Syria Responds to Tillerson’s US Military Engagement Pledge

Syria’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday the U.S. military’s presence in Syria is an act of aggression and a violation of sovereignty.

The comments came after U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson outlined plans in a speech Wednesday for the United States to remain engaged diplomatically and militarily in Syria long after the defeat of the radical Islamic State group.

The United States has led a coalition carrying out airstrikes against Islamic State targets in Syria and Iraq since 2014, and the Pentagon said last month there are about 2,000 U.S. troops in Syria.

Tillerson discussed the way forward for the United States in Syria at an event at the conservative leaning Hoover Institution at Stanford University. He listed a number of reasons why it is crucial for the U.S. to remain in the troubled country, including preventing a resurgence of the Islamic State and al-Qaida terrorist groups.

“ISIS has one foot in the grave, and by maintaining an American military presence in Syria until the full and complete defeat of ISIS is achieved, it will soon have two,” Tillerson said, using an acronym for the militant group.

“We cannot allow history to repeat itself in Syria,” he said, referring to what he described as mistakes made by the Obama administration in withdrawing U.S. troops prematurely from Iraq and failing to stabilize Libya after NATO airstrikes that led to the ousting of the late President Moammar Gadhafi.

Reasons to remain engaged

Tillerson said there are also other reasons for the United States to remain engaged in Syria.

“A total withdrawal of American personnel at this time would help [Syrian President Bashar al-] Assad. A stable, unified and independent Syria ultimately requires post-Assad leadership in order to be successful. Continued U.S. presence to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS will also help pave the way for legitimate local civil authorities to exercise responsible governance of their own liberated areas.” 

Tillerson told former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who asked him questions at the event, that the lives of Syrian civilians are still at stake.

“The priority right now in Syria is to stop people being killed,” he said, adding they are still being killed by the thousands. He called President Assad a brutal murderer of his own people who can never provide long-term stability.

Tillerson said the main goals of U.S. stabilization efforts in Syria are to create the conditions for Syrian refugees to return to the country, to curb Iranian influence in the region and to pave the way for U.N.-supervised elections aimed at securing new leadership in Damascus.

The Wilson Center’s Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert and a former adviser to a number of secretaries of state, told VOA he sees a number of similarities between the policy outlined by Tillerson and Obama administration policy on Syria.

“Here’s how they’re same: other-worldly goals without the will or capacity to achieve them … [an insistence on] no nation-building,” Miller said.

He said the Trump administration’s policy differs from the previous administration in that Tillerson is advocating staying in Syria for a very long time.

UN-backed Geneva process

Tillerson’s plan relies on the U.N.-backed Geneva process aimed at brokering a political solution to the civil war in Syria. United Nations special envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura announced Wednesday that the U.N. would host the Syrian government and opposition for peace talks in Vienna on January 25 and 26.

De Mistura’s office said in a statement the meeting will focus largely on constitutional issues.

“The special envoy looks forward to the participation of both delegations in this special meeting. He expects that delegations will be coming to Vienna prepared for substantive engagement with him and his team with a specific focus on the constitutional basket of the agenda towards the full implementation of Security Council resolution 2254,” the statement read, referring to a 2015 resolution demanding an end to attacks against civilian targets.

The scheduled talks will occur days before a slated peace congress in Russia aimed at finding a settlement to the civil war that began in March 2011.

VOA’s Esha Sarai contributed to this report.

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Trump Considering ‘Big Fine’ Against China in Trade Dispute

President Donald Trump said Wednesday the United States was considering a big “fine” as part of a probe into China’s alleged theft of intellectual property, the clearest indication yet that his administration will take retaliatory trade action against China.

In an interview with Reuters, Trump and his economic adviser Gary Cohn said China had forced U.S. companies to transfer their intellectual property to China as a cost of doing business there.

The United States has started a trade investigation into the issue, and Cohn said the United States Trade Representative would be making recommendations about it soon.

“We have a very big intellectual property potential fine going, which is going to come out soon,” Trump said in the interview.

While Trump did not specify what he meant by a “fine” against China, the 1974 trade law that authorized an investigation into China’s alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property allows him to impose retaliatory tariffs on Chinese goods or other trade sanctions until China changes its policies.

