Wednesday, December 16, 2015


Saudi Arabia, which according to the available data is the biggest financial and spiritual supporter of the terror groups in the region, in a bizarre move has formed a counter-terrorism coalition. Mohammad bin Salman, the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince and Defense Minister, has noted that the alliance would not only target the terror group ISIS but it would counter terrorism phenomenon across Muslim world's regions. The coalition, as Saudi Arabia claims, is "Islamic" and "military" and it would confront any terrorist organization, and every member country would contribute to the alliance based on its capacities and capabilities. The statement published by Saudi news agency asserts that the new coalition is led by Saudi Arabia and that it is headquartered in Riyadh. The coalition includes 35 countries, Saudi Arabia , Jordan , United Arabic Emirates , Pakistan , Bahrain , Bangladesh , Benin , Turkey , Chad , Togo , Tunisia , Djibouti , Senegal , Sudan , Sierra Leone , Somalia , Gabon , Guinea , Palestine , Republic of the Comoros , Qatar , Côte d'Ivoire, Kuwait , Lebanon , Libya , Maldives , Mali , Malaysia , Egypt , Morocco , Mauritania , Niger , Nigeria , Yemen and Uganda.
For a couple of reasons it is obvious that the 34-member coalition is barren and theatrical, being only a gesture posed by Saudi Arabia and Turkey.
1. The leader of the military alliance is Saudi Arabia which is the main operator and supporter of terrorism in the region. The Western media have always introduced the ideology ruling Saudi Arabia as the most significant ground for rise of the terrorism. On the other hand, in recent years, Saudi Arabia by backing up the terror groups financially and spiritually in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, has engaged these countries in an everlasting wars.
2. Most of the members of the coalition are weak countries. States like Benin, Togo and Sierra Leone lack any potential to fight against terrorism. The only advantage of Saudi Arabia, which leads the military coalition, is its petrodollars and it owns no expertise in using the advanced military equipment.
3. The third reason can be traced to the history of the similar coalitions. Saudi Arabia and the UAE along with other countries had formed a coalition which the purpose was to launch offensive actions against Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition has failed to counter a couple of Yemeni tribes within the past nine months, and only in a latest attack 152 of its troops were killed in Yemen's south. Thereby, the coalition would not be able even to preserve its unity in the upcoming months let alone to fight terrorism.
While owning the world's most advanced military equipment, the US by forming its anti-ISIS military coalition has failed to take any positive step in the past two years. Certainly, Riyadh cannot launch any operations beyond its own borders. In recent years, heavy losses were imposed on Saudi Arabia, and it has been known in the eyes of the public opinions as the "godfather of terror", and that it is severely under public opinions' pressure. Therefore, forming the military alliance, it seeks to amend such a prevailing vision. However, such a gestural move is far from being able to change the view about Saudi support of terrorism.

UK fuelling Yemen civil war with arms sales to Saudi Arabia, says Amnesty


 Yemenis play the victims of an airstrike during a protest against ongoing Saudi-led coalition military operations. Photograph: Yahya Arhab/EPA

