Posts Tagged ‘U. S.’

Activists to set up panel to tackle pedophilia in Polish church

October 8, 2018

An independent panel aimed at documenting cases of pedophilia in Poland’s Catholic Church will be set up early next year to help victims speak up and claim damages, opposition parliamentarians said on Monday.

The Roman Catholic Church worldwide is reeling from crises involving sexual abuse of minors, deeply damaging confidence in the Church in Chile, the United States, Australia and Ireland among other countries.

In stark contrast, in Poland, a deeply Catholic country, debate has only just begun while activists close to the nascent anti-pedophilia project, called “Nie lekajcie sie” (Don’t Be Afraid), say that around 600 priests in Poland may have inclinations towards pedophilia.

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Around 100 people claiming to have been sexually molested by Polish priests phoned to tell their stories in the first 24 hours after organizers of the panel posted an interactive pedophilia map on the Internet on Sunday.

“The map of pedophilia was viewed by 500,000 people since yesterday. Public discussion has started and we want to set up a panel early next year to tackle the issue,” Joanna Scheuring-Wielgus, an opposition MP, told Reuters TV.

The map documents 280 cases of pedophilia committed by 60 priests convicted by Polish courts, but according to activists the real numbers are much higher since victims are often afraid to speak up for psychological and social reasons.

“One-hundred people have called us since yesterday to tell us about their cases, and we need to research and verify all these cases,” Scheuring-Wielgus said.

Several left-wing and liberal MPs, along with rights activists, declared their support in creating or running the investigative panel. The ruling nationalist (PiS) party, whose core support comes from devout Catholics and the Church, is not expected to be involved.

A PiS spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment, nor was a spokesman for Poland’s Church.

Last week a Polish court upheld a landmark ruling granting a one million zlotys ($266,084.83) in compensation and an annuity to a victim of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest, accepting that the church ore responsibility for the crimes of its cleric.

Reporting by Marcin Goclowski; Editing by Mark Heinrich



U.S. Puzzles Out ‘Peace Declaration’ (Not a ‘Treaty’) With North Korea

October 7, 2018

South Korea’s leader pushes a symbolic declaration of an end to hostilities, but there are potential drawbacks

During his trip to Pyongyang and Seoul, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is confronting the question of whether to agree to a symbolic statement declaring an end to hostile relations with North Korea. Shown, Mr. Pompeo at a U.N. Security Council briefing on Sept. 27.
During his trip to Pyongyang and Seoul, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is confronting the question of whether to agree to a symbolic statement declaring an end to hostile relations with North Korea. Shown, Mr. Pompeo at a U.N. Security Council briefing on Sept. 27. PHOTO:JEENAH MOON/BLOOMBERG NEWS

As Secretary of State Mike Pompeo works to regain traction in negotiations with North Korea, one of the main questions hanging over the talks will be how to go about ending a 65-year-old war.

The immediate issue isn’t whether to sign a peace treaty: It is widely understood in Washington and Seoul that a formal peace accord can come only after a diplomatic process that leads to the dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and arsenal.

Rather, the issue now is whether to issue a symbolic statement declaring an end to hostile relations on the Korean Peninsula.

Such a move has been heavily promoted by South Korean President Moon Jae-in as a way to energize negotiations between U.S. and North Korean diplomats, which have stalled since the June summit meeting in Singapore between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The question before the U.S. is whether such a declaration should serve as a major theme at the next summit  and, if so, what denuclearization and confidence-building steps U.S. officials should demand in return.

Within the Trump administration, consideration has already been given to how such a peace declaration might be worded, and Mr. Pompeo has been careful not to rule it out.

“I don’t want to prejudge precisely where we’ll end up,” he told CBS News during his week at the United Nations in September.

Former officials have been less circumspect about the idea, including potential pros and cons.

“I think an end-of-war declaration is a pretty good idea at this point,” said Joseph Yun, the former U.S. special envoy for North Korea policy from 2016 to 2018.

Such a move, he said, would further U.S. objectives if it were incorporated in a broader statement that committed North Korea to begin the dismantling of its Yongbyon nuclear facility in the presence of international inspectors and perhaps take other steps.

Even dictators, Mr. Yun continued, have to worry about sentiment at home, and the declaration could help Mr. Kim assure his generals and security officials that the U.S. is prepared to turn the page.

But there are plenty of skeptics who see such a declaration as a ploy by Pyongyang to try to undermine the rationale for keeping U.S. troops in South Korea and perhaps reinforce Mr. Trump’s occasional musings about reducing the American military presence there.

“A peace declaration is not merely ineffective in establishing peace, it advances the North Korean push to unwind the U.S.-ROK alliance,” said Daniel Russel, the former top State Department official for Asia policy during the Obama administration, using the acronym for South Korea, formally known as the Republic of Korea. “This is not an argument we should be having right now.”

The ongoing debate has a long history.  The Korean War ended with an armistice in 1953, concluded by China, North Korea and the U.S.-led United Nations Command, leaving to diplomats the task of how to establish something more durable than a tense truce between two heavily armed sides.

The outlines of a potential way forward were drawn in Singapore, where Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim signed a joint statement that embodied each side’s priorities.

