Posts Tagged ‘Barack Obama’

Moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem Is Not a Disaster

December 9, 2017

But the Trump administration needs to walk a very fine line with Palestine and Arab states.

President Donald Trump holds up a proclaimation that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Dec. 6, at the White House. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump holds up a proclaimation that the U.S. government will formally recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel on Dec. 6, at the White House. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Few issues in the Middle East are more evocative than Jerusalem. Arab leaders’ public responses to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital this week have been swift and negative, at least in part because they had little forewarning of what was coming and could not afford to look like they were conceding Arab, Palestinian, and Muslim rights in the city and its holy site.

The irony is that what the president said does not concede those rights and claims. His recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital reflects a reality that it is the seat of Israel’s government and that, for the Jewish state, Jerusalem will always be its capital — there is no other city that could be. For Palestinians, they too no doubt cannot envision any city but Jerusalem as the capital of their state, if and when it emerges from moribund negotiations. The president’s statement does not rule that out: On the contrary, he said that the United States is not taking a position on “the specific boundaries of the Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the resolution of contested borders.” Those questions, he said, “are up to the parties involved.”

Given Arab and Palestinian concerns and the potential for Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran, and al Qaeda to distort what the United States is doing to foment rage and violence, it is essential that the Trump administration’s message be clear and consistent about not prejudging the outcome of the status of Jerusalem. Maintaining message discipline has not been the hallmark of the Trump White House, but it is crucial now. No stray tweets allowed.

Maintaining message discipline has not been the hallmark of the Trump White House, but it is crucial now. No stray tweets allowed.

The stakes are too high, particularly if the president’s decision is not going to play into the hands of the enemies of peace.That means repeating and reinforcing President Trump’s main theme in his speech: that the United States is drawing a distinction between acknowledging the reality that Jerusalem has been Israel’s capital since 1949, and the need for negotiations to resolve all the respective claims that Israelis and Palestinians have, including questions related to Jerusalem. Israelis and Palestinians must resolve these issues directly and without outside interference.

There is a logic to this duality. Israel’s prime minister and parliament are located in the part of Jerusalem that is not contested, and there is an honesty in ending the fiction that the city is not the Israeli capital, which has gone on for close to 70 years. At the same time, given the centrality and potentially explosive nature of Jerusalem, it is vital not to appear to be pre-empting the ability of the parties to determine boundaries of the city and whether it will or will not be a capital for two states. Already Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh has called for an uprising, and the violent riots today in the West Bank signal that anger over the president’s declaration can be further exploited — which also helps to explain Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration that the United States can no longer play the mediator’s role.

Because there is an emotional lens through which all parties perceive Jerusalem, any decision can be misrepresented by extremists and produce violence. And if the United States appears to be closing the door on Jerusalem or simply adopting the Israeli position that all of Jerusalem should be under Israeli sovereignty, it may allow the jihadis and the rejectionists to hijack this highly sensitive issue. They, of course, will leap at the opportunity to create a provocation against the United States and against America’s Arab and Palestinian partners — especially Abbas and King Abdullah II of Jordan. The administration needs to keep in mind the pressures both of these leaders are likely to be under.

One practical step the Trump administration could take to reduce their ability to exploit the president’s decision is to have senior U.S. officials appear on every Arabic-speaking news outlet and explain what this decision is and what it is not. The announcement, they should underline, is about recognizing what no one questions: that any peace deal would end with Israel maintaining its capital in at least part of Jerusalem. That would help make clear the administration’s contention that it is not putting its thumb on the scale against Palestinian interests in Jerusalem — the United States continues to insist that the basic issues related to the future of Jerusalem, the questions of sovereignty, and competing Israeli and Palestinian claims must be subject to negotiations before there can be a peace agreement. Both elements of this message need to be a mantra, repeated to Arabic audiences by top U.S. officials in the weeks ahead, including by Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region.

Both elements of this message need to be a mantra, repeated to Arabic audiences by top U.S. officials in the weeks ahead, including by Vice President Mike Pence when he visits the region.

This is the best hope for strengthening the hands of the Arab and Palestinian leaders who must resist the efforts by those like Hamas who will seek to distort the reality and claim that Jerusalem has been given away — and who clearly want to provoke violence and greater polarization. It can also begin to change the environment in a way that allows Abbas and his negotiators, such as Saeb Erekat, to walk back from some of their statements about ending the peace process and the American role in it.

Conveying this message is not just important to avert violence, but also to ensure that the plan that the Trump administration intends to present to the Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab countries is not dead on arrival. The reason former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama invoked the waiver was not because they lacked courage but because they believed this would deny the Palestinians and the Arabs the political space they needed to make hard decisions for peace, thus rendering its achievement more difficult. President Trump argued in his statement that they were wrong. If he wants to prove he is right, he will first need to make clear that their interests and rights have not already been conceded — and then present a credible peace plan, including on Jerusalem.

Dennis Ross is the former American envoy to the Middle East and counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

David Makovsky is the Ziegler Distinguished Fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where he directs the Project on the Middle East Peace Process. In 2013-2014, he served in the Office of the Secretary of State, where he was a senior advisor during the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. He just released a high-tech interactive map called Settlements and Solutions.


Cuba, North Korea reject ‘unilateral and arbitrary’ U.S. demands

November 23, 2017

HAVANA (Reuters) – Cuba’s foreign minister and his North Korean counterpart rejected the United States’ “unilateral and arbitrary” demands on Wednesday while expressing concern about escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula, the ministry said.

North Korea is searching for support amid unprecedented pressure from the United States and the international community to cease its nuclear weapons and missile programs, which it carries out in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

The country, which has made no secret of its plans to develop a missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland, has maintained warm political relations with Cuba since 1960, despite the island’s opposition to nuclear weapons.

Some diplomats said Cuba was also one of the few countries that might be able to convince North Korea to move away from the current showdown with the United States that threatens war.

The ministers, meeting in Havana, called for “respect for peoples’ sovereignty” and “the peaceful settlement of disputes,” according to a statement released by the Cuban foreign ministry.

“They strongly rejected the unilateral and arbitrary lists and designations established by the U.S. government which serve as a basis for the implementation of coercive measures which are contrary to international law,” the statement said.

U.S. President Donald Trump has also increased pressure on Cuba since taking office, rolling back a fragile detente begun by predecessor Barack Obama and returning to the hostile rhetoric of the Cold War.

