Saudi: ‘Antithesis of justice’: Khashoggi verdict roundly condemned

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF AL JAZEERA NEWS)

 

‘Antithesis of justice’: Khashoggi verdict roundly condemned

Global condemnation as Saudi exonerates crown prince’s aides over journalist’s murder, but US welcomes ‘important step’.

'Antithesis of justice': Khashoggi verdict roundly condemned
Jamal Khashoggi was a US resident and a critic of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [File: Hasan Jamali/AP Photo]

The United Nations extrajudicial executions investigator Agnes Callamard, Turkey and international rights groups have roundly condemned a Saudi court verdict over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it failed to deliver justice.

But despite global condemnation, a US State Department official hailed the verdict as “an important step” in holding the perpetrators accountable.

Five people were sentenced to death on Monday over the brutal killing of the writer by a team of Saudi agents inside the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul last October, but two top aides to powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) – the de facto Saudi leader – were exonerated.

The Saudi prosecutor’s office said a total of 31 people were investigated in connection with the killing, and that 11 people were charged. Three were handed jail terms totalling 24 years and the rest were acquitted. None of the defendants’ names was immediately released.

“The investigation showed that the killing was not premeditated … The decision was taken at the spur of the moment,” Saudi Deputy Public Prosecutor Shalaan al-Shalaan said, a position contradicting the findings of a United Nations-led investigation.

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In a series of tweets, Callamard explained that the verdict contravened international law.

“The execution of Jamal Khashoggi demanded an investigation into the chain of command to identify the masterminds, as well as those who incited, allowed or turned a blind eye to the murder, such as the crown prince. This was not investigated,” she said. 

“The hitmen are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. That is the antithesis of justice. It is a mockery.”

Ahmed Benchemsi, a spokesman for Human Rights Watch, told Al Jazeera that the trial was “all but satisfactory”.

The case was “shrouded in secrecy since the beginning, and it’s still … until now … We do not know the identities of those masked perpetrators, we don’t know the specific charge levelled against who exactly,” Benchemsi said.

“Saudi prosecutors did not even attempt to investigate the upper levels of this crime, and whether they played a role in ordering the killing, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman,” he added.

Khashoggi, a critic of MBS, was living in self-imposed exile in the United States, where he had been granted residency status.

After weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, the kingdom eventually acknowledged that its officials were behind the gruesome murder.

Turkish intelligence agencies concluded that he was killed in a premeditated murder, while the CIA has reportedly concluded that MBS likely ordered the killing. But Riyadh has consistently denied that the crown prince was involved.

Here are the reactions to the Saudi verdict:

Turkey

Turkey described the verdict as “scandalous” and said those responsible for the murder had been granted immunity.

“Those who dispatched a death squad to Istanbul on a private jet … and sought to sweep this murder under the rug have been granted immunity,” President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s top press aide, Fahrettin Altun, wrote on Twitter.

The foreign ministry said in a statement that the decision “is far from meeting the expectations of both our country and the international community to shed light on the murder with all its dimensions, and deliver justice”.

Ankara said there was no clarity on key aspects of the murder including the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body, labelling it a “fundamental deficiency” in terms of accountability.

UN rapporteur

Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on summary executions, who has previously directly linked MBS to the killing, said the sentence “is anything but justice”.

“Under international human rights law, the killing of Khashoggi was an extrajudicial execution for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible,” she wrote on Twitter.

Agnes Callamard

@AgnesCallamard

g) According to my sources, the prosecutor had argued that the killing of Mr. Khashoggi had been premeditated. The Crown Prince had argued that this was an accident against the evidence. Guess who the Judge followed?

Agnes Callamard

@AgnesCallamard

h) The defendants had repeatedly stated they were obeying orders. The prosecutor had publicly stated that Saud al-Qahtani, Crown Prince personal adviser, had demanded the abduction of Jamal Khashoggi (on the grounds he was a threat to national security.) And yet, he remains free

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“Bottom line: the hit men are guilty, sentenced to death. The masterminds not only walk free. They have barely been touched by the investigation and the trial. That is the antithesis of justice. It is a mockery,” said Callamard, who does not speak for the UN but reports her findings to it.

