Posts Tagged ‘John Bolton’

John Bolton On the International Criminal Court

September 11, 2018

John Bolton gave his first public address Monday since becoming national security adviser, and surprisingly, the topic was not Iran, North Korea, Syria, China, or any other national security hot spot, but the International Criminal Court.

The ICC is certainly not a new obsession for Bolton, who, in the speech hosted by the Federalist Society on Monday in Washington, called his role spearheading the George W. Bush administration’s opposition to the court “one of my proudest achievements” and described the court as a “freewheeling global organization claiming jurisdiction over individuals without their consent.” The impetus for the current U.S. offensive against the ICC is that its judges are currently considering whether to authorize the prosecutor to investigate alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan, including by the U.S. military and the CIA. The potential scenario of Americans being prosecuted by an international court for crimes committed abroad is exactly the scenario Bolton and other opponents warned about in the court’s early days.


Image may contain: 1 person, suit

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton speaks at a Federalist Society luncheon on Monday in Washington.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Palestinian Authority has also been pushing the court to accelerate a long-running inquiry into alleged Israeli crimes in the Palestinian territories, one factor behind the decision announced Monday to order the closure of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s office in Washington. (The United States and Israel are not members of the court, but Afghanistan and, more controversially, the Palestinian Authority are, giving the ICC jurisdiction over crimes committed there.)

For background, the U.S. has long had a fraught relationship with the ICC. When delegates originally gathered in Rome in the late 1990s to negotiate the formation of the court, many of them wanted it to have universal jurisdiction to prosecute crimes against humanity across the globe, but the U.S. pushed back, wanting to protect U.S. citizens and troops. The court that was eventually established has jurisdiction over crimes committed only in its member states (or those referred to it by the U.N. Security Council). This is what makes it so difficult today for the court to try abuses in places like Syria and Myanmar, which are not members.

Bill Clinton eventually signed the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, in 2000, but it was never ratified by the U.S. Senate, and President Bush “deactivated” the signature in 2002. That year, Congress passed the American Servicemembers’ Protection Act, prohibiting cooperation with the court. Opponents dubbed it “The Hague Invasion Act” for a clause authorizing the use of force to secure the release of U.S. citizens detained for prosecution by the court.

Although not a member of the court, the United States has at times cooperated with it. To Bolton’s vocal dismay, the Bush administration eventually softened its stance on the ICC, choosing to abstain rather than veto a referral of allegations of war crimes in Darfur, Sudan, to the court. The Obama administration expanded the level of cooperation, offering rewards for suspects wanted by the court and voting to refer the situation in Libya under Muammar Qaddafi to the court. Judging by Monday’s remarks, that level of cooperation is not going to continue under Trump.

The actual policy measures Bolton announced in the speech sound more severe than they are. He vowed that if the court comes after U.S. or Israeli citizens, “We will ban its judges and prosecutors from entering the United States. We will sanction their funds in the U.S. financial system, and, we will prosecute them in the U.S. criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans.”

However, these are more or less the measures already laid out with the 2002 ASPA law. As David Bosco, a professor at Indiana University and the author of Rough Justice: The International Criminal Court in a World of Power Politics, told me, “It sounded dramatic, but it’s actually not much of a change. I thought it was interesting that he talked only about working within the bounds of existing legislation and didn’t seem to be calling on Congress to take up any additional legislation. I think what he did here was to try to take existing restrictions and frame them as dramatically as possible.”

Most of the speech was a familiar litany of Bolton’s objections to the court, again framed for maximum drama. He ominously warned the audience:

[The ICC] claims “automatic jurisdiction,” meaning that it can prosecute individuals even if their own governments have not recognized, signed, or ratified the treaty. Thus, American soldiers, politicians, civil servants, private citizens, and even all of you sitting in the room today, are purportedly subject to the court’s prosecution should a party to the Rome Statute or the Chief Prosecutor suspect you of committing a crime within a state or territory that has joined the treaty.