A U.S. State Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that the United States had made clear it wanted a peaceful resolution to the North Korean nuclear issue.

“The DPRK’s belligerent and provocative behavior demonstrates it has no interest in working toward a peaceful solution,” the official said.

DPRK stands for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Cuba said in the statement the Cuban and North Korean foreign ministers had “expressed concern about the escalation of tensions” on the Korean peninsula.

“The ministers discussed the respective efforts carried out in the construction of socialism according to the realities inherent to their respective countries.”

Cuba and North Korea are the last in the world to maintain Soviet-style command economies, though under President Raul Castro, the Caribbean nation has taken some small steps toward the more market-oriented communism of China and Vietnam.

Cuba maintains an embassy in North Korea, but publicly trades almost exclusively with the South. Last year, trade with the latter was $67 million and with the North just $9 million, according to the Cuban government.

North Korea defends its weapons programs as a necessary defense against U.S. plans to invade. The United States, which has 28,500 troops in South Korea, a legacy of the 1950-53 Korean war, denies any such intentions.

Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Additional Reporting by Phillip Stewart in Washington; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Nick Macfie

Looking Back At Donald Trump’s Asia Trip: The Winner is China — Viewing a pathetic reversal of America’s defining role in the world as the voice of humanity’s highest ideals

November 19, 2017
 / 05:22 AM November 19, 2017

At the festival of summits to which the Philippines dutifully played host last week, three basic standpoints by which humanity describes and criticizes the state of affairs in the world vied for space.

The first is the human rights standpoint, the modern version of the value placed by natural law on human dignity and equality, which today is encoded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The second is the semantics of national self-determination, which became deeply entrenched in the era of decolonization. The third is the working-class perspective, which took shape in the last century with the rise of socialism, but is now mostly expressed as a critique of neoliberalism.

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These competing viewpoints were not visible in equal measure at these summits. But, the resonance of particular issues, alongside the muted presence of others, gives us a good picture of how today’s leaders are reacting to the complex problems brought about by globalization. These problems include the massive flows of migrants and refugees, terrorism, bigotry, uneven development and sharp inequalities within and across countries, mass poverty, ecological disasters, and war. They are problems that need the kind of global perspective for which multilateral talks might have been suited.

But, the hands-down winner in these summits has been the nation-state perspective — and the vocabulary of national sovereignty, noninterference, and peaceful coexistence, in which it is officially articulated. The other name for it is the Chinese template. Rather than global agreements transcending nation-state divides, what we find instead are the bilateral deals by which every country tries to secure from another what it needs for itself.

Image result for Trump asia trip, photos

No one could have formulated this standpoint more bluntly than US President Donald Trump, who had won the presidency on a campaign to put “America first.” Even as he railed at the glaring trade imbalance between the United States and China during his recent official visit to China, he ended up praising his host. To resounding applause, he declared: “After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for the benefit of its citizens? I give China great credit.” For the abysmal state of affairs in which the United States finds itself today, he blames Barack Obama instead.

Though it sounded like a backhanded compliment, his fawning comment on China’s behavior merely underscores the point that in the end it is the economic interests of their respective countries that matter most to these world leaders. Not surprisingly, Trump ended his China visit with about $250 billion in commercial deals between American and Chinese companies.

Trump’s deal-making pragmatism may appear to many as a pathetic reversal of America’s defining role in the world as the voice of humanity’s highest ideals. But this is a symptom not only of America’s decline as a world economic power but, more importantly, of the emergence of a world system without a center.

As Trump himself concedes, China has indeed become the model for today’s world. But, make no mistake about it. What this template represents is neither socialism (not even working-class solidarity) nor the primacy of universal values, but, rather, the advantages of a state-led capitalism with an authoritarian face.

On the side of the Asean Summit, there were separate summits with the United Nations and with the European Union. But, compared to the events attended by China, there was little interest in what was taken up at these meetings. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres would have been the logical interlocutor for human rights concerns. At the Asean-EU summit, he did speak briefly on the Rohingya crisis, drawing from his experience as former UN High Commissioner on Refugees, and called for humanitarian assistance to the Rohingya. But, while he expressed interest in helping to strengthen the Asean human rights commission, he avoided mentioning extrajudicial killings, speaking at length instead on the threat from terrorism and violent extremism.

European Council President Donald Tusk, who represented the European Union, took more or less the same tack in his address to the Asean leaders. He politely avoided any mention of human rights issues, and dwelt almost entirely on the need for international cooperation to combat radicalization and terrorism. This is in stark contrast to the human rights concerns persistently aired by EU delegations in recent months.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was the only leader who was bold enough to bring up the sensitive matter of EJKs in his brief one-on-one meeting with President Duterte on Nov. 14. He did so in the most courteous way possible, prefacing his remarks with an admission that his own country is guilty of neglect and mistreatment of its indigenous peoples. Trudeau thought that he and Mr. Duterte had “a very cordial and positive exchange.”  But, after he left, Mr. Duterte wasted no time in telling the media what he thought of Trudeau’s human rights comment — “a personal and official insult.”

And so this vicious reaction unfolds, where any hint of criticism of another government’s treatment of its own nationals is treated as an insult and an affront to national sovereignty.  Given such a standpoint, one wonders how it is possible — except in the most limited terms — to express any concern for global problems such as the plight of migrant workers, of refugees, of children, and of the millions of victims of racial bigotry, religious oppression, and misogyny across the world.

Check out our Asean 2017 special site for important information and latest news on the 31st Asean Summit to be held in Manila on Nov. 13-15, 2017. Visit

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Trump’s ‘Indo-Pacific dream’ is working Asians’ nightmare
 / 05:00 AM November 18, 2017

It has been 16 years since the United States launched their “global war on terror” which, according to them, was an “action to end the waves of terror and chaos in the different parts of the world.” This was yet another lie.

A quick study of recent history since 9/11 would prove that it was not the obstruction or decimation of terrorists or jihadists that the United States focused on. But rather, they tactically used their “war on terror” in order to gain control of cheap raw materials needed to fuel their global economic dominance (Iraq, Libya), open up new markets (Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan) and strengthen their foothold on countries with strategic trade routes. This is what is unfolding in Somalia today and their objective in their continued interference in the Malacca Straits and in the South China Sea.