Addressing longstanding North Korea concerns, the two leaders promised in the statement to “build a lasting and stable peace regime.” Addressing U.S. demands, the statement pledged to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

But the sequence of steps to be taken next wasn’t spelled out, prompting each side to insist its priorities be addressed up front. Little headway has been made since.

Enter Mr. Moon, who served as chief of staff to former South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun when he supported the idea of an end-of-war declaration.

Mr. Moon has been anxious to advance progress, but his room to maneuver has been limited. The U.S. won’t agree to ease sanctions until the North Koreans carry out major steps toward denuclearization, and Pyongyang has balked at giving the U.S. an inventory of its nuclear arsenal and programs. So Mr. Moon has been advocating a peace declaration at every turn.

“This is basically a political statement that announces the end of hostile relations” that would be intended to “lead to more denuclearization measures from North Korea,” Mr. Moon told the Council on Foreign Relations during his visit to the U.N. late last month.

The U.S. military has been cautious about the idea of a peace declaration, stressing that it be linked to commitments by Pyongyang. “I would be skeptical about any solution that does not have denuclearization in it, and how that can become an enduring peace,” Gen. Vincent Brooks, the senior U.S. commander in South Korea, said in August.

With Mr. Trump boasting of the “beautiful letters” he has received from Mr. Kim, declaring an end to the hostile relationship may not be much of a leap—especially since the U.S. had made clear that it will maintain economic sanctions until North Korea takes major steps to eliminate its nuclear weapons and programs.

“We know how North Korea and China would want to use an end-of-war declaration, but whether it actually undermines the alliance depends entirely on Washington and Seoul,” said Robert Einhorn, a former U.S. negotiator on North Korea’s missile programs. “If the allies are resolved to preserve their alliance and the U.S. military presence after peace is declared, such a declaration will not have the feared adverse effects. But the allies should only accept it in exchange for concrete denuclearization steps.”

Write to Michael R. Gordon at

Philippines concerned over possible entry of nuclear weapons in South China Sea

August 23, 2018
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The Philippines is concerned about China’s possible deployment of nuclear weapons in its outposts in the heavily disputed South China Sea.

“We are concerned about the entry of any and all nuclear weapons into the Philippine territory because our Constitution provides that we are a nuclear-free zone,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Thursday.

Roque also cited that there is an Asean treaty declaring the whole Asean as a nuclear-free zone.

By:  – Reporter / @NCorralesINQ
 / 01:41 PM August 23, 2018
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China has built seven military bases near the Philippines.

“We are concerned about the possibility that any foreign power be it American, Russian, Chinese may bring nuclear warheads into our territory and into Asean, which is declared as a nuclear-free zone,” he said.

A  United States’ Department of Defense had earlier warned that China may deploy nuclear weapons in the South China Sea, where the Asian superpower has a sweeping claim.

While Roque said that the warning was a mere “US observation,” he said the Philippines was against any deployment of nuclear weapons in areas declared as nuclear-free zones.

“The important point to underscore is we have a nuclear-free policy and that should be applied to all countries, including the Americans, because the Americans have been using nuclear-powered [weapons] and have been stationing warships with nuclear capability as well,” he said.

“So the concern is against all possible nuclear-carrying vessels from all countries,” he said.

Asked if the government would verify the US warning, he said, “That’s a US observation. We are not in the position to verify that. And as we correctly said it is even in the nature of speculation. It is a possibility according to American sources so we leave it at that.”

“You know, if we could, we will try verifying it, try approaching any of these suspected nuclear warheads,” he added with hesitation, saying “I don’t think they can be boarded.” /je

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Photo at the top: Chinese military base at Subi Reef. Subi Reef, also known as Zhubi Reef (Chinese渚碧礁pinyinZhǔbì JiāoTagalogZamoraVietnameseđá Xu Bi) is a reef in the Spratly Islands of the South China Sea located 26 km (16 mi) southwest of Philippine-occupied Thitu Island. It is occupied by China, and claimed by Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines. It currently falls under the de facto jurisdiction of Nansha islandsSansha cityHainan provinceChina.


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China has nuclear bomb capable bombers operating in the South China Sea

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China says it has sovereignty over all the South China Sea north of its “nine dash line.” On July 12, 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration  in The Hague said this claim by China was not valid. But China and the Philippine government then chose to ignore international law. Vietnam has been unable to develop its own undersea oil due to China’s aggressive behavior.


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Philippines, China work on framework of joint oil hunt

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Above: military intelligence planners say China may next declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) over the South China Sea

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Banners declaring the Philippines a province of China appeared in various parts of Metro Manila on July 12. Nobody has claimed responsibility for the apparent prank.(Contributed photo)


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Wang Yi

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  (This is what China cares about what people think….)

(Why give away what you own?)


China’s Belt and Road Illusion

August 16, 2018


Chinese president Xi Jinping (Marko Djurica/Reuters)

China’s international-development project reflects its global ambitions but masks problems at home.The president is a man who often makes aspirational statements and presents them as fact. He has a grandiose sense of what he is accomplishing, causing allies and adversaries to parse his every comment to separate reality from illusion. Through his pronouncements, the president touts his country’s strength, security, and its determination to make its own way unencumbered by entangling alliances and agreements. It is an effective technique, forcing other countries to rethink their policies and reconsider their relationships. Still, he has a firm grip on his party after having dispatched numerous potential rivals or challengers through his sheer audacity. The party has fallen in line behind him, its stalwarts reasserting the president’s positions as their own.

