Inside the ‘adult day-care center’: How aides try to control and coerce Trump

The Washington Post reports: One defining feature of managing Trump is frequent praise, which can leave his team in what seems to be a state of perpetual compliments. The White House pushes out news releases overflowing with top officials heaping flattery on Trump; in one particularly memorable Cabinet meeting this year, each member went around the room lavishing the president with accolades.

Senior administration officials call this speaking to an “audience of one.”

One regular practitioner is Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who praised Trump’s controversial statements made after white supremacists had a violent rally in Charlottesville and also said he agreed with Trump that professional football players should stand during the national anthem. Neither issue has anything to do with the Treasury Department.

Former treasury secretary Larry Summers wrote in a Twitter post that “Mnuchin may be the greatest sycophant in Cabinet history.” [Continue reading…]

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The mystery of Wilbur Ross’ missing billions

Forbes reports: Dressed in a blue suit and red tie, Donald Trump’s 79-year-old pick for Secretary of Commerce sat before a panel of senators for nearly four hours in January, deflecting dozens of questions with relative ease. When one legislator at the confirmation hearing asked Wilbur Ross how he would ensure that his official actions did not create conflicts of interest, given his vast personal holdings, Ross left little room for criticism. “I intend to be quite scrupulous about recusal and any topic where there is the slightest scintilla of doubt,” he said.

What he left unsaid, however, was that between the November election and January inauguration, he had quietly moved a chunk of assets into trusts for his family members, leaving more than $2 billion off of his financial disclosure report—and therefore out of the public eye. Ross revealed the existence of those assets, and the timing of the transfer, when Forbes asked why his financial disclosure form listed fewer assets than he had previously told the magazine he owned.

The hidden assets raise questions about whether the Secretary of Commerce violated federal rules and whether his family owns billions in holdings that could create the appearance of conflicts of interest.

Federal law requires incoming cabinet members to disclose assets they currently own, as well as any that produced income during the current and previous calendar years, even if they no longer own the assets. Ross says he followed all rules. But how someone could apparently hold $2 billion in assets, without producing big income that would show up on a financial disclosure report, raises more questions than answers.

Three months before the 2016 election, Ross’ assistant described his portfolio to Forbes as a mix that would theoretically throw off plenty of cash: $1.3 billion of municipal bonds, $1.3 billion worth of interests in general and limited partnerships, $550 million of equities, $225 million of art, $180 million in cash and $120 million worth of real estate.

That adds up to $3.7 billion. Last year, Forbes asked for documentation to prove the existence of those assets, received nothing in return, and ultimately estimated Ross’ fortune at a more conservative $2.9 billion for its annual Forbes 400 list of the richest Americans, published in October. This year, the Secretary of Commerce said he would dig up a breakdown of the assets he transferred into trusts, but he never sent anything. It is unclear whether he cited accurate figures either year. [Continue reading…]

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Interview with a former troll at Russia’s Internet Research Agency

Meduza reports: One of the many remarkable things about 2017 is that American journalists no longer have the Irish Republican Army in mind when writing “IRA,” which is now used most often to mean Russia’s Internet Research Agency — the “troll factory” responsible for buying ads on social media and polluting American online news discussion in an apparent effort to destabilize U.S. democracy. On October 15, the Russian independent news network Dozhd published the latest development in this ongoing story: an interview with a man who allegedly worked for the IRA from 2014-2015. Meduza summarizes that interview here.

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Dozhd calls him “Maxim,” but that’s not his real name. The TV network says Max’s employment records confirm that he spent 18 months at 55 Savushkina in St. Petersburg, working for the Internet Research Agency (IRA), Russia’s infamous “troll factory.” He quit in early 2015, before Donald Trump even announced his presidential candidacy, but not too soon to get a taste of the “factory’s” war on Hillary Clinton.

According to Max, the IRA’s “foreign desk” had open orders to “influence opinions” and change the direction of online discussions. He says this department within the agency considered itself above the “Russian desk,” which he claims is generally “bots and trolls.” The foreign desk was supposedly more sophisticated. “It’s not just writing ‘Obama is a monkey’ and ‘Putin is great.’ They’ll even fine you for that kind of [primitive] stuff,” Max told Dozhd. People in his department, he says, were even trained and educated to know the nuances of American social polemics on tax issues, LGBT rights, the gun debate, and more.