This is technically true. If you, a U.S. citizen, go to another country and become accused of a crime against humanity, and that country’s government decides that, rather than prosecute you itself, it will refer your case to the ICC, then yes, you could find yourself on the docket at the Hague facing judges elected by an international body rather than the U.S. government. Then again, I never got to vote for anyone in the Canadian government, but if I went and robbed a gas station in Calgary, the local authorities could prosecute me without anyone kicking up much of a fuss about national sovereignty.

One way to avoid having U.S. citizens be prosecuted by the court would be for the U.S. not to commit war crimes in other countries, or to investigate and prosecute those who do. The ICC is supposed to be the court of last resort that prosecutes the planet’s most serious crimes only when governments are unable or unwilling to. Bolton argued today that the Afghanistan investigation disproves this notion since “we know that the U.S. judicial system is more vigorous, more fair, and more effective than the ICC.” In other words, it’s simply inconceivable that the U.S. would fail to hold anyone accountable for war crimes, an argument contradicted by a number of cases in Iraq and Afghanistan. Bolton may frame his argument as a defense of sovereignty, but it often comes across as a Nixonian case for impunity: If the United States did it, it’s not a war crime.

Bolton argued that the ICC is a weak and ineffective institution that is “hardly a deterrent to dictators and despots determined to commit horrific atrocities.” He has a point. Despite his indictment for crimes in Darfur including genocide, Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir remains at largeand able to travel the world. Thanks to the fact that Syria and Iraq are not ICC members—coupled with inaction by the U.N. Security Council—ISIS and Bashar al-Assad are shielded from prosecution for their horrific crimes against humanity. As Bolton noted, “Since its 2002 inception, the court has spent over $1.5 billion while attaining only eight convictions.”

Read the rest:


US team asked Abbas about Jordan-Palestinian confederation: NGO

September 2, 2018

US officials working on a Middle East peace plan have asked Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas about forming a confederation with Jordan, Abbas told activists Sunday, according to one of them.

Abbas recounted the conversation he had with White House aides Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt during a meeting with Israeli peace activists in Ramallah, said Hagit Ofran of the Peace Now NGO, who attended.

According to Ofran, Abbas said he told the US officials he would only be interested if Israel was also part of such a confederation.

© AFP/File | Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 15, 2018

It was not clear when the conversation took place, though Abbas has declined to meet with the White House since US President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December.

Abbas’s office confirmed Sunday’s meeting with the peace activists, but not the comments on the confederation.

Israeli media also reported Abbas’s comments on the confederation proposal. Ofran said Abbas did not go into further detail.

A Palestinian-Jordan confederation has been favoured by some on the Israeli right as a way to avoid granting full state status to the Palestinians for now.

In such an arrangement, Israel could also avoid taking responsibility for the some 3.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank.

Abbas’s response was essentially a way of torpedoing the proposal since Israel would likely not agree to join such an arrangement, Ofran told AFP.

“He did say that Kushner and Greenblatt came to him and asked ‘would you agree to a confederation with Jordan’,” Ofran said, stressing she was paraphrasing his remarks.

“And he said, ‘I will agree to a confederation with Jordan and with Israel only.'”

Abbas meets occasionally with Israeli peace activists and left-wing politicians.

Sunday’s meeting included members of Peace Now and other organisations, as well as two Israeli parliament members.

Palestinian leaders see US President Donald Trump’s administration as blatantly biased in favour of Israel.

In addition to the Jerusalem recognition, Washington last week announced it was ending funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.

The previous week, it announced it was cancelling more than $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians.

Trump has pledged to unveil a plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace, saying he wanted to reach the “ultimate deal”.

His son-in-law Kushner has been among those working on the plan.

Ofran said Abbas also spoke of the right of return for Palestinian refugees during Sunday’s meeting, long a major issue in peace efforts.

She said Abbas told the meeting that he would not push for a solution for refugees that would “destroy Israel,” but for a compromise that could be agreed upon.

More than 750,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled during the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation.

