Tag Archive | "Donald Trump"

Donald Trump appoints HR McMaster as new National Security Advisor

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Donald Trump appoints HR McMaster as new National Security Advisor

Posted on 21 February 2017 by GGS News

Washington : Donald Trump tapped respected Army lieutenant general H.R. McMaster as his national security advisor Monday, hoping to course correct after his first pick resigned and his second turned down the vital post.
Trump announced the counterinsurgency strategist’s appointment at his Florida holiday estate Mar-a-Lago, ending a one-week search to replace Michael Flynn, who lasted less than a month on the job.
Flynn was forced to resign on February 13, after questionable contacts with the Russian government and revelations that he lied about them to the vice president and the FBI.

Trump scrambled to replace Flynn after retired vice admiral Robert Harward turned down the post, amid a wrangling over lower-level NSC appointments and a meandering Trump press conference.

The White House said that Trump “gave full authority for McMaster to hire whatever staff he sees fit.”

The 54-year-old McMaster who is know for his criticism of the US military’s handling of Vietnam War and his own service as a commander in northern Iraq in 2005.

A 1997 book he authored is pointedly titled “Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies That Led to Vietnam.”

His experience in Iraq’s Tal Afar is likely to come in useful as US and allied forces attempt to retake nearby Mosul from the Islamic State group.

McMaster, still dressed in uniform, appeared with Trump on a sofa in the glitzy living room of Mar-a-Lago as music played overhead.

Trump described McMaster as “man of tremendous talent and tremendous experience.”

“He is highly respected by everyone in the military and we’re very honoured to have him.”

McMaster is another name on the long list of Trump advisors who have been plucked from the military.

Among others, Trump has named retired officers as his defense secretary and homeland security secretary.

McMaster was most recently the deputy commanding general of the Futures Center at US Army Training and Doctrine Command at Fort Eustis.

Trump said McMaster would work in a “very, very special” collaboration with Keith Kellogg, a retired three-star general who had served as acting national security advisor since Flynn resigned a week ago.

The post of national security advisor is a crucial, if discreet, engine for White House power and the smooth functioning of government.

Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell are among those who previously held the post.

The national security advisor manages hundreds of staff members, arbitrates between sometimes feuding government departments, balances foreign policy and military policy and ensures the president’s national security agenda gets implemented.

Current and former staffers fear that under Trump the council is currently being bypassed as political aides like strategist Steve Bannon seize the agenda.

They point to an ill-conceived ban on travelers from seven majority-Muslim nations that further complicated counter-terrorism partnerships in the Middle East and sullied America’s image abroad, but was ultimately struck down by US courts anyway.

If policy is “being done over dinner with the president, or in Steve Bannon’s office or haphazardly via email or phone calls” said Loren DeJonge Schulman — a veteran of Barack Obama’s NSC — then “they are shooting themselves in the foot because you can’t implement foreign policy from the White House.”

“This is something that President Obama learned, this is something that every administration goes through,” she told AFP.

“Being on Fox News and announcing a policy doesn’t mean that policy is going to be executed.”
Current NSC spokesman Michael Anton said that although the full National Security Council — chaired by Trump — had not met since he became president, the deputies and principals committee had.

Peter Feaver, a veteran of George W. Bush’s national security council, said that under current circumstances the administration could struggle to handle crises that have both diplomatic and military components.

“Some kind of crisis will be more challenging for this team until they fix there process,” he said.
The more difficult potential problems “that would stress them would be (those where) you have to integration across cabinet, departments and agencies,” Feaver added.

Reuters |

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Donald Trump says he will unveil overhauled immigration order next week

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Donald Trump says he will unveil overhauled immigration order next week

Posted on 17 February 2017 by GGS News

Washington/San Francisco : At a White House news conference on Thursday, Trump said the new order would seek to address concerns raised by federal appeals court judges, who temporarily blocked his original travel ban.
“The new order is going to be very much tailored to what I consider to be a very bad decision,” Trump said, adding: “We had a bad court.”

Trump gave no details about the replacement order. Legal experts said a new directive would have a better chance of withstanding courtroom scrutiny if it covered some non-Muslim countries and exempted non-citizen immigrants living in the US legally.

