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Syria on brink of final victory in Aleppo

With Jihadi counter offensives crushed, the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo trapped, and the US out of options, the Syrian government backed by Russia is on the brink of winning ‘the Great Battle of Aleppo’ and restoring its full control over Syria’s biggest city.

Alexander Mercouris

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Whilst all the attention is focused on the diplomacy, the fighting in Aleppo progresses steadily towards what is now starting to look like an inevitable government victory.

A review of the key events in the ‘Great Battle of Aleppo’ – likely to be the decisive battle in the Syrian war – is in order. 

At the time of the start of the Russian intervention a year ago, Aleppo – which contrary to what the Western media says is mainly government controlled and overwhelmingly loyal to the government – had become almost completely surrounded by the Jihadi rebels who in 2012 had managed to capture its eastern suburbs.

The key to the crisis the government faced in Aleppo was the Jihadi capture in March 2015 of the provincial capital and most of the western province of Idlib. 

This enabled the Jihadis to threaten the government’s heartland of Latakia, and put them in a position where they could threaten the roads linking Aleppo to the government controlled areas in the south.  At the time of the Russians’ arrival the roads to the south of Aleppo had been cut, so that Aleppo could only be resupplied by air through the airport, which remained under government control.

In the months that followed the arrival of the Russians in September 2015, Russian air support enabled the Syrian army to take the offensive. 

By the time of the first ‘cessation of hostilities’ agreement in February of this year the roads leading to Aleppo from the south had been reopened.  The Jihadis in eastern Aleppo however still retained control of the Castello road to the north of the city so that their supply routes to Turkey were still open.

It is now clear that both sides used the period following the ‘cessation of hostilities’ agreement in February to resupply and reorganise. 

On the part of the US and its allies this involved combining the various Jihadi groups (including Jabhat Al-Nusra) and putting them under the command of a single headquarters (or “operations room”) whilst resupplying them with weapons including it seems heavy weapons such as tanks and artillery, allegedly drawn from ex-Libyan army stocks. 

Though the objective of this planned offensive was (naturally) never made public, it is clear that it was aimed at capturing (or “liberating”) Aleppo. 

Presumably if Aleppo had been captured an alternative Syrian government would have been set up there, which the US, the European powers, Turkey, and the Arab states of the Gulf, would have recognised as Syria’s true or legitimate government. 

With President Assad having lost control of what was once Syria’s largest city, and the area under the control of his government reduced to Damascus and a belt of territory to its north, that would have made the demand for his removal almost irresistible.

By May US Secretary of State Kerry was issuing threats that the Russians only had until August to agree to a “political transition” in Syria (ie. President Assad’s removal from office).  Though what would happen in August if this did not happen Kerry left unsaid, with hindsight it is clear that it was the Jihadi offensive that was in preparation that he had in mind.

As previously discussed by The Duran (see here and here) Kerry followed up this threat with negotiations with the Russians in which he appears to have offered the Russsians a junior place in the US coalition against ISIS in return for their agreement to President Assad’s removal from power. 

In the event the Russians rejected this offer, whose acceptance would have contradicted the fundamental principles of their whole foreign policy.

Before the Jihadis were in a position to start their offensive, the Syrian government and the Russians got their blow in first. 

Further advances by the Syrian army backed by the Russian air force resulted in the capture in July of the Castello road, cutting off the supply route to the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo from Turkey, and encircling them.

The result was that when the Jihadi offensive against Aleppo finally got started at the end of July it found the Syrian military and the Russians prepared and waiting for them. 

As a result, though the Jihadis were briefly able at the start of their offensive in August to punch a hole through the government lines by capturing the territory of what is sometimes called ‘the Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district in Aleppo’s south western suburbs, their offensive – as The Duran predicted – quickly stalled, causing the Jihadis to suffer heavy losses at the hands of the Syrian army and the Russian air force. 

By the beginning of September the Jihadi force attacking Aleppo from the south west had spent itself, allowing the Syrian army – apparently with help from Russian Special Forces – to recapture the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district, thereby plugging the hole the Jihadis had punched through the government’s lines at the start of their offensive in August.

In passing I would say that this particular episode casts an interesting light over Western media coverage of the war. 

The brief Jihadi capture of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district were widely trumpeted by the Western media as a great victory in banner headlines that appeared on the front pages of Western newspapers.  There was much breathless talk of how ‘the siege of Aleppo’ had been “broken”, and of how this would open the way to the capture or “liberation” of the government controlled area of Aleppo.

The Western media has by contrast barely reported the Syrian army’s recapture of the grounds of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district in September.  It would require very close reading of Western news reports to know it had happened. 