Max says that IRA staff were tasked with monitoring tens of thousands of comments on major U.S. media outlets, in order to grasp the general trends of American Internet users. Once employees got a sense of what Americans naturally discussed in comment forums and on social media, their job was to incite them further and try to “rock the boat.”

According to Max, the Internet Research Agency’s foreign desk was prohibited from promoting anything about Russia or Putin. One thing the staff learned quickly was that Americans don’t normally talk about Russia: “They don’t really care about it,” Max told Dozhd. “Our goal wasn’t to turn the Americans toward Russia,” he claims. “Our task was to set Americans against their own government: to provoke unrest and discontent, and to lower Obama’s support ratings.”

The trolls at the IRA were also careful about covering their tracks. Max says anyone working in the foreign desk was required to post comments using a VPN, to disguise their Russian origins. He says an employee once shared a photograph taken at the IRA’s office, which was especially forbidden, because photos can contain revealing metadata. This incident also revealed that the IRA employed staff to spy on its own trolls, Max says.

Even two years before Americans actually voted on their next president, St. Petersburg trolls were told to attack Hillary Clinton, reminding Internet users about her wealth, her husband’s legacy, and her various corruption scandals. The IRA even encouraged employees to watch Netflix’s “House of Cards,” supposedly as an education in U.S. politics. Staff would also monitor each other’s use of English, nitpicking over grammar and punctuation, in order to weed out ESL formulations. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. military to begin drills to evacuate Americans from South Korea

The New York Times reports: The United States military said on Monday that it would practice evacuating noncombatant Americans out of South Korea in the event of war and other emergencies, as the two allies began a joint naval exercise amid heightened tensions with North Korea.

The evacuation drill, known as Courageous Channel, is scheduled from next Monday through Friday and is aimed at preparing American “service members and their families to respond to a wide range of crisis management events such as noncombatant evacuation and natural or man-made disasters,” the United States military said in a statement.

It has been conducting similar noncombatant evacuation exercises for decades, along with other joint military exercises with South Korea. But when tensions escalate with North Korea, as they have recently, such drills draw outsize attention and ignite fear among South Koreans, some of whom take them as a sign that the United States might be preparing for military action against the North.

The South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in has repeatedly warned that it opposes a military solution to the North Korean nuclear crisis because it could quickly escalate into a full-blown war in which Koreans would suffer the most. [Continue reading…]

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Russia is showing increasing contempt for Trump

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It seems that Russian state media is starting to chip away at Trump’s burnished image.
Maxim Apryatin

By Cynthia Hooper, College of the Holy Cross

Four major Russia investigations are underway in Washington, along with at least six related federal inquiries.

Anxiety currently swirls around the Kremlin’s manipulation of popular social media platforms Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. Cybersecurity sleuths claim Russia used Pokemon Go to inflame racial tensions and accuse Twitter of deleting crucial data detailing Russian efforts to sow discord during the 2016 presidential election.

“Russia, Russia Everywhere,” read The New York Times Oct. 13 “Week in Technology” review.

But as a cultural historian, I’m interested in how Russia’s media outlets – many of which are state-controlled – are covering these same stories.

It’s no secret that for years the Kremlin has claimed Washington possesses a knee-jerk, anti-Russian bias. Moscow officials have cast recent U.S. charges that Russia has been acting to “undermine the U.S.-led liberal democratic order” as simply part of this same phenomenon, albeit one that has blossomed, of late, into full-fledged hysteria.

Russia’s most popular media outlets compare the investigations to those of the McCarthy era, calling them “witch hunts” focused on a “phantom menace.”

However, I’ve noticed something surprising. Amid all the emphasis of “Russophobia run wild,” Russian media coverage seems to have become more positive in regard to one issue: the Justice Department’s investigation led by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.

