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PESCO: EU paves way to defense union

The majority of EU nations have committed to a joint defense cooperation, focusing on military operations and investments. Europe is looking to cement unity, especially since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Defense and foreign ministers from 23 European Union countries signed up to a plan to establish the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which will allow countries to cooperate more closely on security operations and building up military capability. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini described the signing of PESCO as a "historic moment in European defense." "This is the beginning of a common work - 23 member states engaging both on capabilities and on operational steps, that's something big," Mogherini said. The decision to launch PESCO indicates Europe's move towards self-sufficiency in defense matters instead of relying solely on NATO. The EU, however, also stressed that PESCO is complimentary to NATO, in which 22 of the EU's 28 countries are members. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomed the launch, saying that he saw it as an opportunity to "strengthen the European pillar within NATO." Stoltenberg had previously urged European nations to increase their defense budget. "I'm a firm believer of stronger European defense, so I welcome PESCO because I believe that it can strengthen European defense, which is good for Europe but also good for NATO," Stoltenberg said. Who is involved? Under the scheme, EU member states will be able to develop greater military capabilities, invest in joint projects and increase the readiness of their troops. Participation in PESCO is voluntary for all of the EU's 28 member states 23 countries have signed up to the plan Ireland, Portugal and Malta are still undecided whether or not to join Denmark, which has a special opt-out status, is not expected to participate The United Kingdom, which is scheduled to leave the EU in 2019, is not part of PESCO either but can still choose to take part in certain aspects even after Brexit - if that participation is of benefit to the entire EU. Those who didn't sign initially can still join at a later date and countries not living up to their expected commitments could be kicked out of the group. With the notification signed, a final decision to launch the defense cooperation framework is expected in December. The reaction from Germany German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen said it was important for Europe to stand on its own feet when it comes to security and defense - "especially after the election of the US President," referring to President Donald Trump's dismissive attitude towards NATO. "If there is a crisis in our neighborhood, we have to be able to act," she said. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel meanwhile also lauded the agreement as "a great step toward self-sufficiency and strengthening the European Union's security and defense policy – really a milestone in European development." Gabriel said that working together under the framework of PESCO was "more economical than if everyone does the same. I think that European cooperation on defense questions will rather contribute to saving money - we have about 50 percent of the United States' defense spending in Europe, but only 15 percent of the efficiency."

The majority of EU nations have committed to a joint defense cooperation, focusing on military operations and investments. Europe is looking to cement unity, especially since Brexit and the election of Donald Trump. Defense and foreign ministers from 23 European Union countries signed up to a plan to establish the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), which will allow countries to cooperate ... Read More »

Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin ‘agree on Syria,’ brush off election meddling

In a joint statement on Syria, the US president and his Russian counterpart have agreed to fight IS extremists together. At a regional summit, the two leaders also denied claims of Moscow interference in the US election. US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin assured him that Moscow did not interfere in the 2016 US election during their discussions on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit in Danang, Vietnam. "Every time he sees me, he said: 'I didn't do that.' And I believe, I really believe that when he tells me that he means it," Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One en route to the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. "He said he didn't meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times," Trump said. He also noted that Putin is "very insulted" by the accusation. Putin also swatted away accusations of election meddling as a US "domestic political struggle", in comments to reporters. "I think these are some sort of fantasies," he said of claims of collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign. Read more: Why is the United States interested in the 'Indo-Pacific'? Informal talks Trump and Putin did not have a formal meeting at the APEC summit, but the two leaders met unofficially several times since late Friday and have even posed for a side-by-side photo. Such a meeting would take place against a fraught background, with some of Trump's key aides under investigation for alleged collaboration with Moscow ahead of the president's win in 2016 elections. US officials may well be anxious to avoid any encounter between the two men that could be seen to reinforce the notion that they are in cahoots in any way. Both the White House and the Kremlin have denied any wrongdoing. Read more: APEC summit: Free trade in Asia in the age of protectionism Democrats creating 'artificial barrier' Trump's also accused US Democrats of standing in the way of a "good relationship" with Russia by accusing Moscow of meddling in the elections. He said Russia's help would be beneficial in "solving" problems with North Korea, Syria and Ukraine, adding that "people will die" because of the Democratic "hit job." Although no top-level formal Moscow-Washington encounter took place in Vietnam, the summit saw a brief meeting between Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his US counterpart Rex Tillerson. Lavrov, when asked to give the details of their talks, said only: "I can but I wouldn't." Agreement on Syria Trump and Putin did issue a statement on Saturday in which they agreed to continue joint efforts to fight the terrorist group "Islamic State" (IS) in Syria until it is completely defeated. The joint statement, published on the Kremlin's website, said that the two leaders also confirmed their commitment to Syria's sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity, and called on all warring parties to participate actively in the UN-sponsored peace process in Geneva. According to the text of the statement, Moscow and Washington also agreed that there was no military solution to the conflict, which began in 2011 with peaceful protests against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and has since grown into a multiparty war involving combatants ranging from government forces and "moderate" rebels to Islamist extremists such as IS. Opposing views Russia and the United States have taken different sides in the conflict, with Moscow giving military support to troops of its longtime ally Assad, while Washington until this year backed rebels it considered legitimate in their fight against the Syrian regime. Reports in July 2017 said Trump had ended the clandestine CIA program of support for such rebels. Russia has been flying a bombing campaign in Syria since 2015, when it stepped in to support Assad's rule, tipping the conflict very much in his favor.

