Posts Tagged ‘United Arab Emirates’

Israel’s Self-Inflicted Wounds

March 19, 2018


New mobile homes being installed in Amichai in February. Credit  Ahmad Gharabli/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

As the state of Israel approaches its 70th anniversary, I am filled with pride as I watch the vulnerable Jewish state of my childhood evolve into the strong and prosperous nation it is today.

As president of the World Jewish Congress, I believe that Israel is central to every Jew’s identity, and I feel it is my second home. Yet today I fear for the future of the nation I love.

True, the Israeli Army is stronger than any other army in the Middle East. And yes, Israel’s economic prowess is world renowned: In China, India and Silicon Valley, Israel’s technology, innovation and entrepreneurship are venerated.

But the Jewish democratic state faces two grave threats that I believe could endanger its very existence.

The first threat is the possible demise of the two-state solution. I am conservative and a Republican, and I have supported the Likud party since the 1980s. But the reality is that 13 million people live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. And almost half of them are Palestinian.

If current trends continue, Israel will face a stark choice: Grant Palestinians full rights and cease being a Jewish state or rescind their rights and cease being a democracy.

To avoid these unacceptable outcomes, the only path forward is the two-state solution.

President Trump and his team are wholly committed to Middle East peace. Arab states such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are now closer to Israel than they have ever been, and contrary to news media reports, senior Palestinian leaders are, they have personally told me, ready to begin direct negotiations immediately.

But some Israelis and Palestinians are pushing initiatives that threaten to derail this opportunity.

Palestinian incitement and intransigence are destructive. But so, too, are annexation plans, pushed by those on the right, and extensive Jewish settlement-building beyond the separation line. Over the last few years, settlements in the West Bank on land that in any deal is likely to become part of a Palestinian state, have continued to grow and expand. Such blinkered Israeli policies are creating an irreversible one-state reality.

The second, two-prong threat is Israel’s capitulation to religious extremists and the growing disaffection of the Jewish diaspora. Most Jews outside of Israel are not accepted in the eyes of the Israeli ultra-Orthodox, who control ritual life and holy places in the state. Seven million of the eight million Jews living in America, Europe, South America, Africa and Australia are Modern Orthodox, Conservative, Reform or secular. Many of them have come to feel, particularly over the last few years, that the nation that they have supported politically, financially and spiritually is turning its back on them.

By submitting to the pressures exerted by a minority in Israel, the Jewish state is alienating a large segment of the Jewish people. The crisis is especially pronounced among the younger generation, which is predominantly secular. An increasing number of Jewish millennials — particularly in the United States — are distancing themselves from Israel because its policies contradict their values. The results are unsurprising: assimilation, alienation and a severe erosion of the global Jewish community’s affinity for the Jewish homeland.

Over the last decade I have visited Jewish communities in over 40 countries. Members in every one of them expressed to me their concern and anxiety about Israel’s future and its relationship to diaspora Jewry.

Many non-Orthodox Jews, myself included, feel that the spread of state-enforced religiosity in Israel is turning a modern, liberal nation into a semi-theocratic one. A vast majority of Jews around the world do not accept the exclusion of women in certain religious practices, strict conversion laws or the ban of egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall. They are bewildered by the impression that Israel is abandoning the humanistic vision of Theodor Herzl and taking on a character that does not suit its own core values or the spirit of the 21st century.

The leadership of the Jewish world always honors the choices made by the Israeli voter and acts in concert with Israel’s democratically elected government. I’m also keenly aware that Israelis are on the front lines, making sacrifices and risking their own lives every day so that Jews worldwide will survive and thrive. I count myself forever in their debt.

But sometimes loyalty requires a friend to speak out and express an inconvenient truth. And the truth is that the specter of a one-state solution and the growing rift between Israel and the diaspora are endangering the future of the country I love so dearly.

We are at a crossroads. The choices that Israel makes in the coming years will determine the destiny of our one and only Jewish state — and the continued unity of our cherished people.

We must change course. We must push for a two-state solution and find common ground among ourselves so that we can ensure the success of our beloved nation.


Mueller Subpoenas Trump Organization, Demanding Documents About Russia

March 15, 2018
It was not clear why the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, issued the subpoena instead of simply asking for the documents from the company. Credit  Doug Mills/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, according to two people briefed on the matter. The order is the first known time that the special counsel demanded documents directly related to President Trump’s businesses, bringing the investigation closer to the president.

The breadth of the subpoena was not clear, nor was it clear why Mr. Mueller issued it instead of simply asking for the documents from the company, an umbrella organization that oversees Mr. Trump’s business ventures. In the subpoena, delivered in recent weeks, Mr. Mueller ordered the Trump Organization to hand over all documents related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the people said.

The subpoena is the latest indication that the investigation, which Mr. Trump’s lawyers once regularly assured him would be completed by now, will drag on for at least several more months. Word of the subpoena comes as Mr. Mueller appears to be broadening his investigation to examine the role foreign money may have played in funding Mr. Trump’s political activities. In recent weeks, Mr. Mueller’s investigators have questioned witnesses, including an adviser to the United Arab Emirates, about the flow of Emirati money into the United States.

Neither White House officials nor Alan S. Futerfas, a lawyer representing the Trump Organization, immediately responded to requests for comment. The Trump Organization has typically complied with requests from congressional investigators for documents for their own inquiries into Russian election interference, and there was no indication the company planned to fight Mr. Mueller about it.

The Trump Organization has said that it never had real estate holdings in Russia, but witnesses recently interviewed by Mr. Mueller have been asked about a possible real estate deal in Moscow. In 2015, a longtime business associate of Mr. Trump’s emailed Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Michael Cohen, at his Trump Organization account claiming he had ties to President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and said that building a Trump Tower in Moscow would help Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign.

