Posts Tagged ‘Defense Secretary James Mattis’

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

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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.”


Europe concerned over Donald Trump’s stance on Iran nuclear deal — American and European interests are clearly diverging

September 7, 2017

Under Donald Trump, Washington is distancing itself from the nuclear deal with Iran. The US president insists Tehran has been violating the agreement, without citing concrete proof. For Europe, it’s a risky move.

Iran nuclear deal (picture-alliance/epa/D. Calma)

US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley has been deliberately ambiguous with regard to the Iran nuclear deal. No, she is not in favor of casting doubt on the legal basis of the agreement. But, as she told an audience at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, one thing must be clear: Should Donald Trump decide to do so, then he would have firm ground to stand on.

Haley did not elaborate further on Trump’s reasons for backing away from what, in her view, is a flawed deal. But she left little doubt that she believes it is time to re-examine the agreement. “We should at no time be beholden to any agreement and sacrifice the security of the United States to say that we’ll do it,” Haley said.

Warning against a self-created crisis

Haley’s statements are a contradiction of the information provided by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Last week, it declared that Iran was sticking to the terms of the deal, and that Tehran had not engaged in any uranium enrichment beyond the permitted levels.

US UN ambassador Nikki Haley (picture-alliance/AP Photo/B. Matthews)Haley said that if Trump backs out of the Iran deal, he would have good reason to do so

Her comments were prompted by the upcoming October deadline for the US senate to certify Iran’s compliance. The president’s skeptical stance on the Iran deal has long been a source of concern in Washington circles. “You can only tear up the agreement one time,” said Republican Senator Bob Corker, warning if that were to happen, the US would generate a self-created crisis. According to a report by the Washington Post newspaper, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have advised the president to leave the deal in place.

‘A bad idea’

Withdrawing from the deal would be “a bad idea,” according Los Angeles Times columnist Doyle McManus. However, he doesn’t have much hope that Trump will continue to certify the agreement.

“Here’s an international crisis you can, unusually, put on your calendar ahead of time,” McManus wrote. Describing Trump’s frustration that he couldn’t just walk away from the deal, McManus says the president instructed his staff to come up with the excuses he needs to decertify. And he described that as an “Alice-in-Wonderland approach to foreign policy: Verdict first, evidence later.”

Still, Trump has not had too much trouble finding influential people to support his position. “I don’t think we get much benefit from the deal,” said Republican Senator Tom Cotton, “so it collapsing doesn’t trouble me all that much.”

Others take a similar view, but are pursuing a different strategy, which would be to decertify Iran while leaving the deal in place. According to Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, simply pulling out of the deal “would allow Iran to play the aggrieved victim and alienate the Europeans.”

Iran nuclear deal talks in Vienna (Mehr)The US helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal in 2015

It’s true that the Europeans would be less than happy if Trump were to present them with a fait accompli in this highly volatile issue. That’s why Dubowitz believes in this third way, where decertification could build a sort of “rap sheet” against any of Iran’s small violations of the deal. On this basis, it would become increasingly difficult for Iran to be able to stick to the agreement.

Diverging interests

Europe has no interest in any further upheaval in the Middle East. Cancellation of the nuclear deal could have the undesired effect of reviving other armament plans, including nuclear arms. It would also fan the flames of violence, and with it, the number of refugees. Without the nuclear deal, Iran would have no reason to restrain itself politically, and could likely embark on an even more aggressive course.

And were Iran to resume its nuclear program, this could awaken other regional states’ interest in pursuing nuclear weapons. It would take years to put an end to such an arms race, if indeed that were even possible. And that means that, in view of the Iran nuclear deal, American and European interests are clearly diverging.


U.S. Opens Way to Boost Arms Sales to Asia Allies

September 6, 2017

Trump offers billions of dollars in new American military equipment to Japan and South Korea in response to North Korea threat

Updated Sept. 5, 2017 6:41 p.m. ET

President Donald Trump pressed harder on potential military options in North Korea, offering billions of dollars in new American military equipment to allies in Asia and saying South Korea should use bigger conventional payloads on its missiles as deterrence.

The military emphasis came as U.S. officials faced an uphill negotiation at the United Nations Security Council over new sanctions against Pyongya


Putin Echoes China in Spurning U.S. on North Korea Sanctions

By Henry Meyer and Ilya Arkhipov

September 5, 2017, 3:31 AM EDT September 5, 2017, 10:07 PM EDT
  • ‘They’ll eat grass, but they won’t abandon their program’
  • Russian leader warns of risk of catastrophe from war rhetoric

Russia’s Putin Spurns U.S. on N. Korea Sanctions

Russian President Vladimir Putin again rejected U.S. calls for new sanctions against North Korea after its sixth and most powerful nuclear test, echoing China’s resistance to more punitive measures to pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its atomic and missile programs.

