ALEXANDRIA, December 17 -- A one-time business partner of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn has been arrested and charged with illegally lobbying to have a Turkish exile returned from the U.S.
Bijan Rafiekian, who also goes by the name Bijan Kian, made an initial appearance Monday in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia. He is indicted on charges including failing to register as a foreign agent. According to the indictment, Rafiekian was vice chairman of Flynn’s business group, the Flynn Intel Group. The two worked throughout 2016 to seek ways to have cleric Fethullah Gulen extradited from the U.S. to Turkey.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused Gulen of directing a failed coup. Flynn is referred to in the indictment only as “Person A.”
BANGKOK, December 12 -- Southeast Asian stock markets ended higher on Wednesday, as optimism swept across broader Asia after upbeat comments from US President Donald Trump on reaching a trade deal with China allayed trade conflict worries between Washington and Beijing.
Trump in an interview to Reuters said talks were taking place with Beijing by phone and he would not raise tariffs on Chinese imports until he was sure about a deal. Sentiment improved after Trump added that he would intervene in the Justice Department's case against the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies.
Meng Wanzhou, the CFO of the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei, was granted bail by a Canadian court on Tuesday, 10 days after her arrest in Vancouver. The arrest had turned out to be another hurdle to the resolution of a Sino-US trade war. This boosted MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan, which rose 0.15% after hitting a nearly three-week low on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, data from central banks and bond market associations showed that overseas investors were net buyers of Asian bonds in November as concerns over Sino-US trade war and higher US yields abated, bolstering capital inflows into the region.
The Stock Exchange of Thailand index gained 1.26 points or 0.08% to 1,634.88, in turnover of 36 billion baht. Shares in Singapore -- biggest gainer in the region -- closed 1.3% higher, snapping their sixth straight sessions of declines. However, economists have downgraded the outlook for the city state's 2019 growth rate for the second time in three months, a quarterly poll released by its central bank showed.
In Malaysia, the benchmark index posted its first day of gains after a six-session losing streak. The country's factory production index rose 4.2% in October from a year earlier. The Philippine index recovered to trade higher along with its peers in the region.
WASHINGTON, December 7 -- U.S. President Donald Trump said he’ll nominate State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert to be his next United Nations ambassador, replacing Nikki Haley.
Speaking to reporters at the White House on Friday, Trump said Nauert is “very talented, very smart, very quick and I think she will be respected by all.”
Prior to joining the State Department last year, the 48-year-old Nauert several years as an anchor and correspondent for Fox News, including on the “Fox and Friends” show watched by Trump. While she doesn’t have extensive foreign policy experience, Nauert built a strong rapport with Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, accompanying him on trips to Pyongyang and the recent Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires last week.
BEIJING, December 7 -- China has reacted furiously after a top executive of Chinese telecom giant Huawei was arrested in Canada on a US extradition request.
Huawei's chief financial officer and the daughter of its founder, Meng Wanzhou, 46, was nabbed during a stopover at Vancouver airport on a US extradition request, on Saturday. Beijing accused Washington of using the “hooliganism” to suppress the telecom giant, threatening to rattle a shaky truce in the trade war between the two countries. The arrest was announced by Canadian authorities on Wednesday.
The charges against the company's chief financial officer have not been made public. Huawei said it was "not aware of any wrongdoing by Ms Meng". She is to appear in court Friday for a bail hearing.
English language newspaper, China Daily, said in an editorial on Friday that the arrest was part of efforts by Washington to contain the company, which is the world’s largest telecoms equipment provider, as well as its second-largest mobile phone maker. “Obviously, Washington is resorting to a despicable rogue's approach as it cannot stop Huawei's 5G advance in the market," it said. The daily warned that "containing Huawei's expansion is detrimental to China-US ties." “One thing that is undoubtedly true and proven is the US is trying to do whatever it can to contain Huawei’s expansion in the world simply because the company is the point man for China’s competitive technology companies,” the editorial said.
China called on both Washington and Ottawa to immediately clarify the reasons for Meng’s detention, and release her immediately. China’s embassy in Canada has described the actions as having “seriously harmed human rights.”
Canada distances itself from Meng arrest
Canadian Prime Minister Minister Justin Trudeau, however, sought to distance himself from the unusual incident, saying on Thursday that his government had no involvement in Meng’s detention.
In televised remarks in Montreal, he claimed that politics played no part in the arrest of Meng.