United States

The US also welcomed the sentences, calling the ruling an “important step”.

“Today’s verdicts were an important step in holding those responsible for this terrible crime accountable,” a US Department of State official told reporters after the ruling.

The US “encouraged Saudi Arabia to undertake a fair and transparent judicial process”, the official added.

“We’re pressing them for more transparency and for holding everybody accountable.”

Reporters Without Borders

Paris-based media rights watchdog Reporters Without Borders said that justice was “trampled on” with the death sentences meted out after a trial that did not respect international standards of justice.

The group’s secretary-general Christophe Deloire tweeted that the sentences “can be interpreted as a means to permanently silence the suspects, a way to prevent them from speaking to better cover up the truth”.

“The opacity of the procedure and the concealment of evidence does not allow us to get an idea” of why several others were convicted or acquitted, said Deloire, adding: “We still expect a full accounting.”

Amnesty International

Amnesty International criticized the verdict as a “whitewash which brings neither justice nor the truth for Jamal Khashoggi and his loved ones”.

“Given the lack of transparency from the Saudi authorities, and in the absence of an independent judiciary, only an international, independent and impartial investigation can serve justice for Jamal Khashoggi,” said Middle East research director Lynn Maalouf.

“The verdict fails to address the Saudi authorities’ involvement in this devastating crime or clarify the location of Jamal Khashoggi’s remains,” she said in a statement.

Hatice Cengiz

The verdict left Khashoggi’s fiancee Hatice Cengiz unsatisfied, with her saying on Twitter that the “Saudi announcement not acceptable”.

Hatice Cengiz / خديجة

@mercan_resifi

Saudi announcement not acceptable ..!

View image on Twitter
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United Kingdom

The UK’s Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned “the use of the death penalty in all circumstances as a matter of principle”.

“The killing of Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible crime,” Raab said in a statement. “Mr Khashoggi’s family deserve to see justice done for his brutal murder. Saudi Arabia must ensure all of those responsible are held to account and that such an atrocity can never happen again.”

Salah Khashoggi

The slain journalist’s son, Salah Khashoggi, said his family had achieved justice, thanks to the verdict of Saudi Arabia’s public prosecutor.

“Today we have been granted justice as the children of the deceased, God willing, Jamal Khashoggi. We affirm our confidence in the Saudi judiciary at all levels, that it has been fair to us and that justice has been achieved,” he said in a Twitter post.

Karen Attiah

Khashoggi’s friend and editor at the Washington Post, Karen Attiah, said the trial was “a complete sham”.

“Justice for Jamal Khashoggi’s senseless, horrific death is not more senseless death,” she said. “More anonymous bloodshed is not closure. The ‘trials’ were in secret. For all we know, these five men who have been sentenced to death may not deserve the ultimate penalty.”

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Turkey Has No Problem with Syria’s Kurds, Says Defense Minister

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Turkey Has No Problem with Syria’s Kurds, Says Defense Minister

Monday, 16 December, 2019 – 11:15
An aerial view of displaced children in the middle of the Kilis border refugee camp with Turkey after heavy rains. AFP file photo
Ankara – Saeed Abdelrazek
Ankara does not have a problem with Kurds, but rather terrorist organizations, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar has affirmed.

Turkey’s commitment to fighting terrorist organizations such as ISIS, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), designated by Ankara as a terror group, and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), the largest component of the Syrian Democratic Forces that Turkey considers an extension of PKK in Syria, and others, has not changed.

“We don’t have any problems with Kurds or any other ethnicity,” Akar said in a speech delivered Sunday at the 19th Doha Forum held in Qatar.

“Turkey’s military operation in northern Syria is a counter-terrorism effort and does not target a specific ethnicity.”

He noted that the world is going through a sensitive stage, in which risks and parties threatening international relations have increased.

Extremist groups pose a threat not only to their own countries but also to the international community, Akar stressed, adding that every weapon given to the YPG was transferred to the PKK to target Turkey.

Turkey is ready to hold talks and cooperate with all parties that wish to spread peace and security in the world, he said.

