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Typhoon Noru slams into western Japan

Mon, 2017-08-07 11:29

TOKYO: Strong typhoon Noru made landfall in western Japan on Monday after killing two people on outlying islands, as authorities warned against landslides and floods.
The typhoon with gusts up to 162 kilometers (100 miles) per hour hit the northern part of Wakayama prefecture at around 3:30 p.m. (0630 GMT) after whipping up waves and winds off southern Japanese islands at the weekend, the meteorological agency said.
Television footage showed high foamy waves smashing into breakwaters in Wakayama, while roof tiles were ripped off homes in neighboring Mie.
The storm, bringing heavy rain and strong winds, was slowly moving northeast toward central Japan, the agency said.
A man in his 60s on the southern island of Yakushima died Saturday after falling in strong gusts and hitting his head. Another man in his 80s on neighboring Tanegashima island drowned the same day after he went to check on his boat and was swept into the water, a local official said.
Public broadcaster NHK, meanwhile, said 17 people were injured in typhoon-related accidents.
Noru also forced airlines to cancel some 400 flights, mainly in western Japan, NHK added.
The agency warned of “severe winds” and urged residents in the region to stay on high alert against landsides and floods as well as high waves.

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Trump seeks communications chief, but he has final word

Mon, 2017-08-07 03:00

NEW YORK: For the third time in six months, President Donald Trump is on the hunt for a new communications director. But in practice, the job is filled.
It’s Trump who’s the White House’s leading expert and the final word on what and how he communicates with the public. Despite decrying most negative media coverage as “fake news” and personally insulting members of the media, he has inserted himself into the White House’s press operations in an unprecedented fashion for a president.
Trump has dictated news releases and pushed those who speak for him to bend the facts to bolster his claims. He has ignored the advice of his legal team and thrown out carefully planned legislative strategies with a single 140-character tweet.
His direct, hands-on style helped him win the White House and still thrills his supporters. It also, however, poses increasing political and potentially legal risks. The clearest example is his involvement in crafting a statement for son Donald Jr. about a meeting with a Kremlin-connected lawyer. That declaration was quickly proven erroneous and raised questions about whether the president was trying to cover for his son.
Trump has struggled to find a communications adviser that meets his approval.
His first, Mike Dubke, stayed behind the scenes and never clicked with Trump, leaving after three months. Then Sean Spicer, Trump’s oft-beleaguered press secretary, took on the communications director job as well. He resigned both posts last month when Trump brought in hard-charging New York financier Anthony Scaramucci. Scaramucci lasted only 11 days before being fired in the aftermath of an expletive-filled interview.
A fourth candidate for the post, campaign spokesman Jason Miller, was named to the job during the transition but turned it down days later, citing a need to spend time with his family.
More recently there have been some informal internal conversations about an increased communications role for White House aide Stephen Miller, according to an administration official who was not authorized to discuss private talks by name and requested anonymity. Those talks are still seen as preliminary. Miller recently clashed with some reporters over immigration policy at a contentious press briefing.
This past week, as White House staffers readied a statement accompanying Trump’s signature on legislation approving toughened sanctions on Russia — a bill Trump criticized — word came down that the president wanted to add some off-topic language into the statement. That’s according to two officials familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to publicly talk about internal discussions.
“I built a truly great company worth many billions of dollars,” the new section read. “That is a big part of the reason I was elected. As president, I can make far better deals with foreign countries than Congress.”
That personal and boastful rhetoric is a far cry from the formal language normally found in presidential statements. It also appeared aimed at angering the same lawmakers he will need if he wants to pass any major legislation.
“All presidents are their own best messengers,” said Ari Fleischer, a press secretary for President George W. Bush. Fleischer said that Bush, too, would at times get involved with the White House press shop.
Fleischer noted there was always a safety net of advisers at work. That does not appear to exist around the current president — particular around his Twitter account.
“The lesson for this president is that it’s perfectly fine to be involved and to, at times, go around the mainstream media with Twitter,” Fleischer said. “But he needs to tweet smarter.”
Corralling the president’s impulses is a challenge that now falls to new White House chief of staff John Kelly, a four-star Marine general tasked with straightening out an unruly West Wing. But many Trump allies don’t believe he’ll alter his ways.
“The reality is President Trump is sitting in the Oval Office,” said Sam Nunberg, a former campaign staffer. “And before that, he was a mogul with a business that spanned continents. He did it his way. He’s not going to change. It got him where he is and it will keep him where he is.”
Trump has long considered himself his own best spokesman and cares deeply about his public perception.
While a budding real estate magnate in New York in the 1980s and 1990s, he was known to call reporters to plant anonymously sourced scoops about himself. He vaulted to national stardom with “The Apprentice” and micromanaged aspects of his appearances, including his hair and lighting.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump was known to obsess over single images in a commercial or the font for an ad.
As president, he frequently has raged about his communications staff, blaming them for White House’s stumbles while almost never taking responsibility himself.
An avid consumer of cable news, Trump scolds surrogates when he thinks they are not adequately defending him on television. His frequently shifting positions also challenge his staffers, who have grown to be fearful of answering basic questions about the president’s beliefs for fear of later being contradicted, according to more than a half dozen White House officials and outside advisers speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss private conversations.
And the president has pushed staff to defend untruths, including when he ordered Spicer, in Spicer’s first White House briefing, to claim that the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd was larger than his predecessor’s, according to three White House officials and outside advisers familiar with the encounter.
More untruths have followed. In March, Trump tweeted without evidence that President Barack Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower. And soon after firing FBI Director James Comey, Trump tweeted a warning that Comey had better hope there were no tapes of their White House conversations. There weren’t.
Another statement has received bipartisan condemnation and could face scrutiny from investigators probing possible collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian officials.
As news broke last month that Trump Jr. had met with Russians in June 2016, the president’s eldest son released a statement — which was in part crafted on Air Force One by the president and a small group of aides while flying home from a summit in Europe — that claimed the meeting was about adoptions. But within days, Trump Jr. had to revise his story several times before eventually acknowledging that he was trying to procure damaging, Russia-produced information about Hillary Clinton.
“This was a bad decision by the president,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “When you get caught in a lie about one thing, it makes it hard to just say let the other stuff go.”
Press secretary Sarah Sanders said last week that Trump “weighed in as any father would, based on the limited information that he had.”

