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Tsipras: a resolution is coming “soon”… Merkel: there’s “a whole lot to do.”

Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics: “[Germany is ready] to take this brinkmanship very far [with Schaeuble as] attack dog. We’re in this game of chicken. The problem is that Alexis Tsipras is riding a scooter and Wolfgang Schaeuble is driving an armored BMW.”

Alex Christoforou

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Post originally appeared on Zerohedge.

In many ways, four months of negotiations between Greece and its creditors can be summed up with the following two headlines from this morning:

  • GREECE VERY CLOSE TO SEALING DEAL WITH CREDITORS: SPOKESMAN
  • GREECE WON’T COMPROMISE ON LABOR REFORMS, PENSIONS: SPOKESMAN

Those came back-to-back believe it or not, which underscores the whole problem: the Greek government wants money but doesn’t want the conditions which come with the money because those conditions entail the wholesale abandonment of the mandate that got them elected in January.

Despite it all, PM Alexis Tsipras still thought he could effectively secure a deal in Latvia this week by whispering to Angela Merkel on the sidelines of a Eurogroup meeting, a tactic he’s tried before to no avail. Unsurprisingly, these “sideline” talks produced exactly nothing after Tsipras kept Merkel and French President Francois Hollande up until 1 in the morning in Riga, proving that, to quote Jean-Claude Juncker, “Riga just isn’t the place” for eleventh hour bailout negotiations. Here’s more from Bloomberg:

With time running out for a deal to free up the remaining 7.2 billion-euro ($8 billion) tranche of aid, Merkel’s discussions in Latvia with Tsipras and French President Francois Hollande broke up in the early hours of Friday with an agreement only to keep talking. Tsipras talked of a resolution “soon,” whereas Merkel said there’s “a whole lot to do.”

“It was a very friendly, constructive discussion,” the chancellor told reporters on Friday as she arrived for the second day of a two-day European Union summit in the Latvian capital, Riga. “But it was very clear that further work has to be done with the three institutions.”

The meeting marked another rejection by Merkel of the latest Tsipras attempt to bypass finance ministers and strike a political deal at the level of government leaders, highlighting German insistence that Greece’s budget numbers must add up before aid can be released.

A short statement released separately by the French and German governments after more than two hours of talks with Tsipras was devoid of earlier optimism expressed by Hollande at paving the way for an accord as soon as the end of the month. In its place, the governments of the two biggest euro-area economies talked of agreement “to stay in close contact.”

A government official, in a debriefing after the talks broke up about 1 a.m., signaled Greek frustration by saying that a main obstacle is that the International Monetary Fund needs to be on board. The IMF is one of Greece’s creditors along with the European Central Bank and euro-area governments. “Open issues” remain with creditors, including pensions, sales-tax rates and targets for a primary budget surplus, the official told reporters.

The French and German statements lacked Hollande’s upbeat tone as he arrived in Riga, when he had opened the prospect of striking a political deal that could help lead to an accord by finance ministers at the end of May or early June. Without an agreement, Greece risks a default that would put in question its future in the 19-nation euro region.

Absent too from the final statements was any reference to an extraordinary finance ministers’ meeting on Greece. Hollande had said that the discussion with Tsipras would “help prepare for the expected deadline, especially the eurogroup” meeting of euro-area finance ministers “at the end of May or in early June.” That suggested a special meeting since the next regular gathering isn’t due until June 18.

France and Germany offered to provide assistance to Greece and Tsipras whenever questions come up, Merkel said. “But the accord must be reached with the three institutions and very, very intensive work has to be done.”

As for Germany — where Christian Democratic lawmakers have for weeks been pressuring Merkel to call it quits on Greece — the Finance Ministry and the central bank are out questioning the utility of continuing to negotiate with Syriza.

First there’s Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann…

“The prospect of a sustainable stabilization of Greece is decisive, that requires an improvement in competitiveness, solid state finances and better administrative structures. The IMF has also rightly advised this. Hence, the ball is clearly in the court of the Greek government.”

