The many casualties of Trump’s Jerusalem move

Ishaan Tharoor writes: Nearly a week after President Trump’s unilateral decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, there are plenty of reasons to be confused by the move.

Despite no real pressure from the Israeli government nor unanimous clamoring in Washington for the move, Trump threw decades of long-standing U.S. policy up in the air. He embraced Jerusalem as Israel’s capital without making any nod to Palestinian claims to the eastern part of the city, prompting analysts and former diplomats to write obituaries for the two-state solution. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson then told reporters that the U.S. embassy’s relocation from Tel Aviv would probably not happen next year, raising even more questions about the timing of Trump’s statement.

And while Trump insists the move is critical to “advance the peace process and to work towards a lasting agreement,” it appears to have had exactly the opposite result.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is expected to skip a meeting with Vice President Pence, who will be journeying to the Holy Land before Christmas. Pence will also be snubbed in Cairo by the head of Egypt’s Coptic Church as a result of Trump’s decision. French President Emmanuel Macron and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have said they are jointly working to persuade the White House to reconsider.

Meanwhile, protests continued in Palestinian areas and a number of Middle Eastern and Muslim-world capitals over the weekend. At least four people have been killed following Israeli military strikes in the Gaza Strip. On Sunday, demonstrators in Beirut clashed with police outside the U.S. Embassy; at least eight people were hospitalized in the aftermath. [Continue reading…]

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Under Trump, EPA has slowed actions against polluters, and put limits on enforcement officers

The New York Times reports: The highway billboard at the entrance to town still displays a giant campaign photograph of President Trump, who handily won the election across industrial Ohio. But a revolt is brewing here in East Liverpool over Mr. Trump’s move to slow down the federal government’s policing of air and water pollution.

The City Council moved unanimously last month to send a protest letter to the Environmental Protection Agency about a hazardous waste incinerator near downtown. Since Mr. Trump took office, the E.P.A. has not moved to punish the plant’s owner, even after extensive evidence was assembled during the Obama administration that the plant had repeatedly, and illegally, released harmful pollutants into the air.

“I don’t know where we go,” Councilman William Hogue, a retired social studies teacher, said in frustration to his fellow council members. “They haven’t resolved anything.”

Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, has said the Trump administration’s high-profile regulatory rollback does not mean a free pass for violators of environmental laws. But as the Trump administration moves from one attention-grabbing headline to the next, it has taken a significant but less-noticed turn in the enforcement of federal pollution laws.

An analysis of enforcement data by The New York Times shows that the administration has adopted a more lenient approach than the previous two administrations — Democratic and Republican — toward polluters like those in East Liverpool.

The Times built a database of civil cases filed at the E.P.A. during the Trump, Obama and Bush administrations. During the first nine months under Mr. Pruitt’s leadership, the E.P.A. started about 1,900 cases, about one-third fewer than the number under President Barack Obama’s first E.P.A. director and about one-quarter fewer than under President George W. Bush’s over the same time period.

In addition, the agency sought civil penalties of about $50.4 million from polluters for cases initiated under Mr. Trump. Adjusted for inflation, that is about 39 percent of what the Obama administration sought and about 70 percent of what the Bush administration sought over the same time period. [Continue reading…]

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For Trump adviser at center of Russia probe, a rapid rise and dramatic fall in his ancestral land

The Washington Post reports: A brass band played, fighter jets streaked the clear blue sky and a red carpet adorned the airport tarmac on the day in May 2016 when Vladimir Putin came to Athens for a visit.

“Mr. President, welcome to Greece,” the Greek defense minister, Panos Kammenos, said in Russian as he smiled broadly and greeted a stone-faced Putin at the base of the stairs from the plane.

Kammenos, a pro-Russian Greek nationalist who bragged often of his insider Moscow connections, would receive a second key visitor that day, but with considerably less fanfare.

Not yet 30 years old, George Papadopoulos had been unknown in Greece — and everywhere else — only two months before.

But suddenly, just as Putin arrived, he was in Athens, quietly holding meetings across town and confiding in hushed tones that he was there on a sensitive mission on behalf of his boss, Donald Trump. [Continue reading…]

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North Korea is a nuclear state. But can the U.S. accept that?

The Washington Post reports: Every time North Korea does something provocative — which is often — Washington insists that Pyongyang must give up its nuclear weapons program.

Just last weekend, days after North Korea launched its most high-tech intercontinental ballistic missile yet, national security adviser H.R. McMaster said that President Trump “is committed to the total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Not that this line is confined to the Trump administration. The Obama and Bush administrations before it also repeatedly insisted that North Korea must denuclearize.

