Tag: Russia

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.

France & Iran Combine Forces to Defend Iran Nuclear Deal to U.S.A.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and French leader Emmanuel Macron launched a joint defence of the Iranian nuclear deal on Monday but expressed differences on how to move forward as US President Donald Trump weighs up whether to scrap it.

The Kremlin said Putin and Macron were both calling for “strict observance” of the hard-fought 2015 agreement after a phone call between the two leaders.

Macron’s office however said that while the pair agreed on the need to “preserve the gains from the agreement”, the French leader was also pushing for international talks on a potential wider deal.

“The president expressed his desire for discussions on controlling (Iran’s) nuclear activity after 2025, in close cooperation with Russia, other permanent members of the UN Security Council, European and regional powers,” the French statement said.

Trump has a May 12 deadline to decide on whether or not to walk away from the deal, which he has derided as “insane” partly because its restrictions on Iran’s nuclear activities begin expiring in 2025.

Moscow has previously said there was “no alternative” to the agreement and that Tehran’s position on the issue was paramount. Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has rejected any suggestion of rewriting the deal.

The agreement, thrashed out between Tehran and six world powers after fraught negotiations, saw Iran agree to freeze its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.

But Trump has called for it to be altered or scrapped.

Macron has positioned himself as an emissary for European officials seeking a compromise that would keep the deal intact. He has previously suggested an additional deal that extends Iran’s nuclear restrictions.

But after a state visit to the US this week, he admitted he had failed to secure any promise from Trump to keep the deal alive.

Major European powers Britain, France and Germany all remain committed to the pact, saying it is the best way to keep Tehran from getting a nuclear bomb.

– ‘Hi, Vladimir’ –

Along with urging fresh negotiations on Iran, Macron called for international talks on the wars in Syria and Yemen with the support of Russia.

He “indicated his wish for Russia to play a constructive role in all of these questions to avoid tensions mounting in the region”, the statement said, in a nod to increasingly cold relations between Russia and the West.

The French president, who has argued for keeping European communications open with Moscow despite tensions over the war in Syria, is due to visit Russia on May 24 and 25.

A video posted to Macron’s official Twitter account showed him calling Putin from his plane en route to Australia, in which he addresses the Russian leader warmly as “Vladimir” using the informal form of “you”.

“Hi Vladimir, how are you?” he is heard saying. “Thanks for agreeing to this phone call, I wanted to talk to you to take stock of the situation.”

Aside:  Trump and Macron planted a tree — but where did it go?
The photograph was seen around the world: US President Donald Trump and France’s Emmanuel Macron, gilded spades in hand, shovelling dirt over a young sapling.

A week ago, at the beginning of Macron’s visit to Washington, the French president joined his American counterpart to throw handfuls of soil on the roots of a young oak tree as the their respective first ladies looked on

It was a symbolic gesture: the tree came from a northern French forest where 2,000 US Marines died during the First World War.

But a few days later, the plant was nowhere to be seen.

Amid fervent speculation, France on Sunday came through with an explanation: the tree, now not just a plant but a symbol of US-French relations, had been placed in quarantine.

“It is a quarantine which is mandatory for any living organism imported into the US,” Gerard Araud, French ambassador to America, wrote on Twitter.

“It will be replanted afterwards.”

When a follower fired back that the caution seemed a bit late — given that the tree had already been planted — the diplomat went on to confirm that the roots had been enclosed in plastic.

 

Photo: Iran’s Atomic Energy Research Center at Bonab is investigating the applications of nuclear technology in agriculture.

Pentagon Weighs Military Response After Syrian ‘Chemical Attack’ On Its Own People

Global outrage is mounting over an alleged chemical attack on a rebel-held town in Syria, as the Pentagon weighs America’s options for a retaliatory strike.

Military action against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad seemed likely, after President Donald Trump warned of a “big price to pay” and spoke of imminent “major decisions” within the next 48 hours.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said he won’t rule anything out militarily.

But thanks to the Trump administration’s whipsawing messaging over whether America will even stay in Syria, and the dangerous complexities of the multi-national conflict, the Pentagon’s options appeared limited.

The attack on the rebel-held Syrian town of Douma killed at least 48 people Saturday after a “poisonous chlorine gas attack” in Eastern Ghouta, rescuers and medics said.

By Monday, the United States and France had promised a “strong, joint response” and Britain, too, joined a growing chorus demanding action.

Syria and its ally Russia have dismissed allegations that the attack was carried out by Syrian forces as “fabrications” and have warned against using them to justify military action.

– Russia risks –

Perhaps the biggest risk for Pentagon planners is Russia, and its large presence which since late 2015 has been deeply enmeshed with Assad’s military.

 

Trump made a rare personal criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin following Saturday’s attack, a break from his reluctance to single out the strongman by name as he has sought better coordination with Moscow in the Syria crisis.

“President Putin, Russia and Iran are responsible for backing Animal Assad,” Trump wrote in a tweet.

– Past as prelude? –

After a deadly sarin gas attack on the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhun that killed scores of people in April last year, Trump quickly ordered a retaliatory strike.

The US military blasted 59 Tomahawk missiles at Syria’s Shayrat air base, which the Pentagon said Assad’s jets had used to launch the deadly chemical attack.

The action won Trump bipartisan praise because it was seen as limited in scope and designed to respond to a specific incident, rather than pulling America deeper into Syria’s civil war.

“The president responded decisively when Assad used chemical weapons last year,” Republican Senator John McCain, a frequent Trump critic said.

“He should do so again, and demonstrate that Assad will pay a price for his war crimes.”

– What is the goal? –

Jennifer Cafarella, a Syria analyst for the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, said Trump’s administration needs to figure out what its long-term goal is in Syria as it weighs its military options.

She described a few potential military responses, including a tactical strike such as the one last year, or a broader attack on Assad’s air forces including taking out his radar and air-defense systems, and hitting multiple air bases.

“I expect the question from the Pentagon to the civilian leadership is what is the goal,” Cafarella said.

She also said another option likely under consideration is to tackle Iranian-backed militias in Syria.

Such a move would not be in direct response to the latest alleged chemical attack, but would signal a willingness to curtail Iranian influence in Syria.

“We want to ask whether the president is going to broaden his response in order to also punish Assad’s backers Russia and Iran,” she explained.

Another possibility is Trump asking an ally to conduct military action against the regime.

On Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron said he and Trump had shared information “confirming” toxic weapons were used in Douma, without elaborating.

– Hawk at Trump’s side –

Trump on Monday began working with his new national security advisor, John Bolton, a staunch hawk on Iran and American military intervention in general, so the president’s outlook on Syria — and whether he still wants to withdraw the roughly 2,000 US forces — may soon morph again.

The US personnel in Syria belong to a coalition providing weapons, training and other support to forces fighting Islamic State jihadists in Syria and neighboring Iraq.

Daniel Davis, a retired army lieutenant colonel and fellow at the Defense Priorities military think tank, cautioned against US military action.

“The absolute worst policy option for the United States is to get deeper involved in Syria’s civil war, which however brutal, has no bearing on our security or prosperity — especially when further intervention risks a clash with nuclear-armed Russia,” he said.