UK government breaches arms trade treaty by selling arms while Yemeni civilians being hit by Saudi-led coalition, say lawyers.
 UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia are fuelling the civil war in Yemen and breach domestic, European and international law obligations, according to legal opinion obtained by Amnesty and other human rights groups.
The UK government has known for months that the weapons systems it supplied to Saudi forces have been used against civilian targets, the report released on Thursday maintains.
British-made cruise missile, manufactured by Marconi, destroyed a ceramics factory in a village west of the capital, Sana’a, killing at least one civilian, it was alleged last month. 
The Yemen war involves a Saudi-led coalition of Sunni Arab states that has launched an all-out air campaign against the Iranian-backed Houthi armed groups who seized Sana’a a year ago. Saudi Arabia’s aim is to reinstate Yemen’s president, Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi, who fled last year as the insurgency gained ground. 
It has turned into a humanitarian crisis with civilian targets, including hospitals, schools, markets, grain warehouses, ports and a displaced persons camp, being hit by Saudi-led coalition forces.
Since the conflict escalated in mid-March 2015, more than 5,800 people have been killed, tens of thousands wounded and 2.5 million have been forced to flee their homes. More than 80% of the country’s population of 21 million are in need of humanitarian aid, including 2 million children at risk of malnutrition.
The legal opinion of Prof Philippe Sands QC, Prof Andrew Clapham and Blinne Ní Ghrálaigh of Matrix Chambers, was commissioned by Amnesty International UK and Saferworld, both members of the Control Arms coalition.
The lawyers argue that, on the basis of the information available, the British government is breaching its obligations under the UK’s consolidated criteria on arms exports, the EU common position on arms exports and the arms trade treaty by continuing to authorise transfers of weapons and related equipment to Saudi Arabia.
The lawyers conclude: “Any authorisation by the UK of the transfer of weapons and related items to Saudi Arabia … in circumstances where such weapons are capable of being used in the conflict in Yemen, including to support its blockade of Yemeni territory, and in circumstances where their end use is not restricted, would constitute a breach by the UK of its obligations under domestic, European and international law.”
The legal opinion also states that the UK government can, since at least May 2015, be deemed to have “actual knowledge ... of the use by Saudi Arabia of weapons, including UK-supplied weapons, in attacks directed against civilians ... in violation of international law.”
The government insists it is not taking part in the military campaign in Yemen. Last month, a spokesman said: “Her Majesty’s government takes its arms export responsibilities very seriously and operates one of the most robust arms export control regimes in the world. We rigorously examine every application on a case-by-case basis against the consolidated EU and national arms export licensing criteria. Risks around human rights abuses are a key part of our assessment.”
But Amnesty and Saferworld point out that more than 100 licences for arms exports to Saudi Arabia have been issued since bombing in Yemen began in March 2015. For the period from January to June 2015, UK licences for exports to Saudi Arabia were worth more than £1.75bn, the human rights groups say, the vast majority of which appear to be for combat aircraft and air-delivered bombs for the use of the Royal Saudi air force. 
In 2013, David Cameron hailed the arms trade treaty as a landmark agreement that would “save lives and ease the immense human suffering caused by armed conflict around the world”.
The director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen, said: “The UK has fuelled this appalling conflict through reckless arms sales which break its own laws and the global arms trade treaty it once championed.
“This legal opinion confirms our long-held view that the continued sale of arms from the UK to Saudi Arabia is illegal, immoral and indefensible. Thousands of civilians have been killed in Saudi-led airstrikes, and there’s a real risk that misery was ‘made in Britain’. The UK must halt these arms sales immediately.”
Saferworld’s executive director, Paul Murphy, said: “UK government policy on Yemen is in disarray. The UK gives aid to Yemen with one hand, while supporting the destruction of the country with the other.
“With the start this week of the first direct peace talks since the beginning of the conflict in Yemen, the UK government should help turn the current ceasefire into a permanent peace by stopping its support to one side of the conflict. It’s time the UK acted as a peace broker, rather than an arms broker. The UK government must halt these arms sales immediately.”
Amnesty International and Saferworld are calling on the UK government to suspend arms transfers to Saudi Arabia, redouble diplomatic effort to help bring the conflict to an end and push for an end to the blockade so that humanitarian and commercial supplies can enter Yemen.

#Raif Badawi - A blogger, and beacon of hope, for Saudi Arabia

 Douglas HERBERT

In awarding its most prestigious human rights prize to an imprisoned Saudi blogger, Europe's Parliament reminded the world just how odious any Western alliance is with the puritanical Kingdom one writer calls "an Islamic State that’s succeeded".

It’s been 27 years since the first Sakharov Prize – named after the late Russian physicist and human rights activist, Andrei Sakharov, and often described as a sort of EU version of the Nobel Peace Prize – was bestowed on Nelson Mandela.

At the time, the founding father of modern South Africa was still behind bars on Robben Island and unable to collect his award in person.
This week, the latest recipient of the prize, Raif Badawi, faced the same constraint, as Saudi authorities barred Badawi from travelling beyond the jail where he’s serving a judicial sentence of 1,000 lashes and 10 years.
His wife, Ensaf, came to Strasbourg from exile in Canada to claim the prize on behalf of her husband.
Badawi’s official “crime” is “insulting Islam through electronic channels”. In other words, he set up a liberal website that he then used as a virtual podium from which to pillory the country’s ultraconservative religious clergy and to call for an end to the influence of religion in public life.
He was, basically, using social media to do what millions of us do, unblinkingly, every day: express our opinions and share ideas.
Executions at 20-year high
Except Badawi was doing it in an ultraconservative realm where a puritanical and fundamentalist branch of Sunni Islam – Wahhabism – is the dominant faith.
It prescribes a strict form of Sharia law that allows for execution by stoning and beheading, and ensures that men hold precedence over women in every aspect of daily life.
Saudi Arabia has put to death 151 people this year – the highest execution rate since 1995, according to human rights groups. The kingdom ranks just behind Iran and China, in terms of death penalties carried out – but ahead of the United States.
And if stoning and beheading sounds chillingly familiar – that’s because it is.
Kamel Daoud, an Algerian writer, says that Saudi Arabia’s regime bears many of the hallmarks of the Islamic State group, even if that comparison is brushed under the rug in the halls of global diplomacy.
The Saudi’s vast oil wealth and historical legacy of close geostrategic alliances with the West (French Prime Minister Manuel Valls signed 10 billion euros of contracts with the House of Saud on a recent visit) means that Saudi Arabia has been able to successfully cast itself as a needed Western ally in a region fraught with danger.
As the US reliance on Saudi oil begins to wane, and regional fault lines shift, Saudi Arabia’s virtual exemption from harsher scrutiny – you might say it’s gotten a free pass – may also fall by the wayside.
But for now, the kingdom’s Western allies would like to believe that the advent of a new king and promises of civic reform – women voted for the first time in recent municipal elections – are a harbinger of greater openings to come.