…and then the German finance ministry…

“International Monetary Fund participation in negotiations on Greece’s aid program is mandatory requirement.”

…and finally, the Schaeuble was unleashed…

German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble conceded the possibility that Greece may need a parallel currency alongside the euro if the country’s talks with creditors fail, people familiar with his views said.

Yes, “conceded the possibility,” and while those who actually witnessed the German FinMin’s comments claim he “didn’t endorse the idea”, we imagine his feelings wouldn’t be hurt if it came to pass because as we’ve seen, Schaeuble is no fan of radical socialist shenanigans.

Meanwhile, Commerzbank says the country’s economy (which, as a reminder, is losing €22.3 million a day) not to mention its citizens, simply can’t take the pain any longer and when comparing Greece to other historical instances of EM “turmoil”, the country doesn’t come out so well.

Via Bloomberg:

As another round of aid talks between the Mediterranean nation and its creditors ends without a deal, its economy is faring even worse than a string of developing countries which suffered traumas in the last two decades. That leaves Commerzbank AG declaring the country is in little position to pare its debt and that default or a restructuring may loom.

“Just as with emerging markets in the past there is a point in time where you need to move on to the next stage rather than being paralyzed,” Simon Quijano-Evans, head of emerging market research at Commerzbank in London, said in a telephone interview. “In Greece, we need to think of next steps and be innovative.”

To illustrate Greece’s pain, he published a report this month comparing how the economic fallout from its five-year-old crisis compared with the bouts of turmoil suffered in the last two decades by Turkey, Argentina, Latvia and Thailand. The result illustrates why Commerzbank sees a 50 percent chance of Greece ultimately leaving the euro area.

“Comparing Greece’s experience so far with that of EM crisis countries shows very simply that the country’s already stressed economy and electorate are unable to cope with more pain,” said the Commerzbank economist.

While Athens has imposed the tightest fiscal squeeze of the five and pushed its budget balance excluding interest payments into surplus from a deficit of about 10 percent of gross domestic product in 2009, Turkey and Argentina were doing better at the same stage.

Yeah… about that budget balance…

  • GREEK MARCH CURRENT ACCOUNT DEFICIT WIDENS TO EU404M

References:

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-05-22/greece-may-need-issue-ious-schaeuble-says-after-latest-failure-reach-deal

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EXPLOSIVE: Michael Cohen sentencing memo exposes serial liar with nothing to offer Mueller (Video)

The Duran Quick Take: Episode 38.

Alex Christoforou

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The Duran’s Alex Christoforou and Editor-in-Chief Alexander Mercouris take a quick look at the Michael Cohen sentencing memo which paints the picture of a man who was not as close to Trump as he made it out to be…a serial liar and cheat who leveraged his thin connections to the Trump organization for money and fame.

It was Cohen himself who proudly labelled himself as Trump’s “fixer”. The sentencing memo hints at the fact that even Mueller finds no value to Cohen in relation to the ongoing Trump-Russia witch hunt investigation.

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Via Axios

Special counsel Robert Mueller and federal prosecutors in New York have each submitted sentencing memos for President Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, after Cohen pleaded guilty in two different cases related to his work for Trump and the Trump Organization.

The big picture: The Southern District of New York recommended Cohen serve a range of 51 to 63 months for four crimes — “willful tax evasion, making false statements to a financial institution, illegal campaign contributions, and making false statements to Congress.” Mueller, meanwhile, did not take a position on the length of Cohen’s statement, but said he has made substantial efforts to assist the investigation.

Southern District of New York

Mueller investigation

Michael J. Stern, a federal prosecutor with the Justice Department for 25 years in Detroit and Los Angeles noted via USA Today

In support of their request that he serve no time in prison, Cohen’s attorneys offered a series of testimonials from friends who described the private Michael Cohen as a “truly caring” man with a “huge heart” who is not only “an upstanding, honorable, salt of the earth man” but also a “selfless caretaker.”

