Posts Tagged ‘Russia’

Mnuchin calls on China, EU to make tariff concessions

July 21, 2018

US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday he will be pushing China and the EU to agree to a more “balanced” relationship on trade when he meets with finance ministers at the Group of 20 convention in Buenos Aires.

Mnuchin arrived in the Argentine capital at the end of a week in which US President Donald Trump has ramped up his inflammatory remarks and threats with regard global trade.

© AFP/File | US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin arrived in the Argentine capital at the end of a week in which US President Donald Trump has ramped up his inflammatory remarks and threats with regard global trade

Trump described China, the EU and Russia as trade “foes” and threatened to hammer the entire $500 billion in goods the US imports from China with punitive tariffs.

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

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

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

– ‘Tremendous opportunity’ –

“Although the objective is to cut the trade deficit, the desire to do that is for them to open up their markets so we can compete fairly and increase our exports,” he said.

“I think it’s a tremendous opportunity for us and a tremendous opportunity for China.

“China has a large, growing population that will consume more products and that likes American products.”

He pointed to energy, agriculture and technology as areas in which the US could boost its Chinese presence.

But Mnuchin said joint ventures were a major stumbling block between the two countries, particularly when it comes to technology, stating that other than in certain “security” related cases, “companies are free to do business in the US without setting up joint ventures.”

He added: “They’re very interested in technology and we’re pleased for them to have our technology companies there as long as they do it in a way that our technology companies don’t in any way feel the pressure to form joint ventures or transfer technology.

“There’s a very large, growing opportunity, if we can reach agreement, that is good for China, good for their economy and good for US companies.”

– Message to EU –

As for the EU, Mnuchin said it would have to make considerable concessions in order for there to be a free-trade agreement between the two.

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

The Treasury Secretary also spoke of current and possible future trade sanctions, mentioning North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Nicaragua.

Despite Trump’s landmark meeting with North Korean supremo Kim Jong-un in Singapore last month that saw a significant thawing in previously explosive ties, a softening of sanctions isn’t on the table.

“We’re pleased with the dialogue but there will not be sanctions relief until there is real progress,” Mnuchin said.

He acknowledged that the US and EU “don’t see eye to eye on every single aspect” of the Iran nuclear deal but insisted there’s a “consistent view that Iran should never have nuclear weapons” and that they should be prevented from exporting “terrorism” to the Middle East.

He said the repression in crisis hit Venezuela by the government of President Nicolas Maduro was “unacceptable” and that US sanctions targeting those in power were to “encourage better behavior.”

Further sanctions could also be heading Nicaragua’s way after three months of unrest in which more than 280 people have been killed as protests escalate against the ironfisted rule of President Daniel Ortega.

“It’s a reasonable guess that (sanctions are) something we’d be looking at,” said Mnuchin.

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Is President Trump Illegitimate?

July 21, 2018

Russia hurt him, Comey helped him, but the Constitution put him in office.

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, July 16.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, July 16. PHOTO: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

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Donald Trump never expected to be president. And, we might reasonably surmise, perhaps didn’t really want to be. Think about that as President Trump seeks to remake America’s relationship with the world as dramatically as any president in 70 years.

The Greek witch-goddess Circe gave her son a magic weapon to protect him on his search for his father, Odysseus. When father and son finally met, Odysseus was accidentally killed by the magic weapon. Oops.

Then-FBI Director James Comey received a magic weapon that, in his own mind, justified his usurping of the Justice Department’s decision whether to prosecute Hillary Clinton or her aides in the email case. Without Mr. Comey’s initial intervention, there never would have been his second intervention, reopening the Hillary case shortly before Election Day. Oops.

If veteran political analyst Ronald Brownstein is right, blue-collar white women in the upper Midwest elected Mr. Trump. What better antidote for the “Access Hollywood” scandal, then tanking the Trump campaign, than the revelation that the Hillary case was not only back but entangled with the underage sexting adventures of former Democratic Rep. Anthony Weiner.

If any Russian involvement helped Mr. Trump, this was it. As we know from credible reporting and from Mr. Comey’s own elliptical memoir, he was in possession of a captured Kremlin intelligence document that cited an alleged agreement between the Obama Justice Department and the Clinton campaign to bury the email case. This was Mr. Comey’s magic weapon.

