SW Airlines Passenger Alerts Crew Of Two Texting About Child Molesting: Police Arrest Them

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

(CNN) If you see something, say something.

A woman on a Seattle-to-San Jose flight this week took that law enforcement mantra to heart when she spotted a fellow passenger allegedly texting about sexually molesting children, the San Jose police said.
She immediately alerted the crew, leading police to arrest a man and a woman on charges of sexually exploiting minors.
“I’d like to highlight that if it wasn’t for this particular passenger taking action to alert the staff and alert the police, this catastrophic event would have been horrific,” San Jose Police Sgt. Brian Spears told CNN.

The incident

The incident unfolded Monday on a Southwest Airlines flight.
The woman, who’s an early childhood educator, saw a male passenger seated in front of her texting the material, the San Jose police said.
Spears told CNN the passenger was able to take photos of the man’s text conversation because the font and screen were large.
The texts, Spears said, were “extremely disturbing.”
The woman told the flight crew, and a crew member summoned police working at the Mineta San Jose International Airport on landing.

Officers detained Michael Kellar, 56, of Tacoma, Washington, according to San Jose police.
The San Jose Police Department’s Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (ICAC) and the FBI in San Jose responded. The task force arrested Kellar.
He was booked into the Santa Clara County Jail in California on two counts of attempt child molestation and two counts of solicitation of a sex crime, San Jose police said..

Two booked

The detectives looked at the man’s phone and found the text messaging recipient — a woman in the Tacoma area, Seattle police said.
Seattle police said there was “information that the woman had access to the children either as a caregiver or a babysitter.”
Investigators tracked the woman down to a residence in the Tacoma, Washington, area.
She lived there with her ex-husband, his wife and three children, police said.
“The detective obtained search warrants for the Tacoma home and the residence of the male suspect,” Seattle police said.

Children now safe

The woman has been identified as Gail Burnworth, 50, according to San Jose police.
She had been booked into the Pierce County jail in Washington for sexual exploitation of a minor, rape of a child 1st degree and dealing in depictions of a minor engaged in sexually explicit conduct, San Jose police said. The county corrections website on Friday listed her as no longer in custody.
Capt. Mike Edwards, commander of Seattle police Internet Crimes Against Children task force, said authorities had to release Burnworth because prosecutors didn’t get the charging documents to court within 72 hours. He said authorities need to reestablish probable cause, find her and rearrest her.
San Jose police said two young children have been identified as victims and that they are now safe.
Attempts by CNN to reach the attorneys for the accused have been unsuccessful.
The King County Prosecutor’s Office in Washington is reviewing the case for charges in Washington state and it is talking with the US Attorney’s Office to assess whether federal charges would apply.

If You Buy Walmart You Are Feeding China’s Communist Leadership And Their Army

 

According to Global Research.Org 95% of the non food products that are on sale in your local Wal-Mart store are made in China. I knew that almost all of the products that I looked at to buy had made in China tags on them, yet I didn’t realize that it was quite that high of a percent. Wal-Mart has apx 11% of all of America’s GDP go through their hands each year. Folks, that is one out of every nine dollars and that in itself is a dangerous thing for any nations economy. I learned many years ago back when old man Walton was still alive when they used to advertise that they only bought made in America products to help American manufacturing jobs stay here in America that this slogan was a blatant fraud and a lie. I was a long haul truck driver for a span of over 30 years and I picked up Wal-Mart loads quite a few times at the shipping docks in Elizabeth New Jersey and at the port in Miami Florida. It was not at all uncommon that when I would get backed up to the dock that the load would be staged there waiting to be put onto the trailer yet I would often have to sit there for at least two more hours so the dock workers could take off all of the tags saying where it was actually made at and to put on made in the USA tags. Wal-Mart itself grew from lying to the American people so to be honest with you when I have seen tags on items in one of their stores that said ‘made in the USA’ I can’t help but doubt that this is also another lie.

 

A couple of years ago Wal-Mart bought three ships ‘made in China’ for the sole purpose of shipping products to the western ports of the U.S.. These three ships was said to cost about 500 million dollars each. These ships are so large that they can not fit through either the Suez or Panama Canals. They are designed for one purpose, to bring cheap Chinese garbage to the American market. In reality if people here in the States want to bring jobs back to America all they have to do is to quit doing any of their shopping at Wal-Mart or Lowe’s (they own 100% of Lowe’s). Wal-Mart nor China are friends to or of the American people. Only two things really matters to these two entities and that is power and money. If the American Federal Government gave a damn about the American people they would never ever allow any company to have such a huge amount of their GDP in the hands of one company. If the Federal Government gave a damn about American jobs they would pass a bill requiring at least 80% of every company’s American sales to be from products made in America, this is how you could keep jobs for the American people. Yet it is obvious to most of the American people that the Politicians only listen to the big money people who grease their personal sleds. Donald Trump and his family and their businesses are a good example of this farce. Only money matters, you and I do not matter.

 

If you are a person that pays any attention to world affairs you already should know that the Communist Leadership behind their ‘President for life’ Xi Jinping have been very active in building up their military throughout Asia, even building islands upon coral formations and constructing military air fields upon them. They pretty much claim all of the South China Sea, all of the mineral deposits below it and the Air Ways above it to be their own. They claim Taiwan as their own property as well as Mongolia, Tibet, Islands that belong to Japan and they are pushing hard against India by claiming that thousands of square miles of northern India actually belong to them. China has been building up its military machine at an unrepresented level during this past five years under President Xi Jinping (whom President Trump calls his good friend). So folks, this is the reason I chose the title that I did for this article this evening. To me, it is very obvious that money and power matters far more to Wal-Mart owners and stock holders and to the Chinese government as well as Americas Federal Politicians than the sovereignty and the safety of the American people matter. The only way that I can see that ‘we the people’ can fight back and to regain our jobs is to totally quit shopping at companies like Wal-Mart. One could also easily say that our national security depends on it.

Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

(ONE HABITUAL LIAR DICTATING LIES FOR ANOTHER HABITUAL LIAR SO THEY CAN TRY TO KEEP THE LIES THEY ARE TELLING TO THE AMERICAN PEOPLE STRAIGHT, PATHETIC.)(TRS)

Trump dictated son’s misleading statement on meeting with Russian lawyer

 Play Video 2:00
President Trump personally intervened to write Donald Trump Jr. statement
President Trump personally dictated a statement that was issued after revelations that Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 election. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Carol D. Leonnig explain. (Bastien Inzaurralde/The Washington Post)
 July 31 at 7:46 PM
On the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Germany last month, President Trump’s advisers discussed how to respond to a new revelation that Trump’s oldest son had met with a Russian lawyer during the 2016 campaign — a disclosure the advisers knew carried political and potentially legal peril.The strategy, the advisers agreed, should be for Donald Trump Jr. to release a statement to get ahead of the story. They wanted to be truthful, so their account couldn’t be repudiated later if the full details emerged.

But within hours, at the president’s direction, the plan changed.

Flying home from Germany on July 8 aboard Air Force One, Trump personally dictated a statement in which Trump Jr. said that he and the Russian lawyer had “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children” when they met in June 2016, according to multiple people with knowledge of the deliberations. The statement, issued to the New York Times as it prepared an article, emphasized that the subject of the meeting was “not a campaign issue at the time.”

The claims were later shown to be misleading.

President-elect Donald Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. at a news conference at Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 11. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Over the next three days, multiple accounts of the meeting were provided to the news media as public pressure mounted, with Trump Jr. ultimately acknowledging that he had accepted the meeting after receiving an email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as part of a Russian government effort to help his father’s campaign.

The extent of the president’s personal intervention in his son’s response, the details of which have not previously been reported, adds to a series of actions that Trump has taken that some advisers fear could place him and some members of his inner circle in legal jeopardy.

As special counsel Robert S. Mueller III looks into potential obstruction of justice as part of his broader investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, these advisers worry that the president’s direct involvement leaves him needlessly vulnerable to allegations of a cover up.

“This was . . . unnecessary,” said one of the president’s advisers, who like most other people interviewed for this article spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal deliberations. “Now someone can claim he’s the one who attempted to mislead. Somebody can argue the president is saying he doesn’t want you to say the whole truth.”

Trump has already come under criticism for steps he has taken to challenge and undercut the Russia investigation.

He fired FBI Director James B. Comey on May 9 after a private meeting in which Comey said the president asked him if he could end the investigation of ousted national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats told associates that Trump asked him in March if he could intervene with Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on Flynn. In addition, Trump has repeatedly criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions for rescuing himself from overseeing the FBI’s Russian investigation — a decision that was one factor leading to the appointment of Mueller. And he has privately discussed his power to issue pardons, including for himself, and explored potential avenues for undercutting Mueller’s work.

Although misleading the public or the news media is not a crime, advisers to Trump and his family told The Washington Post that they fear any indication that Trump was seeking to hide information about contacts between his campaign and Russians almost inevitably would draw additional scrutiny from Mueller.

Trump, they say, is increasingly acting as his own lawyer, strategist and publicist, often disregarding the recommendations of the professionals he has hired.

“He refuses to sit still,” the presidential adviser said. “He doesn’t think he’s in any legal jeopardy, so he really views this as a political problem he is going to solve by himself.”

Trump has said that the Russia investigation is “the greatest witch hunt in political history,” calling it an elaborate hoax created by Democrats to explain why Clinton lost an election she should have won.

Because Trump believes he is innocent, some advisers explained, he therefore does not think he is at any legal risk for a coverup. In his mind, they said, there is nothing to conceal.

The White House directed all questions for this article to the president’s legal team.

One of Trump’s attorneys, Jay Sekulow, declined to discuss the specifics of the president’s actions and his role in crafting his son’s statement about the Russian contact. Sekulow issued a one-sentence statement in response to a list of detailed questions from The Post.

“Apart from being of no consequence, the characterizations are misinformed, inaccurate, and not pertinent,” Sekulow’s statement read.

Trump Jr. did not respond to requests for comment. His attorney, Alan Futerfas, told The Post that he and his client “were fully prepared and absolutely prepared to make a fulsome statement” about the meeting, what led up to it and what was discussed.

Asked about Trump intervening, Futerfas said, “I have no evidence to support that theory.” He described the process of drafting a statement as “a communal situation that involved communications people and various lawyers.”

Peter Zeidenberg, the deputy special prosecutor who investigated the George W. Bush administration’s leak of CIA operative Valerie Plame’s identity, said Mueller will have to dig into the crafting of Trump Jr.’s statement aboard Air Force One.

Prosecutors typically assume that any misleading statement is an effort to throw investigators off the track, Zeidenberg said.

“The thing that really strikes me about this is the stupidity of involving the president,” Zeidenberg said. “They are still treating this like a family run business and they have a PR problem. . . . What they don’t seem to understand is this is a criminal investigation involving all of them.”

Advocating for transparency

The debate about how to deal with the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting began weeks before any news organizations began to ask questions about it.

Kushner’s legal team first learned about the meeting when doing research to respond to congressional requests for information. Congressional investigators wanted to know about any contacts the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser had with Russian officials or business people.

Kushner’s lawyers came across what they immediately recognized would eventually become a problematic story. A string of emails showed Kushner attended a meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in the midst of the campaign — one he had failed to disclose. Trump Jr. had arranged it, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort had also attended.

To compound what was, at best, a public relations fiasco, the emails, which had not yet surfaced publicly, showed Trump Jr. responding to the prospect of negative information on Clinton from Russia: “I love it.”

Lawyers and advisers for Trump, his son and son-in-law gamed out strategies for disclosing the information to try to minimize the fallout of these new links between the Trump family and Russia, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications and one of the president’s most trusted and loyal aides, and Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, huddled with Kushner’s lawyers, and they advocated for a more transparent approach, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.

In one scenario, these people said, Kushner’s team talked about sharing everything, including the contents of the emails, with a mainstream news organization.

Hicks and Raffel declined to comment. Kushner attorney Abbe Lowell also declined to comment.

The president’s outside legal team, led by Marc Kasowitz, had suggested that the details be given to Circa, an online news organization that the Kasowitz team thought would be friendly to Trump. Circa had inquired in previous days about the meeting, according to people familiar with the discussions.

The president’s legal team planned to cast the June 2016 meeting as a potential setup by Democratic operatives hoping to entrap Trump Jr. and, by extension, the presumptive Republican nominee, according to people familiar with discussions.

