Posts Tagged ‘Trump administration’

European Diplomats Aim to Curb Iran Actions, Save Nuclear Deal

February 18, 2018

Talks intended to persuade U.S. President Donald Trump to preserve the Iran nuclear deal

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MUNICH—European diplomats met with a senior Iranian official Saturday in a bid to curtail Iran’s regional muscle-flexing and meet a key Trump administration demand.

The push by the European diplomats to check Iranian meddling in Yemen, Syria and other parts of the Middle East is aimed at persuading U.S. President Donald Trump to preserve the Iran nuclear deal and show the U.S. that there are other ways to check Iranian aggression.

Mr. Trump has threatened to kill the Iranian nuclear deal in May, when he must decide whether to keep in place sanctions waivers required under the 2015 agreement. He has made Iran’s regional actions a focus of his foreign policy, committing the U.S. to pushing back Tehran’s regional role.

Saturday’s meeting on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference is a new channel of discussions intended to address Iran’s activity.

Chaired by the European Union, it brings together senior diplomats from Italy, Germany, Britain and France—the E4—and Iran, represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi. The focus of Saturday’s discussions was the conflict in Yemen.

The meeting comes as concerns rise about Iran’s role in southern Syria and the possibility of direct conflict there between Iran and Israel.

In Munich on Saturday, U.S. national security adviser Gen. H.R. McMaster said Iran is building a network of proxy forces, like Hezbollah, throughout the region and arming them with increasingly sophisticated weaponry.

“So the time is now…to act against Iran,” Gen. McMaster said.

H. R. McMaster, National security adviser to the US President, delivers his speech on day two of the 54th Munich Security Conference (MSC) in Munich, southern Germany, on Feb. 17, 2018. (AFP)

European governments, who have strongly supported the Iranian nuclear agreement, have pledged to work with Washington to address nonnuclear concerns, such as Iran’s missile program and its regional activities. The U.K., France, Germany and the U.S. set up working groups last month to discuss this although people close to the talks say work is at a very early stage.

At the same time, the Europeans agreed in a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif that they would open a channel for discussion of regional issues. Saturday’s meeting was the first one.

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Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov

According to officials, European governments are looking to broaden the talks over coming months to cover the conflict in Syria, where Iranian forces and proxies have helped give the Assad regime the upper hand.

Those discussions could include the situation in southern Syria, one of the officials said.

Last weekend, Israel launched attacks on Syrian air defenses and Iranian fighters in Syria after Israel intercepted an Iranian drone fired from Syria. An Israeli jet was shot down during the attacks.

Iran Recruits Afghan and Pakistani Shiites to Fight in Syria

Israel has warned repeatedly it won’t accept an Iranian presence close to its border in southern Syria and said it would strike Iranian built precision missile factories for Hezbollah and other military infrastructure.

On Saturday morning, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned that while the EU would maintain its support for the Iranian nuclear deal, Europe was ready to work with the U.S. against “the destabilizing influence of Iranian policies in the region and to push them back.”

A senior German diplomat said Berlin had warned Tehran after last weekend’s events in southern Syria that Europe could step up pressure if Iran seeks to entrench its presence there.

Most European sanctions against Iran were lifted after the nuclear deal was concluded. France has said Iranian firms or people could be targeted with sanctions over Iran’s missile program.

Iran has refused to enter discussions on ballistic missiles, saying it won’t compromise on its national defense. Iranian officials have said Tehran can’t rein in its missile program when the U.S. is selling arms to regional rivals like Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Trump has also pressed European countries to agree to a follow-up agreement to the nuclear deal that would threaten action if Tehran ramps up its nuclear activities once the original limits start to expire. Iran agreed to scale back its nuclear program under the deal.

European governments have said they won’t renegotiate the nuclear deal. Officials warn that they want firm commitments from Washington that if they address their concerns, Mr. Trump will stand by the deal. There is still uncertainty among European governments about precisely what commitments Washington is demanding to stand by the deal.

In Munich on Saturday, U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan said Washington was seeking “a commitment that we can credibly show to the president (that) we’re making progress to address” flaws in the nuclear deal and to counter Iran’s nonnuclear activities.

He said that could eventually lead to direct talks between the U.S. and Iran but “there will need to be significant progress” in Iranian discussions with Europe first.

