Posts Tagged ‘Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’

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
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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.”

https://www.wsj.com/articles/lebanons-president-seeks-explanation-for-prime-ministers-stay-in-saudi-arabia-1510423679

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Reuters

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.

RESTRICTED FREEDOM

“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.

SAUDI ARRESTS

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.”

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

November 6, 2017

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PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY LYNE LUCIEN/THE DAILY BEAST

By 

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

https://www.thedailybeast.com/massive-leak-reveals-new-ties-between-trump-administration-and-russia-implicating-commerce-secretary-wilbur-ross-and-jared-kushner

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https://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2017/11/05/Leaked-papers-show-commerce-secretary-hid-ties-to-Putin-cronies/3361509913537/?utm_source=fp&utm_campaign=ls&utm_medium=2

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Mnuchin Joins Tillerson in Praising Qatar Amid Saudi-Led Embargo

October 31, 2017

Bloomberg

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
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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.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-30/mnuchin-joins-tillerson-in-praising-qatar-amid-saudi-led-embargo

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

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-30/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
BY YONAH JEREMY BOB
 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

MICHAEL HAYDEN. (photo credit: REUTERS)

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
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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.”

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Bannon Backs Isolation of Qatar, Comparing Threat to North Korea — Iran Allied to Qatar; China Funding Iran

October 24, 2017

Bloomberg

By Jennifer Jacobs

Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist and chairman of Breitbart News, speaks during a discussion on countering violent extremism, at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center, on Oct. 23, in Washington, DC. Photographer: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The Saudi Arabia-led isolation of Qatar over its alleged financing of terrorists and relationship with Iran is the most important foreign confrontation in the world, U.S. President Donald Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon said in a speech.

Bannon backs the Saudi effort and said Qatar must be held to account for allegedly funding the Muslim Brotherhood and other “radical Islamic terrorism,” Bannon said in remarks hosted by the Hudson Institute on Monday.

“I think the single most important thing that’s happening in the world is the situation in Qatar,” Bannon said. “What’s happening in Qatar is every bit as important as what’s happening in North Korea.”

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Saudi Arabia’s leaders rebuffed his request in meetings on Sunday to end the isolation of Qatar by their country, Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates. The diplomatic row began in June shortly after President Donald Trump visited the Mideast and called for an end to terrorist financing by countries in the region.

Bannon called Trump’s speech a milestone in U.S. policy toward the Mideast.

“I don’t think it was just by happenstance that two weeks after the summit that we saw the blockade by the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and Egypt and the king of Saudi Arabia on Qatar,” he said.

Trump said in September he’d be willing to mediate the dispute, after initially backing the Saudi-led effort against Qatar.

McClatchy reported on Monday that the UAE is paying the parent company of Bannon-linked firm Cambridge Analytica $330,000 for a public relations campaign against Qatar on social media.

“That’s a company I have nothing to do with,” Bannon told the moderator of the Hudson Institute event.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-23/bannon-backs-isolation-of-qatar-comparing-threat-to-north-korea

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Tillerson Open to Peace Talks With ‘Moderate’ Taliban

October 23, 2017

The U.S. secretary of state reopened the offer during a surprise visit to Afghanistan.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks during a surprise visit to Afghanistan on October 23, 2017. (Alex Brandon/AFP/Getty Images)

During an unannounced trip to Afghanistan on Monday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson reminded the Taliban that the United States is ready to negotiate, going so far as to say the militant group could join the Afghan government if it renounced its extremism and violence.

Tillerson said the United States wanted to make it clear to the Taliban and other militants that the United States was in Afghanistan for the long haul and the militants would not prevail militarily.

“We believe moderate voices among the Taliban, voices that do not want to continue to fight forever,” he said. “There’s a place for them in the government if they are ready to come, renouncing terrorism, renouncing violence, and being committed to a stable prosperous Afghanistan,” he added.

Tillerson made remarks after a meeting with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani and other top Afghan officials near Kabul at Bagram Air Base, the largest U.S. military installation in Afghanistan.

The diplomatic overture signals the Trump administration’s eagerness to wrap up the longest war in U.S. history. In August, Trump pledged open-ended support for Afghanistan following fierce internal debates and foot-dragging after having campaigned on ending the costly 16-year war.

