Posts Tagged ‘Donald Trump’

CIA: Iran Nuclear Deal Failed To Permanently Block Iran’s Path To Nuclear Weapons

October 20, 2017
BY YONAH JEREMY BOB
 OCTOBER 19, 2017 21:14
CIA Director: Iran deal 'failed' to permanently block Tehran's path to nukes

Central Intelligence Agency Director Mike Pompeo arrives for a closed briefing before the House Intelligence Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, U.S. May 16, 2017. . (photo credit:REUTERS/AARON P. BERNSTEIN)

The Iran nuclear deal failed to permanently cut off Iran’s path to a nuclear weapon, as well as thwart its Middle East terror activities, CIA Director Mike Pompeo said at a conference Thursday.

US President Donald Trump had concluded the deal had only delayed Iran’s nuclear program, and that “the notion that entry” into the deal “would curtail Iranian adventurism, the terror threat, proved to be fundamentally false.”

Pompeo was being interviewed on stage by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Center on Sanctions and Illicit Finance chairman Juan Zarate, just days after Trump decertified Iran’s compliance with the deal in a major speech.

Though he evaded a question about whether Iran had violated the nuclear deal on a technical level, Pompeo focused on the Islamic Republic’s continued testing of ballistic missiles, prompting of Hezbollah to threaten Israel and being “at the center of so much turmoil in the Middle East.”

He admitted the deal’s inspection provisions had put things “in a marginally better place” in following Iran’s nuclear activities, but said he hoped Trump’s new pressure on Iran would lead to “more intrusive inspections.”

The CIA director expressed concern that the exchange of nuclear technology between Iran and North Korea was a major danger, and specifically mentioned them assisting each other in the area of nuclear weapons testing.

Zoning in on North Korea, he appeared to concede that Pyongyang can — or within months will have — the ability to fire a nuclear weapon against the US.

The American focus must now be on having an ability to stop or shoot down such a weapon, as well as preventing the North from developing a robust nuclear capability — meaning the ability to fire multiple nuclear missiles with accuracy.

“It is one thing to be able to deliver” one missile on “certain trajectories. It is another thing to deliver all of the pieces to develop a truly robust capability.”

Strikingly, Pompeo acknowledged that North Korea could blindside the US in terms of how quickly its capabilities were moving in the nuclear arena, even as he complimented the CIA’s current and past efforts on the issue.

Discussing Syria, he said Trump will push back against “both Iran…and the Syrian regime,” though he did not give details.

Top Israeli political and defense officials have expressed concern that Trump’s understandings with Russia regarding Syria did not address Israeli concerns about Iran and Hezbollah building a new front against Israel from the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Regarding ISIS, he said that, “the fall of the Caliphate is great news, a historic achievement to be sure, but a partial success at best.”

“The list is long about where they operate, what they can do. They still have the capacity to control and influence citizens all around the world,” he said.

Pompeo said he does not like the term “lone wolf terrorist,” explaining he believed that it obscured the investment and influence of ISIS and others in inspiring individuals to commit terror even if their specific actions were not ordered by ISIS.

Speaking more broadly about his actions at the CIA, he said that it would “become a much more vicious agency” in fighting adversaries.

He said he had “asked officers to reengage out in the field” and told the agency that he was “ready to accept more risk” to obtain important intelligence through “traditional espionage” or human spying.

Pompeo said US allies “are thrilled at the CIA’s return to the traditional understanding that it is out on freedom’s frontier.”

Addressing his and the CIA’s relationship with Trump, Pompeo said sometimes “the president asks really very difficult questions. He challenges us where he thought we were in the wrong place. We went back to validate our work, or correct it if we had it wrong.”

Crucially, he said, “the president has promised he will have our backs” and beyond just the question “of funding.”

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Trump May Be Following Palin’s Trajectory

October 20, 2017

Support for her cooled due to antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.

Sarah Palin announcing her 2016 endorsement in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2016.
Sarah Palin announcing her 2016 endorsement in Ames, Iowa, Jan. 19, 2016. PHOTO: AARON P. BERNSTEIN/GETTY IMAGES
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The president has been understandably confident in his supporters. They appreciate his efforts, admire his accomplishments (Justice Neil Gorsuch, ISIS’ setbacks), claim bragging rights for possibly related occurrences (the stock market’s rise), and feel sympathy for him as an outsider up against the swamp. They see his roughness as evidence of his authenticity, so he doesn’t freak them out every day. In this they are like Sarah Palin’s supporters, who saw her lack of intellectual polish as proof of sincerity. At her height, in 2008, she had almost the entire Republican Party behind her, and was pushed forward most forcefully by those who went on to lead Never Trump. But in time she lost her place through antic statements, intellectual thinness and general strangeness.

The same may well happen—or be happening—with Donald Trump.

One reason is that there is no hard constituency in America for political incompetence, and that is what he continues to demonstrate.

The first sign of political competence is knowing where you stand with the people. Gallup this week had him at 36% approval, 59% disapproval. Rasmussen has him at 41%, with 57% disapproving. There have been mild ups and downs, but the general picture has been more or less static. Stuart Rothenberg notes that at this point in his presidency Barack Obama had the approval of 48% of independents. Mr. Trump has 33%.

He proceeds each day with the confidence of one who thinks his foundation firm when it’s not—it’s shaky. His job is to build support, win people over through persuasion, and score some legislative victories that will encourage a public sense that he is competent, even talented.

The story of this presidency so far is his inability to do this. He thwarts himself daily with his dramas. In the thwarting he does something unusual: He gives his own supporters no cover. They back him at some personal cost, in workplace conversations and at family gatherings. They are in a hard position. He leaves them exposed by indulging whatever desire seizes him—to lash out, to insult, to say bizarre things. If he acted in a peaceful and constructive way, he would give his people cover.

