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Arab League head hopes Biden changes Trump Mideast policies

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The head of the Arab League expressed hope Monday that the Biden administration will change President Donald Trump’s policies and launch a political process supported by regional and international parties to achieve independence for the Palestinians.

Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary-general of the 22-member organization, told the U.N. Security Council that a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict “has been marginalized by the main mediator in the peace process,” a reference to the United States.

“This encouraged the Israeli government to intensify its settlement activities and to threaten to take dangerous and destructive steps such as annexing occupied land,” he said.

The Arab League chief addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a wide-ranging briefing on the crises and conflicts in the Middle East.

He also referred without name to Iran, saying that “some regional powers are interfering in the affairs of the Arab region” by adversely affecting “the security of international maritime navigation routes which are a lifeline for international trade,” a reference to freedom of navigation in the Persian Gulf.

“It has also become apparent that this interference perpetuates existing conflicts and further complicates them,” he said, without directly citing Iran’s support for Syrian President Bashar Assad, for Yemen’s Houthi Shiite rebels and for Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Aboul Gheit said the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing conflicts and crises have created “a dangerous mix that has taken a heavy toll on the peoples of the region,” pointing to 10 years of civil war in Syria, Yemen’s war entering its seventh year and “entrenched divisions in Libya.”

He spoke a day after Israeli authorities advanced plans to build nearly 800 homes in West Bank settlements, in a last-minute surge of approvals before U.S. President Donald Trump leaves office Wednesday and Joe Biden is inaugurated as the 46th president of the United States. Palestinian leaders denounced the Israeli action.

The Palestinians claim all of the West Bank, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as part of a future independent state. They say the growing settler population, approaching some 500,000 people, makes it increasingly difficult to achieve their dream of independence.

Aboul Gheit said that “significant efforts” need to be made by all parties in coming months to reaffirm the two-state solution.

“We look forward to the new American administration rectifying policies and processes that are not useful and engage in a fruitful political process with the support of influential regional and international parties,” he said. “This would give the Palestinian people renewed hope that the international community would stand by its side in its noble aspiration to achieve freedom and independence.”

On Syria, Aboul Gheit said five countries are interfering militarily and the “security situation remains tumultuous and precarious, especially in the northwest, northeast and south.” This not only undermines prospects of a political settlement but also has equally serious humanitarian repercussions, with 90% of Syrians living in poverty, he said.

“I am convinced that a genuine solution would start with a minimal level of international consensus, which is still lacking,” and would require some regional parties to reduce their involvement in Syria, Aboul Gheit said. “Those regional parties continue to view Syria land as spoils of war or use it to settle scores,.

In Yemen, the Arab League chief said the situation “is as dangerous, especially the humanitarian situation,” with some Yemenis on the bring of starvation.

He strongly backed efforts by U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths to get agreement between the Houthis and the internationally recognized government on a joint declaration calling for a cease-fire and confidence-building measures. He said the Saudi-negotiated agreement on a new Cabinet “is a positive sign that the fragmentation and division are coming to an end,” which “paves the way for negotiations on a comprehensive solution.”

As for Libya, Aboul Gheit said recent events “could bring us closer to ending the division in this important Arab country.”

After the 2011 overthrow and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi, oil-rich Libya was split between rival administrations in its east and west, each backed by an array of militias and foreign powers. The warring sides agreed to a U.N.-brokered cease-fire in October, a deal that included the departure of foreign forces and mercenaries within three months and holding presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24, 2021.

Aboul Gheit urged implementation of the cease-fire agreement as well as ending recruitment of foreign fighters and stopping shipments of weapons and military equipment to Libya.

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Trouble at home may change Biden’s hand in Iran nuke talks

A lot of the characters are the same for President-elect Joe Biden but the scene is far starker as he reassembles a team of veteran negotiators to get back into the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

President Donald Trump worked to blow up the multinational deal to contain Iran’s nuclear program during his four years in office, gutting the diplomatic achievement of predecessor Barack Obama in favor of what Trump called a maximum pressure campaign against Iran.

Down to Trump’s last days in office, accusations, threats and still more sanctions by Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and Iran’s decision to spur uranium enrichment and seize a South Korean tanker, are helping to keep alive worries that regional conflict will erupt. Iran on Friday staged drills, hurling volleys of ballistic missiles and smashing drones into targets, further raising pressure on the incoming American president over a nuclear accord.

Even before the Capitol riot this month, upheaval at home threatened to weaken the U.S. hand internationally, including in the Middle East’s nuclear standoff. Political divisions are fierce, thousands are dying in the pandemic and unemployment remains high.

Biden and his team will face allies and adversaries wondering how much attention and resolution the U.S. can bring to bear on the Iran nuclear issue or any other foreign concern, and whether any commitment by Biden will be reversed by his successor.

