Trump, Putin hold 'successful' meeting
HELSINKI, July 16: Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin held a historic summit on Monday vowing their determination to forge a reset of troubled relations between the world’s greatest nuclear powers.
Trump, bent on forging a personal bond with the Kremlin chief despite allegations of Russian meddling in U.S. politics, went into the summit, blaming the “stupidity” of his predecessors for plunging ties to their present low.
“I think it’s a good start: very, very good start for everybody,” the U.S. leader told reporters after meeting Putin for more than two hours with just their interpreters present, and just before they were joined by their national security teams.
Putin said the talks with his U.S. counterpart were “very successful, useful.” He added that it’s a difficult period in the U.S.-Russian relationship, but the summit “reflects our desire to restore trust.”
Trump said he had raised the issue of alleged Russian meddling in U.S. elections. “We spent a great deal of time talking about it. He feels strongly about the issue and has an interesting idea,” Trump told a joint news conference with Putin. Asked if he trusted U.S. intelligence agencies which concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, Trump said he had been told by his CIA chief that it was Russia, but that he saw no reason to believe it. “President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.”
Putin denied any such interference, saying the allegations were “complete nonsense.” He said U.S. prosecutors could ask to interrogate the Russians accused of meddling in the U.S. elections. “He can send us a request to question these people he suspects,” Putin said of Robert Mueller, the former FBI Director who is looking into alleged Russian interference in the November 2016 vote.
Many in Washington were agog at Trump’s decision to sit one-on-one with Putin, a former KGB spymaster, worried about what he might bargain away after previously cosying up to the autocratic leaders of China and North Korea.
Indeed, some domestic critics wanted the Helsinki summit called off entirely after 12 Russian military agents were indicted under a long-running probe into Moscow’s alleged manipulation of the 2016 election.
But Trump, convinced his unique brand of diplomacy can make inroads with Putin, pressed ahead and looked forward to “having an extraordinary relationship” as the pair sat down to discuss everything from Syria, Ukraine and China to trade tariffs and the size of their nuclear arsenals.
Putin, basking in congratulations from Trump and other world leaders on the successful staging of the World Cup in Russia, said: “The time has come to talk in a substantive way about our relations and problem areas of the world.”
Trump added: “Frankly, we have not been getting along for the last number of years. And I really think the world wants to see us get along. We are the two great nuclear powers.”
Putin scoffed at a suggestion that Moscow had some compromising material on Trump. “It’s hard to imagine greater nonsense,” he said. “Please get this rubbish out of your heads.”
House before his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin opened, U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday fired a Twitter broadside at his domestic opponents, blaming the diplomatic chill on the investigation into alleged Russian election meddling.
"Our relationship with Russia has NEVER been worse thanks to many years of U.S. foolishness and stupidity and now, the Rigged Witch Hunt!” Trump tweeted.
Russia's Foreign Ministry tweeted in response: “We agree.”
What Could Happen Next with North Korea
By Victor Cha
WASHINGTON, July 13: It has been one month since President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met in Singapore and signed a brief four-paragraph document that raised expectations that North Korea might finally be ready to make a strategic decision to abandon its weapons programs and join the international community.
Let us recap what has followed this historic meeting. Trump in a wide-ranging press conference directly after the meeting, said that the North Korean leader had agreed to give up his weapons, and that as evidence of his good intentions, the DPRK would repatriate the remains of POW/MIA soldiers from the Korean war and would decommission a missile engine testing facility.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made his third trip to Pyongyang last week to iron out some of the details of the Singapore statement and described the meetings as “productive.” He promised that working-level meetings would follow on repatriation of remains and that talks would continue on decommissioning of the missile engine test site.
Diplomacy with a country like North Korea has never been easy in my experience. Like Pompeo, I had no knowledge of my itinerary before I landed in North Korea, no sense of where I would be staying, and little sense of who I would be meeting. That is part of the cost of doing business with North Korea. Most diplomatic conventions are thrown out of the window. However, even handicapping for this, the results since Singapore leave a lot to be desired.
North Korea has not yet decommissioned the engine test site despite President Trump’s boasting that this has already been done. Moreover, rumors are that the site in question is for liquid-fuel engines when the North has moved on to more sophisticated solid-fuel engine technology (liquid-fuel engines have longer launch times and therefore make them more susceptible to pre-emptive strike). So, it’s not that great of a step forward in disarming the regime.
