Posts Tagged ‘nuclear weapons’

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin want to create a new world order

July 22, 2018
We should take their vision of unfettered state sovereignty seriously

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Trump supporters at a MAGA event in Pennsylvania in March, and supporters of Vladimir Putin at a pre-election rally in Moscow earlier this year © FT montage; Getty ImagesBy Anne-Marie Slaughter

The US press coverage of the Trump-Putin summit— variously dubbed the “surrender summit” and the “treason summit” — has focused almost entirely on the president selling out his own intelligence institutions and US democracy itself to an adversary.


It is self-evident to all Americans who came of age in the cold war, and to many born since, that Russia is an adversary. But it is time to stretch our imaginations and picture the world — and the world order — that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin would create if they could, and to take that vision seriously.

The Helsinki summit was a meeting between two macho megalomaniacs. Each identifies his country’s interests with his own personal aggrandisement. But both men also tap into a deep current of anger, resentment and nostalgia for an imagined past that was orderly, predictable and patriarchal. In this lost era, men were the heads of households and nations; their masculinity was measured in toughness, swagger and spoils. Women were obedient and decorative. White people were superior to non-whites; children married within the tribe in clearly demarcated cultures.

From this perspective, Putin supporters in Russia and Trump supporters in the US are ideological allies, working together to elect like-minded parties across Europe and to support leaders, from Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, who embrace the same values and methods. They reject a free press and the rule of law, preferring a tame media and loyal judges. They favour symbolism over substance; and rule in the name of tradition, nationalism and ethnic purity.

This ideology of authoritarian patriarchy rejects any constraint on the ruler at home or the state abroad. Mr Trump and Mr Putin support a return to an era of unfettered state sovereignty. They would dismantle international and supranational organisations of all kinds and return to multipolar “Great Power” politics, in which alliances shift and are transactional. As Mr Trump has said, America’s allies can be “foes” on some issues and “friends” on others, without any overarching loyalties based on niceties like a shared commitment to liberal democracy.

Above all, nations would not be subject to globalist dictates about how they should treat the people within their borders. They would control and protect their definition of national purity.

From this vantage point, Nato and the EU are intolerable exemplars of the “liberal international order” — an order built in support of a set of anti-nationalist values that were encapsulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The preamble to the North Atlantic Treaty reaffirms the parties’ “faith in the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,” including the universal principles of “democracy, individual liberty and the rule of law”.

Similarly, the EU proclaims as “fundamental values”, and indeed requirements for membership in the union, “respect for human dignity and human rights, freedom, democracy, equality and the rule of law”. Not national dignity and rights, but human.

The Russian president may indeed have some kind of hold over Mr Trump, as former CIA director John Brennan has suggested. But opposition to the current international order does not require a scene out of a spy novel. The extreme right of the Republican party has been exaggerating the danger of the UN for decades. Mr Trump is only taking their views mainstream.

A 2017 poll shows more than half of Republicans say the US and Russia should work more closely together. That is still less than 20 per cent of the population, but they are “America first-ers”, the would-be architects of a new world. And they are reaching out to Britain-firsters, Hungary-firsters, France-firsters, Israel-firsters — wherever nationalists are to be found. They seek a return to the rules of the 19th century.

And why not? The post-second-world-war order is just 70 years old — a blip in the history of multi-polar diplomacy. The Soviet Union lasted 70 years. It collapsed but Russia endures. The EU could collapse and European countries would endure. Nato could collapse and transatlantic relations would endure, on a bilateral and plurilateral basis.

It is incumbent upon those of us who see an arc of progress bending towards peace and universal human rights to appreciate the full scope of the threat posed to our 20th-century global architecture. Our response has to be more than defending the status quo. We must begin sketching an affirmative counter-vision of state and non-state institutions that empower their members more than they constrain them and solve problems effectively together.

