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Lavrov – Kerry agreement falls apart after only 10 days; Syrian war resumes

Failure of ceasefire leads to a resumption of the war, putting an end to agreement agreed by Lavrov and Kerry in Geneva on 9th September 2016.

Alexander Mercouris

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The Lavrov – Kerry agreement has collapsed.

The ceasefire the agreement was supposed to put in place has never come into effect.  The Jihadis – far from separating themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra as they were required by the Lavrov Kerry agreement to do – instead united with Jabhat Al-Nusra and have exploited the Syrian military’s temporary stand-down to launch more attacks on Aleppo.

Further east near Deir Ezzor the US air force attacked Syrian military positions defending the city’s airport, allowing a Syrian defence line to be overrun by ISIS fighters.  I have already explained why I do not believe that this attack was a mistake.

Perhaps not coincidentally, at a time when the US was on the diplomatic defensive over its air strike on Deir Ezzor, reports have appeared of an attack on a convoy providing relief supplies near Aleppo.

The US is accusing either the Russians or the Syrians of launching an air strike against this convoy.  The Russians and the Syrians deny this and are hinting that the convoy was not attacked by aircraft at all but was attacked by ground missiles launched by local Jihadi fighters.

Regardless of the truth about this incident, amidst a deteriorating military picture movement of all relief convoys across Syria has now been brought to a stop.

In light of the Jihadi attacks on their positions, the Syrian military – and implicitly the Russian air force – have now confirmed that they no longer consider the ceasefire to be in effect.  Though Lavrov and Kerry are meeting again the Kremlin has said that it has “little hope” of the ceasefire being revived.

This has been ill-starred agreement from the start.  To see why that was so, it is merely necessary to look at the negotiations that led up to it.

An agreement was supposedly reached between the Russians and the US in February, which required the US to arrange for Syrian opposition fighters to separate themselves from the two Jihadi terrorist groups – ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra – in return for a stop to attacks on them by the Russian air force and the Syrian military.

The agreement was never implemented.  The Syrian opposition fighters, instead of separating themselves from Jabhat Al-Nusra, joined with Jabhat Al-Nusra, and tried to exploit the cessation of attacks on them by the Russian air force and the Syrian military by launching a succession of offensives.

Reports began to circulate in April of a major Jihadi offensive being in preparation, with large numbers of military supplies being sent to the Jihadis via Turkey from their foreign sponsors amongst the Gulf Arab states.  A joint Jihadi headquarters was set up to manage this offensive, whose objective appears to have been the capture of Aleppo.

The US appears to have been involved in these preparations for an offensive, with US Secretary of State Kerry making threats in May that action would follow if the Russians did not submit to US demands for a “political transition” in Syria (ie. Assad’s removal) by 1st August 2016.  As the Moon of Alabama correctly reported, it is a virtual certainty these threats from Kerry referred to the ongoing preparations for the Jihadi offensive.

Kerry then had a succession of meetings with Lavrov and Putin in which he presented the Russians with his plan.  I discussed these meetings previously (see here and here).  All the indications are that the terms Kerry offered the Russians were a place in the US led coalition against ISIS in return for their agreement that President Assad should step down.  I said that these terms would be unacceptable to the Russians, and so it proved.

Whilst these negotiations were underway the fighting in Syria restarted.  By late July the Syrian military with Russian air support managed to recapture the Castello road north of Aleppo, encircling the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo. 

Simultaneously the major Jihadi offensive against Aleppo was launched, which attempted to storm the city through the Ramousseh district in the city’s south west. 

By mid August this Jihadi offensive had however been fought to standstill, allowing the Syrian military to go back on the offensive in the area to the south west of the city at the beginning of September, enabling it recapture the city’s Ramousseh district which the Jihadis had briefly captured at the start of their offensive.

