Trump imposes new sanctions on Iran as nuclear tensions escalate
Politics Trump’s FBI Director Disputes Charges of ‘Spying’ During 2016 RaceChris Strohm•Trump’s FBI Director Disputes Charges of ‘Spying’ During 2016 Race(Bloomberg) — FBI Director Christopher Wray pushed back on accusations his agency improperly spied on Donald Trump’s campaign, a charge that Attorney General William Barr said he is reviewing during a contentious Senate hearing last week.“That’s not the term I would use,” Wray said Tuesday in testimony to a Senate Appropriations panel, when asked about whether there there was spying. “I believe the FBI is engaged in investigative activity and part of investigative activity includes surveillance activity.”Wray said he isn’t personally aware of any evidence to support the accusation that there was improper surveillance of the Trump campaign in 2016. Wray became FBI director in August 2017, after Trump fired his predecessor, James Comey.Barr, Wray’s boss at the Justice Department, suggested there might have been investigative “overreach” during the 2016 campaign and that he was assembling a team to probe the issue. That echoed accusations President Trump and many of his top Republican supporters have long lobbed at the FBI and Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Trump’s campaign.Barr told the Senate Judiciary panel that his team will determine whether there was any improper “spying” on the Trump campaign in 2016, including whether intelligence collection began earlier than previously known and how many confidential informants the FBI used. He suggested his focus was on senior leaders at the FBI and Justice Department at the time.Barr’s review will also examine whether a dossier that included salacious accusations against Trump was fabricated by the Russian government to dupe U.S. intelligence agencies and the FBI, Barr told the Senate panel last week.Wray said he and his staff are working to help Barr understand the circumstances surrounding the FBI’s decision to open a counterintelligence investigation in July 2016 into whether anyone on the Trump campaign was conspiring with Russia to interfere in the election.“We’re working to help him get that understanding,” Wray said. “I think that’s part of his job and part of mine.”Wray also offered a warning about the upcoming 2020 election, saying the FBI anticipates that foreign influence operations from Russia and other adversaries will be more challenging than it currently is.“We continue to assess that the Russians are focused on sowing divisiveness and discord in this country,” Wray said.Although Barr’s review has only begun, it supports the Trump narrative that the Russia investigation was politically motivated and concocted from false allegations in order to spy on his campaign and ultimately undermine his presidency.Read More: Barr’s Review of FBI ‘Spying’ on Trump Campaign Has a Wide ReachBarr’s review could get a boost after a report by the New York Times on Thursday that the FBI sent a trained investigator to London in 2016 to pose as a research assistant and probe Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos over possible campaign links to Russia.(Updates with more Wray comments starting in the seventh paragraph.)To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Strohm in Washington at email@example.comTo contact the editors responsible for this story: Bill Faries at firstname.lastname@example.org;Kevin Whitelaw at email@example.com For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
Biden’s lead over Sanders keeps growing. Here’s why.Andrew Romano West Coast Correspondent•Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden speaks at a rally with members of a painters and construction union, Tuesday, May 7, 2019, in Henderson, Nev. (Photo: John Locher/AP)Now it’s official: Joe Biden is eating Bernie Sanders’s lunch.When the former vice president launched his third White House bid two weeks ago, on April 25, most experts expected him to get a bounce in the polls. And he did: Seven days later, Biden’s polling average was up nearly 6 percentage points, to 35 percent, and his lead over the next closest Democratic candidate — the senator from Vermont — had grown by nearly 16.But all candidates’ numbers soar when an announcement is made, right? And everyone promptly drifts back down to earth? After all, that’s certainly what happened to Sanders after he entered the race in February.Except now. Biden is entering week two of his campaign — and he still appears to be gaining altitude.The numbers tell the tale. This week, Biden’s polling average has climbed 4 more points, to 39 percent. The three most recent national surveys — the only ones released since the start of May — show him topping 40 percent. Although the initial polls hinted at the source of Biden’s growing support, the latest round makes it clear.His rise is coming largely at Sanders’s expense.On April 25, Sanders was holding steady at 23 percent, on average. Then Biden jumped in. One week later, Sanders had slipped to 17 percent. Now, two weeks later, he has plummeted to his lowest polling average of the entire cycle: 15.5 percent.All told, Biden’s average lead over Sanders has nearly quadrupled since he began his campaign. Individual polls put Biden ahead by as much as 32 percentage points, with broad-based support among key constituencies (black voters, in particular) that comprise the Democratic coalition.