Ever since the Philippine-American War—a result of American businessmen wanting to establish a porting dock in Asia—up to the multiple, unequal and unjust trade and military treaties such as the Bell Trade Act (1946), the Cold War relic, Mutual Defense Treaty (1951), the circumventing Visiting Forces Agreement (1999), and of late, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement that promoted our economic dependency on the United States, the Filipino people were, and still are, tied on an imperialist leash.

The Filipino people are tired of being treated as “little brown men” by our “GI Joe liberators.” All of the nation’s past presidents have succumbed to the imperialist agenda. Fostering our economic dependency on the West, politicians have bled us dry to pay for onerous debts the bankers promoted as “development projects,” placing us in the crosshairs of a nuclear Armageddon, placing our rural communities in peril for their extractive industries and giving undue privileges to their multinational corporations at the expense of Filipino workers.

When President Duterte promised an independent foreign policy, we were given hope that the status quo would change. However, the Filipino people have been deceived, again.

US President Donald Trump’s first visit to the Philippines in time for Asean’s 50th anniversary dawns a new era of exploitative policies and treaties; he calls it the “Indo-Pacific dream.” Trump recently outlined the administration’s overall Asian policy in his address to CEOs in Vietnam. He offered a general set of principles and interests that will unfold in the coming years, obviously designed to rival China’s Silk Road Economic Belt roadmap that Mr. Duterte has fallen in love with.

The supposed main thrust of Trump’s vision for a “free and open Indo-Pacific” is “partnership” with strong, independent nations willing to play by their rules.

Trump’s “economic security is national security” could only mean that imperial America will not sit idly as its throne as a global economic power is slowly eroding and is being contested by other superpowers such as China and Russia.

His “Indo-Pacific dream” is but a military and economic conquest for dominance in East Asia and Southeast Asia—the location of the world’s most dynamic economies since 2008. This is a blatant admission of imperial America’s true and unwavering agenda in the region. This could mean more deregulation, market liberalization and corporate takeover of social services.

Trump’s pipe dream is most certainly the working Asians’ nightmare.

JOANNE S. LIM, spokesperson, Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan,

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South China Sea: China Takes Control — “The sheer numbers [of Chinese] are starting to push the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, and the Malaysians out”

November 18, 2017

China is starting to dictate terms in one of the world’s strategic waterways, and the United States is largely missing in action.

A Chinese navy formation, including the aircraft carrier Liaonin, takes part in military drills in the South China Sea on Jan. 2. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

A Chinese navy formation, including the aircraft carrier Liaonin, takes part in military drills in the South China Sea on Jan. 2. (Stringer/AFP/Getty Images)

In his 12-day trip to Asia, U.S. President Donald Trump largely focused on North Korea and trade, all but avoiding the simmering disputes in the South China Sea and steering clear of sharp criticism of Beijing’s increasingly aggressive activities there.

With the Trump administration focused elsewhere for now, China is quietly pressing ahead with its agenda in one of the world’s most strategic waterways, building more military facilities on man-made islands to buttress its expansionist claims and dramatically expanding its presence at sea at the expense of its smaller neighbors.

Beijing’s under-the-radar advances in the South China Sea could be bad news for countries in the region, for U.S. hopes to maintain influence in the Western Pacific, and for the rules-based international order that for decades has promoted peace and prosperity in Asia.

At the Chinese Communist Party congress last month, President Xi Jinping cited island building in the South China Sea as one of his top achievements so far, and touted the “successful prosecution of maritime rights.” Those rights appear at odds with international law: Xi is now assuring nervous neighbors that China will offer “safe passage” through the seas to other countries in the region.

“The South China Sea has fallen victim to a combination of Trump’s narrow focus on North Korea and the administration’s chaotic and snail-paced policymaking process,” said Ely Ratner of the Council on Foreign Relations, who served as an advisor to former Vice President Joe Biden.

China’s recent advances in the South China Sea aren’t as eye-popping as the overnight creation of artificial atolls in recent years, a massive engineering project dubbed the “great wall of sand” by a top U.S. admiral. That’s one reason the disputes got pushed to the back burner on Trump’s big trip.

“Because there’s no sense of immediate or medium-term crisis (in the South China Sea), they didn’t make it a big priority on the trip,” said Evan Medeiros of the Eurasia Group, who oversaw Asia strategy in the Obama White House.

But experts say the quiet moves — including expanding military bases, constructing radar and sensor installations, hardened shelters for missiles, and vast logistical warehouses for fuel, water, and ammunition — are threatening to turn China’s potential stranglehold on the region into reality.

Much of the activity has centered on three reefs converted into artificial islands through large-scale dredging: Fiery Cross, Mischief Reef, and Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands, about 650 miles from Hainan Island in southern China. Satellite imagery in June revealed a large dome had been erected on Fiery Cross with another under construction, suggesting a substantial communications or radar system, experts say. At Mischief Reef, workers were installing two more domes.

With runways, hangars for fighter jets, and communications hardware in place on the artificial islands, China can deploy military aircraft and missiles whenever it wants, solidifying its grip over the area and flouting international maritime law. The three newly built bases in the Spratlys, combined with another on Woody Island, will enable Chinese warplanes to fly over nearly the entire South China Sea, according to Pentagon officials and defense analysts. That could be the precursor to an “air defense identification zone” similar to the one that China slapped onto the East China Sea in 201

And the new bases have given China much greater reach at sea. Beijing has deployed more naval ships, Coast Guard vessels, and a flotilla of fishing boats that act as a maritime militia virtually around the clock. The ships can now dock nearby to refuel and resupply, rather than sail home, extending their time on station and their ability to project Chinese power through the area. That is changing the balance of power as fishing ships and coast guard vessels from other claimant countries like Vietnam and the Philippines are elbowed away from disputed features.

This summer, for example, Vietnam hoped to drill for natural gas off its own coast. But China reportedly summoned the Vietnamese ambassador and threatened military action if Hanoi went forward with development in its own exclusive economic zone. Sensing little backing from Washington, Vietnam quietly backed down and stopped drilling.

“The sheer numbers are starting to push the Filipinos, the Vietnamese, and the Malaysians out,” said Gregory Poling of the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

More than nine months into the Trump administration, contrasts with U.S. policy under Barack Obama toward the South China Sea are apparent — as they are with the initial saber-rattling tone of Trump administration officials. The Obama administration put a focus on diplomacy and consistently sought to uphold international law regarding the disputed waterway, though it often shied away from sailing U.S. Navy ships through the waters to send a tough signal to Beijing.

