Trump Sttacks US ‘foolishness’ Heading Into Putin Powwow

President Donald Trump headed into his first summit with Vladimir Putin on Monday determined to forge a personal bond with the Kremlin chief and adamant that only “stupidity” by prior administrations had brought US-Russian ties to their present low.

Hours before the Helsinki summit, Trump was asked if he would press Putin over Russia’s alleged manipulation of the 2016 election that brought the mercurial property tycoon to power. He said only: “We’ll do just fine.”

Democrats had called for the summit’s cancellation after new revelations surrounding the election meddling. But Trump has insisted it is “a good thing to meet”, as he attempts to replicate with Putin the sort of personal rapport he proclaims with the autocratic leaders of China and North Korea.

If his instinct proves right and the pair find common ground, then the summit may take the heat out of some of the world’s most dangerous conflicts including Syria.

But the Washington-Moscow rivalry has rarely been more bitter, and there are many points of friction that could yet spoil Trump’s hoped-for friendship.

Trump began the day’s talks by meeting Finland’s President Sauli Niinisto, who has loaned his harbour-front palace for the occasion. But first he took a moment to fire a Twitter broadside at his domestic opponents, blaming the diplomatic chill on the investigation into 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.

After a stormy NATO summit in Brussels last week, Trump was accused by critics of cosying up to Putin while undermining the alliance.

But, over breakfast with Niinisto, he insisted NATO “has never been stronger” and “never been more together” thanks to his insistence on all allies paying their fair share.

With Washington and Moscow at loggerheads over Ukraine, Iran and trade tariffs as well as Syria, even Trump has cautioned that he is not approaching the Putin summit “with high expectations”.

The 72-year-old brash billionaire has been president for 18 months, while the former KGB officer, 65, has run Russia for the past 18 years.

In an interview with CBS News that aired before he touched down in Helsinki, Trump admitted that Russia remains a foe, but he put Moscow on a par with China and the European Union as economic and diplomatic rivals.

The Kremlin has also played down hopes that the odd couple will emerge from their first formal one-on-one summit with a breakthrough.

Putin, who played host at the World Cup final in Moscow on Sunday and was due to arrive in Finland later Monday, has remained terse in the run-up to the summit.

On Friday his adviser Yuri Ushakov also played down expectations, saying: “The state of bilateral relations is very bad…. We have to start to set them right.”

– Giving up ground? –

Indeed, after the bad-tempered NATO summit and a contentious trip by Trump to Britain, anxious European leaders may be relieved if not much comes out of the Helsinki meeting.

Those leaders are already fuming over Trump’s imposition of trade tariffs on various countries, including Russia.

European Union President Donald Tusk called on the United States, China and Russia to work together to cool the global trade tensions, warning that they could spiral into violent “conflict and chaos”.

For their part, protesters have been on the streets of Helsinki to denounce the policies of both Trump and Putin. Greenpeace draped a giant banner down a church tower urging: “Warm our hearts not our planet.”

Trump is also under pressure from Britain to press Putin over the nerve agent poisoning of four people in the city of Salisbury.

One of the victims, Dawn Sturgess, has died and her 19-year-old son Ewan Hope told the Sunday Mirror newspaper: “We need to get justice for my mum.”

– Extradition demand? –

Many fear that Trump — in his eagerness to prove that he was right to seek the summit with Putin despite US political opposition — may give up too much ground.

Ahead of the talks, Trump has refused to personally commit to the US refusal to recognise Russia’s annexation of Crimea, leaving open the possibility of a climb-down linked to a promise by Putin to somehow rein in Iranian influence in Syria.

If Washington were to de facto accept Russia’s 2014 land-grab, this would break with decades of US policy and send tremors through NATO’s exposed eastern flank.

And there will be outrage at home if Trump does not confront Putin over the election scandal.

But the US leader would not say whether he would demand the extradition of 12 Russian intelligence officers who were indicted last week by US special prosecutor Robert Mueller, for allegedly hacking Trump rival Hillary Clinton’s computer server.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions Turns Asylum On It’s Ear – Moving To Expel Rape & Violence Victims

“The asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune,” Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III wrote as he moved to further restrict U.S. acceptance of immigrants by ruling Monday that fear of domestic abuse or gang violence is not an acceptable basis for granting asylum. Ripping discretion, once again, from local authorities.

