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Found 182 results

  1. MOSCOW: Russia?s diplomatic mail was not used for cocaine traffic in Argentina, a foreign ministry spokeswoman said on Saturday, after police busted an international ring of drug smugglers. The investigation started in 2016, when the Russian ambassador to Argentina called local authorities to report that traffickers were trying to move 16 bags of cocaine from the Buenos Aires embassy by way of a diplomatic flight. Maria Zakharova, the spokeswoman for the Russian foreign ministry, said on social media that the information about smugglers using diplomatic mail ?was not true?. The investigation led to the arrest on Wednesday of an Argentine policeman and another citizen of the South American country. Others involved in the scheme had been arrested in Russia, while one of the leaders of the plot was still on the run, Argentina?s Security Minister Patricia Bullrich told reporters earlier this week. Zakharova said the cocaine was destined for Europe and belonged to a Russian embassy?s non-essential employer. She didn?t say if he was arrested.
  2. [embed_video1 url=http://stream.jeem.tv/vod/0dff2ea32472ea250cf4d0a53e9bde9c.mp4/playlist.m3u8?wmsAuthSign=c2VydmVyX3RpbWU9Mi8yMC8yMDE4IDI6MTA6MjkgUE0maGFzaF92YWx1ZT0wR3JNWEFiNDhaT2tubkxydG5rNGd3PT0mdmFsaWRtaW51dGVzPTYwJmlkPTE= style=center] MOSCOW: Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif on Tuesday said that the unchecked and increasing presence of Daesh is a cause of concern for Pakistan. Addressing a press conference with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, Asif said Pakistan and Russia share common concerns regarding ?threats posed by prevailing situation in Afghanistan...[which include] terrorism, exponential increase in drug production, [and] use of drug money for terror finance?. The foreign minister said that the concerns also include security of regional countries, increasing presence of Daesh, location of the organisation?s camps close to border with Pakistan and central Asian states. ?An Afghan-led reconciliation process?is the only viable option for lasting peace in Afghanistan,? he added. He also praised Russia?s role for its efforts in establishing global peace and said it is playing an instrumental role against Daesh. Asif repeated Pakistan?s stance that it is blamed for foreign forces? failure to bring peace in Afghanistan and said it has rejected allegations aimed at ?scapegoating? Pakistan for the West's ?monumental failure in Afghanistan?. ?Pakistan has sustained a lot of damage in the fight against terrorism,? he added. US should pay for fencing on Pak-Afghan border: Khawaja Asif The foreign minister said fencing the border is in the mutual interest of both Afghanistan and Pakistan Commenting on relations with India, the foreign minister said that Pakistan wishes to hold talks with India to resolve Kashmir and other issues. Asif left for a four-day official visit to Russia on Monday, the Pakistan Foreign Office said in a statement. Asif is visiting Russia at the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Office said. During the visit, Asif will hold bilateral negotiations with his Russian counterpart. The two dignitaries will discuss the current state of affairs and prospects for bilateral relations, as well as exchange views on important issues facing the region and the world, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing.
  3. Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif/File photo ISLAMABAD: Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif will leave for a four-day official visit to Russia today, the Pakistan Foreign Office said in a statement. Asif is visiting Russia at the invitation of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, the Foreign Office said. During the visit, Asif will hold bilateral negotiations with his Russian counterpart. The two dignitaries will discuss the current state of affairs and prospects for bilateral relations, as well as exchange views on important issues facing the region and the world, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told a news briefing earlier.
  4. MOSCOW: Five Russian citizens may have been killed in Syria in clashes with US-led coalition forces this month, but they were not Russian military personnel, a Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman told a news briefing on Thursday. The spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, said media reports about dozens or hundreds of Russian dead in Syria were "disinformation". Associates of Russian private military contractors fighting alongside government forces in Syria have said there were large-scale casualties among the contractors when US-led coalition forces clashed with pro-government forces in Syria´s Deir al-Zor province on February 7.
  5. Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir. Photo: Geo News file ISLAMABAD: Defence Minister Khurram Dastgir on Wednesday said that Pakistan?s ties with Russia have strengthened under the current government. Speaking on the security policy in the upper house of the parliament, Dastgir said that Pakistan and Russia have held joint military exercises to strengthen the bilateral relations. He also briefed the lawmakers about Pakistan?s improved security relations with Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The defence minister stated that ties with Pakistan?s neighbour China are the strongest that they?ve been. Dastagir, in response to belligerent statements from his counterpart in India, on Tuesday said Pakistan will pay India in its own coin in case of any misadventure from the country's eastern neighbour. India's defence minister, Nirmala Sitharaman, had accused Pakistan of an attack on an army base in Indian-occupied Kashmir which killed 10 people, including five Indian soldiers. Pakistan will pay India in its own coin for any misadventure: defence minister Pakistani forces are vigilant and fully capable of defending the country's territorial integrity, Dastagir warns India Any Indian aggression, strategic miscalculation, or misadventure regardless of its scale, mode, or location will not go unpunished and shall be met with an equal and proportionate response, the defence minister had said in a statement. Referring to India's usual practice of blaming Pakistan after every attack by Kashmiri freedom fighters, Dastagir had further said that instead of knee-jerk reactions and blaming Pakistan, India should answer for its state-sponsored espionage against Pakistan.
