Archive for the ‘Thought for the day’ Category

30/12/2016

“A cease-fire agreement between Syria’s government and the country’s mainstream rebel groups has gone into effect in the war-ravaged nation. The truce was brokered by both Russia and Turkey, who support opposing sides in the war. It took effect at midnight Thursday. The agreement is a potential breakthrough in the six-year civil war that has left more than a quarter-million people dead and triggered a refugee crisis across Europe. Russian President Vladimir Putin says that if the truce holds, it will be followed by peace talks next month in Kazakhstan between Syrian President Bashar Assad’s government and opposition groups”.

Advertisements

Russia expels US diplomats

30/12/2016

Russia on Friday announced plans to expel 35 U.S. diplomats and ban U.S. diplomatic staff from using a dacha and a warehouse in Moscow in retaliation to Washington’s sanctions, Russian news agencies reported.  Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was quoted by the agencies as saying he had proposed the measures to President Vladimir Putin

Obama expels Russian diplomats

30/12/2016
President Barack Obama on Thursday ordered the expulsion of 35 Russian suspected spies and imposed sanctions on two Russian intelligence agencies over their involvement in hacking U.S. political groups in the 2016 presidential election. The measures, taken during the last days of Obama’s presidency, mark a new post-Cold War low in U.S.-Russian ties and set up a potential flashpoint between incoming President-elect Donald Trump and fellow Republicans in Congress over how to deal with Moscow. Obama, a Democrat, had promised consequences after U.S. intelligence officials blamed Russia for hacks intended to influence the 2016 election. Officials pointed the finger directly at Russian President Vladimir Putin for personally directing the efforts and primarily targeting Democrats, who put pressure on Obama to respond.

 

30/12/2016

President Obama said on Thursday that the United States would retaliate for Russia’s efforts to influence the presidential election, asserting that “we need to take action,” and “we will.” The comments, in an interview with NPR, indicate that Mr. Obama, in his remaining weeks in office, will pursue either economic sanctions against Russia or perhaps some kind of response in cyberspace. Mr. Obama spoke as President-elect Donald J. Trump on Thursday again refused to accept Moscow’s culpability, asking on Twitter why the administration had waited “so long to act” if Russia “or some other entity” had carried out cyberattacks. The president discussed the potential for American retaliation with Steve Inskeep of NPR for an interview to air on Friday morning. “I think there is no doubt that when any foreign government tries to impact the integrity of our election,” Mr. Obama said, “we need to take action. And we will — at the time and place of our choosing.”

28/12/2016

China defended its right on Thursday to put “necessary military installations” on artificial islands in the South China Sea, after a U.S. think-tank said Beijing appeared to have deployed weapons such as anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems. The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI) at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said its findings, made available first to Reuters on Wednesday, were based on analysis of satellite images of islands in the strategic trade route, where territory is claimed by several countries. The United States has previously criticized what it called China’s militarization of its maritime outposts, and stressed the need for freedom of navigation by conducting periodic air and naval patrols near them that have angered Beijing. China’s Defence Ministry said in a statement on its website on Thursday that the construction it had carried out on islands and reefs in the disputed Spratlys chain was “mainly for civilian use”. “As for necessary military installations, they are mainly for defence and self-protection and are legitimate and lawful,” it said. “If someone makes a show of force at your front door, would you not ready your slingshot?” The United States has conducted four freedom of navigation patrols, seen as a challenge to China’s extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea, in the past year or so, most recently in October”.

 

26/12/2016

An examination by The Times of the Russian operation — based on interviews with dozens of players targeted in the attack, intelligence officials who investigated it and Obama administration officials who deliberated over the best response — reveals a series of missed signals, slow responses and a continuing underestimation of the seriousness of the cyberattack. The D.N.C.’s fumbling encounter with the F.B.I. meant the best chance to halt the Russian intrusion was lost. The failure to grasp the scope of the attacks undercut efforts to minimize their impact. And the White House’s reluctance to respond forcefully meant the Russians have not paid a heavy price for their actions, a decision that could prove critical in deterring future cyberattacks.The low-key approach of the F.B.I. meant that Russian hackers could roam freely through the committee’s network for nearly seven months before top D.N.C. officials were alerted to the attack and hired cyberexperts to protect their systems. In the meantime, the hackers moved on to targets outside the D.N.C., including Mrs. Clinton’s campaign chairman, John D. Podesta, whose private email account was hacked months later”.

Puer natus est nobis

24/12/2016

Hodie Christus natus est

24/12/2016

The United States is ready to confront China should it continue its overreaching maritime claims in the South China Sea, the head of the U.S. Pacific fleet said on Wednesday, comments that threaten to escalate tensions between the two global rivals. China claims most of the resource-rich South China Sea through which about $5 trillion in ship-borne trade passes every year. Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. The United States has called on China to respect the findings of the arbitration court in The Hague earlier this year which invalidated its vast territorial claims in the strategic waterway. But Beijing continues to act in an “aggressive” manner, to which the United States stands ready to respond, Admiral Harry Harris, head of the U.S. Pacific Command, said in a speech in Sydney”.

