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At UN Security Council session Rex Tillerson opens door for negotiations with North Korea

In carefully chosen words at UN Security Council session US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson leaves open possibility for direct negotiations between the US and North Korea, culminating in an agreement to normalise relations in return for limits on North Korea’s nuclear programme.

Alexander Mercouris

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Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, acted today to confirm his authority as the head of US diplomacy by using a UN Security Council session to make what amounted to a peace offer to North Korea.

After sidelining Nikki Haley at the UN Security Council session today, Tillerson signalled what could be a significant shift in the US approach to the Korean crisis, appearing to offer direct talks with North Korea’s leadership with a promise of an eventual normalisation of relations between the US and North Korea, and holding out the prospect of the eventual enuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula and of sanctions relief.

The peace offer inevitably came wrapped up with more demands for more sanctions (about which however see below), and with talk of military action remaining an option.  However the thrust of Tillerson’s words was clear enough

Our goal is not regime change. Nor do we desire to threaten the North Korean people or destabilize the Asia Pacific region. Over the years, we have withdrawn our own nuclear weapons from South Korea and offered aid to North Korea as proof of our intent to de-escalate the situation and normalize relations. Since 1995, the United States has provided over $1.3 billion dollars in aid to North Korea, and we look forward to resuming our contributions once the D.P.R.K. begins to dismantle its nuclear weapons and missile technology programs.

…….even though the present condition of that country is bleak, the United States believes in a future for North Korea. These first steps toward a more hopeful future will happen most quickly if other stakeholders in this – in the region and the global security join us.

(bold italics added)

As for Tillerson’s demand for further sanctions, on close examination these turn out to be pitched at a level which he appears to think China and Russia might accept

Third, we must increase North Korea’s financial isolation. We must levy new sanctions on D.P.R.K. entities and individuals supporting its weapons and missile programs, and tighten those that are already in place. The United States also would much prefer countries and people in question to own up to their lapses and correct their behavior themselves, but we will not hesitate to sanction third-country entities and individuals supporting the D.P.R.K.’s illegal activities.

We must bring maximum economic pressure by severing trade relationships that directly fund the D.P.R.K.’s nuclear and missile program. I call on the international community to suspend the flow of North Korean guest workers and to impose bans on North Korean imports, especially coal.

(bold italics added)

These demands appear to pitch sanctions at the level of obstructing development of North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes rather than intending them to bring about the wholesale collapse  of North Korea’s economy, something which Tillerson probably realises the Chinese will never agree to.

In passing I should say that whilst the Chinese might be willing to forego imports of coal from North Korea at least for a while, I think it is all but inconceivable that either they or the Russians would suspend the flow of North Korean guest workers to their countries.

Despite his call for  total denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula Tillerson probably knows that the degree of suspicion of the US on the part of the North Korean government is so great that it is all but inconceivable that North Korea will ever agree to give up the nuclear weapons it already has.  Indeed in his remarks to the UN Security Council Tillerson made it fairly clear that his real objective is not to get North Korea to part with all its nuclear weapons – an objective he probably realises is unachievable – but rather to prevent North Korea from developing its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons technology to the point were it can threaten the US mainland

With each successive detonation and missile test, North Korea pushes Northeast Asia and the world closer to instability and broader conflict.

The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real.

And it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the U.S. mainland.

Indeed, the D.P.R.K. has repeatedly claimed it plans to conduct such a strike. Given that rhetoric, the United States cannot idly stand by. Nor can other members of this council who are within striking distance of North Korean missiles.

If so then a deal might be possible.

It is not inconceivable that North Korea might be open to a deal where it obtains the normalisation of its relations with the US and an end or at least an easing of economic sanctions in return for its agreement to forego developing the capability to strike at the US mainland.

Vassily Kashin, a prominent Russian military analyst, recently discussed the North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programme for Sputnik.  He made the point that despite impressive recent advances North Korea is still many years away from achieving the capability to launch a strike against the US mainland, and he suggested that North Korea’s real purpose may be to trade the prospect of it eventually achieving that capability – which may in reality be decades away – against the normalisation of its relations with the US.

