John McCain: ‘A great friend of Saudi Arabia’

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With Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. (WAM)
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John McCain
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Tourists view photos of McCain atHoa Lo prison, where he was held prisoner for five years. (AFP)
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McCain is greeted by US President Richard Nixon, left, on his return to the US after being freed from a prisoner-of-war camp in North Vietnam. (AP)
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The presidential hopeful with his daughter Meghan in 2008. (AFP)
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Flowers placed for McCain at a Vietnamese memorial to the former fighter pilot and prisoner of war. (AFP)
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McCain meets King Salman (right) during a 2017 visit to Riyadh. (WAM)
Updated 27 August 2018

John McCain: ‘A great friend of Saudi Arabia’

  • McCain may have lost his bids for the US presidency, but he won the respect of all who remembered him
  • McCain was considered a friend of Saudi Arabia and the Arab world at large

DUBAI: An American voice for many countries across the Gulf and a friend of the region, US Senator John McCain, who died on Saturday at the age of 81, was remembered as a beacon of hope in US-Gulf relations.
From Saudi Arabia to the UAE, McCain paid a number of visits to the region, where prominent figures recognized him for his work to improving security, stability and mutual relationships.
After 60 years serving his country, McCain, the former presidential candidate died at his home in Cornville, Arizona. McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer in July 2017 and underwent brain surgery. Although a survivor of previous cancers, his family announced on Aug. 24 that he would no longer be receiving treatment for his illness.
Officials were quick to pay their respects by taking to Twitter to offer their condolences. Saudi Arabia’s Ambassador to the US, Prince Khalid bin Salman, tweeted: “Sincerest condolences to the American people on the loss of John McCain, an American hero who dedicated his life to serving his country and advancing global peace and security. He was a great friend of the Kingdom, a truly respected and trustworthy statesman. We will miss him.”
McCain’s office issued a statement that he had died at 4:28 p.m. with his wife Cindy and his family by his side.
His wife tweeted on Sunday: “My heart is broken. I am so lucky to have lived the adventure of loving this incredible man for 38 years. He passed the way he lived, on his own terms, surrounded by the people he loved, in the place he loved best.”
McCain was a former prisoner of war in Vietnam who ran for the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2000, but lost to George W. Bush. In 2008, he was the Republican presidential candidate who lost to Democrat Barack Obama.
A senator for Arizona for more than 30 years, he was a strong critic of US President Donald Trump, who also tweeted: “My deepest sympathies and respect go out to the family of Senator John McCain. Our hearts and prayers are with you.”
McCain was considered a friend of Saudi Arabia and the Arab world at large. In 2015, he visited the Kingdom as part of a regional tour focused on training Syrian rebels.
“Throughout his career, Senator John McCain was a true friend of Saudi Arabia,” said Fahad Nazer, a fellow at the National Council on US Arab Relations. “He understood and appreciated the importance of strong US-Saudi relations for the security and prosperity of both nations.”
Nazer said McCain’s support for the Kingdom’s special partnership with the US never wavered. “In recognition, he was given a special award at the Saudi-US partnership dinner that was organized when Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Washington this spring. His colleague and friend, Senator Lindsey Graham, accepted the award on his behalf.”
Later on, in February last year, McCain visited Riyadh to hold talks with King Salman. They discussed ways to strengthen US-Saudi relations. “McCain was a well-known veteran politician in American and international politics, who worked on military as well as political affairs, particularly in US domestic policy,” said Salem Alyami, political analyst and former adviser at the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“With regards to the Middle East, and during the past three decades, he had a powerful presence as one of the elements influencing US policy towards the region. I believe that there will be special sadness and mourning for him in Saudi Arabia because his death means the great loss of a man who worked with Saudis on various matters.”
Despite his waning influence on US and foreign policy after the formation of the Trump administration, McCain will remain an influential figure in the US and the rest of the world, Alyami said.
In 2017, McCain twice visited the UAE, where he discussed regional and international developments with Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces.
On Sunday, Sheikh Mohammed tweeted that the US had lost one of its most prominent and respected activists. “We shared a long friendship and worked together to strengthen bilateral cooperation. My sincere condolences to his family, friends and the American people.”
Flags were flying at half-staff at the White House on Sunday morning after officials expressed their sympathies. “Keeping Senator John McCain and his family in our thoughts and prayers,” tweeted Heather Nauert, spokesperson at the US State Department. “His spirit continues to inspire.”
Former US president Barack Obama and his wife, Michelle, also offered their condolences. “Few of us have been tested the way John once was, or required to show the kind of courage that he did. But all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means. And for that, we are all in his debt.”
Other officials joined in, with Scott Morrison, Australia’s prime minister, calling McCain “a true friend of Australia who was committed to strengthening the alliance between our two nations. He was a man of great courage and conviction.”
In the UK, Prime Minister Theresa May referred to McCain as “a great statesman” who embodied the idea of service over self. “It was an honour to call him a friend of the UK,” she said.
French President Emmanuel Macron also paid tribute to McCain, calling him “a true American hero. He devoted his entire life to his country. His voice will be missed.”
McCain started his military career training to become a naval pilot. He completed flight school in 1960 and became a pilot of ground-attack aircraft. He became a lieutenant commander and was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal and the Bronze Star Medal for missions flown over North Vietnam, where he was shot down and spent five years as a prisoner of war. He retired from the navy in 1981.
In 1987, he began his political career and was a member of the Armed Services Committee. He later became a senator, from 2000 to 2008.
Secretary of Defense James Mattis issued a statement following McCain’s death, stating: “We have lost a man who steadfastly represented the best ideals of our country. As a naval officer and defiant prisoner of war, John McCain stood with his brothers-in-arms until they returned home together.”
McCain will receive a full-dress funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral, where US Vice President Mike Pence is expected to represent the current administration, before being buried in Annapolis, Maryland.

