Impeachment hearings: Sondland says President Trump sought a ‘quid pro quo’ for Ukraine

Advertisements

Impeachment hearings: Sondland says there was a ‘quid pro quo’ for Ukraine///CRIMSON TAZVINZWA

Gordon Sondland, the former US ambassador to the EU, opened up testimonies on Wednesday, which marked the fourth day of the ongoing public impeachment hearings on President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

On the third day of impeachment hearings, the Republican “hearsay” defense fell apart, as the Intelligence Committee heard from two first hand witnesses who listened to Trump’s call with the president of Ukraine. And despite GOP claims that the call was “normal,” two other witnesses testified that they had never heard a call like that before.

Here are some highlights of Sondland’s testimony so far: – Says there was a Ukraine “quid pro quo” – Says he “followed the directions” from POTUS – On top officials in the Ukraine pressure campaign, he said that “everyone was in the loop,” including Mike Pompeo and Mick Mulvaney.

52.6368778-1.1397592
Advertisements

U.S. Senate Condemns Deepening Israel-China Ties, Cites ‘Serious Security Concerns’

Advertisements

A Senate committee promotes legislation expressing concern about Israel allowing a Chinese company to operate the port of Haifa, long a port of call for the Sixth Fleet//Crimson Tazvinzwa

Two years ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced during a visit to Singapore a “pivot to Asia,” an amusing echo of the Obama-era pivot that was much maligned and misunderstood. (It was criticized as proof that the Middle East would be abandoned, and for the appearance that it focused more on military cooperation with Asian countries wary of China, rather than a more three-dimensional engagement with the rising powers of the East.) For Israel, the announcement was a rhetorical flourish for a reality that had been evolving over many years.

From its early days as an independent state, Israel courted those members of the United Nations that might be willing to provide political recognition. The Philippines and Burma (today’s Myanmar) were the only Asian nations to provide support in 1947 and 1948, voting for the partition resolution and the admittance of Israel as a UN member, respectively. Burma’s leader, U Nu, was the first foreign leader to visit the state. In the 1950s, Israel helped Singapore develop its security sector, and relations have remained strong over the years, often out of the limelight, because of sensitivities about offending Singapore’s large Muslim-majority neighbor, Malaysia.

India and China, the two Asian powerhouses of today, established discreet relations with Israel in 1950, but it took 40 years to establish full diplomatic relations. Trade was modest in the early years, in the tens of millions of dollars, but today, China is Israel’s second-most-important trading partner, with more than US$17 billion in two-way trade in 2017, and with India around $5 billion. (The US-Israel trade volume, by comparison, was about $35 billion in 2017 and 2018.)

Israel is now a member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, and China has begun to think of its strategic location as part of the massive Belt and Road Initiative.

In other measures of soft power, Israeli-China and Israeli-India relations are developing depth. There are two Confucius Institutes in Israel, based in the two major universities in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. An Israeli non-governmental organization, the Israel Asia Center, is committed to building ties among emerging leaders from China, Taiwan, South Korea and India. Tourist travel from Asia is growing annually by double digits, and the Israeli tourism industry plans expanded hotel capacity to accommodate an anticipated growth in travel from newly mobile Chinese citizens.

Economic relations in a global marketplace may not be the most important metric of power and influence. One could argue that all these examples simply show the power of mutual economic benefit. Israelis are pragmatic, and their location between Europe and Asia provides a distinct opportunity to sustain their economic success by expanding to new markets.

But with the rising Asian powers, it’s worth keeping in mind that the scale of economic interaction can lead to interdependence in some sectors, and that takes on larger political and security dimensions. For now, nearly all analysts would insist that there is no substitute for the security partnership with the US; Israel has been able to develop its high-tech defense sector and its civilian economy, and avoid painful compromises with the Palestinians, thanks to American political protection and support.

And in the past, when forced to choose between meeting US expectations or working with new Asian business partners, Israel has accepted the primacy of its ties to Washington. In the late 1990s and again in 2005, Israel had to publicly rescind lucrative transactions with China when the US objected to the technology transfer of airborne radar systems and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs, or drones).

Even now, as trade in defense goods forms a significant part of Israeli exports to India and to China, those transactions are still fraught with political considerations. Israel is wary of China’s arms trade with Iran, and China is unhappy with Israel’s important investments in India’s defense sector, estimated at about $600 million in one recent annual count. So one cannot make the case that Israel has deep relationships of trust with the Asian powers, comparable to its decades of strategic cooperation with Washington.

However, it’s still worth opening our minds to the potential shift. Trade in the billions of dollars takes on political value for politicians and industry leaders. They begin to have a vested interest in keeping those relationships steady. Should US-China relations move in a more adversarial direction, Israel may be faced with some difficult tradeoffs. The dilemmas will sharpen if a post-Trump administration walks back the over-the-top embrace of hardline Israeli positions, creating friction in that key relationship. And rising anti-Semitism in many Western countries will erode Israelis’ trust in the West.

It’s not self-evident that Israel’s pivot to Asia will harm its traditional foreign policy, but it might.

