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Donald Trump to boost US military spending: Officials

WASHINGTON, Feb 27: US President Donald Trump will instruct federal agencies on Monday to assemble a budget for the coming fiscal year that includes sharp increases in Defence Department spending and drastic cuts to domestic agencies, according to administration officials.

A day before delivering a high-stakes address on Tuesday to a joint session of Congress, Trump will demand a budget with billions of dollars in reductions to the Environmental Protection Agency and State Department, according to the officials with direct knowledge of the plan.

Social safety net programmes, aside from the big entitlement programs for retirees, would also be hit hard, the New York Times reported.

The budget plan, a numerical sketch that will probably be substantially altered by House and Senate Republicans - and opposed by congressional Democrats - will be Trump’s first big step into a legislative fray he has largely avoided during the first 40 days of his administration, according to the daily.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday said that Trump’s first budget would not touch Social Security or Medicare.

Trump’s policy on entitlement reform is unclear, and his administration has not proposed a way to salvage Social Security and Medicare, the most expensive piece of the federal budget, or refuel trust funds expected to run dry in less than 20 years, The Hill magazine reported.

Instead, Trump’s plan to pay down the nearly $20 trillion national debt rests on bolstering economic growth through tax cuts and deregulation.

Trump’s team is also considering tax cuts without equivalent spending cuts, but insist lower corporate taxes will fuel domestic manufacturing and investment

The budget will predict 2.4 per cent growth in 2017, according to the New York Times. That is more than the 1.6 per cent former President Barack Obama’s administration average but below the 4 per cent to 6 per cent growth Trump promised on the campaign trail.

Mnuchin said the administration would like to complete comprehensive tax reform by August, an ambitious goal given the jam-packed legislative calendar.

The White House and Congress will have to raise the debt ceiling around March 16 and fund the government by the end April 28.

Indian techie killed in US in suspected hate crime, shooter shouted ‘get out of my country’

KANSAS, Feb 24: In a suspected hate crime, an Indian engineer was killed and another was injured after an American Navy veteran allegedly opened fire on them in a bar in Kansas City, shouting “terrorist” and “get out of my country”, at around 7:15 pm (local US time) on Wednesday. An American who tried to intervene was also injured in the attack.

According to the Kansas City Star newspaper, Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, who worked in aviation systems for Olathe-based Garmin Ltd, and his colleague Alok Madasani, 32, were having a drink at a local bar-and-grill when they had an altercation with the shooter, Adam Purinton, 51, who reportedly shouted racial slurs. Purinton provoked them into an argument, questioning their presence and work in the US, and asking them how they were better than him, said the report.

According to the police, Purinton left the bar after the argument and then returned with a gun. He reportedly shouted “get out of my country” and “terrorist” before shooting them, killing Srinivas Kuchibhotla and injuring Alok Madasani. An American national, Ian Grillot, 24, who tried to intervene was injured in the attack. Purinton was arrested five hours after the incident and charged with murder and attempted murder.

Kansas City Star said Purinton, a Navy veteran with an inactive pilot licence, told a bartender in Clinton, Missouri, where he was hiding after the shooting, that he had killed two “Middle Eastern” persons. He has been charged with premeditated first-degree murder and his bond has been set at $2 million.

The shooter worked as an air traffic controller in Olathe. He earlier worked at the Federal Aviation Administration, but left it in 2000, Kansas City reported. Purinton had a reputation as both a troubled man and a typical helpful neighbour. He could often be seen outside, beer in hand, and would complain about his health and grieve about his father’s death about a year ago, Kansas City Star reported.

This is the first suspected racist attack involving an Indian victim since US President Donald Trump assumed office last month. Last month, Baltimore Sun had reported that an Indian-American woman, reportedly the inspiration for Hindi movie Swades, was stopped by police during her morning stroll in her hometown and questioned about her immigration status.

Expressing shock over the incident, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said two Indian consulate officials from Houston have been rushed to Kansas to render all possible assistance.

“I am shocked at the shooting incident in Kansas in which Srinivas Kuchibhotla has been killed. My heartfelt condolences to bereaved family,” she tweeted. “I have spoken to Indian Ambassador in US Mr Navtej Sarna. He informed me that two Indian Embassy officials have rushed to Kansas,” she said.

The Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson, Vikas Swarup, said Kuchibhotla and Madasani hailed from Hyderabad and Warangal, and were working at Garmin in Olathe (Kansas).

“Houston Deputy Consul R D Joshi and Vice Consul Harpal Singh will meet the injured and facilitate in bringing the mortal remains of the deceased and will be in touch with local police officials to ascertain more details of the incident and monitor follow-up action,” said Swarup. They will also meet the community members in Kansas, he said.

According to Garmin, Kuchibhotla and Madasani worked in the company’s aviation systems. “Unfortunately, two associates on our Aviation Systems Engineering team, Srinivas Kuchibhotla and Alok Madasani, were shot. We are devastated to inform you that Srinivas passed away and Alok is currently recovering in the hospital,” Garmin said.

The US Embassy in New Delhi condemned the incident and said American authorities would thoroughly investigate and bring the case to justice. “We are deeply saddened by this tragic and senseless act. Our deepest sympathies are with the victims and their families. The US is a nation of immigrants and welcomes people from across the world to visit, work, study, and live… US authorities will investigate thoroughly and prosecute the case, though we recognise that justice is small consolation to families in grief,” said US Chargé d’Affaires MaryKay Carlson.