He acts as if he takes them for granted. He does not dance with the ones that brung him.

Asked by reporters why he hadn’t issued a statement on the death of four U.S. soldiers in Niger, he either misunderstood or deflected the question by talking about how he writes to and calls the families of the fallen. Other presidents, he said, did not do as much—“some presidents didn’t do anything”—including Mr. Obama. When former Obama staffers pushed back he evoked the death of Chief of Staff John Kelly’s son Robert, a Marine first lieutenant, in Afghanistan: “You could ask Gen. Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?” Mr. Kelly, a private and dignified man, was said to be surprised at the mention of his son.

Soon after, Mr. Trump called Myeshia Johnson, widow of Army sergeant La David T. Johnson, and reached her in the car on the way to receive her husband’s casket. Someone put the call on speakerphone. A Democratic congresswoman in the car later charged that Trump had been disrespectful. In fairness, if the congresswoman quoted him accurately, it is quite possible that “He knew what he was signing up for” meant, in the president’s mind, “He heroically signed up to put his life on the line for his country,” and “But still it must hurt,” meant “I can’t imagine the grief you feel even with your knowledge that every day he put himself in harm’s way.”

And indeed Mr. Kelly, in a remarkable White House briefing Thursday, recounted what Gen. Joseph Dunford, now chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, had told then-Gen. Kelly in 2010, when Robert died: “He was doing exactly what he wanted to do. . . . He knew what he was getting into by joining that 1%. He knew what the possibilities were, because we were at war.”

Mr. Kelly was moving, fully credible, and as he spoke you had the feeling you were listening to a great man. It was unfortunate that when the controversy erupted, the president defaulted to anger, and tweets. News stories were illustrated everywhere by the picture of the beautiful young widow sobbing as she leaned on her husband’s flag-draped casket. Those are the real stakes and that is the real story, not some jerky sideshow about which presidents called which grieving families more often.

This week Sen. John McCain famously gave a speech in Philadelphia slamming the administration’s foreign-policy philosophy as a “half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems.” Fair enough—the famous internationalist opposes Trumpian foreign-policy notions. There are many ways presidents can respond to such criticism—thoughtfully, with wit or an incisive rejoinder.

Mr. Trump went on Chris Plante’s radio show to tell Sen. McCain he’d better watch it. “People have to be careful because at some point I fight back,” he said. “I’m being very nice. I’m being very, very nice. But at some point I fight back, and it won’t be pretty.”

FDR, Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan were pretty tough hombres, but they always managed to sound like presidents and not, say, John Gotti. Mr. McCain, suffering from cancer, evoked in his reply his experience as a prisoner of war: “I’ve faced far greater challenges than this.”

That, actually, is how presidents talk.

I must note I get a lot of mail saying this is all about style—people pick on Mr. Trump because he isn’t smooth, doesn’t say the right words. “But we understand him.” “Get over these antiquated ideas of public dignity, we’re long past that.” But the problem is not style. A gruff, awkward, inelegant style wedded to maturity and seriousness of purpose would be powerful in America. Mr. Trump’s problem has to do with something deeper—showing forbearance, patience, sympathy; revealing the human qualities people appreciate seeing in a political leader because they suggest a reliable inner stature.

Meanwhile Steve Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, goes forward with at least partial support from the president and vows to bring down the Republican establishment. But Mr. Trump needs to build, not level. He needs a Republican House and Senate if for no other reason than one day Robert Mueller will file his report, and it will be leaked, and something will be in there because special counsels always get something. It is Republican majorities—the Republican establishment—that the president will need to help him. He will need the people he’d let Mr. Bannon purge.

Meanwhile polls say the Republican nominee for Republican Alabama’s open Senate seat is neck and neck with his Democratic opponent.

Meanwhile the president absolutely has to win on tax reform after his embarrassing loss on ObamaCare. He shouldn’t be in this position, with his back to the wall.

None of this speaks of competence. And again, in America there is no hard constituency for political incompetence. Mr. Trump should keep his eye on Sarah Palin’s social media profile. She has 1.4 million Twitter followers, and her Facebook page has a “Shop Now” button.

Barack Obama, George W. Bush denounce bigotry in Trump-era American politics

October 20, 2017

NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — Former President Barack Obama called on fellow Democrats to reject politics of “division” and “fear” while rallying on Thursday with party’s candidates for governors in Virginia and New Jersey.

“Why are we deliberately trying to misunderstand each other, and be cruel to each other and put each other down? That’s not who we are,” Obama said at the Virginia rally in front of several thousand supporters.

Stepping back into the political spotlight for the first time since leaving the White House in January, Obama did not mention President Donald Trump in his speeches at Richmond’s convention center or at a Newark hotel. But he did tell crowds at both events that they could send a message to the rest of the country in the upcoming elections.

“Our democracy’s at stake and it’s at stake right here in Virginia,” Obama said.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks during a campaign rally for Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Ralph Northam (R) in Richmond, Virginia October 19, 2017. / AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSONJIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

Virginia and New Jersey are the only two states electing new governors this year and those Nov. 7 races will be considered a bellwether of Democrats’ strength in the face of Trump’s victory last year.

New Jersey Democrat Phil Murphy, Obama’s former ambassador to Germany, is facing Republican Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. Virginia Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is running against Republican Ed Gillespie.

Former President Barack Obama on Thursday rallied at the side of his former ambassador to Germany, who is running for governor in New Jersey, and called on the crowd of Democrats to reject politics of “division” and “fear.” (October 19)

Obama’s remarks came on the same day Former President George W. Bush denounced bigotry in Trump-era American politics, warning that the rise of “nativism,” isolationism and conspiracy theories have clouded the nation’s true identity.

George W. Bush

Obama bemoaned the rise of racial politics.

