Posts Tagged ‘Trump’

With Trump strategy unclear, U.S. allies turn to Moscow to secure their interests in Syria

July 15, 2018

As President Trump began a six-day trip to Europe, due to culminate Monday in a meeting with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, Putin was having some meetings of his own.

In Moscow on Wednesday, he hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a frequent visitor, who said he wanted to talk to the Russian leader “without intermediaries.” Hours later, Putin sat down with Ali Akbar Velayati, the foreign policy adviser to Iran’s supreme leader.

The main subject of the meetings was Syria, also a top item on Trump’s agenda.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting Wednesday, July 11, at the Kremlin to discuss Syria.

“Of course I’m going to bring that up” with Putin, Trump said Friday during a stop in Britain. “I’m not going in with high expectations,” he said, “but we may come out with some surprising things.”

By Karen DeYoung and Joby Warrick
The Washington Post

As Trump and Putin prepare to meet in Helsinki, both allies and adversaries in the Middle East are turning to Putin for reassurance and understanding of how such surprises might affect them. For Iran, which has partnered with Russia to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power and decimate his U.S.-backed opposition, keeping Moscow close is a no-brainer.

But for many of America’s allies in the region, who say they have little understanding of Trump’s long-term strategy in Syria, there is growing anxiety about what he is prepared to offer Putin in exchange for help in attaining what he says is his primary goal of expelling Iran.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, shakes hands with Ali Akbar Velayati, a senior adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, stands at right, at Novo-Ograyovo outside in Moscow on July 12, 2018. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)

Among the possibilities raised by senior officials in a number of regional governments, some of which also concern administration officials, are that Trump will agree to a partial or complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria — as both Syria and Russia have demanded — or even to recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea and drop U.S. sanctions.

Trump signed Wednesday’s NATO communique declaring that it would never accept Russia’s “illegal and illegitimate” takeover of Crimea. If he breaks ranks, it would be his most direct slap yet at the alliance, at a moment when NATO unity already hangs in the balance.

Removing the 2,200-strong U.S. military contingent in Syria, however, is seen as a more realistic possibility. Trump’s suggestion earlier this year that the United States would withdraw troops from Syria “very soon,” widely interpreted to mean six months, continues to create confusion within the U.S. military as well as among Washington’s regional partners.

U.S. military officials see the changing dynamics in southwest Syria, as Assad strengthens his control over remaining rebel-held areas, as disconnected from their ongoing campaign against the Islamic State. But they also see the situation as a signal of Syria’s new reality — one in which Assad will remain in power, aided by Russia and Iran. Although the officials said Friday that they have seen no plans to begin to remove troops, they said they are bracing for such a decision.

Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and others, according to senior Middle Eastern officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity of name and country to avoid publicly questioning Trump, agree that such a step would be disastrous, eliminating whatever leverage the United States still has to push for an acceptable outcome in Syria.

In the lead-up to the Trump-Putin summit, Russia has continued to defend Iran’s presence in Syria and demand complete U.S. withdrawal, charging that its military deployments are a sham.

“Let me remind you that they talked about defeating ISIL at first, [and] declared the prevention of ISIL’s rebirth as their goal later,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told an Italian newspaper on Thursday, using an acronym for the Islamic State. Now, he said, the Americans “say [their] presence in Syria should continue to deter the hypothetical ‘Iranian influence.’ ”

President Vladimir Putin with the French leader Emmanuel Macron in St. Petersburg, Russia, in May.CreditPool photo by Dmitri Lovetsky. MAcron is meeting with Putin on Sunday, July 15, 2018.

“If our American colleagues are pursuing any course of action in Syria, it is too contradictory to be called a strategy,” Shoigu said.

U.S. regional allies share the objective of preventing Iran from establishing an unhindered corridor through Syria from Tehran to Beirut. But they worry that Trump may be too willing to accept guarantees that Putin has neither the desire nor ability to deliver.

Security officials in several countries in the region are skeptical that the Russians could force an Iranian withdrawal, even if they wanted to. “Assad owes everything to Iran, and he’s playing a game between the Russians and Iranians,” said one official in the region.

At the same time, another senior official from the region said, “the Russians play good chess. Putin wouldn’t make a move without thinking 10 moves ahead.”

