Posts Tagged ‘Trump administration’

Taliban ‘Open Letter’ to Trump Urges US to Leave Afghanistan — After 16 years of war

August 15, 2017

KABUL, Afghanistan — The Taliban have sent an “open letter” to President Donald Trump, reiterating their calls for America to leave Afghanistan after 16 years of war.

In a long and rambling note in English that was sent to journalists on Tuesday by Zabihullah Mujahid, the Taliban spokesman, the insurgents say Trump recognized the errors of his predecessors by seeking a review of the U.S. strategy for Afghanistan.

Mujahid says Trump should not hand control of the U.S. Afghan policy to the military but rather, announce the withdrawal of U.S. forces — and not an increase in troops as the Trump administration has planned.

The note, which is 1,600 words long, also says a U.S. withdrawal would “truly deliver American troops from harm’s way” and bring about “an end to an inherited war.”

Related:

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Security officials inspect the scene of the blast outside the Great Mosque in Herat, August 1, 2017.

Iran Sending Warships to the Atlantic Ocean

August 15, 2017

BY: 
August 14, 2017 2:45 pm

Iran is preparing to send a flotilla of warships to the Atlantic Ocean following the announcement of a massive $500 million investment in war spending, according to Iranian leaders, who say the military moves are in response to recent efforts by the United States to impose a package of new economic sanctions on Tehran.

The military investment and buildup comes following weeks of tense interactions between Iran and the United States in regional waters, where Iranian military ships have carried out a series of dangerous maneuvers near U.S. vessels. The interactions have roiled U.S. military leaders and prompted tough talk from the Trump administration, which is currently examining potential ways to leave the landmark nuclear deal.

Iran’s increasingly hostile behavior also follows a little-noticed United Nations report disclosing that Iran has repeatedly violated international accords banning ballistic missile work. Lawmakers in the U.S. Congress and some policy experts also believe that Iran has been violating some provisions in the nuclear agreement governing nuclear-related materials.

With tensions over sanctions and Iran’s compliance with the nuclear agreement growing, Iranian parliamentary members voted to increase war spending by more than $500 million. This is at least the second recent cash influx to Iran’s military since the landmark nuclear deal that unfroze billions in Iranian assets and saw the United States awarding Tehran millions in cash.

Iranian lawmakers reportedly shouted “death to America” as they passed the measure, which boosts spending to Iran’s contested missile programs by around $260 million.

The bill also imposes sanctions on U.S. military officials in the region. Additionally, Iranian officials are moving to set up courts to prosecute the United States for the recent sanctions, which Iran claims are in violation of the nuclear deal.

Meanwhile, following several aggressive encounters with U.S. military vessels in the Persian Gulf, Iranian military leaders announced that they would be leading a flotilla of warships into the Atlantic Ocean.

“No military official in the world thought that we can go round Africa to the Atlantic Ocean through the Suez Canal but we did it as we had declared that we would go to the Atlantic and its Western waters,” Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari was quoted as saying over the weekend.

“We moved into the Atlantic and will go to its Western waters in the near future,” Sayyari said.

U.S. military officials reported Monday yet another “unsafe” encounter with an Iranian drone that was shadowing a U.S. carrier in the Persian Gulf region and reportedly came close enough to an American F-18 jet to risk the pilot’s life.

As with other similar encounters during the past months, the Iranian craft did not respond to repeated radio calls by the United States. While the drone is said to have been unarmed, it is capable of carrying missiles.

Iranian leaders have been adamant that the country will not halt its work on ballistic missile technology, which could be used to carry nuclear weapons.

The United States has issued several new packages of sanctions as a result of this behavior, but U.N. members have yet to address the issue, despite recent reporting that found Iran is violating international accords barring such behavior.

“Little-noticed biannual reporting by the UN Secretary General alleges that Iran is repeatedly violating these non-nuclear provisions,” Iran Watch, a nuclear watchdog group, reported on Monday.

“Thus far, the United States has responded to such violations with sanctions and designations of Iranian and foreign entities supporting Tehran’s ballistic missile development,” the organization found. “However, the U.N. and its member states have not responded. More must be done to investigate allegations of noncompliance and to punish violations of the resolution.”

Rep. Sean Duffy (R., Wis.), a proponent of a more forceful policy on Iranian intransigence in the region, told the Free Beacon that the Trump administration must make it a priority to address Tehran’s increasingly bold military activity.

“Iran was emboldened to flex its military muscle after eight years of President Obama’s passivity and his delivery of cold, hard cash to the regime, but they should make no mistake: President Trump was elected to put a stop to rogue regimes pushing America around, and the American people know he will address the world’s lead sponsor of terrorism with resolve,” Duffy told the Free Beacon.

Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon adviser and expert on rogue regimes, said that Iran’s recent behavior shows the regime has not moderated since the nuclear deal was implemented. The Obama administration sold the deal in part on promises that it could help bring Tehran into the community of nations.

“Every time the Islamic Republic has cash, it chooses guns over butter,” Rubin told the Washington Free Beacon. “What the [nuclear deal] and subsequent hostage ransom did was fill Iran’s coffers, and now we see the result of that.”

