CAMPAIGN 2016 Is Ted Cruz ineligible for the presidency? Liz Goodwin January 14, 2016As the Iowa caucuses get closer, the fight between Republican presidential candidates Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Donald Trump heats up. (Photo: Getty Images/Reuters)As Ted Cruz overtook real estate mogul Donald Trump in Iowa polls earlier this month, his rival tossed a political bombshell at the Texas senator. He began questioning whether Cruz is eligible to be president at all, given that he was born in Canada.“Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question ‘Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?’” Trump told the Washington Post. “That’d be a big problem.”This attack on Cruz’s eligibility has already gained far more traction than Trump’s earlier foray into “birtherism,” questioning whether President Obama was born in the United States. Harvard law professor Larry Tribe wrote this week that it’s far from settled law whether his former student Cruz is eligible for the office he seeks and that the Supreme Court has never ruled directly on the matter. Tribe argues that by Cruz’s own conservative, originalist legal standards, he is not a “natural born citizen,” the requirement set forth in Article 2 of the Constitution.That’s because in the late 1700s when the Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution, the notion of citizenship was mostly derived from English common law. Anyone born in a sovereign’s territory was subject to the king’s laws and protection. When the founders wrote that the president must be a “natural born citizen,” they were most likely resting on this definition. But the idea of inheriting citizenship from one’s parents no matter where one was born was already spreading. In fact, in 1790, the U.S. Congress passed a law stating that parents could pass on U.S. citizenship to their children born abroad.Under our current laws, Cruz, who was born in Canada in 1970 to an American mother and a Cuban father, is unquestionably a U.S. citizen. What is less clear is whether he is “natural born” under Article 2 of the Constitution.Some legal scholars believe a natural-born citizen is anyone who became a citizen at birth. Under that definition, Cruz qualifies. “I find Cruz’s political beliefs reprehensible, but I think it’s clear that he’s eligible to be president,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine, law school.But others subscribe to the common-law definition, which would exclude Cruz. As Tribe points out, political preferences aside, more conservative justices who believe in hewing closely to the original meaning of the Constitution are likely to be tougher sells on Cruz’s eligibility than liberal jurists who see the Constitution as a living document.The framers inserted the mysterious “natural born citizen” language into Article 2 “in an effort to prevent a British nobleman or foreign prince” from seizing control of the infant nation, write Sarah Helene Duggin and Mary Beth Collins in the Boston University Law Review. The idea was to prevent foreigners from stealing the republic’s presidency. They never defined exactly what the phrase meant, and nothing else in the Constitution gives any guidance as to how to interpret it.The 14th Amendment, passed after the Civil War to ensure that freed black slaves became citizens, is the only part of the Constitution that addresses citizenship qualifications. It says that people born in the United States who are subject to its jurisdiction are U.S. citizens — leaving unanswered the question of whether citizens born abroad are “natural born.”Congress and the states could clear the matter up with a constitutional amendment. Or the courts could weigh in and settle it, if someone sues over Cruz’s eligibility.But it’s very unlikely that if Cruz were elected president in November, he would be thrown out as ineligible. The courts would most likely be reluctant to weigh in on such a divisive political issue, according to Suzanna Sherry, a constitutional law professor at Vanderbilt University. And Chemerinsky says that even if the courts did decide the issue, they would want to err on the side of giving voters their choice.“I think the court would either decide there was no standing or decide it was a political question [and decline to intervene],” Sherry says.
