Posts Tagged ‘Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’

Merkel could join Macron in Davos for epic clash with Trump

January 14, 2018

By Noah Barkin

Image result for Macron, Merkel, Photos

BERLIN, Jan 14 (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel is considering joining French President Emmanuel Macron at the World Economic Forum in Davos next week in what could turn into an epic clash of competing world views with U.S. President Donald Trump.

Merkel, who has been struggling to put together a government since a German election in September, had been expected to skip the annual gathering of leaders, CEOs, bankers and celebrities in the Swiss Alps for a third straight year.

But after clinching a preliminary coalition agreement with the centre-left Social Democrats (SPD) on Friday, German officials said Merkel could travel to Davos after all, possibly setting up a major confrontation with Trump, who is expected to speak on the final day of the forum.

An appearance would signal Merkel’s return to the world stage after months of political limbo in which she has avoided the limelight and been dismissed by some in the German and international media as a spent force.

It would also allow her and Macron, who is scheduled to speak at the forum on Jan. 24, two days before Trump, to reaffirm their commitment to reforming the European Union after Britain’s decision to leave, and to defend liberal democratic values in the face of Trump’s “America First” policies.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert was coy last week when asked whether she might attend the WEF, which will run from Jan. 23-26 under the banner “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World” and will attract some 60 heads of state and government.

But after clinching a preliminary deal with the SPD, the chances that she could attend appear to have risen. German officials said no final decision had been taken and that Merkel may wait for the outcome of an SPD congress in Bonn next Sunday – where the party will formally decide whether to enter coalition talks with her conservatives – before committing.

Officials at the WEF said they believed Merkel was still considering whether to attend. If she does, it is unlikely that she or Macron would overlap with Trump, who is expected to arrive on the afternoon of Jan. 25.

This year’s forum will be opened by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Jan. 23. Britain’s Theresa May, Canada’s Justin Trudeau and Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu are also expected, as well as celebrities such as actress Cate Blanchett and musician Elton John.

Last year’s gathering took place in the week leading up to Trump’s inauguration and was headlined by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who signalled his readiness to fill the vacuum in global leadership created by America’s shift inward.


Since then, Trump has pulled the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade deal with Asian countries, announced a withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and threatened to torpedo an agreement between Western powers and Iran aimed at curbing its nuclear programme.

He has stirred fears of conflict with North Korea by engaging in an escalating war of words with its leader Kim Jong Un. Last week, he stirred international outrage by referring to Haiti and African nations as “shithole countries”, according to members of Congress who attended a meeting in the White House.

On Saturday, some 500 demonstrators marched in the Swiss capital Bern to protest against Trump’s plans to attend the WEF.

“There are very few things in the world that unite countries as much as their antipathy towards Trump and what he is doing,” said Ian Bremmer, president of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group , and a regular at Davos.

“In the United States he may have 40 percent who approve of what he’s doing. In the Davos crowd it is closer to 5 percent.”

The visit by Trump will be the first by a U.S. president since Bill Clinton in 2000. He will be accompanied by a large delegation that is expected to include his son-in-law Jared Kushner, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Merkel has had a frosty relationship with Trump, who accused her during his campaign for the presidency of “ruining Germany” by allowing hundreds of thousands of refugees, many fleeing war in the Middle East, into the country in 2015.

She was hailed in some Western media as the last defender of liberal democratic values after Trump’s victory. Since then, the election of Macron, a pro-European centrist who, like Merkel, supports free trade and the global rules-based order, has given her a powerful ally in the confrontation with Trump.

Macron is slated to speak for 45 minutes in the evening of Jan. 24 in Davos, a ski resort in eastern Switzerland.

“My instinct tells me that Macron will go big,” said Robin Niblett, director of the Chatham House think tank in London. “He won’t just talk about Europe. He will try to take up the mantle of the free world under Europe’s wing.”

If he is joined by Merkel, who has made seven appearances at the WEF since becoming chancellor in 2005, that message may resonate even louder. (Reporting by Noah Barkin; Editing by Dale Hudson)



Rex Tillerson: I Am Proud of Our Diplomacy (New York Times Op-Ed)

December 28, 2017

Rex Tillerson at the United Nations this month. Credit Drew Angerer/Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Over the past year, the United States has faced immense challenges in its dealings with North Korea, China and Russia, and in its efforts to defeat international terrorism. But Americans should be encouraged by the progress the State Department and United States Agency for International Development have made in pushing for global peace and stability.

When President Trump took office, he identified North Korea as the United States’ greatest security threat. He abandoned the failed policy of strategic patience. In its place we carried out a policy of pressure through diplomatic and economic sanctions. This year, the United Nations Security Council unanimously adopted three of the strongest sanctions resolutions in history, including bans on a wide array of North Korean exports such as coal, iron, seafood and textiles.

The United States has asked allies and partners to exert unilateral pressure against North Korea in order to force the regime to change its behavior. Many have responded with positive steps like shutting down trade, severing diplomatic ties and expelling North Korean laborers. Our peaceful pressure campaign has cut off roughly 90 percent of North Korea’s export revenue, much of which is used to fund illegal weapons development.

We hope that this international isolation will pressure the regime into serious negotiations on the abandonment of its nuclear and ballistic missile programs. A door to dialogue remains open, but we have made it clear that the regime must earn its way back to the negotiating table. Until denuclearization occurs, the pressure will continue.

A central component of our North Korea strategy is persuading China to exert its decisive economic leverage on Pyongyang. China has applied certain import bans and sanctions, but it could and should do more. We will also continue to pursue American interests in other areas of our relationship, including trade imbalances, intellectual property theft and China’s troubling military activities in the South China Sea and elsewhere. China’s rise as an economic and military power requires Washington and Beijing to consider carefully how to manage our relationship for the next 50 years.

