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The Trump-Putin ceasefire in Syria may hold. Here’s why

The ceasefire agreed by Presidents Putin and Trump has better prospects of success than the previous ceasefires agreed by Secretary of State Kerry and Foreign Minister Lavrov because the Trump administration is more united and has a more realistic policy towards Syria than did the Obama administration.

Alexander Mercouris

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During his press conference following his meeting with President Macron, US President Trump spoke with hope and some pride about the ceasefire in southern Syria he agreed with Russian President Putin during their meeting on the margins of the G20 summit

Here is what President Trump said

One of the great things that came out if this meeting, by the way, was the fact that we got the ceasefire that now has lasted for almost five days. Five days doesn’t sound like a long period of time. In terms of a ceasefire in Syria it’s a very long period of time……

That was a result of having communication with a country. During that five day period a lot of lives have been saved, a lot of people were not killed, no shots have been fired in a very, very dangerous part of the world and this is one of the most dangerous parts of Syria itself.

By having some communication and dialogue we were able to have a ceasefire and it’s going to go on for a while. And frankly we’re working on the second ceasefire in a very rough part of Syria.

(bold italics added)

One senses in these words the pride of a man who sees himself first and foremost as a deal maker who has just done a successful deal.

Moreover in what he says President Trump is not wrong.  The previous ceasefire negotiated by by the US and Russia in Syria – the one agreed in September by US Secretary of State Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov – required weeks of agonising negotiating to come into effect and then lasted just four days.

There are three reasons why this ceasefire however stands a better prospect of success than the two ceasefires Kerry and Lavrov agreed with each other over the course of 2016, the first in February and the second in September.

The first is that President Trump agreed it himself.   Unlike President Obama, who never wholeheartedly committed himself to either of the two ceasefires negotiated by Kerry, that means that this ceasefire has behind it the authority of the President himself.

Even when a President is as much in conflict with the bureaucracy as President Trump is, it is nonetheless far more difficult for disaffected members of the bureaucracy to sabotage a policy that is backed by the President himself.

The second is that on this issue the President may actually have the support of the key figures in the bureaucracy.

It has not been widely noted but President Trump has a far more coherent foreign policy team than President Obama ever did.

Obama’s practice was to balance supposed ‘realists’ within his administration with ideological liberal interventionists or neocons by giving both posts in his administration in a way that made it easier for him to play them off against each other.

This was justified as an inclusive ‘team of rivals’ approach supposedly borrowed from the one used by President Lincoln in the Civil War.  My opinion is that it was actually intended to cover Obama’s tracks, making it possible for him to let one member of his administration carry the can for a policy, and then using another member of the administration to undermine or overturn the policy if it ran into trouble.

A classic example was the way Ashton Carter – Obama’s neocon Defense Secretary – was allowed to sabotage the ceasefire Kerry painstakingly negotiated with Lavrov last September as soon as it became clear that it was unpopular with the regime change hardliners in Congress and the media and within the administration itself.

Though this was clever politics, it made negotiating with the Obama administration on a subject like Syria ultimately impossible.

By contrast one gets the sense that the top members of Donald Trump’s foreign policy team – Tillerson, Mattis and McMaster – are on the same page and work well with each other as a united team.  Importantly it seems that all three of them are fully signed up to the President’s Syrian policy, and want to make the ceasefire work.

The key figure is Defense Secretary Mattis.  Not only does he appear to be especially close to the President – apparently they meet regularly and often lunch together – but as a former Marine General he appears to have the  US military in Syria fully under control.

It has become increasingly clear over the last few weeks that it is Mattis who has day to day control of US policy in Syria.  Moreover he appears to be a voice of (relative) moderation.  Strikingly, following Sean Spicer’s phoney ‘warning’ to President Assad of a few weeks ago it was Mattis who stepped in to calm the situation by saying that the ‘warning’ ‘appeared to have been heeded’ so that an attack on Syria was not actually necessary.

With Mattis in control of the US military in Syria and backing the ceasefire there is much less risk of US action being taken to undermine the ceasefire than was the case with the ceasefire agreed last September.

Thirdly and lastly, despite all the problems and obstacles – some of which it must be said are self-created – the Trump administration overall has a much more realistic policy in Syria than did the Obama administration.

The Obama administration never gave up its objective of achieving regime change in Syria by overthrowing President Assad’s government in Damascus.

In the summer of 2015 it was preparing to declare a no-fly zone over Syria – ie. start a bombing campaign against the Syrian military – even at the risk of allowing ISIS to capture Damascus.  In the spring of 2016 it supported a Jihadi offensive to capture Aleppo, Syria’s biggest city.   In the autumn of 2016 some of its more militant members appear pressed for military action to stop the Syrian military liberating the Jihadi controlled eastern district of Aleppo.

