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5 reasons Japan’s Shinzo Abe needs his meeting with Donald Trump to go well

With Japan rocked by scandals that have prompted speculation he will be out of office in a matter of months, Japan’s Prime Minister and US lapdog, Shinzo Abe, will meet with Donald Trump in the US this week to try and salvage his declining reputation.

Vladimir Rodzianko

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With a historic summit between the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and the South Korean president Moon Jae-in, less than two weeks away, followed by a possible summit between Kim and Donald Trump – Japan has found itself left out of diplomatic circles amid scandals at home.

Abe’s popularity among Japanese hit an all-time low after two allegations of cronyism connected to the PM surfaced, including a discounted sale of public land that had links to his wife.

The Guardian reported:

Abe has been badly bruised by allegations of cronyism centering on the heavily discounted sale of public land to the operator of an ultra-nationalist kindergarten in Osaka with links to his wife, Akie Abe.

He has consistently denied any wrongdoing, and said he would resign if he or his wife were shown to have been intervened in the sale of the land.

The finance ministry recently admitted to tampering with documents to remove references to Abe and his wife in papers relating to the decision to provide an 85% discount on the appraised value of the land.

He is also alleged to have used his influence to help a friend secure permission to open a veterinary school – claims he has rejected. Last week, however, an official document emerged describing the veterinary school as “an issue that involves the prime minister”.

Here are 5 reasons Shinzo Abe prays his meeting with Donald Trump goes well, via Ian Bremmer at Time:

1. Abe is facing trouble at home

Just six months ago Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) were riding high, having secured a 2/3 supermajority in snap elections for the lower house of the Diet, Japan’s national parliament. It was a decisive victory, boosting Abe’s confidence in his ability to push ahead in his quest to rewrite Japan’s “pacifist” constitution.

In the run-up to those elections, Abe’s popularity was above 50 percent, and pundits were bullish on the prospect of him winning a third term as president of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and becoming Japan’s longest-serving prime minister in the post-war era (he’s currently third).

Today, his popularity has plummeted to below 30 percent according to one recent poll (lower than Trump’s current 39 percent). Much of that has to do with the Moritomo scandal, which involves allegations that a rightwing activist close to Abe and his wife secured a suspiciously good land deal from the government to establish an elementary school.

While the scandal has been plastered across Japanese headlines since early 2017 — and the Abes deny any wrongdoing — recent reports that Japan’s Finance Ministry doctored documents related to the deal to remove references to Abe, his wife Akie, and other political figures have breathed new life into accusations of impropriety and sparked a broader effort to dig up more examples of government misdoings.

Almost half (48 percent) of Japanese voters believe Abe should resign over the scandal; just this weekend, thousands took to the streets in Tokyo to demand his ouster. There are countries where protests like this happen once a week; Japan isn’t one of them.

2. Abe wants a seat at the table for North Korea talks

All these issues are coming to a head as Abe is preparing to run for reelection in the LDP’s presidential contest this September and serve another 3-year term. But it’s not just domestic politics that Abe needs to be worried about. Abe was caught completely off guard by Trump’s impromptu decision to accept North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un’s invitation to a summit later this spring.

Along with South Korea’s previous administration, Abe had held a tough-line on sanctioning and isolating the Kim regime. Now South Korea is headed by Moon Jae-In, a progressive politician who advocates peaceful engagement with North Korea, and the U.S. is being led by the mercurial Trump.

Japan is understandably concerned about being marginalized from, or even left out of, negotiations—it wants to make sure that if, for example, North Korea agrees to destroy the ICBMs that can hit the U.S. mainland, it will also destroy the short and medium-range ballistic missiles that can hit Japan, too.

A nuclear North Korea remains a non-starter for Japan, as it is for the U.S.—expect Abe to reaffirm his firm support for the U.S. “maximum pressure” strategy during discussions with Trump this week, and for Trump to agree wholeheartedly that keeping tough sanctions in place is critical to efforts to persuade Kim to abandon his nuclear ambitions.

