Scientists getting closer to developing blood and urine tests for autism

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

UK and Italian scientists are getting closer to developing blood and urine tests for autism, which could lead to earlier diagnosis and treatment of the condition, a new study suggests.

The tests look for damage to certain proteins, shown to be higher in children with autism spectrum disorders.
The team from the University of Warwick and the University of Bologna tested 38 children with autism and 31 children without, ages 5 to 12.
They looked for differences in samples of blood and urine between the two groups. When looking at plasma in the blood, the children with autism had greater protein damage, resulting in higher levels of an oxidation marker known as ditryosine and sugar-modified compounds called advanced glycation end-products.
But experts caution that the tests are far from becoming available clinically and that more research needs to be done.
“We have found that the power of measuring damaged proteins to the brain may be a cause for a development of autism,” said Paul Thornalley, a professor in systems biology at the University of Warwick, who co-led the study.
Previous studies have made a connection to autism from proteins that were not damaged, unlike this study, which looks at damaged proteins in the brain, Thornalley added.
The study, published Monday in the journal Molecular Autism, was small and requires further research on a larger number of children to determine whether the results are conclusive.
“This (study) is weakened by a small sample size, possible overfitting of data and a lack of comparison groups,” said James Cusack, director of science at Austistica, a UK research charity that aims to understand the causes of autism and improve diagnosis. “This study does not tell us how effectively this measure can differentiate between autism and other neurodevelopmental or mental health conditions such as ADHD and anxiety.”
Autism is a developmental disorder that mainly affects social interaction, causing a wide spectrum of behavioral problems, including hyperactivity, anxiety or speech disturbances.
An estimated 30% of cases have been found to have genetic causes. The remaining 70% are thought to be caused by a combination of environmental factors, mutations and genetics, according to the study.
Currently, if a child is suspected of having autism, doctors carry out a series of behavioral tests, which take time and may not not give an accurate diagnosis. A biological test, like a blood test, would provide a faster and more definitive diagnosis.
In the US, more than 3.5 million people live with autism spectrum disorders, according to the Autism Society, and this limits 35% of young adults with the disorder from having a job or continuing their education after high school.
In the UK, there are 700,000 children and adults on the autism spectrum, according to the National Austistic Society.
A blood test for the disorder has been much sought-after by researchers around the world but has remained elusive.
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Thornalley explained future research would be looking to identify autism spectrum disorders in children from as young as 2.
Naila Rabbaini, researcher of experimental systems biology and co-lead on the study, said that with further testing of larger number of children at younger ages, the team may be able to find new causes of autism and assess whether treatments are working.
“This is a promising area; however, this is a very long way indeed from a ‘test for autism,’ ” said Dr. Max Davie, spokesman for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. “It is important that it is not adopted with too much enthusiasm. If applied to a large population, it will produce large number of false positives, causing huge worry and potential harm to children and families.”

How Does Centrally Planned China Raise Capital?-Answer, Hong Kong

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF FORBES INVESTING MARKET MOVES)

 

Investing #MarketMoves

How Does Centrally Planned China Raise Capital?

I write financial newsletters for investors on how to profit in Asia.  Opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.

A general view from Victoria Peak shows Victoria Harbour and the skylines of the Kowloon district (background) and Hong Kong island (foreground) on July 3, 2017. (ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images)

Through careful planning and strategic economic policy reforms, mainland China has evolved from a country struck by poverty to the world’s second largest economy. But don’t think this was solely the Chinese bureaucrats’ doing.  The U.K.’s special “present” to China proved to be essential to the story of China’s miraculous development.

In 1997, Tony Blair, who was U.K.’s prime minister at the time, went to Hong Kong to give the city back to Beijing. 156 years of colonial rule had completely transformed the city.

What was once a backwards fishing village, was now one of the worlds’ most important financial hubs.

Hong Kong currently has the highest concentration of international banks in the world. The 71 largest international banks and almost 300 international fund management companies are housed in Hong Kong. The island also has most beneficial legal regulations for both residents and companies.

China basically saw Hong Kong attending a 150 yearlong financial course. The financial powerhouse now belongs back to the Middle Kingdom that uses it to funnel foreign capital into its centrally planned economy. Something the mainland wasn’t able to do by itself.

Never before has a centrally planned economy ever received such a precious gift as Hong Kong.

How Hong Kong feeds China

Companies in planned economies – like China’s – typically have a hard time raising capital. That makes Hong Kong a key factor in China’s economic development.

With its leading financial institutions in place, Hong Kong is able to raise capital unhindered by political or economic instability. A problem free market economies like in the U.S. generally have to deal with.

Four years before Hong Kong was given back to China, it was responsible for 27% of China’s GDP. Let’s put this in perspective. At the time, only 6.5 million people lived in Hong Kong while mainland China had a population of 1 billion people. It’s easy to see that Hong Kong’s impact on China’s economic growth was tremendous.

The mainland did catch up over time as the graph below clearly illustrates. By 2017, Hong Kong accounted for merely 3% of the GDP.

One Road Research

Hong Kong’s Share of China’s GDP

Hong Kong’s return in 1997 coincided with the dramatic rise of China’s GDP.

One Road Research

China’s GDP in Current US$

China’s economic growth was partially due to twenty years of export-oriented policies from Beijing. But without Hong Kong’s well-established financial markets, necessary funds couldn’t have been raised.

