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« Reply #960 on: May 17, 2018, 04:21 AM »

Antarctic Seals Help Scientists Track Melting Ice Sheet


Scientists studying the warming waters and salinity of the Southern Ocean's Amundsen Sea—which surrounds the Thwaites and Pine Island glaciers, two of the largest and fastest-retreating glaciers in Antarctica—are using a novel method collect data.

They temporarily glued sensors onto the fur of Antarctic seals. Really.

Instead of using research vessels, which are unable to traverse through the region's thick sea ice during winter, the researchers tagged seven southern elephant seals and seven Weddell seals with devices that can record the waters' warmth and salinity and send this data back via satellite.

The project is a collaboration between scientists at the University of East Anglia (UEA) and the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews in the UK.

"These tiny sensors, which are temporarily glued to the animals' fur and fall off during molting, will allow us to collect essential oceanographic observations during the winter time, as well as providing a better indication of how vulnerable the seals might be to climate change," Lars Boehme of Sea Mammal Research Unit told The Scotsman.

According to a press release, the seals were able to collect measurements as they moved around the region and dived from the surface of the ocean down through the water to the sea bed during hunts for food.

Over a period of nine months, the team collected data from more than 10,000 dives in over an area of 93,000 square miles.

The project aims to help climate modellers make more accurate predictions about how rapidly the Western Antarctic ice sheet is melting, which could significantly add to global sea level rise. The region contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by an estimated 4 feet.

Notably, the new findings show that the Amundsen Sea's layer of circumpolar deep water—a relatively warm (about 2°C) water mass blamed for destabilizing the continent's ice shelves—is thicker, warmer and saltier in the winter than during the summer.

The research was published Tuesday in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Thwaites and Pine Island are two of the fastest receding glaciers on the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet. The region contains enough ice to raise global sea levels by 4 feet.

"We knew very little about what to expect from this research, since this is the first time that data has been collected in this way in this area," said Helen Mallett, who led the study at UEA, in a statement.

"We were able to collect much more information from the seals than all the previous ship-based surveys in the area combined and it was clear that, at least during the seasons we observed, there were substantial differences in temperature between the seasons."

Mallett added, "Although more will need to be done to measure these differences over a number of years, it's clear that enlisting seals to collect this kind of ocean data will offer useful insights for climate change modellers who are attempting to predict how fast sea levels will rise."

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« Reply #961 on: May 17, 2018, 04:24 AM »

3 Communities Who Stood Up to Big Oil and Won


Groups of citizens have been organizing worldwide to fight against fossil fuel industry's negative impacts on their lives. These impacts are either direct—through expropriations of land and development of infrastructure against the will of the population—or indirect—through their role in the sharp increase of climate-altering emissions threatening health and livelihoods worldwide.

These movements are often born spontaneously in response to a present challenge or threat. Through grassroot organizing, the impact of a handful of determined citizens can grow dramatically and has, in many instances, forced fossil fuel companies to abandon projects, deal with less and less private investments or defend themselves in courts.

Here are three stories from the Philippines, Brazil and the U.S. that show how small groups of determined people have taken on large corporations and shifted the local economic and political context.

The videos have been produced by 350.org as part of the Fossil Free campaign.

Atimonan, Philippines

Since 2015, citizens of Atimonan, Quezon province, in the Philippines, have been opposing the construction of a 1,200-megawatt coal-fired power plant.

Despite the determination of government authorities at national and provincial level to move forward with the project, the citizens of Atimonan and of the whole province have organized rallies in front of one of the banks funding the project, disrupted a meeting of the provincial board and overall voiced their concern and opposition.

Father Puno, of the Our Lady of the Angels parish in Atimonan, has been one of the most vocal regarding the potentially nefarious impacts of the future power plant, organizing a prayer-vigil attended by more than 1,500 people.

While opposing coal as an energy source, local parishioners have also discovered solar power and decided to install solar panels on the roof of the church, turning their stewardship for natural resources and people's health into a message in support of a fast and just 100 percent renewable energy transition for all.

Peruíbe, Brazil

The citizens of Peruíbe, in the Southeast region of Brazil, have been actively resisting the development of a new thermoelectric power plant, which would have been one of the largest of its kind. Citizens have organized themselves, putting pressure on city councilors to approve an amendment to the municipal law that would prevent other large polluting projects from being built in the city.

After a complicated legislative process, which lasted months, the city council finally approved unanimously the amendment.

Peruíbe has clean and sustainable energy to spare and holds unquestionable tourist potential. The region is one of the last reserves of continuous Brazilian Atlantic rain forest in the world, and more than half of the city's territory is in a preservation area.

The controversial industrial project, estimated at R$ 5 billion, was proposed by Gastrading Comércio de Energia, and it would have generated up to 1.7 gigawatts of energy.

New York, New York

In January 2018 the Mayor of New York Bill de Blasio made two important announcements. The first one was that the city would divest its assets from fossil fuel companies.

The second one was that the city had filed a lawsuit in federal courts against the five fossil fuel companies identified as the most responsible for global warming: ExxonMobil, BP, Conoco Phillips, Shell and Chevron.

These announcements came after years of grassroots organizing and it was celebrated as a victory by the many citizen groups that had been mobilizing to push the city to take this decision.

The divestment movement in New York dates back years, driven among other things by the impacts that Hurricane Sandy had on New York and its citizens: more than 100 dead in New York and surrounding areas; an estimated damage of more than $40bn; 100,000 houses damaged of which 2,000 rendered uninhabitable.

The awareness that climate change had played a major role in creating the conditions for Hurricane Sandy to develop and grow in strength convinced many New Yorkers to hit the streets asking the city not to give a penny more to dirty energy.

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« Reply #962 on: May 17, 2018, 04:25 AM »

How to Build a Native Bee Hotel

By Brian Barth

Many of these so-called "solitary bees," which include mason bees, leafcutter bees and carder bees, look more like flying ants than fuzzy yellow bees, but they're valuable pollinators just the same. The traditional hive boxes used to house honeybees do nothing to attract native bees to your garden, but these unsung heroes will happily take up residence in a "bee hotel," where each can have a private room of their own.

"Communal bees" would be a more apt name for native bees, as most like to live in close proximity to one another, just not in the highly social confines of a hive (some of us can surely relate). Instead, they look for narrow tubular spaces, such as the hollow center of a reed or a crevice in a rock wall, where they can safely lay eggs and incubate their young. It isn't easy for a tiny bee to find the perfect home, especially in the city, so if you create the ideal living space—an easy hour-long project, requiring little more than a few scraps of lumber, some screws, and an electric drill—they will come in droves.

Step One: Build a Frame

The exterior walls of a bee hotel can be made with almost any lumber scraps you happen to have lying around. Freshly purchased pressure-treated wood should be avoided, though, as the chemicals inside will deter the bees. Older, weathered pressure-treated lumber is fine.

You can build the hotel as big as you want, and in any shape you want, though a rectangle about the size of a typical birdhouse (roughly 8" x 12") is a common and easy to construct design. The only real requirement, in terms of dimensions, is that the frame be approximately 6 to 8 inches deep. 1" x 8" lumber (which is actually ¾" by 7 ¼" wide) is ideal.

The frame must be enclosed at the back—lightweight plywood cut to size is perfect for this part—and open in front. The roof must be sloped to shed rain and must extend at least 2 inches over the front. You can use wood again, or, if you'd like, tack on a piece of corrugated metal roofing for a cute, barn-like bee hotel.

The wooden frame may be left unfinished, coated with an exterior wood sealant to protect it from the elements, or jazzed up with colorful paint. Just know that the smell of paint and sealant is likely to deter bees for at least a few weeks until it wears off.

Step Two: Add "Rooms"

The hotel "rooms" are nothing more than holes drilled into blocks of wood. You can use random scraps of lumber or even small logs cut from tree branches. Whatever materials you use, they should all be cut to the same length, which is determined by the depth of the frame (a minimum of 6 inches).

Native bees vary greatly in size; the bigger the bee, the larger the diameter and greater depth they require for their nest hole. Drill holes ranging from 1/8" to ½" in diameter into the end of each block or log, spacing them about ½" to ¾" apart. Holes larger than ¼" should be 5" to 6" deep, while holes ¼" or smaller should be 3" to 5" deep. Make as many hole-filled blocks as will fit in the frame, and then smooth out the openings with sandpaper to remove any sharp splinters left by the drill.

You may also fill portions of the frame with small-diameter pieces of bamboo, hollow reeds, or plastic tubing cut to the same length as the wooden blocks.

Step Three: Mount the Hotel

Mount your bee hotel on a fence post, exterior wall, or any other vertical surface with a couple of screws through the rear wall. It should be roughly chest high and facing south if possible, so it warms up earlier in spring and stays warm later in fall, extending the egg-laying season for the resident bees. Stack the blocks, bamboo, and any other bee rooms you've created inside the frame with the hole openings facing out.

Female bees will construct individual chambers throughout each hole with mud, chewed up plant material, and other substances, depending on the species. A single egg is deposited in each chamber, along with a bit of pollen for the baby bees to eat after they hatch. Once a tube is filled, it will be sealed off at the opening to prevent moisture and predatory insects from entering.

The hatched bees remain inside the sealed tubes through the winter, emerging as adults in spring when warm weather returns. After all the sealed openings have been broken by the exiting bees, bee experts recommend removing the old "rooms" and building a new set each year as a precaution against transmitting diseases from one generation to the next.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.

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« Reply #963 on: May 17, 2018, 04:27 AM »

Trump Admin. Blocked Toxic Chemicals Study Fearing 'Public Relations Nightmare'


Officials with the White House and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( EPA) tried to block a critical report on a class of toxic chemicals after a White House aide warned that a "public relations nightmare" would follow after its release, according to emails reported by POLITICO on Monday.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR)—a unit within the Department of Health and Human Services—was poised to release a report on per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) polluting water supplies in sites around the country, including chemical plants and military bases.

The ATSDR draft assessment on PFAS chemicals concludes that they "pose a danger to human health at a far lower level than EPA has previously said was safe." The ATSDR recommends a safety level for PFAS exposure in drinking water that's six times lower than the EPA's current recommendations.

"The public, media and Congressional reaction to these new numbers is going to be huge," the unidentified Trump aide wrote in an email obtained by the Union of Concerned Scientists through the Freedom of Information Act.

"The impact to EPA and [Department of Defense] is going to be extremely painful. We [DoD and EPA] cannot seem to get ATSDR to realize the potential public relations nightmare this is going to be."

The email from the unidentified aide was forwarded on Jan. 30 by James Herz, a political appointee who oversees environmental issues at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

In another email on Jan. 30, Nancy Beck, a former chemical industry lobbyist who now heads the EPA's chemical safety office, suggested that the OMB's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs "can step up and coordinate interagency review" of the ATSDR study.

POLITICO noted that the draft study remains unpublished more than three months later.

PFAS are man-made chemicals used in products such as non-stick cookware, water-repellent clothing, stain resistant fabrics and carpets. These substances are persistent, resist degradation in the environment and can bioaccumulate, meaning their concentration in bodies can increase over time.

Exposure to PFAS is a major public health concern. According to the Environmental Working Group, the chemicals have been linked to several types of cancer, thyroid disease weakened childhood immunity and other health problems. They contaminate drinking water systems serving 16 million Americans in 33 states, including military bases and chemical-manufacturing plants nationwide.

As POLITICO pointed out, the ATSDR document could lead to significant cleanup costs at these sites. "Some of the biggest liabilities reside with the Defense Department, which used foam containing the chemicals in exercises at bases across the country. In a March report to Congress, the Defense Department listed 126 facilities where tests of nearby water supplies showed the substances exceeded the current safety guidelines," the publication reported.

In response to the revelations, Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) sent a letter to the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee asking it to investigate and hold hearings.

"Congress must hold hearings and investigate how it is possible that the EPA, the White House, and HHS have, for months, possessed research that could have helped families understand the health impacts of their exposure to toxic chemicals, but instead, have failed to even tell anyone that this study exists at all," Shea-Porter said in a statement.

"Unlike Scott Pruitt's Pollution Protection Agency, there is still one government agency clearly trying to safeguard the public from these dangerous chemicals," said Environmental Working Group president Ken Cook in a statement. "Only Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration would consider reducing drinking water contamination for the American people to be a 'nightmare.'"

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« Reply #964 on: May 17, 2018, 04:30 AM »

'The river is dead': is a mine polluting the water of Brazil's Xikrin tribe?

