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UN sanctions on North Korea in place till denuclearisation achieved: Mike Pompeo

WASHINGTON, Sept 22: The economic sanctions on North Korea will remain in place until denuclearisation is achieved, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said.

“Those economic sanctions will remain in place until we get to the end, till we get to that final denuclearisation which (North Korean leader) Chairman Kim (Jong-un) promised to (US) President (Donald) Trump he would undertake,” Pompeo told MSNBC in an interview on Friday.

Pompeo, who has been leading Trump administration’s effort with North Korea, plans to travel to Pyongyang soon to work on another meeting between Trump and Kim.

“We’re working on it, but there’s still a little bit of work to do left to make sure that the conditions are right and that the two leaders are put in a position where we can make substantial progress,” he told Fox News in another interview.

Acknowledging that North Korea has set a deadline of 2021 to denuclearise, Pompeo said in another interview that the US will set arbitrary deadlines in the interim.

“We’re hoping to see progress a little bit each day. We knew this would be a long process. It’s a complicated endeavour. But we’ve made incremental steps along the way,” he said.

Describing the meeting between the two Korean leaders as historic, he said it is the first time that North and South Korea have spoken about denuclearisation in a material way.

“They made a little bit of progress. I’m hoping I’ll be back in Pyongyang before too long to make some more progress; and if that’s the case, I’m very hopeful that Chairman Kim and President Trump will get a chance to meet in the near future as well,” he said.

Pompeo said that there are many conversations taking place across many different forums and venues, lots of discussions about how to move forward, and what are the right sets of next steps.

“But the end that we can’t lose focus on, there are two UN Security Council resolutions that the whole world voted on, and they require the North Koreans to fully denuclearise. That’s the mission statement. That’s the president’s objective. And we believe that we can achieve that before too terribly long,” he said.

Separately he told CNN that he knew that pace of progress with the North Koreans would be uneven, but that progress each and every day was important. “We think we’re getting that,” he said as he referred to the UN Security Council- mandated sanctions on North Korea.

“The UN Security Council resolutions demand that Chairman Kim make this decision to denuclearise, and those sanctions and the enforcement of those sanctions will continue until such time as that occurs. That’s the important element that is different from what previous negotiators have done,” he said.

“We’ve always, in America, handed him a pile of money, or his father a pile of money, and said, ‘We hope you’ll denuclearise’. Our approach is different. It is to continue to enforce the sanctions until such time as we get to the end of the process,” Pompeo said.

Accepting a Nuclear North Korea to Contain China

By Harry J. Kazianis

WASHINGTON, Sept 13: Over the last few months there have been some big changes in how the Donald Trump administration views the geopolitical situation in Asia. It would seem that Team Trump has decided to revert to what I would argue was their original intention: making China their number one foreign policy priority.

From policy documents that all but label Beijing an enemy, to aggressive negotiations that have turned sour over trade, to pushing through Congress a large increase in military spending that is geared towards negating China’s growing military might, this administration clearly has its sights on winning what has become the great power competition of the 21st century.

But all that comes at a price—as in China torpedoing Trump’s so-called “maximum pressure” campaign towards North Korea. With 90 percent or more of North Korea’s external trade passing through China in one way or another, Beijing will attempt to use Pyongyang as a bargaining chip—especially on matters of trade and tariffs. Clearly, there is no hope of a new “maximum pressure” campaign if China won’t enforce it—and they won’t if they know America’s goal is their own containment. There even seems to be evidence that China has already decided to end pressure on North Korea, a clear signal that Trump will pay a price for his stance.

Because of this shift in the administration’s focus, my own views on what can and should be U.S. strategy towards the North Korea situation have shifted as well. Specifically, my fear is that Trump will both take on China’s bid for hegemony and pressure Beijing to help with a new “maximum pressure” campaign against the Kim regime’s nuclear program.

That would be a total disaster. Such a move would ensure that China dominates Asia with a nuclear North Korea as a close ally. Neither would fear America, thanks to our declining position in the region.

My advice to Trump: if you want a successful Asia policy, there is one threat above all others that needs your attention—and that is China. Everything else, even North Korea’s potential 65 nuclear weapons, pales in comparison. And if the price of a successfully contained China with the international order still intact is a nuclear North Korea, as much as it breaks my heart to say this, so be it.

That is something I never thought I would say, but in the great game of global politics, even a superpower can’t have everything it wants. None of this will be an easy sell to the foreign policy elites here in Washington, but it is a choice worth making. Smart foreign policy is the art of making tough choices: setting priorities and then sticking with those priorities. Trying to do everything, even for a nation as powerful as the United States, is hubris of the worst kind. It ensures that you accomplish nothing.

Case in point: Barack Obama’s so-called “pivot” or “rebalance” to the Asia-Pacific back in 2011. While well-intentioned—I strongly supported it at the time—it failed miserably, falling victim to an administration that tried to put out fires all over the world while achieving nothing. With European allies angry about the use of the word “pivot”—an implication that America was shifting its attention elsewhere—and the domestic chaos of sequestration at home, efforts to increase U.S. military capabilities in Asia were thwarted (and redirected back to Eastern Europe and the Middle East). The Obama administration ended up convincing China to act aggressively while it was preoccupied elsewhere.

And act she did. In perhaps the best omen of China’s future intentions, Beijing built multiple artificial islands in the South China Sea and militarized them while ignoring an international court ruling that its claims to 80 percent of that body of water were bogus and illegal. What did the Obama administration do? They sailed around them, or conducted freedom of navigation operations, commonly known as FONOPS, to show their displeasure. As a Chinese naval officer told me back in late 2016: “We don’t care about your stupid FONOPS. We care about our ability to project power. Law is only as good as it can be enforced.”

So knowing that America must focus its energies on China, what does Washington now do about North Korea? While I would never suggest that we declare our acceptance of Kim’s nukes, we should encourage South Korea to take the lead and work to develop a long-term détente on the Korean Peninsula. A first step in that direction would be a “deceleration for declaration” deal. Such an agreement would see America, North and South Korea, the UN secretary general, and China all gather to declare the Korean War over. At the same time, Kim would declare the size of his nuclear and missile arsenals. To encourage Pyongyang to do this—and show that America was not after a target list—we would not ask for the locations of his nukes or missiles, just an accounting.

From here, much could be accomplished. Each side would make matching concessions in a simultaneous fashion, rather than one or the other going first. The goal of the complete elimination of Kim’s nuclear weapons would remain, but overall strategic stability would be the primary objective, ensuring we never go back to the days of “fire and fury.” Possible concessions could include Kim agreeing to a nuclear and missile production freeze and eventual reductions, conventional arms control agreements to limit offensive firepower along the Demilitarized Zone, and even consular offices to increase trust between Washington and Pyongyang.

Containing China while limiting the North Korean nuclear threat—but not eliminating it—is a very achievable and worthwhile goal. Let’s just hope the administration won’t try and get everything it wants in Asia—and end up with nothing.

@ Harry J. Kazianis is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest and executive editor of its publishing arm The National Interest. Previously, he led the foreign policy communications efforts of the Heritage Foundation, and served as editor-in-chief of The Diplomat and as a fellow at CSIS:PACNET.

