Posts Tagged ‘US’

The West is still letting Putin run wild

March 24, 2018

New York Post


If anyone needed further proof of Vladimir Putin’s malevolence, the last 10 days provided chilling examples. His agents attacked a Russian defector and his daughter with nerve agent on British soil, leaving them in critical condition. Then Putin claimed that “Jews” might have been behind the meddling in US elections.

His warplanes continued slaughtering civilians in Syria, too, but no one cares about that.

Over the weekend, Putin flashed his Russian-nationalist side, the bigoted-strongman persona that appeals to the Alt-Right here and to neo-fascists in Europe. Smirking, he suggested that the cyber-attacks on the 2016 US elections might have been staged by Ukrainians, (Muslim) Tatars, or “Jews, just with Russian citizenship.”

Guess they were taking a break from poisoning wells and snatching Christian babies . . .

Within Russia’s shrunken Jewish community, the initial outrage was over Putin’s suggestion that Jews could never really be Russians. Globally, he reminded us all of Russia’s ferocious tradition of anti-Semitism.

The czarist secret police, the Okhrana, didn’t create “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” but seized on the forgery and insured wide dissemination of what may be the most successful propaganda work in history, a Big Lie about a global Jewish conspiracy still resonant in the Middle East and beyond.

Czarist Russia also gave us the term “beyond the pale,” which referred to the Pale of Settlement, the swathe of the Russian Empire in which Jews were permitted to live (although the Pale offered no protection from pogroms). The first great wave of Jewish immigration that enriched the United States in so many ways originated from those realms of torment.

Then came the Soviets. Several leading Bolsheviks were secular Jews, struggling, in their view, to build a better world. As soon as he came to power, Stalin, a failed seminarian (he retained the bigotry but not the faith), started killing them. And he didn’t stop killing Jews until he died.

Stalin’s successors then persecuted the Jews who remained in the creaking USSR (including executions on trumped-up charges). Many more came to the West, after diplomacy opened the gates.

Now we have Putin, and the indestructible myth of the “good czar.” Not long ago, an Israeli friend tried to convince me that Putin was different and well-disposed toward Jews. Yet, even leaving aside his tirade this weekend, Putin’s second most important domestic ally — after his security services — is the Russian Orthodox Church, which has a long history of virulent anti-Semitism.

Once again, Putin showed us who he is, for anyone willing to see.

The weekend before, we’d already witnessed the nerve-agent attack in Salisbury, England, targeting a former double-agent, Sergei Skripal, who’d been freed in a spy-swap between Moscow and Washington. Undoubtedly conducted by Russia’s security services, this assassination attempt on the soil of a Western democracy had to be personally approved by Putin — that’s just the way it works.

Dozens of UK citizens were collateral damage, suffering various degrees of poisoning. Putin didn’t and doesn’t care.

Why did he do it? The short answer’s “because he could.” With the US president unwilling to criticize Putin by name, UK Prime Minister Theresa May was left to respond Monday with bureaucratic rhetoric Putin will laugh off: “The government has concluded it was highly likely Russia was responsible.”

But there also are two practical — and deeply alarming — reasons why Putin ordered that nerve-agent drive-by now. First, he was sending a message to any potential double agents that Russia would kill them — and their families — no matter where they might find refuge or how long it might take.

The second reason, though, is the one that should jerk us awake: Putin was warning the likes of Paul Manafort and others associated with the Trump campaign that they need to keep their mouths shut about their Russian ties — or face the consequences.

Even if the poison-gas attacks on Syrian children don’t move us, Putin’s willingness to order mob hits within NATO-member states should get our attention.

We’re faced with a brilliant thug who, despite serious missteps, has overmatched two US presidential administrations and may have tragic influence over a third. Instead of fighting him off, we’re fighting among ourselves.

What the world needs in order to contain Vladimir Putin is American leadership. And there’s none in sight.

Ralph Peters is a former US Army Foreign Area Officer for Russian affairs.


US hostility means Iran must boost China, Russia ties: official (Actually, Iran has been in bed with Russia and China for some time….)

March 24, 2018


© AFP/File | Former US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton addresses a conservative conference in Maryland on February 24, 2017

TEHRAN (AFP) – Growing hostility from US President Donald Trump means Iran must strengthen its ties with Russia and China, a top official said on Saturday.”The use of radical elements hostile to the Islamic Republic shows that the Americans are trying to increase the pressure against Iran,” said Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Iranian parliament’s foreign affairs committee.

His comments, carried by the semi-official ISNA news agency, were the first reaction by a senior Iranian official to Trump’s appointment of conservative firebrand John Bolton as his national security chief.

That came days after Trump picked hardliner Mike Pompeo as his top diplomat.

The appointments raised fears of US military action against Iran.

Bolton, a former UN ambassador and outspoken supporter of the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, opposes a historic 2015 Iran nuclear deal which Trump has threatened to scrap.

Bolton has also championed regime change in Tehran, writing in a 2015 op-ed that “only military action … can accomplish what is required”.