Confused by apparently conflicting administration messages, and doubtful that the United States has a plan for achieving its own long-term goals in Syria, regional allies have reached out to Russia. “For years, there has been a growing disappointment with the U.S. posture in the region,” a third official said. “Countries are beginning to make their own calculations.”

Assad’s recent offensive in southwestern Syria, bordered by Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, is a case in point. The area had been largely peaceful since last summer, when Putin and Trump endorsed a cease-fire deal that froze Russian-backed Syrian government forces and U.S.-backed opposition fighters in place along a demarcation line patrolled by Russian police.

Late last month, however, Assad’s forces, aided by Russian airstrikes and Iranian-directed militias, began heading south from Damascus for an announced takeover of the area. As the offensive got underway, the administration publicly denounced Russia for violating the cease-fire agreement, even as it privately told regional allies that it would not oppose the move and messaged opposition forces that they would get no assistance and were better off giving up.

The administration apparently asked Russia for nothing in return. As refugees from ground attacks and Russian bombing fled to nearby borders, and humanitarian organizations warned of catastrophe, Israel and Jordan turned to Moscow to ensure that their interests would be protected.

For Jordan, whose foreign minister traveled there shortly after hearing the news from Washington, Russia came through. Early this week at the Naseeb border crossing into Jordan, where days earlier tens of thousands of refugees were crowded in dire conditions against the closed border, only several hundred remained under the watch of Syrian soldiers who had arrived with a small Russian-flagged convoy.

While the Russians kept a discreet presence at the border, their impact has been palpable, and Jordan, despite its not-so-secret support for the rebel groups in the past, welcomed the outcome. “Now, I believe that even within a week, most of the [rebel] groups will agree on terms, and some will be integrated back into their communities,” Brig. Gen. Khaled Massaid, the head of Jordan’s northern military district, said in an interview at his command center a few dozen yards from the crossing.

As Syria’s civil conflict has dragged on for years, Jordan’s economy has come under increasing strain, including the costs of coping with an estimated 1.3 million refugees. “The Naseeb border has reopened, and the regime is in charge again,” Massaid said. “It is better for Jordan if Syria is able to control its own border.”

While Israel, like the United States, continues to demand Iran’s complete withdrawal from Syria, its immediate concern is keeping the Iranians at least 50 miles or more away from its border. Netanyahu left Moscow last week — his third visit in recent months — with what the Israeli media reported was a deal with Russia, both to keep Iran and its militias away from the border area and to continue turning a blind eye to Israeli airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria — the latest of which occurred last week.

“It’s very clear that Russia and Israel are cooperating on Syria. The Saudis and Russia are cooperating,” said a senior international diplomat closely involved in the conflict, who spoke on the condition of anonymity and described those contacts as a “good thing” to the extent that they “helped cool things down.”

“The Americans,” the diplomat said, now consider “Syria . . . a Russian thing.”

But Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a strong proponent of keeping U.S. troops in Syria and a skeptic of Russia, tweeted a warning to Netanyahu. “To our friends in Israel,” he wrote, “be very careful making agreements with Russia re Syria that affect U.S. interests. I don’t trust Russia to police Iran or anyone else in Syria.”

Warrick reported from the Naseeb border crossing in Jordan. Missy Ryan in Washington contributed
to this report.


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‘Fake News’ Goes Global as Trump, in Britain, Rips the Press

July 14, 2018

He shouted down a question from CNN, calling the network “fake news.” He knocked NBC News for “such dishonest reporting.” He falsely accused the London tabloid The Sun of cherry-picking quotes from an interview and complained about a photograph in The New York Times that, he said, made it look like he had a “double chin.”

President Trump was in Britain on diplomatic business. But on Friday, he often appeared focused on a topic that comes more naturally to the showman president: the news media.

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US President Donald Trump with British Prime Minister Theresa May, July 13, 2018

Nonstop denigration of journalists has become an indelible part of the Trump presidency, so routine that it threatens to recede into the background noise of this chaotic administration, a low hum lost in the racket.

But in taking his act on the road, Mr. Trump gave a fresh audience a front-row seat to his treatment of the press. The spectacle of a president bashing his nation’s news organizations on foreign soil — in scenes broadcast live around the world — was a reminder of how Mr. Trump’s conduct with journalists can still shock.

