Tag: President Trump

Senate Sends Defense Bill To President Trump For Signing

The US Senate easily passed a $716.3 billion defense authorization bill Wednesday that ramps up military spending and bolsters America’s posture against Russia, while avoiding policy changes that would have antagonized President Donald Trump.

The National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) passed 87 to 10 in the Senate a week after clearing the House of Representatives, and now heads to the White House for Trump’s signature.

The bill provides $69 billion in special war funding known as overseas contingency operations, authorizes a 2.6 percent pay raise for members of the armed forces, and invests tens of billions in modernizing the Pentagon’s air and sea fleets and missile defenses.

It notably prohibits delivery of F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft to Turkey, a NATO ally with increasingly fraught relations with Washington, until Ankara can confirm it will not buy Russia’s S-400 anti-aircraft missile system.

And while China and Russia are classified as “strategic competitors” to the United States, the legislation negotiated between the House and Senate left out a proposal by senators that would have blocked a deal Trump reached with Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE that eases tough financial penalties on the firm for helping Iran and North Korea evade American sanctions.

The capitulation smoothed things over with the White House, but it angered Republican Senator Marco Rubio, who voted against the bill.

“It’s time we opened our eyes,” Rubio told colleagues.

“We are engaged in a geopolitical competition, not with some poor agrarian country trying to catch up, but with a global super power who is quickly nipping at our heels and doing so unfairly, with the intent of replacing us in the world as the most powerful country militarily, economically, geopolitically and technologically.”

The NDAA also includes a provision allowing the administration to waive some Russia-related sanctions that would have barred Washington from selling defense-related equipment to countries using Russian technology.

Supporters of the provision stress that the change will help certain countries wean themselves off of Russian influence.

The bill including provisions which allow for better assessment of risks to US national security from transactions involving foreign firms aiming to gain access to sensitive American technology.

It also extends a restriction on US-Russian military cooperation, and authorizes $65 million to revamp the US nuclear arsenal by developing new “low-yield” nuclear weapons.

This year’s NDAA was named after Senator John McCain, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman and national security hawk who is home in Arizona battling brain cancer.

“This year’s NDAA represents an important opportunity to implement an effective approach to confront a growing array of threats around the world,” McCain said.

Congress has passed the NDAA for 57 consecutive years, and Senate Democrat Richard Blumenthal noted its success marks “a victory for the notion that national security is above politics and party.”

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U. S. Intelligence Confirms: North Korea Dismantles Nuclear Testing Facility

Praising his “good relationship” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, US President Donald Trump on Tuesday welcomed reports that Pyongyang has started dismantling a facility seen as a testing ground for intercontinental ballistic missiles.

New satellite imagery shows “that North Korea has begun the process of dismantling a key missile site, and we appreciate that,” Trump said at an event for military veterans in Kansas City, Missouri.

Hitting back at criticism that his June 12 summit with Kim in Singapore has so far yielded few concrete results, Trump suggested his newfound rapport with Kim was bearing fruit.

“We had a fantastic meeting with Chairman Kim and it seems to be going very well,” Trump said.

After the summit, Trump had declared the North Korean nuclear threat was effectively over, but some US media reports suggest he has been privately furious at the pace of subsequent progress on the denuclearization issue.

US-based website 38 North published imagery Monday indicating Pyongyang has begun taking down a processing building and a rocket-engine test stand that had been used to test liquid-fuel engines at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station.

Sohae, on the northwest coast of North Korea, is ostensibly a facility designed for putting satellites into orbit, but rocket engines are easily repurposed for use in missiles and the international community has labelled Pyongyang’s space program a fig leaf for weapons tests.

38 North analyst Joseph Bermudez called the move an “important first step” for Kim in fulfilling a promise Trump said the North Korean leader had made.

But some experts urged caution and one US defense official played down the news, saying the Sohae site was not a priority in terms of monitoring the North’s denuclearization efforts.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the imagery was “entirely consistent” with commitments Kim made to Trump during their summit in Singapore.

“We’ve been pressing for there to be inspectors on the ground when that engine test facility is dismantled, consistent with Chairman Kim’s commitment,” Pompeo said Tuesday at a news conference in California.

“They need to completely, fully denuclearize. That’s the steps that Chairman Kim committed to and that the world has demanded,” Pompeo added.

– ‘Good feeling’ –

On Tuesday, Trump told the Veterans of Foreign Wars group that he was hopeful the question of repatriating the remains of US troops killed during the Korean War would be addressed shortly.

The long-simmering topic was highlighted in a joint statement signed by Trump and Kim, with the US and North Korea committing to recovering remains, “including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.”

“At the very end of our meeting, I said to Chairman Kim — good relationship, good feeling — I said, ‘I would really appreciate if you could do that’,” Trump said.

“He said, ‘It will be done.'”

On June 20, Trump erroneously said 200 human remains had already “been sent back” from North Korea, but the issue is far from resolved and Pyongyang has already canceled at least one meeting to discuss the return of the remains.

We are “working to bring back the remains of your brothers-in-arms who gave their lives in Korea,” Trump said Tuesday.

“I hope that very soon these fallen warriors will begin coming home to lay at rest in American soil.”

In a sign of Washington’s impatience with what it sees as North Korean foot-dragging on the denuclearization issue, Pompeo was in New York last week urging UN member states to keep tough economic sanctions in place to pressure Kim into moving forward.

China and Russia have argued that North Korea should be rewarded with the prospect of eased sanctions for opening up dialogue with the United States and halting missile tests.

South Korea has also pushed ahead with its reconciliation with the North since a landmark inter-Korean summit in April.

