‘That grip and grin will come back to haunt him’: Pompeo takes heat for friendly Saudi sit-down

Just this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo published an essay arguing that one major reason President Donald Trump’s foreign policy vision will succeed is its “moral clarity.”

But then there he was: The same Mike Pompeo, in the same week, smiling and chatting amiably with Saudi leaders suspected of orchestrating the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Pompeo expressed confidence that the Saudis will conduct a legitimate probe into the case and hold wrongdoers accountable — a stance many in Washington found hard to believe.

Pompeo’s performance can be chalked up to any number of factors, including the inevitable trade-offs most U.S. administrations find they must make in dealing with unsavory allies who happen to be key to American interests. But it was also an example of Pompeo — a former Army tank commander who loves tough talk — toeing the Trump line, even if it risks tarnishing Continue reading “‘That grip and grin will come back to haunt him’: Pompeo takes heat for friendly Saudi sit-down”

Trump’s ‘rogue killers’ comment is latest echo of suspect foreign talking points

On a day when foreign policy experts worldwide were almost uniformly accusing Saudi Arabia’s government of murdering a prominent dissident, President Donald Trump spoke to the Saudi king and then offered an alternative theory: “Rogue killers” may be to blame.

Trump’s suggestion drew widespread scorn and ridicule, including charges that he could be complicit in a Saudi cover-up. Hours later, CNN reported that the Saudi government was prepared to admit that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in a botched interrogation that was carried out without high-level approval.

The details of Trump’s Monday phone call with Saudi King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud are not known, and it is unclear whether the Arab monarch actually floated the “rogue killers” line in his conversation with the president.

Regardless, Trump appeared to be endorsing an emerging Saudi line on the killing about which many experts are dubious. But it was hardly the first Continue reading “Trump’s ‘rogue killers’ comment is latest echo of suspect foreign talking points”

‘Sweep it under the rug’: Fears grow Trump won’t confront Saudis over journalist’s disappearance

President Donald Trump’s desire to maintain strong ties to Saudi Arabia is facing its biggest test yet: allegations that Riyadh ordered the killing of a dissident Saudi journalist who had been living in the United States.

Calls are mounting for the Trump administration to find out what happened to Jamal Khashoggi. Republicans and Democrats in Congress have taken steps to force a government investigation. Khashoggi’s fiancé has pleaded for Trump to “help shed light on Jamal’s disappearance.” The fury has grown after a Washington Post report that U.S. intelligence knew of Saudi plans to abduct Khashoggi, raising questions about whether the administration failed to warn the journalist.

The White House insists it’s taking the case seriously, with Trump vowing Wednesday to “get to the bottom of it.” But former officials and analysts, including some friendly with Khashoggi, are dismayed by what they say is a milquetoast response Continue reading “‘Sweep it under the rug’: Fears grow Trump won’t confront Saudis over journalist’s disappearance”

Some see Christian First bias in Trump foreign policy

Evangelical Christians came out aggressively for Donald Trump in 2016. As president, Trump has returned the favor, delivering for the Christian right — not just at home, but also overseas.

Trump defied international opinion and recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. The White House rattled relations with NATO ally Turkey by imposing sanctions over its detention of an American pastor. Trump’s initial travel ban included exemptions for Christians. Senior administration officials have eagerly taken up a cause that happens to be a favorite of the Christian right: global religious freedom. And the State Department was quick to call the Islamic State’s persecution of Christians a “genocide.”

But for human rights activists, Democrats and even some Republican staffers in Congress, these and other policies appear to have come at the expense of other religious groups — especially Muslims.

Moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem upset many Muslim leaders in the Continue reading “Some see Christian First bias in Trump foreign policy”

Pompeo, Kim Jong Un set Sunday meeting in North Korea

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is scheduled to meet Sunday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Pyongyang, part of his efforts to reinvigorate nuclear talks between the two countries.

While there, Pompeo is also expected to help plan for a second summit between Kim and President Donald Trump.

The chief U.S. diplomat will visit North Korea during a broader swing through Asia lasting Saturday through Monday, the State Department announced Tuesday. He will also visit Japan, South Korea and China.

It will be Pompeo’s fourth visit to largely isolated North Korea, whose nuclear weapons arsenal is considered a major threat to the United States. The two sides have been slowly trying to flesh out Kim’s vague commitment to denuclearization, made when he met with Trump in June.

