French President, Macron Addresses U.S. Congress In Final Tour

France’s President Emmanuel Macron addresses a joint meeting of Congress inside the House chamber on April 25, 2018 at the US Capitol in Washington, DC. Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP


French President Emmanuel Macron was poised to address US lawmakers Wednesday as he wraps up his three-day visit to Washington — a whirlwind of nuclear diplomacy on Iran, and lighter moments showcasing his unlikely “bromance” with Donald Trump.

Macron earned an exuberant welcome from the Republican president — an elaborate state dinner, an intimate dinner for four with their wives at George Washington’s Virginia estate Mount Vernon, and repeated vows of friendship.

“May our friendship grow even deeper, may our kinship grow even stronger, and may our sacred liberty never die,” Trump said in his toast to the Macrons late Tuesday at the White House.

In turn, the 40-year-old French leader spoke at length of “how deep, how strong, and how intense the relationship is between our two countries,” and marveled at the unforeseen rapport he has forged with the 71-year-old Trump.

“I got to know you, you got to know me. We both know that none of us easily changes our minds, but we will work together, and we have this ability to listen to one another,” he said.

In his speech Wednesday, Macron will address what he thinks are historically warm Franco-US ties now challenged by differences over economic inequality, climate change and the rise of nationalism, according to his aides.

Iran and trade 

But amid all the friendly gestures — Trump even seemingly flicked dandruff off Macron’s shoulder to “make him perfect” — the pair’s meetings were not all about style, with the fate of the Iran nuclear deal and transatlantic trade on the table.

The pair called for a “new” deal with Tehran, looking beyond their past disagreements over the landmark 2015 accord to curb the Islamic republic’s nuclear program — an agreement slammed by Trump as “insane” and whose future still hangs in the balance.

Trump instead wants a broader “deal” that would also limit Iran’s ballistic missile program and support for militant groups across the Middle East.

“I think we will have a great shot at doing a much bigger, maybe, deal,” said Trump, stressing that any new accord would have to be built on “solid foundations.”

Macron admitted after meeting Trump that he did not know whether the US president would walk away from the nuclear deal when a May 12 decision deadline comes up.

“I can say that we have had very frank discussions on that, just the two of us,” Macron told a joint press conference Tuesday with Trump at his side.

Putting on a brave face, he said he wished “for now to work on a new deal with Iran” of which the nuclear accord could be one part.

The key question is whether Macron can translate their privileged relationship into concrete results — as he also pushes for a permanent exemption for Europe from US steel and aluminium tariffs.

After his speech to Congress, Macron will meet students at George Washington University and deliver a final press conference before heading back to Paris.


Do Your Job, Increase Defence Budget, Trump Tells Congress

Trump Appoints Ty Cobb As White House Special Counsel

United States President Donald Trump, on Saturday, touted U.S. military might and urged Congress to increase the defence budget.

Trump delivered the principal address at Naval Station, Norfolk at a commissioning ceremony for the U.S. Navy’s s first “Ford-class” aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald R. Ford.

“This ship is the deterrent that keeps us from having to fight in the first place. But this ship also ensures that if a fight does come, it will always end the same way. We will win, win, win. We will never lose, we will win,” he said.

“When it comes to battle, we don’t want a fair fight. We want just the opposite. We demand victory, and we will have total victory, believe me.”

Earlier in the day, Trump took to Twitter declaring that he has “complete power to pardon,” as his administration continued to be bogged down by ongoing investigations of possible ties between his 2016 campaign and Russia.

In his remarks, Trump made no mention of the Russia controversy, focusing his speech on the need for more robust U.S. military spending.

“We need Congress to do its job and pass the budget that provides for higher, stable and predictable funding levels for our military needs that our fighting men and women deserve and you will get,” Trump said, referring to the defence build-up he is seeking.

He added, “”For years, our government has subjected the military to unpredictable funding and a devastating defence sequester. You remember that? Sequester, not good. This has led to deferred maintenance, a lack of investment in new equipment and technology, and a shortfall in military readiness.

