Posts Tagged ‘Jim Mattis’

NATO commander tells Russia: ‘stop meddling’

November 9, 2017


© AFP/File | Spanish media have accused Moscow-backed outlets such as Russia Today and Sputnik of playing a destabilising role in the crisis triggered by Catalonia’s banned October 1 referendum

BRUSSELS (AFP) – The commander of NATO forces in Europe, US General Curtis Scaparrotti, on Thursday demanded Russia “stop meddling” in European elections, amid concerns about Kremlin interference in the Catalan crisis.

Spanish media have accused Moscow-backed outlets such as Russia Today and Sputnik — which have Spanish language services — of playing a destabilising role in the crisis triggered by Catalonia’s banned October 1 referendum.

Moscow is also suspected of interfering in last year’s US presidential election and Britain’s Brexit vote, and Scaparrotti said he was concerned by “Russian malign influence” in other countries.

“It is something that we’ve seen in the United States, we’ve seen it in a number of countries here in the elections of late,” Scaparrotti said when asked about claims of Russian interference in Catalonia.

“It should stop meddling in other nations, (in) what is their sovereign right to determine their government and how it works,” he told reporters at a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels.

US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said NATO ministers had “discussed at length Russia’s now constant efforts to intercede in our sovereign democratic processes”.

Bogus news reports and images shared widely online have helped fuel the crisis triggered by Catalonia’s banned October 1 independence referendum.

Last year Moscow mounted a hacking and disinformation campaign making heavy use of social media to boost the now President Donald Trump’s chances.

When asked if he had particular concerns about the Catalan crisis undermining key NATO member Spain, Scaparrotti said “we’ve seen these kinds of activities in other nations as well. It’s a part of… what I call a destabilisation campaign.”

“We would encourage Russia to stay within the accepted international order and to honour each sovereign nation’s right to determine their means of government, their way of government and how they run their government,” Scaparrotti said.


At a forgotten Pakistan port, China paves a new Silk Road — Welcome to Gwadar (“Gate of the Wind”)

October 25, 2017


© AFP / by Amélie HERENSTEIN | Situated on a barren peninsula in the Arabian Sea, Gwadar, or the “gate of the wind”, owes its fortuitous selection as Pakistan’s next economic hub to its strategic location near the Strait of Hormuz

GWADAR (PAKISTAN) (AFP) – Remote and impoverished, Pakistan’s Gwadar port at first glance seems an unlikely crown jewel in a multi-billion-dollar development project with China aimed at constructing a 21st century Silk Road.

Situated on a barren peninsula in the Arabian Sea, Gwadar, or the “gate of the wind”, owes its fortuitous selection as Pakistan’s next economic hub to its strategic location near the Strait of Hormuz.

The city is set to become the bridgehead for the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), a $54 billion project launched in 2013 linking western China to the Indian Ocean via Pakistan.

The corridor is one of the largest projects in Beijing’s “One Belt One Road” initiative, comprising a network of roads and sea routes involving 65 countries.

The Chinese-financed initiative aims to connect the country with Africa, Asia and Europe through a vast network of ports, railways, roads and industrial parks.

But for Pakistan, participating in the project presents an enormous challenge in a country plagued by weak institutions, endemic corruption and a range of insurgencies in areas slated to host the corridor.

“This port is going to help Pakistan mak linkages with neighbouring countries. The entire nation will be getting benefits out of Gwadar,” Dostain Khan Jamaldini, chairman of the Gwadar Port Authority, told reporters.

But “the first beneficiaries of this port will be the people of Gwadar”.

The subject of economic dividends is extremely sensitive in resource-rich Balochistan — one of Pakistan’s poorest and most violent provinces, where separatist insurgencies have been waged for decades.

Since the beginning of the project militants have repeatedly attacked construction sites and targeted Chinese workers.

The project includes the country’s first deep-water port, a free-trade zone and 50 kilometres (31 miles) of dock space.

“Gwadar port is not Chinese, our strong partner is Chinese and we appreciate their boldness,” said Jamaldini.

“They came to Gwadar when nobody was accepting the idea to come and visit.”

– Contested territory –

China has eyed Gwadar for years.

Beijing financed an earlier scheme to develop the port prior to 2007, which was later overseen by a Singaporean group. But following bouts of insecurity, the Singaporeans handed it back to the Chinese in 2013.

The ambitious corridor is also far from popular in the region. India makes no mystery of its reservations over an infrastructure project that crosses through disputed Kashmiri territory.

This month US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis raised concerns about the issue, sparking a fierce backlash in Pakistan and claims Washington was trying to “contain China” in favour of arch-rival India.

Beyond diplomatic concerns, security remains a key issue in Gwadar, according to Brigadier Kamal Azfar, who heads “Brigade 440” — a security outfit created to protect CPEC projects and personnel.

Hostile forces are trying to “scuttle or stall CPEC”, he said in reference to accusations India has backed insurgents hostile to the project.

The area also lacks water and electricity, which developers hope will be remedied by dams and desalination plants outlined in the scheme.

Officials also worry the peninsula will fall victim to real estate speculation. Property prices near the port doubled between 2014 and 2016, said Sajjad Baloch, the director of the Gwadar Development Authority, before falling 20 percent.