By contrast the Trump administration has accepted that the forcible overthrow of President Assad’s government is unachievable.  Instead it is focused on gaining leverage in Syria by establishing areas controlled by its proxies there whilst at the same time making genuine efforts to achieve the destruction of ISIS.

Recently, in the face of the rapid advances by the Syrian army, the Trump administration seems to have given up its plan to establish a big statelet controlled by its Sunni proxies in central and eastern Syria, and appears to be more focused on building up a large pro-US Kurdish controlled statelet in the north.

In my opinion this policy will also eventually fail, and I believe that the whole of Syria, including its northern Kurdish areas, will eventually be brought back under the control of President Assad’s Syrian government in Damascus.

Whether or not I am right about that, it still remains the case that this is a much more realistic policy than the Obama’s administration’s policy of seeking regime change in Damascus.

Given that the Trump administration’s objectives in Syria are more realistic and limited than those of the Obama administration, and do not include regime change in Damascus, that means that a ceasefire in southern Syria will not be perceived by members of the Trump administration as a defeat, as the two ceasefires negotiated by Kerry were perceived by members of the Obama administration.

None of this unfortunately guarantees the success of the latest ceasefire.  Given that Al-Qaeda and ISIS are still on the loose in Syria, and given that countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel and Turkey are all still active there, confidence that any ceasefire anywhere in Syria is likely to hold would be foolhardy.

However President Trump is right to say that this ceasefire is more likely to hold than the earlier ones.

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Media meltdown hits stupid levels as Trump and Putin hold first summit (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 58.

Alex Christoforou

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It was, and still remains a media meltdown of epic proportions as that dastardly ‘traitor’ US President Donald Trump decided to meet with that ‘thug’ Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Of course these are the simplistic and moronic epitaphs that are now universally being thrown around on everything from Morning Joe to Fox and Friends.

Mainstream media shills, and even intelligent alternative news political commentators, are all towing the same line, “thug” and “traitor”, while no one has given much thought to the policy and geo-political realities that have brought these two leaders together in Helsinki.

RT CrossTalk host Peter Lavelle and The Duran’s Alex Christoforou provide some real news analysis of the historic Trump-Putin summit in Helsinki, without the stupid ‘thug’ and ‘traitor’ monikers carelessly being thrown around by the tools that occupy much of the mainstream media. Remember to Please Subscribe to The Duran’s YouTube Channel.

And if you though that one summit between Putin and Trump was more than enough to send the media into code level red meltdown, POTUS Trump is now hinting (maybe trolling) at a second Putin summit.

Via Zerohedge

And cue another ‘meltdown’ in 3…2…1…

While arguments continue over whether the Helsinki Summit was a success (end of Cold War 2.0) or not (most treasonous president ever), President Trump is convinced “The Summit was a great success,” and hints that there will be a second summit soon, where they will address: “stopping terrorism, security for Israel, nuclear proliferation, cyber attacks, trade, Ukraine, Middle East peace, North Korea and more.”

However, we suspect what will ‘trigger’ the liberal media to melt down is his use of the Stalin-esque term “enemy of the people” to describe the Fake News Media once again…

 

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While US seeks to up the ante on pressure on the DPRK, Russia proposes easing sanctions

These proposals show the dichotomy between the philosophy of US and Russian foreign policy

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The United States last week accused the DPRK of violating refined petroleum caps imposed as a part of UN nuclear sanctions dating back to 2006, and is therefore submitting a proposal to cut all petroleum product sales to North Korea.

The Trump administration is keen on not only preserving pressure on North Korea over its nuclear arms development, but in increasing that pressure even as DPRK Chairman, Kim Jong-Un, is serially meeting with world leaders in a bid to secure North Korea’s security and potential nuclear disarmament, a major move that could deescalate tensions in the region, end the war with the South, and ease global apprehensions about the North’s nuclear arsenal.

Meanwhile, Russia is proposing to the UNSC sanctions relief in some form due to the North’s expressed commitment to nuclear disarmament in the light of recent developments.

Reuters reports:

MOSCOW/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Russia’s envoy to North Korea said on Wednesday it would be logical to raise the question of easing sanctions on North Korea with the United Nations Security Council, as the United States pushes for a halt to refined petroleum exports to Pyongyang.

“The positive change on the Korean peninsula is now obvious,” said the ambassador, Alexander Matsegora, according to the RIA news agency, adding that Russia was ready to help modernize North Korea’s energy system if sanctions were lifted and if Pyongyang can find funding for the modernization.

The U.N. Security Council has unanimously boosted sanctions on North Korea since 2006 in a bid to choke off funding for Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs, banning exports including coal, iron, lead, textiles and seafood, and capping imports of crude oil and refined petroleum products.

China tried late last month to get the Security Council to issue a statement praising the June 12 Singapore meeting between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and expressing its “willingness to adjust the measures on the DPRK in light of the DPRK’s compliance with the resolutions.”

