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  • Yemen Vows to Confront U.A.E.-Backed 'Coup' as Infighting Rages

    (Bloomberg) -- Yemen’s government vowed to confront a “coup” attempt by separatist forces it said were backed by the United Arab Emirates, in a sign that a conflict casting a shadow over a crucial alliance between the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia is set to escalate.The internationally-backed government, meeting in the Saudi capital Riyadh, said it will use “all means” to restore order and blamed the U.A.E. for “the armed rebellion by the so-called Southern Transitional Council,” which backs the division of Yemen.Clashes between STC forces and government troops spread to other parts of southern Yemen on Tuesday despite Saudi efforts to halt the conflict and refocus efforts on battling Iranian-backed rebels in northern Yemen. The infighting is threatening to tear apart a country already reeling under one of the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.The conflict is also raising questions over whether an alliance between Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. will remain intact. The two countries are a linchpin in U.S. efforts to contain Iran’s influence in the Middle East.The Yemeni government called on Saudi Arabia to back its efforts to end the rebellion.Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. entered the Yemen war in 2015 to restore an allied government ousted by the Iranian-backed Houthis, who come from Yemen’s north. The push by the southern separatists threatens the internationally-recognized administration of President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi.In a statement to the United Nations Security Council, the Yemeni government said the attacks wouldn’t have occurred “without the full backing” of the U.A.E.Fighting erupted between forces controlled by the STC and the administration of Hadi in Zinjibar, the capital of Abyan province in Yemen’s south, and nearby, local media and residents said, with the separatists seizing a military camp. It followed intense clashes this month in the port city of Aden, where the Hadi government is based.“I am alarmed by the violence in Aden, Abyan,” Martin Griffiths, the UN Yemen special envoy, said on Twitter. “I condemn the unacceptable efforts by the Southern Transitional Council to take control of state institutions.”To contact the reporter on this story: Mohammed Hatem in Dubai at mhatem1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Shaji Mathew at shajimathew@bloomberg.net, Alaa Shahine, Lin NoueihedFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 14:34:37 -0400
  • White House Counterterror Event Delayed With Pompeo in New York

    (Bloomberg) -- The White House delayed the planned unveiling of a package of sanctions related to counterterrorism on Tuesday, in part because Secretary of State Michael Pompeo scheduled travel to New York for meetings at the United Nations and a political lunch, according to two people familiar with the plan.Pompeo’s participation in the counterterrorism event was seen as essential since the White House wanted top national security officials to take part, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing internal issues. One of the people said the event will take place after the Labor Day holiday in early September.It’s not clear if Pompeo’s absence is the only reason the event was delayed, and the State and Treasury Departments declined to comment. In addition to his UN meetings, Pompeo attended a private briefing over lunch on Tuesday with Republican stalwarts including Arthur Laffer, Steve Forbes and billionaires John and Margo Catsimatidis. The trip comes amid rising speculation that the top U.S. diplomat may run for the Senate next year.The attendees at the lunch hosted by the Committee to Unleash Prosperity were confirmed by two people familiar with the event. The luncheon, though not the names of the guests, is also on Pompeo’s public schedule for his trip to New York, where he is expected to speak at a session of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday as well as hold meetings with the UN’s secretary-general and Serbia’s president.The move comes amid rising speculation that Pompeo, a former House member from Kansas, may step down from President Donald Trump’s administration to run for a Senate seat opening up following the retirement next year of Pat Roberts. Bloomberg reported this month that Republican political donors have been told to hold off contributing to that race in expectation that Pompeo will run.Pompeo, one of Trump’s most trusted Cabinet members, has given mixed signals about his political future. In an interview Monday on Fox News he said “Lots of people talking about me potentially running for the Senate in Kansas, everyone maybe except me. I’m very focused on what I’m doing. It’s an incredible privilege to be President Trump’s Secretary of State. I intend to continue to do this.”But when asked in July about running for the Senate, Pompeo told KCMO Radio -- which broadcasts in Kansas -- that “I always need to be open to the possibility that something will change and my path in life will change too.”John Catsimatidis is the billionaire founder of the Gristedes grocery store chain and president of Red Apple Group Inc. He’s been a vocal supporter of the president and has a history of being a prolific donor to both Republican and Democratic campaigns. He served as a member of Hillary Clinton’s finance team during her unsuccessful 2008 presidential campaign but more recently declined former Vice President Joe Biden’s request for fundraising assistance, saying he would continue to support the president.The billionaire’s son, John Catsimatidis Jr., said the lunch discussion focused on foreign policy.““Everyone in the room agreed on the importance of conducting foreign policy that puts the interests and national security of the American people before those of foreign parties,” Catsimatidis, who is chairman and CEO of United Refining Co., said in an interview. “The room was supportive of President Trump and his administration’s approach to foreign policy, and I have confidence Secretary Pompeo has a firm handle on the issues affecting us on the global stage.”Laffer, an adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign, was recently awarded the Medal of Freedom by the president. The economist is best known for his eponymous “curve,” which supposes that taxation rates beyond a certain level can prove counterproductive by discouraging work. Most economists don’t believe the theory has proven accurate in real-world scenarios.The Committee to Unleash Prosperity was founded by Laffer, Forbes and Stephen Moore, who withdrew from consideration for a spot on the Federal Reserve Board of Governors earlier this year following criticism from Republican lawmakers.(Updates to add comments from Catsimatidis’s son on the lunch discussions from ninth paragraph.)\--With assistance from Peter Eichenbaum and Nick Wadhams.To contact the reporters on this story: Jennifer Jacobs in Washington at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net;Saleha Mohsin in Washington at smohsin2@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at wfaries@bloomberg.net, ;Alex Wayne at awayne3@bloomberg.net, Joshua GalluFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 14:32:29 -0400
  • UN envoy: International aid for Venezuela exodus falls short

    A United Nations special envoy is warning that the international community is falling short in helping nations like Colombia respond to the massive exodus of Venezuelans. Eduardo Stein said Tuesday that Colombia has received less than a third of the international financing it needs to handle the mounting migration crisis. The U.N. representative added that the growing flight of Venezuelans has now "totally surpassed" Colombia's capacity to respond.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 13:41:37 -0400
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    Panel takes troubled Dubai developer's disputes in downturn

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    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 13:31:06 -0400
  • Israeli, US militaries simulate ship hijacking amid tensions

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    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 13:22:13 -0400
  • Dutch plan big Brexit beach party

    Golocal247.com news

    Thousands of people have signed up on Facebook to a Dutch beach party for Brexit, featuring food from across the European Union to mark Britain's departure. Created by media worker Ron Toekook, the event calls for partygoers to meet at the seaside village of Wijk aan Zee near Amsterdam on October 31, the date Britain is meant to leave. Suggestions for other songs to be played included Dutch novelty boyband "Breunion Boys" and their single "Britain Come Back".

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 13:09:55 -0400
  • UPDATE 1-EU being a bit negative but we will get there on Brexit deal -UK PM Johnson

    The European Union is being "a big negative" about the prospects of reaching a Brexit deal but it can be done, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday. "At the moment it is absolutely true that our friends and partners are a bit negative ... but I think we'll get there.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 12:59:41 -0400
  • EU being a bit negative but we will get there on Brexit deal -UK PM Johnson

    The European Union is being "a big negative" about the prospects of reaching a Brexit deal but it can be done, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on Tuesday. The bloc earlier rebuffed Johnson's demand that it reopen the Brexit divorce deal, saying Britain had failed to propose any realistic alternative to the backstop, an agreed insurance policy for the Irish border. "At the moment it is absolutely true that our friends and partners are a bit negative ... but I think we'll get there.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 12:39:39 -0400
  • UN envoy warns threat of Yemen's fragmentation gets stronger

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    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 12:33:29 -0400
  • U.K. May Delay Naming Next BOE Governor Until After Brexit

    (Bloomberg) -- The U.K. is considering delaying two key announcements in the latest sign that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government is on an election footing.Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid may wait to name a successor to Bank of England Governor Mark Carney until after Britain’s planned Oct. 31 departure from the European Union, according to a person familiar with the process, who asked not to be identified because they’re not authorized to speak on the matter.Javid may also have to postpone his next budget to 2020 if the government is forced into a general election next month.Carney steps down at the end of January, after he twice extended his tenure to provide continuity during the split from the EU. Previous chancellor Philip Hammond had said a new appointment would come in the autumn, and a Treasury spokesman said on Tuesday that is still the expectation.Still, as Britain heads toward a potential no-deal Brexit, the signs are mounting that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is preparing the groundwork for a general election with promises of extra billions for the National Health Service and crime-fighting.U.K.’s Johnson Accused of Spending for Votes, Not Fixing EconomyJohnson has said he’s committed to delivering Brexit “do or die” on Oct. 31, without an agreement if necessary. The government privately accepts an election is inevitable, according to one official.Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn plans to hold a vote of confidence in Johnson’s administration soon after returning from summer recess, and has asked rival parties to support him as a caretaker prime minister who would then call a general election. If an election is triggered, the government cannot hold a budget.Officials would also be unable to start the process of economic forecasting that is integral to each budget. The Treasury is usually required to give the Office for Budget Responsibility 10 weeks’ notice to prepare its forecasts. Doing so during an election period could break purdah rules because it would make an assumption about who would win.To provide some certainty, Javid is currently conducting a short spending round that will set budgets for all government departments for next year. That will also allow the Treasury to allocate funding without the approval of Parliament. Johnson’s government is trying to avoid bringing any legislation through parliament over fears that opponents will amend it to take control of the order paper and derail its plans to deliver Brexit.Treasury officials have been conducting interviews for the BOE job, and a shortlist was drawn up by Hammond before he stepped down last month. Javid has yet to narrow the list down to the final candidates and is flexible on the timeline for the appointment, the person said.See our survey of the most-likely nominees to be Bank of England governorPotential candidates include BOE insiders such as Andrew Bailey, the head of the Financial Conduct Authority, and Deputy Governor Ben Broadbent. Some high-profile figures -- such as former Reserve Bank of India Governor Raghuram Rajan -- have indicated that the political complexity surrounding Brexit made the job unappealing.(Adds context in paragraphs six and nine.)To contact the reporters on this story: Jessica Shankleman in London at jshankleman@bloomberg.net;Lucy Meakin in London at lmeakin1@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Paul Gordon at pgordon6@bloomberg.net, Brian SwintFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 12:28:29 -0400
  • Five held in France for urging attacks on G7 police

    Golocal247.com news

    French authorities arrested five people for encouraging attacks on a hotel slated to accommodate police during this weekend's G7 summit, sources said Tuesday, as more than 13,000 members of the security forces prepared to deploy for the event. The arrests occurred early Monday, just days ahead of the summit chaired by French President Emmanuel Macron who will from Saturday host the likes of US President Donald Trump, German leader Angela Merkel and Britain's Boris Johnson in the glitzy southwestern resort town of Biarritz. Speaking to reporters in Biarritz where he inspected security preparations, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner said 13,200 police and gendarmes would secure the event.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 12:00:23 -0400
  • EU and Britain clash over Johnson's Brexit backstop demand

    Golocal247.com news

    Britain and the EU clashed Tuesday over Prime Minister Boris Johnson's demand to scrap the Irish border backstop plan, as fears mount of a chaotic "no-deal" Brexit. London insisted there was "no prospect" of a Brexit deal unless the backstop was abandoned, after Brussels said Britain had still not come up with a workable alternative. Johnson wrote to EU Council President Donald Tusk on Monday to insist that Britain could not accept what he called the "anti-democratic" backstop, a mechanism to avoid border checks between EU-member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 11:46:41 -0400
  • Egypt says its forces kill 11 militants in Sinai Peninsula

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    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 11:46:16 -0400
  • Russia accuses US of stoking military tension with cruise-missile test

    Golocal247.com news

    The Kremlin on Tuesday claimed the US test of a ground-launched cruise missile was evidence that Washington, not Moscow, intentionally sabotaged a Cold War arms control treaty banning such weapons. The Pentagon announced the test Monday, publishing video of the launch of a cruise missile from an Mk41 vertical launch system bolted from a trailer. Such a test would have been banned by the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). Washington withdrew from the treaty on Aug 2, after formally accusing Russia of violating the treaty almost one year earlier. Russia has long argued that the US was the party in violation of the treaty.  Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a test launch just three weeks after withdrawing from the treaty proves the US has been working on INF-banned weapons long before the pact’s demise. Anti-nuclear protesters wear masks of US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin  Credit: OMER MESSINGER/EPA-EFE/REX Russia has for many years accused the US of violating the INF with the deployment of anti-ballistic missile defenses in Romania, arguing the Mk41 launchers used by those systems can also be used to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles.  The US test on Monday saw a Tomahawk was launched from an Mk41. However, the Pentagon said that this specific Mk41 was different from those deployed in Eastern Europe. However, the Mk41 is largely used on ships to launch missiles like the Tomahawk. Mr Peskov’s accusations were echoed by other officials in Moscow on Tuesday, including Sergei Ryabkov, the Deputy Foreign Minister and Russia’s senior arms control official. Mr Ryabkov said the test heightens the risk of military tensions. “The US has obviously taken a course towards escalation of military tensions,” Mr Ryabkov said. “We will not allow ourselves to get drawn into a costly arms race.” Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, speaking in France on Monday before the US announced the test, said that Russia would deploy its own INF-banned weapons if the US made such a move.  The US has long alleged Russia already has developed and tested INF-banned missiles, using the claims to justify its withdrawal from the INF treaty.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 11:35:22 -0400
  • Brazil’s Bolsonaro Says He Plans to Label Hezbollah Terrorists

    (Bloomberg) -- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said he intends to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group, a move that would follow on the footsteps of other South American nations.In comments to reporters in Brasilia, Bolsonaro compared Hezbollah to Brazil’s landless workers movement that he has repeatedly called a terrorist group. Despite his rhetoric, the move would require changes to Brazil’s narrow anti-terror legislation, and possibly congressional support. Brazil’s new classification of Hezbollah would be part of Bolsonaro’s efforts to align his government with that of U.S. President Donald Trump. The risk is that doing so could strain relations with Iran, a Hezbollah ally which imports $2.5 billion of Brazilian products per year. A weak domestic economy increases pressure to refrain from any decision that undermines exports.Brazilian officials are already reviewing options to move forward with the designation, which is being discussed at the highest levels of government but doesn’t have across-the-board support, according to three people with direct knowledge of the matter.To read more: Brazil Mulls Labeling Hezbollah Terrorists in Pivot to U.S.Hezbollah, or the party of God in Arabic, is at the same time an armed group, a political party and a social organization. It sits in the Lebanese cabinet and has considerable geopolitical power. It is considered a terrorist group by many countries, including the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.Last month, Argentina became the first Latin American nation to label Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. On Monday, Paraguay announced its decision to follow suit.\--With assistance from David Biller.To contact the reporters on this story: Flavia Said in Brasilia at fsaid7@bloomberg.net;Samy Adghirni in Brasilia Newsroom at sadghirni@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Juan Pablo Spinetto at jspinetto@bloomberg.net, Matthew Malinowski, Walter BrandimarteFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 11:34:21 -0400
  • Nordics Seek Common Stance on Climate Change After Talks in Iceland

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    (Bloomberg) -- Nordic leaders said they would seek a common stance on climate talks after a summit in Iceland that was attended by German Prime Minister Angela Merkel.Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said the region had the responsibility of making sure that it becomes the more environmentally sustainable in the world, while her Swedish colleague Stefan Lofven said it was important for Nordic countries to have a united position when they go into next month’s UN Climate Action Summit in New York."We all aim to be carbon neutral, but we want to work closer together and share our experiences and knowledge so that each of us will be more successful,” Icelandic Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir told Bloomberg after a joint press conference on the Icelandic island of Videy. “Both nature itself and the youth of our countries are sending us a clear message that radical measures are due."The leaders also stressed the need to intensify cooperation with Germany at a time when the Arctic is growing in importance, both militarily and as a business opportunity, while Finland’s Antti Rinne reiterated that Russia needs to honor the Minsk accord on the Ukraine ahead of Vladimir Putin’s visit to Helsinki on Wednesday.(Adds exclusive comments from Icelandic prime minister in the third para.)To contact the reporter on this story: Ragnhildur Sigurdardottir in Reykjavik at rsigurdardot@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Jonas Bergman at jbergman@bloomberg.net, Nick RigilloFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 10:59:08 -0400
  • Pompeo wishes North Korea would not test missiles

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    US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expressed displeasure Tuesday about North Korea's series of missile tests, but said he wants to resume negotiations on denuclearization with Pyongyang. In an interview with CBS, the chief US diplomat noted the six tests of short-range ballistic missiles that North Korea has conducted in recent weeks, and appeared to diverge slightly with President Donald Trump, who have dismissed the tests as unthreatening and insignificant. "I wish they would not do that," Pompeo said of the tests.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 10:36:08 -0400
  • UK says to skip most EU meetings from Sept 1: government

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    British officials will stop attending most EU meetings from September 1 except for those on "matters of ongoing national interest" such as security, the government said on Tuesday. The Brexit ministry said in a statement that the time spent preparing for the meetings in Brussels would be better used in readying the country for leaving the European Union on October 31. "This decision reflects the fact that the UK's exit from the EU on 31 October is now very close and many of the discussions in EU meetings will be about the future of the union after the UK has left," the statement said.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 10:34:09 -0400
  • Donald Trump’s UK trade promises are hot air – his aim is Brexit chaos