That might have been a realistic aim before Pyongyang could build a hydrogen bomb and missiles that can reach the United States. It’s just a matter of time before the North Koreans can put the two together — if they can’t already.

The Trump administration won’t admit it, but North Korea is now a nuclear weapons power, analysts say. Why would Kim Jong Un’s cash-strapped regime spend so much time and money on building these weapons only to give them up? And even if they were prepared to bargain them away eventually, why would they do so now, when Trump and his top aides are threatening military action?

“We’ve seen no indication in recent years that they are interested in denuclearization,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, a North Korea expert at Yale Law School who was an Asia adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. “So it’s difficult to rationalize how we are still so fixated on it.”

Vipin Narang, a nuclear nonproliferation specialist at MIT, agreed.

“It’s a fantasy that they’re going to willingly give up their nuclear programs so long as Kim is in power. He saw the fate of Saddam and Gaddafi — why would he give up his nuclear weapons?” asked Narang, referring to the former leaders of Iraq and Libya, both of whom are now deposed and dead.

Trump’s willingness to pull out of the international nuclear deal with Iran would only heighten North Korea’s mistrust of a negotiated denuclearization agreement with the United States, he said. [Continue reading…]

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This is how nuclear war with North Korea would unfold

Jeffrey Lewis writes: No one wants to fight a nuclear war. Not in North Korea, not in South Korea and not in the United States. And yet leaders in all three countries know that such a war may yet come — if not by choice then by mistake. The world survived tense moments on the Korean Peninsula in 1969, 1994 and 2010. Each time, the parties walked to the edge of danger, peered into the abyss, then stepped back. But what if one of them stumbled, slipped over the edge and, grasping for life, dragged the others down into the darkness?

This is how that might happen, based on public statements, intelligence reports and blast-zone maps.

MARCH 2019: For years, North Korea had staged provocations — and South Korea had lived with them. The two had come close to war before: In 2010, a North Korean torpedo detonated just below a South Korean navy corvette, cutting the ship in two and sending 46 sailors to their deaths. Later that year, when North Korean artillery barraged a South Korean island and killed four more people, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak reportedly ordered aircraft to deliver a counter-strike deep inside North Korea, but the U.S. military held him back.

This time was different. No one thought President Moon Jae-in, a South Korean progressive known for his attempts to engage the North, would want blood. But nobody grasped how quickly accidental violence could take on its own urgent logic. [Continue reading…]

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Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears National Monument

The Washington Post reports: A uranium company launched a concerted lobbying campaign to scale back Bears Ears National Monument, saying such action would give it easier access to the area’s uranium deposits and help it operate a nearby processing mill, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and top Utah Republicans have said repeatedly that questions of mining or drilling played no role in President Trump’s announcement Monday that he was cutting the site by more than 1.1 million acres, or 85 percent. Trump also signed a proclamation nearly halving the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is also in southern Utah and has significant coal deposits.

“This is not about energy,” Zinke told reporters Tuesday. “There is no mine within Bears Ears.”

But the nation’s sole uranium processing mill sits directly next to the boundaries that President Barack Obama designated a year ago when he established Bears Ears. The documents show that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, urged the Trump administration to limit the monument to the smallest size needed to protect key objects and areas, such as archeological sites, to make it easier to access the radioactive ore. [Continue reading…]

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Trump spends up to 8 hours a day in front of a TV, drinks a dozen Diet Cokes and is perturbed if he’s not in the news

The New York Times reports: Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House’s master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to “Fox & Friends” for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day.

Energized, infuriated — often a gumbo of both — Mr. Trump grabs his iPhone. Sometimes he tweets while propped on his pillow, according to aides. Other times he tweets from the den next door, watching another television. Less frequently, he makes his way up the hall to the ornate Treaty Room, sometimes dressed for the day, sometimes still in night clothes, where he begins his official and unofficial calls.

As he ends his first year in office, Mr. Trump is redefining what it means to be president. He sees the highest office in the land much as he did the night of his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton — as a prize he must fight to protect every waking moment, and Twitter is his Excalibur. Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress.

For other presidents, every day is a test of how to lead a country, not just a faction, balancing competing interests. For Mr. Trump, every day is an hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation. He still relitigates last year’s election, convinced that the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russia’s interference is a plot to delegitimize him. Color-coded maps highlighting the counties he won were hung on the White House walls.

Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals. People close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted, marinating in the no-holds-barred wars of cable news and eager to fire back. [Continue reading…]

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How secret talks with Russia to prevent election meddling collapsed

BuzzFeed reports: The Trump administration has rejected a sweeping Russian proposal seeking a mutual ban on foreign political interference, three senior US administration officials tell BuzzFeed News.

Russia first broached the subject in July, when one of Vladimir Putin’s top diplomats arrived in Washington with a sheet of proposals aimed at addressing a top concern of the US government: A resurgence of Russian meddling in the 2018 elections.

At the time, the midterms were 16 months away, but Washington had only just begun to understand the extent of Russia’s alleged involvement in the 2016 election, including the widespread use of troll accounts to disseminate inflammatory messages, and efforts to probe US voter registration databases in 21 states. The consensus among cybersecurity experts was that the US was ill-prepared to defend against another concerted effort by Moscow to influence US elections. [Continue reading…]

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Email pointed Trump campaign to WikiLeaks documents that were already public

The Washington Post reports: A 2016 email sent to candidate Donald Trump and top aides pointed the campaign to hacked documents from the Democratic National Committee that had already been made public by the group WikiLeaks a day earlier.

The email — sent the afternoon of Sept. 14, 2016 — noted that “Wikileaks has uploaded another (huge 678 mb) archive of files from the DNC” and included a link and a “decryption key,” according to a copy obtained by The Washington Post.

The writer, who said his name was Michael J. Erickson and described himself as the president of an aviation management company, sent the message to the then-Republican nominee as well as his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and other top advisers.

The day before, WikiLeaks had tweeted links to what the group said was 678.4 megabytes of DNC documents.

The full email — which was first described to CNN as being sent on Sept. 4, 10 days earlier — indicates that the writer may have simply been flagging information that was already widely available. CNN later corrected its story to note the email had been sent Sept. 14. [Continue reading…]

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Despite furor over Jerusalem move, Saudis seen on board with U.S. peace efforts

Reuters reports: Saudi Arabia pulled no punches when it condemned President Donald Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. But Palestinian officials say Riyadh has also been working for weeks behind the scenes to press them to support a nascent U.S. peace plan.

Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Wednesday with his announcement and instructions to begin the process of moving the embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, despite warnings that it would drive the wedge between Israel and the Palestinians deeper.

The Saudi royal court described the decision as “unjustified and irresponsible” and “a big step back in efforts to advance the peace process.”

But Arab officials privately say that Riyadh appears to be on board with a broader U.S. strategy for an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan still in its early phases of development.

Four Palestinian officials, who spoke on condition they not be named, said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas discussed in detail a grand bargain that Trump and Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and adviser, are expected to unveil in the first half of 2018.

One official said Prince Mohammed asked Abbas to show support for the U.S. administration’s peace efforts when the two met in Riyadh in November.

Another Palestinian official said Prince Mohammed told Abbas: “Be patient, you will hear good news. This peace process will go ahead.”

The U.S.-Saudi relationship has improved dramatically under Trump, partly because the leaders share a vision of confronting Riyadh’s arch-rival Iran more aggressively in the region.

Kushner, 36, whose father knew Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, has also nurtured strong personal ties with the 32-year-old crown prince as he asserts Saudi influence internationally and amasses power for himself at home. [Continue reading…]

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Some Jews in East Jerusalem view Trump as ‘a messiah’

Times of Israel reports: In recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, US President Donald Trump calculatedly avoided detailing how broadly he thinks the holy city’s Israeli borders should extend. But residents of a Jewish enclave in the municipality’s eastern half said Thursday they trust that the president kept them in mind while making his decision.

“He was being intentionally vague, and I’m totally fine with that,” said Ma’ale Hazeitim resident Mordechai Taub. “Recognizing the entire borders of the city [as Israeli] will be a process, but I’m sure it will happen at some point.”

Taub is one of roughly 500 residents in the religious neighborhood established adjacent to the Mount of Olives in 1997. Located southeast of the Old City, Ma’ale Hazeitim was constructed alongside the Arab neighborhood of Ras Al-Amoud, and has drawn protests from those opposing Israeli presence in East Jerusalem.

The Palestinians see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state and fiercely oppose any changes that could be regarded as legitimizing Israel’s control over East Jerusalem, which it captured in the 1967 Six Day War. Israel annexed East Jerusalem and claims sovereignty in all of Jerusalem as its undivided eternal capital.

