Trump-Kim war of words continues

While the war between Donald Trump and Kim Yong Un is just of words at the moment it continues to escalate with threats, provocation and name calling. If one acts with weapons it is certain the other will also try to act, so this is a very dangerous game of brinkmanship and ego.

Trump ramped things up substantially with his comments at the United Nations several days ago. Kim has responded, and Trump has escalated their slanging match.

BBC: Trump and Kim call each other mad

Kim Jong-un has said remarks by “deranged” US President Donald Trump have convinced him he is right to develop weapons for North Korea.

In an unprecedented personal statement, Mr Kim said Mr Trump would “pay dearly” for a UN speech where he threatened to “totally destroy” the North if the US was forced to defend itself.

Mr Trump responded that the “madman… will be tested like never before”.

The two countries have engaged in ever more heated rhetoric in recent months.

Mr Kim ended his statement by saying he would “surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged US dotard with fire”.

This does sound like madness from both of them. Other countries have joined the war of words.

China responded to the war of words, warning that the situation was “complicated and sensitive”.

“All relevant parties should exercise restraint instead of provoking each other,” said Foreign Minister spokesman Lu Kang.

Russia also urged restraint. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow was “deeply concerned by an escalation of tensions”.

Kim and Trump don’t seem to care what the rest of the world thinks or fears, they seem intent on trying to out-heckle each other. The obvious risk is if the hackles rise too far then the shackles might come off military action, and that could end up in a major mess. Like nuclear. And world war 3.

North Korea may or may not have much of a nuclear arsenal, but the US, China and Russia all have huge ones, as well as huge non-nuclear armies.

NZH: This is personal: Why Kim’s latest attack on Trump is on a new level

On the surface it seems like more of the same: North Korea responds to another threat by US President Donald Trump by calling him a “deranged” old man who will “pay dearly” for his insults. These words yesterday, however, carry the weight of an unprecedented personal rebuke from North Korea’s supreme leader, Kim Jong Un.

Here are five things to know about Kim’s statement:

He’s breaking ground

It was written in the first person, and issued directly to the international community generally and to Trump specifically.

He’s issuing a warning

The statement suggests more powerful weapons tests are in the works. North Korea’s Foreign Minister seemed to confirm this on the sidelines of a global UN meeting in New York, telling reporters that Kim’s comments could mean that North Korea will conduct an H-bomb test in the Pacific.

He’s playing the statesman

Believe it or not, Kim’s statement actually used gentler language than his propaganda specialists have favoured in the past. Granted, he called Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard” (a word to describe a fragile elderly person) and a “frightened dog”. But this is a far cry from North Korea at its worst.

He feels justified

Kim says Trump’s threats only emphasise that North Korea has been justified in its pursuit of nuclear missiles. North Korea has long said that its weapons tests are necessary because of US hostility.

He’s insulted

Kim seemed to take umbrage that Trump was personally insulting him. Kim essentially says that he expected better of Trump.

…far from making remarks of any persuasive power that can be viewed to be helpful to defusing tension, he made unprecedented rude nonsense one has never heard from any of his predecessors,” Kim said.

Kim advised the President “to exercise prudence in selecting words and to be considerate of whom he speaks to when making a speech in front of the world”. He added that “Trump has denied the existence of and insulted me and my country in front of the eyes of the world”. In a country where Kim’s word is law, the message seems clear: This will not stand.

This could end very badly.

Examining the Russian media war

A very interesting article by Jim Rutenberg in the New York Times that claims Russian influence in what has become known as fake news, used to promote discord and protest and to interfere in elections in countries around the world.

Examples are given of interference in Germany over immigration, in the UK over Brexit, and in the US election.

RT, Sputnik and Russia’s New Theory of War

How the Kremlin built one of the most powerful information weapons of the 21st century — and why it may be impossible to stop.

…Steltner found the phone calls he received that morning confounding. They came from police officers from towns far outside Berlin, who reported that protests were erupting, seemingly out of nowhere, on their streets. “They are demonstrating — ‘Save our children,’ ‘No attacks from immigrants on our children’ and some things like that,” Steltner told me when I met him in Berlin recently.

