Tag Archives: Donald Trump

United Nation’s consent on Iran reinstated – United States claims.

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Washington isolated as global allies and adversaries say its unilateral move targeting Tehran has no legal standing.

The United States has broken with all other permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and unilaterally declared the re-imposition of all UN sanctions against Iran – a claim rejected by Iran and the international community, including Washington’s close allies, as having no legal basis.

In a statement on Sunday following the expiration of a deadline set by the US, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo threatened “consequences” for any UN member state that does not comply with the punitive measures, which were lifted under a landmark nuclear deal that was signed between six world powers and Iran in 2015 but was abandoned by the US more than two years ago.

In addition to adhering to a conventional arms embargo that is due to expire next month, Pompeo said member states must comply with restrictions such as the ban on Iran engaging in nuclear enrichment and reprocessing-related activities; the prohibition on ballistic missile testing and development; and sanctions on transfer of nuclear and missile-related technologies.

“If UN Member States fail to fulfil their obligations to implement these sanctions, the United States is prepared to use our domestic authorities to impose consequences for those failures and ensure that Iran does not reap the benefits of UN-prohibited activity,” Pompeo said.

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His statement came a month after the US officially triggered the process aimed at restoring all UN sanctions on Iran, claiming significant Iranian violations of the Joint Comprehensive Plan for Action (JCPOA), the formal name for the 2015 deal that was endorsed by the Security Council.

Despite the US in May 2018 pulling out of the deal and reimposing crippling sanctions on Iran, Washington argues it is still technically a “participant” and could trigger the so-called “snapback”. This was a mechanism devised by the US negotiating team before the signing of the JCPOA that stipulated that if Iran breached its commitments, all international sanctions could snap back into place.

However, the international community, including the four other permanent Security Council members, insist the US no longer has the legal ability to force through any changes since it announced its exit from what Trump has branded “the worst deal ever” with a presidential memorandum titled Ceasing US Participation in the JCPOA.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani addressed the nation directly in a live televised cabinet meeting on Sunday. He congratulated world powers since US pressure to reinstate UN sanctions “has reached its definitive point of failure”.

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Today, he said, “will be a memorable day in the history of our country’s diplomacy”.

Rouhani added should the US try to “bully” others into adhering to its declaration of reinstating UN sanctions, Iran will have a “decisive response” to match.

Pointing out how the US tried to garner the support of other nuclear deal signatories following its unilateral withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Rouhani said the United States expected Iran to act irrationally, giving it an excuse to form an international coalition against the Islamic Republic.

“Today we can say the ‘maximum pressure’ of US against the Iranian nation, politically and legally, has turned to ‘maximum isolation’ for the US.”

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The president also addressed the five remaining signatories of the nuclear deal, reiterating the promise that if they fully adhere to their commitments under the accord, Iran will also fully implement its commitments.

Exactly one year after the US abandoned the nuclear deal, Iran started gradually scaling down its commitments, including those concerning its stockpile of enriched uranium. Iran still continues to grant access to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

In a letter to the Security Council, the European signatories to the deal – Britain, France and Germany, or E3 – stressed UN sanctions relief for Iran would continue, adding any decision or action to reimpose them “would be incapable of legal effect”.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also told the council he would not take any action on the US declaration because “there would appear to be uncertainty whether or not any process … was indeed initiated”.

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On Sunday morning, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh told reporters the US is experiencing some of its “most bitter” times as it has chosen to stand “on the wrong side of history”.

“The message of Tehran for Washington is clear: Return to the international community. Return to your commitments. Stop this rogue and unruly behaviour. The international community will accept you,” Khatibzadeh said.

Transatlantic rift
According to Hamidreza Azizi, a visiting fellow at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), there are clear reasons why the European powers, as well as Russia and China, oppose the US demand.

“First, it would pave the way for further arbitrary interpretation of international treaties by Washington, that may one day come back to haunt the Europeans themselves,” Azizi said

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“Second, Iran’s reaction to sanctions return would be to leave the JCPOA or even NPT,” he added, referring to the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that pursues nuclear disarmament.

As to why the US would engage in such a move based on shaky legal arguments, Azizi says its goal is political.

“It wants to keep Iran under the international spotlight, continuing to introduce the Islamic Republic as a threat to international peace and security,” he said, adding that the US also wants to make Europeans more cautious in dealing with Iran.

According to Azizi, the snapback showdown is the latest and most evident sign of a rift in transatlantic relations.

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“Especially if Trump gets re-elected as the US president, this will work as fuel for further disagreements between the EU and the US,” he said, pointing out that Russia and China could use the opportunity to expand their influence in Iran and the wider region.

Arms embargo
The US attempt to trigger the snapback mechanism came on the heels of another demand it made at the Security Council that left it isolated.

In mid-August, the council resoundingly rejected a US bid to extend a global arms embargo on Iran that expires on October 18 under the JCPOA.

Washington only managed to secure the support of the Dominican Republic for its proposed resolution to indefinitely extend the embargo, leaving it far short of the minimum nine “Yes” votes required for adoption. Eleven members abstained while China and Russia opposed the resolution.

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Last week, Pompeo reiterated during a briefing with UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab that the US will move to reinstate UN sanctions to make the arms embargo permanent.

The US will “do its share as part of its responsibilities to enable peace, this time in the Middle East”, he said.

Zarif fired off a tweet on Thursday, saying “nothing new happens on 9/20”. He also alluded to two recent opinion pieces by John Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser, who had pointed out that the nuclear deal’s dispute resolution clauses are “complex and potentially lengthy” to avoid UNSC confrontations.

Citing unnamed sources, Reuters news agency reported on Friday that Trump is planning to issue an executive order in the coming days to impose secondary sanctions on anyone who would buy or sell arms to Iran, depriving them of access to the US market.

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Rising tensions
The culmination of the snapback showdown comes shortly after a fresh round of threatening rhetoric being exchanged between longtime foes, the US and Iran.

On September 13, US-based media outlet Politico published a report, citing unnamed officials, that the Iranian government is weighing an assassination attempt against Lana Marks, the US ambassador to South Africa.

The plot, the report claimed, would be executed in retaliation for Washington’s assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani in Iraq in early January.

In a tweet, Trump, who is seeking re-election on November 3, said the US will retaliate with “1,000 times greater” force against any Iranian attack on its interests.

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In response, Iran cautioned the US against making “a new strategic mistake” by believing false reports and warned of a “decisive response”.