Write to Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/european-diplomats-aim-to-curb-iran-actions-save-nuclear-deal-1518899767

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Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah (AP-Hussein Malla)
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Trump: FBI too busy with Russia probe to prevent Florida shooting — “Spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”

February 18, 2018

US president says it’s ‘not acceptable’ that agency failed to follow up on tip about troubled teen who murdered 17

US President Donald Trump (R) speaks with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel (L) while visiting first responders at Broward County Sheriff's Office in Pompano Beach, Florida, on February 16, 2018, three days after a mass shooting that claimed 17 lives at a nearby high school. ( AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON)

US President Donald Trump (R) speaks with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel (L) while visiting first responders at Broward County Sheriff’s Office in Pompano Beach, Florida, on February 16, 2018, three days after a mass shooting that claimed 17 lives at a nearby high school. ( AFP PHOTO / JIM WATSON)

WEST PALM BEACH, Florida (AP) — US President Donald Trump lashed out at the FBI Saturday night, saying the agency “missed all of the many signals” sent by the suspect in the Florida school shooting and arguing they are “spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.”

Trump said on Twitter: “This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”

The FBI received a tip last month that the suspect in the Florida school shooting had a “desire to kill” and access to guns and could be plotting an attack. But the agency said Friday that agents failed to investigate.

The FBI’s acknowledgment that it mishandled the tip prompted a sharp rebuke from its boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and a call from Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump ally, for FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign.

Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!

Trump and other Republicans have heavily criticized the FBI. They are still dissatisfied with its decision not to charge Hillary Clinton with crimes related to her use of a private email server, and they see signs of bias in special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of possible Trump campaign ties to Russia.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/trump-fbi-too-busy-with-russia-probe-to-prevent-florida-shooting/

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Public reports ‘clearly show’ Assad’s use of chemical weapons: McMaster

February 17, 2018

Reuters

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U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster talks at the Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany, February 17, 2018. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski Reuters

MUNICH (Reuters) – U.S. National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster said on Saturday that, despite denials, public reports showed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad was using chemical weapons, and added that it was time for the international community to hold the Syrian government to account.

“Public accounts and photos clearly show that Assad’s chemical weapons use is continuing,” McMaster said at a major international security conference taking place in Munich.

“It is time for all nations to hold the Syrian regime and its sponsors accountable for their actions and support the efforts of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” he said.

McMaster did not specify which public accounts or pictures he was referring to.

Earlier this month, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said the Syrian government had repeatedly used chlorine gas, but stressed that the U.S. did not have evidence of sarin gas use.

French President Emmanuel Macron has said that “France will strike” if chemical weapons are used against civilians in the Syrian conflict in violation of international treaties, but that he had not yet seen proof this is the case.

The Syrian government has repeatedly denied using chemical weapons and said it targets only armed rebels and militants.

In recent weeks, rescue workers, aid groups and the United States have accused Syria of repeatedly using chlorine gas as a weapon against civilians in Ghouta and Idlib.

Earlier this month, Syrian government forces, who are backed by Russia and Iran, bombarded the areas, two of the last major rebel-held parts of Syria.

Diplomatic efforts have made scant progress towards ending a war now approaching its eighth year, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and forced half the pre-war Syrian population of 23 million from their homes.

NORTH KOREA

McMaster called on the international community to do more on North Korea.

“We must pressure the Kim regime, using all available tools, to ensure that this cruel dictatorship cannot threaten the world with the most destructive weapons on earth,” he said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The United States has appeared to endorse closer post-Olympics engagement between North and South Korea with an eye to eventual U.S.-North Korean talks, but has agreed with Seoul that sanctions must be intensified to push Pyongyang to negotiate an end to its nuclear weapons program.

The prospect of negotiations comes after months of tension over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, in which U.S. President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader traded insults and threats, while the U.N. tightened sanctions.

“Nations that evade full enforcement and fail to take these steps are acting irresponsibly, now is the time to do more,” McMaster said, calling on countries to cut off military and commercial ties with Pyongyang.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali and Thomas Escritt; Editing by Andrea Shalal and Andrew Bolton)

China vows to protect interests as US eyes trade sanctions

February 17, 2018

AFP

© AFP/File | China produces about half of the world’s steel but supplies less than two percent of the steel imported by the United States

BEIJING (AFP) – China on Saturday warned it would take necessary measures to protect its interests if the US imposes tough trade sanctions against its steel and aluminium exports.The US Commerce Department on Friday recommended imposing heavy tariffs on China and other countries to counter a global glut in steel and aluminum, laying out an array of possible options in a report to President Donald Trump.

