The U.K. Moves to Clean Up Laundered Money

A Ranking from U.S. News & World Report |

An attempted murder of a Russian former spy sparks a policy change targeting Russia.

(Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

By Thomas K. Grose, Contributor | June 13, 2018, at 11:29 a.m.

The U.K. Moves to Clean Up Laundered Money

LONDON — Chelsea’s soccer team won the United Kingdom‘s coveted FA Cup in May but its owner, Russian multi-billionaire Roman Abramovich, wasn’t on hand to savor the victory. His visa expired in April, and since then the 51-year-old oil tycoon — who is worth $11.5 billion and also owns a $121.5 million house in London — hasn’t been able to re-enter Britain because his application for a new visa remains under review.

While the British Home Office won’t comment on specific cases, it appears that Abramovich – who has not been accused of any crimes, but is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin – is one of around 700 wealthy Russian visa-holders in Britain who are being asked to provide proof that their wealth comes from legitimate sources.

That crackdown is a sea change in British policy. For the past two decades, the U.K. had put out the welcome mat to Russian oligarchs and asked few questions about the origins of their riches.

It also may be the first of more steps to come. The British government of Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May is under pressure to stanch the flow of ill-gotten gains into the country via wealthy Russians in the wake of the attempted murder in March of Sergei Skripal. A Russian former spy, Skripal and his daughter Yulia were poisoned in the cathedral town of Salisbury with the nerve agent Novichok. May’s government says Moscow was behind the attack, a charge that Moscow stridently denies.

“The Skripal affair is a game-changer that has changed the politics of this issue,” says Nigel Gould-Davies, a Russia expert and associate fellow at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, a London think tank.

Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, in a report released in late May, urged Downing Street to “show stronger political leadership in ending the flow of dirty money into the U.K.” Despite tough talk and the expulsion of 23 Russian diplomats from Britain after the attempted assassination of Skripal, allies of Putin “have been able to continue ‘business as usual’ by hiding and laundering their corrupt assets in London,” it said.

Moreover, the report added, Russian cash in Britain – which also includes Moscow’s use of Britain’s financial services sector to issue sovereign debt and float Russian companies – directly and indirectly supports Putin’s aggressive foreign policies by helping to give his regime a financial underpinning. Putin’s overseas adventures include military action in Crimea, Ukraine and Syria, meddling in U.S. and European elections, and supporting far-right populist parties in Europe. “This has clear implications for our national security,” it warned.

Since the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991, wealthy Russians have “wanted a hedge against instability at home, so they tend to keep their money abroad,” explains Richard Connolly, director of the Center for Russian, European and Eurasian studies at the University of Birmingham. London is a favored destination because the U.K., particularly its financial-services sector and property market, emphasized its “light touch regulation of foreign, not just Russian, money,” Gould-Davies says.

[READ: Companies Use These Countries to Reach Tax Havens]

Unsurprisingly, “many hundreds of billions of pounds” a year of corrupt proceeds are laundered through Britain, the National Crime Agency says, although it doesn’t say what percentage of that amount is Russian. Expensive London properties are a big draw for oligarchs. “They’re allowed to buy up houses, many of which have no one actually living in them. They’re just a place to park their wealth,” Connolly says. Transparency International estimates that $5.9 billion worth of U.K. property was bought by suspicious wealth, and Russians account for nearly $1.2 billion of that amount.

But Connolly says calculating how much Russian money pours into Britain is difficult because it’s often funneled through other countries, making it hard to trace. “Establishing the total amount of Russian assets in London is next to impossible.”

In the recent past, Tier 1 visa holders such as Abramovich were given 40 months of residency if they invested at least $2.7 million in the country. But in 2015, the rules were tightened, and after the attack in Salisbury, the Home Office ordered a review of the sources of wealth of some 700 current Russian holders.

In January, a new law came into effect that allows U.K. authorities to scrutinize “unexplained wealth” and take civil actions against assets held in Britain that fail to pass muster. This law, which Gould-Davies says “could prove significant,” will likely be used primarily against officials whose London lifestyle appears beyond their obvious means of income. One example cited by Transparency International is Igor Shuvalov, a former Russian first deputy prime minister. A company Shuvalov owns spent $15.4 million in 2014 on two apartments, but he’s declared his official annual salary is around $151,000.

Parliament approved in May a Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act that includes a so-called Magnitsky amendment that will allow officials to ban individuals suspected of human-rights violations and freeze their assets. The U.S. passed a Magnitsky Act in 2012, a law named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who blew the whistle on state corruption and died in police custody.