In parallel with all this fighting the balance of the negotiations between the Russians and the US shifted again, with the Russians insisting on a return to what appeared to have been agreed in February – a US commitment to the separation of Syrian opposition fighters from Jabhat Al-Nusra.  Following intense negotiations between Lavrov and Kerry and Obama and Putin an agreement to that effect appeared to have been reached in Geneva on 9th September 2016.  That the agreement was however obviously unpopular with many people in Washington is shown by the fact that it took 9 hours for the US to commit itself to its terms, and by Washington’s insistence that its terms be kept secret. 

A further important indicator that the US was unhappy with the agreement is that US President Obama has never publicly committed himself to it.  He has not even publicly commented on it.  Instead he has maintained an ominous silence, and has gone to ground.

The unhappy story of how the Lavrov Kerry agreement was negotiated shows why it has now failed.  Quite simply the Russians and the US have – as my colleague Adam Garrie has previously said – fundamentally conflicting objectives in Syria, which make cooperation between them all but impossible.

The Russians want to defeat Jihadi terrorism in Syria and bring peace to the country.  The US remains obsessively focused on regime change.

Beyond this fundamental difference of objective, there also appears to be an inability of the two countries to understand each other. 

The Russian Foreign Ministry never seems quite able to accept that the US would rather see Syria destroyed and militant Jihadism let loose on the country rather than compromise on its objective of regime change there. 

One senses that the highly rational and realistic diplomats of the Russian Foreign Ministry find such nihilistic behaviour in the end incomprehensible, and can never quite bring themselves to believe that the US really does think and behave in this irrational way.

By contrast the US never seems quite able to accept that the Russians actually intervened in Syria because they were worried about the threat of violent Jihadi terrorism gaining hold there. 

Instead they attribute to the Russians all sorts of cynical ulterior motives – such as holding on to their base in Tartus or getting the US to treat them as equals – which the Russians have never expressed, and almost certainly do not have. 

They are therefore constantly baffled that whenever they make offers to the Russians that appear to satisfy these “real” motives they attribute to the Russians in return for the Russians agreeing to regime change, the Russians always say no.

The result is a series of negotiations between the US and the Russians in which the two sides negotiate at cross-purposes, failing to understand each other, so that they end up with agreements which cannot work.

The big question is what happens now.  Despite Jihadi gains around Aleppo on Monday – including the seizure of a part of the Castello road – I suspect that with the ceasefire over, and with the gloves off, the Syrian military backed by the Russians will quickly regain control of the situation.

If so then with the situation of the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo becoming increasingly desperate, the future will be decided by how far the US is prepared to go. 

I still think it is unlikely that the US is prepared to challenge the Russians head on in Syria by – for example – declaring a no fly zone there, or allowing the Turkish army to come to the rescue of the Jihadis in Aleppo.  Such steps would seriously risk an armed clash with the Russians, which I suspect neither the uniformed US military nor the US public in the last weeks of the election campaign would be prepared to countenance.  If that is right then the Syrian military will probably win its fight in Aleppo and should secure its control of the city over the next few weeks.

Unfortunately the fanatical language of some of the people in Washington means it is impossible to be sure of this.  If a decision is made to escalate then the halt in the movement of relief convoys  provides the pretext.  Once again the situation in Syria is plunged in uncertainty and has become dangerous.

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FBI recommended Michael Flynn not have lawyer present during interview, did not warn of false statement consequences

Flynn is scheduled to be sentenced on Dec. 18.

Washington Examiner

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Via The Washington Examiner…


Former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, who arranged the bureau’s interview with then-national security adviser Michael Flynn at the White House on Jan. 24, 2017 — the interview that ultimately led to Flynn’s guilty plea on one count of making false statements — suggested Flynn not have a lawyer present at the session, according to newly-filed court documents. In addition, FBI officials, along with the two agents who interviewed Flynn, decided specifically not to warn him that there would be penalties for making false statements because the agents wanted to ensure that Flynn was “relaxed” during the session.

The new information, drawn from McCabe’s account of events plus the FBI agents’ writeup of the interview — the so-called 302 report — is contained in a sentencing memo filed Tuesday by Flynn’s defense team.

