Trump’s Alice-in-Wonderland approach to the Iran deal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES)

(TRUMP THE FOOL SHOWING HIS IGNORANCE ONCE AGAIN)(TRS)

Trump’s Alice-in-Wonderland approach to the Iran deal

Doyle McManus

Here’s an international crisis you can, unusually, put on your calendar ahead of time: In October, President Trump wants to declare Iran in violation of the 2015 agreement to limit its nuclear program — a decision that would allow the United States to reimpose tough economic sanctions on anyone trading with Tehran.

It’s a bad idea. The nuclear deal isn’t perfect — it doesn’t end Iran’s nuclear research, only limits it for a period of years — but it’s much better than nothing. Before the agreement, Tehran was believed to be less than a year from making nuclear weapons that would have threatened Israel and Saudi Arabia. Thanks to the accord, that doomsday problem has at least been postponed.

That hasn’t stopped Trump from calling the pact “the worst deal ever” and ordering aides to supply him with evidence that will allow him to declare it invalid. The most likely moment for his decision will come in October, the next time he is required to notify Congress whether Iran is in compliance.

“If it was up to me, I would have had them noncompliant 180 days ago,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal last month. Next time, he added, “I do not expect that they will be compliant.”

The president didn’t offer any substantive reason to declare Iran out of compliance with the deal — because there isn’t one. His own aides told him last month that, while Iran has tested the edges of the agreement, none of its actions was a “material breach,” the legal standard that would allow sanctions to snap back.

When Trump was warned that he couldn’t simply walk away from the deal, “he had a bit of a meltdown,” an official told the New York Times. He chewed out the secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, who apparently brought him the bad news. And he ordered his staff to begin work on a new study — one that will supply him with the excuses he needs.

That’s an Alice-in-Wonderland approach to foreign policy: Verdict first, evidence later. And it’s not likely to work.

No matter what the president thinks, the facts will get in the way. U.S. officials say Iran has been carefully upholding its main obligations under the nuclear agreement: reducing its uranium stocks and limiting its enrichment program.

And none of the other six countries that negotiated the deal agree with Trump that the accord should be abrogated.

“The deal … is working, and we believe it represents the best option for the international community,” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson wrote last month (and his government is friendlier to Trump than most).

As a result, if Trump declares in October that Iran is in breach, most of the world — including Britain, Germany and France — will blame him for the consequences, not Tehran.

That will create a major obstacle for the next step in Trump’s course, which is to reimpose U.S. economic sanctions on foreign businesses that deal with Iran. (The nuclear deal didn’t affect the embargo between the U.S. and Iran, which remains in effect.)

If the United States is viewed as responsible for breaking the deal, other countries may refuse to go along with Trump’s unilateral sanctions, making them largely toothless.

“Nobody else wants the deal to fail,” said Elizabeth Rosenberg of the Center for New American Security, who worked on sanctions in the Obama administration. “If the U.S. is the only one that walks away, who is going to enforce new sanctions? You could easily see European leaders deciding to defend their own companies instead.”

Last month, the French energy giant Total signed a contract for a $5-billion natural gas project in Iran. If Trump tries to impose sanctions on deals like that, the result won’t be merely a confrontation with Iran; it will be a clash with the EU.

There is an alternative Trump could try. It’s called diplomacy.

He could press for stricter enforcement of the nuclear agreement, beginning with the restrictions Iran has placed on international inspectors’ access to military bases.

He could seek stronger international sanctions on Iran for its ballistic missile tests, which aren’t covered by the nuclear deal.

And he could begin negotiations toward a new agreement to maintain the curbs on Iran’s nuclear program after 2026, when the current limits begin to expire.

But the president hasn’t pursued those options, even though they’ve been offered to him by his own aides. Instead, he appears hellbent on fulfilling a bad campaign promise he should now have the wisdom to abandon. (That’s a prayer more than a hope.)

Tearing up the deal won’t bring down Iran’s regime — most of Tehran’s ruling clerics welcome the enmity of the United States — but it will set up a collision between the Trump administration and most of the world, including China, Russia and U.S. allies in Europe.

The most likely losers would be the Western alliance, already battered by Trump’s disdain, and whatever remains of the United States’ tattered claim to international leadership.

And the most likely winner, oddly enough, would be Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the beneficiary of yet another wedge between United States and its NATO allies — this one driven by Trump alone, without Moscow’s help.

doyle.mcmanus@latimes.com

Twitter: @DoyleMcManus

U.S. says time to act on North Korea, China says not up to Beijing alone

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

U.S. says time to act on North Korea, China says not up to Beijing alone

By Michelle Nichols and Lesley Wroughton | UNITED NATIONS

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned on Friday that failure to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile development could lead to ‘catastrophic consequences,’ while China and Russia cautioned Washington against threatening military force.

