U.S. slaps sanctions on Myanmar for ‘atrocities’

The United States on Friday slapped sanctions on four Myanmar security officials and two of the country’s military units for human rights abuses, including ethnic cleansing against the country’s minority Muslim Rohingya population.

The announcement from the Treasury Department comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo deliberates on whether to declare what happened to the Rohingya a genocide. It also follows months of administration debate over how much to punish Myanmar, also known as Burma, where the U.S. has tried to nurture democratic reforms.

The sanctions were levied in part under the Global Magnitsky Act, which gives U.S. officials broad authority to target people for human rights abuses. U.S. officials noted the case of the Rohingya, but they also pointed out that Myanmar’s military leaders have waged violence against other minority groups, including those in Kachin and Shan states.

“Burmese security forces have engaged in violent campaigns Continue reading “U.S. slaps sanctions on Myanmar for ‘atrocities’”

U.S. limits diplomatic tours in Cuba following mysterious illnesses

The Trump administration is slashing the amount of time U.S. diplomats are posted in Cuba to one year, an unusually short time frame typically applied to war-torn or otherwise dangerous nations.

The change to the “standard tour of duty” puts Cuba in league with countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan and South Sudan. It follows a series of mysterious, seemingly sound-related injuries that have injured at least two dozen Americans who spent time in the country.

It’s also another blow to business and other groups who – despite reluctance from President Donald Trump – still hope to see U.S.-Cuban ties improve following the re-establishment of diplomatic relations during the Obama administration.

According to an Aug. 10 State Department cable obtained by POLITICO, U.S. officials determined that the American embassy in the Cuban capital, Havana, “is a post experiencing extraordinary circumstances” in reducing the standard tour of duty Continue reading “U.S. limits diplomatic tours in Cuba following mysterious illnesses”

Leaked Pompeo statement shows debate over ‘genocide’ label for Myanmar

A State Department investigation has found that Myanmar’s military exhibited “premeditation and coordination” ahead of a slaughter of Rohingya Muslims last year in one of the decade’s most horrifying mass atrocities.

But days before Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to deliver a speech on the subject, the Trump administration has apparently not yet decided whether to call it a “genocide.”

Draft excerpts from a Pompeo statement obtained exclusively by POLITICO include the bracketed phrase “hold for determination” in a passage that will offer Pompeo’s conclusion about how to describe the vicious campaign against one of Myanmar’s most vulnerable ethnic minority groups.

That conclusion has been the subject of intense debate within the Trump administration, officials say. Declaring a genocide — typically defined as a premeditated effort to wipe out some or all of a specific ethnic or religious group — could commit the U.S. to punitive steps Continue reading “Leaked Pompeo statement shows debate over ‘genocide’ label for Myanmar”

U.S. not fully enforcing Myanmar sanctions, documents show

Weeks after Myanmar’s armed forces began raping, killing and displacing minority Rohingya Muslims, President Donald Trump’s administration promised to hold the Asian nation accountable for what some researchers say is a genocide.

Almost a year later, the United States has imposed economic sanctions on just one Myanmar military leader; Congress has failed to pass legislation penalizing the country; and efforts to further restrict minimal U.S.-Myanmar military ties have stalled.

Now, ahead of the expected release of a State Department investigation into the Rohingya crisis, new documents obtained by POLITICO show how the Trump administration isn’t even fully enforcing tough Myanmar-related U.S. laws already on the books.

According to material, the administration, invoking questionable grounds of “national interest,” has been permitting the children of some past and present Myanmar military leaders to travel to the U.S. — despite a years-old law prohibiting such immediate relatives from obtaining Continue reading “U.S. not fully enforcing Myanmar sanctions, documents show”

Trump’s refugee crackdown plans put Pompeo on the spot

A Trump administration debate over whether to clamp down on refugee admissions into the U.S. is forcing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to make a tough political choice between pleasing his employees — or his boss.

President Donald Trump’s top diplomat could side with Trump and other anti-immigration hardliners and agree to proposals that slash the number of refugees the United States admits and gut the State Department bureau that deals with them. But in doing so, he could alienate many State Department employees who strongly oppose those moves, while disappointing foreign governments unhappy that the U.S. is not doing more to deal with a global migration crisis.

