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Sowing war and chaos: US continues meddling in Syria through the Kurds

Doubling down on the fixation with ousting Assad produces another US foreign policy disaster

Alexander Mercouris

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On 6th October 2017 I wrote a lengthy article for The Duran in which I said that the US’s two previous plans in Syria having failed – Plan A being regime change through US backing of violent Jihadi groups, Plan B being the attempt to set up an anti Assad ‘Sunnistan’ in eastern Syria – the US was resorting to Plan C, which was to establish a US backed Kurdish protectorate in northern Syria, so as to undermine the Syrian government from within.

In that article I outlined in detail how that was being done, with the massive supply of arms to the YPG, the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, and through the permanent deployment of US troops in the Kurdish controlled regions of northern Syria.

I also outlined what I thought the likely consequences of this Plan C would be

Consequences of the US’s Kurdish policy

What are the consequences of the US’s Plan C/’Kurdish’ strategy, and what are its prospects?   In summary there are five:

(1) it will prolong the conflicts in Syria and Iraq;

(2) it is delaying the final defeat of Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria and Iraq;

(3) it will make the Iraqi government align itself still more closely to Iran and Syria;

(4) it will strengthen hostility within Turkey to the US, and may make Turkey more inclined to seek regional alignments with the US’s Middle East rivals and enemies: Russia and Iran;

(5) it risks making the Kurds even more isolated in their region, whilst uniting the region against them.

I also said that though Plan C was rather more grounded in reality than Plan B since a Kurdish statelet in northern Syria had rather more coherence and reality than the eastern ‘Sunnistan’ proposed as Plan B, it was nonetheless in the long term unworkable, and the attempt to implement it would set the scene for the next US Middle East debacle.

Just two weeks later, with the Iraqi army’s successful offensive against the Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq, and following the Iraqi army’s recapture from the Kurds of the key Iraqi oil town of Kirkuk, it appeared that this Plan C was already failing and on 19th October 2017 I wrote a further article for The Duran in which I said as much.

In the event, with a persistence worthy of a better cause the US despite the failure in Iraq has persisted with its Plan C.

Firstly the US announced that it intended to keep 2,000 US troops stationed (illegally) in Syria indefinitely, supposedly to prevent a ‘vacuum’ emerging there.

In reality the true number of US troops in Syria is much greater, and it is the presence of these troops which by preventing the restoration of the Syrian government’s authority across the whole of Syria is threatening to create a ‘vacuum’ there.  Most, though not all, these US troops appear to be based in northern Syria, in territory controlled by the YPG.

Then the US announced that it was building up a 30,000 strong ‘border force’ in northern Syria, which it was clear would be built up around the Kurdish militia, the YPG.

The results have been very much as I predicted in my article of 6th October 2017.

Firstly, the US game with the Kurds in Syria has outraged the major regional powers: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Turkey’s President Erdogan has now launched his army and air force against the Syrian Kurds whom the US has been backing in their north Syrian enclave of Afrin.

In order to launch this attack Erdogan needed Moscow’s permission, the Russians having previously  positioned military observers in Afrin.

A Turkish military delegation accordingly visited Moscow and obtained Moscow’s permission, resulting in the withdrawal of the Russian military observers from Afrin and the unimpeded operation of the Turkish air force there.

The Russians for their part attempted to persuade the Kurds to hand over Afrin to the Syrian government as a way of averting the Turkish attack.  The Kurds, counting on US protection, however refused, with the result that they have quickly discovered that the US protection that they had counted on is nowhere to be seen, so that they now find themselves facing the Turkish army on their own.

In a bizarre twist, showing the extent of their confusion and possibly highlighting the internal criticism their leaders are coming under for putting so much trust in the US, the YPG is now blaming the Russians for the debacle.

We know that, without the permission of global forces and mainly Russia, whose troops located in Afrin, Turkey cannot attack civilians using Afrin air space. Therefore we hold Russia as responsible as Turkey and stress that Russia is the crime partner of Turkey in massacring the civilians in the region.

In the meantime, where a few weeks ago it appeared that ISIS in its fastnesses in eastern Syria was close to total collapse after coming under simultaneous attack by the Syrian army and the US backed Kurds, it is now back on the attack and has actually been able to recover some territory at the expense of the Kurds, who are having to transfer fighters to face the threat from the Turkish army in the north.

Meanwhile the Syrian army has been able to capitalise on Turkey’s focus on the Kurds to carry out major advances against the remaining Jihadi enclaves in western Syria near Damascus and in Idlib province, where the key Abu Duhur air base has now been recaptured from the Jihadis, and where large numbers of Jihadi fighters have been surrounded by the Syrian troops.