Washington has recently lavished praise on Beijing for its efforts to rein in its ally Pyongyang, but Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made clear to the U.N. Security Council it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem.

“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang told the 15-member council in remarks contradicting the White House belief that it does wield significant influence.

The ministerial meeting of the council, chaired by Tillerson, exposed old divisions between the United States and China on how to deal with North Korea. China wants talks first and action later, while the United States wants North Korea to curtail its nuclear program before such talks start.

“It is necessary to put aside the debate over who should take the first step and stop arguing who is right and who is wrong,” Wang told the council. “Now is the time to seriously consider resuming talks.”

Tillerson responded: “We will not negotiate our way back to the negotiating table with North Korea, we will not reward their violations of past resolutions, we will not reward their bad behavior with talks.”

North Korea did not take part in the meeting.

In Tillerson’s first visit to the United Nations he scolded the Security Council for not fully enforcing sanctions against North Korea, saying if the body had acted, tensions over its nuclear program might not have escalated.

“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences,” he said.

The United States was not pushing for regime change and preferred a negotiated solution, but Pyongyang, for its own sake, should dismantle its nuclear and missile programs, he said.

“The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland,” Tillerson said.

Tillerson repeated the Trump administration’s position that all options are on the table if Pyongyang persists with its nuclear and missile development, but Wang said military threats would not help.

‘FRIGHTENING’ CONSEQUENCES

Wang said dialogue and negotiations were the “only way out.”

“The use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters,” he said.

U.S. President Donald Trump said in an interview with Reuters on Thursday that a “major, major conflict” with North Korea was possible over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov cautioned on Friday that the use of force would be “completely unacceptable.”

“The combative rhetoric coupled with reckless muscle-flexing has led to a situation where the whole world seriously is now wondering whether there’s going to be a war or not,” he told the council. “One ill thought out or misinterpreted step could lead to the most frightening and lamentable consequences.”

Gatilov said North Korea felt threatened by regular joint U.S. and South Korean military exercises and the deployment of a U.S. aircraft carrier group to waters off the Korean peninsula.

China and Russia both also repeated their opposition to the deployment of a U.S. anti-missile system in South Korea. Gatilov described it as a “destabilizing effort,” while Wang said it damaged trust among the parties on the North Korea issue.

Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told the council that to bring North Korea back to the table the international community “must send a strong message that provocation comes at a high price.”

“There is no doubt that dialogue is necessary … however under the current situation where North Korea continues to advance its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, meaningful dialogue is clearly not possible,” he said.

The Trump administration is focusing its North Korea strategy on tougher economic sanctions, possibly including an oil embargo, a global ban on its airline, intercepting cargo ships and punishing Chinese banks doing business with Pyongyang, U.S. officials told Reuters earlier this month.

Since 2006, North Korea has been subject to U.N. sanctions aimed at impeding the development of its nuclear and missile programs. The council has strengthened sanctions following each of North Korea’s five nuclear tests.

(Editing by Frances Kerry and James Dalgleish)

U.S. Rhetoric is ‘Primitive and Loutish’: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

APR 12 2017

U.S. Rhetoric is ‘Primitive and Loutish’: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister

MOSCOW — A senior Russian official lashed out at the U.S. minutes before a meeting between Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Wednesday, calling recent American rhetoric “primitive and loutish.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the U.S’s position on Syria “remains a mystery” to Moscow, although he added that Russia expected to discuss the issue of no-fly zones in Syria at the talks.

Separately, Tillerson said talks with Lavrov represented “an important moment in the United States’ relationship with Russia.”

Play
‘Our hand is pretty weak’ regarding Russia and Syria, analyst says 2:55

The Secretary of State said he hoped “to further clarify areas of sharp difference so we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing these differences might be.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin did not adopt Tillerson’s conciliatory tone, instead telling local media that the level of trust between the U.S. and Moscow had deteriorated further since Trump took office, according to Reuters.

On his way into the meeting with Tillerson, Lavrov said he believed the visit was timely as Russia saw what it called “troubling actions” last week in Syria, a reference to the U.S. bombing an air field in that country. American officials said the base had launched an alleged chemical weapons attack in north-western Syria which killed more than 80 civilians.

Image: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) and Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (left) shakes hands with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow on Wednesday. AP

“We believe it fundamentally important not to let these actions happen again in the future,” Lavrov added.

The high-stakes talks between Tillerson and Lavrov come less than a week after the U.S. launched the airstrikes, triggering a deterioration in ties between the two governments. The White House has accused Russia of trying to “cover up” Assad’s role in the attack.

Separately, Kremlin Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian newswires a meeting between Tillerson and Russian President Vladimir Putin was not on the agenda as things stand but he did not rule it out.

“There is a certain possibility,” Peskov told state-run TASS agency. “You know the talks between the Russian foreign minister and the U.S. Secretary of State are currently underway, and if they later decide to report on the results of these talks to the head of state, we will let you know.”

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