Trump Defends His Golf Habit In Angry Tweets At London Mayor

President Donald Trump lashed out at London Mayor Sadiq Khan with a pair of Tuesday morning tweets defending his golf habit after the mayor criticized him for hitting the links as Hurricane Dorian headed for the U.S. Southeast coastline. 

Trump on Friday suggested he would spend all of the next day monitoring the storm at Camp David. Instead, he spent hours playing golf at his private club in Virginia. He returned to the golf course on Monday for another game.

“The incompetent Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was bothered that I played a very fast round of golf yesterday,” Trump wrote Tuesday, after first misspelling the mayor’s first and last names.

The two men have clashed repeatedly since Trump took office in 2016 and proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States; Khan is London’s first Muslim mayor.

In his tweets, Trump misleadingly compared his golfing to the ways other politicians unwind, such as by exercise or travel.

“Me, I run through one of my courses (very inexpensive). President Obama would fly to Hawaii,” Trump wrote.

His claim that his presidential golf trips aren’t costly is also wrong. Trump has already cost American taxpayers more than $110 million for golf getaways since his January 2017 inauguration, according to HuffPost’s analysis. That’s more than the travel expenses former President Barack Obama accrued over eight years, a conservative group estimated.

Trump also encouraged Vice President Mike Pence to stay at his luxury golf club in Ireland. Pence took him up on it, even though his meetings with Irish leaders are in Dublin, on the opposite side of the country.

Many critics say that by spending so many taxpayer dollars on his own properties, Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause prohibiting presidents from profiting off their role in the Oval Office.

Trump had planned to join other world leaders in Poland over the weekend to commemorate the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II. He said Hurricane Dorian ― which has devastated the Bahamas ― prompted him to cancel. 

Speaking to reporters from the event in Poland, Khan noted sarcastically that Trump was “clearly busy dealing with a hurricane out on the golf course.”

The comment apparently rankled Trump, who does not often address criticisms of his golfing. According to CNN’s count, the president has so far spent 227 days of his presidency at one of his golf clubs.

Khan, Trump said, “should focus on ’knife crime,′ which is totally out of control in London.”

“He is a terrible mayor who should stay out of our business!” the president fumed.

A White House spokesperson said over the weekend that Trump was receiving hourly updates on Hurricane Dorian, which has left at least five dead in the Caribbean.

Despite this, the president incorrectly warned Alabamians on Monday to prepare for the hurricane to hit their state and doubled down on the idea when challenged ― even after officials issued a correction stating that Alabama wasn’t threatened.

Dorian has weakened from a Category 5 to a Category 2 hurricane and was still approaching Florida on Tuesday.

[Huffington Post]

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

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

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

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

Bipartisan anger

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

What will Trump do?

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

[CNN]

Trump got slapped down by G7 leaders after advocating for Russia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Business Insider]

Trump backs Brazilian president as he rejects aid for fighting Amazon fires

President Donald Trump gave Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro his full backing Tuesday as South America struggles to contain wildfires wreaking havoc in the Amazon rainforest and as Bolsonaro rejected a pot of international aid to fight the blazes.

“I have gotten to know President @jairbolsonaro well in our dealings with Brazil,” Trump tweeted. “He is working very hard on the Amazon fires and in all respects doing a great job for the people of Brazil – Not easy. He and his country have the full and complete support of the USA!”

Brazil on Tuesday said it would reject$20 million in aid money offered Monday by G-7 nations to battle the massive fires that have threatened one of the world’s greatest sources of biodiversity.

“The Amazon are the lungs of the planet, and the consequences are dire for the planet,” French President Emmanuel Macron said in announcing the aid fund earlier this week. The assistance was not intended solely for Brazil, but for the nearly dozen states that make up the Amazon region in South America, including French Guiana. Canada and Britain pledged an additional $11 million and $12 million in aid, respectively, during the G-7 summit.

