- Negotiations between the US and the Taliban are entering their ninth round. But, as Politico reports, Donald Trump’s very public desire to withdraw from Afghanistan is making his negotiators’ jobs much more difficult.
- Trump has loudly called for exactly what the Taliban are seeking, a total US troop withdrawal. This has undermined US negotiators who are seeking guarantees that the Taliban won’t harbor terrorists capable of attacking Americans.
- Trump’s statements have „given the Taliban an incentive to delay and harden their demands to see if they can get what they want for free,” according to Christopher Kolenda, a retired Army colonel with experience with the Taliban.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
As withdrawal negotiations between the US and the Taliban enter their ninth round, President Donald Trump continues to weaken the US’s negotiating power by threatening to give the Taliban exactly what it wants — a total US troop withdrawal.As Wesley Morgan points out in Politico, Trump’s private exhortations and public proclamations that he wants to bring US troops home have given the Taliban little reason to give the US what its negotiators seek — a guarantee that Afghanistan won’t be used as a launching pad for extremist attacks against the US, a reduction in violence in the country, and efforts to unify the highly tribal country.”The Taliban are reading these things and saying, ‘Let’s see if we can get this drawdown timeline at least cost,'” Christopher Kolenda, a retired Army colonel who has participated in backchannel talks with Taliban representatives, told Politico. „It’s easy enough to get to a deal if all you want is to get out. But the danger is the Taliban will play for time while the drawdown goes on. They can delay, prevaricate, while our troops are dwindling, and then just fire up the military campaign again.”Trump’s top Afghanistan negotiator, Zalmay Khalilzad, has had to „negotiate with one hand behind his back and given the Taliban an incentive to delay and harden their demands to see if they can get what they want for free” because of Trump’s public impatience with the Afghanistan conflict, Kolenda said.The Afghanistan war enters its 19th year and the US struggles to prop up the central government as the Taliban gains ground. The Global Peace Index recently rated it the most dangerous country in the world, Trump sees himself as a master negotiator, but his penchant for making rash national security proclamations, sometimes via tweet, also has some officials on edge; Trump’s declaration that the US would pull troops out of Syria caused Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Syria envoy Brett McGurk to leave the administration, and contributed to the resurgence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.During his Syria tweetstorm, and just after he had named Khalilzad his top envoy, Trump also said that he wanted half of all US troops to leave Afghanistan. He was eventually talked down from that decision by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Mitch McConnell, but at the time, defense officials were in a tailspin, Politico reports.”The president said, ‘Let’s do this,’ and nobody was ready for that,” a former defense official told Politico. „That caused quite a bit of consternation. The State Department was looking to [the Pentagon] like, ‘What is this drawdown,’ and we were like, ‘Uhhh?'””The timing couldn’t have been worse. It was severely damaging,” said another military official who had recently been in Afghanistan. „We’ve probably gone double the rounds [of negotiations] because the Taliban were like, ‘Hey, you’re leaving anyway. Why should we negotiate?'”Trump’s team continues to say the negotiations are moving along smoothly. After Khalilzad briefed Trump and his national security team in a closed-door meeting at Trump’s Bedminster, New Jersey golf course, Trump tweeted: „Just completed a very good meeting on Afghanistan. Many on the opposite side of this 19 year war, and us, are looking to make a deal – if possible!”But without knowing the substance of the negotiations, it’s impossible to tell what the outcome might be. Without the bargaining chip of US military power, the end of US involvement in Afghanistan is unlikely to look anything like peace.NOW WATCH: What El Chapo is really like, according to the wife of one his closest henchman
Trump lashes out at former communications director Scaramucci, calls him ‘highly unstable’ Nicholas Wu•Trump talked about buying Greenland: AP reports WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump lashed out at his former communications director Anthony Scaramucci on Monday morning, calling him a „highly unstable ‘nut job’.”Trump distanced himself from Scaramucci, who had been the White House communications director for 11 days in 2017, saying that „I barely knew him until his 11 days of gross incompetence.”Trump added that Scaramucci „made a fool of himself…abused staff, got fired.”Scaramucci had been dismissed from his position in July 2017 after a brief but colorful tenure.Referring to Scaramucci’s book „Trump, the Blue-Collar President,” Trump added that Scaramucci, „wrote a very nice book about me just recently. Now the book is a lie?”Trump later deleted the tweet and replaced it with a new one with „shellacked” spelled correctly. The first version of the tweet has spelled it as „shellaced.”More: President Donald Trump on Anthony Scaramucci: He was ‘totally incapable of handling’ White House jobMore: Anthony Scaramucci: Replace Donald Trump as Republican nominee in 2020More: Scaramucci on Trump: ‘Very clear that it’s impossible for him to win’Trump has recently escalated his rhetorical war with his former staffer and has called him „totally incapable of handling” his White House job. Scaramucci, for his part, has called for the Republican Party to drop Trump as its nominee, and he was noncommital on future support for Trump.Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump Anthony Scaramucci is a highly unstable “nut job” who was with other candidates in the primary who got shellacked, & then unfortunately wheedled his way into my campaign. I barely knew him until his 11 days of gross incompetence-made a fool of himself, bad on TV. Abused staff,… Earlier Monday morning, Scaramucci had appeared on CNN’s „New Day” to say he was assembling a coalition of Republicans to oppose the president.”I’ve got to get some of these former cabinet officials in unity to speak up about it. They know it’s a crisis. It goes back to things like the Caine mutiny court-martial,” Scaramucci, making a reference to a 1954 movie about a mutiny aboard a U.S. Navy ship.Scaramucci did not respond when asked who the former cabinet officials were, predicting instead a „trove of people” would come together.This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump lashes out at Anthony Scaramucci, calls him ‘highly unstable’
Dmitry Dub/Associated Press
- Evidence is mounting that Russia may be trying to cover up a tragic nuclear accident after a mysterious blast on August 8 killed at least seven people at a Russian naval weapons site.
- Russia has declined to say exactly what caused the deadly blast. But doctors who treated injured patients reportedly were not told of radiation risks, and authorities are said to have destroyed hospital records.
- Four nuclear monitoring sites near the testing range mysteriously went offline shortly after the deadly blast, something an expert called „a very odd coincidence.”
- Western experts and intelligence officials believe the Nyonoksa explosion was caused by a failed test of the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, a very dangerous doomsday weapon that NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall.
- All signs seem to point to a classic cover-up of a suspected nuclear accident, which Russia has a long history of trying to bury.
- Visit INSIDER’s homepage for more stories.
Evidence is mounting that Russia may be trying to cover up a tragic nuclear accident after a mysterious explosion killed at least seven people at a Russian naval weapons testing range earlier this month.
Something — Russia has not said exactly what — mysteriously exploded at the Nyonoksa testing range on Russia’s northern coast on August 8, and in the aftermath a nearby town experienced a spike in radiation levels. Days later, local officials ordered an evacuation, only to cancel it a few hours later.
Doctors who treated the Russian engineers injured in the explosion were not informed that their patients were radioactive, The Moscow Times reported on Friday. After providing treatment, one doctor was found to have a radioactive isotope in their muscle tissue, the newspaper said.
Furthermore, four nuclear monitoring sites nearby strangely went offline after the deadly Nyonoksa explosion. All signs are pointing to a classic Russian cover-up.
Russia’s initial explanation for the explosion doesn’t make sense
Russian media initially reported that a „liquid propellant jet engine” exploded during testing. Western experts and intelligence officials aren’t buying that, as it doesn’t explain the radiation spike.
The explosion is believed to have occurred during a test of the 9M730 Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile, a superweapon that NATO calls the SSC-X-9 Skyfall. US President Donald Trump, in a tweet last week that was without context, referred to the incident as the „‘Skyfall’ explosion.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted last year that the Burevestnik would be „invincible” and that it would have „an unlimited range, unpredictable trajectory and ability to bypass interception.”
But so far, Russia has had little success in making the one-of-a-kind weapon work. The US had a similar project in the 1960s — Project Pluto — but decided to pass on it because it was considered too dangerous, as well as too difficult to actually develop into a reliable weapon.
Following initial reports from state media, Rosatom, Russia’s state nuclear agency, said that Russia was working on new weapons when the explosion occurred, adding that this sort of thing „happens when testing new technologies.” The Kremlin said the same, telling reporters that „accidents, unfortunately, happen.”
Putin said on Monday that there was no threat and that experts were monitoring the situation and taking preventive measures to avoid surprises.
Russia referred to those who were killed in the accident as „national heroes.” It said the same when 14 Russian sailors died in a mysterious fire aboard a top-secret nuclear-powered submarine last month. But the details of their purported heroism are being buried and kept a secret, from both the Russian people and the rest of the world.
Hospital staff members were asked to sign nondisclosure agreements
In addition to doctors not being informed of the radiation risks, the hospital’s medical staff members were asked to sign nondisclosure agreements, and the Russian security service is said to have deleted the hospital records, The Moscow Times reported.