Sessions wrote a formal legal opinion, exercising his authority to overturn decisions by federal immigration judges, but not on a case-by-case basis as would normally be done, and finding that very real cases of repeated rape, sexual slavery and viable threats of murder – often against young people who have just watched their parents murdered before them – are not grounds for asylum, ever.

“The mere fact that a country may have problems effectively policing certain crimes — such as domestic violence or gang violence — or that certain populations are more likely to be victims of crime cannot itself establish an asylum claim.”

He acted in the case of a woman from El Salvador who entered the U.S. illegally in 2014 and sought asylum, claiming that her husband repeatedly abused her “emotionally, physically and sexually.”

Under U.S. and international law, a person may seek asylum based on past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution because of race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group. Four years ago, an immigration court recognized “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” as such a social group.

In overturning that ruling, Sessions said it did not conform with the requirements of federal law that a social group must have well-defined characteristics that are socially distinct. The claims of the woman in this case, who said her social group was “El Salvadoran women unable to leave their domestic relationships where they have children,” did not fit the law’s requirements, he said.

“I do not minimize the vile abuse that the respondent reported she suffered at the hands of her ex-husband or the harrowing experiences of many other victims of domestic violence around the world,” Sessions said. “I understand that many victims of domestic violence may seek to flee from their home countries to extricate themselves from a dire situation or to give themselves the opportunity for a better life. But the asylum statute is not a general-hardship statute.”

Advocates for immigrants immediately condemned the ruling.

“We’re not talking about chronic illegal immigration, and this isn’t a defense against a hoard of unwashed heathens swarming our boarders,” opined Michael Spillan, a Sentinel Justice Contributor. “Asylum for women and children who have been and will be subjected to a life of actual physical and sexual slavery is a humanitarian act.”

“I find it dichotomous that we have in President Donald Trump a chief executive so in touch with the will of his base and yet an Attorney General as out of touch with reality itself as Jeff Sessions”

Beth Werlin of the American Immigration Council said it would “result in sending countless mothers and children back to their abusers and criminal gangs. Turning our backs on victims of violence and deporting them to grave danger should not be the legacy sought by any administration.”

Earlier Monday, in a speech to Justice Department immigration lawyers in Tysons Corner, Virginia, Sessions said the asylum system is being abused and “was never meant to alleviate all problems, even serious problems, that people face every day all over the world.”

He said that the number of asylum claims jumped to 94,000 in 2016, compared with 5,000 in 2009, and that only about one-fifth of claims in the past five years have been found to be justified.

The Sentinel has stood strongly against illegal immigration, and will ever continue to do so.  That being said, we are likewise opposed to “one-size-fits-all” cooker cutter type “zero tolerance” policies such as AG Sessions continually attempts to effect.

The Attorney General’s “Kill’em all, let God sort’em out” discretion stripping approach to government, justice, immigration and probably life itself is disturbing.

The People of the United States, through our elected representatives, have spent two and a half centuries building a corps of intelligent, educated and we’ll trained professionals who have been tasked with the job of making determinations, on a case-by-case basis, about who and how life changing decisions impacting the lives of  people within our nation should be made.

Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has, since his first week in office, moved to strip Congressionally mandated discretionary authority away from those federal professionals, the ones living and working in our local communities, in order to vest it apparently in himself.

He has moved consistently, acting by fiat, to rip case-by-case discretion away from our neighbors, the local United States Attorneys, the local immigration judges, and other people we have direct access to, other people who we trust to understand the needs of our communities – ones they share with us – better than career bureaucrats in Washington.

The Sentinel is a conservative new source, and stands opposed, firmly opposed, to any act by AG Sessions, to dismantle the authority given to our friends and neighbors to determine what’s right and needed in our local communities and replace that authority with his own brand of un-American extremism.

And unlike Mr. Sessions, we do not believe that legitimate fear of rape and murder constitute “misfortune”.

AG Sessions Restricts Administrative Closure Of Immigration Proceedings

 On Thursday, May 17, 2018, Attorney General Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III issued a 26-page opinion and order in Matter of Castro-Tum, Respondent, 27 I&N Dec. 271 (A.G. May 17, 2018), restricting immigration judges from administratively closing cases before they issue decisions.  Sessions’ new order says “the current practice of administrative closure lacks a valid legal foundation”:

I hold that immigration judges and the Board do not have the general authority to suspend indefinitely immigration proceedings by administrative closure.  Accordingly, immigration judges and the Board may only administratively close a case where a previous regulation or a previous judicially approved settlement expressly authorizes such an action.

