Rex Tillerson Blasts Trump About Him Being An Habitual Liar

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Rex Tillerson may be gone, but he hasn’t forgotten.

Speaking to soon-to-be graduates of the Virginia Military Institute on Wednesday, Tillerson dropped this truth bomb:
“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”
Woof.
Double woof.
You may remember that Tillerson was removed as Secretary of State by President Donald Trumpafter a remarkably tempestuous year in office — a period of time during which relations between the two men grew badly strained.
Things were never really the same after reports surfaced last fall that Tillerson had called Trump a “moron” in a Pentagon meeting in the summer of 2017. Tillerson didn’t deny using that word, although he sought to shame the press for even covering it. Which means, of course, that he said it.
Then there was the time when Tillerson directly refused to provide Trump cover following the President’s “both sides” comments about the white nationalist violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.
“The President speaks for himself,” Tillerson remarked at the time.
You may also remember that President Trump said more than 3,000 things that were either misleading or totally false during his first year in office — a rate of more than six mistruths a day, according to the Washington Post. Or that Trump administration senior counselor Kellyanne Conway famously/infamously coined the phrase “alternative facts” to explain away Trump’s false claims about the size of his inauguration crowd.
Now. Tillerson and his people will helpfully note that he never mentioned Trump’s name in the speech, and that the address was meant as a broad call to fight for truth rather than a narrowly cast shot at the President of the United States.
Don’t believe them.
Tillerson is no dummy. He knew what he was doing. The use of the phrase “alternative realities” is no accident. Neither are these lines from the Tillerson speech:
“A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not and begin by holding ourselves accountable to truthfulness and demand our pursuit of America’s future be fact-based — not based on wishful thinking, not hoped-for outcomes made in shallow promises, but with a clear-eyed view of the facts as they are, and guided by the truth that will set us free to seek solutions to our most daunting challenges.”
It is impossible to read that paragraph and not have the image of Donald Trump conjured up in your mind. Im-possible.
That’s just want Tillerson wanted — and yet more proof that revenge is a dish best served cold.

State Department’s new undersecretary was in a Gaza tunnel when boss was fired

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

State Department’s new undersecretary was in a Gaza tunnel when boss was fired

Sidelined by Tillerson, whose firing caught her in a terror tunnel during a trip to Israel, Heather Nauert now finds herself nearly atop Foggy Bottom

Then-State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington on August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Then-State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington on August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — When the ax fell on US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, his spokeswoman was half a world away, a distance he and his inner circle preferred and enforced.

Now, it’s Tillerson who’s on his way out after his unceremonious firing by President Donald Trump, and Heather Nauert whose star is ascendant.

UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Nauert are among the few women in the Trump administration with high-profile voices on foreign policy. Only three State Department officials — all men — now outrank Nauert, a former Fox News anchor who declined comment for this story.

Nauert’s meteoric rise comes even though just a week ago she seemed not long for the job. Then Tillerson lost his.

US Foreign Secretary Rex Tillerson speaks during a joint press conference with Jordanian foreign minister in Amman on February 14, 2018.(AFP PHOTO / Khalil MAZRAAWI)

She was denied the kind of close access to the boss that all recent successful State Department press secretaries enjoyed. So Nauert tried to defend Trump’s top diplomat and explain his activities to reporters from around the world without being able to travel on any of Tillerson’s international trips or attend most of his Washington meetings.

Frustrated at being sidelined, Nauert almost quit several times. She had been telling associates she was ready to move on.

The moment that Trump canned Tillerson by tweet, Nauert was in a Hamas-built tunnel on the border near the Gaza Strip, on a tour organized by the Israeli military to show US officials the smuggling routes used by militants. Caught by surprise by the move back in Washington, Nauert and the rest of the delegation cut the tour short and returned to Jerusalem to deal with the crisis. Soon, Trump also fired the undersecretary of state who publicly defended Tillerson.

