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Trump goes on a selling spree while Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman goes on a purging spree

There is a connection between Trump’s Asia visit and the Saudi purges. The trouble is that both sides are employing their best poker faces.

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Donald Trump’s trip to Asia, has thus far gone according to plan. During his stops in Japan and South Korea, Trump has predictably angered North Korea, but has done so in a manner that appears to be more of a weapons sales pitch to Japan and South Korea, than anything else.

Like his previous visit to Saudi Arabia, Trump’a visit to Asia is amounting to little more than a sales pitch for the US arms industry, with a cheesy photo-op with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe as a meaningless souvenir to encapsulate a geo-politically irrelevant visit.

But while Trump is busy selling his country’s military hardware to Asia, media attention has rightly been focused on the far more dynamic developments in the Middle East, namely the Saudi Purge and the related forced resignation of the Lebanese Prime Minsiter Saad Hariri.

As geopolitical expert Andrew Korbyko wrote, the purges in Saudi Arabia, led by Crown Prince and de-facto ruler Muhammad bin Salman, amount to a swamp draining endeavour that vastly eclipses anything Donald Trump sought to do, let alone that which he has been able to accomplish.

Mohammed Bin Salman: The Unlikely Anti-Oligarchic Bolshevik?

The next logical question is therefore: what is Donald Trump’s position on Muhammad bin Salman’s ‘great purge’?

On the surface, Trump is blissfully ignorant of the events in Saudi, while meeting with allies, plus the Chinese leadership, on the other side of the world.

But this raises the next even more pressing question: is the timing of the great Saudi purge because of or in spite of Donald Trump’s prolonged absence from the United States, his longest to-date as President? 

In late October, Rex Tillerson visited Muhammad bin Salman and Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Riyadh. The meeting was a failure by most accounts. The summit was supposed to reconcile the Shi’a leadership of Iraq with the Sunni Wahhabi Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but far from doing that, Tillerson’s admonition to Iraq demanding Baghdad “send Iranian troops home” was met with a furious response from the Iraqi government.

Iraq REJECTS US demands to expel Iranian military advisers from the country

While Tillerson had private discussions with the Saudi leadership, it is not clear what they entailed. It is well known that the CIA and many other elements of the US deep state are displeased with the behaviour of Muhammad bin Salman (MBS), favouring instead the old ‘status quo man’, former Crown Prince Muhammad bin Nayef.

The US administration’s view on MBS is less clear. What seems self-evident though is that many in the US take a cautious view of MBS’ penchant for rocking the boat. The fact that Wall Street darling Prince Alwaleed bin Talal has been arrested as part of the purges, has certainly led to protracted nail biting in Washington and New York.

Furthermore, MBS’ apparent orchestration of the country’s pivot towards Russia and China, while still embryonic, cannot sit well with many in the US.

Saudi Crown Price Mohammad bin Salman calls for “moderate Islam” in the Wahhabi Kingdom

In many ways, if one were to assume that the US is sceptical about the ‘MBS revolution’, this would be the best time to execute it. Donald Trump is away from his seat power and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s authority seems to be declining by the day. Meanwhile, the triumvirate of generals who many say hold the real power in Washington, Defense Secretary Mattis, National Security Advisor McMaster and Chief of White House Staff Kelly, seem poorly positioned to take a real stance on the Saudi problem. This is true for several reasons.

First of all, the generals appear more keen on making ‘yes or no’ decisions than on making highly complex diplomatic moves. Questions like ‘do we invade North Korea: yes or no?…seem to be the kinds of issue where the generals wield veto power over the civilians in the White House.

Secondly, if the US opposes the MBS led purge, what is to be done? The US could ask MBS to stop, but unless Trump can be distracted from his Asian trip to make such a make-or-break phone call, this seems unlikely, not least because the US would be showing its cards to the ‘new’ Saudi regime fairly early in the game, something which could cause MBS to pivot his diplomatic contacts even further towards China and Russia.

Of course, the CIA could get involved and put an end to the ‘revolution’ in one way or another, but this would lead to nothing short of a open calamity in America’s closet Arab ally. With Donald Trump set to visit China in the coming days, there is nothing that would show American weakness in front of China more than a fully blown, CIA led palace coup in Saudi Arabia.

