Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

German Intel Report Warns Iran Seeking WMDs as Merkel Tries to Save Nuke Deal

July 22, 2018

Iran is still actively seeking to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD), according to a German intelligence report,  in direct contradiction to Chancellor Angela Merkel’s belief that the 2015 atomic deal with the Islamic Republic ended Tehran’s nuclear weapon ambitions.

The Jerusalem Post reports has reviewed the 211-page Hamburg document that states “some of the crisis countries… are still making an effort to obtain products for the manufacture of atomic, biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction (proliferation) and the corresponding missile carrier technology (rocket technology).”

The Hamburg report also revealed “the current main focus points of countries in the area of relevant proliferation activities are: Iran, Syrian, Pakistan and Syria.”

All this flies in the face of assurances given by Merkel as recently as last month that the Iran accord, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is not a means for the Islamic Republic to arm itself with nuclear weapons.

“There’s not agreement on every issue,” Merkel said after meeting with Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Berlin, adding Germany and Israel agree on the need to prevent a “nuclear-armed” Iran, although they have different views on how to achieve that goal.

Mr. Netanyahu, a steadfast opponent of the nuclear deal since it was signed in 2015, in response accused Iran of “trying to conquer” the Middle East with its military presence in Syria. The Israeli leader also lobbied European powers to follow the lead of the United States and pull out of the Iran nuclear accord.

U.S. President Donald Trump ended the JCPOA in May because of the agreement’s failure to prevent Tehran from building a nuclear weapon device. Merkel has remained silent  on the intelligence findings of state agencies that appear to defeat her strong defense of the effectiveness of the JCPOA deal as originally brokered by then-Prersident Barack Obama.

Iran’s illicit activities – ranging from espionage to support for Hezbollah and the spread of religious extremism – are cited 48 times in Hamburg’s intelligence report.

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The Dismantling of Germany Inc.

July 22, 2018

As chief executive officer of Siemens AG, Joe Kaeser serves as the unofficial captain of Germany Inc., the kind of job few would leave voluntarily. Yet when Kaeser was invited to extend his tenure last year, he hesitated. With Siemens’ stock at an all-time high and profits soaring, Kaeser thought he might be able to exit at the top.

“Friends said ‘Look Joe, if it goes wrong, people will say you were just lucky,’” he recalls. “‘Do you really want to risk that?’ And I thought they had a point.”

Joe Kaeser
Photographer: SeongJoon Cho/Bloomberg

Kaeser fretted that while he’d steadied Siemens after a debilitating bribery scandal, the company wasn’t quite ready to tackle the disruption posed by digital technologies and the eroding value of Siemens’s traditional mastery of the physical world. He wavered right up to the morning of a board meeting last August before agreeing to extend his contract until 2021.

“We could see different parts of the company moving at different speeds. That’s very dangerous,” Kaeser says, jacket off, leaning back in his wood-paneled meeting room. “I knew I didn’t want to leave it to either a beginner in my own company, or to somebody who doesn’t care about the company coming in from outside.”

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The risks of innovations such as artificial intelligence and 3-D printing wielded by nimble competitors from Silicon Valley or China are shaking up Germany’s engineering-led economy. Traditional corporate icons are tearing apart sprawling century-old structures. Daimler AG—with its three-pointed Mercedes-Benz star designed to represent bygone ambitions in land, sea and air—is considering a separation of its car and truck operations. Thyssenkrupp AG is under pressure from investors to further carve up units after bungling a deal to combine its steel business with India’s Tata Steel Ltd. And auto supplier Continental AG is splitting off its divisions that make components for combustion engines.

Globally, conglomerates like Siemens are a dying breed as the pace of business picks up and capital markets punish the unfocused. General Electric Co. is exiting oil and health care, and Philips in 2016 split into lighting company Signify NV and health-care specialist Philips NV.

At Siemens, Kaeser has led the way with a slew of deals that will shrink the company from 18 divisions when he took charge in 2013 to just five by next January. Kaeser has raised more than 9 billion euros merging, selling, or spinning off businesses, and Siemens today employs 376,000 employees, down from 410,000 the year before Kaeser took over.

That’s a big shift from most of Siemens’ 170-year history, when its typical answer to strategic challenges was to get bigger. The maker of telegraph equipment founded by Werner von Siemens in 1847 quickly mushroomed into a vast conglomerate that touched lives and homes across the globe with everything from trains and televisions to appliances and auto parts. From titanic (industrial gas turbines) to tiny (semiconductors), Siemens made it all under one corporate roof.

Around the millennium, Siemens started falling behind in key industries and reconsidered its sprawling structure. Semiconductors were the first to go, followed by telecom equipment, computers, and light bulbs.

Kaeser’s job has been to unwind what’s left of that empire, selling off wireless networks, appliances, hearing aids, and what was left of the lighting business—a disquieting task for a 38-year Siemens veteran who exudes the folkloristic vibe of a rank-and-file employee. While Kaeser has eased into the lifestyle of the CEO—security detail, monogrammed shirts, private jet—he still lives in a small town in deepest Bavaria, burnishing his man-of-the-people credentials as a member of the local volunteer fire brigade and raising funds for the village theater group. At a meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump in Davos in January, he demurely referred to himself as an employee of Siemens rather than its boss.

Dismantling the old Siemens “isn’t very easy,” Kaeser says. “There is this emotional hold on history and reputation and responsibility.”