22/12/2016

The leaders of France and Germany, speaking two days before an EU summit which will discuss the conflict in eastern Ukraine, said they want to extend sanctions against Russia due to a lack of progress in implementing a ceasefire deal. The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists has claimed nearly 10,000 lives since it erupted in 2014. Germany and France have tried to convince both sides to implement a peace deal agreed in Minsk last year but with little success so far. EU leaders will on Thursday discuss extending sanctions, which include restricting access to international financing and curbs on defence and energy cooperation with Russia. Merkel, speaking with Hollande who was visiting a Franco-German conference on the digital economy in Berlin, said implementation of the ceasefire deal was “very sluggish”. “It will be necessary to extend the sanctions against Russia again – although we would have wished for better progress in the implementation of this process,” she said.

22/12/2016

Vietnam has begun dredging work on a disputed reef in the South China Sea, satellite imagery shows, the latest move by the Communist state to bolster its claims in the strategic waterway. Activity visible on Ladd Reef in the Spratly Islands could anger Hanoi’s main South China Sea rival, Beijing, which claims sovereignty over the group and most of the resource-rich sea. Ladd Reef, on the southwestern fringe of the Spratlys, is completely submerged at high tide but has a lighthouse and an outpost housing a small contingent of Vietnamese soldiers. The reef is also claimed by Taiwan. In an image taken on Nov. 30 and provided by U.S.-based satellite firm Planet Labs, several vessels can be seen in a newly dug channel between the lagoon and open sea. While the purpose of the activity cannot be determined for certain, analysts say similar dredging work has been the precursor to more extensive construction on other reefs. “We can see that, in this environment, Vietnam’s strategic mistrust is total … and they are rapidly improving their defences,” said Trevor Hollingsbee, a retired naval intelligence analyst with Britain’s defence ministry”.

22/12/2016

China said Monday that it had “serious concern” about President-elect Donald Trump’s most recent comments about Taiwan, and warned that any changes to how America deals with the self-governing island could damage diplomatic ties between Washington and Beijing. China’s comments came a day after Trump said in a television interview that he didn’t feel “bound by a one-China policy.” Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said that established policy is the “political foundation” of any diplomatic relationship between China and the U.S., and that any damage to it could render cooperation “out of the question.” “We urge the new U.S. leader and government to fully understand the seriousness of the Taiwan issue, and to continue to stick to the one-China policy,” Geng said.

NSC exodus

20/12/2016

“The White House is struggling to prevent a crippling exodus of foreign policy staffers eager to leave before the arrival of the Trump administration, according to current and former officials. The top level officials in the National Security Council (NSC) are political appointees who have to submit resignations and leave in a normal transition. The rest of the 400 NSC staff are career civil servants on secondment from other departments. An unusual number of these more junior officials are now looking to depart. Many are concerned by a proliferation of reports about the incoming national security adviser, Michael Flynn. On Wednesday the Washington Post reported that Flynn had improperly shared classified information with foreign military officers. On the same day, CNN reported that the former Defense Intelligence Agency chief had this week deleted a tweet he had sent out a few days before the election that linked to a fake news story suggesting Hillary Clinton took part in crimes against children. “Career people are looking get out and go back to their agencies and pressure is being put on them to get them to stay. There is concern there will be a half-empty NSC by the time the new administration arrives, which no one wants,” said one official.

“Intensified their calls for a probe into hacking during the 2016 election”

20/12/2016

Lawmakers in Congress intensified their calls for a probe into hacking during the 2016 election, raising chances of a clash with President-elect Donald Trump. Trump continues to reject the US intelligence community’s conclusion that Moscow is to blame, telling Time Magazine that he does not believe the intelligence community’s assessment that Russia was behind the hacks. House Democrats introduced legislation Wednesday that would convene a bipartisan, independent commission to look into alleged Russian attempts to interfere and sow distrust in this year’s voting. On the Senate side, a senior Republican told CNN that he will be directing his committees “to look deeply into what Russia may have done in regarding our election.” The congressional moves come as Time published an interview with Trump in which he dismissed the intelligence community’s October assessment that it had high confidence that Russia was behind hacks. They largely targeted Democrats, including the Democratic National Committee. “I don’t believe it. I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump is quoted as saying”.

Iran, keeping to the deal

18/12/2016

Iran has shipped 11 tonnes of heavy water abroad to bring its stock back under a limit set by its landmark nuclear deal with major powers, according to a diplomat citing a confidential U.N. nuclear watchdog report. The shipment is a step toward resolving a dispute with Western powers including the United States that are keen to prevent Iran from testing the deal’s terms. The report substantiated an Iranian statement last month about a transfer to Oman but does not identify the destination, the diplomat said. The International Atomic Energy Agency, which is policing the restrictions placed on Iran’s atomic activities under the July 2015 deal, said in a report last month that Iran’s stock of heavy water had for the second time exceeded a soft limit of 130 tonnes, and the IAEA expressed its concerns to Tehran. “On 6 December the agency verified the quantity of 11 metric tonnes of the nuclear-grade heavy water at its destination outside Iran,” the diplomat quoted the five-paragraph report by the IAEA to member states as saying. “This transfer of heavy water out of Iran brings Iran’s stock of heavy water to below 130 tonnes,” it said, adding that Iran had told the agency that the shipment left the country on Nov. 19.

