Contradictory U.S. policies upend a Syrian asylum seeker’s life

The New York Times reports: A prominent Syrian dissident has been told he cannot get political asylum in the United States because he organized a conference with Syrian opposition groups — even though the American government has supported members of those same groups in the Syrian civil war.

The case of the dissident, Radwan Ziadeh, 41, who lives in a suburb of Washington, reveals a stark gap between American immigration law and foreign policy.

Ever since counterterrorism provisions were expanded after the Sept. 11 attacks, the United States government has considered many armed opposition groups around the world, including some that it backs diplomatically or financially, to be “undesignated terrorist organizations.” Anyone who provides “material support” to those groups can be disqualified from receiving immigration papers.

Mr. Ziadeh is a prominent political opponent of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad. He has received fellowships at Harvard, Georgetown and the United States Institute of Peace, which is funded by Congress. He has testified in Congress, written books and served briefly as a spokesman for the Syrian opposition umbrella group that the American government supported.

But early this month, Mr. Ziadeh was informed that he would be denied political asylum in the United States. In a 12-page letter laying out the government’s “intent to deny” his asylum claim, Citizenship and Immigration Services explained that he had provided “material support” to Syrian groups that the government considered undesignated terrorist organizations.

Mr. Ziadeh said he was shocked. He and his wife have lived in the United States for 10 years on a series of temporary permits, the latest of which expires next spring. Their children were born here.

“Right now, I can’t even plan for the future,” he said. “What will happen? I have three American kids. I love, actually, the U.S. I visited all 50 states, even U.S. territories. I visited all the presidential libraries.”

Going back to Syria is not an option. The government there has a warrant out for his arrest; the Islamic State has him on a list of Syrians it wants dead.

At issue, specifically, is that Mr. Ziadeh organized a series of conferences from November 2012 to May 2013 to discuss a democratic transition in Syria. [Continue reading…]

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Tillerson’s latest blow in his on-going assault on the State Dept targets minorities and women

The Washington Post reports: Dozens of young minority and female State Department recruits received startling and unwelcome news last week: They would not be able to soon join the Foreign Service despite having been promised that opportunity. Their saga is just the latest sign that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s rush to slash the size of the State Department without a plan is harming diplomacy and having negative unintended effects.

The recruits, who are part of the State Department’s Rangel and Pickering fellowship programs, have already completed two years of graduate-level education at U.S. taxpayers’ expense plus an internship, often in a foreign country. The deal they struck with the federal government was that after completing their educations they would be given an inside track to become full-fledged U.S. diplomats abroad if they also satisfied medical and security requirements. In turn, they promised to commit at least five years to the Foreign Service.

These minority and female candidates already went through a competitive application process, meaning they are some of the best and brightest young graduates around. It also means they have other options. Young stars don’t join the State Department for the money or the glory; they want to serve and represent their country and are willing to make sacrifices to do it.

Many were shocked when they received a letter telling them they had one week to decide if they wanted to take a much less appealing job — stamping passports in a foreign embassy for two years — with the prospect but no guarantee of becoming a Foreign Service officer even after that.

“This is no way to treat our next generation,” one Foreign Service officer serving overseas told me. [Continue reading…]

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Qatar, accused of supporting terrorism, hires ex-U.S. attorney general John Ashcroft

Reuters reports: The government of Qatar has hired John Ashcroft, the U.S. attorney general during the Sept. 11 attacks, as it seeks to rebut accusations from U.S. President Donald Trump and its Arab neighbors that it supports terrorism.

Qatar will pay the Ashcroft Law Firm $2.5 million for a 90-day period as the country seeks to confirm its efforts to fight global terrorism and comply with financial regulations including U.S. Treasury rules, according to a Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, filing on Friday with the Justice Department.

“The firm’s work will include crisis response and management, program and system analysis, media outreach, education and advocacy regarding the client’s historical, current and future efforts to combat global terror and its compliance goals and accomplishments,” according to a letter by Ashcroft firm partner Michael Sullivan included in the filing.

Qatar faces isolation by fellow Arab countries after Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Egypt severed ties with Doha on Monday, accusing it of supporting Islamist militants and their adversary Iran. Qatar denies the allegations. [Continue reading…]

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Senior diplomat in Beijing embassy resigns over Trump’s climate change decision

The Washington Post reports: The No. 2 diplomat at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing resigned Monday, telling staff his conscience would not permit him to formally notify the Chinese that the United States is withdrawing from the Paris climate accord.