WHITE HOUSE Mitch McConnell calls Obama ‘very smart’ but ‘a little preachy’ Olivier Knox Chief Washington Correspondent January 13, 2016Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discusses President Obama’s final State of the Union speech. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP) One day after President Obama’s final State of the Union speech, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told Yahoo News on Wednesday that he disputes Obama’s diagnosis of American politics as toxic and tribal and sharply disagrees with the president’s proposed cures. Reflecting on nearly eight years of negotiations with Obama, McConnell also described him as “a very smart guy” but “a little preachy,” and said their “bourbon summit” never got past the planning stage.McConnell, in an exclusive interview with Yahoo News on Sirius XM, predicted action in Congress this year to battle the alarming national heroin epidemic and foresaw progress on overhauling America’s criminal justice system — two priorities Obama cited in what may be his last speech to a joint session of Congress. The Kentucky Republican also criticized the president’s record on the economy and put in a plug for his state’s signature liquor, bourbon.Obama urged Americans late Tuesday to “fix our politics,” arguing that the system has become hyper-partisan and fails to solve pressing problems. The president urged new efforts to curb the influence of campaign cash, the removal of barriers to voting, and an end to gerrymandering of political districts.“I certainly don’t agree with any of his solutions, which would give the government the ability to micromanage how people participate in trying to elect their government,” McConnell said.“We’ve always had robust political debates in our history. And frequently, at various intervals, we have thought it was worse than it ever was,” he added. “So I think America has many problems, but lack of collegiality and too much debate is not among them.”Asked to describe Obama’s best quality as a politician, McConnell said the president is “a very smart guy.” Pressed to say what the president’s most annoying trait is, the senator laughed and replied, “He’s a little preachy, you know. He likes to tell you what you think in your presence. And it’s a little bit annoying.“But, look, he’s a capable, far-left president who wanted to transform the country. And he has in many ways — in my view, in the wrong direction,” McConnell said.McConnell acknowledged that Americans are “probably” better off than they were when Obama took office in January 2009 — an unusual concession by a leading Republican at a time when the party’s presidential candidates sound like they aren’t sure the country will still be standing by Election Day. But he quickly added the caveat that “that’s not the way to measure it” because the Democrat took office in the middle of a devastating global financial meltdown.President Obama on Tuesday boasted of overseeing “the longest streak of private sector job creation in history,” the halving of the unemployment rate, and the strong performance of the automotive sector he rescued over conservative objections after the crisis. And the White House has frequently blamed the meltdown on Republican policies and said the president deserves the credit for turning the economy around, starting with a massive economic stimulus package he pushed to passage over GOP objections in 2009.But McConnell charged that the Obama recovery has been “tepid,” with a slow growth rate as well as poor job prospects for young people carrying heavy college debt. And he predicted that it will be “a really tough sell” for the Democratic presidential nominee “to make the argument that we want four more years just like the last eight.”McConnell sounded optimistic notes on the prospects for congressional action to battle the heroin epidemic and overhaul America’s criminal justice system.“Certainly the heroin epidemic we will tackle, and tackle soon, in the Senate. It’s a scourge all across the country,” he said. “People running for president up in New Hampshire tell me — oddly enough, nobody would predict this — it’s the No. 1 issue.”In addition, “there may well be action on the criminal justice front” despite “robust” misgivings on the Republican side, McConnell said. He declined to spell out those concerns.In the aftermath of the Republican romp in the 2014 elections, Obama and McConnell had entertained talk of a “bourbon summit” to find ways to cooperate.
EU launches unprecedented probe into new Polish laws By Bryan McManus 10 hours ago Brussels (AFP) – The European Union launched an unprecedented probe on Wednesday into controversial legal changes introduced by Poland’s new right-wing government to see if they violate EU democracy rules and merit punitive measures.The move comes amid growing concern over reforms to Poland’s constitutional court and increased control over state media adopted by the conservative, eurosceptic Law and Justice party (PiS), which swept to power in October.”Today we have decided that the Commission will carry out a preliminary assessment on this matter under the rule of law framework,” European Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans said after a special debate on the issue.”The rule of law is one of our fundamental values,” he said.Timmermans said rulings by Poland’s constitutional court were not being respected by the new government. He said he was concerned too about the new media laws in Poland which critics claim curb freedom of expression, another key EU value.The EU will review Poland’s answers by March.Relations between Brussels and Warsaw have been strained since the Law and Justice party (PiS), led …Polish Prime Minister Prime Minister Beata Szydlo downplayed the EU investigation.”I’m very happy about the ongoing dialogue (with the European Commission) and I invite each and every one of the (European) commissioners to Poland for discussions and to become better acquainted,” Szydlo told reporters in Warsaw in reaction to the probe.She earlier told parliament that Poland had been „unfairly