Defeating terrorism remains one of the president’s highest priorities. The administration’s aggressive strategy to counter the Islamic State delegates greater authority to American military commanders on the battlefield, giving our forces more freedom and speed to do what they do best, in partnership with indigenous fighting forces. As a result, the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS has accelerated operations and has recaptured virtually all of previously held Islamic State territory in Iraq and Syria. While our military was helping clear Iraq and Syria of Islamic State forces, our diplomats were following up with humanitarian aid and assistance, such as clearing land mines, restoring water and power, and getting children back in school.

A commitment to stopping Islamist terrorism and extremism also motivated the administration’s decision to adopt a new South Asia strategy, which focuses on Afghanistan. That country cannot become a safe haven for terrorists, as it was in the days before the Sept. 11 attacks. Pakistan must contribute by combating terrorist groups on its own soil. We are prepared to partner with Pakistan to defeat terrorist organizations seeking safe havens, but Pakistan must demonstrate its desire to partner with us.

On Russia, we have no illusions about the regime we are dealing with. The United States today has a poor relationship with a resurgent Russia that has invaded its neighbors Georgia and Ukraine in the last decade and undermined the sovereignty of Western nations by meddling in our election and others’. The appointment of Kurt Volker, a former NATO ambassador, as special representative for Ukraine reflects our commitment to restoring the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Absent a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine situation, which must begin with Russia’s adherence to the Minsk agreements, there cannot be business as usual with Russia.

While we are on guard against Russian aggression, we recognize the need to work with Russia where mutual interests intersect. Nowhere is that more evident than in Syria. Now that President Vladimir Putin has committed to the United Nations-backed Geneva political process for providing a new future for Syria, we expect Russia to follow through. We are confident that the fulfillment of these talks will produce a Syria that is free of Bashar al-Assad and his family.

Lastly, the flawed Iran nuclear deal is no longer the focal point of our policy toward Iran. We are now confronting the totality of Iranian threats. Part of this strategy entails rebuilding alliances with our partners in the Middle East, and in November we helped re-establish diplomatic ties between Iraq and Saudi Arabia. We will continue to work with our allies and with Congress to explore options for addressing the nuclear deal’s many flaws, while building a like-minded effort to punish Iran for its violations of ballistic missile commitments and its destabilizing activities in the region.

I am proud of what our State Department and Agency for International Development teams around the world have accomplished this year, and our progress will continue in 2018 and beyond. To that end, we have undertaken a redesign of the State Department to strengthen our teams’ ability to deliver on our mission.

Our redesign doesn’t involve simply shifting boxes on an organizational chart. Our changes must address root problems that lead to inefficiencies and frustrations. By making changes like streamlining our human resources and information technology systems, better aligning personnel and resources with America’s strategic priorities, and reforming duplicative processes, we are giving our people more opportunities to flourish professionally and spend more time confronting the global problems they have dedicated their careers to solving.

When I wake up each morning, my first thought is, “How can I and my colleagues at the State Department use diplomacy to prevent people around the world from being killed, wounded or deprived of their rights?” In spite of the challenges, I remain optimistic about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and advance American interests. My confidence comes from the knowledge that our efforts are carried out daily by patriotic and dedicated State Department employees who make sacrifices to serve with patience and persistence and who, by advancing democratic values the world over, are protecting our citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Tillerson Defends U.S. Foreign Policy During Trump’s First Year

December 28, 2017


By Daniel Ten Kate

  • Former Exxon Mobil CEO hails gains in New York Times op-ed
  • Top U.S. diplomat has clashed with Trump repeatedly in 2017
Rex Tillerson.

Photographer: Patrick Doyle/Bloomberg

Rex Tillerson defended U.S. foreign policy during his first year as secretary of state, touting gains in pressuring North Korea, battling Islamic State and supporting Ukraine in the face of Russian aggression.

In an op-ed titled “I am Proud of Our Diplomacy” published in the New York Times on Wednesday evening, Tillerson said Americans should be encouraged by progress made in pushing for global peace and stability. He also said a redesign of the State Department would allow diplomats to “flourish professionally” and spend more time solving global problems.

“In spite of the challenges, I remain optimistic about the power of diplomacy to resolve conflicts and advance American interests,” Tillerson wrote.

The former chief executive officer of Exxon Mobil Corp. has had a bumpy year as the U.S.’s top diplomat. He’s clashed with President Donald Trump on issues from North Korea to Qatar, and faced criticism from the wider foreign-policy community for failing to fill key positions and sidelining career diplomats.

Trump rejected reports earlier this month that he was about to replace Tillerson as “FAKE NEWS,” saying that despite some disagreements “we work well together.” In the op-ed, Tillerson lauded “patriotic and dedicated” State Department employees who are “protecting our citizens’ rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Tillerson Highlights

He also made the case that the administration’s foreign policy is working:

* North Korea: Tillerson said the U.S. has cut off 90 percent of the country’s export revenue, and that pressure would continue until Kim Jong Un’s regime shows it’s serious about abandoning its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

* China: Tillerson called on China to do even more to pressure North Korea, and said the U.S. would continue to pressure leaders in Beijing on trade imbalances, intellectual property theft and “troubling military activities” in the South China Sea.

* Terrorism: Tillerson said the global coalition to defeat the Islamic State has recaptured “virtually all” of the territory held by the group in Syria and Iraq, and called on Pakistan to combat terrorist groups seeking safe haven on its soil and in Afghanistan.