David H. Rank, a career Foreign Service officer of 27 years, had been acting ambassador until former Iowa governor Terry Branstad (R) was confirmed as the new ambassador last month. Rank held a town meeting with embassy employees to explain he had offered his resignation and it had been accepted.

As the head of the embassy until Branstad arrives, it was Rank’s responsibility to deliver a formal notification of the U.S. intention to withdraw from the climate pact.

According to a State Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to be more candid, Rank was unwilling to deliver the demarche.

He told his staff that as “a parent, a patriot and a Christian,” he could not in good conscience play a role in implementing President Trump’s decision to withdraw, according to a colleague familiar with Rank’s comments. [Continue reading…]

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Former diplomats say Trump team sought to lift sanctions on Russia

NBC News reports: The Trump administration was gearing up to lift sanctions on Russia when the president took office, but career diplomats ginned up pressure in Congress to block the move, two senior former State Department officials told NBC News Thursday.

It’s the latest evidence that President Trump moved to turn his favorable campaign rhetoric about Russia into concrete action when he took power.

Daniel Fried, who served as a senior diplomat until he retired in late February, said he became aware of the sanctions effort in the early weeks of Trump’s presidency. [Continue reading…]

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Trump administration moves to return Russian compounds in Maryland and New York

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration is moving toward handing back to Russia two diplomatic compounds, near New York City and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, that its officials were ejected from in late December as punishment for Moscow’s interference in the 2016 presidential election.

President Barack Obama said Dec. 29 that the compounds were being “used by Russian personnel for intelligence-related purposes” and gave Russia 24 hours to vacate them. Separately, Obama expelled from the United States what he said were 35 Russian “intelligence operatives.”

Early last month, the Trump administration told the Russians that it would consider turning the properties back over to them if Moscow would lift its freeze, imposed in 2014 in retaliation for U.S. sanctions related to Ukraine, on construction of a new U.S. consulate on a certain parcel of land in St. Petersburg.

Two days later, the U.S. position changed. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak at a meeting in Washington that the United States had dropped any linkage between the compounds and the consulate, according to several people with knowledge of the exchanges. [Continue reading…]

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The vulgar realism of Rex Tillerson’s State Department

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

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

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

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

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

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State Dept condemns ‘brutal attack’ carried out by Turkish officials against peaceful protesters in Washington

 

The New York Times reports: Supporters of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, including his government security forces and several armed individuals, violently charged a group of protesters outside the Turkish ambassador’s residence here on Tuesday night in what the police characterized as “a brutal attack.”

Eleven people were injured, including a police officer, and nine were taken to a hospital, the Metropolitan Police chief, Peter Newsham, said at a news conference on Wednesday. Two Secret Service agents were also assaulted in the melee, according to a federal law enforcement official.

The State Department condemned the attack as an assault on free speech and warned Turkey that the action would not be tolerated. “We are communicating our concern to the Turkish government in the strongest possible terms,” said Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman.

A group of Republican lawmakers went a step further, calling the episode an “affront to the United States” and calling for Turkey to apologize. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. accuses Syria of mass executions and burning bodies

The Washington Post reports: The Syrian government has constructed and is using a crematorium inside its notorious Sednaya military prison outside Damascus to clandestinely dispose of thousands of prisoners it continues to execute inside the facility.

At least 50 prisoners a day are executed in the prison, some in mass hangings, said Stuart Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state for the Middle East. A recent Amnesty International report called Sednaya a “human slaughterhouse” and said that thousands of Syrians have been abducted, detained and “exterminated” there.

The government of President Bashar al-Assad, Jones said, has carried out these atrocities and others “seemingly with the unconditional support from Russia and Iran,” his main backers.

The information, he said, came from human rights and nongovernmental sources, as well as “intelligence assessments.” He released overhead photographs of the facility.

Russia, Jones said, “has either aided in or passively looked away as the regime has” engaged in years of “mass murders” and other atrocities, including extensive bombing of hospitals and other health-care sites and the use of chemical weapons on both civilians and rebel forces. [Continue reading…]

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To freeze Syria war, Russia proposes setting up ‘de-escalation zones’

The New York Times reports: Russia is circulating a draft proposal to Syrian rebel groups and diplomats that envisions pausing the war in Syria through the creation of safe “de-escalation zones,” with outside troops possibly acting as buffers between the antagonists.