“Obama savaged his successor’s stated inclinations on counterterrorism”

18/12/2016

Without ever using Donald Trump’s name, Barack Obama savaged his successor’s stated inclinations on counterterrorism while issuing an impassioned plea not to sacrifice fundamental American values in the name of national security. Obama used the final set-piece security speech of his presidency to present a highly selective account of his record, particularly about the mass surveillance architecture he embraced and the drone strikes that will be synonymous with his name. In doing so, Obama argued that he avoided “overreach” and tacitly implored Trump to follow his template. “People and nations do not make good decisions when they are driven by fear,” Obama warned at MacDill air force base in Florida, before a military audience to whom he paid tribute. “These terrorists can never directly destroy our way of life, but we can do it for them if we lose track of who we are and the values that this nation was founded upon.” Obama reserved a note of retribution for the Republican Congress that he holds responsible for preventing him from closing the Guantánamo Bay detention center. He suggested that he would continue transferring detainees until he leaves the Oval Office on 20 January, even though that tactic alone will not empty the Cuban facility.

“Increasingly trying to control public information”

18/12/2016

“The US military in Afghanistan is increasingly trying to control public information about the war, resulting in strained relations with western organisations offering different versions of events to official military accounts, the Guardian has learned. In a recent incident, the most senior US commander in Afghanistan, Gen John W Nicholson, considered banning or restricting the UN’s access to a military base in Kabul, according to informed sources in both organisations. The dispute followed a UN report in late September claiming that a US drone had killed 15 civilians. Washington insists it only killed members of Islamic State. UN and US military officials declined to speak to the Guardian, but various sources confirmed that working relations were “a nightmare”, as a UN staff member put it”.

Bibi tries to influence Trump

16/12/2016

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he would discuss with Donald Trump the West’s “bad” nuclear deal with Iran after the U.S. president-elect enters the White House. Speaking separately to a conference in Washington, Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry clashed over the Iran deal and Israel’s settlement construction on the occupied West Bank, which Kerry depicted as an obstacle to peace. During the U.S. election campaign, Trump, a Republican, called last year’s nuclear pact a “disaster” and “the worst deal ever negotiated”. He has also said it would be hard to overturn an agreement enshrined in a U.N. resolution. “Israel is committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. That has not changed and will not change. As far as President-elect Trump, I look forward to speaking to him about what to do about this bad deal,” Netanyahu told the Saban Forum, a conference on the Middle East, in Washington, via satellite from Jerusalem. Trump takes office on Jan. 20″.

 

Francis writes to Assad

16/12/2016

Pope Francis appealed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a personal letter to ensure that international humanitarian law is respected so that civilians are protected and aid can get to them, the Vatican said on Monday. In the letter, given to Assad by the Vatican ambassador in Damascus, the pope appealed to Assad and the international community for an end to violence and condemned “all forms of extremism and terrorism from whatever quarter they may come”. The letter from the pope, who has made numerous public appeals over the fate of Aleppo, was delivered as a Syrian general said the country’s army and its allies were in the final stages of recapturing the city from rebels. The statement said the pope wrote of his affection for the “sorely tried” people of Syria and appealed to Assad “to ensure that international humanitarian law is fully respected with regard to the protection of the civilians and access to humanitarian aid”. It is not common for the Vatican to release details about private letters the pope sends to world leaders”.

 

“OPEC agreed to cut output”

14/12/2016

Oil prices on Tuesday fell for the first session since OPEC agreed to cut output last week after data showed crude production rose in most major export regions and on growing skepticism that the cartel would be able to reduce production. After rising over 15 percent over the four sessions since the Nov. 30 OPEC meeting, Brent futures were down $1.25, or 2.3 percent, to $53.69 a barrel at 10:13 a.m. EST (1513 GMT). U.S. crude fell $1.36, or 2.6 percent, to $50.43 a barrel. The Brent front-month has outperformed the U.S. contract since the OPEC meeting, with its premium over WTI reaching $2.29 a barrel earlier on Tuesday, its highest since August. Analysts said the boon from last week’s Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries decision has faded as they now look to factors that may undermine the cartel’s promise such as record production, Russia’s plans and the reaction of U.S. shale producers”.

UK presence in Asia in 2020

12/12/2016

British fighter planes visiting Japan will fly over the South China Sea and Britain will sail aircraft carriers in the Pacific once they are operational in 2020, given concerns about freedom of navigation there, Britain’s ambassador to the United States said on Thursday. The envoy, Kim Darroch, told a Washington think tank that British Typhoon aircraft currently deployed on a visit to Japan would fly across disputed parts of the South China Sea to assert international overflight rights, but gave no time frame. Speaking at an event also attended by Japan’s ambassador to Washington, Darroch said that most future British defense capacity would have to be directed toward the Middle East”.

Vajiralongkorn becomes king

12/12/2016

Thai Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, 64, has become the country’s new king, succeeding his much-revered late father King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He accepted the throne in a televised broadcast following an invitation from parliament, formalising his accession. King Bhumibol, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, died on 13 October. The late king was widely seen as a pillar of stability during seven decades of political turmoil in Thailand. The crown prince had been expected to become the next king the day after his father’s death, but Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha at the time said that he had asked to delay the official proclamation so he could mourn.