In a joint statement on Syria, the US president and his Russian counterpart have agreed to fight IS extremists together. At a regional summit, the two leaders also denied claims of Moscow interference in the US election. US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin assured him that Moscow did not interfere in the 2016 ... Read More »

North Korea: US, Japan agree that ‘all options’ are on the table

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has welcomed US President Donald Trump's North Korea policy. The two leaders agreed the "era of strategic patience" with North Korea was over and that "all options" were on the table. At a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, US President Donald Trump called North Korea a "menace" and said that Japan and said US had to work together to counter the "dangerous aggressions" of the North. The North's nuclear program was "a threat to the civilized world and international peace and stability," he told reporters. He added that "some say my rhetoric is strong, but look what's happened with weak rhetoric over the last 25 years." Read more: Trump's Japan trip a 'symbolic show of solidarity' He reiterated his bullish stance that the "era of strategic patience" was over and that "all options are on the table." A similarly hawkish Abe welcomed the US's policy, saying that the two countries agreed "100 percent" on North Korea and that it was now crucial to exert maximum pressure on the repressive regime. Trump: Japan 'winning' in trade relationship Earlier on Monday, President Trump told American and Japanese business leaders that Japan had been "winning" the trade relationship with the US "for the last many decades." "The US has suffered massive trade deficits with Japan," he said, adding that current trade arrangements were "not fair and not open." Trump praised Japan for buying US military hardware but lamented that while "many millions of cars are sold by Japan into the United States ... virtually no cars go from the United States into Japan." Trump also said he expects Japan to purchase "massive amounts" of military equipment from the United States. Japan will be able to shoot missiles from North Korea "out of the sky" with that equipment. Abe replied that Japan would only shoot down missiles if absolutely necessary. New economic ties - without TPP The US leader said he wanted to reshape the two nations' economic ties, and despite abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — which the US had negotiated with several Asian and North and South American countries — Trump said he wanted "more trade than anyone ever thought under TPP." "We'll have to negotiate that out and it'll be a very friendly negotiation," one that would be done "quickly and easily," Trump said on the second day of his trip to Japan, one of America's biggest trade partners. Trump's remarks tally with his election promises to US voters to negotiate better trade terms for the US and to bring back millions of jobs that have moved overseas over the past two decades. His strategy has been criticized as being protectionist. Trump is in Tokyo as part of a 12-day Asian tour that will be dominated by trade talks and the North Korean standoff. Read more: North Korean defector pushes for diplomacy in US testimony 'Open' to talks on North Korea In an interview with the US TV show "Full Measure," Trump said he would "certainly be open" to meeting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. "I would sit down with anybody. I don't think it's a strength or weakness, I think sitting down with people is not a bad thing," he said in remarks made before he left for Asia. But he added that talks may still be some way off. The president has previously vowed to "totally destroy" North Korea if it threatened the US, after Pyongyang stepped up its nuclear and ballistic missile tests. Trump's five-nation tour of Asia will also take in South Korea, China, Vietnam and the Philippines. He's expected to pressure Chinese leaders to do more to rein in Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. The North Korea issue is also expected to dominate talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who will also fly to Asia this week for summits in Vietnam and the Philippines.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has welcomed US President Donald Trump’s North Korea policy. The two leaders agreed the “era of strategic patience” with North Korea was over and that “all options” were on the table. At a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, US President Donald Trump called North Korea a “menace” and said that ... Read More »

Donald Trump to new Fed boss: You’re hired!

