‘Terminator’ Tops ‘Joker’ In Battle For North American Box Office

Gabriel Luna (R) and Robert Rodriguez attend the “Terminator: Dark Fate” Screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema Slaughter Lane on October 29, 2019 in Austin, Texas. AFP

 

“Terminator: Dark Fate” opened atop the North American box office this weekend with an estimated take of $29 million, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations said Sunday, but analysts said that figure fell far below expectations.

After all, the sixth and latest installment in the franchise — reuniting stars Arnold Schwarzenegger and Linda Hamilton with series creator James Cameron — cost $185 million to make.

The Paramount film has Sarah Connor (Hamilton) fighting to protect a young girl from a deadly Terminator arrived from the future.

The film may have been hurt by head-to-head competition with dark thriller “Joker,” which in its fifth week took in $13.9 million for the second spot in the Friday-to-Sunday period. Joaquin Phoenix plays Batman’s notorious nemesis in the Warner Bros. film.

In third place was Disney’s “Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” at $12.2 million. The film once again stars Angelina Jolie playing the evil sorceress, and adds Michelle Pfeiffer as the scheming Queen Ingrith.

New biopic “Harriet” — the story of Harriet Tubman’s escape from slavery and work to help free other slaves — surprised analysts with its fourth-place finish, earning $12 million.

It was a strong showing for a historical drama. The film has earned a rare A+ CinemaScore rating from audiences, and British star Cynthia Erivo has earned strong reviews for her performance in the title role.

In fifth was United Artists’ computer-animated “The Addams Family,” at $8.5 million. The funny/spooky film features the voices of Oscar Isaac, Charlize Theron, Snoop Dogg and Bette Midler.

Rounding out the top 10 were:

“Zombieland: Double Tap” ($7.4 million)

“Countdown” ($5.9 million)

“Black and Blue” ($4.1 million)

“Motherless Brooklyn” ($3.7 million)

“Arctic Dogs” ($3.1 million)

AFP

America’s First Cannabis Cafe Opens In Hollywood

Boxes of matches for patrons are seen at the Lowell Cafe in West Hollywood, California, on September 30, 2019, a day before its official opening.  Frederic J. BROWN / AFP

 

America’s first cannabis restaurant has opened in West Hollywood, offering diners an array of weed products and hoping to rival Amsterdam’s famed coffee shops.

Called Lowell Farms: A Cannabis Cafe, the much-hyped 240-seat establishment is open to people 21 and over, who can order from a cannabis menu just like they would a wine bottle.

“Flower Hosts,” or “budtenders,” help patrons navigate the menu, giving advice to connoisseurs or novices on what strain of cannabis to order with their meal and the potency and flavor of each product.

On offer are pre-rolled joints starting at $18 dollars apiece, highly potent concentrates, some edibles, and accessories such as bongs, pipes and dabbing devices.

“It’s amazing to be a part of making history, I never thought I would have been,” said executive chef Andrea Drummer as she surveyed diners at the soft opening of the eatery on Monday.

“It’s important to have a safe space to consume in a very communal setting,” she added. “The only other place that I know that to be the case is Amsterdam.”

She said customers were flying in from different parts of the country, and one couple was even traveling from Britain, to take part in the grand opening on Tuesday.

The cafe’s launch comes as more and more states across America have legalized marijuana in recent years, both for medicinal and recreational purposes. The drug, however, remains illegal at the federal level.

 Largest legal marijuana market 

In California, which has the world’s largest legal marijuana market, recreational pot became legal in 2018, setting off a mad rush by entrepreneurs to cash in on the multi-billion-dollar industry.

Seven other eateries similar to “Lowell Farms” are expected to open in the near future in West Hollywood, one of the first cities in the country to embrace the concept.

“This is a great idea and I do think that normalizing cannabis is something that we should do,” said Derek Bollella, 22, a business student who drove 45 minutes on Monday to be part of the happy few who managed to secure a reservation at Lowell’s.

“If you go to Amsterdam, they have one of these every 10 feet,” he added as he smoked a joint while munching on nachos topped with avocado. “They tried that over there and it seems to work.”

Antonela Balaguer, 23, another patron sitting nearby with a friend, said it was only fitting to finally have a cannabis cafe where customers could get high while enjoying some “nice stoner food.”

