‘When you lose that power’: How John Kelly faded as White House disciplinarian


White House chief of staff John F. Kelly watches as President Trump speaks during a meeting with North Korean defectors in February. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
 April 7 at 5:04 PM 
After White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly pressured President Trump last fall to install his top deputy, Kirstjen Nielsen, atop the Department of Homeland Security, the president lost his temper when conservative allies argued that she wasn’t sufficiently hard line on immigration. “You didn’t tell me she was a [expletive] George W. Bush person,” Trump growled.

After Kelly told Fox News Channel’s Bret Baier in a January interview that Trump’s immigration views had not been “fully informed” during the campaign and had since “evolved,” the president berated Kelly in the Oval Office — his shouts so loud they could be heard through the doors.

And less than two weeks ago, Kelly grew so frustrated on the day that Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin that Nielsen and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis both tried to calm him and offered pep talks, according to three people with knowledge of the incident.

“I’m out of here, guys,” Kelly said — comments some interpreted as a resignation threat, but according to a senior administration official, he was venting his anger and leaving work an hour or two early to head home.

The recurring and escalating clashes between the president and his chief of staff trace the downward arc of Kelly’s eight months in the White House. Both his credibility and his influence have been severely diminished, administration officials said, a clear decline for the retired four-star Marine Corps general who arrived with a reputation for integrity and a mandate to bring order to a chaotic West Wing.

 2:23
How John Kelly is trying to bring discipline into the White House

President Trump’s chief of staff, John F. Kelly, has brought discipline to the White House, sometimes to the frustration of Trump. 

Kelly neither lurks around the Oval Office nor listens in on as many of the president’s calls, even with foreign leaders. He has not been fully consulted on several recent key personnel decisions. And he has lost the trust and support of some of the staff, as well as angered first lady Melania Trump, who officials said was upset over his sudden dismissal of Johnny McEntee, the president’s 27-year-old personal aide.

“When you lose that power,” said Leon Panetta, a Democratic former White House chief of staff, “you become a virtual White House intern, being told where to go and what to do.”

This portrait of Kelly’s trajectory is based on interviews with 16 administration officials, outside advisers and presidential confidants, many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to assess the chief of staff. Kelly declined interview requests.

In large part because of his military credentials, Kelly still commands a level of respect from Trump that sometimes eluded his predecessor, Reince Priebus, whom the president would derisively refer to as “Reincey.” On issues such as national security and immigration, Trump continues to listen to Kelly. And for all the evident chaos, the West Wing now features less knife fighting and dysfunction than in the early months, when Trump set Priebus on coequal footing with then-chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon.

One senior White House official disputed that Kelly’s relationship with Trump has been especially turbulent in recent weeks, noting that the president still talks to Kelly more than any other official. This official explained that Kelly initially viewed his job as babysitting, but now feels less of a need to be omnipresent, while Trump, who once considered Kelly a security blanket, feels increasingly emboldened to act alone.

 2:39
How John Kelly’s stance on Rob Porter’s ouster could foreshadow his own

White House officials said Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told them to give information about staff secretary Rob Porter’s ouster that contradicts other reports. 

But inside and outside the White House, Kelly’s credibility has suffered from a string of misstatements, most recently over his management of domestic abuse allegations against former staff secretary Rob Porter and of Trump’s decision to oust Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster as national security adviser. And for all the structure he has brought to the bureaucracy, colleagues still view Kelly as tone deaf in dealing with politics.

Kelly is the latest high-profile example of a West Wing Icarus — swept high into Trump’s orbit, only to be singed and cast low. Nearly everyone who has entered the White House has emerged battered — rendered a punchline (former press secretary Sean Spicer), a Justice Department target (former national security adviser Michael Flynn) or a diminished shell, fired by presidential tweet (former secretary of state Rex Tillerson).

No one knows how many days remain for Kelly, but when he leaves — either by the president’s hand or because of his own mounting frustration — he is almost certain to limp away damaged.

“Everybody in the orbit of Donald Trump gets sucked in and tarnished or destroyed,” said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a history of White House chiefs of staff. “Kelly has been tarnished, no doubt about it.”

‘How’s Kelly doing?’