Citing McCabe’s account, the sentencing memo says that shortly after noon on Jan. 24 — the fourth day of the new Trump administration — McCabe called Flynn on a secure phone in Flynn’s West Wing office. The two men discussed business briefly and then McCabe said that he “felt that we needed to have two of our agents sit down” with Flynn to discuss Flynn’s talks with Russian officials during the presidential transition.

McCabe, by his own account, urged Flynn to talk to the agents alone, without a lawyer present. “I explained that I thought the quickest way to get this done was to have a conversation between [Flynn] and the agents only,” McCabe wrote. “I further stated that if LTG Flynn wished to include anyone else in the meeting, like the White House counsel for instance, that I would need to involve the Department of Justice. [Flynn] stated that this would not be necessary and agreed to meet with the agents without any additional participants.”

Within two hours, the agents were in Flynn’s office. According to the 302 report quoted in the Flynn sentencing document, the agents said Flynn was “relaxed and jocular” and offered the agents “a little tour” of his part of the White House.

“The agents did not provide Gen. Flynn with a warning of the penalties for making a false statement under 18 U.S.C. 1001 before, during, or after the interview,” the Flynn memo says. According to the 302, before the interview, McCabe and other FBI officials “decided the agents would not warn Flynn that it was a crime to lie during an FBI interview because they wanted Flynn to be relaxed, and they were concerned that giving the warnings might adversely affect the rapport.”

The agents had, of course, seen transcripts of Flynn’s wiretapped conversations with Russian then-ambassador Sergey Kislyak. “Before the interview, FBI officials had also decided that if ‘Flynn said he did not remember something they knew he said, they would use the exact words Flynn used … to try to refresh his recollection. If Flynn still would not confirm what he said … they would not confront him or talk him through it,'” the Flynn memo says, citing the FBI 302.

“One of the agents reported that Gen. Flynn was ‘unguarded’ during the interview and ‘clearly saw the FBI agents as allies,'” the Flynn memo says, again citing the 302.

Later in the memo, Flynn’s lawyers argue that the FBI treated Flynn differently from two other Trump-Russia figures who have pleaded guilty to and been sentenced for making false statements. One of them, Alexander Van der Zwaan, “was represented by counsel during the interview; he was interviewed at a time when there was a publicly disclosed, full-bore investigation regarding Russian interference in the 2016 election; and he was given a warning that it is a federal crime to lie during the interview,” according to the memo. The other, George Papadopoulos, “was specifically notified of the seriousness of the investigation…was warned that lying to investigators was a ‘federal offense’…had time to reflect on his answers…and met with the FBI the following month for a further set of interviews, accompanied by his counsel, and did not correct his false statements.”

The message of the sentencing memo is clear: Flynn, his lawyers suggest, was surprised, rushed, not warned of the context or seriousness of the questioning, and discouraged from having a lawyer present.

That is all the sentencing document contains about the interview itself. In a footnote, Flynn’s lawyers noted that the government did not object to the quotations from the FBI 302 report.

In one striking detail, footnotes in the Flynn memo say the 302 report cited was dated Aug. 22, 2017 — nearly seven months after the Flynn interview. It is not clear why the report would be written so long after the interview itself.

The brief excerpts from the 302 used in the Flynn defense memo will likely spur more requests from Congress to see the original FBI documents. Both House and Senate investigating committees have demanded that the Justice Department allow them to see the Flynn 302, but have so far been refused.

In the memo, Flynn’s lawyers say that he made a “serious error in judgment” in the interview. Citing Flynn’s distinguished 30-plus year record of service in the U.S. Army, they ask the judge to go along with special counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn be spared any time in prison.

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Macron offers crumbs to protestors in bid to save his globalist agenda (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 36.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at French President Macron’s pathetic display of leadership as he offers protestors little in the way of concessions while at the same time promising to crack down hard on any and all citizens who resort to violence.

Meanwhile France’s economy is set for a deep recession as French output and production grinds to a halt.

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Via Zerohedge


As if Brussels didn’t have its hands full already with Italy and the UK, the European Union will soon be forced to rationalize why one of its favorite core members is allowed to pursue populist measures to blow out its budget deficit to ease domestic unrest while another is threatened with fines potentially amounting to billions of euros.

