No breakthrough in shutdown talks as Trump stands by demandsCATHERINE LUCEY and LISA MASCARO•Talks resume as US govt shutdown continues Associated Press Videos Scroll back up to restore default view.WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump stood by his demands for funding for a border wall Sunday as another round of shutdown talks failed to break an impasse, while newly empowered House Democrats planned to step up the pressure on Trump and Republican lawmakers by passing legislation this week to reopen parts of the government.Trump, who spent part of the day at Camp David for staff meetings, showed no signs of budging on his demand of more than $5 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. White House officials affirmed that request in a letter to Capitol Hill after a meeting with senior congressional aides led by Vice President Mike Pence at the White House complex yielded little progress.The letter from Office of Management and Budget Acting Director Russell Vought also formalized Trump’s declaration that the wall would be built from steel, rather than concrete, asking for funding for a „steel barrier on the Southwest border.”The White House said the letter, as well as details provided during the meeting, sought to answer Democrats’ questions about the funding request. Democrats, though, said the administration failed in both the meeting and the letter to provide a full budget of how it would spend the billions requested on the wall, money the president wants from Congress.The letter includes a request for $800 million for „urgent humanitarian needs,” a reflection of the growing anxiety over migrants traveling to the border — which the White House said Democrats raised in the meetings. And it repeats some existing funding requests for detention beds and security officers, which have already been panned by Congress and would likely find resistance among House Democrats.Still, the request makes clear a wall is a top priority. Vought writes that a „physical barrier — wall — creates an enduring capability that helps field personnel stop, slow down and/or contain illegal entries.”Trump sought to frame a steel barrier as progress as he returned from the presidential retreat in Maryland, saying Democrats „don’t like concrete, so we’ll give them steel.” The president has already suggested his definition of the wall is flexible, but Democrats have made clear they see a wall as immoral and ineffective and prefer other types of border security funded at already agreed upon levels.With the partial shutdown in its third week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she intends to begin passing individual bills to reopen agencies in the coming days, starting with the Treasury Department to ensure people receive their tax refunds. That effort is designed to squeeze Senate Republicans, some of whom are growing increasingly anxious about the extended shutdown.The seemingly intractable budget showdown marks the first clash for Trump and Democrats, who now control the House. It pits Trump’s unpredictable negotiating stylings against a largely united Democratic front, as many Republicans watch nervously from the sidelines and hundreds of thousands of federal workers go without pay.Although Trump tweeted that the Sunday session had been „productive,” two Democrats familiar with the meeting gave a different take, saying the White House had not provided the budget details they had requested and again declined to re-open government. One of the officials — neither was authorized to speak publicly — said no additional meetings were scheduled.Trump said earlier in the day that he was hoping for „some very serious talks come Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday.” While insisting he wanted to make a deal, he also declared he would not give an inch in his fight for funding for a border barrier, saying: „There’s not going to be any bend right here.”Among the Republicans expressing concerns was Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, who said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell should take up bills from the Democratic-led House.”Let’s get those reopened while the negotiations continue,” Collins said on NBC’s „Meet the Press.” Democrats criticized McConnell for waiting on Trump’s support, but Collins said she was sympathetic to McConnell’s opposition to moving legislation without agreement from the president.Several Republicans pushed the Interior Department to find money to restaff national parks amid growing concerns over upkeep and public safety. And Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., suggested Sunday that pressure would only mount amid the shutdown, which he said is disrupting Transportation Security Administration operations, home loans and farmers in his state.”Democrats and now a growing number of Republicans are coming together and saying let’s open up the government and debate border security separately,” Schumer told reporters in New York.Adding to concerns, federal workers might miss this week’s paychecks. Acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on NBC’s „Meet the Press” that if the shutdown continues into Tuesday, „then payroll will not go out as originally planned on Friday night.”Trump reaffirmed that he would consider declaring a national emergency to circumvent Congress and spend money as he saw fit. Such a move would seem certain to draw legal challenges.Incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith, D-Wash., said on ABC’s „This Week” that the executive power has been used to build military facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan but would likely be „wide open” to a court challenge for a border wall. Speaking on CNN’s „State of the Union,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff called the idea a „nonstarter.””Look, if Harry Truman couldn’t nationalize the steel industry during wartime, this president doesn’t have the power to declare an emergency and build a multibillion-dollar wall on the border,” said Schiff, D-Calif.Trump also asserted that he could relate to the plight of the hundreds of thousands of federal workers who aren’t getting paid, though he acknowledged they will have to „make adjustments” to deal with the shutdown shortfall. A day earlier, the president had tweeted that he didn’t care that „most of the workers not getting paid are Democrats.”Mulvaney, sought to frame Trump’s support for a steel barrier as progress in the negotiations, saying on NBC that „if he has to give up a concrete wall, replace it with a steel fence in order to do that so that Democrats can say, ‘See? He’s not building a wall anymore,’ that should help us move in the right direction.”Trump said he planned to call the heads of American steel companies in hopes of coming up with a new design for the barrier he contends must be built along the southern border. His administration has already spent millions constructing wall prototypes near the border in San Diego.___Associated Press writers Julie Walker in New York, Jill Colvin in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.