First human eggs grown in laboratory

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE BBC)

 

First human eggs grown in laboratory

Media caption‘It could be of huge benefit to children having cancer treatment’

Human eggs have been grown in the laboratory for the first time, say researchers at the University of Edinburgh.

The team say the technique could lead to new ways of preserving the fertility of children having cancer treatment.

It is also an opportunity to explore how human eggs develop, much of which remains a mystery to science.

Experts said it was an exciting breakthrough, but more work was needed before it could be used clinically.

Women are born with immature eggs in their ovaries that can develop fully only after puberty.

It has taken decades of work, but scientists can now grow eggs to maturity outside of the ovary.

It requires carefully controlling laboratory conditions including oxygen levels, hormones, proteins that simulate growth and the medium in which the eggs are cultured.

‘Very exciting’

But while the scientists have shown it is possible, the approach published in the journal Molecular Human Reproduction still needs refinement.

It is very inefficient with only 10% of eggs completing their journey to maturity.

And the eggs have not been fertilised, so it is uncertain how viable they are.

Prof Evelyn Telfer, one of the researchers, told the BBC: “It’s very exciting to obtain proof of principle that it’s possible to reach this stage in human tissue.

“But that has to be tempered by the whole lot of work needed to improve the culture conditions and test the quality of the oocytes [eggs].

“But apart from any clinical applications, this is a big breakthrough in improving understanding of human egg development.”

UK scientists edit DNA of human embryos

First monkey clones created in the lab

First three-parent baby born to infertile couple

Human EggImage copyrightUNIVERSITY OF EDINBURGH
Image captionA lab-grown, human egg made by scientists at the University of Edinburgh

The process is very tightly controlled and timed in the human body – some eggs will mature during the teenage years, others more than two decades later.

An egg needs to lose half its genetic material during development, otherwise there would be too much DNA when it was fertilised by a sperm.

This excess is cast off into a miniature cell called a polar body, but in the study the polar bodies were abnormally large.

“This is a concern,” said Prof Telfer. But it is one she thinks can be addressed by improving the technology.

Work on mouse eggs, which was nailed 20 years ago, showed the technology could be used to produce live animals.

Matching this achievement in human tissue could eventually be used to help children having cancer treatment.

Cancer option

Chemotherapy and radiotherapy risks making you sterile.

Women can freeze matured eggs, or even embryos if they are fertilised with a partner’s sperm, before starting treatment – but this is not possible for girls with childhood cancers.

At the moment they can have ovarian tissue frozen before treatment, which is then put back in to mature years later if the patient wants children of their own.

But if there are any abnormalities in the frozen sample then doctors will think it is too risky.

Being able to make eggs in the lab would be a safer option for those patients.

Mr Stuart Lavery, a consultant gynaecologist at Hammersmith Hospital, said: “This work represents a genuine step forward in our understanding.

“Although still in small numbers and requiring optimisation, this preliminary work offers hope for patients.”

It would be legal to fertilise one of the lab-made eggs to create an embryo for research purposes in the UK.

But the team in Edinburgh do not have a licence to carry out the experiment. They are discussing whether to apply to the embryo authority for one, or collaborate with a centre that already has one.

Prof Azim Surani, the director of germline research at University of Cambridge’s Gurdon Institute, said: “Molecular characterisation and chromosomal analysis is needed to show how these egg cells compare with normal eggs.

“It might be of interest to test the developmental potential of these eggs in culture to blastocyst stage, by attempting IVF.”

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YouTube Stunt: 22 Yr Old UK Man: Cemented His Head In A Microwave

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

 

By KATE SAMUELSON

December 8, 2017

A U.K.-based fire service has said it is “seriously unimpressed” with a 22-year-old man after five firefighters spent an hour freeing his head from a microwave oven he had “cemented” himself inside as part of a stunt he was filming for YouTube.

The man, based in the English city of Wolverhampton, had mixed quick-dry spackling paste and poured it around his head, which was protected by plastic bag inside the microwave, which was intended to act as a mold, according to West Midlands Fire. However, the prankster soon became trapped and after 90 minutes of unsuccessful help from friends, the fire brigade was called in.

After an hour, the fire firefighters managed to rescue the man, who was breathing with the help of an air tube his friends had managed to feed through the appliance, officials said.

“As funny as this sounds, this young man could quite easily have suffocated or have been seriously injured,” said Watch Commander Shaun Dakin in a statement. “Taking the microwave apart was tricky, because a lot of it was welded. We video-called our technical rescue colleagues for advice and eventually managed to get him unstuck.”

Dakin added: “He was very relieved when we removed a large chunk of the Polyfilla with a screwdriver, allowing him to breathe more easily. But we had to be extremely careful with the screwdriver, working so closely to his head. It took us nearly an hour to free him. All of the group involved were very apologetic, but this was clearly a call-out which might have prevented us from helping someone else in genuine, accidental need.”

The man has since been identified as YouTube personality Jay Swingler and the stunt was part of the TGFbro channel’s ‘extreme Christmas calendar,’ in which Swingler and his friend set each other challenges in the countdown to December 25. A past challenge includes the pair ‘burying’ themselves in expanding foam.

A video posted on the TGFbro channel on Dec. 7, with the catchy title of ‘I cemented my head in a microwave and emergency services came.. (nearly died)‘, shows the incident from the YouTubers’ perspective.

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1 UK hostage killed, 3 freed in Nigeria, foreign office says

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

1 UK hostage killed, 3 freed in Nigeria, foreign office says

London (CNN)A British national who was taken hostage in Nigeria has been killed while three others have returned home safely.