And despite promises of future prosperity, skilled labour is lacking, says Mohamed Siddique, who runs a local hospital. Even with modern facilities it operates at a limited capacity because of a dearth of specialists.

– Chinatown –

In Gwadar city, economic activity spurred by CPEC remains limited. A lone freighter was anchored in the port during AFP’s recent visit. Only three to four arrive every month, according to port authorities.

The expressway leading to the site is unfinished.

About 300 Chinese people working on various projects live in prefabricated houses on the port — coined Chinatown — but only venture out with a security escort.

Chinese trucks at Pakistan’s Gwadar port in Pakistan. Beijing’s investments in the South Asian nation has grown, with China developing the port and the $73.6 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. PHOTO: DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

The city itself, with a population of about 100,000 that is projected by one estimate to jump tenfold by 2050, has relied on fishing and the artisanal construction of boats for generations.

Up to 50,000 people, mostly fishermen, could be “gradually” resettled to make way for the project, Baloch said, adding the potential move could see them relocated to a “state-of-the-art jetty”.

The first priority for the jobs will go to Gwadaris, “then to the Balochis, then to the people of any part of Pakistan”, Baloch said.

However few Gwadaris have been hired at the port, according to locals building boats on a nearby beach.

“We are hoping to get a job there,” said Juneid.

For others, it’s a chance to right the wrongs of past subjugation.

“Balochistan province should get the maximum benefits instead of outsiders,” said Abdullah Usman, 47, a social worker.

“It will be unfortunate if the local Baloch do not benefit… that would cause an increase in the several decades long sense of deprivation.”



Image result for Sistan-Baluchistan province,map

Map shows the China-Pakistan port of Gwadar and the area it is expected to serve. The Iranian port of Chabahar is just to the west of Gwadar

Image result for Sistan-Baluchistan province,map

Pentagon chief, French minister meet amid Niger ambush questions

October 21, 2017


© AFP | French Defense Minister Florence Parly meets with US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis at the Pentagon

WASHINGTON (AFP) – US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis thanked his French counterpart Friday for France’s assistance in the immediate aftermath of a Niger ambush that killed four US troops, as questions mounted in Washington about what happened.French warplanes flew overhead and armed helicopters evacuated the US wounded following the October 4 attack near the Mali border, which is thought to have been carried out by jihadists.

The Pentagon chief has previously praised the less than 30-minute French response time after the attack on the joint US-Niger patrol, and officials say it shows how well the two countries’ forces are working together.

But critics have pounced on the fact that it fell to France to help American troops as evidence the US military did not have adequate force-protection measures in place, and had failed in its intelligence gathering.

The ambush, which also killed four Nigerien troops, is sparking growing controversy in Washington as questions swirl about what went wrong, and after it emerged the body of one slain US soldier was not recovered for nearly two days — and only then by a privately contracted helicopter.

“Thank you for your support and for your letter of condolences for our fallen following this attack,” Mattis told French Defense Minister Florence Parly.

The French minister said she would discuss military operations in Syria after the fall of Raqa, the Iran nuclear deal and counterterrorism efforts in Africa’s Sahel region.

Speaking to reporters after the visit, Parly stressed the importance of the Iran deal.

“There’s no way we should leave the Vienna agreement negotiated in 2015 as long as all the conditions made of Iran are being met,” she said.

During her first Washington visit, Parly also gave a speech at the Center for Strategic International Studies, in which she said letting the deal collapse would sow the seeds of future conflict and be a gift to hard liners.

The United States, which has a growing military footprint in Africa, frequently supports French operations in the Sahel — notably with aerial refueling to French planes and exchanging intelligence with the old ally.

Parly said she had also discussed Chad, a Niger neighbor with extensive history of counterterrorism cooperation, with US officials.

Trump has placed travel restrictions on Chad citizens, saying it does not adequately share public safety and terrorism-related information and faulting the country for not providing recent examples of its passports.

“We mentioned the fact Chad is an important, effective ally engaged in this area of the Sahel and that therefore we must help Chad answer all the questions that have been posed by the US administration,” Parly said.

World leaders react to Donald Trump’s speech on Iran

October 14, 2017
October 13, 2017
Al Jazeera
A man walks past an anti-US mural in Iran's capital, Tehran [Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via Reuters]
A man walks past an anti-US mural in Iran’s capital, Tehran [Nazanin Tabatabaee Yazdi/TIMA via Reuters]

World leaders were quick to react to US President Donald Trump’s decision to “decertify” an international deal on Iran’s nuclear programme.

The 2015 deal, reached between Iran and the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the European Union (EU), saw Tehran curtailing its nuclear programme in exchange for the easing of crippling economic sanctions.

In a White House address on Friday, Trump struck a blow against the accord in defiance of other world powers, and despite the UN nuclear watchdog’s repeated confirmations that Iran was complying with its obligations under 2015’s Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

Trump’s move does not amount to a withdrawal from the deal, but instead pushes action to US Congress, which could reimpose sanctions that were lifted under the pact.

He threatened, however, that if a deal could not be reached with Congress or US allies, he would walk away from the accord.

