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middle-east

Tight circle of security officials crafted Trump’s Syria warning

U.S . Secretary of State Rex Tillerson | Alex Wong/Getty Images

US national security officials worked on the language in between meetings in a fast-moving effort to send Syria a message.

By 1 and 2

6/28/17, 5:03 AM CET

President Donald Trump s blunt, public warning to the Syrian regime late Monday night was cobbled together in a series of hurried discussions, squeezed in between meetings with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and kept among a small, tight circle of top officials. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson both arrived at the White House late Monday afternoon, ahead of the Rose Garden ceremony at which Trump and Modi each read a prepared statement . Upon the Cabinet members arrival, according to a senior defense official, they were informed of Trump s plan to issue a public warning to Syrian President Bashar Assad, based on new intelligence the Syrian regime3 was preparing another chemical weapons attack on its own people. National security adviser H.R .

McMaster, who also was at the White House for meetings, had already been briefed and had weighed in on the plan, administration sources said. But no stand-alone principals meeting followed to discuss the intelligence, which Trump received Monday morning, according to two senior administration officials. Rather, over the course of the day, officials said, McMaster, Mattis, Tillerson and a few other top officials had the opportunity to work the language of the statement, in between meetings with Modi . None of them expressed any hesitation or disagreement about the decision to issue a public warning, according to one of the senior administration officials.

But a Defense Department official acknowledged that the events were fast-moving and that there were minimal deliberations about the bold move and that only a limited number of top military officials were aware of the new intelligence and planned response. The episode marked another example of ongoing frustration between administration rank-and-file and leadership, which this time could carry serious consequences if the backbiting appears to weaken the U.S . government s resolve in turning up the pressure on Assad.

It hurts American credibility, said Ilan Goldenberg, a former State Department official who served under Secretary of State John Kerry . When the Syrian regime sees a report that government officials have no idea, the message to them is that these guys don t have their act together . And if nobody at State knows, it hurts your ability to follow up and have a diplomatic game plan.

But one former Obama administration official shrugged off the issues of communication between the White House and lower-level agency officials.

There s a broader issue here of effective coordination and communication sometimes the president contradicts his own people, Tom Donilon, President Barack Obama s former national security adviser, said in an interview . But I don t think that s the most important issue here . If, in fact, the United States has evidence that they re preparing a chemical attack, laying down a warning that you intend to follow through on is an appropriate thing to do. The careful language of the 87-word statement which was drafted by the afternoon but not released until close to 10 p.m . was cleared by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the Central Intelligence Agency, the State Department and the Defense Department before it was blasted out from the press secretary s office.

On Tuesday, the White House insisted that military and State Department officials were not blindsided by the statement, which warned Assad that if he launches another chemical weapons attack, he and his military will pay a heavy price.

In response to several inquiries regarding the Syria statement issued last night, we want to clarify that all relevant agencies including State, DoD, CIA and ODNI were involved in the process from the beginning, the White House said in a statement released Tuesday morning . Anonymous leaks to the contrary are false. Multiple administration officials said people surprised by the statement were simply not senior enough to be clued in and some said they were frustrated that a bold move by Trump, which they believed could save lives, was overshadowed by a side story about leaks and internal disagreements.

The story seems to be about whether or not a public affairs officer on a regional desk at the State Department was notified in what they would consider to be a timely manner, vented a third White House official . If Tillerson knew and some desk officer in the Middle East section didn t know, they need to take that up with Tillerson . It s not their right to know . It s his prerogative if he wants to share the information.

The move, and the frustration were reflective of the Trump administration s approach of making key decisions within a close, inner circle unlike the deliberative, and sometimes paralyzingly inclusive, decision making that defined Obama s process. Despite the confusion and complaints over who was looped in and when, foreign policy experts lauded Trump s choice to make a public statement rather than to try to pressure the Syrian regime through diplomatic back channels. The Trump administration realizes they re being dragged into a very dangerous situation, said Jim Jeffrey, a former U.S .

ambassador to Turkey and Iraq and deputy national security adviser for President George W . Bush . He said the U.S . approach to Assad so far had been a bunch of tit for tats that seemed to have no long-term impact.

The benefit of a public statement is they re now on record as saying, this shall not happen, Jeffrey added . There was a conscious decision made by the people who realize whatever we want to do in the Middle East, we re going to look like fools if they do this again, and we blow up a few more airplanes . We have to react very strongly to them. Trump s own seeming lack of interest in the issue, though, could also diminish the message s effect on Assad.

Instead of using the megaphone of his Twitter feed to amplify the White House statement, marked by his press office as urgent, Trump took to Twitter minutes after its release to harp on one of his personal obsessions . From @FoxNews Bombshell: In 2016, Obama dismissed idea that anyone could rig an American election . Check out his statement Witch Hunt ! the president tweeted.

He s very undisciplined, said Jeffrey . He does this all the time .

That s a separate problem .

But what s clear is that in the end, he goes along with what his top advisers tell him.

Bryan Bender contributed to this report.

