» Bridget Johnson
  
Get PJ Media on your Apple

The PJ Tatler

Bridget Johnson

Bridget Johnson is a veteran journalist whose news articles and opinion columns have run in dozens of news outlets across the globe. Bridget first came to Washington to be online editor at The Hill, where she wrote The World from The Hill column on foreign policy. Previously she was an opinion writer and editorial board member at the Rocky Mountain News and nation/world news columnist at the Los Angeles Daily News. She is an NPR contributor and has contributed to USA Today, The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, Politico and more, and has myriad television and radio credits as a commentator. Bridget is Washington Editor for PJ Media.
Follow Bridget:

Boehner ‘Baffled’ by Allegation Israel Fed Iran Information to Congress

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters today he was “shocked” to read a Wall Street Journal article alleging that Israel spied on Iran nuclear talks and fed information to Congress.

“I read that story this morning and, frankly, I was a bit shocked because there was no information revealed to me whatsoever,” Boehner said outside a closed caucus meeting.

The article said the “espionage” upset the White House because Israel was allegedly sharing “inside information with U.S. lawmakers and others to drain support from a high-stakes deal intended to limit Iran’s nuclear program.”

“It is one thing for the U.S. and Israel to spy on each other. It is another thing for Israel to steal U.S. secrets and play them back to U.S. legislators to undermine U.S. diplomacy,” the WSJ quotes an unnamed senior U.S. official.

A senior official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office responded, “These allegations are utterly false. The state of Israel does not conduct espionage against the United States or Israel’s other allies. The false allegations are clearly intended to undermine the strong ties between the United States and Israel and the security and intelligence relationship we share.”

Boehner said he was “shocked by the fact that there were reports in this press article that information was being passed on from the Israelis to members of Congress.”

“I’m not aware of that at all,” he said. “…I’m baffled by it.”

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) told CNN he was also “shocked” by the report as he did not receive information from the Israelis. “If they were sharing information it wasn’t on our side of the aisle,” Nunes said.

Intelligence Committee Ranking Member Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) noted that he had a “number of meetings with Israeli officials” and in “none of those cases” did the Israelis discuss anything he deemed to be classified.

Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), one of the co-sponsors of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act of 2015 also known as the Corker-Menendez bill, told MSNBC that he didn’t have any knowledge of Israel spying and feeding information to lawmakers. King was going into a closed-door Intelligence Committee briefing but said all he knew about the “somewhat disturbing” allegations is what was in the article.

“It’s a real shame that we’re spending so much time and energy arguing with our strongest ally in the region,” King said. “I just — I think everybody has got to take a little bit of a deep breath here and step back.”

Read bullet | 12 Comments »

Paul on Cruz: I’ve Got ‘Winnability’ on My Side

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
YouTube Preview Image

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) is advising voters to consider the winnability factor when weighing the candidacy of his colleague in the upper chamber.

Paul said he “didn’t find much” he “disagreed with” in Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-Texas) 2016 campaign announcement yesterday at Liberty University, but he was “traveling and busy” and only saw a clip. Paul was on the Senate floor Monday for a 5:30 p.m. vote but Cruz was not.

“But I kind of remember those days I went to Baylor University and we were all required to go to convocation,” Paul said on Fox last night of the Liberty students who showed up to the Cruz announcement wearing “I Stand with Rand” T-shirts. “So, all these kids are required and some of those who were required wanted to make sure that just by having to be there they weren’t expressing their support. But we were glad to see them there and organized and, you know, excited about the possibility of me running.”

Paul said his voting record is “very, very similar” to Cruz, but “what makes us different is probably our approach as to how we would make the party bigger.”

“And I’m a big believer that you should stand on principle and be true to your principles. But I also think that we should take those principles and try to bring in new people with them. So I’ve spent the last couple years trying to go places Republicans haven’t gone,” he said. “And maybe not just throwing out red meat but actually throwing out something intellectually enticing to people who haven’t been listening to our message before.”

Paul said he’s “thinking about” running for president and will have “some kind of announcement April 7.” As that date will kick off a five-state tour, that’s expected to be a presidential announcement.

“I try to get along with all the wings of the party. But I also am able to take the message of liberty and bill of rights and take it to Howard University, to their Urban League, to NAACP, to Ferguson, to Berkeley and try to bring new people into the party. So, it isn’t just about rousing the base. It’s about exciting the base by being for the principles of liberty but then taking those principles of liberty, not diluting them and taking them to new people and bringing them into the party. That’s the way you win general elections,” the senator said.

“…Right now I’m the only one that beats Hillary Clinton in certain purple states. I’m the only one that also scores above all the other republicans in whether or not I can beat her. So there will be a lot of conservatives. Ted Cruz is a conservative. But it also goes to winnability.”

Paul said the nominee needs to “aggressively go after the Clintons” for “their corruption.”

“We won’t win unless we do aggressively combat [Hillary Clinton] and make sure that she has to explain her record as well,” he added.

Read bullet | 20 Comments »

Jackson Lee: If You Want to See Confederate Flag or Study Its History, ‘Turn to a Book’

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

With the Supreme Court hearing arguments on whether Texas should allow a vanity license plate with a picture of the Confederate flag, a senior member of the House Judiciary Committee said the plate “is not the way we should honor our American veterans who fought for a unified America.”

Justices heard arguments yesterday in Walker v. Sons of Confederate Veterans, with Ruth Bader Ginsberg musing whether, if it’s a free speech issue, states should be compelled to offer plates bearing swastikas or the word “jihad.” The Sons of Confederate Veterans replied yes, “speech that we hate is something that we should be proud of protecting.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) said the group can find other ways to remember the Confederate past.

The congresswoman held a meeting with her state’s Department of Motor Vehicles Board back in November 2011, and said in a lengthy statement that it’s “unfortunate” it’s gone to the Supreme Court in 2015.

“To many of us it would be more appropriate to honor the nation’s soldiers who supported the survival of America by celebrating the flag of the United States of America. All of us would support placing the United States flag on our license plate,” she said.

“…No one wishes to deny our history as a state. But we as leaders should take every opportunity to support that which unites our citizenry – not that which divides us. Reminding those among us of their painful past has no place in celebrating our great state.”

Furthermore, Jackson Lee argued, the vanity plate designs are supposed to “promote tourism and commerce, to create positive identity and awareness, and to showcase those riches that make our state unique.”

“The Confederate flag, long recognized in our generation as a symbol of slavery, racism, and defeat, accomplishes none of those purposes. Those wishing to study the historical significance of this flag and our Confederate past should instead turn to a book,” she said.

“This issue has been visited many times over. African Americans in South Carolina have taken offense to the rebel flag flying over its statehouse, prompting its removal in 2000. To date, it remains a sore spot. Confederate theme-images have caused the same debate at numerous colleges and schools nationwide and even locally. Texas does not need to go down that road.”

The American Civil Liberties Union took the position that the license plate is offensive, but filed an amicus brief arguing “that the First Amendment prohibits Texas from engaging in viewpoint discrimination in its specialty license plate program, which is best understood as a forum for private speech.”

The Sons of Confederate Veterans in Texas says it is “preserving the history and legacy of these heroes, so future generations can understand the motives that animated the Southern Cause.”

“Ill-intended or not, why would Americans want to be reminded of a legalized system of involuntary servitude, dehumanization, rape and mass murder?” Jackson Lee said.

“Our nation has taken pride in honoring those who fought and died in battle and welcomes those who want to observe the recognition of the Civil War; but there are many other ways to pay tribute to the dead and the cause for which they died,” she said. “Those that desire to honor the Civil War’s Confederate effort can do so in many private ways but not through a state of Texas issued license plate that represents the affirmation by the entire state of Texas of a symbol that equals fear, intimidation and oppression and the maintenance of the bondage of other human beings.”

Read bullet | 14 Comments »

Iran’s Chief Nuclear Negotiator: Lift All Sanctions First, No Concessions

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator has stressed yet again that there is no deal with the P5+1 unless all sanctions on the Islamic Republic are lifted first.

In fact, there are “no concessions” on Iran’s part forthcoming, he said.

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Seyed Abbas Araqchi said early this month that Tehran’s “principle position is that all sanctions are lifted at once.”

Last week, 260 lawmakers in the 290-seat Islamic Consultative Assembly wrote a letter demanding that all sanctions be removed as a prerequisite for signing a nuclear deal.

“As a guarantee for implementation, in case of any violation of obligations by the opposite side, the agreement will be declared null and void and enrichment will be resumed at any required level,” the lawmakers wrote.

And over the weekend, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who will ultimately sign off on or reject any nuclear deal, tweeted his agreement. “We reject US fraudulent offer of reaching a deal w first then lifting sanctions. Lifting sanctions is a part of deal not its outcome,” Khamenei tweeted.

Now today, with more than two weeks of negotiations having passed since his original comments, Araqchi is reiterating that “Tehran’s confidence-building measures and removal of sanctions by the powers are the objectives of the ongoing nuclear talks between the two sides,” according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.

Fars reported that Araqchi stressed “Iran is not to give away any concessions”:

He described the present phase of the talks as “sensitive”, and said it was natural for certain people to make some remarks to influence the process of the negotiations.

However, Araqchi said, Iran is not to grant any concessions.

Commenting on the recent remarks of the US President Barack Obama who said Iran has not provided enough concessions yet, he said the American president is making the remarks to affect the negotiations.

He said none of the parties is expected to offer concessions, specially Iran.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said today at the Council on Foreign Relations and on the Senate floor that the Obama administration trying to repeal Iran sanctions at the UN and not coming to Congress would be met with a bipartisan “violent response.”

“The Iranians are going to demand immediate sanction relief, and I hope we’ll say no. Until the IAEA verifies what they’ve been doing in the past, I think it would be ill-advised to relieve the sanctions,” Graham said at the CFR event. “They’re going to ask for a research-and-development capability. That scares the hell out of me, and I hope we’ll say no. If they demand immediate sanctions relief, the deal probably falls. Then we’ll be in no-man’s territory. Just, we don’t know what will happen next.”

“And that’s the most dangerous time, because that’s when they’re most likely to break out. Whether they believe that Obama would use force to stop their breakout, after drawing the red line with Assad, I doubt it. Whether they believe that P5+1 would do it as a group, I doubt it after the way we’ve handled Russia and the Ukraine.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest told reporters today that they “have made pretty clear… that this deal will be predicated on serious commitments from the Iranians about resolving the international community’s concerns with their nuclear program and a commitment that they will comply with intrusive inspections.”

“And those are the kinds of commitments that we’re going to insist on before we even contemplate any sort of sanctions relief,” Earnest said. “And what we would envision is a demonstrated commitment to the — to compliance with the agreement before phasing the sanctions relief.”

Read bullet | 36 Comments »

These Syrian Townspeople Brilliantly Called Out Kerry and Power

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
YouTube Preview Image

The Obama administration frequently notes that it made Syrian President Bashar al-Assad get rid of his chemical weapons, a deal struck with the help of Assad ally Russia after the ghastly 2013 attack on Ghouta.

That attack crossed the red line established by President Obama to take action to help the Syrian people, and once he struck the weapons disposal deal he considered it a most welcome line through an unpleasant confrontation on his to-do list.

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough held the deal up during his speech to J Street today as a “political arrangement” where congressional approval is not needed, such as what they’re trying to achieve with Iran. “It’s how we—peacefully—removed Syria’s entire declared stockpile of chemical weapons,” McDonough said.

Despite the ambiguity of “declared” in a country where the majority is a strict no-go zone for weapons inspectors, Assad has continued his chemical weapons attacks with chlorine gas.

Last week, the towns of Sarmin and Qmenas were hit with chlorine bombs by Assad forces, video reviewed and confirmed by human rights groups. The Syrian Coalition said six were killed, including three children, and about 70 were injured, 13 seriously.