Bolsonaro’s decision to spurn the aid money from France and other economic giants comes amid a public spat with Macron that resulted Monday in the French president openly wishing Brazil would soon have a new leader. Bolsonaro insisted Macron had called him a liar and insulted him by questioning his handling of the crisis. The Brazilian president said that once Macron retracted some of those comments, “then we can speak,” according to The Associated Press.

Critics have accused Bolsonaro, a right-wing populist dubbed the “Trump of the tropics,” of facilitating the fires and of taking a lax approach to preventing mass deforestation of the rainforest while also being too slow to respond to the fires. Macron last week threatened to upend a major trade deal between the European Union and the South American Mercosur trade bloc over the issue, claiming Bolsonaro was not living up to environmental commitments that had been made under the deal.

Brazil’s ambassador to France, Luís Fernando Serra, said on French TV on Tuesday that his country is rejecting the aid because the decision was made without involving his country and the “language is ambiguous.”

“We refuse because we see interference,” he said, calling the aid “help we didn’t ask for.”

Bolsonaro’s chief of staff went further, taking personal shots at Macron and suggesting the aid might be better spent reforesting his own backyard. And he knocked the massive blaze earlier this year at Paris’ historic Notre Dame Cathedral, adding, “Macron cannot even avoid a predictable fire in a church that is part of the world’s heritage, and he wants to give us lessons for our country?”

[Politico]

Beijing denies Trump’s claim that China called US officials to restart talks

President Donald Trump said U.S. and Chinese officials spoke Sunday and he is optimistic China wants to make a deal after the trade war between the two countries escalated in recent days.

“They want to make a deal,” Trump told reporters Monday during a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi at the Group of Seven Summit. “That’s a great thing.”

The conversations Sunday between the U.S. and Chinese officials were the first since the two countries lobbed a new round of tariffs at each other last week. Neither side formally broke off talks and White House officials had said they expected negotiations to continue despite the new tariffs. But investors had feared China could walk away from the negotiating table.

Speaking to reporters, Trump heaped praise on Chinese President Xi Jinping, calling him a “great leader” and said China wants “to do something very, very badly.” He said the calls were at the “highest levels.”

“We are probably in a much better position now than any time in the negotiations,” Trump said in a meeting Monday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

When asked about the phone calls, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang said, “I haven’t heard about this.” News of Trump’s comments was breaking as he was addressing reporters.

Hours earlier, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He said China sought “calm” negotiations and opposed an escalation.

“We are willing to solve the problem through consultation and cooperation with a calm attitude,” he said, according to Chinese newspaper Caixin. “We firmly oppose the escalation of the trade war,” he said, adding that it “is not conducive to China, the U.S. and the interests of people all over the world.”

Liu, China’s top trade negotiator, was speaking at a tech conference in Chongqing in southwest China, the Chongqing Morning Post reported.

The stock market fell sharply Friday after China announced it would slap retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods, and Trump hit back saying he would increase existing tariffs on $250 billion in imports to 30 percent from 25 percent Oct. 1.

He also said that a planned 10 percent tariff on a further $300 billion in Chinese goods would now be taxed at 15 percent starting next month.

But the continued talks and optimism from Trump eased financial market jitters. U.S. stock futures pointed to a recovery Monday morning, with Dow futures jumping more than 200 points.

Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, said Sunday afternoon that he was anticipating a call from the Chinese this week and for Chinese officials to still come to Washington as planned.

“You’ve got both sides playing their game, we get that,” Kudlow told reporters. “As long as they are talking, I’m good.”

Trump also signaled a hint of optimism on Iran.

He said he didn’t feel disrespected by the surprise arrival of Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at the seaside town where the meeting of world leaders is taking place. Trump said French President Emmanuel Macron let him know Zarif was coming on the day of his arrival.

“I don’t consider that disrespectful at all, especially when he asked for my approval,” Trump said of Macron.

But White House aides said they felt blindsided by the unanticipated visitor, and some were upset at the French over the move, U.S. officials said shortly after Zarif’s arrival.