[Read more…]

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Russian trolls were schooled on ‘House of Cards’

Michael Isikoff reports: The Russians who worked for a notorious St. Petersburg “troll factory” that was part of Vladimir Putin’s campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election were required to watch the “House of Cards” television series to help them craft messages to “set up the Americans against their own government,” according to an interview broadcast Sunday (in Russian) with a former member of the troll factory’s elite English language department.

The interview, broadcast by the independent Russian TV station Rain, provides new insight into how the troll factory formerly known as the Internet Research Agency targeted U.S. audiences in part by posting provocative “comments” pretending to be from Americans on newspaper articles that appeared on the websites of the New York Times and Washington Post.

A central theme of this messaging was demonizing Hillary Clinton by playing up the past scandals of her husband’s administration, her wealth and her use of a private email server, according to the interview with the agency worker, identified only as “Maksim,” with his face concealed. [Continue reading…]

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Almost half of Republicans want war with North Korea, a new poll says. Is it the Trump Effect?

Aaron Blake writes: There was a pretty striking finding in Thursday’s Quinnipiac University poll: Fully 46 percent of Republicans — a plurality — said they would support a preemptive strike against North Korea.

That’s nearly half of President Trump’s party that is ready for war — today — with Kim Jong Un, his nuclear weapons and all. (Forty-one percent said they opposed a preemptive strike.)

It’s no surprise that Republicans are more hawkish on this than Democrats are; that’s generally the case on foreign policy. But basically nobody is talking about the prospect of a strike right now. Even when Trump talks about it, he’s responding to North Korea threatening the United States or its allies.

Yet it also seems possible that Trump’s ramped-up rhetoric on this could be having an effect on his base. Trump in August promised “fire and fury” if North Korea ran afoul of him. Last month, he threatened in his speech at the United Nations to “totally destroy” the country — a threat that seemed to tie average North Koreans to their government’s demise. He has repeatedly called Kim “Rocket Man” and generally proved fond of the kind of saber-rattling we expect from the other side of this standoff. [Continue reading…]

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Trump given a subpoena for all documents relating to assault allegations

BuzzFeed reports: A high-stakes legal showdown is brewing for President Donald Trump, as a woman who said he groped her has subpoenaed all documents from his campaign pertaining to “any woman alleging that Donald J. Trump touched her inappropriately.”

The subpoena — whose contents have not been previously reported — was issued in March but entered into the court file last month. The White House did not respond to a request for comment, nor did Trump’s attorney.

Summer Zervos, a former contestant on the Trump’s reality TV show The Apprentice, accused Trump of kissing and grabbing her when she went to his bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2007 to discuss a possible job at the Trump Organization. After Zervos made the accusation last October, just weeks before the election, Trump denied her accusation and called it a lie.

She responded by suing him for defamation. As part of that suit, her lawyers served a subpoena on his campaign, asking that it preserve all documents it had about her.

They also asked for “all documents” concerning other women who have accused Trump of groping them, including Jessica Leeds, Mindy McGillivray, Rachel Crooks, Natasha Stoynoff, Temple Taggart, Kristin Anderson, Cathy Heller, Jill Harth, and Jessica Drake. The subpoena seeks “all documents concerning any accusations that were made during Donald J. Trump’s election campaign for president, that he subjected any woman to unwanted sexual touching and/or sexually inappropriate behavior.” Last year, Trump tweeted a blanket denial, saying, “Nothing ever happened with any of these women.” [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump and the dawn of the evangelical-nationalist alliance

Tim Alberta writes: Donald Trump’s supporters always had diverging interpretations of his campaign mantra, “Make America Great Again,” yet they all centered on returning the country to a better and more comfortable time.

To economic nationalists, it meant going back to an era of high tariffs and buying American. To defense hawks, it meant returning to a time of unquestioned military supremacy. To immigration hard-liners, it meant fewer jobs for foreign-born workers—and, for some of those voters, fewer dark faces in the country, period.

But for many evangelicals and conservative Catholics, “Make America Great Again” meant above all else returning to a time when the culture reflected and revolved around their Judeo-Christian values. When there was prayer in public schools. When marriage was limited to one man and one woman. When abortion was not prevalent and socially acceptable. When the government didn’t ask them to violate their consciences. And, yes, when people said “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.”

