US Bans TikTok, WeChat

 In this file photo illustration taken on August 03, 2020, the social media application logo, TikTok is displayed on the screen of an iPhone on an US flag as the background in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP
In this file photo illustration taken on August 03, 2020, the social media application logo, TikTok is displayed on the screen of an iPhone on an US flag as the background in Arlington, Virginia. Olivier DOULIERY / AFP

 

The United States on Friday ordered a ban on downloads of popular Chinese-owned video app TikTok and use of the messaging and payment platform WeChat, saying they threaten national security.

The move, to be implemented Sunday night, comes amid rising US-China tensions and efforts by the Trump administration to engineer a sale of TikTok to American investors.

“The Chinese Communist Party has demonstrated the means and motives to use these apps to threaten the national security, foreign policy, and the economy of the US,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement.

The initiative would ban WeChat, an app with massive use among Chinese speakers, and TikTok from the online marketplaces operated by Apple and Google.

But while WeChat will effectively be shut down in the US from Sunday night, existing TikTok users will be able to continue using the app until November 12 — when it would also face a full ban on its US operations.

TikTok’s brand of brief, quirky phone videos has become hugely popular, especially among young people, with 100 million users in the US alone — and its use has further soared among teens stuck at home through the coronavirus pandemic.

As of Sunday night, Ross told Fox news, TikTok users will not have access to improved apps, updated apps, upgraded apps, or maintenance.

“So if that were to continue over a long period of time there might be a gradual degradation of services. But the basic TikTok will stay intact until November 12th,” he said.

“If there’s not a deal by November 12th under the provisions of the old order, then TikTok… would be, for all practical purposes, shut down,” Ross added.

The Commerce Department said if concerns over TikTok were resolved before then, the order may be lifted.

Pressure grows for a deal

Owned by Chinese giant Tencent, WeChat is widely used among the Chinese diaspora to keep in touch with people back home.

The US ban on WeChat has potential for disrupting the widely used application, but does not affect its service in China where the app is much more widely used.

The clampdown follows through on a threat by President Donald Trump, who has claimed Chinese tech operations may be used for spying.

In this file photo illustration taken on July 24, 2019, shows the logo of the Chinese instant messaging application WeChat on the screen of a tablet, in Paris. Martin BUREAU / AFP
In this file photo illustration taken on July 24, 2019, shows the logo of the Chinese instant messaging application WeChat on the screen of a tablet, in Paris. Martin BUREAU / AFP

 

It also ramps up the pressure on TikTok parent ByteDance to conclude a deal to sell all or part of TikTok to allay US security concerns.

A deal which appeared to be taking shape would allow Silicon Valley giant Oracle to become the tech partner for TikTok, but some US lawmakers have objected to allowing ByteDance to keep a stake.

The TikTok saga has seen several twists as the US gears up for the November 3 presidential election, with Microsoft seen initially as the suitor before its bid was rejected.

Trump is searching for a breakthrough with voters as polls show him facing an uphill battle to win a second term.

He has increasingly put national security and his aggressive stance towards China at the center of his campaign strategy, regularly accusing Democratic opponent Joe Biden of weakness towards Beijing.

Trump tweeted late Thursday that Biden had “cheered the rise of China as a ‘positive development’ for America and the world.”

Trump had previously demanded a significant portion of any TikTok sale go to the US government, but admitted this week that was not possible.

“Lawyers come back to me and they say there is no way of doing that because nobody has ever heard of that before,” he said.

 

AFP

Biden Faces US Voters At Town Hall, Trump Heads Back To Wisconsin

WILMINGTON, DE – SEPTEMBER 16: Democratic presidential nominee and former Vice President Joe Biden waves as he leaves the Hotel Dupont after having internal campaign meetings on September 16, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware. Earlier in the day, Biden participated in a briefing with medical professionals about the coronavirus vaccine. Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP

 

White House hopeful Joe Biden on Thursday holds his first extended face-to-face with voters since winning the Democratic nomination, a town hall where he will likely savage President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

With less than seven weeks before Election Day, Biden has ramped up his public appearances after spending large chunks of time at his Delaware home, even as Trump repeatedly barnstorms swing states.