* Russia: Tillerson said the U.S. is on guard against election meddling and would keep up pressure on Vladimir Putin’s regime until there is a peaceful resolution of the Ukraine situation. At the same time, he said the U.S. would work with Russia in places like Syria “where mutual interests intersect.”

* Iran: Tillerson said the nuclear deal is “no longer the focal point of our policy toward Iran.” Instead, he wrote, the U.S. is “confronting the totality of Iranian threats” through rebuilding alliances in the Middle East, addressing flaws in the nuclear deal and punishing Iran for violating ballistic missile commitments.

Tillerson defends foreign policy record at year’s end

December 28, 2017

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, December 19, 2017. (Reuters)

WASHINGTON: The United States’ top diplomat defended his country’s foreign policy record on Wednesday, saying progress had been made in the last year to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and to counter the “immense challenges” posed by Russia, China and Iran.

In an opinion piece in the New York Times, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said some 90 percent of Pyongyang’s export earnings had been cut off by a series of international sanctions after the Trump administration “abandoned the failed policy of strategic patience.”
Tensions have escalated dramatically on the Korean peninsula this year after the isolated but nuclear-armed regime staged a series of atomic and intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) tests — and as US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un traded personal insults.
Washington wants North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and has spearheaded three rounds of UN sanctions against the isolated regime, restricting crucial exports of coal, iron, seafood and textiles from the cash-starved state.
Pyongyang has hit out at those sanctions, calling the latest round “an act of war,” and has vowed to never give up its nuclear program.
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In his piece Tillerson said “a door to dialogue remains open” for Pyongyang but warned “until denuclearization occurs, the pressure will continue.”
At the same time he called on China — Pyongyang’s only major ally — to “do more” to pressure North Korea.
Trump’s administration has been dogged by allegations his campaign team colluded with Russia to help him win last year’s election.
Addressing relations with Moscow, Tillerson said the Trump administration had “no illusions about the regime we are dealing with” and that they were “on guard against Russian aggression.”
But he added that Washington needed to “recongize the need to work with Russia where mutual interests intersect” citing Syria civil war where the two countries have backed opposing sides but pushed for peace talks.
On Iran he struck a less conciliatory tone.
“The flawed nuclear deal is no longer the focal point of our policy toward Iran,” he warned. “We are now confronting the totality of Iranian threats.”
He also defended his cuts to the State Department and USAID budget, saying they were designed to “address root problems that lead to inefficiencies and frustrations.”
Critics say Tillerson’s first year in office has seen scores of key diplomatic posts go unfilled, embassies hampered by cuts and many veteran staff leave the foreign service altogether.
Tillerson isn’t going to mention his boss, Donald Trump, who hasn’t always helped in foreign policy. See:
Liberal media have hammered Tillerson for his cutbacks at the State Department:

North Korea, Nuclear Weapons and ICBMs — “The price has gone way up and it’s going to be a tough nut to crack.”

December 19, 2017


© AFP/File / by Hwang Sunghee | An increasingly-belligerent Pyongyang — and volatile US rhetoric — dominated the world agenda and looks set to do the same next year

SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea’s sprint towards full-fledged nuclear statehood accelerated sharply in 2017, raising fears about a devastating atomic exchange to levels not seen since the Cold War.An increasingly-belligerent Pyongyang — and volatile US rhetoric — dominated the world agenda and looks set to do the same next year as the international community struggles to contain the North’s nuclear and missile ambitions.

Multiple sets of UN sanctions failed to stop Pyongyang from carrying out its sixth and most powerful nuclear test — which it said was a hydrogen bomb — in September.

North Korea has also tested increasingly longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) throughout 2017, and claims it can now strike the US mainland.

US President Donald Trump has responded to each test with his own amplified declarations, threatening to “totally destroy” Pyongyang and taunting Kim Jong-Un, saying the North Korean leader was on “a suicide mission”.

But far from persuading Kim to give up his nuclear drive, analysts say Trump’s tough talk may have prompted the North Korean leader to accelerate his dangerous quest.

Vipin Narang, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said vulnerable states respond to external threats of force by seeking their own arsenals.

“The best way is to just sprint to a point where you raise the cost of that potential action by signalling, ‘I have a lot of nuclear weapons’,” Narang told AFP.

“It’s impressive and scary how fast they were able to get all these pieces in place,” he added.

North Korea says it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against a hostile America and that its priority is its own survival. Critics say it seeks to reunify the peninsula — divided by a demilitarised zone since the end of the 1950-53 Korean war — by force.

– Siren call –

In response to North Korea’s recent strides, the United States and its allies have increased their demonstrations of military might, including more frequent flights of American bombers over the Korean peninsula.

At the same time, top Trump administration officials have repeatedly warned of military options, stoking concerns of miscalculation that could rapidly spiral into conflict.

Image result for flights of American bombers over the Korean peninsula, photos

U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers fly from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, for a mission, with an escort of a pair of Japan Self-Defense Forces F-15 fighter jets and U.S. Marines’ F-35B fighter jets in the vicinity of Kyushu, Japan, in this photo released by Air Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan August 31, 2017. Air Staff Office of the Defense Ministry of Japan/HANDOUT via REUTERS

Van Jackson, a defence expert at the Victoria University of Wellington, said the heightened tensions combined with the growing sophistication of the North’s arsenal have increased the chances of an “inadvertent nuclear war” to their highest since the Cold War.

“If North Korea believes the US is going to invade or decapitate the Kim regime, it will have strong incentives to launch a nuclear first strike,” Jackson said.

And in countries within reach of the North’s missiles, the current confrontation has unleashed fears of a nuclear war which could kill millions of people.