This explains one of the more striking lines in Trump’s speech Friday to the Values Voter Summit, which in just 10 years has become one of the premier annual gatherings of social conservatives in Washington. Touting the “customs, beliefs and traditions that defined who we are as a nation and as a people,” the president recalled the Founders’ repeated reference to a “Creator” in the Declaration of Independence. “How times have changed,” Trump said. “But you know what? Now they’re changing back again. Just remember that.”

The audience roared with a 20-second standing ovation.

Of course, much of the cultural drift the “values voters” fear seems irreversible as America’s demographic transformation yields an electorate that is younger, more ethnically diverse, more urban, more educated and less religious. Same-sex marriage is settled law with ever-broadening public support; abortion rights are probably impossible to fully retract. And the country’s steady secularization, decried for decades from church pulpits, appears to have accelerated in recent years: According to a comprehensive Pew Research Center poll of more than 35,000 Americans, the share of self-identified Christians decreased nearly 7 percent between 2007 and 2014, while the share of religiously unaffiliated citizens increased nearly 7 percent in that time.

What, then, can a thrice-married Manhattan billionaire—or any politician, for that matter—realistically offer Christian voters who hope for a cultural and spiritual revival in America? [Continue reading…]

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Have dirt that could impeach Trump? Larry Flynt will pay you $10 million

The Washington Post reports: Larry Flynt’s ad in the Sunday edition of The Washington Post is hard to miss.

For one, it takes up a full page. And there are no pictures — just bold, all-caps text dominating the top third of the page:

“$10 MILLION FOR INFORMATION LEADING TO THE IMPEACHMENT AND REMOVAL FROM OFFICE OF DONALD J. TRUMP.”

Flynt, best known as the publisher of the pornographic magazine Hustler, outlined numerous reasons he felt President Trump needed to be removed from office, charging him with everything from “compromising domestic and foreign policy with his massive conflicts-of-interest global business empire” to “telling hundreds of bald-faced lies” to “gross nepotism and appointment of unqualified persons to high office.” [Continue reading…]

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Has Trump’s will to success become delusional?

Michael Kruse writes: Donald Trump is a self-help apostle. He always has tried to create his own reality by saying what he wants to be true. Where many see failure, Trump sees only success, and expresses it out loud, again and again.

“We have the votes” to pass a new health care bill, he said last month even though he and Republicans didn’t then and still don’t.

“We get an A-plus,” he said last week of his and his administration’s response to the devastating recent hurricanes as others doled out withering reviews.

“I’ve had just about the most legislation passed of any president, in a nine-month period, that’s ever served,” he said this week in an interview with Forbes, contradicting objective metrics and repeating his frequent and dubious assertion of unprecedented success throughout the first year of his first term as president.

The reality is that Trump is in a rut. His legislative agenda is floundering. His approval ratings are historically low. He’s raging privately while engaging in noisy, internecine squabbles. He’s increasingly isolated. And yet his fact-flouting declarations of positivity continue unabated. For Trump, though, these statements are not issues of right or wrong or true or false. They are something much more elemental. They are a direct result of the closest thing the stubborn, ideologically malleable celebrity businessman turned most powerful person on the planet has ever had to a devout religious faith. This is not his mother’s flinty Scottish Presbyterianism but Norman Vincent Peale’s “power of positive thinking,” the utterly American belief in self above all else and the conviction that thoughts can be causative, that basic assertion can lead to actual achievement.

Trump and his father were Peale acolytes—the minister officiated at at the first of Donald Trump’s weddings—and Peale’s overarching philosophy has been a lodestar for Trump over the course of his decades of triumphs as well as the crises and chaos. “Stamp indelibly on your mind a mental picture of yourself as succeeding,” Peale urged his millions of followers. “Hold this picture tenaciously. Never permit it to fade.” It was a mindset perfectly tailored for an ambitious builder determined to change the skyline of one of the globe’s great cities. Trump, who used this self-confidence to blow right past a series of seemingly fatal gaffes and controversies to win an election last fall that polls said he couldn’t and wouldn’t, in this respect has been a prize Peale pupil—arguably the most successful Peale disciple ever.