The choirboy portrayed by Cohen’s lawyers stands in sharp opposition to Cohen’s public persona as Trump’s legal bulldog, who once threatened a reporter with: “What I’m going to do to you is going to be f—ing disgusting. Do you understand me?”

Prosecutors focused their sentencing memo on Cohen as Mr. Hyde. Not only did they detail Cohen’s illegal activities, which include millions of dollars of fraud, they also recognized the public damage that stemmed from his political crimes — describing Cohen as “a man who knowingly sought to undermine core institutions of our democracy.”

Rebuffing efforts by Cohen’s attorneys to recast him as a good guy who made a few small mistakes, prosecutors cited texts, statements of witnesses, recordings, documents and other evidence that proved Cohen got ahead by employing a “pattern of deception that permeated his professional life.” The prosecutors attributed Cohen’s crimes to “personal greed,” an effort to “increase his power and influence,” and a desire to maintain his “opulent lifestyle.”

Perhaps the most damning reveal in the U.S. Attorney’s sentencing memo is that Cohen refused to fully cooperate. That’s despite his public relations campaign to convince us that he is a new man who will cooperate with any law enforcement authority, at any time, at any place.

As a former federal prosecutor who handled hundreds of plea deals like Cohen’s, I can say it is extremely rare for any credit to be recommended when a defendant decides not to sign a full cooperation deal. The only reason for a refusal would be to hide information. The prosecutors said as much in their sentencing memo: Cohen refused “to be debriefed on other uncharged criminal conduct, if any, in his past,” and “further declined” to discuss “other areas of investigative interest.”

 

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Canada to Pay Heavy Price for Trudeau’s Groupie Role in US Banditry Against China

Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Huawei CFO Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

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Authored by Finian Cunningham via The Strategic Culture Foundation:


You do have to wonder about the political savvy of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his government. The furious fallout from China over the arrest of a senior telecoms executive is going to do severe damage to Canadian national interests.

Trudeau’s fawning over American demands is already rebounding very badly for Canada’s economy and its international image.

The Canadian arrest – on behalf of Washington – of Meng Wanzhou, chief financial officer of Chinese telecom giant Huawei, seems a blatant case of the Americans acting politically and vindictively. If the Americans are seen to be acting like bandits, then the Canadians are their flunkies.

Wanzhou was detained on December 1 by Canadian federal police as she was boarding a commercial airliner in Vancouver. She was reportedly handcuffed and led away in a humiliating manner which has shocked the Chinese government, media and public.

The business executive has since been released on a $7.4 million bail bond, pending further legal proceedings. She is effectively being kept under house arrest in Canada with electronic ankle tagging.

To add insult to injury, it is not even clear what Wanzhou is being prosecuted for. The US authorities have claimed that she is guilty of breaching American sanctions against Iran by conducting telecoms business with Tehran. It is presumed that the Canadians arrested Wanzhou at the request of the Americans. But so far a US extradition warrant has not been filed. That could take months. In the meantime, the Chinese businesswoman will be living under curfew, her freedom denied.

Canadian legal expert Christopher Black says there is no juridical case for Wanzhou’s detention. The issue of US sanctions on Iran is irrelevant and has no grounds in international law. It is simply the Americans applying their questionable national laws on a third party. Black contends that Canada has therefore no obligation whatsoever to impose those US laws regarding Iran in its territory, especially given that Ottawa and Beijing have their own separate bilateral diplomatic relations.

In any case, what the real issue is about is the Americans using legal mechanisms to intimidate and beat up commercial rivals. For months now, Washington has made it clear that it is targeting Chinese telecoms rivals as commercial competitors in a strategic sector. US claims about China using telecoms for “spying” and “infiltrating” American national security are bogus propaganda ruses to undermine these commercial rivals through foul means.