A spokesman for Zarif announced that he had arrived in Biarritz at the invitation of the French foreign minister “to continue talks” between the Iranian and French governments.

Trump said it would have been too soon to meet with the Iranians, and he declined to comment when asked if he sent any message to Zarif. There is no indication Zarif would have been willing to meet with the U.S. officials.

Trump said he isn’t looking for regime change in Iran, but that he wants to see the country abandon its nuclear program and stop its terrorism funding before lifting financial restrictions that have crippled its economy.

“We are looking to make Iran rich again,” Trump told reporters Monday. “Let them be rich.”

[NBC News]

Reality

Beijing has no idea what Trump is talking about.

Trump skips G7 climate summit with aides lying about scheduling conflict

President Donald Trump skipped a session devoted to climate change at the G7 summit here, a snub aides wrote off as a scheduling conflict but nonetheless reflects Trump’s isolation on the issue.

As other leaders were taking their seats around a large round table, the chair reserved for Trump sat empty. The summit’s host, French President Emmanuel Macron, gaveled the meeting to order anyway and launched into an explanation of a wrist watch made from recycled plastic.

Later, the White House said Trump’s schedule prevented his attendance.

“The President had scheduled meetings and bilaterals with Germany and India, so a senior member of the Administration attended in his stead,” press secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

But the leaders of both those countries — German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi — were both seen attending, at least for the start of the session.

An official said the staffer who replaced Trump worked for the National Security Council.

Speaking afterward, Macron seemed to shrug off Trump’s absence.

“He wasn’t in the room, but his team was,” Macron said at a news conference. He urged reporters not to read too much into Trump’s decision to skip the session, insisting the US is aligned with the rest of the G7 on issues of biodiversity and combating fires in the Amazon rainforest.

Still, Macron acknowledged Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate accord — a move that angered European nations, who remain part of the pact. Macron said it was no longer his goal to convince Trump to return to the agreement.

In the lead-up to the G7, Trump’s aides said he wasn’t entirely interested in the climate portions of the summit, believing them a waste of time compared to discussion of the economy.

After past G7s, Trump complained that too much time was spent on issues he deemed unimportant, like clearing oceans of plastics.

But Macron made climate one of the main focuses of this year’s gathering anyway, scheduling the session on Monday and insisting the leaders address the Amazon fires.

That was bound to create divisions between Trump and the other leaders. Trump has loosened environmental regulations in the United States, even as he claims that water and air are at their cleanest levels ever.

[CNN]

Trump Called The Danish Prime Minister “Nasty” After He Canceled A Visit Because She Won’t Sell Greenland

A bizarre diplomatic row, even by the standards of the Trump administration, dragged on Wednesday as the US president said the way Denmark’s prime minister dismissed his idea of buying Greenland was “nasty.”

On Tuesday, President Trump abruptly canceled a planned state visit to Denmark after Mette Frederiksen, the Danish PM, firmly rejected his stated wish to buy Greenland, the semi-autonomous island home to 56,000 people.

Frederiksen had labelled the idea of the US purchasing Greenland an “absurd discussion” to be having.

But while he initially thanked the Danish PM on Twitter for “being so direct,” in remarks to journalists as he departed the White House on Wednesday, Trump branded her comment as “nasty.”

“I thought the prime minister’s statement that it was absurd, that it was an absurd idea, was nasty. I thought it was inappropriate. All she had to do was say, ‘No, we wouldn’t be interested,'” Trump said.

“She’s not talking to me. She’s talking to the United States of America,” the president added. “You don’t talk to the United States that way.”

Earlier on Wednesday, Frederiksen expressed “regret and surprise” at September’s state visit being canceled, as she reiterated once more that Greenland was not for sale.

“I had been looking forward to the visit and preparations were well underway,” Frederiksen told journalists in Copenhagen in a statement delivered in Danish and English. “It was an opportunity to celebrate Denmark’s close relationship to the US, which remains one of Denmark’s closest allies.”

