Posts Tagged ‘Iran’

US charges Russian woman for interfering in 2018 midterm election

October 20, 2018

The US had indicted a Russian woman for meddling in the upcoming US midterm elections. The woman worked for a company that has already been indicted for its alleged role in influencing the 2016 presidential elections.

    
Facebook windows are shown on a computer screen (picture-alliance/maxppp/P. Proust)

The United States on Friday charged a Russian woman for her alleged role in a Kremlin-backed plan that aimed to influence next month’s congressional elections.

The complaint said the suspect was the chief accountant for Project Lakhta, an operation started in 2014 and funded by Russian oligarch Evgeny Viktorovich Prigozhin and two companies he controls, Concord Management and Consulting LLC and Concord Catering.

It is alleged that the 44-year-old Russian national worked to finance social media campaigns aimed at sowing distrust in candidates and hindering the work of federal agencies.

Read more: Russian meddling: US intelligence heads warn ‘Our democracy itself is in the crosshairs’

The indictment came as US intelligence agencies said in a joint statement that they were concerned about efforts by Russia, China and Iran to influence US voters and policy.

The indictment went on to say that the suspect had “conspired with others who were part of a Russian influence campaign to interfere with US democracy,” said Assistant Attorney General John Demers.

Using social media and other avenues, the conspirators participated in “information warfare against the United States,” and attempted to create a distrust of candidates for US political office and the US political system, the complaint read.

Links to 2016 election meddling

According to prosecutors, the woman worked for the same social media troll farm that was indicted earlier this year by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of his investigation into potential coordination between Russia and the 2016 Donald Trump presidential campaign.

Read more: Maria Butina: NRA member, lobbyist, and Kremlin spy?

Prigozhin, a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was already indicted in February along with 12 other IRA employees for disinformation campaigns during the 2016 US presidential election.

During that time, they pushed out millions of postings on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms in an attempt to stir up animosity between political camps and groups in society.

Foreign influence campaigns

A joint statement released by four intelligence and law enforcement agencies on Friday said methods of influencing used by China, Iran and Russia included the use of social media to amplify divisive issues, seeding disinformation about political candidates and sponsoring content in English-language media.

The United States is concerned about the foreign campaigns “to undermine confidence in democratic institutions and influence public sentiment and government policies,” the statement said.

“Adversaries target US elections to divide America along political lines and influence key policy decisions that are in their national interest,” it added.

law/sms (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

https://www.dw.com/en/us-charges-russian-woman-for-interfering-in-2018-midterm-election/a-45965058

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Iran sends Hezbollah GPS parts to turn rockets into precision missiles — report

October 20, 2018

Most recent shipment arrived in Beirut on Tuesday; Lebanon has previously denied Netanyahu’s claim that Iran operates weapons factories on its soil

In this April 1996 photo, two fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

In this April 1996 photo, two fighters from the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah stand near Katyusha rockets in the southern village of Ein Qana, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Mohammed Zaatari)

Iran has delivered advanced GPS components to Hezbollah which will allow the terrorist group to make previously unguided rockets into precision guided-missiles, thus increasing the threat to Israel, Fox News reported Friday.

According to the media outlet, American and western intelligence services believe Iran has been increasing its shipments to Hezbollah, with one flight arriving in Beirut as recently as three days ago with the parts to convert weaponry at Iranian factories in Lebanon.

The existence of these factories was revealed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his speech at the United Nations General Assembly last month. The Israeli military later released satellite images of three sites in Beirut that it said were being used by the Iran-backed terror group to hide underground precision missile production facilities.

Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun has said Netanyahu’s allegations are “baseless.”

Screen capture from video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showing a diagram of what he said was Hezbollah terror group sites near Beirut during his address to the 73rd UN General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2018. (United Nations)

Fox News tracked Iran’s Fars Air Qeshm flight number QFZ-9950, which departed Tehran International Airport on Tuesday at 9:33 a.m. before flying to an unknown destination, according to flight data. Later that same day, the Boeing 747 jet reportedly landed in Damascus before its final leg to Beirut.

On Wednesday evening the plane reportedly took off from Beirut to Doha before returning to Tehran.

Illustrative: A Qeshm Fars Air cargo plane (Wikimedia commons)

Western intelligence sources said the plane was carrying weapons components, including GPS technology, to make precision-guided missiles in the Iranian factories located near the airport in Beirut.

Institute for National Security Studies Chairman Amos Yadlin attends the Annual International Conference of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv January 23, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

“Israel is determined not to let it happen,” for Israeli military intelligence chief Amos Yadlin told Fox News. “This is a source of concern because if the Iranians, on the one hand, are determined to build this precision project with ballistic missiles, and the Israelis are determined not to let it happen—this is a recipe for collision.”

“The Iranians are building a formidable military presence in Syria with ballistic missiles, precise ballistic missiles, UAV, air defense. Israel is not going to allow Iran to duplicate Hezbollah in Syria,” Yadlin said.

The target of the Israeli airstrike last month, in which a Russian spy plane was inadvertently shot down by Syrian air defenses, was machinery used in the production of precision missiles, which was en route to Hezbollah, The Times of Israel learned.

In response to that incident, Russia delivered the advanced S-300 missile defense system to Syria. Netanyahu has said he has told Russia that Israel must continue to hit hostile targets in Syria, despite Moscow’s decision. There have been no reports of Israeli strikes in Syria since the downing of the Russian plane.