It also seems clear from US President Donald Trump’s unsubtle comments this week to Reuters, saying he would “personally intervene” in the Meng case “if it helped trade talks with China”, that the Huawei executive is being dangled like a bargaining chip. It was a tacit admission by Trump that the Americans really don’t have a legal case against her.

Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland bounced into damage limitation mode following Trump’s thuggish comments. She said that the case should not be “politicized” and that the legal proceedings should not be tampered with. How ironic is that?

The whole affair has been politicized from the very beginning. Meng’s arrest, or as Christopher Black calls it “hostage-taking”, is driven by Washington’s agenda of harassment against China for commercial reasons, under a legal pretext purportedly about Iranian sanctions.

When Trump revealed the cynical expediency of him “helping to free Wanzhou”, then the Canadians realized they were also being exposed for the flunkies that they are for American banditry. That’s why Freeland was obliged to quickly adopt the fastidious pretense of legal probity.

Canadian premier Justin Trudeau has claimed that he wasn’t aware of the American request for Wanzhou’s detention. Trudeau is being pseudo. For such a high-profile infringement against a senior Chinese business leader, Ottawa must have been fully briefed by the Americans. Christopher Black, the legal expert, believes that Trudeau would had to have known about the impending plot to snatch Wanzhou and moreover that he personally signed off on it.

What Trudeau and his government intended to get out of performing this sordid role for American thuggery is far from clear. Maybe after being verbally mauled by Trump as “weak and dishonest” at the G7 summit earlier this year, in June, Trudeau decided it was best to roll over and be a good little puppy for the Americans in their dirty deed against China.

But already it has since emerged that Canada is going to pay a very heavy price indeed for such dubious service to Washington. Beijing has warned that it will take retaliation against both Washington and Ottawa. And it is Ottawa that is more vulnerable to severe repercussions.

This week saw two Canadian citizens, one a former diplomat, detained in China on spying charges.

Canadian business analysts are also warning that Beijing can inflict harsh economic penalties on Ottawa. An incensed Chinese public have begun boycotting Canadian exports and sensitive Canadian investments in China are now at risk from being blocked by Beijing. A proposed free trade deal that was being negotiated between Ottawa and Beijing now looks dead in the water.

And if Trudeau’s government caves in to the excruciating economic pressure brought to bear by Beijing and then abides by China’s demand to immediately release Meng Wanzhou, Ottawa will look like a pathetic, gutless lackey to Washington. Canada’s reputation of being a liberal, independent state will be shredded. Even then the Chinese are unlikely to forget Trudeau’s treachery.

With comic irony, there’s a cringemaking personal dimension to this unseemly saga.

During the 197os when Trudeau’s mother Margaret was a thirty-something socialite heading for divorce from his father, then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, she was often in the gossip media for indiscretions at nightclubs. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards claims in his autobiography that Margaret Trudeau was a groupie for the band, having flings with Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood. Her racy escapades and louche lifestyle brought shame to many Canadians.

Poor Margaret Trudeau later wound up divorced, disgraced, financially broke and scraping a living from scribbling tell-all books.

Justin, her eldest son, is finding out that being a groupie for Washington’s banditry is also bringing disrepute for him and his country.

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US Commits To “Indefinite” Occupation Of Syria; Controls Region The Size Of Croatia

Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005.

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Via Zerohedge


“We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation” — a Syrian resident in US-controlled Raqqa told Stars and Stripes military newspaper. This as the Washington Post noted this week that “U.S. troops will now stay in Syria indefinitely, controlling a third of the country and facing peril on many fronts.”

Like the “forever war” in Afghanistan, will we be having the same discussion over the indefinite occupation of Syria stretching two decades from now? A new unusually frank assessment in Stars and Stripes bluntly lays out the basic facts concerning the White House decision to “stay the course” until the war’s close:

That decision puts U.S. troops in overall control, perhaps indefinitely, of an area comprising nearly a third of Syria, a vast expanse of mostly desert terrain roughly the size of Louisiana.

