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The Putin-Trump call: first move towards friendship?

Donald Trump acted with great skill and showed unexpected diplomatic mastery in his first conversation with Russia’s President.

Alexander Mercouris

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The single most important fact known for certain about US President Trump’s and Russian President Putin’s first telephone conversation, with took place yesterday Saturday 28th January 2017, is that it lasted for a whole hour.

That is an unusually long time for two busy leaders such Trump and Putin to spend talking to each other.  It shows that they not only took the call seriously but that they used it to discuss the full range of US-Russia relations, and – perhaps most important of all – to become acquainted with each other.

The last is important because both Trump and Putin are known to be individuals to whom trust and personal contact matter highly.

The importance of trust to both Trump and Putin was discussed in an interesting article by the British journalist Piers Morgan, who is a personal friend of Trump’s, who however has also obtained some unusual (for a British journalist) insight into Putin’s personality as a result of information given him to him about Putin by former US President Bill Clinton

Never break your word to him (Donald Trump -AM). Trump’s a very loyal guy, as I can personally attest. I’d bet very good money that if you keep your word to him, he will keep his to you. Remember, you don’t have to like him to do good business with him. Bill Clinton once told me that when he met with Vladimir Putin, they would eventually throw everyone else out of the room and go hard at each other until they reached points of agreement. Pertinently, Clinton said Putin never reneged on any of those personal agreements. His handshake was his bond. Trump is from that same old school of business dealings. And don’t gloat if you do get what you want tomorrow. Again, Clinton told me that the key aspect to his dealings with Putin was not to claim ‘victory’ or make him lose face back home in Russia. I would strongly recommend you adopt a similar philosophy with President Trump.

Piers Morgan is absolutely right in saying that Putin places an exceptionally high value on honest dealing and trust.  Anyone who has followed Putin’s career closely is aware of the exceptional importance of trust to him.  A key reason why Putin’s personal relationship with former US President Obama collapsed so completely was because – as a result of Obama’s record of broken promises – Putin decided he could no longer trust him.

The fact that someone like Piers Morgan who knows Trump well says that for Trump trust and honest dealing are equally important, is a good sign for Trump’s and Putin’s future relationship.

As for the contents of the first ever conversation between Trump and Putin, the Kremlin has provided an unusually detailed summary

Vladimir Putin congratulated Donald Trump on taking office and wished him every success in his work.

During the conversation, both sides expressed their readiness to make active joint efforts to stabilise and develop Russia-US cooperation on a constructive, equitable and mutually beneficial basis.

Mr Putin and Mr Trump had a detailed discussion of pressing international issues, including the fight against terrorism, the situation in the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, strategic stability and non-proliferation, the situation with Iran’s nuclear programme, and the Korean Peninsula issue. The discussion also touched upon the main aspects of the Ukrainian crisis. The sides agreed to build up partner cooperation in these and other areas.

The two leaders emphasised that joining efforts in fighting the main threat – international terrorism – is a top priority. The presidents spoke out for establishing real coordination of actions between Russia and the USA aimed at defeating ISIS and other terrorists groups in Syria.

The sides stressed the importance of rebuilding mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between the two counties’ business communities, which could give an additional impetus to progressive and sustainable development of bilateral relations.

Mr Putin and Mr Trump agreed to issue instructions to work out the possible date and venue for their meeting.

Donald Trump asked to convey his wishes of happiness and prosperity to the Russian people, saying that the American people have warm feelings towards Russia and its citizens.

Vladimir Putin, in turn, emphasised that the feeling is mutual, adding that for over two centuries Russia has supported the United States, was its ally during the two world wars, and now sees the United States as a major partner in fighting international terrorism.

The two leaders agreed to maintain regular personal contacts.

The conversation took place in a positive and constructive atmosphere.

The single most important words in this summary are those in the last few paragraphs.