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Italian firemen ‘started fires to receive bonuses’

Author: AFPMon, 2017-08-07 10:29ID: 1502096535898240400ROME: Fifteen firefighters have been arrested in Sicily on suspicion of having started fires in order to receive bonus payments, police on the Italian island said Monday.The firemen are a…

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S. Korea prosecutors seek 12 years’ jail for Samsung heir

Mon, 2017-08-07 10:48

SEOUL: South Korean prosecutors on Monday demanded the heir to the Samsung empire be jailed for 12 years over his role in the corruption scandal that brought down the country’s last president.
At the final hearing in the trial of Lee Jae-Yong, the vice chairman of Samsung Electronics, prosecutors called him the “ultimate beneficiary” of crimes committed in the scandal, which culminated in the impeachment and dismissal of president Park Geun-Hye.
If the judges convict him and agree with the sentence recommendation it will be among the harshest penalties ever passed on a top executive of a chaebol, the business groups that dominate Asia’s fourth-largest economy.
Lee and four other executives of Samsung — the world’s biggest smartphone maker and the country’s largest firm — are accused of bribing Park’s powerful confidante with millions of dollars to win presidential favors and ease a controversial 2015 merger deal.
“The defendants were closely tied to power and sought personal gains,” the prosecutors said.
They sought a 12-year sentence for Lee, who is also charged with embezzlement and hiding assets overseas among other offenses, 10-year terms for three of his co-accused, and seven years for the last of the defendants in the trial.
Lee denied any wrongdoing.
“I once again deeply regret and apologize for causing a huge disappointment,” he told the court in his final statement, choking up and pausing at one point for a sip of water.
Lee has been in custody for the past six months, and said that during his time in detention he realized he had “many shortcomings” and there were some things he “failed to oversee” as a business leader.
But he insisted: “I never sought favors from the president for personal gain.”
Lee, 49, has effectively been at the helm of Samsung, which has revenues equivalent to about a fifth of the country’s GDP, since his father was left bedridden by a heart attack in 2014.
Taking the stand for the first time in his defense last week, he claimed he had no role in decision-making at the wider Samsung group and “mostly listened to other executives.”
His lawyers say the allegations were unjustified and the defendants never sought anything in return for the money that was donated.
The verdicts will be given on August 25.
A Samsung Group spokeswoman said it had no comment on the prosecutors’ request.
Despite the arrest of its de facto leader and a humiliating recall fiasco of its flagship smartphone last year, Samsung Electronics shares have risen strongly in recent months on soaring profits, driven by strong demand for its memory chips.
They closed down 0.25 percent on Seoul’s stock market on Monday.
One of the favors Lee allegedly sought from Park was state approval for a controversial merger of two Samsung units in 2015, seen as a key step to ensuring a smooth power transfer to him.
The deal was opposed by shareholders who said it wilfully undervalued shares of one of the firms. But it eventually went through after the national pension fund — a major Samsung shareholder — approved it.
“The special prosecutors failed to give any evidence for the existence of such a succession operation,” Lee’s lawyers argued at Monday’s hearing.
Choi Gee-Sung, a former Samsung Electronics vice chairman and a co-defendant, reiterated his claims of responsibility, saying the allegations were the result of his own decision to “protect the company” from Park’s confidante Choi Soon-Sil.
He was head of Samsung Group’s Future Strategy Office — which oversaw the vast group’s major business decisions — until he stepped down in February, and is accused of approving a payment of millions of euros to finance the confidante’s daughter.
“I feel heavy responsibility as the FSO chief who oversaw all business dealings,” Choi told the court.
If Lee is found guilty it will be a blow for Park, who is on trial separately on 18 charges including bribery, coercion and abuse of power following her dismissal from office in March.
Park was formally impeached after public uproar over her questionable ties with confidante Choi Soon-Sil sparked mass nationwide protests for months.
Choi Soon-Sil is also on trial for using her presidential ties to force top South Korean firms including Samsung to “donate” nearly $70 million to non-profit foundations which she controlled.