US President Trump is turning the announcement of a new Federal Reserve head into a reality TV experience like his show The Apprentice. But is it just a distraction from other problems? Jens Korte reports from New York. US President Donald Trump is looking for a suitable candidate to take over the US Federal Reserve Bank, which is by many accounts the second most important position in America after the president. But the casting for the job is a throwback to his days on the reality TV show "The Apprentice" when he played himself, Donald Trump, the real estate mogul and businessman. In the show, he selected candidates from a group of applicants who were then allowed to work for him as an "apprentice." The process was long and accompanied by as much spectacle as possible. As president, Trump is now staging what the political website The Hill mockingly called "Central Bank Apprentice." For months, Trump has been tossing out names — such as Gary Cohn, formerly the number two at the investment bank Goldman Sachs, and who was seen as a favorite for the position for several months — only to drop them unceremoniously. Trump then spontaneously let Republican senators have a say by a show of hands, and then made it clear that only he has to power to make this important decision — even though the Senate must confirm his nominee. In an interview, the president even asked a talk show host for his opinion on whether he should keep the current incumbent, Janet Yellen. How did we get here? Since its founding in 1913, the US central bank has never seen the process of filling the top job play out so publicly. In the past, most presidents did not even mention that there were several candidates under consideration because the matter was simply seen as too sensitive. After all, financial markets around the world look to the Fed and its interest rate decisions. In this case, Trump is only allowed to spin the staff carousel because Yellen's tenure ends in February. But since World War II, every head of the central bank that completed their first term has been confirmed for another four years. During in the election campaign, Trump attacked Yellen for keeping interest rates low. In July, he announced that he was considering several candidates for the job. At that point, it became apparent that the president would break with decades of tradition. The relationship between the president and the Federal Reserve chairman, who is responsible for setting monetary policy, has not always been smooth. Jimmy Carter named Paul Volcker as the head of the central bank in the 1970s. To counteract the strong inflation after the oil crisis, Volcker raised interest rates massively, triggering a temporary recession. The danger of inflation was averted, but Carter was not re-elected; his successor, Ronald Reagan, gave Volcker another four years. Then came Alan Greenspan, who served under four presidents. Read more: Ex-Fed chief Bernanke 'appalled' at decision to replace Hamilton on $10 bill When Greenspan resigned in 2006, Ben Bernanke was appointed Fed chief by George W. Bush. Barack Obama gave Bernanke another four years after his election, before Bernanke's deputy Janet Yellen took up the scepter in February 2014. In all these transfers of power, the procedure has never been a public beauty contest. Repeat success The fact that the president is making the Fed casting a spectacle is not least due to the fact that he has to show that his administration has achieved some of its goals. The reform or repeal of Obamacare has failed for the time being. Of the promised $1 trillion (€859 billion) in infrastructure projects, not one major imitative has been started. Meanwhile, a reform of the tax code is still being negotiated in Congress. Read more: Decaying infrastructure taking a toll on America The nomination of the Federal Reserve chairman this week could finally be a triumph for the president. However, keeping interest rates at the appropriate level is notoriously difficult work, and the head of the Fed has to guide these decisions. Trump's claim that this is one of his most important decisions is not an exaggeration. After the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, the world's financial markets were hit by the biggest crisis since the 1930s and the Federal Reserve responded with unparalleled measures. Several trillion dollars were mustered to stabilize the markets and the key interest rate was radically reduced to zero. The Fed bought bonds for over $4 trillion to shore up banks and credit markets. Now, almost 10 years later, the central bank is trying to get monetary policy back on a more normal track. But even this comes with risk. Financial markets have become accustomed to the flood of cheap money created in the aftermath of the financial crisis, and panic has spread through the stock and bond markets whenever the Fed announced that interest rates will be raised and bonds sold off. Season finale But there is a silver lining to Trump's "find the next Fed head" show: ordinary citizens now understand the significance of the position. Ironically, it is his former campaign manager Paul Manafort's involvement with Russia that is getting in the way. Since Monday hardly anyone is talking about the central bank. The headlines are full of money laundering allegations and the possible links between the White House and Russia. In the end, it is unlikely that Trump is using the nomination as a diversionary tactic. Rather, the Manafort indictment has simply messed up the "season finale" schedule. Trump is nevertheless expected to finally name his new Fed chief on Thursday before leaving for a trip to Asia. Insiders assume that Jerome Powell will take over. Powell, a Republican appointed as one of the governors of the bank by Obama in 2012, is considered a policymaker who will continue Yellen's course. The choice of Powell signals continuity to the financial markets — and the president can finally say his famous line to Yellen: "You're fired."