3. Trump’s aggressive trade tariffs

North Korea is actually expected to be the easy part of the Trump-Abe summit. Much more contentious will be the trade talk—it hasn’t escaped Abe’s notice (nor that of his detractors in Japan) that his supposedly warm relationship with Trump failed to secure his country’s exemption from Trump’s Section 232 steel and aluminum tariffs, which the US will likely impose next month. Japan is responsible for nearly 5 percent of all steel imported into the U.S., or roughly 1.9 million tons.

It’s no secret that Trump prefers bilateral trade deals to multilateral ones; Trump argues that the U.S. can exert more leverage on governments by confronting them one-on-one. So we can expect Trump to lean on Abe to begin negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), likely by tying them to the lifting of steel and aluminum sanctions.

Abe will try to avoid promising anything specific on that front, knowing that Trump will seek to extract more concessions from Japan than it already agreed to give in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement.

But Abe is not in a position to refuse Trump outright given Japan’s need to keep the economic and security relationship on an even keel. Abe will likely try to give Trump just enough to allow the U.S. president to declare that Japan has committed to a better deal for the U.S., but not so much that Abe looks like has caved into Trump’s demands.

That rather tortured compromise will probably come in the form of pledges to work harder to reduce the U.S. trade deficit and to allow U.S. firms more unfettered access to the Japanese market.

4. The possibility of the U.S. joining the Pacific region’s big trade pact

Instead of agreeing to near-term bilateral FTA talks, Abe will try to steer Trump back towards TPP, which was intended both to promote international commerce and to hem in China’s economic, political, and security ambitions in Asia.

Abe spent enormous political capital selling the Japanese public on the need for the 12-country trade deal when it was still being negotiated under Obama, but Trump withdrew the U.S. from TPP talks just three days into his presidency, fulfilling a key campaign promise. The rest of the signatories forged ahead and signed a revised agreement last month now colloquially referred to as TPP-11; this new trade deal dropped the U.S.-backed provisions on intellectual property and investor-state dispute settlements, among others.

Getting the U.S. under Trump to join TPP was always going to be a longshot. But those prospects received an unexpected boost late last week when Trump tweeted that he was open to looking again at TPP now that a possible trade war with China looms—albeit with the caveat that only “if the deal were substantially better than the deal offered to Pres. Obama.”

Given that the Obama team engaged in arduous negotiations for years to extract U.S.-friendly concessions, it seems unlikely the signatories would capitulate just because Trump tweeted his openness to joining; indeed, many of the TPP-11 countries were notably cool to the prospect, especially if that would require reopening and renegotiating the original TPP text.

Japan, however, is more open to the idea of helping create a pathway for the U.S. to join TPP — and even if it never comes to pass, Abe will express to Trump his government’s willingness to support him on this front.

5. The delicate art of golf diplomacy

The reality is that there are some unprecedentedly complex issues on the summit agenda this week, and the political troubles that both Abe and Trump are facing at home will make significant concessions tough for either to offer. But Abe arrives this week knowing that he must try his best to give Trump enough for him to declare (tweet?) the summit a success; it remains to be seen what Trump is willing to give Abe in return.

But make no mistake: now that Beijing is in Trump’s crosshairs (and vice versa), the Abe-Trump relationship is more important than ever. How important? Reports last week that Trump’s advance team hadn’t extended a formal invitation to Abe for a round of golf threw Tokyo into a tizzy. Thankfully, golf this week has been confirmed.

And if Abe can charmingly ingratiate himself to Trump as he did during their last outing on the links, so much the better for Japan—and the U.S., too.

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Foreign Banks Are Embracing Russia’s Alternative To SWIFT, Moscow Says

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative.

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Via Zerohedge


On Friday, one day after Russia and China pledged to reduce their reliance on the dollar by increasing the amount of bilateral trade conducted in rubles and yuan (a goal toward which much progress has already been made over the past three years), Russia’s Central Bank provided the latest update on Moscow’s alternative to US-dominated international payments network SWIFT.

Moscow started working on the project back in 2014, when international sanctions over Russia’s annexation of Crimea inspired fears that the country’s largest banks would soon be cut off from SWIFT which, though it’s based in Belgium and claims to be politically neutral, is effectively controlled by the US Treasury.