The police were calling Steltner because this was ostensibly his office’s fault. The protesters were angry over the Berlin prosecutor’s supposed refusal to indict three Arab migrants who, they said, raped a 13-year-old girl from Berlin’s tight-knit Russian-German community.

Steltner, who would certainly have been informed if such a case had come up for prosecution, had heard nothing of it. He called the Berlin Police Department, which informed him that a 13-year-old Russian-German girl had indeed gone missing a week before. When she resurfaced a day later, she told her parents that three “Southern-looking men” — by which she meant Arab migrants — had yanked her off the street and taken her to a rundown apartment, where they beat and raped her.

But when the police interviewed the girl, whose name was Lisa, she changed her story. She had left home, it turned out, because she had gotten in trouble at school. Afraid of how her parents would react, she went to stay with a 19-year-old male friend. The kidnapping and gang rape, she admitted, never happened.

The allegations were false, but Russian news agencies kept publishing them, promoting protests and discord over immigration in Germany.

Officials in Germany and at NATO headquarters in Brussels view the Lisa case, as it is now known, as an early strike in a new information war Russia is waging against the West. In the months that followed, politicians perceived by the Russian government as hostile to its interests would find themselves caught up in media storms that, in their broad contours, resembled the one that gathered around Merkel.

They often involved conspiracy theories and outright falsehoods — sometimes with a tenuous connection to fact, as in the Lisa case, sometimes with no connection at all — amplified until they broke through into domestic politics. In other cases, they simply helped promote nationalist, far-left or far-right views that put pressure on the political center.

What the efforts had in common was their agents: a loose network of Russian-government-run or -financed media outlets and apparently coordinated social-media accounts.

And this is effective. This is evident in New Zealand where ordinary people, especially those with conspiracy tendencies or with strong views about things like immigration or politics, pick up on and amplify the messages – which is of course one of the aims.

After RT and Sputnik gave platforms to politicians behind the British vote to leave the European Union, like Nigel Farage, a committee of the British Parliament released a report warning that foreign governments may have tried to interfere with the referendum.

Russia and China, the report argued, had an “understanding of mass psychology and of how to exploit individuals” and practiced a kind of cyberwarfare “reaching beyond the digital to influence public opinion.”

I wouldn’t rule out other countries either, like North Korea, from the Middle East – and the US, who are also one of the main targets.

But all of this paled in comparison with the role that Russian information networks are suspected to have played in the American presidential election of 2016.

In early January, two weeks before Donald J. Trump took office, American intelligence officials released a declassified version of a report — prepared jointly by the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation and National Security Agency — titled “Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent U.S. Elections.” It detailed what an Obama-era Pentagon intelligence official, Michael Vickers, described in an interview in June with NBC News as “the political equivalent of 9/11.”

“Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election,” the authors wrote. “Russia’s goals were to undermine public faith in the U.S. democratic process, denigrate Secretary Clinton and harm her electability and potential presidency.” According to the report, “Putin and the Russian government developed a clear preference for President-elect Trump.”

The intelligence assessment detailed some cloak-and-dagger activities, like the murky web of Russian (if not directly government-affiliated or -financed) hackers who infiltrated voting systems and stole gigabytes’ worth of email and other documents from the Democratic National Committee and the Clinton campaign.

But most of the assessment concerned machinations that were plainly visible to anyone with a cable subscription or an internet connection: the coordinated activities of the TV and online-media properties and social-media accounts that made up, in the report’s words, “Russia’s state-run propaganda machine.”

The assessment devoted nearly half its pages to a single cable network: RT. The Kremlin started RT — shortened from the original Russia Today — a dozen years ago to improve Russia’s image abroad.

But it is not simple to isolate and combat.

Plenty of RT’s programming, to outward appearances, is not qualitatively different from conventional opinion-infused cable news.

Its fans point to its coverage of political perspectives that aren’t prominent on mainstream networks — voices from the Occupy movement, the libertarian right and third parties like the Green Party. The network has been nominated for four International Emmy Awards and one Daytime Emmy.

This makes RT and Sputnik harder for the West to combat than shadowy hackers.