US President Trump is turning the announcement of a new Federal Reserve head into a reality TV experience like his show The Apprentice. But is it just a distraction from other problems? Jens Korte reports from New York. US President Donald Trump is looking for a suitable candidate to take over the US Federal Reserve Bank, which is by many ... Read More »

What Robert Mueller’s indictments of former Trump campaign officials mean for the president

By indicting two former Trump campaign officials and getting a guilty plea from a third associate, the independent probe into Russian election meddling has entered a new phase. Here's how it will affect the presidency. How dangerous are the indictments for US President Donald Trump? It is important to note that the indictments against the former manager of Trump's presidential campaign, Paul Manafort, and another former campaign associate, Rick Gates, are not directly linked to the Trump presidential campaign and the president. It is also important to state that Manafort and Gates are presumed to be innocent until proven guilty. Having said that, the 12-count-indictment against Manafort and Gates which include charges of money laundering, failure to report foreign bank accounts and failure to report working as a foreign agent for a pro-Russian Ukrainian political party "reveals strong ties to Russia and financial motives to assist Russia," said Lisa Kern Griffin, a law professor at Duke University. And because three of the charges against Manafort include the period he served as Trump's campaign manager — contrary to what Trump tweeted — there is at least a chronological connection between the Manafort case and the Trump campaign. Read more: Donald Trump aide Paul Manafort pleads not guilty to 12 charges Still, Trump's first reaction was likely relief that the indictments were not directly campaign-related, said Michael Gerhardt, a constitutional law professor at the University of North Carolina. And should the case go on trial and the defendants be acquitted, the danger the issue poses for the Trump presidency would be greatly reduced, said Peter M. Shane, a law professor at Ohio State University. But assuming, as the scholars tend to, that this is likely just the first major step in Mueller's widening probe into Russian election meddling and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Moscow, then President Trump has reason to be worried. "This is very threatening", said Professor Shane. That's because even while not directly linked to the Trump campaign, the indictments and the guilty plea convey a clear message to others who may be in Mueller's legal crosshairs. "It sends a strong signal to all potential witnesses and potential defendants that Mueller is going to proceed without fear of the external political noise and he is going to charge everyone for whom the facts support a charge", said Professor Kern Griffin. "Everyone in the orbit of the Russian connections to the campaign has reason to be concerned." What's more, unlike the indictments against Manafort and Gates, the indictment against Papadopoulos, albeit a lower level campaign aide, does assert a direct Russia link. According to the document, Papadopoulos tried to facilitate a contact with a "professor" with ties to the Russian government and met with a "female Russian national." The focus of at least one of their conversations was "thousands of emails" allegedly in the possession of the Russian government containing "dirt" on electon rival Hillary Clinton. Papadopoulos' guilty plea is also a reminder to others potentially in Mueller's crosshairs to consider whether they may not want to cut a deal to provide valuable information to authorities in exchange for going free or for a more lenient sentence. The information provided in these initial cases can then be used to build additional indictments. "There is no doubt that these prosecutions do give increased leverage over the people who have been indicted in terms of their providing information", said Shane. "It is clear that this not the end of the investigation." "There will be more defendants charged," predicts Duke's Kern Griffin. Can President Trump fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller? Read more: Robert Mueller in possession of Donald Trump letter explaining Comey firing Yes, he can. Given that Trump has repeatedly called the probe into Russian meddling in the US presidential election and the Trump campaign a "witch hunt" and that he fired former FBI chief James Comey, who had alleged in a memo that the president had asked him to close the Russia investigation, which Comey would not do, it is not a stretch to wonder whether Trump would be considering firing Mueller to end his Russia investigation. The best legal option for him to do so would be via the Justice Department. Since Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the matter because he is implicated in it himself, Trump could ask Sessions' deputy Rod Rosenstein to dismiss Mueller. But firing Mueller is not easy since it would require him to establish a "good cause" as to how he violated the Justice Department's prosecution policy, said Shane. Should Rosenstein refuse to dismiss Mueller, Trump could fire him and essentially continue with this process until he finds someone willing to do so, he added. But firing Mueller would surely cause a major political firestorm and probably lead to legal challenges. "If he tries to fire Mueller on his own it will be on the constitutional basis that could be disputable," said Michael Gerhardt, constitutional law professor at University of North Carolina. The "disputable" constitutional foundation that Gerhardt refers to is called "unitary executive theory" and stipulates in a nutshell that the constitution gives the president complete authority to fire anyone in the executive branch. It is highly contentious among legal scholars; should Trump fire Mueller directly based on this principle, the move would surely be challenged in the courts. Can President Trump pardon his former campaign manager Manafort and other aides? Yes, he can. Not only can he pardon Manafort and any other defendants for any federal offenses committed, it is pretty well established, noted the scholars, that he can even issue a presidential pardon before a trial has begun. But the reported collaboration of Mueller's team with New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman's office on the Manafort case could blunt the benefit of any potential presidential pardon. That's because while the president can pardon for federal offenses, he can't pardon state offenses. And several of the charges filed against Manafort and Gates — such as money laundering — could be prosecuted under state law as well. So should Trump issue a pardon, then Manafort and Gates could be charged under New York state law. While pardoning Manafort and Gates would thus appear to have a limited impact, they would trigger a major backlash. But that still does not mean that Trump wouldn't do it. "If he can pardon Sheriff Arpaio, he can likely pardon Manafort," said UNC's Gerhardt. Asked about the likely steps President Trump and his team would take now next after his former campaign manager has been indicted, Duke's Lisa Kern Griffin summed up the legal scholars sentiment like this. "What happens in TrumpWorld defies the logic of past political actions and similar investigation."

