FBI uncovered Russian bribery plot before Obama administration approved controversial nuclear deal with Moscow

The Hill reports: Before the Obama administration approved a controversial deal in 2010 giving Moscow control of a large swath of American uranium, the FBI had gathered substantial evidence that Russian nuclear industry officials were engaged in bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering designed to grow Vladimir Putin’s atomic energy business inside the United States, according to government documents and interviews.

Federal agents used a confidential U.S. witness working inside the Russian nuclear industry to gather extensive financial records, make secret recordings and intercept emails as early as 2009 that showed Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm with bribes and kickbacks in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, FBI and court documents show.

They also obtained an eyewitness account — backed by documents — indicating Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to the U.S. designed to benefit former President Bill Clinton’s charitable foundation during the time Secretary of State Hillary Clinton served on a government body that provided a favorable decision to Moscow, sources told The Hill.

The racketeering scheme was conducted “with the consent of higher level officials” in Russia who “shared the proceeds” from the kickbacks, one agent declared in an affidavit years later.

Rather than bring immediate charges in 2010, however, the Department of Justice (DOJ) continued investigating the matter for nearly four more years, essentially leaving the American public and Congress in the dark about Russian nuclear corruption on U.S. soil during a period when the Obama administration made two major decisions benefiting Putin’s commercial nuclear ambitions. [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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Mysterious sounds and scary illnesses as political tools

Lisa Diedrich and Benjamin Tausig write: President Trump has long signaled his desire to reverse President Barack Obama’s normalization of relations with Cuba, so it’s no surprise that his administration has begun to do just that by withdrawing most employees from the United States Embassy in Havana.

But a part of the justification for the move — the reports that embassy employees were victimized by a “sonic attack” that caused a range of physical symptoms — fits a troubling pattern. It’s just the latest example of the way Mr. Trump has attempted to harness vague, unspecified threats to inspire fear and advance his political agenda.

The Associated Press first reported on Aug. 10 that State Department employees had been targeted by these attacks. According to the spokeswoman Heather Nauert, they caused “a variety of physical symptoms.” It was also reported at this time that the State Department had already retaliated for these attacks by expelling two Cuban diplomats from the United States on May 23.

Since then, much of the news coverage of the incident has turned to a discussion of technical questions about sonic weaponry. A few articles quote experts who are skeptical, to put it mildly, but a majority of the coverage has accepted and even reiterated the State Department’s explanation wholesale.

The truth is, the sort of sonic weaponry that might cause the concussions and persistent memory loss that the State Department claimed to have found in its diplomats doesn’t exist, as far as experts in this field know. “Nothing about this story makes any sense to us,” said a marketing director of a firm that manufactures acoustic devices, quoted in Wired. To imagine that such weapons have not only been covertly developed but also were then somehow hidden near the embassy is even more fanciful, for a variety of logistical and technical reasons. The fact-checking site Snopes.com provided a review of scientific data on sound and sonic weapons, concluding that it was false to claim that such weapons could be responsible for what happened to the United States diplomats in Cuba. Yet, this has not stopped the reverberation of sonic-weapon rumors. The press has continued to amplify the story, and the Trump administration has carried on with its narrative, even issuing a Cuba Travel Warning based on the “specific attacks” that it says targeted embassy employees. [Continue reading…]

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Trump touts military option for North Korea that generals warn would be ‘horrific’

Foreign Policy reports: The United States can’t rule out military options for North Korea. There’s no military solution to North Korea. Diplomacy is our best bet with North Korea. Don’t waste time with diplomacy.

The world is reeling from the contradictory messages President Donald Trump and his administration are churning out on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s nuclear threat. That includes Trump tweeting on Oct. 1 that Rex Tillerson, his own secretary of state, was “wasting his time” trying to negotiate an end to the North Korean conflict, and tweeting on Oct. 7 that after 25 years of failed talks, “only one thing will work!”