Now both candidates are hitting the physical campaign trail in earnest, although still in very different ways.

Trump returns to Wisconsin Thursday for a public rally fueled by his signature bravado — a contrast to Biden’s quieter style of connecting with blue collar and everyday voters.

Ahead of his departure, Trump railed on Twitter against the move by many states to encourage voters to mail in their ballots, thereby avoiding possible coronavirus risks in polling stations.

The shift, which is popular with Democrats, will promote “ELECTION MAYHEM,” he tweeted, claiming that the results of the November 3 vote “may NEVER BE ACCURATELY DETERMINED.”

He offered no evidence for his claims, and mail-in voting, which has been regularly used in previous elections, has never been tied to any wide-scale fraud.

Biden is attempting to project a calming alternative to Trump’s fury.

At the CNN town hall, he will take questions from a live, socially distanced audience on what could be described as his home turf — Scranton, the scrappy Pennsylvania city where he was born.

But the town hall event carries risks for a candidate who has done few unscripted encounters in the last months.

The 77-year-old former vice president has largely kept close to his home in Delaware during the pandemic, which has so far killed nearly 200,000 Americans. His go-to events have been speeches, with reporters rarely able to ask questions.

He has traveled to swing states like Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania, but has dodged crowds and engages with voters only in small, controlled settings.

Trump has badgered his rival for remaining cloistered in his “basement” and declining to engage in more traditional campaign events.

Local officials briefed on the town hall plans told US media that it will take place in a stadium parking lot, and that pre-approved attendees will drive in and park near the stage.

CNN said it will adhere to Pennsylvania pandemic guidelines, which limit gatherings to less than 250 people.

– Growing animosity –

The dueling events come one day after each candidate homed in on the pandemic as a campaign issue — and offered dramatically different views of how the Trump administration has responded.

Biden delivered a scathing speech in which he said “I don’t trust Donald Trump” to provide a vaccine free from any political interference.

The Republican incumbent meanwhile insisted a vaccine could be ready this year, directly contradicting the timeline offered by a top government health official.

Trump said Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield, one of the most prominent experts overseeing US pandemic response, “made a mistake” and “was confused” when he testified to lawmakers Wednesday that a safe and effective vaccine would not be widely available until mid-2021.

Trump also criticized Redfield for renewing his call for Americans to wear face masks as their best defense against spreading Covid-19.

Biden routinely appears at functions wearing a mask. Trump almost never does, and he mocks Biden for doing so.

Biden’s town hall comes two days after Trump appeared in a similar setting, also in Pennsylvania — in Philadelphia.

Critics panned the president’s performance, including his insistence that he had not downplayed the coronavirus threat, even though he acknowledged doing just that in a taped interview with journalist Bob Woodward.

The animosity has ramped up between Trump and Biden ahead of their first debate, scheduled for September 29 in Ohio.

Biden has consistently led Trump in national polls.

He is also ahead in several key battlegrounds like Florida, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin — all states won by Trump in his shock 2016 election victory — although by dwindling margins.

AFP

Trump Faces New Sexual Assault Allegations

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a bill singing ceremony with his economic team in the Rose Garden at the White House June 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP
File photo: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks in the Rose Garden at the White House June 05, 2020 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/AFP

 

 

A former model has accused US President Donald Trump of groping and forcibly kissing her in 1997 — the latest allegation made against the Republican incumbent just weeks before he seeks reelection.

Amy Dorris told Britain’s The Guardian that Trump sexually assaulted her in his VIP suite at the US Open tennis tournament in New York — claims he denied via his lawyers.

“He just shoved his tongue down my throat and I was pushing him off. And then that’s when his grip became tighter and his hands were very gropey and all over my butt, my breasts, my back, everything,” Dorris said in an interview.

“I was in his grip, and I couldn’t get out of it,” she added.