Palestinian terrorists from the Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, the Al-Quds Brigades, squat in a tunnel, used for ferrying rockets and mortars back and forth in preparation for the next conflict with Israel, as they take part in military training in the south of the Gaza Strip, on March 3, 2015. (AFP/Mahmud Hams)

The president named Nauert to that suddenly vacant position, near the top of the hierarchy of American diplomacy.

Nauert told associates she was taken aback and recommended a colleague for the job. But when White House officials told her they wanted her, she accepted.

The new role gives Nauert responsibilities far beyond the regular news conferences she held in the briefing room. She is overseeing the public diplomacy in Washington and all of the roughly 275 overseas US embassies, consulates and other posts. She is in charge of the Global Engagement Center that fights extremist messaging from the Islamic State group and others. She can take a seat, if she wants, on the Broadcasting Board of Governors that steers government broadcast networks such as Voice of America.

Less than a year ago, Nauert wasn’t even in government.

Nauert, who was born in Illinois, was a breaking news anchor on Trump’s favorite television show, “Fox & Friends,” when she was tapped to be the face and voice of the administration’s foreign policy. With a master’s degree from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, she had come to Fox from ABC News, where she was a general assignment reporter. She hadn’t specialized in foreign policy or international relations.

It was almost clear from the start that Nauert wasn’t Tillerson’s first choice.

She resisted the ex-oilman’s efforts to limit press access, reduce briefings and limit journalists allowed to travel with him. Tillerson had preferred Genevieve Wood at the conservative Heritage Foundation, according to several individuals familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss Tillerson’s personnel decisions.

When Nauert arrived at the State Department in April 2017, she found relations between Tillerson and the diplomatic press corps in crisis. No longer were there daily briefings that had been a State Department feature for decades. Journalists accustomed to traveling with Republican and Democratic secretaries for decades found they were blocked from Tillerson’s plane. Department spokespeople had no regular access to Tillerson or his top advisers.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert speaks during a briefing at the State Department in Washington, August 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Shut out from the top, Nauert developed relationships with career diplomats. Barred from traveling with Tillerson, she embarked on her own overseas trips, visiting Bangladesh and Myanmar last year to see the plight of Rohingya Muslims, and then Israel, after a planned stop in Syria was scrapped. Limited to two briefings a week, she began hosting a program called “The Readout” on State Department social media outlets in which she interviewed senior officials about topics of the day.

All the while, she stayed in the good graces of the White House, even as Tillerson was increasingly on the outs. White House press secretary Sarah Sanders described Nauert as “a team player” and “a strong asset for the administration.”

Sarah Sanders speaks during the daily briefing at the White House, on March 12, 2018, in Washington, DC. (AFP PHOTO)

And she didn’t shy from taking on foreign foes.

“The idea that Russia is calling for a so-called humanitarian corridor, I want to be clear, is a joke,” Nauert said at one recent briefing where she took Moscow to task for its actions in Syria, where it has used military power to support President Bashar Assad’s government.

Such comments have earned her the wrath of Kremlin officials and state-run media. Faced with pointed questioning by reporters from Russian news outlets at her briefings, Nauert often has lashed out, accusing them of working for their government.

“You’re from Russian TV, too. OK. So hey, enough said then. I’ll move on,” Nauert told a reporter last month after Russian President Vladimir Putin presented an animated film clip showing a missile headed toward the US

The comment sparked an intercontinental war-of-spokeswomen.

“If the StateDept dares to shun our journalists alongside with calling them Russian journalists one more time, we will carry our promise. We will create special seats for so called ‘US journalists,’” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova tweeted.

It didn’t end there.

First, the Russian Embassy in Washington congratulated Nauert “and, of course, all female employees” of the State Department on International Women’s Day. Nauert responded with gratitude and a dig, saying Moscow should use the day to “live up to its international commitments & stop bombing innocent men, women & children in #Syria.”