“Once again the Assad regime has used the chlorine gas against civilians in flagrant violations of the UN Security Council Resolution No. 2209 which bans use of chlorine gas in Syria,” Syrian Coalition Vice President Hisham Marwa said. “The UN Security Council must take all necessary measures that ensures the enforcement of the resolution No. 2209, which rules that chlorine gas is toxic and a chemical weapon, and that using it militarily represents a gross violation of international law and a flagrant violation of Resolution 2118.”

Secretary of State John Kerry put out a statement Thursday saying the administration was “deeply disturbed” that Assad used chlorine gas weapons “again.”

“What is clear is that the Assad regime continues to flout international standards and norms, including, if these latest allegations are verified, the Chemical Weapons Convention. The international community cannot turn a blind eye to such barbarism. As has been well documented, the Assad regime continues to terrorize the people of Syria through indiscriminate airstrikes, barrel bombings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, murder, and starvation. The Assad regime must be held accountable for such atrocious behavior,” Kerry said.

“…The Assad regime’s horrifying pattern of using chlorine as a chemical weapon against the Syrian people underscores the importance of investigating this allegation as quickly as possible, holding those who perpetrated such abhorrent acts in violation of international law accountable, and continuing to support the complete elimination chemical weapons in this volatile region.”

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki didn’t have “any predictions” on what holding Assad accountable might entail.

“Reports and video out of #Syria utterly horrific. Civilians, including kids, victims of an apparent chlorine gas attack,” UN Ambassador Samantha Power tweeted that day. “This is why #UNSC passed res affirming the weaponization of chlorine as viol of CWC&UN res. Long past time for attribution&consequences. Asad regime is only power with helos. Reports again are that gas attack came from the air. If it flies like a duck…”

That was enough for Syrians who have been bearing the brunt of these attacks.

 

 

The northwestern Syrian fig-and-olive-producing town of Kafranbel huddled together fairly early in the war and decided the best way to get their message to the outside world would be to pen signs in English, then spread them through the Internet and social media. Their signs have included see Obama as Pinocchio and a genocide enabler.

Read bullet | Comments »

White House Chief of Staff at J Street: ‘Occupation’ by Israelis ‘Must End’

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

White House chief of staff Denis McDonough today called for an end to Israel’s “occupation” of the Palestinians and vowed that the Obama administration won’t “pretend” that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t make his campaign remarks about no two-state solution.

McDonough thanked the “pro-Israel, pro-peace” — as J Street bills itself — and pro-Palestinian lobbying group for the “important work you do around the country,” calling it “an organization that, in the best tradition of the American Jewish community, shares a set of values about the type of country that we are – a democracy where all of our people can access opportunity.”

“President Obama asked me to convey his deep appreciation to all of you for your partnership and your work on behalf of the U.S.-Israel relationship, especially building support for our efforts to advance a two-state solution,” he said.

McDonough spent much of his speech, though, on issues other than the Mideast: solar energy, the auto industry, job growth, energy independence, and the fifth anniversary of Obamacare. He also spent significant time taking shots at the new Republican budget.

“Of course, our relationship with Israel isn’t defined by numbers in a budget. Ours is a deep and abiding partnership between two vibrant democracies. We saw that democracy in action when Israelis of all backgrounds—Jewish and Arab, religious and secular–cast their ballots last week. At the heart of any democracy is the right of all citizens to participate equally,” he said. J Street lobbied heavily against Netanyahu and the Likud party.

McDonough said in Thursday’s congratulatory call from Obama to Netanyahu the president “committed to continuing consultations on a range of regional issues, including resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

“No matter who leads Israel, America’s commitment to Israel’s security will never waver,” he said, noting money allocated by Congress and approved by the administration to spend on the Iron Dome missile defense system and next year’s delivery of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

“We continue to believe that the best way to safeguard Israel’s long-term security is to bring about a comprehensive peace between Israelis and Palestinians—two states for two peoples, living side-by-side in security and peace,” he said, adding that’s why Netanyahu’s “comments on the eve of the election—in which he first intimated and then made very clear in response to a follow up question that a Palestinian state will not be established while he is prime minister—were so troubling.”

“After the election, the prime minister said that he had not changed his position, but for many in Israel and in the international community, such contradictory comments call into question his commitment to a two-state solution, as did his suggestion that the construction of settlements has a strategic purpose of dividing Palestinian communities and his claim that conditions in the larger Middle East must be more stable before a Palestinian state can be established. We cannot simply pretend that those comments were never made, or that they don’t raise questions about the prime minister’s commitment to achieving peace through direct negotiations.”

Netanyahu clarified his comments to note that the conditions for a two-state solution currently do not exist as Fatah remains allied with Hamas and they refuse to recognize Israel or stop incitement.

“In recent days, some have suggested our reaction to this issue is a matter of personal pique,” McDonough told the crowd. “Nothing could be further from the truth. America’s commitment to a two-state solution is fundamental to U.S. foreign policy. It’s been the goal of both Republican and Democratic presidents, and it remains our goal today. Because it is the only way to secure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.”

That’s why, he said, Obama now wants to “re-evaluate our approach to the peace process and how we pursue the cause of peace – because, like all of you, we care deeply about Israel and its future.”

“In the end, we know what a peace agreement should look like. The borders of Israel and an independent Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps. Each state needs secure and recognized borders, and there must be robust provisions that safeguard Israel’s security. An occupation that has lasted for almost 50 years must end, and the Palestinian people must have the right to live in and govern themselves in their own sovereign state.”

McDonough said the “truth” is “Israel cannot maintain military control of another people indefinitely.”

He insisted that Israel accepting a two-state solution “would deal a knock-out blow to calls for boycotts, divestment, and sanctions” and “would undercut efforts to isolate Israel in the international community and roll back de-legitimization efforts.”

The White House chief of staff also delivered the standard administration line on Iran negotiations, saying they won’t accept a bad deal but stressing that they’re pursing a deal that’s “both realistic and achievable.”

“Congress should not seek to undermine negotiations before a deal is reached,” McDonough said. “…I’m sure you heard about the letter some Republican senators addressed directly to Iran’s leaders.  It was a blatant political move—as the president said, that is not how America does its business.”

He called the letter “critically flawed in its legal reasoning” as the administration is “pursuing a political arrangement with Iran that does not require congressional approval.”

“Some senators have also proposed legislation that would torpedo diplomacy by suggesting Congress must vote on any deal and by stripping the President of his existing authorities to waive sanctions. Let’s be very clear about what this would do. It would embolden hard-liners in Iran. It would separate the United States from our allies,” McDonough said, adding “it would set a damaging precedent by limiting the ability of future presidents to conduct essential diplomatic negotiations.”

“…If a deal is reached, we will share the details and technical documents with Congress, at which point we welcome a full debate—after all, only Congress could terminate U.S. statutory sanctions on Iran during the duration of the agreement.”

McDonough was the administration representative to the annual conference, facing a much more friendly crowd than National Security Advisor Susan Rice did weeks ago at the AIPAC mega-conference.

 

Read bullet | 31 Comments »

367 House Members Send Letter to Obama on Iran’s ‘Pathway to Bomb’

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

President Obama just got a letter from 367 members of the House stressing that Iran must have no pathway to a nuclear weapon.

On Thursday, House Foreign Affairs Committee ranking member Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said there were 360 signatures on the letter. The next day, as it was sent to the White House, there were a few more.

Engel and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) began circulating the letter around Congress earlier this month.

The letter to Obama notes that “of the 12 sets of questions that the International Atomic Energy Agency has been seeking, Tehran has answered just part of one. Just last week, the IAEA reported that it is still concerned about signs of Iran’s military related activities, including designing a nuclear payload for a missile.”

“The potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program should be treated as a fundamental test of Tehran’s intention to uphold the final agreement. Unless we have a full understanding of Iran’s past program it will be impossible for the international community to judge Iran’s future breakout time with certainty.”

The letter notes Iran’s “decades of deception” and said “any inspection and verification regime must allow for short notice access to suspect locations, and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program must last for decades.”

The hundreds of lawmakers also said the administration cannot split Iran’s “destabilizing role in the region and state sponsorship of terrorism from the nuclear deal.”

“Iran’s Supreme Leader has also called for an expansion of his country’s ballistic missile program, yet another dimension of the potential threat posed by Iran,” the letter continues. “Iran’s role in fomenting instability in the region — not to mention Iran’s horrendous repression at home — demonstrates the risks of negotiating with a partner we cannot trust.”

The lawmakers promise that only if “convinced” that a final deal’s terms “foreclose any pathway to a bomb” will Congress “consider permanent sanctions relief.”

“The United States has had a longstanding interest in preventing Iran from achieving a nuclear weapons capability.  Over the last twenty years, Congress has passed numerous pieces of legislation imposing sanctions on Iran to prevent that outcome, ultimately forcing Iran into negotiations. Should an agreement with Iran be reached, permanent sanctions relief from congressionally-mandated sanctions would require new legislation. In reviewing such an agreement, Congress must be convinced that its terms foreclose any pathway to a bomb, and only then will Congress be able to consider permanent sanctions relief.”

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee praised the letter, which was notably sent to Obama as J Street opened its conference in Washington. White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough is scheduled to speak to the pro-Palestinian lobbying group tonight.

Read bullet | 24 Comments »

What Afghans Did for Woman Murdered by Zealots Will Restore Your Faith in the Country

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The vicious murder of a 27-year-old woman named Farkhunda has stoked outrage among everyday Afghans who are fighting back against abuse of women and Islamic extremism.

Farkhunda was attacked by a mob in Kabul on Thursday after being accused of burning the Quran. She was beaten, run over by a car, and burned before her body was tossed in the muddy Kabul River.

Afghan authorities have confirmed there’s zero evidence that she even burned a Quran, and her parents say she was murdered for calling out a mullah on a practice seem as un-Islamic — he then wanted revenge and incited the mob.

“I want all the judicial institutions to prosecute the perpetrators,” her father, Nadir, told Tolo News. “I don’t want blood of my daughter go in vain.” Her mother stressed she was “proud” of her daughter, who “sacrificed her life for the right path.”

Afghanistan’s interior ministry suspended 13 police officers and officials in the investigation; videos show nearby police watched as Farkhunda was attacked. The mullah who incited the mob has been arrested along with a dozen others. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has also appointed a fact-finding team to investigate the murder. There’s copious video of the savage mob attack online.

But the strongest messages are being sent by Afghans, who are taking to the streets until justice is realized.

When Farkhunda was buried on Sunday, it was women who carried her coffin to the cemetery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ramin Anwari, a 30-year-old activist, called the funeral “history-making and revolutionary,” according to the Telegraph.

“For the first time I saw visible anger at mullahs whose twisting of Islamic law have caused so much suffering in Afghanistan,” he said.

The protests are just heating up, and the pressure is on politicians who try to justify Farkhunda’s murder.

 

 

Read bullet | 12 Comments »

Afghan President Thanks Troops at Pentagon: ‘We Die, But We Will Never Be Defeated’

Monday, March 23rd, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

In an extraordinary moment more than 13 years in the making, the second elected Afghan president since the fall of the Taliban stood in the hub of America’s military community and thanked the troops’ sacrifice to liberate and build his country.

More than 850,000 U.S. troops and civilians, along with thousands of contractors, have served in Afghanistan since the war began in October 2001, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter reminded all at the beginning of the ceremony in the Pentagon courtyard. “We remember the 2,215 Americans and their spouses, parents, sons, and daughters who paid the ultimate price during the course of the conflict,” Carter said.

Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had warm words for those “who have sacrificed continually since 9/11 to bring us freedom and hope.”

“Each one of you has left a legacy but I also understand Afghanistan has marked you,” he said, noting “sometimes you wake up at night not sure whether you’re there or here” and realize “I’ve left a piece of my heart in Afghanistan.”

“Thank you,” Ghani said.

“Each one of you also has left a memory in the heart of every Afghan that you’ve touched and encountered,” the president continued, adding that U.S. forces were “not there just to fight” but “you built schools, you built roads” while bringing “an attitude of caring and sacrifice.”

