Trump Defends Abandoning Syria’s Kurds: “They’re not angels”

President Trump addressed Turkey’s invasion of Syria in the Oval Office on Wednesday, telling reporters that the Syrian Kurds — who allied with the U.S. in the fight against ISIS — are “not angels,” and that the Syrian government and Russia will protect them.

“[O]ur soldiers are not in harm’s way, as they shouldn’t be, as two countries fight over land that has nothing to do with us. And the Kurds are much safer right now. But the Kurds know how to fight, and as I said, they’re not angels. They’re not angels. … Syria probably will have a partner of Russia, whoever they may have. I wish them all a lot of luck.”

Driving the news: Trump has sent a delegation led by Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to negotiate with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who said on Wednesday that he would “never declare a ceasefire,” which Trump disputed. On Monday, Trump authorized sanctions punishing Turkey for its military operation.

  • Erdogan views the primarily-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) as an extension of the Kurdistan Workers Party, a militant group designated as a terrorist organization by both the U.S. and Turkey.
  • The SDF, which is also guarding detention camps with thousands of captured ISIS fighters and families, has struck a deal with Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad to protect the border from Turkey’s military assault. This has allowed Russian forces who back Assad to move into areas that had been under Kurdish control for 7 years.

The big picture: During the fight against ISIS, the SDF — trained and armed by the U.S. — lost more than 10,000 troops. Republicans and Democrats have condemned Trump’s decision to abandon the Kurds. Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) called it a “very dark moment in American history,” while Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that Trump will have “blood on his hands” if ISIS returns.

“If the President did say that Turkey’s invasion is no concern to us I find that to be an outstanding—an astonishing statement which I completely and totally reject. … If you’re not concerned about Turkey going into Syria why did you sanction Turkey?”

Sen. Graham

[Axios]

Trump Tweetstorms Amid Mounting Syria Criticism: Anyone Helping Protect Kurds Good With Me, Whether It’s ‘Russia, China, or Napoleon’

President Donald Trump went on a tweetstorm this afternoon standing by his Syria withdrawal decision amid mounting criticism from Republicans and the atrocities witnessed in northern Syria in the past few days.

Many Republicans have been critical of the decision (some blaming Trump, others going a slightly different route), and just yesterday a harrowing report from Fox News said there’s evidence of war crimes, as well as “civilians being targeted, and ISIS prisoners escaping.”

This morning the president hit back over comments from Fox News’ Brian Kilmeade, and this afternoon he went on a tweetstorm defending his decision, asking, “why should we be fighting for Syria and Assad to protect the land of our enemy?”, and invoking Napoleon for some reason.

[Mediaite]

Trump seriously considering blocking $250M in military aid to Ukraine

President Donald Trump is seriously considering a plan to block $250 million in military assistance to Ukraine, a move that would further ingratiate him with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and has directed senior officials to review the aid package.Trump’s decision to order the review comes after the White House publicly lost a battle to slash foreign aid spending across the board. After scrapping the plan to slash $4 billion in foreign aid, Trump said his team would look to find cuts elsewhere in the aid budget.”The President has made no secret when it comes to foreign assistance that US interests abroad should be prioritized and other foreign countries should also be paying their fair share,” a senior administration official told CNN.Specifically, Trump has directed Defense Secretary Mark Esper and national security adviser John Bolton to oversee the process, the senior administration official said.

The President has not yet made a final decision on whether to permanently block the funds, an administration official told CNN. The review process, however, has effectively paused disbursement of the funds, which are set to expire on September 30 if they are not used.

The Pentagon has already recommended to the White House that the hold on military assistance to Ukraine be lifted, an administration official and a US defense official told CNN Thursday. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on the matter on Thursday.”We do not publicly comment on internal budget deliberations. For further inquiries, I direct you to the White House Office of Management and Budget,” said spokesperson Lt. Col. Carla Gleason.However the hold on the aid remains in place, as it is the White House’s call whether to lift it, the administration official said, fueling uncertainty within the administration about what will happen to the spending after the review is formally completed.In the meantime, agencies are authorized and encouraged to execute all processes to prepare for the obligation of those funds but must wait to obligate them until the policy review is complete and the President has made a final determination, the senior official said. 