The original order, issued on January 27, triggered chaos at some US and overseas airports, led to international protests, complaints from U.S. businesses and drew more than a dozen legal challenges.

In a court filing on Thursday, the Justice Department asked for a pause in proceedings before the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals, which sided with a federal court in Washington state to suspend the travel ban, while litigation over its legality according to the US Constitution played out.

The Justice Department asked the court to vacate that ruling once the administration has rescinded its original order and issued a new one. In an order later on Thursday, the 9th Circuit put proceedings over the ban on hold but did not say whether it would eventually withdraw its previous ruling.

The ban has been deeply divisive in the United States, with a Reuters/Ipsos poll indicating about half of Americans supported it shortly after the order took effect.

LEGAL UNCERTAINTY

Trump’s decision to issue a new directive plunges court proceedings over his earlier order into uncertainty. Litigants around the country said they will carefully examine any new policy to see if it raises similar constitutional issues and will continue to pursue legal action if necessary.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, who filed the case that produced the 9th Circuit ruling, claimed victory on Thursday.

“Today’s court filing by the federal government recognizes the obvious – the president’s current executive order violates the Constitution,” Ferguson said, in a statement. “President Trump could have sought review of this flawed order in the Supreme Court but declined to face yet another defeat.”

Trump has said travel limitations are necessary to protect the United States from attacks by Islamist militants. His original order barred people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen from entering the country for 90 days. Refugees were banned for 120 days, except those from Syria, who were banned indefinitely.

Trump said on Thursday that the widely criticized rollout had been “very smooth” and once again blamed the court for “a bad decision.”The Justice Department court filing on Thursday said Trump`s order would be “substantially revised” but provided no more details than the president did at his press conference. Last week an congressional aide who asked not to be identified told Reuters that Trump might rewrite the original order to explicitly exclude green card holders, who have legal permission to live and work in the United States.

Stephen Griffin, a professor of constitutional law at Tulane University, said adding non-Muslim countries could also help a new order withstand accusations that it discriminates based on religion. Given that the administration already identified the seven Muslim-majority countries as a threat, he said, it would be unlikely to remove any of those.

“I`d speculate they would add to the list, as opposed to walk it back,” he said.Reuters 

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US believes Russia deployed new missile in treaty violation

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US believes Russia deployed new missile in treaty violation

Posted on 15 February 2017 by GGS News

Washington : Russia has deployed a new cruise missile despite complaints by U.S. officials that it violates an arms control treaty banning ground-based U.S. and Russian intermediate-range missiles, a senior Trump administration official said on Tuesday.

Russia had secretly deployed the ground-launched SSC-8 cruise missile that Moscow has been developing and testing for several years, despite U.S. complaints that it violated sections of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, the official said, confirming a story first reported by the New York Times.

“We know that this is an old issue. The Russians have been building and testing these things in violation of the INF treaty going back to the Obama administration,” the official told Reuters, asking to remain anonymous to speak freely.

“The issue now is the things are deployed and it’s an even greater violation of the INF treaty,” the official added.

The Russian Defense Ministry did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the Times story.

The U.S. State Department concluded in a July 2014 arms control report that “the Russian Federation is in violation of its obligations under the INF Treaty not to possess, produce, or flight-test a ground-launched cruise missile (GLCM) with a range capability of 500 km to 5,500 km (310 miles to 3,420 miles), or to possess or produce launchers of such missiles.”

Russia accused Washington of conducting “megaphone diplomacy” after the accusation was repeated by the State Department in 2015. Moscow also denied it had violated the INF treaty, which helped end the Cold War between the two countries.

The previous U.S. administration of President Barack Obama had protested in an attempt to persuade Moscow to correct the violation while the missile was still in the testing phase, the Trump administration official said.

Based on open-source information such as Russian bloggers, they were deployed in the central military district, the administration official said, adding: “We are reviewing it.”Russia now has two battalions of the cruise missile, the Times report quoted administration officials as saying. One is located at Russia’s missile test site at Kapustin Yar in the country’s southeast.