According to Netanyahu, these precision missiles are capable of striking with 10 meters (32 feet) of their given target. Hezbollah is believed to have an arsenal of between 100,000 and 150,000 rockets and missiles, though the vast majority are thought to lack precision technology.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, Hezbollah began working on these surface-to-surface missile facilities last year.

Reports that Iran was constructing underground missile conversion factories in Lebanon first emerged in March 2017. Since then, Israeli officials have repeatedly said that Israel would not abide such facilities.

In January, Netanyahu said Lebanon “is becoming a factory for precision-guided missiles that threaten Israel. These missiles pose a grave threat to Israel, and we will cannot accept this threat.”

One of the alleged sites is located under a soccer field used by a Hezbollah-sponsored team; another is just north of the Rafik Hariri International Airport; and the third is underneath the Beirut port and less than 500 meters from the airport’s tarmac.

A satellite image released by the Israel Defense Forces showing a site near Beirut’s international airport that the army says is being used by Hezbollah to convert regular missiles into precision-guided munitions, on September 27, 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

These three are not the only facilities that the IDF believes are being used by Hezbollah for the manufacturing and storage of precision missiles.

In May, Netanyahu said Israel was “operating against the transfer of deadly weapons from Syria to Lebanon or their manufacture in Lebanon.”

In recent years, Israel has acknowledged conducting hundreds of airstrikes in Syria, which it says were aimed at both preventing Iran from establishing a permanent military presence in Syria and blocking the transfer of advanced munitions to Hezbollah in Lebanon.

The Israeli Air Force has largely abstained from conducting raids inside Lebanon itself, though it has indicated that it was prepared to do so.

Earlier this year, IAF chief Amiram Norkin showed visiting generals a picture of an Israeli F-35 stealth fighter flying next to Beirut’s airport, in what was seen as a direct message to Hezbollah.

Israel fought a punishing war with Hezbollah in 2006. Jerusalem believes the group has since re-armed with tens of thousands of missiles that can threaten all of Israel.

Judah Ari Gross contributed to this report.

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Khashoggi Crisis Widens Trump Rift With Congress on Saudi Arabia

October 18, 2018

Distrust of Riyadh in Washington dates to Sept. 11 attacks

Lawmakers warn they may act over president’s objections
.

President Donald Trump is facing increased pressure from Congress over his handling of journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance, exposing a widening rift between the White House and Capitol Hill over the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Image result for Lindsey Graham, photos

Lawmakers from Trump’s own party, including the president’s ally Senator Lindsey Graham, are openly voicing their discontent and threatening to sanction the Saudi government over the objections of the president, who has sought to build a closer relationship with Riyadh.

The stark differences underscore that Saudi Arabia enjoys far greater respect in the Oval Office than in the Capitol. Many lawmakers harbor a distrust of the kingdom dating back to its connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Its bloody involvement in Yemen’s civil war and interference in Lebanese politics have cost it further U.S. support.

The Trump administration, meanwhile — led by the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner — has drawn ever closer to the Saudis as it fashions a strategy in the Mideast that revolves around the kingdom.

“There are a number of constituencies in Congress that are hostile to Saudi Arabia,” said Jon Alterman, a senior vice president at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. U.S. lawmakers have complained about the kingdom’s egregious human rights record, its suppression of religious freedom and civilian deaths in the Yemen war.

QuickTake: All About the Saudi Prince Now Being Called Brutal

“The Khashoggi case provides a central rallying point for all of these people to criticize the Saudis and the president’s relationship with them,” he said.

Should Congress act against Saudi Arabia despite Trump’s reservations, it would mark yet another defeat in Washington for the kingdom. Just two years ago, Congress passed legislation allowing Saudi Arabia to be sued for its involvement in the Sept. 11 attacks. Though the Saudi government wasn’t found to have had a formal role in the attacks, 15 of the 19 hijackers were Saudi citizens, a fact not forgotten by lawmakers or the American public.

Tortured, Dismembered

Turkish officials have said that Khashoggi was tortured, murdered and dismembered in the Saudi consulate in Instanbul shortly after he arrived Oct. 2 to retrieve a document related to his wedding. A team of 15 Saudi agents arrived in Instanbul and left the same day of Khashoggi’s visit, according to reports by the New York Times and Washington Post.

John Kennedy  Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg

The U.S. can condemn Saudi Arabia’s conduct “without blowing up the Middle East and without destroying our ability to talk with them,” Senator John Kennedy, a Louisiana Republican, said Wednesday. “Our foreign policy has to be anchored in values.”

U.S. options include expelling Saudi diplomats, securing a United Nations resolution criticizing the kingdom’s behavior, curtailing arms sales or enacting sanctions on Saudi officials, Kennedy said. Trump opposes canceling a $110 billion arms deal with the kingdom that he said Wednesday would create 500,000 U.S. jobs.

Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is one of Trump’s most stalwart allies in Congress, called Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, “toxic” and a “wrecking ball” in an interview on “Fox and Friends” on Tuesday.

“Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MBS knowing it,” Graham said.