The last time Pompeo visited Pyongyang, in July, Kim stood him up; North Korea also issued a sharply critical statement Continue reading “Pompeo, Kim Jong Un set Sunday meeting in North Korea”

U.S. pulls diplomats from Iraqi city, blaming Iranian-backed violence

The United States is pulling diplomats out of the American consulate in Basra, Iraq, in the wake of violent incidents near the facility that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has blamed on Iran.

In making the move, Pompeo warned Iran that the U.S. will hold the country “directly responsible for any harm to Americans” perpetrated by Tehran’s military or “by associated proxy militias.”

“The United States will respond promptly and appropriately to any such attacks,” he added.

The comments are the latest in a series of stern U.S. warnings against Iran, which the Trump administration says is behind much of the mayhem throughout the Middle East. The State Department has been incensed in recent weeks because of indirect fire near U.S. facilities that it blames on Iran. State has also accused Tehran of provoking others to attack Americans.

The heated rhetoric comes against the backdrop of Continue reading “U.S. pulls diplomats from Iraqi city, blaming Iranian-backed violence”

Lawmakers demand Pompeo take a stand on ‘genocide’ in Myanmar

U.S. lawmakers are demanding that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo take a stand on whether Myanmar’s military committed genocide against Rohingya Muslims, arguing that a new State Department report cataloguing the atrocities against the minority group is not enough.

House and Senate members from both political parties had repeatedly urged Pompeo to release the report. He quietly did so this week, with almost no public notice. But, to the surprise of many observers, the document failed to declare whether Myanmar was liable for genocide or even crimes against humanity, both terms with potential legal ramifications.

Sens. Todd Young (R-Indiana) and Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey) wrote a letter to Pompeo on Tuesday requesting that he provide Congress with a “formal legal determination” about the actions of Myanmar’s military.

The military’s crackdown last year left thousands of Rohingya dead and forced some 700,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where they now Continue reading “Lawmakers demand Pompeo take a stand on ‘genocide’ in Myanmar”

Trump gets foreign policy lashing at U.N. meeting

As President Donald Trump sat stone-faced at the head of the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday, the criticisms of his foreign policy rolled in overtly and obliquely.

France warned that dealing with Iran couldn’t just be about “sanctions and containment,” a clear rebuke of Trump’s decision to pull out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal in favor of an attempt to isolate the country through new economic penalties.

Equatorial Guinea said nations too wedded to “sovereignty” could undermine the welfare of the international community, a likely reference to Trump’s sovereignty-focused speech Wednesday before the entire U.N. body.

And then there was Bolivia, which brought up the U.S. role in Iran’s 1953 coup at the start of fusillade of criticisms that painted an America as too quick to turn to war instead of diplomacy.

“The United States could not care less about human rights or justice," Bolivian President Continue reading “Trump gets foreign policy lashing at U.N. meeting”

Pompeo justifies sending Egypt money in memo detailing human rights abuses

Last month, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote to Congress to explain why he was releasing $195 million in U.S. military aid for Egypt that the Trump administration had earlier withheld over human rights concerns.

But far from assuring lawmakers that Egypt is making progress on human rights, the “memorandum of justification” laying out the decision amounts to a searing indictment of how Egypt’s government treats its citizens — describing extrajudicial killings, unfair trials, censorship and a generally repressive atmosphere.

At one point, the Aug. 21 memo bluntly states: “The overall human rights climate in Egypt continues to deteriorate.”

The document, obtained this week by POLITICO, offers insight into one of two recent cases in which Pompeo has decided that U.S. national security interests should override human rights concerns when it comes to offering military support to foreign allies.

Earlier this month, Pompeo certified to Congress that Continue reading “Pompeo justifies sending Egypt money in memo detailing human rights abuses”

U.S. displaying ‘Nazi disposition’ under Trump, Iranian leader tells U.N.

President Hassan Rouhani of Iran said on Tuesday that the United States under Donald Trump is exhibiting a “Nazi disposition” as it adopts a more unilateral worldview and reimposes a slew of sanctions on the Islamist government in Tehran.

Speaking before world leaders at the United Nations General Assembly, Rouhani didn’t mention Trump by name. But there was little question his remarks were aimed at the Republican U.S. president, who Rouhani also suggested lacked intellect.