“I could probably come here every day,” she said. “I would consume cannabis every day if I could.”

Drummer said the restaurant’s 40 “Flower Hosts” have been trained to keep an eye on guests to make sure they are able to tolerate the cannabis they order and that nothing gets out of hand.

“Our bud hosts are very proficient in enquiring and asking guest where they are at in their consumption level,” she said. “You go to a bar and you know the cut-off point for the person who has ordered five whiskeys. So you have a conversation if that is the case. ”

For Matt Kirschner, the new eatery is long overdue and marks a major milestone for the country.

“This is the greatest thing that the United States has implemented into its culture in a while,” said the 22-year-old law student as he smoked a joint and nibbled on mac and cheese bites and a chicken sandwich with a friend at Lowell’s.

“We’re pretty stoned right now,” he added, grinning. “We’re enjoying the day, the music’s good, the weather’s good and we’re in California.

AFP

American Mother Shoots Daughter By Mistake

 

An American woman shot and wounded her 18-year-old daughter when she showed up to pay a surprise visit and the mother thought there was an intruder in the house, reports said Wednesday.

The girl, coming home from college for an unannounced visit, was hit in the arm but will survive Friday’s incident in Girard, Ohio, local TV station WFMJ said.

The mother had a licensed .38 Special revolver and was home alone when she heard noise coming from the kitchen or hallway, police chief John Norman told the station.

“She stated that the bedroom door opened where she was at — and she had a gun readily available and fired a round at someone coming through the door,” said Norman.

The mother was shocked to learn she had shot her daughter, said Norman.

A local district attorney will decide if charges are brought, he said.

Gun possession, permitted under the Second Amendment to the US constitution, is widespread in the US.

Around 40,000 people died from gunfire in 2017, according to government figures.

The Gun Violence Archive says 1,112 people have died in accidental shootings so far this year.

 

‘Good Boys’ Tops North American Box Office

(L-R) Actors Brady Noon, Jacob Tremblay, Keith L. Williams and Chance Hurstfield arrive for the premiere of “Good Boys”, at the Regency Village Theatre in Westwood, California. Mark RALSTON / AFP

 

Universal’s kid-oriented comedy “Good Boys” topped the North American box office this weekend, taking in an estimated $21 million for the weekend, industry watcher Exhibitor Relations reported Sunday.

It was the first time an R-rated comedy had placed No. 1 since the same studio’s Melissa McCarthy film “The Boss” in early 2016, according to Hollywood Reporter.

“Good Boys,” produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, follows three 12-year-olds — played by Brady Noon, Jacob Tremblay and Keith L. Williams — as they desperately try to get into a kissing party.

The three-day weekend was a good one for Universal, as last week’s top movie “Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw” — starring Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Jason Statham — slipped just one spot from first to second, taking in $14 million.

In third spot for a second straight week, showing considerable staying power, was Disney’s animated “The Lion King,” at $11.9 million. Its all-star voice cast includes Rogen, Donald Glover, Beyonce, James Earl Jones and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

Sony’s new animation “The Angry Birds Movie 2” placed fourth, at $10.5 million. That was a big drop from the original “Angry Birds” movie, which opened in May 2016 at $38.2 million.

And in fifth was Lionsgate’s “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark,” at $10.1 million. Based on the children’s horror books, it stars Zoe Colletti, Michael Garza and Gabriel Rush.

Rounding out the weekend’s top 10 were:

“47 Meters Down: Uncaged” ($9 million)

“Dora & the Lost City of Gold” ($8.5 million)

“Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood” ($7.6 million)

“Blinded by the Light” ($4.5 million)

“The Art of Racing in the Rain” ($4.4 million)

AFP

U.S. Universities Offer Scholarships Worth $7.5m To Nigerians

 

More than 303 Nigerian students from the 17 states of southern Nigeria have received no less than $7.5 million in full or partial scholarships from 225 American universities and colleges to study in the United States for the 2019-2020 academic session.

This was disclosed by the Acting United States Consul General, Osman Tat, during the 2019 EducationUSA pre-departure orientation in Lagos on Tuesday for students who have received offers of admission and scholarships to attend U.S. colleges and universities.

Noting that the U.S. remains a top destination for international students, Tat explained that the list of acceptances for Nigerian students for the upcoming academic year has been quite impressive, cutting across many of the 50 U.S. states.