Trump’s speech put him at odds with US allies in Europe, as well as Iran and Russia, with leaders saying they would stick by the landmark pact.

“We encourage the US Administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the US and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPOA, such as re-imposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement,” French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May said in a joint statement.

In Brussels, Federica Mogherini, the EU foreign policy chiefsaid the Iran deal is an international agreement and “it is not up to any single country to terminate it”.

She added: “It is not a bilateral agreement, it does not belong to any single country … The president of the United States has many powers, but not this one.”

In a statement after Trump’s speech, Russia’s foreign ministry said there was no place in international diplomacy for “threatening” and “aggressive” rhetoric, adding that such methods were doomed to fail.

“It is a hangover from the past, which does not correspond to modern norms of civilised dealings between countries,” the statement said.

“We viewed with regret the decision of the U.S. President not to confirm to Congress that Iran is fulfilling in good faith” the nuclear deal, it added.

The ministry said Trump’s decision to de-certify the deal would not have a direct impact on implementation of the agreement but that it ran counter to its spirit.

OPINION: What Trump’s decision on Iran will mean for the world

For his part, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani hit back at Trump’s new strategy on Iran.

“What was heard today was nothing but the repetition of baseless accusations and swear words that they have repeated for years,” Rouhani said in a televised address from Tehran.

“The Iranian nation does not expect anything else from you,” he added.

Rouhani said that despite the US president’s aggressive rhetoric, Tehran remained committed to the nuclear agreement for the time being.

“We respect the JCPOA … so long as it remains in keeping with our national rights and interests,” he said.

‘Most robust nuclear verification regime’

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “very much hopes” the nuclear deal with Iran can be salvaged, his spokesman said.

Stephane Dujarric said Guterres considers the deal to be a “very important breakthrough to consolidate nuclear non-proliferation and advance global peace and security”.

“The secretary-general very much hopes that it will remain in place,” Dujarric added.

Also reacting to Trump’s speech, Yukiya Amano, chief of the UN atomic watchdog, reiterated that Iran was under the world’s “most robust nuclear verification regime”.

“The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented,” said Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In Washington, DC, Nancy Pelosi, the top Democrat in the House, called Trump’s move “a grave mistake” that threatens the country’s security and credibility.

Pelosi said Trump ignored “the overwhelming consensus of nuclear scientists, national security experts, generals and his own cabinet, including, reportedly, his secretary of defense and secretary of state”.

Defence Secretary Jim Mattis told a Senate committee last week that it is in the US’ national security interests to stay a part of the international accord.

Pelosi said Washington’s allies in Europe have no intention of leaving the seven-nation pact, adding that if Trump’s judgment leads to an unraveling of the deal, it will be the US that’s isolated, not Iran.

Israel, Saudi Arabia praise Trump

Trump, however, got support from Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“President Trump has just created an opportunity to fix this bad deal, to roll back Iran’s aggression and to confront its criminal support of terrorism,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a video statement.

Saudi Arabia also welcomed what it called Trump’s “decisive strategy” towards Iran and alleged lifting sanctions had allowed Tehran to develop its ballistic missile programme, step up its support for groups including Hezbollah and Houthi rebels in Yemen, and attack global shipping lanes.

The Riyadh government said in a statement it had supported the nuclear agreement, “but Iran took advantage of the economic gain from raising sanctions and used it to continue destabilising the region”.

It said it would continue to work with allies to achieve the goals announced by Trump and end Iran’s “hostile activities”.


EU rejects Donald Trump’s attempt to dump Iran nuclear deal

October 14, 2017

The EU’s top diplomat says the US can’t terminate the Iran nuclear agreement because it’s not a “bilateral deal.” European leaders acknowledge Iran poses many problems, but insist they should be handled separately.

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

European diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic, along with the Iran nuclear deal’s other signatories and many of the US president’s own advisers, have failed to convince Donald Trump not to pick apart the agreement.

In Brussels, European Union officials are clearly exasperated with the US leader’s insistence on mixing a myriad of complaints about Iranian behavior with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the six-party accord signed in 2015 which limits Tehran’s ability to enrich uranium to a weapons-grade level.

EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini did not mince words Friday when lambasting Trump’s decision not to certify Iran’s compliance, which she says has been full, and to ask the US Congress to examine ways to add sanctions on Tehran. Mogherini was officially the deal’s mediator when it was concluded in 2015.

“This deal is not a bilateral agreement, this is not an international treaty,” but part of a UN Security Council Resolution, she said tersely after the announcement, “so it is clearly not in the hands of any president of any country in the world to terminate an agreement of this sort.”

“The president of the United States has many powers, but not this one,” she added.

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani later echoed Mogherini in a live televised address. “No president can revoke an international deal. … Iran will continue to honor its commitments under the deal,” Rouhani said. He also warned that “if one day our interests are not served, we will not hesitate even one moment and will respond.”

Germany, France and UK statement

Chancellor Angela Merkel, President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Theresa May said in a joint statement: “We encourage the US Administration and Congress to consider the implications to the security of the US and its allies before taking any steps that might undermine the JCPOA, such as re-imposing sanctions on Iran lifted under the agreement.”