Kasowitz declined to comment for this article, as did a Circa spokesman.

Consensus overruled

Circumstances changed when the New York Times began asking about the Trump Tower meeting, though advisers believed that the newspaper knew few of the details. While the president, Kushner and Ivanka Trump were attending the G-20 summit in Germany, the Times asked for White House comment on the impetus and reason for the meeting.

During breaks away from the summit, Kushner and Ivanka Trump gathered with Hicks and Raffel to discuss Kushner’s response to the inquiry, according to people with knowledge of the discussions. Kushner’s legal team joined at times by phone.

Hicks also spoke by phone with Trump Jr. Again, say people familiar with the conversations, Kushner’s team concluded that the best strategy would be to err on the side of transparency, because they believed the complete story would eventually emerge.

The discussions among the president’s advisers consumed much of the day, and they continued as they prepared to board Air Force One that evening for the flight home.

But before everyone boarded the plane, Trump had overruled the consensus, according to people with knowledge of the events.

It remains unclear exactly how much the president knew at the time of the flight about Trump Jr.’s meeting.

The president directed that Trump Jr.’s statement to the Times describe the meeting as unimportant. He wanted the statement to say that the meeting had been initiated by the Russian lawyer and primarily was about her pet issue — the adoption of Russian children.

Air Force One took off from Germany shortly after 6 p.m. — about noon in Washington. In a forward cabin, Trump was busy working on his son’s statement, according to people with knowledge of events. The president dictated the statement to Hicks, who served as a go-between with Trump Jr., who was not on the plane, sharing edits between the two men, according to people with knowledge of the discussions.

In the early afternoon, Eastern time, Trump Jr.’s team put out the statement to the Times. It was four sentences long, describing the encounter as a “short, introductory meeting.”

“We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no follow up,” the statement read.

Trump Jr. went on to say: “I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance, but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

Over the next hour, word spread through emails and calls to other Trump family advisers and lawyers about the statement that Trump Jr. had sent to the Times.

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Some lawyers for the president and for Kushner were surprised and frustrated, advisers later learned. According to people briefed on the dispute, some lawyers tried to reach Futerfas and their clients and began asking why the president had been involved.

Also on the flight, Kushner worked with his team — including one of his lawyers, who called in to the plane.

His lawyers have said that Kushner’s initial omission of the meeting was an error, but that in an effort to be fully transparent, he had updated his government filing to include “this meeting with a Russian person, which he briefly attended at the request of his brother-in-law Donald Trump Jr.” Kushner’s legal team referred all questions about the meeting itself to Trump Jr.

The Times’ story revealing the existence of the June 2016 meeting was posted online about 4 p.m. Eastern time. Roughly four hours later, Air Force One touched down at Joint Base Andrews. Trump’s family members and advisers departed the plane, and they knew the problem they had once hoped to contain would soon grow bigger.

Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Vladimir Putin Doesn’t Understand the Limits of Donald Trump’s Power

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM NEWS)

 

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Finland
Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a joint press conference with Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto in Savonlinna, Finland, on July 27, 2017. Mikhail Svetlov—Getty Images

Vladimir Putin Doesn’t Understand the Limits of Donald Trump’s Power

7:07 AM ET

There are still many in Russia who take pleasure in watching the White House consumed by infighting and stumbling from one setback to another, most recently the failure to push through health care reform and the rapid hiring and firing of foul-mouthed communications director Anthony Scaramucci. But the more common feeling around the Kremlin these days might seem familiar to many Republicans. After observing Trump in office for more than six months, there is a mix of disappointment and foreboding.

President Vladimir Putin seems particularly out of sorts. By now he has realized that betting on Trump represents a mistake he has made before with Western leaders, and his decision on Sunday to expel hundreds of diplomats and other personnel from the U.S. embassy in Moscow shows that he’s ready to cut his losses. “There was nothing more to wait for,” his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said in explaining the decision on Monday. “It was all pretty obvious.”

And Putin should have known better. His closest alliances with the West have all gone the same way. Whether it was Jacques Chirac in France, Silvio Berlusconi in Italy or Gerhard Schroeder in Germany, each was built on a personal rapport with an incoming head of state, always another man, usually also a blowhard. Each collapsed when that leader was confronted by the limitations of democracy: term limits, a free press, an independent legislature, an unhappy electorate, or any of the other checks and balances built into their constitutions. But with each new attempt at a friendship with the West, Putin seemed to hope that his counterparts could override these curbs on their authority the same way Putin has done in Russia.

They have always let him down, though none quite as spectacularly as President Trump. The U.S. Congress sent Trump a veto-proof bill on July 27 imposing new sanctions on Russia for its alleged interference in the U.S. presidential elections last year, not even a month after the two Presidents met for the first time during the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany. To many in Moscow, the legislation proved Trump to be a feckless leader, unable to make good on his earnest promises to “get along” with Russia. “Since Trump cannot handle his own lawmakers, it means he is weak,” the Russian political analyst Alexei Makarkin wrote in an analysisof the sanctions bill.

But the point Makarkin missed was the one that Putin also seems incapable of getting his head around: that members of the U.S. Congress, including the Republicans, are not Trump’s “own lawmakers.” They represent a co-equal branch of government, much like the judiciary that has repeatedly blocked Trump’s agenda on immigration.

That confusion over the limits on executive authority goes back to the early years of Putin’s presidency, when he established control over the Russian media and began to assume that his Western counterparts could do the same in their countries. During a summit in 2005 with then-President George W. Bush, Putin refused to believe that the U.S. commander-in-chief does not have the power to muzzle American journalists. “Don’t lecture me about the free press,” Putin said, according to Bush’s memoir. “Not after you fired that reporter.”

It took a moment for Bush to realize what Putin was talking about. “Vladimir,” he said, “Are you talking about Dan Rather?” The veteran broadcaster had been forced to apologize and resign from CBS News a few months earlier, not due to any White House fiat but because of a flawed report on Bush’s service in the National Guard. In Putin’s eyes, the incident showed that the American posturing about freedom of the press was a charade. Bush tried to set him straight. “I strongly suggest you not say that in public,” he recalls telling the Russian President. “The American people will think you don’t understand our system.”

