Morning Read 4/20: Tillerson calls Iran nuclear deal a failure

Rex Tillerson criticized the Iran deal yesterday [US gov]
Rex Tillerson criticized the Iran deal yesterday [US gov]

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INTERNATIONAL


Turkey pleased by Trump’s approach: President Erdoğan

Turkey is pleased by the way U.S. Donald Trump is approaching things, and would like a sit-down meeting to discuss the bilateral partnership, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday, calling the U.S. and Turkey allies.

“The way President Trump is approaching matters is encouraging, makes us happy,” Erdoğan told CNN International in an exclusive interview.

“We are going to sit down and determine a roadmap as two strategic partners, the United States and Turkey, as allies, as important countries in NATO, we believe that we can resolve significant problems,” he added. “Therefore we do not have any difficulties on that front,” Erdoğan said.

Asked about Trump’s telephone call to congratulate Erdogan on his victory in the weekend historic referendum, in which a majority of Turkish voters voted in favor of constitutional changes, Erdoğan recalled that it took place amid Easter celebrations, and added that he hopes for “a face-to-face meeting and to take ahead, take forward our relationship.”

“We agreed we will have that meeting in due course,” he added.

According to presidential sources, the leaders also discussed cooperation on Syria and against terrorism as well as the Assad regime’s chemical attack earlier this month that killed some 100 civilians. [YENISAFAK]

Tillerson declares the Iran nuclear deal a failure

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declared the Iran nuclear deal a failure on Wednesday but left open the possibility the Trump administration will uphold it nonetheless.

The top American diplomat sought to reinforce the notion that the U.S. is aggressively countering Iran’s destabilizing behavior throughout the Middle East, even though President Donald Trump so far has not pulled out of the deal. Tillerson spoke a day after certifying to Congress that Iran is complying with its obligations under the 2015 deal, a requirement for Tehran to continue receiving relief from nuclear sanctions.

“The JCPOA fails to achieve the objective of a non-nuclear Iran,” Tillerson said, using an acronym for the 2015 nuclear deal. “It only delays their goal of becoming a nuclear state.”

He said the deal, brokered by former President Barack Obama’s administration along with other world powers, represented the “same failed approach” the U.S. has taken to North Korea. Like with the North, Tillerson said, the Trump administration was unwilling to be patient with Iran, ticking through a list of countries where he said Iran was supporting terrorism and violence.

Tillerson’s hastily arranged statement before cameras at the State Department reflected the competing forces pulling at the Trump administration as it develops its policy toward Iran. On the one hand, Trump wants to show he’s being tougher than Obama toward Iran, but on the other hand, he’s not yet ready to rip up the deal.

Trump as a candidate vowed to discard or renegotiate the pact, and shortly after taking office his administration put Tehran “on notice” that its troublesome behavior would no longer be tolerated. But neither Iran nor the other world powers that negotiated the agreement have any interest in re-opening the deal, and U.S. companies stand to lose billions if the deal is scuttled.

The deal’s critics, though, say it fails to achieve even that goal because key restrictions on Iran’s nuclear development sunset after a decade or more. With some of those critics now in office, Tillerson’s comments Wednesday marked the first time that position has been echoed by the U.S. government.

Still, since taking office, Trump has stopped promising he’ll gut the deal. Tillerson said that decision will be made as part of a governmentwide review of Iran policy currently under way. “The Trump administration has no intention of passing the buck to a future administration on Iran,” Tillerson said. [AP]

Pence: The United States is not seeking negotiations with North Korea

When Vice President Pence spoke at the Korean demilitarized zone on Monday, he said that the United States sought to solve the North Korean crisis “through peaceable means and negotiations,” after increasing pressure on the Pyongyang regime. But in an interview with me on Wednesday afternoon, he adopted a harder line: The Trump administration, he said, demands that North Korea abandon its nuclear and ballistic missile programs without any promise of direct negotiations with the United States.