They and their descendants are now classified as refugees and Palestinian leaders continue to call for at least some of them to be allowed to return to their former homes now inside Israel.

Israel says Palestinians must give up the so-called right of return.



Abbas voices support for tripartite ‘confederation’ with Israel and Jordan

September 2, 2018

In meeting with Israeli peace activists, PA leader appears to dramatically depart from longstanding insistence on a two-state solution

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with Jason Greenblatt, the US president's assistant and special representative for international negotiations, at Abbas's office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with Jason Greenblatt, the US president’s assistant and special representative for international negotiations, at Abbas’s office in the West Bank city of Ramallah, March 14, 2017. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has voiced interest in a tripartite confederation with Jordan and Israel, in what would appear a dramatic departure from his longstanding insistence on a two-state solution, according to Israeli peace activists and a Palestinian official.

According to the dovish Peace Now group, a senior delegation of which met Abbas on Sunday in Ramallah, the Palestinian leader said senior US administration officials Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt asked him recently about his opinion of a “confederation with Jordan.”

“‘I said [to Kushner and Greenblatt]: Yes, I want a three-way confederation with Jordan and Israel.’ I asked them if the Israelis would agree to such a proposal,” a statement by Peace Now quoted Abbas as saying.

Abbas, 83, reportedly described US President Donald Trump and his Middle East peace envoys as “hostile” to the Palestinian people, citing Washington’s decision to dramatically cut aid.

But Abbas said Trump had assured him of his support for a two-state solution and that he himself was in favor of a demilitarized Palestinian state with NATO securing the agreement, according to Peace Now.

While some Israelis who are opposed to an independent Palestinian state have long suggested some kind of confederation, with or without Jordan, the PA has so far clung to its demand for sovereignty in the framework of a two-state solution.

The Prime Minister’s Office and the Foreign Ministry declined to comment on Abbas’s statements.

The US administration has also not commented on the report.

Mahmoud al-Habash, Abbas’s religious affairs adviser who was present at the meeting, confirmed to The Times of Israel the content of the Peace Now statement.

Peace Now executive director Shaqued Morag with PA President Abbas in Ramallah (right), September 2, 2018 (courtesy Peace Now)

Sunday’s meeting with Abbas was attended by Peace Now executive director Shaqued Morag, Meretz MK Mossi Raz (a former Peace Now director) and Zionist Union MK Ksenia Svetlova.

According to the PA’s official Wafa news agency, “peace activists” from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party attended the meeting as well.

“I have a problem with Netanyahu, not with Likud,” Peace Now quoted Abbas as saying.

Abbas further said that the Israeli government refuses to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians, despite the fact that Russia, Japan, Belgium, and the Netherlands have repeatedly offered to host peace talks, according to the Peace Now statement.

At the meeting, Abbas also said he supports Israel’s security, underlining that the Palestinian and the Israeli security forces work together “on a daily basis” and that he and his people “do anything possible so that no Israeli gets hurt,” according to Peace Now.

“Abu Mazen [Abbas] added that he meets with the head of the Shin Bet [Nadav Argaman] on this subject and emphasized that on security matters the two sides agree on 99 percent of the topics,” the statement said.

An official Palestinian source told The Times of Israel that Abbas has met with the head of the Shin Bet security service more than once in recent months.

Abbas, in the meeting, also criticized the US for its alleged determination “to completely destroy UNRWA,” the international agency caring for thousands of Palestinians considered refugees by much of the international community.

Over the weekend, the US State Department announced the administration will cease funding the agency, a move that was applauded in Israel but condemned by many other countries.

“Seventy percent of Gaza residents are refugees. Most of them live off UNRWA’s assistance,” Abbas told his Israeli guests. “Then President Trump says to cancel UNRWA and give humanitarian aid to the residents of Gaza. How is it possible that one on the one hand you cancel UNRWA and on the other hand help Palestinian residents?”