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North Korea defiant after new sanctions, rejects talks

Mon, 2017-08-07 10:54

MANILA: North Korea on Monday angrily insisted tough new United Nations sanctions would not stop it from developing its nuclear arsenal, and warned it would not negotiate while being threatened by the United States.
The message of defiance was the first major response to the US-drafted sanctions that the UN Security Council unanimously approved over the weekend that could cost North Korea $1 billion a year while restricting crucial economic links with China.
The sanctions were a “violent violation of our sovereignty,” Pyongyang said in a statement carried by its official Korea Central News Agency.
“We will not put our self-defensive nuclear deterrent on the negotiating table” while it faced threats from Washington, it said, “and will never take a single step back from strengthening our nuclear might.”
North Korea threatened to make the United States “pay the price for its crime… thousands of times.”
The statement came as North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-Ho was in the Philippine capital of Manila for a security forum with the top diplomats from the United States, China, Russia and other Asia-Pacific nations.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Monday ruled out a quick return to dialogue with North Korea, saying the new sanctions showed the world had run out of patience with Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
Speaking to reporters at the forum, Tillerson said Washington would only consider talks if Pyongyang halted its ballistic missile program.
“The best signal that North Korea could send that they’re prepared to talk would be to stop these missile launches,” he said.
Tillerson held out the prospect of US envoys at some point sitting down with Pyongyang’s isolated regime and avoiding war, although he refused to say how long the North might have to refrain from testing more long-range missiles.
“I’m not going to give someone a specific number of days or weeks. This is really about the spirit of these talks,” he said.
The sanctions were in response to the North conducting its first two intercontinental ballistic missile tests last month that Kim boasted showed he could strike any part of the United States.
Tillerson’s remarks followed a rare exchange on Sunday between Ri and his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-Wha, at a dinner to welcome all the foreign ministers.
Kang urged Ri to accept Seoul’s offers of military talks to lower tensions on the divided peninsula and for discussions on a new round of reunions for divided families, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
But Yonhap reported that Ri retorted: “Given the current situation in which the South collaborates with the US to heap pressure on the North, such proposals lacked sincerity.”
US President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-In, spoke on the phone on Sunday and agreed the North “poses a grave and growing direct threat,” according to a White House statement.
Trump later took to social media to hail the vote, thanking Russia and China in a Twitter post for backing the sanctions that either could have halted with their UN veto.
Trump said he was “very happy and impressed with 15-0 United Nations vote on North Korea sanctions.”
Tillerson, who held separate talks in Manila with foreign ministers Wang Yi of China and Sergei Lavrov of Russia on Sunday, also sought to emphasize a united stance against the North.
“It’s quite clear in terms of there being no daylight between the international community as to the expectation that North Korea will take steps to achieve all of my objectives, which is a denuclearised Korean peninsula,” he said.
In pointed criticism of Beijing and Moscow, Pyongyang’s fiery statement said other nations that “received appreciation from the US” for supporting the resolution would also be “held accountable for escalating tension on the peninsula.”
Washington has recently stepped up pressure on Beijing to rein in its unpredictable neighbor, which relies heavily on China for aid and trade.
Signalling that differences remained between the world powers on how to handle the North, Wang on Sunday reiterated China’s position that sanctions alone would not solve the problem and called again for the US to talk to the North.

