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Top diplomat implicates Donald Trump in explosive impeachment testimony – News in USA by Post24x7

2019-11-21 02:53:00
Gordon Sondland

Gordon Sondland, the US envoy to the European Union and a Trump ally, told lawmakers he followed Trump’s orders in seeking a “quid pro quo” deal for Ukraine to probe Democrat Joe Biden in exchange for a White House summit.

The US leader, Sondland said, directed him and other diplomats to work with his personal lawyer Giuliani, who he said mounted a pressure campaign on the government of Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Giuliani’s demands, he said, were for Kiev to investigate Biden and to probe a conspiracy theory, espoused by Trump, that Ukraine helped Democrats against him in 2016.

“Mr Giuliani’s requests were a quid pro quo for arranging a White House visit for President Zelensky,” Sondland said.

Far from being a “rogue” operation outside normal US diplomatic channels, Sondland told the hearing top officials in the White House and State Department — including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — were kept constantly informed.

“We followed the president’s orders,” in working with Giuliani, he testified before the House Intelligence Committee.

‘Witch Hunt must end NOW’

Democrats said Sondland’s testimony strongly supported allegations of abuse of power that would justify Trump’s impeachment.

“Today’s testimony is among the most significant evidence to date,” said Adam Schiff, the committee chairman leading the inquiry.

“It goes right to the heart of the issue of bribery as well as other potential high crimes or misdemeanors,” he said.

Tweeting as he headed to Texas on board Air Force One, Trump asserted on the contrary that Sondland had exonerated him, and demanded an immediate end to the impeachment probe.

“Impeachment Witch Hunt is now OVER!” Trump wrote. “This Witch Hunt must end NOW. So bad for our Country!”

Addressing reporters earlier at the White House, Trump reenacted segments of the day’s testimony to hammer home his point.

“‘What do you want from Ukraine?'” the president quoted Sondland as asking him, reading from large-print notes.

“Here is my answer: ‘I want nothing. I want nothing. I want no quid pro quo. Tell Zelensky to do the right thing,'” added the president.

“I would say that means it’s all over.”

Trump also sought to distance himself from Sondland — whose testimony was closely watched as a political appointee — saying he did “not know him very well.”

Top officials knew of policy

A hotel developer named ambassador after donating $1 million to Trump’s inauguration, Sondland was at the center of efforts to convince Zelensky to do the US bidding on the investigations in order to obtain a meeting with Trump, and also to unlock $391 million on aid put on hold in July.

Sondland told lawmakers a White House summit was explicitly tied to the investigations, meant to target Burisma, an Ukrainian energy company on which former vice president Biden’s son Hunter had held a paid board position.

But he said he figured out himself that the unexplained, White House-ordered hold on security aid was also tied to the investigations — although he never discussed the issue with Trump.

“In the absence of any credible explanation for the suspension of aid, I later came to believe that the resumption of security aid would not occur until there was a public statement from Ukraine committing to the investigations of the 2016 election and Burisma, as Mr Giuliani had demanded,” he said.

“I never heard from President Trump that aid was conditioned on an announcement” of the investigations, he added.

Pressed on how much he knew of Trump’s motivations and his discussions with other officials, Sondland frequently said he “could not remember” certain details.

But he stressed that all the top foreign affairs-related officials in the Trump administration were “in the loop” on his Ukraine activities.

He said Pompeo had directed the US pointman on Ukraine, Ambassador Kurt Volker, to also work with Giuliani.

Asked if Pompeo had been made aware that Trump wanted a Ukrainian investigation of Biden in exchange for a meeting and aid, Sondland replied: “Yes.”

Pompeo has repeatedly denounced the impeachment inquiry and has drawn fire for failing to defend career employees caught up in the scandal.

Sondland’s testimony firmed up the possibility the investigation could wrap up this week, with evidence then sent to the House Judiciary Committee to draw up articles of impeachment — formal charges against the president.

Trump’s impeachment by the Democratic-controlled House would place him on trial in the Senate, where a Republican majority could protect him from removal.

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Opinion | America’s Iranian headache – News in USA by Post24x7

2019-11-18 15:26:00
Donald Trump

When US President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq in response to the terror attacks of 11 September 2001, few had foreseen what a set of leaked documents appears to confirm: that Tehran now wields significant influence over Baghdad. According to a report in The New York Times, hundreds of secret intelligence reports have come to light that point to this.

Iranian domination of Iraq is hardly a big revelation, though. Like Iran, Iraq has a Shia Muslim majority. Saddam Hussein’s regime, the one deposed by the US, was largely Sunni. A power shift in Baghdad was sure to empower followers of Islam’s minority Shia sect in this war-ravaged country, and while Iraq’s Arabic milieu is distinct from Iran’s Persian culture, a sectarian affiliation has taken political precedence in the river basin of the Tigris and Euphrates.