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Trump fires Secretary Of State Rex Tillerson

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Trump fires Tillerson, taps Pompeo as next secretary of state

(CNN)President Donald Trump announced Tuesday that he has fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and will nominate CIA Director Mike Pompeo to succeed him, replacing his top diplomat ahead of a potential high-stakes sitdown between the US President and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Tillerson’s departure follows months of tension between him and Trump. Gina Haspel, the current CIA deputy director, stands to take over the agency, Trump tweeted Tuesday morning.
Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump said he respected Tillerson’s “intellect” and said he “got along well with Rex.”
“I think Rex will be much happier now,” Trump said.
Tillerson did not speak to Trump and is unaware of the reason behind his firing, Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy Steve Goldstein said.
Trump “thought it was the right time for the transition with the upcoming North Korea talks and various trade negotiations,” a senior administration official said, adding that Trump asked Tillerson to step aside on Friday.
Asked how Tillerson learned of his dismissal, Trump said Tuesday that “Rex and I have been talking about this a long time.” He specifically mentioned the Iran nuclear deal as an example of disagreement.
“We were not really thinking the same,” Trump said. “With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process.”

Trump: Tillerson and I didn't think the same

Trump eyed Pompeo for months

Trump has wanted Pompeo as his secretary of state for months now, and the White House began planning for him to take the job last fall, sources told CNN. Trump told reporters Tuesday that he and Pompeo are “on the same wavelength” and “the relationship has always been very good and that is what I need.”
Trump’s anger at Tillerson after it leaked last year that his secretary of state called him “a moron”never subsided, and many in the White House saw their differences as irreconcilable.
Tillerson had few, if any, allies in the West Wing. Though chief of staff John Kelly was initially on his side when he took over, he eventually grew weary of defending him — especially after the “moron” remark, which Kelly saw as insubordination on Tillerson’s part.
Sources close to the President say it was clear Tillerson didn’t support Trump. They say Tillerson wanted to handle foreign policy his own way, without the President. Trump didn’t feel that Tillerson backed him, a source told CNN.
Trump and his top aides have spent recent days attempting to quell talk of a White House in chaos, with the President tweeting earlier this month that there was “no Chaos, only great Energy” in the White House. But five top Trump administration officials — ranging from communications professionals to Tillerson — have resigned or been fired in the last two weeks.
Director of the National Economic Council Gary Cohn, Trump top economic adviser, resigned from the White House last week after a dispute over new tariffs on steel and aluminum. Hope Hicks, Trump’s communications director and longtime confidante, resigned late last month. Trump’s longtime personal aide John McEntee was fired and escorted from the White House on Monday, sources tell CNN. And Josh Raffel, a senior spokesman who worked extensively with Trump’s daughter and senior adviser Ivanka Trump, left the White House last month.
Tillerson: Trump tweets don't change policy

High-stakes moment

Tillerson’s departure comes just as the Trump administration embarks on its most difficult and ambitious foreign policy goal to date — engaging the nuclear armed North Korean regime. Trump is set to meet Kim by the end of May.
It was a rocky tenure for Tillerson. Since his swearing in on February 1, 2017, Tillerson had to contend with a President who publicly undercut him as well as tension with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who effectively ran a shadow State Department on Middle East issues. There was also competition from US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley and a litany of complaints from diplomats, State Department staff and others in Washington that he was running a deeply dysfunctional agency.
Tillerson’s cost cutting has lead to the agency’s senior tiers “being depleted at a dizzying speed,” and “a decapitation of its leadership ranks,” Amb. Barbara Stephenson, president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA), a union for US foreign service personnel, wrote in her group’s publication.
“There is simply no denying the warning signs that point to mounting threats to our institution — and to the global leadership that depends on us,” Stephenson wrote.
Tillerson aggressively pushed back against such criticisms in a November 28 appearance, portraying it as an insult to State Department staff. “I’m offended on their behalf when people say somehow we don’t have a State Department that functions,” Tillerson said. “I can tell you it’s functioning very well from my perspective.”