Amanda Renteria, the Clinton campaign aide named in the Russian intelligence, has stated plainly that the information was “made up by the Russians.” The Justice Department’s inspector general said the info was viewed inside the FBI as “not credible” and “objectively false.” According to CNN and the Washington Post, some considered it a deliberate Kremlin plant.

Yet Mr. Comey, in a recent interview with PBS’s Judy Woodruff, described the information as “legitimate” and expressed agnosticism over whether it was “accurate.”

He told NBC’s Chuck Todd, “I’m just not, by my silence, agreeing with your predicate that it was false documents.”

What the heck is going on here?

This episode represents the only possible way Russia affected the election outcome. Other claims about its decisive effect are implausible.

Former Obama intelligence chief James Clapper flatly opines, based on his decades of experience, that Russia elected Mr. Trump, which might be more persuasive if his decades of experience were in U.S. electoral politics, not spywork and disinformation.

The Economist magazine, in honor of last week’s U.S. indictment of Russia’s GRU hackers, says the Kremlin only had to shift 0.03% of the total vote and therefore Mr. Trump may be illegitimate.

What these analysts ignore is net effect. Bernie voters and Catholics had reason to be offended by leaked Democratic emails, but these were one-day stories early in the race. The overall impact of Russia hacking and social media trolling not only was small on its own terms; it was swamped by the blowback on conventional media, which daily amplified accusations of Hillary supporters and Never Trump Republicans that Mr. Trump was in Vladimir Putin’s pocket.

Replay the election in your head, in fact, and it’s hard come to any conclusion other than Mr. Trump would have been much better off if Russia wasn’t a subject. Voters don’t vote on foreign policy. They do vote on character. There can’t be 75 people in America who cared that Mr. Trump promised better relations with Russia. There must have been hundreds of thousands or millions who followed half the GOP pundit and foreign-policy establishment in opposing Mr. Trump on character grounds, including his alleged footsie with the Kremlin.

I’ll say it again: It is overwhelmingly likely that Russian efforts, aside from their presumably unforeseen and accidental impact on Mr. Comey, cost Mr. Trump more votes than they got him.

As early as February 2016, this column described Mr. Trump as a “democratic accident” waiting to happen: “What began as a scheme to become more famous is in danger of running away with the country.”

It was entirely possible for Mr. Trump to be the last man standing in a crowded GOP primary field full of candidates who might have bested him one on one. He clearly lucked out with Hillary as his Democratic opponent. Of course, the totality of effects decides even a close election. But if you’re looking for a single, conscious, deliberate action by any human being that influenced the outcome, you’re left with Mr. Comey and his Russia-supplied magic weapon.

By the way, this doesn’t make Mr. Trump an illegitimate president. He’s a natural-born U.S. citizen of the requisite age and won a majority of the Electoral College.

Appeared in the July 21, 2018, print edition.

I’m ready to put tariffs on every import from China, US President Donald Trump warns

July 21, 2018

US leader says China has been ‘ripping off’ the United States for years and he’s willing to go ahead with extra tariffs on US$500 billion in Chinese goods

South China Morning Post

US President Donald Trump has said he is willing to slap tariffs on all Chinese products imported to the United States, a threat that could propel the world’s two biggest economies into an all-out trade war.

“I’m ready to go to 500 [billion dollars],” Trump told CNBC’s Joe Kernen on Friday, suggesting that every Chinese product would be subject to duties. “We have been ripped off by China for a long time.”

The “tremendous amount” threatened by Trump is roughly equivalent to the US$505.5 billion in Chinese products imported by the US last year. China, on the other hand, buys far less from the US, with last year’s total just US$130 billion.

Washington imposed tariffs on US$34 billion of Chinese products on July 6, prompting similar action from China. Then last week the US threatened to slap 10 per cent duties on another US$200 billion worth of the goods.

On Wednesday, the president’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, blamed Chinese President Xi Jinping for blocking trade talks with the US. China’s foreign ministry fired back a day later, accusing American officials of “making false accusations”.

In the CNBC interview, Trump also took aim at China’s currency.

“Their currency is dropping like a rock, and our currency is going up, and I have to tell you it puts us at a disadvantage,” he said.