Middle East Linchpin

Trump chose Saudi Arabia for his first overseas trip as president and he has rejected the idea of reassessing the U.S.-Saudi relationship over Khashoggi’s disappearance. The Trump administration has made Saudi Arabia a linchpin of its Middle East policy, which seeks to isolate Iran financially and diplomatically. The Saudis have been a key partner in that effort, and Trump has defended the kingdom even as it engaged in a crackdown on members of the royal family and pursued the war in Yemen.

Trump and his Secretary of State Michael Pompeo have placed inordinate weight on Saudi Arabian denials that the kingdom is responsible for Khashoggi’s disappearance, and the president has sought to downplay the affair. Trump has repeatedly noted that Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen and on Monday floated the notion that “rogue killers” may have murdered him. Trump admitted in an interview with the Associated Press on Tuesday that the idea had been suggested to him by Saudi Arabia’s King Salman.

Trump lamented in the same interview that the Saudis were considered “guilty until proven innocent.” On Wednesday, he called them a U.S. “ally.”

“They are a tremendous purchaser of not only military equipment but other things,” he said.

After meeting with Saudi Arabian leaders including Prince Mohammed in Riyadh on Tuesday, Pompeo issued a statement underscoring their denials.

“My assessment from these meetings is that there is serious commitment to determine all the facts and ensure accountability, including accountability for Saudi Arabia’s senior leaders or senior officials,” Pompeo said.

“It’s important that everyone keep in their mind that we have lots of important relationships — financial relationships between U.S. and Saudi companies, governmental relationships, things we work on together all across the world,” Pompeo told reporters aboard his plane Wednesday after it left Turkey. “The Saudis have been great partners in working alongside us.”

Not Buying It

Congress isn’t buying it, and Trump may soon face a second overwhelming vote to impose sanctions on a country with which the president has sought to improve relations. Last year, veto-proof majorities in Congress approved sanctions on Russia to punish its 2016 election interference, over Trump’s objections.

“This is not rogue killers,” Graham said Tuesday on Fox News radio. “This is a rogue crown prince.”

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said last week that “there will have to be significant sanctions placed at the highest levels” if Khashoggi was killed in the consulate. Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, has said he’ll seek a vote to block future arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, tweeted Wednesday “The Khashoggi murder and actions in Yemen are both part of a pattern of immoral and reckless behavior by Saudi Arabia.” Young penned an op-ed with Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen in the Washington Post last month to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for contributing to the war in Yemen.

A bipartisan group of senators also invoked the 2016 Magnitsky Act in a letter to Trump, giving the administration 120 days to respond to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee with a decision on potential sanctions against officials responsible for human rights violations.

Read more: What is the Magnitsky act? : QuickTake

Senator Ben Sasse, a Nebraska Republican, called Wednesday for an international investigation of Khashoggi’s disappearance and criticized Trump for focusing on arms sales to Riyadh.

“It’s always important to see arms sales as a means to a larger end, not as the end in themselves,” he said on CNN.

Democrats have been even more direct in their criticism, with some insinuating that Trump’s approach to the Saudis is driven by his financial interests. Trump said in a Twitter post on Tuesday that he has no holdings in Saudi Arabia.

Chuck Schumer

@SenSchumer

Fascinating to watch what @realDonaldTrump will allow the Saudis to do. Whether it’s killing Yemeni school children, or ‘accidentally’ murdering a reporter in their own consulate, it seems like they can do no wrong. I wonder why?

— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis, and Jennifer Epstein

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-10-18/khashoggi-crisis-widens-trump-rift-with-congress-on-saudi-arabia

Missing journalist has made Trump’s Saudi bet much riskier

October 18, 2018

US president has leaned heavily on kingdom for his Middle East policy, but ties now face bipartisan scrutiny over Jamal Khashoggi affair

The Associated Press
In this photo from May 20, 2017, US President Donald Trump holds a sword and dances with traditional dancers during a welcome ceremony at Murabba Palace, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

In this photo from May 20, 2017, US President Donald Trump holds a sword and dances with traditional dancers during a welcome ceremony at Murabba Palace, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — US President Donald Trump put a big and risky bet on Saudi Arabia and its 33-year-old crown prince. It’s now become much riskier.

From the early days of his presidency, Trump and his foreign policy team embraced the kingdom and Mohammed bin Salman as the anchors of their entire Middle East strategy. From Iran and Iraq to Syria, Yemen and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the administration gambled that Saudi Arabia, effectively run by the prince, could credibly lead, and willingly pay for, a “Pax Arabica” in a part of the world from which Trump is keen to disengage.

For nearly two years, through an ongoing crisis with Qatar and international outrage over civilian casualties in the Saudi-led campaign against Yemeni rebels, the prince has managed to keep Washington’s confidence. But now, the tide is turning amid growing outrage over the disappearance and likely death of a US-based journalist inside a Saudi Consulate in Turkey, and that confidence appears to be waning. The Trump administration’s grand strategy may be upended with far-reaching ramifications that extend well outside the region.

Even if an investigation into what happened to Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul exonerates the prince and the top Saudi leadership, the administration’s deep reliance on him will be severely tested not least because of broad bipartisan revulsion in Congress to as-yet unconfirmed accounts of Khashoggi’s fate. Already, prominent lawmakers from both parties are questioning his fitness to lead the country and suggesting it might be time to re-think US-Saudi relations and sharply curb arms sales.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman meets with Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon in Washington, on March 22, 2018. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Trump ally Senator Lindsey Graham (Republican-South Carolina) and other influential politicians warned of dire consequences on Tuesday, saying the prince, often known as MBS for short, should be removed from his post.