Boroujerdi said that Trump was working “to reassure the Zionists (Israel) and Saudi Arabia”.

“We need to strengthen our relations with important countries like China and Russia, which are also subject to US sanctions and face significant challenges from that country,” he said.

Boroujerdi said boosting ties with China and Russia, permanent members of the UN Security Council, would “help reduce the impact of US pressure”.

Iran has in recent years developed its relations with China and Russia.

Tehran and Moscow are key backers of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, while China is Iran’s top trading partner.




Facebook Comes Under Siege

March 24, 2018


Users and lawmakers outraged over privacy and politics pose the steepest challenge yet to Facebook. How can the social network change?

Photo: Pablo Delcan

Mark Zuckerberg would like everyone to calm down.

After several days of a heated public outcry over a British political consulting firm’s use of data from millions of Facebook users to help elect President Trump, the Facebook CEO said on Wednesday that the social media behemoth had a technical solution in place.

In an interview with CNN, a contrite Zuckerberg vowed to mount “a full investigation” of thousands of apps with access to wide swaths of data “before we locked down our platform in 2014.” He said he was open to testifying before Congress, and some form of regulation.

“There will always be bad actors” trying to misuse the platform, his No. 2, Sheryl Sandberg, told CNBC. “We are taking aggressive steps to be more transparent.”

Whether such steps will be enough remains to be seen. Facebook (ticker: FB) may be counting on changes that affect all social media platforms, leaving its market share relatively intact.

But with more than two billion users, Facebook is the top target for privacy concerns, and it is almost certain that the company will not walk away unscathed. Pressure by lawmakers and regulators in the U.S. and Europe, unease among advertisers, and anger among its users means that the company’s galloping unfettered ride on the back of user content and data is over.

“We overinvested in new services and underinvested in building protections,” Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of communications and public policy, tells Barron’s.


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“The challenge is how quickly and effectively” the company can make changes, he says. “How hard will it be?”

For investors, the question is whether the company can adapt without undermining the advertising model that has powered years of extraordinary growth. There is considerable doubt at the moment. Shares of Facebook slumped 14% last week, erasing $75 billion of market value. But the decline may make Facebook shares only more tempting to investors. (See “Facebook Shares Look Like a Bargain.”)

Facebook says it is increasing efforts to work with government officials, industries, and experts to take on hate speech, child pornography, and other unsavory digital content. The company is also building more controls for users to monitor content.

But those efforts are likely to increase costs and, in turn, constrain growth in the short-term. Deutsche Bank analysts have noted that political scrutiny, including regulation, “could ultimately impact Facebook’s ability to gather and deploy data for ad targeting, which has been critical to ad efficacy and budget growth.”

Should Facebook end up having to hew to more traditional advertising rules, it runs the risk of becoming just another media company, losing its appeal to advertisers who flock to Facebook for both its enormous audience and its ability to slice that audience into finely targeted groups.

Is Facebook up to the challenge?

In the next month or so, the company will roll out a tool at the top of News Feed with a list of recently used apps and an option to revoke permissions to user data. Such a tool is already available in privacy settings, and it is essentially making it more prominent to ensure users are aware.

Zuckerberg has acknowledged that sites like Facebook may need regulation, telling The Wall Street Journal that “there’s no reason why the internet advertising industry should have a lower transparency standard than print or TV ads.” He has pointed to his company’s push for ad transparency tools, saying that they accomplish much of what Congress is seeking in such bills as the Honest Ads Act.

But under pressure to lock down data, Facebook risks watering down its special sauce to placate irate users and regulators.

“This would be a slippery slope to go down as the more regulatory oversight and tinkering with this model, the more risk there is for investors that advertising revenue becomes a victim of these efforts,” says Daniel Ives, head of technology research at GBH Insights. “The more hands in the pot from a regulatory perspective both in the Beltway and the EU around Facebook and its ad model, the risks rise for investors.”

Ives warns that Facebook is at risk of losing anywhere from $5 billion to $7 billion in annual revenue depending on changes to its products. He based his analysis on lower engagement trends, slackening user growth in 2018-19 and up to a 10% loss in advertising revenue. Regulatory pressure could exacerbate matters, he says.

Facebook, of course, is no stranger to controversy. But it has increasingly come under fire over user privacy and the company’s role in the 2016 election.

Billionaire George Soros has called the company a menace to society and Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said it should be regulated like a tobacco company. Unilever (UL) has threatened to pull ads unless Facebook cleans up content. A group of former employees and investors have formed a group to combat what they claim are its ill effects on society.

“They didn’t see it coming,” Antonio García Martínez, a former Facebook advertising  executive and author of the book Chaos Monkeys, told Barron’s before the latest controversy, “and that has led to a lot of internal turmoil at Facebook.”

“They’re horrified they were responsible for the Trump presidency.” Among the rank and file, he said, “there is tangible anger.”

The news last week just dumped gasoline over that fire. Cambridge Analytica, a London-based political consulting firm working for the Trump presidential campaign, improperly harvested data on millions of Facebook users, according to reports.