“A lot of Sanders voters seemed to be somewhat on the fence, waiting to see if Biden would get in,” says Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll. “The second he did, they had a ‘wait a second’ moment — and Sanders dropped dramatically as a result.”Other candidates have also lost ground to the former Delaware senator; former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke has fallen about 2 points, on average, and California Sen. Kamala Harris is down by 1.But no one is shedding as much support to Biden as Sanders.Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, independent-Vt., answers questions during a presidential forum held by She the People on the Texas State University campus Wednesday, April 24, 2019, in Houston. (Photo: Michael Wyke/AP)Yes, the Iowa caucuses are still 271 days away. And yes, things can (and almost certainly will) change between now and then.But the trendline is telling.At first glance, the Bernie-to-Biden exodus seems strange. Sanders’s fans are supposed to be die-hard anti-establishment lefties who couldn’t possibly bear to back anyone less pure than the lifelong democratic socialist from Vermont — let alone a middle-of-the-road, corporate-friendly representative of the Democratic mainstream like Biden.But dig deeper into the polling, and two patterns emerge — patterns that spell trouble for Sanders going forward.The first is that before Biden, Sanders was drawing a lot of his support from voters who don’t fit the lefty mold. In late March, for instance, the Quinnipiac Poll found that 15 percent of Sanders’s supporters described themselves as “moderate or conservative,” and 23 percent described themselves as only “somewhat” liberal — more, it’s worth noting, than the 21 percent who described themselves as “very” liberal. At that point, Biden had yet to formally announce, and he led Sanders 29 percent to 19 percent overall.The bad news for Sanders is that although the new edition of the Quinnipiac Poll — the first released post-Biden — shows him hanging onto nearly all of his very liberal supporters (19 percent), it also shows him hemorrhaging voters who call themselves somewhat liberal (now down to 11 percent) and moderate or conservative (now down to 5 percent).Where did they go? They went almost entirely to Biden, who over the same period improved his standing by 7 points among moderates/conservatives (to 44 percent) and by 13 points (to 39 percent) among “somewhat” liberals — enough to put him ahead of Sanders 38 to 11 percent overall.In other words, there’s actually more overlap between the Biden base and the Sanders base than many pundits assume. The fact that so many of these softer Sanders supporters — the ones less interested in ideological purity than, say, perceived electability or blue-collar appeal — were willing to switch sides as soon as “electable” “Middle Class Joe” jumped into the race serves to expose the shakiness of Sanders’s coalition and should come as a distressing sign to the Vermonter, regardless of whether Biden’s bounce fades. (Sanders seems to be aware of this, personally spearheading a strategy to draw an immediate contrast with Biden and telling ABC News, “I don’t think there’s much question about who’s more progressive.”)Which brings us to second pattern that surfaces in the post-Biden polling: Sanders doesn’t have much room left to grow, especially with Biden as a rival. Analysts often cite Biden’s near-universal name recognition, which stands at 99 percent among Democratic primary voters, to argue that his standing is largely a function of familiarity and might not last.Yet the same could be said of Sanders, whose name recognition, at 98 percent, is statistically identical to Biden’s.People listen to Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden at the Hyatt Park community center on May 4, 2019, in Columbia, S.C. (Photo: Sean Rayford/Getty Images)The problem here is that persuading new voters to come onboard is harder when they’ve pretty much already made up their minds about you — so you had better be starting from a strong position.Biden is. Sanders isn’t.Winning Iowa and New Hampshire usually requires support in at least the low- to mid-20s, and as FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver has shown, all seven presidential candidates in the last half century with high name-ID who were polling between 15 and 20 percent at this point in the cycle — Jeb Bush, Joe Lieberman, Elizabeth Dole, Jesse Jackson, Gerald Ford, George Wallace and Hubert Humphrey — went on to lose their party’s nomination. Even though Biden can probably afford to lose 10 points and still fend off a late-surging rival, Sanders has to find another 10 points somewhere. With Biden siphoning off Sanders’s more moderate supporters — and with perceptions of Sanders largely baked in — it’s not clear where else those votes can come from.Not every candidate has the same limitations. Take Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren — the only major Democratic contender to see her average polling numbers rise, on net, since Biden entered the race. (Starting at 6.5 percent, they climbed as high as 8.8 before settling at 7.7.) With slightly lower name ID (88 percent) she was, unlike Sanders, able make significant gains in the Quinnipiac polling among the groups least inclined to back Biden, including “very” liberal voters (+16 points from late March to late April); voters making more than $100,000 a year (+8); and women (+9). In short, the less your base overlaps with the frontrunner’s, the more room you have to maneuver.None of which is to say that Biden is a lock to win the Democratic nomination or that Sanders is DOA. It’s possible that Biden isn’t as formidable a candidate as he seems right now; he could commit a campaign-ending gaffe at any moment or fail to impress on the trail. He’s enjoying as much cable-news coverage as every other candidate combined — a boon that will soon subside. And the electability argument hasn’t worked out so well for Democrats in the past.But while Biden’s early bounce isn’t proof of his everlasting supremacy, it is evidence of Sanders relative weakness. Unless the Vermont senator can find a way to expand his base beyond hard-core fans and softer supporters who are willing to immediately jump ship for the other well-known white male septuagenarian in the race, he’s unlikely to be facing off against the well-known-white-male-septuagenarian-in-chief next November.How UN keeps Iran’s nuclear programme in check•The UN’s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has had the delicate task of verifying the Iran deal The UN’s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has had the delicate task of verifying the Iran deal (AFP Photo/JOE KLAMAR)Vienna (AFP) – Wednesday marks a year to the day since US President Donald Trump dramatically withdrew from the 2015 agreement between Tehran and world powers on Iran’s nuclear programme.But it is the UN’s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which has had the task of verifying the deal.In each of its quarterly reports on Iran, the IAEA has so far said Tehran is adhering to the terms of the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA, under which Iran agreed to halt its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of biting sanctions.- What role does the IAEA have in Iran? -Set up in 1957, the IAEA has 171 member states and employs some 2,500 experts.Its Board of Governors, comprising 35 states, meets five times a year.The IAEA promotes peaceful uses of atomic energy while at the same time overseeing efforts to detect and prevent possible nuclear weapons proliferation.Because of previous international concern over its nuclear programme, Iran agreed in 2003 to allow snap IAEA inspections of its nuclear facilities.However, cooperation broke down in 2006. The IAEA referred Iran to the UN Security Council, which went on to impose sanctions, and Iran halted enhanced IAEA inspections.A renewed diplomatic push eventually led to the JCPOA in 2015, under which the IAEA is charged with regular inspections of declared facilities in Iran such as uranium mines and centrifuge workshops for up to 25 years.The aim is to ensure that Iran is not holding undeclared stocks of nuclear material and is not enriching uranium past a certain level.The deal also included an „Additional Protocol”, which allows inspectors „to conduct complementary access to any location in Iran”.In its most recent reports on the JCPOA, the agency has taken to reminding Iran that „timely and proactive co-operation” in providing access to locations it wishes to inspect would „enhance confidence”.- How do IAEA inspections work? -The IAEA insists the inspection regime put in place by the JCPOA is the world’s toughest.The agency says that its inspection work has doubled since 2013.IAEA Secretary General Yukiya Amano says the agency’s inspectors spend 3,000 calendar days per year on the ground in Iran.He has also highlighted the some 2,000 tamper-proof seals attached to nuclear material and equipment and the „hundreds of thousands of images captured daily by our sophisticated surveillance cameras”, the number of which has almost doubled since 2013.Amano has called the JCPOA „a significant gain for verification” and said its failure „would be a great loss for nuclear verification and for multilateralism”.- Agency under pressure -In addition to the US withdrawing from the deal, Israel — Iran’s regional arch-foe — has also been highly critical of the JCPOA.In August 2017, Washington’s envoy to the UN Nikki Haley urged the IAEA to widen its inspections, including to military sites.A year later in an address to the UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed Iran had a „secret atomic warehouse” as part of a clandestine nuclear programme and called on the IAEA to inspect the site immediately.In January, Amano rejected pressure on the agency, saying: „If our credibility is thrown into question, and, in particular, if attempts are made to micro-manage or put pressure on the Agency in nuclear verification, that is counter-productive and extremely harmful.”