 RT might not have amassed an audience that remotely rivals CNN’s in conventional terms, but in the new, “democratized” media landscape, it doesn’t need to.

Over the past several years, the network has come to form the hub of a new kind of state media operation: one that travels through the same diffuse online channels, chasing the same viral hits and memes, as the rest of the Twitter-and-Facebook-age media.

In the process, Russia has built the most effective propaganda operation of the 21st century so far, one that thrives in the feverish political climates that have descended on many Western publics.

It is a long article but worth reading if you have any interest in international propaganda and information wars.

As stated it is not just the use of news organisations, it is the use of social media as well. Facebook is gradually admitting how they were used during the US election campaign.

Reuters: Facebook says some Russian ads during U.S. election promoted live events

Some of the ads bought by Russians on Facebook last year promoted events during the U.S. presidential campaign, Facebook Inc said on Tuesday, indicating that alleged meddling ahead of the 2016 election went beyond social media.

Facebook said in a statement that its takedown of what the company last week called Russian-affiliated pages included shutting down “several promoted events.”

Facebook declined to provide details of the promoted events.

Facebook, the world’s largest social network, said last week that an operation likely based in Russia had placed thousands of U.S. ads with polarizing views on topics such as immigration, race and gay rights on the site during a two-year period through May 2017.

The Daily Beast, the news website that first reported on the promoted events posted on Facebook, said one advertisement promoted an anti-immigrant rally in Idaho in August 2016.

The rally was hosted by a Facebook group called “Secured Borders,” which was a Russian front and is now suspended, according to the Daily Beast.

In social media they commonly target people who want to believe certain things and  spread issues that have dubious merit.

Putin warns of ‘global planetary catastrophe’ over North Korea

Vladimir Putin has warned of a “global planetary catastrophe” if the North Korea crisis tips over into war.

CNN: Vladimir Putin warns world faces ‘global catastrophe’ over North Korea

President Vladimir Putin warned that the escalating crisis over North Korea’s weapons program risks developing into a “global catastrophe” with mass casualties.

But Putin, speaking in China on Tuesday, cautioned against “military hysteria” and said that the only way to resolve the crisis was through diplomacy.

He warned that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has calculated that the survival of his regime depends on its development of nuclear weapons. Kim had seen how western intervention in Iraq had ended in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein after which the country was ravaged by war, Putin warned, and Kim was determined not to suffer the same fate.

“Saddam Hussein rejected the production of weapons of mass destruction, but even under that pretense, he was destroyed and members of his family were killed,” Putin said.

Putin said that while Russia condemned North Korea’s latest actions, imposing any kind of sanctions would be “useless and ineffective.” Kim would rather starve his people than see his regime overthrown, he said.

“They will eat grass but they will not turn away from the path that will provide for their security,” he said.

Grass dripping with radiation will not be very palatable.

Fox News:

US update

Some bits from the US.

Trying to divert blame to Obama for Trump Jnr’s meeting:

Fox: Trump slams media for coverage of mysterious Russian lawyer, lays blame on Lynch

President Trump lashed out at the media and the Obama administration Thursday over the criticism his team is facing for his eldest son’s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer thought to have damaging information on Hillary Clinton.

But support is limited, even from conservatives.

Fox: Conservative carping: Why many on the right aren’t defending Don Jr.

During the long campaign, some of Donald Trump’s toughest critics in the media were conservatives.

Now, with the media furor over Don Jr. and his emails, they have ramped up their criticism once again. And that has deprived the White House of much of a cheering squad as the Russia story heats up once again.

It’s not that these conservative critics have a megaphone that approaches that of the White House. But it muddies the case that the “liberal media” are out to get Trump.

There are exceptions, of course. Sean Hannity, who interviewed Don Jr. Tuesday—the president’s son said that in retrospect he probably would have done things differently—told him during the sitdown: “Liberals in the destroy Trump media once again have worked themselves into frenzy. They’re frothing at the mouth.”

Rush Limbaugh took on the “Drive-By Media,” saying: “I actually think I’m watching people lose their minds…This is the story that’s gonna get Trump thrown out of office. This is the story that’s gonna cause an uprising among the American people. Except they have done that practically every day for the last year, and certainly for the last six months.”