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North Korea rejects South’s talks offer: Yonhap
US, North Korean neighbors step up campaign of isolation

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Should springing of US terrorism convicts alarm Americans?

Sun, 2017-08-06 03:00

WASHINGTON: Dozens of convicts serving time in US prisons for terrorism-related offenses are due to be released in the next several years, raising the question whether that’s something Americans should fear. There’s no easy answer.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the US has worked aggressively to foil attacks and has imprisoned hundreds of people who joined or helped militant groups. Experts say less attention has been paid to what happens once those prisoners complete their sentences.
Among the incarcerated, according to the Bureau of Prisons, are 380 linked to international terrorism and 83 tied to domestic terrorism. A Congressional Research Service report said 50 “homegrown violent jihadists” were to be released between last January and the end of 2026.
And more are entering prison.
Former FBI Director James Comey, who was fired by President Donald Trump in May, had told Congress that the bureau had more than 900 active investigations related to Daesh and other extremist activity in all 50 states.
Most of those convicted of terrorism-related crimes are held at the high-security US penitentiary in Florence, Colorado, and federal prisons in Terre Haute, Indiana, and Marion, Illinois. Some are in for life, but the average sentence is 13 years. That means most will walk out of prison with years of freedom ahead.
“There were people I was with in prison who you’d be happy to have as a neighbor because they were normal, reasonable people,” said Ismail Royer. He was released last December after serving more than 13 years on firearms charges connected to his work helping others get to a militant training camp in Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan territory claimed by India and Pakistan.
“The guys that I’m really, really concerned about are the loose cannons,” Royer said.
Royer grew up in a Catholic family in suburban St. Louis. By the time he was 21, he had converted to Islam and was fighting alongside fellow militants in Bosnia. At 31, he was serving a 20-year sentence.
Today, he lives in the Washington, D.C., area, works for the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom and wants to help nonextremist Muslim-Americans find their footing in American society.
Behind bars, Royer got to know inmates arrested for only loose ties to terrorism. But he also met Richard Reid, the Al-Qaeda “shoe bomber,” and John Walker Lindh, an American captured in Afghanistan while fighting with the Taliban.
Some were ensnared in sting operations, Royer said, or were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Others were up to no good; Royer said he was happy the FBI arrested them.
“At any time, the loose cannon might go to the convenience store and cut off somebody’s head. You just don’t know. These guys are very problematic,” Royer said while eating grilled cheese at a hotel not far from the White House. “I don’t want them as my neighbor. You can’t sit there and talk to them and tell them that their views are mistaken.”
Eric Rosand, who directs a program at the Global Center on Cooperative Security that’s aimed at combating violent extremism, said not enough is known about the mindset of the prisoners being released. Experts say there is been no comprehensive research to determine recidivism rates for these individuals.
Karen Greenberg, director of the Center on National Security at Fordham University’s School of Law, does not think the public should panic. Those released will face months to years of supervision. Phone calls and online communications are monitored. Travel can be restricted. Weekly meetings with counselors can be required.
“We’re not talking about 9/11 perpetrators,” Greenberg said.
While the State Department has spent more than $10 million since 2012 to help other countries deal with an increase in suspected terrorists, Rosand lamented that no similar effort is taking place here.
“People have to go back to some community once they are released,” said Rosand, a former senior counterterrorism official at the State Department. “Are we preparing communities for their release? Where are they going to go? Is the community that they came from going to accept them back?“
Patrick James, a researcher at National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland said the US lags behind European and Middle Eastern countries in finding ways to address paths to radicalization or ease the return of released individuals.
“There’s no net to catch them. There is no way to make sure they don’t re-engage in extremism,” James said.
At least 128 individuals have been charged in the US with crimes related specifically to the Daesh group since March 2014, when the first arrests were made, according to George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.
Justice Department officials declined comment.
But the department’s internal watchdog is auditing the Bureau of Prisons’ procedures, policies and practices for monitoring inmates with known or suspected terrorist ties, and efforts to prevent further radicalization among inmates.
The issue also is being addressed in pockets of the country.
Last year, US District Judge Michael Davis in Minneapolis announced a new program to assess the risks posed by terrorism defendants and devise plans to help them re-evaluate their extremist ideals so they do not engage in similar activities again.
Minnesota has the largest Somali population in the US and has been a target for extremist recruiters. About a dozen Minnesota residents have traveled to Syria to join militant groups in recent years. At least 22 men from Minnesota’s Somali community have join Al-Shabab in Somalia in the past decade.
Davis’ program enlists the help of Daniel Koehler, who runs an institute devoted to “de-radicalization” in Germany. Koehler will conduct risk assessments on terror offenders to give Davis more information as he determines sentences. Koehler will then train US probation and pretrial officers, who will be responsible for supervising defendants.
“I am not aware that any other court has tried something like that,” Koehler said.
Royer, who served time in Terre Haute and elsewhere, offered some examples of those in line for release and their place on the terrorism spectrum.
One inmate, he said, was a former computer programmer from Yemen who was arrested for stealing proprietary software and trying to market it as his own. The inmate claimed he told US officials he would give them the names of Al-Qaeda followers if they let him go.
“He lied to them. He didn’t know anyone from Al-Qaeda. He just told them some names and very quickly they found out that he was full of crap,” Royer said. “He went to prison for lying to the FBI and they put him in the terrorism unit.”
A second inmate was picked up selling night vision equipment to a US law enforcement official posing as a member of Lebanon’s Hezbollah. Royer said the inmate was trying to make a buck. He was charged with attempting to provide material support to a terrorist group and ended up in the terrorism unit at Terre Haute.
“The only concern with him is that he’s a hustler,” Royer said. “That’s not to say that it’s not a crime.”

