Germans Appalled by Threat From Trump’s Ambassador to Help Far-Right Nationalists Take Power Across Europe

THE GERMAN GOVERNMENT demanded a formal explanation from the United States on Monday of what, exactly, the new U.S. ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, meant when he promised to use his office to help far-right nationalists inspired by Donald Trump take power across Europe.

In an interview with Breitbart News, published on Sunday, Grenell said he was “excited” by the rise of far-right parties on the continent and wanted “to empower other conservatives throughout Europe, other leaders.”

Grenell was apparently not asked if that group includes the far-right Alternative for Germany — known by its German initials AfD — the largest opposition party in the German parliament, but he did praise Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, a center-right politician who is in coalition with the Freedom Party, which was formed in the 1950s by a former Nazi officer.

A spokesperson for the German foreign ministry told reporters that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government had “asked the U.S. side for clarification” as to whether the remarks “were made as reported.”

Grenell, a former Fox News pundit whose abrasive Twitter style had already alienated many Germans, tweeted on Monday that it was “ridiculous” to suggest that he would endorse candidates or parties, but stood by his claim to Breitbart that Europe, like America, was “experiencing an awakening from the silent majority — those who reject the elites and their bubble. Led by Trump.”

Leaving aside that Trump was, in fact, elected by a hypervocal minority of American voters, his envoy’s apparent willingness to cast off diplomatic neutrality and meddle in the internal affairs of European countries caused an uproar.

Sevim Dagdelen, a member of the left-wing German opposition party Die Linke, suggested that Grenell had revealed himself to be Trump’s “regime change envoy.”

The leaders of Germany’s Social Democratic Party, the junior coalition partner in Merkel’s government, were similarly unstinting in their condemnation. “Europe’s citizens cannot be told how to vote by a Trump vassal,” the party’s vice chair, Thorsten Schäfer-Gümbel, wrote on Twitter. “A U.S. ambassador who meddles in democratic contests is simply out of place,” he added, perhaps hinting that the ambassador could be asked to go home.

Martin Schulz, the former leader of the Social Democrats, accused Grenell of behaving less like a diplomat than “an extreme-right colonial officer.”

Omid Nouripour, the foreign policy spokesman for Germany’s Green party, told Der Spiegel that “the American people should be able to expect partisan neutrality from their representative in Germany, because he represents all Americans, not just Breitbart and Fox News.”

Guy Verhofstadt, a former prime minister of Belgium who now leads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, a free-market group in the European Parliament, tweeted: “We have to defend Europe against Trump. It’s not up to his ambassador to influence our elections and steer our society. We respect the sovereignty of the U.S., they have to respect ours.” Verhofstadt added the hashtag #GrenellRaus — “Grenell Out” — to his tweet.

There was, however, one political leader in Berlin on Monday who demonstrated his support for the embattled American ambassador. Israel’s far-right prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, announced at a news conference with Merkel that he had agreed to a brief meeting with Grenell, at the ambassador’s request, before leaving the German capital.

Before he was confirmed by the Senate, Grenell — a hyperpartisan Republican activist whose farewell party in New York was attended by Donald Trump Jr., Bill O’Reilly, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Wayne Newton, and a half-dozen Fox News personalities — had promised to stay out of German politics.

[The Intercept]

Trump’s phone call with Macron described as ‘terrible’

A call about trade and migration between US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron soured last week after Macron candidly criticized Trump’s policies, two sources familiar with the call told CNN.

“Just bad. It was terrible,” one source told CNN. “Macron thought he would be able to speak his mind, based on the relationship. But Trump can’t handle being criticized like that.”

A short White House readout of last Thursday’s call said the conversation was focused on trade and immigration.

“Both leaders discussed the migration problem in Libya, and timelines to solve it. President Trump underscored the need to rebalance trade with Europe,” the readout states.

The call came the same day the United States announced a unilateral decision to slap steel and aluminum tariffs on American allies, including Mexico, Canada, and the European Union.

