Posts Tagged ‘Defense Secretary James Mattis’

Trump Plans to Send National Guard to the Mexican Border

April 4, 2018

The New York Times

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — The White House said Tuesday night that President Trump planned to deploy the National Guard to the southern border to confront what it called a growing threat of illegal immigrants, drugs and crime from Central America after the president for the third consecutive day warned about the looming dangers of unchecked immigration.

Mr. Trump’s advisers said Monday that he was readying new legislation to block migrants and asylum seekers, including young unaccompanied children, from entering the United States, opening a new front in the immigration crackdown that he has pressed since taking office. But in remarks on Tuesday that caught some of his top advisers by surprise, he suggested the more drastic approach of sending in the military to do what immigration authorities could not.

Speaking to reporters during a news conference with the presidents of three Baltic nations, Mr. Trump described existing immigration laws as lax and ineffective, and called for militarizing the border with Mexico to prevent an influx of Central American migrants he said were ready to stream across it.

“We have horrible, horrible and very unsafe laws in the United States,” Mr. Trump said. “We are preparing for the military to secure our border between Mexico and the United States.”

While the president couched his idea as an urgent response to an onslaught at the nation’s southern border, the numbers do not point to a crisis. Last year, the number of illegal immigrants caught at the border was the lowest since 1971, said the United States Border Patrol. Still, Mr. Trump seized on what has become an annual seasonal uptick in Central American migrants making their way north to make his case.After the president’s remarks, White House aides struggled for hours to decipher his intentions.

Late in the day, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary, said Mr. Trump had met with Jim Mattis, the secretary of defense, and members of the national security team to discuss his administration’s strategy for dealing with “the growing influx of illegal immigration, drugs and violent gang members from Central America,” a problem on which she said the president had initially been briefed last week.

That strategy, she said, included mobilizing the National Guard — though Ms. Sanders did not say how many troops would be sent or when — and pressing Congress to close what she called “loopholes” in immigration laws. Also present at the meeting were Jeff Sessions, the attorney general; Kirstjen Nielsen, the secretary of homeland security; Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and John F. Kelly, the White House chief of staff.

Read the rest:



See also:

White House Unveils New Immigration Push in Effort to Make Sense of Trump’s Tweets


Trump Plans to Deploy Troops to Mexican Border to Thwart Immigrants

FILE - A U.S. border patrol agent escorts men being detained after entering the United States by crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico, in Roma, Texas, May 11, 2017.
FILE – A U.S. border patrol agent escorts men being detained after entering the United States by crossing the Rio Grande river from Mexico, in Roma, Texas, May 11, 2017.

Troops are to be dispatched to America’s border with Mexico to thwart further illegal immigration, U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on Tuesday.“I think that it’s something that we have to do,” the president said in response to a question from a reporter at the afternoon event in the White House East Room.

The president and several cabinet members, including Defense Secretary James Mattis, Homeland Security Secretary Kirsten Nielsen, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, received a briefing Tuesday to examine his administration’s strategy.

The discussion included the mobilization of the National Guard and the need to pressure Congress to urgently pass legislation to close legal loopholes exploited by criminal trafficking, narco-terrorist and smuggling organizations.

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Baltic leaders in the East Room of the White House, April 3, 2018.
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference with Baltic leaders in the East Room of the White House, April 3, 2018.

The Pentagon responded to Trump’s plan to use military to guard the borders:

“We are still consulting with the White House,” a senior defense official said, promising more information.

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Videgaray Caso said on Twitter his government has asked the United States to clarify Trump’s announcement. He wrote Mexico will define its position based on that clarification, and always in defense of its sovereignty and national interests.

Luis Videgaray Caso


México ha solicitado a EUA, por los canales oficiales, que clarifique el anuncio de @POTUS sobre el uso del ejército en la frontera. El gobierno de México definirá postura en función de dicha clarificación, y siempre en defensa de nuestra soberanía e interés nacional.

Two of Trump’s predecessors — George W. Bush and Barack Obama — sent National Guard units to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support for border patrol agents.

It is not immediately clear whether Trump intends to dispatch the National Guard, which is a reserve military component composed of members or units from the individual states and territories, or regular military forces.

An opposition Democratic Party senator, Brian Schatz of Hawaii, who serves on the defense subcommittee of the Senate’s appropriations committee, quickly criticized the idea, stating on Twitter that “Our military has more important things to do than to be mobilized to fulfill” a campaign promise of Trump’s.

Brian Schatz


Our military has more important things to do than to be mobilized to fulfill a politicians campaign promise. Also, spending money on a wall or guarding a wall would require a new law, which would fail spectacularly in the Senate.

In the United States, the active-duty military is generally restricted from domestic law enforcement functions, which would include capturing people who have come across the borders.

At the news conference, the president also spoke of a “caravan” of more than 1,000 migrants from Central America that has been making a 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) journey from the Mexico-Guatemala border to the United States. He has mentioned the procession several times on Twitter in recent days, vowing that it must be stopped.

Dozens of Central American migrants, traveling with the annual "Stations of the Cross" caravan, sleep at a sports club in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State, Mexico, April 3, 2018.
Dozens of Central American migrants, traveling with the annual “Stations of the Cross” caravan, sleep at a sports club in Matias Romero, Oaxaca State, Mexico, April 3, 2018.

In the past several days, the caravan has been mentioned numerous times on the Fox News Channel, which is Trump’s preferred source of broadcast news.

Those in the caravan “thought they were going to just walk right through Mexico and right through the border” into the United States, Trump said. Trump praised a quick response from Mexico, who he said was acting to ensure it is “all being broken up.”

Mexico has reportedly offered refugee status to some of the migrants.

Trump earlier had warned Mexico that its free trade agreement with its northern neighbor would be jeopardized if it did not stop the caravan before it reached the U.S. border.

Central American migrants prepare food as they take a break from traveling in their caravan on their journey to the U.S., in Matias Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico, April 3, 2018.
Central American migrants prepare food as they take a break from traveling in their caravan on their journey to the U.S., in Matias Romero, Oaxaca, Mexico, April 3, 2018.

Securing the southern border was a centerpiece of Trump’s platform during his 2016 campaign for the presidency, and something he mentions frequently.

“The Mexican border is very unprotected by our laws,” Trump asserted Tuesday. “We don’t have laws. We have catch and release. You catch and then you immediately release. And people come back years later for a court case, except they virtually never come back.”

Trump has continually emphasized the need for a border wall — which on Tuesday he said must be “700 [1,127 kilometers] to 800 miles [1,287 kilometers] long.” He previously has demanded that Mexico pay for the wall, but that has not been emphasized recently by Trump in public remarks.

“We need the wall. We’ve started building the wall, as you know,” said Trump, adding that $1.6 billion has now been appropriated by Congress toward “building the wall and fixing the existing wall that’s falling down or was never appropriated in the first place.”


Trump Tightens Screws on Putin But Says He Wants to Get Along

March 25, 2018


By Jennifer Jacobs and Nick Wadhams

  • President likely to expel Russian diplomats on Monday
  • Move would align Trump with European allies critical of Putin

President Donald Trump is poised to take his most aggressive actions yet against Russia on Monday, when he’s likely to announce the expulsion of dozens of diplomats in response to the nerve-gas attack on a former Russian spy living in the U.K.

