Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saudi king apologises to Nawaz, other leaders for snub at US-Arab-Islamic Summit

The monarch of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, King Salman, has apologised to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and other leaders of Muslim countries for not presenting them with a chance to address the US-Arab-Islamic Summit, said the Foreign Office (FO).
The leaders of the Muslim world could not address the summit due to the shortage of time, said FO Spokesperson Nafees Zakaria at the weekly briefing.
"Due to the shortage of time, leaders of 30 countries could not address the summit and King Salman has apologised to all the attendees for it," said Zakaria.
Referring to the recent award given to an Indian army officer, who used a Kashmiri youth as a human shield, the FO said it is "a crime and an insult to humanity".
"This is not the first time that the Indian occupation forces have displayed such cowardice and inhumanity," said the spokesperson.
The prime minister had attended the first-ever Arab-Islamic-American Summit in Riyadh on Sunday, where he interacted with Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz, US President Donald Trump and other leaders from Arab and Islamic countries.
Nawaz visited Saudi Arabia on May 21 to participate in the summit and was received by Governor of Riaydh Prince Faisal Bin Bandar Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud and senior officials.
The premier was accompanied by his Adviser on Foreign Affairs Sartaj Aziz, First Lady Begum Kulsoom Nawaz, his son Hussain Nawaz and Advocate Akram Sheikh.
In addition to King Salman and US President Donald Trump, 55 heads of state and government from the Muslim world had been invited to participate in the summit.

Friday, May 26, 2017

World ‘The Germans are bad, very bad’: Trump’s alleged slight generates confusion, backlash

‘The Germans are bad, very bad’: Trump’s alleged slight generates confusion, backlash