“Some of the politics we see now we thought we put that to bed,” Obama said. “That’s folks looking 50 years back. It’s the 21st century, not the 19th century.”

The first black president offered himself as proof that the country could move forward, telling the crowd in Richmond, the former Capitol of the Confederacy, that he is a distant relative to Confederate President Jefferson Davis on his mother’s side.

“Think about that,” Obama said. “I’ll bet he’s spinning in his grave.”

Obama praised Northam, a pediatric neurologist, as a candidate who would represent Virginia well and accused Gillespie of running a fear-based campaign.

Gillespie spokesman Dave Abrams said Obama’s comments were not a “surprise.”

Guadagno’s spokesman, Ricky Diaz, suggested it’s Murphy and not Republicans who are divisive.

“Phil Murphy is the one who will divide New Jersey by raising taxes so high that only the über rich like him will be able to afford to live here,” he said.

Obama’s popularity is still undeniable. In an August NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll, 51 percent of Americans said they have a favorable opinion of Obama, while 35 percent had a negative opinion. In the same poll, 36 percent said they had a positive opinion of Trump and 52 percent had a negative opinion.

Obama never completely disappeared from public life, in part because of Trump’s constant criticism and efforts to undo much of Obama’s legacy after eight years in office. He has publicly defended his policies that Trump and the GOP-led Congress have set out to dismantle: the Affordable Care Act and the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA, which allowed immigrants brought into the country illegally as children to be temporarily shielded from deportation.

Obama was forced to return “pretty quickly,” presidential historian Julian Zelizer of Princeton University said.

“The current president has changed all the conventional assumptions about what to do,” Zelizer said. “There is a sense of urgency that makes this moment different than others and former President Obama has continued to be directly in Trump’s line of fire — both his policies and his legacy.”

Les Kenney, of Richmond, said Obama’s speech was inspiring.

“It was great to see him again, he’s an energizer,” he said.

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Associated Press writers Jesse J. Holland and Emily Swanson in Washington contributed to this report.

Includes videos:

https://apnews.com/2a7c91cf27d24413bfcf3d28e0047591/Obama-tells-Democrats-to-reject-politics-of-division,-fear

See also: George W. Bush joins John McCain in dressing down Donald Trump

http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/opinion/the-conversation/sd-george-w-bush-speech-divisiveness-20171019-htmlstory.html

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Obama back on campaign trail to rally for Ralph Northam in Richmond

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/virginia-politics/obama-back-on-campaign-trail-to-rally-for-ralph-northam-in-richmond/2017/10/19/9a0fa0f4-b379-11e7-be94-fabb0f1e9ffb_story.html?utm_term=.20f00fd24e0d

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Nikki Haley Urges UN to Challenge Iranian Actions — “Iran must be judged in totality of its destructive and unlawful behavior. To do otherwise is foolish.”

October 19, 2017

Bloomberg

By Kambiz Foroohar

 
  • Other Security Council envoys focus on Israel-Palestine issues
  • Trump last week declined to certify nuclear accord with Iran
Nikki Haley Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

Nikki Haley urged the UN Security Council to consider a wide range of Iran’s “destabilizing” actions in the Middle East in an early test of whether President Donald Trump’s toughening position on the Islamic Republic is alienating allies and leaving the U.S. isolated internationally.

Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, used a Security Council meeting Wednesday on “the situation in the Middle East” to once again take on Tehran’s ballistic-missile program and its support for Hezbollah and Syrian ruler Bashar Al-Assad. But most of the other participants sought to focus on Israeli-Palestinian issues, especially Israel’s settlements in the West Bank.

The meeting was the first public effort to gauge support for the U.S. position on Iran after Trump declined to certify the 2015 nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, on Oct. 13. Trump, making a determination required under U.S. law every 90 days, said the agreement with Iran and five other nations wasn’t serving U.S. national security interests, though he stopped short of quitting the accord entirely.

“Judging Iran by the narrow confines of the nuclear deal misses the true nature of the threat,” Haley told the Security Council. “Iran must be judged in totality of its destructive and unlawful behavior. To do otherwise is foolish.”

Despite Trump’s criticisms, U.S. allies have said they continue to back the agreement, pointing to International Atomic Energy Agency assessments that Iran has met its requirements under the accord. The agreement, negotiated during the Obama administration, was intended to ease economic sanctions on Iran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear program.

Read a QuickTake Q&A on how Trump wants to build a new nuclear deal

Follow the Trump Administration’s Every Move

Europe’s position hasn’t changed since Trump’s speech, said Olof Skoog, Sweden’s ambassador to the UN. Skoog said the Middle East debate should focus on the peace process and not the nuclear deal.

“The nuclear agreement is underpinned by UN Security Council resolutions. It’s clear where we stand,” Skoog said. “The EU is determined to preserve the JCPOA as a key pillar of the international nonproliferation architecture.”

Representatives of Japan and the U.K. said Wednesday that they continued to support the Iran accord and that all of the participating nations should continue to abide by its provisions.

‘Confused’ Delegates

In a swipe at Haley, Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said he wondered if “some delegates” were confused about the agenda item. “The fact that some delegations did not mention the word ‘Palestine’ saddens us,” he said.

The Security Council has maintained a critical stance toward Israel for years, and Arab nations, including U.S. allies, have resisted shifting that emphasis. Israel’s settlement policies are routinely criticized at the Security Council.

During her confirmation hearings in January, Haley said one of her main goals was to change the “anti-Israel bias” at the UN.

“Nowhere has the UN’s failure been more consistent and more outrageous than in its bias against our close ally Israel,” she said at the hearing. The U.S. envoy frequently criticizes Iran’s regional role, its testing of ballistic missiles and human rights violations. In July, she helped persuade France, Germany and the U.K. to sign a letter of protest to the Security Council about Iran’s “threatening and provocative” launch of a rocket that can carry a satellite into space.