While all seven Ma’ale Hezeitim residents who spoke with The Times of Israel on Thursday applauded Trump’s declaration, some tempered their praise. “I congratulate him on being the one who merited the opportunity to make the announcement, but I do not thank him for doing so,” insisted Eyal Yechezkel. “God is the one that decided that Jerusalem is ours. It is not something that starts or ends with him.”

At the same time, however, Yechezkel also compared Trump to Persia’s King Cyrus, who allowed the exiled Jews to return to Israel from Babylon and Persia and rebuild the second Temple. “Even though he was a goy (a gentile), he’s called a messiah. This is how we refer to those who join our fight and aid in of our redemption.” [Continue reading…]

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Kirsten Gillibrand’s moment has arrived

David Freedlander writes: The Washington sky was darkening outside her window, and Kirsten Gillibrand slumped down in her chair. It had been a long day. In the morning, the New York senator hosted a news conference with a mother whose twin 6-year-old daughters had been allegedly raped by their father’s military commander. As she walked off the podium, she’d been confronted by questions about her colleague Al Franken’s reported history of groping women, news that broke for the first time that morning. “Deeply concerning,” she replied, adding that she believed the story of his accusers. “I expect to hear more from Senator Franken.” And she had just come from a podcast interview with the New York Times in which she’d blown through the Democratic code of silence on Clinton misdeeds by saying that yes, if Bill Clinton were president now, he would have to resign after something like the Monica Lewinsky affair.

That last one wasn’t a piece of news Gillibrand had planned on making that morning. She had long been a supporter of the Clintons, both of them. She inherited Hillary Clinton’s seat in the Senate, and credits her with the decision to run for office in the first place. Bill Clinton campaigned for her in her first run for Congress. She strongly supported both of Hillary’s campaigns for president. But Gillibrand is no longer a rank-and-file Clinton Democrat. As the nation is convulsed with a deluge of allegations of sexual harassment and assault, one that seemingly every day fells another star, Gillibrand is at the political center of it. For years she has been battling against sexual assault in the military and on campus, and talking about sexual harassment in politics, and now at last it seems as if the rest of the world has caught up to her concerns. And so once the question has been put before you, in this political moment, when at long last it looks like all of that work is finally paying off and progress is being made, what else can you say about Bill Clinton lying about having oral sex with his 22-year-old intern other than that he should have stepped down and “things have changed today”?

The blowback was immediate. “Over 20 yrs you took the Clintons endorsement, money and seat. Hypocrite,” wrote Philippe Reines, a longtime Clinton confidant, on Twitter. “Interesting strategy for 2020 primaries. Best of luck.”

The first half of the tweet was predictable, a Clinton loyalist biting back at a perceived threat to the family. But the second half was telling. The world is paying attention to Gillibrand in a new way. At least since the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, when Gillibrand thrilled the crowd at the Women’s March, jabbing the air with her finger and telling them, “This is the moment of the beginning of the revival of the women’s movement. This is the moment you will remember when women stood strong and stood firm and said never again. This is the moment that you are going to be heard!” The 51-year-old Gillibrand has come to represent a rising generation of Democratic leaders, one who came of age in an era when equality of the sexes was something almost taken for granted. And the buzz about her presidential ambitions has only grown. [Continue reading…]

 

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Private war: Erik Prince has his eye on Afghanistan’s rare metals

BuzzFeed reports: Controversial private security tycoon Erik Prince has famously pitched an audacious plan to the Trump administration: Hire him to privatize the war in Afghanistan using squads of “security contractors.” Now, for the first time, Buzzfeed News is publishing that pitch, a presentation that lays out how Prince wanted to take over the war from the US military — and how he envisioned mining some of the most war-torn provinces in Afghanistan to help fund security operations and obtain strategic mineral resources for the US.

Prince, who founded the Blackwater security firm and testified last week to the House Intelligence Committee for its Russia investigation, has deep connections into the current White House: He’s friends with former presidential adviser Stephen Bannon, and he’s the brother of Betsy DeVos, the education secretary.

Prince briefed top Trump administration officials directly, talked up his plan publicly on the DC circuit, and published op-eds about it. He patterned the strategy he’s pitching on the historical model of the old British East India Company, which had its own army and colonized much of Britain’s empire in India. “An East India Company approach,” he wrote in the Wall Street Journal, “would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support.”

But the details have never been made public. Here is the never-before-published slide presentation for his pitch, which a source familiar with the matter said was prepared for the Trump administration.