Former President Barack Obama tried multiple times to negotiate peace with the Taliban, to no avail. The Trump administration hasn’t yet made clear how its diplomatic efforts will be different this time around.

Tillerson during his visit reiterated his desire to get more Pakistani cooperation to stabilize Afghanistan, and he hinted at a tough message for Islamabad when he goes there Tuesday.

“We are as concerned about the future stability of Pakistan as we are in many respects here in Afghanistan,” Tillerson said.

“Pakistan needs to, I think, take a clear-eyed view of the situation that they are confronted with in terms of the number of terrorist organizations that find safe haven inside of Pakistan,” he said.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. @robbiegramer

Source:http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/10/23/tillerson-open-to-peace-talks-with-taliban-afghanistan-pakistan-south-asia-diplomacy/

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Kurds Say Now America is No Longer a Trustworthy Ally; Donald Trump Betrayed Us — “We were not supported by the American ally” — “Iran was here, the U.S. was not here.”

October 22, 2017
Time magazine

Armed Kurdish civilians set-up checkpoints in Kirkuk Monday morning as they tried to prevent Kurdish peshmerga fighters from evacuating the city as Iraqi government forces advanced.

The peshmerga left along with tens of thousands of fleeing civilians that jammed the road from Kirkuk to Erbil. Resident burnt tires and shouted “shame on you,” while some civilians pointed guns as the peshmerga departed.

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Iraqi Kurds fly Kurdish flags during an event to urge people to vote in the upcoming independence referendum, September 16, 2017 (SAFIN HAMED-AFP)

By mid-afternoon, the Kurds had lost control of Kirkuk, Iraq’s most contested city. Young Arab men hung an Iraqi flag from a bridge as American-made Humvees rolled through the streets, closely followed by pick-up trucks filled with fighters from the mostly-Shia Popular Mobilization Forces.

“Now all Kirkuk can see this flag,” said Abdullah Gubal as he hung it over a billboard for the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK), the leading Kurdish political party in Kirkuk.

Claimed by both the Iraqi government in Baghdad and the Kurdish regional authority in Erbil, the fate of Kirkuk should have been decided by referendum a decade ago. Kurds took control of Kirkuk when Iraqi forces fled ISIS’s advance in June of 2014. The Kurdish leadership vowed they wouldn’t hand the city back. But Kirkuk’s government buildings and Kurdish party headquarters were virtual empty Monday and residents said they saw Kurdish officials and forces leave before the Iraqi forces advanced.

“They sold Kirkuk,” said Ahmad Mohamed holding his Kalashnikov at the edge of the city with a group of angry Kurdish volunteer fighters pledging to go back and push the Iraqi forces out.

“This is shame on the Kurdish leaders and most of the Kurdish commanders in Kirkuk,” said Wyra Ali. “They didn’t fire one bullet from their weapons. They should defended Kirkuk, but they didn’t.”

Hiwa Osman, a Kurdish analyst, says the peshmerga retreat may have been the result of both confusion and internal division. Since the Kurds’ controversial referendum on sovereignty last month, the division between the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the party of Kurdish President Masoud Barzani, and the PUK has been growing and many here believe the PUK struck a deal to hand over Kirkuk to Baghdad.

“One camp said stay at home,” says Osman. “The other camp said take your weapons and go in to the street.”

In the end, Iraqi forces and allied militias met little resistance in the urban center after clashes with forces outside the city. Overnight Iraqi forces took control of the areas outside the city and by afternoon American-trained elite forces had taken the Kurdish flag off the governors’ office and raised the Iraqi one instead.

Monday’s Iraqi advance on Kirkuk was spurred by the controversial Kurdish referendum on September 25. Washington and Baghdad both urged the Kurdish leadership to postpone the vote, but they went ahead. Since then, Baghdad has been increasing pressure on the Kurds’ semi-autonomous region — halting international flights out of the Kurds’ two international airports and threatening to take control of the borders.

Kurds were outnumbered, out-armed and also unsupported by the ally they share with Baghdad. Both the Iraqi forces entering the city today and the Kurdish forces that left, are funded, trained and equipped by the U.S. and allies in the fight against ISIS, putting Washington in difficult position.