The U.K. version has “real, though limited, significance,” Gould-Davies says. It’s not as comprehensive as the U.S. law because it only covers human-rights abuses, but not serious corruption.

[READ: These Countries Are Viewed as the Most Corrupt.]

Gould-Davies says the new laws and visa-tightening could help ease the contradiction between confronting the growing Russian threat and “helping to make secure the wealth of elites who play an important role in Putin’s regime.” It’s not certain, however, that May’s government will take full advantage of the laws – it lobbied against adding the Magnitsky amendment to the sanctions law, but was forced to back down by a cross-party group of supporters. Connolly says he believes Britain will eventually dust off the welcome mat to Russian oligarchs, once the spotlight lit by the Skripal poisoning dims, because of the revenue they bring in.

Even if the government does opt to crackdown on corrupt Russian assets, Gould-Davies says, the impact is uncertain. “We can’t be sure (if) the oligarchs will try, or be able, to exert a moderating influence on Putin.”

But Connolly doubts it will change anything, partly because money is fungible. If Russian oligarchs no longer believe London is a safe haven for their assets, they’ll move them to someplace that is. The crackdown, he says, “is cathartic, we’re seen as ‘doing something,’ which may play well to the domestic audience, but it won’t change Moscow’s behavior.”

Tags: RussiaUnited KingdomVladimir PutinTheresa Maypoliticsdiplomacymoneywealth,economy


Thomas Grose is a freelancer based in London. Follow him on Twitter.
COURTESY: US NEWS AND WORLD REPORT

Trump pulls United States out of Iran nuclear deal, calling the pact ‘an embarrassment’

 1:30
Trump announces U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal

President Trump said May 8 that the United States would reinstate sanctions on Iran and warned other states against helping Iran with its nuclear program. 

 May 8 at 5:30 PM 
President Trump on Tuesday said he is pulling the United States out of the international nuclear deal with Iran, announcing that economic sanctions against Tehran will be reinstated and declaring that the 2015 pact had been rooted in “fiction.”

Trump’s decision, announced at the White House, makes good on a campaign pledge to undo an accord he has criticized as weak, poorly negotiated and “insane.”

“The Iran deal is defective at its core. If we do nothing, we know exactly what will happen,” Trump said in remarks at the White House. “In just a short period of time, the world’s leading state-sponsor of terror will be on the cusp of acquiring the world’s most dangerous weapons.”

The move amounts to Trump’s most significant foreign policy decision to date. While he cast the U.S. action as essential for national security and a warning to Iran and any other nuclear aspirant that “the United States no longer makes empty threats,” it could also increase tensions with key U.S. allies that heavily lobbied the administration in recent weeks not to abandon the pact and see it as key to keeping peace in the region. They unsuccessfully tried to convince Trump that his concerns about “flaws” in the accord could be addressed without violating its terms or ending it altogether.

Following Trump’s announcement, the leaders of Britain, France and Germany issued a join statement expressing “regret and concern” and pledged their “continuing commitment” to terms of the agreement, formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or JCPOA.

 3:46
Trump is pulling the U.S. out of the Iran deal. What’s next?

The Post’s Alan Sipress and Karen DeYoung explain how President Trump’s decision might affect an already tense Middle East. 

“This resolution remains the binding international legal framework for the resolution of the dispute about the Iranian nuclear programme,” British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in their statement. “We urge all sides to remain committed to its full implementation and to act in a spirit of responsibility.”

That was a plea to Iran not to take steps that would break the deal, something Iranian officials have said at times they would do if Trump followed through on his frequent threats to yank the United States out of the agreement.

While the U.S. exit does not render the rest of the agreement moot, it is not clear whether there is enough incentive on the parts of Iran and its international trading partners to sustain the agreement. Relief from U.S. banking sanctions was a main incentive for Tehran to come to the table.

“In response to US persistent violations & unlawful withdrawal from the nuclear deal, as instructed by President Rouhani, I’ll spearhead a diplomatic effort to examine whether remaining JCPOA participants can ensure its full benefits for Iran,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted. “Outcome will determine our response.”

The United States will reimpose all sanctions and could add new ones, U.S. officials said.

Discussions would begin Wednesday with allies about new negotiations, White House national security adviser John Bolton said.

Bolton, filling in some of the blanks in Trump’s remarks, said that all U.S. nuclear-related sanctions lifted as part of the agreement are now back in effect. “We’re out of the deal. Right now. We’re out of the deal,” he said.