Nervous Japanese have been scrambling to prepare against a potential attack, some even opting to build bomb shelters in their homes and offices.

In South Korea, calls have grown for the country to develop its own nuclear weapons, which would put its decades-old security alliance with the United States in jeopardy, amid doubts whether Washington would be willing to trade “Seoul for Seattle”.

Sirens blared across the islands of Hawaii earlier this month as the US state tested its nuclear attack warning system, revived for the first time since the Cold War.

– Policy failure –

Many analysts say Washington must open talks with the North to defuse tensions — but that remains a challenge.

The North has always said its nuclear weapons are not up for negotiation, and that it will only deal with the United States from a position of equality — as a nuclear state.

Washington has long insisted that it will not accept a nuclear-armed North Korea and Pyongyang must take concrete steps towards disarmament before any talks, which should lead to its denuclearisation.

That stance seemed to soften this month when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said for the first time that discussions could take place “without preconditions” — but the White House said its policy had not changed.

The North declared this month it had reached nuclear statehood with its new Hwasong-15 ICBM, which can carry a “super heavy warhead” to the US mainland.

Image result for Hwasong-15 ICBM, photos

Hwasong-15 ICBM

“I find the entire argument about ‘not accepting’ North Korean nuclear weapons to be strange,” said Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

“Saying certain words, or not saying them, won’t change the reality,” Pollack told AFP.

Still, sitting down with a “nuclear” North Korea would mean accepting a huge policy failure by the United States of not stopping the regime in the first place.

The longer Washington waits, the higher the diplomatic price of dealing with an already complicated problem will go, said Joel Wit, senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University.

Wit, who negotiated with North Korea under the Clinton and Bush administrations, said that Pyongyang used to have only “clunky rockets”.

“We used to laugh at them and say yeah, this isn’t serious,” he said of the US.

“Now we see it is serious, and the point is, the price has gone way up and it’s going to be a tough nut to crack.”

by Hwang Sunghee

The Unresignation of Saad al-Hariri

November 23, 2017
Lebanese prime minister Saad Hariri greets his supporters upon his arrival at his home in Beirut on November 22, 2017.

AFP/Getty Images

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has returned home and withdrawn his resignation, ending a nearly three-week national emergency.


Joshua Keating is a staff writer at Slate focusing on international affairs and author of the forthcoming book, Invisible Countries.

Hariri had unexpectedly resigned on Nov. 4 during a trip to Saudi Arabia, citing threats against his life and decrying Iranian influence. It was widely assumed that the kingdom’s leaders, namely the increasingly assertive Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman, had pressured him to step aside. Hariri is a dual Saudi-Lebanese civilian and ally of Riyadh, but his patrons have been increasingly frustrated with him over his cooperation with Iran-backed Hezbollah. When Hariri didn’t return home and was out of touch with officials back in Beirut, Lebanese officials accused Saudi Arabia of detaining him. Both the Saudis and Hariri deny that this is what was happening.

After two mysterious weeks in Saudi Arabia, Hariri flew to France earlier this week, where he met with President Emmanuel Macron, before heading home. Lebanese President Michael Aoun had never formally accepted Hariri’s resignation, given the weird circumstances, and Wednesday the two agreed to indefinitely postpone it to allow for more dialogue.

The episode set Lebanon teetering on the edge of crisis, and this dramatic reversal of events should restore stability, by the standards of Lebanese politics anyway. What it means for Saudi Arabia is less clear. In his dealings with Hezbollah, Hariri may now be more hemmed in, but it also looks like the Saudis, who had accused the Lebanese government of waging war against them by failing to curb aggression by Hezbollah, are backing down.

If the kingdom did miscalculate, it may be partly the Trump administration’s fault. Trump has given his full backing to the Saudi government and the crown prince in particular, and Trump seemed to have swallowed the Saudis’ Iran-centric worldview hook, line, and sinker during his recent visit to Riyadh. The Lebanon intervention came amid other moves by the prince, including the arrest of several members of his family on corruption charges and an escalation of the brutal and disastrous war in Yemen. The Washington Post reported last week that “some U.S. and foreign officials worry that strong support for Saudi Arabia by President Trump and presidential son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner may have helped motivate Riyadh to overplay its hand.” Kushner made a personal visit to Saudi Arabia last month and reportedly stayed up until 4 a.m. several nights with the prince discussing strategy.

Unfortunately for the Saudis, America’s ruling family doesn’t have the same level of control over its country’s foreign policy. The State Department, Pentagon, and CIA all reportedly expressed alarm that the prince was behaving recklessly. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned all parties against “using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts or in any manner contributing to instability in that country.”

(One might hope that the U.S. national security establishment would apply a bit more pressure on the Saudis to halt the U.S.-backed war that’s killing thousands of Yemeni civilians and has the country on the brink of an epochal famine.)

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Trump personally backed the Saudi-led blockade on Qatar last summer, but the State and Defense departments remained neutral on the conflict—Qatar hosts a major U.S. military base—and there was little actually change in U.S. policy.

To be fair to the crown prince, U.S. foreign policy can be pretty inscrutable these days even for those of us in Washington. I can only imagine how confusing it appears from Riyadh.

Lebanon’s President Seeks Explanation for Prime Minister’s Stay in Saudi Arabia

November 11, 2017

After meeting with Saudi official, Michel Aoun asks for return of Saad Hariri, who abruptly resigned in Riyadh

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Riyadh on Saturday.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri with Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud in Riyadh on Saturday. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

BEIRUT—Lebanese President Michel Aoun asked Saudi Arabia to explain why Prime Minister Saad Hariri hadn’t returned to Lebanon after resigning his post from Riyadh last week, according to a statement released Saturday from the president’s office, the latest salvo in an escalating crisis between the two countries.