Where a case has been administratively closed without such authority, the immigration judge or the Board, as appropriate, shall recalendar the case on the motion of either party.

As reported by the New York Times here, the order “is unlikely to reopen all the cases” that are currently administratively closed, but it “injects fresh uncertainty in the lives of undocumented immigrants living in the United States.”

The Sentinel is strongly opposed to illegal immigration into our great nation.  That opposition does not, however, limit concern for unnecessary restrictions being placed on our Administrative Law Judges, who work daily in the trenches, carefully reviewing each case before making individualized decisions regarding the particular merits of each case.

AG Sessions’ action takes authority away from the experienced men and women in our ALJ corp and places it in an absolutionism of regulation without the standards of public notice, review and consideration and review that Federal Regulations are required by law to have.

Actions such as this, promulgation of regulation by fiat, lead to despotism, which the Sentinel, though a Republican owned publication, stands firmly against, administratively mandated “zero tolerance policies” which strip officials of their congressionally granted discretion offend the American citizen’s duly constituted and ratified liberty based governmental model and should not br allowed to stand.

North Korean Threat Brings Bold “We’ll see” From President Trump

President Donald Trump sounded a note of caution Wednesday about his much-vaunted summit with Kim Jong Un, saying “we’ll see” after Pyongyang threatened to cancel.

Trump said the US government had not received any official word of a change in plans for the June 12 meeting in Singapore.

“We haven’t been notified at all. We’ll have to see,” Trump said in the Oval Office.

“We haven’t seen anything. We haven’t heard anything. We will see what happens. Whatever it is, it is.”

After weeks of warm words and diplomatic backslapping, Pyongyang abruptly threatened to pull out Tuesday, over US demands for “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

In an angrily worded statement, the North warned “if the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue.”

The statement was attributed to first vice foreign minister Kim Kye Gwan and carried by state media KCNA.

In that case, he added, Pyongyang would have to “reconsider” its participation at next month’s summit in Singapore.

The first vice foreign minister also tore into Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton for drawing parallels between North Korea and Libya, calling the comparison “absolutely absurd.”

“We do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him,” he said of Bolton.

Bolton has pushed the idea of a deal with North Korea like that reached with Libya’s Moamer Kadhafi, who agreed in 2003 to the elimination of his country’s nuclear program and chemical weapons arsenal to gain sanctions relief.

After giving up his atomic program, Kadhafi was killed in 2011 in an uprising backed by NATO bombing.

– A plea from China –

Experts have not been surprised by the sudden about face, expecting bumps in the road as tough issues to be discussed in the meeting come into sharper focus.

Washington is pressing for North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization. But so far, the North has given no public indication of what it is offering, beyond a broad commitment to denuclearization of the “Korean peninsula.”

Pyongyang “made clear on several occasions that precondition for denuclearization is to put an end to anti-DPRK hostile policy and nuclear threats and blackmail of the United States,” the North Korean minister said.

In the past, Pyongyang has demanded the withdrawal of US troops stationed in the South, and an end to Washington’s nuclear umbrella over its ally.

China, North Korea’s sole major ally, called for the summit to go ahead.

“The situation on the peninsula has eased up, which is worth cherishing,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing.

Minister Kim also dismissed offers by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for US economic aid if the North denuclearizes.

“We have never had any expectation of US support in carrying out our economic construction and will not at all make such a deal in future,” he said.

The White House said plans for the summit were moving ahead.

“The president is ready if the meeting takes place. And if it doesn’t, we will continue the maximum pressure campaign that has been ongoing,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.

– Tightrope diplomacy –

The North Korean warning follows a weeks-long charm offensive that has seen Kim Jong Un hold a historic summit with the South’s president and meet twice with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Pyongyang also raised hopes ahead of the US summit by announcing it will destroy its nuclear testing site next week.

Analysts said Pyongyang appeared to be trying to redefine the terms of the debate.

“It’s a diplomatic tactic,” Kim Hyun-wook, professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, told AFP, calling it “brinkmanship to change the US position.”

“It looks like Kim Jong Un was pushed into accepting US demands for ‘denuclearization-first’ but is now trying to change its position after normalizing North Korea-China relations and securing economic assistance,” he added.

