IS DONALD TRUMP DETERMINED TO MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE ?
Tensions are growing seriously as Donald Trump seems to have taken a pro-active tack on International issues, both in North Korea and Syria, while Iran is gearing up for a more conservative leadership.
A U.S. Navy strike group will be moving toward the western Pacific Ocean near the Korean peninsula as a show of force, a U.S. official told Reuters on Saturday, as concerns grow about North Korea’s advancing weapons program.
Earlier this month North Korea tested a liquid-fueled Scud missile which only traveled a fraction of its range.
The strike group, called Carl Vinson, includes an aircraft carrier and will make its way from Singapore toward the Korean peninsula, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak to the media and requested anonymity.
In a statement late Saturday, the U.S. Navy’s Third Fleet said the strike group had been directed to sail north, but it did not specify the destination. The military vessels will operate in the Western Pacific rather than making previously planned port visits to Australia, it added.
This year North Korean officials, including leader Kim Jong Un, have repeatedly indicated an intercontinental ballistic missile test or something similar could be coming, possibly as soon as April 15, the 105th birthday of North Korea’s founding president and celebrated annually as “the Day of the Sun.”
Earlier this week U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in Florida, where Trump pressed his counterpart to do more to curb North Korea’s nuclear program.
Trump’s national security aides have completed a review of U.S. options to try to curb North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs. These include economic and military measures but lean more toward sanctions and increased pressure on Beijing to rein in its reclusive neighbor.
Although the option of pre-emptive military strikes on North Korea is not off the table, the review prioritizes less-risky steps and de-emphasizes direct military action.
Trump spoke with South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn on Friday, the White House said on Saturday in a statement which did not mention the strike group.
On Syria, Trump’s decision to launch a Tomahawk attack on a Syrian Airfield marked a stark difference from his previous approach of laissez-faire in Syria.
Russia warned on Friday that U.S. cruise missile strikes on a Syrian air base could have “extremely serious” consequences, as President Donald Trump’s first major foray into a foreign conflict opened up a rift between Moscow and Washington.
The warships USS Porter and USS Ross in the Mediterranean Sea launched dozens of Tomahawk missiles at the Shayrat air base, which the Pentagon says was involved in a chemical weapons attack this week.
It was Trump’s biggest foreign policy decision since taking office in January and the kind of direct intervention in Syria’s six-year-old civil war his predecessor Barack Obama avoided.
The strikes were in reaction to what Washington says was a poison gas attack by the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad that killed at least 70 people in rebel-held territory. Syria denies it carried out the attack.
They catapulted Washington into confrontation with Russia, which has advisers on the ground aiding its close ally Assad.
“We strongly condemn the illegitimate actions by the U.S. The consequences of this for regional and international stability could be extremely serious,” Russia’s deputy U.N. envoy, Vladimir Safronkov, told a meeting of the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev charged that the U.S. strikes were one step away from clashing with Russia’s military.
U.S. officials informed Russian forces ahead of the missile strikes and avoided hitting Russian personnel.
Satellite imagery suggests the base houses Russian special forces and helicopters, part of the Kremlin’s effort to help Assad fight Islamic State and other militant groups.
Trump has frequently urged improved relations with Russia, strained under Obama over Syria, Ukraine and other issues, was hosting Chinese President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida on Thursday night when the attack occurred.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, in Florida with Trump, said on Friday the United States would announce additional sanctions on Syria in the near future but offered no specifics.
Russia’s Defense Ministry responded to the attack by calling in the U.S. military attache in Moscow to say that at midnight Moscow time (5 p.m. EDT) it would close down a communications line used to avoid accidental clashes between Russian and U.S. forces in Syria, Interfax new agency said. U.S. warplanes frequently attack Islamic State militants in Syria and come close to Russian forces.
U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Friday the Trump administration was ready to take further steps if needed. On Sunday, Nikki Haley declared that no solution was possible with Assad in power in Syria.
President Trump meeting with his National Security team and being briefed by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford via secure video after a missile strike on Syria while inside the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility at his Mar-a-Lago resort in West Palm Beach, Florida. White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer stated that this image has been digitally edited for security purposes.
“We are prepared to do more, but we hope that will not be necessary,” she told the U.N. Security Council. “The United States will not stand by when chemical weapons are used. It is in our vital national security interest to prevent the spread and use of chemical weapons.”