In the midst of the policy whiplash from the top, the Pentagon and State Department are quietly chugging away at the ground level, where the foreign policy of Trump’s Twitter feed is competing with foreign policy of the rest of the U.S. government.

U.S. military leaders, in particular, continue to insist that any engagement with the North Koreans must be led by the country’s diplomats. [Continue reading…]

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Is Tillerson about to be replaced?

NBC News reports: John Kelly, the White House chief of staff, abruptly scrapped plans to travel with President Donald Trump on Wednesday so he could try to contain his boss’s fury and manage the fallout from new revelations about tensions between the president and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, according to six senior administration officials.

Kelly summoned Tillerson, and their ally Defense Secretary James Mattis, to the White House, where the three of them huddled to discuss a path forward, according to three administration officials. The White House downplayed Kelly’s decision to stay in Washington, saying he did so to manage day-to-day operations.

Vice President Mike Pence, meanwhile, was fuming in Phoenix, where he was traveling, seven officials told NBC News. He and Tillerson spoke on the phone before the secretary’s public appearance on Wednesday morning.

Pence was incensed upon learning from the NBC report that Tillerson’s top spokesman had said he once privately questioned the value of Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. Officials said the spokesman, R.C. Hammond, fabricated an anecdote that Pence had asked Tillerson in a meeting whether Haley, who is seen as a possible successor to Tillerson, is helpful or harmful to the administration.

NBC reported Wednesday that Tillerson had threatened to resign in July after a series of clashes with the president, at one point venting his frustrations among his colleagues by calling the president a “moron,” according to multiple senior administration officials who were aware of the matter at the time.

Four senior administration officials said Trump first learned on Wednesday that Tillerson had disparaged him after a July 20 national security meeting at the Pentagon. Trump vented to Kelly Wednesday morning, leading Kelly to scrap plans to travel with the president to Las Vegas to meet with victims and first responders in Sunday’s mass shooting.

Trump was furious when he saw the NBC News report, which was published shortly before 6 a.m. Wednesday.

For the next two hours the president fumed inside the White House, venting to Kelly, officials said. [Continue reading…]

Axios‘ Mike Allen reports that CIA Director Mike Pompeo is being considered to replace Tillerson: insiders say Trump’s relationship with Tillerson is broken beyond repair. We’re told Trump was furious that Tillerson didn’t try to blunt the story about him calling the president a “moron,” by just going out and denying it (whether or not it actually occurred).

  • After what Trump considered a strong trip to Vegas, he seethed when he got back and saw Tillerson’s gaffe dominating cable-news coverage. Everywhere he flipped, there was Tillerson’s face instead of his.
  • The relationship is so toxic, sources tell Jonathan Swan and me, that few in the White House think it can be rebuilt. There’s zero trust between the West Wing and the State Department.

[Continue reading…]

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‘Death spiral’: Tillerson makes nice but may not last long with Trump

The Washington Post reports: The moment was as remarkable as it was unprecedented: A sitting U.S. secretary of state took to the microphone to pledge his fealty to the president — despite his well-documented unhappiness in the job and the growing presumption in Washington that he is a short-timer.

Rex Tillerson said Wednesday he would stay as long as President Trump wants him to, and Trump said he has “full confidence” in the former ExxonMobil chief executive. Shortly afterward, Tillerson’s spokeswoman also felt compelled to publicly deny an NBC News report that Tillerson had called the president a “moron,” and she said he was determined to remain in his job.

But Tillerson’s move on Wednesday to reassure Trump of his convictions may well be too little and too late for the long term, according to the accounts of 19 current and former senior administration officials and Capitol Hill aides, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to offer candid assessments.