New US immigration policy to impact 300,000 Indian-Americans

WASHINGTON, Feb 22: The Donald Trump administration issued tough new orders on Tuesday for a sweeping crackdown on illegal immigrants, placing nearly all of the country's 11 million undocumented foreigners in its crosshairs. The orders sent shivers through US immigrant communities, where millions of people who have spent years building families and livelihoods in the country, most of them from Mexico and Central America, were seriously threatened with deportation for the first time in decades.

Nearly 300,000 Indian-Americans are likely to be impacted by the plan. Any immigrant who is in the country illegally and is charged or convicted of any offense, or even suspected of a crime, will now be an enforcement priority, according to Homeland Security Department memos signed by Secretary John Kelly. That could include people arrested for shoplifting or minor offences — or simply having crossed the border illegally.

Trump has laid the groundwork for potentially deporting millions of undocumented immigrants by issuing new guidance that drastically broadens the ways in which federal immigration laws should be enforced. "The department no longer will exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement," the department of homeland security (DHS) said in an enforcement memo.

"Department personnel have full authority to arrest or apprehend an alien whom an immigration officer has probable cause to believe is in violation of the immigration laws," it said.

The DHS has issued two enforcement memos, which among other things, tighten deportation of illegal immigrants.

The emphasis is on criminal aliens, though, but opens up the door for others too. Indian-Americans as per unofficial figures account for nearly 300,000 illegal aliens.

According to the memo, the DHS secretary has the authority to apply expedited removal provisions to aliens who have not been admitted or paroled into the US, who are inadmissible, and who have not been continuously physically present in the US for the two-year period immediately prior to the determination of their inadmissibility, so that such aliens are immediately removed unless the alien is an unaccompanied minor, intends to apply for asylum or has a fear of persecution or torture in their home country, or claims to have lawful immigration status.

The memorandum said when illegal aliens apprehended do not pose a risk of a subsequent illegal entry, returning them to the foreign contiguous territory from which they arrived, pending the outcome of removal proceedings, saves the government detention and adjudication resources for other priority aliens.

Indian-Americans, who as per an unofficial count account for nearly 300,000 illegal aliens are likely to be greatly impacted by this. The Trump administration's order overturns Obama administration's decision to allow spouses of H-1B visa holders to work in that country. According to The Economic Times, 90 percent of Indian technology workers use H-1B visas.

According to the memo, the DHS Secretary has the authority to apply expedited removal provisions to aliens who have not been admitted or paroled into the US, who are inadmissible, and who have not been continuously physically present in the US for the two-year period immediately prior to the determination of their inadmissibility, so that such aliens are immediately removed unless the alien is an unaccompanied minor, intends to apply for asylum or has a fear of persecution or torture in their home country, or claims to have lawful immigration status.

The Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment, or Raise Act, introduced by Republican senator Tom Cotton and David Perdue from the Democratic party is aimed at altering the US immigration system to significantly reduce the number of foreigners admitted to the country without a skills-based visa. Earlier in February, two top US senators had proposed a legislation to cut the number of legal immigrants to the US by half within a decade.

The bill was proposed to reduce the number of green card or legal permanent residency issued every year from currently about a million to half a million. Now, that the bill is passed and has the support of the Trump administration, will have a major impact on hundreds and thousands of Indian Americans who are currently painfully waiting to get their green cards on employment-based categories.

Notably, the current wait period of an Indian to get a green card varies from 10 years to 35 years and this could increase if the proposed bill becomes a law. The bill however does not focus on H-1B visas. Cotton argued that the growth in legal immigration in recent decades had led to a "sharp decline in wages for working Americans" and that the bill represented an effort to move the US "to a more merit-based system like Canada and Australia".

"It's time our immigration system started working for American workers," Cotton said. The Raise Act would lower overall immigration to 6,37,960 in its first year and to 5,39,958 by its tenth year, a 50 percent reduction from the 1,051,031 immigrants who arrived in 2015.

The Trump administration memos replace narrower guidance focusing on immigrants who have been convicted of serious crimes, are considered threats to national security or are recent border crossers.

Rights groups labelled the move a "witch hunt," warning that mass deportations would damage families with deep roots in the United States and hurt the economy. But Kelly, who issued the new orders in two memos, said they were necessary to address a problem that has "overwhelmed" government resources. "The surge of illegal immigration at the southern border has overwhelmed federal agencies and resources and has created a significant national security vulnerability to the United States," he said in one of the memos.

The DHS has issued two enforcement memos, which among other things, tightens deportation of illegal immigrants.

The emphasis is on criminal aliens, though, but opens up the door for others too.

Modi urges US to keep an open mind on H1-B visas for IT workers

NEW DELHI, Feb 21: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has urged the United States to keep an open mind on admitting skilled Indian workers, in comments that pushed back against Republican President Donald Trump's 'America First' rhetoric on jobs.

Modi's comments reflected concern that India's $150 billion IT services industry would suffer if the United States curbs the visas, known as H-1B, it relies on to send its software experts to the United States on project work.

"The Prime Minister referred to the role of skilled Indian talent in enriching the American economy and society," the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) said in a statement after he met a bipartisan delegation of 26 members of the US Congress.

