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Top US diplomat in Venezuela given the boot for 'conspiring against government'

Chavez Maduro sign
© Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters
The top US diplomat in Caracas, Venezuela and his deputy have been ordered to leave the country after allegedly conspiring against the government, President Nicolas Maduro announced.

"I have declared him persona non grata and I announce the exit of the US chargé d'affaires in 48 hours," Maduro said on Tuesday, referring to Todd Robinson. His deputy, Brian Naranjo, was also expelled.

The expulsion comes after Washington denounced Maduro's victory in Venezuela's elections on Sunday as a "sham." Maduro won 4 million votes more than the second-placed opposition candidate Henri Falcon, but the turnout was just over 46 percent.

Washington insists that Maduro is running a socialist dictatorship, with US Vice President Mike Pence calling the election "neither free nor fair" and saying the "fake process" was a blow to the "proud democratic tradition" of Venezuela.

Footprints

Pence: Trump might walk away from summit with Kim

MikePence
© HuffingtonPost/KJN
US Vice President Mike Pence has said that President Donald Trump still mulls cancelling the scheduled summit with North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un. The military option against the North has never been off the table, either.

The Trump administration will not fall for the same trap with North Korea as its predecessors did, Pence said, hinting that the much-hyped summit between US and North Korean leaders might be off the cards if Trump feels he is being 'played.'
"The Clinton administration, even the Bush administration got played in the past. We offered concessions to the North Korean regime in exchange to the promises to end up the nuclear weapons program only to see them break those promises and abandon them," Pence said in an interview with Fox News' Martha MacCallum on Monday. "It would be a great mistake for Kim Jong-un to think he could play Donald Trump," Pence said.

Comment: Sort of like signing onto the JCPOA and abandoning it?


Asked if that means Trump might still walk away from the hugely anticipated meeting in Singapore on June 12, Pence did not rule it out.

Comment: The mouthy Trump gang is a wild fire out of control. Good luck with that 'dis-plomacy' thing and making the world a safer place...


Clipboard

Pompeo's 12 demands list for Tehran is 'an ultimatum designed to fail'

Fist Flags
© Unknown/KJN
The US has laid out 12 demands for Iran that it says Tehran must meet for a new nuclear deal. Problem is, telling Iranian troops out of Syria and dictating what nuclear watchdog inspects doesn't sound like a real roadmap for peace

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the White House's stance crystal clear Monday, calling the nuclear agreement between Tehran and six world powers a "loser." President Donald Trump has already pulled the US out of the landmark deal earlier this month. A new deal should be drawn up, Pompeo asserted, while laying out 12 "basic requirements." Many of those were predictable, such as requiring Tehran to "stop enrichment of uranium and never preprocess plutonium" - because obviously, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is not good enough to hold Iran to its word.

One major point used as a bargaining chip is, however, entirely unrelated to the Iranian nuclear program. It reads: "Iran must withdraw all forces under Iranian command from Syria."

Comment: Lining it up for war? This is the only logical conclusion to the outrageous verbal attack by Pompeo on Iran -- the only outcome the US-Israel will accept.

See also: Pompeo: 'Terrorist' Iran turned Syria into a 'kill zone' - or was it the US?


Cut

US reevaluates Syria stabilization funding, shifts foci

Syria devastation
© BBC.com
Syrian neighborhood in ruins
The State Department is cutting funding to stabilization programs in northwest Syria, two State Department officials tell Axios. The decision follows a review undertaken at President Trump's request and was made by "Department leadership in consultation with the interagency," a U.S. official told Axios.

What it means: The cuts are to counter violent extremism, civil society, and governance programs. "It's basically cutting losses at this point" since Assad and rebel forces have the northwest region encircled, Melissa Dalton, a former Pentagon official, tells Axios. But things could get much dicier for groups on the ground following the cut.

What happens now:
  • These programs will now go through a "phase-out" over the "coming months," per one official. All existing financial commitments will be upheld.
  • The U.S. will refocus its stabilization efforts in areas liberated from ISIS, and shift resources to its efforts to defeat ISIS in northeast Syria, per one official.

Comment: The US is unwilling to continue funding areas where Assad is taking control.