“This guy is a wrecking ball, he had this guy murdered in a consulate in Turkey, and to expect me to ignore it, I feel used and abused,” Graham said on “Fox and Friends.” “Saudi Arabia, if you’re listening, there are a lot of good people you could choose, but MBS has tainted your country and tainted himself.”

Trump foe Senator Chris Murphy (Democrat-Connecticut) said the Khashoggi case “should trigger a fundamental review of the nature of the United States’ alliance with the Saudis.”

“As the new crown prince engages in increasingly reckless behavior, more and more of us are wondering whether our ally’s actions are in our own best interests,” he wrote in The Washington Post.

And Trump ally Senator Marco Rubio (Republican-Florida) called the situation a “catastrophe” for the Saudis that will “alter the relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future.”

“This is a fear we’ve had for a long time is that the crown prince is a young and aggressive guy that would overestimate how much room he had to do things, would get over aggressive and overestimate his own capabilities and create a problem such as this,” he said. He added that the situation was one that “would really blow apart our Middle Eastern strategy.”

In this photo from February 1, 2015, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks at a press conference in Manama, Bahrain. (AP Photo/Hasan Jamali, File)

The impact of a US-Saudi rift, however remote the possibility, could send shockwaves around the world, destabilizing oil markets and the global investment climate, not to mention dealing a blow to the Trump administration’s own plans in the Middle East.

Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has made Saudi Arabia a centerpiece of his yet to be revealed Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which is expected to call for massive Saudi and Gulf Arab contributions to fund reconstruction and development projects in the West Bank and Gaza.

Saudi support will also be key to the political elements of the plan that Israel insists put its security on par with Palestinian statehood. That means that Israel will likely seek assurances that any deal with the Palestinians be followed by a broader agreement that normalizes its relations with the rest of the Arab world, particularly Saudi Arabia.

In Syria, the administration relied almost entirely on Saudi Arabia, along with the closely allied United Arab Emirates, to make up for steep cuts in US stabilization assistance to areas liberated from Islamic militants. Next door in Iraq, the current secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and his predecessor, Rex Tillerson, have leaned heavily on the Saudis to make large financial pledges for reconstruction of war-shattered communities.

But it is the administration’s policy of isolating Iran that may suffer the most from Saudi-US estrangement.

US President Donald Trump, left and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud gesture during a signing ceremony at the Saudi Royal Court in Riyadh on May 20, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)

Trump is counting on the Saudis to shore up and complement its Iran policy on several fronts.

In Yemen, where the US-backed Saudi-led coalition is fighting Iran-backed Houthi Shiite rebel insurgency, the effort to blunt Tehran’s increasing assertiveness would be hurt by any reduction in American help.

In Syria, where Saudi stabilization funds are being used in part to prevent Iranian proxies from encroaching on communities previously held by the Islamic State group, a reduction in Saudi cooperation would allow Iran a freer hand. The same holds true in Iraq, where Saudi investment is seen as critical to prevent Iran from gaining more of a foothold than it has in the Shia majority state.

More importantly, the administration has been counting on Saudi Arabia to step in to prevent oil prices from skyrocketing once it re-imposes energy-related sanctions on Iran that had been lifted under the 2015 nuclear deal from which Trump withdrew. Those sanctions require countries to halt Iranian oil imports unless they receive a waiver or face penalties. Frosty relations with Washington may tempt Riyadh to cut back on any increase in oil supply to make up for the loss of Iranian crude.

Of course, Trump’s bet could still pay off in the event the Khashoggi investigation is found to be credible and those responsible for his fate are held accountable, as Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Pompeo have all demanded. But with anti-Saudi sentiment running high in the corridors of power, Trump may find that going all in on the prince was a loser.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/missing-journalist-has-made-trumps-saudi-bet-much-riskier/

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Trump demands to see Khashoggi ‘murder’ proof amid reports of recording

October 18, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he did not want to abandon close ally Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of a Saudi journalist and government critic, and he needed to see evidence to prove Turkish claims he was killed by Saudi agents.

Trump said he was waiting for a full report on what had happened to Jamal Khashoggi from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom he sent to Saudi Arabia and Turkey to meet with officials over the disappearance.

Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was critical of the authoritarian kingdom’s Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and his body removed. The Saudis have denied the allegations.

Image result for Jamal Khashoggi, photos

Turkish sources have told Reuters the authorities have an audio recording indicating Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. He has not been seen since entering the building.

Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper on Wednesday published what it said were details from audio recordings that purported to document Khashoggi’s torture and interrogation.

Khashoggi was killed within minutes and his torturers severed his fingers during the interrogation, the newspaper said. His killers later beheaded and dismembered him, it said.

Turkey has not shared with the U.S. government or European allies graphic audio or video evidence, seven U.S. and European security officials told Reuters.

The United States and allies have collected some intelligence through their own sources and methods, which partly confirms news reports based on leaks of audio recordings, four of the sources said.

A New York Times report cited a senior Turkish official confirming the details published by Yeni Safak.

Two Turkish government officials contacted by Reuters declined to confirm the report.

Trump, who has forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia and the 33-year-old crown prince, said the United States has asked Turkey for any audio or video evidence.