Vassily Kashin’s comments are so interesting – especially so coming from an expert – that they deserve to be set out at length

At the moment, successful testing of these missiles (the sea-based KN-11 Pukkuksong-1, and its ground-based cousin, the KN-15 Pukkuksong-2 – AM) is being carried out,” the expert explained. “Factually, the North Koreans have reached the same level that China was at in the early 1980s, when Beijing was carrying out flight testing of its JL-1,” China’s first submarine-launched missile, “created on the basis of the ground-based DF-21” (a Chinese mobile medium-range ballistic missile).

Kashin recalled that it took China 5-6 years to complete flight testing on the JL-1. “The North Koreans began flight testing on the Pukkuksong-1 in 2014, and it’s possible that they will be ready to deploy them closer to the end of the decade. These missiles have an estimated range of up to 2,000 km, which is comparable to the JL-1 and the DF-21A.”

According to the analyst, a successful deployment of these missiles could be seen as a real achievement for the North Koreans. “Pyongyang will attain the guaranteed ability to strike at targets anywhere in South Korea and Japan, but still would not be able to reach the United States.”

North Korean engineers are believed to have made about a dozen tests of the Pukkuksong-1 and its ground-based variant since October 2014; the latest test is thought to have taken place in February. In August 2016, Pyongyang carried out a successful submarine-launch of the Pukkuksong-1.

According to Kashin, these successes are creating the basis for further progress. However, “the transition to the creation of an intercontinental ballistic missile in general and a solid-fueled-based ICBM in particular will require a qualitative leap in the development of North Korea’s production base and test infrastructure,” he emphasized.

North Korea has been engaged in the development of the KN-08, also known as the Rodong-C or Hwasong-13, a road-mobile ICBM is believed to have been under development since the early 2010s. Pyongyang has showed off the missile at parades on several occasions, including the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung in April 2012. However, two suspected tests, which US intelligence said had been carried out in October 2016, were believed to have ended in failure.

Kashin stressed that in order to actually produce such advanced weapons, the North Koreans “will have to learn how to produce solid fuel rocket engines with a large diameter. They will have to experiment with new fuels and new missile casing. An important limitation here will be based on their ability or lack thereof to purchase the necessary equipment abroad or create their own (but apparently, also using foreign components).”

Furthermore, the analyst noted, “in order to be tested, the ICBMs will have to be launched over Japanese territory in the direction of the southern Pacific Ocean. As the Chinese experience in testing its DF-5 ICBMs in the early 1980s shows, testing will require the creation of a whole fleet of specialized vessels equipped with complex measuring equipment and, probably, new warships for their protection and escort.”

“Attempts to conduct such tests will be likely to face a backlash from the US and its allies, including attempts to shoot the missiles down during the first stage of their flight (if the US and Japanese missile defense systems in Japan are ready to do so) or attempts to block the measuring equipment onboard the North Korean vessels.”

According to Kashin, the ICBMs’ testing will also take about 5-6 years. China “deployed its DF-31 ICBMs 15-20 years after deploying the Jl-2 and the DF-21.” In other words, according to the analyst, it will be decades before Pyongyang is actually able to successfully field a true intercontinental ballistic missile.

Faced with these limitations, which Pyongyang must surely be aware of, the analyst noted that there are several possible reasons for them to have rolled out their experimental ICBMs at Saturday’s parade.

“Why did the North Koreans feel the need to draw attention to weapons systems which, even under the most optimistic scenario, cannot be deployed until the second half of the 2030s? It’s possible that from Pyongyang’s point of view, this is a demonstration of its determination and, at the same time, an invitation to talks, which North Korea, despite its isolation, intends to conduct from a perceived position of strength.”

It’s possible, Kashin added, “that these potential missile systems are what North Korea is ready to sacrifice in exchange for a reduction in sanctions pressure. The country’s security is guaranteed by its ability to inflict unacceptable damage to key US allies South Korea and Japan in the event of war.”

Ultimately, in Kashin’s view, Pyongyang “will not abandon their nuclear weapons and medium-range missiles, but could agree not to conduct new tests or develop intercontinental missiles (ranged 5,500 km and up) in exchange for economic and political concessions. This, it’s possible, may very well be Pyongyang’s ideal exchange scenario.”