Trump has faced more than a dozen allegations of sexual misconduct, including a claim by prominent American columnist E. Jean Carroll that he raped her in a department store changing room in the mid-1990s.

But he brushed them aside in his run for the White House.

Shortly before the 2016 election, a tape recording emerged from 2005 in which he was heard boasting about how his fame allowed him to “grab” women by the genitals when he wanted.

Trump dismissed this as “locker room banter” but subsequently apologized.

Dorris was 24 at the time of the alleged incidents. Trump was 51 and married at the time to his second wife, Marla Maples.

The accuser provided The Guardian with several photos showing her in Trump’s company, and multiple people corroborated her account, saying she told them at the time.

She says she told Trump to stop but “he didn’t care.” She added: “I felt violated, obviously.”

Asked why she continued to be around Trump in subsequent days, Dorris responded: “That’s what happens when something traumatic happens — you freeze.”

But Trump’s attorneys told the newspaper that her version of events was unreliable and there would be other witnesses if she had been assaulted.

They suggested in comments to The Guardian that the allegation could be politically motivated, coming weeks before Trump faces Joe Biden in the November 3 election.

Dorris, now 48, said she decided to come forward to be a role model for her teenage twin daughters.

She first told The Guardian her story more than a year ago but asked the newspaper not to publish it.

“I’m sick of him getting away with this,” Dorris said.

AFP

Trump Insists COVID-19 Vaccine To Be Ready By October, Contradicts Top Expert

US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on September 16, 2020, in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN / AFP
US President Donald Trump speaks during a press conference in the Brady Briefing Room of the White House on September 16, 2020, in Washington, DC. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

President Donald Trump expressed renewed confidence Wednesday that a viable Covid-19 vaccine would be ready by October, directly contradicting a top administration health expert and facing fierce criticism from his Democratic election rival Joe Biden.

Trump sowed confusion about the issue with an extraordinary public rebuke of one of his top health experts who said masks were a leading weapon for fighting the pandemic and that a vaccine was unlikely to be widely available until mid-2021.

“I think he made a mistake when he said that. That’s just incorrect information,” Trump told reporters referring to Senate testimony by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield.

“We’re very close to that vaccine as you know… We think we can start sometime in October” or shortly thereafter, Trump said.

“I believe he was confused,” he said of Redfield. “I am just telling you we are ready to go as soon as the vaccine happens.”

Redfield told lawmakers Wednesday that a “very limited” distribution to priority groups including first responders could begin in November and December, but that full implementation would take many more months at least.

“I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021” before a safe and effective vaccine would be available to the general public, he added.

Redfield tweeted his support for a potential vaccine Wednesday evening, but cautioned Americans to be vigilant about mitigating viral spread in the meantime.

“The best defense we currently have against this virus are the important mitigation efforts of wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing and being careful about crowds. #COVID19”

The contradiction between Trump and health experts on an issue that has become a focal point of the 2020 election campaign highlighted the lack of trust Biden said he and the public have in the president’s handling of the pandemic, which has killed nearly 200,000 Americans.

“When I said I trust vaccines, and I trust the scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump — this is what I meant,” Biden tweeted after Trump’s remarks.

Barely an hour earlier the Democratic nominee said Trump’s refusal to take key steps to tackle the pandemic, like instituting national guidelines on social distancing and testing, were “utterly disqualifying” for the presidency.

The Democratic nominee, speaking after receiving a briefing by public health experts, said he supported a rapid Covid-19 vaccine to help American life return to normal, but said the process should be guided by science and safety, not politics.

‘He’s the president’

On Tuesday Trump accelerated his own already optimistic predictions, saying a vaccine may be available even before the November 3 presidential election.

“We’re within weeks of getting it, you know — could be three weeks, four weeks,” he told a town hall question-and-answer session with voters in Pennsylvania aired on ABC.

Democrats have expressed concern that Trump is pressuring government health regulators and scientists to approve a rushed vaccine in time to help his uphill bid for reelection.