But enough about China’s Xi Jinping.

In fact, President Donald Trump is one foreign leader who’s not buying it. In the ways that his administration is applying pressure on China — by highlighting the U.S.’s commitment to Taiwan, challenging China’s military adventurism in the region, blocking investments in sensitive U.S. sectors, and even pursuing a unilateral tariff policy — it seems clear that Trump and his team are comfortable pushing against the illusions that Xi wants the world to believe about China.

Xi is the master — okay, there’s at least one other leader in his league — of making people respond to his utterances and declarations as though they were fact, distracting his observers to obscure the reality in the background. In the foreground, the world sees China’s conspicuous urban wealth, global companies dominating its sectors, the largest banks in the world, military expansion, and diplomatic energy. This obscures runaway public and private debt, an aging population with no social-support system after decades of the disastrous one-child policy, and rural poverty that approaches the worst found anywhere else in the world.

The latest example of this policy of distraction is the so-called Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which is feeding the latest source of anxiety about China’s pretensions to great-power status. The Economist recently devoted its cover to “Planet China,” with a focus on the BRI. The unclassified synopsis of National Defense Strategy of the U.S. for 2018 does not mention the BRI by name, but the implication is clear in its statement that “China is leveraging . . . predatory economics to coerce neighboring countries to reorder the Indo-Pacific region to their advantage” with the long-term goal of displacing the United States, first in the region and, ultimately, globally. On August 7, in a dinner meeting in New Jersey with several CEOs of American companies, even President Trump referenced the BRI, calling it “insulting” while addressing his broader priority of stopping China’s unfair trade practices.

If one can believe the more fantastic accounts of the BRI offered by the Chinese government and by foreign governments eager for Chinese investment, the BRI will bind vast tracts of the earth with China through a series of infrastructure projects across the Eurasian landmass. Not content to leave it at that, typically sycophantic PRC propagandists and some of the ever-swooning China analysts outside the country have constructed BRI variants that presage maritime, polar, and even space dominance.

Xi first referenced the concept in a speech in Kazakhstan in September 2013, where he proposed a “silk road economic belt” to connect China and Central Asia through improved infrastructure. Since then, the project has taken on more importance, at least in the rhetoric of Chinese officials who have created an illusion of a coherent, centrally planned strategic initiative, which it is not. The Economist rightly asks about the BRI: “Master-plan or marketing?” The answer is the latter: The BRI is a framework into which overseas Chinese-investment opportunities can be shoehorned to create the illusion of an overarching Chinese strategy of regional hegemony.


The BRI is a framework into which overseas Chinese-investment opportunities can be shoehorned to create the illusion of an overarching Chinese strategy of regional hegemony.

Certainly, the BRI is not to be ignored as an expression of Chinese intent; there has been some concrete progress. The PRC has stepped up its investment overseas in the years since Xi articulated his vision in 2013. According to data compiled by Derek Scissors for the Chinese Overseas Investment Tracker, China’s investment in East Asia alone in the eight years before 2013 was about $11 billion per year. In the five years since, it’s up to about $30 billion per year.

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One need not look only to infrastructure projects to find indications that China wants the world to keep buying its propaganda as a confident power capable of counterbalancing U.S. influence and dominance. Outside the region, Beijing is focusing on areas where the U.S. has shown disinterest, including across Africa; and where there already exists a tendency among some countries to seek an alternative power with which to align, including parts of Asia and Latin America. The PRC is using diplomatic engagement, infrastructure investment, and outright financial leverage to achieve these goals. Beijing’s 2016 Asia Infrastructure Investment Bank launch should be seen in that context, and it produced the desired rhetorical result: At the time, Luxembourg’s finance minister, Pierre Gramegna, summarized the sentiment of many by calling the AIIB “further proof of the rebalancing of the world economy.”

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Founding Members of the Chinese-led, Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank ( AIIB)

Still, as will be discussed, China’s extravagant declaratory policies around its regional and global aspirations fall short of the the grand vision. This mirrors Beijing’s mastery of illusion over reality regarding China’s domestic economic progress. We see purported evidence of a country on the move: seemingly endless construction projects in Beijing, Shanghai, and other megacities; technology companies that seem to be on the cusp of dominating their industries globally, including Alibaba, WeChat, TenCent, Huawei; and economic growth that fluctuates around 6 percent to 7 percent annually.

But behind the illusion of China’s economic miracle is a reality that is becoming hard to deny, and there may be whiffs of frustration and disillusionment starting to swirl around Xi as a result. The drivers are many and interrelated, but a quick recap of some of the most compelling is in order. First, China’s debt as a percentage of GDP has nearly doubled in ten years. Every actor in the economy, from the central government to local governments, companies, and households, is dangerously over-leveraged. Second, China faces bubbles of overcapacity in several asset classes, most notably real estate, contributing to cities featuring empty malls and condo developments (about which much has been written of late). Third, China has too many older people and too few young people, a result of terrible social policies. The country faces a decline in the number of workers to retirees: from 5–1 to 2–1 in the next 15 years. Even now, only about a quarter of Chinese workers contribute to the pension system. Finally, China is a country in which massive rural poverty is already the reality. This creates several negative pathologies of its own, including the possibility of widespread cognitive handicaps among the poor.