“What [former President Barack] Obama and [former Secretary of State John] Kerry essentially did was gamble that if they funded a mad scientist’s lab, the scientist would rather make unicorns rather than nukes,” Rubin said. “News flash for the echo chamber: Iranian reformist are just hardliners who smile more. Neither their basic philosophy nor their commitment to terrorism have changed.”

Update 6:52 p.m.: This post has been updated to reflect comment from Rep. Duffy.

Adam Kredo is senior writer for the Washington Free Beacon. Formerly an award-winning political reporter for the Washington Jewish Week, where he frequently broke national news, Kredo’s work has been featured in outlets such as the Jerusalem Post, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, and Politico, among others. He lives in Maryland with his comic books. His Twitter handle is @Kredo0. His email address is kredo@freebeacon.com.

Iranian President Threatens to Restart Nuclear Program

August 15, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s president has issued a direct threat, claiming his country is capable of restarting its nuclear program within hours.

Hassan Rouhani says it could be done “in an hour and a day” if Washington continues with “threats and sanctions” against Iran.

He says that once restarted, the program could quickly be brought to a much more advanced level than it was back in 2015, when Iran signed the nuclear deal with world powers. That agreement capped Iran’s uranium enrichment levels in return for the lifting of international sanctions.

Rouhani’s remarks to lawmakers on Tuesday offered no evidence of Iran’s capabilities but are likely to ratchet up pressure further with the Trump administration.

Rouhani also tempered his threat, adding that Iran seeks to remain loyal to its commitments under the deal.

Merck CEO Quits Trump Advisory Council in ‘Stand Against Intolerance and Extremism’

August 14, 2017

Drugmaker issues statement from Kenneth Frazier on Twitter two days after Charlottesville, Va., violence

Image may contain: 3 people, people sitting and suit

President Donald Trump speaks at a meeting with manufacturing executives including Merck CEO Kenneth Frazier, center AP Photo – Evan Vucci

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Updated Aug. 14, 2017 9:50 a.m. ET

The head of U.S. drugmaker Merck & Co. has resigned from a manufacturing advisory council to the Trump administration in an apparent protest of the president’s failure to condemn in stronger terms the white supremacists who marched and waged violence in Charlottesville, Va., over the weekend.

Merck issued a statement Monday morning on Twitter from Chairman and Chief Executive Kenneth Frazier, saying, “America’s leaders must honor our fundamental values by clearly rejecting expressions of white supremacists and group…

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Merck CEO resigns from Trump council after Charlottesville
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Merck & Co. CEO Ken Frazier (R) listens to President Donald Trump speak during a meeting with manufacturing CEOs at the White House in Washington, D.C., February 23, 2017. Source: Getty Images

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(Reuters) – Merck & Co Inc Chief Executive Kenneth Frazier resigned from U.S. President Donald Trump’s American Manufacturing Council on Monday, saying he was taking a stand against intolerance and extremism.

A gathering of hundreds of white nationalists in Virginia took a deadly turn on Saturday when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters and killed at least one person.

Trump had said “many sides” were involved, drawing fire from across the political spectrum for not specifically denouncing the far right.

“America’s leaders must honor our fundamental views by clearly rejecting expressions of hatred, bigotry and group supremacy, which run counter to the American ideal that all people are created equal,” Frazier, who is African-American, said in a statement announcing his resignation.

“As CEO of Merck and as a matter of personal conscience, I feel a responsibility to take a stand against intolerance and extremism,” he said.

Trump responded in a tweet, now that “Ken Frazier of Merck Pharma has resigned from President’s Manufacturing Council, he will have more time to LOWER RIPOFF DRUG PRICES!”

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Several executives from top U.S. companies have stepped down from a number of presidential advisory councils in protest to Trump policies.

Tesla Inc CEO Elon Musk and Walt Disney Co CEO Robert Iger left the President’s Strategic and Policy Forum, a business advisory group, in June, after Trump said he would withdraw from the Paris climate accord. Musk also left the manufacturing council.

Former Uber Technologies Inc [UBER.UL] CEO Travis Kalanick quit the business advisory council in February amid pressure from activists and employees who opposed the administration’s immigration policies.

The White House said Sunday that Trump’s remarks condemning violence at a white nationalist rally were meant to include the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi groups.

Democrats and Republicans criticized Trump for waiting too long to address the violence – his first major domestic crisis as president – and for failing when he did speak out to explicitly condemn white-supremacist marchers who ignited the melee.

Trump on Saturday initially denounced what he called “this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides.”

On Sunday, however, the White House added: “The president said very strongly in his statement yesterday that he condemns all forms of violence, bigotry, and hatred, and of course that includes white supremacists, KKK, neo-Nazi, and all extremist groups. He called for national unity and bringing all Americans together.”

Reporting by Michael Erman in New York and Natalie Grover in Bengaluru; Editing by Maju Samuel and Nick Zieminski

Trump Eyes China Sanctions While Seeking Its Help on North Korea

August 13, 2017

BEIJING — In a diplomatic gamble, President Trump is seeking to enlist China as a peacemaker in the bristling nuclear-edged dispute with North Korea at the very moment he plans to ratchet up conflict with Beijing over trade issues that have animated his political rise.