On Saturday, the head of Iran’s elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps issued a stern warning directly addressing Trump, saying the killing of Soleimani will be avenged but Marks is not a proportionate target.

“We will target those who were directly or indirectly involved in the martyrdom of this great man,” Major-General Hossein Salami said.

On Friday, South Africa’s State Security Agency said in a statement there is insufficient evidence to sustain the allegation of a plot to assassinate Marks.


#Newsworthy…

[United States] Judge interrupts WeChat ban.

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A US judge on Sunday blocked the government’s ban on WeChat downloads, hours before it was due to take effect in an ongoing technology and espionage battle between Washington and Beijing.

The Trump administration had ordered the ban on downloads of video-sharing app TikTok as well as messaging platform WeChat, both owned by Chinese companies.

A California court ruling said it granted the “motion for a nationwide injunction against the implementation” of the government order, with the judge citing concerns over free speech.

The order against WeChat would have slowed it down and made it unusable in the United States for videochats with family and friends, according to experts.

Owned by technology giant TenCent, WeChat in the United States has around 19 million active daily users.

President Donald Trump said Saturday that he had approved a deal allowing Silicon Valley giant Oracle to become the data partner for hugely popular TikTok to avert a shutdown of that app.

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The deal, announced by the companies, includes Walmart as a commercial partner and would create a new US company named TikTok Global.

TikTok — owned by China’s ByteDance — confirmed the agreement, which came with companies racing against the Sunday deadline set by Trump’s administration.

The US Department of Commerce on Saturday announced it was postponing the ban on TikTok downloads until September 27, due to “recent positive developments.”

When announcing the ban on Friday, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross had said China used the two apps “to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the US.”


#Newsworthy…

Make new appointment – Trump quickens US Supreme Court after R.B Ginsburg’s demise.

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After death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Senate Republicans have said they will not wait for election to vote on Trump pick.

United States President Donald Trump has urged the Republican-controlled Senate to act “without delay” on vetting a Supreme Court justice nominee following the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

In a tweet on Saturday, Trump responded to statements from Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who said shortly after Ginsburg’s death on Friday evening that the chamber would move forward with approving the president’s as-yet-unannounced nominee.

“We were put in this position of power and importance to make decisions for the people who so proudly elected us,” Trump tweeted, “the most important of which has long been considered to be the selection of United States Supreme Court Justices.

“We have this obligation, without delay!”

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The appointment is set to give conservatives a six-to-three majority in the highest court in the US and brings forward the prospect of sweeping changes on abortion rights, the Affordable Care Act, voting rights, and other issues of American life.

The president’s statement contradicts the projections of some analysts, who said Trump could delay the appointment of a new Supreme Court justice to shore up support among his conservative base going into the election on November 3.

A barrage of high-ranking Democratic officials, including Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, have called for the appointment to come after the election to let voters decide at the ballot box who will make the consequential decision.

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With the remaining justices relatively young, the appointment could shape the court’s ideological position for years, if not decades, and it has already set off a fierce political fight in Washington, DC.

“Voters should pick the president and the president should pick the justice to consider,” Biden said on Friday.

That was echoed by at least one Republican legislator, Maine Senator Susan Collins, who said Saturday that Trump should hold off on nominating anyone until after the presidential poll.

“In fairness to the American people, who will either be re-electing the president or selecting a new one, the decision on a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court should be made by the president who is elected on November 3rd,” Collins, who is facing a tough re-election race herself, said on Twitter.

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Political battle
Democrats have accused Republicans of hypocrisy after they in 2016 refused to call hearings for the appointment of Merrick Garland, then-President Barack Obama’s pick to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died on Friday, leaving a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court [File: Stephan Savoia/AP]

That nomination came 237 days before that year’s election, while as of Saturday, the 2020 election is just 45 days away.

“The American people should have a voice in the selection of their next Supreme Court Justice. Therefore, this vacancy should not be filled until we have a new president,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted, echoing, word-for-word, a statement McConnell made in 2016.

McConnell, for his part, has said his 2016 argument does not apply to the current situation because four years ago, the Senate was controlled by an opposing party to the president.

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That justification was not central to Republicans’ justification for blocking Garland’s appointment at the time.

Trump also rejected the idea that his Republican Party was being hypocritical, telling reporters Saturday evening that the party’s decision to block Garland’s appointment was “the consequence of losing an election”, according to the White House press pool.

The president said he expects to announce his nominee for the top court next week and that his choice would likely be a woman. “I think we’ll have a very popular choice, whoever that may be,” Trump told reporters.

It remains unclear if the Republican brass will be able to appoint a new justice before the election, however.

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Historically, the process of vetting and holding hearings on a Supreme Court nominee takes months.

Republicans have a slim majority of 53 seats in the 100-member chamber, and several incumbents face challenges in their home states. Approving a new justice amid controversy could potentially damage their prospects of re-election.

At least four Republicans would need to vote against a nominee to block the appointment, and several had made statements before Ginsburg’s death saying they would not, or be hesitant to, appoint anyone so close to the election.

Potential appointees
To date, Trump has released over 40 names of possible Supreme Court nominees, most recently adding 20 potential picks to the original list released during his 2016 candidacy.

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The list includes Senators Tom Cotton, Ted Cruz, and Josh Hawley, as well as several rising stars in the Republican Party, notably Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron.

Trump said Saturday that he has narrowed his choices down to a short list, but did not reveal any names.

Reuters news agency, citing an unnamed source, reported that two women are included on Trump’s short list: Amy Coney Barrett, a federal appeals court judge and former clerk for Justice Scalia, and Barbara Lagoa, a Cuban-American federal appeals court judge and former Florida Supreme Court Justice.

Amul Thapar, a US District Court judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky, and Allison Jones Rushing, a federal appeals court judge and former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, are also at the top of the list of potential nominees


#Newsworthy…

COVID-19: Vaccines could be ready in ‘a month’ – Trump

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United States President Donald Trump said Tuesday that a coronavirus vaccine may be available within a month — an acceleration of even his own optimistic predictions — but added that the pandemic could go away by itself.

“We’re very close to having a vaccine,” he told a town hall question-and-answer session with voters in Pennsylvania aired on ABC News.

“We’re within weeks of getting it you know — could be three weeks, four weeks,” he said.

Only hours earlier, speaking to Fox News, Trump had said a vaccine could come in “four weeks, it could be eight weeks.”