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    If Boris Johnson seriously believes the US will shower rewards on Britain after leaving the EU he is mistaken ‘John Bolton tried to incentivise Brexit by saying the UK would be at the ‘front of the trade queue’. But that won’t happen.’ Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty ImagesAs the UK races towards a potential no-deal Brexit, President Donald Trump is cheering it on. But Brexit – especially without a deal in place with the European Union – would be bad for the US-UK special relationship and would make the UK a much less important US ally.The ramifications of Brexit – in particular without a deal with the EU that pleases everyone – could be explosive. It could hurt the UK economy at a time when Trump’s trade war and economic policies are increasing the risk of a global recession, and threaten the very integrity of the UK amid growing signals that Northern Ireland and Scotland would consider breaking away. Boris Johnson appears willing to drive Britain off this cliff come hell or high water, threatening a no-deal Brexit and saying that the UK will leave the EU by the end of October, “do or die”. Everyone hopes that the UK finds a way out of this mess, but the past few years haven’t provided much evidence to believe that it will end well.Trump has long supported Brexit. He made that support clear during his presidential campaign and has expressed it repeatedly as president. Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, now appears to be doing what he can to ensure Brexit happens. When in the UK recently, Bolton tried to incentivise Brexit by dangling the possibility of a trade deal with the US after the UK leaves the EU, saying that the UK would be at the “front of the trade queue” for a deal.But that won’t happen. First, the politics in the US right now mean that it is incredibly difficult to pass any trade deals, even with America’s closest allies. Second, and more important, US congressional leaders have already signalled that a deal would be dead on arrival in Congress if Brexit affects the situation in Northern Ireland. As the speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, said: “If Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress.”In fact, the reality of a post-Brexit US-UK alliance could be just the opposite of the false promises being peddled by Trump and Bolton: the longer-term impacts of Brexit could include a significantly downgraded relationship between the two nations. It’s been a long time since the UK was the global power it once was, but it’s still a vital US ally. From diplomatic cooperation at the UN, to supporting the Iran nuclear deal, to working together in Nato, there are endless examples of how a strong alliance – and a strong UK – is in the US interest.But if the UK leaves the EU – especially without a deal – its influence and power will decrease markedly. It would no longer be able to influence EU decisions on economic matters in a bloc that constitutes the world’s second largest economy and with which the US traded $1.3tn in goods and services in 2018. It would no longer be able to influence the EU position on challenges such as Russia and China. If a no-deal Brexit causes a rift within the UK by pushing Scotland towards independence or undermining the Good Friday agreement, it will have even less bandwidth to play a positive role around the world. And if Brexit damages the UK economy, it will likely mean a UK with less global economic and military power.While a post-Brexit UK is still likely to be one of the world’s largest economies and will retain its seat on the UN security council, it will be less important to US national security and economic interests. In addition, if the UK and EU remain at odds over significant economic and political issues in the wake of Brexit, it could place the US in an awkward position between close allies in the UK and on the rest of the continent.Furthermore, Brexit won’t make the serious policy disagreements between the Trump administration and the UK magically disappear. For instance, the two have been at odds over the US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and whether to allow the Chinese telecommunications company Huawei to do business in Britain. It seems unlikely that the Trump administration would be willing to give the UK a break on those issues in the event of Brexit – just look at the recent spat with Britain over whether to release an Iranian oil tanker detained in Gibraltar.While some might believe that Trump and Johnson’s relationship as kindred demagogic spirits could help buoy the alliance in the wake of Brexit, it should be clear by now that the two leaders are driven by their own political interests and are willing to damage the special relationship if it advances their own personal positions.Trump has no interest in the US-UK alliance – he’s an agent of chaos, and supporting Brexit is yet another way for him to upend international norms. Trump’s disdain for allies should be fair warning to those who think the president might be willing to offer fair trade terms to Britain. As analyst Jeremy Shapiro points out, what we know so far about the terms for a US-UK deal “reveals that it is very much an ‘America first’ effort”. Faith in Trump to help a US ally is misplaced. “Our allies take advantage of us far more than our enemies,” Trump said at a recent rally.If the current UK government believes that the US will shower rewards on Britain in the wake of Brexit, or that it will somehow bail Britain out, they’re wrong. Many policymakers in America will stick with the UK because of the longstanding alliance, but it could be a diminished alliance. And that would be bad for both countries.• Michael H Fuchs is a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, and a former deputy assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 10:23:03 -0400
  • Rohingya Muslims say they don't want to return to Myanmar

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    COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) — Few Muslim Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have responded to plans for their repatriation to Myanmar, and all who did said they don't want to go back, officials from the U.N. refugee agency and Bangladesh's government said Tuesday. Bangladesh's refugee commissioner, Abul Kalam, said only 21 families out of 1,056 selected for repatriation starting Thursday were willing to be interviewed by officials about whether they wish to return.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 09:59:57 -0400
  • Britain to "unshackle" officials from most EU meetings ahead of Brexit

    Britain will "unshackle" its officials from most European Union meetings so they can focus on Brexit, reducing attendance by up to half, the Brexit ministry said on Tuesday. “From now on we will only go to the meetings that really matter, reducing attendance by over half and saving hundreds of hours," Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay said in a statement. As of Sept. 1, British officials will only attend EU meetings where the United Kingdom has a significant national interest, for example security, the ministry said.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 09:46:52 -0400
  • EXPLAINER-A guide to the Brexit backstop, and why there's a UK-EU standoff

    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has made a fresh push to drop the so-called Irish backstop from the Brexit deal, renewing a demand the EU has repeatedly rejected. In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, Johnson said that the backstop - an insurance policy to keep the Irish border open after Britain leaves the European Union - was "anti-democratic", and demanded its removal from the stalled divorce deal. The backstop would require Britain to obey some EU rules if no other way could be found to keep the land border between British-ruled Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland invisible.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 09:31:53 -0400
  • The U.S. Military Has One Goal: Beat China or Russia in a War (But There Is A Problem)

    Golocal247.com news

    Time and again, the United States has attempted to redirect more of its attention and resources toward its competitions with Russia and China. But Washington's other commitments around the world continues to undermine this effort. Since taking office, U.S. President Donald Trump has sought to address this problem by pressuring allies to commit more military resources to places like Syria (where the United States is trying to draw troop levels) and most recently, the Persian Gulf (where it now faces an increased risk of a military clash with Iran). But concerns over the direction of U.S. leadership has made even Washington's strongest partners in Europe reticent to deploy more troops to these hot spots. This lack of trust — combined with the fact that many allies already have significant security commitments of their own — will likely leave the United States with little choice but to make do with the allied support it has in order to finish out its duties in the Middle East.Western Europe: Able But Unwilling In Europe, the United Kingdom and France are the two most powerful and strategically important U.S. allies. Both countries have been actively involved in the U.S.-led mission against the Islamic State. The United Kingdom, in particular, has been a major contributor of troops to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan and has almost doubled its forces in the country over the past year at the request of the United States. France, on the other hand, withdrew its combat troops from Afghanistan in late 2012. But Paris has remained active in operations throughout sub-Saharan Africa, oftentimes alongside U.S. forces. In a May operation, two members of the French special operations forces died freeing an American hostage in northern Burkina Faso. And in October 2017, French forces came to the rescue of U.S. troops who were ambushed in Niger. These contributions notwithstanding, the United States has struggled to mobilize London and Paris in many of the areas in which Washington has sought further allied reinforcements — namely, in Syria and the Persian Gulf.Ever since Trump unexpectedly announced plans to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria in April, the White House has tried to petition its allies to increase their presence in the country to ease the transition. However, the United Kingdom and France — and all U.S. allies, for that matter — hesitate to maintain forces in Syria absent a U.S. presence for fear of being left without support in a theater in which their troops could easily come into contact with Russian, Turkish and Iranian forces. As a small concession, Paris and Berlin recently pledged to increase their troop contributions in Syria by 10 percent. But this, of course, is still far from the commitment Trump needs to fulfill his pledge to withdraw all U.S. forces from the country.A similar story applies to the Persian Gulf. Following a series of Iranian-linked attacks on oil transport ships in July, Washington has attempted to marshal a coalition of regional and global allies to better secure tanker traffic and act as a deterrent against future Iranian aggression in the region. However, ever since Trump decided last year to abandon the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — most of Washington's global partners have been highly skeptical of its approach to Tehran. And as a result, even the strongest U.S. allies have resisted supporting Washington's proposed security and surveillance initiative in the Persian Gulf, known as the Sentinel program, for fear of being dragged into a full-blown conflict with Iran.The United Kingdom, however, has been more directly implicated in the Iranian tanker tensions in the Persian Gulf, with Tehran seizing a U.K. vessel on July 20 in response to London's earlier seizure of an Iranian tanker in the Strait of Gibraltar. And thus, unlike other countries, London has openly recognized the need for a naval escort task force in the region. But instead of supporting the U.S. Sentinel program, the United Kingdom initially sought to launch a Persian Gulf security and surveillance initiative of its own, which has so far earned the tentative backing of France, Italy and Denmark. But this began to change following the recent appointment of U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has a closer relationship with Trump and whose administration is realizing the limits of implementing a security program in the Persian Gulf without U.S. support.In addition to France and the United Kingdom, Germany, too, has long been a loyal U.S. military partner. The country, home to Europe's largest economy, currently provides excellent military facilities for U.S. troops and contributes the second-largest contingent of troops in Afghanistan (after the United States). But like its European peers, Berlin also remains concerned over the direction of U.S. leadership in the Middle East. And this, combined with limited public support for significant military engagements abroad, is why Germany was quick to turn down U.S. requests to send troops to Syria or to join with the Sentinel operation in the Persian Gulf.Eastern Europe: Willing But UnableA number of other, smaller European countries — namely Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Georgia — remain much more willing to contribute to U.S. military efforts around the world. These countries are, by no coincidence, particularly concerned over the threat of a potential clash with Russia. And thus, they do their best with what resources they have to help the United States in its missions abroad, with the expectation that Washington would return the favor should they ever need help against Moscow. But unlike France, Germany and the United Kingdom, the problem these countries face is not one of reticence, but of capacity.Relative to its size, Georgia already contributes disproportionately to U.S. efforts in Afghanistan. In total, the number of Georgian personnel currently deployed there nearly matches U.K. and German levels. This despite a population a fraction of their size (Georgia has 4 million people, compared to 83 million in Germany and 66 million in the United Kingdom). But the same factors that compel these Eastern European and Baltic countries to partake in U.S. military endeavors is also what constrains their ability to spread themselves much further. In other words, what military strength they haven't already devoted to helping the United States is needed at home to defend against Russia. Asia-Pacific: A Mixed BagBut the roster of U.S. partners, of course, extends far beyond the West. Washington has several powerful allies in the Asia-Pacific, including Japan, South Korea and Australia. Japan's robust navy, for example, would be of great aid in fending off Iran in the Persian Gulf. But like Washington's European allies, Japan remains wary of U.S. intentions and has so far declined to lend its support to the Sentinel program. That said, even if Tokyo was more willing to help, Japan's relatively pacifist population and constitutional limits still constrain its ability to conduct extensive foreign military missions.South Korea's growing expeditionary capabilities, meanwhile, make it an increasingly attractive partner for U.S. missions in the Middle East and beyond. But for now, Seoul remains primarily concentrated on threats from North Korea and is thus unlikely to sanction significant external missions beyond the dispatch of token forces. And finally, Australia's military alliance with the United States has strengthened in recent years, with Canberra contributing significantly to several U.S. missions in the Middle East. But Australia's relatively small military limits the extent to which it can reinforce Washington's global military priorities. Though perhaps most importantly, Australia — like many of Washington's most willing partners — already has its hands full facing off against the very threats that the United States wants to focus on. China's increasingly powerful military, along with its growing economic influence in the Pacific, will compel both Australia and Japan to keep the majority of its forces closer home. And likewise, Russia's aggressive regional activities and expansionist plans will compel Eastern European countries to remain focused on their own territory. So while the United States may have trouble soliciting additional support to close out its ongoing commitments in the Middle East, it is likely to find willing partners to work with it against Moscow and Beijing.This article appeared originally at Stratfor Worldview.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 09:26:00 -0400
  • Russia's New Weapons: From Doomsday Nuclear Torpedoes to Skyfall Missiles

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    The incident itself had immediate and drastic effects: five dead and a spike in radiation that was up to 16 times higher than normal. But the larger fallout from the Aug. 8 explosion of a nuclear-powered cruise missile on Russia's White Sea coast has drawn renewed attention to the development of some of the country's newest, high-tech strategic weapons. The development of the weapon in question fits into Moscow's broader effort to maintain its nuclear deterrent. While Russia's ambitions are pushing the boundaries of its capabilities in some of these projects — to even deadly results, as the most recent case demonstrates — the overall effort will undoubtedly force the United States into a response.Putin's Big PlansIn the Aug. 8 incident, Russian scientists were reportedly testing the Burevestnik missile system, which is also known as the 9M730 or, in NATO, as the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. The Russian government hasn't openly stated that it was the Burevestnik that exploded, but the few details it has shared point in that direction. Different statements have described a missile launched from an offshore test platform that included a small power source that used radioactive materials — the exact qualities that set the Burevestnik apart as a missile system. Indeed, the Burevestnik's use of a miniature nuclear reactor would give it virtually unlimited range.Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted of this unlimited range when he announced a number of strategic weapons under development in a state of the nation address in March 2018, heralding the Burevestnik and five other weapon systems that are meant to reinforce Russia's ability to maintain a strategic deterrent against the United States. While Putin revealed no great secret in highlighting these weapons in his speech (in fact, some even date back to the Soviet era), he has prioritized their development during his rule.These systems, apart from the Peresvet (a mobile laser used for air and missile defense), are all specifically geared toward evading or defeating U.S. missile defense capabilities, which Russia considers a significant threat to its ability to sustain a strategic deterrent. The strategic nuclear force is one of Russia's last claims to great power status. Combined with its importance in countering NATO's superiority in conventional arms, Russia's desire to retain its dominant status compels it to develop its strategic deterrent above all else. This is also why Russia perceives U.S. missile defense efforts as a grave threat and why it is working to ensure it can defeat it. Accordingly, the development of these mostly offensive systems plays a critical role in how Russia has chosen to address the strategic arms race, rather than, for example, striving to achieve parity with the United States in defensive capabilities. The Burevestnik missile, in turn, fits into this pattern, since it can achieve a global reach thanks to its nuclear-powered turbine and, because it is a cruise missile, can evade missile defenses by maneuvering in flight.Another weapon that came into focus after Putin's March 2018 announcement was the nuclear-capable Kinzhal hypersonic air-launched missile. This missile, which fighter aircraft or bombers would transport, can reach speeds as fast as Mach 10 and maneuver to overcome missile defense systems. Following thorough testing, the Kinzhal is now operational in an experimental capacity on some aircraft, though further development to extend its use to Russia's strategic bombers continues. Of course, as an air-launched ballistic missile, the weapon essentially rejigs existing technologies in a new form. But despite the apparent success of the program, some have argued the Kinzhal may not perform as well as Russia claims and may fail to combine its speed and maneuverability with accuracy.Pushing the concept of hypersonics even further, Russia has also been working on the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle. According to the military's plans, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) will deliver the vehicle, which will then detach and home in on its target at speeds of up to Mach 27. Just like the Burevestnik, the Avangard can also maneuver in flight — albeit at much greater speeds — to actively avoid missile defenses. The Avangard program itself has faced major threats in the past, as the Kremlin came close to canceling the program in 2014 following a series of failed tests. But as a result of more successful recent tests, the Avangard is expected to become operational by next year — notwithstanding questions about Russia's ability to source the advanced materials required to produce the system on a mass scale.The Avangard also depends to some degree on the development of a separate weapon that Putin mentioned in his 2018 address: the Sarmat ICBM. While other ICBM models have launched the Avangard in previous tests, the Sarmat is meant to eventually replace the entire Russian silo-based nuclear arsenal. While the missile is primarily an updated and more powerful version of its Soviet-era predecessor, it offers some additional capabilities against missile defenses thanks to its shorter boost phase (which limits the time during which Russia's adversaries can track it from space at launch) and reported ability to function as a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System (FOBS). The latter capability would allow the Sarmat to bring nuclear warheads into orbit before reentering the atmosphere to continue on toward their targets. This means that Russian nuclear weapons would not need to follow a ballistic or projectile path toward the United States but could be fired in any direction before emerging from space to approach the country from areas with less early-warning radar or missile-defense coverage.Not all of these Russian strategic superweapons are missiles, however; one of the most atypical arms is the Poseidon, a large torpedo that is both nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed. Described as an unmanned underwater vehicle, the Poseidon is capable of delivering a nuclear payload to coastal targets or even carrier groups at sea. According to Russian plans, the 24-meter-long weapon will be able to reach speeds of up to 100 kilometers per hour and travel as far as 10,000 kilometers on its own. The Poseidon's nuclear-powered propulsion is similar to that of nuclear submarines and easier than that of the Burevestnik. By traveling underwater, the Poseidon will also be able to avoid missile defense systems, although it will, naturally, only be able to hit a limited target set. At the same time, only specific, purpose-built submarines like the Belgorod will be able to deploy the Poseidon, meaning Russia will encounter difficulties if it wishes to deploy significant numbers of the weapon.A Mixed Bag of SuccessThe ill-fated Aug. 8 test illustrates the risks involved in developing a missile powered by a nuclear reactor — namely, the possibility that an accident could release radioactive materials. More than that, however, it also highlights the Russian defense industry's continued challenges of actually getting the missile to work. While Russia has denied that other tests of the Burevestnik have failed, U.S. intelligence sources have previously claimed that at least four missiles crashed between November 2017 and February 2018, with the longest flight measuring only 35 kilometers (22 miles). That would make the Aug. 8 launch the fifth known — and, so far, most unsuccessful — test flight to date.The Burevestnik has been in development since the early 2000s, but the lofty aims of the missile currently appear to be beyond the capabilities of Russia's defense engineers. The missile is designed to launch using a liquid-fueled engine before initiating the nuclear reactor as its power source. In previous tests, however, it seems the Burevestnik's nuclear reactor failed to initiate, resulting in crashes just a few minutes later. And needless to say, the fatalities and other casualties caused by the latest accident may also disrupt the development program. For now, Russia has stated it will continue developing the Burevestnik rather than cancel it after nearly two decades of trying.The Burevestnik's failures notwithstanding, the missile is just one aspect of Russia's attempts to increase the capabilities of its strategic forces, as the development of other programs has proceeded much more promisingly. And even if the Kremlin isn't successful at bringing all of these projects to fruition, the ones that are succeeding are already giving the United States plenty to think about in its continuing strategic arms race with Russia.This article appeared originally at Stratfor Worldview.Image: Reuters.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 09:17:00 -0400
  • Stop Comparing the Moscow and Paris Protests