“I don’t even think it’s an argument,” Trump biographer Gwenda Blair told me recently. “It’s a fact.” The power of positive thinking? “He weaponized it.”

But now, in the political realm, where the space between spin and truth is parsed constantly—and with consequences—it is Trump’s very success that has opened him up to questions that simply didn’t matter as much when he was a television star, or opening golf courses, or licensing his last name to steaks, bottled water or far-flung condominium projects. Is Trump’s relentlessly optimistic insistence on his own version of reality an asset, a sign of admirable grit for a politician desperate to score some legislative victories? Or is it a sort of self-delusion that risks embarrassment, or worse, in the highest-stakes geopolitical arena?

Science, it turns out, has something to say about this.

Self-help is a multibillion-dollar business. Airport shelves groan under the weight of how-to and pick-me-up books churned out by writers who all are essentially Peale progeny. The industry is prevalent in American culture to the point that it has spawned its own sub-group of critics who dismiss it as silly at best and dangerous at worst. “If you are simple enough to buy a self-help book, you may be congenitally programmed to fail,” Tom Tiede wrote in 2001 in his own book, Self-Help Nation: The Long Overdue, Entirely Justified, Delightfully Hostile Guide to the Snake-Oil Peddlers Who Are Sapping Our Nation’s Soul. “Positive thinking” has garnered such social currency that it also has become a subject of academic inquiry. And though it certainly was not conceived with this in mind, the science of self-help—of happiness and well-being, of specific phenomena called “unrealistic optimism” and “positive illusions”—is now in some respects the study of the way Trump thinks and what it could mean for the country and beyond. [Continue reading…]

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Bannon promises ‘season of war’ against McConnell, GOP establishment

Politico reports: Steve Bannon taunted Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Saturday and vowed to challenge any Senate Republican who doesn’t publicly condemn attacks on President Donald Trump.

“Yeah, Mitch, the donors are not happy. They’ve all left you. We’ve cut your oxygen off,” Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, said during a speech to religious conservatives at the Values Voter Summit in Washington.

Referencing Shakespeare, Bannon compared McConnell to Julius Caesar, adding that lawmakers are wondering who will emerge as Brutus, the character who reluctantly joins in on the assassination of Caesar for the benefit of Rome.

Bannon, now the executive chairman of Breitbart News, bashed Senate Republicans by name for not publicly distancing themselves from Sen. Bob Corker’s criticism of Trump, reserving particular animus for Sens. John Barrasso (Wyo.), Dean Heller (Nev.) and Deb Fischer (Neb.).

“Nobody can run and hide on this one,” he said. “These folks are coming for you. The days of taking a few nice conservative votes and hiding are over.” [Continue reading…]

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Manafort had $60 million relationship with a Russian oligarch

NBC News reports: Paul Manafort, a former campaign manager for President Donald Trump, has much stronger financial ties to a Russian oligarch than have been previously reported.

An NBC News investigation reveals that $26 million changed hands in the form of a loan between a company linked to Manafort and the oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, a billionaire with close ties to the Kremlin.

The loan brings the total of their known business dealings to around $60 million over the past decade, according to financial documents filed in Cyprus and the Cayman Islands. [Continue reading…]

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Donald Trump’s rogue state: U.S. has no right to terminate Iran accord says EU

Politico reports: The EU’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said Friday that the United States had no right to unilaterally terminate the Iran nuclear accord. She called the agreement “effective” and said there had been “no violations of any of the commitments” in the deal.

At a news conference at the European Commission’s Brussels headquarters, Mogherini gave a strongly-worded rebuke of the U.S., which has been a chief ally of the EU on security matters, including the response to Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine.

Her comments were aimed directly at U.S. President Donald Trump, moments after he gave a speech in Washington saying he would not certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement, and was asking Congress to adopt legislation that would potentially trigger the reimposition of sanctions on Tehran.

“More than two years ago, exactly in July 2015, the entire international community welcomed the results of 12 years of intense negotiations on the Iran nuclear program,” Mogherini said, adding: “It is not a bilateral agreement. It does not belong to any single country. And it is not up to any single country to terminate it. It is a multilateral agreement, which was unanimously endorsed by the United Nations Security Council.”