A memorandum signed by Trump at the conclusion of his statement means that “no new contracts” with Iran will be permitted, Bolton said. Although the United States cannot prevent the Europeans or others from financial relationships with Iran, nearly all global transactions at some point pass through dollar exchanges and U.S. banks, arrangements that are now prohibited.

Existing contracts, he said, would be subject to “wind-down provisions” of between 90 days to six months, after which they will be required to “phase out.” Regulations giving specific time frames, he said, would be announced by the Treasury Department. Existing contracts and those in process include major oil sales from Iran as well as purchases, such as civilian aircraft from Boeing and Airbus.

“These are very, very strong sanctions they worked last time. That’s why Iran came to the table,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told reporters. “Our objective is to — again — eliminate transactions and eliminate access to their oil industry.”

Trump’s declaration puts a variety of companies in difficult positions. Though the French oil giant Total had hoped the contract it signed would be excluded from the newly reimposed sanctions, that seemed unlikely on Tuesday.

The U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal also boosts the outlook for crude oil prices. Before the nuclear deal, the Obama administration had squeezed traders and refiners from buying Iranian oil, wringing a series of 20 percent cuts in purchases until more than 1 million barrels a day of Iran’s exports had been taken off world markets. Fear of a similar mechanism has been one factor bolstering oil prices in recent weeks, though prices sagged on Tuesday. The price of West Texas Intermediate grade of crude fell about 1.4 percent, slipping to $69.74 a barrel.

Trump immediately faced questions about whether he has a plan for dealing with Iran beyond scrapping the accord and the administration will be under pressure to now show it has a strategy for the Middle East beyond undoing what was put in place under former president Barack Obama.

“I don’t see a path,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said, stressing that even if Trump had promised during the campaign to rip up and replace the Iran deal, “they don’t have a real plan here.”

Obama considered the agreement a signature foreign policy accomplishment, calling it the best way to head off the near-term threat of a nuclear armed Iran and a potential opening toward better relations with Tehran after more than three decades of enmity.

Obama on Tuesday lamented Trump’s decision and sought to counter his criticism that the accord had done little check Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“The reality is clear. The JCPOA is working — that is a view shared by our European allies, independent experts, and the current U.S. Secretary of Defense,” Obama said in a statement. “The JCPOA is in America’s interest — it has significantly rolled back Iran’s nuclear program.”

Trump said Iran was lying throughout negotiations for the international deal, and cited secret Iranian documents revealed last week by Israel, that showed the Iranian regime had concealed a nuclear weapons program in the 1990s.

“America will not be held hostage to nuclear blackmail. We will not allow American cities to be threatened with destruction, and we will not allow a regime that chants ‘Death to America’ to gain access to the most deadly weapons on earth,” Trump said.

The chant was a fixture of pro-government rallies in Iran for decades, but despite use during a major anti-Trump rally last year it has largely fallen out of favor as a propaganda tool.

Trump invoked the current diplomatic efforts with North Korea and the possibility of a compact to rid the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons as emblematic of how he is conducting major international negotiations, saying any deal he cut would be airtight.

The reaction to the president’s decision did not split neatly along party lines. While GOP leaders applauded his decision, heralding it as an opportunity to strike a new and better arrangement, several other senior Republicans — including those who voted against the Iran deal — said the decision to withdraw as “foolhardy” and “a mistake.”

“The Iran Deal is a deeply flawed agreement … however, without proof that Iran is in violation of the agreement, it is a mistake to fully withdraw from this deal,” said Rep. Michael R. Turner (R-Ohio), a senior member of both the House Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

Even House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement that it was “unfortunate” that the United States could not come up with a way of fixing the Iran deal instead of withdrawing, thanking the European parties to the pact for trying to work with the United States “toward that goal.” He expressed hope that they might be able to find a new way of addressing Iranian aggression before new sanctions are implemented.

But other GOP leaders cheered the move, saying it was needed to push both allies and Iran to strike a new and more restrictive bargain.

“President Trump is right to abandon the Obama administration’s bad deal,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) said in a statement, adding that Congress must have a role in any new agreement.

Democratic leaders excoriated the president for a “rash” and shortsighted decisions that they argue will compromise security in the Middle East and around the world.

“The President’s decision to abdicate American leadership during a critical moment in our effort to advance a denuclearization agreement with North Korea is particularly senseless, disturbing and dangerous,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Josh Dawsey, Seung Min Kim, Damian Paletta, Philip Rucker, John Hudson, Karoun Demirjian and Steven Mufson contributed to this report.

