Archives for May 2017

Clinton believes Russia’s influence campaign was ‘guided by Americans’

Alexis Madrigal writes: [Hillary Clinton] described a deal that Cambridge Analytica cut with the Trump campaign that put Steve Bannon, who had been running Breitbart, into the center of Trump’s world.

“They marry content with delivery and data. And it was a potent combination,” Clinton said. “The question is where and how did the Russians get into this.”

Then, like a prosecutor walking through her argument, she talked about the 17-agency report from the intelligence community about Russian interference into the presidential election.

“[The report] concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign to influence voters in the election,” Clinton said. “They did it through paid advertising, we think. They did it through false news sites. They did it through these 1,000 agents. They did it through machine learning, which kept spewing out this stuff over and over again, the algorithms they developed.”

Then she asked, not-quite-rhetorically, “Who were they coordinating with or colluding with?”

Unlike previous Russian cyberattacks inside the U.S., “This was different. They went public,” she said. “The Russians, in my opinion—and based on the intel and counterintel people I’ve talked to—they could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided.”

“Guided by Americans?” Mossberg asked.

“Guided by Americans,” Clinton answered. “And guided by people who had polling data and information.”

After a brief tour of James Comey’s behavior during the election, Kara Swisher asked Clinton who she thought was guiding the Russians. “I hope that we’ll get enough information to be able to answer that question,” Clinton responded at first.

Swisher prompted, “But you’re leaning Trump.”

“I am leaning Trump,” Clinton said.

“We’re going to, I hope, connect up a lot of the dots,” she said. “And it’s really important because when Comey did testify before being fired this last couple of weeks, he was asked, ‘Are the Russians still involved?’ And he goes, ‘Yes. They are.’ Why wouldn’t they be? It worked for them. It is important for Americans particularly people in tech and business to understand, Putin wants to bring us down and he is an old KGB agent.” [Continue reading…]

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Comey to testify publicly about Trump confrontations

CNN reports: Fired FBI director James Comey plans to testify publicly in the Senate as early as next week to confirm bombshell accusations that President Donald Trump pressured him to end his investigation into a top Trump aide’s ties to Russia, a source close to the issue said Wednesday.

Final details are still being worked out and no official date for his testimony has been set. Comey is expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is investigating possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia during last year’s presidential election.

Comey has spoken privately with Special Counsel Robert Mueller III to work out the parameters for his testimony to ensure there are no legal entanglements as a result of his public account, a source said. Comey will likely sit down with Mueller, a longtime colleague at the Justice Department, for a formal interview only after his public testimony. [Continue reading…]

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If Trump wants to fight Iran, he’ll soon get the chance in Syria

Bloomberg reports: Islamic State’s self-declared caliphate in eastern Syria is surrounded by some of the world’s strongest military powers. Their forces are advancing on several fronts. The battlefield odds aren’t even close.

That’s why the commanders of those armies — in Washington, Moscow and Tehran, as well as Damascus and Ankara — are looking beyond the coming showdown with the jihadists. When they’re killed or driven out, who’ll take over? It’s an especially sharp dilemma for President Donald Trump. Because for the second time this century, the U.S. risks defeating one Middle Eastern enemy only to see another one, Iran, emerge as the big winner.

The U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 toppled Iran’s bitter rival Saddam Hussein and replaced him with a sympathetic Shiite-led government. In Syria today, Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad has survived six years of civil war during which U.S. leaders repeatedly insisted that he had to go. His army, fighting alongside militias loyal to Tehran, is driving into Islamic State-held territory, setting up a race with U.S.-backed forces to liberate it. Even the areas where the Americans arrive first may eventually revert to Assad’s control.

