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US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis quits, cites policy differences with Trump

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US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis abruptly announced his resignation on Thursday, a day after President Donald Trump overruled his advice against pulling troops out of Syria and pressed forward on discussions to withdraw forces from Afghanistan.

Mattis will leave by the end of February after two tumultuous years in the post, the latest high-profile exit to shake the Trump administration.

In his resignation letter, Mattis told Trump that he was leaving because “you have a right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours”.

Trump wrote on Twitter that Mattis was retiring – but that’s not what the former Pentagon chief said.

The announcement came a day after Trump surprised Washington’s allies and members of Congress by announcing the withdrawal of all US troops from Syria, and as he continues to consider shrinking the American deployment in Afghanistan.

Trump’s decision to pull soldiers out of Syria has been sharply criticised for abandoning Washington’s Kurdish allies, who may well face a Turkish assault once US troops leave, and had been staunchly opposed by the Pentagon.

Mattis, in his resignation letter, emphasised the importance of standing up for US allies – an implicit criticism of the president’s decision on this issue and others.

“While the US remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote.

Philip J Crowley, a former US assistant secretary of state and national security council senior official, said behind Trump’s decision to pull forces out of Syria and the rumoured, at least partial withdrawal from Afghanistan “was the lack of any kind of strategic process within the American national security system”.

“These are very consequential decisions,” he told Al Jazeera.

“I think both of them are defensible in one way … but in both cases then you need some sort of strategic shift: we finished our military operation here and then we’re moving ahead with a diplomatic initiative there,” Crowley added.

“The fact that the president seems to have done both of these things by instinct without broad consultation either within the American government or the allies around the world is contrary to how Jim Mattis would do business – and did do business throughout his distinguished career.” 

Successor to be announced

Mattis’ departure was quickly lamented by politicians on both sides of the aisle, who viewed him as a sober voice of experience in the ear of a president who had never before held political office or served in the military. 

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“This is scary,” tweeted Senate Intelligence Committee Vice Chairman Mark Warner, who is a Democrat. 

“Secretary Mattis has been an island of stability amidst the chaos of the Trump administration.”

Mattis’ departure has long been rumoured, but officials close to him have insisted that the battle-hardened retired Marine would hang on, determined to bring military calm and reason to the administration’s often chaotic national security decisions and soften some of Trump’s sharper tones with allies.

Opponents of Mattis, however, have seen him as an unwanted check on Trump.

A White House official said Mattis informed Trump of his decision to leave the administration on Thursday afternoon. Trump said a replacement would be chosen soon.

Crowley said what the US had lost in Mattis was “the last genuine conventional thinker in terms of national security policy, someone who understands the importance of alliances and the importance of predictability in terms of policy.”

He added: “President Trump seems to surround himself now increasingly with more political thinkers and so it will be unclear who will be offered the job, who will take the job and what their prospective longevity will be.”

Clashes over policy decisions

At the start of the Trump administration in January 2017, the president had gushed about his respect for Mattis. 

The “Mad Dog”, as Mattis was nicknamed, was widely respected in the military. He served for 44 years, holding key positions during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and became a senior NATO commander.

But Trump and Mattis quickly clashed on major policy decisions.

During his first conversations with Trump about the Pentagon job, Mattis made it clear that he disagreed with his new boss in two areas: He said torture doesn’t work, despite Trump’s assertion during the campaign that it did, and he voiced staunch support for traditional US international alliances, including NATO, which Trump repeatedly criticised.

Mattis was credited by some in the administration for blocking an executive order that would have reopened CIA interrogation “black sites”. Trump has said the Pentagon chief convinced him it wasn’t necessary to bring back banned torture techniques like waterboarding.

En route to his first visit to Iraq as defence secretary, Mattis bluntly rebuffed Trump’s assertion that the US  might take Iraqi oil as compensation for US efforts in the war-torn country.

The two also were initially divided on the future of the Afghanistan war, with Trump complaining about its cost and arguing for withdrawal. Mattis and others ultimately persuaded Trump to pour additional resources and troops into the conflict to press towards a resolution.

Trump also chafed at the Pentagon’s slow response to his order to ban transgender people from serving in the military. That effort has stalled due to multiple legal challenges.

Long list of departures

The Pentagon has appeared to be caught off guard by a number of Trump policy declarations, often made through Twitter. Those include plans that ultimately fizzled to have a big military parade this month and the more recent decision to send thousands of active duty troops to the southwest border.

During his first conversations with Trump about the Pentagon job, Mattis made it clear that he disagreed with his new boss in two areas: He said torture doesn’t work, despite Trump’s assertion during the campaign that it did, and he voiced staunch support for traditional US international alliances, including NATO, which Trump repeatedly criticised.