The writer is president of New America and an FT contributing editor

Articles we at Peace and Freedom have previously marked as “New World Order” are listed below:

 (Trump made a deal on ZTE at the personal request of Xi Jinping but the U.S. Congress may undermine or destroy the deal)

Peace and Freedom Note: Donald Trump wants a “New World Order” which includes a totally new way of looking at China, free and fair trade without tariffs or government support to businesses, strong rights of nations to decide for themselves without joining international bodies like the EU, and a new balance between liberal ideology and free and fair media reporting and government. he wants a future of jobs and manufacturing in the U.S. Trump doesn’t want the U.S. to be the world’s piggy bank. He in not likely to roll over and play dead.

China wants to dominate global trade, manufacturing and technology; according to Made in China 2025. What China cannot create in technology it has no qualms about stealing.


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Above: China’s stealth fighter


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See also:

Understanding China’s perpetual wars against its neighbours.


Rouhani says conflict with Iran would be ‘mother of all wars’

July 22, 2018

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani warned the United States not to “play with the lion’s tail” on Sunday, saying that conflict with Iran would be the “mother of all wars”.

Addressing his US counterpart Donald Trump, Rouhani said: “You declare war and then you speak of wanting to support the Iranian people.

© Iranian Presidency/AFP | A handout picture from the Iranian presidency on July 22, 2018, shows President Hassan Rouhani (R) with Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in the capital Tehran

“You cannot provoke the Iranian people against their own security and interests,” he said in a televised speech at a gathering of Iranian diplomats in Tehran.

Rouhani repeated his warning that Iran could shut down the strategic Strait of Hormuz, a vital shipping lane for international oil supplies.

“We have always guaranteed the security of this strait. Do not play with the lion’s tail, you will regret it forever,” he said.

“Peace with Iran would be the mother of all peace and war with Iran would be the mother of all wars.”

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An Iranian made ballistic missile is launched from Yemen by Houthi rebels into Saudi Arabia — Reuters file photo

Rouhani spoke ahead of a much-trailed speech by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo later Sunday, seen as part of Washington’s efforts to foment unrest against the Islamic government in Iran.

The US is seeking to tighten the economic screws on Iran, abandoning a landmark 2015 nuclear deal and reimposing stringent sanctions.

Washington has also launched concerted propaganda efforts in Iran, including social media campaigns, designed to exacerbate popular discontent.

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“Whenever Europe has sought an agreement with us, the White House has sown discord,” Rouhani said.

But he added: “We must not think that the White House will remain forever at this level of opposition to international law, against the Muslim world.”



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

July 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Arab News: Nuclear bomb ‘on Iran’s agenda’

July 19, 2018

Iran has increased its stockpile of uranium and boosted its ability to enrich it to weapons grade, the head of its atomic agency admitted on Wednesday.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the regime had imported 550 tons of uranium before the 2015 agreement to curb its nuclear program. It had acquired about 400 tons more since then, bringing the total to between 900 and 950 tons.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the new factory did not in itself break the terms of the agreement. (Reuters)

Iran has also built a factory that can produce rotors for up to 60 IR-6 centrifuges a day for uranium enrichment, Salehi said.

The announcements came a month after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he had ordered agencies to prepare to increase uranium-enrichment capacity if the nuclear deal falls apart after Washington’s withdrawal.

Under the agreement, which was also signed by Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

The other signatories have been scrambling to save the deal. Iran has said it will wait to see what they can do, but has signaled it is ready to put its enrichment activities back on track.

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The man who may have started it all: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran from 2005 to 2013

Salehi insisted the new factory did not break the terms of the agreement. “Instead of building this factory in the next seven or eight years, we built it during the negotiations but have not started it,” he said.

Salehi said last month that Iran had begun working on infrastructure for building advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility.

The announcements suggest that a nuclear bomb is on Iran’s agenda, Oubai Shahbandar, a Syrian-American analyst and fellow at the New America Foundation’s International Security Program, told Arab News

“Iran’s negotiating strategy here seems to be pegged to pressuring the EU to provide European businesses protection from complying with renewed US sanctions,” he said.

“IR-6 centrifuges are relatively complex and if Tehran moves forward with enhancing their capacity to mass-produce faster advanced centrifuges, they could easily establish a position to breakout quickly toward nuclear weapon production, if the decision is made.