Today, the Russian alternative, known as the System for Transfer of Financial Messages, has attracted a modest amount of support within the Russian business community, with 416 Russian companies having joined as of September, including the Russian Federal Treasury and large state corporations likeGazprom Neft and Rosneft.

And now, eight months after a senior Russian official advised that “our banks are ready to turn off SWIFT,” it appears the system has reached another milestone in its development: It’s ready to take on international partners in the quest to de-dollarize and end the US’s leverage over the international financial system. A Russian official advised that non-residents will begin joining the system “this year,” according to RT.

“Non-residents will start connecting to us this year. People are already turning to us,”said First Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Russia Olga Skorobogatova. Earlier, the official said that by using the alternative payment system foreign firms would be able to do business with sanctioned Russian companies.

Turkey, China, India and others are among the countries that might be interested in a SWIFT alternative, as Russian President Vladimir Putin pointed out in a speech earlier this month, the US’s willingness to blithely sanction countries from Iran to Venezuela and beyond will eventually rebound on the US economy by undermining the dollar’s status as the world’s reserve currency.

To be sure, the Russians aren’t the only ones building a SWIFT alternative to help avoid US sanctions. Russia and China, along with the European Union are launching an interbank payments network known as the Special Purpose Vehicle to help companies pursue “legitimate business with Iran” in defiance of US sanctions.

Given its status as a major energy exporter, Russia has leverage that could help attract partners to its new SWIFT alternative. For one, much of Europe is dependent on Russian natural gas and oil.

And as Russian trade with other US rivals increases, Moscow’s payments network will look increasingly attractive,particularly if buyers of Russian crude have no other alternatives to pay for their goods.

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US leaving INF will put nuclear non-proliferation at risk & may lead to ‘complete chaos’

The US is pulling out of a nuclear missile pact with Russia. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty requires both countries to eliminate their short and medium-range atomic missiles.

The Duran

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Via RT


If the US ditches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), it could collapse the entire nuclear non-proliferation system, and bring nuclear war even closer, Russian officials warn.

By ending the INF, Washington risks creating a domino effect which could endanger other landmark deals like the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and collapse the existing non-proliferation mechanism as we know it, senior lawmaker Konstantin Kosachev said on Sunday.

The current iteration of the START treaty, which limits the deployment of all types of nuclear weapons, is due to expire in 2021. Kosachev, who chairs the Parliament’s Upper House Foreign Affairs Committee, warned that such an outcome pits mankind against “complete chaos in terms of nuclear weapons.”

“Now the US Western allies face a choice: either embarking on the same path, possibly leading to new war, or siding with common sense, at least for the sake of their self-preservation instinct.”

His remarks came after US President Donald Trump announced his intentions to “terminate” the INF, citing alleged violations of the deal by Russia.

Moscow has repeatedly denied undermining the treaty, pointing out that Trump has failed to produce any evidence of violations. Moreover, Russian officials insist that the deployment of US-made Mk 41 ground-based universal launching systems in Europe actually violates the agreement since the launchers are capable of firing mid-range cruise missiles.

Leonid Slutsky, who leads the Foreign Affairs Committee in parliament’s lower chamber, argued that Trump’s words are akin to placing “a huge mine under the whole disarmament process on the planet.”

The INF Treaty was signed in 1987 by then-President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. The deal effectively bans the parties from having and developing short- and mid-range missiles of all types. According to the provisions, the US was obliged to destroy Pershing I and II launcher systems and BGM-109G Gryphon ground-launched cruise missiles. Moscow, meanwhile, pledged to remove the SS-20 and several other types of missiles from its nuclear arsenal.

Pershing missiles stationed in the US Army arsenal. © Hulton Archive / Getty Images ©

By scrapping the historic accord, Washington is trying to fulfill its “dream of a unipolar world,” a source within the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

“This decision fits into the US policy of ditching the international agreements which impose equal obligations on it and its partners, and render the ‘exceptionalism’ concept vulnerable.”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov denounced Trump’s threats as “blackmail” and said that Washington wants to dismantle the INF because it views the deal as a “problem” on its course for “total domination” in the military sphere.