"The appropriate authorities took the decisions in this case without any political involvement or interference ... we were advised by them with a few days' notice that this was in the works," he said.
Meng’s shocking arrest came at the same day US President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping met at the G20 summit in Argentina, during which they reached an agreement to temporarily suspend a trade war.
Her arrest is now threatening the fragile truce that was reached after months of tough negotiations over import tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of products.
Trump did not know about Meng arrest
In an apparent move to prevent the incident from impeding the trade truce, two US officials said on Thursday that Trump did not know about a US request for her extradition from Canada before he met Xi in Argentina. Citing the officials, Reuters said that while it was a Justice Department matter and not orchestrated in advance by the White House, the case could send a message that Washington is serious about what it sees as Beijing's violations of international trade norms. One of the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that the arrest could complicate efforts to reach a broader trade deal with China, but would not necessarily damage the process.
Trump’s National Security Adviser John Bolton said earlier that he “knew in advance,” that Canada was planning to arrest Meng. “This is something that we get from the Justice Department.”
MOSCOW, November 30 -- Russia said it believes President Donald Trump cancelled his meeting with Vladimir Putin due to domestic issues and not the situation in Ukraine.
"Is the provocation started by Kiev in this area [Azov Sea] a real reason for the cancellation," spokeswoman Maria Zakharova was quoted as saying by Russian news agencies.
"We heard that as an official version and we accepted that. Is it a real one? I believe we should look for answers in the US domestic political situation."
‘Worst possible nightmare’: Former US attorney says Trump should be sweating bullets over Cohen’s new plea deal
WASHINGTON, November 29 -- Former Trump “fixer” Michael Cohen’s surprise new plea deal with special counsel Robert Mueller sent shock waves through Washington on Thursday — and one former U.S. Attorney thinks it signals major trouble for President Donald Trump.
Talking with ABC News, former U.S. Attorney Kendall Coffey says that Cohen’s deep knowledge of Trump’s business activities should terrify the president in terms of what he could provide to investigators.
“The potential significance of Cohen’s cooperation is immense,” he said. “But for most high-powered business people with complex business interests, having one’s personal attorney become a star witness for the prosecution is the worst possible legal nightmare.”
Although Coffey couldn’t say for certain that Cohen’s plea deal will lead to criminal charges against Trump and his associates, he did say that Cohen’s “cooperation has already created the most serious federal allegations to date concerning President Trump, and more may be coming.”
Cohen on Thursday pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress about the Trump Tower Moscow project. As part of the plea deal, Cohen also gave Mueller’s office over 70 hours of testimony.
Earlier this year, Cohen pleaded guilty to making illegal hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal “at the direction” of Trump, who was described in the plea as a candidate for federal office.
Cohen also admitted in his plea that he made the illegal payment “for the purpose of influencing” the 2016 presidential election by covering up the president’s “alleged affairs.”
WASHINGTON, November 29 -- U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday abruptly cancelled a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Argentina, registering his disapproval of Russia’s treatment of Ukraine and casting new uncertainty over U.S.-Russian ties.
“Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin. I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!” Trump tweeted.
Trump’s tweet from aboard Air Force One shortly after takeoff from Washington on the way to Buenos Aires for a Group of 20 summit, was a sudden turnaround. Roughly an hour earlier, he had told reporters he would probably meet with Putin at the summit and said it was “a very good time to have the meeting.”
Trump had also said he would get a final report during the flight to Argentina on the tension in the region after Russia seized Ukrainian vessels near Crimea on Sunday.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko on Thursday accused Putin of wanting to annex his entire country and called for NATO to deploy warships to a sea shared by the two nations.
While it was unclear why there was a sudden change in plans for a meeting, holding talks with Putin now could represent bad optics for the White House at a time when the president is under scrutiny over prior plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow.
Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty on Thursday to lying to Congress about the proposed Trump Organization skyscraper in Moscow, prompting Trump to lash out at Cohen as a “liar” and “weak person.”
MOSCOW, November 29 -- Russia and the U.S. have agreed on details of a presidential meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Buenos Aires.
The meeting will take place on Dec.1 at 1430GMT and will last about two hours, a source in the Russian delegation told state-run news agency RIA Novosti on Thursday.
About 20 minutes are reserved for in-person talks between the two presidents. Russian presidential aide Yury Ushakov said that the presidents would discuss bilateral issues, including how to break the deadlock in relations between the two countries and start looking for ways to normalize ties.