Asked in a Fox Business Network interview if Washington could abandon Riyadh, Trump said: “I do not want to do that.” Trump reiterated his hopes that Saudi leaders were not involved in his disappearance of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident.

TRUMP: I’M NOT GIVING COVER AT ALL’

“We have asked for it, if it exists … I’m not sure yet that it exists, probably does, possibly does,” he later told reporters when asked about audio or video evidence.

U.S. media outlets have reported that Riyadh, despite its earlier denials of involvement, will acknowledge he was killed in a botched interrogation.

Trump has speculated without providing evidence that “rogue killers” could be responsible.

How the crown prince emerges from the crisis is a test of how the West will deal with Saudi Arabia in the future.

Trump has appeared unwilling to distance himself too much from the Saudis, citing Riyadh’s role in countering Iranian influence in the region – and tens of billions of dollars in potential arms deals.

Other Western nations, although expressing concern about the incident, face a similar delicate situation in their dealings with the world’s top oil exporter.

Important ties

Pompeo meanwhile said Riyadh should be given a few more days to complete its own probe into Khashoggi’s disappearance. He met Turkey’s president and foreign minister, a day after Trump gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt.

“They’re going to do an investigation, and when the investigation comes out we’ll evaluate it,” Pompeo told reporters travelling with him.

A State Department spokeswoman said Pompeo had not heard any audio recording purporting to indicate Khashoggi was killed.

Pompeo also said the United States must be mindful of important business and government ties with Saudi Arabia as it considers any steps once the facts have been determined.

Turkish investigators entered the Saudi consul’s residence on Wednesday after delays.

Their search included the roof and garage, and the deployment of a drone over the premises. The consul-general had left Turkey for Riyadh on Tuesday.

A pro-government Turkish daily published preliminary evidence last week from investigators who it said had identified a 15-member Saudi intelligence team that arrived in Istanbul on diplomatic passports hours before Khashoggi disappeared.

A New York Times report, citing witnesses and other records, linked four suspects to Prince Mohammed’s security detail.

One name matches a LinkedIn profile for a forensic expert who has worked at the interior ministry for 20 years. Another is identified in a diplomatic directory from 2007 as a first secretary at the Saudi Embassy in London.

Others resemble officers in the Saudi Army and Air Force. After his meetings with the king and crown prince on Tuesday, Pompeo said Saudi Arabia has committed to conducting a full investigation.

Asked whether they said Khashoggi was alive or dead, Pompeo said: “They didn’t talk about any of the facts.”

Deserted conference

Prince Mohammed has painted himself as the face of a new, vibrant Saudi Arabia, diversifying its economy away from reliance on oil and making some social changes.

But there has been criticism of some of his moves, including Riyadh’s involvement in the Yemen war, the arrest of women activists, and a diplomatic row with Canada.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his plans to attend an investment conference in Riyadh next week would be revisited on Thursday after U.S. officials have a chance to consult Pompeo.

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde, and top executives from Societe Generale and Glencore joined a growing list of executives who have pulled out.

Saudi Arabia has said it would retaliate against any pressure or economic sanctions.

Marine General Joseph Dunford, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, met his Saudi counterpart on Wednesday for previously scheduled talks, according to a U.S. military readout that made no mention of Khashoggi.

(REUTERS)

Trump says US has asked for Khashoggi tapes

October 18, 2018

But US president says he does not want to walk away from Saudi Arabia US secretary of state Mike Pompeo, left, with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday

By Katrina Manson in Washington, and Laura Pitel and Ayla Jean Yackley in Ankara

Donald Trump said the US had asked for a recording of Jamal Khashoggi’s purported killing “if it exists”, but stressed that Washington did not want to walk away from Saudi Arabia as it comes under mounting pressure over the case.

Image result for Jamal Khashoggi, photos

Jamal Khashoggi

Asked if the US had requested video or audio evidence of Mr Khashoggi’s death, Mr Trump said on Wednesday: “We have asked for it, if it exists. We have asked.”

He was speaking as Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, returned from a trip to Turkey and Saudi Arabia that highlighted the US’s desire to balance concern over Mr Khashoggi with a desire to preserve economic and security ties to Saudi Arabia. In a separate interview with Fox Business Network, the US president said: “We need Saudi Arabia in terms of our fight against all of the terrorism, everything that’s happening in Iran.”

Asked if the US would walk away from the kingdom, he said: “No I don’t want to do that, I don’t want to do that.”

The president said he was waiting for a briefing from Mr Pompeo, who met Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de facto ruler, as well as Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Referring to Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance, Mr Trump said: “I hope that the King and the Crown Prince didn’t know about it, that’s a big factor in my eyes.”

But he denied he was giving cover to Saudi Arabia, telling reporters later in the Oval Office: “I want to find out what happened.” Mr Pompeo had reiterated the US’s willingness to aid a probe into the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi as lurid new claims emerged about the Saudi journalist’s fate.

US officials said they expected Saudi Arabia to soon announce publicly that Mr Khashoggi was killed. Riyadh under pressure over Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance “Sooner is better than later, yes, for everyone,” Mr Pompeo said. He said there “had been a couple of delays” in preparing the report, but that the Turks said the Saudis had co-operated with their investigation and “seemed pretty confident that the Saudis would allow them to do the things they need to do”.