When Kelly, then the homeland security secretary, was appointed chief of staff late last July, the news was met with enthusiasm. Many Trump watchers hoped Kelly would prove a voice of reason and restraint in an administration often perceived to be teetering out of control. And many West Wing aides similarly welcomed the new discipline, thinking Kelly’s regimen would free them to do their jobs.

Initially, at least, Kelly was successful. He began closing the door to the Oval Office, so aides couldn’t loiter or wander in and out hoping to sway the president on issues outside their purview. He made meetings smaller, which helped reduce leaks to the press and make conversations more efficient. And he limited the number of aides who had Oval Office walk-in privileges to a small group.

“I didn’t know the Oval Office even had a door,” one staffer joked to Kelly, several months after he’d taken over. Kelly, meanwhile, marveled that in the early days staffers sometimes entered still chatting on their cellphones.

Under Kelly’s watch, the president now has “Policy Time,” sessions once or twice a day where advisers present and argue their competing views over a specific issue, with Trump presiding. He has also implemented bimonthly Cabinet meetings, with a focused agenda, as well as restored order to the morning senior staff meeting. And attendance for most Oval Office meetings is still run through Kelly’s office.

But about a month into Kelly’s tenure, Trump began to chafe at the strictures. The president invited staff and Cabinet secretaries into the Oval Office without scheduled appointments and called friends and advisers late at night, without Kelly’s sign-off. An early sign of trouble came when Trump polled confidants about his enforcer: “What do you think of Kelly? How’s Kelly doing?” the president asked.

Kelly was an intimidating presence, confiding to some colleagues that he preferred to be feared rather than loved. Yet he was reluctant to be the bearer of bad news. Enter Nielsen, who centralized power as his enforcer, earning her internal enemies.

Kelly requested that staffers back-brief him when the president violated his processes — for instance, by calling a staffer to demand action after watching a Fox News segment. But several aides said they found Kelly difficult when they retroactively filled him in. He often repeated a version of the same response: “I guess you’re the chief of staff now, so why don’t you handle it?”

There were other signs of tensions, as well. Early on, Kelly convened a video conference with aides who were with Trump on vacation at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J. He was beamed in from Washington but erupted when the audio didn’t work. “This is [expletive] ridiculous,” he said, canceling the meeting and storming out of the room. Aides who had not been aware of his temper were stunned.

Days after the publication of Michael Wolff’s “Fire and Fury” — a devastating portrayal of the West Wing, informed by Wolff’s hours of unsupervised time there — Kelly berated senior staff, saying the book should have never happened. “This place was a [expletive] before I got here,” Kelly fumed.

Though some staffers felt unfairly critiqued, others agreed with his assessment.

During the Porter crisis, Kelly found himself under intense scrutiny for the veracity of his whipsaw statements. He publicly praised Porter and privately urged him to stay. But Kelly later claimed that he had demanded Porter’s resignation just 40 minutes after learning the details of the allegations, which conflicted with the White House’s official account delivered by press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

Many senior staffers were convinced that Kelly was distorting the facts to try to exonerate himself, though some others say his account was accurate.

In March, Kelly again offered contradictory explanations. He privately told staffers that Trump had decided to oust McMaster. But after The Washington Post reported that Trump had made his decision, Kelly began telling others the opposite — while still maintaining to some Trump advisers that the president’s decision had been made. Some advisers thought that Kelly was using the president to push a personal vendetta against McMaster.

In an off-the-record session with reporters, parts of which later were reported, Kelly also said that when he called Tillerson to let him know he was fired, the secretary of state was on the toilet with “Montezuma’s revenge.” Though White House aides said Kelly was simply joking — and the State Department contested his version of the phone call — many staffers found the comment crude and demeaning.

“At the top, you have someone who consistently does not tell the truth,” said James K. Glassman, the founding executive director of the George W. Bush Institute. “That’s a signal to the people below him that they don’t have to tell the truth either, that this is the way we conduct government — we lie when we have to, we mistreat people when we have to, we humiliate them.”

Irritation and respect

In many ways, the Trump-Kelly alliance was always going to be strained. As a business executive, Trump is flexible and freewheeling, prone to impulse and whim. As a retired general, Kelly is structured and partial to hierarchies and rigor.

As chief of staff, Kelly was thrust into the role of disciplinarian. He faced bitter factions, especially among those whose White House access he had cut off (such as Anthony Scaramucci, whose 11-day run as communications director was ended by Kelly) or curtailed (such as Corey Lewandowski, Trump’s first campaign manager).