The move gives Trump the opportunity to strike a highly public blow for his “America first” trade policy — he is due to decide on the measures next month — but has stoked fears of retaliation and a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

“If the United States’ final decision affects China’s interests, we will take necessary measures to defend our rights,” said Wang Hejun, a director at China’s commerce ministry, in a statement responding to the US report.

The US report framed concerns about Chinese overproduction in terms of national security and defence — an approach refuted by Wang.

“The findings of the investigations (of the US Department of Commerce) are groundless and do not correspond to reality,” he said.

Washington “should not lightly adopt restrictive measures under the pretext of ‘national security’ … a vague formula that can easily lead to abuse,” he said.

China produces about half of the world’s steel but supplies less than two percent of the steel imported by the United States.

The US and EU argue Chinese overproduction is heavily subsidised by the state and has depressed world prices, hurting their own domestic production.

Trump on Tuesday accused Beijing of decimating American steel and aluminium industries, saying he was “considering all options”.

China says will protect its interests amid US trade probe on steel, aluminium

February 17, 2018

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China’s Commerce Ministry said it will take necessary steps to protect itself if a final US decision on imposing steep curbs on steel and aluminium imports from China and other countries affects China’s interests. PHOTO: REUTERS

Reuters

BEIJING (REUTERS) – China’s Commerce Ministry said on Saturday (Feb 17) the country will take necessary steps to protect itself if a final US decision on imposing steep curbs on steel and aluminium imports from China and other countries affects China’s interests.

The ministry added that the US Commerce Department report was “baseless” and did not accord with the facts.

The US Commerce Department has recommended that US President Donald Trump impose steep curbs on steel and aluminum imports from China and other countries ranging from global and country-specific tariffs to broad import quotas, according to proposals released on Friday.

The long-awaited unveiling of Commerce’s “Section 232″national security reviews of the two industries contained global tariff options of at least 24 percent on all steel products from all countries, and at least 7.7 percent on all aluminum products from all countries.

Trump authorised the probes under a 1962 trade law that has not been invoked since 2001. He has until April 11 to announce his decision on steel import curbs and by April 20 to decide on aluminum restrictions.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross emphasised that Trump would have the final say, including on whether to exclude certain countries, such as NATO allies, from any actions.

“The president has the discretion to modify any of these or to come with something totally different,” he told reporters on a conference call.

He said a global tariff would cover every steel and aluminum product entering the American market from China.

China’s Commerce Ministry urged the United States to exercise restraint in using trade protection tools, respect the rules of multilateral trade and make a positive contribution to the international economic and trading order.

“If the final US decision affects China’s interests, China must take necessary measures to protect its own reasonable interests,” the ministry added, without giving details.

Steel stocks soared with US Steel closing up 14.7 percent, AK Steel up 13.7 percent, Nucor ended up 4.5 percent and the broader S&P 1500 steel index 5.3 percent higher.

Century Aluminum shares closed up 8.3 percent, while Alcoa, which has operations across the globe, ended off 0.44 percent.

Alcoa said in a statement the US trade actions should focus on Chinese overcapacity and not penalise nations that abide by the rules.

Ross said he would not be surprised if countries challenged the measures at the World Trade Organization.

He said “there has been no dialing back” of the recommendations due to objections from industries that use steel and aluminum.

“The objective of both reports is to get the production up to a level which will result, in our judgment, in the long term viability of each industry,” Ross said, adding that he did not believe that the recommendations would lead to significant price hikes.

US Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said he hoped the proposals “are the beginning of efforts by this administration to finally get tough on China.”

SPECIFIC COUNTRY OPTIONS

Alternatively, Commerce recommended a tariff of at least 53 percent on all steel imports from 12 countries – Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, Russia, South Korea, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

Other countries would be subject to a quota limiting their tariff-free access equal to their 2017 steel exports to the United States.

The country-specific aluminum option would impose a 23.6 percent tariff on all products from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam. All others would be subject to quotas equal to their 2017 exports to the United States.

A third option called for Trump to impose global quotas based on 63 percent of each country’s 2017 steel exports and based on 87 percent of their aluminum exports to the United States.

Ross said the remedies were designed to raise U.S. capacity utilization to about 80 percent for each industry, from the current 48 percent in aluminum and 73 percent in steel.

“That is the level we believe would provide the industry with long term viability,” he said.

Some US companies will be able to request exclusions for specific products if the U.S. lacks sufficient domestic capacity or for national security considerations, Ross added.

