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Kushner-Kislyak meeting: did US decrypt a Russian signal or was Trump Tower bugged?

The claim US intelligence learnt of the meeting between Jared Kushner and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak by intercepting Russian communications looks implausible, leading to the possibility US intelligence obtained details of the meeting because – despite denials – Trump Tower was bugged.

Alexander Mercouris

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Since the Washington Post first disclosed that Donald Trump’s son in law Jared Kushner discussed in December with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak the idea of setting up a back channel, several US officials have sprung to Kushner’s defence.

President Trump’s National Security Adviser, General H.R. McMaster, says that he is unconcerned

We have back-channel communications with any number of individual (countries). So generally speaking, about back-channel communications, what that allows you to do is communicate in a discreet manner.  So it doesn’t pre-expose you to any sort of content or any kind of conversation or anything. So we’re not concerned about it.

About that McMaster is absolutely right.

A similar lack of concern has also been expressed by John F. Kelly, the President’s Homeland Security secretary

He’s a great guy, decent guy. His No. 1 interest, really, is the nation.  So, you know, there’s a lot of different ways to communicate, back channel, publicly with other countries. I don’t see any big issue here relative to Jared.

Perhaps the single most pertinent point about this whole story has however been made by Senator Lindsey Graham, who is not normally considered one of the President’s friends.  He is reported to have said the following

You’ve got the ambassador to Russia (sic) reporting to Moscow on an open channel.  I don’t trust this story as far as I can throw it….The whole storyline is suspicious.

Lindsey Graham is referring to the claim that US intelligence learnt about the Kushner-Kislyak meeting by intercepting a report about it which Kislyak sent to Moscow.  If true that would mean either that Kislyak reported to Moscow via an open (telephone?) channel or that US intelligence decrypted the report he sent about the meeting to Moscow.

In either case alerting the Russians that the US intercepted Kislyak’s report amounts to a major leak of classified information potentially damaging to the national security interests of the US, and compromising its future intelligence gathering capability.

Is the story however even true?  Lindsey Graham is right to be skeptical.

The Russians have long been known to take the security of their communications extremely seriously.  A sign of this is that they began using one-time pads to encrypt their most secret communications as long ago as 1930, long before most other powers.  One-time pads produce encryption which is unbreakable, and it is known that the Russians still use this technique for their most secret communications.

The security provided by using one-time pads, and the extent to which it has defeated US attempts to read Russian signals traffic, can be illustrated by the story of the Venona Project.

The Soviet company that manufactured one-time pads for the USSR’s intelligence agencies during the Second World War made the mistake of producing around 35,000 pages of duplicate key numbers because of the disorganisation caused by the German advance on Moscow in 1941.  The US detected the mistake, and in 1943 set up the Venona Project to try to exploit it.  The idea was to use the mistake to decrypt Soviet signals traffic, thereby reproducing – if only to a certain degree – the US and British wartime success in breaking the German and Japanese codes.

In the event it seems that only signals traffic transmitted between 1942 and 1948 was compromised, with the vast bulk of this traffic being sent between 1942 and 1945, and that only a small fraction of this traffic was ever successfully decrypted.  This despite the fact that US intelligence persisted with the Venona Project from 1943 until 1980 ie. over a span of 37 years.  Whilst the Venona Project did provide the US with some insight into Soviet intelligence gathering activities in the 1940s, by the time it was finally wound up in 1980 this would have been of no more than historical interest.

The fact the US persisted with the Venona Project for so long shows that up to 1980  – ie. throughout the whole period of the Cold War – it must have failed to decrypt other Soviet signals traffic.  That must have been why it devoted so much time and effort to decrypting the small number of Soviet signals from the 1940s that it thought it could decrypt.

The Venona Project is sometimes spoken of as US intelligence success.  In reality it is testimony to the US’s greater intelligence failure.

Of course it could be that since 1980 US intelligence has been more successful in decrypting Soviet and Russian signals traffic.  Russia experienced an existential crisis during the 1990s.  A large number of defections happened during this period, and it would not be surprising if the general collapse of morale caused signals discipline to collapse.  However that would have been reversed when Vladimir Putin – a former intelligence officer – came to power.  By now it is highly likely that the security of Russian signals traffic has been restored to at least the level it had before the USSR collapsed.