“The capacity to build en masse more advanced centrifuges in the future doesn’t violate the deal itself, but it sends a strong political signal that nuclear weaponization could very well still be on the agenda in Tehran.”

Arab News


Iran builds new centrifuge rotor factory: nuclear chief

July 18, 2018

Iran has built a factory that can produce rotors for up to 60 centrifuges a day, the head of its atomic agency said on Wednesday, upping the stakes in a confrontation with Washington over the Islamic Republic’s nuclear work.

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FILE PHOTO: Head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi attends the lecture “Iran after the agreement: Hopes & Concerns” in Vienna, Austria, September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo

The announcement came a month after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he had ordered agencies to prepare to increase uranium enrichment capacity if a nuclear deal with world powers falls apart after Washington’s withdrawal from the pact.

Under the terms of the 2015 agreement, which was also signed by Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.


Iran's nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, April, 9, 2007. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

Iran’s nuclear enrichment facility in Natanz, April, 9, 2007. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)

The other signatories have been scrambling to save the accord, arguing it offers the best way to stop Iran developing a nuclear bomb.

Iran has said it will wait to see what the other powers can do, but has signaled it is ready to get its enrichment activities back on track. It has regularly said its nuclear work is just for electricity generation and other peaceful projects.

Ali Akbar Salehi, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, said the new factory did not in itself break the terms of the agreement.

“Instead of building this factory in the next seven or eight years, we built it during the negotiations but did not start it,” Salehi, said, according to state media.

Image result for Natanz nuclear plant, photos

The man who may have started it all: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, President of Iran from 2005 to 2013

“Of course, the [Supreme Leader] was completely informed and we gave him the necessary information at the time. And now that he has given the order this factory has started all of its work.”

The factory would have the capacity to build rotors for up to 60 IR-6 centrifuges per day, he added.

Last month, Salehi announced that Iran has begun working on infrastructure for building advanced centrifuges at its Natanz facility.

Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Andrew Heavens



If Iran Gets Back to Nukes, Israel Is Better Prepared to Strike

July 17, 2018

New weapons and friends make an attack on Tehran’s nuclear facilities a more thinkable proposition.

Boom?Photographer: Mario Tama/Getty Images

In September 2012, standing at the podium before the United Nations General Assembly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel made one of the forum’s more memorable appearances while holding up a placard showing a cartoon-like bomb. “At this late hour, there is only one way to peacefully prevent Iran from getting atomic bombs — that’s by placing a clear red line on Iran’s nuclear program,” Netanyahu said. Then he drew a red line on the diagram just under the words “Final Stage.”

It’s an image we should bear in mind as the fate of the Iran nuclear deal hangs in the balance.

Netanyahu’s UN speech was the peak of his public diplomacy efforts to mobilize the international community to take action against Tehran’s nuclear program. The implicit threat was as clear as the red line he drew: If the world would not act, then Israel would have no choice but to carry out a military strike.

QuicktakeIran’s Nuclear Program

With the signing of the interim nuclear deal between the global powers and Iran the following year, Netanyahu’s threat never materialized.

Fast forward to today. With the possible collapse of the nuclear deal in the next few months — the result of President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from it — we may well see renewed threats by both Israel and the U.S. to use force against Iran. This is especially true if Tehran decides to resume its production and accumulation of enriched uranium in similar quantities and purity levels to what it produced prior to the deal.

An Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities remains a remote possibility. The Europeans may yet prove successful in saving the deal. Even if they don’t, the Iranians are unlikely to try and “break out” to the bomb; and even if they do, they are still more than a year away from producing enough fissile material for a single weapon.

But there can be no doubt that Israel is better positioned today to carry out an effective strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities, and to face the certain repercussions, than it was six years ago.

This fact should be weighed in the balance as the international community — and Iran — contemplate their response to the U.S. withdrawal from the pact.

In the early years of this decade, when the military option was being seriously considered by the Israeli government, many doubted its ability to carry out an effective strike that would cause significant damage to the Iranian nuclear program.