But that’s just it – he doesn’t. A few years into my stint as a reporter in Moscow, I lost track of the number of officials who tried to explain to me that there is no such thing as an independent journalist. One official even started our interview by exclaiming that American reporters are all just secret agents in disguise. This is how Pavel Astakhov, then the Kremlin ombudsmen for children’s rights, greeted me one afternoon in 2013: “The CIA is here!” he shouted, laughing, to his assistant. “Send him in!”

He wasn’t entirely kidding. In Russian officialdom (and among the public generally) people often assume that the West functions a lot like Russia, with a tame judiciary, a subservient media and a ruling clique that pulls all the strings. This view of the world makes it easier to brush away foreign criticism: if everyone is corrupt, no one has the right to judge. But a lot of very senior officials in Moscow also happen to believe this.

They tended to believe, for instance, that Trump would be able to override the other branches of government in pursuing his agenda, especially when it comes to easing U.S. sanctions against Russia. On a deeper level, they believe that power in the U.S., like in Russia, is concentrated in the hands of the executive, while the rest is mostly democratic window dressing.

And that conviction is not likely to budge amid the latest lesson in American civics. On Russian state television channels, Trump’s failure to silence the media and force his agenda through Congress and the courts has simply been cast as further proof that the U.S. is run by some all-powerful cabal – only this time the cabal has turned on the U.S. President.

It is a new twist on a familiar narrative, and it suggests that the Kremlin still holds out hope for Trump getting a grip on the American system and steering it toward an alliance with Moscow. “We have fed the hope that the situation will change,” Putin lamented on Sunday in a televised interview. “But it seems that if this change does come, it won’t be soon.”

Putin orders cut of 755 personnel at U.S. missions

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

 

Putin orders cut of 755 personnel at U.S. missions

Why Russia is demanding the U.S. cut diplomatic staff
The Post’s Andrew Roth explains a statement the Russian Foreign Ministry issued July 28, seizing U.S. diplomatic properties and demanding the State Department reduce its staff in Russia. (Andrew Roth, Sarah Parnass/The Washington Post)
 July 30 at 4:41 PM
 Russian President Vladimir Putin said Sunday that the U.S. diplomatic missions in Moscow and elsewhere in the country will have to reduce their staffs by 755 people, signaling a significant escalation in the Russian response to American sanctions over the Kremlin’s intervention in the 2016 presidential election.The United States and Russia have expelled dozens of each other’s diplomats before – but Sunday’s statement, made by Putin in an interview with the Rossiya-1 television channel, indicated the single largest forced reduction in embassy staff, comparable only to the closing of the American diplomatic presence in the months following the Communist revolution in 1917.

In the interview, Putin said that the number of American diplomatic and technical personnel will be capped at 455 — equivalent to the number of their Russian counterparts working in the United States. Currently, close to 1,200 employees work at the United States’ embassy and consulates in Russia, according to U.S. and Russian data.

“More than a thousand employees — diplomats and technical employees — have worked and are still working in Russia these days,” Putin told journalist Vladimir Solovyov on a nationally televised news show Sunday evening. “Some 755 of them will have to terminate their activity.”

Putin’s remarks came during a three-and-half-day trip by Vice President Pence to Eastern Europe to show U.S. support for countries that have chafed at interference from Moscow – Estonia, Georgia, and Montenegro.

Russian President Vladimir Putin watched a parade on the Neva River, followed by a short air show and gun salute to celebrate Navy Day on July 30. (Reuters)

“The president has made it very clear that Russia’s destabilizing activities, its support for rogue regimes, its activities in Ukraine, are unacceptable,” Pence said, when asked by reporters in Tallinn, Estonia, whether he expects Trump to sign the sanctions. “The president made very clear that very soon he will sign the sanctions from the Congress of the United States to reinforce that.”

“As we make our intentions clear, we expect Russian behavior to change,” Pence continued.

The Kremlin had said Friday, as the Senate voted to strengthen sanctions on Russia, that some American diplomats would be expelled, but the size of the reduction is dramatic. It covers the main embassy in Moscow, as well as missions in St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg and Vladivostok.

The U.S. Embassy in Russia has been unable to provide exact numbers on the number of staff it employs in Russia. But a 2013 review by the Department of State said that the American mission in Russia “employs 1,279 staff, including 301 U.S. direct-hire positions and 934 locally employed staff positions from 35 U.S. government agencies.” (A good breakdown of the numbers was posted on the blog Diplopundit).

“This is a landmark moment,” Andrei Kolesnikov, a journalist for the newspaper Kommersant who regularly travels with Putin and has interviewed him extensively over the past 17 years, told the Post in an interview on Friday. “His patience has seriously run out, and everything that he’s been putting off in this conflict, he’s now going to do.”

The Russian government is also seizing two diplomatic properties — a dacha, or country house, in a leafy neighborhood in Moscow, and a warehouse — following the decision by the Obama administration in December to take possession of two Russian mansions in the United States.

The move comes as it has become apparent that Russia has abandoned its hopes for better relations with the United States under a Trump administration.

“I think retaliation is long, long overdue,” deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

“We have a very rich toolbox at our disposal,” Ryabkov said. “After the Senate . . . voted so overwhelmingly on a completely weird and unacceptable piece of legislation, it was the last drop.”

Hours later, Putin said during his evening interview that he expected relations between the United States and Russia to worsen, and that Russia would likely come up with other measures to counter American financial sanctions, which were passed by the House and Senate last week and which President Trump has said he will sign.

The reduction in U.S. diplomatic and technical staff is a response to President Obama’s expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats in December in response to the alleged Russian hacking of the mail servers of the Democratic National Committee. The United States also revoked access to two Russian diplomatic compounds on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and on Long Island. American officials said they were used for intelligence collection.

It is not yet clear how the State Department will reduce its staff in Russia. Some of the local staff were hired to help with a significant expansion of the U.S. embassy compound in Moscow.

The move increases the likelihood of new, perhaps asymmetrical reprisals by the United States in coming days.

Michael McFaul, former ambassador to Russia, tweeted Sunday: “If these cuts are real, Russians should expect to wait weeks if not months to get visas to come to US.”

Ashley Parker , in Tallinn, Estonia, and Madhumita Murgia, in Washington, contributed.