  6. US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US, February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst WASHINGTON: A classified memo by congressional Democrats related to investigations of Russian influence in the 2016 US presidential election is ?very political and long? and must be ?heavily redacted? before it could be released, President Donald Trump said on Twitter on Saturday. The release of the memo was blocked by Trump on Friday, kicking off a new skirmish between Democrats and the White House. Written by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, is was intended to rebut a Republican document made public last week with Trump?s consent. The memo by committee Republicans claimed bias against Trump by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department in the federal investigation of Russia and the 2016 US election. The Intelligence Committee had voted unanimously on Monday to release the document drafted by the panel?s Democrats, contingent on the Republican president agreeing. ?The Democrats sent a very political and long response memo which they knew, because of sources and methods (and more), would have to be heavily redacted, whereupon they would blame the White House for lack of transparency,? Trump tweeted. ?Told them to re-do and send back in proper form!? Trump?s decision to block the release of the memo infuriated Democrats, who said it showed a double standard on transparency on the part of the Republican president. Representative Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, said in a statement on Saturday that he will review redactions recommended by the FBI and Justice Department. ?We hope this matter can be quickly resolved so the committee can return to its charge - fully investigating the Russian interference in our election and the role of the Trump campaign, and what steps need to be taken to protect against foreign interference in the next election, now only months away,? Schiff said. He was referring to November?s US elections in which all 435 seats in the US House of Representatives and 34 of 100 Senate seats are in play. Currently, Republicans hold majorities in both chambers. Democrats hope Trump?s low popularity in public opinion polls will help them win majorities, and some analysts give them a good chance. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, in a statement posted on Twitter, called on Democrats to accept the Justice Department?s recommendations and ?make the appropriate technical changes and redactions? so that the memo can be declassified as soon as possible. Trump on Feb. 2 allowed the release of the Republican document with no redactions, even though the Justice Department and FBI argued against making it public. The FBI expressed ?grave concerns about material omissions of fact? in the Republic memo. Democrats said it mischaracterized highly sensitive classified information and was intended to discredit special counsel Robert Mueller?s investigation of potential collusion between Trump?s 2016 campaign and Russia. Trump repeatedly has denied any such collusion. Late on Friday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, a senior Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, accused Trump of ?hypocrisy at its worst? in blocking, at least for now, release of the House Democrats? memo. ?Any minor redactions should be made as quickly as possible and the memo should be released,? she said.
  7. TALLINN: Estonia and Russia swapped convicted spies on Saturday after the two men both received presidential pardons, Estonian authorities said. Estonian businessman Raivo Susi was exchanged for Russian national Artyom Zinchenko at the Koidula border post in southeast Estonia. "The Estonian state helps its citizens whenever it can," said Arnold Sinisalu, the head of Baltic state´s security police. "Estonia deported to Russia the spy who had committed a crime here, and thus the Estonian businessman could return to the people close to him after being confined for a long time in Russia." Susi was detained by Russian authorities in February 2016 over his actions between 2004 and 2007 and was sentenced last year to 12 years in a strict penal colony for espionage. Susi's business reportedly had to do with aircraft delivery and service. A Tallinn court had sentenced Zinchenko last year to five years behind bars for spying on behalf of Russia´s GRU military intelligence. The court found Zinchenko, who had been living in Estonia on a residence permit since 2013, guilty of gathering and transmitting intelligence that compromised national security. This represents the latest in a series of spy cases involving Russia and the Baltic states. The former Soviet republics turned NATO and EU members are increasingly wary of Moscow's intentions following its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. This is not the first time that Estonia and Russia have exchanged spies. In 2015, Russia freed Estonian officer Eston Kohver in a Cold War-style bridge swap between the two countries. Kohver, who was sentenced by Russia to 15 years in jail on espionage and other charges, was exchanged for Aleksei Dressen, a former Estonian security official serving a 16-year sentence for spying for Moscow, the FSB had said at the time.
  8. US President Donald Trump speaks to reporters in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, US, February 9, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump on Friday blocked the release of a classified memo written by congressional Democrats to rebut a Republican document that he allowed to be made public last week that claimed FBI and Justice Department bias against him in the federal probe of Russia and the 2016 US election. The Republican president?s decision ? the latest controversy relating to an investigation that has hung over his year in office ? infuriated Democrats. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said, ?Millions of Americans are asking one simple question: what is he hiding?? White House Counsel Don McGahn said the Justice Department had identified portions of the 10-page memo written by Democratic members of the House Intelligence Committee that ?would create especially significant concerns for the national security and law enforcement interests? of the country. The White House also released a letter from the FBI director and the department?s No. 2 official voicing concern about its release in relation to protecting US intelligence sources and methods. A week earlier, Trump had overruled similar objections from the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department about releasing the memo written by the same committee?s Republican members that took aim at senior law enforcement officials. ?The president?s double standard when it comes to transparency is appalling, Schumer said. Trump on February 2 allowed the release of the memo written by the committee?s Republicans with no redactions. Democrats said the Republican memo mischaracterized highly sensitive classified information and was intended to discredit Special Counsel Robert Mueller?s investigation of potential collusion between Trump?s 2016 campaign and Russia. Mueller is also investigating whether Trump has committed obstruction of justice in trying to impede the Russia probe. McGahn said the president would be willing to reconsider the release of the memo if the committee decides to revise it ?to mitigate the risks? identified by the Justice Department. FBI surveillance The committee?s top Democrat, Adam Schiff, said the memo Trump blocked puts forth facts that the public needs to know, including that the FBI acted properly in seeking permission from a special court for surveillance of Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser with ties to Russia. Schiff said the committee?s Democrats ?take seriously? the Justice Department and FBI concerns and will review their recommended redactions. He said he hopes the matter can be resolved quickly so the committee can return to the Russia investigation. The Intelligence Committee voted unanimously on Monday to release the document drafted by the panel?s Democrats, contingent on the Republican president agreeing to reclassify it. ?Although the President is inclined to declassify the Feb. 5 Memorandum, because the memorandum contains numerous properly classified and especially sensitive passages, he is unable to do so at this time,? McGahn said in a letter to Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House panel. The White House also released a letter sent to McGahn by FBI Director Christopher Wray and to Rod Rosenstein, the No. 2 Justice Department official, expressing concerns about the memo?s release ?in light of longstanding principles regarding the protection of intelligence sources and methods, ongoing investigations, and other similar sensitive information?. Democratic Representative Ted Lieu wrote on Twitter that Trump?s action was outrageous, adding that he read the memo and is convinced that Trump ?is now intentionally hiding relevant information from the American people in order to mislead the public. An innocent person would not block the memo.? The Republican memo portrayed the Russia investigation as a product of political bias at the FBI and Justice Department against Trump. The president said the document ?totally vindicates? him in the Russia investigation, a claim disputed by Democrats and some Republicans. Democrats last week warned Trump against using the Republican memo as a pretext to fire Rosenstein, who hired Mueller and oversees the investigation or to remove Mueller himself. The Republican memo singled out Rosenstein and several other officials by name, including former FBI Director James Comey, who Trump fired in May 2017, as the agency investigated the Russia matter. Mueller took over the investigation from the FBI. US intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential campaign using hacking and propaganda, an effort that eventually included attempting to tilt the race in Trump?s favour. Russia denies interfering in the election. Trump denies collusion with Moscow. The Republican document asserted that a dossier of alleged Trump-Russia contacts compiled by former British spy Christopher Steele, and funded in part by US Democrats, formed an ?essential part? of requests to a special court to be allowed to conduct electronic surveillance on Page, an oil industry consultant with numerous contacts in Russia, that began in October 2016.