One surprising element is the commercial promise Prince envisions: that the US will get access to Afghanistan’s rich deposits of minerals such as lithium, used in batteries; uranium; magnesite; and “rare earth elements,” critical metals used in high technology from defense to electronics. One slide estimates the value of mineral deposits in Helmand province alone at $1 trillion. [Continue reading…]

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James O’Keefe, practitioner of the sting, has an ally in Trump

The New York Times reports: Days after Donald J. Trump launched his presidential campaign in June 2015, James O’Keefe, the conservative disrupter famous for trying to use secret recordings to embarrass liberals and journalists, visited Trump Tower and gave Mr. Trump a preview of his latest hidden camera video intended to undermine Hillary Clinton.

The footage, widely dismissed after it was released some weeks later, showed officials from Mrs. Clinton’s presidential campaign appearing to accept a payment for campaign swag from a Canadian woman at a Clinton campaign rally — in violation, Mr. O’Keefe contended, of election laws barring campaign contributions from foreigners.

Mr. Trump had been promoting Mr. O’Keefe’s work for years and a few weeks earlier had donated $10,000 from his foundation to Mr. O’Keefe’s group. At the meeting in his office, Mr. Trump praised the new video and pledged more money. As the campaign progressed, he pointed to other videos as evidence of his false accusations that Mrs. Clinton paid people to cause violence at Trump campaign rallies, and since his inauguration he and his team have continued to highlight Mr. O’Keefe’s work as evidence of the president’s repeated claims that the news media is peddling “fake news.”

So these should be good times for Mr. O’Keefe. He has an ally in the Oval Office who shares his views. The nonprofit group he started in 2010, Project Veritas, and an affiliated political arm called Project Veritas Action Fund have raised nearly $16 million, according to tax filings, and last year the group paid him $317,000. After years of criticism from across the political spectrum — including from a conservative establishment that has viewed him with suspicion — Mr. O’Keefe would seem well positioned to be more broadly embraced by the right, and feared by the left.

Yet Mr. O’Keefe cannot seem to get out of his own way. And after an attempted sting aimed at The Washington Post backfired in spectacular fashion last month, he has found himself in a familiar position — defending his misleading tactics, uneven results and even his nonprofit’s tax-exempt status, against criticism from across the political spectrum. [Continue reading…]

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Email shows effort to give Trump campaign WikiLeaks documents

CNN reports: Candidate Donald Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr. and others in the Trump Organization received an email in September 2016 offering a decryption key and website address for hacked WikiLeaks documents, according to an email provided to congressional investigators.

The September 4 email was sent during the final stretch of the 2016 presidential race — on the same day that Trump Jr. first tweeted about WikiLeaks and Clinton.

“WIKILEAKS: Hillary Clinton Sent THOUSANDS of Classified Cables Marked “(C)” for Confidential,” he tweeted, sharing a story from the Gateway Pundit, a conservative, pro-Trump website.

The email came two months after the hacked emails of the Democratic National Committee were made public and one month before WikiLeaks began leaking the contents of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked emails. It arrived less than three weeks before WikiLeaks itself messaged Trump Jr. and began an exchange of direct messages on Twitter.

Trump Jr. told investigators he had no recollection of the September email.

Congressional investigators are trying to ascertain whether the individual who sent the September email is legitimate and whether it shows additional efforts by WikiLeaks to connect with Trump’s son and others on the Trump campaign. The email also indicated that the Trump campaign could access records from former Secretary of State Colin Powell, whose hacked emails were made public by a Russian front group 10 days later. [Continue reading…]

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FBI warned Hope Hicks about emails from Russian operatives

The New York Times reports: F.B.I. officials warned one of President Trump’s top advisers, Hope Hicks, earlier this year about repeated attempts by Russian operatives to make contact with her during the presidential transition, according to people familiar with the events.

The Russian outreach efforts show that, even after American intelligence agencies publicly accused Moscow of trying to influence the outcome of last year’s presidential election, Russian operatives were undaunted in their efforts to establish contacts with Mr. Trump’s advisers.

There is no evidence that Ms. Hicks did anything improper. According to former officials, American intelligence and law enforcement agencies became alarmed by introductory emails that Ms. Hicks received from Russian government addresses in the weeks after Mr. Trump’s election.

After he took office, senior F.B.I. counterintelligence agents met with Ms. Hicks in the White House Situation Room at least twice, gave her the names of the Russians who had contacted her, and said that they were not who they claimed to be. The F.B.I. was concerned that the emails to Ms. Hicks may have been part of a Russian intelligence operation, and they urged Ms. Hicks to be cautious.

