How much aid does the US give Palestinians, and what’s it for?

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

How much aid does the US give Palestinians, and what’s it for?

Washington has been the largest international donor to the PA since the early 90’s with over $5 billion in USAID funds alone — and that’s only half the story

Dov Lieber

US special envoy Jason Greenblatt (C) shakes hands with Palestinian Water Authority chairman Mazen Ghunaim during the launch of a project to improve access to wastewater treatment and water for Palestinian farmers, on October 15, 2017, in the city of Jericho, in the West Bank. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

US special envoy Jason Greenblatt (C) shakes hands with Palestinian Water Authority chairman Mazen Ghunaim during the launch of a project to improve access to wastewater treatment and water for Palestinian farmers, on October 15, 2017, in the city of Jericho, in the West Bank. (AFP/Jaafar Ashtiyeh)

The United States is by far the largest donor of financial aid to the Palestinians, with this assistance touching nearly every aspect of life in the Palestinian Authority. But US President Donald Trump threatened on Tuesday to end this aid to the Palestinians, angered by Ramallah’s refusal to cooperate with the US’s efforts to jump-start Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after he declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel in December.

The Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state.

Trump tweeted on Tuesday that Washington was paying the PA hundreds of millions of dollars a year “for nothing,” and complained that the US received “no appreciation or respect” in return.

Earlier on Tuesday, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley threatened to cut off funding to the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA, if the Palestinians refused to engage in peace negotiations.

Should the threats of the president and Haley come to fruition, what kind of impact could this have on the Palestinians?

Three types of US assistance to the Palestinians

According to the US Consulate in Jerusalem’s website, the United States has been the largest donor of aid to the Palestinians since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1994. This aid has totaled around $600 million annually in recent years, and can be roughly divided into three categories.

The first is USAID, the conduit by which the State Department provides aid to countries across the world. The second is the economic support for law and order in the Palestinian Authority. These two categories were perhaps the aid that Trump had in mind in his tweet, though the president did not specify. The third is the US support for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, as addressed by Haley.

Palestinian security forces stand guard outside a hospital where a senior Hamas security chief was treated after being wounded in a car bomb. (AFP/Mohammed Abed)

Over 5 billion in USAID since 1994

Since 1994, Washington has provided the Palestinians with more than $5.2 billion through USAID. This money is used for developing and sustaining the Palestinian Authority, including support for debt relief (such as helping to pay the medical debts of Palestinians in Israeli or other foreign hospitals), sanitation, economic development in the public and private sectors, infrastructure development, education, governance, health and essential humanitarian assistance to the Gaza Strip.

The USAID money is also a lifeline for dozens of NGOs that work in the Palestinian territories on the grassroots level to support conflict mitigation and instill values of non-violence and peace-seeking.

Separate from this USAID money, which in 2016 equaled $290 million, the US also gives a large sum every year to support law and order.

This support, for which almost $55 million was budgeted in 2016, includes training and supplying equipment to the PA security forces and the police force, firefighter training, rehabilitating courtrooms and training judges as well as lawyers.

Israel sometimes works together with Palestinian security forces in order to foil terror plots against Israeli or Palestinian citizens.

US aid already threatened by Congress

Long before Trump thought about cutting aid to the Palestinians over their refusal to work with his administration in the peace process, Congress was already working to freeze assistance to the Palestinians until the PA discontinues its practice of paying monthly stipends to the families of terrorists who kill Israelis.

Taylor Force, murdered in Israel by a Palestinian terrorist in March 2016, gave his name to the Taylor Force Act, legislation proposing to halt US aid to the Palestinian Authority until the latter stops paying stipends to terrorists and their families. (Facebook)

This legislation, known as the Taylor Force Act, after a former US army officer who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian assailant while visiting Tel Aviv in March 2016, was passed in early December by the US House of Representatives after the legislation went through a number of rounds of revision.

The legislation now needs to be passed by the Senate.

In its 2017 budget, Ramallah allocated nearly $345 million for the contentious stipends. In total, it expected $693 million in foreign assistance for the 2017 fiscal year.

While US aid, which is largely not transferred into the coffers of the PA directly but rather paid out to third parties, cannot be used for paying the families of terrorists, many argue the assistance simply frees up other funds in the Palestinian leadership’s budget to pay the stipends.

Back in July, a White House official told The Times of Israel the Trump administration “agrees with the high-level goals of the Taylor Force Act.”