Ludhiana-born Anshdeep first Sikh in US president Donald Trump’s security

WASHINGTON, Sept 12: Ludhiana-born Anshdeep Singh Bhatia has become the first Sikh to have been inducted into the security detail of US President Donald Trump.

Anshdeep was inducted last week after he completed his gruelling training in the United States.

His family moved to Ludhiana from Kanpur during the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. He lost his uncle and a close relative after the frenzied mob stormed their house in Kanpur’s KDA Colony in Barra. His aunt’s marriage was scheduled in second of week of November and the family was busy making arrangement.

Anshdeep’s father Devendra Singh was also injured in the attack and had received three bullet wounds.

His grandfather Amreek Singh Bhatia, manager with Punjab and Sind Bank, opted for a transfer to Ludhiana. His father, who was into the pharmaceutical business in Kanpur, married in Ludhiana and moved to the United States with his family in 2000. Anshdeep was 10 at that time.

Anshdeep who dreamt of making to the President’s security one day stumbled upon a block when he was told he would have to change his looks. But Anshdeep moved the court against the riders and the decision came out in his favour.

Trump gets ‘a very warm letter’ from North Korea’s Kim Jong Un asking for another meeting

WASHINGTON, Sept 11: US President Donald Trump has received a “very positive” letter from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un seeking a follow-up meeting after their historic summit in Singapore, the White House said Monday.

“It was a very warm, very positive letter,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said, adding that the message showed Pyongyang’s “continued commitment to focus on denuclearization” on the Korean Peninsula.

“The primary purpose of the letter was to schedule another meeting with the president, which we are open to and are already in the process of coordinating,” she said at the first White House press briefing in nearly three weeks.

Sanders added that the letter was “further evidence of progress” in Washington’s relationship with Pyongyang.

Trump and Kim held a historic summit in Singapore in June that raised prospects of a breakthrough on curtailing North Korea’s nuclear program.

Despite follow-on negotiations on denuclearizing the peninsula hitting a snag leading to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo canceling a planned trip to the North late last month, the new letter showed signs that the discussions remain alive after weeks of apparent deadlock.

“We think it’s important and we’re glad that we’re making progress,” Sanders said, adding that Trump deserves the “credit” for bringing the two parties to the table.

“At the end of the day, ultimately, it’s always going to be best when you can have the two leaders sit down,” she added.

The White House has pointed to a series of accomplishments in recent months, including a release of US hostages, the repatriation of war remains believed to be of US service members and a pause in North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests, to suggest progress between the foes.

And on Sunday, North Korea refrained from displaying its intercontinental missiles -- long a bone of contention in its nuclear tensions with Washington -- in a massive parade through Pyongyang celebrating the country’s 70th birthday.

The latest parade “for once was not about their nuclear arsenal,” Sanders said.

Trump thanked Kim for the gesture, saying on Twitter: “This is a big and very positive statement from North Korea.”

Sanders was asked whether the next Trump-Kim meeting would take place in Washington, but she demurred, saying, “we’ll let you know when we have further details.”

The letter’s arrival was confirmed as Trump’s top security advisor said the White House was looking to North Korea for next steps.

“We’re still waiting for them. The possibility of another meeting between the two presidents obviously exists,” said National Security Advisor John Bolton.

“But President Trump can’t make the North Koreans walk through the door he’s holding open. They are the ones that have to take the steps to denuclearize. And that’s what we are waiting for.”

Bolton said in a speech to the Federalist Society that during the Singapore meeting with Trump in June, Kim committed to getting rid of his nuclear weapons, and later agreed with South Korean President Moon Jae-in that it could be done in one year.

After his speech, Bolton told reporters “it’s entirely possible” for the two leaders to meet by year’s end.

Kim’s missing missiles may mark a turning point

By Harry J. Kazianis

WASHINGTON, Sept 9: Rarely does anything good come out of North Korea. But this weekend we were rewarded with an exception: During its 70th anniversary celebrations, the regime decided to hold back parading long-range missiles, or ICBMs, that could potentially deliver a nuclear weapon to the United States.

That is a big deal that should not be ignored — and a potential win for America’s and South Korea’s diplomatic approach toward the hermit kingdom. Although we should not overstate this development, there are important points we can take from it while considering a possible path forward that could realize major breakthroughs.

Just as in the United States, every head of state is under constant pressure to project strength, to show the leadership’s base of supporters that he or she is powerful and willing to take on the country’s enemies. The same applies to North Korea: Kim Jong Un surely was under pressure from top military and government officials to showcase Pyongyang’s might at a time when the country is under tremendous pressure, its economy contracting at the sharpest rate in 20 years, thanks to tough economic sanctions.

Nothing shows power, military muscle and defiance like a Hwasong-15, a long-range missile that could, at least in theory, hit any part of America with a nuclear weapon that could kill millions of people.

Yet, Kim showed restraint. He signaled to America and South Korea that indeed he may be more serious about denuclearization than some would credit him. Long gone are the days when Kim tested his first ICBM — on July 4, 2017, no less, in what he then called a “package of gifts” for America. In fact, just last week, Kim told a delegation of South Korean officials that he would be willing to denuclearize by the end of the Trump administration’s first term, or early 2021. It signals that he wants to continue the détente that has taken hold on the Korean Peninsula and that there is hope for progress in the months to come.

In the weeks ahead, more good news could come out of North Korea. With South Korean President Moon Jae-in heading to Pyongyang for a three-day summit, the third inter-Korean summit this year, there is an opportunity to continue pushing forward along a diplomatic path. Both sides seem intent on warming ties, finding a way to end the Korean War once and for all, something both Koreas committed to doing by the end of the year.

This is where the Trump administration should seize the initiative. Before President Moon steps foot in Pyongyang, the groundwork should be laid for a possible breakthrough, with America and South Korea jointly offering the North a peace declaration that ends the Korean War, in exchange for a full accounting of Kim’s nuclear warheads and missiles.

Washington or Seoul would not need the locations of these weapons just yet — Kim might perceive that as a future target list — but an accounting would go a long way to giving the world an idea of what would be needed financially and time-wise to denuclearize North Korea. Only such a step-by-step approach, where each side gives a little simultaneously, has a chance of delivering true peace on the Korean Peninsula.

If Kim were to accept such a proposal, the timing would be perfect for Kim and Moon to jointly travel to New York — where, this month, the United Nations General Assembly opens and leaders of the world annually gather — and there end the war in historic fashion, something that has been hinted at. The leaders of not only North and South Korea and America, but also China and the U.N. secretary general, could all sign the declaration, giving it a true sense of legitimacy and foundation in international law.

From that point, there would be a true pattern of how to manage relations with North Korea, in which all sides make concessions simultaneously so that no one feels as if they are losing face or being pressured to make concessions first. A logical next step would see both sides making supervised cuts in conventional arms along the Demilitarized Zone, the world’s most heavily armed border, something reportedly the North might be willing to do. That would create another way to build trust while lessening a potential military threat about which both sides have good cause to worry.

There is no doubt we are a long way from true peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula. We all know there are countless examples of the Kim regimes breaking their word in past efforts at diplomacy, but we do have more reason today to be hopeful of a potential path that could see tensions drop considerably — and perhaps a full denuclearization in the future. As President Trump likes to say, “We’ll see what happens.”

