News Defying Congress, Trump sets $8 billion-plus in weapons sales to Saudi Arabia, UAE By Patricia Zengerle•Trump appeals ruling allowing banks to turn over his financial records to Congress Yahoo News VideoScroll back up to restore default view.By Patricia Zengerle WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump, declaring a national emergency because of tensions with Iran, swept aside objections from Congress on Friday to complete the sale of over $8 billion worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan.The Trump administration informed congressional committees that it will go ahead with 22 military sales to the Saudis, United Arab Emirates and Jordan, infuriating lawmakers by circumventing a long-standing precedent for congressional review of major weapons sales.Members of Congress had been blocking sales of offensive military equipment to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for months, angry about the huge civilian toll from their air campaign in Yemen, as well as human rights abuses such as the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.Lawmakers and congressional aides warned earlier this week that Trump, frustrated with Congress holding up weapons deals including the sale of bombs to Saudi Arabia, was considering using a loophole in arms control law to go ahead by declaring a national emergency.”President Trump is only using this loophole because he knows Congress would disapprove … There is no new ‘emergency’ reason to sell bombs to the Saudis to drop in Yemen, and doing so only perpetuates the humanitarian crisis there,” said Senator Chris Murphy.Murphy, a Democrat, made public on Twitter on Wednesday that Trump was considering the loophole in the Arms Control Export Act to clear the sales.Several of Trump’s fellow Republicans, as well as Democrats, said they would object to such a plan, fearing that blowing through the „holds” process would eliminate Congress’ ability to check not just Trump but future presidents from selling weapons where they liked.Representative Mike McCaul, the top Republican on the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said the administration’s action was „unfortunate” and likely to damage future White House interactions with Congress.”I would have strongly preferred for the administration to utilize the long-established and codified arms sale review process,” McCaul said in a statement.U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that U.S. partners in the Middle East needed the contracts to be completed to help deter Iran, and that the decision to circumvent Congress was meant to be a „one-time event.”It is not the first time Congress and Trump have clashed over policy in the region, or the division of powers between the White House and Capitol Hill. The House and Senate voted to end U.S. military support for the campaign in Yemen earlier this year, but Trump vetoed the resolution.BOON TO DEFENSE INDUSTRYIn documents sent to Congress, Pompeo listed a wide range of products and services that would be provided to the countries.They include Raytheon precision-guided munitions (PGMs), support for Boeing Co F-15 aircraft, and Javelin anti-tank missiles, which are made by Raytheon and Lockheed Martin Corp.Other companies that will benefit include General Electric, now cleared to sell engines for use in F-16 fighter jets operated by the UAE and the U.S. unit of French firm Thales, which was cleared to sell a fuzing system for Paveway IV precision guided bombs to Britain and the UAE.It will also likely be welcome news for Britain’s BAE Systems Plc and Europe’s Airbus, clearing the way for installation of Paveway laser-guided bombs on European-built Eurofighter and Tornado fighter jets sold to Saudi Arabia, as well F-15 fighters built by Boeing.”I am disappointed, but not surprised, that the Trump Administration has failed once again to prioritize our long-term national security interests or stand up for human rights, and instead is granting favors to authoritarian countries like Saudi Arabia,” Senator Bob Menendez said in a statement.Menendez, ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, vowed to fight the action, and said he was in talks with both Democrats and some of Trump’s fellow Republicans on ways to preserve congressional review of arms sales.The Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Republican Senator Jim Risch, said he had received formal notification of the administration’s intent to move forward.In a statement, Risch said, „I am reviewing and analyzing the legal justification for this action and the associated implications.”In his memorandum justifying the emergency declaration, Pompeo listed years of actions by Iran. „Iranian malign activity poses a fundamental threat to the stability of the Middle East and to American security at home and abroad,” he wrote, and cited „a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings” from Tehran.Trump’s administration also announced that it was sending 1,500 additional troops to the Middle East, which it described as an effort to bolster defenses against Iran against what it sees as a threat of potential attack.Members of Congress from both parties have worried that Trump is pushing toward war with Iran. Clarke Cooper, assistant secretary of state for political-military affairs, said the administration was responding to important needs from partners.”This is about deterrence and it’s not about war,” he told Reuters in a telephone interview.(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Mary Milliken, James Dalgleish and Grant McCool)
1,500 more troops and defensive capabilities headed to Middle East to deter Iran originally appeared on abcnews.go.com An additional 1,500 U.S. troops and increased defensive capabilities capabilities are being sent to the Middle East to continue to help deter Iran, the Pentagon announced on Friday.While departing the White House for a trip to Japan, President Donald Trump described the number of troops headed to the Middle East as a „relatively small number.””We want to have protection,” he told reporters. „We’ll be sending a relatively small number of troops — mostly protective. Some very talented people are going to the Middle East, right now. We’ll see what happens.”“I don’t think Iran wants to fight,” he said.”And I certainly don’t think they want to fight with us. They cannot have nuclear weapons and under the Obama horrible agreement, they would have had nuclear weapons within five or six years. They can’t have nuclear weapons. They understand that,”The number of troops the president approved on Thursday is much smaller than the 5,000 to 10,000 that had initially been proposed by U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) as part of the ongoing effort to deter Iranfrom attacking U.S. forces in the Middle East and to boost the force protection of forces already in the region. .