That might not have been a problem for Trump the candidate. Before the election, he vowed to smash Islamic State without getting sucked into a wider war, and said he’d work with Russia, Assad’s other key backer. It could be a problem for the President Trump who told America’s regional allies last week that he’ll help roll back Iranian power — a promise that, in Syria at least, won’t be easy to keep. [Continue reading…]

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Exxon and Conoco reiterate support for Paris climate deal

Bloomberg reports: President Donald Trump faces some unlikely opposition to the idea of pulling the U.S. out of the 2015 Paris climate accord: Exxon Mobil Corp. and ConocoPhillips, two of the world’s biggest oil producers.

Both companies reiterated their support Wednesday for the global agreement to cut greenhouse gas pollution amid reports that Trump planned to ditch a pact he says hurts the U.S. economy. Their argument: The U.S. is better off with a seat at the table so it can influence global efforts to curb emissions that are largely produced by the fossil fuels they profit from.

Exxon Chief Executive Officer Darren Woods took it a step further during the company’s annual investor meeting in Dallas, saying that oil demand will continue to grow in the coming decades, even with the Paris agreement in place.

“Energy needs are a function of population and living standards,” Woods said in his first annual meeting since becoming chief executive officer on Jan. 1. “When it comes to policy, the goal should be to reduce emissions at the lowest cost to society.”

Woods has been a staunch advocate for keeping the U.S. in the Paris group, as was his predecessor Rex Tillerson, who is now Trump’s secretary of state. In his first blog post after becoming CEO, Woods advocated low-emission fuels, carbon capture and biofuels as tools for meeting the goals of the Paris agreement. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. coal companies opposed withdrawal from Paris accord

Reuters reports: U.S. coal company shares dipped alongside renewable energy stocks on Wednesday after reports that President Donald Trump plans to pull the United States from a global accord on fighting climate change.

The market reaction reflects concerns, raised by some coal companies in recent months, that a U.S. exit from the Paris Climate Agreement could unleash a global backlash against coal interests outside the United States.

Peabody Energy, the largest publicly traded U.S. coal company dropped 2.2 percent to $24.29 a share, while Arch Coal fell 0.4 percent to $70.77.

A spokesman for Peabody said the company would support a decision by Trump to withdraw from the Paris deal because the “accord is flawed on a number of levels.”

Peabody, however, was among a handful of big coal companies that had argued that Trump should stay in the deal to help protect coal industry interests overseas, including by ensuring funding for coal-fired power plants and so-called “clean coal” technology.

Cloud Peak Energy Inc had also urged the Trump administration to stay in the Paris deal to prevent other nations from an aggressive turn against the global coal industry. Its shares were down 0.6 percent to $3.39. [Continue reading…]

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Trump expected to pull U.S. from Paris climate accord

The New York Times reports: The exit of the United States, the world’s largest economy and second-largest greenhouse gas polluter would not dissolve the 195-nation pact, which was legally ratified last year, but it could set off a cascade of events that would have profound effects on the planet. Other countries that reluctantly joined the agreement could now withdraw or soften their commitments to cutting planet-warming pollution.

“The actions of the United States are bound to have a ripple effect in other emerging economies that are just getting serious about climate change, such as India, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences and international affairs at Princeton, and a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that produces scientific reports designed to inform global policy makers.

Once the fallout settles, he added, “it is now far more likely that we will breach the danger limit of 3.6 degrees.” That is the average atmospheric temperature increase above which a future of extreme conditions is considered irrevocable.

The aim of the Paris agreement was to lower planet-warming emissions enough to avoid that threshold.

“We will see more extreme heat, damaging storms, coastal flooding and risks to food security,” Professor Oppenheimer said. “And that’s not the kind of world we want to live in.”

Foreign policy experts said the move could damage the United States’ credibility and weaken Mr. Trump’s efforts to negotiate issues far beyond climate change, like negotiating trade deals and combating terrorism.

“From a foreign policy perspective, it’s a colossal mistake — an abdication of American leadership ” said R. Nicholas Burns, a retired career diplomat and the under secretary of state during the presidency of George W. Bush.