By  Michael M. Grynbaum
The New York Times

Read it all:


The Associated Press

President Donald Trump found time to attack CNN, NBC and the British tabloid The Sun, and offer fashion advice to a fourth news organization, while talking to reporters Friday with British Prime Minister Theresa May.

The leaders faced sharp questions at a news conference following their talks, which came between a reportedly contentious meeting of NATO representatives and Trump’s upcoming summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Frequent Trump foil Jim Acosta of CNN tried to ask a question at one point and was rebuffed by the president.

“CNN is fake news,” Trump said. “I don’t take questions from CNN.

“Let’s go to a real network,” Trump said, pointing to John Roberts of Fox News Channel. Roberts asked if there was any way that relations with Russia would improve as long as the country occupied Crimea.

A day earlier, Trump took a question from CNN’s Jeremy Diamond following the NATO meeting. And as Friday’s session with May was breaking up, Acosta shouted, “Mr. President, will you ask Putin to stay out of U.S. elections?”

Trump turned around and answered yes.

Roberts, a veteran of CBS News and CNN, took some withering criticism online for not standing up for Acosta in the moment or, perhaps, ceding the microphone to his colleague.

CNN anchor Jake Tapper tweeted that he was “old enough to remember when other networks came to the defence of Fox News WH correspondents during the Obama years. Such did not happen here. Lesson for the kids out there: no one should ever try to do the right thing with the expectation that it will ever be reciprocated.”

Media solidarity has become an issue with White House briefings lately, as some journalists suggest that reporters should band together to prevent press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders from changing the subject to avoid answering questions. It hasn’t happened to any appreciable degree.

Roberts said later that he paused when Acosta and Trump went back and forth, and asked his own question when it became clear the president would not entertain one from CNN.

He noted he used to work at CNN. “There are some fine journalists who work there and risk their lives to report on stories around the world,” Roberts said. “To issue a blanket condemnation of the network as ‘fake news’ is … unfair.”

Roberts also said it was similarly wrong for Trump to call Kristen Welker of NBC News dishonest. “She is as honest as the day is long,” he said.

Trump took offence Friday when Welker asked him, “Are you giving Russian President Vladimir Putin the upper hand heading into your talks given that you are challenging the alliances that he is seeking to break up and defeat?”

Trump called it dishonest reporting. “Of course it happens to be NBC, which is possibly worse than CNN,” he said. Welker was cut off when she tried to reply.

NBC News had no comment on the exchange. Margaret Talev, president of the White House Correspondents Association, said that “asking smart, tough questions, whether in a presidential press conference or interview, is central to the role a free press plays in a healthy republic.”

“Saying a news organization isn’t real doesn’t change the facts and won’t stop us from doing our jobs,” Talev said.

All of the cable news networks, along with ABC, CBS and NBC, carried the news conference live. Mika Brzezinski of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” promised the show would fact-check the session live, much as it had done the day before following a NATO meeting. Co-host Joe Scarborough frequently broke in while Trump talked on Thursday, calling some of his claims untrue.

But MSNBC didn’t break in to the Trump-May session Friday. There was no indication whether the live fact-check was considered a failed experiment, or whether it would be repeated on “Morning Joe” or any other show.

Trump was questioned Friday about critical statements he had made about May in an interview this week with The Sun, where he said she hadn’t taken his advice about Brexit negotiations and he praised her political rival. He criticized the newspaper for not printing the positive things he said about May, although he later softened his stance when it was pointed out that the Sun released audio portions of the interview.

“I said very nice things about her,” he said. “They didn’t put it in the headline. I wish they’d put it in the headline.”

The Sun’s headline: “Trump’s Brexit Blast: Donald Trump told Theresa May how to do Brexit ‘but she wrecked it’ — and says the US trade deal is off.”

In a statement, the Sun said it stood by its reporting. “To say the president called us ‘fake news’ with any serious intent is, well … fake news.”

During one awkward moment in the news conference, Trump called attention to Reuters reporter Jeff Mason’s hat. Roberts, sitting next to him, playfully doffed the hat to reveal Mason’s bald head.

“I like you better without the hat,” Trump said.

Mason took it off and asked his question.

NATO summit: Trump hails alliance spending promises after crisis meeting

July 12, 2018

Donald Trump spoke positively of an unscheduled and reportedly discordant emergency meeting with 28 other NATO countries. He spent much of the two-day summit lambasting allies for failing to spend enough on defense.