U.S. lawmakers soon called for regulation and demanded that the Facebook CEO testify before Congress. The Federal Trade Commission is reportedly investigating. An FTC spokesman said, “We are aware of the issues that have been raised but cannot comment on whether we are investigating.”

The tag #deletefacebook has become a rallying cry among deserting Facebook users, including Brian Acton, a co-founder of WhatsApp, for which Facebook paid $17 billion in 2014.

Investor unease over Facebook might seem sudden in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But the stock has actually underperformed the Standard & Poor’s 500 index for the past six months.

The Facebook platform is the root of the company’s success—and its problems. With 2.13 billion monthly active users, if Facebook was a nation, it would be the world’s most populous. That, as much as any reason, fuels its staggering ad revenue and profit growth rates of more than 20% a year. The ethos that drove Facebook was “move fast and break things.”

“The problem is not with the soul of Mark Zuckerberg, but the business model of the company,” says Sandy Parakilas, a former operations manager who left Facebook in 2012 after he warned management of the dangers of foreign-state actors manipulating the platform and said he was ignored. “The product was designed to be addictive. The business model is based on taking up people’s time and attention, and inflammatory content does just that.”

Still, the company is flush with nearly $42 billion in cash and investments, giving it the flexibility to diversify into other business lines, as it did with Instagram and WhatsApp, the third- and eighth-most-widely used social media platforms, respectively.

Instagram has been a “crown jewel,” and is on pace to reach one billion monthly active users by mid-2018, Ives says.

Indeed, the photo-sharing app could be the greatest threat for anyone on Wall Street who decides to bet against Facebook. Instagram possesses less personalized data than the Facebook platform, note analysts at Wells Fargo. They add: “We estimate now that a third of FB’s revenue growth and the entirety of its impression growth stem from Instagram.”

Facebook may also continue to make investments in mixed reality and artificial intelligence. The company has long insisted it is a “platform for all ideas.”

Legislators don’t seem quite so open minded about the future of Facebook, or the internet more broadly, which could raise regulatory risks for the social media behemoth and others like Alphabet’s (GOOGL) Google and Twitter (TWTR).

Democratic Sens. Mark Warner of Virginia and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota are the co-authors of the Honest Ads Act bill that would subject online political ads to the same rules and restrictions as those for TV, radio, and satellite.

Other senators have demanded that Facebook executives explain what happened with Cambridge Analytica. And Zuckerberg has been summoned to testify before the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

More immediately, Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation goes into effect in late May. The new rules are intended to give internet users more control over personal data. Companies like Facebook that rely heavily on user data collection and analysis will be required to obtain a user’s consent before collecting data.

The regulatory push comes amid signs that growth, and user engagement, are plateauing. For the first time, Facebook lost daily active users in the U.S. and Canada—some 700,000 in the fourth quarter of 2017. And growth rates are slackening in India, Brazil, Japan, Germany, and the U.K., according to estimates eMarketer provided to Barron’s.

Those users who remained spent less time on it, Facebook said, by about 50 million hours a day. The company said the drop was caused by changes in video recommendations, but the overall impact was the equivalent of a TV network losing viewers and its remaining audience watching less programming.

Perhaps most troubling was the hemorrhaging of the coveted millennial demographic, so crucial in the ad spending decisions of brands and media buyers. Facebook will lose two million users, age 24 and under, this year, eMarketer estimates.

“Losing millennials has been a growing concern for investors,” says GBH Insights’ Ives. “Engagement and mind share, especially in younger demographics, is key in terms of advertising and making sure those users stay on the platform over the coming years.”

Facebook and Google command 63% of the $83 billion digital-ad market in the U.S., according to eMarketer. Mobile advertising generated more than 86% of Facebook’s $40.7 billion total revenue in 2017.

“They own your black book in your smartphone,” says Rebecca Lieb, an analyst at market researcher Kaleido Insights.

But Facebook’s headaches, coupled with slackening user growth and changes in how major brands look at social media as an advertising vehicle, could soften its grip. Up to 20% of Facebook’s advertisers are experimenting with Twitter, and some also are giving Snap (SNAP) a closer look, GBH Insights’ Ives wrote in a recent report.

He and other analysts are especially concerned that Procter & Gamble (PG), the world’s largest advertiser, and Unilever have made noises about cutting back spending on digital ads. P&G said it cut its digital ad budget by $200 million last year. (Digital ads account for a third of P&G’s $7.1 billion ad budget.) Unilever has threatened to pull ads from Facebook and Google unless they clean up objectionable content.

Facebook has taken steps to be more transparent about its data and metrics. It agreed to an industry audit, and it plans to introduce a program to help marketers better understand metrics that lead to sales.

“Facebook is now taking the brand safety and reputational issues much more seriously than it did just six months ago and pro-actively addressing them with clients,” says Mark Read, global CEO of the digital ad agency Wunderman. “Even if clients hadn’t reduced spending, it was getting the message that they were hesitating.”

But has Facebook’s top management really gotten the message? Zuckerberg and Sandberg have offered promises of self-regulation in the past.