  9. US President Donald Trump gestures as he walks on South Lawn of the White House in Washington, US, February 2, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas PALM BEACH: US President Donald Trump said on Saturday that a controversial memo attacking federal law enforcement written by congressional Republicans vindicates him in the investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential election. Trump?s embrace of the memo raised again the prospect that he could use it as justification to fire special counsel Robert Mueller, who is conducting the investigation, or Deputy Attorney Rod Rosenstein, who oversees Mueller. Tweeting from his resort in Palm Beach, Florida, Trump said the memo ?totally vindicates? him but added ?the Russian Witch Hunt goes on and on. Their (sic) was no Collusion and there was no Obstruction.? He called the investigation ?an American disgrace.? The White House has said there will be no changes at the Justice Department as a result of the memo?s conclusions. The memo, written by Republicans on the US House of Representatives Intelligence Committee chaired by Devin Nunes, argues that the federal investigation of potential collusion between Trump?s 2016 presidential campaign and Russia was a product of political bias against Trump at the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Justice Department. Trey Gowdy, the Republican chairman of the powerful House Oversight committee, disagreed with Trump and said the memo has no impact on the Russia probe. ?Not to me, it doesn?t, and I was pretty integrally involved in the drafting of it,? Gowdy said in a preview of an interview to be aired on CBS? ?Face the Nation? on Sunday. Gowdy, who said this week that he will not run for re-election in November, said the Russia investigation would exist regardless of a dossier that the memo says the FBI received from a source who was strongly biased against Trump. ?So there?s going to be a Russia probe, even without a dossier,? said Gowdy. Trump approved the release of the formerly classified memo without redactions, despite objections from the FBI in a move that deepened tension between the White House and senior law enforcement that has existed since Trump took office. Democrats contend the four-page memo mischaracterizes highly sensitive classified information and was intended to undermine the Mueller criminal probe that was launched in May 2017 as an outgrowth an earlier FBI investigation. Jerrold Nadler, the top Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, said Trump?s decision to allow the release of the memo was ?part of a coordinated propaganda effort to discredit, disable and defeat the Russia investigation.? Some Republicans were also critical of the memo?s release. John Kasich, the governor of Ohio and a former rival of Trump?s for the presidential nomination, called it ?a disservice to our country.? Asked by reporters on Friday whether the memo made him more likely to fire Rosenstein or whether he had confidence in him, Trump replied, ?You figure it out.? Dismissing Rosenstein or Mueller would trigger a political firestorm much like his sacking of FBI Director James Comey last year. Mueller is also examining whether Trump has obstructed justice in trying to thwart the Russia investigation. ?Public trust? The memo alleges the FBI concealed the Democratic ties of a source the agency used to justify surveillance on Carter Page, a former Trump campaign adviser with links to Russia. It also published the names of senior FBI and Justice Department officials, including Rosenstein, who it said signed off on the surveillance. The document was commissioned by Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House intelligence panel. He said it laid bare ?serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes.? On Saturday, Nadler circulated a memo to House Democrats disputing the conclusions of the Nunes memo and arguing that Page was a lawful target of surveillance, according to NBC News. ?Carter Page was, more likely than not, an agent of a foreign power. The Department of Justice thought so. A federal judge agreed,? Nadler wrote in the memo. Mueller?s investigation has so far led to guilty pleas by two of Trump?s foreign policy advisers to charges of lying to the FBI, and indictments of former campaign manager Paul Manafort and his business partner Rick Gates. The Republican memo said the FBI used material from a source who was strongly biased against Trump, former British spy Christopher Steele, to justify its surveillance of Page. It alleged that a dossier compiled by Steele, and funded in part by Democrats, formed an ?essential part? of requests to a special court to be allowed to conduct electronic surveillance on Page that began in October 2016. Despite the memo?s charges, neither the focus on Page nor the FBI?s investigation of Trump-Russia ties began with the Steele dossier. Page came to the FBI?s attention as early as 2013, when he met in New York with Russians who were officers of the Kremlin?s foreign intelligence service, sources have said. The memo acknowledges that the FBI counterintelligence investigation began in July 2016, three months before the request for electronic surveillance on Page, as a result of the activities of another Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos. Steve Vladeck, a professor of constitutional law at the University of Texas-Austin, said it was unprecedented for the president to feud so publicly with leaders of the US intelligence agencies. ?You do long-term damage to these institutions if you convince a large swath of the American public that they can?t be trusted,? Vladeck said.
  10. National flags of Russia and the U.S. fly at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia April 11, 2017-Reuters WASHINGTON: Concerned about Russia?s growing tactical nuclear weapons, the United States will expand its nuclear capabilities, a policy document released on Friday said, a move some critics say could increase the risk of miscalculation between the two countries. It represents the latest sign of hardening resolve by President Donald Trump?s administration to address challenges from Russia, at the same time he is pushing for improved ties with Moscow to rein in a nuclear North Korea. The focus on Russia is in line with the Pentagon shifting priorities from the fight against militants to ?great power competition? with Moscow and Beijing. ?Our strategy will ensure Russia understands that any use of nuclear weapons, however limited, is unacceptable,? the document, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, said. The rationale for building up new nuclear capabilities, US officials said, is that Russia currently perceives the United States? nuclear posture and capabilities as inadequate. By expanding its own low-yield nuclear capability, the United States would deter Russia from using nuclear weapons, US officials argue. Low-yield nuclear weapons, while still devastating, have a strength of less than 20 kilotons. The atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima had about the same explosive power. The argument for these weapons is that larger nuclear bombs are so catastrophic that they would never be used and do not work as an effective deterrent. With less power and destruction, the low-yield option would potentially be more likely to be used, serving as an effective deterrent. The Pentagon document, which is largely in line with the previous review in 2010, said the United States will modify a small number of submarine-launched ballistic missile warheads with low-yield options. In the long term, the US military will also develop a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile. The missile could have the less powerful option, but a decision has not been made, and will take up to a decade to develop, officials said. Greg Weaver, deputy director of strategic capabilities at the Pentagon, said the United States would be willing to limit developing the missile if Russia would ?redress the imbalance in non-strategic nuclear forces.? Weaver said the most difficult task for those working on the review was trying to address the gap between Russian and American non-strategic nuclear weapons. Russia has a stockpile of 2,000 non-strategic nuclear weapons, according to the Pentagon. The US has a few hundred active low-yield weapons deployed in Europe. The US State Department said it had briefed Russian and Chinese officials on the review. Responding to Russia US officials argue that since the last nuclear review, Russia has expanded and modernized its non-strategic nuclear weapons, annexed Crimea in 2014, and deployed a ground-launched cruise missile that breaches the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. The treaty bans testing and fielding missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 km (310-3,417 miles). The report also, for the first time publicly, said Russia was developing a hypersonic, nuclear-powered undersea torpedo. ?The US is not arms racing, we are responding to Russian initiative here,? Weaver said. Some experts have questioned the expansion. Jon Wolfsthal, a former top advisor to President Barack Obama on arms control, said there was a possibility that it could lead to a miscalculation. ?If we put nuclear weapons on cruise missiles and we launch conventional cruise missiles, how does Russia know that they are conventional?? he said. The document argues that by developing US nuclear responses, it raises the Russian threshold for using the weapons, rather than lowering the US threshold. Kingston Reif, director for disarmament research at the Arms Control Association advocacy group, said the document could bolster a new kind of arms race. ?It?s not an arms race in terms of numbers like during the Cold War, but is an arms race that involves more than just the United States and Russia and it involves upgrading and improving the capability of existing nuclear forces,? Reif said. The review called for continuing the B-83 bomb, the largest nuclear weapon in the US stockpile, until a replacement is found, reversing plans to retire it.