Ian Squire was killed after being kidnapped on October 13. Abducted at the same time were Alanna Carson, David Donovan, and Shirley Donovan, according to a statement Monday by the hostages’ families and the UK foreign office.
The families said that Nigerian authorities had helped negotiate their release and they thanked British authorities for their “support.”
“We are delighted and relieved that Alanna, David, and Shirley have returned home safely. Our thoughts are now with the family and friends of Ian as we come to terms with his sad death,” they said.
“This has been a traumatic time for our loved ones who were kidnapped and for their families and friends here in the UK.”
The statement did not make clear who was behind the abductions. An investigation into the incident is ongoing.
The four were kidnapped in the country’s oil-rich southern Delta region, Nigerian police there told CNN.
In its travel advice, the UK foreign office warns there is “a high threat of criminal kidnap” in the Delta area and advises against all but essential travel there.

Fox News Being Pulled Off The Air In The U.K. Because No One Is Watching It

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

V viewers in the United Kingdom will likely not miss watching Fox News, as the network’s parent company 21st Century Fox announced on Tuesday that the company would pull the channel amid low ratings.

“Fox News is focused on the U.S. market and designed for a U.S. audience and, accordingly, it averages only a few thousand viewers across the day in the U.K.,” 21st Century Fox said in a statement provided to CNN. “We have concluded that it is not in our commercial interest to continue providing Fox News in the U.K.”

While 21st Century Fox said its decision was based on the channel’s inability to attract a considerable audience, critics say it’s actually an attempt to smooth over the media giant’s bid to take over European satellite company Sky. (21st Century Fox owns a controlling stake in Sky PLC, the parent company of the London-headquartered network.)

HuffPost UK reports that if the takeover is successful, it would give Fox mogul Rupert Murdoch access to Sky’s 22 million customers in Europe. This audience would be in addition to those of the three U.K. newspapers ― The Sun, The Times, and The Sunday Times ― that the media mogul already owns.

In June, officials delayed Murdoch’s attempted takeover of the 61 percent of Sky that his family does not currently own. British authorities asked regulators to review the deal to see if the takeover would give the family too much control over the country’s media landscape.

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John McCain Says U.S. Global Leadership Was Better Under Obama Than Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

John McCain Says U.S. Global Leadership Was Better Under Obama Than Trump

11:20 AM ET

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain said in a new interview that America’s standing in the world was better under former President Barack Obama than it is now under President Donald Trump.

McCain, Obama’s 2008 opponent who remained a vocal critic during his presidency, asked by The Guardian whether U.S. standing in the world was better under Obama. “As far as American leadership is concerned, yes,” McCain said.

He was also critical of Trump’s Twitter attacks against London Mayor Sadiq Khan following the recent terrorist attack in the city.

Pathetic excuse by London Mayor Sadiq Khan who had to think fast on his “no reason to be alarmed” statement. MSM is working hard to sell it!

McCain said Trump sent the message to the United Kingdom that, “America does not want to lead.”

 

“They are not sure of American leadership, whether it be in Siberia or whether it be in Antarctica,” McCain said.

How The World Sees Trump, 100 Days In—(And It Isn’t Pretty)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

How the world sees Trump, 100 days in

Updated 4:53 PM ET, Sat April 29, 2017

(CNN) The world was dumbfounded by the election of Donald Trump, and his first 100 days in office have done little to alleviate a deep sense of uncertainty and unpredictability. Indeed, as one observer put it, the last few weeks alone have caused a severe case of global geostrategic whiplash.

The number of campaign promises that have morphed into presidential U-turns is staggering. Allies and adversaries alike are trying to figure out whether a Trump Doctrine is emerging, or whether, as former CIA Director Michael Hayden recently told me, a discernible doctrine does not exist in what resembles a family-run business of policy from the White House.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster “has hired a very bright woman to write the US National Security Strategy,” he said. “It’s a tough job. I did it twice for George H.W. Bush. But I was building on precedent and historic consensus. It’s really going to be interesting to see what an America First national security strategy looks like when you’ve got to write it down.”
Long-time American allies are comforted, though, knowing McMaster and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis make up an experienced national security team. NATO partners also welcomed Trump’s declaration that he no longer considers the transatlantic military alliance obsolete.
They, along with regional allies, supported Trump enforcing the previously declared US red line in Syria against the regime’s use of chemical weapons on its own people. After such an attack that the West attributed to the Syrian government earlier in the month, Trump launched retaliatory strikes.
But Asian allies, such as South Korea and Japan, are worried about US policy on North Korea. They welcome the tougher stance against Kim Jong Un’s ramped up nuclear missile program, but they were rattled by the USS Carl Vinson debacle, when for a time it was unclear if the aircraft carrier was steaming towards North Korea or not. It raised the question of whether the administration really has its deterrence policy in order, and South Korea was said to feel utter confusion, even betrayal, when the carrier was actually found to be steaming away from, not towards, the Korean Peninsula.
On Iran, signals are slightly harder to read. On the one hand, the State Department again certified Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. Yet a day later, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson strongly hinted the US could walk away from it, or try to link it to other issues it has with Iran. So far the deal remains in place and neither the EU nor the UN would agree to reimpose international sanctions on Tehran, which helped bring the country to the negotiating table.
On the Paris Climate Accord, Trump’s closest advisers seem to be having an almighty tussle about whether he should stay or stray from the historic deal. Big US companies like ExxonMobil are urging the US to abide by the deal and thereby have more say at the table.
Trump has also hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago estate, and seems to have reversed many of his pledges to play hardball with Beijing. But on trade, just recently a Financial Times newspaper headline blared: “Trump Fires First Protectionist Warning over steel Industry,” saying this paves the way for a global showdown on steel and possible sweeping tariffs on steel imports.
In his first 100 days, President Barack Obama visited nine countries. President George W. Bush visited two. Trump has visited none. But next month he visits Brussels for a NATO summit, and Sicily, for a meeting of the G7. Whether he can convince America’s allies that they have a trust-worthy friend with a strategic worldview as their most powerful ally remains to be seen, abroad and at home.
“I think I know what the policy is,” Hayden told me. “I have more difficulty, Christiane, putting this policy into a broader global view. And I think that’s causing unease with you, with me, and with a whole bunch of other folks who are trying to see, ‘Where are the Americans going globally?'”