Morag, the Peace Now head, told Abbas that there was a “large peace camp” in Israel and that her organization would ask the political parties and the Israeli public to commit themselves to advancing an agreement between the two sides.

Wafa’s report on the meeting did not mention any talk of a confederation.

“Irregardless of the challenges and difficulties in the way of achieving peace, we must make it for the sake of a better future for our children and youth,” Abbas told the Israeli delegation, according to the Palestinian news agency.

“The Palestinian side’s hand is always extended to achieve a just and comprehensive peace based on legitimate international resolutions and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital,” he went on.

“Despite all the difficult circumstances surrounding us, we still believe in peace on the basis of resolutions of international legitimacy and the two-state solution.”

Trump officials have said they are finishing their peace plan and working on rolling it out, but have not offered any timeline. Details of the plan have remained firmly under wraps.

Palestinian officials have been boycotting the White House since Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Trump has said he does not necessarily endorse a two-state solution, breaking with decades of US policy and saying in 2017 that he would back whatever formula both sides decide on.

Jordan’s King Abdullah recently warned Trump about the possibility of a one-state solution, according to a Channel 10 report last month, citing French sources.

“Many young Palestinians don’t want the two-state solution anymore, but would rather live together with the Israelis in one state with equal rights for all… The result will be that Israel will lose its Jewish character,” Abdullah reportedly told Trump. Trump reportedly then replied, “What you say makes sense. … [In a one-state scenario,] the prime minister of Israel in a few years will be called Mohammed.”

Also last month, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that he saw “no reason to evacuate settlements” in a peace deal, a Likud lawmaker said.

Adam Rasgon and Jacob Magid contributed to this report.


Abbas: Trump’s Team Offered Me to Establish a Jordanian-Palestinian Confederation

September 2, 2018

Palestinian President Abbas said he would agree to such an offer only if Israel is a part of the confederation

U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a joint press conference in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Washington, May 3, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas during a joint press conference in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Washington, May 3, 2017.Bloomberg

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Sunday that U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace team offered him a political plan based on forming a Palestinian-Jordanian confederation.

According to Abbas, he told the administration that he would only agree to such a plan if Israel is part of the suggested confederation.

Abbas spoke in Ramallah at a meeting with Israeli left-wing movement Peace Now and Israeli lawmakers. “I was asked if I believe in a federation with Jordan,” Abbas said about a talk he held with Trump’s aide and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. “I answered: Yes, I want a confederation with Jordan and Israel. I have asked the Israelis if they would agree to such an offer.”

Abbas also said that the U.S. is “hostile towards the Palestinians and closing down the peace process. The U.S. wants to completely sabotage UNRWA.”

>> Opinion: Trump’s rule-breaking doctrine on the Mideast is an optical illusion

The Palestinian president did not detail the administrative implications of such a plan and what level of autonomy a Palestinian state would have under a Jordanian confederation. According to him, he completely rejected the offer as long as Israel is not mentioned as a party.

In his meeting with Israeli lawmakers, Abbas expressed willingness to agree to a land-swap agreement, but did not clarify what that would entail in terms of a potential evacuation of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

The Palestinian president also noted that he meets with Shin Bet chief Nadav Argaman from time to time.

Last week, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told members of the American Jewish Congress that “there is no capacity to have peace with the Palestinians unless there’s peace with all the Palestinians, including the million and a half in Gaza.”

Friedman went on to clarify that this “means there should be ideally one government [for the Palestinians]… If you go around the PA and somehow try to restructure Gaza without them, you’re giving a tremendous prize to Hamas… with all the failings of the PA if the choice is Hamas we pick the PA.”

The U.S. ambassador reiterated, as he has publicly on several occasions in the past, that Trump’s administration won’t make Israel suffer negative consequences over the transfer of the U.S. Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Friedman also clarified that the only price President Trump is asking the two sides to pay is to demonstrate willingness to advance in peace talks.

Friedman also confirmed a recent statement by U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton that the administration did not have an exact deadline for the unveiling of its peace plan, and that it will not be presented at the upcoming UN General Assembly session.