“His ability to move the needle is … I think hampered by the doubt about America’s capacity and by the skepticism and worry about what comes after Biden,” said Vali Nasr, a professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies. Nasr was an adviser on Afghanistan during the first Obama administration.

Biden’s pick for deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, acknowledged the difficulties in an interview with a Boston news show last month before her nomination.

“We’re going to work hard at this, because we have lost credibility, we are seen as weaker” after Trump, said Sherman, who was Barack Obama’s lead U.S. negotiator for the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement. She was speaking of U.S. foreign objectives overall, including the Iran deal.

Biden’s first priority for renewed talks is getting both Iran and the United States back in compliance with the nuclear deal, which offered Iran relief from sanctions in exchange for Iran accepting limits on its nuclear material and gear.

“If Iran returns to compliance with the deal, we will do so as well,” a person familiar with the Biden transition team’s thinking said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak on the record. “It would be a first step.”

But Biden also faces pressure both from Democrats and Republican opponents of the Iran deal. They don’t want the U.S. to throw away the leverage of sanctions until Iran is made to address other items objectionable to Israel, Sunni Arab neighbors, and the United States. That includes Iran’s ballistic missiles and substantial and longstanding intervention in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon and Iraq. Biden promises to deal with all that too.

Getting back into the original deal “is the floor and not the ceiling” for the Biden administration on Iran, the person familiar with the incoming administration’s thinking on it said. “It doesn’t stop there.”

“In an ideal world it would be great to have a comprehensive agreement” at the outset, said Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Virginia Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. “But that’s not how these negotiations work.”

Connolly said he thought there was broad support in Congress for getting back into the deal.

Richard Goldberg, a senior adviser for the conservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies who worked as an Iran adviser for the Trump administration in 2019 and this year, questioned that.

Lawmakers in Congress will balk at lifting sanctions on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and other Iranian players the U.S. regards as supporters of terrorism, and balk, too, at giving up on financial pressure meant to block Iran from moving closer to nuclear weapons, Goldberg predicts.

“This is a real wedge inside the Democratic Party,” Goldberg said.

Sanctions by Trump, who pulled the U.S. out of the accord in 2018, mean that Iran’s leaders are under heavier economic and political pressure at home, just as Biden is. The United States’ European allies will be eager to help Biden wrack up a win on the new Iran talks if possible, Nasr said. Even among many non-U.S. allies, “they don’t want the return of Trump or Trumpism.”

Biden served as Obama’s main promoter of the 2015 accord with lawmakers once the deal was brokered. He talked for hours to skeptics in Congress and at a Jewish community center in Florida. Then, Biden hammered home Obama’s pledge that America ultimately would do everything in its power to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons, if diplomacy failed.

Besides tapping Sherman for his administration, Biden has called back William Burns, who led secret early talks with Iran in Oman, as his CIA director. He’s selected Iran negotiators Anthony Blinken and Jake Sullivan as his intended secretary of state and national security adviser respectively, among other 2015 Iran players.

It’s not yet clear if Biden will employ Sherman as his principal diplomatic manager with Iran, or someone else, or whether he will designate a main Iran envoy. Sherman has also been instrumental in U.S. negotiations with North Korea.

The Obama’s administration’s implicit threat of military action against Iran if it kept moving toward a weapons-capable nuclear program could look less convincing than it did five years ago, given the U.S. domestic crises.

A new Middle East conflict would only make it harder for Biden to find the time and money to deal with pressing problems, including his planned $2 trillion effort to cut climate-damaging fossil fuel emissions.

“If war with Iran became inevitable it would upend everything else he’s trying to do with his presidency,” said Karim Sadjadpour, an expert on Iran and U.S. Middle East policy at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Biden and his team are very mindful of this. Their priorities are domestic.”

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UK not going to do anything to make EU ‘go crazy’

Axios

Off the rails: Trump mainlines election conspiracies as Oval Office descends into madness