“Where are the American planes?” asked another man. The pop of gunfire could be heard in the distance as the volunteer Kurdish fighters talked about heading in to Kirkuk.
President Donald Trump said Monday that the U.S. would not take sides in the Kurdish-Iraqi dispute. But Jennifer Cafarella, senior analyst at the Institute for the Study of War, says it’s this position and American tunnel vision on the fight against ISIS that allowed this situation to escalate.

“The U.S. is in a terrible position because we remained focused on the very narrow anti-ISIS mission,” says Cafarella, explaining the U.S. needed to be more engaged before these tensions between the Iraqis and the Kurds spiraled. She also cautions that while U.S. has not been involved, the Iranians have. “Now the U.S. is sitting on the sidelines asking for everyone to deescalate.”

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CNN

Trump’s actions are beginning to have global consequences

Nic Robertson is CNN’s international diplomatic editor. The opinions in this article belong to the author.

Image result for Masoud Barzani, photos, marching, with Kurdish flag

(CNN) — The last time Baghdad sent troops into Kirkuk to kick out Kurdish forces, I was in the first group of journalists taken to see the aftermath.

Bloated bodies and blown-up trucks littered the road as we arrived.
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Fresh on the heels of the allied liberation of Kuwait in 1991, swaths of Iraq’s downtrodden rose up against Saddam Hussein. The Shia in the south and the Kurds in the north were both brutally crushed.
Around Kirkuk we witnessed the ugly aftermath of more killings. Kurds who had been gunned down, their bodies untouched where they fell.
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It was, as my wife — then a CNN correspondent — reported, “an object lesson in brutality.”
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Although Baghdad’s offensive in Kirkuk this week is tame by comparison, it is nevertheless an object lesson not just for the Kurds, but for the US — and President Trump in particular.
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The Iraqi government forces arrived in US-made Humvees and Abrams tanks backed by Shia militias who are supported by Iran. Both the US and Iran are vying for influence in Iraq.
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Iran’s claim is historic, rooted in religious ideology. By contrast, America appears as the Johnny-come-lately.
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So when Trump refused to recertify Iran’s compliance of the Iran nuclear deal last week and threatened to designate Iran’s top military force, the revolutionary guard — the IRGC — a terrorist organization, he wasn’t just slapping down the theocracy — he was also upping the stakes in Iraq.
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Image result for Masoud Barzani, photos, marching, with Kurdish flag
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In part drawing a line in the sand; in part throwing sand in the faces of Iran’s leaders. Iran’s Supreme Leader the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is throwing sand back, pledging to undermine US interests in Iraq and by implication its Kurdish region.
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Not long after my visit to Kirkuk in 1991, the US designated Kurdish areas a safe zone, denying Saddam access.
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Since then, the Kurds — under their leader Masoud Barzani — have cemented autonomy and grown claims for independence, wooing America as a protector by granting oil rights and offering strategic airbases for them — some close to Iran’s border.
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But last month, Barzani pushed the relationship to the brink by forcing through a Kurdish referendum on independence against the express wishes of America, Iraq, and Iran. Only Israel accepted the Kurds’ overwhelming call for independence.
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On the eve of Iraq’s Kurdish offensive this week, an IRGC general slipped into Kirkuk with two Iraqi generals and told the Kurds to get out or be crushed.
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Both the President and the Iranians have put their cards on the table: Trump can’t abide them; they want American influence in the region gone. The days of cooperating over ISIS are likely not long for this world.

iraq kirkuk changing hands wedeman pkg nr_00002711

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Kirkuk on edge after Peshmerga pushed out 02:31
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A marriage of convenience is splintering, as they so often do, into a messy separation.
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If the Iran deal was the pre-nup, the divorce won’t be about who gets to keep how much enriched uranium as much as it will be about who gets which country or region as a sphere of influence.
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The fault lines have been solidifying for decades. A first faint trace came almost a century ago with the Sykes-Picot division of the post-Ottoman Middle East.
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The Sultan’s caliphate was parceled up into trans-tribal, trans-ethnic and trans-secular countries whose citizens were new to such nationhood.
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In the century since, kings and dictators have mostly sought to subjugate in their own interest. National interest has only ever been a tool wielded to hold on to power.
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It is why Iraq and Syria are in turmoil today and why Lebanon is still recovering from a civil war that ended over two decades ago. The region is fragile and every outside player makes it more brittle.
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As former US Secretary of State Colin Powell apparently told President George W. Bush: “If you break it, you own it.”
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Donald Trump may not have created this mess, but his recent pronouncements on the Iran deal appear to lack the leadership skills that would be expected of a US president.
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Indeed, Trump seems to be the only person unable to comprehend the ripple effect of his actions.
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Trump’s sabre rattling on Iran and North Korea isn’t just ensuring that citizens of those countries get in line behind their regimes, but it also exposes the paucity of his policies to a global audience.
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Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control