And they have played down the risks. As recently as November 2016, Zuckerberg dismissed the influence of fake news on Facebook as “pretty crazy.”

When a report from Facebook’s security team on how foreign adversaries could use the platform came out in April 2017, it lacked details and there was no direct mention of Russia.

“User protection wasn’t prioritized appropriately,” says Parakilas, an adviser to the Center for Humane Technology, a nonprofit critical of Facebook and Google. “Without significant business model and product changes to News Feed, little will change.”

The uproar has forced Zuckerberg, an inveterate coder, to ponder how to curb misinformation without sacrificing the growth of his sprawling digital community.

His resolution for 2018 included a vow of “protecting our community from abuse and hate, defending against interference by nation-states, or making sure that time spent on Facebook is time well spent.”

The following week, Zuckerberg said the News Feed algorithm would be rejiggered to favor “meaningful interactions” of family and friends.

In February, Zuckerberg published a 5,700-word manifesto about “building a global community” free of fake news and click bait. While some took it as another sign of Zuckerberg’s mission to clean up Facebook, others saw it as a pat corporate answer for all of the company’s ills: Use Facebook more.

Current and former Facebook employees say they are confident the company can tip-toe through the land mines. Serious efforts have been undertaken for more than a year to invest in building systems to prevent a repeat of the 2016 election.

And for the first time in the company’s history, Facebook is promoting publishers whose content is “trustworthy, informative and local.” It is experimenting with letting publishers feature their logos more prominently to re-establish their brand. And in early March, it allowed a few to label articles as “breaking news.”

The three-pronged approach of removing false news sources, reducing the spread of misinformation, and disrupting financial incentives for ad farms of problematic content is the type of comprehensive approach necessary, company executives say.

Within a few weeks, Facebook will roll out a tool at the top of News Feed with a list of recently used apps and an option to revoke permissions to user data. The company says such a tool is available in privacy settings, and it is essentially making it more prominent to ensure users are aware of it.

Still, change will be hard.

The DNA of tech companies—whip-smart people who often work in secrecy to create innovative products and services—often insulates them and can “lead to an arrogance of success,” says Charles Elson, a professor of corporate governance at the University of Delaware. “There is the danger of thinking you’re infallible and smarter than everyone else. It’s happened before, such as Uber and even Apple, and will again,” he says.

Former executives contacted by Barron’s say that Facebook faces two major challenges: successfully filtering ads, which is possible, and filtering content, which may be next to impossible.

The most logical step may be to split up News Feed and make it less attractive to would-be political operatives.

The company has previously tried that, however. Bowing to what it said was customer disapproval, Facebook earlier this month ditched a months-long test in six foreign countries that divided News Feed into two: one focused on photos and updates from friends and family, the other for “explore feeds” of third-party content.

“They still see themselves as a technology middleman,” García Martínez says. “Facebook is not supposed to be an element of a propaganda war. They’re completely not equipped to deal with that.”

Follow @jswartz



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To Putin, we in the West are stinking hypocrites who disrespect Russia

March 24, 2018

By Charles Moore
The Telegraph

n late August 1991, there were two coups in Moscow in three days. On a Monday, hardline Communists overthrew the reformist President Gorbachev. On the Wednesday, Boris Yeltsin, the elected President of the Russian Federation, overthrew them. He restored Gorbachev, but effectively transferred power to himself.

I wanted to see if the Soviet Union truly was falling apart, so that week I flew to Moscow without a visa. If the Soviet system still worked, I reckoned, my lack of visa would cause me to be briefly detained and then sent straight back home. At Moscow airport, I was duly stopped and made to retrace my steps, escorted. Realising that I was about to be shoved on to a plane to London, I sat…

Read the rest: (Paywall)


Iranian Nuclear Program? Trump Will Soon Have to Decide About the Saudis Too

March 24, 2018


Riyadh says it has the right to enrich uranium just as the Iranians have been awarded, while Israel, which is pressuring Trump to leave the Iran deal, may find itself facing two nuclear powers

.Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, March 20, 2018.
Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman meeting with U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, March 20, 2018.Alex Wong / AFP

The short video was posted on social media in fluent Hebrew. “Several Israeli journalists incited Bibi, or Benjamin Netanyahu, against Saudi Arabia and said there’s a Saudi nuclear threat. And I say to you, the Jewish people: Has Saudi Arabia ever threatened its neighbors? The answer is no. Does Saudi Arabia have aspirations to expand in the region? The answer is no. Read the news carefully, people of Israel. Thanks and see you next time.”

The speaker was Loay al-Shareef, a Saudi television host who has close ties with the royal house.

This public relations campaign didn’t impress the Israeli government or the U.S. Congress. They began their own campaign to prevent the Trump administration from letting American companies build nuclear reactors for electricity generation in Saudi Arabia. The fear is that this technology may  later be used as the foundation to produce nuclear weapons.

