Putin says trust erodes under Trump, Moscow icily receives Tillerson

UNTV News   •   April 12, 2017   •   3151

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a joint news conference with Italian President Sergio Mattarella after their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Chirikov/Pool

 

Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday trust had eroded between the United States and Russia under President Donald Trump, as Moscow delivered an unusually hostile reception to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a face-off over Syria.

Any hope in Russia that the Trump administration would herald less confrontational relations has been dashed in the past week after the new U.S. leader fired missiles at Syria to punish Moscow’s ally for its suspected use of poison gas.

Just as Tillerson sat down for talks, a senior Russian official assailed the “primitiveness and loutishness” of U.S. rhetoric, part of a volley of statements that appeared timed to maximize the awkwardness during the first visit by a member of Trump’s cabinet.

“One could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved but has rather deteriorated,” Putin said in an interview broadcast on Russian television moments after Tillerson sat down with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in an ornate hall.

Putin doubled down on Russia’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, repeating denials that Assad’s government was to blame for the gas attack last week and adding a new theory that the attack may have been faked by Assad’s enemies.

Moments earlier, Lavrov greeted Tillerson with unusually icy remarks, denouncing the missile strike on Syria as illegal and accusing Washington of behaving unpredictably.

“I won’t hide the fact that we have a lot of questions, taking into account the extremely ambiguous and sometimes contradictory ideas which have been expressed in Washington across the whole spectrum of bilateral and multilateral affairs,” Lavrov said.

“And of course, that’s not to mention that apart from the statements, we observed very recently the extremely worrying actions, when an illegal attack against Syria was undertaken.”

Lavrov also noted that many key State Department posts remain vacant since the new administration took office — a point of sensitivity in Washington.

One of Lavrov’s deputies was even more undiplomatic.

“In general, primitiveness and loutishness are very characteristic of the current rhetoric coming out of Washington. We’ll hope that this doesn’t become the substance of American policy,” Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told Russia’s state-owned RIA news agency.

“As a whole, the administration’s stance with regards to Syria remains a mystery. Inconsistency is what comes to mind first of all.”

Tillerson kept to more calibrated remarks, saying his aim was “to further clarify areas of sharp difference so that we can better understand why these differences exist and what the prospects for narrowing those differences may be.”

“I look forward to a very open, candid, frank exchange so that we can better define the U.S.-Russian relationship from this point forward,” he told Lavrov.

After journalists were ushered out of the room, Lavrov’s spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, wrote on her Facebook page that U.S. journalists traveling with Tillerson had behaved as if they were in a “bazaar” by shouting questions to Lavrov.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tillerson might meet Putin later on Wednesday if the two top diplomats decided it would be useful to brief the Russian president on their talks. But Peskov too did not hold back his criticism, saying calls from Western powers for Russia to cut support for Assad amounted to giving terrorists a free hand.

Moscow’s hostility to Trump administration figures is a sharp change from last year, when Putin hailed Trump as a strong figure and Russian state television was consistently full of effusive praise for him.

COVER-UP

The White House has accused Moscow of trying to cover up Assad’s use of chemical weapons after the attack on a town killed 87 people last week.

Trump responded to the gas attack by firing 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian air base on Friday. Washington warned Moscow, and Russian troops at the base were not hit.

Moscow has stood by Assad, saying the poison gas belonged to rebels, an explanation Washington dismisses as beyond credible. Putin said that either gas belonging to the rebels was released when it was hit by a Syrian strike on a rebel arms dump, or the rebels faked the incident to discredit Assad.

Trump came to the presidency promising to seek closer ties with Russia and greater cooperation fighting against their common enemy in Syria, Islamic State. Tillerson is a former oil executive who was awarded Russia’s Order of Friendship by Putin.

Last week’s poison gas attack and the U.S. retaliation upended what many in Moscow hoped would be a transformation in relations between the two countries, which reached a post-Cold War low under Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama.

The United States and its European allies imposed financial sanctions on Russia in 2014 after Putin seized territory from neighboring Ukraine.

Washington is leading a campaign of air strikes in Syria against Islamic State fighters and has backed rebels fighting against Assad during a six-year civil war, but until last week the United States had avoided directly targeting the Syrian government.

Russia, meanwhile, intervened in the civil war on Assad’s side in 2015 and has troops on the ground, which it says are advising government forces. Both Washington and Moscow say their main enemy is Islamic State, although they back opposing sides in the wider civil war which has killed more than 400,000 people and spawned the world’s worst refugee crisis.

In an interview with the Fox Business Network, Trump said he was not planning to order U.S. forces into Syria, but that he had to respond to the images of dead children poisoned in the gas attack.