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president. Episode 3: The conspiracy goes too far. Trump’s outside lawyers plot to seize voting machines and spin theories about communists, spies and computer software.President Trump was sitting in the Oval Office one day in late November when a call came in from lawyer Sidney Powell. “Ugh, Sidney,” he told the staff in the room before he picked up. “She’s getting a little crazy, isn’t she? She’s really gotta tone it down. No one believes this stuff. It’s just too much.”Be smart: sign up FREE for the most influential newsletter in America.He put the call on speakerphone for the benefit of his audience. Powell was raving about a national security crisis involving the Iranians flipping votes in battleground states. Trump pressed mute and laughed mockingly.”So what are we gonna do about it, Sidney?” Trump would say every few seconds, whipping Powell more and more into a frenzy. He was having fun with it. “She really is crazy, huh?” he said, again with his finger on the mute button.It was clear that Trump recognized how unhinged his outside legal advisers were. But he was becoming increasingly desperate about losing to Joe Biden, and Powell and her crew were willing to keep feeding the grand lie that the election could be overturned. They were selling Trump a seductive but delusional vision: a clear and achievable path to victory. The only catch: He’d have to stop listening to his government and campaign staffs, to cross the Rubicon and view them as liars, quitters and traitors.Trump’s new gang of advisers shared some common traits. They were sycophants who craved an audience with the president. They were hardcore conspiracy theorists. The other striking commonality within this crew was that all of them had, at one point in their lives, done impressive, professional, mainstream work.Rudy Giuliani once was “America’s Mayor,” hailed for his handling of 9/11. Powell was a successful attorney who defended Enron. Michael Flynn was a decorated three-star general whom Obama fired and then Trump brought back as his national security adviser, before firing him and ultimately pardoning him. Lin Wood was a nationally known defamation lawyer. Patrick Byrne made a small fortune launching the internet retailer Overstock.com.One exception was Jenna Ellis. She had a thin legal resume, and had in the 2016 campaign season used adjectives like “idiot,” “boorish,” “arrogant,” “bully,” and “disgusting” to characterize Trump and his behavior. But during Trump’s presidency, she pushed her way into his inner circle, powered by levels of televised obsequiousness remarkable even for Trumpworld.Powell and Wood distinguished themselves with their extremism. Even Giuliani began distancing himself, telling anyone who’d listen that Powell didn’t represent the president. But Trump promoted Powell as part of his team, and even though he had privately admitted to aides that he thought she was “crazy,” he still wanted to hear what she had to say.”Sometimes you need a little crazy,” Trump told one official.While Trump’s campaign team — experienced attorneys such as Justin Clark and Matt Morgan — were scrutinizing issues such as signature verification and access to room monitoring for vote counting, Powell was appealing to Trump’s personal mantra to “Think Big!”She presented the president with a sweeping, multinational conspiracy of foreign interference at a scale never seen before in American history. The fact that she had no evidence that could hold up in court was a minor detail.Powell and Flynn told Trump he couldn’t trust his team. That appealed to a paranoid mentality that always lurked beneath his surface: The FBI was corrupt. His CIA was working against him, and his intelligence community was, too. Why else weren’t they showing him the evidence that China, Venezuela, Iran and various other communists had stolen his election win?To help him bypass these obstacles, they’d need Trump to give them top-level security clearances so they could get to the bottom of the “stolen” election. Trump liked this idea. Why not make Powell a special counsel in charge of election fraud? Why not give her and Flynn the clearances?Trump’s professional staff had learned over time that they had to pick their moments to fight back. On the question of Powell, chief of staff Mark Meadows and White House counsel Pat Cipollone were of one mind: No way was she getting a top secret clearance.Powell and Flynn sent Trump advisers documents they said contained the evidence of this far-reaching conspiracy. To the White House staff, it was gibberish — the rantings of a QAnon devotee. But these documents — perhaps the most deranged materials to reach a modern U.S. president — found their way to the West Wing.According to documents obtained by Axios, Powell and her crew advised Trump that a foreign conspiracy to steal the election involved a coordinated cyberwarfare attack from China, Russia, Iran, Iraq and North Korea.In arguments in front of Trump in the Oval Office, White House officials pushed back aggressively.What Powell was claiming to have uncovered would have been the greatest foreign attack in American history. Yet the U.S. intelligence community had seen no evidence of it.But Powell had an answer for that too: The reason Trump hadn’t heard about this from his intelligence officials was because they were actively subverting him and hiding crucial information from him.His dog whistle to QAnon conspiracy theorists — a curiosity prompted once he learned they “love Trump” — dated back to at least the summer. On July 1, 2020, Trump met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Todd Young of Indiana and top political aides in the Oval Office for an update on Senate races. Trump was holding a printed slide deck showing the latest key data points, like polling and cash on hand, for the closely watched Colorado Senate race between Republican Cory Gardner and Democrat John Hickenlooper.Trump looked at the deck and immediately said, “How about that primary last night?” QAnon-enthusiast Lauren Boebert had won the Republican primary for Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District. Consensus in the room was that Boebert’s victory was a stunner. The president then addressed McConnell. “You know she’s a believer in that QAnon,” he said. “Are you familiar with that, Mitch?” McConnell sat there stone-faced. He didn’t move a muscle.”You know, people say they’re into all kinds of bad things and say all kinds of terrible things about them,” Trump added. “But, you know, my understanding is they basically are just people who want good government.”The room fell silent. Nobody knew how to respond. Then all of a sudden Meadows burst out laughing. “I have heard them described a lot of ways, but never quite like that,” he said. The meeting participants broke down laughing. “In terror, quite candidly,” said a source in the room.Powell filled the Trumpian Venn diagram between conspiracy theorists and sycophants. She offered the comforting deceptions that Trump was craving in his desperate post-election days and that the people on his team who had actual experience in election law refused to serve him.In the false and baseless theory she crafted, America’s enemies had used two CIA programs — a foreign surveillance program called the “Hammer” and a cyberwarfare weapon called “Scorecard” — to steal U.S. elections. Her evidence was based on claims from a California computer programmer with a long track record of hawking fantastic-sounding technology. Powell and Flynn claimed that the CIA had been using these programs nefariously since 2009. Documents her team shared with Trump advisers falsely claimed that top Obama administration intelligence officials John Brennan and Jim Clapper — both enemies of Trump’s — had illegally commandeered Hammer to advance Obama’s supposed ambition of turning America into a communist client state. They further claimed that Brennan and Clapper had taken the program’s source code with them when they left office. China had now mysteriously acquired Hammer, Powell argued.They described this as an act of war during in an Oval Office appearance on Dec. 18. No response should be considered too bold, they said. Trump needed to use the full force of the U.S. government to seize Dominion voting machines and catch the “traitors.”That an American president was even entertaining any of this, raised questions about the state of his mind and his capacity to fulfill his duties.The evening before that meeting, Giuliani had phoned his old friend, Ken Cuccinelli, second in command at the Department of Homeland Security, asking him whether DHS could seize voting machines. “No,” Cuccinelli told Giuliani, politely but firmly. His department did not have that legal authority.By this point, Trump was mainlining conspiracies. Many of his longest-serving advisers had all but given up trying to reason with him.His son-in-law, Jared Kushner, billed once by Newsweek as the most influential presidential relative since Bobby Kennedy, receded from the discussions when it came to countering the crazies. Once Giuliani took over, Kushner subsided from view, trying to cut last minute deals in the Middle East and burnish his foreign policy legacy. This frustrated some of his colleagues. Serious intervention was required on the domestic front.Whether Trump himself was still in charge, or had ceded decision-making to the bottom feeders, was at least an open question.🎧 Listen to Jonathan Swan on Axios’ new investigative podcast series, called “How it happened: Trump’s last stand.”About this series: Our reporting is based on interviews with current and former White House, campaign, government and congressional officials as well as eyewitnesses and people close to the president. Sources have been granted anonymity to share sensitive observations or details they would not be authorized to disclose. President Trump and other officials to whom quotes and actions have been attributed by others were provided the opportunity to confirm, deny or respond to reporting elements prior to publication. “Off the rails” is reported by White House reporter Jonathan Swan, with reporting and research assistance by Zach Basu. It was edited by Margaret Talev and Mike Allen. Illustrations by Sarah Grillo, Aïda Amer and Eniola Odetunde.Support safe, smart, sane journalism. Sign up for Axios Newsletters here.