North Korea’s official name is Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

But the United States blocked the statement on June 28 given “ongoing and very sensitive talks between the United States and the DPRK at this time,” diplomats said. The same day, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke to his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi about the importance of sanctions enforcement.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due to informally brief U.N. Security Council envoys along with South Korea and Japan on Friday.

Diplomats say they expect Pompeo to stress the need to maintain pressure on North Korea during his briefing on Friday.

In a tweet on Wednesday Trump said he elicited a promise from Russian President Vladimir Putin to help negotiate with North Korea but did not say how. He also said: “There is no rush, the sanctions remain!”

The United States accused North Korea last week of breaching a U.N. sanctions cap on refined petroleum by making illicit transfers between ships at sea and demanded an immediate end to all sales of the fuel.

The United States submitted the complaint to the U.N. Security Council North Korea sanctions committee, which is due to decide by Thursday whether it will tell all U.N. member states to halt all transfers of refined petroleum to Pyongyang.

Such decisions are made by consensus and some diplomats said they expected China or Russia to delay or block the move.

When asked on June 13 about whether sanctions should be loosened, Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said: “We should be thinking about steps in that direction because inevitably there is progress on the track that should be reciprocal, that should be a two-way street. The other side should see encouragement to go forward.”

The proposals of both the United States and Russia are likely to be vetoed by each other, resulting no real changes, but what it displays is the foreign policy positions of both nuclear powers towards the relative position of the DPRK and its rhetorical move towards denuclearization. The US demonstrates that its campaign of increased pressure on the North is necessary to accomplishing the goal of a denuclearized Korean peninsula, while Russia’s philosophy on the matter is to show a mutual willingness to follow through on verbal commitment with a real show of action towards an improved relationship, mirroring on the ground what is happening in politics.

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Europe divided over possible trade compromise with Trump

Even if a European proposal could score a trade cease fire, the war isn’t over

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US President Donald Trump has just lectured NATO on it member’s commitment performance and held a controversial meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and is next week to receive EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, with trade matters being high up on the agenda.

Juncker is expected to present Trump with a package of proposals to help smooth relations and potentially heal areas of division, particularly those surrounding Europe’s trade relationship with America. Those proposals are precisely what is cropping up as another area of divergence between some members of the EU, specifically France and Germany, just after a major contention on migration has been driving discord within the Union.

This gets down to whether Europe should offer concessions to Trump on trade while Trump is admittedly describing the Union as a ‘foe’ and has initiated a trade spat with the Union by assessing trade tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Europe, spurring retaliatory tariff measures from the EU Commission.

France, specifically, is opposed to any sort of compromise with Trump on the matter, where Trump is perceived as an opponent to the Union and its unity, whereas Germany is economically motivated to seek an end to the trade dispute under the threat of a new round of tariffs emanating from the Trump administration, and is therefore seeking to find some sort of proposal that Trump will accept and therefore back down on his protectionism against the EU, and Germany in particular.

Politico reports:

Only a week before European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker flies to Washington, France and Germany are divided over how much he should offer to U.S. President Donald Trump to end a deepening trade war, say European diplomats and officials.

But, they add, Germany has the upper hand. Berlin is shaping Juncker’s agenda, suggesting three offers that he could take to Trump on July 25 to resolve the dispute, according to people familiar with the plans.

The French are uneasy about the wisdom of such a conciliatory approach, however, and publicly accuse Trump of seeking to splinter and weaken the 28-member bloc, which he has called his “foe.”

Despite Paris’ reservations about giving away too much to the increasingly hostile U.S. president, the diplomats say that the European Commission’s powerful Secretary-General Martin Selmayr supports the German attempt at rapprochement, which makes it more likely that Juncker will offer some kind of trade fix next week.

“It’s clear that Juncker can’t go to Washington empty-handed,” one diplomat said. He stressed that Juncker’s proposals would be a political signal to Washington and would not be the formal beginning of negotiations, which would have to be approved by EU countries.

European ambassadors will meet on Wednesday to discuss the scope of Juncker’s offer — and indeed whether any offers should be made at all. France’s official position is that Europe must not strike any deal with a gun to its head, or with any country that has opted out of the Paris climate accord, as Trump’s America has done.

While Berlin is terrified by the prospect of 20 percent tariffs on cars and is desperate for a ceasefire deal, France has more fundamental suspicions that the time for compromise is over and that Trump simply wants to destroy EU unity. Paris is concerned that Trump’s next target is its sacred farm sector and is putting more emphasis on the importance of preserving a united political front against Washington.

Two diplomats said Berlin has a broad menu of offers that should be made to Trump: a bilateral deal to cut industrial tariffs, a plurilateral agreement to eliminate car duties worldwide, and a bigger transatlantic trade agreement including regulatory cooperation that potentially also comes with talks on increasing U.S. beef exports into Europe.