Democrats have expressed concern that Trump is putting political pressure on government health regulators and scientists to approve a rushed vaccine in time to help turn around his uphill bid for reelection against challenger Joe Biden on November 3.

Experts including top US government infectious diseases doctor Anthony Fauci say vaccine approval is more likely toward the end of the year.

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At the ABC town hall Trump was asked why he’d downplayed the gravity of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has now killed close to 200,000 people in the US.

Trump replied by saying: “I didn’t downplay it. I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.”

US President Donald Trump poses with ABC New anchor George Stephanopoulos ahead of a town hall event at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on September 15, 2020. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

But Trump himself told journalist Bob Woodward during taped interviews for the new book “Rage” — published Tuesday — that he had deliberately decided to “play it down” to avoid alarming Americans.

‘Herd mentality’
Returning to one of his most controversial views on the virus, that has ravaged the economy and which government scientists say will remain a danger for some time, Trump insisted “it is going to disappear.”

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“It would go away without the vaccine but it’s going to go away a lot faster with it,” he said.

Challenged about how the virus would go away by itself, he said “you’ll develop like a herd mentality,” apparently meaning the concept of herd immunity, when enough people have developed resistance to the disease to effectively stop transmission.

“It’s going to be herd developed and that’s going to happen. That will all happen but with a vaccine, I think it will go away very quickly. But I really believe we’re rounding the corner,” he said.

The president, who is rarely seen wearing a mask in public and long refused to push Americans to adopt the habit, said “a lot of people don’t want to wear masks and people don’t think masks are good.”

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Asked what people he meant, Trump answered: “Waiters.”

“They come over and they serve you and they have a mask,” he said. “I saw it the other day when they were serving me and they’re playing with the mask. I’m not blaming them. I’m just saying what happens: They’re playing with the mask. So the mask is over, and they’re touching it, and then they’re touching the plate, and that can’t be good.”

Polls show that a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the health crisis.

The latest NBC News|SurveyMonkey Weekly Tracking poll Tuesday found that 52 percent of adults do not trust Trump’s statements about an upcoming coronavirus vaccine, compared to 26 percent who do.


#Newsworthy…

US Election: Joe Biden calls Trump Climate Pyromaniac.

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Trump goes to California to meet with wildfire responders, as Biden derides ‘climate denial’.

Biden has condemned Trump’s “climate denial” while calling him a “climate arsonist” moments before the president arrived in wildfire-ravaged California, where he’s set to meet with local and federal responders.

Trump is traveling to California amid wildfires that have ravaged the state [File: John G Mabanglo/EPA]

“If we have four more years of Trump’s climate denial, how many suburbs will be burned in wildfires? How many suburban neighborhoods will have been flooded out? How many suburbs will have been blown away in superstorms?” Biden said.

“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze? If you give a climate denier 4 more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised when more of America is under water?” said Biden, before detailing his plans to prioritise renewable energy.

Democrats have said the West Coast fires are clearly related to Climate Change, while Trump has portrayed the blazes as the product of poor forest management.

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[LIVE]

  • United States President Donald Trump heads to fire-ravaged California on Monday, as Democratic Candidate Joe Biden, in Delaware, calls him a “climate arsonist”.
  • Kamala Harris hosts virtual fundraisers with Hillary Clinton, Maya Rudolph and Amy Poehler 
  • Mike Pence campaigns in Janesville, Wisconsin
  • Trump held his first indoor rally in three months on Sunday, prompting rebuke from Nevada governor
  • Monday marks 50 days until the November 3 vote.

#Newsworthy…

Venezuelan leader, Maduro says ‘US spy’ captured.

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Venezuela’s president says US man was arrested in Falcon state where he was spying on the Amuay and Cardon refineries.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said on Friday that a “US spy” was captured while spying on the largest refining complex in the country, which is going through a severe fuel shortage crisis.

In a live broadcast on state television, Maduro said the man was arrested on Thursday in the northwest state of Falcon where he was spying on the Amuay and Cardon oil refineries.

Maduro said he was “a marine, who was serving as a marine on CIA bases in Iraq”.

“He was captured with specialised weapons, he was captured with large amounts of cash, large amounts of dollars and other items.”

Maduro did not give further details but said the detainee was giving a statement in custody.

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Amuay and Cardon make up the Paraguana Refining Center, which has a nominal processing capacity of 971,000 barrels per day. Both have experienced multiple outages in recent years that the opposition blames on mismanagement and lack of maintenance.

There was no immediate comment from the US State Department or the White House.

Nicolas Maduro also said authorities had foiled a plot aimed at blowing up a third refinery, El Palito in Carabobo state [File: Manaure Quintero/ Reuters]

Word of the alleged US spy came after a Venezuelan court last month sentenced two former US Green Berets to 20 years in prison for their role in a failed incursion in May.

While US President Donald Trump’s administration denied having anything to do with the blundered incursion, Washington backs Venezuelan opposition politician Juan Guaido who seeks to overthrow Maduro.

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Maduro also said Venezuelan authorities had dismantled a plot on Wednesday that was aimed at blowing up a third refinery, El Palito in Carabobo state. He urged the nation’s oil workers to be on alert for more attacks.

“The gringo empire wants revenge against Venezuela,” he said. “It wants to prevent Venezuela from producing all petroleum products, gasoline.”

Hit by US sanctions that have exacerbated acute fuel shortages, the government on Friday announced a new fuel distribution initiative and said it was planning new refining projects, without providing further details.

The petroleum industry was the cornerstone of Venezuela’s economy a century ago, but production has fallen to a fraction of the 3.2 million barrels per day produced just over a decade ago.


#Newsworthy…

Trump boasts his protection for Bin Salman after Khashoggi’s murder.

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Trump bragged to author Bob Woodward that he protected Saudi crown prince after 2018 assassination of Khashoggi.

President Donald Trump boasted that he protected Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) after Jamal Khashoggi’s brutal murder, Bob Woodward’s forthcoming book says, according to a new report.

Trump bragged that he protected the Saudi crown prince from consequences in the United States after the assassination of Khashoggi in October 2018, the news outlet Business Insider reported on Thursday.

“I saved his a**,” President Trump said about the US outcry about Khashoggi’s killing, according to Business Insider, quoting from a copy of Woodward’s book.

“I was able to get Congress to leave him alone. I was able to get them to stop,” Trump said.