But others on the right said that Trump Jr.’s meeting with the Russian lawyer he was told had oppo research on Hillary Clinton—as documented in the emails he released—was troubling.

In “Don Jr.’s Disgraceful Meeting,” National Review says: “No campaign professional would have accepted such a dodgy meeting the way Trump Jr. did, and no person with a strong sense of propriety — Russia is a hostile power run by a deeply corrupt regime — would have wanted to.”

The Weekly Standard, writing about U.S. sanctions against Moscow, says that “the Trump team has lost all credibility on the question of Russia. Second-guessing by the media and politicians of both parties will be the inevitable accompaniment to every White House announcement about Vladimir Putin or Russia.”

Fox’s Charles Krauthammer said this about the president’s son, in light of the fact that his meeting with Veselnitskaya apparently went nowhere: “It’s a hell of a defense to say your collusion might be incompetent…

“If you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods and it turns out the stolen goods don’t show up but the cops show up,” he noted. “I think you’re going to have a very weak story saying, ‘Well, I got swindled here.’”

Ex spooks:  Clapper: Trump Jr. Emails “Only One Anecdote in a Much Larger Story”

Donald Trump Jr. eagerly accepted help connected with what he was explicitly told was the Russian government’s effort to boost his father’s campaign, a move that former top Intelligence Community officials said comes straight out of the Russian playbook on tradecraft and raises alarming new questions about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

“I’ll leave it to the special counsel to determine whether the legal threshold of collusion was breached, but from this layman’s point of view, it certainly appears that way to me,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said.

Former Acting Director of the CIA John McLaughlin said that based on what has been reported about the emails Trump Jr. released on Tuesday, “it looks to me like an elaborate operation carried out through intermediaries to probe the receptivity of the Trump campaign to assistance from the Russian government during the campaign.”

“It is not unusual for it to be carried out through such a long chain of intermediaries, because the tradecraft objective here is to separate the original ambition as far as possible from the ultimate result so it becomes very hard to trace back, as it is in this case, exactly what happened and who did what,” he said.

This email exchange is “huge,” former CIA Acting Director Michael Morell said, given it “shows that a senior member of the Trump team” knew in early summer of 2016 that “the Russians were working on behalf of Trump.”

“Any person with integrity would have picked up the phone and called the FBI, and they would not have attended the meeting,” Morell said. “The fact that Donald Jr. did not call the FBI — and the fact that he went ahead with the meeting with such enthusiasm — shows a willingness to collude with a foreign government, even though there was probably no actual collusion during the meeting itself, if it played out as described.”

But someone claims to be clean.

Trump claims Democrats just as bad

I’m not sure that claiming the Democrats were as bad as the Trump team but that seems to be the current ‘attack is defence’ of President Trump.

I’d be quite happy to see the same standards of holding to account applied to the Democrats and the Trumps.

Fox News is leading with Trump unloads on Hillary over double standard, amid reports Dems also got foreign help

President Trump ripped Hillary Clinton and fellow Democrats Wednesday over what he described as a double standard for their respective associates’ alleged coordination with foreign governments in the 2016 campaign.

The president has been on defense over fresh revelations of a meeting his eldest son held last year with a Russian lawyer who promised dirt on Clinton.

The news report refers back to the questionable dossier — written by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele and allegedly distributed by Fusion GPS — which contained unverified allegations against the Trump team.

Fusion GPS, the Democrat-funded opposition research firm, allegedly paid Steele with money from a Clinton backer. The dossier eventually fell into the hands of the FBI.

The White House and Trump allies also have cited a reported meeting between a DNC consultant and officials at the Ukrainian Embassy in Washington, D.C., last year.

“If you are looking for an example of a campaign coordinating with a foreign country or a foreign source, look no further than the DNC which actually coordinated opposition research with the Ukrainian Embassy,” White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday.

“This is not an accusation. That is an on-the-record action that they took,” Sanders said.

‘Look over there, they were crap too’ has become a common diversion tactic for Trump.