>Will Saudi Arabia follow Iran and seek nukes? ■ The Middle East is marching toward Israel’s nuclear nightmare scenario ■ Israel is setting the price for Riyadh to go nuclear

These fears need no further proof. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has said unequivocally that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia will too. In a coddling interview with CBS, he said his country only wanted equal rights. In other words, if Washington adheres to the 2015 agreement with Iran, which lets Tehran enrich uranium to a low level, Saudi Arabia deserves that right too.

The Saudis, as opposed to Iran, have their own uranium and want to enrich it. This is the heart of the disagreement between Washington and Jerusalem on one side and Riyadh on the other. According to Section 123 of the U.S. Atomic Energy Act of 1954, Congress has the right to reject any transfer of nuclear technology, materials or equipment to another country – and in doing so prevent uranium enrichment by that country.

In 2009, an agreement was signed with the United Arab Emirates for the construction of nuclear reactors based on this section of the law, but Netanyahu doesn’t consider these restrictions adequate. This month, the prime minister shared his opinion on the matter with members of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and some of the senators agreed with the Israeli view.

In comparison, U.S. President Donald Trump is pushing to approve construction of the reactors because of the expected profits for American companies including Westinghouse Electric, whose proposal has a good chance of being chosen by the Saudis. Moreover, Trump owes the Saudis, who a few months ago signed a $35 billion agreement to buy American weapons.

Pakistan, Russia and China

Saudi Arabia declared its intention to build nuclear reactors for “peaceful purposes” – in other words for research and generating electricity – as part of the crown prince’s Saudi Vision 2030 program. The explanation is based on the need to diversify the kingdom’s energy sources and reduce its dependence on oil, as well as preparation for the day when the oil and natural gas run out – in part because of Saudi Arabia’s constant growth in electricity demand.

The plan includes 16 nuclear reactors, with two to be built in the first stage. Each reactor would produce 12,000 to 16,000 megawatts of power. The opponents of the project say Saudi Arabia, which holds the world’s second largest oil reserves, has no need for nuclear power. In addition, the global trend is to move from nuclear power to renewable energy such as wind and solar power, which are both abundantly available in Saudi Arabia. Either way, the crown prince’s statements make this argument rather irrelevant.

Whether Saudi Arabia is serious about its nuclear power plans or not, the nuclear-deterrence equation it has presented puts Washington in a difficult dilemma. If the Americans refuse to sell the Saudis nuclear technology, it can turn to other countries such as Pakistan, with which it has excellent relations, Russia or China. They all have no problem selling nuclear technology to the Saudis – even beyond that needed for civilian purposes.

To strengthen this part of the Saudi argument, Foreign Minister Adel bin Ahmed Al-Jubeir has said his country has discussed the construction of the nuclear reactors with at least 10 countries and has even conducted advanced negotiations with China. Under such a scenario, the United States would not be allowed to get its foot in the door of the Saudi nuclear industry, and Russia or China would become strategic allies of the kingdom, say U.S. officials. And this is without mentioning the huge profits the nuclear deal would bring in.

As far as the United States is concerned, an even larger danger lies in wait because – as opposed to Iran – the Saudis have no knowledge or experts of their own to build such reactors or make nuclear weapons, so whichever of the powers wins the bidding for the project, it will be happy to have to operate and maintain the reactors.

An example of such a case is the reactors Russia will finance, build and operate in Egypt in cooperation with Egyptian engineers, or the reactor that will soon be launched in Turkey with Russian President Vladimir Putin in attendance. But completely different than Turkey or Egypt, which have made very clear they have no aspirations for nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia hasn’t ruled this out.

This possibility greatly worries Israel, which has worked intensively to convince Trump and members of Congress that although Saudi Arabia may be considered a close friend of Washington at the moment, the kingdom is unstable and radical Islamist movements freely operate there. Also, the construction of nuclear reactors would train a generation of Saudi engineers and other nuclear experts who would be able to develop a military nuclear program in the future.

Saudi Arabia, which hired the expensive services of three top-tier American lobbying firms, will explain in response that if it wanted nuclear weapons it could just buy them and doesn’t need to train its own experts. The U.S. State Department knows this claim quite well and has presented it to Trump as a reason to agree to the sale of American nuclear technology to the Saudis – and in doing so require them to meet strict American supervision.

Known unknowns

Until the balance of nuclear deterrence between Saudi Arabia and Iran comes about, if it ever does, the United States will have to reach an agreement with the Saudis not just over uranium enrichment. Another issue that will require Trump to provide answers to Congress is the supervision of the Saudi reactors.

For now, the model for the oversight of the Iranian nuclear deal has proved itself – at least according to the International Atomic Energy Agency – and could serve as a basis for any agreement with Saudi Arabia.

But countries can progress to dangerous stages in nuclear weapons development without UN inspectors or intelligence agencies detecting it. (Or the other way around; for example, the IAEA asked to tighten its supervision of an Iraqi nuclear program that no longer existed.) For example, there’s a lack of oversight over the nuclear programs of Pakistan, India, North Korea and Israel, which are not signatories of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and don’t forget the Israeli intelligence failure in identifying the Syrian nuclear reactor so late.