The Trump administration has taken almost the opposite approach: Navy cruises to assert the right of navigation have become commonplace, but there is little sign yet of a concerted U.S. policy to diplomatically push back against Chinese encroachment or offer encouragement to U.S. allies and partners threatened by Beijing’s advances, former officials, experts and foreign diplomats said.

“By having no South China Sea policy, Trump ensures that all the initiative lies with Beijing,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, a senior fellow at Yale’s Paul Tsai China Center.

Former U.S. officials and congressional aides said the Trump administration appears to be pulling its punches on the South China Sea, as well as trade issues, in hopes of securing Beijing’s cooperation to cut off North Korea’s access to fuel and cash to fund its nuclear weapons program. So far, China has stopped short of drastic action to squeeze the regime in Pyongyang — and Chinese officials just contradicted Trump’s claims that the two countries have found more common ground.

At the end of his Asia trip, Trump did offer to “mediate” between Vietnam and China, but that spooked officials in Hanoi who fear they could be a pawn in a bigger U.S.-China game centered on North Korea.

The White House did not respond to requests for comment on its approach to the South China Sea.

However, some former Obama officials are cautiously optimistic that the Trump administration, hamstrung so far by short staffing at key positions, especially regarding Asia policy, is starting to craft a more coherent policy toward the region, including a sharper focus on China’s activities in the South China Sea. Joint communiques in Japan and Vietnam stressed continued U.S. support for the rule of law and an end to coercion in maritime disputes, for example.

Ratner, the former Biden advisor, said he expects the Trump administration to chart a more proactive course as it settles into office.

“They appear to finally be getting their policy feet under them and I’m expecting more focus on South China Sea in the months ahead,” he said. “So it’s premature to declare it’ll remain a low priority going forward.”

Dan De Luce is Foreign Policy’s chief national security correspondent. @dandeluc

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China’s playbook still working…


Peace and Freedom Note: The South China Sea already had a “legally binding” decision that China did not like — so China ignored the legally binding finding….

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law.

Final arguments in trial of Benghazi attack ‘mastermind’

November 16, 2017


© AFP/File / by Sébastien BLANC | A vehicle sits smoldering in flames inside the US consulate compound in Benghazi, Libya on September 11, 2012 after an attack that killed four Americans, including Ambassador Christopher Stevens.

WASHINGTON (AFP) – Prosecutors in the trial of the alleged Libyan mastermind of the 2012 attack in Benghazi that killed a US ambassador argued Thursday that he was equally responsible even if he did not personally take part.

Wrapping up final arguments in the trial of Ahmed Abu Khattala over the 2012 Benghazi attack, US government lawyers said he was guilty of conspiracy and murder in the deaths of US ambassador to Libya Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

“‘I will kill all the Americans, each and everyone of them…’: This is what the defendant Abu Khattala said and this is exactly what he did,” prosecutor Michael DiLorenzo told a jury in the trial in Washington federal court.

“On September 11, he took action,” DiLorenzo said, highlighting that the attack in the eastern Libyan city took place on the anniversary of the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks.

Khattala, in his 40s with a long white beard, sat passively in his chair in the courtroom, where his trial opened seven weeks earlier.

DiLorenzo summed up his argument that Khattala was an Islamic extremist who hated Western culture and believed the US operated a cell of spies in Benghazi.

Prosecutors allege that he directed the attack by some 20 men armed with grenades and heavy weapons on the US consulate and a second annex building where agents of the CIA worked.

The attack set fire to the consulate, where Stevens and a second State Department official, Sean Smith, died of asphyxiation.

Later that night two former Navy Seals who were contracted to the consulate operation, Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods, were killed by mortar fire on the annex.

The attack shocked the United States. Stevens was the first American ambassador killed in the field since 1979.

Republicans in Congress launched an intense investigation that accused president Barack Obama and then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton of mismanagement, neglect and covering up the truth of the incident.

– Murder and terror charges –

Khattala is facing 18 separate charges including murder and material support for terrorists.

The 12-person jury is to begin weighing a verdict after final arguments in the case wind up on Thursday.

Khattala’s lawyers argue that although he is a conservative Muslim, he did not hate the West. To the contrary, they said he was a “Libyan patriot” who says he worked with Americans to bring down the Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi, who was killed in 2011.

The photographs and videos that show him at the site during the attack do not prove he was part of it, his lawyers say. He was only a bystander who came to watch.

But the US government argues he commanded the Islamist militia Ansar al-Sharia behind the attack.

Even if he did not physically participate, DiLorenzo argued, in a conspiracy “the defendant is equally liable.”

– Test case –

Khattala’s trial is a test case for foreign suspects forcibly brought to the United States for trial.

He was captured in 2014 when US special forces carried out a raid based on intelligence provided by a Libyan man who ultimately received a $7 million reward from the US government.

On November 4 a second Libyan accused of involvement in the Benghazi attack, Mustafa al-Imam, was put on trial in the same Washington court, days after being captured and brought to the United States.

Al-Imam was called one of the men who attacked the consulate.

by Sébastien BLANC

Trump’s Iran policy bearing fruit

November 11, 2017

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Arab News


A still image taken from a video distributed by Yemen's pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station on November 5, 2017, shows what it says was the launch by Houthi forces of a ballistic missile aimed at Riyadh's King Khaled Airport on Saturday, Houthi Military Media Unit via REUTERS TV

A still image taken from a video distributed by Yemen’s pro-Houthi Al Masirah television station shows what it says was the launch by Houthi forces of a ballistic missile aimed at Riyadh’s King Khaled Airport. Credit Reuters

How can we assess Donald Trump’s Iran policy one year into his first term as president of the US? Has the president fulfilled his campaign promises?

During his campaign, Trump was clear that the Iranian regime’s aggressive, destabilizing meddling in the region’s affairs should be forcefully confronted.

After taking office, Trump became the first US president since Iran became an Islamic republic in 1979 to appear live on TV and articulate to the American people, and the world, America’s strategy for the Iranian regime.