Russian state media, citing the Ministry of Defense, initially reported that two specialists had died. Later, Rosatom said five engineers had died in the explosion, bringing the death toll to seven. It remains unclear how many were injured or exposed to possibly harmful levels of radiation.
‘A very odd coincidence’
The abrupt cessation of nuclear monitoring activities has raised more red flags.
Lassina Zerbo, the head of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization, told The Wall Street Journal that the facilities said they were having „communication & network issues.”
Daryl Kimball, the executive director for the Arms Control Association, called it „a very odd coincidence,” telling The Journal that the Russians were probably trying to „obscure the technical details of the missile-propulsion system they are trying and failing to develop.”
And as Stephen Blank, a former professor of Russian national security studies at the US Army War College, said in an op-ed article for The Hill last week, Russia tends to object to transparency when dealing with nuclear accidents, with not just Chernobyl but several other tragic incidents during the Cold War and even now.
Equinor, Gazprom lose European gas market share as LNG surges
By Ekaterina Kravtsova
LONDON (Reuters) – Europe’s two biggest suppliers of pipeline gas, Norway’s Equinor and Russia’s Gazprom, have lost market share for the first time in at least four years amid a tripling in liquefied natural gas (LNG) imports into the region over the past 10 months.
LNG imports into Europe have jumped amid lower than expected spot demand from Asia, which has helped to send European gas prices to 10-year lows and filled European storages to multi-year highs.
Data compiled by Refinitiv showing changes in the market share of gas from Norway, Russia and LNG sources is the latest example of how LNG is transforming Europe’s gas market.
Graphic: Gas flows to Europe – Market share — https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/7/5988/5971/Pasted%20Image.jpg
The share of LNG in gas supplied to western and central Europe increased to 14% between October 2018 and August 2019 from 5% in the same period of 2017-18.
The share of Norwegian gas dropped to 33% from 38%, a multi-year low, calculations by Refinitiv show.
Gazprom’s share was around the average of the past three years, edging down by 1% from the previous year to 32%. But it was the first year-on-year drop since 2014-2015, when it was hit by low gas demand in Europe.
LNG from the United States into northwest Europe accounted for 2% of total gas supply into the region, contributing to the strong increase in LNG in Europe.
Despite its market share loss, Gazprom’s total gas exports to Europe rose as the region imported 9% more gas from October to August, compared with the same period in 2017-2018.
Graphic: Gas flows to Europe — https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/7/5987/5970/Pasted%20Image.jpg
„Most of the increase which we see in Russian supply this year came to Slovakia and the Czech Republic – countries which do not have direct access to LNG and which need to prepare their storages in case transit via Ukraine stops from January 2020,” said Marina Tsygankova, gas market analyst at Refinitiv.
The gas transit agreement between Russia and Ukraine is due to expire at the end of this year. The lack of progress in talks has spurred Europe to stockpile gas to prevent possible supply disruption in winter.
In countries with LNG terminals, Russian flows have given some ground to LNG volumes, an LNG market source said.
The drop in Norwegian flows, meanwhile, was seller-driven, with Equinor conducting extensive maintenance on its production and also reducing output, probably for commercial reasons.
In contrast, a drop in Russian gas flows to some western European countries, such as Germany, was buyer-driven.
„If I have a long-term contract and some flexibility left, I would run the contract low now and ramp it up again in September or later,” a gas trader in Europe said, pointing to current low spot prices.
A drop in Dutch production has also helped to create room for LNG arrivals.
The analysis was based on gas volumes for Germany, France, Austria, the Netherlands, Britain, Belgium, the Czech Republic and Slovakia from October to August over the past six years.
(Reporting by Ekaterina Kravtsova; Editing by Nina Chestney and Mark Potter)
A convoy of Turkish military vehicles passes through the town of Saraqeb in Idlib province on August 19, 2019
Maaret al-Noman (Syria) (AFP) – A Turkish military convoy crossed into jihadist-run northwest Syria on Monday, its path blocked by advancing regime troops as tensions soared between Damascus and Ankara.
Rebel-backer Turkey said its forces were targeted by an air strike, while the Syrian regime accused Turkish forces of backing „terrorists”.
The convoy had entered Idlib province before heading towards a key town where Russian-backed regime forces are waging a fierce battle to retake the area from jihadists and rebels.
Turkey claimed an air strike hit its convoy, killing three civilians, though a war monitor said a Russian air raid took the lives of three rebels in the surrounding area.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said Monday that Moscow supports the Syrian army’s offensive against „terrorists” in the northern province of Idlib, during a press conference with French President Emmanuel Macron.