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- During their generally friendly meeting on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin traded barbs about how their respective countries treat political protesters.The exchange should be instructive to those who buy and spread the Kremlin propaganda's argument that the violence unleashed on Moscow protesters in recent weeks is somehow justified by France’s tough response to the Yellow Vests.I must start with a disclaimer: I consider the suppression of protests in both countries to be disproportionate. I don’t buy the argument that the Yellow Vests deserved tougher treatment than the Moscow protesters because they were more violent. Obviously, there are limits to what authorities can tolerate if they are to protect the lives and property of other citizens and defend the rule of law. But violence is a vicious circle: “Who started it?” usually isn't a smart question to ask.There is, though, a fundamental difference between the French and the Russian responses which I think neither Putin nor Macron quite understands.In France, Putin made his first public comments on the protests that were triggered by the authorities’ refusal to allow anti-Kremlin candidates to take part in next month’s municipal election in Moscow.His comments were hardly surprising: The rejected candidates should take their grievances to the courts and no one has the right to break the law by provoking mass disturbances. One could hardly expect Putin, famous for never retreating under pressure, to say anything else. But then he added:I’m a guest here and I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I’m forced to say it because you’re asking such questions. We all know the events that had to do with the so-called Yellow Vests, during which, by our calculation, 11 people died and 2,500 were injured, including 2,000 police. We wouldn’t like similar events to take place in the Russian capital, and we’ll do everything to keep our domestic political situation strictly within the framework of existing law.Putin's statistics were questionable: While 11 deaths have been attributed to the Yellow Vest protests, many more were wounded than 2,500 – and the majority of them were demonstrators, not police. But Macron ignored this when he retorted:In France, those who demonstrate are able to freely take part in elections. The Yellow Vests were free to participate in the European elections and will go to the local elections.That, of course, should have been a killer rejoinder, but it didn’t quite work as such. The Yellow Vests failed miserably in the European election in May. The essentially leaderless movement was too disunited and politically inexperienced to get anywhere. It produced two lists of candidates, neither of which garnered even 1% of the vote. A complex political system like France’s is difficult for outsiders to penetrate. Macron and his fellow party members are of the elite, and, unlike the Yellow Vests, know how to play the game.Unable to create a powerful political force of their own, 44% of Yellow Vest supporters took their protest votes to the far right National Rally party, according to a poll published just before the election. The National Rally came first in the ballot, but its nationalist agenda doesn’t really help the Yellow Vests’ mainly economic demands.The causes of the two protests are essentially similar: France’s poor and Moscow’s educated class feel they are unable to play successfully by the existing rules because their voices aren’t being heard. One could argue that the Yellow Vests’ agenda is all about resentment coming from people left behind by progress, while educated Muscovites are trying to move their country forward; but that kind of difference shouldn’t matter when it comes to democratic representation.The basic difference between what happens to protesters in Russia and in France isn’t so much about democracy as about freedom. In Moscow, the rallies’ organizers were careful to say in their social media posts that they weren’t calling on anyone to attend – otherwise they would be leaving themselves open to criminal prosecution. The protesters didn’t burn cars or break windows because they knew the system would ruin their lives by throwing them behind bars for years. Even now, some of the demonstrators are being tried on the flimsiest of evidence for allegedly resisting police. On the other hand, the riot police, for all their eager truncheon work, have inflicted few serious injuries, and no one has died. Had there been more bloodshed, Putin would have had much more to fear from the protesters.In other words, in Russia – which isn’t a free country by any definition – the sides are if not exactly scared of each other, then cautious to avoid a ruinous escalation.In France, the discontented are emboldened by a centuries-old barricade tradition. Nor are police inhibited by their commanders’ fear that the ruling regime might fall if they give as good as they get. In the end, it’s a legitimate fight on both sides: One asserts its freedom to protest and make its voice heard by an elite they believe is deaf to quieter calls, while the other defends the legal boundaries of that freedom.Those freedoms – of speech and assembly – take precedence over the rights to elect and be elected because they allow the politically unrepresented to exert an influence. Despite their failure, the Yellow Vests have forced Macron to pay more attention to social policy and to show more interest in ordinary citizens’ grievances. In Russia, these basic freedoms are as suppressed as electoral democracy. That’s why Putin’s oft-repeated claim that Moscow is a more peaceful city than Paris is misplaced: The system he has built will eventually be brought down by a bigger explosion of anger than free France is ever likely to see.To contact the author of this story: Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Leonid Bershidsky is Bloomberg Opinion's Europe columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 08:57:03 -0400
  • Stop Comparing the Moscow and Paris Protests

    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- During their generally friendly meeting on Monday, French President Emmanuel Macron and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin traded barbs about how their respective countries treat political protesters.The exchange should be instructive to those who buy and spread the Kremlin propaganda's argument that the violence unleashed on Moscow protesters in recent weeks is somehow justified by France’s tough response to the Yellow Vests.I must start with a disclaimer: I consider the suppression of protests in both countries to be disproportionate. I don’t buy the argument that the Yellow Vests deserved tougher treatment than the Moscow protesters because they were more violent. Obviously, there are limits to what authorities can tolerate if they are to protect the lives and property of other citizens and defend the rule of law. But violence is a vicious circle: “Who started it?” usually isn't a smart question to ask.There is, though, a fundamental difference between the French and the Russian responses which I think neither Putin nor Macron quite understands.In France, Putin made his first public comments on the protests that were triggered by the authorities’ refusal to allow anti-Kremlin candidates to take part in next month’s municipal election in Moscow.His comments were hardly surprising: The rejected candidates should take their grievances to the courts and no one has the right to break the law by provoking mass disturbances. One could hardly expect Putin, famous for never retreating under pressure, to say anything else. But then he added:I’m a guest here and I’m a little embarrassed to say this, but I’m forced to say it because you’re asking such questions. We all know the events that had to do with the so-called Yellow Vests, during which, by our calculation, 11 people died and 2,500 were injured, including 2,000 police. We wouldn’t like similar events to take place in the Russian capital, and we’ll do everything to keep our domestic political situation strictly within the framework of existing law.Putin's statistics were questionable: While 11 deaths have been attributed to the Yellow Vest protests, many more were wounded than 2,500 – and the majority of them were demonstrators, not police. But Macron ignored this when he retorted:In France, those who demonstrate are able to freely take part in elections. The Yellow Vests were free to participate in the European elections and will go to the local elections.That, of course, should have been a killer rejoinder, but it didn’t quite work as such. The Yellow Vests failed miserably in the European election in May. The essentially leaderless movement was too disunited and politically inexperienced to get anywhere. It produced two lists of candidates, neither of which garnered even 1% of the vote. A complex political system like France’s is difficult for outsiders to penetrate. Macron and his fellow party members are of the elite, and, unlike the Yellow Vests, know how to play the game.Unable to create a powerful political force of their own, 44% of Yellow Vest supporters took their protest votes to the far right National Rally party, according to a poll published just before the election. The National Rally came first in the ballot, but its nationalist agenda doesn’t really help the Yellow Vests’ mainly economic demands.The causes of the two protests are essentially similar: France’s poor and Moscow’s educated class feel they are unable to play successfully by the existing rules because their voices aren’t being heard. One could argue that the Yellow Vests’ agenda is all about resentment coming from people left behind by progress, while educated Muscovites are trying to move their country forward; but that kind of difference shouldn’t matter when it comes to democratic representation.The basic difference between what happens to protesters in Russia and in France isn’t so much about democracy as about freedom. In Moscow, the rallies’ organizers were careful to say in their social media posts that they weren’t calling on anyone to attend – otherwise they would be leaving themselves open to criminal prosecution. The protesters didn’t burn cars or break windows because they knew the system would ruin their lives by throwing them behind bars for years. Even now, some of the demonstrators are being tried on the flimsiest of evidence for allegedly resisting police. On the other hand, the riot police, for all their eager truncheon work, have inflicted few serious injuries, and no one has died. Had there been more bloodshed, Putin would have had much more to fear from the protesters.In other words, in Russia – which isn’t a free country by any definition – the sides are if not exactly scared of each other, then cautious to avoid a ruinous escalation.In France, the discontented are emboldened by a centuries-old barricade tradition. Nor are police inhibited by their commanders’ fear that the ruling regime might fall if they give as good as they get. In the end, it’s a legitimate fight on both sides: One asserts its freedom to protest and make its voice heard by an elite they believe is deaf to quieter calls, while the other defends the legal boundaries of that freedom.Those freedoms – of speech and assembly – take precedence over the rights to elect and be elected because they allow the politically unrepresented to exert an influence. Despite their failure, the Yellow Vests have forced Macron to pay more attention to social policy and to show more interest in ordinary citizens’ grievances. In Russia, these basic freedoms are as suppressed as electoral democracy. That’s why Putin’s oft-repeated claim that Moscow is a more peaceful city than Paris is misplaced: The system he has built will eventually be brought down by a bigger explosion of anger than free France is ever likely to see.To contact the author of this story: Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Edward Evans at eevans3@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Leonid Bershidsky is Bloomberg Opinion's Europe columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 08:57:03 -0400
  • UN agency: Rival tribes clash in southern Libya; 90 killed

    A U.N. humanitarian agency says at least 90 people have died this month in southern Libya amid fighting between rival tribes. The fighting pits the Arab Alzway tribe against the sub-Saharan African Tabu tribe that inhabits a wide area stretching across Chad, Libya, Sudan and Niger and that often crosses into Libya. The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said Tuesday the clashes have displaced 6,400 people.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 08:55:16 -0400
  • Pompeo Says North Korea Missile Tests Are of Concern to U.S.

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    (Bloomberg) -- North Korea’s continued missile tests are of concern to the U.S. government, and negotiations to halt Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions have lagged, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said Tuesday."We haven’t gotten back to the table as quickly as we would have liked,” Pompeo said in an interview with “CBS This Morning.” “But we’ve been pretty clear all along that we know there would be bumps along the way.”Asked whether he was concerned about North Korea’s sixth round of missile tests since July, Pompeo responded “Yes, I wish that they would not. In the end, Chairman Kim made a commitment to President Trump in Singapore in June of last year where he said that he was preparing to denuclearize. Our team’s effort at the State Department is to deliver that on behalf of the American people."North Korea said Saturday that leader Kim Jong Un oversaw tests of an unspecified new weapon, in a move seen as an effort to pressure Washington and Seoul over joint military exercises and the status of nuclear talks, the Associated Press reported.To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan Fabian in Washington at jfabian6@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Elizabeth Wasserman, Kathleen HunterFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 08:55:13 -0400
  • REFILE-UPDATE 1-Pompeo says N. Korea talks have not resumed as quickly as hoped -CBS

    The United States has not returned to the negotiation table with North Korea as quickly as it had hoped, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, but he added that Washington knew there would be 'bumps on the road' in the denuclearization talks. Speaking in an interview with CBS, Pompeo said Washington was concerned about North Korea's firing of short-range missiles. The latest of the missile tests by North Korea was carried out on Friday as Pyongyang fired two more short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 08:48:28 -0400
  • Rohingya Muslims say they don't want to return to Myanmar

    COX'S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AP) — Officials from the U.N. refugee agency and Bangladesh's government say few Muslim Rohingya refugees have responded to plans for their repatriation to Myanmar, and all who did say they don't want to go back. Bangladesh's refugee commissioner, Abul Kalam, said Tuesday that only 21 families out of 1,056 selected for repatriation starting Thursday have submitted forms and talked to officials about whether they wish to return. Last year, a similar attempt by the UNHCR and the two countries failed, with no refugees wanting to return voluntarily, a condition Bangladesh said it would follow under an agreement with Myanmar.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 08:40:31 -0400
  • Pompeo Says China Should Respect Hong Kong Protesters' Rights

    (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Michael Pompeo called on China to respect Hong Kong demonstrators’ rights and to fulfill its pledge to uphold one country with two systems of government.“President Trump captured this, I think, perfectly across the weekend when he said we support democracy, we support liberty,” Pompeo said in an interview Tuesday with “CBS This Morning.” “We very much want to make sure that those folks that have the desire in their hearts to protest -- to speak out on behalf of their own freedom, their own liberty, to do so.”Pompeo said the protests, which have been ongoing for more than two months, should be conducted peacefully. “And the Chinese government should respect their right to speak out in a way that they’re speaking," he said.The pro-democracy protesters came out in force on Sunday in a largely calm gathering that contrasted with violent clashes with police in previous weeks. Demonstrators oppose Beijing’s attempts to tighten control over the city.Pompeo echoed President Donald Trump, connecting the demonstrations to the trade dispute between the U.S. and China."China needs to fulfill its promises,” he said. “One of the challenges in the trade deal is you have to make sure that China actually lives up to the commitments that it would make. In Hong Kong, this Chinese government made a promise that it has a central understanding that there’d be one country, two systems and they need to live up to that promise."Pompeo also said the U.S. is concerned with North Korea’s recent missile tests and wishes they would be halted. He still said he hopes negotiations will resume with Pyongyang."We haven’t gotten back to the table as quickly as we would have hoped," he said.To contact the reporter on this story: Jordan Fabian in Washington at jfabian6@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Kevin Whitelaw at kwhitelaw@bloomberg.net, Elizabeth Wasserman, Kathleen HunterFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 08:38:49 -0400
  • Johnson Brexit letter offers no alternatives to Irish backstop: EU

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    The EU on Tuesday rejected British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's demand to scrap the Irish border backstop plan to achieve a Brexit deal, saying he had offered no workable alternative. Johnson wrote to EU Council President Donald Tusk on Monday to insist that Britain could not accept what he called the "anti-democratic" backstop, a mechanism to avoid border checks between EU-member Ireland and British-ruled Northern Ireland.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 07:17:07 -0400
  • America Alone Cannot Save Hong Kong

    Golocal247.com news

    On July 4, 1821, then-Secretary of State John Quincy Adams answered critics who implied the United States wasn’t doing enough on the world stage. America, he said, “is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all,” but is “the champion and vindicator only of her own.” His words might appropriately apply to Hong Kong today.The United States is the most powerful and longest-lasting democracy in the world today. Throughout our history, we have been the biggest advocates of democracy and freedom abroad—and occasionally, spilled our own blood to defend and preserve it for the benefit of others. We should unequivocally affirm the aspirations of those in Hong Kong who seek expanded freedoms. Where we must exercise wisdom and prudence, however, is in how forcefully and in what ways we support the freedom-seekers.This past weekend was the eleventh consecutive week of protests and marked one of the largest demonstrations in the history of Hong Kong, as an estimated 1.7 million people marched. The flare-up began when the Hong Kong government considered passing a new law that would make it easier to extradite Hong Kong citizens to mainland China. Many feared it would increase Beijing’s coercive power over the island.Hong Kong has been governed by the “one country, two systems” approach negotiated between Beijing and London in 1997 that paved the way for a return of sovereignty to China. Beijing sought to allay the fears of Hongkongers that the communist government would not destroy the relative freedoms Hong Kong residents enjoyed under 156 years of British rule.Over the past several years, however, Chinese leaders have been slowly chipping away at those freedoms. These protests may have started over the extradition law, but it proved to be a spark that erupted into a flame, as Hong Kong residents vent their frustration at the loss of freedoms and fear they may lose more. The question for U.S. policymakers, however, is what, if anything, should the United States do?On Sunday, President Donald Trump said he believed Chinese President Xi Jinping and the protest organizers would be able to work their differences out, but said, “I think it would be very hard to [reach a trade deal with China] if they do violence. If it’s another Tiananmen Square … I think it’s a very hard thing to do if there’s violence.” While it’s understandable Trump would communicate consequences to Beijing should they quash the protests, the dilemma in which this would place America illustrates why Adams’ 1821 advice remains valid and important today.The United States and China remain locked in a trade war that is already hurting both sides, especially American farmers. The situation should be resolved as quickly and positively as possible to spare the American people economic hardship. Predicating a negotiated settlement on what China may or may not do in regards to the protesters in Hong Kong would place us in a position where our economic interests continue to suffer for the sake of another nation.Beijing has incentives to resolve this dispute peacefully. Hong Kong is one of the world’s leading centers for business and represents a crucial bridge between China’s mainland economy and their connection with the rest of the world. The ongoing protests cause incalculable—and compounding—harm to Beijing’s domestic economy. If the protests turned into riots and Xi ordered a violent crackdown, Beijing would pay a heavy political and economic price, domestically and internationally.However much some in America may wish to intervene in Hong Kong if things go south, the sober truth is that there aren’t many levers America could pull, let alone any that would be likely to improve the situation. There is already growing angst between Washington and Beijing owing to the trade war, our challenges to China’s claims of sovereignty over some islands in the South China Sea, and over the recent sale of F-16s and other offensive weapons to Taiwan. Our ability to positively influence Xi is therefore at a low ebb.The best way to influence China—or any country—would be to act as an exemplar in demonstrating how modern, powerful nations deal with disputes in effective, free, and fair ways, and without resorting to violence. We wish all people to enjoy freedom and are right in advocating for it. But we can only fight for and guarantee the freedoms of our own people.Daniel L. Davis is a Senior Fellow for Defense Priorities and a former Lt. Col. in the U.S. Army who retired in 2015 after twenty-one years, including four combat deployments. Follow him @DanielLDavis1.Image: Reuters.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 06:40:00 -0400
  • North Korea's Recent Missile and 'Projectile' Tests Need Your Attention