Even if the US were to spin a CIA intervention into Saudi as a victory, in the style of the US military intervention in Lebanon in 1958, China would see it differently. For China, the US “losing control” of its close ally and resorting to a kind of counter-revolutionary regime change, would feed the Chinese stereotype (which happens to be true), that the US barks loudly and when it  bites, it bites unevenly, arbitrarily and most important, in an ugly fashion.

The other option is to wait and handle the Saudi crisis when Trump is back in Washington. But with Trump’s Asia visit on its second full day of a nearly 2 week trip, the Saudi purge could well be consolidated by the time the US President is back on US soil.

This leaves only two logical interpretations for the US position on the Saudi purge:

1. Muhammad bin Salman struck while the US President was on a long trip and distracted by other matters, knowing that the US would not be able to as effectively oppose the purges with Trump away. 

2. Donald Trump himself wanted to obfuscate responsibility for the matter and had Rex Tilleron secretly demonstrate America’s approval of the move, so long as it was done while Trump had a convenient excuse not to deal with it.

Conclusion: 

Many who support the second theory, tend to state that Donald Trump’s personal dislike of the Saudi regime as expressed during his campaign and his dislike of the now arrested Alwaleed bin Talal moreover, means that he is secretly pleased with the purges. This may well be true and certainly must be ruled in as a possibility. However, since becoming President, his relations with Riyadh have been hailed by both sides as incredibly good. Trump meanwhile has not radically realigned the position of the US diplomatically as expected. Apart from angering Russia and China even more than Barack Obama (in many respects), little has changed apart from the schism with the EU over Iran, something which Trump himself stated will not lead to the US and EU changing the overall nature of their relations.

Even Trump’s passive Tweets in favour of Saudi King Salman and Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman, read more like a passive statement of aloof approval, rather than a concerted attempt to engage in the situation. The Tweets stink of an ex-post-facto attempt to not appear to be left out the loop, even though, Trump may be more left out of the loop than he lets on. The more Trump approves, the more it means he has no option but to approve, it crucially does not mean the US government would have approved of the purges beforehand.

I happen to think that the US has merely been blind-sighted by a Saudi regime that they are still willing to placate, even at this hour. The US may only pounce on Riyadh when it is too late–after the purges have been effectively executed to their logical conclusion. How that would-be pounce manifests itself could still however, cause harm to stability in Saudi. At such a stage, it would be a matter of merely working with reality and decided whether to tempt the MBS regime with carrots or try to undermine it with sticks, knowing full well that such sticks will only cause MBS to grow more attracted to long term partnerships with Russia and China who are ready, willing and able to provide such a thing.

It’s helpful to remember that the US seemed equally blindsided by the eruption of the Qatar crisis in June of 2017, when Trump eventually Tweeted his support for Riyadh while the State Department remained neutral.

With Trump away and with Tillerson inclined towards moderation anyway, it appears that the ultimate conclusion the US has drawn at this stage can be summarised as: “when in doubt, do nothing”. This is exactly what the US has done, thus far.

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit plan continues to fail, as EU now pushing for UK to leave (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 138.

Alex Christoforou

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Theresa May’s soft Brexit strategy has been such a monumental failure that even Brussels negotiators are now pushing for the UK to simply leave the union, in what has becoming a British debacle, and a thorn in the Conservative Party’s side.

Many media pundits and analysts are now asking if the latest impasse in Brexit talks means that we are indeed seeing the last days of Theresa May?

While much of the mess the Conservative Party finds themselves in because of Brexit is squarely Theresa May’s fault, much of the damage done by May’s inability to close the deal on Brexit will not go away, even if she does.

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss Theresa May’s continued failure to obtain her soft Brexit dream, placing herself (and her Conservative Party) in such an embarrassing position, that European Union negotiators, tired of never ending talks, are eager to see Britain go away, in what will be an inevitable hard Brexit.

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“Are these the last days of Theresa May?”, authored by Stephen Bush via The New Statesman:


Are these the last days of Theresa May? This morning’s papers are full of stories of plots and ultimatums to the Prime Minister unless she changes her Brexit strategy, whether from her Scottish MPs over any extension of the transition period due to concerns over fisheries policy, from her Brexiteer MPs over the backstop or from her Cabinet over practically everything.