Afghanistan

Nick Paton Walsh
It was the mother of all statements, but he may have had nothing to do with it.
The MOAB (officially know as the GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast) wiped out an ISIS tunnel complex in the volatile eastern part of the country last week, killing around 90 militants.

Why did the US use the MOAB?

Why did the US use the MOAB?
It was the largest non-nuclear bomb used by the US in combat, but whether the new commander in chief personally approved its use is unclear.
The airstrike was immediately followed up by National Security Adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster visiting Kabul and assuring President Ashraf Ghani his country had a friend in the US and a strategic review was under way.
Yet outside of the huge bomb and its message of might, little has changed — as the new White House is inheriting the exhaustion of both resolve and policy options of the last.
A massive troop surge? Talks with the Taliban? A lighter footprint training Afghan security forces to secure the country? All have been tried, and all have failed to stop the insurgency controlling or contesting over half Afghanistan, and the heavy-handed rise of ISIS. Add to that the intense and escalating in-fighting in the Kabul political elite, and there is a very messy summer ahead, with few decent options.

China

David McKenzie
It’s arguably the world’s most important bilateral relationship.
But when President Donald Trump was inaugurated back in January, several Chinese policy experts told me there was a lot of nervousness about the incoming leader.

China's delicate balance with North Korea

China’s delicate balance with North Korea
After all, during the campaign Trump said he would name China a currency manipulator on Day One of his term and threatened a trade war.
As President-elect, he spoke to Taiwan’s president on the phone and openly questioned the ‘One China’ policy, a cornerstone of Washington-Beijing relations in which the US recognizes Taiwan as part of China. And Trump accused China of not doing enough to put pressure on North Korea.
100 days on? Well, it’s a 180-degree shift.
In his first phone call with President Xi Jinping, Trump reaffirmed the One China policy. He has praised Beijing for taking some positive steps on the North Korea issue and he recently said that China is not manipulating its currency.
Trump denies these positions represent a flip-flop; the businessman-turned-president is saying it’s all part of a deal.
“I actually told him (Xi Jinping), I said, ‘You’ll make a much better deal on trade if you get rid of this menace or do something about the menace of North Korea.’ Because that’s what it is, it’s a menace right now,” Trump said last week.
Trump said he has developed a strong relationship with Xi Jinping and that their scheduled 15-minute meetings at the Mar-a-Lago summit stretched into “hours.”
But Yan Xuetong, a foreign policy expert at Tsinghua University, told me that the Chinese are skeptical. He said that if North Korea goes ahead with its nuclear program, then China will take the blame.
“Trump will use China as scapegoat to tell (the) American public that it is not his problem,” said Yan.
In Yan’s eyes, at least, the Chinese suspect more Trump policy turns.

Egypt

Ian Lee
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was the first foreign leader to congratulate President Donald Trump after he won the November 2016 presidential election. The two leaders had instantly hit it off when they met a few months earlier in New York.
Their views are more aligned than were those of President Barack Obama, which reacted coolly to the 2013 coup by Egypt’s military — led at the time by Sisi. When he became president soon afterward, he ushered in a new low between Washington and Cairo.

ISIS claims responsibility for church blasts

ISIS claims responsibility for church blasts
It was an open secret that Cairo wished for a Trump victory over Obama’s former secretary of state, Hilary Clinton. Trump was perceived by Cairo as a pragmatist who had little interest in human rights.
In his first days in office, Trump invited Sisi to visit him in Washington. The Egyptian president arrived with three main objectives: deepen military cooperation, strengthen the war against terror and revive Egypt’s economy. The invitation to the White House also gave the Egyptian president a legitimacy that the Obama administration had previously denied him.
Recently, in a gesture of good will and eagerness to cooperate, American Aya Hijazi was released from an Egyptian prison after Trump directly intervened to secure her release.
Expect relations to remain warm as long as Trump’s administration keeps the lid on any criticism of Sisi.

Germany

Nic Robertson
German Chancellor Angela Merkel took heat from Donald Trump even before he was sworn in as president.
He accused her of making a “catastrophic mistake” on migrants, only being as trustworthy as Vladimir Putin, and intentionally trying to take business from the US.