In a statement issued by the Elysee Palace ahead of the call, Macron said he “regrets the US decision to confirm tariffs in steel and aluminum.”

“This decision is not only illegal, it is a mistake on many points. It is a mistake because it responds to a worldwide unbalance that exists in the worst ways through fragmentations and economic nationalism,” the statement continued, with Macron adding that “if these kind of things impacted our relations, it would have been the case since day one because he has decided to leave the Paris (climate) agreement.”

“I prefer to say things directly and not through the press; and I will tell him what I told you, which are my convictions that he knows already,” he said in the statement.

Thursday’s strained call is particularly notable because Macron is arguably the European leader to whom Trump is closest. In an interview with the BBC in January, Macron said he had a “very direct relationship” with his US counterpart.

“I’m always extremely direct and frank. He is. Sometimes I manage to convince him, and sometimes I fail,” Macron said at the time.

Trump can expect a similar call from British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday, sources tell CNN. It’s not her style to be combative, but one source said May is expected to be direct in her criticisms and that Trump could expect a tough conversation.

[CNN]

Bolton: U.S. sanctions ‘possible’ on European firms over Iran

White House National Security adviser John Bolton on Sunday said U.S. sanctions on European companies that do business with Iran were “possible, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he remained hopeful Washington and its allies could strike a new nuclear deal with Tehran.

Bolton’s comments, in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union, struck a more hawkish note than Pompeo’s, who was interviewed on “Fox News Sunday.”

U.S. President Donald Trump on May 8 announced that the United States was withdrawing from a 2015 deal negotiated by the Obama administration.

So far, China, France, Russia, the U.K., EU and Iran remain in the accord, which placed controls on Iran’s nuclear program and led to a relaxation of American economic sanctions against Iran and companies doing business there.

Bolton, asked whether the United States might impose sanctions on European companies that continue to do business with Iran, told CNN: “It’s possible. It depends on the conduct of other governments.”

Pompeo said he was “hopeful in the days and weeks ahead we can come up with a deal that really works, that really protects the world from Iranian bad behavior, not just their nuclear program, but their missiles and their malign behavior as well.”

Washington’s withdrawal from the Iran deal has upset European allies, cast uncertainty over global oil supplies and raised the risk of conflict in the Middle East.

This week, Israel and Iran engaged in an extensive military exchange on the heels of Trump’s decision to leave the deal. On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron told Trump in a telephone call that he was worried about stability in the Middle East, according to Macron’s office.

Bolton would not respond directly when asked whether Trump might seek “regime change” in Iran, or whether the U.S. military would be ordered to make a preemptive strike against any Iranian nuclear facility.

“I’m not the national security decision maker,” Bolton said, adding that Trump “makes the decision and the advice that I give him is between us.”

Bolton said Trump “has I think very clear policies, both with respect to North Korea and Iran. Those are the policies that we are pursuing.”

When pressed by CNN on whether the administration would sanction European firms, Bolton said, “I think the Europeans will see that it’s in their interest ultimately to come along with us.”

Bolton said Europe was still digesting the May 8 move by Trump.

“I think at the moment there’s some feeling in Europe – they’re really surprised we got out of it, really surprised at the reimposition of strict sanctions. I think that will sink in; we’ll see what happens then,” Bolton said.

[Reuters]

Media

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/us-sanctions-uk-europe-iran-business-trade-trump-john-bolton-a8349611.html

Trump angers France and Britain with his NRA speech

US President Donald Trump took aim at two of America’s closest allies in a speech at the NRA convention, saying strict gun laws failed to prevent the 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris and highlighting a purported increase in knife violence in London.

The comments provoked anger in both France and Britain.

France was especially incensed after Trump, while speaking at the gun rights convention in Dallas on Friday, pointed his hand as if it were a gun while describing how each of the victims in Paris was fatally shot.

“They took their time and gunned them down one by one — boom, come over here, boom, come over here, boom,” he said.

The French foreign ministry issued a statement Saturday after Trump’s comments.