Unlike with the Syrian and Iraqi nuclear programs, where a single strike on a single facility was enough to eliminate both countries’ nuclear potential, the Iranian program is comprised of dozens of sites spread across the country — one bigger than France, Germany and Spain combined and located 1,000 miles away from Israel.

Moreover, certain key Iranian facilities are not only protected by advanced air defense systems but are also heavily fortified. For this reason, military analysts assessed that an effective attack would require repeated waves of air strikes, possibly lasting over several days, thus requiring Israeli warplanes to travel back and forth thousands of miles in order to refuel and re-arm. That would be a challenging operation even for a superpower.

What’s more, such strikes would have set off fierce retaliation from Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, including the firing of thousands of rockets and missiles with a range covering all of Israel. At the time, Israel didn’t have effective defense systems that could address this extensive missile threat. Iron Dome, which is designed to intercept rockets with a range of up to 60 miles, only entered its operational stage in 2011. Development of the David’s Sling defense system, which is designed to intercept missiles with a range of nearly 200 miles — needed for the missiles in Hezbollah’s arsenal that threaten Tel Aviv and various strategic installations and national infrastructure — was then only in its infancy.

Finally, the aftermath of any Israeli strike would have included not only in a long war with Hezbollah but also in strong diplomatic condemnations. Israel would have needed an American diplomatic umbrella to address various hostile initiatives in the U.N. Security Council, as well as urgent military assistance to be able to withstand a prolonged conflict with Hezbollah. It is far from certain that the Barack Obama administration would have provided such protection.

Today, things are very different: Israel is better positioned in every way to carry out such a strike and to deal with its aftermath.

Operationally, the warming of relations between Israel and the Gulf countries over the past few years, first and foremost with Saudi Arabia, opens a whole range of possibilities to the Israeli Air Force. There is little doubt that Saudi Arabia would give a green light for Israeli warplanes to pass through its airspace, or that Israeli air tankers would be allowed to hover over the Arabian Peninsula in order to refuel IAF jets.

In fact, given the strategic relations that have been formed in recent years and the current alignment of interests, it’s not inconceivable that the Saudis (and potentially other Gulf countries) would go even one step further: allowing Israeli warplanes targeting Iranian nuclear targets to take off and land at Gulf Cooperation Council air bases. This could be a game changer in terms of the Israeli air force’s ability to effectively destroy Iran’s dozens of nuclear facilities.

Militarily, Israel has made a giant leap forward in recent years in terms of its ability to deliver more bombs, more accurately and to more targets in a given time period. On top of that, last December Israel declared its fleet of U.S.-made F-35 stealth fighters operational. The fleet is still small, just 12 warplanes, but Israel plans to have two full squadrons operational by 2024.

It is true that the Iranians have strengthened their defensive capabilities as well, receiving S-300 batteries from Russia that have been deployed around their most strategic facilities. However, Israel believes that it could overcome those defenses even without the use of its new F-35s, let alone with them.

In addition, the Trump administration — unlike the Obama White House — is likely to agree to provide Israel with “bunker-buster” bombs that would be essential to destroying key elements of the Iranian nuclear program, specifically the Fordow enrichment facility, which is buried in a mountain tens of meters underground.

Israel is also better positioned today to address the aftermath of such an attack. First, it’s certain that the Trump administration would provide full protection in the Security Council, while also delivering as much materiel as necessary to sustain a long Israeli military campaign.

Second, while Israel could face significant damage as a result of heavy barrages of Hezbollah’s ever-increasing supply of missiles, the proven capabilities and wide deployment of Iron Dome batteries, along with the David’s Sling system being operational, make Israel’s preparedness significantly higher than it was a few years ago.

None of this is to imply that just because Israel is now better positioned to carry out a strike on Iran means that it will inevitably do so. The chances remain low for now. There are many domestic constraints as well as international factors that could prevent Israel from eventually launching such a strike, or even make it redundant (such as international pressure forcing Iran toward restraint).

However, Israel’s enhanced capabilities do allow Netanyahu to take a more aggressive approach toward Tehran, knowing that if push comes to shove, the prospects of a strike succeeding will be significantly higher than it was when he held up that cartoon bomb at the UN.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

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As Trump engages Putin, his deal with Kim collapses

July 16, 2018

After the Singapore summit, North Korea did not reciprocate US concessions.


