BY SHASHI MALLA
US in Damage Control Mode
To pacify the storm of protests after his debasing performance at the summit last week Monday with President Vladimir Putin of Russia at Helsinki, Finland, President Donald Trump bemoaned the news coverage [naturally on Twitter] : “I got severely criticized by the Fake News Media for being too nice to President Putin. In the Old Days they would call it Diplomacy. If I was loud and vicious, I would have been criticized for being too tough.”
While defending his performance at the first summit, Trump already tweeted last Thursday that he was looking forward to a second meeting. It is surmised that the two leaders conferred on a range of issues including terrorism, Israeli security, nuclear proliferation and North Korea. Trump tweeted supremely self-confident and self-assured: “There are many answers, some easy and some hard, to these problems . . . . but they can ALL be solved!”
Neither Trump nor US officials have till now revealed what, if anything, the two leaders agreed to in Helsinki during a two-hour, one-on-one meeting. Only the leaders’ official interpreters were present. Even the Director of National Intelligence (NI) Dan Coats said Thursday he had yet to be briefed on the private session — three full days after the event. Without doubt, Trump has been fully guilty of grave negligence in national security.
However, the Russian government has been somewhat more forthcoming. Russia’s ambassador to the US Anatoly Antonov, said the two leaders had discussed the possibility of a referendum in separatist-leaning eastern Ukraine during the summit. Antonov said that Putin made “concrete proposals” to Trump on solutions for the four-year, Russian-backed insurgency, which has killed more than 10,000 people. However, he did not elaborate on what Putin’s solutions would be.
Regarding the second summit coming so fast on the heels of the first, Antonov in Moscow was more circumspect and said it is important to “deal with the results” of the first summit
before jumping too fast into a new one. But he added in a conciliatory tone: “Russia was always open to such proposals.”
The White House is still attempting to clarify post-summit Trump statements on Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump’s public doubting of Russia’s responsibility — in spite of unanimous and irrefutable evidence of all the US intelligence agencies — in a joint news conference with Putin last Monday sparked off devastating and humiliating critique from Democrats as well as Republicans and forced Trump to make a rare public admission of error.
The White House backtracked [sort of] further last Thursday when it announced that Trump “disagrees” [not rejects outright]with Putin’s offer to allow the US to question 12 Russians who have been indicted by the US Justice Department for election interference in exchange for Russia questioning the former US ambassador to Russia and other Americans the Kremlin accuses of unspecified crimes! Trump initially had described the proposal as an ‘incredible offer” — imprudent and dim-witted as he is!
Now in a further case of climbing down or making a U-turn, Trump’s National Security Council spokesman said that agreements between Russia and Ukraine for resolving the conflict in the Donbas region of Eastern Ukraine didnot include any such option for a referendum and any effort to organize such a “so-called referendum” would have “no legitimacy”.
While official Washington and the nation at large were still digesting the aftermath of the now infamous Helsinki summit, the White House exploded another bombshell. It outlined the broad agenda for a proposed second summit between Trump and Putin — in Washington this autumn — that would focus on questions of national security. Moscow has already signaled its openness to a second formal meeting between the two leaders as heavy criticism of Trump over his first major session with his Russian counterpart has been building up at home and abroad. Russia probably thought it prudent to strike while the iron is hot. It was not clear whether such a meeting would take place before or after the November mid-term congressional elections in the US. From the optics, it would have been better if the second meeting was planned to coincide with the UN General Assembly in New York, as the political establishment in Washington would not be very welcoming to Putin. The Democrats are already opposing a possible address to Congress.
In the meantime, Washington, and the nation at large, is agog with rumors and theories that Russia has compromising information, or “kompromat” [Russian] on Trump. The question asked is why Trump is so respectful, so deferential toward Putin, to the point of being
obsequious? And this above and beyond diplomatic niceties. His performance in Helsinki was deeply embarrassing to Americans from all walks of life. Democratic Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York voiced this openly: “Millions of Americans will continue to wonder if the only possible explanation for this dangerous and inexplicable behavior is the possibility — the very real possibility — that President Putin holds damaging information over President Trump.” Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, not only seconded this, but openly claimed that the president was being blackmailed using “hookers” (his own words).
Yemen in Spiraling Crisis
While the world is ignoring its worst humanitarian crisis (United Nations) at its own peril, the United States is still turning a blind eye to blatant war crimes in Yemen. For decades, the autocratic regime of Saudi Arabia has been a stalwart military ally of the US, the closest in the Persian Gulf. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are furthering their own interests in the ongoing civil war, with no regard whatsoever for the plight of the civil population. It seems that Riyadh and Abu Dhabi are even struggling with mounting economic difficulties even as they pour huge sums of money propping up a government against the Shia Houthi rebels, supported by arch rival Iran.
In 2015, the Saudi military and allies launched a war in Yemen in order to eject the hated sectarian militants. But they have been bogged down and the Yemeni people have been suffering in a war not of their own choosing. The situation in Yemen has not only gone from bad to worse, it is, in fact, spiraling out of control. Among the atrocities committed are the Saudi-led coalition’s brutal air-bombing campaign, which has ravaged Yemen and created a humanitarian catastrophe. Unfortunately, this would not have been possible, were it not for US support and British arms shipments to the Saudis.
Lately, the United States rejected a request from the United Arab Emirates to provide military support to the Saudi-led coalition’s operation to capture the Houthi-held port city of Hodeidah on the Red Sea. The request was for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support as well as the use of an American minesweeper vessel to help clear the area of Houthi mines. Members of US Congress have publicly criticized the Saudi-led effort to capture Hodeidah, which is seen as a vital lifeline for supplies for the war-torn country. Some estimates have said the operation could put hundreds of thousands of lives at risk. The coalition is now waiting for a minesweeper from France to clear the mines.
Previously, the US Senate had blocked a war powers resolution — by a vote of 55 to 44 — that called for an end to US involvement in the Yemen civil war/regional proxy war. The senators supporting the procedural motion argued that the US was assisting Saudi Arabia,
the UAE and other countries in their ongoing conflict with Iranian-backed Shia Houthi without congressional authorization. This assistance included logistical support and mid-air refueling and constituted involvement in “hostilities” and was contributing to a massive humanitarian crisis.
The new UN special envoy, Martin Griffiths, is now attempting to bring all sides of the conflict to the negotiating table.
+ Pakistan Parliamentary Elections Today
In the run up to the 11th national elections, the country’s powerful military establishment has been accused of political manipulation. A former senator and columnist even called it a “creeping coup”.
+ World Trade Tensions
In the “Age of Trump”, the world’s most powerful industrial nations, constituted in the “Group of 20” (G – 20) pleaded on Sunday for increased dialogue to defuse escalating trade and geopolitical tensions that could cause havoc to global economic growth.
+ Iran Resists America
Faced with domestic travails and external interference, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani cautioned his US counterpart about pursuing hostile policies against his country: “ . . . . don’t play with the lion’s tail, this would only lead to regret . . . . America should know that peace with Iran is the mother of all peace, and war with Iran is the mother of all wars.”
+ Trump Threatens War
“The Great Disrupter” most eager to divert attention from his domestic woes and growing international condemnation, intimidated Iran with ‘Fire & Fury’ : “ Never, ever threaten the United States again or you will suffer consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered before. We are no longer a country that will stand for your demented words of violence and death.”
The columnist can be reached at:firstname.lastname@example.org