Jet4

Crying wolf! Syria fired over 100 missiles at our war planes, says Israeli AF chief

Israeli Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin
© Ruby Castro
Israeli Major-General Amikam Norkin
Syrian air defense forces fired more than 100 missiles at Israeli planes attacking targets in Syria during the intense confrontation two weeks ago, an Israeli Air Force commander told colleagues from other nations. Major-General Amikam Norkin briefed fellow military officials from more than 20 nations during a three-day conference held in the city of Herzliya to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the arm of the Israeli military he commands.

He detailed the Israeli point of view on the hostilities, which happened on the night of May 9 and involved the forces of Israel, Syria and Iran. The general said 32 missiles were fired from the Syrian territory at Israeli positions in the occupied Golan Heights. Previous reports by the Israel Defense Force (IDF) stated the number as 20. Four of the missiles were shot down by Israel before they could reach the Golan Heights, he added, confirming earlier reports.

The Israeli planes involved in the operation were attacked by more than 100 surface-to-air missiles during the confrontation, Norkin reported. He reiterated that Israel has ramped up attacks on Syrian territory in response to the alleged build-up of Iranian forces there.

The surge in hostilities two weeks ago began, according to Israel, after Iran launched the attack on the Golan Heights. The IDF responded by sending 28 fighter jets to seek out targets in Syria for about two hours with some 60 air-to-surface missiles.

Comment: Major-General Amikam Norkin has clearly confused the definitions of 'aggressor' and 'defender'.


Star of David

'Americans seen as invaders' as embassy move equates to Israeli occupation

Palestinian slingshot
© Said Khatib
Gaza protest by slingshot
Palestinian politicians have condemned the US for moving its embassy to Jerusalem, likening the move to Israel's seizure of Palestinian land.

Feisal Abu Shahlaa, a member of the Fatah party, said the US is now viewed as "invaders" of Palestinian territories following President Donald Trump's decision to move the country's diplomatic headquarters from Tel Aviv. The US now officially recognizes the city as Israel's capital. "What we see is a seizure of our lands, something only Israelis did before," Abu Shahlaa said in an interview with Sputnik.

Ruhi al Fattuh, a member of Fatah's Central Committee echoed his party colleague's remarks. "The land the US embassy stands on was illegally occupied. The Americans continue the Israeli practice of building settlements in Palestine," Fattuh said.

Fattuh said Palestinians also see the relocation as a breach of international law citing UN Security Council Resolution 478 which ruled out recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital in 1980.

Comment: The accusation has merit. By relocating the US-Israel embassy to Jerusalem, it is not only an invasive move, it is illegal occupation. But, in case international laws don't apply to the US in the Middle East, let's fact-check with Syria.


Magnify

The boyfriend, the boss and the FBI connect to the Italian woman in Mueller's inquiry

Simone Mangiante
© Alessia Pierdomenico/Guardian
Simone Mangiante
Simona Mangiante, the girlfriend of ex-Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos, also worked for a mysterious Russia-linked Maltese professor. No wonder Robert Mueller's investigation came knocking...

Simona Mangiante never expected that a flirtation that began on LinkedIn would lead to a subpoena to appear before federal agents working for Robert Mueller, the US special counsel leading an investigation into Donald Trump and the Kremlin.

But the knock on her door arrived last October, on the day that Mangiante's boyfriend, George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign policy adviser, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI. Under the terms of his plea deal, Papadopoulos also agreed to cooperate in the ongoing criminal investigation.

In an interview with the Guardian in Rome, Mangiante declined to get into specifics about what exactly the FBI asked in the two-and-a-half-hour interrogation, or any of the details of Papadopoulos's ongoing discussions with federal agents.

But she did shed new light on the mystery man who has emerged as a central figure in the Trump investigation: Joseph Mifsud, the Maltese professor who is not mentioned by name in the Papadopoulos indictment - but who prosecutors have alleged was a key middleman between the foreign policy aide and top Russian officials.

Attention

Kremlin: UK's 'Russophobic dirty money campaign' is in violation of WTO regulations

Russian Money
© Russia Magazine/KJN
The UK government's call to toughen sanctions against Moscow over alleged Russian money laundering in London is another sign of hostility towards Russia, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

According to Peskov, Russian companies have been expanding abroad in recent years, and targeting them with sanctions shows a "manifestation of unfriendly, unfair and illegal competition, violating all the rules and regulations of the World Trade Organization."

The UK House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Committee has issued a report named 'Moscow's Gold: Russian Corruption in the UK,' which accuses Russia of "hiding and laundering corrupt assets in London." The report urges the government "to work with the EU, US and G7 to tighten loopholes in the sanctions regime that allow Russia to issue new sovereign debt with the assistance of sanctioned entities such as VTB Bank."