But this time, France and the U.K. have signaled they will focus less on Iran and more on the Israeli-Palestinian situation.

“For some countries this is an opportunity to go beyond the peace process itself to describe the situation in region — some countries might do that,” François Delattre, France’s ambassador to the UN, said before Wednesday’s hearing. “For others it’s also a great opportunity to focus precisely on the peace process, what needs to be done, and settlement activity. As for France, we will focus on the Middle East peace process, but I cannot say I will not mention other issues as well.”

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-18/haley-to-press-un-security-council-on-iran-after-trump-decision

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Is There a Way To Get Tough on Iran Without Leaving The Nuclear Deal?

October 19, 2017
BY EMILY B. LANDAU
 OCTOBER 19, 2017 15:30
There are important elements in the administration’s new policy that may reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations.

Getting tough on Iran without leaving the nuclear deal

US PRESIDENT Donald Trump speaks about Iran and the nuclear accord at the White House on Friday. (photo credit:REUTERS)

On October 13, US President Donald Trump announced his decision not to certify the JCPOA, in contrast to his previous two decisions to certify the deal. Instead, he declared, the administration would work with Congress and US global and Middle East allies to address the flaws surrounding the deal, as well as other aspects of Iran’s behavior, widely perceived to be threatening and destabilizing. This position was reached following the administration’s policy review on Iran, underway over the past nine months, and outlines a new approach that began to emerge already with the statement in April 2017 by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson – delivered the day after Trump certified the JCPOA for the first time – which sketched in broad strokes the direction of US policy on Iran.

Perhaps the most notable feature of the new policy is that it covers the entirety of Iran’s behavior that is viewed negatively by the US, beyond the nuclear program: Iran’s missile program, support for terror, and regional aspirations that threaten the national security interests of the US and its allies in the Middle East. In so doing, the administration has ended the approach of the Obama administration that sought to create a divide between the nuclear and regional manifestations of Iran’s conduct, claiming that the nuclear deal “was working,” and that it was never meant to address other issues. In contrast, the Trump administration has emphasized that the JCPOA did not achieve its objective of a non-nuclear Iran, and that the deal is only one component of overall US policy toward Iran. The message is that there is a connection between the different manifestations of Tehran’s nuclear and foreign policies, and that all must be dealt with in tandem in order to confront effectively the threats and regional challenges posed by Iran.

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Also of significance is that Trump signaled that the US administration will no longer refrain from pushing back against Iran’s aggressions and provocations for fear of Iran exiting the nuclear deal. In fact – in a somewhat surprising move – Trump included his own threat of leaving the deal. He stated that if in cooperation with Congress and US allies the administration cannot reach a satisfactory solution to the problems he delineated, he would cancel US participation in the deal. The specific context seems to direct the threat primarily to Congress and US allies in an effort to urge them to work with the administration to amend the deal. However, it is also clearly a message to Iran that the administration is no longer deterred by Iran’s threats of leaving the deal.

What are the main problems that Trump raised, and how will the administration attempt to fix them? The leading problems raised by the president have to do with the regime’s sponsorship of terrorism, continued regional aggression, and use of proxies, and the radical nature of the regime and its Supreme Leader. He mentioned Iran’s ballistic missile program, hostility to the US and Israel, and its threat to navigation in the Gulf. While the opening of Trump’s speech reviewed Iran’s deadly actions since 1979 and was unnecessarily detailed, this might have been aimed to underscore that Iran has targeted the US repeatedly, rendering dealing with Iran a clear US national security interest.

As for the nuclear deal, Trump warned that in a few years Iran will be able to “sprint” to nuclear weapons. What, he asked, is the purpose of a deal that at best only delays Iran’s nuclear plans? He noted multiple violations of the deal, although most points on his list were not violations per se, but rather problems with the deal. In addition to twice exceeding the limit on the stockpile of heavy water, he pointed out that Iran failed to meet US expectations with regard to research and development of advanced centrifuges. To be sure, the precise nature of Iran’s work on advanced centrifuges is an issue that independent analysts can only study from such official statements due to the problematic lack of transparency in IAEA reports since implementation of the deal, and the confidentiality that was granted to deliberations of the Joint Commission (that oversees the JCPOA). Trump also accused Iran of intimidating IAEA inspectors, and highlighted Iran’s repeated statements that it would refuse entry of IAEA inspectors into its military sites. Of particular note was Trump’s mention of suspicions regarding cooperation between Iran and North Korea; he said that he will instruct intelligence agencies to conduct a thorough analysis of these connections.

In dealing with these problems, Trump’s major constraint is lack of leverage to compel Iran to agree to a strengthened nuclear deal. The administration’s hands are tied given that it has partners to the JCPOA that are not on the same page, and that the biting sanctions that had pressured Iran to negotiate in the first place were lifted when implementation of the deal began. Clearly it will be difficult for the US to change matters directly related to the deal without the help of Congress and European allies, and Trump stated repeatedly that he will seek their cooperation.

In Europe there is fierce opposition to Trump’s decision not to certify the deal, and it is questionable whether and to what degree Europe will be willing to cooperate with the US. It is noteworthy, however, that before the speech was delivered, some European leaders – including France’s Macron – signaled a new willingness to address issues outside the JCPOA, in particular Iran’s missile program and regional aggression. Trump hopes they will go along with new sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). There is currently no basis for expecting cooperation from Russia and China.

The administration is also pinning hopes on Congress. With decertification, decision making on the JCPOA moves to Congress, and this is where the Trump administration hopes to introduce changes. Tillerson has explained that the administration will not be asking Congress to move to sanctions at this stage, a step that could lead to the collapse of the deal. Rather, the hope is to pass new legislation that will amend the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA). The White House would like to establish a series of benchmarks that would automatically restore sanctions if Iran crosses one of the red lines – or “trigger points”; these would likely relate to Iran’s missile program and the sunset clauses in the JCPOA.