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Facing smog and blackouts, Iran blames illegal Bitcoin mining

Iran has ordered the closure of illegal Bitcoin operations, as energy shortages have contributed to air pollution – ATTA KENARE /AFP

Iranian authorities have blamed a novel culprit for rolling blackouts and heavy smog in major cities this winter: illegal cryptocurrency mining.

In recent weeks air pollution in the capital Tehran and other metropolitan areas in Iran has reached hazardous levels, while residents report widespread power cuts.

Winter cold has increased demand for domestic heating, creating a shortage of natural-gas And forcing power plants to burn low-grade fuel oil, contributing to the pollution, the semi-official Iranian Students’ News Agency reported.

But the Islamic Republic News Agency reported that President Hassan Rouhani has instructed his security apparatus to crackdown on another energy-intensive practice: illegal bitcoin farming.

Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin rely on decentralised registers of transactions that are verified by miners who solve complex computational math problems to earn new units of currency.

The process consumes large amounts of electricity and mining at scale only makes economic sense where energy is cheaply available.

In August 2019 Iran passed a law regulating cryptocurrency in hopes that it could be used to bypass the effects of US economic sanctions. The law allocated 600 MWh of subsidised energy to be used for authorised cryptocurrency mining.

But with the value of cryptocurrency soaring – Bitcoin has increased in value sevenfold since the start of the pandemic to reach a record high of over £30,000 earlier this month – illegal crypto farming has also proliferated in Iran.

Authorities recently closed a licensed Chinese-Iranian crypto farm temporarily, after state media reported it had been consuming 175 megawatt-hour MWh of power.

Rajab Mashhadi, a spokesman for Iran’s electricity industry union, said last week that 1,620 illegal cryptocurrency outfits had been closed, accounting for about 250 MWh of electricity.

But with peak demand reaching 41,000 MWh nationwide, some experts say crypto mining is a drop in the ocean.

“I think the miners are being scapegoated,” said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, founder of Bourse & Bazaar. “This isn’t the real cause of the strain on the network.”