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    On August 10, North Korea conducted its sixth missile test as the United States and South Korea began their long-planned, yet much scaled-down, joint military exercises. In response to the drills, Pyongyang has also made itself clear that it would be compelled to “seek a new road” if Washington and South Korea were to continue to “sharpen a sword” against the regime.But the truth is North Korea has already been paving its “new road” for quite some time now. Despite the tightening sanctions imposed on the regime since 2017, intended to suffocate its weapons of mass destruction programs, it continues to surprise the world with even more sophisticated weapons.Disregarding all the growing concerns among the international community, U.S. President Donald Trump has continually downplayed the recent missile launches. He stated that short-range missiles are not nuclear and “very standard”—i.e., something that many other countries test as well. While some might concur with this underestimation just because they are not nuclear, what those weapons are actually capable of should intimidate analysts and policymakers a bit more. In a nutshell, they could make South Korean defense systems obsolete.On May 4 this year, Northeast Asian security was again challenged by Pyongyang’s series of projectile and new short-range ballistic missile launches. Amidst these tests was the collapse in negotiations after the failed Hanoi summit in February. What follows is a break down of those systems.240mm / 300mm MLRSThe first two projectiles were reported to have featured two types of large-caliber, multiple launch rocket systems (MLRS)—the 240mm and 300mm MLRS.The 240mm MLRS rockets, often stationed in semi-hardened artillery sites, have been part of the DPRK’s arsenal since 1985. With an estimated range of about 25 to 31 miles, they are capable of carrying a relatively small warhead of about 100 pounds. According to an analysis based on photographs released by KCNA, the weapons are most likely powered by a smokeless, double-based solid fuel. Without any form of guidance, the 240mm MLRS systems would be used mainly to carry out saturation attacks on large targets such as frontline military bases and urban areas. On the other hand, the 300mm—also called the KN-09—is a new guided artillery rocket that was first tested in 2013 and has an estimated range of 118 to 124 miles, capable of carrying a light, conventional warhead. Its origins are unclear but presumed to be a modified version of a Chinese 2S-1B rocket, built to strike rear-echelon targets 31 to 62 miles behind the first front. The missile consists of the so-called SY-300 precision strike rocket system; canard guidance fins that can be seen near the warhead section, and it is stated to have GPS/INS guidance which increases its precision strikes if a satellite navigation receiver to update the inactive navigation components is included in the guidance unit.KN-23 / IskanderNorth Korea’s so-called “new-type tactical guided weapon” or KN-23 was also tested on the same day. This missile type resembles—and is equivalent of—a Russian Iskander (9M723, 22-26), of which export versions are capable of reaching as far as 174 miles when carrying an 882 to 1102 pound warhead (the domestic version varies from 248 to 311 miles).This missile was also consecutively tested later on May 9, July 25, and most recently on August 6. What those tests have clearly demonstrated is the missile’s flexible travel distance; it flew 150 miles on May 4, 260 miles on May 9, 428 miles in July, and 280 miles in August. These demonstrate a range that could easily reach both South Korea and Japan. Moreover, if the missile really is a Russian-produced Iskander, policymakers should be troubled by what this missile can potentially do.The Iskander is an ultramodern and versatile missile, comprising a single warhead equipped terminal guidance systems, that required years of development and testing. Iskander-E—the export version of the missile—can strike targets within a circular error probable (CEP) of 16 and 33 ft, using inertial guidance for its midcourse fight as well as electro-optical terminal guidance. The accuracy could be even greater if the systems were supported by radar or electro-optical sensors. Such accuracy adds far more danger when equipped with a conventional warhead and its many types including high explosive (HE), sub-munition dispenser, fuel-air explosive, and HE penetrator variants. The missile’s many targets could range from surface-to-air missile batteries, short-range missiles, airfields, ports, command and communication centers, to factories.What is even more worrisome in addition to the KN-23’s accuracy is the fact that current missile defense technologies are not sophisticated enough to intercept these missiles. The reason is that these missiles fly on a depressed trajectory, can maneuver up to 30g in flight, and have decoys to trick interceptor missiles. Plus, the KN-23 can take advantage of the gap in South Korean and American missile-defense coverage. Patriot missile-defense interceptors are estimated to have an engagement ceiling of about 25 miles while THAAD and Aegis missile defenses have an engagement floor of roughly 31 miles, which creates a gap that between the interceptors’ layers at altitudes between them.“Newly-Developed Large Caliber Multiple Launch Guided Rocket System”Before the international community could take another breath after Pyongyang’s consistent KN-23 tests, it has unveiled its “newly-developed large-caliber multiple launch guided rocket system,” first on July 31 and again on August 2. According to KCNA, “The test-fire scientifically confirmed that the tactical data and technical characteristics of the new-type large-caliber guided ordnance rocket reached the numerical values of its design, and verified the combat effectiveness of the overall system.”A video of the launcher and projectile released by KCNA, although heavily pixelated, reveals a set of small fins on the projectile indicating its “guided” nature like the KN-09 rocket system that was tested in May. However, the rear end of the projectile does not appear to have the same tail fins like those of the KN-09, showing this new system is not consistent with the one from the KN-09. More crucially, the projectile itself appears to be larger in diameter than the KN-09; one analyst has suggested that it is a 400 mm rocket, although it is hard to tell due to how heavily pixelated the video is.Although the very specifics of this new system are still unknown, it is reported to have the potential to extend North Korea’s multiple launch rocket capabilities, which currently stand at 118 miles, by at least another 37 miles, thus subjecting more U.S. and ROK targets to attack. To compare this new system to the Chinese WS-2 multiple launch rocket, which has an assessed range of 124 miles and is presumed to have an all-inertial accuracy of 600 m (0.37 miles) CEP, the new DPRK rocket system—if using the same guidance system out to 155 miles—must fall behind in its accuracy. Nonetheless, with the use of satellite-aided guidance, the system’s precision could be down to 65 to 164 ft—bringing a variety of point targets within its range. ¨Songun ATACMS¨It was already very unusual of North Korea to have conducted its missile test on August 6 when joint military exercises (JME) had just kicked off because North Korea had never before conducted a missile launch during any of the JMEs. However, Pyongyang has disclosed another new missile on August 10, which was tested near the eastern city of Hamhung where North Korea is thought to produce its solid-propellant missile airframes. Based on a report by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, it appeared to be a new “single-stage, solid-propellant, short-range quasi-ballistic missile that bears a strong resemblance both in missile and launcher to the United States’ MGM- 140 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).” This system is different from the KN-23. Taking that resemblance into consideration, it is a great indicator that the missile may include a separating warhead. This is important because when warheads are separable from the missiles, so too are payloads. This gives more options to the Korean People’s Army operating units as they can choose between high-explosive conventional warheads, submunitions, and possibly even chemical weapons payloads. The Songun ATACMS is also thought to have a large payload capacity in order to utilize canisters. This matters because, canisters come very handy on the battlefield for storage and reloading and are usually used by much larger, medium-range ballistic missiles such as the Pukguksong-2.North Korea has also revamped other military capabilities such as submarines, one of which is claimed to be newly constructed and designed to carry three submarine-launched ballistic missiles. Additionally, Pyongyang’s cyber-attacks are rapidly growing and have recently generated $2 billion to fund its weapons programs. The current situation is very far from the ultimate goal of denuclearization. The Kim regime has conducted its sixth missile test in a month during the U.S.-ROK military joint exercises and continues uninterrupted weapon development to counteract the balance of power that has dramatically shifted towards the South. Furthermore, North Korea’s recent statement that it will no longer entertain further talks with the Moon administration, combined with the lack of a deal between America and North Korea after all this time, make the situation rather dire.North Korea is gradually losing its motivation and patience to make its headway in the face of slow progress in talks, joint military exercises, and South Korea’s continuous deployment of new weapons such as F-35 jets. Taking all this into account, it is ever more urgent for the United States to present a tangible deal that could bring North Korea back to the table. Another round of threats such as “fire and fury” will surely be much more challenging to extinguish. Dong Geon Lim is a Summer Research Assistant at the Korea Studies Program at the Center for the National Interest.Image: Reuters.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 06:18:00 -0400
  • Finnish PM tells UK's Johnson that EU won't reopen Brexit deal

    Finland's Prime Minister Antti Rinne told his British counterpart Boris Johnson that the European Union would not renegotiate the Brexit deal, a spokesman for Rinne said on Tuesday. Finland holds the EU's rotating presidency and Johnson is making a renewed push to persuade the bloc to revisit the divorce treaty.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 06:15:58 -0400
  • Old U.S. Friends Brace for Meeting With Trump

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    (Bloomberg) -- Want to receive this post in your inbox every day? Sign up for the Balance of Power newsletter, and follow Bloomberg Politics on Twitter and Facebook for more.When Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron made back-to-back visits to the White House last year in a coordinated effort to sway Donald Trump, he rebuffed their approaches.Trump’s decision to pursue U.S. policy on Iran and trade regardless of his European allies’ concerns was a turning point in transatlantic ties, a pivot that’ll be on show this weekend at the Group of Seven summit in France.The rupture came shortly after the German and French leaders’ visits last April, when Trump introduced tariffs on European Union steel and quit the Iran nuclear deal, later to threaten sanctions on any company from the bloc doing business with the Islamic Republic. That followed his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.“With friends like that who needs enemies,” tweeted EU President Donald Tusk.As Trump steps up his bid for a second term in 2020, Europe isn’t waiting for the outcome. As our graphics show, the EU is already examining how it can loosen its dependence on the U.S. that emerged after World War Two.Still, France and Germany also have their differences and Trump, who likes to exploit rivalries among his would-be adversaries, is working to prise them apart, Gregory Viscusi reports.It threatens to make for a torrid G-7.Global HeadlinesBrexit stalemate | U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s first public attempt to renegotiate the Brexit deal has already hit a wall. Irish Premier Leo Varadkar rejected Johnson’s bid to explore alternatives to preventing a hard border with Ireland and said a letter to EU officials only reiterated previous demands.Brexit Party politicians said a surge in stock trading in Zurich was another sign the U.K. can go it alone. Volumes increased after Switzerland demanded all trading in Swiss shares happen in its own market, retaliating against an EU attempt to force investors based in the bloc to trade in its borders.Second-term prospects | Trump is showing vulnerability on the two most important re-election predictors: approval ratings and the economy. But he’s raising more money than any Democrat and has the backing of a Republican Party apparatus that’s casting his foes as radical and out of touch. His geographic advantage is so strong he could lose the popular vote by 5 million ballots and still win, according to one analysis.Misyrlena Egkolfopoulou looks at why Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders might have a hard time selling their plans to address student debt to New Hampshire voters.Olive branch | Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam pledged to establish a platform for dialogue, investigate complaints against police and institute a fact-finding study into the demonstrations that have rocked Asia's financial hub for more than two months. That indicates a softer stance but falls short of demands of pro-democracy advocates calling for her ouster, and follows a demonstration on Sunday that largely avoided the violent clashes with police of previous weeks.Missing worker | The U.K. said it was “extremely concerned” by reports a Hong Kong consulate worker was detained during an Aug. 8 trip to mainland China, a case that could raise tension between Beijing and London. Concerns about the safety of foreign diplomatic staff operating in China have increased since Michael Kovrig, a security analyst on leave from the Canadian foreign service, was detained in December.Playing peacemaker | Trump spoke to the leaders of India and Pakistan as the two South Asian nations argue afresh over Kashmir. The speed with which Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has sought to take control of the contested state has given rise to larger concerns about U.S.-Taliban peace talks to end the 18-year war in Afghanistan — another point of contention between New Delhi and Islamabad.What to WatchItaly’s de facto leader Matteo Salvini promised tax cuts and more spending in a final push to force new elections. The salvo comes with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte due to address parliament where he will almost certainly signal the formal end of his administration. The U.S. has granted Huawei another 90-day reprieve from some sanctions as founder Ren Zhengfei warned in an internal memo that the China telecom giants is at a “live or die moment.” Lawyers representing migrants asked a federal judge in California to reinstate a nationwide order that blocked the Trump administration from stopping some Central Americans applying for asylum in the U.S.And finally ... Packed into an open-air theater to watch a play on climate change, Egyptian villagers near the ancient city of Luxor rock with laughter at the local puns — even though it’s a performance about life and death. Salma El Wardany reports the troupe is teaching farmers how to save water and cope with the hotter temperatures that are threatening to wipe out at least a third of food production in the south by 2050. \--With assistance from Jess Shankleman and Kathleen Hunter.To contact the author of this story: Alan Crawford in Berlin at acrawford6@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Ruth Pollard at rpollard2@bloomberg.net, Michael WinfreyFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 06:02:19 -0400
  • How Iran Is Taking Ancient F-14 Tomcats and Making Them Better