Making such generous offers is contentious when Trump crystallized his trade position toward Brussels on CBS news on Sunday: “I think the European Union is a foe, what they do to us in trade. Now, you wouldn’t think of the European Union, but they’re a foe.”

This undiplomatic bombshell came not long after he reportedly advised French President Emmanuel Macron to quit the EU to get a better trade deal than he was willing to offer the EU28.

In announcing Juncker’s visit on Tuesday, the White House said that he and Trump “will focus on improving transatlantic trade and forging a stronger economic partnership.”

Talking to the enemy

Diplomats note that a French-led camp in Brussels reckons Trump’s goals are strategic, and that he’s not after the sort of deal Germany is offering.

A French government official said that Washington quite simply wants to shift the EU off the stage: “Trump’s objective is that there are two big blocs: The United States and China. A multipower world with Europe as a strong player does not fit in.”

France’s Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire this month also issued a stark warning that Trump is seeking to drive a wedge between France and Germany — courting Paris, while simultaneously attacking Berlin’s trade surplus with the U.S. “In this globalized world, European countries must form a bloc, because what our partners or adversaries want is to divide us,” Le Maire said at an economic conference in Aix-en-Provence. “What the United States want, that’s to divide France and Germany.”

Despite these remarks from Le Maire, Anthony Gardner, former ambassador to the EU under the Barack Obama administration, said that he suspects the full magnitude of the threat has not sunk in. “Europe wake up; the U.S. wants to break up the EU,” he tweeted on Sunday. “Remember Belgium’s motto: L’union fait la force. [Unity creates strength]. Especially on trade. No side deals.”

One EU diplomat insisted that Brussels is not blind to these dangers in the run-up to Juncker’s visit.

Trump thinks that Europe is “too big to be controllable by DC, so it’s bad for America. Simple logic. And therefore the only deal that will bring the president to stop the trade war is the deal that breaks up the European market. I don’t quite think that’s the legacy Juncker is aiming for,” the diplomat said.

Europe is source of a deep frustration for Trump, as it runs a massive goods surplus with the U.S., at $147 billion in 2016. In particular, the U.S. president blames Germany’s mighty car exporters for this imbalance.

Leveling the field is not easy, however. With its market of 510 million consumers, Europe not only has the clout to stand up to the United States, but is increasingly setting global standards — particularly on food. This not only limits U.S. exports in Europe but also means that the European model is used in a broader trading ecosystem that includes Canada, Mexico and Japan.

New world order

Marietje Schaake, a liberal Dutch member of the European Parliament, observed that the U.S. trade strategy meshed with Trump’s political agenda.

“You could say there’s a new transatlantic relation emerging, of nationalists, populists and protectionists,” she said, pointing out that Trump’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin has cast doubt on America’s commitment to supporting European security.

Trump’s opposition to the EU partly builds on an long-standing American discomfort about the EU’s economic policies.

“We already saw problems during the negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, where the U.S. didn’t like EU demands such as on geographical indications [food name protections], and certainly didn’t like that we had ambitious requests in areas like public procurement,” said Pascal Kerneis, managing director of the European Services Forum and a member of the now defunct TTIP advisory group.

Kerneis said that Trump’s trade attacks are shifting the tensions to a completely new level: “He’s attacking on all fronts, hoping to break our unity, particularly between Germany and France.”

France particularly fears that Trump’s duties on Spanish olives could only be the first salvo on Europe’s whole system of farm subsidies.

EU lawmaker Schaake said that France is right to worry about a conflagration. “Once we give in in one area, he will attack at the next one,” she said. “If we allow Trump to play Europeans against each other, sector by sector, it will be a losing game.”

Even if Europe goes about capitulating to Trump’s gripes about the Union, whether it gets back to NATO defense spending or the trade deficit, the question remains whether this will satiate Trump’s political appetite and result in an improved trade perspective and politically acceptable position with Washington, and France’s concern that the matter runs deeper and has a foreign policy agenda behind it, and that caving to Trump’s pressure will only end in defeat for the EU would therefore appear reasonable.

But Germany is staring down the barrel of a possible new round of tariffs that would hurt some of their largest industries and is therefore under a lot of pressure to find a solution, or at least some sort of agreement that could deescalate the situation.

However, Germany’s recent record of resolving international issues is such that Germany is really only scoring cease fire agreements, rather than ending the real political conflicts, referring mainly to the immigration issue which recently resulted only in diffusing some inter Union tensions, but without resolving the problem itself.

In this context, Germany could promise the moon and stars to Trump, possibly avert further trade tensions, but yet fail to address the core political and trade conflicts that have already broken out. Essentially, then, such a compromise would only serve to function as damage control, while leaving Germany and the Union at a further disadvantaged political position relative to the States at the political table.

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