The Afghan National Security Forces, which includes military and police, now “emulate the best of your example.”

While thanking the troops and their families, Ghani stressed thanks “mostly to the American taxpayer — the men and women who have had made your hard-earned dollars available for Afghanistan.”

The partnership between the U.S. and Afghanistan now enters a different “phase,” he said, focusing on “building resources,” trade with Europe through the supply road left by coalition forces, and ensuring that Afghanistan can meet the growing security challenges.

Ghani has admitted ISIS is now inside Afghanistan, telling NBC News “we have sufficient evidence that they were targeting us because to their narrative, to their storyline, Afghanistan is central.” That’s the Khorasan region touted by the Islamic State.

“We are not going to be a burden,” Ghani vowed to the Pentagon community, giving a nod to JFK when he added Afghanistan wants to focus on what it can do for the world instead of what the world can do for Afghanistan. “We are going to get our house in order.”

On terrorism, not just ISIS but the more persistent and deadly Taliban threat, “We are a front-line state. We die on a daily basis.”

“We die, but we will never be defeated,” Ghani added. “…We the people of Afghanistan are willing to speak truth to terror… we are going to overcome.”

The current partnership with the United States, the president said, “is foundational because we will be the first line of defense globally.”

Ghani said his “fondest hope to veterans is we hope to welcome you in Afghanistan as tourists,” where “millions of us will be able to thank you personally, shake your hand, welcome you into our homes.”

To the sounds of the Washington Post March, Ghani shook hands and greeted troops and family members on the lawn.

Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah meet with President Obama on Tuesday for a “working lunch” at the White House.

Abdullah and Ghani wrote in a joint Washington Post op-ed Friday that “while the opportunities to build peace and stability have never been greater, a new ecology of terror threatens to block not just our prosperity but yours as well.”

“Properly supported, Afghanistan is uniquely positioned to block the spread of extremism,” the leaders wrote. “With the bitter exception of the Taliban regime, Islam in Afghanistan has traditionally been inclusive and reflective, not violent and angry. And after 36 years of conflict, our people have become immunized against ideologically based conflict.”

Read bullet | Comments »

Here’s What Iran’s Supreme Leader is Saying About Those Nuke Talks

Saturday, March 21st, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sometimes it just takes a tweet — or in the case of the Supreme Leader of Iran Ayatollah Khamenei, who has final, absolute say over his country’s nuclear negotiations, many tweets:

 

That’s a clear reference to Iran’s state sponsorship of terrorism and Iran continuing to hold four Americans. Congressional critics of the administration’s Iran deals have been insistent that how the Islamic Republic continues to wreak havoc across the globe and at home should be on the table in negotiations, but the Obama administration insists a nuclear deal must be forged first. “The day after a deal is reached if we get an agreement, our concerns about other Iranian activities in the region will be exactly the same as they are today,” Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said at the beginning of the month.

 

The clincher that nobody seems to be pressing the administration on — both officials in Iran’s regime and Iranian lawmakers have insisted over the past few weeks they will not agree to a nuclear deal unless all sanctions are repealed first. There’s the ayatollah’s rubber stamp.

Administration officials have regularly brushed off Khamenei’s opinions during the talks — and there have been lots of them, all anti-U.S., anti-Israel — as rhetoric ginned up for public consumption.

As the Obama administration declares progress is being made on a nuclear agreement, one has to wonder what concessions are on the table. Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) has accused the administration of moving the goalposts to get a nuke deal. So what has been going on at the negotiating table for Secretary of State John Kerry to declare today that “genuine progress” has been made in talks?

“We have not yet reached the finish line. But make no mistake, we have the opportunity to try to get this right,” Kerry told reporters in Switzerland. “It’s a matter of political will and tough decision making. It’s a matter of choices, and we must all choose wisely in the days ahead.”

Read bullet | 6 Comments »

‘Jihad or Humiliation’: Inside an ISIS Campaign to Recruit Egyptians

Friday, March 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 10.43.37 AM

Screen grab from the Al-Malhama video “Message to our people in Egypt”

A message posted online yesterday urges Egyptians to join the Islamic State, arguing that the Muslim Brotherhood hasn’t done enough to topple President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi.

“We are sending you these messages because we indeed feel the wrong that’s done to you,” said the message posted by the “All Tweets Ansar Association” on a file-sharing site. “Muslims nowadays are done through with living in fear now it’s not the time to run but to be steady, to fight back.”

“Why do you want to respond in peace to a someone that wants to kill you? Islam gives your [sic] the right to defend your self,” the “campaign message to the people of Egypt” continues.

“Peaceful demonstrations that you are proud of resulted in another regime that is far more worst [sic] than before. Muslim Brotherhood has no answer in their hands, they are existed in more than 80 years what they have achieved. More than 80 years in the political wing and the result is now that most of their leaders are waiting for death sentence. Peaceful demonstration leads you to prison while Jihad in the path of Allah leads you to glory.”

El-Sisi, who has angered extremists by attending a Coptic Mass and warned of terrorists’ desire to “kill the rest of the world’s inhabitants,” called last month for a “unified Arab force” to fight ISIS. He launched a series of airstrikes against ISIS targets in Libya after the brutal beheading of 21 Coptic Christians who had gone to work there. He also quickly put in place plans to evacuate remaining Egyptians from Libya.

The call to Egyptians to join ISIS was supplemented with a 13-minute video released by the pro-ISIS Al-Malhama Brigade featuring footage of Egyptian protests and former President Mohamed Morsi along with news footage of el-Sisi in regard to strikes on ISIS targets.

The print message posted online charged that military and secularists “created an alliance to fight Islam” and “add to them the Christians who we all know want to rule again after Islam erased ignorance …in Egypt.”

“They have long and unfinished business with Muslims and they are good at hiding it with another banner. Their fight is clear indeed. Muslims are so deep in sleep that they are ready to believe in what ever they have been told.”

They repeat a persistent charge of the Muslim Brotherhood — that Coptic women who convert to Islam are disappeared by the Christian church. The statistics tell a different story of abduction, rape, slavery, beatings, forced conversion and forced marriages of Coptic women by Islamists. Mary Sameh George, 25, was dragged from her car and savagely stabbed and beaten to death by a protest mob a year ago for reportedly having a cross hanging from her rearview mirror in a suburb considered a Muslim Brotherhood stronghold.

The message trying to rally membership for ISIS, though, said Muslims must think of “hundreds others who are being raped, tortured in the Apostate jails and detention centers.”

The choice for Egyptians is “jihad or humiliation,” the message states, underscoring this with a video showing el-Sisi with the Egyptian Coptic Pope Tawadros II on Christmas Eve in Cairo.

“Compare between what Jihad achieves and what peace achieves. Through Jihad we ruled the world and through peace we got killed in the street. Rest of us got arrested our women are being raped Apostate regime ruled,” the plea continues. “In the day of Judgement you will be asked! Why do you leave Jihad, while it’s your only choice. Are you scared of death? Can’t you see it’s also coming to you with your peaceful demonstrations?”

Protesters are urged to “leave peace, take gun.”

“O’ Egyptians Islamic State is waiting for you,” it continues, urging battle against “pharaoh” and his soldiers, “coconuts” (moderate Muslims), and apostates. “Come and join. Come and raise the flag of Islam.”

Muslims, it says, have the caliphate as their “only choice” against “apostate” el-Sisi.

“What will be your excuse of not fighting the Enemy of Islam? Now that the caliphate is in your lands!!!”

There’s already a branch of ISIS in the Sinai peninsula, one that warned on the same file-sharing site as the Egyptian recruitment posting last week that they have a contingent of suicide bombers and a weapons stockpile to go after “the Egyptian army collaborator with the Zionists in the Sinai.”

That statement said they’re under “huge pressure” to accept new recruits but building “strong organizational structure” is their first priority.

Israeli Defense Forces Col. Arik Chen told reporters last week that ISIS activity in the Sinai “is of great concern to the army and influences our preparedness for any incident that might occur.”

A March 12 report by the Institute for the Study of War noted “a number of large utility vehicles have been stolen in North Sinai recently, suggesting that ISIS affiliate group ‘Wilayat Sinai,’ formerly known as Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, may be planning large-scale vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) attacks.” Those vehicles include a garbage truck, an ambulance and water tankers.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 6.03.14 PM

From an online statement by the “All Tweets Ansar Association” urging Egyptian Muslims to join ISIS and oust President El-Sisi

Read bullet | Comments »

Graham Promises ‘Violent Reaction’ Against UN in Congress if Iran Deal Skips Lawmakers

Friday, March 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) declared a week ago that “we’ve got 66 now” to override President Obama’s promised veto of legislation to require congressional review of any deal with Iran.

Now, after a week of heavy White House lobbying of lawmakers, Graham stands by that assessment.

Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Ranking Member Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) introduced the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act on the eve of the AIPAC conference and Netanyahu visit along with Graham and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.). The bill mandates that the president submit the text of any nuclear agreement with Iran to Congress and prohibits the administration from suspending congressional sanctions for 60 days. During that period, Congress would have the opportunity to hold hearings and approve, disapprove or take no action on the agreement.

Critics of the recent GOP open letter to ayatollahs in Iran have said the outcry over the move would dial back Democratic support for the bill, but even Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) acknowledged that wouldn’t be the case.

Politico reported that the White House wants Democrats who are planning to defect to contact them first, and even President Obama has been personally trying to whip key Dems. But when Reid was asked Tuesday whether he’s lobbying his caucus to oppose Corker-Menendez, he quickly replied, “No.”

Said Graham on Thursday night: “We are going to override his veto.”

“I think we’ll have enough democrats that will say the following: Mr. President, you negotiate the deal, you are the commander and chief, and you are the president. When it comes to lifting congressional sanctions that we have created with 100 to nothing vote we are going to have a say before you lift those congressional sanctions,” Graham told Fox.

“It may slip a little bit because they are asking until the end of the month to finish the framework agreement,” he said, noting “the Iranians are dragging this out.”

“Democrats are saying the following: We are going to allow them to the end of the month to negotiate a framework agreement, then all bets are off… Here is what the president needs to understand. If you go to the UN Security Council and try to bypass the congress to get this deal approved by the UN Security Council but not come to your own Congress, then you are going to risk Congress cutting off money to the United Nations.”

Graham stressed that Congress would be “marginalized” if they’re bypassed on sanctions.

“Here’s the question, if we think it’s a bad deal, one, not even guaranteeing we can look at it, you can imagine a deal of this consequence and they don’t want to share it with their own Congress,” he said. “Here is the deal, if they try to go to the UN Security council and bypass us and leave us as the last guy standing, then they there will be a violent reaction against the United Nations, 22 percent of the funding for the United Nations comes from the American taxpayer and I’m in charge of that account. I’m not going to allow the United Nations to be used as a way to get around the United States Congress for a deal that affects the very existence of Israel and our own national security. The worst possible outcome is for Iran to get a nuclear weapon.”

Graham is the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs.

“If the UN Did something that provocative, lift the sanctions before we ever got a chance to look at it in Congress, if they go to the UN Security Council and the UN Security Council lifts all sanctions before we ever get a chance to look at this deal, absolutely I would suspend funding the United Nations, because I don’t think your money should go to an organization that irresponsible,” the senator continued.

“…If this is a good deal I will vote for it. But I’m not going to be dealt out. They are about to make a mistake for the ages. In my view when he drew the red line in Syria and did nothing about it the Iranians are not taking him serious and we started with dismantling their program as the goal. Now we are locking in a program that can be broken out in a year. We have changed the goal. And Arabs and Israelis have one thing in common. They are not going to let the Iranians have a nuclear advantage over them. The president is about to start a nuclear arms race in the Middle East if he doesn’t watch it.”