By indicting two former Trump campaign officials and getting a guilty plea from a third associate, the independent probe into Russian election meddling has entered a new phase. Here’s how it will affect the presidency. How dangerous are the indictments for US President Donald Trump? It is important to note that the indictments against the former manager of Trump’s presidential ... Read More »

Trump’s upcoming Asia trip: Japan proposes plan to counter China

Tokyo aims to team up with the US, India and Australia to promote free trade and defense and security cooperation - but also to contain Beijing's aggressively expansionist policies. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. At the summit of the leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Hamburg in July, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated that Tokyo would be willing to take part in Beijing's ambitious "One Belt, One Road" (OBOR) economic development plan. The Japanese leader's decision was apparently prompted by concerns that domestic firms would miss out on lucrative construction projects as the modern-day "Silk Road" project spread into Southeast Asia, the Central Asian republics, the Middle East and beyond. Just three months later - and after conservatives at home raised their eyebrows at such close cooperation with a government that they perceive as taking every opportunity to belittle Japan - Foreign Minister Taro Kono has announced that he intends to use the upcoming visit of US President Donald Trump to propose what might very easily be perceived as an alternative to China's OBOR initiative. Four-way dialogue In an interview with Japan's Nikkei economic daily on Wednesday, Kono said Tokyo wanted to set up top-level dialogue between Japan, the US, India and Australia in order for the four powers to promote free trade and cooperation in defense and security throughout the South China Sea, across the Indian Ocean and all the way to Africa. Kono added that he had offered collaborative roles to other nations - he mentioned both France and the UK as potential future contributors - and the plan is clearly designed to act as a counterweight to the massive economic and military might that Beijing continues to build. "We are in an era where Japan has to exert itself diplomatically by drawing a big strategic picture," Kono said, adding that "Free and open seas will benefit all countries, including China and its 'Belt and Road' initiative." Despite the claim that the Japanese-led initiative will equally assist China's ambitions, there is little disguising the fact that Tokyo is trying hard to build unity among nations both big and small to resist Beijing's advances. There has been concern in Japan for some years about the way in which China is exercising its economic and military muscle, but that was put into very clear focus in 2015, when China ignored international protests and occupied a series of uninhabited atolls and coral reefs in the South China Sea. Read more: South China Sea dispute - Long way ahead for China, ASEAN Unilateral occupation The islets have been variously claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and Brunei, and the international community condemned Beijing's decision to unilaterally occupy, develop and militarize the territories. Today, it appears unlikely that Chinese troops can be removed from the islands, and Japan fears that Beijing will use similarly high-handed economic and military tactics to achieve its aims elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region. "This proposal, as I see it, is very positive for Japan, but also for the US, India and Australia," said Yoichi Shimada, a professor of international relations at Fukui Prefectural University. "And later, when it is more fully formed, it can be a good thing for all the countries of Southeast Asia as well. "It is important that we have an alternative to the ideas of China because countries might join their plan and Beijing could very easily change those plans to better favor themselves," he told DW. "China is so big and powerful that not many other nations can stand up to them. I believe there is a risk involved for any country that places all its eggs in one basket and works solely with China," he said, adding that he was confident that Beijing's actions in the South China Sea would not have won Beijing many new fans. Shimada believes an alliance that brings together Japan, India, Australia and the US will have a better track record and reputation in the international sphere. Garren Mulloy, a defense expert and associate professor of international relations at Japan's Daito Bunka University, is confident that Australia and India will be keen to be involved in the initiative as they too look to counter China's aggressive expansionist policies in areas that are an immediate threat to their own security. "Australia and Japan, in particular, feel let down by Trump after he pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement and they have been seeking a 'third forum' through which they can join together and regain the initiative," he told DW. Largest trading partner China is Australia's biggest trading partner and there has been heavy investment in Australia by Chinese companies in recent years. One of the most contentious deals was the leasing of the harbor in Darwin, northern Australia, to a Chinese company, with many critics of the deal saying it makes no sense to give away the nation's strategic infrastructure assets to a rival. The Pentagon was also unhappy with the deal as Darwin serves as a key naval facility for the US navy and its Marine Corps. On the other hand, Mulloy said, the "Belt and Road" initiative would appear to have limited value to Canberra, so an alliance with Japan, India and the US would be a more logical step. Similarly, India has been watching China's growing investment in Sri Lanka, where Beijing's funds have paid for a major new port facility that has already had Chinese warships visit. And while Mulloy believes an alternative to China's plans could be beneficial to the region, he says the nations that opt to participate will not be able to afford to invest as much as China has already sunk into its vision for a 21st century Silk Road.

