Netanyahu To Press Pompeo For More Pressure On ‘Tottering’ Iran

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem on December 1, 2019. Abir SULTAN / POOL / AFP


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Portugal Wednesday to meet US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and call for increased pressure on the “tottering” Iranian government.

The two men will meet on Wednesday night in Lisbon, the US State Department announced.

Speaking before setting off, Netanyahu said US President Donald Trump’s sanctions against Iran were paying dividends and he would be urging Pompeo to take further steps.

“I think President Trump has placed tremendous pressures and sanctions on Iran,” he said.

“We’re seeing the Iranian empire totter. We see demonstrations in Tehran, demonstrations in Baghdad, demonstrations in Beirut. It’s important to increase this pressure against Iranian aggression.”

Israel, which has the Middle East’s sole but undeclared nuclear arsenal, has for years accused Iran of seeking to obtain nuclear weapons and strongly opposed a 2015 agreement designed to address the concerns of major powers.

Trump, a strong Netanyahu ally, unilaterally pulled the United States out of the deal in May last year and reimposed crippling sanctions.

Netanyahu, who is fighting for his political life after an indictment on graft charges, has hailed the Trump sanctions.

Israel believes they have squeezed the Iranian economy, prompting the government to raise fuel prices — sparking nationwide protests.

Lebanon and Iraq, both countries where Iran has significant influence, have also seen major demonstrations.

Netanyahu criticised European governments that have signed up to a barter system that would allow Iran to trade without fear of US sanctions.


US No Longer Consider Israeli Settlements ‘Illegal’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes a statement during a press conference at the US Department of State in Washington, DC, on November 18, 2019.


The United States no longer considers Israeli settlements to be “inconsistent with international law,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced Monday, in a shift in American foreign policy.

“After carefully studying all sides of the legal debate, this administration agrees… (the) establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo said.

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Until now, US policy was based, at least in theory, on a legal opinion issued by the State Department in 1978, which said that establishing of settlements in the Palestinian territories went against international law.

The US shift could be interpreted as a boost for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to stay in power after failing to form a coalition government.


Pompeo Warns Against China, Russia On Eve Of Berlin Wall Anniversary


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday issued a stark warning against China and Russia on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“Western, free nations have a responsibility to deter threats to our people” from governments like China, Russia and Iran, Pompeo said, speaking just a few metres (yards) away from where the Wall ran past the German capital’s world-famous Brandenburg Gate.

The US and its allies should “defend what was so hard-won… in 1989” and “recognise we are in a competition of values with unfree nations,” he added.

Picking at sore spots in Washington’s relationship with Berlin, Pompeo said the under-construction Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany would mean “Europe’s energy supplies… depend on (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s whims”.

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Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly said the pipeline is a purely private business concern.

And he warned of “Chinese companies’ intent to build 5G networks”, after the German government failed to exclude tech giant Huawei from the bidding process for the next-generation mobile network infrastructure.

Pompeo is on a whirlwind two-day tour of Germany where he has revisited the site of his Cold War military service on the former Iron Curtain border and is slated to meet leaders including Merkel.

While in Europe, he has looked to shore up transatlantic relations eroded by trade conflicts and discord over geopolitical crises and military spending.

Spurred by the US leaving the way open to Turkish and Russian military action in northern Syria, France’s President Emmanuel Macron told The Economist this week that the NATO alliance — of which Ankara is also a member — was suffering a “brain death” of lack of coordination between Europe and Washington.

Recalling past “challenges between partners” within NATO, including France’s 1960s departure from the alliance’s command structure, Pompeo on Friday dismissed the debate around Macron’s comments as a “kerfuffle”.

Other leaders including Merkel, NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau have also firmly rejected Macron’s assessment.

US Restricts Visas To China Officials Over Uighur ‘Repression’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens on October 5, 2019.  COSTAS BALTAS / POOL / AFP


The United States said Tuesday it would curb visas for Chinese officials over “repression” of Uighurs and other Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang, a day after imposing commercial restrictions.