Mr. Trump signed a nonbinding “letter of intent” for the project in 2015 and discussed it three times with Mr. Cohen.Mr. Mueller could run afoul of a line the president has warned him not to cross. Though it is not clear how much of the subpoena is related to Mr. Trump’s business beyond ties to Russia, Mr. Trump said in an interview with The New York Times in July that the special counsel would be crossing a “red line” if he looked into his family’s finances beyond any relationship with Russia. The president declined to say how he would respond if he concluded that the special counsel had crossed that line.

A month before Mr. Trump spoke of his red line, the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, threatened to quit after Mr. Trump asked him to have Mr. Mueller fired because the president believed he had conflict-of-interest issues that precluded him from running the special counsel investigation.

Mr. Mueller was appointed in May to investigate whether Mr. Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russians to influence the 2016 presidential election and any other matters that may arise from the inquiry. He is also examining whether the president has tried to obstruct the investigation.

Mr. Trump’s lawyers are in negotiations with Mr. Mueller’s office about whether and how to allow his investigators to interview the president. Mr. Mueller’s office has shared topics it wants to discuss with the president, according to two people familiar with the talks. The lawyers have advised Mr. Trump to refuse an interview but the president wants to do it, as he believes he has done nothing wrong and can easily answer investigators’ questions.

At the same time, Mr. Trump is considering whether to bring on a new lawyer to help represent him in the special counsel’s investigation. Last week, Mr. Trump spoke with Emmet Flood, a longtime Washington lawyer who represented former President Bill Clinton during the impeachment process, about coming into the White House to deal with the inquiry.

Qatar, Cut Off From Neighbors, Remains Defiant

March 15, 2018

Refusing to bow to Saudi-led demands, emirate speeds up reforms and builds new alliances

Image may contain: airplane

DOHA, Qatar—It has been nine months since Qatar turned from a peninsula to a de facto island.

By now, the tiny but wealthy emirate has gotten used to this new reality, developing fresh trade routes and alliances that may affect the Middle East’s balance for years to come.


Last June’s sudden decision by Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Emirates to cut ties with Qatar over the country’s alleged support for terrorism was meant to be a knockout blow. It included a prohibition on Qataris visiting those neighboring nations, a ban on overflights and port use for Qatari trade, and the closure of the nation’s only land border.

Qatar, however, has managed to withstand this pressure—and the country’s government says it won’t capitulate to its bigger Gulf neighbors.

Qatar has reached out to Turkey for new trade routes. Here, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, left, welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an honor guard review in Doha, Qatar, in November.
Qatar has reached out to Turkey for new trade routes. Here, Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, left, welcomes Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at an honor guard review in Doha, Qatar, in November. PHOTO:YASIN BILBUL, PRESS POOL

“They don’t want us to make our decisions, they want to make decisions for us, they think our decisions are for sale and that we will simply give up and do what they tell us. That will never happen,” said Sheikh Saif bin Ahmed Al-Thani, the director of the emirate’s government communications office and a prominent member of Qatar’s ruling family.

“What happened to us is something that we don’t want to happen to another country,” he said. “It will be very dangerous for the region if aggressive acts like this become the new norm.”

Qatar has responded to the embargo by establishing new trade routes via Turkey and Iran, the two countries that provide an alternative to Saudi Arabia’s airspace and road access.

The Al-Wakrah Stadium, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, as seen in February during construction in advance of the 2022 soccer World Cup outside the Qatari capital.
The Al-Wakrah Stadium, designed by architect Zaha Hadid, as seen in February during construction in advance of the 2022 soccer World Cup outside the Qatari capital. PHOTO: KARIM JAAFAR/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESS

For the Saudis, enmeshed in their own regional effort to contain Iran, this shift by Qatar represents “an own goal,” said Nader Kabbani, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center. “These trade links sooner rather than later will become stable and normal, and this may affect the geopolitics of the region in the future.”

The U.S.—which maintains a critical military facility in Qatar and is wary of growing Iranian influence in the Gulf—has been trying to mediate this increasingly inconvenient dispute between its allies. President Donald Trump spoke to Qatar’s emir and the crown princes (and de facto rulers) of Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. in late February. All three Gulf leaders are slated to visit him in Washington in coming weeks.

So far, these efforts—as well as mediation by Kuwait and entreaties by European governments to all sides—have proved largely fruitless.

“Right now we have not seen any sign from the blockading countries that they are willing to meet us at the same table to discuss our differences,” Qatar’s Sheikh Saif said.

Indeed, Saudi-led foes of Qatar—whose governments have wheeled out potential pretenders to the Qatari throne in an effort to put pressure on Doha and possibly spark regime change—seem in no mood to compromise.

“It’s not like we think much about Qatar. This can go on for another seven years if need be,” said a senior Saudi official. He also quipped that Qataris—who follow the same Wahhabi school of Islam as Saudi Arabia, albeit in a much more liberal interpretation—are “basically Saudis.”

Key objections that Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and their ally Egypt have about Qatar include the emirate’s friendly relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood and coverage by Qatar’s Al Jazeera pan-Arab network that is critical of regional countries.

While Saudi-led sanctions on Qatar have caused pain, they also had the unexpected effect of accelerating some reforms. Since June, the emirate has abolished visa requirements for 80 nationalities, moved to establish permanent-residency rights for foreigners, and is setting up free economic zones. There are even plans for holding elections to a new legislature.

“All of these reforms would have taken a lot longer of it were not for the blockade,” said Yousuf Mohamed al-Jaida, chief executive of the Qatar Financial Centre, a body that hosts some 485 local and foreign companies. “It’s been a blessing in disguise when it comes to business.”