Trump holds firm on border wall, offers steel option as compromiseBy Jeff Mason and Ginger Gibson•Trump pledges not to bend on border wall Trump pledges not to bend on border wall Yahoo News Video Scroll back up to restore default view.By Jeff Mason and Ginger Gibson WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump pledged on Sunday not to bend in his demand for a wall along the southern border with Mexico but said the barrier could be made of steel instead of concrete as a potential compromise with Democrats who refuse to fund it.Trump’s comments came at the start of the third week of a partial government shutdown resulting from the dispute that has left hundreds of thousands of federal workers idled or without paychecks.Trump threatened again, without providing specifics on where the funding would originate, to declare a national emergency as an alternative way to build the wall, depending on the outcome of talks in the coming days.Democrats have declined to approve the $5.6 billion Trump wants to fulfill a 2016 campaign promise to curb illegal immigration. Led by new Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats passed a bill in the House of Representatives last week to reopen the government without wall funding. Pelosi has called a border wall immoral.”This is a very important battle to win from the standpoint of safety, number one, (and) defining our country and who we are,” Trump told reporters at the White House before leaving for a short trip to the Camp David presidential retreat.”The barrier, or the wall, can be of steel instead of concrete, if that helps people. It may be better,” he said.The White House painted that offer, which Trump floated previously, as an olive branch.Mick Mulvaney, Trump’s acting chief of staff, told NBC’s „Meet the Press” that agreeing to a steel barrier would allow Democrats to stick to their refusal to fund a wall.”That should help us move in the right direction,” he said.House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer did not show his hand when asked whether the White House offer to move away from a concrete structure was evidence of compromise.”It’ll be discussed,” he said on NBC.Vice President Mike Pence led a second round of talks with congressional aides on Sunday about the issue, but Trump said he did not expect those talks to produce results, noting that the principals – himself, Pelosi and Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer – were the ones who could solve it quickly.”If we don’t find a solution, it’s going to go on for a long time. There’s not going to be any bend right here,” Trump said.He later tweeted that the Pence talks were productive. But a Democratic aide familiar with the meeting said Democrats urged the White House to pass measures to reopen the government without wall funding and Pence said Trump would not do that. The aide said no progress was made and no further meetings of the group were scheduled.OTHER CONCESSIONS? Democrats could demand other concessions from the White House, such as protections for immigrants brought illegally to the United States as children, known as Dreamers, or changes to other spending provisions. Trump said he wanted to help on the Dreamer issue but preferred to wait for a Supreme Court ruling on it first.Democratic U.S. Senator Dick Durbin reacted coolly to Trump’s suggestion of declaring a national emergency. „I don’t know what he’s basing this on, but he’s faced so many lawsuits when he ignores the law and ignores tradition and precedent,” Durbin said on CBS’ „Face the Nation.”Large chunks of the federal government were shut down on Dec. 22 after lawmakers and the president hit an impasse over Trump’s demand that a bill to keep the federal government operational include money to help build a $23 billion wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. About 800,000 government workers are either furloughed or working without pay.”I can relate,” Trump, a former New York businessman, said when asked if he could relate to the pain of federal workers struggling to pay their bills. „I’m sure that the people that are on the receiving end will make adjustments.” Asked if workers would get paid on Friday, Trump said: „We’ll see whether or not it’s settled.”Not all Republicans agree with Trump’s insistence on keeping government agencies shuttered until the border debate is resolved.”It is not a sign of weakness to try to figure out a middle ground, and I think that both sides need to indicate a willingness to listen and to compromise,” U.S. Senator Susan Collins of Maine said on NBC. She called the debate over using steel versus concrete „bizarre.”House Democrats plan to pass a series of bills this week to reopen government, breaking up legislation they have already approved in a bid to get Republicans to agree to reopen certain agencies, Hoyer said on „Meet the Press.””We need to open up government and then negotiate. Not the other way around,” he said.(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Ginger Gibson; Additional reportering by Amanda Becker; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Peter Cooney)