Philip Bell, president of the Steel Manufacturers Association, welcomed the proposals saying they could be”meaningful and effective” in tackling global excess capacity and relentless steel imports.

But in a joint statement the National Tooling and Machining Association and Precision Metalforming Association said steep tariffs would “devastate” downstream US steel consuming manufacturers, which employ 6.5 million Americans.

“If these tariffs are imposed, the US will become an island of high steel prices resulting in our customers simply importing the finished part and threatening thousands of jobs,” the groups said.

Cowen and Co. analysts Novid Rassouli and Han Zhang told clients in a research note they believe Trump will likely go for more targeted options.

“Utilising a blanket tariff is too broad, in our view,” they said. “There is a higher level of precision needed than a blanket tariff because depending on the product spread, it could for instance knock out one product, and do little to nothing for another.” Trump met with a bipartisan group of US senators and representatives at the White House last week, signaling he would take at least some action to restrict imports of the two metals.

Some US lawmakers and steel and aluminum users have urged caution in any restrictions to avoid disruptions or price spikes in the raw materials, used in everything from autos to appliances and aircraft and construction.

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Trump Administration Proposes Stiff Penalties on Steel and Aluminum Imports — Would China Retaliate?

February 17, 2018
Workers at a Nucor steel plant in Huger, S.C., using a crane to lift rolled steel into storage before it is shipped for further processing. The Trump administration wants to impose tariffs on steel imports. Credit Stephen B. Morton for The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration for the first time declared imports of steel and aluminum from China and other nations a threat to national security, laying the foundation for President Trump to impose the types of punitive tariffs he has long championed.

In a report released on Friday, the Commerce Department said a recent influx of foreign metals posed a risk to national security by threatening the viability of American manufacturers who make planes, armored vehicles and other products for the military. It outlined an array of recommendations the president could take to help domestic manufacturers struggling to stay competitive, including a sweeping tariff of 24 percent on steel imports from all countries.

The recommendations hand Mr. Trump an opportunity to make good on the get-tough approach to global trade that he has long espoused by giving him authority to decide the scope and severity of any trade action by mid-April. Mr. Trump has previously embraced tariffs on imports of steel and solar products as crucial to protecting American companies.

Yet erecting barriers could prompt swift retaliation from other trading partners, including China and the European Union, which have already warned of reciprocal action in response to protectionist measures. It could also further erode relations with foreign allies that might be ensnared by the measure and drive up prices for American consumers.

Wilbur Ross, the secretary of commerce, outlined three alternatives Mr. Trump could choose from to protect American steel producers, which have struggled to compete with a flood of cheap metals from China and other countries. The options included a broad 24 percent tariff on all steel imports, or a targeted 53 percent tariff on all steel products from 12 countries, including China, Brazil, India, South Korea and Vietnam. Under this option, imports from all other countries would be limited to the level they imported in 2017.

Mr. Ross also proposed an alternative for the steel industry that involved no tariffs, but would set a quota limiting steel imports from all countries to roughly two-thirds the level they were at last year.

For aluminum, the Commerce Department also outlined three alternatives, including a flat 7.7 percent tariff on imports from all countries, or a targeted 23.6 percent tariff on aluminum from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam. A third option involved putting into effect quotas to limit aluminum imports to lower levels than were shipped to the United States last year.

Mr. Ross did not indicate which way Mr. Trump might go, saying the president could pick a separate path, or reject the penalties altogether. But the president’s longstanding support for tariffs and his recent remarks suggest he is likely to support some kind of action.

In a meeting with lawmakers of both parties on Tuesday, Mr. Trump played down objections to the trade measures, and said that the United States was considering tariffs, quotas or both. “You may have a higher price, but you have jobs,” Mr. Trump told the bipartisan group.

Supporters of the trade action, including American steel companies and the United Steelworkers union, say American metal makers badly need the White House to step in and halt the flood of cheap imports, which has depressed the price for steel and aluminum. Many American steel and aluminum plants are struggling to compete in an oversaturated market and some have had to scale back production and eliminate jobs.

“This is a step in the right direction, and hopefully the president responds sooner than later,” said Todd Leebow, the chief executive of Majestic Steel USA, which buys American-made steel from mills to sell to customers in construction, agriculture and other industries. Mr. Leebow said he had seen a troubling decline in the industry in recent years, and he was hopeful Mr. Trump’s measure might reverse that.

But the investigation has also prompted criticism from American industries that use steel and aluminum to make their products, including automakers and food packagers. These businesses say tariffs or quotas will cause their prices to rise and shrink their profits, and could end up costing American jobs.