“We stand ready to take further appropriate measures to address these issues in close cooperation with the US and all relevant partners,” they said. ”We look to Iran to engage in constructive dialogue to stop de-stabilising actions and work towards negotiated solutions.”

No deal-breaker

Mogherini and other European officials insist they will continue to observe the agreement, reminding Iran it must do the same.

A high-level EU official speaking on background ahead of the announcement said the bloc agrees with Trump about the dangers of ballistic missiles, terrorism, Iranian-backed militias and what they see as other bad behavior, and believes they should be dealt with, but separately from the nuclear deal.

Iran's Foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif (R) and European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Federica Mogherini give a joint press conference (Getty Images/AFP/A. Kenare)Mogherini (left) says Iran is fulfilling its obligations under the nuclear deal she helped broker

At least with the current nuclear agreement, Tehran wouldn’t have the warheads for those missiles, the official pointed out.

Now lobbying attention turns to Congress, where European outreach efforts continue, according to the EU official.

“All the other issues of concern that may come up will not be better served if we undo the agreement,” the official explained, “because the agreement takes away a very dangerous risk, not only the risk of a nuclear arms race in the region, but also of uncontrolled nuclear proliferation, which is something we are now unfortunately seeing in North Korea.”

Lack of accord between US and EU 

European Council on Foreign Relations analyst Ellie Geranmayeh says this move “has really been seen in Europe as a terrible betrayal of European allies.” While Europeans are also very concerned about missile proliferation and regional meddling, they want to keep open the channel of diplomatic initiatives. “If this deal starts to unravel,” she told DW, “it’s more likely than not to provoke activities from Iran inside the region that add to the fragility of that region.”

Erik Brattberg, who heads the Carnegie Endowment’s Europe program, says that although the EU’s reaction is obviously one of disappointment, the situation doesn’t need to be seen as “catastrophic.”

“While uncertainty about US intentions and its commitment to the JCPOA seem unavoidable in the short term,” Brattberg said, “it is at least preferable to a [complete] unilateral US withdrawal from the agreement from a European perspective.”

Sanctions aimed at Tehran may also sting EU

But things will get worse for European companies that have resumed doing business with Iran if Trump’s impulses are fulfilled. “I think there is a very good chance that US sanctions will be reapplied against Tehran,” predicts Nile Gardiner, Director of the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. Republicans will strongly support renewing the sanctions, he said, and some Democrats may join them.

“European companies should be nervous,” Gardiner told DW. “They are playing with fire by investing in Iran, and could be hit hard by US sanctions. If they wish to do business with the US they would have to comply with American sanctions if they are imposed.”

Geranmayeh warns Gardiner may be right. “My message to the Europeans is, now that Trump has decertified, you better start planning on that contingency much more vigorously than before,” she said, “whether it’s because of a review process by Congress or because, come January, the president decides that he’s not going to renew these waivers.”

 just decertified  -here is what Europe should do:start planning contingency to salvage 

Photo published for What if Trump decertifies the Iran deal?

What if Trump decertifies the Iran deal?

European countries must coordinate a vigorous response to prevent Trump from derailing the nuclear accord.

With EU foreign ministers meeting Monday to discuss their strategy, she says even if the EU is united behind a position of continuing the agreement, they’d better start coordinating on how far they are willing to go to salvage the deal and how to safeguard their companies from the White House if all else fails.

Shada Islam, director of policy at Friends of Europe, could only shake her head about the developments. “This was a hard-fought deal,” she told DW, adding that its abolishment would be dangerous for the world. “This will empower all those in Iran who don’t want the nuclear agreement – is that what we want?”

Includes videos:


Trump strikes blow at Iran nuclear deal in major U.S. policy shift

October 14, 2017

Image may contain: 2 people, people standing

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump struck a blow against the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement on Friday in defiance of other world powers, choosing not to certify that Tehran is complying with the deal and warning he might ultimately terminate it.

Trump announced the major shift in U.S. policy in a speech in which he detailed a more aggressive approach to Iran over its nuclear and ballistic missile programs and its support for extremist groups in the Middle East.

He accused Iran of “not living up to the spirit” of the nuclear agreement and said his goal is to ensure Tehran never obtains a nuclear weapon, in effect throwing the fate of the deal to Congress.

He singled out Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps for sanctions and delivered a blistering critique of Tehran, which he accused of destabilizing actions in Syria, Yemen and Iraq.

“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Trump said.

Trump’s hardline remarks drew praise from Israel, Iran’s arch-foe, but was criticized by European allies.

The move by Trump was part of his “America First” approach to international agreements which has led him to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord and the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

His Iran strategy angered Tehran and put Washington at odds with other signatories of the accord – Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the European Union – some of which have benefited economically from renewed trade with Iran.

Responding to Trump, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Friday on television that Tehran was committed to the deal and accused Trump of making baseless accusations.

“The Iranian nation has not and will never bow to any foreign pressure,” he said. “Iran and the deal are stronger than ever.”

European allies have warned of a split with the United States over the nuclear agreement and say that putting it in limbo as Trump has done undermines U.S. credibility abroad, especially as international inspectors say Iran is in compliance with the accord.