The move, all but certain to provoke retaliation by President Vladimir Putin’s government, comes as Trump has tried to maintain at least the semblance of a constructive relationship with the Russian leader.

But the expulsions will align Trump with European allies who feel threatened by Russia and have had a turbulent relationship with the U.S. president, including U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Several European countries are expected to announce their own expulsions of Russian diplomats in concert with the U.S.

While U.S. policy toward Russia has gradually grown more strident in recent months, the president’s critics say he has been slow to respond to Putin’s provocations. Some have drawn a connection to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of possible collusion between Trump’s 2016 campaign and the Russian government as well as Trump’s past business relationships with Russian figures.

‘Good Thing’

Trump has denied any campaign collusion and as recently as Wednesday advocated for an amicable relationship with Russia. “Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing,” he said on Twitter.

The U.S. considers the diplomats it plans to expel to be spies, carrying out intelligence activities under cover as embassy staff, one person familiar with the matter said. Trump’s action would follow a similar move by May, who ordered 23 Russians that she said were spies to leave Britain over the attack on the former Russian spy, Sergei Skripal, and his daughter.

“The United States stands firmly with the United Kingdom in condemning Russia’s outrageous action,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Raj Shah said in a statement on Saturday. “The president is always considering options to hold Russia accountable in response to its malign activities.”

But Putin has proven expert at exploiting even the slightest divisions among Western allies, and Trump is concerned that European capitals may not follow through on promises to tighten the screws on the Kremlin. The president regards Germany, in particular, as wobbly because of its dependence on Russian fuel supplies.

NSC Recommendations

Trump’s National Security Council reached recommendations for a U.S. response to the U.K. attack at a meeting on Wednesday and presented the proposals to him on Friday. Trump discussed the issue that day with U.S. Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan, FBI Director Chris Wray, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, outgoing National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and others, two people familiar with the talks said.

Jon Huntsman

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

All of the people who discussed the president’s deliberations asked not to be identified. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov declined to comment.

A division within the White House over how to confront Putin flared this week after Trump called the Russian president on Tuesday and congratulated him for winning an election regarded in the West as largely fraudulent. The praise drew criticism from Congress and ran contrary to written talking points for the call that advised Trump not to congratulate the Russian leader, a person familiar with the matter said. Trump didn’t read the guidance.

Trump meanwhile has reshaped his national security staff. On Thursday, he announced he would replace McMaster, who favored a tougher public posture toward Putin, with John Bolton, the former ambassador to the United Nations who has promoted military action against Iraq, Iran and North Korea. That move came just a week after the president fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had also adopted a more confrontational stance toward Russia, and nominated Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, to replace him.

Mike Pompeo

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Congress has pressured Trump to get tougher on Putin and passed legislation in August giving lawmakers the power to block the president from lifting punitive U.S. measures imposed after Russia’s incursion into Ukraine. Substantively, Washington’s policy toward Russia has become tougher in recent months, though Trump’s critics say he has dragged his feet in responding to Putin’s provocations.

Personal Relationship

The president places a priority on maintaining a personal relationship with the Russian president, won’t publicly attack him, and doesn’t see any benefit to the U.S. in confronting Putin in one-on-one encounters, one administration official said Thursday. But Russia’s brazen aggression is compelling a U.S. response.

The attack against Skripal employed a nerve agent called “Novichok” manufactured by the Soviet Union, according to the U.K. government. May earlier this month condemned Russia for the apparent assassination attempt, which critically injured the former Russian spy and his daughter. A British police officer was also hospitalized.

Regardless of Trump’s rhetoric, his administration regards the Kremlin as a threat.

A national defense strategy assembled by the Pentagon under Mattis and publicly summarized in January described China and Russia as the top global adversaries of the U.S. Earlier this month, the administration slapped financial sanctions against a St. Petersburg-based internet “troll farm” and its alleged owner — a close Putin ally — whom Mueller indicted over a covert social media campaign to influence the 2016 election.

— With assistance by Margaret Talev, and Ilya Arkhipov


Trump Expected To Join UK — Expel dozens of Russian diplomats from the US next week

March 24, 2018


President Donald Trump is preparing to expel dozens of Russian diplomats from the US in response to the nerve-agent poisoning of a former Russian spy in the UK, two people familiar with the matter said on Saturday.

Trump agreed with the recommendation of advisers and the expulsions are likely to be announced on Monday, the people said, though they cautioned that Trump’s decision may not be final. Trump is prepared to act but wants to be sure European allies will take similar steps against Russia before doing so, aides said.


The advisers reached recommendations for a US response to the UK attack at a National Security Council meeting on Wednesday and honed the proposals on Friday. Trump discussed the issue Friday with US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, outgoing National Security Adviser HR McMaster and others, two people said.

All of the people familiar with the discussions asked not to be identified. White House spokespeople declined to comment.


Washington Bureaucrats Are Chipping Away at Trump’s Agenda

December 18, 2017


Across the government, career staffers are quietly finding ways to continue old policies, sometimes just by renaming a project.

Photographer: Brendan Smialowski/AFP

In report after report following Donald Trump’s election, career staffers at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration kept saying the same thing: climate change is real, serious and man-made.

That’s surprising because Trump has called global warming a hoax. His political appointees at the Commerce Department, which oversees NOAA, have complained to its staff, but stopped short of demanding changes or altering the findings. So the reports, blog posts and public updates kept flowing. The bureaucrats won.

“Everything coming out of NOAA does not reflect this administration,” said David Schnare, a retired lawyer for an industry-backed think tank who served on Trump’s transition team and is skeptical about climate change. “It reflects the last one.”

That’s true across the government as some of the roughly two million career staff have found ways to obstruct, slow down or simply ignore their new leader, the president.

Staff at the Securities and Exchange Commission, for example, issued a report contradicting the White House’s position about the negative effects of banking regulations. The State Department’s embassy staff preserved Obama-era programs to boost the economies of developing countries — at odds with Trump’s “America First” campaign pledges — not by changing the substance of the programs but merely by relabeling them as a way to create markets for U.S. exports.

Perhaps no policy area better illustrates the dynamic than climate change. A report commissioned by the energy secretary to explore the dangers of wind and solar energy to the power grid initially found just the opposite. Pentagon staffers effectively stalled a Trump reversal of an Obama policy on climate change and national security by initiating a review that’s apparently still underway nine months later. Federal procurement officials have kept promoting zero-emission vehicles but by focusing on economic gains rather than environmental benefits.

Two factors may be making it harder for this White House to impose order: a desire to reorient major agencies from their traditional missions and the slow pace at which it has filled key posts. Less than two-thirds as many appointments have been submitted and won Senate confirmation as were in place at this time during the Obama administration.

But even that wouldn’t fully tame the “permanent government” layer of bureaucrats who stay on from president to president, burrowed deep in agencies across Washington.

“It’s an enormous challenge for a new president and administration to exert influence over the bureaucracy,” said David Lewis, chairman of the political science department at Vanderbilt University. “They know a lot more than the political appointees who come into the agencies. That gives them an advantage.”

Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Before taking office, Trump repeatedly dismissed global warming as a hoax — a position at odds not only with the vast majority of scientists, but also with the longstanding policy of the U.S. government.

In 1990, Congress directed the executive branch to research the effects of global warming, and convey that research at regular intervals. Since then, the federal government’s involvement in fighting climate change has grown, to include regulating emissions and working to mitigate their consequences.

Trump has used his executive authority to reverse some of the most prominent environmental policies initiated by President Barack Obama, including rolling back limits on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, pulling out of an international agreement to cut carbon emissions signed in 2015 in Paris and effectively opening up more public land to oil drilling and coal mining.

But when it comes to the endless number of more mundane policies and decisions farther from the spotlight, Trump and his appointees have met with resistance — some of it subtle, some of it not.

“The bureaucracy is generally resistant, no matter what the hell you’re trying to do,” Leon Panetta, who guided presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama through transitions, said in an interview. But when a president sets out to be as disruptive as Trump has, Panetta added, getting career staff to implement those policies “is gonna take a hell of a lot longer.”

Photographer: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

As the case of NOAA illustrates, the most radical example of bureaucratic resistance may also be the simplest: continuing to issue information or reports that are factually accurate, even when they clash with the administration’s policies.

Different agencies have taken different approaches to the reports written. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Bloomberg in a statement, “I have not suggested one word of change to any NOAA research report on any topic.” But political officials in other departments have been more willing to get involved — sometimes triggering pushback from civil servants.

Just ask Rick Perry.

In April, Perry, Trump’s secretary of energy, directed career staff at his agency to write a report on the question of whether the expansion of wind and solar power threaten the stability of the electricity grid, by reducing the amount of “critical baseload resources” — in other words, power generated by coal, nuclear and other traditional sources.

With Trump pledging to reverse regulations that have harmed coal, the study was viewed by critics as a way the administration would justify curtailing the surging expansion of wind and solar power and provide help to coal plants and coal miners.

But the career staff that drafted the report reached a surprising conclusion: the growth in renewables wasn’t endangering the reliability of electric power after all. “Grid operators are using technologies, standards and practices to assure that they can continue operating the grid reliably,” concluded the draft report, obtained by Bloomberg in July.

Trump appointees at the agency pushed back on the draft’s conclusions; one official called some of its findings “unacceptable” and “inflammatory,” according to a copy of the draft marked up by the official. Drafts of the report soon leaked out, making it harder for political staff to alter them.

Officials eventually unveiled a version of the report that hewed closely to the initial draft, but with policy recommendations that supported Perry’s stated goal of preserving the nation’s coal and nuclear fleet. Travis Fisher, a political appointee in Perry’s office and a lead author of the study, said in an interview that the leak “didn’t have an effect on the overall posture” of the report. “It was always going in the direction that it ended up,” he said.

But career staff, who asked not to be identified, viewed the episode as a qualified success, arguing that report’s findings would otherwise have been even more hostile to renewables.

Photographer: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg

Bureaucrats can also continue programs or initiatives that pre-date Trump by calling them something new or describing them in different ways.

Take the General Services Administration, which manages the federal government’s fleet of more than 640,000 cars, trucks and other vehicles. Since 2011, GSA has added more than 1,000 electric vehicles to the fleet — a policy that was presented in distinctly environmental terms.

“The Federal Government is leading by example,” the GSA boasted when it announced the electric-vehicle program in 2011. The goal was “to build a 21st century clean energy economy.”

Those goals are now squarely at odds with the Trump administration’s view on climate change, which strongly favors fossil fuels.

Rather that cutting the program, GSA staff have focused on its contributions to jobs and cost cutting, rather than reducing emissions.

That messaging workaround was on display in late summer when the GSA promoted National Drive Electric Week, whose presenters include the Sierra Club. “Welcome to National Drive Electric Week!” the agency said in a September blog post that it said was to celebrate the benefits of alternative-fuel vehicles.

“GSA recognizes that emerging technologies play a significant role in our mission to save taxpayer dollars, create jobs and stimulate economic growth in the United States; which is one reason we provide the federal fleet with vehicles that offer the latest and most efficient transportation technologies available, including electric vehicle (EV) technology,” the agency wrote on its website in a post promoting the event.

The post made no mention of environmental benefits. If the agency had any non-economic reasons for using electric vehicles, they went unmentioned.

A GSA spokeswoman, Pamela Dixon, didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.

“The career bureaucracy is seen by many in the administration, and by the president himself, as sort of the problem,” said Paul Verkuil, who served under Obama as chairman of the Administrative Conference of the United States, an independent federal agency charged with improving the efficiency of the bureaucracy. “The irony is, because they’re not confirming their own policy people, the quote-unquote ‘problem’ is running the government.”

In other agencies, officials have found it best to simply delay implementation of new initiatives in hopes they may be modified or canceled.

In March, for example, Trump, flanked by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and coal miners, signed an order that rescinded some Obama policies to fight climate change. “You’re going back to work,” Trump told the men around him.

Among the policies Trump reversed was Obama’s 2016 Presidential Memorandum on Climate Change and National Security, which had instructed the Defense Department to account for the effects of global warming. Those effects include rising sea levels that threaten U.S. naval facilities; stronger and more frequent heat waves, which interfere with the military’s ability to train its personnel; and the interplay between extreme weather events and conflicts overseas, which risks entangling U.S. forces.

The department was aware of those threats, and had already started putting Obama’s policy into effect through a directive called “Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience.”

But rather than reverse or alter that directive after Trump’s order, staff at the Pentagon launched what it called a review, which served to forestall changes. Adam Stump, a department spokesman, refused to say whether that review has concluded, or what it found. For now, he said, the directive issued under Obama’s administration remains current.

Defense Secretary James Mattis has said that “Climate change can be a driver of instability and the Department of Defense must pay attention to potential adverse impacts generated by this phenomenon.”

Even seemingly insignificant actions by civil servants can add up to a meaningful difference in federal policy, according to Anna Aurilio, director of the Washington office at Environment America, a nonprofit.

“I don’t think it’s a silver bullet, unfortunately,” Aurilio said. Still, “It can be very helpful for career staff to actually do their jobs properly, and not rubber stamp the rollback or weakening of regulations.”

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Career staff who slow down policy directives are sometimes justified in doing so, according to Lewis, the Vanderbilt professor. For example, they may feel that stalling gives political appointees, some of whom are new to the policy areas they’re responsible for, time to consider other options.

“To carry out your job faithfully requires you to balance sometimes conflicting demands — from the president, from Congress and from the law itself,” Lewis said. “What can be seen as slow-walking something, and has a nefarious meaning, also has a charitable interpretation.”

In the long run, career staff can face consequences. While it’s hard to outright fire a civil servant, congressional Republicans in January gave themselves the ability to reduce the annual pay for any individual federal employee to $1.

An administration can also punish bureaucrats through punitive reassignments, designed to make them quit. Joel Clement, a senior policy manager at the Department of Interior, was moved to the accounting office in June — retaliation, he alleged, for speaking out about the risks of climate change.

A department spokeswoman, Heather Swift, denied that, telling Bloomberg the move was “to better serve the taxpayer and the Department’s operations.”