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Pompeo, Who Led Trump’s Mission at State Dept., Leaves With a Dubious Legacy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been regarded by some analysts as the worst secretary of state in American history. (Erin Schaff/The New York Times)

WASHINGTON — Spurned by many foreign allies, ridiculed by adversaries, disliked by a significant number of his own diplomats and trying to preserve his political future, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week offered an insight into his legacy as a commander of the Trump administration’s scorched-earth foreign policy by citing a seminal moment in his personal history.

In 1983, when Pompeo was a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, an Iranian-linked militia bombed the Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 241 U.S. troops. By his own telling — “My life wouldn’t be the same after that,” Pompeo said on Tuesday, in his last public speech in office — it was a powerful indoctrination for a young soldier in training to protect the United States from deadly enemies.

Thirty-five years later, after becoming the 70th secretary of state in 2018, Pompeo embraced the same military mentality to confront the world. Foreign policies were described as “mission sets,” and his wife, Susan, was a “force multiplier” in disarming dignitaries and families of State Department employees.

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Pompeo dismissed the power of persuasion, instead trying to strong-arm European leaders, taunting rulers in China and Iran, and working to keep dictators off-balance, including negotiating with the North Korean leader Kim Jong Un but not President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.

But by rejecting the traditional role of predictable diplomacy and mirroring President Donald Trump’s own style, Pompeo’s strategy backfired, according to foreign policy analysts and a large cohort in the State Department.

As he leaves office, Pompeo, 57, has been tagged by a number of officials and analysts with the dubious distinction of the worst secretary of state in American history. That will come back to haunt him as he considers running for president in 2024 or seeking another elected office, as he is widely believed to be doing.

“The glass is far more empty than it is full,” said Richard Fontaine, president of the Center for a New American Security and a former diplomat who advised Sen. John McCain’s presidential campaign as the Republican nominee in 2008.

Fontaine noted that Iran is now closer to building a nuclear bomb and that North Korea has more nuclear weapons than it did at the beginning of the Trump administration. Relations with key European leaders, the United Nations and other diplomatic and economic alliances are in worse shape. The United States has less standing to promote democracy and human rights in the world than it did four years ago, according to many career diplomats.

And Pompeo’s role in enabling the president’s shadow foreign policy in Ukraine — undermining years of U.S. support to ward off Russian military aggression — raised concerns among lawmakers during House impeachment hearings in late 2019 about whether his loyalty to Trump outweighed U.S. security interests.

Pompeo is not the first military man to become the country’s chief diplomat: Colin Powell had retired as a four-star Army general before becoming President George W. Bush’s secretary of state in 2001. Powell’s tenure was forever stained by his citing of faulty intelligence to urge the invasion of Iraq in 2003 — what he has called “painful” and a “blot” on his record — but he is widely viewed as more of a statesman than Pompeo.

For political purposes, Pompeo might hope to be remembered as a key player in Trump’s administration — a designation that is far more tarnished abroad than it is with hard-core Republicans who care little about foreign policy in elections. After the storming of the Capitol by Trump’s supporters this month, however, a growing number of Republican officials have sought to distance themselves from the departing president.

Notably, Pompeo has not, although people close to him said he was appalled by the attack. Instead, he has continued a barrage of daily Twitter posts that began Jan. 1 to herald what he called his foreign policy successes, echoing Trump’s campaign slogans.

Pompeo was at the fore of the Trump administration’s crackdown on China, Iran and Venezuela, using a mix of economic sanctions and provocative policy shifts to reshape global strategy against each.

That was especially the case for China, as Pompeo emerged as the administration’s most vocal critic of Beijing. He took every opportunity to highlight China’s human rights abuses of Uighur Muslims and other ethnic minorities and, as a parting shot, he is now considering whether to declare them acts of genocide.

He has also led global condemnation of Beijing’s expansionist ambitions and oppression in Hong Kong, Taiwan and the South China Sea. Other nations, however, have refused to follow the U.S. withdrawal from the World Health Organization, which stripped funding from the U.N. agency during the coronavirus pandemic, which Pompeo insisted on calling the “Wuhan virus,” again echoing Trump.

In dealing with Venezuela, Pompeo marshaled about 60 countries against Maduro after disputed elections and battered the government in Caracas with sanctions. But Maduro has remained in power.

In Europe, Pompeo is credited with helping to strengthen NATO as a bulwark against Russia, including through increased military spending. Alexander R. Vershbow, a former NATO deputy secretary-general who was also a former U.S. ambassador to Russia and South Korea and an assistant defense secretary, said Pompeo had helped protect NATO from Trump’s “contempt for the allies and bullying tactics.”

Pompeo also deployed shuttle diplomacy to warm relations between Israel and states in the Middle East and North Africa as part of the Abraham Accords, the administration’s signature foreign policy achievement. But those peace pacts were largely brokered by Jared Kushner, the president’s senior adviser and son-in-law.