Less observant watchers of the Syrian war who take all their news from the Western media might be confused why a siege which was ‘broken’ in August is intact now.

Whilst the fighting continued around Aleppo, the diplomacy continued as well. 

The failure of the Jihadi offensive in August led to the US proposing a new plan whereby the Syrian military would withdraw from the Castello road purportedly to allow the movement of humanitarian convoys into the city. 

This was first proposed at a time when the Jihadis were still in control of the territory of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district and were thus in a position to threaten Aleppo’s communications to the government controlled areas to the south. 

The inducement the US this time offered the Russians was a US offer of joint operations against Al-Qaeda’s Syrian branch Jabhat Al-Nusra.

As discussed before, this plan – had it ever been accepted – would have put the government’s communications and supply routes to Aleppo at grave risk, threatening its control of the city in the event of the (inevitable) collapse of the ceasefire. 

Unsurprisingly the Russians proved unreceptive to this plan, especially as they probably always doubted that the US would act on its offer of joint operations against Jabhat Al-Nusra – all the more so since Jabhat Al-Nusra actually constitutes the bulk of the Jihadi forces fighting the Syrian government in and around Aleppo. 

By the time the plan was formally presented by Obama to Putin at the G20 summit in Hangzhou the whole premise of the plan had however collapsed following the Syrian army’s recapture of the territory of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and of the Ramousseh district, securing the government’s supply lines to Aleppo from the south. 

The result was that the meeting between Obama and Putin at the G20 summit ended in acrimony, with the US accusing the Russians of supposedly “backtracking” on things that had already been agreed upon (almost certainly this reflects US anger at the Syrian army’s recapture of the territory of the ‘Aleppo artillery base’ and the Ramousseh district).

Following the defeat of the Jihadi offensive against south west Aleppo at the beginning of September, and the conclusive completion of the encirclement of the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo, their fate was in all practical terms sealed.

The ceasefire plan that subsequently emerged was an attempt by the more realistically minded officials in Washington – who presumably include Obama and Kerry – to save the Jihadi fighters in eastern Aleppo and to preserve them as a coherent fighting force by getting the Russians to agree to their withdrawal from eastern Aleppo via the Castello road

Though the opening of the Castello road as part of this ceasefire plan was presented as intended to make possible the delivery of humanitarian supplies to eastern Aleppo, in reality the agreement quite clearly refers to the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters together with their equipment from eastern Aleppo by way of the Castello road.  The relevant term of the agreement reads as follows:

“Any Syrians can leave Aleppo via Castello Road, including armed opposition forces with their weapons, with the understanding that no harm will come to them and they can choose their destination. Opposition forces leaving Aleppo with weapons must coordinate ahead of time with UN representatives as to the time they will be using Castello Road and the number of personnel and weapons and military equipment departing.”

(bold italics added)

The ceasefire ultimately collapsed because the hardliners in Washington and the Jihadis on the ground in Syria could not in the end bring themselves to accept the surrender of eastern Aleppo to the government by agreeing to the withdrawal of Jihadi fighters from eastern Aleppo by way of the Castello road. 

The loss of a Jihadi presence in Syria’s biggest city – and with it the loss of any realistic prospect of the city’s eventual capture – would end the possibility of setting up an alternative government in Aleppo, and with it any realistic prospect of achieving regime change in Syria. 

Though there is now some talk of setting up an alternative government in Turkish controlled Jarablus, doing so in a small town on the Turkish border under the protection of the Turkish army five years after the war started is not a viable alternative, and cannot compare with the setting up of such a government in a Jihadi “liberated” Aleppo.

Since the surrender of eastern Aleppo means the abandonment of any realistic possibility of achieving regime change in Syria, the proposal to do so encountered bitter resistance from the hardliners in Washington and from the Jihadis on the ground in Syria.  That is why the ceasefire plan in the end failed.

The problem is that having ruled out a withdrawal from Aleppo the hardliners have no realistic alternative to offer. 

The Russians have made clear since the collapse of the ceasefire that any idea of sending ‘humanitarian supplies’ into eastern Aleppo via the Castello road must now be abandoned, ending any hope of the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo being resupplied by that route.

Russian troops are apparently still located there, whilst the collapse of the ceasefire means that Syrian troops, who had briefly withdrawn from there, have reoccupied their former positions there, and are indeed carrying out further advances in the area.  That means that the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo can no longer obtain reinforcements or fresh supplies by way of the Castello road.  

Since the Castello road was the last remaining resupply route of the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo, that means they can no longer receive reinforcements or fresh supplies, and are reduced to trying to hold off the attacks of the Syrian army with only what they have.  By contrast the Syrian troops pressing in on them from the north and south can be resupplied and reinforced continuously, which is what is apparently actually happening.