Saudi Arabia, which has not signed the Additional Protocol to the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which includes safeguards for much stricter supervision than the original treaty did, will not find it hard to move on from civilian nuclear energy to military use while staying below the international radar.

The question is whether a battle of honor and prestige will break out over the Saudi demands and whether the United States will be forced to say yes in order to preserve its good relations between with Riyadh, or whether Saudi Arabia will suffice with a more modest alternative such as a sophisticated defense pact with Washington and a U.S. commitment to protect the kingdom from any threat, Iranian or otherwise. The crown prince is now visiting the United States on a three-week trip, which will end around the time Trump will have to decide on the Iran agreement.

The paradox lies in the Saudi opposition to the Iranian nuclear deal. Ostensibly, the kingdom, which says deterring Iran is a weighty justification for its own nuclear needs, should support the Iran agreement and try to convince Tehran not to abandon it. The deal is supposed to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat and give the Saudis time to develop their own program without the risk of a regional war that could turn into an international conflagration.

After failing in Yemen and suffering serious defeats in Syria, the Saudis can’t allow themselves another such war where they’ll be dependent on Washington’s willingness to do the dirty work.

Israel, which has been pressing Trump to leave the Iranian deal, or at least make changes that Iran would be unlikely to agree to, may find itself facing two nuclear powers instead of one: Iran, which has declared that it will restart its nuclear program if the agreement is violated, and Saudi Arabia, which would want to acquire nuclear weapons too as a deterrent against an Iran freed from the bonds of its nuclear agreement.

Mohammed bin Salman to the Washington Post: Trump’s decision to move embassy to Jerusalem is a painful step — Mentions use of uranium

March 24, 2018


Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman. (Reuters)

US Vice President Mike Pence hosts a dinner in honor of Saudi Crown Prince on the occasion of his visit to the US. (SPA)
LONDON: Mohammed bin Salman told The Washington Post: My relationship with Special Adviser to President Trump, Jared Kushner, is part of the official relationship between our countries.
Saudi Arabia does not use Special Adviser to the President to promote Saudi interests. In his interview with the Washington Post Mohammed bin Salman added “my visit to the US is in part to attract investment to Saudi Arabia. The Crown prince who is trying to reform and diversify his country’s economy added that Saudi Arabia hold 5% of of world uranium reserves” and he added, “ If we don’t make use of our uranium it is as if we have abandoned the use of oil.”
The Crown Prince also discussed the situation in the Middle East and he said that the region has potential “If we resolve all problems in our region the Middle East will be the new Europe.” and he added that his country is doing its best to help the region and “did not spare any opportunity to help Yemen.”
On the question of peace between Israel and the Palestinians the Saudi Crown Prince said that President Trump decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem  is a painful step.
In his discussion with the Washington Post the Saudi Crown Prince reiterated that “Islam is a moderate and tolerant religion, and it has been kidnapped in recent years.”


Below from Bloomberg

Saudi Prince’s Nuclear Bomb Comment May Scuttle Reactor Deal

  • Fresh scrutiny for plan to build U.S. reactors in Saudi Arabia
  • Lawmakers say Saudis shouldn’t be allowed to enrich uranium

Opposition to a deal for the U.S. to provide nuclear power technology to Saudi Arabia is growing after Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman said the kingdom would develop a nuclear weapon if Iran did.

The potential for U.S. companies to participate in the construction of as many as 16 nuclear reactors sought by the kingdom has been seen as a potential lifeline to Westinghouse Electric Co. and others suffering from the flagging nuclear industry at home.

To further that effort, the Trump administration is said to be considering allowing the Saudis the right to enrich uranium, a break from the so-called “gold standard” included in the nuclear-sharing agreement with the United Arab Emirates, which allows power generation but prohibits the enrichment and reprocessing of uranium.

But that idea ran into a buzzsaw during a House hearing on Wednesday, with lawmakers from both parties saying prince’s admission that his country might seek to build nuclear weapons was cause to halt negotiations between the two nations. Energy Secretary Rick Perry met with Saudi officials earlier this month in London to begin talks on the deal.

Why Oil-Rich Saudi Arabia Is Turning to Nuclear Power: QuickTake

“The idea of Saudi Arabia having a nuclear program with the ability to enrich is a major national security concern,” said Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East and North Africa. “Unfortunately from the little we do know from the administration it is looking at this deal in terms of economics and in terms of commerce and national security implications only register as a minor issue –if at all.”

Congress can block a nuclear technology agreement by passing a joint resolution of disapproval, but the measure is subject to a presidential veto, a high bar to overcome. Ros-Lehtinen said she introduced legislation on Wednesday that would amend the process so that such agreements, known as 123 agreements, would require congressional approval if they fall short of the so-called “gold standard.”

Iran Threat

The notion of allowing Saudi Arabia to reprocess spent fuel into weapons-grade plutonium was already facing opposition from powerful figures in the Senate before the crown prince confirmed the kingdom’s concerns about Iran, its rival for influence in the Persian Gulf and across the Middle East, during an interview with the CBS News program “60 Minutes” that was broadcast on Sunday.