  11. The release of the memo could sour relations between the president and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which Trump has repeatedly attacked as biased against him WASHINGTON: The FBI warned Wednesday it has "grave concerns" over the accuracy of a secret Congressional memo that could depict the agency as deeply politicised, as President Donald Trump's top aide signalled the White House would allow the document's release. Based on highly classified information, the four-page memo -- written by Republican lawmaker Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee -- suggests that the Justice Department and the FBI abused their power in running surveillance on a member of President Donald Trump's election campaign in 2016. The Justice Department and the FBI have actively lobbied against its release, which has the potential to taint special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians, an investigation that is edging closer to the president himself. But White House chief of staff John Kelly said Wednesday that the document could be made public soon, once White House lawyers have vetted it. "It'll be released here pretty quick, I think, and the whole world can see it," Kelly told Fox Radio. "This president .... wants everything out so the American people can make up their own minds. And if there are people to be held accountable, then so be it." The FBI stressed its concerns in an extraordinary, unsigned public statement that demonstrated its growing rift with Trump and Nunes, a staunch defender in Congress of the president. "With regard to the House Intelligence Committee's memorandum, the FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it," it said. "As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo's accuracy." In a statement, Nunes countered that it was "no surprise" that the Justice Department and FBI would oppose the release of "information related to surveillance abuses at these agencies." "It's clear that top officials used unverified information in a court document to fuel a counter-intelligence investigation during an American political campaign," he said. Espionage probe during 2016 election Nunes' committee voted on Monday to release the memo, distilled from a much larger volume of documents used by the FBI to get a so-called FISA national security warrant to spy on Trump campaign official Carter Page, who was suspected of espionage. Media reports, citing lawmakers who have seen the document, say it alleges that to obtain the warrant, they submitted as evidence the contentious and unproven "Russia dossier." The dossier includes information on contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia compiled by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and financed in part by Democrat Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. Republicans say it provides evidence that the Justice Department, allegedly full of pro-Clinton officials, actively sought to undermine Trump. Because of its sensitive nature, to release the memo, Nunes needs the president's approval. If Trump does not act either way, Nunes can release it as early as Saturday. Trump relations with FBI sink But Democrats say the memo is based on selective information that does not reflect the entire classified file on the FISA warrant application on Page. Instead, they say, Nunes is running a politically-motivated stunt to smear the Mueller collusion investigation, which is also examining whether Trump tried to obstruct the probe. Indeed, Democrats raised questions Wednesday over whether Trump worked with Nunes to produce the memo. "Today's announcement that the FBI has 'grave concerns' about the Nunes memo is the latest reason not to release it," said Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. "It's clear the goal is to undermine the special counsel's investigation." The release of the memo could sour relations between the president and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which Trump has repeatedly attacked as biased against him. In May 2017, Trump fired FBI director James Comey, who refused to swear personal loyalty to the president as he pressed forward on the Russia investigation. Trump has also alleged that the FBI deliberately went easy on Clinton in its 2016 criminal investigation into her misuse of a private email server when she was secretary of state. That investigation was led by Comey and his deputy Andrew McCabe. Amid an internal FBI investigation into the handling of the Clinton case, McCabe agreed Monday to step down as FBI deputy director -- two months before his planned retirement. Leaked text messages of two FBI investigators involved in both the Clinton and Russia probes show them expressing strong anti-Trump feelings.