Trump and Rouhani have been verbally circling each other since Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal earlier this year. The president has since said he would be willing to meet with Rouhani without preconditions, but the odds of that appeared close to zero after Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, Trump wrote on Twitter that although he had no plans to meet the Iranian leader during this year’s General Assembly, Continue reading “U.S. displaying ‘Nazi disposition’ under Trump, Iranian leader tells U.N.”

Laughter, frowns and shrugs: Trump speaks to the U.N.

President Donald Trump told world leaders on Tuesday that the United States would always put its interests above theirs, adhering to a principle of sovereignty in the face of increasing “globalism.”

The rest of the world responded with laughter, frowns and a collective shrug.

The U.S. president’s second address to the United Nations General Assembly was designed to emphasize Trump’s continued commitment to his “America first” ideals. He urged other countries to pursue their own unique visions, insisting that that would ultimately lead to more a coherent world order.

“We reject the ideology of globalism, and we embrace the doctrine of patriotism around the world,” the Republican president said. “Responsible nations must defend against threats to sovereignty. And not just from global governments, but from other newer forms of coercion and domination.”

The reaction from the crowd was striking in underscoring Trump — and America’s — increasing Continue reading “Laughter, frowns and shrugs: Trump speaks to the U.N.”

U.S. steers clear of ‘genocide’ label in quietly releasing report on Rohingya

The State Department on Monday quietly released the results of its investigation into Myanmar’s military campaign against Rohingya Muslims, detailing a slew of atrocities but stopping short of calling the crackdown either a “genocide” or “crimes against humanity” — two designations that carry legal ramifications.

The department posted its report online, but it did not issue a news release or hold a public rollout of any kind to unveil its findings, although Reuters obtained an exclusive story ahead of time.

It was a strikingly low-key release for a report that lawmakers and activists have been anticipating for months and that had spurred intense debate among various factions in the State Department, and it raised questions about why the Trump administration would downplay its findings.

A United Nations panel has already declared that Myanmar’s military leaders should be tried for crimes against humanity and genocide over their brutality against Rohingya Muslims, Continue reading “U.S. steers clear of ‘genocide’ label in quietly releasing report on Rohingya”

Bolton returns to a U.N. he made a career of blasting

When President Donald Trump arrives at the United Nations’ annual gathering in New York this week, it will be a homecoming for his national security adviser, John Bolton.

But not a particularly happy one.

Bolton served as a U.S. ambassador to the U.N. during the George W. Bush administration, a perch he used to denounce the institution in which he kept an office. Bolton railed at the U.N. as bloated, inefficient and a potential threat to U.S. sovereignty. He infamously suggested that if the 39-story tower on Manhattan’s East River “lost 10 stories, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

It’s little wonder, then, that Bolton’s return to the U.N. is the subject of chatter among U.N. officials and diplomats already converging in New York. Some diplomats are wary about the mustachioed Trump adviser refreshing his U.N. broadsides, while others are looking Continue reading “Bolton returns to a U.N. he made a career of blasting”

Foreign policy bigwigs: Trump risking war with Iran

President Donald Trump is risking a potential war with Iran unless he engages the Islamist-led country using diplomacy, not just pressure tactics, dozens of prominent U.S. foreign policy, intelligence and national security figures argue in a new public statement.

The statement, released by a group calling itself the National Coalition to Prevent an Iranian Nuclear Weapon, comes as Trump prepares to speak at the annual United Nations General Assembly. Iran is expected to be a hot topic during this week’s U.N. gathering of world leaders, many of whom are upset that Trump pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal.

The statement, shared first with POLITICO, is unusual in that it acknowledges the legitimacy of Trump’s criticisms of Iran’s overall behavior, even as it pushes the president to rethink his strategy.

“Applying pressure and unilateral sanctions without viable diplomatic options … could lead to a more Continue reading “Foreign policy bigwigs: Trump risking war with Iran”

Pompeo raises eyebrows with appearance at politically charged event

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is slated to speak later this week to a gathering of American conservative activists, an unusual appearance for the top U.S. diplomat, whose role generally requires avoiding partisan affairs.

Pompeo, a former Republican congressman, is scheduled to appear Friday at the Values Voter Summit, an event affiliated with the deeply conservative Family Research Council. The summit’s speakers include a host of prominent Republicans and others on the political right.

While the schedule indicates that Pompeo will be part of a discussion on international religious liberty — an issue that Congress has mandated the State Department champion — Pompeo is still walking a fine line just by showing up, former and current U.S. officials say. The situation is also potentially fraught given the event is likely to help galvanize Republicans ahead of the upcoming midterm elections.