(bold italics added)

If Vassily Kashin’s analysis is right, then taken together with Tillerson’s comments to the UN Security Council today there may be a basis for a settlement.

The North Koreans might be prepared to give up a planned capability to launch a strike against the US mainland – which may in reality be beyond their reach before 2040 – in return for a normalisation of relations with the US and an easing of sanctions now.  If so then that appears sufficiently close to what Tillerson appeared to say today the US wanted to make a deal possible.  In that case with hard work and tough bargaining an agreement might be achieved.

The big question is whether these two countries – the US and North Korea – are capable of negotiating with each other in such a way, and have the political will to stay the course during the long years such a negotiation would require.

We are so poorly informed about the political system in North Korea that it is difficult to say with any confidence what are the exact intentions of its government.  However if Vassily Kashin is right, it would appear that it is willing to talk.  Besides, if there were a desire to talk on the part of the US, the Chinese and Russians would surely put pressure on North Korea to get it to talk.  That after all is what the Chinese have been saying they want – direct talks between North Korea and the US – for some time now.

The bigger uncertainty has to be with the US.

It is difficult enough to predict with any confidence what the policy of the Trump administration will be from one day to another, let alone to have any confidence that it can stay the course over the years of tough bargaining that achieving a settlement with North Korea would require.  Unfortunately there are always hardliners in Washington who can be relied upon to work to undermine any prospect of an agreement, and it is a certainty that if negotiations between the US and North Korea were ever to get underway they will immediately set to work to undermine them.

Tillerson’s grip on the US foreign policy establishment looks shaky enough as it is.  What confidence can there be that either he or someone who thinks like him would be around for long enough to bring negotiations with North Korea to a successful conclusion and to get that settlement accepted in the US, even if that is indeed Tillerson’s objective?  What confidence would there be if such a settlement were ever reached that a succeeding administration would abide by it?

The short answer unfortunately is that there can be no confidence about any of these things.

However on the strength of what Rex Tillerson said to the UN Security Council today, and what Vassily Kashin thinks North Korea’s intentions might be, the possibility of a diplomatic settlement might be there.

The job of diplomats is to explore this possibility.  It is to be hoped that they are given the opportunity to do so.  Past experience unfortunately leaves plenty of room for doubt.

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Putin Keeps Cool and Averts WWIII as Israeli-French Gamble in Syria Backfires Spectacularly

Putin vowed that Russia would take extra precautions to protect its troops in Syria, saying these will be “the steps that everyone will notice.”

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Authored by Robert Bridge via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


By initiating an attack on the Syrian province of Latakia, home to the Russia-operated Khmeimim Air Base, Israel, France and the United States certainly understood they were flirting with disaster. Yet they went ahead with the operation anyways.

On the pretext that Iran was preparing to deliver a shipment of weapon production systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israeli F-16s, backed by French missile launches in the Mediterranean, destroyed what is alleged to have been a Syrian Army ammunition depot.

What happened next is already well established: a Russian Il-20 reconnaissance aircraft, which the Israeli fighter jets had reportedly used for cover, was shot down by an S-200 surface-to-air missile system operated by the Syrian Army. Fifteen Russian servicemen perished in the incident, which could have been avoided had Israel provided more than just one-minute warning before the attack. As a result, chaos ensued.

Whether or not there is any truth to the claim that Iran was preparing to deliver weapon-making systems to Hezbollah in Lebanon is practically a moot point based on flawed logic. Conducting an attack against an ammunition depot in Syria – in the vicinity of Russia’s Khmeimim Air Base – to protect Israel doesn’t make much sense when the consequence of such “protective measures” could have been a conflagration on the scale of World War III. That would have been an unacceptable price to achieve such a limited objective, which could have been better accomplished with the assistance of Russia, as opposed to NATO-member France, for example. In any case, there is a so-called “de-confliction system” in place between Israel and Russia designed to prevent exactly this sort of episode from occurring.

And then there is the matter of the timing of the French-Israeli incursion.

