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CONFIRMED: Israel to share “intelligence” on Iran with Saudi Arabia

A new system of ‘north versus south’ alliances is all but fully solidified in the Middle East.

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The Chief of Staff of Israel’s military has confirmed to a Saudi Arabian newspaper, that the Israeli regime is now prepared to share intelligence with the Saudi regime on matters concerning Iran.

While some will doubtlessly feign shock at the announcement, it is merely a confirmation of what most regional observers have felt was the status quo dating back a number of years, albeit one which has intensified lately.

Today’s statement follows the trend of Saudi Arabia and Israel working quietly but unambiguously to begin establishing open diplomatic relations. When this inevitably happens, Saudi will be only the third Arab country to have relations with the Israeli regime, the others being Egypt and Jordan.

For decades, Saudi and Israel have shared similar regional alignments. Both regimes have worked to undermine and overthrow Arab nationalist governments throughout the Arab world, including both Ba’athist and Nasserist states. Since 1979, both countries have also become steadfast opponents of the Islamic Revolution in Iran.

Moreover, this follows a trend of the Middle East regrouping into a northern and southern zone, each with its own geo-strategic goals and mutual dependencies within the respective zone. As Saudi Arabia and Israel each fall in the southern zone, it is only natural for the two countries to make their de-facto alliance public. This demonstrates that any theoretical differences between the state ideologies of Zionism and Wahhabism are largely inconsequential. In both cases, shared strategic goals of undermining Arab nationalist states and the Islamic Revolution in Iran have taken precedence over perceived ideological differences.

In his statement, Israeli military officer Gadi Eisenkot admits to a south versus north divide. He accuses Iran of attempting to form a ‘Shi’a Crescent’ running from Iran to Lebanon. In reality, this internationally juvenile description of the new north of the Middle East, undermines the  very real strategic interests of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon as part of this alliance, as well as the emerging and meaningful partnership between Iran, Turkey and Iraq. Furthermore, as this region is home to millions of Sunni Muslims and many varieties of Christians and seeing as Iran retains its historic Jewish population, it is absurd to call the new northern bloc of Middle Eastern powers a ‘Shi’a crescent’.

I have written about this new trend which is emerging in the following way:

With the wars in Syria and Iraq drawing to a close and with the governments of both states standing victorious over both Takfiri terrorism as well as (broadly speaking) Kurdish ethno-nationalism, a new reality in the Middle East has emerged where the region is broadly divided between a geo-political north and south.

In the north there is the Syria-Iraq alliance made possible by common enemies and a common history, in spite of the Ba’athist schism of 1966-2003. Both states, for slightly different reasons are also allied with Iran and for oddly similar, are reasons partners with Russia. In the case of Syria, Damascus is an historic Soviet ally and in the case of post-Ba’ahist Iraq, the government looks to attain defence independence by working with a Russian state which unlike the US, is willing to sell arms to any reasonable nation without political preconditions.

Iran, Iraq and Syria in turn are allied with Hezbollah, which in effect means a large portion of Lebanon and in terms of geo-strategic defence considerations, it means the most important part of Lebanon. Turkey is now a partner of Iran, Iraq (to a surprisingly important degree) and Russia. While Syria will be very unlikely to forgive Turkey for its previous support of Takfiri driven regime change, in reality, Syria and Turkey have a common post-Takfiri enemy: the continued rumblings Kurdish ethno-nationalism. This means that it is becoming increasingly likely that Syria and Turkey may end up cooperating in the future, even if it means doing so at a covert level because of heightened sensitivities to such a thing among the general public in both Turkey and Syria.

To the south, there is another story. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are now close allies. The mentality and political independence of the Nasser years are all but done in Cairo. Jordan can also be-lumped into this group. Like Egypt, Jordan is one of the only two Arab states to have normal relations with Israel and by many accounts Saudi Arabia will soon follow. As goes Saudi, so goes the UAE, Bahrain and to a lesser extent Kuwait and to an even lesser extent the relatively politically unimportant Oman. Qatar finds it self in a situation that is both precarious and surprisingly advantages, as I explored in a the piece below.

