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

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during a lunch meeting with US President Donald Trump in the White House in Washington on Tuesday. (AFP)
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 security 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.
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 designed 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 underway 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.


Mahomes on ‘cloud ten’ and Manning’s demise: Four things we learned from NFL Week 2

Updated 11 min 3 sec ago
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Mahomes on ‘cloud ten’ and Manning’s demise: Four things we learned from NFL Week 2

Patrick Mahomes is in wonderland
The Kansas City Chiefs’ quarterback Patrick Mahome has made a dream start to the season, following up a four-touchdown opening game last week with a six-touchdown performance at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field this weekend. It is the first time in the NFL’s 99-year history that 10 TDs have been thrown in the first two weeks by one QB, beating the previous record held by Peyton Manning (2013), Drew Brees (2009) and Charley Johnson (1965). Mahome’s spreading of the ball was sublime and his laser-like precision to his wide receivers was a joy to behold. We always knew this kid had talent after his first career appearance at the back end of last season, but this start has shown that he has the ability to shine in this league.

Eli Manning is past it
Once tipped to be even better than his older brother Peyton, Eli Manning’s stellar career seems to be declining with each week that passes. While not as technically gifted as Peyton, his prowess in the clutch and remarkable postseason performances in the past meant he dragged the New York Giants to two Super Bowl victories, claiming two Most Valuable Player awards in both of the big games and has Giants franchise records coming out of his ears. But in recent seasons, he has failed to maintain those heights. And so far this year, Manning looks a shadow of his former self, struggling for a second week in a row against divisional rivals Dallas Cowboys.
Some of the blame can be laid at the door of the Giants’ offensive line, which allowed six sacks in this week’s defeat to Dallas. But Manning was overthrowing or making bad decisions on plays. For all the attacking talent the Giants have, it is useless if Manning cannot put the ball in the right areas. It will be sad to witness if this truly is the beginning of the end for such a talented player.

Oakland Raiders underachieving again
The team in the NFL with the most infamous fans, the Raiders faithful revel in their plucky underdog status; their “rogues of the West” image. But they now desperately want that first Super Bowl victory since 1983. Pre-season signs were good that they might have a shot, especially with Jon Gruden, Oakland’s $100 million man, at the helm. But they have gone 0-2 for the first two games and the omens do not look good. In both games — defeats to the LA Rams and this weekend to Denver Broncos — the Raiders managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. With a lack of total team execution on show in six quarters of the eight so far this season, Gruden will need gutsier plays at the end of games if they are to turn the corner.

Matthew Stafford cannot win games on his own
For too many seasons now, Matthew Stafford has had to carry this Detroit Lions team’s hopes on his shoulders. Long gone are the horrific days of 2008, when the franchise went 0-16 for the entire season. And that is thanks to the arrival in 2009 of quarterback Matthew Stafford. Their form improved as they had a winning season in 2011 (10-6), and Stafford’s heroics have seen the Lions make intermittent Playoff appearances in recent years. But his poor start to the season cannot be blamed for the Lions’ subsequent bad opening. When he has a bad game, he needs his teammates to pick up the slack, something they have not done so far this year.