The chief of the U.N. atomic watchdog reiterated that Iran was under the world’s “most robust nuclear verification regime.”

“The nuclear-related commitments undertaken by Iran under the JCPOA are being implemented,” Yukiya Amano, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency said, referring to the deal by its formal name.

U.S. Democrats expressed skepticism at Trump’s decision. Senator Ben Cardin said: “At a moment when the United States and its allies face a nuclear crisis with North Korea, the president has manufactured a new crisis that will isolate us from our allies and partners.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about the Iran nuclear deal in the Diplomatic Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., October 13, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque


While Trump did not pull the United States out of the agreement, he gave the U.S. Congress 60 days to decide whether to reimpose economic sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under the pact.

If Congress reimposes the sanctions, the United States would in effect be in violation of the terms of the nuclear deal and it would likely fall apart. If lawmakers do nothing, the deal remains in place.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker was working on amending the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act law to include “trigger points” that if crossed by Iran would automatically reimpose U.S. sanctions.

Slideshow (10 Images)

The trigger points would address strengthening nuclear inspections, Iran’s ballistic missile program and eliminate the deal’s “sunset clauses” under which some of the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program expire over time.

Trump directed U.S. intelligence agencies to probe whether Iran might be working with North Korea on its weapons programs.

The president, who took office in January, had reluctantly certified the agreement twice before but has repeatedly blasted it as “the worst deal ever.” It was negotiated under his predecessor, former President Barack Obama.

Trump warned that if “we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated.”

“We’ll see what happens over the next short period of time and I can do that instantaneously,” he told reporters when asked why he did not choose to scrap the deal now.

The Trump administration designated the entire Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps under an executive order targeting terrorists. The administration stopped short of labeling the group a Foreign Terrorist Organization, a list maintained by the State Department.

The Revolutionary Guard is the single most dominant player in Iran’s security, political, and economic systems and wields enormous influence in Iran’s domestic and foreign policies.

It had already previously been sanctioned by the United States under other authorities, and the immediate impact of Friday’s measure is likely to be symbolic.

The U.S. military said on Friday it was identifying new areas where it could work with allies to put pressure on Iran in support of Trump’s new strategy and was reviewing the positioning of U.S. forces.

But U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said no changes in force posture had been made yet, and Iran had not responded to Trump’s announcement with any provocative acts so far.

Reporting by Steve Holland in Washington; Additional reporting by James Oliphant, Phil Stewart, Makini Brice, Patricia Zengerle, Jonathan Landay, Justin Mitchell, Tim Ahmann and Arshad Mohammed in Washington, John Irish in Paris, Parisa Hafezi in Ankara, Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Shadia Nasrallah in Vienna; Editing by Yara Bayoumy, Alistair Bell and James Dalgleish



What Bob Corker Sees in Trump

October 13, 2017

His concerns are widely shared. The senator deserves credit for going on the record with them.

Sen. Bob Corker in the Capitol, June 20.
Sen. Bob Corker in the Capitol, June 20. PHOTO: TOM WILLIAMS/CQ ROLL CALL

In early March I met with a dozen Republican U.S. senators for coffee as part of a series in which they invite writers, columnists and historians to share what’s on their mind. The consuming topic was the new president. I wrote some notes on the train down, seized by what I felt was the central challenge Republicans on Capitol Hill were facing. The meeting was off the record, but I think I can share what I said. I said the terrible irony of the 2016 campaign was that Donald Trump was the only one of the 17 GOP primary candidates who could have gone on to win the presidency. Only he had the uniqueness, the outside-the-box-ness to win. At the same time Mr. Trump was probably the only one of the 17 who would not be able to govern, for reasons of temperament, political inexperience and essential nature. It just wouldn’t work. The challenge for Republicans was to make legislative progress within that context.

It was my impression the senators were not fully receptive to my thought. Everyone was polite but things were subdued, and I wondered later if I’d gone too far, been too blunt, or was simply wrong. Maybe they knew things I didn’t. Since then I have spoken to a few who made it clear they saw things as I did, or had come to see them that way.

I jump now to the recent story involving Sen. Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee and chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee. In August he said publicly that Mr. Trump had not yet demonstrated the “stability” and “competence” to be successful as president. Last weekend Mr. Trump, in a series of tweets, mocked the senator, calling him gutless and “Liddle Bob Corker.” Mr. Corker tweeted in response: “It’s a shame the White House has become an adult day care center. Someone obviously missed their shift this morning.”

After that he turned serious, in an interview with Jonathan Martin of the New York Times.

Mr. Martin asked if Mr. Corker was trying to “sound some kind of alarm” about the president. Mr. Corker said “the president concerns me.” He likes him, it isn’t personal, but “I know for a fact that every single day at the White House it’s a situation of trying to contain him.” He said there are “some very good people” around the president, “and they have been able to push back against his worst instincts. . . . But the volatility is, to anyone who has been around, is to a degree alarming.” In particular, he observed: “The tweets, especially as it relates to foreign policy issues, I know have been very damaging to us.”

Mr. Martin asked if Mr. Corker has Senate colleagues who feel the same way. “Oh yeah. Are you kidding me? Oh yeah.”

