US Puts Hamas Chief Haniyeh On Terror Blacklist

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

US puts Hamas chief Haniyeh on terror blacklist

Treasury Department’s sanctions freeze any US-based assets terror leader may have and ban any US person or company from doing business with him

In this file photo taken on January 23, 2018 Hamas' leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech in Gaza City on January 23, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

In this file photo taken on January 23, 2018 Hamas’ leader Ismail Haniyeh delivers a speech in Gaza City on January 23, 2018. (Mahmud Hams/AFP)

The United States on Wednesday put the head of Palestinian terror group Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh, on its terror blacklist and slapped sanctions on him. The 55-year-old Haniyeh was named head of Hamas in May 2017.

“Haniyeh has close links with Hamas’s military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians,” the State Department said in a statement. “He has reportedly been involved in terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens. Hamas has been responsible for an estimated 17 American lives killed in terrorist attacks.”

Haniyeh is now on the US Treasury sanctions blacklist, which freezes any US-based assets he may have and bans any US person or company from doing business with him.

Hamas, which is sworn to destroy Israel and has controlled the Gaza Strip for more than a decade, has been on the US terror blacklist since 1997.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh (L) and Hamas’s leader in the Gaza Strip Yahya Sinwar wave during a rally marking the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Islamist terror movement, in Gaza City, on December 14, 2017. (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

The US government also slapped sanctions on Harakat al-Sabireen — a small Gazan terror group that splintered away from the Islamic Jihad and, like Hamas, is close to Iran — and two other groups active in Egypt: Liwa al-Thawra and HASM.

“These designations target key terrorist groups and leaders — including two sponsored and directed by Iran — who are threatening the stability of the Middle East, undermining the peace process, and attacking our allies Egypt and Israel,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said in a statement.

“Today’s actions are an important step in denying them the resources they need to plan and carry out their terrorist activities.”

The US decision to put Haniyeh on its terror blacklist will not affect Hamas’s activities, the movement said Wednesday. “It is a failed attempt to pressure the resistance,” said a statement from the group. “This decision will not deter us from continuing the resistance option to expel the occupation.”

Israel’s Intelligence Minister Israel Katz welcomed the decision.

“I wish to congratulate the US on the rightous [sic] decision to designate Ismail Haniyeh as a global terrorist,” Katz tweeted. “This man is one of the main reasons the citizens of the Gaza strip are suffering since the terror organization Hamas took power of the Strip in 2007.”

Haniyeh replaced Khaled Mashaal, who now lives in Doha in exile, atop the Hamas movement. Unlike Mashaal, Haniyeh will remain in the Gaza Strip.

Also known as Abu Abed, Haniyeh was born in Gaza’s Shati refugee camp in January 1963 to parents who fled when Israel was created in 1948.

Hamas has frequently highlighted his modest background as a counterpoint to officials within Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority, who have been accused of being corrupt and too easily compliant with Israel or the United States.

After US President Donald Trump declared Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December, Haniyeh voiced rage over the decision, saying it “crosses every red line,” and called for a new intifada, or uprising.

“This Zionist policy supported by the US cannot be confronted unless we ignite a new intifada,” he said.

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COMMENTS

The U.S. Military Being In Syria Is An Illegal Act Of War

 

This commentary today is simply my belief’s on the issue of the U.S. still having troops, combat or otherwise within the borders of the sovereign State of Syria. When our mission there was to destroy the illegal Caliphate of ISIS we had a defined reason and mission for being inside the borders of Syria. Since ISIS is now just another run of the mill terror group without a ‘State’ foothold our ‘mission’ there is done. The reason I say that we have no right to be there is because the legitimate government of Syria under its President Mr. Assad has said several times that we are not welcome there and that he wants us out of their country, now.

 

Just because we don’t like the Leader of a country this is not a legal reason for our government leaders to conduct military operations in that country. The last I heard the U.S. is conducting military operations in about 30 countries, why isn’t this enough for the military hawks in our government? As long as the government of these 30 or so countries have asked us in, asked us for help against honest to goodness terrorists, then we have a right to be there, if we so choose to help them. But, in a case like Syria where the government does not want us there and has said that they will attack any of our troops that are on their soil, we have no legal right to be there!

 

What could possibly be the reasoning behind our government keeping troops in Syria? Is our military and our government trying to start a direct war with Syria? Yet a bigger question would be, is our government trying to start not just a direct war with Syria but a proxy war with Iran and with Russia? If this is the case folks there is no doubt that we will end up being in a direct shooting war with Syria, Iran and Russia, is this really what we the people of the U.S.want? I really don’t think so. About the only member of President Trumps Cabinet that I have been backing so far is our Secretary of State Rex Tillerson but about two days ago he made the statement that we (the U.S.) need to be in Syria ‘long term’. I am not such a fan of his now folks.

 

Here in the United States if a country, any country, came inside our borders and started shooting and bombing any of our citizens we would declare War on that country. This would be the case even if our direct neighbors like Canada or Mexico attacked any group of our people whether they be Hispanic, Indian, Oriental, Black or White, we would actively repel them, neighbors or not. Why does our government feel that they have any right to be in Syria without the blessings of the Syrian government? Folks, we don’t have any right to be there, none! I do not like the Leadership of Syria nor the Supreme Leader of Iran nor his flunkies but they are a reality that we have no legal right to depose. It is a shame that we have the relations that we now have with President Putin and Russia and it appears that as long as President Putin is in charge there we will not be able to have the friendship between our Nations that I wish we had. No matter what you or I like or think, by the laws of our Country it is illegal for us to have any troops inside the borders of Syria. Without a Congress approved declaration of War it is also illegal for the U.S. Military to fire any missiles into the sovereign Nation of Syria. We need to get out right now before we blow this up into a World War.