U.S. President Donald Trump checks time prior to a dinner of leaders at the Art and History Museum at the Park Cinquantenaire in Brussels on July 11, 2018 (Getty Images/AFP/G. vanden Wijngaert)

US President Donald Trump on Thursday said he was “very, very happy” after NATO allies agreed to unspecified commitments to increase their defense spending, striking a conciliatory tone after two days of tense alliance talks in Brussels.

Trump said he had been “extremely unhappy” with allies’ low levels of defense spending before the summit, but was pleased “they have substantially upped their commitment” during a “fantastic” unscheduled crisis meeting on Thursday morning.

“We made a tremendous amount of progress today,” he said, adding, “NATO is much stronger now than it was two days ago.”

NATO leaders held the emergency session to discuss US President Donald Trump’s repeated demands that allies meet the a pledge to spend 2 percent of GDP on defense.

Sources close to the talks told DW’s Teri Schultz that Trump demanded European NATO members meet the alliance target of spending 2 percent of GDP on defense immediately, rather than increase spending gradually as agreed to at a previous NATO summit in 2014.

Teri Schultz


Sources say Trump used this morning’s meeting on Ukraine and Georgia to one-up his demand for more European defense spending — insisting that the 2% be reached now, not just incremental increases by 2024 as stated at Wales

Trump’s 4 percent target

Earlier in the day, he wrote on Twitter that every NATO country needed to meet the 2 percent target, adding that spending “must ultimately go to 4 percent!”

Trump also singled out Germany over its low-levels of defense spending — it currently spends 1.24 percent of its GDP on defense — and renewed his criticism of a controversial gas pipeline deal between Germany and Russia made a day earlier.

Donald J. Trump


….On top of it all, Germany just started paying Russia, the country they want protection from, Billions of Dollars for their Energy needs coming out of a new pipeline from Russia. Not acceptable! All NATO Nations must meet their 2% commitment, and that must ultimately go to 4%!

Trump’s ire

Only three NATO members currently meet the 2 percent target, while five are expected to do so this year. Trump has repeatedly denounced low levels of defense spending among remaining members, particularly Germany.

The issue dominated the president’s public remarks after he arrived in Brussels on Tuesday, striking fear among European officials that the president would question the US’ role in the alliance.

amp/rc (AP, dpa, Reuters, AFP)

Trump Beating Washington at Its Own Game, Expects To Get a Deal With China

June 26, 2018

“It’s the economy, stupid,” Bill Clinton advisor James Carville  once said….

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The more President Donald Trump antagonizes his critics, the more Republicans seem to support him, Axios co-founder Jim VandeHei told CNBC on Monday morning.

The president “feels like he’s got his mojo,” VandeHei said on “Squawk Box.” “For all the hyperventilation … you would think the president is going to get run out of town, yet he’s at 45 percent in Gallup, the highest favorable rating he’s had since the early days of his presidency,”

Trump’s overall approval rating hit 45 percent last week, matching the highest level of his presidency, which happened in the first week after his inauguration, according to Gallup’s weekly presidential approval poll.

President Donald Trump and South Carolina governor
Donald Trump in South Carolina, June 25, 2018 — with Governor Henry McMaster.

However, on Monday afternoon, Gallup said Trump’s approval rating slipped back to 41 percent. GOP support remained high at 87 percent, according to Gallup.

In a separate poll, Trump’s economic approval rating surged 6 points to 51 percent in the latest CNBC All-America Economic Survey. It was his first above 50 percent in the poll, which had a margin of error of 3.5 points.

Referring to last week’s Gallup survey, VandeHei said: “The reason it’s 45 percent is 90 percent of Republicans are super-enthusiastic about what the president is doing. … I would say the tribal dimension of politics is getting more intense. And the president understands that. He sees in the polls that it may be working.”

“There’s this weird dynamic taking place: The more the president says things that outrage his critics, his critics go even more bananas, which then have the effect of making Republicans want to support Trump even more,” even if they don’t like what he’s doing on trade or at the border on immigration, VandeHei said.

VandeHei said the president is the most isolated he’s been since taking office. “He is definitely on his own more than any point in his presidency. He’s doing the communication. He’s doing the policy.”

“It’s creating mass amounts of chaos internally,” but voters seem to be focusing on the strengthening economy and jobs picture and a possible nuclear deal with North Korea instead of all the noise, said VandeHei, who helped launch Axios in January 2017 after leaving Politico, which he also co-founded and turned into a political powerhouse. Axios has gained a reputation as a place for Washington-related scoops.