Tokyo aims to team up with the US, India and Australia to promote free trade and defense and security cooperation – but also to contain Beijing’s aggressively expansionist policies. Julian Ryall reports from Tokyo. At the summit of the leaders of the Group of 20 nations in Hamburg in July, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe indicated that Tokyo would be ... Read More »

Fallen soldier’s mother says President Donald Trump disrespected her son

The US president is alleged to have told the wife of a soldier killed in action in Niger that her husband "knew what he signed up for." The soldier's mother said she was present when Trump made the "insensitive" remarks. The mother of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush by Islamist militants in Niger this month, told The Washington Post newspaper on Wednesday that US President Donald Trump "disrespected" her son in a condolence phone call. Cowanda Jones-Johnson backed the account of Florida congresswoman Frederica Wilson, a Democrat, who claimed Trump told Johnson's widow, Myeshia Johnson, that her husband "must have known what he signed up for." "President Trump did disrespect my son and my daughter and also me and my husband," Jones-Johnson told The Washington Post. Trump's statement was first reported by Wilson, who said she was with Johnson's widow on the way to receive the fallen soldier's remains at Miami International Airport when the president called to express his condolences. According to Wilson, Trump told Myeshia Johnson that her husband "knew what he signed up for ... but when it happens it hurts anyway." The representative described the president's statement during the five-minute call as "so insensitive" in an interview with Miami Local 10 news. After the phone call, Myeshia "was crying, she broke down." Referring to President Trump, Wilson said 'he didn't even know his name.'" President Trump lashed back, terming Wilson's claim as "totally fabricated." Trump later told reporters: "I did not say what she said," and "I had a very nice conversation." When asked about what "proof" he could offer, Trump said: "Let her make her statement again then you will find out." Before Trump's tweet, the incident had already gone viral on American media, making it the latest event in a growing controversy following Trump's accusation that past presidents often did not honor fallen military servicemen and women. Read more: How Donald Trump turned a simmering NFL controversy into a movement that splits the country Politicizing the fallen At a Monday press conference, when pressed on whether or not he had reached out to the relatives of troops killed in an October 4 ambush in Niger, President Trump claimed that previous presidents had not contacted family members of soldiers who had died in combat. "The traditional way, if you look at President Obama and other presidents, most of them didn't make calls. A lot of them didn't make calls," Trump said on Monday, later adding that he didn't know whether President Obama in particular called fallen soldiers' families. "President Obama, I think, probably did sometimes, and maybe sometimes he didn't. I don't know. That's what I was told," he said. "All I can do is ask my generals. Other presidents did not call, they'd write letters. And some presidents didn't do anything." In response to Trump's claim, retired army General Martin Dempsey tweeted that both President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama honored military service and implicitly criticized Trump for politicizing military deaths. Trump also drew his own chief of staff, John Kelly, into the controversy during a Tuesday interview on Fox News Radio. "You could ask General Kelly, did he get a call from Obama?" Trump said, referencing Kelly's son who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. According to US media reports citing an anonymous White House official, Obama did not call Kelly upon his son's death, though it was not known whether the former president wrote a letter. Obama did receive Kelly at a White House breakfast for family members of soldiers killed in combat. There is no official protocol outlining presidential actions to be taken upon death of military servicemen and women. However, it is typical for presidents to express their condolences in a phone call or letter. Some also visit air bases or airports to receive the remains of the fallen as they are flown back to the US.

The US president is alleged to have told the wife of a soldier killed in action in Niger that her husband “knew what he signed up for.” The soldier’s mother said she was present when Trump made the “insensitive” remarks. The mother of Sgt. La David T. Johnson, who was killed in an ambush by Islamist militants in Niger this ... Read More »