Main category: 
Eliminating terror requires unity, says Trump in historic address to the Muslim world
Terror attacks by Muslims ‘get 4.5 times more coverage from US media’

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France rethinks romance with Macron as his popularity sinks

Sun, 2017-08-06 03:00

PARIS: Emmanuel Macron’s honeymoon did not last long.
Less than three months after his election, France’s energetic and image-conscious president has seen his popularity drop after announcing budget cuts, launching a divisive labor reform and engaging in a damaging dispute with the military.
A series of opinion polls last week showed the percentage of French citizens who said they were satisfied with Macron’s policies and trusted their young leader to deal with the country’s problems plunging. The reversal might not affect the visible international profile he has cut since taking office, but it could hurt Macron’s ability to secure his ambitious domestic agenda.
France’s Ifop polling agency put it bluntly: “Apart from Jacques Chirac in July 1995, a newly elected president has never seen his popularity rate falling as quickly during the summer after the election.”
His declining approval is striking given that Macron was being credited two months ago with giving France a boost of much-needed confidence after years of security fears and economic stagnation. Increasingly, he instead is portrayed as power-hungry and inexperienced.
The French media have started calling Macron “Jupiter,” a reference to the mythological king of the Roman gods and what is perceived as the president’s superior attitude after he upended France’s political landscape and shot from relative obscurity to the nation’s top post at age 39.
While struggling at home, Macron has succeeded in raising France’s diplomatic profile, hosting meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump and Libyan peace talks in Paris.
Jean-Daniel Levy, director of the Policy and Opinion Department at the Harris Interactive polling institute, connects the president’s popularity slide to the government’s plans to reduce housing aid for students and to initiate tax reform. The reform aims to help lower-income employees, but could weigh on retirees.
Macron’s image also has taken a hit during his standoff with the French military chief over budget cuts. Gen. Pierre De Villiers resigned and was quickly replaced, but some saw last month’s public dispute as evidence of the president’s authoritarian tendencies.
Macron has promised to boost defense spending to 2 percent of gross domestic product by 2025 as part of France’s commitments to NATO, but the government announced a reduction of 870 million euros in military spending for this year.
The government also launched the labor reforms that were central to Macron’s campaign promise to boost France’s lagging economy through pro-free market policies. Changes would include capping the potential financial penalties for companies sued for firing employees and giving businesses greater leeway to set workplace rules instead of relying on collective bargaining agreements.
Labor unions and France’s far-left parties are fighting the reforms, saying they would weaken hard-won worker protections. Critics also resent the way Macron is trying to speed their approval. The government is invoking a special procedure to avoid a lengthy debate in parliament.
Daniel Fasquelle, a lawmaker from the conservative The Republicans party denounced Macron for what he called the “will to weaken all opposition” and for refusing to give interviews. Except for carefully choreographed photo opportunities, the president has distanced himself from the media. He canceled the traditional Bastille Day television interview.
“These are excesses the French judge more harshly and they are right,” Fasquelle said on France’s Info radio. “It simply means the president is not up to the task… He’s paying for his own lack of experience. Maybe he got too quickly, too soon, high responsibilities that are overwhelming him.”
Government spokesman Christophe Castaner acknowledged that Macron has been standoffish with the press, but offered an alternative explanation.
“No one can blame him (Macron) for rarely speaking,” Castaner told reporters. “I understand it can irritate a bit. I understand it can be questioned. But I think you and me should get used to it because the president has decided not to be a commentator (of the news), but an actor.”
Macron is expected to return from his August vacation to a tough September, with unions and far-left parties calling for street protests against his proposed labor reforms.