Joining Mogherini in what amounted to extraordinary isolation of the U.S. president, French President Emmanuel Macron, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a joint statement reaffirming their support for the accord, which they described as “in our shared national security interest.” [Continue reading…]

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Bob Corker on Trump’s biggest problem: The ‘castration’ of Rex Tillerson

Jackson Diehl writes: So is Donald Trump really leading the country toward World War III?

That is the warning that lingers from the broadside delivered by Bob Corker (Tenn.) during his Twitter war with Trump. Most Americans already take for granted much of what the Republican senator said — that the president peddles falsehoods online and has to be corralled by the “adults” around him. But the notion offered by the silver-haired, sober-minded chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee that Trump might launch a catastrophic war invites sleepless nights even for those who have already resigned themselves to four years of domestic chaos.

There would seem to be plenty to worry about, from Trump’s insistently hawkish statements about North Korea, including personal insults directed at ruler Kim Jong Un, to his showy announcement of “decertification” of the Iran nuclear deal Friday. Yet as Corker sees it, the biggest problem is that Trump is neutering his own chief diplomat, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and thereby inviting “binary” situations in which the United States will have to choose between war and a North Korea or Iran capable of threatening the United States with nuclear weapons.

“You cannot publicly castrate your own secretary of state without giving yourself that binary choice,” Corker told me in a phone interview Friday. “The tweets — yes, you raise tension in the region [and] it’s very irresponsible. But it’s the first part” — the “castration” of Tillerson — “that I am most exercised about.”

Tillerson gets low marks from many in Washington, both inside and outside the State Department, who think he has cooperated with Trump’s attempt to strip U.S. diplomacy of resources, authority and public profile. But as Corker sees it, Tillerson has been instrumental in opening a path away from confrontation with North Korea through quiet diplomacy with China.

It’s like the movie “Mean Girls,” except it’s in the White House. Unfortunately. (Gillian Brockell/The Washington Post)
“The greatest diplomatic activities we have are with China, and the most important, and they have come a long, long way,” Corker said. “Some of the things we are talking about are phenomenal.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump aims at Iran, hits the U.S.

Amir Handjani writes: The U.S. and Europe brought Iran to the negotiating table after 10 years of coordinated and painstaking sanctions that targeted all aspects of Iran’s economy, including banking, energy and trade. Over two administrations (those of George W. Bush and Obama), Washington, in close cooperation with the EU effectively cut Tehran off from the global economy.

This was a remarkable act by the Europeans. Tehran, despite the 1979 Islamic Revolution, had robust commercial relationships with Europe. Iranians could travel with relative ease to Europe and, despite being isolated from the U.S., were getting essential goods and services such as medicine and technology from the EU.

With Brussels and Washington united, a good cop-bad cop routine was successful in extracting meaningful concessions from Iran which led to the nuclear deal.

In the two years since the deal was signed, Europe has slowly regained its access to the Iranian market. Iran’s economy is rebounding. EU foreign policy chief Frederica Mogherini has called the nuclear deal vital to international peace and security. French President Emmanuel Macron and U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May have gone on record saying the deal is doing what it was intended to do, prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. While neither are opposed to starting discussions on other troubling aspects of Iran’s behavior, so long as IAEA maintains that Iran is living up to its obligations, the EU does not want the nuclear pact abrogated.

Trump’s actions, and any new sanctions from Congress, will drive a wedge between Washington and Europe on Iran. It would be virtually impossible to reconstitute that sanctions regime that was in place before the nuclear deal came into effect. Trump’s decision will be viewed as callous disregard for multilateral negotiations and norms. It will reinforce the image that Iran often portrays the U.S. as being a bully on the world stage that does what it wants with reckless abandon — alliances and commitments notwithstanding. It’s an image that Trump embraces in both style and substance.

The implications for Europe go well beyond the Iran deal. With Trump’s precedent of shunning the global security architecture that the U.S. has led for 75 years now in question, Europeans will be left wondering if the U.S. would really live up to its security commitments if, say, Russia became more aggressive in the Baltic states or Eastern Europe.