Kaeser in 2014 laid out his strategy in a program he dubbed Vision 2020, with a renewed focus on equipment for energy suppliers, manufacturing automation technologies, and newer digital initiatives such as software that can simulate the workflow in factories. In reality, it has meant cutting loose companies that don’t quite fit and rejigging other bits and pieces to be leaner—creating what Kaeser calls “a fleet of ships” rather than a lumbering aircraft carrier.

“I was a bit skeptical of this ‘fleet’ strategy, but this is just the beginning,” says James Stettler, an analyst at Barclays in London. “You create the fleet, and then over time sell down as it becomes able to stand on its own.”

The new approach worries many in Germany, where the company has grown into a vital part of the corporate organism, providing stable middle-class employment for hundreds of thousands. Berlin is home to the so-called Siemensstadt (Siemens Town) a city-within-a-city dominated by massive red-brick production halls and Bauhaus-inspired social housing. Across the country, more than a dozen schools are named after Werner von Siemens. In Duisburg, a Ruhr valley manufacturing city of 500,000, Siemens is the biggest employer, with 2,400 workers at a factory producing equipment for the oil industry.

In November, the company announced plans to cut 6,900 jobs, half of them in Germany—which the IG Metall union says is evidence of a shift away from the social compact that has long been a hallmark of Siemens’s management. Even as profits have soared, the company has continued with layoffs, says Klaus Abel, IG Metall’s leader in Berlin.

“We don’t understand that,” Abel says. “Siemens used to be a family. There was a certain sense of solidarity, and that’s disappearing.”

Kaeser’s approach is best exemplified by two deals: the 2017 merger of wind-power assets with Spanish rival Gamesa in 2017 and the listing in March of the medical equipment unit with the cringeworthy name Siemens Healthineers—Germany’s fifth-biggest initial public offering ever, which has seen its shares jump 18 percent since going public.

Gamesa wind turbine blades
Photographer: Angel Navarrete/Bloomberg

With Gamesa, Siemens combined its range of gigantic offshore turbines that float on marine platforms with the Spanish company’s smaller land-based wind generators. The venture, Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy, gives Siemens control—it owns 59 percent—of a bigger operation without sucking up capital.

The new company got off to a rocky start as it announced plans to shed a quarter of its staff after profit dropped, but the deal was perceived as a strategic success for Siemens and served as a template for shoring up its train business. Facing aggressive competition from Asia, the rail unit will be merged with operations from France’s Alstom SA, with Siemens taking a controlling stake. That deal is expected to close in early 2019, pending antitrust approval.

For Kaeser and his eventual successor, the challenge will be deciding whether to hold onto those ventures or to sell them and use the cash elsewhere. A looming question is what to do with the division that makes giant turbines. The unit is the core of the old Siemens, but faces an uncertain future in an era of renewable power.

Kaeser is due to lay out his next steps in August, when he presents a plan called Vision 2020+. The company is said to be reviewing options such as a sale of the turbine business and a division that produces gears and motors for pipelines. One thing is clear: Siemens will be smaller, and its CEO may need to relinquish the title of Germany Inc. captain.

“We don’t believe conglomerates of old structures—big is beautiful—will be the future,” Kaeser says. “I have a responsibility to get this company ready for the future, for the next generation.”

G-20 finance ministers tell US Treasury Secretary Mnuchin to ‘see sense’ as Donald Trump pushes for EU, China concessions in tariffs, trade war

July 22, 2018

 No backing down from Trump’s outbursts…

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Saturday urged China and the EU to respect “free, fair and reciprocal trade” as his French counterpart fired back that the US needs to “see sense” amid fears of a global commerce conflict.

Mnuchin arrived in Buenos Aires for the Group of 20 summit of finance ministers and central bankers at the end of a week in which US President Donald Trump ramped up his inflammatory remarks and threats regarding global trade.

© AFP | US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says he wants a better “balance” in trade relations with China and the EU

But far from backing down on Trump’s outbursts, in which he described China, the EU and Russia as trade “foes,” Mnuchin backed his president, in particular over a threat to hammer China with punitive tariffs on the entirety of the $500 billion in goods it exports to the US.

“It is definitely a realistic possibility, so I wouldn’t minimize the possibility. We’ve been very clear with our objectives,” Mnuchin told reporters ahead of the start of the two-day G20 summit that brings together the world’s 20 leading economies.

“We share a desire to have a more balanced relationship and the balanced relationship is by us selling more goods (to China).”

The US trade in goods deficit with China stood at almost $376 billion in 2017.

Mnuchin said China must “open up their markets so we can compete fairly,” although he insisted that to do so would be “a tremendous opportunity for us and a tremendous opportunity for China.”

The brewing global trade conflict was always expected to dominate talks in the Argentine capital and Mnuchin made no secret that it is the US’s top priority.

Turning to the EU, Mnuchin said it would have to make considerable concessions in order for there to be a free-trade agreement with the US.

“My message is pretty clear, it’s the same message the president delivered at the G7: if Europe believes in free trade, we’re ready to sign a free trade agreement with no tariffs, no non-tariff barriers and no subsidies. It has to be all three.”

– ‘Only losers’ –

France’s finance and economy minister Bruno Le Maire hit back, urging the US to “see sense.”

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France’s finance and economy minister Bruno Le Maire

“This trade war will produce only losers, it will destroy jobs and put pressure on global growth,” Le Maire told AFP.

“We call on the United States to see sense, to respect the rules of multilateralism and to respect their allies.”

Trump’s protectionist policies saw him slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, angering allies the EU, Canada and Mexico, and triggering retaliatory measures.