Mr Khashoggi has not been seen since entering the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul on October 2. Turkish officials have used a series of leaks to Turkish and international media to allege that Mr Khashoggi, 59, was killed at the consulate by a 15-man hit squad after arranging an appointment to collect papers for his forthcoming marriage.

The pro-government newspaper, Sabah, published the names and photographs of a team of people which allegedly flew into Istanbul on two private jets on the day of the journalist’s disappearance, before leaving the same day. The names were confirmed as accurate by a Turkish official.

The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday cited Turkish officials as saying that they had shared evidence, including details of an audio recording that backed up their claims that Mr Khashoggi was killed and his body dismembered by a Saudi hit squad. The newspaper said the recording indicated that Mr Khashoggi was killed in the office of the consul-general within minutes of entering the diplomatic mission on October 2.

It said he was not interrogated — a claim that would directly contradict claims of a questioning that went wrong. The report cited people familiar with the recording as saying that a voice could be heard inviting the consul to leave the room before a man identified as a Saudi forensic specialist, Salah Al Tabiqi, could be heard recommending those present to listen to music while he dismembered Mr Khashoggi’s body.

Before boarding his plane to Ankara from Saudi Arabia, Mr Pompeo said that he had stressed the “importance of [the Saudis] conducting a complete investigation into the disappearance”. He declined to discuss what the Saudis had told him about Mr Khashoggi’s fate.

“I don’t want to talk about any of the facts. They didn’t want to either and that they want to have the opportunity to complete this investigation in a thorough way,” Mr Pompeo said. Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said that investigators searched the Saudi consul general’s residence on Wednesday after a delay. Earlier this week, a search was performed at the consulate building. Mr Erdogan said that investigators had searched for “toxic” materials and suggested that some evidence had been covered up by painting over it.

Saudi Arabia initially insisted that Mr Khashoggi had left the consulate building safely. But this week it emerged that the Gulf kingdom was considering changing its stance to say that the journalist died in a botched interrogation by rogue operatives. Recommended The future of dealmaking with Saudi Arabia Mr Trump has appeared receptive to such claims, voicing the idea that “rogue” killers could be responsible.

On Tuesday, he used an interview with Associated Press to warn of the dangers of rushing to judgment. He compared the case to the treatment received by Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court justice accused of sexual assault. “We have to find out what happened first,” Mr Trump said.

“Here we go again with . . . you’re guilty until proven innocent. I don’t like that. We just went through that with Justice Kavanaugh and he was innocent all the way as far as I’m concerned.” Such comments have stoked concern among friends and supporters of Mr Khashoggi that Mr Trump might be willing to let Saudi Arabia off the hook.

The Gulf kingdom is widely seen as the US’s most important Arab ally in the Middle East. Mr Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner have fostered close ties with the country’s rulers. In response to Mr Khashoggi’s disappearance, more than a dozen high-profile international executives have withdrawn from a large investment forum in Riyadh next week organised by the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund.

On Wednesday, G7 foreign ministers issued a joint statement urging Saudi Arabia to conduct a “a thorough, credible, transparent, and prompt investigation”. The group of ministers from Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US as well as a representative from the EU said that they were “very troubled by the disappearance of Mr Khashoggi”. The statement added: “Those bearing responsibility for his disappearance must be held to account.”

Christine Lagarde, managing director of the IMF, has also deferred a visit to the Middle East that was to include the conference in Riyadh.

Additional reporting by Demetri Sevastopulo in Washington

https://www.ft.com/content/85e28a40-d1e3-11e8-a9f2-7574db66bcd5

Washington Post publishes final Khashoggi column warning of media intimidation

October 18, 2018

In op-ed written just before he went missing, dissident Saudi writer warns Mideast governments ‘have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate’

In this January 29, 2011, photo, Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

In this January 29, 2011, photo, Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi speaks on his cellphone at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Washington Post has published a new column by missing Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in which he warns that governments in the Middle East “have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate.”

The Post published the column Wednesday, more than two weeks after Khashoggi was last seen entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and only hours after a gruesome account in Turkey’s Yeni Safak newspaper alleged that Saudi officials cut off Khashoggi’s fingers and then decapitated him inside the consulate while his fiancee waited outside. The Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, has denied any involvement.

In a note affixed to the top of the column, Post Global Opinions editor Karen Attiah said she received the essay from Khashoggi’s translator and assistant a day after he was reported missing. Khashoggi first began writing for the Post’s opinion section in September 2017, and his columns criticized the prince and the direction of the Saudi kingdom.

In the op-ed, titled “Jamal Khashoggi: What the Arab world needs most is free expression,” Khashoggi recounted the imprisonment of a prominent writer who spoke against the Saudi establishment, and cited an incident in which the Egyptian government seized control of a newspaper.

“These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence,” he wrote.

“As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate,” Khashoggi wrote.

US President Donald Trump, who initially came out hard on the Saudis over the disappearance but since has backed off, said Wednesday that the US wanted Turkey to turn over any audio or video recording it had of Khashoggi’s alleged killing “if it exists.” He has recently suggested that the global community had jumped to conclusions that Saudi Arabia was behind Khashoggi’s disappearance.

In the column, Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen who went into self-imposed exile in the US over the rise of the crown prince, also discussed the practice of Middle Eastern governments blocking internet access to control tightly the information their citizens can see.