On top of that, as if one nuclear crisis wasn’t enough, the message Trump is sending to North Korea couldn’t be worse. [Continue reading…]

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Trump disavows nuclear deal and denounces Iranian leadership

The New York Times reports: President Trump on Friday made good on a long-running threat to disavow the Iran nuclear deal that was negotiated by his predecessor, Barack Obama. But he stopped short of unraveling the accord or even rewriting it, as the deal’s defenders had once feared.

In a speech that mixed searing criticism of Iran with more measured action, Mr. Trump declared his intention not to certify Iran’s compliance with the agreement. Doing so essentially kicks to Congress a decision about whether to reimpose sanctions on Iran, which would blow up the agreement.

“We will not continue down a path whose predictable conclusion is more violence, more terror, and the very real threat of Iran’s nuclear breakout,” Mr. Trump declared at the White House, as he laid out a broader strategy for confronting Iran.

The president derided the deal as “one of the worst and most one-sided transactions the United States has ever entered into.” But he added, “What’s done is done, and that’s why we are where we are.”

Mr. Trump said he would ask Congress to establish trigger points, which could prompt the United States to reimpose sanctions on Iran if it crosses thresholds set by Congress.

“In the event we are not able to reach a solution working with Congress and our allies, then the agreement will be terminated,” Mr. Trump said. [Continue reading…]

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European leaders criticize Trump’s disavowal of Iran deal

The New York Times reports: Iran, Russia and European leaders roundly condemned President Trump’s decision on Friday to disavow the Iran nuclear deal, saying that it reflected the growing isolation of the United States, threatened to destabilize the Middle East and could make it harder to resolve the growing tensions on the Korean penninsula.

The reaction was far from panicked, as Mr. Trump’s decision punts to Congress the critical decision of whether the United States will reimpose sanctions on Iran — a step that would effectively sink the deal.

But Mr. Trump also warned that unless the nuclear agreement was altered and made permanent — to prohibit Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons — he would terminate the agreement, an ultimatum that threw the future of the accord into question.

Though they avoided direct criticism of Mr. Trump, Prime Minister Theresa May of Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Emmanuel Macron of France said in a rare joint statement that they “stand committed” to the 2015 nuclear deal and that preserving it was “in our shared national security interest.”

“The nuclear deal was the culmination of 13 years of diplomacy and was a major step towards ensuring that Iran’s nuclear program is not diverted for military purposes,” they added.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s foreign minister, said that Mr. Trump was sending “a difficult and also from our point of view dangerous signal.”

He said that the Iran deal, and other diplomatic achievements, were necessary “to convince countries like North Korea, and maybe also others, that it is possible to create security without acquiring nuclear weapons.”

“Destroying this agreement would, worldwide, mean that others could no longer rely on such agreements — that’s why it is a danger that goes further than Iran,” he added. [Continue reading…]

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Why every other country in the Iran nuclear deal is standing by it

The Washington Post reports: In a decision that could deepen the transatlantic rift, President Trump announced his withdrawal of presidential “certification” of the Iran nuclear deal Friday ahead of a Sunday deadline. Trump previously called the 2015 agreement disastrous and has argued that it isn’t in the United States’ best interests, though he has reluctantly certified Iran’s compliance in the past.

The deal’s decertification is expected to put Congress in charge of attaching new conditions that could either strengthen the deal or lead to its dismantlement. The latter scenario would probably result in the reimposition of U.S. sanctions on Iran. Even within Trump’s administration, however, many top officials agree with European leaders and businesses that preserving the deal would be the smarter choice.

So why are European leaders — who unlike some top officials within the Trump administration are more easily able to argue their cases — in favor of upholding the deal?

Europe thinks that a flawed deal is better than no deal

Even though there might be flaws, the current deal is better than no deal, European governments are arguing. “We have no indication of Iran violating its JCPoA commitments,” said an official in the German Federal Foreign Office, referring to the Iran deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, by its abbreviation. French officials recently reached the same conclusion, and even U.S. officials have made the case that Iran is in compliance. [Continue reading…]

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