Trump also raised eyebrows when asked at the town hall why he had downplayed the gravity of the pandemic in its early months.

“I didn’t downplay it,” Trump replied. “I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.”

US President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he makes his way to board Air Force One before departing from Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on September 1, 2020, heading to Kenosha, Wisconsin to meet with law enforcement officials and to survey damage following civil unrest in the city. MANDEL NGAN / AFP

 

But Trump himself told journalist Bob Woodward during taped interviews that he had deliberately decided to “play it down” to avoid alarming Americans.

The president, who is rarely seen wearing a mask in public and long refused to push Americans to adopt the habit, told the town hall that “a lot of people don’t want to wear masks and people don’t think masks are good.”

The comment caught wide flak, including from Biden, who also knocked Trump for saying the Democrat declined to institute a mask mandate.

“I’m not the president, he’s the president,” Biden whispered into the microphone.

Trump’s anti-mask message got a dressing down of sorts by Redfield too, as the CDC director held up a medical mask to senators and said “I might go so far as to say that this facemask is more guaranteed to protect me against Covid than when I take a Covid vaccine.”

Trump rejected the assertion outright, and noted that he called Redfield to ask him what he meant.

“I think there are a lot of problems with masks,” Trump said. “It’s not more effective than a vaccine.”

Biden routinely appears at campaign events wearing a mask, and usually takes it off to deliver a speech. Trump, who is trailing in pre-election polling, has mocked Biden for wearing a mask.

Polls show a majority of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic.

 

AFP

Biden: Trump Pandemic Failure ‘Disqualifying’ For US Presidency

File photo: Former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden meets with clergy members and community activists during a visit to Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Delaware on June 1, 2020. JIM WATSON / AFP

 

Joe Biden said Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s refusal to take key steps to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, like instituting national guidelines on social distancing and testing, should disqualify him for the presidency.

The Democratic nominee also accused his election rival Trump of politicizing the vaccine development process and said he does not trust the public statements by the president, who said Tuesday night that a vaccine was just weeks away from completion.

Whether the Trump administration can hurry a safe vaccine into wide production has become a focal point of the 2020 election campaign, in which polls show Biden leading Trump.

“The president’s first responsibility is to protect the American people, and he won’t. And it’s utterly disqualifying,” Biden told reporters, citing Trump’s “lack of seriousness” in handling the pandemic.

Speaking after receiving a briefing by public health experts, Biden discussed how a Covid-19 vaccine would help American life return to normal, but said the process should be guided by science and safety, not politics.

“So let me be clear: I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump,” Biden said. “At this moment the American people can’t either.”

Biden has stressed he supports a rapid rollout of a vaccine, but only if it is shown to be safe and effective, if there is full transparency regarding the science of the work, and if it is distributed “equitably.”

With Trump insisting that a vaccine was now just “weeks” away, a leading health expert in his own administration warned Wednesday that a vaccine for broad public use would not be available until mid-2021 at the earliest.

Experts say a coronavirus vaccine is among the best ways to halt the march of a pandemic that has killed more than 196,000 Americans.

On Tuesday Trump accelerated his own already optimistic predictions, saying a vaccine may be available even before the November 3 presidential election.

“We’re within weeks of getting it, you know — could be three weeks, four weeks,” he told a town hall question-and-answer session with voters in Pennsylvania aired on ABC.

Only hours earlier, speaking to Fox News, Trump had said a vaccine could come in “four weeks, it could be eight weeks.”

But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield testified before Congress Wednesday that any vaccine this year would not be for widespread use.

“I think there will be (a) vaccine that initially will be available sometime between November and December, but very limited supply and will have to be prioritized,” he told a Senate panel.

“If you’re asking me when is it going to be generally available to the American public so we can begin to take advantage of (a) vaccine to get back to our regular life, I think we’re probably looking at late second quarter, third quarter 2021.”

Democrats have expressed concern that Trump is pressuring government health regulators and scientists to approve a rushed vaccine in time to help his uphill bid for reelection.