The other cruise missile battalion has been located at an operational base elsewhere in Russia, the Times quoted one unidentified official as saying.
Reuters

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Donald Trump campaign had repeated contact with Russia: Report

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Donald Trump campaign had repeated contact with Russia: Report

Posted on 15 February 2017 by GGS News

District of Columbia : Members of Donald Trump`s 2016 presidential campaign had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before he won the White House, The New York Times reported Tuesday.
Citing “four current and former American officials,” the Times report said that intercepted phone calls and phone records showed the repeated contacts with Moscow`s intelligence community.

US “law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee,” the Times said citing three of the officials who spoke privately due to the ongoing investigation.

The nature of the purported calls was not disclosed.

The only Trump aide named was Paul Manafort.

Manafort, Trump`s campaign chairman for several months last year and a former political consultant in Russia and Ukraine, shrugged off the report.

“This is absurd,” he told the paper. “I have no idea what this is referring to. I have never knowingly spoken to Russian intelligence officers, and I have never been involved with anything to do with the Russian government or the Putin administration or any other issues under investigation today.”

“It`s not like these people wear badges that say, `I`m a Russian intelligence officer,`” he added.

The Times said US intelligence was investigating “whether the Trump campaign was colluding with the Russians on the hacking or other efforts to influence the election.”

The officials interviewed by the paper had so far seen no evidence suggesting that cooperation had existed.

In January, US intelligence officials said in a report that Russia intervened in the US electoral process at least in part to help Trump win. He has spoken often about the need for a closer relationship between the United States and Russia.AFP

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Donald Trump welcomes Israel’s Netanyahu for Middle East talks

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Donald Trump welcomes Israel’s Netanyahu for Middle East talks

Posted on 15 February 2017 by GGS News

Washington : President Donald Trump will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House on Wednesday, their first meeting since the inauguration and one that promises to shape the contours of Middle East policy for the years ahead.
On the agenda are some of the region`s most volatile issues: the war in Syria, the Iran nuclear file and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including Israel`s settlement-building on occupied land and whether a Palestinian state will ever emerge.

Netanyahu, under investigation at home over allegations of abuse of office, spent much of Tuesday huddled with senior advisers in Washington preparing for the talks. Officials said they wanted no gaps to emerge between U.S. and Israeli thinking during the scheduled two-hour Oval Office meeting.

Attention will also be paid to body language. While the two men have known each other since the 1980s, Trump has shown a tendency when meeting other leaders to throw them off balance with lengthy, domineering handshakes.For Netanyahu, a conservative who has spent 11 years in power but never previously overlapped with a Republican president, the gathering is an opportunity to reset ties after a frequently combative relationship with Democrat Barack Obama.

Dennis Ross, an Iran specialist and a Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton, said both parties had a vested interest in a successful meeting.

“It`s going to succeed in no small part because both President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu have a very big stake in wanting to demonstrate that whatever the problems were with the last administration, they are now gone,” Ross said in a briefing organized by The Israel Project, an advocacy group. “And that in no small part they were attributable to the last administration, meaning to President Obama.”

Social media exchanges suggested a budding bromance between Netanyahu and Trump, who has pledged to be the “best friend” Israel has ever had in the White House. But the U.S. president has more recently tempered his pro-Israel stance.
COMMON GROUND?

Trump, who has been in office less than four weeks and has already been immersed in problems including the forced resignation of his national security adviser, brings with him an unpredictability that Netanyahu`s staff hope will not impinge on the discussions.

During the election campaign, Trump was relentlessly pro-Israel in his rhetoric, promising to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, backing David Friedman, an ardent supporter of settlements, as his Israeli envoy and saying that he would not put pressure on Israel to negotiate with the Palestinians.

That tune, which was music to Netanyahu`s ears and to the increasingly restive right-wing within his coalition, has since changed, making Wednesday`s talks critical for clarity.

Trump appears to have put the embassy move on the backburner, at least for now, after warnings about the potential for regional unrest, including from Jordan`s King Abdullah.

And rather than giving Israel free rein on settlements, the White House has said building new ones or expanding existing ones beyond their current borders would not be helpful to peace.