The meeting Sanders referred to was first reported in January by Politico. The report cited a meeting between Ukrainian government officials who allegedly tried to help Clinton undermine Trump by publicly questioning his fitness for office and shared research and damaging information on Trump and his advisers with Clinton allies.

The Ukrainian Embassy pushed back on Sanders’ characterization, saying: “Unfortunately, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee-Sanders must have been misinformed about Ukraine and the DNC.

“The Embassy of Ukraine in Washington did not coordinate with the DNC about opposition research. While some politicians who are not part of the Ukrainian government might have taken sides during last year’s elections in the U.S., the government of Ukraine did not,” the statement said.

More from Fox:

Also: Grassley probing how Russian lawyer got into US after visa denial

The Russian lawyer who met with Donald Trump Jr. in a controversial June 2016 sit-down had been denied a visa to the enter the United States months before the infamous encounter – and a powerful senator wants to find out how she ended up in America anyway.

“She shouldn’t have been in the country,” Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, told “Fox & Friends” on Wednesday.

The senior lawmaker is raising questions about how Natalia Veselnitskaya was able to gain access to the U.S. for a June 9 meeting with Trump Jr., then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort and senior aide and President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

But Fox promoting the defence of the Trumps won’t stop probes into what their campaign did.

Reuters:  Trump Jr.’s Russia emails could trigger probe under election law

Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a woman he was told was a Russian government lawyer who had incriminating information about Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton that could help his father’s presidential campaign could lead investigators to probe whether he violated U.S. election law, experts said.

Trump Jr. said in his tweets that nothing came of the meeting. Veselnitskaya told NBC News early on Tuesday she was not affiliated with the Russian government and had passed no information.

“In retrospect, I probably would have done things a little differently,” Trump Jr. said in an interview on Fox News. “For me, this was opposition research.”

Collusion itself is not an actual crime under the U.S. criminal code, so prosecutors would look to see if Trump Jr.’s conduct ran afoul of a specific law, legal experts said.

One law that might come into play is the Federal Election Campaign Act, which makes it illegal for a foreign national to contribute to a U.S. political campaign. The campaign is also prohibited from soliciting such contributions.

Regardless of whether any laws were broken this week’s revelations have shown that denials of meeting with or collusion with Russians or the Russian government by Trump and his family and campaign team have proven to be wrong and false.

 

 

Trump backs off joint cyber security suggestion

Another example of changing stories with Donald Trump, this time after he suggested a joint Cyber security unit with Russia. On Sunday Trump tweeted:

President Trump tweeted Sunday evening that a proposed “Cyber Security unit” operated by the U.S. and Russia “can’t happen,” an apparent reaction to criticism of the idea by Democrats and Republicans.

Trump tweeted:

A bizarre suggestion given all the claims of Russian hacker interference in the US election last year.

Fox News: Trump appears to back off joint ‘Cyber Security unit’ with Russia after criticism

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded that Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election campaign. Russian state actors have been linked to Wikileaks, which published stolen emails belonging to the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta.

The cybersecurity unit drew widespread ridicule from lawmakers, including two of Trump’s rivals for the Republican nomination last year.

Republican senator Lindsey Graham on NBZ’s Mett The Press:

“It’s not the dumbest idea I’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty close”.

Graham also said that Trump has “a blind spot” when it comes to Russia, “and to forgive and forget when it comes to Putin regarding cyberattacks is to empower Putin and that’s exactly what he’s doing.”

Senator Marco Rubio:

Partnering with Putin on a “Cyber Security Unit” is akin to partnering with Assad on a “Chemical Weapons Unit”.

We have no quarrel with Russia or the Russian people. Problem is with Putin & his oppression, war crimes & interference in our elections.

Former Defense Secretary Ash Carter…

…said the move was “like the guy who robbed your house proposing a working group on burglary.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democratic Party member of the House intelligence committee…

…told CNN’s “State of the Union” that expecting Russia to be a credible partner in any cybersecurity initiative “would be dangerously naive for this country.”

“If that’s our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow”.

Trump staff tried to defend his suggestion.