tillerson trump tenure orig vstan me_00000423

Tillerson on thin ice for months

But a steady drip of negative news, and reports of Tillerson’s alleged resentment over Ivanka Trump leading a delegation to the Global Entrepreneurship Summit in India in November, continued to undermine Tillerson.
His ouster was preceded by a painfully public airing of his troubles with the President, heightened when one lawmaker faulted Trump for his tendency to “publicly castrate” the secretary of state. That exchange forced Tillerson, when asked about the comment by CNN’s Jake Tapper, to declare, “I checked. I’m fully intact.”
The lawmaker, Sen. Bob Corker, the Tennessee Republican who chairs the Senate Foreign Relations committee, told The Washington Post last fall that Trump repeatedly neutered Tillerson with tweets that undermined or flatly contradicted policies he was pursuing. That, Corker said, shut down options for the US and damaged Tillerson’s efforts to peacefully resolve tensions with North Korea.
By that point, in mid-October, an administration official was telling CNN that Tillerson was on thin ice, even as the President was publicly declaring he had confidence in his top diplomat.
“It certainly isn’t a good relationship and its problems that have been building,” the official said of Tillerson’s fate in the Trump administration. “I think everyone is trying to stick it out for a variety of selfish reasons. But not for the same reasons.”
The castration episode followed an extraordinary October 4 public statement in which Tillerson stressed his commitment to his job as secretary of state, but didn’t definitively deny an NBC report that he had called Trump a “moron.”
That report also detailed Tillerson’s “fury” about the ways Trump has undermined him publicly on several foreign policy initiatives and his thoughts about resigning.
Calling the story “erroneous” during his remarks, Tillerson pointed the finger at “some who try to sow dissension” to undermine the President’s agenda and said he has been asked “repeatedly” if he’s going to step down.
“For some reason, it continues to be misreported,” Tillerson complained. “There’s never been a consideration in my mind.”
The incident cost Tillerson the support of Kelly, a top White House official told CNN.
Kelly, a retired four-star Marine general who was once Tillerson’s fiercest defender in the West Wing, stopped defending him privately, fed up with the moron remark because he saw it as insubordination. As one official described it, he has grown weary of trying to defend the indefensible.
Even as Tillerson lost support in the White House, some lawmakers expressed concern about the prospect of his departure. Many saw Tillerson, along with Defense Secretary James Mattis and national security adviser H. R. McMaster, as a serious defender of US national security interests, as opposed to more ideological or inexperienced voices in the White House.

Difficult situation for Tillerson

As Tillerson exits the national stage, he’s seen by some as a man who tackled a job he hadn’t sought with the diligence and dedication prized by another organization he led, the Boy Scouts of America. Many point to the fact that he was in a situation that made it very difficult to succeed.
Tillerson started the job diverging with Trump on any number of issues, from trade, climate change, Russian interference in the election and Iran policy. And he encountered headwinds from the President who publicly contradicted or undermined his policies on using diplomacy to defuse tensions with North Korea, and on resolving a dispute between Gulf allies and a host of other issues.
“Trump has consistently undermined — even humiliated — his top diplomat” on issues that ranged from tensions among Persian Gulf allies to handling North Korea, said Aaron David Miller, a vice president at the Wilson Center, and Richard Sokolsky, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in an opinion piece for CNN.
Others have dismissed Tillerson’s tenure, saying his business experience hadn’t translated into government leadership and pointing to the downsized and demoralized State Department he leaves behind, with many senior diplomatic positions still unfilled.
Critics from both parties said his proposed cuts of up to 30% were damaging US interests, with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright declaring in November that the state of the agency was a “national security emergency.”
Foreign envoys also voiced concerns about Tillerson’s State Department. In October, one Washington-based envoy described how ambassadors were finding ways to either bypass the State Department or develop work-arounds, because there were no senior officials in place to speak to or because the usual channels within State no longer worked.
“Technically, the State Department has vanished, has disappeared,” the envoy said. “It’s totally dysfunctional.”
This story is breaking and will be updated.

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.