This change in message, if translated into a firm policy of not negotiating with North Korea, could have huge implications. If the United States is unwilling to negotiate with North Korea, and the regime is unwilling to abandon its nuclear and missile programs based on pressure alone, the prospect of the United States using military action to prevent North Korea from developing the capability to strike the continental United States becomes more likely. Also, the Trump administration could open a gap with its key allies as well as China, who all anticipate an eventual return to something akin to the previous multilateral negotiations with Pyongyang.

“I think the path of negotiations with North Korea has been a colossal failure now for more than 25 years,” Pence told me. “We believe that through discussions and negotiations among nations apart from North Korea that we may well be able to bring the kind of economic and diplomatic pressure that would result in North Korea finally abandoning its nuclear ambitions and its ballistic missile program.”

He pointed to North Korea’s violations of the 1994 Agreed Framework negotiated by the Clinton administration and the violations of the 2005 denuclearization agreementnegotiated by the administration of George W. Bush. “All of those negotiations and discussions failed, miserably,” Pence said. “The time has come for us to take a fresh approach. And the approach President Trump has taken is not engagement with North Korea but renewed and more vigorous engagement with North Korea’s principle economic partner [China].”

Pence acknowledged that if North Korea doesn’t abandon its programs on its own, and the United States is unwilling to negotiate with the regime, military action against the regime may be necessary. “When the president says all options are on the table, all options are on the table,” said Pence. “We’re trying to make it very clear to people in this part of the world that we are going to achieve the end of a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula — one way or the other.” [WASHPOST]

Abbas: Ready to Meet Netanyahu Under Trump’s Patronage in Washington

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says he is prepared to hold a trilateral meeting with U.S. President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I am ready to meet the prime minister of Israel any time in Washington under the patronage of President Trump,” the Palestinian leader told the Japanese Asahi Shimbun daily.

The White House announced Wednesday that Trump will be meeting Abbas in Washington on May 3. At his daily briefing, Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that in his meeting with the Palestinian president, the two leaders would discuss ways to restart the peace process in an effort to reach an agreement that would end the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. A senior Palestinian delegation that includes senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Majid Faraj, the head of the Palestinian general intelligence service, will leave for Washington on Sunday to prepare for the Trump-Abbas summit.

“We are glad that now the U.S. administration listens about us from us, and not from third parties,” Abbas told the Japanese daily in an interview published Wednesday evening. “We have called upon the U.S. administration to engage in making a peace deal between Palestinians and Israelis and that we are willing to help and cooperate based on two states on 1967 lines.”

A senior Palestinian official told Haaretz that the Palestinians’ impression from meetings held up to now with senior Trump administration officials, including the U.S. president’s special Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, was that the new administration has not yet developed a position or formula leading to renew negotiations based on principles that could advance a peace agreement. “The delegation will arrive in Washington in the hope that at the end of the meetings a position will take shape from which the parties can move forward,” the official said. [HAARETZ]

U.K. Parliament Approves Theresa May’s General Election Call

Less than 12 months after deciding to quit the European Union, Britons will vote on many of the same questions again, after lawmakers on Wednesday agreed to call an early general election, the outcome of which could shape Britain’s relations with its closest neighbors for decades to come.

By an overwhelming vote of 522 to 13, British lawmakers agreed to hold elections on June 8 at the request of Prime Minister Theresa May, who hopes to strengthen her parliamentary support and gain a freer hand to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc.

The outcome of Wednesday’s vote in Parliament was never in doubt, even with the requirement of a two-thirds threshold to call a snap election that, until Tuesday morning, Mrs. May and her aides had insisted would not happen.

Electioneering was already underway during the parliamentary debate, with party leaders exchanging insults, as well as highlighting some of the thorniest issues Britain faces today. Those include the clarity of Britain’s break with the European Union, the stark inequality among the country’s regions and the future of Scotland, where there are growing calls for a new referendum on independence.

“A general election is the best way to strengthen Britain’s hand in the negotiations ahead,” Mrs. May told lawmakers at the outset of a 90-minute debate.