Kelly’s tensions with Lewandowski boiled over near the end of February, during a meeting with the president. Kelly entered the Oval Office, saw Lewandowski and griped that Lewandowski had been attacking him on television over the Porter fallout but was unwilling to say it to his face. A blowup ensued, with Trump ordering the two to get along. They left the Oval Office for less heated conversation, then reentered and announced a truce.

Asked about the incident, Lewandowski said only, “I am on President Trump’s team and every person who’s supporting this president, which includes John Kelly, is on the team that I’m on.”

Since last fall, tensions between Kelly and Trump have blossomed in episodic bursts.

In one contentious incident in autumn, when Trump moved to fire Tillerson, Kelly dissuaded him during a heated argument in which he threatened to resign. Trump told Kelly he could keep “his guy,” but soon had his revenge, tweeting “Save your energy Rex” on North Korea.

In fact, Kelly has threatened to resign on multiple occasions — “It’s sort of a weekly event,” one senior White House official quipped — though officials explained his declarations as expressions of momentary frustration. (Axios first reported some details surrounding Kelly’s March resignation threat.)

More recently, Trump has told friends he is eager to stage more energetic, frenzied rallies — yet another realm where he can theoretically slip Kelly’s shackles.

“There has to be a bond here between the chief of staff and the staff and the president, and that fundamental bond has been broken,” said Panetta, also a former defense secretary and CIA director. “When that happens, it’s just a matter of time.”

One Trump adviser said the president “doesn’t like a lot of the stuff he has done. He often gets angry and says, ‘Who does this guy think he is?’ But Kelly has a longer chance of surviving because Trump respects him.”

And there are signs that Kelly is adapting to Trump’s world. Last month, the chief of staff who once fumed about the access given to Wolff carved out time in his schedule for a book interview of his own. For about 30 minutes, Kelly sat down with Fox News personality Jeanine Pirro for her forthcoming tome.

Rex Tillerson takes an apparent parting shot at Trump

 March 22 at 1:50 PM 
 2:11
‘This can be a very mean-spirited town’: Tillerson bids farewell

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson bid farewell to his staff at the State Department on March 22 and urged them to “never lose sight” of their personal integrity 

Rex Tillerson is officially done as secretary of state, but he got in what appeared to be one final dig at President Trump before heading out the door.

At the very end of his farewell speech to the State Department on Thursday, Tillerson talked about the importance of maintaining your integrity and having respect for others. Then he turned to politics.

“This can be a very mean-spirited town,” he said, drawing knowing laughs and a round of applause, “but you don’t have to choose to participate in that. Each of us get to choose the person we want to be, and the way we want to be treated, and the way we will treat others.”

It’s virtually impossible not to connect these comments to Tillerson’s ouster. He was fired via tweet, and the No. 4 official at the State Department said Tillerson wasn’t given any advance notice. Then, in a closed-door meeting last week, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly reportedly told staffers that Tillerson received the news of his impending exit while using the toilet. Kelly has drawn plenty of criticism for disclosing that, even privately.

The entire episode has reinforced the fact that going to work in the Trump administration often means checking your pride at the door. But Tillerson has seemed to be particularly shaken up by the whole thing — including in a brief statement to the press after his firing last week in which his voice was noticeably quavering. Tillerson had reportedly felt he was hitting his stride as secretary of state just before he was fired.

Trump also repeatedly contradicted things Tillerson had said, including about whether meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was wise (Trump announced the meeting within hours of Tillerson arguing it wasn’t prudent) and, more broadly, about whether talking to the North Koreans was a good idea. He suggested publicly that Tillerson was wasting his time. “Save your energy, Rex,” Trump tweeted. “We’ll do what has to be done.”

Tillerson may argue that the comment Thursday wasn’t aimed at Trump. But its placement at the very end of his speech should erase any notion this was a coincidence — as should his allusion to how you should “treat others.” Tillerson was repeatedly treated with what he seemed to regard (and what looked from the outside) as a lack of respect by Trump.

And his final public message as secretary of state was essentially this: Don’t be like Trump.

Trump abruptly ousts Tillerson as secretary of State, replaces him with CIA chief

President Trump tells reporters why he fired Rex Tillerson.