Mattis was credited by some in the administration for blocking an executive order that would have reopened CIA interrogation “black sites”. Trump has said the Pentagon chief convinced him it wasn’t necessary to bring back banned torture techniques like waterboarding.

En route to his first visit to Iraq as defence secretary, Mattis bluntly rebuffed Trump’s assertion that the US  might take Iraqi oil as compensation for US efforts in the war-torn country.

The two also were initially divided on the future of the Afghanistan war, with Trump complaining about its cost and arguing for withdrawal. Mattis and others ultimately persuaded Trump to pour additional resources and troops into the conflict to press towards a resolution.

Trump also chafed at the Pentagon’s slow response to his order to ban transgender people from serving in the military. That effort has stalled due to multiple legal challenges.

Long list of departures

The Pentagon has appeared to be caught off guard by a number of Trump policy declarations, often made through Twitter. Those include plans that ultimately fizzled to have a big military parade this month and the more recent decision to send thousands of active duty troops to the southwest border.

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We won’t yield to sanctions pressure over Ukraine, says Putin.

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NEWYORKGM– Western sanctions will never make Russia change its position on Ukraine, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
Responding to a barrage of Western sanctions over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said: “They are counting on forcing us to change our position. This is out of the question.”
Peskov told reporters that President Vladimir Putin had been briefed on a first round of talks between Russian and Ukrainian officials on Monday but it was too early to judge the outcome.
There were no plans for talks between Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he said, adding that Moscow still recognised Zelenskiy as Ukraine’s leader.

Zelenskiy, he said, could prevent further casualties if he gave the command to lay down arms.

Ukraine has refused to surrender and its forces have put up strong resistance to Russia’s assault from the north, east and south, which Moscow describes as a special operation to demilitarise and “denazify” the country – a justification dismissed by Kyiv and the West as war propaganda.
Peskov dismissed allegations of Russian strikes on civilian targets and the use of cluster bombs and vacuum bombs as fakes. He categorically denied that Russia had committed war crimes.
Ukraine says large numbers of civilians have been killed. Peskov said, without providing evidence, that Ukrainian nationalist groups were using people as human shields.
Peskov declined to comment on whether the Kremlin considers the capital Kyiv to be under the control of Nazis, referring the question to the Russian military.

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George Floyd: Philadelphia Burns!!-see video

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pholadephia burns-see video

Initially peaceful protests in Philadelphia took on a different tone later Saturday afternoon after a car was set on fire and a crowd tried to gain access to a municipal building in one of many new demonstrations to emerge across the country during the day Saturday — only hours after violence rocked cities coast to coast on Friday night.

A demonstration in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday led police to declare an emergency.

At the White House, protesters pushed security barricades and could be seen standing on top of Secret Service vehicles.

And, in Austin, Texas, demonstrators gathered in the street in front of officers in riot gear. A photo showed a protester holding a sign that read “your uniform is not a license to kill.”

The demonstrations come days after a video was posted on social media showing a Minneapolis police officer pinning Floyd to the ground with his knee for more than eight minutes as Floyd said, “Please please, please, I can’t breathe.”

Derek Chauvin, the since-fired officer who detained Floyd, was arrested and charged Friday with third-degree murder and manslaughter. Three other officers were also involved in Floyd’s detainment.

The Philadelphia protest on Saturday appeared at first to be peaceful, but video showed a car on fire in the vicinity of demonstrators, NBC Philadelphia reported.

Then, at around 5 p.m., police were seen pepper-spraying a group of protesters who were climbing onto an armored truck near a municipal services building.

Social media posts showed police guarding the building from a crowd of people holding signs with messages such as, “He couldn’t breathe ” and “Justice for the people.”

In Columbus, Ohio, police said midday Saturday that the public should avoid the area of demonstrations that were sparked by the death of Floyd, a black man, in Minneapolis police custody on Monday.

Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said police declared the emergency to help manage the crowds.

“We are asking residents to avoid the area,” Ginther wrote in a tweet. “Safety of everyone — protesters and police — is paramount. We’re calling for everyone to remain calm.”

A video posted on Twitter showed people running and coughing after Columbus police apparently deployed tear gas at a crowd.

Protesters also gathered in the Ohio cities of Cleveland and Cincinnati during the day Saturday.

A massive crowd gathered outside of City Hall in Cincinnati, some with signs that read “Black Lives Matter” and “Disarm the police.”

Across the country, the Los Angeles Police Department was calling in additional officers and detectives to prepare for Saturday’s expected demonstrations, sources told NBC News.

Shortly before 2 a.m. Saturday a vehicle drove through a police skirmish line downtown, resulting in an officer-involved shooting, they said. At least one person has been arrested. It’s unclear if anyone was injured.