accused of things that don’t exist in our country” and insisted that the rule of law was alive and well in her country.Polish President Andrzej Duda last week signed into law a bill allowing the government to appoint and sack senior figures in public radio.The changes to the constitutional court sparked mass protests and opposition complaints that they threatened judicial independence.Poland’s PiS-backed President Andrzej Duda signed into law a bill giving the government direct c …- Rule of law -Brussels introduced the „rule of law” mechanism in 2014, giving the 28-nation bloc the right to investigate and if necessary punish any member state which violates key EU democratic and rights norms.If found at fault, a country can be stripped of its EU voting rights — the so-called „nuclear option” — but the rule of law procedure has not been used before and officials say they hope it does not come to that.Initial reaction was mixed to the EU investigation.”It’s good that this is taking the path of institutional dialogue rather than the war of words we’ve seen recently,” Michal Baranowski, head of the Warsaw branch of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, told AFP.European Commissioners hold a formal debate on Poland for breaching EU democratic standards over cha …”It will help both sides really understand what the other is saying.”Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament, took a harder line, saying the probe sent „a clear message” to any member state tempted to bend the rules.The European Parliament is set to debate the Polish situation on January 19.The investigation threatens to inflame already tense relations with Poland and other eastern European countries such as Hungary who resent what they see as Brussels’ interference.Harsh words from Brussels have been matched by tough rhetoric in Warsaw, with a Polish magazine depicting EU leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Nazi uniforms.The split is the latest in an EU sharply divided by a host of problems ranging from Greece’s near eurozone exit to the continent’s biggest migration crisis since World War II.Poland’s new government stands in sharp contrast to its predecessor which won friends in high places in Brussels, culminating in the appointment of former centrist Polish premier Donald Tusk to head the European Council of the 28 EU leaders.
US Air Force shelves Warthog plane retirement amid IS fight: media 5 hours agoAn A-10 Warthog sitting on the flightline at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan (AFP Photo/SrA Corey Hook)Washington (AFP) – The US Air Force will delay retiring the A-10 — a stalwart attack aircraft beloved by ground troops — because of the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group, a military news site reported Wednesday.Plans to postpone the mothballing will be outlined when the Pentagon submits its 2017 budget request to Congress next month, Pentagon officials speaking on condition of anonymity told Defense One.Developed in the 1970s, A-10s can fly low and slow, and are famed for their tank-destroying capabilities and their heavy armor that makes them difficult to shoot down from the ground.US ground forces delight at the distinctive sound of the highly maneuverable plane’s massive cannon, which can drench a target with high-caliber firepower at a rate of about 70 rounds per second.According to Defense One, Air Force officials have postponed immediate plans to retire the Warthog, as the plane is known, because of its utility in Iraq and Syria, where the United States is leading a coalition against IS jihadists.The Air Force did not immediately respond to a request for comment.Senator John McCain, who heads the Senate Armed Services Committee, welcomed the report.”The A-10 fleet is playing an indispensable role in the fight against ISIL in Iraq and assisting NATO’s efforts to deter Russian aggression in Eastern Europe,” he said, using an alternative name for the IS group.”With growing global chaos and turmoil on the rise, we simply cannot afford to prematurely retire the best close air-support weapon in our arsenal without fielding a proper replacement.”The A-10’s retirement, proposed two years ago, was intended to free up cash to pay for newer planes, including the costly F-35 fighter jet.In October, the Pentagon announced the deployment of 12 A-10s to the air base in Incirlik in southern Turkey to support anti-IS operations in Iraq and Syria.
Washington (AFP) – US Secretary of State John Kerry told Iran’s foreign minister that Tehran’s capture and release of 10 US sailors could be turned into a „good story” for both countries, a US official said Wednesday.Kerry called Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif at least five times on Tuesday to secure the safe release of the boat crews after they strayed into Iranian territorial waters in the Gulf and were captured.During the calls, a senior US official told reporters, Kerry urged his counterpart to consider the potential crisis an opportunity to showcase the strengths of the thawing diplomatic relationship between the old foes.”They speak relatively regularly, none of this is unusual in the wake of the dialogue we’ve had on nuclear issues,” he said, adding that Kerry had already had a scheduled call with Zarif before the news broke.Kerry explained to Zarif that the sailors — crews in two US Navy patrol boats — had been on a routine transit mission between Kuwait and Bahrein and urged him to ensure that they were released quickly and unharmed.And he added „if we are able to do this in the right way it would be a good story for both of us.”According to the US official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss a private diplomatic exchange, Kerry’s success in the negotiation was testament to the closer ties developed between the governments during negotiations on the Iran nuclear deal.After Kerry and Zarif’s discussions, Tehran agreed to release the sailors and their boats and the incident was handed over to the two militaries to arrange the safe transfer of the personnel back to the US fleet.