The Pentagon does not say how many troops are there. Officially, they number 503, but earlier this year an official let slip that the true number may be closer to 4,000

A prior New Yorker piece described the US-occupied area east of the Euphrates as “an area about the size of Croatia.” With no Congressional vote, no public debate, and not even so much as an official presidential address to the nation, the United States is settling in for another endless occupation of sovereign foreign soil while relying on the now very familiar post-911 AUMF fig leaf of “legality”.

Like the American public and even some Pentagon officials of late have been pointing out for years regarding Afghanistan, do US forces on the ground even know what the mission is? The mission may be undefined and remain ambiguously to “counter Iran”, yet the dangers and potential for major loss in blood and treasure loom larger than ever.

According to Stars and Stripes the dangerous cross-section of powder keg conflicts and geopolitical players means “a new war” is on the horizon:

The new mission raises new questions, about the role they will play and whether their presence will risk becoming a magnet for regional conflict and insurgency.

The area is surrounded by powers hostile both to the U.S. presence and the aspirations of the Kurds, who are governing the majority-Arab area in pursuit of a leftist ideology formulated by an imprisoned Turkish Kurdish leader. Signs that the Islamic State is starting to regroup and rumblings of discontent within the Arab community point to the threat of an insurgency.

Without the presence of U.S. troops, these dangers would almost certainly ignite a new war right away, said Ilham Ahmed, a senior official with the Self-Administration of North and East Syria, as the self-styled government of the area is called.

“They have to stay. If they leave and there isn’t a solution for Syria, it will be catastrophic,” she said.

But staying also heralds risk, and already the challenges are starting to mount.
So a US-backed local politician says the US can’t leave or there will be war, while American defense officials simultaneously recognize they are occupying the very center of an impending insurgency from hell — all of which fits the textbook definition of quagmire perfectly.

The New Yorker: “The United States has built a dozen or more bases from Manbij to Al-Hasakah, including four airfields, and American-backed forces now control all of Syria east of the Euphrates, an area about the size of Croatia.”

But in September the White House announced a realignment of its official priorities in Syria, namely to act “as a bulwark against Iran’s expanding influence.” This means the continued potential and likelihood of war with Syria, Iran, and Russia in the region is ever present, per Stripes:

Syrian government troops and Iranian proxy fighters are to the south and west. They have threatened to take the area back by force, in pursuit of President Bashar Assad’s pledge to bring all of Syria under government control.

Already signs of an Iraq-style insurgency targeting US forces in eastern Syria are beginning to emerge.

In Raqqa, the largest Syrian city at the heart of US occupation and reconstruction efforts, the Stripes report finds the following:

The anger on the streets is palpable. Some residents are openly hostile to foreign visitors, which is rare in other towns and cities freed from Islamic State control in Syria and Iraq. Even those who support the presence of the U.S. military and the SDF say they are resentful that the United States and its partners in the anti-ISIS coalition that bombed the city aren’t helping to rebuild.

And many appear not to support their new rulers.

We don’t want the Americans. It’s occupation,” said one man, a tailor, who didn’t want to give his name because he feared the consequences of speaking his mind. “I don’t know why they had to use such a huge number of weapons and destroy the city. Yes, ISIS was here, but we paid the price. They have a responsibility.”

Recent reports out of the Pentagon suggests defense officials simply want to throw more money into US efforts in Syria, which are further focused on training and supplying the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (or Kurdish/YPG-dominated SDF), which threatens confrontation with Turkey as its forces continue making preparations for a planned attack on Kurdish enclaves in Syria this week.

Meanwhile, Raqqa is beginning to look more and more like Baghdad circa 2005:

Everyone says the streets are not safe now. Recent months have seen an uptick in assassinations and kidnappings, mostly targeting members of the security forces or people who work with the local council. But some critics of the authorities have been gunned down, too, and at night there are abductions and robberies.

As America settles in for yet another endless and “indefinite” occupation of a Middle East country, perhaps all that remains is for the president to land on an aircraft carrier with “Mission Accomplished” banners flying overhead?

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