China Bets Trump Won’t Resort to Strike Against North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

China Bets Trump Won’t Resort to Strike Against North Korea

July 29, 2017, 9:30 AM EDT July 29, 2017, 8:42 PM EDT
  • U.S. general discusses military response after missile test
  • China sees the collapse of Kim’s regime as a greater threat
People watch as coverage of an ICBM missile test is displayed on a screen in a public square in Pyongyang on July 29.Photographer: Kim Won-Jin/AFP via Getty Images

China is betting that U.S. President Donald Trump won’t make good on his threats of a military strike against North Korea, with Beijing continuing to provide a lifeline to Kim Jong Un’s regime.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson singled out China and Russia as “economic enablers” of North Korea after Kim on Friday test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile for the second time in a matter of weeks. While Tillerson said the U.S. wants a peaceful resolution to the tensions, the top American general called his South Korean counterpart after the launch to discuss a potential military response.

China on Saturday condemned the latest test while calling for restraint from all parties, a muted reaction to Pyongyang’s progress on an ICBM capable of hitting the U.S. mainland. Despite Kim’s provocations, analysts said Beijing still sees the collapse of his regime as a more immediate strategic threat, and doubts Trump would pull the trigger given the risk of a war with North Korea that could kill millions.

“The military option the Americans are threatening won’t likely happen because the stakes will be too high,” said Liu Ming, director of the Korean Peninsula Research Center at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences. “It’s a pretext and an excuse to pile up pressure on China. It’s more like blackmail than a realistic option.”

Relations between the world’s biggest economies have soured after an initial honeymoon between Trump and President Xi Jinping. The U.S. last month sanctioned a regional Chinese bank, a shipping company and two Chinese citizens over dealings with North Korea, which could be a precursor to greater economic and financial pressure on Beijing to rein in its errant neighbor.

Read more: The options for dealing with North Korea

Trump has expressed periodic public frustration with Beijing over the pace of its efforts to curtail Kim. On Saturday he again linked China’s actions to the broader U.S.-China trade relationship.

Play Video

North Korea Isn’t Backing Down
North Korea Isn’t Backing Down

“I am very disappointed in China,” he said in a series of Twitter posts. “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”

Still, China’s biggest fears remain a collapse of Kim’s regime that sparks a protracted refugee crisis and a beefed-up U.S. military presence on its border.

It has repeatedly called for both sides to step back, proposing the U.S. halt military drills in the region and North Korea freeze weapons tests. The U.S. has dismissed that proposal, saying North Korea must first be willing to discuss rolling back its nuclear program.

Losing Patience

Xi will attend a military parade on Sunday in Inner Mongolia to mark the 90th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army, where he will deliver a speech, the official Xinhua News Agency said.

North Korea is “probably correct” in its view that it can survive sanctions long enough to build its arsenal to the point where the world has to accept it as a nuclear state, according to Andrew Gilholm, director of North Asia analysis at Control Risks Group. The U.S. is likely to make a “dramatic move” this year against China in a bid to stop that from happening, he said.

“If the U.S. really loses patience and moves against major Chinese banks or firms it will certainly impact North Korea’s financing, but I don’t see Beijing making a radical policy change under that kind of pressure,” Gilholm said from Seoul. “It’ll likely harden China’s insistence that Washington has to deal with Pyongyang, not coerce China into strangling it.”

China’s relations with its neighbor and ally have become more fraught, though China still accounts for about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade. North Korea warned China of “grave consequences” earlier this year after it banned coal imports, while Beijing’s Communist Party media stepped up criticism of Kim’s regime.

North Korea’s decision to launch the ICBM on Friday from Jagang, a province on the border with China, could further complicate ties.

Missile Shield

Meanwhile China’s dispute with South Korea over a missile shield risks flaring again.

Seoul has partially installed a U.S. system known as Thaad despite Chinese protests. It had halted that roll out under the new administration of President Moon Jae-in, but after the ICBM test Moon called for talks with the U.S. on temporarily deploying more launchers. China warned on Saturday that Thaad would disrupt the region’s strategic balance.

Despite the disagreement over Thaad, on the whole China probably prefers Moon to the conservative government he replaced in May. Since taking office, Moon has sought to engage North Korea, calling for peace talks and saying he’d meet Kim under the right conditions.

Mass Casualties

Moon’s dovish views on North Korea make it likely he’ll oppose a U.S. missile strike on North Korea. U.S. Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, also warned in June that an armed conflict with North Korea would leave Seoul facing casualties “unlike anything we’ve seen in 60 or 70 years.”

As relations with the U.S. cool, China has boosted ties with Russia. The countries blocked U.S.-led efforts to expand penalties against North Korea in a draft UN Security Council resolution condemning its first ICBM test on July 4. Those ties are likely to strengthen after Trump said he’d tighten sanctions on Russia for meddling in the U.S. election and aggression in Ukraine.

To placate Trump, China will likely take some moderate measures against North Korea without doing anything that could collapse the regime, said Gilholm from Control Risks.

“China has a lot of room to step up pressure on Pyongyang while staying well short of a really destabilizing ‘cut-off,’” he said. “Personally I don’t think North Korea is going to roll over and give up its nuclear survival card even under a life-threatening level of economic pressure.”

— With assistance by Ting Shi, Peter Martin, Keith Zhai, Heesu Lee, and Kanga Kong

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The Three Way Relationship Between Mainland China, The Nation Of Taiwan And The U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS ONE I FOUND ON GOOGLE PLUS FROM WIKIMEDIA COMMONS THE INDEPENDENT JOURNAL REVIEW AND FROM ANDY TAI’S BLOGSITE)

Office of the President, Republic of China (Taiwan)/Wikimedia Commons

The narrow Taiwan Strait separates the socialist mainland China and the democratic island of Taiwan, both physically and politically.

But the cross-strait relations have never been simply about these two actors. The U.S. has been an intrinsic part of this unresolved diplomatic dilemma since 1949.

However, all three players in this triangular relationship are going through leadership adjustments, which started last year when Taiwan elected Tsai Ing-wen as its president, followed by Donald Trump becoming president of the U.S. in January.

But what about China? The ruling Communist Party will hold its 19th National Congress later this year, possibly in September or October. The Communist Party is expected to elect new central committee members, which forms the country’s top leadership. China’s leader, Xi Jinping, is expected to remain president.