  

After 14 months of private tensions and public disputes, President Trump on Tuesday ousted his beleagured secretary of State, replacing Rex Tillerson with CIA Director Mike Pompeo in a major shake-up of his national security and foreign policy team.

Trump announced the change in a Twitter message hours after Tillerson abruptly cut short a weeklong trip to Africa and returned to Washington at 4 a.m. Tuesday. State Department officials said Tillerson did not speak to the president and only learned of his firing from Trump’s Twitter post.

In an unusual pushback that only highlighted the clash, the State Department made clear that Tillerson had not quit. It issued a statement that said he “had every intention of remaining,” and was “unaware of the reason” for his dismissal.

The nation’s top diplomat was blindsided last week when Trump abruptly decided to accept an invitation for a summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the most ambitious diplomatic initiative of the Trump administration and one that normally would involve immense State Department input.

Speaking to reporters before he boarded Air Force One for his first visit to California as president, Trump said he and Tillerson “disagreed on things.”

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time,” Trump said, citing the Iran nuclear deal as a point of disagreement. Tillerson had urged Trump to stay in the landmark nuclear disarmament deal, but the president has vowed to withdraw by mid-May if it is not renegotiated.

“So we were not thinking the same,” Trump said. “With Mike Pompeo, we have a similar thought process.”

The president said he wished Tillerson well. “I’ll be speaking to Rex over a long period of time,” he added. “I actually got on well with Rex, but it was a different mindset.”

Trump repeatedly praised Pompeo, saying “we’ve had a very good chemistry right from the beginning.”

Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!

Gina Haspel, the CIA’s deputy director, is slated to replace Pompeo as head of the nation’s chief spy service. If confirmed, she will be the first woman to lead the agency as it faces new threats from Russia, China and other rivals and adversaries.

The Foreign Relations Committee expects to hold confirmation hearings on Pompeo’s nomination next month and he is likely to win strong bipartisan support. In January 2017, the full Senate confirmed him as CIA director by a vote of 66 to 32.

Tillerson, a voice of moderation in a chaotic administration, clashed repeatedly with Trump during his 14 months at State and reportedly referred to Trump as a “moron” during a private meeting last year. Tillerson never confirmed or denied having made the remark, but it clearly reached Trump’s ears and incensed him.

In addition to resisting Trump’s effort to scrap the 2015 deal with Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions, he opposed Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to the divided holy city of Jerusalem. The plan has seemingly destroyed chances of a negotiated resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict for the short term.

And despite a record of high-stakes energy deals with Russian authorities in his former job as chief executive of Exxon Mobil Corp., Tillerson has voiced more public mistrust of Moscow than Trump has.

On Monday, Tillerson again departed from the White House position — denouncing Russia for a poison attack in Britain that targeted a former Russian spy, who has criticized President Vladimir Putin, and his daughter. More than 20 people, including first responders, were injured by the chemical agent.

The attack “clearly came from Russia” and will “trigger a response,” Tillerson told reporters aboard his plane as he returned from Africa. Earlier in the day, the White House had conspicuously declined to join British officials in blaming Russia for the attack.

But even as he differed with Trump, Tillerson had few allies on Capitol Hill or among the diplomats and civil servants in the sprawling department he headed. Many in the foreign service saw him as aloof and distant as he pursued a plan to cut budgets, trim staff and reorganize the department’s bureaucracy.

Although Tillerson was repeatedly said to be considering stepping down last year, the State Department made clear Tuesday that Tillerson didn’t resign. It also suggested that Trump had fired him without cause.

“The Secretary had every intention of remaining because of the tangible progress made on critical national security issues,” it said. “He established and enjoyed relationships with his counterparts. He will miss his colleagues at the Department of State and enjoyed working together with the Department of Defense in an uncommonly robust relationship.”

It added, “The Secretary did not speak to the President this morning and is unaware of the reason, but he is grateful for the opportunity to serve, and still believes strongly that public service is a noble calling and not to be regretted. We wish Secretary-Designate Pompeo well.”

Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs committee, said Tillerson leaves behind a “hobbled” State Department.

“The timing of this move also couldn’t be worse,” Engel said. “Less than a week after announcing a summit with Kim Jong Un — the sort of engagement that will require a diplomatic full-court press — the president has let the world know that he’s throwing an already hollowed-out State Department into further disarray with a transition at the top. However much I may have disagreed with Secretary Tillerson, to push him out at this moment sends a terrible message to friends and adversaries all over the world.”