The yuan fell 0.5 per cent against the US dollar in offshore markets to 6.8130 per dollar after Trump’s comments. It had already fallen 6.7 per cent against the dollar since April, making it the biggest loser among Asia’s 12 currency pairs during the period.

“I don’t want them to be scared. I want them to do well,” Trump said. “I really like President Xi a lot, but it was very unfair.”

Within hours of the interview going to air, Trump continued his complaints on Twitter, saying China and the European Union deliberately kept their currencies and interest rates low.

Chinese analysts were not surprised by Trump’s threat.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

China, the European Union and others have been manipulating their currencies and interest rates lower, while the U.S. is raising rates while the dollars gets stronger and stronger with each passing day – taking away our big competitive edge. As usual, not a level playing field…

“He has threatened it time and again. And you can’t rely on his words,” said Shi Yinhong, director of Renmin University’s Centre on American Studies and an adviser to the State Council.

John Gong, an economics professor at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, called Trump’s threat a “knee-jerk reaction” that “shouldn’t been taken seriously”.

“It must have been in the heat of the moment. The probability of going so far is almost zero. And if it ever reaches there, it will no longer be a trade problem – the US$300-500 billion operations of American corporates in China will surely be implicated,” Gong said.

Shang-Jin Wei, senior scholar at the Jerome A Chazen Institute for Global Business at the Columbia Business School, said an escalation in the trade dispute would have a minimal impact on the US in the short term.

“The [US] economy was on the trajectory of a strong recovery even before Trump took over, and then the tax reform of the end of last year provided overstimulation to the economy,” Wei said.

But things were looking differently for China, he said.

“China’s economic growth had already been moderating because of a combination of rising wages and a shrinkage of working-age cohorts,” Wei said.

“The Chinese economy is more open in terms of its dependence on trade. Leaving aside technical factors, the same punitive measures on trade have greater potential for damage to the Chinese economy than damage to the US.

“If President Trump needed to pick a time to engage in a bad trade war, the current timing is lucky for him.”

Additional reporting by Robert Delaney

CIA official: China waging ‘quiet’ cold war against US — South China Sea is the “Crimea of the East”

July 21, 2018

China is waging a “quiet kind of cold war” against the United States, using all its resources to try to replace America as the leading power in the world, a top CIA expert on Asia said Friday.

Beijing doesn’t want to go to war, he said, but the current communist government, under President Xi Jingping, is subtly working on multiple fronts to undermine the U.S. in ways that are different than the more well-publicized activities being employed by Russia.

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“I would argue … that what they’re waging against us is fundamentally a cold war — a cold war not like we saw during THE Cold War (between the U.S. and the Soviet Union) but a cold war by definition,” Michael Collins, deputy assistant director of the CIA’s East Asia mission center, said at the Aspen Security Forum in Colorado.

Rising U.S.-China tension goes beyond the trade dispute playing out in a tariff tit-for-tat between the two nations.

There is concern over China’s pervasive efforts to steal business secrets and details about high-tech research being conducted in the U.S. The Chinese military is expanding and being modernized and the U.S., as well as other nations, have complained about China’s construction of military outposts on islands in the South China Sea.

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Donald Trump and Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago

“I would argue that it’s the Crimea of the East,” Collins said, referring to Russia’s brash annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, which was condemned throughout the West.

Collins’ comments track warnings about China’s rising influence issued by others who spoke earlier this week at the security conference. The alarm bells come at a time when Washington needs China’s help in ending its nuclear standoff with North Korea.

On Wednesday, FBI Director Christopher Wray said China, from a counterintelligence perspective, represents the broadest and most significant threat America faces. He said the FBI has economic espionage investigations in all 50 states that can be traced back to China.

“The volume of it. The pervasiveness of it. The significance of it is something that I think this country cannot underestimate,” Wray said.

Image result for china, technology, photos

National Intelligence Director Dan Coats also warned of rising Chinese aggression. In particular, he said, the U.S. must stand strong against China’s effort to steal business secrets and academic research.

Susan Thornton, acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said increasing the public’s awareness about the activities of the hundreds of thousands of Chinese students or groups at U.S. universities could be one way to help mitigate potential damage.

“China is not just a footnote to what we’re dealing with with Russia,” Thornton said.