“The United States calls on the People’s Republic of China to immediately end its campaign of repression in Xinjiang,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

Pompeo Accuses Congress Of Harassment Over Impeachment Probe

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivers a speech at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center in Athens on October 5, 2019.  COSTAS BALTAS / POOL / AFP


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday accused members of Congress of harassing his department to obtain documents linked to an impeachment investigation against President Donald Trump.

“There have been congressional inquiries that have harassed and abused State Department employees by contacting them directly and seeking to have them provide documents… that belong to the State Department, that are official US government records” he said during a visit in Greece.

“That’s harassment. And I’m never going to let that happen to my team.”

The US congressional committees leading the impeachment probe cranked up the heat on the White House this week.

Evidence is mounting evidence that Trump may have illicitly used his office to try to enlist Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky’s help to damage the bid of 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden in exchange for military aid.

After dodging questions for days, Pompeo finally confirmed Wednesday that he had been on the telephone call when Trump pressed Ukraine for damaging information on Biden.

Pompeo’s Democratic critics say he is now a “witness” caught in a conflict of interest that should rule him out of decisions on how the State Department deals with the investigation.

He has been accused of “stonewalling” the investigation and trying to limit what his staff could discuss if they testify.

Speaking in Athens Saturday Pompeo, who has been subpoenaed in the probe, told reporters: “We all, obviously, do all the things we are required to do by law.”

His department would provide “all the documents required by the law”.

The US top official was in Greece to reinforce cooperation with its NATO ally, signing an amendment to a mutual defence agreement.


Impeachment Probe: Pompeo Accuses Democrats Of Bullying

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the press at the State Department in Washington, DC on September 13, 2019. MANDEL NGAN / AFP


US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday accused Democrats of intimidation in their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and refused to let State Department employees comply with orders to appear in coming days.

In a letter to Congress, Pompeo said the subpoenas “can only be understood as an attempt to intimidate, bully and treat improperly the distinguished professionals of the Department of State.”

Citing “profound procedural and legal deficiencies” in the subpoenas, Pompeo said that depositions of five officials or former officials ordered to begin Wednesday “are not feasible,” without saying if they would appear on different dates.


China Calls US Sanctions On Oil Trader ‘Illegal’

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 30, 2019, an oil tanker is pictured off the Iranian port city of Bandar Abbas, which is the main base of the Islamic republic’s navy and has a strategic position on the Strait of Hormuzon. ATTA KENARE / AFP


China on Tuesday called US sanctions against Chinese companies “illegal”, a day after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced he was putting a leading oil importer on a blacklist.

Pompeo said Monday that the US was imposing sanctions on Zhuhai Zhenrong and its chief executive Li Youmin as part of a “maximum pressure campaign” for trading in Iranian crude oil.

“They violated US law by accepting crude oil,” he said.

But Beijing said Tuesday it has “consistently and resolutely opposed unilateral sanctions imposed by the United States,” slamming the sanctions as “illegal”.

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“The Chinese side has expressed firm opposition and strong condemnation of the relevant US authorities that have sanctioned Chinese enterprises,” said foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a regular press briefing.

“The Chinese side has repeatedly stressed that energy cooperation between Iran and the international community, which includes China, falls within the framework of international law and is reasonable and legitimate, and must be respected and protected.”

Pompeo’s announcement over the sanctions was the latest move by Washington to ratchet up economic pressure on Tehran over its alleged military activities in the Middle East and its nuclear programme by taking aim at business partners.

But Hua said the US was disregarding “the legitimate rights and interests of all parties”.

Between them, Zhuhai Zhenrong and Chinese state refiner Sinopec are responsible for nearly all the Iranian crude that China imports.

“We strongly urge the US to immediately correct wrong practices and stop illegal sanctions against Chinese companies and individuals,” said Hua.

“China will take all necessary measures to firmly safeguard the legitimate rights and interests of its enterprises and individuals.”


Pompeo Hails Modi’s Re-Election As India PM

India To Send Manned Mission To Space By 2022 - Modi
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi/AFP



US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hailed on Wednesday Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “wonderful” re-election, vowing both sides will overcome a number of spats that have dogged relations under President Donald Trump.

