US President Donald Trump said on Monday that he rejected a proposal from a Republican ally in the Senate that would have temporarily reopened closed parts of the government to allow resumption of negotiations on a funding standoff.
As the shutdown, the longest of its type in US history, entered its 24th day, Trump told reporters he disagreed with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham’s proposal to reopen the government for three weeks.
If talks failed during that period, Graham said on Sunday, then Trump could go ahead and declare a national emergency to bypass Congress and get money for a wall on the US-Mexico border – the issue that triggered the shutdown on December 22.
Amid swelling criticism, Trump has refused to budge on his demand that a spending bill include $5.7bn for a wall on the country’s southern border, a promise on which Trump campaigned.
Democrats have rejected Trump’s demand for funding for the border wall in addition to other border funds but have said they would support $1.3bn to bolster border security in other ways, including beefing up the number of Border Patrol agents and increasing surveillance.
Stress mounting on workers
The political crisis caused federal workers to miss their first paycheques on Friday, heightening concerns about mounting financial pressures on employees, including air traffic controllers and airport security officials who continue to work without pay.
Roughly 800,000 federal workers are furloughed or required to work without pay. Some employees have resorted to selling their possessions or posting appeals on online crowdfunding sites to help pay their bills.
The shutdown also affected travellers as a jump in unscheduled absences among federal airport security screeners forced partial closures of airports in Houston and Miami.
Travelers are permitted from entering a closed down terminal at the Miami International Airport on Saturday, in Miami [Brynn Anderson/AP Photo]
National parks also remain closed, food and drug inspections have been curtailed and key economic data is on hold. Federal courts are set to run out of money on Friday.
During a rally in Washington, DC on Thursday, federal workers, union leaders and Democrats called on the Trump administration to reopen the government.
“Let’s call this shutdown what it is: It’s a lockout,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, a federation of unions, told the crowd.
“Shame on the Senate. Shame on the White House. This lockout has to end, and it has to end now.”
At least two unions have filed lawsuits against the Trump administration over the shutdown.
Later on Monday, Trump is scheduled to address a New Orleans gathering of farmers, a key bloc of Trump supporters who have been hit by the shutdown as federal loan and farm aid applications have stalled and key farming and crop data has been delayed.
The USDA was set to release its views on the projected size of US soybean stockpiles, among other data, following a record-large domestic harvest and a trade war with China that has slowed US exports.
To fill the void on data, traders and farmers are relying on private crop forecasters, satellite imagery firms and brokerages offering analyses on trade and supplies. Some have been scouring Twitter for tidbits on shifting weather patterns and rumors of grain exports, but say it is difficult to replace the USDA.
“We’re just doing the best we can, looking for as much information as is available,” said Brian Basting, economist for Illinois-based broker Advance Trading, which provides customers its own harvest and crop supply estimates.
Dan Henebry, an Illinois corn and soy farmer, said the absence of USDA data was difficult.
“You delay all these reports and the market has no idea where to go, other than trade guesses,” Henebry said.
Trump has said he could declare a national emergency if he cannot get a deal with politicians, although on Monday he told reporters he was not looking to do so.
He retweeted criticism of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer that urged the top Democratic leaders to negotiate with him.
“I’ve been waiting all weekend. Democrats must get to work now. Border must be secured!” Trump wrote in an early morning tweet on Monday.
About one-quarter of the US government shut down last month as Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress as well as the White House. In December, Trump said he would take responsibility for the shutdown but has since shifted the blame to Democrats. A growing proportion of Americans blame Trump for the closures, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found.
A protester stands outside of the White House during winter storm Gia as the partial government shutdown becomes the longest in US history in Washington, DC [Carlos Barria/Reuters]
The president now must win concessions from the Democrats, who took over the US House of Representatives this month following November’s midterm elections. He also must win over enough Senate Democrats to secure the 60 votes needed to pass funding legislation in that chamber.
Declaring a national emergency over immigration issues is fiercely opposed by Democrats and remains unpopular with some Republicans. It also would likely face an immediate legal challenge.
Pelosi called on the Republican-led Senate to vote on several bills passed earlier this month by the House to fund affected departments that do not include money for Trump’s wall.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will not take up any legislation that does not have Trump’s support.