Given these realities, the BRI should be viewed with skepticism, not feared as a master plan for global dominance. Much of the growth in Chinese overseas investment, for instance, is a way to channel excess capacity by state-owned enterprises that have grown too large, have too much debt, and are chasing too few opportunities inside China. There are only so many Chinese ghost cities that can be built.

Some believe the BRI is a way for China to export debt deliberately: “Debt-trap diplomacy” by which the PRC can use its leverage and onerous lending terms to take control of strategic infrastructure projects under the guise of economic partnership. In Sri Lanka last year, the government ceded control to Beijing of the debt-laden but strategically located Hambantota port facility on the southern end of the island nation,  roughly halfway between the strait of Malacca and the strait of Hormuz. Hambantota had been a ballyhooed example of a BRI “partnership,” but in the end only one “partner” benefited.

Whether the PRC’s intent in this case was predatory or just bad economics is almost beside the point. The fact remains that there is a lot of unfavorable economics behind China’s impetus to be seen as an expansionist power, given its pressing domestic realities.

There are problems with China’s goal to be seen as an expansionist power, given its pressing domestic realities.

Since the initiative began in 2013, the world is taking notice. That isn’t going to make things any easier for the PRC. Trump’s trade policies are putting pressure on the regime and placing further strains on the Chinese domestic economy. Congress, too, is taking a harder line toward China’s ambitions. There is bipartisan support for enhanced due diligence of Chinese investments in the U.S., for instance. Congress recently passed the Foreign Investment Risk Review Modernization Act of 2018, which will give the government great scrutiny over foreign direct investment by China into the United States when it is signed into law.

Sixteen U.S. senators, meanwhile, penned a letter to the administration on August 3 expressing concern about the BRI. Sri Lanka had to accept an IMF bailout of more than $1 billion due to onerous debt terms with the PRC. Unlike excess leverage by the Chinese government in its local municipalities, which is a problem for Beijing to solve, the senators are rightly concerned that the U.S., as the largest funder of the IMF, will find itself on the hook for guaranteeing other future failures of China’s excess overseas leverage.

The U.S. is taking affirmative measures to counter China’s regional and global investment ambitions, too. In remarks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington in late July, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo laid out a comprehensive “Indo-Pacific Economic Vision.” Perhaps the most beneficial aspect of the remarks and the underlying vision is the confidence it shows to the region and the world that the U.S. is paying attention to economic development and security issues in the area that Pompeo defined as stretching “from the United States west coast to the west coast of India.” Pompeo connected prosperity in the region directly to American prosperity and, while he didn’t mention the BRI, he did announce a $113 million “down payment” for “initiatives to support foundational areas of the future,” including the digital economy, the energy sector, and infrastructure. Though the secretary barely mentioned China, he left little room for doubt about American intentions not to let any other country have a free hand to shape an alternative future.

The PRC will continue to highlight the BRI as a mainstay of its policy and will continue to market its overseas investment commitments as consistent with the effectiveness of the initiative. But aside from the propaganda value, the reality won’t be much different from the reality of China’s domestic economic circumstances. There are simply too many contradictions, too much dependence on circumstances beyond the government’s control, and a growing awareness in the region and the rest of the world that Beijing’s intentions are not benign. President Xi’s mastery of illusion has peaked; reality is here.


Trump and Advisers Diverge on Iran: What does it mean for Israel?

August 8, 2018

“No preconditions, no, they want to meet I’ll meet, anytime they want,” President Donald Trump said.

 AUGUST 8, 2018 09:27
US President Donald Trump

U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while addressing a joint news conference with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, US, April 30, 2018.. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

WASHINGTON — Amidst the United States of America’s sanctions on Iran, President Donald Trump says he is ready to meet with Iran without preconditions, while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has preconditions.

The disconnect of recent weeks was sharpened Monday when the White House announced the reimposition of sanctions on Iran, the first to be reintroduced since Trump announced in May that he was pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.

Pompeo, speaking with the media on Sunday and heralding the new sanctions, insisted everything was as clear as day.

“So the president and I, too, have been very clear,” Pompeo said. “We’re very hopeful that we can find a way to move forward, but it’s going to require enormous change on the part of the Iranian regime.”

“Enormous change” was a reference to 12 conditions that Pompeo laid out in May after Trump quit the plan, which relieved sanctions on Iran in exchange for the rollback of its nuclear program. The conditions included an end to Iran’s enrichment of uranium (the 2015 deal allowed limited low enrichment, with some restrictions expiring within a decade), “unqualified access” for nuclear inspectors (under the deal, some inspections required a head’s up of several weeks, and Iran appeared ready to resist requests to inspect military sites), a cessation of Iran’s adventurism in the region as well as its ballistic missile program, and the release of all imprisoned Americans.

So those are preconditions for a new deal and not necessarily a meeting, right?

Trump and Pompeo don’t seem to agree.

“No preconditions, no, they want to meet I’ll meet, anytime they want,” Trump said July 30.

Pompeo said two hours later on CNBC: “We’ve said this before. He wants to meet with folks to solve problems. If the Iranians demonstrate a commitment to make fundamental changes in how they treat their own people, reduce their malign behavior, can agree that it’s worthwhile to enter into a nuclear agreement that actually prevents proliferation, then the president said he’s prepared to sit down and have the conversation with them.”