The draft proposal, shared with The New York Times on Wednesday by participants at Syria talks held in Astana, Kazakhstan, is one of the most detailed suggestions to emerge in recent months in the rocky negotiations to halt the war, now in its seventh year.

The proposal would apply to Syrian government and rebel forces in the four main areas of the country where insurgents unaffiliated with the Islamic State still hold significant territory.

But it faces a number of challenges, most notably acceptance by the Syrian government and the insurgent groups attending the talks.

The insurgent groups suspended participation in the talks on Wednesday to protest what they described as heavy bombing by the Syrian government’s Russian-backed forces the day before that killed dozens, including civilians.

The Russian proposal does not specify measures to prevent government warplanes from carrying out such bombings. Rebels said they remained suspicious of Russian guarantees, regardless, because Russia has been unable or unwilling to curb government attacks on civilians.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said on Wednesday that the proposal had the backing not only of Russia but also of Iran, another ally of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, and Turkey, which backs some anti-Assad groups.

“We as guarantors — Turkey, Iran, Russia — will do everything for this to work,” Mr. Putin said in remarks carried on Russian television, speaking in Sochi, Russia, after meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey.

The proposal was made as the United States, another supporter of some anti-Assad groups, appeared to be re-engaging in the negotiations after a prolonged absence.

Stuart E. Jones, the acting assistant secretary of state, was in Astana, the most senior American official to participate in Syria talks since President Trump took office. [Continue reading…]

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Kim Jong Un’s missile tests expose Trump’s North Korea-policy vacuum

Reuters reports: North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Saturday shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.

U.S. and South Korean officials said the test, from an area north of the North Korean capital, appeared to have failed, in what would be the North’s fourth straight unsuccessful missile test since March.

The test came as the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group arrived in waters near the Korean peninsula, where it will join the USS Michigan, a guided missile submarine that docked in South Korea on Tuesday.

Tillerson, in a U.N. Security Council meeting on North Korea on Friday, repeated the Trump administration’s position that all options were on the table if Pyongyang persisted with its nuclear and missile development.

“The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland,” Tillerson said.

“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, who told Reuters in an interview on Thursday North Korea was his biggest global challenge, said the launch was an affront to China, the North’s sole main ally.

“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!,” Trump said in a post on Twitter after the launch.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told the U.N. meeting it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem.

“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang said.

In a commentary on Saturday, China’s official Xinhua news agency said both North Korea and the United States needed to tread cautiously. [Continue reading…]

Zack Beauchamp writes: “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea,” President Donald Trump told Reuters in an interview published on Friday morning. “Absolutely.”

It was a frightening capstone to the past two days in Trumpland, which have been dominated by North Korea policy. But happily, there’s less to it than meets the eye: The Trump administration is currently giving every indication that it doesn’t want to use force against North Korea.

The issue, though, is that we have no clue what it actually does want to do.

On Wednesday, nearly the entire Senate took a bus trip to the White House to be briefed on North Korea policy. In the briefing, top Trump officials told senators that they were planning to use economic sanctions and diplomatic outreach to allies to bring North Korea to heel. But they were apparently incapable of being more specific than that, infuriating many of the senators who attended. One anonymous Democrat described the reaction to Trump’s comments at the briefing as “80 sets of invisible eyes rolling.”

On Thursday, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told NPR that the US was open to direct negotiations with North Korea — reversing the “no negotiations” stance that he himself had taken a month ago. Then on Friday came Trump’s ominous Reuters interview, which also included a new demand that South Korea pay for the THAAD missile defense system — “the most incredible equipment you’ve ever seen” — that the US was currently installing there.

And then, late on Friday, North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test. It’s not yet clear how the Trump team will respond.

So when you put that all together, what do you have? What does the Trump administration’s past two days of frenetic activity on North Korea tell us about its actual policy?