Because of severed air links, multinational companies can no longer fly executives on daytrips to Doha from the Gulf’s regional hub of Dubai, and many Qatari clients prefer dealing with offices that aren’t based in cities they can no longer visit. This has led many international companies to establish branches in Doha, leading to a 70% rise in the number of firms operating under QFC licenses, Mr. al-Jaida said.

It isn’t all good news, of course. One of the reasons why Qatar managed to survive an embargo by its key trading partners and food suppliers was because the country owns Qatar Airways, a passenger airline that seeks to become the world’s second-largest cargo carrier by next year.

With much of its capacity diverted to provide emergency supplies following the June embargo, and several lucrative regional routes lost, Qatar Airways said last week that it will announce “a very large loss” and may need a government bailout in the future.

Still, the way Qatar’s officials see it, it’s an acceptable price for maintaining independence. All the main development projects, including preparations for hosting the 2022 soccer World Cup, remain on schedule or have been accelerated, they say.

The International Monetary Fund, in a March statement on Qatar in which it projected GDP growth of 2.6% this year, said “the direct economic and financial impact of the diplomatic rift between Qatar and some countries in the region is fading.”

“While economic activity was affected, this has been mostly transitory,” it added.

Write to Yaroslav Trofimov at


Qatar Airways responds to blockade by Middle Eastern neighbors by adding new routes


Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways, has never shied away from a fight.

When Delta, United and American Airlines accused the Doha-based carrier in 2016 of competing unfairly by accepting subsidies from its oil-rich government owners, Al Baker responded by promising to add dozens of new U.S. destinations.

The new destinations included Atlanta, the biggest hub for Delta Air Lines.

“I like to rub a little salt on the wound of Delta when I announce these flights,” Al Baker joked at a news conference.


 Image result for Akbar Al Baker, Qatar, photos
Akbar Al Baker, chief executive of Qatar Airways

Al Baker remains defiant. Last week, he announced that Qatar Airways plans to add 16 international destinations and expand service to eight other cities in response to a blockade launched this summer by several Middle Eastern countries.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt accused the country of Qatar of harboring, funding and championing Islamist terrorists. The countries cut air, sea and land links with Qatar, among other punitive measures.

During a news conference, Al Baker dismissed suggestions that the blockade will hurt his carrier.

“These destinations are not the whole world,” he said in response to a reporter’s questionabout access to neighboring countries. “There are so many other nice places in the world. So, we have not lost anything.”

Over the next two years, he said Qatar will add new flights to airports in Germany, London, Portugal, Estonia, Malta, Philippines, Malaysia, Vietnam, Turkey, Greece and Spain.

“We are very defiant, and Qatar Airways will keep on expanding and keep on raising the flag for my country all over the globe,” Al Baker said.

By adding these routes, Al Baker’s carrier is flying to some destinations already served by airlines from the blockade countries, including Etihad Airways and Emirates Airline, both based in the United Arab Emirates.


US agrees to upgrade Qatari air defences despite Gulf crisis

March 9, 2018



© Nicholas Kamm, AFP | US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis shakes hands with Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulraham al-Thani at the State Department in Washington, DC, on January 30.


Latest update : 2018-03-09

The United States has approved a request from Qatar to upgrade the emirate’s air force operations center, officials said Thursday, despite the Gulf diplomatic crisis.

Qatar has fallen out with fellow US allies in the Gulf, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Araba Emirates, over its alleged support for militant groups and ties with Iran.

The United States is trying to broker an end to a Saudi-led diplomatic and economic embargo on gas-rich Qatar, and still maintains a huge air base of its own on its territory.

On Thursday, the State Department approved a plan for Qatar to spend $197 million upgrading the technology and logistics capabilities of the Qatari Emiri Air Force operations center.

A statement said the sale would help “the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country.”

Qatar, it said, “has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Persian Gulf region.

“Our mutual defense interests anchor our relationship and the Qatar Emiri Air Force plays a predominant role in Qatar’s defense,” it said.

The deal underlines the balancing act that Washington is performing in the Gulf as it tries to end in-fighting between Arab monarchies while maintaining a common front against Iran.

Three minutes after issuing a statement approving the Qatar deal, the State Department also approved a $270 million deal to sell Sidewinder air-to-air missiles to the United Arab Emirates.

And, using near identical language as before, it described the UAE as “a friendly country” and “an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East.”

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut all diplomatic and trade ties with Qatar last June, closing its only land border and banning all flights to and from the emirate.

Qatar denies claims that it supports Islamist extremist groups, but fellow Gulf monarchies remain annoyed that it hosts the outspoken Al-Jazeera satellite network and has warmer ties with Iran.

President Donald Trump initially took the Saudi side in the dispute, but the US military relies on Qatar for its biggest base in the region and American diplomats have sought to reconcile the parties.



Secret Seychelles meeting Robert Mueller is zeroing in on in Trump-Russia probe

March 8, 2018

Why did Erik Prince meet with a Russian fund manager shortly before Trump’s inauguration?

Erik Prince arrives to testify to the House Intelligence Committee last year. He met a Russian fund manager in the Seychelles in January 2017.
 Mark Wilson/Getty

Special counsel Robert Mueller has gotten a new cooperator in the Russia investigation. And he’s testifying about what, exactly, happened at a mysterious meeting between a Trump associate and a Russian fund manager in the Seychelles, an East African archipelago nation in the Indian Ocean.

The New York Times’ Mark Mazzetti, David Kirkpatrick, and Adam Goldman reported Tuesday night that George Nader — an adviser to the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates — is cooperating with Mueller’s probe. In a sign of his importance to the investigation, Nader testified before a grand jury last week.