“I congratulate each one of you on your tremendous success. This is a very important step in your life. I encourage you to make the most out of your time in the United States to acquire the requisite skills and knowledge needed to support Nigeria’s development,” he told the group of US-bound students.

The students have been accepted for undergraduate and graduate degree programs at top-notch US institutions ranging from Ivy League universities, liberal arts colleges, women’s colleges, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), to community colleges.

They include Stanford University, The George Washington University, Johns Hopkins University, Purdue University, Tufts University, Boston University, Emory University, and Howard University, among many others.

The pre-departure orientation is intended to assist students to prepare for their move from Nigeria to attend a college or university in the United States. The event included interactive sessions on topics such as travel planning, adjusting to life in America, safety on campus, and F-1 visa rules for international students.

Participants also had the opportunity to meet with students currently studying in the United States who offered tips on how to prepare for the U.S. academic, social, and cultural environment.

Among the departing students are 13 EducationUSA Opportunity Fund grantees —10 undergraduate and three graduate students, with full scholarships — who received financial aid to cover the up-front cost of obtaining admission.

Annually, through the Opportunity Fund Program, the U.S. Consulate’s EducationUSA Advising Centre assists talented low-income students who are good candidates for admission to U.S. colleges and universities, by funding their application process.

According to the latest Open Doors Report, published annually by the Institute of International Education, Nigeria is the 13th highest sending country of international students to the U.S., with about 12, 693 Nigerians currently studying in the United States.

Iran Exceeds Nuclear Deal Uranium Enrichment, Threatens To Abandon More Commitments

(L to R) Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi, government spokesman Ali Rabiei, and Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi give a joint press conference at the presidential headquarters in the capital Tehran on July 7, 2019. HAMED MALEKPOUR / TASNIM NEWS / AFP

 

Iran said Sunday it was set to breach the uranium enrichment cap set by an endangered nuclear deal within hours as it seeks to press signatories into keeping their side of the bargain.

The move — involving purifying beyond the 3.67 percent allowed by the 2015 agreement — comes despite opposition from the European Union and the United States, which has quit the deal.

President Hassan Rouhani’s order to exceed the threshold would be implemented “in a few hours” after the last technical details were sorted, Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi said live on state television.

Rouhani initially flagged the Islamic republic’s intentions on May 8, exactly a year on from US President Donald Trump unilaterally abandoning the multilateral deal.

He has said the move is in response to a failure by remaining state signatories to keep their promise to help Iran work around biting sanctions reimposed by the US in the second half of last year.

French President Emmanuel Macron told Rouhani of his “strong concern” over the risk of weakening the nuclear agreement and the consequences that would follow during a telephone call Saturday, according to a statement from the Elysee Palace.

However, the two leaders agreed to “explore by July 15 the conditions for a resumption of dialogue between all parties”, the statement said, adding that Macron would consult with Iranian authorities and international partners to bring about the “necessary de-escalation” of the situation over the coming days.

It is not yet clear how far the Islamic Republic will boost enrichment.

READ ALSO: At Least 12 Dead As Taliban Blast Hits Afghan City

But a top advisor to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei hinted on Friday it could reach five percent.

The 2015 deal was reached between Iran and six world powers — Britain, China, France, Germany, the United States and Russia — and saw Tehran agree to drastically scale down its nuclear programme in exchange for sanctions relief.

Washington began reimposing sanctions in August 2018 and has targeted crucial sectors including oil exports and the banking system, fuelling a deep recession.

The 3.67 percent enrichment limit set in the agreement is sufficient for power generation but far below the more than 90 percent level required for a nuclear warhead.

Rouhani has stressed that Iran’s action would be reversed if the other parties provided relief from the US sanctions.

The Iranian president has insisted that his country’s policies are not meant to “hurt (the deal), but to preserve” it.

‘Extremely concerned’

France has warned Tehran that it would “gain nothing” by leaving the deal and has said “challenging the agreement would only increase tensions” in the Middle East.

Iran says that it is not violating the deal, citing terms of the agreement allowing one side to temporarily abandon some of commitments if it deems the other side is not respecting its part of the accord.

The diplomatic chiefs of Britain, France, Germany and the EU have said they were “extremely concerned”.

Trump, meanwhile, has warned Iran that it is “playing with fire”.