“I am confident that we have the benefit of building on a strong foundation between two of the world’s great democracies. We saw this in the election, we saw this incredible democratic vigour lead to a wonderful outcome,” Pompeo said after meeting Modi in New Delhi.

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As a democratic heavyweight in a region dominated by authoritarian China, India is a natural US bedfellow but Trump has irked New Delhi with measures aimed at reducing the trade imbalance under his “America First” mantra.

Washington, in turn, is unhappy at what it sees as India’s well-developed protectionism, often expressed through tariffs and red tape that makes life difficult for US firms competing in the huge market of more than a billion consumers.

With Trump calling India the “tariff king”, Washington has refused to exempt India from higher steel and aluminium tariffs and has ended India’s preferential trade status that allowed the Asian giant to send America $6 billion in goods duty-free every year.

India retaliated earlier this month with tariffs on 28 items imported from the US, including almonds, apples and walnuts — products close to the hearts of voters in Trump’s rural base.

 G20 groundwork 

But Pompeo — preparing the groundwork for talks between Modi and Trump at the G20 in Japan later this week, when the president’s myriad trade battles will loom large — suggested relations could be fixed.

“There are tariffs and counter-tariffs and we said we’re going to do our best to make sure that all the right people get in all the right places and work through these problems, so that we can get out of this and get on with the business of growing each of our two economies,” Pompeo told a news conference.

This was echoed by Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar, who said he was “optimistic about where our economic relationship is going”.

But he appeared to stick to India’s guns that it intended to buy the S-400 missile defence system for $5.2 billion from Russia despite the threat of US sanctions slapped on countries buying Moscow-made military kit.

Russia has long been a major arms supplier to India, but New Delhi’s use of its hardware complicates US efforts to bolster regional security cooperation to counter China, as well as its push to pressure the Kremlin.

“I think Secretary Pompeo knows, and I have explained to him in some detail, we have many relationships with many countries… We will do what is in our national interest,” Jaishankar said.

He also said Pompeo was “receptive” to Indian worries that any US-Iran conflict might interrupt the flow of oil from the Middle East and endanger the large Indian diaspora there.

Pompeo “understands that this is today the world’s fifth-largest economy, which imports 85 per cent of its energy, a large part of it from the Gulf… He gets what our interests are,” Jaishankar said.

“We all know that we need to keep that waterway open,” Pompeo said, referring to the Strait of Hormuz.

“And we also know that Iran is the world’s largest state sponsor of terror. We know how Indian people have suffered from terror around the world.”


Several Americans Killed In Sri Lanka Attacks – Pompeo

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo/ AFP


Several Americans were among the more than 200 people killed Sunday in a series of bombings of hotels and churches in Sri Lanka, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said.

“While many details of the attacks are still emerging, we can confirm that several US citizens were among those killed,” he said in a statement.

“The US Embassy is working tirelessly to provide all possible assistance to the American citizens affected by the attacks and their families.”

The attacks, which police said left more than 450 people wounded in addition to at least 207 dead, constituted the worst act of violence since the end of Sri Lanka’s civil war a decade ago.

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The government imposed an indefinite nationwide curfew. There were no immediate claims of responsibility.

Earlier reports citing Sri Lankan officials said the number of dead foreigners as between 27 and 35, including Americans, British and Dutch.

A White House statement said that “the United States condemns in the strongest terms the outrageous terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka.”

Since the 26-year civil war in Sri Lanka ended in 2009, the country — noted for its friendliness, natural beauty, its temples and mix of cultures  — had drawn increasing numbers of foreign tourists.

The Lonely Planet guide last year named it “the best country in the world to visit in 2019.”


North Korea Wants Pompeo Removed From Nuclear Talks

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo


North Korea on Thursday demanded the removal of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from stalled nuclear talks between Pyongyang and Washington, accusing him of derailing discussions.

“I am afraid that, if Pompeo engages in the talks again, the table will be lousy once again and the talks will become entangled,” Kwon Jong Gun, director general of the Department of American Affairs at North Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said, according to the official KCNA news agency.