The US president has also threatened to put levies on foreign car imports — a big worry for Germany in particular.

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BMW sedans ready for export in Bremerhaven, Germany, Europe’s largest port for auto exports

“Global trade cannot be based on survival of the fittest,” Le Maire said.

International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde opened the summit by reiterating her fears that increasing trade restrictions would hurt global GDP.

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International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde

Lagarde said that taking into account “current announced and in process measures,” an IMF simulation indicates that in a worst-case scenario, a half point would be cut from global GDP, amounting to some $430 billion.

– Argentine economy stabilizing –

Small protests against the IMF were staged in central Buenos Aires both on the eve of the summit and on Saturday, with locals angered by a 35 percent plunge in the peso between April and June.

Argentina secured a $50 billion IMF loan in June to stabilize its economy as investor confidence in crisis-hit emerging economies sunk, with some $14 billion taken out between May and June.

“The Argentine authorities are implementing a decisive reform plan that has the support of the international community and is backed by the IMF,” said Lagarde.

Demonstrators attend a protest against President Mauricio Macri’s government agreement with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) outside Argentina’s Central Bank in Buenos Aires’ financial district, Argentina, July 20, 2018. (Photo by Reuters)

“The Central Bank of Argentina has put in place measures that helped reduce financial volatility and improve transparency,” she added.

Lagarde said growth in the country would “stabilize in the last quarter of 2018” with a “gradual recovery in 2019 and 2020.”

Away from trade, Mnuchin moved to ease fears in the US that Trump would “jeopardize” Federal Reserve independence after he blasted the Fed’s interest rate hikes in a television interview aired on Thursday.

“The president has made it very clear to me that he supports the Fed’s independence,” said Mnuchin.

Sanctions was another issue on the agenda, with Mnuchin insisting North Korea would not benefit from “relief until real progress is made” on denuclearization.

While he acknowledged the US and EU “don’t see eye to eye” on Iranian sanctions, he insisted they were agreed that “Iran should never have nuclear weapons.”

And he said sanctions on Venezuela were meant to “encourage better behavior” from President Nicolas Maduro’s government and insisted it was “a reasonable guess” that Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega and his allies would face penalties next.


German army mulls recruiting foreign EU nationals to boost recruitment

July 22, 2018

While both governing parties supported the idea, the SPD said that citizenship must be given to new soldiers to avoid the risk of it becoming a mercenary army.

German soldiers

Germany’s long-understaffed army has a new plan to boost recruitment: allowing foreigners from other European Union countries to serve in the unified armed forces (Bundeswehr). The defense ministry confirmed on Saturday that it was seriously considering the idea.

“The Bundeswehr is growing. For this, we need qualified personnel,” a Defense Ministry spokesman told German news agency DPA.

SPD: No mercenary army

Speaking with local newspaper Augsburger Allegemeine, Social Democrat (SPD) defense expert Karl-Heinz Brunner said that he could imagine EU citizens serving in the Bundeswehr. But he warned that any soldier who fought for Germany must be promised citizenship.

“If citizens of other countries are accepted, without the promise of getting a German passport, the Bundeswehr risks becoming a mercenary army.”

Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen reviewing troops in BerlinDefense Minister Ursula von der Leyen reviewing troops in Berlin

In comments to the same publication, Christian Democraic Union (CDU) defense spokesman Florian Hahn said that “using the framework of European liberalism, a modern model could be developed here. However, a certain level of trust with every solider must be guaranteed.”

Germany’s army has had staffing issues together with problems such as outdated equipment, and lack of necessary supplies.

Proposals to increase the defense budget are extremely unpopular in Germany, especially considering the country’s history. The center-right CDU and their center-left coalition partners in the SPD have repeatedly been at loggerheads over defense spending.

es/jm (AFP, dpa)


See also:

1 in 10 German military pilots lost helicopter licenses for lack of flight time

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U.S. President Donald Trump meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Washington

For America’s Allies, Donald Trump’s Behavior is Hard to Watch

July 22, 2018

He represents the opposite of liberal internationalism.

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U.S. President Donald Trump poses with fellow world leaders during a NATO summit in Brussels, Belgium, May 25, 2017. Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The past two weeks have been tough for Atlanticists in Europe who still think we shouldn’t give up on the United States. President Trump almost wrecked a NATO summit, he offended his hosts in Britain, and he called the European Union a “foe” of the United States, all the while cozying up to Vladimir Putin, a “good competitor.”

For months, Europeans concerned about the president’s statements have been reassured by American friends: Ignore the tweets, focus on what the administration does, and trust our checks and balances. That made some sense. Senior cabinet members like the secretary of defense have remained committed to the liberal international order and to America’s alliances and partnerships. Congress has strongly supported NATO. And American troops still guarantee Europe’s security.

But in international relations, it’s not only deeds that matter; words also do, especially the American president’s.

Let’s face it: Mr. Trump’s core beliefs conflict with the foundations of Western grand strategy since the mid-1940s. He believes America is getting a bad deal from its European allies. He expresses admiration for autocrats like Kim Jong-un and Mr. Putin, while reserving his most acidic comments for democratic partners like Germany’s Angela Merkel and Canada’s Justin Trudeau. He represents the opposite of liberal internationalism.

By Wolfgang Ischinger

Mr. Ischinger served as Germany’s ambassador to the United States from 2001 to 2006.