Read bullet | 5 Comments »

Senator: GOP Refusal to Resurrect Voting Rights Act Fed Durbin’s ‘Back of the Bus’ Comment

Friday, March 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A Delaware Democrat said Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) floor comment that attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch “is being asked to sit on the back of the bus when it comes to Senate calendar” could have been influenced by Republicans not getting on board with voting rights legislation.

Democrats are pushing to pass a “fix” to the pre-clearance provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told Durbin on the floor that the comment “was offensive and unnecessary and I think he owes this body, Ms. Lynch, and all Americans an apology.” Durbin has not offered one.

Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) told MSNBC “it raises real questions for her to be languishing on the floor longer than all five previous nominees for attorney general combined.”

“I’m not sure that it would be this poignant, this pointed, if it weren’t for the combination of Ms. Lynch’s remarkable qualifications, how well she did in the confirmation hearing before the Judiciary Committee and how important the issues are that are going unaddressed — voting rights, enforcement of Civil Rights, enforcement of the laws against human trafficking,” Coons said.

It’s the human trafficking bill — which Democrats have blocked from coming to a vote five times — that Senate Republican leaders say is holding up the Lynch nod. The bipartisan bill is opposed by Dems who object to Hyde amendment language that blocks federal funding from being used for abortions.

“I don’t think this would be quite as sharp an exchange on the floor if we weren’t having such difficulty finding Republicans to take up their historic party’s commitment to civil rights and join us in fixing things like voting rights,” Coons added.

The senator also dismissed GOP objections to Lynch that focus on her whether she’ll be too loyal to President Obama’s agenda.

“It’s the president who’s nominated her. The idea that the president would nominate someone to be attorney general who has an opposite view from him of the law and of the appropriate scope of his action just is ludicrous on its face,” Coons said.

“There are arguments being offered here on both sides that I think miss the central point. We have a remarkably qualified nominee, someone who should have been confirmed weeks ago, who is languishing for murky reasons. And I think Senator Durbin was simply trying to highlight the fact that this is an alarming development and that it’s important for us to move forward to this nomination.”

Read bullet | 13 Comments »

Netanyahu: Pushes to Take Any Two-State Solution ‘Could End Up with No-State Solution’

Friday, March 20th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

As administration officials say they’ll “re-evaluate” their strategy toward getting Israel to accept a two-state solution, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he hopes that doesn’t include “terms that would endanger the very survival of the State of Israel.”

“And I look forward to working with President Obama to see how he could advance our interest, our common interest in the most difficult circumstances in the world, in the most dangerous region in the world,” Netanyahu told Fox last night. “And what I said before, six years ago, about the conditions necessary for achieving peace is ten times more relevant today when the entire Middle East is being swept by these radical Islamic terrorist forces backed by Iran. We need to talk together and see how we can work together to advance security and peace.”

Obama reportedly broached both a Palestinian state and an Iran nuclear deal in his call with Netanyahu yesterday, two days after the Likud party’s victory.

The administration is claiming he reneged on his policy of accepting a two-state solution.

“I didn’t retract any of the things that I said in my speech six years ago calling for a solution in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes a Jewish state,” Netanayhu asserted. “I said that the conditions for that today are not achievable for simple reason, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinians, rejects consistently the acceptance of a Jewish State. He’s made a pact with the Palestinian terrorist organization Hamas that calls for our destruction. And the conditions in the Middle East has changed to the point where any territory you withdraw from is immediately taken out by Iranian backed terrorists or by ISIS. It’s only a dozen miles away from us. Thousands of miles away from you.”

“So, the conditions are that we would vacate territory — instead of getting the two-state solution, we could end up with a no-state solution. That is a solution that would threaten the very survival in the state of Israel,” he added. “I said we have to change the terms. Because right now we have to get the Palestinians to go back to the negotiating table, break their pact with Hamas and accept the idea of a Jewish state. And I think that’s what the international community should be focused on.”

On P5+1 negotiations, Netanyahu warned that “right now succumbing to this deal would get Iran an easy path to the bomb.”

“Not by violating the deal, but by keeping the deal in a few years. That would endanger the entire Middle East. You’d have a nuclear arms race that would be sparked here by other countries. And I think you’d have a great danger for the United States and the world when the world’s foremost practitioner of terrorism has atomic weapons. It’s not a good deal,” he said.

The prime minister also pushed back on accusations that he was being racist by telling his supporters to go to the polls because “the Arabs are voting in droves.”

“I warned of foreign money coming in to selectively put out just try to bring out supporters of a list that includes Islamists and other factions that oppose the state of Israel. Supported actually, this list was support by Hamas. I’m very proud of the fact that Israel’s policy and my policy is to be the prime minister of all Israelis, Arabs and Jews alike,” Netanyahu said. “I’ve been funding billions into the Arab communities to upgrade their infrastructure and to better integrate them into the Israeli economy, technology, every walk of life. And the right of every citizen in Israel, Jew and non-Jew alike to vote is sacrosanct. I wasn’t trying to suppress a vote.”

Read bullet | Comments »

Obama Calls Bibi, Promotes ‘Sovereign and Viable Palestine’

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Just in from the White House:

President Obama spoke today by telephone with Prime Minister Netanyahu to congratulate the Prime Minister on his party’s success in winning a plurality of Knesset seats.  The President emphasized the importance the United States places on our close military, intelligence, and security cooperation with Israel, which reflects the deep and abiding partnership between both countries.  The President and the Prime Minister agreed to continue consultations on a range of regional issues, including the difficult path forward to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The President reaffirmed the United States’ long-standing commitment to a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and viable Palestine.  On Iran, the President reiterated that the United States is focused on reaching a comprehensive deal with Iran that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon and verifiably assures the international community of the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program.

Just before the administration sent out this readout, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was on the Senate floor noting that Obama made calls to Putin, Morsi, Xi, Rouhani, Erdogan, etc., to quickly congratulate those rulers on their victories.”Time and again the president has made a pattern of quickly calling these leaders when they win,” Rubio said.

Netanyahu was quickly congratulated by Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and British Prime Minister David Cameron. Modi even sent a special tweet in Hebrew to his “friend” Bibi recalling their “cozy” New York meeting in September.

 

Read bullet | 23 Comments »

Jindal: U.S. ‘Shouldn’t be Blindly Following Europe’ by Letting in Muslims Who Promote Sharia

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said his proposal to restrict immigration of Muslims who promote sharia law isn’t religious discrimination but protecting the freedoms of all Americans.

Jindal, a potential 2016 candidate, recently said “we shouldn’t tolerate those who want to come and try to impose some variant or some version of Sharia law.”

Explaining his position last night on Fox, Jindal stressed “we don’t discriminate against anybody of any religion and certainly there are many Muslims that are proud patriotic Americans. That’s great.”

But, he added, “it’s also true there are radical Muslims, Muslims that want to treat women as second-class citizens.”

“There are those who want to use our freedoms to undermine the freedoms of others. It makes no sense to let those types of folks come into our country. It is just common sense. The question I’ll specifically ask for example is would I be for allowing ISIS members to come to America? Why would I want to allow people who want to kill Americans to come to America?” Jindal said.

“In America, we say you have the right to believe what you want as long as you’re not harming others. So as long as you’re not trying to limit the freedoms of other people, we believe in the right of freedom of self-expression, religious liberty, freedom of speech, freedom of association. You don’t have the right to come here and say for example that you think women should be treated as second-class citizens. You don’t have the right to say others don’t have the same freedoms we give to you.”

The governor stressed that “we shouldn’t be blindly following Europe where you have second- and third-generation immigrants that don’t assimilate, don’t integrate, don’t consider themselves parts of that society.”

“We’ve historically said you can’t come here in years past during the Cold war, if you come here to promote communism, if you’re coming here to undermine America’s foreign policy, if you’re supporting a group that’s an enemy of the United States,” Jindal said.

“…We don’t want people who are going to undermine freedoms of other people. If we don’t insist on that, we’re going to go the way of Europe. I think that’s a dangerous thing. Again, we believe in religious liberty, but it doesn’t mean you can use your freedoms to undermine the freedoms of other people.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations accused Jindal of fearmongering on the campaign trail.

“Do we want to protect our country from people who want to do us harm? Absolutely. But you look at criminal activity, not thought,” said CAIR official Corey Saylor. “It’s an unfortunate reality that some politicians will pick on minorities rather than offer solutions to the economic and real national security issues our country faces.”

Read bullet | Comments »

Blinken Says No Revenge on Israel at UN, But Earnest Says They’ll ‘Re-evaluate Strategy’

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Even as reports circulated that the Obama administration is looking at other ways to push a two-state solution before the president leaves office, one administration official went on the record today as saying they won’t be trying to undermine Israel at the United Nations.

“And Palestinian statehood, there have been reports last night that in order for President Obama to continue his temper tantrum toward Prime Minister Netanyahu, what we will be doing in the United Nations is push in the shadows for a vote on Palestinian statehood in order to pressure Israel to be at the negotiation table with the Palestinians,” Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) asked Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken at this morning’s House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing. “Is that true?”

“No,” Blinken replied. “There are — the administration’s support for Israel is absolutely unshakable. We have done more –”

“Oh, that support is very clear,” Ros-Lehtinen interjected sarcastically.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today that the policy adjustments of the administration would be contingent on “what sort of policy and priorities the prime minister chooses.”

Netanyahu made news in the final days of his campaign by saying there would not be a two-state solution — but has since clarified to what his position has always been, that he cannot negotiate with a Palestinian government that includes Hamas or make any concessions that will jeopardize Israel’s security. Netanyahu has also consistently said that Jerusalem will not be divided, and Palestinians want half or all of Jerusalem in a two-state solution.

“Retweet in support of an undivided Jerusalem!” Netanyahu tweeted after his Tuesday victory, garnering 8,000 retweets and 4,000 favorites.

“I haven’t changed my policy. I never changed my speech in Bar Ilan University six years ago calling for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state,” Netanyahu told NBC today. “What has changed is the reality. Abu Mazen, the Palestinian leader, refuses to recognize the Jewish state, has made a pact with Hamas that calls for destruction of Jewish state. And every territory that is vacated in the Middle East is taken up by Islamist forces.”

“We want that to change, so we can realize a vision of real, sustained real peace. And I don’t want a one-state solution. I want a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution, but for that circumstances have to change.”

Earnest said the administration is “certainly… in a position to evaluate our approach to these issues, given that the prime minister essentially backed away from commitments that Israel had previously made to this effort.”

“In terms of making decisions at the United Nations and other multilateral fora, the United States has repeatedly intervened in some of those debates at the U.N. and in other places by saying we should — the best way for us to solve this problem is to get the two parties to sit down at the negotiating table, resolve their differences so that this two-state solution can be realized,” he said.

“…But now the prime minister of Israel says earlier this week days before an election that this is a principle that he no longer subscribes to and that his nation no longer subscribes to. That means the United States needs to rethink our approach, that this — that steps that — that this principle has been the foundation of a number of policy decisions that have been made here and now that that foundation has been eroded, it means that our policy decisions need to be reconsidered. And that’s what we will do.”

Earnest then denied he was suggesting that Israel could no longer expect U.S. backing at the UN on controversial anti-Israel measures, such as the Palestinian Authority’s demand for statehood recognition.

“What I’ve tried to say is that it understandably has prompted us to re-evaluate the strategy that we will put in place to make those decisions. And that will be something that we will do moving forward,” he said. “Steps that the United States has taken at the United Nations had been predicated on this idea that the two-state solution is the best outcome. Now our ally in these talks has said that they are no longer committed to that solution.”

Read bullet | Comments »

Pelosi: Boehner Just Wants to Investigate Hillary, ‘Her Emails or Her Hair or Whatever’

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) says House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) call for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to subject her home server to third-party review politicized the email controversy into something that “isn’t really about emails.”

“It’s about a partisan investigation by a select committee that has spent millions of dollars, produced nothing,” Pelosi said in reference to the Select Committee on Benghazi. “And as — I think we’re going to just see an ongoing to investigate Hillary Clinton, whatever the subject, whether it’s her emails or it’s her hair or whatever it happens to be. So that’s what I’m concerned about, as I said, the politicization of an issue. And it is the fact the Speaker says that her server should be turned over.”