“The classic North Korean tightrope diplomacy between the US and China has begun.”

US officials have repeatedly claimed credit for Washington’s “maximum pressure” policy for bringing Pyongyang to the negotiating table.

Joshua Pollack of the Middlebury Institute for International Studies said Pyongyang had been irritated by the “triumphalist tone.”

“The North Koreans aren’t happy with what they’re seeing and hearing,” he said. “There is still a yawning gulf between expectations for diplomacy in Pyongyang and Washington, DC.”

– Thunderstruck –

KCNA also denounced the Max Thunder joint military exercises being held between the US and South Korea as a “rude and wicked provocation,” and Seoul said it had received a message cancelling planned high-level talks “indefinitely.”

The two-week drills started last Friday and involves some 100 aircraft from the two allies, including F-22 stealth fighter jets.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters it had received “no notification” of a position change by North Korea on next month’s meeting.

The exercises were “not provocative” and would continue, she added.

U.S. Seeks Continued Inspections if Iranian Nuclear Sites

The White House wants intrusive inspections of Iran’s nuclear sites to continue despite President Donald Trump’s withdrawal from a landmark accord on Tehran’s atomic program, US officials have told America media agencies.

Days after the president walked away from a three-year-old deal that mandated rigorous scrutiny of Iranian facilities, senior administration officials said monitoring should continue regardless.

Known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), the deal between Tehran and major world powers forces Iran to open any site to inspectors within 24 days at most and introduced 24-hour remote surveillance at some sites.

Supporters of the Obama-era accord argue it provided “the world’s most robust” monitoring regime, allowing access to the Islamic republic’s most sensitive nuclear sites.

Speaking at a rally in Indiana on Thursday Trump said tough inspections were still needed.

“We must be able to go to a site and check that site. We have to be able to go into their military bases to see whether or not they’re cheating,” he said.

The White House is demanding the existing inspection regime, however imperfect, continue under the aegis of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN nuclear watchdog.

“We expect Iran will continue to implement the Additional Protocol and cooperate with the IAEA whether or not the JCPOA remains in place,” one senior administration official said.

A second official confirmed on Thursday that Washington still wanted the inspections.

Other signatories to the Iran deal — including Tehran, China and European powers — have vowed to press ahead with the agreement’s implementation.

But officials are privately skeptical about how long it can survive, particularly if the United States imposes sanctions on European companies doing business in Iran.

And non-proliferation experts have warned that a vital window into Iran’s nuclear activities could be lost.

“If the agreement collapses, Iran is under no obligation to implement any of these provisions, either the Additional Protocol or the deal-specific measures,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association.

“The nuclear deal with Iran put the country’s program under a microscope,” she explained, saying the measures serve as “an early warning system that will set off alarm bells if Iran tries to cheat on its commitments or conduct illicit activities.”

– Are inspections effective? –

Since the nuclear accord was reached in 2015, the IAEA has carried out hundreds of inspections inside Iran.

That includes monitoring at Fordo, an underground fuel enrichment plant inside a base used by Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

The JCPOA adds an extra layer of scrutiny not found in existing accords, including monitoring of mines and restrictions on multi-point detonation systems and nuclear computer simulations.

The IAEA has so far confirmed that Iran is adhering to its “nuclear-related commitments,” although the US administration questions that conclusion.

“You cannot say that Iran is in compliance unless you are 100 percent certain that the IAEA and our intelligence are infallible,” said US national security advisor John Bolton.

That approach has left some questioning why the administration wants monitoring to continue at all.

“If they don’t trust the inspections, I don’t know why they would be strongly encouraging Iran to comply,” said Corey Hinderstein, a fuel cycle expert who previously worked on implementation of the deal at the Department of Energy.

“The fact is the inspections are and have been effective,” she said.

American citizens are working on the IAEA inspection team, but are based in Vienna, not on the ground in Iran.

Hinderstein said there is every indication that the US is preparing to pull out of other non-inspection mechanisms in the agreement, including converting the Arak heavy water reactor and the “procurement channel” that regulates the import of dual use materials to Iran.

Trump has described the agreement as “the worst deal in history” and vowed to renegotiate it.

He has also warned that Iran will be punished if it returns to military-scale uranium enrichment.

“If the regime continues its nuclear aspirations, it will have bigger problems than it has ever had before,” Trump said.

– The American Sentinel Newsletter