“The success of our foreign policy — in trade, military, any other kind of negotiation — depends on our credibility. I can’t think of anything more destructive to our credibility than this,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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Egypt: The new dictatorship

Joshua Hammer writes: On July 3, 2013, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, chief of staff of the Egyptian Armed Forces, appeared on national television. Clad in a military uniform and black beret, he announced that he was acting on “a call for help by the Egyptian people” and seizing power from the Muslim Brotherhood. Since winning parliamentary elections in 2011 and the presidential election the following year, the Brotherhood—a grassroots movement founded in Egypt in the 1920s—had stacked the government with Islamists, failed to deliver on promises to improve the country’s deteriorating infrastructure, and attempted to rewrite Egypt’s constitution to reflect traditional religious values. These moves had provoked large demonstrations and violent clashes between supporters and secular opponents.

Sisi declared the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and jailed its leadership—including the president he had deposed, Mohamed Morsi. Six weeks later, on August 13, he ordered the police to clear Brotherhood supporters from protest camps at two squares in Cairo: al-Nahda and Rabaa al-Adawiya. According to official health ministry statistics, 595 civilians and forty-three police officers were killed in exceptionally violent confrontations with the protesters, but the Brotherhood claims that the number of victims was much higher.

That fall, Sisi launched a sweeping crackdown on civil society. Citing the need to restore security and stability, the regime banned protests, passed antiterrorism laws that mandated long prison terms for acts of civil disobedience, gave prosecutors broad powers to extend pretrial detention periods, purged liberal and pro-Islamist judges, and froze the bank accounts of NGOs and law firms that defend democracy activists. Human rights groups in Egypt estimate that between 40,000 and 60,000 political prisoners, including both Muslim Brotherhood members and secular pro-democracy activists, now languish in the country’s jails. Twenty prisons have been built since Sisi took power. [Continue reading…]

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Thinking the unthinkable with North Korea

Graham Allison writes: The United States intelligence community believes that American military strikes against North Korea would almost certainly trigger retaliation that would kill up to a million citizens in Seoul. The South Korean government would respond with a full-scale attack on the North. The United States is committed to support South Korea. But would Mr. Xi ever allow the Korean Peninsula to be reunified by a government allied with the United States?

And history is working against us. A Harvard study I led found 16 cases over the past 500 years when a rising power threatened to displace a ruling power. In 12 of them, the outcome was war. Today, as an unstoppable rising China rivals an immovable reigning United States, this dynamic — which I call Thucydides’s Trap — amplifies risks.

What we see unfolding now is a Cuban Missile Crisis in slow motion. In the most dangerous moment in recorded history, to prevent the Soviet Union from placing nuclear-tipped missiles in Cuba, John F. Kennedy was prepared to take what he confessed was a one-in-three chance of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. What risk will Mr. Trump run to prevent North Korea acquiring the ability to strike the United States?

As Kennedy approached the final hour in which he would have to attack, risking nuclear war, or acquiesce to a Soviet nuclear presence in America’s backyard, both he and Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet leader, began to examine previously unthinkable options. In the popular American narrative, Khrushchev capitulated. But we now know that both sides blinked. Kennedy agreed secretly to remove American missiles from Turkey, an option he and his advisers had earlier rejected because of its impact on NATO — and because he would look weak.

Kennedy’s central lesson from the crisis still offers wise counsel for Mr. Trump. “Above all,” Kennedy said, “while defending our own vital interests, nuclear powers must avert those confrontations which bring an adversary to a choice of either a humiliating retreat or a nuclear war.” [Continue reading…]

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What Xi Jinping wants: To make China the greatest nation in world history

Graham Allison writes: What does China’s President Xi Jinping want? Four years before Donald Trump became president, Xi became the leader of China and announced an epic vision to, in effect, “make China great again”—calling for “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

Xi is so convinced he will succeed in this quest that he has blatantly flouted a cardinal rule for political survival: Never state a target objective and a specific date in the same sentence. Within a month of becoming China’s leader in 2012, Xi specified deadlines for meeting each of his “Two Centennial Goals.” First, China will build a “moderately prosperous society” by doubling its 2010 per capita GDP to $10,000 by 2021, when it celebrates the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Second, it will become a “fully developed, rich, and powerful” nation by the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic in 2049. If China reaches the first goal— which it is on course to do—the IMF estimates that its economy will be 40 percent larger than that of the U.S. (measured in terms of purchasing power parity). If China meets the second target by 2049, its economy will be triple America’s.