That’s big because Nader helped organize, and attended, that curious Seychelles meeting on January 11, 2017, shortly before Trump’s inauguration. The meeting brought together Erik Prince, Trump donor and founder of the private security company Blackwater, with Kirill Dmitriev, who manages a Russian sovereign wealth fund and is thought to be close to Vladimir Putin.

Anonymous sources have long claimed to reporters that the purpose of the Seychelles meeting was for Trump’s team to covertly communicate with Putin’s team. After all, it happened just weeks after Jared Kushner reportedly told the Russians that he wanted to set up a backchannel through which they could communicate.

But Prince has hotly denied that that’s what happened, including in sworn testimony last year. He said he just made the Seychelles trip for business reasons, that he was in no way representing Trump, and that the meeting with Dmitriev was both entirely unplanned on his end and completely uneventful.

It appears, though, that Nader is telling the grand jury otherwise. The Washington Post’s Sari Horwitz and Devlin Barrett reported Wednesday that Nader is saying the meeting was “an effort to establish a back channel between the incoming administration and the Kremlin” — and that Mueller has other evidence to that effect, as well.

We don’t yet know the specifics of what Nader is saying as part of his semi-voluntary cooperation (the FBI questioned him at Dulles Airport after a flight last month and seized his electronics, per the Times). But if Prince was acting on the Trump’s team behalf, it would demolish months’ worth of denials from both him and the White House that he was doing any such thing. And it would raise serious questions about just why, exactly, all parties involved were so set on keeping the Seychelles meeting secret.

The cast of characters for the Seychelles meeting

Trump wasn’t in the Seychelles, but Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan was.
 Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty

The people present to meet at the Seychelles on January 11, 2017, included the following:

Erik Prince is the founder of Blackwater, the private security / mercenary company that scored big contracts from George W. Bush’s administration (and some of whose employees were accused of killing Iraqi civilians). Prince has since sold Blackwater (which renamed itself) and gone out in search of new lines of mercenary business. Prince donated about $250,000 to Trump’s campaign and to outside groups supporting Trump, and was in contact with Steve Bannon during the transition. He also happens to be the brother of controversial Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.

MBZ, or Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, is the Crown Prince and de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates. MBZ did business with Erik Prince several years ago — the UAE awarded Prince a contract worth several hundred million dollars “to help assemble an internal paramilitary force,” per the Washington Post. Diplomatically, the UAE regime is close to Saudi Arabia, and unfriendly to Qatar and Iran.

George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who has a decades-long history in international diplomacy, has lately advised MBZ. He visited the White House several times in 2017. He also at one point consulted for Blackwater.

Kirill Dmitriev manages the Russian Direct Investment Fund, a $10 billion Russian-government established sovereign wealth fund that’s under US sanctions. He’s believed to be close to Vladimir Putin. His fund was until recently part of the Russian government-owned bank VneshEconomBank, or VEB.

Finally, there’s the setting — the Seychelles Islands is a tropical archipelago nation a few hundred miles off the coast of eastern Africa. Its government brags that it is “the kind of place where you can have a good time away from the media.”

The context of the Seychelles meeting

Jared Kushner
 Mark Wilson/Getty

Potentially relevant context for the Seychelles meeting is that there were several other meetings of the various factions involved the month before, mostly happening in Trump Tower.

On December 1, 2016, Jared Kushner and Michael Flynn secretly met in Trump Tower with the Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak. Kislyak reported back to his bosses that, at this meeting, Kushner said he wanted to set up a secret communications channel between the Trump Team and Russia. (Kushner denies that this happened.)

Days later, the Washington Post received an anonymous letter revealing that this secret meeting happened and who was present (though they couldn’t confirm it for several more months). The letter also claimed that, at the meeting, Kushner, Flynn, and Kislyak discussed setting up a meeting between a Trump representative and a Russian in some third country, and concluded Flynn was too high-profile to go.

On December 12, Kislyak returned to Trump Tower and met with Kushner’s deputy. Then, on the following day, Sergey Gorkov, the head of the Russian-government owned bank VEB, stopped by to meet with Kushner. Again, these meetings remained secret for months.

Then, on December 15, 2016, a little over a month after Trump won the presidential election, the United Arab Emirates crown prince, MBZ, flew to the United States. There, he met with several Trump transition officials, including Flynn, Kushner, and Steve Bannon. What was strange about this was that MBZ did not inform the Obama administration that he was traveling to the US, as major foreign leaders usually do. Trump’s team didn’t disclose the meeting either, and it too remained secret for several months.

Erik Prince also visited Trump Tower twice during the transition, to meet with Steve Bannon, he later testified.

What happened in the Seychelles: Erik Prince’s account

Erik Prince testifies to Congress back in 2007
Erik Prince testifies to Congress back in 2007
 Mark Wilson/Getty

Prince’s story of how he ended up going to the Seychelles and what took place there, which he gave under oath to the House Intelligence Committee on November 30, 2017, is as follows.

  • One day, an aide to Mohammed bin Zayed (MBZ), the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates, invited Prince to fly out to the Seychelles and meet MBZ, offering few details. Prince characterizes the invitation as: “His Highness would like to see you if you can come out to the Seychelles.” Prince says he understood this as an invitation “to talk about potential business.”
  • So Prince accepted, and flew out there on January 11, 2017. A meeting of about an hour ensued with MBZ, “a couple of his brothers,” and others in his entourage. They discussed general issues in the field but no specific business proposal was made.
  • Toward the end of the meeting, Prince testified, someone in MBZ’s party casually “mentioned a guy I should meet who was also in town to see them, a Kirill Dmitriev from Russia, who ran some sort of hedge fund.” (Prince did not name Nader in his testimony.)
  • Prince accepted, and met Dmitriev at the hotel bar one-on-one for no more than thirty minutes. They discussed general issues in the field but no specific business proposal was made. Prince then stayed in the hotel that night, and left the next morning.
  • Overall, the meeting with Dmitriev was so uneventful that, he claims, he couldn’t even remember the man’s name a few months later. There was no follow-up to it. And Prince certainly never claimed in any way to be acting on behalf of Donald Trump.