Clement, who has since left the agency, described a checklist he said bureaucrats should follow before acting to impede a political directive.

Clement said career staff should first consider whether they simply didn’t like the new policy, which he said wasn’t a reason to get in its way. But if the new policy put public health and safety at risk, for example, or was based on deliberately inaccurate information, Clement argued staff should then try to raise their concerns through internal channels. “You first have to try a legitimate approach before you obstruct,” he said.

Only if that didn’t work, Clement said, should civil servants take action outside of normal channels — leaking documents, for instance, or slowing down the implementation of the policy. But he said he expects more career staff to start doing so, as more of the Trump administration’s specific policy initiatives make their way through the bureaucracy.

“The tide is rising on that kind of resistance,” Clement said. “Whether it’s public or not.”

— With assistance from Catherine Traywick.

China listens to US contingencies on North Korea — Beijing comes under more pressure to rein in its Korean War ally

December 18, 2017


© AFP / by Ben Dooley | People lay flowers at the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-Sung (L) and Kim Jong-Il to mark the sixth anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-Il, in Pyongyang

BEIJING (AFP) – It was the kind of sitdown that China had long resisted: Top US officials telling Chinese counterparts how American troops would enter North Korea if the hermit regime collapsed.US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent revelation that such a discussion took place would — if true — suggest a major shift in Chinese policy as Beijing comes under pressure to rein in its Korean War ally.

For years Beijing had refused US entreaties to discuss the possible collapse of its neighbour, but top US and Chinese military officials have finally met to discuss the once-taboo topic, Tillerson said last week.

Some stark topics were broached, Tillerson said: Refugees flooding across the Chinese-North Korean border, US troops entering the hermit country — and leaving again once they had prevented nuclear weapons from falling into the wrong hands.

The little-noticed disclosure was overshadowed by Tillerson’s remarks that Washington was willing to talk with Pyongyang without preconditions — a statement that he backed away from days later.

Beijing has long refused US requests to discuss North Korea contingencies because it “assessed that near-term instability was unlikely”, said Bonnie Glaser, senior adviser for Asia at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

“They feared that the talks wouldn’t be kept secret, Pyongyang would find out and their relations with North Korea would deteriorate to the point of becoming hostile,” Glaser said.

China’s foreign ministry would not confirm Tillerson’s account of the talks, with a spokesman saying: “You may have to ask him himself about his meanings and intentions.”

Wang Dong, an expert on US-China relations at Peking University, insisted the remarks must be a ploy to “exert pressure” on Pyongyang — to make it believe Beijing and Washington were prepared to work together.

But he raised doubts about Tillerson’s characterisation of the discussion.

“I don’t think that China could voluntarily discuss this issue with the US,” he said.

The more likely scenario, he insisted, was the “US unilaterally expressed its position, and we couldn’t just grab someone’s lips and stop them from talking”.

– Nuclear arsenal –

Speaking in Washington last Tuesday, Tillerson said US officials had told Chinese counterparts that if a crisis forced US troops to enter North Korea, they would not stay there.

“The most important thing to us would be securing those nuclear weapons they have already developed,” he said, adding: “We’ve had conversations with the Chinese about how might that be done.”

“We have given the Chinese assurances we would… retreat back to the south of the 38th Parallel,” he said, referring to the line that divides North and South Korea.

The comment appeared aimed at reassuring China that the United States would not occupy North Korea if the Kim regime were to fall.

Beijing has for years viewed North Korea as something of a buffer state preventing the 28,500 US troops in South Korea from camping on its doorstep.

As for the Chinese, Tillerson said, they “already are taking preparatory actions” if North Korean refugees flood across the border.

Beijing has not openly discussed its plans.

But a purported document from state-owned telecommunications firm China Mobile that circulated on social media earlier this month showed that locations in northeastern China have been designated for refugee camps.

The discussions — which Tillerson said included Defense Secretary James Mattis and both countries’ joint chiefs of staff — likely took place in Washington late last month.

A November 30 report by China’s official Xinhua news agency said that officials from the country’s joint chiefs had met to discuss “how to advance cooperation between the two departments and improve crisis management and communication”, without providing further details.

– Attitude changing –

There are signs that Beijing’s views on North Korea have changed significantly since President Donald Trump took office last January.

The subject of how to plan for the North’s collapse has become increasingly common in Chinese media.

“China will go all out to promote talks, but will also make plans in case the worst-case scenario occurs,” an editorial in the state-owned Global Times said last Thursday ahead of meetings in Beijing between South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

Such remarks show “that the Chinese government’s attitude towards adjusting North Korea policy has relaxed,” said Deng Yuwen, a Chinese political commentator.

Deng was suspended from his job at a state-owned publication in 2013 for writing an editorial in the Financial Times urging Beijing to rethink its loyalty to the North Korean regime.

But he still finds it hard to believe that Washington and Beijing could be engaged in direct talks on a post-Kim Jong-Un future, a conversation that would enrage Pyongyang.

“Even if China was considering this possibility, they still couldn’t discuss it with the US because China still has to consider the North’s attitude.”

Oriana Skylar Mastro, a scholar at Georgetown University and the American Enterprise Institute, said “coordination with the US is basically non-existent” and the talks are likely “not yet at the operational level”.

“That may never happen unless there is a conflict.”

by Ben Dooley

Tillerson vows Taliban ‘will never win,’ urges Pakistan to meet US ‘conditions’ for support

October 24, 2017


24 Oct, 2017 07:59

Tillerson vows Taliban ‘will never win,’ urges Pakistan to meet US ‘conditions’ for support

Related image
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Kevin Lamarque | REUTERS
In a secretive trip to Afghanistan, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson doubted Pakistan’s ability to fight the Taliban. But he also denied the Taliban has any path to victory, despite the Pentagon chief saying they were “surging.”
Tillerson arrived at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul on Monday, following an earlier trip in the day to the Qatari capital, Doha.
FILE PHOTO. A Pakistani soldier in South Waziristan. © Faisal MahmoodPakistan’s key intelligence ‘connected to terrorists’ – US top general
Discussing US strategy in the region, Tillerson said the Taliban, and others, “will never win” a military victory against the US.
But earlier this year, Defense Secretary James Mattis addressed the US’s involvement in the country’s longest running conflict. He said the US was engaged in “a strategy-free time”in Afghanistan, and US forces were not winning the war.“I think the Taliban had a good year last year,” Mattis said. “Right now, I believe the enemy is surging.”

Tillerson’s unannounced arrival in Afghanistan follows an assassination attempt on Mattis’s life last month, when rockets landed in and around his plane as he arrived in Kabul.

The top US diplomat’s concerns on stability in the region extended not only to Afghanistan, but ostensible US ally Pakistan as well. Tillerson said terrorist organizations find safe havens in both countries. He added that the US’s relationship with Afghanistan and Pakistan is rooted in a “conditions-based approach.”

Earlier this month, Mattis railed against Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), which serves as Pakistan’s main intelligence agency.

“They have lost probably more troops than any other single country in the fight against terrorism – at the same time we’ve seen havens left to the terrorists’ own devices,” he said. “We’ve seen the government of Pakistan come down on terrorists, when the ISI appears to run its own policy.”