What does China’s dramatic transformation mean for the United States and the global balance of power? Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, who before his death in 2015 was the world’s premier China-watcher, had a pointed answer about China’s stunning trajectory over the past 40 years: “The size of China’s displacement of the world balance is such that the world must find a new balance. It is not possible to pretend that this is just another big player. This is the biggest player in the history of the world.” [Continue reading…]

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Music: Santana — ‘Dance Sister Dance (Baila Mi Hermana)’

 

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Trump to withdraw from Paris climate deal

Politico reports: President Donald Trump is planning to pull the United States out of the Paris climate change agreement, according to a White House official, in a move that is certain to infuriate America’s allies across the globe and could destabilize the 2015 accord.

The upcoming decision is a victory for hardliners such as senior White House adviser Stephen Bannon, who argued that the deal would hobble the U.S. economy and Trump’s energy agenda, and a defeat for moderates like Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who feared that withdrawing would damage U.S. relations abroad. Trump had promised during the campaign to “cancel” the nearly 200-nation agreement, the most comprehensive climate pact ever negotiated.

Administration officials cautioned that they are still sorting out the details of how exactly Trump will withdraw, and one noted that nothing is final until an announcement is made.

But reaction from the international community was swift, without mentioning Trump by name. “Climate change is undeniable,” the United Nations tweeted from its official account Wednesday morning, quoting from a speech by Secretary General António Guterres. “Climate action is unstoppable. Climate solutions provide opportunities that are unmatchable.” [Continue reading…]

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Once again, Trump undermines U.S. national security, this time by handing out his cellphone number

The Associated Press reports: President Donald Trump has been handing out his cellphone number to world leaders and urging them to call him directly, an unusual invitation that breaks diplomatic protocol and is raising concerns about the security and secrecy of the U.S. commander in chief’s communications.

Trump has urged leaders of Canada and Mexico to reach him on his cellphone, according to former and current U.S. officials with direct knowledge of the practice. Of the two, only Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has taken advantage of the offer so far, the officials said.

Trump also exchanged numbers with French President Emmanuel Macron when the two spoke immediately following Macron’s victory earlier this month, according to a French official, who would not comment on whether Macron intended to use the line.

All the officials demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal the conversations. Neither the White House nor Trudeau’s office responded to requests for comment.

The notion of world leaders calling each other up via cellphone may seem unremarkable in the modern, mobile world. But in the diplomatic arena, where leader-to-leader calls are highly orchestrated affairs, it is another notable breach of protocol for a president who has expressed distrust of official channels. The formalities and discipline of diplomacy have been a rough fit for Trump — who, before taking office, was long easily accessible by cellphone and viewed himself as freewheeling, impulsive dealmaker.

Presidents generally place calls on one of several secure phone lines, including those in the White House Situation Room, the Oval Office or the presidential limousine. Even if Trump uses his government-issued cellphone, his calls are vulnerable to eavesdropping, particularly from foreign governments, national security experts say. [Continue reading…]

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Human rights workers investigating conditions at company producing Ivanka Trump brands arrested and missing

The Associated Press reports: A man investigating working conditions at a Chinese company that produces Ivanka Trump-brand shoes has been arrested and two others are missing, the arrested man’s wife and an advocacy group said Tuesday.

Hua Haifeng was accused of illegal surveillance, according to his wife, Deng Guilian, who said the police called her Tuesday afternoon. Deng said the caller told her she didn’t need to know the details, only that she would not be able to see, speak with or receive money from her husband, the family’s breadwinner.