The alliance between the northern Middle East powers and the alliance between the southern Middle East powers are not formal blocs in the sense of the Warsaw Pact and NATO which divided most of Europe into east and west. Instead, the new geo-political blocs of the Middle East constitute a rapidly consolidating reality where countries are united based on the pragmatic acknowledgement of common interests. By including Turkey into the mix, one cannot say it is a “Shi’a crescent” and likewise, by including both Turkey and Iran into the northern Middle East, it is neither Pan-Arab. The same is true when it comes to including Israel in the southern portion of the alliance, which is very much where Israel is.

Against this backdrop, it is easy to see why many in Saudi Arabia and beyond are eyeing Lebanon as a potential prize. Lebanon, as a small state with beautiful real estate, is a microcosm of the entire alliance, certainly in terms of religious affiliation.

Hezbollah is well aware of this and in a move that can only be described as politically masterful and in terms of security, highly ethical, Hezbollah like the fellow Shi’a Amal Movement and the broadly Christian Free Patriotic Movement, have urged political unity at a time when clearly Saudi Arabia is attempting to sow divisions in the country.

Hezbollah is openly positioning itself as a ‘national party’ in a country that doesn’t have national parties. Lebanese politics often looks like ‘the art of the impossible’ with sectarian pacts being more prevalent than a unifying patriotism, as it is in Ba’athist Syria. Hezbollah cannot change this and certainly cannot modify it overnight, but in playing the national card rather than the Shi’a versus Sunni/Wahhabi card, Hezbollah has transcended the extreme sectarian politics of Lebanon, just as Saudi Arabia is becoming unable to transcend the family feud between some men from the House of Saud and other men from the House of Saud.

This attitude which will give Hezbollah and its coalition partners the moral high ground while refusing to exclude or scapegoat Lebanese Sunnis for Saudi’s meddling, means that Lebanon is well placed to become part of the political north of the Middle East.

This leaves Israel and Palestine. For the Israeli regime, recent events have all but killed Tel Aviv’s preferred narrative which it has invoked since 1947. For Israeli propagandists it was always “us versus the Arab world” and when the Arab world was attempting to unite in the age of Nasser, there was some truth to an Arab world uniting against Israel. This is something that the Arab world saw positively and Israel saw negatively. After 1979, the Israeli propaganda narrative was modified to be “The Arab world + Iran – Egypt versus us”.

Today though, with Jordan and Egypt on good terms with Tel Aviv, with Saudi Arabia looking to increase its ties with Israel and with only one Arab state, Syria, still fully behind the Palestinian cause, Israel’s narrative has collapsed.

There is no “Arab Israeli conflict” because half of the Arabs either tacitly or overtly accept the presence of the settler state. Likewise, Iran is a stalwart supporter of Palestine and Turkey is becoming ever more distant from Israel.

The collapse of Israel’s creation myth narrative also means increased Israeli isolation from a military standpoint. Just as Israel boosts its relations with the Arab states of the southern half of the Middle East, so too does it mean that Israel will have a more difficult time acting unilaterally.

Hezbollah’s leader Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah has admitted for the first time that under the “new” Muhammad bin Salman regime in Saudi Arabia, the Israeli regime is being coerced by Saudi into making provocative moves while Israel remains cautious for selfish reasons. As recently as last week, it was assumed that Tel Aviv called the shots, not Riyadh.

This means that if Israel is going to preserve its new friends in the southern part of the Middle East, it will have to do something it has never done: consult with others in order to preserve alliances.

This weakens Israel’s ability to fight its customary blitzkrieg wars, as such wars rely on a single front against a united enemy. Instead, the region now has multiple possible fronts with many different enemies to rage at, in many scattered locations and many different partners to placate or even show deference towards. By contrast, Saudi Arabia prefers slow burning/grinding conflicts for obvious logistical reasons but also for the tactical reason that Saudi Arabia wants to present itself as the legitimate leader of the Arabs while Israel is keen to present itself as the country that Arabs fear. In reality, Israel is more hated than feared and Saudi is far from a leader of the Arab world, but these are the aims, however preposterous, of both states, respectively.