In late September, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told RT that US actions in Afghanistan dating back to the 1980s have left the region less secure. She also said that Pakistan supporting the US in the fight against terrorism following 9/11 was a “mistake.”

READ MORE: Assisting US in Afghanistan was wrong choice – Pakistani FM to RT

On Monday, Tillerson noted that Afghanistan has come a long way in terms of creating a “much more vibrant government” and a “larger economy” in the last few years. He also said there are opportunities to strengthen the foundation of a “prosperous Afghanistan society.”

However, Tillerson also reminded Afghan officials of when President Donald Trump said “we are here to stay” in the country until the US can “secure a process of reconciliation and peace.”

The secretary of state was scheduled to travel to Pakistan’s capital city of Islamabad on Tuesday to meet with the country’s civil and military leadership, according to the Express Tribune.

On October 30, both Tillerson and Mattis are scheduled to appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.


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Tillerson heads to Pakistan as US warns over Taliban havens


© POOL/AFP/File | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit Pakistan on Tuesday following a trip to Afghanistan, where the US top diplomat reiterated America’s commitment to the country

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was to arrive in Islamabad Tuesday as Washington turns up the heat on Pakistan for allegedy providing “safe havens” for Taliban militants.

Tillerson’s visit, his first to Pakistan since becoming secretary of state, comes weeks after US President Donald Trump angrily accused the nuclear-armed country of harbouring “agents of chaos” who can attack NATO-led forces in neighbouring Afghanistan.

It follows on the heels of an unannounced stop in Afghanistan, where the US top diplomat reiterated America’s commitment to the country and warned Washington has made “very specific requests” of Pakistan seeking to “undermine the support that the Taliban receives”.

Washington and Kabul have long accused Islamabad of supporting militant groups including the Taliban, believed to have links to Pakistan’s shadowy military establishment who aim to use them as a regional bulwark against arch-nemesis India.

Pakistan has repeatedly denied the charge, insisting it maintains contacts only with the militants as it seeks to bring them to the table for peace talks.

During his brief trip to Bagram air base Monday, Tillerson told reporters Pakistan needs to “take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organisations that find safe haven inside” the country.

His visit to Islamabad, where he will meet with Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and the powerful military chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, marks the first by a member of the administration.

US and Pakistani sources say he will be followed later in the year by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis as Trump seeks to send a tough message to the wayward ally.

The US-Pakistan relationship has waxed and waned dramatically since Trump took office in January.

Pakistan said the President had praised its then-prime minister Nawaz Sharif as “terrific” in an effusive phone call when Trump took office in January.

But Trump’s blistering speech in August accusing Pakistan of harbouring militants saw Islamabad angrily hit back at the claims, insisting they discount the thousands of lives lost and billions spent in fighting extremism.

Following the speech Tillerson cautioned Pakistan that it could lose its status as a privileged military ally if it continued providing support to Afghan militant groups.

As one of 16 “Non-NATO Major Allies”, Pakistan benefits from billions of dollars in aid and has access to advanced US military technology banned from other countries.

Earlier this month Pakistani forces acting on American intelligence rescued a US-Canadian family that had been in Taliban captivity for five years, sparking hopes that ties were on the mend.

The rescue was followed by a series of drone strikes on both sides of the Afghanistan-Pakistan border targeting long-time foes to both Washington and Islamabad.

The US has vowed to send more than 3,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, on top of the 11,000 already deployed there, to train and advise Afghan security forces as part of a new strategy outlined by the administration.

Kurds Say Now America is No Longer a Trustworthy Ally; Donald Trump Betrayed Us — “We were not supported by the American ally” — “Iran was here, the U.S. was not here.”

October 22, 2017
Time magazine

Armed Kurdish civilians set-up checkpoints in Kirkuk Monday morning as they tried to prevent Kurdish peshmerga fighters from evacuating the city as Iraqi government forces advanced.

The peshmerga left along with tens of thousands of fleeing civilians that jammed the road from Kirkuk to Erbil. Resident burnt tires and shouted “shame on you,” while some civilians pointed guns as the peshmerga departed.

 Image result for Kurds, october 2017, flags, photos
Iraqi Kurds fly Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum, September 16, 2017 (SAFIN HAMED-AFP)

By mid-afternoon, the Kurds had lost control of Kirkuk, Iraq’s most contested city. Young Arab men hung an Iraqi flag from a bridge as American-made Humvees rolled through the streets, closely followed by pick-up trucks filled with fighters from the mostly-Shia Popular Mobilization Forces.

“Now all Kirkuk can see this flag,” said Abdullah Gubal as he hung it over a billboard for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the leading Kurdish political party in Kirkuk.

Claimed by both the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional authority in Erbil, the fate of Kirkuk should have been decided by referendum a decade ago. Kurds took control of Kirkuk when Iraqi forces fled ISIS’s advance in June of 2014. The Kurdish leadership vowed they wouldn’t hand the city back. But Kirkuk’s government buildings and Kurdish party headquarters were virtual empty Monday and residents said they saw Kurdish officials and forces leave before the Iraqi forces advanced.

“They sold Kirkuk,” said Ahmad Mohamed holding his Kalashnikov at the edge of the city with a group of angry Kurdish volunteer fighters pledging to go back and push the Iraqi forces out.

“This is shame on the Kurdish leaders and most of the Kurdish commanders in Kirkuk,” said Wyra Ali. “They didn’t fire one bullet from their weapons. They should defended Kirkuk, but they didn’t.”

Hiwa Osman, a Kurdish analyst, says the peshmerga retreat may have been the result of both confusion and internal division. Since the Kurds’ controversial referendum on sovereignty last month, the division between the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the party of Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, and the PUK has been growing and many here believe the PUK struck a deal to hand over Kirkuk to Baghdad.

“One camp said stay at home,” says Osman. “The other camp said take your weapons and go in to the street.”

In the end, Iraqi forces and allied militias met little resistance in the urban center after clashes with forces outside the city. Overnight Iraqi forces took control of the areas outside the city and by afternoon American-trained elite forces had taken the Kurdish flag off the governors’ office and raised the Iraqi one instead.

Monday’s Iraqi advance on Kirkuk was spurred by the controversial Kurdish referendum on September 25. Washington and Baghdad both urged the Kurdish leadership to postpone the vote, but they went ahead. Since then, Baghdad has been increasing pressure on the Kurds’ semi-autonomous region — halting international flights out of the Kurds’ two international airports and threatening to take control of the borders.

Kurds were outnumbered, out-armed and also unsupported by the ally they share with Baghdad. Both the Iraqi forces entering the city today and the Kurdish forces that left, are funded, trained and equipped by the U.S. and allies in the fight against ISIS, putting Washington in difficult position.

“Where are the American planes?” asked another man. The pop of gunfire could be heard in the distance as the volunteer Kurdish fighters talked about heading in to Kirkuk.
President Donald Trump said Monday that the U.S. would not take sides in the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute. But Jennifer Cafarella, senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, says it’s this position and American tunnel vision on the fight against ISIS that allowed this situation to escalate.