The New York Times

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel speaks to US President Donald Trump during the second day of the G7 meeting in Charlevoix city of La Malbaie, Quebec, Canada, on 9 June. Photo: Reuters

That sends Europe a sad message: The era of America’s benign hegemony may be over, with Europe extremely ill prepared.

On July 11 and 12, Mr. Trump undercut a NATO summit that was yielding results: reaffirming a goal for members to strengthen the alliance by spending 2 percent of their gross domestic product on the military by 2024. While European military spending has been rising for some time, Mr. Trump was correct in saying that some members, including Germany, aren’t doing enough. He also has legitimate concerns about trade imbalances.

Still, his mischaracterization of the goal as “dues” owed to America makes it harder for European leaders to ask their voters for increased military spending. And his bullying comments led Europeans to suspect he might be more interested in leaving the alliance than in leading it.

Such implied threats attack the foundation of the alliance: the idea of solidarity and commitment to one another’s security. Americans tell us Mr. Trump can’t leave NATO without Senate consent — a debatable notion that misses the point. Any doubt about America’s commitment hurts the credibility of NATO’s deterrence.

That is what makes Mr. Trump’s statements so dangerous. They may extract a few billion dollars for defense spending, but they destroy the assurances that those dollars — or euros — are meant to bolster.

Those uncertainties were magnified by the president’s bizarre appearance with Mr. Putin in Helsinki, Finland. Mr. Trump in effect disavowed his own intelligence community. He failed to declare Russian meddling in Western democracies unacceptable. If Mr. Putin does not feel emboldened now, when will he? Who will now believe that interfering in democratic elections comes at a price? Mr. Trump’s performance seemed to indicate that America is ready to give up its ambition to be the free world’s respected leader.

That was painful for America’s European friends and allies to watch. Throughout the Trump presidency, we have tried to preserve a close partnership with America, influence the Trump administration and safeguard European interests.

It hasn’t worked. Mr. Trump ignored our concerns by leaving the Paris climate pact and the Iran nuclear deal, and he slapped tariffs on his closest allies.

Why, then, should Europeans consider this administration a trustworthy partner? A recent ZDF Politbarometer poll found that only 9 percent of Germans do.

But there is no realistic Plan B yet, posing a conundrum: Europeans cannot simply go it alone, but we must prepare to be left alone. So we must develop a Plan B. Duck and cover will not suffice.

First, Europe needs a dual-track approach. We should strengthen our military readiness and decision-making capacity while showing the White House more clearly that its actions have costs for America. We also must address some of Mr. Trump’s justified concerns, like increasing military spending — but in our own interest, rather than to please him.

We should also offer to work closely with those Americans who believe that a strong partnership with Europe remains in America’s best interest. Europeans need to engage, engage, engage: with Congress, with governors, with America’s business community and civil society.

But can we rely on the American system of government to work as promised? Now is the time to check and balance! At the risk of “meddling”: Are there Republican senators willing to refuse to vote for any Trump appointee unless he stops denigrating his own intelligence community?

Security should not be an issue that pits the United States against Europe. Many Western societies are divided between those who believe in preserving the post-World War II order and those who would replace it with 19th-century nationalism.

Europeans who believe that abandoning the Western liberal order would be an extraordinary act of stupidity must step up our game. But we won’t succeed without strong support from like-minded friends across the Atlantic. American patriots, will you work with us?

Brexit: Philip Hammond accused of betraying Theresa May to end EU freedom of movement

July 21, 2018

Cabinet at war over freedom of movement as Philip Hammond says EU workers should get ‘preferential treatment’ 


Sajid Javid and Philip Hammond have clashed over free movement after the Chancellor said that EU workers should be given “preferential” treatment in a bid to win over Angela Merkel and strike a post-Brexit trade deal.

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The Telegraph has learned that official minutes from the Chequers summit state that the Chancellor said he “disagreed with the Home Secretary on labour mobility and ending free movement”.

He made the comments after Mr Javid, the Home Secretary, told Cabinet at the meeting that “free movement had to end” and that there could be “no back door”.

He argued that “labour mobility” should be limited to current international obligations but Mr Hammond argued that the Government should “keep…

Read the rest (Paywall):


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Home Secretary Sajid Javid

Philip Hammond angered colleagues at the crunch Chequers summit by insisting that Britain needed ‘maximum flexibility to negotiate’ including Britain’s border situation

PHILIP Hammond has been accused of betraying Theresa May’s sacred Brexit “red line” to end EU freedom of movement.

The Chancellor was at the centre of a row during the Prime Minister’s Chequers summit two weeks ago after appearing to suggest Britain’s borders should be on the Brussels negotiation table.

He angered colleagues including Home Secretary Sajid Javid by insisting Britain needed to be given “maximum flexibility to negotiate.”

Minutes from the Chequers summit stated that Mr Hammond argued in favour of offering preferential treatment to EU workers in a bid to win the backing of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He urged Cabinet colleagues to “keep options open” for preferential mobility arrangements for EU citizens.

But Mr Javid and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson said any perception that free movement was continuing would be toxic to voters.

Mr Javid insisted “free movement had to end”, adding that there must be “no back door” for EU nationals after Brexit.

The pro-EU Chancellor has been one of the biggest advocates for softer Brexit around the Cabinet table – to the fury of Leave supporting Tory MPs.

But his allies insisted that he does not want to keep free movement for EU citizens to come to the UK forever – but was raising concerns about labour mobility after Brexit.

Details of the tense standoff during the Brexit showdown at the PM’s country house are revealed today by Sun columnist James Forsyth.