On Tuesday, Boehner told GOP lawmakers that he’s not on a witch hunt — yet stressed that “the way forward is for the secretary to turn over all of her emails that pertain to the public.”

“But some neutral third party is going to have to make some decision about what documents are, quote, ‘personal,’ and which ones are public record. And thus far, she’s been unwilling to do this,” he said.

“…Nothing has changed. The Benghazi Committee is the committee that found this personal email usage and the Benghazi Committee is focused on getting the facts about what happened with regard to Benghazi. The Government Reform Committee has worked on the federal Open Records law and they’re continuing their work on that. There is nothing — no change has been made in terms of how we’re approaching dealing with these documents.”

Pelosi insisted at her press conference today that Clinton “should not be treated any differently than any other secretary of State.”

“Even if you just said in this century where technology has moved forward and this kind of subject would not come up about a server and about emails a number of years ago. Communications yes, but not this particular stamp on it,” she said. “So I would say let’s see what other secretaries of State, what their practices, what the status is of their server, and maybe that would be an interesting contrast.”

However, “it’s a mistake for those committees to continue a political investigation of Hillary Clinton, whatever.”

“And that’s what they seem to do. Their organized purpose was supposed to be an investigation that produced some information already obtained by the Intelligence Committee, which made its report. It seems to me a big waste of taxpayer money,” Pelosi continued.

“The — again, whatever is determined here is about the future as well as what happened in the past, but if we’re talking about the past, let’s talk about since 2000.”

Read bullet | Comments »

Rep. Connolly Questions ‘Loyalties’ of GOP, Slams ‘Shameless’ Netanyahu for ‘Insult’ to Obama

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) blasted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing this morning and unleashed on his colleagues for criticizing the Obama administration’s relationship with Israel.

During her remarks, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) said President Obama was having a “temper tantrum” toward Netanyahu.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) noted that Obama “clearly has disdain for the winner of the Israeli elections this week.”

“The only group I can think of he might have more disdain for is the elected representatives of the American people, this Congress,” Chabot said. “Since Israel will be the most directly affected by a bad deal with Iran, how’s the administration gonna repair relations with our key ally in the region?”

Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken countered that “no administration has done more for Israel’s security than this administration.”

“That is the least credible answer I’ve heard all morning, that no president has done more for the American-Israeli relations than this president,” Chabot replied.

Blinken clarified that he said “for Israel’s security,” not general relations.

“Security, relations, whatever, this president — there has been no president that has damaged relations between the United States and Israel more than this president,” Chabot fired back.

When it was time for Connolly’s five minutes, the congressman began by lashing out at Ros-Lehtinen and Chabot.

“I cannot let that go by. A foreign leader has insulted the head of state of the United States government. It’s not a temper tantrum, and it didn’t start with President Obama; it started with Bibi Netanyahu,” Connolly said.

“You can decide for yourself whether it was appropriate for him to speak to a joint session, but the process is beyond dispute. It was an insult to this government. Friends don’t act that way.”

Connolly noted that former President Shimon Peres gave Obama an award for his support of Israel.

“At some point, does the partisan rhetoric ever stop? Where are your loyalties with respect to the prerogatives of this government and our country? And the shameless way Mr. Netanyahu has conducted himself deserves reproach. And I think the president has shown restraint,” the Virginia Dem continued.

“And I say this as somebody who has a 35-year record of unwavering support for Israel. I’m not a critic of the Israeli government, but I am a critic of how this prime minister has treated my president, everyone’s president. And I cannot sit here and listen to the waving away of bad behavior that is an insult to my country. We have one president. Whether you like him or not, whether you want to take political issue with him or not, fair enough. That’s fair game,” he said.

“But when a foreign leader insults him, that should not be fair game, and that should never be apologized away, because it damages relationships long-term. It puts a divide where there was never a divide in public opinion and my country, and I worry about that long- term. I hope you do too.”

Read bullet | 12 Comments »

What About That Time Obama, Kerry, Clinton Insisted Congress Have Say in International Agreements?

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

A California Democrat charged at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing this morning that administration officials are “using foreign ropes to tie the hands of the United States Congress” on Iran negotiations.

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) also pointed out an instance when Senate Democrats — including the current secretary of State and president — challenged the Bush administration on its ability to enact foreign agreements without the consent of Congress.

Sherman stressed it “is not the executive branch, but Congress, that has had it right for the last 15 years” on Iran sanctions, “which is why I take such offense when I hear the administration say, Congress, if we have a view, we’re interfering and undermining.”

“When you read the United States Constitution, you will see that when it comes to economic sanctions and international economics, all the power is vested in Congress except to the extent that the president negotiates a treaty that is ratified by the Senate,” he said. “Yet I fear that what the administration is doing is using foreign ropes to tie the hands of the United States Congress because the foreign minister of Iran was able to cite Article 27 of the Vienna Convention on Treaties, saying, well, the United States will be in violation of international law if Congress doesn’t do whatever the president promises Congress will do.”

Sherman said the Obama administration “feeds into that when a high administration official declares foreign policy runs through the executive branch and the president and does not go through other channels.”

“I fear that we will have a situation where the executive branch comes to us and says you have to take this action, you’re prohibited from taking that action because you’re going to hold the United States up to ridicule for being in violation of international law,” the congressman added.

He advised Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken to “look at the memo issued by the Carter Department of Justice that stated, ‘Congress may enact legislation modifying or abrogating executive agreements.’”

“And that it — if that was formally turned over to the Iranian delegation, that would get us support under Article 46 of the Vienna Convention on Treaties,” Sherman said. “I should point out for the record that, in 2007, Senator Clinton introduced, with the cosponsorships of Senator Obama and Senator Kerry, the Oversight of Iraq Agreements Act, which stated that any status of forces agreement to the United States and Iraq that was not a treaty approved by two-thirds of the Senate or authorized by legislation would not have the force of law and prohibited funding to implement that.”

“For the record, because I just don’t have time to give you at this moment, I’d like you to explain whether under the standards of the Obama administration the introduction of that act by those three senators constituted an interference with policy undermining President Bush’s policy, et cetera.”

Sherman pointedly told Blinken, “I fear that you have misled this committee in telling us that, once Iran has the rights of a non-nuclear state, subject to the additional protocol, that you’ll be able to stop sneakout, because you’ve said first that, well, they can’t develop a nuclear weapon because that would be illegal.”

“That’s a preposterous argument,” the congressman said. “Obviously, they’re willing to break the law.”

Blinken argued that “if Iran makes an agreement, it will make it with the full knowledge that if it violates the agreement, there will be severe consequences.”

Measures being negotiated, the deputy secretary of State said, “give us the confidence that the inspectors will have the ability to detect, in a timely fashion, any efforts by Iran to break out.”

“So you need an intrusive inspection regime, you will have it for a few years, and then, for reasons you can’t explain, the blindfolds will go on and we’ll hope that we can prevent sneakout thereafter,” Sherman retorted.

“The blindfolds won’t be on,” Blinken insisted. “They’ll be off.”

Read bullet | Comments »

Dem Vow on Iran: ‘Any Attempts to Sidestep Congress Will Be Resisted on Both Sides of the Aisle’

Thursday, March 19th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The leading Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee told Deputy Secretary of State Tony Blinken this morning that “there really can’t be any marginalization of Congress” on Iran nuclear negotiations.

“Any attempts to sidestep Congress will be resisted on both sides of the aisle,” Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) said at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing.

Engel also announced that lawmakers have crafted another Iran letter and are ready to send it to the president — signed by 360 members. It began circulating around Congress earlier this month.

He and chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) are hoping to get “a prompt response from the White House.”

The letter to Obama notes that “of the 12 sets of questions that the International Atomic Energy Agency has been seeking, Tehran has answered just part of one. Just last week, the IAEA reported that it is still concerned about signs of Iran’s military related activities, including designing a nuclear payload for a missile.”

“The potential military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear program should be treated as a fundamental test of Tehran’s intention to uphold the final agreement. Unless we have a full understanding of Iran’s past program it will be impossible for the international community to judge Iran’s future breakout time with certainty.”

The letter notes Iran’s “decades of deception” and said “any inspection and verification regime must allow for short notice access to suspect locations, and verifiable constraints on Iran’s nuclear program must last for decades.”

The hundreds of lawmakers also said the administration cannot split Iran’s “destabilizing role in the region and state sponsorship of terrorism from the nuclear deal.”

“Iran’s Supreme Leader has also called for an expansion of his country’s ballistic missile program, yet another dimension of the potential threat posed by Iran,” the letter continues. “Iran’s role in fomenting instability in the region — not to mention Iran’s horrendous repression at home — demonstrates the risks of negotiating with a partner we cannot trust.”

The lawmakers promise that only if “convinced” that a final deal’s terms “foreclose any pathway to a bomb” will Congress “consider permanent sanctions relief.”

Blinken warned Congress to “avoid any actions” that could make people blame the U.S. if talks fail, including “any attempts” to undermine President Obama.

“The United States, not Iran, could be isolated and the sanctions regime collapse,” he said.

Read bullet | 35 Comments »

Could Boko Haram be Hillary Clinton’s Biggest Scandal?

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

One senator wants to know if former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deleted her emails regarding the very delayed designation of Boko Haram as a terrorist organization — and if a very well-heeled donor influenced that policy.

The query is not new for Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), but it’s now reflected in some additional disturbing lights: the admission by Clinton that she used personal email while the nation’s top diplomat and screened which ones to keep or discard, and the ascension of Boko Haram to an ISIS affiliate.

In June of last year, Vitter questioned why the State Department, under former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, “misled” Congress on the threat posed by Boko Haram.

He cited 2011 evidence on Boko Haram presented to the State Department by the National Counterterrorism Center, followed by a delay in the group’s terror designation until fall 2013.

“Recent evidence suggests Secretary Hillary Clinton and the State Department not only knew of the extent, but also deliberately attempted to obfuscate the issue in order to avoid having to make the designation of Boko Haram as a FTO, including downplaying the State Department’s own Country Reports on Terrorism (CRT),”  Vitter wrote to Secretary of State John Kerry then.

“Inaccuracies within official documents make it clear that the State Department misled Congress and the American people. Evidence suggests that there was an internal decision by the Office of Coordinator for Counterterrorism to downplay official, legally required, intelligence data in order to purposefully avoid making the determination,” the senator continued.

Boko Haram, founded in 2002, began its campaign of attacks in earnest in 2009 but wasn’t put on the terror list until November 2013 — on the eve of Nigerian activists coming to Congress to testify about Boko Haram’s crimes and demand the terrorist designation. The State Department’s listing of Boko Haram and its offshoot, Ansaru, was so sudden the morning of the House subcommittee hearing that the submitted testimony of Emmanuel Ogebe, a Nigerian lawyer and human rights activist, still included a plea for the U.S. to finally add the Islamist groups to the list.

“We are concerned that it took them too long,” said Ogebe said, who put in his prepared remarks that “part of the State Department’s response has been to deny the religious motivation of a rabid jihadist group that has repeatedly declared its goal of overthrowing the state and establishing a radical Muslim theocracy; to downplay the repeated threats to America going back several years by claiming this is all ‘local’; presenting arguments rationalizing terrorism by psycho-analyzing the emotional disconnect between the central government and northern Muslims who fuel the terrorism.”

Even after a February 2012 promise by Boko Haram to assassinate the U.S. ambassador, the State Department kept the Nigerian terrorists off the list.

Vitter has suggested that Clinton’s deep donor ties to Gilbert Chagoury, a major Lebanese-Nigerian land developer who has given millions to Democratic campaigns, the Clinton library and Clinton Foundation global initiatives, could have accounted for some of Clinton’s reticence in the terror designation — a recognized terrorist group operating in the region, after all, makes more than a dent on local economies and investors get scared off.