Christine McDaniel, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, a think tank that supports free markets, said that for every one steelworker that may be helped by trade restrictions, more than 38 workers in other sectors that could be harmed by it. “There is ample evidence that import taxes will harm economic growth and cost American jobs,” she said.

In a call with reporters on Friday, Mr. Ross played down any negative impact from the trade actions, saying that any increase in the cost of steel and aluminum for products like soft drinks and canned soup would be “trivial.” “We really don’t buy that argument,” Mr. Ross said.

Shares of American steel companies, including United States Steel, Nucor and AK Steel, rose following the release of the report. Stocks of Ford Motor Company and General Motors, which purchase aluminum and steel for their cars, declined.

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Steel wire to be used in the manufacturing of tires at the Zhong Tian Steel Group Corporation in Changzhou, Jiangsu. China produces roughly half of the world’s steel and aluminum. CreditKevin Frayer/Getty Images

United Steelworkers, which strongly supported the tariffs, commended Mr. Ross’s announcement. “These recommendations have the potential to focus on the bad actors in the world that historically and systemically cheat in international trade,” said Leo W. Gerard, the president of United Steelworkers International.

Companies with operations outside of the United States were more circumspect. Aluminum companies including Alcoa, Rio Tinto Aluminum and Constellium issued statements urging the administration to exempt Canada, a major supplier of aluminum, from the rule, and focus on the issue of Chinese overcapacity instead.

Mr. Trump will have authority to determine which countries should be subject to any trade action, in part because of way in which the investigation was started. In April, the administration opened an investigation into steel and aluminum imports with a little-used provision of trade law that gives the president broad discretion to act to protect national security.

Read the rest:

NYT:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/16/us/politics/trump-administration-recommends-stiff-penalties-on-steel-and-aluminum-imports.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

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US eyes heavy tariffs on China, Russia to counter steel, aluminum glut

February 16, 2018

AFP

© AFP | US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross believes that cheap steel and aluminum imports from places like China and Russia “threaten to impair our national security”

WASHINGTON (AFP) – The US Commerce Department said Friday it recommended imposing tariffs on China, Russia and other countries to counter a global glut in steel and aluminum which it says threatens national security.In a report to President Donald Trump, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross includes among the options a nearly 24 percent tariff on all products from China, Russia and three other economies.

Other options would impose either high tariffs or quotas on steel and aluminum imports.

The findings are part of an investigation into the impact of the oversupply of steel and aluminum, and whether it undermines US national security.

In each case “the imports threaten to impair our national security,” Ross told reporters in a conference call about the so-called Section 232 investigation.

China and Russia are primary targets, but many other countries are included in the recommended sanctions, which are sure to spark fears of a global trade war if implemented.

Ross said the sanctions were designed to be broad to prevent targeted countries from circumventing the limits by shipping through a third country.

He said “serial offenders can evade these orders by transshipment through another country.”

For steel, Ross recommended three possible options: a 24 percent tariff on all steel from all countries; a 53 percent tariff on imports from 12 countries, including China, Russia and Brazil; or a quota on steel from all countries.

For aluminum, he recommended either a 7.7 percent tariffs on the metal from all countries; a quota for all countries; or, perhaps the most shocking of all the options, a 23.6 percent tariffs on imports of all products from China, Russia, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Venezuela.

Ross submitted the two reports to the White House in late January.

Trump has until mid-April to decide on any possible action, which he acknowledged likely would prompt action by US trading partners in the World Trade Organization.

US industries have urged the administration to take care since high import tariffs would raise the cost of supplies for major industries.

But Commerce said the goal of the measures is to boost domestic aluminum and steel prodcution.

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U.S. Weighs Tariffs and Quotas on Steel, Aluminum Imports

February 16, 2018

Trump administration weighs different options, ranging from a global tariff of at least 24%, to a more targeted approach focusing on China and other nations

The Trump administration on Friday said it was weighing broad-based tariffs and quotas to curb imports of steel and aluminum to protect national security, though officials stressed no final decisions had yet been made and the ultimate policy could be considerably more limited.

The recommendations were part of internal administration reports released Friday laying out the options for President Donald Trump as he considers how to fulfill a campaign promise to take a more aggressive stance than predecessors to shield domestic steel and aluminum makers from growing foreign competition.