Trump Flip Flops On Iran Sanction-Again

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Despite threats, Trump to extend sanctions relief for Iran — sources

US president likely to link decision with new, targeted sanctions on businesses and people connected with regime

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, right, listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, January 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, right, listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, January 10, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump is expected this week to extend relief from economic sanctions to Iran as part of the nuclear deal, citing progress in amending US legislation that governs Washington’s participation in the landmark accord, according to US officials and others familiar with the administration’s deliberations.

But Trump is likely to pair his decision to renew the concessions to Tehran with new, targeted sanctions on Iranian businesses and people, the six people briefed on the matter said. The restrictions could hit some firms and individuals whose sanctions were scrapped under the 2015 nuclear agreement, a decision that could test Tehran’s willingness to abide by its side of the bargain.

The individuals — two administration officials, two congressional aides and two outside experts who consult with the government — weren’t authorized to speak publicly on the matter and demanded anonymity. They cautioned that Trump could still reject the recommendation from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster and that no final decision had been made. They said heated discussions were going on within the administration and with key Republican lawmakers.

The State Department and White House didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

Trump must decide by Friday to extend the nuclear-related sanctions relief for Iran’s central bank or re-impose the restrictions that President Barack Obama suspended two years ago.

An Iranian man reads a copy of the daily newspaper ‘Omid Javan’ bearing a picture of US President Donald Trump with a headline that reads in Persian ‘Crazy Trump and logical JCPOA (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action),’ on October 14, 2017, in front of a kiosk in the capital Tehran. (AFP Photo/STR)

The old, central bank sanctions largely cut Iran out of the international financial system, and are considered to be the most powerful of the penalties imposed by the US during the Obama era, along with global penalties for buying Iranian oil. Some Iran hawks want to see both sets of restrictions return, but the six people with knowledge of Trump’s plans say the president isn’t planning to reinstate either at this point.

The individuals said Trump’s top national security aides appear to have successfully made a different case to the president: Waiving anew for 120 days the nuclear-linked sanctions while simultaneously imposing new measures to punish Iran’s ballistic missile testing, alleged terrorism support and human rights violations.

Such a balance could satisfy Trump’s demand to raise pressure on Iran, while not embarking on a frontal assault on the most central trade-offs of the nuclear agreement. While the US and other world powers rolled back economic restrictions on Tehran, the Iranians severely curtailed their enrichment of uranium and other nuclear activity. Trump has complained that many of the Iranian restrictions expire next decade and has vacillated between talk of toughening the deal and pulling the US out entirely.

A senior State Department official told reporters Wednesday that Tillerson and Mattis would be meeting with Trump on the matter before an announcement Friday. Trump, Tillerson and Vice President Mike Pence were scheduled to have lunch Wednesday at the White House after a formal Cabinet meeting.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson listens as US President Donald Trump speaks during a cabinet meeting at the White House, Dec. 20, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

The decision coincides with the administration’s efforts to secure a face-saving fix from Congress on the requirement for Trump to address Iran’s compliance every three months. In October, Trump decertified the nuclear deal under US law, saying the sanctions relief was disproportionate to Iran’s nuclear concessions, and describing the arrangement as contrary to America’s national security interests.

Tillerson told The Associated Press in an interview last week that he and others were working with Congress on ways to amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act, or INARA, to resolve concerns Trump has with the deal. That will be coupled with diplomacy with European government on addressing Iran’s missile testing and support for the Hezbollah militant movement, Shiite rebels in Yemen and Syrian President Bashar Assad.

“The president said he is either going to fix it or cancel it,” Tillerson said of the overall deal. “We are in the process of trying to deliver on the promise he made to fix it.”

On the INARA law, it’s unlikely Congress could move fast enough to codify changes by Friday. So Tillerson and others are hoping to convince the president there’s enough momentum to warrant another extension of sanctions relief and not jeopardizing the entire agreement. The goal would be for Congress to make the changes sometime before May, when Trump is next required to address the sanctions.

The new Iranian long-range missile Khoramshahr is displayed during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of its devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, on September 22,2017 in Tehran. (AFP/str)

Trump has repeatedly dismissed the Iran deal, one of Obama’s signature foreign policy achievements, as the worst ever negotiated by the US He has particularly bristled at having to give Iran a “thumbs up” every few months by acknowledging that it is meeting the requirements to invest in foreign banks, sell petroleum overseas, buy US and European aircraft, and so forth.

Iran hawks in Congress and elsewhere worry the changes being discussed don’t strengthen the nuclear deal enough.

One would automatically re-impose, or “snap back,” suspended sanctions if Iran commits certain actions, possibly including things unrelated to its nuclear program. Currently, Congress must act for the sanctions to snap back.

Another proposal would require snapback if Iran refuses a request from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN’s atomic watchdog, to inspect a military site not currently being monitored. Iran hawks worry the IAEA, fearing a confrontation with Iran, won’t even ask for such an inspection.