When Chagoury was added to the no-fly list and pulled off a plane in 2010, it took just a few months to get a waiver and a written apology from the Department of Homeland Security — though he said afterwards that he didn’t approach the Clintons for help.

The Chagoury Group says it is “a leading Nigerian employer, with a workforce numbering tens of thousands of Nigerian and other African and international personnel,” boasting manufacturing, construction, industrial, hotels and hi-tech companies under its umbrella.

Yesterday, Vitter sent more correspondence to Kerry, asking that his department turn over “all additional files specifically relating to the designation of Boko Haram as a terrorist organization during former Secretary Clinton’s term and seek out any related files which may not have already been turned over by Secretary Clinton.”

“Given the drastic foothold Boko Haram was allowed to gain prior to being designated an FTO, the nexus between the Department’s decision against designating Boko Haram as an FTO and connections to outside groups should be brought forward. Associated records should have been preserved as evidence of the agency’s activities, decisions and procedures. These should be presented to the relevant committees and to the American public to be evaluated for corresponding misconduct,” Vitter wrote.

He stressed that while last year’s evidence of “inaccuracies within official documents” makes “clear that the State Department misled Congress and the American people,” additional evidence “demonstrates that multiple Department employees who were directly involved in the decision against designating Boko Haram as an FTO, including the Office Coordinator for Counterterrorism, have been Clinton Foundation employees.”

Vitter noted that while the Boko Haram designation was being stalled, President Clinton was participating in events with Chagoury, whose pockets are so deep he has a section named after him at the Louvre. Those included a February 2012 speaking engagement at the dedication ceremony for Chagoury’s new luxury housing project.

Long under the microscope for corruption, allegations he has denied, Chagoury settled a 2000 money laundering case in Geneva with a fine of a million Swiss francs and paying $66 million to the Nigerian government; that conviction has since been expunged from his record by the Swiss.

“We need to know if Mr. Chagoury had any influence in the decision not to designate Boko Haram an FTO, or had any other influence with Sec. Clinton’s foreign policy decisions,” Vitter wrote.

Mark Corallo, who was retained by Chagoury back in 2010 during his incident with TSA and is now close friends with the philanthropist, said Vitter’s hunt into the relationship of Chagoury and the Clintons as it relates to the Boko Haram listing is baseless.

Corallo said Chagoury “has had no contact with Hillary Clinton for years – predating her time as a U.S. senator.”

“So even if Senator Vitter somehow retrieves Hillary’s emails, he’ll find no emails or correspondence of any kind with Secretary Clinton or the Department of State. Furthermore, while he has had a well-publicized friendship with former President Clinton and has donated to the Clinton foundation, I would point out that he has also donated to the George W Bush presidential library. Why? Because both President Bush and President Clinton showed a real interest in Africa and Ambassador Chagoury truly appreciated both men and their efforts,” Corallo told PJM.

Corallo called Chagoury “one of the most kind, generous and peace loving men I have ever known” and charged that for Vitter “to use him as a foil is pathetic.”

“To implicate a good man in some nefarious scheme to benefit the ruthless Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram – a group that is responsible for murdering thousands of Nigerian Christians and innocent Muslims who are Ambassador Chagoury’s countrymen is despicable,” he said.

Vitter, who is running for governor of Louisiana this year, reminded Kerry that he’s “long opposed the foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation as a conflict of interest for Secretary Clinton due to the nature of the job.”

“Former Secretary Clinton’s actions in conjunction to information I have previously presented to the Department where she circumvented and misled Congress should be closely examined,” Vitter wrote. “…Due to the highly unusual nature of the current circumstance, I am asking you to demonstrate the Department’s commitment to transparency and to provide all files related to their decision not to designate Boko Haram an FTO, and all communication with Mr. Chagoury or his affiliated businesses.”

“These actions, if true, run contrary to the trust placed in the Department, as a representative of the United States and constitutional government. It is imperative to fully disclose relevant information to the American public.”

Boko Haram killed more than 6,300 civilians in 2014 alone, and its rampages this year have included some 2,000 deaths in the Baga massacre alone. Most of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapped 11 months ago, sparking the #BringBackOurGirls campaign, have not been found.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story was updated on 3/20/14 to add comment from Chagoury associate Mark Corallo.

Read bullet | 23 Comments »

White House Slams Netanyahu for ‘Divisive Rhetoric’ to ‘Marginalize’ Israeli Arabs

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
YouTube Preview Image

A day after his decisive victory at the polls, the White House today slammed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign video noting that Arabs were coming to the polls in “droves” as divisive rhetoric.

White House press secretary Josh Earnest wasn’t asked about the video on board Air Force One with reporters, but said he wanted to address “one other thing that I anticipated might come up that I just did want to mention as it relates to the Israeli elections.”

“Specifically, there has been a lot of coverage in the media about some of the rhetoric that emerged yesterday that was propagated by the Likud Party to encourage turnout of their supporters that sought to, frankly, marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens. The United States and this administration is deeply concerned by divisive rhetoric that seeks to marginalize Arab-Israeli citizens,” Earnest said.

“It undermines the values and democratic ideals that have been important to our democracy and an important part of what binds the United States and Israel together,” he continued. “We’ve talked a lot about how our shared values are an important part of what binds our two countries together, and rhetoric that seeks to marginalize one segment of their population is deeply concerning and it is divisive.”

“And I can tell you that these are views that the administration intends to communicate directly to the Israelis.”

Going into the election, Netanyahu decried foreign money pouring into the campaign to support candidates on the Arab Joint List, which emerged from Tuesday with 14 seats in the Knesset. “This foreign money is distorting the true will of the Israeli citizens toward the left and giving excessive power to the extreme Arab list,” he said. “The rule of the right is in danger.”

In a video posted on his Facebook page encouraging voters to get out to the polls, Netanyahu said left-wing organizations were busing in Arab voters. “Get out to vote, bring your friends and family, vote Likud,” he said.

President Obama has not called Netanyahu, though he did find time during his Cleveland trip today to call German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“I do anticipate that the President will call Prime Minister Netanyahu in the coming days,” Earnest said.

“…At this point I don’t want to preview any details about the call. But I can tell you that these are — that there is deep concern about this divisive rhetoric and we will share those deep concerns directly with the Israelis.”

But Democratic Rep. Eliot Engel (N.Y.), the ranking member on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, defended Bibi.

“It’s hard, again, to get into somebody’s head and see why they said it. I think he assumes that the Arab parties, which have unified for the election, were running on one slate and that the Arabs of Israel were not going to vote for him,” Engel said. “So I assume he was saying to his supporters that the others who are not going to be voting, you better come out to vote to counterbalance that. Perhaps it wasn’t the right choice of words. Perhaps it wasn’t, but I think it was, again, campaign rhetoric, and I wouldn’t read too much into it.”

Read bullet | 15 Comments »

Tunisia President Promises to Fight Terrorists ‘Without Mercy to Our Last Breath’

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Tunisia’s president has vowed to act “without mercy” in response to today’s terrorist attack that targeted tourists at the capital’s renowned Bardo Museum.

Prime Minister Habib Essid said the 22 dead included 20 tourists from Italy, Germany, Spain and Poland. An interior ministry spokesman said there were also victims from France and South Africa. Two gunmen were killed and one to three gunmen were reported to still be at large. They reportedly began spraying the tourists with gunfire as they disembarked from tour buses. Some were taken hostage inside the museum complex and later freed by security forces with one police officer killed.

Tunisia, which was the birth of the Arab Spring democracy movements, is viewing it as a direct assault upon their lucrative tourism industry. “All Tunisians should be united after this attack which was aimed at destroying the Tunisian economy,” Essid said in an address to the nation.

“I want the Tunisian people to understand that we are in a war against terrorism and that these savage minorities do not frighten us,” Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi said in televised remarks. “We will fight them without mercy to our last breath.”

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack, though suspects include Ansar al-Sharia, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and ISIS. The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation in London estimates between 1,500 and 3,000 Tunisians have gone to fight with ISIS.

The U.S. Embassy in Tunis, which is about 10 miles from the site of the attack, sent out an emergency message for U.S. citizens today warning them to avoid the area around the parliament and the museum.

“U.S. citizens are reminded to exercise caution and avoid areas where large gatherings may occur. Even demonstrations or events intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and possibly escalate into violence. U.S. citizens should monitor local events, report suspicious activity to the local police, and take appropriate steps to bolster their own security,” the message stated. “The U.S. Embassy reiterates our standing guidance that U.S. citizens in Tunisia should exercise caution when frequenting public venues that are visited by large numbers of foreigners, such as hotels, shopping centers, and tourist sites and restaurants. U.S. citizens should also be alert to the possibility of kidnapping.”

Secretary of State John Kerry issued a statement condemning the attack. “We extend our heartfelt sympathy to the victims’ families and loved ones. We commend Tunisian authorities’ rapid response to today’s wanton violence and their efforts to resolve the hostage situation and restore calm,” Kerry said. “The United States stands with the Tunisian people at this difficult time and continues to support the Tunisian government’s efforts to advance a secure, prosperous, and democratic Tunisia.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a statement that U.S. officials have been in touch with Tunisian officials and are ready to offer help.

“While we do not yet know the identities of the attackers or their motives, what we do know is that their cowardly acts will not intimidate the Tunisian people, whose storied heritage is showcased at the site of this attack, the National Bardo Museum,” Earnest said. “The United States is proud of our robust cooperation with Tunisia on counterterrorism and broader security issues, and we will continue to stand with our Tunisian partners against terrorist violence.”

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) said the attack “reminds us all that there are still people who choose hate and intolerance, over understanding and compassion.”

Read bullet | Comments »

State Department Won’t ‘Prejudge’ Siding with Palestinians After Netanyahu Win

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke with victorious Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today in “a brief phone call,” according to the State Department.

“Secretary Kerry called the prime minister this morning to congratulate him,” press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters. “Given there is an ongoing government formation process, they did not discuss substantive issues. So, the purpose of the call was to congratulate him on the election.”

White House press secretary told reporters aboard Air Force One today that President Obama could call Netanyahu “in the coming days.” Earnest added that in two previous Israeli elections Obama did not telephone Netanyahu until the Likud leader was directed by the Israeli president to form a government.

Psaki was asked if the call between Kerry and Netanyahu was “warm.”

“I’m not going to characterize the tone of the call,” she replied. “I was not on the call with them.”

Asked about Netanyahu’s response? “I am sure you can ask that question of the Israeli government,” Psaki said.

She cautioned reporters to not “read into it.”

“It’s just a simple congratulatory call. Those are typically meant and happen after elections. It was not more extensive than that,” she added.

With Netanyahu firmly defying his critics, many are wondering if some diplomatic revenge is in store. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeed Erekat vowed that the Palestinian Authority will press forward with anti-Israel efforts at the International Criminal Court and United Nations, and the U.S. could decide to veto or not a resolution seeking international recognition for a Palestinian state.

“Well, we are not going to get ahead of any decisions about what the United States would do with potential action at the United — U.N. Security Council. I will reiterate that it has long been the position of the United States under Republican and Democratic presidents and it has been the position of successive Israeli governments that only a two-state solution that results in a secure Israel alongside a sovereign and independent Palestine can bring lasting peace and stability to both peoples,” Psaki said.

“A two-state solution is the only way for the next Israeli government to secure Israel as a Jewish and democratic state. We believe that is in the best interest of the United States, Israel and the region,” she continued. “The prime minister, as we all know, in his comments earlier this week indicated that he is no longer committed to pursuing this approach. Based on the prime minister’s comments, the United States is in a position going forward, where we will be evaluating our approach with regard to how best to achieve a two-state solution.”

“Obviously, I’m not going to prejudge at this point what that means.”

Pressed on the issue, Psaki said that the “preferred path to resolve this conflict is for the parties to reach an agreement on final status issues directly; but certainly, while that’s been our position, obviously the prime minister’s position has changed.”