So what gives? We canvassed Iran experts.

The learning curve theory

Jason Brodsky, the policy director for United Against Nuclear Iran, a group that opposed the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action, or JCPOA, the name of the Iran deal, said Trump was a businessman learning how to be a politician and a diplomat.

“I think the president believes he has the ability by virtue of his personality and negotiating experience to be the great negotiator and to close deals he thinks are strong for the United States,” Brodsky said.

Since July 30, Trump appears to have retreated from the “no preconditions” posture.

“Iran, and its economy, is going very bad, and fast!” he posted on Twitter over the weekend. “I will meet, or not meet, it doesn’t matter — it is up to them!”

Donald J. Trump


Iran, and it’s economy, is going very bad, and fast! I will meet, or not meet, it doesn’t matter – it is up to them!

“I think after reflection this tweet is an effort to clean up or clarify it’s up to Iran and the ball is in their court,” Brodsky said.

The bluff theory

National Security Adviser John Bolton spoke Monday morning on the Fox News Channel as the announcement came that new sanctions would roll out at midnight. He suggested that Trump’s offer to meet was a means of calling the Iranian bluff.

“They flatly turned him down and I think that’s an indication they’re not serious about stopping their malign behavior,” Bolton said.

Bolton apparently was referring to a televised address Monday in which Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said that any meeting would be contingent on the United States rejoining the JCPOA.

“If you stab someone with a knife and then you say you want talks, then the first thing you have to do is remove the knife,” Rouhani said, according to Reuters.

Mark Dubowitz, the director of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, said Trump’s gambit paid off.

“He saw it as a way of throwing the Islamic Republic off balance,” Dubowitz said. “They rejected it and did not know how to respond.”

Except maybe it’s the Iranians who are on a learning curve. Later Monday, Rouhani told Iranian television that in fact he was ready to meet without preconditions.

“I don’t have preconditions,” he said, according to CNN. “If the U.S. government is willing, let’s start right now.”

It was Bolton, told of Rouhani’s 180, who seemed to be off balance.

“Let’s see what comes of it and see if it’s just propaganda,” Bolton said Monday afternoon on CNN. “If the Iranians are really willing to come and talk about all of their malign behavior in the region and around the world, I think the president is willing to do it.”

The chaos theory

Jarrett Blanc, the former State Department coordinator for Iran nuclear deal implementation, said Trump’s actions only made sense when seen through the lens of personality, not policy.

“The only way to understand how the Trump administration has handled the JCPOA is that President Trump hated the deal because it was concluded by his hated predecessor” Barack Obama, said Blanc, who now works with Diplomacy Works, which backs the JCPOA.

That, Blanc said, led the president’s aides to scramble to explain the policy: Hawks like Bolton and Pompeo seized on the pullout to advance a regime-change agenda. Others — apologists for Trump’s erratic behavior — cast it as Trump’s style, depicting him as the guy who is always ready to make a deal.

“This administration has been forced into ex-post facto rationalization,” Blanc said.

Dubowitz disagreed, saying Trump’s toughness on Iran was of a piece with his advisers.

“Iran policy is one of the few areas in the administration where there is consistency and coherence, and there is no daylight between the president and his principals on objectives and tactics,” he said.

What happens next

The sanctions to be reimposed at midnight target Iran’s currency, its trade in gold and other minerals and mineral byproducts, and Iran’s automotive sector.

On Nov. 5, much tougher sanctions come into play targeting Iran’s ports, its oil and its financial system.

On the horizon are new tensions between the Trump administration and Europe, already exacerbated by Trump’s imposition of tariffs. The reimposed sanctions target third-party entities that trade with Iran. (Under U.S. law, U.S. trade with Iran is practically nil). Europe stands by the JCPOA, and on Monday announced measures to protect European companies that deal with Iran.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commended Trump for the reimposition of sanctions and called on European nations to follow his lead.

“This is an important moment for Israel, the U.S., the region and the entire world,” Netanyahu, who vigorously opposed the JCPOA, said in a statement. “It represents the determination to curb Iran’s aggression in the region and its ongoing intention to arm itself with nuclear weapons. I call upon the countries of Europe, which talk about stopping Iran, to join this measure.”

There is one major event bringing the United States and Iran into the same building between now and Nov. 5: the U.N. General Assembly in September. Trump last year reportedly sought a meeting with Rouhani at last year’s G.A.; will it happen this year?

Judging from the about-faces that have taken place in the space of a week, it’s too soon to predict.

U.S. Senate Proposal Calls for Regulating Big Tech

August 2, 2018

White paper suggests limiting anonymity, making sites liable for content

A new policy paper making the rounds in Congress and tech circles could signal the future of regulating big tech.

The white paper, which was first obtained by Axios, was written by the office of Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.), vice chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Warner is one of the leading Democrats investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election. He and his colleagues have pointed to the Russian use of platforms like Facebook—which has some 230 million users in the United States alone—to try to influence the outcome of the election.