Even in Yemen where Saudi has used a large amount of shock and awe, it is still far from the Israeli blitzkrieg where a swift ground attack follows shortly from aerial bombardment. Likewise, Israel probably wouldn’t have the patience for such a protracted war, while Saudi at least for now, still is intend on beating the Houthis in Yemen, a task which will likely prove impossible.

This helps explain Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah’s confidence in the fact that Israel will not go to war in Lebanon even at Saudi’s gold plated behest. Israel knows that a conflict in Lebanon in 2017 would be a long protracted struggle, the kind Saudi might be willing to put up with in Yemen, but Israel does not have the stomach for on its border.

I previously wrote how this new reality could work in the favour of the besieged Palestinians in the long term. I stated,

“On the one hand, if Tel Aviv concentrates on both co-opting and being co-opted by states like Saudi, Egypt and Jordan who in recent decades have shown little enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause, there is a danger that Palestinian land could become a tragic ghetto of isolation in an otherwise booming region. However, on the other hand, the idea of prosperity trickling horizontally across a newly booming economic region could actually take the wind out of the sails of the Israel-Palestine conflict, something which in the long term bodes well for Palestine reclaiming its full statehood. This is the case because if the Tel Aviv regime becomes fully immersed in a mostly Arab led regional prosperity initiative, having to contend with rightfully angry Palestinians could only exorcise all parties. Furthermore, Palestinian grievances in a would-be south-Arab ghetto could further incur the wrath of Palestine’s meaningful allies including Lebanon (aka Hezbollah), Syria, non-Arab Iran and in the future, quote possibly a revitalised and almost certainly pro-Palestine Iraq. Wanting to keep such countries away from Saudi’s ‘south Arab’ project would be in the interests (however selfish) of Saudi, Jordan, Egypt and the regime in Tel Aviv.

And here is where a peaceful one-state solution could come into play. Rather than divide a portion of an increasingly inter-dependent south-Arab region (aka the two-state solution), leaving open the possibility of Syria, Hezbollah, Iraq and non-Arab Iran playing a part in this new region via the Palestinian back door, it might instead be easier to create a single state along the pre-1947 Palestinian borders that could be described as Palestine with cosmopolitan characterises or perhaps Israel with Arab characteristics, depending on the demographics and political will of various countries in ten years or more from today.

Just as Lebanon is a cosmopolitan country that is increasingly tied in with the north-Arab region, so too could this new Palestine be a kind of cosmopolitan bridge to the south, a place which like Lebanon has a shared history that at times has been peaceful and at others has been horrific. Tragically, Israeli meddling is by far the greatest author of mystery in both Palestine and Lebanon.

Ultimately, unless something radically changes in Egypt, Jordan or Saudi, the kind of good will that countries like Syria has for Palestine will never be present in the new ‘south Arab’ bloc. However, pragmatism which would come about in the ‘new Arab south’ to spite countries like Syria and groups like Hezbollah, could indeed force a pragmatic one-state solution based on the peace that is implicit in the need to pacific a region in order to make it ‘prosperity friendly’. In this sense, Palestine could breath a much needed breath after decades of asphyxiation, while Palestine friends in the ‘new Arab north’ would have something of a last laugh as they have got a decades long running start in developing key relations with China and Russia.

This situation is both far from assured and also far from ideal in many ways. It is however, a possible solution which still represents some improvement on the hopeless status quo”.

Thus, we see the emergence of a new Middle East, one which has risen from the sinews of war in the north and political stagnation in the south. As Israel, Saudi, Egypt and Jordan become ever more economically interdependent, this will only further limit Israel’s ability to act in a unilateral fashion in its old blitzkrieg style.

While the north is increasingly revitalised by victory, the south is increasingly interdependent. Into this fray, the most heavily armed state in the  Middle East, Israel is now trapped in a cycle of interdependence, without its old narrative, without its old might, without its old confidence and without its old boogie men. Israel’s devious attempts to destroy Arab unity have just backfired in a spectacular fashion. Israel has built itself a fortress of partners and these partners have a lot to say to Israel and not all of it is the echo of a choir. For the first time in history, Israel may just have to listen to what others are saying.