‘Black Daesh, White Daesh’
But no such advances are possible so long as the religious clergy remains entrenched.
Daoud, the writer, sees this hardline religious doctrine as the greatest impediment to change.
“Daesh has a mother: the invasion of Iraq," he says. “But it also has a father: Saudi Arabia and its ideological industry.”
He describes a “Black Daesh and White Daesh".
"The first one cuts throats, kills, stones, chops off hands, destroys humanity’s patrimony and detests archeology, women and non-Muslim foreigners. The second is better dressed, but does the same thing,” he says.
Saudi Arabia, for its part, vehemently rejects any such comparison, arguing that while ISIS (another name for IS group) stones and beheads innocent hostages, it only does so in the case of convicted criminals. And as far as beheadings are concerned, it has argued that a single clean sweep by the sword is more “humane” than the lethal injection used for executions in the United States.
Despite this, Saudi Arabia…wait for it… sits on the 47-member UN Human Rights Council. A reality that some see as an indictment of a body that is supposed to uphold fundamental rights and freedoms.
Pyromaniac as fire chief
"Saudi Arabia has arguably the worst record in the world when it comes to religious freedom and women’s rights," Hillel Neuer, the UN Watch executive director, said in a recent statement.
"This UN appointment is like making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief, and underscores the credibility deficit of a human rights council that already counts Russia, Cuba, China, Qatar and Venezuela among its elected members."
The European Parliament has called on Saudi Arabia’s King Salman to grant Raif Badawi clemency – releasing him from jail and sparing him the 950 lashings he is yet to receive. His wife fears that her husband, already reportedly suffering from poor health, might not survive further flogging.
Andrei Sakharov fought the Soviet system for years before it collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. If enough Raif Badawis refuse to go quietly into the night, and can hold out long enough against an ageing clan of diehard clergy, perhaps the same fate will befall Saudi Arabia.
Will King Salman show the wisdom of a King Solomon – and help bring his kingdom into the modern age?

Literary Group Asks Obama to Intercede for Condemned Writers in Saudi Arabia

A petition from dozens of authors was sent to President Obama on Wednesday asking him to press Saudi Arabia to pardon a prominent poet condemned to beheading and a blogger punished with prison and flogging.
The petition, organized by the PEN American Center, a group that promotes free expression, threw a spotlight on what critics call the Obama administration’s reluctance to antagonize the religiously strict Saudi kingdom, a partner in the conflict in Syria and the broader struggle to combat violent Islamic extremism.
The administration has not overtly challenged the Saudis on a number of policies and judicial practices that are generally regarded as oppressive, like systematic discrimination against women, severe curbs on free expression and punishments that include decapitation.
“The United States has been hesitant to call out the Saudis on human rights issues,” Suzanne Nossel, executive director of the PEN American Center, said in a telephone interview about the petition. “You can see all the reasons for hesitation,” she said, but they are outweighed by “the gravity of these two cases.”
There was no immediate reaction from the White House to the petition, which Ms. Nossel said had been emailed.
Signers included more than 60 prominent artists in the literary world, including Michael Chabon, Ha Jin, Jessica Hagedorn, Paul Muldoon, Zia Haider Rahman and Elissa Schappell.
The petition concerns the fate of Ashraf Fayadh, 35, a Palestinian poet who has always lived in Saudi Arabia, and Raif Badawi, 31, a Saudi writer and activist who managed an online forum called Free Saudi Liberals.
Mr. Fayadh was sentenced on Nov. 17 to death by beheading for apostasy, based on poems he published years earlier that the Saudi authorities deemed atheistic and blasphemous.
Mr. Badawi was arrested three years ago and convicted of insulting Islam and promoting unacceptable thoughts electronically. He was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes to be delivered in 50-lash installments, but that part of the punishment was suspended in January after the first lashing, which provoked an international outcry and, according to his wife, Ensaf Haidar, nearly killed him.
Ms. Haidar, who now lives in Canada with their three children, has said Mr. Badawi was recently moved to an isolated prison intended for convicted felons whose appeal remedies have been exhausted. The PEN petition called the relocation “a troubling sign that any hope he would be pardoned has been dashed.”
The petition coincided with a ceremony honoring Mr. Badawi by the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, which bestowed on him its Sakharov human rights prize this year. Ms. Haidar accepted the award there on his behalf.
Saudi Arabia has faced a torrent of increasingly negative outside publicity over its heavy use of the death penalty and its harsh treatment of advocates of a more open and tolerant society. The two cases cited by the PEN petition are regarded by advocates as especially egregious.
The petition said the severity of the sentences against Mr. Fayadh and Mr. Badawi, “rendered for crimes that are not crimes, cannot go unremarked upon any longer by the president of the United States.”
It asked Mr. Obama to urge King Salman, the Saudi ruler, to “grant them unconditional and immediate release.”