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An opinion columnist for the Washington Post newspaper who was living in the US, Khashoggi had travelled to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul to obtain a licence for his upcoming marriage to fiancee Hatice Cengiz. He was 59 at the time of his murder inside the consulate.

The president told Woodward he did not believe that MBS had ordered Khashoggi’s murder, although US and other foreign intelligence services have reportedly concluded that MBS directed the killing.

After Khashoggi’s death set off outrage among US legislators from both parties, Trump bypassed Congress to sell roughly $8bn in precision-guided missiles and other high-tech weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Trump reportedly bragged that he protected Mohammed bin Salman from consequnces in the US after the assassination of Khashoggi [File: Presidency Press Service via AP Photo]

Trump vetoed three resolutions passed by Congress rebuking him for the sale and blocked a War Powers Act resolution to end US military support for the UAE-and-Saudi-led war in Yemen.

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Woodward’s upcoming book, Rage, is to be released on September 15.

Woodward conducted 18 interviews with the president for the book. Audio recordings of Trump’s remarks to Woodward released on Wednesday reignited a political controversy in the US about his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Woodward wrote that Trump called him on January 22 shortly after attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. During the conversation, Woodward pressed the president about Khashoggi’s gruesome murder, according to Business Insider.

Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by a team of Saudi agents while his fiancee waited for him outside the consulate building.

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A Saudi consulate worker in Istanbul told a Turkish court on July 3 he was asked to light an oven less than an hour after Khashoggi entered the building.

Zeki Demir, a local technician who worked for the consulate, gave evidence on the first day of the Turkish trial in absentia of 20 Saudi officials for Khashoggi’s killing.

“There were five to six people there … They asked me to light up the tandoor [oven]. There was an air of panic,” said Demir.

On Monday, a Saudi Arabian court overturned five death sentences for the killing of Khashoggi.


#Newsworthy…

[United States] Trump admits underestimating COVID-19 dangers.

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President Donald Trump admits he tried to minimize the lethal threat of the coronavirus at the outset of the pandemic in audio recordings released Wednesday from interviews with veteran US journalist Bob Woodward.

“I wanted to always play it down,” Trump said in an interview with Woodward on March 19, according to a Media preview of the book “Rage,” due to be published September 15.

“I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” he said in the conversation with Woodward, which was recorded.

By contrast, in earlier interviews with Woodward, he made clear he understood well that the virus was “deadly stuff” — far more dangerous than the ordinary flu.

In public, however, Trump had been repeatedly telling Americans that the virus should not be considered much of a danger and would “disappear” by itself.

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The frank admission that he decided to diminish the severity of the easily transmittable disease — right as it began to tear through the world’s richest country — brought instant condemnation from Trump’s opponents.

“He knew how deadly it was,” Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden said while campaigning in Michigan. “He lied to the American people. He knowingly and willingly lied about the threat it posed to the country for months.”

“It was a life and death betrayal of the American people,” Biden added.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany told reporters that Trump’s only motivation in downplaying the dangers had been to reassure the public.

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“It’s important to express confidence, it’s important to express calm,” she said. “The president has never lied to the American public on Covid.”

Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert and member of the White House task force on Covid-19, said he did not get the sense the president had distorted concerns.

“In my discussions with him, they were always straightforward about the concerns that we had… When he would go out, I’d hear him discussing the same sort of things,” Fauci told Fox News correspondent John Roberts Wednesday.

Often the president wanted to keep the country from getting “down and out,” Fauci said. But he added: “I don’t recall anything that was any gross distortion in things that I spoke to him about.”

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  • Mixed messages –
    The US death toll from Covid-19 is expected soon to pass 200,000, looming heavily over the November 3 presidential election in which Trump is currently behind in the polls.

The president has repeatedly insisted that he has managed the pandemic successfully, pointing to his early decisions to ban travel from China, where the virus first appeared, and from hotspots in Europe.

However, opinion polls show some two-thirds of Americans disapprove of Trump’s actions.

At minimum, Trump long delivered mixed messages at a time when the country was looking for guidance. He veered from declaring himself the equivalent of a war-time president to contradicting government scientists and calling for an early reopening of the economy.

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It took until July before Trump even wore a face mask in public. Early on, he also frequently praised the Chinese government’s response, only later pivoting to blame Beijing for the global health crisis.

In February — well after he had been briefed by advisors on the dangers posed by the coronavirus — he said that the virus might go away by April “with the heat.”

In March, he described the government’s “tremendous control over” the situation and said “It will go away. Just stay calm.”

That same month, Trump compared the coronavirus to the common flu, which he noted kills “between 27,000 and 70,000 per year” yet “nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on.”


#Newsworthy…

Donald Trump looms large over congressional activities. [United States]

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Many Republicans have pinned their political futures to Trump, while Democrats are running as bulwarks against him.

The battle for control of Congress is solidifying into a race about President Donald Trump, as Republicans hitch their fortunes to their party’s leader and Democrats position themselves as a bulwark against him – and as partners in a potential Joe Biden White House.

So far, voters are signalling they want to finish the job they started in 2018 by installing Democrats for House majority control. Now, they are on track to potentially do the same in the Senate.

“The president continues to overshadow and impact the races for the Senate and the House,” said Nathan Gonzales, the editor of Inside Elections, which tracks the campaigns.

Usually, a president at the top of the ticket boosts his party’s chances, but Trump’s slump is shifting the congressional map, strategists said. House Democrats are expected to easily retain the majority, without too many losses. The Senate, now in Republican hands, could almost as easily flip to Democrats.

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Together, the congressional races provide a snapshot of an American electorate ahead of a voting season unlike any other.

The coronavirus crisis, a shattered economy and a new civil rights era are forcing a reassessment of the way the federal government approaches long-standing problems. In a volatile political climate, healthcare, jobs and even what the parties are calling the soul of the nation are all on the ballot.

As Democrats gain momentum, Republicans are digging in, echoing Trump’s harsh criticism of the nationwide protests over police violence, particularly against Black people. He sounds dire warnings about the demonstrations happening in some cities. It is an opening for the GOP, an attempt to win back wary suburban voters, particularly white women, who voted for Trump in 2016 but have since drifted away.

“It’s a winning message,” said Bob Salera, a spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee, the House GOP’s campaign arm.