Related stories on these topics:

References

  1. ^ (www.politico.eu)
  2. ^ (www.politico.eu)
  3. ^ intelligence the Syrian regime (www.politico.eu)

Sturgeon: Corbyn was not defending terrorists

Nicola Sturgeon has said it was “slightly unfair” for Theresa May to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of providing an “excuse for terrorism” following the Manchester attack. Speaking to Sky News, the First Minister said she did not believe the Labour leader had said UK foreign policy meant “we only have ourselves to blame” for the deadly bombing. Earlier this week, Mr Corbyn used a speech to discuss links between Britain’s involvement in Middle East conflicts and terrorism at home – but had stressed this “in no way reduces the guilt of those who attack our children”. In an interview with Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mrs Sturgeon said it was wrong to accuse critics of UK foreign policy of “trying to justify the horrific and dreadful actions of terrorists”. She added: “I think we must be free, particularly in a General Election campaign, to have honest debates about foreign policy – and to have honest debates about security and how we keep the population of the country safe.

“In any healthy democracy – and remember terrorists are trying to undermine our democracy – we’ve got to protect our ability to have these debates.” The SNP leader also highlighted her long-standing opposition to the war in Iraq, and her criticism of the UK’s role in the air campaign on Syria.

Her remarks came as both Labour and the Conservatives push their plans for security in the wake of the Manchester attack. Mrs May has fleshed out her proposals for a new Commission for Countering Extremism to advise the Government on how to “stamp out” extremism. It will be a statutory body with “proper teeth and a clear remit” and a legal responsibility to carry out its work in challenging extremism, especially non-violent forms, and promote “pluralistic British values” including women’s rights. A Conservative source said the commission is designed to address the societal causes which can lead to extremism and is not intended to replace Prevent, which aims to stop young people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. Labour has also amplified elements of its manifesto following Monday’s terrorist attack, which killed 22 people. As well as promising an extra 10,000 police officers, Mr Corbyn says he will recruit another 1,000 security and intelligence agency staff.

There would also be more money to recruit thousands of staff in the fire service and prisons, as well as 500 extra border guards. The Labour leader argues these commitments would return staffing levels close to where they were when Labour left office in 2010.

Image: The gap between Labour and the Tories in the opinion polls is narrowing

“Only Labour is serious about properly resourcing our security and frontline services,” he added. But the Conservatives hit back, with a source saying: “Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott spent decades opposing the security services and voting against the powers they need to protect us .

It’s the height of cynicism they are now pretending to back them.”

Turkey puts 200 suspected military coup plotters on trial amid heavy security

ANKARA Turkey put on trial 200 suspects on Monday including senior military officers accused of plotting and orchestrating last year’s failed coup, in a court case where prosecutors are calling for life sentences.

The defendants, among them President Tayyip Erdogan’s aide-de-camp, the former head of Turkey’s air force, and dozens of generals, colonels and majors, were paraded on their way to court past dozens of protesters who demanded the death penalty and threw nooses towards them.

Around 1,500 security personnel were deployed for security at the trial, state-run Anadolu news agency reported, which was held in a purpose-built courthouse in Sincan on the outskirts of the Turkish capital.

More than 240 people, many of them civilians, were killed in the failed coup on July 15, 2016, when a group of rogue soldiers commandeered tanks, warplanes and helicopters, bombing the parliament and attempting to overthrow the government.

Those on trial in Sincan included core suspects behind the coup who raided the state broadcaster and forced the presenter to read out an announcement saying the army had taken over and Turkey was being run by a committee they called “Peace at Home”.

Erdogan blames Fetullah Gulen, a U.S.-based cleric and a former ally, and his global network for orchestrating the coup, a charge Gulen denies . Turkish authorities have arrested nearly 50,000 people over alleged links with the preacher.

At the start of the hearing, families of the victims attending the trial screamed at the defendants, and one woman in the courtroom, whose son was killed during the coup, broke down.

“Kill these traitors, the murderers of my son,” she screamed before fainting . The judge called for a medical team to be brought into the courtroom.

From a total of 221 defendants, more than 200 are from the military and more than half of those were officers who held ranks from captains up to generals . All but 12 of the suspects, who are still at large, appeared in court . Gulen, who is among the defendants, is among those being tried in absentia.

Following confirmation of the suspects’ identity and the reading of a summary of the roughly 2,000-page indictment, suspects will be able to put forward their defence.

Hearings at the trial, one of the largest of several coup-related trials taking place across Turkey, are expected to last until June 16.

Citing the coup attempt as a grave threat to the state, Turkish authorities have also sacked or suspended around 150,000 civil servants, teachers, judges, prosecutors, police and soldiers and have shut down around 150 media outlets.

While the detentions may have been supported by some Turks in the immediate aftermath of the abortive putsch, criticism mounted as arrests widened to include groups of which many deny any connection to Gulen.

Many relatives of those detained or sacked since July say they have nothing to do with the armed attempt to overthrow the government, and are victims of a purge designed to consolidate Erdogan’s control.

(Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Dominic Evans and Raissa Kasolowsky)