All this before the Budget next Monday, when Philip Hammond is going to have to find some way to pay for the extra cash for the NHS and Universal Credit all while keeping to May’s pledge that debt will continue to fall as a share of GDP. So added to all May’s Brexit woes, a row over tax rises could be coming down the track.

Of course, the PM’s position has been perilous for a very long time – in fact, when you remember that her period of hegemony ran from July 2016 to June 2017, she’s actually been under threat for more of her premiership than she hasn’t. But just because you roll heads 36 times in a row doesn’t mean your chances of rolling tails aren’t 50/50 on roll 37, and May’s luck could well be running out.

But while May shares a good size of the blame for the mess that the Conservative Party are in, it’s not all her fault by any means and none of those problems will go away if May is replaced or changes tack to win over her internal opponents in the European Research Group.

Ireland has a veto over the end state and only an indefinite and legally binding backstop for the island of Ireland will do if any deal is to be signed off. It’s true to say that no deal also means a hard border on the island of Ireland, but it’s also true that it will always been in the political interests of whoever is in office in Ireland for a hard border to be imposed as a result of no deal rather than for the Irish government to acquiesce in the creation of one through a EU-UK treaty.

The DUP can bring the Conservative government to an early end so they, too, have a de facto veto over any deal that creates barriers between Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom. But the only UK-wide solution – for the backstop to encompass the whole of the United Kingdom – is nothing doing with pro-Brexit Conservative MPs who don’t want an indefinite backstop. It’s also politically tricky with many EU member states, who don’t want the default outcome of the talks to be a UK-wide backstop, which many regard as a threat to the sanctity of single market. (The only reason why it is acceptable on the Irish border is because Ireland is still a member state and because the Irish border was both the location and the cause of political violence within living memory.)

Added to that, the Conservative parliamentary party seems to be undergoing a similar psychological journey to the one that Steve van Riel described during the 2015 Labour leadership election: that groups of any kind tend to reach a more extreme position the longer an issue is debated. Brexiteers who spent 20 years saying they wanted a Norway style deal now talk of Norway as a betrayal. Leavers who cheerily talked about making Northern Ireland into its own customs area before Brexit now talk of the backstop as a constitutional betrayal. And Conservative Remainers who only reluctantly backed an In vote to avoid the political upheaval of negotiating Brexit, or the loss of David Cameron, now call for a referendum re-run and privately flirt with the idea of a new party.

Some of that is May’s fault, yes. But none of it is going to go away if she does and all of it makes the prospect of reaching a Brexit deal considerably less likely.

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Saudi Crown Prince Spoke To Khashoggi By Phone Moments Before He Was Killed: Report

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community.

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Via Zerohedge


In the latest bombshell report involving the Khashoggi murder, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly spoke on the phone with journalist Jamal Khashoggi moments before he was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Turkish pro-government daily Yeni Safak disclosed the new alleged details of the case in a report on Sunday, contradicting claims by Saudi authorities that Prince Mohammed played no part in Khashoggi’s murder.

“Khashoggi was detained by the Saudi team inside the consulate building. Then Prince Mohammed contacted Khashoggi by phone and tried to convince him to return to Riyadh,” the report said.

“Khashoggi refused Prince Mohammed’s offer out of fear he would be arrested and killed if he returned. The assassination team then killed Khashoggi after the conversation ended,” it added.

While the report is so far unconfirmed, the New Arab reports that so far Turkish pro-government media have been receiving a steady stream of leaks many of which turned out to be accurate, including pictures of the hit team as they entered Turkey and reports of audio recordings of the murder said to be in the possession of Turkish authorities.

Meanwhile, the Saudi version of events has been changing significantly over the past two weeks with authorities conceded Saturday that Khashoggi, the Washington Post columnist and a Riyadh critic, was killed inside the kingdom’s Istanbul diplomatic compound following a “brawl”. The admission came after a fortnight of denials with the insistence that the journalist left the consulate alive, starting on October 5, when Crown Prince MBS told Bloomberg that Khashoggi was not inside the consulate and “we are ready to welcome the Turkish government to go and search our premises”.