Despite Pompeo’s claims that his meetings in Pyongyang last week were productive, the North Korean news agency quoted unnamed DPRK officials as saying the meetings were terrible and that United States demands for denuclearization were “robber-like” (the media has translated this as “gangster”).
More working-level talks on denuclearization are to take place at an unspecified time, but this hardly instills confidence as their ineffectiveness was what prompted Pompeo’s third trip to Pyongyang last week, making this city the most frequented foreign destination for the Secretary’s young term in office. As for the scheduled working-level meetings on repatriation of remains on July 12—something which Trump maintains publicly has already happened— the North Korean side never showed up.
This is hardly an impressive record of follow-through since the Singapore summit. But it is not yet time to abandon diplomacy. For one, the fact that talks are taking place are vastly better than the situation one year ago, when the Trump administration was actively considered a military strike on the regime that would have escalated into a devastating war.
In addition, Donald Trump inadvertently has created “audience costs” for the DPRK leader in the sense that this isolated young leader clearly enjoys the world stage and summits with his American, Chinese and South Korean counterparts. Rumors are that the DPRK leader may even attend the UN General Assembly in New York this fall, which would be hard to do unless Kim started to make good on some of the deliverables in the Singapore statement.
Going forward, Pompeo has no choice but to continue to negotiate. Despite the “Hail Mary” nature of the summit, denuclearization talks with North Korea made halting progress one yard at a time. As was the case ten years ago when I was involved in talks, the issue of “sequencing” will again take center stage. That is, the North scoffs at disarming without some serious concessions by the United States first including movement on lifting sanctions, normalization of relations, conclusion of a peace treaty, and energy/economic assistance, while we have said that denuclearization is the key that unlocks the door to all of these benefits.
It is possible that Donald Trump might again try to break this cycle by offering up some of these concessions in advance, in particular normalization of relations and a peace treaty ending the Korean war. These steps would indeed be historic and would fit his personal narrative of wanting to win the Nobel Prize for doing something that his predecessors could not accomplish.
There is no promise that even these actions, however, would lead the North to abandon permanently its nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. After all, the North’s endgame is to achieve de facto acceptance by the United States as a nuclear-weapons state, and to conduct arms-control negotiations that reduce tensions on the peninsula (but not denuclearization).
But for Donald Trump, a partial denuclearization may be all that he needs to claim victory, particularly if he uses such an imperfect deal as a platform for then withdrawing U.S. troops from Korea. Trump has already unilaterally suspended U.S.-ROK military exercises because they are “provocative” (North Korea’s description adopted by Trump) and because they are “expensive” (Trump’s words adopted by Trump). He has also been very clear since the 1990s that he does not understand why the United States bears costs for stationing troops in Korea when the Koreans are a “rich country” that can defend themselves.
Should the president see U.S. troop drawdowns as the ultimate solution to extricate himself from this problem, he will not only have done permanent damage to our alliances in Asia, but he will have also emboldened North Korea and led it to believe that its decades-long strategy to use the nuclear threat to remove the United States from the peninsula has finally succeeded. Such an outcome would be warmly welcomed by China and Russia as further evidence of the diminution of the U.S. hegemonic position in Asia. In the end, this will make Americans less, not more, secure.
@ Victor Cha is the D.S. Song-KF Chair of Government in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and is the senior adviser and Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. He was on the National Security Council staff from 2004 to 2007 and also served as U.S. deputy head of delegation for the Six Party talks in 2006–2007.
12 Russians indicted in Mueller investigation
Washington, July 13: The Justice Department announced indictments against 12 Russian nationals as part of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, accusing them of engaging in a "sustained effort" to hack Democrats' emails and computer networks.
All 12 defendants are members of the GRU, a Russian federation intelligence agency within the main intelligence directorate of the Russian military, who were acting in "their official capacities."
The revelations provide more detail on the sophisticated assault on the US election in 2016, including the release of emails designed to damage Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.
The indictment was announced at almost exactly the moment that President Donald Trump rolled into the quadrangle of Windsor Castle to meet the awaiting Queen Elizabeth II in the symbolic highpoint of his visit to Britain.
Trump is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin -- who has denied election meddling -- in Helsinki on Monday for a summit that includes a one-on-one meeting with only interpreters present.