“Beats the fuck out of me,” says Joshua Pollack, a North Korea expert at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. [Continue reading…]

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America has a proud and effecive tradition of diplomacy. It is being traduced

The Economist: Few Americans would have known it, but on New Year’s Eve their diplomats probably prevented scores of killings in central Africa, and perhaps a war. President Joseph Kabila, Congo’s long-stay autocrat, had refused to leave power, as he was obliged to do. Angry protesters were taking to the streets of Kinshasa and Mr Kabila’s troops buckling up to see them there. Yet through a combination of adroit negotiating and the high-minded pushiness that comes with representing a values-based superpower, Tom Perriello, the State Department’s then special envoy for the Great Lakes, and John Kerry, the then secretary of state, helped persuade Mr Kabila to back down. The resulting deal, brokered by the Catholic church, committed Mr Kabila to a power-sharing arrangement and retirement later this year. That would represent the first-ever peaceful transition in Congo. But it probably won’t happen.

Three weeks later, Donald Trump became president and the State Department’s 100-odd political appointees, including Mr Kerry and Mr Perriello, shipped out. That is normal in American transitions. But the most senior career diplomats were also pushed out, which is not. And only Mr Kerry has so far been replaced, by Rex Tillerson, a well-regarded former boss of Exxon Mobil. He had no ambition to be secretary of state—or knew he was being interviewed for the job—until Mr Trump offered it to him. Now installed as the voice of American foreign policy, he has maintained, notwithstanding his undoubted qualities, an oilman’s aversion to public scrutiny. He rarely speaks to journalists or visits American embassies on his trips abroad. He appears absorbed by the ticklish task of arranging a 31% cut in his department’s budget, which Mr Trump will shortly propose to Congress.

The vacant positions—in effect, almost the State Department’s entire decision-making staff of under-secretaries, assistant secretaries and ambassadors—are being covered by mid-ranking civil servants, who lack the authority, or understanding of the administration’s plans, to take the initiative. America’s diplomatic operation is idling at best. A sense of demoralisation—described in interviews with a dozen serving and former diplomats—permeates it. “I went to a policy planning meeting the other day and we spent half the time talking about someone’s bad back,” says a diplomat. “We’ve never been so bereft of leadership,” says another. A third predicts a wave of resignations. [Continue reading…]

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U.S. wants more UN sanctions over North Korea’s nuclear arms, warns time is short

The Washington Post reports: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called Friday for new economic sanctions on North Korea and other “painful” measures over its nuclear weapons program, as the Trump administration warned that it would take military action if diplomacy failed.

“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences,” Tillerson said during an unusual high-level session of the U.N. Security Council called to review what the Trump administration calls its most dire national security concern. “The more we bide our time, the sooner we will run out of it.”

Tillerson’s push at a special session of the Security Council came as the Trump administration said it is willing to bargain directly with North Korea over ending its nuclear weapons program, but under strict conditions that make talks unlikely anytime soon.

Ahead of the diplomatic effort at the United Nations, President Trump said direct conflict is possible. [Continue reading…]

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The cost of Trump’s retreat from human rights

Jorge G. Castañeda writes: Last month, the United States declined to appear before the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in Washington, for the first time in decades.

It is a member and participates regularly in the commission’s meetings. But this time, it was the United States delegation that faced questioning — about President Trump’s executive orders to bar travelers from six Muslim-majority countries, to accelerate deportation of undocumented migrants and to weaken environmental regulations.

The refusal to appear placed Washington in the dubious company of Nicaragua, Venezuela and Cuba on accountability for human rights compliance.

Congratulations, Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson.

Granted, the United States has never been totally consistent in championing human rights abroad, nor perfect in achieving those ideals at home. It also is not a party to the 1968 American Convention on Human Rights. But in openly retreating from its self-appointed role as a defender of the ideals that underpin the compact, it is showing cynical contempt for human rights even as a goal. This practically guarantees a result we are beginning to see: Dictators and other bullies are emboldened to trample rights and liberties with impunity. [Continue reading…]

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The end of foreign aid as we know it

Bryant Harris, Robbie Gramer, and Emily Tamkin write: President Donald Trump’s vow to put “America first” includes a plan to drastically cut assistance to developing countries and merge the State Department with USAID, according to an internal budget document and sources.

The administration’s March budget proposal vowed to slash aid to developing countries by over one-third, but contained few details. According to a detailed 15-page State Department budget document obtained by Foreign Policy, the overhaul also includes rechanneling funding from development assistance into a program that is tied closely to national security objectives.

The document details how the Trump administration’s plans to reduce direct foreign assistance would take place in fiscal year 2018.