Pompeo’s record as a Republican congressman suggests that he will support lowering the annual cap on refugee entries to 25,000 or less, as well as a separate proposal to downgrade his department’s refugee bureau. But advocates for more liberal refugee Continue reading “Trump’s refugee crackdown plans put Pompeo on the spot”

Trump officials split over punishing Myanmar for atrocities

Nearly a year after Myanmar’s military launched a bloody crackdown on minority Rohingya Muslims, Trump administration policy toward the nation is paralyzed by an internal battle over how to punish those responsible for what some observers call a genocide.

The fight, pitting the State Department against the Treasury Department, has dismayed lawmakers and activists who fear U.S. inaction will further erode America’s reputation as a human rights champion and embolden Myanmar’s military to mount new attacks on ethnic minorities.

The internal strife also comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo mulls whether to release the results of a U.S. investigation into what happened to the Rohingya. Myanmar soldiers are accused of killing, raping and even burning alive Rohingya civilians, forcing some 700,000 to flee to nearby Bangladesh, where they are stuck in squalid refugee camps. The campaign is generally considered to have begun in August 2017.

"Here we Continue reading “Trump officials split over punishing Myanmar for atrocities”

Pompeo: Trump has ‘proper understanding’ of Russian meddling

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo assured lawmakers that the U.S. will keep pressuring Russia to avoid interfering in American elections — one of several steps President Donald Trump’s team took Wednesday to show they are taking seriously the bipartisan criticism of the president’s apparent attempts to cozy up to the Kremlin.

Pompeo was testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, shortly after he released a statement calling on Russia to leave Crimea, the region Moscow annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Also Wednesday, national security adviser John Bolton announced that Trump’s plans to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin have been pushed back till at least next year. White House officials also said Trump will chair a National Security Council meeting this week focused on election interference, which likely will tackle Russia’s role in 2016 and this year’s election.

Trump drew widespread condemnation for failing to say in a press conference Continue reading “Pompeo: Trump has ‘proper understanding’ of Russian meddling”

Will Trump pull a North Korea on Iran?

President Donald Trump’s heated exchange of threats with Iran’s leaders this week is raising questions about whether the world has seen this show before — and whether it will end the same way.

Is it possible, as he did with North Korea, that Trump will ramp up sanctions and rhetorical pressure on Tehran, only to eventually back off, reach a deal of little substance with the country’s leaders and declare, implausibly, that he solved a decades-old problem?

While it’s still too early to judge the outcome of Trump’s historic summit with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, analysts say there are signs that Trump’s approach to Iran could echo his approach to the North. After all, Trump has already sought to meet with Iranian officials, and his advisers won’t rule out future engagement. He’s eager to strike deals on the world stage. And Iran holds important leverage in places Continue reading “Will Trump pull a North Korea on Iran?”

Pompeo snubs former GOP colleagues on Russia hearing

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo declined a House panel’s request to explain President Donald Trump’s interactions with Russian and European leaders, snubbing his former colleagues who are deeply concerned with the president’s foreign policy shifts.

Pompeo, a former House GOP lawmaker, turned down an invitation to testify before the House Foreign Affairs Committee by citing a scheduling conflict, according to three sources familiar with the matter.

Pompeo, however, will appear before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, angering House Republicans who also want answers.

“The Foreign Affairs Committee needs to hear from Secretary Pompeo soon on timely and critical issues, including Russia, NATO and North Korea,” said Cory Fritz, the panel’s deputy staff director.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said that Pompeo “is in California on official business” on July 24, the day the House sought to schedule the hearing. The chamber leaves for a five-week August recess on Continue reading “Pompeo snubs former GOP colleagues on Russia hearing”

Pompeo urged to not cut State Department refugee office

Several former U.S. diplomats and national security officials are urging Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to keep the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, amid fears he could cut the office, according to a letter viewed by POLITICO.

The letter, which was sent Monday to Pompeo and several leaders of Congress, is signed by 43 former government official and humanitarian organization heads.

One former U.S. official who signed the letter — but asked not to be identified by name — said Pompeo was moving toward a decision soon about the bureau’s future, revisiting an apparent decision made by former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to keep the bureau.