(Bloomberg) — Iran threatened to abandon limits on uranium enrichment unless Europe throws it an economic lifeline within 60 days, setting an ultimatum for the survival of a shaky 2015 accord meant to prevent the Islamic Republic from developing a nuclear bomb.
The move is likely to inflame tensions with President Donald Trump’s administration, which walked away from the landmark nuclear deal a year ago and imposed strict sanctions that squeezed Iran’s economy, triggered a currency collapse and ushered in shortages of consumer goods.
Iran’s appeal was addressed to European signatories to the agreement, which are struggling to reconcile Trump’s hardline stance on Iran with their promise to continue trading and engaging with the energy-rich nation.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo responded cautiously to Iran’s announcement. “I’ve seen the letter that’s been sent, I think it was intentionally ambiguous. We’ll have to wait and see what Iran’s actions actually are,” he said during a press conference in the U.K.
Germany and Britain have said they’ll continue working to salvage the multilateral agreement that succeeded in limiting Iran’s nuclear program, but urged Tehran to stick to its commitments and avoid escalation. The U.K. said it was not considering imposing sanctions at this stage.
“There will of course be consequences” if Iran breaks its commitments, U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said, standing alongside Pompeo. “As long as Iran keeps its commitments, so will the U.K.”
German trade with Iran was worth 3.4 billion euros ($3.8 billion) in 2017 and 1.5 billion euros in the first half of 2018. Trade with France totaled 2.42 billion euros last year. But secondary U.S. sanctions, which punish non-American companies and financial institutions doing business with Iran, mean major European companies are already staying away.
The U.S. stepped up economic pressure early this month by allowing the expiration of waivers that permitted eight governments to import Iranian oil, in a drive to cut Iran’s oil exports to zero and force Tehran to end support for militant groups around the Middle East.
In a letter to other signatories, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said it was no longer committed to restrictions on the storage of enriched uranium and heavy water stocks, and could stop observing limits on uranium enrichment at a later stage.
The level of nuclear enrichment Iran is allowed to pursue is at the heart of the nuclear agreement, because material enriched at a sufficiently high concentration could be used to produce a bomb.
If European partners meet pledges to facilitate Iran’s access to banking and oil markets, however, it will restore full compliance with the agreement, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA.
“Whenever our demands are met, we will equally resume fulfilling commitments, otherwise the Islamic Republic will halt other commitments step by step,” the statement said.
Oil futures traded little changed in London. Prices have already jumped 29 percent this year, in part because of U.S. efforts to tighten sanctions on Iranian oil exports.
U.S. Strike Force
As some of the signatories seek a way to keep the deal alive, the U.S. is preparing for other options. On Sunday, the administration said it was deploying an aircraft carrier to the Gulf in an “unmistakable message” to Iran that it would meet any aggression with “unrelenting force.” And on Tuesday, it said B-52 bombers were also heading for the Middle East, where confronting Tehran has become a cornerstone of U.S. policy.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already warned his country would confront any Iranian move to develop a weapon.
”On the way here, I heard that Iran intends to continue its nuclear program,” Netanyahu said at a Memorial Day event in Jerusalem. “We will not allow Iran to have nuclear weapons.”
Iran has repeatedly denied it was pursuing an atomic weapon.
How U.S. Can Force the World to Squeeze Iran’s Oil: QuickTake
“By leaving the JCPOA, the U.S. wanted Iran to exit the following day so it would take the file to the Security Council. Iran didn’t fall into that trap,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised address. We “know how important the JCPOA is and its crumbling will have a negative impact on the region and the world,” he said. “ We don’t want to leave.”
In Iran, It’s Trump’s America That Looks Like a Rogue State
European signatories, including the European Union, have devised a special mechanism to facilitate trade with Iran. But Instex, as the vehicle is known, isn’t yet operational and would likely offer only limited relief.
For months, Iranian officials have signaled they’re losing patience because they’re sticking to an agreement that curbs their nuclear activities but is providing few of the promised benefits.
A significant loss of oil revenues would hit state coffers hard and present a challenge for Rouhani, who championed the nuclear deal and won two elections on a promise to end Iran’s isolation and revive its economy.
“The Europeans would be put in a difficult spot if the Iranians re-attach some centrifuges or restart some questionable centrifuge research that may have dual uses,” said Paul Sullivan, a Middle East expert at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.
(Updates with comment from U.K., U.S. top diplomats.)