“France expresses its firm disapproval of President Trump’s remarks … and calls for the respect of the memory of the victims,” it said.

Francois Hollande, who was the French President during the 2015 attacks, tweeted Saturday:

“Donald Trump’s shameful remarks and obscene histrionics say a lot about what he thinks of France and its values. The friendship between our two peoples will not be tainted by disrespect and excessiveness. All my thoughts go to the victims of November 13.”

Trump: Armed Parisians could have stopped attack

Trump went on to say things might have been different had Parisians in the cafes under attack had been armed.

“If one employee or just one patron had a gun, or if one person in this room had been there with a gun, aimed at the opposite direction, the terrorists would have fled or been shot. And it would have been a whole different story,” Trump said.

The Élysée palace responded to that comment by saying, “The free flow of arms within society does not constitute a shield against terrorist attacks. It can instead facilitate the planning of this type of attack.”

And the French ambassador to the United States, Gérard Araud, tweeted: “The statistics of the people killed by guns don’t convince France to change its guns laws.”

A group of about 10 men staged a series of coordinated attacks in Paris on November 13, 2015, killing at least 130 people and wounding hundreds.

The attackers, armed with assault rifles and explosives, targeted six locations across the city. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.

President says Britain has knife problem

Trump also compared an unnamed London hospital to a “war zone” in the NRA speech, saying that despite tough gun laws in the United Kingdom, it has blood all over the floors from victims of knife attacks.

“They don’t have guns. They have knives and instead there’s blood all over the floors of this hospital,” Trump said. “They say it’s as bad as a military war zone hospital … knives, knives, knives. London hasn’t been used to that. They’re getting used to that. It’s pretty tough.”

British officialdom did not push back. London Mayor Sadiq Khan’s office declined to comment to CNN following Trump’s remarks.

But former UK Cabinet minister Charlie Falconer tweeted Saturday: “US murder rate over 5 times higher than the UK’s. There isn’t a person in the whole world (with the possible exception of the President of the US, and he’s probably lying) who believes the way to reduce our murder rate is to make it easier to get guns.”

It’s unclear what hospital Trump was referring to. But the BBC reported that a trauma surgeon at the Royal London Hospital, Dr. Martin Griffiths, recently told the network that his fellow doctors have compared it to an Afghan war zone.

Amid the furor over Trump’s comments, Griffiths tweeted Saturday: “Happy to invite Mr Trump to my (prestigious) hospital to meet with our mayor and police commissioner to discuss our successes in violence reduction in London.”

Professor Karim Brohi, a trauma surgeon at The Royal London Hospital and director of London’s Major Trauma System, also hit back at Trump’s speech, saying in a statement that, “The Royal London Hospital has cut the number of our young patients returning after further knife attacks from 45% to 1%.”

Brohi said that while there is more that can be done to combat knife attacks, gunshot wounds are “at least twice as lethal as knife injuries and more difficult to repair.”

Trump and British Prime Minister Theresa May spoke by phone Saturday. According to the White House, they discussed China trade, North Korea, Iran and Trump’s upcoming visit to Britain. It’s unknown whether they talked about Trump’s remarks to the NRA.

[CNN]

White House blames ‘typo’ for major claim on Iran’s nuclear program

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Tuesday blamed a “typo” for a controversial statement issued late Monday that initially said Iran currently “has” a secret nuclear program — a conclusion that would have major implications for the Iran nuclear deal.

In the statement issued under Sanders’ name, the Trump administration originally wrote that “Iran has a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people,” a position that conflicted with international monitors who have found Iran to be in compliance with the landmark nuclear deal it signed with other nations, including the U.S., in 2015.

The statement was later amended online to switch to the past tense, that “Iran had a robust, clandestine nuclear weapons program.” On the White House website, the statement is published without a correction or other acknowledgment of the error, and a corrected email was not sent to reporters.

“We think the biggest mistake that was made was under the Obama administration by ever entering the deal that you referenced in the first place,” Sanders told reporters on Tuesday. “The typo that you referenced was noticed, immediately corrected and we are focused on moving forward on the safety and security of our country.”