Other debates center on Iran’s missile testing. Hardline Republican senators Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz want sanctions back if Iran launches any ballistic missiles capable of targeting territory outside of Iran, such as Israel or Saudi Arabia, and not just an intercontinental missile.

Senate Democrats, generally more supportive of the nuclear deal, are pushing their own suggestions. One would let a simple House and Senate majority stop any effort to snap back sanctions, unless the president vetoes the block. While such a mechanism is unlikely to threaten Trump in the short term, some anti-deal Republicans fear it could be used against them under a future Democratic president.

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US-China Contingency Plans On North Korea

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE KOREAN HERALD)

 

[News Focus] US-China contingency plans on NK: what do they mean for South Korea?

By Yeo Jun-suk

  • Published : Dec 21, 2017 – 18:41
  • Updated : Dec 21, 2017 – 18:41
  •     

 In November 1950, the United States and China went to war. It was five months into the Korean War when US troops crossed the 38th parallel, marched toward North Korea and clashed with the Chinese troops coming to the rescue of their communist ally.

The war continued for about three years, costing the lives of 36,000 American troops and more than a quarter of a million Chinese troops. The Korean War came to an end when the two sides agreed to an armistice. South Korea opposed the peace talks and refused to sign the armistice agreement.

With North Korea’s relentless pursuit of a nuclear weapons program raising fear of another major armed conflict on the Korean Peninsula, the two powers appear to be bracing for a possible contingency, but this time the focus is on how to work together in the event of a sudden collapse of the North Korean regime.

US State Secretary Rex Tillerson. Yonhap

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently offered a glimpse into the secret contingency plan. He revealed that the Trump administration had assured China’s leadership that if US forces crossed into North Korea to seize nuclear weapons, the troops would do their work and then retreat to the South.

“We have had conversations that if something happened and we had to go across a line, we have given the Chinese assurances we would go back and retreat back to the south of the 38th parallel,” Tillerson said in remarks at the Atlantic Council on Dec. 12.

The South Korea-US wartime scheme, Operations Plan 5015, includes military campaigns to address North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction. The plan calls for the allies’ Special Forces to penetrate into North Korean territory to secure its nuclear weapons before they became operational.

OPLAN 5015, whose operational details are classified, reportedly does not spell out exactly who would control the North Korean territory after the mission is completed in a situation where the Chinese troops would most likely march into the North.

Hence, Tillerson’s discussion on contingency plans with the Chinese government is causing jitters among South Korean policymakers and military planners, experts said, rekindling deep-rooted worries that the two superpowers might determine Korea’s fate once again.

“We believe it is inappropriate for us to discuss or assess the remarks by the US secretary of state,” Choi Hyun-soo, a spokesperson of the Ministry of National Defense, said in response to a question about whether the South Korean military had consulted with the US government on the matter.

South Korea’s Constitution declares North Korea a part of its territory that needs to be reclaimed eventually, but most analysts doubt whether such a position would be recognized by the international community and neighboring countries, who view North Korea as a sovereign state.

Some experts said that Tillerson’s idea is part of a “grand deal” between the US and China, which involves a scenario where the US may cede North Korean territory to the Chinese military if they help the US remove North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction.

In his column on the Wall Street Journal in August, Henry Kissinger said that “understanding” between Washington and Beijing is a prerequisite to resolving the nuclear standoff. Before the publication of the article, he had reportedly suggested to Tillerson that the US could make a pledge to Beijing that it would withdraw its troops from South Korea after the collapse of North Korea.

“My impression is that the US appears to be floating the idea of a grand bargain by Kissinger to the Chinese government,” said Yun Duk-min, former chancellor of the Seoul-based security think tank Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

There is no indication that China has responded to Tillerson’s proposal, or that military officials have met to discuss the idea, a taboo subject for Beijing, which has refused to discuss the idea out of concern that it would worsen the already tense relationship with North Korea

However, calls for developing contingency plans appear to be gaining ground among Chinese security and military experts, as they have publicly urged the country to prepare for any eventuality amid growing frustration with its wayward ally’s relentless nuclear ambition.

Retired Chinese Army Lt. Gen. Wang Hongguang called for mobilizing troops along the border with North Korea to prevent conflicts in the region, warning that a war could break out on the Korean Peninsula at “any time,” even within the next several months.

“China should be psychologically prepared for a potential Korean war, and the northeast China regions should be mobilized for that. … Such mobilization is not to launch a war, but for defensive purposes,” Wang told an annual forum hosted by the Chinese Global Times newspaper Saturday.

A South Korean newspaper reported Monday that China last year conducted a simulated military drill aimed at taking control of nuclear facilities similar to the Yongbyon nuclear reactor. China’s Defense Ministry has yet to issue any public statements.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry declined to confirm the report, saying it is not a matter that the South Korean government can discuss, while highlighting that the government is preparing for “various eventualities” on the Korean Peninsula.

China has also been quietly building a network of refugee camps along its border with North Korea — at least five in Jilin province — as it braces for a human exodus in the event of the regime’s sudden collapse, according to a leaked internal document from a state-run telecoms giant China Mobile.

David Straub, a former US diplomat, said China has shown more willingness to discuss a possible contingency in North Korea, though the issue is still too sensitive for Beijing to raise first.

