In reversal, Trump says he and intel chiefs on ‘same page’

US President Donald Trump blames media as he reverses his stand on the assessment of the intelligence service on the country's security concerns. (AFP / Alex Edelman
Updated 01 February 2019
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In reversal, Trump says he and intel chiefs on ‘same page’

WASHINGTON: A day after he lashed out at US intelligence agency chiefs over their assessments of global threats, President Donald Trump abruptly reversed course Thursday and said that he and the intelligence community “are all on the same page.”
Trump met with his director of national intelligence and other top security officials in the Oval Office and said afterward that they told him their testimony at a Senate hearing had been “mischaracterized” by the news media.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other Democrats had slammed the president for his comments disparaging Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, CIA Director Gina Haspel and other top security officials.
The officials told Congress on Tuesday that North Korea is unlikely to dismantle its nuclear arsenal and that the Iran nuclear deal is working, contrary to what Trump has claimed.
The intelligence agency chiefs “said that they were totally misquoted and ... it was taken out of context,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “They said it was fake news.”
Coats and other officials presented an update to the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday on their annual assessment of global threats. In a public report and testimony broadcast on C-SPAN, they warned of an increasingly diverse range of security dangers around the globe, from North Korean nuclear weapons to Chinese cyberespionage to Russian campaigns to undermine Western democracies.
Trump tweeted Thursday that he and the intelligence leaders “are very much in agreement on Iran, Daesh, North Korea, etc.” and that he values their service.
“Happily, we had a very good meeting, and we are all on the same page!” he wrote.
Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that the intelligence officials were “courageous” in speaking “truth to power” by publicly contradicting Trump.
“One dismaying factor of it all is that the president just doesn’t seem to have the attention span or the desire to hear what the intelligence community has been telling him,” Pelosi said Thursday, calling Trump’s comments attacking the intelligence leaders “cause for concern.”
Trump said earlier that intelligence officials were wrong about North Korea, Iran and the Islamic State, which they said remains a terrorist and insurgent threat.
“Perhaps Intelligence should go back to school!” Trump tweeted Wednesday.
Pelosi said Trump’s comments were “stunning.”
“It’s important for the Republicans in Congress to recognize they have to weigh in with the president to say, ‘You can’t act without knowledge,’” Pelosi said.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said it was “past time” for US intelligence officials to stage an intervention with Trump.
In a letter to Coats, Schumer called Trump’s criticism of intelligence agencies “extraordinarily inappropriate” and said it could undermine public confidence in the government’s ability to protect Americans.
Schumer urged Coats and other officials to “educate” Trump about the facts and raw intelligence underlying threat assessments so the administration can speak “with a unified and accurate voice about national security threats.”
Asked about his tweets earlier Thursday, Trump did not back away from questioning the assessment by Coats and Haspel.
“I disagree with certain things that they said. I think I’m right, but time will prove that, time will prove me right probably,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “I think Iran is a threat. I think I did a great thing when I terminated the ridiculous Iran nuclear deal. It was a horrible one-sided deal.”
Speaking about intelligence agencies generally, Trump added: “I have great respect for a lot people but I don’t always agree with everybody.”
At a hearing Tuesday, Coats said intelligence information does not support the idea that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will eliminate his nuclear weapons.
Trump later insisted on Twitter that the US relationship with North Korea “is the best it has ever been.” He pointed to the North’s halt in nuclear and missile tests, the return of some US service members’ remains and the release of detained Americans as signs of progress.
US intelligence agencies also said Iran continues to work with other parties to the nuclear deal it reached with the US and other world powers. In doing so, they said, Iran has at least temporarily lessened the nuclear threat. In May 2018, Trump withdrew the US from that accord, which he said would not deter Iran.
“The Intelligence people seem to be extremely passive and naive when it comes to the dangers of Iran,” Trump tweeted. “They are wrong!“


Pakistan bracing for austere budget under IMF, finance chief says

Updated 25 May 2019
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Pakistan bracing for austere budget under IMF, finance chief says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is preparing a belt-tightening budget to tame its fiscal deficit, the de facto finance minister said on Saturday, adding that both civilian and military rulers agreed austerity measures were needed to stabilise the economy.
But Hafeez Shaikh, Prime Minister Imran Khan's top finance adviser, declined to say whether the military's hefty budget would be cut following last week's agreement in principle with the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion loan.
The IMF has said the primary budget deficit should be trimmed by the equivalent of $5 billion, but previous civilian rulers have rarely dared to trim defence spending for fear of stoking tensions with the military.
Unlike some other civilian leaders in Pakistan's fragile democracy, Khan appears to have good relations with the country's powerful generals.
More than half of state spending currently goes on the military and debt-servicing costs, however, limiting the government's options for reducing expenditure.
"The budget that is coming will have austerity, that means that the government's expenditures will be put at a minimum level," Shaikh told a news conference in the capital Islamabad on Saturday, a few weeks before the budget for the 2019/20 fiscal year ending in June is due to be presented.
"We are all standing together in it whether civilians or our military," said Shaikh, a former finance minister appointed by Khan as part of a wider shake-up of his economic team in the last two months.
In the days since last week's agreement with the IMF, the rupee currency dropped 5% against the dollar and has lost a third of its value in the past year.
Under the IMF's terms, the government is expected to let the rupee fall to help correct an unsustainable current account deficit and cut its debt while trying to expand the tax base in a country where only 1% of people file returns.
Shaikh has been told by the IMF that the primary budget deficit -- excluding interest payments -- should be cut to 0.6% of GDP, implying a $5 billion reduction from the current projection for a deficit of 2.2% of GDP.
The next fiscal year's revenue collection target will be 5.55 trillion rupees ($36.88 billion), Shaikh told the news conference, highlighting the need for tough steps to broaden the tax base.