"He urged developing a reflective, balanced and far-sighted perspective on movement of skilled professionals," the PMO said.

Indian nationals are by far the largest group of recipients of the 65,000 H-1B visas issued each year to new applicants under a cap mandated by Congress. Exemptions on the H-1B cap are available to up to 20,000 further applicants who have obtained a US master's degree.

The actual number of Indian nationals working in the United States under the H-1B programme is significantly higher, however, because many visas are rolled over.

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, who was born in India, also met Modi today. He said earlier that his own career had been made possible by "an enlightened immigration policy".

Initial confidence that Asia's third-largest economy would benefit from Trump's election victory has given way to concern that his isolationist rhetoric and hostility to free trade would hurt India's hi-tech and outsourcing industry.

The sector, led by Tata Consultancy Services, Infosys Ltd and Wipro Ltd, employs 3.5 million people and is lobbying against proposed U.S. visa curbs - including increases on salaries that H-1B visa holders must earn.

Part of the delegation led by Congressman Bob Goodlatte, a Republican from Virginia who chairs the House Judiciary Committee, met Ravi Shankar Prasad, India's minister in charge of electronics and IT.

Goodlatte, speaking at the meeting with Prasad, declined to answer a question on visa restrictions, saying it was up to the president to reassess his policies on immigration.

A senior Indian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said India hoped to resolve the visa issue with the United States but declined to be drawn on the details.

The government supported a move by NASSCOM, India's high-tech industry association, to lobby U.S. lawmakers and companies to urge the administration not to crack down on allowing its skilled workers into the United States, the source said.

Trump should let Kim Jong-un know he means business

By Harry J. Kazianis

WASHINGTON, Feb 21: Often, when it comes to issues of national security, we tend to overanalyze things. We look to experts for complicated explanations when the answers, obvious enough, are staring us right in the face. The reason for this is quite simple: we don’t like the answers.

So, when we wonder why North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un does what he does—allegedly killing his half-brother and testing nuclear weapons that could be used to launch an atomic holocaust in Asia or even the West—the answer is a truth we just aren’t ready to accept.

Kim Jong-un is Michael Corleone.

But before we take that leap of faith, comparing one of the world’s vilest leaders—someone who starves his own people, runs concentration camps akin to Nazi Germany, and brainwashes millions—to a mob boss, a little explanation is in order.

You see, Michael Corleone had a problem; to put it more specifically, his mob family, the Corleones, had a problem. They were constantly fighting for survival in a world where there was no overall control of the various mob families and factions. All the big mafia families, over the course of three epic movies spanning decades, battled for power. No action was out of bounds. No amount of killing or bloodshed was over the top. Michael Corleone would kill his own brother, his brother-in-law, former allies—anyone who stood in the way of ensuring that he was in power and he survived.

See an eerie resemblance?

Now to be fair to the Corleones and the whole “Godfather” saga, I am simplifying a little here. But the point remains. Kim is doing what he feels he must do to survive, and that means doing things that Western democracies—or most nation states, for that matter—would never do, at least not out in the open. And that makes a man like Kim very dangerous.

This explains why North Korea is building all sorts of nasty weapon systems when its country is one of the poorest on planet Earth. The Corleone’s had Luca Brasi. Pyongyang has nuclear tipped missiles, chemical and biological weapons, special forces, massive pieces of artillery pointed at Seoul, and cyber capabilities that most analysts consider robust.

If he feels he is boxed in, if South Korea or its big American allies were to try to throw him out of power, Kim just might use those terrible weapons he is constantly developing.

So what does one do when dealing with a country that has seemingly taken its national security strategy from a 1970s gangster flick? Two things come to mind.

First, The Corleones, and North Korea, respect power. Washington must do all it can to make sure Pyongyang knows we mean business and that any attack on South Korea, Japan, or the U.S. homeland would mean the end of the Kim family business. President Trump must fast track increased missile defense measures, specifically the THAAD missile defense system, to South Korea and also to Japan. Washington must do all it can to negate Kim’s growing nuclear weapons program, making it harder for North Korea to hold the world over a barrel.

Second, while it might not be in vogue in Washington, it is past time to make a concerted effort to talk to North Korea. To be clear, no one wants to see the Kim family rule over North Korea forever. But at the same time, no one has any illusions that a war to remove them would be easy—regime change is not an option. Working through back channels, the Trump administration should try to talk to Asia’s Corleones, to see what efforts could be made to ease tensions, and to try to bring Pyongyang in from the cold.

While it might not be appealing, negotiating with a head of state who is murdering his people on a daily basis, imagine the alternative. What if someday a North Korean missile test goes badly and lands in Japan or South Korea killing innocent civilians? Either nation would be forced to respond, forcing North Korea to then respond as well. And anyone who has watched “The Godfather” knows one thing—a war of the families does not end well. Lots of people die. And in this case, where nuclear weapons are involved, the death toll could be in the millions.

Maybe Donald Trump should hold off on Twitter for a few hours and watch some old-school mafia flicks. They might come in handy when it comes to making Asia policy.

@ Harry J. Kazianis is a senior fellow for defense policy at the Center for the National Interest and senior editor at the National Interest Magazine.

U.S.-Japan Anti-Missile Test a Good Sign for the European Missile Defense Sites

By Michaela Dodge & Marek Menkiszak

WASHINGTON, Feb 21: The February 3rd test of the new U.S.-Japan ballistic missile interceptor was successful. That is good news for our allies in the Pacific region—especially in light of North Korea’s ballistic missile launch only nine days later.