The recommendations suggest the president choose among several options. One of them is a global tariff of at least 24% on all steel imports from all countries. Another is a tariff of at least 53% on steel imports from a dozen countries. Under the latter, targeted option, the tariffs of 53% would be applied on steel from Brazil, China, Costa Rica, Egypt, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Russia, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey and Vietnam.

The report from the Commerce Department also included, as an alternative, a quota on steel products from countries equal to 63% of the countries’ 2017 exports to the U.S.

“I am glad that we were able to provide this analysis and these recommendations to the president,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. “I look forward to his decision on any potential course of action.”

The recommendations are opposed by many lawmakers and businesses who worry that the tariffs risk provoking a trade war and raising prices on a range of domestic products.

The recommendations sent sector stocks soaring Friday. Nucor Corp, the largest U.S. steel producer by sales, rose almost 5% and US Steel Corp and AK Steel Holding Corp gain more than 10%. Aluminum stock reaction more muted, with market leader Alcoa Corp. recently up almost 3% and Arconic Inc up 1.6%, both off earlier highs

Mr. Trump faces an April deadline to decide whether, and how, to restrict imports under little-used section 232 of the 1962 trade law that gives the president wide discretion to impose tariffs and quotas if he deems certain imports pose a national security threat. Mr. Trump launched the studies in a White House ceremony last April with cheering industry and union executives by his side, and he promised at the time dramatic action within weeks.

On aluminum, the Commerce Department recommended global tariffs of at least 7.7% on all aluminum imports, or a tariff of 23.6% on select countries or a quota on imports equal to a maximum of 86.7% of the countries’ 2017 exports to the U.S. Under the second option, which targets individual countries, tariffs would apply to aluminum from China, Hong Kong, Russia, Venezuela and Vietnam.

Write to Jacob M. Schlesinger at jacob.schlesinger@wsj.com and William Mauldin at william.mauldin@wsj.com

 https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-recommends-tariffs-and-quotas-on-steel-aluminum-imports-1518801588