Role of Saudi-led ‘military alliance’ put to question as some members reject participation

The international community has welcomed Saudi Arabia’s initiative to create a coalition against terrorism. However, its “military and ideological” role has been met with confusion even among members, some of whom didn’t know they were included.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia announced the creation of an ‘Islamic military alliance’ with a mission to fight terrorism. Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said the coalition of 34 Muslim states would fight the scourge in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt and Afghanistan.
The coalition members are to share intelligence, train, equip and possibly even provide forces to fight against militants such as Islamic State and al Qaeda, said Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir.
"Nothing is off the table," he stated regarding the possibility of deploying boots on the ground.

Pakistan got to know of its participation via news

A day after Riyadh announced the formation of the coalition, some of its members said that have been caught off guard and never agreed to take part in the alliance. 
Pakistan, one of the coalition members announced by Saudi Arabia, has denied its participation. Pakistan's Foreign Secretary Aizaz Chaudhry told journalists that he got to know of the coalition through news reports, adding that Pakistan was not consulted about it, Dawn newspaper reported on Wednesday. He added that Islamabad was seeking details about the misunderstanding.

Malaysia denies taking part

Malaysia, another Muslim country which was put by Riyadh in the list of the 34 participants, also denied taking part in the military alliance. Malaysian Defense Minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein told journalists that Kuala Lumpur will not join Riyadh, however it will continue to be part of the international fight against terrorism, the Rakyat Post reported.

Indonesia skeptical about ‘military alliance’

Indonesia, a country with the world’s largest Muslim population, said that it was approached by Saudi Arabia concerning anti-terrorism cooperation, however it needs details before considering to join a ‘military alliance.’
Armanatha Nasir, Foreign Ministry spokesman said it is “important for Indonesia to first have details before deciding to support” any military actions, he said.
However, Indonesian Chief Security Minister Luhut Pandjaitan said later, as quoted by Reuters: "We don't want to join a military alliance."

US wants to know more

The US, which is leading its own bombing campaign in Syria targeting IS militants, has welcomed the initiative. However, Washington seemed rather puzzled in terms of how the coalition’s operations would work.
"We look forward to learning more about what Saudi Arabia has in mind in terms of this coalition," US Defense Secretary Ash Carter said on Tuesday.

Russia expects details

Russia said that it expects a more detailed account from Riyadh of its initiative. “We expect to receive more detailed information from the initiators of this process as well as we would want to know more about what was discussed in Paris yesterday,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was quoted by RIA Novosti as saying on Wednesday.
Foreign ministers from the US, France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar and Turkey met in Paris on Monday to discuss the Syrian crisis ahead of the talks in New York on Friday that would include Russia.
Russia has been conducting its own airstrikes targeting IS and other terrorist groups in Syria since September 30. The strikes were launched at the formal request of Damascus. The Russian-led operation also involves coordinating its efforts with regional governments, including those of Syria, Iran and Iraq, which is known as the RSII coalition.

Turkey welcomes Riyadh-led military coalition

Ankara, the only NATO state in the alliance, has agreed to take part in the Saudi-led initiative.
“The best response to those striving to associate terrorism and Islam is for nations of Islam to present a unified voice against terrorism,” said Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Tuesday.
However Turkish role in the fight against IS has been put to question. Russia’s Defense Ministry has recently claimed that Ankara is the main consumer of oil smuggled by IS from Syria and Iraq, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his family are involved in the criminal business.
Meanwhile, Turkish MP Eren Erdem has told RT that IS terrorists in Syria received all necessary materials to produce deadly sarin gas via Turkey.
Washington has been urging Ankara to secure its Syrian border, which has been partially in the control of IS on the Syrian side. However Turkey has expressed skepticism, saying that it would be extremely difficult. 

Iran, Iraq, Syria not invited by Saudi to the block

Despite Riyadh’s initiative to possibly involve the alliance’s ground troops in the fight against IS, Iraq and Syria have not been invited to the bloc.
Iraq said it was confused by the role of the alliance in the fight against terrorism in the region.
“This makes it very confusing for us. Who will be the one leading the fight against terrorism in the region?” asked Nasser Nouri, spokesman for Iraq’s defense ministry, as quoted by the Wall Street journal on Tuesday. “Will it be the larger international coalition, and if so, what will be the point of having this new alliance.”