The area where the administration can most easily move forward on its own relates to its approach to the Iranian regime, particularly the regime’s support for terror and other destabilizing regional activities. This explains the strong emphasis in Trump’s speech – and in the document released in parallel entitled “President Donald J. Trump’s New Strategy on Iran” – on the IRGC, and on the need to confront it squarely for its support of terror, fanning of sectarianism, and perpetuation of regional conflict. Trump announced that he was authorizing the Treasury Department to sanction the IRGC as an entity, and to apply sanctions to its officials, agents, and affiliates.

Overall, there are important elements in the administration’s new policy that have the potential to reverse some of the negative aspects of the JCPOA, and set the stage for pushing back on Iran’s regional provocations and aggression. Much will depend on the ability to cooperate with allies and with Congress in advancing these goals. Tillerson’s clarifications were important in explaining that contrary to much media analysis, Trump is not seeking to do away with the deal, at least in the short term, or to go to war. The stated aim is to strengthen the deal, and restore US deterrence vis-à-vis the Iranian regime and the IRGC. The outcome, however, is far from guaranteed. This is due to inherent constraints, and the fact that while the policy makes sense, it is nevertheless a huge undertaking for a very controversial administration, and this in turn can further weaken Trump’s hand.

The author is a senior research fellow at INSS and head of the Arms Control and Regional Security Program. This article first appeared in INSS Insight.

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U.S. Could Block-Buy Aircraft Carriers, Says Navy Secretary

October 19, 2017

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said he asked companies to develop plans to reduce the cost of buying warships

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The U.S. Navy may soon ask Congress to green light purchasing two new aircraft carriers at once to help cut construction costs for the capital ships after President Donald Trump vowed to pay less for the service’s fleet.

Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer said he asked companies to develop plans to reduce the cost of buying warships. The companies suggested that buying two aircraft carriers at the same time could yield savings, and the proposal is starting to look attractive enough for the Navy to back the plan, Mr. Spencer told the Wall Street Journal.

Congress typically allows the Pentagon to buy only one carrier at a time. Carriers can cost as much as $13 billion each.

The Navy is hoping that providing clearer requirements to industry and working with companies to improve efficiency will translate into cost savings.

Mr. Spencer would not say how much savings defense contractors are offering on the carrier deal, but said it could be significant. Getting Congress to commit in advance to an additional carrier could be difficult because it strips lawmaker of some control over funding.

“They are right at the cusp of making it worth heavy, heavy lifting,” Mr. Spencer said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

President Donald Trump has pledged to push for lower costs as he backs expansion of the Navy to a 350-ship fleet, more less than 300 vessels. “The same boats for less money, the same ships for less money, the same aircraft for less money,” Mr. Trump said at Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc.’s main yard, adding that savings would allow the Pentagon to buy more.

The Navy has set out a plan for a 355-ship fleet. Earlier this year the Navy commissioned the Gerald R. Ford aircraft carrier, the first of a class of four of such ships planned. The Pentagon estimates the carriers will cost about $43 billion.

For more than a year a group of companies involved in building aircraft carriers have been lobbying Congress to back a multi-ship purchase.

The joint contract would cover production of the USS Enterprise, designated CVN-80, which is due to enter service around 2027, and a follow-on ship, CVN-81, which has not yet been named. The ships would still be built in sequence, but the certainty over future work could allow companies to sign more favorable supplier contracts and invest.

Huntington Ingalls Chief Executive Mike Petters  in August said “we’re going to be a whole lot more inclined to go and invest against the 355-ship Navy” if the Navy was committed to buying more than one carrier

Huntington Ingalls, the only U.S. company able to build carriers, in August cut steel for the first Enterprise parts. The formal construction contract is not expected until next year, however. Congress has set a $11.4 billion cost cap on the ship.

Industry is responsible for about 80% of the costs of the ship. Mr. Spencer said the Navy is also looking for ways to reduce the costs of what it contributes.

“If we can tighten up our government supplied equipment and have a very efficient hull build we are starting to get savings that are very meaningful,” Mr. Spencer said. “So it is worth having the discussion.”

The Navy’s fleet of aircraft carriers transport an array of planes, including Boeing Co. F/A-18 Super Hornet fighter planes. They will, in the future, also feature the Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Pentagon’s most expensive weapons program.

Carriers have been the centerpiece of U.S. fleet plans, though they have not been without controversy. Critics argue the massive, 1,092-foot aircraft carriers are obsolete as adversaries invest in weapons to keep them far from their shores. China, which is developing its own aircraft carrier fleet, has invested heavily in weapons to target U.S. carriers. China has fielded ballistic missiles “specifically designed to hold adversary aircraft carriers at risk 1,500 km off China’s coast,” the Pentagon said this year in a report to Congress.

Mr. Spencer said carriers remain a key element of Navy plans and that the service had the technology to protect them against new threats even if operations may involve taking greater operational risks.

He said he was open to discussions about whether the Navy was too focused on the carrier, but believed that, for now, the service was right to invest in carriers like the Ford.

“This seems to be working, we seem to have a strategy that works,” he said. “I think we are good where we are but we should always be having that discussion and we shouldn’t be afraid to have that discussion.”

Write to Robert Wall at robert.wall@wsj.com and Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-could-block-buy-aircraft-carriers-says-navy-secretary-1508405259

ISIS fanatics ‘plotting new 9/11’: Homeland Security chief says jihadists are working on a ‘big explosion’

October 19, 2017

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  • Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s Secretary of Homeland Security, issued a warning
  • She said recent attacks are keeping jihadis engaged ahead of ‘big explosion’
  • Terrorists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties, she says
  • Yesterday, MI5 boss Andrew Parker warned UK was facing biggest terror threat

A fiery blasts rocks the south tower of the World Trade Center as the hijacked United Airlines Flight 175 from Boston crashes into the building September 11, 2001 in New York

Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned today.

Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security, said jihadists were using crude knife and van attacks to keep their members engaged and their finances flowing as they plot another ‘big explosion’ similar to the September 2001 atrocities.

Speaking at the US embassy in London, she said intelligence is pointing to extremists plotting to take down planes to inflict mass civilian casualties.

Mrs Duke said ISIS is currently in an ‘interim’ period focusing on a much bigger endgame.

The security chief, who has served three US presidents, said: ‘The terrorist organisations, be it ISIS or others, want to have the big explosion like they did on 9/11. They want to take down aircraft, the intelligence is clear on that.

‘However, in the interim they need to keep their finances flowing and they need to keep their visibility high and they need to keep their members engaged, so they are using small plots and they are happy to have small plots.’

Islamic State fanatics and other terror groups are planning another massive attack on the scale of 9/11, a top US security chief warned

She added: ‘Creating terror is their goal and so a van attack, a bladed weapon attack, causes terror and continues to disrupt the world – but does not mean they’ve given up on a major aviation plot.’

Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Yesterday Mrs Duke said the prospect of a terrorist blowing up an airline using a laptop was just one of the threats facing airlines worldwide.

She said the free movement of goods and people means security has to be tightened in individual countries around the world.

She said: ‘The laptop is one of the many aviation threats, we will never be comfortable and we will always be evolving.

‘What we believe is that because of the movement of goods and people, we have to raise the baseline worldwide, we can’t only consider our borders.’ Mrs Duke went on: ‘We think the level of terrorist threat against the United States too is extremely high.

‘I think that it is challenging for you because you have the proximities to other countries, the ease of movement from some of the terrorist safe havens is a little easier for you, but we feel the terrorist threat is very high in the United States.’

Asked how the US is tackling the threat of another 9/11-style atrocity, she said: ‘We have worked on some strong measures that we can’t talk about. We are trying to play the away game and that is working against them in their terrorist safe havens and homes.

‘We do have some terrorist groups on the move, you just saw the take-over of Raqqa and so if we can keep them declining and moving they have less time to sit and prepare.’

They want to take down aircraft
Elaine Duke, Donald Trump’s acting Secretary of Homeland Security

Mrs Duke warned that the number of home-grown violent extremists, mostly inspired by terrorist organisations, is increasing in the US. She said the ability of IS militants to put terrorist propaganda on the internet will appeal more and more to extremists as they are pushed out of Syria and Iraq.

Mrs Duke said web giants need to do more to detect extremist content online, and one way of doing this could be using the same technology used to identify people in passenger lists.

‘Terrorists are strong, they are adaptable and the terrorist threat is the highest it has been since pre-9/11. We have got to have every tool that’s possible,’ she added.

A total of 2,996 people were killed during the September 11 attacks, when al-Qaeda suicide attackers hijacked planes and flew them into the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington.

Earlier in the day she met the British interior minister Amber Rudd to discuss how to force internet giants to do more to tackle terrorism ahead of the G7 summit.

Following the recent wave of attacks in Manchester and London, police chiefs have said the threat facing the UK is a ‘new norm’ that will not change.

Her chilling remarks came 24 hours after MI5 director general Andrew Parker warned Britain is facing its worst-ever terrorist threat in his first major speech since the UK was hit by a wave of attacks.

The British spy chief said it was taking terrorists just days to hatch plots as violent extremists exploit ‘safe spaces online’ to evade detection.

It is harder for the UK to protect itself because of its proximity to other countries and the ease of movement from terrorist safe havens, she suggested.

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4994906/ISIS-fanatics-plotting-new-9-11-warns-security-boss.html#ixzz4vwra39LU
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U.S. carrier patrols off Korean peninsula in warning to Pyongyang

October 19, 2017

By Tim Kelly

Reuters

ABOARD USS RONALD REAGAN, Sea of Japan (Reuters) – The USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear powered aircraft carrier, patrolled in waters east of the Korean peninsula on Thursday, in a show of sea and air power designed to warn off North Korea from any military action.

Reports in South Korea claim the US President is bolstering the deployment by sending the USS Ronald Reagan (pictured) and the USS Nimitz to the Sea of Japan next week

The Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan in the waters east of the Korean Peninsula on October 18, 2017. Picture taken on October 18, 2017. U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

The U.S. Navy’s biggest warship in Asia, with a crew of 5,000 sailors, sailed around 100 miles (160.93 km), launching almost 90 F-18 Super Hornet sorties from its deck, in sight of South Korean islands.

It is conducting drills with the South Korean navy involving 40 warships deployed in a line stretching from the Yellow Sea west of the peninsula into the Sea of Japan.

“The dangerous and aggressive behavior by North Korea concerns everybody in the world,” Rear Admiral Marc Dalton, commander of the Reagan’s strike group, said in the carrier’s hangar as war planes taxied on the flight deck above.

“We have made it clear with this exercise, and many others, that we are ready to defend the Republic of Korea.”

The Reagan’s presence in the region, coupled with recent military pressure by Washington on Pyongyang, including B1-B strategic bomber flights over the Korean peninsula, comes ahead of President Donald Trump’s first official visit to Asia, set to start in Japan on Nov. 5, with South Korea to follow.

North Korea has slammed the warship gathering as a “rehearsal for war”. It comes as senior Japanese, South Korean and U.S. diplomats meet in Seoul to discuss a diplomatic way forward backed up by U.N. sanctions.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously ratcheted up sanctions on North Korea over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes since 2006. The most stringent include a ban on coal, iron ore and seafood exports that aim at halting a third of North Korea’s $3 billion of annual exports.