‘Strategic patience’

Iran says it exercised “strategic patience” for a year after the US withdrawal, waiting for the other signatories to make good on promised economic benefits.

But on May 8, Tehran announced it would no longer respect two key limits — a 1.3-ton maximum for heavy water reserves and a cap of 300 kilogrammes on its low-enriched uranium stockpile.

The IAEA has in recent days confirmed that Iran has breached the limit of 300 kilogrammes and has scheduled a special meeting on Iran’s nuclear programme for July 10.

Also on May 8, Tehran gave a 60-day ultimatum — a deadline that expires Sunday — to deal partners to help it circumvent US sanctions, on pain of abandoning two more nuclear commitments.

One was the enrichment cap. The other was a freeze on construction of a heavy water reactor.

Rouhani referenced the reactor Wednesday, telling critical powers “according to you, (this) is dangerous and can produce plutonium”.

Europe has sought to salvage the nuclear deal by setting up a payment mechanism known as INSTEX which is meant to help Iran skirt the US sanctions.

But Rouhani has dismissed the mechanism as “hollow” because it has not facilitated purchases of Iranian oil.

Elections: We Are Rooting For ‘The Nigerian People’ As Winners, Says US

Ambassador W. Stuart Symington

 

Asked who the United States wants to emerge victorious in the upcoming presidential election, Ambassador W. Stuart Symington always gives the same answer – the Nigerian people.

As in 2015 and in 2011 before it, the U.S. Mission supports a process and not a candidate in the upcoming races for the Nigerian presidency, state governorships, and state legislature seats in 2019.

Like those previous elections, the U.S. mission is rooting only for a free, fair, transparent, and above all peaceful electoral process.

In support of this goal, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) invests in assistance to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), civil society organizations (CSOs), and political parties to enhance voter education, strengthen party development, and support international election observation for a robust, inclusive process free of violence.

Since 2014, $58.2 million portfolio of USAID activities – with $18.6 million co-funded by the British Department for International Development – is helping INEC institutionalize reforms to ensure credibility and accountability, assist CSOs in their critical function of oversight and mobilization of the electorate, and boost participation among marginalized groups such as women and persons with disabilities, and mitigate drivers of political violence.

USAID supports INEC’s administration of the elections process, political party formulation of issues-based campaigns, and building awareness among the electorate about their rights and roles in the democratic process as both participants and candidates.

“Peaceful and credible elections are critical to development in Nigeria,” Mission Director Stephen M. Haykin said. “Our elections support activities help provide a channel for Nigerians to choose leaders who will govern democratically and improve basic services for citizens. In that sense, our support to free and fair elections is as important as any of the work we do.”

Electoral Reform and INEC

For the election results to be fully embraced and accepted by the Nigerian people, INEC’s processes and outcomes must be seen as beyond reproach. To this end, USAID trains INEC electoral officers in election administration and operations, builds its capacity to coordinate security planning, develop effective dispute resolution mechanisms, and develop more inclusive voting access policies.

USAID assists INEC in enhancing coordination, effectiveness, and efficiency of election management processes, which includes: support centers to monitor deployment of materials and collection of ballots; designing of ballots and voter education materials; preparing the judicial system for election petition tribunals; training in alternative electoral dispute resolution mechanisms; and, campaign finance awareness.

Civil Society Strengthening

USAID strengthens CSO capacity to monitor elections, training more than 3,000 domestic monitors to conduct a Parallel Vote Tabulation (PVT), or “quick count,” which independently measures the quality of Election Day processes and results. The activity also sets up a conflict early warning system that identifies emerging trends that may trigger conflict.

“All our work is about building the skills of local groups so they can be active participants in the governance of their own country,” said Aubrey McCutcheon, senior resident director of the National Democratic Institute, a longtime USAID elections partner.

“While the funding is foreign, the training strengthens the indigenous CSOs who are doing all the work in mobilizing Nigerians to ensure free and fair polls through their oversight.”

McCutcheon said the PVT framework allows citizens and organizations not affiliated with the government to independently validate the results announced by INEC, to verify the results as legitimate or not by taking statistical samples of polling units in every local government area around the country.

READ ALSO: UN Asks Nigerians To Reject Persons Seeking To Disrupt Elections

It also codifies comprehensive monitoring of everything from the set-up to the voting to the counting afterwards, reporting “parallel” results within a margin of error and irregularities such as intimidation and vote buying, which was a serious issue in September’s Osun State gubernatorial election.