Bipartisan anger

If Trump ultimately decides to block the aid package, a possibility first reported by Politico, it would likely prompt a bipartisan uproar from members of Congress who believe US military support is essential to countering Russia’s military involvement in Ukraine.Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, voiced his strong opposition to that idea in a tweet Thursday: “This is unacceptable. It was wrong when Obama failed to stand up to Putin in Ukraine, and it’s wrong now.”Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez released a statement accusing the administration of circumventing Congress and “undermining a key policy priority that has broad and deep bipartisan support.””In willfully delaying these funds, the Trump Administration is once again trying to circumvent Congress’ Constitutional prerogative of appropriating funds for U.S. government agencies. It is also undermining a key policy priority that has broad and deep bipartisan support,” he said.”Enough is enough. President Trump should stop worrying about disappointing Vladimir Putin and stand up for U.S. national security priorities,” Menendez added.

What will Trump do?

Multiple sources familiar with the issue tell CNN that the President has floated the idea of halting the funding program for weeks. The White House has recently notified relevant agencies and congressional committees of its intent to block the aid to Ukraine, one source said.However, sources say that there are still questions about what Trump will ultimately do.

[CNN]

Trump got slapped down by G7 leaders after advocating for Russia

President Donald Trump derailed a major meeting with world leaders at the annual Group of Seven summit on Saturday evening after he insisted that Russia should be reinvited to the international gathering, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.

At a dinner in Biarritz, France, the president interrupted talks of the fires in the Amazon and Iran’s nuclear capacity by advocating for Russia to be readmitted to the gathering of industrialized nations. Russia was expelled from the group in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine that violated international laws and agreements.

Trump’s comments initiated a discussion at the dinner about “whether the leaders should assign any special weight to being a democracy,” The Post reported, citing officials. While most of the world leaders staunchly believed they should, Trump didn’t.

A senior official at the meeting told The Post that Trump crossed his arms and appeared to take a more combative stance as multiple leaders rejected his comments.

“The consequence is the same as if one of the participants is a dictator,” an official told The Post. “No community of like-minded leaders who are pulling together.”

Officials told The Post that at least two of the leaders present — Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, and Giuseppe Conte, Italy’s acting prime minister — did not push back against Trump’s position.

On Sunday morning, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised French President Emmanuel Macron’s performance at the dinner. “You did very well there last night. My God, that was a difficult one,” Johnson said, according to The Post.

Trump on Monday said he would invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to next year’s summit.

“Would I invite him? I would certainly invite him,” he told reporters.

“Whether or not he could come, psychologically, I think that’s a tough thing for him to do,” because Putin is “a proud person,” he said.

The US is set to host next year’s G7 gathering, so Trump may have the power to unilaterally reinvite Putin.

Macron, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and other leaders have made clear that they wouldn’t consider supporting Russia’s readmittance unless the country helps promote peace in Ukraine.

“One year ago, in Canada, President Trump suggested reinviting Russia to the G7, stating openly that Crimea’s annexation by Russia was partially justified. And that we should accept this fact. Under no condition can we agree with this logic,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, told reporters over the weekend.

Trump argued last week that it didn’t make sense to exclude Russia from the gathering “because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia.”

Trump hasn’t mentioned Crimea or suggested that Russia would need to make any concessions to rejoin the group, but has repeatedly said that President Barack Obama was “outsmarted” by Russia and demanded the country’s exclusion.

[Business Insider]

US President Trump reiterates call for Russia to rejoin ‘G8’

Speaking to reporters at the White House, Trump noted that his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, had wanted Russia out of what used to be the G8 “because Putin outsmarted him”.

“But I think it’s much more appropriate to have Russia in. It should be the G8 because a lot of the things we talk about have to do with Russia,” Trump said, just days before a G7 summit — minus Russia — in Biarritz, France.

Trump added, “I could certainly see it being the G8 again. If someone would make that motion, I would be disposed to think about it favourably…. “They should let Russia come back in, because we should have Russia at the negotiating table.”

Russia pushed out after Crimea

Russia was pushed out of the G8 in 2014 because of its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

It was not the first time Trump has floated the idea of Russia getting back together with the G7, which groups the United States, Germany, Japan, France, Britain, Italy and Canada.

In June 2018, Trump suggested Russia should attend a forthcoming G7 summit in Canada. A Kremlin spokesman seemed to reject the idea, saying Russia was focused on other formats.

Two days later, President Vladimir Putin said Russia did not choose the G7 and would be happy to host its members in Moscow.

Trump has periodically called for closer ties with Russia, although his administration’s policy has included strong sanctions against Moscow.

He is due to host the next G7 meeting in the United States next year.

[France24]

US formally withdraws from nuclear treaty with Russia and prepares to test new missile

The United States formally withdrew from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia Friday, as the US military prepares to test a new non-nuclear mobile-launched cruise missile developed specifically to challenge Moscow in Europe, according to a senior US defense official.