Pence reassures NATO allies in Munich speech

Pence reassures NATO allies in Munich speech
For Europeans, Trump’s attitude to Merkel is symptomatic of wider issues: his like of Brexit and his dislike of the EU’s single market and liberal trade values.
At the EU leaders summit in Malta this February, both French and German leaders said openly that Trump’s attitude was uniting Europe to stand on its own feet.
Since then, Trump has said the EU is “wonderful” and he is “totally in favor of it.” Yet he still supports Brexit and seems unaware of the instability and frustrations Europe feels because of it.
It’s not the only cross-Atlantic reversal he has had. Coming into office, he said NATO was “obsolete.” He told the alliance nations they need to pay their way, and has given them a deadline to promise they will.
In recent weeks Trump has changed his tune. NATO, he said, is “not obsolete” — but he still wants members’ money.
Merkel’s March visit to see Trump at the White House did little to quell European concerns over his attitude to Europe, and trade in particular.
That Merkel was ignored by Trump when asking for a handshake in the Oval Office, and embarrassed by him again at the news conference that followed with an awkward comment about being spied on, reveals this relationship has some way to go before it gets on an even keel.
Iran
Frederik Pleitgen
Iran’s leadership realized that Donald Trump was an unknown commodity, but many in the country’s senior leadership hoped they would be able to deal with the new man in the White House.
“We hope that he will have a pragmatic approach,” Iran’s Deputy Oil Minister, Amir Hossein Azamaninia, told me in an interview during the transition period shortly before Trump took office. He suggested that perhaps President Donald Trump would similar to the businessman Donald Trump — a shrewd dealmaker, whom the Islamic Republic with its oil wealth could possibly even strike deals with.

Iranians worried about US-Iran relationship

Iranians worried about US-Iran relationship
But Iran soon learned that the new administration was going to take a harder line towards Tehran than President Barack Obama had. When Iran tested ballistic missiles in late January — which the US believes could strike targets in Israel — then-National Security Adviser Michael Flynn came down hard and fast on Tehran, announcing there would be new sanctions. He also said the US was “putting Iran on notice,” without specifying what that meant.
This harsh reaction and subsequent statements by Secretary of Defense James Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and America’s UN Ambassador Nikki Haley have sowed further uncertainty in Tehran about America’s strategy on Iran. The tough talk and action have put a severe damper on any notion the Rouhani administration had that its fairly constructive relations with Washington during the Obama years would continue.
At the same time, the Trump team’s hard line seems to be having an effect on Iran’s behavior.
There have so far been fewer reports of incidents and close encounters between US and Iranian ships in the Persian Gulf’s narrow Strait of Hormuz than during the end of the Obama administration. And during Iran’s National Revolution Day in February, the leadership did not display ballistic missiles as it usually has.
This has led some experts to believe that Tehran — for all its harsh rhetoric — is making an effort to not further antagonize an American president and Cabinet whom the Iranians view as erratic and very hostile towards the Islamic Republic.
If this was the Trump administrations intent, it could be working.

Iraq

Ben Wedeman
“I would bomb the s**t out of them,” declared candidate Donald Trump, summarizing his strategy to defeat ISIS. “I would bomb those suckers … and I’d take the oil.” The crowds loved it.
A decisive victory over ISIS, plus a grand prize of a lot of cheap oil, sounds great, but the real world just doesn’t work that way and slowly, perhaps, the new administration has learned this in its first 100 days.

Trump's son-in-law visits Iraq

Trump’s son-in-law visits Iraq
For one thing, the battle to liberate the ISIS stronghold of Mosul, Iraq — now into its seventh month — has underscored just how hard it is to defeat the extremists. Since the push in the western part of the city began in February, both the US-led coalition and Iraqi forces have been bombarding ISIS as promised, using much heavier firepower than during the battle for west Mosul in the waning months of the Obama administration.
But the tactic has come at a high cost in terms of civilian casualties, brought home by what US officials concede was probably a US-led airstrike on March 17 that mistakenly killed almost 150 civilians. Hundreds of thousands of civilians are still in western Mosul, often exploited by ISIS as human shields.
But even with the heavy assault, the Trump administration is largely settling down and following the same slow, deliberate approach of the Obama administration.
The battle for Mosul has taken more than half a year and may take many more months. In neighboring Syria, there are nearly a thousand US boots on the ground, backing a mixed Kurdish-Arab force that aims at overrunning the city of Raqqa, the de facto capital of ISIS. When this will happen is anyone’s guess.
And then there’s that other topic Trump has toyed with: taking Iraq’s oil. That was decisively shot down by Defense Secretary James Mattis, who flew to Baghdad in February and told reporters, “We’re not in Iraq to seize anyone’s oil.”

Israel

Oren Liebermann
Donald Trump’s fiery pro-Israel rhetoric during the campaign had the right and far right in Israel salivating at the prospects of a Trump administration, while Palestinians worried about an American government adopting a more hostile stance.
Trump pledged to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, “dismantle” the Iran deal, reduce funding to the United Nations and cut aid to the Palestinians. At the same time, Trump said he wanted to close “the ultimate deal” — a peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump ties to Israeli settlements

Trump ties to Israeli settlements
Save for the last, Trump has moderated his stance and backed off his positions in his first 100 days in office. The Trump administration has said its still considering an embassy move, but has also called Israeli settlements in the West Bank unhelpful for peace and acknowledged that Iran is sticking by the terms of the nuclear deal. Some analysts in Israel have pointed out that Trump’s positions on the region are beginning to resemble Obama’s positions.
The Israeli right wing’s fervor over Trump has cooled somewhat, but it still expects him to be a friend in the White House. From Israel’s perspective, the big star of the Trump administration so far is US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who has repeatedly criticized the United Nations for focusing disproportionately on Israel. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has repeatedly praised Trump, refusing to suggest even the slightest hint of criticism, since he entered office.
Meanwhile, a recent visit by Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, left Palestinians cautiously optimistic that prospects weren’t as grim as initially feared and that Trump was serious about attempting to restart negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is scheduled to meet Trump in Washington shortly after Trump hits the 100-day mark. The meeting could be a litmus test of how the dynamic between Trump, Netanyahu and Abbas develops.