  
 Allegedly heated comments by President Trump about a key U.S. ally — Germany — generated a fresh swirl of confusion Friday around an administration that has already had more than its fill.
During a meeting Thursday with European Union officials in Brussels, Trump allegedly said, “The Germans are bad, very bad,” according to Germany’s Spiegel Online, which cited unnamed sources in the room. He continued, the outlet said, by saying: “See the millions of cars they are selling in the U.S.? Terrible. We will stop this.”
On Friday, the report spread rapidly through the German press and social media, igniting a backlash, including one response by a German industry group saying Trump’s protectionist stance would make him “a loser.”
But what did Trump actually say?
European officials — and Trump’s administration — offered contradictory accounts. 
 Play Video 2:27
Trump scolds world leaders at NATO ceremony
President Trump criticized leaders at a dedication ceremony at the new NATO headquarters in Brussels, May 25, saying they need to increase financial contributions to combat "the threat of terrorism." (The Washington Post)
Part of the backlash stemmed, perhaps, from a poor translation: In its German-language editions, Spiegel used the word “böse” — which can mean “bad” but is closer to the English word “evil.” In another report, the German outlet Süddeutsche Zeitung cited a similar quote from Trump but translated the word he used as “schlecht” — a milder German word for “bad.”
In a later tweet from Spiegel Online’s main account, it clarified that Trump had indeed used the English word “bad” and not “evil.”
Yet even that remained in dispute, with the administration offering no clarity — again highlighting the communication problems that continue to plague the White House. 
One of the key figures in the room during the meeting, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said the Der Spiegel report was off.
“He didn't say the Germans are behaving badly,” Juncker told journalists in Sicily ahead of the start of a Group of Seven summit involving the leaders of the United States, Germany, France, Italy, Britain, Canada and Japan. “He said we have a problem, as others do, with the German surplus. So he was not aggressive at all. Bad doesn't mean evil.”
Soon afterward, White House press secretary Sean Spicer appeared to leap on Juncker’s comments to debunk the story. Responding to a tweet by New York Times White House correspondent Maggie Haberman about the Der Spiegel article, Spicer wrote: “Except it’s not true: Juncker says Trump was not aggressive on German trade surplus.” 
And yet, when asked on the sidelines in Sicily, chief White House economic adviser Gary Cohn seemed to confirm that the president had said something about “bad” German trade practices. 
“He said they’re very bad on trade but he doesn't have a problem with Germany,” Cohn said. “He said his dad is from Germany. He said, ‘I don't have a problem with Germany. I have a problem with German trade.’ ”
Another official with direct knowledge of the Thursday meeting told The Washington Post on Friday that Trump had never used the word “bad.” 
“He did say yesterday that there’s a massive deficit that he doesn’t intend to put up with, but nothing about Germany being bad,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss a private meeting with top leaders. Cohn was not taking formal notes during the conversation, the official said.
During an appearance with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Trump ignored a question from a reporter who asked whether he had called the Germans “bad.”
In Germany, however, the incident seemed to highlight suggestions of a growing rift between Washington and Berlin after the frosty March meeting between the president and Chancellor Angela Merkel, who Trump repeatedly jabbed at on the campaign trail last year. In a January interview with the European press, Trump called out German corporate titans including BMW, warning that they may face fat tariffs on U.S. imports should they keep building cars in Mexico.  
Asked about Trump’s alleged comments, Germany’s deputy government spokesman, Georg Streiter, said in Berlin on Friday that “a trade surplus is neither bad nor evil; it’s the result of the interplay between supply and demand on world markets.”
Martin Schulz, the candidate from the center left who is challenging Merkel in this year’s election, appeared to more generally condemn Trump’s aggressive behavior toward Germany as Europe as a whole Europe at the Brussels gathering. In the meeting, Trump also demanded that allies pay more for their defense and held back on offering an unconditional pledge to honor NATO’s treaty commitment that an attack on a single alliance nation is an attack on all.
“Such humiliating treatment is to be rebuffed,” Schulz said in Berlin, according to German press reports. “One does not need to accept something like that.”
Norbert Röttgen, head of the foreign affairs committee of the German parliament who hails from Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, told Spiegel Online: “U.S. President Trump isn’t capable to lead the Western alliance. In any case, he isn't interested in it at the moment.”  
The daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung quipped: “It’s worth having a look at other Trump quotes: Who else does the president find “bad.” Suddenly the Germans find themselves in the company of North Korea . . . and Mexican drug gangs.”
Some wore the alleged slight as a badge of honor: “#The Germans are very, very bad’ #Trump. Haven’t been praised like that in a while,” tweeted Bernd Ulrich, a journalist with Die Zeit.
André Schwarz, spokesman for the Federation of German Wholesale and Foreign Trade (BGA), called Trump’s stance on Germany’s trade surplus wrongheaded.
“The right way is to improve one’s own competitiveness instead of trying to gain advantages by means of some kind of import tariffs” on “good” German products, he said. 
He added, “We shouldn’t be too concerned with rhetoric, but it's important to clarity that [his position] will make him a loser.”
Some in Germany, however, gave Trump the benefit of the doubt, instead blaming the German press for stoking the fires of animosity with a bad translation. 
“It’s not easy, but sometimes evil German journalists should quote #Trump properly,” tweeted German user Andreas Wolf. “For example when he says BAD instead of EVIL! #germansarebad.”
Philip Rucker in Sicily, Michael Birnbaum in London and Stephanie Kirchner in Berlin contributed to this report. 

Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin Washington Post

Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret communications channel with Kremlin

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Russian ambassador told Moscow that Kushner wanted secret channel with Kremlin
Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in December that Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, asked him about setting up a communications channel between the transition team and the Kremlin using Russian facilities in the United States. (Video: Alice Li,McKenna Ewen/Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
 
Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.
Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.
The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.
The White House disclosed the meeting only in March, playing down its significance. But people familiar with the matter say the FBI now considers the encounter, as well as another meeting Kushner had with a Russian banker, to be of investigative interest.
Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.
Neither the meeting nor the communications of Americans involved were under U.S. surveillance, officials said.
The White House declined to comment. Robert Kelner, a lawyer for Flynn, declined to comment. The Russian Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.
Russia at times feeds false information into communication streams it suspects are monitored as a way of sowing misinformation and confusion among U.S. analysts. But officials said that it’s unclear what Kislyak would have had to gain by falsely characterizing his contacts with Kushner to Moscow, particularly at a time when the Kremlin still saw the prospect of dramatically improved relations with Trump.
Kushner’s apparent interest in establishing a secret channel with Moscow, rather than relying on U.S. government systems, has added to the intrigue surrounding the Trump administration’s relationship with Russia.
To some officials, it also reflects a staggering naivete.
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Untangling the web of Jared Kushner
What you need to know about Jared Kushner's ties to Russia. (Thomas Johnson/The Washington Post)
The FBI closely monitors the communications of Russian officials in the United States, and it maintains a nearly constant surveillance of its diplomatic facilities. The National Security Agency monitors the communications of Russian officials overseas.
Current and former U.S. intelligence officials said that although Russian diplomats have secure means of communicating with Moscow, Kushner’s apparent request for access to such channels was extraordinary.
“How would he trust that the Russians wouldn’t leak it on their side?” said one former senior intelligence official. The FBI would know that a Trump transition official was going in and out of the embassy, which would cause “a great deal” of concern, he added. The entire idea, he said, “seems extremely naive or absolutely crazy.”
The discussion of a secret channel adds to a broader pattern of efforts by Trump’s closest advisers to obscure their contacts with Russian counterparts. Trump’s first national security adviser, Flynn, was forced to resign after a series of false statements about his conversations with Kislyak. Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from matters related to the Russia investigation after it was revealed that he had failed to disclose his own meetings with Kislyak when asked during congressional testimony about any contact with Russians.
Kushner’s interactions with Russians — including Kislyak and an executive for a Russian bank under U.S. sanctions — were not acknowledged by the White House until they were exposed in media reports.
It is common for senior advisers of a newly elected president to be in contact with foreign leaders and officials. But new administrations are generally cautious in their handling of interactions with Moscow, which U.S. intelligence agencies have accused of waging an unprecedented campaign to interfere in last year’s presidential race and help elect Trump.
Obama administration officials say members of the Trump transition team never approached them about arranging a secure communications channel with their Russian contacts, possibly because of concerns about leaks.
The State Department, the White House National Security Council and U.S. intelligence agencies all have the ability to set up secure communications channels with foreign leaders, though doing so for a transition team would be unusual.
Trump’s advisers were similarly secretive about meetings with leaders from the United Arab Emirates. The Obama White House only learned that the crown prince of Abu Dhabi was flying to New York in December to see Kushner, Flynn and Stephen K. Bannon, another top Trump adviser, because U.S. border agents in the UAE spotted the Emirate leader’s name on a flight manifest.
Russia would also have had reasons of its own to reject such an overture from Kushner. Doing so would require Moscow to expose its most sophisticated communications capabilities — which are likely housed in highly secure locations at diplomatic compounds — to an American.
The Post was first alerted in mid-December to the meeting by an anonymous letter, which said, among other things, that Kushner had talked to Kislyak about setting up the communications channel. This week, officials who reviewed the letter and spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive intelligence said the portion about the secret channel was consistent with their understanding of events.
For instance, according to those officials and the letter, Kushner conveyed to the Russians that he was aware that it would be politically sensitive to meet publicly, but it was necessary for the Trump team to be able to continue their communication with Russian government officials.
In addition to their discussion about setting up the communications channel, Kushner, Flynn and Kislyak also talked about arranging a meeting between a representative of Trump and a “Russian contact” in a third country whose name was not identified, according to the anonymous letter.
The Post reported in April that Erik Prince, the founder of the private security firm Blackwater, now called Academi, and an informal adviser to the Trump transition team, met on Jan. 11 — nine days before Trump’s inauguration — in the Seychelles islands in the Indian Ocean with a representative of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
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