Iraq seizes disputed city from Kurdish control 01:45
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All of the other signatories to the deal — Russia, China, Germany, France and the UK as well as the EU — urged against doing what he did and risk triggering a collapse of the deal.
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EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini sounded particularly bitter: “It is not (a) bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it.”
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Trump’s more than 200 days in office are shearing him of his allies’ close support.
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His decision on Iran shredded any last vestige of doubt for Trump’s critics and most of his allies that he is setting America’s international standing back years — maybe decades.
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His statement on Iran has been the culmination of months of unease that most European leaders had hoped could be avoided.
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Within a week, their worst fears may be taking shape. Kurds routed from Kirkuk by Iranian-backed forces and the real possibility of a bigger confrontation that could mean more refugees spilling into Europe.
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The assumption that Trump’s impulses can be kept in check by wiser minds in his administration is being challenged.
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Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: “President Trump’s foreign-policy goals break the mold of what people traditionally think is achievable on behalf of our country … We’re finding new ways to govern that deliver new victories.”
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On Iran, Defense Secretary James Mattis said: “I give advice to the President, he was elected by the American people and I stand by the Iran strategy as it came out today.”
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And Chief of Staff John Kelly offered this guidance on his role at the White House: “I was not sent in to — or brought in to control him.”
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What’s really worrying European diplomats is what could happen if another Middle East conflict kicked off.
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In 2015, a massive wave of refugees principally from the Syrian conflict shifted Europe’s politics to the right and changed the face of the continent.
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More evidence of this came in Austria’s elections last weekend: The world’s youngest-ever leader surfing into power on a wave of anti-migrant rhetoric.
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Voters in Germany, France and Holland have also boosted nationalist hopes of a revival in the immediate aftermath of Britain’s Brexit vote.
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Europe is experiencing a reactionary lurch in which nationalists feel emboldened — and the refugees of Syria’s civil war helped make that happen.
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Another Middle East war would likely cloud Europe’s horizons further. ISIS is using the moment to stoke primal fears. A perfect storm may be brewing.
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Our lives risk being reshaped by inexperienced leaders who like lashing out on both sides of the Atlantic. Don’t tell me that isn’t a recipe for disaster.
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Several reliable Kurds shared their disillusionment with the U.S. and President Donald Trump with Peace and Freedom. One said, “We were confronted with Shia Iraqis with U.S. weapons and we had no ally. The U.S. was not here. But Iran was here.”
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© AFP/File | Iranian President Hassan Rouhani shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) during a welcoming ceremony on January 23, 2016 in the capital Tehran

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U.S. disappointed at China’s lack of progress in pursuing market-oriented reforms — “Too much empty talk”

October 22, 2017

Bloomberg

By Michelle Jamrisko

 
  • Since Xi-Trump meeting, U.S. wanted to see more China progress
  • U.S president scheduled to visit Beijing in November
Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg

The U.S. has been disappointed this year at China’s lack of progress in pursuing market-oriented reforms, said a senior administration official, ratcheting up the pressure on the world’s second-largest economy ahead of President Donald Trump’s visit there next month.

While China made progress in previous decades toward market pricing and reducing the number of state-owned enterprises, the U.S. is concerned now with subsidies, excess capacity, and its industrial policy, said the official, who asked not to be identified in order to discuss sensitive policy issues.

A meeting earlier this year between President Xi Jinping and Trump in Mar-a-Lago was very good but the U.S. had hoped for more follow-through on reform, the official said. The Comprehensive Economic Dialogue between the two economies a few months later failed to yield desired results, the person said.