Both the Senate and the House were scheduled to reconvene on Monday afternoon, despite a weekend winter storm that shuttered much of the Washington, DC, area and it remained unclear what, if any, steps politicians might take to address the lapsed funding measures for affected agencies.
Senator Chris Coons on Monday reiterated fellow Democrats’ call for Trump to reopen the government while negotiations over the wall and immigration continue.
He acknowledged efforts by Graham and other Republicans to forge a temporary solution but said Trump has been unpredictable even among fellow conservatives with ever-shifting positions.
Saudi Arabia issues calming statement as Lebanese tensions rise over port explosion case
BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari told Lebanese religious figures on Tuesday that the Kingdom “cares for Lebanon’s security, stability, institutions and co-existence between Christians and Muslims.” The Saudi embassy’s media office said: “There is no legitimacy for the discourse of strife, nor for one that goes against Lebanon’s Arab identity.” This was…
BEIRUT: Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to Lebanon Waleed Bukhari told Lebanese religious figures on Tuesday that the Kingdom “cares for Lebanon’s security, stability, institutions and co-existence between Christians and Muslims.”
The Saudi embassy’s media office said: “There is no legitimacy for the discourse of strife, nor for one that goes against Lebanon’s Arab identity.”
This was the first Saudi statement since the bloody clashes in Tayouneh on Oct. 14.
At least seven people were killed in the violence in Beirut amid a protest organized by Hezbollah and its allies against the lead judge probing last year’s blast at the city’s port.
The protestors, gathered by Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, demanded the removal of Judge Tarek Bitar from the investigation.
According to the embassy’s statement, Lebanon’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian “expressed his appreciation for the Kingdom, led by King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, for never abandoning Lebanon and its people, despite the unfair stances against the Kingdom by some Lebanese parties that only represent themselves.”
Sheikh Derian added that “the Saudi-Lebanese relations have always been and will remain solid regardless of any offensive speeches because our relations are above these speeches and Saudi Arabia will always see Lebanon as an Arab brotherly country.”
The statement comes after the Intelligence Directorate summoned the head of the Lebanese Forces, Samir Geagea, to the Defense Ministry on Wednesday as part of the investigation into the bloodshed in Tayouneh.
The summoning was the motivation for Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi’s spontaneous visits on Tuesday to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, Prime Minister Najib Mikati and President Michel Aoun.
Al-Rahi denounced “the summoning of Geagea only by the Intelligence Directorate to testify.”
Charles Jabbour from the Lebanese Forces party told Arab News that “Geagea will not appear at the Defense Ministry on Wednesday.
“They should start with summoning Hezbollah Leader Hassan Nasrallah. All parties should give testimonies, beginning with the party that called for the demonstration. Only when a judge dares to summon Nasrallah, will we be able to talk about a state and a judiciary in Lebanon.”
The move to summon Geagea was condemned by several political figures.
Former Premier Saad Hariri refused “to engage in an absurd conflict and the frontlines of a civil war and sectarian divisions.”
He added: “Announcing that Dr. Geagea was informed to appear before the Intelligence Directorate via a plastered notification is absurd and leads the country into further division along with using state machinery for revenge politics.”
Former Premier Fouad Siniora also denounced “the bias of the judicial authorities in the military court over the deplorable Tayouneh events and the continuing violations of the constitutions by those who were entrusted with the task of preserving and protecting it.”
Siniora rejected “the practices seeking to use the judiciary for reprisals against political opponents, and not for its main mission: To seek the truth and achieve justice.”
Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblat criticized the “selectivity instead of a transparent and just investigation for a comprehensive justice.”
He said: “All those who fired shots in the Tayouneh events should be arrested, without discrimination, and this destructive and futile political dispute must be ended.”
Samy Gemayel, head of the Lebanese Kataeb Party, announced his rejection to “all the means Hezbollah and the Amal Movement have resorted to in hampering the investigation into the Beirut port blast.”
Hezbollah accused Geagea of firing the first shot on Oct. 14 at the demonstrators who penetrated the anti-Hezbollah and Christian-majority Ain Remaneh area.