Trump – most unusually for a US President – went out of his way to wish “happiness and prosperity to the Russian people” and to assure Putin that “the American people have warm feelings towards Russia and its citizens”.

That is exactly the right way to get on the right side of Putin, who has had to endure decades of criticism, abuse and lectures, not just of himself but also of Russia, from US and Western leaders.  Such warm words from a US President are not something Putin has been hearing recently, and he was clearly moved by them, as the warm way he reciprocated shows

Vladimir Putin, in turn, emphasised that the feeling is mutual, adding that for over two centuries Russia has supported the United States, was its ally during the two world wars, and now sees the United States as a major partner in fighting international terrorism

The reference to the “two centuries Russia has supported the United States” refers to Russia’s support to the American colonists during the American War of Independence, and to the US during the civil war.

Note that Putin also referred to Russia being the US’s ally during the two world wars, as opposed to saying that it was the US which had been Russia’s ally.

In other words, in response to Trump’s warm words about Russia and its people, Putin went out of his way to assure Trump that Russia wants to be the US’s friend, and its ally in the war against ISIS and Jihadi terrorism, as it was its ally in the world wars in the past.

The Kremlin summary ends with words once common in official summaries of diplomatic exchanges but which are rarely used today

The conversation took place in a positive and constructive atmosphere

That this was actually so is shown by the positive comments from US and Russian officials in the hours following the call.  As anyone who has worked in a government bureaucracy knows, officials quickly catch the mood of their chiefs, which percolate down the command chain at extraordinary speed.  The fact that officials in both the US and Russia were talking positively about the call in the hours immediately following it is the clearest possible sign that the conversation between the two Presidents went well.

The Kremlin’s summary of the call shows the range of subjects discussed: the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, the Iran nuclear deal, arms control, the crisis in the Korean Peninsula, and of course Ukraine.

Again Putin will have been gratified that a US President is finally talking to him in this way, discussing the full range of international questions with the President of Russia in a way that finally acknowledges Russia’s position as a Great Power.  After the bullying and condescension of the George W. Bush and Barack Obama eras, it will have come as both a relief and a pleasure.

The focus of the conversation was however clearly the putative alliance the US and Russia are forming to fight ISIS and Jihadi terrorism together.  Putin has been calling for this since his speech to the UN General Assembly in September 2015.  As recently as September 2016 the Kerry-Lavrov agreement appeared to have agreed this, only for the alliance to be sabotaged by the Pentagon and the hardliners in the Obama administration.  Now that the sabotage of these people is in the past, it appears that this alliance is actually finally happening.

On the subject of the sanctions the Kremlin’s summary of the Trump-Putin conversation has nothing to say, but it does contain an extended passage about a joint desire to develop economic and commercial relations which does indirectly touch on the question of the sanctions

The sides stressed the importance of rebuilding mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between the two countries’ business communities, which could give an additional impetus to progressive and sustainable development of bilateral relations.

Since he became US President Donald Trump’s closeness to the US oil industry has become increasingly clear, and Trump has of course picked Rex Tillerson – Exxon’s former CEO – as his choice for Secretary of State.

The US oil industry has an understandable interest in working with Russia – the world’s biggest energy producer – and that is probably where the initial contacts between “the two countries’ business communities” mentioned in the Kremlin summary will start.

The key point – which both Trump and Putin of course know – is that this cannot happen without the sanctions being lifted.  The fact that Trump and Putin talked about establishing “mutually beneficial trade and economic ties between the two countries’ business communities” therefore means that Trump is fully resolved to lift the sanctions as soon as he feels he can, even if for political reasons he cannot for the moment say so.

On the subject of the US-Russian trade relationship, Trump and Putin touched on another important point.  This is that – as many commentators on international affairs acknowledge – the almost complete lack of economic contacts between the US and Russia has up to now has been a major cause in the repeated failure of their political relationship.