–With assistance from Glen Carey, Kitty Donaldson, Golnar Motevalli, Thomas Penny, Tim Ross and Patrick Donahue.
To contact the reporters on this story: Ladane Nasseri in Dubai at firstname.lastname@example.org;Arsalan Shahla in Dubai at email@example.com;Golnar Motevalli in Tehran at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Lin Noueihed at email@example.com, Benjamin Harvey, Paul Sillitoe
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©2019 Bloomberg L.P.
(Bloomberg) — Cuba is willing to help negotiate a peaceful end to Venezuela’s political crisis if President Nicolas Maduro requests it, one of Havana’s top diplomats said.
The so-called Lima Group of nations sought to enlist the communist-run Caribbean island in brokering a solution to the standoff last week after opposition leader Juan Guaido’s attempt to overthrow the embattled president failed. Any role Cuba plays will be scrutinized by Maduro’s foes due to the country’s close ties with Chavismo over the past two decades.
“We are ready to help,” Carlos Fernandez de Cossio, head of the U.S. section at Cuba’s Foreign Ministry, said during an interview at Bloomberg’s headquarters in New York. Maduro, however, would have to be at the table. “It’s not Cuba, as it’s not the Lima Group, who should say who’s the leader of Venezuela.”
The diplomat’s comments come two days after Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reached out to Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, and as the administration of President Donald Trump tightens sanctions on Havana while refusing to rule out military options in Venezuela.
De Cossio said his government is feeling pinched by the White House moves, warning that Cuba-U.S. relations have soured sharply since Washington began blaming it for keeping Maduro in power.
While Trump has been slowly rolling back the opening to Cuba made during President Barack Obama’s final years in office, de Cossio said Havana is now being used as a scapegoat for the failure to unseat Maduro.
“Just a few months ago we would describe the relationship as in regression,” he said. “Today, if we follow above all the statements by the National Security Council of the United States, we can speak of open hostility toward Cuba — an open attempt of regime change.”
The White House accuses Havana of controlling Maduro’s security apparatus. Cuba denies this, saying all 20,000 Cubans in Venezuela are doctors and nurses. It adds the crisis is being used as a pretext to crack down on the communist government and divert attention from Guaido’s inability so far to seize power.
Last week, Trump riled allies by activating Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, a controversial section of the U.S. embargo on Cuba allowing lawsuits over property confiscated in the 1959 revolution that brought Fidel Castro to power. The move, along with other policies, is meant to curb foreign investment on the island.
“We have seen a slowdown,” de Cossio said, adding he doesn’t expect Cuba to face the same kind of hardship it endured in the 1990’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. “What we will never be able to measure is how many companies, how many people, did not go to Cuba because of this.”
On the Ropes
Though still in charge of Venezuela, Maduro is increasingly unpopular. His approval rating has fallen to 12.9 percent, a record low for a sitting president, according to a mid-April survey by Caracas-based pollster Datanalisis.
Maduro’s ouster would likely bring an end to much-needed shipments of Venezuelan oil to Cuba, but the country has diversified its economy enough to survive the blow, de Cossio said. Despite ideological differences, it maintains ties with regional heavyweights like Brazil and Argentina, as well as global players like Russia and China.
Working groups on immigration and law-enforcement struck during the Obama years are now essentially frozen, and de Cossio didn’t meet with any White House officials during his visit to Washington. He did, however, hold talks with business groups and members of Congress including Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
“We will continue to engage as much as possible with U.S. business,” the diplomat said. “We will not take the bait of this hostility in the political relationship.” About 80 U.S. companies are currently doing business in Cuba, he said, and so far none of them have decided to pull out.
Havana sees Trump’s decision to tighten sanctions as a play for Republican votes in Florida, and argues it won’t succeed in dislodging the communist government. Though he’s confident U.S.-Cuba relations can survive Trump, de Cossio is worried that any potential successor will have a hard time undoing the legal knot now that courts are hearing suits. “What Helms-Burton does is it makes sure that the hands of that president are tied,” he said.
(Updates with Maduro approval rating in 11th paragraph.)
–With assistance from Helder Marinho and Andres R. Martinez.
To contact the reporters on this story: Stephen Wicary in Ottawa at firstname.lastname@example.org;Jose Enrique Arrioja in New York at email@example.com
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