Designed to intercept medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles, the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA will surely contribute to stability in the volatile Pacific. But the SM-3 Block IIA is also part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA)—the plan to defend U.S. allies and forward-deployed troops in Europe from the Iranian ballistic missile threat. Meaning, the February 3rd test was good news for our European allies as well.

The successful test could not be timelier. Iran has conducted several ballistic missile tests since President Trump took office. The Obama administration’s misguided Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) and lifted restrictions on selling advanced technologies to the rogue regime and gave it a massive influx of cash with which to buy it. Now reinvigorated, the Iranian ballistic missile threat will not diminish anytime soon, making the ability to implement the EPAA all the more urgent.

Currently, the United States plans to establish two missile defense sites in Europe: one in Romania and the other in Poland. The Romanian site reached initial operational capability last year; the Polish site is expected to get there next year. Both sites are based on a proven and currently operational ship-based Aegis missile defense system.

These missile defense sites are more than just a tangible sign of U.S. commitment to European security. They are a visible reminder of U.S. presence in the region—a presence is all the more important in light of Russia’s efforts to undermine the security of the Central and Eastern European states.

No, the sites are not “aimed” at Russia in any sense of the word. And Russia fully understands that the EPAA, as currently planned, does not have the capability to shoot down its long-range ballistic missiles. But Moscow does seek to create a sort of security buffer zone for itself within NATO’s Eastern flank, and that entails pushing back any U.S. presence in the region—including missile defenses.

Both Polish and the Romanian governments spent significant political capital to pursue missile defense cooperation with the United States. The proposal to host a U.S. site in Romania passed that country’s parliament almost unanimously, despite threats from Russia.

It was perhaps slightly more painful for Poland; our allies in Warsaw got burnt when the Obama administration decided to cancel a previous missile defense project on their territory on the anniversary of the Soviet invasion of Poland.

That cancellation was supposed to ease tensions with Moscow as the Obama administration “reset” the relationship. But the maneuver yielded no cooperative sentiment on the part of the Russians and only increased their demands. Yet another cancellation would not only discredit U.S. credibility with its European allies but also further encourage Russia’s aggressive behaviors.

European allies’ political contributions are real and must not be taken for granted by the Trump Administration. Poland will contribute treasure as well, pouring resources into construction and operation of the future missile defense site at Redzikowo.

These contributions include land for the base, financing construction of infrastructure to protect and supply it, and a few hundred soldiers to assure the physical security of U.S. assets on the ground. Warsaw has also committed to exempt U.S. personnel on the ground, both civilians and the military, from value added tax on purchases in Poland. Romania has made similar contributions to the development of its site.

In a world of actors hostile to the interests of the U.S. and its allies, ballistic missile defense cooperation is more important than ever. We are witnessing it in the Pacific, with the development of the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor. And we’re seeing it in Eastern Europe, with the facilities under development in Romania and Poland.

Missile defense is not a one-way street. In these collaborative projects, the allies’ contributions are tangible and significant, serving U.S. interests as well as their own. In a world in which the ballistic missile threat continues to grow, cooperative, mutually beneficial partnerships such as these are increasingly necessary.

@ Michaela Dodge is a senior policy analyst specializing in strategic issues at The Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense.

@ Marek Menkiszak heads the Russian Department at the Center for Eastern Studies, Warsaw, Poland.

U.S. Navy begins patrol in South China Sea

WASHINGTON, Feb 19: A U.S. Navy aircraft carrier strike group has begun patrols in the South China Sea (SCS), an official statement said.

The U.S. Navy in the statement announced the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 1 began the routine patrols on Saturday.

The group included a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70), Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 1’s Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer (DDG 108), and aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 2.

“Prior to their operations in the SCS, ships and aircraft from within the strike group conducted training off the islands of Hawaii and Guam to maintain and improve their readiness and develop cohesion as a strike group,” the statement said.

The development comes after China’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday warned the United States against challenging Beijing’s sovereignty in the region.

The area, where the group is patrolling, is a disputed area; China has been asserting its rule over the waterway despite territorial claims from a number of other east Asian nations — Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, the Voice of America said.

Sushma, US Secretary of State resolve to work together against global terrorism

NEW DELHI, Feb 15: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Wednesday called US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and resolved to work together closely against the "global terrorism" and to deepen the strategic ties between the two countries.

"Both the leaders agreed to follow-up the resolution expressed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and US President Trump to fight global terrorism together," a statement from Ministry of External Affairs said.

During a telephonic conversation, Swaraj and Tillerson stressed that a close and strong strategic-relationship between India and the US were not only in mutual interest but also had regional and global significance.

"They also agreed to intensify cooperation in various sectors, including defence and security, energy, and economy," the release said.

On January 24, Modi and Trump together resolved that "United States and India stand shoulder to shoulder in the global fight against terrorism."

Canada PM Trudeau meets Trump, seeks to boost trade ties

WASHINGTON, Feb 13: Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Monday opened talks at the White House with US President Donald Trump, seeking to nurture economic ties while avoiding tensions over issues such as immigration on which the two are sharply at odds.