At one time a darling of the press and business world, big tech has seen its metaphorical stock fall in recent months amid bipartisan complaints. Russia’s interference and the farming of data by Cambridge Analytica has raised the ire of liberals. Conservatives, meanwhile, have long complained of bias from social networking sites, who they say unfairly target conservative content over similar posts from liberals.

These complaints only scratch the surface of the concerns the new paper raises. Modern tech relies on aggregating huge quantities of information, the privacy implications of which are not yet fully understood. And firms like Google and Facebook have come to dominate the internet (the two companies alone have influence over 70 percent of internet traffic), a position which skeptics view as a threat to competition and the robust health of the tech sector.

By Charles Fain Lehman
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In response, the white paper proposes 20 ideas for policymakers to reign in social media giants. These ideas, it argues, would help to ensure consumer privacy, curb anticompetitive behavior, and limit malicious abuse by trolls, scam artists, and foreign governments.

Much of the paper focuses on increasing large firms’ transparency, making it easier for users and the general public to know what information is being collected for what purposes. A “public interest data access bill” would mandate that large platforms provide anonymized activity data to third-party researchers, allowing them to see usage trends and identify potentially concerning currents. And first party consent rules would require users’ “explicit and informed consent” before sites could sell their information.

Data transparency would serve a second purpose of making it easier for would-be competitors to enter the market, learning about what current industry leaders do. Other proposals to enhance competitiveness include mandatory data portability and interoperability, both of which would make it easier for users to “switch” if they don’t like a platform.

All of these data protections might be rolled into a single, more radical proposal—creating an American version of Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation. The GDPR, implemented across the European Union, guarantees individuals certain rights to their data, including portability and access, and a “right to be forgotten.” It also allows for harsh penalties against rule breakers—Google and Facebook have already surpassed $9 billion in fines.

Data privacy is of course not the only policy focus. The paper calls for substantive rules like disclosures of the sources of online political ads, and the banning of dark patterns (interface designs meant to trick users into selecting a desired outcome). It also endorses a “public initiative for media literacy” to educate Americans on how to spot misinformation.

All of the proposals are likely to prove controversial, but some especially so. Mandatory labeling of bots, labeling of the geographic origin of posts, and the identification and removal of “inauthentic” accounts are all likely to attract the condemnation of privacy advocates who argue that the subjects of autocratic regimes, for example, rely on the internet’s anonymity for their personal safety.

Also likely to attract concern among the internet privacy community is the idea of making platforms legally liable for failing to take down defamatory content. Such an idea—which would protect users from faked images and videos of themselves—would run afoul of section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which makes platforms not liable for the content posted on them.

Congress has already recently curtailed Section 230, making sites like Craigslist liable for sex trafficking ads, which they host. The associated legislation was cheered by law enforcement, but heavily opposed by opponents of internet regulation.

One idea is conspicuously missing from the paper: breaking up large tech firms under the auspices of antitrust law. That’s the goal of groups like Freedom from Facebook, which calls on the Federal Trade Commission to break up the social media giant’s many properties and impose several of the same proposals that show up in the white paper.

“#FreedomFromFacebook applauds @MarkWarner for taking the first steps to reign in corporate monopolies like @Facebook,” the group wrote on its Twitter page Tuesday.

Iran rocked by new protests as economy heads for collapse — use of violence to keep power

August 1, 2018

Iran faced fresh warnings over human rights abuses on Tuesday as its economic crisis worsened and hundreds of protesters took to the streets.

Demonstrations spread to the historic city of Isfahan, with protesters demanding an end to the Iranian regime’s costly interference in the affairs of neighboring countries in the region.


Iranian protesters chant slogans during a demonstration in central Tehran on June 25. (File Photo: AFP)

At least 29 people have been arrested on vague charges of “economic disruption,” and some face the death penalty.

Signs of further unrest emerged on Tuesday as shopkeepers and other workers went on strike in protest at the decline of Iran’s currency.

“In recent weeks and months we’ve had many protests,” Mahmood Amiry-Moghaddam, spokesman for the Oslo-based Iran Human Rights group, told Arab News. “Human rights are suffering … and every day they suffer more. Iran is amongst the biggest violators of human rights in the world today.”

He said the recent arrests were unlikely to have targeted the corrupt officials who occupy the “inner circles” of Iranian public life. The arrests serve two purposes, he said — to suggest the Iranian government is acting to stamp out “huge corruption,” and to instill fear in the public. “There are people who have been executed for economic corruption. But … the trials are not public so nobody knows that what the authorities are claiming is true.

“From the authorities’ view, these death sentences are more important as instruments of intimidation and spreading fear. If they really want to go after the corruption, they will be in deep trouble because the corruption is at the highest levels.”

Harvard scholar and Iranian affairs expert Dr. Majid Rafizadeh also said the reasons for Iran’s economic crises go to the top of government. “The Iranian regime’s financial corruption, misuse of public funds, the widespread banking crisis, and the hemorrhaging of billions of dollars … on militia and terror groups are among the major reasons behind the present currency and economic crises,” he said.

Protests in Isfahan In Isfahan, striking shopkeepers, farmers and truck drivers were joined by other citizens in the Amir-Kabir industrial complex in New Shapur, according to Iranian activists.

Video footage showed hundreds of protesters shouting: “No to Gaza, no to Lebanon, my soul is Iran’s redemption.” The slogan refers to Tehran’s costly military adventures in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, at the expense of the domestic economy.