“In other words, it’s been a very, very bad period of time for our military. That is why we reached a deal to secure an additional $20 billion for defence this year, and it’s going up. And why I asked Congress for another $54 billion for next year.”

The new ship is named after the Republican president who held the White House from 1974-1977.

U.S. Says Boko Haram May Have Benefitted From Oil Theft Spoils

Issa-Darrel of U.S. CongressThe Boko Haram terrorist group could be beneficiaries of the money made from crude oil theft in Nigeria, members of the United States Congress said on Tuesday.

At a meeting with the Bring Back Our Girls group at the U.S. Embassy in Abuja, the Congressmen urged the Nigerian government to curb the flow of the movement of such monies.

They also stressed the need for the National Assembly to heighten talks on the Boko Haram insurgency and rescue of the Chibok girls.

The dogged Bring Back Our Girls group articulated their stance, backed with a renewed solidarity by the U.S. Congress at the Embassy, something they were hopeful would yield result.

As they sang their usual chant, they called for more efforts to rescue the over 200 girls abducted on April 14, 2014 by members of the Boko Haram sect terrorising communities in Nigeria’s north-east.

The Congressmen had held talks with President Muhammadu Buhari, the Nigerian military and other government officials on regional security, counter-terrorism efforts and the Boko Haram terrorist group.

At the end of their visit, a press conference was held and the Head of Delegation and a member of the Judicial Committee, U.S. Congress, Issa Darrel, clearly spelt out their thoughts on funding of the Hoko Haram activities, saying that the terrorist group could have benefited from the spoils of crude oil theft in Nigeria’s south-south region.

The U.S. pledged greater technical support towards curbing insurgency as well as rescuing the Chibok girls.

They also encouraged the National Assembly to heighten talks on security issues.

The visit was another defining moment for the Bring Back Our Girls group who now pin their hopes on the renewed collaboration between the two countries.

A co-convener of the group, Hadiza Bala-Usman, expressed optimism that the support from the U.S. would help in securing the girls’ rescue.

Nigeria has reached the critical point of her insecurity challenge and now looks forward to interventions like this to carve out a new sense of direction in the battle.

On Monday, the Congressmen told the Nigerian military that the U.S. had started consideration of the Leahy law to ease restrictions on arms deal with Nigeria, raising hopes that talks between President Muhammadu Buhari and Barack Obama during the Nigerian President’s visit to the U.S. would yield results.

FG does not back U.S push to list Boko Haram among foreign terrorist organisation

The Minister of Defence, Bello Mohammed on Wednesday said that the Federal government does not support the move by a U.S congress to designate extremist group, Boko Haram a “foreign terrorist organisation” because this could hamper dialogue with the sect.

Boko Haram, which in the Hausa language of northern Nigeria means “Western education is sinful,” is loosely modelled on the Taliban movement in Afghanistan.

The Minister said this while responding to questions from a Reuters correspondent on the sideline of a meeting between South Africa and Nigeria in Cape Town.

“We are looking at a dialogue to establish the grievances of the Boko Haram. I think the attempt to declare them an international terrorist organization will not be helpful,” he said.

The Federal Government held indirect talks with Boko Haram in March, but discussions broke down quickly and the militant group said it could not trust the government. It is unclear whether government efforts to resume links have borne fruit since.

Pressure has been growing on the Obama administration to formally designate Boko Haram a “foreign terrorist organisation.”

Scott Brown, a Republican senator from Massachusetts, wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton late last week, urging her to designate the group as a terrorist organization.

U.S. Representatives Peter King and Patrick Meehan, chairmen of the House Homeland Security Committee and its counterterrorism subcommittee, released a letter they sent to Clinton suggesting the administration was moving too slowly.

Boko Haram, which means “western education is sinful”, has claimed responsibility for months of attacks in northern Nigeria. Its attacks have mainly targeted the police, churches and outdoor drinking areas.

“Boko Haram is not operating in America and America is not operating in Nigeria,” said Mohammed. “They are not involved in our internal security operations, so I don’t think it would be of much significance really in that respect. But we don’t support it.”