“The U.S. is in a terrible position because we remained focused on the very narrow anti-ISIS mission,” says Cafarella, explaining the U.S. needed to be more engaged before these tensions between the Iraqis and the Kurds spiraled. She also cautions that while U.S. has not been involved, the Iranians have. “Now the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines asking for everyone to deescalate.”



Trump’s actions are beginning to have global consequences

Nic Robertson is CNN’s international diplomatic editor. The opinions in this article belong to the author.

Image result for Masoud Barzani, photos, marching, with Kurdish flag

(CNN) — The last time Baghdad sent troops into Kirkuk to kick out Kurdish forces, I was in the first group of journalists taken to see the aftermath.

Bloated bodies and blown-up trucks littered the road as we arrived.
Fresh on the heels of the allied liberation of Kuwait in 1991, swaths of Iraq’s downtrodden rose up against Saddam Hussein. The Shia in the south and the Kurds in the north were both brutally crushed.
Around Kirkuk we witnessed the ugly aftermath of more killings. Kurds who had been gunned down, their bodies untouched where they fell.
It was, as my wife — then a CNN correspondent — reported, “an object lesson in brutality.”
Although Baghdad’s offensive in Kirkuk this week is tame by comparison, it is nevertheless an object lesson not just for the Kurds, but for the US — and President Trump in particular.
The Iraqi government forces arrived in US-made Humvees and Abrams tanks backed by Shia militias who are supported by Iran. Both the US and Iran are vying for influence in Iraq.
Iran’s claim is historic, rooted in religious ideology. By contrast, America appears as the Johnny-come-lately.
So when Trump refused to recertify Iran’s compliance of the Iran nuclear deal last week and threatened to designate Iran’s top military force, the revolutionary guard — the IRGC — a terrorist organization, he wasn’t just slapping down the theocracy — he was also upping the stakes in Iraq.
Image result for Masoud Barzani, photos, marching, with Kurdish flag
In part drawing a line in the sand; in part throwing sand in the faces of Iran’s leaders. Iran’s Supreme Leader the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is throwing sand back, pledging to undermine US interests in Iraq and by implication its Kurdish region.
Not long after my visit to Kirkuk in 1991, the US designated Kurdish areas a safe zone, denying Saddam access.
Since then, the Kurds — under their leader Masoud Barzani — have cemented autonomy and grown claims for independence, wooing America as a protector by granting oil rights and offering strategic airbases for them — some close to Iran’s border.
But last month, Barzani pushed the relationship to the brink by forcing through a Kurdish referendum on independence against the express wishes of America, Iraq, and Iran. Only Israel accepted the Kurds’ overwhelming call for independence.
On the eve of Iraq’s Kurdish offensive this week, an IRGC general slipped into Kirkuk with two Iraqi generals and told the Kurds to get out or be crushed.
Both the President and the Iranians have put their cards on the table: Trump can’t abide them; they want American influence in the region gone. The days of cooperating over ISIS are likely not long for this world.

iraq kirkuk changing hands wedeman pkg nr_00002711

Kirkuk on edge after Peshmerga pushed out 02:31
A marriage of convenience is splintering, as they so often do, into a messy separation.
If the Iran deal was the pre-nup, the divorce won’t be about who gets to keep how much enriched uranium as much as it will be about who gets which country or region as a sphere of influence.
The fault lines have been solidifying for decades. A first faint trace came almost a century ago with the Sykes-Picot division of the post-Ottoman Middle East.
The Sultan’s caliphate was parceled up into trans-tribal, trans-ethnic and trans-secular countries whose citizens were new to such nationhood.
In the century since, kings and dictators have mostly sought to subjugate in their own interest. National interest has only ever been a tool wielded to hold on to power.
It is why Iraq and Syria are in turmoil today and why Lebanon is still recovering from a civil war that ended over two decades ago. The region is fragile and every outside player makes it more brittle.
As former US Secretary of State Colin Powell apparently told President George W. Bush: “If you break it, you own it.”
Donald Trump may not have created this mess, but his recent pronouncements on the Iran deal appear to lack the leadership skills that would be expected of a US president.
Indeed, Trump seems to be the only person unable to comprehend the ripple effect of his actions.
Trump’s sabre rattling on Iran and North Korea isn’t just ensuring that citizens of those countries get in line behind their regimes, but it also exposes the paucity of his policies to a global audience.

Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control

Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control 01:45
All of the other signatories to the deal — Russia, China, Germany, France and the UK as well as the EU — urged against doing what he did and risk triggering a collapse of the deal.
EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini sounded particularly bitter: “It is not (a) bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it.”
Trump’s more than 200 days in office are shearing him of his allies’ close support.
His decision on Iran shredded any last vestige of doubt for Trump’s critics and most of his allies that he is setting America’s international standing back years — maybe decades.
His statement on Iran has been the culmination of months of unease that most European leaders had hoped could be avoided.
Within a week, their worst fears may be taking shape. Kurds routed from Kirkuk by Iranian-backed forces and the real possibility of a bigger confrontation that could mean more refugees spilling into Europe.
The assumption that Trump’s impulses can be kept in check by wiser minds in his administration is being challenged.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: “President Trump’s foreign-policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country … We’re finding new ways to govern that deliver new victories.”
On Iran, Defense Secretary James Mattis said: “I give advice to the President, he was elected by the American people and I stand by the Iran strategy as it came out today.”
And Chief of Staff John Kelly offered this guidance on his role at the White House: “I was not sent in to — or brought in to control him.”
What’s really worrying European diplomats is what could happen if another Middle East conflict kicked off.
In 2015, a massive wave of refugees principally from the Syrian conflict shifted Europe’s politics to the right and changed the face of the continent.
More evidence of this came in Austria’s elections last weekend: The world’s youngest-ever leader surfing into power on a wave of anti-migrant rhetoric.
Voters in Germany, France and Holland have also boosted nationalist hopes of a revival in the immediate aftermath of Britain’s Brexit vote.
Europe is experiencing a reactionary lurch in which nationalists feel emboldened — and the refugees of Syria’s civil war helped make that happen.
Another Middle East war would likely cloud Europe’s horizons further. ISIS is using the moment to stoke primal fears. A perfect storm may be brewing.
Our lives risk being reshaped by inexperienced leaders who like lashing out on both sides of the Atlantic. Don’t tell me that isn’t a recipe for disaster.
Several reliable Kurds shared their disillusionment with the U.S. and President Donald Trump with Peace and Freedom. One said, “We were confronted with Shia Iraqis with U.S. weapons and we had no ally. The U.S. was not here. But Iran was here.”


© AFP/File | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) during a welcoming ceremony on January 23, 2016 in the capital Tehran

Image may contain: one or more people, crowd and outdoor

China urges US to ‘preserve’ Iran nuclear deal

October 13, 2017


© POOL/AFP/File | US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson (L) attends a meeting with Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi (R) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on September 30, 2017

BEIJING (AFP) – China on Friday called on the United States to maintain its commitment to the Iranian nuclear deal, which President Donald Trump is expected to declare no longer in America’s interest.”We believe this deal is important to ensuring the international nuclear nonproliferation regime and regional peace and stability. We hope all parties can continue to preserve and implement this deal,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said during a regular press briefing.