Federal courts are battling to shut down a nickel mining plant said to be contaminating the Cateté river – a charge the company denies

Naira Hofmeister and José Cícero da Silva
17 May 2018 12.37 BST

The Xikrin, who have lived alongside the Cateté river in the Amazon rainforest in northern Brazil for centuries, have a mantra: “The river is our life.” Surrounded by an abundance of plant species, they swim and bathe here.

To fish, the tribe use timbó, a toxic vine that reduces the concentration of oxygen in the water, forcing the fish to come to the surface, where they are shot with arrows. “If we use hooks to fish, only one of our families will eat fish,” explains former tribal chief Onkray Xikrin. “But with timbó the whole village can eat.”

But the River Cateté is dying, and with it the way of life of the Xikrin. In 2010 Mineração Onça Puma, a company owned by the mining company Vale, began extracting nickel in the nearby hills, which have tributaries flowing into the Cateté. Vale is one of the world’s largest producers of nickel.

Around this time, the Xikrin who were diving into the river say they began suffering itchy skin and burning eyes. The tribe also noticed a decline in the quantity and diversity of fish. In 2015, tests by a professor at the Federal University of Pará found traces of nickel in the sediment of the river at almost double the safe level downstream from the mines, but no trace upstream. The tests also found unsafe levels of iron, chromium and copper.

Now federal prosecutors are battling to have the operations of Mineração Onça Puma – which processes the ore at a plant less than four miles from the territory of the Xikrin – shut down. They are also seeking 50 million Brazilian reais (£10.4m) in compensation for each of the seven affected villages.

The Xikrin fought for 14 years for the demarcation of their territory, a Brazilian constitutional right that protects their land from exploitation. By the time the demarcation was ratified in 1991, loggers had felled much of the mahogany in the region. Miners were also active, with high-quality iron to be found to the east, the largest copper reserves in Brazil to the north, and exceptional nickel to the west. Nearby, in 1985, Vale established what is now S11D, the largest iron ore mine in the world.

Much of this took place on land that had been originally claimed by the Xikrin. But when the demarcation was ratified, 13,000 of those hectares (321,23 acres) were not included. The nickel mines in the Onça mountain range are permitted as they are not officially in the indigenous territory. But the area is home to the Xikrin cemetery, a place where the dead meet to sing and dance for eternity, according to their culture.

Anthropologist Lux Vidal, emeritus professor at the University of São Paulo and a pioneer in Xikrin studies, says it was known at that time that nickel might be extracted there. “Geologists, especially Canadian geologists I met, told me: ‘This area to the west is an area designed for nickel. Nickel is the worst of things that can happen. It is the most polluting ore, the most lethal ore there can be.’”

In those mountains, two streams begin that flow into the River Cateté. When it rains heavily during the Amazonian winter – between October and April – the water brings sediment and mud from the hillside, turning its waters an earthy red. One stream flows into the Cateté just 500m from the indigenous territory.

When the Xikrin began to suffer headaches, skin irritations and food poisoning in 2013, it was a doctor from the university of São Paulo who told them to avoid the river.

Dr João Paulo Botelho Vieira Filho first met the tribe when he went to vaccinate them to prevent their possible extinction: at that time, only 93 tribe members remained after the population had been decimated by epidemics contracted from outsiders.

The doctor believed the heavy metals had caused many health problems for the Xikrin, including an unprecedented wave of births defects. “The river is dead. If nothing is done, we are on the verge of a chemical ethnocide,” he says. But many of the Xikrin continue to bathe in the river – abandoning it would mean severing ties with their history and culture.

Now the fate of the mines is in the hands of Brazil’s notoriously bureaucratic court system. Federal courts have ordered the mine to cease activities on three occasions, but the enterprise continues to function after Vale obtained injunctions. The last time it was shut was in 2017, with Vale – for now – allowed to continue operating only the beneficiation part of the extraction process, which improves the economic value of the ore.

In a statement, the company said: “Vale complies with the law. The company does not use any of the elements identified by [prosecutors] as causing pollution in the Cateté river. All of the reports presented prove this and Vale will show this in court.”

Vale does not dispute that pollution exists but says it might be from farming pesticides or illegal miners nearby. In a report for investors to Brazil’s Securities and Exchange Commission, the firm admitted that losing the case could mean facing “a considerable financial impact” and “the cessation of operations at the Onça Puma mine”.

    This report was produced by Agência Pública, a non-profit investigative journalism agency based in Brazil. This is a translation of the original version, published in Portuguese here

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« Reply #965 on: May 17, 2018, 04:32 AM »

UK taken to Europe's highest court over air pollution

European court of justice can impose multimillion euro fines if the UK and five other countries do not address the problem

Damian Carrington Environment editor
17 May 2018 11.20 BST

The UK and five other nations have been referred to Europe’s highest court for failing to tackle illegal levels of air pollution.

The European court of justice has the power to impose multimillion euro fines if the countries do not address the problem swiftly. The nations - the UK, France, Germany, Hungary, Italy and Romania - had been given a final warning by the European commission in January. Toxic air results in hundreds of thousands of early deaths across Europe each year.

Levels of nitrogen dioxide, mostly produced by diesel vehicles, have been illegally high since 2010 in the vast majority of urban areas in the UK. The government’s latest plan in 2017 was condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors.

Ministers were forced by UK courts to improve the plan in February, after losing in the high court for the third time to environmental lawyers ClientEarth, and have until the end of 2018 to implement the stricter measures.

A key step is to mandate clean air zones (CAZs), in which cars are deterred from city centres by pollution charges. The government’s own research shows CAZs are by far the most effective solution to air pollution, but ministers refused to make them compulsory.

Keith Taylor, Green party MEP for south-east England, said: “The European commission is being forced to take legal action against the UK because the government remains steadfastly apathetic in the face of a public health crisis that is linked to the deaths of 50,000 British citizens every year.”

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« Reply #966 on: May 17, 2018, 04:52 AM »

Anne Frank’s hidden diary pages: Risque jokes and sex education

by Allyson Chiu
May 17 2018

Dutch researchers have uncovered what was written on two pages Anne Frank concealed in her diary: from racy jokes to explaining the menstrual cycle. (Reuters)

Anne Frank’s diary entries record the 25 months she spent hiding from Nazis from 1942 to 1944 with her family and others in a secret attic annex in occupied Amsterdam. Frank’s father, the only member of the family to survive after they were seized by the Gestapo and removed to a concentration camp, published the diary after the war, turning the teenager into a universal symbol of hope and resilience.

The book, with its red-checked cover, was not written with an eye toward publication. Her private thoughts and observations were for her eyes only, very much “The Diary of a Young Girl,” as its title suggests.

Now researchers in the Netherlands have discovered in the diary a secret hidden for decades, obscured from prying eyes by brown paper that had been meticulously pasted over the pages.

On two pages, Anne, who was 13 years old at the time, penned four “dirty” jokes and more than 33 lines explaining sex, contraception and prostitution, the Anne Frank House announced Tuesday. The entry, dated Sept. 28, 1942, also included five crossed out phrases, the museum said.

The recently publicized pages of hidden text serve to highlight “Anne the girl,” and her “inquisitive” and “precocious” personality, the Anne Frank House said.

0:41..Watch: The only existing film images of Anne Frank: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/f99cadc6-a912-11e7-9a98-07140d2eed02' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

In this footage from July 22, 1941, Anne Frank is seen leaning out of the window of her house in Amsterdam to get a look at a couple who is getting married. (Anne Frank House museum)

“Anyone who reads the passages that have now been discovered will be unable to suppress a smile,” Frank van Vree, director of the Netherlands Institute for War, Holocaust and Genocide Studies, said in a statement. The ‘dirty’ jokes are classics among growing children. They make it clear that Anne, with all her gifts, was above all also an ordinary girl.”

The passages were revealed by image-processing technology. Using photos of the pages taken in 2016 as part of a regular check of the diary, software helped decipher the words, the statement said.

In an effort to save pages of her precious diary that had been “spoiled,” Anne decided to use some of the space to jot down risque jokes she may have heard from her father or on the radio, the Anne Frank House said.

“A man had a very ugly wife and he didn’t want to have relations with her,” she wrote, as translated from Dutch by the Associated Press. “One evening he came home and then he saw his friend in bed with his wife, then the man said: ‘He gets to and I have to!!!’”

She also included this suggestive quip: “Do you know why the German Wehrmacht girls are in Holland? As mattresses for the soldiers.” (The Wehrmacht was the German term for the country’s armed forces.)

Following the jokes, Frank delved into sex education, pretending in the entry that she was teaching someone else, the museum said.

“I sometimes imagine that someone might come to me and ask me to inform him about sexual matters,” Frank wrote in Dutch, according to the New York Times. “How would I go about it?”

While attempting to explain these “sexual matters,” Frank used highbrow phrases such as “rhythmical movements” to describe sex, and “internal medicament,” to talk about contraception, the New York Times reported.

Being a teenage girl, she made sure to include a section about periods, too, saying menstruation is “a sign that she is ripe to have relations with a man but one doesn’t do that of course before one is married,” according to the AP.

On prostitution, Frank wrote: “All men, if they are normal, go with women, women like that accost them on the street and then they go together.” She added: “In Paris they have big houses for that. Papa has been there.”

It is unclear why Frank’s musings were covered with the sticky brown paper, but researchers say it may have been done by the teenager, who was trying to hide the content from her father or anyone else living in the cramped attic quarters.

On Oct. 3, 1942, she wrote, “Daddy is grumbling again and threatening to take away my diary. Oh, horror of horrors! From now on, I’m going to hide it,” according to a frequently asked questions page posted by the Anne Frank House.

This entry was after she had filled the concealed pages, but the museum said Anne would “regularly reread her diary entries and made changes to them.”

Despite being shrouded in mystery for more than 70 years, the uncovered pages “do not alter our image of Anne,” the Anne Frank House said. The writings were not unusual for the teen, who had other diary entries about sex and “regularly” recorded dirty jokes, the museum said.

The pages are significant because they show Frank’s first attempts to develop her literary voice, the AP reported.

Ronald Leopold, executive director of the Anne Frank House, told the AP the entry is an early example of how Frank “creates a fictional situation that makes it easier for her to address the sensitive topics that she writes about.”

In response to a question about whether it is right to publish pages that had intentionally been covered up, the museum said Frank’s diary is “a world heritage object with great historical value, and this justifies research into it.”

“Given the great public and academic interest we have decided … to publish these texts and share them with the world,” Leopold said in a statement from the museum. “They bring us even closer to the girl and the writer Anne Frank.”

Watch: <iframe width='480' height='290' scrolling='no' src='https://www.washingtonpost.com/video/c/embed/35648532-5911-11e8-9889-07bcc1327f4b' frameborder='0' webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe>

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« Reply #967 on: May 17, 2018, 04:54 AM »

French women criticize proposed sexual violence bill

New Europe

PARIS  — France's lower house of parliament on Monday started debating a law to fight sexual and gender-based violence — a proposed bill that comes in the wake of the #MeToo movement but is being strongly criticized by women's groups.

The government says the law, which is being examined at National Assembly on Monday and Tuesday, aims to better protect children under 15 by introducing new provision that rape and sexual assault can result from an "abuse of vulnerability" of the victim.

But women's groups insist the text doesn't go far enough. They want an explicit declaration that anyone under 15 cannot consent to sex with an adult. They say the current version of the law would minimize the rapes of younger victims.

Two recent cases prompted outrage on the topic after French courts refused to prosecute men for rape after they had sex with 11-year-old girls because authorities couldn't prove coercion. French law doesn't set a legal age of consent for sex.

Women's groups are going to protest in from of the National Assembly on Tuesday. France's highest administrative court, the Council of State, warned the government that setting an automatic legal age of consent could be seen as violating an adult's presumption of innocence and would be therefore declared unconstitutional.

The government then decided to change the text to allow judges to take into account the children's vulnerability. The bill extends the statute of limitations on sex crimes, allowing prosecution for 30 years after a purported victim turns 18, rather than the current 20 and imposes fines of 90 euros ($108) for gender-based public harassment on streets or public transportation.

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« Reply #968 on: May 17, 2018, 04:56 AM »

Discrimination kills 230,000 girls under five in India each year, study shows

Neglect to blame for skewed mortality rates, says Lancet report that urges looking beyond pre-natal sex selection at deaths from inequality of education and health

Karen McVeigh
17 May 2018 10.02 BST

Hundreds of thousands of young girls in India die every year because of “invisible discrimination”, according to research published in the Lancet Global Health.

Researchers from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis estimate an average of 239,000 girls under five in India die each year, or 2.4 million in a decade, because of their gender.