Jim VandeHei added that Donald Trump expects to get a trade deal with China


Jim Vandehei, Axios co-founder and CEO, discusses the state of U.S.-China trade tensions and what actions the Trump administration is taking.

Pope Francis Unhappy With Macron, Donald Trump, Giuseppe Conte?

June 26, 2018

Macron to Visit Pope Francis On Migration; Italy PM Giuseppe Conte Apparenty Refuses — What Must God Be Thinking?

On his visit to Italy Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron meets with Pope Francis, but not Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, highlighting bilateral strains over the migrant issue while inviting criticism from French secularists.

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Macron has called for stronger ties between the state and the Catholic Church, a move critics said blurred a line that has kept French government free of religious intervention for generations.

The issue is particularly sensitive in historically Catholic France, where matters of faith and state were separated by law in 1905 and which is now home to Europe’s largest Muslim and Jewish communities.

His visit also comes at a time of intense strains between Italy and France over the migrant crisis as the EU heads for a tense summit later this week.

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In an interview with Reuters, Pope Francis criticized the Trump administration on a number of issues

Macron’s rocky relationship with Italy’s ruling populists worsened this weekend when far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blasted the French president’s “arrogant” stance on immigration.

Salvini further accused Macron of hypocrisy for criticising his hardline approach while France continues to “push back women, children and men” across the border back into Italy.

Macron, who argues that France has taken in more asylum seekers than Italy this year as the massive influx across the Mediterranean has slowed, hit back: “We won’t take lessons from anyone.”

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NGO migrant resue boat Aquarius

An honorary canon sparks criticism

While in Italy, the 40-year-old centrist French president has also decided to accept being made an honorary canon of St John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome, a tradition dating back to the 15th century when the French state and church were indistinguishable.

Several of Macron’s predecessors have declined the title, including Socialists François Mitterrand and François Hollande, in a bid to avoid associating themselves with religious imagery.

France is strictly secular under a landmark 1905 law that separated the state from the church.

It remains one of the country’s most debated rules and was invoked controversially in 2004 to ban religious symbols, including the Islamic headscarf, from schools.

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File photo of migrants and refugees from Africa trying to reach Europe

Expecting a president, getting a ‘little priest’

Macron’s decision to accept the honorary canon title has drawn particular scrutiny at home following comments in April in which he said he wanted to “repair” the “bond” between church and state.

One of his leftist opponents, Jean-Luc Melenchon, led criticism of the remarks, saying: “One expects a president, one gets a little priest.”

Macron’s enthusiasm for the church appears to stem in part from his belief that religious leaders have a role to play in helping French society overcome a fractious period riven by economic, ethnic and social tensions.

It might also be an electoral calculation: Catholicism is still France’s biggest religion and many believers worry that France is moving too far from its traditional Christian roots.

“At a time of great social fragility… I consider it my responsiblity to stop the erosion of confidence among Catholics with regard to politics and politicians,” Macron told church leaders in April.

Past tensions

His meeting with Pope Francis will also be an opportunity to soothe diplomatic tensions with the Vatican which emerged under the 2012-2017 presidency of Hollande, a self-described atheist.

The church campaigned against a gay marriage law passed by Hollande and then declined to accept an openly gay career diplomat as France’s ambassador to the Holy See.

Aides to Macron believe the current president and pope share a common vision of a united Europe at a time when anti-EU far-right parties are on the march across the continent.

The Argentine pontiff sent a congratulatory telegram to Macron, a former investment banker, after his election in May last year which urged him to build a “fairer and more fraternal society”.

But they hold different views on the sensitive topic of migration, with Macron repeatedly stating that France “cannot welcome all of the world’s misery” and insisting that economic migrants should be expelled.

Pope Francis insists in his sermons that rich countries must do more to welcome the poor and desperate.

“I don’t think the pope will offer platitudes on the issue of migrants,” Matthieu Rouge, a well-connected bishop in the town of Nanterre west of Paris, told AFP.

Another potential area of disagreement is Macron’s backing for fertility treatment to be extended to all women, including gay couples and women not in relationships.

The move is opposed by Catholic groups in France, which see it as undermining traditional family values because it will lead to children growing up without fathers.