Psaki also said she doesn’t think Netanyahu’s win “has impacted the Iran negotiations, or will.”

“Certainly, his recent comments on opposition to the Palestinians having a state have — have caused us to evaluate our approach moving forward,” she said. “But beyond that, there are issues we work together on that we will continue to.”

Read bullet | Comments »

U.S. Embassy Closure in Djibouti Comes After Al-Shabaab Cleric Declared ISIS Legit

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

As U.S. consular services in Saudi Arabia remain closed to some 40,000 American citizens until further notice, the State Department announced that diplomatic facilities in Djibouti are closing to the public as well.

U.S. citizens were told in a security message today that the embassy will close Thursday “to review its security posture.”

The embassy said it will “reopen for regular business” on Sunday. “Emergency consular services for U.S. citizens will be available.”

Citizens were “encouraged to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to enhance your personal security.”

The State Department move comes after Sheikh Hassan Hussein, a pro-Shabaab Somali cleric, declared ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi to be a legitimate caliph and said some al-Qaeda had wrongly judged the caliphate. Boko Haram in Nigeria pledged allegiance to ISIS earlier this month, raising speculation about Somalia’s Al-Shabaab following suit.

Sheikh Hussein has been considered a spiritual leader of Al-Shabaab, issuing fatwas supporting their terrorist attacks.

The United Arab Emirates warned in October that more needed to be done to counter ISIS’ spread in North Africa.

“What really scares us now is what we see from Daesh, and are we going to see in the future any sort of collaboration between different terrorist groups like Daesh and al-Shabab?” Emirati foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan said at the opening of a counter-piracy conference.

“I think we should start to ask ourselves: how ready we are as countries, companies and international organizations in facing these big threats,” the sheikh added.

Somali media have reported that Al-Shabaab members have been squabbling over loyalty to ISIS or Ayman al-Zawahiri.

A November travel warning for Djibouti said that the U.S. government “continues to receive information about potential terrorist threats aimed at Western (including U.S.) and Djiboutian interests.”

Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for two suicide bombings in a restaurant frequented by Westerners last May.

“Terrorist acts can include suicide operations, bombings (to include car bombings), kidnappings, attacks on civil aviation, and attacks on maritime vessels in or near Djiboutian ports. Attacks may target official government facilities, including Embassies and military installations, as well as soft targets such as restaurants, clubs, hotels, and other commercial entities. While Djiboutian officials continue the pursuit of those responsible for previous terrorist attacks, many of those involved remain at large and still operate in the region,” the travel warning said.

“…Citizens should stay abreast of local developments by following local press, radio, and television reports prior to undertaking travel.  Visitors should also consult their hosts, including U.S. and Djibouti business contacts, and hotels.  We also encourage U.S. citizens to evaluate carefully the security of places they visit in Djibouti, particularly public places such as shopping areas, hotels, clubs/bars, and restaurants.”

Read bullet | Comments »

Where Are the White House Congratulations for Netanyahu? Other World Leaders Say It

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
YouTube Preview Image

There still has been no public reaction from the White House on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s turnaround victory yesterday as other world leaders are sending their congratulations.

Netanyahu’s Likud party finished with 30 seats in the Knesset, with the main challenging Zionist Union party winning 24 seats.

“Congratulations my friend Bibi @netanyahu! Recall our New York meeting last September warmly,” tweeted Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi.

European Union High Representative/Vice-President Federica Mogherini sent out a statement: “I congratulate Benyamin Netanyahu for his victory. I look forward to the formation of a new government.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron tweeted his congratulations as well. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper tellingly noted “Israel has no greater friend” than Canada.

The White House sent David Simas, an aide not often seen on the networks and director of the Office of Political Strategy and Outreach, on CNN this morning to congratulate Israel for voting.

“We want to congratulate the Israeli people for the democratic process for the election that they just engaged in with all the parties that engaged in that election,” Simas said. “As you know now, the hard work of coalition building begins. Sometimes that takes a couple of weeks. And we’re going to give space to the formation of that coalition government and we’re not going to weigh in one way or another except to say that the United States and Israel have a historic and close relationship and that will continue going forward.”

The administration focused today on unveiling a new manufacturing initiative, with Obama delivering remarks in Cleveland.

 

 

Read bullet | 30 Comments »

Turkey’s Erdoğan: I Advised Obama on Healthcare Reform

Wednesday, March 18th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson
obamaerdogan

(White House photo)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he advised President Obama on healthcare reform after some American tourists told him to broach the subject with our commander in chief.

Hurriyet Daily News reported that Erdoğan was speaking at a new healthcare complex in Ankara today when he said he counseled Obama to look to the Turkish model and craft healthcare reform — though there wasn’t an indication of when this conversation took place.

“Once I attended the Friday prayer at the Sultanahmet Mosque [Blue Mosque in Istanbul]. There were tourists. Some of them knew that I would be visiting the United States the following week. They asked me how we could be so successful in healthcare and wanted me to tell about it to Obama,” Erdoğan said today, according to Hurriyet.

“Indeed, I then talked about the issue with Mr. Obama. Of course, the negative reflex there [in the U.S.] made it really hard for Mr. Obama,” he said, adding that Obama thus “could only solve the problem partly.”

Erdoğan said European countries interested in revising their own healthcare systems visit, “try to take us as a model and build similar systems in their country.”

“Don’t we have any deficiencies? We do, but now we are on the right path to success,” he said.

The State Department tells travelers to Turkey that “care provided in Turkish hospitals varies greatly,” with modern facilities in larger cities while “some still may be unable to treat certain serious conditions” and “certain medications are difficult to obtain in Turkey.”

Erdoğan, the founder of the ruling Islamist AKP party in Turkey, has historically been buddy-buddy with Obama, who has called the Turkish leader “an outstanding friend.” His campaign logo last summer even ripped off Obama’s. The two have quipped about sharing parenting advice during their meetings as they both have daughters.

But Erdoğan told reporters last month that the world is jealous of him now, so much so that he’s longer as tight with Obama as he once was.

“When you look at people, there is no loneliness. There might be as far as leaders are concerned, but that is the result of jealousy and nothing else,” Erdoğan said, according to Al-Monitor.

Read bullet | Comments »

‘Good News’: GOP Senators Quickly Sound Off on Israeli Election

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

With early returns showing the Likud party hanging on and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claiming victory, Republican senators who were chastised by the White House for signing an open letter to Tehran on Iran’s nuclear program began to swiftly weigh in.

The Times of Israel noted that voter turnout in Israel was 71.8 percent — the highest since 1999. Zioinst Union leader Isaac Herzog had not conceded defeat, but with Likud and ZU neck-and-neck Netanyahu’s party is in a strong position to form a unity government. Netanyahu said after voting that, should he win, the third person he calls would be President Obama.

“Against all odds:a great victory for the Likud. A major victory for the people of Israel!” Netanyahu triumphantly tweeted. “This is a great victory for our nation. I’m proud of people of Israel who in the moment of truth knew what was important. Every family, soldier, citizen, Jewish or not are important to me! We will form a strong government to work for them.”

Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), co-author of Iran sanctions, tweeted: “Good news tonight from #Israel, our greatest ally in the Middle East. Congrats @Netanyahu.”

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) was one of the fastest out of the gate with a response to the Israeli elections.

“Today’s parliamentary elections in Israel remind us of what unites our two countries and what distinguishes Israel, as the only true democracy in the Middle East, from its neighbors. Millions of Israelis took to the polls to choose their representatives, and ultimately shape the government that will guide their country in the coming years,” Rubio said.

“Now that the Israeli people have made their decisions, it is time for the Israeli political process to work. Whatever the outcome of that process, the United States will continue to stand firmly with our ally, Israel. We will stand by the Israeli people and their duly elected political leadership.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), another potential 2016 hopeful, said Netanyahu “has been an extraordinary leader for Israel, and I congratulate him on what appears to be a victory today.”

“His electoral success is all the more impressive given the powerful forces that tried to undermine him, including, sadly, the full weight of the Obama political team,” Cruz continued. “American officials should not be undermining the elected leaders of our closest allies, especially when Prime Minister Netanyahu’s heroic – even Churchillian – opposition to a nuclear Iran has done such tremendous service to U.S. national security. The American people are proud to stand steadfastly with our Israeli brothers and sisters. May our friendship grow and prosper, and may the Nation of Israel stay forever strong.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said the Israeli people, “by their casting of ballots and voting for their leaders, showed the power of democracy in action.”

“I eagerly await the final results and the organization of a new government in Israel,” Graham said. “Israel and the United States have a long and valued friendship and alliance. We also have common values and share common enemies. I look forward to continuing to build on a strong US-Israel relationship as we both seek to address the rise of radical Islam and the threat posed to both our nations by the Iranian nuclear program.”

White House press secretary Josh Earnest, when pressed earlier on whether Obama thinks he can repair his relationship with Netanyahu should he remain prime minister, said “the president has no doubt that the strong ties between the United States and Israel will endure … far beyond this election.”

“And that has been true for generations now. That the U.S.-Israel relationship is not one that has been subject, historically, to — to partisanship, and not one that has been subject to intense partisan political debate,” Earnest said. “But rather, because of our deep cultural ties, because of the deep ties between our people, because of our shared interest when it comes to national security in the Middle East, that the — that the strong relationship between the United States and Israel will endure far beyond this upcoming election, or the election that’s being held today.”

 

Read bullet | 15 Comments »

Senators: Administration Should Have to Document Syrian War Crimes

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Secretary of State John Kerry raised eyebrows over the weekend with his comments about negotiating with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad — and now key senators wants Kerry’s department to properly document Assad’s war crimes.

“We are working very hard with other interested parties to see if we can reignite a diplomatic outcome. Why? Because everybody agrees there is no military solution. There is only a political solution,” Kerry told CBS in an interview aired Sunday.

“We’re going to have to make it clear to him that there is a determination by everybody to seek that political outcome and change his calculation about negotiating,” Kerry told CBS. “That’s underway right now. And — and I am convinced that with the efforts of our allies and others, there will be increased pressure on Assad.”

Asked if he’d be willing to negotiate with Assad, Kerry replied, “Well, we have to negotiate in the end.”

The administration scrambled to say its “Assad must go” position hadn’t changed, and Syrian activists wryly noted the administration’s past change of heart on the chemical weapons “red line” it drew for Assad.

State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday that Kerry was just “shorthanding” the regime by referring to Assad. “And that would be by mutual consent, which is both sides would need to agree who would be at the table. Unfortunately, there is no process happening right now. That’s the biggest concern to us. But, no, that’s consistently been our position,” Psaki told CNN. “The opposition could talk to themselves and that certainly wouldn’t produce an outcome that would bring an end to the suffering of the Syrian people.”

Sens. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) just introduced the Syrian War Crimes Accountability Act of 2015 to require the administration to document every dirty detail of the dictator’s crimes.

The senators note that the actions of Assad and violent extremist groups in the country require both special documenting and reaction from the administration on what it plans to do to hold human-rights violators accountable.

“For four years the Assad regime and violent extremists in Syria have committed horrific human rights violations at the expense of millions of innocent Syrians,” Rubio said in a statement. “These brutal crimes against civilians are appalling. The perpetrators deserve to be brought to justice, and this bill is a first step towards ensuring those responsible for human rights abuses are held accountable.”

Congress has been presented with some of the grisly evidence of Assad’s crimes. Last summer, a defector wearing a disguise and going by the pseudonym Caesar showed the House Foreign Affairs Committee some of the cache of 55,000 photos he gathered of the regime’s torture and murder of Syrians young and old, men and women — the 11,000 documented deaths just a fraction of 150,000 in Assad’s prisons.

Cardin said “tactics employed in Syria by both government and opposition forces fly in the face of the rules of war.”

“Ignoring these violations sends a message to the global community that war crimes and crimes against humanity are tolerable,” the Maryland senator said. “The Syrian people deserve much more. The United States cannot stand idly by and allow the gross violation of human rights in Syria to go unchallenged. We remain firmly committed to bringing all perpetrators of international crimes in Syria to justice.”

