Trump tests love-it-or-leave-it campaign messageDavid Knowles Editor•President Trump arrives for a „Make America Great Again” rally in Greenville, N.C. (Photo: Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images)President Trump tested his latest campaign message at a Wednesday rally in Greenville, N.C., thrusting the four freshmen Democratic congresswomen he’s been insulting to the forefront of the 2020 election and saying of critics of his administration: “If they don’t love [America], tell them to leave it.”“The radical Democrats are trying to destroy all of our country’s tremendous success,” Trump said. “The leading voices of the Democrat Party are left-wing extremists who reject everything our country stands for.”In a clear reference to Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., Trump said: “These left-wing ideologues see our country as a force for evil.”He proceeded to attack each congresswoman.“Rep. Omar blamed the United States for the terrorist attacks on our country,” Trump said, without citing a specific instance. Earlier in the week, Trump falsely accused Omar, one of the first Muslim women in Congress, of proclaiming “how great al-Qaida is.”“Send her back!” his crowd chanted in response to Trump’s criticisms of Omar.Tlaib, Trump said, “agreed with Omar’s characterization of 9/11,” without specifying how. Tlaib also “used the F-word to describe the presidency and your president,” Trump continued, referencing the congresswoman’s vow that Congress would “impeach the motherf***er.”Trump said he couldn’t be bothered to learn Ocasio-Cortez’s name, telling his audience that he would simply call her “Cortez.”“She’s conducted outrageous attacks against men and women of law enforcement,” Trump said, noting her criticism of Border Patrol agents and ICE.“She said essentially Nazis are running concentration camps,” Trump continued. While Ocasio-Cortez did describe the U.S. facilities as concentration camps, she never said they were run by Nazis.As for Pressley, Trump speculated whether she might be related to Elvis Presley.“She thinks that people with the same skin color all need to think the same,” Trump said of Pressley, who is African-American. “She said we don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be brown voices. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice.”“These congresswomen, their comments are helping to fuel the rise of a dangerous militant hard left,” Trump said, reading from a teleprompter.From left, Reps. Rashida Tlaib, llhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley during a news conference. (Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP)The stop on Trump’s campaign for reelection came hours after the House of Representatives tabled a resolution by Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, to impeach the president for inflammatory statements the House called “racist” in a separate resolution passed Tuesday.“How stupid is that?” Trump said of the impeachment resolution, thanking Democrats who voted against it. “They did the right thing for our country.”Trump sparked the firestorm Sunday morning in a series of tweets, widely condemned as racist, telling the four congresswomen of color to “go back” to the “crime infested places from which they came.” All four lawmakers are U.S. citizens, and three of the four were born in the U.S.He escalated that fight a day later in remarks at a manufacturing event outside the White House, insisting that the congresswomen “hate our country” and are “anti-Israel.”On Wednesday, Ocasio-Cortez said there was “no bottom to the barrel” of Trump’s vitriol.“I think that America has always been a story, and America has always been about the triumph of people who fight for everyone versus those who want to preserve rights for just a select few,” Ocasio-Cortez told CBS’s Gayle King. “And there is no bottom to the barrel of vitriol that will be used and weaponized to stifle those who want to advance rights for all people in the United States.”Trump has seemed to welcome the fight with the perhaps the most liberal faction of the House Democratic caucus. A Reuters/Ipsos poll released Wednesday found that support for the president had edged up slightly in the wake of his call for the four female Democrats to leave America.Before leaving the White House for North Carolina on Wednesday, Trump was asked for his assessment of how the war of words with the Democratic lawmakers was playing with the American public.“I do think I’m winning the political fight,” Trump said.Supporters at President Trump’s campaign rally in Greenville, N.C. (Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
At times, analysts and former officials say, it sounds like Trump wants to strike a deal that essentially mirrors the agreement that his White House predecessor inked — even if he’d never be willing to admit it. Iranian officials seem willing to egg him on, saying they’ll talk so long as Trump lifts the sanctions he’s imposed on them and returns to the 2015 Iran deal. And as European ministers warn that the existing deal is nearly extinct, Trump may feel like he is backed into a corner and running out of options.