Brennan warns Trump on Iran deal

10/12/2016

The director of the CIA has warned US President-elect Donald Trump that ending the Iran nuclear deal would be “disastrous” and “the height of folly”. In a BBC interview, John Brennan also advised the new president to be wary of Russia’s promises, blaming Moscow for much of the suffering in Syria. In his campaign, Mr Trump threatened to scrap the Iran deal and also hinted at working more closely with Russia. Mr Brennan will step down in January after four years leading the CIA. In the first interview by a CIA director with the British media, John Brennan outlined a number of areas where he said the new administration needed to act with “prudence and discipline” – these included the language used regarding terrorism, relations with Russia, the Iran nuclear deal and the way in which the CIA’s own covert capabilities were employed”.

“Prioritizes higher personnel and readiness levels over procurement”

10/12/2016

The Senate and House armed services committees have agreed upon a compromise National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2017 that prioritizes higher personnel and readiness levels over procurement of ships and aircraft. Senior armed services committee aides told reporters this afternoon that their compromise bill includes $3.2 billion in Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) spending aimed at adding 16,000 soldiers, 4,000 airmen and 3,000 Marines to the force. That money covers not only the military personnel costs associated with the higher force but also increased operations and maintenance costs. “One of the things that we were really focused on was getting after the readiness issues,” an aide said. “All that money went to readiness issues, particularly in the area of end strength,” with an eye specifically towards “operations and support for Air Force and Marine Corps aviation readiness shortfalls.” Marine and Navy aviation leaders have said that barriers to rebuilding readiness go beyond just funding for personnel and flight hours and also include a lack of spare parts to keep planes ready, a backlog of planes at depot maintenance facilities and other logistics and maintenance-related issues. The armed services committee aides said money was reallocated within the base budget, keeping within the Bipartisan Budget Agreement spending caps, to increase funding for aviation spares and maintenance to further help boost aviation readiness.

Iranian bases in Syria and Yemen

08/12/2016

Iran’s chief of staff of the armed forces said Saturday that Tehran may be interested in setting up naval bases in both Syria and Yemen, the semi-official Tasnim reported.  “Maybe, at some point we will need bases on the shores of Yemen and Syria,” the report by Tasnim quoted Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri as saying. “Having naval bases in remote distances is not less than nuclear power,” he said. “It is ten times more important and creates deterrence.” Gen. Bagheri added that setting up naval platforms off the shores of those countries requires “infrastructures there first.” He said Iran is also able to set up permanent platforms for military purposes in the Persian Gulf and roving ones in other places.

Trump backs Abadi?

08/12/2016

The prime minister said he expects the incoming Trump administration to grant Iraq a greater degree of logistical support in its war on terror, and dismissed suggestions by Donald Trump in the election campaign that he would seize some of Iraq’s oil production as a kind of “reimbursement” for U.S. efforts in Iraq. Trump said in September that he would “take the oil” from Iraq, claiming that the Iranians would step in otherwise. “I am not going to judge the man by his election statements,” al-Abadi said with a smile. “I am going to judge him by what he does later.” He called Trump, who he spoke with by phone soon after his election victory, a “pragmatic man” who would reassess the situation once in office. But Iraqi oil, he said, belongs to Iraqis. “The Iraqi people will not allow any country to take possession of their own resources,” he said in the interview held at one of Saddam Hussein’s palaces inside the heavily-fortified Green Zone in the Iraqi capital.

Expanded powers for JSOC

06/12/2016

The Obama administration is giving the elite Joint Special Operations Command — the organization that helped kill Osama bin Laden in a 2011 raid by Navy SEALs — expanded power to track, plan and potentially launch attacks on terrorist cells around the globe, a move driven by concerns of a dispersed terrorist threat as Islamic State militants are driven from strongholds in Iraq and Syria, U.S. officials said. The missions could occur well beyond the battlefields of places like Iraq, Syria and Libya where Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) has carried out clandestine operations in the past. When finalized, it will elevate JSOC from being a highly-valued strike tool used by regional military commands to leading a new multiagency intelligence and action force. Known as the “Counter-External Operations Task Force,” the group will be designed to take JSOC’s targeting model — honed over the last 15 years of conflict — and export it globally to go after terrorist networks plotting attacks against the West. The creation of a new JSOC entity this late in the Obama’s tenure is the “codification” of best practices in targeting terrorists outside of conventional conflict zones, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss administration deliberations. It is unclear, however, if the administration of President-elect Donald Trump will keep this and other structures set up by Obama. They include guidelines for counterterrorism operations such as approval by several agencies before a drone strike and “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed. This series of presidential orders is known as the “playbook.”

