Trump administration says Moscow poses a threat by aiding Saudi Arabia’s opponents

U.S. President Donald Trump welcomes Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 20, 2018. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
Updated 21 March 2018
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Trump administration says Moscow poses a threat by aiding Saudi Arabia’s opponents

WASHINGTON: Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed ways of putting pressure on Russia in opposition to what the US sees as its destabilizing role in the Middle East.
Ahead of talks between the two leaders, in Washington on Tuesday, a senior US administration official said Russia posed a threat to Saudi Arabia’s secuy by aiding Riyadh’s opponents, particularly in Yemen and Syria, and by backing Iran.
“Ultimately, the discussions will center on how can we find joint ways to make Russia pay a price for its activities in Syria and its support for Iran’s missile proliferation into Yemen — all of which risks deepening this crisis and leading to major regional catastrophe,” the official said.
The official, who made the remarks in a briefing to journalists, cited “reckless missile attacks against Saudi Arabia and the Emirates” and attacks on shipping in the Red Sea, as examples of Tehran targeting Riyadh, then being protected from US punitive economic sanctions by Russian vetoes at the UN Security Council.
Trump spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, to congratulate him on his re-election to another six year term of office.
He said the two leaders would “probably be meeting in the not-too-distant future to discuss the arms race, which is getting out of control”. They also needed to talk about Syria, Ukraine and North Korea, Trump said.
Russian-Saudi ties have remained strong, including the first visit by a Saudi leader when King Salman visited Moscow in October.
As a result of that trip, Riyadh agreed to purchase an advanced anti-aircraft missile system from Russia, and made deals on oil production.
Washington has made little secret of the fact that it sees Russia as playing the role of both arsonist and fire fighter in its dealings with Saudi Arabia — aiding Tehran and its proxies to shoot increasingly advanced missiles at Riyadh, and then selling defense systems to counter the threat.
“The Russians are helpful on one hand but, behind the scenes, have ratcheted up the prices and ultimately posed greater threats to the Kingdom in ways that are subtly deigned to undermine the US-Saudi relationship,” the administration official said.
The official said the US president would also remind the Saudi crown prince that Russia had pledged to supply Iran with advanced tanks and attack aircraft, when prohibitions against conventional weapon supplies to Iran, put in place as part of the nuclear program deal, come to an end.
Saudi Arabia, its regional allies and the US have taken an increasingly hawkish stance toward Iran, which they see as a growing threat in the region, with an overbearing influence in Baghdad, Sanaa, Beirut and Damascus.
Russian political and military backing has been central in allowing Iran, Syria and Iranian-backed groups in Lebanon and Iraq to form such a powerful bloc. Ranged against them are the US and its Middle Eastern allies, including Saudi Arabia.
Last month, Russia drew condemnation from the US and its allies after it vetoed a UN Security Council resolution that would have pressured Iran over the transfer of weapons to Houthi militias in Yemen.
The decision by the Trump administration to directly address Moscow’s role in talks with Saudi Arabia touches on a difficult subject for the White House.
A special investigation is currently under way into Russian interference in the US election, including efforts by Moscow to promote Trump’s candidacy and block Hillary Clinton’s election.
The probe has infuriated Trump, who insists there has been no collusion between his campaign and Russia.
Special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who is heading the investigation, has so far secured a guilty plea for giving false testimony to federal agents from Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. He has also filed charges against Paul Manafort, Mr.Trump’s former campaign manager, and his deputy Richard Gates, and indicted 13 Russians.
The investigation, which has transfixed Washington and hamstrung the US president during his first year in office, appears to be edging ever closer to Trump himself.


Trump backers seize on case of jailed UK far-right activist

Updated 7 min 7 sec ago
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Trump backers seize on case of jailed UK far-right activist

  • Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, widely known by his pseudonym Tommy Robinson, was imprisoned for 13 months earlier this year for live-streaming outside a court
  • Conspiracy theories about his case have spread wildly on social media, drawing particular attention in the United States among supporters of the so-called “alt-right”

LONDON: Supporters of US President Donald Trump are taking up the cause of an anti-Islam activist jailed in Britain for contempt of court, raising fears of a far-right revival.
Stephen Yaxley-Lennon, widely known by his pseudonym Tommy Robinson, was imprisoned for 13 months earlier this year for live-streaming outside a court in breach of reporting restrictions around a trial.
Robinson is the founder of the English Defense League (EDL), a fringe group protesting perceived threats from Islamic extremism, and he has a string of convictions on charges including assault, fraud and drugs possession.
The name he uses is that of a well-known football hooligan.
Conspiracy theories about his case have spread wildly on social media, drawing particular attention in the United States among supporters of the so-called “alt-right.”
The campaign spread further after Donald Trump Jr, the US president’s son, retweeted a comment about Robinson.
Trump himself drew severe condemnation in November after retweeting three misleading anti-Muslim videos originally posted by Britain First, another far-right group.
Steve Bannon, former White House chief strategist, defended Robinson on London’s LBC radio last week, reportedly describing him off-mic as “the backbone” of Britain.
The new cause celebre of the populist far-right in Britain even breached diplomatic circles after Sam Brownback, Trump’s envoy for international religious freedom, raised the issue with British ambassador Kim Darroch at a June lunch.
But anti-racism group Hope Not Hate said the notion that Robinson had been wrongly imprisoned was “incorrect and conspiratorial,” calling him a “violent far-right racist.”
Times newspaper columnist Francis Eliott warned that the Robinson case, allied with disillusionment over Brexit and fear of immigration, could create “a far-right revival” — all “powered by alt-right cash.”
Two recent pro-Robinson protests in central London, at which some demonstrators made Nazi salutes, saw violent confrontations with police and counter-demonstrators.
US Republican Congressman Paul Gosar came under heavy criticism for speaking at one of the rallies last Saturday during Trump’s visit to Britain.
“It is inexplicable for a sitting US congressman to speak at, let alone attend a rally for someone responsible for spreading as much hate and bigotry as Tommy Robinson, Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Arizona branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said in a statement.
Robinson gained notoriety in Britain after the EDL staged demonstrations in 2013 which often ended in clashes with anti-fascist demonstrators.
He was previously jailed for using someone else’s passport to enter the United States, which had refused him entry because of drug offenses, and has a number of other convictions.
In May, Robinson was arrested outside a court in Leeds in northern England and pleaded guilty to the contempt charge.
He was given 10 months in jail and another three months for breaching a suspended sentence for another contempt charge related to a separate case.
Reporting restrictions are imposed in all court proceedings in Britain, and are intended to avoid media reports that could influence the jury.
Raheem Kassam, a former editor-in-chief of Breitbart News London and one-time top aide to leading Brexiteer Nigel Farage, told AFP he was working to “internationalize” Robinson’s cause and organize support rallies.
“When the left see an injustice, it rallies an international caucus of people together... and we don’t do that enough on our side,” he said, adding the shift in tactics was “just the start.”
The US-based Middle East Forum — a right-wing think-tank where Kassam is a fellow — is also helping Robinson “legally, diplomatically and politically,” according to its director Gregg Roman.
It has spent tens of thousands of dollars footing the bills for Robinson’s defense and protests — including Gosar’s trip to London.
A spokesman for Hope Not Hate decried the increasing American interest in the case, describing Robinson as “a lightning rod for an international coterie of far-right, anti-Muslim activists and extremists.”
Noting a “clear plan” by alt-right figures like Bannon “to pressure our authorities to ameliorate his sentence,” he added: “These attempts to sway our legal system and the paths of justice must not prevail.”
Robinson is currently appealing his sentence, with a three-judge panel set to rule by the end of the month.