“Trump got rid of the Iran nuclear deal because it was Barack Obama’s agreement,” said Jarrett Blanc, a former State Department official who helped oversee the 2015 deal’s implementation. “If you were to present to Trump the same deal and call it Trump’s deal, he’d be thrilled.”
The administration’s confusing messaging is a result of warring between two major factions, U.S. officials say, with Trump in his own separate lane. The infighting has been deeply frustrating to those involved in the debate. “In the past, even when I personally disagreed with a policy, I could explain its logic,” a U.S. official said. “Now I can’t even do that.”
Trump quit the nuclear deal in May 2018, reimposing sanctions the U.S. had lifted on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program. He said the deal should have tackled Iran’s non-nuclear activities, such as its sponsorship of terrorist groups, and blasted the expiration dates on some of its clauses.
For a year afterward, Iran continued to abide by the deal’s terms, hoping that the other countries involved — Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia — could offer Tehran the economic relief Trump had taken away. But as that relief has failed to materialize, Iran has begun backing away from its commitments.
Tehran recently breached limits on its enrichment and stockpiling of uranium and has promised more infractions in the coming months. The U.S. has also accused Iran of attacking several international oil tankers in the Persian Gulf, and the Pentagon has sent warships and more troops to the region in response.
As tensions have spiked, one voice pushing for a deal has been Trump.
He’s said he’s “not looking for war,” wants to talk to Iran without preconditions and isn’t interested in regime change. He called off a military strike on Iran over its downing of an unmanned U.S. drone, overriding the advice of several top aides. His main public demand is that Iran not build nuclear weapons. In return, Trump has offered to help revive Iran’s sanctions-battered economy.
To observers, that sounds suspiciously like the 2015 deal.
“They can’t have a nuclear weapon,” Trump said Tuesday. “We want to help them. We will be good to them. We will work with them. We will help them in any way we can. But they can’t have a nuclear weapon.”
Trump occasionally nods to other disputes with Iran, such as its funding of militia groups, ballistic missile testing and Tehran’s support of rebel forces in Yemen, but nuclear weapons dominate his rhetoric.
In June, Jackie Wolcott, the U.S. ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency — the body that inspects Iran’s nuclear program under the 2015 agreement — called on Iran to stick to the deal after an IAEA inspection report detailed a disputed potential violation.
“Iran has claimed that it continues to comply with the JCPOA, but it is now reported to be in clear violation of the deal,” Wolcott said, referring to the agreement’s official name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “This should be of great concern to all of us. The United States calls on Iran to return to compliance without delay.”
Afterward, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus faced questions about why the U.S. wants Iran to adhere to a deal that it has claimed doesn’t truly constrain its nuclear ambitions.
“I don’t think it’s contradictory in the fact that we have stated very loudly since the beginning of this administration that we do not want the Iranian regime to get a nuclear weapon,” Ortagus said. “We think it would be disastrous for the Middle East. I — we haven’t changed our position.”
In a statement to POLITICO, a State Department official called the JCPOA “a flawed deal because it did not permanently address our concerns with respect to Iran’s nuclear program and destabilizing conduct. The U.S. is seeking a deal with Iran that comprehensively addresses the regime’s destabilizing behavior — not just their nuclear program, but also their missile program, support to terrorism, and malign regional behavior.”
Several European officials express astonishment at the audacity of the Trump administration demanding that Iran adhere to the deal when the U.S. the one who breached the agreement in the first place. Some said they were not surprised that Iran may have taken actions in the Persian Gulf as payback for the U.S. abandonment of the deal.
Europeans “know that the original sin causing the current escalation in the Gulf is the U.S. violation of the Iran nuclear deal,” said Nathalie Tocci, an adviser to European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini. “At the same time, they are terribly concerned about the escalation and the threat it poses to the Middle East and to Europe itself.”