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French President Macron’s popularity rating drops
French economic reforms under Macron

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Russia says Trump’s new Ukraine envoy to visit Moscow

Sun, 2017-08-06 03:00

MANILA: The Trump administration is sending its envoy for Ukraine negotiations to Moscow in a bid to make progress on the diplomatic crisis, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Sunday.
After his first meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson since new American sanctions, Lavrov emerged with an upbeat assessment about the potential for finding common ground on Ukraine, Syria and other issues.
Lavrov said he and Tillerson had agreed to preserve a high-level diplomatic channel that Russia had suspended in protest of an earlier tightening of US sanctions.
“We felt that our American counterparts need to keep the dialogue open,” Lavrov said. “There’s no alternative to that.”
There was no immediate reaction to the meeting from the US State Department. Tillerson did not comment publicly or respond to shouted questions from journalists allowed in briefly for the start of the hour-plus meeting in the Philippines.
Lavrov said Tillerson had asked him for details about Moscow’s recent action to retaliate against US sanctions by expelling American diplomats and shuttering a US recreational facility on the outskirts of Moscow. The Russian diplomat said he explained to Tillerson how Russia will carry out its response, but Lavrov isn’t giving out details.
Last month, the Kremlin said the US must cut its embassy and consulate staff in Russia by 755 people, a move that echoed former President Barack Obama’s action last year to kick out Russian diplomats in punishment for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 American election. The Russian announcement has caused confusion because the US is believed to have far fewer than 755 American employees in the country.
Word that US special representative Kurt Volker plans to visit the Russian capital was the latest sign that Washington is giving fresh attention to resolving the Ukraine conflict. The US cut military ties to Russia over Moscow’s annexation of Crimea and accuses the Kremlin of fomenting unrest in eastern Ukraine by arming, supporting and even directing pro-Russian separatists there who are fighting the Kiev government.
In recent days, the Trump administration has been considering providing lethal weaponry to Ukraine to help defend itself against Russian aggression.
Lavrov didn’t say when Volker, a former NATO ambassador, would go to Moscow. Last month, Volker paid his first visit as special representative to embattled eastern Ukraine.
In their meeting, Lavrov said, Tillerson agreed to continue a dialogue between US Undersecretary of State Thomas Shannon and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov. That channel was created to address what the US calls “irritants” preventing the two countries from pursuing better ties. Russia had suspended the talks after the US tightened existing sanctions on Russia related to its actions in Ukraine.
Lavrov and Tillerson met on the sidelines of an Asian regional gathering in the Philippines. It was their first face-to-face conversation since Congress passed new legislation in July that makes it harder for Trump to ever ease penalties on Russia. Trump signed the bill last week, but called it “seriously flawed.”
The White House said Trump’s opposition stemmed from the bill’s failure to grant the president sufficient flexibility on when to lift sanctions. Trump’s critics saw his objections as one more sign that he is too eager to pursue closer ties to Russia, or to protect the former Cold War foe from penalties designed to punish Moscow for its actions in Ukraine, election meddling and other troublesome behavior.
A US Justice Department investigation is moving ahead into Russia’s election interference and potential Trump campaign collusion. Trump denies any collusion and has repeatedly questioned US intelligence about Moscow’s involvement.
At the same time, Trump’s administration has argued there’s good reason for the US to seek a more productive relationship. Tillerson has cited modest signs of progress in Syria, where the US and Russia recently brokered a cease-fire in the war-torn country’s southwest, as a sign there’s fertile ground for cooperation.
The Syrian cease-fire reflected a return of US-Russia cooperation to lower violence there. The US had looked warily at a series of safe zones in Syria that Russia had negotiated along with Turkey and Iran — but not the US
Lavrov said there will be more talks in the coming week involving Russia, Iran and Turkey about how to ensure the truce in the last safe zone to be established, around the north-western city of Idlib. He predicted “it will be difficult” to hammer out the details but that compromise can be reached if all parties — including the US — use their influence in Syria to persuade armed groups there to comply.