Trump’s Iran strategy is transparent and clear (and comprehensive — including three major pillars of Iran’s foreign policy), and it focuses on four main areas: Addressing Iran’s nuclear program and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached between China, France, Russia, Germany, the UK, the US, the EU and the Islamic republic; Tehran’s ballistic missile program; the Iranian regime’s meddling and military interventions in the region; distinguishing between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people.

Trump has stated that Iran’s nuclear deal was a victory for the Iranian regime, but a blow to the West and to the region. The mullahs are receiving billions of dollars in revenues while continuing to pursue their nuclear and hegemonic ambitions. And the JCPOA’s sunset clauses removes all restrictions on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program after 2025.

Regarding Tehran’s ballistic program, Iran has fired over a dozen ballistic missiles since the nuclear agreement was reached. Trump has urged the international community to consider imposing sanctions on the regime’s ballistic activities. Trump also urged US Congress to pass legislation that would prevent the Iranian regime from obtaining intercontinental ballistic missiles.

When it comes to Iran’s meddling and aggressive behavior in the region, Trump identified the main culprit: Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which has significant control over Iran’s economic and political sectors. The IRGC uses its military wing, the Quds Force, to train, arm and fund terror groups across the region in order to advance the regime’s agenda. Through instability and conflicts, the IRGC is expanding its influence and achieving the mullahs’ hegemonic ambitions.

Trump’s Iran strategy is anchored in historical realities as well. It draws on the history of the mullahs since 1979 and reveals why the regime has not moderated its behavior — why concessions and compromises will not change the fundamental revolutionary ideals, nor the foreign policy, of the Iranian regime, and why that regime cannot be trusted.

Image result for Khobar towers

Khobar Towers

Trump laid out Iran’s history of terror and hostility ranging from the 1979 hostage taking of American diplomats in Tehran and the 1996 bombing of American military housing in Khobar Towers, Saudi Arabia, to training Al-Qaeda operatives later involved in the 1998 attacks on American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, which killed 224 people, and wounded more than 4,000 others.

Image result for U.S. embassy in Tanzania, after bombing, photos

This image depicts damage at the American Embassy in Nairobi, Kenya following an Al-Qaeda terrorist attack on August 7, 1998. The bombing occurred within four minutes of a coordinated attack against the U.S. Embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.  Copyright, Reuters, all rights reserved. Image provided here as fair use for educational purposes.

Trump’s strategy also makes a clear distinction between the Iranian regime and the Iranian people, who are the first victims of the regime’s brutality, corruption and suppression. But has Trump actually managed to turn his Iran strategy into effective action?

The US president has made considerable progress toward achieving its objectives. In the coming year, we will probably witness further steps against
the Iranian regime.

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh

While one year is really too short a period over which to assess the implementation of such a comprehensive strategy, Trump has made significant progress toward its objectives.

In February, Trump unveiled new sanctions against 13 people and 12 companies in response to Iran’s ballistic missile tests, followed by sanctions of another 18 entities in July. He has also imposed sanctions against the Iranian regime for its ongoing support for terrorism.



Houthi rebels, Saudi Arabia claims, fired an Iranian missile towards Riyadh on 4 November. Iran has denied supplying the weapons.STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

In August, Trump approved sanctions that not only target the IRGC and Quds Force, but also penalize any US entity that deals with these Iranian institutions and their affiliates.

In October, Trump declined to certify the nuclear deal and introduced further robust sanctions against the IRGC.

It is worth noting, too, that the president’s Iran strategy is multilateral; he has sought the cooperation of regional powers, including Saudi Arabia, to confront the threat posed by the Iranian regime.

Some may argue that Trump has not yet fulfilled the promises of his Iran strategy. But strategies for specific countries can take months to be drafted and reviewed once a new president assumes office. Taking this fact into consideration, significant progress has been made in the first year of Trump’s presidency.

The previous US administration, under former President Barack Obama, had implemented an opposing policy of appeasement toward the Iranian regime — full of compromises and concessions — that turned a blind eye to its aggressive behavior.

Trump’s Iran policy, though, is comprehensive, multi-dimensional and well-informed. During his first year in office, the president has made a considerable amount of progress toward achieving its objectives. And in the coming year, we will probably witness further steps against the Iranian regime.

• Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is a Harvard-educated, Iranian-American political scientist. He is a leading expert on Iran and US foreign policy, a businessman and president of the International American Council. He serves on the boards of the Harvard International Review, the Harvard International Relations Council and the US-Middle East Chamber for Commerce
and Business.
Twitter: @Dr_Rafizadeh

Philippines’ Duterte Expects International Support for His “War On Drugs”

November 11, 2017


© AFP/File / by Karl MALAKUNAS | Duterte came to power promising to kill thousands of drug users in the Philippines

MANILA (AFP) – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte will host world leaders in Manila from Sunday, hoping their presence will quieten international criticism over his deadly drugs war, which rights groups say may be a crime against humanity.

Duterte goes into the event appearing confident that even his most outrageous remarks and actions will be ignored, having boasted in the lead-up he once stabbed someone to death, while at the same time proposing to host a global human rights summit.

US President Donald Trump will be among leaders from 19 countries, plus the heads of the United Nations and European Union, coming for the talks, which will begin with a banquet on Sunday night followed by summits on Monday and Tuesday.

But rights groups have expressed alarm and disappointment that Trump and most others are likely to endorse or stay silent over Duterte’s violent rule, which has seen thousands of people killed.

“Duterte will enjoy the gift of tacit silence from East Asian leaders on his murderous drug war during the upcoming summit,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phelim Kine told AFP.

“We can expect East Asian leaders to exercise a diplomatic blind eye to the killings of thousands of Filipinos over the past 16 months as part of Duterte’s drug war.”

Duterte won last year’s presidential elections after promising to eradicate illegal drugs with an unprecedented crackdown that would see up to 100,000 people killed.

Since Duterte took office, police have reported killing 3,967 people in the crackdown.

Another 2,290 people have been murdered in drug-related crimes, while thousands of other deaths remain unsolved, according to government data.

Many Filipinos back Duterte, believing he is taking necessary measures to fight crime.

But rights groups warn he may be orchestrating a crime against humanity.

Amnesty International accuses police of shooting dead defenceless people and paying assassins to murder addicts.

Rights groups say police are following Duterte’s incitements to kill, citing comments of his such as he would be “happy to slaughter” three million addicts.

Domestic opponents have appealed to the International Criminal Court to investigate, pointing to the jailing of opponents, a compliant congress and intimidated judiciary as reasons to step in.