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Chelsea Clinton to step up role in her mother's campaign

By Dan Merica

Chelsea Clinton's role in her mother's presidential campaign will increase in the coming months, according to a source close to the former first daughter.
Clinton will start campaigning for her mother in January, making trips to Iowa, New Hampshire and other early states, the source said.
    Chelsea Clinton's trip to Iowa and New Hampshire was first reported by Time magazine.
    To date, Chelsea Clinton has been largely a behind-the-scenes player in Hillary Clinton's campaign, offering advice and personal support, but rarely appearing in public with her mother. Chelsea Clinton gave a speech at a September event hosted by Foundry Methodist Church in Washington and attended the campaign's launch in June, but that is the extent of her public appearances so far.
    That will change this month and in the coming year.
    Clinton will headline two campaign fundraisers in January, according to the source. These events will not include her mother, marking the first time Chelsea Clinton will venture onto the 2016 campaign trial without her.
    Chelsea Clinton will headline a "Family Holiday Celebration With Hillary and Chelsea" on December 17 in New York, the first fundraiser to include the former first daughter as a headlining speaker.
    Chelsea Clinton is seen as an asset to the campaign, especially with younger voters and students. The former first daughter played a sizable role in her mother's failed 2008 campaign, regularly stumping for her mother in important primary and caucus states, usually at colleges and universities.

    Donald Trump’s Powerful Ignorance

    By Joe Klein

    And four other lessons from Tuesday night's Republican debate...
    Here are five things I noticed in last night’s debate:
    1. Donald Trump has made fools of us all.
    The consensus among the talking heads afterward was that Trump had done fine, maybe helped himself a little, certainly hadn’t hurt himself with his constituency. What were they watching? By any objective standard, Trump had a terrible debate. He said nothing substantive. He made faces–elementary-school faces—when he was attacked. He displayed his powerful ignorance: He had no idea what Hugh Hewitt was talking about when he was asked about the “nuclear triad.” This really is presidential politics for dummies: Control and use of our nuclear arsenal is perhaps the most serious presidential responsibility. Nuclear weapons are deployed in three ways—in land-based silos, in submarines, by aircraft. Three ways. The nuclear triad. This guy is running for president without the most basic vocabulary about weapons that could destroy the world. I suppose this doesn’t matter to his nitwit constituency—but it should. And if that constituency becomes a majority of our electorate, we are truly cooked. That the talking heads think Trump did okay because he didn’t offend his supporters represents journalistic malpractice…but I guess we’ve all been burned by predicting Trump’s demise in the past. The fact that he survives doesn’t make him any less disastrous.
    2. Senators Cruz and Rubio lost when they were right.
    Their mini-debate was fun to watch. Both are intelligent and articulate—although I think Cruz has a better strategic sense of what he is doing and is running the smarter campaign. It is a testament to the current incoherence of the Republican constituency that each man’s “weakness” was actually a strength. Rubio was entirely candid about immigration. He offered a realistic solution to the problem—but his solution does not involve the deportation of 12 million illegals and so he lost that particular debate to Cruz, who summoned the newly terrifying spectra of Chuck Schumer and called the plan “amnesty.” For his part, Cruz is absolutely right to be wary about “regime change” in the Middle East. It’s been a disaster. But that won’t help him in a party where neoconservatives now control the foreign policy debate.
    3. The Governors won.
    In fact, Chris Christie put both Cruz and Rubio in their place when he said after a Cruz-Rubio exchange: “If your eyes are glazed over like mine, this is what it is like to be on the floor of the United States Senate…I mean endless debates about how many angels on the head of a pin from people who have never had to make a consequential decision in an executive position.” Christie’s toughness is an informed version of Trump’s posturing. It is simple, compelling, and probably not as dangerous as it sounds–asked if he would shoot down Russian planes if they violated a Syrian no-fly zone, he said yes. This is the sort of tough talk that Ronald Reagan deployed successfully…while simultaneously signaling to the Soviets that he was ready to negotiate seriously with them. The will to bluster was the difference between Reagan and George H.W. Bush. It’s the difference between Christie and Jeb Bush. Both Bushes were better informed than their rivals, but less given to melodrama–although, over time, according to Jon Meacham’s biography of Bush the Elder, even HW came to appreciate the role Reagan’s “evil empire” rhetoric played as a negotiating tool. (Jeb Bush had some very good moments in the debate, directly attacking and flustering Trump–but he has too much respect for the process, is responsible to the point of abstraction in his answers and his opening and closing statements were close to incomprehensible.)
    4. The others lost.Carly Fiorina’s act has grown old.
    Rand Paul is smart, and generally reasonable on foreign policy, but he belongs to a different party than the Republicans. As Michael Scherer pointed out in his reliably sharp minute-by-minute account of the debate, John Kasich was done in by his spastic karate chop hand motions–he may been the first candidate I’ve ever seen who was rendered incoherent by his own body language. Ben Carson offered a moment of silence for the San Bernardino victims; he has never belonged on this stage–but then, neither has Trump–and Carson, at least, wreaths his presidential incompetence in dignity.
    5. Fact Check.
    Three persistent errors or elisions should be pointed out. The first is the matter of the defense cuts–the Republican party agreed to these as part of a deficit reduction maneuver called the sequester, because it opposed the tax increases (or loophole closing) necessary to make an actual deal with the Democrats. The GOP thereby showed its priorities: low taxes were more important than national security–a point that Hillary Clinton will doubtless make in the fall (although I’m not so sure that defense spending on weapons we don’t need–i.e. more ships–will increase our security). Second, the much ballyhooed “flood” of illegal immigrants doesn’t exist; indeed, the numbers of illegals crossing the border have declined drastically during the Obama years. Third, Iran will get sanctions relief–an estimated $100 to $120 billion–only after it complies with the nuclear agreement and destroys its enriched uranium stockpile, dismantles 75% of its centrifuges and makes other significant concessions. If Iran doesn’t do those things, there will be no sanctions relief.