Macron is expected to invite Pope Francis to visit France, as Hollande did in vain, but the pontiff is not expected to make the trip a priority in the short-term.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

See also:

Pope criticizes Trump administration over migrant family separations

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U.S. Senate passes defense bill, battle looms with Trump over China’s ZTE

June 19, 2018

The U.S. Senate passed a $716 billion defense policy bill on Monday, backing President Donald Trump’s call for a bigger, stronger military but setting up a potential battle with the White House over Chinese telecommunications firm ZTE Corp.

A sign of ZTE Corp is pictured at its service centre in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China.
A sign of ZTE Corp is pictured at its service centre in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China. PHOTO: STRINGER/REUTERS

The Republican-controlled Senate voted 85-10 for the annual National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, which authorizes U.S. military spending but is generally used as a vehicle for a broad range of policy matters.

Before it can become law, the bill must be reconciled with one already passed by the House of Representatives. That compromise measure must then be passed by both chambers and signed into law by Trump.

Considered must-pass legislation, the fiscal 2019 Senate version of the NDAA authorizes $639 billion in base defense spending, for such things as buying weapons, ships and aircraft and paying the troops, with an additional $69 billion to fund ongoing conflicts.

This year, the Senate included an amendment that would kill the Trump administration’s agreement to allow ZTE to resume business with U.S. suppliers, one of the few times the Republican-led Senate has veered from White House policy. That ZTE provision is not included in the House version of the NDAA.

While strongly supported by some of Trump’s fellow Republicans as well as some Democrats, the measure is opposed by the White House and some of its close Republican allies, who control the House as well as the Senate.

It could face a difficult path to being included in the final NDAA, especially if Trump lobbies the Republican-led Congress against it, as he is expected to do.

Republicans and Democrats have expressed national security concerns about ZTE after it broke an agreement to discipline executives who had conspired to evade U.S. sanctions on Iran and North Korea.

The U.S. government placed a ban on ZTE earlier this year, but the Trump administration reached an agreement to lift the ban while it is negotiating broader trade agreements with China and looking to Beijing for support during negotiations to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

Republicans Tom Cotton and Marco Rubio and Democrats Chuck Schumer and Chris Van Hollen, who led the Senate push for the ZTE provision, said in a joint statement after the vote that they were “heartened” by support, adding: “It is vital that our colleagues in the House keep this bipartisan provision in the bill as it heads toward a conference.”

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But the final NDAA could include only a much less stringent provision, included in the House bill, that would bar the Defense Department from dealing with any entity using telecommunications equipment or services from ZTE or another Chinese company, Huawei Technologies Co Ltd HWT.UL.


The Senate version of the NDAA also seeks to strengthen the inter-agency Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, which assesses deals to ensure they do not compromise national security.

The bill would allow CFIUS to expand the deals that can be reviewed, for example making reviews of many proposed transactions mandatory instead of voluntary and allowing CFIUS to review land purchases near sensitive military sites.

The Senate NDAA also includes an amendment prohibiting sales to Turkey of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets made by Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) unless Trump certifies Turkey is not threatening NATO, purchasing defense equipment from Russia or detaining U.S. citizens.

Senators included the legislation because of the imprisonment of U.S. pastor Andrew Brunson and the purchase of the S-400 air defense system from Russia.

The measure also includes an amendment to bar the U.S. military from providing aerial refueling support for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen unless Secretary of State Mike Pompeo certifies that Saudi Arabia is taking urgent steps to end the civil war in Yemen, ease the humanitarian crisis there and reduce the risk to civilians.

Shipbuilders General Dynamics Corp (GD.N) and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc (HII.N) could benefit from the bill’s authorization of advance procurement of materials needed for the Virginia class nuclear submarines.

Reporting by Patricia Zengerle an Mike Stone; Additional reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Chris Sanders and and Peter Cooney


Austria Offers to Host Summit Meeting Between Trump and Putin

June 8, 2018

There’s an echo of the Kennedy-Khrushchev Cold War encounter in Vienna in the air

The Austrian government is encouraging President Donald Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin to hold a summit in their country, potentially echoing a historic Cold War meeting there between a newly elected President John F. Kennedy and the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.