The already tense relationship between the two headstrong men — one a billionaire former real estate developer, the other a former captain of the global oil industry — has ruptured into what some White House officials call an irreparable breach that will inevitably lead to Tillerson’s departure, whether immediately or not. Tillerson’s dwindling cohort of allies say he has been given an impossible job and is doing his best with it. [Continue reading…]

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Rex Tillerson is running the State Department into the ground

Nik Steinberg writes: On November 10, 2016, my colleagues and I at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations gathered on the top floor of the building, which overlooks the U.N. General Assembly. My boss at the time, Ambassador Samantha Power, had convened the staff to discuss the transition in the aftermath of the election, the results of which had caught many of us by surprise. The U.S. Mission, like the State Department as a whole, brings together career foreign and civil service officers with a handful of political appointees chosen by the president. Out of a staff of roughly 150 people, I was one of a few dozen political appointees.

It was an emotional gathering for all, but there were differences in the staff’s reactions that day. The political appointees spoke mostly about the deep divisions exposed by the election, and expressed concern that many of the issues we’d worked hardest on during our time in government—such as rallying a global response to the refugee crisis and marshaling support for a landmark agreement on climate change—would be undone by a president-elect who had campaigned against those efforts.

The career officers, in contrast, tended to focus on a point of continuity. They talked about how, whether serving in a Republican or Democratic administration, their responsibility was to offer the best advice they could on how to advance America’s interests in the world. As one foreign service officer put it: “We will keep serving this country. That’s what we do.”

I’ve thought a lot about those former colleagues during the first eight months of the Trump administration. The seriousness with which they approach the job of representing our country, and the fact that many of them continue to serve, has been a source of profound solace to me in an otherwise bleak period. [Continue reading…]

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Tillerson recognizes that Trump is a ‘moron’ but has yet to resign

NBC News reports: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was on the verge of resigning this past summer amid mounting policy disputes and clashes with the White House, according to multiple senior administration officials who were aware of the situation at the time.

The tensions came to a head around the time President Donald Trump delivered a politicized speech in late July to the Boy Scouts of America, an organization Tillerson once led, the officials said.

Just days earlier, Tillerson had openly disparaged the president, referring to him as a “moron,” after a July 20 meeting at the Pentagon with members of Trump’s national security team and Cabinet officials, according to three officials familiar with the incident. [Continue reading…]

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Washington sends indecipherable signals to North Korea on nuclear/missile tests and war

Yesterday the New York Times reported: The Trump administration acknowledged on Saturday for the first time that it was in direct communication with the government of North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests, seeking a possible way forward beyond the escalating threats of a military confrontation from both sides.

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said, when pressed about how he might begin a conversation with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that could avert what many government officials fear is a significant chance of open conflict between the two countries.

“We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” he added. “We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang,” a reference to North Korea’s capital. [Continue reading…]

This afternoon, State Department spokesperson, Heather Nauert reiterated that channels of communication remain open — for now:


And yet Donald Trump says there’s no point engaging in talks:


While the State Department appears ignorant that North Korea has already demonstrated its nuclear capabilities:


And Trump insists he will succeed where Clinton, Bush, and Obama failed:


But as Jeffrey Lewis points out, Trump already failed, having claimed in January that North Korea testing an intercontinental ballistic missile “won’t happen” — until it did happen:


Perhaps the North Koreans have less hesitation about engaging in talks with the U.S. than difficulty believing there is anyone in this administration with whom they can productively engage.

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Why it probably doesn’t matter whether Tillerson stays or goes

Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky write: In our combined 50-plus years at the State Department, neither of us ever witnessed as profound a humiliation as a sitting president handed his secretary of state Sunday morning.

“I told Rex Tillerson, our wonderful Secretary of State, that he is wasting his time trying to negotiate with Little Rocket Man,” the president tweeted. “Save your energy Rex, we’ll do what has to be done!”

Even if they’re playing good cop-bad cop, this is a shocker: Donald Trump is basically announcing that any negotiations with North Korea are worthless. This not only undercut Tillerson personally, but also undermines U.S. interests and the secretary of state’s sensible decision to talk to the North Korean regime. To make matters worse, all of this is occurring while Tillerson is in Beijing to prepare for the president’s trip to China next month—so the president kneecapped his own top diplomat in front of America’s chief rival in Asia.