UNRWA ‘indispensable’ to Palestinians

US assistance to UNRWA in recent years has been far greater than that contributed by any other country, and surpasses the hundreds of millions given to the Palestinians through USAID.

UNRWA often operates in the poorest Palestinian neighborhoods and refugee camps, providing education to hundreds of thousands of students.

The organization also provides essential humanitarian services, including running health clinics and women’s centers.

Palestinian children at a school in the Gaza Strip city of Rafah. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

In 2016, the US pledged $355 million toward UNRWA’s operations. The second highest donor was the EU, pledging $160 million.

A large bulk of UNWRA’s work takes place in Palestinian refugee camps outside of the Palestinian territories, including in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

US donations to UNRWA have been declining in recent years. In 2015, the US gave $380.5 million to UNRWA and in 2014 gave $408 million to the UN refugee organization.

According to UNRWA, the agency educates half a million children in over 700 schools across the Middle East (270,00 of them in Gaza). The agency’s doctors see 11 million patients in nearly 150 primary health clinics annually. UNRWA also conducts vocational training, preparing 9,000 young people for job markets every year, according to the agency.

UNRWA, according to the agency, also assists more than 40,000 refugees with disabilities and runs recreational centers for 200,000 refugee youth and children. The agency employs over 30,000 teaching staff, doctors, nurses, social workers, sanitation laborers and engineers.

Chris Gunness, the spokesperson for UNRWA, told The Times of Israel on Wednesday, “We have no indication from the US administration of any intention to change funding for UNRWA.”

“UNRWA’s contribution to human development — notably through education and healthcare services — is described as indispensable to the dignity of Palestinian refugees and the stability of the region,” he added.

Palestinians receive aid at a United Nations distribution center (UNRWA) in the Rafah refugee camp, southern Gaza Strip on July 31, 2014 (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Peter Lerner, a recently retired spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, argued that cutting funding to UNRWA would only hurt the weakest in Palestinian society, leading to more terror and extremism.

“There are many problems with UNRWA, but cutting financial support to the organization hurts the weakest members of Palestinian society and is unlikely to bring the Palestinian Authority to the table,” Lerner wrote on his Twitter account.

“The refugee camps have historically been hotbeds for terrorist activities, weakening this population will only lead to more extremism and violence. This will not contribute to security or stability in the region,” he concluded.

‘Time has come to dismantle UNRWA’

Haley mentioned the possibility of cutting funding to UNRWA in an impromptu response Tuesday to a question from a Canadian journalist, who asked whether the US would retain its current level of funding for the UN agency in light of a non-binding UN General Assembly resolution last month condemning the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. 

“[Trump] doesn’t want to give any additional funding until the Palestinians agree to come back to the negotiation table, and what we saw with the resolution was not helpful to the situation,” Haley said.

Haley seemed to be arguing that cutting UNRWA funding was aimed at dissuading the UN from foiling the US’s strategy for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that in his first meeting with Haley in June 2016, he asked her to “re-examine UNRWA’s continued existence.”

In this 1948 photo from the UNRWA archive, Palestinian refugees stand outside their tent in Khan Younis, Gaza Strip. (AP/UNRWA Photo Archives)

UNRWA was created in 1949 in the wake of Israel’s War of Independence.

Netanyahu, in statements last year to his cabinet, accused the organization of inciting against Israel while doing nothing to help the plight of Palestinian refugees. He asked why they needed a specific body, when the UN High Commission for Refugees has helped tens of millions of displaced persons since World War II.

“The time has come to dismantle UNRWA and have its parts be integrated into the UN High Commission for Refugees,” he said.

UNRWA has long been the target of heavy criticism for alleged anti-Israel rhetoric promoted at its schools and for turning a blind eye to terrorist activities taken place at its premises, including the storing of rockets and hosting of tunnels belonging to the Hamas terror group.

UNRWA has condemned the use of its premises by Hamas for military purposes.

Palestinian children attend a class at the UNRWA elementary school in the Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, in April 2013. (AP/Hatem Moussa)

Additionally, Israel has long claimed that some of UNRWA’s Palestinian employees support terrorist activities and use hate-speech online.

An official told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that the White House was indeed reconsidering the effectiveness of the UN agency.

“We continue to review the impact and effectiveness of UNRWA’s aid programs. This is prudent, and indeed, it is our duty to the American taxpayer,” the official said.

However, the official also praised UNRWA.