President Donald Trump gets heat for urging Ukraine probe

Updated 21 September 2019

President Donald Trump gets heat for urging Ukraine probe

  • Democrats condemned what they saw as a clear effort to damage a political
  • It was the latest revelation in an escalating controversy that has created a showdown between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump urged the new leader of Ukraine this summer to investigate the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a person familiar with the matter said.

Democrats condemned what they saw as a clear effort to damage a political rival, now at the heart of an explosive whistleblower complaint against Trump.

It was the latest revelation in an escalating controversy that has created a showdown between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration, which has refused to turn over the formal complaint by a national security official or even describe its contents.

Trump defended himself Friday against the intelligence official’s complaint, angrily declaring it came from a “partisan whistleblower,” though he also said he didn’t know who had made it. The complaint was based on a series of events, one of which was a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to a two people familiar with the matter. The people were not authorized to discuss the issue by name and were granted anonymity.

Trump, in that call, urged Zelenskiy to probe the activities of potential Democratic rival Biden’s son Hunter, who worked for a Ukrainian gas company, according to one of the people, who was briefed on the call. Trump did not raise the issue of US aid to Ukraine, indicating there was not an explicit quid pro quo, according to the person.

Biden reacted strongly late Friday, saying that if the reports are true, “then there is truly no bottom to President Trump’s willingness to abuse his power and abase our country.” He said Trump should release the transcript of his July phone conversation with Zelenskiy “so that the American people can judge for themselves.”

The government’s intelligence inspector general has described the whistleblower’s Aug. 12 complaint as “serious” and “urgent.” But Trump dismissed it all Friday, insisting “it’s nothing.” He scolded reporters for asking about it and said it was “just another political hack job.”

“I have conversations with many leaders. It’s always appropriate. Always appropriate,” Trump said. “At the highest level always appropriate. And anything I do, I fight for this country.” Trump, who took questions in the Oval Office alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, whom he was hosting for a state visit, was asked if he knew if the whistleblower’s complaint centered on his July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Zelenskiy.

The president responded, “I really don’t know,” but he continued to insist any phone call he made with a head of state was “perfectly fine and respectful.”

Trump was asked Friday if he brought up Biden in the call with Zelenskiy, and he answered, “It doesn’t matter what I discussed.” But then he used the moment to urge the media “to look into” Biden’s background with Ukraine. There has yet to be any evidence of any wrongdoing by Biden or his son regarding Ukraine.