Both men clearly understand this, and realise that it is the development of strong commercial and trade relations between the US and Russia which is needed in order to underpin their political relationship so as to make it both successful and permanent.  The wording of the Kremlin’s summary of their conversation (“the importance of rebuilding mutually beneficial trade and economic ties….which could give an additional impetus to progressive and sustainable development of bilateral relations”) shows this.

In summary, the conversation between Trump and Putin went well, as well indeed as could be expected.  As the Piers Morgan article shows, the two men have a great deal in common even if their personalities are in many ways very different.

The direction of the conversation also shows something else.  This is that Donald Trump has an understanding of human psychology, and possesses diplomatic skills, which few up to now have credited him with.  He seems to have conducted his conversation with Putin with great skill.  For the first time since he became Russia’s leader Putin appears to have a US President who appears to have diplomatic skills to match his own.

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US continues to try to corner Russia with silence on Nukes

Moscow continues to be patient in what appears to be an ever more lopsided, intentional stonewalling situation provoked by the Americans.

Seraphim Hanisch

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TASS reported on March 17th that despite Russian readiness to discuss the present problem of strategic weapons deployments and disarmament with its counterparts in the United States, the Americans have not offered Russia any proposals to conduct such talks.

The Kremlin has not yet received any particular proposals on the talks over issues of strategic stability and disarmament from Washington, Russian Presidential Spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TASS on Sunday when commenting on the statement made by US National Security Adviser John Bolton who did not rule out that such talks could be held with Russia and China.

“No intelligible proposals has been received [from the US] so far,” Peskov said.

Earlier Bolton said in an interview with radio host John Catsimatidis aired on Sunday that he considers it reasonable to include China in the negotiation on those issues with Russia as well.

“China is building up its nuclear capacity now. It’s one of the reasons why we’re looking at strengthening our national missile defense system here in the United States. And it’s one reason why, if we’re going to have another arms control negotiation, for example, with the Russians, it may make sense to include China in that discussion as well,” he said.

Mr. Bolton’s sense about this particular aspect of any arms discussions is correct, as China was not formerly a player in geopolitical affairs the way it is now. The now all-but-scrapped Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, or INF, was a treaty concluded by the US and the USSR leaders Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, back in 1987. However, for in succeeding decades, most notably since the fall of the Soviet Union, the US has been gradually building up weaponry in what appears to be an attempt to create a ring around the Russian Federation, a situation which is understandably increasingly untenable to the Russian government.

Both sides have accused one another of violating this treaty, and the mutual violations and recriminations on top of a host of other (largely fabricated) allegations against the Russian government’s activities led US President Donald Trump to announce his nation’s withdrawal from the treaty, formally suspending it on 1 February. Russian President Vladimir Putin followed suit by suspending it the very next day.

The INF eliminated all of both nations’ land based ballistic and cruise missiles that had a range between 500 and 1000 kilometers (310-620 miles) and also those that had ranges between 1000 and 5500 km (620-3420 miles) and their launchers.

This meant that basically all the missiles on both sides were withdrawn from Europe’s eastern regions – in fact, much, if not most, of Europe was missile-free as the result of this treaty. That is no longer the case today, and both nations’ accusations have provoked re-development of much more advanced systems than ever before, especially true considering the Russian progress into hypersonic and nuclear powered weapons that offer unlimited range.

This situation generates great concern in Europe, such that the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres called on both Moscow and Washington to salvage the INF and extend the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms, or the New START as it is known.

“I call on the parties to the INF Treaty to use the time remaining to engage in sincere dialogue on the various issues that have been raised. It is very important that this treaty is preserved,” Guterres said at a session of the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva on Monday.

He stressed that the demise of that accord would make the world more insecure and unstable, which “will be keenly felt in Europe.” “We simply cannot afford to return to the unrestrained nuclear competition of the darkest days of the Cold War,” he said.

Guterres also urged the US and Russia to extend the START Treaty, which expires in 2021, and explore the possibility of further reducing their nuclear arsenals. “I also call on the United States and the Russian Federation to extend the so-called New START Treaty before it expires in 2021,” he said.