Trump’s strikes on Syria risk retaliation, escalation in a war he wants to avoid


President Trump announces Friday’s attack on Syria in retaliation for its apparent use of chemical weapons on civilians. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)
 April 13 at 10:35 PM 
Last week, President Trump promised to withdraw from Syria. This week, he opened a new front against Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad that risks drawing the United States into a broader conflict there.

By attacking Assad late Friday, the Trump administration says it sought to warn the Syrian leader against what Western nations said was his use of illegal chemical warfare agents, following the gassing of civilians near Damascus last weekend.

The administration calculated that the need to send a signal to Assad over chemical weapons outweighed the possibility of provoking a response from his allies, Russia or Iran, on the battlefield in Syria, elsewhere in the Middle East or even in cyberspace.

The risk, analysts say, is that the United States would then end up in a cycle of escalation that entangles the American military more deeply in the Syrian conflict than the administration intended.

“Given the linkage between Russia, Iran and Assad, an attack that we would consider limited and precise might be misconstrued by one or more of those three parties and justify from their perspective a retaliatory strike,” said retired U.S. Army Lt. Gen. James M. Dubik, a senior fellow at the Institute for the Study of War. “Then what do we do?”

Possible scenarios for a retaliation include attacks by Iranian-backed militias against U.S. forces in the Middle East, stepped-up incidents against U.S. forces and their allies within Syria or “asymmetric responses” such as cyberattacks entirely outside the theater itself.

It remains unclear whether the strike will prevent Assad’s forces from turning to chemical weapons in the future as the leader seeks to extend his reach across the country while consolidating gains in the civil war.

Robert Ford, a former U.S. ambassador to Syria and fellow at the Middle East Institute and Yale University, said military action would deter Assad’s forces from using chemical weapons only if the United States conducts ­follow-up strikes when new atrocities occur.

“I don’t think, in order to make the deterrent stick, that this can be the last attack,” Ford said. The former U.S. diplomat, who said Assad’s forces were using chemical weapons in part because they lack manpower, predicted the Syrian leader “will test us — and we will have to do this again.”

Trump promised that the strikes wouldn’t necessarily be a one-off. “We are prepared to sustain this response until the Syrian regime stops its use of prohibited chemical agents,” the president said in an address at the White House late Friday night.

Some who support the strikes say that even if they fail to prevent Assad from using chemical weapons in the future, they will send the message that the international community is watching and intends to enforce the ban on chemical weapons that countries instituted after World War I.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the strikes, which the U.K. and France participated in, would “send a clear signal to anyone else who believes they can use chemical weapons with impunity.” Referring to the recent nerve-agent attack on a former Russian spy living in Salisbury, England, she said, “We cannot allow the use of chemical weapons to become normalized — within Syria, on the streets of the U.K. or anywhere else in our world.”

But the military intervention also comes as Washington has all but given up on seeking the removal of Assad more than seven years into Syria’s civil war. Trump wants the Pentagon to withdraw U.S. troops after the Kurdish-led militia Washington is backing in Syria finishes off the remnants of the Islamic State terror group.

The departure of U.S. troops, military strategists say, will probably pave the way for Assad’s consolidation of control in the country, backed by Russia, Iran and the Lebanese militia Hezbollah.

The result is what Defense Secretary Jim Mattis described in congressional testimony on Thursday as “contrary impulses.” On the one hand, Trump wants the United States to have nothing to do with Syria. On the other, he wants to dictate norms of behavior on Syria’s battlefield that upset him when violated.

Those who take a dim view of selective strikes in response to chemical weapons usage say the United States has given up trying to ensure the departure of Assad, which means his forces will continue to kill whomever they wish as they consolidate control, even if they do so with conventional weapons.

“As long as you have a strategy that leaves Assad in place and allows him to slaughter his people as he sees fit, he is going to do so,” said Kenneth M. Pollack, a former CIA analyst and resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. “And he is probably going to use chemical warfare agents.”

But for Washington to stop Assad from killing his own citizens more broadly, “we’re getting closer to a regime-change scenario because he’s bombing almost every day,” said Ford, the former U.S. ambassador. “To me, that’s drawing us in. I have zero confidence that we could control where that goes then.”

Pollack suspects that the Syrian regime and Iran won’t retaliate against the United States because they are ascendant on a battlefield that Trump has promised to leave, and they won’t want to engage in any action that could prevent a U.S. departure that would amount to a big win for them.