The White House statement came in response to a Monday presentation from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, an outspoken critic of the Iran nuclear deal, lambasting the agreement and accusing the Iranian government of deceiving the international community on the subject of its nuclear program.

Netanyahu’s presentation was met with skepticism by many who argued that it contained little new information, and Sanders, in her Monday statement, said “the United States is aware of the information just released by Israel and continues to examine it carefully.”

Despite having to defend the White House’s edited statement, Sanders still went on the offensive at Tuesday’s briefing, slamming the Iran deal that the president has often threatened to withdraw the U.S. from.

“The problem is that the deal was made on a completely false pretense. Iran lied on the front end. They were dishonest actors and so the deal that was made was made on things that weren’t accurate and we have a big problem with that,” she said.

[Politico]

President Trump threatens political repercussions over 2026 World Cup bid

President Donald Trump waded into the campaign aimed at bringing the 2026 FIFA World Cup to the United States on Thursday, tweeting out a veiled threat to withdraw political support from nations who vote against the bid.

In a wildly surprising development, Trump, who previously has shown little appetite for soccer, appeared to throw his full backing behind the three-pronged bid that would see the U.S., Mexico and Canada potentially act as co-hosts of soccer’s biggest tournament.

“The U.S. has put together a STRONG bid w/ Canada & Mexico for the 2026 World Cup,” Trump wrote. “It would be a shame if countries that we always support were to lobby against the U.S. bid. Why should we be supporting these countries when they don’t support us (including at the United Nations)?”

The business mogul turned politician did not specify which countries he was referring to, but the only other contender in the race to be host is Morocco. Due to the political nature of FIFA, soccer’s world governing body, and the tactical nature of voting in such matters, it is widely expected that Morocco will have the support of virtually the entire African continent.

Other voting blocks, including those from Europe and Asia, still are seen as very much up for grabs, with the vote due to be finalized June 13, just before the start of this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

“From the beginning, we have received strong support from the Canadian, Mexican and United States governments,” a statement from the bid committee read, in response to Trump’s remarks. “We are grateful for that support and together our three countries are ready to welcome players and fans from around the world to an extraordinary FIFA World Cup in 2026.”

[USA Today]

Reality

FIFA pointed to its rules governing the selection of the 2026 World Cup hosts on Friday, one day after U.S. President Donald Trump questioned supporting countries that lobby against a joint North American bid.

The governing body’s code of ethics prohibits government interference in all member countries’ respective national soccer federations, and the bidding regulations also warn against “any undue influence on the outcome.”

Trump Commands Latvian President to Call on ‘Real News, Not Fake News’ Reporter in Stunning Presser

During his press conference with fellow world leaders from the Baltics, President Donald Trump asked the president of Latvia to take questions from the international press corps because the American media is all “fake news.”

Latvia’s Raimonds Vejonis stood with Trump today as they and their counterparts from Estonia and Lithuania took questions from the room. At one point, Trump pointed at Vejonis and beckoned him to choose the next reporter to speak.

“A Baltic reporter ideally,” Trump said. “Real news, not fake news.”

Vejonis grinned as a tangible awkwardness took hold, though Trump kept calling on him to pick a reporter. Trump warned him however to not pick the same journalist who asked the last question because he “was very tough.”

[Mediaite]

Media

Trump says he will put U.S. military on southern border

President Trump said Tuesday that he plans to deploy U.S. troops along the southern border to prevent illegal crossings “until we can have a wall.”

“Until we can have a wall and proper security, we are going to be guarding our border with the military. That’s a big step,” Trump told reporters at the White House.

Defense Secretary James Mattis was sitting next to Trump when he made his comments.

Such a move would significantly escalate the U.S. presence along the frontier with Mexico. The U.S. Border Patrol — not the military — is tasked with protecting the border.

Trump has recently reverted back to his hard-line stance on immigration, backing away from his efforts to compromise with Democrats on Capitol Hill.