Obamacare critic at HHS

04/12/2016

Trump named a vociferous critic of Obamacare and a policy consultant on Tuesday to help him overhaul the healthcare system that Republicans have targeted since Democrats enacted sweeping reforms in 2010. Republican Representative Tom Price, an orthopedic surgeon from Georgia, will be Trump’s Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary, and consultant Seema Verma will lead the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a powerful agency that oversees government health programs and insurance standards. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, arriving at Trump Tower in New York, promised a “busy day” as the team continues filling key positions. The president-elect planned to announce his pick for transportation secretary, Trump spokesman Jason Miller told Fox News. Trump, a Republican, cast Price and Verma as a “dream team” to help him once he takes office on Jan. 20 with his campaign pledge to repeal Obamacare, Democratic President Barack Obama’s signature health law formally known as the Affordable Care Act. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer denounced the choice of Price, calling him “far out of the mainstream” in his stance on government efforts such as Obamacare and Medicare, the insurance program for the elderly and disabled, and on Planned Parenthood, a women’s health organization. “Nominating Congressman Price to be the HHS secretary is akin to asking the fox to guard the hen house,” Schumer said.

“No immediate shift in Pakistan’s military policy under the new army chief”

04/12/2016

There will be no immediate shift in Pakistan’s military policy under the new army chief, the country’s defense minister said, after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif appointed a new military leader on Saturday. Lieutenant General Qamar Javed Bajwa will replace retiring army chief Raheel Sharif when his three-year term ends on Tuesday, a rare example of a smooth transition in a nation where army chiefs have a history of clinging to power. General Sharif, who is not related to the prime minister, has proved popular with ordinary Pakistanis but during his tenure relations between the army and the civilian government have often been tense. Relations abroad have also frayed, with the United States and Afghanistan complaining of a lack of action by Islamabad against Afghan Taliban militants based on Pakistani soil, while a stand-off with old foe India over Kashmir has soured relations. Bajwa was one of several high-ranking candidates put forward for the job by the army but little is publicly known about him or his ideological stance on key issues, including relations with India or how to tackle home-grown Islamist militants.

South Korean agrees intelligence-sharing with Japan

02/12/2016

The South Korean government has approved an intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan, moving the pact a step closer to fruition as North Korea continues to make progress in its nuclear weapons and missile programs, a report said Tuesday. The approval of the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA) was announced at a Cabinet meeting presided by Yoo Il-ho, deputy prime minister for economic affairs, the Yonhap news agency reported. The South Korean defense chief and Japanese ambassador were to officially sign the deal Wednesday at 10 a.m. in Seoul. The agreement would enter into effect immediately since it does not require parliamentary ratification. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference in Tokyo on Tuesday that Japan was working to arrange the signing date, but did not offer further comment. The U.S., Japan and South Korea signed a trilateral information-sharing agreement in 2014, but a Japan-South Korea deal would remove the United States as an intermediary and streamline the exchange of North Korea-related intelligence between Tokyo and Seoul”.

Republicans, resisting Trump?

02/12/2016

It is no surprise that Democrats in the U.S. Congress will oppose Donald Trump but the most important resistance to fulfilling the president-elect’s agenda is beginning to emerge from Republicans on Capitol Hill. A small number of influential Republicans in the Senate are threatening to block appointments to Trump’s administration, derail his thaw with Russia and prevent the planned wall on the border with Mexico. The party held onto control of the Senate at the Nov. 8 election but by only a thin margin, putting powerful swing votes in just a few hands. That empowers Republican Senate mavericks such as Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. Both were bitter rivals to Trump in the 2016 Republican presidential primary. Paul, a libertarian lone wolf, says he will block Senate confirmations if Trump nominates either former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani or former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton to be secretary of state. South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham has started publicly outlining places he might be willing to oppose Trump. He is against the Mexican border wall and is delivering warnings against Trump’s intention to revoke legal status for undocumented immigrants brought here as children – although that would not require congressional approval. Graham, a traditional Republican foreign policy hawk, strongly disagrees with Trump’s attempt to improve ties with Russia.

“Clinton has surpassed Donald Trump in the popular vote”

01/12/2016

Ballot counting continues and new figures released by The Associated Press on Wednesday show Hillary Clinton has surpassed Donald Trump in the popular vote by more than 2.3 million. The numbers reported Wednesday place Clinton at 64,874,143 to Trump’s 62,516,883, for a total difference of 2,357,260. In percentages, Clinton has won 48.1 percent of the popular vote, and Trump has 46.4 percent of the vote. In the Electoral College, however, Trump has 306 votes, while Clinton has 232.

Trump, asking for business favours?

29/11/2016

A spokesman for Argentina’s president has denied that Donald Trump asked for a business favour when Mauricio Macri called the US president-elect to congratulate him on his victory. Local media reports have alleged that Trump asked Macri for help over a stalled construction permit for a 35-storey project called Trump Office in downtown Buenos Aires. A source told the Guardian that the information came from Macri’s staff. “Trump asked him to authorize a building he’s constructing in Buenos Aires – it wasn’t just geopolitical chat,” said journalist Jorge Lanata on his Sunday night news programme, Periodismo Para Todos. According the programme, the Buenos Aires building project became bogged down in bureaucratic red tape earlier this year, and was raised by Trump during the telephone call last Monday. “Macri told Trump that Argentina is welcoming foreign investment now, and Trump replied that he has a $150m investment in Argentina stalled because of a building permit in Buenos Aires,” journalist Romina Manguel, who described the alleged conversation on the programme, told the Guardian”.