The US withdrawal puts an end to a landmark arms control pact that has limited the development of ground-based missiles with a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometers and is sparking fears of a new arms race.

“Russia is solely responsible for the treaty’s demise,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement Friday announcing the US’ formal withdrawal from the Cold-War era nuclear treaty.

Pompeo said, “Russia failed to return to full and verified compliance through the destruction of its noncompliant missile system.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told CNN’s Hala Gorani that the treaty’s end is a “serious setback.”

‘A bad day’

“The fact that we don’t have the INF Treaty anymore, the fact that the Russians over the years have deployed new missiles, which can reach European cities within minutes, which are hard to detect, are mobile and are nuclear capable, and therefore reduce the threshold of any potential use of nuclear weapons in an armed conflict — of course that’s a bad day for all of us who believe in arms control and stability in Europe,” Stoltenberg said.”At the same time, NATO is there to protect all our allies and we will take the necessary measures to retain credible defense,” he added.The new US missile test, which CNN reported Thursday, is expected to take place in the next few weeks and will essentially be the Trump administration’s answer to Russia’s years-long non-compliance with the INF treaty, the senior US defense official said.A senior administration official told reporters that the US will be testing the cruise missiles that were forbidden by the INF treaty because “Russia cannot maintain military advantage,” but claimed that it will take years for the US to deploy those weapons.

Deployment

“We are literally years away before we would be at a point where we would talk about basing of any particular capability. Because of our steadfast adherence to the treaty over 32 years, we are barely, after almost a year, at a point where we are contemplating initial flight tests,” explained the senior administration official, noting that the US would only look at deploying conventional weapons, not nuclear weapons.

But the Pentagon said in March that this ground launched missile could be ready for deployment within 18 months. The administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2020, released in February, included $96 million for continued research and development on INF range missile systems.

And arms control experts say it’s not difficult to convert existing air- or sea-based systems into the ground-based missile the Pentagon plans to test. “It is not a significant engineering task,” said Jon Wolfsthal, director of the Nuclear Crisis Group and a former nuclear expert for the National Security Council under the Obama administration. “It’s well within the capability of major defense contractors and the army to pull off.”

The end of the INF pact leaves the US and Russia with just one nuclear arms agreement, the New START Treaty, which governs strategic nuclear weapons and delivery systems for each side. If New START isn’t renewed or extended by 2021, the world’s two largest nuclear powers would have no limits on their arsenals for the first time in decades.

President Donald Trump’s ambivalent comments about New START and national security advisor John Bolton’s well-known dislike for arms control treaties have given rise to deep concern about a new nuclear arms race.

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres told reporters Thursday that the INF Treaty’s expiry means “the world will lose an invaluable brake on nuclear war. This will likely heighten, not reduce, the threat posed by ballistic missiles.”

He urged the US and Russia to “urgently seek agreement on a new common path for international arms control.”

Retired Gen. Wesley Clark, a former NATO supreme allied commander, said on CNN “New Day” that the termination of the treaty also marks “one more ratchet up on the movement towards a more adversarial relationship with Russia.”

But he added that the US “really didn’t have a choice” because the treaty wasn’t effective.

‘A competition with nuclear arms’

“We’re going into a new competition, a military competition, including a competition with nuclear arms against development that Russia, and to some extent, China are making,” Clark said. “No one wants to do this. It’s expensive, it’s dangerous, but it’s necessary if we’re going to maintain our security in an uncertain world.”The Trump administration casts the forthcoming test of the new ground-based missiles as necessary to US national security, even as it seeks to tamp down any suggestion that the US is triggering an arms race, a claim that’s met with skepticism in the arms control community.When asked if the US will commit to maintaining some kind of arms control despite this treaty being defunct, the official largely put the onus on Russia.”I can’t speak for the Russian federation so I can’t promise that they will be amenable to additional arms control,” the official said. “I can only tell you that the US, from the President on down, is interested in finding an effective arms control solution.”On Friday, Russia said it is inviting the US and NATO to join them in declaring a moratorium on deployment of intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles.

‘Not credible’

“We invited the US and other NATO countries to assess the possibility of declaring the same moratorium on deploying intermediate-range and shorter-range equipment as we have, the same moratorium Vladimir Putin declared, saying that Russia will refrain from deploying these systems when we acquire them unless the American equipment is deployed in certain regions,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said, Russian state news agency TASS reported.Stoltenberg on Friday dismissed Russia’s offer of a moratorium as “not credible,” because Russia has been deploying missiles for years.”There is zero credibility in offering a moratorium on missiles they are already deploying,” he said. “There are no new US missiles, no new NATO missiles in Europe but there are more and more Russian missiles,” Stoltenberg said in a press conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels.International allies, including the United Kingdom, emphasized their support for the US’ move to withdraw from the INF treaty.NATO allies said in a statement that Russia remains in violation of the INF Treaty, “despite years of U.S. and Allied engagement,” adding that they fully support the US’ decision.