Marcel Lettre, former undersecretary of defense for intelligence, said China has the second-largest defense budget in the world, the largest standing army of ground forces, the third-largest air force and a navy of 300 ships and more than 60 submarines.

Image result for china, hypersonic, photos

China Hypersonic Plane (Artists impression)

“All of this is in the process of being modernized and upgraded,” said Lettre, who sat on a panel with Collins and Thornton.

He said China also is pursuing advances in cyber, artificial intelligence, engineering and technology, counter-space, anti-satellite capabilities and hypersonic glide weapons. Army Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told a congressional committee earlier this year that China is developing long-range cruise missiles — some capable of reaching supersonic speeds.

“The Pentagon has noted that the Chinese have already pursued a test program that has had 20 times more tests than the U.S. has,” Lettre said.

Franklin Miller, former senior director for defense policy and arms control at the National Security Council, said China’s weapons developments are emphasizing the need to have a dialogue with Beijing.

“We need to try to engage,” Miller said. “My expectations for successful engagement are medium-low, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.”

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The Associated Press
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https://nypost.com/2018/07/21/cia-official-china-waging-quiet-cold-war-against-us/

Russia and Qatar discuss S-400 missile systems

July 21, 2018

Russia and Qatar have been in discussions about a possible sale of S-400 missile systems to Doha, TASS news agency cited the Russian envoy to Qatar as saying on Saturday.

S-400 regiment enters on duty in Crimea
© SPUTNIK / SERGEI MALGAVKO

He also confirmed media reports that Qatar and Russia had signed a deal on supplying Qatar with small arms, such as Kalashnikov assault rifles, and anti-tank weapons.

“As far as the air defense is concerned, the S-400 systems and so on, there are talks about this, but there is no concrete conclusion,” Nurmakhmad Kholov, the ambassador to Qatar, was quoted as saying.

Kholov also told TASS the Qatari Energy Minister Mohammed al-Sada will take part in Moscow’s energy conference in October.

Reuters

Assad’s Syrian Forces Pounding Opposition Near Israel’s Golan

July 21, 2018

At least thirty major air and artillery strikes target a dozen kilometers of ISIS-held positions near the Golan in Syria as refugees flee fighting.

BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 JULY 21, 2018 13:19

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Quneitra

The Syrian area of Quneitra is seen in the background as an out-of-commission Israeli tank parks on a hill, near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria, in the Golan Heights.. (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)

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The Syrian regime and its Russian backers launched widespread air and artillery strikes against ISIS-held positions next to the Golan on Saturday.

Over the last 24 hours the Syrian regime launched an offensive against the ISIS affiliate that holds a section of the southern Golan in Syria. Since 2015 ISIS was able to attract hundreds of followers to a group called Jaysh Khalid bin-Walid and take over a dozen villages near the southern Golan and Jordan. Until this year they skirmished with the Syrian rebels but after the rebels retreated from a Syrian regime offensive earlier this month ISIS has been fighting the Syrian regime. Initially the Syrian regime and its Russian backers focused on defeating the rebels near Dara’a and Quneitra in southern Syria. However on Friday the rebels indicated they would accept a “reconciliation” agreement with Damascus.

On Saturday morning ISIS detonated a car bomb in the town of Hayt. The Syrian regime launched a dozen air and artillery strikes in the morning against areas along the border with Israel, including the villages and towns of Tasil, Saidah, Sahyun and Shabraq. Puffs of smoke and explosions could be heard in the distance from the Golan Heights. By early afternoon the Syrian regime had increased its air and artillery strikes, targeting ISIS positions along the entire frontline of a dozen kilometers. Explosions and clouds of smoke from the strikes could be seen far in the distance and within two kilometers of the 1974 ceasefire line. In three hours at least thirty air strikes were clearly audible.

At Tel Saqi, site of a 1973 battle, tourists and locals watched the airstrikes in the distance. Some were oblivious to the complexities of the war on the other side and surprised to find themselves next to a war zone. Other locals said they had been here since the 1970s and recalled the 1973 war. They debated whether it would be good to have Bashar al-Assad’s regime back at the border after seven years in which instability and a multiplicity of groups have occupied areas of the Golan border. These have included moderate Syrian rebels as well as extremists like ISIS. However the Israeli side of the border next to ISIS has been quiet for almost two years since a skirmish in 2016.