“We request the return of the prime minister to Lebanon,” according to the statement from Mr. Aoun, which recapped a meeting between Saudi Arabia’s chargé d’affaires and the Lebanese president the day before.

Mr. Hariri had resigned unexpectedly last Saturday, citing Iran’s meddling in internal Lebanese affairs as the reason. He also said he was tendering his resignation because he felt his life was under threat at home.

Mr. Hariri appeared publicly on Saturday, when he greeted King Salman upon his return to Riyadh from a trip to Medina.

Mr. Hariri’s extended stay—now in its seventh day in Saudi Arabia—coincides with upheaval in the royal family stemming from a sweeping anticorruption campaign spearheaded by the Saudi crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman. More than 200 people have been detained, including members of the royal family and cabinet officials, as part of the government’s continuing corruption crackdown.

The Lebanese prime minister’s failure to return home has stirred speculation about the extent of his involvement in the Saudi political crisis. Under Lebanese law, the resignation only becomes official when the prime minister hands it in person to the president. Both the president and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri have rejected Mr. Hariri’s resignation.

Saudi Arabia’s chargé d’affaires in Lebanon, Walid al Bukhari, on Saturday said Mr. Hariri was in the kingdom by his own will.

“Maybe he does not want to come back because of security reasons or out of fear of being assassinated,” said the Saudi diplomat, Mr. Bukhari. ”He is free to leave when he wants.”

Mr. Hariri got elected as prime minister following a deal that brought in Mr. Aoun, an ally of the powerful political and military group, Hezbollah, which is strategically aligned with Iran.

On Friday, Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah accused Riyadh of holding Mr. Hariri under house arrest, saying Saudi Arabia had coerced Mr. Hariri into resigning.

“We consider that an insult to the Lebanese prime minister,” he said.

As calls mount for Mr. Hariri to return home, tensions between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have been rising.

On Saturday, a Lebanese army soldier was killed and four others were wounded while conducting an operation in northeastern Lebanon to attempt to rescue a Saudi national who had been abducted and was being held for ransom. The fate of the hostage couldn’t immediately be determined.

A tweet Saturday by the Saudi Embassy in Lebanon said they are communicating with the Lebanese authorities to secure the release of the Saudi national without any prerequisites.

The troubles between Lebanon and Saudi Arabia have aroused U.S. concern, which considers both to be key partners in the region. “The United States cautions against any party, within or outside Lebanon, using Lebanon as a venue for proxy conflicts,” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, a clear reference to Riyadh and Tehran, both of which have seen the country as a battleground for influence.

Mr. Tillerson told reporters Friday he had no indication that Mr. Hariri was being held against his will, but said if the Lebanese prime minister is indeed resigning, “he needs to go back to Lebanon to make that official.”




Lebanon believes Saudi holds Hariri, demands his return

Lebanon believes Saad al-Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia, from where he resigned as Lebanese prime minister, two top government officials in Beirut said, amid a deepening crisis pushing Lebanon onto the frontlines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon believes Saad al-Hariri is being held in Saudi Arabia, from where he resigned as Lebanese prime minister, two top government officials in Beirut said, amid a deepening crisis pushing Lebanon onto the frontlines of a power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon’s prime minister Saad al-Hariri gestures during a press conference in parliament building at downtown Beirut, Lebanon October 9, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File PhotoA third source, a senior politician close to Saudi-allied Hariri, said Saudi Arabia had ordered him to resign and put him under house arrest. A fourth source familiar with the situation said Saudi Arabia was controlling and limiting his movement.

In a televised statement indicating deep concern at Hariri’s situation, his Future Movement political party said his return home was necessary to uphold the Lebanese system, describing him as prime minister and a national leader.

Hariri’s resignation last Saturday, read out on television from Saudi Arabia, came as a shock even to his aides and further embroiled Beirut in a regional contest between Riyadh and Tehran.

Hariri’s exit fueled wide speculation that the Sunni Muslim politician, long an ally of Riyadh, was coerced into stepping down by Saudi Arabia as it seeks to hit back against Iran and its Lebanese Shi‘ite ally, Hezbollah.

In his resignation speech, Hariri denounced Iran and Hezbollah for sowing strife in Arab states and said he feared assassination. His father, a former prime minister, was killed by a bomb in 2005.

Saudi Arabia has denied reports he is under house arrest.

But Hariri has issued no statements himself to that effect, and has not denied that his movements are being restricted.


“Keeping Hariri with restricted freedom in Riyadh is an attack on Lebanese sovereignty. Our dignity is his dignity. We will work with (foreign) states to return him to Beirut,” said the senior Lebanese official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the government had yet to declare that position.

Saudi Arabia says Hariri resigned because Hezbollah, which was included in Hariri’s coalition government, had “hijacked” Lebanon’s political system.

Hariri aides had until Thursday denied he was under house arrest but took a dramatically different tone after a meeting of the Future Movement convened at Hariri’s Beirut residence on Thursday.

A statement read by former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said his return was “necessary to recover respect for Lebanon’s internal and external balance, and in the framework of full respect for Lebanese legitimacy”.

Hariri’s aunt, Bahia, sat next to Siniora as he read the statement. The party stood behind his leadership, it said.

Hariri came to office last year in a political deal that made the Hezbollah-allied Christian politician Michel Aoun head of state and produced a coalition government grouping most Lebanese parties including Hezbollah.

Saudi Arabia blessed the government at the time, but has been fiercely critical of the Hariri-led government since he stepped down, saying it failed to act against Hezbollah, whose guerrilla army is far more powerful than the weak state.