Mr. Trump spoke late Friday with his counterpart, President Xi Jinping of China, to press the Chinese to do more to rein in North Korea as it races toward development of long-range nuclear weapons that could reach the United States. Mr. Xi sought to lower the temperature after Mr. Trump’s vow to rain down “fire and fury” on North Korea, urging restraint and a political solution.

But the conversation came as Mr. Trump’s administration was preparing new trade action against China that could inflame the relationship. Mr. Trump plans to return to Washington on Monday to sign a memo determining whether China should be investigated for intellectual property violations, accusing Beijing of failing to curb the theft of trade secrets and rampant online and physical piracy and counterfeiting. An investigation would be intended to lead to retaliatory measures.

The White House had planned to take action on intellectual property earlier but held off as it successfully lobbied China to vote at the United Nations Security Council for additional sanctions on North Korea a week ago. Even now, the extra step of determining whether to start the investigation is less than trade hawks might have wanted, but softens the blow to China and gives Mr. Trump a cudgel to hold over it if he does not get the cooperation he wants.

While past presidents have tried at least ostensibly to keep security and economic issues on separate tracks in their dealings with China, Mr. Trump has explicitly linked the two, suggesting he would back off from a trade war against Beijing if it does more to pressure North Korea. “If China helps us, I feel a lot differently toward trade, a lot differently toward trade,” he told reporters on Thursday.

Mr. Trump has sought to leverage trade and North Korea with China for months, initially expressing optimism after hosting Mr. Xi at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, only to later grow discouraged that Beijing was not following through. The effort has now reached a decisive point with the overt threats of American military action against North Korea — warnings clearly meant for Beijing’s ears.

China is widely seen as critical to any resolution to the nuclear crisis because of its outsize role as North Korea’s main economic benefactor. China accounts for as much as 90 percent of North Korea’s total trade and supplies most of its food and energy while serving as the primary purchaser of its minerals, seafood and garments.

But even though the effectiveness of the new United Nations sanctions depends largely on China’s willingness to enforce them, the Trump administration so far has failed to come up with enough incentives to compel China to do so, analysts said.

In their phone conversation on Friday night, Mr. Xi stressed that it was “very important” for the two leaders to maintain contact to find “an appropriate solution to the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula,” according to a statement carried in the Chinese state-run media. The language indicated China wants to push forward with a diplomatic proposal for North Korea that the Trump administration has brushed aside.

The Chinese statement urged the “relevant sides” — a reference to North Korea and the United States — to “avoid words and actions that exacerbate tensions.” It did not explicitly criticize North Korea, which issued its own searing rhetoric all week, including a threat against Guam, and did not draw a clear distinction between Washington and Pyongyang.

In its own account of the call, the White House emphasized points of concurrence. “President Trump and President Xi agreed North Korea must stop its provocative and escalatory behavior,” read a statement from the White House issued early Saturday morning. “The presidents also reiterated their mutual commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

If Mr. Trump was trying to move Mr. Xi toward bolder action against the North, he did so while the Chinese leader is preoccupied with his own domestic political machinations, attending to a once-every-five-year political shake-up in the top ranks of the Communist Party.

Mr. Xi is believed to be at the beach resort at Beidaihe on the coast east of Beijing, where the leadership conducts a secretive retreat every summer, sometimes emerging casually dressed in open neck shirts and Windbreakers for photographs on the strip of sand along the beachfront.

The final stages of the political process to win Mr. Xi’s favor for a place on the standing committee of the party, now a seven-member body that makes the final decisions on the nation’s affairs, is underway among the resort’s villas and hotels, China’s political analysts said.

The selection will be unveiled at a national congress in Beijing sometime between September and November. Until then, almost all other matters, including foreign policy, are put on hold, the analysts said.

Still, the leadership has been vexed that the Trump administration has paid scant attention to China’s proposal for a “freeze for freeze” solution to North Korea. Described many times by China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, the notion calls for North Korea to freeze its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program at current levels in exchange for the United States drawing down military exercises off the Korean Peninsula.

So far, the United States has dismissed the proposal as a nonstarter. Instead, to China’s irritation, the United States is looking to increase missile defenses in South Korea. In some respects, though, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson has tried to please Beijing by pledging that Washington does not seek to overthrow the North Korean leader, and does not plan to send American troops north of the 38th parallel that divides North and South Korea.

Mr. Xi is said to be exasperated with Kim Jong-un, a leader much his junior, whom he openly disparaged during his meetings in Florida in April with Mr. Trump, American officials say. But despite the frustration with Mr. Kim, China still prefers to have what it considers a relatively stable North Korea under Mr. Kim rather than a collapsed state that could result in a united Korean Peninsula on its border, with American troops in control.

In rebuffing the “freeze for freeze” proposal, Washington has raised suspicions in Beijing about its true intentions, said Yun Sun, a China expert at the Stimson Center in Washington. Chinese leaders believe the United States sees its true rival as China, a mammoth economy, and not North Korea, one of the poorest countries on earth, Ms. Sun said. In this estimation, Washington is merely using North Korea to mount a military containment strategy around China, she said.