– A ‘great job’ –

But the ICC has yet to respond and, despite some vocal critics in the West, Duterte goes into the Manila summits full of confidence that Trump and the others will effectively endorse his rule by not speaking against the killings.

In Vietnam on Thursday on the sidelines of an Asia-Pacific economic summit, Duterte boasted that when he was 16 he stabbed to death someone for looking at him the wrong way.

He then offered to host a global summit on human rights, but insisted that the alleged crimes of the United States, France and other nations also be investigated.

Duterte, 72, last year branded then-US president Barack Obama a “son of a whore” for criticising the drug war.

But Trump and Duterte have expressed mutual admiration for other. Trump told Duterte in a telephone call in April that he was doing a “great job” with his campaign against drugs.

They are expected to hold one-on-one talks on Monday and, if Trump does not bring up any human rights concerns, Duterte is widely expected to trumpet the meeting as an endorsement.

“We will be extremely disappointed if Trump does not raise it,” Amnesty’s Philippine director, Jose Noel Olano, told reporters on Saturday.

Duterte is hosting the two days of summits as the rotating chair of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Duterte can expect blanket support from his ASEAN colleagues, many of whom are also shadowed by human rights controversies.

“From the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar, to a sweeping crackdown on all forms of dissent in Cambodia to the thousands killed in Philippines, human rights are under siege across Southeast Asia,” Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a Philippine researcher with Amnesty, told AFP.

The premiers of China and Russia, two other important Duterte backers, will also be in Manila.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is another key backer of Duterte, with the pair having established a warm relationship.


Netanyahu Urged Obama To Bomb Iran, Former Secretary of State John Kerry Says

November 11, 2017
 NOVEMBER 10, 2017 18:41


Ex-US Secretary of State John Kerry reveals that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pressured the US administration in the past to nuke Iran, but says he doesn’t believe this will solve the problem.

Kerry Netanyahu upset

Kerry, Netanyahu in Tel Aviv July 23. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Israel asked the United States to bomb Iran when Barack Obama served as president, former Secretary of State John Kerry said during a conversation he held in London in Chatham House this week about the nuclear threat posed by Tehran.

“Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu was urging President [Barack] Obama to bomb Iran,” Kerry said but did not clarify when that request was made.

“Every leader I met with in the region … [including former Egyptian president Hosni] Mubarak, personally, to my face, said ‘you have to bomb Iran, that is the only thing they understand and that is the only way you will stop them having a nuclear weapon’,” Kerry recalled.

But Kerry expressed his doubts over this widely-shared notion, saying that “Bombing Iran does not necessarily stop them from having a nuclear weapon. It is the same dilemma that we face with North Korea. We do not know where everything is.”

At the time that the nuclear deal was put in place, Iran did not have a nuclear weapon, Kerry continued.

“I guarantee you, once you bomb the country, you have surely [sic] given them a good reason to want to have a weapon,” the ex-Secretary of State asserted.

Prior to the agreement Iran could have “dug two miles deep into a mountain” to create a facility to produce a nuclear weapon and should Tehran be bombed, it would be moved to do so, he added.

Kerry spoke on Tuesday, just four days after Netanyahu spoke to Chatham House about Iran. The former Secretary of State gave a rousing defense of the 2015 nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, that was reached between Iran and the six world powers: the US, Russia, China, Great Britain, France and Germany.

The accord delayed and constrained Iran’s ability to produce a nuclear weapon, but did not eliminate Tehran’s ability to do so.

On Friday while in London Netanyahu made a passionate plea for the six world power to fix the problems in the agreement, which he believes will leave Iran with the capacity to produce 100 nuclear weapons.

US President Donald Trump and Netanyahu are in agreement that the deal is problematic, but the other five powers hold that it must remain in place. Last week Russian President Vladimir Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron spoke and reaffirmed their commitment to the deal.

The Israeli premier believes that he can sway the leaders to take a series of steps outside the context of the agreement that would fix what he believes are three basic issues. These include inspections, Iran’s ballistic missile program and the ‘sunset’ clauses that allow Iran to produce nuclear weapons once the deal is done.

Kerry said that when the deal was concluded Iran was two months away from having the ability to produce a nuclear weapon, but that now, it was a year away. He added that under the terms of the deal, Iran won’t be able to produce a weapon for 15 years and then there will be another 10 years of oversight.

In addition, there is a procedure to reimpose sanctions if Iran breaks the terms of the deal.

Netanyahu told Chatham House that Iran is in a better position to produce nuclear weapons than it was before. Back when he drew his famous red line on a graphic at the United Nations in 2012, Netanyahu told Chatham House, he feared Iran would produce one bomb, but now he is afraid that once the deal is done it can produce 100 such weapons.


Donald Trump’s Strategy in Asia Suddenly Sits in Xi Jinping’s Capable Hands

November 8, 2017

By John E. Carey
Peace and Freedom
November 8, 2017

 President Xi Jinping of China, center, speaking during the Communist Party Congress in Beijing. Credit Andy Wong/Associated Press

The President of the United States, Donald Trump, arrived in China today for consultations with China’s newly elevated President Xi Jinping.

Xi’s importance has been enshrined to the same exalted status as the nation’s founding father, Mao Zedong. Xi’s name and ideas are now part of the Chinese Communist Party’s Constitution.

Mr. Trump will be treated to a “state visit plus” to allow him to “rejoice in grandiosity,” we are told.

That’s Chinese for “expect no substantive outcome.”

Meanwhile, Donald Trump, since his election a year ago, has engaged in numerous Twitter arguments with the media, lawmakers of his own party, international figures like the Mayor of London, and perhaps most of all, the head of North Korea, Kim Jong Un.

Kim’s North Korea has built and tested nuclear weapons including the hydrogen bomb. It has also developed and deployed ballistic missiles of various types and sizes. Kim has forcefully challenged the United States and has threatened to use intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) on the U.S. mainland.

And Trump has been vilified by the U.S. and international media.

Donald Trump needs Xi Jinping’s help. But Mr. Xi has President Trump in a kind of Chinese headlock.

Trump wants Xi’s China to do more to isolate North Korea — even to the point of cutting off all financial transactions between North Korea and China.

Trump arrives in China empty handed. He has nothing to offer to Xi.