    Trump’s views are ‘full of hatred,’ Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai says

    By Niraj Chokshi

    Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafzai, who survived a Taliban shooting in 2012, called Donald Trump's anti-Muslim views "tragic" and discriminatory, becoming the latest in a stream of luminaries, celebrities and politicians to condemn the Republican presidential front-runner's comments on Muslims.
    "Well, that's really tragic that you hear these comments which are full of hatred, full of this ideology of being discriminative towards others," Yousafzai, the youngest Nobel peace laureate, told AFP in response to Trump's comments.
    Yousafzai, who is Muslim, was shot by the Taliban for advocating for girls' right to an education. She offered her comments on Trump at a ceremony in England held in memory of the 134 schoolchildren killed in a Taliban attack last year.
    Her father also weighed in, calling it "very unfair, very unjust" to penalize the world's 1.6 billion Muslims for the acts of a few.
    Trump's call last week for a blanket ban on Muslims entering the United States brought condemnations not only of that proposal, which critics say runs counter to the nation's founding ideals, but also a sense that he is contributing to a rise in Islamophobia and anti-Muslim violence.
    On Monday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) said Trump "could be a recruitment poster for ISIL," suggesting that such anti-Muslim comments play into the hands of Islamist fundamentalists waging a war on the West. ISIL is an acronym for the Islamic State militant group, which controls significant territory in Iraq and Syria.
    Even some Republican politicians felt the need to distance their party from Trump.
    Republicans on Capitol Hill — led by House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (Wis.) and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) — denounced the proposal. Ryan said the ban "is not what this party stands for." Sen. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) on Friday attended afternoon prayers at an Islamic center in Scottsdale, where he lamented "the rhetoric" of the past week, "mostly from the presidential campaign."
    Just two days after Trump called for the ban, Muhammad Ali, perhaps the nation's most prominent Muslim athlete, condemned his views.
    "We as Muslims have to stand up to those who use Islam to advance their own personal agenda," Ali said in a statement. "They have alienated many from learning about Islam. True Muslims know or should know that it goes against our religion to try and force Islam on anybody."
    Although he didn't refer to Trump by name, Ali's statement was titled “Presidential Candidates Proposing to Ban Muslim Immigration to the United States.”
    Writing in Time magazine, basketball star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar compared Trump to a schoolyard bully, a Bond super-villain and a lynch mob agitator.
    When asked about Trump's comments, Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), one of two Muslims in Congress, compared him to famous showman P.T. Barnum and suggested that anti-Muslim rhetoric has created a "toxic environment that may be putting American Muslims in harm's way."
    “What concerns me is you have the demagoguery taking place from people seeking to become president of the United States,” he told CNN's Jake Tapper last week. “You have other politicians who are joining the bandwagon and who are fanning the flames of bigotry. That concerns me because we’re putting people — i.e. Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus and others — into the line of fire, exposing them to death threats, discrimination at the workplace and assaults.”