Trump said the damages could be high, without elaborating on how the numbers were reached or how the costs would be imposed.

“We’re talking about big damages. We’re talking about numbers that you haven’t even thought about,” Trump said.

U.S. businesses say they lose hundreds of billions of dollars in technology and millions of jobs to Chinese firms, which have stolen ideas and software or forced them to turn over intellectual property as part of the price of doing business in China.

The president said he wanted the United States to have a good relationship with China, but Beijing needed to treat the United States fairly.

Trump said he would be announcing some kind of action against China over trade and said he would discuss the issue during his State of the Union address to the U.S. Congress on Jan. 30.

Asked about the potential for a trade war depending on U.S. action over steel, aluminum and solar panels, Trump said he hoped a trade war would not ensue.

“I don’t think so, I hope not. But if there is, there is,” he said.

China cites ‘market behavior’

In Beijing, foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said there were no laws in China to force foreign investors to transfer technology, but acknowledged such things may happen as part of “market behavior” between companies working with each other.

“There is absolutely no government meddling in these actions,” Lu told a daily news briefing on Thursday. “At the same time, I want to stress that China will resolutely protect its legitimate rights,” he added, without elaborating.

Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said the penalties under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, which authorized the investigation into China’s intellectual property practices, would probably include a package of both tariffs and restrictions on Chinese investment in the United States.

“I suspect the U.S. measures will involve restrictions in areas where we don’t have WTO (World Trade Organization) obligations,” Schott said. “Trump likes to talk about tariffs so that may be part of the package too. The Chinese would have the legal right to retaliate against tariff increases.”

Trump’s threats

Throughout his 2016 election campaign, Trump routinely threatened to impose a 45 percent across-the-board tariff on Chinese goods as a way to level the playing field for American workers. At the time, he was also accusing China of manipulating its currency to gain an export advantage, a claim that his administration has since dropped.

Trump said Wednesday that China stopped meeting the criteria for currency manipulation after his election, and he said making that designation while trying to work with Beijing to rein in North Korea would be tricky.

“How do you say, ‘Hey, by the way, help me with North Korea and I’m going to call you a currency manipulator?’ It really doesn’t work,” Trump said.

The president also said he and Chinese President Xi Jinping had not discussed China’s plans with regard to purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds.

Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Chinese officials reviewing the country’s foreign exchange holdings had recommended slowing or halting purchases of U.S. Treasury bonds.

Trump said he was not concerned such a move would hurt the U.S. economy.

“We never talked about it. They have to do what they do,” he said.

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Trump Says Russia Helping N.Korea Skirt Sanctions; Pyongyang Getting Close On Missile

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday Russia is helping North Korea get supplies in violation of international sanctions and that Pyongyang is getting “closer every day” to being able to deliver a long-range missile to the United States.

“Russia is not helping us at all with North Korea,” Trump said during an Oval Office interview with Reuters. “What China is helping us with, Russia is denting. In other words, Russia is making up for some of what China is doing.”

With North Korea persisting as the major global challenge facing Trump this year, the president cast doubt during the 53-minute interview on whether talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un would be useful. In the past he has not ruled out direct talks with Kim.

He declined to comment when asked whether he had engaged in any communications at all with Kim, with whom he has exchanged insults and threats, heightening tensions in the region.

“I’d sit down, but I’m not sure that sitting down will solve the problem,” he said, noting that past negotiations with the North Koreans by his predecessors had failed to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

“I’m not sure that talks will lead to anything meaningful. They’ve talked for 25 years and they’ve taken advantage of our presidents, of our previous presidents,” he said.

Trump praised China for its efforts to restrict oil and coal supplies to North Korea but said Beijing could do much more to help constrain Pyongyang.

But he said Russia appears to be filling in the gaps left by the Chinese.

Western European security sources told Reuters in late December that Russian tankers had supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea in violation of international sanctions. Russia has denied breaching North Korea sanctions.

North Korea relies on imported fuel to keep its struggling economy functioning. It also requires oil for its intercontinental ballistic missile and nuclear program.