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley…

…stood up for the initiative, arguing that working with Russia on cybersecurity “doesn’t mean we ever trust Russia. We can’t trust Russia and we won’t ever trust Russia. But you keep those that you don’t trust closer so that you can always keep an eye on `em and keep them in check.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin…

…defended the plan on ABC’s “This Week,” calling the initiative a “very important step forward.”

“What we want to make sure is that we coordinate with Russia, that we’re focused on cybersecurity together, that we make sure that they never interfere in any democratic elections or conduct any cyber security. I think is a very significant accomplishment for President Trump.”

Stuff: Russia confirms Putin-Trump talk on joint cyber security unit

Russia confirmed that Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin had discussed forming a joint Russian-US group on cyber security, an idea that has provoked uproar in Washington, but said it was only a tentative proposal.

“The heads of state did talk about such a possibility,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call with reporters on Monday (Tuesday NZT).

“Nothing was promised to each other. What is positive, they stated their readiness to work in this direction.”

The conversation had been “about the possibility of forming such a group”, he said.

Svetlana Lukash, a Russian official who was at the Hamburg summit, told a news conference earlier on Monday (Tuesday NZT), Putin and Trump’s discussion of cyber security had taken up 40 minutes of their meeting, which lasted more than two hours.

“President Putin proposed creating a working group,” she said. “This does not mean it should start working immediately, virtually tomorrow.”

She added: “The main thing is, this matter was discussed, the United States is ready to consider cooperation in this sphere, and then we will see.

“Maybe this will be a working group, maybe this will be cooperation on the floor of the United Nations. But in any case, our two countries will need to discuss these questions. This is namely what the presidents agreed upon.” She said of the landmark talks between the two men in Hamburg: “Nobody, except the participants of that meeting, knows how that proposal was formulated and how President Trump reacted.”

But Trump seems to have changed his mind. He has at least changed his tune.

So why did he tweet what he did without qualification?

Why did Mnuchin and Haley defend and support his original tweet?

Why trust anything Trump tweets or says? His staff have been embarrassed by his changing ideas many times.

‘De-escalation’ agreement in part of Syria

Perhaps not coincidental to the Trump-Putin G20 summit in Hamburg:

Associated Press:  US, Russia reach deal on Syria cease-fire

The United States and Russia have reached agreement on a cease-fire in southwest Syria, three U.S. officials said Friday as President Donald Trump held his first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The deal marks a new level of involvement for the Trump administration in trying to resolve Syria’s civil war. Although details about the agreement and how it will be implemented weren’t immediately available, the cease-fire is set to take effect Sunday at noon Damascus time, said the officials, who weren’t authorized to discuss the cease-fire publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Jordan and Israel also are part of the agreement, one of the officials said. The two U.S. allies both share a border with the southern part of Syria and have been concerned about violence from Syria’s civil war spilling over the border.

This could be significant,and it could be a breakthrough, but note that that is just in one corner of Syria, the furthest corner from Iran and Turkey and the Kurds.

The deal is separate from an agreement that Russia, Turkey and Iran struck earlier this year to try to establish “de-escalation zones” in Syria where violence would be reduced. The U.S., wary of Iran’s involvement, was not a part of that deal. Follow-up talks this week in Astana, Kazakhstan, failed to reach agreement on how to finalize a cease-fire in those zones.

Previous cease-fires in Syria have collapsed or failed to reduce violence for long, and it was unclear whether this deal would be any better.

So it may be a significant cease in hostilities, or it may be a symbolic signal to the G20 summit that is as ineffective as previous attempts top sort out Syria.

Implications for Syria aside, the deal marks the biggest diplomatic achievement for the U.S. and Russia since Trump took office. Trump’s administration has approached the notoriously strained relationship by trying to identify a few limited issues on which the countries could make progress, thereby building trust for a broader repair of ties.

For years, the U.S. and Russia have been backing opposing sides in Syria’s war, with Moscow supporting Syrian President Bashar Assad and Washington supporting rebels who have been fighting Assad. Both the U.S. and Russia oppose the Islamic State group in Syria.

Things are very complicated in Syria, and also in the US-Russian relationship.

Trump meets Putin

A much anticipated meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin has taken place at the G20 meeting in Hamburg. This may have been better done separately so as not to overshadow the G20, but both Putin and Trump seem to like being the focus of attention.