Trump also raised eyebrows when asked at the town hall why he had downplayed the gravity of the pandemic in its early months.

“I didn’t downplay it,” Trump replied. “I actually, in many ways, I up-played it in terms of action.”

But Trump himself told journalist Bob Woodward during taped interviews that he had deliberately decided to “play it down” to avoid alarming Americans.

‘Science knows’

The president, who is rarely seen wearing a mask in public and long refused to push Americans to adopt the habit, told the town hall that “a lot of people don’t want to wear masks and people don’t think masks are good.”

The comment caught wide flak, including from Biden, who also knocked Trump for saying the Democrat declined to institute a mask mandate.

“I’m not the president, he’s the president,” Biden said.

Trump’s anti-mask message got a dressing down of sorts by Redfield too, as the CDC director held up a medical mask to senators and said “I might go so far as to say that this facemask is more guaranteed to protect me against COVID than when I take a COVID vaccine.”

Biden, 77, has slowly ramped up campaign appearances, including a trip Tuesday to Florida where he courted Hispanic voters.

But he has yet to match the campaign trail fervor of the 74-year-old Republican incumbent, who has hosted numerous rallies in swing states, often with attendees not wearing masks or observing social distancing guidelines.

Trump Posts Faked Video Of Biden Playing Anti-Police Song

WASHINGTON, DC – AUGUST 23: President Donald Trump announces that the Food and Drug Administration is issuing an emergency authorization for blood plasma as a coronavirus treatment during a press conference in James S. Brady Briefing Room at the White House on on August 23, 2020 in Washington, DC. The move by the FDA comes after President Trump accused the FDA of slow-walking the therapy to harm his reelection chances. Pete Marovich/Getty Images/AFP
US President Donald Trump, who is trying to persuade voters that his challenger Joe Biden will encourage violent crime, retweeted a faked video Wednesday purporting to show the Democrat playing a crudely worded anti-police rap song.

In the video, which Twitter later marked as “manipulated media,” Biden stands at a podium, takes out his cell phone, and tells the audience, “I have just one thing to say.”

He then appears to play N.W.A’s 1988 protest song “Fuck tha Police” and dances slightly, smiling.

After a few seconds, he jokes: “If I had the talent of any one of these people, I’d be, I’d be elected president by acclamation.”

“China is drooling,” Trump writes over the retweet.

The problem is that Biden did not play N.W.A’s song. 

The footage is taken from a campaign trip to Florida on Tuesday, where Biden took out his phone and played a few seconds of “Despacito.”

The Latin hit’s singer, Luis Fonsi, had just introduced Biden at the event.

Trump has made his claim that he is keeping America safe from left-wing mobs a keystone of his reelection campaign. Polls show he is currently behind Biden.

On Tuesday, Trump shared a supporter’s tweet that portrays Biden as a pedophile.
-AFP

Oracle ‘Very Close’ To Deal On TikTok – Trump

This combination of pictures created on August 01, 2020 shows the logo of the social media video sharing app Tiktok displayed on a tablet screen in Paris, and US President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, DC, on July 30, 2020. JIM WATSON, Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP

 

Silicon Valley tech giant Oracle is “very close” to sealing a deal to become the US partner to Chinese-owned video app TikTok to avert a ban in the United States, President Donald Trump said Tuesday.

Trump’s comments came a day after US officials confirmed that Oracle was set to make a deal with TikTok parent ByteDance ahead of a deadline set by the US president, who has called the app a national security threat.

“I heard they’re very close to a deal,” Trump told reporters, adding that “we’re going to make a decision pretty soon” on whether to approve the tie-up, which would make Oracle a “trusted technology provider” for TikTok.

Details of the deal remained unclear. But the Financial Times reported that ByteDance was to place TikTok’s global business in a new US-headquartered company with Oracle investing as a minority shareholder along with other US investors.

CNBC reported the Trump administration could approve the deal as soon as Tuesday afternoon.