  12. Russian President Vladimir Putin, Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and Deputy Defence Minister Yuri Borisov visit the Gorbunov Aviation factory in Kazan, Russia January 25, 2018. ? Reuters WASHINGTON: The Trump administration said on Monday it would not immediately impose additional sanctions on Russia, despite a new law designed to punish Moscow?s alleged meddling in the 2016 US election, insisting the measure was already hitting Russian companies. ?Today, we have informed Congress that this legislation and its implementation are deterring Russian defense sales,? State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in a statement. ?Since the enactment of the ... legislation, we estimate that foreign governments have abandoned planned or announced purchases of several billion dollars in Russian defense acquisitions.? Seeking to press President Donald Trump to clamp down on Russia, the US Congress voted nearly unanimously last year to pass a law setting sweeping new sanctions on Moscow. Trump, who wanted warmer ties with Moscow and had opposed the legislation as it worked its way through Congress, signed it reluctantly in August, just six months into his presidency. Under the measure, the administration faced a deadline on Monday to impose sanctions on anyone determined to conduct significant business with Russian defense and intelligence sectors, already sanctioned for their alleged role in the election. But citing long time frames associated with major defense deals, Nauert said it was better to wait to impose those sanctions. ?From that perspective, if the law is working, sanctions on specific entities or individuals will not need to be imposed because the legislation is, in fact, serving as a deterrent,? she said in a statement. The measure, known as ?Countering America?s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act,? or CAATSA, required the administration to list ?oligarchs? close to President Vladimir Putin?s government and issue a report detailing possible consequences of penalising Russia?s sovereign debt. Would Trump clamp down on Russia? Monday?s deadline to release those reports was seen as a test of Trump?s willingness to clamp down on Russia. Critics blasted him for failing to announce any sanctions. ?The State Department claims that the mere threat of sanctions will deter Russia?s aggressive behaviour. How do you deter an attack that happened two years ago, and another that?s already underway? It just doesn?t make sense,? said Representative Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the US House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee. ?I?m fed up waiting for this Administration to protect our country and our elections,? he said in a statement. Members of Congress, including Democrats and some of Trump?s fellow Republicans, have been clamouring for his administration to use sanctions to punish Moscow for past election interference and prevent future meddling in US polls. Shortly before midnight (0500 GMT) on Monday, the Treasury Department released an unclassified ?oligarchs? list, including 114 senior Russian political figures and 96 business people. Those named on the list will not immediately face any immediate penalties like asset freezes or visa bans. But the law mandated that the US Treasury and State Departments, and intelligence agencies, compile a list of political figures and business people close to Putin?s government and network, for potential future sanctions. Several US congressional committees, as well as Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are investigating whether Russia tried to tilt last November?s election in Trump?s favour, using means such as hacking into the emails of senior Democrats and promoting divisive social and political messages online. Trump and the Kremlin have separately denied any collusion. Senator Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, one of the main congressional architects of the sanctions law, said he was not concerned that the administration did not announce sanctions by Monday?s deadline. ?This is when sanctions season begins, and so they?ll be rolling them out,? he told reporters. ?We feel pretty good about the process,? Corker said. ?They?re rushing the information over to us today, and by the close of business, they?re going to have two of the three, as I understand it. So they?re taking it very seriously.?
  13. CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Photo: File LONDON: CIA Director Mike Pompeo said that Chinese efforts to exert covert influence over the West are just as concerning as Russian subversion, while speaking to an interview with BBC. Pompeo further informed that that the Chinese "have a much bigger footprint" than the Russians do, as an example he quoted the efforts to steal US commercial information and infiltration of schools and hospitals. "Think about the scale of the two economies," Mr Pompeo said of Russia and China."The Chinese have a much bigger footprint upon which to execute that mission than the Russians do." After Trump criticism, China denies selling oil illicitly to North Korea 'I have been soft on China because the only thing more important to me than trade is war,' Trump says in an interview The US spy chief said that the international community could collectively do more to combat Chinese efforts to exert power over the West. "We can watch very focused efforts to steal American information, to infiltrate the United States with spies - with people who are going to work on behalf of the Chinese government against America," he said. "We see it in our schools. We see it in our hospitals and medicals systems. We see it throughout corporate America. It's also true in other parts of the world... including Europe and the UK." CIA Director Pompeo claimed that Russia will target US mid-term elections later this year as part of the Kremlin´s attempt to influence domestic politics across the West. Russia has been accused of meddling in the 2016 US Presidential election and Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating the allegations, which Moscow denies, and whether there was any collusion involving President Donald Trump´s associates. Pompeo said Russia had a long history of information campaigns and said its threat would not go away. Asked if Russia would try to influence the mid-term elections, he said: "Of course. I have every expectation that they will continue to try and do that. "But I am confident that America will be able to have a free and fair election. That we´ll push back in a way that is sufficiently robust that the impact they have on our election won´t be great.
  14. US President Donald Trump addresses the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 26, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse DAVOS: US President Donald Trump on Friday dismissed as "fake news" bombshell reports that he had ordered the firing of Russia investigation special prosecutor Robert Mueller last year, only backing off in the face of a threatened resignation. "Fake news. Fake news. Typical New York Times. Fake stories," Trump told reporters as he arrived for meetings at the World Economic Forum summit in Davos, Switzerland. The New York Times and other US media reported Thursday that Trump had ordered the firing of Mueller in June 2017 but that the president climbed down when the top White House lawyer threatened to resign. Mueller is leading the probe into allegations of collusion between the US president?s campaign team and Russia in the 2016 election. Trump has repeatedly criticized the probe which he says is an attack on the legitimacy of his presidency. The New York Times said White House counsel Don McGahn opposed the firing decision, telling senior officials it would have a "catastrophic effect" on Trump?s presidency. After McGahn threatened to quit, Trump changed his mind, the Times reported, citing four anonymous sources. The Washington Post, also citing anonymous sources, confirmed that Trump sought to fire Mueller but reconsidered after the White House counsel?s threat. Trump attorney Ty Cobb told AFP: "We decline to comment out of respect for the Office of the Special Counsel and its process." But Trump had no such scruples about commenting as he arrived at a conference centre in the snowbound Swiss mountain resort on Friday. The president had told journalists in August that he had not considered firing Mueller, some two months after he reportedly had moved to do just that. "I haven?t given it any thought. I mean, I?ve been reading about it from you people, you say, ?Oh, I?m gonna dismiss him.? No, I?m not dismissing anybody," Trump said. ?Red line? According to the Times, Trump had accused Mueller of three conflicts of interest that he argued disqualified him from running the Russia collusion investigation. They were as follows: Mueller had terminated his membership at a Trump golf course over a dispute about fees, had worked for the law firm that previously represented the president?s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and had been interviewed to return as FBI director before he was appointed the special counsel. Democratic Senator Mark Warner, the vice chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said Thursday that firing Mueller would be a "red line." "I?ve said it before, and I am saying it again: firing the special counsel is a red line that the president cannot cross," Warner said in a statement. "Any attempt to remove the special counsel, pardon key witnesses, or otherwise interfere in the investigation, would be a gross abuse of power." The day before, Trump for the first time directly said that he would cooperate with Mueller, whose investigation he had previously dismissed as a "witch hunt." "I would love to do it," Trump told reporters in the White House when asked about testifying. "I would do it under oath, absolutely." Any interview of a US president in an investigation is fraught with issues of executive privilege ? how much and in what context the US leader can be forced to disclose information. In Trump?s case, it also raises deep concerns that his shoot-from-the-hip outspokenness could jeopardize his own legal position.