Trump’s U-turn on climate change

29/11/2016

Trump said on Tuesday he was keeping an open mind on whether to pull out of a landmark international accord to fight climate change, in a softening of his stance toward global warming. Trump told the New York Times in an interview that he thinks there is “some connectivity” between human activity and global warming, despite previously describing climate change as a hoax. A source on Trump’s transition team told Reuters earlier this month that the New York businessman was seeking quick ways to withdraw the United States from the 2015 Paris Agreement to combat climate change. But asked on Tuesday whether the United States would withdraw from the accord, the Republican said: “I’m looking at it very closely. I have an open mind to it.” A U.S. withdrawal from the pact, agreed to by almost 200 countries, would set back international efforts to limit rising temperatures that have been linked to the extinctions of animals and plants, heat waves, floods and rising sea levels. Trump, who takes office on Jan. 20, also said he was thinking about climate change and American competitiveness and “how much it will cost our companies,” he said, according to a tweet by a Times reporter in the interview. Two people advising Trump’s transition team on energy and environment issues said they were caught off guard by his remarks. A shift on global warming is the latest sign Trump might be backing away from some of his campaign rhetoric as life in the Oval Office approaches.

Trump backs off prosecuting Clinton

29/11/2016

Some of Donald Trump’s strongest conservative supporters are voicing anger and disappointment at the president-elect’s comments on Tuesday that he might back off his campaign pledge of pursuing a prosecution of former rival Hillary Clinton. Trump, in an interview with the New York Times, took a more compassionate tone toward the Democratic presidential nominee than during his campaign, when he talked about a possible criminal investigation of the opponent he dubbed “Crooked Hillary” if he won the White House. Chants of “Lock her up” echoed throughout his campaign rallies, with Trump supporters angrily alleging corruption related to her use of a private email server while secretary of state and to foreign contributions received by the Clinton Foundation charity. “She went through a lot and suffered greatly in many different ways, and I am not looking to hurt them at all. The campaign was vicious,” Trump told the Times, adding that launching an investigation was “not something I feel very strongly about.” Conservatives who had reveled in the possibility of a Clinton prosecution were not pleased. Breitbart News, the outlet once led by Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, published a story on Tuesday under the headline, “Broken Promise: Trump ‘Doesn’t Wish to Pursue’ Clinton email charges.”

Russian missiles in Kaliningrad

27/11/2016

Moscow will deploy S-400 surface-to-air missiles and nuclear-capable Iskander systems in the exclave of Kaliningrad in retaliation for NATO deployments, a senior pro-Kremlin lawmaker was quoted as saying on Monday. Russia has previously said it periodically sends Iskanders to Kaliningrad, but until now it has said these were routine drills. Moscow has not linked the moves explicitly with what it says is a NATO military build-up on Russia’s western borders. After the election as U.S. president of Donald Trump, who has said he wants closer ties with the Kremlin and has questioned the cost of protecting NATO allies, some analysts predict an emboldened Moscow could become more assertive in eastern Europe”.

Obama speaks to Putin

27/11/2016

President Barack Obama and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin spoke for about four minutes on Sunday at the APEC summit about Syria and Ukraine, a White House official said. “The president urged President Putin to uphold Russia’s commitments under the Minsk agreements, underscoring the U.S. and our partners’ commitment to Ukraine’s sovereignty,” the official said. The summit is taking place in Peru’s capital, Lima. Obama also emphasized the need for their two countries’ foreign ministers “to continue pursuing initiatives, together with the broader international community, to diminish the violence and alleviate the suffering of the Syrian people,” the official said.

US peace with North Korea?

25/11/2016

If a U.S. administration of Donald Trump withdraws troops and equipment from South Korea and secures a peace treaty ending war on the peninsula, it could lead to normalizing relations with North Korea, a Pyongyang envoy told Reuters on Thursday. But for now North Korea will pursue its policy of “simultaneous development” of both its nuclear program and the economy, So Se Pyong, North Korea’s Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva said. “It will be continued.” So spoke in an interview at the diplomatic mission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) in Geneva, as North Korean officials began “unofficial and informal discussions” with U.S. academics and former U.S. officials in the Swiss city. “The (DPRK) delegation is here now. But as you know, it is a ‘Track 2’,” he said, referring to the latest informal meeting in a series this year. The two countries have had no official dialogue since Kim Jong Un assumed power in 2011. Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s negotiator for the stalled talks on its nuclear program, leads the four-person team, he said.

Europe’s own nuclear deterrent?

25/11/2016

Europe needs to think about developing its own nuclear deterrent strategy given concerns that U.S. President-elect Donald Trump could scale back U.S. military commitments in Europe, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives said. Roderich Kiesewetter, foreign policy spokesman for the conservative bloc in parliament, told Reuters that Germany could play an important role in convincing nuclear powers France and Britain to provide security guarantees for all of Europe. “The U.S. nuclear shield and nuclear security guarantees are imperative for Europe,” he said in an interview. “If the United States no longer wants to provide this guarantee, Europe still needs nuclear protection for deterrent purposes.” Kiesewetter’s comments reflect grave and growing concerns across Europe about what Trump’s election will mean for the United States’ commitment to NATO and to providing a strategic nuclear deterrent against a potential attack by Russia. In his campaign speeches, Trump repeatedly called for Europe to do more for its own defence and said Washington might not defend a NATO member that had not shouldered its fair financial share of the costs of the alliance”.