On Saturday, the kingdom announced it had fired five top officials and arrested 18 others in an investigation into the killing – a move that has widely been viewed as an attempt to cover up the crown prince’s role in the murder.

The shifting Saudi narrative of the killing has been met with scepticism and condemnation from the international community, and has left the U.S. and other allies struggling for a response on Sunday. As Bloomberg reports, France demanded more information, Germany put arms sales to Riyadh on hold and the Trump administration stressed the vital importance of the kingdom and its economy to the U.S.

In Sunday radio and TV interviews, Dominic Raab, the U.K. politician in charge of negotiating Britain’s exit from the European Union, described the latest Saudi account as not credible; French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire called for “the truth’’; and Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said his government would approve no arms sales so long as the investigation was ongoing.

Earlier on Sunday, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir acknowledged a cover-up attempt. The dramatic reversal, after Saudi officials had previously said the columnist left the building alive, has only complicated the issue for allies.

Saudi Arabia’s al-Jubeir told Fox News on Sunday that the journalist’s death was an “aberration.”

“There obviously was a tremendous mistake made and what compounded the mistake was the attempt to cover up,” he said, promising that “those responsible will be punished for it.”

More importantly, he said that Prince Mohammed had no knowledge of the events, although if the Turkish report is confirmed, it will be yet another major flaw with the official narrative.

Several senior members of US President Donald Trump’s Republican Party said they believed Prince Mohammed was linked to the killing, and one called for a “collective” Western response if a link is proved. In an interview with The Washington Post, President Trump, too, said the Saudi narrative had been marked by “deception and lies.’’ Yet he also defended Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “strong person,’’ and said there was no proof of his involvement in Khashoggi’s death. Some members of Congress have questioned his willingness to exonerate the prince.

“Obviously there’s been deception and there’s been lies,” Trump said on the shifting accounts offered by Riyadh.

On Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan promised to disclose details about the case at a meeting of his AK Party’s parliamentary faction on Tuesday, Haberturk newspaper reported.

Meanwhile, as Western firms and high-ranked officials scramble to avoid any Saudi involvement, Russia is more than happy to step in and fill the power vacuum void left by the US. As a result, Russian businesses are flocking to attend the investment forum in Saudi Arabia, as Western counterparts pull out.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has had considerable success boosting Moscow’s influence in the Middle East at U.S. expense, by standing by regimes that fall afoul of the West, including in Syria and Iran. Last week Putin signed a strategic and partnership agreement with Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, backed by $25 billion in loans to build nuclear reactors. Until El-Sisi came to power, Egypt had been closely allied to the U.S.

Meanwhile, all eyes are fixed squarely on the Crown Prince whose position of power is looking increasingly perilous. Congressional leaders on Sunday dismissed the story proffered earlier by the Saudis, with Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bob Corker of Tennessee saying they believed the crown prince was likely involved in Khashoggi’s death.

Lawmakers said they believe the U.S. must impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia or take other action if the crown prince is shown to have been involved. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, the chamber’s No. 2 Democrat, said the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. should be formally expelled until a third-party investigation is done. He said the U.S. should call on its allies to do the same.

“Unless the Saudi kingdom understands that civilized countries around the world are going to reject this conduct and make sure that they pay a price for it, they’ll continue doing it,”’ Durbin said.

The obvious question is what happens and how the Saudi royal family will respond if it is pushed too far, and whether the worst case scenario, a sharp cut in oil exports, could be on the table if MBS feels like he has little to lose from escalating the situation beyond a point of no return.

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The Biggest Winners In The Mediterranean Energy War

Energy companies are flocking to the Mediterranean after oil and gas discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt.

The Duran

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Authored by Vanand Meliksetian via Oilprice.com:


Former Vice-President of the United States Dick Cheney once said: “the good lord didn’t see fit to put oil and gas only where there are democratically elected states… Occasionally we have to operate in places where, all considered, one would not normally choose to go. But we go where the business is.” Europe is surrounded by states with abundant energy resources, but supply from these countries is not always as reliable. Russia, for example, is regularly accused of using energy as a weapon. However, major discoveries of gas in the Eastern Mediterranean could mitigate dependence on Russian gas.