Akar further noted that Turkey is one of the states most affected by terrorism and is now facing several terrorist organizations that pose a direct threat to its security and stability.

Ankara does not seek to change the demographic structure in the region or get involved in an ethnic cleansing of Kurds, Akar said, referring to the Operation Peace Spring launched in October 9 to eliminate Kurdish fighters from northern Syria, east of the Euphrates River.

He said the operation also aims at securing Turkey’s borders, aiding in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensuring Syria’s territorial integrity.

Turkey only aims to protect all civilians regardless of their ethnic background, the region and the civilian infrastructure in Syria, Akar added.

Meanwhile, Iranian Parliament Speaker Ali Larijani described the role of his country, Turkey and Russia in resolving the Syrian crisis as “very important.”

He made his remarks at the 12th Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA) meeting in the southern Turkish city of Antalya.

The three countries sponsor the Astana talks for a political solution in Syria as guarantor countries despite the differences in their goals.

Turkish ships said to force Israeli research vessel out of Cypriot waters

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Turkish ships said to force Israeli research vessel out of Cypriot waters

According to TV report, Turkish navy intercepts Israeli boat, orders it to leave; Turkey’s recent maritime deal with Libya has fueled regional tensions over drilling rights

File: Turkish navy ships in 2015 (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

File: Turkish navy ships in 2015 (AP Photo/Lefteris Pitarakis)

Turkish navy ships intercepted an Israeli research ship in Cypriot waters two weeks ago and drove it away, Channel 13 news reported Saturday, quoting senior Israeli officials.

The ship Bat Galim, of the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research institution, was approached by Turkish vessels while conducting research in coordination with Cypriot officials and the Cypriot government, the report said.

The unnamed senior officials said the vessels radioed the Israeli ship, demanded to know its business in the area — despite not having jurisdiction there — and then ordered it leave. The Israeli ship had no choice but to comply and depart.

Turkey has recently taken steps to increase its influence in the eastern Mediterranean. It signed a maritime border agreement with Libya in November that has fueled regional tensions with Greece, Cyprus and Egypt over oil and gas drilling rights in the region.

The three countries, which lie between Turkey and Libya, blasted the maritime border accord, saying it was inconsistent with international law. Greece has expelled the Libyan ambassador over the pact.

Meanwhile, Ankara has warned it will use its military forces if necessary to halt any exploratory gas drilling in waters off Cyprus that it claims as its own.

The Channel 13 report noted that tensions could negatively affect Israel’s plans for a submarine pipeline to transfer gas from its offshore reserves to Europe, which is set to pass through Cyprus and Greece’s territorial waters.

The report said an Israeli embassy official in Ankara was called in last week for a conversation, in which Turkish officials warned that the pipeline project would require Turkey’s approval.

“The Turks are trying to establish themselves as the ones running the show [in the region], and that is very worrying,” an official told the network.

Neighbors Greece and Turkey are divided by a series of decades-old issues, including territorial disputes in the Aegean Sea. The NATO allies have come to the brink of war three times since the 1970s, including once over drilling rights in the area.

Greece insists the deal with Libya — which has no fully functioning government able to rule across all of its territory — is unenforceable and has stressed that it will protect its sovereign rights.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis has said he will ask other NATO members at the alliance’s London summit, which was held in the first week of December, to support Greece, in the face of fellow member Turkey’s attempts to encroach on its sovereignty.

Turkey does not recognize Cyprus as a state — but does recognize the breakaway Turkish Cypriot entity, the only country to do so — and is conducting exploratory gas drilling in waters where the ethnically divided island nation has exclusive economic rights.

Ankara has said it is defending its rights and those of the Turkish Cypriots to regional energy reserves.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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7 Most Earthquake-Prone Cities in the World

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TRAVEL TRIVIA)

 

7 Most Earthquake-Prone Cities in the World

According to the United States Geological Survey, the largest earthquake ever recorded in the United States happened in Prince William Sound in Alaska in 1964. That earthquake measured at the incredible magnitude of 9.2 on the Richter scale. And while earthquakes aren’t unusual for the area, they are usually much less severe. Prince William Sound experiences far fewer earthquakes than a lot of other cities around the world. Some areas in the Pacific measure seismic activity on an almost daily basis thanks to the Ring of Fire. The plate is in almost constant motion, according to CNN, and is home to several volcanoes as well.