    GOP candidates have an unruly fight over serious issues, with no clear winner

    By Dan Balz

    The final Republican debate of the year featured sharp exchanges over national security, personal insults and regular interruptions, but in the end there were no outright winners. In that sense, it was an almost perfect reflection of the party’s unpredictable nomination campaign.
    The two-hour session was as unruly as it was substantive. It dealt with some of the most serious issues of the moment but broke down in shouting and interruptions that seemed to underscore the determination of all the candidates to make their mark as the campaign heads into the holidays and a short respite before resuming in January.
    Donald Trump, who dominates the national polls, came under repeated fire for proposing to bar the entry of Muslims into the United States and for saying he would go after the families of Islamic State terrorists. Though appearing flustered at times, he held firm on his positions and refused to concede any ground, seemingly confident that his harsh rhetoric continues to find support.
    Former Florida governor Jeb Bush, whose support nationally has eroded steadily through the fall, led the attacks against Trump, a sign of his resolve to make one more run at turning around a candidacy that has struggled for visibility. More than any other candidate, he got under Trump’s skin — but without a clear outcome.
    Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.) and Marco Rubio (Fla.), who have been circling each other for weeks in anticipation of a final showdown sometime next year, argued over security, surveillance and the best strategy to defeat Islamic State terrorists. Cruz was thrown on the defensive over security issues, and both had to defend their positions on immigration. But neither candidate scored a truly telling blow on the other.
    The debate was singularly focused on matters of war and terrorism, coming at a time of heightened security concerns and on a day when schools in Los Angeles were closed because of a threat of a terrorist attack.
    The discussion enjoyed only one clear consensus: that President Obama and Hillary Clinton have left the country less safe. The conversation also revealed significant divisions within the Republican Party on issues that GOP voters now see as the most important for the coming election.
    Everyone onstage seemed eager to make a mark.
    New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, rising in New Hampshire, sought to belittle Cruz and Rubio, but he mostly attacked Obama and Clinton, while brandishing his credentials as a former prosecutor in the fight against terrorism.
    Sen. Rand Paul (Ky.) staked out his position as the least hawkish of the group, while effectively inserting himself into the back and forth between Cruz and Rubio. Carly Fiorina sought to highlight her private-sector experience. Ohio Gov. John Kasich called for a candidate who could unify the country. And retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson sought to counter impressions that his inexperience in foreign affairs makes him a poor candidate for the presidency.
    At some moments, the debate delved into arcane, though important, details of how to combat terrorist threats — touching on Islamic State fighters abroad, the possibility of homegrown terrorists becoming radicalized without family or neighbors knowing, the proper vetting of Syrian refugees coming to the United States, and how best to secure the country’s borders.
    At other points, the frustrations of a campaign that has defied predictions and expectations, one in which governing experience has proved to be no asset and outsiders have drawn significantly more support, spilled onto the stage.
    The exchanges between Bush and Trump were particularly revealing as a measure of how the race has unfolded in ways the former governor never expected. Bush sought to cast himself as the grown-up and Trump as an unserious candidate. He called Trump’s proposals “crazy” and “unhinged.”
    Trump, as has been his style all year, swatted back by talking about his strength vs. what he said was Bush’s weakness. In trying to dismiss Bush, he compared his front-running status in the polls with Bush’s single-digit support.
    The back and forth between Cruz and Rubio was far more substantive but with a political edge. Rubio’s goal was to undermine Cruz’s effort to consolidate conservatives of all stripes — tea party, evangelical and libertarian — by questioning whether he is as conservative as he claims. Cruz’s rebuttals were designed to paint Rubio as an establishment conservative, out of touch with an electorate that includes many voters angry at the party’s leadership.
    The exchange everyone was expecting — between Cruz and Trump — came and went with no points scored. Cruz had criticized Trump at a private fundraiser last week, suggesting that there were legitimate questions about whether the billionaire businessman had the judgment to be president.
    When the issue was raised near the end of the debate, a smiling Trump mockingly warned Cruz not to attack. Cruz ducked the question, saying the voters will have to make judgments about all of the candidates’ qualifications, temperament and judgment. Once again, the two men — who have avoided going after each other — maintained their unusual alliance.
    The debate marked the end of one of the most tumultuous and unpredictable years in American politics. Whether it was a harbinger of things to come or a false indicator of the state of the Republican Party is the question that will begin to be answered in seven weeks.
    The lineup on the stage highlighted how, in 2015, grass-roots Republicans have rejected the governing class in favor of outsiders. Trump and Carson, two nonpoliticians, and Cruz, an anti-establishment senator, stood together as a symbol of the electorate’s fury with the established order.
    Arranged farther out on the stage were a series of elected officials — among them two governors, a former governor and two senators — who have struggled to find their balance in a year when records in office, governing experience and policy white papers have been given short shrift by rank-and-file conservatives.
    That’s been the theme of 2015: the establishment on the defensive and outsiders on the rise. But what comes next is the question all the candidates and many in the party leadership are asking.
    Months ago, many Republican strategists assumed that the nomination contest would begin to revert to more familiar form as the primaries and caucuses neared. But that was before Trump survived one controversy after another, the latest coming in the past week with his proposal to temporarily bar Muslims from entering the United States. If the recent polls are correct, Trump has weathered that storm as he has survived others.
    Now the uncertainty about what comes next seems greater than ever. Could Trump be the nominee? Will Republicans see a three- or four-person race into the spring, with Trump in the center of the action? Or will the campaign devolve to a two-person contest between Cruz and Rubio, as some have predicted recently? Will New Hampshire send one of the other establishment candidates into the later contests with enough momentum to become a force in the race?
    Along with uncertainty comes a sense of urgency for all the candidates. When the campaign resumes in earnest after the holidays, Iowa’s caucuses will be only a month away and New Hampshire’s primary a short five weeks in the future.
    Many of the candidates hope or assume that the polls will look different by late January and that Iowa or New Hampshire will deliver a surprise. History suggests that could be the case. But history has been an unreliable guide in this pre-election year. That’s why Tuesday’s debate looked and sounded the way it did.