“We’re not going into Syria,” he said in excerpts of the interview on the station’s website. “But when I see people using horrible, horrible chemical weapons … and see these beautiful kids that are dead in their father’s arms, or you see kids gasping for life … when you see that, I immediately called (Defense Secretary) General Mattis.”

Tillerson traveled to Moscow with a joint message from Western powers that Russia should withdraw its support for Assad after a meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized economies also attended by Middle East allies.

Some of Washington’s allies had been wary of Trump, who spoke during his election campaign of seeking closer ties with Moscow and questioned the value of U.S. support for its traditional friends. Tillerson’s mission sees the Trump administration taking on the traditional U.S. role as spokesman for a unified Western position.

Trump’s relations with Russia are also a domestic issue, as U.S. intelligence agencies have accused Moscow of using computer hacking to intervene in the election to help Trump win. The FBI is investigating whether any Trump campaign figures colluded with Moscow, which the White House denies. —  By Yeganeh Torbati and Vladimir Soldatkin | MOSCOW

(writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Sonya Hepintall)

US donates 100 ventilators to Philippines

Robie de Guzman   •   August 28, 2020

U.S. Ambassador Sung Kim, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, Department of Health Secretary Francisco Duque, and USAID Philippines Mission Director Lawrence Hardy II lead the handover of the ventilators at Malacañang Palace on Friday, August 28.

MANILA, Philippines – The United States on Friday donated 100 ventilators and associated supplies to the Philippines in support of its fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, its embassy in Manila said.

US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim, Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea, and Department of Health (DOH) Secretary Francisco Duque III led the turnover of the medical supplies at the Malacañang on Friday.

“These ventilators are part of the continued partnership between the American people and our Philippine friends, partners, and allies.  We will continue to work together to overcome COVID-19,” Ambassador Kim said in a statement.

In addition to the ventilators, the embassy said the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) will provide clinical training and technical assistance to support health facilities to operate ventilators. 

This donation brings the total U.S. contribution to the Philippines’ COVID-19 response to more than Php1 billion ($22.6 million), provided through the U.S. State Department, USAID, and the U.S. Department of Defense. 

The embassy said the DOH will facilitate the delivery of the ventilators to hospitals located across the Philippines in coordination with USAID and the Office of Civil Defense.

DFA condoles with US Pres. Trump on the passing of his brother Robert

Marje Pelayo   •   August 17, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Sunday (August 16) expressed its heartfelt sympathies to US President Donald Trump and Anne Marie Pallan on the passing of Trump’s younger brother Robert.

Trump expressed his message on the passing of Robert, 71, in a statement released by the Office of the Press Secretary on Saturday (August 15).

“It is with heavy heart that I share that my wonderful brother, Robert, peacefully passed away tonight. He was not just my brother, he was my best friend. He will be greatly missed, but we will meet again. His memory will live on in my heart forever. Robert, I love you. Rest in peace,” Trump said in the statement.

Robert Trump was three years younger than the 74-year-old president.

Unlike his celebrity older brother, Donald, Robert silently prospered as a business executive and real estate developer.

He died a day after President Trump paid an emotional visit on Friday (August 14) at a New York hospital before leaving for New Jersey.

There was no information about the cause of Robert’s passing but speaking before the press on Friday, Trump said his brother was “having a hard time” with an undisclosed illness.

Trump to give TikTok’s Chinese owner 45 days to reach deal to sell — sources

UNTV News   •   August 3, 2020

U.S. President Donald Trump has agreed to give China’s ByteDance 45 days to negotiate a sale of popular short-video app TikTok to Microsoft Corp, two people familiar with the matter said on Sunday (August 2).

U.S. officials have said TikTok under its Chinese parent poses a national risk because of the personal data it handles. Trump said on Friday (July 31) he was planning to ban TikTok in the United States after dismissing the idea of a sale to Microsoft.

But following a discussion between Trump and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, the Redwood, Washington-based company said in a statement on Sunday that it would continue negotiations to acquire TikTok from ByteDance, and that it aimed to reach a deal by Sept. 15.

It was not immediately clear what changed Trump’s mind. Banning TikTok would alienate many of its young users ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November, and would likely trigger a wave of legal challenges. Several prominent Republican lawmakers put out statements in the last two days urging Trump to back a sale of TikTok to Microsoft.

The negotiations between ByteDance and Microsoft will be overseen by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), a U.S. government panel that has the right to block any agreement, according to the sources, who requested anonymity ahead of a White House announcement. Microsoft cautioned in its statement that there is no certainty a deal will be reached. (Reuters)

(Production: Bob Mezan)

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