US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un react during their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018 [Anthony Wallace/Pool via Reuters]
US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un react during their summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018 [Anthony Wallace/Pool via Reuters]

As US President Donald Trump sits down for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, he doesn’t seem to have much to show for a month and a half of international high-level meetings and diplomatic effort.

Basking in his self-proclaimed “art of the deal” acumen, the US president has upended the international system by alienating allies and reaching out directly to foes. 

In the span of just a few weeks, Trump managed to anger US allies in Europe and North America, calling Canadian PM Justin Trudeau “weak“, identifying the EU as a “foe” and putting a US-UK trade deal in doubt.

Meanwhile, he has heaped praise on autocratic leaders the world over, boasting about his“very good relationship” with Russia’s Vladimir Putin and describing North Korea’s Kim Jung-un as “very honourable”. 

Yet, there is little evidence to suggest his “fire and fury” diplomacy is working. Trump’s self-proclaimed success in engaging North Korea is on the verge of becoming a failure, exposing the paucity of his strongman diplomacy.

Much against the advice of some allies and leading experts, Trump pushed through with an unprecedented summit with the North Korean leader without any preconditions.

The outcome of the historic meeting in Singapore was a generic statement, which reaffirmed both sides’ commitment to ending the decades-long conflict in the Korean Peninsula.

Pyongyang made no specific commitment to denuclearisation, but managed to dampen its isolation and enhance its international standing by holding direct talks with the US leadership.

To the surprise of almost everyone, including North Korea, Trump provided an additional concession, which rattled allies such as South Korea and delighted rivals such as China. He offered to cancel upcoming joint military exercises with Seoul in order to build confidence with Pyongyang.

China, which has opposed US military presence in the Korean Peninsula, welcomed Trump’s concessions, while gradually relaxing enforcement of sanctions against its North Korean ally.

Having prematurely secured major concessions from the US, North Korea has found little incentive to reciprocate and has effectively undermined Trump’s “maximum pressure” strategy.

In late June, reports emerged detailing Pyongyang’s expansion of nuclear facilities and its arsenal in advance of the Singapore summit. Trump was quick to respond to growing doubts about the results of his diplomatic efforts with North Korea, saying talks were “going well“.

This strategic debacle came out on full display during the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s third visit to Pyongyang in early July. The US diplomat not only failed to secure any concrete promises from his hosts, but was also snubbed by the North Korean supreme leader.

When the US delegation brought up the issue of complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation (CVID) of North Korea, Kim pushed back vociferously.

Shortly after Pompeo’s departure, devoid of diplomatic niceties, the North Korean government decried the meeting as “very concerning”, with both sides now stuck in a “dangerous phase that might rattle our willingness for denuclearisation that had been firm”.

With characteristic defiance, North Korea made it crystal clear that it won’t give up its nuclear weapons under any circumstances.

As a result, Washington is confronting a diplomatic cul-de-sac in the Korean Peninsula. A visibly dejected Pompeo admitted that the “road ahead will be difficult and challenging” since it has now become clear what North Korea’s red lines are.

The problem is that if Trump were to choose to return to his prior brinkmanship, threatening North Korea with “preemptive war”, the US will almost certainly find itself isolated this time. After all, Trump has helped transform the image of the North Korean supreme leader from a mad villain into a young peacemaker.

Moreover, it’s unlikely that the Kim regime or its key allies such as China and Russia, which have opposed military intervention and sanctions, will take Trump’s threats seriously this time. And as months go by, alongside Russia and China, key US allies such as South Korea will likely start pushing for the relaxation of sanctions in exchange for the de-escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

In retrospect, the Trump-Kim summit can end up as the formal, yet inadvertent, recognition of North Korea as the newest member of the club of nuclear powers. This is almost the complete opposite of what Trump promised: de-nuclearisation of North Korea. 

With diminishing bargaining power, what the Trump administration can best hope for, barring any major turn in events, is limited arms control arrangements with Pyongyang in exchange for massive economic benefits and precious diplomatic recognition.