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    Five decades in, Iran’s F-14s are only getting better and better. And more and more important to the Persian state’s defense.On April 9, 1972, Iraq and the Soviet Union signed an historic agreement. The USSR committed to arming the Arab republic with the latest weaponry. In return for sending Baghdad guns, tanks and jet fighters, Moscow got just one thing — influence … in a region that held most of the world’s accessible oil.In neighboring Iran, news of Iraq’s alliance with the Soviets exploded like a bomb. Ethnically Persian and predominately Shia, Iran was — and still is — a bitter rival of Iraq’s Sunni Arab establishment, which during the 1970s dominated the country’s politics.Recommended: The Colt Python: The Best Revolver Ever Made?Recommended: Smith & Wesson 500: The Gun That Has As Much Firepower As a RifleRecommended: Smith & Wesson's .44 Magnum Revolver: Why You Should Fear the 'Dirty Harry' GunIn Tehran, King Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi — the “shah” — moved quickly to counter Baghdad’s move. First he set loose an army of secret police in a desperate and bloody bid to quell internal dissent. And then he reached out to the United States.(This first appeared several years ago.)The shah wanted weapons. And not just any weapons. Himself a former military pilot, the king wanted the latest and best U.S.-made warplanes, with which the Iranian air force might dominate the Persian Gulf and even patrol as far away as the Indian Ocean.The Iranian leader’s appetite for planes was notorious. “He’ll buy anything that flies,” one American official said of the shah. But Pahlavi was especially keen to acquire a fighter that could fly fast enough and shoot far enough to confront Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat recon planes that had been flying over Iran at 60,000 feet and Mach 3.The administration of U.S. president Richard Nixon was all too eager to grant the shah’s wish in exchange for Iran’s help balancing a rising Soviet Union. Nixon and his national security adviser Henry Kissinger visited Tehran in May 1972 — and promptly offered the shah a “blank check.” Any weapons the king wanted and could pay for, he would get — regardless of the Pentagon’s own reservations and the State Department’s stringent export policies.That’s how, starting in the mid-1970s, Iran became the only country besides the United States to operate arguably the most powerful interceptor jet ever built — the Grumman F-14 Tomcat, a swing-wing carrier fighter packing a sophisticated radar and long-range AIM-54 Phoenix air-to-air missiles.It’s fair to say American policymakers quickly regretted giving Iran the F-14s. In February 1979, Islamic hardliners rose up against the shah’s police state, kidnapping 52 Americans at the U.S. embassy in Tehran and ushering the return of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. The Islamic Revolution transformed Iran from an American ally to one of the United States’ most vociferous enemies.An enemy possessing 79 of the world’s most fearsome interceptors.For the next five decades, the United States would do everything in its power — short of war — to ground the ayatollah’s Tomcats. But the Americans failed. Through a combination of engineering ingenuity and audacious espionage, Iran kept its F-14s in working order — and even improved them. The swing-wing fighters took to the air in several conflicts and even occasionally confronted American planes.Today Iran’s 40 or so surviving F-14s remain some of the best fighters in the Middle East. And since the U.S. Navy retired its last Tomcats in 2006, the ayatollah’s Tomcats are the only active Tomcats left in the world.The F-14 was a product of failure. In the 1960s, the Pentagon hoped to replace thousands of fighters in the U.S. Air Force and Navy with a single design capable of ground attack and air-to-air combat. The result was the General Dynamics F-111 — a two-person, twin-engine marvel of high technology that, in time, became an excellent long-range bomber in Air Force service.But as a naval fighter, the F-111 was a disaster. Complex, underpowered and difficult to maintain, the Navy’s F-111B version — which General Dynamics built in cooperation with carrier-fighter specialist Grumman — was also a widowmaker. Of the seven F-111B prototypes that the consortium built starting in 1964, three crashed.In 1968, the Defense Department halted work on the F-111B. Scrambling for a replacement, Grumman took the swing-wing concept, TF-30 engines, AWG-9 radar and long-range AIM-54 missile from the F-111B design and packed them into a smaller, lighter, simpler airframe.Voila — the F-14. The first prototype took off on its inaugural flight in December 1970. The U.S. fleet got its first Tomcats two years later. Grumman ultimately built 712 F-14s.In 1974, the shah ordered 80 of the fighters plus spare parts and 284 Phoenix missiles at a cost of $2 billion. Seventy-nine of the Tomcats arrived before the Islamic Revolution forced the shah into exile in Egypt and compelled the United States to impose an arms embargo. The U.S. Navy eventually scooped up the 80th plane for one of its test squadrons.The U.S. State Department oversaw the F-14 transfer and, in its eternal wisdom, delegated most of the work to the Air Force. But the F-14 was a Navy plane and only the Navy had pilots qualified to fly the machine. The sailing branch seconded Tomcat crews to the flying branch, but only after extensive security checks lasting six months — and not without some culture clash.The Navy pilots picked up the brand-new Tomcats at the Grumman factory in Long Island, New York and flew them three at a time to Iran. “Few pilots in their careers ever have the opportunity to fly an airplane that ‘smells’ exactly as a new car, and still has cellophane covering the cushions of the ejection seat,” one F-14 flier wrote years later. “Well, I had that amazing experience.”“Although my F-14 was ‘factory fresh,’ it had an Iranian specified camouflage paint scheme. And while it did have U.S. military markings, as I found out later, those markings would be ingeniously and quickly changed upon arrival in Iran. The U.S. paint easily disappeared when a certain solution was applied, thus exposing the Iranian air force markings underneath.”The journey to Iran involved two legs — from Long Island to Torrejon, Spain, and then onward to Iran’s Isfahan air base, with Air Force KC-135 aerial tankers constantly attending to the F-14s.It was a complex and, for the pilots, uncomfortable undertaking. “We needed to be ‘topped-off’ with fuel for most of the seven-hour flight in case we had to divert to an emergency field,” the ferry pilot wrote.“This meant at least six in-flight refueling events for each leg, despite some weather conditions — and the KC-135’s difficult, Rube Goldberg type of refueling hose to accommodate Navy aircraft.”Air Force planes refuel in mid-air via a probe extending from the tanker into the receiving plane’s fuselage — the tanker crew does most of the work. Navy aircraft have their own probes and refuel by maneuvering the probe into a basket dangling from the tanker’s underwing fuel pods. The receiving pilot does the work — an arrangement consistent with the incredibly high demands the Navy traditionally places on its combat pilots.To make the KC-135s compatible with the F-14s, the Air Force awkwardly fitted a basket to the tankers’ probes. The improvised contraption tended to whip around in the air, threatening to smash the Tomcats’ canopies every time they refueled.Keeping gassed up wasn’t the only source of stress for the Tomcat ferry crews. “People often wonder, and it is rarely discussed — how did you relieve yourself, strapped into an ejection seat and immobile for seven-plus hours?” the pilot wrote.The Navy offered the fliers diapers, but some refused to wear them. “I personally held it for seven hours … as I had planned and for which I had prepared by remaining dehydrated. Hey, I’m a fighter pilot.”“However, upon arrival in Torrejon, I could barely salute the welcoming Air Force colonel,” the pilot continued. “Bending over and doubled-up under pressure, I feverishly ran to the nearest ‘head’ to relieve myself — for seemingly and refreshingly forever, before I could then return to properly meet, greet and properly salute the receiving Air Force colonel.”While the U.S. Air Force and Navy worked together to deliver Iran’s F-14s, the State Department arranged for Iranian aviators and maintenance technicians to get training on the Tomcats and their complex systems. Some of the Iranians attended classes in the United States, others received instruction from American contractors in Iran. By 1979, the Americans had trained 120 pilots and backseat radar intercept officers.The shah’s Tomcat squadrons were coming to life. But the Iranian king wasn’t entirely happy with his acquisition. In late 1975, the shah complained to the U.S. embassy in Tehran that Grumman had paid agents in Iran $24 million to facilitate the F-14 sale. The shah considered the payments bribes — and wanted Grumman to take the money back.“Shah views with bitter scorn corrupt practices of agents for U.S. companies and ineffective [U.S. government] efforts to deal with problem,” the embassy reported back to Washington in January 1976. The shah was so angry that he threatened to halt payments to Grumman. Washington reminded Tehran that failure to pay would amount to breach of contract.“The dispute over agents fees was poisoning U.S.-Iranian relations,” American diplomats in Tehran warned. Amid the diplomatic tension, Tehran put its Tomcats to good use performing the mission for which Iran originally wanted them — deterring the Soviet Union’s MiG-25 spy planes. In August 1977, Iranian F-14 crews shot down a BQM-34E target drone flying at 50,000 feet. “The Soviets took the hint and Foxbat over flights promptly ended,” Iranian air force major Farhad Nassirkhani wrote.Tehran’s spat with Grumman continued, but a year and a half later the Islamic Revolution intervened and rendered the issue moot. Revolutionaries took the streets. Violence broke out. On Jan. 16, 1979, the shah fled.Twenty-seven of Iran’s freshly-minted F-14 fliers fled, too. On their own way out of the country, American technicians working for Hughes, the company that manufactured the Phoenix missile, sabotaged 16 of the deadly missiles — or tried to, at least. Engineers loyal to the ayatollah eventually repaired the damaged munitions.Agents of Iran’s new Islamic regime suspected the remaining F-14 crews of harboring pro-shah and pro-American sentiments. Police arrested at least one F-14 pilot at gunpoint at his home, finally releasing him months later when the regime realized it actually needed trained aircrews if it ever hoped to make use of all those brand-new F-14s lined up on the tarmac at Khatami air base.By September 1980, Iran and Iraq were at war. Baghdad’s own MiG-25 fighters and recon planes could dash into Iranian airspace unmolested by Tehran’s much slower and lower-flying F-4 and F-5 fighters. Over the course of the eight-year war, MiG-25s shot down more than a dozen Iranian aircraft, including a priceless EC-130 electronic warfare plane. Iraqi pilot Col. Mohommed Rayyan alone claimed eight kills in his MiG-25.Only the F-14 could challenge the MiG-25.When war broke out, just 77 Tomcats were left — two had crashed. With crews and maintainers scattered and Tehran cut off from Grumman, Hughes and the U.S. Air Force and Navy, most of the Iranian F-14s were inoperable. The ayatollah’s air force managed to assemble 60 loyal pilots and 24 back-seat radar operators. By stripping parts from grounded Tomcats, technicians were able to get a dozen F-14s in fighting shape.They immediately flew into action. At first, the Tomcats acted as early-warning and battle-management platforms while less sophisticated planes did the actual fighting. “The planes have not been used in combat,” The New York Times reported in December 1981. “Rather they have stood off from the battle and been used as control aircraft, with their advanced radar and electronics guiding other planes to their targets or warning the pilots of Iraqi aircraft attacks.”The fighting escalated and drew the F-14s into battle. In eight years of combat, Iran’s Tomcat crews claimed some 200 aerial victories against Iraqi planes, 64 of which the Iranian air force was able to confirm. One F-14 pilot named Jalil Zandi reportedly claimed a staggering 11 air-to-air victories, making him by far Iran’s deadliest fighter pilot of the war.“The Iraqi high command had ordered all its pilots not to engage with F-14 and do not get close if [an] F-14 is known to be operating in the area,” Nassirkhani wrote. “Usually the presence of Tomcats was enough to scare the enemy and send the Iraqi fighters back.”At first, the F-14s were armed only with their internal 20-millimeter cannons and the long-range Phoenix missiles. American contractors had not had time to integrate medium-range Sparrow and short-range Sidewinder missiles.Normal tactics called for F-14 crews to fire Phoenixes at their targets from a hundred miles away or farther, but with no alternative armament Iranian aviators relied on the heavy AIM-54s for close-in fighting, as well — once even hitting an Iraqi plane from just 12 miles away, according to Iranian reporter Babak Taghvaee.Eight F-14s fell in combat during the war with Iraq — one accidentally shot down by an Iranian F-4; three struck by Baghdad’s Mirage F.1 fighters; one hit by an Iraqi MiG-21; and two falling victim to unknown attackers.The eighth Tomcat that Tehran lost during the Iran-Iraq war reportedly wound up in Iraq when its crew defected. Taghvaee claimed that U.S. Special Operations Forces infiltrated “deep inside Iraqi territory” in order to destroy the abandoned F-14 and “prevent it falling into Soviet hands.”Iranian Tomcats intercepted Iraqi MiG-25s on several occasions. But only one Iranian flier succeeded in downing any of the Mach-3 MiGs. In September 1982 and again in December, Shahram Rostani struck MiG-25s with Phoenix missiles.Combat ops were hard on Iran’s F-14 force. A lack of spare parts compounded the maintenance woes. After the revolution, the United States had frozen Iranian assets, embargoed Iranian trade and imposed other economic sanctions. The United Nations and many U.S. allies followed suit, cutting off Tehran from global supply chains.In 1981 an Iranian trade agent wrote to the London office of F-14-builder Grumman asking to acquire parts for Iran’s Tomcats. Citing the new sanctions, Washington declined to grant Grumman a license to sell the components. “It is the present policy of the United States government not to permit Grumman or any other defense contractor to obtain a license to provide Iran with these materials,” the Navy told The New York Times.By 1984, just 15 or so of the twin-engine fighters were flightworthy, according to Nassirkhani. Technicians kept the 15 jets in good repair mainly by taking parts from the roughly 50 F-14s that couldn’t fly.Starting in 1981, Iranian Aircraft Industries began performing overhauls and upgrades on the F-14s as part of the Tehran’s effort to make the country militarily self-sufficient. The upgrades finally added Sparrow and Sidewinder missiles to the Tomcats. The self-sufficiency program had help from Iranian agents working abroad — and at great risk to themselves — to divert spare parts for the F-14s and other weapon systems.America begrudgingly helped, too — albeit briefly. In negotiating to free American hostages that an Iran-backed militant group was holding in Lebanon, the administration of Pres. Ronald Reagan agreed to transfer to Tehran badly-needed military equipment, reportedly including Phoenix missiles and bomb racks. Iranian engineers added the bomb racks to four of the F-14s as early as 1985, transforming the Tomcats into heavy ground-attack planes. Years later, the U.S. Navy would modify its own F-14s in the same way.Rostani flew the “Bombcat’s” first ground-attack mission in 1985, targeting an Iraqi field headquarters … but missing. Frustrated technicians boosted the Bombcat’s weapons load-out with a whopping, custom-made 7,000-pound bomb — one of the biggest freefall munitions ever. As Iranian commander-in-chief Gen. Abbas Babaei observed from near the front line, an F-14 lobbed the massive bomb.The estimated time on target passed … but nothing happened. Babaei was getting ready to return to his jeep when a powerful blast shook the ground. The bomb had missed, but its psychological effect on Iraqi troops was surely profound.By the war’s end in 1988, 34 of the 68 surviving F-14s were airworthy. But just two of the Persian Tomcats had working radars. And Iran had expended all of its original consignment of Phoenixes. More Phoenixes reportedly arrived as part of the hostages-for-arms deal with the United States, and in the post-war years Iranian Aircraft Industries experimented with “new” weaponry for the F-14 — including modified Hawk surface-to-air missiles that the shah had bought from the United States as well as Soviet-supplied R-73 missiles.The experiments added flexibility to the F-14 force, but it was the spare parts that kept the Tomcats in working condition — and the Iranian air force quickly burned through the spares it obtained from the hostage deal. Tehran established self-sufficiency programs — not just in the air force, but across the nation’s economy — in an effort to satisfy material needs that foreign companies had once met.In many sectors, the self-sufficiency initiative worked. Besides producing all its own oil, Iran has declared itself autonomous in agriculture, steel production, electricity generation and civil aviation. “Well before the advent of abundant oil wealth, Iranians have tended to see their country as a unique nation amply endowed with natural resources that could take care of itself without outside assistance,” said Rudi Matthee, a history professor at the University of Delaware.But Iranian companies struggled to produce all the specialized parts that the Tomcat requires. In the late 1990s, the air force considered simply buying new planes to replace the F-14s, but China was the only country that would sell fighters to Iran. In 1997 and 1998, Iranian pilots evaluated China’s F-8 … and rejected it. Even deprived of spares and mostly grounded, the F-14s were superior to the Chinese planes in the eyes of Iran’s air force.Tehran turned to the black market, paying huge sums to shady middlemen to sneak F-14 parts into Iran. American authorities became aware of the illicit trade as early as 1998. In March of that year, federal agents arrested Iranian-born Parviz Lavi at his home in Long Island, charging him with violating U.S. export law by attempting to buy up spare parts for the F-14’s TF-30 engine and ship them to Iran via The Netherlands. Lavi got five years in prison plus a $125,000 fine.The arrests came in a steady drumbeat. In 1998, an aircraft parts vendor in San Diego told U.S. customs officials that Multicore Ltd. in California had requested price information for air intake seals used only on the F-14. Agents arrested Multicore’s Saeed Homayouni, a naturalized Canadian from Iran, and Yew Leng Fung, a Malaysian citizen.“Bank records subpoenaed by the Customs Service showed that Multicore Ltd. had made 399 payments totaling $2.26 million to military parts brokers since 1995 and had received deposits of $2.21 million,” The Washington Post reported. The company shipped parts mostly through Singapore.The feds began investigating 18 companies that had supplied airplane components to Multicore.In September 2003, U.S. authorities nabbed Iranian Serzhik Avasappian in a South Florida hotel as part of a sting operation. Agents had shown Avasappian several F-14 parts worth $800,000 and arrested him after he offered to buy the components.“While these components may appear relatively innocuous to the untrained eye, they are tightly controlled for good reason,” Immigration and Customs Enforcement interim agent Jesus Torres said in a statement. “In the wrong hands, they pose a potential threat to Americans at home and abroad.”Even with U.S. authorities tamping down on the illicit trade in F-14 parts, Iran persisted. After shutting down Multicore, the feds confiscated the firm’s Tomcat components and sent them to the Defense Department’s surplus-parts office. In 2005, a company — allegedly Iranian — bought the very same parts from the military.The parts war escalated after the U.S. Navy retired its last F-14s in 2006, leaving Iran as the type’s only operator. In 2007, U.S. agents even seized four intact ex-U.S. Navy F-14s in California — three at museums and one belonging to a producer on the military-themed T.V. show JAG — charging that the F-14s had not been properly stripped of useful parts that could wind up in Iranian hands.The U.S. Congress was furious at the Pentagon for its lax handling of the F-14-parts problem. Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, described it as “a huge breakdown, an absolute, huge breakdown.” Lawmakers passed a bill specifically banning any trade in Tomcat components to Iran or any other entity, and then-president George W. Bush signed the law in 2008.A minor tragedy unfolded as the military paid contractors to dismantle, crush and shred many of the approximately 150 retired F-14s. Scores of old F-14s — properly “demilitarized” — are still on display in museums across the United States. But none remain at the famous airplane “boneyard” in Arizona, where the Pentagon stores retired planes just in case it needs them again.Even so, the underground trade in Tomcat parts continues, with shady companies scouring the planet for leftover components. In early 2014, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security investigated Israeli arms dealers that it said had twice tried to send F-14 spares to Iran.And it’s not for no reason that Tehran would keep trying to supply its Tomcats. In recent years the United States has stepped up its efforts to spy on Iran, deploying drone aircraft including the secretive, stealthy RQ-170 to the Middle East apparently to surveil Iranian nuclear facilities. An RQ-170 crashed in Iranian territory in 2011.Tomcats have led the effort to intercept these drones. In the early 2000s, the Iranian air force stationed an F-14 squadron in Bushehr, the site of Iran’s first nuclear reactor. That squadron eventually disbanded as its Tomcats fell into disrepair, but other F-14 squadrons maintained vigil over Bushehr and two other atomic facilities as U.S. spy flights continued to probe the sites, trying to glean intelligence on Iran’s nuclear efforts.And that’s when things got weird. F-14 crews protecting the facilities reported seeing increasingly sophisticated and bizarre drones, according to Taghvaee. “The CIA’s intelligence drones displayed astonishing flight characteristics, including an ability to fly outside the atmosphere, attain a maximum cruise speed of Mach 10 and a minimum speed of zero, with the ability to hover over the target.”“Finally,” Taghvaee added, “the drones used powerful [electronic countermeasures] that could jam enemy radars using very high levels of magnetic energy.” In November 2004 one F-14 crew intercepted a suspected CIA drone over the nuke facility at Arak. As the aviators tried to lock onto the drone with their Tomcat’s AWG-9 radar, they “saw that the radar scope was disrupted.” The drone lit its green afterburner and escaped.To be clear, it’s highly unlikely the CIA possesses hypersonic space-capable drones with radar-killing magnetic ray weapons. The point is that Tehran is protective, even paranoid, when it comes to its nuclear sites — and yet entrusts their defense mainly to the 40-year-old F-14s.Whether it’s producing parts itself or acquiring them abroad, Iran is clearly succeeding in its efforts to supply its F-14 squadrons. In October 2013, Taghvaee estimated that more than 40 of Tehran’s surviving F-14s were in flyable condition, possibly the highest number since the mid-1970s. Iran has begun upgrading the Tomcats with new radar components, radios, navigation systems and wiring while also adding compatibility with R-73 and Hawk missiles.Five decades in, Iran’s F-14s are only getting better and better. And more and more important to the Persian state’s defense.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 05:47:00 -0400
  • A U.S.-Iran War Would Be Hell: What if Trump Decided to Invade?