China Labor Watch Executive Director Li Qiang said he lost contact with Hua Haifeng and the other two men, Li Zhao and Su Heng, over the weekend. By Tuesday, after dozens of unanswered calls, he had concluded: “They must be held either by the factory or the police to be unreachable.”

China Labor Watch, a New York-based nonprofit, was planning to publish a report next month alleging low pay, excessive overtime and the possible misuse of student interns. It is unclear whether the undercover investigative methods used by the advocacy group are legal in China. [Continue reading…]

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The vulgar realism of Rex Tillerson’s State Department

Daniel W. Drezner writes: Unfortunately, my prediction from last week has come true, and the European leg of President Trump’s first overseas trip did not go well at all:

Germany’s foreign minister launched a scathing criticism of Donald Trump on Monday, claiming the US President’s actions have “weakened” the West and accusing the US government of standing “against the interests of the European Union.”

Just 24 hours after German Chancellor Angela Merkel declared that Europe could no longer completely rely on traditional allies such as the US and Britain, the country’s top diplomat, Sigmar Gabriel, went a step further.

“Anyone who accelerates climate change by weakening environmental protection, who sells more weapons in conflict zones and who does not want to politically resolve religious conflicts is putting peace in Europe at risk,” Gabriel said.

In previous months, Trump’s rhetorical and policy screw-ups were customarily followed by his foreign policy Cabinet cleaning up the mess that was made. In this case, however, it’s been nearly 48 hours since Angela Merkel vocalized her distrust of the Trump administration, and nary a word has been heard from Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Instead, the columns explaining why this is really bad just keep proliferating. [Continue reading…]

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Russians think Trump might be a Russian asset, and they might be right

Jonathan Chait writes: Over the last several days, the Russia scandal has taken a darker turn. Friday night, the Washington Post reported that Jared Kushner tried during the presidential transition period to set up a secret communications channel with Moscow. Tuesday morning, CNN reported that, during the 2016 campaign, Russian officials discussed having leverage of a financial nature over Trump, which could be used to manipulate the Republican nominee. The exact nature of this relationship remains as yet unknown, but its parameters have shifted. The most innocent explanations of Donald Trump’s shadowy relationship with Russia have grown increasingly fanciful, while the most paranoid interpretations have grown increasingly more plausible.

Indeed, in another one of dramatic juxtapositions that would have seemed ham-handed in a spy thriller, the latest scandalous revelations came out just as Trump could be seen carrying out what looks for all the world like his end of a pact with Moscow. If the president did have an objective on his trip to Europe — a premise that, it goes without saying, cannot be assumed — it was to crack up the American alliance with Western Europe. That happens to have been Russia’s primary diplomatic objective since the end of World War II. In Brussels, Trump refused to publicly affirm the Article 5 guarantee of the NATO charter — the foundation of the anti-Russian alliance, and the basis for Europe’s defense against Russian aggression. He directed his trademark wild diatribes against Germany, accusing it repeatedly of abusive trade relations, despite the fact that the United States does not have bilateral trade relations with that country. Amazingly, he kept up the abuse on Twitter after returning Stateside, while simultaneously defending Russia over its intervention in the American election.

The White House’s account of Kushner’s back-channel talks with Russia, as Will Saletan shrewdly points out, does not square with what the administration has said in the past, or what Russia says now. [Continue reading…]

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The loneliness of Donald Trump

Rebecca Solnit writes: Once upon a time, a child was born into wealth and wanted for nothing, but he was possessed by bottomless, endless, grating, grasping wanting, and wanted more, and got it, and more after that, and always more. He was a pair of ragged orange claws upon the ocean floor, forever scuttling, pinching, reaching for more, a carrion crab, a lobster and a boiling lobster pot in one, a termite, a tyrant over his own little empires. He got a boost at the beginning from the wealth handed him and then moved among grifters and mobsters who cut him slack as long as he was useful, or maybe there’s slack in arenas where people live by personal loyalty until they betray, and not by rules, and certainly not by the law or the book. So for seven decades, he fed his appetites and exercised his license to lie, cheat, steal, and stiff working people of their wages, made messes, left them behind, grabbed more baubles, and left them in ruin.