“The Chinese operate from the conviction that China remains and will always be the No. 1 strategic threat to the U.S., so the issue of North Korea will be used against China — through sanctions, provocations and everything else,” she said. China was also annoyed, Ms. Sun said, that the United States refuses to discuss a “grand bargain” or “end game” on the future of the Korean Peninsula. Of most interest to China, she said, is the future disposition of American forces in South Korea, now standing at 28,500 troops.

The phone conversation between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi will be followed by a visit from the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., who is expected in Beijing on Monday. General Dunford will also visit South Korea and Japan.

The general’s visit, planned earlier this summer, is the first by a senior American official to Beijing since Mr. Tillerson met with Mr. Xi in March.

Much of the diplomacy between China and the United States has been conducted between Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and the Chinese ambassador in Washington, Cui Tiankai. Those talks have concentrated on Mr. Cui’s efforts to stave off punishing trade tariffs against China that are gathering momentum in White House discussions.

During his two-day visit, General Dunford is likely to use the opportunity to drive home arguments for the Chinese to put more pressure on the Kim government, said Brian McKeon, who was a senior Pentagon official in the Obama administration.

A major point of dispute will likely be American plans to deploy more missile defenses in South Korea, he said. China vehemently opposes the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad, that has already been deployed in South Korea, calling it a threat to its own security.

“I would expect that Dunford will make the usual request that they put more pressure on the regime to behave, and to recognize that Kim’s actions threatens our core interests, which means we will have to continue to take measures that Beijing doesn’t like, for example the deployment of Thaad,” Mr. McKeon said.

Trump Administration to Begin Probe of Alleged Chinese Technology Theft

August 13, 2017

Investigation of China’s government agencies is unrelated to North Korea nuclear crisis, officials say

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Updated Aug. 12, 2017 2:33 p.m. ET

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration announced plans Saturday to pressure China over alleged intellectual property theft, adding the threat of trade retaliation to an ongoing campaign seeking greater cooperation from Beijing in the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Aides said President Donald Trump will sign a directive Monday ordering his trade representative to start a formal probe into whether Chinese government agencies and companies were unfairly acquiring valuable patents and licenses from U.S. firms, either through outright theft, or by pressuring Americans to turn over their inventions as the price of entry into China’s market.

“Such theft not only damages American companies, but can threaten our national security,” a senior administration official said in a Saturday morning briefing for reporters.

Officials at the briefing stressed that while they were casting a spotlight on what they consider a major irritant in bilateral commercial relations, they weren’t rushing into action. They said Monday’s directive would launch a study into whether a formal trade investigation was warranted, and that probe would take a year or more. They declined to discuss what sorts of penalties the U.S. might impose against China, saying that question was “premature.”

The administration made the announcement a day after Mr. Trump held a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss escalating tensions over North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program. Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he would cut Beijing slack over trade issues if he felt the Chinese were being helpful in reining in Pyongyang.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in the month that a new trade investigation over China’s alleged forced technology transfers was in the works and had been planned for an early August announcement. But that was delayed until after an Aug. 5 U.N. Security Council vote imposing new financial penalties on North Korea, which China supported.

Asked if Mr. Trump discussed the pending trade investigation with Mr. Xi on Friday, an official pointed to the official White House summary of the call, which didn’t mention trade issues.

The White House aides said the new trade probe wasn’t tied to the administration’s North Korea strategy, despite the president’s earlier linkage of the subjects. “These are totally unrelated events,” one official said. “Trade is trade. National security is national security.”

Write to Jacob Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced plans Saturday to pressure China over alleged intellectual property theft, adding the threat of trade retaliation to an ongoing campaign seeking greater cooperation from Beijing in the North Korean nuclear crisis.

Aides said President Donald Trump will sign a directive Monday ordering his trade representative to start a formal probe into whether Chinese government agencies and companies were unfairly acquiring valuable patents and licenses from U.S. firms, either through outright theft, or by pressuring Americans to turn over their inventions as the price of entry into China’s market.

“Such theft not only damages American companies, but can threaten our national security,” a senior administration official said in a Saturday morning briefing for reporters.

Officials at the briefing stressed that while they were casting a spotlight on what they consider a major irritant in bilateral commercial relations, they weren’t rushing into action. They said Monday’s directive would launch a study into whether a formal trade investigation was warranted, and that probe would take a year or more. They declined to discuss what sorts of penalties the U.S. might impose against China, saying that question was “premature.”

The administration made the announcement a day after Mr. Trump held a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping to discuss escalating tensions over North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons program. Mr. Trump has repeatedly said he would cut Beijing slack over trade issues if he felt the Chinese were being helpful in reining in Pyongyang.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in the month that a new trade investigation over China’s alleged forced technology transfers was in the works and had been planned for an early August announcement. But that was delayed until after an Aug. 5 U.N. Security Council vote imposing new financial penalties on North Korea, which China supported.

Asked if Mr. Trump discussed the pending trade investigation with Mr. Xi on Friday, an official pointed to the official White House summary of the call, which didn’t mention trade issues.

The White House aides said the new trade probe wasn’t tied to the administration’s North Korea strategy, despite the president’s earlier linkage of the subjects. “These are totally unrelated events,” one official said. “Trade is trade. National security is national security.”