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people standing and suit

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago state in Palm Beach, Florida, U.S., April 6, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

The official’s comments follow days after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson noted in an interview growing U.S. impatience with China on issues from North Korea to trade. Trump is due to visit Beijing on Nov. 8 as part of his first trip to Asia, where he’ll also attend a meeting of leaders from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, or APEC, in Vietnam.

Read More: Tillerson Signals Impatience With China While Vowing to Stay On

Xi’s address to the Communist Party last week demonstrated that the leader is clearly in a strengthened position, so that gives him ample room for building a stronger, more market-oriented economy, the U.S. official said.

APEC Meeting

The official spoke amid talks in Hoi An, Vietnam, where finance ministers and delegates from the 21-member APEC were meeting ahead of the leaders’ summit in early November. While trade — a hot-button issue between the U.S. and China — wasn’t included in the final joint statement, it was discussed at length among the delegates.

Criticism of China’s practices remained a central part of the Trump administration’s policies on trade, which have emphasized “fair” over “free” trade as the president pushes for renegotiation of existing pacts in the name of “America First.”

From the U.S.’s perspective, trade isn’t growth-oriented enough, the official said. Trade should be market-oriented, and free and fair, rather than through gaining an advantage by creating subsidies and industrial policy, or by increasing debt through non-transparent loans, the person said.

Amid China’s massive long-term push to finance infrastructure projects throughout the region and beyond in the Belt and Road Initiative, the U.S. official noted that those, too, should allow more free-market practices. While the China-led Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank has made progress on that front, many of the projects with Chinese involvement have meant state-owned entities play a major role, with less transparency, the official said.

Two calls and a fax to China’s foreign affairs ministry went unanswered Sunday outside office hours.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-22/u-s-disappointed-by-china-s-slow-reform-trump-official-says

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Tillerson: China ‘Predatory’ for Dumping ‘Enormous Levels of Debt’ on Developing Nations

October 20, 2017

In this Sept. 26, 2017, photo, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson speaks at the State Department in Washington. Tillerson is making his second trip to China since taking office in February, and relations between the two world powers have rarely mattered so much. The standoff over North Korea’s nuclear weapons has entered a new, dangerous phase as its leader Kim Jong Un and President Donald Trump exchange personal insults and threats of war with no sign of a diplomatic solution. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Tillerson’s speech comes as a welcome response to the aggressive global agenda laid out by Xi, but it is also surprisingly tough given how hard the Trump administration has worked to get China on board with restraining North Korea.

Tillerson, who usually plays the “good cop” counterpart to Trump’s fiery criticism of global adversaries, was unsparing in his criticism of China’s business practices. The topic of his speech was “Defining Our Relationship with India for the Next Century.” He segued into hammering China during the Q&A session, after praising India’s economic development and efforts against terrorism in glowing terms for a good twenty minutes.

CSIS President John J. Hamre teed up the assault by quoting a “very interesting” passage from Tillerson’s remarks on India, in which he called for a close U.S.-Indian partnership to “ensure the Indo-Pacific is increasingly a place of peace, stability, and growing prosperity” and prevent it from becoming “a region of disorder, conflict, and predatory economics.”

Asked to clarify what he meant by predatory economics, Tillerson described the hunger of emerging economies and “fledgling democracies” in the region for infrastructure investment.

“We have watched the activities and actions of others in the region, particularly China, and the financing mechanisms it brings to many of these countries, which result in saddling them with enormous levels of debt,” said the secretary of state.

“They don’t often create the jobs, which infrastructure projects should be tremendous job creators in these economies, but too often foreign workers are brought in to execute these infrastructure projects,” he continued. “Financing is structured in a way that makes it very difficult for them to obtain future financing, and often has very subtle triggers in the financing that results in financing default, and the conversion of debt into equity.”

“This is not a structure that supports the future growth of these countries,” Tillerson said. “We think it’s important that we begin to develop some means of countering that with alternative financing measures, financing structures.”

“During the East Asia summit, ministerial summit in August, we began a quiet conversation with others about what they were experiencing, what they need, and we’re starting a quiet conversation in a multilateral way with how can we create alternative financing mechanisms,” he revealed. “We will not be able to compete with the kind of terms China offers, but countries have to decide—what are they willing to pay to secure their sovereignty and their future control of their economies? We’ve had those discussions with them as well.”