The US has “long supported UNRWA for its important and life-saving humanitarian work, and recognizes its role as a stabilizing force and a counterweight to violent extremism, which is essential for stability in the Middle East region,” the official said.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report. 

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U.N. General Assembly Votes Against Trump-Israel On Jerusalem Issue

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY)

 

The United Nations General Assembly moved Thursday to repudiate President Trump’s controversial declaration recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Trump threatened to withhold aid to countries that vote for the resolution.

The measure, drafted by U.S. ally Egypt, urges nations to support U.N. resolutions dating to 1967 when Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan, that call for Jerusalem’s status to be decided through negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

Israel says a united Jerusalem will remain its capital, while Palestinians want it to cede East Jerusalem as the capital of a future, independent Palestinian state. Only a handful of countries recognize Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, while most others maintain embassies in Tel Aviv.

The resolution says “that any decisions and actions which purport to have altered, the character, status or demographic composition of the Holy City of Jerusalem have no legal effect, are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with relevant resolutions of the Security Council.”

Trump warned Wednesday that the vote could impact “billions of dollars” in U.S. aid.

“Let them vote against us, we’ll save a lot,” Trump said. “We don’t care. This isn’t like it used to be where they could vote against you and then you pay them hundreds of millions of dollars and nobody knows what they’re doing.”

Americans are “tired of being taken advantage of” at the U.N. “and we’re not going to be taken advantage of any longer,” Trump said.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized Trump for threatening to cut off U.S. funding to countries that oppose his decision. “Mr Trump, you cannot buy Turkey’s democratic will with your dollars. Our decision is clear,” Erdogan said at a cultural awards ceremony in Ankara on Thursday.

U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley threatened the 193 U.N. member states and the United Nations with funding cuts if the assembly approves the draft resolution rejecting the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. She said Wednesday that “no vote in the United Nations will make any difference” on the U.S. decision to move its embassy to Jerusalem, which will go ahead because “it is the right thing to do.”

“We will remember it when we are called upon once again to make the world’s largest contribution to the United Nations,” Haley said. “And we will remember when so many countries come calling on us, as they so often do, to pay even more and to use our influence for their benefit.”

Haley also threatened Tuesday to “take names” of countries that vote in favor of the measure.

At the UN we’re always asked to do more & give more. So, when we make a decision, at the will of the American ppl, abt where to locate OUR embassy, we don’t expect those we’ve helped to target us. On Thurs there’ll be a vote criticizing our choice. The US will be taking names.

Trump’s Dec. 6 announcement also said the State Department had been ordered to begin the years-long process of moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv. Trump said the decision, following a law passed by Congress in 1998, does not impact the borders of Jerusalem, but reflected the reality that Israel considers the city its capital.

His announcement was widely condemned in capitals around the world, and provoked deadly protests in the Middle East.

More: U.S. vetoes U.N. resolution on Jerusalem

More: Jerusalem Palestinians still seek Israeli citizenship despite Trump declaration

More: Trump’s Jerusalem plan signals to Palestinians — the less you give up, the more you lose

Thursday’s vote at an emergency meeting of the General Assembly comes after the U.S. vetoed the same measure in the Security Council on Monday.

The remaining 14 Security Council members voted in favor of the resolution, including key U.S. allies such as Italy, Japan, Britain, France and Ukraine.

While the five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China — had veto power in the first vote, there are no vetoes at the General Assembly.

The General Assembly vote expresses widespread disapproval, however, it has little or not practical impact.

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UN chief in Jerusalem: Calls for Israel’s destruction Are ‘Modern Anti-Semitism’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

UN chief in Jerusalem: Calls for Israel’s destruction are ‘modern anti-Semitism’

In meeting with President Rivlin, Antonio Guterres says international body will treat Jewish state with ‘impartiality’

 August 28, 2017, 12:33 pm 9

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres talks to the press after his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem on August 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres talks to the press after his visit to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial museum in Jerusalem on August 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Monday that calling for Israel’s destruction is a “form of modern anti-Semitism” and said he would treat Israel with “impartiality” amid vocal complaints by Israeli officials that the world body is biased against the Jewish state.

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“I do believe that in particular when you mention those who call for the destruction of the State of Israel that that is a form of modern anti-Semitism,” Guterres told President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem.

“But you also understand that I sometimes disagree with positions of the Government of Israel or any other government, and that is absolutely normal in a society where many of your citizens have exactly the same expressions of opinions,” he added.

