'an all-time low'
Mr. Tillerson goes to Moscow (to discuss Syria)
On Tuesday Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Moscow amid increasing tension between the US and Russia over how to handle the Syrian conflict. During an interview broadcast as Tillerson was meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Russian President Vladimir Putin claimed the “level of trust on a working level” between the two countries “has not improved but has rather deteriorated.” Lavrov himself blasted Tillerson for the “illegal attack against Syria,” and Lavrov’s deputy, Segei Ryabkov, was even more blunt: “In general,” he claimed, “primitiveness and loutishness are very characteristic of the current rhetoric coming out of Washington.” Ahead of Tillerson’s visit, Russia’s Foreign Ministry had released a statement asserting the relations between Russia and the US “have never been so difficult since the end of the Cold War.” The Trump administration responded by releasing an intelligence assessment “demonstrating Syrian culpability” in the chemical bombing last week that killed at least 80 people, and accusing the Russian government of trying to cover up the attack.
Also on Tuesday: a proposal by British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson to impose sanctions on Russia for its continuing support of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad was quashed in a G-7 meeting. Foreign ministers from the US, Britain, France, German, Italy, Canada, and Japan instead insisted diplomatic action be taken, urging Russia in a mild official statement to “work to promote a real and genuine political process in Syria.” On Wednesday, while Tillerson met with Putin for an unproductive two-hour discussion, Russia vetoed a UN Security Council resolution condemning the chemical attack.
You can read the US intelligence assessment here.
At The Atlantic, Omer Aziz argues that “inadvertently, Trump may have breathed new life into the beleaguered Syrian peace process.”
Trump shifts away from three of his key campaign positions
In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published Wednesday, President Trump shifted away from one of his favorite campaign promises, claiming he was no longer planning on labeling China a currency manipulator, a move that, had it been made, many experts believed would lead to escalating tensions with China and possibly a trade war. The move comes in the wake of several conversations with Chinese President Xi Jinping – the first at Mar-a-Lago to discuss international trade and North Korean aggression – after which Trump confessed that Jinping had “explained the history of China and Korea to him,” – and the second coming in a phone call just days after the Syrian airstrikes, in which Jinping urged resolving North Korean tension “through peaceful means.”
In the Journal interview, Trump also praised Janet Yellen, the current chair of the Federal Reserve, indicating he’d consider appointing her for a second term, despite previously indicating otherwise.
Also on Wednesday: the Trump administration lifted a federal hiring freeze put in place during his first week on the job. The freeze, made originally to help Trump achieve his oft-stated goal of “draining the swamp,” resulted, as The Hill reports, “in an increased backlog of benefits claims at the Veterans Affairs (VA) Department…delays in the processing of Social Security checks, staff shortages at federal prisons, the closure of childcare facilities at military bases and fewer workers at the Food and Drug administration to work on drug approvals.”
And finally, in a joint press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, Trump (3) reversed his position on NATO, announcing that it “is no longer obsolete.”
The US dropped the “mother of all bombs” in Afghanistan on Thursday – MOAB, at more than 20,000 lbs., and with more than 10 tons of high explosives, is the largest non-nuclear weapon ever deployed in combat…Donald Trump signed a resolution Thursday allowing states to determine how federal funds for reproductive health and family planning are spent, a major victory for the anti-abortion movement…K.T. McFarland, the former Fox News commentator, has been asked to step down as the deputy National Security Advisor as H.R. McMaster continues his reorganization of the NSC…on Monday, Neil Gorsuch was sworn in as the 113th Supreme Court justice…Alabama Governor Robert Bentley resigned “after pleading guilty to abusing his office, allegedly to conceal an affair with a political adviser”…Republican Ron Estes won a Kansas special election Tuesday by about seven percentage points, in a district Trump carried in a landslide...Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, announced he’s planning to register as a foreign agent…Press Secretary Sean Spicer apologized on Wednesday for his gaffe the previous day comparing Hitler favorably to Bashar al-Assad…in a brief interview with the New York Post, Trump refused to unequivocally back chief strategist Steve Bannon when asked about White House infighting, fueling the rumor mill about Bannon’s job security…a federal judge ruled that Greensboro, NC’s districts were illegally gerrymandered by the North Carolina General Assembly.
above image: "vladimir putin," global panorama / flickr