But earthquakes aren’t exclusive to the Ring of Fire. They happen all over the world every day. Here are the seven cities where you are most likely to experience an earthquake.

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Quito, Ecuador

Quito, Ecuador

Credit: Andrew Linscott/ iStock

According to Earthquake Track, Quito has experienced 15 earthquakes with a magnitude of 1.5 or greater in the last year. And while the majority of those are too slight for most residents to feel, the city is no stranger to major earthquakes. Those earthquakes register 7.0 or more on the Richter scale. According to Reuters, a 7.5 magnitude earthquake struck the Peru–Ecuador border, shaking residents in the capital city of Quito. Earthquakes of a similar magnitude killed one person in 2018 and more than 700 in 2016.

Lima, Peru

Lima, Peru

Credit: Christian Vinces/ Shutterstock

Earthquake Track reports 14 earthquakes in Lima in the last year, with Volcano Discovery reporting more than 340 for the country as a whole. That’s in line with what Ecuador experiences each year. What’s interesting about Lima’s earthquake history is just how far back it goes. There are records of earthquakes going back to the 16th century. According to Lima Easy, major earthquakes in 1533 and 1555 rocked the capital city. Trip Savvy reports there is a major earthquake in the region about once every six years.

Manila, Philippines

Manila, Philippines

Credit: Nikada/ iStock

The Philippines experiences frequent seismic activity because of its location. That’s because the country, and its capital Manila, sits on top of multiple shifting tectonic plates converging in the Pacific Ocean. ABS CBN news network reports that 20 earthquakes each day is an average for the area. While the majority of these earthquakes are not felt on the surface, Manila experiences stronger earthquakes with disturbing frequency. In April of 2019, Manila experienced an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.1 during Monday’s rush hour.

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Istanbul, Turkey

Istanbul, Turkey

Credit: Ufuk Eral Photography/ Shutterstock

The Hurriyet Daily News reports that the Kandilli Observatory in Istanbul records about 10,000 earthquakes in Turkey every year. The capital city of Istanbul sits near the North Anatolian Fault. Three major universities are warning that things could get worse, according to newspaper Daily Sabah. In a joint-issued study, researchers warn that the city should prepare for a series of earthquakes. They predict three earthquakes measuring higher than 7.0 on the Richter Scale could strike in the near future.

Los Angeles, California, USA

Los Angeles, California, USA

Credit: TheCrimsonRibbon/ iStock

According to the United States Geological Survey, Southern California experiences about 10,000 earthquakes each year. Los Angeles sits in the middle of a lot of the action. Of all those quakes, though, only about 15 measure at 4.0 or greater on the Richter scale. Earthquakes above the 4.0 mark are usually strong enough that the city’s several million residents feel the tremors. The cause of all these earthquakes lies with the San Andreas fault, according to the Southern California Earthquake Center. This is where the Pacific and North American plates of the earth push together. That friction produces thousands of small earthquakes each year.

Jakarta, Indonesia

Jakarta, Indonesia

Credit: Aleksandar Todorovic/ Shutterstock

Jakarta is another city with an unfortunate position on the Ring of Fire. The Straits Times reported that Indonesia experienced more than 11,500 earthquakes in 2018, and those numbers appear to be growing. Previous years averaged around 6,000 earthquakes. While no one can account for the increase in activity, Jakarta is doing its part to get prepared. According to the Jakarta Post, the Meteorology, Climatology, and Geophysics Agency presented a paper on how vulnerable the city is to a massive earthquake and how to mitigate the potential damage. There are over 800 high-rise buildings in the city that would be vulnerable in the event of a major earthquake. Measures are being taken to prepare both the citizens and the infrastructure for the next big quake.

Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

Credit: Torsakarin/ iStock

According to the Meteorological Agency of Japan, about one in ten earthquakes measured in the world happen in Japan. The country can experience thousands of earthquakes every year, though most of them are too small in magnitude to feel on the surface. The reason the country experiences so many earthquakes is thanks to its direct position over the Ring of Fire, where the tectonic plates below the country are in almost constant motion.