Mr. Martin asked why they did not speak out. Mr. Corker didn’t know: “Look, except for a few people, the vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here. There will be some—if you write that, I’m sure there will be some that say, ‘No, no, no I don’t believe that,’ but of course they understand the volatility that we are dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes from people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

Among them are Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chief of Staff John Kelly : “As long as there’s people like that around him who are able to talk him down, you know, when he gets spun up, you know, calm him down and continue to work with him before a decision is made. I think we’ll be fine.” He said of the president: “Sometimes I feel like he’s on a reality show of some kind, you know, when he’s talking about these big foreign policy issues. And, you know, he doesn’t realize that, you know, that we could be heading towards World War III with the kinds of comments that he’s making.”

This is all pretty striking from a sitting senator, even one not running for re-election.

At roughly the same time, some sharply critical pieces on the president were coming from the nation’s newspapers. The Los Angeles Times had a story on Mr. Trump’s reaction to Mr. Kelly’s efforts at imposing order on the White House: “The president by many accounts has bristled at the restrictions.” The article quotes allies of the president describing him as “increasingly unwilling to be managed, even just a little.” A person close to the White House claimed Messrs. Kelly and Trump had recently engaged in “shouting matches.” In the Washington Post, Anne Gearan described the president as “livid” this summer when discussing options for the Iran nuclear deal with advisers. He was “incensed” by the arguments of Mr. Tillerson and others.

Also in the Post, Michael Kranish interviewed Thomas Barrack Jr. , a billionaire real-estate developer and one of the president’s most loyal longtime friends. Mr. Barrack delicately praised the president as “shrewd” but said he was “shocked” and “stunned” by things the president has said in public and tweeted. “In my opinion, he’s better than this.”

Thursday, Vanity Fair’s Gabe Sherman said he’d spoken to a half-dozen prominent Republicans and Trump associates, who all describe “a White House in crisis as advisers struggle to contain a president who seems to be increasingly unfocused and consumed by dark moods.” Mr. Sherman reported two senior Republican officials said Mr. Kelly is miserable in his job and is remaining out of a sense of duty, “to keep Trump from making some sort of disastrous decision.” An adviser said of Trump, “He’s lost a step.” Two sources told Mr. Sherman that several months ago, former chief strategist Steve Bannon warned the president the great risk to his presidency isn’t impeachment but the 25th Amendment, under which the cabinet can vote to remove a president temporarily for being “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.”

There are a few things to say about all this. First, when a theme like this keeps coming up, something’s going on. A lot of people appear to be questioning in a new way, or at least talking about, the president’s judgment, maturity and emotional solidity. We’ll be hearing more about this subject, not less, as time goes by.

Mr. Corker deserves credit for going public with his reservations and warnings. The U.S. is in a challenging international environment; it’s not unfair or unjust to ask if the president is up to it and able to lead through it.

But we are a nation divided on the subject of Donald Trump, as on many others, and so this is a time to be extremely careful. Unnamed sources can—and will—say anything. If you work in the White House or the administration and see what Mr. Corker sees, and what unnamed sources say they see, this is the time to speak on the record, and take the credit or the blows.

What a delicate time this is. Half the country does not see what the journalists, establishment figures and elites of Washington see. But they do see it, and they believe they’re seeing clearly. It’s a little scary. More light is needed.

NATO to Increase Counterterrorism Funding in Line With Trump Agenda

October 5, 2017

France was holdout on increasing common budget funding over audit concerns

In this Feb. 9 photograph, an Italian soldier from NATO's Resolute Support Mission trains Afghan soldiers on the outskirts of Herat.
In this Feb. 9 photograph, an Italian soldier from NATO’s Resolute Support Mission trains Afghan soldiers on the outskirts of Herat. PHOTO: AREF KARIMI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

BRUSSELS—The U.S. has reached an agreement with holdout France to increase NATO funding for counterterrorism programs, clearing a significant obstacle to the Trump administration’s agenda for the alliance.

Under the deal, allied diplomats said, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s total budget, now $1.6 billion, will rise next year by roughly 1%. While the budget rises each year and the increase is modest, the extra money will allow the alliance to expand its to counterterrorism training programs.

The French have been forcefully opposed to increasing common funding in recent years, particularly for counterterrorism initiatives, and have expressed concerns about how the many is spent.

Many members do not see counterterrorism as the alliance’s core mission but at a NATO meeting of leaders in May there was broad agreement to expand training.

President Donald Trump has pushed NATO to focus more on counterterrorism. NATO has taken some steps to get more involved in training, including asking members to increase their contributions to its mission in Afghanistan.

Many NATO initiatives, including the deployment of military forces to Poland and the Baltic States, aren’t covered by the common budget and are funded based on voluntary national contributions of personnel or military equipment to missions. But NATO officials and diplomats said common funding is important to promote the training missions.

NATO’s North Atlantic Council of ambassadors failed to agree on expansion of the common funding until late last month, when France stopped its block on funding. The new U.S. ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey Hutchison, said increasing common funding was important to help the alliance get more involved in counterterrorism programs.

“Counterterrorism is very much a priority set by the council and common funding is essential for that to really move forward,” Mrs. Hutchison said in a recent interview.