U.S. to End Funding to U.N. Agency That Helps Palestinian Refugees

August 31, 2018


The United States government has decided to stop all funding it gives to a United Nations agency that provides assistance to millions of Palestinian refugees, ending a decades-long policy of supporting it, according to a former senior United States aid official.

The move was pushed hardest by Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser on the Middle East, as part of a plan to compel Palestinian politicians to drop demands for many of those refugees to return to what they call their homeland, said the former official, R. David Harden, who worked at the United States Agency for International Development until April.

Employees of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and their families protest against job cuts announced by the agency outside its offices in Gaza City on July 31, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Each year, the State Department transfers money by the end of September to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, known as Unrwa, which provides aid to Palestinian refugees across the Middle East. Earlier this year, the State Department released $60 million of $350 million allocated for the agency, but Mr. Kushner and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, have decided not to give the remaining $290 million, said Mr. Harden, who was briefed on the plans and oversaw projects in the Palestinian territories for more than a decade.

The decision was made this month at a meeting between the officials, Mr. Harden said. Mr. Pompeo argued against cutting the funding so drastically, but Mr. Kushner took a strong stance and won out, he added.

By Edward Wong
The New York Times

Residents of the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk, lined up to receive food supplies, in Damascus, Syria, in 2014. Credit UNRWA, via Associated Press

“What we’re seeing right now is a capricious move that has a very high risk of unsettling the region,” Mr. Harden said, noting that the relief agency supports about five million refugees across the Middle East.

Mr. Kushner has been working on a proposal for a peace process in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and is seeking a way to get Palestinian leaders to drop demands for the right of most or all of the five million refugees to return to land now under Israel’s control.

The vast majority of the five million are descendants of the original displaced Palestinians, and the United Nations aid agency officially considers all of them refugees, consistent with international law and United Nations refugee protocols, said Peter Mulrean, director of the Unrwa Representative Office at the United Nations.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference following the extraord

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a news conference following the extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey. (photo credit: REUTERS/OSMAN ORSAL)

Mr. Kushner and other American officials are seeking to change that designation by the United Nations agency, in hopes it will alter the debate over who has the right of return. Those American officials also believe that defunding the aid agency will give them leverage to force Palestinian leaders to drop or reduce the demand for right-of-return, which is one of the greatest points of contention between Israeli and Palestinian officials, Mr. Harden said.

Asked about the decision on Thursday night, a State Department official declined to comment.

The United States is the biggest donor to the United Nations agency, providing about 25 percent of the annual funding. The rest comes from European and Middle Eastern nations, among others.

The Trump administration announced last week that it was diverting $200 million set aside for Palestinian aid in the West Bank and Gaza. That money had been appropriated by Congress to the Agency for International Development and is part of a package of assistance given annually to help the Palestinians. About $35 million of assistance in this channel is still likely to go forward, Mr. Harden said.

Elizabeth Campbell, a spokeswoman for the United Nations relief agency, said that it had not yet been informed by the Trump administration that the government intended to end all financial support.

“We remain grateful for the funding that the United States has provided thus far,” she said.

Ms. Campbell noted that the agency provided food assistance to half the population in Gaza, among others, and ensured that all children there had access to education.

“Unrwa is a public good, providing critical services, such as vaccinations and prenatal care, that are otherwise unavailable to refugees,” she said.

At a security conference in Washington on Tuesday, Nikki R. Haley, the United States ambassador to the United Nations, was asked about reports that the administration intended to end funding for the relief agency. The decision was first reported by Foreign Policy on Tuesday.

“First of all, you’re looking at the fact that there’s an endless number of refugees that continue to get assistance,” said Ms. Haley, who has been a critic of the agency. “But more importantly, the Palestinians continue to bash America.”

Ms. Haley said she had made a point of showing Mr. Trump the list of countries to which the United States provides donations, and then mentioning that not all of those countries voted in support of the United States at the United Nations. She said the lack of support from Palestinian leaders recently had been particularly galling.