A smiling Trudeau warmly shook Trump's hand on arrival for what were his first talks there since the president assumed power on Jan. 20. Trudeau has taken a low-key approach toward Trump, a Republican who campaigned on a pledge to toughen U.S. immigration policies and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) among Canada, the United States and Mexico.

Trudeau told reporters on Friday he expected the two would "find a lot of common ground." He also said he would look to "defend and demonstrate Canadian values," but do so "respectfully and not from an ideological standpoint."

Trump's vow to renegotiate NAFTA has unnerved Canadian officials, even though he has singled out Mexico in his criticism of the free trade deal.

Canada sends 75 percent of its exports to the United States. Canadians have become more supportive of NAFTA since Trump's election victory on Nov. 8, a poll from the Angus Reid Institute showed on Monday. Forty-four percent of the 1,508 surveyed said NAFTA had benefited Canada, up from 25 percent from a poll last June.

Trudeau had a strong rapport with former Democratic President Barack Obama, prompting pundits to describe their relationship as a "bromance." Soon after Trump put a hold on allowing refugees into the United States and temporarily banned travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries in an executive order on Jan. 27, citing the need to head off attacks by Islamist militants, the Canadian prime minister took to Twitter to say refugees were welcome in Canada.

Still, analysts said Trudeau has strong incentives to build a relationship with Trump given rising anti-trade sentiment. "You don't have to be a genius to see there are some stark differences between them," said Duke University professor Stephen Kelly, former U.S. deputy chief of mission to Ottawa. "But is this the time to be poking people in the eye? I would say it is not. ... In some ways the president is a guy for whom personal relationships may be even more important."

Canadian pollster Nik Nanos said Trudeau, who remains popular at home more than a year after winning a surprise Liberal majority government, faces the same pressure all Canadian leaders do when they engage with U.S. presidents: keep the economic ties tight but do not appear too chummy or subordinate.

Nanos expects that Trudeau, if asked, will speak about how Canada is welcoming refugees or seeking to expand free trade, without saying anything critical about Trump's point of view, conscious that the president has not hesitated to take an aggressive tone with other world leaders. "This meeting is more about avoiding pitfalls than trying to engage on some of the big issues," Nanos said. "It's definitely the policy of laying low."

Michael Flynn resigns as US national security adviser after reports he misled Pence over Russian contacts

WASHINGTON, Feb 13: President Donald Trump’s embattled national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned late Monday night, following reports that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other officials about his contacts with Russia. His departure upends Trump’s senior team after less than one month in office.

In a resignation letter, Flynn said he held numerous calls with the Russian ambassador to the US during the transition and gave “incomplete information” about those discussions to Vice President Mike Pence. The vice president, apparently relying on information from Flynn, initially said the national security adviser had not discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy, though Flynn later conceded the issue may have come up.

Trump named retired Lt. Gen. Keith Kellogg as the acting national security adviser. Kellogg had previously been appointed the National Security Council chief of staff and advised Trump on national security issues during the campaign.

The Justice Department warned the Trump administration weeks ago that contradictions between the public depictions and the actual details of the calls could leave Flynn in a compromised position, an administration official and two other people with knowledge of the situation told The Associated Press Monday night.

One person with knowledge of the situation said the Justice Department alerted the White House that there was a discrepancy between what officials were saying publicly about the contacts and the facts of what had occurred. Pence — apparently relying on information from Flynn — initially said sanctions were not discussed in the calls, though Flynn has now told White House officials that the topic may have come up.

A second official said the Justice Department was concerned Flynn could be in a compromised position as a result.

The White House has been aware of the Justice Department warnings for “weeks,” an administration official said, though it was unclear whether Trump and Pence had been alerted.

The people insisted on anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly. The Washington Post was the first to report the communication between the Justice Department, including former acting attorney general Sally Yates, and the Trump administration.

Flynn apologized to Pence last week, following a Washington Post report asserting that the national security adviser has indeed discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy.

White House spokesman Sean Spicer said Trump was consulting with Pence on Monday about his conversations with the national security adviser. Asked whether the president had been aware that Flynn might discuss sanctions with the Russian envoy, Spicer said, “No, absolutely not.”

Trump, who comments on a steady stream of issues on his Twitter feed, has been conspicuously silent about the matter since The Washington Post reported last week that Flynn had discussed sanctions with the Russian envoy. A US official told The Associated Press that Flynn was in frequent contact with Ambassador Sergey Kislyak on the day the Obama administration slapped sanctions on Russia for election-related hacking, as well as at other times during the transition.

Flynn’s discussions with the Russian raised questions about whether Flynn offered assurances about the incoming administration’s new approach. Such conversations would breach diplomatic protocol and possibly violate the Logan Act, a law aimed at keeping citizens from conducting diplomacy.

Earlier Monday, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway said Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn, though her assertions were not backed up by other senior Trump aides. Spicer would say only that Flynn was continuing to carry out “his daily functions.”

Flynn was spotted near the Oval Office just after 10 p.m. Monday. Amid the uncertainty over Flynn’s future, several of the president’s top advisers, including chief of staff Reince Priebus and counsel Don McGahn, ducked in and out of late-night meetings in the West Wing.

Several House Democrats called on Oversight Committee Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, to launch an investigation into Flynn’s ties to Russia. House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi called for Flynn to be fired, saying he “cannot be trusted not to put Putin before America.”

