For two hours on Monday, President Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in private, with only interpreters there to hear their conversation. No aides, no media — just the two leaders and their translators, discussing who knows what.
This tete-a-tete was viewed as problematic well before it took place. When it was announced the two leaders would meet alone, it immediately struck many observers as unusual, particularly given the outstanding questions about the relationship between the two during the 2016 election. The White House told CNN there were a few reasons Trump wanted it this way: to assess Putin better, to avoid interjections from more hard-line staffers and because “he didn’t want details of their conversation to leak.”
So far, they have not. We have only hints of what the two leaders discussed in private, gleaned from their news conference and from interviews with each that followed. Tweets like this from the Russian Embassy in Washington are particularly cryptic:
The Russian Defense Ministry @MoD_Russiais ready for the practical implementation of agreements in the area of global security reached in Helsinki between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump
— Russia in USA (@RusEmbUSA) July 17, 2018
We looked at three transcripts to suss out what has been made public. They are:
The Bloomberg Government transcript of the post-meeting news conference The transcript of Fox News’s Chris Wallace’s interview with Putin The transcript of Fox News’s Sean Hannity’s interview with Trump.
They are identified below as [CONF], [WALLACE] and [HANNITY]. (Trump’s interview with Fox News’s Tucker Carlson that aired Tuesday did not address the conversations between the two leaders to a large extent.) We are taking at face value the presentations each leader made: If Putin said something at the news conference that was not challenged by Trump, in other words, we are assuming it was discussed and agreed upon.
What we know Trump and Putin discussed Interference in the 2016 election. [CONF] “[S]trategic stability and global security and nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction,” according to Putin, who said he gave the United States “a note with a number of specific suggestions.” [CONF] Extension of the “Strategic Offensive Arms Limitation Treaty,” meaning New START, which expires in 2021. [CONF] The two didn’t finalize terms on an extension. [WALLACE, HANNITY] Non-placement of weapons in space, per Putin — probably a response to Trump’s push for a “space force.” [CONF] Reestablishment of a joint working group on terrorism. [CONF] Establishment of a “joint working group on cybersecurity,” first discussed last year in Europe. [CONF] “A plethora of regional crises,” including Syria, North Korea and Ukraine. Putin suggested that the United States should push Ukrainian leaders to implement the Minsk Agreements of 2016. [CONF] The Iran nuclear deal and the U.S. withdrawal from the agreement. Trump said he emphasized the importance of putting pressure on Iran. [CONF] Creation of “an expert council that would include political scientists, prominent diplomats and former military experts from both countries who would look for points of contact between the two countries and would look for ways on putting the relationship on the trajectory of growth,” per Putin. [CONF] Sales of natural gas from Russia to Europe, including the transit of gas through Ukrainian pipelines. [CONF] The humanitarian crisis in Syria and the two countries’ joint efforts there. [CONF] The annexation of Crimea, which Trump asserted was illegal (according, oddly, to Putin). [CONF]
The broader and more important question, of course, is what the two leaders agreed to. Take Iran, for example. We know the two leaders discussed Iran, but to what end?
That list is shorter.
What we know Trump and Putin agreed to Protection of the border between Syria and Israel and a return to the 1974 agreement on disengagement. [CONF] Creation of “a high-level working group” of business leaders from each country. [CONF] Maintenance of lines of communication aimed at combating terrorism. [CONF] This included the eradication of the Islamic State. [HANNITY] A commitment by Putin to work with the United States on North Korea. [CONF] A follow-up meeting including members of each country’s security councils. [CONF] Putin will “look into” the allegations against 12 intelligence officers, indicted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s grand jury. [CONF] Trump embraced Putin’s suggestion that Mueller be allowed to come interview those individuals — though Putin said, in exchange, Russia should be allowed to interview Americans it accuses of crimes. [CONF] Trump did not commit to that but said he was “fascinated by it.” [HANNITY]
In the days since that summit, Russia has moved forward on this contentious idea, including announcing plans to charge several Americans, including former ambassador Michael McFaul, with financial crimes. During the news conference after the summit, Putin made reference to his longtime nemesis Bill Browder — a reminder that those the Russian government most wants to charge with crimes are often those who are the sharpest critics.
Speaking of the treatment of critics of Russia, it is also worth noting what was not discussed during the two-hour private conversation, according to those later reports.
What was not discussed or was not mentioned The two did not discuss NATO’s upcoming military exercises. [WALLACE] No mention was made of any discussion about the poisoning of former Russian intelligence official Sergei Skripal and his daughter. The attack, which took place on British soil, is seen by the U.S. allies as an egregious event. It spurred the expulsion of Russian officers from the United States and other Western countries earlier this year. No mention was made of any discussion about the sanctions imposed by the United States after the annexation of Crimea.
That Trump reiterated the U.S. position on Crimea suggests the subject was unnecessary. But this is a critically important question: Discussion of lifting those sanctions has been an undercurrent to the question of whether the Trump presidential campaign colluded with Russia’s interference efforts in 2016.
With no one else in the room for those two hours, we may never know whether and how the subject was broached.
This article was written by Philip Bump from The Washington Post_
7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea
7.3 Earthquake hits New Britain island in Papua New Guinea.
Preliminary reports warn tsunami waves could hit areas within 300km of the earthquake’s epicentre.
The quake hit off the coast New Britain region of Papua New Guinea earlier today. (Daily Star)
This is a breaking story and will be updated shortly
NY Man Planned to Blow Himself Up at Washington Mall
Police and FBI agents searched a Hudson Valley home Wednesday after learning about a man who was allegedly building a bomb in order to blow himself up in Washington D.C., two law enforcement officials told News 4 New York.