Was this the secret US/Russia backchannel meeting that Kushner reportedly wanted?

The Washington Post was the first to unearth the Seychelles meeting, in a report by Adam Entous, Greg Miller, Kevin Sieff and Karen DeYoung published last April, which was sourced to anonymous “U.S., European and Arab officials.” Their account of why and how the meeting happened was very different from Prince’s. They write:

Following the New York meeting between the Emiratis and Trump aides, Zayed was approached by Prince, who said he was authorized to act as an unofficial surrogate for the president-elect, according to the officials. He wanted Zayed to set up a meeting with a Putin associate. Zayed agreed and proposed the Seychelles as the meeting place because of the privacy it would afford both sides.

So, per the Post’s sources, it was Erik Prince who said he wanted the meeting, who said he was acting as a surrogate for president-elect Trump, and who asked MBZ’s team to put him in touch with a Putin confidant. The whole purpose of the meeting was to be a backchannel between Trump’s team and Putin’s team.

That would sure seem to make sense, since all this happened shortly after Kushner reportedly said he wanted to establish a secret backchannel with Russia, and both MBZ and Prince made their own trips to see Trump officials not long after that. However, there was no actual proof of this.

Nader — and Mueller’s investigation more generally — could be providing the proof. It does not appear that Nader has been charged with anything, but the Times reported that when he landed at Dulles Airport on January 17 of this year, the FBI was waiting for him, at Mueller’s behest. They served him with a subpoena, questioned him and seized his electronics. They’ve questioned him several more times since, and he went before a grand jury for testimony last week.

It’s also worth noting that Michael Flynn has been cooperating with Mueller’s investigators since early December, and we haven’t seen any of the fruits of his cooperation yet. Flynn was present in the meeting in which Kushner reportedly told Kislyak he wanted a backchannel. He was also present when Kushner and Bannon met MBZ. He may well have told Mueller why the Seychelles meeting happened.

And if the Seychelles meeting was a backchannel — what actually came of it?

If it were to be proven that the Trump team wanted to set up the Seychelles meeting, the question would remain about what actually happened there — and why those involved wanted so badly to keep it secret.

One potential topic is, of course, the incoming administration’s foreign policy. In the first Post report on the meeting, their sources claimed that one topic of discussion was “whether Russia could be persuaded to curtail its relationship with Iran, including in Syria,” a topic that was very much of interest to the UAE.

But if this was merely about essentially above-board foreign policy discussions, it’s unclear why they would have had to happen with such secrecy, through a backchannel. (Rather than just waiting 9 days for Trump to be sworn in.)

Was money involved? The Russian who went to the meeting, Kirill Dmitriev, is a moneyman, after all. So is Sergey Gorkov, who met with Jared Kushner in Trump Tower weeks earlier. What’s more, Dmitriev’s fund was until 2016 actually part of the Russian government-owned bank Gorkov runs, VEB.

Furthermore, this week’s Times report says that Mueller “appears to be examining the influence of foreign money on Mr. Trump’s political activities,” and has previously asked whether Nader “funneled money from the Emirates to the president’s political efforts.” So he does seem to be following some sort of money trail.

Finally, and perhaps most obviously of all, there’s the possibility that this happened so that Trump’s team and Putin’s could secretly communicate about Russian interference in the 2016 campaign. So far, there’s no specific evidence that that’s the case. But we clearly haven’t heard the last of the Seychelles meeting.


Qatar must end support for terror if it wants boycott lifted, UN council told

March 1, 2018

File Photo of Ambassador Obaid Salem Saeed Al Zaabi, Permanent Representative of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to the U.N. Geneva. (Reuters)
LONDON: The boycott on Qatar by its Middle East neighbors has been dismissed as a regional issue not worthy of debate at the UN Human Rights Council.
The UAE’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Obaid Salim Al-Zaabi, delivered a statement to the council on Wednesday on behalf of the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. The four countries have maintained a boycott on Qatar since April last year over Doha’s alleged support for terrorism.
Earlier, Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, urged the UN to take action to halt the blockade on the Gulf state.
Al-Zaabi told the council that the Qatari minister’s speech included a lot of “fallacies.”
“(Doha’s) efforts to promote this secondary crisis as a major international issue should not be acknowledged,” the UAE ambassador said.
“We believe this small political crisis between our countries and Qatar should be resolved within the framework of the existing Kuwaiti mediation efforts, led by Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah.”
A delegation from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Qatar in November, 2017, and two months later issued a report on the impact of the boycott on human rights.
“The Qataris must choose between being a state that is good to its neighbors and seeks to engage in a positive relationship with its surroundings like the rest of the civilized world, or continue to violate international law and regional conventions involved in the fight against terrorism, its supporters and those financing it,” Al-Zaabi said.


Has Jared Kushner Conspired to Defraud America?

March 1, 2018
Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser, has conducted foreign policy without officially disclosing all the personal interests he may have been serving. Credit Alex Brandon/Associated Press

Amid the dizzying details of internet trolls, almost a million dollars’ worth of antique rugs and fake bank accounts, the indictments brought by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, in his investigation of Russian tampering in the 2016 election have one thing in common.