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who also was in Florida with Trump and is scheduled to go to Moscow next week, said he was disappointed but not surprised by the Russian reaction because it showed continued support for Assad.
Iran, which supports Assad and has been criticized by Trump, condemned the strike, with President Hassan Rouhani saying it would bring “only destruction and danger to the region and the globe.”
U.S. officials called the intervention a “one-off” intended to deter future chemical weapons attacks and not an expansion of the U.S. role in the Syrian war.
U.S. allies from Asia, Europe and the Middle East expressed support for the attack, if sometimes cautiously.
The action is likely to be interpreted as a signal to Russia, and countries such as North Korea, China and Iran where Trump has faced foreign policy tests early in his presidency, of his willingness to use force.
The United States is now likely to be more aggressive in pursuing intelligence about Syria’s suspected chemical weapons program. The Pentagon has also signaled interest in determining any Russian complicity.
“At a minimum, the Russians failed to rein in the Syrian regime activity,” a senior U.S. military official told reporters, speaking on condition of anonymity.
The official also said the United States had been unable to determine if a Russian or Syrian aircraft bombed a hospital that was treating victims of the chemical attack.
Russia joined the war on Assad’s behalf in 2015, turning the momentum in his favor. Although Moscow supports opposing sides in the war between Assad and rebels, the United States and Russia say they share a single main enemy, Islamic State.
Tillerson said the strike took out about 20 percent of the seventh wing of the Syrian air force and hit a fueling facility. The base’s runway was still in use.
Assad’s office said Syria would strike its enemies harder.
Damascus and Moscow denied Syrian forces were behind the gas attack but Western countries dismissed their explanation that chemicals leaked from a rebel weapons depot after an air strike.
The Syrian army said the U.S. attack killed six people and called it “blatant aggression” that made the United States a partner of “terrorist groups” including Islamic State. There was no independent confirmation of civilian casualties.
U.S. lawmakers from both parties on Friday backed Trump’s action but demanded he spell out a broader strategy for dealing with the conflict and consult with Congress on any further action.
The U.N. Security Council had been negotiating a resolution, proposed by the United States, France and Britain on Tuesday, to condemn the gas attack and push the Syrian government to cooperate with international investigators.
Russia said the text was unacceptable and diplomats said it was unlikely to be put to a vote.
Russia expects Tillerson to explain Washington’s stance when he visits Moscow next week, Interfax news agency cited a Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman as saying.
Washington has long backed rebels fighting Assad in a multi-sided civil war that has killed more than 400,000 people and driven half of Syrians from their homes since 2011.
The United States has conducted air strikes against Islamic State, which controls territory in eastern and northern Syria, and a small number of U.S. troops are helping rebel militias.
Asked whether the strikes set back any efforts to work with Russia to defeat Islamic State, sometimes known as ISIS, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said: “There can be a shared commitment to defeat ISIS and also agree that you can’t gas your own people.”
Tuesday’s attack was the first time since 2013 that Syria was accused of using sarin, a banned nerve agent it was meant to have given up under a Russian-brokered, U.N.-enforced deal that persuaded Obama to call off air strikes four years ago.
Video depicted limp bodies and children choking while rescuers tried to wash off the poison gas. Russian state television blamed rebels and did not show footage of victims.
The U.S. strikes cheered Assad’s enemies, after months when Western powers appeared to grow increasingly resigned to his staying in power. But opposition figures said an isolated assault was far from the decisive intervention they seek.
Neither the Trump administration nor its predecessor has laid out a policy aimed at ending the Syrian conflict.
At the same time, Iran is preparing for crucial elections.
Hardline Shi’ite cleric Ebrahim Raisi announced on Sunday he would run in Iran’s May presidential election, challenging moderate President Hassan Rouhani’s economic record and his policy of detente with the West.
The former prosecutor-general may struggle for recognition among voters though analysts say Raisi, thanks to the support he enjoys from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, could pose a real challenge to Rouhani’s bid for a second term.
Raisi has faulted Iran’s economic performance under Rouhani and his pursuit of detente that in 2015 yielded a landmark deal with world powers under which Tehran curbed its disputed nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
“People are asking why despite all our resources and human talents …our country is in this situation,” Raisi said in a statement published by Iranian news agencies.
“The key solution to our problems is fundamental change in the executive management of the country by the will of the people, and the formation of a competent and knowledgeable government that works day and night to bring back the dignity of the people and fights poverty and corruption.”