If her Conservative Party wins a majority, Mrs. May would not be required to call another general election until 2022. That would allow for much more time to build a new relationship with the European Union and would lessen the chances of a disorderly departure from the bloc — often likened to walking off a cliff edge. [NYTIMES]


NATIONAL


CIA, FBI launch manhunt for leaker who gave top-secret documents to WikiLeaks

CBS News has learned that a manhunt is underway for a traitor inside the Central Intelligence Agency.

The CIA and FBI are conducting a joint investigation into one of the worst security breaches in CIA history, which exposed thousands of top-secret documents that described CIA tools used to penetrate smart phones, smart televisions and computer systems.

Sources familiar with the investigation say it is looking for an insider — either a CIA employee or contractor — who had physical access to the material. The agency has not said publicly when the material was taken or how it was stolen.

Much of the material was classified and stored in a highly secure section of the intelligence agency, but sources say hundreds of people would have had access to the material. Investigators are going through those names.

The trove was published in March by the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks. [CBSNEWS]

Democrats Reload for Georgia Runoff, But Party Divisions Remain

Democrats Wednesday launched the second phase of their fight to capture a long-held Republican House seat in Georgia, but the party’s attempts to unify remain hindered by lingering internal divisions.

First-time candidate Jon Ossoff, who had raised more than $8 million in a matter of months from Democrats across the country, garnered 48.1% of the vote in a crowded open primary Tuesday, just shy of the 50% threshold needed to capture the seat outright.

Now, he faces a June showdown with Republican Karen Handel, a former secretary of state whose 19.8% of the vote topped the field of 11 GOP candidates, in an election to fill the seat vacated by newly appointed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, in an interview Tuesday in Louisville, Ky., said he didn’t know much about Mr. Ossoff, a 30-year-old former House staffer. Mr. Sanders said he isn’t prepared to back Democrats just because of a party label. “If you run as a Democrat, you’re a Democrat,” he said. “Some Democrats are progressive and some Democrats are not.”

Asked if Mr. Ossoff is a progressive, Mr. Sanders, an independent who challenged Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primary, demurred. “I don’t know,” he said.

The Georgia special election is just one stop on the Democrats’ course for a comeback after losing the White House in the November election and it isn’t an easy path. They need to take 24 seats to regain the House majority. The next contests are in Montana and South Carolina, which are also GOP strongholds.

Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez took the strength of Mr. Ossoff’s campaign as the latest signal that Democrats are making headway. “They’ve pulled out the heavy artillery, they have Donald Trump making robocalls,” Mr. Perez said. “My main message from this is swing the bat, swing it early, swing it often and swing it with your best shot.” [WSJ]

Bill O’Reilly Is Forced Out at Fox News

Bill O’Reilly’s reign as the top-rated host in cable news came to an abrupt and embarrassing end on Wednesday as Fox News forced him out just weeks after the disclosure of a series of allegations against him.

For a generation of conservative-leaning Fox News viewers, Mr. O’Reilly was a populist voice who railed against what they viewed as the politically correct message of a lecturing liberal media. Defiantly proclaiming his show a “No Spin Zone,” he produced programming infused with patriotism.

The news of Mr. O’Reilly’s ouster came as he was on a vacation to Italy, where on Wednesday morning he met Pope Francis at St. Peter’s Square in the Vatican. In a statement later in the day, Mr. O’Reilly praised Fox News but said it was “tremendously disheartening that we part ways due to completely unfounded claims.”

“But that is the unfortunate reality many of us in the public eye must live with today,” he said. “I will always look back on my time at Fox with great pride in the unprecedented success we achieved and with my deepest gratitude to all my dedicated viewers. I wish only the best for Fox News Channel.”

Mr. O’Reilly will be succeeded in the 8 p.m. Eastern slot by Tucker Carlson, who moved into the channel’s prime-time lineup only in January. “The Five,” an ensemble political round table, will move to 9 p.m., from the afternoon. [NYTIMES]


LOCAL


NYC Plans To Raise Cigarette Prices To Highest In Nation, Restrict E-Cig Sales

The Nanny State strikes again. In an effort to cut down the number of NYC smokers by 160,000 within the next three years, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced legislation Wednesday afternoon that would raise the minimum price on a pack of cigarettes from $10.50 to $13 — “the highest price floor in the nation,” the mayor said.