@ Harry J. Kazianis is director of Defense Studies at the Center for the National Interest, founded in 1994 by former President Richard M. Nixon, and executive editor of its publishing arm, The National Interest. He worked on the foreign policy team of the 2016 Ted Cruz presidential campaign and as foreign policy communications manager at the Heritage Foundation, editor-in-chief of The Diplomat, and as a fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

John McCain Hailed as Model of U.S. Virtues During Washington Memorial

WASHINGTON, Sept 1: Former U.S. presidents George Bush and Barack Obama hailed John McCain as a model of enduring American virtue at a service Saturday for the late Arizona senator and two-time Republican presidential candidate, who died Aug. 25 at age 81.

Speaking before his flag-draped casket under the soaring stone arches of the Washington National Cathedral, both Mr. Bush and Mr. Obama denounced what they characterized as the toxic partisanship currently in the capital and praised Mr. McCain’s ability to rise above it.

“So much of our politics, our public life, our public discourse seems small, mean, petty, trafficking in bombast and insults, phony controversies and manufactured outrage,” Mr. Obama said before a host of current and former lawmakers and White House officials.

The former president noted a type of “politics that pretends to be brave and tough but is in fact born of fear. John called on us to be bigger than that. He called on us to be better than that.”

Mr. Bush said, “If we are ever tempted to forget who we are, to grow weary of our cause, John’s voice will always come as a whisper over our shoulder: We are better than this. America is better than this.”

The remarks from two of Mr. McCain’s former political rivals appeared to reference President Trump without ever mentioning him by name. The president, who often clashed with Mr. McCain, didn’t attend the services and tweeted during the ceremony about the North American Free Trade Agreement and the special counsel’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

The White House lowered the American flag atop the building to half-staff last weekend to honor Mr. McCain, but returned it to full-staff Monday, drawing criticism from lawmakers and veterans groups who said it should have remained at half-staff longer. The White House then reversed course and lowered the flag again, with Mr. Trump issuing a proclamation saying it would remain lowered until Sunday.

Other speakers at the service also alluded to Mr. Trump. “The America of John McCain has no need to be made great again because America was always great,” Meghan McCain, the senator’s daughter, said when she spoke, an apparent reference to the president’s campaign slogan “Make America Great Again.”

Ms. McCain described her father as “the real thing, not cheap rhetoric from men who will never come near the sacrifice he gave so willingly.”

Much of the remembrances, including tributes from former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and former Connecticut Sen. Joseph Lieberman, focused on Mr. McCain’s public service. They touched on his experience as a prisoner of war in Vietnam—where he was tortured and held captive for five and a half years— and his long service in Congress.

He ran for president twice, losing both times, first to Mr. Bush in the 2000 Republican primary and second to Mr. Obama in the 2008 general election. Mr. Bush said that Mr. McCain pushed him to be a better candidate and president.

Mr. Obama joked that Mr. McCain’s request to have him and Mr. Bush speak at his funeral reflected his mischievous side.

“After all what better way to get a last laugh then by making George and I say nice things about him to a national audience,” Mr. Obama said.

Listening to the remarks was a somber, bipartisan assembly of mourners that included former President Bill Clinton, former Vice Presidents Joe Biden and Al Gore, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R., Ky.) and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R., S.C.), who delivered a reading from the Bible.

Members of the Trump administration attending the event included White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, Mr. Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump and his son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.

Also present were retired Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and dozens of Mr. McCain’s Senate colleagues.

The Saturday ceremony was the latest in a series of events commemorating Mr. McCain.

Mr. Biden spoke at his memorial service in Arizona on Thursday, and Vice President Mike Pence spoke Friday at a ceremony at the U.S. Capitol, where Mr. McCain lay in state—an honor bestowed on just 26 other named individuals.

US ends suspension of military drills in Korean peninsula

WASHINGTON, Aug 28: The United States will end its suspension of military drills on the Korean peninsula, a move that had been decided as a “good faith” measure following President Donald Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

“We took the step to suspend several of the largest military exercises as a good faith measure,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters. “We have no plans to suspend any more.”

Mattis, however, did not give any indication that exercises with allied forces in the region -- which have angered Pyongyang in the past -- would resume any time soon.

“We are going to see how the negotiations go, and then we will calculate the future, how we go forward,” Mattis said.

In June, after Trump met with Kim in Singapore, the United States said it would suspend “select” exercises with South Korea, including the large-scale Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises slated for August, making good on a Trump summit pledge.

Some 17,500 US military personnel were due to take part in the Freedom Guardian drills.

In June, Trump raised eyebrows by describing the exercises as “war games” and as “provocative” -- a term used by the North.

Mattis demurred when asked if a resumption of exercises could now be considered provocative.

“Even answering a question in that manner could influence the negotiations. Let’s let the negotiations, let the diplomats go forward. We all know the gravity of the issues we are dealing with,” he said.

US and South Korean forces have been training together for years, and routinely rehearse everything from beach landings to an invasion from the North, or even “decapitation” strikes targeting the North Korean regime.

Top CEOs raise concern about changes made by Donald Trump in H1-B policies

WASHINGTON, Aug 24: The Trump administration’s “inconsistent” immigration policies, including on the H1-B visa for professionals, could “disrupt” operations of American firms and inflict “substantial harm” on their competitiveness, CEOs from top US companies have warned.

In a letter to US Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, members of the Business Roundtable, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi, President and CEO of Mastercard Ajay Banga and Chairman and CEO of Cisco Systems Chuck Robbins said that confusion around US immigration policy “creates anxiety for employees who follow the law.”

The Business Roundtable, an association of chief executive officers of America’s leading companies, told Nielsen yesterday that “inconsistent government action and uncertainty undermines economic growth and American competitiveness.”

Due to a shortage of green cards for workers, many employees find themselves stuck in an immigration process lasting more than a decade, they said.

To avoid unnecessary costs and complications for American businesses, the US government should not change the rules in the middle of the process, the CEOs said, pointing out to the several policy memoranda over the past year by the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has issued that has resulted in “arbitrary and inconsistent adjudications”.

“Companies now do not know whether a work visa petition that was approved last month will be approved when the company submits the identical application to extend the employee’s status,” they said.

In particular, the CEOs said they are worried about changes to the review process for H-1B visas for high-skilled workers, expected changes to the rules for spouses of H-1B employees and planned changes to certain deportation rules.

The H-1B visa is a non-immigrant visa that allows US companies to employ foreign workers in speciality occupations that require theoretical or technical expertise. The technology companies depend on it to hire tens of thousands of employees each year from countries like India and China.

Employees who qualify for H-1B jobs often hold degrees in science, tech, engineering or math, and are highly sought after by employers, the CEOs said.

The Roundtable members said that a confusing immigration system in the US which threatens to split their families apart, could encourage them to seek employment in a different country. That would put the American economy at a disadvantage.

They also noted that in many cases, the US Labor Department has determined that “no qualified US workers are available to do that person’s job.”

President Donald Trump has said that some IT companies were abusing the US work visas to deny jobs to American workers.

“As the federal government undertakes its legitimate review of immigration rules, it must avoid making changes that disrupt the lives of thousands of law-abiding and skilled employees, and that inflict substantial harm on US competitiveness,” the CEOs noted.