Acting USAID Administrator Wade Warren told employees at a recent staff meeting that administration officials are considering folding the agency into the State Department as part of a review mandated by President Trump’s March 13 executive order on streamlining the executive branch, according to a source within USAID. The order instructs the head of each agency to submit a plan to the Office of Management and Budget director, Mick Mulvaney, “to reorganize the agency, if appropriate, in order to improve the efficiency, effectiveness, and accountability of that agency.”

While the order appears to give USAID’s administrator some discretion in the reorganization plan, the White House’s 2018 budget proposal points to a preference for consolidating the two entities, stating “the need for State and USAID to pursue greater efficiencies through reorganization and consolidation in order to enable effective diplomacy and development.”

Such a move would not be unprecedented. In 1999, the U.S. Information Agency, which funded information and cultural programs abroad, was closed down and many of its programs folded in the State Department. But shutting down, or even just scaling back, an agency dedicated to issues like disease prevention and food security could prove far more polarizing.

“That will end the technical expertise of USAID, and in my view, it will be an unmitigated disaster for the longer term,” said Andrew Natsios, the former USAID Administrator under President George W. Bush. “I predict we will pay the price. We will pay the price for the poorly thought out and ill-considered organization changes that we’re making, and cuts in spending as well.” [Continue reading…]

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North Korea isn’t testing its missiles. It’s preparing for a nuclear first strike

On March 9, Jeffrey Lewis wrote: On Monday morning, North Korea launched four missiles from the northwest corner of the country that traveled 620 miles before landing in the Sea of Japan.

While none of the launches were the long-awaited test of an intercontinental-range ballistic missile — the sort of weapon that could reach the United States — the salvo was a big deal in its own way. Pyongyang very vividly demonstrated the warnings from Thae Yong-ho, a high-ranking North Korean diplomat who defected last year and described how the country was taking the final steps to arm its missile units with nuclear weapons. North Korea is developing an offensive doctrine for the large-scale use of nuclear weapons in the early stages of a conflict. When combined with what we know about U.S. and South Korean war plans, this fact raises troubling questions about whether a crisis on the Korean peninsula might erupt into nuclear war before President Donald Trump has time to tweet about it.

In the past, North Korea tested all its No-dong missiles out of a single military test site near a village of the same name. (Why, yes, the U.S. analysts did name the missiles after the town. The emasculating quality was a pure coincidence, I am sure.) These tests were designed to demonstrate that the Scud and No-dong missiles worked. They were tests in the literal sense of the word.

In recent years, however, North Korea has started launching Scuds and No-dongs from different locations all over the damn country. These aren’t missile tests, they are military exercises. North Korea knows the missiles work. What the military units are doing now is practicing — practicing for a nuclear war.

The North Koreans haven’t exactly been coy about this. Last year, North Korea tested a No-dong missile. Afterward, North Korea published a map showing that the missile was fired to a point at sea that was the exact range as South Korea’s port city of Busan, with an arc running from the target into the ocean, down to Busan. In case you missed the map, the North Koreans spelled it out: “The drill was conducted by limiting the firing range under the simulated conditions of making preemptive strikes at ports and airfields in the operational theater in South Korea where the U.S. imperialists’ nuclear war hardware is to be hurled.”

This time, North Korea launched four “extended-range” Scud missiles that are capable of flying up to 620 miles. The map showed all four missiles landing on an arc that stretched down to the Marine Corps Air Station near Iwakuni, Japan. Once again, the North Korean statement doesn’t leave much to the imagination: “Involved in the drill were Hwasong artillery units of the KPA (Korean People’s Army) Strategic Force tasked to strike the bases of the U.S. imperialist aggressor forces in Japan in contingency.”

So why is North Korea practicing nuking U.S. forces in Japan?

The United States and South Korea are conducting their largest annual joint military exercise, known as Foal Eagle. The exercise, which is really a series of exercises, lasts two months and involves tens of thousands of U.S. and South Korean military personnel, as well as an aircraft carrier, bombers, and — guess what? — F-35 aircraft based out of Iwakuni. Foal Eagle is a rehearsal for the U.S.-Republic of Korea war plan, known as OPLAN 5015, which has been described as a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, including its leadership, as a retaliation for some provocation. Whether that’s a fair description or not, the North Koreans certainly think the annual exercise is a dress rehearsal for an invasion. This year’s menu of fun and games reportedly includes a U.S.-ROK special operations unit practicing an airborne assault on North Korea’s nuclear and missile facilities.