On Saturday as the Syrian regime offensive unfolded dozens of Syrians gathered near the border in tents. They are a trickle of the tens of thousands who have clustered near Quneitra and other points along the ceasefire line in the last weeks. With the offensive hitting the previously quiet ISIS-held areas the civilians are increasingly fleeing to the border. Despite the fighting the border area was still open to tourists and there was no visible emergency on the Israeli side or along the fence.

https://www.jpost.com/Israel-News/Syrian-regime-pounds-ISIS-near-Golan-563061

 

Lawmakers to President Trump: End Putin Summit Mystery

July 21, 2018

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are worried that Russian President Vladimir Putin may use his one-on-one meeting with President Trump in Helsinki to drive a wedge between NATO allies by claiming secret side deals with the United States.

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Congressional Republicans are urging the White House to get ahead of the Kremlin by defining what was and wasn’t agreed to. What was said between the two leaders, they admit, remains a disconcerting mystery.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) says he has “no idea” what Russian ambassador to the United States Anatoly Antonov meant when he said Wednesday that Trump and Putin had entered into “important verbal agreements.”

Corker expressed concern about talk that the White House and Kremlin are “setting up a second meeting so they can begin implementation” of these mystery agreements.

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Bob Corker

Other Republicans pointed to the lack of transparency as problematic.

“I don’t know what happened privately, nobody does,” said Sen. Rob Portman (Ohio), adding that Trump needs to publicize whatever efforts he made to push back against Putin in their private meeting.

“It’s not enough just to raise it privately because everyone is watching, including our allies, including the people of Russia, including our intelligence agencies,” he said of any grievances Trump may have aired with Putin.

Members of Congress worry that Russia will use the Helsinki summit to undermine U.S. relations with NATO allies, especially with former Eastern Bloc and Soviet states that Putin views as within his country’s traditional sphere of influence.

Antonov said this week that Trump and Putin reached verbal agreements on two charged issues: Syria and arms control.

“The White House better get out in front of this before the Russians start characterizing this,” warned Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and frequent Trump critic. “The Russians will use this.”

“There’s so little trust of this president, our president, among our allies,” he added.

U.S. security officials recognize that undermining NATO is one of Putin’s top foreign policy goals.

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Joseph Dunford warned Congress last year that Russia “every day is undermining the credibility of our alliance commitment to NATO and our ability to respond to NATO.”

Republican lawmakers worry that Trump may be unwittingly advancing that strategy by criticizing allies sharply at a NATO summit in Brussels and then embracing Putin in Helsinki.

Flake noted that in a recent trip to Latvia he and his colleagues witnessed a concerted Russian propaganda campaign to convince Baltic states that “NATO is weak” and “America is an unreliable ally.”

Danielle Pletka, senior vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, a center-right think tank said that while Russia’s remarks about the outcome of an international summit wouldn’t normally be viewed as credible, Trump’s unorthodox style creates an atmosphere of uncertainty.

“In normal circumstances I would say that statements by Russia about their inferences about particular meetings are not especially credible or important or right or destabilizing,” she said. “The problem is because our president is himself so loosey-goosey about his leadership, about these meetings, about fundamentally everything that we can begin to worry.”

But agreements entered into solely by the president don’t carry a lot of weight, she said, pointing to former President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran that largely circumvented congressional approval.

“If the president has verbal discussions with anybody and no one else is there, no one can reasonably be expected to act on them,” she said.

Even so, congressional Republicans aren’t taking any chances about how the optics of the situation may affect bedrock international security arrangements.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took the unusual step of telling European Union allies Tuesday that Republicans in Congress value NATO and view Russia as a hostile adversary.

“We believe the European Union counties are our friends and the Russians are not,” McConnell told reporters. “We understand the Russian threat.”

Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) warned on the Senate floor Thursday that the president and senior U.S. officials should be careful not to undermine Western alliances.

“Words matter. And what Americans say can bolster or shake confidence in the United States,” Moran said, adding that a recent trip to Moscow, Norway and Finland left him “unconvinced that that Russia is prepared to change its behavior.”

Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow in foreign policy at the Brookings Institution, a center-left think tank, said concern that fallout from the summit could weaken U.S.-NATO relations “is warranted.”

But he said “it shouldn’t be blown out of proportion.”

NATO alliances don’t depend on the president alone, he noted.

“If, for example, Trump promised somehow to abandon an ally, first of all he really couldn’t if a treaty binds us to them, and second of all, the ally would presumably raise this issue with us the minute the Russians whispered some threat in their ear,” O’Hanlon said. “At that point, Trump would have the chance to deny or correct or repudiate whatever the Russians were saying.”

Nevertheless, longtime U.S. allies have been unsettled by Trump’s foreign policy stances, even before he met with Putin.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned in May that Trump’s decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear agreement “damages trust in the international order,” and that Europe could no longer rely on the United States to provide for its security.

“It is no longer such that the United States simply protects us, but Europe must take its destiny in its own hands,” she said.

Sen. Chris Coons (Del.), a Democrat on the Foreign Relations panel, said “we shouldn’t be just guessing on the statements of the Russian ambassador” about what was agreed to at the summit.

Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has demanded the U.S. government translator who attended the private Trump-Putin meeting be made available to testify before Congress.

He and other Democrats also want the White House to turn over contemporaneous notes from the summit.

 

In a letter to Trump this week, Democrats asked what “suggestions” Putin made to the president, whether the two leaders agreed to any changes in international security agreements and whether they made any commitments about the future presence of U.S. military forces in Syria, among other questions.

They also asked if the president discussed sanctions relief for Russia, NATO military exercises in the fall, U.S. security assistance to Ukraine or made any other commitments to Putin.

Republicans say they hope to learn details about what Trump discussed and may have agreed to when Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifiesbefore the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday.

If questions remain after his appearance, Corker said he would consider asking for notes or testimony from the American translator who was present at the meeting with Putin.

But he cautioned it would be a last resort.

“It feels a little out of bounds,” Corker said. “I’m open to listening. I’d rather address it after the Pompeo hearing on Wednesday and see how transparent that ends up being.”

“I’m not going to say no, no, no,” he added. “If there’s no transparency, maybe we’ll revisit it.”

So far, Flake is the only Senate Republican to back Schumer’s call for the White House to turn over notes from the summit.

“I would hope that those notes — all interpreters take notes — would be turned over,” he said Thursday. “We need to know.

Pompeo Warns Against Easing Pressure on North Korea

July 21, 2018

Washington says at U.N. that Pyongyang is violating a sanctions cap on importing refined petroleum

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley speak to reporters at U.N. headquarters on Friday.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley speak to reporters at U.N. headquarters on Friday. PHOTO:MARY ALTAFFER/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned countries against easing pressure on North Korea on Friday, citing sanctions violations that have allowed Pyongyang to import crucial supplies.

The U.S. contends that Pyongyang is violating a sanctions cap on importing refined petroleum, through illegal ship-to-ship transfers. The U.S. shared photographic evidence and documents tracing the ships to China and Russia with the U.N. Security Council’s sanctions committee this month.

Mr. Pompeo, at a press conference at the United Nations in New York, warned that such violations could reduce North Korea’s incentive to give up its nuclear weapons, as it pledged to in an agreement signed with President Donald Trump last month.

“It will take full enforcement of sanctions for us to get there,” Mr. Pompeo said, adding the U.S. had recorded 89 ship-to-ship transfers of oil products in the first five months of the year.

The direction of talks has appeared uncertain since North Korea’s foreign ministry accused the U.S. of behaving like a “gangster” after a visit by Mr. Pompeo earlier this month. In a statement, Pyongyang warned that North Korea wouldn’t yield to unilateral demands.

On Friday, Mr. Pompeo maintained optimism that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would deliver on his promise.

“Progress is happening,” he told reporters, describing a vision in which North Korea would one day participate in the United Nations as a friend rather than as a foe.

At an unprecedented summit in Singapore, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un displayed friendliness, but talks offered few specifics on denuclearization. WSJ’s Eun-Young Jeong reports from the city-state. Illustration: Sharon Shi

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, who spoke at the briefing alongside Mr. Pompeo, said Russia and China on Thursday had blocked a U.S. proposal that the Security Council’s sanctions committee halt all refined petroleum shipments to North Korea.