The Business Roundtable will continue to work with Congress to reduce the Green Card backlog, they said.

In the interim, inconsistent immigration policies are unfair and discourage talented and highly skilled individuals from pursuing career opportunities in the United States, they said.

The reality is that few will move their family and settle in a new country if, at any time and without notice, the government can force their immediate departure–often without explanation.

“At a time when the number of job vacancies are reaching historic highs due to labour shortages, now is not the time restrict access to talent,” the CEOs said.

The group has called for increasing the number of H-1B visas and letting people with advanced STEM degrees from American universities qualify for a green card immediately.

Meanwhile, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services said in a statement the “administration has been relentlessly pursuing necessary immigration reforms that move towards a merit-based system.”

“USCIS is committed to reforming employment based immigrant and non-immigrant immigration programs so they benefit the American people to the greatest extent possible,” CNN quoted spokesperson Michael Bars as saying.

Trump denies wrongdoing after lawyer implicates him, warns against impeachment

WASHINGTON, Aug 23: US President Donald Trump downplayed his relationship to Michael Cohen in an interview that aired Thursday, claiming his longtime personal attorney only worked for him part-time and made up “lies” to reduce his legal exposure.

“It’s called flipping and it almost ought to be illegal,” Trump said in the “Fox and Friends” interview taped Wednesday.

Trump made the comments as his White House struggled to manage the fallout after Cohen said Trump directed a hush-money scheme to buy the silence of two women who say they had affairs with him. The president suggested that Cohen’s legal trouble stemmed from his other businesses, including involvement with the New York City taxi cab industry.

Cohen’s plea deal and the conviction of Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort on financial charges have raised speculation that Democrats would launch impeachment proceedings if they win the House of Representatives this fall. Trump argued the move could have dire economic consequences.

“If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor,” Trump said. He added: “I don’t know how you can impeach somebody who’s done a great job.”

“Without this thinking,” said Trump as he pointed to his head, “you would see, you would see numbers that you wouldn’t believe in reverse.”

Trump did not say if he would pardon former campaign chairman Manafort, but expressed “great respect” for him and argued that some of the charges “every consultant, every lobbyist in Washington probably does.”

Cohen, who says he won’t seek a pardon from Trump, pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight charges, including campaign finance violations that he said he carried out in coordination with Trump. Behind closed doors, Trump expressed worry and frustration that a man intimately familiar with his political, personal and business dealings for more than a decade had turned on him.

Yet his White House signaled no clear strategy for managing the fallout. At a White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted at least seven times that Trump had done nothing wrong and was not the subject of criminal charges. She referred substantive questions to the president’s personal counsel Rudy Giuliani, who was at a golf course in Scotland. Outside allies of the White House said they had received little guidance on how to respond to the events in their appearances on cable news. And it was not clear the West Wing was assembling any kind of coordinated response.

In the interview, Trump argued, incorrectly, that the hush-money payouts weren’t “even a campaign violation” because he subsequently reimbursed Cohen for the payments personally instead of with campaign funds. Federal law restricts how much individuals can donate to a campaign, bars corporations from making direct contributions and requires the disclosure of transactions.

Cohen had said Tuesday he secretly used shell companies to make payments used to silence former Playboy model Karen McDougal and adult-film actress Stormy Daniels for the purpose of influencing the 2016 election.

Trump has insisted that he only found out about the payments after they were made, despite the release of a September 2016 taped conversation in which Trump and Cohen can be heard discussing a deal to pay McDougal for her story of a 2006 affair she says she had with Trump.

The White House denied the president had lied, with Sanders calling the assertion “ridiculous.” Yet she offered no explanation for Trump’s shifting accounts.

As Trump vented his frustration, White House aides sought to project a sense of calm. Used to the ever-present shadow of federal investigations, numbed West Wing staffers absorbed near-simultaneous announcements Tuesday of the Cohen plea deal and the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort on financial charges.

Manafort faces trial on separate charges in September in the District of Columbia that include acting as a foreign agent.

That Cohen was in trouble was no surprise — federal prosecutors raided his offices months ago — but Trump and his allies were caught off-guard when he also pleaded guilty to campaign finance crimes, which, for the first time, took the swirling criminal probes directly to the president.

Both cases resulted, at least in part, from the work of special counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s attempts to sway voters in the 2016 election.

Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said Wednesday that Cohen has information “that would be of interest” to the special counsel.

“There are subjects that Michael Cohen could address that would be of interest to the special counsel,” Davis said in a series of television interviews.

Trump, in turn, praised Manafort as “a brave man!” raising speculation the former campaign operative could become the recipient of a pardon. He contended the prosecution was an overreach by the Justice Department and he revived his criticism of the leadership of Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Manafort had tremendous pressure on him and, unlike Cohen, he refused to ‘break,’” Trump said.

Sanders said the matter of a pardon for Manafort had not been discussed.

Among Trump allies, the back-to-back blows were a harbinger of dark days to come for the president. Democrats are eagerly anticipating gaining subpoena power over the White House — and many are openly discussing the possibility of impeaching Trump — should they retake control of the House in November’s midterm elections.

And even Trump loyalists acknowledged the judicial proceedings were a blow to the GOP’s chances of retaining the majority this year.

“They have survived the Russia thing, but no one knows what’s next,” said former campaign aide Barry Bennett.

Debate swirled inside and outside the White House about next steps and how damaging the legal fallout was for the president.

Allies of the president stressed an untested legal theory that a sitting president cannot be indicted — only impeached.

Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci argued that “at the end of the day it will be up to the House and the Senate to decide on the president’s presidency.”

Former George W. Bush press secretary Ari Fleischer stressed that the revelations may be sordid but do not meet the constitutional bar of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“Having an affair and lying about it with a porn star and a Playboy bunny is not impeachable,” Fleischer said, “it’s Donald Trump.”

Pompeo names special representative, announces fourth trip to North Korea

Washington, Aug 23: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that he and his newly announced special representative to North Korea, Stephen Biegun, will be traveling to Pyongyang next week.

It will be Pompeo's fourth trip to Pyongyang but while the expectation is that he will have the opportunity to engage directly with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the status of that meeting remains uncertain.

Pompeo announced the hiring of Biegun at the State Department on Thursday. He's a former auto executive at Ford Motor Co. and a former senior staff member to then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice in the George W. Bush administration who was rumored to be a possible candidate to replace former national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

Biegun assumes the role as special envoy to North Korea at a time when talks between the two countries appear to have stalled over the issue of denuclearization.

"The appointment of Stephen Biegun as North Korean special envoy comes at a critical time in US-North Korean relations. A full-time envoy is absolutely necessary to make progress, and given all the upcoming diplomatic activities September could be a make or break month for the Korean Peninsula," according to David Maxwell, senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.

"Given the personal relationship between President Trump and Chairman Kim, my recommendation is that the President communicate that Mr. Biegun is his man for all North Korean negotiations, to empower him and establish his credibility with Kim," Maxwell said.

Diplomatic sources said that the US has now presented North Korea with specific proposals for a path and timeline to denuclearization, all of which Kim has thus far rejected, believing the US's stance to be "gangster-like."