The new probe does signal a bit of a hardening shift in Trump administration’s China trade policy, as it is the first White House trade directive aimed directly at Beijing. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Mr. Trump regularly blasted the U.S.’s $347 billion trade deficit with China, and vowed to take swift, drastic retaliation if he were elected, from across-the-board tariffs to branding Beijing a “currency manipulator.”

But the early months of Mr. Trump’s presidency have seen a considerably softer tone toward China over trade. He quickly dropped the campaign-trail threats, and during a genial April summit with Mr. Xi at his Mar-a-Lago Florida resort, the two countries launched a new “comprehensive economic dialogue” aimed at resolving bilateral commercial disputes amicably. A month later, China announced some modest market-opening moves, like ending a 14-year ban on U.S. beef imports, and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross declared economic ties between the world’s two largest economies were “hitting a new high.”

But the first round of economic dialogue talks in mid-July were tense and ended up with no agreements. Officials said Saturday that impasse was one factor behind the decision to launch the new trade review.

In focusing on China’s voracious appetite for American intellectual property, the Trump administration responding to a longstanding complaint by Western trade groups, who say the country’s industrial policies effectively force foreign companies in sectors such as autos to transfer technology to stay in the market.

Beijing has been emboldened by the growing strength of its own companies to make more demands of foreign firms, industry executives say, and the government is careful to keep regulations vague. U.S. high-tech companies have struck a string of investments and technology-sharing agreements in software, semiconductors and other areas in the past couple of years, often under pressure from officials in closed-door meetings.

China’s government rejects assertions that it forces foreign companies to transfer technology or permits infringement of intellectual property. Premier Li Keqiang denied it was using industrial policies to strong-arm foreign companies into turning over technology, telling a World Economic Forum meeting in Dalian in June that “such cooperation is voluntary and helps companies expand in the Chinese market and even in third countries.”

While many U.S. companies and policy makers agree Chinese forced technology transfer is a problem, they also say it is difficult to figure out a solution.

One challenge is that many U.S. firms are reluctant to lodge formal complaints, making it difficult for trade officials to make their case.

“An important question going forward will be whether U.S. companies and trade associations who have highlighted the problem will actually come forward and assist our government in the investigation,” said Michael Wessel, a member of the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission. Or, he added, “whether they will hide the facts fearful that our government won’t follow through, that the Chinese will retaliate against their interests or that they’ll have to admit what’s happened to their critical assets.”

Another question is just what remedy the U.S. government might pursue if it felt it had a case. Options might include imposing new limits on technologies that U.S. firms could license to China, or imposing new limits on Chinese investment in the U.S. But those would likely draw complaints from U.S. firms, and may contradict other policy goals. Mr. Trump personally touted China’s Foxconn Technology Group’s announcement in July to build a new display panel factory in Wisconsin.

The new China probe also marks a noticeable change in the process for how the Trump administration is processing trade policies, and suggests that a newly more organized and measured way to proceed with those complaints may be emerging.

Earlier Trump trade threats were made seeking swift action, and were done without broad consultation from stakeholders, drew widespread concern from business groups and lawmakers. Among them, an April promise to impose new steel and aluminum tariffs by June — a plan that remains stalled amid resistance. Mr. Trump also in April threatened to pull out of the North American Free Trade Agreement, but backed down after intense lobbying from allies, business groups, lawmakers and his own aides. He instead agreed to renegotiate the pact with Canada and Mexico, a process that begins Wednesday.

In choosing the China trade probe, Mr. Trump is targeting an area that business groups and Republican and Democratic lawmakers have identified as a concern. His aides Saturday also stressed that in contrast with the rushed earlier attempts at handling trade matters, they were setting no deadline and that any investigation would closely follow intricate procedures, including discussions with Beijing.

Before making any decisions on an investigation, the trade representative “would consult with the appropriate advisory committees,” one official said, and “if the investigation is instituted, we would consult with China. We would give interested parties the opportunity to comment. There would likely be a hearing. And these investigations can take as much as a year before we reach a conclusion.”

Eva Dou in Beijing contributed to this article.

Write to Jacob Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com

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Susan Rice: “We can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea.”

August 12, 2017

North Korea’s substantial nuclear arsenal and improving intercontinental ballistic missile capacity pose a growing threat to America’s security. But we need not face an immediate crisis if we play our hand carefully.

Given the bluster emanating from Pyongyang and Bedminster, N.J., Americans can be forgiven for feeling anxious.

Shortly after adoption of new United Nations sanctions last weekend, North Korea threatened retaliation against the United States “thousands of times” over. Those sanctions were especially potent, closing loopholes and cutting off important funding for the North. August is also when the United States and South Korea conduct major joint military exercises, which always set Pyongyang on edge. In August 2015, tensions escalated into cross-border artillery exchanges after two South Korean soldiers were wounded by land mines laid by North Korea. This juxtaposition of tough sanctions and military exercises has predictably heightened North Korea’s threats.

We have long lived with successive Kims’ belligerent and colorful rhetoric — as ambassador to the United Nations in the Obama administration, I came to expect it whenever we passed resolutions. What is unprecedented and especially dangerous this time is the reaction of President Trump. Unscripted, the president said on Tuesday that if North Korea makes new threats to the United States, “they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” These words risk tipping the Korean Peninsula into war, if the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, believes them and acts precipitously.