Mexico

Leyla Santiago
President Trump still has yet to meet face-to-face with Mexico’s president, Enrique Pena Nieto, after an awkward encounter during the 2016 campaign. According to Mexican government officials, no plans are in the works, signaling tensions remain between the two leaders.

Mixed messages as top U.S. diplomat visits Mexico

Mixed messages as top U.S. diplomat visits Mexico
Twitter exchanges, however, have cooled down since a public war of words in January between @EPN and @realDonaldTrump over payment for a wall along the US-Mexico border. Mexico still maintains it will not pay for Trump’s muro (wall).
Many Mexicans still fear Trump could cut off a portion of their income, if he imposes taxes on remittances as a form of payment for the wall.
The Mexican government says, though, that its No. 1 concern is human rights violations. It has invested $50 million to expand legal services at its consulates and embassies in the US in an effort to help Mexicans fearing deportation.
Major questions also loom over the fate of the North American Free Trade Agreement. Trump has called the 23-year-old deal that allows free trade between Mexico, Canada and the US a one-sided agreement.
If a good deal is not renegotiated, Mexico plans to walk away from the pact. The uncertainty in trade relations has led Mexico to strengthen ties with other countries and explore opportunities in Asian, European and South American markets instead of the US.
After Mexico featured repeatedly in the US elections, Trump himself is now playing a role in who will become Mexico’s next leader. Anti-Trump rhetoric has become a central part of Mexican campaigns heading toward the 2018 election. Leading candidates are hoping a stance against Trump will protect Mexico’s interests and win over voters.

North Korea

Will Ripley
When I ask ordinary North Koreans about the impact of President Donald Trump on their lives, they give strikingly similar answers. The response is usually something like this: “It doesn’t matter who the US president is. All that matters is that they discontinue America’s hostile policy against my country.”

North Koreans celebrate 'Army day'

North Koreans celebrate ‘Army day’
Of course, they are only repeating the same message given to them by their state-controlled media, the only media North Koreans have access to. Because US politics are not a primary focus of North Korean propaganda, the vast majority of citizens are blissfully unaware of Trump’s twitter account or the cloud of controversy that has swirled around the first 100 days of his administration.
But they are aware of a few key facts. They know that Trump ordered a missile strike on a Syrian regime air base, viewed by many as an indirect threat to Pyongyang. They also know that Trump dispatched the USS Carl Vinson carrier strike group to the waters off the Korean Peninsula, albeit by an indirect route.
The reason North Koreans know these things is simple: The actions of the Trump administration play right into their government’s long-standing narrative that they are under the imminent threat of attack by the ‘imperialist’ United States.
People have been told for their entire lives that America could drop a nuclear bomb at anytime. Citizens always voice their unanimous support of Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. Of course, in an authoritarian country where political dissent is not tolerated, there are no opposing voices.
The North Korean government uses this ‘imminent threat’ to justify its substantial investment in weapons of mass destruction, even if this means citizens must sacrifice. And government officials in Pyongyang told me the policies of the Trump administration in its first 100 days only add to their sense of urgency to accelerate development of a viable intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the mainland US.
They say such a weapon is key to their survival as a nation, even as critics fear North Korea continuing down the nuclear road will only lead to further diplomatic isolation, economic hardship or worse.
There are signs that North Korea is monitoring and responding to the unpredictable rhetoric and actions of the Trump administration. After news broke that the USS Carl Vinson strike group was headed to the Korean Peninsula, I was hand-delivered a statement in Pyongyang saying, “The DPRK is ready to react to any mode of war desired by the US.”
We’ve never seen dynamics like this before. An untested US President who tweets in real time and isn’t afraid to launch missiles to prove a point. And a North Korean leader who has consolidated his power by purging opponents (including his own uncle) and has launched more missiles than his father and grandfather combined.
This could be a recipe for disaster. Or a recipe for lasting peace. Or perhaps a recipe for the continuation of a decades-long stalemate. If Trump’s first 100 days provide any clues, it’s going to be a wild ride regardless.

Russia

Matthew Chance
President Donald Trump entered the White House on a promise of improving the strained relationship between Washington and Moscow.
He was full of praise for his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, suggesting he might recognize annexed Crimea as Russian, cooperate over international terrorism and join forces in Syria.

Lavrov to US: Respect Syrian sovereignty

Lavrov to US: Respect Syrian sovereignty
It was all music to the Kremlin’s ears and talk was of a pivotal moment, of the Trump administration transforming the way in which the United States and Russia saw each other.
But 100 days on, none of that has come to pass.
“One could say the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved,” said Putin on April 12, “but rather has deteriorated.”
US officials have criticized Russia for fueling conflict in Ukraine, castigated the Kremlin for its treatment of sexual minorities, even bombed Russia’s Syrian ally while implying Moscow might have been complicit in dozens of agonizing deaths there caused by chemical weapons.
Part of the reason is undoubtedly the toxic political atmosphere in Washington, where lingering allegations of Russian interference in the US presidential election are being investigated by Congress.
But there is also a growing sense that the Trump administration, at 100 days old, has finally encountered a stark reality: Russia and the United States simply have different geopolitical priorities — whether in Syria, Ukraine or elsewhere — that won’t be easily reconciled.