BBC NEWS فارسی


حضور پلیس ضد شورش در منطقه شاپور جدید اصفهان
گروهی از کسبه و رانندگان شاپور جدید در “اعتراض به گرانی و بیکاری” تجمع کرده‌اند.

Amiry-Moghaddam urged the world to do more to address the human rights situation, which he said was a result of a regime looking to cling on to power. “The main reason for people suffering is the regime: There is a lack of accountability and huge corruption … and use of violence to keep power.”

The slogan has been repeated at a series of protests that started at the end of last year. It refers to the regime’s expenditure on the regional military interventions instead of using the funds to tackle the country’s economic woes.

In December and January widespread protests against economic conditions shook the country. At least 25 protesters were killed and nearly 5,000 arrested in a brutal response by the security forces.

Last month, protesters clashed with police outside parliament in Tehran in three days of protests sparked by the plunging rial.

On June 25, a strike shut down the stalls of the Grand Bazaar in Tehran and several other markets.

Meanwhile, a truck drivers’ strike entered its eighth day in cities across the country, according to reports.

And railway workers in Tabriz, north-east Iran, protested on Monday after receiving no salary over the past four months, according to the Iranian Labour News Agency (ILNA).

It reported that the workers had cut off the railway route, which connects Tabriz with the rest of the provinces.

Activists on Tuesday continued to publish pictures showing an intense presence of security forces and police in Tehran.

South China Sea: Albert del Rosario, Justice Antonio Carpio do not ‘fully comprehend the nature of arbitration,’ Philippine Government says

July 12, 2018

Does Philippine sovereignty matter? Is it meaningless?

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque says former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario and other individuals do not ‘fully comprehend the nature of arbitration’

FRIENDSHIP FORWARD. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photo following a bilateral meeting at the Boao State Guesthouse on April 10, 2018. Malacañang file photo

FRIENDSHIP FORWARD. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping pose for a photo following a bilateral meeting at the Boao State Guesthouse on April 10, 2018. Malacañang file photo

MANILA, Philippines – Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said the Philippines under the Duterte administration continues to defend its rights over the West Philippine Sea even as he said there is no need to enforce the landmark ruling won by the country against China.

“I’m not sure what they mean by enforcing an arbitral decision because an arbitral decision is binding on parties thereto,” said Roque on Thursday, July 12, the 2nd anniversary of the historic Hague ruling.

DIPLOMATIC PROTEST. Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario urge the Duterte administration to file a diplomatic protest against China's bombers in the South China Sea. File photos by LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

Acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio and former Philippine foreign secretary Albert del Rosario

Asked by Rappler if he means there is no need for enforcement, Roque said in a message: “Who will enforce? It’s self-executory as it’s binding on parties thereto.”

“We continue to assert our sovereignty and sovereign rights, but we have decided to move on on issues that are non-controversial,” he said in a press conference.

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

He questioned the call of former foreign secretary Albert del Rosario for the Duterte administration to enforce the ruling.

“I don’t know what makes him an authority to give that view…. It clearly underscores the fact that some individuals, including the former secretary of foreign affairs, [do] not fully comprehend the nature of arbitration,” said Roque. (READ: How to enforce Hague ruling? PH lead counsel explains)

It was under Del Rosario’s watch as Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) chief when the Philippines took China to court.

Image result for philippines, fishermen, photos

Roque, asked why he thinks Del Rosario does not understand the nature of arbitration, said: “Because he’s calling for enforcement when clearly arbitration is binding…. Whether or not China will acknowledge it, China is bound by it because that is the nature of arbitration.”

However, China’s refusal to acknowledge the ruling, coupled with the Philippines’ decision to shelve it for later, has made the ruling ineffective in changing the situation on the ground.

Despite the ruling, China continues its military buildup in the West Philippine Sea and harassment of Filipino fishermen in areas declared by the decision as common fishing grounds. –


Japan bothered by ramifications of U.S. halt to Korean war games

July 1, 2018

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis spent the last leg of his weeklong trip to Asia reassuring Japan that Washington remains committed to its defense amid the evolving regional security situation following the historic U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore on June 12.

But Japan may not be able to take the reassurances at face value, with defense sources and experts pointing to uncertainties hanging over the latest U.S. move to halt military exercises with South Korea in the hope of facilitating talks on North Korea’s denuclearization.

By Miya Tanaka


Following talks with his Japanese counterpart, Itsunori Onodera, in Tokyo on Friday, Mattis emphasized at a news conference that the decision to cancel the U.S.-South Korea drills is meant to increase the prospects “for a peaceful solution” on the Korean Peninsula.

“At the same time,” he said, “we maintain a strong collaborative defensive stance to ensure our diplomats continue to negotiate from a position of unquestioned strength.”

Image result for Foal Eagle, photos

U.S.-South Korea exercises

However, the Pentagon chief offered few clues on how deterrence capabilities and readiness to deal with contingencies on the peninsula can be maintained without the exercises, which Japan describes as one of the “important pillars” of deterrence in the region.

“What if the suspension of major U.S.-South Korea exercises is not just this once but prolonged? It could undermine the readiness of the U.S. and South Korean forces, affecting them slowly like a body blow,” a senior Self-Defense Forces official said.