Both the indictment of 13 Russians associated with a troll farm called Internet Research Agency and the indictment of President Trump’s onetime campaign chairman Paul Manafort accuse the defendants of pretending to engage in American politics in good faith but secretly serving someone else’s interest. In both cases, the charge, “conspiracy to defraud the United States,” is an assertion that they were really serving the interests of Russia or of a Russian-backed Ukrainian politician, and that by hiding their true intent, the defendants prevented the United States government from protecting our politics from undisclosed outside influence.

That precedent, and the guilty plea to the same charge by Rick Gates, Mr. Manafort’s deputy, may pose a real danger to Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser. According to reports, Mr. Mueller appears to be assessing whether Mr. Kushner, in the guise of pursuing foreign policy on behalf of the United States, was actually serving the interests of his family and foreign governments.

On Tuesday, The Washington Post reported that “officials in at least four countries” — United Arab Emirates, China, Israel and Mexico — “have privately discussed ways they can manipulate” Mr. Kushner by taking advantage of his “complex business arrangements, financial difficulties and lack of foreign policy experience.” The president gave his son-in-law an expansive foreign policy role, including an effort to negotiate peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The implication in the article is that the United States government has intercepted communications of foreign leaders talking about ways they could take advantage of Mr. Kushner, whose family real estate empire is facing substantial debt woes.

The biggest concern in the Post report — and surely one reason such intelligence led to Mr. Kushner’s being stripped of his interim top-secret security clearance last week — is that foreign countries would offer him personal financial benefits in the same conversations in which he purports to represent America’s best interests.

There has already been ample reporting suggesting that Mr. Kushner may have done just that. During a period when Mr. Kushner was negotiating President Trump’s first visit to China, his family business was trying to sell a debt-ridden property in New York to an insurance company with ties to the Chinese Communist Party. Public scrutiny of the deal scuttled it. Last May, The New York Times described how, immediately after the Trump administration extended a visa program for wealthy investors, Mr. Kushner’s sister invoked Mr. Kushner in a presentation seeking Chinese investment in one of the family’s New Jersey real estate developments.

Such appearances of conflict might not, by themselves, get Mr. Kushner in trouble. The president has broad authority to set the country’s foreign policy, and public corruption laws have been far more difficult to enforce after a 2016 Supreme Court decision overturning the conviction of the former Virginia governor Robert McDonnell on bribery charges.

But Mr. Kushner might face more trouble to the extent he keeps such negotiations secret from those in charge of carrying out United States foreign policy. When the national security adviser, H. R. McMaster, learned of some of Mr. Kushner’s communications only after the fact, he was surprised, one official told The Post, and thought it was “weird.”

Mr. Kushner has been famously tardy in disclosing his business interests and ties with foreigners in his application for a security clearance. He was still making updates to his forms as recently as January. That means he has conducted an entire year of foreign policy without officially disclosing all the personal interests he may have been serving.

Finally, the risk might be greater still if Mr. Kushner negotiated such deals before Mr. Trump’s inauguration. That’s the possibility raised by Mr. Kushner’s pre-inauguration meetings with Russia. In December 2016, Mr. Kushner met with Sergey Gorkov, the head of a bank under American sanctions, Vnesheconombank. That meeting came after Mr. Kushner suggested a back channel of communications in a meeting with Russia’s ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, according to Mr. Kislyak.

Nor did Mr. Trump’s transition team alert the Obama administration before Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates visited New York in December 2016 for a meeting involving Mr. Kushner and others at Trump Tower.

While the proper authorities may not have been informed of this series of meetings, Michael Flynn, the former national security adviser who pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with Mr. Mueller’s investigators late last year, did attend or at least knew of them. Steve Bannon, who recently sat for 20 hours of interviews with special counsel prosecutors, participated in the Zayed Trump Tower meeting along with Mr. Flynn and Mr. Kushner. So if they are a concern to Mr. Mueller, he has recently gotten far more details of what happened at the meetings.

Mr. Kushner’s defense attorney, Abbe Lowell, has been very forthcoming with the press. But he seems to have relied on the same on-the-record quotation since Feb. 16, when news first broke that Mr. Kushner might lose his interim security clearance. Twelve days ago, a statement from Mr. Lowell to The Washington Post directly addressed the gist of the story that just broke Tuesday. Mr. Kushner’s job, Mr. Lowell said, was “to talk with foreign officials,” which, he added, Mr. Kushner has done “properly.”

Perhaps Mr. Kushner is just a person who had no idea what he was doing and wanted to improve his and his family’s finances. Still, there are many reasons to question whether he has talked with foreign officials with the proper disclosures, designed to ensure that those claiming to represent the interests of the United States aren’t hiding their own interests or those of foreign governments.

In pursuing his investigation into Russian tampering, Mr. Mueller appears to be doing something more: restoring the regulatory teeth to ensure that those engaging in American politics are doing what they publicly claim they are. If Mr. Mueller extends this effort to foreign policy, Mr. Kushner may be in real trouble.


EU Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini Warns U.S. of “False Steps” on Middle East Peace — Europe, Arab League see ‘eye to eye’

February 27, 2018

 FEBRUARY 27, 2018 08:23

 Image result for Federica Mogherini, photos

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini appeared to warn the US against putting forward its peace plan at this time, saying in Brussels on Monday that “given the region, any false step can be very dangerous.”

Speaking to reporters after a meeting in Brussels between the 28 EU foreign ministers and a delegation of Arab foreign ministers, Mogherini said both the EU and Arab League ministers “have dealt with the conflict long enough around our common table to know what can fly and what cannot fly, and we believe it is wise to consider what can fly and cannot fly in terms of peace plans before putting any plans on the table and avoiding any false steps.”

The Arab delegation – called the Delegation of the League of Arab States on Jerusalem, which was set up after US President Donald Trump’s decision in December to recognize the holy city as Israel’s capital – included the foreign ministers of Jordan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates and the Palestinian Authority. The delegation also included Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit.