That would appear to leave Israel room to build within existing settlements without drawing U.S. condemnation, in what is the sort of gray area the talks are expected to touch on.

Friedman, who has yet to be confirmed as U.S. ambassador to Israel, will not be participating in Wednesday`s talks.

For the Palestinians, and much of the rest of the world, settlements built on occupied land are illegal under international law. Israel disputes that, but faces increasing criticism over the policy from allies, especially after Netanyahu`s announcement in the past three weeks of plans to build 6,000 new settler homes across the West Bank.

Even more freighted than settlements is the question of a two-state solution – the idea of Israel and Palestine living side-by-side and at peace – which has been the bedrock of U.S. diplomacy for the past two decades.

Netanyahu committed to the two-state goal in a speech in 2009 and has broadly reiterated the aim since. But given regional instability and long-running divisions in Palestinian politics, some Israeli officials argue that the time is not ripe for a Palestinian state to emerge.

Netanyahu has spoken of a “state minus,” suggesting he could offer the Palestinians deep-seated autonomy and the trappings of statehood without full sovereignty. The Palestinians want an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, with the capital in East Jerusalem, which Israel seized in the 1967 Middle East war.

Trump`s position on the two-state solution remains unclear. He has said he wants to do the “ultimate deal” and has named his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as a senior Middle East adviser.

Kushner has forged ties with Israel`s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, a Netanyahu confidant, and has met with Arab diplomats, according to people familiar with the matter.

Trump supports the goal of peace between the Israel and the Palestinians, even if it does not involve the two-state solution, a senior White House adviser told reporters late on Tuesday.

Failure by a U.S. president to explicitly back the two-state solution would upend decades of U.S. policy embraced by Republican and Democratic administrations. It has long been the bedrock U.S. position for resolving the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has been at the core of international peace efforts.

The Trump administration is tentatively exploring whether U.S. Sunni Arab allies – which have had growing behind-the-scenes contacts with Israel, mostly over their shared concerns about Shi’ite Iran – might cooperate in any future Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy, the sources said.

Any sign of a softening of U.S. support for eventual Palestinian statehood could anger the Muslim world.

Prospects for any serious new diplomatic initiative remain unclear. The last peace efforts collapsed in early 2014.

“As the president has made clear, his administration will work to achieve comprehensive agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict so that Israelis and Palestinians can live in peace and security,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer told reporters on Tuesday.

On Iran, there are expectations that Trump and Netanyahu will find common ground. Both have expressed deep reservations about the nuclear deal signed with Iran. But rather than tearing it up, they are expected to look for ways of reinforcing it and quickly adding sanctions for any transgressions.Reuters |

 

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Don’t ‘demonise’ Donald Trump, says Foreign Secretary Jaishankar

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Don’t ‘demonise’ Donald Trump, says Foreign Secretary Jaishankar

Posted on 14 February 2017 by GGS News

Don’t ‘demonise’ Donald Trump, says Foreign Secretary Jaishankar.