Many of the deaths were due to neglect, both within their families and from health practitioners, as well as an “invisible, routine and continued”, bias Indian girls experience in food allocation. Studies have shown that Indian girls receive less education, have poorer nutrition and get less medical attention than boys.

Under natural conditions and in countries where no such gender bias exists, mortality rates for girls under five should be lower than those for boys due to a natural biological advantage.

But the researchers, who used census data from 2000-2005, found what they described as an “excess mortality rate” among girls under five across 29 out of 35 Indian states. The rate was 18.5 per 1,000 live births. The worst affected was northern India, which has a number of large rural agricultural states with low education and socio-economic development levels and high fertility.

Christophe Guilmoto from the Université Paris-Descartes, France, said that for too long, the focus had been on pre-natal sex selection.

“Gender-based discrimination towards girls doesn’t simply prevent them from being born, it may also precipitate the death of those who are born,” said Guilmoto. “Gender equity is not only about rights to education, employment or political representation. It is also about care, vaccination and nutrition of girls, and ultimately survival.”

India, in common with China, is known for having a skewed sex ratio, due to sex-selective abortions. Interestingly, the results did not coincide with states known for sex selection, such as Punjab, Gujarat and Mahrashtra.

But in northern India’s four largest states, Utter Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, and Madhya Pradesh, the level of “excess mortality” among girls was much higher than the average – as high as 30 per 1,000 live births.

Dr Nandita Saikia, the paper’s co-author, said any intervention to reduce discrimination against girls should target priority states in northern India.

“Discrimination towards the girl child is not justified,” Saikia said. “As the regional estimates of excess deaths of girls demonstrate, any intervention to reduce the discrimination against girls in food and healthcare allocation should therefore target priority regions of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh where poverty, low social development and patriarchal institutions persist, and investments in girls are limited.

“This reinforces the need to address directly the issue of gender discrimination in addition to encouraging social and economic development for its benefits on Indian women.”

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« Reply #969 on: May 17, 2018, 05:01 AM »

New Zealand 'people's' budget sees Ardern put billions more into health and education

Prime minister says she wants her child to look back and judge efforts favourably rather than want to change their name

Eleanor Ainge Roy in Dunedin
Thu 17 May 2018 05.42 BST

The first Labour government in close to a decade has pledged to make New Zealand a kind and equitable nation where children thrive, and success is measured not only by the nation’s GDP but by better lives lived by its people.

Finance minister Grant Robertson said the Labour coalition government didn’t want to “manage” issues such as child poverty and homelessness – it wanted to end them.

Although the 2018 budget was focused on rebuilding vital public services – particularly the health care sector – Robertson said next year’s budget would be the first in the world to measure success by its people’s wellbeing.

“We want New Zealand to be a place where everyone has a fair go, and where we show kindness and understanding to each other,” said Robertson. “These changes are about measuring success differently. Of course a strong economy is important but we must not lose sight of why it is is important. And it is most important to allow all of us to have better lives ... the government is placing the wellbeing of people at the centre of all its work.”

The 2018 budget had been preceded by weeks of cautious rhetoric by the government, which repeated time and again that before embarking on its ambitious social policies such as ending child poverty, tackling climate change and housing every New Zealander, it first had to invest in upgrading public services such as hospitals and schools.

    Rebuild what? Well let’s start with New Zealand’s reputation shall we?
    Jacinda Ardern, prime minister

Labour’s first budget was viewed as restrained and fiscally cautious, with Robertson forecasting a NZ$3bn ($2bn) surplus this year, increasing to $7bn in 2020.

The prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said her government’s first budget was not focused on the election cycle, but generational improvement in New Zealanders’ lives.

“Rebuild what?” said Ardern, defending her government’s budget and rounding on the opposition leader, Simon Bridges. “Well let’s start with New Zealand’s reputation shall we? We are rebuilding a government that thinks about people.”

“In 15 or 20 or 30 years’ time I want my child to look back on the history books and judge me and this government favourably, rather than deciding to change their name.”

“If we’re not here for kids and the future of the country they live in, then why are we here? And if our budget isn’t about people than what is it for? And on both counts, this government is happy to be judged.”

“We could stick with the status quo – or we could try ... I would rather be a prime minister that tried and missed, than a prime minister than never tried at all.”

Major announcements in the budget include a $3.2bn increase in health spending, a commitment to build an extra 1,600 properties for public housing every year, cheaper doctor’s visits for half a million people (and free for those under 14), $450m for new schools, and $300m to recruit new police officers.

The education sector was also a priority, with early childhood education receiving an extra $590.2m over four years, $284m for children with special needs and spending on new classrooms and schools and teachers totalling $394m.

“Every child, regardless of how wealthy their parents are, what language they speak or their ability to disability, has a right to a world-class education,” said Ardern.

With health investment at the core of the budget Robertson thanked health care staff around the country, saying they had carried an unfair burden for too long, and had been neglected, underpaid and overlooked by the previous government.

The Department of Conservation received its biggest funding boost since 2002, with Green party co-leader and climate change minister James Shaw calling budget 2018 the “greenest budget in living memory”.

However opposition leader Bridges said the government had “no plans how we will earn more” as a country, and displayed “a special form of incompetence” in managing the economy.

“The big thing missing in this budget is any meaningful help for Kiwi workers. In fact middle-income families are getting steadily worse off ... Kiwi families can only look enviously across the Tasman where both the Australian government and the opposition are offering tax relief to boost family incomes.”

“This government’s anti-business policies mean the Treasury growth projections are more a hope than a prediction, despite strong growth internationally.”

The Salvation Army was also critical, saying although there would be some relief for New Zealand’s most vulnerable people, the government was a long way off fulfilling its election promises.

“It is not the transformational change we had hoped for,” said Major Campbell Roberts.

“it will not rid New Zealand of the combined plagues of homelessness and child poverty.”

Radio New Zealand’s deputy political editor Chris Bramwell said the budget was more conservative than forecast, while the New Zealand Herald’s political editor Audrey Young said it was neither boring nor exciting, though the education sector may be disappointed and had expected more funding.

Rod Oram at Newsroom.co.nz called it a “patch-up job”.

“There are no new initiatives for achieving the ‘transformation’ prime minster Jacinda Ardern is promising for society, the economy and environment,” Oram wrote.

“Rather than breaking ground for the foundations of a 21st century country, the government has so far only spray-painted a few dashed bright lines in eye-catching colours.”

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« Reply #970 on: May 17, 2018, 05:03 AM »

Burundi votes in referendum over president's 2034 'power grab'

Opponents say proposals including extending term limit are an attempt to steal power

Jason Burke Africa correspondent
Thu 17 May 2018 09.08 BST

Opposition politicians in Burundi have urged voters to peacefully resist an effort by authorities to “steal power” in a referendum that some fear could spark widespread violence.

Burundians are being asked to vote yes or no to a proposal to extend the presidential term from five years to seven, which would allow the incumbent, Pierre Nkurunziza, to rule for up to 14 more years after his current term expires in 2020.

A yes vote would also boost the president’s powers and allow changes to the distribution of top government posts according to ethnicity. Critics fear this will upset a delicate balance between communities that has preserved peace since the end of a civil war.

Tensions have been running high for months amid a wave of alleged detentions and killings of the government’s perceived opponents. At least 26 people were killed in an attack in the north-western province of Cibitoke on Friday. It is unclear whether the massacre was politically motivated.

Aimé Magera, a spokesman for the National Liberation Forces (FNL), an opposition party, said campaigners for a no vote had made a “massive breakthrough” in recent days. “The people have overcome their fear and come out in huge numbers. We are going to resist right to the end,” he said. “We will show to the international community that the Burundian people are awake and standing and need help.”

Government officials described long queues of voters waiting “in calm and serenity”. The electoral commission said the vote represented a “historic rendezvous with democracy and the consolidation of national sovereignty”.

Opposition officials said they would ask voters to remain at polling stations after voting, even if the authorities deployed police and even the military to clear them from the streets.

Burundi’s government has been under pressure from international institutions and organisations in recent weeks. The UN high commissioner on human rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, urged authorities to “assume [their] responsibility in order to ensure Burundi people peace, security and a fully functioning democracy”.

The EU and the US have denounced intimidation, repression and harassment of opposition supporters. Magera said: “We have been beaten, threatened, harassed and attacked. So many have been arrested it is impossible to count.”

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have repeatedly documented widespread abuses by security forces and government-sponsored organisations.

Burundi’s Catholic bishops have said many citizens “live in fear, so much so that people do not dare to say what they think for fear of reprisals”.

Burundi’s government has said the charges are malicious propaganda spread by exiles. Last week it suspended BBC broadcasts in the country for six months, accusing the corporation of spreading ideas that discredited the president. Voice of America broadcasts were also suspended.

Yves-Lionel Nubwacu, a presidential aide, told the Guardian: “The campaign has been free and contested. All different opinions have been represented on the airwaves … and some of the officials of these international organisations that have been so critical are far from objective.”

Nkurunziza, a former teacher and rebel leader who is the son of a Hutu father and a Tutsi mother, has been in power since 2005. A born-again Christian who won some support with public displays of faith, he was re-elected unopposed in 2010 after the opposition boycotted the vote.

In 2015 he triggered a crisis by pursuing a third term. More than 1,000 people have died and more than 400,000 have fled the country since.

SOS Medias Burundi, a network of independent journalists, reported the arrests of more than 50 members of the opposition coalition Amizero y’Abarundi in a single week last month.

Amnesty International has highlighted the case of Germain Rukuki, a human rights activist who was sentenced to 32 years in prison on charges that included rebellion.

Richard Moncrieff, a regional specialist with the International Crisis Group, said: “In the short term there are only pockets of violence and serious human rights abuse … but in the medium to long term the government is unravelling the settlement that ended the civil war, and that does not augur well.”

Ben Shepherd, an expert in the region at London’s Chatham House, said that “one big unanswered question” was the level of popularity of Nkurunziza, an evangelical Christian how has cultivated a folksy image, in rural areas.

“There’s a sense that the ruling party has been seen as fighting the good fight for Burundi’s rural poor,” Shepherd said. Some analysts say they are worried by a growing theocratic mindset among members of the political elite.

The peace accord that ended the civil war ensured that the national and local government, parliament and the senate are composed of both Hutu and Tutsis, split 60% to 40%. This settlement is now threatened, analysts say.

Other proposed constitutional changes include the appointment of a prime minister by the president, which would consolidate the position of the ruling party and could prevent some opposition politicians from running for office.

Members of the Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth wing, have in the past urged supporters to harass opposition members and even to “impregnate” them, and are alleged to have threatened those who appeared unlikely to vote in the referendum.

The ruling party’s secretary general blamed western powers for destabilising Burundi and said those who voted against the proposed changes to the constitution were “enemies of the nation”.

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« Reply #971 on: May 17, 2018, 05:06 AM »

Venezuela political prison seized by inmates ahead of presidential election

Riot after alleged torture casts shadow over campaign of Nicolás Maduro before Sunday’s vote

Tom Phillips Latin America correspondent
Thu 17 May 2018 01.09 BST

Activists say inmates have taken control of Venezuela’s most notorious political prison – the El Helicoide facility in Caracas – on the eve of a highly controversial presidential election that opponents have denounced as a fraud.

With Sunday’s vote – which the US, EU and Latin American nations including Brazil, Colombia and Mexico have branded “illegitimate” – just days away, President Nicolás Maduro on Wednesday vowed to bring a “historic economic revolution” to his crisis-stricken nation if handed a second term.

But Maduro’s comments were overshadowed by reports of a major disturbance at El Helicoide, an iconic 1950s shopping mall that was converted into the headquarters of Venezuela’s feared spy agency, the Servicio Bolivariano de Inteligencia Nacional (SEBIN), and has become a crumbling symbol of the country’s plunge into economic chaos and authoritarianism.

Roderick Navarro, an exiled Venezuelan activist who said he was in touch with the rebelling inmates, told the Guardian they had taken control of the facility at about 2pm after being enraged by the alleged beating and torture of an incarcerated activist called Gregory Sanabria. “The prisoners got angry and [decided] to stop the situation,” said Navarro, from the group Rumbo Libertad. “They are asking for freedom … they are asking for health care … they are asking for human rights ... they want the aggression and the torture to stop.”

A flurry of videos that were posted on social media and could not be immediately verified purported to show El Helicoide’s inmates fleeing their cells and issuing pleas for outside help.

In one clip an inmate tells the camera: “It’s 3.15 in the afternoon and we are in El Helicode – SEBIN’s torture centre. The political prisoners have peacefully taken control of it ... We are here because we are tired of being tortured.”