The new Middle East: A North/South divide where Israel is losing its narrative and its old game plan

Thus we see that as Israel and Saudi Arabia formalise their partnership against the powers of the northern Middle East. The new blocs about which I spoke, have formally solidified.

 

 

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Skripal and Khashoggi: A Tale of Two Disappearances

Two disappearances, and two different responses.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


Two disappearances, and two very different responses from Western governments, which illustrates their rank hypocrisy.

When former Russian spy Sergei Skripal went missing in England earlier this year, there was almost immediate punitive action by the British government and its NATO allies against Moscow. By contrast, Western governments are straining with restraint towards Saudi Arabia over the more shocking and provable case of murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The outcry by Western governments and media over the Skripal affair was deafening and resulted in Britain, the US and some 28 other countries expelling dozens of Russian diplomats on the back of unsubstantiated British allegations that the Kremlin tried to assassinate an exiled spy with a deadly nerve agent. The Trump administration has further tightened sanctions citing the Skripal incident.

London’s case against Moscow has been marked by wild speculation and ropey innuendo. No verifiable evidence of what actually happened to Sergei Skripal (67) and his daughter Yulia has been presented by the British authorities. Their claim that President Vladimir Putin sanctioned a hit squad armed with nerve poison relies on sheer conjecture.

All we know for sure is that the Skripals have been disappeared from public contact by the British authorities for more than seven months, since the mysterious incident of alleged poisoning in Salisbury on March 4.

Russian authorities and family relatives have been steadfastly refused any contact by London with the Skripal pair, despite more than 60 official requests from Moscow in accordance with international law and in spite of the fact that Yulia is a citizen of the Russian Federation with consular rights.

It is an outrage that based on such thin ice of “evidence”, the British have built an edifice of censure against Moscow, rallying an international campaign of further sanctions and diplomatic expulsions.

Now contrast that strenuous reaction, indeed hyper over-reaction, with how Britain, the US, France, Canada and other Western governments are ever-so slowly responding to Saudi Arabia over the Khashoggi case.

After nearly two weeks since Jamal Khashoggi entered the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, the Saudi regime is this week finally admitting he was killed on their premises – albeit, they claim, in a “botched interrogation”.

Turkish and American intelligence had earlier claimed that Khashoggi was tortured and murdered on the Saudi premises by a 15-member hit squad sent from Riyadh.

Even more grisly, it is claimed that Khashoggi’s body was hacked up with a bone saw by the killers, his remains secreted out of the consulate building in boxes, and flown back to Saudi Arabia on board two private jets connected to the Saudi royal family.

What’s more, the Turks and Americans claim that the whole barbaric plot to murder Khashoggi was on the orders of senior Saudi rulers, implicating Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The latest twist out of Riyadh, is an attempt to scapegoat “rogue killers” and whitewash the House of Saudi from culpability.

The fact that 59-year-old Khashoggi was a legal US resident and a columnist for the Washington Post has no doubt given his case such prominent coverage in Western news media. Thousands of other victims of Saudi vengeance are routinely ignored in the West.

Nevertheless, despite the horrific and damning case against the Saudi monarchy, the response from the Trump administration, Britain and others has been abject.

President Trump has blustered that there “will be severe consequences” for the Saudi regime if it is proven culpable in the murder of Khashoggi. Trump quickly qualified, however, saying that billion-dollar arms deals with the oil-rich kingdom will not be cancelled. Now Trump appears to be joining in a cover-up by spinning the story that the Khashoggi killing was done by “rogue killers”.

Britain, France and Germany this week issued a joint statement calling for “a credible investigation” into the disappearance. But other than “tough-sounding” rhetoric, none of the European states have indicated any specific sanctions, such as weapons contracts being revoked or diplomatic expulsions.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he was “concerned” by the gruesome claims about Khashoggi’s killing, but he reiterated that Ottawa would not be scrapping a $15 billion sale of combat vehicles to Riyadh.

The Saudi rulers have even threatened retaliatory measures if sanctions are imposed by Western governments.