President Donald Trump shocked U.S. allies when he abruptly announced after his June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that the United States would be “stopping the war games” with South Korea as long as dialogue continues with Pyongyang, slamming them as “tremendously expensive” and “provocative.”

The U.S. Defense Department followed up with announcements calling off Ulchi Freedom Guardian, a largely computer-simulated command post exercise held every summer, and two more planned in the next three months.

Additional decisions will depend on North Korea “continuing to have productive negotiations in good faith,” the Pentagon said in a statement on June 22, leaving open what to do with other major joint drills conducted every spring — the computer-simulated command post Key Resolve and the Foal Eagle field exercises.

Chung Hun Sup, a professor at Nihon University who has conducted research on U.S. troops in South Korea, said the impact of canceling the exercises should not be underestimated.

“Freedom Guardian, Key Resolve and Foal Eagle are the most representative major exercises involving the United States and South Korea. Suspending any of these will create a huge dent in their joint military operational abilities,” he said.

He also said holding drills, even smaller ones, are important as the commanders of U.S. forces in South Korea change periodically and quickly need to get used to the feeling they are in the “battlefield.”

While the SDF and the U.S. military plan to continue joint exercises to beef up the bilateral alliance, it is unclear whether Japan, South Korea and the U.S. will actively hold trilateral exercises.

The three have conducted joint missile-tracking exercise in waters near Japan over the past few years amid North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests.

But a Maritime Self-Defense Force member said he cannot imagine Seoul agreeing to hold such training amid the mood of reconciliation with the North.

Some Japanese defense officials are afraid that the halt of exercises, if continued for years, could raise questions over the raison d’etre of the U.S. troops stationed in South Korea, which remains technically at war with the North as the 1950-1953 Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

The officials say a withdrawal of U.S. troops would be the “worst-case scenario” because a weakening of U.S. commitment to the defense of South Korea would leave China free to increase its regional clout.

Tetsuo Kotani, an associate professor at Meikai University who specializes in security issues, said reviewing the role of the U.S. forces in South Korea or scaling back their presence have probably become “inevitable,” not just because Trump has repeatedly expressed his hope to eventually pull out the troops.

Following North Korea’s sudden diplomatic outreach earlier this year, the leaders of the two Koreas met in April for the first time in over a decade and agreed to strive to declare a formal end to the Korean War later this year.

If inter-Korean relations continue to improve and the armistice is replaced with a peace treaty, the presence of the U.S. military will certainly be called into question, the associate professor said.

Kotani also said it is difficult to judge what impact a lasting detente on the Korean Peninsula and the removal of the U.S. military presence from South Korea would have on the 50,000 U.S. troops based in Japan.

“Discussions could go either way — that there is no need to maintain U.S. forces in Japan amid such detente, or that there is rather a need to reinforce the military to counter China. We have to keep in mind both possibilities,” he said.



The bloodiest election campaign in Mexico’s history

June 30, 2018

The election campaign that comes to an end when voters go to the polls on Sunday has been the most violent ever to take place in Mexico, with at least 48 candidates murdered and many others attacked since September 2017.

Being an election candidate in Mexico is “practically tantamount to a death penalty”, Mario Alberto Chavez, a mayoral candidate in the southwest of the country, told AFP.

© Reuters | The funeral of Erika Cazares, local councillor and candidate for local deputy, who was killed on July 2.

On June 25, a new victim was added to the already long list of murdered candidates for the general election. Emigdio Lopez Avendano, a candidate to become a local deputy in the southern province of Oaxaca, was ambushed while driving along a country road and killed along with his four passengers.

While the death toll of 48 comes from Mexican security group the Etellekt Institute, the country’s interior ministry puts the figure at 34.

>> Read more: Will the next Mexican leader be a good ‘hombre’ for Trump?

Candidates step down because of violence

It took until June 18 for the ministry to put forward plans to protect presidential candidates – and, so far, only Jose Antonio Meade, the ruling PRI party’s candidate and the protégé of current President Enrique Pena Nieto, has benefitted from this measure.

According to a statement from the National Security Commission, only 214 candidates for public office benefit from protection measures from local or regional authorities, while 12 have their security ensured by the federal police.

However, in the southwestern state of Guerrero alone, nearly 200 people decided to give up their candidacies because of the violence. Others in Mexico have come to the same decision because of pressure from organised crime groups. The extent of the violence and intimidation is such that in some municipalities in Guerrero, Oaxaca, Michoacan and Puebla – all states in the south of the country – have decided to dissuade their candidates from running.

Mayoral candidates among most targeted

Twenty-three of the forty-eight candidates murdered since September were mayoral candidates. In the most recent case, town hall candidate Fernando Angeles was shot dead on June 21, in the municipality of Ocampo in Michoacan. State authorities then arrested all of the district’s police officers before carrying out their own investigaton.

According to a study by Laura Calderon, a Mexico specialist at the University of San Diego, “mayors are 25 times more likely to be murdered than an average citizen”. The survey also noted that at least 150 mayors and mayoral candidates were killed between 2002 and 2017.

Candidates running against incumbents have been the biggest targets by far during this year’s election campaign, particularly those standing for the PRI or Morena – the party of the current favourite, the populist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador – in states where a different party is in power.

This article was adapted from the version in French.