“Increase its military research budget for the first time since 2010”

23/11/2016

The European Union agreed on Tuesday to increase its military research budget for the first time since 2010 after Britain softened its opposition, a breakthrough that may signal British support for defense co-operation even once outside the bloc. A day after agreeing a new defense plan aimed at making Europe less reliant on U.S. help, EU governments increased the 2017 funding of the European Defence Agency, which helps countries develop aircraft and other assets, by 1.6 percent, in line with inflation and taking the modest budget to 31 million euros ($33 million). While well below the 6.5 percent rise the agency wanted, it was the first time in six years that Britain has not blocked an increase at the agency whose budget has shrunk 15 percent in real terms, EU officials said.

Mattis at DoD?

23/11/2016

In a sign that Donald Trump was zeroing in on his choice for defense secretary Saturday, a senior transition team official told Fox News the retired Marine Gen. James Mattis was a “very strong candidate” for a Cabinet post. The retired general was one of several people who met with Trump in New Jersey during the day on Saturday. Trump wouldn’t say whether he was offering Mattis a job, saying “we’ll see.” But as they posed for cameras before sitting down for their meeting, Trump pointed to Mattis and called him “a great man.” Earlier, an official with the transition team confirmed the retired general was under consideration to lead the Pentagon. Mattis succeeded David Petraeus as commander of U.S. Central Command, which oversees all military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has field commander experience in Afghanistan and both U.S. wars in Iraq, and retired in 2013.

US and Philippines start joint exercises

21/11/2016

U.S. and Philippine special forces will begin annual combat exercises on Wednesday in a sign such joint drills are continuing despite vocal opposition by the Philippine president. The U.S. military says that so far there’s been no reduction in cooperation with the Philippines, a longstanding U.S. ally, despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s threats to do so and his expressed desire to expand security ties with China and Russia. But in a sign of a possible restriction, Philippine army spokesman Col. Benjamin Hao said Tuesday both the U.S. and the Philippines have agreed to forego live-fire drills in the field during the month-long Balance Piston exercises which will take place in the western province of Palawan. He said about 40 elite Filipino troops are taking part but wouldn’t say how many Americans. He didn’t give a reason for dropping the live-fire maneuvers. The Philippine defense department has said Duterte wants such overt assault drills to be discontinued. In Washington, Adm. Harry Harris, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, said Tuesday that there’s been no change so far in U.S.-Philippine military cooperation”.

Obama’s reassurance mission

19/11/2016

The last time President Barack Obama took questions from reporters abroad, he dismissed Donald Trump as an “unqualified” peddler of “wacky ideas,” expressing confidence during his September swing through Asia that voters would ultimately reject the candidate who ran so vocally against his own agenda. Now, as he embarks upon his final scheduled overseas trip as President, Obama faces an altogether different scenario: Trump is his successor, and instead of a cheering farewell tour, he’s embarking upon a reassurance mission for deeply shaken foreign allies. At stops in Greece, Germany and Peru, Obama will be left explaining the US election results to foreign counterparts whose anxieties about Trump he’s been fueling for more than a year by denouncing Trump from podiums across the globe. Obama must now convince foreign governments and populations that the future isn’t as bleak as he once predicted.

Rand Paul, early opposition to Trump

19/11/2016

Rand Paul, a newly reelected member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said this morning that he is inclined to oppose former U.N. ambassador John Bolton or former New York City mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani if either is nominated for secretary of state. “It’s important that someone who was an unrepentant advocate for the Iraq War, who didn’t learn the lessons of the Iraq War, shouldn’t be the secretary of state for a president who says Iraq was a big lesson,” Paul said in an interview Tuesday morning. “Trump said that a thousand times. It would be a huge mistake for him to give over his foreign policy to someone who [supported the war]. I mean, you could not find more unrepentant advocates of regime change.” Paul argued that Giuliani and Bolton, the people whose names have circulated most widely, “have made it clear that they favor bombing Iran.” Choosing either for a key administration job, he said, would go back on the “America First” foreign policy that helped Trump win the Republican primaries, to the surprise of the Republican Party foreign-policy establishment”.

Trump vs Pence?

19/11/2016

In short, it’s clear that, pre-election, Trump and Pence differed dramatically on major planks of Trump’s foreign policy platform—and that these differences seem to boil down to fundamentally different conceptions of America’s rightful role in the world. But whether the disagreement comes to anything now will turn on whether Trump’s stated positions were, in fact, bluster borrowed for purposes of cultivating an authoritative, know-something posture during the campaign, or if they represent genuine convictions on which he means to run his presidency. If they turn out to be the former, we will need to pivot from a literal or philosophical interpretation of Trump’s campaign promises to a close examination of Pence’s.