  15. Special Counsel Robert Mueller (R) departs after briefing members of the US Senate on his investigation into potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, June 21, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/Files Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his office have interviewed at least one member of a Facebook team that was associated with Donald Trump?s 2016 presidential campaign, Wired magazine reported on its website on Friday. The interview was part of Mueller's probe into allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 US election and whether there was any collusion between Trump associates and Moscow, Wired said, citing an anonymous source. Trump has denied any collusion. Both Mueller?s office and Facebook declined Reuters? requests for comment. Facebook, Google and Twitter have faced a stream of revelations about how Moscow sought to use their platforms to sow discord in the United States and influence the election in favour of Trump, the Republican presidential candidate.
  16. US Attorney General Jeff Sessions waits to speak at the Federalist Society's 2017 National Lawyers Convention in Washington, US, November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/Files WASHINGTON: US attorney general Jeff Sessions was named Tuesday as the first member of Donald Trump?s cabinet to be questioned in the probe into allegations of Russian election meddling, as a report said the president himself could face an interview request within weeks. The Justice Department confirmed that Sessions ? who has downplayed the notion that Russia interfered in Trump?s favour in 2016 ? was heard for several hours last week, suggesting that special counsel Robert Mueller?s probe was moving ever close to the president. But Mueller?s probe also came under fierce attack Tuesday after the Justice Department admitted the loss of five months of text messages between two FBI investigators, agent Peter Strzok and lawyer Lisa Page, who are known to have expressed hostility towards Trump. The loss of the private messages has sparked accusations of a Watergate-like coverup from Republicans, who claim that Mueller?s probe is biased against the president. Trump himself weighed in Tuesday about the issue. "In one of the biggest stories in a long time, the FBI now says it is missing five months worth of lovers Strzok-Page texts, perhaps 50,000, and all in prime time. Wow!" Sessions questioned Mueller, a former FBI director, has already issued indictments for several former Trump aides, and his interview of Sessions could signal he is getting closer to the president. The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Mueller wants to question Trump in the "coming weeks" over the 2017 firings of his national security advisor Michael Flynn and FBI director James Comey, as part of the probe which also looking into the possibility that Trump obstructed justice. What Sessions told Mueller could be crucial in the investigation. As a senior campaign official he had several interactions with Russia?s former ambassador in Washington. He also oversaw the campaign?s team of foreign policy advisors, including George Papadopoulos, who had extensive Russian contacts and was the first person indicted in Mueller?s probe. Moreover, Sessions played a key role in the May 9, 2017 firing of FBI director James Comey, whose pursuit of the Russia meddling case angered Trump. Asked Tuesday about Sessions being questioned, Trump said he wasn?t worried. "I?m not at all concerned. Not at all," he said. Agent texts ?extremely troubling? Faced with the pressure on Trump, the Strzok-Page texts have given Republicans a wedge to try and undermine Mueller?s overall credibility. The catalogue of some 50,000 texts show the two, who were having an affair while taking part in the FBI?s 2016 investigation of Trump?s Democratic election rival Hillary Clinton, repeatedly expressing political preference for Clinton and disdain for Trump. That investigation, into Clinton?s misuse of a private email server while she was secretary of state, ended when Comey decided there was not enough evidence to charge her, raising howls from Republicans of bias. Then in June 2017, Strzok was named a top investigator in Mueller?s probe of possible Trump campaign collusion with Russians. Mueller dismissed him two months later, after the affair and text messages came to his attention. But Republicans have continued to seize on the text messages as evidence of bias in the Justice Department and FBI. "We know that Strzok and Page had an intense anti-Trump bias," Congressman John Ratcliffe told Fox News Monday, citing indications that in the "aftermath of his election, there may have been a ?secret society? of folks within the Department of Justice and the FBI, to include Page and Strzok, that would be working against him." Some alleged a cover-up when the department admitted Monday that the FBI had lost Strzok-Page text messages between December 14, 2016 and May 17, 2017 ? a crucial period for the Russia collusion probe ? due to technical issues. In a statement, senior House Republicans called the thousands of text messages they did receive "extremely troubling." "Rather than clearing up prior FBI and DOJ actions, these recently produced documents cause us to further question the credibility and objectivity of certain officials at the FBI." But House Democrats lashed back. "Republicans are now attacking the FBI in order to undermine Special Counsel Mueller and protect President Trump," Jerrold Nadler and two other senior Democrats said. "These Republican attacks show their desperation at the fact that Mueller already has obtained two guilty pleas, two indictments, and at least two cooperating witnesses," they said in a statement.
  17. MOSCOW: Russia on Saturday voiced concern and urged restraint over a new Turkish operation to oust Kurdish militia from a northern Syrian enclave, with Moscow responding by withdrawing its troops from the zone in question. "Moscow is concerned at this news. We call on the opposing parties to show restraint," the foreign ministry said after the launch of an operation which has also drawn US warnings. The Turkish incursion prompted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to discuss the issue with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Lavrov's ministry said. They discussed "measures to take aimed at securing stability in the north of the country," it said on Facebook and agreed . Moscow said the conversation was a US initiative. The Russian defence ministry said its troops were withdrawing from around Afrin "to prevent potential provocation and exclude the threat to the life and wellbeing of Russian military" after Ankara launched a new air and ground operation to oust People´s Protection Units (YPG) militia. Turkey deems the group a terrorist organisation. Reacting to the offensive, the Russian military criticised Washington for having "provoked an extremely negative reaction from Ankara" with "uncontrollable arms deliveries" to the US-backed rebel group. Ankara had over recent days expressed fury over a US plan to train a 30,000-strong body of local fighters, including the YPG, as a "border security force." Pentagon officials backtracked midweek, insisting the force will operate within Syria to protect areas liberated from Daesh after Turkish foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned of "irreversible damage" to Turkish-US relations. A Russian army statement blasted what it termed "irresponsible acts on the part of the Americans in Syria (which) threaten to undermine the process of a peaceful resolution" of the conflict. A defence ministry statement said Russia seeks a resolution "based on territorial integrity and respect for the country´s sovereignty." Following a partial December withdrawal of its troops from Syria, where Russia intervened on behalf of the regime in September 2015, "the main objective of Russian forces remaining in the country is to ensure respect of the truce in de-escalation zones," the ministry said.