Today, though the Russians continue to use one-time pads for their most secret communications, for their less secret communications they use – like other powers – other forms of computer generated encryption, which is less time consuming and labour intensive than one-time pads.

Conceivably Kislyak might have used one of these less secure channels when reporting to Moscow. However even if Kislyak reported to Moscow through one of these less secure channels, it is still unlikely US intelligence would have been able to decrypt his report.

The Vault 7 documents show that the CIA cannot decrypt commercially encrypted communications such as those passing through the mobile phone WhatsApp platform.  Presumably the Russians use more secure forms of encryption for their signals traffic than this.  If the US has not managed to break WhatsApp’s encryption, then it is unlikely it can have succeeded in breaking the encryption of even that part of Russia’s signals traffic which does not depend on one-time pads.

There is a further reason for doubting that the US is decrypting Russian signals traffic.

One other person is known to have been present at the meeting between Kushner and Kislyak.  That person is General Michael Flynn, who was to become for a short period President Trump’s National Security Adviser.

Up to 30th April 2014 General Flynn was one of the most senior intelligence officials in the US, having been appointed Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (the “DIA”) in 2012.

As a former Director of the DIA Flynn would presumably know if US intelligence was decrypting the Russian embassy’s signals traffic.  However he clearly didn’t think it was, since the whole idea of the back channel that he and Kushner proposed to Kislyak involved him communicating directly with Russia’s military leadership through the supposedly secure channels of the Russian embassy so as to keep his discussions secret.

Perhaps despite having been one of the US’s most senior intelligence officials Flynn was ill-informed about the US’s success in decrypting the Russian embassy’s signals traffic.  Or perhaps the breakthrough came in the short period after he left the DIA.  However I have to say that neither of these possibilities look to me at all likely.

Flynn’s participation in the Kushner-Kislyak meeting, and his support for the idea of the back channel discussed during the meeting, is a strong reason to doubt that the Russian embassy’s signals are being decrypted by US intelligence.  Everything else that is known about this question also points to that conclusion.

As to the possibility that Kislyak reported to Moscow about his supposedly secret conversation with Kushner about setting up a supposedly secret back channel between the Trump transition team and Moscow over an open channel, I have to say that I find that every bit as unbelievable as does Lindsey Graham.

There are of course other possibilities.

Possibly the US has a spy in the embassy and is able to read Kislyak’s reports to Moscow that way.  Or perhaps it has a spy in the Foreign Ministry in Moscow, who is reporting to Washington about Kislyak’s reports from the other end.  Or perhaps someone in Moscow gossiped about Kislyak’s report on an open line, and the US found out about it that way.

Whilst any of these alternative possibilities is theoretically possible, I have to say that none of them looks to me very likely.  The fact the obviously bogus Trump Dossier has been given the credence by the US intelligence community that it has, points to the US lacking high placed informants in Russia’s Washington embassy or in the Foreign Ministry in Moscow or at the highest levels of the Russian government.

Frankly the story of US intelligence learning the details of the Kushner-Kislyak conversation from an intercept looks to me like a cover story intended to conceal the actual way US intelligence obtained this information.

If US intelligence did not learn the details of the Kushner-Kislyak conversation from a Russian source, then they must have learnt it either from an informer within the Trump transition team or through electronic eavesdropping.  If it was the latter then that means that one way or another Trump Tower was bugged.

The New York Times when reporting the story – apparently after speaking to the same officials who leaked the story to the Washington Post – has actually hinted that US intelligence did not learn of the Kushner-Kislyak meeting from a Russian source.  This is how the New York Times reports it

American intelligence agencies first learned about the discussion several months ago, according to a senior American official who had been briefed on intelligence reports. It is unclear whether they learned about it from intercepted Russian communications or by other means.