The latest assessment of North Korea's nuclear program released by the International Atomic Energy Agency calls into question Pyongyang's commitment to denuclearization amid ongoing activities at certain sites in the country and the inability for IAEA inspectors to access those sites. The report cites "cause for grave concern" about these activities.

And according to the prominent monitoring group 38 North, commercial satellite imagery from Aug. 16 of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station, North Korea's only operational space launch facility, indicates that no significant dismantlement activity has taken place at either the engine test stand or the launch pad since Aug. 3.

Last month, 38 North released images of the Sohae station, prompting President Donald Trump to say North Korea had begun dismantling "a key missile site."

But according to the group's most recent analysis, "no new dismantlement activity is apparent since August 3."

South Korea has been intently tracking developments of a possible trip by Pompeo and one diplomatic source said that Kim's willingness to meet with Pompeo remains a question mark.

National security adviser John Bolton told ABC on Sunday that Pompeo "will be returning to Pyongyang soon for his fourth visit" and said that the expectation is that he will meet directly with Kim.

"I think the timing will be announced at an appropriate point by the State Department. But this is to fulfill the commitment that Kim Jong Un made in Singapore, that he had previously made to the South Koreans and to move on with the process of denuclearization remains our highest priority," Bolton said.

Trump was asked in an interview on Monday if North Korea had done anything beyond dismantling a test site to show it was in the process of denuclearizing. "I do believe they have," he said, but did not provide further details.

Trump also said in that interview another summit with Kim would "most likely" happen but offered no details on timing or venue.

When the two leaders met in Singapore in June, Trump praised the young autocrat, saying Kim had "to be a rough guy," but that he's "smart, loves his people, he loves his country. He wants a lot of good things and that's why he's doing this."

Congressional lawmakers also remain frustrated by the administration's "lack of transparency" regarding its policy on North Korea.

"We've been asking Secretary Pompeo to come and explain the Trump administration's strategy on North Korea and Russia for a long time and they have failed to provide the necessary briefings or hearings to either the full Senate or the Foreign Relations Committee," Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said on Tuesday.

Pompeo clashed with both Republicans and Democrats on several occasions when he appeared before the Senate committee last month, refusing to provide substantive details about Trump's meeting with Kim in Singapore.

"After three hours of testimony from the secretary last month, we still have no clarity on the policies our government is pursuing," Menendez said.

Trump directed me to break law: Michael Cohen

NEW YORK, Aug 22: In a stunning day of developments, Donald Trump's former lawyer has claimed he violated campaign laws at the direction of "the candidate", just as the president's former campaign manager was separately convicted of bank and tax fraud.

The president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty to violating campaign laws at a Manhattan court and said he was acting for the "purpose of influencing the (presidential) election".

He told the judge that he was aware of what he was doing before pleading guilty to the charges, admitting that he worked "at the direction of candidate" when he attempted to buy the silence of Karen McDougal, a former Playboy playmate who has claimed she had an affair with Mr Trump in 2016.

Mr Cohen also admitted that he worked "with and at the direction of the same candidate" to deliver a $130,000 (£100,000) payment to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to silence her claims about an affair.

Although did not mention Mr Trump's name, he was employed by the billionaire businessman, then a presidential candidate, at the time the payments were made.

Mr Cohen's admission came minutes after the jury in the trial of Paul Manafort, the president's former campaign manager, returned a guilty verdict in eight counts of bank and tax fraud.

The jury took four days to find Mr Manafort guilty on on five counts of tax fraud, one count of failing to disclose his foreign bank accounts, and two counts of bank fraud.

Mr Cohen is known for his previously close relationship with Mr Trump, and has repeatedly been described as his "fixer" for difficult matters. That proximity means Mr Cohen could potentially create substantial legal headaches for Mr Trump, whose 2016 presidential campaign is being investigated by special counsel Robert Mueller for collusion with Russia.

The case against Mr Cohen was referred to New York's Southern District by Mr Mueller. There was no mention of a cooperation agreement between Mr Cohen and federal prosecutors. The lawyer was freed after his court appearance on a $500,000 (£387,000) bond. He will return in December for his sentencing.

In addition to the payments to Mr Trump's alleged mistresses, prosecutors have been investigating Mr Cohen for over $20m (£15m) worth of bank and tax fraud.

Mr Cohen also pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion and one count of providing a false statement to a bank.

Mr Trump and Mr Cohen have a relationship that stretches back to the mid-2000s, when the lawyer took the Mr Trump's side in a legal dispute with the condo board at Trump World Tower in Manhattan. Mr Cohen, who owned condominiums in multiple Trump branded buildings in New York City, eventually went to work for the Trump Organization, where he held positions including special counsel to Mr Trump and executive vice president of the organisation.

That work for Mr Trump extended into the 2016 election campaign, when Mr Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in reported hush money to try and keep her silent about an alleged affair between the actress and Mr Trump in 2006, just after the future president had had a child with Melania Trump. Mr Trump has denied the affair ever occurred, and has previously denied having any knowledge of the payment at the time it was made just before the general election.

But the apparent close relationship between the two appears to have soured in recent months, especially after the FBI raided Mr Cohen's offices, hotel, and home. Since then, the man who has said he would take a bullet for Mr Trump has signalled publicly that his allegiances may not always lie with Mr Trump, saying a month ago on ABC News that he would put his "family and country first" if he was offered a lenient sentence from prosecutors in exchange for providing information on Mr Trump. That statement followed after Mr Cohen's lawyer, Lanny J Davis, released a secret audio recoding of a conversation with Mr Trump that appeared to show him admitting to knowledge of the hush-money that was provided to Daniels.

Reacting to the news, Daniels' lawyer Michael Avenatti tweeted to White House lawyer Rudy Giuliani, taunting the attorney for the way has handled the case.

He said that Mr Cohen's case will make it easier his client to compel the president to submit to a deposition under oath as a part of the civil case they have brought against him.

"Buckle up Buttercup. You and your client completely misplayed this," Mr Avenatti tweeted after news broke that Mr Cohen was set to appear in court.

Mr Trump has repeatedly decried the special counsel investigation as a "witch hunt", and has claimed that Mr Mueller and his team are conducting a partisan smear effort to try and bring down his campaign.

That investigation has already led to several indictments of individuals associated with the president's 2016 campaign, including guilty pleas from five individuals beyond Mr Cohen.

Arriving in West Virginia for a rally on Tuesday night, the president said he "felt badly" for Manafort, but added that the case had "nothing to do with me". He did not address Mr Cohen's admission of guilt, but made a rambling speech to supporters, mentioning turkeys, an imaginary Chinese driver, and exploding windmills.

US newspapers hit back at Trump, defend free press in coordinated editorials

NEW YORK, Aug 16: US newspapers big and small today hit back at President Donald Trump’s relentless attacks on the news media, launching a coordinated campaign of editorials stressing the importance of a free press.

Leading the charge was The Boston Globe, which had issued an appeal for this drive -- accompanied by the hashtag #EnemyofNone -- that has been joined by more than 200 newspapers around the country.

“Today in the United States we have a president who has created a mantra that members of the media who do not blatantly support the policies of the current US administration are the ‘enemy of the people,’” the Globe editorial said.