The result of all of this, with the ceasefire having collapsed and with the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo trapped and facing defeat, is that the US is left thrashing around looking for something it can do.

There is again talk of supplying Jihadi troops, presumably in the area around Aleppo, with shoulder held surface to air missiles (‘MANPADS’) (the Saker has explained why this would not be effective) and of the US pulling out of negotiations with the Russians (it is not obvious why the US thinks that would scare or impress the Russians) but the truth is that with a head on clash with the Russian military in Syria categorically ruled out by the US military, the US has no real cards left to play.

This is the reason for all the overblown rhetoric of Russian “barbarism”, of Russia becoming a “pariah nation”, of the death threats against Russian servicemen and civilians in Syria and elsewhere, of the talk of the US bombing of Syrian military bases in eastern Syria (this clearly refers to Deir Ezzor), and of the hints of imposing further sanctions (“coercive measures”) on Russia (a non-starter), and of expelling Russia from the UN Security Council or diluting its power of veto there (ditto). 

In the absence of any viable alternative strategy this talk is intended to embarrass or scare the Russians into calling a stop on the Syrian military’s offensive in Aleppo, or – if that doesn’t work – in concealing behind a smokescreen of angry words the extent of the US’s humiliation in Aleppo .  The Russians however are obviously unimpressed and are paying no attention, and are pressing on.

None of this talk can change the military situation in Aleppo.  Though the Jihadis in eastern Aleppo are – as is to be expected – putting up a fierce fight, as they are now cut off from any hope of reinforcement or resupply in what continues to be a battle of attrition, their strength every day dwindles.  The result is that with every day that passes news comes of further Syrian army advances in the city

Unless the Jihadis’ foreign sponsors are prepared to escalate beyond anything we have seen up to now – which since it would risk a head on clash with the Russians seems very unlikely – the eventual outcome of the fighting in Aleppo is no longer in doubt.

The Syrian army’s eventual recapture of eastern Aleppo would not end the war in Syria. 

Jabhat Al-Nusra would still be in control of Idlib province.  ISIS would still be in control of Raqqah and of much of the desert region in Syria’s east.  In addition the Turkish military has been busy over the last few weeks carving out its “safe zone” for the Jihadis in north east Syria. 

It is not impossible – indeed it is highly likely – that the fall-back plan is to regroup the Jihadi forces in this Turkish controlled “safe zone” so as to launch fresh attacks on Aleppo from there in the future. 

Another option apparently once again being discussed is the old one of partitioning Syria by carving out a Sunni Jihadi state in eastern Syria.

In my opinion neither of these options is realistic or sustainable over the long term.

Having failed in the course of four years of war to capture the whole of Aleppo before the Russians arrived, and having been comprehensively defeated there since, I cannot see the Jihadis succeeding in capturing Aleppo in the future against a revitalised Syrian army that has the backing of Russia.

Nor do I think it sustainable to preserve indefinitely what would in effect be Jihadi emirates in poor peripheral regions of Syria like Idlib or Raqqah, or in a Turkish occupied “safe zone” in north east Syria, against the opposition of Syria, Iran, Iraq, the Kurdish militia, and Russia.  Not only would that be politically difficult, but with the Syrian government securely in control of Damascus and Aleppo, and with regime change in Syria definitely off the agenda, there would seem to be no point in doing so.  

In saying this I should say that I know of the talk of Western plans to build pipelines from Qatar to Europe through this area in order to bypasss Russia.  However I cannot imagine that happening whilst this area remains a fought over contested zone, which with neither the Syrian government in Damascus nor the Kurds accepting the existence of these emirates is what it would be. 

Moreover following the capture of eastern Aleppo the Syrian government’s priority is likely to be the recapture of Idlib.  Though Idlib is in difficult country and will doubtless be fanatically defended (as Raqqah will be) the US can no more prevent its recapture by the Syrian army than it can prevent the Syrian army backed by Russia from recapturing eastern Aleppo.

If the Syrian army recaptures Idlib after it recaptures Aleppo then the Syrian government will have finally secured control of the whole of Syria’s populous western regions, all its main cities, and of its Mediterranean coast.  At that point the preservation of the remaining pockets of Jihadi control in the poor and unpopulated areas of eastern Syria would seem to have even less point.

It is unwise to underestimate the fanaticism and bloody-mindedness of some people in Washington.  Unfortunately that always leaves open the possibility of some sort of dramatic escalation in Syria.  However with the Syrian army close to winning ‘the Great Battle of Aleppo’ it is increasingly looking as if Syria has finally turned the corner.

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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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