The U.S. role has now been altered again to a slow and coordinated withdrawal from Syria. U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham met with Trump on December 30 and said the new goals involved the permanent destruction of ISIS, making sure “Iran doesn’t fill in the back end” and that “our Kurdish allies are protected.” Trump indicated at Al-Asad that the United States is still interested in a political goal regarding Syria.Regardless of how long it now takes the United States to leave, whether it is the original 100 days estimated in December or up to four months or more as has been estimated, U.S. strategy has unraveled. This is a perfect example of a strategy that was not well coordinated between the Pentagon, State Department and White House and goes against the Clausewitzian notions that are frequently cited as underpinning U.S. goal-setting in foreign policy and conflict.How did this happen? Partly it is due to a change in administration. Obama got involved in Syria as part of the Arab Spring revolutions. Hosni Mubarak had been pushed out in Egypt in a largely peaceful transition of power. After the United States had participated in the Libyan campaign against Muammar el-Qaddafi, who was killed in October 2011, there was hope that a revolution might topple Syria’s Assad as well. But Syria didn’t turn out that way and the Obama administration hesitated with air strikes after chemical weapons were used in 2013. Then the administration got involved in the Iran deal, which altered priorities in Syria, according to former ambassador Robert S. Ford.Shifting gears to an anti-ISIS campaign turned the Syria conflict into a multi-headed affair. While the United States pursued diplomacy in Geneva, it still was supporting the Syrian rebels and fighting ISIS alongside the mostly Kurdish SDF—which was formed in 2015. Already in 2016 these divergent policies almost ended up fighting themselves when U.S.-backed rebels joined the Turkish offensive into Jarabulus and almost clashed with the U.S.-backed SDF. From there, pressure from Turkey built on the United States to stop its support for the SDF, which Ankara saw as linked to the People’s Protection Units (YPG) and therefore to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK).Trump wanted to end the Syrian conflict and sought Saudi Arabia’s funding for stabilization efforts in eastern Syria. A Saudi Gulf Affairs minister even visited liberated Raqqa in October 2017.Trump said the United States was leaving “very soon” in March 2018 before being convinced to stay longer. He says the military kept asking for six more months. When Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan spoke to Trump on December 14, the president decided it was time to withdraw.What is clear is that the decision to withdraw is not the only thing that unraveled the policy. The administration didn’t have a clear goal in Syria. The war on ISIS had become a kind of mission creep into stabilization and Iranian issues. If military operations flow from a political direction, what was the political goal? The United States didn’t help its SDF partners participate in the Geneva process. The United States kept its partners in Syria often at almost arm’s length, asserting that the relationship was “temporary, transactional and tactical.” Yet, at the same time, the Pentagon was training stabilization forces that were supposed to number up to 35,000. Only 20 percent had been trained by December 2018. With one hand the United States was saying “tactical” and talking about a short-term commitment, with another it was engaging in a long-term process of training. The political objectives kept moving and the Pentagon was unsure of the authorization behind remaining in Syria to confront Iran.The U.S. decision to withdraw from Syria didn’t occur in a vacuum. Other countries involved in Syria pursued their own goals. For the Syrian regime, the goal was to remain in power. It accomplished that by inviting Iran, Hezbollah and Russia to support it militarily and politically. On the ropes in 2015 the regime eventually retook Aleppo and consolidated its gains in 2017, retaking large swaths of the country in 2018 through Russian-backed “de-confliction” agreements and ceasefires. Russia also pursued a clear objective in Syria. It supported the regime and found an accommodation with Turkey in Idlib province. Even Israel, a close U.S. ally, often discussed its Syria policy with Russia because of Moscow’s role in Syria’s airspace. Iran’s goal in Syria is more complex. It was influence on the ground and has supported various militias to build influence from Iraq via Syria to Beirut in what it sees as an axis of “resistance” against the United States and Israel. Turkey’s goal in Syria is also complex. It wanted to first check and then reduce the role of the YPG in Syria, which Ankara describes as the Syrian