“It’s sort of a given when you become secretary of Continue reading “Pompeo raises eyebrows with appearance at politically charged event”

State Department email breach exposed employees’ personal information

The State Department recently suffered a breach of its unclassified email system, and the compromise exposed the personal information of a small number of employees, according to a notice sent to the agency’s workforce.

State described the incident as “activity of concern … affecting less than 1% of employee inboxes” in a Sept. 7 alert that was shared with POLITICO and confirmed by two U.S. officials.

“We have determined that certain employees’ personally identifiable information (PII) may have been exposed,” the alert said. “We have notified those employees.”

The classified email system was not affected, according to the alert, which was marked “Sensitive But Unclassified.”

Watchdog reports have consistently dinged State for its insufficient cybersecurity protections, and last week a bipartisan group of senators asked Secretary of State Mike Pompeo how the department was responding. The secretary has yet to respond to the senators’ letter.

Following the Continue reading “State Department email breach exposed employees’ personal information”

Growing Russian and Chinese influence could spark extremism, task force says

Russia’s and China’s expanding economic and military reach could foster extremism in developing nations, and the U.S. must engage the rest of the world in trying to prevent that threat from materializing, a task force spearheaded by the leaders of the 9/11 Commission argues in a new report.

The report, released Tuesday, the 17th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, comes as President Donald Trump has pursued overtures to Russian President Vladimir Putin and other autocrats, tried to slash foreign aid spending and broken with America’s traditional democratic allies to an unusual degree.

The report’s authors — led by former Gov. Tom Kean of New Jersey, a Republican who chaired the 9/11 Commission, and former Rep. Lee Hamilton (D-Ind.), the commission’s vice chairman — don’t criticize Trump and avoid any hints at partisanship. Still, many of their conclusions seem at odds with Trump’s personal approach to foreign Continue reading “Growing Russian and Chinese influence could spark extremism, task force says”

White House to close Palestine Liberation Organization’s D.C. office

The Trump administration announced Monday that the U.S. will shutter the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Washington office, part of a pressure campaign to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table for Middle East peace talks as envisaged by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner.

In a speech to the conservative Federalist Society later in the day, national security adviser John Bolton is expected to discuss the PLO office closure as well as threaten the International Criminal Court with economic sanctions and various other punitive measures if it moves forward with investigations of U.S. military and intelligence workers who served in Afghanistan.

“We have permitted the PLO office to conduct operations that support the objective of achieving a lasting, comprehensive peace between Israelis and the Palestinians since the expiration of a previous waiver in November 2017. However, the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of Continue reading “White House to close Palestine Liberation Organization’s D.C. office”

Congress corners Pompeo on Saudi military actions

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must soon make a key decision that could sharply limit U.S. backing for Saudi Arabia’s controversial war in Yemen, where more than three years of fighting have triggered a humanitarian crisis, claims of war crimes and bipartisan anger in Congress.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers inserted a provision in this year’s congressional defense spending bill requiring Pompeo to certify by Sept. 12 whether Saudi Arabia and its military ally, the United Arab Emirates, are taking meaningful steps to reduce civilian casualties, increase humanitarian aid and find a political solution to the Yemen conflict. If Pompeo doesn’t offer the certification, the law prohibits the U.S. from refueling Saudi aircraft.

The pressure on Pompeo reflects growing anger among American lawmakers over the U.S. military role in Yemen, where thousands of civilians have died and millions more face starvation as a coalition led by Saudi Continue reading “Congress corners Pompeo on Saudi military actions”

Inside Stephen Miller’s hostile takeover of immigration policy

When the White House held a series of meetings last year to discuss how to deal with nations that refuse to take back their citizens whom the U.S. is trying to deport, one voice in the room was louder than all the others: Stephen Miller.

It was odd that Miller, a powerful senior policy adviser to President Donald Trump focused on slashing immigration to America, was even there.

The issue of so-called recalcitrant countries has traditionally been handled by the National Security Council, in part because it overlaps with sensitive foreign relations matters, such as fighting terrorism — and Miller is not a part of the NSC.

But, Miller, who recently turned 33, led several of the meetings. And he would launch the sessions with horror stories about Americans being victimized by noncitizens, such as a 25-year-old Connecticut woman stabbed to death by a Haitian man who should have Continue reading “Inside Stephen Miller’s hostile takeover of immigration policy”