Iran frees US sailors, heading off crisis By Arthur MacMillan 1 hour ago WABC – NY US Navy sailors held by Iran are released with their boatsNews US Navy sailors held by Iran are released with their boats Tehran (AFP) – Iran moved to head off a potential crisis days before the expected implementation of its nuclear deal with world powers by releasing 10 US Navy soldiers it had detained in the Gulf.Related Stories
A dramatic series of events started with the sailors — nine men and a woman — being taken into custody after their two patrol boats drifted into Iranian territory late on Tuesday.US and Iranian officials scrambled to defuse the situation, which unfolded as the nuclear accord edged toward its final steps, with a top Iranian official saying the deal should be implemented by Sunday.The sailors’ detention raised alarm in Washington but after informal talks with Tehran, Iran’s Revolutionary Guards said they had been set free.”Following their apology, they have been released to international waters in the Gulf,” said a statement read out on state television, noting the sailors had not entered Iranian waters intentionally and had no „hostile intent”.Video footage showed the Navy personnel with their hands on their heads as they were apprehended. But other footage showed them eating a meal and drinking water, some smiling, while sitting on Persian rugs.One sailor told Iranian state television that the crew had been treated well during their detention.”It was a mistake and that was our fault and we apologise for our mistake,” he said.The Pentagon confirmed they had been freed and that there was no indication that the sailors had been harmed.”The Navy will investigate the circumstances that led to the sailors’ presence in Iran,” it said.- ‘Broken navigation system’ -Admiral Ali Fadavi, the naval commander of the Guards, said an investigation established that „this trespassing was not hostile or for spying purposes”.Instead „a broken navigation system” had led them astray, he said.US officials had said one or both of the boats experienced mechanical problems and had been taken to Farsi Island, which lies roughly midway between Iran and Saudi Arabia in the Gulf. The island houses a base of the Guards, which has its own naval units.Radio contact was lost with the two vessels — riverine patrol boats under 65 feet (20 metres) in length — while they were en route from Kuwait to Bahrain.Washington and Tehran have no diplomatic relations, but US Secretary of State John Kerry called Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif five times about the issue on Tuesday.Kerry told him the sailors’ release could be turned into a „good story” for both sides, according to a senior US official.”That this issue was resolved peacefully and efficiently is a testament to the critical role diplomacy plays in keeping our country safe, secure, and strong,” Kerry said in a statement.Zarif said on Twitter: „Happy to see dialog and respect, not threats and impetuousness, swiftly resolved the #sailors episode. Let’s learn from this latest example.”Iran’s Guards often take a tough approach in what it considers the „Persian Gulf”.Relations with Washington were strained by claims last month that Iran fired rockets close to a US aircraft carrier in the Gulf.Last year, Iranian patrol boats seized the Maersk Tigris, a cargo ship sailing under the Marshall Islands flag, which meant it was under US protection.And in March 2007, Iranian patrols captured 15 British Royal Navy and Royal Marines personnel, interrogated them and held them for 13 days before releasing them.- Iran ‘testing the boundaries’ -The smooth resolution of the latest crisis was a testament to the close working relationship developed by Kerry and Zarif during the nuclear talks, which concluded in July with a deal between Iran and the P5+1 powers of the United States, Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany.The accord foresees Iran scaling back its activities to put an atomic bomb outside its reach in exchange for relief from crippling international sanctions.Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi was quoted by Iranian media as saying that UN nuclear inspectors would issue a report on Friday that would be followed by announcement of the deal’s implementation by Sunday.Kerry, who has been criticised by President Barack Obama’s opponents in the US congress as too soft on Tehran, last week said the agreement would be implemented „in the coming days”.Those rivals used the incident in the Gulf to hammer on this point, calling on Obama to make a statement and warning Iran must release the sailors.”Iran is testing the boundaries of this administration’s resolve,” Republican presidential hopeful Marco Rubio said.The US House of Representatives on Wednesday passed a measure aimed at blocking the nuclear deal, but abruptly cancelled the vote because nearly one third of lawmakers were absent.The vote is to be rescheduled for the week of January 25.In a further potential strain on bilateral relations, the US Supreme Court Wednesday waded into a sensitive case over whether the families of victims of attacks Iran is accused of financing or facilitating should finally receive $1.75 billion in compensation from frozen Iranian funds.Survivors and representatives of more than 1,000 American victims of terrorism, including the suicide bombing of a military barracks in Beirut in 1983 which killed 241 US soldiers, are demanding payment from funds of Iran’s central bank being held at Citibank in New York.