Is this the final straw for Tillerson? The secretary of state clearly has not helped himself. Through his budget cuts, his focus on departmental reorganization at the expense of appointing assistant secretaries, his reliance on a tiny inner circle of outsiders and his maladroit use of the press, Tillerson has isolated himself within his own department. The Beltway foreign policy blob has already written him off as the worst secretary of state in history, and clearly others are hovering (U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley says she doesn’t want the job, but if you believe that, or if John Bolton make similar protestations, we have an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal to sell you).

But in all fairness, the former ExxonMobil chief has never been empowered by his president. He’s been undercut repeatedly by this White House—see Kushner, Jared—and by Trump personally, even (especially) when he’s making the right diplomatic moves. And there’s no sign that any one of the vultures circling around Tillerson would be able to change or transcend this dynamic. [Continue reading…]

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Trump signed presidential directive ordering actions to pressure North Korea

The Washington Post reports: Early in his administration, President Trump signed a directive outlining a strategy of pressure against North Korea that involved actions across a broad spectrum of government agencies and led to the use of military cyber-capabilities, according to U.S. officials.

As part of the campaign, U.S. Cyber Command targeted hackers in North Korea’s military spy agency, the Reconnaissance General Bureau, by barraging their computer servers with traffic that choked off Internet access.

Trump’s directive, a senior administration official said, also included instructions to diplomats and officials to bring up North Korea in virtually every conversation with foreign interlocutors and urge them to sever all ties with Pyongyang. Those conversations have had significant success, particularly in recent weeks as North Korea has tested another nuclear weapon and ballistic missiles, officials said.

So pervasive is the diplomatic campaign that some governments have found themselves scrambling to find any ties with North Korea. When Vice President Pence called on one country to break relations during a recent overseas visit, officials there reminded him that they never had relations with Pyongyang. Pence then told them, to their own surprise, that they had $2 million in trade with North Korea. Foreign officials, who asked that their country not be identified, described the exchange. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. in direct communication with North Korea, says Tillerson

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration acknowledged on Saturday for the first time that it was in direct communication with the government of North Korea over its missile and nuclear tests, opening a possible way forward beyond the escalating threats of a military confrontation from both sides.

“We are probing, so stay tuned,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said, when pressed about how he might begin a conversation with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, that could avert what many government officials fear is a significant chance of open conflict between the two countries.

“We ask, ‘Would you like to talk?’ We have lines of communications to Pyongyang — we’re not in a dark situation, a blackout,” he added. “We have a couple, three channels open to Pyongyang,” a reference to North Korea’s capital.

The two countries have been trading public threats over North Korea’s nuclear program, with the North declaring that its missiles have the capacity to strike the United States and President Trump vowing to “totally destroy” North Korea.

Mr. Tillerson gave no indication of what the administration might be willing to give up in any negotiations, and Mr. Trump has made clear he would make no concessions. But many inside and outside government have noted there were no major military exercises between the United States and South Korea scheduled until the spring, so the promise of scaling them back could be dangled. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. to slash embassy staff in Cuba, warns travelers of hotel attacks

The Washington Post reports: “The reduction in diplomatic presence was made to ensure the safety of our personnel,” said one official. “We maintain diplomatic relations with Cuba, and our work in Cuba will be guided by national security and foreign policy goals of the United States.”

The State Department has acknowledged that at least 21 Americans connected to the embassy have been hurt in the attacks, the most recent of which occurred in August. No Cuban employees of the embassy have complained of any symptoms, only American diplomats.

Among the health symptoms are hearing loss, dizziness, tinnitus, balance problems, visual difficulties, headaches, fatigue, cognitive issues and sleeping difficulties.

Nearly 10 months after the first complaints surfaced, neither U.S. nor Cuban investigators are any closer to identifying what is causing the injuries, or who is responsible. Investigators are looking into the possibility that they were subjected to some sort of “sonic attack,” among other theories, though it is not clear why American diplomats and a handful of Canadian envoys would be the only ones to complain of symptoms.