NATO added that over the past six months Russia had a “final opportunity” to honor the treaty but failed.UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Russia caused the INF Treaty collapse, tweeting, “Their contempt for the rules based international system threatens European security.”The senior US defense official said that the US has long had evidence that Russia has developed, tested and fielded “multiple battalions” of non-INF compliant cruise and ballistic missiles. The US believes the deployments are “militarily significant” because the missiles are mobile, allowing Moscow to move them rapidly and making it difficult for the US to track them.The Russian missiles use solid fuel, which also means they can be readied in a very short time frame to be fired at targets, especially in western Europe.Alexandra Bell, senior policy director at the non-partisan Center for Arms Control & Non-Proliferation, explains that “with this type of missile there’s very short warning, attacks are harder to spot by radar, so it’s just more destabilizing. They made the situation in Europe more dangerous.”

Russian targets

The Pentagon has been working on the new missile system’s very initial phases, which will lead to the first test in the coming weeks, the defense official said. The official emphasized there is no formal program yet to develop the missile, because the INF treaty has been in effect.The US also has yet to formally discuss and commit to firm basing options, the defense official said. The concept, the official said, would be to position the missiles in militarily advantageous positions from which they could fire past Russian defenses and target ports, military bases or critical infrastructure.But no NATO member “has said it would be willing to host new US intermediate range missiles,” Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.Indeed, several NATO members, including Poland, have made clear that any deployment of the missiles in Europe would have to be approved by all NATO members. Stoltenberg has emphasized that NATO will respond to the end of the INF Treaty as an alliance and would not be amenable to US missile deployments on its border.”What we will do will be measured, it will be coordinated as a NATO family, no bilateral arrangements, but NATO as an alliance,” Stoltenberg said last month. “We will not mirror what Russia is doing, meaning that we will not deploy missiles,” the NATO chief said.

[CNN]

Trump Offered Putin U.S. Help Fighting Wildfires, Kremlin Says

Donald Trump called Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday to offer U.S. help fighting Siberian wildfires, the Kremlin said in a statement.

Putin thanked Trump for the offer but said a group of airplanes had been formed in Siberia to fight the fires, according to a translation of the statement. Putin said that Trump’s call was a signal that “in the future, it will be possible to restore full-format relations between the two countries.”

The White House later confirmed the call and said that the two leaders also discussed trade.

Relations between the U.S. and Russia deteriorated after American intelligence agencies determined that the Kremlin interfered in the 2016 election on Trump’s behalf. The U.S. issued sanctions against Russia both for the election interference and the attempted murder of a former Russian spy in the U.K. that the British government blamed on the Kremlin.

Trump has nonetheless tried to maintain a personal friendship with Putin. The two leaders agreed to continue discussions by phone and in meetings, the Kremlin statement said.

Putin ordered the Russian military to help fight the Siberian fires earlier on Wednesday. Russia has declared a state of emergency in four Siberian districts because of the fires. Plumes of smoke visible from space have stretched across the region to the Ural mountains thousands of miles away.

June temperatures in the Siberian districts were about 10 degrees Fahrenheit (6 degrees Celsius) above the 30-year average from 1981 to 2010. About 3 million hectares were burning as of Wednesday, according to the country’s Federal Forestry Agency.

Wildfires in the U.S. haven’t always drawn sympathy from the American president.

Trump sparked outrage last year as wildfires devastated parts of California by insisting that poor forest management by the state’s Democratic leaders was to blame. He threatened to withhold federal money for maintaining the forests even as the fires raged through Butte County north of Sacramento, effectively destroying the town of Paradise and killing dozens of people.

After a backlash, Trump softened his tone and approved an expedited request for disaster aid.

Nevertheless, Trump has proposed cutting the U.S. Forest Service’s funding for the national forest system by as much as 19%. Some of the programs designed to reduce wildfire risk, including restoring forest landscapes and the Integrated Resource Restoration Pilot, would be eliminated altogether.

[Bloomberg]


Trump snarls back at Kamala Harris and Jimmy Carter in overseas press conference

According to a report from the Washington PostDonald Trump snapped back at former President Jimmy Carter who questioned the legitimacy of his presidency and took some shots at Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) over her debate performance which garnered rave reviews.