But sources close to Theresa May have insisted that that there is “no room in the PM’s mind for one iota of deviation on free movement.”

They say: “If you can’t say free movement has ended, you can’t have a deal that’s sellable in any way”.

According to minutes seen by the Daily Telegraph, he said: “Such an agreement would be very important for the Chancellor of Germany.

“If the UK sought her help to deliver this deal, it would need to be prepared to negotiate on this point.”

But Mr Javid hit back by saying “free movement had to end,” insisting there must be “no back door” for EU nationals after Brexit.

The minutes stated that the Chancellor “disagreed with the Home Secretary on labour mobility and ending free movement”.

Revelations that Mr Hammond wants to put free movement on the negotiating table is likely to open up another explosive row with Tory Brexiteers.

Our revelation comes as Mrs May faced fresh pressure to rule out giving any further concessions to Brussels as negotiations come to a head in the Autumn.

Brexiteer Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom publicly warned that the Chequers plan must be the “final offer” rather than an opening gambit.

But Mrs May risked fresh wrath from her MPs by refusing to explicitly rule out further concessions to Brussels.

Asked if Mrs Leadsom was correct to describe the Chequers agreement as Britain’s final offer to the EU, a spokesman for the PM would only say: “The proposals that we put forward in the White Paper are what we believe to be the only credible and realistic way to move the negotiations forward and that was made clear numerous times by the PM.”

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt sparked further fears by twice refusing to describe Chequers as the “final offer”.

He would only say: “It’s our substantive offer I think is the best way to phrase it,” during a visit to Scotland.

Helsinki is turning point in Republican relations with Trump

July 21, 2018
The US president was attacked by politicians for seemingly siding with Vladimir Putin over election-meddling. But voters seem unmoved by his mis-steps
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© FT montage; Getty Images. John McCain and James Clapper have said they were horrified by Donald Trump’s relationship with Vladimir Putin

By Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington and Kathrin Hille in Moscow 

It was billed as one of the biggest geopolitical events of the year. From the balcony above reporters could be heard describing the scene as the world waited for Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to hold a press conference in Helsinki’s presidential palace. The city had hosted summits before: George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990, and Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin in 1997.

But none quite like this.

“I don’t know which side is the bride and which side is the groom. It sort of feels like we’re at a wedding,” said Jim Acosta of CNN, explaining that the US and Russian reporters sat on opposite sides of the room.

But the atmosphere was more funereal when the US and Russian presidents walked in after their meeting, which included a two-hour private session. Expectations had been further heightened by the US decision to charge 12 alleged Russian spies with interfering in the 2016 election, just days before the Helsinki summit.

Journalists wondered if Mr Trump would publicly confront Mr Putin on the issue, while also speculating about how he would treat the Russian leader after having disparaged Nato allies in Brussels and London en route to Helsinki. Or would he cosy up to Mr Putin as he did with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

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President Vladimir Putin hands President Donald Trump a 2018 World Cup football in Helsinki earlier this week © AFP

Mr Putin, a former KGB colonel, opened by announcing that the meeting had been “very fruitful”. Mr Trump congratulated his Russian counterpart on hosting the football World Cup finals, before adding that they had held a “deeply productive dialogue”.

In a rare light moment, Mr Putin sparked laughter by handing Mr Trump a football and saying, “the ball is in your court”. But the jocularity was soon punctured by comments from Mr Trump that ricocheted around the world. One former CIA director would describe his words as “ treasonous” while others asked if Republican leaders would continue to support the president, especially with the party desperate to maintain control of Congress in the November midterm elections.

After more than a year of speculation about his refusal to criticise Mr Putin for ordering — according to the president’s own intelligence agencies — cyber attacks on Democratic groups during the 2016 campaign, a reporter put Mr Trump on the spot: “Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016. Every US intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did . . . who do you believe?”

The reply was stunning. “I have great confidence in my intelligence people but . . . President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial,” Mr Trump declared.

Richard Armitage, a deputy secretary of state in the George W Bush administration, says his “jaw hit the floor” when he heard his own president appear to back Mr Putin. “I thought I was seeing a nightmare of the Wizard of Oz, arriving in Oz, pulling back the curtain and finding Vladimir Putin pulling all the strings,” he says, adding that the Russian leader had been “masterful” in the way he outplayed Mr Trump.

An axiom of US foreign policy has long been that politicians do not criticise their president when he is overseas. But Mr Trump turned the rules on their head by giving credence to a denial from Mr Putin, after the Kremlin has been accused of everything from cyber attacks to the attempted murder of former spies.

James Clapper understood the gravity of what had happened better than most. As the director of national intelligence in January 2017, he led the team that briefed then president-elect Trump on Russian interference and told him about an unconfirmed dossier— compiled by a former British spy — that included unverified claims about Mr Trump that involved sexual acts in a Moscow hotel.

“I actually went to my old college thesaurus to search for an adjective that could capture what I was witnessing,” says Mr Clapper of the comments. “I have tried . . . to come up with alternative explanations for his inexplicable deference to Russia and specifically to Mr Putin, but I have come to a point where there is no explanation other than they have something on him.”

Back in Washington, the man who succeeded Mr Clapper in the intelligence role, Dan Coats, leapt to action. “We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy,” he said in a clear rebuke of the president.

Asked on Thursday about his extraordinary statement at a security forum in Aspen, Mr Coats, who was appointed by Mr Trump, said: “Obviously, I wished he had made a different statement.”