“Trump appeared to be increasingly uncomfortable with outsiders”

17/11/2016

As he had during the campaign, Trump appeared to be increasingly uncomfortable with outsiders and suspicious of those considered part of what one insider called the “bicoastal elite,” who are perceived as trying to “insinuate” themselves into positions of power. Those in the inner circle reportedly were winnowed to loyalists who had stuck with Trump throughout the campaign and helped devise his winning strategy. They include Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), former Breitbart News head Stephen K. Bannon, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn and members of Trump’s family, including son-in-law Jared Kushner. “This is a very insular, pretty closely held circle of people,” said Philip D. Zelikow, a former director of the Miller Center of Public Affairs at the University of Virginia and a senior figure in the George W. Bush transition. “Confusion is the norm” for transitions, he said, “but there are some unusual features here, because they’re trying to make some statements.” “They feel like their election was a lot of the American people wanting to throw a brick through a window,” Zelikow said. “They want to make appointments that make it sound like glass is being broken.” Increasingly, among the shards are more mainline Republicans in the national security field. In an angry Twitter post Tuesday, Eliot Cohen, a leading voice of opposition to Trump during the campaign who had advised those interested in administration jobs to take them, abruptly changed his mind, saying the transition “will be ugly.”

“China’s first aircraft carrier is now ready to engage in combat”

17/11/2016

China’s first aircraft carrier is now ready to engage in combat, marking a milestone for a navy that has invested heavily in its ability to project power far from China’s shores. The Liaoning’s political commissar said in an interview with Tuesday’s Global Times newspaper that his ship is “constantly prepared to fight against enemies,” signaling a change from its past status as a platform for testing and training. Senior Captain Li Dongyou’s comments appear to indicate that the ship has taken on its full aviation complement. Purchased as an incomplete hull from Ukraine more than a decade ago, it was commissioned in 2013.

Priebus and Bannon, establishment and racist

15/11/2016

President-elect Donald Trump announced Sunday that Reince Priebus will serve as his chief of staff, while Stephen Bannon will serve as chief strategist and senior counselor.  Priebus is currently the chairman of the Republican National Committee (RNC), while Bannon was the chief executive officer of Trump’s campaign. Bannon previously served as the chairman of Breitbart News, an “alt-right” news site that supported Trump’s bid. “Steve and Reince are highly qualified leaders who worked well together on our campaign and led us to a historic victory. Now I will have them both with me in the White House as we work to make America great again,” Trump said in a statement. Both names had been floated as potential White House staff members in the days since the election. Bannon said he looked forward to continue working with Priebus after the election victory.

Russian’s hack US think tanks

15/11/2016

A Russian hacking group began attacking U.S.-based policy think tanks within hours of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory, according to cyber experts who suspect Moscow is seeking information on the incoming administration. Three cyber security firms told Reuters that are tracking a spear-phishing campaign by a Russian-government linked group known as Cozy Bear, which is widely suspected of hacking the Democratic Party ahead of the election. “Probably now they are trying to rush to gain access to certain targets where they can get a better understanding on what is going on in Washington after the election and during the transition period,” said Jaime Blasco, chief scientist with cyber security firm AlienVault. Targets included the Council for Foreign Relations, said Adam Segal, a security expert with the think tank. His colleagues include former U.S. Senator John D. Rockefeller IV and former Reagan administration State Department official Elliott Abrams. Representatives with the Russian Embassy in Washington could not be reached for comment. Moscow has strongly denied that it was behind the hacks.

“A palpable sense of dread settled on the intelligence community”

13/11/2016

The election results were only hours old Wednesday when a sober team of intelligence analysts carrying black satchels and secure communications gear began preparing to give President-elect Donald Trump his first unfiltered look at the nation’s secrets. The initial presentation — to be delivered as early as Thursday — is likely to be a read-through of the President’s Daily Brief, the same highly classified summary of security developments delivered every day to President Obama. After that, U.S. intelligence officials are expected to schedule a series of meetings to apprise Trump of covert CIA operations against terrorist groups, the intercepted communications of world leaders, and satellite photos of nuclear installations in North Korea. The sessions are designed to bring a new president up to speed on what the nation’s spy agencies know and do. But with Trump, the meetings are likely to be tense encounters between wary intelligence professionals and a newly minted president-elect who has demonstrated abundant disdain for their work. A palpable sense of dread settled on the intelligence community Wednesday as Hillary Clinton, the candidate many expected to win, conceded the race to a GOP upstart who has dismissed U.S. spy agencies’ views on Russia and Syria, and even threatened to order the CIA to resume the use of interrogation methods condemned as torture”.

Trump, bankers and populism

11/11/2016

“According to CNBC, Trump is considering JPMorgan Chase chief Jamie Dimon as treasury secretary. Dimon is the leader of the largest of the Big Four banks in the United States, so he’s hardly unfamiliar with how business is done on Wall Street. Multiple reports also show that Trump is considering Steven Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs official, for the same post. Mnuchin served as the businessman’s campaign finance chief during the 2016 campaign. It appears as if Mnuchin is more likely to take the job, given his prior relationship with Trump. Dimon has said repeatedly that he has no interest in the job. The banker also bashed Trump’s policies in his 2016 letter to JPMorgan Chase shareholders”.