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The NRCC used Trump’s visit to Kenosha, Wisconsin, to unleash a flurry of attacks against vulnerable Democrats, primarily those freshmen who built the House majority in 2018 from districts the president won in

‘Win back the Senate’
The Democratic campaigns are taking the opposite approach. As their calling card to voters, they are offering healthcare policy – preserving and expanding the coverage under the Affordable Care Act and strategies to end the COVID-19 crisis.

Ten advertisements released by House Democrats last week targeted Republicans who voted to repeal and replace “Obamacare” or pushed a quick economic reopening despite COVID-19 risks. Democratic Senate candidates are taking similar cues as they appeal to voters concerned about healthcare access or costs.

“We’re gonna win back the Senate,” Biden told donors last week on a fundraising call.

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The former vice president is eyeing a handful of Senate seats he believes Democrats could wrest from Republicans, with plans to campaign in North Carolina, Georgia, Texas and other states where Republican senators are vulnerable.

Two months before the election, the races are still in flux. Any boost in Trump’s standing could bolster Republican chances, analysts said. Any missteps by Biden could hurt Democrats.

On top of that is the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis, which upended campaigning. While many Republicans are following Trump’s lead, holding events and meeting voters in person, Democrats are largely matching Biden’s approach of avoiding health risks by holding campaign events online.

A memo from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee obtained by The Associated Press news agency said candidates should remind voters “through your actions” that they take the COVID-19 threat seriously. Republicans mock Democrats’ virtual campaigning as hiding from voters.

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Republicans hold a slim 53-47 majority in the Senate. That means they could afford to lose two or three seats, while Democrats would need to pick up three or four for a working majority. If either party has 50 seats, the vice president becomes a tiebreaker.

While election season began with the parties on defence, protecting their incumbent senators, it has shifted to a decidedly lopsided Senate map.

Only one Democrat, Senator Doug Jones in Alabama, appears seriously at risk of defeat, running in a Deep South state where Trump is more popular than almost anywhere else.

The list of potentially endangered Republican senators has only grown. Senator Cory Gardner is running against popular former Governor John Hickenlooper in Colorado, a state that has become more Democratic blue than toss-up purple.

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In battleground Arizona, Republican Senator Martha McSally is trailing Democrat Mark Kelly, a former astronaut. GOP Senator Susan Collins is relying on her independent brand to try to fend off challenger Sara Gideon in Maine.

Some incumbent Republican senators walk a fine line on support for Trump. Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina distances himself from Trump on some issues, but pulls close on others, and he joined the president for his speech accepting the GOP nomination on the White House lawn.

GOP senators in Iowa, Montana and Georgia are now facing races suddenly in play. Even in Texas, South Carolina and Kentucky, where big-name GOP senators are up for re-election – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the Bluegrass State, Lindsey Graham in the Palmetto State – races are becoming costly, even if the seats are not seriously in jeopardy.

‘Trump continues to drive Democratic energy’
In the House, Republicans face an even tougher haul.

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They would need to net some 19 seats to wrest control from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats, a tall order in any election but especially now in the hard-fought suburban districts with Trump wobbly at the top of the ticket.

Some of the Democrats elected in 2018 in places Trump won in 2016 were surprise winners, like Representative Kendra Horn in Oklahoma City, and they are among the most vulnerable.

President Donald Trump is expected to factor greatly in the Senate and House elections on November 3 [File: Joshua Roberts/Reuters]

Representative Ben McAdams in Utah faces a challenge from Burgess Owens, a former NFL player and Black conservative who delivered a standout speech at the GOP convention.

Some freshman Democrats, though, have tried to carve out brands to steel themselves against challenges in districts where Republicans typically would win.

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Many of the issues once thought to define the candidates – including the Trump impeachment votes – have dimmed against the COVID-19 crisis.

At the same time, Trump’s willingness to push the norms of executive power suddenly makes Congress matter not just as a legislative branch of government, but one conducting oversight.

Gonzales said after GOP losses in 2018, there was an expectation that Trump atop the ticket would bring back Republican voters in 2020.

“But President Trump continues to drive Democratic energy and turnout,” he said.


#Newsworthy…

Nelson Mandela Foundation Blast Trump Over Allege Remarks

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Michael Cohen’s soon-to-be released book reportedly alleges Trump said Nelson Mandela was a poor leader.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation has hit back at disparaging comments attributed to US President Donald Trump about Black world leaders, including the late anti-apartheid hero and South Africa’s first Black president.

In a book to be published this week, Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen alleges that the president described Mandela as a poor leader, according to the Washington Post which reported on Saturday that it had obtained a copy of the book.

According to the newspaper, Cohen wrote that following Mandela’s death in 2013, Trump said: “Mandela fed the whole country up. Now it’s a shole. F*** Mandela. He was no leader.”

Cohen also alleged that Trump said: “Tell me one country run by a Black person that isn’t a shole. They are all complete fing toilets.”

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In a statement on Monday, the foundation said it did not believe leaders conducting themselves in the way Trump did were “in position to offer authoritative commentary on the life and work” of Mandela.

Using the Xhosa clan name by which Mandela was affectionately known, the statement added: “Reflecting on leadership, Madiba once said: ‘A good leader can engage in a debate frankly and thoroughly, knowing that at the end he and the other side must be closer, and thus emerge stronger. You don’t have that idea when you are arrogant, superficial, and uninformed.’ We would recommend these words to Mr Trump for consideration.”

Cohen is serving time for tax evasion, false statements and campaign finance violations [File: Mandel Ngan/AFP] 

‘Disgraced felon’

Cohen worked closely with Trump for years before turning against him, most publicly in testimony to Congress last year before Trump’s impeachment.

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He is currently is serving a three-year sentence for, among other things, making false statements to Congress.

White House Spokeswoman Kayleigh McEnany responded by attacking Cohen’s credibility.

“Michael Cohen is a disgraced felon and disbarred lawyer, who lied to Congress. He has lost all credibility, and it’s unsurprising to see his latest attempt to profit off of lies,” McEnany said in a statement.

Trump has called Cohen “a rat,” and a liar, and Cohen has said he faced repeated death threats from Trump supporters.

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Cohen also alleged that Trump was dismissive of minorities and that Trump said during his 2016 presidential campaign that he would not win the Hispanic vote, the Washington Post reported. According to Cohen, Trump said: “Like the Blacks, they’re too stupid to vote for Trump.”