In light of these leadership changes, it is time to examine what they might mean for cross-strait relations.

The National Chengchi University in Taiwan and the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Strategic and International Studies — an American think tank — recently held a daylong event called “Cross-Strait Relations Re-examined: Toward a New Normal?” to discuss the new situations affecting the triangular relations. Participants included officials who represent the U.S. in Taiwan, Taiwan’s representatives in the U.S., and Taiwan government officials, as well as scholars and researchers.

The History of the China-Taiwan Conflict

Taiwan has been virtually independent since 1949, when the Nationalist government of China was defeated by Chinese Communist forces led by Mao Zedong in the Chinese civil war, which was fought between 1945 to 1949.

At the conclusion of the civil war, the Nationalist forces, led by Chiang Kai-shek, fled to the island of Taiwan and established its Republic of China government there, still claiming to be the legitimate government of all of China, including the mainland.

The Communist forces, in control of mainland China, established the People’s Republic of China, which also claimed to be the legitimate government of China, including the island of Taiwan.

Over the latter half of the 20th century, Taiwan’s economy and democracy saw tremendous development. Robust exports of electronics, petrochemicals, and machinery have contributed to Taiwan’s dynamic economy.

In the “Freedom in the World 2017 Report” by Freedom House, Taiwan scored 91 (even higher than U.S., which rated an 89) for being one of the areas with the most political rights and civil liberties.

But the island has been facing growing isolation from the international community, especially since the United Nations expelled Taiwan, which calls itself the Republic of China, and gave its seat in the U.N. to mainland China in 1971. Currently, only 20 countries still retain official diplomatic relations with Taiwan.

The U.S. has official diplomatic relations with mainland China, but it keeps robust unofficial ties with the government in Taiwan. Such triangular relations were made possible because of a series of agreements and communiqués U.S. has made with both sides since 1979.

The U.S. acknowledged the People’s Republic of China as the “sole legal government of China,” instead of the Republic of China government in Taiwan, in order to establish official diplomatic relations with the mainland.

But at the same time, the U.S. also ensured the “continuation of commercial, cultural, and other relations between the people of the United States and the people on Taiwan” through the Taiwan Relations Act of 1979.

For China, “there’s only one China” is a precondition for the U.S.-China diplomatic relationship. But there are significant differences between China version and the U.S. version of its relationship.

It is because of this deliberate ambiguity, the two largest economies in the world were able to move forward from this historical, unsettled dilemma concerning Taiwan.

For the island, the U.S. is its most important protector as well as a vital trade partner. The U.S. has been selling arms to Taiwan so it can modernize and upgrade its defensive power.

Also, the U.S. and Taiwan have become each other’s 10th- and second-largest trading partners, according to James Moriarty, chairman of the American Institute in Taiwan. The institute serves as the U.S.’s de facto embassy in Taiwan.

“The United States and Taiwan have built a comprehensive, durable, and mutually beneficial partnership, grounded in our shared interests and values. We maintain close economic, security, and people-to-people ties, and share a mutual respect for democracy and human rights. It should be no surprise, then, that the United States considers Taiwan a vital and reliable partner in Asia,” ambassador Moriarty said.

What Is Happening Now

The Trump administration seems to be taking a more-positive approach to its island partner.

Last December, then President-elect Trump placed a phone call to the president of Taiwan. This marked the first known direct contact between the presidents of U.S. and Taiwan since 1979 when the U.S. cut official ties to Taiwan and established relations with China.

Last month, at the risk of damage to the U.S.-China relationship, Trump green-lighted the sale of a $1.4 billion arms package to Taiwan, which was the first U.S. arms sale to the island under the new administration. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also reaffirmed that the U.S. is “completely committed” to the Taiwan Relations Act and to “fulfilling all of our commitments to Taiwan” under the act.

“I think the most recent decision by the U.S. government for the major arms sale package is necessary and on merit, not some kind of leverages or bargaining chips,” said Stanley Kao, Taiwan’s representative in the U.S. “That’s another powerful testimony to this long-lasting friendship and partnership between the U.S. and Taiwan.”

“Over the decades, we were able to negotiate because U.S. provides oxygen. The oxygen is giving Taiwan a sense of confidence and security,” said Joanne Chang, a research fellow at Academia Sinica — the national academy of Taiwan, and a panelist at the recent CSIS event. “So we continue and appreciate that U.S. provides oxygen — the Taiwan Relations Act and also continuing to support Taiwan diplomatically and its participation in important international organizations.”

But on the Taiwan side, the past year has been a difficult time for the newly elected President Tsai and her Democratic Progressive Party, which defeated the long-ruling Nationalist party, the Kuomintang, in the island’s 2016 elections.

Tsai and her party have taken a strong position against Beijing. And although Tsai has repeatedly voiced her intention to keep the status quo of the cross-strait relations after she swore into office, China has been accused of using its international power to punish Taiwan and limit its international participation.

Lin Cheng-yi, deputy minister of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council, said in his remark at CSIS:

“With the zero-sum thinking of a world power and an approach of marginalizing and belittling Taiwan, mainland China has viewed the functioning of democracy and pluralistic lifestyles, systems, and values in Taiwan with negative thinking and politicized interpretations. This displays a superficial understanding of pluralism and democracy in Taiwan.

Representative Kao also responded to these obstructions in his remark:

“I think our government will continue to run a steady, a steadfast non-proactive cause and our commitment. And our goodwill remains unchanged. But making no mistake, Taiwan is a full-phase democracy with strong public opinion. We will not bow to pressure and, of course, to be taken for granted.

“At the same time, we are so very proud to see this robust U.S.-Taiwan relation continue to move strong and onward.”

Looking Ahead

Although much remains unknown about what will happen with China’s leadership later this year, many experts attending the CSIS conference recommend Taiwan and U.S. remain mutual partners and find ways to strengthen the partnership.

“The U.S. obviously has a responsibility, in my view, to maintain a robust trade dialogue with Taiwan,” said Rupert Hammond-Chambers, president of U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, which is a nonprofit organization that fosters trade and business relations between the two countries.

Hammond-Chambers also urges the Trump administration to consider Taiwan as an important partner when tailoring his so-called “fair trade agreements.”

“Taiwan should be on top of the list,” he said.