Others were less diplomatic. John Brennan, the CIA head under Barack Obama who had accused Mr Trump of treason, tweeted: “He is wholly in the pocket of Putin. Republican Patriots: Where are you???”

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Former CIA heads John Brennan, left, and Michael Hayden both condemned Mr Trump © Getty

Compared with previous controversies concerning Mr Trump’s presidency where Republicans have tended to keep their powder dry, there was a much louder chorus of criticism. John McCain, the Arizona senator and frequent Trump critic, said: “No prior president has ever abased himself more abjectly before a tyrant”. Bob Corker, a Tennessee Republican who has also sparred with Mr Trump, then declared that “the dam has broken”.

Illustrating how Republicans worried that Mr Trump had gone too far, even Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker and Trump supporter, said it was the “most serious mistake” of his presidency.

The cascade of criticism forced Mr Trump to backtrack on Tuesday, claiming he had misspoken in Helsinki. The rest of the week was marked with a series of flip-flops that undermined the effort to unwind his own goal. At one point, he seemed to entertain a request from Mr Putin to send Michael McFaul, an Obama-era ambassador to Russia, back to Moscow for questioning. Even before the White House rowed back on the idea, the suggestion prompted the US Senate to vote 98-0 to condemn it.

Yet, Mr Trump confounded critics again on Thursday by inviting Mr Putin — who did not help the US president by defending his Helsinki performance — to the White House later this year. Told of the invitation while on stage at Aspen, Mr Coats laughed, and said: “That’s going to be special.”

“I cannot remember another American president appearing in public to be so acquiescent and submissive to the dominance of another foreign leader,” says James Stavridis, a former commander of Nato. “Especially one leading a nation with whom we have such significant disagreements.”

Mr Trump insists that he has been tougher on Russia than his predecessors. Yet while his administration has imposed a series of measures against Moscow — from sanctions to expelling spies — he has undermined his case with his own rhetoric. The most common explanation for his behaviour is a reluctance to concede anything he believes delegitimises his election win over Hillary Clinton.

The Kremlin was originally ecstatic that Mr Trump seemed to have accepted Mr Putin’s denial. According to Russian politicians familiar with the summit planning, the White House had wanted a promise from the Kremlin that Moscow would not meddle in the US midterms.

“There was the idea that if Trump brought home such a guarantee, he would be seen as having scored a victory,” says one Russian lawmaker. “But the proposed text amounted to an admission of guilt.”

The deluge of criticism of Mr Trump has lowered expectations in Moscow. “We knew that they would criticise Trump, but such a tornado of criticism was not expected,” says Andrei Kortunov, director of the Russian International Affairs Council. “We will have to observe the consequences. Will there be additional moves against Trump, or additional sanctions against Russia?”

David Gergen, a former adviser to four US presidents, says Mr Trump has made his biggest mistake since he equated white nationalists in Charlottesville with anti-racist protesters. “I thought this [Helsinki] would really dramatically change things,” says Mr Gergen, before adding that he has since become less certain.

His optimism that Helsinki would serve as a brake on the president’s behaviour was punctured by the realisation that Mr Trump had created a “cult-like following” and a lack of authoritative figures in the Republican party, who could push back against it. It appears, says Mr Gergen, that America under Mr Trump was no longer a country where there were people such as Arthur Vandenberg, an isolationist Republican senator who later helped the US create the postwar international order. “We live in a world in which authority figures have been torn down to a considerable degree,” he adds.

Mr Trump himself has led the charge to undermine figures of authority, such as Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into Moscow’s alleged role in the 2016 election, and institutions such as the FBI. His persistent attacks on law enforcement and intelligence agencies have swayed public opinion.

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Former Nato commander James Stavridis, right, said Mr Trump appeared ‘submissive’; Richard Armitage, a former Republican official, called the summit a ‘nightmare’ © FT montage; Getty Images

An Axios/SurveyMonkey poll conducted this week found that 85 per cent of Republicans believed the allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 election were a “distraction” and that 79 per cent of members approved of the way Mr Trump handled himself in Helsinki.

“It is all about the politics,” says Mr Clapper. “When will you say ‘enough’. Apparently for many Republicans, that threshold hasn’t been reached yet.”

Michael Hayden, a former head of the CIA and National Security Agency who has been critical of Mr Trump, says his main concern is the US public reaction.

“There is a non-trivial chunk of the American population who think that Brennan is corrupt, Clapper is corrupt, that this is made up and that the Russians didn’t do any of this, and that even if they did it really doesn’t matter,” says Mr Hayden. “We cannot let this become normalised . . . This is not normal.”

Additional reporting by Henry Foy in Moscow

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi


“Americans are patsies on Iran and North Korea” — How Tehran Is Working With Washington’s Allies To Undermine US Sanctions Against Iran

July 21, 2018

With little more than two weeks to go until the first set of fresh US sanctions is imposed on Iran, officials in Tehran and the capitals of its major trading partners are struggling to find ways to protect the commercial ties that have built up over the past few years.

The new US measures to restrict Iran’s trade with the world are due to be introduced in two waves and follow the decision of President Donald Trump in May to pull the US out of the Iran nuclear deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

By Dominic Dudley

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Patsies? — US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, South Korean Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha and South Korean Ambassador to the UN Cho Tae-yul are in New York for UN Security Council talks on North Korea, July 20, 2018. AFP photo

The first wave comes into effect on August 6 and covers areas such as financial transactions, dealings in gold and other precious metals and the automotive industry. A second wave on November 4 will cover sectors such as oil and gas, petrochemicals and shipping.