When blaming Russia failed to quell the widespread anger elicited by his policies, French President Emmanuel Macron tried to appease the increasingly violent “yellow vests” protesters who have sacked his capital city by offering massive tax cuts that could blow the French budget out beyond the 3% budget threshold outlined in the bloc’s fiscal rules.

Given the concessions recently offered by Italy’s populists, Macron’s couldn’t have picked a worse time to challenge the bloc’s fiscal conventions. As Bloomberg pointed out, these rules will almost certainly set the Continent’s second largest economy on a collision course with Brussels. To be clear, Macron’s offered cuts come with a price tag of about €11 billion according to Les Echos, and will leave the country with a budget gap of 3.5% of GDP in 2019, with one government official said the deficit may be higher than 3.6%.

By comparison, Italy’s initial projections put its deficit target at 2.4%, a number which Europe has repeatedly refused to consider.

Macron’s promises of fiscal stimulus – which come on top of his government’s decision to delay the planned gas-tax hikes that helped inspire the protests – were part of a broader ‘mea culpa’ offered by Macron in a speech Monday night, where he also planned to hike France’s minimum wage.

Of course, when Brussels inevitably objects, perhaps Macron could just show them this video of French police tossing a wheelchair-bound protester to the ground.

Already, the Italians are complaining.  Speaking on Tuesday, Italian cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti said Italy hasn’t breached the EU deficit limit. “I repeat that from the Italian government there is a reasonable approach, if there is one also from the EU a solution will be found.”

“France has several times breached the 3% deficit. Italy hasn’t done it. They are different situations. There are many indicators to assess.”

Still, as one Guardian columnist pointed out in an op-ed published Tuesday morning, the fact that the gilets jaunes (yellow vest) organizers managed to pressure Macron to cave and grant concessions after just 4 weeks of protests will only embolden them to push for even more radical demands: The collapse of the government of the supremely unpopular Macron.

Then again, with Brussels now facing certain accusations of hypocrisy, the fact that Macron was pressured into the exact same populist measures for which Italy has been slammed, the French fiasco raises the odds that Rome can pass any deficit measure it wants with the EU now forced to quietly look away even as it jawbones all the way from the bank (i.e., the German taxpayers).

“Macron’s spending will encourage Salvini and Di Maio,” said Giovanni Orsina, head of the School of Government at Rome’s Luiss-Guido Carli University. “Macron was supposed to be the spearhead of pro-European forces, if he himself is forced to challenge EU rules, Salvini and Di Maio will jump on that to push their contention that those rules are wrong.”

While we look forward to how Brussels will square this circle, markets are less excited.

Exhausted from lurching from one extreme to another following conflicting headlines, traders are already asking if “France is the new Italy.” The reason: the French OAT curve has bear steepened this morning with 10Y yields rising as much as ~6bp, with the Bund/OAT spread reaching the widest since May 2017 and the French presidential election. Though well below the peaks of last year, further widening would push the gap into levels reserved for heightened political risk.

As Bloomberg macro analyst Michael Read notes this morning, it’s hard to see a specific near-term trigger blowing out the Bund/OAT spread but the trend looks likely to slowly drift higher.

While Macron has to fight on both domestic and European fronts, he’ll need to keep peace at home to stay on top. Remember that we saw the 10Y spread widen to ~80bps around the May ’17 elections as concerns of a move toward the political fringe played out in the markets, and the French President’s popularity ratings already look far from rosy.

And just like that France may have solved the Italian crisis.

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Watch: Democrat Chuck Schumer shows his East Coast elitism on live TV

Amazing moment in which the President exhibits “transparency in government” and shows the world who the Democrat leaders really are.

Seraphim Hanisch

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One of the reasons Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency was because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – against Democrat policy decisions and “stupid government” in general.

One of the reasons President Donald Trump is reviled is because of his pugnacious, “in your face” character he presented – and promised TO present – in the American political scene.