In a statement on Monday, the foundation said it did not believe leaders conducting themselves in the way Trump did were ‘in position to offer authoritative commentary on the life and work’ of Mandela [File: Dave Hogan/Getty Images]

Cohen is serving time for tax evasion, false statements and campaign finance violations, the last related to payments to silence women who alleged affairs with Trump before the 2016 election.

He was released to home confinement in May given the risks of catching COVID-19 in prison but then was briefly imprisoned again in July. A federal judge then ruled Cohen had been subjected to retaliation for planning to publish his book and ordered him released again.

Trump, a Republican, is seeking re-election and will face Democrat Joe Biden at the polls on November 3.


#Newsworthy…

We want fair solution for Palestinians – Saudi Arabia tells United States

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King Salman spoke to Donald Trump on phone following UAE’s decision to normalise ties with Israel in US-brokered deal.

Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz told United States President Donald Trump that the Gulf country wanted to see a fair and permanent solution for the Palestinians, which was the starting point for its 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, the kingdom’s state news agency reported on Monday.

The two men spoke by phone following a US-brokered accord last month under which the United Arab Emirates agreed to become the third Arab state after Egypt and Jordan to normalise ties with Israel.

King Salman told Trump that he appreciated US efforts to support peace and that Saudi Arabia wanted to see a fair and permanent solution to the Palestinian issue based on its Arab Peace Initiative.

Under the proposal, Arab nations have offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in the 1967 Middle East war.

Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz spoke to United State President Donald Trump on the phone, state media reported [File: Bandar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace via [AFP Photo]

Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, does not recognise Israel.

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A history of Arab-Israeli normalisation
However, this month the kingdom said it would allow flights between UAE and Israel, including by Israeli aircraft, to use its airspace.

During the call, Trump told King Salman that he welcomed that decision, and that the two also discussed regional security, a White House spokesman said.

Palestinian issue
Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is also a White House adviser, has said he hopes another Arab country normalises ties with within months.

No other Arab state has said so far it is considering following the UAE. Egypt and Jordan normalised ties decades ago.

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King Salman’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Kushner discussed the need for the Palestinians and the Israelis to resume negotiations and reach a lasting peace after Kushner visited the UAE last month.

The UAE-Israel deal was met by overwhelming opposition among Palestinians who have condemned the move as a “stab in the back”.

On Sunday, leaders of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and the Palestinian Hamas group met to discuss the US push for diplomatic normalisation, the movement said.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniya and Hassan Nasrallah, head of the Iran-backed Shia Hezbollah movement, stressed the “stability” of the “axis of resistance” against Israel


#Newsworthy…

Fire reporter behind ‘US war dead loser’ controversy – Trump tells Fox News

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The US president came under fire after The Atlantic reported he called marines killed in action ‘losers’ and ‘suckers’.

The US President Donald Trump has demanded the Fox News network fire its national security correspondent after she confirmed claims he had disparaged the military – a bombshell that has dogged him for two days.

Trump came under fire after The Atlantic magazine reported he had called marines killed in action in the World War I “losers” and “suckers” in connection with a November 2018 visit to France in which he skipped a visit to a United States’s military cemetery.

Fox News correspondent Jennifer Griffin on Saturday said two former administration officials had confirmed to her the president “did not want to drive to honour American war dead” at the Aisne-Marne cemetery outside Paris, implying weather was not a factor.

One official also told her Trump had used the word “suckers” to denigrate the military, but in a different context related to the Vietnam War.

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“When the president spoke about the Vietnam War, he said, ‘It was a stupid war. Anyone who went was a sucker’,” she quoted the unnamed official as saying.

“It was a character flaw of the president. He could not understand why someone would die for their country, not worth it,” the source said.

Trump has furiously defended himself in the wake of the story by The Atlantic, condemning it as ‘fake news’ [File: Leah Millis/Reuters]

‘Slimeball reporter’
Trump has furiously defended himself in the wake of the story in The Atlantic, tweeting and retweeting stories condemning it as “fake news”.

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“You work so hard for the military, from completely rebuilding a depleted mess that was left by OBiden, to fixing a broken V.A. and fighting for large scale military pay raises, and then a slimeball reporter, maybe working with disgruntled people, makes up such a horrible charge,” a furious Trump tweeted on Saturday.

A day earlier, the US president had tweeted: “Jennifer Griffin should be fired for this kind of reporting. Never even called us for comment. @FoxNews is gone!”

According to The Atlantic, in a conversation with senior staff members, on the morning of the visit, Trump said: “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.”

The official explanation for that missed visit was bad weather.

The habitually Trump-friendly Fox News has been criticised for seemingly sidelining Griffin’s reporting in its coverage of the story.

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A story on its website on Saturday was headlined: “Sources dispute claim Trump nixed visit to military cemetery over disdain for slain veterans.”

Several of Griffin’s colleagues at Fox have publicly defended her on Twitter, along with Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger, who called her “fair and unafraid”.

“I can tell you that my sources are unimpeachable,” Griffin said on-air on her network on Saturday. “My sources are not anonymous to me and I doubt they are anonymous to the president.”

Just before The Atlantic published its story, a poll by the Military Times and the Syracuse University Institute for Veterans and Military Families found that just 37.4 percent of active-duty personnel support Trump’s re-election bid, while 43.1 percent back Joe Biden


#Newsworthy…

[United States] Donald Trump orders clampdown on native anti- racism training.

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The White House is targeting training on critical race theory and white privilege, calling them ‘anti-American’.

The US President Donald Trump has directed the executive branch’s budget office to crack down on federal agency training programmes that are meant to support diversity and combat racism, calling them “divisive, anti-American propaganda”.

In a letter on Friday, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, told all executive branch agencies to identify any spending related to training on “critical race theory”, “white privilege”, or any theory that posits that the US, as well as any race or ethnicity, “is inherently racist or evil”.

“The divisive, false, and demeaning propaganda of the critical race theory movement is contrary to all we stand for as Americans and should have no place in the federal government,” the letter reads.

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“Critical race theory” refers broadly to a school of thought that argues that systemic racism exists in US law and institutions and that race is a social construct created for the benefit of white citizens.

“White privilege” is the concept that white citizens inherently benefit from the systemic racism in US society.

The US president’s advisory comes amid months of racial justice demonstrations following the police killing of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, in May in Minnesota.

Trump has rejected the idea that there is systemic racism in the US, particularly in law enforcement.

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He argued during a trip to Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Tuesday that high-profile incidents of police killing Black people are the result of “bad apples” in the police force or good cops who “choke”.