(MORE: Lawmakers criticize senior Trump officials after Iran intelligence briefing)At a briefing, senior Pentagon officials said the 1,500 forces included a Patriot anti-missile battalion of 600 soldiers whose deployment to the region will be extended, engineers who will „harden” existing U.S. military facilities, more manned and unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and a squadron of 12 fighter aircraft.The lower troop figure was the result of „back and forth” conversations between CENTCOM and the Joint Staff that acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had described for reporters on Thursday. Those conversations centered on fine-tuning the capabilities being requested by CENTCOM and units available for deployment..In announcing the deployment, Pentagon officials said the moves were meant to counter a new Iranian „campaign” to target U.S. forces in the region that originated at the „top levels” of Iran’s leadership. For the first time U.S. officials directly blamed Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) for last week’s sabotage attack on four freighters off the coast of the United Arab Emirates.”We did attribute it directly to limpet mines, and those limpet mines to the IRGC,” Vice Adm. Michael Gilday, the director of the Joint Staff, told reporters Friday. Limpet mines are explosive devices that are attached to a target by magnets.The admiral said that what made the new Iranian campaign different from previous „episodic” actions was that it was spread “across multiple domains”. That included threats to the vital Bab al Mandeb Strait off of Yemen by Iranian proxies, Iran’s public comments about closing the Strait of Hormuz, the placement of cruise missiles on civilian dhows, proxy attacks on Saudi Arabia’s oil infrastructure and last weeks rocket attack on the Green Zone in Baghdad that was carried out by an Iranian proxy group.Katie Wheelbarger, Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, said that the intelligence that was flowing in about the Iranian campaign was significant for experienced Iran watchers like her.“For those of us that watch this every day , it was a significant change in what we were seeing,” Wheelbarger said. She added that the U.S. intelligence community is seeking to declassify some of that intelligence so that it can be shown to the American public and overseas partnershttps://abcnews.go.com/Politics/lawmakers-criticize-senior-trump-officials-iran-intelligence-briefing/story?id=63179848″ target=”_blank”>at this White House meeting.There are currently 60,000 to 80,000 U.S. troops serving in the Middle East including 14,000 in Afghanistan, 5,000 in Iraq, 2,000 in Syria, 10,000 in Kuwait, 10,000 in Qatar and thousands more at sea and elsewhere in the region.U.S. officials said the Iranian threat to U.S. forces continues even as Iran has pulled back some weapons systems. Two U.S. officials said that Iran has removed cruise missiles from two of the civilian dhows that Gilday described as posing a risk to U.S. Navy ships, commercial ships and land targets.The Pentagon officials stressed that the U.S. does not seek a military conflict with Iran.We want to be clear that based on our posture and based on the assets that we’re flowing to theater, we’re narrowly focused defensive posture on our part and not in any way designed to be provocative,” said Gilday. .ABC News’ Trish Turner contributed to this report.
World India’s Modi begins talks for new cabinet after big election winBy Krishna N. Das•Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi gestures towards his supporters after the election results at Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) headquarter in New Delhi, India, May 23, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi By Krishna N. Das NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold talks on Friday to form a new cabinet to tackle a stuttering economy and other challenges facing his second term after winning a big majority.Official data from the Election Commission showed Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party had won 296 of the 542 seats up for grabs and was ahead in seven more, up from the 282 it won in 2014.The BJP would have the first back-to-back majority in the lower house of parliament for a single party since 1984. Votes will be fully counted by Friday morning.After a rancorous and a polarizing election campaign, the focus shifts back to an economy that is slowing, even as the U.S.-China trade war rages and global oil prices tick higher.”While the macroeconomic picture looks stable and promising, many important segments need support from the government,” BJP General Secretary Ram Madhav wrote in a column in the Indian Express daily.”India cannot completely remain insulated from the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China or the geo-strategic conflict between the U.S. and Iran,” he added.Later on Friday Modi will meet with his ministers to discuss forming a new cabinet, a government spokesman said.He has not yet set an inauguration date for the administration, but BJP officials said he was expected to move quickly to put together a new cabinet.An immediate decision will be whether to keep senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley as finance minister despite his poor health, or assign Railways and Coal Minister Piyush Goyal to the job of leading Asia’s third largest economy.Goyal, 54, had stepped into the role twice in the Modi government when Jaitley was ill. Goyal presented an interim budget before the election and a full budget is due after the new government takes office.SLOWING ECONOMIC GROWTH Despite the dominance of the BJP and its allies in the lower house of parliament, analysts say it does not yet have the numbers in the upper house for tougher reforms such as relaxed labor and land laws sought by the business community.”But, in the meantime, a chunky capex plan funded by more privatization and used to build more infrastructure can put growth back on the rails at a time when global growth and trade are slowing,” the Financial Express daily said in an editorial.Economic growth, which fell to an annual 6.6% during October-December, is at its lowest in five quarters, and other economic indicators signal no relief.Modi will also need to resolve a liquidity crisis that is slowly gripping India’s shadow banks.BJP President Amit Shah, who is credited with crafting the political strategy that helped the party retain its base in northern and western India but also advanced in the east, is tipped to be the home minister, a powerful post with control of security and intelligence services.For the main opposition Congress party, however, the next few days are likely to be tumultuous after yet another poor showing. Party chief Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty, lost his seat in a family borough in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.”It is astonishing that Rahul Gandhi has not yet resigned as Congress president,” historian Ramachandra Guha said on Twitter.”Both self-respect, as well as political pragmatism, demand that the Congress elect a new leader. But perhaps the Congress has neither,” he added.(Additioal reporting by Sanjeev Miglani and Aftab Ahmed; Editing by Darren Schuettler)
Jerusalem (AFP) – Israel remained on high alert on Friday after wildfires fed by tinder dry conditions destroyed around 40 homes.