Pompeo, a retired Army officer and former congressman, has political skills that Tillerson lacks, said Michael Allen, who worked in the George W. Bush White House and advised the Trump transition.

“He can do media, he does the Hill, he does everything Tillerson didn’t do,” Allen said. “Most of all, he has Trump’s confidence.”

Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill generally applauded the move, suggesting that Pompeo brought a useful skill set to the nation’s diplomatic challenges.

“As director of the CIA, Mike has made contacts throughout the world and has come up with aggressive policies to defend our homeland,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). “No one understands the threat posed by North Korea and Iran better than he does.”

Pompeo often briefs Trump in person in the Oval Office on critical intelligence issues, and over the last several weeks has played a pivotal role in brokering messages from South Korean officials about a possible meeting with the North Korean leader.

Tillerson was cut out of the loop in Africa when the White House announced that Trump had agreed to meet with Kim. Indeed, hours earlier, Tillerson had cautioned reporters that the U.S. and North Korea were still a long way from any negotiations.

His prediction may prove true since North Korea has not publicly responded to Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s invitation to meet, and officials have yet to set a date, location or agenda for a summit.

For much of his tenure, Tillerson traveled the world in a permanent mode of damage control, trying to placate allies in Europe and elsewhere who felt alienated or confused by Trump’s erratic policy pronouncements and threats. His trip to Africa was partly to mollify governments offended by Trump’s reported dismissal of immigrants from “shithole countries.”

Time after time, Tillerson had to explain to foreign allies what Trump has meant when he seemed to be insulting their countries. “The president’s tweets don’t define the policy,” Tillerson said last month during a trip to Latin America, where Trump’s policies have roiled relations.

The Texas oilman was a man of few words and low-key demeanor, a sharp contrast to Trump’s bombastic and flamboyant manner.

“The president and I are pretty different individuals in terms of our management style, in terms of our communication style,” Tillerson told reporters traveling with him in Latin America.

“It doesn’t mean one is right, one is wrong; one is better, one is worse,” he added. “But we’re very different, and the way I process information and come to decisions is different from the way he does.”

Twitter: @TracyKWilkinson

Twitter: @ByBrianBennett

Courtesy: Los Angeles Times

Trump administration to open U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem in May. Palestinians criticize move as illegal and irresponsible

Trump administration to open U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem in May. Palestinians criticize move as illegal and irresponsible
A view of the Western Wall and the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem’s Old City. (Oded Balilty / Associated Press)

 

Accelerating controversial plans, the Trump administration will open a small U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem in May to coincide with the 70th anniversary of Israel’s declaration of independence, a State Department official said Friday.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson approved preliminary security plans for a limited contingent, including the ambassador, David Friedman, and a skeleton staff, to move into a section of the American Consulate in the Arnona neighborhood of Jerusalem, said Steven Goldstein, the under-secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs.

“The goal is to open a small footprint in May, and, over time, open a more full embassy by the end of 2019,” Goldstein said in an interview.

The May 14 date — the date Israel originally declared independence — significantly accelerates the schedule for transferring the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv, where it always existed along with the rest of the world’s diplomatic missions, to the disputed holy city of Jerusalem. (According to the Hebrew calendar, Independence Day this year will be celebrated on April 18.)

President Trump in December announced he was recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and ordering the embassy transfer, reversing decades of U.S. and international policy and enraging the Arab world and many allies.

While Israel claims Jerusalem as its “eternal and undivided” capital, Palestinians also claim the eastern part of the city as their capital in a future independent state.

The status of Jerusalem was to be decided in final peace talks. The Palestinians now contend that the U.S., once the broker of such talks, has disqualified itself as a mediator by taking Israel’s side.

The move has been celebrated in Israel, which has long had its ministries, parliament and government offices in Jerusalem. But it generated a wave of furious, weekly protests in Palestinian territories.

Vice President Mike Pence, visiting Jerusalem last month, gave the first sign that the embassy transfer was being accelerated, when he announced to the Israeli Knesset, or parliament, that the move would take place by the end of 2019.

U.S. officials say the 2019 deadline would see a substantial annex of the consulate in Jerusalem becoming the embassy. A new building to house a full embassy, however, will still take several years to establish, the officials said.