Just hours before Israeli jets pounded the suspect Syrian ammunition storehouse, Putin and Turkish President Recep Erdogan were in Sochi hammering out the details on a plan to reduce civilian casualties as Russian and Syrian forces plan to retake Idlib province, the last remaining terrorist stronghold in the country. The plan envisioned the creation of a demilitarized buffer zone between government and rebel forces, with observatory units to enforce the agreement. In other words, it is designed to prevent exactly what Western observers have been fretting about, and that is unnecessary ‘collateral damage.’

So what do France and Israel do after a relative peace is declared, and an effective measure for reducing casualties? The cynically attack Syria, thus exposing those same Syrian civilians to the dangers of military conflict that Western capitals proclaim to be worried about.

Israel moves to ‘damage control’

Although Israel has taken the rare move of acknowledging its involvement in the Syrian attack, even expressing “sorrow” for the loss of Russian life, it insists that Damascus should be held responsible for the tragedy. That is a highly debatable argument.

By virtue of the fact that the French and Israeli forces were teaming up to attack the territory of a sovereign nation, thus forcing Syria to respond in self-defense, it is rather obvious where ultimate blame for the downed Russian plane lies.

“The blame for the downing of the Russian plane and the deaths of its crew members lies squarely on the Israeli side,” Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said. “The actions of the Israeli military were not in keeping with the spirit of the Russian-Israeli partnership, so we reserve the right to respond.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, took admirable efforts to prevent the blame game from reaching the boiling point, telling reporters that the downing of the Russian aircraft was the result of “a chain of tragic circumstances, because the Israeli plane didn’t shoot down our jet.”

Nevertheless, following this extremely tempered and reserved remark, Putin vowed that Russia would take extra precautions to protect its troops in Syria, saying these will be “the steps that everyone will notice.”

Now there is much consternation in Israel that the IDF will soon find its freedom to conduct operations against targets in Syria greatly impaired. That’s because Russia, having just suffered a ‘friendly-fire’ incident from its own antiquated S-200 system, may now be more open to the idea of providing Syria with the more advanced S-300 air-defense system.

Earlier this year, Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reached an agreement that prevented those advanced defensive weapons from being employed in the Syrian theater. That deal is now in serious jeopardy. In addition to other defensive measures, Russia could effectively create the conditions for a veritable no-fly zone across Western Syria in that it would simply become too risky for foreign aircraft to venture into the zone.

The entire situation, which certainly did not go off as planned, has forced Israel into damage control as they attempt to prevent their Russian counterparts from effectively shutting down Syria’s western border.

On Thursday, Israeli Major-General Amikam Norkin and Brigadier General Erez Maisel, as well as officers of the Intelligence and Operations directorates of the Israeli air force will pay an official visit to Moscow where they are expected to repeat their concerns of “continuous Iranian attempts to transfer strategic weapons to the Hezbollah terror organization and to establish an Iranian military presence in Syria.”

Moscow will certainly be asking their Israeli partners if it is justifiable to subject Russian servicemen to unacceptable levels of danger, up to and including death, in order to defend Israeli interests. It remains to be seen if the two sides can find, through the fog of war, an honest method for bringing an end to the Syria conflict, which would go far at relieving Israel’s concerns of Iranian influence in the region.

 

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This Man’s Incredible Story Proves Why Due Process Matters In The Kavanaugh Case

Accused of rape by a fellow student, Brian Banks accepted a plea deal and went to prison on his 18th birthday. Years later he was exonerated.

The Duran

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Authored by James Miller of The Political Insider:


Somewhere between the creation of the Magna Carta and now, leftists have forgotten why due process matters; and in some cases, such as that of Judge Brett Kavanaugh, they choose to outright ignore the judicial and civil rights put in place by the U.S. Constitution.

In this age of social media justice mobs, the accused are often convicted in the court of (liberal) public opinion long before any substantial evidence emerges to warrant an investigation or trial. This is certainly true for Kavanaugh. His accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, cannot recall the date of the alleged assault and has no supporting witnesses, yet law professors are ready to ruin his entire life and career. Not because they genuinely believe he’s guilty, but because he’s a pro-life Trump nominee for the Supreme Court.