China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, discussed the Iranian nuclear issue with US counterpart Rex Tillerson in a phone call on Thursday to prepare for Trump’s November visit to Beijing, Hua said.

The agreement was signed between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the US — at talks coordinated by the European Union.

While the deal stalled Iran’s nuclear programme and thawed relations between Tehran and its “Great Satan”, opponents say it also prevented efforts to challenge Iranian influence in the Middle East.

US officials say Trump will not kill the international accord outright, instead “decertifying” the agreement and leaving US lawmakers to decide its fate.

UN nuclear inspectors say Iran is meeting the technical requirements of its side of the bargain, dramatically curtailing its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani lashed out at his US counterpart saying he was opposing “the whole world” by trying to abandon the agreement.


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Explaining the Iran nuclear deal 01:21

5 Things Trump Needs To Know About Iran

October 12, 2017


OCTOBER 12, 2017


The record of US-Iran negotiations shows that “dual track” policies of pressure and diplomacy are destined to fail.


Not all in the administration seem to agree with Trump’s harder-line approach on Iran. Defense Secretary James Mattis has publicly stated that Trump “should consider staying” in the deal, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has reportedly argued against decertification.

Speaking after his first meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, Tillerson also seemed to indicate a willingness to take a longer-term view when he told a media conference that the Washington-Tehran relationship had “never had a stable, happy moment in it.”

Trump and Khamenei

”Is this going to be the way it is for the rest of our lives and our children’s lives and our grandchildren’s lives,” he asked.

Tillerson’s remarks evoked an encounter told to me by Mohsen Rafiqdoost, a former Iranian Revolutionary Guards Commander, of a 1982 meeting he had with Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic. Rafiqdoost recalled suggesting that the US embassy grounds in Tehran be converted to a Revolutionary Guards base. Ayatollah Khomeini rejected the idea, asking “Why would you go there? Are we not going to have relations with America for a thousand years?”

It’s clear that decades of estrangement have led to a fundamental misunderstanding of Iran in Washington. Notwithstanding the Obama administration’s nuclear negotiations, every US administration since the 1979 Iranian revolution has failed in its declared objective to contain Iran.

If Trump wishes to free future generations of anxiety over US-Iran tensions, he should pay careful attention to five points in formulating his Iran policy.

First, American officials need to stop speaking about Iran in threatening and insulting terms. The Iranian people are proud of their thousands of years of history and above all else view mutual respect as integral to their foreign relations. However, Foreign Minister Zarif told me that Trump’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month was the “most insulting speech of any American president toward Iran since the revolution” and that it “made any potential for dialogue with the United States meaningless.”

Second, US regime change policies have been self-defeating. The principal reason for lasting Iranian distrust of the United States since the revolution has been US policies aimed at undermining and overturning the Iranian political system.

In June, Tillerson openly declared that US policy towards Iran included regime change – a statement not heard from a senior US official in years and which marked a sharp departure from conventional US rhetoric of seeking Iranian “behavior” change. In stark contrast, Barack Obama told the UN that “we are not seeking regime change and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.”

Consequently, he was able to diplomatically engage Iran on its nuclear program, and reach the July 2015 nuclear deal. The respectful letters exchanged between Obama and Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei helped set the process in motion. This would not happen today even if Trump made a similar overture, as the key to successful negotiations with Iran is to first drop regime-change policies.

Third, since the 1953 US-led coup that overthrew democratically-elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq, Iranians have resented US interference in Iran. The political landscape of conservatives, moderates, and reformists in Iran is in many ways similar to the competition between Democrats and Republicans in the United States.

As such, any agreement between Washington and Tehran must be negotiated in a way that transcends the partisan divide in each country – or else it would be inherently fragile. The challenges the nuclear deal has been subject to in Washington by the Republican Party is testament to this need. With respect to Iran too, negotiations must be carried out in a way that respects Iran’s political makeup and hierarchies.

Fourth, the Trump administration needs to accept that Iran, as a large country with immense natural resources and an educated population, has legitimate security concerns and interests in its neighborhood.

Washington must recognize that US policies aimed at isolating Tehran and refusing to accept a legitimate Iranian role in the region have only seen Iranian influence grow in countries such as Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon while US influence wanes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere.

From Iran’s perspective, its post-1979 foreign policy has been driven by the aim of deterring foreign aggression and securing the country’s borders rather than the pursuit of regional hegemony. After the revolution, Iran was invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and, for much of the past decade, chaos on its thousands of miles of borders with Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan – all factors that have compelled it to play a regional role.

If the United States wants to avoid scenarios where regional states aggressively compete for power it must encourage the creation of a regional security system involving the six Gulf Cooperation Council countries along with Iraq and Iran.

Finally, the record of US-Iran negotiations shows that “dual track” policies of pressure and diplomacy are destined to fail. While Trump appears to be trying to bring Iran to the negotiating table in a position of weakness, Iranian policymakers tend to respond to pressure by retaliating in kind.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, former Secretary of State John Kerry highlighted how by the time he entered into negotiations with Iran, after years of sanctions, Iran had “mastered the nuclear fuel cycle” and built a uranium stockpile large enough to make 10 to 12 bombs.” In other words, Iran was already a nuclear-threshold state,” wrote Kerry.

The lesson for Washington here is that if push comes to shove, Tehran will develop its own bargaining chips – not capitulate in the face of whatever threats are made when Trump delivers his next policy speech on Iran.

The author is a Middle East security and nuclear policy specialist at Princeton University and a former head of the Foreign Relations Committee of Iran’s National Security Council. The opinions expressed here are his own.

Nikki Haley Says U.N. Has Exhausted Options on North Korea — Could she replace Tillerson?

September 17, 2017

WASHINGTON — The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday that the U.N. Security Council has run out of options on containing North Korea’s nuclear program and the United States may have to turn the matter over to the Pentagon.

“We have pretty much exhausted all the things that we can do at the Security Council at this point,” Haley told CNN’s “State of the Union,” adding that she was perfectly happy to hand the matter to Defense Secretary James Mattis. “We’re trying every other possibility that we have but there’s a whole lot of military options on the table.”

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Mary Milliken)


Tillerson heads to U.N. gathering with Haley waiting in the wings

The former South Carolina governor is widely seen as a leading candidate to succeed the Texas oilman as secretary of state should he leave the Trump administration.

Nikki Haley is pictured. | Getty Images
As grounds for accepting the U.N. post, now-Ambassador Nikki Haley insisted that it maintain the Cabinet-level status it enjoyed under President Barack Obama — a rare elevation in a Republican administration. | Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The disagreement among Trump administration officials and Washington’s foreign policy intelligentsia is not about if but rather when U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley eclipsed Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as America’s top diplomat.

As President Donald Trump heads to New York for his first United Nations General Assembly, the weeklong gathering is being viewed as the most public test yet for the shrunken diplomat at Foggy Bottom – an opportunity for Tillerson to reassert himself by the president’s side as something more than a bean-counter, or risk being overshadowed by Haley on the most high-profile stage to date.