Critical pre-election observation for early warning signs of violence provides reports to other civil society and security agencies to mitigate violence before it worsens.

Energizing Youth

Likewise, USAID has played a significant role in fostering political leaders by strengthening youth organizations to shape the national political atmosphere, according to Obinna Udenwa, 30, who helped shape a USAID-supported Youth Manifesto through the Youngstars Foundation, and now a candidate for office in Ebonyi State.

Through that manifesto came the idea of the Not Too Young to Run bill (see sidebar) which proposed reducing the age limit to stand for political office and was signed into law by President Muhammadu Buhari in May of 2018.

“But that is not enough,” Udenwa said of the new law. “The older generation of Nigerian leaders has no mentorship program that would enable young protégés get into positions of leadership. Youth must rise to this challenge and get involved.”

Historically, said McCutcheon, youth have served as pawns in Nigerian elections – recruited by politicians as hired agents for violence, who for small sums of money they would recruit to disrupt polling places, snatch ballot boxes, or worse.

Promoting Peace

To counter this trend, USAID supports a campaign to raise awareness and change attitudes and instil in youth the importance of being active –and peaceful– participants in the process. Since 2014, the Vote Not Fight: Election No Be War campaign has utilized popular culture to promote peace, including peace concerts staged by media star Innocent Idibia popularly known as “2Baba.”

As a longtime volunteer peace Campaign Ambassador, 2Baba has led voter registration drives and sponsors forums where candidates sign peace pledges and commit to action on campaign promises if elected.

The explosion of social media has played a great role in getting the youth of Nigeria more involved in the politics of their country as well as other social issues, USAID actively supports overarching media work under hashtags #VoteNotFight and #ElectionNoBeWar from state television to local media, advocating for peace and participation anchored by the profile 2Baba and his charitable Foundation brings to the campaign prescribing issues-based discourse as the antidote to election-day violence.

“2Baba’s work cuts a path for other CSOs,” says McCutcheon.

Political Party Engagement

USAID supports the development of strong, inclusive political parties to strengthen their engagement with constituents and develop platform-based involvement with government processes, and helping major parties to become more representative of and responsive to citizens.

Not only do USAID activities help improve the frequency and intensity of interactions with their constituents, but also foster better communication among party officials, officeholders, candidates and rank and file members at all levels.

“We’re trying to connect citizens to governance to ensure citizens are active participants in the political process,” said Sentell Barnes, chief of party of the International Republican Institute in Nigeria, another longtime USAID partner in elections support.

“By making sure that political parties engage with their membership and also reach out to citizens to identify the issues so that once in power, we help ensure those issues are addressed in a meaningful way.”

At the end of the day, the U.S. government, through its USAID activities, wants to help Nigeria operate on the basic tenets of what democracy is, said Barnes. That consists of ensuring free and fair elections, that parties run their affairs without interference from government officials, and that INEC has the necessary resources to conduct free fair and transparent elections.

“I believe in the power of the people to elect their leaders,” said 2Baba. “I also believe the process of elections should be peaceful and civilized. Otherwise, we stand to lose a lot.”

America’s Oldest Man Dies At 112

Richard Overton (C), an American veteran of World War II, stands and is applauded as the US President acknowledges him during a Veteran’s Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. Jim WATSON / AFP

 

Richard Overton, a World War II veteran who was America’s oldest man, has died at the age of 112.

Overton, who lived in Austin, Texas, died on Thursday at a rehabilitation home, his cousin, Volma Overton Jr, told the Austin-American Statesman.

He had been hospitalized earlier this month with pneumonia, the newspaper said.

Overton’s longevity and his status as the oldest living American veteran of World War II made him a celebrity of sorts over the past few years.

In 2013, he visited Washington and met with president Barack Obama at the White House.

The street where he lived in Austin was renamed “Richard Overton Avenue” on his 111th birthday.

Overton was born on May 11, 1906 in Texas. He served in the US Army in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945.

After returning home, Overton worked in furniture stores and for the office of the state treasurer.

Overton spent his later years sitting on his porch smoking cigars and sipping coffee or Coca-Cola with a dash of whiskey, the Statesman said.

He was married twice but had no children.