In another video a man with a badly swollen face who is identified as Sanabria vows: “We prefer to die with dignity! We prefer to die with pride!”

A third video shows a US citizen, John Holt, who was arrested in Caracas in 2016 and has yet to be tried. “We don’t know what to do,” Holt says. “We need help from the people of Venezuela and also the people of the United States.”

In a Spanish-language tweet, the US embassy in Caracas said it was very concerned about the riot and the wellbeing of Holt and other US citizens. It said: “Venezuela’s government is directly responsible for their safety and we will hold them responsible if anything happens to them.”

Details of the uprising remained hazy on Wednesday evening but Navarro said inmates feared they would face a “brutal attack” as government forces attempted to reclaim control of the prison.

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« Reply #972 on: May 17, 2018, 05:12 AM »

Trump faces North Korea dilemma after Bolton infuriates Pyongyang

Trump is keen to keep his appointment in Singapore but the row involving his national security adviser presents a serious hurdle

Julian Borger in Washington
Thu 17 May 2018 11.12 BST

North Korea’s denunciation of John Bolton has forced Donald Trump to decide whether to stick with his national security adviser and his hardline tactics, or push ahead with a summit with Kim Jong-un that will provide historic spectacle but an uncertain outcome.

Underlying the plans for the Singapore summit was a fundamental ambiguity over what “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula” means. For Pyongyang it is a fluid term that means a long-term process of disarmament, involving all major powers, in whose ranks North Korea would henceforward be counted a member.

The Trump administration thought it meant – or wanted it to mean – that Kim was ready to give up the arsenal he had declared complete and operational in January. For his part, the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, who was tasked by Trump to set up the Kim summit, was ready to live with the ambiguity, at least until 12 June, when the unprecedented encounter is due to take place.

In weekend television appearances, Pompeo seemed to blur the US negotiating position, suggesting the aim was to prevent North Korea threatening the US mainland with nuclear weapons, a lower bar that would theoretically permit Pyongyang to retain some warheads as long as they did not build intercontinental missiles.

Ambiguity is not Bolton’s style, however. In his own, competing, TV appearances, he was adamant that North Korea would have to take all its weapons apart and ship the fissile material to the US. It was this, coupled his earlier reference to the “Libya model” – which for Pyongyang summons up the memory of Muammar Gaddafi’s brutalised body being paraded on a truck – that got the regime’s attention.

“It was quite deliberate. We all know how Gaddafi died,” said Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia nonproliferation programme at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies of Monterey. “You don’t bring up a man’s grisly murder as an inducement.”

Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said it was likely to be the bragging that Kim had been forced to the table by Trump’s successful use of “maximum pressure” with sanctions and threats that had stung the Pyongyang regime most.

Kim has portrayed his diplomatic opening as a natural consequence of completing the decades-long project to build a nuclear arsenal.

“The North Koreans were prepared to ignore a lot of what the administration said before the summit, but it was the victory lap before the race that has really set them off,” Narang said.

Bolton has a track record with the North Koreans, who blame him for persuading the George W Bush administration to quit a 1994 nuclear deal, the Agreed Framework. In his memoir, Surrender is Not an Option, Bolton boasts about his success in torpedoing state department efforts to keep talks with Pyongyang alive, deriding the diplomats as appeasers.

At the time, the regime denounced him as “human scum” and a “bloodsucker”, banning him from any bilateral talks. On Wednesday, the first deputy prime minister, Kim Kye-gwan, made it clear that the regime’s antipathy had not mellowed with time, noting “we do not hide our feeling of repugnance towards him”.

Earlier in the week, a western diplomat had predicted that the inevitable compromise at a Kim summit could force a parting of the ways between Trump and his third national security adviser. Trump, who has basked in suggestions he might be eligible for the Nobel peace prize, is clearly keen to keep his appointment in Singapore. The weekend row could now bring his looming dilemma forward.

The White House on Wednesday was hedging its bets, with its spokeswoman pointedly distancing Trump from Bolton’s “Libyan model”.

“Sarah Sanders threw Bolton under a bus this morning,” Lewis said.


Trump: 'We'll see' if North Korea summit is on after Kim's threat to cancel

Pyongyang threatened to withdraw over ‘one-sided demands’ but Trump says he hasn’t been told talks have been axed

Julian Borger in Washington
Thu 17 May 2018 08.08 BST

Donald Trump is still ready to meet the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, at a summit next month, despite a statement from Pyongyang that it was not interested in discussing “one-sided” demands that it give up its nuclear weapons, the White House said on Wednesday.

Asked whether the summit, planned for 12 June in Singapore, was still on, Trump told reporters: “We’ll see what happens.”

He added that “we haven’t been notified at all” that the North Koreans had cancelled the meeting.

The president said he would insist on “denuclearisation” at a summit with Kim. However, the word is ambiguous. North Korea uses it to describe a long-term process in which all nuclear weapons powers would eventually disarm, while Trump administration officials have interpreted it as the dismantling and eradication of the North Korean nuclear weapons and long-range missile programmes.

That ambiguity, which allowed plans to go forward for the first ever summit between a sitting US president and a North Korean leader, appeared to have been punctured over the weekend when John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, went on the Sunday talkshows to give their quite different versions of the US negotiating position.

Bolton and Pompeo claimed that Trump’s policy of “maximum pressure” had forced Kim to the negotiating table.

    If they want to meet, we’ll be ready and if they don’t, that’s OK too
    Sarah Sanders

Bolton, however, went further than Pompeo in defining denuclearisation. He said it meant “getting rid of all the nuclear weapons, dismantling them, taking them to Oakridge, Tennessee. It means getting rid of the uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing capabilities.”

His comments followed an earlier remark that the administration, in disarming North Korea, would adopt the Libya model, referring to Muammar Gaddafi’s surrender of his embryonic nuclear weapons programme in 2003. North Korean officials have repeatedly pointed to Gaddafi’s grisly death in a Nato-backed insurgency eight years later as a reason not to give up the country’s nuclear weapons.

Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s first deputy minister of foreign affairs, rejected that position on Wednesday, singling out Bolton and his comments.

Kim said: “This is not an expression of intention to address the issue through dialogue. It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.”

He concluded his statement by saying: “If the US is trying to drive us into a corner to force our unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in such dialogue and cannot but reconsider our proceeding to the DPRK-US summit.”

Responding to the North Korean statement, Bolton told Fox News Radio Wednesday that “we are trying to be both optimistic and realistic at the same time”.

He said that the personal attack on him raised the question of “whether this really is a sign that that they’re not taking our objective of denuclearization seriously.”

The White House spokeswoman, Sarah Sanders, claimed the Trump administration had “fully expected” North Korea’s posturing, and left the door open to the summit going ahead.

“If they want to meet, we’ll be ready and if they don’t, that’s OK too,” Sanders said.

She distanced Trump from Bolton’s comments on the “Libya model”. She said she had not “seen that as part of any discussions so I’m not aware that that’s a model that we’re using”.

She added: “I haven’t seen that that’s a specific thing. I know that that comment was made. There’s not a cookie-cutter model on how this would work. This is the President Trump model. He’s going to run this the way he sees fit. We’re 100% confident, as we’ve said many times before, as I’m sure you’re all aware, he’s the best negotiator and we’re very confident on that front.”

North Korea had earlier called the Singapore summit into question over joint exercises by US and South Korean forces which Pyongyang said involved B-52 and F-22 warplanes, both capable of carrying nuclear bombs. It argued it represented a hostile gesture that violated an April agreement between the leaders of North and South Korea.

The Pentagon said on Wednesday that there were never plans to include B-52 bombers in the Max Thunder war games. F-22 fighters have already taken part.

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« Reply #973 on: May 17, 2018, 05:33 AM »

Code Name Crossfire Hurricane: The Secret Origins of the Trump Investigation

By Matt Apuzzo, Adam Goldman and Nicholas Fandos
May 17, 2018
NY Times

WASHINGTON — Within hours of opening an investigation into the Trump campaign’s ties to Russia in the summer of 2016, the F.B.I. dispatched a pair of agents to London on a mission so secretive that all but a handful of officials were kept in the dark.

Their assignment, which has not been previously reported, was to meet the Australian ambassador, who had evidence that one of Donald J. Trump’s advisers knew in advance about Russian election meddling. After tense deliberations between Washington and Canberra, top Australian officials broke with diplomatic protocol and allowed the ambassador, Alexander Downer, to sit for an F.B.I. interview to describe his meeting with the campaign adviser, George Papadopoulos.

The agents summarized their highly unusual interview and sent word to Washington on Aug. 2, 2016, two days after the investigation was opened. Their report helped provide the foundation for a case that, a year ago Thursday, became the special counsel investigation. But at the time, a small group of F.B.I. officials knew it by its code name: Crossfire Hurricane.

The name, a reference to the Rolling Stones lyric “I was born in a crossfire hurricane,” was an apt prediction of a political storm that continues to tear shingles off the bureau. Days after they closed their investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, agents began scrutinizing the campaign of her Republican rival. The two cases have become inextricably linked in one of the most consequential periods in the history of the F.B.I.

This month, the Justice Department inspector general is expected to release the findings of its lengthy review of the F.B.I.’s conduct in the Clinton case. The results are certain to renew debate over decisions by the F.B.I. director at the time, James B. Comey, to publicly chastise Mrs. Clinton in a news conference, and then announce the reopening of the investigation days before Election Day. Mrs. Clinton has said those actions buried her presidential hopes.

Those decisions stand in contrast to the F.B.I.’s handling of Crossfire Hurricane. Not only did agents in that case fall back to their typical policy of silence, but interviews with a dozen current and former government officials and a review of documents show that the F.B.I. was even more circumspect in that case than has been previously known. Many of the officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation publicly.

Agents considered, then rejected, interviewing key Trump associates, which might have sped up the investigation but risked revealing the existence of the case. Top officials quickly became convinced that they would not solve the case before Election Day, which made them only more hesitant to act. When agents did take bold investigative steps, like interviewing the ambassador, they were shrouded in secrecy.

Fearful of leaks, they kept details from political appointees across the street at the Justice Department. Peter Strzok, a senior F.B.I. agent, explained in a text that Justice Department officials would find it too “tasty” to resist sharing. “I’m not worried about our side,” he wrote.

Only about five Justice Department officials knew the full scope of the case, officials said, not the dozen or more who might normally be briefed on a major national security case.

The facts, had they surfaced, might have devastated the Trump campaign: Mr. Trump’s future national security adviser was under investigation, as was his campaign chairman. One adviser appeared to have Russian intelligence contacts. Another was suspected of being a Russian agent himself.

In the Clinton case, Mr. Comey has said he erred on the side of transparency. But in the face of questions from Congress about the Trump campaign, the F.B.I. declined to tip its hand. And when The New York Times tried to assess the state of the investigation in October 2016, law enforcement officials cautioned against drawing any conclusions, resulting in a story that significantly played down the case.

Mr. Comey has said it is unfair to compare the Clinton case, which was winding down in the summer of 2016, with the Russia case, which was in its earliest stages. He said he did not make political considerations about who would benefit from each decision.

But underpinning both cases was one political calculation: that Mrs. Clinton would win and Mr. Trump would lose. Agents feared being seen as withholding information or going too easy on her. And they worried that any overt actions against Mr. Trump’s campaign would only reinforce his claims that the election was being rigged against him.

The F.B.I. now faces those very criticisms and more. Mr. Trump says he is the victim of a politicized F.B.I. He says senior agents tried to rig the election by declining to prosecute Mrs. Clinton, then drummed up the Russia investigation to undermine his presidency. He has declared that a deeply rooted cabal — including his own appointees — is working against him.

That argument is the heart of Mr. Trump’s grievances with the federal investigation. In the face of bipartisan support for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, Mr. Trump and his allies have made a priority of questioning how the investigation was conducted in late 2016 and trying to discredit it.

“It’s a witch hunt,” Mr. Trump said last month on Fox News. “And they know that, and I’ve been able to message it.”

Congressional Republicans, led by Representative Devin Nunes of California, have begun to dig into F.B.I. files, looking for evidence that could undermine the investigation. Much remains unknown and classified. But those who saw the investigation up close, and many of those who have reviewed case files in the past year, say that far from gunning for Mr. Trump, the F.B.I. could actually have done more in the final months of 2016 to scrutinize his campaign’s Russia ties.

“I never saw anything that resembled a witch hunt or suggested that the bureau’s approach to the investigation was politically driven,” said Mary McCord, a 20-year Justice Department veteran and the top national security prosecutor during much of the investigation’s first nine months.