“This is one of the many lies that have been thrown out by this president, much like an old-time charlatan threw out ‘magic’ dust or water on a hopeful crowd,” it added in a piece entitled “Journalists are not the Enemy”. Trump’s treatment of the press is also encouraging strongmen such as Vladimir Putin of Russia and Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey to treat journalists like enemies, the Globe argued.

The coordinated effort comes amid Trump’s persistent claims that mainstream media outlets that publish articles critical of him are churning out “fake news”.

Free press advocates argue that Trump’s efforts threaten the role of the news media as a check against abuse of power in government and imperil the constitutional First Amendment guarantee of freedom of the press.

The New York Times, one of the most frequent targets of Trump’s criticism, ran a short, seven-paragraph editorial under a giant headline with all capital letters that read “A FREE PRESS NEEDS YOU” and with the statement that it is only right for people to criticize the press, say, for getting something wrong.

“But insisting that truths you don’t like are ‘fake news’ is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the ‘enemy of the people’ is dangerous, period,” the Times wrote.

Across the country, other papers joined in, defending their place in society -- from upholding the truth to simply saving people time.

“At a practical level, we journalists sit through boring government meetings and learn about public school financing formulas, so you don’t have to,” said The Arizona Daily Star. “It’s not as lofty a statement as the First Amendment, but it serves.”

Free press advocates say Trump is a real threat to the role of the press.

“I don’t think the press can just sit back and take it, they need to make their case when the most powerful man in the world tries to undercut the First Amendment,” said Ken Paulson, a former editor-in-chief of USA Today who heads the Newseum’s First Amendment Centre and is dean of communications at Middle Tennessee State University.

But Paulson questioned whether editorials would be effective.

“The people who read editorials don’t need to be convinced,” he said. “They are not the ones trying to shout you down at presidential rallies.”

In the face of a White House onslaught, Paulson said the media needs a broader marketing campaign to highlight the importance of a free press as a core value.

The campaign also faces the potential for galvanising supporters of the president around the notion that the media is out to get him.

“The media are organising an ever more deliberate and public attack on @realDonaldTrump and on the ‘deplorable’ half of the country who support him. And the media wonders why we think they are ‘fake news?’” tweeted Mike Huckabee, a former Republican governor who is a Fox News commentator.

But media rights advocates say the stakes are too high to allow the president’s claims to go unchecked.

Some say Trump’s comments have incited threats against journalists covering his events, and may have created a climate of hostility that opened the door to violent attacks like a deadly one in June against the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland.

Unhappy with Trump policies, Indian-American who quit his job as diplomat to run for US Congress

WASHINGTON, Aug 7: Finding it difficult to defend the Trump administration’s policies as a diplomat especially over race and immigration, Sri Preston Kulkarni last December decided to quit his dream job at the US state department to run for Congress.

Kulkarni, whose family traces its roots to Maharashtra and Karnataka, on his website said he spent his career trying to reduce conflict in other countries...”but right now hostility and conflict are being inflamed in our own country through the politics of anger and demagoguery”.

“I have worked under Democratic and Republican administrations before, but the current situation is different and should concern all Americans of conscience,” he said on his website.

After quitting his job, Kulkarni announced that he will run for the 22nd Congressional District of Texas, to be part of the policy making, and not implementing them.

Six months later, he won the Democratic primary and is pitching for a tough battle against five-term Republican incumbent Pete Olson.

“There is a little bit of nervousness on the other side about (my) campaign,” Kulkarni told PTI.

Kulkarni’s family immigrated to the US in 1969 to Louisiana, where he was born in 1978. Soon thereafter they moved to Houston, where Kulkarni grew.

After completing his college, he joined the US foreign service in 2003 and has worked in various capacities in both inside the US and overseas. This summer he was posted for the important position of the spokesperson of the US Embassy in New Delhi.

Being an Indian-American, representing the US was very important, he said.

“But I think the 2016 election for me actually drove home as some of these issues are still unresolved for America,” he said.

“During that election, there was so much anti-immigrant sentiment being spread that it was a real blow to me personally. When I came back to the State Department, I said (to myself) ‘I’m just going to continue to be a professional and I’m going to do this job’,” he said.

But, there were two incidents that changed his mind and made him feel that he couldn’t continue in the State Department.

“One was the Charlottesville rally one year ago where we had Nazis in the street screaming about white supremacy and my government could not make a clear distinction. That’s absolutely morally unequivocally awful. I was asked to explain this when I was overseas. Why is it that they’re very fine people who were Nazis and why is it that both sides are the same? I couldn’t do that,” Kulkarni said.

At the rally last summer, white supremacists and counterprotesters clashed in the streets before a car plowed into a crowd, killing 32-year-old counterprotester.

The second was the Roy Moore campaign, Kulkarni recollected.

“He was molesting 14-year-old girls and he said that our families are stronger when we had slavery and that Muslims shouldn’t be able to hold a public office in the United States. To me that’s just beyond what’s acceptable in the kind of democracy and the kind of society that I believe in,” he said.

Moore was the Republican nominee in the 2017 US Senate special election in Alabama to fill the seat vacated by Jeff Sessions. Moore, who had faced multiple allegations of sexual assault during his campaign was backed by president Donald Trump. Later he lost to Democratic candidate Doug Jones.

At the time of these incidents, Kulkarni was in Jamaica on a temporary assignment. His next posting was at the US Embassy in New Delhi as its spokesperson.

“I decided that I was going to resign to come back home and run for office. Because I think we need to stand up against this idea that we should be divided up by, by race, by ethnicity, and that some people are less American than other people. That’s when I started the campaign,” Kulkarni said.

Kulkarni resigned from the foreign service in December.

Kulkarni says that its not about just one person, Trump as an individual.

“It is more about these ideas that we should be divided against each other, Muslim versus Hindu or Muslim or Christian or Hindu versus Christian or black versus white or Asian versus white. That ideas are the more dangerous thing than a person,” he said.

He said the social fabric of America was being torn apart and Americans were blaming immigrants for everything.

“If the fight is against illegal immigrants, then why H-1B programme is being threatened. Why are we trying to reduce legal immigration and family reunification?” he asked.

“It doesn’t have to do with illegal immigration. That has to do with anti-immigrant sentiment. The anti-immigrant sentiment is something that should worry all of us because we are an immigrant country and honestly, without immigrants, most of our fortune 500 companies wouldn’t be here,” Kulkarni said.

“But whenever any group is discriminated against, it’s a threat to all minority groups. If a Muslim is being discriminated against, it still affects me as a Hindu,” Kulkarni said.

Now running an effective campaign, Kulkarni, pollsters say has considerably reduced the poll numbers against his rival Olson, who is considered to be a friend of India in the US Congress.

Kulkarni, who is a cousin of BJP member of Parliament Poonam Mahajan, hopes that the entire community would come out to vote in November.

US reimposes Iran sanctions

WASHINGTON, Aug 6: The US on Monday announced the reimposition of the first set of trade sanctions against Iran, aimed at forcing Tehran to renegotiate the 2015 nuclear deal that President Donald Trump walked out of in May.

The curbs, that go into effect on Tuesday, will impact Iran’s automotive sector, trade in precious metals such as gold, and will prohibit it from using the US dollar — the common currency for international trade.