U.S. President Donald Trump told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday that it was an “honor” to meet him for the first time and said he looked forward to “positive things” in the relationship between the former Cold War rivals.

Trump and Putin spoke through translators with their respective foreign ministers present for six minutes before reporters were allowed into the room for their statements. Afterwards the reporters were ushered out and the meeting continued.

“President Putin and I have been discussing various things, and I think it’s going very well,” Trump told reporters, sitting alongside the Russian leader.

“We’ve had some very, very good talks. We’re going to have a talk now and obviously that will continue. We look forward to a lot of very positive things happening for Russia, for the United States and for everybody concerned. And it’s an honor to be with you.”

Putin, through a translator, said: “We spoke over the phone with you several times,” adding: “A phone conversation is never enough.”

“I am delighted to be able to meet you personally, Mr. President,” he said, noting that he hoped the meeting would yield results.

The body language here seems to tell it’s own story:

Putin has been dealing in international politics for a long tome, Trump is the apprentice.

There is sure to be more reporting and PR on the Trump-Putin meeting.

Independence Day

It’s the fourth of July in the US, their Independence Day. Fox News has just tweeted:

But just prior to this Fox also shows how non-isolated and independent of international affairs the US is.

Fox News: Russia trolls US, Trump with Fourth of July tweet

The Russian embassy reminded Americans in a tweet Tuesday that a Fourth of July musical staple was actually written about one of that country’s own wars.

“Dear Americans, happy Independence Day! Learn more about Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, now a July Fourth tradition,” the embassy wrote.

The tweet included a link to a Sputnik news agency story about the song’s origins and was published Tuesday as tension rose with Russia over North Korea’s missile program. Both Russia and China announced a joint agreement challenging Trump and urging an end to joint exercises with South Korea.

And the Russian threat to US democracy:

FoxPollHacking

But when they meet at the G20 summit Trump has said he won’t discuss Russian hacking with Putin.

And from Reuters:

As Trump heads to his first face-to-face meeting as president with Putin on Friday at the G20 summit in Germany, he is under pressure at home to take a tough line with the Kremlin.

Allegations of Russian meddling in last year’s U.S. election have alarmed both Republican and Democratic lawmakers, who are pushing to extend tough sanctions placed on Russia following its 2014 annexation of Crimea, a peninsula belonging to Ukraine.

Lawmakers including Republican Senator Cory Gardner are also concerned Russia has prolonged the civil war in Syria by backing its President Bashar al-Assad, a strongman whose forces have used chemical weapons against insurgents and civilians. The chaos has fueled instability in the region and a flood of migrants to Europe.

“President (Trump) needs to make it clear that the continued aggression by Russia around the globe … is unacceptable, and that they will be held accountable,” said Gardner, who was among six lawmakers invited by the White House last month to discuss foreign policy with Trump over dinner.

The U.S. intelligence community has concluded Russia sponsored hacking of Democratic Party groups last year to benefit Trump over his Democratic challenger Hillary Clinton. Russia has denied those allegations while Trump has repeatedly dismissed the idea of any coordination between his campaign and Russia as a “witch hunt.”

Still, just the optics of Trump meeting with Putin, a former KGB agent, are fraught with risk, foreign policy experts say.

Trump has signaled an interest in cooperating with Russia to defeat Islamic State in Syria and to reduce nuclear stockpiles.

The lack of a unified strategy has left U.S. allies anxious. And it has lowered expectations for American leadership to help resolve crises in Syria and Ukraine, where Russian cooperation would be critical.

“Trump is like a horse with his front legs tied,” said a German diplomat, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity. “He can’t make any big leaps forward on Russia. If he tried people would immediately suspect it was all part of some big conspiracy.”

Speaking with reporters last week about Trump’s upcoming meeting with Putin, White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster said his boss would like “the United States and the entire West to develop a more constructive relationship with Russia. But he’s also made clear that we will do what is necessary to confront Russia’s destabilizing behavior.”

The White House has been mum on what Trump would be willing to give Russia in exchange for that help.