Saudi Arabia had wanted Hariri to take a tougher stance toward Hezbollah, and he failed to do so, the fourth source said. “He was functioning as if it is business as usual, so the Saudis had to accelerate the process and to force a resignation.”

FILE PHOTO: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri attends a general parliament discussion in downtown Beirut, Lebanon October 18, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File PhotoSaudi Arabia this week lumped Lebanon together with Hezbollah as parties that are hostile to it, breaking with a long-established policy that has drawn a line between them and raising concerns of further Saudi measures.


Hariri flew to Saudi Arabia last Friday.

The top Lebanese government official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said: “Lebanon is heading toward asking foreign and Arab states to put pressure on Saudi Arabia to release Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.”

The official said Hariri was still Lebanon’s prime minister, echoing other Lebanese government officials who say his resignation had not been received by Aoun, and his government therefore remained in place.

The resignation of Hariri, a business tycoon whose family made its fortune in Saudi Arabia, happened at the same time as a wave of arrests of Saudi princes and businessmen accused of corruption by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

The senior Lebanese politician close to Hariri said: “When he went (to Saudi Arabia) he was asked to stay there and ordered to resign. They ordered him to read his resignation statement and he has been held under house arrest since.”

Two U.S. officials said the Saudis, led by Crown Prince Mohammed, had “encouraged” Hariri to leave office.

The fourth source said: “He is under controlled movement by the Saudis, limited movement.”

Hezbollah’s parliamentary bloc said Saudi Arabia must halt its interference in Lebanese affairs.

He made a one-day flying visit to the United Arab Emirates, a close Saudi ally, earlier this week before returning to Saudi Arabia.

Hariri’s office said in a statement he had received the French ambassador to Saudi Arabia at his Riyadh residence on Thursday. He had also met the head of the EU mission to Saudi Arabia on Wednesday, and on Tuesday the British ambassador and the U.S. charge d‘affaires.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert confirmed U.S. Charge d‘Affaires Chris Henzel met with Hariri. Asked about reports Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia, Nauert declined to elaborate on his status or what was discussed, calling the talks “sensitive, private, diplomatic conversations.”

Nauert indicated the United States would not treat the Lebanese government any differently as a result of the uncertainty over Hariri.

Saudi Arabia warned its citizens on Thursday against travel to Lebanon and said those already there should leave. It has issued similar advice about Lebanon to its citizens before.

Lebanon’s Maronite patriarch will visit Saudi Arabia next week and has received “a positive response” from Saudi officials over the possibility of seeing Hariri, his spokesman said.

Patriarch Beshara al-Rai’s visit “had been decided on a long time ago. In light of the developments, his mission has become national,” Walid Ghayyad said. The patriarch will take a message to the kingdom that “Lebanon cannot handle conflict.”

Leak Reveals Ties Between Trump Administration and Russia, Implicating Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Jared Kushner

November 6, 2017

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The so-called Paradise Papers have revealed secrets of politicians worldwide, including new links between the Trump administration and Russia.

A new trove of more than 13 million leaked documents implicates top officials and associates of President Donald Trump—as well as foreign politicians—in shady business relationships tied to offshore financial accounts.

In at least two cases, the documents highlight top administration officials’ previously undisclosed connections to Russia and Kremlin-linked interests.

The so-called Paradise Papers were leaked to the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, the same publication that obtained the “Panama Papers.” Süddeutsche Zeitung shared the new documents with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, which led a global effort of 96 media organizations from 67 countries to pore through the records. The findings were published on Sunday.

The documents show that many of the wealthy individuals Trump brought into his administration have worked to legally store their money in offshore havens where they would be free from taxation in the United States. Trump has promised repeatedly to “drain the swamp,” in condemning the idea that well-connected individuals in Washington, D.C., preserve their own interests at the expense of the rest of the country.

Among the Trump administration officials implicated in the leaks is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who according to the documents concealed his ties to a Russian energy company that is partly owned by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s judo partner Gennady Timchenko and Putin’s son-in-law, Kirill Shamalov. Through offshore investments, Ross held a stake in Navigator Holdings, which had a close business relationship with the Russian firm. Ross did not disclose that connection during his confirmation process on Capitol Hill.

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Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross seated next to President Donald Trump. Photo by Pete Marovich/UPI

“In concealing his interest in these shipping companies—and his ongoing financial relationship with Russian oligarchs—Secretary Ross misled me, the Senate Commerce Committee, and the American people,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) said in a statement on Sunday. He characterized Ross’ financial disclosures as a “Russian nesting doll, with blatant conflicts of interest carefully hidden within seemingly innocuous companies.”

Ross has been linked to Russian interests before; in 2014, he poured hundreds of millions of dollars into the Bank of Cyprus, an institution regarded by financial watchdogs as a haven for Russian money laundering. Ross’ fellow investors included a pair of Russian oligarchs, including Dmitry Rybolovlev, the man who bought a Trump property in Palm Beach for $95 million, even though it was valued at less than $60 million. Ross became a vice chair of the bank, along with a reported former KGB officer. Former Deutsche Bank executive Josef Ackermann was installed as chairman. Deutsche Bank—one of Trump’s biggest creditors—subsequently paid hundreds of millions to settle disputes that it shipped $10 billion or more to Russia in suspect loans.

Top White House adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is also implicated. The documents reveal that Russian tech leader Yuri Milner invested $850,000 in a startup called Cadre that Kushner co-founded in 2014.

