Foreign Affairs

Blair Sees Chance Brexit Will Be Reversed

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair told Bloomberg he thinks there is a 30% chance that Britain’s decision to quit the European Union will be reversed.

Said Blair: “I still have some difficulty seeing how, after the general election which produced a hung parliament in the U.K., this government is going to get its form of Brexit through.”

Trump Threatens to ‘Totally Destroy’ North Korea

President Trump threatened that, if the United States is forced to defend itself or its allies, “we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea,” the New York Times reports.

Said Trump: “No nation on earth has an interest in seeing this band of criminals arm itself with nuclear weapons and missiles. The U.S. has great strength and patience but if it is forced to defend itself or its allies, we will have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea.”

He added: “Rocket man is on a suicide mission for himself.”

Tillerson’s State Department Is Adrift

“As President Trump faces a collection of world leaders at his first United Nations General Assembly this week, U.S. officials are working behind the scenes to allay fears among foreign delegations that America’s foreign policy decisions have become too dominated by the West Wing, and that the U.S. State Department, where many crucial positions remain unfilled, is adrift,” NBC News reports.

“At the center of this concern is Tillerson, whose diminishing role in the administration is being blamed for the State Department’s lagging clout… Three senior State Department officials told NBC News that there a number of meetings with foreign delegations at this week’s UNGA that Tillerson either ignored or refused to attend.”

Trump Sees ‘Good Chance’ for Middle East Peace

President Trump told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he wants to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal and that he still believes doing so is possible, Haaretz reports.

Said Trump: “We are going to discuss peace between Israel and the Palestinians; it will be a fantastic achievement. We are giving it absolute go – there is a good chance it could happen. Most people would say there is no chance whatsoever, but I think that with the ability of Bibi and the other side – I really think we have a chance.”

He added: “Historically people say it can’t happen but I say it can happen.”

How Rex Tillerson Has Alienated Almost Everyone

“The most challenging task in Washington, these days, is finding somebody who’ll enthusiastically endorse Rex Tillerson. In just nine months, the Secretary of State has managed to alienate nearly every constituency that matters,” Jonathan Swan reports.

Said a former top Bush administration official: “He’s got no support from the left on management and no support from the right on policy.”

“Tillerson alienated his natural constituency — moderates who view him as a restraining influence on Trump — by what he’s done, or failed to do, managerially at the State Department. He’s surrounded himself by a tiny circle and hasn’t sought much advice from outsiders. And he’s got no ideological constituency on the right because he doesn’t embrace the forward-leaning posture on human rights, or the aggressive stance on Russia, that Republicans typically expect of their top diplomats.”

Flynn Secretly Met With Jordan’s King While Pushing Deal

“In the days leading up to Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration, when his soon-to-be national security adviser Michael Flynn was reportedly pushing a multibillion-dollar deal to build nuclear reactors in Jordan and other Middle East nations, Flynn and two other top Trump advisers held a secret meeting with the king of Jordan,” BuzzFeed News reports.

“The meeting — details of which have never been reported — is the latest in a series of secret, high-stakes contacts between Trump advisers and foreign governments that have raised concerns about how, in particular, Flynn and senior adviser Jared Kushner handled their personal business interests as they entered key positions of power.”

North Korea Tests Missile In Longest-Ever Flight

“North Korea conducted its longest-ever test flight of a ballistic missile Friday, sending an intermediate-range weapon hurtling over U.S. ally Japan into the northern Pacific Ocean in a launch that signals both defiance to its rivals and a big technological advance,” the AP reports.

“Since President Trump threatened the North with ‘fire and fury’ in August, Pyongyang has conducted its most powerful nuclear test, threatened to send missiles into the waters around the U.S. Pacific island territory of Guam and launched two missiles of increasing range over Japan. July saw its first tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles that could strike deep into the U.S. mainland when perfected.”

“The growing frequency, power and confidence displayed by these tests seem to confirm what governments and outside experts have long feared: North Korea is closer than ever to its goal of building a military arsenal that can viably target both U.S. troops in Asia and the U.S. homeland.”