The UN chief recalled that the treaty “is the only international legal instrument limiting the size of the world’s two largest nuclear arsenals” and that its inspection provisions “represent important confidence-building measures that benefit the entire world.”

Guterres recalled that the bilateral arms control process between Russia and the US “has been one of the hallmarks of international security for fifty years.”

“Thanks to their efforts, global stockpiles of nuclear weapons are now less than one-sixth of what they were in 1985,” the UN secretary-general pointed out.

The Treaty between the United States of America and the Russian Federation on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (the New START Treaty) entered into force on February 5, 2011. The document stipulates that seven years after its entry into effect each party should have no more than a total of 700 deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) and strategic bombers, as well as no more than 1,550 warheads on deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and strategic bombers, and a total of 800 deployed and non-deployed ICBM launchers, SLBM launchers and strategic bombers. The new START Treaty obliges the parties to exchange information on the number of warheads and carriers twice a year.

The new START Treaty will remain in force during 10 years until 2021, unless superseded by a subsequent agreement. It may be extended for a period of no more than five years (that is, until 2026) upon the parties’ mutual consent. Moscow has repeatedly called on Washington not to delay the issue of extending the Treaty.

 

 

 

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Trump witch hunt dots connected: CNN to Steele to John McCain (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 110.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss documents released which show that Christopher Steele admitted to using posts by ‘random individuals’ on the CNN community website ‘iReport’ in order to back up his fabricated Trump dossier.

President Trump took note of Steele’s use of CNN citizen journalist posts, in a twitter tirade that blasted the British ex-spy for running with unverified community generated content from a now now-defunct ‘iReports’ website as part of his research.

Trump the proceeded to rip into late neocon Arizona Senator John McCain, tweeting that it was “just proven in court papers” that “last in his class” McCain sent the Steele’s dossier to media outlets in the hopes that they would print it prior to the 2016 US election.

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Via The Daily Caller

A federal court unsealed 43 pages Thursday of a deposition that former British spy Christopher Steele gave as part of a lawsuit over his infamous anti-Trump dossier.

To the disappointment of many observers, the full deposition was not unsealed in Thursday’s motion. Instead, portions of Steele’s interview, which he gave in London on July 13, 2018, were unsealed in separate court filings submitted in the lawsuit.

Steele’s full deposition totaled 145 pages. The portions published Thursday focus mainly on questions about the dossier’s claims about Aleksej Gubarev, a tech executive who Steele alleges took part in the hacking of Democrats’ computer systems.

Gubarev has vehemently denied the claim and sued Steele and BuzzFeed News, which published the dossier on Jan. 10, 2017.

U.S. District Court Judge Ursula Ungaro, who handled the lawsuit, ordered a slew of previously sealed documents to be made public Thursday. Ungaro dismissed the lawsuit on Dec. 19 but did not weigh in on whether the dossier’s claims about Gubarev were accurate.

It is unclear whether Steele’s entire deposition will be released. A source familiar with Steele’s interview tempered expectations of any bombshells in the document, saying that Steele avoided going into detail about his efforts to create the dossier and his sources.

A deposition given by former State Department official David Kramer was perhaps the most enlightening document contained in the dump.

Kramer, a longtime associate of late Arizona Sen. John McCain, was BuzzFeed’s source for the dossier. Kramer shared the dossier with at least 11 other reporters, including CNN’s Carl Bernstein. (RELATED: John McCain Associate Gave Dossier To A Dozen Reporters)

Kramer obtained the dossier in late November 2016 after visiting Steele in London. Steele acknowledged that Kramer and McCain were picked as conduits to pass the dossier to then-FBI Director James Comey. McCain met with Comey on Dec. 9, 2016 and provided all of the dossier’s memos that had been written up to that point.