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said that if Pence were misled, “I can’t imagine he would have trust in Gen. Flynn going forward.” She said it would also be “troubling” if Flynn had been negotiating with a foreign government before taking office.

It’s illegal for private citizens to conduct U.S. diplomacy. Flynn’s conversations also raise questions about Trump’s friendly posture toward Russia after U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Moscow hacked Democratic emails during the election.

The controversy comes as Trump and his top advisers seek to steady the White House after a rocky start. The president, who seeks input from a wide range of business associates, friends and colleagues, has been asking people their opinions on his senior team, including Spicer and Priebus.

Advisers have privately conceded that the White House spit out too many disparate messages in the first few weeks, though they also note that the president’s own tweets sometimes muddy the day’s plans before most of the White House staff has arrived for work.

Trump voiced support for Priebus Monday, saying the chief of staff was doing, “not a good job, a great job.” But he did not make a similar show of support for his national security adviser.

Flynn sat in the front row of Trump’s news conference with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau earlier Monday. The president did not receive a question about Flynn’s future from the two reporters who were called upon, and he ignored journalists’ shouted follow-up inquiries as he left the room.

Over the weekend, Trump told associates he was troubled by the situation, but did not say whether he planned to ask Flynn to step down, according to a person who spoke with him recently. Flynn was a loyal Trump supporter during the campaign, but he is viewed skeptically by some in the administration’s national security circles, in part because of his ties to Russia.

In 2015, Flynn was paid to attend a gala dinner for Russia Today, a Kremlin-backed television station, and sat next to Russian President Vladimir Putin during the event.

Flynn spoke with the vice president about the matter twice on Friday, according to an administration official. The official said Pence was relying on information from Flynn when he went on television and denied that sanctions were discussed with Kislyak.

The administration officials and those who spoke with the president recently were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and insisted on anonymity.

The controversy surrounding Flynn comes as the young administration grapples with a series of national security challenges, including North Korea’s reported ballistic missile launch. The president, who was joined at his Mar-a-Lago estate by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe over the weekend, voiced solidarity with Japan.

The White House is also dealing with fallout from the rocky rollout of Trump’s immigration executive order, which has been blocked by the courts. The order was intended to suspend the nation’s refugee program and bar citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

China blocks US move to get Masood Azhar banned by UN

WASHINGON, Feb 7: In one of the Obama administration’s last actions in January, the US moved a proposal in support of India’s application to have Pakistan-based Masood Azhar included in a UN list of designated terrorists but China blocked the move in a cynical show of solidarity with its “iron brother” Pakistan.

The proposal moved on January 19, a day before Barack Obama handed over charge to President Donald Trump, was co-sponsored by Britain and France “as a fresh counter-terrorism effort, a part of a global move”, , according to officials who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The proposal, finalised after consultations between Washington and New Delhi, said JeM was a designated terror group and its leaders could not go scot-free.

China blocked it on February 2, as it has several times before. “China opposed the US move by putting a hold on the proposal just before the expiry of the 10-day deadline for any proposal to be adopted or blocked or to be put on hold,” said an official in New Delhi.

Refusing to give details as deliberations of the UN sanctions committee are confidential, a US state department spokesman said on Tuesday, “The US believes the UN ISIL (Da’esh) and al-Qaeda sanctions list plays a vital role in international efforts to counter terrorist financing and travel, and we will continue to work with the sanctions committee to ensure that the list is updated and accurate.”

Another US official said on background that the “designations and this one in particular is something we have been working on for some time … (and) … using the UN Designations process, even if they were blocked, was a critically important part of our CT cooperation and an important way to bring global attention to the most serious terror cases and actors.

“We have been informed of the development and the matter has been taken up with the Chinese government,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.

Beijing has not publicly assigned any reason for blocking the US proposal. But it has called it a “technical hold” in the past, saying it was based on “facts” and “procedure”. Chinese diplomats have suggested India needs to sort this out with Pakistan.

Azhar is the founder of Jaish-e-Mohammed, a Pakistan-based terror group held responsible for recent attacks on an airbase in Pathankot in January 2016 and on an Indian Army camp at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir in September, which led to unprecedented surgical strikes by Indian forces along the Line of Control.

Beijing first blocked India’s application on Azhar before the UN sanctions committee — which goes by the lengthy name of Security Council Committee pursuant to resolutions 1267 (1999), 1989 (2011), and 2253 (2015) concerning ISIL (Da’esh, names for Islamic State) al-Qaida and associated individuals, groups, undertakings and entities — in April and then again in October.

The designation would have enjoined UN member states to freeze assets owned by Azhar in their jurisdictions, deny him entry or exit and not supply to him any sort of weapons. JeM was designated in 2001 and several operatives and organisations associated with the group have also been put on the UN blacklist.

The US designated JeM a foreign terrorist organisation in 2001 and Azhar as a terrorist in 2010. A close associate of Azhar’s, Sheikh Ahmed Saeed Omar, masterminded the kidnapping and murder of The Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in 2002.

There is all round support for India’s application but according to the rules, all 15 members of the UN sanctions committee must approve fresh designations.

The US’s help, as of other members of the Security Council has been critical for India in the past, in adding Dawood Ibrahim, gangster and terrorist, and Hafiz Saeed, the founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks, to the UN list.

A “hold” at the UN sanctions panel remains for six months and can be extended by three months. During this period, it can be converted into a “block”, thereby ending the life of the proposal.