“It seems pretty clear that the Chinese security experts and analysts are becoming more concerned that there might be a real possibility of unexpected developments,” said Straub, a Sejong-LS fellow at the Sejong Institute.

“In the past, the Chinese were reluctant even to listen to Americans talking about the conditions. Now I think the Chinese are quite happy to listen to what the Americans have to say and probably take careful notes. … But I am still skeptical they have volunteered much to the US,” said Straub.

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Israel airstrikes, Gaza rockets amid tensions over Jerusalem

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Israel airstrikes, Gaza rockets amid tensions over Jerusalem

Clashes erupt in Jerusalem

Jerusalem (CNN) Two Palestinians were killed Saturday in Israeli airstrikes in Gaza, the Palestinian Health Ministry said, as tensions soared in the region after US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

The Israel Defense Forces said Israeli aircraft had targeted what it identified as four facilities belonging to Hamas — the Palestinian Islamist group that controls Gaza — early Saturday in response to rockets fired into southern Israel from Gaza.
The aircraft targeted two weapons manufacturing sites, a weapons warehouse and a military compound, according to an IDF news release.
The two Palestinians killed were a 27-year-old man and a 30-year-old man, Palestinian Health Ministry spokesman Ashraf al-Qadra told CNN.
The IDF said Israeli aircraft had also struck a Hamas training compound and ammunition warehouse in Gaza late on Friday.
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One of the rockets fired from Gaza landed in the Israeli city of Sderot, according to the IDF. There was no mention of casualties.

Palestinians on Saturday look at the damage from an Israeli airstrike in Beit Lahia, in the northern Gaza Strip.

Two Palestinians were also killed Friday in Gaza in clashes between protesters and Israeli security forces over Trump’s controversial move. Thirty-year-old Mohammad Masry was killed when fired on by Israeli forces and 54-year-old Maher Atallah died of injuries sustained in the clashes earlier that day, al-Qadra said.

A relative of Mohammad Masry, who was killed Friday in clashes with Israeli troops, mourns during his funeral in Khan Younis, in the southern Gaza Strip, on Saturday.

Both Palestinians and Israelis claim Jerusalem as their capital.
Sporadic clashes erupted Saturday between Palestinian protesters and Israeli security forces on a busy shopping street in the eastern part of Jerusalem and in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Ramallah.
Israeli security forces responded with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets as small groups of protesters threw rocks.
Seven people were arrested during the clashes on Salah el-Din Street in Jerusalem, Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said.
The Palestinian Red Crescent reported 12 injured after police dispersed the demonstrators there.
Meanwhile, crowds of mourners gathered in Gaza for the funerals of the four men killed there.

Relatives of 30-year-old Mohammad Masry mourn over his body during his funeral in town of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip on Saturday.

An Israeli army statement said what it called violent riots had broken out in about 30 locations across the West Bank and Gaza on Friday. The main disturbances in the West Bank were in Hebron, Al-Arroub, Tulkarm, Ramallah, Qalqilya and Nablus.
More than 300 people were injured across the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem on Friday, 50 of whom needed hospital treatment, the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Health said.
At least 49 people were also injured Thursday during protests over Trump’s decision, the Palestinian Red Crescent said.
Trump’s decision Wednesday to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and commit to moving the US Embassy to the holy city has prompted international condemnation and sparked protests in countries around the globe, from Indonesia and Malaysia to Iraq, Jordan, Turkey and Egypt.

US envoy to UN defends Trump move

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley defended Trump’s decision and criticized member countries for their treatment of Israel during an emergency UN Security Council meeting Friday.
She also said the US has credibility with both the Israelis and the Palestinians and that any peace agreement would likely be “signed on the White House lawn.”
“The United States is not predetermining final status issues,” Haley said.
“We remain committed to achieving a lasting peace agreement. We support a two-state solution if agreed to by the parties.”
Several countries voiced their opposition to the US decision before Haley’s comments, including France and Egypt.

Egypt’s Coptic Church won’t meet Pence

Egypt’s Coptic Church on Saturday issued a statement “excusing” itself from receiving US Vice President Mike Pence during an upcoming visit to the region, state-run Al-Ahram reported, citing a church statement.
“In consideration of the decision that the US administration took regarding Jerusalem, which was inappropriately timed and took no consideration of the feeling of millions of Arab people, the Egyptian Orthodox Coptic Church excuses itself from this meeting,” Al-Ahram cited the statement as saying.
A day earlier, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cast doubt on whether he would receive Pence during his planned visit in mid-December.
Speaking to broadcaster Al Jazeera, spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh said: “Jerusalem is more important than Mike Pence — we will not abandon Jerusalem just to receive Mike Pence.”
Speaking Friday in Paris, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem “is not something that will happen this year, probably not next year.”
He also said that Trump’s decision did not “indicate any final status for Jerusalem,” adding that the “final status would be left to the parties to negotiate and decide.”
This story has been updated to correct a Palestinian Health Ministry report that originally stated one person was killed in an airstrike Friday. The report was later updated to say that the person died from injuries suffered in clashes, not an airstrike.