The Russian leader criticized sanctions as “useless and ineffective,” instead urging the international community to offer security guarantees to North Korea.

“They’ll eat grass, but they won’t abandon their program unless they feel secure,” he told reporters Tuesday at an emerging markets summit in Xiamen, China, which was hosted by his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

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UN ambassadors Vasily Nebenzya (Russia), Liu Jieyi (China) and Nikki Haley (U.S.) on Sept. 4.

Photographer: Kena Bentancur/AFP via Getty Images

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Monday the Trump administration would seek the strongest possible sanctions against Kim Jong Un’s regime. Kim was “begging for war” after testing what he claimed was a hydrogen bomb, she said after a meeting of the UN Security Council.

Haley said the U.S. would circulate new draft sanctions and wants the Security Council to vote on them Sept. 11. Trump administration officials including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis on Wednesday will hold an all-senators briefing on North Korea.

Japan backed the U.S., with Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso on Tuesday calling for additional measures. “There’s no chance of talks progressing without increasing pressure,” he told reporters in Tokyo.

Read the rest:


Susan Rice: “We can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

August 12, 2017

North Korea’s substantial nuclear arsenal and improving intercontinental ballistic missile capacity pose a growing threat to America’s security. But we need not face an immediate crisis if we play our hand carefully.

Given the bluster emanating from Pyongyang and Bedminster, N.J., Americans can be forgiven for feeling anxious.

Shortly after adoption of new United Nations sanctions last weekend, North Korea threatened retaliation against the United States “thousands of times” over. Those sanctions were especially potent, closing loopholes and cutting off important funding for the North. August is also when the United States and South Korea conduct major joint military exercises, which always set Pyongyang on edge. In August 2015, tensions escalated into cross-border artillery exchanges after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by land mines laid by North Korea. This juxtaposition of tough sanctions and military exercises has predictably heightened North Korea’s threats.

We have long lived with successive Kims’ belligerent and colorful rhetoric — as ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time is the reaction of President Trump. Unscripted, the president said on Tuesday that if North Korea makes new threats to the United States, “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” These words risk tipping the Korean Peninsula into war, if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, believes them and acts precipitously.

Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.

We carefully studied this contingency. “Preventive war” would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties. Metropolitan Seoul’s 26 million people are only 35 miles from the border, within easy range of the North’s missiles and artillery. About 23,000 United States troops, plus their families, live between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone; in total, at least 200,000 Americans reside in South Korea.

Japan, and almost 40,000 United States military personnel there, would also be in the cross hairs. The risk to American territory cannot be discounted, nor the prospect of China being drawn into a direct conflict with the United States. Then there would be the devastating impact of war on the global economy.

The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, said last week that if North Korea “had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it’s intolerable from the president’s perspective.” Surely, we must take every reasonable step to reduce and eliminate this threat. And surely there may be circumstances in which war is necessary, including an imminent or actual attack on our nation or our allies.

But war is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded. History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

It will require being pragmatic.

First, though we can never legitimize North Korea as a nuclear power, we know it is highly unlikely to relinquish its sizable arsenal because Mr. Kim deems the weapons essential to his regime’s survival. The North can now reportedly reach United States territory with its ICBMs. The challenge is to ensure that it would never try.

By most assessments, Mr. Kim is vicious and impetuous, but not irrational. Thus, while we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday. The same red line must apply to any proof that North Korea has transferred nuclear weapons to another state or nonstate actor.

Second, to avoid blundering into a costly war, the United States needs to immediately halt the reckless rhetoric. John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, must assert control over the White House, including his boss, and curb the Trump surrogates whipping up Cuban missile crisis fears.

Third, we must enhance our antimissile systems and other defenses, and those of our allies, which need our reassurances more than ever.

Fourth, we must continue to raise the costs to North Korea of maintaining its nuclear programs. Ratcheting up sanctions, obtaining unfettered United Nations authority to interdict suspect cargo going in or out of the North, increasing Pyongyang’s political isolation and seeding information into the North that can increase regime fragility are all important elements of a pressure campaign.

Finally, we must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula, and revive diplomacy to test potential negotiated agreements that could verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea’s arsenal.

Rational, steady American leadership can avoid a crisis and counter a growing North Korean threat. It’s past time that the United States started exercising its power responsibly.