Tokyo has a long history of suffering from earthquake-related damages. The good news is that most households and businesses are prepared for an earthquake to strike. Not only are buildings constructed to withstand the swaying motion of the earth, but most have an earthquake kit on hand. The kits contain enough food, water, and medical supplies to last for several days.

Senate passes resolution recognizing Armenian genocide

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NBC NEWS)

 

Senate passes resolution recognizing Armenian genocide

Three previous attempts to pass the measure were blocked by GOP senators at the request of the White House, the bill’s GOP co-sponsor said.
Image: Bob Menendez

Ranking Member Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., speaks during a hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the future of U.S. policy toward Russia on Dec. 3, 2019 on Capitol Hill.Alex Brandon / AP file

By Julie Tsirkin and Dareh Gregorian

WASHINGTON — The Senate on Thursday passed a measure officially recognizing the century-old Armenian genocide — a move that was vociferously opposed by the Turkish government and that had been blocked by the White House.

The resolution passed unanimously after having been blocked three times by three different Republican senators.

“It is fitting and appropriate that the Senate stands on the right side of history,” Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., a co-author of the bill who had tried to pass the measure before, said on the Senate floor after it passed. “It commemorates the truth of the Armenian genocide.”

“I am thankful this resolution has passed at a time in which there there are still survivors of the genocide,” Menendez said, pausing as he choked back tears. They “will be able to see the Senate acknowledge what they went through.”

The resolution provides “official recognition and remembrance” of the killings of 1.5 million Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Empire beginning in 1915. That recognition has been long opposed by Turkey, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained about the House passing its version of the resolution during a meeting with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office last month.

Menendez’s previous attempts to pass the measure were blocked by Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, David Perdue of Georgia and Kevin Cramer of North Dakota.

The other co-author on the bill, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said that the three senators had blocked the resolution at the request of the White House, and that was “a mistake.”

No one objected Thursday.

“This is the third week in a row we have come to the Senate floor seeking to pass this resolution, and I’m grateful that today we have succeeded,” Cruz said. “This is a moment of truth that was far too long coming.”

“From 1915 to 1923, the Ottoman Empire carried out a forced deportation of nearly 2 million Armenians, of whom 1.5 million were killed,” Cruz said. “We must never be silent in the face of atrocity.”

Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called the Senate’s move “a victory of justice and truth.”

“On behalf of the Armenian people worldwide, I express our profound appreciation to the Senate for this landmark legislation,” he tweeted.

Nikol Pashinyan

@NikolPashinyan

US Senate Resolution 150 is a victory of justice and truth. On behalf of the ’n people worldwide, I express our profound appreciation to the Senate for this landmark legislation.

Nikol Pashinyan

@NikolPashinyan

This is tribute to the memory of 1.5 million victims of the first of the 20th century and bold step in promotion of the prevention agenda.

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The measure’s passage was also hailed by the Armenian Assembly of America, an Armenian advocacy organization that’s pushed for the measure.

“The Congress of the United States of America has spoken,” the group’s executive director, Bryan Ardouny, said. The measure “unequivocally gives meaning to U.S. affirmation of the Armenian Genocide and sends a strong message to the world that the U.S. stands on the side of human rights.”

Julie Tsirkin reported from Washington, and Dareh Gregorian from New York.

2 Turkish Soldiers Killed while Defusing Bomb

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

2 Turkish Soldiers Killed while Defusing Bomb

Monday, 9 December, 2019 – 12:15
A Turkish soldier walks next to a Turkish military vehicle during a joint US-Turkey patrol, near Tel Abyad, Syria September 8, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
Asharq Al-Awsat
At least two Turkish soldiers were killed and seven others were wounded on Monday while attempting to defuse an improvised explosive device, officials said.

The device exploded in a village near the town of Idil, in the mainly-Kurdish populated Sirnak province, according to a statement from the regional governor’s office.

The explosive device was planted by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, The Associated Press quoted the governor’s office as saying.

The statement didn’t provide further details but said Turkey’s operations to combat the PKK were continuing with “determination.”

There was no word on the wounded soldiers’ conditions.