Bowe Bergdahl pleads guilty in desertion case

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in Afghanistan. He is accused of endangering fellow soldiers who searched for him after he walked off his post. US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl , 31, who spent five years in captivity in Afghanistan after being taken by the Islamist Taliban, on Monday admitted leaving his post in Afghanistan's Paktika province in June 2009, but said he never wanted to put anyone at risk. "I was captured by the enemy against my will," he told the court in Fort Bragg in the US state of North Carolina. "At the time I had no intention of causing search and recovery operations. ... It's very inexcusable." He said he got lost 20 minutes after leaving the combat outpost, and was captured by the Taliban two or three hours later. In a podcast in 2015, he had said that he left his post to draw attention to "leadership failure" in his unit. He has, however, also previously rejected any notion that he sympathized with his captors, and said he was kept in a small cage for most of the time he was in captivity. Life sentence possible After Bergdahl entered his guilty pleas to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy, which the judge accepted, the prosecutor, Major Justin Oshana, told the judge that there was no pretrial agreement between the two sides. The charge of misbehavior before the enemy carries a possible life sentence. Bergdahl was freed from Taliban captivity in 2014 after a prisoner swap arranged by the Obama administration — an exchange that was vehemently criticized by Republicans. Current US President Donald Trump also derided Bergdahl himself while on the campaign trail last year, calling him "a no-good traitor who should have been executed." Bergdahl's lawyers have argued that such comments make it impossible for him to have a fair trial. The judge decided in June to allow evidence of serious wounds to fellow soldiers who searched for Bergdahl at the sentencing phase, something that could weigh heavily against the accused. The official search for him lasted for 45 days, with two soldiers wounded in firefights that the judge said they would not have become involved in if they hadn't been looking for Bergdahl.

US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl has pleaded guilty to desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in Afghanistan. He is accused of endangering fellow soldiers who searched for him after he walked off his post. US Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl , 31, who spent five years in captivity in Afghanistan after being taken by the Islamist Taliban, on Monday admitted leaving ... Read More »

America’s Amish refugee town faces fresh challenges

As the US isolates itself under President Donald Trump, one rural town in Pennsylvania keeps rooting for refugees: The Amish and Mennonite communities of Lancaster County say "refugees welcome." Sertan Sanderson reports. Quilts, pies and buggies: The Amish remain the main attraction in rural Pennsylvania, some 80 miles (130 kilometers) east of Philadelphia. But the Amish and their neighbors have quietly made Lancaster County, with about half a million residents, into a home for refugees, dubbed by some "America's refugee capital." Since 2013, the rural community has taken in more than 1,300 refugees; put in perspective, that's almost the same number of refugee arrivals as in Orange County, California, (population 3.2 million) which bridges Los Angeles and San Diego. Read more: Immigrants strive for US passports out of fear of future Lancaster Mayor Rick Gray explains that welcoming refugees by supporting religious freedom and tolerance "is in our genes": "Pennsylvania was established on the principle of religious freedom. Add to that the religious dimension of Lancaster with the Amish tradition, and you get one of the most tolerant places in the country. Yes, we are welcoming people that look different. But they don't look any more different from the norm than an Amishman does." Refugees welcome Stephanie Gromek, who works for Church World Service, one of nine refugee resettlement agencies in the US, says that in the past year alone, the organization has resettled almost 700 refugees here. The Amish "worked so hard to keep their culture, and that's what we hope for with our refugees," she says. The community was founded for the Amish and Mennonites in the 1800s as a place where they could practice their religion. "They were fleeing persecution at the time, and now these refugees from around the world are fleeing persecution as well, and that's the correlation that allows Lancastrians to be so welcoming to strangers," Gromek says. Read more: Immigrants illegally in US grasp sanctuary city limits Gromek deals with cases from around the world in her work and says that in recent times there has been an influx of people from Syria, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Captain Emmanuel came to Pennsylvania from the DRC after spending 18 years in refugee camps. He says he feels blessed to be here. "It was a long process for me to get here, but I'm happy to be here. I feel part of the community wherever I go. I've made friends from Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Cuba here. We are all brothers." Learning from Amish ancestors Captain Emmanuel was sponsored through Grace and Truth Church in Lancaster, a nondenominational community that arose from the Amish tradition. Pastor David Beiler, who leads the congregation, says thatvarious denominations in town gather around the refugee cause, working closely with agencies like CWS. "The whole city is coming together behind the refugees in welcoming them, regardless of faith. But the Amish are a big part of it." Beiler helped Emmanuel get his driver's license, practicing driving with him on the roads of Lancaster. Beiler also played a role in Emmanuel finding his home in Lancaster, an apartment the refugee and his family rent from an Amish man. Although they tend to keep to the background of local affairs, the Amish own numerous properties in the center of Lancaster. Over many decades, the religious group gradually moved to the outskirts of town, as the community became increasingly gentrified, but the Amish continue to define much of the spirit and identity of Lancaster. "Most members of the Amish community lead very rural lives here, ploughing the field with the horse and all that. But we also have Amish who are involved in the city of Lancaster, who come into the city as landlords of refugees — sometimes on their buggies — since they own a lot of the houses here," Gromek explains. "They're not political people but they make it known that they are supportive of the work that we do." A 'thriving city' for all The refugees have been a boon to Lancaster, too. Rhoda Charles of the Habecker Mennonite Church says they have singlehandedly reinvigorated the community. Rhoda's husband Jonathon, a local photographer, agrees: "We try to use every opportunity we can to show to the world that the immigrant refugee people have given us far more than they have taken. They are the lifeblood of the community." While the Mennonite Church originates in the Amish faith, it has far fewer stringent rules applied to everyday life and is more open to integrating those who aren't born into the faith. Over the past nine years, Habecker Mennonite Church has sponsored several Karen refugees from Myanmar who had been living in camps in Thailand. One of them is Sah Klu, who is emphatic about not missing her homeland anymore. "I feel like this is my home now. Our church friends are now like our family too. I never saw anyone nice like this when we were living in the camps." Winds of change But changes in US policy doesn't bode well for the countryside community. President Trump's push to put limits on the number of refugees admitted into the US will likely leave its mark on Lancaster, says Jonathan Charles. "This current president is not a person we are very fond of. We haven't had any new arrivals since [Trump] became president. And it will take a few years to see how much it impacts us. But I'm sure that it will." Fewer than half as many refugee resettlements are expected this year as compared to last year, says Stephanie Gromek. Still, she remains optimistic: "If we don't get any refugee arrivals, our organization doesn't get funding. However, the reasons for what the administration is trying to do are not holding. There's no weight, no justification for what Trump is trying to do." Mayor Gray, however, is worried there might be more at stake and is paying attention to what the migrant community has to say about the political developments in the US. "Some refugees I spoke to are now afraid of what's going on a national level. They say they've seen this kind of thing happening before in their own countries. "I really hope they're wrong."