Announcing the sanctions, Trump said: “As we continue applying maximum economic pressure on the Iranian regime, I remain open to reaching a more comprehensive deal that addresses the full range of the regime’s malign activities, including its ballistic missile program and its support for terrorism. The United States welcomes the partnership of likeminded nations in these efforts.”

The next round of sanctions go into effect in November and that will hit Iran’s ports and crude oil exports. Those curbs will impact India directly, forcing it curtail and cease buying crude from its third largest supplier under the threat of secondary — though unintended — sanctions.

The Trump Doctrine Has Foreign Policy Elites Pulling Out Their Hair

By Harry J. Kasianis

WASHINGTON, Aug 6: I get really aggravated when people say things like “Donald Trump is an idiot” or “he has no idea what he is doing” or lately “can you believe what President Trump said today on Twitter? That was so unpresidential!”

Really? Have you not turned on a TV or logged onto social media for three years?

What would have been a political firestorm pre-2015 is now just another day in a presidency that will completely reshape its office forever. The only question is whether that will prove a good thing or a bad thing.

If you haven’t figured it out, Trump never has, and never will, operate by the classic Washington rules of decorum, respect for tradition—respect for anything, really—or presidential convention. If you can accept all of that—I’m not saying make peace with it, just accept it—you will go a long way towards understanding the Trump Doctrine itself.

In fact, if I had to summarize the Trump Doctrine, it would be this: America’s interests come first, everything else second. That does mean everything: history, tradition, alliances, the “normal way of doing things,” customs—all of that can and will be thrown out the window if Trump feels that his country is being hurt. He sees the world in black and white, black meaning bad for America and white meaning good for America. Period.

Don’t bother trying to apply your fancy political science training to Trump; it will only take years off your life. He likely can’t tell you the difference between the Treaty of Versailles and the Treaty of Westphalia. He has no interest in such details nor does he have the time.

And don’t bother asking about the finer points of global politics, such as the role that morality plays, the efficacy of nation building, and the foreign policy doctrines of the past—he doesn’t have a clue or give a damn anyway. I bet if you asked him what a foreign policy realist is he would look at you cross-eyed—even though so many people claim that he is one.

From here—and this will enrage anyone who studies international politics—it gets even more interesting. Trump considers everyone—and I do mean everyone—a competitor. The European Union, a long-standing American ally, in his mind, is nothing more than a big, bad economic colossus that could take jobs away from Americans or shave points off of overall U.S. GDP growth. Japan, one of America’s strongest allies? Yep, they are an economic competitor as well. The president might love to play golf with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but when it comes down to business, he’ll call out Tokyo all day, every day—right to the PM’s face when they stand side by side during a joint press conference.

What about America’s traditional great-power adversaries like Russia and China? Here and again, anyone who studies international politics for a living is likely ripping their hair out, as Trump does not conform to anything that they understand. On the one hand, he loves to flatter and compliment China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin—that angers the Beltway foreign policy intelligentsia to no end, myself included. But, and of a more important note, Trump also plays hard-nosed geopolitics as good as anyone, arming Ukraine, sending ships into the South China Sea, hitting Moscow with more sanctions and working more closely with Taiwan. When you add in a growing military budget, Trump might sound weak to his critics and at the podium during superpower summits, but his policies are, in fact, right out of the standard GOP foreign policy playbook.

I had a hard time myself understanding Trump’s simple but guiding core principle. I was a member of Senator’s Ted Cruz’s foreign policy team during the 2016 campaign, so obviously I was not exactly a tried and true believer. And while I support many of the president’s core national security ideas, I won’t defend some of his wilder notions or odd behavior. However, when you make your way outside the Beltway, you get a sense of what people like about Trump. Most Americans have no idea what is supposed to be conventional foreign policy strategy and what goes beyond the pale. The president’s supporters like the idea that Trump is doing things his way, breaking rules they had no idea existed in the first place, working to further their interests—nothing more, nothing less.

Maybe the best way to explain the Trump Doctrine is through an observer with no political or international relations training who has never set a foot in Washington. “I don’t give a damn about what happened before or in the past. I want my president to stand up for America—nothing else matters,” explained a fellow traveler I met in St. Louis last year as I was making my way back to the swamp. “All I care about is that someone is watching out for my job, that no one tries to take it away like from sweatshop in China, that no one tries to attack our homeland, and that anyone who tries to make our economy weaker is called to task. Whatever it takes. The rest is just talk.”

It seems, kind sir, you have found your president. And the world is just going to have to get used to it.

@ Harry J. Kazianis (@grecianformula) is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest and executive editor of its publishing arm The National Interest. Previously, he led the foreign policy communications efforts of the Heritage Foundation, and served as editor-in-chief of The Diplomat and as a fellow at CSIS:PACNET.

Trump admits son met with Russian lawyer to get information on Hillary Clinton

WASHINGTON, Aug 6: US President Donald Trump admitted Sunday that his son met with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower in 2016 “to get information on an opponent” but defended it as “totally legal.”

It was Trump’s most direct acknowledgement that the motive for the June 2016 meeting was to get dirt on Hillary Clinton, his Democratic rival for the presidency.

As he has in the past, Trump insisted in a tweet that he did not know at the time about the meeting between his son Donald Jr. and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a lawyer with links to the Kremlin.

“This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!”

Donald J. Trump
@realDonaldTrump
Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower. This was a meeting to get information on an opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics - and it went nowhere. I did not know about it!

The meeting has come under intense scrutiny from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating whether members of the Trump campaign coordinated with a Russian effort to sway the 2016 election in the Republican’s favour.

The president’s tweet about the meeting was one in a thread in which he reiterated criticism of Mueller, calling his probe “the most one sided Witch Hunt in the history of our country” peppered with “lies and corruption.”

The Washington Post reported Sunday that Trump has been brooding in private about whether his son unintentionally put himself in legal jeopardy by meeting with Veselnitskaya.

Trump called the Post report “a complete fabrication.”

The Trump Tower meeting was arranged by British music promoter, Rob Goldstone, who told Donald Jr that he had “information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father.”

Young Trump responded “I love it” when first offered the “dirt” on Clinton, the Democratic nominee.

News of the meeting, which Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner and top campaign official Paul Manafort also attended, broke in July 2017.

Donald Jr initially said in a statement to The New York Times that the meeting was “primarily” about American adoptions of Russian children.

He later admitted he accepted the meeting with Veselnitskaya in hopes of obtaining damaging information on Clinton, but said nothing came of it.

The Post had reported that the statement to The Times was dictated by the president, though at the time Trump’s lawyers denied his involvement.

They later reversed course in a memo to Mueller and said Trump was indeed behind the statement that omitted the prospect of collecting dirt on Clinton.

Lawyers described the statement as “short but accurate,” according to The Post.

Asked on Sunday why he had denied the president’s involvement, one of Trump’s lawyers Jay Sekulow told ABC that “I had bad information at that point.”

“I made a mistake in my statement,” he said. “That happens when you have cases like this.”

The president’s lawyers argue that the meeting, in and of itself, violated no laws.

“The question is how will it be illegal?” Sekulow said Sunday.

“What law, statute, rule or regulation has been violated?”