The new package of five anti-smoking bills, if approved by the City Council, would also make it harder to sell e-cigarettes in the city by imposing the same tight licensing restrictions on e-cig sellers as are currently imposed on cigarette sellers.

One of the bills in the package, Bill 1527, would ban all city pharmacies from selling tobacco products — and would make it almost impossible for any new business to do so as well. The city would achieve this by setting caps for tobacco retailer licenses in each of the city’s community districts that are lower than the current number of sellers.

De Blasio compared Big Tobacco to a serial killer “convincing young people in droves to partake in e-cigarettes” at a dramatic press conference Wednesday at the American Heart Association’s headquarters in Midtown.

“There will be a fight over this in the coming months,” the mayor said. “Big Tobacco watches New York City very carefully. … Historically, they stop at nothing. But we are prepared to beat them.” [PATCH]

Malliotakis: I’ll run for mayor if Catsimatidis doesn’t

One way or another, a Greek Republican will run for mayor, whether it’s Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis or billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis, the Staten Island lawmaker said Tuesday.
Malliotakis (R-East Shore/Brooklyn) said of a mayoral run, “I am thinking about it. Look, there’s a been a number of people who have asked me to consider it.”

It will come down to whether supermarket and oil magnate Catsimatidis, who ran in the 2013 GOP mayoral primary and won Staten Island, decides to enter the race. He has kept his name out there but hasn’t announced whether he’ll run. If he does, he’s sure to get the support of conservative politicos, including former Congressman Vito Fossella who already said he would support him “in a heartbeat.’

If he doesn’t run, Malliotakis will, she said.

“John is also considering it and we’re going to be on the same page on this going forward,” Malliotakis said. “He’s still looking at the race and I respect that. We work as a team.”

Pointed out that GOP mayoral candidates Paul Massey and Michel Faulkner have fundraising and name recognition advantage so far, she said if she does run, to make up for lost time, “I’m going to ask everyone I know to give me $178” and get matching funds from the city. [SILIVE]

NYC mayoral candidate Bo Dietl refuses to release tax returns

One mayoral candidate took a page from the Trump playbook on Tax Day, while Mayor de Blasio used the occasion to poke at the President.

Following in Trump’s footsteps is former cop turned private investigator and TV commentator Bo Dietl, who announced he wouldn’t release his 2016 tax returns. “When I become the Republican nominee, I will decide at that time whether to release my taxes,” Dietl said in a statement — echoing Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns.

Dietl, who attempted to register as a Democrat to mount a primary challenge to de Blasio but could not because of a paperwork error, has announced plans to run for mayor on his own independent party line, but said he’d also pursue the Republican nod. [NYDN]


POLITICS


Putin-linked think tank drew up plan to sway 2016 U.S. election – documents

A Russian government think tank controlled by Vladimir Putin developed a plan to swing the 2016 U.S. presidential election to Donald Trump and undermine voters’ faith in the American electoral system, three current and four former U.S. officials told Reuters.

They described two confidential documents from the think tank as providing the framework and rationale for what U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded was an intensive effort by Russia to interfere with the Nov. 8 election. U.S. intelligence officials acquired the documents, which were prepared by the Moscow-based Russian Institute for Strategic Studies [en.riss.ru/], after the election.

The institute is run by retired senior Russian foreign intelligence officials appointed by Putin’s office.

The first Russian institute document was a strategy paper written last June that circulated at the highest levels of the Russian government but was not addressed to any specific individuals.
It recommended the Kremlin launch a propaganda campaign on social media and Russian state-backed global news outlets to encourage U.S. voters to elect a president who would take a softer line toward Russia than the administration of then-President Barack Obama, the seven officials said.

A second institute document, drafted in October and distributed in the same way, warned that Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was likely to win the election. For that reason, it argued, it was better for Russia to end its pro-Trump propaganda and instead intensify its messaging about voter fraud to undermine the U.S. electoral system’s legitimacy and damage Clinton’s reputation in an effort to undermine her presidency, the seven officials said.