U.S. officials and outside observers say there appear to be two main competing factions inside the Trump administration when it comes to Iran policy.
Both camps are convinced that Iran’s Islamist regime is a bad actor in the Middle East. Neither particularly cares for the nuclear deal, either, viewing it as too weak a document.
But one group, led by national security adviser John Bolton, is simply more hardline than the other.
Bolton, who has previously called for regime change in Iran, and his supporters appear determined to kill the deal and heap on sanctions, erasing Iran’s ability to trade beyond its borders. Their version of what the administration calls a “maximum pressure campaign” seems to aim for a major reckoning in Iran, though they demure on whether that could involve a U.S.-led ouster of the regime or would simply set the stage for ordinary Iranians to revolt.
The other group appears to not have a visible leader, but it seems willing to allow the nuclear deal to tenuously remain intact, while ramping up economic sanctions that starve the regime of resources. This group, for instance, is hoping for the success of a European financial mechanism built to help Iran more easily obtain non-sanctioned goods, thus possibly helping sustaining the deal in hobbled form. That way, the group argues, Iran can’t race toward a nuclear weapon, but it also will be unable to spend as much funding militias and terrorist groups in the region.
A second U.S. official said one main difference between the two groups is that Bolton-led crew has no desire to make any sort of deal with Iran, while the other side believes that under enough pressure, Iran would be willing to negotiate a new, better agreement than the one in 2015.
„Bolton thinks he’s playing the longer game. That he can’t leave this administration having given an inch on Iran,” the official said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is generally believed to be in the camp that wants a deal, but he’s also laid out a set of 12 conditions on Iran that are so broad they may be damaging the odds of talks. A third U.S. official who confirmed the outlines of the internal debate said Pompeo may be worried about his future in the Republican Party and whether engaging in any sort of negotiation with Iran could damage it.
The result is a cacophony of voices speaking for the administration, including some out of sync with Trump.
“We’ve got very different messages because they don’t seem to have the same end goals,” the first U.S. official said of the various Trump aides involved. „We’re studiously ignoring ‘the deal that shall not be named’ in our official talking points, but in the same breath demanding that Iran adhere to conditions that were part of the deal.”
Blanc, the Obama administration official, said what Trump seems to want is a grand show, the type that he’s gotten in his one-on-one meetings with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. But there are serious political risks for Iran’s leaders in meeting Trump, especially after the president walked away from a deal that was hard to sell to all of Iran’s competing political factions in the first place.
Trump, Blanc said, “has an instinctive understanding that he’s not going to get that pageant if Iran thinks he’s pursuing a regime change policy.”
Perhaps sensing this, Trump on Tuesday went out of his way to note that he didn’t want to oust the government in Tehran. “We’re not looking, by the way, for regime change because some people say [we are] looking for regime change,” he said. “We’re not looking for regime change.”
In the meantime, Iran appears determined to exploit the divisions within the Trump administration, as well as the fissures between the U.S. and Europe over the Iran deal.
Iran’s recent calculated breaches of its nuclear pledges are meant to increase pressure on the Europeans to find ways around U.S. sanctions. And Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif even uses Twitter to taunt the Trump team over these disagreements, lambasting the president’s top aides as the “B-Team.”
The way out Zarif mentions? Presumably a U.S. return to the 2015 nuclear deal.
The vote, on a package of three bills, showcased the bipartisan backlash against a pending deal to send $8.1 billion in bombs, precision-guided missiles, ammunition and other arms to the Saudis and its Middle East partners. The measures would halt the imminent shipment of 124,000 precision-guided missiles and the fuses to detonate them.
A handful of Republicans and one Independent joined most Democrats in supporting the measures, despite a White House veto threat.
Democrats in particular have expressed deep concern over the Trump administration’s pro-Saudi policies, even as the kingdom has engaged in series of high-profile human rights violations – including the slaying of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Lawmakers have also grown increasingly alarmed by the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen, which has killed thousands of civilians and created a horrific humanitarian crisis.