Palestinian Official: U.S. Threat to Close Washington Office Is ‘Extortion’

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on Oct. 30, 2017
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington on Oct. 30, 2017
Manuel Balce Ceneta—AP

(WASHINGTON) — The Trump administration has put the Palestinians on notice that it will shutter their office in Washington unless they’ve entered serious peace talks with Israel, U.S. officials said, potentially giving President Donald Trump more leverage as he seeks an elusive Mideast peace deal.

The Palestinian foreign minister denounced the U.S. move as an attempt at “extortion.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has determined that the Palestinians ran afoul of an obscure provision in a U.S. law that says the Palestine Liberation Organization’s mission must close if the Palestinians try to get the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israelis for crimes against Palestinians. A State Department official said that in September, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas crossed that line by calling on the ICC to investigate and prosecute Israelis.

But the law leaves Trump a way out, so Tillerson’s declaration doesn’t necessarily mean the office will close.

Trump now has 90 days to consider whether the Palestinians are in “direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” If Trump determines they are, the Palestinians can keep the office. The official said it was unclear whether the U.S. might close the office before the 90-day period expires, but said the mission remains open at least for now.

Even if the office closes, the U.S. said it wasn’t cutting off relations with the Palestinians and was still focused on “a comprehensive peace agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” The State Department official said in an email that “this measure should in no way be seen as a signal that the U.S. is backing off those efforts.” The official wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss the developments and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Palestinian foreign minister, Riad Malki, told Palestine Radio that the Palestinian leadership “will not accept any extortion or pressure.” Malki said the Palestinians were waiting for further communication from the U.S. government. “The ball is now in the American court,” he said.

The Israeli Embassy in Washington did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Although the Israelis and Palestinians are not engaged in active, direct negotiations, Trump’s administration has been working all year to broker a peace deal that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Led by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a senior aide, White House officials have been preparing a peace proposal they intend to put forward at an unspecified time.

The Palestinians, though publicly supportive of the U.S. effort, have been skeptical because Trump’s close ties to Israel suggest whatever deal he proposes might be unfavorable to them. The threat of losing their office in the U.S. capital could become another pressure point as the Trump administration seeks to persuade the Palestinians to come to the table.

The PLO is the group that formally represents all Palestinians. Although the U.S. does not recognize Palestinian statehood, the PLO maintains a “general delegation” office in Washington that facilitates Palestinian officials’ interactions with the U.S. government.

The United States allowed the PLO to open a mission in Washington in 1994, a move that required then-President Bill Clinton to waive a law that said the Palestinians couldn’t have an office. In 2011, under the Obama administration, the United States started letting the Palestinians fly their flag over the office, an upgrade to the status of their mission that the Palestinians hailed as historic.

Israel opposes any Palestinian membership in United Nations-related organizations until a peace deal has been reached.

The Trump administration has not revealed any details about its effort to bring about a peace deal that would ostensibly grant the Palestinians an independent state in exchange for an end to its conflict with the Israelis. But Kushner and other top Trump aides have been shuttling to the region to meet with Palestinians, Israelis, and officials from neighboring Arab nations as it prepares to put forward a peace plan.

The requirement that the PLO office be closed if the Palestinians back an International Criminal Court move came in a little-noticed provision in U.S. law that says the United States can’t allow the Palestinians to have a Washington office if they try to “influence a determination by the ICC to initiate a judicially authorized investigation, or to actively support such an investigation, that subjects Israeli nationals to an investigation for alleged crimes against Palestinians.”

Abbas, the Palestinian leader, said in his speech at the U.N. General Assembly in September that the Palestinians had “called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation and to prosecute Israeli officials for their involvement in settlement activities and aggression against our people.”

The U.S. law says that if the government determines the Palestinians have breached that requirement, it triggers a 90-day review period in which the president must decide whether to let the office stay open anyway. The president is allowed to waive the requirement only if he certifies to Congress “that the Palestinians have entered into direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.”

The provision doesn’t explicitly define what would constitute direct or meaningful negotiations.

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Rex Tillerson Visits Afghanistan’s President Ghani In Kabul

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Kabul on Monday in a brief, unannounced trip that had been shrouded in secrecy amid an uptick of violence in the Afghan capital.

Tillerson, who was on the ground for just over two hours, met with President Ashraf Ghani, according to the US Embassy and pool reports. The secretary of state then departed for Doha, Qatar.
The visit is part of Tillerson’s week-long trip to the Middle East, South Asia and Europe and follows a deadly string of attacks in the war-torn country.
On Saturday, at least 15 people died in a suicide bombing in Kabul, which targeted army officers at a military academy about seven miles from the city center.
It followed suicide attacks on Friday that killed nearly 60 people at two mosques: a Shia mosque in Kabul and a Sunni mosque in the central province of Ghor.
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There were no immediate claims of responsibility for Friday’s attacks, but ISIS has claimed responsibility this year for other attacks on Shiite mosques.
The day before the mosque attacks, 43 Afghan troops were killed when Taliban militants stormed the Chashmawi military base in the Maiwand district of Kandahar province.