Tillerson recalled having similar discussions with borrowers during his days as a private-sector oil executive, which is a hopeful sign that he’s the right person to be waging this quiet financial war with China.

“On a direct competitive basis, it’s hard to compete with someone who’s offering something on financial terms that are worth a few points on the lending side,” he conceded, an especially important point when considering the billion-dollar scale of the loans he was describing. “We have to help them put that in perspective of the longer-term ability to control their country, control the future of their country, control the development of their economy in a rules-based system.”

“That’s really what we’re promoting. As you retain your sovereignty, you retain your commitment to a rules-based order, we will come with other options for you,” he said. This will be an interesting challenge when China is so aggressively pushing the idea that sovereignty, both individual and national, is overrated compared to the material benefits provided by authoritarian central control.

Examples of the predatory practices Tillerson described can be found in places like Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan, the latter two of which have been “virtually decimated” by Chinese debt manipulation according to this critique. Not coincidentally, the targets of Chinese financial assault tend to be located along its “New Silk Road” trade route construction project (which is often explicitly linked to the infrastructure projects Beijing funds) or along the borders of China’s great regional adversary, India.

Another case study is Cameroon, which owes China a huge amount of money, and noticed last year that Chinese loggers were illegally cutting down its forests. Critics specifically cited Cameroon’s debt to China for infrastructure loans as a major reason environmental laws were not enforced against it.

Tillerson compared China’s economic growth to India’s and concluded China has acted “less responsibly, at times undermining the international rules-based order.” He called out China’s “provocative actions in the South China Sea” as a direct challenge to international law.

“We’re going to have important relationships with China. We’ll never have the same relationship with China, a non-democratic society, that we can have with a major democracy,” he said.

Tillerson Balances Trump’s Goals With His Own

October 20, 2017

In interview, secretary of state reflects on his role in administration, warns China on trade and territory

WASHINGTON—Secretary of State Rex Tillerson described how he seeks to manage an often-fraught relationship with President Donald Trump, saying he tries to deliver short-term victories to an impatient commander-in-chief while focusing on a longer horizon himself.

In an interview with The Wall Street Journal Thursday, Mr. Tillerson acknowledged the contrasting styles of the two men and described his effort to bridge the gaps, while rejecting swirling rumors of his impending departure. “I see those differences in how we think,” Mr. Tillerson said in his State Department office. “Most of the things he would do would be done on very short time frames. Everything I spent my life doing was done on 10- to 20-year time frames, so I am quite comfortable thinking in those terms.”

His solution: “Delivering the incremental wins,” he said. “Incremental progress is taking you toward the ultimate objective, which is, as I say is eight, 10 years down the road.”

Mr. Tillerson said one of his top long-term priorities is shifting the balance of the trade and national-security relationship with China, even as he adopted Mr. Trump’s stern tone on Asia’s economic power.

On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson warned China that the U.S. has an arsenal of economic weapons to force Beijing to address trade imbalances and a continuing territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

“We can do this one of two ways,” Mr. Tillerson said during the interview, seeming at times to speak directly to his Chinese counterparts. “We can do it cooperatively and collaboratively, or we can do it by taking actions and letting you react to that.”

Tools he might apply include tariffs, World Trade Organization actions, quotas and other mechanisms, he said.

The president and Mr. Tillerson are scheduled in November to visit Asia for a 10-day trip through five countries, including China, where the two former businessmen—both first-time public office holders—will push these issues.

Mr. Tillerson said the race to stem North Korea’s nuclear program, as well as trade issues with Japan and South Korea, will also dominate the trip. His tough talk on China came as the country’s leaders are meeting at the Communist Party Congress, a summit that takes place every five years.

Related

  • Tillerson to Travel to Mideast, South Asia Next Week

In a response to Mr. Tillerson’s recent tough talk, the Chinese Embassy in Washington on Wednesday released a statement. “Through dialogue and cooperation with the countries in the region, the situation in the South China Sea is generally stable. Countries outside the region should fully respect these efforts to safeguard regional peace and stability,” it said.

“The track record demonstrates that China and the U.S. are better together. We hope the U.S. side can work in the same direction with China to ensure the healthy and sound development of the China-U.S. relationship,” the statement continued.