Pompeo has steadfastly supported Israel by defying internationally recognized norms, such as by moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and declaring Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights and the legitimacy of West Bank settlements. As an evangelical Christian — a group that makes up a key conservative political constituency — Pompeo has sometimes framed actions against Iran in religious terms linked to Israel and biblical prophecy.

The Abraham Accords were part of a pressure campaign to isolate Iran with sanctions and military threats that began after Trump withdrew from a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement with Tehran in May 2018, just weeks after Pompeo moved to the State Department after serving as the CIA director.

Over the next two years, he repeatedly vexed efforts by other world powers to keep the 2015 nuclear deal intact. Pompeo was visibly energized by jousting with Iranian officials on Twitter: “You know you’re on the side of angels when this happens,” he tweeted on Tuesday, months after Mohammad Javad Zarif, the Iranian foreign minister, called him the “Secretary of Hate.”

Pompeo was among Trump’s advisers who pushed for military strikes against Iran, which the president resisted in June 2019 but allowed in January 2020 to kill a top Iranian general who was in Iraq. Still, Pompeo reversed himself in November, among a group of senior officials — including Vice President Mike Pence; Christopher C. Miller, the acting defense secretary; and Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff — who countered the president’s request for strike options against Iran with a warning that it could easily escalate into a broader conflict in the last weeks of Trump’s presidency.

Pompeo has described himself as a disciple of “realism, restraint and respect” — an approach advocated by his longtime financial backer, Charles Koch, a conservative billionaire whose network of donors gave more campaign contributions to Pompeo than to any other congressional candidate in the country in four House elections from 2010-16.

As secretary of state, Pompeo has hardly been secretive about his political future — first eyeing a Senate campaign from Kansas, his adopted home state, and then fueling expectations that he might run for governor in 2022 or president in 2024. His turbulent tenure at the State Department was characterized by a series of investigations, some of which continue, including whether he violated ethics laws by engaging in political activity while on the job.

Yet Koch’s continued financial support is far from assured. With a focus on soft-power diplomacy instead of war, the Charles Koch Institute — his policy foundation — is pouring $7 million in new grants to two left-leaning think tanks, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and the International Crisis Group, that will have influence in the Biden administration.

Pompeo’s support for expanding NATO, striking Iran and keeping U.S. troops in conflict zones have not been forgotten, said Will Ruger, the foundation’s vice president for policy and research.

“I don’t believe that the secretary is a card-carrying realist and restrainer,” said Ruger, whom Trump nominated in September to be his ambassador to Afghanistan.

In a farewell message, Pompeo made clear that the military was paramount under his watch.

“Leading @CIA & @StateDept, I constantly focused on protecting our great military and all Americans,” he tweeted on Thursday. “If nothing else, our enemies knew: attack our soldiers & you will pay.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2021 The New York Times Company

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Boris Johnson unveils £23 million compensation fund for fishing industry losses over Brexit red tape

Lorries from Scotland drive past the Houses of Parliament in a protest action by fishermen against post-Brexit red tape and coronavirus restrictions – AFP

Boris Johnson has unveiled a £23 million fund to compensate the fishing industry for losses caused by Brexit red tape as Scottish seafood hauliers descended on Downing Street to protest.

The Prime Minister confirmed that any business experiencing difficulty exporting to the EU “through no fault of their own” would be compensated.

However, he insisted the pandemic was responsible for some of the losses, citing reduced demand for Scottish seafood from restaurants on the Continent that have been forced to shut.

His announcement came as more than 20 lorries drove up Whitehall, the majority from seafood exporters in Scotland, complaining they were being “tied in knots with paperwork” by the Brexit fishing deal.

The Scottish Fishermen’s Federation (SFF) warned last week the industry was facing “mounting financial losses” and the only way to ensure a fair price was a 72-hour round trip to land catch in Denmark.

Exporters said they faced possible bankruptcy following a suspension of road deliveries last week due to border delays.

A truck drives past the Houses of Parliament with a message that reads "Brexit carnage!" in a protest action by Scottish fishermen against post-Brexit red tape - AFP
A truck drives past the Houses of Parliament with a message that reads “Brexit carnage!” in a protest action by Scottish fishermen against post-Brexit red tape – AFP

Mr Johnson said: “Insofar as there are problems at the moment, caused by teething problems, people not filling in the right forms, or misunderstandings, when it is not peoples’ fault, of course we are going to compensate and to help out, and funds have been put in place to do that.

“But be in no doubt that there are great opportunities for fishermen across the whole of the UK to take advantage of, the spectacular marine wealth of the United Kingdom.”

He added: “Where businesses, through no fault of their own, have faced difficulties exporting where there is a genuine willing buyer, there’s a £23 million fund to help out.”

The Metropolitan Police said 14 people had been issued with fines after the hauliers’ protest.