The discovery of a gas field named Tamar near the coast of Israel in 2009 set off a wave of investments in the energy sector. After 9 years, companies are flocking to the region after other discoveries in the territorial waters of Israel, Cyprus, and Egypt. Ever larger finds in the Mediterranean Sea’s Levant Basin such as the Leviathan gas field in 2010 and Zohr in 2015, have the potential to transform the strategic importance of the region.

Turkey’s energy hub ambitions

Few states in the world are geographically so well positioned as Turkey. The country controls Russia’s only warm water port in the Black Sea and serves as a bridge between east and west. Therefore, during the Cold War Ankara was an indispensable member of NATO. More recently, Turkey has the ambition to become an energy hub for Middle Eastern and Caspian energy. Ankara has had mixed successes in attracting investors and maintaining political stability.

After Israel’s significant discoveries, a U.S. backed initiative presented Turkey as an energy hub. Although a land pipeline is the cheapest option to transport gas from the Mediterranean to Europe, political developments have stalled construction. President Erdogan’s escalating public denunciations of Israel have made Jerusalem look for other options. Furthermore, relations with Europe have also been damaged which would be dependent on Turkey as a transit country.

Egypt as the regional gas hub

Egypt’s has the third largest gas reserves in Africa. Therefore, its export-oriented LNG industry came on-stream in 2004 but was shut mid-2013 due to a lack of resources. The growth of the domestic market demanded ever larger volumes, which went at the expense of exports. Instead, Egypt started importing LNG. However, the discovery of the massive Zohr gas field, the largest in the Eastern Mediterranean, has turned around the situation. Egypt imported its last shipment of LNG in September 2018.

Although relations between Egypt and Israel are far from normal, privately held companies have been able to strike a deal. Starting from the first quarter of 2019, in 10 years 64 bcm worth $10 billion will be delivered. The agreement has stirred controversy in Egypt, which until recently was exporting to Israel. However, with this deal, Cairo comes closer in becoming an energy hub.

The recent signing of another agreement, this time with Nicosia to develop a subsea pipeline from Cyprus’ Aphrodite gas field, has been another important step. Cypriot gas will be pumped 400 miles (645 kilometers) to the south to Egypt’s LNG facilities. Difficult relations with Nicosia’s northern neighbors make a pipeline to the north highly unlikely.

Cairo has been able to act pragmatically concerning its relations with its neighbors such as Israel while taking advantage of the limited amount of options for exporting gas. The obvious winner in this context has been Egypt and its LNG industry. Its chances of becoming the regional energy hub instead of Turkey have significantly increased.

Turkey’s hope for luck

All littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean struck ‘gold’ in the shape of natural gas except for Turkey. Ankara strongly opposes the exploitation of the gas resources in the exclusive economic zone of the Republic of Cyprus without a sharing agreement with Northern Cyprus’ Turkish inhabitants. The Turkish Navy prevented ships from Italy’s Eni from performing exploratory drilling off the coast of the Republic of Cyprus.

In search of its own luck, Ankara has set up a project to start looking for gas in the EEZ of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC), which is only recognized by Turkey. Kudret Özersay, TRNC deputy prime minister and minister of foreign affairs, proclaimed the desire to turn the TRNC into an energy and electricity hub. However, it seems unlikely that investors will be willing to participate due to political and legal reasons.

The legal situation of the TRNC is an impediment to any major decision involving a longtime commitment worth billions. From an international point of view, the region is de jure part of the Republic of Cyprus, despite holding no control over the region. The TRNC holds no seat in the WTO.

Large investments require solid legal and political support for companies to earn back their investments. The current economic situation of Turkey makes it dependent on foreign money. However, stringent due diligence rules could impede some international banks in lending the necessary funds.

The Eastern Mediterranean Sea basin promises great rewards, but the risks are also high. With Turkey potentially being the only country that doesn’t profit from the gas bonanza, Ankara has acted aggressively to get what it regards as its fair share. However, it faces a united front from the other littoral states of the Eastern Mediterranean. Therefore, it is highly unlikely that Turkey will be able to profit in the same way as Cyprus, Egypt or Israel.

By Vanand Meliksetian for Oilprice.com

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