Crossfire Hurricane spawned a case that has brought charges against former Trump campaign officials and more than a dozen Russians. But in the final months of 2016, agents faced great uncertainty — about the facts, and how to respond.

Anxiety at the Bureau

Crossfire Hurricane began exactly 100 days before the presidential election, but if agents were eager to investigate Mr. Trump’s campaign, as the president has suggested, the messages do not reveal it. “I cannot believe we are seriously looking at these allegations and the pervasive connections,” Mr. Strzok wrote soon after returning from London.

The mood in early meetings was anxious, former officials recalled. Agents had just closed the Clinton investigation, and they braced for months of Republican-led hearings over why she was not charged. Crossfire Hurricane was built around the same core of agents and analysts who had investigated Mrs. Clinton. None was eager to re-enter presidential politics, former officials said, especially when agents did not know what would come of the Australian information.

The question they confronted still persists: Was anyone in the Trump campaign tied to Russian efforts to undermine the election?

The F.B.I. investigated four unidentified Trump campaign aides in those early months, congressional investigators revealed in February. The four men were Michael T. Flynn, Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said. Each was scrutinized because of his obvious or suspected Russian ties.

Mr. Flynn, a top adviser, was paid $45,000 by the Russian government’s media arm for a 2015 speech and dined at the arm of the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin. Mr. Manafort, the campaign chairman, had lobbied for pro-Russia interests in Ukraine and worked with an associate who has been identified as having connections to Russian intelligence.

Mr. Page, a foreign policy adviser, was well known to the F.B.I. He had previously been recruited by Russian spies and was suspected of meeting one in Moscow during the campaign.

Lastly, there was Mr. Papadopoulos, the young and inexperienced campaign aide whose wine-fueled conversation with the Australian ambassador set off the investigation. Before hacked Democratic emails appeared online, he had seemed to know that Russia had political dirt on Mrs. Clinton. But even if the F.B.I. had wanted to read his emails or intercept his calls, that evidence was not enough to allow it. Many months passed, former officials said, before the F.B.I. uncovered emails linking Mr. Papadopoulos to a Russian intelligence operation.

Mr. Trump was not under investigation, but his actions perplexed the agents. Days after the stolen Democratic emails became public, he called on Russia to uncover more. Then news broke that Mr. Trump’s campaign had pushed to change the Republican platform’s stance on Ukraine in ways favorable to Russia.

The F.B.I.’s thinking crystallized by mid-August, after the C.I.A. director at the time, John O. Brennan, shared intelligence with Mr. Comey showing that the Russian government was behind an attack on the 2016 presidential election. Intelligence agencies began collaborating to investigate that operation. The Crossfire Hurricane team was part of that group but largely operated independently, three officials said.

Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said that after studying the investigation as a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, he saw no evidence of political motivation in the opening of the investigation.

“There was a growing body of evidence that a foreign government was attempting to interfere in both the process and the debate surrounding our elections, and their job is to investigate counterintelligence,” he said in an interview. “That’s what they did.”

Abounding Criticism

Looking back, some inside the F.B.I. and the Justice Department say that Mr. Comey should have seen the political storm coming and better sheltered the bureau. They question why he consolidated the Clinton and Trump investigations at headquarters, rather than in a field office. And they say he should not have relied on the same team for both cases. That put a bull’s-eye on the heart of the F.B.I. Any misstep in either investigation made both cases, and the entire bureau, vulnerable to criticism.

And there were missteps. Andrew G. McCabe, the former deputy F.B.I. director, was cited by internal investigators for dishonesty about his conversations with reporters about Mrs. Clinton. That gave ammunition for Mr. Trump’s claims that the F.B.I. cannot be trusted. And Mr. Strzok and Lisa Page, an F.B.I. lawyer, exchanged texts criticizing Mr. Trump, allowing the president to point to evidence of bias when they became public.

The messages were unsparing. They questioned Mr. Trump’s intelligence, believed he promoted intolerance and feared he would damage the bureau.

The inspector general’s upcoming report is expected to criticize those messages for giving the appearance of bias. It is not clear, however, whether inspectors found evidence supporting Mr. Trump’s assertion that agents tried to protect Mrs. Clinton, a claim the F.B.I. has adamantly denied.

Mr. Rubio, who has reviewed many of the texts and case files, said he saw no signs that the F.B.I. wanted to undermine Mr. Trump. “There might have been individual agents that had views that, in hindsight, have been problematic for those agents,” Mr. Rubio said. “But whether that was a systemic effort, I’ve seen no evidence of it.”

Mr. Trump’s daily Twitter posts, though, offer sound-bite-sized accusations — witch hunt, hoax, deep state, rigged system — that fan the flames of conspiracy. Capitol Hill allies reliably echo those comments.

“It’s like the deep state all got together to try to orchestrate a palace coup,” Representative Matt Gaetz, Republican of Florida, said in January on Fox Business Network.

Counterintelligence investigations can take years, but if the Russian government had influence over the Trump campaign, the F.B.I. wanted to know quickly. One option was the most direct: interview the campaign officials about their Russian contacts.

That was discussed but not acted on, two former officials said, because interviewing witnesses or subpoenaing documents might thrust the investigation into public view, exactly what F.B.I. officials were trying to avoid during the heat of the presidential race.

“You do not take actions that will unnecessarily impact an election,” Sally Q. Yates, the former deputy attorney general, said in an interview. She would not discuss details, but added, “Folks were very careful to make sure that actions that were being taken in connection with that investigation did not become public.”

Mr. Comey was briefed regularly on the Russia investigation, but one official said those briefings focused mostly on hacking and election interference. The Crossfire Hurricane team did not present many crucial decisions for Mr. Comey to make.

Top officials became convinced that there was almost no chance they would answer the question of collusion before Election Day. And that made agents even more cautious.

The F.B.I. obtained phone records and other documents using national security letters — a secret type of subpoena — officials said. And at least one government informant met several times with Mr. Page and Mr. Papadopoulos, current and former officials said. That has become a politically contentious point, with Mr. Trump’s allies questioning whether the F.B.I. was spying on the Trump campaign or trying to entrap campaign officials.

Looking back, some at the Justice Department and the F.B.I. now believe that agents could have been more aggressive. They ultimately interviewed Mr. Papadopoulos in January 2017 and managed to keep it a secret, suggesting they could have done so much earlier.

“There is always a high degree of caution before taking overt steps in a counterintelligence investigation,” said Ms. McCord, who would not discuss details of the case. “And that could have worked to the president’s benefit here.”

Such tactical discussions are reflected in one of Mr. Strzok’s most controversial texts, sent on Aug. 15, 2016, after a meeting in Mr. McCabe’s office.

“I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way he gets elected,” Mr. Strzok wrote, “but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk. It’s like an insurance policy in the unlikely event you die before you’re 40.”

Mr. Trump says that message revealed a secret F.B.I. plan to respond to his election. “‘We’ll go to Phase 2 and we’ll get this guy out of office,’” he told The Wall Street Journal. “This is the F.B.I. we’re talking about — that is treason.”

But officials have told the inspector general something quite different. They said Ms. Page and others advocated a slower, circumspect pace, especially because polls predicted Mr. Trump’s defeat. They said that anything the F.B.I. did publicly would only give fodder to Mr. Trump’s claims on the campaign trail that the election was rigged.

Mr. Strzok countered that even if Mr. Trump’s chances of victory were low — like dying before 40 — the stakes were too high to justify inaction.

Mr. Strzok had similarly argued for a more aggressive path during the Clinton investigation, according to four current and former officials. He opposed the Justice Department’s decision to offer Mrs. Clinton’s lawyers immunity and negotiate access to her hard drives, the officials said. Mr. Strzok favored using search warrants or subpoenas instead.

In both cases, his argument lost.

The F.B.I. bureaucracy did agents no favors. In July, a retired British spy named Christopher Steele approached a friend in the F.B.I. overseas and provided reports linking Trump campaign officials to Russia. But the documents meandered around the F.B.I. organizational chart, former officials said. Only in mid-September, congressional investigators say, did the records reach the Crossfire Hurricane team.

Mr. Steele was gathering information about Mr. Trump as a private investigator for Fusion GPS, a firm paid by Democrats. But he was also considered highly credible, having helped agents unravel complicated cases.

In October, agents flew to Europe to interview him. But Mr. Steele had become frustrated by the F.B.I.’s slow response. He began sharing his findings in September and October with journalists at The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New Yorker and elsewhere, according to congressional testimony.

So as agents tried to corroborate Mr. Steele’s information, reporters began calling the bureau, asking about his findings. If the F.B.I. was working against Mr. Trump, as he asserts, this was an opportunity to push embarrassing information into the news media shortly before the election.

That did not happen. Most news organizations did not publish Mr. Steele’s reports or reveal the F.B.I.’s interest in them until after Election Day.

Congress was also increasingly asking questions. Mr. Brennan, the C.I.A. director, had briefed top lawmakers that summer about Russian election interference and intelligence that Moscow supported the Trump campaign — a finding that would not become public for months. Lawmakers clamored for information from Mr. Comey, who refused to answer public questions.

Many Democrats see rueful irony in this moment. Mr. Comey, after all, broke with policy and twice publicly discussed the Clinton investigation. Yet he refused repeated requests to discuss the Trump investigation.

Mr. Comey has said he regrets his decision to chastise Mrs. Clinton as “extremely careless,” even as he announced that she should not be charged. But he stands by his decision to alert Congress, days before the election, that the F.B.I. was reopening the Clinton inquiry.

The result, though, is that Mr. Comey broke with both policy and tradition in Mrs. Clinton’s case, but hewed closely to the rules for Mr. Trump. Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said that alone proves Mr. Trump’s claims of unfairness to be “both deeply at odds with the facts, and damaging to our democracy.”

Spying in Question

Crossfire Hurricane began with a focus on four campaign officials. But by mid-fall 2016, Mr. Page’s inquiry had progressed the furthest. Agents had known Mr. Page for years. Russian spies tried to recruit him in 2013, and he was dismissive when agents warned him about it, a half-dozen current and former officials said. That warning even made its way back to Russian intelligence, leaving agents suspecting that Mr. Page had reported their efforts to Moscow.

Relying on F.B.I. information and Mr. Steele’s, prosecutors obtained court approval to eavesdrop on Mr. Page, who was no longer with the Trump campaign.

That warrant has become deeply contentious and is crucial to Republican arguments that intelligence agencies improperly used Democratic research to help justify spying on the Trump campaign. The inspector general is reviewing that claim.

Ms. Yates, the deputy attorney general under President Barack Obama, signed the first warrant application. But subsequent filings were approved by members of Mr. Trump’s own administration: the acting attorney general, Dana J. Boente, and then Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general.

“Folks are very, very careful and serious about that process,” Ms. Yates said. “I don’t know of anything that gives me any concerns.”

After months of investigation, Mr. Papadopoulos remained largely a puzzle. And agents were nearly ready to close their investigation of Mr. Flynn, according to three current and former officials. (Mr. Flynn rekindled the F.B.I.’s interest in November 2016 by signing an op-ed article that appeared to be written on behalf of the Turkish government, and then making phone calls to the Russian ambassador that December.)

In late October, in response to questions from The Times, law enforcement officials acknowledged the investigation but urged restraint. They said they had scrutinized some of Mr. Trump’s advisers but had found no proof of any involvement with Russian hacking. The resulting article, on Oct. 31, reflected that caution and said that agents had uncovered no “conclusive or direct link between Mr. Trump and the Russian government.”

The key fact of the article — that the F.B.I. had opened a broad investigation into possible links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign — was published in the 10th paragraph.

A year and a half later, no public evidence has surfaced connecting Mr. Trump’s advisers to the hacking or linking Mr. Trump himself to the Russian government’s disruptive efforts. But the article’s tone and headline — “Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia” — gave an air of finality to an investigation that was just beginning.

Democrats say that article pre-emptively exonerated Mr. Trump, dousing chances to raise questions about the campaign’s Russian ties before Election Day.

Just as the F.B.I. has been criticized for its handling of the Trump investigation, so too has The Times.

For Mr. Steele, it dashed his confidence in American law enforcement. “He didn’t know what was happening inside the F.B.I.,” Glenn R. Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, testified this year. “And there was a concern that the F.B.I. was being manipulated for political ends by the Trump people.”

Assurances Amid Doubt

Two weeks before Mr. Trump’s inauguration, senior American intelligence officials briefed him at Trump Tower in Manhattan on Russian hacking and deception. They reported that Mr. Putin had tried to sow chaos in the election, undermine Mrs. Clinton and ultimately help Mr. Trump win.

