Putin says trust erodes under Trump, Moscow icily receives Tillerson

UNTV News   •   April 12, 2017   •   3120

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)

U.S. Supreme Court rules some Trump financial records can be revealed

UNTV News   •   July 10, 2020

The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday (July 9) ruled that a New York prosecutor can obtain President Donald Trump’s financial records but prevented – at least for now – the Democratic-led House of Representatives from obtaining similar documents.

Both 7-2 rulings were authored by conservative Chief Justice John Roberts. One ruling means that the subpoena issued to Trump’s long-term accounting firm, Mazars LLP, for various financial records to be turned over to a grand jury as part of a criminal investigation can be enforced.

But the court sidestepped a major ruling on whether three House committees could also obtain Trump financial documents under subpoena, in what is a short-term win for Trump. Litigation will now continue in lower courts.

In both rulings, Roberts was joined by the court’s four liberals as well as Trump’s two conservative appointees to the court, Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.

Unlike other recent presidents, Trump has refused to release his tax returns and other documents that could provide details on his wealth and the activities of his family real-estate company, the Trump Organization.

The content of these records has remained a persistent mystery even as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3. Thursday’s rulings represent another milestone in Trump’s tumultuous presidency. (Reuters)

(Production: Mana Rabiee)

Trump notifies Congress to withdraw US from WHO

UNTV News   •   July 8, 2020

U.S. President Donald Trump has formally notified Congress that the United States has officially moved to withdraw from the World Health Organization (WHO), Democratic Senator Bob Menendez said on Tuesday.

“Congress received notification that POTUS officially withdrew the U.S. from the @WHO in the midst of a pandemic,” tweeted by Menendez, ranking member of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

“To call Trump’s response to COVID chaotic and incoherent doesn’t do it justice. This won’t protect American lives or interests – it leaves Americans sick and America alone,” he added.

Citing a senior administration official, The Hill reported the same day that the United States had submitted its withdrawal notification to the United Nations secretary-general.

Trump and his administration repeatedly assailed the WHO for months and threatened to cut ties with the organization. Experts and Democrats criticized that the Trump administration was trying to shift blames of its mishandling of COVID-19 response and would be counterproductive to addressing the public health crisis.

Trump said in late May that his country is “terminating” its relationship with the WHO. In a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus earlier that month, Trump threatened to permanently cut off the nation’s funding to the WHO and “reconsider our membership” if the international body does not commit to what he called “substantive improvements within the next 30 days.”

Trump announced in mid-April that his administration would halt U.S. funding to the WHO.

The United States has reported more than 2.96 million COVID-19 cases with over 130,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. Both figures are far higher than those in any other country or region. (Reuters)

U.S. House of Representatives passes Democratic police reform bill

UNTV News   •   June 26, 2020

The U.S. House of Representatives approved a controversial Democratic police reform bill on Thursday (June 25), sending the measure to the Senate despite opposition from President Donald Trump and his Republican allies in Congress.

The Democratic-controlled House voted 236-181 roughly along party lines to adopt the legislation, one month to the day after George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis police custody sparked weeks of worldwide protests over police brutality, especially against African-Americans.

But the Democratic bill, which mandates concrete changes in law and policy to rein in police misconduct, is unlikely to be passed in its current form in the Republican-led Senate, where Democrats blocked a Republican reform measure on Wednesday. (Reuters)

(Production: Vanessa Johnston)

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