Israel Katz, the Israeli minister of intelligence, congratulated the Trump administration in a tweet Friday. “There is no greater gift than that!” he said. “The most just and correct move.”

Majdi Khaldi, diplomatic advisor to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, decried the “unfortunate announcement” that he described as “illegal, irresponsible and unacceptable to Palestinians.”

Trump’s move, Khaldi said in an interview, “gave the Israelis a pretext to say that Jerusalem is unified under Israeli rule,” contravenes international law and will impede peace efforts.

“It cancels any peace offer,” Khaldi said.

Trump, speaking at the White House on Friday alongside visiting Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, reiterated a claim he has made that his administration is making “great progress” on promoting peace in the Middle East. Several former ambassadors to Israel say, in fact, peace has never been further away.

Jerusalem, a 6,000-year-old city, was divided for 19 years, from the date of Israel’s 1948 founding until the war of 1967, when Israel seized the eastern half of the city from Jordan.

The embassy move is scheduled to take place on the date marking Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948, which Palestinians call Naqba Day, or the day of the catastrophe.

State Department lawyers, meanwhile, were examining whether it is legal to accept private donations to fund a diplomatic mission, following a proposal by Las Vegas casino magnate and pro-Israel hawk Sheldon Adelson to pay for the new embassy.

Adelson is a major contributor to the Republican Party, a loyal supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and owner of a popular tabloid in Israel. Trump’s Jerusalem decision was seen in part as a gesture to Adelson as well as to evangelical Christians, a key component of the president’s base of political support.

However, Goldstein said there were “no formal talks” between the State Department and any private citizen for financing the embassy, and no formal requests made to the State Department for such an arrangement.

Trump has promised the “ultimate deal,” a final agreement on Israeli-Palestinian peace, and placed the negotiations under the direction of his 37-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

None of the parties to possible future negotiations, however, has seen any part of the plan that the Trump administration periodically declares is imminent, and the Palestinian Authority cut off all contact with the United States following Trump’s Jerusalem announcement.

Daniel Shapiro, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel under President Obama, agrees that the embassy belongs in Jerusalem but that the Trump administration has failed to give the proper assurances especially to the Palestinians.

“Before May 14, the administration should do what it failed to do in December: describe this decision in the context of a broader, credible plan for two states, including a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem,” Shapiro said.

Staff writer Wilkinson reported from Washington and special correspondent Tarnopolsky from Jerusalem.

tracy.wilkinson@latimes.com

Courtesy: L A Times

Iraq urges billions for reconstruction amid donor fatigue

Iraq needs close to $90 billion to rebuild after a 3-year war with the “Islamic State” group, a donor conference has heard. Having spent billions on the conflict, Washington is unlikely to pledge any new funds.

Kuwait conference for Iraq reconstruction (picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Gambrell)

The Iraqi government needs $88.2 billion (€71.92 billion) for reconstruction efforts after its victory against the “Islamic State” (IS) militant group, Iraqi Planning Minister Salman al-Jumaili said at the opening of an international conference on the issue in Kuwait on Monday.

He said the figure was based on a study by Iraqi and international experts, who assessed the impact of the conflict that left large swathes of the country destroyed and approximately 2.5 million people displaced.

Global responsibility

“Rebuilding Iraq is restoring hope to Iraq, and restoring the stability of Iraq is stabilizing the states of the region and the world,” al-Jumaili told delegates, adding that the reconstruction was therefore partly the international community’s responsibility.

Read more: Iraq to resume oil reparations to Kuwait for Gulf War devastation, says UN

Watch video01:38

PetroChina seeks role in Iraqi oil industry recovery

His words are likely to fall on deaf ears in Washington and elsewhere in the West, partly due to donor fatigue amid several conflicts and refugee crises globally, and US President Donald Trump’s more protectionist stance.

US officials have already said there will be no new pledges of assistance for Iraq’s reconstruction drive, after Washington pumped some $60 billion into rebuilding the country following the US-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003.

Private sector involvement

Although US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will attend the donor conference on Tuesday, he will instead call for multinational companies and banks to boost their activities in the war-torn country. Thousands of private sector delegates, including representatives from more than 100 American firms are expected to attend.

Iraqi man next to remains of house (picture-alliance/AP Photo/A. Martins)Iraq’s leaders say construction of new housing is a major priority after thousands of homes were destroyed during the war with IS

Analysts said Iraqi leaders are expected to pressure Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab states to step up to the plate.