Russia Removes Parking Spaces for U.S. Diplomats

“Russia has withdrawn parking privileges for U.S. diplomats, an apparent continuation of a diplomatic tit-for-tat between Washington and Moscow,” the AP reports.

“State-owned television channel Rossiya 24 reported on Wednesday that parking spaces outside the U.S. consulate in St. Petersburg had been painted over with a pedestrian crossing, and special parking signs had been removed outside the U.S. consulate in Yekaterinburg, near the Ural Mountains.”

Russia Sought Broad Reset with Trump

“The proposal, spelled out in a detailed document obtained by BuzzFeed News, called for the wholesale restoration of diplomatic, military and intelligence channels severed between the two countries after Russia’s military interventions in Ukraine and Syria.”

“The broad scope of the Kremlin’s reset plan came with an ambitious launch date: immediately.”

“Besides offering a snapshot of where the Kremlin wanted to move the bilateral relationship, the proposal reveals one of Moscow’s unspoken assumptions – that Trump wouldn’t share the lingering US anger over Moscow’s alleged interference in the 2016 election and might accept a lightning fast rapprochement.”

Netanyahu’s Wife Will Soon Be Indicted

“Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is likely to be indicted on fraud-related charges in a case that peers into spending on catered meals and lifestyle in the official residence,” the Washington Post reports.

“The probe — called the ‘meals ordering affair’ — alleges that the prime minister’s wife and the head of the operational resources unit in the official residence falsified documents so that food from outside companies and private chefs could be used, even though there was a full-time chef.”

Trump Meets with Russian Ambassador

Russian news agencies are reporting that President Trump met with Russia’s newly installed ambassador to Washington, Reuters reports.

Tass news agency quoted ambassador Anatoly Antonov: “I was received by President Trump, I presented my credentials. For my part I said that we are looking forward to an improvement in the relations between our two countries.”

Russia’s RIA news agency also quoted Antonov: “President Trump received me in a warm and friendly way … The atmosphere was very genial, constructive and welcoming. At least, that was my personal feeling.”

The U.S. news media apparently didn’t know about the meeting.

Haley Turned Down Offer to Be Secretary of State

CNN: “Nikki Haley was under consideration to become Donald Trump’s secretary of state when she flew to New York to meet the President-elect for the first time since his election victory. The South Carolina governor was torn. The baggage from the 2016 campaign — she supported Marco Rubio in her state’s all-important presidential primary and later backed Ted Cruz — didn’t suddenly evaporate for Trump, who never forgets a slight.”

“But there was something more fundamental that bothered her: Her resume. Yes, Haley traveled abroad as governor and she was successful in bringing business into the state. But none of that could prepare her to lead American diplomacy in a world where North Korea was becoming more aggressive, the crisis in Syria was deepening, Venezuela was succumbing to a dictator and the war in Afghanistan showed no sign of easing. She told Trump no.”

Foreign Policy: Where’s Rex? U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley steps in as America’s de facto diplomat-in-chief.

Putin Says Tillerson Has ‘Fallen Into Bad Company’

Russian President Vladimir Putin joked that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had veered off the path of cooperation and “fallen into bad company,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

“In recent weeks, Washington and Moscow have been engaged in a diplomatic tit-for-tat. Russia has ordered the culling of 755 staff members from the U.S. State Department’s Mission in Russia. Last week, the U.S. ordered the closure of Russia’s San Francisco consulate, a move Putin said this week he would instruct his foreign ministry to take up with the U.S. legal system.”

Said Putin: “I hope that the wind of cooperation, friendship and interaction will bring him to the right course in the end.”

Inside the Russian Kleptocracy

“Russia is widely thought of as an oligarchy run by President Vladimir Putin and a handful of billionaire cronies whose main accomplishment is looking out for their own financial interests. In a new paper, three economists say forensic evidence bears that out,” according to Axios.

“Economists Thomas Piketty, Filip Novokmet, and Gabriel Zucman found that income inequality is as great in Russia as the United States, with the top 1% of earners garnering upwards of 25% of national income, well above China and other former communist countries like the Czech Republic.”