Even before any of these measures have come into effect, many European and Asian firms worried about attracting unwelcome attention from the US have taken action. Giants of French industry such as car maker Renault, oil firm Total and shipping giant CMA CGM have all announced their intention to pull out of Iran. Airlines like Austrian Airlines and Dutch flag-carrier KLM have said they are scaling back or cancelling routes into Iran. Japanese banks like Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group and Mizuho Financial Group say they will no longer handle transactions involving Iran.

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Such moves would appear to indicate that US sanctions are already restricting the Iranian economy in potentially significant ways. But alongside the efforts of large corporations to protect themselves, some concerted attempts are also underway to undermine what the US is doing.

Globally, the White House is virtually isolated in its policy approach towards Iran. While it can count on the support of some close allies in the Middle East such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, almost all of Iran’s most important trading partners are – in one way or another – trying to find ways to dilute the impact of the US measures so they can continue to trade as freely as possible.

Speaking in London on July 19, just before heading to the US for talks, South Korea’s foreign affairs minister Kang Kyung-wha said her government was looking for waivers for its companies. “We have gotten them with previous rounds of sanctions before the [JCPOA] agreement and we are seeking similar ways to minimise the impact on our industries,” she said.

Kang Kyung-wha, South Korea’s minister of foreign affairs, speaking at the Chatham House think-tank in London on July 19 where she said her government was seeking waivers from the US for Korean companies active in Iran. (Photo: Dominic Dudley/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A critical issue for South Korea is Iranian crude supplies. Some 12% of the country’s oil imports came from Iran in 2017, according to the US Energy Information Administration, although the figure has dropped in the early months of this year.

“Obviously, we very much hope some kind of deal can be made between all parties with the US to move things forward with Iran, but in the meanwhile we want to take care with our ties, business ties in particular. We import a great deal of crude oil from Iran, so it is a huge challenge for us,” Kang added.

Other countries including US allies in Europe have also called for waivers for their companies, but to date US officials has firmly rejected the idea. As a result, Iran’s trading partners are looking to develop other ways to subvert or bypass the US measures.

Reports from Iran say a number of European governments – including France, Germany and the UK – have suggested to Tehran they could open accounts for the Iranian central bank at their own central banks. The European Union is also preparing to update its ‘blocking statute’ which will, in theory at least, offer legal cover for any European companies wanting to trade with Iran in defiance of the latest US sanctions.

Iran is also working hard to develop its own measures, exploring the potential for using cryptocurrencies to settle cross-border trades and perhaps setting up a new international bank messaging system to rival Swift, the current global standard. It has also been looking to revive the dormant practice of barter deals to ensure trade keeps flowing without the need for anyone to handle US dollars.

Commercial concerns

However, it remains unclear if Europe in particular can construct a robust enough system to protect its companies from US measures. If in doubt, most companies with any exposure to the US market – whether through direct sales or perhaps because of a need to access the US banking system – are likely to steer clear of Iran.

European diplomats acknowledge the difficulties they face in trying to keep the nuclear deal alive. “I have to tell you it is a difficult exercise, because the weight of the US in the global economy and financial system is obviously relevant. But we are determined to preserve this deal,” said Federica Mogherini, the EU’s high representative for foreign affairs, earlier this month.

The EU, Russia, China and others are all working together on this and there is a consistent voicing of support for the JCPOA.

“It’s not perfect. It doesn’t cover all of Iran’s behaviour, but it was never designed to. It focuses on Iran’s nuclear programme and we believe any effort that could halt Iran’s progress in developing a nuclear weapons programme should be supported,” said Julie Bishop, Australia’s foreign affairs minister, speaking in London on July 18. “We were disappointed that the US pulled out of the JCPOA.”

Like other US allies, the Australian government appears to be taking an approach of trying not to annoy the White House too much while also trying to protect its commercial interests.

“On the question of US sanctions, we will obviously consider any request [from the US] for us to do likewise, but at this stage we have acted as other supporters of the JCPOA have and have continued limited commercial opportunities with Iran,” said Bishop.

Looking north and east

However, the key countries for Iran as it tries to find a way to cope with the heightened pressure from the US are probably not American allies but China and Russia.

From Tehran’s perspective, both these countries have the motivation, ability and willingness to ignore US sanctions if they choose. In addition, their companies often have less exposure to US markets and their state-owned enterprises are liable to feel less vulnerable to pressure from Washington.

“Iran will continue to leverage its relationship with Russia and China to create a bulwark against Western pressure,” predicts Ariane Tabatabai, visiting assistant professor of security studies at Georgetown University and co-author of the recently published book Triple Axis: Iran’s Relations with Russia and China.

Iran’s links with Russia are complicated by a sometimes turbulent history between the two countries and Moscow’s relatively warm ties with Iran’s regional opponents Saudi Arabia and Israel. Relations with China are rather more straightforward, being based more on economic and commercial interests. China may not have a great desire to openly stand up to the US on the issue of Iran, but it does want to protect its own interests, say analysts.

“It’s very difficult for China to walk away from cheap oil and Iran will offer it cheap oil,” says Dina Esfandiary, fellow at the Centre for Science and Security Studies at King’s College London and Tabatabai’s co-author on Triple Axis.

Whether the determination of politicians and policymakers in Beijing, Brussels, Moscow and elsewhere is enough to fatally undermine the US sanctions remains to be seen. It will at least partly depend on the attitude of people and political leaders in Iran itself – any disruptions to trade could embolden hardliners in Tehran and lead them to call for the country to abandon the restraints it has accepted on its nuclear activities and to redouble its efforts. The threat of a more belligerent tone emerging from Iran is one reason why America’s allies are so adamant about the need to oppose US policy in this area.