Rouhani won the presidency in 2013 with the backing of mainly of young people and women. He promised to bring Iran out of its international isolation and create a freer society.
But many ordinary Iranians have lost faith in him because he has not been able to improve the economy despite the lifting of sanctions in January last year under the nuclear deal.
Rights campaigners also say there have been few, if any, moves to bring about greater political and cultural freedoms.
Raisi, 57, heads Astan Qods Razavi, an organization in charge of a multibillion-dollar religious foundation that manages donations to Iran’s holiest Shi’ite Muslim shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
His statement said he would not use the religious and financial advantages of this post for his electoral campaign.
If he wins the May 19 vote, Raisi would boost his chances of eventually succeeding Khamenei, who himself served two terms as president under the late founder of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
Iranian conservatives are still trying to reach consensus on a presidential candidate, though Raisi seems well placed to become their top choice.
Raisi was named on Thursday by the Popular Front of Revolutionary Forces, the conservatives’ main coalition, as a potential contender in the Islamic Republic’s election.
In the Currency Markets
The dollar rose to three-week highs on Friday after an influential Federal Reserve official said the U.S. central bank’s plan to shrink its bond portfolio this year would not significantly delay its interest rate-hiking cycle.
The greenback initially sold off on a softer-than-expected U.S. jobs report for March, but rebounded as analysts noted the apparent weakness was caused by snowstorms.
Safe-haven buying also supported the dollar as the market focused on geopolitical events after the United States launched cruise missiles at an airbase in Syria, an ally of Russia.
New York Fed President William Dudley, an advocate of low interest rates, said on Friday that shrinking the Fed’s $4.5 trillion bond portfolio would prompt only a “little pause” in the Fed’s rate hike plans, providing relief to dollar bulls banking on more than one rate increase this year.
He added that interest rates are still a primary tool for monetary policy, and not a “gradual” balance sheet reduction.
“Dudley’s comments added a tailwind for the dollar,” said Joe Manimbo, senior market analyst at Western Union Business in Washington. “He has softened any suggestion that any reduction in balance sheet would cause a pause in interest rate hikes in a meaningful way.”
The New York Fed official had said in an interview last week that trimming the balance sheet was a substitute for rate hikes, which could prompt the Fed to “pause” raising rates at that time.
Investors still expect two more rate increases in 2017, analysts said, although the probability of a June hike has declined to 61 percent FFM7 after the jobs report from more than 70 percent late on Thursday.
The dollar index rose to three-week peaks of 101.26 .DXY and last traded a up 0.5 percent at 101.16.
The dollar touched session highs against the Japanese yen following Dudley’s comments, and was last up 0.3 percent at 111.16
The greenback hit a four-week high versus the euro, which fell 0.5 percent to $1.0587
The dollar’s early rebound was spurred by a report showed U.S. non-farm payrolls increased by 98,000 jobs last month, the fewest since last May and far short of the increase of 180,000 jobs expected by a Reuters poll of economists.
The unemployment rate declined to 4.5 percent from 4.7 percent in February, the ;lowest since 2007.
Sterling faced its first week of falls in four on Friday as data showed an unexpected slide in British industrial output, clouding the outlook for the UK’s economy as it prepares to leave the European Union.
In the first full trading week since Britain triggered Article 50 – its notification to leave the EU – the pound sank against the dollar and the euro in moves analysts said were also part of a reappraisal of the path for monetary policy.
Sterling has been propped up in recent weeks by expectations that the Bank of England might consider a rate rise to rein in inflation but comments by policymakers this week – in particular Gertjan Vlieghe – have played down that prospect.
Data on Friday showed industrial output fell 0.7 percent in February, worse than all forecasts in a Reuters poll of economists that pointed to a 0.2 percent increase following a 0.3 percent decline in January.
Separate figures showed Britain’s goods trade deficit unexpectedly touched a five-month high in February and January’s deficit was revised upwards too, the Office for National Statistics said.
The pound slipped to a one-week low in the wake of the data, falling further in the London afternoon as the dollar strengthened on a U.S. jobs report. It was last down 0.6 percent on the day at $1.2395.
The pound is set for a 1.3 percent weekly fall, its first decline in four weeks.
Bank of England rate-setter Vlieghe said earlier this week that a consumer slowdown in Britain was under way and underscored the need for caution on interest rates because the trend could worsen.
Governor Mark Carney added on Friday there were some signs of strength in consumer demand coming off and that the BoE would monitor the situation.