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    The United States lacks regional bases necessary to build up the forces that would be required to invade Iran, destroy its armed forces, displace the revolutionary regime in Tehran, and then control the country on behalf of a new, more amenable government. Conceivably, the U.S. military could deploy in Iraq, but this would likely require another war of regime change against the current Baghdad government. Alternatively, the U.S. could ameliorate some of the basing requirements by undertaking an amphibious forced entry into Iran. This would make U.S. forces particularly vulnerable to Tehran’s arsenal of ballistic missiles, however, likely incurring very heavy casualties. Moreover, it would not resolve the problem of occupying the country post-conflict.(This first appeared in October 2017).The Trump administration appears ready to decertify Iranian compliance with the the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), despite a lack of evidence of Iranian violations. For critics of the JCPOA, this represents a move in the right direction; the goal of U.S. policy should be the end of the Islamic Republic and the overthrow of the existing regime in Tehran. As long as this regime exists, no matter how constrained it is by bilateral and multilateral agreements, it will seek to undermine the stability of the established order in the Middle East through overt and covert military means. This position is held in the United States by figures such as Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and by policymakers such as Sen. Tom Cotton. The desire for regime change is also shared by some in the Middle East, including significant elements of the Israeli and Saudi national security states.To be fair, few of these voices have called for a military campaign to overthrow the Islamic Republic, and generally for good reason; there is little prospect for success and little appetite for paying the costs necessary to succeed. Still, it’s worth evaluating what a war for regime change might look like. The decision of the Bush administration to commit itself to regime change in Iraq undoubtedly helped lead to the war, even if war was not initially the intention. If the Trump administration similarly commits itself to regime change, then war may come sooner or later.Recommended: Why North Korea's Air Force is Total Junk Invasion?Invading Iran and dictating terms to an occupied Tehran would be one way to achieve regime change. However, the United States would struggle to directly overthrow the Islamic Republic regime through force of arms. The United States lacks regional bases necessary to build up the forces that would be required to invade Iran, destroy its armed forces, displace the revolutionary regime in Tehran, and then control the country on behalf of a new, more amenable government. Conceivably, the U.S. military could deploy in Iraq, but this would likely require another war of regime change against the current Baghdad government. Alternatively, the U.S. could ameliorate some of the basing requirements by undertaking an amphibious forced entry into Iran. This would make U.S. forces particularly vulnerable to Tehran’s arsenal of ballistic missiles, however, likely incurring very heavy casualties. Moreover, it would not resolve the problem of occupying the country post-conflict.Recommended: Why Doesn't America Kill Kim Jong Un? StrangulationOne of the core critiques of the JCPOA from regime change advocates is the argument that the sanctions regime installed by the United States could have, eventually, induced the collapse of the Islamic Republic. Consequently, any military campaign of regime change would likely concentrate on undercutting the economic stability of Iran, in the hopes of creating popular discontent and a counterrevolution. Instead of an invasion, the United States would probably try to induce regime collapse through a policy of military and economic strangulation, led by airstrikes, sea-launched cruise missile strikes and the vigorous employment of special operations forces.Recommended: The F-22 Is Getting a New Job: SniperAn economic strangulation campaign would lean very heavily into the U.S.’ financial and trade toolkits in order to limit Iran’s commerce with the rest of the world. However, since few international partners are likely to be enthusiastic about the campaign, it would probably include some kinetic measures designed to prevent the transit of cargoes to and from Iran, especially of sensitive technical equipment.The early stages of the campaign would target Iran’s existing military infrastructure, including air bases, naval bases and ballistic missile installations. These attacks would do significant damage, notwithstanding existing Iranian air defenses, which would also come under attack. Iran’s naval and air forces would suffer terribly, and widespread strikes would also exact a toll on Iran’s missile forces. Basing would presumably be provided by U.S. Gulf allies, including Saudi Arabia, although the willingness of the Saudis to sponsor a long-term military campaign against Iran is in serious question.While attacks on Iranian military and political infrastructure would inflict serious damage, the U.S.’ goal would be undermining domestic support for the Iranian government. To this end, the U.S. could target Iran’s economy, including oil installations and transport infrastructure. Such attacks could effectively destroy Iran’s oil industry, at least in the short term, and cause serious economic damage to the Islamic Republic (not to mention its trading partners). However, attacks against civilian industrial and economic targets would risk running afoul of U.S. policy and the Law of Armed Conflict. The U.S. could argue that Iran’s economic infrastructure represent a legitimate military target because of Iranian state control and the military utility of transport infrastructure, but this would be a hard sell, especially as civilian casualties mount. Still, the United States successfully targeted ISIS oil infrastructure during the recent air campaign. This allowed the destruction of ISIS oil facilities, as well as transportation assets such as tanker trucks.This campaign would take place in concert with the aggressive support of Iranian anti-government groups, such as those associated with the People's Mujahedin of Iran. This would include the transfer of weapons, intelligence, and training to any available resistance forces, as well as the recruitment of new forces, possibly in Kurdistan. However, building a viable ground force would take a very long time. Without a significant ground force to compel Iranian army units to deploy and maneuver, it would be difficult for U.S. air attacks to significantly degrade Iranian ground capabilities. Moreover, many Iranian Army and Revolutionary Guard units would likely deploy in urban areas, both to undercut the prospects of domestic disturbance and to avoid attacks by intermingling with civilians.Iranian ReactionIran would enjoy a range of options to respond to the U,S. attacks. Iran could step up efforts to destabilize Iraq and Afghanistan through the use of proxies and arms shipments. Similarly, it could try to induce its proxies in the region to attack U.S. allies. Iran could use its extensive fleet of ballistic missiles to attack U.S. bases, ships, and the military and economic installations of U.S. allies, although this missile force would represent a depreciating asset as its numbers declined over time. Most likely, however, is that Iran could simply wait, under the logic that international opinion against the U.S. campaign would steadily build until Washington could no longer maintain its belligerence.ConclusionRegime change is unlikely to succeed, and is more likely to exacerbate the problems it was designed to solve.First, any attack against Iran will likely trigger a nationalist backlash, making the public more supportive of the regime in the short term. An attack would also enable the regime to install more draconian social and economic controls. These controls might generate backlash over time, but counterrevolution is by no means certain.Second, the United States lacks broad international support for a campaign of regime change. Even allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel would likely blanch at the long-term costs that the war would create. Neither Russia nor China would support the war at all, and both would likely intervene in ways designed to ease the pressure on Tehran. Europeans would react with heavy public disapproval, eventually forcing even sympathetic leaders in France and the U.K. to distance themselves from Washington.Third, it is unclear how such a military intervention would end. The U.S. lacks the international support to undertake the sort of militarized containment that is used against Iraq during the 1990s. International sympathy for Iran would only increase over time, a fact that Iran’s leaders surely understand. If the Islamic Republic didn’t not collapse, the U.S. would eventually have to either admit defeat or open the door to dangerous escalation.On the upside, even if the campaign failed to dislodge the Tehran government, it could cause significant long-term damage to Iran’s military, economic and scientific infrastructure, setting back Tehran’s military ambitions in the region. This outcome is probably most amenable to US allies in the Middle East, who don’t worry overmuch about the prospect of committing the United States to an open-ended military conflict with Iran.Regime change might work, but there’s little good reason to believe the chances of such are high. A war would incur serious costs on Iran, but would also commit the United States to the destruction of the Islamic Republic, a process that could take decades, if it succeeds at all.Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is author of The Battleship Book.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 04:38:00 -0400
  • North Korea Could Have 100 Nuclear Warheads by 2020: Report

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    RAND's report recommends a comprehensive response to the North Korean threat. "In addition to multilateral diplomatic measures to halt the DPRK’s nuclear progress, the United States and its allies in the region—as well as China—must take steps to reduce the risks posed by the North’s nuclear program.By 2020 North Korea could possess as many as 100 nuclear warheads.That's the startling conclusion of a January 2019 report from RAND, a California think tank with close ties to the U.S. military."North Korean provocations and threats have created an unstable environment on the Korean Peninsula," RAND's report explains. "North Korea’s ongoing development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles increases the possibility of their use against regional states, furthering instability across the region and beyond, thus affecting vital U.S. interests."(This first appeared several months ago.)To deliver its nukes, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as the regime in Pyongyang calls itself, is building up a large stockpile of rockets of varying ranges."The DPRK’s growing arsenal will provide its regime with multiple options to employ its nuclear weapons," the RAND report warns.North Korea possesses more than 650 short- and medium-range ballistic missiles capable of hitting cities throughout South Korea, Japan and eastern China," the think tank noted. "If successfully mated with nuclear weapons, these missiles will allow the DPRK to hold military bases and population centers in northeast Asia at risk."And if Pyongyang succeeds in developing a long-range rocket, it could also target Guam, Hawaii, Alaska and the northwestern continental United States.With an arsenal of up to 100 nuclear warheads and a wide range of rockets to deliver them, Pyongyang could pursue a nuclear-war strategy that might actually work, RAND explained in its report."The DPRK could explode one or more early in a conflict as a warning, while reserving a salvo of 20 to 60 weapons to attack military targets like troop concentrations, air bases and seaports," the think tank posited."This would leave enough for a final salvo of 30 to 40 weapons to threaten attacks against cities in South Korea, Japan, China, Russia and—if they develop the delivery means—targets in the United States."For its report, RAND war-gamed a North Korean attack on Seoul's wealthy Gangnam district. "Roughly half the size of Manhattan, Gangnam—a district of Seoul—is a major economic center and home to many large companies, such as Google and IBM. With some of the most expensive real estate in the country, the district is also considered the most affluent in all of South Korea. Consequences of a single DPRK nuclear attack on Gangnam would be severe."If Pyongyang struck Gangnam with a 100-kiloton airburst nuke, 400,000 people instantly might die. Another million could suffer injuries.Seoul lies just 35 miles from the demilitarized zone between the DPRK and the Republic of Korea in the south. Any number of existing missiles could deliver an atomic warhead to such a close target. North Korea's longest-range operational missile, the Musudan, can travel 1,900 miles and deliver a nuke to Japan, China and Russia.The Hwasong series of rockets that the DPRK is developing can travel as far as 6,200 miles and threaten the U.S. mainland.RAND's report recommends a comprehensive response to the North Korean threat. "In addition to multilateral diplomatic measures to halt the DPRK’s nuclear progress, the United States and its allies in the region—as well as China—must take steps to reduce the risks posed by the North’s nuclear program."These steps range from creative U.S. operational concepts to fight, move and sustain in new ways; U.S.-ROK work on crisis management procedures and mechanisms; trilateral coordination with Seoul and Tokyo on ways to mitigate the threat; and an accelerating dialogue with China on responses to various crisis scenarios."U.S. president Donald Trump's June 2018 meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore didn't result in any meaningful progress toward disarmament. Shortly after the summit, Trump falsely declared that the DPRK was "no longer a nuclear threat."As of early 2019, the Trump administration reportedly was scouting potential locations for a second Trump-Kim summit.David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 04:31:00 -0400
  • Assad troops force Syrian rebels to retreat from key town

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    Bashar al-Assad yesterday vowed to recapture all of Syria as his forces made significant battlefield gains and drove rebel fighters out of a strategic town he once attacked with chemical weapons. Syrian regime troops pushed rebel forces from Khan Sheikhoun, a town where Assad’s jets once dropped chemical weapons and killed nearly 100 people, prompting Donald Trump to launch retaliatory airstrikes in 2017.  The town has been under rebel control since 2014 and its fall marks a victory for Assad as his troops attempt to conquer Idlib, the last opposition-held province in the northwest of Syria.     Rebel forces led by Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a jihadist group linked to al-Qaeda, said they were retreating to an area south of the town but would continue fighting against the regime’s advancing troops. Regime troops advanced into the outskirts of Khan Sheikhoun but had yet to fully occupy it. Speaking at a meeting with MPs from Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, Assad hailed his forces’ progress. “The victories that were achieved prove the determination of the people and the army to defeat terrorists until the liberation of the last inch of Syrian territory,” he said.   He also accused Turkey and Western states of supporting jihadist groups in Syria. Tensions between Turkey and the Syrian regime have been rising sharply as Assad’s forces drive into Idlib, where the Turkish military has 12 military outposts. Regime jets bombed near a Turkish military convoy on Monday, killing three civilians, according to Turkey’s defence ministry. After eight years of civil war, the Idlib region on the border with Turkey is the last major stronghold of opposition  Credit: AFP The fall of Khan Sheikhoun means that one of the Turkish military outposts is now effectively surrounded by regime forces. Mevlut Cavusoglu, Turkey’s foreign minister, said that his country would not withdraw from the outpost at Morek and warned the Syrian regime not to interfere with it.  “We don’t have an intention such as moving this elsewhere,” Mr Cavusoglu said. “We will do whatever is necessary for the security of our own soldiers and observation posts.” Turkey says it established the outposts to counter jihadist groups and help enforce a ceasefire it brokered alongside Russia. The Syrian regime says the outposts are a violation of Syrian sovereignty but has so far refrained from directly attacking them.  However, as the regime advances further into Idlib the chances of a direct confrontation with Turkish forces seem to be rising.  Assad’s forces launched their offensive against Idlib in April but made relatively little progress until the last few weeks, when they have advanced rapidly with the support of withering airstrikes by Russian warplanes.   Around 500 civilians have been killed since the offensive began, including more than 100 children, according to aid groups. A young girl named Jana was killed by Russian bombing on Tuesday, opposition activists said.   The fighting has displaced over 500,000 people in southern Idlib and the northern of the neighbouring province of Hama. Khain Sheikhoun was seen as important symbol of opposition to Assad by rebel supporters “One of the revolution’s castles is occupied by its destroyers,” said one Syrian man in Idlib.  Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, said the Islamic State (Isil) remains a threat in Syria and Iraq but has lost much of its ability to carry out centrally-planned attacks on the West.  "There are places where ISIS is more powerful today than they were three or four years ago," Mr Pompeo told CBS. "But the caliphate is gone in their capacity to conduct external attacks, it's been made much more difficult," he said. The jihadist group was driven from its last territorial stronghold this year but continues to mount insurgency attacks in both Iraq and Syria.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 04:16:31 -0400
  • Britain's Johnson opening Brexit bid: rip out the Irish border backstop

    Prime Minister Boris Johnson has fired the opening salvo in his bid to renegotiate Britain's divorce from the European Union, demanding that an insurance policy for the Irish border be removed from the Brexit deal and replaced with a pledge. After more than three years of Brexit crisis, the United Kingdom is heading towards a showdown with the EU as Johnson has vowed to leave the bloc on Oct. 31 without a deal unless it agrees to renegotiate the divorce terms. The bloc and its leaders have repeatedly refused to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement, which includes a protocol on the Irish border "backstop" that then-prime minister Theresa May agreed in November.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 04:10:56 -0400
  • No F-35 or F-22 (Not Even Close): Whatever Happened to Iran's Fake Stealth Fighter?