Either Mr. Trump is issuing an empty threat of nuclear war, which will further erode American credibility and deterrence, or he actually intends war next time Mr. Kim behaves provocatively. The first scenario is folly, but a United States decision to start a pre-emptive war on the Korean Peninsula, in the absence of an imminent threat, would be lunacy.

We carefully studied this contingency. “Preventive war” would result in hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of casualties. Metropolitan Seoul’s 26 million people are only 35 miles from the border, within easy range of the North’s missiles and artillery. About 23,000 United States troops, plus their families, live between Seoul and the Demilitarized Zone; in total, at least 200,000 Americans reside in South Korea.

Japan, and almost 40,000 United States military personnel there, would also be in the cross hairs. The risk to American territory cannot be discounted, nor the prospect of China being drawn into a direct conflict with the United States. Then there would be the devastating impact of war on the global economy.

The national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, said last week that if North Korea “had nuclear weapons that can threaten the United States, it’s intolerable from the president’s perspective.” Surely, we must take every reasonable step to reduce and eliminate this threat. And surely there may be circumstances in which war is necessary, including an imminent or actual attack on our nation or our allies.

But war is not necessary to achieve prevention, despite what some in the Trump administration seem to have concluded. History shows that we can, if we must, tolerate nuclear weapons in North Korea — the same way we tolerated the far greater threat of thousands of Soviet nuclear weapons during the Cold War.

It will require being pragmatic.

First, though we can never legitimize North Korea as a nuclear power, we know it is highly unlikely to relinquish its sizable arsenal because Mr. Kim deems the weapons essential to his regime’s survival. The North can now reportedly reach United States territory with its ICBMs. The challenge is to ensure that it would never try.

By most assessments, Mr. Kim is vicious and impetuous, but not irrational. Thus, while we quietly continue to refine our military options, we can rely on traditional deterrence by making crystal clear that any use of nuclear weapons against the United States or its allies would result in annihilation of North Korea. Defense Secretary James Mattis struck this tone on Wednesday. The same red line must apply to any proof that North Korea has transferred nuclear weapons to another state or nonstate actor.

Second, to avoid blundering into a costly war, the United States needs to immediately halt the reckless rhetoric. John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s chief of staff, must assert control over the White House, including his boss, and curb the Trump surrogates whipping up Cuban missile crisis fears.

Third, we must enhance our antimissile systems and other defenses, and those of our allies, which need our reassurances more than ever.

Fourth, we must continue to raise the costs to North Korea of maintaining its nuclear programs. Ratcheting up sanctions, obtaining unfettered United Nations authority to interdict suspect cargo going in or out of the North, increasing Pyongyang’s political isolation and seeding information into the North that can increase regime fragility are all important elements of a pressure campaign.

Finally, we must begin a dialogue with China about additional efforts and contingencies on the peninsula, and revive diplomacy to test potential negotiated agreements that could verifiably limit or eliminate North Korea’s arsenal.

Rational, steady American leadership can avoid a crisis and counter a growing North Korean threat. It’s past time that the United States started exercising its power responsibly.

Study: Trump actions trigger double-digit premium increases on health insurance for 2018

August 10, 2017

The Associated Press

Donald Trump

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration’s own actions are triggering double-digit premium increases on individual health insurance policies purchased by many consumers, a nonpartisan study has found.

The analysis released Thursday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that mixed signals from President Donald Trump have created uncertainty “far outside the norm,” leading insurers to seek higher premium increases for 2018 than would otherwise have been the case.

The report comes with Republicans in Congress unable to deliver on their promise to repeal and replace the Obama-era Affordable Care Act. Trump, meanwhile, insists lawmakers try again. The president says “Obamacare” is collapsing, but he’s also threatened to give it a shove by stopping billions of dollars in payments to insurers. Some leading Republicans are considering fallback measures to stabilize markets.

Researchers from the Kaiser foundation looked at proposed premiums for a benchmark silver plan across major metropolitan areas in 20 states and Washington, D.C. Overall, they found that 15 of those cities will see increases of 10 percent or more next year.

The highest: a 49 percent jump in Wilmington, Delaware. The only decline: a 5 percent reduction in Providence, Rhode Island.

About 10 million people who buy policies through HealthCare.gov and state-run markets are potentially affected, as well as another 5 million to 7 million who purchase individual policies on their own.

Consumers in the government-sponsored markets can dodge the hit with the help of tax credits that most of them qualify for to help pay premiums. But off-marketplace customers pay full freight, and they face a second consecutive year of steep increases. Many are self-employed business owners.

The report also found that insurer participation in the ACA markets will be lower than at any time since “Obamacare” opened for business in 2014. The average: 4.6 insurers in the states studied, down from 5.7 insurers this year. In many cases insurers do not sell plans in every community in a state.

The researchers analyzed publicly available filings through which insurers justify their proposed premiums to state regulators. To be sure, insurers continue to struggle with sicker-than-expected customers and disappointing enrollment. And an ACA tax on the industry is expected to add 2 to 3 percentage points to premiums next year.