By mid-afternoon Saturday throngs of protesters filled Pan Pacific Park in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of the city, not far from the Grove shopping center.

In New York City meanwhile, a large group gathered outside a police in Harlem. According to NBC New York, protests were planned in all five boroughs.

Following the arrests of more than 530 people during protests in Los Angeles Friday night, the city was preparing for more demonstrations on Saturday, NBC Los Angeles reported.

By mid-afternoon Saturday throngs of protesters filled Pan Pacific Park in the Beverly Grove neighborhood of the city, not far from the Grove shopping center.

And in Des Moines, Iowa, Mothers Against Violence and Stop the Violence organized a demonstration on Saturday morning in which hundreds of protesters chanted “I can’t breathe,” according to NBC affiliate WHO.

The group that organized the protest in Newark, New Jersey — The People’s Organization for Progress —posted a video on its Facebook page showing a large crowd of people calmly walking through the streets of the city’s downtown, also chanting “I can’t breathe.”

Those peaceful protests stood in stark contrast to Friday night’s events, including the death of a 19-year-old man in Detroit after someone in a van fired shots into a crowd of protesters. A police spokesperson said an officer was not involved.

Also on Friday, in Oakland, California, a security officer with the Federal Protective Service of the Department of Homeland Security was killed and another injured after someone in a vehicle opened fire around 9:45 p.m. on Friday, the FBI said.

A number of public officials around the country have condemned the violence. “Go home. You’re not honoring the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement,” Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms said at a news conference. “If you want change in America, go and register to vote.”

The Minnesota governor said the violent demonstrations no longer have anything to do with Floyd or a demand for racial justice. He said the blame lies primarily with people from out of the state who are going to the Twin Cities to commit violence.

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Iran defies US sanction, sends five fuel tankers to Venezuela!

he news breaking at this hour is that the Iranian regime sent five Oil tankers to deliver a much-needed fuel to Venezuela. The report has it that one of the vessels entered the Venezuelan waters, a moment ago.

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Hassan Rouhan

The news breaking at this hour is that the Iranian regime sent five Oil tankers to deliver much-needed gasoline to Venezuela. The report has it that one of the vessels entered the Venezuelan waters, a moment ago.

The oil tanker Fortune encountered no signs of US interference as it eased through Caribbean waters toward the Venezuelan coast late on Saturday. Venezuelan officials celebrated the arrival.

In a tweet, the Venezuelan foreign minister Jorge Arreaza said, “Iran and Venezuela have always supported each other in times of difficulty,” “Today, the first ship with gasoline arrives for our people.”

Hassan Rouhan
Hassan Rouhan

 Hassan Rouhani, had earlier warned of retaliatory measures, should the Trump administration takes any action, that would impede the deliveries. The story is still developing. Please expect more updates.

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Fact Checks’: Medical journal refutes Trump’s claims about the WHO

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Trump and WhO

A British medical journal Tuesday rebutted claims by President Donald Trump that the World Health Organization had consistently ignored reports of the virus spreading in China in early December, including ones featured in its publication.

In a letter published Monday, Trump’s excoriated WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, saying the organization had “failed to independently investigate credible reports that conflicted directly with the Chinese government’s official accounts.”

“This statement is factually incorrect,” The Lancet, a general medical journal, responded in a statement. “The Lancet published no report in December 2019, referring to a virus or outbreak in Wuhan or anywhere else in China.”

The journal said the first reports it published were on January 24, adding that the scientists and physicians who led one of the studies were all from Chinese institutions.

“They worked with us to quickly make information about this new epidemic outbreak and the disease it caused fully and freely available to an international audience,” the statement said.

A second Lancet paper, also published on January 24, described the first scientific evidence confirming person-to-person transmission of the new virus, according to the journal. This report included scientists and physicians from Hong Kong and mainland China, it added.

The Lancet said allegations leveled against WHO in Trump’s letter were “serious and damaging” to efforts to strengthen international cooperation to control this pandemic.

“It is essential that any review of the global response is based on a factually accurate account of what took place in December and January,” the publication added.

Trump’s letter came as tensions ran high at the WHO’s general assembly Monday, with calls for an independent inquiry of the health body’s handling of the crisis and further criticism from the U.S. delegation.

Some observers say the WHO was far too credulous in believing Beijing’s reassurances, which it then amplified uncritically to the wider world.

In his letter, Trump also accused WHO of “missteps” and threatened to make the freeze on U.S. funding for the organization permanent.

Trump’s letter, which was posted to his Twitter account and cane during the World Health Assembly, accused the organization of an “alarming lack of independence from the People’s Republic of China.”

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