It remains to be seen whether this would be acceptable to the US political establishment and some of its major allies such as Japan. What is clear is that, in exchange for a photo opportunity, Trump heavily undermined US strategic leverage over Pyongyang.

As Andrei Lankov, a leading expert on North Korea, wrote, the Trump administration is “heading towards a major debacle at remarkable speed, even faster than one expected.”

And if Kim, the leader of small, impoverished North Korea, is able to play Trump and get what he wants out of him, then what can we expect from a strongman like Putin?

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

Trump hopes ‘extraordinary relationship’ will result from Putin summit

July 16, 2018

President Donald Trump opened a summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday by predicting that their countries will end up having “an extraordinary relationship” but without mentioning Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election in his opening remarks.

“Our two countries, frankly, we have not been getting along well,” Trump said as he and Putin sat down at the Presidential Palace in Finland’s capital. “I really think the world wants to see us get along.”

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U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Helsinki, Finland July 16, 2018. (Reuters Photo)

Putin, for his part, said he and Trump have maintained regular contact, including talking by phone and meeting at international events. Speaking through a translator, the Russian leader said “the time has come to have a thorough discussion on various international problems and sensitive issues.”

The summit got underway hours after Trump blamed the United States, and not Russian election meddling or its annexation of Crimea, for a low-point in U.S.-Russia relations. The drama was playing out against a backdrop of fraying Western alliances, a new peak in the Russia investigation and fears that Moscow’s aggression may go unchallenged.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.

The summit, which was being closely monitored by rattled world capitals, was condemned in advance by members of Congress from both parties after the U.S. indictment last week of 12 Russian military intelligence officers accused of hacking Democrats in the 2016 election to help Trump’s presidential campaign. Undeterred, the American president was set to go face to face with Putin, the authoritarian leader for whom he has expressed admiration.

The summit started late because Putin arrived in Helsinki about a half hour behind schedule in another display of the Russian’s leader famous lack of punctuality. Trump seemed to return the favor by waiting until Putin had arrived at the palace before leaving his hotel. Putin has been late for past meetings with the pope and British Queen, among many others.

Trump and his aides have repeatedly tried to lower expectations about what the summit will achieve. He told CBS News that he didn’t “expect anything” from Putin, while his national security adviser said the U.S. wasn’t looking for any “concrete deliverables.” Trump told reporters during a breakfast Monday with Finland’s president that he thought the summit would go “fine.”

Trump said he and Putin would discuss a range of issues, from trade to the military, along with missiles and China. They shared a brief handshake before reporters were ushered out so they could begin their one-on-one talks in the palace’s opulent Gothic Hall.

They’ll continue their discussions with an expanded group of aides and over lunch in the Hall of Mirrors, once the emperor’s throne room. The leaders will conclude by taking questions at a joint news conference.

Observers have raised concerns about the fact that the leaders will be alone during their first meeting, but for a pair of interpreters, meaning there will be no corroborating witnesses to accurately represent what was said during the conversation.

The 72-year-old brash billionaire has been president for 18 months, while the former KGB officer, 65, has run Russia for the past 18 years.

The meeting comes as questions swirl about whether Trump will sharply and publicly rebuke his Russian counterpart for the election meddling that prompted a special counsel probe that Trump has repeatedly labeled a “witch hunt.”

After the bad-tempered NATO summit and a contentious trip by Trump to Britain, anxious European leaders may be relieved if not much comes out of the Helsinki meeting.

Those leaders are already fuming over Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on various countries, including Russia.

European Union President Donald Tusk called on the United States, China and Russia to work together to cool the global trade tensions, warning that they could spiral into violent “conflict and chaos.”

After a stormy NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump was accused by critics of cozying up to Putin while undermining the alliance.

But, over breakfast with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, he insisted NATO “has never been stronger” and “never been more together” thanks to his insistence on all allies paying their fair share.

Trump is also under pressure from Britain to press Putin over the nerve agent poisoning of four people in the city of Salisbury.

Many fear that Trump — in his eagerness to prove that he was right to seek the summit with Putin despite U.S. political opposition — may give up too much ground.