On Monday, Kim In Ryong, North Korea’s deputy U.N. envoy, told a U.N. General Assembly committee the Korean peninsula situation had reached a touch-and-go point and a nuclear war could break out at any moment.

A series of weapons tests by Pyongyang, including its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept. 3 and two missile launches over Japan, has stoked tension in East Asia.

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The Navy’s forward-deployed aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the forward-deployed Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Stethem steam alongside ships from the Republic of Korea Navy in the waters east of the Korean Peninsula on October 18, 2017. Picture taken on October 18, 2017. Courtesy Kenneth Abbate/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS Reuters

A Russian who returned from a visit to Pyongyang has said the regime is preparing to test a missile it believes can reach the U.S. west coast.

On Sunday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said President Donald Trump had instructed him to continue diplomatic efforts to defuse tension with North Korea.

Washington has not ruled out the eventual possibility of direct talks with the North to resolve the stand-off, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan said on Tuesday.

Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Clarence Fernandez

US says Palestinian unity govt must recognise Israel, disarm Hamas

October 19, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Mike Smith | Fighters of the armed wing of Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas march in the southern Gaza city of Khan Yunis on July 20, 2017

JERUSALEM (AFP) – A top aide to US President Donald Trump said Thursday that an emerging Palestinian unity government must recognise Israel and disarm Hamas, Washington’s first detailed response to a landmark reconciliation deal signed last week.A Hamas official immediately rejected the comments as “blatant interference” in Palestinian affairs, but did not say directly whether the Islamist group planned to comply with any of the demands.

Trump’s special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, who has repeatedly visited the region to seek ways to restart peace talks, laid out a series of conditions.

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognise the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties — including to disarm terrorists — and commit to peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

The US conditions were roughly in line with principles previously set out by the Quartet for Middle East peace — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.

“If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” Greenblatt said.

The statement was also similar to the Israeli government’s response this week in which it vowed not to negotiate with a Palestinian unity government that includes Hamas unless the Islamist group agrees to a list of demands.

The demands included recognising Israel and renouncing violence, but also returning the remains of two Israeli soldiers killed in Gaza, among other conditions.

Senior Hamas official Bassem Naim condemned Greenblatt’s statement and accused the United States of adopting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions.

“This is blatant interference in Palestinian affairs because it is the right of our people to choose its government according to their supreme strategic interests,” Naim told AFP.

“This statement comes under pressure from the extreme right-wing Netanyahu government and is in line with the Netanyahu statement from two days ago.”

– Gaza humanitarian crisis –

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas’s Fatah movement signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas in Cairo a week ago aimed at ending a bitter 10-year split.

The Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organisation has recognised Israel, but Hamas has not and is blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the European Union.

Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008, and the Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade for more than a decade.

Egypt has also kept its border with Gaza largely closed in recent years.

Hamas has run the Gaza Strip since seizing it in a near civil war in 2007 with Fatah, based in the occupied West Bank, following a dispute over elections won by the Islamist movement.

The Palestinian Authority, currently dominated by Fatah, is due to resume control of the Gaza Strip by December 1 under the deal.

Talks are also expected on forming a unity government, with another meeting between the various Palestinian political factions scheduled for November 21.

Previous attempts at reconciliation have repeatedly failed, and many analysts are treating the latest bid with caution, waiting to see if actual change will occur on the ground.

A major sticking point is expected to be Hamas’s refusal to disarm its 25,000-strong armed wing.

Diplomats say it would be possible to form a unity government that they could deal with that does not officially include Hamas.

A previous attempt at a unity government in 2014 was made up of technocrats deemed acceptable by the international community, though that bid fell apart.

Hamas has faced increasing isolation and deteriorating humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip in recent months, including a severe electricity shortage.

Abbas has imposed a series of sanctions on the Gaza Strip to pressure Hamas, including cutting electricity payments, which has worsened the power cuts.

Hamas has reached out to Cairo for help, hoping to have the Rafah border with Egypt opened.

In return, Cairo has pressed Hamas to move forward on reconciliation with Fatah.

Greenblatt said “all parties agree that it is essential that the Palestinian Authority be able to assume full, genuine and unhindered civil and security responsibilities in Gaza and that we work together to improve the humanitarian situation for Palestinians living there.”

In a briefing to the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, UN assistant secretary general Miroslav Jenca welcomed the reconciliation deal and spoke of the urgency of addressing the “humanitarian crisis” in Gaza.

by Mike Smith

Iranian General Helped Iraqis Seize Kirkuk From U.S. Allies

October 19, 2017

NBC News

OCT 18 2017, 6:20 PM ET

By Carol E. Lee,  and 

A few days after the Trump administration announced a new, get-tough approach to Iran, one of that country’s top military commanders and the armed Shiite militias he supports played a key role in the seizure of an important Iraqi city from the U.S.-backed Kurds, according to Iraqi, Kurdish and American officials.

Former U.S. national security officials told NBC News the Iranian-brokered seizure of oil-rich Kirkuk by the Iraqi government and its militia partners, which heightens the risk of civil war, amounts to an embarrassing strategic blow to the U.S. at the hands of Iran.

“It is a catastrophic defeat for the United States and a fantastic victory for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, proving that Qassem Soleimani gets his way once again,” said Ali Khedery, a former senior adviser on Iraq policy in the Bush and Obama administrations.

Soleimani is head of the Iranian military’s special forces and extraterritorial operations. The major general commands an elite unit known as the Quds Force and has been dubbed the most powerful intelligence operative in the Middle East. According to Kurdish and Iraqi officials, he traveled to Kirkuk last week to weigh in on the dispute between Baghdad and the Kurds over the strategically important city of Kirkuk.