MUMBAI : Pakistan needs to shut down “terrorism factory” and there is now international concern about it, foreign secretary S Jaishankar said on Tuesday.
He also asserted that India has not given up on SAARC, but it will keep looking for other opportunities for regional integration “since SAARC is stuck”.
Speaking on ties with China, Jaishankar said “it does not help to duck issues” and admitted that there was a need to invest more to manage the relationship better.
Jaishankar was speaking during a discussion on “Political change and economic uncertainties” at the Gateway Dialogue event, co-hosted by the ministry of external affairs.
He also cautioned against “demonising” US President Donald Trump. “Don’t demonise Trump, analyse Trump. He represents a thought process. It’s not a momentary expression,” he said.
Trump has been facing criticism over his controversial immigration policy.
Jaishankar said that western countries may not be open about Pakistan and terrorism problem but they have concerns.
“Western countries may not be open about Pakistan and terrorism problem but they have concerns. The issue really here is whether Pakistan is willing to take fundamental steps. They need to shut down terrorism factory,” he said.
“The thinking on Pakistan is necessarily security centric because the fact is we can live in a situation of very little threat but not in a situation of terrorism on and off, which will be the case as long as the factory keeps running,” he said.
“Terrorism in the past was seen as our problem but now it’s a bigger problem. There is today international concern (on terrorism),” he said.
He said India’s multilateral engagement is not just good “for branding purposes but it also works in India’s interest”.
“We are approaching multi-polarity. Everyone is playing everybody,” he said.
Visualising a greater role for India on international scene, he said time has come for the country to take a lead on global stage, since the major countries are ‘narrowing down’.
“At a time when horizons of a lot of major countries are getting narrower…If the major (countries) are pulling back there is a space out there and it is in our interest to use that space. In my views, we should be looking at more powered position in international forum,” he said.
He also said that India should not give up on SAARC.
“We haven’t given up on SAARC. We can’t and we shouldn’t,” India’s top diplomat said.
“When it comes to regional integration, we will keep looking for other opportunities since SAARC is stuck,” Jaishankar said.
“At a time when major powers are rethinking their multilateral engagement, India’s track record stands out,” he added.
Noting that Japan has a big role to play, Jaishankar said, “Our view of the (bilateral) relationship in the past has been narrow.”
“A bigger Indian economy is in the strategic interest of Japan,” he said.On multilateralism, he said, “Mutlilateralism is not because we are good guys but because it serves our interest.”
“Like, when we went into Paris and helped reach that agreement, it was done because we had our own assessment of threat of climate change to India. I believe under the circumstance that was the best agreement that we could get,” he said.”These are issues where we have a stake and we are in a position to make contribution, make difference and find a solution,” he added.
Commenting of India’s position after Brexit, he said there is still a strong interest, including free trade agreement with the EU.PTI

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US agents conduct first Trump-era raids targeting undocumented migrants

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US agents conduct first Trump-era raids targeting undocumented migrants

Posted on 12 February 2017 by GGS News

Washington : US authorities arrested hundreds of undocumented migrants this week in the first large-scale raids under President Donald Trump, triggering panic in immigrant communities nationwide.
The federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency rounded up undocumented individuals living in Atlanta, Austin, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and other cities two weeks after Trump signed an executive order that broadened which undocumented immigrants would be targeted for deportation.

According to ICE, however, the operations were “routine.”

“The focus of these operations is no different than the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis,” said agency spokeswoman Jennifer Elzea.

David Marin, head of ICE’s removal operations in Los Angeles, told reporters that approximately 160 people had been arrested in the California metropolis.

Some 75 per cent of them had prior felony convictions, he said, adding that some people had been nabbed solely because they were undocumented.

By Friday night, 37 undocumented immigrants had already been expelled to Mexico.

In a January 25 decree, Trump prioritised the deportation of undocumented males who had been convicted of or “charged with any criminal offense,” including misdemeanours.

The order was a move to make good on his campaign pledge to crack down on America’s undocumented population, estimated at 11 million people.

Marin said the operations were planned prior to Trump’s swearing-in and were comparable to past actions.

He rebuffed reports about ICE checkpoints and random sweeps, calling them “dangerous and irresponsible.”

“Reports like that create panic, and they put communities and law enforcement personnel in unnecessary danger,” Marlin said.

The raids, which hit residential areas and workplaces, sparked protests and provoked the ire of elected Democratic representatives, notably in California and particularly in Los Angeles, where the Pew Research Centre estimates around a million undocumented migrants reside.

“President Trump’s policy change betrays our values,” Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein said in a statement.

“Tearing families apart isn’t what this country stands for.”

In Austin, Texas, where 100,000 unauthorised migrants live, a bystander captured video footage of an arrest, which made local front-page news and ignited demonstrations.

Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro of Texas confirmed the launch of a “targeted operation” aimed at arresting the undocumented.AFP

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China gets an early win off Donald Trump, but many battles remain

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China gets an early win off Donald Trump, but many battles remain

Posted on 11 February 2017 by GGS News

Beijing : Combining public bluster with behind-the-scenes diplomacy, China wrested a concession from the United States as the two presidents spoke for the first time this week, but Beijing may not be able to derive much comfort from the win on U.S. policy toward Taiwan.