Trump travel ban reversed: President runs into US system of checks and balances

WASHINGTON, Feb 6: Like his predecessor, President Donald Trump seized on a go-it-alone strategy for fast-tracking his agenda. It took him two weeks to run into the nation’s system of checks and balances.

The legal battle over his executive order on immigration and refugees is a surprisingly early demonstration of a lesson all presidents learn eventually. Governing by executive action may appear easier and faster, but it carries its own legal and political risks.

President Barack Obama was confronted with that reality late in his tenure when, thwarted by the GOP-controlled House, he used what he called a “pen and phone” strategy to advance his agenda. He ultimately found one of his most sweeping actions, the expansion of a program deferring deportation for some immigrants, blocked by the courts, while Republicans blasted him for what they said was an abuse of power.

Republicans have been notably quiet as Trump has taken a similar approach, particularly taking advantage of the precedent giving the president broad leeway when it comes to immigration.

A federal judge’s order in Seattle Friday evening blocking Trump’s ban on admitting travellers from seven predominantly Muslim countries showed the limits of the president’s powers and the role of checks and balances among the three branches of government. The administration appealed the judge’s order, but the higher court denied its request for an immediate stay that would have enabled Trump to reinstate the ban.

The State Department cancelled visas for about 60,000 people from the affected countries; the legal setbacks had many rushing to restore their documents and find flights to the United States over the weekend.

Trump isn’t alone in trying to maximize executive muscle. Presidents rarely voluntarily restrict their own power. And recent presidents also have used a burst of unilateral action to spur progress at the start of their administrations and to set a tone for Congress, where legislation often moves slowly.

Trump’s opening weeks have shown he’s likely to rely on the Republicans who hold a majority in Congress to pass top agenda items like overhauling the “Obamacare” law, changing the tax code and repairing aging roads and bridges.

The President has also signed a blitz of actions on border security, health care and financial regulation, showing few signs of slowing down.

On Friday, Trump administration imposed sanctions on companies and individuals in response to Iran’s recent ballistic missile test — after months of bitter criticism of Obama’s landmark nuclear deal with Tehran.

Still, his actions stand out for their sweep and haste. On some issues, Trump didn’t just leapfrog Congress, where his own party is in control, he cut Republicans out of the consultations and roll-out of his plans.

“I think that Trump has been unusually aggressive in the scope of what he is trying to do and also I think remarkably casual in issuing orders and other actions that don’t appear to have gone through what would be a typical process of reviewing and vetting and consideration,” said Kenneth Mayer, a University of Wisconsin professor who has studied executive actions by presidents.

Since Inauguration Day, Trump has signed 20 memoranda and executive orders. That number is in line with Obama’s first two weeks. One of his orders directly reversed one of Obama’s early orders: The former president signed a memorandum in his first week in 2009, rescinding a ban on providing federal money to international groups that perform or provide information on abortions. Trump reinstituted the regulation, known as the “Mexico City Policy,” on his first day in office.

In this, Mayer said Trump’s use of unilateral powers has shown some similarities to a general pattern set in 1993, 2001 and 2009 — when the White House switched parties.

But he added that “there’s a big qualification”. None of those incoming presidents sparked the controversy that Trump did last week. Chaos at airports and concern around the world quickly followed Trump’s signing of the executive order to temporarily ban all refugees and also travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The President said quick, forceful action was needed to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks.

The executive actions on immigration have led to lawsuits. Interest groups also have vowed to challenge any unilateral efforts to curtail Obama’s environmental regulations and other rules.

Despite his initial flurry of action, Obama became more reliant upon executive orders during his second term, when he faced opposition from Republicans. “I’ve got a pen and I’ve got a phone,” he declared at one point, promising public orders and personal efforts to build support. When he acted unilaterally on immigration in 2014, providing temporary legal status to millions living in the US illegally, Republicans insisted he was acting illegally.

The House speaker at the time, John Boehner, accused him of acting like a king or an emperor.

This time, with full control of the White House and Congress, Republicans have been largely muted in their assessments of Trump’s executive actions.

A notable exception has been Arizona Senator John McCain, who warned Trump not to allow the resumption of enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding following reports that the new administration was planning a review.

“The President can sign whatever executive orders he likes. But the law is the law. We are not bringing back torture in the United States of America,” McCain said.

Democrats are broadly and bitterly opposed to Trump’s proposals — on the health care law, oil pipelines and the border wall — as well as the unilateral way he’s going about pursuing some of them.

“What he is doing is reprehensible to them in most cases,” said Steve Elmendorf, a Democratic strategist and former aide to former House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt. The go-it-alone approach, Elmendorf said, is “going to inflame the base of the party and make it hard for Democrats to work with him on other issues.”

Even members of Trump’s own party have distanced themselves from the roll-out of his executive orders on immigration. Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina said that Trump “didn’t think it through” and the orders were a “classic example of putting something out there that wasn’t ready for prime time”.

But Graham said the bumpy start still pales in comparison to Obama’s use of executive action, pointing to federal courts blocking the former president’s executive actions on immigration and a piece of his health care overhaul.

“Look what Obama did. His executive orders got struck down by the court. I’m not going to listen to a bunch of Democrats complain about Trump when they sat on the sidelines and did nothing about Obama,” he said.