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

"We’re very concerned that one of the options will be the elimination of the bureau and we’re very concerned for two reasons: The symbolic message that Continue reading “Pompeo urged to not cut State Department refugee office”

Foreign Service officers fear Trump may erode diplomatic immunity

The White House’s suggestion that it may allow Russia to interrogate a former U.S. ambassador, among other Americans, has infuriated U.S. officials who fear such a move would badly undermine core legal protections offered to foreign service officers overseas.

Although the Trump administration tried to backtrack on the issue Thursday, the anger exposed the ongoing tensions between the White House and U.S. diplomats. It also left some asking whether President Donald Trump and his top aides understood a basic pillar of international diplomacy.

"I can’t imagine who would accept an ambassadorial nomination in light of this betrayal," Dana Shell Smith, a former U.S. ambassador to Qatar, said ahead of the administration’s apparent reversal.

The concept at stake is "diplomatic immunity" — a long agreed-upon international rule that gives diplomats of any country protection from being legally prosecuted by the countries where they are serving in embassies Continue reading “Foreign Service officers fear Trump may erode diplomatic immunity”

Trump has a tough sell recruiting Iranian-Americans in campaign against Tehran

As President Donald Trump looks for ways to pressure the Islamist government in Tehran, he is seeking the support of Iranian-Americans in the U.S. — even though his administration has barred their Iranian relatives from visiting, imposed a sanctions on their ancestral homeland and is suspected of sidelining an Iranian-American official partly due to her heritage.

Prominent members of the Iranian-American community have been invited to a gathering on Sunday with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Simi Valley, California, where he will deliver a speech, titled “Supporting Iranian Voices,” and engage in a Q&A, according to the State Department.

The unusual outreach to Iranian-Americans is a facet of a ramped-up public diplomacy campaign the Trump team is pursuing as part of a broader, if still fuzzy, strategy on Iran, a country that the White House maintains is a major threat to America and its Middle East allies.

Already, Continue reading “Trump has a tough sell recruiting Iranian-Americans in campaign against Tehran”

Intelligence chief Coats defends finding that Russia meddled in the election

The U.S. director of national intelligence is defending American spies’ assessment that Russia interfered in the 2016 election — a push back against President Donald Trump, who appeared to indicate Monday that he believes Russian leader Vladimir Putin’s denials on the matter.

In a statement issued not long after Trump held an extraordinary news conference with Putin in Helsinki, Dan Coats said the U.S. intelligence community has "been clear" about its findings.

"The role of the Intelligence Community is to provide the best information and fact-based assessments possible for the president and policymakers," said Coats, who took over as U.S. director of national intelligence in March 2017. "We have been clear in our assessments of Russian meddling in the 2016 election and their ongoing, pervasive efforts to undermine our democracy, and we will continue to provide unvarnished and objective intelligence in support of our national security."

Continue reading “Intelligence chief Coats defends finding that Russia meddled in the election”

Trump aides face calls to resign after president’s appearance with Putin

Top aides to President Donald Trump faced calls from critics to resign after the U.S. leader publicly sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin and against the U.S. intelligence community over charges that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Defense Secretary James Mattis, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and national security adviser John Bolton were among the officials who political commentators and lawmakers said should quit their posts over the president’s seeming submission to Putin during a joint news conference Monday.

Even some on the right jumped into the fray, largely via social media, to suggest that Cabinet officials or other top members of Trump’s team should look for the exits.

"After today the principals who think they’re indispensable should draw straws and one should go," Ross Douthat, a prominent conservative columnist with The New York Times, wrote on Twitter.

There was no Continue reading “Trump aides face calls to resign after president’s appearance with Putin”

Another top NSC official ousted under Bolton

A top National Security Council official who skirmished with White House aide Stephen Miller and other immigration hardliners was forced out this week, the latest staffing change at the NSC since President Donald Trump named John Bolton his national security adviser in March.

Jennifer Arangio, a senior director in the NSC division that deals with international organizations, was let go Thursday, according to a former White House official and a former NSC staffer. The former NSC staffer said Arangio was escorted off the premises and told her services were no longer needed.

Arangio’s exit comes days after two senior officials left the NSC’s Middle East section. One, Joel Rayburn, is expected to join the State Department in a top position dealing with Middle East issues, another former NSC official said. It’s not clear where the other, Michael Bell, will land.