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“Therefore, even in the case of a possible resumption of the dialogue with the US, I wish our dialogue counterpart would be not Pompeo but… (another) person who is more careful and mature in communicating with us.”

The comments were released hours after Pyongyang announced the test-firing of a new tactical weapon with a “powerful warhead” — the first such test since nuclear negotiations with Washington stalled.

The test-fire marked a ratcheting up of tensions weeks after a summit between Kim and US President Donald Trump collapsed without agreement.

And Kwon Jong Gun warned that if the US did not “get rid of the root cause” that led the North to acquire nuclear weapons, “no one can predict the situation on the Korean peninsula”.

But, he added, it was “fortunate” that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump remained on “good terms as usual” despite the gridlock in nuclear talks.


White House Defends Trump’s Aid Cut To Central America


The White House on Sunday defended President Donald Trump’s decision to cut off aid to three small Central American countries, insisting they weren’t doing enough to stop the flow of migrants to the United States.

Trump announced the aid cut-off to El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala last week and threatened once again to close the US border with Mexico in response to the migrant surge.

“If we’re going to give these countries hundreds of millions of dollars, we would like them to do more,” White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

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The aid has gone to fund programs to combat gangs and foster development in the three countries, with the aim of addressing the root causes of the mass migration.

“If it’s working so well, why are the people still coming?  Why these historic numbers again, 100,000 people will cross the border this month alone,” Mulvaney said.

“It’s not working well enough to help us solve our border crisis.  And that’s what the president’s focused on,” he said.

Critics warned, however, that US funding cuts are likely to worsen conditions, possibly adding to the migrant flow. And they said Trump’s threat to close the border with Mexico if carried out, would hurt the US economy.

Senator Dick Durbin, a Democrat from Illinois, dismissed the threat to close the border as “a totally unrealistic boast” by Trump.

“We need to focus on what’s happening in Central America where three countries are disassembling before our eyes and people are desperately coming to the United States. The president cutting off aid to these countries will not solve this problem,” he said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

White House counsellor, Kellyanne Conway spoke on “Fox News Sunday,” insisted Trump’s threat to close the border “certainly isn’t a bluff.”

On Saturday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that, at the president’s direction, the State Department was ending its foreign assistance programs for the three Central American countries for 2017 and 2018.

The State Department did not say how much unspent money was involved in the step, which could be largely symbolic.

In comments to reporters Friday, Trump suggested as much as $500 million is at stake.

“We were giving them $500 million. We were paying them tremendous amounts of money, and we’re not paying them anymore because they haven’t done a thing.”


Netanyahu, Pompeo Vow To Counter Iranian ‘Aggression’

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu deliver a joint statement during their meeting in Jerusalem on March 20, 2019. 


Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Wednesday to counter Iranian “aggression” as the two met in Jerusalem, weeks ahead of Israel’s elections.

Netanyahu said US President Donald Trump’s pressure on Iran was already having an effect, referring to his withdrawal from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers and the re-imposition of sanctions.

“We need to increase it, we need to expand it, and together the United States and Israel are working in close coordination to roll back Iranian aggression in the region and around the world,” the premier told journalists after Pompeo arrived.

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Pompeo spoke of a Middle East conference in Warsaw last month that included Arab nations as well as Israel, saying the discussions involved efforts “to stop Iran’s regional rampage” among other issues.

The US secretary of state also noted Iranian calls for Israel’s destruction.

“With such threats a daily reality of Israeli life, we maintain our unparalleled commitment to Israel’s security and firmly support your right to defend yourself,” he said.

Netanyahu reiterated his pledge to keep Iran from entrenching itself militarily in neighbouring Syria, where the Islamic republic backs President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

Israel has carried out hundreds of air strikes there against what it says are Iranian and Hezbollah targets.

“There is no limitation to our freedom of action, and we appreciate very much the fact that the United States backs up our actions as we do them,” Netanyahu said.

The premier, facing a stiff challenge from a centrist alliance in April 9 polls, will also visit Washington next week and meet with Trump twice while there.