Russia could have more of a motive to retaliate, Pollack said, even though before last year’s attack on Assad’s airfield, U.S. forces warned Russia in advance.

“Russia is the wild card out there,” Pollack said, because President Vladimir Putin’s interests are bigger than Syria. “They are about how much [the United States is] allowed to act unrestrained and how much does he want to demonstrate that he can fight back.”

The strike also raises thorny questions for Trump administration officials about why they are willing to intervene when Assad uses chemical weapons against civilians but won’t act in instances where his forces are killing far more with conventional weapons.

Speaking to the House Armed Services Committee on Thursday, Mattis suggested chemical weapons differed from conventional arms in their barbarism.

“Some things are simply inexcusable, beyond the pale, and in the worst interest of not just the Chemical Weapons Convention, but of civilization itself,” Mattis said, explaining why the Trump administration decided to strike last year.

For some political scientists, that logic represents a slippery slope, where the United States is compelled into military action on humanitarian grounds only depending on the type of killing that is occurring.

“How horrific is it that we are particularly disturbed by one way of killing Syrian children but not the other?” asked Mara Karlin, a former top Pentagon official during the Obama administration and an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.

The allure of such strikes, Pollack said, is that they are “feel-good military operations,” which make the American public think they have done something to help Syrians.

“No we didn’t,” Pollack said. “Five hundred thousand of them have died, and we’ve done nothing.”

Britain to review visas issued to 700 wealthy Russians

Britain to review visas issued to 700 wealthy Russians
The UK authorities are planning to look retrospectively at visas granted to wealthy foreign investors, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said, responding to a question about Russians who had been granted travel permits.

The question touches upon 700 Russians who had reportedly received so-called Tier 1 visas between 2008 and 2015. This type of visa is given to foreigners planning to run a business in the UK and have access to at least £50,000 (US$70,750).

“The Tier 1 was already reformed in 2015-2016 and it has been reduced by 84 percent since then,” Rudd told a committee of lawmakers. “I have asked my officials to look at what reforms we may continue with and to take a look at previous ones over the past few years.”

RT

@RT_com

Expulsion of Russian diplomats ‘a sign of how close to the brink of a major war the world is coming’ (Op-Ed by @JimJatras) https://on.rt.com/91yv 

Global anti-Russia campaign is taking us dangerously close to disaster — RT Op-ed

The expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats from the US and other various countries, should be a sobering moment for all of mankind. It’s a sign of how close to the brink of a major war the world is…

rt.com

“I have asked to look at the cohort of previous ones to see if there is any action that needs to be taken,” she added.

Earlier this week, Prime Minister Theresa May announced plans to examine whether that particular part of the visa regime was being used properly. However, May stressed that the check wouldn’t be focused on Russians.

Visas for investors allow foreigners not only to come to the UK and do business, but also to bring their family members and eventually gain a residence permit.

RT

@RT_com

In , where ex-spy & daughter were allegedly poisoned, people own stake in Russian assets https://on.rt.com/91k7 

An applicant has to invest at least £2 million in a business in the UK or provide reassurance for potential investments. At the first issuance, the visa gives foreign businessmen the right to stay for a maximum of three years and four months.

Britain tightened Tier 1 visa rules in November 2014. The amount of investment cash was doubled from £1 million, and some restrictions were introduced concerning investment structure. The previous regulation allowed foreigners to put just 25 percent of total investments into real estate.

Courtesy: RT

US and EU expel scores of Russian diplomats in response to UK nerve attack

2018-03-26-russia.png

People depart the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Manhattan on Monday.

People depart the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations in Manhattan on Monday.

Credit: Mike Segar/Reuters

The United States said on Monday it would expel 60 Russian diplomats, joining governments across Europe punishing the Kremlin for a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in Britain that they have blamed on Moscow.

It was the strongest action that US President Donald Trump had taken against Russia since coming to office. He has come under criticism from Democrats and from members of his own Republican party for failing to be tough enough on Russia over allegations of Russian meddling in the US electoral system including the 2016 presidential campaign.

Besides the United States, 14 European Union countries also expelled Russian diplomats, European Council President Donald Tusk said. Ukraine and Canada also took action, and in total Monday’s announcements affected more than 100 Russian diplomats — the biggest Western expulsion of Russian diplomats since the height of the Cold War.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson tweeted that “Today’s extraordinary international response by our allies stands in history as the largest collective expulsion of Russian intelligence officers ever and will help defend our shared security.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the coordinated measures “clearly demonstrate that we all stand shoulder to shoulder in sending the strongest signal to Russia that it cannot continue to flout international law”.