But on top of that, the researchers found the mixed signals from the administration account for some of the higher charges. Those could increase before enrollment starts Nov. 1.

“The vast majority of companies in states with detailed rate filings have included some language around the uncertainty, so it is likely that more companies will revise their premiums to reflect uncertainty in the absence of clear answers from Congress or the administration,” the report said. Once premiums are set, they’re generally in place for a whole year.

Insurers who assumed that Trump will make good on his threat to stop billions in payments to subsidize copays and deductibles requested additional premium increases ranging from 2 percent to 23 percent, the report found.

Insurers who assumed the IRS under Trump will not enforce unpopular fines on people who remain uninsured requested additional premium increases ranging from 1.2 percent to 20 percent.

“In many cases that means insurers are adding double-digit premium increases on top of what they otherwise would have requested,” said Cynthia Cox, a co-author of the Kaiser report. “In many cases, what we are seeing is an additional increase due to the political uncertainty.”

That doesn’t sound like what Trump promised when he assumed the presidency.

In a Washington Post interview ahead of his inauguration, Trump said, “We’re going to have insurance for everybody.”

“There was a philosophy in some circles that if you can’t pay for it, you don’t get it,” he added. “That’s not going to happen with us.”

People covered under Obama’s law “can expect to have great health care,” Trump said at the time. “It will be in a much simplified form. Much less expensive and much better.”

But the White House never produced the health care proposal Trump promised. And the GOP bills in Congress would have left millions more uninsured, a sobering side-effect that contributed to their political undoing.

The Trump administration sidestepped questions about its own role raised by the Kaiser study.

Spokeswoman Alleigh Marre said rising premiums and dwindling choices predate Trump.

“The Trump administration is committed to repealing and replacing Obamacare and will always be focused on putting patients, families, and doctors, not Washington, in charge of health care,” Marre said in a statement.

The ongoing political turmoil for people who buy individual health insurance stands in sharp contrast to relative calm and stability for the majority of Americans insured through workplace plans. The cost of employer-sponsored coverage is expected to rise around 5 or 6 percent next year, benefits consultants say.

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Associated Press Health Writer Tom Murphy in Indianapolis contributed to this report.

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Online:

Kaiser report – https://tinyurl.com/ya2yneqj

Trump Boasts U.S. Nuclear Arsenal Is ‘More Powerful Than Ever’

August 10, 2017

President’s Twitter comments follow North Korea’s threat that it was considering firing missiles at Guam

People walk by a TV screen showing a local news program reporting with an image of U.S. President Donald Trump at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday.
People walk by a TV screen showing a local news program reporting with an image of U.S. President Donald Trump at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday. PHOTO: LEE JIN-MAN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Trump administration on Wednesday sought to keep pressure on North Korea to curb its nuclear ambitions, while also moving to lessen the alarm President Donald Trump sparked a day earlier when he threatened Pyongyang with attack.

North Korea on Thursday morning local time said “sound dialogue is not possible” with Mr. Trump and repeated the threat it made a day earlier to fire at the U.S.’s Pacific territory of Guam, saying it could surround Guam in “enveloping fire” by launching four intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missiles at the island. Pyongyang said the missiles would land about 20 miles offshore and could be launched as soon as mid-August.

In a series of statements, U.S. administration officials took a step back from Mr. Trump’s threat to hit North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen,” but stood by a warning of serious retaliation should North Korean leader Kim Jong Un strike the U.S. or its allies.

Mr. Trump touted the strength of the American nuclear arsenal in a message Wednesday morning on Twitter from his resort in Bedminster, N.J., but he tempered his rhetoric from the previous day.

“Hopefully we will never have to use this power,” Mr. Trump wrote, “but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!”

My first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before….

…Hopefully we will never have to use this power, but there will never be a time that we are not the most powerful nation in the world!

The White House also said Mr. Trump was using his own words when he made the “fire and fury” remarks on Tuesday, but press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president discussed the “tone and strength” of the message beforehand with advisers including White House Chief of Staff John Kelly.

When asked if Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was aware of the remarks beforehand, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the secretary of state spoke with the president “after the fact.”

Sources: South Korea Ministry of National Defense, Union of Concerned Scientists (ranges); Military.com (bases)

Mr. Tillerson on Wednesday also looked to defuse the tension, stating that Mr. Trump’s “fire and fury” comment didn’t indicate the U.S. was moving toward a preemptive military attack on North Korea’s rapidly advancing nuclear weapons and missile program.

The secretary of state instead championed the diplomatic effort to pressure North Korea into disarmament talks.

U.S. on North Korea: ‘We’re Speaking With One Voice’
At a State Department press conference on Wednesday, spokeswoman Heather Nauert responded to questions regarding President Donald Trump’s blunt warning to North Korea, in which he said the country’s threats would be “met with fire and fury.” Photo: AP

North Korea has conducted five nuclear tests since 2006. What has worried U.S. officials most in recent months, though, is the rapid progression of the country’s program to field intercontinental ballistic missiles—long-range weapons that would allow North Korea to rocket warheads through the atmosphere to hit the continental U.S.

North Korea conducted its first ICBM test on July 4 and followed up with a second ICBM test on July 28 that experts said put the continental U.S. firmly in range of a strike.