„Reckless doesn’t begin to describe it. It’s gruesome,” Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat and chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said of the Saudis conduct in the war. One Saudi airstrike killed 40 children in a school bus, with a U.S.-made bomb.
The U.S. cannot give Saudi Arabia „a blank check … to drop bombs on schoolchildren,” Engel said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the $8.1 billion weapons deal last month and said the administration would sidestep the normal congressional approval process by declaring a national security emergency. Pompeo said threats from Iran, a foe of both the United States and Saudi Arabia, justified the decision to bypass congressional review.
Engel and others blasted that as a „phony emergency” used to make an end-run around Congress.
But most Republicans defended the arms sales as vital to helping the Saudis, the UAE and Jordan as vital to curbing Iran, which is supporting the Houthi rebels in the Yemen conflict.
„Iran is stretching its tentacles of terror across the Middle East,” said Rep. Michael McCaul, the top Republican on the Foreign Affairs Committee. He said the U.S. needs to push back on Iran by supporting its allies in the region and helping them defend themselves against Iranian aggression.
„This irresponsible resolution handcuffs our ability to do so,” said McCaul, of Texas.
The GOP-led Senate has already passed the three bills, which will now go to Trump’s desk. (The Senate adopted a broader package that would nix the entire $8.1 billion deal). It’s unlikely supporters can muster the congressional super-majority that would be needed to override an anticipated Trump veto.
The White House has argued the measures would jeopardize the U.S.-Saudi alliance, a cornerstone of the Trump administration’s campaign to isolate Iran.
„Apart from negatively affecting our bilateral relationship with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the joint resolution would hamper our ability to sustain and shape critical security cooperation activities and would significantly hinder the interoperability between our nations,” the White House said in a statement earlier this year. „Additionally, the joint resolution would impact our partner’s ability to deter and defend against Iranian military aggression.”
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: House votes to bar Trump administration from arms sale to Saudi Arabia
U.S.Italian, U.S. police make arrests as Mafia clan looks to regroup
•PALERMO, Italy, July 17 (Reuters) – Italian and U.S. police have launched a coordinated crackdown against major crime families who were looking to rebuild their Mafia powerbase in Sicily, Italian investigators said on Wednesday.More than 200 police, including officers from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), have been carrying out 19 arrest warrants since dawn targeting the Inzerillo clan in Sicily’s capital Palermo and the New York-based Gambino family.Sicily’s organised crime group, known as ‘Cosa Nostra’ (Our Thing), has been in a state of flux since the death of the feared boss of bosses Salvatore „Toto” Riina, who died in prison in 2017 after spending almost a quarter of century behind bars.Riina launched a ferocious mafia war on the Mediterranean island in the 1980s, forcing the Inzerillo family into self-imposed exile in the United States as his own clan took over their territory in the Palermo suburbs.The family has since looked to reclaim its old business, police said, helped by strong allies in New York.”The investigation, dubbed ‘New Connection’, has registered the strong bond established between Cosa Nostra Palermo and U.S. organised crime, with particular reference to the powerful Gambino crime family of New York,” a police statement said.The Gambino crime operation is one of the five historic Italian-American Mafia families in New York. Past charges against family operatives have included murder, loan sharking and illegal drug distribution.The reported crime boss of the family, Francesco „Franky Boy” Cali, was gunned down in front of his Staten Island home in March. It was not clear if his murder had anything to do with tensions in Sicily.Italian police said the suspects arrested on Wednesday faced a string of charges, including membership of the mafia, aggravated extortion, fraud and „unfair competition”.Once all-powerful on Sicily, the Cosa Nostra has been squeezed over the past two decades, with many bosses put behind bars, many of its businesses sequestered and many locals ready to defy it.Despite these setbacks, prosecutors have warned repeatedly that the group is looking to rebuild https://www.reuters.com/article/us-italy-mafia-idUSKBN19E1RO.The state’s fight against the Mafia got serious in 1992 after the group murdered two of Italy’s top magistrates, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, triggering national outrage and finally forcing complacent politicians to act.