Russia’s Foreign Ministry called the actions a “provocative gesture” and promised to respond. The Kremlin spokesman said the West’s response was a “mistake” and that Russian President Vladimir Putin would make a final decision about Russia’s response.

Moscow has denied being behind the attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the southern English city of Salisbury on March 4. Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia were found unconscious on a public bench in a shopping center, and remain critically ill in hospital.

The staff expelled by the United States included 12 intelligence officers from Russia’s mission to United Nations headquarters in New York. Trump also ordered the closure of the Russian consulate in Seattle.

“To the Russian government we say: When you attack our friends, you will face serious consequences,” a senior US administration official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The individuals concerned and their families have been given a week to leave the United States, according to one of the officials briefing reporters.

Trump, who before he took office in January last year promised warmer ties with Putin, last week congratulated the Russian leader on his re-election, drawing criticism from Republicans and Democrats alike. Trump said the two leaders had made tentative plans to meet in the “not too distant future.”

“The last time that the United States expelled so many Russian spies was when the Reagan administration ordered 55 Soviet diplomats out of the country in 1986,” said Angela Stent, director of the Center for Eurasian, Russian and East European Studies at Georgetown University.

“This US solidarity with Britain and other European allies after the Skripal poisoning is unprecedented in the post-Soviet era and highlights the continuing downward spiral of Russia’s relations with the West,” she said.

EU leaders said last week that evidence of Russian involvement in the Salisbury attack presented by British Prime Minister Theresa May was a solid basis for further action.

Germany and France made good on those threats by announcing expulsions and in a coordinated move, a string of other EU states also ordered expulsions, along with Canada and Ukraine.

Skripal’s poisoning, alleged to have employed the Soviet-era military-grade nerve agent Novichok, is the first known offensive use of a nerve toxin in Europe since World War Two.

“In solidarity with our British partners, we have today notified the Russian authorities of our decision to expel four Russian personnel with diplomatic status from French territory within one week,” said French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves le Drian.

“Response will be symmetrical”

Tusk said further measures could be taken in the coming weeks and months.

Russia said it would respond in kind.

“The response will be symmetrical. We will work on it in the coming days and will respond to every country in turn,” the RIA news agency cited an unnamed Foreign Ministry source as saying.

The Kremlin has accused Britain of whipping up an anti-Russia campaign and has sought to cast doubt on the British analysis that Moscow was responsible. Russia has already ordered 23 British diplomats out of the country after Britain expelled 23 diplomats.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova suggested that the EU’s expression of support for Britain was misguided given that it would be leaving the bloc next year.

“Britain is leaving the European family. No one canceled Brexit, and the divorce process is in full swing,” Zakharova wrote on Facebook.

“Therefore a country which is leaving the European Union is exploiting the solidarity factor and is foisting on those countries that remain a worsening of relations with Russia.”

A British court has said Skripal and his daughter may have suffered brain damage, while a policeman who went to help them has also indicated that he has suffered lasting damage to his health.

British Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson hailed the support for Britain during a visit on Monday to Estonia. Britain has troops there as part of a NATO mission to deter any Russian aggression following its seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea in 2014.

“The world’s patience is rather wearing thin with President Putin and his actions,” Williamson said.

“Their aim is to divide, and what we are seeing is the world uniting behind the British stance — and that in itself is a great victory and sends an exceptionally powerful message to the Kremlin and President Putin.”

Michael Holden and Roberta Rampton of Reuters reported from Washington and Moscow. 

Theresa May: Russia ‘highly likely’ to be behind poison attack on ex-Russian agent

May told the British Parliament that a Russian-produced nerve agent had been used to poison Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. Russia’s foreign ministry has likened her speech to a “circus show.”

Watch video01:05

‘Highly likely’ Russia was behind UK poisoning

British Prime Minister Theresa May told lawmakers on Monday that it was “highly likely” Russia had been behind the poisoning of former double agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in the southern city of Salisbury.

If evidence eventually proves Moscow directly ordered the poisoning, May said the government would consider the attack an “unlawful use of force” on British territory.