She added, “This does not change the character of our good relations [with the US], and we will of course from Denmark continue our ongoing dialogue with the US on how we can develop our cooperation and deal with the many common challenges we are facing.”

Only hours before Trump canceled the state visit, the American ambassador, Carla Sands, tweeted excitedly about the president’s upcoming visit.

But on Wednesday she was in damage control mode.

Trump and the first lady, Melania Trump, had been invited by Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II. Denmark’s state broadcaster quoted a royal spokesperson as saying that Trump’s announcement “came as a surprise.”

“That’s all we have to say about that,” the spokesperson added.

Former Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt was more direct. “Is this some sort of joke?” she wrote on Twitter after Trump canceled the state visit.

The Wall Street Journal first reported last week that Trump had raised the possibility of buying Greenland, and he confirmed Sunday that such a purchase had been discussed because of the island’s strategic location and natural resources.

“Essentially, it’s a large real estate deal. A lot of things can be done,” Trump said. “It’s hurting Denmark very badly, because they’re losing almost $700 million a year carrying it. So they carry it at a great loss.”

He later tweeted a meme of a Trump Tower–style skyscraper in a settlement in Greenland.

But any such sale was firmly ruled out by Denmark and Greenland, which is self-governing in all respects apart from foreign policy and defense.

Speaking in Nuuk, the capital of Greenland, on Sunday, Frederiksen said the sale of Greenland was not even up for discussion, pointing out, for one thing, that Greenland belongs to Greenland, not Denmark.

“Thankfully, the time where you buy and sell other countries and populations is over,” she told a TV reporter. “Let’s leave it there.”

[Buzzfeed]

Trump tore out magazine picture of Justin Trudeau, scrawled odd message and mailed it to Canadian embassy

Donald Trump reportedly tore out a magazine picture of Justin Trudeau, scrawled a brief note about the Canadian prime minister “looking good”, and made White House officials mail it to the neighbouring country’s embassy.

The message – first reported by Axios – is said to have been written by the US president on the torn-out cover of a May 2017 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek, which featured an image of Mr Trudeau alongside a caption reading “The Anti-Trump”.

On it, Mr Trump reportedly jotted a note reading something to the effect of, “Looking good! Hope it’s not true!” according to the US news outlet.

The Canadian ambassador considered the note so strange he thought it was a prank, but after calling US officials was told the note was genuine.

Although some White House staff reportedly considered the note inappropriate, the National Security Council ultimately decided it was done in good humour and would be considered by Ottawa to be friendly contact.

Another exchange in December of that year reportedly saw Mr Trump send Mr Trudeau a document purporting to show a US trade deficit with Canada.

Mr Trudeau reportedly responded by including in his letter a printout of a US government website showing America actually has a trade surplus over its neighbour when services are included with goods.

The Canadian prime minister reportedly included a smiley face alongside the document.

Months later, on Dec. 8, 2017, President Trump falsely told a rally crowd in Pensacola, Florida, that the U.S. has a trade deficit with Canada. Around that same time, Trump also mailed Trudeau a document purporting to show that the U.S. had a trade deficit with Canada, according to a source with direct knowledge.

  • Trump wrote in Sharpie on the document: “Not good!!” or something to that effect, the source recalled. Trump’s document only mentioned America’s deficit in the trade of goods and ignored its surplus in services (the two combined would gave the U.S. its overall surplus).

A few weeks later, Trump received a handwritten letter from Trudeau. The note, on Trudeau’s official stationery marked by the Maple Leaf, began with a friendly tone, but ended with a drop of acid.

  • “Dear Donald,” Trudeau wrote in the letter dated Dec. 20, 2017, according to a source with direct knowledge of its contents, which 2 other sources confirmed. “It’s been a busy year! Enjoy the Christmas holidays — you deserve it.”
  • “One thing,” Trudeau added. “You gave a great speech in Pensacola, but you were slightly off on the balance of trade with Canada. USTR says so! All the best for 2018, Justin.”