Mogherini said the EU and the Arab countries “have a level of knowledge of the file, of the region” that “cannot be underestimated and has to be taken into consideration appropriately if we want to avoid false steps.”

The EU is adamantly opposed to Trump’s decision on Jerusalem, as is the Arab League.

“What brought us here, the ministers of the League of Arab states and the ministers of the European Union, is this concern we have about any false step on the Middle East peace process and on Jerusalem in particular,” Mogherini said.

Any false step, she said, could “strengthen radical positions, close the space for those who still want to live side by side in security and peace and could turn the conflict from a political conflict into a religious conflict, and then we will have a problem much bigger than the one we have today.”

The United States has been working on a peace plan for months. But since Trump’s declaration on Jerusalem in December, the Palestinians have been pushing for the EU to take a more active position in the peace process, claiming that the US is no longer an honest broker and is biased toward Israel’s positions.

Mogherini opened up her press conference by saying the EU and the Arab ministers are very much on the same page regarding the relaunch of the Middle East peace process.

“We have full convergence of purpose,” she said. “We have clearly seen that we see eye to eye between the European Union and its member states, and the League of Arab states and its member states, first and foremost on the need to preserve the horizon of two states as the only viable one, with Jerusalem as both the capital of the State of Israel and the State of Palestine and the need to preserve the status of the holy places.”

The ministers decided to coordinate their positions and actions, and there was a “commonality of perspectives,” Mogherini said.

The ministers also discussed the need to “use this moment to discuss the possibility to not only advance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also on the Israeli-Arab conflict, that could create an interesting incentive, or environment, to move forward,” she said.

The EU and the Arab League shared “a lot of concerns about the situation on the ground,” specifically the US decision to move the embassy and the current state of financing to UNRWA, Mogherini said.

The EU foreign ministers’ meeting with the Arab delegation follows a meeting they had last month with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and one in December with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, told the Likud faction he will travel to the US on Saturday night for a meeting with Trump and personally thank him for his decision to open the US Embassy in Jerusalem in May to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary.

Israel is currently in contact with other countries to follow the US lead, Netanyahu said, adding that he is “convinced it is only a question of time” before other states “join the important move by the United States.”

Netanyahu said he also will discuss with Trump the need to make decisions now regarding the nuclear agreement with Iran, as well as how to prevent Iranian aggression in the region. This is important not only for Israel, but also for the US and the world, he said.



Qatar could be stripped of 2022 World Cup, Saudi minister claims

February 25, 2018

Turki al-Sheikh suggests England or US host soccer tournament if FIFA decides to take away hosting duties from Gulf state

Qatari Minister of Municipality and Environment Mohammad Bin Abdullah Mitaab Al-Rumaihi, right, Secretary-General of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee Hassan al-Thawadi, center, and Saad bin Ahmad Al Muhannadi President of the Public Works Authority 'Ashghal attend the inauguration of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy's Tree Nursery in Doha, on February 22, 2018. (AFP/KARIM JAAFAR)

Qatari Minister of Municipality and Environment Mohammad Bin Abdullah Mitaab Al-Rumaihi, right, Secretary-General of the Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee Hassan al-Thawadi, center, and Saad bin Ahmad Al Muhannadi President of the Public Works Authority ‘Ashghal attend the inauguration of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy’s Tree Nursery in Doha, on February 22, 2018. (AFP/KARIM JAAFAR)

Qatar could be stripped of its hosting rights of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, with the global soccer federation set to announce its decision next September, Saudi Arabia’s sports minister Turki al-Sheikh claimed Saturday, suggesting the US and UK as alternate hosts.

Sources close to al-Sheikh were quoted earlier by a German news outlet as saying it has already been decided that Qatar would indeed lose the hosting rights for the games, which have been mired in controversy.

Al-Sheikh, whose country has been involved in a major diplomatic spat with Qatar, publicly endorsed England and the United States as alternative hosts of the major sports event if indeed the controversial bid by the Middle Eastern country is reversed.

However, there was no official signal from FIFA that Qatar was actually in danger of losing hosting rights for the worldwide soccer tourney.

In 2010, the 22-member FIFA executive committee voted for Russia as hosts of the 2018 World Cup installation, and for Qatar as home of the 2022 contest — two highly contentious picks that have been widely criticized ever since, with allegations of corruption and vote-buying surrounding the vote.

FIFA President Joseph Blatter as he is is flanked by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov (R), and Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, Emir of Qatar (L), after the announcement December 2, 2010, that Russia and Qatar will host the soccer World Cup tournaments in 2018 and 2022 respectively. (photo credit: AP/Michael Probst, File)

Along with Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties and began a boycott of Qatar in June 2017, in part over allegations that Doha supports extremists and has overly warm ties to Iran.

Qatar has long denied funding extremists and restored full diplomatic ties to Iran amid the dispute. Doha shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Iran that makes its citizens incredibly wealthy.

The Gulf crisis forced organizers to move the eight-nation Gulf Cup from host Qatar to Kuwait. Doha agreed on condition that it would host the next Gulf tournament, in 2019.

The fact that Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain would only play after the tournament was switched from Qatar has raised fears over a potential boycott of 2022.

Qatar has said they expect up to 1.5 million fans to attend the World Cup, the majority coming from the region, mainly from Saudi Arabia.

Construction at the Khalifa Staium in the Qatari capital Doha, August 17, 2016. (AFP/Karim JAAFAR)

Last month, the country’s most senior World Cup organizer, Hassan al-Thawadi publicly urged the boycotting countries to allow their nationals to attend 2022.