In fact, Donald Trump has a long list of concessions he wants from China, including a further opening of Chinese markets to U.S. businesses, further controls and safeguards on intellectual property moving from the west to China, and a correction of the mismatch in trade flow between China and the U.S.

Donald Trump wants to encourage China to either stop or restrict sending billions of dollars of Chinese products to the U.S., or to allow into China billions of dollars of U.S. goods heretofore kept out.

Trump says trade with China is unfair. Don’t expect Mr. Xi to be impressed.

Trump could even talk to Xi about the Middle East and Iran or Afghanistan — all areas where China seems to have the upper hand.

Up up until this state visit, Xi has been unmoved on everything the West wants.

Over the years, many U.S. presidents have spoken up about China’s abysmal human rights record or its nearly total and illegal takeover of the South China Sea.

But Donald Trump sees himself as the Master of The Art of the Deal. A kind of Kung Fu dealmaker.

Now he has his chance.

And what are Donald Trump’s options if Xi Jinping just smiles knowingly and does nothing, the way he did in Mar-a-Lago last January?

There’s always Twitter.

But we could be wrong…

Because we still believe in miracles. And if God can’t grant us a miracle just now, a breakthrough would be terrific.

Otherwise, Donald Trump’s Asia strategy, whatever it is, will follow Barack Obama’s “Pivot to Asia” into the dustbin of history.


See also:

China’s plan for influencing Trump: lavish dinners and grand gestures


Trump prepares for the first test of his relationship with Xi

The president, who has largely softened his tone on China since taking office, is expected to be welcomed in a grand style billed as ‘state visit-plus.’

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

President Donald Trump with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Credit Saul Loeb-Pool Photo via AP


SEOUL — When it comes to China, there are two Donald Trumps.

As a candidate, Trump repeatedly hammered China, charging that Beijing had “rape[d] our country” with unfair trade and currency practices and threateningtariffs as high as 45 percent on Chinese imports. He also vowed to brand the country a currency manipulator on his first day in office.

But as president, Trump has shelved the currency idea and declined — for now — to slap stiff tariffs on Chinese exports. Meanwhile, he has cultivated what White House aides describe as a genuinely warm friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, for whom he has had nothing but flattering words.

Trump has even likened his communist counterpart, who was reinstalled last month for a second five-year term, to an Asian king.

“He’s a powerful man. I happen to think he’s a very good person,” Trump said of Xi on Fox Business Network last month. He added that “people say” the two men have “the best relationship” of any two presidents, even though “some people might call [Xi] the king of China.”

The softer tone — which infuriates some of Trump’s populist supporters — reflects what U.S. officials and experts call the blunt reality of Chinese power. The nation of 1.4 billion boasts Asia’s biggest army and the world’s second largest economy. It may also reflect Trump’s pattern of admiration for “strong” leaders from Russia to Turkey to Egypt; Xi has mounted a major crackdown against political dissent and rival power centers.

Trump still occasionally talks tough — as he did in a news conference in Japan ahead of his Wednesday arrival in Beijing for what the Chinese are grandly billing as a “state visit-plus.” Trump complained in Tokyo about a “very unfair” trade relationship between the U.S. and China. “We’ve already started discussions with China because it has to come down,” Trump said, though he offered no specifics.

But so far the result is a Trump policy that looks similar to the status quo of the Obama administration, which balanced cooperation with China alongside efforts to check its regional aggression.

That could change after the Trump team completes a China policy review that is still underway, according to U.S. officials — and if Trump loses patience with Chinese pledges to more sharply limit trade with North Korea.

But for now, the Trump approach is “similar to the many cooks in the kitchen under the Obama administration, with Defense doing one piece, Commerce and trade folks doing another,” said Ian Bremer, president of the Eurasia Group.

And few observers expect Trump to rock the boat on the ground in Beijing, where Trump will be seeking Xi’s continued help with the effort to stop North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear program. Before Trump’s departure, administration officials and outside advisers cautioned him that harsh unscripted rhetoric could have dangerous consequences for the already-tense nuclear showdown on the Korean Peninsula.

Trump has struck an uncharacteristically moderate tone on the trip, saying during his stop in Seoul that North Korea should “come to the table” and discuss giving up nuclear weapons — a break from his prior insistence that diplomacy was a waste of time.

Though a visit to Beijing might seem a natural time to confront Xi over economic issues, experts tracking the issue expect Trump to downplay his threat of tariffs in the name of national security.

It’s a concession that some key Trump allies call understandable.

“In the balance between North Korean nuclear weapons and trade, that’s not even a question,” said John Bolton, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, who has spoken often to Trump about foreign affairs.

Administration officials stressed that Trump has not ruled out imposing tariffs on key Chinese exports from solar panels to steel and aluminum. But several top administration officials have urged the president to rule out a scorched-earth strategy that involves across-the-board harsh tariffs.

Trump’s chumminess with Xi blossomed during the Chinese president’s April visit to Trump’s Mar-a-Lago club in Florida, where they chatted over what Trump called “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen.”

That sort of talk has some close Trump allies fuming behind the scenes, according to outside advisers to the White House. They would like to see Trump challenge Xi on Chinese economic policies.

Those allies are closely tracking the fate of White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, the biggest China critic left in the administration. Navarro was notably blocked from attending the Asia trip.

But Trump officials have discussed specific areas on which they plan to send China firm messages, including cybersecurity and intellectual property theft. Trump’s later stops in Southeast Asia are also expected to be venues for a tough line on Chinese regional aggression.

Many analysts said it’s too early to judge Trump’s China policy, noting that the administration’s policy review is still underway.

“I don’t think we should expect that just because we have smooth sailing this is going continue into next year,” said Nick Consonery, an expert in China macroeconomic research at the Rhodium Group, a consulting firm.

Meanwhile, Trump’s advisers are trying to maintain close relations with China while pursuing an Asia strategy — pushing for a “free and open Indo-Pacific region” — that appears aimed at challenging Beijing’s dominance in the region.

Keenly aware of how the strategy could complicate the trip, administration officials are sensitive to the notion that its new emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region is aimed at containing China.

“Containment, certainly not,” a senior administration official said.

During a news conference on Monday, Trump was pressed about whether his push for a “free and open” Indo-Pacific region would inevitably lead to a clash with China.