According to the Gerontology Research Group, the oldest living man in the world is 113-year-old Masazou Nonaka of Japan.

AFP

Michelle Obama Says No Miracle Candidate Will ‘Save’ America

Former US first lady Michelle Obama attends the United State of Women Summit at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, on May 5, 2018. PHOTO: CHRIS DELMAS / AFP

 

Michelle Obama has urged women not to expect a miracle candidate to “save” America indicating again she has no plans to run for president as some have speculated.

The former first lady, 54, was greeted like a rock star at a conference called the United State of Women Summit, with an audience of some 5,000 people in Los Angeles, almost all women.

“It doesn’t matter who runs,” she said, urging women to act for women’s empowerment wherever they can — including at home and in the workplace.

“We don’t wait for the one person to save us. We voted for Barack Obama and he didn’t end racism,” she said.

Obama also paid tribute to young Americans who have risen up against gun violence following Valentine’s Day shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida that left 17 students and staffers dead.

Other speakers at the conference included actress Jane Fonda and Tarana Burke, a key figure in the #MeToo movement that arose after the flood of sexual misconduct allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein.

AFP

Trump To Unveil $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

African Union Slams 'Hurtful, Upsetting' Trump Remark
US President Donald Trump delivers a statement on Jerusalem from the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House in Washington, DC on December 6, 2017.
SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

Donald Trump’s administration will sketch out more details of its plan to invest in America’s creaking infrastructure Monday, hoping it can leverage up to $1.5 trillion for the cause.

Senior White House officials said the president’s budget, due to be released on Monday, will include $200 billion earmarked for projects to fix roads, bridges and other crucial infrastructure.

Under the proposals, states and private investors would put up the remaining $1.3 trillion.

Trump, playing up his background in construction, had made fixing US infrastructure a core campaign pledge and already announced the $1.5 trillion plan in his State of the Union address last month.

On Monday, the administration will put more flesh on the bones, including ideas for cutting the length of the permitting process to two years.

“Infrastructure is obviously a critical component to the functioning of our economy, a lot of American success is a result of the quality of the infrastructure we have had historically,” said a senior White House official.

“But the current system is fundamentally broken.”

“We are under-investing in our infrastructure and we have a permitting process that takes so long that even when funds are adequate it can take a decade to build critical infrastructure.”

It will now be up to Congress to discuss the proposal and Trump will host lawmakers from both parties at the White House on Wednesday to make his case.

He will likely face fierce questions about what the administration is willing to fund, including questions about whether any money will go to so-called climate-proofing.

The Trump administration has questioned global warming and the president has called it a hoax.

Fiscal hawks are likely to question where the money will come from, so soon after tax and congressional spending deals that are expected to explode the deficit.

The Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget has estimated that the spending plan passed by Congress last week will alone increase the deficit by $420 billion over a decade.

The Trump administration says the funding will come from cuts in other programs, which will be outlined in his budget proposal.

White House officials acknowledge the plan is just the opening salvo in the back-and-forth with Congress.

Experts have warned that poor roads, rail and air traffic systems are costing the US economy a fortune.

According to civil engineer Henry Petroski, traffic congestion alone costs the United States $120 billion per year.

AFP

Trump Sends Mixed Message With ‘America First’ Security Strategy

President Donald Trump used the launch of his first National Security Strategy on Monday to laud the benefits of cooperation with Russia, a striking departure from the document’s more combative tone toward the Kremlin.

Unveiling a text that pilloried both Russia and China as “revisionist powers” bent on rolling back American interests, Trump hailed recent counterterror cooperation between Moscow and Washington.

Trump claimed that a recent CIA tip-off about a terror attack on a cathedral in Vladimir Putin’s home town of Saint Petersburg had prevented deaths “in the thousands.”

“They were able to apprehend these terrorists before the event with no loss of life and that’s a great thing, and the way it’s supposed to work,” Trump said, offering the prospect of better ties.

His conciliatory tone toward Putin came in sharp contrast to the 68-page strategy that was put together by key aides and which was designed to serve as a framework for the Trump administration’s approach to the world.

The text uses remarkably biting language to frame Beijing and Moscow as global competitors.

“China and Russia challenge American power, influence, and interests, attempting to erode American security and prosperity,” the document says.