If the transaction happens, it would avoid an outright sale of TikTok while giving a stake in the popular app to Oracle, whose founder Larry Ellison is a prominent Trump supporter.

Trump told reporters Tuesday he had “high respect for Larry Ellison.”

 

 

-AFP

Soleimani Killing: Trump Vows ‘1,000 Times Greater’ Response To Any Iran Attack

 

US President Donald Trump on Monday vowed that any attack by Iran would be met with a response “1,000 times greater in magnitude,” after reports that Iran planned to avenge the killing of top general Qasem Soleimani.

A US media report, quoting unnamed officials, said that an alleged Iranian plot to assassinate the US ambassador to South Africa was planned before the presidential election in November.

“According to press reports, Iran may be planning an assassination, or other attacks, against the United States in retaliation for the killing of terrorist leader Soleimani,” Trump tweeted.

“Any attack by Iran, in any form, against the United States will be met with an attack on Iran that will be 1,000 times greater in magnitude!”

Relations between Washington and Tehran have been tense since the Iranian revolution, and have spiralled since Trump unilaterally pulled out of a landmark international nuclear deal with Iran in May 2018.

In January, a US drone strike killed Soleimani in Baghdad, and Washington is pushing to extend an arms embargo on Iran that starts to progressively expire in October as well as reimposing UN sanctions on the Islamic republic.

The Iranian navy last week said it drove off American aircraft that flew close to an area where military exercises were underway near the Strait of Hormuz.

The military said three US aircraft were detected by Iran’s air force radars after they entered the country’s air defence identification zone.

AFP

US Court Sides With Trump On Deporting Immigrants

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he departs for Walter Reed National Military Medical Center from the White House on July 11, 2020 in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP
FILE PHOTO U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the media in Washington, DC. Joshua Roberts/Getty Images/AFP

 

A US court of appeals on Monday gave the green light for the Trump administration to expel hundreds of thousands of nationals from four countries who had been granted protected status for humanitarian reasons.

In a 2-1 ruling, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said a federal court in San Fransisco had erred when it issued an injunction protecting more than 300,000 immigrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Nicaragua and Sudan from being deported from the US.

President Donald Trump’s administration has sought to end the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) granted to these people — who have several hundred thousand American children — on the grounds that their countries which were previously wracked by unrest were now safe.

Monday’s ruling will not result in the immediate deportation of TPS holders, the American Civil Liberties Union said, as the challengers have vowed to file an appeal.

Writing for the majority, Judge Consuelo Callahan disagreed with arguments that a bid to terminate TPS was influenced by Trump’s alleged anti-immigrant bias shown through his controversial remarks, including a 2018 comment in which he referred to “shithole countries.”

“Plaintiffs fail to present even ‘serious questions’ on the merits of their claim that the Secretaries’ TPS terminations were improperly influenced by the President’s ‘animus against non-white, non-European immigrants,'” Callahan wrote, referring to US-citizen children of TPS holders who are behind the case brought before the court.

The court’s majority added that while it did not “condone the offensive and disparaging nature” of Trump’s remarks, there was no proof his “alleged racial animus was a motivating factor in the TPS decisions.”

A statement by the American Civil Liberties Union said Monday’s ruling will lead to families who have lived lawfully in the US to be torn apart and vowed to fight the decision.

“The president’s vile statements about TPS holders made perfectly clear that his administration acted out of racial animus,” Ahilan Arulanantham, senior counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California, said in a statement. “The Constitution does not permit policy to be driven by racism.”

Yael Schacher, an immigration historian and senior advocate at Refugees International, also denounced the ruling.

“Many of those with TPS have lived in the United States for more than two decades and are serving as essential workers on the front lines of the pandemic response,” she said.

“The pain and fear caused by this decision will be felt deeply in communities across the United States, as long-time residents living with TPS are now left in limbo and face the risk of being separated from their American-born children.”

The ACLU noted that TPS holders from the countries concerned will be permitted to maintain their status until at least February, and those from El Salvador until at least November.