„We support the efforts of the Syrian army… to end these terrorist threats” in Idlib, Putin said after Macron urged respect for a ceasefire in Idlib.
After eight years of civil war, the jihadist-run region on the border with Turkey is the last major stronghold of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.
The region of some three million people was supposed to be protected by a Turkish-Russian buffer zone deal signed last year, but regime and Russian forces have upped their deadly bombardment there since late April.
After days of inching forward, Russian-backed regime ground forces on Sunday entered the key town of Khan Sheikhun in the south of the stronghold.
On Monday afternoon, a new loyalist advance saw pro-Damascus fighters take control part of the highway north of the town, effectively blocking the Turkish military convoy from continuing south.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based monitor with a network of contacts in Syria, said this would stop the convoy ever reaching a Turkish monitoring post south of Khan Sheikhun.
Late Monday, the Observatory said the convoy was at a standstill in the village of Maar Hattat on the highway just north of Khan Sheikhun, where an AFP correspondent had seen it in the afternoon.
Russian and regime air strikes as well as heavy loyalist artillery fire hit surrounding areas, it said.
Regime forces were in control of more than half of Khan Sheikhun late Monday, with remaining anti-Assad fighters surrounded on three sides in its west with no way out except towards the south, the Observatory said.
– Deadly air strike –
Analysts say regime forces want to retake the key road that connects Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, both of which they control.
Earlier, an AFP correspondent saw a military convoy of around 50 armoured vehicles including personnel carriers and at least five tanks travelling southwards along the highway.
The Observatory reported Syrian and Russian air strikes aimed at hindering the convoy’s advance.
Turkey’s defence ministry „strongly” condemned the attack, saying regime operations were „in violation of the existing memorandums and agreements with the Russian Federation”.
The Damascus regime meanwhile denounced the convoy’s crossing from Turkey.
„Turkish vehicles loaded with munitions… are heading towards Khan Sheikhun to help the terrorists,” a foreign ministry source said, using the regime’s blanket term for rebels and jihadists.
This confirmed „the support provided by the Turkish regime to terrorist groups,” state news agency SANA reported the source as saying.
On Monday morning, a Russian air strike hit the rebel vehicle leading the convoy just outside Maaret al-Noman, 15 kilometres (nine miles) north of Khan Sheikhun, the Observatory said.
The strike killed a Turkish-backed fighter from the Faylaq al-Sham group and two other opposition fighters, it said.
After the convoy entered the town, Russian and Syrian warplanes targeted the area in an apparent „attempt to prevent the convoy from advancing”, Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.
– ‘Protect Khan Sheikhun’? –
On Sunday, pro-regime forces backed by Russian air strikes took control of Khan Sheikhun’s northwestern outskirts.
Fighting continues to the east and west of the town, according to the Observatory.
The seizure of Khan Sheikhun and territory further east would encircle a patch of countryside to its south, including the town of Morek where a Turkish observation post is situated.
The Turkish army earlier said the convoy was heading towards Morek.
Analyst Nawar Oliver said Turkey had likely sent the convoy to avoid its troops being „threatened” or placed „at the mercy of the regime and Russia”.
It may have also taken a „decision to protect Khan Sheikhun”, he said.
Since late April, the regime and Russia have upped their bombardment of the Idlib region, killing more than 860 civilians.
More than 400,000 people have fled their homes, the United Nations says.
Jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, controls most of Idlib province as well as parts of the neighbouring provinces of Hama, Aleppo and Latakia.
Syria’s war has killed more than 370,000 people and displaced millions since it started in 2011.