The issue of nuclear arms treaties is too vital for national and global security to rush into hastily-made “emotional” decisions, the official explained. Russia is expecting to hear more on the US’ plans from Trump’s top security adviser, John Bolton, who is set to hold talks in Moscow tomorrow.

President Trump has been open about unilaterally pulling the US out of various international agreements if he deems them to be damaging to national interests. Earlier this year, Washington withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on the Iranian nuclear program. All other signatories to the landmark agreement, including Russia, China, and the EU, decided to stick to the deal, while blasting Trump for leaving.

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Converting Khashoggi into Cash

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose.

Jim Jatras

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Authored by James George Jatras via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


The hazard of writing about the Saudis’ absurd gyrations as they seek to avoid blame for the murder of the late, not notably great journalist and Muslim Brotherhood activist Jamal Khashoggi is that by the time a sentence is finished, the landscape may have changed again.

As though right on cue, the narrative has just taken another sharp turn.

After two weeks of denying any connection to Khashoggi’s disappearance, Riyadh has ‘fessed up (sorta) and admitted that he was killed by Saudi operatives but it wasn’t really on purpose:

Y’see, it was kinda’f an ‘accident.’

Oops…

Y’see the guys were arguing, and … uh … a fistfight broke out.

Yeah, that’s it … a ‘fistfight.’

And before you know it poor Jamal had gone all to pieces.

Y’see?

Must’ve been a helluva fistfight.

The figurative digital ink wasn’t even dry on that whopper before American politicos in both parties were calling it out:

  • “To say that I am skeptical of the new Saudi narrative about Mr. Khashoggi is an understatement,” tweeted Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. “First we were told Mr. Khashoggi supposedly left the consulate and there was blanket denial of any Saudi involvement. Now, a fight breaks out and he’s killed in the consulate, all without knowledge of Crown Prince. It’s hard to find this latest ‘explanation‘ as credible.”
  • California Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in a statement that the new Saudi explanation is “not credible.” “If Khashoggi was fighting inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, he was fighting for his life with people sent to capture or kill him,” Schiff said. “The kingdom and all involved in this brutal murder must be held accountable, and if the Trump administration will not take the lead, Congress must.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan must think he’s already died and gone to his eternal recreation in the amorous embraces of the dark-eyed houris. The acid test for the viability of Riyadh’s newest transparent lie is whether the Turks actually have, as they claim, live recordings of Khashoggi’s interrogation, torture, murder, and dismemberment (not necessarily in that order) – and if they do, when Erdogan decides it’s the right time to release them.

Erdogan has got the Saudis over a barrel and he’ll squeeze everything he can out of them.

From the beginning, the Khashoggi story wasn’t really about the fate of one man. The Saudis have been getting away with bloody murder, literally, for years. They’re daily slaughtering the civilian population of Yemen with American and British help, with barely a ho-hum from the sensitive consciences always ready to invoke the so-called “responsibility to protect” Muslims in Bosnia, Kosovo, Libya, Syria, Xinjiang, Rakhine, and so forth.

Where’s the responsibility not to help a crazed bunch of Wahhabist head-choppers kill people?

But now, just one guy meets a grisly end and suddenly it’s the most important homicide since the Lindbergh baby.

What gives?

Is it because Khashoggi was part of the MSM aristocracy, on account of his relationship with the Washington Post?

Was it because of his other, darker, connections? As related by Moon of Alabama: “Khashoggi was a rather shady guy. A ‘journalist’ who was also an operator for Saudi and U.S. intelligence services. He was an early recruit of the Muslim Brotherhood.” This relationship, writes MoA, touches on the interests of pretty much everyone in the region:

“The Ottoman empire ruled over much of the Arab world. The neo-Ottoman wannabe-Sultan Recep Tayyip Erdogan would like to regain that historic position for Turkey. His main competition in this are the al-Sauds. They have much more money and are strategically aligned with Israel and the United States, while Turkey under Erdogan is more or less isolated. The religious-political element of the competition is represented on one side by the Muslim Brotherhood, ‘democratic’ Islamists to which Erdogan belongs, and the Wahhabi absolutists on the other side.”