  18. US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis WASHINGTON: Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said Friday that America is facing "growing threats" from China and Russia, and warned that the US military´s advantages have eroded in recent years. Mattis´s assessment came as he unveiled the Pentagon´s vision for the future detailed in a document called the national defense strategy. "We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models," Mattis said. "Our military is still strong, yet our competitive edge has eroded in every domain of warfare -- air, land, sea, space and cyberspace -- and is continually eroding," he added. President Donald Trump and his administration worry that the vast US military force is feeling the effects of years of budget shortfalls and atrophy, and needs a full reboot to restore it to an idealized strength. Blueprint for the future Part wish list, part blueprint for the coming years, the Pentagon´s national defense strategy seeks to increase the size of the military, improve its readiness and work with allies -- all while operating across multiple theaters including in Europe, the Middle East and Asia. "This strategy establishes my intent to pursue urgent change at significant scale," Mattis wrote in the introduction to the strategy. "We must use creative approaches, make sustained investment and be disciplined in execution to field a Joint Force fit for our time, one that competes, deters and wins in this increasingly complex security environment." The announcement sparked a backlash from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who branded the new US strategy as "confrontational." "It is regrettable that instead of having a normal dialogue, instead of using the basis of international law, the US is indeed striving to prove their leadership through such confrontational strategies and concepts," Lavrov told a news conference at the United Nations. Elbridge Colby, the US deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development, told reporters that Mattis´s strategy seeks to deal with the "erosion" of America´s military advantage. "What it is recognizing is that China and Russia in particular have been assiduously working over a number of years to develop their military capabilities to challenge our military advantages," he said. South China Sea threat The new defense strategy follows on from Trump´s national security strategy that he released last month which, similarly, highlights the role of China and Russia in the global security environment. "China is a strategic competitor using predatory economics to intimidate its neighbors while militarizing features in the South China Sea," Mattis wrote. "Russia has violated the borders of nearby nations and pursues veto power over the economic, diplomatic and security decisions of its neighbors," he added, while also pointing a finger at Iran and North Korea for their threats to peace. The two countries reacted furiously to Trump´s security strategy, with Beijing accusing Washington of having a "Cold War mentality" while Moscow denounced its "imperialist character." Trump´s security strategy contrasts with the friendly nature of his first state visit to Beijing in November, when he received a lavish welcome and repeatedly praised President Xi Jinping. One of the biggest criticisms inside the Pentagon and on Capitol Hill is that the US military is suffering from a lack of readiness, where troops and gear are not getting the training or maintenance they need. Mattis said the United States must be ready to fight a war. "The surest way to prevent war is to be prepared to win one," he said. "Doing so requires a competitive approach to force development and a consistent, multiyear investment to restore war fighting readiness and field a lethal force." Pressure on European allies Mattis´s strategy also calls for greater coordination with allies, who Trump on the campaign trail lambasted for not doing enough to share the burden of defending the post-World War II order. "We expect European allies to fulfill their commitments to increase defense and modernization spending to bolster the alliance in the face of our shared security concerns," Mattis said, in reference to NATO countries paying more into their defense budgets. Republican Senator John McCain, who chairs the powerful Senate Armed Services Committee that helps oversee the Pentagon, welcomed Mattis´s strategy for getting "the big decisions right." "A new era of great power competition has emerged, and this strategy prioritizes that reality," he said in a statement. The document makes no mention of climate change, which under former president Barack Obama was recognized as a national security threat. Trump has claimed climate change is a hoax and pulled the US out of the historic climate accords in Paris.
  19. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference in Moscow, Russia, January 17, 2017. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin UNITED NATIONS: Russia on Thursday warned at the UN Security Council that the collapse of the Iranian nuclear deal would send an "alarming" message to the world and compromise efforts to persuade North Korea to scrap its nuclear arsenal. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a council meeting on non-proliferation that the 2015 deal ? known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) ? was a major diplomatic achievement. "Clearly the failure of the JCPOA, especially as a result of one of the parties... would be an alarming message for the entire international community architecture, including the prospects for dealing with the nuclear problem on the Korean peninsula," said Lavrov. US President Donald Trump on Friday agreed to again waive US nuclear-related sanctions on Iran but demanded that US lawmakers and European allies fix the "disastrous flaws" in the deal. Washington is concerned that the deal ? thrashed out over 12 years of talks ? does nothing to punish Iran over its ballistic missile program, interference in regional conflicts or human rights abuses at home. Russia ? one of the six world powers, along with the US, that signed the deal with Iran ? dismissed US concerns as politically-motivated. "We cannot for the benefit of political agendas of certain countries abandon a genuine achievement of international diplomacy," said Lavrov. At a Moscow press conference this week, Lavrov said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un will not agree to give up nuclear weapons in exchange for lifting sanctions if the same arrangement with Tehran collapses. "If this arrangement is taken away and Iran is told: you remain within the framework of your obligations and we will reimpose sanctions ? then put yourself in North Korea's place," Lavrov said. In his address to the council, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said the nuclear deal was being "questioned" and stressed it was in the world's interest that the agreement "be preserved".
  20. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Canada?s Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland speak at a news conference during the Foreign Ministers? Meeting on Security and Stability on the Korean Peninsula in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, January 16, 2018. REUTERS/Ben Nelms MOSCOW: Russia hit out on Wednesday at a US-led effort to increase international pressure on North Korea, saying it was making the situation worse and undermining the United Nations. Twenty nations hosted by the United States and Canada in Vancouver agreed on Tuesday to consider tougher sanctions to press North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has refused to give up development of nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States in spite of increasingly severe UN sanctions, raising fears of a new war on the Korean peninsula. The Russian Foreign Ministry said top diplomats from Moscow and Beijing had not been invited to the meeting, which was made up of countries that backed South Korea during the 1950-53 Korea War, and that the events were damaging the authority of the United Nations. ?It is an absolutely unacceptable situation, when 17 countries take upon themselves the role of ?helper? to the UN Security Council (UNSC) and interpreter of its resolutions, thereby actually putting its authority into doubt,? the ministry said in a statement. ?Such events, conducted hastily and to the detriment of functioning multilateral formats, are not contributing to the normalisation of the situation around the Korean peninsula, but on the contrary, aggravating it.? In Washington, a senior US official said that the meeting had been planned for months and sought to push back against the idea that it would aggravate tensions on the peninsula. ?It is not factually accurate to say that the event was conducted hastily. This has been many months in the planning,? said Under Secretary of State Steve Goldstein, responding to the Russian foreign ministry?s statement. ?We believe that this is another step forward in ensuring that the sanctions hold tight,? he added, saying Washington would brief Beijing and Moscow. ?We all share the same view that it is time for North Korea to come to the table and let?s negotiate a complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.? North and South Korea began talks last week for the first time in more than two years and agreed on Wednesday to field a combined women?s ice hockey team and march together under one flag at next month?s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
  21. FILE: Jon Huntsman, Ambassador to Russia - REUTERS MOSCOW: A US report detailing new sanctions against Russia will be published on January 29, the TASS news agency reported citing US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman on Tuesday. Washington is expected to impose fresh penalties against Russia for its alleged meddling in the 2016 US presidential vote, an allegation Russia has repeatedly denied.