“We will always be very frank in the dialogue with the State of Israel in trying to find ways for peace to be possible in this region, but we will always be very committed to make sure anti-Semitism doesn’t prevail and that equality in the treatment of all states is fully respected.”

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (C) and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon (R) visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum on August 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres (C) and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon (R) visit the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum on August 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Menahem Kahana)

Guterres, who was greeted upon his arrival Sunday with complaints from Israeli officials of the UN’s “anti-Israel bias,” said under his leadership the international body will treat Israel with “impartiality,” as he said it does with every country.

“I want to express to you, Mr. President, that you can be fully confident that in my role as Secretary General, and in relation to the functions of the secretariat that I am supposed to meet, I am very keen in stressing the values of the Charter, and the very important value of the Charter, impartiality,” he told Rivlin.

“And impartiality means treating all states equally, and I am totally committed to that in my action and in everything I can do for the organization I lead.”

The secretary general also mentioned his trip to the Yad Vashem Memorial Holocaust museum earlier Monday and mentioned his home country Portugal’s own history of anti-Semitism in the 16th century.

“Yad Vashem is there to remind us that we need to be in the first line in fighting against antisemitism, but first of all fighting against all other forms of bigotry, be it racism, xenophobia, even anti-Muslim hatred, to promote understanding and to promote dialogue,” he said.

In his remarks at Yad Vashem, Guterres said he was “shocked” by the anti-Semitic and Nazi chants at the violent white supremacist rally earlier this month in Charlottesville, Virginia, and also warned that anti-Semitism is “alive and well.”

“I was shocked a few [days] ago to listen to the chant of a group of neo Nazis in developed country in the world chanting ‘blood and soil’ – [a] slogan of the Nazis. That is a dramatic demonstration that it is our duty to do everything possible and as Secretary General of the United Nations I fully assume that commitment to do everything possible to fight anti-Semitism in all its expressions,” he said.

“As I said I’m truly committed to fight anti-Semitism, as to fight racism, xenophobia, anti-Muslim hatred and all other forms of bigotry that unfortunately we are not yet able to make our world free of.”

In his remarks, Rivlin called on Guterres “to work to end the discrimination against Israel” at the UN, while also thanking him for “brave leadership” on the issue.

“This targeting of Israel, this singling out of the world’s only Jewish state, and even actions and statements that threaten to destroy Israel are unacceptable, and should come at a price. No member state in the UN should be allowed to behave like that,” the president said.

“We appreciate your brave leadership regarding the discrimination against Israel. We hope that working together, we can create a more productive partnership between Israel and the UN, for the sake of our region, and for the sake of all humanity.”

President Reuven Rivlin (R) and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speak to the press prior to their meeting at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on August 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

President Reuven Rivlin (R) and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres speak to the press prior to their meeting at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on August 28, 2017. (AFP Photo/Gali Tibbon)

Guterres arrived in Israel Sunday evening for a three-day visit that will include meetings with senior Israeli officials in Jerusalem and Palestinian officials in the West Bank, as well as a stop in the Gaza Strip, where the UN runs a major Palestinian aid program.

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN chief, said that the purpose of his trip was “to engage directly with Israeli and Palestinian people and their leaders” about “finding a long overdue peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

Guterres is set to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later Monday.

On Sunday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely announced that Israel will discuss two key issues with the UN head during the visit: ending “anti-Israel bias” at the 193-nation organization, and changing the mandate of its peacekeeping mission in Lebanon, known as UNIFIL.

“We are seeking a dramatic change in the way the UN treats Israel. It’s time to place the issue squarely on the table and address it head-on,” Hotovely said, threatening funding cuts for the body if changes were not implemented.

The trip came as the UN Security Council is debating renewing the mandate of UNIFIL’s peacekeepers for another year, with a vote expected on August 30.

UN envoy Nikki Haley and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon on the Lebanese border, June 8, 2017. (David Azagury/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

UN envoy Nikki Haley and Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon on the Lebanese border, June 8, 2017. (David Azagury/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

The US ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, has blasted the commander of UNIFIL, Irish Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, accusing him of turning a blind eye to Hezbollah weapons smuggling.

Pointing to Haley’s comments, Hotovely said that “if the UN does not drastically change its behavior it will lose both support and funding” from Israel and other countries.