The Justice Department says the hacking targeted Clinton's campaign, Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, with the intention to "release that information on the internet under the names DCLeaks and Guccifer 2.0 and through another entity."
Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein said the indictment does not name any American citizen, but told reporters that defendants "corresponded with several Americans during the course of the conspiracy through the internet."
"There is no allegation in this indictment that any American citizen committed a crime," Rosenstein said at a news conference. "There is no allegation that the conspiracy altered the vote count or changed any election result."
Deputy White House press secretary Lindsey Walters referenced Rosenstein's comments and said there is no evidence tying the Trump campaign to hacking attempts.
"Today's charges include no allegations of knowing involvement by anyone on the campaign and no allegations that the alleged hacking affected the election result," Walters said in a statement. "This is consistent with what we have been saying all along."
Trump private attorney Rudy Giuliani in a tweet said the indictments are "good news for all Americans" but called on the special counsel investigation to end.
"The Russians are nailed. No Americans are involved. Time for Mueller to end this pursuit of the President and say President Trump is completely innocent," he tweeted.
Rosenstein said he briefed Trump about the allegations in the indictment earlier this week and that "the President is fully aware of the department's actions today."
Asked about the timing of the announcement, Rosenstein said it came as "a function of the collection of the facts, the evidence, the law, and a determination that it was sufficient to present the indictment at this time."
The unfolding drama on both sides of the Atlantic reflected how Trump's presidency has been overshadowed by the Mueller probe from its earliest moments and how the investigation frequently tramples the President's attempts to carve out favorable headlines.
Democrats are calling on Trump to cancel the meeting with Putin.
"Glad-handing with Vladimir Putin on the heels of these indictments would be an insult to our democracy," said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer.
Eleven of the Russians are charged with identity theft, conspiracy to launder money and conspiracy to commit computer crimes. Two defendants are charged with a conspiracy to commit computer crimes.
"Russian GRU officers hacked the website of a state election board and stole information about 500,000 voters," Rosenstein said. "They also hacked into computers of a company that supplied software used to verify voter registration information."
The defendants worked for two units of the GRU that "engaged in active cyber operations to interfere in the 2016 presidential elections," Rosenstein said. One unit stole information using spearfishing schemes and hacked into computer networks where they "installed malicious software that allowed them to spy on users and capture keystrokes, take screenshots and exfiltrate or remove data from those computers."
Each of the Russians involved held military titles. One leader was Sergey Aleksandrovich Morgachev, a lieutenant colonel who used the hacking tool "X-Agent." The other Russians involved also used various pseudonyms to send phishing emails to Democratic Party affiliates.
The two-part operation started with a "spearphishing" effort in early 2016, the indictment describes. The Russians hit more than 300 people connected to the Clinton campaign and Democratic political groups.
One of those targets was Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, whom Aleksey Viktorovich Lukashev and others spammed with a link that appeared to come from Google as a security notification but led Podesta to a GRU-created website. Another phishing effort involved the Russians using an email address with one letter deviated from the name of a Clinton campaign member's.
The computer crimes the Russians face also accuse them of installing malware on Democratic campaign computers. That allowed them to steal passwords, record staffers' keystrokes, take screenshots and observe computer work done on fundraising and voter outreach projects, according to the indictments. They also watched a Democratic campaign committee employee access the organization's bank account information.
Though the Democratic organizations realized they were hacked by May 2016 and attempted to flush out the hackers, the Russians continued to watch the computers through their hacks until a month before the election, according to the indictment.
The then worked to distribute the documents starting in June 2016. The Russian intelligence agents had registered the website DCLeaks.com and started a Facebook page and Twitter feed claiming they were "American hacktivists." Once the DNC announced publicly it had been hacked, the Russians used the online moniker Guccifer 2.0, claiming they were a lone Romanian. They did this "to undermine the allegations of Russian responsibility for the intrusion," the indictment said. They also took steps to cover their tracks, deleting files and logs on computers.
In June 2016, Guccifer 2.0 began posting stolen documents through a Wordpress site they ran. To spread the material further, they shared stolen documents with people including a US congressional candidate, a state lobbyist, journalists, an entity known as Organization 1, which appears to be Wikileaks, and a person in touch with the Trump campaign.
It has been more than a year since the special counsel's Russia investigation began. The probe had already resulted in criminal charges against 14 Russians, five Americans and one Dutch citizen and three corporate entities. One of those people has already been sentenced and served a month in prison, while three others pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
A number of Trump associates have so far been swept up in the special counsel investigation.
Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman in 2016, is currently in jail after his bail was revoked for alleged witness tampering and faces two sets of criminal charges related to his years of working as a lobbyist for pro-Russian Ukrainian politicians. He has maintained his innocence and is set to go to trial on bank fraud and other financial allegations on July 25.
Former Trump campaign official and Manafort deputy Rick Gates, former Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos and former Trump White House national security adviser Michael Flynn have all entered guilty pleas in connection with the investigation. Gates, Papadopoulos and Flynn have all pleaded guilty to making false statements to investigators. All agreed to cooperate with the special counsel's office, but Papadopoulos' cooperation is likely to come to an end in September when he is sentenced. The four Trump associates that have been charged are not accused of helping Russia meddle in the election.
Trump to NATO allies: Raise military spending to 4 percent of GDP
BRUSSELS, July 11: US President Donald Trump has told NATO countries to increase their defence spending to four percent of their gross domestic product, higher than the group's goal of two percent, a White House official said on Wednesday.
The official said the president's remarks were not a formal proposal but came as he was urging leaders to increase their outlays on defence.
The US president has been openly critical of his NATO allies since becoming president in January 2017. Ahead of the summit of the 29-member military alliance being held in the Belgian capital, Brussels, Trump sent out a tweet about the funding of NATO.
Trump has repeatedly said the US was bearing an unfair burden because it spends many times more of its GDP on defence than other NATO countries.
Speaking at the summit, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg earlier said that members states had agreed to spend more on defence in the coming years.
"All allies are increasing defence spending. This year at least eight of the NATO countries have committed to spend at least two percent of their GDP on defence and a majority of our allies have plans to do so by 2024," Stoltenberg said during a press conference in Brussels.
"For a quarter of a century many countries have been cutting billions from their defence budgets. Now they are adding billions," he added.
Stoltenberg said that in the coming years, the financial burden will be divided more evenly.
In total, NATO will receive $266bn more between this year and 2024, the secretary-general said.
But Stoltenberg's assurances that NATO member states are ramping up military funding do not seem to have impressed Trump.
Along with the increase in funding, NATO members also said they will work together to increase the capabilities of NATO missions around the world.
One of these missions will be in Iraq, where an operation will be set up to train local forces.
"The importance of the training mission in Iraq is because we believe prevention is more effective than intervention," the head of NATO said.
"We have to make sure ISIL is not able to come back. The best way to do this is by making sure the Iraqi government training, the Iraqi forces are able to prevent them from coming back," he added.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered for Canada to lead NATO's new military training mission in Iraq.
Speaking at an event on the sidelines of the NATO summit, Trudeau focused on the importance of rebuilding the war-ravaged country.
"We have to build that democracy and strengthen it," Trudeau said, adding that doing this "is something that we believe in deeply."
Trudeau also said Canada is willing to provide 250 troops and helicopters to help the efforts.
Russian gas and oil
The NATO summit in Brussels was off to a rocky start, when on Wednesday morning Trump told Stoltenberg Russia is effectively holding Germany captive because Germany's reliance on Russian gas and oil.
Trump said it was "very inappropriate" for the US to be paying for European defence from Russia while Germany is supporting gas deals with Moscow.
"They pay billions of dollars to Russia and we have to defend them against Russia," Trump told Stoltenberg at a breakfast meeting.
"Germany as far as I'm concerned is captive to Russia because it's getting so much of its energy from Russia," he said.
Usually the 29-member military alliance's annual meetings have traditionally been fairly by-the-book affairs, expectations are different this year - thanks, in large, to Trump.
The US president has been openly critical of many of NATO's practices, often railing against Washington spending more money on defence than other member states.
US senate panel concludes Putin meddled to help elect Trump
WASHINGTON, July 5: The US senate committee said Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections, the “influence campaign was approved by President Putin” and the goal was to “denigrate secretary (of state) Clinton” and that “Putin and the Russian government (had) developed a clear preference for Trump”.
A US senate panel investigating Russian interference in the 2016 elections has reaffirmed a determination by the American intelligence community that Moscow meddled in the polls to harm Hillary Clinton and help Donald Trump win the presidency.