APTOPIX Portland Rallies Members of the Proud Boys and other right-wing demonstrators march across the Hawthorne Bridge during an „End Domestic Terrorism” rally in Portland, Ore., on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. The group includes organizer Joe Biggs, in green hat, and Proud Boys Chairman Enrique Tarrio, holding megaphone. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — After previous political rallies that ended in violence, police in Portland, Oregon, earned praise Monday from outside observers for using a natural barrier — the city’s Willamette River — to keep dueling protesters apart during a weekend far-right rally and large counter-demonstration that included a subset of masked and black-clad anti-fascists.Two of the 13 people arrested Saturday made a first court appearance Monday, while the rest have court dates next month to allow authorities to process reams of evidence, including videos and photos posted on social media, the Multnomah County district attorney’s office said in a statement. More arrests may come as those postings are reviewed, authorities said.As the city returned to normal, Mayor Ted Wheeler called Saturday’s dueling demonstrations a win for residents. Oregon’s top federal prosecutor called the handling of the event a „definitive counterpoint” for those who on both sides who have criticized police after past protests for favoring one side or the other.”We do not tolerate hate and we do not tolerate violence,” Wheeler said. „We had a plan, we executed on that plan and on the whole, it was successful.”Amid the praise, however, protesters on both sides declared victory — and laid the groundwork for future demonstrations in liberal Portland.A small group of right-wing protesters camped outside Wheeler’s house Sunday to protest what they say were his attempts to limit free speech. Joe Biggs, a member of the far-right group Proud Boys, vowed that right-wing groups will keep coming to Portland as long as anti-fascists are around.Joey Gibson, the leader of another right-wing group that’s marched in Portland previously, spoke Monday outside the courthouse where he had a first court appearance on a charge of felony rioting from a May 1 skirmish with anti-fascists. In a video streamed live on Facebook, Gibson said he would not take a plea deal because he had done nothing wrong.”If you’re liberal, you should be against this,” he said. „They don’t have to support me but they need to stand up for free speech.”Popular Mobilization, a left-wing group that’s critical of Portland police, credited the counter-demonstrators — not law enforcement — with keeping the city safe and criticized officers for opening the bridge over the Willamette River „solely to escort the hate groups across.””People everywhere are fed up and ready to push back against fascism,” PopMob said in a statement. „Instead of hiding in fear alone in our homes, we chose a joyful display of community resilience — a reminder of the power we have when we come together.”After some early skirmishes, police were largely able to keep the dueling groups apart — a sharp contrast from previous rallies when there were violent clashes.This time, far-right demonstrators gathered in a riverfront park and then crossed the bridge with the permission of police. Law enforcement then closed the same bridge to the black-clad and masked far-left protesters.Most of the Proud Boys soon left and a large crowd, including about 50 black-clad antifa, walked the streets looking for them as police followed, blocking intersections to keep traffic flowing. Later, several hundred left-wing protesters skirmished with police near downtown, resulting in some arrests.The mayor said Monday he supported the police decision to use the bridges to keep protesters apart. The right-wing demonstrators told a police liaison officer they wanted to use the bridge to leave, he said.”The police made that happen because they believed it was in the best interest of de-escalating the situation,” Wheeler said.By evening it was all over.Throughout the day, hundreds of counter-demonstrators — some dressed as bananas, unicorns and pandas — diffused the tension by dancing, praying, listening to a brass band, blowing giant bubbles and singing along the riverfront.”Much of the counter-protest that I saw this time was much more celebratory, much more creative and artistic. I think that resulted in an increased number of Portlanders who came out and I think it limited the physical confrontation,” said Eric Ward, executive director of the Portland-based Western States Center.The city is planning an event this weekend to encourage people to dine and shop in the part of the city where businesses had to close, Wheeler said. „Last weekend was very tense, this weekend we’re hoping it is plain old fun, the way Portland is in late August in the summer,” he said._Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus
Tariffs are expected to cost American households up to $1,000 per year when the next round goes into effect on September 1, according to a new note by J.P. Morgan.
According to the bank’s analysts, the cost of the U.S.-China trade war borne by consumers is likely to rise from around $600 per year — based on the first two “phases” of the tariffs on Chinese imports — to around $1,000, based on the third round of tariffs.
That $1,000 figure assumes a 10% tariff on about $112 billion of Chinese imports, which U.S. President Donald Trump announced will begin next month. While he had initially proposed 10% tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, he later scaled it back to exclude certain consumer products like cell phones, laptops, and toys.
If the tariff increase to 25% — as President Trump has threatened — the cost to consumers would rise to $1,500 per year, J.P. Morgan stated.
“What distinguishes China Phase III tariffs from preceding tariffs is the impact to Consumption and Capital goods,” analysts wrote. While previous tariffs focused more on “intermediate goods,” this batch “suggests that the expected consumer impact should be larger in the latest round,” the bank’s analysts wrote.
Tariff costs offset gains from the tax cut
The $1,000 cost is also expected to offset the majority of the benefit that American households received from the Tax Act, the analysts added, which was around $1,300.
“The impact from reduced spending could be immediate for discretionary goods and services since tariffs are regressive,” they wrote. “Unlike the agriculture sector which is receiving subsidies/aid to offset the impact of China’s retaliatory actions, there is no simple way to compensate consumers.”
Since this move comes at a “much higher cost for the U.S. administration” ahead of a presidential election, the analysts noted that there was “a good chance they end up reversing their decision and finding a way to reach some common ground with Chinese negotiators.”
Aarthi is a writer for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @aarthiswami.
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