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    Stealth aircraft design is much more involved than simply mastering the low observable shapes. There are advanced materials sciences that need to be developed for the aircraft’s skin and coatings. Advanced analytical tools are needed to shape the internal bulkheads and other structures. Moreover, one has to master the man-machine interfaces so that a pilot can manage the aircraft’s RCS spikes in flight. There is no evidence—now or back in 2013—that suggests that Iran has mastered those technologies.Several years back,  Iran rolled out its Qaher F-313 ‘stealth fighter’ in front of then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Within hours it was met with near universal derision from defense and aerospace experts around the world.(This first appeared in 2016.)While almost everyone outside Iran saw the project for the farce that it was, Tehran insisted that the project was real and that it was already flying. Further, the Iranian government insisted that the bizarre-looking aircraft—which was allegedly superior to the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor and the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter—would become operational in the very near future. But since then the project has disappeared. So, whatever happened to Iran’s impressive plans for the Qaher F-313 stealth fighter?The answer is nothing—as with much of Iran’s bluster—the Qaher F-313 was a ham-handed hoax. Even at the time when Iran first showed off the Qaher, it was clear that the mockup was little more than a poorly executed propaganda stunt engineered for domestic consumption.From even a cursory examination of the many photos and video imagery of the aircraft with a purportedly ‘very small radar cross section,’ it was immediately apparent that this was not a serious development. At the very best, it is a subscale test-bed.Perhaps the most immediate give away was the miniscule size of the craft. There didn’t appear to be room for avionics and fuel—let alone weapons. Moreover, it’s doubtful that there was an engine installed given the lack of a nozzle and the two tiny air inlets.The other problem for Iran would have been to find an engine small enough to fit into such a miniscule airframe. Tehran’s options seem limited to something like the General Electric J85—which Iran has previously reverse engineered—but without a nozzle the heat would have likely set this mock-up ablaze.Additionally, the cockpit appeared to be too small in relation to the pilot. And the visibility through the material could only be described as horrendous.The cockpit instruments were amongst the only items in the Qaher F-313 that could be described as real. The Iranians were using instrumentation developed for the home-build aircraft market with hardware sourced from Dynon and Garmin.Furthermore, there were no access panels or weapons bays that were visible. Features such as access panels are found on every aircraft for routine maintenance. In the case of a stealth aircraft, internal weapons bays are necessary in order maintain the jet’s low observable signature while carrying armaments. But as one engineer familiar with low observables design astutely pointed out at the time, while superficially resembling what one might imagine a stealth aircraft to look like, the Iranian machine had serious radar cross section (RCS) problems.Recommended: Imagine a U.S. Air Force That Never Built the B-52 BomberRecommended: Russia's Next Big Military Sale - To Mexico?Recommended: Would China Really Invade Taiwan?Stealth aircraft design is much more involved than simply mastering the low observable shapes. There are advanced materials sciences that need to be developed for the aircraft’s skin and coatings. Advanced analytical tools are needed to shape the internal bulkheads and other structures. Moreover, one has to master the man-machine interfaces so that a pilot can manage the aircraft’s RCS spikes in flight. There is no evidence—now or back in 2013—that suggests that Iran has mastered those technologies.So where is the Qaher F-313? It was spotted only once after its initial debut in November 2013 being prepped for taxi tests—but it has never been seen again. It’s likely the unimpressive mockup is sitting in the warehouse somewhere in Iran, or has been recycled for some other theatrical production.The real mystery is—as it was then—how Iran’s leaders might assume that they could present such a farce before the eyes of the world and not invite anything other than mockery.  Dave Majumdar is the former defense editor for the National Interest.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 04:10:00 -0400
  • Boris Johnson’s Bid to Renegotiate Brexit Starts on Irish Border

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    (Bloomberg) -- Follow @Brexit, sign up to our Brexit Bulletin, and tell us your Brexit story. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson made his first public attempt to renegotiate the Brexit deal by telling the European Union he wants to explore different ways to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland.In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, Johnson said he wants to replace the so-called backstop provision in the divorce agreement with a “legally binding commitment” not to build infrastructure or carry out checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland -- the U.K.’s new frontier with the EU -- as long as the bloc promises the same.Johnson also talked to Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar for almost an hour on Monday, and agreed to meet him in Dublin next month. But in an indication the impasse is likely to continue, Varadkar reiterated that the EU won’t reopen the Brexit deal or ditch the backstop.The most contentious part of the Brexit deal agreed between Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, and the 27 other EU governments in November, the backstop would keep the U.K. following EU customs and many other trading rules indefinitely unless it’s superseded by a trade agreement that removes the need for controls or checks along the Irish border. The EU has said it’s needed as a permanent guarantee and isn’t up for negotiation.Johnson said both sides must look at other ways to keep the border free of checks and wants a commitment “to put in place such arrangements as far as possible before the end of the transition period,” which could be as early as the end of 2020. A transition will only apply if the U.K. leaves with a deal.No SpecificsBut Johnson didn’t set out what the arrangements should be, and acknowledged there “will need to be a degree of confidence” about what would happen if they were not “fully in place” at the end of the transition period. That suggests he is prepared to replace the backstop with a different guarantee.What a No-Deal Brexit Would Mean for the Irish Border: QuickTakeJohnson made the removal of the backstop from the Brexit deal, which was not approved by the British Parliament, his key pledge on becoming prime minister last month. He’s repeatedly said that if the EU doesn’t comply, the U.K. will leave the bloc on Oct. 31 without a deal.If he succeeds, it might still not be enough for some hardline Brexiteers.“Even without the backstop, this is still the worst ‘deal’ in history,” Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said on Twitter.Time Pressure“Time is very short,” Johnson said in his letter, which was published late Monday. “But the U.K. is ready to move quickly, and given the degree of common ground already, I hope that the EU will be ready to do likewise.”In many ways, Johnson’s position echoes May’s. She also wanted to avoid a hard border in Ireland, while having different regulations between the U.K. and EU, and wanted to find alternative “arrangements” to deliver this. She, too, was willing to offer a guarantee if those arrangements couldn’t be agreed.Deal HopesJohnson said earlier Monday that while he would prefer to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU, he was determined to get the country out of the bloc, and was ready for any “bumps in the road.” His argument is that by talking up Britain’s readiness for a no-deal Brexit and willingness to go through with one, he’s more likely to persuade the EU to give ground.The prime minister travels to Berlin and Paris this week to discuss Brexit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron. EU leaders were “showing a little bit of reluctance” to change their position, he said, but he was “confident” they’ll eventually shift and give him a deal.The main opposition Labour Party’s Brexit spokesman, Keir Starmer, said Johnson’s plan didn’t contain any solutions.“This letter confirms that Johnson has no negotiating strategy,” Starmer said on Twitter. “He suggests (unspecified) alternatives to the backstop. And if they don’t work: further (unspecified) alternatives to the backstop. Why didn’t anyone think of that before!”No-Deal RowWith Johnson showing no sign of backing down over his willingness to leave the EU without an agreement, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn demanded the prime minister release the latest assessment of the impact of a no-deal Brexit, after the government said a leaked copy of its plans was no longer current.The Sunday Times newspaper reported that “Operation Yellowhammer,” the government’s plans for leaving the EU without a deal, warned of a three-month “meltdown” at ports, along with shortages of food and medicine. Michael Gove, the minister in charge of Brexit preparations, said on Sunday this was out-of-date information based on “worst-case planning.”“If the government wants to be believed that it doesn’t represent the real impact, it must publish its most recent assessments today in full,” Corbyn said in a statement. “Boris Johnson’s denials can’t be trusted, and will do nothing to give businesses or consumers any confidence that the dire state of affairs described in these documents aren’t right around the corner.”What ‘No-Deal Brexit’ Means and Why It’s a Big Risk: QuickTakeMeanwhile the government is about to launch a publicity blitz aimed at preparing the public for a no-deal Brexit, according to a government official.Whereas previous information campaigns were aimed at businesses -- with long technical briefings on how different sectors should prepare for the possibility that the U.K. leaves the European Union without a deal -- the new one will be more user-friendly, said the official, who asked not to be identified.EU citizens living in Britain are being urged to apply for settled status ahead of the Brexit deadline. But despite the government warning that free movement from the bloc will end on Oct. 31, the official said most changes are likely to be symbolic in the short term. The Home Office said in a blogpost that EU citizens still had until December 2020 to make their settlement applications.(Updates with Varadkar call in third paragraph, Farage tweet in ninth.)\--With assistance from Jessica Shankleman.To contact the reporters on this story: Robert Hutton in London at rhutton1@bloomberg.net;Ian Wishart in Brussels at iwishart@bloomberg.netTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.net, ;Robert Hutton at rhutton1@bloomberg.net, Stuart Biggs, Robert JamesonFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 04:03:05 -0400
  • Naval Showdown: The Royal Navy Is Watching Iran Closely

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    After Trump restored economic sanctions, Tehran resumed stockpiling uranium. Iran and the West soon began tussling over Persian Gulf shipping.The Royal Navy destroyer HMS Duncan has arrived in the Persian Gulf,  temporarily doubling the number of British warships in the Persian Gulf following repeated Iranian attacks on British ships.The brief increase in British warships in the region, from one to two, underscores just how few ships the Royal Navy can deploy even in an emergency. More help likely won’t be coming.Duncan, a Type 45 destroyer, on July 28, 2019 joined the frigate HMS Montrose escorting vessels sailing under the British flag through the Strait of Hormuz. Naval escorts are an effective way of deterring the kinds of attacks that frequently have occurred in the summer of 2019.(This first appeared in July 2019.)On July 19, 2019 Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps militia forces seized the British-flagged oil tanker Stena Impero in the Strait of Hormuz, escalating a long-simmering conflict that began after U.S. president Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the 2015 deal that lifted sanctions on Iran in exchange for limits on Iran’s nuclear program.After Trump restored economic sanctions, Tehran resumed stockpiling uranium. Iran and the West soon began tussling over Persian Gulf shipping.Royal Marines in early July 2019 seized an oil tanker en route to Syria that British authorities suspected of breaching E.U. sanctions. Authorities told the BBC the ship could be carrying Iranian crude oil to the Baniyas refinery in Syria.A few days later, Iranian boats tried to “impede” a British oil tanker near the Strait of Hormuz. Montrose, a Type 23 frigate, “was forced to move between the three boats and the tanker,” according to the BBC.The IRGC also allegedly was behind several recent bomb attacks targeting oil tankers in the Gulf and surrounding waters. Armed men, presumably Iranians, also boarded a second tanker with U.K. ties but did not detain the vessel.The July 2019 ship incidents compelled the Royal Navy to accelerate by several weeks a planned deployment to the Gulf Duncan. Montrose and Duncan together will patrol the Persian Gulf before Montrose returns to U.K. waters for maintenance.The previous plan was for Montrose to depart the Gulf before Duncan arrived. The destroyer’s accelerated deployment “will allow a continuous naval presence to be sustained in the Strait of Hormuz,” a British defense ministry spokesman told Jane’s.The Royal Navy likely cannot keep two major warships in the Persian Gulf for more than a few weeks. After decades of deepening defense cuts, the Royal Navy possesses just 19 destroyers and frigates. Only a few of them are deployable at any given time.The United States declined to assist British forces. "The responsibility ... falls to the United Kingdom to take care of their ships," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.London's new defense strategy, released in December 2018, promised to maintain the fleet but not significantly expand it.Periodic cuts since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 have shrunk the British military roughly by half. The most recent rounds of cuts starting in 2010 eliminated, among other forces, two aircraft carriers, two amphibious ships and four frigates, plus the Royal Air Force’s maritime patrol planes and carrier-compatible Harrier jump jets. Uniformed manpower dropped by 30,000.Fortunately for U.K. forces, funding stabilized at around $55 billion annually. In 2017 and 2018, the government allocated the armed forces an extra $2 billion, combined, above planned spending levels, enough to employ 196,000 active and reserve sailors, soldiers, airmen and civilian personnel.Banking on the higher level of spending to continue, officials plan on building and maintaining a fleet including two Queen Elizabeth-class carriers, six Type 45 destroyers, eight Type 26 frigates, five low-cost Type 31 frigates, seven Astute-class attack submarine, 24 patrol vessels, 12 minehunters, five amphibious assault ships and nine logistics ships, together embarking six helicopter squadrons and 48 F-35 stealth fighters.But that fleet still mostly exists on paper. Mark Sedwill, the government's national security adviser, in May 2018 revealed that the Royal Navy likely wouldn't have enough ships to escort its two new aircraft carriers and would rely on allied navies to protect the carriers during wartime.That the Royal Navy struggles to maintain two warships in the Persian Gulf, even amid an escalating crisis, reveals just how overstretched the fleet is. The consequences of the warship-shortage could grow more acute if Iranian attacks continue.David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War Fix, War Is Boring and Machete Squad.Image: Wikimedia

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 02:30:00 -0400
  • Bring on the Technology Bans!

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    In mid-July 2019, Oakland, California, became the third U.S. city to ban municipal departments from using facial recognition technology. Meanwhile, Congress began hearingson whether and how to regulate it on a national level. In a surprising moment of bipartisan consensus, the only thing lawmakers fought about was how extensive restrictions ought to be.This response to a powerful, potentially invasive technology is a sign of how the public and policymakers might respond to future technological developments – especially those using artificial intelligence. Not only does facial recognition allow Facebook to automate people-tagging in photos, but it also supercharges law enforcement’s ability to track down crime suspects. Ethical questions abound. As Georgetown’s Center on Privacy and Technology put it, facial recognition could lead to “a world where, once you set foot outside, the government can track your every move.” And it’s just the beginning.On the horizon is a flood of digital innovations that could be at least as powerful, wide-ranging and controversial: “deepfake” videos showing people doing things they never did, the “internet of things” constantly monitoring private homes, manipulative virtual reality, self-driving cars overwhelming communities and more.I’m a researcher studying digital technology’s societal impacts, and it’s my job to stay informed about upcoming technologies and to project future outcomes. But, with more and more innovation, there is less and less time to reflect on the consequences. Many of my colleagues feel the same.To tame this onrushing tide, society needs dams and dikes. Just as has begun to happen with facial recognition, it’s time to consider legal bans and moratoriums on other emerging technologies. These need not be permanent or absolute, but innovation is not an unmitigated good. The more powerful a technology is, the more care it requires to operate safely.Little UrgencyThere’s not a pressing need for most new digital technologies. Some innovations, of course, are almost completely positive: anesthesia, electric light, radio, vaccines. But today’s society often celebrates innovation for its own sake, even when the benefits are questionable – and more and more, the benefits are indeed questionable.Is it really worth a crowded, buzzing sky filled with drones to get one-hour delivery of consumer goods, instead of delivery in 24 hours, or even two days? Is virtual reality so great that children should, effectively, grow up with their eyes glued to video screens? When governments can conduct hard-to-trace assassinations by drone, is anyone truly safe? Scanning lists of possible future technologies can incite more fear than hope.These types of innovations repeatedly fail to provide overall improvements in truly meaningful ways, like how deeply people love each other, how compassionately people care, how well society supports the less privileged, or how wisely humans steward the planet. If anything, technology appears to amplify humans’ moral weaknesses by coddling people with consumer comforts and echo chambers. The last half-century has seen a golden age of digital innovation, yet rates of poverty have stagnated, inequality has soared and sustainability seems farther out of reach.Most of the technological advances in the works today won’t address those problems; they’ll tackle smaller annoyances that there’s simply no rush to relieve.Harms Nearly Certain, but UnclearNew technologies always have unintended consequences – often negative – and innovators always underestimate how bad they’ll be. Pesticides have caused public health scourges. Plastic bottles have polluted the oceans. Smartphones are contributing to a teenage mental health crisis.Consider what an AI system might do if directed to do something obvious – like maximize profits, using all the information and tools at its disposal. It might hold embarrassing personal information for ransom to coerce users to purchase goods, or extort criminal actions from people with darker secrets.Nothing has yet stopped online stores’ algorithms from lying to increase sales, nor curbed Facebook’s actual ability to manipulate users’ moods. Tech companies routinely treat their customers as experimental guinea pigs, and are already applying artificial intelligence systems for a range of purposes.If these are just the known effects of tech companies; efforts and innovations, imagine what unintended consequences might lurk. The premise of the popular game “Universal Paperclips” is that an AI focused on optimizing a business ends up destroying the known universe. Science fiction is rapidly becoming science fact.Difficult to go BackwardsOnce unleashed, digital technologies are particularly difficult genies to put back in the bottle. In this respect, they differ from other advanced technologies. Soon after World War II, activists began to call for bans on nuclear arms, culminating in the Non-Proliferation Treaty in 1970. The treaty has been effective in keeping an 80-year-old technology limited to just eight or nine countries – that’s an impressive feat, especially across the jagged history of global politics.Nuclear weapons, however, require significant resources to design, build, test and deploy. By contrast, digital technologies are easy to share, making them even harder to control. Advanced hacking tools have been stolen and shared online: Techniques developed by the U.S. National Security Agency have been used in global cyberattacks by China, Russia and North Korea. Their software is now available to anyone with an internet connection.An Imbalance of PowerTechnology companies pushing their advances have money, influence and time on their side. The millions of lobbying dollars they spend are pocket change when compared to their multi-billion-dollar profits, and they can keep the funding going indefinitely, waiting out news cycles and activist energy.In my view, uncertainty about how new technologies will affect society overall means that skeptical forces deserve more support. Bans and moratoriums would mean that rich, powerful entities would have to seek legal and societal permission before unleashing their potential monsters onto the market. That doesn’t seem like too much to ask.There are many reasons to continue to build new technologies – to remain globally competitive, to advance human knowledge and to prepare for potential future crises. Technology has its benefits. But slowing the pace of its advance would give society more time to think through the consequences and debate which aspects of new technologies are desirable, and which should be outlawed.This article first appeared in The Conversation on August 19.Image: Reuters

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 02:15:00 -0400
  • Five Things You Need to Know to Start Your Day