“I think they felt a senior Republican was better to be the recipient of this rather than a Democrat because if it were a Democrat, I think that the view was that it would have been dismissed as a political attack,” Kramer said in the deposition when asked why Steele and his business partners at Fusion GPS wanted McCain to meet with Comey.

Via Washington Examiner

Former British spy Christopher Steele admitted that he relied on an unverified report on a CNN website for part of the “Trump dossier,” which was used as a basis for the FBI’s investigation into Trump.

According to deposition transcripts released this week, Steele said last year he used a 2009 report he found on CNN’s iReport website and said he wasn’t aware that submissions to that site are posted by members of the public and are not checked for accuracy.

web archive from July 29, 2009 shows that CNN described the site in this manner: “iReport.com is a user-generated site. That means the stories submitted by users are not edited, fact-checked, or screened before they post.”

In the dossier, Steele, a Cambridge-educated former MI6 officer, wrote about extensive allegations against Donald Trump, associates of his campaign, various Russians and other foreign nationals, and a variety of companies — including one called Webzilla. Those allegations would become part of an FBI investigation and would be used to apply for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

During his deposition, Steele was pressed on the methods he used to verify allegations made about Webzilla, which was thought to be used by Russia to hack into Democratic emails.

When asked if he discovered “anything of relevance concerning Webzilla” during the verification process, Steele replied: “We did. It was an article I have got here which was posted on July 28, 2009, on something called CNN iReport.”

“I do not have any particular knowledge of that,” Steele said when asked what was his understanding of how the iReport website worked.

When asked if he understood that content on the site was not generated by CNN reporters, he said, “I do not.” He was then asked: “Do you understand that they have no connection to any CNN reporters?” Steele replied, “I do not.”

He was pressed on this further: “Do you understand that CNN iReports are or were nothing more than any random individuals’ assertions on the Internet?” Steele replied: “No, I obviously presume that if it is on a CNN site that it may has some kind of CNN status. Albeit that it may be an independent person posting on the site.”

When asked about his methodology for searching for this information, Steele described it as “what we could call an open source search,” which he defined as “where you go into the Internet and you access material that is available on the Internet that is of relevance or reference to the issue at hand or the person under consideration.”

Steele said his dossier contained “raw intelligence” that he admitted could contain untrue or even “deliberately false information.”

Steele was hired by the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to investigate then-candidate Donald Trump in 2016. Fusion GPS was receiving funding at the time from the Clinton campaign and the DNC through the Perkins Coie law firm.

The series of memos that Steele would eventually compile became known as the “Trump Dossier.” The dossier was used in FISA applications to surveil Trump campaign associate Carter Page.

When asked whether he warned Fusion GPS that the information in the dossier might be “Russian disinformation,” Steele admitted that “a general understanding existed between us and Fusion … that all material contained this risk.”

Steele also described his interactions with Sen. John McCain’s aide, David Kramer, whose own deposition showed that he provided BuzzFeed with a copy of the dossier and had spoken with more than a dozen journalists about it.

“I provided copies of the December memo to Fusion GPS for onward passage to David Kramer at the request of Sen. John McCain,” Steele said. “Sen. McCain nominated him as the intermediary. I did not choose him as the intermediary.”

When asked if he told Kramer that he couldn’t “vouch for everything that was produced in the memos,” Steele replied, “Yes, with an emphasis on ‘everything.'”

When asked why he believed it was so important to provide the dossier to Sen. McCain, Steele said: “Because I judged it had national security implications for the United States and the West as a whole.”

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Trudeau’s Top Bureaucrat Unexpectedly Quits Amid Growing Corruption Scandal

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

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Via Zerohedge


Since it was exposed by a report in Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper earlier this month, the scandal that’s become known as the SNC-Lavalin affair has already led to the firing of several of Trudeau’s close advisors and raised serious questions about whether the prime minister was complicit in pressuring the attorney general to offer a deferred prosecution agreement with a large, Quebec-based engineering firm.