Read more: Saudi minister makes first trip to Baghdad since 1990, promises new ambassdor

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian also vowed his country’s support during a visit to Iraq on Monday, without giving a specific figure.

“I have come to tell you of France’s support to accompany you. We will always be there. We were there to participate in the coalition (against IS). We will also be there in the reconstruction phase,” he said.

About $22 billion is required in the short term and another $66 billion in the medium term, the director-general of the country’s planning ministry, Qusay Adulfattah, told the conference, which lasts until Wednesday.

New housing needed

Housing is one of the most urgent priorities, delegates heard, after some 140,000 homes were destroyed during the conflict against the jihadist group.

Mahdi al-Alaq, the Secretary-General of Iraq’s Council of Ministers, said the Baghdad government had been given preliminary indications that some states were prepared to act as guarantors with lenders, allowing Iraq to take out soft loans to fund infrastructure projects,

Read more: Iraq’s political landscape in disarray

Oil-rich Iraq’s economy was weakened by years of international sanctions under Saddam Hussein’s regime.  The years of insurgency, sectarian violence and ethnic tensions that followed his overthrow in 2003 helped fuel the emergence of IS, a little more than a decade later.

Iraq declared victory over the jihadists in December, having taken back all the territory captured by the militants in 2014 and 2015.

mm/uhe (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

COURTESY: DW

Israel military targets Iranian drone and strikes Syria, F-16 crashes

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel will protect itself from “any threat or any attempt to harm its sovereignty” after its military downed an Iranian drone that infiltrated the region.

“Israel is seeking for peace, but we will continue to defend ourselves against any attack against us, and against any attempt by Iran to establish military bases in Syria or anywhere else,” Netanyahu said Saturday after meeting with top brass at military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

He said had spoken with both Russian President Vladimir Putin and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson about the recent involvement.

Israel’s military launched a “large-scale attack” after shooting down the infiltrating drone and struck Iranian targets deep in Syrian before one of its own jets was downed.

The raids hit at least 12 targets, including three aerial defense batteries and four targets that were part of Iran’s military establishment in Syria. The offensive marks Israel’s most substantial involvement in Syria to date.

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of a jet is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a "large-scale attack" on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria. Israel called it a "severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty" and warned of further action against the unprecedented Iranian aggression. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

The wreckage of the jet is seen on fire near Harduf, northern Israel, on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018.  (AP)

Israel has issued several stern warnings of late about the increased Iranian involvement along its border in Syria and Lebanon.

Israel called the drone infiltration a “severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty” and warned that Iran would be held accountable for its meddling.

“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”

Israeli security stands around the wreckage of an F-16 that crashed in northern Israel, near kibbutz of Harduf, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone it said infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a "large-scale attack" on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets inside Syria, in its most significant engagement since the fighting in neighboring Syria began in 2011. Responding anti-aircraft fire led to the downing of an Israeli fighter plane. (AP Photo/Rami Slush) ***ISRAEL OUT***

Investigators inspect the wreckage of an F-16 that crashed in northern Israel.  (AP)

Israel would not confirm whether the aircraft was actually shot down by enemy fire, which would mark the first such instance for Israel since 1982 during the first Lebanon war.

According to Syrian state TV, which quoted a military official, Syrian air defenses struck more than one Israeli plane, and called the Israeli raids that hit a base a “new Israeli aggression.”

Military spokesman Jonathan Conricus said the drone was “on a military mission sent and operated by Iranian military forces” and that Iran was “responsible for this severe violation of Israeli sovereignty.”

The drone was in Israel’s possession, the military said.

In this image made from video provided by Yehunda Pinto, the wreckage of a jet is seen near Harduf, northern Israel, Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018. The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country early Saturday before launching a "large-scale attack" on at least a dozen Iranian and Syrian targets in Syria. Israel called it a "severe and irregular violation of Israeli sovereignty" and warned of further action against the unprecedented Iranian aggression. (Yehunda Pinto via AP)

The Israeli military shot down an Iranian drone that infiltrated the country on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2018.  (AP)

Although Israel has shot down several drones from Syria that have infiltrated the country’s territory in the past, the attack on an Iranian site in response to Saturday’s incident signals an escalation in the Israeli retaliation.