It goes without saying: to “sink Kavanaugh even if” Ford’s allegation is untrue is unethical, unconstitutional, and undemocratic. He has a right to due process, and before liberals sharpen their pitchforks any further they would do well to remember what happened to Brian Banks.

In the summer of 2002, Banks was a highly recruited 16-year-old linebacker at Polytechnic High School in California with plans to play football on a full scholarship to the University of Southern California. However, those plans were destroyed when Banks’s classmate, Wanetta Gibson, claimed that Banks had dragged her into a stairway at their high school and raped her.

Gibson’s claim was false, but it was Banks’s word against hers. Banks had two options: go to trial and risk spending 41 years-to-life in prison, or take a plea deal that included five years in prison, five years probation, and registering as a sex offender. Banks accepted the plea deal under the counsel of his lawyer, who told him that he stood no chance at trial because the all-white jury would “automatically assume” he was guilty because he was a “big, black teenager.”

Gibson and her mother subsequently sued the Long Beach Unified School District and won a $1.5 million settlement. It wasn’t until nearly a decade later, long after Banks’s promising football career had already been tanked, that Gibson admitted she’d fabricated the entire story.

Following Gibson’s confession, Banks was exonerated with the help of the California Innocence Project. Hopeful to get his life back on track, he played for Las Vegas Locomotives of the now-defunct United Football League in 2012 and signed with the Atlanta Falcons in 2013. But while Banks finally received justice, he will never get back the years or the prospective pro football career that Gibson selfishly stole from him.

Banks’ story is timely, and it serves as a powerful warning to anyone too eager to condemn those accused of sexual assault. In fact, a film about Banks’s ordeal, Brian Banks, is set to premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival next week.

Perhaps all the #MeToo Hollywood elites and their liberal friends should attend the screening – and keep Kavanaugh in their minds as they watch.

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Clinton-Yeltsin docs shine a light on why Deep State hates Putin (Video)

The Duran – News in Review – Episode 114.

Alex Christoforou

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Bill Clinton and America ruled over Russia and Boris Yeltsin during the 1990s. Yeltsin showed little love for Russia and more interest in keeping power, and pleasing the oligarchs around him.

Then came Vladimir Putin, and everything changed.

Nearly 600 pages of memos and transcripts, documenting personal exchanges and telephone conversations between Bill Clinton and Boris Yeltsin, were made public by the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Dating from January 1993 to December 1999, the documents provide a historical account of a time when US relations with Russia were at their best, as Russia was at its weakest.

On September 8, 1999, weeks after promoting the head of the Russia’s top intelligence agency to the post of prime minister, Russian President Boris Yeltsin took a phone call from U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The new prime minister was unknown, rising to the top of the Federal Security Service only a year earlier.

Yeltsin wanted to reassure Clinton that Vladimir Putin was a “solid man.”

Yeltsin told Clinton….

“I would like to tell you about him so you will know what kind of man he is.”

“I found out he is a solid man who is kept well abreast of various subjects under his purview. At the same time, he is thorough and strong, very sociable. And he can easily have good relations and contact with people who are his partners. I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris discuss the nearly 600 pages of transcripts documenting the calls and personal conversations between then U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin, released last month. A strong Clinton and a very weak Yeltsin underscore a warm and friendly relationship between the U.S. and Russia.

Then Vladimir Putin came along and decided to lift Russia out of the abyss, and things changed.

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Here are five must-read Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges from with the 600 pages released by the Clinton Library.

Via RT

Clinton sends ‘his people’ to get Yeltsin elected

Amid unceasing allegations of nefarious Russian influence in the 2016 presidential election, the Clinton-Yeltsin exchanges reveal how the US government threw its full weight behind Boris – in Russian parliamentary elections as well as for the 1996 reelection campaign, which he approached with 1-digit ratings.

For example, a transcript from 1993 details how Clinton offered to help Yeltsin in upcoming parliamentary elections by selectively using US foreign aid to shore up support for the Russian leader’s political allies.