U.S. officials believe the country has the capability to produce a nuclear warhead small enough to travel atop a missile. But they also think North Korea faces technical hurdles before such a warhead can withstand travel through the Earth’s atmosphere on an ICBM.

Mr. Tillerson said the president’s provocative message on Tuesday came in response to threatening statements Mr. Kim’s government made after the United Nations Security Council hit Pyongyang with new sanctions as punishment for its aggressive testing program.

“What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong Un would understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Mr. Tillerson said.

Is North Korea Close to Being a Nuclear Weapons State?
Recent news reports indicate North Korea may have succeeded in building a nuclear warhead that can fit atop of one of the regime’s intercontinental missiles. WSJ’s Gerald F. Seib examines what that means for the U.S., where President Donald Trump Tuesday threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury.” Photo: AP

The secretary of state also sought to reassure the public. “Americans should sleep well at night, have no concerns about this particular rhetoric of the last few days,” Mr. Tillerson said in Guam on his way back from a trip to Asia, adding that an attack on the island by North Korea was not imminent.

The top diplomat’s efforts to dial down the rhetoric left it to Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to keep up the pressure by reaffirming his confidence that the American military would prevail over Mr. Kim’s regime in the event of any attack on the U.S.

Mr. Mattis warned North Korea that it is “grossly overmatched” by the U.S. and its allies and “would lose any arms race or conflict it initiates.”

North Korea, Mr. Mattis said, needs to “stand down in in its pursuit of nuclear weapons” and “cease any consideration of actions that would lead to the end of its regime and the destruction of its people.”

North Korea, meanwhile, stepped up its rhetoric on Thursday morning.

“The U.S. president at a [golf] links again let out a load of nonsense about ‘fire and fury,’ failing to grasp the on-going grave situation,” the official statement said, making a reference to Mr. Trump’s warning against North Korea from the clubhouse of his golf​course on Tuesday. “This is extremely getting on the nerves of the infuriated Hwasong artillerymen.”

The tensions rattled financial markets world-wide on Wednesday, interrupting a stock-market rally fueled by corporate earnings and global economic growth. Declines in the U.S. were relatively mild, but they came during what has been a placid stretch for markets. The Stoxx Europe 600 fell 0.7%, while South Korea’s benchmark Kospi index fell 1.1%.

China’s Foreign Ministry didn’t address pressure from the Trump administration to be more active in reining in its ally in Pyongyang, calling the situation “complicated and sensitive.” It appealed for calm and an early resumption of dialogue, as it usually does when tensions climb on the Korean Peninsula.

In an editorial published online Wednesday night, the populist, state-owned tabloid Global Times condemned Mr. Trump’s remarks, saying they threatened to exacerbate matters.

“Now that President Trump has used a strong metaphor like ‘fire and fury,’ the North Korean nuclear train, going through a dark cave, will continue to run forward towards an even darker destination,” said the tabloid, which is published by the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper People’s Daily.

The alarming tenor of Mr. Trump’s remarks on Tuesday—which came two days after his national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, said the U.S. was preparing for the possibility of “preventive war” with North Korea—overshadowed Mr. Tillerson’s efforts to lay the groundwork for negotiations with Pyongyang by pressuring the regime and gaining cooperation from China.

Before leaving for Asia last week, Mr. Tillerson announced in Washington that the U.S. wasn’t seeking a regime change in North Korea and didn’t plan to invade the country but that Pyongyang was presenting an unacceptable threat to Washington that required a response.

“We hope that at some point, they will begin to understand that and that we would like to sit and have a dialogue with them about the future that will give them the security they seek and the future economic prosperity for North Korea, but that will then promote economic prosperity throughout Northeast Asia,” Mr. Tillerson said Aug. 1.

Those comments contrasted starkly with suggestions about preemptive action that both Mr. Trump and Mr. McMaster raised subsequently.

“For those who do nuclear strategy, two parties that are talking about preemption simultaneously—that is the definition of instability,” said Stephan Haggard, director of the Korea-Pacific Program at the University of California San Diego.

The contrast led to a perception in some quarters that members of the Trump administration were reading from different scripts, risking a misinterpretation of the U.S.’s position in Pyongyang.

The State Department spokeswoman, Ms. Nauert, said that perception didn’t reflect reality. “I think the United States is all talking with one voice,” she said.

In brief comments to journalists during a trip to Seattle on Wednesday, Mr. Mattis said the goal of American policy isn’t merely to contain North Korea’s existing and growing nuclear program, but to roll it back and produce a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. That goal, he said, is shared by South Korea, China and Japan as well.

The distinction is important because some analysts have argued that the U.S. may have to accept and merely contain the nuclear program North Korea has built to this point, while others argue that the goal should be to roll it back.

Write to Paul Sonne at paul.sonne@wsj.com, Louise Radnofsky at louise.radnofsky@wsj.com and Jonathan Cheng at jonathan.cheng@wsj.com

Appeared in the August 10, 2017, print edition as ‘North Korea, U.S. Clash Sharpens.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/trump-boasts-u-s-nuclear-arsenal-is-more-powerful-than-ever-1502283638?mod=fox_australian