The second page of the letter brought the kicker. Trudeau enclosed a printout of Canada’s informational page from the website of the Office of the United States Trade Representative.

  • Trudeau underlined the section on the USTR website, which at the time reported that “the U.S. goods and services trade surplus with Canada was $12.5 billion in 2016.” Trudeau circled the $12.5 billion and drew a cheeky little smiley face next to it, according to a source with direct knowledge.

A Canadian government official responded to this reporting: “We’re not going to comment on whether or what paper was exchanged between our 2 countries. There was a lot of back and forth. That said, it is certainly true that there were disagreements between our 2 countries about the figures, and we repeatedly pointed to USTR and U.S. Commerce’s own figures. On your second point (the Bloomberg cover), no comment, but we don’t deny it.”

Why this matters: The U.S.-Canadian relationship is, in normal times, low-friction. But not under Trump, who views Trudeau as an irritant at best. In a conversation in the White House last year, Trump told aides he thought Canada was “the worst” country to negotiate with. “Who would think? Canada?” Trump said.

  • Trump now says very little about Trudeau, according to an adviser, and believes he and his trade representative Bob Lighthizer got the better of the Canadians in their trade negotiations.

Behind the scenes: Trump privately refers to Trudeau as a “wise guy,” per sources with direct knowledge. He describes Trudeau as young and cocky, and he resents it when Trudeau comments on American politics.

  • Trump has gleefully recounted to aides how he threatened the Canadians with auto tariffs. He says it got him a better deal on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
  • Trump has also privately described Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland as “very nasty,” according to senior administration officials.
  • Trump was pleased with the optics of the G7 last year, an adviser said. Trump says he dominated Trudeau there, the adviser added, and loves the viral photo of himself sitting with his arms crossed as world leaders hover over him. Trump also relished leaving the summit early — snub to Trudeau, who Trump said had treated him with disrespect.
  • The White House did not respond to requests for comment.

The big picture: The president is in Year 3 of his relationships with foreign leaders, and in some cases they’ve changed substantially. Trump’s bromance with France’s 41-year-old leader Emmanuel Macron has faded, and Trump privately places Macron in a similar “wise guy” category as the 47-year-old Trudeau.

  • Last week, Trump chided Macron on Twitter for “purporting” to represent the U.S. in conversations with Iran.
  • Trump has also hammered China with escalating tariffs and increasingly tough rhetoric — a significant change from his more frequent emphasis on his close personal relationship with President Xi Jinping in Year 1.

[Yahoo News ,Axios]

Trump Swipes at Emmanuel Macron Over Attempts to Broker Iran Talks: Nobody Speaks for the US but the US Itself

President Donald Trump said Thursday that the US would not participate in discussions with Iran should France attempt to be the mediator.

” Nobody speaks for the United States but the United States itself. No one is authorized in any way, shape, or form, to represent us!” the president tweeted Thursday. He added that Iran “desperately wants to talk to the US” but is given “mixed signals” by those “purporting to represent” US interests.

The U.S. has been ramping up pressure on Iran in the form of strict sanctions as of late. Sanctions specifically have been imposed upon  Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accusing him of being an “apologist” for the Islamic Republic.

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani has been asking French President Emmanuel Macron to mediate discussions between the US and Iran regarding sanctions. Iran has reacted to renewed US sanctions aimed at strangling its oil trade by retreating from commitments to limit nuclear activity. Since the US pulled out of the nuclear deal last year,France, Britain and Germany have worked to salvage the deal.

Rouhani’s office quoted him as having told Macron, “Concurrent with attempts by Iran and France to reduce tensions and create helpful conditions for lasting coexistence in the region, we are witnessing provocative actions by the Americans,” according to Radio Farda, the Iranian branch of the US government-funded Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

[Mediaite]

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A bad day’

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

Deployment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘A competition with nuclear arms’

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

‘Not credible’

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

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

Russian targets

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

[CNN]

1 2 3 12