What North Korea is doing is simply counterprogramming the Foal Eagle with its own exercise. If we are practicing an invasion, they are practicing nuking us to repel that invasion. [Continue reading…]

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State Department, U.S. embassies promoted Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

Politico reports: President Donald Trump isn’t the only one promoting his private Mar-a-Lago club as the “winter White House.” His foreign policy team has gotten in on it too.

The State Department and at least two U.S. embassies — the United Kingdom and Albania — earlier this month circulated a 400-word blog post detailing the long history of the president’s South Florida club, which has been open to dues-paying members since the mid-1990s and is now used by Trump for frequent weekend getaways. He has hosted foreign leaders there twice.

The blog post — written by the State Department-managed site Share America — described the “dream deferred” when Mar-a-Lago’s original builder, Marjorie Merriweather Post, willed the property to the federal government upon her death in 1973, with the stipulation it be used as a winter retreat for the president.

“Her plan didn’t work, however,” the post’s author, Leigh Hartman, wrote, explaining how the government returned the property to Post’s trust because it cost too much money to maintain. Trump bought the property and its furniture in 1985, and he opened it a decade later as a private club.

“Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016,” Hartman wrote.

Share America removed the post on Monday after the State Department’s efforts to share the article — originally published just before Trump hosted Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-Lago — drew criticism. “The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders. We regret any misperception and have removed the post,” read a statement on the site in place of the post. [Continue reading…]

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Exxon seeks U.S. waiver to resume Russia oil venture

The Wall Street Journal reports: Exxon Mobil Corp. has applied to the Treasury Department for a waiver from U.S. sanctions on Russia in a bid to resume its joint venture with state oil giant PAO Rosneft, according to people familiar with the matter.

Exxon has been seeking U.S. permission to drill with Rosneft in several areas banned by sanctions and applied in recent months for a waiver to proceed in the Black Sea, according to these people. The company has sought approval for access to the region since at least late 2015, one person said.

The Black Sea request is likely to be closely scrutinized by members of Congress who are seeking to intensify sanctions on Russia in response to what the U.S. said was its use of cyberattacks to interfere with elections last year. Congress has also launched an investigation into whether there were ties between aides to Donald Trump and Russia’s government during the presidential campaign and the political transition.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is Exxon’s former chief executive officer and in that role forged a close working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and with Rosneft, a company that is critical to Russia’s oil-reliant economy.

The State Department is among the U.S. government agencies that have a say on Exxon’s waiver application, according to current and former U.S. officials. [Continue reading…]

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Tillerson meets with Putin amid deepening tensions over U.S. missile strikes in Syria

The Washington Post reports: The rift between the United States and Russia was laid bare Wednesday when Secretary of State Rex Tillerson held his first direct talks with Russia’s president. Their discussions failed to ease deepening tensions over Syria and Washington’s demands that Moscow abandon its main Middle East ally.

“There is a low level of trust between our countries,” Tillerson said in a news conference with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. “The world’s two primary nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship.”

Wednesday’s meeting brought no indication that the relationship would improve any time soon.

After Tillerson spent three hours talking with Lavrov and almost two hours at the Kremlin with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Lavrov, sitting three feet from Tillerson, aired a long list of grievances with the United States, some dating back many years.

“Unfortunately, we’ve got some differences with regards to a majority of those issues,” Lavrov lamented.

The only concession that Tillerson appeared to have extracted from the Russians was that Putin offered to restore a hotline aimed at avoiding accidents in the air over Syria. Russia had suspended that effort after U.S. missile strikes on a Syrian air base following an April 4 chemical weapons attack on a village in rebel territory. Even this tiny success was conditional; Lavrov said the deal would apply only if the United States and its allies targeted terrorists — not Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s ­forces.

Hopes may never have been high, especially after Russia sounded a defiant note before Tillerson arrived in Moscow. But if this was the chance to find common ground before the Trump administration attempts any new action on Syria, it has ended in failure.

The Russians used Tillerson’s visit as a chance to reassert Moscow’s firm stance on Syria: that it will not abide by any effort to remove Assad from power. [Continue reading…]

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