As the US isolates itself under President Donald Trump, one rural town in Pennsylvania keeps rooting for refugees: The Amish and Mennonite communities of Lancaster County say “refugees welcome.” Sertan Sanderson reports. Quilts, pies and buggies: The Amish remain the main attraction in rural Pennsylvania, some 80 miles (130 kilometers) east of Philadelphia. But the Amish and their neighbors have ... Read More »

Huntsman takes up Moscow post at a time of historically poor relations

The new US ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, has presented his diplomatic credentials to Vladimir Putin in Moscow. He takes up the post at an especially contentious time in relations between the two countries. The new United States ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a Kremlin ceremony in which the American presented his diplomatic credentials. The 57-year-old statesman and businessman will need all of his diplomatic skills if he is to help repair a relationship his predecessor John Tefft said was at a "low point." Relations between Moscow and Washington have deteriorated to their lowest point since the end of the Cold War, and have been marked by tit-for-tat retaliations that began with US sanctions on Russia for its annexation of Crimea and subsequent support for separatists in Eastern Ukraine. Relations have continually worsened amid accusations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. Read more: Facebook says 10 million US users saw Russia-linked ads Disagreeing with the boss? During his Senate confirmation hearings last week, Huntsman made clear what he thought about the accusations, despite statements by Trump calling them a hoax: "There is no question, underline no question, that the Russian government interfered in the US election last year.” Adding, "Moscow continues to meddle in the democratic processes of our friends and allies.” The billionaire businessman, whose family company has holdings in Russia, will also take up his post with a greatly diminished team after Russia's Foreign Ministry ordered the US to cut staff by two-thirds in July in response to new US sanctions, leaving the US with 755 fewer employees on the ground. Huntsman has promised to confront Russia in addressing human rights abuses and over its actions in Ukraine and Syria. But it would seem that his first order of business may be to defuse a diplomatic row that erupted upon his arrival in Moscow. Russia's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday announced that US authorities had broken into residencies at Russia's San Francisco consulate and threatened retaliation for what Moscow called a hostile and illegal act. Washington ordered Russian staff to vacate the consulate last month as part of the diplomatic tug-of-war. Read more: US orders Russia to close San Francisco consulate An American abroad Huntsman, the former governor of Utah, has served each US president since Ronald Reagan in some capacity. Among other roles, he was the US ambassador to Singapore in 1992-1993 under George H.W. Bush and later Bill Clinton, then ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011 under Barack Obama. Huntsman also served as President George W. Bush's deputy US trade representative, and was the acting chairman of the foreign policy think tank the Atlantic Council when he was tapped by President Donald Trump to take up the Moscow post. In 2012 he ran as a Republican party candidate for the US presidency.

The new US ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, has presented his diplomatic credentials to Vladimir Putin in Moscow. He takes up the post at an especially contentious time in relations between the two countries. The new United States ambassador to Russia, Jon Huntsman, met with Russian President Vladimir Putin during a Kremlin ceremony in which the American presented his diplomatic ... Read More »

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