Chicago’s night of gun violence: 4 killed, 40 shot in 7 hours, say cops

CHICAGO, Aug 6: Forty-four people were shot across the Midwestern US city of Chicago on?Sunday, US media reported, with five killed in a wave of violence police branded “totally unacceptable”.

Chicago Police chief of patrol Fred Waller told a press conference in the afternoon some of the shootings were “targeted” and related to gang conflicts.

“The city of Chicago experienced a violent night. Incidents of either random or targeted shooting on our streets is totally unacceptable,” he said.

CNN reported multiple shootings took place between midnight and 2:00 pm local time – with 10 taking place in just three hours from 1:30 am.

Gunmen targeted groups including one gathering of people who had attended a funeral repast, police said, adding that one of the injured victims was an 11-year-old boy.

Chicago experienced a near 20-year record number of murders in 2016, prompting President Donald Trump to regularly single out the city for criticism.

But Waller said so far this year, there has been a reduction in shootings of over 30 per cent in Chicago, while murders are down by 25 per cent.

“That’s not a victory by any means, or any stretch” he said.

“But we continue to head in the right direction.”

He also said more than 5,500 illegal guns had been confiscated from the city’s streets.

“I promise this city, we won’t be defeated,” he vowed during the press conference.

“We all live in this city. We all want this city to be safer.”

Carr Fire claims 7th death in California as firefighters battle firestorm

NEW YORK, Aug 5: A Pacific Gas & Electric company worker was killed Saturday while doing restoration work near the Carr Fire, becoming the seventh victim the wildfire has claimed since it began its path of devastation more than a week ago.

PG&E’s Melissa Subbotin confirmed to Fox News that Jay Ayeta, who was an apprentice lineman with the utility company, was killed while working in Western Shasta County. Subbotin said Ayeta “suffered a fatal accident” linked to the Carr Fire, but did not provide details on the incident.

"We have learned of the tragic death of a PG&E employee, who was working in the area of the Carr fire today. The safety of our employees and our customers is PG&E’s top priority. Our thoughts and prayers are with our fallen team member, his family and our extended team. We are working with law enforcement to investigate the circumstances of the incident,” the company said in a statement to KCRA.

The fire continued to torch homes and buildings Sunday as thousands of firefighters battled the blaze. Two firefighters were among the seven people killed since the wildfire began. The Carr Fire, the sixth most destructive fire in California, was reported 41 percent contained Sunday morning.

The White House on Saturday approved California’s request for a Presidential Major Disaster Declaration for Shasta County.

 

US Places India in Strategic 1 category to rebuff China

NEW YORK, Aug 1: US President Donald Trump’s decision to grant India the STA-1 trading status equivalent to American allies for procurement of military weapons is a big rebuff to China for blocking India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

In making this call, the US President has relaxed a key condition set by the Obama Administration that India would be eligible only after it had secured the membership of all four technology control regimes — the NSG, the Missile Technology Control Regime, the Wassenaar Arrangement and the Australia Group.

India became a member of three of these, except for NSG where China has continued to block a consensus.

After an unsuccessful attempt at securing NSG membership in the last few months of the Obama Administration, India had asked US to reconsider its conditions.

New Delhi’s case was that by blocking India’s case at NSG, Beijing had also put on hold Indo-US cooperation on co-production of defence equipment as well as bilateral transfer of high-end technology. The STA-1 will make this easier. Only two other Asian countries, Japan and South Korea, are in this category.

There are two US arms control lists. One, the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) list, which comes under the State Department. The other is the Export Administration Regulation (EAR) list controlled by the Commerce Department.

In 2013, the Obama administration moved a bunch of sensitive items from the ITAR to EAR list. The EAR was then recast to make military commerce easier. In this rejig, India fell in the category of Strategic Trade Authorisation (STA)-2 while America’s closest allies were placed in STA-1. The licensing requirements are qualitatively different in these two categories, which is where the challenge lay in steering the India case forward.

India was not an ally and wasn’t going to define itself as one either.

So, a decision was made in the dying days of the Obama Administration to give India Major Defence Partner (MDP) status. But for it to have full effect, the EAR had to be amended to insert MDP category in STA 1.

The US Congress simultaneously passed a legislation ascribing the MDP description in law. This was not really needed as all this is within the US administration’s remit. Officials would like to call this a parallel process that just converged in the end.

US designates 3 Lashkar e-Taiba men as global terrorist

WASHINGTON, July 31: The United States on Tuesday named Abdul Rehman al-Dakhil, a senior commander of Lashkar-e-Taiba who carried out attacks in India, a specially designated global terrorist and sanctioned two other Pakistanis who work as financial facilitators for the banned Pakistan-based group.

The fund raisers are Hameed-ul-Hassan and Abdul Jabbar, who work with Falah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF), a front for the LeT. All three are Pakistani nationals, according to separate announcements by the US state and treasury departments. “Today’s designations seek to deny Dakhil the resources to plan and carry out terrorist attacks,” the state department said.

“These Lashkar-e Tayyiba (sic) financial facilitators are responsible for collecting, transporting and distributing funds to support this terrorist group and provide salaries to extremists,” said Sigal Mandelker, treasury undersecretary for terrorism and financial intelligence.

“Treasury’s designations not only aim to expose and shut down Lashkar-e-Tayyiba’s financial network, but also to curtail its ability to raise funds to carry out violent terrorist attacks.”

As a consequence of the designations, all properties and interests owned by the men and subject to US jurisdiction will be blocked and Americans will be prohibited from any transactions with them, or sending them funds.

The latest designations came days after the US expressed “deep reservations” over the participation of terrorist-affiliated individuals in Pakistan’s general elections on July 25. Candidates backed by the Jamaat-ud Dawah (JuD) contested the polls through the Allahu Akbar Tehreek, while the Sunni extremist group Ahl-e-Sunnat Wal Jamaat also fielded candidates but neither party won a single seat.

The US suspended nearly $2 billion dollars in security aid for Pakistan at the start of 2018 and the Financial Action Task Force added the country to its grey list in June for failing to counter terror financing. LeT and its fronts such as JuD and FIF have been on the list of designated terror groups of the US and the UN.

In April, the US added Milli Muslim League (MML), a political party floated by LeT founder Hafiz Saeed to mainstream the group, and Tehreek-e- Azadi Kashmir (TAJK), as fronts of LeT.

The state department described Dakhil as a long-time LeT member and an operational leader for terror attacks by the group in India between 1997 and 2001, after which he shifted to West Asia. He was captured in Iraq in 2004 by British forces and spent 10 years in US custody in Iraq and Afghanistan before being transferred to Pakistan in 2014, the state department said.

After his release from Pakistani custody, the date of which could not be ascertained, he returned to work for LeT. Dakhil became divisional commander for Jammu in 2016 and as of this year, the state department said, he was a senior commander of the group. Hassan was described to have been working for FIF since late 2016.

He collected funds for distribution in Syria. He worked with his brother and others to “transport funds to Pakistan on behalf of LeT”.Hassan has an active Twitter account, which identifies him as the leader of JuD in PoK. Jabbar raises money for LeT and distributes salaries for the group. He has worked in the group’s finance department since 2000. From 2016, he has been associated with FIF as well.

 

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North Korea is developing new missiles: Report
Trump says willing to meet with Iran’s Hassan Rouhani without precondition
 
     
  

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