The meetings with Ms. Hicks, what the F.B.I. calls a “defensive briefing,” went beyond the standard security advice that senior White House officials routinely receive upon taking office. Defensive briefings are intended to warn government officials about specific concerns or risks. [Continue reading…]

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The Jerusalem announcement won’t really hurt U.S. alliances with Arab rulers

Shadi Hamid writes: Most Arab countries won’t care much about Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, which might seem counterintuitive. The official announcement, though, comes at an important and peculiar time, when Arab regimes—particularly Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Egypt—find themselves more aligned than ever with Israel on regional priorities. They all share, along with the Trump administration, a near obsession with Iran as the source of the region’s evils; a dislike, and even hatred, of the Muslim Brotherhood; and an opposition to the intent and legacy of the Arab Spring.

The Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, has developed a close relationship with Trump senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner (who recently outlined the administration’s Middle East vision at my institution, Brookings). If Saudi officials, including the crown prince himself, were particularly concerned with Jerusalem’s status, they would presumably have used their privileged status as a top Trump ally and lobbied the administration to hold off on such a needlessly toxic move. As my colleague Shibley Telhami argues, there was little compelling reason, in either foreign policy or domestic political terms, for Trump to do this. This is a gratuitous announcement, if there ever was one, and it’s unlikely Trump would have followed through if the Saudis had drawn something resembling a red line, so to speak.

It appears that the Saudi regime may have done the opposite. As The New York Times reported:

According to Palestinian, Arab and European officials who have heard Mr. Abbas’s version of the conversation, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman presented a plan that would be more tilted toward the Israelis than any ever embraced by the American government.

Falling short of even what previous Israeli leaders Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert had considered, the Saudi proposal, by the Times’s account, would have asked Palestinians to accept limited sovereignty in the West Bank and forfeit claims on Jerusalem. Whether or not the Saudi crown prince presented this “plan” out of sincerity or as a gambit to lower the bar and pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make concessions is almost beside the point. That these ideas were even so much as floated suggests a Saudi regime increasingly close to both Israel as well as the Trump administration. (The Saudi government denied any changes in its position on Jerusalem in an official statement.)

These are odd positions for the Saudi leadership to be in. As the birthplace of Islam and custodian of the faith’s two holiest sites, Saudi Arabia has long presented itself as a protector and representative of Muslims worldwide. Yet it now finds itself in close embrace with the most anti-Muslim administration in U.S. history and stands as one of the few countries genuinely enthusiastic about Trump’s foreign-policy agenda. [Continue reading…]

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There was no peace process for Trump to destroy

Roger Cohen writes: My colleagues Anne Barnard, Ben Hubbard and Declan Walsh captured well the Palestinian and Arab reaction to President Trump’s official recognition this week of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel: “An explosion of violence could still come,” they wrote, “but so far there is something more like an explosion of sighs.”

Jerusalem, city of passions, has long been a tinderbox. The Second Intifada, or uprising, began in 2000 with Ariel Sharon’s provocative visit to the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. But that was 17 years ago, when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict still stood at the core of Middle Eastern conflict, and Arab backing for the Palestinian cause was more than rhetorical.

Ismail Haniya, the leader of Hamas, is now calling for a third intifada. But he’s up against exhaustion, cynicism and shifting priorities in the Arab world. Trump’s announcement did not destroy the “peace process.” There is no peace process to destroy.

The Arab Spring has come and gone, and the Syrian state has gone, since the Second Intifada. Iran, the Shia enemy, looms much larger than the Palestinian cause for most Sunni Arab states. Everyone knows how much democratic legitimacy Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has — none — and what purported reconciliation between his Fatah faction and Hamas is worth — very little.

The Palestinian cause, undermined by disunity and the cultivation of victimhood, is weak and growing weaker. International indignation does not change that. Israeli force has been implacable.

I confess to a more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger reaction to Trump’s announcement. It did have the merit, as the president noted, of recognizing a reality, and that reality reflects perhaps the deepest of Jewish sentiments. It was, at least, not more of the same peace-process blather.

Real frustration would require belief that maintaining the unresolved status of Jerusalem as a final-status bargaining chip in the “peace process” would make a decisive difference in that process. But, as noted above, there is none. If anything the “process” has been ideal camouflage for the steady growth in the number of Israeli settlers (now more than 600,000), favored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing government. It has given steady Israeli expansionism the international benediction of mythical reversibility. I am not convinced Trump gave a lot away. [Continue reading…]

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