(bold italics added)

Obviously someone has realised that the claim that US intelligence obtained the details of the Kushner-Kislyak meeting from a Russian source is simply too implausible, and exposes those who have leaked the story to accusations that they have revealed too much about the US intelligence gathering capabilities, for it to be wise to persist with it.  The result is that there is now an attempt to row back on this claim, as we see in the New York Times report.

Why however invent a cover story?  There is one possible reason.

US intelligence learnt about the Kushner-Kislyak meeting either very shortly after it happened or as soon as it took place.  We can be sure of this because of the publication by the Washington Post shortly after the meeting of an article about earlier back channels which was obviously inspired by the proposal to set up a back channel made during the Kushner-Kislyak meeting (see my discussion of this in my previous article).

Whilst it is possible that information about the meeting came from an informant, the speed with which US intelligence learnt about the meeting must increase the possibility that the information about the meeting came from electronic eavesdropping.

After Donald Trump’s famous tweets that former President Obama had had his phone in Trump Tower tapped there followed strenuous denials that Trump Tower was ever bugged.  Here is how the BBC reported these denials on 20th March 2017, the day after former FBI Director James Comey gave public testimony to the House Intelligence Committee

FBI Director James Comey for the first time on Monday confirmed to the House Intelligence Committee that the agency is investigating possible links between Russia and Mr Trump’s associates as part of a broader inquiry into Moscow’s interference in last year’s election.

He also disputed Mr Trump’s wiretapping claims.

“With respect to the president’s tweets about alleged wiretapping directed at him by the prior administration, I have no information that supports those tweets, and we have looked carefully inside the FBI,” he told the panel.

After Mr Trump’s tweets earlier this month, the New York Times quoted unnamed senior officials reporting that Mr Comey had said the claim was false and had asked the justice department to publicly reject it.

Mr Clapper said the intelligence agencies he had supervised did not wiretap Mr Trump last year, and nor did the FBI obtain a court order to monitor Mr Trump’s phones.

As intelligence director, he told NBC, he would have known about a “court order on something like this”.

This is a reference to the US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which can grant wiretaps on the grounds of national security.

Several senior Republicans have rejected the allegations after congressional committees looked into them.

Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Richard Burr said on 16 March there were “no indications” that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the US government either before or after Election Day 2016.

Earlier that day, House Speaker Paul Ryan also said “no such wiretap existed”.

And the previous day, House of Representatives Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes said: “We don’t have any evidence.”

“I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower,” he told a news conference.

“Are you going to take the tweets literally?” asked Rep Nunes. “If so, clearly the president was wrong.”

What about the Justice Department?

It hasn’t said yet. It has asked for more time to respond to the House Intelligence Committee’s request that it provide evidence.

But Mr Comey on Monday also said the justice department found no evidence to support the president’s allegations.

(bold italics added)

If US intelligence learnt of the Kushner-Kislyak conversation through electronic eavesdropping, then these denials were untrue, since the meeting between Kushner and Kislyak took place in Trump Tower, which must in that case have been bugged.

Perhaps the bugging was only temporary, and specifically targeted Kislyak, and perhaps Kushner’s and Flynn’s comments were picked up “incidentally”.  However if such bugging did take place, then even if it was only temporary, and even if it specifically targeted only Kislyak, some at least of the people who were denying that bugging of Trump Tower ever took place were lying, or at the very least they were being economical with the truth.

If so, then that would explain the need for a cover story.

Obviously this is speculation.  However – as I hope I have shown – it is speculation based on fact.

I would add that earlier denials that US citizens involved in the Trump campaign were placed under surveillance, and claims that their communications were only intercepted “incidentally”, have turned out to be untrue, with the revelation that a previously undisclosed FISA warrant was obtained during the election period authorising surveillance of Carter Page.

Perhaps those who say that Trump Tower was never bugged are telling the truth, and perhaps US intelligence obtained the details of the Kushner-Kislyak meeting some other way, possibly from an informant.

As things stand however, disclosure of US intelligence’s knowledge of the Kushner-Kislyak meeting, and the painstaking but unconvincing attempt to create a cover story to explain that fact, has re opened the question of whether Trump Tower was bugged, making that a question which now deserves to be revisited.

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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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