As Gaza deteriorates, Israel turns to world for help

February 15, 2018

In this file photo smoke rises in Gaza City after an Israeli airstrike. Four years ago, Israel inflicted heavy damage on Gaza’s infrastructure during a bruising 50-day war with Hamas militants. Now, fearing a humanitarian disaster on its doorstep, Israel is appealing to the world to fund a series of big-ticket development projects in the war-torn area. (AP/Dusan Vranic, File)
GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip: Four years ago, Israel inflicted heavy damage on Gaza’s infrastructure during a bruising 50-day war with Hamas militants. Now, fearing a humanitarian disaster on its doorstep, it’s appealing to the world to fund a series of big-ticket development projects in the war-battered strip.
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In a windfall, the wealthy Gulf Arab state of Qatar, a key donor, has become an unlikely partner in Israel’s quest, and has urged other nations to follow suit.
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But it remains unclear whether the rest of the international community is in a giving mood.
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Donors say that while there have been some successes with reconstruction since the 2014 war, Israeli bureaucracy and security reviews are still too slow and Israel’s ongoing blockade of Hamas-ruled Gaza is stifling the broader goal of developing the territory’s devastated economy.
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“Israel now realizes the growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza and its impact on the population,” said the World Bank, which has helped oversee international reconstruction efforts. “Donors will be more encouraged to invest if the right conditions on the ground are put in place to allow sustainable growth.”
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Gaza, a tiny strip of land sandwiched between Israel and Egypt, has seen conditions steadily deteriorate since Hamas overran the territory in 2007 and took control from the internationally backed Palestinian Authority.
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Israel and Egypt clamped a blockade in an attempt to weaken Hamas, and Israel and Hamas have fought three wars. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, hoping to regain control, has stepped up pressure on Hamas by cutting salaries of civil servants and limiting electricity deliveries.
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The last war, in 2014, was especially devastating. Nearly 20,000 homes were destroyed, and over 150,000 others were damaged, according to UN figures. Hospitals, schools and infrastructure were also damaged.
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Following the war, international donors gathered in Cairo and came up with a $3.5 billion reconstruction plan. But only 53 percent of the promised money has been delivered, according to the World Bank, and Gaza’s economy is in shambles. Unemployment is over 40 percent, tap water is undrinkable and Gazans receive only a few hours of electricity a day.
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Signs of distress are visible throughout Gaza’s potholed streets. Young men sit idly in groups on sidewalks, shopkeepers kill time on their smartphones as they mind their empty shops and the smell of sewage from the Mediterranean often wafts through the air.
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Israel blames Hamas, a militant group sworn to its destruction, for the conditions. It says it has no choice but to maintain the blockade, which restricts imports and exports, because the group continues to plot ways to attack Israel.
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But fearing a humanitarian disaster that could spill over into violence, Israel has begun to soften its line, echoing warnings by international officials.
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“We are well beyond a humanitarian crisis, but on the verge of a total system failure in Gaza, with a full collapse of the economy and social services with political, humanitarian and security implications to match,” UN Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov said.
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Looking forward, Israel and the international community have different visions for how to fix the situation.
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On Jan. 31, Israeli Cabinet Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, who oversees Israeli civilian policies for Gaza, appealed to an emergency gathering of donor nations in Brussels to deliver hundreds of millions of dollars for long-delayed projects sought by the international community.
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According to a document obtained by The Associated Press, the Israeli list included a power line, natural gas line, desalination plant, industrial zone and sewage treatment facility.
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“Israel is ready to provide its technological skills and infrastructure to prevent a humanitarian disaster in Gaza, on the condition that the funds come from the international community and that we know that they will not go to strengthen Hamas,” Hanegbi told the Ynet news site.
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In a rare interview, Mohammed Al-Emadi, the head of Qatar’s Gaza reconstruction committee, urged other nations to support the effort.
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“We have to fund as soon as possible,” he told the AP. “When you want to do work in Gaza, you have to go through the Israelis.”
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Qatar, along with the United States and European Union, has been a leading donor to the “Gaza Reconstruction Mechanism,” a system set up after the 2014 war to rebuild the territory while avoiding contact with Hamas.
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Under the arrangement, the Palestinian Authority leads the projects, Israeli security officials review and approve them, while the UN monitors the delivery of goods to make sure that items like cement and metal pipes don’t reach Hamas. It relies on various tools, including authorized vendors, security cameras and spot inspections of construction sites.
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Israel considers the system to be a success, given the challenging circumstances. According to Israeli figures, nearly 90,000 homes have been rebuilt, while 380 large projects, such as hospitals, housing complexes and water treatment facilities, have been completed.
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Qatar has funded some of the most high-profile projects, including an $84 million highway running the 40-kilometer (25-mile) length of Gaza, a $114 million high-rise development in southern Gaza and a $17 million state-of-the-art rehabilitation hospital.
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Life-size pictures of Qatar’s former emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, and his son, current emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, greet visitors at the hospital entrance.
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In Brussels, Jason Greenblatt, the White House Mideast envoy, also called for donors to “rededicate” themselves to investing in Gaza’s infrastructure.
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Other key donors, however, seem to be more hesitant. It appears unlikely they will open their wallets with internal Palestinian reconciliation at a standstill, the Trump administration unable to restart peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, and continued international frustration over Israel’s 11-year blockade of Gaza. US cuts to UNRWA, the UN agency that assists more than half of Gaza’s population, have further complicated the situation.
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Illustrating the atmosphere, the new Qatari hospital overlooks a beach contaminated by untreated sewage water that pours into the sea due to power failures.
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Guri Solberg, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman for Norway, one of the sponsors of the Brussels meeting, said the gathering was meant to reiterate support for a two-state solution and to enable the Palestinian Authority to regain control of Gaza.
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It was “not a pledging conference,” she said, adding it was impossible to say whether countries are ready to pledge more funds. A “number of donors” expressed concerns over the cuts to UNRWA, she added.
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UN and World Bank officials say the reconstruction mechanism has worked well on routine projects but that Israeli bureaucracy and lengthy security reviews on complicated pieces of equipment have resulted in delays of up to six months.
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Rebhi Sheikh-Khalil, deputy head of the Palestinian Water Authority, said a one-year project to build the first phase of a desalination plant end up dragging on for three years.
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“This is due to the Israeli approvals that take a long time and so many procedures,” he said.
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In Brussels, the Israelis pledged to ease some restrictions to speed up construction — a step welcomed by the World Bank.
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Mladenov, the UN envoy, said that for Gaza’s economy to truly recover, the world must focus on broader goals: enabling Abbas’ government to retake control, ending the Israeli blockade and halting Hamas’ militant activities.
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“This will fully enable the international community to support the economic and social revival of Gaza,” he said.

Pakistan, Seeing New Pressure from the West, Moves Against a Militant Group

February 15, 2018

Islamabad hopes to avoid international terror financing watchlist as it seeks access to international financial markets

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JuD says it rejects ‘misleading and malicious assertions’ by the US State and Treasury departments [File-EPA]

Pakistan is hoping to head off an attempt by the Trump administration to exert further pressure over terrorism by putting the country on a global terror financing watch list, according to a senior Pakistani official.