Boris Johnson has announced a £23 million fund to help the fishing industry - Reuters
Boris Johnson has announced a £23 million fund to help the fishing industry – Reuters

A spokesman for seafood firm DR Collin & Son, based in Eyemouth in the Scottish Borders, said: “The industry is being tied in knots with paperwork requirements which would be easy enough to navigate, given that companies have put in the time and training in order to have all the relevant procedures in place for Jan 1, 2021.

“However, all the training is going to waste as the technology is outdated and cannot cope with the demands being placed on it – which in turn is resulting in no produce being able to leave the UK.

“These are not ‘teething issues’ as reported by the Government and the consequences of these problems will be catastrophic on the lives of fishermen, fishing towns and the shellfish industry as a whole.”

Alasdair Hughson, Scottish Creel Fishermen’s Federation chairman, said: “If this debacle does not improve very soon we are looking at many established businesses coming to the end of the line.”

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, said the Government was “trying to blame the fishing communities rather than accepting it’s their failure to prepare.”

But Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, welcomed the compensation. He said: “This situation has been devastating for our fishermen so I hope this money will be delivered as urgently as possible.”

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Ethiopia Tigray crisis: Fear of mass starvation

The conflict in Tigray has caused widespread destuction

“Hundreds of thousands might starve to death” in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, according to a government official quoted in a leaked copy of notes taken at a meeting of humanitarian workers.

The government-run Tigray Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) is assessing needs following the conflict there.

The federal government declared victory at the end of November.

But sporadic fighting has continued and the UN has described the humanitarian situation as “severe”.

It added that “reports indicate that food is not available or is extremely limited in markets, posing increased risks of malnutrition”.

The ECC says that 4.5 million people need emergency food aid in Tigray, according to a figure quoted in a UN report. The population of Tigray is between 5-7 million. More than 50,000 have fled to neighbouring Sudan.

In a statement on Friday, the Ethiopia embassy in London said the authorities wanted to help those in need.

“The government of Ethiopia remains committed to working closely with its humanitarian and development partners to address any outstanding challenges that could hinder the safe, effective, and efficient delivery of humanitarian assistance to all affected populations,” it said.

The UN has said that access to parts of Tigray is still limited but some aid is getting through.

Communication with much of the region remains difficult as phone lines and the internet have been cut making the verification of reports hard.

‘People dying while they sleep’

According to the leaked notes taken by a participant at an ECC meeting on 8 January, an official from the interim administration of the central part of Tigray “said that the situation [on] the ground is dire”.

“Food and non-food items or other livelihoods are either looted or destroyed. He also added that if urgent emergency assistance is not mobilised hundreds of thousands might starve to death.”

Ethiopian refugees who fled Tigray region, queue to receive food aid within the Um-Rakoba camp in Al-Qadarif state, on the border, in Sudan December 11, 2020.
More than 50,000 Tigrayans are in refugee camps in neighbouring Sudan

“People are dying because of starvation. In Adwa people are dying while they are sleeping,” he was quoted as saying.

Another official, quoted in notes from a meeting on 1 January describing the humanitarian needs, said that “while we were on the road and visit different places, people asked our escort for a single biscuit”.

Ethiopia’s defence forces entered Tigray early in November to oust the region’s ruling party after its troops had captured federal military bases.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed insists that the army has been using proportional force to restore law and order and bring a “criminal clique” to justice.

Since the end of November, there has been an operation to find fugitive Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) party leaders who vowed to continue the fight after the regional capital was captured by the army.

On Friday, EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said in a statement that the situation on the ground had gone “well beyond a purely internal ‘law and order’ operation”.

“We receive consistent reports of ethnic-targeted violence, killings, massive looting, rapes, forceful returns of refugees [to Eritrea] and possible war crimes,” he said.

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German parliament presses Merkel to extend insolvency waiver

BERLIN, Jan 18 (Reuters) – Germany’s upper house of parliament called on Monday for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government to extend a waiver on insolvency filings for firms hit by the coronavirus crisis.

The provision, which is due to expire at the end of the month, has helped reduce the number of bankruptcies in Europe’s largest economy through lockdown, with the Federal Statistics Office last week reporting a 31.9% year-on-year drop in October.

The Bundesrat upper house called unanimously in a resolution for an extension to the waiver, saying that without it healthy but indebted companies would be forced to file for insolvency “through no fault of their own”.

Justice Minister Christine Lambrecht and the parliamentary group of the Social Democrats (SPD), junior partners in the ruling coalition, are also pushing for an extension. They have met resistance from Merkel’s conservatives.

Critics say Berlin risks impeding what economic liberals call “creative destruction”, the term popularised in the 1940s by Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter to describe unviable firms folding to make way for more dynamic newcomers.

The issue is knowing how to distinguish the zombies, generally defined as companies which would anyway struggle to cover their interest payments, from essentially healthy firms that have run into temporary trouble.