  22. WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump?s former chief strategist Steve Bannon will be interviewed next week by a US House of Representatives committee investigating alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, a person familiar with the matter said on Thursday. The interview on Tuesday will focus on Bannon?s time on the campaign, not the transition or his time in the White House, the source said. An aide to Republican Representative Devin Nunes, the committee?s chairman, declined comment. The committee?s practice is not to comment on specific witnesses or the schedule for testimony at non-public hearings. Separately, Representative Adam Schiff, the panel?s top Democrat, told reporters on Thursday he would like ?dozens? more witnesses, including Bannon, to appear before the committee, making clear he does not view its investigation of Russia and the election as near its end. Some of Trump?s fellow Republicans in Congress have been saying they expect the House Intelligence probe and other congressional investigations to wrap up quickly. Democrats have been disputing this, saying there is much work remaining to determine whether Russia attempted to influence the election on Trump?s behalf or whether Trump colluded. Moscow denies trying to meddle in the election, and Trump dismisses talk of collusion. ?There are still dozens of witnesses that we could bring in,? Schiff told reporters. Besides Bannon, he said those witnesses would include Trump?s daughter Ivanka. He also said he would like Trump?s son-in-law Jared Kushner to appear again before the committee while noting that the choice of witnesses is determined by the panel?s Republican leadership.
  23. Nasr Hariri ? the head of the Syrian High Negotiations Committee (HNC) ? leaves after a news conference before the opening of Intra Syria talks in Geneva, Switzerland, November 27, 2017. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/Files UNITED NATIONS: Syria?s opposition is hoping to persuade the US administration this week to throw its weight behind UN-led peace talks and counter Russia?s bid to set up a parallel track, its lead negotiator said Tuesday. After meeting with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in New York, opposition leaders are heading to Washington on Tuesday for meetings to shore up the Geneva talks, which are expected to resume on January 21. "All of us, all of our countries are waiting for an American role" in finding a settlement to the nearly seven-year war, Nasr Hariri told AFP in an interview. The United States is "the most important player in the Syrian fight, the only state that can make a balance with the Russian influence," he said. The delegation led by Hariri hopes to meet with US national security adviser H.R McMaster, State Department officials and members of Congress to make their case for US engagement. The opposition?s appeal to the US administration comes as Russia is asking the United Nations to take part in a peace congress it is hosting along with Iran in Sochi on January 29 and 30. Western countries view the Sochi peace talks with scepticism, concerned that Russia and Iran will carve out a settlement that will favour their ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Hariri said he was told by Guterres that no decision had been made yet on whether the United Nations would take part in the Sochi conference, a move that would bring credibility to the Russian-led effort. For its part, the Syrian opposition has not taken a "final decision" on whether to boycott the Sochi talks, said Hariri, who became the opposition?s chief negotiator in November. Invigorate the Geneva talks Russia?s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters that he still hopes the United Nations will attend the Sochi conference, which he said would help "re-invigorate" the Geneva talks. "We think that it?s in the interest of (the) UN to participate," said Nebenzia, stressing that the conference was not a "stand-alone event" but one that should contribute to kickstart the UN talks. Eight rounds of talks in Geneva have repeatedly stumbled over Assad?s fate, with negotiators from Damascus refusing to meet the opposition directly until it drops demands that he leave office. Assad?s forces have regained the upper hand in the war, re-taking territory in a campaign backed by Russia?s military intervention. Without Washington as an "active political player in Geneva, I think the game will continue, by wasting time, establishing parallel tracks to hijack the political process in Geneva to Sochi, to Astana," said Hariri. President Donald Trump?s administration has shown little interest in the diplomatic effort to end the war in Syria, focusing instead on defeating Daesh. After the US-led coalition drove Daesh out of Raqa, Washington must now step up its involvement in forging a peace agreement to keep Daesh at bay and to prevent Iran from expanding its influence, said Hariri. More than 340,000 people have died in Syria?s nearly seven-year war and over half of the population has been driven from their homes.
  24. Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after briefing the US House Intelligence Committee on his investigation of potential collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign on Capitol Hill in Washington, US, June 20, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron P. Bernstein/Files WASHINGTON: Special counsel Robert Mueller has told President Donald Trump?s legal team that his office is likely to seek an interview with the US leader as part of its Russia probe, and one could take place within weeks, the Washington Post reported on Monday. Citing a person close to Trump, the Post said an interview ? on some limited portion of questions ? was possible within the next several weeks. Mueller brought up the issue of interviewing Trump during a meeting with the president?s lawyers in late December, the Post reported.
  25. Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov speaks during a news briefing in the main building of Foreign Ministry in Moscow, Russia, December 15, 2008. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov/Files MOSCOW: Russia considers a United States' proposal for an extraordinary meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on the turmoil in Iran ?harmful and destructive?, RIA news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Thursday. ?We see no role for the United Nations Security Council in this issue,? he said, according to the agency. ?Iran?s domestic affairs have nothing to do with the United Nations Security Council?s role.? On Thursday, the Kazakh delegation to the UN said the UNSC will meet on Friday at 3 PM (2000 GMT) to discuss Iran. Kazakhstan is the Council president through January. US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said this week that Washington was seeking emergency sessions on Iran at the UN in New York and at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The US delegation said on Thursday it had requested the Friday meeting. Anti-government protests have swept Iranian cities and towns over the past week and 21 people have been killed in the unrest. Commenting on the possibility of new US sanctions on Iran, Ryabkov said such methods were ?illegitimate?. State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert had suggested the US government could impose sanctions against Iranian officials who repress peaceful protests. Ryabkov said earlier on Thursday that the United States should not interfere in Iran?s domestic affairs, and that Moscow remained committed to the 2015 international deal to curtail Tehran?s nuclear program, which US President Donald Trump has challenged.