    Hillary Clinton maintains national lead in latest Monmouth poll

    Hillary Clinton is holding steady atop the Democratic field nationwide and the economy still tops Democratic voter concerns, according to a Monmouth University poll released Wednesday.
    Clinton tops Bernie Sanders 59%-26% nationwide, and former Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley has 4% support. The results are largely unchanged from Monmouth's last national survey of Democrats, released in October.
      "Clinton successfully ran the gauntlet this fall, appearing before the Benghazi Committee and outlasting the specter of a Biden candidacy. She really hasn't lost ground since then," Patrick Murray, director of the Independent Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement Wednesday.
      The results mirror a CNN/ORC poll released earlier this month which found Clinton beating Sanders 58%-30%.
      The Monmouth survey also found that Democrats are still largely concerned with the economy, even after the Paris and San Bernardino terrorist attacks -- 27% said they were most concerned about the economy and jobs, while 20% said national security and terrorism is their main concern.
      The Monmouth poll surveyed 374 registered voters who are Democrats or lean Democrat from Dec. 10-13 and carries a +/- 5.1-percentage-point margin of error.

      Warren Buffett Endorses Hillary Clinton and Calls for Higher Taxes on Wealthy

      Hillary Clinton on Wednesday picked up the endorsement of the billionaire investor Warren Buffett, who gave his backing to her while calling for increased taxes on the country’s highest wage earners.
      Mr. Buffett began his remarks at an event in Omaha with some stark statistics. In 1992, the top 400 wage earners in the United States made an average of $48.6 million each, compared with $335.7 million in 2012, Mr. Buffett said, using the most recent statistics available based on income tax returns.
      “This group,” which includes Mr. Buffett, who is worth an estimated $66.7 billion, “had their income increase sevenfold,” he said, adding, however, that “their tax rate has fallen to 16.3 percent, so they got a one-third tax cut as their income went up 7 to 1.”
      Mr. Buffett did not support a candidate in the 2008 Democratic contest, despite being courted by Mrs. Clinton and Barack Obama, who were then senators. (“I told both of them that if they ran for president, I’d support them and here we are,” Mr. Buffett said during that heated battle.)
      But on Wednesday, Mr. Buffett, the chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway, said he was endorsing Mrs. Clinton because she “will make sure that those people who are having to work two jobs to barely get by will not have that kind of world for themselves and their children moving forward.”
      Mrs. Clinton nodded in agreement. “I want to be the president for the struggling, the striving and the successful,” she said.
      To do that, she has proposed a wide and varied agenda of domestic policies including tax-credits for middle-class families that are caring for sick or elderly relatives or are sidled with steep healthcare costs; a $350 billion plan to make college more affordable; a $250 billion plan to improve the country’s infrastructure while creating jobs; and a plan for universal prekindergarten that could cost tens of billions of dollars, among other proposals.
      Aides have said that those plans would be paid for by tax increases on the wealthy, the closing of corporate tax loopholes and other changes in the tax code. Last week, Mrs. Clinton released a plan to crack down on “inversions,” or the practice of United States corporations to merge with smaller foreign companies in order to pay a lower tax rate.
      Mrs. Clinton’s campaign used the event Wednesday to signal to the national news media that she would eventually call for an additional tax increase on Americans who earn more than $250,000 a year. (“Clinton to propose further tax increases on wealthy Americans at Buffett event,” a headline on CNBC read.) But other than praising Mr. Buffett’s remarks and expressing support for the “Buffett rule,” which calls on the richest American to pay more taxes, Mrs. Clinton did not discuss taxes in any detail.
      Aides have long signaled that she would not shy away from raising taxes on the wealthiest earners. “She will make sure the wealthiest Americans finally start paying their fair share, not force the middle class to pay even more than they already do,” Brian Fallon, a campaign spokesman, said last month.
      But on Wednesday, Mrs. Clinton, with a major new supporter at her side, recited her recurrent theme of trying to connect financial turmoil to Republican policies. “Our economy does better when we have a Democrat in the White House,” she said. “That is just a fact.”
      She was quick to add: “I am not running for my husband’s third term. I am not running for Barack Obama’s third term. I am running for my first term.
      “But I am going to do what works for our economy.”