AFP

Israel, Bahrain Sign Landmark Peace Deal

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu                  King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain

 

US President Donald Trump announced Friday a peace deal between Israel and Bahrain, which becomes the second Arab country to settle with its former foe over the last month, reinforcing an ambitious White House push to redraw the conflicts of the Middle East.

Calling it a “truly historic day,” Trump said Israel and Bahrain were establishing full diplomatic and commercial relations.

“They will exchange embassies and ambassadors, begin direct flights between their countries and launch cooperation initiatives across a broad range of sectors, including health, business, technology, education, security and agriculture,” he told reporters in the White House.

Bahrain said in a joint statement it had agreed to formalize the deal with Israel at a ceremony next Tuesday in the White House, where the United Arab Emirates will also sign off on its own thaw with Israel announced in mid-August.

According to the statement, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump talked earlier Friday before announcing the new breakthrough.

Bahrain said that during the phone call, the king “stressed the need to reach a just and comprehensive peace as a strategic option, in accordance with the two-state solution and relevant resolutions of international legitimacy.”

A senior official in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, said the deal would boost regional “security, stability, prosperity.”

U.S. President Donald Trump, flanked by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence (L) and Advisor Jared Kushner, speaks in the Oval Office to announce that Bahrain will establish diplomatic relations with Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC on September 11, 2020. AFP

 

Until now, Israel has been able to strike only two similar peace accords with Arab countries — Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994 — and Trump is hoping that the diplomatic successes will give him badly needed momentum going into the November 3 presidential election.

At the White House, Trump celebrated, calling the progress “very, very important for not only the Middle East, but for the world.”

He said it was “so interesting” that he was able to make the announcement on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States.

“When I took office the Middle East was in a state of absolute chaos,” Trump said.

In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the agreement.

“Citizens of Israel, I am moved to be able to tell you that this evening, we are reaching another peace agreement with another Arab country, Bahrain. This agreement adds to the historic peace with the United Arab Emirates,” Netanyahu said in a Hebrew-language statement.

In the UAE, Hend Al Otaiba, director of strategic communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sent congratulations to Bahrain and Israel.

“Today marks another significant and historic achievement which will contribute enormously to the stability and prosperity of the region,” she said.

 Trump redraws the lines 

Trump said more Arab nations could also open their doors to Israel.

“I am very hopeful that there will be more to follow. I can tell you there’s tremendous enthusiasm on behalf of other countries to also join,” Trump said.

The Republican businessman has styled himself as the most pro-Israeli US president in history.

He has taken a string of decisions highly beneficial to Israel, from recognizing disputed Jerusalem as the country’s capital to tearing up an international accord meant to end Iran’s isolation in return for verified controls to prevent militarization of its nuclear industry.

At the same time, Trump has pushed to wind down the United States’ own military footprint after decades of bloody entanglements in Iraq and elsewhere. His earlier success in getting an Israel-UAE normalization prompted a right-wing Norwegian member of parliament to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The UAE’s announcement broke with years of Arab League policy on the Middle East conflict, prompting angry pushback from the Palestinians and Iran, who both termed the deal a betrayal.

The Palestinians, who see Arab support as crucial to their limited power in resisting Israeli occupation, quickly condemned the Israel-Bahrain deal as well.

The agreement was “a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people,” Ahmad Majdalani, social affairs minister in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, told AFP.

Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said it was an “aggression” that dealt “serious prejudice” to the Palestinian cause.

Trump, who has made crushing sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Israel’s arch foe Iran a priority of his administration, predicted however that there would be a “very positive” development in the standoff with Tehran.

“I can see a lot of good things happening with respect to the Palestinians,” he added, arguing that the Palestinians would end their conflict with Israel once enough Arab countries had taken the initiative.

“As more countries normalize relations with Israel, which will happen quite quickly we believe, the region will become more and more stable, secure and prosperous,” he said.