The current and former U.S. officials spoke on the condition of anonymity due to the Russian documents’ classified status. They declined to discuss how the United States obtained them. U.S. intelligence agencies also declined to comment on them. [REUTERS]

Cubs’ Todd Ricketts withdraws name for Trump’s Cabinet

Unable to untangle his complex financial holdings to the satisfaction of the Office of Government Ethics, Cubs board member Todd Ricketts, tapped by President Donald Trump to be the Deputy Commerce Secretary, on Wednesday withdrew his nomination, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned.

Ricketts, a Wilmette resident who is a member of the billionaire Ricketts clan, was willing to divest his considerable personal portfolio of holdings, but that was apparently not enough. Some of the Ricketts investments are in family enterprises, including the Cubs.

Trump nominated Ricketts on Nov. 30. Ricketts filed a required financial disclosure statement with the Senate Commerce Committee, but the panel would not set a hearing date until Rickets obtained clearance from the Office of Government Ethics – which oversees the executive branch, with the exception of the president.

Ricketts has varied business interests, from his “Higher Gear” bike store in Wilmette to his position on the TD Ameritrade board.

The Ricketts family are large shareholders of the company Joe Ricketts founded in 1975. Ricketts and his three siblings are on the Cubs board, legally known as Chicago Baseball Holdings LLC.

Trump gave a hat-tip to the Cubs World Series win when he said in a Nov. 30 statement that Ricketts “is an immensely successful businessman with unparalleled knowledge of the finance industry. [SUNTIMES]

Goodbye, Mar-a-Lago. Hello, Bedminster.

President Donald Trump’s repeated weekend jaunts away from Washington have caused nonstop headaches for his South Florida neighbors this winter.

But once his exclusive seaside retreat at Mar-a-Lago closes for the season, Trump is expected to shift his weekend plans north, to his Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, New Jersey — and bring with him all the chaos that comes with being a preferred presidential destination.

“We’re kind of apprehensive, I guess you could say,” said Nick Strakhov, a retired telecommunications professional and longtime resident who serves on the Bedminster land use board. “It’s nice to be recognized. But on the other hand, if it gets to be tedious, we might start to complain.”

Street closures and traffic jams were a big problem last fall across the region when the then-president-elect traveled to Bedminster by motorcade from Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan for a weekend’s worth of interviews with potential Cabinet nominees.

White House and Secret Service officials did not respond to requests for comment about what mode of transportation Trump would use to get to New Jersey from Washington when he goes, but local officials said they’re expecting the president to travel either via a smaller 757 version of Air Force One into Morristown, New Jersey, or to fly into Newark and then use Marine One to get to his club.

No matter what mode of transportation he takes, local aviators are bracing for flight restrictions that will keep private planes out of nearby skies when Trump is in residence. “That’s bad for Somerset. Shuts us down when he’s there,” said Lorne Sheren, senior aviation medical examiner at one of the three privately owned public airports in the area.

Bedminster officials have also been struggling for months to explain to the public who will pay for all the extra overtime work when the president is in their small, rural town. Trump’s three-day trip to Bedminster last November as president-elect cost $3,683 in local police overtime, for example, and the town’s mayor, Steve Parker, estimated in a letter to New Jersey GOP Rep. Leonard Lance that seven 72-hour Trump visits could run the tab up to more than $300,000. [POLITICO]

White House sidewalk to be closed to public permanently

The U.S. Secret Service said it would end public access to a sidewalk along the south fence of the White House beginning on Wednesday night.

The sidewalk has been closed nightly from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. since 2015 and will now be off-limits around the clock, the Secret Service said in a statement. The closure will “lessen the possibility of individuals illegally accessing the White House grounds,” Secret Service Communications Director Cathy Milhoan said.

In March, a man scaled a fence east of the White House at night and was on the property’s grounds for 16 minutes before being detained. He never entered the White House, the Secret Service said.
President Donald Trump was inside the residence at the time of the March 10 incident.