In a speech following the G-20 conference, Trump called Carter a “terrible president” and pushed back at the former president for suggesting that Russia helped get him elected in 2016.

“Russia, Russia, Russia,” Trump exclaimed at the post-Group of 20 press conference. “He’s a Democrat and that’s a typical talking point.”

Turning to Harris — who saw her Democratic presidential nomination prospects rise after she took on former Vice President Joe Biden over his student bussing comments — Trump attempted to diminish her big night.

“‘She’s been given too much credit for what she did. It wasn’t that outstanding,’ Trump said. ‘He was hit harder than he should have been hit.’ Asked his own position on busing to desegregate public schools, Trump said he was developing a policy related to the issue that would be revealed in four weeks but declined to elaborate,” the Post reports.

You can read more here

[Raw Story]

Trump gives Putin light-hearted warning: ‘Don’t meddle in the election’

President Donald Trump issued a breezy warning to his Russian counterpart Friday against meddling in US elections, laughing and smiling as he told his counterpart not to interfere.”Don’t meddle in the election, please,” Trump said, smirking and wagging his finger at Putin. He only raised the matter after being questioned by reporters whether he would issue a warning.”Yes, of course I will,” Trump said before making his joking aside.It was an off-hand moment that came at the start of the men’s first meeting since the conclusion of Robert Mueller’s investigation.Trump said he enjoyed a “very, very good relationship” with Putin, and said “many positive things are going to come out of the relationship.””We have many things to discuss, including trade and some disarmament, some little protectionism, in a very positive way,” Trump said.

When he made his playful admonishment against election interference, Putin sat beside him laughing. Trump’s aides, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, also smiled.It was hardly the serious confrontation that many of Trump’s critics — and even some officials in the US government — have been hoping he’d make ahead of the 2020 contest, which could be vulnerable again to foreign meddling efforts.Instead, it appeared to be Trump’s way of injecting levity into what remains a deeply fractured Washington-Moscow relationship.In the seven months since Trump last encountered his Russian counterpart, the Russians detained a former Marine on espionage charges and were accused by Mueller in his report of waging a “sweeping and systematic” influence campaign during the 2016 election.That’s a distant cry from the warmed-up relations with Russia that Trump entered office vowing to pursue. When he sat down with Putin on the sidelines of the G20 summit here on Friday, ties between the two countries were near the lowest ebb since the Cold War.In Trump’s view, that’s the fault of Democrats and overzealous investigators intent on finding links between his campaign and Russian officials. As he greeted Putin for the first time since Mueller concluded his investigation and released a final report, there was little to indicate his view of Moscow’s influence efforts has changed or that his prickliness on the topic had waned.”I’ll have a very good conversation with him,” Trump told reporters at the White House as he was departing for Japan.But he declined to detail what he might say regarding election meddling, or whether he would raise it at all.”What I say to him is none of your business,” Trump said.

[CNN]

Trump: Tech companies, not Russia, trying to ‘rig the election’

President Donald Trump today suggested tech giants like Google and Twitter are the greatest threat to the integrity of the 2020 presidential election — and said anti-conservative bias among the companies had a greater impact in 2016 than Russian meddling.

“Let me tell you, they’re trying to rig the election,” Trump said in a phone interview on Fox Business. “That’s what we should be looking at, not that witch hunt, the phony witch hunt.”

Charging Google with being “totally biased” in favor of Democrats and fomenting “hatred for the Republicans,” Trump downplayed Russia’s 2016 social media manipulation: “You know, they talk about Russia because they had some bloggers—and by the way, those bloggers, some of them were going both ways. They were for Clinton and for Trump.”

Lawmakers, academics and U.S. intelligence officials are in broad agreement that Russia mounted a vast online disinformation campaign ahead of the 2016 election with the aim of inflaming American political and social tensions, supporting Trump’s candidacy and depressing Democratic voter turnout.

Trump’s comments reiterated claims that he and other prominent Republicans have made alleging that tech companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter are biased against conservatives and deliberately stifle their accounts and content. The companies flatly deny these allegations.

His criticisms came immediately after an extended broadside against Twitter for allegedly blocking people from following his account on the site, a claim the president has made repeatedly without evidence.

Twitter didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. A Google spokesperson said, “We build our products with extraordinary care and safeguards to be a trustworthy source of information for everyone, without any regard for political viewpoint,” noting the company’s publicly available criteria for determining the quality of search results.

[Politico]

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