Last week, John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, visited Israel and was equally critical of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, calling it “a failed mechanism.”

“I think it is long overdue that we have taken steps to reduce funding,” Mr. Bolton said, according to Reuters.

Mr. Harden said the government of Israel had traditionally opposed moves to cut United States funding to the agency, and Israeli leaders could still call American officials to try to persuade them to change their minds.

Gardiner Harris contributed reporting from Washington, and Rick Gladstone from New York.

A child works at a shop across from a poster of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat

U.S. envoy Kushner calls UNRWA corrupt, inefficient, unhelpful for peace

A Palestinian woman takes part in a protest against possible reductions of the services and aid offered by United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), in front of UNRWA headquarters in Gaza City August 16, 2015. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)


North Korea tells U.S. denuclearization talks may fall apart (They should know) — Who’s running North Korea?

August 28, 2018

North Korean officials have warned in a letter to the United States that denuclearization talks were “again at stake and may fall apart”, CNN reported on Tuesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

Image may contain: 2 people
Kim Yong Chol

The letter was delivered directly to U.S Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and stated that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s government felt that the process could not move forward.

“The U.S. is still not ready to meet (North Korean) expectations in terms of taking a step forward to sign a peace treaty,” CNN reported, citing sources.

The 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving U.S.-led U.N. forces technically still at war with North Korea.

The North has long made clear that it sees an official end to the state of war as crucial to lowering tensions on the Korean peninsula.

The United States has been reluctant to declare an end to the Korean War until after North Korea abandons its nuclear weapons program.

The Washington Post reported on Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump called off a visit to North Korea by Pompeo after the latter received a belligerent letter from a senior North Korean official just hours after the trip was announced last week.

CNN reported that the letter was sent by the former head of North Korea’s spy agency, Kim Yong Chol, but it was not known how it was sent. The Washington Post said North Korea had been increasingly communicating through its U.N. mission.

CNN reported that the letter also mentioned that if a compromise could not be reached and the nascent talks crumbles, North Korea could resume “nuclear and missile activities”.

On Sunday, North Korea’s state media accused the United States of “double-dealing” and “hatching a criminal plot” but did not mention Pompeo’s canceled visit.

The Washington Post said the exact contents of the message were unclear, but it was sufficiently belligerent that Trump and Pompeo decided to call off the planned trip.

The trip had been announced the previous day for this week and Pompeo had intended to introduce a newly named special envoy, Stephen Biegun, to his North Korean counterparts.

The White House referred queries on the Washington Post report to the State Department, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In cancelling Pompeo’s trip, Trump publicly acknowledged for the first time that his effort to get North Korea to denuclearize had stalled since his June 12 summit with its leader, Kim Jong Un {nL2N1VF10N]

U.S. intelligence and defense officials have repeatedly expressed doubts about North Korea’s willingness to give up its nuclear weapons and did not expect Pompeo’s trip to yield positive results.


Washington Post: Why Trump cancelled Pompeo’s trip to North Korea

August 28, 2018

Last Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced he was departing on his fourth trip to Pyongyang. On Friday, just hours before Pompeo was supposed to leave, President Trump tweeted that the trip was off. The cancellation came after a top North Korean official sent a secret letter to Pompeo that convinced both he and Trump the visit was not likely to succeed.

Pompeo received the letter from Kim Yong Chol, vice chairman of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party Central Committee, on Friday morning, and showed it to Trump in the White House, two senior administration officials confirmed. The exact contents of the message are unclear, but it was sufficiently belligerent that Trump and Pompeo decided to call off Pompeo’s journey, where he was set to introduce his newly announced special envoy, Stephen Biegun, to his North Korean counterparts.

By Josh Rogin

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told CNN that Pompeo was in the room Friday afternoon when Trump tweeted he was cancelling Pompeo’s trip because Trump felt “we are not making sufficient progress with respect to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Reporters also spotted Andrew Kim, a top CIA Asia official who has traveled with Pompeo to Pyongyang, heading into the West Wing on Friday.