Seoul’s defense ministry said Tuesday it was considering withdrawing some troops from the border Demilitarized Zone on a trial basis — a move which could expand into a gradual pullout.

The 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice rather than a peace treaty, leaving the two Koreas technically at war.

The DMZ was designated as a buffer zone, but the areas to the north and south of it are heavily fortified.

More than 35,000 Americans were killed on the Korean peninsula during the war, with 7,700 of these US troops still listed as missing in action — most of them in North Korea.

Air Force One To Get New Look For 2024

When President Trump confirmed that he wants to redesign Air Force One during his term in office, in an interview with CBS that aired on Tuesday, he told reporter Jeff Glor that he planned to repaint the iconic aircraft red, white and blue. When asked if he wanted to keep the current robin’s egg blue design he said he would not. “Air Force One is going to be incredible,” Trump told Glor. “It’s going to be the top of the line, the top in the world, and it’s going to be red, white and blue. Which I think is appropriate.”

The CBS interview confirmed an earlier report by Axios, which said Trump planned to ditch the “Jackie Kennedy color” for something “more American.”

The new Air Force One planes, which will be made by Boeing, will not be ready until 2024. (Though “Air Force One” designates the aircraft on which the President flies, it’s not actually one single plane.) The new planes will be replacing a set that, according to the Department of Defense, have been in the air since 1987. At that time, President Ronald Regan chose to keep the Air Force One design that had been selected during the Kennedy administration.

That longevity sets the presidential plane apart: While the presidential cars are upgraded every few years for the newest, safest models, and the Oval office is regularly redecorated to reflect the changing times and the presidential personality, the design of Air Force One has remained the same since 1962.

But that design wasn’t part of the original plan for Air Force One.

In May of 1962, in anticipation of a new pair of planes to serve as Air Force One, Boeing’s exterior designs for the planes— which included the typical red and orange military plane markings and type-font lettering — were released to the public. According to the New England Historical Society, Raymond Loewy, a well-known French industrial designer who had created designs for Coca-Cola, Lucky Strikes Cigarettes and Studebaker cars, made it known to a White House aide that elements of the proposed sketch were “gaudy” and “amateurish.”

When Jackie Kennedy heard that such a well-respected designer had critiqued the design of the iconic planes, she asked her husband to hire Loewy for the job.

Ever-conscious of appearances and trends, the First Lady wanted to make sure the planes that served as a foreign country’s first impression of JFK would represent the U.S. leader well. During Loewy’s first meeting with JFK in the West Wing, he had the president sit on the floor with him as they sketched a new paint scheme, according to the book Air Force One. Kennedy, who wanted a design with less military nomenclature, changed the traditional “U.S. Air Force” markings on the side to a more neutral designation of “The United States of America.” He also added the presidential seal near the nose of the plane, and an American Flag on the tail. In order to select the best font, Loewy looked to historical U.S. documents for inspiration; when he saw the typeface of the original Declaration of Independence, he knew he had found the perfect model. Widely spaced letters in all capitals, using the font Caslon, were then applied for the lettering on the planes.

For the color palette of the aircrafts, Loewy went with a simple but striking design. Knowing Kennedy’s affinity for blue, the designer came up with the paint scheme that is now synonymous with the presidential planes, using slate and cyan blue for the middle and wings, and leaving the top of the plane white with a silver underside.

The new design, like most things the Kennedy family did, was received with great fanfare from the American public. In 1961, when the Kennedy couple went to France on one of the first flights of the upgraded planes, TIME’s Hugh Sidey reported that the new look was a hit:

Then, while it was still dawn in his own country, President John F. Kennedy‘s scarlet-nosed Boeing 707 jet (code name: “Air Force One”) angled down through the pattern of clouds that covered northern France, and it came time for John Kennedy to prove that the words of the song had real meaning. Five minutes ahead of schedule, the huge craft eased onto the runway at Paris‘ Orly Airport. A light haze filtered the bright sun, and there was no hint of rain to come later in the day; except for the chill (58°), it was Paris at its seductive springtime best. As the jet taxied toward the terminal, Kennedy pulled up the knot in his tie, brushed down a stray lock of hair; Jackie Kennedy carefully settled her pillbox hat—blue, to match the spring coat created by Designer Oleg Cassini—on top of her well-combed, bouffant hairdo. Press Secretary Pierre Salinger came forward with a last-minute report on details of the arrival ceremony; Kennedy listened, nodded his approval.

When the presidential plane wheeled to a stop in front of the terminal, the drums of a French air force band rolled out a rhythmic welcome. Dressed in a double-breasted grey suit, the Savior of France led his welcoming party—including Madame de Gaulle, U.S. Ambassador to Paris James Gavin, France‘s Ambassador in Washington Herve Alphand—along 75 yards of red carpet to the debarking ramp. With a grin and a choppy, campaign-style wave. Kennedy stepped from the plane, Jackie a pace behind him. When the President of the U.S. and the President of France shook hands, De Gaulle gave greeting in his stilted, seldom-used English: “Have you made a good aerial voyage?” When Kennedy, grinning, answered yes, De Gaulle said: “Ah, that’s good.”

Sidey would later recall that he was “deeply touched by the majesty of the moment” and that the plane’s paint job was a testament of the First Lady’s impeccable sense of style.

Only time and critical review will tell if Trump’s “more American” red, white and blue Air Force One will be able to match the ability of Loewy’s design to exude presidential power with simple elegance — but for the next 6 years the iconic “Jackie Kennedy Blue” will continue to represent the U.S. abroad.  The President certainly has his own unique flair, now he’ll get a chance to shown is he has style as well.

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.