According to U.S. Security Adviser John Bolton, security, arms control and regional issues are on the agenda of the meeting.
SANAA, November 25 -- US President Donald Trump has threatened to close his country's border with Mexico if the situation at the crossings deteriorates as thousands of asylum seekers and immigrants arrive from Central America.
There is no other way, because the United States will not be able after decades of immigration violations to bear this costly and dangerous situation, "Trump wrote on Twitter. Trump pointed out that only persons eligible for refugee status are allowed to enter the country. The Washington Post reported on Saturday that the Trump administration had reached an agreement with the Mexican government waiting for asylum seekers in Mexico during the US courts' assessment of their requests.
The agreement was not formally signed, but US officials see the deal as a possible breakthrough in efforts to deter immigration. "We have agreed on a policy to keep immigrants in Mexico," the Mexican interior minister was quoted as saying by the newspaper. It is noteworthy that the convoy of immigrants from several countries in Central America arrived at the Mexican side of the border with the United States, hoping to enter for a better life.
NEW YORK, November 20 -- OPEC has lost what control of the oil market it ever had.
The actions (or tweets) of three men — Presidents Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman — will determine the course of oil prices in 2019 and beyond. But of course they each want different things. While OPEC struggles to find common purpose, the U.S., Russia and Saudi Arabia dominate global supply. Together they produce more oil than the 15 members of OPEC. All three are pumping at record rates and each could raise output again next year, although they may not all choose to do so.
It was Saudi Arabia and Russia that led the push in June for the OPEC+ group to relax output restraints that had been in place since the start of 2017. Both subsequently jacked up production to record, or near record, levels. U.S. output soared unexpectedly at the same time, as companies pumping from the Permian Basin in Texas overcame pipeline bottlenecks to move their oil to the Gulf coast.
These increases, alongside smaller downward revisions to demand growth forecasts and President Trump’s decision to grant sanctions waivers to buyers of Iranian oil, have flipped market sentiment from fears of a supply shortage to concerns about a glut in the space of three months. Oil stockpiles in the developed nations of the OECD, which had been falling since early 2017, are rising again and are likely to exceed their five-year average level when October data are finalized, according to the International Energy Agency.
As oil prices have headed south, Saudi Arabia said it would cut exports by 500,000 barrels a day next month and warned fellow producers that they needed to cut about 1 million barrels a day from October production levels. That drew a lukewarm response from Putin and swift Twitter rebuke from Trump.
Bin Salman needs oil revenue to fund his ambitious plans to transform Saudi Arabia, while avoiding unrest from those hurt in the process. The International Monetary Fund forecasts that the kingdom will need an oil price of $73.3 a barrel next year to balance its fiscal budget. Brent crude is trading about $5 below that, with Saudi Arabia’s exports trading at a discount to the North Sea benchmark. Prolonging output cuts for a third year is the only way he can realize the price he needs.
He will face more challenges from Putin and Trump. The Russian president shows no great enthusiasm for restricting his country’s production again. Moscow’s budget is much less dependent on oil prices than it was when Russia agreed to join OPEC-led efforts to re-balance the oil market in 2016 and the country’s oil companies want to produce from the fields where they have invested.
Putin may yet decide that maintaining his improved political relationship with MBS, as the Crown Prince is known, is worth a small sacrifice. But it’s not a foregone conclusion that Russia will agree to extend output cuts when producers gather in Vienna next month. Putin says oil prices of around $70 a barrel suit him “completely.”
The opposition from Trump will — naturally — be much louder and comes at a time when he and MBS are trying to preserve their political relationship, while American senators consider harsher sanctions on Saudi Arabia in response to the war in Yemen and the killing of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
A bigger U.S. threat to Saudi plans than Trump’s tweets will come from the Texas oil patch. American producers have added a volume equivalent to the entire output of OPEC’s Nigeria in the past 12 months. Their production could reach 12 million barrels a day by April, according to the Department of Energy. That’s six months sooner than it was forecasting just a month ago and 1.2 million barrels a day more than it foresaw in January.
Saudi Arabia will have to risk Trump’s wrath, Putin’s indifference and a booming U.S. shale industry if it hopes to balance the oil market in 2019.
One of the top authors of The Peet Journal is Pete McGea. As a native born Scotsman, Pete
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