Latest reports from the normally reliable Al-Masdar news agency speak of continuing Syrian military advances deeper into Idlib province, with plans apparently being prepared for an offensive which will bring the Syrian army all the way up to the outskirts of Idlib city.

An article in the Guardian has now confirmed the critical role of the British government in egging the US on with Plan C as well as the extent of US and British dismay with the latest developments

The problem for the west is that, as an endgame possibly approaches in Syria, it cannot afford to lose Turkish diplomatic support since Ankara has been the vital countervailing force to a Russian-imposed peace.

The Turkish preoccupation with the Syrian Kurds on its borders could lead to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reaching a deal with Damascus and Moscow.

The speech – in which the UK Foreign Office had a big hand – was something of a watershed and was under-appreciated in Europe. Previously, Trump’s policy on Syria was simply the destruction of Isis and an aversion to talk of nation-building. But the Tillerson speech has been widely criticised because it was long on aspiration but short on detailing the credible levers the US and the west have to pressure Moscow to abandon Assad.

Western diplomats say they have some stakes in the ground: the threat to withhold EU and US reconstruction funds, the promise to keep 2,000 US troops inside Syria indefinitely and a slightly confused commitment to help the Kurds form a border force inside northern Syria. British ministers also repeatedly warn that a Russian-imposed peace that simply leaves Assad in charge would not only be morally reprehensible but unstable…..

There is so much wrong with the thinking in this article that it is difficult to know where to start.

Firstly, it is grotesque to say that “a Russian-imposed peace that simply leaves Assad in charge would not only be morally reprehensible but unstable” when it is Western policy to use the Kurds to prolong the war in Syria in order to increase pressure on the Russians so as to get them to agree to having President Assad ousted which is the true and obvious cause of the continuing instability there.

Secondly, to suppose that Turkey would stand idly by whilst the US armed the Kurds to fight President Assad’s government when Turkey is already fighting a Kurdish insurgency on its own territory was beyond farfetched.  It should have been obvious that any policy of this kind that relied upon both Turkey and the Kurds in order to succeed was bound to fail.

Thirdly, the idea that the Western powers can ‘pressure’ Russia into ‘abandoning’ President Assad now that President Assad is in secure control of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Deir Ezzor, all of Syria’s main cities, and in fact every part of what constitutes ‘useful Syria’, when Russia previously refused to abandon him when the territory under his control was reduced to a small coastal strip and he was about to lose control of Deir Ezzor and Aleppo, is beyond delusional.

Now that the Turkish army is pressing deep into Afrin, with the US and the Western powers as the Guardian article says unable to stop it, the Guardian article refers to what is rapidly becoming the default Western position in northern Syria: abandon the Kurds and hand over to Turkey and its Jihadi allies a strip of northern Syria as a ‘security zone’ at the Kurds’ expense

The US can argue it tolerated Kurdish territorial expansions across northern Syria, and specifically west of the Euphrates river, only so long as the Kurdish militias inside the Syrian Democratic Forces were needed to defeat Isis, but now that battle has been won the US priority is to stop the freefall in its relations with Turkey. If that means a temporary Turkish foothold in the patchwork that is Syria, so be it.

One might even call it Plan D.

That this is indeed the emerging policy – though some US officials still seem to be unaware of the fact – has now been confirmed by Rex Tillerson, the US’s hapless Secretary of State, who speaking of Turkey is reported to have said the following

Let us see if we can work with you to create the kind of security zone you might need.

What this ignores is that this policy is every bit unworkable as the Plans A, B and C which preceded it.

Firstly, the duplicity towards the Kurds is nothing short of staggering.  Having armed the Kurds and encouraged them to create their own statelet in northern Syria in order to fight ISIS and destabilise the government in Damascus, the US is now preparing to abandon them to Turkey as soon as the going gets difficult.

Needless to say duplicity of this order is going to shatter trust in the US both amongst the Kurds and even in Turkey, which is not likely to forget any time soon the game the US attempted to play with the Kurds in Syria at its expense.

Secondly, Turkey’s Jihadi allies have repeatedly shown their lack of military effectiveness.  It is all but inconceivable that they can control territory in northern Syria in the face of opposition from both the Kurds and the local Arab people without the protection on the ground of the Turkish army.

However whether the Turkish army would be prepared to remain entrenched forever in northern Syria facing what is likely to become before long a guerrilla war waged against it by both the Kurds and the local Arab population backed by the Syrian government in Damascus is problematic to say the least.