It would be unprecedented for a U.N. ambassador to upstage a secretary of state at the diplomatic Super Bowl. UNGA is typically a frenetic week of parties, speeches, bilateral meetings and Manhattan traffic jams, during which the ambassador cedes the yearlong spotlight she enjoys at U.N. headquarters to officials higher up the food chain.

But “unprecedented” is the Trump administration’s unofficial slogan. And Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, is seen as one of its most ambitious players, competing for prominence against a former Exxon Mobil CEO, who has been criticized for accepting the lead role at the State Department only to oversee a dramatic shrinkage of its budget and influence.

“[John] Kerry and [Hillary] Clinton were big names and would get a lot of attention” at UNGA, said Ned Price, a former National Security Council official in the Obama administration. “The U.N. ambassador would, in some ways, serve as the emcee and have a more behind-the-scenes role. Now, I have a feeling we’ll see Nikki Haley much more engaged in the substance in a higher profile way.”

Haley is expected to attend almost all of the bilateral meetings with Trump and Tillerson, an amped-up role for the ambassador. She has also been involved in reviewing the remarks Trump is expected to deliver Tuesday, which will mark Trump’s main event of the week.

On Friday, speaking to reporters from the White House briefing room, Haley noted that in the speech, the president “slaps the right people, he hugs the right people.”

Her presence behind the podium was notable. Tillerson was returning from closed-door meetings at the British Foreign Ministry in London, leaving Haley fielding questions about North Korea and America’s foreign policy priorities for the week alongside National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster.

It is Tillerson, however, who is scheduled to address the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in a rare speech in front of the Security Council this week, a State Department spokesman said. Haley has no scheduled speaking role.

But Haley’s large and growing profile has made her the most-discussed candidate to eventually succeed Tillerson.

“Nikki Haley gave up being the governor of a really important state for this position,” said Kori Schake, a former official in the George W. Bush State Department who has also co-authored a book with Defense Secretary James Mattis. “I don’t see the logic of the U.N. ambassador position as the end state of that decision.”

Tillerson was a onetime favorite of Trump’s, someone he viewed as a peer and spent more one-on-one time with at the White House than any other cabinet official. But the Texas oilman has clashed with senior White House aides, killed morale in the agency and walled himself off among a small group of top aides.

While Tillerson has not spoken openly about departing, speculation in White House circles about who might replace him has focused on two candidates: Haley and CIA director Mike Pompeo, another favorite of Trump’s. But Pompeo, a former congressman, is not seen as eager to leave a job he loves, while Haley has been asserting herself as someone ready for something bigger since she joined the administration.

As grounds for accepting the U.N. post, Haley insisted that it maintain the cabinet-level status it enjoyed under President Barack Obama — a rare elevation in a Republican administration.

She does not view herself as someone who reports to Tillerson, people who have worked with both principals said. She regularly video-conferences into National Security Council meetings and speaks freely with the press, often charting her own course without seeking sign-off from the White House or the State Department.

That course is often notably at odds with Trump’s America First vision of the world. Haley’s tough talk about human rights, Russian malfeasance and the need to oust Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad is more in line with the hawkish takes of Republicans like Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham. She has won praise from conservative outlets like the National Review that have been outright hostile to Trump.

So far, it seems to have cost her nothing. In an administration where most officials see only downside to cultivating a public profile in the media, Haley has become the face of the administration’s foreign policy apparatus — without chafing the president, at least so far, even when she contradicts him or seems to hog the media glare.

On Friday, for instance, she touted the latest U.N. sanctions resolution that unanimously passed last week as a major accomplishment, even after Trump referred to them as “just another very small step, not a big deal.”

“We have cut off now 90 percent of trade going into North Korea,” she said. “It was a massive sanctions bill.”

Taking on extra press briefings and television interviews is a role that some of her colleagues are more than happy for her to fill. McMaster, aides said, loathes the Sunday show circuit, venting privately that he feels like the appearances only serve to “box him in.” Tillerson and Mattis have both made it clear they would prefer to work off-camera.

“Diplomacy isn’t a competition,” said State Department spokesman R.C. Hammond. “There are people with different styles of communicating and leadership.”

In the opening months of the administration, Haley’s go-it-alone style made for some detractors in the West Wing. “She took a major foreign trip while the president was on his inaugural trip abroad,” said one former administration official, referring to her visit to refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan as Trump touched down in Saudi Arabia last spring. “It was borderline disrespectful,” the former official said. “We’d joke that we needed to be worried about her in 2020, and not John Kasich.”

But with growing frustration surrounding the missing-in-action Tillerson, more administration officials are boosting Haley as someone who at least is clear about what she is trying to achieve.

For Haley, it’s been a quick build from foreign policy novice to lead envoy on the international stage. “It could be that foreign policy experience is overrated and political experience is underrated,” said Schake, noting that the Trump administration is testing theories of what outside skills are transferrable to government positions. “Are business skills easily transferable to government leadership? Apparently not. Are political skills transferrable to foreign policy skills? Apparently so.”

Some White House advisers point to the speech Haley delivered earlier this month on the Iran nuclear deal as “the final nail in Tillerson’s coffin.”

The speech, in which Haley floated the idea that the president could force the Iran deal into Congress’ lap by simply declaring Iran noncompliant, marked the most substantive Iran comments to date from any administration official. Haley was a surprising messenger, given that the U.N. plays a limited role in the 2015 nuclear agreement, and it was Tillerson’s predecessor, Kerry, who typically managed the issue. They were also delivered at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington — Tillerson’s home turf.

Others shrugged off the speech, saying that was just words delivered to a friendly neo-conservative think tank audience. It was passing U.N. Security Council sanctions against North Korea that marked Haley’s “moment,” they say, a demonstration that she can deliver real outcomes on the international stage.

A third role reversal that administration officials point to was Haley’s trip to Vienna, last month, instead of Tillerson, to review Iran nuclear activities.

Another camp looks at the dynamic and does not see Haley as the abnormal player on the international scene, but more like the latest in a long line of ambitious U.N. ambassadors like Jeane Kirkpatrick, Madeleine Albright and Susan Rice.

Instead, they point at Tillerson, who’s been overseeing a top-to-bottom reorganization of the 75,000-person State Department since taking over. “The more unusual piece is him,” said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official under John Kerry. “The only thing he seems fixated on is this review.”

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even expressed confusion about Tillerson in an interview last week with NBC’s Rachel Maddow. “Why take a job that you’re not willing to dive in and learn about,” Clinton said, expressing dismay that he has never reached out to any of his predecessors for any historical context on diplomatic relations, and calling him “largely invisible.”

The friction between the ambitious, public-facing Haley and the isolated, media-wary Tillerson has become noticeable in meetings.

Cabinet officials have remarked at Tillerson’s disrespectful tone toward Haley during meetings, as well as her refusal to defer to him. Asked to comment on their relationship, Hammond said the two “serve together in the cabinet. They speak frequently on issues of the day.”

As to whether Haley is angling for the top job at the State Department, he replied, “I have no idea. I really don’t.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. mission to the U.N. said: “This sort of palace intrigue is silly; Ambassador Haley and Secretary Tillerson work together frequently and well.”

As for Haley’s strategy at UNGA next week, he added: “The focus should be fully on the president, his speech, and his discussions with foreign leaders.”