“But without a doubt, if Iran developed a nuclear bomb, we will follow suit as soon as possible,” he said.

“Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has confirmed what many have long suspected — nuclear energy in Saudi Arabia is about more than just electrical power, it’s about geopolitical power,” Senator Ed Markey, a Massachusetts Democrat who serves on the Foreign Relations Committee said. Others, such as Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, has said he has made the Trump administration aware of the bipartisan opposition that remains for any deal that allows enrichment.

Prince Mohammed, who just began a three-week visit to the U.S., has met with President Donald Trump and administration officials at the White House and plans to meet with energy executives to discuss the country’s plans to build two nuclear reactors by year’s end and 14 more over the next quarter century, according to the non-governmental U.S. Energy Association.

But Henry Sokolski, executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, told the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee that the number of reactors the kingdom actually may build is likely to be far less than proposed. Even some proponents, he added, say “they would be lucky if they bought even one.”

“I would plead with all of the members here not to buy the prevailing narrative regarding the proposed nuclear deal with the Saudis,” Sokolski testified. “The U.S. has leverage, it should use it.”

U.S. Blasts UN Human Rights Council Over Resolution Condemning Israel’s Settlements

March 24, 2018


Ambassador to UN Nikki Haley steps up threats to quit international organization over its ‘grossly biased agenda against Israel’

.FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation between Britain and Russia, March 14, 2018.
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley speaks during a Security Council meeting on the situation between Britain and Russia, March 14, 2018. Mary Altaffer/AP

U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley slammed the UN Human Rights Council on Friday, saying that “the United States would continue to examine our membership” in the organization following a series of decisions the council took against Israel’s policy in the occupied territories.

Sources in Brussels told Haaretz that most European countries supported decisions only after their wording was softened so as not to evoke immediate practical significance.

The U.S. said it was losing patience with the UN Human Rights Council, threatening again to quit the international body after the organization passed five resolutions against Israel.

In a statement released after the votes, Haley noted that while the council adopted five resolutions condemning Israel, it adopted only one resolution against North Korea, Iran and Syria.

“When the Human Rights Council treats Israel worse than North Korea, Iran and Syria, it is the council itself that is foolish and unworthy of its name,” Haley said in a statement. “Today’s actions make it clear that the organization lacks the credibility needed to be a true advocate for human rights.”

The five resolutions adopted in Geneva on Friday include Resolution 2334, referring to Israeli settlements as illegal. The resolution calls on countries to condemn the continued expansion of settlements and to distinguish between Israel and the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, inter alia, with economic boycotts of the occupied territories.

The resolution was opposed by the U.S., Australia, Hungary and Togo.

Britain abstained along with Croatia, Congo, Georgia, Panama, Rwanda, Slovakia and the Ukraine.

UN Human Rights Council vote on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

UN Human Rights Council vote on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Golan Heights.

The second resolution calls for strengthening the recognition of the Golan Heights as an occupied territory and calls upon Israel to refrain from expanding construction and population in the area.

The third resolution calls for recognition of the Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

The fourth resolution calls for “ensuring justice” against violations of international law in the occupied territories and East Jerusalem, including among other things, calling for an embargo on Israel.

The fifth resolution calls for the preservation of human rights in the West Bank and Gaza in accordance with international conventions – including condemnation of Israel’s lack of cooperation with the UN Commission of Inquiry.

The decisions are mainly symbolic and their operative significance depends on the member states themselves.

Oregon attorney general considers investigating Facebook — Could have violated a state law that protects online customers’ private information — Joins “everyone else”

March 24, 2018
Ellen RosenblumThe Associated Press
FILE–In this July 13, 2016, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum poses for a photo at her office in Portland, Ore. Rosenblum says Facebook might have violated a new state law that protects online customers’ private information and also disclosed in an interview with AP that she and several other state attorneys general are drafting a letter to Facebook, asking how it allowed a developer to weaponize the data of millions of customers, and says a full-scale investigation might ensue. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, file)

Oregon’s attorney general says she is reviewing whether to launch an investigation of Facebook, including whether it violated a state law that protects online customers’ private information.

Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum told The Associated Press that she and several other state attorneys general are drafting a letter to Facebook, asking about a leak of Facebook customers’ data without their knowledge or consent.

“We’re just full of unanswered questions at this point, and whether or not it’s going to blossom into a full-scale investigation is still somewhat up for grabs,” Rosenblum said in a telephone interview late Thursday.

Others are also looking into Facebook:

— Overseas, a British parliamentary committee has summoned CEO Mark Zuckerberg to testify, Israel says it is launching an investigation into Facebook, and Germany’s justice minister says she is calling in Facebook’s European leadership to explain the scandal.

— U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California wants Zuckerberg’s assurances that Facebook is prepared to take the lead on protecting people’s privacy. Other members of Congress have requested information from Facebook.