The US president spent Saturday morning retweeting conservative supporters of his decision to end the training, which he called “a sickness that cannot be allowed to continue”.

The US president is targeting anti-racism training programmes in federal agencies [Patrick Semansky/AP]

“Please report any sightings so we can quickly extinguish!” Trump tweeted.

‘Press reports’
Friday’s memo said Trump’s decision came following “press reports” that described training programmes in which employees across the Executive Branch are told that “virtually all white people contribute to racism” or where employees were required to say they “benefit from racism”.

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The memo did not specify which reports it was citing, although Fox News has recently run critical segments on the training, according to The Associated Press news agency.

Vought’s memo added that additional federal guidance on training sessions would be forthcoming.

But it maintained that “the president, and his administration, are fully committed to the fair and equal treatment of all individuals in the United States”.

“The president has a proven track record of standing for those whose voice has long been ignored and who have failed to benefit from all our country has to offer, and he intends to continue to support all Americans, regardless of race, religion, or creed,” Vought added.


#Newsworthy…

Rage amid reports Trump calls ‘Us wars, ‘dead losers” [United States]

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Joe Biden declares Donald Trump ‘unfit’ for presidency as anger grows over media reports he disparaged fallen soldiers.

Donald Trump, the president of the United States, has come under fire over reports that he mocked the country’s war dead as “suckers” and “losers”, with Joe Biden, his main opponent in the upcoming presidential election, declaring him “unfit” for the commander-in-chief role.

Biden’s comments on Friday came as Trump again sought to dismiss as “false” the alleged comments, first reported on by The Atlantic magazine and then by The Associated Press news agency.

Voice cracking, Biden told reporters in Delaware that “you know in your gut” Trump’s comments, if true, are “deplorable”.

“I’ve just never been as disappointed, in my whole career, with a leader that I’ve worked with, president or otherwise,” Biden added. “If the article is true – and it appears to be, based on other things he’s said – it is absolutely damning. It is a disgrace.”

Trump, in the Oval Office, said no apology was necessary, because it was a “fake story”.

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The allegations, sourced anonymously, describe multiple offensive comments by the president towards killed and captured US service members during a trip to France in November 2018.

In the morning of a scheduled visit to the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery, Trump reportedly told senior staff, “Why should I go to that cemetery? It’s filled with losers.” The White House later said the visit was cancelled because foggy weather made the helicopter trip from Paris too risky and a 90-minute drive was deemed infeasible.

The Atlantic also said Trump, in a separate conversation on the same trip, referred to more than 1,800 US soldiers who died during the consequential 1918 battle at Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

Speaking in the Oval Office on Friday, Trump denied ever uttering such comments: “It was a terrible thing that somebody could say the kind of things – and especially to me, ’cause I’ve done more for the military than almost anyone anybody else.”

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Later, in a news briefing, Trump suggested the source of the story was his former chief of staff, retired Marine General John Kelly. “It could have been a guy like John Kelly,” Trump told reporters, saying his former top aide “was unable to handle the pressure of this job”.

‘You’re no patriot’
But that denial was met with scepticism, with critics seizing on the media reports to shine a fresh light on Trump’s previous public disparagement of US troops and military families.

That includes his criticism of the late Arizona Senator John McCain, a decorated Navy officer who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. “He’s not a war hero,” Trump said of McCain in 2015. He had also said at the time: “I like people who weren’t captured.”

On a call with reporters hosted by the Biden campaign on Friday, Illinois Senator Tammy Duckworth lambasted Trump for “belittling the sacrifices of those who have shown more bravery than he’s capable of”.

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Duckworth, a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel who lost both of her legs in the Iraq War, has been a prominent critic of Trump’s handling of military issues. Knocking Trump for allegedly inventing an injury to avoid serving in the Vietnam War, Duckworth said she would “take my wheelchair and my titanium legs over Donald Trump’s supposed bone spurs any day”.

Khizr Khan, whose son, Humayun, was killed in action in Iraq in 2004, joined Duckworth on the call and said Trump’s “life is a testament to selfishness”.

Khan, who drew national attention after criticising Trump during the 2016 Democratic National Convention, added: “Words we say are windows into our souls. So, when Donald Trump calls anyone who places their lives in service of others a loser, we understand Trump’s soul.”

Veterans also condemned the president’s alleged remarks.

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Paul Eaton, a retired major general, in a Twitter video said Trump had shown “disrespect to the military in countless occasions”, adding: “You’re no patriot.”

VoteVets posted online a video, in which six families of US soldiers who died while on duty criticised Trump, each one declaring their children were not losers or suckers. “You don’t know what it is to sacrifice,” one father said.

Reporting from Alexandria in the US state of Virginia, Noble Reporters Media said Trump’s alleged comments had been confirmed by multiple news outlets.

“This story isn’t going away, because now, a number of news outlets here in Washington have confirmed the same scope and the same quotes that were in that story. That includes Fox News, which has been the president’s go-to television news network.”

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Jordan was referring to reporting by Jennifer Griffin, Fox News’s national security correspondent, who said two former Trump administration officials had confirmed The Atlantic’s reporting.

‘This never happened’
Trump’s supporters, meanwhile, took to television networks and social media to defend the president, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling the programme, Fox and Friends, on Friday that he was with the president for a good part of the trip to France.

“I never heard him use the words that are described in that article,” Pompeo said.

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper issued a statement saying “Trump has the highest respect and admiration for our nation’s military members, veterans and families” and “has fought for greater pay and more funding” for the armed forces.

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who was the White House press secretary at the time of Trump’s visit, said of The Atlantic report: “I was actually there and one of the people part of the discussion – this never happened.”

First Lady Melania Trump also defended her husband, issuing a rare public statement, calling Trump’s alleged mockery of US war dead “not true” and blasting The Atlantic’s reliance on anonymous sources.

Mike Pence, the vice president, said he was not in Paris but “it never happened”.

He told CNBC: “American people just roll their eyes at these late-hit, anonymous-source media coming from The Atlantic or anywhere else. It’s just politics as usual.”


#Newsworthy…

United States War: Trump denies making disparaging remarks.

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The Atlantic reported US president had referred to marines buried in a cemetery near Paris as ‘losers’.

United States President Donald Trump has denied a report saying he made disparaging remarks about fallen United States military personnel buried in France and declined to visit a cemetery during a trip there in 2018.