Read more: Russian ex-spy poisoning: British diners told to wash possessions

What May said:

  • The Russian government either ordered the attack or it had lost control of the military-grade and Russian-produced chemical nerve agent, Novichok, that was used in the attack.
  • May said Moscow had until Tuesday evening to explain its Novichok program to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).
  • The government has summoned the Russian ambassador in London to explain whether Moscow was directly responsible for the attack.
  • If there is “no credible response” by the end of Tuesday, the government would discuss retaliatory measures with the British Parliament.
  • Britain cannot have a normal relationship with Russia. “We will not tolerate such a brazen attempt to murder innocent civilians on our soil,” she said, adding: “There can be no question of business as usual with Russia.”

Watch video01:16

Russian ex-spy victim of attempted murder with nerve agent

Read more: Spy assassinations: The top five deadly poisons

What were the reactions?

Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova dismissed May’s speech as a “provocation,” according to Russian news agencies. She added: “It is a circus show in the British parliament.”

Read more: UK promises retaliation for ‘brazen’ chemical attack on Russian ex-spy

The attack: Sixty-six year old Sergei Skripal was found with his 33-year-old daughter, Yulia, slumped on a bench in the southern English town of Salisbury on March 4. The unconscious pair was rushed to hospital where they remain in critical but stable condition. The nerve agent used to poison the pair also affected a policeman who found them. The officer is conscious but also remains in a critical condition.

Who is Sergei Skripal? Skripal was a colonel in Russia’s military intelligence service, GRU, before he was found guilty of betraying Russian agents to MI6, Britain’s foreign intelligence service. In 2010, he arrived in Britain as part of a spy swap deal between London and Moscow.

COURTESY: DW

Trump trade adviser says no exceptions for allies on new aluminum and steel tariffs

 March 4 at 8:36 PM 
 2:03
Washington reacts to aluminum and steel tariffs

Washington lawmakers and members of the Trump administration appeared on Sunday shows March 4 to discuss President Trump’s aluminum and steel tariffs. 

The Trump administration sent mixed signals Sunday about its new aluminum and steel tariffs, saying that any exceptions for allies are unlikely but also leaving room for an unpredictable president to change his mind.

White House trade adviser Peter Navarro appeared to draw a firm line against case-by-case exemptions as he defended President Trump’s sudden imposition of new trade premiums, which are likely to hit Canada and Europe hardest.

“That’s not his decision,” Navarro said when asked about the possibility of exemptions in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” “As soon as he starts exempting countries, he has to raise the tariff on everybody else,” the adviser said when asked about Canada and the European Union. “As soon as he exempts one country, his phone starts ringing with the heads of state of other countries.”

In a separate interview on CNN, Navarro suggested Trump could indeed grant exceptions if doing so would serve U.S. interests. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that although he does not expect Trump to change his mind, he does not rule it out.

Republican lawmakers, including Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.), called the tariff decision wrongheaded and misdirected. Trump isn’t even punishing China, the country that might deserve it, Graham said.

“Please reconsider,” Graham said in a direct appeal to Trump on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

The decision would hurt automobile manufacturing in his state while “letting China off the hook,” Graham said.

“You’re punishing the American taxpayers, and you are making a huge mistake,” the senator said.

British Prime Minister Theresa May was among the first to raise concerns directly with Trump, asking for a reconsideration of a policy opposed by many in his own party and the White House, and one that close allies say will start a global trade war.

May’s office said she spoke with Trump on Sunday morning and “raised our deep concern at the president’s forthcoming announcement on steel and aluminum tariffs, noting that multilateral action was the only way to resolve the problem of global overcapacity in all parties’ interests.”

The White House did not immediately release its own statement on the call.

In a contentious interview with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace, Navarro insisted that other countries won’t retaliate in a way that hurts U.S. consumers, something disputed by many economists and some Republican lawmakers.

“There are no downstream price effects on our industries that are significant,” Navarro said on Fox, one of several interviews he did Sunday as the administration sought to promote and defend the decision.

In several interviews, Navarro asserted that the cost to U.S. consumers from any retaliatory actions would be a penny or two on a “six-pack of beer or Coke” and that Americans would be willing to pay a small penalty for the security of preserving domestic aluminum and steel production. Interviewers challenged his math and his premise.

Trump blurted out the tariff decision, including the percentages on both kinds of imports, during a White House meeting last week. A formal announcement is expected by the end of this week, administration officials said Sunday.

The biggest burden of Trump’s new tariffs would be borne by Canada, the largest U.S. trading partner. It is the largest exporter of steel and aluminum to the United States, supplying $7.2 billion worth of aluminum and $4.3 billion of steel last year. Overall, the United States runs a trade surplus with Canada, which buys $48 billion worth of U.S. automobiles and $40 billion of machinery, in addition to agricultural products.