Some have claimed the crisis with Qatar was caused by its selection to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, saying the impasse could end if Doha gave up that right.

On Friday, German online magazine Focus reported FIFA has recently “changed” the procedure for choosing World Cup hosts following the controversy, and that in the future all 211 member states would participate in the deciding vote rather than the relatively small panel used thus far, quoting information provided by the Saudi sports ministry.

The report quoted ministry sources as saying FIFA has made the decision to strip World Cup hosting rights from Qatar due to “clear evidence of a vote buy,” and will formally announce the decision in the late summer of 2018.

Al-Sheikh appeared to confirm part of the report a day later, saying that “September 2018 will be an intense month” in FIFA corridors.

“If found guilty of any ethical violations, the Qatari government must accept the consequences of their actions,” he said on Twitter.

“England is the birthplace of modern football,” explained al-Sheikh, using the sport’s British name. “Its history and pedigree would make it a great host.”

“The USA has tremendous experience in hosting global sporting events,” he added. “I would extremely enjoy watching the World Cup if hosted in England or the USA.”

Agencies contributed to this report.


India’s Delicate Middle east Foreign Policy Balancing Act

February 24, 2018


India is taking an independent approach to its relations with Mideast countries.

 FEBRUARY 24, 2018 10:10

India’s delicate Middle East foreign policy balancing act

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves upon his arrival to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (not pictured) in Ramallah, in the West Bank February 10, 2018.. (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)

Since India forged formal diplomatic ties with Israel 25 years ago, relations have rapidly improved. Today, India is the largest foreign purchaser of Israeli arms, with the countries having last year signed military agreements worth $2.6 billion. This lies in stark contrast to the traditional pro-Palestinian position that was a hallmark of Indian foreign policy since Israel’s establishment in 1948. The apparent paradox is reconciled by what Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi refers to as “de-hyphenation,” a policy of basing bilateral relationships on their own merits and viewing them as independent of one another.

Modi’s visit to Ramallah in early February marked the first time an Indian leader had traveled to the Palestinian territories. New Delhi described the trip as “truly historic,” during which cooperation agreements worth $50 million were signed, thereby reinforcing India’s commitment to the Palestinian cause. Notably, it came just one month after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent five days in India, which, in turn, followed Modi’s own trip to Israel in June 2017, the first-ever visit by an Indian premier to the Jewish state .

While Modi has attempted to display balance, many analysts view a clear shift towards Israel. Ananb Singh, a leader of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in India expressed his disappointment to The Media Line at the improving relations, which marks “a shift from the long tradition of supporting the resistance.” He also believes that Modi’s trip to Ramallah was “just a show and further proof of the steady silence of India regarding Israel’s illegal acts.”

Aparna Pande, Director of the India Initiative, agrees that “India has been a champion of the Palestinian cause from the beginning, however, it is a relationship that is primarily an emotional and historical one.” Now, he explained to The Media Line, “India must try to balance its policies with countries that don’t get along.”

To this end, it appears clear that Modi’s separate visits to Israel and the Palestinian territories was meant to underscore his desire not to have one relationship effect the other.

Indeed, India is increasingly being viewed as a neutral party by Middle East nations. This has allowed New Delhi to cultivate close ties with Israel, Iran’s arch-foe, with which India nevertheless maintains good relations too. Tehran, in turn, is Saudis Arabia’s nemesis, but this has not precluded the development of close partnerships between India and Riyadh.

PM Netanyahu Receives Surprise Welcome in Delhi by Indian PM Modi (YouTube/IsraeliPM)

Modi was elected in May 2014 after campaigning on a hardline nationalistic platform that resonated with his Hindu base. According to Dr. Shalom Wald, a Fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute, this allowed him immediately to “break the taboo that an Indian prime minister cannot be warm with Israel,” a situation he attributed to “an old Indian tradition” of supporting the Palestinian cause.  “Palestine was incredibly popular in Indian domestic policy,” Dr. Shalom continued, due in large part to the 200 million-strong Muslims living in the country whom politicians have traditionally relied on in order to be voted into office. However, now that the ruling party’s base has changed, New Delhi is freer to pursue an open and deepening relationship with Israel.

In this respect, bilateral trade between the nations grew from $200 million in 1992 to $4.52 billion in 2014 (excluding military deals). Moreover, Pande told The Media Line that “the relationship with Israel is multi-faceted, also encompassing security and agriculture interests.” This is in stark contrast to New Delhi’s ties to Ramallah, which according to Dr. Wald “provides India with nothing and so New Delhi gives only a few million dollars of aid each year.”

Israel is liable to remain an attractive partner for India moving forward as Modi seeks to strengthen the country’s military and, among other things, become a permanent member on the United Nations Security Council. But economics will likely remain the driving force for the foreseeable future as New Delhi aims to transform itself into an industrial power.

Modi has thus sought to build stronger economic relations not only with the Jewish state but also with Saudi Arabia, Oman and the United Arab Emirates. His trip through the region in February was described by political analyst Dr. N. Janardhan as “a charm offensive.” Moreover, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani just concluded a visit to New Delhi, where both governments signed nine economic pacts.

But Pande is unsure how long India’s policy of de-hyphenation can continue to be successful. “India is desperately trying to balance its relationship but decisions at the UN Security Council and General Assembly will need to be made,” she explained. Dr. Wald is nevertheless confident that the relationship with Israel will continue to flourish, “as India doesn’t make too many rash decisions it keeps calm and remains quiet on issues.” For this reason, he concluded, even if Modi in the future votes against Israel at the UN for domestic reasons, Jerusalem will continue to seek New Dehli’s growing friendship.

Benji Flacks is a Student Intern in The Media Line’s Press and Policy Student Program