“In the meantime, we’re pulling our soldiers out, so we’re doing it the opposite way. They were doing it with nothing but fighting and blood all over the place,” Trump said. “The sand was loaded up with blood. And now we can see that a lot of that sand is going to be loaded up with peace.”

AFP

Merkel Not Ruling Out Nord Stream Fallout Over Navalny

In this file photo taken on July 20, 2019 Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny addresses demonstrators during a rally to support opposition and independent candidates after authorities refused to register them for September elections to the Moscow City Duma, Moscow.  Maxim ZMEYEV / AFP

 

 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will not rule out consequences for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project if Russia fails to thoroughly investigate opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s poisoning, her spokesman said Monday.

Asked whether Merkel would protect the multi-billion-euro pipeline from Russia to Europe if Germany were to seek sanctions over the Navalny case, spokesman Steffen Seibert said: “The chancellor believes it would be wrong to rule anything out from the start.”

Nord Stream 2, a 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) pipeline near completion beneath the Baltic Sea, is set to double Russian natural-gas shipments to Germany, Europe’s largest economy.

It has long been in the crosshairs of the United States, which has criticised European countries for their reliance on energy from Russia.

US President Donald Trump has signed legislation that targets contractors working on the project, meaning that German companies face sanctions for even small investments.

“Sure,” said Trump when asked at a White House news conference Monday whether he thought Germany should cancel the project.

“I’ve been supportive of that. I was the first one that brought it up.”

But he did not know if Germany was in a position to do so right now, he added, “because Germany is in a very weakened position energy-wise”.

 

File photo: Russian President Vladimir Putin (R), talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel (C) and US President Donald Trump as they attend a ceremony at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris on November 11, 2018 as part of commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice, ending World War I. ludovic MARIN / POOL / AFP

 

Even within the European Union, there are voices against the pipeline.

Poland and other former Eastern Bloc states are wary of the EU becoming too reliant on Moscow, while non-EU member Ukraine fears that the new pipeline would cut it out of the gas supply business and allow Moscow to ratchet up pressure.

Despite its political differences with Russia, Germany thinks Nord Stream 2 will ensure a more stable and cleaner source of energy as it pivots away from coal and nuclear power.

As well as Russian giant Gazprom, which has a majority stake, the international consortium involved in the Nord Stream 2 project includes huge European players like Germany’s Wintershall and Uniper groups, the Dutch-British Shell, France’s Engie and Austria’s OMV.

AFP

Trump Ends Anti-Racism Training In US Govt Agencies

A file photo of US President Donald Trump speaking with reporters aboard Air Force One as he flies from Manchester, New Hampshire to Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, August 28, 2020, following a campaign rally. SAUL LOEB / AFP

 

US President Donald Trump has ordered government agencies to end employee training sessions on fighting racism because they amount to “un-American propaganda,” the White House said on Friday.

The order comes as Trump works to appeal to his white, blue-collar base while fighting an uphill battle for re-election amid a divisive national reckoning over how non-whites are treated in America, especially by police but in other spheres as well.

The White House said in a statement that “according to press reports, employees across the Executive Branch have been required to attend trainings where they are told that ‘virtually all White people contribute to racism’ or where they are required to say that they ‘benefit from racism.'”

It added: “According to press reports, in some cases, these trainings have further claimed that there is racism embedded in the belief that America is the land of opportunity or the belief that the most qualified person should receive a job.”

The White House Office of Management and Budget said it had been ordered to “ensure that Federal agencies cease and desist from using taxpayer dollars to fund these divisive, un-American propaganda training sessions.”

Protests in major US cities erupted after the death of African American George Floyd in May at the hands of a white police officer in Minneapolis.

Trump — who is pressing a tough law and order line in the run-up to November’s elections — has blasted such demonstrators as violent anarchists.

This week the US president visited Kenosha, Wisconsin, where African American Jacob Blake was shot in the back repeatedly by a white policeman and left paralyzed from the waist down.

Trump did not meet with or speak to the man’s family during the visit, instead of meeting with law enforcement officials and viewing damage from protests triggered by the shooting.

AFP