“As far as China is concerned, my relationship, as you know, with President Xi is also excellent. I like him a lot. I consider him a friend. He considers me a friend,” he said. “With that being said, he represents China; I represent the United States. His views are different on things, but they’re pretty similar on trade.”

Experts who have tracked the rise of the “Indo-Pacific” trope said it generally refers to respect for sovereignty, the rule of law, open markets, fair and reciprocal trade, freedom of navigation and private-sector-led economic growth.

“While the Trump administration will say it isn’t aimed at China, there’s no doubt that it is designed to provide an alternative to a China-led order in Asia,” said Ely Ratner, who advised former Vice President Joe Biden on Asia. “It will contrast sharply with the happy talk we’ll hear when Trump is in Beijing, but I think over time the ‘Indo-Pacific’ framing will eclipse the China-centric approach we’ve seen to date.”

Restuccia reported from Seoul and Johnson reported from Washington.

What Robert Mueller’s indictments of former Trump campaign officials mean for the president

October 31, 2017

By indicting two former Trump campaign officials and getting a guilty plea from a third associate, the independent probe into Russian election meddling has entered a new phase. Here’s how it will affect the presidency.

F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller speaks at a news conference at the bureau's headquaters (Getty Images/C. Somodevilla)

How dangerous are the indictments for US President Donald Trump?

It is important to note that the indictments against the former manager of Trump’s presidential campaign, Paul Manafort, and another former campaign associate, Rick Gates, are not directly linked to the Trump presidential campaign and the president. It is also important to state that Manafort and Gates are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty.

Having said that, the 12-count-indictment against Manafort and Gates which include charges of money laundering, failure to report foreign bank accounts and failure to report working as a foreign agent for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party “reveals strong ties to Russia and financial motives to assist Russia,” said Lisa Kern Griffin, a law professor at Duke University.

And because three of the charges against Manafort include the period he served as Trump’s campaign manager — contrary to what Trump tweeted — there is at least a chronological connection between the Manafort case and the Trump campaign.

Read more: Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort pleads not guilty to 12 charges

Still, Trump’s first reaction was likely relief that the indictments were not directly campaign-related, said Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina. And should the case go on trial and the defendants be acquitted, the danger the issue poses for the Trump presidency would be greatly reduced, said Peter M. Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University.

But assuming, as the scholars tend to, that this is likely just the first major step in Mueller’s widening probe into Russian election meddling and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow, then President Trump has reason to be worried.

“This is very threatening”, said Professor Shane. That’s because even while not directly linked to the Trump campaign, the indictments and the guilty plea convey a clear message to others who may be in Mueller’s legal crosshairs.

“It sends a strong signal to all potential witnesses and potential defendants that Mueller is going to proceed without fear of the external political noise and he is going to charge everyone for whom the facts support a charge”, said Professor Kern Griffin. “Everyone in the orbit of the Russian connections to the campaign has reason to be concerned.”

What’s more, unlike the indictments against Manafort and Gates, the indictment against Papadopoulos, albeit a lower level campaign aide, does assert a direct Russia link.

According to the document, Papadopoulos tried to facilitate a contact with a “professor” with ties to the Russian government and met with a “female Russian national.” The focus of at least one of their conversations was “thousands of emails” allegedly in the possession of the Russian government containing “dirt” on electon rival Hillary Clinton.

Read more: Hillary Clinton ‘won’t rule out’ contesting election

Papadopoulos’ guilty plea is also a reminder to others potentially in Mueller’s crosshairs to consider whether they may not want to cut a deal to provide valuable information to authorities in exchange for going free or for a more lenient sentence. The information provided in these initial cases can then be used to build additional indictments.

“There is no doubt that these prosecutions do give increased leverage over the people who have been indicted in terms of their providing information”, said Shane. “It is clear that this not the end of the investigation.”

“There will be more defendants charged,” predicts Duke’s Kern Griffin.

Can President Trump fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller?

Read more: Robert Mueller in possession of Donald Trump letter explaining Comey firing

Yes, he can. Given that Trump has repeatedly called the probe into Russian meddling in the US presidential election and the Trump campaign a “witch hunt” and that he fired former FBI chief James Comey, who had alleged in a memo that the president had asked him to close the Russia investigation, which Comey would not do, it is not a stretch to wonder whether Trump would be considering firing Mueller to end his Russia investigation.

The best legal option for him to do so would be via the Justice Department. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the matter because he is implicated in it himself, Trump could ask Sessions’ deputy Rod Rosenstein to dismiss Mueller. But firing Mueller is not easy since it would require him to establish a “good cause” as to how he violated the Justice Department’s prosecution policy, said Shane. Should Rosenstein refuse to dismiss Mueller, Trump could fire him and essentially continue with this process until he finds someone willing to do so, he added. But firing Mueller would surely cause a major political firestorm and probably lead to legal challenges.

“If he tries to fire Mueller on his own it will be on the constitutional basis that could be disputable,” said Michael Gerhardt, constitutional law professor at University of North Carolina. The “disputable” constitutional foundation that Gerhardt refers to is called “unitary executive theory” and stipulates in a nutshell that the constitution gives the president complete authority to fire anyone in the executive branch. It is highly contentious among legal scholars; should Trump fire Mueller directly based on this principle, the move would surely be challenged in the courts.

Can President Trump pardon his former campaign manager Manafort and other aides?

Read more: First charges filed in US special counsel’s Russia investigation

Yes, he can. Not only can he pardon Manafort and any other defendants for any federal offenses committed, it is pretty well established, noted the scholars, that he can even issue a presidential pardon before a trial has begun.

But the reported collaboration of Mueller’s team with New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman’s office on the Manafort case could blunt the benefit of any potential presidential pardon. That’s because while the president can pardon for federal offenses, he can’t pardon state offenses. And several of the charges filed against Manafort and Gates — such as money laundering — could be prosecuted under state law as well. So should Trump issue a pardon, then Manafort and Gates could be charged under New York state law.

While pardoning Manafort and Gates would thus appear to have a limited impact, they would trigger a major backlash. But that still does not mean that Trump wouldn’t do it.

“If he can pardon Sheriff Arpaio, he can likely pardon Manafort,” said UNC’s Gerhardt.

Asked about the likely steps President Trump and his team would take now next after his former campaign manager has been indicted, Duke’s Lisa Kern Griffin summed up the legal scholars sentiment like this.

“What happens in TrumpWorld defies the logic of past political actions and similar investigation.”