— New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said his office is investigating how personal information came into the possession of Cambridge Analytica. Connecticut’s attorney general sent Zuckerberg a letter demanding answers.

Cambridge Analytica, a data mining firm that worked for Donald Trump’s campaign, is accused of lifting data from some 50 million Facebook users to influence voters. Former Cambridge Analytica employee-turned-whistleblower Christopher Wylie says the firm sought Facebook information to build psychological profiles on a large portion of the U.S. electorate. It amassed the database with the help of academic Aleksander Kogan, who developed a Facebook app called “This is Your Digital Life” that appeared to be a personality test, Wylie said.

That app vacuumed up information from users who gave the app permission to access their accounts — as well as additional data from tens of millions of their Facebook friends.

Cambridge Analytica has denied wrongdoing. Kogan said the data firm approached him for the project and assured him that everything he did was legal.

Rosenblum credited Will Castleberry, a Facebook vice president for state and local public policy, for reaching out to her on Thursday, but added that tough questions need to be answered.

She said questions being prepared for the letter include how did Facebook monitor what the developers did with the data and did Facebook have protective safeguards, including audits, to ensure developers were not misusing Facebook user data.

“They’ve known about this for years and they didn’t notify any of their users, which really concerns me,” Rosenblum said. “What we’re trying to do is figure out … how to keep this from happening in the future.”

In an email to AP on Friday, Castleberry said: “We appreciate Attorney General Rosenblum’s interest and will be in touch with her office as we continue our review of the situation.”

Zuckerberg apologized Wednesday during a CNN interview but stopped short of endorsing broad privacy legislation.

Rosenblum said her office is looking at whether misuse of Facebook users’ data violated a new Oregon law that makes it an unlawful trade practice for a business to collect, use or dispose of a consumer’s information in a manner inconsistent with the business’s own privacy policy as published on its website.

Rosenblum, who had championed the bill that was passed overwhelmingly by the Legislature last year, said Oregon is among the first states, if not the first, to pass such a law. She noted that much of the activity under scrutiny took place before the law took effect, on Jan. 1, but was confident that it would cover continued misuse of data.

“Facebook is just an unbelievably big platform,” Rosenblum told AP. “They have many opportunities to influence people … and that’s why it’s so important for them at the front end to be properly monitoring the developers who take advantage of — and have access to — the data of the users.”


This story has been corrected to reflect Rosenblum spoke to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Yemeni Army takes control over strategic locations between Lahej, Taiz

March 24, 2018


The Yemeni Army took control over strategic locations held by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Al Sharija area, between Lahej and Taiz. (AFP)
DUBAI: The Yemeni Army took control over strategic locations held by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Al Sharija area, between Lahej and Taiz, UAE state-news site WAM reported.
Locations seized from the militias include Jabel Hamala, Al Hashma and Al Central, which are considered key positions overlooking the route linking between Al Sharija and Al Rahda, in Taiz.
Image result for Yemen Map
Yemen’s army along with the security belt forces and the Yemeni resistance launched ground and air attacks, supported by the Arab Coalition forces’ heavy vehicles and air bombardment that enabled the Yemeni national forces to secure significant advances toward Karsh and Hamala fronts, dealing heavy blows against the Houthi militias’ bastions and inflicting heavy human and material damage.
Al Sharija is the eastern entry point toward Taiz Governorate with its liberation most likely to lead to more defeats for the militia at other fronts.
The Arab Coalition’s jets targeted Houthi positions, detaining a number of their militants and seizing a large number of military caches and depots.

Trump to announce trade sanctions against China for intellectual property theft

March 22, 2018

The US has accused Beijing of forcing US firms to share their intellectual property with Chinese state-owned companies. The decision is set to escalate global trade tensions.

US and Chinese flags (Getty Images/AFP/F. Dufour)

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump is set to announce new sanctions against China for stealing US intellectual property, according to a White House official.

The move comes amid heightened fears about a potential trade war over US plans to introduce tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum.

Read more: US President Donald Trump orders probe of China’s intellectual property practices

What we know so far:

  • Raj Shah told AFP news agency: “Tomorrow the president will announce the actions he has decided to take based on USTR’s 301 investigation into China’s state-led, market-distorting efforts to force, pressure, and steal US technologies and intellectual property.”
  • Restrictions could also be placed on apparel and Chinese investments in the United States.
  • After calling on Trump not to act “emotionally,” China is expected to impose countermeasures on US agriculture exports. Beijing has accused Washington of “repeatedly abusing” international trade rules set out by the World Trade Organization.

Read more: Germany and G20 push for free trade amid fears of global trade war

How deep are US-Chinese trade relations?

In 2016, total trade between the United States and China reached $579 billion (€468 billion) with Chinese imports of US goods totaling $115.8 billion and US imports of Chinese goods at $462.8 billion. Only the 28-member EU saw more trade with the United States in 2016. Last year the US ran a $375 billion trade deficit with China, though US exports to China also hit a new record high.

US Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell called the prospect of a trade war a growing threat to the United States.

amp/sms (AFP, Reuters)