Saudi denials of official culpability seem to be a brazen flouting of all reason and circumstantial evidence that Khashoggi was indeed murdered in the consulate building on senior Saudi orders.

This week a glitzy international investor conference in Saudi Arabia is being boycotted by top business figures, including the World Bank chief, Jim Yong Kim, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon and Britain’s venture capitalist Richard Branson. Global firms like Ford and Uber have pulled out, as have various media sponsors, such as CNN, the New York Times and Financial Times. Withdrawal from the event was in response to the Khashoggi affair.

A growing bipartisan chorus of US Senators, including Bob Corker, Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham and Chris Murphy, have called for the cancellation of American arms sales to Saudi Arabia, as well as for an overhaul of the strategic partnership between the two countries.

Still, Trump has rebuffed calls for punitive response. He has said that American jobs and profits depend on the Saudi weapons market. Some 20 per cent of all US arms sales are estimated to go to the House of Saud.

The New York Times this week headlined: “In Trump’s Saudi Bargain, the Bottom Line Proudly Stands Out”.

The Trump White House will be represented at the investment conference in Saudi Arabia this week – dubbed “Davos in the Desert” by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He said he was attending in spite of the grave allegations against the Saudi rulers.

Surely the point here is the unseemly indulgence by Western governments of Saudi Arabia and its so-called “reforming” Crown Prince. It is remarkable how much credulity Washington, London, Paris, Ottawa and others are affording the Saudi despots who, most likely, have been caught redhanded in a barbarous murder.

Yet, when it comes to Russia and outlandish, unproven claims that the Kremlin carried out a bizarre poison-assassination plot, all these same Western governments abandon all reason and decorum to pile sanctions on Russia based on lurid, hollow speculation. The blatant hypocrisy demolishes any pretense of integrity or principle.

Here is another connection between the Skripal and Khashoggi affairs. The Saudis no doubt took note of the way Britain’s rulers have shown absolute disregard and contempt for international law in their de facto abduction of Sergei and Yulia Skripal. If the British can get away with that gross violation, then the Saudis probably thought that nobody would care too much if they disappeared Jamal Khashoggi.

Grotesquely, the way things are shaping up in terms of hypocritical lack of action by the Americans, British and others towards the Saudi despots, the latter might just get away with murder. Not so Russia. The Russians are not allowed to get away with even an absurd fantasy.

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US-China trade war heats up as surplus hits record $34 Billion (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 136.

Alex Christoforou

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According to a report by the AFP, China’s trade surplus with the United States ballooned to a record $34.1 billion in September, despite a raft of US tariffs, official data showed Friday, adding fuel to the fire of a worsening trade war.

Relations between the world’s two largest economies have soured sharply this year, with US President Donald Trump vowing on Thursday to inflict economic pain on China if it does not blink.
The two countries imposed new tariffs on a massive amount of each other’s goods mid-September, with the US targeting $200 billion in Chinese imports and Beijing firing back at $60 billion worth of US goods.

“China-US trade friction has caused trouble and pounded our foreign trade development,” customs spokesman Li Kuiwen told reporters Friday.

But China’s trade surplus with the US grew 10 percent in September from a record $31 billion in August, according to China’s customs administration. It was a 22 percent jump from the same month last year.

China’s exports to the US rose to $46.7 billion while imports slumped to $12.6 billion.

China’s overall trade — what it buys and sells with all countries including the US — logged a $31.7 billion surplus, as exports rose faster than imports.

Exports jumped 14.5 percent for September on-year, beating forecasts from analysts polled by Bloomberg News, while imports rose 14.3 percent on-year.

While the data showed China’s trade remained strong for the month, analysts forecast the trade war will start to hurt in coming months.

China’s export jump for the month suggests exporters were shipping goods early to beat the latest tariffs, said ANZ’s China economist Betty Wang, citing the bounce in electrical machinery exports, much of which faced the looming duties.

“We will watch for downside risks to China’s exports” in the fourth quarter, Wang said.

Analysts say a sharp depreciation of the yuan has also helped China weather the tariffs by making its exports cheaper.