Saudi Arabia and other Sunni regimes in West Asia have been getting nervous about Iran’s rise as a regional power of sorts. Tehran’s arc of influence is currently seen to extend all the way across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon to its west. As sectarian tensions in the neighbourhood have risen, Tehran has managed to arm proxy militias and acquire strike forces in various other places as well. If it develops a nuclear weapon, its US-allied rivals fear, its ambitions could grow too big for them to contain. Some analysts suspect that Tehran has designs on Saudi-allied Bahrain, another Shia majority country with a Sunni power structure. Maintaining the region’s power balance was supposed to be America’s job, but under President Donald Trump, it’s not clear if the US has a workable plan. A military attack on Iran is likely to have a series of unintended consequences that could worsen things for the US and its allies. A peace deal seems the only way out.

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WTO rejects most Indian claims against US steel duties – News in USA by Post24x7

2019-11-15 23:00:00

World Trade Organization adjudicators on Friday rejected most of India’s claims that the United States was not respecting an earlier WTO ruling related to anti-subsidy duties on Indian steel.

India had complained that the United States failed to meet an April 2016 deadline to comply with a WTO decision that faulted it over its imposition of “countervailing” duties on hot-rolled carbon steel products from India.

Despite US duties still applying, the WTO panel rejected many of the Indian complaints, although it did say that the United States needed to bring a legislative provision into line with WTO rules.

India brought its original complaint to the WTO in April 2012, after the US Commerce Department set an import duty of nearly 286 percent on a circular welded carbon-quality steel pipe product from India to offset government subsidies.

The Commerce Department acted after receiving a petition from Allied Tube and Conduit, JMC Steel Group, Wheatland Tube and United States Steel Corp.

In 2014, the WTO found that for a variety of reasons the U.S. measures breached global trade rules. The two parties agreed that the United States would comply with that ruling by 2016, but then disagreed over whether it had done so.

Either side could appeal against the panel’s latest findings. If a country does not comply with a WTO ruling, the other party can ask to impose sanctions.

In the extremely complex case, India argued that the price of the steel pipe was set by the market, but the United States said the iron ore used to make it came from a state-run mining firm, NMDC, effectively subsidizing Indian exporters.

India’s complaint alleging US non-compliance listed 14 areas where it said the United States was in breach of the international trade rules.

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US has a ‘very good’ relationship with India, says Donald Trump – News in USA by Post24x7

2019-11-08 23:30:00
Donald Trump

The US has a “very good” relationship with India and a lot of things are happening between the two countries, US President Donald Trump said on Friday.

Trump, who has accepted an invitation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi to travel to India, said that he would be going there at some point of time.

“We have a lot of things happening with India. We have a very good relationship with India,” Trump told reporters on the South Lawns of the White House when asked about the progress in his trade deal with India.

Trump, during his meeting with Modi in New York in September, said the two countries are working on a trade deal.

Officials from both India and the US have said that the work is in progress and are hoping to ink it before the end of the year.

“We are dealing with India on a lot of different things,” Trump said in response to questions. However, he did not elaborate.

Prime Minster Modi “is a very good friend of mine,” Trump said as he referred to the historic ‘Howdy Modi’ event in Houston in September.

Trump in an unusual decision flew to Houston to join Modi in addressing more than 50,000 Indian-Americans.

It was “great”, the President said.

Asked about his plans to visit India, he said: “I will be going at some point to India”.

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H-1B visa: USCIS announces new non-refundable fee for registration – News in USA by Post24x7

2019-11-08 08:50:00

US Citizenship and Immigration Services announced a final rule that will require a $10 non-refundable fee for each H-1B registration submitted by petitioning employers, under the electronic registration system.

The H-1B program allows companies in the United States to temporarily employ foreign workers in occupations that require the application of a body of highly specialized knowledge and a bachelor’s degree or higher in the specific specialty, or its equivalent.

The registration fee is part of an agency-wide effort to modernize and more efficiently process applications to live or work in the United States.

Upon implementation of the electronic registration system, petitioners seeking to file H-1B cap-subject petitions, including those eligible for the advanced degree exemption, will first have to electronically register with USCIS during a designated registration period, unless the requirement is suspended.

“This effort will help implement a more efficient and effective H-1B cap selection process,” said USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli. “The electronic registration system is part of an agency-wide initiative to modernize our immigration system while deterring fraud, improving vetting procedures and strengthening program integrity.”

The final rule, Registration Fee Requirement for Petitioners Seeking to File H-1B Petitions on Behalf of Cap-Subject Aliens, is effective Dec. 9, 2019, and the fee will be required when registrations are submitted. USCIS is fee-funded, and this non-refundable fee will support the new electronic registration system to make the H-1B cap selection process more efficient for both petitioners and the agency.