Ahead of the talks, Trump has refused to personally commit to the U.S. refusal to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving open the possibility of a climb-down linked to a promise by Putin to somehow rein in Iranian influence in Syria.

If Washington were to de facto accept Russia’s 2014 land-grab, this would break with decades of U.S. policy and send tremors through NATO’s exposed eastern flank.


Trump sits down with Putin

July 16, 2018

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin arrived at the presidential palace in Finland for a long-awaited summit on Monday after Trump blamed Washington’s own past “foolishness and stupidity” for bad relations.

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US President Donald Trump meets with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Helsinki, Finland, July 16, 2018. Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

The Russian foreign ministry “liked” Trump’s comments on Twitter ahead of the summit, in which Trump denounced the investigation into Russian meddling in American elections as well as previous U.S. policy.

“Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” wrote Trump.

The two leaders were due to start their summit in the Finland capital Helsinki with no one else in the room apart from interpreters. They were scheduled to hold a working lunch accompanied by aides later on Monday before speaking to media.

The Kremlin said it did not expect much from the meeting but hoped it would be a “first step” to resolving a crisis in ties.

“Presidents Trump and Putin respect each other and they get along well,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said. “There is no clear agenda. It will be determined by the heads of state themselves as they go along.”

The summit comes at a time when relations between the two superpowers are widely seen on both sides to be at their lowest point since the Cold War. Trump has repeatedly said it would be in the U.S. interest to improve those ties.

Critics and Trump’s own advisers have urged Trump to use the summit to press Putin hard about “malign” activities, from annexing Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula to interfering in Western elections, to poisoning a spy in England, which Moscow denies.

During a breakfast meeting with Finland’s president before the meeting with Putin in the Finnish capital, Trump appeared upbeat. Asked what he would say to Putin, Trump said: “We’ll do just fine, thank you.”

While Trump has been abroad since last week, the special prosecutor investigating allegations that Russia interfered to help him win the 2016 presidential election indicted 12 Russians on Friday for stealing Democratic Party documents.


Trump’s foes at home have been scathing about his apparent refusal to criticize Putin. His 2016 opponent Hillary Clinton tweeted: “Great World Cup. Question for President Trump as he meets Putin: Do you know which team you play for?”

Russia denies interfering in the U.S. presidential election. The state RIA news agency quoted a Russian source as saying Moscow was “ready to discuss, ready to undertake mutual obligations of non-intervention into internal matters”.

Trump has said he will raise the election meddling but does not expect to get anywhere. He has repeatedly noted that Putin denies it, while also saying that it is alleged to have taken place before he became president.

For Putin, that the summit is even happening despite Russia’s semi-pariah status among some Americans and U.S. allies is a geopolitical win.

The countries are expected to discuss the prospect of extending a nuclear disarmament treaty, and the war in Syria, where Russian-backed forces of President Bashar al-Assad have advanced in the south of the country in recent weeks despite a ceasefire brokered by Moscow and Washington under Trump.

The summit caps a trip abroad during which Trump sternly criticized NATO allies for failing to spend enough on their militaries and embarrassed British Prime Minister Theresa May by saying she refused to take his advice about how to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU. He referred to the European Union itself as a “foe” in trade, and repeatedly criticized it.

In some of the strongest words yet reflecting the unease of Washington’s traditional allies, Germany’s foreign minister said on Monday Europe could not rely on Trump.

“We can no longer completely rely on the White House,” Heiko Maas told the Funke newspaper group. “To maintain our partnership with the USA we must readjust it. The first clear consequence can only be that we need to align ourselves even more closely in Europe.”

Trump has predicted he will be accused of being too soft on Putin no matter how the summit goes.

“If I was given the great city of Moscow as retribution for all of the sins and evils committed by Russia…I would return to criticism that it wasn’t good enough – that I should have gotten Saint Petersburg in addition!” he tweeted on Sunday.