In other words, there are two reactions to the same characteristic. On Tuesday, the President did something that probably cheered and delighted a great many Americans who witnessed this.

The Democrats have been unanimous in taking any chance to roast the President, or to call for his impeachment, or to incite violence against him. But Tuesday was President Trump’s turn. He invited the two Democrat leaders, presumptive incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, and then, he turned the cameras on:

As Tucker Carlson notes, the body language from Schumer was fury. The old (something)-eating grin covered up humiliation, embarrassment and probably no small amount of fear, as this whole incident was filmed and broadcast openly and transparently to the American public. Nancy Pelosi was similarly agitated, and she expressed it later after this humiliation on camera, saying, “It’s like a manhood thing for him… As if manhood could ever be associated with him.”

She didn’t stop there. According to a report from the New York Daily News, the Queen Bee took the rhetoric a step below even her sense of dignity:

Pelosi stressed she made clear to Trump there isn’t enough support in Congress for a wall and speculated the President is refusing to back down because he’s scared to run away with his tail between his legs.

“I was trying to be the mom. I can’t explain it to you. It was so wild,” Pelosi said of the Oval Office meet, which was also attended by Vice President Pence and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). “It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

This represented the first salvo in a major spin-job for the ultra-liberal San Francisco Democrat. The rhetoric spun by Mrs. Pelosi and Chuck Schumer was desperate as they tried to deflect their humiliation and place it back on the President:

With reporters still present, Trump boasted during the Oval meeting he would be “proud” to shutdown the government if Congress doesn’t earmark cash for his wall before a Dec. 21 spending deadline.

Pelosi told Democrats that Trump’s boisterousness will be beneficial for them.

“The fact is we did get him to say, to fully own that the shutdown was his,” Pelosi said. “That was an accomplishment.”

The press tried to characterize this as a “Trump Tantrum”, saying things like this lede:

While “discussing” a budgetary agreement for the government, President Donald Trump crossed his arms and declared: “we will shut down the government if there is no wall.”

While the Democrats and the mainstream media in the US are sure to largely buy these interpretations of the event, the fact that this matter was televised live shows that the matter was entirely different, and this will be discomfiting to all but those Democrats and Trump-dislikers that will not look at reality.

There appears to be a twofold accomplishment for the President in this confrontation:

  1. The President revealed to his support base the real nature of the conversation with the Democrat leadership, because anyone watching this broadcast (and later, video clip) saw it unedited with their own eyes. They witnessed the pettiness of both Democrats and they witnessed a President completely comfortable and confident about the situation.
  2. President Trump probably made many of his supporters cheer with the commitment to shut down the government if he doesn’t get his border wall funding. This cheering is for both the strength shown about getting the wall finished and the promise to shut the government down, and further, Mr. Trump’s assertion that he would be “proud” to shut the government down, taking complete ownership willingly, reflects a sentiment that many of his supporters share.

The usual pattern is for the media, Democrats and even some Republicans to create a “scare” narrative about government shutdowns, about how doing this is a sure-fire path to chaos and suffering for the United States.

But the educated understanding of how shutdowns work reveals something completely different. Vital services never close. However, National Parks can close partly or completely, and some non-essential government agencies are shuttered. While this is an inconvenience for the employees furloughed during the shutdown, they eventually are re-compensated for the time lost, and are likely to receive help during the shutdown period if they need it. The impact on the nation is minimal, aside from the fact that the government stops spending money at the same frenetic pace as usual.

President Trump’s expression of willingness to do this action and his singling out of the Dem leadership gives the Democrats a real problem. Now the entire country sees their nature. As President Trump is a populist, this visceral display of Democrat opposition and pettiness will make at least some impact on the population, even that group of people who are not Trump fans.

The media reaction and that of the Democrats here show, amazingly, that after three years-plus of Donald Trump being a thorn in their side, they still do not understand how he works, and they also cannot match it against their expected “norms” of establishment behavior.

This may be a brilliant masterstroke, and it also may be followed up by more. The President relishes head-to-head conflict. The reactions of these congress members showed who they really are.

Let the games begin.

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