With the noose tightening around Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS), the risible fistfight cock-and-bull story is likely to be the best they can come up with. US President Donald Trump’s having offered his “rogue killers” opening suggests he’s willing to play along. Nobody will really be fooled, but MbS will hope he can persuade important people to pretend they are fooled.

That will mean spreading around a lot of cash. The new alchemy of converting Khashoggi dead into financial gain for the living is just one part of an obvious scheme to pull off what Libya’s Muammar Kaddafi managed after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing: offer up some underlings as the fall guys and let the top man evade responsibility. (KARMA ALERT: That didn’t do Kaddafi any good in the long run.)

In the Saudi case the Lockerbie dodge will be harder, as there are already pictures of men at the Istanbul Consulate General identified as close associates of MbS. But they’ll give it the old madrasa try anyway since it’s all they’ve got.Firings and arrests have started and one suspect has already died in a suspicious automobile “accident.” Heads will roll!

Saving MbS’s skin and his succession to the throne of his doddering father may depend on how many of the usual recipients of Saudi – let’s be honest – bribery and influence peddling will find sufficient pecuniary reason to go along. Saudi Arabia’s unofficial motto with respect to the US establishment might as well be: “The green poultice heals all wounds.”

Anyway, that’s been their experience up to now, but it also in part reflects the same arrogance that made MbS think he could continue to get away with anything. (It’s not shooting someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue, but it’s close.) Whether spreading cash around will continue to have the same salubrious effect it always has had in the past remains to be seen.

To be sure, Trump may succeed in shaking the Saudi date palm for additional billions for arms sales. That won’t necessarily turn around an image problem that may not have a remedy. But still, count on more cash going to high-price lobbying and image-control shops eager to make obscene money working for their obscene client. Some big American names are dropping are dropping Riyadh in a sudden fit of fastidiousness, but you can bet others will be eager to step into their Guccis, both in the US and in the United Kingdom. (It should never be forgotten how closely linked the US and UK establishments are in the Middle East, and to the Saudis in particular.)

It still might not work though. No matter how much expensive PR lipstick the spinmeisters put on this pig, that won’t make it kissable. It’s still a pig.

Others benefitting from hanging Khashoggi’s death around MbS’s neck are:

  • Qatar (after last year’s invasion scare, there’s no doubt a bit of Schadenfreude and (figurative) champagne corks popping in Doha over MbS’s discomfiture. As one source close to the ruling al-Thani family relates, “The Qataris are stunned speechless at Saudi incompetence!” You just can’t get good help these days).

Among the losers one must count Israel and especially Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu. MbS, with his contrived image as the reformer, was the Sunni “beard” he needed to get the US to assemble an “Arab NATO” (as though one NATO weren’t bad enough!) and eliminate Iran for him. It remains to be seen how far that agenda has been set back.

Whether or not MbS survives or is removed – perhaps with extreme prejudice – there’s no doubt Saudi Arabia is the big loser. Question are being asked that should have been asked years ago. As Srdja Trifkovic comments in Chronicles magazine:

“The crown prince’s recklessness in ordering the murder of Khashoggi has demonstrated that he is just a standard despot, a Mafia don with oil presiding over an extended cleptocracy of inbred parasites. The KSA will not be reformed because it is structurally not capable of reform. The regime in Riyadh which stops being a playground of great wealth, protected by a large investment in theocratic excess, would not be ‘Saudi’ any longer. Saudia delenda est.”

The first Saudi state, the Emirate of Diriyah, went belly up in 1818, with the death of head of the house of al-Saud, Abdullah bin Saud – actually, literally with his head hung on a gate in Constantinople by Erdogan’s Ottoman predecessor, Sultan Mahmud II.

The second Saudi state, Emirate of Nejd, likewise folded in 1891.

It’s long past time this third and current abomination joined its antecedents on the ash heap of history.

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