Strategy

President Donald Trump’s Afghanistan strategy was first unveiled in August with the President vowing that the US would find victory in the 16-year war while no longer “nation-building.”
Trump declared he would no longer announce troop levels but would focus on allowing US forces to target the Taliban and other terrorist groups wherever they were in Afghanistan.
The war, which has claimed more than 2,000 American lives, began less than a month after the September 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Over 8,000 US troops are currently deployed to Afghanistan. The majority of them — about 6,900 — are assigned to the NATO mission to train and advise Afghan security forces alongside approximately 6,000 troops from other NATO countries.
In August, Tillerson said the strategy was a “pathway for reconciliation and peace talks,” and meant to pressure the Taliban to the negotiating table by making it clear there’s no way to win on the battlefield.
In that plan, Trump authorized more troops and declared that the US would avoid nation building, concentrating instead on empowering the Afghans to fight their own battles. Under Trump, the US would also continue to engage regional neighbors, such as India and Pakistan, in efforts to stabilize Afghanistan.
The plan resembles the strategies of previous administrations, with a few tweaks and is deliberately short on details, including US troop numbers and how long the US will stay.

Taliban: US official preciously targeted

Security for Tillerson’s visit was extra tight in the wake of a visit by the Defense Secretary James Mattis in September, which was marred by an aborted rocket attack on Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul.
The Taliban claimed responsibility for the attack and claimed it was deliberately targeting Mattis.
The rockets, which caused no damage or injuries, were fired at the facility hours after Mattis and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg had already departed.

Tillerson: Time Iran-backed militias left Iraq

Before flying to Doha, Tillerson visited Saudi Arabia, where he sent a message to Iranian-backed militia and foreign fighters in Iraq, where the US is supporting the government in its fight against ISIS.
“Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control of areas that had been overtaken by ISIS and Daesh that have now been liberated,” Tillerson said, speaking in Riyadh alongside Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.
“Allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors,” he said.
Last week, US-backed forces declared the liberation of Raqqa, Syria, more than three years after the city emerged as ISIS’s de facto capital.
Following Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Afghanistan, Tillerson’s trip will also include stops in India, Switzerland and Pakistan, where he will meet with senior leaders to discuss South Asia strategy and economic ties between Washington and Islamabad.
In August, when releasing his strategy for Afghanistan and South Asia, Trump called out Pakistan for its role in harboring for terror groups.
“We have been paying Pakistan billions and billions of dollars, at the same time, they are housing the very terrorists we are fighting … that must change immediately,” Trump said at the time.
Pakistan reacted angrily to the charge, claiming it was being used as a “scapegoat” for the problems in Afghanistan.

As China Has Become The Worlds Biggest Predator: Xi Warns U.S.

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

China has called on the US to “abandon its prejudices” after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson claimed Beijing was subverting the global order and pursuing predatory economic policies.

“China firmly upholds the international order with the United Nations at its core,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said Thursday.
“China is dedicated to developing long-term healthy and stable relations with the United States.”
Speaking Wednesday at a forum for US-India ties, Tillerson said Beijing’s “provocative actions in the South China Sea directly challenge the international law and norms that the United States and India both stand for.”
China has reclaimed a large amount of land in the disputed waters of the South China Sea, turning reefs into military bases in defiance of an international court ruling.
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Lu said the country would “never give up its legitimate rights and interests.”

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping before their meeting at the Great Hall of the People on September 30, 2017 in Beijing, China.

Tough talk

Tillerson’s latest comments represent something of a return to form for the top US diplomat, who was a strident critic of China during his confirmation hearings in January.
He called on China to be denied access to islands it was occupying in the South China Sea, and compared Beijing’s actions to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.
“Building islands and then putting military assets on those islands is akin to Russia’s taking of Crimea. Its taking of territory that others lay claim to,” Tillerson said, sparking an angry reaction from Chinese state media.
In a subsequent visit to Beijing however, he took a far softer tone, echoing Chinese language on the need to “expand cooperative areas and achieve win-win results.”
On Wednesday, Tillerson said that while the US wants a constructive relationship with China, “we will not shrink from China’s challenges to the rules-based order, and where China subverts the sovereignty of neighboring countries and disadvantages the US and our friends.”

The cult of Xi Jinping

The cult of Xi Jinping 02:46

Trump trip

Tillerson’s latest remarks came just three weeks before US President Donald Trump makes his first official trip to China.
They also coincided with China’s 19th party congress — a massive gathering of Communist Party members during which President Xi Jinping said China should “take center stage in the world,” adding that “no one should expect China to swallow anything that undermines its interests.”
Trump was full of praise for Xi when the pair met in Florida in April, but the relationship between the two leaders has apparently cooled in the wake of the ongoing North Korean crisis, for which Trump has blamed Beijing for failing to take more stringent action against Pyongyang.
Foreign ministry spokesman Lu directly quoted Xi Thursday, saying China “will never pursue development at the expense of other countries’ interests, but China will also never give up its legitimate rights and interests.”
Tillerson praised Delhi’s mode of development in comparison to Beijing, setting out a vision of an “Indo Pacific” order stretching from the US west coast to India that would be underpinned by the US and its allies, a move that could be seen in Beijing as an attempt at containment or as a challenge in a region that China sees as falling under its sphere of influence.
“We are pleased to see the US and India — and indeed all countries of the world — develop normal relations, as long as such relations are conducive to peace, stability and development of the region, as well as the improvement of mutual trust between countries in the region,” Lu said.

“It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

(Title quote is from Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee)

Photo

Senator Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, last week in Washington. CreditTom Brenner/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Sunday laced into Senator Bob Corker, a Republican whose support the president will need on tax reform and the future of the Iran nuclear deal, saying on Twitter that the senator had decided not to run for re-election next year because he “didn’t have the guts.”