“The big picture is the Chinese exports have so far held up well in the face of escalating trade tensions and cooling global growth, most likely thanks to the competitiveness boost provided by a weaker renminbi (yuan),” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at Capital Economics.

“With global growth likely to cool further in the coming quarters and US tariffs set to become more punishing, the recent resilience of exports is unlikely to be sustained,” he said.

According to Bloomberg US President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement isn’t that different from the North American Free Trade Agreement that it replaced. But hidden in the bowels of the new trade deal is a clause, Article 32.10, that could have a far-reaching impact. The new agreement requires member states to get approval from the other members if they initiate trade negotiations with a so-called non-market economy. In practice, “non-market” almost certainly means China. If, for example, Canada begins trade talks with China, it has to show the full text of the proposed agreement to the U.S. and Mexico — and if either the U.S. or Mexico doesn’t like what it sees, it can unilaterally kick Canada out of the USMCA.

Although it seems unlikely that the clause would be invoked, it will almost certainly exert a chilling effect on Canada and Mexico’s trade relations with China. Forced to choose between a gargantuan economy across the Pacific and another one next door, both of the U.S.’s neighbors are almost certain to pick the latter.

This is just another part of Trump’s general trade waragainst China. It’s a good sign that Trump realizes that unilateral U.S. efforts alone won’t be enough to force China to make concessions on issues like currency valuation, intellectual-property protection and industrial subsidies. China’s export markets are much too diverse:

If Trump cuts the U.S. off from trade with China, the likeliest outcome is that China simply steps up its exports to other markets. That would bind the rest of the world more closely to China and weaken the global influence of the U.S. China’s economy would take a small but temporary hit, while the U.S. would see its position as the economic center of the world slip into memory.

Instead, to take on China, Trump needs a gang. And that gang has to be much bigger than just North America. But most countries in Europe and East Asia probably can’t be bullied into choosing between the U.S. and China. — their ties to the U.S. are not as strong as those of Mexico and Canada. Countries such as South Korea, Germany, India and Japan will need carrots as well as sticks if they’re going to join a U.S.-led united trade front against China.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the escalating trade war between the United States and China, and the record trade surplus that positions China with a bit more leverage than Trump anticipated.

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Via Zerohedge Trump Threatens China With More Tariffs, Does Not Seek Economic “Depression”

US equity futures dipped in the red after President Trump threatened to impose a third round of tariffs on China and warned that Chinese meddling in U.S. politics was a “bigger problem” than Russian involvement in the 2016 election.

During the same interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes”, in which Trump threatened to impose sanctions against Saudi Arabia if the Saudis are found to have killed WaPo reported Khashoggi, and which sent Saudi stock plunging, Trump said he “might,” impose a new round of tariffs on China, adding that while he has “great chemistry” with Chinese President Xi Jinping, and noting that Xi “wants to negotiate”, he doesn’t “know that that’s necessarily going to continue.” Asked if American products have become more expensive due to tariffs on China, Trump said that “so far, that hasn’t turned out to be the case.”

“They can retaliate, but they can’t, they don’t have enough ammunition to retaliate,” Trump says, “We do $100 billion with them. They do $531 billion with us.”

Trump was also asked if he wants to push China’s economy into a depression to which the US president said “no” before comparing the country’s stock-market losses since the tariffs first launched to those in 1929, the start of the Great Depression in the U.S.

“I want them to negotiate a fair deal with us. I want them to open their markets like our markets are open,” Trump said in the interview that aired Sunday. So far, the U.S. has imposed three rounds of tariffs on Chinese imports totaling $250 billion, prompting China to retaliate against U.S. products. The president previously has threatened to hit virtually all Chinese imports with duties.

Asked about his relationship with Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin’s alleged efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election, Trump quickly turned back to China. “They meddled,” he said of Russia, “but I think China meddled too.”

“I think China meddled also. And I think, frankly, China … is a bigger problem,” Trump said, as interviewer Lesley Stahl interrupted him for “diverting” from a discussion of Russia.