“It’s no longer just us threatening this,” she said. “The US position has changed. Led by Nikki Haley, they have made clear that they will not tolerate bias against us and will no longer be giving an open check.”

Guterres’s spokesman Dujarric has said in the past that the UN secretary general has “full confidence in (UNIFIL’s commander’s) work.”

Raoul Wootliff and agencies contributed to this report.

Trump Officials Demand That Russia (Putin) Stop Supporting Mass Murderer Assad

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Officials in the Trump administration on Sunday demanded that Russia stop supporting the Syrian government or face a further deterioration in its relations with the United States.

Signaling the focus of talks that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is set to have in Moscow this week, officials said that Russia, in propping up Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, bears at least partial responsibility for Wednesday’s chemical attack on villagers in Idlib province.

“I hope Russia is thinking carefully about its continued alliance with Bashar al-Assad, because every time one of these horrific attacks occurs, it draws Russia closer into some level of responsibility,” Tillerson said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Although officials acknowledged that they have seen no evidence directly linking Russia to the attacks, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that Russia should be pressed to answer what it knew ahead of the chemical attack since it has positioned warplanes and air defense systems with associated troops in Syria since 2015.

“I think what we should do is ask Russia, how could it be, if you have advisers at that airfield, that you didn’t know that the Syrian air force was preparing and executing a mass murder attack with chemical weapons?” McMaster said on Fox News.

The timing of the comments, with Tillerson heading soon to Moscow, signaled the administration’s intent to pressure Russia to step away from Assad, who is supported by the Kremlin with military aid and diplomatic cover.

The fallout from the Syrian regime’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, plus the U.S. missile strike that came in retaliation for it, adds strain to a rocky relationship that is at its lowest point in decades. A host of issues are responsible, topped by Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and Moscow’s support for separatists in Ukraine, and have prompted U.S. and European sanctions. These topics have now been overshadowed by last week’s missile strike.

The Russians had hoped that relations with the United States might improve under President Trump, who expressed admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin during the campaign. Tillerson’s nomination and ­confirmation as secretary of state also raised prospects. given the former ExxonMobil executive’s experience negotiating a major deal with Rosneft, the state-controlled oil giant.

But 11 weeks into Trump’s presidency, expectations have been substantially lowered.

“This is a big cold shower,” said Samuel Charap, a Russia analyst with the Rand Corp. “Even if behind closed doors they might engage on other issues in a more pragmatic manner, the public posture is going to be one of emphasizing how they disagree about [Syria]. Putin is not going to want to be seen as chummy with the U.S. secretary of state.”

On Sunday, both Tillerson and Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, cast doubts on Assad’s legitimacy as Syria’s leader. Haley said that eventually the unrest in Syria cannot end if Assad remains in power.

“In no way do we see peace in that area with Russia covering up for Assad,” Haley said. “And in no way do we see peace in that area with Assad at the head of the Syrian government.”

Tillerson noted other instances when Syrian forces deployed chemical weapons, and other attacks on civilians involving barrel bombs and conventional weapons.

“I think the issue of how Bashar al-Assad’s leadership is sustained, or how he departs, is something that we’ll be working [on] with allies and others in the coalition,” said Tillerson, who after weeks of keeping a low profile was making his debut on the Sunday morning talk shows. “But I think with each of those actions, he really undermines his own legitimacy.”

Neither suggested that Assad’s demise was imminent.

“Once the ISIS threat has been reduced or eliminated, I think we can turn our attention directly to stabilizing the situation in Syria,” Tillerson said on CBS’s “Face the Nation,” using an acronym to refer to the Islamic State militant group.

The U.S. missile strike in Syria carries the implicit threat of a larger U.S. role in the conflict. Tillerson said Sunday that the strike functioned as a warning to any country acting outside of international norms, in an apparent reference to North Korea.

“At least in the short run, it will further complicate efforts to improve the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship, which seemed to be Tillerson’s objective in going to Moscow,” said Jeffrey Mankoff, a Russia analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “In the longer term, the threat of further U.S. intervention is a card that the U.S. can play to get the Russians to tighten the screws on Assad — on both the chemical weapons and possibly on accepting a political deal with the opposition.”

Tillerson departed around dawn Sunday for Italy to attend a meeting of the G-7 nations, a bloc of industrialized democracies. He is due to arrive late Tuesday in Russia for his first visit as secretary of state.

He and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are scheduled to meet, but it is not known if the secretary of state will also speak with Putin, who personally bestowed the Order of Friendship on Tillerson in 2012.

Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Russia, said the Russians still hold out hope for a breakthrough, but that depends on whether Putin and Trump hit it off, not on anything Tillerson and Lavrov say.

“Things will only happen as a result of direct personal, sustained contact between Putin and Trump,” McFaul said. “That’s the way things work with Putin.”

But closer ties with Russia also carry political risks for Trump. Should the Trump administration ease sanctions ­imposed over Ukraine, for instance, critics would label it payback for Russia’s ­pre-election hacks targeting Democrats.

Several analysts said that Assad has humiliated Putin by using chemical weapons despite Russia’s guarantee that Syria’s stockpiles would be whisked away. Moscow’s interest in getting sanctions eased is greater than its loyalty to Assad. And that could provide maneuvering room for Tillerson.

That appears to be Tillerson’s calculation, too.

“I do not believe that the Russians want to have worsening relationships with the U.S.,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But it’s going to take a lot of discussion and a lot of dialogue to better understand what is the relationship that Russia wishes to have with the U.S.”

Mike DeBonis and Abby Philip contributed to this report.

Trump Officials Defend Syria Strikes

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Trump officials defend Syria strikes, say they were in ‘vital national interest’

Haley: U.S. airstrikes on Syria were a ‘very measured step’
 
 
At the United Nations on April 7, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley defended America’s actions in Syria, whereas ambassadors from Syria and Russia called the airstrikes “aggression,” and urged the U.S. to seek a political solution to Syria’s civil war. (Reuters)
April 7 at 4:53 PM
The Trump administration on Friday defended its strikes against Syrian military targets overnight, while Russia and Syria slammed the attacks and warned they would provoke more terrorism and instability in the region.From the United Nations to Capitol Hill to the Pentagon, U.S. officials said the attacks were justified in targeting the Shayrat air base that was used to launch a chemical weapons attack that killed scores of men, women and children in Syria’s Idlib province Tuesday.

“It is in our vital national interest to prevent the use and spread of chemical weapons,” the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, told the U.N. Security Council during a special meeting on the strikes. She added that she had warned the council on Wednesday that the United States might act alone.

“Assad did this because he thought he could get away with it,” Haley said of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. “He thought he could get away with it because he knew Russia would have his back. That changed last night.”

But Russia condemned the strikes against its ally in Damascus and said it was suspending an agreement to minimize the risk of in-flight incidents between U.S. and Russian aircraft operating over Syria.

President Vladi­mir Putin’s spokesman said the risk of confrontation between warplanes of the U.S.-led coalition and Russia in the skies over Syria has “significantly increased” after President Trump ordered the launch of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Shayrat in retaliation for a chemical attack that killed more than 70 civilians.

U.S. military officials said they warned the Russians in advance that they were not the target of the missile attacks launched early Friday from the USS Ross and USS Porter, and that Russian forces did not attempt to use their advanced air-defense systems in Syria to stop the U.S. missiles.

The two countries have traded information about flights by a U.S.-led coalition targeting the Islamic State and Russian planes operating in Syria in support of the Assad government, to avoid accidents and misunderstandings, an effort known as “deconfliction.” The Russian Defense Ministry said Friday it was suspending the pact effective at midnight, because it sees the U.S. strike “as a grave violation of the memorandum.”

U.S. military officials said they continued to communicate with the Russians before the deadline, including after the attack.

“There’s someone who is on the other end who is talking to us,” a senior U.S. military official said Friday.

U.S. launches missile strikes in response to Syrian chemical attack

Washington Post reporter Dan Lamothe explains why President Trump launched 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian military airfield on April 6 and what this means for the fight against the Islamic State. (Sarah Parnass, Julio Negron/The Washington Post)

But the Kremlin’s decision to suspend the 2015 memorandum of understanding on the air operations immediately ratcheted up tensions further, even as Russian officials hoped the strike against Assad’s forces would not further sour U.S.-Russian relations already in a deep chill.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is scheduled to visit Moscow next week in what was to be an attempt to reset relations with Moscow and lay out U.S. positions on a variety of issues, including Ukraine and suspected attempts by Russia to meddle in the U.S. presidential election. Now, however, the prospects for the meeting have been overshadowed by the fallout from the strikes, which Russia’s U.N. envoy called an “illegitimate action by the United States.”

“The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious,” Deputy Ambassador Vladimir Safronkov said during the U.N. Security Council debate.