Menendez, known for reminding the leader of his party about human-rights violations in Iran and Cuba, stressed we have “a moral obligation to the Syrian people to do everything possible to ensure that the heinous crimes committed by the Assad regime and terrorist organizations over the past four years are documented and do not go unpunished.”

“As the Assad regime continues to use deadly force and indiscriminate weapons, like barrel bombs, killing and maiming thousands of men, women and children, ISIS and al-Qaeda’s affiliates in Syria have perpetrated massive human rights violation against innocent people,” Menendez said. “These brutal and horrific crimes are appalling.”

Some quarter of a million Syrians have been killed in the past four years, with 2014 the deadliest year. More than 3.8 million Syrians have fled Syria, while 12.2 million Syrians are in need of humanitarian assistance.

On Aug. 21, 2013, Assad used chemical weapons on the Damascus suburbs, killing 1,400 civilians. That crossed the White House’s “red line,” but they negotiated a chemical weapons disposal deal with the help of Assad ally Russia that has been impossible to verify in the war-torn country.

Assad continues to use chlorine gas on the population, as recently as yesterday.

“The United States is aware of these reports and the videos that are circulating on social media. We are seeking additional information and cannot at this point confirm the details, but if these allegations are confirmed, this would tragically be only the latest example of the Assad regime’s atrocities against the Syrian people,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said today.

“The regime continues to inflict daily terror through airstrikes, barrel bombings, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, murder, starvation and the use of chemical weapons. We continue to take all allegations of chemical weapons use, and in particular, these recent allegations regarding the use of chlorine as a chemical weapon very seriously and we have long held that any credible allegations of chemical weapons use must be investigated and we support the OPCW fact-finding mission in this pursuit.”

Read bullet | Comments »

Northern Ireland Politician Demands Biden Apologize for ‘Disgraceful’ Orange Joke

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Vice President Joe Biden isn’t getting St. Patrick’s Day cheer from Belfast after a joke he made during a holiday event this morning.

Biden welcomed Taoiseach Enda Kenny to the Naval Observatory for the annual Paddy’s Day breakfast, quipping “anyone wearing orange is not welcome in here” while posing for photos on the front porch. Biden then said he was joking.

Orange refers to the Protestants in Northern Ireland, who wear the signature color on marches through Catholic neighborhoods. Biden is Catholic.

At the breakfast featuring eggs, potatoes, and Irish soda bread, Biden later referenced the cross-party talks to resolve strife in Northern Ireland, saying “we need genius on all sides right now to lock this agreement down,” according to the White House pool report. “To finally, finally, finally again bring an end to this dark chapter.”

William McCrea, a Democratic Unionist Party member of Parliament, called on Biden to apologize.

“I don’t see it as humorous in the manner it was said. When Northern Ireland is making such an effort to make St Patrick’s Day an inclusive celebration, Joe Biden’s comments were disgraceful and careless,” McCrea said in a statement released by the DUP.

“Whether they were intended as a joke or not, the comments are a slur on those who would be known as ‘orange’ i.e. Protestants. This term is much wider than anyone who is a member of the Orange Order.  It has traditionally been used to define people from the Protestant faith,” he continued. “VP Biden should apologise for his remarks and take corrective action to prove in a practical way that people who are from a Protestant background are welcome in the White House. Undoubtedly if he had made such a remark about any other faith group there would be calls for his resignation.”

Biden has essentially, at one time or another, made remarks about everybody, including offending Jewish groups by calling money lenders “shylocks” last September.

Read bullet | 22 Comments »

Human-Rights Violator Iran Vows to Expose U.S., Britain Human-Rights Violations

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The Islamic Republic of Iran — which imprisons innocent Americans and political dissidents, hangs gays, executes children, arrests or beats women for not covering up enough, censors information, kills converts, and much more — will be holding an exhibit to document what it says are human rights violations by the West.

“We are trying to inform the world nations of the western government’s real face with regard to human rights through the documents which have been released by themselves,” Head of the International Human Rights Center in Iran Ahmad Esfandiari told Iran’s semi-official Fars News Agency on Monday, adding his agency “plans to hold exhibitions on violation of human rights in the European countries as well as specialized academic meetings on issues related to human rights violations in the West.”

“The center also plans to compile reports on the violation of human rights in the US, Britain and other western countries annually,” he added.

Iran has released two annual reports on “human rights violations” in Britain and the United States.

The latest Britain report, released in January, called births to unwed mothers a human rights violation. “Nearly 50% of those born in 2014 have been illegitimate children …the human rights violations in Britain increased 68% in 2014 compared with 2013,” Esfandiari said.

The U.S. report in 2014 faulted America for having capital punishment “in a blatant violation of Article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” along with capital punishment that’s too painful, racial discrimination and prison conditions including solitary confinement.

It also cites the police shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson and killing of Eric Garner in New York, and faulted New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie for “violation of human rights in the fight against Ebola.” The report champions convicted cop-killer Mumia Abu-Jamal and Wikileaks leaker Bradley Manning.

 

 

 

 

Read bullet | 8 Comments »

‘Deep Investigation’ Coming from Congress on U.S. Funding for Anti-Netanyahu Efforts

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R) said the State Department funding granted to a group lobbying against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “a big, huge deal and warrants some deep investigation.”

OneVoice, a 501(c)3 organization, partnered with anti-Bibi campaign committee V15, which in turn partnered with 270 Strategies — a political consulting firm with more than a dozen staffers who were in leadership roles in President Obama’s re-election campaign. One of those is Jeremy Bird, who served as national field director for Obama’s 2012 campaign and was reportedly working in Israel to defeat Netanyahu.

Kinzinger told Fox “this is a huge, huge issue.”

“I mean, I don’t know at least of overtly before the U.S. government has ever funded an organization that funded a subsidiary whose sole purpose was to overthrow an elected government of an ally, of a friend. I mean, Benjamin Netanyahu is not a major opponent of the United States. He’s a friend of the United States,” the congressman said. “The Israel people are friends. If, in fact, this is true that the State Department — I mean, money is fungible. So money was given to this group, OneVoice, and they gave money to the subsidiary Victory 15, whose sole purpose stated is to overthrow or dis-elect the current government.”

The State Department has denied that OneVoice was involved in the Israeli election, and said the group got its funding before the election was called.

Press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters yesterday that the department has “historically” cooperated with investigations of the variety it will likely now face.

“I mean, in this case, we’ve only seen the reports. We don’t have any more details… I don’t think we’ve had any official notification of this inquiry or this investigation,” Psaki said.

Called out on the assertion that the department “historically” cooperates in congressional probes, one reporter dropped a Benghazi reference: “There’s a certain select committee that I think would disagree.”

“Well, we would disagree that we haven’t cooperated, and so would 40,000 pages and dozens of hearings’ worth of evidence suggest,” Psaki fired back.

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-N.Y.) sent a letter to IRS Commissioner John Koskinen earlier this month asking for information on OneVoice’s tax-exempt status. They sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry in January asking about any U.S. funding of anti-Netanyahu campaigns.

Zeldin called it “abundantly clear that OneVoice, a U.S. taxpayer funded 501(c)(3), is fully engaged in political activities to oust the Israeli prime minister.”

“It is important for IRS Commissioner Koskinen to assist with our efforts to hold OneVoice responsible for any possible violation of its tax exempt status,” the freshman congressman added. “U.S. law must always be consistently enforced, and the IRS Commissioner must not make any special exception for OneVoice.”

Cruz said the Obama administration “seems much more interested in regime change in Jerusalem than in Tehran.”

Read bullet | 25 Comments »

State Department Brushes Off Saudi Prince’s Warning on Iran Deal

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

The State Department brushed off a warning from the former Saudi ambassador to Washington that the P5+1 deal being negotiated with Iran will lead to rash of uranium enrichment in the Middle East.

Prince Turki al-Faisal, who was also head of Saudi intelligence services before the 9/11 attacks, told BBC that “whatever comes out of these talks, we will want the same.”

“So if Iran has the ability to enrich uranium to whatever level, it’s not just Saudi Arabia that’s going to ask for that,” the prince said. “The whole world will be an open door to go that route without any inhibition, and that’s my main objection to this P5+1 process.”

On CNN last night, State Department press secretary Jen Psaki was asked about the remarks.

“Well, one, I don’t believe Prince Turki has a role in the Saudi government right now,” she said of the Saudi royal.

“But, two, this is a process that is ongoing. Every component of the deal will be vitally important, we will be briefing our partners on,” Psaki continued. “I think the third piece here is that we’re not opposed to peaceful nuclear power, a peaceful program. That’s something many countries aspire to. If they’re abiding by the NPT, which Iran would be a part of, then certainly, they would be meeting requirements. It’s about preventing them from taking this into a detrimental direction.”

Prince Turki also noted that “it seems that Iran is expanding its occupation of Iraq and that is unacceptable.”

“Iran is already a disruptive player in various scenes in the Arab world, whether it’s Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, or Bahrain,” he said.

“So ending fear of developing weapons of mass destruction is not going to be the end of the troubles we’re having with Iran.”

The Obama administration has repeatedly stressed that it wants a nuclear deal with Iran first and then will worry about its terrorist and hegemonic activities.

Read bullet | Comments »

Consulate Closures in Saudi Arabia Extended Without Threat Explanation

Tuesday, March 17th, 2015 - by Bridget Johnson

Without explanation, the State Department extended the closure of diplomatic facilities in Saudi Arabia for at least another day.

U.S. citizens in Saudi Arabia received a security message from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh on Saturday, warning that consular services in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dhahra would be shut down Sunday and Monday. Even the phone lines are unavailable.

“All U.S. citizens are encouraged to be aware of their surroundings, and take extra precautions when travelling throughout the country. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to carefully consider the risks of traveling to Saudi Arabia and limit non-essential travel within the country,” the message said.

On Monday, the U.S. Embassy said in a message to citizens, “Due to heightened security concerns at U.S. diplomatic facilities in Saudi Arabia, consular services will continue to be cancelled at the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh and Consulates General in Jeddah and Dhahran on Tuesday, March 17.”

“A new security message will be sent out as soon as consular services return to normal,” the Embassy added.

Asked about the security situation last night on CNN, State Department press secretary Jen Psaki said she didn’t have an idea on when U.S. facilities might reopen.

“One of the things the State Department does is inform American citizens and people around the world when there is a credible threat, when there’s a threat that people need to have information about,” Psaki said. “…We just take every precaution necessary to protect American citizens.”

“We have not changed our staffing. We have not changed anything in that regard. Obviously, we take every precaution as it relates to security. But we also have a responsibility to provide information we have access to. And that was the case here.”

Regional media have gleaned little else about the threat. “We found it advisable not to open to the public because of our security concerns,” embassy press officer Johann Schmonsees said, according to Gulf News.

On March 13, the day before the advisory that diplomatic facilities would be closed, the Embassy said it “has information stating that, as of early March, individuals associated with a terrorist organization could be targeting Western oil workers, possibly to include those U.S. citizens working for oil companies in the Eastern Province, for an attack(s) and/or kidnapping(s). There is no further information on the timing, target, location, or method of any planned attacks.”

On March 7, the Embassy warned that “individuals associated with a terrorist organization are targeting employees of Chevron in Saudi Arabia for a possible attack.”

The State Department’s travel warning, updated on Feb. 25, notes the danger of security threats from ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.

“Possible targets include housing compounds, hotels, shopping areas, international schools, and other facilities where Westerners congregate, as well as Saudi government facilities and economic/commercial targets within the Kingdom,” the warning added.

ISIS is believed to be seeking more Western hostages after it killed all of its known American hostages. The terrorist group is counting on sympathizers in countries across the region to help.

The Saudi Gazette reported in September that there are 40,000 Americans living and working in the kingdom.

Read bullet | Comments »