Russia and China have asked for more time and more information. Russian Deputy Ambassador to the U.N. Dmitry Polyanskiy tweeted that Russia was “seeking the explanation of methodology used in making calculation of ‘illegally’ exported petroleum.”

“Some of our friends have decided they want to go around the rules,” said Ms. Haley, adding that sanctions must remain in place and be enforced until North Korea takes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

Ms. Haley said all the information needed has been provided to the North Korea sanctions committee.

Mr. Pompeo didn’t comment on whether Mr. Trump had sought Russia’s cooperation on sanctions enforcement during the meeting with President Vladimir Putin this week, but he said the U.S. appreciated Russia’s cooperation in many areas.

“We need the world to continue to participate,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Critics have questioned North Korea’s commitment to delivering on its promise to give up its nuclear weapons since satellite images released by independent monitors showed Pyongyang is continuing to expand and upgrade its nuclear assets.

Mr. Kim also has yet to commit to a firm date for repatriating soldiers killed in the Korean War, fought between 1950-53. Mr. Trump previously said 200 sets of remains had been returned in a show of good faith after the summit, although no transfer has taken place.

Mr. Pompeo, commenting on the prospect of another meeting between the U.S. and Russian presidents, said it would be important for Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin to continue to engage on key issues.

On Syria, Mr. Pompeo added that Mr. Trump had agreed to work on the repatriation of Syrian refugees during the meeting with Mr. Putin, without providing further details.

The Russian government said Friday that it had invited the U.S. to cooperate on a joint plan to return refugees to Syria, primarily from Lebanon and Jordan. Col. Gen. Mikhail Mizintsev, the head of the Russian National Defense Management Center, said Moscow had submitted “concrete proposals” that were being considered by the U.S.

Asked about those, Mr. Pompeo acknowledged that Messrs. Putin and Trump discussed the issue in Helsinki. “It is important to the world that, at the right time, through a voluntary mechanism, these refugees are able to return to their home country. It’s what we’ve all been working on,” he said.

He didn’t say whether the U.S. was considering Russia’s proposal but said the U.S. wants to help with the refugee crisis.

Write to Jessica Donati at Jessica.Donati@wsj.com and Farnaz Fassihi at farnaz.fassihi@wsj.com

Appeared in the July 21, 2018, print edition as ‘Pompeo Warns Against Easing Up on North Korea.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/pompeo-warns-against-easing-pressure-on-north-korea-1532114751

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G20 finance ministers meet in Argentina as trade dominates agenda

July 21, 2018

With trade conflicts brewing around the world, this weekend’s G20 meeting of finance ministers in Argentina might not be the most fun place to be on the planet. Yet critical questions will be on the agenda.

    
Buenos Aires G20 Finanzministertreffen Mnuchin (Reuters/M. Brindicci)

G20 finance ministers meet this weekend in Buenos Aires in their first meeting since global trade tensions moved beyond rhetoric into a volley of tariffs and counter-tariffs.

Trade will dominate the agenda in the Argentine capital, with much attention likely to be focused on US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin as he looks to “respond to concerns on US trade policies” at the gathering of finance ministers and central bankers from the world’s 20 leading economies.

The EU, China and Canada will be among those represented, with all of those having come into direct conflict with the trade polices of US President Donald Trump in recent weeks and months.

Read more: US firms try to protect themselves amid Trump trade battles

The US and China have placed $34 billion (€29 billion) worth of tariffs and counter-tariffs on each other, with more expected to follow, with the US also placing tariffs on steel and aluminum from the EU, Canada and Mexico, resulting in further counter-tariffs from those trade partners.

With tensions escalating markedly in recent weeks, both from the continuing rounds of tariffs and from some of the rhetoric concerned — such as President Trump describing the EU as “a foe” — the hopes for any kind of tangible progress emanating from the meeting are low.

In the group’s first meeting of the year back in March, little of note emerged other than a joint statement agreeing that “economic and geopolitical tensions” threatened global growth.

Talk has given way to tariffs in the intervening period, and on the eve of this weekend’s gathering, International Monetary Fund (IMF) boss Christine Lagarde warned that the current tensions over trade present “the greatest near-term threat” to the world economy. However it should be noted that the IMF still projects global growth of 3.9 percent in 2019.