Shortly before an audacious speech by Mike Pence last weekend, in which the US vice president effectively declared a new cold war on Beijing (see “Russell Napier: Mike Pence Announces Cold War II”), Trump made similar accusations during a speech at the United Nations last month, which his aides substantiated by pointing to long-term Chinese influence campaigns and an advertising section in the Des Moines Register warning farmers about the potential effects of Trump’s tariffs.

Meanwhile, in a rare U.S. television appearance, China’s ambassador to the U.S. said Beijing has no choice but to respond to what he described as a trade war started by the U.S.

“We never wanted a trade war, but if somebody started a trade war against us, we have to respond and defend our own interests,” said China’s Ambassador Cui Tiankai.

Cui also dismissed as “groundless” the abovementioned suggestion by Vice President Mike Pence that China has orchestrated an effort to meddle in U.S. domestic affairs. Pence escalated the rhetoric in a speech Oct. 4, saying Beijing has created a “a whole-of-government approach” to sway American public opinion, including spies, tariffs, coercive measures and a propaganda campaign.

Pence’s comments were some of the most critical about China by a high-ranking U.S. official in recent memory. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got a lecture when he visited Beijing days later, about U.S. actions that were termed “completely out of line.” The tough words followed months of increases tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by Washington and Beijing that have ballooned to cover hundreds of billions of dollars in bilateral trade.

During a recent interview with National Public Radio, Cui said the U.S. has “not sufficiently” dealt in good faith with the Chinese on trade matters, saying “the U.S. position keeps changing all the time so we don’t know exactly what the U.S. would want as priorities.”

Meanwhile, White House economic director Larry Kudlow said on “Fox News Sunday” that President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will “probably meet” at the G-20 summit in Buenos Aires in late November. “There’s plans and discussions and agendas” being discussed, he said. So far, talks with China on trade have been “unsatisfactory,” Kudlow said. “We’ve made our asks” on allegations of intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers, he added. “We have to have reciprocity.”

Addressing the upcoming meeting, Cui said he was present at two previous meetings of Xi and Trump, and that top-level communication “played a key role, an irreplaceable role, in guiding the relationship forward.” Despite current tensions the two have a “good working relationship,” he said.

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BREAKING: Explosion in Crimea, Russia kills many, injuring dozens, terrorism suspected

According to preliminary information, the incident was caused by a gas explosion at a college facility in Kerch, Crimea.

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“We are clarifying the information at the moment. Preliminary figures are 50 injured and 10 dead. Eight ambulance crews are working at the site and air medical services are involved,” the press-service for the Crimean Ministry of Health stated.

Medics announced that at least 50 people were injured in the explosion in Kerch and 25 have already been taken to local hospital with moderate wounds, according to Sputnik.

Local news outlets reported that earlier in the day, students at the college heard a blast and windows of the building were shattered.

Putin Orders that Assistance Be Provided to Victims of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The president has instructed the Ministry of Health and the rescue services to take emergency measures to assist victims of this explosion, if necessary, to ensure the urgent transportation of seriously wounded patients to leading medical institutions of Russia, whether in Moscow or other cities,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitriy Peskov said.

The president also expressed his condolences to all those affected by the tragic incident.

Manhunt Underway in Kerch as FSB Specialists Investigate Site of Explosion – National Anti-Terrorist Committee

The site of the blast that rocked a city college in Kerch is being examined by FSB bomb disposal experts and law enforcement agencies are searching for clues that might lead to the arrest of the perpetrators, the National Anti Terrorism Committee said in a statement.

“Acting on orders from the head of the NAC’s local headquarters, FSB, Interior Ministry, Russian Guards and Emergency Ministry units have arrived at the site. The territory around the college has been cordoned off and the people inside the building evacuated… Mine-disposal experts are working at the site and law enforcement specialists are investigating,” the statement said.

Terrorist Act Considered as Possible Cause of Blast in Kerch – Kremlin Spokesman

“The tragic news that comes from Kerch. Explosion. The president was informed … The data on those killed and the number of injured is constantly updated,” Peskov told reporters.

“[The version of a terrorist attack] is being considered,” he said.

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