Main category: 
It is ‘time to move forward’ with Russia, says Trump
Tillerson denounces ‘Russian aggression in Ukraine’

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Gandhi brand no longer sells in Indian politics

Sun, 2017-08-06 06:56

NEW DELHI: India’s Congress party and its controlling Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has been synonymous with political power for most of the 70 years since independence, hit a new low with this weekend’s vice presidential election.
The Congress-backed candidate was crushed in Saturday’s parliamentary ballot by the nominee of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his ruling nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
The victory means the BJP occupy the top three offices of state for the first time, following its victory in last month’s presidential ballot.
It heightened a crisis for Congress and raised fresh questions about the party’s top leadership — especially 47-year-old Rahul Gandhi, great grandson of India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Gandhi led the campaign in the disastrous 2014 general election which saw Congress win just 44 seats — a historic low. The party went on to defeat-after-defeat in state elections.
“The Congress faces two existential crises — lack of leadership and the absence of an aspirational, coherent vision for the future,” Milan Vaishnav, South Asia director at Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think-tank, told AFP.
“What is stunning is that the 2014 general election result exposed both of these infirmities, yet the party has made little to no progress remedying them. If current trends continue, the Congress risks terminal decline,” Vaishnav added.
While still short of an outright majority, the BJP last week snatched Congress’ mantle as the largest party in the upper house, the Rajya Sabha, after almost six decades.
A favorable vice president could also bolster Modi’s legislative agenda as the vice president doubles as chairman of the Rajya Sabha.
The center-left Congress has ruled India for more than 50 of the past 70 years, most of them with Nehru and his descendants at the helm.
Since Nehru, his daughter Indira Gandhi and grandson Rajiv Gandhi have been prime minister.
But the so-called ‘natural-born leaders’ have looked like political outsiders since the 2014 electoral drubbing.
Party number two to his Italian-born mother Sonia Gandhi, 70 — widow of the assassinated Rajiv — Rahul has suffered a string of key local election defeats including in the bellwether state of Uttar Pradesh in March.
“Today, unlike the past, the family needs the party more than the party needs the family,” R. Jagannathan, a Mumbai-based political commentator and editorial director of Swarajya, told AFP.
“I think that Gandhi name is past its sell-by date. His mother at least had an interest (in politics), Rahul doesn’t seem interested… he is unsuitable for leadership,” Jagannathan added.
Rahul Gandhi made an unsuccessful attempt to mediate between regional allies in a dispute that led to Bihar state falling to the BJP last month, and the loyalty he commands within the party is open to doubt.
Jagannathan suggested the once-dominant family should make way for “real grassroots leaders,” but Sadanand Dhume of the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, said a change in leadership would be problematic.
“In theory it makes sense to suggest that Congress should outgrow its reliance on the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty. In reality, the family is all that holds the party together. Take it out and Congress collapses like a proverbial house of cards,” Dhume said.
Rahul’s younger sister Priyanka, who many see as an alternative leader, is hampered by a controversy over her husband’s property dealings, and has so far refused to take a more prominent role.
With the opposition in disarray, the BJP and its allies now rule 18 of India’s 29 states, and look set for more gains in the upper house.
“The Rajya Sabha is effectively the only real political check on Modi’s power. Once the BJP gains control, Modi will be free to pursue an expansive legislative agenda on a range of issues,” Dhume said.
In the current opposition vacuum, even one-time Modi challengers like Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar now say Modi’s victory in the 2019 national election is a foregone conclusion.

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