Officials also declined to say how the letter was transmitted, but North Korea has been increasingly communicating through its U.N. mission, known as the “New York Channel.” Privately, Trump and Kim Jong Un have been exchanging a series of letters, some couriered by Pompeo himself. Trump’s latest letter, which North Korea has now responded to, encouraged the Kim regime to make more progress on denuclearization while warning against further backsliding.

In his Friday tweets, Trump also blamed the Chinese government for North Korea’s lack of cooperation. But the fact that Trump acknowledged publicly the talks were not going well was a huge reversal for the president. He and Pompeo have repeatedly claimed progress was being made.

Trump isn’t expected to totally abandon the diplomacy he began in his June 12 Singapore summit with Kim Jong Un. But unless Pyongyang responds positively to his latest move, Trump could side with officials who want to apply more pressure to the Kim regime through increased sanctions or other means, including National Security Adviser John Bolton.

“I don’t know that the president would ever admit that it’s over,” one senior administration said. “But if the North Koreans don’t move the ball forward, Bolton will argue to Trump, ‘You don’t have to admit you were wrong, but we need to start escalating against them to force them to keep their commitments.’”

The Pompeo trip was meant to negotiate a step-for-step deal with Pyongyang. North Korea wants the United States to issue a declaration to end the Korean War, and the Trump administration wants the Kim regime to issue a declaration of its nuclear and missile programs and assets.

Bolton and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis are opposed to Trump issuing a declaration of the end of the Korean War at this time, several officials said. They both believe that North Korea should go first, and that any declaration from Pyongyang should be verified before the United States grants further concessions. Bolton was not in the room when Trump posted his tweets, but he was opposed to the trip from the start.

Bolton believes any concessions, including face-to-face meetings, are seen by the North Koreans as signs of weakness and are therefore unhelpful. Mattis believes that issuing such a declaration without thinking through all implications could negatively impact U.S.-South Korean military preparedness on the peninsula. The State Department argues that the declaration is only a political step, far short of a peace treaty, which would come much later.

Meanwhile, there’s a contentious interagency debate over what exactly North Korea is currently doing with its nuclear and missile programs. There’s no single U.S. government assessment, so different U.S. agencies have different takes on how aggressively North Korea is backsliding, and even over what metrics should be used to evaluate the lack of progress.

There’s also rising concern inside the Trump administration that the South Korean government of Moon Jae-in is increasingly willing to go it alone, further deepening its détente with Pyongyang regardless of whether Washington approves. Moon is planning a visit to Pyongyang next month. His government is considering opening up a representative office there, along with other new cooperation efforts.

“We have a big problem coming with South Korea,” a senior official involved in the talks told Stanford University’s Daniel Sneider. “It has reached the point where the South Koreans are determined to press ahead. They no longer feel the need to act in parallel with us.”

State Department, Pentagon and National Security Council spokespersons all declined to comment. Privately, several officials told me they consider the entire North Korea diplomatic engagement a low-probability effort because they doubt Kim Jong Un has actually made the decision to denuclearize. But there’s broad agreement that this effort should continue until proven futile, considering the alternatives.

Joel Wit, a former North Korea nuclear negotiator, said that the Trump administration should not tank possible progress over issues like sequencing, but rather should let Pompeo, Biegun and their team get to work hammering out a deal.

“We should be negotiating on a sustained basis and have Pompeo ready to roll when his involvement is necessary,” he said. “This whole thing about who goes first is silly. We want them to go first, they want us to go first, and somewhere in between we both go.”

If Pompeo and Biegun aren’t able to show Trump they can make progress, in the coming weeks the president may approve a much tougher stance that risks escalating tensions with both Pyongyang and Seoul. But right now, it’s up to Kim Jong Un to make the next move.