branch of the PKK. It also wants to make sure the Syrian rebels are not totally defeated and to have Syrian refugees return to areas Turkey controls in northern Syria. Turkey, Iran and Russia were opposed to U.S. policies in eastern Syria, making Washington’s hand harder to play.Given these challenges, the United States largely pursued its goals without fully taking into account the growing opposition and it tried to address each challenge individually, rather than holistically with a united front across the US government. This points to a breakdown in policymaking and strategy. It illustrates that the Syrian conflict was often managed in disparate ways by different parts of the U.S. government pursuing sometimes contradictory goals. This is a textbook example of what happens when US military and political goals are not aligned. Other countries involved in the Syria conflict followed a model of blending military and political objectives. Washington still has not figured out how its objectives might work together.Seth J. Frantzman is a Jerusalem-based journalist who holds a Ph.D. from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is the executive director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis and a writing fellow at Middle East Forum. He is writing a book on the Middle East after ISIS. Follow him on Twitter at@sfrantzman.Image: Reuters.
Moscow says FBI arrested Russian a day after it detained ex-U.S. MarineBy Maxim Rodionov and Barbara Goldberg•Moscow says FBI arrested Russian a day after it detained ex-U.S. Marine By Maxim Rodionov and Barbara Goldberg MOSCOW/NEW YORK (Reuters) – The Russian Foreign Ministry said on Saturday the United States had detained a Russian citizen, a day after Moscow arrested the former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan on suspicion of spying.Whelan was taken into custody by Russia’s Federal Security Service on Dec. 28. His family have said he is innocent and that he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.The ministry said the United States detained Russian citizen Dmitry Makarenko on Dec. 29 on the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. commonwealth in the Pacific Ocean, and had transferred him to Florida.”… Makarenko, born in 1979, has arrived on Saipan Island with his wife, underage children and elderly parents. He was detained by FBI personnel at the airport right after his arrival,” the ministry said.The U.S. Embassy in Moscow could not immediately be reached for comment. A State Department spokesman in Washington referred a request for comment to the Department of Justice, which did not immediately respond.Papers filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida show Makarenko was accused in June 2017 by federal prosecutors of conspiring with another man, Vladimir Nevidomy, to export defense articles including night-vision scopes from the United States to Russia without U.S. approval.Makarenko, who was listed as a resident of Vladivostok, was declared a fugitive from U.S. justice in Jan. 2018. Nevidomy, a resident of Hallandale Beach, Florida, pleaded guilty in June 2018 and was sentenced to 26 months in prison, the court papers showed.The accusations from both sides could further complicate a strained relationship between Moscow and Washington, despite the professed desire of Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to build a personal rapport.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this week that Washington had asked Moscow to explain Whelan’s arrest and would demand his immediate return if it determined his detention is inappropriate.Britain cautioned Russia on Friday that individuals should not be used as diplomatic pawns. Whelan also holds a British passport.The Russian ministry said in its statement that Moscow diplomats had not been able to reach Makarenko in Florida and said Washington had yet to explain his detention.Before Moscow gave details of Makarenko’s detention, experts had speculated that Moscow could exchange Whelan for Russian nationals held by Washington.Commenting on that possibility, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said on Saturday:”I see no reasons to raise this issue in context of exchanges. We should undergo all the procedures needed in this situation,” Interfax news agency quoted Ryabkov as saying.Whelan’s Toronto-based twin brother David Whelan told Reuters on Saturday that U.S. embassy officials met with his sibling on Wednesday and would visit him again next week.”He seemed as well as can be expected in a Russian jail. He was missing a lot of personal necessities, like toilet paper, that aren’t provided,” David Whelan said in a telephone interview. „So the State Department has helped us set up an account … so that he can buy the supplies that he needs.”(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov in Moscow and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting by Yeganeh Torbati in Washington; Editing by Alison Williams and Diane Craft)