Cuba has denied having anything to do with the injuries. Among the possibilities being explored is that agents acting on behalf of a third country may be responsible. [Continue reading…]

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Rex Tillerson viewed as one of the worst secretaries of state in history

Vox reports: The United Nations General Assembly is usually a time for America’s secretary of state — the country’s chief diplomat — to shine. That, to put it mildly, isn’t what’s happening with Rex Tillerson.

Instead, this week’s confab of world leaders in New York is taking place with Tillerson’s hold on his job looking shakier than ever. A pair of reports this week in Axios and Politico say he’s fallen out of favor in the White House. Rumors are flying about possible new secretaries, with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley said to be at the top of Trump’s list.

There is a simple reason why Tillerson is at such risk of getting canned: His tenure, observers say, has been an unmitigated disaster.

“Tillerson would be at or near the bottom of the list of secretaries of state, not just in the post-Second World War world but in the record of US secretaries of state,” says Paul Musgrave, a scholar of US foreign policy at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

The former Exxon Mobil CEO — whose nomination was initially greeted warmly by prominent foreign policy hands — has failed to wield any significant influence in internal administration debates over issues like Syria, North Korea, or Russia.

His push to slash “inefficiencies” in the State Department and seeming disinterest in working closely with longtime staff were even more damaging. By failing to get people into vital high-level posts and actively pushing out talented personnel, he ended up making America’s response to major crises incoherent and weakening the State Department for a “generation,” according to George Washington University’s Elizabeth Saunders.

This can’t all be blamed on Tillerson: Even a skilled and experienced diplomat would have had trouble maintaining influence in the chaotic Trump White House, where people like Haley and Jared Kushner wield major influence and foreign policy is often made by tweet.

Yet both nonpartisan experts and high-ranking State Department appointees in the past two administrations believe he personally deserves much of the blame. [Continue reading…]

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Trump unusually silent after aides challenge him

Politico reports: President Donald Trump is not happy with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, for publicly criticizing his response to violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. But it appears there is little he is planning to do about it, according to people who have spoken to him.

The unusually direct challenges from a Cabinet secretary and senior administration official seemed to make little more than a surface ripple in the swirling melodrama of the Trump White House, even as the president fumed privately about it.

Tillerson, when asked over the weekend whether Trump represented American values with his comments, gave a succinct response: “The president speaks for himself.” When asked whether he was separating himself from the president’s comments, Tillerson noted that he gave a speech to the State Department denouncing hate.

Cohn’s comments last week, saying the president could do better, came after several days of weighing whether to leave his position, including writing draft resignation letters.

The repudiations by Tillerson and Cohn were not nearly as sharp as some other criticisms of the president, who publicly waffled for days on how to respond to neo-Nazis and white supremacists who marched in the streets of Charlottesville and clashed with opposition protesters.

Still, said Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, “In the normal course of things, a secretary of state would be fired an hour after saying such a thing on national TV.” [Continue reading…]

Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky write: In a combined 50-plus years of working for Secretaries of State of both parties, we’ve never heard the nation’s top diplomat so economically and frontally distance himself from his boss. And rarely on such a critical issue of basic American values.

Secretaries of State just don’t do this, largely because a seamless interaction with the President is critically important to the success of the nation’s top diplomat.

Former Secretary of State James Baker used to describe himself as the White House’s man at the State Department, not State’s man at the White House, for precisely this reason. The easiest way to hang a closed-for-the-season sign on the State Department — at home and abroad — is to lose the President’s confidence. Tillerson wasn’t Trump’s first choice or probably second choice for the job; and in the odd bureaucratic landscape Trump has created on foreign policy, it’s doubtful he ever had the confidence of his boss.

One can argue that Tillerson should be applauded for standing up for his principles in the Fox interview. But clearly in doing so and implicitly criticizing the President on the values issue, the Secretary of State essentially relegates himself to the margins at the same time. [Continue reading…]

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Tillerson can’t defend Trump’s values

 

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Trump shows his contempt for the State Department by thanking Putin for expelling U.S. diplomats

Politico reports: President Donald Trump on Thursday thanked Russian President Vladimir Putin for expelling American diplomats from Russia on the grounds that “we’re going to save a lot of money,” prompting dismay among many of the rank-and-file at the State Department.