Image: Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani
Iranian Quds Force commander Qassem Soleimani (C) attends Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s (not seen) meeting with the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) on September 18, 2016 in Tehran, Iran. Anadolu Agency / Getty Images file

Kurdish officials and former U.S. intelligence officials told NBC News Soleimani helped negotiate a deal under which one Kurdish faction would abandon its checkpoints and allow Iraqi government forces, backed by Iranian-supported Shiite militias, to take the city uncontested. That explains, they say, why there was so little fighting as Iraqi forces, armed with heavy weapons provided by the U.S., seized Kirkuk from the Kurds, who also carry American weapons and have been the most stalwart U.S. ally in the fight against ISIS.

“We’re confident that Qassem Soleimani engineered, guided, directed, manipulated this deal,” Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman, the Kurdish representative in Washington, told NBC News.

She said Soleimani used a carrot-and-stick approach, threatening force and offering financial inducements to certain elements of a Kurdish faction whose soldiers abandoned their positions.

A spokesman for Iraq’s Shiite-dominated paramilitary forces, Mouin al-Khadhimy, acknowledged to NBC News that Soleimani was in Iraq in recent days — to ease tensions between Iraqi and Kurdish forces, al Khadhimy said.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a foreign policy adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in an Oct. 17 statment reported by Al-Monitor that “Iran plays no role in the Kirkuk operation.”

President Donald Trump said the U.S. wasn’t taking sides, and his government neither condemned the move by Baghdad nor mentioned the Iranian component.

“We remain very concerned about the situation in northern Iraq,” said Michael Anton, spokesman for the National Security Council. “We urge both parties to stand down and resolve any dispute peacefully and politically, remain united in the fight against ISIS and remain united against a common threat in Iran.”

Image: Kurdish gunmen in Kirkuk
Kurdish gunmen take up position on a street in central Kirkuk city, northern Iraq, on Oct. 16, 2017. Afan Abdulkhaleq / EPA

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) warned Monday there would be “severe consequences” if Baghdad used U.S. arms against the Kurds.

“The United States provided equipment and training to the government of Iraq to fight [the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS)] and secure itself from external threats — not to attack elements of one of its own regional governments, which is a longstanding and valuable partner of the United States,” McCain, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said in a statement.

Critics accused Trump of wilting in the face of Iran’s tough tactics.

“This is the first real tangible challenge to the Trump Iran doctrine, and we have our answer: it seems like there is nothing behind it,” Michael Barbero, a retired U.S. Army lieutenant general who served in Iraq and has close ties to the Kurds, told NBC News.

By allowing Iran to facilitate an Iraqi takeover of Kirkuk, Khedery added, “We have undermined our secular moderate, Western-leaning Kurdish allies in the Middle East. Our foes will be emboldened, our allies shaken.”

U.S. officials, not authorized to be named speaking publicly, disputed the idea that Iran got the better of the Trump administration. They argue that Kirkuk was always going to be a flashpoint between Baghdad and the Kurds, whether or not Iran was involved. Iran’s heavy involvement in Iraq has long been a fact of life, they say — something the U.S. has no choice but to live with.

U.S. officials have long sought to convince the Kurds to postpone a referendum declaring independence from Iraq. After U.S. forces left Iraq in 2011, Vice President Joseph Biden and other American officials conducted hours of diplomacy in an effort to mediate the situation.

Image: Iraqi police monitor as people gather in the street in the city of Kirkuk
Iraqi police monitor as people gather in the street in the city of Kirkuk to celebrate on Oct. 18, 2017, after Iraqi government forces retook almost all the territory disputed between Baghdad and the autonomous Kurdish region, crippling its hopes of independence after a controversial referendum. Ahmad Al-Rubaye / AFP – Getty Images

Brett McGurk, the U.S. diplomat most closely focused on Iraq and ISIS policy, was unable to convince the Kurds to continue postponing the vote, which finally occurred in September. Once the Kurds voted overwhelmingly in favor of separating, American officials declared the referendum illegitimate, in keeping with their policy of trying to maintain Iraq as a single country.

“We were never going to support the Kurds in a fight with the Iraqi government,” one U.S. intelligence official told NBC News.

The referendum put the focus on Kirkuk, a multi-ethnic city rich with oil fields that historically has been part of the Kurdish region. Saddam Hussein orchestrated a mass movement of Arabs to the city, displacing Kurds from their homes. In the years after his fall, Kurds began returning, but the occupying American forces carefully mediated the status of the city between Baghdad and the Kurds.

In public, U.S. officials tried to downplay the role of Iranian-backed Shiite militias in seizing Kirkuk.

Asked about it Tuesday, a Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Ryan Dillon, said, “We do not have reports of…the types of units that you had mentioned.”

Image: Iraqi people celebrate after Kirkuk was seized by Iraqi forces as they gather on the street of Baghdad
Iraqi people celebrate after Kirkuk was seized by Iraqi forces as they gather on the street of Baghdad, Iraq on Oct. 18, 2017. Khalid al-Mousily / Reuters

However, Kurdish officials point to a Facebook video of a ceremony in which the Iraqi flag was raised at a government building. It shows two controversial figures on hand: Hadi al-Amiri, the head of the Badr Organization, an Iranian-backed political party; and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. Treasury for acts of violence against Americans, and is considered a close adviser to Soleimani.

Three days before that flag raising, on Oct. 13, Trump announced his new Iran strategy.

“Our policy is based on a clear-eyed assessment of the Iranian dictatorship, its sponsorship of terrorism, and its continuing aggression in the Middle East and all around the world,” Trump said.

Trump also announced new sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).

The timing of the Kirkuk incursion was not a coincidence, Khedery said.

“Iran is intentionally seeking to challenge and humiliate President Trump only days after the U.S. designated the IRGC,” he said. “Tehran is testing our resolve, and our allies and foes are all closely watching how this will unfold.”

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/mideast/iranian-general-helped-iraqis-seize-kirkuk-u-s-allies-n811026

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© 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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