There were no reports of casualties from Thursday’s fires as the emergency services evacuated homes in the path of the blaze in the centre of the country.
Addressing a crisis meeting on Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked foreign governments which had helped tackle the blaze.
Croatia, Cyprus, Greece and Italy sent firefighting planes, while Egypt, one of only two Arab governments that have signed a peace treaty with Israel, sent two helicopters.
Several roads across the danger zone in central Israel remained closed for fear that the fires would reignite amid the unseasonable heat.
Temperatures have topped 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) across much of the country for several days.
In 2016, wildfires damaged or destroyed around 700 homes in Israel and the occupied West Bank, and sent more than 13,000 hectares (32,000 acres) of woodland up in smoke.
Newly elected Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky at a book fair in Kiev tells AFP that his new job „has been a bit of a shock, there’s a lot of work”
Kiev (AFP) – Ukraine’s new President Volodymyr Zelensky, a comedian with no previous political experience, on Thursday said his first days in office have been „a bit of a shock”.
„There’s a lot of work,” the 41-year-old told AFP on the sidelines of an international book fair in the capital Kiev.
Zelensky, who won a landslide victory last month, reiterated his pledge to move out of the presidential offices in a hulking Soviet-era building in centre city.
„I do not like the atmosphere, the building,” said Ukraine’s sixth president since independence with the collapse of the Soviet Union.
„So we’ll think what to do about it,” he added, noting that such a move would present difficulties.
The father-of-two spoke to AFP as he was buying books for his children.
Zelensky beat incumbent Petro Poroshenko in last month’s polls on promises of rebooting the political system and purging the influence of powerful oligarchs.
The political neophyte — who has described himself as „an ordinary guy come to break the system” — was sworn in as president on Monday. The next day he called snap parliamentary elections for July 21.
In his inaugural address, which won wide praise, Ukraine’s youngest post-Soviet president vowed to halt a war with Russian-backed separatists in the east of the country that claimed around 13,000 lives.
But some of Zelensky’s first staffing decisions have raised eyebrows, sparking fear that he might be beholden to tycoon Igor Kolomoisky despite repeated denials.
The controversial oligarch owns the television channel that broadcasts Zelensky’s comedy shows.
Zelensky appointed Kolomoisky’s personal lawyer, Andriy Bogdan, as his chief of staff.
Kolomoisky, 56, and the Ukrainian government have been locked in a high-profile legal battle over ownership of the country’s largest lender, PrivatBank.
The tycoon reportedly returned to Ukraine last week after almost two years of self-imposed exile in Israel and Switzerland.
– ‘Investors call every day’ –
Many observers — including Tomas Fiala, CEO of the Kiev-based investment company Dragon Capital — expressed doubt that Bogdan would work for the benefit of Ukraine and not Kolomoisky.
Zelensky angrily batted off those claims on Thursday.
„I don’t know who Fiala is, he’s not holding any state office so it’s unclear on what grounds he’s commenting,” the new leader told AFP.
He added that foreign investors were keen to commit to Ukraine.
„They are calling us every day, they want to invest money as long as the president and the government can guarantee their rights are protected — that’s our weak link.”
„This is the main reason why investors will invest or not,” he said. „It really has nothing to do with Bogdan.”
Bogdan’s recent suggestions that Ukraine may conduct a referendum over any peace plan with Russia have caused an uproar.
Zelensky walked back those comments, saying it would be an „electronic poll” and not a full-fledged plebiscite.
An online petition calling for Zelensky’s resignation has gathered more than 35,000 signatures since Wednesday.
The petition said the leader’s first steps as president were disappointing.