“The Arab world is facing its own version of an Iron Curtain, imposed not by external actors but through domestic forces vying for power,” Khashoggi wrote.

He praised the Post for translating many of his columns from English into Arabic and said it’s important for Middle Easterners to be able to read about democracy in the West. He also said it’s critical that Arab voices have a platform on which to be heard.

“We suffer from poverty, mismanagement and poor education,” Khashoggi wrote. “Through the creation of an independent international forum, isolated from the influence of nationalist governments spreading hate through propaganda, ordinary people in the Arab world would be able to address the structural problems their societies face.”

The Post initially held off on publishing the column amid hope for Khashoggi’s return, Attiah said. But, she wrote, “Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen.”

She ended her note: “This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for. I will be forever grateful he chose The Post as his final journalistic home one year ago and gave us the chance to work together.”

https://www.timesofisrael.com/washington-post-publishes-final-khashoggi-column-warning-of-media-intimidation/

Trump reluctant to abandon Riyadh over missing journalist, wants evidence

October 18, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he did not want to abandon ally Saudi Arabia over the disappearance of a Saudi journalist and has asked for audio recordings Turkish sources say indicate he was killed by Saudi agents.

Trump said he was waiting for a full report on what had happened to Jamal Khashoggi from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, whom he sent to Saudi Arabia and Turkey to meet with officials over the disappearance of the Saudi government critic. Trump and Pompeo are scheduled to meet at 10 a.m. (1400 GMT) on Thursday.

Turkish officials have said they believe Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist who was critical of the authoritarian kingdom’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, was murdered at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2 and his body removed. The Saudis have denied the allegations.

Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia

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Turkish sources have told Reuters the authorities have an audio recording indicating Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate. He has not been seen since entering the building.

Turkey’s pro-government Yeni Safak newspaper on Wednesday published what it said were details from audio recordings that purported to document Khashoggi’s torture and interrogation.

Khashoggi was killed within minutes and his torturers severed his fingers during the interrogation, the newspaper said. His killers later beheaded and dismembered him, it said.

Turkey has not shared with the U.S. government or European allies graphic audio or video evidence, seven U.S. and European security officials told Reuters. The United States and allies have collected some intelligence through their own sources and methods, which partly confirms news reports based on leaks of audio recordings, four of the sources said.

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A New York Times report cited a senior Turkish official confirming the details published by Yeni Safak. Two Turkish government officials contacted by Reuters declined to confirm the report.

Trump, who has forged closer ties with Saudi Arabia and the 33-year-old crown prince, said the United States has asked Turkey for any audio or video evidence.

Asked in a Fox Business Network interview if Washington could abandon Riyadh, Trump said: “I do not want to do that.”

Trump reiterated his hopes that Saudi leaders were not involved in the disappearance of Khashoggi, a U.S. resident.

“I want to find out what happened, where is the fault, and we will probably know that by the end of the week,” Trump later told reporters.

“We have asked for it, if it exists … I’m not sure yet that it exists, probably does, possibly does,” he said of the audio or video evidence.

U.S. media outlets have reported that Riyadh, despite its earlier denials of involvement, will acknowledge that Khashoggi was killed in a botched interrogation. Trump has speculated without providing evidence that “rogue killers” could be responsible.

How the crown prince emerges from the crisis is a test of how the West will deal with Saudi Arabia in the future.

Trump has appeared unwilling to distance himself too much from the Saudis, citing Riyadh’s role in countering Iranian influence in the region – and tens of billions of dollars in potential arms deals.

Other Western nations, although expressing concern about the incident, face a similar delicate situation in their dealings with the world’s top oil exporter.

Pompeo said Riyadh should be given a few more days to complete its own probe into Khashoggi’s disappearance. He met Turkey’s president and foreign minister, a day after Trump gave Saudi Arabia the benefit of the doubt.

“They’re going to do an investigation, and when the investigation comes out we’ll evaluate it,” Pompeo told reporters traveling with him.

A State Department spokeswoman said Pompeo had not heard any audio recording purporting to indicate Khashoggi was killed.

Pompeo also said the United States must be mindful of important business and government ties with Saudi Arabia as it considers any steps once the facts have been determined.

Turkish investigators spent nearly nine hours in the Saudi consul’s residence, leaving early on Thursday, as did Saudi investigators. The search by Turkish investigators included the roof and garage and the deployment of a drone over the area.

Turkish crime scene investigators were still working at the consulate early on Thursday, using bright lights to illuminate the garden, though it was not clear what they were doing.

A pro-government Turkish daily published preliminary evidence last week from investigators who it said had identified a 15-member Saudi intelligence team that arrived in Istanbul on diplomatic passports hours before Khashoggi disappeared.

The Washington Post published a column by Khashoggi it received from his assistant a day after he was reported missing.

In the column, Khashoggi condemns the crackdown on journalists by Arab governments and the failure of the international community to respond. “As a result, Arab governments have been given free rein to continue silencing the media at an increasing rate,” he wrote.(wapo.st/2AfrNpq)

A New York Times report, citing witnesses and other records, linked four suspects to Prince Mohammed’s security detail.

One name matches a LinkedIn profile for a forensic expert who has worked at the interior ministry for 20 years. Another is identified in a diplomatic directory from 2007 as a first secretary at the Saudi Embassy in London. Others resemble officers in the Saudi Army and Air Force.