Allied diplomats said the full slate of counterterrorism initiatives being funded is still being discussed and NATO defense ministers may discuss options at their meeting next month.

Some officials want the alliance to use common funding to increase training efforts in Iraq, but a number of countries remain skeptical that the NATO effort there should grow dramatically, diplomats said.

Mr. Trump in May spoke at NATO headquarters about terror attacks in Europe but few if any of the initiatives being considered by NATO involve directly fighting European terror networks. Most European countries view that as a job for the U.S.-led anti-Islamic State coalition or national law-enforcement agencies.

U.S. military officials, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joe Dunford, have said NATO’s strength is in training other nation’s militaries, rather than getting involved in combating terror networks in Europe or conducting strikes in the Middle East or North Africa.

Some NATO officials have examined how to expand the number of mobile training teams the alliance sends to countries such as Tunisia and Jordan. Such teams can work with partner militaries on a range of skills that can help them combat terror groups more effectively.

The alliance is also thinking about ways to expand the work and role of NATO’s Special Operations Forces headquarters, which develops training programs for the alliance. It is currently mostly funded by the U.S. and is not formally part of the alliance command structure.

The total common budget is made up of NATO’s €1.29 billion ($1.5 billion) common military budget—which funds the alliance’s multiple command posts, its 16 surveillance planes, some missions and other items—and the smaller civil budget of €234 million, which funds the headquarters and its civilian staff.

The U.S. contributes about 22% of the alliance’s budget, which is only about half of what it would contribute if it paid based on the size of its economy. But the U.S. spends far more on its military than other countries and makes a disproportionate contribution to NATO’s military might.

This year, France is the third largest contributor, after the U.S. and Germany. But next year, because of shifting economic growth, the U.K. will become the third largest contributor.

French officials have been pushing for expanded audits of NATO spending and an overhaul of how the alliance spends its money.

U.S. officials said they didn’t agree to any additional audits as part of the deal to expand common funding. But allied diplomats noted that NATO has been expanding its use of performance audits.

French diplomats said they are hopeful the new U.S. administration will eventually back their proposals for greater scrutiny of alliance spending. The diplomats said that U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and U.K. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon are working on proposals to improve NATO decision-making and leadership that could be aligned with the French proposals.

Israel Sees Assad Winning Syria War, Urges More U.S. Involvement — Too mush influence for Iran, Hezbollah and their allies

October 3, 2017

JERUSALEM — Israel’s defence minister said on Tuesday President Bashar al-Assad was winning Syria’s civil war and urged the United States to weigh in as Damascus’s Iranian and Hezbollah allies gain ground.

Avigdor Lieberman’s comments marked a reversal for Israel, where top officials had from the outset of fighting in 2011 until mid-2015 regularly predicted Assad would lose control of his country and be toppled.

“I see a long international queue lining up to woo Assad, include Western nations, including moderate Sunnis. Suddenly everyone wants to get close to Assad. This is unprecedented. Because Assad is winning, everyone is standing in line,” he told Israel’s Walla news site.

Image result for Amer Almohibany/AFP/Getty Images, Syrian fighter, photos

Syrian Mahmoud Al-Khatib, a fighter from the Jaish al-Islam (Islam Army), the foremost rebel group in Damascus province who fiercely oppose both the Syrian regime and ISIS, holds a position inside a building on the frontline in the town of Bilaliyah, east of the capital Damascus, on February 4, 2017. Fifty-year-old Al-Khatib says he’s been fighting against the regime since the beginning of the conflict in Syria. He was wounded four times. Credit Amer Almohibany/AFP/Getty Images

In late 2015, Russia helped Assad turn the tide with a military intervention that put Moscow’s forces in the field alongside Israel’s most potent foes – Iran and the Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah – opposite Syrian rebels.

The United States has focused its Syria operations on fighting rebel jihadis like Islamic State – dismaying Israel, which has tried to persuade both Washington and Moscow that Iran’s expanding clout is the greater threat.

In its decades under Assad family rule, Syria has been an enemy of Israel, with their armies clashing in 1948, 1967, 1973 and 1982. While largely keeping out of the Syrian civil war, Israel has tried to sway the world powers involved in the conflict and cautioned it could strike militarily to prevent Iran and Hezbollah entrenching further on its northern front.

“We hope the United States will be more active in the Syrian arena and the Middle East in general,” Lieberman said. “We are faced with Russians, Iranians, and also the Turks and Hezbollah, and this is no simple matter to deal with, on a daily basis.”

Lieberman did not elaborate on what actions he sought from the Donald Trump administration, which Israel has been lobbying for reassurances that Iranian and Hezbollah forces will not be allowed to deploy near its border or set up bases within Syria.

“The United States has quite a few challenges of its own, but as a trend – the more the United States will be active, the better it will be for the State of Israel,” Lieberman said.