 

 

With Its National Security at Stake, Israel Takes Sides in U.S.-China Trade War

52.6368778-1.1397592

Gulf of Oman tankers attacked

Advertisements

Tankers Attacked Again in Gulf of Oman, Raising Fears of Wider ConflictTankers Attacked Again in Gulf of Oman, Raising Fears of Wider Conflict

Two foreign oil tankers attacked off the Persian||Eliza Mackintosh, Helen Regan and Vasco Cotovio, CNN

The US blamed Iran for the attacks today. Here’s what Iran has said about them.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran is responsible for today’s attacks on two tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

He said the the United States government is drawing this conclusion based on “on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation” — but he did not offer any concrete evidence to support the claim.

National Security Adviser John Bolton earlier today also spoke out to put responsibility on Iran, but also did not offer evidence.

Here’s what Iran has said about the attacks: Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif noted that one of the ships is Japanese owned and that the attack took place as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was visiting Iran. He called the attack “suspicious” in a tweet.

“Reported attacks on Japan-related tankers occurred while PM [Shinzo Abe] was meeting with Ayatollah [Khamenei] for extensive and friendly talks. Suspicious doesn’t begin to describe what likely transpired this morning,” Zarif tweeted.

 

Meanwhile, Russia has cautioned against “hasty statements” over the attack, with a spokesperson for the Kremlin saying it was premature to draw conclusions about the cause of the incident.

52.6368778-1.1397592

US National Security Adviser John Bolton: “To Stop Iran’s BOMB, BOMB Iran”

Advertisements

War With Iran? Count Us Out, Europe Says//Crimson Tazvinzwa

BRUSSELS — With strong memories of the last catastrophic war in Iraq, Europeans are united in opposing what many consider the United States’ effort to provoke Iran into a shooting war. Yet, despite the strains in trans-Atlantic relations in the Trump years, flat-out opposition to Washington remains an uncomfortable place for European nations.

Initially, not even pro-American Britain would go along with the Trump administration, with officials defending a senior British general in the coalition fighting the Islamic State who said that there was no enhanced threat from Iran in Iraq and Syria.

The Pentagon has reportedly drawn up a plan to send as many as 120,000 troops to the Middle East if President Trump decides to take military action against Iran. The New York Times reports the Pentagon presented the proposal on Thursday after National Security Advisor John Bolton requested a revision to an earlier plan. Bolton has long advocated for attacking Iran. According to the Pentagon, far more than 120,000 troops would be needed if a ground invasion was ordered. This comes as tension continues to escalate between the United States and Iran. The United States recently deployed the Abraham Lincoln Carrier Strike Group and a bomber task force to the region claiming there was a “credible threat by Iranian regime forces.” Iran has announced it will stop complying with parts of the landmark 2015 nuclear deal and resume high-level enrichment of uranium in 60 days if other signatories of the deal do not take action to shield Iran’s oil and banking sectors from U.S. sanctions. The U.S. has attempted to cut Iran off from the global economy, even though Iran has remained in compliance with the nuclear deal. We speak with Ambassador Seyed Hossein Mousavian, a Middle East Security and Nuclear Policy Specialist at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. He served as spokesperson for Iran in its nuclear negotiations with the European Union from 2003 to 2005.

But that brought an American rebuttal, and soon the Europeans, reluctant to confront Washington directly, softened the criticism. Britain officially rowed back, saying that it now agreed with the Americans, while Germany and the Netherlands suspended their troop training in Iraq, citing the American warnings. (Germany subsequently said it was planning to resume the training exercises.)

Window dressing aside, however, there was little doubt about where the Europeans stood on the Iran issue.

“Every single European government believes that the increased threat we’re seeing from Iran now is a reaction to the United States leaving the Iran nuclear agreement and trying to force Iranian capitulation on other issues,” said Kori Schake, a former Pentagon official who is now deputy director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“They believe that the U.S. is the provocateur and they worry that the U.S. is reacting so stridently to predictable Iranian actions in order to provide a pretext for a U.S. attack on Iran,” Ms. Schake said.

European government officials say they believe that Mr. Trump does not want a major war in the Middle East. But they also believe that his national security adviser, John R. Bolton, does.CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
It is a far cry from the debate preceding the 2003 Iraq war, which “split Europe in two,” said Tomas Valasek, the director of Carnegie Europe and a former Slovak ambassador to NATO. “This is a case of all European governments saying to Washington that this is insane, we shouldn’t be here, and it’s your fault that we’re actually talking of war.”

For a supporter of the trans-Atlantic relationship, he added, “the last thing you want to do is unify Europe on an anti-American basis, and that’s what Trump” and his national security adviser, John R. Bolton, have done.

 

The Europeans are trapped between President Trump and Tehran,trying to keep decent relations with Washington while committed to supporting the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that Mr. Trump mocked and then abandoned.

Senior European government officials say they believe that Mr. Trump, as he said on Thursday, does not want a major war in the Middle East. But they also believe that Mr. Bolton does. They often cite a New York Times opinion article by Mr. Bolton in 2015, when he was out of office, entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.”