Trump and Zelenskiy are to meet on the sidelines of the United Nations next week. The Wall Street Journal first reported that Trump pressed Zelenskiy about Biden. The standoff with Congress raises fresh questions about the extent to which Trump’s appointees are protecting the Republican president from oversight and, specifically, whether his new acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, is working with the Justice Department to shield the president.

Democrats say the administration is legally required to give Congress access to the whistleblower’s complaint, and Rep. Adam Schiff of California has said he will go to court in an effort to get it if necessary. The intelligence community’s inspector general said the matter involves the “most significant” responsibilities of intelligence leadership.

House Democrats also are fighting the administration for access to witnesses and documents in impeachment probes. In the whistleblower case, lawmakers are looking into whether Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani traveled to Ukraine to pressure the government to aid the president’s reelection effort by investigating the activities of Biden’s son.

During a rambling interview Thursday on CNN, Giuliani was asked whether he had asked Ukraine to look into Biden. He initially said, “No, actually I didn’t,” but seconds later he said, “Of course I did.” Giuliani has spent months trying to drum up potentially damaging evidence about Biden’s ties to Ukraine. He told CNN that Trump was unaware of his actions.

“I did what I did on my own,” he said. “I told him about it afterward. Still later, Giuliani tweeted, “A President telling a Pres-elect of a well known corrupt country he better investigate corruption that affects US is doing his job.” Democrats have contended that Trump, in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, may have asked for foreign assistance in his upcoming reelection bid.

Trump further stoked those concerns earlier this year in an interview when he suggested he would be open to receiving foreign help.The inspector general appeared before the House intelligence committee behind closed doors Thursday but declined, under administration orders, to reveal to members the substance of the complaint.

Schiff, a California Democrat, said Trump’s attack on the whistleblower was disturbing and raised concerns that it would have a chilling effect on other potential exposers of wrongdoing. He also said it was “deeply disturbing” that the White House appeared to know more about the complaint than its intended recipient — Congress.

The information “deserves a thorough investigation,” Schiff said. “Come hell or high water, that’s what we’re going to do.” Among the materials Democrats have sought is a transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelenskiy. The call took place one day after Mueller’s faltering testimony to Congress effectively ended the threat his probe posed to the White House. A readout of the call released from the Ukrainian government said Trump believed Kyiv could complete corruptions investigations that have hampered relations between the two nations but did not get into specifics.

Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, who in May called for a probe of Giuliani’s effort in Ukraine, said in an interview on Friday it’s “outrageous” the president has been sending his political operative to talk to Ukraine’s new president. Murphy tweeted that during his own visit it was clear to him that Ukraine officials were “worried about the consequences of ignoring Giuliani’s demands.”

The senator tweeted that he told Zelenskiy during their August visit it was “best to ignore requests from Trump’s campaign operatives. He agreed.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Trump faces “serious repercussions” if reports about the complaint are accurate. She said it raises “grave, urgent concerns for our national security.”

Letters to Congress from the inspector general make clear that Maguire consulted with the Justice Department in deciding not to transmit the complaint to Congress in a further departure from standard procedure. It’s unclear whether the White House was also involved, Schiff said.

Maguire has refused to discuss details of the whistleblower complaint, but he has been subpoenaed by the House panel and is expected to testify publicly next Thursday. Maguire and the inspector general, Michael Atkinson, also are expected next week at the Senate intelligence committee.

Atkinson wrote in letters that Schiff released that he and Maguire had hit an “impasse” over the acting director’s decision not to share the complaint with Congress. Atkinson said he was told by the legal counsel for the intelligence director that the complaint did not actually meet the definition of an “urgent concern.” And he said the Justice Department said it did not fall under the director’s jurisdiction because it did not involve an intelligence professional.

Atkinson said he disagreed with that Justice Department view. The complaint “not only falls under DNI’s jurisdiction,” Atkinson wrote, “but relates to one of the most significant and important of DNI’s responsibilities to the American people.”