    (Bloomberg) -- Want the lowdown on what's moving European markets in your inbox every morning? Sign up here.Good morning. Donald Trump really, really wants the Fed to cut rates, Boris Johnson is planning a Brexit blitz and governments are testing the temperature of the bond market. Here’s what’s moving markets.100 Basis PointsIn what has become a favored topic for President Donald Trump on Twitter, he called for the Federal Reserve to cut rates by at least a full percentage point in order to weaken a dollar whose strength, he said, was “sadly hurting other parts of the world.” He also accused Democrats of holding out hope for a recession before the next election. The Fed’s minutes from its last meeting are coming on Wednesday but the attention will be on Chairman Jerome Powell when he speaks at the Jackson Hole symposium on Friday, where he’s expected to signal the potential for another, likely Trump-pleasing cut, though some of his colleagues are not convinced.Boris BlitzThe battle lines are being drawn again in British politics. U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson reiterated the country will be ready to leave the European Union without a deal by the current deadline at the end of October and is planning a September  publicity blitz to prepare the public for a so-called hard Brexit. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, having failed to get support from other parties for a caretaker government, appears to be gearing up for an election by giving backing to a second referendum and vowing to do everything necessary to avoid a no-deal exit.Bond TestsThese are precarious times for the global bond market and the biggest issuers are starting to do more to test the waters on what investors want. Germany is set for a flurry of debt sales in the next couple of weeks offering negative rates and this week will sell a 30-year bond with a 0% coupon for the first time. The U.S. Treasury also appears to be taking the chance to issue ultra-long bonds, an idea shelved in the past but which could now have its moment as investors continue to search further out in global yield curves for returns as the spreading pile of negative-yielding securities grows.Great British PubsHong Kong leader Carrie Lam has pledged to establish a platform for dialogue with protesters in the country, potentially opening an avenue towards calming the turmoil in the city. But it was elsewhere that Hong Kong’s influence was felt on Monday. Victor Li, the head of Hong Kong’s largest conglomerate, made a $3.3 billion bet on the post-Brexit future of the pub with a deal to buy Greene King Plc. The immediate debate raised after the surprise bid is whether more pubs are likely to close down but another question to ask is to what extent this was driven by the cheap pound and whether more bids to pick up U.K. property estates could emerge.Coming Up...Asian stock indexes were mostly in the green on Tuesday amid signs of progress being made on trade negotiations and speculation about government stimulus to shore up economies globally. European and U.S. futures look mixed. On a relatively quiet day for earnings and economic data, all eyes will turn to Rome and the likely breakdown of the current coalition government. The question will be whether another government can be formed by alternative parties, likely leaving out Matteo Salvini’s League, or if new elections will be required.What We’ve Been ReadingThis is what’s caught our eye over the past 24 hours.How Europe could reduce its reliance on the U.S. The Odd Lots podcast on what's ailing bank stocks. If you have spare 8 million pounds, this Scottish castle is on the market. The ethical conundrum of making money from deepfakes. ‘Tesla killers’ are struggling to kill Tesla. The century-old company on a $10 billion shopping spree. Transhumanists who want to live forever.Like Bloomberg's Five Things? Subscribe for unlimited access to trusted, data-based journalism in 120 countries around the world and gain expert analysis from exclusive daily newsletters, The Bloomberg Open and The Bloomberg Close.Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. Find out more about how the Terminal delivers information and analysis that financial professionals can't find anywhere else. Learn more.To contact the author of this story: Sam Unsted in London at sunsted@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Phil Serafino at pserafino@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 01:14:41 -0400
  • Omar: Go to Israel, see 'cruel reality of the occupation'

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    Democratic Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib sharply criticized Israel on Monday for denying them entry to the country and called on fellow members of Congress to visit while they cannot.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 00:49:21 -0400
  • Hungary Is Happy to Be Germany's Gatekeeper

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    (Bloomberg Opinion) -- On Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had a friendly meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to celebrate an open border.This may look like a great occasion to discuss how Orban’s current anti-immigrant stance has subverted the legacy of the Hungarians who opened the first breach in the Iron Curtain on August 19,  1989 –  months before the Berlin wall became useless. But history doesn’t lend itself to such facile juxtapositions. After all, both in 1989 and in 2015, during the recent refugee crisis, Hungary was merely a transit country for people seeking a better life.In February 1989, the ruling Hungarian Socialist Workers’ Party, one of the softest and most reform-minded Communist parties in the Warsaw Pact, decided to dismantle the fortifications on Hungary’s border with Austria. It intended to take two years to remove the electrified wires and other defenses. Yet after the Hungarian government made the policy public in May, something happened that neither the Hungarians nor the Austrians had expected: East Germans started traveling to Hungary en masse in hopes of crossing the border into Austria and then moving on to West Germany. At the same time, a group of Hungarian activists were working on a small-scale idea: a joint picnic for the Hungarian and Austrian residents of the border area to promote friendship and openness. Both countries’ governments were fine with opening a wooden gate on the border near the Hungarian city of Sopron for three hours on Aug. 19, to let people move back and forth so they could eat and drink together. But the East Germans crashed the party. Why exactly that happened on depends on whose story you hear. One thing is for sure: Leaflets had been distributed to East German “tourists” in Hungary, telling them about the picnic and the opportunity it provided to slip into Austria. The East German government would later accuse West German intelligence and Otto von Habsburg, a descendant of the Austro-Hungarian monarchs who at the time represented Germany in the European Parliament, of having spread the word. Hungarian activists did their part, though, and the Hungarian government, worried about the growing number of restless East Germans gathered on its territory, at least turned a blind eye. Since the border guard contingents had been weakened on picnic day, with just five guards present on each side, some of the East German “tourists” simply pushed past them into Austria even before the gate opened. By the time the picnic began, chaos reigned: Local activists had made the event popular, so more Hungarians than expected had arrived, and hundreds of Germans were attempting to mix in with the crowd. Arpad Bella, the commander of the Hungarian border guards, was worried about being blamed for the mess, but he let the Germans through – about 600 of them.Like the opening of the Berlin wall on Nov. 9, 1989, what happened at the “Pan-European Picnic” was largely spontaneous; at  least, Laszlo Vass, the highest-ranking Hungarian official at the picnic, insisted there had been no plan to let the East Germans through to Austria. But after the event, it became clear that the rapidly liberalizing Soviet Union wouldn’t use its 60,000 troops in Hungary to punish the small country’s government for letting the refugees go, and in September, Hungary allowed thousands of the “tourists” to cross into Austria.Orban’s Fidesz party, formed just a year before the picnic, was among the event’s organizers, so some of the gratitude for helping bring down the Iron Curtain, which Merkel expressed at the commemoration on Monday, is due to him. And yet Orban is one of the harshest critics of Merkel’s 2015 decision to open Germany’s borders to asylum seekers, mostly from Syria and Iraq, who had crossed the Mediterranean and were making their way to central and northern Europe from Turkey and Greece. Since these refugees swarmed into Hungary, Orban has fortified his country’s borders with Croatia and Serbia, made it illegal to help asylum seekers (the law is being challenged by the European Union) and turned applying for asylum in his country into a near-impossibility.At the commemoration on Monday, Orban said this behavior is “completely compatible” with what happened 30 years ago. I find it hard to disagree. In 2015, Hungary initially bused the asylum seekers to the Austrian border; even later, when the busing stopped, the Hungarian authorities only ever wanted the “migrants” to leave without filing asylum applications there. That, essentially, was the Hungarian authorities’ approach in 1989, too: They wanted to be rid of a problem. On their part, the refugees – both East German in 1989 and Middle Eastern in 2015 – had no intention of staying in Hungary: Both groups wanted to go to Germany, where they hoped to find a better life.The difference, of course, is that Hungarians were mostly sympathetic toward the East Germans in 1989 but not toward the Muslim newcomers in 2015. Hungary, with its long history of resisting the Ottoman Empire, has long seen itself as a bulwark against Muslim conquest, and it wasn’t just Orban who saw the refugee wave as yet another invasion. The cultural factor is important; for similar reasons, Poland’s nationalist government happily accepts Ukrainian immigrants but not Middle Eastern or North African ones. The discussion of xenophobia, however, overshadows a deeper truth. Smaller countries are often destabilized and overtaxed by political upheaval in bigger ones; both in 1989 and in 2015, tiny Hungary became an arena for German crises – one caused by East Germany’s inhumanity toward its citizens, another by the humanistic impulses of Merkel, a former East German. Hungary wasn’t equipped to handle either disruption – it was the innocent bystander thrust into the center of events by its geography. The world has changed dramatically, but Hungary the Soviet satellite was too poor to attract East German refugees – and Hungary the relatively recent EU member is still too poor for Middle Eastern asylum seekers to want to stay. So both in 1989 and in 2015, Hungary sent the refugees on their way. And when Orban built his fences on Hungary’s borders with Croatia and Serbia, he only did so out of fear that Germany would stop accepting the asylum seekers and saddle his government with them. Even before Merkel caught on to the toxic political fallout of her decision, Orban knew Germany soon would seek to limit the inflow, and so it did.“We believe that we are the fortress captains of the Germans,” Orban said on Monday. In a way, he’s right: At least twice in a generation, Hungarians have served, willy nilly, as Germany’s gatekeepers. Only now, Germany doesn’t really want them to rupture the new Iron Curtain, the one between the world’s poor south and its affluent north. For all the official disapproval of Orban’s tough anti-immigration policies in Germany and in the EU, for all the distaste about his illiberalism and his clumsy propaganda, he’s just the guy at the door.To contact the author of this story: Leonid Bershidsky at lbershidsky@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Tobin Harshaw at tharshaw@bloomberg.netThis column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.Leonid Bershidsky is Bloomberg Opinion's Europe columnist. He was the founding editor of the Russian business daily Vedomosti and founded the opinion website Slon.ru.For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com/opinion©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 00:00:06 -0400
  • Trump Is Coming for Europe’s Most Important Alliance

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    (Bloomberg) -- In the end, they papered over the cracks.After months of increasingly acrimonious sniping, Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel set aside some of their differences last month, pushing through a deal on the next head of the European Commission. The rapprochement arrived just in time, with Donald Trump coming to Europe this week for the Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France.The U.S. president has a knack for finding the pressure points in the Franco-German relationship and has been looking to drive a wedge between the two leaders as he turns his focus toward the U.S.’s terms of trade with Europe. “Trade is a risk in their relationship,” said Enrico Letta, the former Italian prime minister who has worked with both Merkel and Macron. “France as a country has protectionist tendencies. Germany relies far more on industrial exports, and is keen to defend them. It’s another asymmetrical situation.” European Union diplomats fear that once Trump has rammed through a trade deal with China, he will turn his attention to Europe. While trade isn’t on the G-7 agenda, it’ll come up in one-on-one meetings if the president’s recent rhetoric is any guide. At a fundraiser in the Hamptons this month, Trump raised the prospect of imposing 100% tariffs on French wine, according to two people familiar with the conversation. The U.S. Trade Representative is also completing a probe into a French tax on internet giants like Google and Facebook that could pave the way for retaliatory tariffs, while the EU is braced for the World Trade Organization to give a green light for U.S. tariffs on up to $7 billion of EU goods after a ruling on illegal aircraft subsidies.“The European Union is worse than China, just smaller,” Trump said at a rally in Manchester, New Hampshire, last week. “It treats us horribly: barriers, tariffs, taxes—and we let them come in.”The prospect of a fully blown trade war is already sowing distrust between Berlin and Paris. The problem is that Trump’s demands are causing most resistance in France, and he’s mainly threatening punishment for Germany. The U.S. wants more access to Europe’s agricultural markets—a red line for the French—and the president is mulling tariffs on cars, the backbone of the German economy, unless he gets it. So Merkel’s aides are watching the French president nervously.German officials already feel that Macron has been playing a double game on trade. France, along with its allies, persuaded Germany to keep agriculture out of the EU’s trade talks with the U.S. in April but still cast a symbolic vote against opening trade talks.  Such a blatant sop to rural voters at home on an issue so vital to Germany greatly annoyed Merkel. She’s not convinced she can rely on Macron on trade, according to a person familiar with her thinking.The policy differences mirror the contrasting backgrounds of the two leaders. One is the 65-year-old daughter of a pastor who grew up in communist East Germany, the other a child prodigy who was writing plays at age 15. She’s cautious, he moves fast. He likes grand declarations, she works behind the scenes. At the October 2017 Frankfurt book fair, Macron gave a sweeping talk about the French 20th century philosopher Paul Ricoeur. When he was done, Merkel said “I didn’t understand what you said, but it sounded so beautiful.” She then launched into a discussion of the intricacies of German copyright rules.And yet when Macron came to power it looked at first like they might strike up a truly effective partnership—the previous three occupants of the Elysee Palace had failed to deliver the sort of reforms Germany has been hoping for. When Macron tried to answer politely, Trump cut him off and called her a “loser,” according to a diplomat presentMacron promised a long-overdue modernization of the French economy and, in exchange, he bet that Merkel would persuade German skeptics to accept greater financial integration of the euro zone. Both sides quickly wound up disappointed. Macron’s advisers say he hoped Merkel would show greater courage after more than a decade in power. But they also recognize both sides were unlucky with the timing. Germany’s inconclusive September 2017 elections touched off months of political gridlock and eventually left the chancellor’s hands tied by hardliners in her party leery of Macron’s proposals. Into this increasingly frustrating relationship, stepped Trump. At a White House meeting during Macron’s state visit in April 2018, Trump began with a tirade about German trading practices and then asked Macron what he thought of Merkel. When Macron tried to answer politely, Trump cut him off and called her a “loser,” according to a diplomat present.Trump’s monologues, sometimes premised on basic factual errors, can leave Macron lost for words, the diplomat said. But the president’s reading of the big picture can make a lot of sense all the same, he added.Macron’s relationship with Trump has deteriorated since then, and he’s stood firm with Merkel on both Iran and climate. But the French leader has also shown that he’s prepared to exploit the same pressure points as Trump and on occasion to leave Merkel isolated when she stands up to the U.S. A month after that White House encounter, Macron delivered his harshest rebuke yet to Merkel. Invited to Aachen, Germany, to receive an award for serving European integration, Macron lectured an audience including the chancellor for obstructing his plans, even echoing Trump’s critique of the Berlin government.  “Germany can’t have a perpetual fetish about budget and trade surpluses, because they come at the expense of others,” he said. When Germany blocked arms exports to Saudi Arabia last year after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Macron, like Trump, sought to shield his relationship with the Saudi regime and dismissed Merkel’s stance as “demagoguery.” That fight put a question mark over French-German plans to jointly develop tanks and a fighter plane.Macron even threw a spanner in the works of German plans for a new gas pipeline to Russia, a project that enrages Trump. Officials in Berlin were furious when France persuaded the EU to demand greater regulatory oversight of the North Stream 2, labelling it a threat to German interests. A compromise was found, but the bad taste remained. The Germans’ anger flared up again in May when Macron shot down their candidate to head the European Commission. Manfred Weber was the head of the biggest group in the EU parliament, a party ally of the chancellor, and officially the winner of the EU elections. But Macron demolished his credentials at a dinner in front of EU leaders. Merkel herself had been lukewarm about Weber, and acknowledged his inexperience. But the German camp saw Macron’s move not just as a European power play, but an attack on the European party system that has been a key element in their influence.  What followed was like a replay of the all night crisis summits of 2015 with an added element of farce. The 28 EU leaders were called back to Brussels for endless negotiations, though this time it wasn’t the fate of the euro that was at stake, just the identity of the bloc’s top bureaucrat. Macron settled the crisis with a call to the chancellor, proposing German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen as a compromise candidate who could win broad support. Macron describes their jousting as “productive confrontation.” Merkel accepts that they have “differences in mentality.” People who know them say they aren’t close, but manage to work together.Their alliance has been fundamental to reining in the U.S. leader at previous G-7 meetings. They were at the center of the push that persuaded Trump to sign the communique at last year’s summit in Canada, even if he then ripped it up on the plane home. And any tensions this weekend could compromise efforts to wring concessions from the U.S. As Air Force One begins its descent into Biarritz on Saturday, both will know the relationship is in for another stress test. \--With assistance from Jennifer Jacobs, Arne Delfs, Shawn Donnan and David Wainer.To contact the author of this story: Gregory Viscusi in Paris at gviscusi@bloomberg.netTo contact the editor responsible for this story: Ben Sills at bsills@bloomberg.netFor more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

    Tue, 20 Aug 2019 00:00:05 -0400
  • Trump tweets image of enormous Trump Tower on Greenland

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    US president pledges ‘not to do this’ but residents of the icy island have hardly warmed to his interestDonald Trump may still want to purchase Greenland – but the US president has no plans to embellish the island’s coast with a Trump Tower.On Monday night, Trump tweeted an edited photo of a coastal town dotted with colorful homes – all dwarfed by a golden skyscraper bearing his name.“I promise not to do this to Greenland!” Trump said.> I promise not to do this to Greenland! pic.twitter.com/03DdyVU6HA> > — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) August 20, 2019 The tweet came a day after he confirmed news reports that he was mulling the idea of buying the autonomous Danish territory, though he has acknowledged that such a deal is “not No 1 on the burner”.Front of mind, perhaps, are warnings from economists that the US economy is teetering toward a recession. But Trump, ever the businessman, apparently cannot resist the prospect of what he has called “essentially a large real estate deal” with miles of coastline.“Strategically it’s interesting and we’d be interested but we’ll talk to them a little bit,” Trump told reporters on Sunday.News of the president’s interest in buying the icy island were met internationally with roars of laughter. But in Greenland and in Denmark, the response ranged from incredulous to indignant.“I think he’s crazy,” one resident told CBS. Another said the idea felt “patronizing”.The Danish prime minister has called any discussion of a sale “absurd”.Greenland harbours some of the largest deposits of rare-earth metals, including neodymium, praseodymium, dysprosium and terbium, along with uranium and the byproducts of zinc.US corporations once thought of China as a benign supplier of rare-earth metals for mobile phones, computers and more recently electric cars. And the US government was relaxed when Chinese companies began hoovering up mines across central and southern Africa to secure an even greater dominance of the global market. But the arrival of Xi Jinping as China’s leader, and his more aggressive foreign policy stance, has spooked many US policymakers. Among Trump’s advisers, the need for greater economic independence has raced up the agenda.A potential target for the US is Greenland Minerals, an Australian company that has generated a good deal of excitement since it started operating on Greenland’s south-west peninsula in 2007 to develop the Kvanefjeld mine, which is home to many rare-earth metals.More than 100m tonnes of ore are believed to be sitting below the surface and the project is expected to become one of the largest global producers outside China.Phillip Inman“We are open for business, but we’re not for sale,” Greenland’s foreign minister, Ane Lone Bagger, said.“Greenland belongs to Greenland,” said Mette Frederiksen, the Danish prime minister. “ I strongly hope that this is not meant seriously.”Trump is scheduled to visit Denmark in September, as part of a trip to Europe.Earlier on Monday, Trump’s son Eric shared the same photo of a Trump Tower in Greenland on Instagram.He wrote: “I don’t know about you guys but I love the concept of buying Greenland.”

    Mon, 19 Aug 2019 22:57:40 -0400
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