Over the past several days, the president has closed the door to a deal to protect young immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children, called on Mexico to step up efforts to detail illegal border crossers and sounded the alarm about a so-called “caravan” of Central American migrants heading for the U.S. border.

“If it reaches our border, our laws are so weak and so pathetic…it’s like we have no border,” Trump said.

Trump tied the caravan to the Deferred Action For Childhood Arrivals program that he ended last fall, even though it does not cover people who crossed the border this year.

The president is coming under mounting pressure from his base to secure a policy win on immigration, after he failed to secure $25 billion to build his proposed border wall in a government funding bill.

Trump even floated the possibility of pulling out of the North American Free Trade Agreement if Mexico does not take steps to curb the flow of immigrants crossing the border illegally.

The president on Tuesday claimed the caravan is breaking up “very rapidly” in part because of his threat.

Sending troops the border would be an unusual, but not unprecedented, step.

Presidents Obama and George W. Bush both deployed National Guard troops at the border to help stop illegal immigration. The temporary moves came as they were trying to win conservative support for immigration reforms that would allow millions to seek U.S. citizenship.

“The United States is not going to militarize the southern border,” Bush said when announcing the deployment in 2006. “Mexico is our neighbor, and our friend.”

[The Hill]

Reality

A defense official who spoke on the condition of anonymity had no immediate details as to how many troops would be used, or what authorities they would have, but said the presence could be similar to the 2006-2008 patrols U.S. military personnel conducted under Operation Jump Start.

In that operation, President George W. Bush called for up to 6,000 National Guard members to secure parts of the border. Eventually 29,000 military personnel from all over the country were involved in the mission, which had a projected cost of around $1.2 billion in then-year dollars.

In 2012, President Barack Obama deployed Army forces from Ft. Bliss to the Tucson, Arizona and El Paso, Texas areas for Operation Nimbus, a joint operation between U.S. Northern Command and Customs and Border Patrol.

Saudi Arabia’s crown prince reportedly bragged about having Jared Kushner ‘in his pocket’ after being told classified information meant for Trump

Jared Kushner reportedly discussed classified information obtained from the President’s Daily Brief with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who bragged that he had Kushner “in his pocket,” according to a report by The Intercept.

Presidential son-in-law-turned-advisor Jared Kushner reportedly had a penchant for reading President Donald Trump’s daily brief, a highly sensitive intelligence update that is only meant to be seen by the president and his top advisers, before being stripped of his top security clearance and access to the daily brief in February.

Before losing his security access, Kushner was particularly interested about information on the Middle East, the Intercept reported, citing several former White House and US government officials.

When Salman became the new heir to the throne in June last year, the daily brief reportedly began to focus on shifting political allegiances in Saudi Arabia, and named several Saudi royals who were opposed to the crown prince’s position.

Kushner then made a surprise trip to Riyadh in October, reportedly staying up until 4 a.m. with Salman to discuss strategy.

Several sources told the Intercept that following the meeting, Salman told close confidants that Kushner had spilled the names of the Saudi royals “disloyal” to the prince, although Kushner’s camp strongly denies the claim.

Salman reportedly told the United Arab Emirates’ Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed about the meeting with Kushner, bragging that he had Kushner “in his pocket,” sources told the Intercept.

Just a week after the meeting Salman began his large-scale corruption crackdown, which saw 200 officials arrested. According to the report, Saudi officials mentioned in the daily briefs were among those detained.

The “two princes” have forged a close bond

Kushner has built a close relationship with the Salman, setting the stage for close communication between the the US and Saudi Arabia.

Kushner and Salman began their friendship at a lunch meeting at the White House last year, according to the Washington Post, citing sources familiar with their relationship. The two have been tasked with leading negotiations on Israel-Palestine peace, and have consulted frequently in private phone calls over several months, according to the Post.

A source close to Kushner told CNN that Kushner’s relationship with the Saudi prince is more personal and close than other professional relationships between the US and world leaders, and that Kushner seeks to use that bond to deepen ties between the countries.