And European officials are baffled by Mr. Trump’s insistence that he simply wants to force Iran into new negotiations. Why, they say, would Tehran, whose supreme leader regards Washington as duplicitous in any event, concede or even value any deal done with the president who just abandoned a nuclear deal so painfully negotiated with the last American president?

“Why would they trust us now after Trump pulled the plug on the last thing they negotiated with Washington?” Ms. Schake said.

The public position of European officials has been to urge “maximum restraint,” as the European foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, put it. That was a riposte to Washington’s stated policy of “maximum pressure” on Tehran, including punishing economic sanctions designed to block its international trade, especially in oil, on which the economy depends.

Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, speaking this week to a government audience. European leaders wonder why President Trump believes the Iranians can be pressured into new talks.CreditAgence France-Presse — Getty Images

52.6277444-1.1389707

President Trump Ends Iran Oil Waivers to Drive Tehran’s Exports to Zero

Advertisements
Gas flares burn from pipes aboard an offshore oil platform in the Persian Gulf’s Salman Oil Field, operated by the National Iranian Offshore Oil Co., near Lavan island, Iran, on Thursday, Jan. 5. 2017. Photographer: Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg


China, India and Turkey had been expecting to receive a renewed waiver to continue to buy Iran’s oil – AIWA! NO!

US to sanction nations for importing Iranian oil — including allies

The Trump administration won’t renew waivers that let countries buy Iranian oil without facing U.S. sanctions, according to four people familiar with the matter, a move that roiled energy markets and risks upsetting major importers such as China and India.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo planned to announce the decision Monday morning in Washington, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing a plan that hasn’t been formally unveiled. The current set of waivers — issued to China, Greece, India, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Turkey — expire May 2.

The administration will also announce commitments from other suppliers, including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, that will offset the loss of Iranian crude on the market, according to two of the people.

The decision not to renew the waivers is a victory for National Security Advisor John Bolton and his allies who had argued that the U.S. promises to get tough on Iran were meaningless with waivers still in place. Pompeo and his team had been more cautious, though they also maintained that the market was well-enough supplied to ramp up pressure on Iran.


The Magnitsky sanctions proposed in Canada’s Senate provide an opportunity to push for an end to Tehran’s human rights violations

“The maximum pressure campaign could not be maximalist until the administration cut off Iran’s oil exports,” said Mark Dubowitz, the chief executive officer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a supporter of additional sanctions on Iran. “With this decision, Iran’s economy will be under severe pressure as its hard currency earnings dry up and its foreign exchange reserves plummet.”

Oil Rises

The price of Brent crude, the global oil benchmark, rose as much as 3.3 percent to $74.31 a barrel on Monday, the highest intraday price in almost six months.

The State Department declined to comment Sunday night. One of the people said that President Donald Trump had briefed Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman and U.A.E. Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed on the decision in phone calls in the last few days. The U.S. decision was reported earlier by the Washington Post.

For more on the U.S. Iran oil waivers:  Trump Team Divided Over Iran Oil Waivers as Deadline Nears Oil Jumps as U.S. Is Said to End Iran Waivers After May 2 Expiry Iran Oil Buyers Stay on Sidelines as Waiver Decision Looms

Japan and South Korea, two of the U.S.’s closest allies and long-time buyers of Iranian crude, said they were aware of the reports about the waivers but didn’t confirm the decision. Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said Monday in Tokyo that the government had kept in close contact with the U.S. and expressed the view that “there should be no damage to the activities of Japanese companies.”

China’s foreign ministry in Beijing didn’t immediately respond to a faxed request for comment Monday. The nation is the biggest buyer of Iranian crude.

Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers almost a year ago and revived a range of sanctions against Iran and any countries doing business with the Islamic Republic. But he and his top advisers have been wary of disrupting energy markets and spurring a hike in U.S. pump prices. For that reason, they allowed waivers for Iran’s biggest buyers of crude, including China, India and Turkey.

One of the people said that some of the countries that had previously received waivers would be given a little more time to wind down purchases. The person described that not as a waiver but more as a brief grace period.

Zero Exports

Bolton and officials in the Energy Department have argued that it’s time for the administration to make good on its desire to push Iran’s oil exports to zero. While Pompeo’s team, led by Iran special representative Brian Hook, cautioned that a sudden removal of Iranian crude from the market — about 1.1 million barrels a day — could fuel volatility and lead to a price spike.

“We certainly aren’t looking to grant any exceptions or waivers,” Hook said in an interview this month with Kevin Cirilli on Bloomberg Radio’s “Sound On.” Oil markets are better supplied this year than last, and that “puts us in a better position to accelerate the path to zero,” he said.

The administration had also faced growing pressure from Iran hawks in the Senate, including Ted Cruz of Texas and Tom Cotton of Arkansas, to cut waivers to zero. Some senators had threatened to hold up administration nominees if the waivers stayed in place and argued that continuing to grant exemptions would be a direct contradiction of the Trump administration’s decision to leave the Iran deal.

The risk now is the decision could spike crude prices just as Trump begins to gear up to campaign for a second term. His administration had been wary of doing anything that could push crude prices above $70 a barrel.