He was supposed to be a great maker of things, but he was mostly a breaker. He acquired buildings and women and enterprises and treated them all alike, promoting and deserting them, running into bankruptcies and divorces, treading on lawsuits the way a lumberjack of old walked across the logs floating on their way to the mill, but as long as he moved in his underworld of dealmakers the rules were wobbly and the enforcement was wobblier and he could stay afloat. But his appetite was endless, and he wanted more, and he gambled to become the most powerful man in the world, and won, careless of what he wished for.

Thinking of him, I think of Pushkin’s telling of the old fairytale of The Fisherman and the Golden Fish. After being caught in the old fisherman’s net, the golden fish speaks up and offers wishes in return for being thrown back in the sea. The fisherman asks him for nothing, though later he tells his wife of his chance encounter with the magical creature. The fisherman’s wife sends him back to ask for a new washtub for her, and then a second time to ask for a cottage to replace their hovel, and the wishes are granted, and then as she grows prouder and greedier, she sends him to ask that she become a wealthy person in a mansion with servants she abuses, and then she sends her husband back. The old man comes and grovels before the fish, caught between the shame of the requests and the appetite of his wife, and she becomes tsarina and has her boyards and nobles drive the husband from her palace. You could call the husband consciousness—the awareness of others and of oneself in relation to others—and the wife craving. [Continue reading…]

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Congress expands Russia investigation to include Trump’s personal attorney

ABC News reports: One of President Donald Trump’s closest confidants, his personal lawyer Michael Cohen, has now become a focus of the expanding congressional investigation into Russian efforts to influence the 2016 campaign.

Cohen confirmed to ABC News that House and Senate investigators have asked him “to provide information and testimony” about any contacts he had with people connected to the Russian government, but he said he has turned down the invitation.

“I declined the invitation to participate, as the request was poorly phrased, overly broad and not capable of being answered,” Cohen told ABC News in an email Tuesday.

After Cohen rejected the congressional requests for cooperation, the Senate Select Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Thursday to grant its chairman, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, and ranking Democrat, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia, blanket authority to issue subpoenas as they deem necessary. [Continue reading…]

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Rouhani faces pressure to improve human rights in Iran

Reuters reports: In the week before the May 19 presidential election in Iran, the eventual victor, Hassan Rouhani, criticised the judiciary and the powerful Revolutionary Guards with rhetoric rarely heard in public in the Islamic republic.

Now, in the eyes of his supporters, it is time to deliver. Millions of Rouhani’s followers expect him to keep pushing on human rights issues.

“The majority of Iranians have made it clear that they want improvement on human rights,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the director of the Center for Human Rights in Iran (CHRI), a New York-based advocacy group. “Expectations are running high.”

That message came through loud and clear shortly before Rouhani, who won re-election with more than 57 percent of the vote, took the stage at a gathering of supporters in Tehran last week.

“Ya Hussein, Mirhossein” went the thunderous chant, a reference to Mirhossein Mousavi, a presidential candidate in the 2009 election, who, along with fellow candidate Mehdi Karroubi disputed the results, spurring widespread protests.

Dozens of protestors were killed and hundreds arrested in the crackdown that followed, according to human rights groups.

Mousavi, his wife Zahra, and Karroubi, were placed under house arrest in 2011 after calling for protests in Iran in solidarity with pro-democracy uprisings across the Middle East.

The trio’s continued detention is a divisive political issue in Iran and one that Rouhani has promised to resolve.

But if he keeps pushing, he will face a backlash from his hardline opponents which could undermine his second term, analysts say. [Continue reading…]

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