The steel and aluminum tariffs would also hit Britain, Germany, South Korea, Turkey and Japan, countries with which the United States has close national security ties.

The E.U. has threatened retaliatory tariffs on U.S. manufactured goods, including motorcycles and blue jeans, and the worry is that the tit for tat will harm American businesses that export while raising costs for businesses that rely on a global supply chain.

Navarro said on Fox that the national security provision Trump cited in announcing the 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum is “country-agnostic,” meaning that it applies across the board.

But speaking on CNN, Navarro suggested there could be exemptions in “particular cases where we need to have exemptions so that business can move forward.”

In the same interview, he also pushed back on the Pentagon’s argument that the new trade policy could have an adverse effect on national security, arguing against giving allies a pass on the tariffs because “as soon as you exempt one country, then you have to exempt another country.”

Allies are concerned about the tariffs because they supply more steel directly to the United States than does China — which dominates a major part of the global steel trade and Trump’s rhetoric.

“If you exempt Canada, then you have to put big tariffs on everybody else,” Navarro said on CNN.

Trump is facing criticism from members of his own party over his trade plan, including from some of the top economists who advised his campaign. Navarro brushed off the criticism, arguing that Trump was alone in the GOP on trade during the 2016 presidential campaign — and won anyway.

“All 16 of those candidates didn’t agree with his policies, either,” Navarro said on CNN. “They’re dead wrong on the economics; there’s no downstream effect here. There’s only a president … saving and defending our aluminum and steel industries.”

Ross, appearing on ABC’s “This Week,” said he expects the formal rollout of the tariffs this week.

“I have not heard him describe particular exemptions,” Ross said.

As for speculation that White House economic adviser Gary Cohn might quit over the new policy, with which he apparently disagrees, Ross said Trump likes to hear opposing views before he makes decisions.

“Gary Cohn, as far as I know, is certainly not going to walk out,” Ross said on ABC.

In an interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Ross said he “has no reason to think” that Trump will reverse himself under pressure, but he did not rule it out.

“Whatever his final decision is is what will happen,” Ross said. “What he has said he has said; if he says something different, it’ll be something different.”

Navarro cast the decision as a national security imperative to protect vital manufacturing industries at home and said Trump is acting to fulfill a campaign promise to U.S. workers.

Economists warn that any benefit in terms of jobs could be far outweighed by increased steel costs for U.S. automobiles, wind turbines, shale oil and gas drilling rigs, and more.

Hours after Navarro and Ross made the rounds, Trump underscored his intention to move ahead with tariffs.

“We are on the losing side of almost all trade deals,” he tweeted. “Our friends and enemies have taken advantage of the U.S. for many years. Our Steel and Aluminum industries are dead. Sorry, it’s time for a change! MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!”

In Twitter posts on Saturday, Trump vowed to strike back at European leaders who said they would retaliate.

“If the E.U. wants to further increase their already massive tariffs and barriers on U.S. companies doing business there, we will simply apply a Tax on their Cars which freely pour into the U.S. They make it impossible for our cars (and more) to sell there. Big trade imbalance!” he tweeted.

Navarro accused Wallace, the Fox host, of “fanning the flames” of a trade war, and he bristled when asked on CNN whether the Trump administration would consider pulling the United States out of the World Trade Organization.

“That’s a provocative question,” he said. “The best-case scenario here is that the World Trade Organization wakes up and realizes we’re not going to take it anymore.”

The Wall Street Journal has called the steel and aluminum tariffs the single worst policy decision of Trump’s young presidency.

Trump, however, got a boost Sunday from Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.), who said on CNN that the president’s tariff plan was “welcome.”

“In West Virginia, we’ve lost thousands and thousands of jobs,” Manchin said. “When you look at who produces the steel in the world, 50 percent of the steel comes from China. … Connect the dots.”

“Even if they’re saying it might not come directly,” he said, “the president has put this on the table; I welcome it. Let’s look at it and see what they roll out.”

On CBS, Manchin said trade should be “tit for tat.”

“Free trade hasn’t worked well for West Virginia,” the senator said.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R), also appearing on CNN, excoriated the president over the planned tariffs.

“You just don’t do things like that off the cuff,” Kasich said. “Trade wars that divide us from our allies make no sense.”

Courtesy: The Washington Post

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