Miftah Ismail, adviser to the country’s prime minister and Pakistan’s de facto finance minister, said that the country had in recent days undertaken a wide-ranging crackdown on the Jamaat-ud-Dawa group, which also is known as JuD and is blamed by the United Nations for the 2008 attack on the Indian city of Mumbai, which killed 166 people.

Washington has pressed Pakistan to take action against Islamist militants on its soil, and blamed the country for giving sanctuary to Afghan insurgents, announcing last month that it is withholding $2 billion in security assistance.

The international Financial Action Task Force, meeting in Paris next week, will consider a proposal by the U.S., co-sponsored by the U.K. and other Western governments, to put Pakistan on a list of countries that don’t comply with international regulations to squeeze financing of terrorist groups, said Mr. Ismail.

U.S. officials wouldn’t confirm that it had proposed Pakistan for the terror financing watch list, saying the process was confidential.

But the Treasury and other top Trump administration officials aired their concerns about Pakistan’s oversight of terror financing.

“The international community’s longstanding concerns about ongoing deficiencies in Pakistan’s implementation of its anti-money-laundering/counterterrorism finance regime are well documented,” a Treasury spokesman said in a statement.

A British official briefed on the matter echoed the sentiment. “It is important that Pakistan follows through on its FATF and UNSCR commitments to tackle the threat from terrorist groups,” the official said. “Whilst we recognize that Pakistan has suffered at the hands of terrorism, it has not made sufficient progress against the recommendations in FATF reports.”

Pakistan has seized some 200 properties belonging to JuD, including schools, religious seminaries, clinics and mosques. The government has taken over the group’s sprawling campus outside Lahore and, under a law passed this week, banned the group, said Mr. Ismail. The authorities also have seized more than 200 ambulances run by the group’s charity arm, he said.

“We’re taken the wind out of the sails of this proposal,” Mr. Ismail said, adding that the proposal focused on JuD. “We’ve basically done away with these organizations.”

In a statement, JuD said the government was closing down the group’s operations to please the U.S. and India. “This action has also affected thousands of poor people getting help from these institutions,” the group said.

It was unclear whether the Pakistan action, aimed at making Islamabad comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions, would satisfy Washington and the other sponsors of the nomination. Even if it doesn’t assuage them, Pakistan hopes to get enough support from other countries to block the nomination.

It wasn’t immediately apparent if JuD’s headquarters in Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city, was still functional. The group’s leader, Hafiz Saeed, who was released by a Pakistani court from house arrest last year, lives in Lahore. JuD’s new political arm has taken part in a series of by-elections in recent months.

Being put on the FATF watch list likely would complicate the country’s ability to access international financial markets, add further scrutiny to international banking transactions, and create more red tape for Pakistan’s exporters. Pakistan was on the watch list from 2012 to 2015.

Greater damage would likely occur to the country’s reputation, as it seeks to attract foreign investment and project an image of a more “normal” country, said experts.

Washington’s concern over JuD, which targets India, is separate from its demand from Pakistan for action against the Taliban and the Haqqani network, which fight in Afghanistan. President Donald Trump has voiced his frustration over Pakistan, saying they “give safe haven to the terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan.”

Islamabad denies that there are any sanctuaries for militants on its territory and says that it has taken action against all groups “without discrimination”.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats told U.S. lawmakers Tuesday that Pakistan’s recent operations against the Taliban and related groups operating within the country weren’t adequate.

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FBI Director Christopher Wray (from left), CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, Defense Intelligence Agency Director Lt. Gen. Robert Ashley, NSA Director Adm. Michael Rogers and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency Director Robert Cardillo testify before the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday.

Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

“The actions taken thus far do not reflect a significant escalation of pressure against these groups, and are unlikely to have a lasting effect,” Mr. Coats told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Pakistan-based militant groups continue to take advantage of their safe haven to conduct attacks in India and Afghanistan, including U.S. interests therein.”

Last month, the Trump administration levied new sanctions against several Taliban financiers who the U.S. Treasury said have been fundraising in Pakistan.

Write to Saeed Shah at saeed.shah@wsj.com, Ian Talley at ian.talley@wsj.com and Dion Nissenbaum at dion.nissenbaum@wsj.com

 
 https://www.wsj.com/articles/pakistan-seeing-new-pressure-from-the-west-moves-against-a-militant-group-1518660767