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“We believe it is absolutely in our security interests; we believe it is in the security interest of the region and of the world,” said Mogherini. “I cannot say if our efforts together with others’ efforts are going to be enough, but what I can say is that we are doing all we can and we will continue to do all we can to try and prevent this deal from being dismantled, because we believe the consequences of this would be catastrophic for all.”

Dominic Dudley is a freelance journalist with almost two decades’ experience in reporting on business, economic and political stories in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Europe.


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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

Merkel admits her government lost public trust over migration feud

July 21, 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel conceded during her annual summer press conference on Friday that the recent government crisis over migration policy cost her coalition public trust that will have to be won back.

“Yes, I believe that is the case,” Merkel said in response to a question as to whether the spat between her conservative CDU and its hardline CSU sister party over whether to turn back migrants at the border had reduced her standing in the eyes of the public, as reported by dpa.

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Merkel said she believed the debate over migration policy was an important one to have, but that the tone of the discussion “was often very harsh, and I attach a very, very great importance to the language.”

The weeks-long row had threatened to topple her “grand coalition” government after just 100 days in power. German Interior Minister and CSU leader Horst Seehofer’s push to start turning away migrants put him on a collision course with the chancellor, who insisted on avoiding unilateral decisions in favor of solutions in accordance with other EU member states.

Merkel made an 11th-hour deal with Seehofer to hold asylum seekers arriving at the country’s southern border with Austria in transit centers while their status is checked. The deal pulled the coalition back from the brink of collapse after threats by Seehofer to resign and speculation about the end of the long-standing CDU-CSU conservative alliance. The third partner in Merkel’s coalition, the Social Democrats (SPD), voiced humanitarian concerns over the creation of closed centers for migrants, further fueling speculation about the government’s collapse.

A number of opinion polls conducted in the aftermath of the dispute showed a dip in public support for the government. Two out of every five Germans want Chancellor Angela Merkel to step down in light of an ongoing dispute within her government over how to handle asylum seekers at the country’s borders, a poll released Friday showed. Furthermore, 43 percent of respondents to a YouGov survey said that Merkel should make way for a successor, while roughly the same percentage (42 percent) said she should remain in office.

Fifteen percent declined to respond to the question.Tensions on the question of migration could flare again if Merkel fails to strike bilateral deals with other EU countries that she hopes will see German authorities returning asylum seekers to the members states they first registered in. Merkel has been fighting a battle at home and abroad against critics who accuse her of endangering European security with her welcoming approach to migrants.

Merkel’s conservative coalition is under pressure from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD). The party received a surge in support since 2015 when well over 1 million people entered Europe, mostly fleeing conflicts in Syria and Iraq, and populist leaders in southern and eastern Europe have rejected her calls for a wholesale reform of Europe’s migration system.

German bus attack suspect originally from Iran

July 21, 2018

A man suspected of injuring several people in a knife attack on a bus in Luebeck on Friday is originally from Iran but is now a German citizen and has lived in the northern city for years, the Luebecker Nachrichten newspaper said.

Policemen stand near a public service bus in Kuecknitz near Luebeck northern Germany, after several people were injured in the bus in an assault by a man wielding a knife on July 20, 2018. (AFP)

Without citing a source, the paper added that the interior minister of Schleswig-Holstein, the state where Luebeck is located, did not assume there was a terrorist motive for the attack.


Writing by Paul Carrel; editing by John Stonestreet


BBC News

A public service bus stands in Kücknitz near Lübeck, northern Germany, after several people were injured in the bus in an assault by a man wielding a knife on July 20, 2018.Image copyrightAFP
Image captionA bus sits at the side of the road in Lübeck after a knife attack

A man armed with a knife has attacked passengers on a bus in the northern German city of Lübeck, wounding several people, one seriously, police say.

A 34-year-old local man was arrested and taken into custody. Police said there was no indication the suspect had been politically radicalised.

They said on Twitter that 10 people were known to have been hurt. Local media reports put the number at 14.

An area around a bus stop in the city’s Kücknitz neighbourhood was sealed off.

Police said a smoking backpack was found in the bus, containing a “fire accelerant” but no explosives.

A police ribbon cordons off a street where a public service bus stands in Kücknitz near Lübeck northern Germany, after several people were injured in the bus in an assault by a man wielding a knife on July 20, 2018.
Image captionPolice declared a “major operation”

“The exact number of injured is still unclear. There were no dead,” police said in a statement. “The background to the crime is still unclear and is the subject of the ongoing investigation.”

The statement added: “The identity of the perpetrator has been clarified: a 34-year-old German citizen resident in Lübeck. There are currently no indications the man was political radicalised and no signs of a terrorist background.”

The attack took place at 13:47 local time (11:47 GMT). An eyewitness told the local Lübecker Nachrichten newspaper that a passenger had just given up his seat for an older woman, when the attacker stabbed him in the chest.

The bus driver pulled over to the side of the road and passengers fled. Police said the suspect was overpowered by officers at the scene.

Map of area

In April, a man drove a camper van into a group of people outside a restaurant in the German city of Münster, killing two people before shooting himself dead.

Police said there was no link to terrorism in that case.

In Berlin in December 2016, a Tunisian who had links to Islamist militants hijacked a truck and ploughed into a Christmas marketplace, killing 12 people.