“Senator Bob Corker ‘begged’ me to endorse him for re-election in Tennessee,” Mr. Trump wrote. “I said ‘NO’ and he dropped out (said he could not win without my endorsement).”

Mr. Trump also said that Mr. Corker had asked to be secretary of state. “I said ‘NO THANKS,’” Mr. Trump wrote.

Mr. Corker offered a barbed response. “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center,” he wrote on Twitter. “Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”

Continue reading the main story

The Tennessee senator has been a favorite target of Mr. Trump’s for months, after the senator, who was once a campaign supporter, became increasingly critical of Mr. Trump’s performance in the White House.

After a report last week that Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson had once referred to Mr. Trump as a “moron,” Mr. Corker told reporters at the Capitol that Mr. Tillerson was one of three officials helping to “separate our country from chaos.”

In August, Mr. Corker had told reporters in Tennessee that the president “has not yet been able to demonstrate the stability nor some of the competence that he needs to demonstrate in order to be successful.”

Mr. Trump’s feud with Mr. Corker is particularly perilous given that the president has little margin for error as he tries to pass an overhaul of the tax code — his best hope of producing a major legislative achievement in the coming months.

If Senate Democrats end up unified in opposition to the promised tax bill, Mr. Trump would be able to lose the support of only two of the Senate’s 52 Republicans in order to pass it. That is the same challenging math that Mr. Trump and Senate Republican leaders faced in their failed effort to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Corker, who is outspoken about the nation’s mounting debt, has already signaled deep reservations about the Republican effort to pass a tax overhaul, saying he would not vote for a tax bill that adds to the deficit.

In addition, Mr. Corker, who leads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, could play a key role if Mr. Trump follows through on his threat to “decertify” the Iran nuclear deal, kicking to Congress the issue of whether to restore sanctions on Tehran and effectively scuttle the pact.

Should Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson Tell President To “Take This Job And Shove It?”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF POLITICO MAGAZINE)

 

In our combined 50-plus years at the State Department, neither of us ever witnessed as profound a humiliation as a sitting president handed his secretary of state Sunday morning.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” the president tweeted. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Even if they’re playing good cop-bad cop, this is a shocker: Donald Trump is basically announcing that any negotiations with North Korea are worthless. This not only undercut Tillerson personally, but also undermines U.S. interests and the secretary of state’s sensible decision to talk to the North Korean regime. To make matters worse, all of this is occurring while Tillerson is in Beijing to prepare for the president’s trip to China next month—so the president kneecapped his own top diplomat in front of America’s chief rival in Asia.

Is this the final straw for Tillerson? The secretary of state clearly has not helped himself. Through his budget cuts, his focus on departmental reorganization at the expense of appointing assistant secretaries, his reliance on a tiny inner circle of outsiders and his maladroit use of the press, Tillerson has isolated himself within his own department. The Beltway foreign policy blob has already written him off as the worst secretary of state in history, and clearly others are hovering (U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley says she doesn’t want the job, but if you believe that, or if John Bolton make similar protestations, we have an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal to sell you).

But in all fairness, the former ExxonMobil chief has never been empowered by his president. He’s been undercut repeatedly by this White House—see Kushner, Jared—and by Trump personally, even (especially) when he’s making the right diplomatic moves. And there’s no sign that any one of the vultures circling around Tillerson would be able to change or transcend this dynamic.

So for those of you calling for Tillerson to resign after Trump’s latest humiliation, we suggest you lie down and wait quietly until the feeling passes. Sunday’s tweets—and the past nine months, frankly—are exhibits A-Z that in Trump land, it might not matter whether Tillerson resigns or who replaces him. Here’s why:

***

Who speaks for America?
There are many peculiarities about how foreign policy is made (or not) in the Trump administration. Trump is the first president in our memory who has not at least gone through the motions of making it clear that his secretary of state is the sole repository of authority and the administration’s public voice on foreign policy. Not every secretary of state carries the same influence with the president. But never have the world and Washington faced a situation where there was no single go-to address (below the president, of course) to understand what U.S. foreign policy is, who’s articulating it and who to turn to for guidance or direction in trying to interpret it.

In Trump land, either by design or default, a cacophony of multiple voices are not just competing for the president’s time, attention and favor in private (which is very normal)—they’re actually carrying out the policy and shaping it publicly (which is not so normal). Kushner, for instance, grabbed or was given the primary lead on the Arab-Israeli issue and has played a major role in shaping U.S. interactions with China and Saudi Arabia. Gary Cohn seems to have the lead on Trump’s climate policy, such as it is. Wilbur Ross is playing an unusually substantive diplomatic role for a commerce secretary. Foreign capitals listen closely to Pentagon chief James Mattis, whose pronouncements are often interpreted as brushbacks of the president. And over at the U.N., the hawkish Haley has emerged as the nation’s loudest voice on foreign policy, largely by speaking unscripted about everything from Syria to Iran to North Korea.