The military confirmed the Syrian target of the drone’s launch components were destroyed.

Iran denied Israel’s shooting down of a drone, with Foreign Ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasem calling the account “ridiculous,” while the joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies insisted the drone had not violated Israeli airspace and was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on Islamic State militants.

Iranian involvement along Israel’s border in Syria and Lebanon has been a growing concern as it fears Iran could use the region to position attacks or develop a land route from the country to Lebanon in an effort to deliver weapons to Hezbollah more efficiently.

But Israel has refrained from striking Iranian sites directly. Syria has also repeatedly said it will respond to Israeli airstrikes but has rarely returned fire. Both of those trends came to an abrupt end Saturday as a rapid escalation played out in the early morning hours.

Israel’s chief military spokesman, Brig. Gen. Ronen Manelis, said Israel held Iran directly responsible for the incident.

netanyahu

Chief of General Staff of the Israeli Defense Forces Gadi Eizenkot, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman meet.  (Yonat Friling)

“This is a serious Iranian attack on Israeli territory. Iran is dragging the region into an adventure in which it doesn’t know how it will end,” he said in a special statement. “Whoever is responsible for this incident is the one who will pay the price.”

However, the joint operations room for the Syrian military and its allies denied the drone violated Israeli airspace, saying it was on a regular mission gathering intelligence on Islamic State militants.

Russia, which backs Assad and maintains a large military presence in the country, called for restraint and appeared to criticize Israel’s actions.

“It is absolutely unacceptable to create threats to the lives and security of Russian servicemen who are in Syria at the invitation of its legitimate government to assist in the fight against terrorists,” Russia’s foreign ministry said.

Fox News’ Yonat Friling and the Associated Press contributed to this report.

Lucia I. Suarez Sang is a Reporter for FoxNews.com. Follow her on Twitter @luciasuarezsang

Courtesy: Fox News

Russia welcomes US pledge to drop preconditions on North Korea talks

Moscow has called US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s comments “constructive.” US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had appeared to reverse US North Korea policy.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watching the launch of a Hwasong missile

Russia on Wednesday welcomed US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s offer to start negotiations with North Korea over its disputed nuclear and missile weapons programs “without preconditions.”

“We can state that such constructive statements impress us far more than the confrontational rhetoric that we have heard up to now. Undoubtedly this can be welcomed,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Peskov said the remarks aligned with Russia’s repeated calls for dialogue in the standoff. “It was Putin who regularly and consistently called for all the parties involved to do all they would to set up channels for dialogue. Therefore, such statements (as Tillerson’s) of course do give us satisfaction.”

Earlier, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Pyongyang was keen on entering talks with the US.

Washington Atlantic Council Rex Tillerson (Getty Images/AFP/M. Ngan)Tillerson appeared to reverse US policy toward North Korea on Tuesday

Tillerson drops preconditions

Tillerson dropped preconditions on talks with Pyongyang during a speech on Tuesday in what appeared to be a reversal of US policy toward North Korea’s nuclear and missile weapons programs.

“We are ready to talk anytime North Korea would like to talk. And we are ready to have the first meeting without preconditions,” Tillerson said at the Atlantic Council think tank in Washington.

The US’ previous position was that North Korea would have to come to the negotiating table ready to give up on its nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

Dmitri Peskow (picture-alliance/M.Metzel)The Russian President’s spokesperson Dmitri Peskow welcomed Rex Tillerson’s apparent turn-about

America’s chief diplomat, whose recent disagreements with President Donald Trump over North Korea have cast doubt on his future in office, said the North would need to stop nuclear weapon and missile testing before the start of any negotiations.

But he said both sides could “at least sit down and see each other face to face and then we can begin to lay out a map, a road map, of what we might be willing to work towards.”

Military exercises

Russia and China have attempted to strike a middle ground between North Korea and the US in recent months.

They have supported UN sanctions against the North, with both voting in September to pass the most far-reaching sanctions ever placed on North Korea.

But Moscow and Beijing have also criticized the Trump administration’s fiery rhetoric and military exercises near the North Korean border.

Both countries support a “suspension-for-suspension” approach to the crisis. Under the proposal, Pyongyang would agree to stop tests in exchange for an end to US and South Korean military exercises.

amp/rg (Interfax, AFP)

COURTESY:DW

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