Trump has repeatedly blamed a U.S. investigation into whether Russia meddled in the 2016 presidential election for hindering an improvement in U.S.-Russian relations.

“He can do a lot,” Trump said of Russian President Vladimir Putin. “But unfortunately we don’t have much of a relationship with Russia, and in some cases it’s probable that what China takes back, Russia gives. So the net result is not as good as it could be.”

Trump, who has grappled with nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by North Korea since he took office a year ago, said Pyongyang is steadily advancing in being able to deliver a missile to the United States.

“They’re not there yet, but they’re close. And they get closer every day,” said Trump.

North Korea said after its last intercontinental ballistic missile launch in November that the test had put the U.S. mainland within range. Some experts agreed that based on the missile’s trajectory and distance it had the capability to fly as far as Washington D.C.

They said, however, that North Korea had not yet offered any proof that it had mastered all technical hurdles, including development of a re-entry vehicle needed to deliver a heavy nuclear warhead reliably atop an ICBM, but it was likely that it soon would. Pyongyang could reach that milestone by the end of the year, some intelligence officials said.

Trump said he welcomed talks between North and South Korea over the Winter Olympics to be held in the South next month and said this could be an initial phase in helping defuse the crisis.

He would not say whether the United States has been considering a limited, pre-emptive attack to show the North that the United States means business.

“We’re playing a very, very hard game of poker and you don’t want to reveal your hand,” he said.

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AP Sources: White House Directed Bannon Silence in House Interview

Steve Bannon’s attorney relayed questions, in real time, to the White House during a House Intelligence Committee interview of the former Trump chief strategist, people familiar with the closed-door session told The Associated Press.


As lawmakers probed Bannon’s time working for President Donald Trump, Bannon’s attorney Bill Burck was asking the White House counsel’s office by phone during the Tuesday session whether his client could answer the questions. He was told by that office not to discuss his work on the transition or in the White House.


It’s unclear who Burck was communicating with in the White House. He is also representing top White House lawyer Don McGahn in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.


Tuesday’s conversations were confirmed by a White House official and a second person familiar with Bannon’s interview. They spoke only on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.


On Wednesday, the AP also confirmed that Bannon will meet with Mueller’s investigators for an interview instead of appearing before a grand jury. A person familiar with that issue confirmed the interview and said Bannon is expected to cooperate with Mueller. The person was not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations.


It’s unclear when the interview might occur.


Burck didn’t respond to numerous phone messages left Tuesday and Wednesday. A spokeswoman for Bannon did not respond to multiple requests for comment.


Bannon refused to answer a broad array of queries from the House Intelligence Committee about his time working for Trump, leading the Republican committee chairman to authorize a subpoena.


Lawmakers were expecting a similar fight Wednesday with Trump’s White House as another senior aide, Rick Dearborn, was to appear for a private interview with the committee.


The developments brought to the forefront questions about White House efforts to control what current and former aides tell Congress about their time in Trump’s inner circle, and whether Republicans on Capitol Hill would force the issue.


It is unlikely the committee will face the same White House objections with Trump’s former campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, who is also being interviewed Wednesday. He never served in the White House.

The interviews with Lewandowski and Dearborn were confirmed by two people familiar with the committee’s work who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity to discuss the confidential interviews.


The congressional subpoena for Bannon came after the former far-right media executive and recently scorned Trump adviser received a grand jury subpoena issued by Mueller. That subpoena, first reported by The New York Times, appeared to be a negotiating tactic that then prompted Bannon to agree to a sit-down with Mueller’s prosecutors rather than appearing before the grand jury.


Bannon confirmed that he had received the subpoena from Mueller during his House Intelligence Committee interview, according to a person who spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the person wasn’t authorized to publicly discuss Bannon’s interactions with Mueller.


Lawmakers questioned Bannon as part of their investigation into Russian election inference and sought answers about Trump’s thinking when he fired FBI Director James Comey.


But Bannon refused to answer questions about that crucial period, and as a result, the chairman, Rep. Devin Nunes, R-California, issued the subpoena, spokesman Jack Langer said.


