least the Republican tradition of painting Russia as the evil empire, as Mr. Reagan called it.

Mr. Obama waited to react until last week, and it looked as if he might leave his successor a diplomatic tempest, until Mr. Putin, long the master of the unexpected stroke, defused it.

Mr. Trump suddenly gained room to maneuver.

“Trump’s spirit is already here, and already changing Russia’s policies,” said Igor M. Bunin, the director of the Center for Political Technologies, a Moscow research institute. “This will be a great plus for future relations.”

There are still potential pitfalls, however, not least that Congress does not share an affectionate view of Mr. Putin.

Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, plans to open hearings on Thursday on Russia’s efforts to manipulate the presidential election. Much of the Republican establishment in Congress endorsed the new sanctions imposed against Russia, putting them at odds with Mr. Trump.

Senator Amy Klobuchar, Democrat of Minnesota, was with Mr. McCain and Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, last week to tour the Baltic States, which fear being the next target of the Russian military.

“The Russian cyberattack, and the misinformation and propaganda — they have been living with this for decades,” Ms. Klobuchar said in an interview.

American voters have heard Mr. Trump praise Russia, and some in the far right have hailed Mr. Putin as a hero for espousing conservative values. Yet old instincts die hard.

“I worry about what our relationship with other countries is going to be with a Trump presidency, if we buddy-buddy up to Russia and a leader who is not so democratic in nature,” said Alexis Matter, 35, walking through a Denver shopping mall.

In Sandy Springs, Ga., Chase Williams, 26, the manager of a pet supply store, said that Russia had fallen off the radar in recent years. His fears now were less of the old Cold War over a nuclear weapons attack than a sense that Mr. Putin could outfox the American administration.

“When I say Russia scares me, it’s not because I’m scared of them coming over here and doing something,” Mr. Williams said. “I’m scared when I see a chess player playing checkers — and we are checkers.”

Mr. Putin has made no secret of the fact that he would like to re-establish the consensus reached with the United States at the 1945 Yalta conference that carved the globe into spheres of influence.

Russia no longer has the might needed to assert its right to be a superpower, analysts say, but if nothing else, cyberattacks have underscored that you do not need nuclear weapons or a strong economy to assert global influence.

Some Russian analysts wonder what Mr. Putin can offer Mr. Trump. A former K.G.B. agent, he tends to view the world order as a series of special operations, coming from a different arena than Mr. Trump’s world of business deals. “I don’t think that Putin has a plan,” said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political analyst and former media adviser to Mr. Putin. “I think that he is stunned by the number of bonus points that he has gotten.”

In Syria, President Bashar al-Assad is on the verge of reasserting control over much of the country, thanks largely to Mr. Putin’s intervention. Ukraine presents some problems, but has essentially boiled down into the kind of frozen conflict that Russia uses to destabilize independent-minded neighbors. And all of the attention on the cyberattacks made Mr. Putin look strong.

In those successes, analysts see fodder for Mr. Putin to offer Mr. Trump a manner of foreign policy victory that would give the American leader something tangible to crow about at home in an arena where he lacks experience.

Russia, Iran and Turkey cut Washington out of the Syria negotiations, so Mr. Putin could bring the United States back in and forge a deal on fighting the Islamic State. Mr. Trump has stated that he wants to join forces with Russia in crushing the jihadists. Or the Kremlin could offer some sort of cyberspace deal.

“I think that Putin is in a strong position,” said Nicolai Petrov, a Russian political scientist. “He looks strong in relation to the United States and he has freedom to maneuver, and he can do what he wants to demonstrate that the United States should recognize that Russia is not a regional power but a great power that should be taken into account.”

So, for the moment, Mr. Putin appears a potential friend to Mr. Trump.

Few expect it to last, however. First of all, Mr. Trump is unpredictable. And fundamentally, the two countries are destined to be at odds, because they view the world through different lenses.

291COMMENTS

Russian policy in recent years has been trying to sow doubt and undermine public faith in Western governments. The Kremlin has relied on a variety of levers — disinformation campaigns, buying influence, cyberattacks — which many analysts expect to show up in crucial elections in the coming year in France and Germany.

“They are trying to create more of a level playing field not by raising Russia up, but through a declining West,” Mr. Kupchan said. “I don’t think Putin is out to make America great again.”

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