Several areas of disagreement between the superpowers, including currency, trade, the South China Sea and North Korea, were not mentioned in public statements on Thursday’s telephone conversation between Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump. In getting Trump to change course on the “one China” policy, Beijing may have overplayed its hand.

Trump had upset Beijing before he took office by taking a call from Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, then casting doubt on the “one China” policy, under which Washington acknowledges the Chinese position that there is only one China and Taiwan is part of it.

Trump changed tack and agreed to honor the “one China” policy during the call, prompting jubilation in China. Beijing had been working on diplomatic ways to engage Trump’s team and largely blaming Taiwan for stirring things up. [nL4N1FV21K]

Laying the foundation for that call had been the low-key engagement of China’s former ambassador to Washington and top diplomat, the urbane and fluent English-speaking Yang Jiechi, with Trump’s national security adviser Michael Flynn.

“China was pragmatic and patient. It made every effort to smooth out the relationship, and it paid off,” said Jia Qingguo, dean of the School of International Studies at Peking University, who has advised the government on foreign policy.

But China also made very clear Taiwan was not up for negotiation, unleashing state media to threaten war and punishment for U.S. firms if that bottom line was breached.

China has long described self-ruled Taiwan, claimed by Beijing as its sacred territory, as the most sensitive issue in Sino-U.S. relations.

Its military had become alarmed after the Trump-Tsai call and was considering strong measures to prevent the island from moving toward independence, sources with ties to senior military officers told Reuters in December. [nL4N1ES0VR]

A source familiar with China’s thinking on relations with the United States, speaking to Reuters last month, said China had actually not been too bothered with Trump’s Taiwan comments before he took office as he was not president then and was only expressing his personal view.

“If he continues with this once he becomes president then there’s no saying what we’ll do,” the source said.

TSAI’S CHILLED HEART

Despite the U.S. concession, military tensions remain.

On Saturday, the overseas edition of the ruling Communist Party’s People’s Daily placed a picture on its front page of Chinese warships about to embark on a new round of drills in the South China Sea, right next to an upbeat commentary about the Xi-Trump call.

The paper’s WeChat account took a harsher line, saying that with Trump getting back with the program on “one China”, Taiwan had better watch out.

“The heart of that Madame Tsai on the other side of the Taiwan Strait must at this moment be chilled to the core,” it said.

One senior Western diplomat said China had been redoubling its efforts to win over the Vatican, one of a handful of countries to retain official ties with Taiwan.

Taiwan says it hopes for continued U.S. support, and one ruling Democratic Progressive Party official told Reuters that the “one China” policy had not affected previous U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, even as U.S. presidents’ commitment to the island have waxed and waned.Xi has put great personal political capital into seeking a solution over Taiwan, an issue that has festered since 1949 when defeated Nationalist forces fled to the island after losing the civil war to the Communists. China has never renounced the use of force to bring Taiwan under its control.

But in its relations with Washington, the risk for Beijing remains that its diplomatic win over “one China” will be short lived, as Trump will not want to be seen as having caved in.

“What he’s shown the Chinese is he’s willing to touch the ‘third rail’ of U.S.-China relations,” said Dean Cheng, China expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation in Washington.

“Beijing can’t predict what he’ll do next – and he’s only been in office three weeks. What is he going to do on trade and other economic issues?”

U.S. officials said the affirmation of the “one China” policy was an effort to get the relationship back on track and moving forward. [nL1N1FV1RU]

But Trump’s change of tack may be seen by Beijing as a climbdown, said Tom Rafferty, the China Regional Manager for the Economist Intelligence Unit.

“Mr Trump is erratic and will not appreciate the suggestion that he has been weak.” Reuters

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Somalia faces presidential election under threat of attack

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Somalia faces presidential election under threat of attack

Posted on 08 February 2017 by GGS News

Mogadishu : Voting started Wednesday in Somalia’s groundbreaking presidential election amid a security lockdown that has closed the capital’s international airport and cleared major streets.

Members of the upper and lower houses of the legislature dropped their ballots into clear boxes in the first round with 21 candidates for president.