Former Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is also a defendant in the Beirut port explosion investigation, visited Sheikh Derian on Tuesday, reiterating his demand “to either lift immunity from everyone without exception, or adopt the legal and constitutional mechanisms in force in the Supreme Council for the Trial of Presidents and Ministers.”
So far, all the politicians who have been accused of being involved in the Beirut port blast have declined to appear before Judge Bitar.
Amal Movement and Hezbollah ministers have refused to attend Cabinet sessions unless Judge Bitar is removed and the investigations into Tayouneh are halted, causing a governmental paralysis at a time when Lebanon is in desperate need of reforms to unblock the international aid that would lessen its dire economic situation.
Prime Minister Mikati hoped on Tuesday that “Cabinet meetings will resume as soon as possible to make the decisions required to activate the work of commissions and committees and do what is needed from the government.”
Mikati added that he hoped his government would supervise “the parliamentary elections with full integrity, to enable these elections to renew the political life in Lebanon.”
The joint parliamentary committees held a session on Tuesday and voted to keep the electoral law as it was, thus rejecting Aoun’s proposal to make amendments.
Aoun had objected to holding the elections on March 27 and to the proposals to change the expatriate voting formula by canceling the six seats allocated for Lebanese voters who live abroad.
Damascus bookshops disappear as crisis hits culture
LONDON: A former Iranian air force pilot exiled in Turkey has said he still feels unsafe after a failed kidnapping attempt last month. Mehrdad Abdarbashi, a former helicopter pilot who defected from the military when he was ordered to fight in Syria, had previously tried to resign from the armed forces, but Tehran rejected his…
LONDON: A former Iranian air force pilot exiled in Turkey has said he still feels unsafe after a failed kidnapping attempt last month.
Mehrdad Abdarbashi, a former helicopter pilot who defected from the military when he was ordered to fight in Syria, had previously tried to resign from the armed forces, but Tehran rejected his resignation and seized his passport.
In 2018, he said he received orders to be deployed to Syria on behalf of the Assad regime and decided it was time to flee Iran.
“It was the first time I was being deployed there, and I refused because I did not want to be involved in a proxy war going on there,” he told Al Jazeera.
He is now in hiding in eastern Turkey, and was recently targeted by two Iranian agents who tried to drug and kidnap him.
Turkish intelligence, which had been in contact with Abdarbashi, foiled the plot. The Iranian agents were charged with espionage and conspiracy to commit a crime in a Turkish court earlier this month.
But Abdarbashi said he still fears the Iranian regime will reach him despite Ankara’s protection.
“I don’t think I am safe in any city in Turkey right now. I think Iranian intelligence will come after me, and this time they won’t try to kidnap me, this time they will just kill me,” he said.
“Of course, Turkish police and intelligence are still looking after me. But I still think Iranian agents will somehow reach me.”
Iranian exiles in Turkey are often targeted by Tehran’s agents, who try to kidnap them to bring them back to the Islamic Republic.
In June 2020, Eisa Bazyar, a writer critical of the Iranian regime, was forced into a car in western Turkey and held for two days before he managed to escape.
The following November, Habib Chaab, an Iranian dissident with Swedish citizenship, was seized as he transited through an Istanbul airport.
For a period of time, it appeared that Ankara was complying with and even directly cooperating with Tehran’s attempts to kidnap foreign dissidents and bring them back to Iran.
In two cases, Ankara assisted with the capture and deportation of men sentenced to death for their role in anti-regime protests.
But last year’s war between Azerbaijan — perhaps the nation with the closest ties to Ankara — and Armenia over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh appears to have prompted a cooling in relations between Turkey and Iran. Their opposing sides in the Syrian conflict has also proved a more subtle bone of contention.
As relations between the two large Middle Eastern states — which share a long border and have a centuries-old history of Persian-Turkic competition — have declined, Ankara’s cooperation with Iranian intelligence operations on Turkish soil appears to have ceased.
In February this year, Turkish police arrested an Iranian diplomat at the Istanbul consulate in connection with the assassination of spy-turned-dissident Masoud Molavi Vardanjani in November 2019.
Kuwait Times Wednesday, October 27, 2021
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