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Austria offered to host a meeting between the two leaders, a White House official said on Thursday. While Trump and Putin have previously discussed the possibility of a summit, the U.S. has nothing further to say on the idea, added the official, who was granted anonymity to discuss the matter.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed in April that Putin and Trump had talked about meeting in a number of potential locations, including the White House.

Speaking to Austrian television channel ORF before a planned visit to Vienna on Tuesday, Putin said he and Trump speak regularly by phone but have no immediate plans for a formal meeting.

“I think that the possibility of these meetings depends to a large extent on the internal political situation in the United States,” Putin said, according to CNN. “The congressional election campaign is getting under way and then there will be the next presidential election, and the president of the United States is coming under attack over various matters. I think this is the main reason.”

Russian efforts to disrupt the American presidential election in 2016 remain a source of tension between the two nations and has led to U.S. sanctions of several Russians close to Putin and his circle. The election meddling has also the focus of the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who has been looking into whether any Trump associates colluded in the Russian efforts.

Putin and Trump spoke briefly at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in Vietnam last November, and had two encounters during the G-20 summit in Germany last July.

Kennedy and Khrushchev met at a historic summit in Vienna in 1961, shortly after the U.S.-backed invasion of Cuba’s Bay of Pigs and amid tensions between the superpowers over Berlin.


U.S. in Early Talks for Potential Summit Between Trump and Putin

June 2, 2018

Meeting would bring to the international stage one of the world’s most enigmatic political relationships

U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, on Nov. 11, 2017.
U.S. President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin talk at the APEC Summit in Danang, Vietnam, on Nov. 11, 2017. PHOTO:JORGE SILVA/REUTERS

WASHINGTON—The White House is planning for a potential summit between President Donald Trump and President Vladimir Putin of Russia, according to people familiar with the efforts, a meeting that would bring to the international stage one of the world’s most enigmatic political relationships.

A senior administration official said Friday that Jon Huntsman, the U.S. ambassador to Russia, has been in Washington to help arrange a meeting between Messrs. Trump and Putin.

The planning is still at an early stage, the official said, with the two nations needing to agree on a date and location.

“This has been an ongoing project of Ambassador Huntsman, stretching back months, of getting a formal meeting between Putin and Trump,” the official said.

Any meeting between the two presidents would be expected to include discussions on Syria, Ukraine and nuclear-arms control. The summit’s purpose would be to resolve longstanding differences, people familiar with the matter said.

The summit would mark the third meeting between Messrs. Trump and Putin, who held discussions on the sidelines of two international meetings in 2017—one at the Group of 20 summit in Germany last July and at a November summit in Vietnam.

The potential meeting comes as special counsel Robert Mueller continues to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and whether associates of Mr. Trump colluded with Moscow. Mr. Trump has denied any collusion and has described the probe as a “witch hunt.” Russia has denied meddling in the election.

Asked about a summit taking place amid Mr. Mueller’s investigation, another administration official said, “Of course there are discussions of the political perception.”

In April, Yuri Ushakov, a former Russian ambassador to the U.S. and now an aide to Mr. Putin, said Mr. Trump had invited Mr. Putin to Washington during a March 20 phone call.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders, responding to questions about Mr. Ushakov’s revelation, confirmed the invitation. “The two had discussed a bilateral meeting in the ‘not-too-distant future’ at a number of potential venues, including the White House,” Ms. Sanders said at the time.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a Russian news agency in late April that “President Putin is ready for such a meeting.”

Mr. Trump is currently focusing on the summit with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader, according to an administration official. “If negotiations there continue, [work on the Russia summit] will be delayed,” the official said.

The Russia summit “will be focused on specifics, not grand bargaining,” the official said. “Those things need to be negotiated.”

Before any summit takes place, a meeting is likely to occur between Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Gen. Valery Gerasimov, the chief of the Russian General Staff, the official said. These talks would focus on de-escalation of the conflict in Syria.

Mr. Trump has long said he wanted to improve relations with Russia, while at the same time bemoaning the poor state of Russian-U.S. ties.

As president-elect in January 2017, he made clear he wanted a cordial relationship with Mr. Putin. “If Putin likes Donald Trump, I consider that an asset, not a liability, because we have a horrible relationship with Russia,” Mr. Trump said at a news conference.

Three months ago, after he spoke to Mr. Putin on the phone and congratulated him on his election victory, Mr. Trump tweeted that “Getting along with Russia (and others) is a good thing, not a bad thing…”

The following month, though, he wrote in a tweet that “our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War.”