A White House official said the White House counsel’s office had a conversation last week with committee counsel about Bannon’s testimony and was told the questions were expected to be about the campaign. The official said the White House offered to send an attorney to attend the interview and was told the move wasn’t necessary.


But when the lawmaker’s questions moved to Bannon’s time in the White House, Bannon’s lawyer got on the phone with the counsel’s office.

Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the committee’s top Democrat, said Bannon’s refusal to answer questions from the panel “can’t stand” and went far beyond other witnesses who have declined to answer specific questions. He said the committee expects to have Bannon return for more questioning.


“This was effectively a gag order by the White House preventing this witness from answering almost any question concerning his time in the administration and many questions even after he left the administration,” Schiff said.

Trump press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “As with all congressional inquiries touching upon the White House, Congress must consult with the White House prior to obtaining confidential material. This is part of a judicially recognized process that goes back decades.”

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Apple to Build 2nd Campus, Hire 20,000 in $350B Pledge

Apple is planning to build another corporate campus and hire 20,000 workers during the next five years as part of a $350 billion commitment to the U.S. economy.

The pledge announced Wednesday is an offshoot from the sweeping overhaul of the U.S. tax code championed by President Donald Trump and approved by Congress last month.


Besides dramatically lowering the standard corporate tax rate, the reforms offer a one-time break on cash being held overseas.


Apple plans to take advantage of that provision to bring back more than $250 billion in offshore cash, generating a tax bill of roughly $38 billion.


The Cupertino, California, company says it will announce the location of a second campus devoted to customer support later this year.



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US Ups Pressure on African Nations to Cut N.Korea Ties, Trade

As relations get hotter between the United States and North Korea, U.S. officials say they are trying to cut off Pyongyang’s income sources any way they can, especially on the African continent.

The U.S. argues that every penny, won, rand and franc that flows into North Korea from African countries is used to further North Korea’s internationally condemned nuclear weapons program.

‘Everything is important’

Africa-North Korea trade, which often takes the form of petroleum deals, infrastructure projects and military assistance, is but a small part of North Korea’s income.  The nation does not publish economic data, but the respected, Seoul-based Bank of Korea issues annual estimates.

In 2017, that bank estimated that North Korea exports were worth about $2.82 billion.  China and Russia are far larger trading partners than any African nation, though experts say North Korea’s international dealings are poorly documented, as much of it is illegal.

Sandra Oudkirk, U.S. acting deputy assistant secretary for the Economic Bureau, says every penny counts.

“In some cases, people, whether they’re government officials or outside analysts, will look at the numbers and say, ‘Hey, that’s a really small number,” she told journalists this week.  “But the fact of the matter is that North Korea is qualitatively and quantitatively different from any other threat the United States faces.  There is no trade flow, there is no revenue flow, that is too small or so small that it is insignificant.  Everything is important.”

The United Nations has investigated at least seven African countries for ignoring international sanctions by trading with North Korea.  Pyongyang has eight embassies in Sub-Saharan Africa and has trade links to at least 11 African countries.

Mark Lambert, U.S. deputy special representative for North Korean policy, says the United States has a clear message to African countries, and to North Korea, if they both cooperate.

“In Africa, we want to partner with you,” he said.  “We want to work with you to send two clear messages to North Korea.  First, the international community is united and has spoken that it will never, ever, ever accept North Korea as a nuclear power.  And we will exert more pressure on North Korea until it returns to the table.  But secondly, we want to make clear to the people of North Korea and the leaders of North Korea that there is a better future, that if North Korea in fact returns to negotiations, we can work with North Korea to help it develop its economy and better its people.”

Give up good deals in exchange for … disparaging words?

Researcher Zachary Donnenfeld, who studies North Korea-Africa relations at the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, says many African nations maintain ties with North Korea because it supported them in their post-independence struggles and that because of its trade restrictions, North Korea offers good trade deals.

He also says the United States may face diplomatic difficulties in the wake of controversial, crude comments allegedly made last week by President Donald Trump about Haiti and African countries.