And according to the first round of polls released since the affair exploded into public view…

…it could cost Trudeau his position as prime minister and return control to the conservatives, according to the CBC.

Campaign Research showed the Conservatives ahead with 37% to 32% for the Liberals, while both Ipsos and Léger put the margin at 36% to 34% in the Conservatives’ favour.Since December, when both polling firms were last in the field, the Liberals have lost one point in Campaign Research’s polling and four percentage points in the Ipsos poll, while the party is down five points since November in the Léger poll.

Meanwhile, as the noose tightens around Trudeau, on Monday another of the key Canadian government officials at the center of the SNC-Lavalin scandal has quit his post.

Michael Wernick, clerk of the privy council, the highest-ranking position in Canada’s civil service and a key aide to Justin Trudeau, announced his retirement Monday. Trudeau named Ian Shugart, currently deputy minister of foreign affairs, to replace him.

In a scathing letter to Trudeau, Wernick said that “recent events” led him to conclude he couldn’t hold his post during the election campaign this fall.

“It is now apparent that there is no path for me to have a relationship of mutual trust and respect with the leaders of the opposition parties,” he said, citing the need for impartiality on the issue of potential foreign interference. According to Bloomberg, the exact date of his departure is unclear.

As we reported in February, Canada’s former justice minister and attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, quit following allegations that several key Trudeau government figures pressured her to intervene to end a criminal prosecution against Montreal-based construction giant SNC. Wernick was among those she named in saying the prime minister’s office wanted her to pursue a negotiated settlement.

Wernick has since twice spoken to a committee of lawmakers investigating the case, and during that testimony both defended his actions on the SNC file and warned about the risk of foreign election interference, as “blame Putin” has become traditional Plan B plan for most politicians seeing their careers go up in flames.

“I’m deeply concerned about my country right now, its politics and where it’s headed. I worry about foreign interference in the upcoming election,” he said in his first appearance before the House of Commons justice committee, before repeating the warning a second time this month. “If that was seen as alarmist, so be it. I was pulling the alarm. We need a public debate about foreign interference.”

Because somehow foreign interference has something to do with Wenick’s alleged corruption.

Incidentally, as we wonder what the real reason is behind Wernick’s swift departure, we are confident we will know soon enough.

Anyway, back to the now former clerk, who is meant to be non-partisan in service of the government of the day, also criticized comments by a Conservative senator and praised one of Trudeau’s cabinet ministers.

Wernick’s testimony was criticized as overly cozy with the ruling Liberals. Murray Rankin, a New Democratic Party lawmaker, asked the clerk how lawmakers could “do anything but conclude that you have in fact crossed the line into partisan activity?” Green Party Leader Elizabeth May said he seemed “willing to interfere in partisan fashion for whoever is in power.”

Whatever Wernick’s true motives, he is the latest but not last in what will be a long line of cabinet departures as the SNC scandal exposes even more corruption in Trudeau’s cabinet (some have ironically pointed out that Canada’s “beloved” prime minister could be gone for actual corruption long before Trump). Trudeau had already lost a top political aide, Gerald Butts, to the scandal. A second minister, Jane Philpott, followed Wilson-Raybould in quitting cabinet.

Separately, on Monday, Trudeau appointed a former deputy prime minister in a Liberal government, Anne McLellan, as a special adviser to investigate some of the legal questions raised by the controversy. They include how governments should interact with the attorney general and whether that role should continue to be held by the justice minister.

As Bloomberg notes, the increasingly shaky Liberal government hasn’t ruled out helping SNC by ordering a deferred prosecution agreement in the corruption and bribery case, which centers around the company’s work in Moammar Qaddafi’s Libya. Doing so would allow the company to pay a fine and avoid any ban on receiving government contracts. That decision is up to the current attorney general, David Lametti; of course, such an action would only raise tensions amid speculation that the government is pushing for a specific political, and favorable for Trudeau, outcome.

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