He added: “There is no reason for this. Russia needs us to help with their economy.” He went on to suggest that a more collaborative relationship with Russia could curb the arms race.

As he has sought better ties with Moscow, Mr. Trump has been shadowed by the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race.

Mr. Mueller has been questioning former Trump aides and associates about whether the campaign colluded with Russia in an effort to defeat Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Mr. Mueller is also examining whether the president obstructed justice in firing former FBI Director James Comey ; Mr. Trump has denied any obstruction of justice.

Meeting Mr. Putin last year on the sidelines of a G-20 summit meeting in Germany, Mr. Trump voiced concerns about Russian interference in the election, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said at the time. Mr. Putin, during a two-hour meeting that lasted twice as long as planned, denied any involvement.

At the meeting in Vietnam, also on the sidelines of a summit meeting, Mr. Putin reiterated that his country didn’t meddle in the U.S. elections.

On Air Force One, Mr. Trump said: “He said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times.”

Former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama each held summits with Mr. Putin within six months of taking office. Mr. Trump has now been in office more than 16 months.

Write to Brett Forrest at and Peter Nicholas at

Appeared in the June 2, 2018, print edition as ‘U.S. Plans For Trump Meeting With Putin.’

In Iran, Oliver Stone likens Trump to ‘Beelzebub’ — Also hammers Emmanuel Macron who has been telling Trump to leave Iran alone…

April 25, 2018

You can see Oliver’s fellow panelists looking like they wished they were in Montana….

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The Hill


Filmmaker Oliver Stone slammed President Trump during an appearance at the International Film Festival in Tehran this week, comparing him to “Beelzebub.”

Stone made the comments while criticizing foreign policy in the Middle East, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

“We made a mess out of Iraq, Syria, Libya, but it doesn’t matter to the American public. It’s OK to wreck the Middle East,” Stone said. “It doesn’t matter who is president — Bush, Obama or Trump, the U.S. will break any treaty.”

He told a local journalist that, having compared former President George W. Bush to John Wayne, he would have to compare Trump with “Beelzebub.”

Stone also criticized French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Trump this week in the administration’s first state visit and on Wednesday addressed a joint session of Congress.

The filmmaker called Macron a “young man without much sense of history or memory of the great traditions of France,” referring to French colonialism and imperialism.

Stone has criticized Trump in the past, calling him a “disaster” last year.

“This is a little too early to tell if Trump lasts, but it seems he’s not to be the kind of president who plans, who deliberates,” Stone said.

Macron and Trump Plant an Historic Tree at The White House

April 24, 2018

Gone are the days when France would splurge on gifts for its old ally America, and ship the Statue of Liberty across the Atlantic as a grand gesture of friendship. Emmanuel Macron, who accompanied by his wife Brigitte arrived in Washington, DC, today (Apr. 23) to visit Donald Trump and his wife Melania, brought a much simpler cadeau: An oak sapling.

Kind of like that time in 1912 when Tokyo mayor Yukio Ozaki gave Washington, DC, 3,000 cherry trees—except this time there’s only one tree, and it’s a spindly one at that.

The tree was actually a thoughtful present: It came from Belleau Wood,northeast of Paris, the site of a 1918 World War I battle. Macron must know that Trump loves World War I—Trump’s favorite book, after all, is All Quiet on The Western Front.

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President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron planted a tree outside the White House on Monday in the first ceremonial act of Macron’s state visit.

Trump and Macron piled dirt on the sapling on the South Lawn and posed for photos with their wives. The tree is a gift from Macron and his wife, French first lady Brigitte Macron.

The European Sessile Oak will grow to be four-and-a-half feet tall and live between five and 10 years, according to the first lady’s office. The tree comes from Belleau Woods, the site of a battle in World War I where more than 9,000 American soldiers died.

The Trumps and the Macrons departed from the White House to spend the evening touring George Washington’s mansion at Mount Vernon, where they will have dinner.

On Tuesday morning, nearly 500 soldiers and dozens of officials will greet Macron at the White House. That will be followed by a joint press conference with Macron and Trump.

Macron will attend a state dinner on Tuesday night.

Several foreign leaders have visited the White House since Trump took office, but Macron’s will be the first official state visit. The French president said in an interview broadcast Sunday that he and Trump have developed a strong personal relationship.