Then Mr. Comey met with Mr. Trump privately, revealing the Steele reports and warning that journalists had obtained them. Mr. Comey has said he feared making this conversation a “J. Edgar Hoover-type situation,” with the F.B.I. presenting embarrassing information to lord over a president-elect.

In a contemporaneous memo, Mr. Comey wrote that he assured Mr. Trump that the F.B.I. intended to protect him on this point. “I said media like CNN had them and were looking for a news hook,” Mr. Comey wrote of Mr. Steele’s documents. “I said it was important that we not give them the excuse to write that the F.B.I. had the material.”

Mr. Trump was not convinced — either by the Russia briefing or by Mr. Comey’s assurances. He made up his mind before Mr. Comey even walked in the door. Hours earlier, Mr. Trump told The Times that stories about Russian election interference were being pushed by his adversaries to distract from his victory.

And he debuted what would quickly become a favorite phrase: “This is a political witch hunt.”


Trump discloses he reimbursed Michael Cohen for up to $250,000 in 2017

Footnote buried in financial records confirms Trump paid Cohen for ‘expenses’, worth between $100,000 and $250,000

Joanna Walters and agencies
17 May 2018 21.11 BST

Donald Trump has officially disclosed – via a footnote in tiny print buried in his newly released financial records – that he reimbursed his personal attorney, Michael Cohen, for up to $250,000 in 2017.

The exact reason for the payment is not given, beyond being stated as covering “expenses”, but came in the aftermath of Cohen paying $130,000 to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged affair with Trump a decade before he became president.

The revelation on Wednesday came as part of the president’s annual financial disclosure, submitted to the US Office of Government Ethics (OGE).

The document stated: “In the interest of transparency, while not required to be disclosed as ‘reportable liabilities’ on part 8, in 2016 expenses were incurred by one of Donald J Trump’s attorneys, Michael Cohen.”

The statement is a footnote on page 45 of the 92-page disclosure, in tiny print, and goes on to say: “Mr Cohen sought reimbursement of those expenses and Mr Trump fully reimbursed Mr Cohen in 2017.” It declares that the value of the payment ranged from $100,000 to $250,000.

Ethics experts had been watching closely for the document to see if Trump would confirm that he paid Cohen back for the lawyer’s outlay – concerned that if the president did not he would be in breach of ethics laws.

Rudy Giuliani, the high-profile new name on Trump’s legal team, mentioned in a bombshell revelation on Fox TV earlier this month that Trump had reimbursed Cohen for paying Daniels, a point which the president had expressly denied when earlier asked about it by reporters aboard Air Force One.

Trump then acknowledged, via Twitter, the substance of Giuliani’s assertion, which prompted 48 hours of contradictory follow-ups by both Giuliani and the White House about what Trump knew and when he might have known it, about any payments. The week culminated in Stormy Daniels’ lawyer predicting Trump would end up being forced to resign. Trump denies the alleged affair with Daniels, who has said she prefers using her stage name to her real name of Stephanie Clifford.

Walter Shaub, the former director of the OGE, and Adav Noti, senior director for the Campaign Legal Center watchdog group, wrote in an opinion article for USA Today earlier this week that Trump was legally obliged to include the payment in the latest disclosure and should have done so in the previous filing that he submitted last year.

The government added its own footnote to the 2018 disclosure, saying: “OGE has concluded that the information related to the payment made by Mr Cohen is required to be reported and that the information provided meets the disclosure requirement for a reportable liability.”

The footnote about the Cohen payment appears in a report giving the first extended look at Trump’s income from his properties since he became president. Among his holdings, he took in $25m from his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.


Ethics Office has ‘essentially’ reported Trump to the Justice Department for potential criminal prosecution

Bob Brigham
Raw Story
16 May 2018 at 14:17 ET                  

MSNBC chief legal correspondent Ari Melber reports that the Office of Government Ethics (OGE) sent a letter to the Department of Justice on President Donald Trump’s hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels.

Former Department of Justice spokesperson Matt Miller described the letter as “essentially a criminal referral to DOJ for Trump making a false statement in a previous financial disclosure.”

“Fascinated by OGE’s decision to make this referral public,” he continued. “Leaves DOJ no choice but to open at least a preliminary investigation into Trump for false statements (if he wasn’t already a subject in the Cohen inquiry, which he might be).”

Walter Shaub, the former Director of the Office of Government Ethics, went even further than Miller.

“This is tantamount to a criminal referral,” Shaub suggested. “OGE has effectively reported the president to DOJ for potentially committing a crime.”
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‘He’s in trouble’: Ex-FBI official explains how latest Michael Cohen bombshells are ‘awful’ news for Trump

Travis Gettys
Raw Story
17 May 2018 at 06:52 ET                  

President Donald Trump amended his financial disclosure forms to show a payment to attorney Michael Cohen — and a former top law enforcement official says he’s in “trouble.”

The Office of Government Ethics publicly asked the Department of Justice to investigate the reimbursement to Cohen, which is essentially a criminal referral, and former FBI official Frank Figliuzzi explained to MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” what the news means for the president and his legal team.

“I come up with three scenarios, two of them are awful for the president,” said Figliuzzi, the former FBI assistant director for counterintelligence.

“The first one lacks credulity, that is that the president knew nothing about the payments,” Figliuzzi said. “He’s a good guy trying to repay his lawyer, Cohen, who tells him after the fact, ‘I need compensation.’ We’ve gone beyond that because Giuliani has said that the president knows Michael takes care of such things.”

“Scenario Np. 2 is the that president knew this was being done, he knew fictitious corporations might be set up,” the former FBI official said. “He knew a bank, a loan might have been set up fictitiously and there was money laundering or foreign governments involved. That makes him a co-conspirator for those underlying violations.”

“The third scenario is he found out later that things done were illegal and he paid Michael back,” Figliuzzi added. “That makes him an accessory after the fact. He’s in trouble.”

After a commercial break, Figliuzzi said the president’s longtime lawyer presents a significant risk, because Cohen is likely facing a significant prison sentence once he’s inevitably indicted on a variety of criminal charges.

“He’s one of the few people that I believe can raise the flag and say, ‘I’ve got what you need’ — and I think that’s going to happen,” Figliuzzi said. “When he sees the federal sentencing guidelines, the criminal exposure he has, he goes back to his family and says, ‘You’re not going to see me for decades.’ He’s going to flip, and how does he save himself? He talks about the big man, he talks about the president of the United States.”


‘These aren’t people — these are animals’: Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric reaches scary new intensity

Martin Cizmar
Raw Story
16 May 2018 at 17:51 ET                  

Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric hit a scary new intensity on Wednesday afternoon.

The president, who made waves early in his campaign by calling Mexicans murderers and rapists, and is now denying the humanity of the humans who try to come to this country for a better life.

“These aren’t people, these are animals,” Trump said in view of C-SPAN’s cameras.

“We’re taking people out of the country—you wouldn’t believe how bad these people are,” he said. “We’re taking them out of the country at a level and a rate that’s never happened before.”

Trump then complained about the United States’ immigration laws, which he said were the “dumbest” in the world.

    President Trump during California #SanctuaryCities Roundtable: “These aren’t people. These are animals.”

    Full video here: https://t.co/alyS47LI5V pic.twitter.com/ifXicTHHP0

    — CSPAN (@cspan) May 16, 2018


‘Congratulations America’: Trump celebrates Mueller anniversary with bizarre tweet accusing Democrats of collusion

Brad Reed
Raw Story
18 May 2018 at 07:35 ET                  

President Donald Trump on Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of the Mueller probe by issuing a bizarre tweet in which he accused Democrats of colluding with Russia.

“Congratulations America, we are now into the second year of the greatest Witch Hunt in American History… and there is still No Collusion and No Obstruction,” the president wrote. “The only Collusion was that done by Democrats who were unable to win an Election despite the spending of far more money!”

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05/17/2018 06:13 PM

Trump and Iran: Time for Europe to Join the Resistance

A DER SPIEGEL Editorial by Klaus Brinkbäumer

U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal marks the temporary suspension of the trans-Atlantic alliance. What now?

Trump's renown is rooted in American hero myths. Trump says that women like Carla Bruni lust after him, something that women like Carla Bruni vehemently deny. Trump says he is exorbitantly rich, yet Trump ran himself into the ground with his casinos to the point that he was 295 million dollars in debt in 1990. He was bailed out by the banks and by his father. The greatest myth, though, has to do with Trump's alleged negotiating expertise. This too is nonsense. Trump was never proficient in the art of the deal. As a businessman, he paid far too much for substandard properties and has shown no patience as a politician. He isn't curious. His preparation is nonexistent. Strategy and tactics are both foreign to him. Trump is only proficient in destruction. And that's what he does.

He backed out of the Paris climate agreement while promising a "better deal for America." But nothing came of the promise, neither a plan nor meaningful talks. In Trump's Washington, the only thing that matters is dismantling the legacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Trump also promised to improve Obama's health care plan, but the details are complex and bothersome. So Trump destroyed Obamacare and has done nothing to replace it.

Now, he is playing the same game on the world stage with the Iran nuclear deal. Trump refers to it as "the worst deal ever," which is why he has now pulled the U.S. out of it. The negotiations that resulted in the deal in 2015 were a masterpiece of international diplomacy, but there are no plans in place to launch new talks.

Trump wants to bring the Iran regime to its knees with sanctions, but domestic political considerations in Tehran make it unlikely that the country will buckle. Leaders who demonstrate weakness in Iran are discarded. It seems more likely that they will close ranks. Iran-supported groups like Hezbollah are likely to pour fuel on the fire of conflicts in Yemen or Lebanon -- as close as possible to Israel's border. Iran presumably won't pursue the path of extreme escalation, since such a path wouldn't be beneficial, but it will likely cease allowing observers into the country, stop providing information on its uranium enrichment activities. It will seek to conceal what the West would like to know.

And what are the benefits of Washington's radical move? There are none. Just chaos where there was once order. Just American capriciousness after decades of stability.

The most shocking realization, however, is one that affects us directly: The West as we once knew it no longer exists. Our relationship to the United States cannot currently be called a friendship and can hardly be referred to as a partnership. President Trump has adopted a tone that ignores 70 years of trust. He wants punitive tariffs and demands obedience. It is no longer a question as to whether Germany and Europe will take part in foreign military interventions in Afghanistan or Iraq. It is now about whether trans-Atlantic cooperation on economic, foreign and security policy even exists anymore. The answer: No. It is impossible to overstate what Trump has dismantled in the last 16 months. Europe has lost its protective power. It has lost its guarantor of joint values. And it has lost the global political influence that it was only able to exert because the U.S. stood by its side. And what will happen in the remaining two-and-a-half years (or six-and-a-half years) of Trump's leadership? There is plenty of time left for further escalation.

Every Wednesday at 11:30 a.m., senior DER SPIEGEL editors gather to discuss the lead editorial of the week and ultimately, the meeting seeks to address the question: "What now?" Simply describing a problem isn't enough, a good editorial should point to potential solutions. It has rarely been as quiet as during this week's meeting.

Europe should begin preparing for a post-Trump America and seek to avoid provoking Washington until then. It can demonstrate to Iran that it wishes to hold on to the nuclear deal and it can encourage mid-sized companies without American clients to continue doing business with Iranian partners. Perhaps the EU will be able to find ways to protect larger companies. Europe should try to get the United Nations to take action, even if it would only be symbolic given that the U.S. holds a Security Council veto. For years, Europe has been talking about developing a forceful joint foreign policy, and it has become more necessary than ever. But what happens then?

The difficulty will be finding a balance between determination and tact. Triumphant anti-Americanism is just as dangerous as defiance. But subjugation doesn't lead anywhere either -- because Europe cannot support policies that it finds dangerous. Donald Trump also has nothing but disdain for weakness and doesn't reward it.

Clever resistance is necessary, as sad and absurd as that may sound. Resistance against America.


05/17/2018 09:33 PM

Exit from Iran Deal: Trump Strikes a Deep Blow to Trans-Atlantic Ties

With his decision to blow up the Iran deal, U.S. President Donald Trump has thrown Europe into uncertainty and anxiety -- and raised the specter of a new war in the Middle East. One thing is certain: the trans-Atlantic relationship has been seriously damaged. By DER SPIEGEL Staff

On Thursday, towards the end of a week that began for both of them with a slap in the face from the American president, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were standing together in the Coronation Hall of the Aachen Town Hall doing their best to project confidence. The French president had just been awarded the International Charlemagne Prize and Merkel had held the laudation. They praised each other and confirmed their unity -- even if they aren't entirely on the same page when it comes to the future of Europe.