Big gathering, little significance?

While Mnuchin and the US delegation are likely to spend the weekend trying to convince Japan, the EU and other members of the ‘Group of Seven’ (G7) of the need for a stronger collective stance against the trade practices of China, it is unlikely that they will find their ostensible allies to be at their most obliging.

Read more: Sieren’s China: Pendulum politics between China and the EU

“US trading partners are unlikely to be in a conciliatory mood,” Eswar Prasad, international trade professor at Cornell University and former head of the International Monetary Fund’s China Division, told Reuters.

“(US) hostile actions against long-standing trading partners and allies has weakened its economic and geopolitical influence,” he said, referring to the raft of tariffs the Trump White House has driven.

While the economic heft of those represented at the gathering is not in doubt — at the close of the last G20 meeting, the financial leaders represented 75 percent of world trade and 85 percent of gross domestic product — concrete progress on the various issues appears to be out of reach, particularly with more tariffs and counter-tariffs expected in the near future.

Aside from the trade issues, the meeting will also address crises threatening a number of emerging economies, not least in host nation Argentina, which recently accepted a $50 billion IMF loan to try to stabilize its economy.

aos/kd (Reuters, AFP)

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Singapore cyberattack: State-actors were likelyresponsible

July 21, 2018

State-actors were likely behind Singapore’s biggest ever cyberattack to date, security experts say, citing the scale and sophistication of the hack.

The city-state announced Friday that hackers had broken into a government database and stolen the health records of 1.5 million Singaporeans, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong who was specifically targeted in the “unprecedented” attack.

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Singapore’s health minister said the strike was “a deliberate, targeted, and well-planned cyberattack and not the work of casual hackers or criminal gangs”.

While officials refused to comment on the identity of the hackers citing “operational security”, experts told AFP that the complexity of the attack and its focus on high-profile targets like the prime minister pointed to the hand of a state-actor.

“A cyber espionage threat actor could leverage disclosure of sensitive health information… to coerce an individual in (a) position of interest to conduct espionage” on its behalf, said Eric Hoh, Asia-Pacific president of cybersecurity firm FireEye.

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Hoh told national broadcaster Channel NewsAsia that the attack was an “advanced persistent threat”.

“The nature of such attacks are that they are conducted by nation states using very advanced tools,” he said.

“They tend to be well resourced, well-funded and highly sophisticated.”

Healthcare data is of particular interest to cyberattackers because it can be used to blackmail people in positions of power, said Jeff Middleton, chief executive of cybersecurity consultancy Lantium.

“A lot of information about a person’s health can be gleaned from the medications that they take,” Middleton told AFP Saturday.

Image result for Singapore's Cyber Security Agency, photos

“Any non-public health information could be used for extortion. Russian spy services have a long history of doing this,” he added.

Medical information, like personal data, can also be easily monetised on criminal forums, said Sanjay Aurora, Asia Pacific managing director of Darktrace.

“Beyond making a quick buck, a more sinister reason to attack would be to cause widespread disruption and systemic damage to the healthcare service — as a fundamental part of critical infrastructure ?- or to undermine trust in a nation’s competency to keep personal data safe,” he told AFP.

– Hyper-connected –

Wealthy Singapore is hyper-connected and on a drive to digitise government records and essential services, including medical records which public hospitals and clinics can share via a centralised database.

But authorities have put the brakes on these plans while they investigate the cyberattack. A former judge will head an inquiry looking into the incident.

Singapore officials have cautioned against jumping to conclusions about the attackers.

“With regard to the prime minister’s data and why he was targeted, I would say that it’s perhaps best not to speculate what the attacker had in mind,” said David Koh, head of Singapore’s Cyber Security Agency.

The hackers used a computer infected with malware to gain access to the database between June 27 and July 4 before administrators spotted “unusual activity”, authorities said.

While Singapore has some of the most advanced military weaponry in the region, the government says it fends off thousands of cyberattacks every day and has long warned of breaches by actors as varied as high-school students in their bedrooms to nation states.

Earlier this month US intelligence chief Dan Coats described Russia, China, Iran and North Korea as the “worst offenders” when it came to attacks on American “digital infrastructure”.

AFP

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