Other Washington veterans say Trump won’t be able to make meaningful progress with Russia on anything until he confronts Putin about the suspected election meddling.

“(Trump) really has to raise the Russian election hacking last year, and has to say something like, ‘Vladimir, don’t do this again. There will be consequences,'” said Steve Pifer, a long-time State Department official focused on U.S.-Russia relations.

So far Trump has shown little inclination to do so, a situation that has heightened speculation about the potential impact from his coming encounter with the Russian leader.

“The shadow of all these investigations hangs over this,” said Angela Stent, a professor at Georgetown University and former National Intelligence Officer for Russia.

Being President was never going to be easy.

Neither was being independent going to be, not just for the US but also for countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Qatar or South Korea.

US shoot down Syrian jet

The US has shot down a Syrian jet. This has escalated tensions between the US and Syria, and between the US and Russia.

Fox News:  Navy jet shoots down Syrian warplane that attacked US-backed rebels

A U.S. Navy fighter jet shot down a Syrian government warplane after it attacked Washington-backed fighters near ISIS’ de facto capital of Raqqa, the U.S.-led coalition said Sunday.

In a statement, the coalition headquarters in Iraq said that a F/A-18E Super Hornet shot down a Syrian Su-22 that had dropped bombs near positions held by the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

The statement said coalition aircraft had “conducted a show of force” to turn back an attack by Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad’s forces on the SDF in the town of Ja’Din, south of Tabqah.

The coalition said the shootdown took place “in accordance with rules of engagement and in collective self-defense of Coalition partnered forces.”

Aljazeera TV (thanks Gezza):

Iran has fiired missiles into Syria, targeting ISIS, who they blame for the recent terrorist attack in Tehran. More details later. Main item is London van attack.

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The US has shot down a Syrian regime jet over Raqqa. They claim it was attacking SDF forces, which they have *advisers* embedded with.

Damascus says it was targeting ISIS.

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Aljaz tv 1 pm.

This incident has infuriated Russia, which has now declared it will treat any coalition aircraft West of the Euphrates as a target !!

The Independent:  Russia to treat US jets in Syria as ‘targets’ after America guns down first regime warplane

Russia has said it will treat US warplanes operating in parts of Syria where its air forces are also present as “targets” amid a diplomatic row caused by the downing of a Syrian jet.

The country’s defence ministry said it would track US-led coalition aircraft with missile systems and military aircraft, but stopped short of saying it would shoot them down.

A hotline set up between Russia and the US to prevent mid-air collisions will also be suspended. Russia’s Defence Ministry said the suspension of its communication line with the Americans would begin immediately.

The US did not use its hotline with Russia ahead of the downing of the Syrian government warplane, said the ministry, which accused the US of a “deliberate failure to make good on its commitments” under the de-confliction deal.

“The shooting down of a Syrian Air Force jet in Syria’s airspace is a cynical violation of Syria’s sovereignty,” the ministry said.

“The US’ repeated combat operations under the guise of ‘combating terrorism’ against the legitimate armed forces of a UN member-country are a flagrant violation of international law and an actual military aggression against the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Downing the jet was akin to “helping the terrorists that the US is fighting against”, Sergei Ryabkov, Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, said.

Fox News: US responds to Russian threat after shoot-down of Syrian jet

U.S. pilots operating over Syria won’t hesitate to defend themselves from Russian threats, a Pentagon spokesperson said Monday in the latest escalation between the two superpowers since a U.S. jet shot down a Syrian aircraft on Sunday.

“We do not seek conflict with any party in Syria other than ISIS, but we will not hesitate to defend ourselves or our partners if threatened,” Capt. Jeff Davis told Fox News.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford doubled down on that rhetoric during a Monday speech at the National Press Club.

“I’m confident that we are still communicating between our operations center and the Russia federation operations center — and I’m also confident that our forces have the capability to take care of themselves,” Dunford said.

Department of Defense spokesperson Maj. Adrian J.T. Rankine-Galloway said coalition aircraft would continue conducting “operations throughout Syria, targeting ISIS forces and providing air support for Coalition partner forces on the ground.”

It’s hard to see how the Syrian conflict will end well any time soon.