The Atlantic, citing anonymous sources with direct knowledge of the event, reported on Thursday that Trump had referred to marines buried in the Aisne-Marne American Cemetery near Paris as “losers” and declined to visit because of concern that the rain that day would mess up his hair.

Speaking to reporters later on Thursday, Trump, who is seeking re-election in November and has touted his record helping US veterans, said the story was false.

“To think that I would make statements negative to our military and fallen heroes when nobody has done what I’ve done,” for the US armed forces, the Republican president said. “It’s a total lie … It’s a disgrace.”

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The president said he did not go to the cemetery because weather prevented a helicopter flight. The alternative, a long drive, would have meant going through very busy areas of Paris and the Secret Service objected, he said.

“The Secret Service told me, ‘You can’t do it.’ I said, ‘I have to do it. I want to be there.’ They said, ‘You can’t do it’,” Trump said.

According to The Atlantic, in another conversation on the trip, Trump referred to the 1,800 marines who died in the World War I battle of Belleau Wood as “suckers” for getting killed.

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The publication said Trump also referred to former President George H W Bush as a “loser” because he was shot down by the Japanese as a Navy pilot in World War II.

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who is leading Trump in national polls before the November 3 election, emphasised his own commitment to helping members of the military in a response to the report.

US President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a ‘Make America Great Again’ Event in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, United States [Anadolu/Kyle Mazza] –

“If the revelations in today’s Atlantic article are true, then they are yet another marker of how deeply President Trump and I disagree about the role of the President of the United States,” Biden said in a statement released by his campaign.

“And if I have the honour of serving as the next commander in chief, I will ensure that our American heroes know that I will have their back and honour their sacrifice – always.”


#Newsworthy…

Donald Trump can score ‘a simple’ diplomatic win from Saudi Arabia – By Eisner & Alaoudh

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Getting US citizens released from Saudi jails would be much easier to accomplish than nomralising Saudi-Israeli ties.


White House adviser Jared Kushner visited Saudi Arabia this week and met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). The two men have developed a close bond over hours of private chats, sharing their grand visions for the region. The purpose of this trip was reportedly to discuss a normalisation of ties deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel, similar to the one the UAE concluded, dubbed the “Abraham Accord”.

If Saudi government statements are to be believed, it is unlikely he will succeed in that mission in the near term. But Kushner can use his continuing dialogue with MBS to do some good. He should leverage his close ties to the crown prince to gain the freedom of Saudi political prisoners, including US-Saudi dual nationals Salah al-Haidar and Bader al-Ibrahim. Saudi Arabia has detained the two Americans without charge since April 2019.

Both al-Haidar and al-Ibrahim are US-born citizens, natives of Virginia and Washington, respectively. They were living in Saudi Arabia when they invoked the ire of Saudi authorities for engaging in what passes as normal political discussion in much of the rest of the world. Al-Ibrahim is a co-author of a book on the Shia minority in Saudi Arabia. Al-Haidar is a journalist, whose now-deleted YouTube show, That’s the Point, featured leading Saudi intellectuals and reformers.

White House senior adviser Jared Kushner meets Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during his visit to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on September 1, 2020 [Reuters]

Al-Haidar’s real crime might well have been just being the son of Aziza al-Yousef, a retired professor at King Saud University and prominent feminist whom Saudi authorities are prosecuting for her past activism to end the driving ban on women. Saudi state security officials arrested Al-Haidar just a few days after they released his mother on bail.

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Our sources in Saudi say that the Specialized Criminal Court for State Security, the Saudis’ own version of the star chamber, has finally decided to charge the two men under the terrorism law, based on their comments and tweets, for which they face up to 30 years in prison. Like almost all proceedings in the Special Criminal Court, the trials of the two men will be held in secret.

Given US President Donald Trump’s dire need for foreign policy victories to showcase ahead of the November elections, getting al-Haidar and al-Ibrahim released and bringing them home to the US would be a popular move with both Republican and Democrat voters.

The Saudi crown prince could show the Saudi justice system is working by acquitting the men or giving them light sentences for time served, before allowing Kushner to claim credit for their release. It would be MBS’s gift to the Trump administration, which could use the release to burnish the image of President Trump as the protector of American citizens unjustly imprisoned abroad – an image portrayed in a polished seven-minute video clip presented during the Republican Convention at the end of August.

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It is worth noting that MBS is indebted to President Trump and Kushner. The crown prince was isolated and reeling after the savage murder of the Saudi dissident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Western democracies spoke in unison, condemning the murder and demanding accountability. Many followed up with action, imposing travel bans, sanctions and suspensions of arms exports.

At MBS’s low point, the Trump administration and Special Adviser Kushner rode to the rescue, providing a crucial lifeline. Jared Kushner reportedly became MBS’s chief champion in the White House, as well as an informal adviser to the crown prince on damage control. Eight months after Khashoggi’s murder, Trump vetoed bipartisan legislation that would have suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo fast-tracked the arms shipments to avoid traditional congressional reporting requirements. As far as the Trump administration was concerned, it would be business as usual between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The rest of the world took notice.

Apart from al-Haidar and al-Ibrahim, many other prominent Saudi activists and intellectuals are languishing in jail, including Loujain al-Hathloul, who has been whipped, electrocuted and waterboarded for advocating women’s rights; Salman Al-Awdah, a prominent Muslim scholar who called for democratic reforms and faces the death penalty and the father of one of the authors; Nouf Abdulaziz, a blogger and activist who has been tortured and sexually harassed in jail; Fadel al-Manasif, a Shia activist and writer serving a 15-year sentence for peaceful activism; and Waleed Abulkhair, a human rights lawyer also serving a 15-year sentence.

The list sadly goes on. For now, it is enough for senior adviser Kushner to secure the release of the two Americans and seek freedom for this small cross-section of Saudi political prisoners. It would not erase the unsavoury taint of Kushner’s friendship with MBS, but it would be big news, deservedly so. A US-brokered release of American and Saudi political prisoners would also provide a signal to Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and other autocratic allies in the region, that the Trump administration, despite its alarming violations of human rights at home, might one day focus its attention on their own cell blocks of political prisoners.


The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect NRM’s editorial stance.

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Michael Eisner

Michael Eisner is General Counsel of Democracy for the Arab World Now and former State Department Attorney-Adviser.

Abdullah Alaoudh

Abdullah Alaoudh is Director of Research for the Gulf Region at Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). Tweet: @aalodah


#Newsworthy…