After meeting the king and crown prince on Tuesday, Pompeo said Saudi Arabia has committed to a full investigation.

Asked whether they said Khashoggi was alive or dead, Pompeo said: “They didn’t talk about any of the facts.”

DESERTED CONFERENCE

Prince Mohammed has painted himself as the face of a new, vibrant Saudi Arabia, diversifying its economy away from reliance on oil and making some social changes.

But there has been criticism of some of his moves, including Riyadh’s involvement in the Yemen war, the arrest of women activists, and a diplomatic row with Canada.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said his plans to attend an investment conference in Riyadh next week would be revisited on Thursday after U.S. officials have a chance to consult Pompeo. International Monetary Fund Managing Director Christine Lagarde and top executives from Societe Generale (SOGN.PA) and Glencore joined a growing list of executives who have pulled out.

Saudi Arabia has said it would retaliate against any pressure or economic sanctions.

Reporting by Leah Millis, Tulay Karadeniz and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Makini Brice, Lesley Wroughton, Arshad Mohammed and Mark Hosenball in Washington, Ali Kucukgocmen, Daren Butler and Yesim Dikmen in Istanbul and Gulsen Solaker, Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Stephen Kalin and David Dolan; Editing by William Maclean, Angus MacSwan, Grant McCool and Leslie Adler

Reuters

Iran calls US efforts to cut its oil exports to zero ‘political bluff’

October 17, 2018

Statements by the United States that it would reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero are a “political bluff,” the head of state-run National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) said, according to a report published by Tasnim news agency on Wednesday.

US previously said they aim to reduce Iran’s oil exports to zero. (AFP)

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US officials have said they aim to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero to force its leaders to change their behavior in the region. US sanctions on Iran’s oil exports are scheduled to kick in on Nov. 4.

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NIOC head Ali Kardor said US President Donald Trump had been trying to reduce Iran’s oil exports for months.

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“The president of America has done whatever he can and he knows very well that getting Iran’s oil exports to zero was a political bluff,” Kardor said.

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The US administration has been pushing its allies to cut Iranian oil imports and encouraging Saudi Arabia, other OPEC states and Russia to pump more oil to meet any shortfall.

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Kardor said Iran did not have any difficulties receiving payments for oil exports and said the Islamic Republic could accept payments in euros instead of dollars if necessary.

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“There is no problem on this issue,” Kardor said, Iran’s ISNA news agency reported. “With European support there will not be a problem.”

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European powers have been trying to salvage a nuclear accord with Iran after the United States withdrew in May.

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The European Union said last month it was considering setting up a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) to facilitate trade with Iran and said it could be in place before November.

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European diplomats have said the SPV would create a barter system, similar to one used by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, to exchange Iranian oil for European goods without money changing hands.

Kardor said Iran was scheduled to sign a new oil contract with a foreign company within two weeks, ISNA reported. He did not provide any additional information.

Reuters

Turkey, Saudis Spar Over Missing Journalist Probe as U.S. Eases Pressure

October 17, 2018

U.S.’s Mike Pompeo says it is ‘reasonable’ to believe Saudi denials of involvement in Jamal Khashoggi’s disappearance

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (left) shakes hands with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at their meeting in Ankara. Photo: Turkish presidential press office/Shutterstock

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Turkey and Saudi Arabia sparred over the scope of Ankara’s probe into the suspected killing of Jamal Khashoggi, as U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defended the kingdom following the release of evidence that Turkey says proves Saudi operatives killed the journalist.

Mr. Pompeo met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Ankara on Wednesday, a day after he held similar meetings with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman and Crown Prince Prince Mohammed bin Salman in Riyadh.

Washington has emerged as a mediator between the two Middle Eastern powers, who are locked in a dispute over the Oct. 2 disappearance of Mr. Khashoggi, a critic of the ruling royal family in Saudi Arabia.

Two Countries That Stand to Benefit From the Khashoggi Tragedy

Two Countries That Stand to Benefit From the Khashoggi Tragedy

The Journal’s Gerald F. Seib discusses how Iran and Turkey might benefit from the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Turkish officials have audio recording proving that Mr. Khashoggi was beaten, drugged, killed and dismembered by operatives inside the office of the Saudi consul in Istanbul, minutes after walking into the consulate, say people familiar with the matter.

The Saudi consul general, Mohammad al-Otaibi, left Turkey for the Saudi capital, Riyadh, on Tuesday afternoon. Saudi authorities deny any involvement in the disappearance.

Turkish demands to search the consul’s office have emerged as a fresh point of conflict between the Saudis and the Turks. After meeting with Mr. Pompeo, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara wished to extend its search of Saudi diplomatic buildings in Istanbul to Mr. al-Otaibi’s residence, but had yet to receive authorization from Riyadh.

Turkish inspectors, who spent nine hours searching the consulate building for clues earlier this week, were ready to inspect the residence Tuesday, the minister said. But Saudi officials refused because the consul’s family was still inside, he said.

“We are hoping to go into (the building) today,” Mr. Cavusoglu said Wednesday.

Saudi Arabia didn’t authorize the inspection because the kingdom’s authorities were upset after learning that Turkish officials had leaked the evidence of their involvement in Mr. Khashoggi’s disappearance to the media, a person familiar with the matter said.