But they do agree on one issue: Donald Trump. Lately, the American president has emerged as a great unifier of Europe. Ever since Trump's Tuesday announcement that the U.S. was withdrawing from the nuclear agreement with Iran, one of the core pieces of international diplomacy in recent years, the Europeans have been united in shock, in anger at Trump's irresponsible move and in their refusal to accept it. But they are also united in their helplessness when it comes to dealing with this new America.

The joint appearance by Macron and Merkel would have been a perfect opportunity for a unified reply to Donald Trump. For a joint vision of European foreign policy and a powerful appearance of decisive European politicians. They could have sought to reassure the people of Europe and demonstrate that they had a plan. But none of that came to pass.

What, after all, can Europe do?

The American withdrawal from the Iran deal is the most dangerous and cavalier foreign policy decision that a U.S. president has made since the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The risk is very real that the move will worsen tensions in an already unstable Middle East and lead to an American-led war against Iran. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was quick to threaten a return to industrial-scale uranium enrichment and few doubt that such an eventuality could lead to conflict.

It became abundantly clear early Thursday morning just how tense the situation was, with the most serious confrontation yet between the Iranian Quds Force, operating in Syria, and Israel. Israel claims Iran first fired around 20 missiles at the Golan Heights, an area under Israeli control. The Israeli military says it responded with a massive attack on around 35 Iranian targets within Syria. The possibility of escalation in the region, of course, existed prior to the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal. But the episode makes it clear how dangerous the current situation in the region is.

Attack on Europe's Pride

The mood in Paris, Brussels and Berlin is reminiscent of the period just prior to the war in Iraq. Most of Europe refused to back the U.S. in that conflict, even if the British and the Italians joined then-President George W. Bush in the offensive. This time around, however, the Europeans are united in their desire to preserve the deal with Iran, even if nobody knows how they might be able to.

An attack on the Iran deal is an attack on the pride of European foreign policy. To be sure, EU member states often find it impossible to produce a joint statement on overseas developments, such as the U.S. decision to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. But Europe has consistently demonstrated unity on the Iran deal and along with Germany, France and Britain, the EU was a decisive participant in the talks.

For the EU's chief diplomat, Federica Mogherini, the treaty is proof of the influence united European diplomacy can have. She has an original copy of the deal on display in her office on the upper floors of the European Commission building in Brussels. It is opened to the page bearing the signatures of those involved, including that of John Kerry, who was U.S. secretary of state at the time.

Hardly surprising, then, that Mogherini adopted an aggressive tone on Tuesday evening when she stepped before the cameras at 8:30 p.m. in Rome just a few minutes after Trump had made his announcement. The nuclear deal, she said, is culmination of 12 years of diplomacy. "It belongs to the entire international community." She then appealed to Iran to continue to adhere to the deal. "Stay true to your commitments, as we will stay true to ours."

The idea behind this treaty, which was ratified by the UN Security Council, is that Iran would refrain for 10 years from further developing its nuclear program and in return the West would significantly reduce economic sanctions in place against the country. Because nobody trusted Iran's word, given past breeches of trust, the deal is based on a system of inspections and controls. Iran adhered to the deal, which was finalized in 2015 under the leadership of Barack Obama, but many Republicans in the U.S. nevertheless rejected it from the very beginning.

Farewell to America

In truth, Trump hasn't backed out of the deal, he has violated it by simply reimposing sanctions against Iran. That is the view widely held in the German government as well.

More than anything, though, Trump has humiliated Europe to a greater degree than any U.S. president before him. Macron fawned over him recently in the White House, Merkel swung by for a working lunch and British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson also made the trip across the Atlantic in an attempt to save the deal and somehow find some kind of a compromise. But it was all in vain.

In the end, Trump backed out of the deal in the most brutal manner possible, with a combative speech and the reintroduction of all sanctions against Iran. He was unable to offer any convincing reasons for why he has chosen this particular moment in time to leave the deal. He wasn't even able to claim that Iran hadn't lived up to its end of the bargain because Tehran has demonstrably adhered to its provisions.

To complete Europe's humiliation, Trump's new U.S. ambassador in Berlin, Richard Grenell, sent out a tweet this week demanding that German companies immediately begin winding down their operations in Iran. It sounded more like the words of a colonial power issuing orders than those of a diplomat in an allied country.

It isn't the first time that America's traditional trans-Atlantic allies have received such shabby treatment from Trump. The U.S. president has repeatedly accused his NATO partners of being freeloaders, he withdrew from the Paris climate agreement despite massive protest from Europe and he has indicated his willingness to start a trade war with the EU. Europe has had some kind of answer to all of these provocations: The NATO critiques from Washington have either been ignored or have led to promises of more defense spending in the future. On the Paris agreement, Trump's announcement has been more symbolic than real since large states like California are continuing to adhere to the deal's provisions. And when it comes to trade, Europe is a heavy hitter itself.

But Washington's violation of the Iran deal hits Europe hard. Although it has been clear for months that Trump was leaning toward taking such a step, it isn't obvious what might happen next. Europe seems woefully unprepared. In the days following Trump's announcement, Berlin, Paris and London have repeatedly said that they would continue to uphold the deal, that not much will change for companies interested in doing business in Iran and that options for protecting companies are being explored. But when asked what exactly such protections might look like, nobody has an adequate answer.

'An Existential Necessity'

In Aachen on Tuesday, Merkel essentially repeated the sentences she uttered last year during an appearance in Bavaria: "Europe can no longer rely on the U.S. It must take its fate into its own hands." Last year, her statement to that effect caused quite a stir both within Germany and beyond. This time, it was merely a statement of fact: The trans-Atlantic relationship has suffered tremendous damage. Merkel added that a joint foreign policy was "an existential necessity."

But is that something Europe is able to do? Is it able to declare independence from the West's traditional leader? Is it able to come to agreement on joint positions? And how can Europe defend itself when the German military is having trouble keeping such fundamental equipment as planes and submarines operational?

The feeling of alienation runs deep. Wolfgang Ischinger, formerly Germany's ambassador in Washington and currently the head of the Munich Security Conference, tweeted this week: "Is the transatlantic alliance dead? If one side refuses to even consider the arguments presented by the other side: are we still together, as we try to manage challenges to our shared security interests? Or are we now drifting apart for good? Sad questions!"

It sounds like a couple that, despite their best intentions to stay together, doesn't seem capable of making things work.

"In one respect, the trans-Atlantic alliance is indispensable for the foreseeable future, namely on the issue of nuclear protection," Ischinger says. "That cannot be replaced by anyone else. From a security perspective, we cannot cut the umbilical cord that binds us to the U.S." He adds: "Given our security policy interests, there is nothing we can do except lament the loss of a real partnership while nevertheless doing all we can to overcome this phase and work towards the time in two-and-a-half years when Trump is no longer in office and there is a new situation. For now, we have to hunker down as best we can."

Now that Trump has violated the nuclear deal, Europeans have three significant concerns: the consequences for Middle Eastern and European security; the risks for European companies that have invested in Iran; and the future of the relationship with the U.S. Niels Annen, minister of state in the Foreign Ministry, told DER SPIEGEL that Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal is "an erroneous decision with long-term, grave consequences for our relationship."

'Deeply Frustrated'

A member of the center-left Social Democrats (SPD), Annen was in the U.S. capital this week for talks. When Trump announced his decision, Annen was sitting in the office of presidential adviser Fiona Hill, who specializes in issues pertaining to Russia and Europe in the National Security Council. Annen knows Hill well from her stint in the Brookings Institution, but the respect he has for her personally has not been enough to bridge their policy differences. There have been significant disagreements between Berlin and Washington in the past, Annen says, such as on the eve of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. But, he adds, the feeling that they were pursuing shared goals was never lost.

That has changed under Trump, Annen says. Whether it is about trade or about the Iran deal: "Our core interests are now at stake," he says. "We must regrettably realize that there is hardly a willingness on the U.S. side to take arguments of their allies seriously." As a foreign policy practitioner, he says, you get used to reversals. "But when I was sitting in the airplane back to Europe this week, I was deeply frustrated for the first time."

On the way to his visit to Moscow on Thursday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told DER SPIEGEL: "The transformation the U.S. is undergoing has long since left its mark on the trans-Atlantic relationship. That is something that we had begun to feel long before the Tuesday evening disappointment. Nevertheless: We will continue seeking to work together with the U.S. on all policy areas. We are prepared to talk, to negotiate, but also to fight for our interests where necessary. At all levels, not just in the White House."

That sort of language used to be reserved for problematic nations of the world. Not for Germany's most important ally.

The President and the Hardliner

As Donald Trump was holding his 11-minute tirade against the Iran deal on Tuesday, a man was standing silently in the doorway of the Diplomatic Reception Room. John Bolton looked serious but satisfied. But it didn't take long for the mask to come off. "We're out of the deal," he crowed a quarter-hour later to a room full of journalists in the White House. And he then repeated the sentence a second and then a third time: "We're out of the deal." He seemed liberated, almost euphoric. A furious warrior had achieved his target.

There is hardly a crisis in the world that John Bolton does not feel can be solved with war. The solution to Saddam Hussein-controlled Iraq? Bombing. Iran under Hassan Rouhani? Bombing as necessary. Libya? Syria? North Korea? Apply pressure, regime change, bombing. For Bolton, war is a more effective extension of politics. If there is one thing you can't accuse him of, it's inconsistency.

It is particularly ironic that Bolton, who was briefly the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations under President George W. Bush, is now experiencing his comeback as national security advisor to Donald Trump, a man who claimed during his campaign that he had been opposed to the Iraq invasion and that Hillary Clinton would bog the U.S. down in wars.

Bolton's diplomatic career has one constant: aggression. "John Bolton is a national security threat," wrote the magazine Foreign Policy in March. The New York Times wrote that he is a "political blowtorch." Bolton and Trump do not share the same view of the world, but the tools they prefer to use are the same, as is their list of enemies. Iran is one of them. Bolton is thought to be the author of Trump's Tuesday speech and he is the architect of the U.S.'s withdrawal from the deal. His predecessor, Herbert Raymond McMaster, had sought to convince Trump to remain in the deal. That was ultimately one reason for his eventual dismissal.

As a candidate, Trump called the Iran agreement "one of the worst deals ever made by any country in history." Bolton was only brought in to implement a decision the president had long-since made.

Bolton hates weakness and has no use for compromise. He is not a "neocon" who wants to spread democracy with the force of arms. He is a right-wing hawk who is less "America First" than "America Alone." He believes the application of force isn't just sensible, but necessary. Like Trump, he sees foreign policy as a zero-sum game: Where the U.S. isn't winning against other global powers, it is necessarily losing. He believes multinational organizations like the United Nations, the World Trade Organization and the European Union are superfluous. Three years ago, he submitted an op-ed to the New York Times in which he outlined his Iran plan. "To stop Iran's bomb," he wrote, "bomb Iran."

The Risk to Middle East Peace and Europe's Economy
And when it comes to Iran, Bolton's belligerence is joined by his dubious support of the People's Mujahedin. The radical group was formed in the 1960s in opposition to the Shah and was considered by the EU as a terrorist organization for a time. Some of those who have left the group say it works a lot like a sect. Today, the People's Mujahedin is basically lobbying for war against Iran, spending significant amounts of money in Washington and Europe in support of regime change in Tehran. Bolton has made appearances at several events held by the group. Last year, he proclaimed at a group gathering that "we here will celebrate in Tehran" before 2019.

Bolton and Trump share a predilection for destruction. And Trump is happiest when he is destroying policies constructed by his predecessor.

The Deal and Its Effect

In 2015, when Barack Obama presented to the world the deal that he and Secretary of State John Kerry had put together, he made clear what their primary goal was: His administration wanted to prevent a war with Iran. Obama also saw the deal as an opportunity for the country to transform itself. "The path of violence and rigid ideology, a foreign policy based on threats to attack your neighbors or eradicate Israel, that's a dead end," he said. The deal opens the path to tolerance, the peaceful resolution of conflict and greater integration into the global economy, he continued.

That was the second, more idealistic part of the deal: the idea that Iran wouldn't just be prevented from building the bomb by way of economic incentives but that the country could experience a fundamental transformation as a result of rapprochement.

And such a transformation did seem possible for a time. Just two months after Obama's speech, the U.S. president shook hands with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, the first such gesture between a U.S. president and a senior Iranian official since the 1979 revolution. Hardliners in Iran were extremely critical of Zarif for having shaken hands with the "great Satan."