“What is the prevailing attitude among the regional leaders? Can we do something through our aid package to send support out to the regions?” a concerned Clinton asked.

Yeltsin liked the idea, replying that “this kind of regional support would be very useful.” Clinton then promised to have “his people” follow up on the plan.

In another exchange, Yeltsin asks his US counterpart for a bit of financial help ahead of the 1996 presidential election: “Bill, for my election campaign, I urgently need for Russia a loan of $2.5 billion,” he said. Yeltsin added that he needed the money in order to pay pensions and government wages – obligations which, if left unfulfilled, would have likely led to his political ruin. Yeltsin also asks Clinton if he could “use his influence” to increase the size of an IMF loan to assist him during his re-election campaign.

Yeltsin questions NATO expansion

The future of NATO was still an open question in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and conversations between Clinton and Yeltsin provide an illuminating backdrop to the current state of the curiously offensive ‘defensive alliance’ (spoiler alert: it expanded right up to Russia’s border).

In 1995, Yeltsin told Clinton that NATO expansion would lead to “humiliation” for Russia, noting that many Russians were fearful of the possibility that the alliance could encircle their country.

“It’s a new form of encirclement if the one surviving Cold War bloc expands right up to the borders of Russia. Many Russians have a sense of fear. What do you want to achieve with this if Russia is your partner? They ask. I ask it too: Why do you want to do this?” Yeltsin asked Clinton.

As the documents show, Yeltsin insisted that Russia had “no claims on other countries,” adding that it was “unacceptable” that the US was conducting naval drills near Crimea.

“It is as if we were training people in Cuba. How would you feel?” Yeltsin asked. The Russian leader then proposed a “gentleman’s agreement” that no former Soviet republics would join NATO.

Clinton refused the offer, saying: “I can’t make the specific commitment you are asking for. It would violate the whole spirit of NATO. I’ve always tried to build you up and never undermine you.”

NATO bombing of Yugoslavia turns Russia against the West

Although Clinton and Yeltsin enjoyed friendly relations, NATO’s bombing of Yugoslavia tempered Moscow’s enthusiastic partnership with the West.

“Our people will certainly from now have a bad attitude with regard to America and with NATO,” the Russian president told Clinton in March 1999. “I remember how difficult it was for me to try and turn the heads of our people, the heads of the politicians towards the West, towards the United States, but I succeeded in doing that, and now to lose all that.”

Yeltsin urged Clinton to renounce the strikes, for the sake of “our relationship” and “peace in Europe.”

“It is not known who will come after us and it is not known what will be the road of future developments in strategic nuclear weapons,” Yeltsin reminded his US counterpart.

But Clinton wouldn’t cede ground.

“Milosevic is still a communist dictator and he would like to destroy the alliance that Russia has built up with the US and Europe and essentially destroy the whole movement of your region toward democracy and go back to ethnic alliances. We cannot allow him to dictate our future,” Clinton told Yeltsin.

Yeltsin asks US to ‘give Europe to Russia’

One exchange that has been making the rounds on Twitter appears to show Yeltsin requesting that Europe be “given” to Russia during a meeting in Istanbul in 1999. However, it’s not quite what it seems.

“I ask you one thing,” Yeltsin says, addressing Clinton. “Just give Europe to Russia. The US is not in Europe. Europe should be in the business of Europeans.”

However, the request is slightly less sinister than it sounds when put into context: The two leaders were discussing missile defense, and Yeltsin was arguing that Russia – not the US – would be a more suitable guarantor of Europe’s security.

“We have the power in Russia to protect all of Europe, including those with missiles,” Yeltsin told Clinton.

Clinton on Putin: ‘He’s very smart’

Perhaps one of the most interesting exchanges takes place when Yeltsin announces to Clinton his successor, Vladimir Putin.

In a conversation with Clinton from September 1999, Yeltsin describes Putin as “a solid man,” adding: “I am sure you will find him to be a highly qualified partner.”

A month later, Clinton asks Yeltsin who will win the Russian presidential election.

“Putin, of course. He will be the successor to Boris Yeltsin. He’s a democrat, and he knows the West.”

“He’s very smart,” Clinton remarks.

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