Mr. Tillerson’s comments follow a rocky summer in his relationship with Mr. Trump. Signs of tension between them have continued to overshadow the insistence from both men that all is well.

“If I were a world leader—doesn’t matter who—I wouldn’t talk to Tillerson,” said Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, citing the public divide between the two men. “The president must feel that this person can do the work for him…this is not the case here. It’s becoming antagonistic.”

During a meeting at the Pentagon one weekend in July, Mr. Tillerson rolled his eyes as he reluctantly acquiesced to the president’s criticism of the Iran nuclear pact. “It’s your deal,” Mr. Tillerson said in his Texas drawl as he peered in the direction of other cabinet officials, instead of Mr. Trump.

After that meeting, Mr. Tillerson referred to the president as a “moron,” according to people familiar with the conversations. Mr. Tillerson’s spokeswoman has denied he made the remark.

Mr. Trump has also disparaged his top diplomat, complaining that Mr. Tillerson doesn’t understand his “Make America Great” philosophy and has few original thoughts. “Totally establishment in his thinking,” he has told aides.

Asked Thursday if he believed Mr. Trump should be re-elected, Mr. Tillerson paused for a beat, then said, “Well, of course.”

“I mean, I don’t think about it, quite frankly, right now,” he said. “We’ve got these things we’re dealing with, but yeah.”

Early on in the administration, Messrs. Trump and Tillerson seemed to have an easy rapport. They are both successful businessmen, and Mr. Tillerson’s global experience as the CEO of Exxon Mobil Corp. was a major appeal for the new president as he put his cabinet together.

When they first arrived in their new jobs and their wives had yet to join them in Washington, they often ate dinner together, joined by a combination of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis ; John Kelly, now the White House chief of staff; and General Joseph Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

While those dinners have largely stopped, Mr. Tillerson and the president continue to meet, as they did in the Oval Office on Thursday, in what was at least their second meeting this week. In what a State Department spokeswoman described as a “positive,” they had lunch together earlier this month after initial reports of name-calling between them.

Mr. Tillerson’s openness to speaking to reporters comes after he was prompted to hold a news conference to address rumors that he was on the verge of quitting and had made derogatory remarks about the president. On Thursday, Mr. Tillerson expressed confusion about rumors of his departure. “Who in the world is telling you that stuff?,” he said.

He said he would remain in the job “as long as the president thinks I’m useful.”

The secretary pointed to successes on strengthening capabilities of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, particularly on counterterrorism, a peaceful pressure campaign on North Korea, the campaign to defeat Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the administration’s approach to South Asia.

“Look, I’m my own person, I’m a serious person,” Mr. Tillerson said. “And I’m not of any use to the president if I’m not that. If I try to be anything other than that, I’m no use to him.”

Mr. Tillerson said Thursday he likes to view foreign-policy problems according to region.

“I believe you solve a problem in Afghanistan not by just dealing with Afghanistan,” he said. “You solve it by solving a regional problem, and that’s the way we’re looking at the Middle East.”

He has honed that approach in brainstorming sessions that have evolved over his time at Foggy Bottom. In his first months in office, Mr. Tillerson and a small circle of aides convened weekend sessions during which they kicked around policy approaches by sketching ideas on a white board. Those sessions are now twice a week, sometimes on Saturdays when convenient, and include career state department officials, an official said.

The Texas oilman turned chief diplomat said he spends the bulk of his time concentrating on North Korea, Iran, counterterrorism, China and Russia.

Noting that U.S. and China officials have long been able to negotiate their differences peacefully, he repeatedly said China “went too far” in its push to claim resources in the South China Sea, one of the most ​important trade arteries for the world’s largest economies.

“Our view is you’re going to have to walk some of that back,” he said.

Mr. Tillerson said the Trump administration is seeking agreement on a code of conduct in the region, noting that other countries “are guilty of having done the same thing to a lesser extent” as China. He said the Philippines is looking for “mutually agreeable ways” to share disputed areas without conflict.

“Look, some things have gotten out of whack,” Mr. Tillerson said about U.S.-China relations. “We’ve got to address them.”

Write to Michael C. Bender at Mike.Bender@wsj.com and Felicia Schwartz at Felicia.Schwartz@wsj.com