(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by Ralph Boulton)

Mattis, in Afghanistan, Criticizes Iranian and Russian Aid to Taliban

September 28, 2017

Militants mark U.S. defense secretary’s visit with airport rocket attack, highlighting challenges facing the U.S. and its allies

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, left, on Wednesday during his first visit to Afghanistan since President Donald Trump spelled out a new South Asia strategy.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, right, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, left, on Wednesday during his first visit to Afghanistan since President Donald Trump spelled out a new South Asia strategy. PHOTO: RAHMAT GUL/ASSOCIATED PRESS

KABUL—U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on Wednesday criticized Iran and Russia for continuing to arm and support Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, aid that American officials say provides the militant group with both firepower and added legitimacy.

Mr. Mattis, on his first visit to Afghanistan since President Donald Trump spelled out a new South Asia strategy last month, met with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and North Atlantic Treaty Organization Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, along with the top U.S. commander there, Gen. John Nicholson.

In a sign of the challenges facing the U.S. and its allies, militants struck Kabul’s international airport in an attack apparently timed to coincide with Mr. Mattis’s arrival. Afghan officials said eight rockets were fired at the airport, while the U.S. military said the attack involved suicide vests and several rounds of high-explosive ammunition, including mortars.

The local affiliate of Islamic State claimed responsibility for the assault. So did the Taliban, which said it was targeting the defense secretary, who already had left the airport when the attack broke out.

Afghan security forces, with U.S. air support, swarmed the area where the attack was thought to have been launched, and killed four militants, a senior Afghan official said. The airport, which serves both civilian and military air traffic, was closed for several hours afterward.

Gen. John Nicholson, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, salutes Mr. Mattis as he arrives at NATO headquarters in Kabul on Wednesday. Gen. Nicholson said the new U.S. strategy has buoyed the Afghan government and its foreign allies.
Gen. John Nicholson, commander of NATO’s Resolute Support Mission, salutes Mr. Mattis as he arrives at NATO headquarters in Kabul on Wednesday. Gen. Nicholson said the new U.S. strategy has buoyed the Afghan government and its foreign allies. PHOTO: HANDOUT/EPA-EFE/REX/SHUTTERSTOCK/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

In a statement late Wednesday, the U.S. military said a missile on one of its aircraft had malfunctioned during the counterattack, causing several civilian casualties. It gave no further details, saying only that the attack and the malfunctioning ammunition were under investigation.

In his comments earlier in the day, Mr. Mattis said Russia and Iran’s continued assistance to the Taliban runs counter to their interests.

“Those two countries have suffered losses to terrorism, so I think it would be extremely unwise if they think they can somehow support terrorism in another country and not have it come back to haunt them,” he said.

Military officials said weaponry and support from the Russians and Iranians serve to strengthen the Taliban, but also bestow a sense of legitimacy. “That’s a lot more dangerous right now than what they’re providing in terms of materiel,” a military official said.

Russia has acknowledged that it shares information with the Taliban in an effort to combat Islamic State, but has denied sending weapons. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, answering a question about the U.S. accusation last month, called it “a campaign based on falsehoods.”

Taliban leaders have described their relationship with Moscow as “just political.” Iranian officials say they have contacts with the insurgent group, but deny providing it with weapons or sanctuary.

Mr. Mattis also met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, pictured second from right on a helicopter en route to a Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan on Wednesday. The U.S. has 4,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO force.
Mr. Mattis also met with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, pictured second from right on a helicopter en route to a Resolute Support Mission in Afghanistan on Wednesday. The U.S. has 4,000 troops in Afghanistan as part of a NATO force. PHOTO: THOMAS WATKINS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

The Trump administration’s new approach will add approximately 4,000 U.S. troops to the 12,000 already in Afghanistan. Another 4,000 troops are there as part of a NATO force. The new policy also will pressure Pakistan to seal off havens the administration has said are used by the Taliban and other militant groups to continue fighting the U.S.

The additional troops will reach Afghanistan by the end of the year, officials said. Most will participate in a mission to train, advise and assist Afghan forces, with fewer than 150 assigned to counterterrorism operations, officials said.

The new U.S. strategy, coming about eight months after Mr. Trump took office, has buoyed the Afghan government and its foreign allies, said Gen. Nicholson. It is based on conditions rather than timelines, meaning the U.S. isn’t expected to draw down its forces until U.S. goals have been reached.

President Trump outlined his new stance to combat terrorism in Afghanistan on Monday night, saying that U.S. troops will continue to stay in the region and that the fight will only become more intense. The WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib gives us three takeaways from the speech. Photo: Getty

“The fundamental difference is in morale,” Gen. Nicholson told reporters.

The Obama administration based part of its Afghanistan policy on timelines, and critics—particularly Mr. Trump—charged that approach signaled to the Taliban that it could just wait out the Americans.

The change by Mr. Trump has had a negative impact on Taliban morale, Gen. Nicholson said, adding that the leadership of the Islamist group has “atomized.”

“For years, they thought we were leaving,” he said, but fresh U.S. and NATO commitments have dispelled that notion.

Islamic State remains a challenge in Afghanistan, U.S. officials said. Since at least 2015, the group’s fighters have gained a toehold in eastern Afghanistan, near the country’s border with Pakistan.

The group is resilient, but Gen. Nicholson and other military officials said there were no indications that foreign fighters from Iraq or Syria have escaped that region to come into Afghanistan.


If you are talking Iran you are talking China….

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

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