Asked about the departures, an NSC spokesman said only: "We Continue reading “Another top NSC official ousted under Bolton”

Giuliani, Gingrich to address controversial Iranian group

Two close confidants of President Donald Trump are scheduled to speak Saturday before a controversial Iranian opposition group previously designated as a terrorist outfit, raising fresh questions about the group’s Washington influence as Trump pursues a pressure campaign against Tehran.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and informal adviser Newt Gingrich are listed as headliners for Saturday’s “Free Iran” conference in Paris, organized by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and its affiliates. For 15 years, the U.S. designated the MEK a terrorist group, while analysts describe it as a cult – both allegations the group rejects.

The MEK holds frequent conferences, but this weekend’s gathering comes at a heady moment for the group. Several of the politicians it has cultivated in recent years, with the help of handsome speaking fees, are now key figures in Trump’s orbit — including not only Giuliani and Gingrich but National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Trump has also Continue reading “Giuliani, Gingrich to address controversial Iranian group”

Giuliani, Gingrich to address controversial Iranian group

Two close confidants of President Donald Trump are scheduled to speak Saturday before a controversial Iranian opposition group previously designated as a terrorist outfit, raising fresh questions about the group’s Washington influence as Trump pursues a pressure campaign against Tehran.

Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani and informal adviser Newt Gingrich are listed as headliners for Saturday’s “Free Iran” conference in Paris, organized by the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq and its affiliates. For 15 years, the U.S. designated the MEK a terrorist group, while analysts describe it as a cult – both allegations the group rejects.

The MEK holds frequent conferences, but this weekend’s gathering comes at a heady moment for the group. Several of the politicians it has cultivated in recent years, with the help of handsome speaking fees, are now key figures in Trump’s orbit — including not only Giuliani and Gingrich but National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Trump has also Continue reading “Giuliani, Gingrich to address controversial Iranian group”

Trump to warn Putin against midterm interference, Pompeo says

President Donald Trump is sure to warn President Vladimir Putin of Russia that it is “completely unacceptable” to interfere in U.S. elections if the two men meet in the coming weeks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday.

Pompeo’s comments came as Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, met with Russian officials in Moscow to work out a plan for a summit between the two leaders. They also followed warnings by experts that Russia would try to interfere, through disinformation campaigns and other means, in the November midterm elections.

“I’m confident that when the president meets with Vladimir Putin he will make clear that meddling in our elections is completely unacceptable,” Pompeo said during a Senate subcommittee hearing that covered a range of foreign policy challenges.

U.S. intelligence agencies believe that Russia interfered in the 2016 election in a bid to help Trump capture the White House. Continue reading “Trump to warn Putin against midterm interference, Pompeo says”

Pompeo gives U.S. diplomats ‘dose of reality’ after early high hopes

When Mike Pompeo took over as secretary of state in April, U.S. diplomats viewed him as a liberator rescuing them from the irrelevance they felt under his predecessor, Rex Tillerson.

Nearly two months later, some are having second thoughts.

Many State employees feel hoodwinked by Pompeo’s claim that he lifted a departmental hiring freeze. Staffers are alarmed about reports that a political appointee is vetting career staffers for loyalty to President Donald Trump. And many fear that Pompeo won’t be able to fill vacant leadership slots quickly enough, or with the right people.

Pompeo’s foot soldiers haven’t given up on him – not yet. Current and former State Department officials say he’s an improvement over Tillerson. They admit, however, that that’s a low bar.

“People are still hopeful about Pompeo. But they’re getting a dose of reality,” said Ronald Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

The former Continue reading “Pompeo gives U.S. diplomats ‘dose of reality’ after early high hopes”

U.S. expected to withdraw from U.N. human rights council

The United States is expected to announce Tuesday that it will withdraw from the U.N. Human Rights Council, an entity it has long accused of being biased against Israel and giving a platform to rights-abusing governments, according to rights advocates with contacts in the Trump administration.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley are scheduled to publicly discuss the decision at 5 p.m. The announcement would come a day after the U.N.’s human rights chief, in a speech to the council, criticized President Donald Trump’s immigration policy decisions that have led his administration to separate families apprehended after entering the U.S. illegally.

It’s not clear whether the U.S. will quit the council in a way that means it will not cooperate with it in any form or whether it will continue to at least observe its Continue reading “U.S. expected to withdraw from U.N. human rights council”