Syria

Clarissa Ward
When President Donald Trump first assumed office, his strategy on Syria, like much of his foreign policy, was opaque. On the campaign trail he had said that his priority was to eliminate ISIS — indeed, he promised to put together a plan to do so in his first 30 days. He attempted to place a ban on any Syrian refugees entering the US, calling them a security threat. But on the subject of Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, and the brutal civil war he has presided over that has claimed more than 400,000 lives, he was noticeably silent.

Syria, a war on children?

Syria, a war on children?
Trump’s strong admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin and interesting in getting the relationship with Russia back on track led many to assume that he would do little to interfere in Syria, where Moscow is closely allied with Damascus. This was reinforced by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comment in March that it would be “up to the Syrian people” whether or not Assad would go, a demand long made by the Obama administration. Regime change, it seemed, was no longer desirable for the US.
Yet, within a few weeks, everything changed.
After seeing the aftermath of a chemical weapons attack in Idlib that killed dozens of children, Trump suddenly took action against the Assad regime. Two days later, dozens of American tomahawk missiles rained down on the regime’s Shayrat air base.
The Syrian people were stunned. Those who oppose Assad had dreamed of this moment for many years, but after President Barack Obama had chosen not to enforce his red line against Assad’s use of chemical weapons in 2013, their dream had died. Suddenly, Trump was hailed as something of a hero. Some took to calling him by a new nom de guerre, Abu Ivanka al Amriki.
The strikes on Shayrat changed very little on the ground in Syria. The regime was continuing its daily bombardment within hours.
Still, after six years of standing on the sidelines, the shift in US policy (if it is a sustained shift) has given some cause for optimism. There is hope that perhaps Assad will think twice before using chemical weapons against his own people, that the US may now have more leverage at the negotiating table.
Yet the question still remains: What is the US’s policy on Syria? 100 days into the Trump presidency, we still don’t really know.

Turkey

Ian Lee
Relations with the Obama administration warmed under Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when that suited him and then soured accordingly. They have yet to be really tested under President Donald Trump.
Since taking office, Trump has taken a softer tone in dealing with Turkey. Ankara responded positively to the United States’ missile strike on a Syrian air base. Trump congratulated the Turkish president for the success of his referendum, giving him significantly expanded powers, despite the process being deeply flawed according to international monitors, an opinion echoed by the State Department.

Turkish demonstrators protest vote result

Turkish demonstrators protest vote result
By the time President Barack Obama left office, US-Turkish relations had cooled. The two leaders had differing opinions regarding Syria. Where Obama wanted to focus on defeating ISIS while Erdogan wanted to oust President Bashar al-Assad. The United States saw Syrian Kurdish militants, the YPG, as an ally against ISIS, while the Turks viewed them as terrorists. And Obama criticized Turkey’s crackdown on the political opposition, intellectuals, activists and journalists and wouldn’t extradite spiritual leader Fetullah Gulen, on whom the Turkish blames July’s coup attempt. Elements of Erdogan’s party even accused the United States of supporting the failed effort.
There is optimism in Turkey among the government and its supporters that a new page can be turned, especially when both leaders plan to meet in Washington in May.
But Trump is likely to face similar tensions as Obama did. One of the toughest will be the upcoming operation against ISIS in Raqqa, Syria. Turkey wants to take part but won’t fight along side the YPG. Trump will likely have to choose between a NATO ally and a proven fighting force.

The UK

Phil Black
President Donald Trump helped create what is so far the most iconic image of Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May — the American president holding May’s hand as they walked outside the White House in January.
May later said Trump was “being a gentleman.”

Scotland calls for independence referendum

Scotland calls for independence referendum
She provided the opportunity for his gallantry by swiftly moving to be the first world leader to visit the new president.
May has unashamedly pursued a close bond with Trump, believing “the special relationship” between the UK and US is especially important as Britain prepares for a future outside the European Union.
May has pushed for a quick post-Brexit trade deal while also trying to persuade Trump to align with Britain’s traditional positions on key foreign policy issues like NATO (crucial) and Russia (deserves suspicion).
The British Prime Minister also threw in a sweetener. She invited Trump to visit the UK with full state honors. That usually means time with the Queen, banquets, parades and gilded carriages.
Such invitations are rarely offered to new presidents and it’s proved to be hugely controversial in a country where many disagree with Trump’s policies, including his attempts to block immigration from select, majority-Muslim countries.
More than 1.8 million people signed a petition opposing a state visit “because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen.” Thousands protested on the streets and have promised to do so again when Trump arrives. That could create some awkward moments.
May’s efforts to stay close to Trump will likely be judged by whether she secures a free trade agreement with the United States. But they can’t even begin talking about that officially until after Brexit has taken place, so that’s at least two years away.

UK Scientists Confirm Idlib Sarin Use, Weapons Experts in Turkey to Investigate

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

UK Scientists Confirm Idlib Sarin Use, Weapons Experts in Turkey to Investigate

The British delegation at the world’s chemical weapons watchdog said on Thursday that samples taken from the alleged chemical weapons attack in Syria’s rebel-held Idlib province last week tested positive for the nerve agent sarin.