Germany’s central bank, the Bundesbank, said on Monday the economy is managing to stay afloat but could suffer a “sizeable setback” if coronavirus curbs are extended again.

Merkel wants “very fast action” to counter the spread of COVID-19 mutations and has brought forward a meeting with regional leaders to Tuesday to discuss tougher restrictions. (Reporting by Holger Hansen; Writing by Paul Carrel; Editing by Alexander Smith)

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Poisoned opposition leader Navalny detained for 30 days after return to Russia

Poisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny will spend 30 days in detention after a court hearing in a Moscow police station Monday, his spokesman said.

The decision was handed down less than 24 hours after the prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin was detained on his return from Germany, where he was treated for a poisoning with what scientists said was Novichok, a Russian-made chemical weapon. He has accused the Russian state of trying to kill him, which it denies.

Navalny was detained due to alleged violations of a suspended prison sentence — he says the charge is false. He was due to go to trial on Jan. 29 and faces a possible three-and-a-half year jail sentence.

Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said on Twitter Monday morning that a trial had suddenly begun at the police station where he was being held, in the Moscow suburb of Khimki.

While notionally a pre-trial hearing to review Navalny’s detention and not the full trial, the event’s swift and unexpected execution aroused fears among his supporters.

Yarmysh called the process a “mockery of justice.”

She tweeted a video of a perplexed Navalny reacting to the hearing.

“I don’t understand what is going on. I was brought out before the cameras one minute ago, while meeting with my lawyers. I was then brought here into this hearing,” he said.

Ivan Zhdanov, head of Navalny’s campaigning organization, said on Twitter that prosecutors on Monday applied for Navalny to remain in prison for 30 days, and then for the suspended jail term to be made a full sentence. That would keep the activist in prison until 2024.

Yarmysh confirmed in a tweet Monday afternoon that Navalny will in fact be detained for 30 days until Feb. 15, saying it’s not clear where the politician will be kept for the next month.

Shortly after, Yarmysh shared a video with a message from Navalny from the police station, in which he urged people to take to the streets and “not be afraid.”

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Earlier on Monday, one of Navalny’s lawyers, Vadim Kobzev, tweeted a photo of a last-minute formal notice from the local police chief announcing the hearing — it lacked the usual letterhead and formatting, suggesting it was hastily thrown together.

Navalny’s detention immediately upon his return to Russia, and general treatment by the Russian government, triggered condemnation from foreign officials.

Jake Sullivan, one of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s top aides, told Moscow to free Navalny.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appeared to take a jibe against President Putin, saying in a tweet: “Confident political leaders do not fear competing voices, nor see the need to commit violence against or wrongfully detain, political opponents.”

The foreign ministers of Germany, Britain, France and Italy all called for Navalny’s release. Lithuania said on Sunday it would ask the E.U. to swiftly impose new sanctions on Russia. Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek said he wanted the bloc to discuss possible sanctions.

In response to widespread international criticism of Navalny’s treatment, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Facebook that critics must “respect international law.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the criticism was designed to distract from countries’ domestic problems.

Reuters contributed to this report

Patrick Smith reported from London, Matt Bodner reported from Moscow.

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Tunisian army units, police quell unrest in many areas

Tunisia’s defense ministry said Monday that army units deployed overnight and police have quelled days-long social unrest that saw violent protests by young people in various cities across the North African country.

The ministry said military units were called in on Sunday night to protect public buildings and “seats of sovereignty,” and the situation was “calm” Monday.

Tunisians are angry at the state of the economy and of public services. Many feel disappointed that on the 10th anniversary of the uprising that ousted the autocratic former president, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, little seems to have improved. There is also added frustration over coronavirus restrictions.

The defense ministry said the army will conduct joint patrols with security forces in the regions of Siliana, Kasserine, Sousse and Bizerte, where clashes with police broke out Sunday evening for the second consecutive night.

The interior ministry said authorities had made 630 arrests linked to the violence on Sunday alone.

According to local media the outbreak of violence spread to other parts of the northeast, in particular Nabeul and the south, including the region of Kebili where demonstrators looted shops and threw stones and Molotov cocktails at official buildings in some places.

Tunisia on Thursday commemorated the 10th anniversary since the flight into exile of iron-fisted Ben Ali, after a popular revolt that foreshadowed pro-democracy uprisings, strife and civil war in the region during what became known as the Arab Spring.

But a pall of disenchantment still hangs over Tunisia, marked by extremist attacks, political infighting, a troubled economy and unfulfilled promises, including development of the interior.

Despite numerous democratic elections, protests break out, especially in the central and southern regions where youth joblessness reaches 30% and the poverty level is above 20%.

According to the Tunisian Forum of Economic and Social Rights, more than 1,000 demonstrations took place in November alone. Months of sit-ins paralyzed production of oil and phosphate, a key resource, for months, costing billions of dollars in lost state revenues.