The Senate Intelligence Committee, in a summary of its findings released on Tuesday, also concluded that the meddling was conducted on the orders of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Headed by a Republican, the committee, its findings and its functioning were in marked contrast to the deliberations and conclusions of the panel’s counterpart in the House of Representatives — the House panel has been dogged by partisan bickering and the two parties have released separate and differing reports.
The Senate report came less than a fortnight ahead of Trump’s summit with Putin in Helsinki on July 16, at which the US president is expected to raise the issue of Russian interference in the polls.
But Trump, who has bristled at suggestions that Russians helped him win the election, has been only too eager to accept Putin’s denials. “Russia continues to say they had nothing to do with Meddling in our Election!” Trump tweeted late last month.
The senate committee’s findings are focussed on the Intelligence Community Assessment that was ordered in December 2016 by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. It called the assessment “a sound intelligence product” written by analysts who were under “no politically motivated pressure” and were “free to debate, object to content, and assess confidence levels, as is normal and proper”.
The committee continues to probe the meddling and plans to address related issues in subsequent findings. One of the issues it will investigate is the dossier put together by a former British spy Christopher Steele, who has alleged, without evidence, that Kremlin has some damaging information on Trump.
Russian interference in the 2016 elections is also being probed by special counsel Robert Muller and his team, which has already secured several indictments and guilty pleas, including that of Trump’s former NSA Michael Flynn. Mueller’s team has been in discussions with the White House to interview Trump, who has said he is willing to do it. However, his legal team has strongly advised against it.
US could grant India waiver for some oil imports from Iran
WASHINGTON, July 3: Dialling back the inflexible position it had taken before, the United States on Monday said it will consider waivers for countries such as India that buy Iranian crude when energy-related sanctions are enforced in November.
Such waivers will be granted on a case-by-case basis and will depend on evidence of reduced purchases by those seeking waivers. A similar condition was imposed in the past too when the US granted waivers for Iran-related sanctions.
Arguing that Washington is “not looking to grant licences and waivers broadly” as that will substantially reduce the pressure it intends to mount on Tehran to change its behaviour, Brian Hook, head of policy planning at the state department, told a news briefing on Iran-related sanctions that the US is “prepared to work with countries that are reducing their imports on a case-by-case basis”.
But he added, “As with our other sanctions we are not looking to grant waivers of licences.”
Hook’s remarks on waivers came in response to a question about plans by India and Turkey to continue importing crude from Iran.
India is the second largest buyer of Iranian crude – China is the first – and it was alarmed by a senior US official’s remarks last week that countries which do not cut their imports from Iran to zero by November 4, when the energy-linked sanction are reimposed, will be subject to “secondary sanctions” and that there will be no waivers or exemptions.
Nikki Haley, the US envoy to the UN, said last week she had raised the issue of Iranian oil imports during a meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and told him that the Trump administration hopes “they would lessen their dependence on Iran” as the US and India build a strong relationship.
Like the rest of the world, India had expected the US to gradually bring back sanctions after President Donald Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal on May 8, so that buyers had time and chances to scout around for other suppliers, as was done the last time.
India imported 705,000 barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian crude in May, and an average of 583,500 bpd over the first five months of 2018, according to Reuters.
Hook said joint teams of officials from the state and treasury departments are travelling to world capitals to convey plans about the reimposition of sanctions with the intended goal of mounting pressure on the Iranian government to change its behaviour. The US, he clarified, as has been said by officials before is pushing for regime change.
The first phase of sanctions target automotive parts and trade in precious metals and go into effect from August 6. The next phase will focus on the energy sector, crude exports and the central bank and will be effected from November 4.
While India has asserted it will continue to buy Iranian crude, arguing it will go along only with UN sanctions as in the last round, it has also indicated it will start dialling down purchases that will be become untenable as they attract secondary sanctions from the US, which could include being blocked from the American financial system.
As a result of the last round of sanctions, India was forced to cut Iranian crude purchases from an average of 320,00 bpd in 2011 to 190,000 bpd on the day the Iran deal - the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action - went into effect in 2016, ending the sanctions.
India’s imports of Iranian crude never went down to zero, as was also the case with China and South Korea. The Obama administration had allowed them to cut purchases in phases through waivers, which were available only to those seen to have made “significant” reductions in reviews conducted every six months.
The Trump administration may have come around to it as well, it appears, but no details have been announced yet of the mechanism through which these waivers will be granted on a case-by-case basis.