Fears of attacks by Islamic extremist group al-Shabab have limited the election to the country’s legislators, who are voting at a heavily guarded former air force base in the capital, Mogadishu. The voting is being streamed online . Rounds of voting are expected to narrow down the large field of candidates to a winner. One candidate dropped out Wednesday before the voting started.

Across Mogadishu, Somalis gathered around TV screens at cafes and homes, eagerly watching the ongoing presidential vote.

“I hope they will not choose bribes over the interest of the people.” said Ahmed Hassan, a 26-year-old university student, of the legislators voting. Sitting among dozens of men in front of a large television screen, he said: “We need an honest leader who can help us move forward.”

Alinur Muhummed, 36, a laborer, criticized the legislators. “They don’t have any sense of patriotism or nationalism. I don’t believe they will elect a president … according to his national plan but rather the bribes he paid them … It’ll take time for Somalia to stand on its feet again.”

This Horn of Africa nation is trying to put together its first fully functioning central government in a quarter-century. Years of warlord-led conflict and al-Shabab attacks, along with famine, have left this country of about 12 million people largely shattered.

Somalia’s instability landed it among the seven Muslim-majority countries affected by President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration, even though its government has been an increasingly important partner for the U.S. military on counterterrorism efforts.

In a sign of the dangers that remain in the capital, Mogadishu, two mortar rounds fired by suspected extremists late Tuesday hit near the election venue.

While the international community has pushed Somalia to hold this election as a symbol of strength, including the U.S. pouring in hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years for political and economic recovery, the vote has been marred by reports of widespread corruption.

The legislators voting — 275 members of the lower legislative house and 54 senators — were selected by the country’s powerful, intricate network of clans. Weeks ago, a joint statement by the United Nations, the U.S., European Union and others warned of “egregious cases of abuse of the electoral process.”

Examples included violence, intimidation and men taking seats that had been reserved for female candidates, the joint statement said.

With reports of votes being sold for up to $30,000 apiece, “This is probably the most expensive election, per vote, in history,” the Mogadishu-based anti-corruption group Marqaati said in a report released Tuesday.

Among the candidates, many who also hold foreign passports, incumbent President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud is seeking re-election and may have an edge to win a second five-year term.

But rival candidate and Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Sharmarke has accused regional countries of interfering in the electoral process by pushing for certain candidates. “Those neighboring countries should respect our sovereignty and stop meddling in our affairs,” he said, without naming the states. Various Muslim-majority countries seek a friendly Somali government, including Turkey, which has invested heavily in the country. The United Arab Emirates and Qatar are backing different candidates.ABC NEWS

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US moves UN to designate JeM chief Masood Azhar as global terrorist; China puts proposal on ‘hold’

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US moves UN to designate JeM chief Masood Azhar as global terrorist; China puts proposal on ‘hold’

Posted on 07 February 2017 by GGS News

NEW DELHI : Throwing its weight behind India, the US on Tuesday moved the United Nations for banning Pathankot attack mastermind and Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) chief Masood Azhar.
The US, supported by the UK and France+ , moved a proposal to designate Masood Azhar as a global terrorist at the Sanctions Committee of the UN Security Council, but it has once again been opposed by China.The proposal, which was finalised after “consultations” between Washington and New Delhi, said JeM is a designated terror outfit and so its leaders cannot go scot-free, sources said.
“However, China opposed the US move by putting a hold on the proposal,” a source said, adding the Chinese action came just before the expiry of the 10-day deadline for any proposal to be adopted or blocked or to be put on hold.
The ‘hold’ remains for six months and can be further extended by three months. During this period, it can be anytime converted into a ‘block’, thereby, ending the life of the proposal.Reacting to China’s move to block the ban proposal, the Ministry of External Affairs said, “We’ve been informed of this development and the matter has been taken up with the Chinese government.”
After the attack on the IAF base+ at Pathankot in January last year, India in February wrote to the UN calling for immediate action to list Azhar under the al-Qaida Sanctions Committee.The efforts faced stiff opposition by China, which twice put a “technical hold” before finally blocking the Indian proposal in December. The Chinese opposition is also seen by many as an action taken at the behest of its “all-weather ally” Pakistan.TNN

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