Additonal reporting by Steve Holland in Helsinki and by Christian Lowe and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Peter Graff; Editing by Angus MacSwan


After no end of drama, Trump and Putin take to summit stage

July 15, 2018


Before coming to Europe, US President Donald Trump raised eyebrows by predicting that Monday’s historic Helsinki summit with Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin would be the “easiest” stage of his tour.

The rest of his trip, to Brussels and Britain, has indeed crackled with controversy so far.

But new indictments from an investigation into alleged Russian interference in US politics have dropped with embarrassing timing, focusing attention again on whether the Trump campaign may have benefited from Putin’s covert help to win the White House.

And it is far from the only charged issue to loom over the two leaders’ first full-blown encounter.

British accusations that Russia unleashed a deadly nerve agent in an English city, the fears of NATO allies that Trump is not serious about defending the Western alliance, and Putin’s support for the Syrian regime after years of civil war also form part of the crowded backdrop.

© AFP/File | Russian President Vladimir Putin will meet with US President Donald Trump in Helsinki on Monday

Putin will head to the Finnish capital on a diplomatic high after presiding over Sunday’s World Cup final in Moscow, basking in the glow of a trouble-free tournament that burnished Russia’s credentials.

Ahead of the leaders’ first one-on-one summit, the Kremlin said it considers Trump a “negotiating partner”.

“The state of bilateral relations is very bad,” Kremlin adviser Yuri Ushakov said on Friday. “We have to start to set them right.”

Trump meanwhile teed up the summit with a quiet weekend of golf at one of his courses in Scotland, a calm end to his stormy visit to Britain, where he shocked his hosts by attacking Prime Minister Theresa May’s strategy for Brexit.

The visit heaped more trouble on the transatlantic alliance after Trump ripped into NATO leaders in Brussels for not spending enough on defence, and rebuked Germany for building an energy pipeline from Russia which he said would leave Europe’s biggest economy beholden to Moscow.

Trump was dogged by protests during his four days in Britain, and more are scheduled in Finland.

But this time Trump will share the opprobrium with Putin, with the biggest rally — dubbed “Helsinki Calling!” — on Sunday to focus on issues that demonstrators say both presidents neglect: human rights, democracy, freedom of expression, inequality and the fate of refugees.

– ‘Mano a mano’ –

All eyes Insight into their relationship will be on offer when Trump and Putin hold a joint news conference on Monday afternoon after their meeting in the Gothic Hall of the Finnish presidential palace.

The talks are set to begin with only their interpreters in the room, before opening up to their delegations over a working lunch.

Allies are nervously waiting to see if Trump sidles up to the canny Russian leader in the same way he has embraced other autocrats such as China’s Xi Jinping, and even North Korea’s Kim Jong Un.

“Putin has proven himself to be incredibly savvy at reading personalities and characters,” said Alina Polyakova, a foreign policy fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, noting that Putin was trained as a KGB spy.

“He will praise Trump and try to bond with him in sort of a mano-a-mano way. Trump will be responsive to that tack,” she said.

On Friday, Trump said: “I’m not going in with high expectations, but we may come out with very surprising things.”

He also insisted that he had been “far tougher” with Russia than has been recognised by the “dishonest” media, and would “absolutely” bring up the question of election meddling.

– Don’t ‘wing it on your own’ –

Shortly after, news broke of the indictments of 12 Russian military intelligence agents for hacking Democrats during the 2016 elections.

Democratic leaders quickly called for Trump to cancel the summit in light of the indictments.

After that suggestion was rebuffed by the White House, the Democrats said Trump should at least ensure his national security team is alongside him with Putin at all times, “not wing it on your own”.

Some in Washington — along with US allies — are worried about what Trump might bargain away after he used a stormy G7 summit in Canada to ponder whether it was time to readmit Russia to the club and move past sanctions imposed over Moscow’s seizure of the Crimea region from Ukraine.

Putin has less reason to cheer from Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on countries including Russia, and from his decision to abandon a nuclear pact with Iran.

Trump also says he intends to pressure Putin over the rapid growth and modernisation of Russia’s nuclear arsenal.

But for Putin, merely getting Trump to sit across the table counts as “an informal recognition of Russia as a great power”, political analyst Alexei Malashenko said.