“I want to thank him because we’re trying to cut down our payroll, and as far as I’m concerned I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,” Trump told reporters at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, according to a pool report.

“There’s no real reason for them to go back,” he added. “I greatly appreciate the fact that we’ve been able to cut our payroll of the United States. We’re going to save a lot of money.”

Russia recently announced that it would expel hundreds of U.S. diplomats from its soil to retaliate for sanctions the U.S. put on the Kremlin. Those sanctions are in response to Russia’s suspected attempts to meddle in last year’s U.S. presidential election through a disinformation campaign and cyberattacks on Democratic Party officials.

Trump, whose campaign’s relationship with Russia is the subject of an ongoing federal investigation, had pushed back against the sanctions bill, but signed it into law after it passed Congress with veto-proof majorities in both chambers.

The State Department has not yet released the details of how it will handle the drawdown; Russia has demanded it keep no more than 455 people in its diplomatic missions there. But many, if not most, of the positions cut will likely be those of locally hired Russian staffers. The local staff who are let go will likely get severance payments, but cost savings are possible in the long run.

The U.S. diplomats forced to leave Moscow will in most cases be sent to other posts, sources said.

It wasn’t clear if Trump’s remarks were meant to be in jest, and he gave no solid indication either way. In any case, the comments did not go down well among employees at the State Department, where many U.S. diplomats have felt ignored and badly treated by the Trump administration. Some noted that locally hired staff members affected the most are crucial to American diplomats’ work overseas.

A senior U.S. diplomat serving overseas called Trump’s remarks “outrageous” and said it could lead more State Department staffers to head for the exits.

“This is so incredibly demoralizing and disrespectful to people serving their country in harm’s way,” the diplomat said. [Continue reading…]

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While Trump and Tillerson send mixed signals, there’s no U.S. ambassador in South Korea to straighten things out

BuzzFeed reports: For months, national security experts have warned that the large number of unfilled positions at the State Department risked putting the United States in jeopardy in the event of a crisis. Now, with North Korea threatening war and a new US intelligence finding that Pyongyang has succeeded in miniaturizing a nuclear bomb, a crisis has arrived, and President Donald Trump has yet to name a US ambassador to South Korea.

The personnel gap comes amid confusing signals out of Washington — at a time when one of America’s most important and vulnerable allies is seeking clarity and instruction.

“When managing both a chronic and an acute challenge such as those posed by North Korea, the South Korean government needs someone on the scene who can provide tight alliance consultation on the ground and 24/7,” said Patrick Cronin, an Asia scholar and Republican at the Center for a New American Security, an influential bipartisan think tank. “There is no substitute for an able and trusted ambassador.”

The utility of having a Senate-confirmed diplomat in Seoul is especially important given the penchant of Trump and his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, to respond in markedly different ways to international events, experts said. [Continue reading…]

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Tillerson wants U.S. diplomats to promote use of fossil fuels and avoid questions on climate change

Reuters reports: U.S. diplomats should sidestep questions from foreign governments on what it would take for the Trump administration to re-engage in the global Paris climate agreement, according to a diplomatic cable seen by Reuters.

The cable, sent by U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to embassies on Friday, also said diplomats should make clear the United States wants to help other countries use fossil fuels.

In the wake of President Donald Trump’s announcement in June that the United States would withdraw from the accord, the cable tells diplomats to expect foreign government representatives to ask questions like: “Does the United States have a climate change policy?” and “Is the administration advocating the use of fossil fuels over renewable energy?”

If asked, for example, “What is the process for consideration of re-engagement in the Paris Agreement?”, the answer should be vague: “We are considering a number of factors. I do not have any information to share on the nature or timing of the process,” the cable advises. [Continue reading…]

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