Prime Minister: Slovakia Will Never Allow ‘Formation of a United Muslim Community’ By Barbara Hollingsworth | January 13, 2016 | 11:23 AM ESTSlovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico. (AP photo)(CNSNews.com) – Calling multi-culturalism “a fiction,” Slovakia Prime Minister Robert Fico vowed not to allow refugees from the Middle East to establish “a united Muslim community in Slovakia,” which has a population of 5.4 million people. “Not only are we refusing mandatory quotas, we will never make a voluntary decision that would lead to formation of a united Muslim community in Slovakia, This is the only way to eliminate the risks,” Fico said last week, rejecting a European Union plan to resettle 120,000 refugees among 26 of the EU’s 28 member states.“Multi-culturalism is a fiction. Once you let migrants in, you can face such problems” as the jihadist attacks in Paris in November and mass sexual assaults in Germany on New Year’s Eve.“We don’t want something like what happened in Germany taking place in Slovakia,” the prime minister said, adding that it is the job of government officials to “prevent women from being molested in public places.”Fico has also called for a summit of EU members to address the issue of migrants, whom he referred to as “a protected species” and the growing number of Muslims in Europe who refuse to assimilate, Der Spiegel reports.Fico’s left-nationalist government filed a lawsuit last month challenging the EU decree that it must accept 802 migrants irrespective of their religious background. Poland, Hungary, Romania and the Czech Republic also oppose the refugee plan.In August, the Slovakian government stated that it would only accept Christian refugees because “Muslims would not feel at home” in the predominantly Catholic country, which has no mosques.In November, Fico said that in the wake of the Paris terrorist attacks, Slovakian authorities are „monitoring every Muslim in our territory” after observing that „virtually every time there has been a terrorist attack [in Europe], representatives of the Muslims were responsible.””Therefore, if we have these people staying in Slovakia legally, it’s our duty to verify whether they have contacts with problematic persons,” Fico said. Related: European Socialists, Radical Muslims United by ‘Mutual Hatred of Judeo-Christian Culture’ Barbara Hollingsworth
The facilities include the former US Clark airbase and air and naval facilities on the southwestern island of Palawan which faces the South China Sea, the focus of territorial disputes with China.Military spokesman Colonel Restituto Padilla said the facilities would be used to store equipment and supplies.He added that the offer had still to be finalised after the Philippine Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a 10-year security accord.The decision allows for the full implementation of the Enhanced Defense Co-operation Agreement (EDCA), signed in 2014 but not implemented due to legal challenges from groups opposed to US military involvement in the Philippines, a US colony from 1898 to 1946.It will see more US troops rotate through the Philippines for war games and help Manila build military facilities.Philippine Marines take position next to a US Marine assault amphibious vehicles during a live-fire …”We have resumed talks now that there is a go-signal that EDCA is constitutional,” Padilla said.”We are continuing talks and we will finalise the agreement on the locations,” he said without giving a timetable when the decision would be reached.The Philippines hosted two of the largest overseas US military bases until 1992, when the senate voted to end their leases, a decision influenced by anti-US sentiment.The new pact does not authorise a return of US bases.China and the Philippines — as well as Brunei, Malaysia, Vietnam and Taiwan — have conflicting claims to the South China Sea which is a major shipping lane, rich fishing ground and potential source of mineral resources.The Philippines has been seeking closer defence ties with the United States, accusing China of increased aggressiveness in the South China Sea.In April 2012, after a tense stand-off with Philippine ships, Chinese vessels took control of a shoal just 220 kilometres (135 miles) off the main Philippine island of Luzon.Philippine President Benigno Aquino negotiated the EDCA to help the Philippines improve its military capabilities and draw the United States closer, partly to counter China’s increasing presence.