Milner has long had a reputation in Silicon Valley as a big-league investor; his firm at one point owned major chunks of both Facebook and Twitter. But Milner was never considered particularly Kremlin-connected. These new documents call that reputation into question. The investing arm of Gazprom, the state-backed energy company, financed a share of Facebook worth up to $1 billion; a Kremlin-owned bank invested $191 million into a Milner firm, and some of that money was then injected into Twitter.

Despite Milner’s investment in his startup, Kushner said in July that he told the Senate Intelligence Committee in a closed-door meeting that he never “relied on Russian funds to finance my business activities in the private sector.”

Representatives for Sens. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Mark Warner (D-VA), the chairman and vice chairman of the committee, did not immediately return requests for comment. Kushner, who still has a stake in Cadre, did not previously disclose the firm’s other business ties.

The top adviser is already ensnared in the Russia investigations as questions continue to swirl about his meeting at Trump Tower in June 2016 with a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Kushner attended the meeting alongside Donald Trump Jr. and Paul Manafort, who was indicted last week by the Justice Department’s special counsel, Robert Mueller, in connection with his lobbying work for pro-Russian interests in Ukraine.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and top economic adviser Gary Cohn are all mentioned in the documents. But some lower-level appointees have more egregious connections to offshore interests—in some cases, directly related to industries they are tasked with regulating.

Randal Quarles, who was confirmed just last month to be vice chairman for supervision at the Federal Reserve, has financial connections to a bank based in Bermuda that is being probed by U.S. officials under suspicion of tax evasion. A Federal Reserve spokesman told The Guardian that Quarles divested from the bank when he assumed his position at the U.S. central bank.

It isn’t just American officials who are implicated in the document dump. A substantial portion of Queen Elizabeth II’s private estate—around 10 million pounds—resides in offshore accounts based in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Some of the money has been invested in companies with allegedly shady business practices.

A significant number of the leaked documents came from a law firm based in Bermuda called Appleby, which helps its clients set up offshore financial accounts with the goal of avoiding taxes on certain assets. Appleby has maintained that “there is no evidence of any wrongdoing, either on the part of ourselves or our clients.”

—with additional reporting by Noah Shachtman


See also UPI Report:


Mnuchin Joins Tillerson in Praising Qatar Amid Saudi-Led Embargo

October 31, 2017


By Saleha Mohsin and Bill Faries

  • U.S., Qatar have ‘shared understanding’ in terror fight
  • Trump had vowed to mediate directly to help end crisis


U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin praised “robust ties” between the U.S. and Qatar and vowed closer cooperation with the country despite a lingering dispute the Gulf emirate has with a bloc of nations led by Saudi Arabia.

Mnuchin, wrapping up a trip to several Middle East nations on Monday, said the U.S. and Qatar would enhance cooperation in fighting terrorist financing. He issued a statement after meetings with Qatar’s emir, prime minister and finance minister.

“We affirm that the United States and Qatar will significantly increase our cooperation on these issues to ensure that Qatar is a hostile environment for terrorist financing,” Mnuchin said. The statement went on to say the two nations have “a shared understanding” that improvements have been made in fighting terror financing since July.

The agreement follows efforts by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who visited the region last week, to broker an agreement in the monthslong dispute between Qatar and the bloc made up of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The bloc cut diplomatic and economic ties with Qatar in June over alleged support for terrorism, an accusation Qatar’s government has rejected.

“Our talks with Secretary Mnuchin have been highly productive, and underline our nations’ shared determination to eradicate terrorism wherever it takes root,” Finance Minister Ali Shareef Al Emadi said in the statement with Mnuchin. “This is a clear indicator of our long-standing political commitment to combatting money laundering and terror financing.”

Military Base

The crisis has put the U.S. in a difficult position because of its alliance with nations on both sides of the dispute. Qatar hosts a major U.S. military base used in the fight against Islamic State, while Saudi Arabia is an historic ally that President Donald Trump has repeatedly praised since taking office in January, seeing it as a regional counterweight to Iran.

Tillerson made clear in an Oct. 19 interview that he thinks the Saudi-led bloc is responsible for the continued crisis because they’ve refused so far to talk to Qatar. He called on all sides to refrain from heated rhetoric and argued that the standoff was hurting U.S. and regional economic interests.

In September, President Donald Trump said he would be willing to serve as a mediator “right here in the White House” if the issue wasn’t solved soon.

Mnuchin’s comments came as he prepared to return to Washington after a six-day trip that took him to Saudi Arabia, Israel, Abu Dhabi and Qatar to discuss the new U.S. strategy toward Iran and terrorist financing. Mnuchin was joined on the trip by Sigal Mandelker, Treasury’s undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence, Chief of Staff Eli Miller, and Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton.

See also:

Qatar’s Emir Defiant as Dispute With Saudi-led Bloc Drags On

Ex-CIA Chief says U.S. Should Sell “Bunker Buster” Bombs to Israel to Deter Iran — “We are defeating ISIS, but leaving Iran, Russia and their friends in stronger position”

October 26, 2017
 The Jerusalem Post
OCTOBER 26, 2017 00:18


‘We are defeating ISIS, but leaving Iran, Russia and their friends in stronger position’.

Ex-CIA chief: Let Israel buy bunker busters to deter Tehran


WASHINGTON – Israel should be allowed to buy bunker-buster bombs – with certain restrictions – to deter Iran, former CIA and NSA director Michael Hayden told The Jerusalem Post.

“I’ve talked about that thought…I can imagine circumstances where the US might want to take steps to convince Iran of its seriousness,” he said in a recent interview in his Washington office, in which he did not reject the idea out of hand when questioned. “Allowing Israel to purchase them [bunker-busters] in gradations, training on them, but keeping them here” in the US.