How Japan Can ‘Win’ With Trump

By Daniel Twining

WASHINGTON, Feb 2: Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to meet Donald Trump after his election as U.S. president in November. On Febuary 3, Secretary of Defense James Mattis will visit Japan on his first overseas trip as the new U.S. secretary of defense. This early engagement suggests that Tokyo can play a pivotal role in shaping the Trump administration’s foreign and security policy. But Japanese officials must be smart in pitching alliance cooperation to capture Trump’s imagination. Japan is in a unique position to do this, given the many ways it could help Trump achieve his more mutually beneficial goals, at home and abroad.

First, for an American president skeptical about the value of alliances, Japan can pitch itself as a model ally that is no freeloader, but in fact shares the burden of maintaining peace in the Pacific. Japan underwrites American forces stationed in Okinawa, making them cheaper to deploy there than they would be in California. Japan is increasing its defense budget and deploying sophisticated military capabilities not only to defend itself, but to help protect America, for instance by collaborating in missile defenses against North Korea. Japan is expanding its military ties with U.S. partners, including India, Southeast Asian nations, and NATO, which in turn reinforces their capacity to work with America’s armed forces. Japan supports America’s global posture, including support for missions in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

Second, a stronger Japanese alliance can help make America “great again,” Trump’s overarching aim, by magnifying U.S. power and influence as it increasingly comes under challenge, including from revisionist powers. China and Russia have few allies, and none of consequence — the differentiator between the United States and its peer competitors is that Washington has an alliance network that spans the globe. Greatness is in part a function of followership — and many countries, starting with Japan, want to partner with America. Japan’s continued support for the U.S. alliance will make it easier for Trump to achieve his goals in Asia — including preventing Chinese domination of the region. This makes the U.S. better off and is a key part of its comparative advantage against rivals.

Third, Japanese leaders can help Washington’s new governing class understand that its country is not a trade threat but an essential economic partner. Japan is one of the top foreign investors in the United States. Three out of every four Japanese cars and trucks sold in the United States, nearly four million per year, are actually built in North America; Japanese car companies employ thousands of Americans in the kinds of well-paid manufacturing jobs Trump wants to protect.

Japan is not the export threat it was in the “Rising Sun” days of the 1980s. Chinese acquisitions of American companies, not Japanese, risk endangering U.S. national security. Japanese companies and capital can be part of the national rejuvenation that Trump has promised American voters, in part because so much U.S.-Japan economic activity comes from domestic production and investment rather than from traditional trade flows.

Fourth, Japan can support the domestic energy revolution that Trump seeks to unleash to increase American economic growth. Japan is almost entirely dependent on imported sources of energy. The first U.S. shipments of liquefied natural gas arrived in Japan in early January. Between traditional oil and gas extraction as well as the use of new technologies to tap shale and “tight” oil, North American energy production will exceed the capacity of the U.S. market to absorb it. Key to boosting domestic production will be exports to overseas markets. Japan, until now dependent on risky sources of supply in the Middle East, would benefit hugely from the stability of supply and relative lack of political risk associated with American energy exports. Energy cooperation is the kind of win-win proposition that could boost both countries’ economies and security.

Fifth, Japan will be central to America’s economic engagement in Asia in the wake of Trump’s unfortunate withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The heart of the TPP was the liberalization of trade and investment between the United States and Japan, including in areas of American advantage like services, agriculture, and the digital economy.

Trump has focused on promoting exports from America’s heavy manufacturers. In fact, more than 80 percent of American economic output is in services and other forms of “software,” rather than the kind of “hardware” which China and other less-developed economies produce at lower cost. The U.S. enjoys a $400 billion annual trade surplus in services. The Trump administration could carve out parts of the TPP that especially support American economic competitiveness and negotiate a new bilateral deal with Japan that fills the gap left by the TPP.

Sixth, Japan can be a key part of the equation in any reset of U.S.-Russia relations under Trump. Abe is pursuing his own reset with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in hopes of settling their World War II-era dispute over the Northern Territories. Like the United States, Japan has a compelling interest in precluding the formation of a China-Russia alliance that dominates Eurasia and threatens the free nations along its littoral. If Trump genuinely wants a rapprochement with Russia, in part to help form a sturdier balancing coalition against China in Asia, Japan could be a valuable partner in that endeavor.

Seventh, Trump clearly envisions a more competitive relationship with China — in which case an invigorated U.S.-Japan alliance gives Washington additional leverage, and complicates Beijing’s ability to directly confront the United States. Japan under Abe is positioning itself to challenge China’s efforts to assert what it deems to be its natural hegemony over Asia. Japan, in this sense, is a frontline state that is standing up for the same goal as America, which has much to lose from any Chinese sphere of influence that restricts U. S. economic and military access to a dynamic region.

Japanese officials worry that Trump might make a deal with Beijing over their heads in ways that subordinate Japanese interests, including on the security of Taiwan. The Trump administration would be wiser to cooperate more closely with Japan in order to uphold Asia’s existing maritime order, subvert China’s quest for suzerainty over the international waters of the South China Sea, and reinforce the military balance in Asia in favor of the democracies and China-wary nations like Vietnam.

Many traditional U.S. allies are despairing at the prospect of dealing with an American administration they feel does not value them. The smart play for a core ally like Japan is to make itself relevant to the Trump administration’s foreign and economic policy priorities, underlining the added value to the United States of continuing close partnership.

 

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