“To me, one of the ironic stories of the Trump foreign policy is that at the very moment he needs the international community, he seems to be actively alienating them,” Donnenfeld told VOA from Pretoria.  “If the Trump administration is going to be successful in its efforts to ramp up sanctions, it will need the support of African governments.  And in light of recent events and comments, it’s unclear to me whether or not African governments will be exceedingly willing to give up cheap natural resources and weapons for a country that is disparaging them.”

Challenge from the South  

Chatham House analyst Daragh Neville studies diplomatic relations between Africa and the rest of the world.  He notes that pressure on African countries to drop North Korea is also coming from elsewhere, including South Korea.

“The South, in the past — I think since maybe 2002, 2004 — they have started to really re-engage with Africa,” he told VOA.  “They’ve held a number of continental forums, the Korea-Africa forum, the Korea-Africa economic forum, a number of these forums.  They’ve begun to open more and more embassies in Africa, and they launched last year a new aid program for Africa.”

VOA called the North Korean embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, seeking comment.  They did not answer our calls.

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Суд у справі Єфремова допитав депутата про сесію Луганської облради у 2014 році – ГПУ

Старобільський районний суд Луганської області, який розглядає справу колишнього народного депутата від Партії регіонів Олександра Єфремова, 17 січня допитав депутата Луганської обласної ради, повідомила прес-служба Генеральної прокуратури України.

Депутат, імені якого не уточнюють, є свідком сторони обвинувачення.

«Серед іншого свідок повідомив про обставини проведення сесії Луганської обласної ради у 2014 році, на якій депутати визнали нелегітимними центральні органи виконавчої влади, сформовані Верховною Радою України, і проголосували за те, що у випадку невиконання їхніх вимог, подальшої ескалації громадського протистояння і виникнення прямої загрози життю й здоров’ю населенню Луганської області, депутати залишають за собою право звернутися по допомогу до «братського народу Російської Федерації», – розповіли в ГПУ.

Початок наступного засідання суду призначений на 10:00 18 січня, під час нього планують допитати інших свідків сторони обвинувачення.

Єфремова затримали 30 липня 2016 року в аеропорту «Бориспіль», звідки він, за даними ГПУ, намагався вилетіти до Відня. 13 січня 2017 року Єфремова із Києва конвоювали до Старобільська, де він і нині перебуває під арештом.

Генеральна прокуратура України 4 січня 2017 року направила до суду обвинувальний акт стосовно Єфремова. Його обвинувачують в організації захоплення будівлі Луганської ОДА; у пособництві в захопленні Управління СБУ в Луганській області; у вчиненні умисних дій з метою зміни меж території та державного кордону України; в організаційному сприянні створенню й діяльності угруповання «ЛНР»; державній зраді.

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Апеляційний суд переніс розгляд у справі Россошанського на 18 січня

Апеляційний суд Київщини переніс на 16:30 18 січня засідання щодо оскарження запобіжного заходу підозрюваному у вбивстві юристки Ірини Ноздровської Юрієві Россошанському. Таке рішення колегія суддів ухвалила через неможливість вийти з ним на відеозв’язок.

За словами сторони обвинувачення у справі, Россошанського перевели до ізолятора тимчасового тримання для проведення слідчих дій. Водночас адвокати підозрюваного, як і адвокати потерпілої сторони, заявили, що їх про це не повідомили, а без присутності адвоката слідчі дії проводити не можуть, оскільки ті не матимуть юридичної сили в суді.

Тіло юристки Ірини Ноздровської у селі Демидів на Київщині знайшли 1 січня. 8 січня правоохоронці повідомили про затримання підозрюваного у вбивстві жінки – Юрія Россошанського, батька Дмитра Россошанського, якого в травні 2017 року засудили до семи років позбавлення волі за скоєння ДТП, у якому загинула сестра Ноздровської.

Як повідомили у поліції, на тілі юристки знайшли ДНК Россошанського-старшого. У МВС додали, що свідчення затриманого перевіряються: «аналізуються слідчі дії, результати допитів, подвірних обходів – для того, щоб підтвердити хронологію подій».

9 січня Вишгородський районний суд Київської області арештував Юрія Россошанського без можливості внесення застави до 8 березня включно.

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