Kushner is said to be playing an important role in Salman’s visit to the US this week.

Kushner attended official meetings between the president and the Saudi delegation, and is scheduled in for several dinners with Salman and other US and Saudi officials.

[Business Insider]

Trump congratulates Putin on winning sham election

President Donald Trump spoke to Vladimir Putin over the phone Tuesday morning, after the Russian leader’s overwhelming re-election victory.

“I had a call with President Putin and congratulated him on the victory, his electoral victory,” Trump said later Tuesday. He added that the two leaders “will probably get together in the not-too-distant future” to discuss the international arms race.

Trump and Putin will also talk about North Korea, Ukraine and Syria, among “various other things,” the U.S. said.

The election win keeps Putin in office as Russia’s president for another six years. His closest rival in the election, which was held Sunday, scored nearly 12 percent of the vote, while his most vocal opponent, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running in the race.

Putin’s overwhelming victory and the circumstances leading to it have prompted criticism from Russia watchers. The White House, however, skirted the issue Tuesday.

“We’re focused on our elections. We don’t get to dictate how other countries operate,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said at Tuesday’s White House press briefing. “What we do know is that Putin has been elected in their country.”

The arms race

Trump’s comment on the arms race came as the top nuclear commander for the U.S. made a case Tuesday for America adding another nuclear weapon to its arsenal.

“I strongly agree with the need for a low-yield nuclear weapon,” Air Force Gen. John Hyten, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, said of the Pentagon’s request for a low-yield warhead for submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

“That capability is a deterrence weapon to respond to the threat that Russia in particular is portraying,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday.

Late last month, Putin made waves by boasting about an arsenal of new nuclear weapons, including an underwater drone, a new hypersonic missile and a cruise missile that has a “practically unlimited range.”

Hyten has previously called Russia the “most significant threat” to the U.S. because the the nation poses “the only existential threat to the country right now.”

Sanctions and election meddling

The call between Trump and Putin also comes as the special counsel’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election intensifies. Trump has denied that his campaign colluded with Russia, and Putin has rejected accusations that the Kremlin had anything to do with any election interference.

The Trump administration announced last week that it was sanctioning several Russians and entities linked to the Kremlin for meddling in the 2016 election as well as for cyberattacks against U.S. infrastructure, such as the energy grid.

Trump had resisted calls to punish Russia for its malfeasance, despite U.S. intelligence agencies’ claims that Kremlin-backed operatives did interfere in the campaign.

On Tuesday, Sanders told reporters Tuesday that she doesn’t believe the subject of 2016 election meddling came up in the Putin-Trump phone call. “But it is something that we’ve spoken extensively about,” she said.

The war in Syria

Trump has expressed admiration for Putin dating back to the years before he ran for president, but he is not the only U.S. commander in chief to call the Russian leader after an election victory.

President Barack Obama called Putin in 2012 to congratulate him for his win that year, although Russia-U.S. relations were especially contentious during Obama’s administration due in large part to the conflict in Syria. Russia has backed Syrian President Bashar Assad’s brutal war.

Trump, for his part, has criticized Obama over his handling of the Syrian war. “President Obama said in 2012 that he would establish a ‘red line’ against the use of chemical weapons and then did nothing,” Trump said in August after a suspected chemical attack in Syria. “The United States stands with our allies across the globe to condemn this intolerable attack.”

The war in Syria continues to rage, and a Russian military leader recently threatened action against U.S. forces there if Americans target Russian servicemen.

[NBC News]

Reality

Trump joins authoritarians, Xi Jinping, Rouhani, Mohammed bin Salman, Nicolas Maduro,  Evo Morales, Raul Castro, al-Sisi

  • China’s Xi Jinping
  • Iranian President Hassan Rouhani
  • Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
  • Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro
  • Bolivia’s President Evo Morales
  • Cuban President Raul Castro
  • Egyptian President Fatah al-Sisi
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