The PKK, which is considered a terror organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union, has been waging an insurgency inside Turkey since 1984. The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since then.

In October, Turkey invaded areas of northeast Syria in a bid to drive Syrian Kurdish fighters away from its border. Turkey says the Syrian Kurdish fighters are linked to the PKK and has been infuriated by Western nations’ support to the group.

Trump abruptly cancels NATO news conference after summit turns sour

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNBC NEWS)

 

Trump abruptly cancels NATO news conference after summit turns sour

KEY POINTS
  • President Donald Trump on Wednesday abruptly canceled a news conference that was scheduled to cap a contentious trip to the U.K. for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 70th anniversary meeting.
  • The presser was scheduled to come after a series of bilateral meetings with NATO members, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
  • Hours before it was set to start, video emerged of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau caught on a hot mic apparently mocking Trump.
GP: Donald Trump NATO Summit 191204 BRITAIN-NATO-SUMMIT
US President Donald Trump (L) and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) pose for the family photo at the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London on December 4, 2019.
Peter Nicholls | AFP | Getty Images

President Donald Trump on Wednesday abruptly canceled a press conference that was scheduled to cap a contentious trip to the U.K. for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 70th anniversary meeting.

“When today’s meetings are over, I will be heading back to Washington,” Trump said in a series of tweets.

“We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days. Safe travels to all!” Trump said.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

Great progress has been made by NATO over the last three years. Countries other than the U.S. have agreed to pay 130 Billion Dollars more per year, and by 2024, that number will be 400 Billion Dollars. NATO will be richer and stronger than ever before….

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Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

….Just finished meetings with Turkey and Germany. Heading to a meeting now with those countries that have met their 2% GOALS, followed by meetings with Denmark and Italy….

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

….When today’s meetings are over, I will be heading back to Washington. We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days. Safe travels to all!

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The presser was scheduled to come after a series of bilateral meetings with NATO members, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

Hours before the news conference was set to start, video emerged of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau caught on a hot mic mocking Trump.

Watch Trudeau, Macron and Johnson appear to gossip about Trump on hot mic

Trump offered a blunt retort when asked Wednesday about Trudeau’s comments.

“He’s two-faced,” Trump said, before adding, “I find him to be a very nice guy but the truth is I called him out on the fact that he’s not paying 2% and I guess he’s not very happy about it.” Trump has long griped about NATO members paying less than their “fair share” toward the alliance, and brought up the issue repeatedly over the two-day anniversary meeting this week.

In an audio clip later published by reporters covering the NATO event, Trump appeared to compliment himself for his harsh words toward Trudeau. “That was funny when I said the guy’s two-faced,” Trump is heard saying.

Trudeau, speaking with French President Emmanuel Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, said that Trump “was late because he takes a 40-minute press conference off the top.”

“You just watched his team’s jaws drop to the floor,” Trudeau said at another point in the video, raising his eyebrows and motioning with his hand for effect.

None of the politicians in the hot mic video, which emerged on social media Tuesday evening, mentioned Trump by name. But Trudeau reportedly said Wednesday that it was Trump’s surprise announcement of the location for next year’s Group of Seven summit that made “his team’s jaws drop to the floor.”

Trump revealed Tuesday that the 2020 G-7 summit will be held at Camp David in Maryland, weeks after he retreated from a plan to host it at his own Miami golf resort.

Later Wednesday, while sitting alongside Conte, Trump explained that “There’s no reason to have press conferences because you had about eight of them,” apparently referring to his lengthy prior remarks to reporters.

The hot mic gossip was the latest point of tension at the meeting, but it was far from the only dispute between leaders on display.

Macron defended his recent claim that NATO was suffering from “brain death” from critics including Trump, who had called that comment “very nasty.”

The French leader also called out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his threat to oppose NATO’s plan for the defense of Baltic countries if it does not recognize groups Turkey deems as terrorists. The White House announced Wednesday morning that Trump had met with Erdogan during the NATO event.

Trump Sweet, Congress Sour On Turkey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF NPR NEWS)

 

Trump Sweet, Congress Sour On Turkey

President Trump and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (left) take part in a joint press conference during Erdogan’s visit to the White House on Wednesday.

Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

After welcoming Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the opening day of public impeachment hearings for a second visit to the Oval Office, President Trump did something highly unusual for such encounters: He invited a select group of Republican senators to join the two leaders’ meeting.

Trump’s decision to invite fellow Republicans only from the GOP-led upper chamber of Congress was telling. Bipartisan legislation and resolutions condemning Turkey’s Oct. 9 invasion of northern Syria (three days after Trump removed U.S. forces from that area) have abounded on both sides of the Capitol, but only the Democrat-held House of Representatives has actually voted on and passed such measures.

On Oct. 16 — the same day that Trump announced sanctions against Turkey for its Syria incursion — every member of the House GOP leadership voted in favor of a bipartisan resolution opposing Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. forces from the area invaded by Turkey and calling on Erdogan to end military action there immediately. The measure passed 354-60, with only Republicans voting against it.

Trump then dropped the sanctions for Turkey’s incursion after one week, citing a cease-fire agreement worked out between Turkey and Vice President Pence.

The House was not swayed. It responded Oct. 29 with the Protect Against Conflict by Turkey Act. PACT, as the bipartisan measure was dubbed, calls for sanctions against high-ranking Turkish officials and a State Department estimate of the net worth of Erdogan and his family members.

“These sanctions are specifically designed to target the Turkish officials and institutions responsible for the bloodshed in Syria without senselessly hurting the Turkish people,” House Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Eliot Engel said in a floor speech preceding the 403-16 vote that passed the measure. “After all, it is Erdogan—not the Turkish people—that is responsible for this horror. Erdogan is an authoritarian thug.”

House Republicans joined in the condemnation of Turkey’s leader. “We’re sending a message to the Erdogan government that the U.S. will hold them liable for their actions,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill. “If he does not want to act like a NATO nation, then his government will feel the repercussions of such decisions.”

The PACT floor action took place the same day the House infuriated Turkey by holding the first full chamber vote ever to condemn as “genocide” the mass murder of 1.5 million Armenians a century ago by Ottoman Turks. Again, the vote was overwhelmingly lopsided in favor, 405-11.

For decades, Turkey had successfully lobbied Congress to prevent such a vote characterizing that killing of Armenians as genocide.

“When I was ambassador to Turkey 15 years ago, there was a very deep well of public support for Turkey in the United States and particularly in the U.S. Congress, and that really doesn’t exist very much anymore,” says Eric Edelman, who served as the top U.S. diplomat in Ankara during the George W. Bush administration. “I think that the Turks have counted for some time on the personal relationship between [Erdogan and Trump] to get them out of the deep trouble they’re in in the Congress.”

Turkey’s acquisition in July of Russia’s S-400 air defense system crossed a line for many lawmakers. The Russian system is not only incompatible with NATO military equipment — it is designed to shoot down advanced aircraft such as the F-35 stealth fighter jet, 100 of which Turkey had planned to acquire as a partner in the international consortium building the Lockheed Martin warplane.

For choosing Russia’s S-400 over Raytheon’s Patriot surface-to-air missile system, Turkey was kicked out of the F-35 consortium and training of its pilots to fly the stealth fighter at U.S. military bases was suspended.

But lawmakers are demanding further punishment for Turkey’s defiance. The House’s PACT measure designates Ankara’s acquisition of the S-400 system as a “significant transaction” with Russia’s arms industry. That would automatically oblige the Trump administration to impose on Turkey 5 of 12 sanctions listed by the 2017 Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act, or CAATSA.

Under that law, it’s actually up to the executive branch to determine if a “significant transaction” has occurred. Because the Trump administration has failed to do so, Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., have introduced a privileged resolution in the Senate obliging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make such a determination within 30 days of the resolution’s passage. Such a rarely used privileged resolution could bypass the Foreign Relations Committee and would have to be voted on by the full Senate, where it would not need the 60 votes usually required for final consideration.

“The administration is breaking the law by ignoring this provision [of CAATSA] and kowtowing to Ankara,” Menendez said last week on the Senate floor. “Turkey must be sanctioned for the S-400 system, and it should happen today — otherwise, it will send a global message that we are not serious about sanctioning significant transactions with the Russian military.”