Many Republicans in the U.S. were also put off by the brief meeting between Obama and Zarif, not least those who are now celebrating Trump's planned meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and demanding that Trump be given the Nobel Peace Prize. Many of the critics -- like Bolton -- would rather have turned to military means to stop Iran. Others wanted to at least maintain intense military pressure.

Obama didn't have the deal ratified by the U.S. Senate because he lacked the necessary two-thirds majority. And Republicans warned Iran at the time that an unratified deal was merely an agreement between governments and that the next president could easily render it null and void.

There is also an ongoing conflict in Iran between moderates and hardliners, one which has flared up again following Trump's announcement on Tuesday. President Rouhani announced that Foreign Minister Zarif would be talking with the Europeans, Russia and China. Should Iran reach the conclusion that it can reach its goals with these partners absent the United States, Tehran will continue to adhere to it, he said. Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, however, took to Twitter with the message: "I don't trust these three EU countries either." Absent guarantees, he went on, the deal cannot continue.

Iran's Grip on the Region

The crucial question is whether the West's hopes for the deal have been fulfilled. And there is a two-part answer. First: Its main goal has been met. Iran has demonstrably put an end to its military nuclear program even if, in accordance with the deal, it would be able to restart elements of its civilian nuclear program in 2025, and even the entire program in 2040, in conjunction with inspections. These "sunset provisions" were one of the main points of criticism of the deal, but they have thus far worked as planned.

What has not happened, however, is that in opposition to the hopes of many, Iran hasn't toned down its aggressive behavior in the region. On the contrary.

In the approximately three years since the agreement was signed on July 14, 2015 in Vienna, Iran has considerably strengthened its grip on the region. Israel and Saudi Arabia had previously issued warnings about what they saw as aggressive moves by Iran. Since then, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, which acts independently of the government and reports directly to Ayatollah Khamenei, has significantly expanded its capabilities. It is now in a position to directly threaten Israel and Saudi Arabia at their borders.

The Saudis are concerned about the Revolutionary Guard's profile in Yemen, where the Iranians are supporting the Houthi militias in the country. Those militias recently gained the capability -- likely with Iranian help -- of firing missiles at the Saudi capital and have been doing so ever since.

As for Israel, the Iranians have expanded their capabilities on several fronts. They have been supporting Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Gaza Strip for a long time, and now Syria has been added to the list. They are close to achieving their goal of dominating a "Shiite crescent" in the region, stretching from Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.

When the Iran deal was signed, Iran's ally in Syria, President Bashar Assad, was close to defeat. Since then, his troops have been able to turn the tide with help from Russia, Lebanon's Hezbollah, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard and militias supported by Iran. Assad now appears to be close to victory.

There is a kind of mutually beneficial pact between Damascus and Tehran: The Syrians need Iran's money and fighters; the Iranians want Syria's geographical location. From there, they are in a position to send Shiite militias made up of Afghans, Pakistanis and Iraqis to the Israeli border, send armed drones towards Israel, as it apparently did in February, or fire off rockets.

Iran has stopped its nuclear program. But it has continued to develop those capabilities that are not prohibited by the deal. It has become more intensively involved in regional wars. And it is continuing to pursue its missile program: Today, Iran's missiles are thought to be capable of reaching as far as Central Europe. The missile program was left out of the agreement, but Iran's military might and willingness to expand remains cause for concern.

"Iran's missile program is part of an arms race in the Middle East that the United States helped start" once the nuclear deal was signed, says Vali Nasr, an Iran expert with the Brookings Institution. "The issue that everybody forgets is that, when the nuclear deal was signed, the United States sold over $100 billion worth of new weapons to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, another $40 billion to Israel. The Iranians gave up their most important strategic asset, and instead, the U.S. actually strengthened the conventional military capability of its neighbors."

Iranian Disappointment

Mehdi Khajehpour's office is located on the fifth floor of a building on Tehran's Sa'adat Abad Boulevard. It is elegantly furnished, with classical glass and leather furniture. His company, Petro Sanat Sapra, sells equipment and tools for oil production. Since last night, he and his friends have been discussing what Trump's refusal to extend the suspension of the sanctions for another four months means in concrete terms. "This guy doesn't understand at all what this deal represents," he says.

The 34-year-old is wearing a sand-colored cotton suit, white shirt and speaks perfect English and even has a bit of German from time spent at the University of Würzburg a couple of years ago.

Khajehpour is part of the new generation of Iranian entrepreneurs. He regularly travels to Europe and he and his wife have managed to become reasonably prosperous. Their apartment is decorated in a European style, their eight-year-old daughter attends ballet classes and painting courses in the afternoons. And in the evenings, the Khajehpours like to invite friends over, young couples like them, who have had some hope about their future in the last three years.

Like many members of this younger generation, Khajehpour keeps out of politics. He cannot identify with the hardliners, but he also complains about the bad management of the current government. He and his wife have great hopes for President Hassan Rouhani's course aimed at opening up the country to the world and in addition to economic improvements, he has noticed that political discourse in the country has become more liberal.

People like him, Obama had presumably imagined, were to be the future of Iran. Now the disappointment is great.

"Trump is strengthening the radicals by once again creating difficult conditions for moderates," says Khjajehpour. He is pinning his hopes on the Europeans. "If they go, life will become very difficult."

The grim economic situation stems from corruption, populist policies and the sanctions -- and despite the deal, things haven't improved. At the end of last year, it prompted country-wide protests, and there was anger about the bankruptcy of several financial institutions that were tied to the elites, the Revolutionary Guard and religious forces. Some people lost their entire savings. The Iranian rial kept dropping to new record lows.

The country's precarious economic situation is one reason Trump believes he can force it to its knees. But Trump's strategy is risky. He wants to do in Iran what he has done in North Korea: Apply maximum pressure to force his opponents to give in. Former U.S. diplomat Zalmay Khalilzad explains how this is meant to work. Khalilzad is a neo-conservative who pushed for the invasion of both Afghanistan and Iraq. Both missions were failures.

Battling for Supremacy

Khalilzad says Iran should be hit at its "Achilles' heel": its economy. He says Trump should use tough sanctions to try to get Iran to relent. He says that would turn religious leaders against the current government and infuriate those who have thus far supported Rouhani. Ultimately, it could mean the collapse of the current government and pave the way for negotiations with the real rulers, the Revolutionary Guard.

Ultimately, Khalilzad says, the goal should be that of finding a far-reaching solution that includes all aspects of the Iran issue, including the ranges of the country's missiles as well as negotiations with the three biggest players in the region -- Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey -- all of whom are battling for supremacy in what Khalilzad says is the "most unregulated region of the world." Agreements and rules must be established, Khalilzad says, though even he doesn't believe such a thing could happen quickly.

This is similar to what Trump and Bolton are picturing, and they want to force the Europeans to participate. This broader solution, however, is wishful thinking, because at the moment the U.S. are almost alone in their plan. Only Israel and Saudi Arabia support it, while the other signatories of the agreement -- China, Russia, the EU -- won't participate.

The Europeans believe that this kind of power play will result in the opposite of what Trump claims to want: The hardliners in Iran will once again gain the upper hand, the country will once again begin to enrich Uranium -- and ultimately, a war to stop Iran's nuclear program will become unavoidable. Several Europeans are now hoping that Russia, of all countries, will keep the hardliners in Tehran from escalating the situation, because the Syrian regime is strongly dependent on the Russians. The visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Moscow on Wednesday will likely also put pressure on Vladimir Putin to exert influence on the Iranians.

On the medium-term, the danger is a large war in the Middle East, but the short-term one is an escalation between Israel and Iran in Syria.

What makes the termination of the agreement with Iran so dangerous right now is the country's other military initiative: that of developing a shadow army of Shiite militias that the Revolutionary Guard has been recruiting from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan for the last several years and has deployed in Syria and elsewhere. The push began with Hezbollah in Lebanon in the early 1980s to create a completely loyal, forceful bridgehead, has since grown into a monstrous apparatus with over 100,000 fighters.

It is a weapon that, in many ways, embodies the exact opposite of the nuclear program: It is not meant merely as a deterrent, but as a conquering force. It is often barely visible, and not controllable from the outside. In Syria, for example, the militias often fight with constantly varying compositions.

Israel's security apparatus, which was divided about the Iranian nuclear deal, is united in their alarm at the situation in southern Syria. Trump's brusque exit from the nuclear agreement might be seen in Israel as carte blanche for more aggressive attacks against the Iranians and their conglomerate of troops.

The Consequences for the Economy

From the start, the Germans, French and British had little hope they would be able to convince Trump to stick to the deal. This makes it even more surprising how poorly prepared they now are for the U.S.'s exit.

Most immediately, Trump's decision will affect European companies that invested in Iran at the end of the sanctions. The day after Trump's announcement, EU diplomats first tried to obtain some clarity about who might be affected by the sanctions. For this, they mostly had to depend on information U.S. officials are giving in briefings to American journalists in Washington.

What seems to be clear is that European companies now have between 90 and 180 days to wind down their activities in Iran. "We are giving companies an opportunity to get out," says Trump's Security Advisor Bolton. How generous. New deals, however, will not be allowed. Otherwise, European companies and banks will face penalties in the U.S. It seems to be the Americans' clear goal to bring Iran to its knees economically, and the collateral damage to Europe is seemingly irrelevant. This would mean that the already disappointingly small economic benefit Iran is enjoying from the deal would shrink further.

By re-imposing sanctions, Trump is hitting the Europeans and Iran where it hurts. Since the deal was signed, EU imports from Iran have increased by a factor of nearly nine, and exports to Iran have risen by almost 70 percent, starting from a relatively low level -- but with trade trends going in the right direction.

The EU can't do much about this. On Monday, the foreign ministers of the UK, France and Germany plan to meet with their Iranian counterpart, but it is largely symbolic. A group visit to Iran, which is also under discussion in diplomatic circles, would likewise have little direct impact.

European Budget Commissioner Günther Oettinger can imagine offering assistance to European companies that are affected by U.S. sanctions. "If we stick to the Iran deal, and we should, then we should try to protect to the degree possible European companies who do business with Iran and who might be affected by U.S. sanctions," Oettinger told DER SPIEGEL. France has said similar things. But how?

Next week, EU heads of state and government plan on discussing the issue the evening before their Western Balkans Summit in Sofia. Unfortunately, it remains unclear how the affected businesses can be helped.

At the German Ministry of Economics, officials are seeking to play down the situation. "Only a small portion of German companies who have invested in Iran also do business in the U.S.," says one spokesperson. The transitional periods also mean that endangered companies with Iran connections could also pull back. The French government has also pointed to this fact.

Some in the European Commission are looking into whether the EU Globalization Adjustment could be used, but there isn't enough money available for it. There has also been discussion as to whether European companies could be threatened with penalties via so-called "blocking statutes" for obeying U.S. sanctions against Iran. The measures were initially established in 1996 to counter U.S. sanctions against Iran, Libya and Cuba.

But the German government believes such a solution is far-fetched. The U.S. would see any measure by the EU to protect its investments as aggressive. In a phone conversation with German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin made it clear that all companies staying in Iran would be penalized.

That leaves small and mid-size companies who don't do business with the U.S., but that will hardly suffice for Iran. Though the country can at least keep selling oil to Russia, China and India.

Europe, What Now?

Ultimately, the question becomes whether Europe can see this crisis as a wake-up call, as the start of a new common foreign policy, and whether they will continue to endure Trump's humiliations or position itself as a diplomatic counterforce.

Wolfgang Ischinger, the German diplomat, says the crisis of confidence with the U.S. could be turned into a positive. "It is another dramatic wake-up call for the European Union to finally get a grip on itself. For the European project, I cannot imagine a better motivation than this shock from Trump." Ischinger is critical of how Europe has behaved in the past months: "We should have been better prepared."

On Thursday afternoon in Aachen, Emmanuel Macron did ultimately comment on Iran, though not in the Aachen Coronation Hall, but at RWTH, the city's university. He was there to speak with students and answer their questions. Macron said it is never good for international superpowers not to abide by the laws they created themselves. "Every escalation must be avoided. We are staying in the nuclear deal and ask of Iran that it also remain in the deal."

Macron's strategy seems complex: he wants to convince the Iranians not to exit the agreement while seeking rapprochement with the Americans who want to talk about a broader deal. "From the perspective of the U.S., we must first of all get rid of the things they believe their previous government did wrong. That is their perspective, that's just how it is," he said.

It sounded as if Europe was still stuck in the starting blocks.

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