In a worst-case scenario – to prevent Iran bringing out a nuclear weapon – giving Israel bunker-buster bombs could allow it to take out underground aspects of the program and perhaps deter Iran from trying to break out with such a weapon.

Hayden’s statement on the issue displayed significant nuance.

On one hand, his qualified support of selling Israel the game-changing weapons – which can destroy even deep underground bunkers and which the US has refused to sell Israel to date – is a substantial statement.

It is an acknowledgment by one of the US’s top former intelligence officials, one who has sized up the threat of an Iranian nuclear weapon, post-nuclear deal, and who thinks that at some point the US may want Israel to have an ability it thought too risky to provide until now.

On the other hand, the former CIA director still wanted to maintain a check on Israeli use, by not yet physically delivering the weapons to Israel.

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He explained that Israel might otherwise “be more aggressive and pull us into something we do not want to be pulled into.” His plan would maintain US control over the weapon’s use, even as it would signal the reality to Iran of a potential Israeli air strike.

By no means does this forward thinking mean Hayden has no opinion about US President Donald Trump’s approach in decertifying the Iran nuclear deal or other decisions of his that affect the Middle East.

To help visualize Trump’s decertification strategy, Hayden drew a diagram of three boxes summarizing three Iran-related threats, labeling them “nuclear now,” “nuclear tomorrow” and “all else.”

The former spy chief said that Trump’s decertification might risk “making a big deal about the nuclear now, but missing the boat about the other two things.”

In other words, if Trump were not so stuck on the “nuclear now,” then “maybe Europe might be more serious about nuclear tomorrow,” and the West could avoid “freeing up Iran about everything else” – particularly its terrorism across the Middle East.

Hayden’s perspective on the Iran nuclear agreement is highly nuanced.

“Leave it there. It is what you’ve got.

I was never a fan of the deal, but we’ve got the deal. It has had some positive effects. But there are a whole bunch of other things Iran is doing that we have quite legitimate concerns about.

I do criticize Obama for not pushing back harder about other issues,” he said.

Hayden was concerned that Trump would completely scrap the accord, but said it appeared, ultimately, that Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, along with US armed forces chief Gen.

Joseph Dunford Jr., convinced him to “leave the nuclear deal alone” and pass the issue on to Congress.

“But the president wanted to make a speech – so he made a speech,” said Hayden, a glimmer in his eye in his typical satirical manner.

One risk of Trump’s decertification that he noted: “The president may set in motion events giving more control to Congress, Europe or even Iran, which might lead to dynamics where US interests are in a less good place.”

Connecting some of his comments to Mattis, Hayden said another longer- term risk if Trump or Congress were to completely scrap the deal is that it would hurt the ability of the US to reach complex deals in the future.

“The word of the US must mean something. If Iran is not in material breach… and Iran is not in material breach… I agree with [ex-IDF intelligence chief] Amos Yadlin that the deal is so good, why would the Iranians cheat?… then we should stay in the deal,” while simultaneously trying to raise global pressure on Iran’s ballistic missile and terrorist activities in parallel.

Hayden complimented Trump, saying it was “quite remarkable that he got [US Sen.] Tom Cotton’s agreement not to do anything dramatic for a while” in Congress so that the accord is not in immediate danger.

He also reiterated his support for pressuring Iran on a variety of nuclear and nonnuclear issues, as well as strengthening the nuclear inspections regime to have more “anytime, anywhere” authority, including the inspection of Iranian military facilities to which the International Atomic Energy Agency has had little access.

Hayden responded to comments made to the Post by former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton, in which he said that as soon as the deal expires – or even before – Iran can simply get Pyongyang to transfer its ICBM-ready nuclear technology, thereby giving Iran the wherewithal to leap forward in its nuclear abilities.

Hayden said, “This is all true, but it is not a prima facie case to walk out of the deal. I get Bolton’s argument, but he is very skilled at painting the darkest picture.”

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John Bolton. Credit CBS News
Regarding Syria, Hayden said the victory over ISIS in Raqqa was good, but that Hezbollah-Iranian-Alawite- Russian forces were piggybacking on wins by the US and its allies “to fill space in east Syria, and we seem to be indifferent to that.”Echoing warnings by top Israeli officials about Trump’s Syria policy, he said the US administration’s indifference seemed to be “allowing not just a Shi’a arc metaphorically, but also physically on the ground [to develop from Iran through Iraq, Syria and Lebanon],” adding, “This is very important.”Hayden elaborated: “As Raqqa falls, two American-trained armies are fighting each other in Kirkuk [the Kurds against the Shi’ites]. One of them has a very strong Iranian mobile presence. Not that this is easy [to deal with]. There are no good options. But I do not see an adequate sense of concern about those developments. We are defeating ISIS, but leaving Iran, Russia and friends in a much stronger position.”Honing in on the intelligence community debate about whether new cyber and data mining tools or traditional human spying is more important in the new technology age, he said, “there are different intelligence inputs. All of it is important. The best intelligence is almost always produced by a combination of all of them.”

He added, “I am fearful we will become captives to big data, rather than its masters. Somethings that are important cannot be counted. I recommend to the intelligence community to master big data, but do not forget that history, culture and context really matter.”

Regarding US and Israeli intelligence cooperation, he said, “different countries have different strengths in the enterprise. The US technology is very strong. Our Israeli friends have other strengths, that in combination, make us better off.”

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CIA Director Mike Pompeo

Wanting to show respect to a fellow CIA director, Hayden did not want to make many comments about debates relating to current CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s running of the CIA.

However, he did say that, “the agency kind of exhaled when Pompeo was selected. One element they are very happy about is that he has secured a seat at the table for the agency in Trump administration deliberations.”