Russia announces new budget cuts as oil price slides By Maria Antonova 14 hours agoMoscow (AFP) – Russia said Wednesday it will slash budget spending by 10 percent this year due to sliding oil prices as Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev insisted the country must „live within its means”.The renewed austerity calls came as the price of oil, Russia’s key export commodity, hovered around $30 (28 euros) a barrel, and with economic decline a particular concern for officials ahead of parliamentary polls this year.”The basic principle of our policies should stay the same: one must live within one’s means, including by cutting budget spending,” Medvedev told an economic conference in Moscow.He admitted that the year 2015 was „perhaps the most difficult in the past decade” for Russia.”It has been a long time since our economy has been hit with such forceful and synchronised challenges” he said, citing oil prices and Western sanctions against Russia over its role in the conflict in Ukraine.The premier went so far as to caution politicians from making promises they may be unable to keep ahead of parliamentary elections in September.The price of oil would have to rise to $82 a barrel to fully balance this year’s budget (AFP Pho …”With economic difficulties, the temptation is great to slide into populism and capitalise on topics that are sensitive for voters,” he said. „It’s always easy to promise a radiant future, but promises must be delivered.”- ‘Thrifty’ budget -Speaking at the same event, Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said that the government is going to cut 10 percent of budget spending this year, warning that failure to do so would have a catastrophic impact on the Russian people.”We have agreed that ministries and (government) agencies… will present their proposals to the finance ministry for optimising budget expenditure by around ten percent,” Siluanov said, confirming earlier media reports.”In the current difficult conditions, we must speak of a very thrifty, strict budget policy, in order not to end up with high deficit levels or a high volume of debt,” he said.Foreign currency rates against Russia’s battered ruble, displayed by a trader in Moscow on Janua …If the government fails to initiate austerity measures, „the same thing will happen as in 1998-99, with the public paying through inflation for our failures in correlating the budget with the new reality,” he warned, referring to a previous economic crisis which saw Russia default on its debt.Russia’s 2016 budget — over half of which relies on revenues from oil and gas exports — is based on an oil price of $50 a barrel and a deficit of three percent, which President Vladimir Putin has ordered must not be exceeded.But crude prices on Tuesday dipped below $30 a barrel for the first time in over 12 years and former finance minister Alexei Kudrin estimated that deficit could grow to over five percent if they stay at their current levels.Siluanov said the oil price would have to rise to $82 to fully balance this year’s budget.He cautioned against expecting a „price rise (for oil) in the immediate future,” while economy minister Alexei Ulyukayev predicted that oil prices would remain low for „a very long time.”While last year’s budget deficit was 2.6 percent, this year is expected to be more difficult.The government has been forced to dip heavily into its reserves and abandon support for the ruble, which has slid in value.The economy has also been pummelled by Western sanctions imposed due to Moscow’s meddling in Ukraine, as well as Russia’s counter-measures which included an embargo on key food imports.Budget cuts have already affected the interior ministry, which announced layoffs of about 10 percent of its workforce.Annual inflation in 2015 reached 15.5 percent and food prices grew more than 19 percent on average, with fruit and vegetables becoming 29.5 percent more expensive, the state statistics service said this week.In a poll conducted in late December, most Russians (58%) said they could afford food and clothing, but had difficulties purchasing more expensive items like appliances, pollster Levada Centre said Wednesday.
Obama, Putin discuss Ukraine, Syria: White House 9 hours agoRussian President Vladimir Putin (L) meets with US President Barack Obama on November 30, 2015 (AFP Photo/Mikhail Klimentyev )Related Stories
Washington (AFP) – US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by telephone on Wednesday, discussing crises in Ukraine and Syria, the White House said.”They spent a significant portion of their time discussing the need for the Russians to live up to the commitments that they made in Minsk — to end their support for separatists that are destabilizing Ukraine right now,” said White House spokesman Josh Earnest.Ukraine and pro-Russian rebels agreed a new truce deal Wednesday that goes into immediate effect and replaces one broken just hours after its signature at the end of last month.Kiev’s pro-Western leaders and the insurgents are fighting over an industrial region the approximate size of Wales that is home to about 3.5 million people and the center of the splintered former Soviet nation’s coal and steel wealth.Russia firmly denies allegations of orchestrating and backing the war in order to keep some leverage over Ukraine in the wake of its decision to establish closer trade and political relations with the European Union.Earnest also said that Obama and Putin have also discussed ongoing efforts to end Syria’s brutal civil war.They discussed the „effort to try to bring about a political transition inside of Syria.””Both the United States and Russia have a vested interest in seeing that occur.”