The toxic gas attack in Idlib’s Khan Sheikhoun on April 4, which killed scores of children, prompted the United States to launch missile strikes on an air base in Shayrat that lies in central Syria’s Homs and widened a rift between Washington and Moscow, a close Syrian ally.

“UK scientists have analyzed samples taken from Khan Sheikhoun. These have tested positive for the nerve agent sarin, or a sarin-like substance,” the delegation said during a special session at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague.

Earlier testing by Turkish authorities had also said the chemical used in the attack was sarin.

A fact finding mission from OPCW was sent to Turkey to gather bio-metric samples and interview survivors, sources told Reuters earlier Thursday.

The OPCW mission will determine whether chemical weapons were used, but is not mandated to assign blame. Its findings, expected in 3-4 weeks, will be passed to a joint United Nations-OPCW investigation tasked with identifying individuals or institutions responsible for using chemical weapons.

Last week’s bombing in the town of Khan Sheikhoun near the Turkish border was the most lethal since a sarin attack on Aug. 21, 2013 killed hundreds in a suburb of the capital, Damascus.

On the battlefield, US-backed forces fighting ISIS launched a new phase of their offensive on Thursday, a statement said, but they have not yet begun to attack the militant group’s stronghold of Raqqa city in an apparent delay in the operation.

The multi-phased campaign by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance made up of Syrian Kurdish and Arab fighting groups, was launched in November and aims ultimately to drive the jihadists from Raqqa, their de facto Syrian capital.

Officials in the Kurdish YPG militia, a powerful component of the SDF, said last month that assaults on Raqqa city itself would start in early or mid-April.

But the fourth phase of the campaign aims to clear ISIS pockets from the countryside north of the city, the SDF statement said. It did not say when the assault on Raqqa itself would begin.

“We aim to liberate dozens of villages in the Wadi Jallab area and the northern countryside … and clear the last obstacles in front of us to pave the way for the operation to liberate Raqqa city,” it said.

The SDF have closed in on Raqqa from the north, east and west.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Trump The Moron At It Again: Saying Obama Got The British Intelligence Agency To Spy On Him

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS)

White House Seeks to Allay British Concerns Over Unfounded Wiretapping Claim

11:43 AM ET
White House officials tried to calm the concerns of British allies after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated an unfounded claim that the British spy service spied on President Trump. But the White House is stopping short of saying it offered an apology to its closest foreign ally.

“[British Ambassador to the U.S.] Kim Darroch and [National Security Advisor] Sir Mark Lyall expressed their concerns to Sean Spicer and General McMaster,” a White House official said Friday. “Mr. Spicer and General McMaster explained that Mr. Spicer was simply pointing to public reports, not endorsing any specific story.”

Several British outlets reported Friday that the White House apologized to the U.K. government, but the White House would not confirm those accounts.

The row began Thursday, as Spicer repeated the claim of Fox News personality Andrew Napolitano, who suggested that former President Obama had ordered GCHQ, the U.K.’s equivalent of the National Security Agency, to spy on his successor. For nearly two weeks the White House has been struggling to justify Trump’s assertion in a March 4 tweet that Obama had him “wire tapped.”

On Thursday, the top Republican and Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee jointly stated they’ve seen no evidence of any surveillance of Trump Tower. Even Trump allies in Congress are staying away from the claim, though Trump maintained Wednesday in an interview with Fox News that he would be vindicated by new information “very soon.” The White House has argued that Trump’s use of quotation marks around the phrase wires tapped implied he meant all manners of surveillance against him, but hasn’t offered any official proof of the claim, beyond reports in the press.

Reading a long list of media reports that mentioned alleged signals intelligence about Trump and his ties to Russia, Spicer quoted comments.

“Last, on Fox News on March 14th, Judge Andrew Napolitano made the following statement,” Spicer said during the daily White House briefing. “‘Three intelligence sources have informed Fox News that President Obama went outside the chain of command. He didn’t use the NSA, he didn’t use the CIA, he didn’t use the FBI, and he didn’t use the Department of Justice. He used GCHQ, what is that? It’s the initials for the British Intelligence Spying Agency. So simply, by having two people saying to them, “The President needs transcripts of conversations involved in candidate Trump’s conversations involving President-elect Trump,” he was able to get it and there’s no American fingerprints on this.'”

Within hours GCHQ responded in a rare statement calling the claim “utterly ridiculous.

“Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wire tapping’ against the then President Elect are nonsense,” a GCHQ spokesperson said. “They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

Asked by a reporter whether the subject of GCHQ’s alleged involvement had raised between the two governments and whether it would affect the so-called “special relationship” between the U.S. and the U.K., Spicer backtracked.

“No, no, it has not been raised,” Spicer said. “But I do think that, again, we’re not — all we’re doing is literally reading off what other stations and people have reported, and I think that casts into concern some of the activities that may have occurred during the ’16 election. We’re not casting judgment on that. I think the idea is to say that if these organizations, these individuals came to these conclusions, they merit looking into.”

The claim is all the more incendiary given the close intelligence-sharing relationship between the two countries. The U.S. and the U.K., along with Australia, Canada, and New Zealand, form the Five Eyes — a decades-old intelligence cooperative in which the countries share much of their signals intelligence and pledge not to spy on each another.

A spokesperson for British Prime Minister Theresa May told The Independent that the White House would not float the claims again. “We’ve made clear to the Administration that these claims are ridiculous and they should be ignored and we’ve received assurances they won’t be repeated.”