It warns that “Russia aims to weaken US influence in the world and divide us from our allies and partners,” while Russian nuclear weapons are deemed “the most significant existential threat to the United States.”

Trump’s presidential campaign is being investigated for possible collusion with Russia in the runup to his shock 2016 election win — allegations the 45th president has dubbed “fake news.”

The strategy accuses China of seeking “to displace the United States” in Asia, listing a litany of US grievances, from deficits, to data theft to spreading “features of its authoritarian system.”

“Contrary to our hopes, China expanded its power at the expense of the sovereignty of others,” it says.

A Chinese Embassy spokesperson responded sharply, saying “it is completely selfish for a country to claim that its own interests are superior to the interests of other countries and to the shared interests of the international community.”

“This mentality will only lead to isolation,” the spokesperson added.

– Signal or noise? –

The document — which has been 11 months in the making — is required by law and is designed to form a framework for how America approaches the world.

Previous national security strategies have been released without much fanfare and served as guideposts, rather than doctrinal commandments.

But in this unorthodox administration, the document had taken on extra significance.

Foreign officials in Washington often complain that there are effectively “two administrations” — one that they hear from day-to-day in contacts with the State Department and Pentagon and another coming from Trump, often via Twitter in 280 characters or fewer.

Trump and his advisors often publicly differ starkly on fundamental security issues from the Middle East to talks with North Korea.

But allies looking for clarity about the intentions of the world’s pre-eminent economic and military power are likely to be confused by Trump’s mixed messages.

Where the strategy warns Russia is using “subversive measures” to undermine “transatlantic unity,” Trump again claimed that European allies were “delinquent” in paying for security “while we guarantee their safety and are willing to fight wars for them.”

Where the strategy warned of Moscow’s “destabilizing cyber capabilities” and interference in domestic political affairs, Trump made no such reference.

– Legacy of ashes –

Since coming to office, Trump has worked to dismantle the legacy of his predecessor Barack Obama on issues ranging from climate change to free trade, sometimes leaving Washington isolated on the world stage.

On Monday, the United Nations Security Council overwhelmingly voted to approve a resolution to reject Trump’s controversial recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel — a move Washington blocked with its veto.

Trump’s National Security Strategy also breaks with allies on the threat of climate change, avoiding the term outright and instead calling for “energy dominance.”

“America’s central position in the global energy system as a leading producer, consumer, and innovator — ensures that markets are free and US infrastructure is resilient and secure,” it says.

Ascending to power on a message resolutely skeptical of climate change, Trump said in June that he would pull the US out of the Paris agreement on climate change signed by almost 200 countries.

A year before he left office, Obama said climate change would affect the way America’s military must defend the country, through profound adjustments in organization, training and protection of infrastructure.

AFP

Climate Talks: It’s America Alone More Than America First

US President Donald Trump. SAUL LOEB / AFP

Facing 195 other countries who have chosen a different path, the task of US negotiators at upcoming climate talks in Bonn is unenviable.

Donald Trump has vowed to exit the Paris Climate accord, just not yet, leaving US policy in limbo for the next three years until Washington can officially leave.

So, it falls to Thomas Shannon – a respected career diplomat – to this week lead a delegation into talks aimed at implementing an agreement the US is set to abandon.

“It is a strange situation, I don’t think I have seen anything like it in my almost 30 years of following this process,” said Alden Meyer of the Union of Concerned Scientists, a Washington-based non-profit working on environmental issues.

The Trump administration says it will still turn up, hoping to protect America’s interests and put “America first.”

Rather ambitiously, Washington wants to handcuff its biggest geopolitical rivals to their commitments.

A White House official told AFP it wants “to ensure the rules are transparent and fair, and apply to countries like China and other economic competitors to the United States.”

But Shannon and his team might find themselves on shaky ground.

Ben Rhodes, a former aide to president Barack Obama, believes Washington has abandoned any leverage it once had.

“The rest of the world has no incentive to make concessions to the US since we are now entirely isolated,” he told AFP.

“My expectation is that the rest of the world will simply continue within the Paris framework and wait and see what happens in the US in 2020.

“The danger is that other countries are less ambitious in their own commitments and implementation plans because they have the excuse of the US leaving,” he added.

Next Election

Many delegates will be hoping that by a November 4, 2020 deadline — one day after the next presidential election — Trump either backs down or a new president has embraced the agreement.

AFP