Investigators said they were concerned the man, identified as Paul Rosenfeld, at the home on Slocum Avenue in Orangetown was in the process of acquiring bomb parts.
Officials tell News 4 Rosenfeld had no criminal history but had told a reporter in Pennsylvania he planned to blow himself up on the Washington Mall around Election Day because he was angry about the country’s direction.
He had no plans to hurt anyone else, officials said. He is believed to be a lone actor not affiliated with any international terror group or ideology.
Full Article at https://nts24.co.uk/2A2oWjM
Trump ‘demanding’ answers from Saudis about missing writer
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump said Wednesday the U.S. is “demanding” answers from Saudi Arabia about the disappearance of a well-known Saudi writer and government critic Turkish authorities say was slain inside his country’s diplomatic mission in Istanbul.
Trump said he plans to invite to the White House the fiancée of Jamal Khashoggi, a writer for The Washington Post who has not been seen since he entered the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 to get paperwork for his marriage.
Members of Congress have grown increasingly insistent that the administration find out what happened to Khashoggi. The Saudi government has become a closer ally under Trump and some lawmakers warn that relations could be jeopardized if it turns out the kingdom was involved in his disappearance.
Trump told reporters in the Oval Office that he has a call in to the fiancée, Hatice Cengiz, who had been waiting outside the consulate when Khashoggi went inside and has appealed to the president and first lady Melania Trump for help.
Trump said nobody knows exactly what happened and expressed hope that Khashoggi is not dead. He also said he had spoken with the Saudis about what he called a “bad situation,” but he did not disclose details of his conversations.
Saudi Arabia denies involvement in the disappearance of Khashoggi, a former insider in Saudi government circles who has been living in self-imposed exile in the U.S. for the past year after fleeing a crackdown on intellectuals and activists in the country.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said White House national security adviser John Bolton and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner spoke on Tuesday to Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman about Khashoggi. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo then had a follow-up call with the crown prince to reiterate the U.S. request for information.
While angry members of Congress likely won’t cause the administration to turn away from Prince Mohammed and end decades of close security ties with Saudi Arabia, they could throw a wrench into arms sales that require their approval and demand the U.S. scale back support for the Saudi military campaign against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen.
Republican Sen. Bob Corker, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said “there will definitely be consequences” if it turns out the Saudis were involved in Khashoggi disappearance. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said it would be “devastating” to the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said if Saudi Arabia had lured a U.S. resident into a consulate and killed him, “it’s time for the United States to rethink our military, political and economic relationship with Saudi Arabia.” But he said it was unclear whether the Trump administration was willing to “go beyond words.”
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., a longtime critic of the Saudi government, said he’ll try to force a vote in the Senate this week blocking U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He told local radio in his home state Tuesday that he wants to end the arms shipments if there’s “any indication” the Saudis are “implicated in killing this journalist that was critical of them.”
Trump’s comments Wednesday were the toughest yet from his administration on the Khashoggi case. Officials have expressed concern but refused even to entertain questions about what the consequences would be if Turkish allegations turn out to be true. Pompeo has called on the Saudi government to conduct a thorough investigation and to be transparent about its results.
The reaction from European governments has also been cautious. British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told his Saudi counterpart that if media reports about Khashoggi were correct, it “would be extremely concerning and the U.K. will treat the incident very seriously,” according to the Foreign Office.
The Saudi ambassador to Washington, Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, has described the allegations as “malicious leaks and grim rumors” and said the kingdom is “gravely concerned” about Khashoggi. Saudi officials maintain he left the consulate shortly after entering, although it has failed to provide evidence.
Washington Post CEO and publisher Fred Ryan said reports suggested the journalist was victim of “state-sponsored, cold-blooded murder.” He demanded answers in a statement Tuesday, saying “Silence, denials and delays are not acceptable.”
Analysts said there were reasons for skepticism about the Turkish account. Ties between Ankara and Riyadh are at a low point over Turkey’s support for Qatar in that country’s yearlong dispute with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations. Saudi Arabia, a Sunni Muslim power, is also annoyed by Ankara’s rapprochement with the kingdom’s Shiite archrival, Iran.
Saudi authorities’ failure to provide video footage of Khashoggi’s movements at the consulate to rebut the Turkish allegations have only deepened suspicions.
The Trump administration, from the president on down, is heavily invested in the Saudi relationship. That’s unlikely to change, said Robin Wright, a scholar at the Wilson Center think tank and close friend of the missing writer. The administration’s Middle East agenda heavily depends on the Saudis, including efforts to counter Iranian influence in the region, fight extremism and build support for an expected plan for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
Indication of those stakes came within four months of Trump taking office, when Saudi Arabia became his first destination on a presidential trip and he announced $110 billion in proposed arms sales.
Prince Mohammed has introduced some economic and social reforms, allowing women to drive and opening movie theaters in the deeply conservative Muslim nation. The flip side, however, is that he’s also squelched dissent and imprisoned activists. He has championed the three-year military campaign against Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen that has pushed that nation toward famine and caused many civilian deaths.
Still, the Trump administration last month stood behind its support for that campaign with weapons, logistics and intelligence, certifying that the Saudis were taken adequate steps to prevent civilian despite mounting evidence to the contrary.
Karen Elliott House, a veteran writer on Saudi affairs and chair of the board of trustees at RAND Corp., said U.S. support for the Yemen war is likely to be the focus of congressional criticism but won’t endanger a relationship that has endured for decades, underpinned by shared strategic interests. Even under the Obama administration, which had difficult relations with Riyadh compared with Trump, there were some $65 billion in completed arms sales.
“The U.S.-Saudi relationship is certainly not about shared moral values,” House said. “It’s about shared security interests.”
Associated Press writers Susannah George, Matthew Lee and Deb Riechmann and video journalist Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.
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