My opinion is that that is all but inconceivable, in which case Plan D is as unworkable as Plans A, B and C.

Thirdly, despite the Kurdish complaints about ‘betrayal’ by Russia, the likely consequence of the latest events is that over time it will oblige the Kurds to rein in their regional aspirations and seek to come to terms with the government in Damascus, just as the Russians have been urging them to do.

By any objective measure the Kurds in both Syria and Iraq have in recent years grossly overplayed their hand.

They used the US induced internal crises in Syria and Iraq to forge all but independent areas within those countries.  They then expanded these zones far beyond their natural limits, bringing under their control large areas with predominantly Arab populations.

Then as the internal crises within Syria and Iraq abated, instead of leveraging the strong position they had achieved to come to terms with the governments of those countries so as to hold on to their gains, the Kurds went for broke, and gambling on US promises of support, they pitched for what amounted to outright independence, in Syria de facto, in Iraq de jure.

As a result they antagonised all the regional powers and Russia, bringing down upon themselves the wrath of Iraq and Turkey, and finding themselves isolated, when they discovered in Iraq in October and in Syria now that the promise of US support had no reality behind it.

The result is that when they were attacked by the Iraqi army in October and by the Turkish army now they found that they had no one to look to but themselves.

Pressure of events if nothing else will now probably force the Kurds in Syria to come to terms, however grudgingly, with the Russians and with the Syrian government in Damascus.

That would obviously mean accepting the overall authority of the government in Damascus in return for whatever form of autonomy the Russians can negotiate for them.

That is the only realistic way that the Kurds in Syria – who ultimately account for no more than 8% of Syria’s population – can secure protection for themselves from Russia, which as recent events have shown is the only secure form of protection that can be relied upon in this region.

As for the US and its Western allies, the time has come – in fact it is long overdue – for them to commit themselves to some serious rethinking.

The strategy of regime change in Syria which was launched in 2011 has decisively failed.

There is no realistic possibility of the US persuading Russia to abandon President Assad and agreeing to regime change in Syria, and no realistic way the US can bring about regime change in Syria without Russia’s agreement.

That means that regime change in Syria is impossible and is not going to happen.

With the Syrian government in Damascus now secure and gaining daily in power and confidence, it is now only a matter of time before it regains full control of all Syrian territory.

All the various plans to keep Syria weak and divided by playing Sunnis against Alawites, Kurds against Arabs, and Turks against Kurds and Syrians, can only delay this outcome, not prevent it, and can only do so only at horrific cost, whilst setting up the US for further humiliation

This is because the only practical effect of these plans is to increase the Syrian government’s dependence on Moscow and Tehran, thereby strengthening Syria’s alliances with Russia and Iran and weakening the regional geopolitical position of the US.

In reality if the US’s objective really were to limit or even extinguish Russian and Iranian influence in Syria – as it claims – then the only way it could do this would be by coming to terms with the Syrian government in Damascus, which is the legitimate government of Syria recognised as such by the overwhelming majority of Syria’s people, so as to persuade it to limit or cut its ties to Russia and Iran  so as to reduce or extinguish the influence of these countries in Syria.

That would involve giving the Syrian government security guarantees that it could trust and economic aid to rebuild Syria, in return for its agreement to limit or close the Russian and Iranian bases which are now starting to appear on Syria’s territory.

Whether such a thing is now possible is another matter.  However the modern history of the Middle East is such an appalling catalogue of duplicity that I for one would not say it was impossible if it were ever seriously attempted.

Already there are rumours that some officials within the Syrian government in Damascus are uneasy about the over close relations (as they see it) which Syria now has with Iran, and the problems which they think these are causing Syria.

However if the US is going to embark upon this genuinely realistic foreign policy then it must end its maniacal fixation with the person of Bashar Al-Assad, and it must tell its allies in Britain, Saudi Arabia and Israel that they must do the same.

Putting aside the disaster this fixation has caused to the people of Syria, who have had to endure seven years of war because of it, its only result has been to strengthen Syria’s alliances with Iran, Russia and more recently Iraq, thereby weakening the geopolitical position in the Middle East of the US.

As ought to be obvious, doubling down on this fixation can only spell more disaster further down the line, and the latest debacle in northern Syria which has resulted in fighting between the US backed Kurds and the US’s NATO ally Turkey ought to underline this fact.

However because this obvious truth is one which continues to be passionately resisted in Washington – not to mention in London, Jerusalem and Riyadh – it looks to be rejected, opening the way for still more disasters to come.

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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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