Iran and Syria sign deal for military cooperation

August 27, 2018

Iran and Syria signed a deal for military cooperation in a meeting between the defence ministers of the two countries in Damascus, the Tasnim news agency reported on Monday.

Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami travelled to Damascus on Sunday for a two-day visit, meeting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and senior military officials, Tasnim reported.

Iranian Defence Minister Amir Hatami (L) meeting with his Syrian counterpart Abdullah Ayoub (R) in the capital Damascus. (AFP)

Iranian forces have backed Assad in the country’s civil war.

Tasnim did not provide any details about the military cooperation deal.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton said last week that Iran should remove its forces from Syria.

Senior Iranian officials have said their military presence in Syria is at the invitation of the Assad government and they have no immediate plans to withdraw.


Turkish lira firms as markets reopen with eye on US row, Erdogan’s grip on monetary policy

August 27, 2018

The Turkish lira gained slightly against the dollar on Monday as markets reopened after last week’s holiday, with investors set to refocus on a bitter dispute between Ankara and Washington over an American pastor being tried in Turkey.

The lira, which has weakened 37 percent against the US currency this year, firmed to 5.9905 from Friday’s close of 6.00. (AFP/File)

The lira, which has weakened 37 percent against the US currency this year, firmed to 5.9905 from Friday’s close of 6.00 — the same level at which it stood a week ago when Turkish markets closed for the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha.

The slide has been driven by investor concerns over President Tayyip Erdogan’s grip on monetary policy and the standoff with Washington over the fate of pastor Andrew Brunson, being tried in Turkey on terrorism charges that he denies.

In his first comments on the currency crisis since before the holiday, Erdogan said on Saturday the commitment and determination of Turks was the guarantee needed to combat attacks on Turkey’s economy.

Erdogan has cast the lira slide as the result of an “economic war” against Turkey, a comment echoed by his spokesman last week when US President Donald Trump ruled out concessions to Ankara in return for Brunson’s release.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, subsequently said Ankara had made a “big mistake” by not freeing Brunson and voiced skepticism about Qatar’s offer of $15 billion in investment support for Turkey.


U.S. official says EU aid for Iran sends ‘wrong message’

August 25, 2018

The top U.S. envoy on Iran criticized a European Union decision to give $20.7 million in aid to Tehran on Friday, saying it sent “the wrong message at the wrong time,” and he urged Brussels to help Washington end the Iranian threat to global stability.

Image may contain: 1 person, suit

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, and European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini

“Foreign aid from European taxpayers perpetuates the regime’s ability to neglect the needs of its people and stifles meaningful policy changes,” Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, said in a statement.

“The Iranian people face very real economic pressures caused by their government’s corruption, mismanagement, and deep investment in terrorism and foreign conflicts,” he added. “The United States and the European Union should be working together instead to find lasting solutions that truly support Iran’s people and end the regime’s threats to regional and global stability.”

The EU decision on Thursday to provide 18 million euros ($20.7 million) in aid to Iran was aimed at offsetting the impact of U.S. sanctions as European countries try to salvage the 2015 agreement that saw Tehran limit its nuclear ambitions.

President Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the nuclear deal in May and is reimposing sanctions on Tehran, even as other parties to the accord are trying to find ways to save the agreement.

The EU funding is part of a wider package of 50 million euros earmarked in the EU budget for Iran, which has threatened to stop complying with the nuclear accord if it fails to see the economic benefit of relief from sanctions.

The United States is pressing other countries to comply with its sanctions.

“More money in the hands of the ayatollah means more money to conduct assassinations in those very European countries,” Hook said in his statement.

U.S. national security adviser John Bolton told Reuters during a visit to Israel earlier this week that the return of U.S. sanctions was having a strong effect on Iran’s economy and popular opinion.

The U.S. sanctions dusted off this month targeted Iran’s car industry, trade in gold and other precious metals, and purchases of U.S. dollars crucial to international financing and investment and trade relations. Farther-reaching sanctions are to follow in November on Iran’s banking sector and oil exports.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Eric Beech and Leslie Adler