While Trump’s trade representative has reportedly voiced the intention to forge stronger ties with Taiwan, Trump has also been quite outspoken himself about making the future U.S. trade agreements balanced, fair as well as free, as the Los Angeles Times reported.

Taiwan’s restrictions on the importation of U.S. beef and pork are long-standing issues on the bargaining table.

For the Taiwan government, Hammond-Chambers also provided suggestions, one of which is to buy more U.S. energy:

“Taiwan purchases oil from Qatar, a leading sponsor of global terror. It purchases its coal from China. This to me is a mistake. I would suggest President Tsai and her government to consider switching those vendors to the United States, a reliable strategic partner, a reliable strategic source of energy and more importantly, it would address the political issues they are wrestling with the Trump’s administration, which is the trade imbalance.”

Echoing Hammond-Chambers, Scott Kennedy, the deputy director of the Freeman Chair in China Studies at CSIS, suggested that Taiwan itself should be more proactive in controlling its own economic fate, with or without furthering trade deals with the U.S.

“Don’t wait for Washington to be ready. Washington has a lot on its plate,” Kennedy said.

Gallup: More Protestants Now Do Not Identify With Specific Denomination

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

 

Gallup: More Protestants Now Do Not Identify With Specific Denomination

Jul 20, 2017 | 10:17 AM

(PHOTO: STAN LEWIS) Warrington Baptist Church, a small congregation that held its last service in April 2017. The church was acquired by the Pensacola, Florida-based Olive Baptist Church, which plans to reopen it in October 2017 as a satellite campus.

There are now more Protestants in America who do not identify with a particular denomination or tradition than those who do, according to a new survey.

Gallup research released Tuesday reveals that the number of Christians who said they belonged to specific denomination has dropped from 50 percent in the year 2000 to 30 percent in 2016. The poll was done by telephone in the months of May and December of last year, polling a combined total of 2,053 American adults living in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Many surveys in recent years have shown a rising demographic of Americans called “nones” — those who claim no religious identification at all — and their numbers have doubled in 16 years. In 2000, 10 percent claimed no religious affiliation; by 2016 the “nones” were 20 percent of the population.

Because the percentages of Mormons, Roman Catholics, and adherents of non-Christian faiths have remained steady over that same time, the rising number of “nones” has occurred as Protestants have decreased, their numbers shrinking from 57 percent to 47 percent from 2000 to 2016.

“Therefore, there are fewer Protestants of any kind in the American population today, and the pool of those who identify with a specific Protestant denomination is smaller,” the Gallup report explains.

Other than Catholics or Mormons, American Christians “increasingly put themselves into a non-denominational category rather than identifying with a specific denomination such as Baptist, Methodist, Lutheran, Episcopalian.” Yet others call themselves “Christian” with no qualifications.

The percentage of Christians who do not name a specific denomination has nearly doubled, from 9 percent to 17 percent in the past 16 years.

For those who do claim a specific denomination, Baptists continue to be the largest Protestant group, with 10 percent of Americans identifying as “Baptists” and an additional 3 percent identifying as “Southern Baptists.”

The Gallup researchers noted that measuring the religious identification among Protestants poses some challenges, especially given that hundreds of Protestant denominations exist today.

“This allows Protestants to easily switch between denominations, with the result that many Protestants are not as fixed in their religious identity as would be the case for Catholics, Jews or those from other religious traditions,” the report reads.

Even so, Gallup’s consistent research process has allowed a general comparison of trends in religious identity to occur across time.

“These trends indicate that, while many Americans remain religious in a broad sense and may continue to seek spiritual guidance and community experience, a formal structure in which to do so has become less important.”

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Mueller Is Investigating Trump Family Business Ties With Shady Russian’s

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BLOOMBERG NEWS)

 

The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trumpcampaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

President Donald Trump, Commerce Secretary nominee Wilbur Ross and senior advisor Jared Kushner attend a meeting at the White House on Feb. 2, 2017.

Trump, Ross and Kushner attend a meeting at the White House on Feb. 2, 2017.

Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday that he was unaware of the inquiry into Trump’s businesses by the two-months-old investigation and considered it beyond the scope of what Special Counsel Robert Mueller should be examining.

“Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel; are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and most importantly, are well beyond any Statute of Limitation imposed by the United States Code,” he wrote in an email.

Markets Fall

Major U.S. stock indices, which had been trading higher in the morning, fell as traders worried that the probe could derail Trump’s growth agenda. The dollar fell against the euro and U.S. government bonds rose.

The president told the New York Times on Wednesday that any digging into matters beyond Russia would be out of bounds. Trump’s businesses have involved Russians for years, however, making the boundaries fuzzy.

The Justice Department’s May 17 order to Mueller instructs him to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign” as well as “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation,” suggesting a relatively broad mandate.

Agents are interested in dealings with the Bank of Cyprus, where Wilbur Ross served as vice chairman before he became commerce secretary. In addition, they are examining the efforts of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and senior aide, to secure financing for some of his family’s real-estate properties. The information about the investigation was provided by someone familiar with the developing inquiry but not authorized to speak publicly.

The roots of Mueller’s follow-the-money investigation lie partly in a wide-ranging money-laundering probe launched by then-Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara last year, according to the person.

For more on the Trump-Russia investigations, see this Q&A

FBI agents already had been gathering information about Manafort, according to two people with knowledge of that probe. Prosecutors hadn’t yet begun presenting evidence to a grand jury. Trump fired Bharara in March.

The Manafort inquiry initially focused on actions involving a real-estate company he launched with money from Ukraine in 2008. By the time Bharara was fired, his office’s investigation of possible money laundering extended well beyond that, according to the person briefed on the Mueller probe.

Watch Next: Why Robert Mueller Is the Perfect Man for the Job

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Why Robert Mueller Is the Perfect Man for the Job

The Bharara investigation was consolidated into Mueller’s inquiry, showing that the special counsel is taking an overarching approach. The various financial examinations constitute one thread of Mueller’s inquiry, which encompasses computer hacking and the dissemination of stolen campaign and voter information as well as the actions of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Joshua Stueve, Mueller’s spokesman, declined to comment, as did a Manafort spokesman and Abbe Lowell, a lawyer for Kushner.