It appears unlikely the privileged resolution will sway Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “Do we know what the political impact such sanctions will have inside Turkey?” McConnell asked late last month on the Senate floor. “Will they weaken President Erdogan or rally the country to his cause? Do we know the impact sanctions will have on U.S. companies?”

Former U.S. ambassador to Turkey Edelman sees further sanctions, which could limit U.S. arms sales to Turkey, as problematic. “It’s a little bit awkward to be saying we’re going to sanction you because you’re buying Russian military equipment, we don’t want you buying Russian military equipment,” he says, “and so the punishment is you’re not allowed to buy American military equipment.”

The U.S. has been the source of nearly two-thirds of Turkey’s imported weapons of war, according the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

“If you go back over the last few decades, Turkey is one of the major importers of U.S. weapons,” says William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. “A huge proportion of their arsenal comes from the United States.”

But efforts in both the House and Senate to curtail arms sales to Turkey, which hosts several key U.S. military bases, have failed to gain much traction in a Congress where most lawmakers have significant numbers of defense contractors in their home states.

The peril of pushing too hard on placing U.S. weapons off limits to Turkey is that Turkey may go shopping elsewhere, says Philip Gordon, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

“If the current trends continue — more sanctions or an absolute ban on weapons sales to Turkey — then Turkey pivots and buys all of its arms from Russia and other suppliers,” says Gordon, who oversaw Turkish affairs in the Obama White House. “And then the strategic relationship within NATO is really broken.”

Turkey’s relationship with Congress may already be broken. Not so much, though, at the Trump White House.

Key Syrian White Helmets Backer Found Dead in Istanbul

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Key Syrian White Helmets Backer Found Dead in Istanbul

Monday, 11 November, 2019 – 13:00
James Le Mesurier. (AFP file photo)
Asharq Al-Awsat
The founder of an organization that trained the Syrian “White Helmets” emergency response group has died in Istanbul.

Anadolu Agency said James Le Mesurier’s body was found early Monday near his home in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district by worshippers on their way to a mosque to pray.

An investigation has been launched into his death, Anadolu said, adding that police believe he may have fallen to his death.

A security source told Reuters it was believed that Le Mesurier had fallen from the balcony of his home office and his death was being treated as a suspected suicide. A third person, a diplomat, said the circumstances around his death were unclear.

Police had established that no one had entered or left his home at the time of his death, Anadolu reported.

The White Helmets, known officially as Syria Civil Defense, have been credited with saving thousands of people in opposition-held areas during years of bombing by Syrian regime and Russian forces in the country’s war.

Mayday Rescue, a not-for-profit organisation, began its operations in 2014 and established an office in Istanbul in 2015 to support its Syria project. Its projects have been funded by the United Nations and various governments, its website said.

Mayday Rescue did not immediately respond to an emailed Reuters query about Le Mesurier.

A former British army officer, Le Mesurier was awarded a knighthood by Queen Elizabeth in 2016 for services to Syria Civil Defense and the protection of civilians in Syria.

Turkish Army Vehicle Kills Protester in North Eastern Syria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Turkish Army Vehicle Kills Protester in North Eastern Syria

Friday, 8 November, 2019 – 12:15
Turkish army armoured vehicles arrive near the Turkish town of Idil at the Turkey-Syria border before Turkish and Russian troops conduct their third joint patrols in northeast Syria, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. AP
Asharq Al-Awsat
A Kurdish group and a Syria war monitor said on Friday that a protester has been killed after he was run over by Turkish military vehicle.

Mustafa Bali, spokesman for the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, said the man was killed in northeastern Syria.

The man was run over in the village of Sarmasakh near the border by a Turkish vehicle during a joint patrol with Russia, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights .

The Observatory said the man died in the hospital in the town of Derik from internal bleeding and broken bones, the Associated Press reported.

The man was among residents who pelted with shoes and stones Turkish and Russian troops who were conducting their third joint patrol in northeastern Syria, under a cease-fire deal brokered by Moscow that forced Kurdish fighters to withdraw from areas bordering Turkey.

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