“The U.S. has often talked about the need to combat international terrorism,” Safronkov added, yet it attacked the Syrian air force, which he claimed is leading that fight in Syria.

“It’s not difficult to imagine how much the spirits of terrorists have been raised by this action from the United States,” he said.

And Syria’s representative, Deputy Ambassador Mounzer Mounzer, called the United States and its allies, Britain and France, “the three colonialists” who, he said, pursue hypocritical ends in the Middle East.

The Russian government and some critics in the United States have questioned whether it is clear that the Syrians launched chemical weapons, rather than the suspected nerve agent being dispersed by other means such as a conventional bomb hitting a chemical storage facility on the ground. But U.S. military officials said they have high confidence that they know what happened.

“We know the routes that the aircraft took, and we know these aircraft were overhead at the time of the attack,” one senior U.S. military official said of the chemical weapons strike Tuesday.

The Pentagon released images Friday that it said showed the blast site where the Syrian bomb carrying a chemical weapon, likely sarin, detonated on Tuesday. Military officials said the staining on the road around the blast site crater is indicative of a chemical weapons attack. It was launched about 6:50 a.m., and a Russian-made aircraft piloted either by Syrians or Russians carried out an airstrike later in the day on a nearby hospital where many of the victims were taken for treatment, military officials said.

Senior U.S. military officials said they are investigating whether the Russian military participated in any recent chemical weapons strikes against civilians in Syria. But the officials said they do not yet have any information suggesting that the Russians did so.

The Syrian regime has increasingly faced pressure from opposition forces and was in danger of losing control of Hama air base in northwestern Syria, the officials said. The installation is believed to be used as both a base for Syrian helicopters and as a manufacturing facility for barrel bombs.

On March 25, a chlorine attack was launched in Hama, and a second chemical weapons attack of an undisclosed kind of gas was launched March 30, one senior U.S. military official said. That escalated to the attack Tuesday, in which the Syrians launched their largest chemical weapons attack since 2013, he said.

“This escalatory pattern of using industrial chemicals, to using suspected chemical munitions, to verified chemical munitions, caused us obviously great concern about the direction this was going,” the official said.

In Congress, lawmakers called for a response to the chemical weapons attack that could include punitive measures against Russia, Assad’s chief sponsor in his war effort.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) suggested Friday that he would look favorably on a proposal to step up sanctions against Russia, Iran and others who support the Assad regime’s war effort in Syria — a measure that passed in the House last year but was never taken up in the Senate.

Putin has been supplying Assad’s army with warplanes and other reinforcements that the United States believes have been used in attacks on Syrian civilians.

But McConnell deferred to the Trump administration as to whether those sanctions would be necessary — unless bipartisan support for such a move in the Senate is considerable.

“If they [the administration] feel they need additional sanctions, or we can come up with something that seems to enjoy bipartisan support, I’d be open to it,” McConnell said. “The Russians are not out friend.”

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

Nikki Haley Will Serve as Donald Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

Nikki Haley Will Serve as Donald Trump’s Ambassador to the United Nations

File photo of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley speaking at the National Press Club in Washington
Kevin Lamarque—Reuters South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley speaks at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 2, 2015.

Haley was a frequent critic of Trump’s rhetoric during the campaign

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley will accept the nomination to the post of U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations from President-elect Donald Trump, according to two sources familiar with Trump’s presidential transition.

Haley, the popular governor whose national stock rose after leading the response to the Charleston church shooting last year, is the first woman and the first Indian-American tapped by Trump for an administration post, and his first departure outside his inner circle of advisors. An official announcement is expected later Wednesday.

Haley, 44, is midway through her second term as governor, where her state has seen widespread economic growth under her tenure. But her lack of traditional foreign policy experience is likely to draw scrutiny during Senate confirmation hearings. Haley is close with former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, one of the leading contenders to be Trump’s Secretary of State.

Haley endorsed Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and then Texas Sen. Ted Cruz during the contentious Republican primaries, and was a frequent critic of Trump’s rhetoric. She reluctantly announced her intent to vote for Trump just two weeks before Election Day, telling reporters, “This is no longer a choice for me on personalities because I’m not a fan of either one, what it is about is policy.”

According to a transition source, Haley’s post will be of Cabinet-rank, a departure from the past two Republican administrations in which it was a sub-Cabinet-level post. Haley’s nomination must be confirmed by the Senate.

Damien Parrott

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