And then of course there’s Trump, the ultimate blooming flower who in tweets, phone calls and speeches makes his own foreign policy on the fly, frustrating and confounding his top advisers. On issues from Qatar to North Korea to Iran, Trump contradicts his own secretary of state or ignores what is almost always his sound advice—for example: urging the United States to stay in the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris climate accord, taking a hard-line on Russia, advocating negotiations and dialogue to defuse the mounting crisis with North Korea, advocating for continued U.S. adherence to the Iran nuclear deal, taking a neutral position in the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, and reassuring jittery allies, from South Korea and Japan to our NATO partners, that America still has their back.

The painful reality is that should Tillerson depart, his successor would likely confront the same series of problems, and a president who is unwilling to send a clear signal on where his secretary of state stands in the foreign policy pecking order. There are three keys to success for a secretary of state: opportunities abroad to exploit; the negotiating and political skills to do it; and, most important, the backing of the president. Sure, Tillerson has made some rookie mistakes and unforced errors in running the State Department. But his credibility and effectiveness have largely been undermined by his treatment by Trump.

A world in chaos
No matter how capable a secretary of state may be, success also turns on a cooperative world. Without the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, there would have been no opportunity for Henry Kissinger to demonstrate his formidable mediation skills and to produce three disengagement agreements within 18 months. Had Iraq not invaded Kuwait, James Baker would have been deprived of the opportunity to pull off the Madrid peace conference. Sure, secretaries of state can make some of their own luck. But the truly big diplomatic breakthroughs really do require consequential changes in the neighborhood first; then, a talented negotiator backed by a willful president can exploit them.

Sadly, the world in which America operates today has many serious problems, but almost none that offer opportunities for transformative or heroic outcomes. Even successful transactional outcomes, such as managing the Iranian nuclear issue, seem improbable. The cruel reality is that Tillerson has inherited a set of extraordinarily difficult problems that can only be managed and not solved. Just as Tillerson has reportedly come to hate his job, his successor would come to see going to the office—or the White House—the same way most people feel about a trip to the dentist.

Take a look around: From North Korea, where only somebody completely unhinged from reality would be talking about military options and denuclearization of Kim Jong Un’s regime; to managing an aggressive and crafty Vladimir Putin with a president who either has a blind spot for or is beholden to Russia; to an Israeli-Palestinian conflict trapped between a two-state solution too important to abandon but too hard to implement and a clueless president who likens a deal to buying and selling real estate in New York City; to a divided Europe that finds Trump mercurial, erratic and incomprehensible (and that’s on a good day); to an Iran that is expanding its influence in the Middle East and sitting atop a potential nuclear program one screwdriver’s turn away from a weapon while the president seems bent on making this problem infinitely worse.

These are forbidding challenges. Even if you had a secretary of state in a class of a Kissinger or a Baker, we’re far from certain the outcomes of any of these problems could be shaped in a way that were determinative, let alone favorable to the United States. We don’t have a secretary of state of this caliber, and we’re not going to get one if Tillerson leaves. What we do have is a president who has compounded the degree of difficulty of even managing these issues and created longer odds for whoever sits on the seventh floor at Foggy Bottom.

A hollowed-out Foggy Bottom
Those who are calling for Tillerson’s scalp miss another important point: The State Department, institutionally, is only a shell of its former self, and it’s not just because a few good men and women have bolted over the secretary’s reform and reorganization plans. The problems run much deeper than what the department’s org chart looks like. Over the past couple of decades, dozens of missions and authorities have steadily migrated from State to other agencies of the federal government, or disbanded altogether; at one time, the department housed the U.S. Information Agency, the foreign agricultural service and the foreign commercial service. More recently, the Defense Department has been given increased authorities—to go along with its massive resources, which State cannot match—to run its own security assistance programs, seriously encroaching on State’s statutory authorities for controlling the allocation of resources to help other countries train and equip their forces. Adding to the loss of the department’s clout has been the Balkanization of U.S. foreign assistance, as more and more domestic agencies run their own boutique foreign aid programs. Whether Tillerson stays or goes, these missions, authorities and programs are long gone—and they ain’t coming back.

Even more importantly, the State Department is no longer primus inter pares in the foreign policy and national security cosmos, and it has been this way for some time. No matter who is in the Oval Office, the National Security Council staff and the president’s national security adviser now run all the most sensitive foreign policy issues out of the White House. Foreign economic and foreign trade policy, though larded with foreign policy implications, are also managed either out of the White House, in the Treasury Department or elsewhere. Mattis and the Pentagon are the big dog on the block, running three major wars and a host of lesser military operations with a budget that makes State’s puny appropriations look like chump change. The war on terror, the preoccupation with homeland security and keeping out what the White House considers undesirables, and the need for actionable intelligence to prosecute all these enterprises has moved DHS and the intelligence community toward the top of the national security food chain. And above all this sits a president who has shown nothing but contempt and lack of understanding for the State Department, its mission and the dedicated men and women who work there.

***

So, belittle poor Secretary Tillerson if you must; close your eyes and make a wish that after T. Rex we’ll get another secretary who has the vision of Dean Acheson, the toughness of George Shultz, the diplomatic panache of Kissinger or the political and tactical instincts of Baker. But it’s magical thinking to believe that Tillerson’s successor could fundamentally alter the downward trajectory of the State Department or do much more to fix the world’s problems. As long as Donald Trump is president, more likely than not, the Department of State is going to remain closed for the season.

Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Wilson Center, and the author of The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President.
Richard Sokolsky is a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former member of the Secretary of State’s Office of Policy Planning.