USCIS is slated to implement the registration process for the fiscal year 2021 H-1B cap selection process, pending completed testing of the system.

The agency will announce the implementation timeframe and initial registration period in the Federal Register once a formal decision has been made, and USCIS will offer ample notice to the public in advance of implementing the registration requirement.

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US accuses Beijing of ‘intimidation’ in South China Sea – News in USA by Post24x7

2019-11-04 23:51:00

Washington and Beijing traded tit-for-tat barbs over the disputed South China Sea at a regional summit in Bangkok Monday, with the US accusing the fellow superpower of intimidating claimants in the resource-rich waterway.

China hit back with a veiled criticism of the US, accusing it of ratcheting up tensions in the waters, a key global shipping route.

Beijing lays claim to huge swathes of the sea where it is accused of building military installations and fake islands, and ramming fishing vessels.

The US has long accused it of bullying fellow claimants — Vietnam, Taiwan, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei — calling for freedom of navigation in the area.

US national security adviser Robert O’Brien doubled down on America’s rhetoric against China on Monday, speaking at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

“Beijing has used intimidation to try and stop ASEAN nations from exploiting their offshore resources,” he said, addressing an ASEAN meeting Monday.

“Big countries should not bully other countries,” he later told reporters.

China’s deputy foreign minister Le Yucheng meanwhile accused some outside countries of “meddling” in the sea, answering a question on US comments about the waters.

“Some non-regional countries cannot live with calm waters in the South China Sea and have come all this way to make waves,” he said in an apparent jab at the US.

In return, O’Brien later said “we don’t think we’re meddlers”.

“We always come when we’re invited, unlike other countries,” he said after Le’s comments emerged.

Tensions have flared in the flashpoint waterway in recent weeks after China deployed a survey ship to waters claimed by Hanoi.

Though the communist neighbours have long feuded over the sea, Hanoi fought back with fiery language after the most recent incursion.

The ship left after a few weeks, but Vietnam could seek tougher language in the final ASEAN communique expected to be delivered later on Monday.

Vietnam is pushing for mention of “specific incidents” in the document, “while the other sides rather want a general statement”, Philippines’ finance secretary Sonny Dominguez told reporters earlier.

China’s premier Li Keqiang said Sunday Beijing was committed to progress on a Code of Conduct agreement, which it has repeatedly delayed since talks first started in 2002 while carrying out its expansionist strategy in the sea.

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China can impose retaliatory measures to tune of $3.5 bn on US goods: WTO – News in USA by Post24x7

2019-11-02 01:19:00

China on Friday secured the green signal from an arbitrator at the World Trade Organization to slap retaliatory duties worth $ 3.579 billion annually on the American goods. The WTO’s Arbitrator’s decision came after the US failed to implement the trade body’s recommendations against several aspect of the US anti-dumping methodologies used in the investigations involving Chinese products.

Washington was required to implement the WTO’s recommendations against the controversial US’ anti-dumping methodologies used in anti-dumping investigations against Chinese products by 22 August 2018. But, the US has failed to implement the recommendations until now.

China has demanded the arbitrator to allow Beijing to impose $ 7.043 billion annually based on the “level of nullification or impairment” that it had suffered because of the US’ anti-dumping methodologies. But the Arbitrator rejected the Chinese demand and concluded that China can only impose retaliatory duties up to $ 3.579 billion annually on American goods.

China can now ask the WTO’s dispute settlement body for authorization to slap retaliatory tariffs om imported American goods valued up to the annual amout fixed by arbitrator.

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump announced on Thursday that China and the U.S. are in the process of selecting a new site to sign what he has called phase one of a broader trade agreement between the two countries. Even as the two sides are closing in on an the major bilateral trade agreement, the two sides continued to spar over a range of issues at the WTO.

Earlier, the US President want to sign the deal with China during a November summit of nations from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation group in Chile. But Chilean President Sebastian Piñera announced on Wednesday cancelled the meeting because of continued backlash against his government’s economic policies.

Against this backdrop, President Trump tweeted on Thursday that “the new location will be announced soon.” He claimed “President Xi and President Trump will do signing!”

The US and Chinese negotiators are negotiating to conclude the phase one deal, which was agreed to in principle last month. The deal will include substantial purchases of American farm products, including pork and soybeans. It will also cover some aspects concerning improvements in intellectual property rights and provisions aimed at stopping currency manipulation.

However, the deal is well short of addressing any of the structural changes that the US had demanded in the Chinese trade policy regime, especially the elimination of subsidies to the state-owned enterprises. China also demanded that all security-related sanctions against Chinese telecom company Huawei and other Chinese chip-makers be removed for a larger trade agreement.

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