The intrusion was the latest in a series of breaches at the White House in recent years. Security has been boosted, including the installation in 2015 of sharp spikes on top of the black iron fence that circles the 18-acre (7-hectare) property.

Blocking use of the south fence sidewalk will not obstruct the public’s ability to view or photograph the White House and its grounds, the Secret Service said, adding no additional “physical” barriers would be installed. The same restrictions are in place on the north fence of the White House grounds, according to the Secret Service. [REUTERS]


CULTURE


Iraqis and Russian Jews Schmooze with Fried Foods

If there ever truly was an authentic melting pot, it was in the Reading Terminal Market kitchen on April 17.

The market hosted the fourth interactive cooking demonstration and dinner as part of the “Breaking Bread, Breaking Barriers: Food as a Bridge to Cultural Understanding” series.

The project brought more than 40 people together from different backgrounds to experience each other’s cuisines and cultures. This session invited Jewish Russian immigrants and Iraqi refugees.
Anuj Gupta, general manager of Reading Terminal Market, said the communities have more in common than they’d think.

“These were two communities that don’t particularly know each other well, but they reside next to one another in the Northeast,” he said. “The focus of this project was either bring together communities that don’t know one another or that have some degree of tension between each other, and to get them to start to connect through this cuisine-based cultural exchange.”

Partnered with HIAS Pennsylvania, Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations and Penn Project for Civic Engagement, as well as the Southeast by Southeast Porch Light program of Mural Arts Philadelphia, the goal is to establish a foundational understanding of one another’s culture, and through this engagement start to build a relationship.

Gupta referenced sociologist Elijah Anderson’s book, in which he wrote about five public spaces in Philadelphia. A chapter was dedicated to the “cosmopolitan canopy” of Reading Terminal.

“He observed a level of interaction between strangers occurring here that is hard to find elsewhere. And it was the food that acted as a common denominator cutting through social lines,” he said.
The last “Breaking Bread” session included longtime city residents and Syrian refugees — four days after the first executive action of the Trump administration’s travel ban.

“Whether it’s Syrians or the Iraqi community or the Russian community or frankly any other set of new Americans, any time you can establish right now that the Reading Terminal is a welcoming place, the city of Philadelphia is a welcoming place, in the face of all this nonsense — that’s an important thing to do,” he added.

Some participants put on gloves and helped make the meals themselves, stuffing meat into lettuce wraps or kneading a rice mixture into a dough. The excitement during the preparation of the dishes grew as loud as the sizzling oils they were dropped in. The smell of fried onions and potatoes filled the terminal.

Mohammed Obaid, who grabbed a kobba hallab before the others to become the unofficial taste tester, has lived in Northeast Philadelphia for four years with his wife, Mayyadah Alhumssi.
“It’s nice to have an intercultural thing that we learn about others, and others learn about us,” she said. “Good for peace,” he emphasized, “to know each other.” Alhumssi noted an expression in Arabic: “When you eat with someone, you won’t be able to betray him,” meaning when you share bread and salt together, you have an alliance.” [JEWISHEXPONENT]


FINANCE


General Motors says Venezuela illegally seizes auto plant

General Motors (GM.N) said on Wednesday that Venezuelan authorities had illegally seized its plant in the industrial hub of Valencia and vowed to “take all legal actions” to defend its rights. The seizure comes amid a deepening economic crisis in leftist-led Venezuela that has already roiled many U.S. companies.

“Yesterday, GMV’s (General Motors Venezolana) plant was unexpectedly taken by the public authorities, preventing normal operations. In addition, other assets of the company, such as vehicles, have been illegally taken from its facilities,” the company said in a statement.

It said the seizure would cause irreparable damage to the company, its 2,678 workers, its 79 dealers and to its suppliers.

Venezuela’s car industry has been in freefall, hit by a lack of raw materials stemming from complex currency controls and stagnant local production, and many plants are barely producing at all. [REUTERS]

04/20/2017 10:41 AM by David Kinzer
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