Spokesmen for the White House, Trump Organization and Ross didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Evade Taxes

Mueller’s team is looking at the Trump SoHo hotel condominium development, which was a licensing deal with Bayrock Capital LLC. In 2010, the former finance director of Bayrock filed a lawsuit claiming the firm structured transactions in fraudulent ways to evade taxes. Bayrock was a key source of capital for Trump projects, including Trump SoHo.

The 2013 Miss Universe pageant is of interest because a prominent Moscow developer, Aras Agalarov, paid $20 million to bring the beauty spectacle there. About a third of that sum went to Trump in the form of a licensing fee, according to Forbes magazine. At the event, Trump met Herman Gref, chief executive of Russia’s biggest bank, Sberbank PJSC. Agalarov’s son, Emin, helped broker a meeting last year between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer who was said to have damaging information about Hillary Clinton and her campaign.

Another significant financial transaction involved a Palm Beach, Florida, estate Trump purchased in 2004 for $41 million, after its previous owner lost it in bankruptcy. In March of 2008, after the real-estate bubble had begun losing air, Russian fertilizer magnate Dmitry Rybolovlev bought the property for $95 million.

As part of their investigation, Mueller’s team has issued subpoenas to banks and filed requests for bank records to foreign lenders under mutual legal-assistance treaties, according to two of the people familiar with the matter.

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Trump and Putin’s Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

Trump and Putin’s Syria Ceasefire Effectively Lets Assad Off the Hook

12:55 PM ET

Two weeks after the White House threatened to impose a “heavy price” on Syrian President Bashar Assad if it launched a new chemical attack, President Donald Trump’s first attempt at peacemaking looks set to keep the autocrat in power for the foreseeable future.

A regional ceasefire took hold in Syria’s southwest [when], following negotiations with Russia and Jordan. It’s the newest curveball in the Trump administration’s evolving policy on Syria, which has gone from bombing Assad’s military in April and shooting a Syrian warplane from the sky in June, to the new ceasefire deal and renewed calls for cooperation with Assad’s chief outside supporter, Russia.

Observers and former U.S. officials say the ceasefire deal effectively guarantees Assad’s regime remains in place, in spite of Trump administration rhetoric to the contrary. Trump discussed the Syrian truce during his first face-to-face meeting as president with Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Germany on Friday.

“My sense is that the Trump administration is resigned to the fact that the Assad regime has been secured by Iran and Russia for the indefinite future,” Fred Hof, a former U.S. special envoy on Syria under President Barack Obama, told TIME in an email. “They are forced – in large measure due to five plus years of Obama administration policy paralysis – to put Syrian political transition on the back burner.”

The ceasefire deal illustrates a new political reality as diplomatic attempts to resolve the six-year-old Syrian crisis as a whole give way to piecemeal efforts to deescalate the conflict in different parts of the country. Following more than a year of Russian-supported military gains by the government of President Bashar Assad, few now expect a broad national peace agreement between the regime and the rebel groups arrayed against it.

“There is no integrated solution for Syria anymore, at least for the time being in Washington,” says Joseph Bahout, a visiting fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, speaking to TIME from Paris. “The core of the problem, the political question, the Assad aspect, the transition; today it’s off the hook. Today this is on the shelf,” he adds.

International diplomacy has focussed lately on containing, rather than resolving the conflict as a whole. In May, Russia, Iran, and Turkey (a key supporter of the Syrian opposition) agreed to a plan to establish a series of four “de-escalation zones” in sections of the country held by the opposition. It achieved limited success in calming fighting between rebels and the regime.

The new ceasefire calls for Jordan and Russia to restrain Syrian rebels and the regime, respectively, along the existing front line in Syria’s southwest, according to an senior State Department official who briefed reporters on Friday. Russia, the United States and Jordan released few other specifics of the agreement. No text of the deal was made public, and it was not clear how the truce would be enforced or monitored.

The new truce could yet provide relief to people living in three provinces in southwestern Syria, if it holds: Daraa, Suwayda, and Quneitra. The southwest has long been a redoubt of mainstream rebel groups who oppose both Assad and extremist groups, owing in part to support from the United States and Jordan, Syria’s neighbor to the south. Assad and allied forces have intensified attacks on rebel-held areas in the south since February. Past national ceasefires have unravelled within days or weeks. Human rights monitors and President Trump claimed that the ceasefire held, at least in its opening hours.

Syrian ceasefire seems to be holding. Many lives can be saved. Came out of meeting. Good!

Others weren’t certain it would be durable. “Is the ceasefire actually going to lead to a reduction in hostilities and violence in the south? That remains to be seen,” said Charmain Mohamed, a Jordan-based Advocacy Advisor for the Norwegian Refugee Council.

Past diplomatic efforts to end Syria’s civil war have sought to broker a peace deal between Assad and a spectrum of rebel groups who demand his removal from power. Those talks collapsed last year as Assad’s forces, backed by Russia and Iran, launched a ferocious offensive that reclaimed territory lost to the rebels, including the insurgent stronghold of Aleppo. The loss of the northwestern city was a historic blow to the rebellion that all but ended maximalist hopes of future military success against Assad.

More than six years on from the mass uprising against Assad that spawned Syria’s civil war, the contours of the conflict are shifting. After years in which the United States supported armed opposition groups but avoided direct conflict with Assad, the U.S. military struck Assad’s forces and allied troops at least four times since April, beginning with a cruise missile strike in response to a chemical weapons attack that killed more than 70 people. In June, hostilities escalated again when American forces shot down a Syrian government warplane that attacked U.S.-allied militias on the ground eastern Syria.

The U.S. posture toward Assad is now difficult to gauge. Over the weekend, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reiterated a call for a “transition away from the Assad family,” but also acknowledged that there was no plan in place to replace the current regime. Speaking to reporters in Hamburg, Tillerson said of Russian policy in Syria, “Maybe they’ve got the right approach and we’ve got the wrong approach.”

Under Trump, the U.S. has focused its efforts in Syria on fighting ISIS, sending additional troops to support Kurdish-led militias now battling their way into the jihadists’ stronghold in the eastern city of Raqqa. The ISIS-focused approach has placed diplomatic efforts to resolve the conflict as a whole on the backburner.

The ceasefire agreement overshadowed a new round of United Nations-brokered peace talks taking place in Geneva on Monday. Bahout, the analyst, said few expected any progress. “No one is betting one dollar on that,” he said.

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