The report should be a signal to other countries, meaning that their money in Britain can be regarded as "dirty," too, said Peskov. "Many countries are working to strengthen their investment attractiveness, I believe that this report is a step in the opposite direction."

Snakes in Suits

Italian Euroskeptic coalition of M5S and Lega Nord announce choice for PM

Giuseppi Conte
© picture-alliance/AP/A Carconi
Giuseppi Conte
Leaders of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) and its right-wing coalition ally Lega Nord have presented to Italian President Sergio Mattarella their pick for prime minister - Giuseppe Conte.

Mattarella must agree on their nominee, before the two parties can seek parliamentary approval for their emerging government. Following the meeting with the president, the PM nomination has been confirmed by the representatives of the parties.

Conte, a 54-year-old law professor, has been named as the candidate from the two parties. They have reached agreement upon the nominee following lengthy negotiations on Sunday.

"We are agreed on the head and the ministers of the government and we hope that no one will veto a choice that represents the will of the majority of Italians," Lega Nord leader Matteo Salvini said on Sunday, describing the nominee as "a professional who contributed to the drafting of the contract" between the two parties.

Comment: Italy is having economic trouble and has taken a positive stance on Russia, sure signs its relations with the EU are on shaky ground. Will this nominee pick and potential restructure of the government strike a better chord?

From Deutsche Welle:
Conte, who was born in the southern province of Foggia and has never been elected to parliament, comes from the M5S side of the coalition.

The now-likely coalition government in Rome made up of the M5S and League parties is on a possible collision course with other EU member states after it announced spending plans likely to increase the country's already towering public debt.

What is in the coalition deal? The two parties agreed to give monthly payments of at least €780 ($920) to Italians living below the poverty line. The deal also foresees a maximum individual tax rate of 15 percent, while business would pay 20 percent at most. The platform includes the introduction of tougher rules on deporting migrants and calls for fostering dialogue with Russia on economic and foreign policy matters.

Why is the EU concerned? Italy is the third-largest economy in the EU, but is running public debt of more than 130 percent of GDP- second only to Greece. Economists and EU policymakers worry that the spending plans contained in the coalition's program will increase the country's debt burden still further. The coalition is also at odds with the EU over its pro-Russian stance and over its euroskeptic attitude, reflected in League leader Matteo Salvini's "Italians First" motto.

In response to the bloc's concerns, M5S's Di Maio said "first let us govern, then you can legitimately criticize us."
From The Duran:
The nomination presents yet another area in which to worry about possible dissension, as popular sentiment, as well as Italian public policy, are increasingly viewing the EU with a degree of distrust. With disparities in economic, security and foreign policy interests, Italy and the EU sit on opposing sides of the table.

The EU worries that Italy could be the next Greece, with threats of an EU exit or default on their debt, together with a refusal to abide by the bloc's policies on numerous issues, Italy acts as yet another centrifugal force within Western Europe.



Footprints

Swedish news assessment: Invading Russia would become a 'military nightmare'

Russian winterarmy
© Kazbek Basayev/Reuters
Russian army soldiers in winter camouflage
Entering Russia would become a "military nightmare" for any army, according to a rating of the hardest countries to invade compiled by Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet. Military might, the size of territory and the difficulty of terrain are among the key factors that determine the country's defensive capability, the paper wrote.

Based on these criteria, the Swedish journalists pointed out that "whomever considers the idea of invading Russia must be prepared to handle all kinds of terrain." The enemy would face desolate mountains, impenetrable swamps, frozen tundra, turbulent rivers, and dark forests in Russia, they said, adding that hot summers and chilling winters would also pose a challenge.

"And then we have the Russians themselves, who for thousands of years, having participated in both large-scale wars and guerrilla warfare, gained a lot of experience," the article said.

The conclusions made by Svenska Dagbladet are backed by Russian history itself, as the country has never been conquered since the creation of a centralized state in Russia in the early 15th century. The Russians have thwarted all attempts to invade their land, defeating among others the armies of French Emperor Napoleon in 1812 and Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler in 1941-45 - who were both considered unstoppable at the time.

Comment: Invading Russia, by any state, should be considered a 'non-starter.' Fortunately for those compulsive war regimes, there are plenty of alternative ways to accommodate ultimate destruction without putting forth a traditional marching army and rolling tanks.